Friday, December 28, 2012



Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Actors: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Brent Cullen, Adam Scott, Ari Graynor, Kathy Najimy, Miriam Margolyes.

There is nothing sweeter than the love between a mother and her son! I know that sounds maudlin and lame but it is very true. I thought "The Guilt Trip" would be lame also and very cloying or just a waste of time. It turns out that "The Guilt Trip" is a nice, fun, sweet (without being cloying) and funny comedy. It knows how to relax and just tell us a simple story of a mother and her son. It is a road trip movie and sometimes those can be a pain i.e. "Due Date". "The Guilt Trip" has some nice scenery and location work and a role for and performance by Barbra Streisand who has been off the screen for 16 years. Back then she was in a dramatic movie and I want to see the comedic version of Streisand and this role for her is a great one.

Streisand made some very funny comedies back in her heyday like "What's Up Doc" and "The Main Event". We know the muscial version of Barbra very well but we forget how great she is with comedy. She has a perfectly cast co star in Seth Rogen as Streisand and Rogen play mother and son Joyce and Andrew. Andrew is a smart kid who has invented a safe kitchen/bathroom cleaner made from natural resources. Andrew has to go on a cross country trip to try to sell this cleaner to major companies from New York to Vegas. In a plot development I won't spoil here Andrew feels he has to ask his mother to accompany him on this eight day trip. Andrew and Joyce seem like a normal mother and son and yes Joyce may come off as a nag to him. Credit the writer here Dan Fogelman, who wrote the sweet and wonderful "Dan In Real Life", for not making Joyce a walking cliche.

The laughs attributed to this strained relationship come off naturally, the writing is natural and not forced. Streisand is a delight and Rogen blends in nicely with Streisand and after a while we do believe they are mother and son. This movie could have gone so wrong so easily but the screenplay here is truly funny and sweet. This is not a real gut buster but I laughed many times throughout. I am really happy that Streisand was given this movie to star in. Jane Fonda is another actress who made a comeback and I missed her also. The difference is that Fonda has been given some very weak material to work with. Maybe Streisand and Fonda can do a buddy comedy sometime? Or maybe Barbra can give Fonda her agent's number. Anybody up for a "Nine To Five" sequel with Barbra, Jane, Dolly and Lily? Hmmmm.

There are some scenes here that could have been depicted as cruel and cheap including a strip club scene, a steakhouse scene and the Vegas material. That stuff is actually cleverly written, tasteful and funny. The movie does get sentimental but it is a nice sentimental instead of an obvious, strained sentimental. Streisand and Rogen work so beautifully together and they are both sweet and very funny together. There are surprises in the story but they are smart and very well earned. This is a perfect movie for sons to take their mothers to. It is tasteful, very funny, sweet and captivating. It is a relaxing time at the movies that will make you smile all the way home.



Written by Christopher McQuarrie based on a book by Lee Child
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Actors: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Michael Raymond James.

There has been great criticism towards the movie "Jack Reacher" from fans of the "Jack Reacher" books by Lee Child. It goes towards the casting of Tom Cruise who is supposedly shorter, much shorter, than the book's Jack. Jack is I guess supposed to be 6'5 and Cruise is definitely shorter than that. I have not read the books so I don't really care about that discrepancy. If I did read the books I still wouldn't get that upset but I would if the movie wasn't loyal to the book's story. I am glad I didn't read the book because I had a good time watching Cruise and this movie.

It reminds me of an old fashioned mystery and a "Dirty Harry" movie rolled in to one. In fact one fun fight scene reminded me of a similarly shot scene in Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" movie "Sudden Impact". It is in the style of a 70's mystery picture, clean and with no tricks up the sleeve. It just relaxes us into the story though after an unsettling first ten minutes. The real stir should be caused by a opening scene where a sniper picks off some innocent people. You automatically think of the shooting in Conneticut and other tragedies like that. I started to get a little disturbed and choked up. That is more important than whether Cruise is miscast.

