INTO DARKNESS 3D
|STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS 3D
Rated PG-13 for intense
sequences of sci-fi action
In the opening moments of Star Trek Into Darkness, the audience hears the words of Star Trek mythology that Gene Roddenberry wrote decades ago. The crew must adhere to the "prime directive," that is, to not interfere with the natural course of events in other worlds. As we know by now easier said than done. In the movie the filmmakers followed their own prime directive, which is above all, to tell a good story using the blueprint of the original.
You don't have to be a Trekkie to appreciate this latest movie in the series. While sci-fi movies today are generally about a dystopian future where all semblance of humanity is lost to the baser instincts of greedy, treacherous, evil men or hideous outer space beings, Star Trek presents an alternative. The Star Trek creator imagined a different future where it wasn't just the fantastic technology that we could use for the forces of good, but that the better nature of man would prevail. The good guys would ultimately win because, though imperfect humans, they value honor, integrity, courage, and love for one another.
Despite a rather generic title and what begins to feel like multiple endings, director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof succeed in a most fundamental way: we identify with, have empathy for, and become invested in these characters. Witty dialogue and likable people help, but the core of the series has always been the friendship between James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), and the half Vulcan Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), who can't tell a lie. Whenever Kirk is in trouble and needs Spock's support, he appeals to his human side as illogical as it may be. In this movie, their bond is solidified as each man saves the other's life and Spock comes to truly understand the meaning of friendship. Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), represents the opposite nature of Spock as the emotional, instinctual healer. And yes, he does speak one of the character's most memorable, and one of the audience's favorite lines, "Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor not a ..."
Starfleet Command, the "Academy," and the military in general are seen as heroic and noble, turning out cadets/soldiers of the highest caliber. Yet, betrayal from within almost causes the downfall and destruction of our planet, indicating there must always be vigilance as men can turn against the principles that sustain us. If you remember back to one of the early Star Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan, (1982) you already know much of the plot of this one. That doesn't mean that the action doesn't provide many thrilling moments as the genetically enhanced human named John Harrison, better known as Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), awakens in the future and seeks to destroy his inferiors. Not only is the technology terrific but the CGI, stunts, 3D, visuals, sets, and costumes are all together meticulous in creating a universe that fascinates us still.
With the human element so important to the series, the entire cast is first rate. As led by the bad boy, womanizing, rebellious Kirk of Chris Pine, to the controlled performance of a younger Spock played by Zachary Quinto, (with a cameo by Leonard Nimoy), the casting choices of the director pay off big time. Benedict Cumberbatch is an ideal antagonist who is superior to his human counterparts in every way, except he is a monstrous psychopath. Zoe Saldana as a strong but feminine Uhura, John Cho as a smart, masculine Sulu, Karl Urban as the cantankerous Bones, Anton Yelchin as the agreeable Russian Chekov (reference intended), and Simon Pegg providing humor as the beloved Mr. Fix-it Scotty all bring a new, but effective spin to their characters. Several new characters are introduced, even a possible love interest for Kirk. Talk about diversity, too, in the future even interspecies interaction will be ordinary.
As Kirk and crew face one disaster after another, they do whatever it takes to save each other. Even as they falter, make bad decisions, and fail again and again, they do it together. What a world it would be if those visions of the future came true?                Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE GREAT GATSBY 3D
Rated PG-13 for some
violent images, sexual
content, smoking, partying
and brief language.
The main problem filmmakers have with turning The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald into a movie is that his novel is literature, not pop fiction. That means that the writing more than anything is what sets it apart, not the plot of the story. Where best seller lists once consisted primarily of literature, they now feature mostly crime stories and romances, not that there's anything wrong with it - it reflects public tastes. But, what it does mean is that we are not as used to deep, thoughtful, symbolic work that gives praise to authors who can show us something insightful about the human condition.
It doesn't matter that Gatsby takes place in the 1920s. A work of art has a universal element to it, and so the audience should be able to draw meaning from it, no matter the time or place.
Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the mysterious uber-wealthy neighbor of the narrator Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire), who finally meets the man who throws all-night parties that the elite (new money) people attend. Jay's interest in Nick is not unselfish. Jay wants him to set up a meeting with Nick's cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a long ago love of Jay's. She is now married to old money bigot Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It seems Jay has had an obsession with Daisy ever since they parted, and his huge house, clothes, cars, and wealth are all about getting her attention. This tragedy plays out against the over-indulgence and extravagance of a decade that ends with the stock market crash.
Leonardo DiCaprio tries mightily to give us a Gatsby we can understand; a man born dirt poor who aspires to fame and respectability, though he doesn't earn it honestly. As Jay gets closer to his personal American Dream, he becomes more unglued. Mr. DiCaprio builds a character of increasing irrationality and desperation. Yet curiously, it's difficult to have empathy for him. As the object of his love Carey Mulligan is more a symbol than a real person, exactly as she is meant to be in the book; a vacuous beauty who has no core. She is the ultimate eye candy. Toby Maguire's Nick, a writer who abandons his vocation to make money on Wall Street, narrates the story from some kind of retreat where he is being treated for his alcoholism. The doctor suggests he write the story if he cannot explain it to him. His hero worship of Gatsby is difficult to comprehend except that every character in the story has some deep flaw, and he may connect with Gatsby's outsider the most. Two supporting actors, Joel Edgerton who plays the despicable Tom, and Elizabeth Debicki as Daisy's friend Jordan Baker, have a noteable presence on screen.
Much has been made of the music incorporated in the movie especially that of Jay-Z, but it plays a relatively minor role. The atmospherics that are there don't contribute to giving the movie the feel of the era portrayed anyway.
Director Baz Luhrmann, who co-wrote the script with Craig Pearce, has it about half right. The decadence of the roaring 20s Jazz Age is partially in evidence by the sumptuous production design and costumes of Mr. Luhrman's wife Catherine Martin. Also notable are the set and art decorations, visual and special effects, 3D, stunts, and cinematography by Simon Duggan. That unfortunately only helps the other issues to a degree.
Unlike the 1920s, today vast wealth gives "new money" instant credibility. The American Dream now is more about being seen than known. It doesn't seem to matter if one is famous or infamous. That's where Gatsby went wrong, and many make the same mistake today. It doesn't matter what you have, how many Twitter followers or Facebook friends you have, in an increasingly alienating society, what matters is - are you for real?                Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|IRON MAN 3
Rated PG-13 for sequences of
intense sci-fi action and
violence throughout, and
brief suggestive content.
Iron Man gets his comeuppance - of sorts - in this third installment of the Iron Man series. Who knew Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) would be subject to anxiety attacks? The filmmakers want Tony to seem more human even as they ratchet up the sci-fi/CGI/technical aspects of the movie. Of course, they give him plenty of reason for anxiety; his flagrant egotism and arrogance have invited an attack that destroys his laboratory/home and he and girlfriend Pepper Potts barely escape.
(Note: Most of the filming of the movie took place in North Carolina, particularly Wilmington, and here's hoping filmmakers continue to find North Carolina a good place to do business.)
Before Tony Starks and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) become involved he is a selfish, pompous, rich genius who sleeps around. On New Year's Eve 1999 he "celebrates" with, then casually discards serious scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who has developed an experimental technology called Extremis, a kind of regenerative, but unstable, treatment. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a crippled scientist, approaches Tony saying he has an idea for him, but Tony cruelly puts him off.
These two incidents come back to devastate him years later when he and Pepper are a couple. For the first time someone means more to him than himself, and this causes him great anxiety. He works day and night developing an Iron Man army (for what?), but before he can perfect it a global terrorist named Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), threatens the world. Tony responds with bravado thinking his security chief Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man 1 and 2), and gadgets will protect him. He underestimates Mandarin and his seaside fortress is destroyed. Tony is on the run and has to find some way to come back from disaster.
This attempt to make the character of Tony Stark vulnerable works for the most part. Director and co-writer Shane Black and writer Drew Pearce have crafted a script that in sci-fi terms makes sense. At his lowest point Tony must accept the help of a child (Ty Simpkins) since he has no one else to count on just deserts for someone who has led a charmed life. Several clever reverses also help the plot. Yet, the biggest bang for the buck with Iron Man 3 is not the personal story of Tony Stark; it is the technical wizardry on the screen. It is almost too much to take in at one time. The scenes go by so fast there is little time to absorb it all.
First-class actors make a difference, too. At one time these sorts of movies were filled with lesser known actors. Filmmakers have learned that even tech-heavy, superhero movies benefit from not just star power, but actual good acting. That starts with Robert Downey, Jr. whose sarcastic line deliveries are pure fun. Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Sadler, James Badge Dale, and Miguel Ferrer all bring a level of quality that adds to the satisfaction of the movie audience. But after all the praise for the human element is said and done, the CGI, stunts, and technical expertise are what take it over the top.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|PAIN & GAIN
Rated R for bloody violence,
crude sexual content, nudity,
language throughout and drug use.
Talk about a type of sordid, noxious, underside of life that exists in Miami. It's a smutty world covered over in pastel shades of aqua and peach. And Michael Bay's over-the-top style is a credible match for this (mostly) true murderous tale. The question is do you want to see what this movie has to offer?
It helps to have some knowledge of the unbelievable story, and I say unbelievable because it's scary that in the modern world criminals can actually be so stupid. The main character is Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a muscle-bound jerk looking for a get rich angle. Once he goes to a seminar on success and is told to be a "doer" there is no stopping his use of the word/concept to justify anything he does, including murder. He's tired of working at a gym and watching the wealthy look down on him so he recruits two others, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help him kidnap an unsavory millionaire named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub) and take everything he owns.
To say these three are bumbling idiots is an understatement. They put on superhero costumes to kidnap Kershaw (which in an article says took seven attempts), get him to a warehouse of sorts, and then torture him for weeks until he finally signs over everything he owns. They decide to kill him, but botch that. When Kershaw gets to a hospital the police don't buy his story. It would have ended with him as a ruined man except that private detective Ed Dubois (Ed Harris) first turns down, then looks into his case.
The three quickly go through Kershaw's money and find another mark with even more disastrous results. With all the true crime shows this one would be hard to top for gross indecency.
Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are pitch perfect as dumb and dumber. They probably have known versions of these guys in their time remorseless (Lugo), self-centered, dense, but in one sense childlike in believing they are entitled to the "American dream" except that they can feel entitled to take shortcuts. And as most people know, there are no shortcuts to the hard work it takes to make it. Both these actors themselves could have taken an easier path and made their money playing the same characters over and over, but both have decided to be more than muscle memory.
Anthony Mackie is almost too classy for his role, but does a fine job playing opposite the entertaining Rebel Wilson. Tony Shaloub is appropriately off-putting, as is Rob Corddry. Ed Harris brings his good-guy weightiness as the only admirable figure in this messy tale.
The movie has received criticism for its comic elements since murder is involved, but not to worry, director Michael Bay gets the tone right, even though the repulsion really begins to wear on the viewer during the last half hour. There is no sympathy for these low-lifes; they get exactly what they deserve. The issue is do you have the stomach for what the movie is dishing out?         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Rated R for language.
Apparently, much has been lost in translation. This movie, based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gordon, has a powerhouse cast, but a flawed screenplay about an intriguing subject. Excuse me, but the audience can add, subtract, and follow plot devices, yet logic is missing here. So why wouldn't the filmmakers develop a narrative that makes sense without having people counting on their fingers?
A story about the Weather Underground, a radical leftist group of college students active in the late 1960s and 70s (years later) could have been informative, illuminating, compelling, and yes, even profound, but ends up as disappointing. It begins with a woman named Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon, excellent as usual), a former member of the Weather Underground, arrested and jailed. This begins a series of events that ensnares other former members of the group, most notably a widowed lawyer named Jim Grant laying low in Albany with his eleven year old daughter. He is played by producer/director Robert Redford who is clearly too old for the part no counting necessary. Sometimes, as an actor, being earnest and committed is not enough to convince an audience in a visual medium like film.
Young newspaper reporter and aspiring hotshot Ben Sheperd (Shia LeBeouf, doing unlikable well) starts to sniff a big story and follows his instincts about Jim Grant. This forces Grant to go on the run after leaving his daughter with his brother (Chris Cooper, good in a small part). Jim needs to find a previous fellow radical named Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie, still luminous, but older than seems credible). This brings Grant into contact with other fellow radicals that he hasn't seen in decades. The FBI, led by Cornelius (a curiously enervated Terrence Howard) is right behind him.
The most inventive element of the movie could have been where Jim makes contact with his old comrades, and the allegiance of their youth helps explain what caused them to resort to violence. But aside from cursory exposition by Solarz, the passion of their idealism is not elucidated. Part of the problem is the slow pace of the movie. Mr. Redford doesn't like to rush his scenes, but urgency is lost, and this is supposed to be a thriller after all.
Rarely does the audience get to see such a display of talent like this, and there is plenty beside those already mentioned: Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Stephen Root, and Stanley Tucci. This movie could have been so much more.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action
violence, brief strong language
and some sensuality/nudity.
Maybe Oblivion isn't the best name for this movie; it just is not memorable. It is based on the unpublished graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski. It starts out fine, but then about halfway through too much of it begins to be familiar; three quarters in to the 125 minute run time, I lost interest. Of course, the technical aspects like set design and CGI are well done. Sci-fi movies, especially, show that you can make great looking movies without heart. Why is it that the people of the future have lost the human qualities that make life worth living?
The future is predictably bleak. Aliens tried to conquer Earth to take our natural resources. They destroyed our moon. We fought back with nuclear weapons and defeated them, but we destroyed our own planet in the process. Now the earth is barren, abandoned, and much of the planet is radioactive.
Tom Cruise, still looking buff and going for hyper-masculinity as Jack Harper is an older, future version of the Top Gun character he played 27 years ago, but with no expressions. Here he is service repair man Tech 49. That's right. Jack's mission is to service drones when they break down. Drones are the round flying weapons machines that hunt for "Scavs," that is, any alien Scavengers left on earth. You may be wondering why drones would be needed if so few Scavs are left to mess with earth’s resources. It's a good question left to be answered later in the movie. Yet, Jack has flashes of memories of New York when the planet was still intact some seventy years ago. A young woman is with him on top of the Empire State Building. They walk, laugh, and look at each other lovingly.
Jack's partner and communications officer on their high outpost is Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), and they are nearing the end of their mission. She is mainly in touch with the rest of civilization by way of a video link with Sally (Melissa Leo). The movie scenes have a grayed cast to them. It is a sterile, colorless world that they inhabit and Jack's only real excitement is flying around to fix drones and exploring what is left of the planet. One day a spacecraft lands that has time capsules with people inside them, but Jack can only save one before the drones kill the others. Guess what? The person he saves is Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the woman in his memories.
It all begins to make sense, slowly, as Jack discovers more information as he explores the earth, which goes against his orders from Sally. There are pop culture references that show up from 20th Century America. Somehow 1960s music, a certain well-known work of art, poetry, in this case the poem "Horatius", and long playing records seem to have become nostalgic symbols for writers of sci-fi. Did we leave a better life behind? Two Oscar winners, Morgan Freeman who has several scenes, and Melissa Leo, seen only in the video communications are in the cast, but have small supporting roles. Mr. Cruise has no chemistry with either Ms. Riseborough or Ms. Kurylenko which is unfortunate.
The movie is intended to have an epoch feel, but doesn't live up to that standard. The story is similar to many other sci-fi stories, and restates the same ending you've seen before. Who do you think is going to survive?         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for sexual content,
language and some drug material.
Foreign Film: Canada
Starbuck surprises you in the best possible way. The premise of this (French) Canadian comedy made in Quebec in 2011 is ludicrous, but sneaks up on the audience becoming a sweet, heartwarming story about what it means to be family. The movie was runner-up for the People's Choice Award when is was screened at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie has subtitles, but is easily understood.
It begins in 1988 when a young man named David (the perfectly cast Patrick Huard) is providing donations to a sperm bank. In 2011 David is middle-aged and a slouch. He works delivering meat for the family business. It seems David is not very good at his job, and he also owes some rough looking characters $80,000.
David has just heard the news from his girlfriend Valerie (Julie LeBreton) that she is pregnant when he is stunned to learn that all those sperm donations he made years ago have resulted in him fathering 533 children with 142 of them joining a class action law suit to have his identity revealed. Apparently, David never gave a thought to what his donations would mean years later. His code name is "Starbuck" which is the name of a bull who produced thousands of offspring by artificial insemination.
Of course, at first David is overwhelmed and asks his friend and (almost) lawyer (the comical Antoine Bertrand) to represent him in opposing the revelation. His friend agrees, but gives David profiles of all the children. He resists looking, but opens the envelope and reads some of the information. David can't seem to help himself, whether out of curiosity or genuine interest, and follows some of his progeny. He has some contact with them and even helps them at times. These scenes are touching and funny, and it begins to occur to the audience that David is much more than what he seems at first.
In the meantime, the toughs confront David's father and David realizes he has to pay off the debt or someone will get hurt, and so he goes ahead with a lawsuit suing the sperm bank for damages.
Just like other medical advancements we may have plunged into, this area of sperm donation is full of unresolved issues. Without taking into account all the moral and ethical consequences that might arise, we are only now beginning to deal with what could happen. Lucky, this comedy handles the situation with a kind of sweet innocence rather than crass vulgarity.                 Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for thematic
elements including language.
High expectations are not always a good thing. Jackie Robinson is such an icon, I wonder if any movie could do him justice. Yet, ultimately, the good outweighs the disappointments in this movie, and it is clear what happened during those early years of his career and why. 42 tells Jackie's story starting with his post-college days when he is 26 and playing amateur baseball. But even at the time people were aware of Mr. Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), who was apparently known as an outstanding athlete who had played multiple sports.
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) decides he is going to integrate baseball for two reasons: it is good for baseball as it will make money, and it is the right thing to do. He begins a search for a player who will be the first black player in major league baseball history to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Even his own assistant Harold Parrott (T.R. Knight) doesn't think it's a good idea, but Rickey forges ahead anyway. He comes across Jackie Robinson's file and decides this is the guy. When they meet he confronts Jackie and tells him he can't fight back or he will be seen as the villain and it will ruin it for the other black players that will come after him. Jackie agrees and plays with a minor league team before joining the Dodgers.
It is difficult to fathom now how terrible it was in those days regarding racism. Many of the scenes are difficult to watch. Yet, though Jackie had a temper, he was able to keep it under control during even the most provocative moments earning the respect of the entire nation. It helped that he always had the unwavering support of his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie). In the beginning a number of his teammates (mainly southerners) won't accept him and sign a petition saying they won't play with him. Rickey leaves it to fiery manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) to set them straight making a late night speech about only caring if he could help them win, not his color. When Durocher is suspended for a year for a dalliance outside his marriage, Rickey has to find an interim manager.
Tensions heighten as Jackie is harassed at every turn, with fans yelling at him, balls thrown at his head, his own teammates angry that they have to endure the situation. But at one particular game when the Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) harasses him as he's batting, several teammates begin to sympathize with Jackie and defend him. Rickey convinces Jackie not to give in to ignorance and he makes the decision that he is in baseball to stay. At this point, Jackie is seen as a hero, not to just black fans, but to white ones as well for his skill as an athlete, but also his dignity under pressure.
