Friday, October 25, 2013


'ALL IS LOST' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor
Actor: Robert Redford

A lot of survival cliches came to mind while watching J.C. Chandor's "All Is Lost" and my mind raced with bleak thoughts while watching the movie. Thoughts like, I know I would be not knowing what to do and would probably be dead in two or three days if I was in the lead character's shoes. That lead is called "Our Man" and he is played by Robert Redford who, excuse the pun, is a natural fit for the story of "All Is Lost". He is sailing alone off the Indian Ocean in a small sailboat when he crashes into a cargo container, lost from a ship, which has gashed a huge hole on the side of the boat. His boat starts leaking and throughout 8 days he will have to deal with his boat falling apart and in danger of sinking, a diminishing food supply and sharks circling his boat soon to be hungry.

"All Is Lost" does a very good job of putting us on that ship with Our Man and photographing the perils that Our Man faces including a brooding storm that almost wipes everything away. I mention Redford being perfect here and not because he is a huge nature advocate. Critics in the past have called Redford a cold actor but I disagree and here I could identify with him. He might not be as endearing as a Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) but he has an everyman, rugged screen presence that feels perfect here. We can feel his frustration building as more obstacles to surviving mount and more perilous situations build. Redford never overplays his reactions, he never over emotes or over reacts to the danger in a phony way.

We forget while watching "All Is Lost" that Redford has proved himself as being a great action movie star and screen presence before. His 1972 film "Jeremiah Johnson", one of Redford's best films, showed that Redford is an expert at the surviving nature, action thing. It is a very physically demanding performance and you can tell that Redford does all his stunts. It is even more impressive because Chandor makes all the perilous scenes look so effective and real that I know that Redford had to do all the physical stunts himself. Director Chandor does an excellent job at realistically capturing the danger of the storm that hits and what Redford has to do to survive. The cinematography here, underwater photography by Peter Zuccarini, and Frank G. DeMarco is beautiful and thrilling.

"All Is Lost" is not a movie that I would desire to go see again but for the one time viewing it kept me enthralled and never bored. A movie like this can get tedious but J.C. Chandor does a great job at keeping us involved with each twist and peril that befalls Our Man. Coming out around the same time as a more thrilling masterpiece like "Captain Phillips" can't help "All Is Lost" but it is a movie worth your time. You have a thrilling movie that is very effective and well directed and a movie star that strips away his vanity and gives an emotionally draining and flawless performance. Robert Redford is the perfect choice for this movie and he proves it with one of his best performances.

Friday, October 18, 2013



Written by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Actors: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday.

Let me get this straight right off the bat. No one can ever do a remake of the original "Carrie" with the same amount of surprise, scares and grisly shock scenes. Brian DePalma's 1976 horror classic "Carrie" is one of my ten favorite horror movies of all time. I don't get really scared often but I still can't watch the original movie without getting nerves and goosebumps. No movie as a child has haunted me more than DePalma's gritty horror movie. Piper Laurie as Carrie's mother is one of the most frightening performances I have seen in a horror picture. The performance by Sissy Spacek put her on the map and no one can touch her as Carrie except maybe the remake's Chloe Grace Moretz who is the only reason I am fully endorsing this movie. Sometimes a performance is so captivating it can make a so so movie become a solid experience.

The original "Carrie" has a lot more power than the remake because of the type of film making. The remake is glossier, less grittier and too polished. The original had grit, a better, spookier house for it's location and Carrie's mother Margaret is scarier and more effective in the original. It is funny but the original didn't have CGI and the visual technology that movies have today but the prom scenes in the original are much more effective in the blood and shock category. I also don't see the supporting actors becoming stars like Travolta, Nancy Allen and Amy Irving became, the actors here are a little flat. I remember DePalma getting great flak by critics and even Stephen King, DePalma has received more hate than any director ever has in the history of movies by critics, but now critics call "Carrie" a masterpiece. That is funny and also a reason I don't pattern myself after movie critics.

I should not like this movie because it in no way measures up to the original but the performance by Chloe Grace Moretz is equal in power to Spacek's. Moretz is one of our finest young actresses and she nails the sweetness, fragility and naivety of Carrie perfectly. It is a graceful, subtle and beautiful performance. The other aspects of this movie might not be as effective but Moretz grounds this movie and her performance made me follow this remake even though the horror scenes and scares just don't touch the original's and didn't impress me a lot. Kimberly Peirce is a great director, "Boys Don't Cry", but I expected more from her. The screenwriters do a decent job of giving us a fragile Carrie who has to emerge from her shell and deal with bullying and ridicule from her peers. I like the use of modern touches like facebook and other social media aspects and how more despicable bullying is today. I just wasn't scared or jolted and man did the original scare the crap out of me!

