Friday, September 28, 2012



Written and Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Actors: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Melanie Lynskey, Mae Whitman.

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

That line is delivered by two characters in the beautiful coming of age story "Perks of Being a Wallflower". It must be an important thought and I love that line so much. It fits perfectly with this funny, thoughtful, sometimes dark but finally uplifting story. It is not only a great movie about high school and fitting in there but it also one of the most beautiful movies about friendship I have ever seen.

I can identify totally with the lead character who is withdrawn, shy and awkward and that was me in high school. Our hero Charlie has to learn how to break out of his shell, find himself and find friends that will accept him for who he is. I had to discover that and this movie nails that process flawlessly. Charlie is a freshman who finds a new group of friends that include the smart, kind and beautiful Sam and the boisterous and openly gay Patrick. Charlie will grow out of his shell with these two high school seniors who will accept him as part of their group.

The movie is just beautifully written and realistic. It is set in the 90's before cell phones and facebook when teenagers had to communicate more to each other face to face. The movie will revisit the process of trying to go to college and dealing with classmates who think you are different and can't comprehend that you are different and that you are a human being and an individual. The movie was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky who wrote the book this movie is based on and you can tell he lived this story. Charlie is the focal point and we are always cheering for this young adult with a big heart. We will discover that Charlie has a painful past he is hiding and because we care about him it affects us deeply.

We not only care about Charlie but also care for and like Sam and Patrick. We are happy that they are Charlie's friends. Sam is a sweet and caring girl who had been rumored to be a little slutty years ago. We will see that high school is full of cruel rumors and that Sam is a young woman that just wants to be loved and accepted. Charlie will fall in love with Sam and we can see why. Of course Charlie is younger and Sam will wind up with a guy that will treat her cruelly. Charlie can never have Sam until he accepts his past and breaks out of his shyness. Patrick is the type of friend you would love to have. He is funny and supportive and in this story he is very brave.

I had a little problem getting used to Logan Lerman's performance as Charlie but once the story gets moving I found Lerman to be engaging and he grew on me. Emma Watson is very good here and establishes herself as an actress and not just Hermione Granger. I loved Ezra Miller's performance and here is an actor that nails a gay teenager just right. He makes Patrick a fully dimensional, realistic character with the help of the excellent screenplay. Ezra was haunting and scary in "We Need To Talk About Kevin" and here he is likable, sweet and funny. Here is an actor to watch out for.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" touched me deeply because I identified with Charlie a lot and Patrick and Sam would be friends I would love to hang out and grow up with. It is an honest movie with real emotions that are earned and it is a beautiful movie going experience. High School can be a cruel world and a good hearted and different teenager like Charlie can be eaten up in it. This movie nails that experience flawlessly and has a great heart just like Charlie, Sam and Patrick do. Yes we sometimes accept the love we think we deserve but we don't have to.


'LOOPER' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano.

In my opinion science fiction movies have to have that little extra imagination and something more than just technical skills. It is not my favorite genre because most sci films come off as cheesy and too complicated for their own good. My three favorite sci fi movies have either a story that makes you think well after the movie is over or a beauty and imagination that bursts on to the screen. My two favorite thinkers are "2001" and "Twelve Monkeys". The last one is one of the most beautiful looking movies ever made and a story that is up to par with any film noir movie, "Blade Runner". I walked into the new movie "Looper" expecting an illogical story with a lot of dumb action. I walked out finding a movie with great heart, humor and amazing imagination.

It is also another smart choice by my favorite actor right now Joseph Gordon-Levitt who gives another amazing and quietly effective performance. Gordon-Levitt has now crossed that threshold of being someone that guarantees at least an interesting movie each time out. "Looper" has a plot I do not want to spoil so I will give a brief synopsis. Gordon-Levitt plays Joe who is a hired killer of sorts called a Looper. Loopers are given men to kill that are sent from thirty years in the future and whose time is up. Joe and other Loopers are given orders by a mob boss played by Jeff Daniels in another perfect, scene stealing performance. Joe finds out that he has to kill his future self and after that plot revelation "Looper" becomes something special.

The movie is always full of ideals and it's plot is highly original and that is something for a sci fi movie. Joe will get involved later with a mother and her son and this plot surprised me because of it's freshness. It is made more special by the performance of Emily Blunt as the mother. It is another solid performance by her and her character and relationship with her son is powerful due to the great writing by Rian Johnson. Until then I was into the story but kind of getting restless especially during some painfully dull stretches in the some of the beginning moments. When the movie switches to Bruce Willis's confrontation with Gordon-Levitt in a diner and the story of Joe and this mother and son the movie starts being special.

The movie surprisingly becomes emotional which I did not expect at all. Most science fiction movies leave us cold but "Looper" makes us care about the characters. It does not just rattle off sci fi mumbo jumbo but gives us great imagination, ideals and people we want to follow and care about. One of the characters has a line that summarizes why I really like this movie. He tells us that he doesn't care about time travel and if he started talking about it the conversation would last 20 minutes. "Looper" knows that a great movie needs more heart and less exposition and phony, over-the-top jargon.