Chadwick Boseman is outstanding as Jackie Robinson; the major asset of the movie. He is absolutely believable in the part (even resembling the young Jackie), not because he portrays Jackie as superhuman, but because he makes him a real person. Not knowing anything about Branch Rickey, I can only assume that Harrison Ford is basing his performance on accurate information about the man. Yet, while Mr. Boseman's performance is tight, it is difficult to forget it is Mr. Ford. Alan Tudyk is so good as the racist manager of the Phillies that his character is certifiably detestable. Also noteworthy in their roles are Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher, Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese, Hamish Linklater as Ralph Branca, John C. McGinley as Red Barber, and especially Nicole Beharie as Jackie's wife Rachel.
The movie tends to be long and slow with several scenes repeating the same information that could be cut without any detrimental effect. Sentimentality tends to creep in at times when the obvious is more than understandable. The set design, costumes, and makeup work well to create the late 1940s atmosphere. But I was hoping for exciting cinematography during the game sequences.
Overall, the movie is well done, though it tends to play it safe, but is instructive and helps explain why Jackie Robinson means so much to baseball and to all of us.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for sexual content,
graphic nudity, violence,
some grisly images and language.
Sometimes movies outsmart themselves. Psychological thrillers play head games with the characters, and by extension with the audience. So it’s often a fine line between an engrossing thriller, and “huh?” Trance starts out well enough. A fine art auctioneer named Simon (James McAvoy), addresses the audience as the movie opens with information about how easy it used to be to make art heists, but now it is much more complicated. Before long a $25 million or so Goya is stolen during an auction and it becomes evident that Simon is in cahoots with the thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel).
The problem comes when Franck hits Simon on the head to throw off suspicion and Simon lands in the hospital having to have surgery, and subsequent amnesia, forgetting where he put the painting. Torture doesn't work as Simon genuinely doesn't remember what happened. Franck and his three thugs decide to remedy the problem by hiring a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to recover the memories of that day, thus finding the painting.
At this point gamesmanship takes over. Elizabeth becomes more than just a tool. She becomes a player. Who is outsmarting whom? Which memories are real, which aren't? It is hard to follow. At first Simon seems like a hapless victim, but he never addresses the audience again. Franck seems sinister, his men menacing. What the heck is going on? Though ultimately all is explained, it seems like a circular root. This is an unlikable bunch for sure.
The cast is good led by James McAvoy who shows range, Vincent Cassell who is always edgy, and Rosario Dawson so pretty it can be distracting, as well as the supporting players. Director Danny Boyle has a proven flair even when there is not all that much to work with, as there is here. Much of the movie is trickery just to divert from the simple, ugly truth. It’s not that Trance is a bad movie, but it is more confusing than clever. Though audiences like to figure things out for themselves, they also don't like to be frustrated.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for strong bloody
violence and gore, some
sexual content and language.
For those into the horror movie genre and/or are fans of the original cult movie Evil Dead made in 1981, this reincarnation made over thirty years later, also called Evil Dead is something of a event. Though it does pay homage to the original, it also makes the movie seem dated. When fresh, the idea of a group of young people going off into the woods to an isolated cabin, for whatever reason, was intriguing. Over this many years, how many times have we seen this exact situation with a few variations? Though the movie follows the conventions of the genre, it feels clichéd and manipulative more than entertaining.
This particular "remake" is serious yet also sarcastically funny, but then it is not so clever that when that happens it doesn't take you out of the movie. In other words, the transitions are not as smooth as they could be. But it is absolutely very high on the gory scale if that is your thing. So in between the horror and gore, we have moments of tense tedium waiting for something to jump out or grab one of our hapless victims.
The setup is that estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and sister Mia (Jane Levy) meet with other friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and David's girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) at an isolated cabin. The estrangement between David and Mia involves a once close family that was shattered by circumstances which caused David to run away from all contact and left Mia to deal with their dying mother. In the interim, Mia has become a drug addict. Eric and Olivia have tried to help Mia before with little success, but now Mia says she is committed to a cure for the addiction, and the memories that are ruining her life.
Being this is the childhood family cabin of David and Mia, they know it pretty well. A terrible odor draws them to the basement behind a closed door where they find dead animals hanging in some kind of ritualistic display. The first scenes of the movie take place here, and it all begins to make sense when they find the "Book of the Dead." Eric takes the book which clearly says "Do Not Open" which he then, of course, immediately ignores and unknowingly unleashes an evil entity. In the meantime, Eric and Olivia warn David that Mia has tried and failed before to stay with her detox. It's no surprise when Mia runs away into the woods. They go after her. Too late. The evil entity gets to her first and it's gore city from there on.
The young actors do an effective job, especially Jane Levy as the hapless Mia. She plays a range of emotions and is ugly and disgusting as the entity transforms her. Shiloh Fernandez is earnest as David. As Eric, Lou Taylor Pucci provides the one-liners that bring in the obvious but modest guffaws. Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore are adequate supporting players.
Curiously, the movie is not all that terrifying. Surprise is more of an element that scares the audience. Maybe that's because you know what's coming, though not exactly when or how. Atmospherics are well done with cinematography by Aaron Morton, and the transformations of young, good-looking bodies into grotesque disfigured monsters by the make-up people should satisfy fans. Director and co-writer Fede Alvarez manages to capture the essence, if not the true spirit, of these minor evil dead.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for violent
No matter what your politics on the matter of the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts in the Middle East this outstanding documentary takes a complicated/difficult subject and makes it understandable, intriguing, and ultimately, profoundly sad. Director/filmmaker Dror Moreh tells the story of the Israeli Shin Bet "from the perspective of six former heads of Israel's secretive internal security service." That is the key to this fascinating film.
The six men interviewed for The Gatekeepers : Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri, Avraham Shalom each talk about their tenure as head of the Shin Bet. What is most instructive about listening to their various approaches and philosophies is that they each carried the tremendous burden and responsibilities of protecting Israeli citizens who fight for the right to exist, survive, and thrive in a hostile environment. The organization is accountable for intelligence concerning terrorism, counter-terrorism, safeguarding officials, infrastructure, overseas embassies, and more. For a country under attack or at war since its very beginnings in 1948, it certainly seems like an overwhelming task.
The documentary covers particular incidents that the men were involved with such as the Six-Day War, 300 Bus Incident, the Oslo Accord, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Second Intifada, and the assassination of Yahya Ayyash. The men are totally aware of and talk about the morality and ethics of their actions, especially concerning extremists within their own country, torture, the collateral damage caused to innocents by their orders. After all, one former leader tells us, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."
These leaders are professional soldiers, but still human beings, and you sense their struggle, some more than others; they do not take their decisions lightly. Each action they take may cause reactions that could cost lives. How do you balance the need for protection against the violence that plagues the region so it isn't worse? Is cruelty to an occupied population justified? How do you trust that you can work towards a peace process when the situation remains so volatile? As Yaakov Peri says, "These moments end up etched deep inside you, and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist." It's no wonder.
I found this documentary honest, balanced, disturbing, and one that all citizens of the world should see. I am grateful to Dror Moreh for obtaining the perspective of each man. Much information about the situation is packed into a short period of time, and it humanizes those involved, on both sides. But it is more than informative it is heartbreaking. How can humans have come so far through time, and still be so cruel to each other, and so unwise?         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for strong sexual
content, language, nudity,
drug use & violence throughout.
Is it a modern day psychedelic trip with flashes of neon and fragments of select memories? Is it a dark hedonistic comedy that dares shows us how ugly reality can be? Or is it a joke on the audience reflecting back the empty, extreme narcissism of a jaded young generation? Spring Breakers is all of these at different times. So it may be difficult to get a handle on how to feel about it, but there is no question it is mesmerizing.
At first look the movie is overwhelming, with writhing young bodies at the water's edge at a beach in Florida on Daddy and/or Mommy's dime. Many of the bikini-clad young women have the top off and we are obligated to watch huge jiggling breasts paraded before our upturned faces. The dancing, hoopin', grabbin', and hollerin' goes on for longer than necessary, but it is just the kids' way of having fun, isn't it? No worries. No one thinks twice about underage drinking, snorting coke, or naked body parts being pawed by both men and women.
But first we go back in time to see four young college women who have a bond since grade school. One is shier than the others. She is Faith (Selena Gomez), and as the name implies is the only one with the slightest spiritual/moral connection. The leader of her "church group" is a forty-ish dyed blonde male with tats on his muscular arms who looks slightly dangerous, as though he would be more comfortable on a Harley. But you have to engage the young people at their own level so they will listen, right?
The other three girls: Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director's wife), treat Faith like their pet, laughing at her naïve hesitancy. The four pool their money together but don't have nearly enough to get to St. Petersburg, Florida for spring break. What to do? One suggests, "Pretend you're in a movie." And this is the key to the film. A generation raised on and by multi-media often has no way to distinguish where they end and the reel/real world begins. They rob a restaurant with a hammer and fake guns looking for all the world like real bad a****, screaming, demeaning the customers until they give up the dough, though we see this from outside as the getaway car makes its way to the back door. Later, we see it again from a different perspective, and it's even worse.
Off they go to Florida with stolen money, and now they are in their bikinis and their element. They join right in the fun and it feels like heaven. At least they are not "bored" anymore. But then, oh-oh, reality intrudes and they get arrested. They have no money to make bail and sit in jail until someone takes pity and springs them. This is where the movie takes a sharp turn.
A white rapper, though not very good, named Alien (James Franco) that we see for a few seconds earlier in the movie, takes it upon himself to be their "hero." What we know of him is that he was the only white kid in his school and whatever he learned was from his best friend Archie (Gucci Mane). A breach has been developing in their friendship because Alien is taking over some of Archie's drug territory and has the money, guns, and drugs to prove it. Alien is a wanna-be, though he desperately wants to be the real deal, yet because of his arsenal is still dangerous. He takes the girls to a club where the men stare at and look like they might pounce any minute. Only Faith is scared enough to want out.
The other three remain and buy into Alien's images, dancing around the piano with guns and ski masks as he sings a "soft" song by Britney Spears, of all people, who they probably adored in their much younger, innocent days. Apparently, even teenagers can get nostalgic. As the situation degenerates into darker and darker places, the girls continue to have fun. They are still in that movie. Reality is merely an inconvenience.
The acting is good with James Franco in grillz and cornrows especially entertaining as the misguided rapper "living his dream." The four girls have a good rapport with Rachel Korine and Ashley Benson lesser known, but effective. As for the young Disney stars, they do have to grow up sometime and I don't have any particular angst about Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez taking on such intense roles. They are actors after all, and Disney doesn't own them. The question of whether this movie actually benefits their careers is another topic entirely, but you can't deny that all four look good in skimpy bikinis, for whatever that's worth. Technically the original music by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex, the cinematography by Benoît Debie, and the film editing by Douglas Crise seamlessly blend together to give the movie a unique look and tone. Even when an element is incongruous - it fits.
Writer/director Harmony Korine, known for this unusual (some say bizarre) style, provides the questions, the audience has to provide its own answers. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for language
and some sexual material.
Tina Fey can make anything better - to a point. Admission tries hard to be "with it," yet it seems to be full of modern day clichés. What is interesting about Admission is observing the inner workings of the college admission system, though the movie winks frequently so the audience knows none of the staff at colleges are quite that neurotic. Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) has a tidy little life as a recruiter for Princeton University. She has a stuffy boyfriend named Mark (Michael Sheen) who treats her like a pet, a rivalry for a promotion with the put-together Corinne (Gloria Reuben), and a hippie mother from hell named Susannah (Lily Tomlin).
The audience learns early on that Susannah got pregnant on a train and doesn't know the name of Portia's father. Anger simmers beneath the surface, though Portia is not able to confront her mother, so we get too many scenes of the daughter, a late 30s career woman, acting like a wimp. Portia's whole world is her job where she tells students desperate to get into Princeton to "be yourself." The scenes where students are evaluated is realistic. Good isn't good enough now, students must be almost super-human to get into certain schools.
Portia is not unsympathetic to their plight, and in fact, finds herself at an alternative school where one of the teachers John Pressman (Paul Rudd) who knows Portia from their own college days, has asked her to look at a certain student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolf). From here, the coincidences are so heavy the movie starts sagging. For instance, John just happens to know what day and time Portia's out-of-wedlock child is born and remembers from all those years ago? Hmmmmm. Could it be Jeremiah is that child? He happens to be adopted. His adoptive parents are strictly middle class and don't have his intellect.
It seems that Portia now begins to secretly harbor the idea that Jeremiah may actually be her son. The so-called mild comedy comes when she does whatever she can to get him into the school despite the fact that he hasn't been an ideal student. To buy this premise you would have to believe that everything Portia has worked for in her college career and her life will come in second to a teenager she hardly knows. Also there are several convenient romances that are difficult to buy. One of the better elements is that no one in this movie is even near perfect.
As much as I admire Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, this movie is not convincing. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for some
The Croods is a non- threatening, pleasant animation comedy about a prehistoric family. Even when the earth is cracking and mountains are falling, the family will be okay. Despite the time frame, the story has some contemporary elements. The characters speak like modern people, and there are still the same family issues. Dad Grug (voice of Nicholas Cage) is a big man with brute strength that helps keep his family safe. Mom Ugga (voice of Catherine Keener) is the comforting understanding one. The biggest problem in the family is that the oldest child, teenage daughter Eep (voice of Emma Stone) wants to get out of the cave and into the world. Grug is afraid for her and believes he must protect her at all costs.
On night Eep sneaks out and meets Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds) who she sees from afar. Something is glowing. She has never seen fire before. This is new to her, but he warns her that their world is going to collapse and change. He gives her a means of keeping in touch. Sure enough their cave is destroyed and they must set out on a journey to find a new home. She miraculously finds Guy who is making his way towards "tomorrow". The idea is that Guy is a more evolved human, but Grug distrusts him and is angry because he thinks he is losing his place as head of the family.
The trend with animation movies is to tell a story that children can relate to and follow within the context of characters and their journey. You can't count on an actual history lesson, but the filmmakers do make it possible to open up a dialogue about human beginnings. The characters are comical, including Gran (voice of Cloris Leachman), and nothing too bad happens to them even in the face of constant threats. The scariest moments are when the earth is crumbling beneath the Croods and they must run for their lives.
The movie gives adults an opportunity to talk about the beginning of time, and what it means to start all over. It also makes the point that gathering food was the most important task, along with skirting danger from previously unknown sources. Yet it also shows how early man may have used ingenuity to survive a dangerous environment. In this cartoon no one smells, or is horribly ugly. The animation is imaginative. It is about the kids having fun.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
Rated R for strong violence
and language throughout.
If you are able to get past inconsistencies and coincidences, the bloody action in Olympus Has Fallen pays off, but that is a big leap. For instance, why does it take 15 minutes for a military unit to get to the White House, while terrorists can make in 13 minutes?
In the opening scenes a tragedy befalls a presidential motorcade leaving Camp David on a snowy night. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckert) and son Connor (Finley Jacobson) are traumatized as is their most trusted secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). The audience learns that Mike has been transferred to the Treasury Department, spending his time filling out forms. Then it happens. Terrorists take over the White House after much killing. I guess the police, military, and secret service are caught unaware. Who would have guessed?
Mike Banning, a man whose single-minded goal is to protect the president somehow gets past all the terrorists that his incompetent colleagues can't handle. He knows all the secret passages and places to hide, and he becomes a one man vigilante. In the meantime, Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is now in charge since both the president and vice president are being held hostage.
Mr. Freeman always brings weight to his roles, and here he shows that sometimes there is no good alternative when dealing with terrorists. Decisions have to be made quickly and there are often opposing viewpoints where no one is satisfied. Angela Bassett also shines in her role, and Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan, is almost unrecognizable. Radha Mitchell tries her best as Mike's nurse wife, but this role is merely a distraction. Rick Yune is quite good as the merciless villain, Kang. Gerard Butler is better in action movies than romantic comedies, and does a credible job given the script.
It is long into the movie that we find out the leader is wanted Korean, though we know he came with a Korean delegation to meet with the president. This is interesting in light of present threats from that area of the world.
Is it possible that one man could thwart such a well-planned and unbelievable plot? If you are an action fan, you might not want to think too hard about it. It's not the (original) Die Hard, but it will pass the time for action fans.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for disturbing
violent & sexual content.
If you have an "Uncle Charlie" you might want to give him a second look. Between directors Park Chan-wook (from South Korea) and Alfred Hitchcock, he's getting a bad name. Some of what happens early on in the thriller Stoker is similar to Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt where the absent, traveling, seemingly mild-mannered uncle comes for a visit, then it veers off in another direction.
Stoker is a psychological thriller that operates predominately through atmospherics and symbolism that you might, or might not catch. The mood is one of icy detachment. Well-directed and beautifully shot, it is the story that doesn’t quite hold.
After her father (Dermot Mulroney) dies in a horrendous car crash, weird teenager India Stoker attends his funeral. Afterwards her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) introduces her to Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), her father‘s brother, at the gathering in their home. There is little suspense about the uncle’s character being sinister. From the first moment it is telegraphed that Uncle Charlie is also a weird guy who stares and stalks India. Evelyn is basically clueless about him and begins to court his attention, but his interest is riveted like a laser on India.
She is a high school student with only a morose expression on her face, who is harassed for her strange ways, including wearing saddle shoes which she apparently receives every year on her birthday. Her father dies on her eighteenth birthday; no shoes appear, but Uncle Charlie does. As people show up and show fear of Uncle Charlie, or cross him in some way, bad things begin to happen. Meantime, Evelyn fawns over Charlie as he decides to stay for a while as India tries to ignore him, but she is strangely attracted to him.
Overall the cast is good. Nicole Kidman has the biggest challenge here because her character is the least understandable even though she is the "normal" one in the house. Is she in denial? Does she drink too much? Does she have a personality flaw? Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode make us believe that horror characters can be demented, twisted people with their harrowing performances. And Jacki Weaver does a nice turn in a supporting role.
The movie is slow - taking its time, and so can be frustrating. The violence is not particularly bloody except for two scenes, and the instances of brutality are over quickly. It begins to pick up steam towards the end, but the conclusion isn’t entirely satisfying either, though it comes together, more or less. If you like a Hitchcockian slant to your horror movies, you may find Stoker intriguing.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for violence, disturbing
content and some language.
Being a 911 operator is not an easy job. As the movie begins the audience sees the set up of a 911 station. Jordan (Halle Berry) is a caring, responsible operator liked by her fellow employees and in a relationship with a nice guy cop named Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut). The 911 operators must have a sense of calm to reassure callers who may be having the worst moments of their lives, and get them whatever help they need. She receives a call from a scared young girl, but Jordan miscalculates the situation and it leads to tragedy. She is full of guilt and traumatized. Six months later she is teaching new recruits instead of taking calls, when The Call comes in to the station and Jordan must take over.
A young girl, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), has been abducted and Jordan is her only connection with the outside world. Jordan instructs Casey in efforts to call attention to herself and listens as Casey is terrorized by the man (Michael Eklund) who has taken her. The cops are sent out, helicopters fly overhead, a civilian even tries to help Casey, but she is taken to an isolated area and Jordan loses contact with her.
Up to this point the movie is gripping and suspenseful. But then, it takes a turn that is so far out of the realm of reality, that it loses credibility. Yes, Jordan has motivation to leave her job and search, but really, why does screenwriter Richard D'Ovidio give us a convenient plot point instead of one that makes sense? All too often characters in movies are made to do all the wrong things and it leaves the audience groaning. We've seen these contrived situations too many times before.