I did love Chloe Grace Moretz though and she turns a fairly effective horror movie into something much more. Because of Moretz I was able to be somewhat affected by her battles with her mother and her tormentors with the final scenes. I do love Julianne Moore a lot and she is good here but her performance can't possibly match Piper Laurie's. Also DePalma is one of my favorite directors, I despise the hate he receives by critics, and his direction of the original movie is singular, scary as hell and gut wrenching. The way the original was filmed brings in my head thoughts of visceral masterpiece, auteur and a groundbreaking horror movie. The remake can't possibly touch the original's genius and on it's own it needed more oomph but Moretz is the real deal. A star and a future Oscar winning actress has emerged!



Written by John Ridley based on the book by Solomon Northup
Directed by Steve McQueen
Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong'o, Garret Dillahunt, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti.

A star rating or a comparison to other movies out there is not fair to a movie like "12 Years a Slave". It is on another level, a level that can't be reached by just any movie. "12 Years a Slave" is not just a history lesson, isn't good for you, doesn't attempt to compare itself to race relations today. It is just a powerful and moving story about one man's tale of survival amid impossible odds from evil. It has scenes that are more unsettling and horrific than just your ordinary melodrama about a slave. It will tear your guts out and make you cry and you will never be the same. There are cliches like gut wrenching that I can use but that would just insult this powerful experience.

"12 Years a Slave" tells the story of a free black man in the 1840's who gets sold into slavery because of a random meeting, wrong place, wrong time. His name is Solomon Northup and he has a wife and two kids and can play the fiddle brilliantly. He gets recruited to play in a circus by two men and on his trip he suddenly one morning wakes up to find himself in shackles and chains. He will be sold along with Patsy, who is ripped from her children, to Freeman who will then sell Solomon to a plantation owner and will be given a slave name, Pratt. Freeman is played by Paul Giamatti and we will be introduced to one of the most evil men I have seen in a movie. The man he is sold to is not as evil, even though his wife is, but he can't keep Solomon so he sells him to a cotton plantation owner , Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender.

Patsy will also come with Solomon to serve Epps and Patsy and Solomon forge a complicated but unique friendship. The performances in this movie are outstanding including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon and Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy who are amazing and give two of the best performances I have ever seen in a movie. Ejiofor has been an amazing character actor but here as Solomon he gives a powerful performance that will forever change how movie audiences perceive him. It is a heartbreaking performance of quiet pain and Ejiofor is perfect here, without him this movie doesn't breathe. Equal to Ejiofor is Nyong'o who is also heartbreaking and in one of the most horrific scenes I have ever encountered in a movie Nyong'o will go through an incident that will shake us to the core and Nyong'o and Ejiofor make it that much more powerful. Both actors give amazing and powerful portrayls and their intense performances have to be seen.

Michael Fassbender and Paul Giamatti are frighteningly evil and also give intense performances but not all the white men in this movie are evil. This is not a black and white world here and wasn't back then, a lot of movies about slavery unfortunately are shallow. You have evil white men or noble black slaves but "12 Years a Slave" is in another stratosphere compared to other movies about slavery. Director Steve McQueen does such a wonderful job of presenting all the characters honestly and not making events come off as too melodramatic. McQueen doesn't sugarcoat things and goes for the throat and I admire that. He just lets the camera and the performances tell the story. There are many scenes that are graphic, horrific and unsettling and McQueen doesn't go to cutaways, he makes you stare evil in the face for long periods of time. A lesser movie would have softened the scenes of torture and that is why this movie is in another category.

"12 Years a Slave" can not be summarized or categorized as a movie about slavery and it doesn't paint any of the characters in broad strokes. It is a powerful experience that will tear you up but in the end the tears you will spill will be earned especially after one of the most powerful endings I have ever seen in a drama. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o are outstanding and their performances must be recognized. Steve McQueen never overdoes anything in his direction, he lets the movie breathe through the performances and the amazing screenplay by John Ridley. There are a few moments I didn't like, though tiny, in the storytelling but who cares. This is a movie going experience that will change your life and move you with it's story of one man's brave ordeal and journey through a world of evil.

Friday, October 11, 2013



Written by Billy Ray based on the novel "A Captain's Duty:Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days at Sea" by Richard Phillips and Stephen Tally.
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Actors: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Catherine Keener, Chris Mulkey.

Tom Hanks is one of the most likeable actors we have today because we can relate to almost any character he plays in any movie. This helps a lot when watching the stomach churning, tense, extremely well acted and enthralling "Captain Phillips". This is a hard movie to embrace and love but with Hanks you will be feeling a lot of emotion by the end of this movie. Paul Greengrass has directed another movie like this before with the powerful "United 93". With that white knuckler and now this movie, Greengrass is now one of our finest directors of thrillers. "United 93" never let you off the hook and never made it easy to embrace the story. "Captain Phillips" makes you identify with it's hero because of Hank's everyman, down to earth quality.