It is tough to get over that opening but I did forget all that after the first hour. The movie has a story I found intriguing and comepelling thanks to the direction of Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise. This is not a happy Tom Cruise role but Cruise does very well here playing the conflicted hero Jack Reacher. If you haven't read the source material the movie concerns that sniper from the beginning and whether he was actually the shooter. We find out right away what the answer really is but the movie really concentrates on who is behind it all and why? Was the shooting actually random?

Jack Reacher is an ex Army soldier who tries to get to the bottom of everything by his own rules. He is like a young Dirty Harry but Cruise brings his own cockiness and cool to the role. He also gets good support by the beautiful Rosamund Pike as a defense lawyer. Those two character's relationship is refreshingly not romantic and that is a plus. We can concentrate on the story then and to the great director Werner Herzog wonderfully playing a creepy, evil bad guy. He has a lot of fun as does Robert Duvall in a small role that becomes big and made me smile. Add to that my dependable and trusty character actor Richard Jenkins and a very good David Oyelowo as a cop.'

I was never bored by and was always into "Jack Reacher". It is a solid film, well made, acted and directed by Christopher McQuarrie who wrote the very popular crime movie "The Usual Suspects". It is a movie that could have fit Eastwood's "Dirty Hary" character or a Burt Reynolds back in the 70's. It is clean, no nonsense with a good mystery, good action, chase scenes and cool vintage cars. You might not remember it a year from now but at the time you are watching it, it goes down smoothly.

Thursday, December 27, 2012



Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Actors: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel Jackson, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Jonah Hill.

Quentin Tarantino might be my greatest soulmate that has come in my life. That might sound pathetic but we are both ex video store clerks that love movies a lot! The difference is that Tarantino can show his love of movies in every film he writes and shoots. Some of his movies can have their faults but I have never been dissapointed in any movie he has writen and directed. Like after seeing the depressing "Les Miserables" I was counting on watching Tarantino's latest "Django Unchained" after and having fun and not being dissapointed. Lo and behold it happened again, I had a fun time and loved Tarantino's joy in filmmaking coming through again.

In a year that saw the first half populated with lazy movies I forgot how my heart starts to beat faster when watching a Tarantino flick. Out of 3/4 of movies released this year no one can touch on Tarantio's creativity and energy. We are not watching movies on cable, we are watching them on a big screen and want to be carried away and Tarantino carries me away every time. Now his movies can be very gory and violent and "Django" might be his bloodiest. Though this is a Western and I think that blood and depravity can be accepted better in a Western. This is a gloriously funny and exciting Western and this is coming from someone who is not a huge Western fan.

Tarantino can breathe life into all his movies as he does here. I love him because like me he is in love with arguably the best period of filmaking, the 70's. I also love how he uses supporting actors who you have not seen in decades and gives them great roles. I can go on all day with my Tarantino love but let's get into this wonderfully shot and told movie. This is classic old school Western story telling with an energetic twist. The movie tells the story of Django who is a slave and who is rescued by a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. In that wonderful start Schultz takes Django under his wings as a free man to help him catch killers and dispose of them for money.

The movie takes place a few years before The Civil War and Django will joing King on an adventure that will change both of their lives. Django also wants to save his wife Broomhilda from the evil clutches of plantation owner Calvin Candie. There are a few great set pieces throughout the movie starting with a wonderful opening dealing with a small town Sheriff and a Marshall. After a few middling moments (the movie's only detriment)in the middle we get to the plantation owned by Candie. The movie then really gets fun with two beautifully written and funny, fascinating supporting characters. They are Candie and his house servant Stephen.

Both characters are funny and a joy to listen to and watch due to great performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as Candie and Samuel Jackson as Stephen. DiCaprio is deliciously evil and it is a controlled performance that is sly, wicked, flawlessly played and delightful. Samuel Jackson has the funniest character and the funniest lines in the movie and he plays them so well in a character that could have gone over the top. The scenes with Jackson made me laugh longer and harder than in almost any movie this year. I am having a hard time deciding who is better, DiCaprio or Jackson, because both are amazing! Also Christoph Waltz is back with his best role since "Inglorious Basterds" and he is delightful and fascinating also. His line delivery is smooth and he is becoming one of my new favorite character actors.