In spite of this flaw, Halle Berry is convincing in the role and her character's commitment is never in doubt. Abigail Breslin makes Casey a sympathetic kidnap victim. Michael Eklund is appropriately repulsive as the maniac killer. Yet, if there would have been a different approach to get where they wanted to go the movie would have been satisfying. It certainly makes you appreciate movies like The Silence of the Lambs all the more.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
THE YONI NETANYAHU
Directed by Jonathan Gruber
and Ari Daniel Pinchot
For fans of current Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, or of Israeli history, this is a very insightful documentary. For others, there are still many interesting elements in this story of Yoni Netanyahu, Bibi's older brother, who died at age 30, in the successful military rescue of the Air France hostages of Palestinian terrorists in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976. His childhood, his high school years in Pennsylvania, his wounding in the Six Day War, his first marriage and study at Harvard, his return to Israel and Army life, his divorce and newfound love, his service in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and then his heroic sacrifice at Entebbeall are explored, though the timeline is somewhat confusing as the film repeatedly jumps to 1976, but then returns to the linear biography.
Offering views of historic events, through one soldier's life and various interviews with those who knew him, shows the attraction and risk of performing on such a grand stage. Yet, this film is much more than a eulogy of Yonatan Netanyahu. It evokes many personal memories of himand a sense of his own experiencesin today's audience, through what they feel about Israel now and in the past.         Review by Mark Pizzato
IN THE GAZA SEA
|A BOTTLE IN THE GAZA SEA |
Foreign Film: Canada, France
and Israel, 2011
in Arabic, English & French
with English subtitles
Directed by Thierry Binisti
This is a love story that begins with a note in a bottle, develops through email, and connects two cultures at war. It is also about much more. 17-year-old Tal, a French Jew living with her family in Jerusalem, gets her Army brother to throw a bottle containing her note into the Gaza Sea. It is found by a group of Palestinian boys in the Gaza Strip. She asks why someone would strap a bomb to his body to kill himself and othersand leaves her email address. One of the boys, Naim, responds, at first antagonistically, but then a friendship grows, especially because he is studying French and dreams of a scholarship to study in Paris.
Naim is beaten up by Hamas soldiers and nearly killed by an Israeli rocket, but he continues to communicate with Tal. Thus, the filmmakers give us a sense of the joys, hopes, and anxieties on both sides of the wall between Jews and Palestiniansand of the haphazard violence and repeated suffering across it. The film wisely offers many images with a wider context, sometimes ironically presented, during the email exchanges between Tal and Naim. And it encourages our desire for these two, and many others, to connect as friends.
For those who feel sympathy at a distance with either side in this conflict, or have been to Israel or Palestine (as I have, to both), or know little about the situations there, this film is very insightful, moving, and fairshowing young people rebelling bravely against the fearful, vengeful communities around them.         Review by Mark Pizzato
|OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Rated PG for sequences of
action and scary images,
and brief mild language.
The visuals are enough to distract, and perhaps, enchant audience members, but that doesn't take away the disappointment of what this film might have been. We so love 1939's The Wizard of Oz because it transported us to a magical place. It is not familiarity that makes Oz the Great and Powerful a lesser movie, it is the inconsistent tone, and logical though bland story. Somehow a movie is made about the land of Oz that is, well, unexciting.
That's not to say it is a bad movie, because obviously much respect and care has gone into creating the plot: dots are connected, characters are true to their backgrounds, the humor is mild enough for a PG audience. No, it is that indefinable magical quality that a movie like this should have, but doesn't.
As prequels go, everything makes sense. Oz (James Franco) is a small-time, sly magician in a traveling circus. He is also a ladies man in this version, which leads him to become romantically involved with a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) when he lands unceremoniously in the land of Oz. Director Sam Raimi proceeds to introduce us to all the characters from Frank Baum's Oz books, and the previous movies.
Theodora sees Oz crash land after being caught in a tornado and believes he is the great wizard they have all been waiting for in their kingdom. Oz doesn't disabuse her of this notion and, in fact, takes advantage of it. He saves a talking, flying monkey named Finley (voice of Zach Braff) who swears his allegiance to Oz after he saves him. But when Theodora brings him to the Emerald City and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) meets him she doubts he is the wizard, but she too, becomes taken in momentarily by his trickery. Evanora sends him into the Dark Forest to kill the "wicked witch" after she shows him all the gold he could ever want. But first he saves a China Girl (voice of Joey King) along the way. He then meets the good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). Never one to turn his back on a good looking witch, he is drawn to her by her beauty, but Oz is then exposed as a flawed man, not a wizard.
The point is made, over and over as it turns out, that Oz has a choice. He can continue to be dishonest, or he can become a “great wizard” by caring for others. This morsel of self-determination is a good message as it says we all have choices to be the kind of person we want to be and to act on it; we are not necessarily the victims of our circumstances.
Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams do the best work here, with supporting cast and extras providing the reason and hope of a larger community. The CGI is well done as is the scenic design, costume design, makeup, and cinematography. What is missing is a sense of wonder.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE DAY I SAW YOUR HEART |
Foreign, France 2011
Directed by Jennifer Devoldere
Justine is beautiful, blonde, and Jewish, but she has a problem. Her dad keeps meddling in her life, picking up her ex-boyfriends as employees and golf partners, while scaring off her new beau. She's ready to kill him. And yet, that's when she truly starts to love him.
She also loses her job as an X-ray technician, even as she finds the true value of such machineryto make love and art. This uncanny, double love story has its quirky comical moments and some enticing acting, especially with Melanie Laurent (from Inglorious Bastards ) as Justine and Michel Blanc as her father, Eli. But its conflicts emerge quietly and its charms may work only for those who see the characters as mirrors to their own hearts. For example, Eli, at age 60, is having a child with his younger wife, Suzanne. But this offends Justine and her sister, Dom, who is planning to adopt a child with her husband.
Eli doesn't want to make mistakes again as a parent, so he casually tells his wife to have an abortionand then suggests she give their child to his daughter instead. Such is his sense of humor, perhaps, but she doesn't find it funny and throws a plate of food at him. Do we?       Review by Mark Pizzato
Foreign, Germany 2011
Directed by Markus Rosenmueller
This is a wonderful and challenging historical film about Wunderkinder (child prodigies) and their prodigious experiences in the Ukraine at the outbreak of war between Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. Beautifully filmed, with marvelous classical music, it offers heartbreaking insights about how kind and cruel humans can be as friends, neighbors, and artists, identified with and against one another, with larger political forces taking over.
Two girls and a boy, the Jewish pianist Larissa, German violinist Hanna, and Ukrainian violinist Abrascha, practice together with their teacher and play games as imaginary American Indians in the woods. Abrascha and his Soviet father also help Larissa's family to hide (like the kids in their games), as the Germans approach. Ironically, too, Soviet officials are cruel to both Larissa's Jewish family and Hanna's German familyuntil the Wehrmacht (German Army) takes over the territory. Then Hanna, with conflict between her parents about how Nazi they should be, becomes the favored prodigy of an SS officeralthough her fellow musical Wunderkinder, from other sides in the adults' war, are endangered.
This compelling film offers many poignant moments (such as a burning piano after the Luftwaffe drops a bomb on the Soviet hospital) and new twists on the complex emotions that music, ethnicity, and history may evoke in us today.       Review by Mark Pizzato
|21 AND OVER
Rated R for crude and sexual
content, pervasive language,
some graphic nudity, drugs,
This movie is not endearing, it is not hilarious, and it is not original. But it seems that co-writers and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, screenwriters of The Hangover, have come up with a formula. This is yet another tale of male friendships that bond over wild, juvenile, crude exploits. As in The Hangover, this one is supposed to be about a celebration. Two of three best friends in high school, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), surprise the other, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), at college on his 21st birthday, but he doesn't want to party because he has the most important interview of his life the next day for entrance into medical school.
Jeff Chang (his entire name used during the movie), finally gives in to instigator/bad-boy Miller's badgering. Casey is more moderate and conservative, but he also succumbs. Now that Jeff Chang is 21 he pushes his ID in front of bouncers' faces and drinks in numerous bars. In the first bar he meets Nicole (Sarah Wright) who he greets and hugs. She and Casey seem to make a connection, but he is dragged away and she is left at the bar.
As Jeff Chang gets wasted and passes out they realize they must get him back to his apartment in order to make the appointment in the morning. The problem is they don't remember where he lives and don't have a current address. Is this starting to seem familiar? In fact, we've seen this college story of one friend over-indulging many times by now, and vomiting, though not as gross as it's shown here.
As they drag him around going through various episodes to find his address, all manner of bad taste and crass goings-on appear before our eyes whether we want them to or not. It is almost as if the writers are trying to think of every way possible to shock the audience. The problem is, this is supposed to be a comedy, but aside from a few humorous moments, it's just not that funny. The cast looks older than college age and has little chemistry, especially the Casey and Nicole characters, with all her coy smiles and insincere reactions.
You can decide for yourself what you think of this view of college as many students are now going deep into debt paying for it. The Hangover is similarly gross and crude, but the difference is those male buddies are adults. The screenplay is also more original, which may point to why the second one is so awful: it's difficult to repeat or improve on a good idea. This scenario is played out.         Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for drug content
and sequences of violence.
As an athlete at the University of Miami, Dwayne Johnson proved he would and could work hard to be a winner. The same thing happened when he became the wrestler known as "The Rock." More recently he has become an action movie star, but Mr. Johnson wants more, he wants to be a good actor. He's on the right path with Snitch. In this movie he plays John Matthews, owner of a trucking business, and despite his impressive size and physique, he never once uses his superior physical stature to get him out of trouble.
This isn't cartoon violence either. The screenplay is said to be inspired by a true story about a good kid who gets caught up in a drug scheme and faces the harsh mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. The teenager in this case is a high school senior named Jason (Rafi Gavon, nice job) who happens to be John's estranged son. He lives with his mother Sylvie Collins (Melina Kanakaredes, a good actor not seen enough) who has been divorced from John for some time. Jason makes the mistake of allowing a friend to send drugs to his house for distribution, though he refuses to help sell any of it. Once caught, they want Jason to rat out friends as he was ratted out in exchange for a lighter sentence, or face 10-20 years in Federal prison.
Feeling both guilty and desperate John approaches prosecutor Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon, always excellent) for a deal, but she won’t have any part of it, so John decides he will bring down a drug dealer in exchange for a lighter sentence for his son. The movie doesn’t take the easy way out. From this point on, it’s a dangerous, violent, bloody business and John is in way over his head. He talks an employee named Daniel James (Jon Bernthal, impressive as a conflicted husband/father), recently released from prison, into making an introduction for him to a drug lord named Malik (Michael K. Williams, appropriately sinister).
Agent Cooper (a terrific and almost unrecognizable Barry Pepper) and a team of Feds are assigned to help him, but John realizes he's pretty much on his own. Both he and Daniel find themselves fighting for their lives and the safety of their families without much protection.
Director Ric Roman Waugh with co-writer Justin Haythe keep it real. They don't go overboard with stunts, but the ones shot with those big rig trucks are exciting. The violence is difficult to watch, but not over the top. This is a first rate cast that also includes Benjamin Bratt, and some fine supporting actors, with an able assist from cinematographer Dana Gonzales.
As for Dwayne Johnson, his acting has improved and he should keep going with projects that challenge him. No one has ever accused him of being lazy.                 Review by Ann Marie Oliva
TO DIE HARD
|A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
Rated R for violence
Yep, the old familiar smirk is still there, and no actor does it better than Bruce Willis, but this fifth Die Hard in the series is itself doing exactly that dying hard. It's limping along, despite the violence, explosions and bombs, causing us to miss the once young smart-aleck, middle-class cop/hero/cowboy John McClane. What made the first Die Hard thrilling was the possibility - the actual possibility, that it could happen. The circumstances were improbable and extraordinary, but not unbelievable. As the franchise has progressed so too the situations are increasingly far-fetched and implausible.
The movie moves along quickly with McClane and his daughter Lucy (a tad too cheerful, but wasted Mary Elizabeth Winsted) saying goodbye as he heads to Russia to find his son who has been imprisoned and going on trial. When McClane gets there, he knows something is wrong. Maybe it's all those suspicious-looking, grim-faced dudes with assault weapons? An explosion causes his son Jack (Jai Courtney, doing what he can given the script), to escape with another prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch, a good actor skillfully playing older, so excellent in 2006's The Lives of Others ). It soon becomes clear that Jack is a CIA agent and McClane has now screwed up his son's assignment. But you know that he will also save the day, right?
The first action sequence has McClane driving like a mad man in heavy traffic in Moscow. Never mind that the truck he is in (and wearing no seatbelt, mind you) turns over several times, drops and crashes, yet he has no serious injury. More of the same continues right up until the end. The cinematography works and the fireballs are spectacular, but most of the script is curiously bland. Even the one-liners are ho-hum.
Strange, we're back to Russians being the bad guys again. Here there are even bad, bad guys, yet the audience must assume the police are ineffective, bought off, or both because they make few appearances. In short, the plot is merely a frame on which the bloody, violent action sequences wait their turn to startle, if not move or amaze us. I miss the younger/old John McClane. This one is more mellow, but far less exciting. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic
material including a disturbing
act, and for brief language.
Foreign Film: France/Germany/ Austria
The situation is tragic, the downward physical and mental deterioration of an elderly married woman and her husband's response. The expected emotional reaction, however, is diminished by a lack of depth in character development. The viewer is left, therefore, observing instead of empathizing with the couple's plight. Unfortunate, since the two lead performances are deserving of praise.
It is no spoiler, since it opens the film, that the police are breaking into a large, affluent Paris apartment where they discover the neatly composed body of an elderly woman dressed in black with flower petals scattered on the pillow round her head. The scene shifts to a long flashback, the bulk of the film, commencing in a concert hall recital of classical music. The pianist is a star pupil of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva, magnificent and acting without a trace of vanity) who is in attendance with her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant, no longer the young, dashing international star but still, in his senior years, dignified and confident), a successful man as money seems of little concern, though the nature of his comfortable background is not identified. That they are long married is evident in their comfortable, familiar, teasing manner and in the sense of long-established routines. During an ordinary breakfast, Anne appears to have lost her concentration, not responding to Georges verbal concern. Shortly afterward, she is herself again. A doctor's appointment gives evidence of a heart blockage that a usually standard, successful operation fails to repair and a later stroke leads to a terminal diagnosis.
Though the couple's daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert, excellent) is concerned (angry, sad, bewildered) she has a life of her own, also music based, touring with her philandering (though she says she loves him) husband. Anne's care, at his insistence, is left to Georges. Most of the film follows, in detail, Anne's increasing decline and Georges attending her, though he himself is unsteady and weak. She does not hesitate, while still lucid and verbal, to briefly express her love of life, desire not to be pitied, and wish not to live in the state she finds herself, or anticipates is to come. A sad manifestation of the devastation of her illness is the growing loss, for a couple so attuned to music and speech, of their ability to communicate. Eventually, there is nothing left but angry acts.
While the circumstances depicted in the film are presented with admirable and accurate realism and with no attempt to sugarcoat the difficulties and heartbreak, screenwriter and director Michael Haneke keeps the couple at a distance. The viewer learns little of Anne's background aside from the fact she was a music teacher and suggestions of a sweet, and perhaps determined, disposition. More hints are given of Georges but his resolute, orderly, impassive demeanor hides more than it reveals. Given the remoteness from the characters one watches without being drawn in to the tragedy. At the same time, two key questions are indicated by the title Amour. First, what the nature of love for a couple of longstanding? Is it affection? Familiarity? Habit? Reliability? And, second, when sickness strikes, does the healthier spouse act out of existing romantic feeling? Duty? Debt? Gratitude? Both are queries worth pondering and the slow pace of the film affords much time to do so amid painful scenes of Anne's worsening condition. It's a heartfelt tale, but the overall remoteness of the characters gives the film a documentary rather than a dramatic feel.
Amour - A sad and true situation but the impact is more intellectual than emotional. Review by Charles Zio
Rated PG-13 for zombie
violence and some language.
I hope it doesn't ruin it for you if I say that Warm Bodies is sweet. That is, as sweet as a zombie movie can be when the main character eats brains. But if vampires can walk around during the day, get married, and even have a child with a human, then it's not out of the question to tweak the zombie mythology. Though you may have suspected that, like the vampire genre, zombie comedies would be played out, especially after Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. What else about these ghouls could make us laugh?
Yet Warm Bodies is not just a comedy. It goes a step further and is a romantic zombie comedy. One of the best things about the storyline is that through the back door it shows just how much a man can be smitten by, and need a woman and romance, something men are loathe to admit. And despite being undead, our hero zombie R (Nicholas Hoult, absolutely terrific in the part as a dreamless dreamy zombie) is desperately in need of a woman to love. So this is really a chick flick disguised as a horror/comedy for women and men, but where men can relate without being seen as soft.
After some kind of apocalypse, the undead vastly outnumber humans who live behind a walled-in fortress for survival. They leave only to get necessities. The leader Grigio (John Malkovich, as menacing as ever), has a daughter Julie (Teresa Palmer, spunky/natural/likable) who volunteers with her boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco, having the charm and good looks of his brother James), and others to retrieve medicine. While R roams around the airport every day, as undead as the rest of the other zombies, he's bored. His inner thoughts are revealed occasionally to the audience by narrations that are in a normal voice, as if he is trapped inside his zombie body. He has a best friend named M (Rob Corddry), who he meets at the airport bar where they exchange grunts. Then he utters the word "hungry" and they are off with a group to find lunch. The two groups cross paths and mayhem follows, but the minute R sees Julie, he has a bad case of zombie passion.
R saves Julie from the others and takes her back to his airplane home where she begins to see him as, well, not so bad for a thing that kills and eats people. How bad can he be when he collects great music and takes care of her? Can love really save mankind? After a bunch of misadventures and just-misses, especially with the bonies, vicious zombies that have deteriorated to skeletons, Julie realizes that she can save R the way he saved her despite her father's and society's disapproval. Yep, the Romeo and Juliet references are unmistakable. It helps that the two leads, Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, have swell chemistry.
Based on the book of the same name by Isaac Marion, and as written and directed by Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies is well-paced screenplay. The zombie makeup is not overdone, the gruesome scenes are not especially horrible, and the sweet factor makes it a fun, unique zombie movie experience. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
WITCH HUNTERS 3D
|HANSEL & GRETEL:
WITCH HUNTERS 3D
Rated R for strong
fantasy horror violence
and gore, brief sexuality/
nudity and language.
The debate about fairy tales goes on with some adults saying they are too violent for children. Whether you agree with this "politically correct" statement, or you think they are cautionary tales with long ago wisdom that have something to teach children, fairy tales are not going anywhere. Filmmakers have discovered they can adapt the stories with spins all their own. The latest reinvention is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. But this one is decidedly not for children.
It starts out with the conventions of the Grimm's Brothers story of Hansel and Gretel being left in the woods by their father at the behest of their mother (usually stepmother). The brother and sister are scared but huddle together and eventually find the Gingerbread/candy cottage where the ugly witch tries to fatten them up so they will be tasty treats. By working together they defeat and kill her.