I really love Joseph Gordon-Levitt for he makes every performance less about him and more in service to the story. He doesn't call attention to himself, he just quietly conveys a decent nature and a natural likeability. "Looper" is one of the most highly original movies in quite awhile. People are comparing it to "Inception" but there is no comparison. "Inception" is about dreams and "Looper" is about time travel and so much more, you can't compare the quality of both. It did make me think and even though it could have been a masterpiece like "Twelve Monkeys" it still has great ideals and a story and characters you will care about. Rian Johnson should be commended for writing a movie with great imagination, ideals and heart.

P.S. I had to see "Looper" twice and I think it requires two viewings because I had to make sure I comprehended the plot correctly. It stood up on the second viewing and I loved watching the masterful second half of the movie along with the beautifully modulated performances by Gordon-Levitt and Blunt again.

Thursday, September 27, 2012



Written and Directed by David Ayer
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn, America Ferrara, David Harbour.

What a punch in the gut and emotional experience watching "End of Watch" was and I did not expect it. I expected a shaky camera, found footage type cop movie that would have cliches and a plot that would be familiar and melodramatic. I expected violence and a crooked cop movie. What I got was an emotionally draining movie with hilarious moments and then shocking moments that crawled under my skin and then finally made me cry. This is from the same writer that wrote "Training Day" but this is ten times better.

"End of Watch" follows two young cops on duty in Los Angeles named Taylor and Zavala. One is white and the other is Hispanic and they are like brothers and have an implied connection. We follow them through a few days on duty where they make fun of other cops, perform some admirable deeds and also encounter a lot of intense danger. We instantly like these two and a lot has to do with the two actors portraying them. Taylor is played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Jake has been very good before but this might be his best performance so far. Zavala is played by Micheal Pena (Crash) who gives a star making performance here.

"End of Watch" starts with that shaky camera and the cops are miked and Taylor is filming their day on video for his film class. Though I forgot about the camera after the first half hour for I started to really get involved with following these two men. The movie starts out with great humor as Taylor and Zavala talk to each other and make fun of each other and of their peers. The dialogue and chemistry between the two is electric. The dialogue is fast, witty, entertaining and hilarious and I laughed a lot and at one point I laughed so much I cried tears. Gyllenhaal and Pena are so great together that I think Oscar talk should be directed towards them.

Both actors make us like them quickly and we want to follow them every step of the way. Director David Ayer does a remarkable job capturing some mundane moments that the cops encounter and then shocks us with a few intense moments. The situations that these men go through are somewhat familiar but a few are original and affect us deeply. There are a few moments where I froze and couldn't breathe and a final moment that made me cry for a few minutes and that is because we have invested so much in these characters and we love them. The movie does a great job building these character's chemistry and that is due to the well written dialogue. The moments where the two men just talk about girlfriends, life and their job are suspenseful on their own.

When we get to the intense and emotional final moments we are fully invested in these guys and don't want anything bad to happen to them. By the end we are on the edge of our seats. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent here and I think this might be his best performance so far. Michael Pena has always been an excellent character actor but here he gives a performance that should make him a star and get him lead roles.

I went through all the emotions with this movie, was on the edge of my seat, laughing out loud and then choking up with tears. I also must mention Anna Kendrick and Natalie Mendoza who are great as the two officer's significant others. When the men are in danger I thought about the women right away because they are so well drawn and well played by the two actresses. That is the sign of a cop movie that is deeper than it should be and that is why "End of the Watch" is one of the best cop movies ever made and easily one of the best pictures of 2012!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


'THE MASTER' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Christopher Evan Welch, Patty McCormack, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jessie Plemmons

Some movies are just extremely well made, fascinating and worthwhile but can just leave you scratching your head. There are also movies like this that are hard to embrace and care for. "The Master" is the new movie by Paul Thomas Anderson who directed "Boogie Nights" which is in my top 5 movies of the 90's. His latest is an actual masterpiece in style but the story and characters will turn some movie goers off.

Filmed in beautiful widescreen 70MM film stock but inexplicably not being able to be shown in small screen Chicago, "The Master" is definitely interesting. It also has two wonderful performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman particularly gives a performance that is pure perfection and one of the greatest performances I have seen any actor ever give! The movie is also breathtaking to look at with flawless art direction, costumes and atmosphere. The story is the part that will confuse some and leave others cold.

I was very intrigued by the story and watching Hoffman is like watching an exercise in pure, pitch perfect acting. It is a performance that should be studied on how to hit the right notes without a trace of falseness or over acting. We first see the lead character Freddie Quell, played by Phoenix, during World War II as the war is ending. We will follow him as he tries to adjust to post war life as a department store photographer. We see him snap in one scene at a customer. The war has either made him an alcoholic, as we see him make his own moonshine with paint thinner, or affected his brain and thinking.