I also loved Jamie Foxx who gets better as the movie goes on. He is cool, effective and he becomes a hero we can root for. This is due to Foxx's assured delivery and by the end we realize this could be one of our best actors, we forget that sometimes I think. The movie has vintage Tarantino dialogue and like everyone of his movies the dialogue is alive. Sometimes I think movies forget to stand still for a while and entertain us with lively dialogue and writing. Most movies just want to jump around but Tarantino loves the spoken word. People complain about Tarantino having too much dialogue in his films. I don't get it, now we want dumbed down movies with all action and no story or character development? The writing here is alive and I was never bored escpecially in the exhilirating last hour.

Now the movie is not easy to watch if you are not into gore and some explicit violence. It didn't bother me here because like I said before this is a Western and that genre can allow a little leeway. Lets get this straight, by now you should know what to expect from Tarantino and if you don't like his movies don't see them and then attack his style of film making. If you love movies and Tarantino you will not be dissapointed. You have some hilarious dialogue and comedy, some beautifully shot action and shoot outs and a very fun time at the movies. I also like seeing Tarantino bringing back wonderful actors we don't see much like Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away) and James Remar (48 Hours, Warriors, Cotton Club). "Django Unchained" is not as great as Tarantino's last movie "Inglorious Basterds" but again Tarantino movies make me so happy and this one has the same effect.

P.S. There has been some criticism over Tarantino's use of the "N" word and yes I hate that word also. Though this movie is set during the Civil War era in the South. That word was used a lot and flew freely by racist white people during that time. I know, it is a shocker but probably true. Maybe Tarantino is using that word a lot for satire, who knows.



Written by William Nicholson
Directed by Tom Hooper
Actors: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter.

With the latest Hobbit movie and now the screen adaptation of "Les Miserables" I realize if you are not a fan of the original material you might not like a screen adaptation of it. I am not a fan of the muscial "Les Miserables", let me get that out of the way first. I saw it on stage when I was a kid and was bored and now after seeing this screen adaptation my boredom has not gone away. Since I hadn't seen the play in a number of years I was still holding a sliver of hope that director Tom Hooper would enliven the material for the screen. I did find the first half hour promising and really good but after that half hour the movie turned sour for me.

The movie starts out beautifully (especially on a giant screen at Evanston Century 12 theater) with an astonishing opening. The opening has a huge ship being pulled by a couple of lines of slaves including I guess our hero Jean Valjean. It is a breathtaking shot and then we hear our first musical moment including Russell Crowe as Javert surprising me with a nice singing voice. The movie is shot differently from other musicals in that the actors actually sing on set as opposed to being dubbed in later. The results sounded really great to me, kind of reminded me of the great rock opera "Tommy" and that awesome, weird muscial adaptation by Ken Russell.

I also love the performance by Anne Hathaway as Fantine, the only character here I find interesting. Hathaway has a scene stealing, show stopping muscial number and her singing is controlled, heartbreaking and beautiful. She will deserve her predicted Best Supporting Actress win at the Oscars. So far so good and Vince here was actually thinking Tom Hooper and Anne Hathaway were going to make this much better than the stage muscial interpretation. Though suddenly my attention started to wander off and the story really kicks in and then really started to bore me. The major problem here to me is that Fantine leaves our promising muscial and the movie will never recover from it. I did not find any other character interesting at all and I attribute that to the weak writing that has to go back to the stage version.

These characters are shallowly written and besides singing they do nothing to enhance a depressing, dull story. The movie then starts to escape Tom Hooper's hands and starts to get monotonous. I am sorry but this has to be one of the most depressing musicals I have ever seen. Now someone who loves this will tell me that there have been so many musicals before that dealt with dark material. I would agree but those musicals are "Hair" and "Fiddler on the Roof" and they had characters and a story I cared about and there was a personality to the story and musical numbers. Fantine is the only character I loved and found touching and interesting. There are also the two worst characters in any musical I have seen who bring the movie to a halt played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. I also think that a musical that is surrounded by a dull subject like the French Revolution is in trouble from the beginning.