Years later, as adults, Hansel (Jeremy Renner, a believable/likable hero), and (Gemma Arterton, appealing and showing plenty of woman power), appear at the village of Augsburg (a real city) in Germany, and save a young woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala) from being burned as a witch. It seems that Hansel and Gretel not only survive but have become witch hunters. They are hired by the mayor of Augsburg over objections from the Sheriff (Peter Stormare, appropriately nasty and evil). Children are being abducted and no one knows why or can find them.
The Sheriff tries to thwart their mission, but they find and kill several witches in an attempt to track down the children. Their main adversary is the powerful, uber-evil witch Muriel (Famke Janssen, nice job) who is beautiful when she first appears to humans to fool them, but then turns ugly soon after. Hansel and Gretel soon find the reason for the abductions have to do with witches wanting total power (what else?), and a Blood Moon, yet as in all fairy tales good eventually triumphs over evil, but not without violence, mayhem, and death first.
Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola and co-writer D.W. Harper have crafted an action movie more than anything else, complete with huge guns, and have added unexpected twists and modern dark humor to the fairy tale. Your tolerance for changing//expanding fairy tales and how this story morphs will probably decide how much you like it.
It is bloody and violent, but it is fantasy violence so when a troll stomps on someone's face you really shouldn't be too surprised. The makeup and special effects techs are to be commended for the hideous, intense looks. The movie is well-paced in terms of story and the 3D effects which jump out at the audience.
The climax presents a bit of a problem where a gathering of witches begins to look like a high-end extreme Halloween party. Also, the acting is uneven and at times can take you out of the movie. Overall, the movie keeps the audience entertained, if you have any interest in meshing of fairy tales with action and can let your imagination go with it. This one doesn't entirely work, but I appreciate the effort. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for violence,
language, child endangerment
and some drug content.
Baltimore is a tough city, even for an ex-con named Vincent (Common) who wants to make a new start and a new life. The particulars are murky, but Vincent didn't do his entire stretch in prison leading some on the street wondering how he got out so fast. Did he rat on his former crime partners? Vincent tells former friends he didn't waste his time and that he studied and decided he would go straight when he got out. Some details are left up the audience's imagination, which is fine, but more information about that would have been helpful here.
Vincent is back in his mother's house (Lonette McKee plays Grandma) with nephew Woody (Michael Rainey, Jr.) who idolizes him. One day as Vincent sets out to get a loan for a crab restaurant he wants to open on the water, he takes Woody to school, but because the boy isn't honest with him he decides he needs to know how to be a man. So he takes Woody past the school and buys him a suit so he can accompany him to the bank. The situation quickly spins out of control when he can't get a loan without first paying off a debt. Vincent's only option at this point is to go and see Fish (Dennis Haysbert) his former crime boss who tells him he can earn the money if he makes a drop.
Vincent and Woody get increasingly drawn into violent, bloody, and desperate situations. Would a loving uncle really take his nephew with him in the first place, or as the situation becomes more dire? It's hard to get past that plot point. The innocent Woody does get a crash course on the wrong side of the law, but it's difficult to believe a scene where he is so cool under pressure that he fools older, hardened criminals.
Director/co-writer Sheldon Candis definitely shows a spark here, but the screenplay, co-written with Justin Wilson lacks believability. When the charismatic Common gives a broad smile early on, he lights up the screen, but this bleak, unrelentingly movie doesn't allow him much range. Terrific performances by a star cast that includes pros Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, and Lonette McKee can only elevate the film so much. Young actor Meagan Good is reliably first-rate, but isn't given much to do, while Russell Hornsby and Michael K. Williams are effective as detectives trying to squeeze Vincent. Michael Rainey, Jr. is appealing as Woody and is touching in scenes where he longs to be reunited with his mother.
The movie does show the difficulty of trying to turn one's life around yet getting pulled back in, even if it isn’t entirely successful. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for violence and
terror, some disturbing images
and thematic elements.
Two scary stories merge in this horror movie executive-produced by Guillermo del Toro. Originally an intriguing horror short, it has been expanded to a full length movie, and has the lapses to prove it. As the movie begins a disturbed man named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who does a fine job also playing the uncle, Lucas) kills his ex-wife and escapes with his two young daughters into a broken-down cabin in the woods. The older sister Victoria (Morgan McGarry plays her younger, then Megan Charpentier, both excellent) is old enough to know something terrible is going on, while the young sister Lily (Isabelle Nélisse, who plays the part after they are found, also does a good job) is a baby at the time.
Five years pass and Uncle Lucas is still looking for his brother and the girls when they are found filthy and running wild in the cabin on all fours like animals. His girlfriend Annabel is played by Jessica Chastain in a short, black wig. She is a bass player in a band with tattoos and a tough attitude who really is not up for immediate motherhood, though she is forced to evolve. This is very different from the distressed delicate flowers she usually plays, and she makes the most of the part.
A custody fight begins with an aunt, but the psychiatrist, Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), with questionable motives of his own, backs Lucas and Annabel having custody if they will live with the girls in a house he provides to give them normalcy while he is studying the case. Strange happenings occur almost immediately as Lucas is badly injured and ends up in the hospital. And this is where the frustration begins. Why do people go back and search the cabin only at night? Why do frightened people walk towards eerie noises at night instead of running the other way? Why doesn’t Annabel get the kids and get the heck out of there?
Many of the unnerving moments are because of sudden moves like at a fun house when something creepy pops out in front of you. Mad "Mama" makes appearances here and there and her "story" is revealed little by little until the end. Here again, it only takes a moment that is nonsensical to stop and take you out of the movie, and the spell is broken.
Writer/director Andrés Muschietti, and his co-writers Neil Cross and Barbara Muschietti start with a good premise, and try to explain everything, but that isn't always necessary in horror stories like this. What is necessary is for the actions of the characters to make sense to the audience. Yes, even a ghost must be true to the world of the story created for it, otherwise why should we invest in anything shown to us previously? Unless you just want chills and thrills, this movie is a bit of a let down. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|ZERO DARK THIRTY
Rated R for strong violence
including brutal disturbing
images, and for language.
Contrary to expectation that the search, discovery, and elimination of Osama bin Laden will offer peaks and valleys of discovery ending in a surge of pride and patriotism, Zero Dark Thirty only reaches an emotional peak once, at its opening. Otherwise, it's coolly detached and dispassionate.
At the start, after a blurry opening credit or two implying something is amiss, the screen goes black and fills with the sounds of chaos on 9//11 filtering down to one woman's increasingly panicked call and, finally, the horrified and helpless reaction of an emergency operator. It is a chilling and heartbreaking moment and a reminder of why bin Laden has been rightly sought for over a decade.
A title card follows, the first of many to inform of time frames and locations. They also, however, establish and reinforce, along with seemingly handheld, spontaneous camera work, a documentary feel to the unfolding story that distances the viewer from entering fully into the action.
This remove is identical to that of the newly arrived CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain, does the best possible with a character lacking depth) who's initial experience is witnessing an interrogation by Dan (Jason Clarke, excellent), a no-nonsense veteran (his litany is "You lie to me, I hurt you"), and ski-masked assistants, involving a suspect held up by the wrists with ropes, deprived of food and water, having his genitals exposed, forced into a cramped wooden box, and being waterboarded. The later controversial issue (newly-raised by the movie) is not questioned here and, whether the viewer's opinion is pro or con, cannot help, even if briefly, channeling their attention to the political rather than following the detective work of finding bin Laden.
In that vein, screenwriter Mark Boal, does his best to clearly set forth the string of clues and suspects leading to Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, the briefly mentioned names and quickly viewed faces tend to be confusing. This is not the case for Maya. After being at first patronized, she impresses the station chief, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler, convincing), and top analyst Jessica (Jennifer Ehle, believable), with her dogged determination to find bin Laden, especially after suffering the loss of a friend. A key scene, and a rare high point of suspense, is the search for Osama bin Laden's key courier in the narrow, thronged streets of a Pakistan city as he speaks on a cell phone whose discovery leads to bin Laden's fortress-like compound.
Once found, it is Maya's unshakeable confidence (based more on conviction than evidence) that will persuade the CIA Director (James Gandolfini, fun to watch) to support taking action. The assault, led by squadron leader Patrick (Joel Edgerton, totally credible) encompasses the last part of the movie and though successful, given its particulars (terrified children, screaming women, men outmanned and outgunned and shot point blank to insure their demise), is compelling though almost anti-climatic.
The victory over bin Laden is unquestioningly gratifying, but it is regrettably only a step, not the conclusion, of the situation that continues to confront America. The term "Zero Dark Thirty" refers to military time, an unspecified time between midnight and dawn. Given that the war on terror has been ongoing for over a decade, a chance to celebrate, even if low key, before our country is truly able to see the light would be welcome. By choosing a dry-eyed, objective approach to the hunt and defeat of bin Laden (leaving aside the controversy concerning CIA cooperation), director Kathryn Bigelow (with professional work by cinematographer Greig Fraser and editors William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor) has effectively denied the viewer a deserved and long overdue moment of uplift. Maya was given a moment of emotional release. Would that the director had offered the viewer a similar experience.
Zero Dark Thirty – Forceful subject's clinical presentation lacks cathartic punch. Review by Charles Zio
Rated R for strong
violence and language.
With a high caliber cast Gangster Squad should have been a winner, but no such luck. "Inspired" by Tales from the Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman, it is about a group of make-your-own-rules cops who go to war with the Mob in 1940s-1950s Los Angeles. Disappointing is the word for the screenplay by Will Beale, and especially the direction of Ruben Fleischer who did such an entertaining job with Zombieland.
In the late 1940s Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) calls in squeaky clean cop Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), who returned from World War II a hero, to head up a secret squad of cops to clean up the city. O'Mara's got a savvy pregnant wife named Connie (Mireille Enos, tough and tender) who wants him to stay alive for obvious reasons. But John is determined, no matter what it takes, to rid LA of corruption and the gangster element in the person of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, in a good performance), a psychopathic, violent mob guy.
O'Mara gets together five guys with distinct specialties including Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), a fearless hot-shot who happens to become involved with Cohen's girlfriend, the beautiful Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). He also enlists the help of Det. Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie, one of the few actors not overplaying his role), a knife expert. Then there is Det. Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi, trying something new by not being the crazed one this time around), a mild-mannered wire expert, and Det. Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) a sharp-shooter. Kennard's partner Det. Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) attaches himself to the squad and is allowed to stay.
The level of violence is high, and yes, we get the idea that Cohen doesn't play around. Even when his own men mess up, they die in particularly vicious ways. But the movie seems unnecessarily brutal and bloody. Unfazed by who gets hurt or that his wife is getting more frantic, O'Mara sets up one sting after another, but is told there will be no arrests leaving the squad free to interfere in whatever way they choose. At first Cohen and the other criminals can't figure out who these people are injecting themselves into the crime scene.
The story is based on the real life mobster Mickey Cohen, but breaks no new ground even as it may stretch the truth here and there. The script is full of clichés and has lines of dialogue you will swear you've heard dozens of times before. And with all that talent, and blood-spattered action going on the movie seems strangely tedious. You can guess what's coming way before it happens. This was a missed opportunity. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|NOT FADE AWAY
Rated R for pervasive
language, some drug use
and sexual content.
The 1960s music is the real star of this movie from writer/director David Chase, known as the creator of the hugely popular The Sopranos, and under the music direction of Steven Van Zandt. The title comes from the 1957 Buddy Holly song "Not Fade Away". He remains one of the icons of early rock 'n' roll music by writing catchy, upbeat, earnest tunes that invaded the consciousness of a generation. How can you not love a love song that starts with the lyrics:
The wandering story line, unfortunately, isn't as captivating. Though there are a number of good clips of performances from that time period, and some good performances, notably by John Magaro as the main character Douglas, there are scenes and subplots that go nowhere and just end abruptly. Douglas comes from a dysfunctional Italian-American family in 1960s New Jersey. As he goes through high school he has a crush on the pretty, popular girl Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote, physically embodying the look of the time). Yet like many teenagers who are fringe players in school, he pines for her from afar. His attention turns to the music that breaks with the traditional, stifling 1950s and comes to not only define his generation, but affect every musical innovation since.
Douglas is asked to join a band as a substitute drummer by the popular music guy in town named Eugene (a fine Jack Huston), and plays along with Wells (Will Brill, also doing good work), and several others. They cover some songs and try to get the attention of producers. A rift develops as they all recognize that Douglas sings better than Eugene and he takes over as lead singer. As they struggle to get notoriety a comparison is made with groups like The Beatles, and with The Rolling Stones who have a hit with a cover of "Not Fade Away" then take off when they start writing their own material.
In the meantime Grace is not all looks and no aspirations as she watches Douglas' band sing in her parents' fancy basement during a party. She later tells him that he sings with "soul" and encourages his dream leading to a relationship between the two. A subplot about her unstable artist sister Joy (Dominique McElligott) provides some mild humor and interest, but is handled superficially.
Douglas has a combative relationship with his unhappy father Pat (James Gandolfini, who can be one of the most intimidating actors out there), who works hard to provide for the family only to be nagged by his complaining, melodramatic wife Antoinette (Molly Price, nice job). The younger sister in the family Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu, not given much to showcase her talent) narrates the movie occasionally as an observer.
Douglas and Grace change and evolve as with any coming of age story, but the meandering nature of the script leaves the audience unfulfilled and with less empathy than it could have had at the end. But what you come to realize is that such is the power of music, that it ultimately saves them, as it does with many young people of any era, and as it does with this film. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for suggestive
and sexual material, violence
and thematic elements.
Les Misérables, the movie, is a sizeable, sincere, though flawed spectacle. Based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, and the beloved musical play of the same name by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg that opened in London's West End in 1985, the story is based around the fateful June Rebellion of 1832 in Paris when students rose against the monarchy that existed at that time.
Hugh Jackman holds the movie together and is absolutely smashing in the part of the hapless Jean Valjean, who as a young man steals a loaf of bread for his sister's hungry children and spends nineteen years in prison for it. He then gets paroled but doesn't report in (though a local priest helps him on the road to redemption) and spends the rest of the movie pursued by police Inspector Javert played by Russell Crowe. This casting choice is most surprising as Mr. Crowe is not especially known for his singing prowess, and disappoints in the part.
Anne Hathaway is terrific as the sad, unfortunate Fantine who is targeted at the factory she works by the boss who wants to bed her and her fellow female employees who are jealous of her beauty. She has to place her daughter Cosette (younger Cosette played by Isabelle Allen) with the unsavory husband and wife team, the Thénardier's (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), and they mistreat her. When Fantine is fired and sent into the streets she has few options and in desperation becomes a prostitute to make money. Valjean finds her as she is dying and promises to take care of Cosette as his own daughter. At this point Javert almost captures Valjean who manages to escape again.
Jump forward in time and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) has grown into a lovely young woman who catches the eye of upper class Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who is deeply involved in the June Rebellion with his friends and the leader Enjolras (well done by the handsome Aaron Tveit), though the Thénardier's daughter Éponine (Samantha Barks, appealing here, who also played the role at the 25th Anniversary in the West End production) is in love with Marius and joins the Rebellion to be near him.
To render (pun intended) the songs in the musical, director Hooper chose to have his actors sing live on set instead of pre-recording the soundtrack, with mixed results. The choice allows the actors to emote and adapt their phrasing to the moment, so now we have, for example, Anne Hathaway crying her way through "I Dreamed a Dream", Hugh Jackman straining every vein in his forehead to reach the highs of "What Have I Done", and Russell Crowe delivering the equivalent of hailing a cab in New York. And what can be sung or said about Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter croaking and gurning their way through such memorable numbers as "Master of The House"? While many of the songs in the play are meant to evoke strong emotions, in this film adaptation many get lost.
As a totally-sung musical, just about every line is sung by the actors. At first entertaining, this becomes increasingly tedious. Equally unsettling is the director"s decision to fill the frame of many songs with the giant head of the actor. And while the actors work hard to express the emotion in every note, the lyrics become somewhat choppy, barely uttered at times. And while perhaps a minor observation, when some of the actors utter their few lines in a British/cockney accent one begins to forget this revolution was in France.
Director Tom Hopper does not put the cinematography of Danny Cohen to best use by his choice of extreme close-ups, but the costumes and sets are well done when you get a good look at them. Another questionable choice is the length of the movie. Though I appreciate the honor to the original musical, this is a film. When performed live, the musical allows a break for the audience, which doesn’t exist here, leaving the viewer more tired than exhilarated by the end. 20-30 minutes could have been cut without affecting the story or the music.
Fans who love the musical may find the movie stirring. It does offer some postives, such as the opportunity to become familiar with the musical, but too much of a good thing is not necessarily better when translating stage to film. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for strong graphic
violence throughout, a
vicious fight, language
and some nudity.
The cinematic world of writer/director Quentin Tarantino is outlandish, violent, and oddly compelling. He likes to imagine a time and place and then make a stew of it by adding unexpected ingredients. Sometimes it works better than others. I am not a big fan of Inglourious Basterds. This time around, though, he has taken the spaghetti western genre and moved it to the deep South shortly before the Civil War where a German doctor/bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) finds an unexpected assistant when he buys a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx).
Dr. Schultz needs Django because he's hunting for two brothers and Django knows what they look like. This first bloody confrontation lets you know what you are in for. And there's ample violence from here on out, so the audience has been warned. When Dr. Schultz and Django have been successful the first time, he takes him on as a kind of junior assistant and teaches him to shoot saying he's a "natural." Yet the relationship and the story evolve and the two become friends. Given their adventures together Dr. Schultz decides they must free Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), named after a character in German composer Richard Wagner's opera, from the evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Calvin has made a sport of Mandingo contests where one slave fights another, often to the death. Walton Goggins is noticeably good as the amoral Billy Crash, and Samuel L. Jackson is effective as Calvin's faithful servant who turns his back on his brothers.
While the violence is stylized, it is still difficult to watch especially when it deals with the way slaves are treated. Yes, the "N word" is used many times, yet in the context of the movie and the times it is probably closer to the truth than we might think. That in itself may turn some audience members off except for the inherent dignity that Tarantino gives to the character of Django. This movie is not the first word on slavery, and it certainly won't be the last. It is not meant to be a serious treatise on the subject, but instead this filmmaker's take on what "could have been" had there been a Dr. Schultz and a Django. And many other "ifs" too, because it is a fantasy treatment of a shameful subject for Americans.
The entertainment aspect of the movie takes over, but not until you are drawn into the character's predicament and start rooting for Django and Schultz to make their captures and save Hildy, as she likes to be called, from a torturous life.
The movie is well-cast. It would be difficult now to imagine anyone else in the part of Django than Jamie Foxx. It's the best work Christoph Waltz has done since Inglourious Basterds, Leonard DiCaprio proves he has range and can play the bad guy, and Kerry Washington is appealing as Hildy. As is typical of Tarantino he casts many actors he admires or would like to work with. A small cameo is added for Franco Nero who played the original Django in Sergio Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti western Django which is said to be an inspiration for the movie. Then you might recognize, among others, Don Johnson, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, Robert Carradine, Michael Parks, even Jonah Hill, and Tarantino himself.
The movie is long at two hours forty-five minutes, yet it moves along quickly and you thankfully don't notice as in some other movies that seem never-ending this holiday season. Tarantino fans will get into this movie; all others be warned it takes a strong stomach. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Rated PG-13 for extended
sequences of intense
fantasy action violence,
and frightening images.