Then Freddie stows away on a yacht in one of the most beautifully shot moments of the movie. There he runs into Lancaster Dodd who is a writer but also fancies himself as a doctor, nuclear physicist and theoretical philosopher. He is patterned after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, and the movie is inspired by that religion or cult but it doesn't concentrate on any similarity to it. It is more concerned with Freddie and how Dodd will either manipulate him into following him or brainwash him into it. Dodd sees Freddie as an alcoholic and dangerous but feels he can cure him.

This brings me to my pet peeve and why I was fascinated by this story. Freddie is an alcoholic yes but the war has truly scrambled Fredie's brain and the methods that Dodd uses to cure Freddie are strange. Dodd to me is very arrogant because anybody who thinks they can come up with therapy methods that have no sound basis in psychology to cure a mentally unstable man is more dangerous to me than Freddie. Now the methods are wacky to me but they are totally fascinating. I really loved how the movie explored if Dodd's group is considered a cult or just an extended family with a problem child.

I am proud of my extensive knowledge of cults and that is why I was fascinated by the story but I couldn't embrace the movie the whole time. Though the second time I saw the movie ( the movie might require two viewings) I discovered it really has nothing to do with cults even though there are some similarities to a cult. I like that the movie is complicated and makes you think but I needed to identify with some character and I couldn't always do it. It is not a movie that will have you walking out of the theater with a clear head or totally satisfied. There are no easy answers and really no characters you can care about but you will find them fascinating. The movie demands patience and your undivided attention and focus. It is not a feel good movie or a joyous time and it can feel cold a lot of the time.

Though if you want to see a talented director at the top of his skills you will find Paul Thomas Anderson's direction flawless, meticulous and beautifully constructed but also maybe too meticulous. The pacing is solid, the cinematography stunning and the detail flawless. There is also another amazing performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie. It is the more showy role that can come off as too loud and over the top in the wrong hands but Phoenix hits all the right notes. Phillip Seymour Hoffman has the more subtle role and he gives a performance that is flawless. I am partial to Hoffman in this movie because I like quieter performances and roles and Hoffman mesmerized me more than any actor has done in a long time. That doesn't mean Phoenix isn't as great, it is just that Hoffman is pitch perfect. I usually don't do this at such an early time but I can't see any actor giving a better performance this year than Hoffman, he is the man to beat at the Oscars!

"The Master" is fascinating , beautifully shot and made, flawless in its details and production design and powerfully acted. Amy Adams is also great playing against type as Dodd's wife who thinks Freddie is either an alcoholic or mentally dangerous. The movie dances around the ideal of religion, psychology and cults but I found it to be the actual story of a father figure and the son he tries to help but might actually harm more. Will Freddie stay with Dodd or find the courage to discover he can make it on his own. The movie won't tell you and it doesn't end with easy solutions but it is fascinating to watch.

P.S. I thought "The Master" would be my first 4 star review of 2012 (sad). I just couldn't embrace it and fully give my heart to it. Guess I will have to wait for "Argo" or "Silver Linings Playbook" for that elusive 4 star review.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012



Written by Randy Brown
Directed by Robert Lorenz
Actors: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Joe Massingil, Chelcie Ross, Ed Lauter, Bob Gunton, Rober Patrick

"Trouble With the Curve" won't change your life in anyway and yes it is very light and fluffy but it is like good comfort food. It is the perfect example of a movie being cliched while still being effective. It helps that Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams are really charming and that they light up the screen. It is not a great baseball movie but I think it is more about an estranged father and daughter who really love baseball story.

"Trouble" stars Clint Eastwood as Gus who is a old time baseball scout who rails against a computer judging talent. His eye sight is failing and his contract is about to run out. Amy Adams is his daughter Mickey, named after Mantle, who is a successful lawyer who is estranged from her father who left her after her mother died. Mickey will put a big case on hold that will make her a partner in her firm and help her dad. The story will delve into an incident that affected Gus and made him leave his daughter behind but that story didn't interest me.

What I did like was the chemistry between Eastwood and Adams and I am convinced that Adams can work with anyone. There is also a small love story with Mickey and Johnny played by Justin Timberlake who gets better and better with every movie. Johnny used to be an ace starting pitcher that was scouted by Gus until his arm blew out. I like Timberlake and Adams together but the love story wasn't the most interesting part of the movie to me either.

I really liked the third leg of the story as Gus and Johnny go after an arrogant high school power hitter. There will be a surprise that will be sprung from this story and yes it is cheesy but it works. The movie's charm lies in the performances and charm of Adams, Timberlake, John Goodmman and Eastwood who does a little of his "Gran Torino" character but with a different shade here.

There is a reason movies that Eastwood acts in are always charming and always comfort me, this is his first acting gig without directing in many years. He just has a knack to draw you in with his easy going charm. There is a reason flawed movies like this and his "Every Which Way But Loose" movies, which I have seen at least 50 times each, work. They do not try too hard, they are just fun, entertaining and easygoing.