The movie is beautifully photographed but there is no control on the story after an hour beacause it is so dull, pretentious, sloppy and dull as dirt. I always have a rule that a movie can look really beautiful but if you don't have a good story or characters you are doomed. I also think that Hugh Jackman is good but I think any Broadway actor could have overplayed this character like Jackman does. Also Russell Crowe surprised me with his singing but it just seems like he is not there after a while what with his weakly written character. Also Cosette should carry the torch of fascination from Fantine when she leaves the story but the grown up Cosette is a simpleton dullard sorrounded by a weak love interest for her.

"Les Miserables" might satisfy the stage musical's fans but to me it just din't stir any emotions in me and I sat there mostly stone faced except during Hathaway's heartbreaking number. This is not really fun, entertaining stuff I am afraid and I love musicals more than most genre of films and I just felt somber and bored throughout. Musicals are supposed to touch us and give us an experience that takes away from our everyday problems. After "Les Miserables" I just wanted to poke my eyes out.

P.S. For better musicals that dealt with dark material but also changed my life and made me feel something try "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Hair" especially if you have never seen them! Skip "Les Miserables".

Friday, December 21, 2012

'THIS IS 40'

'THIS IS 40' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Actors: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Megan Fox, Chris O'Dowd, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel.

Judd Apatow has made some of my favorite comedies, ones that are not afraid to go out on the edge. I love Apatow movies such as "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up. His movies are a cool mix of vulgarity that never comes off as crude and truthful moments that all great comedy comes from. His new movie "This Is 40" is his best movie to date and that is saying something. The movie made me laugh out loud more times than any other comedy this year and it also actually touched me. It is a hard balance making comedy blend in with little moments of drama without getting maudlin. "This Is 40" has the perfect balance. I laughed a lot but not at the expense of the characters and that is my favorite kind of comedy.

"This Is 40" also surprised me with it's realism and heart and especially how deep it was. I have never been married and I never want to but I have been around a lot of married couples and this movie depicts a marriage more realistically than most movies that have focused on marriage. It also has one of my favorite performances by an actress in 2012 by Leslie Mann. The movie centers on the marriage of Pete and Debbie who were supporting characters in Apatow's "Knocked Up". The marriage depicted is based on little moments of real life couple Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow's marriage. Maybe that is why it felt so real to me.

"This Is 40" has some truly hilarious moments and I don't want to spoil them here. The movie also has some very real and compelling drama dealing with the every day problems of the marriage and Pete and Debbie's troubles with their young daughters and in-laws. The scenes dealing with the young daughters had to be based on real events because it feels so funny, real and touching. I expected a lot of comedy focusing on the family but I did not expect some great dramatic material dealing with Debbie and Pete's respective fathers. The fathers are played wonderfully by Albert Brooks and John Lithgow. Brooks is so funny and great here there could be a movie spin off just based on his character.

I do admit that some of the comedy here can be a little forced and fake but there is some very funny scenes based on truth that don't feel phony. The movie may be overlong for some but I was never bored. I actually didn't want it to end because I loved spending time with these characters. I also have a new found crush and respect for Leslie Mann as an actress. She is that classic mix of beauty, brains and comedic timing that is flawless. The movie should make her a household name and an Oscar contender. Her comedy prowess is dead on but it is the dramatic scenes that show how great an actress she is. Go back and watch movies like "Big Daddy" and "The 40 year Old Virgin" and then see this movie and you will discover a scene stealer and great actress.

I also love Paul Rudd more than any straight man should and I think it is his down to earth charm that gets me. Whenever I see Paul Rudd in a movie, even a bad one, I can't stop smiling. His chemistry with Mann is so perfect I swear they could be a real couple in life. I felt real drama here that didn't seem forced and surprised me. There is a great warmth here mixed with some outrageous comedy moments. I laughed a lot during this movie and fell in love with all the characters. This could have been a movie with very stereotypical cariactures but the writing is very smart here and it makes the characters seem real.