How to explain The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Well, to start with, the story of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, an excellent choice) begins sixty years before The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Why wasn't it made first? We don't know, but you might guess that the above mentioned movies were popular and made tons of money. The other mysterious issue is that there will be a trilogy of movies made from The Hobbit novel. Why? See above.
It all begins in Middle-earth when the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, with the same mischievous twinkle in his eyes), approaches Bilbo and asks him to accompany him on an adventure. The purpose of the journey is to help a group of Dwarves reclaim stolen treasure taken from their kin by the dragon Smaug there at the Lonely Mountain, which was once their home. Being a Hobbit, Bilbo is rather timid but eventually joins the group of Dwarves including their leader, and rightful king of Lonely Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, terrific in the role of the vengeful Dwarf).
The story itself is stretched (as there are two more movies to make) so not a tremendous amount happens, but there is plenty of fighting. The group goes from one battle to another with all manner of ugly, evil creatures. Gandalf can only do so much even though he is a wizard, but despite Thorin's suspicious nature, Biblo does mature and develop courage along the way, and they all manage to work together to escape the treacherous creatures as they make their way to the mountain. The actors portraying the Dwarves do a nice job and are fun to watch.
Cate Blanchett returns as Galadriel an Elf and co-ruler who has a soft spot for Gandalf, though the character is not actually in The Hobbit. Also returning from the Lord of the Rings trilogy is Hugo Weaving as Elrond, the Elven master of Rivendell, Christopher Lee as Saruman the White, head of the Order of Wizards, Ian Holm as the older Bilbo Baggins, Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, Bilbo's nephew (also not in The Hobbit), and Andy Serkis as Gollum, the ugly, Hobbit-like creature encountered by Bilbo. Serkis again portrays the conflicted Gollum through motion capture, as he did in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Director/Co-writer Peter Jackson gives us a spectacle as with the first trilogy, but it has that familiar look to it. Yet, some of the landscapes, CGI, and special effects are extraordinary. As the group travels from one battle to another, it feels stretched beyond what is necessary. Zealous fans will probably still find it fascinating, but in this first part of The Hobbit story they don't even get to the mountain, but they do see it from a distance. Two more to go.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for some violent
images, sexual content and
The most interesting part of Hitchcock is about the actual making of the movie Psycho but most of the scenes are devoted to the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). The two had a contentious and often strained union though they were married for many years. This emphasis may be because the screenplay by John J. McLaughlin is based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Mr. Rebello is credited with one of the last, if not the last interview with Hitchcock before his death.
Anthony Hopkins does the best he can trying to portray the eccentric director, but it is difficult not to compare his look with the real person. Though the script does cover his peculiarities, it remains superficial and he seems as elusive as ever. The movie shows him as an outsider in Hollywood with few insiders admitting or recognizing his genius, and he spars with various producers especially Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) even having to finance Psycho himself. Yet it seems some who work closely with him remain loyal. His secretary Peggy Robertson (Toni Colette, in a thankless role) seems to understand him and takes care of him like only loyal secretaries used to do.
Helen Mirren's Alma gives us a different angle on Hitchcock. He is a chronic over-eater which gives him that physique the audience knows so well. Though Alma tries to help him control his eating, she also uses it as a weapon against him when necessary. Her main frustration is not in getting enough credit for how much she helps make Hitchcock and his films a success. She is very good at writing dialogue and editing and is asked by a slimy writer named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston, so good as a manipulator) to help him turn out a screenplay. All the while what Cook really wants is for Hitchcock to direct a movie of his and thinks Alma is his ticket there. But Hitchcock is no fool, and he and Alma do battle over the time she spends with him.
There is a subplot about Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) who is under contract to Hitchcock and plays Janet Leigh’s (Scarlett Johansson, sweet and sincere here) sister in Psycho. This alludes to Hitchcock's obsession with his icy blonde leading ladies, but the movie doesn't go very deep into this darker part of his personality. Though Alma is quite aware of his fixation and it does come up. And he does dream of and have "conversations" with the killer who inspired the book that Psycho is based on. That is a bit creepy, but is never scary.
Director Sacha Gervasi gets the time period just right with clothes, cars, hair styles, furniture having an authentic look. James D'Arcy looks like, and does a credible turn as an anxious Anthony Perkins, and Ralph Macchio has one brief scene as the screenwriter of Psycho, Joseph Stefano.
The best scene in the movie shows Hitchcock directing the famous shower scene in Psycho. He probably would have liked that, but I'm not sure the rest of the movie would have suited his taste. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for some
sexuality and violence.
As the film opens, the camera focuses on a theatre stage. This is only one of the many scenes that take place there. Without explanation people mill around, a crew moves set pieces and scenery about, and actors perform passing by ropes, using stairs and walkways, but don't end up anywhere. Anna Karenina is the sweeping novel by Leo Tolstoy about life in 19th Century tsarist Russia. The screenplay was written by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard so maybe that is the inspiration for using the grand theatre theme. Though this latest version is highly stylized, and aspires to a lofty level of originality, it doesn't entirely work.
The novel is a multi-layered story of an affluent society during a time when strict limits were enforced on men, but especially women. The beautiful Anna (Keira Knightly) is content, if not happy, with her life with husband Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) when she visits her brother Stiva Oblonsky (Matthew McFadden) and his pregnant wife Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). Dolly has discovered Stiva's affair with their governess and doesn't know if she can forgive him, but Anna intervenes convincing her to stay with him. A major subplot involves Stiva's childhood friend Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) who is in love with Dolly's sister Kitty (Alicia Vikander) and wants to marry her. She turns him down thinking she and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) will be together. But at a ball Count Vronsky has eyes only for Anna who he met at the railway station picking up his mother.
Anna resists, Vronsky insists, Anna gives in. Then there's hell to pay. Alexei is a bureaucrat who doesn't want to give up on his marriage but Anna can't resist her passion for Vronsky, and eventually they leave together for Europe. Yet, the passion they share begins to suffocate him and cause Anna to become jealous to the point of paranoia. And why not? She has given everything up for him, including her son by Alexei. And though Vronsky can move about in society as before, Anna is shunned by those who previously included her in their circles, and it's clear she won't get back in. Anna takes the only course of action she thinks is open to her.
Director Joe Wright's vision is ravishing. The lush costumes, hair, makeup are beautifully filmed by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. Adding to the atmospherics is the music of Dario Marianelli. Yet, having many of the scenes presented on a stage separates the audience even further from the characters: first in the movie itself, then the play within the movie. Yes, the grand themes make for high drama, but the result is that Anna, Vronsky, and especially the rest of the characters' anguish feel even more removed from the audience.
As for the acting Keira Knightly does a credible job as the doomed Anna, though she is not especially sympathetic. I wasn't convinced by Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky. There are several good supporting performances by the large cast including Jude Law, Matthew McFadden, and Domhnall Gleeson who do the best they can with their limited roles.
Though carefully constructed and artistically rendered I didn't feel swept away, and couldn't identify with Anna's grand passion. Anna Karenina doesn't live up to expectations. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|LIFE OF PI 3D
Rated PG for emotional
thematic content throughout,
and some scary action
sequences and peril.
The Life of Pi is a beautifully realized film visually, narratively, and spiritually. Director Ang Lee has taken Yann Martel's novel of the same name and created a fantastic journey full of emotional resonance for the sanctity of life from the opening credits to the closing frame. The screenplay by David Magee is exceptional as is the cinematography of Claudio Miranda, editing by Tim Squyres, music by Mychael Danna, the international cast, the CGI, and of course, director Ang Lee to bring it all together into a dazzling film spectacle.
Piscine Molitor Patel, or Pi as he decides to call himself (after that never-ending math equation), is a sensitive and inquisitive child who feels a close connection with the animals in his family's zoo in the Indian city of Pondicherry. He is especially attracted to a large Bengal tiger called Richard Parker (named this because of an error), though his father (Adil Hussain) warns him that the animal is nothing but a merciless predator without a soul. Yet, Pi's understanding mother is more tolerant of his inquiring nature. As Pi contemplates the questions of existence he decides to follow the three religions of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. But Pi's desire to embrace such varied religions allows him a broader, more inclusive vision of "God" and he is actually more spiritual than religious. What is spirituality, after all, if not a reverence for all life?
When Pi's father decides the family should leave India with all their animals in tow on a Japanese ship, the teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma, endearingly believable) has just fallen in love for the first time. It feels like the end of the world to him, and in fact, just about is. A terrible storm takes the ship to the bottom of the ocean leaving Pi on a lifeboat with no humans but several animals, but soon only Pi and the terrifying Richard Parker are left. Pi makes the fateful decision that he will co-exist with the animal.
The grown Pi (Irrfan Khan) relates this story to a writer (Rafe Spall) in Canada where he is now living. Pi tells him that after he hears his story of survival he will believe in God. And the story is truly fantastic with Richard Parker, flying fish, terrifying storms, a leaping whale, even a stop on a dangerous island before Pi is rescued. The resolution is psychologically true within the context of the story, but leaves the door open for the audience to decide what they will accept or will not accept. Yet, no matter, the final outcome may help you believe that even tragedy can lead to remarkable survival and a grateful, fulfilling life.
You should not miss the Life of Pi. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R or language and
some sexual content/nudity.
This is a small movie with an enormous heart. It is a different type of survival story. The main character is a mentally unstable, wounded man named Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper). As the movie opens Pat is leaving a mental institution after an eight month plea deal, but he is not exactly compliant. Pat's mother Dolores (Jackie Weaver, just right as the worried mother), decides he needs to be home with his family. His father Pat, Sr. (Robert De Niro, in one of his best roles in years), is not so sure Pat is ready, but accepts him home. That is, until 4 am when Pat wakes them screaming about Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. He is angry that the writer pulls the reader in then dashes hope of any happiness by killing off the woman he loves at the end. A loose parallel to what Pat believes has happened to him.
Pat decides to win back his wife who was at center of an incident that caused his meltdown. He is not allowed to see her because of a restraining order so he tries to find other ways to impress her and let her know he has changed. Since she is a high school English teacher he wants to read all the books in her curriculum. He also lost weight when he was away, something his wife wanted him to do, and he is determined to get in better shape to further impress her. Pat is ordered to see a therapist, and take his medication, which of course he hates because although it evens out his bipolar disorder, he doesn’t like the way it makes him feel.
At a dinner at friends' house (John Ortiz and Julia Stiles), he meets Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with issues of her own. The scenes between them are truly funny, and poignant, as Pat and Tiffany are both socially awkward, saying inappropriate things to each other. But Pat is willing to help her with a dance "project" because she says she will get a letter from Pat to his wife.
A subplot with Pat, Sr.'s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles and his "business" is funny. The family dialogue, narrow house, costumes, jewelry, and atmosphere of the Solitano house remind me of "Moonstruck" about another quirky Italian family. Director David O. Russell perfectly balances showing the damage caused by mental illness with the humor and compassion of family and friends who stand by and try to help someone come back from the edge. What makes it heartbreaking is when the person doesn't realize how much they need that help. Pat's psychiatrist tells him he needs to have a "plan" thus the title.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have a good rapport and chemistry as the two lost souls who somehow find a way to get along with each other. Though some have objected to their age difference, she is believable in the movie as older and he as younger, so I didn't find this a problem. Both are terrific - Mr. Cooper is especially constant and real in a difficult role and you can't help rooting for him. Ms. Lawrence is natural and appealing.
This is a romantic comedy/drama that is truly romantic, funny, and lovable. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Rated PG for thematic elements
and some mildly scary action.
This animated movie is very busy. Obviously made for younger moviegoers it moves at breakneck speed, but since it is based on William Joyce's The Guardians of Childhood thee is a lot to cover. It seems that the evil Pitch (voice of Jude Law), the Bogeyman, wants to take out all the hope and joy of the world by covering it with darkness and giving children nightmares. This is shown as a kind of black sand as opposed to the Sandman. The first thing he does is somehow capture the Sandman who normally spreads golden sand to the children of the world to help them sleep and give them good dreams.
The other Guardians: Santa Claus (voice of Alec Baldwin), called North here, the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), and the Tooth Fairy (voice of Isla Fisher) try to convince Jack Frost (Chris Pine) to help them save the light of the world by stopping Pitch. But Jack Frost only wants to fly around the globe having fun with his staff by making it cold and frosty. There is a child named Jamie (voice of Dakota Goyo) who Jack has taken a liking to and this makes him question his decision.
The animation is quite good, though it begins to feel repetitive. And the back and forth dialogue between the guardians is not stuffy at all, though sometimes the attempts at humor are only mildly funny. The screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire hits all the important points, and the direction by Peter Ramsey meshes the visual and dialogue well. This movie can be enjoyable without the 3D and the extra cost for a family can add up. The voice actors do a credible job with their characters as well.
The young audience at the movie screening was attentive and seemed to be happy at the end, with some even applauding. It is not directly related to Christmas time though a number of scenes take place at the North Poll showing North's funny little elves and Yetir;like helpers. In fact, the story is around Easter time, but that doesn’t take anything away from the movie as plenty of cold weather is around thanks to Jack Frost. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
PG-13 for an intense scene
of war violence, some images
of carnage & brief strong language.
Though Lincoln is a noble effort about a noble president, I couldn’t help feeling that I was watching a history lesson. Perhaps that's because it is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The screenplay by playwright Tony Kushner is extremely knowledge-based. Certainly there are many things to admire about the film, but admiring it does not mean it is compelling or moving.
The time period is the last several months of the Civil War and the end of Lincoln's presidency. The nation was divided and it looked like nothing could bring it back together. How could Lincoln end slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment? How would the states be one union again after all the bitterness? Lincoln could be maddening to the men who worked along side of him, and make no mistake it is men who made the decisions. With his homey sayings, and his tendency to internalize his thoughts, Lincoln still had the ability to understand and compromise with those who opposed him.
On the positive side are the excellent performances, especially by Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. The President remains an enigma, but this performance makes Lincoln more human than we have ever seen him. Sally Field as the slightly hysterical Mary Todd Lincoln is everything you could want in the part. Mrs. Lincoln knew she would not measure up well against her sainted husband. Tommy Lee Jones as the Radical Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens is a staunch abolitionist, with a terrible wig, who believed Lincoln was too soft and feared he would capitulate on abolition. These actors know how to make the most of a role.
The early battle scene is frightening with its hand to hand combat in the mud, and the aftermath of a battle is starkly depicted with huge numbers of contorted bodies abandoned on the battlefield. Lincoln seemed to bear the weight of this horrendous war on his shoulders, yet he was practical enough to know he needed to abolish slavery then and there. He was also wise enough to know that to be compassionate in victory was a strength not a weakness. The only time I felt moved in this long movie was when Lincoln ordered his men to respect Robert E. Lee and his soldiers as they grimly accepted defeat. (If only we had present day politicians with such wisdom and magnanimity.)
The look of the film with muted colors and gauzy backlighting in several scenes strikes a good balance. The costumes and the set design show attention to detail, and the music by John Williams can be rousing, if a bit too intrusive at times.
The main problems are the length and slow pace of the film, and the sentimentality. This comes across when some of the actors deliver lines as though each one should be written in stone, rather than spoken conversationally.
The subject and of the movie and the history it portrays is important for all Americans to understand. I wish I could have felt more of a connection to it. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
BREAKING DAWN - PART 2
|THE TWILIGHT SAGA:
BREAKING DAWN - PART 2
PG-13 for sequences of violence
images,some sensuality &
And so we have arrived at the end of the Bella and Edward's adventure. This is probably the best movie in the series as it moves along more quickly than the others. As evidenced by a largely female screaming audience last night it remains popular. Though the story still has issues, for those who have stayed with it, it is a happy end to the journey.
After Bella (Kristen Stewart) gave birth to their daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) and almost died, Edward (Robert Pattinson) turned her into a vampire to save her. We know it worked because when we see Bella for the first time in this movie she has those creepy red eyes. Now she is not just one of the gang, she is, of course, one of the strongest vampires. As Bella is out walking with her daughter a distant cousin sees the child and thinks she is an immortal, meaning someone turned her into a vampire, but she isn’t. The cousin reports this to the Volturi clan who police such things and as this is against everything that they stand for; they decide they must punish the Cullen clan and kill them.
The Cullens know how powerful the Volturi are, including Aro (Michael Sheen), and so reach out to other vampires to stand witness for them. Together with the other vampires and Jacob and the Wolf Pack, they stand together to fight the Volturi to the death, if they have to, to protect Renesmee.
The weird affect of the actors playing the vampires continues as they all have these “knowing smiles” they give to Bella whenever she says anything. Taylor Lautner doesn’t have to contend with that as he’s the Wolf Pack leader, though the filmmakers make sure he takes off his clothes so we can admire his physique. For those needing to see this series to the end, this all probably makes sense. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for alcohol abuse, language,
some sexual content & brief drug use.
Some think drinking to excess can be "fun" for a period of time, provided no one gets hurt or goes to jail. People always think they can control drinking, until it's too late, and then they find themselves controlled by their addiction instead. Smashed brings home the ugly truth about alcoholism, but does it in a way that doesn't get preachy or repellent and so has a better chance of being heard.
Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is not a street drunk, in fact, she is a vibrant young elementary school teacher. She and husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) live a comfortable middle class life with house and cars. But they like to party hard and each encourages the other to drink, many times until they pass out.
One particular morning after a heavy night of drinking Kate goes to school hung over and vomits in her classroom. The kids ask if she's pregnant and she says yes out of fear and embarrassment. Principal Barnes (Megan Mullally) likes Kate and believes the story actually being solicitous of her and her condition. But Kate confesses the truth to fellow teacher Dave Davies (Nick Offerman) who offers to help her get some help. The movie focuses on Kate's efforts to get well even as she denies, resists, has failed attempts, and must start over again several times.
There are a few miscues, the most notable is dialogue between Kate and her teacher colleague Dave about his attraction to her. It feels forced and sounds creepy, especially for a school teacher. However, supporting roles by Aaron Paul, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place, and Octavia Spencer add considerably to the overall soundness of the film. But it is Mary Elizabeth Winstead in an affecting, poignant performance that really makes the movie work. She doesn't shy away from showing Kate at her worst. This actress has the ability to be one of the best of her contemporaries, and I hope she gets the parts that help realize her potential.
Director James Ponsoldt and co-writer Susan Burke don't sensationalize or sentimentalize the story for effect. They let it unfold, but more importantly they demonstrate the realistic consequences of addiction. As they show in the film, the problems don't magically go away once the drinking stops. That is when the piper must be paid and it can be a bitter realization that there is a price to be paid for the bad choices left behind. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for drug and alcohol
abuse, language, sexuality/
nudity and intense action
After fifty years Skyfall is the whole James Bond package. Daniel Craig has come into his own as the master spy. The direction by Sam Mendes is inspired. The screenplay by John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade gives shading and warmth to the icy Bond character yet moves him into the 21st Century. The visuals are stunning. Support from the theme song by Adele and Paul Epworth with incidental music by Thomas Newman adds to the atmospherics. In short, it is highly entertaining movie.
The opening sequence finds Bond and a field agent (Naomie Harris) on an assignment that goes wrong as they try to retrieve a hard drive. Meanwhile, back in London M (Judi Dench) takes the heat for the failure and it is suggested to her by Intelligence chairman Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) that MI6 may be outdated and she should resign. M resists saying her work isn't finished. An explosion at the MI6 offices puts her in an even more difficult predicament.