"Captain Phillips" is mostly a cat and mouse battle of wits, a tense thriller and an action movie. It is the best action movie of 2013 so far. Greengrass directed "The Bourne Identity", he knows how to make a highly charged, effective action movie. "Captain Phillips" tells the amazing story of Richard Phillips, a cargo ship captain who is on a trip to the coast of Somali. At first Richard is a tough boss towards his crew and demanding but not any more than a usual boss at any job. When Somali pirates invade his ship and demand money or they will kill the whole crew, Richard has to save his hide and protect his crew. When this incident starts we see that Richard has feelings and that he cares about his crew and is not so cold.

"Captain Phillips" will not waste any time setting up character development. It will jump right into business and it will reveal what kind of a man Phillips is by every problem he has to overcome dealing with these pirates. We will also learn more about the chief pirate who is in charge of this invasion. I didn't expect the depths that this story would reveal with it's antagonist Muse, an outstanding performance by Barkhad Abdi. He is a desperate man whose poverty and social situation has forced him to try something like hold a ship and it's crew hostage for money. The movie will become a fascinating battle of wits between Muse and Phillips. Muse can't turn back now even when the Navy Seals become involved and Muse pretty much has run out of options.

That desperation from Muse and Phillip's steely resolve will make "Captain Phillips" an amazing story of struggle between two different men. Muse's team of attackers will also be deeply written and their ambivalent feelings towards this mission is as important as Muse's and Phillip's feelings. Tom Hanks, in my opinion, gives my favorite Tom Hank's performance and in the many tense scenes Hanks never overplays his hand and in the explosively emotional finale Hanks will reach deeper than he has in any movie since "Philadelphia". Barkhad Abdi, as Muse, gives a powerful, natural debut performance that matches Hank's subtly effective acting with Abdi's anger and explosiveness.

"Captain Phillips" never has a dull moment and never rests for a minute. The movie is beautifully shot, edited, directed and performed. It starts off as the best thriller and action movie of the year and then winds up as a morality tale with deep emotional power by the end. Hanks has to be a shoo in for an Oscar nomination and I wouldn't be surprised if Abdi doesn't get noticed also. Paul Greengrass has directed another tense masterpiece that never makes a wrong move and never lets you breathe. There are edge of your seat scenes of intensity and action, surprising emotion and finally a compelling story that also makes you think. As the end credits rolled I had to sit for a few minutes and I couldn't move. I didn't expect that from what I thought would just be a simple thriller. "Captain Phillips" is easily one of the best movies of the year.

Friday, October 4, 2013


'ENOUGH SAID' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Actors: Julia Louis Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Eve Hewson, Tracey Fairaway.

"I know this might sound corny but you broke my heart"-Albert (James Gandolfini)

Yes, my heart has also been broken because we have lost a very special actor in James Gandolfini who with "Enough Said" was going to prove how great he could have been as a romantic lead. That line of dialogue, spoken by Albert, played by Gandolfini, is spoken so eloquently and truthfully by Gandolfini that I started to cry. His Albert is one of the truest and one of my favorite characters of this movie year. "Enough Said" also made me smile, amid the tears, more than almost any movie I saw this year. It is portrayed as a light romantic comedy but it's screenplay is deeper than that and wonderfully written by director Nicole Holofcener.

Nicole Holofcener has written many wonderful screenplays, my favorites being "Walking and Talking" and "Lovely and Amazing". All of her screenplays are perceptive romantic comedies that make us confront reality and loving it all the way. "Enough Said" is now my favorite Holofcener movie and it starts with a revealing performance by Gandolfini and an Oscar caliber performance of beauty by Julia Louis Dreyfus. The plot of "Enough Said" might sound preposterous and silly but trust me, this is a very funny, realistic and charming movie of great warmth.

Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced, single parent and masseuse who is looking to get back in the dating game but can't find anyone interesting. At a dinner party, at a friend's home, she meets Albert who is nice but a tad overweight for Eva and Eva is not afraid to voice that opinion to her closest friend Sarah, Toni Collette. She will start dating Albert though because he is sweet and down to earth and kind of cute plus he is also a single parent. I am not giving away anything here that the trailer has not revealed but Eva will meet another woman that she will become friends with. Eva will also find out later in the plot that her new friend Marianne is also Albert's ex wife.

Marianne also becomes one of Eva's clients and Eva will listen to Marianne complain about how much of a slob her ex husband is. At a certain point Eva will learn that Albert and Marianne were married once and you would think that the movie would become similar to a weak, shallow sitcom. There are scenes where Eva has to hide the fact that she already knows Marianne is Albert's ex wife and listen to Marianne bad mouth Albert. These scenes could come off as phony but Holofcener delicately treats these scenes to make them come off as not only very funny but also truthful. We like Albert and Eva so much that we will invest in the story and it's plot twists. The situation might seem far fetched but the writing about relationships and dating ring very true.