I do agree there could have been a little more editing and some scenes could have been cut but after a while I didn't care, I was having too much fun. There is also material dealing with Pete's job as a music producer that seemed false. There is stuff with Pete trying to reunite Graham Parsons with his old band The Rumour. There is a performance by them in a club where hardly anybody shows up when I know Graham Parsons could sell out a venue like "The Vic Theatre" in Chicago easily. Though those problems are easily erased by the realistic material dealing with family, financial troubles and marriage. "This Is 40" grew on me and I loved it more the deeper it got into it's story. I kind of knew it was going to be hilarious but I was surprised by the realism and the touching drama that this movie provides. "This Is 40" is easily one of my favorite movies of 2012.



Written by Sergio G. Sanchez
Directed b Juan Antonio Bayona
Actors: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin

In the beginning of the heartbreaking but uplifting "The Impossible" there is a moment that is one of the most realistic and frightening images I have ever seen in a motion picture. Of course you can guess it is the tsunami that hit Khao Lak, Thailand back in 2004. When that tsunami hits in the movie I winced and squirmed and wanted to hide my eyes what with all the destruction and death caused by this realistic natural disaster. There are bones breaking and major bodily harm that is right up in your face. Credit director J.A. Bayona and his crew for starting this movie on such a powerful moment not ruined by CGI trickery.

Many lives were destroyed from this horrendous tragedy and some people survived and I don't know how they did it. "The Impossible" focuses on one British family comprised of married couple Henry and Maria and their three sons including the eldest son Lucas. The movie tells the story of this family's bravery and finally exploring how the human condition of compassion can come out of a disaster this terrible. The movie starts out briely inroducing us to this family and it is effective because we grow to like this family right off the bat. The family is on a Christmas vacation staying at a resort when the tsunami strikes.

When the storm hits it is a very powerful moment shocking us with it's realism in the destruction the storm causes. I swear I could not tell that there was any special effects trickery, that is how powerful and realistic it is! Also the damage it does to Mary and Lucas's body is bone chilling as they get carried away in the water to a tree for safety. I will not spoil what happens to the family after the storm hits but it is emotional stuff and I want people to discover what happens, that makes it more special and effective. I am happy that I didn't know much going in because it made me appreciate the drama and focus on the movie more.

This is not a fun movie to watch but it's power comes from how bravery can come from people that don't seem brave at first. I love how the movie explores how a tragedy like this can wake up the love and care human beings should feel for each other. The movie's power comes from it's realism but also from two very special performances I will never forget. Naomi Watts is amazing as Mary and it is easily her best performance of a career that has many wonderful performances. It is a tough role to play for Naomi has a lot of scenes where she is bed ridden. Though the opening scenes showing her and Lucas trying to survive and get help requires a great deal and Watts is amazing in those scenes.

I was also captivated by the performance of young Tom Holland as the eldest son Lucas. It is a mature, Oscar caliber, strong and incredible performance by Holland and it is easily one of the best child performances I have ever seen. Also wonderful are Ewan McGregor as the father and the other child actors playing the other siblings. After a while the movie had a numbing effect on me but the performances and the family's struggle got to me and affected me deeply. I also loved that the movie had a short running time so that the movie didn't wallow into too much hardship, that would have made the movie depressing.

The movie is dark and grim but what comes out in the end is an uplifting and touching story of bravery and human compassion that comes out in tragedy and a certain compassion that should be shown more in every day life. Back in 1992 there was a movie called "Lorenzo's Oil" about a child with a rare disease. It was one of the most gut wrenching movies I have ever seen, one of the only ones where I wanted to escape from a movie. "The Impossible" is like that movie but sometimes I felt it could have been less Hollywood. There is a sequence where a lot of close calls are drawn out that felt a little false. With that minor quibble out of the way, "The Impossible" is gut wrenching, beautifully told and finally uplifting.