Bond, thought out of the spy game, shows up afterwards and wants back in when several agents die as a result of the hacking incident. He and M share a prickly relationship, and she forces him to prove himself if he wants to be an agent again. A new, younger Q (Ben Whishaw) doesn't so much have fanciful gadgets this time around as he is a computer super nerd. This is where Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem, making the most of his part), a bitter former agent, makes his presence known as the "super villain" of this Bond movie. There is a beautiful woman, of course, named Sévérine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), but as usual for the women in these movies, she is basically window dressing. No, the real important woman in these movies has been M, the mother figure. Silva is out for revenge against M who he blames for his bad experience as an agent.
Not to spoil the enjoyment for those who would like to discover the course of the story for themselves, and why it is so different from past Bond movies, let's just say that the information above is enough going in. But what is so entertaining about what happens is that it seems to flow naturally going forward in the series into a new century while paying homage to the previous twenty-two movies and fifty years of this character.
Many had their doubts that Bond could remain relevant, but the blend of old and new strike just the right balance. This is certainly the best Bond movie of the three for Daniel Craig. Now I can't wait for the next Bond movie. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated: R for strong
sexuality including graphic
nudity and frank dialogue.
Movies about disabled people who have risen above their circumstances can be tricky, but this drama about Mark O'Brien, rather than being dark and depressing, is affecting and upbeat. Mr. O'Brien, a journalist and poet, was determined to live as fully as possible despite spending the majority of his life in an iron lung to help him breathe, the result of having polio when he was six years old.
John Hawkes gives a fearless, sympathetic performance as a man who reaches his late thirties because of the iron lung, but is at the mercy of others for his survival. He has attendants who must feed, bathe, and take him wherever he needs to go on a stretcher. Incredibly, he goes to college and does have a job writing. Yet, he decides that dying a virgin would be as bad as it gets, because that's one of his body parts that works, so he goes about trying to rectify the situation. Though this may not be a subject matter everyone is comfortable with, as the story unfolds Mark seems so normal mentally even as he languishes in his metal prison that you can't help rooting for him to succeed. He does get angry about the hand he was dealt from time to time, but is remarkably good humored in spite of his life-threatening condition.
Mark can be outside the iron lung for short periods of time, and many kind people try to make his life more comfortable and meaningful. He goes to church regularly and becomes good friends with Father Brendan (William H. Macy, so effectively showing us the priest's dilemma). They have heartfelt discussions about whether his search for sex would be a sin. These discussions provide humor and dark wit for a potentially serious subject. Though Father Brendan knows that a literal interpretation of Catholic doctrine would prohibit Mark from engaging in this activity, he gives Mark his blessing.
This is when Mark meets sex therapist Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt) and his life changes. She is moved and affected by the incredible person he turns out to be. Helen Hunt plays the part with great sensitivity, and much full frontal nudity. Yet, it's never awkward or embarrassing because the scenes of their sessions are shown in the context of helping Mark achieve what will help him feel as "normal" as he"s ever going to feel.
The movie is inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. Much has been said and written about the human spirit, but The Sessions is a movie that shows how truly beautiful it can be. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for drug and alcohol
abuse, language, sexuality/
nudity and intense
This is an intense movie especially if you have ever known or have been involved with a substance abuser. You will recognize the behavior - and all the damage and heartbreak that comes with it. The plane crash sequence in Flight has garnered most of the attention because the majority of us are familiar with what it feels like to be a passenger on a plane, and we can imagine the terror of something going horribly wrong. The scenes are gripping to be sure as pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) deals with a catastrophic emergency. It is no secret, from the trailers, that he manages the plane crash bravely and is hailed as a hero. Yet, most of the movie deals with his troubling dark side.
In fact, the opening of the movie shows the audience that the character has definite flaws, so we are already anxious when he gets on the plane. After the crash he wakes up in the hospital and the investigation gets underway immediately. He has a few friends that try to help him including former pilot and union man Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood, steady and believable), and the not actually helpful Harling Mays (John Goodman, a bit of comic relief). Also instrumental in trying to help to get him out of trouble when alcohol is found in his system right after the crash is lawyer Hugh Lang played by the always solid Don Cheadle. Whip has a hostile ex-wife and son. He meets a recovering addict named Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly, delicate and appealing), but he jeopardizes their relationship as well.
As is the case with many abusers, Whip constantly relies on others to help bail him out of trouble, then lets people down by lying and thinking only of himself. He continues to play games to try and beat the system. Mr. Washington expertly plays the tragic, almost Shakespearean hero who you can feel sorry for, and be repulsed by at the same time.
The screenplay by John Gatins, to his credit, doesn't spare or shield the audience from ugly truths of the situation. Director Robert Zemeckis does a more than credible job with good casting, and bringing out dependable acting by the ensemble cast, as well as leading the tech crew. The technical features of the movie are well done with cinematography by Don Burgess, editing by Jeremiah O'Driscoll, and CGI in the plane scenes is so frightening it feels real.
By the end of the movie, the audience may feel depleted. Although it resovles a bit too quickly, this is an honest depiction of the damage of addiction and the toll it takes on an individual, and his/her family and friends. It is a moving story of a man graced with many gifts and relationships that he selfishly and callously throws away. You may even know someone like him. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for violence,
nudity and some drug use.
The tagline for Cloud Atlas says "Everything is Connected." Why then is it so hard to understand what's going on for three quarters of this almost three hour movie? The reason filmmakers like to turn books into movies is that there is a pre-made story that audiences are familiar with and like. The novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is well known and loved. It is a complicated book with multiple storylines, past and future, about "the meaning of life." When you take on such a big theme it is necessary to distill 500 or so pages of the book into an understandable movie so we can all take away the best of what it has to say.
Unfortunately, that doesn't happen here. In fact, I'm still confused about what I saw. Did I miss something, or is this a bloated, though visually beautiful, pretentious bore? I know this is supposed to be "epic" yet even thinking about it afterwards was frustrating. In staying so close to the book, or did they, the writers, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski, who directed as well, may have done a disservice to the movie. They are obviously earnest, and you can see that much time and care has been put into the film, but overall it doesn't work for me.
A clever technique is to have many of the actors play multiple roles to show the "connections" across time. Certainly in one way this is an actor's dream: to play dress up and act out multiple characters, but it remains limited in what it does to help the audience understand what it all means. The movie jumps around to different times, and just when I was getting interested in one story we are switched to another. As a result I didn't feel invested in the characters even when the scenes showed horrific cruelty or tender love. I wish I had read the book, but the truth is that a movie must stand on its own with no guarantee that the audience knows anything about the book.
The costumes, makeup, and especially the visuals are stunning. The acting is good from Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving (probably the most adaptable of the cast), Jim Sturgess, and Ben Whishaw. I had the urge to laugh every time I saw Hugh Grant in his various incarnations, and Susan Sarandon's roles were limited though you hear her voice in the trailer more than you would expect.
Some have praised this movie and maybe this is one you will like, but I found it distractingly disjointed rather than nuanced, disheartening rather than inspiring. For me, Cloud Atlas is the biggest disappointment of the year. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated: PG-13 for violence
including images, sexual
content, language, drug
references, and nudity.
The Alex Cross character as created by novelist James Patterson is featured here for the third time. Morgan Freeman played the detective/psychologist in Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001), but Tyler Perry is starring in this latest adaptation and is not the actor Mr. Freeman always proves to be. According to those who have read Mr. Patterson’s popular books he is closer to the character’s age and description.
Although Mr. Perry looks more buff than he's ever been, this dramatic role is the problem in his connection with the other characters. We don't see enough of he and his wife Maria (Carmen Ejogo, beautiful but wasted in this part) together to feel a strong bond between them. Yet, we do see plenty more of Cross and Tommy Kane (Edward Burns, with a pronounced New York accent) his life long friend, but there is not much chemistry there either.
As the movie opens Alex and his colleagues are called in to investigate some brutal murders. Almost immediately the killer is identified and it's no surprise as you see him doing his handiwork. The movie moves on through unnecessarily violent action sequences as Alex hunts the killer then becomes a target of the psychopath who says he is fascinated by pain, that is, inflicting it on everyone else. Alex swears revenge. Every plot point is telegraphed, even though there is supposed to be a "surprise" ending.
Several of the actors rise above the material. We don't see enough of Cicely Tyson as Nana Mama, Giancarlo Esposito as Daramus Holiday, or John C. McGinley as Richard Brookwell. What we do see more than enough of is Matthew Fox. He looks like one of those posters showing a skeleton with nothing but muscles over it with no skin you might see in a doctor's office. His interpretation of this coked up character doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the type.
The dialogue is not particularly original, but it's difficult to say how much is added rather than how much is taken from the book. Of course, it could be the delivery, too. It would seem there is enough action, but the constant hand held camera movements get annoying. One thing comes across from Alex Cross – enough is more than enough.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for language and
some violent images.
Given the upheaval and recent events in the Middle East, Argo supplies some background history of the troubled relationship between America and Iran. Interestingly, the first few minutes of the movie present that former time in animation with voiceover. That doesn't make it any less repellent as the voice explains that the United States and Britain helped overthrow a democratically elected leader in 1953 to install the Persian monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, under whom the once prosperous Iranian people suffered greatly.
The gravely ill Shah left for exile to the United States in 1979 at the beginning of the Iranian Revolution. Soon the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran and took over a period when long-repressed rage was freely expressed. "Death to Americans" was not an idle threat. In this volatile circumstance militants stormed the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, took 52 hostages, and kept them captive for 444 days.
As the Embassy was being invaded, there was frantic activity inside where workers were trying to destroy sensitive information. Six of the staff argued but left the Embassy together evading capture with help of the Canadian Ambassador, a hero certainly, whose home became their sanctuary. When the CIA found out about their escape they called on CIA operative and "exfiltration expert" Tony Mendez to get them out Iran safely. No viable realistic choices left Mendez with few options. But he did come up with a scheme that involved a fake movie production company making a fictious sci-fi movie named Argo scouting locations in Iran. He would fly to Tehran as a Canadian producer and say the six hostages were his movie crew. It was their "best bad idea" but it was all they had.
Ben Affleck skillfully directs from a tight, suspensful, intelligent script by Chris Terrio. This is Mendez' story and Mr. Affleck, while doing an accomplished directing job, might have been better not to direct himself as he plays the operative with little expression, even at times when he is struggling emotionally. The cast is uniformly good and much attention has been paid to the costumes and makeup so that the actors look like their actual counterparts, except for Mr. Affleck who doesn't resemble Mr. Mendez except for his dark hair.
Clever, smart-mouthed dialogue poking fun at the film industry from the Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and make-up man John Chambers (John Goodman), as well as sarcastic CIA characters (Bryan Cranston, good job); provide relief from the anxieties on the Tehran side of the account. Even though the outcome of the story is not in doubt, since it's based on true events, the tension is skillfully maintained throughout. Though, it makes you wonder how much we don't know about the actual facts of the incident. Yet, it is a tense, frightening, but ultimately positive American rescue story. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for disturbing violent
images and some terror.
The events leading up to and including the ending to Sinister do take us to a "sinister" place, but it is a long, unsatisfying trip getting there. Filmmakers usually allow tension to build and give the audience time to squirm, but here the repetitiveness and irrationality of the main character allow the suspense to dissipate.
From the time writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family into a house in Pennsylvania his actions don't make sense. First of all, he doesn't bother to tell any of them that the backyard was the scene of a horrific crime (shown in the opening sequence). His reason, given later to justify this lapse, is that this new book he's working on could reignite his career. Hey, how about your family's safety? How can the audience identify with a character so selfish?
As Ellison is putting boxes in the attic, he finds one that contains a projector and Super 8 reels which he then proceeds to watch over the course of the movie. Each reel shows a family being murdered. Does Ellison bring this to the attention of the gruff, no nonsense sheriff (Fred Thompson)? No. Does he contact anyone else? Well, yes he finally contacts a Professor Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio) by Skype who gives him information about a pagan demon. The Deputy (James Ransone, nice job), finds information for Ellison about the murders he's been seeing, but Ellison doesn't give him any details about what's going on in the house. The most absurd behavior is that every night there are events inside and outside the house that would have caused a rational person to leave immediately and never look back, but Ellison stays and tells no one.
Ethan Hawke gives his character as much credibility as the script allows. There are creepy goings on to be sure, but the scary parts are telegraphed so that you can tell when they're coming. The reels tend to be more frightening then the scenes in real time. The ending is repellent but not a surprise.
Director Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill start with an intriguing idea, but then provide convenient but unrealistic behavior by their main character that feels forced. If you can get past the monumental lack of common sense, maybe you can buy the story.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for thematic
elements, scary images
Those who are Tim Burton fans will love Frankenweenie. It brings his unique take on horror and makes the movie accessible to multiple age groups. There are some scary images, but mostly this is a homage to the old horror movies of long ago. The black and white animation is stop motion which not only adds to the different look, but reminds you of the slightly hesitant movements of those many monsters and characters that have become part of our culture. What he does effectively is create a rather odd world unto itself. So even as we think the whole town is strange, we accept that it is as it should be.
Young Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan) loves two things: science and his dog Sparky. In this weird world where he lives he is supported in his science quest by both his mother Susan (voice of Catherine O'Hara) and his father Ben (voice of Martin Short). Victor is a kind, gentle soul, not at all like the Frankenstein of old films. He likes the girl next door, Elsa van Helsing (voice of Wynona Ryder), but the man next door, her uncle, is a mean bully.
Everyone in Victor's class knows he is a genius, especially his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voice of Martin Landau). He is the first to introduce the concept to his class that lightning can "spark" someone or something back to life. He further gives Victor the idea and permission to conduct an experiment in earnest when Sparky dies accidentally. Victor dedicates himself to bringing Sparky back again. His classmates spy on him with plans of their own with disastrous results. It first comes to a destructive climax where else - an amusement park?
Many of the "people" characters mimic the look of Halloween or movie monsters. For instance, one of Victor's class mates has the hair and flat head of Frankenstein's monster. You might catch Dracula, some gremlin-like creatures, or Jurassic Park references, too.
The 3D doesn't help all that much, in fact, the black and white photography looks somewhat flat, which is the opposite of what usually happens in black and white cinematography where contrast and shadows give depth and dimension to the scenes.
The movie is resolved in a way that should satisfy most movie-goers. The odd mix of sweet boy and his dog story, with Halloween ambiance makes this movie less bloodcurdling, but far more amusing. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE PERKS OF BEING
Rated PG 13 for mature
thematic material,drug and
alcohol use,sexual content
including references, and a
fight all involving teens.
Drama/Romance 103 minutes
Stephen Chbosky writes/directs this movie based on his own popular novel of the same name. It is a coming of age story about a socially isolated, troubled teen dealing with some serious issues. Charlie (Logan Lerman) narrates the movie through letters he writes to an anonymous person he has never met. Yet when he writes out his complicated story it becomes a benefit to the audience. He experiences flashbacks during the movie about his Aunt Helen which he tries to make sense of, or painful memories he tries to shake off, and sometimes he doesn’t even remember what happened just minutes before. We don’t know the nature or full extent of his struggle, which isn’t even clear to him, until the end of the movie.
As an entering freshman in high school, it is immediately apparent that Charlie is unpopular with his classmates. The cause of this disconnection is kept purposely vague and released slowly through different scenes. Charlie is taken under the wing of two seniors, an eccentric guy in his freshman shop class named Patrick (Ezra Miller), and Patrick's step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Somehow Charlie becomes part of their group and he has several "first" teenage experiences through his relationships with them. Of course, being shy and awkward, he makes mistakes, which are magnified in his mind. The movie follows Charlie's freshman year, and the group's senior year.
At home Charlie feels disconnected from his family but does have a good relationship with his older brother who is away at college, and his sister Candace (Nina Dobre), who lives at home and attends high school with him. He also has a good relationship with his freshman English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), who recognizes on the first day that Charlie has a special interest in reading. They make a agreement that Mr. Anderson will give Charlie books to read outside class and Charlie will write about them. This sets Charlie up as teacher's pet, but since he has so few friends as it is, he decides to follow through with it since he wants to be a writer.
Charlie develops a crush on Sam, but somehow gets involved with another girl from the group named Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). In the meantime, Patrick is having relationship dramas of his own as are others in the group.
The movie goes through these teen situations quickly, in what seems like record time, and as a result none get too in-depth, but it does give the essence of adolescent angst. There is enough heartbreak to go around. Many cultural references to literature, television, movies, and especially music, ground the story in the 1990s.
Though Charlie is not a typical teen, many parts of his story certainly are so the audience will be able to relate to him. The acting is good and the chemistry between Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, and the rest of the cast work to the advantage of the movie. When the final reveal comes, it has tragic overtones, but is not out of context for the story. Audiences ages teens through adults should find something likeable, or at least, interesting here. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for strong violence,
language, some sexuality/nudity
and drug content.
One thing every sci-fi writer likes to write about is time travel, either going back or forward in time. Writer/director Rian Johnson is no exception. In Looper the characters do both. But to keep it original he gives us an intriguing yet sometimes messy, convoluted plot. If you are trying to follow the logic of this film it is easy to get lost. Maybe you shouldn't try, because by the time you are done thinking about a particular plot twist you are taken out of the movie. If I can't understand the rules of the world that is created, I'm less likely to be invested in the characters. It's a fine line to be sure, and razor thin.
The movie has a good cast starting with Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing a good job as Joe, but who is made up with a tad too much makeup, although they got the Willis nose just right. In the not too distant future he is what's known as a "looper". These guys are hired by the criminal element of the future. They send back persons for elimination because in the future they can't dispose of the bodies. Really? Anyway, the loopers are lorded over by Abe (Jeff Daniels, evenly hostile) who makes an example of Seth (Paul Dano, sniveling well) who can't or won't carry out his last mission. The hapless victims are sent with hoods over their heads, hands tied behind their backs, and payment in silver attached, but the loopers may occasionally recognize one of them. When a looper gets a payment in gold he knows his killer days are over. He knows he then has thirty more years until he is eliminated.
Needless to say, loopers don't like this last part, especially not Old Joe (Bruce Willis, back to his old form) who made a life for himself in the future. Old Joe comes back to young Joe's present to confront himself in order to save himself. The interesting part is the way Joe and Old Joe work against each other. There is no love lost between the two, which is strange.
The movie then turns into a chase movie with the criminal element after both Joe and Old Joe. The plot gets more complex when Joe hides at a farm and finds a woman named Sara (Emily Blunt, always good), and her young son Cid (a very good child actor named Pierce Gagnon) who has special reason to be afraid of Old Joe. The violence is tough to take at times, especially when it involves innocents, but I suppose that's what the filmmaker thinks the world will come to in the near future.
The movie doesn't quite live up to all the hype, and is too long with extra scenes that are not necessary, but if you like sci-fi, and plots intriguing though not entirely logical, this is a movie for you. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for sexual material,
language,and drug references.
You may have heard or known tangentially about college "a cappella" singing groups, but this movie presents the subject in a whole new light. Far from being filled with the stuffy, snobby elite of top Ivy League schools, college a cappella singing has apparently arrived fully-formed into the 21st Century.