There are moments here of great hilarity and I laughed a lot during "Enough Said" and there are moments that are extremely charming and there are scenes of heartbreak. The lines of dialogue also come to life and seem real thanks to the excellent acting by the two leads. We know Dreyfus can act from her many accolades from television shows "Seinfeld" and "Veep" but I found her performance here on another higher level! This is Oscar caliber work and one of the funniest and most charming performances by an actress this year. Dreyfus handles the comedy scenes with perfection but the way she handles the dramatic, bittersweet scenes are a revelation. She is beautiful, funny, graceful and she makes us believe every feeling and line of dialogue she has here.

We all knew that James Gandolfini was an amazing dramatic actor and also one of our best character actors but everyone will be floored by how great a romantic leading man he will become here. Like Albert, Gandolfini was overweight and not a conventionally handsome, leading man in the romance genre but "Enough Said" would have expanded his movie career. So when Albert says that line about his heart being broken, the way Gandolfini says it made me lose it. Gandolfini is so sweet and likable here and so believable romantically that my heart broke. There are many scenes that are wonderfully and gently played here by Gandolfini and his performance is a revelation and romantic, comedic perfection.

"Enough Said" also has a great depth in it's story with it's supporting characters and subplots. Albert's and Eva's respective daughters are strongly written and acted by Eve Hewson and Tracey Fairaway. Both teenagers will be leaving for college soon and the heartbreak that will reach each parent is performed so realistically and truthfully here by Gandolfini and Dreyfus and so well written by Holofcener. Also the sexy and funny Catherine Keener, as Marianne, and the wonderful Toni Collette and Ben Falcone as a married couple and Eva's friends are so well written and acted here. I liked everything about "Enough Said". I loved all the subplots, characters and writing plus the performances by Dreyfus and Gandolfini which floored me, moved me and made me very happy.

P.S. My heart is broken indeed, now that Gandolfini has left us but seeing how great, funny and romantic he is here I did leave the movie smiling and very happy. We will all miss you deeply.


'GRAVITY' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written by Jonas and Alfonso Cuaron
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Actors: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

There is no doubt that very soon motion pictures will never be the same again now that special effects are getting more special. Now with IMAX being used as a regular viewing option for visual treats like "Avatar" we will be seeing more and more visually arresting movies. Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" has spellbinding effects that I have never seen before on screen and it begs to be seen in 3D on a giant IMAX screen. There will be more event pictures like Cuaron's latest in the near future but of course I hope it doesn't edge out the well written, small, independent movies. I loved "Gravity" for it's breathtaking visuals and performances but the screenplay needs some editing even if the effects are perfectly displayed.

The only thing is I don't think moviegoers watching "Gravity" are coming for the screenplay and they will certainly not be disappointed in how the movie looks. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, a medical engineer and an astronaut who are on a space exploration that is controlled on the ground by a Mission Control voice, Ed Harris. Right from the start the movie pulls you in and makes your jaw drop with it's visuals of a floating space station. It is not only the sight of the station but how Ryan and Matt effortlessly float around it. The visuals and the editing throughout the movie are perfection and very impressive.

When debris from a Russian missile hitting a Russian space station collide with the American station Ryan will be detached from Matt and will dangerously float off in space maybe hurtling towards death. Ryan will have to get back to the station and try to rescue herself and others and make a safe re-entry back to earth. Ryan also has some past, personal problems at home that she will have to face head on while floating in space and trying to save her oxygen. Sandra Bullock gives an amazing, intense performance and she doesn't let the visuals overwhelm her. I wish I could say the same about the screenplay.

The best part of the movie, besides the breathtaking visuals, is how the movie becomes intense and scary just because it will seem impossible for Ryan to live and come home safely. Cuaron does a masterful job at creating tension and awe just by the way he moves the camera among the hurtling machinery and floating bodies in space. The editing here is perfect when it deals with the intense action scenes. Bullock also makes us feel her despair and fear and her performance never strays from greatness. She is showing us how great an actress she is with her comedy skills in "The Heat" and her dramatic chops here. George Clooney again gives his everyman, charming performance that he specializes in so well.

"Gravity" will be a very intense and visually beautiful treat for audiences, especially in 3D and on the huge IMAX screen where it begs to be seen. The only time the movie lost me was when the action stopped and the very thin screenplay took over for a few moments. There is one plot point dealing with a tragedy Ryan has experienced in her life but I never felt any dramatic tension created from this tragedy. The screenplay doesn't do a good enough job at melding her past tragedy with the death she is facing now. There are some moments also where the movie just stalls and tries to create dialogue but sometimes that dialogue falls flat. If the screenplay doesn't bother you like it did me you will still find "Gravity" a special treat of groundbreaking visuals and nerve jangling, jaw dropping scenes of intensity.