The movie opens with scenes from an a cappella competition where a male group and female group from the same college are vying for first place. The female group, called The Belles, falters thanks to a gross vomiting episode by the leader Aubrey (Anna Camp, nice job as the controlling leader) who insists on using the same tired music that excites no one. When the obnoxious males win Aubrey swears revenge, though most of her group resigns. She resolves to get another group together and go to the ultimate competition again, to win this time.
The story is seen from the point of view of Becca (Anna Kendrick, first-rate as usual, and she can sing too), a freshman who is only interested in listening and arranging music. Her father insists she attend the college where he teaches. She is a reluctant student, and when she finds her intern job at the college radio station is sorting and storing CDs, she is further discouraged. In the meantime, she has been approached by Chloe (Brittany Snow, also very good), Aubrey's friend and fellow a cappella teammate.
Without much going for her otherwise (a bit of a stretch), Becca joins the group, but remains aloof from the rest of the girls including a very funny Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. She doesn't want to get close to anyone. The girls are told by Aubrey they can't fraternize with the boy group that won or they're out, but Becca finds herself attracted to a new freshman member of the boy group named Jesse (Skylar Astin, good voice). He also works as an intern at the radio station and tries to get her attention but she resists him. The plot builds up to that year's competition with plenty of gossip and angst.
This movie, although it's got some rougher edges than necessary, is a charming surprise. Director Jason Moore manages his large cast with assurance. The screenplay by Kay Cannon is based on the non-fiction book Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin about a year following three a cappella groups to competition. Ms. Cannon manages to make the characters likable, and ones we care about, even though there too many are stereotypes. But it's the music and arrangements that are eye-opening with the choreography. With the talents of musicians Christophe Beck and Mark Killian you can really feel the music, and why college students or any young person loves music. The same reason adults love it - it frees them. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for some
rude humor, action,
and scary images.
The thing to remember about Hotel Transylvania is that it is for children, not adults. The kids now have their own Halloween movie. And the filmmakers have done what they can to "humanize" the scary characters of this holiday for them. One nice twist is that the monsters are all afraid of humans. Here Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler) is a doting father to Mavis (voice of Selena Gomez, vampires with children?), and proprietor of a luxurious hotel for all manner of menacing creatures. The purpose of the hotel is to have a safe place for the comic monsters to relax and get away from humans.
Dracula is giving a huge party for Mavis for her 118th birthday. Since his wife died he has over-protected the feisty young vampire girl and kept her from going outside the walls of the hotel. She finally convinces him to let her fly, as a bat, outside to a nearby human town. When she gets there the humans are very strange and try to frighten her away. Mavis flies back discouraged and determined she won't leave again to try and communicate with those horrible humans.
Meanwhile, guests start arriving for the party: voices of Kevin James as Frank/Frankenstein, Fran Drescher as Eunice, Frankenstein's wife, Cee Lo Green as Murray the mummy, Steve Buscemi as Wayne werewolf, Molly Shannon as his wife Wanda werewolf, Jon Lovitz as Quasimodo, and David Spade as the Invisible Man, among others. Into this daffy mélange of creatures comes Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg), who accidentally comes upon the hotel. Of course, chaos ensues. Dracula tries to keep everyone from knowing that Jonathan is an actual person, but because he is young he and Mavis take to each other immediately much to Dracula's consternation.
There's plenty of running and flying around, but director Genndy Tartakovsky, with a screenplay by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, succeeds at making it a fun trip. The animation is fine for the subject matter, not overly dark or sinister, though the 3D doesn't add much to the overall look of the movie.
Hotel Transylvania will do fine for most parents who want to take their children to a scary, non-scary movie. There are many more laughs than fright, but parents have to judge for themselves what the appropriate age and tolerance level is for a child going to see this as the movie is rated PG for parental guidance. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for sexual content,
graphic nudity and language.
All those so-called "expert" screenplay authorities who say you can't have unlikable main characters must have a real problem with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. After There Will Be Blood with one of the most demonic men the screen has ever seen, he gives us The Master with not one, but two unlikable characters. And, by the way, the two actors (Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman) playing these weird, disturbed, scary men will probably win many acting awards for getting into the skin of these disagreeable characters.
Whether the source material of this movie is Scientology and its founder, which has created a controversy of its own, is beside the point because this movie is a world unto itself. It can be tedious and slow, but it can also be riveting and draws you in even as you might try to resist it. It is nothing if not a unique movie experience.
Opening scenes show us the strange, alcoholic sailor Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) at the end of World War II. He mixes concoctions with whatever he can get his hands on, like paint thinner, and is obsessed with sex. Even his fellow sailors think he's crazy and he ends up in the hospital before his discharge. Freddie goes on to estrange everyone he meets, socially and at work, until he accidentally ends up on a boat with "The Master" himself, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). In the early 1950s Dodd creates a belief system called the "Cause" a mixture of Zen, psychology, and his own peculiar constructs. But what is a cause without followers? So Dodd works hard to court and grow his group of apostles, especially rich ones.
Dodd discovers Freddie's talent for mixology and they develop an odd symbiotic relationship. Dodd counts on money from rich patrons, and since Freddie’s behavior is inappropriate, or worse, 99% of the time, it is surprising that Dodd keeps him so close. The Master's wife, the pregnant yet icy Peggy (Amy Adams) doesn't like Freddie, but Dodd takes him in, gives him "sessions" and tries to bring him along even after major screw-ups.
It's difficult to describe exactly what happens otherwise, since this movie will be viewed through the lens of each person's personal experience. Some of the scenes show Freddie's hallucinations, or do they? The Master is arrogantly sincere about his beliefs, or is he?
The set design, costumes, and makeup give the movie an expert 1950s look, and the cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. enhances the eerie atmospherics of the story line.
But for all the good supporting assistance from the technical staff, the real power of the movie comes from the performances. It's worth mentioning that Amy Adams as the "perfect wife" is excellent, and never once perky in the role. Joaquin Phoenix, thin, hunched over, with a haunted stare and hollow cheeks, looks like a ghost through most of the movie. Freddie is not just an out-of-control alcoholic, he is seriously mentally ill. And he knows it. He desperately clings to Dodd as his last hope for salvation, believing even the Master's most ludicrous claims, thinking if he follows his directions he will be cured, or at least, he will be closer to normal.
For his part, Mr. Hoffman's character is even more frightening in a sense because he's fully aware and responsible for everything he does. His deceit knows no bounds when he wants something. Superficially charming, not one ounce of his smarmy magnetism is wasted as he pulls in the gullible and runs circles around them until they are tied in knots. When that fails, there's always violence and intimidation. Yet, there are cracks occasionally as even he can't run from his demons. Several of the scenes between Mr. Phoenix and Mr. Hoffman are so compelling you can only stare at the screen in awe.
The movie is ambiguous. For instance, at the times when Freddie is on his own where does he get money? Yet, the bigger issues the film explores make for a complex movie to ponder long after you leave the theater. It doesn't let the audience off easy, but is quite a cinematic experience if you are willing to go there. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
Rated PG-13 for brief strong
language and some drug references.
Foreign Film: Swedish/United Kingdom
You've heard the question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Apply that type of question to another circumstance. If a gifted musician makes albums and no one listens, is he still extraordinary? This is a rare documentary because it gives us a chance to see "what might have been." In late 1960s Detroit a Dylanesque, blue-collar musician/philospher simply named Rodgrquez was discovered by several music producers thinking he would be the next music superstar. It didn't happen then, but what does happen some thirty years later is almost unbelievable.
SPOILER ALERT: Don't read on if you want to discover the story for yourself.
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, the sixth child of Mexican immigrant parents, was a gentle folk singer with a smooth voice and incisive observational lyrics. He sang about social change and the unrest before him in those turbulent times. He recorded two albums with Sussex Records: Cold Fact in 1970, and Coming from Reality in 1971. But sales were not good and he was dropped from the label. Then Rodriquez disappeared.
In the meantime, through various circumstances, Rodriquez' music became a hit with anti-apartheid youth in South Africa selling half a million albums. In a very different faraway place Rodriquez became a cult figure, was "bigger than Elvis," but no one associated with his music in the United States knew it.
There were several rumors that Rodriquez had killed himself by either setting himself on fire, or shooting himself in the head onstage after a particularly brutal response to his music. Director Malik Bendjelloul takes us on a improbable journey of discovery to find out what really happened to Rodriquez.
To everyone's surprise Rodriquez is found in Detroit, nearing his 60s, having lived as a laborer in the construction/demolition field. He has three grown daughters, yet no wife or girlfriend is around or even mentioned. Those he knew and didn't know are interviewed, and at times it feels unreal. So much so, that you wonder if it's all a big joke on the audience. After all, how can it be?
Rodriquez' signature song "Sugar Man" is about drugs, but he insists it is a "description, not a prescription." The music plays at various times giving a sample of his musical/lyrical style: "...Sugar man, won't you hurry/ 'Cause I'm tired of these scenes/ For a blue coin won't you bring back/ All those colors to my dreams." What is even more striking than all that mentioned above is that Rodriquez makes a trip to South Africa playing a number of concerts, and he looks like he was born to be on stage, after more than thirty years of obscurity!
The truth is that very few artists make it "big." Some never get on stage, some are one-hit wonders, some are big for a while than fade. Yet, Rodriquez, as far as one can tell, never felt sorry for himself. He just moved on because he had to, saying at one point, "That's the music business." But the ironic thing is that Rodriquez' career came back from oblivion and he didn't even know it. How many artists will ever experience a rebirth of their art in their lifetimes, and see it become an enormous success?
There are a few questions about what happened to all the money that was made from his music, but it is never answered. Rodriquez made music from his gut. It wasn't about the money or the fame. And the special appeal about this documentary is that we get to share the wonder of the heartfelt appreciation and love of his work with him. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Rated PG-13 for language,
sexual references, some
thematic material and smoking.
Though you know everything that's going to happen in Trouble with the Curve it is still enjoyable as long as you don't probe too deeply. Just don't expect anything ground-breaking. Clint Eastwood (with a familiar persona) plays crusty baseball scout Gus Lobel whose old ways of evaluating potential major league players are questioned by, who else, a smart-mouthed new guy. What his boss and friend Pete Klein (John Goodman, doing his part) finds out that Gus is having some medical issues. He approaches Gus' daughter Mickey (Amy Adams, so appealing) a high-powered lawyer trying to make partner to help him out.
Yet, Gus and Mickey have been estranged for years and it seems that almost every conversation ends with an argument. But, this being a movie, she follows him to North Carolina anyway (nice landscape shots) to scout out a possible draft pick. Even though he tells her to scram many times she decides to help the old guy out.
The audience gets a look at the modest motel, dive bars, and rough guys that Gus hangs out with, but even they look sanitized. This is primarily a movie of "the way it used to be" as opposed to the newfangled, changing world of numerous stats and computers used in the game now. In fact, the story is kind of an anti-Moneyball.
This movie has Justin Timberlake (also appealing), as a pitcher who blew out his arm, is now a scout, with hopes to be an announcer for the Red Sox. From the minute he sees Mickey he's in love, no mystery, Amy Adams is pretty, smart, and perky in this movie. They have good chemistry on screen. It's just a matter of how they will get there.
The filmmakers take their time with the attempt to uncover the source of the trouble between Mickey and Gus. As is true of Gus' generation, he doesn't talk much and has difficulty explaining why he did what he did. Mickey is 33 and they never talked about it. What? A lawyer can't get Gus to talk about something so key to her life? But that's the premise, and if you buy that, you buy the story.
It might be best to say that this movie is an old-fashioned story of the good (old) guys winning out and teaching the young guys a thing or two. Oh, and there's also characters being quizzed on old stats. If you love baseball, you love the stats, and to throw around the names of those stars who made it so great. Just relax and accept the movie for what it is, or you'll end up gritting your teeth. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE ODD LIFE OF
Rated PG-13 for mild elements and
This is a simple story of a childless couple who desperately want to have a child of their own. But finally Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) are told by their doctor that there is no hope. The news brings pain, as you can imagine, and to help themselves get through they decide to write their wishes for the child they are never going to have, put it in a box and bury it in the front yard. As the movie begins Cindy and Jim are explaining the entire goings on to rather stern adoption officials. They are telling them the fantastic story of Timothy Green.
After burying the box, it isn't long before a young boy shows up at their door after a storm with dirt all over, and says he's their son, Timothy Green (CJ Adams). He does resemble them and looks and acts like a normal kid but oddly Timothy has leaves growing from his legs near his ankles. The reason for this becomes apparent later in the movie. It doesn't seem to bother him in the least, but the couple takes precautions so others won't see the leaves and make it harder for Timothy.
The town, house and even the residents, including Cindy and Jim, are basically nice people. That includes two of the edgier ones in the person of Jim's father (David Morse) and Cindy's boss Bernice Crudstaff (Dianne Weist). So it is really no surprise when their family, friends and acquaintances accept that Timothy kind of comes out of nowhere.
In the meantime, Cindy and Jim get a crash course in parenting. Since Timothy is already school age they have plenty to deal with: bullying, sports, a girl, teachers, competition from other family members. Even in the bland surroundings of the fantasy town, parenting turns out to be the hardest job they could imagine as their hearts break even more than his does when something goes wrong.
Director Peter Hedges, also a co-writer, has cast the movie well. Jennifer Garner has a sweet quality and a surprisingly effective Joel Edgerton, known for more dramatic roles, have a good rapport as the desperate parents-to-be. CJ Adams is natural and likable as Timothy, and the rest of the cast add nicely to the mix. Yet, the movie is rather bland, and though moving in parts might leave the audience feeling a bit let down. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content
involving domestic abuse
and drug materials, and for some
violence language and smoking.
When Whitney Huston sings towards the end of the movie, it's evident that some of the old magic was still there even though she couldn't quite hit those astounding notes she used to make before. It is even more poignant, then, that this Sparkle doesn't shine. It comes across as melodrama in some parts, a musical in others, but always not up to expectations.
In 1960s Detroit wanna be manager Stix (Derek Luke) is looking for clients and an angle to make it in the music business. When he spots Sister (Carmen Ejogo), a beautiful sultry singer at a favorite night spot, backed up by her sisters, he approaches them to become their manager. Sister ignores him, but Stix has more luck with Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), the youngest of the three. She is the one who writes their songs and has ambitions to be a singer herself, but faces disappointment when Stix wants Sister as the main girl. Yet, she and Dolores (Tika Sumpter) go along so they can get on stage.
Even though Sister is talented she comes from a, what else, dysfunctional family with Emma (Whitney Huston) as the cold, strict, religious mother who has a sad history in the music business herself. She tries to keep her three girls tied to the church and out of trouble, but the pull of Motown music is strong. Sister is looking for the big time and thinks she finds it in comedian Satin (Michael Epps), a nasty piece of work who comes across as charming at first. The sisters have a chance to "make it big" if only they can keep real life from intruding.
The pacing of this movie is off. Some events feel like they take forever and others happen too quickly. The main star power comes from neither Whitney Huston nor Jordin Sparks but from Carmen Ejogo and Derek Luke. Both of them seem to be acting in a different movie, while everyone around them is in another. This unevenness doesn't apply to the music which is so good that it would be difficult to ruin, though the arrangements are not necessarily mind-blowing. Ms. Sparks is lovely to look at and a good singer, but her acting needs considerable work.
Attention has been paid to the hair, make up, costumes, and sets, but not enough to the story and script where all good movies begin and end. Sparkle disappoints on many levels and for many reasons. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS
Rated PG-13 for language
including some drug references.
Neil Young is a music legend who is still relevant, not only to his generation, but to younger ones as well. His unique alto/tenor voice remains as haunting today as it did years ago when he created some of his most memorable songs. One reason Mr. Young speaks to different generations is that he his music is not just personal memories of love, but moody, thoughtful universal stories and conversations about "life."
This documentary by Jonathan Demme is half journey back to his childhood home turf, and half concert as he sings both old songs and new. Mr. Young is totally without pretension. With a scruffy beard, baseball caps, or old straw hat, and unassuming wardrobe he could be like any man in his 60s traveling in an old car around his childhood haunts in Canada. His brother Bob drives in a car in front of him leading the way. When they stop and get out examining various locations that hold memories they could be any two brothers discussing their young years. Yet, he's going back to where it all started for him and to perform at the renowned Massey Hall in Toronto.
The musical portion of the film, interspersed with the road trip section, is highly entertaining. Mr. Young is alone on stage and not only plays the guitar, but harmonica and organ. As he begins to sing the names and release dates of the songs appear on screen. They are a mix of older songs like "After the Goldrush", and "Out of the Blue", with newer ones like "Leia" and "You Never Call". The documentary is filmed in a straight forward style with few tricks or techniques. A split screen is used in one segment only. But it's clear Mr. Demme loves his subject and believes his talent speaks for itself. This movie is a must see for Neil Young fans or to those who long for his unassuming style. It’s a part of the 60s you may wish to know. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE BOURNE LEGACY
Rated PG-13 for violence
and intense action sequences.
Action movies are about entertainment, aren't they, so why would the filmmakers of The Bourne Legacy force us to work so hard figuring out what's going on here? This fourth in the Bourne series seems to pick up very close to where the third movie ended. It very briefly gives us glimpses of several of those characters including Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), and Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), which only made me more disappointed with this movie.
Jeremy Renner, as Aaron Cross, is fine and believable as agent caught in the megalomania of our high stakes government experiments, but it's the script that lets this movie down more than anything else. Where the previous Bourne movies trained super-assassins then used other super-assassins to kill them when they became too dangerous to their operations, this one has the agents altered genetically to increase their mental and physical capacities. When government bad guy Eric Byer (Edward Norton, good understated performance) decides to terminate a program he doesn’t mess around. He wants the loose ends terminated (meaning the agents) and fast.
As Aaron takes his medicine and survives in Alaska he begins to deduce his days are probably limited while the audience gets a sample of his superior intellect and physical skills. He out-maneuvers those who try to kill him and comes looking for the government doctor, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who was part of the experiment and treated/medicated him. She has her own troubles with a colleague who goes ballistic, and then the government agents come to get her. It becomes a chase movie but not nearly as interesting and satisfying as the previous Bourne movies.
This is not a poorly made product. The cinematography by Robert Elswit is quite striking at times with overall high production values. But the quick editing of scenes where unknown characters are introduced without context is confusing. Director Tony Gilroy gets good work from his actors though his penchant for too many extreme close ups can be off-putting. I don't need to see every pock mark on an actor's face to get the picture.
The main action sequences, when they finally come, are not nearly as original or interesting as one would expect taking place mostly on motorcycles in heavy traffic in the Philippines. There's even one laughable scene where a character switches places with someone while both are speeding around. What?
There is one nice twist when the audience finds out more about how Aaron Cross becomes a secret agent, but don't you think by now word would get around that these supermen don't last very long? Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for language including
Some sexual references
And for some drug use.
Realism and fantasy mix, match, and play out the pluses and minuses of an ideal girl who seemingly comes to life in this entertaining film by an actual boyfriend and girlfriend (she also wrote the script). There's circles and layers as the viewer watches a dream entity (this movie), about a man having a dream, that comes true, acted by a real-life couple, pretending to be fictitious characters. But forget such complications. The movie is fun.
The opening image sets the stage - a shot upward of a young woman viewed in a blur of sunshine speaking of her lost shoe. She is, therefore, perfect since any physical traits can be imagined in her hazy image and her attitude reflects the current model (check various media) of desirable young womanhood - a bit kooky, a tad clumsy, uninhibited, warm, understanding, and a free spirited guide to happiness (and big blue eyes don't hurt either). She is precisely the sort of girl that Calvin (Paul Dano, perfectly cast) would conjure in a dream. He is a romantic (his first and only book, written at 19, was and is a teenage girl's hit), nursing a broken heart over Lila (Deborah Ann Woll, in an effective late cameo) his single past relationship, stuck in the past (he works on a typewriter!), blocked (the proverbially blank sheet of paper), lonely (his closest companion his dog Scotty), shy (tries to avoid others at speeches and book signings), and ill at ease (sloppy and disheveled).
Calvin, of course, is smart enough to realize he needs help (his surname Weir-Field indicates a blocked area) and regularly visits a psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould, dependable as usual), but it is the invented Ruby, as Calvin dubs her, who gives him any hope and comfort to the extent he admits her existence to both doctor and his supportive yet lovingly pushy brother Harry (Chris Messina, better than good). The upside of the dream girl is a creative torrent as Calvin amasses pages and pages using her as the basis of a new book.
The surprise, and it's a shocker for Calvin, is when Ruby (Zoe Kazan, great) without warning appears live and in person in his kitchen. He can't believe it, of course, until he is reassured others can see her, too, followed by a period of growing, glowing, madcap love.
On the other hand, a viewer could question whether the fantasy-come-true might not be, in fact, a delusion. Perhaps Calvin's family is indulging him - his mother, Gertrude (Annette Bening), during a mostly pleasant family visit even asks if he is all right. Further, he could be using imagined confrontations to avoid a hook up with an author groupie, Mabel (Alia Shawkat, nice job), and to put down his literary mentor Langdon (Steve Coogan, suitably sleazy) who holds his talent in low regard. The one person who could truly call him out on his vision is Dr. Rosenthal, but Calvin is careful to neither inform about or introduce him to Ruby. Tellingly, Calvin himself points out to Ruby, "I can make you do anything because you're not real."
Either way, Calvin is in need of self-awareness (he's got control issues for starters) in order to assure his mental and emotional health. Happily, at the end (after a high-powered and revealing couples argument) the indication is he's on his way.
Zoe Kazan's script is original, witty, concise, and sure-footed though it does stumble at the very end with a most predictable conclusion. The direction by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is top notch, as are the production values. The acting (aside from an awkward turn by Antonio Banderas as Gertrude's hip partner) is consistently first rate, especially Dano and Kazan whose real world chemistry (disarming, appealing, irresistible) translates so smoothly to the screen. Well done, indeed.
Ruby Sparks - An engaging gem. Review by Charles Zio
Rated R for crude sexual
content, language and
This political satire will remind you why politics needs to be lampooned: it's crude, silly, shameless, but laughable. The movie is often over the top which is the way our real politics have become, in fact, the lines get blurrier all the time.
This campaign takes place here in North Carolina which admittedly does have its share of eccentric characters. The trouble begins when an egotistical candidate who has been running unopposed in a small district, named Camden "Cam" Brady (Will Ferrell) gets an opponent set up by special interests named Martin "Marty" Huggins (Zach Galifianakis, actually from North Carolina). Those outsiders are the Motch brothers, Glen (John Lithgow) and Wade (Dan Aykroyd). (They bring to mind the ruthless brothers in Trading Places where Mr. Aykroyd played the victim of their callous games.)
Where Cam is slick, Marty is a bit of a challenged simpleton, but he somehow gets under Cam's skin when he realizes that the regular folk like Marty. Cam has the blonde, thin, model-looking wife and two model kids, while Marty's wife Mitzi (Sarah Baker) is a bit overweight as are his kids. Cam is willing to do just about anything to get re-elected and this leads to some very funny situations. He tries too hard to be what he thinks the voters want and by constantly trying to out-do Marty makes worse and worse mistakes, even accidentally hitting a baby. Can you get worse than that on the campaign trail?
Crude sexual references abound as does the typical adolescent male humor. Yet, there is support from comedians and media types. Wolf Blitzer, Bill Maher, and Piers Morgan, among others, pop up for cameos during the movie supposedly commenting on the campaign. Dylan McDermott does a nice turn as the demonic Tim Wattley, Marty's assigned campaign manager, while Jason Sudeikis is Cam's.
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, while not exactly the yin and yang of comedy, have a good chemistry together. Each makes the other one better. Both have been known to be over-the-top outrageous, but here director Jay Roach is able to coral their talents to be more effective.
The Campaign is not full of wise political insights, but it will make you laugh at the ludicrous system that has evolved. That's a good thing because if you think about it too long, you might end up crying. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for mature
content involving sexuality.
Here's a sweet romantic comedy/drama with perfect timing for the baby boom generation. Married 31 years Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have a conventional life with Kay fixing Arnold the same breakfast every morning, one slice of bacon and an egg, after he puts his attaché case and jacket on the same chair. Arnold likes order, predictability, and to be left alone. Kay wants more interaction and sex. But the good thing about Hope Springs is that it gets at the deeper truth, which is that Kay needs Arnold to "pay attention" to her which he has not been doing for years, and that they are both responsible for the state of their marriage, and further, to be present in the moment before it is too late. Now that the kids are gone they are living as housemates more than connecting as husband and wife.
In desperation Kay decides to sign them both up for intensive couples counseling for a week in Maine with a well-known marriage therapist named Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) even using her own money. Arnold resists in every way he can including being sarcastic to Dr Feld, complaining about the cost of everything, and refusing to do the exercises as prescribed after they leave the sessions. As the week progresses both Kay and Arnold must face some unpleasant truths about themselves and at times one or the other runs out of the session without the other.
The audience laughs with recognition at some of the common couples' miscommunications that occur, especially between long term partners, for instance Arnold lacking enough interest in getting Kay a gift for herself instead buying something for the house and calling that a present. The movie does tend to be a bit stereotypical with Arnold as the stingy grouch and Kay the suburban housewife, but is never mean-spirited about the characters as they represent millions of basically decent people who are trying to navigate life as best they can. Yet, Kay is smart enough to realize that when there is a problem there is no reason not to ask for help. So along with the comedic situations there is also plenty of drama.
Meryl Streep continues to amaze as she makes even the sweet, relatively naïve, unadventurous Kay interesting by going out of her comfort zone. Tommy Lee Jones could probably do this part on autopilot yet he brings more to it, convincingly able to convey a well-meaning husband who loves his wife but can't get out of his own way. Together they have a sensitive, credible rapport. Steve Carell is very good as the therapist and the three actors make the therapy sessions come across realistically. When Mr. Carell isn't pushing so hard to be funny he relaxes and is more likable. Since the story is rather thin it is essential that the actors work well together, and they do. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for intense
sequences of sciƽfi
violence and action, some
sexual content, brief nudity
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi 118 minutes
Hollywood continues to mine the works of Phillip K. Dick the sci-fi author of "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" on which this Total Recall is based as well as the one made in 1990 with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The apocalyptic future as imagined by Dick is a depressing one where a war nearly destroys the planet leaving a militaristic authority in charge. One wonders why we actually need this movie since the earlier one was considered a success, and since several elements have been changed. For instance, the planet Mars, which was does not play any part in this movie, was important in the earlier one. The nature of reality remains a question, but not as compelling here.
The slant of the movie emphasizes the action in the context of special effects, and visual effects, yet the city where the action takes place bears an unmistakable resemblance to the gritty, dark, rainy one in Blade Runner. So, how much originality are we actually witnessing here?
The story is essentially the same in both movies. A man named Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) lives a boring life working in a factory though he is in love with his beautiful wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but he is vaguely uneasy because of repeated nightmares where he is running from faceless robots. Lori reassures Doug but he is advised by a co-worker to visit a place named "Rekall" where the purchaser can order up new memories based on whatever fantasy he wants to live. The catch is the person can’t have any "real" experiences in that area. Quaid is refused a promotion and decides to visit Rekall and jump-start his life. When he gets there and is about to be programmed the police authority break into his session. When he escapes home and tells Lori about it she tries to kill him.
For those who don’t know the story I will skip the plot, but the rest of the time proves to be a chase movie where Quaid, with the help of a woman named Melina (Jessica Biel) who was in his earlier nightmares, is being chased by hoards of police types trying to kill&capture him. The reliance on constant action with visual gymnastics but little humor or meaningful dialogue becomes exhausting and goes on way too long with several endings, but not any that match the from the 1990 movie.
Colin Farrell is a wiry though muscular hero, unlike the over-developed Schwarzenegger, but it is the delicate-looking Kate Beckinsale who eclipses him on screen as a murderous villain. In addition, he doesn't have much chemistry with Jessica Biel. Bill Nighy is underused, and this is one movie role where surprisingly the normally versatile Bryan Cranston feels miscast.
For fans of Philip K. Dick this is yet another interpretation of his work, though objectively, not an entirely necessary one. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|WHERE DO WE GO NOW?
Rated PG-13 for thematic
drug material, some
sensuality & violent images.
Foreign Film - Lebanon, France
As Where Do We Go Now? opens a group of women, all dressed in black, do a slow, sensual dance as they make their way to the cemetery where members of their isolated mountainous Lebanese village have been laid to rest. It becomes clear as the movie goes on that many of those in the cemetery may well be there because of sectarian violence. One side of the cemetery is for Christians and the other side is for Muslims. It is the women who are left to mourn and pick up the pieces and go on. Yet, the movie is not morbid; in fact, it is uplifting and hopeful if somewhat of a fantasy.
The film won the People's Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, among other awards, though did miss being one of the finalists for the Academy Award. Directed by Nadine Labaki and co-written by her and Rodney El Haddad, Jihad Hojeily, and Sam Mounier, it s a comedy/drama with music written by Khaled Mouzanar with lyrics by Tania Saleh.
Ms. Labaki also plays the main character Amal, a pretty Christian woman who is renovating a café in the center of town. She and the good-looking Muslim painter/handyman Rabih (Julian Farhat), are attracted to each other and take turns staring intently when the other isn’t looking. But tensions are developing again interrupting the relative calm between Christians and Muslims of the village as there are reports of sectarian violence in surrounding areas. Anger erupts as misunderstandings lead to suspicions of wrong-doing done to each group by the other. Because of their isolated location one of the teenagers of the village named Nassim (Kevin Abboud) and his cousin Roukoz (Ali Haidar) make the dangerous trip outside the village to bring back necessities and other products.
The real power in the village, though, is the council of women of both religions who get along wonderfully and work together to manage the situation. They find ways to keep reports of violence from the men, hire sexy Russian women to distract them, and even drug them to prevent them from fighting and killing each other. A tragic turn causes a crisis for the women to handle, and the sadness of the event brings home the terrible reality of war.
Musical interludes with singing and dancing give the movie an amusing twist, but despite the levity the volatility of their situation is never far from their day-to-day existence.
Where Do We Go Now may not be entirely realistic, but that's not the point. Many of the people who live in the region must be tired of war and loss, especially the women who bury their husbands and sons. The film forces the viewer to put him or herself in the place of these decent people who struggle to find a way to exist amidst the harsh realities of their region. It suggests tolerance and respect as one answer that may help, and allows for hope. This is a film worth seeing. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Rated PG-13 for intense
sequences of violence
and action, some
sensuality and language.
There's going to be no convincing rabid Christopher Nolan fans that this third Batman isn't the movie of the year. Writer/director Nolan is a smashing filmmaker and his earlier The Dark Knight is one of the best of the comic book genre movies made. I can understand why he wanted to send the Batman trilogy off with not just a bang but a huge explosion. Yet, there are some moments that are questionable. To begin with the plot is complex with multiple storylines leading up to the ending. It is all right to have spectacle if the 164 minutes doesn't feel slow at some point. Here it seems some scenes go over the same ground until it gets down to business towards the end, but throughout the violence and killing is swift and brutal.
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale, again anchoring the franchise) has been sulking for eight years since the death of his true love Rachel. He limps about with a cane still recovering and readily accepts the shame (though unfairly) of being responsible for hero Harvey Dent’s murder. As Bruce mopes around there are numerous discussions between him and faithful servant Alfred (Michael Caine, counted on for emotion). Bruce doesn't seem much interested in anything until Catwoman/Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a thief, steals a necklace from his safe during a party at his house for charity. When Ms. Hathaway is on screen her presence adds vibrancy to the film.
The main villain is Bane (Tom Hardy, enormously pumped up) who has some kind of leather mask-like covering over his face. He wants to destroy Bruce Wayne though he has already been disgraced beyond what Bane could do. His anger and disgust with Gotham is a perfect excuse to use his megalomaniac plans to destroy the city. This includes preparations to eventually set off a nuclear device that will kill a total of 12 million people. Certainly, he uses what little we learn of his painful experiences of the past to drive him to construct a network of terrorists to do his bidding. He seems especially disgusted with rich folks, but wants to make sure the regular folk like those at a football game know he holds a grudge against them, too.
The audience is treated to a large cast of good actors as those mentioned above and including: Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marian Cotillard, Nestor Carbonell, and a surprise Matthew Modine, and even Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson show up in cameos. Along with these capable people are many character actors and scores of extras giving the movie the feel of a true spectacle.
Written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, and like the previous two Batman movies, this one asks questions and is more thoughtful than most about our public servants, what is a hero, and life in the big city. If the queries are disguised by a comic book hero's actions, than the viewer may want to look more closely, or just simply enjoy the movie for the entertainment it is. The special and visual effects, stunts, and especially Batman's devices and flying machine add to the action big time as does the cinematography by Wally Pfister. The overall sound is loud, and the music sonorous and serious.
If The Dark Knight Rises overreaches, it will not matter one bit to true fans. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|BEASTS OF THE
Rated PG-13 for thematic material
including child imperilment, some
disturbing images, language and
There are two stunning performances in Beasts of the Southern Wild . The most amazing is by Quvenzhané Wallis as the young child Hushpuppy living in squalor in an area off of mainland New Orleans called the "Bathtub." The other outstanding performance is by Dwight Henry who plays Hushpuppy's father Wink. He is the volatile alcoholic who is the center of Hushpuppy's world.
The movie is narrated and seen from the point of view of this young girl living in this strange half-slum, half-fantasy world. People in the Bathtub do pretty much what they want, most of which seems to include eating fish, drinking alcohol, making merry, and being opposed to trusting any outsider.
One day Wink is gone from his "house," a decrepit shack made up of parts thrown together as more of a lean-to. Hushpuppy has her own "house" several yards from Wink"s where she stays with items left behind by her mother who took off when she was a baby. Wink shows up again just as abruptly in hospital gown with ID bracelet, but is ornery and won't tell Hushpuppy what's wrong. His anger leads to fights with the little girl and he pushes her away telling her she has to learn to fend for herself.
The world begins to change drastically as ice caps start melting and a flood releases an ugly prehistoric creature called the aurochs, which looks like a large buffalo crossed with a bull. As the ice melts the aurochs come alive and run towards, yep, New Orleans. Wink's friends who refused to evacuate the area like he and Hushpuppy gather together for survival on a floating island of debris, but things begin to get desperate as fish and crops die off. Even after the group is taken to safety they resist any attempt to help them. Hushpuppy must find the strength to become a leader.
Writer/director Benh Zeitlin co-wrote and adapted the screenplay with Lucy Alibar from her one/act play. It certainly is one of the most original indies to come along in a while, also creatively shot by cinematographer Ben Richardson. The film offers much to see and think about but the script doesn't entirely pay off as some of the elements make it feel like the movie strains too hard to make its point about the carefree characters.
But Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry's performances are natural and fascinating to watch. When they are on the screen you can't help but be mesmerized even if you are not exactly sure what it all means. Such are the dreams and fantasies of a child. They don't have to make sense except to him or her. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated: PG for mild rude
humor and action/peril.
Here we are at the fourth Ice Age , and I believe, the best so far. This time around Scrat the squirrel is still chasing acorns around, but in a clever sequence, his machinations cause the one big Pangaea continent to break apart into the smaller continents. As the animals notice the land separating they must escape or they will either fall in the crevices or be forced into the water.
Manny the mammoth (voice of Ray Romano) and his wife Ellie (Queen Latifah) are dealing with their lovesick young teen Peaches (Keke Palmer) who has a crush on Ethan (Drake). When Manny follows Peaches they have a disagreement just as the continent is breaking up and Manny gets separated from Ellie and Peaches. He gets set adrift on an ice flow with his friends from previous movies, the sloth Sid (John Leguizamo), and saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary). Also along accidentally is Granny (Wanda Sykes).
Manny must find a way from the ocean current back to Ellie and Peaches while they must find a way to get to land before they are crushed by the continental drifting land masses. They are walking with the other animals trying to escape. Among their problems is a run-in with a giant ape Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), who is captain of a bunch of animal pirates, including a large cat named Shira (Jennifer Lopez) who is at odds with Diego. Meanwhile Scrat is trying to follow a map to a large treasure trove of acorns, Peaches follows Ethan at the expense of her family and friends, and there is a face-off on an island where Manny and friends meet more small creatures.
The voice actors do a commendable job and the voices are distinct enough to be able to identify them with the character they play unlike in other animated movies. This makes it much easier to follow the story, which is witty and funny at the same time. The music of John Powell is not overwhelming, but there is even a song in the middle of the movie. The animation is excellent and even the 3D, which normally doesn't add much, is surprisingly good here.
Parents should like the story and dialogue, too. There are some lines that they will get that their children won’t but that doesn't distract the kids from the movie. It may be a tad too long, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for strong brutal
and grisly violence, some
graphic sexuality, nudity,
drug use and language
Director Oliver Stone's most recent effort Savages is creating more chatter than anything he’s done for a while now. This may be because this film is right up his alley. That is, it's about violence, sex, drugs, and intriguing though amoral characters. The screenplay was written by Mr. Stone, Shane Salerno, and author of the acclaimed novel of the same name, Don Winslow. There must be a skillfully told, enticing, poignant story in the book but it feels vague in the movie leaving the audience to fill in the blanks with their own ideas. That's not necessarily a bad thing, except here it feels muddled.
As usual with Mr. Stone, his movies are a definite "mixed bag" of thrills and fragmentary dissatisfaction. To begin with the movie is excellently photographed by cinematographer Daniel Mindal capturing the languid beauty of wealthy California beachfront areas, to the bloody violence resulting from high powered weapons, to stark urban and desert landscapes.
Three twenty-something people form a love triangle. The men are Chon (Taylor Kitsch) who is an icy hard-edged former Navy Seal veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Ben (Aaron Johnson) a mild-mannered environmentalist. They are marijuana growers and with Ben's botanical expertise, and seeds Chon smuggled home, they make some of the highest grade pot in the area resulting in an extremely successful business. They preserve this paradise in part by paying a federal agent named Dennis (John Travolta) to run interference, and a computer whiz named Spin (Emile Hirsch) to launder the money. Their shared girlfriend Ophelia, O for short, is a spacey trust fund baby up for anything the guys say. She is the narrator who explains how their arrangement works and the trajectory of the story in general.
Into this perfect little world a Mexican cartel decides to barge in and force Chon and Ben to become their partners because they want the high-quality product only they can make. The cartel sends a video of horrendous brutality to persuade them. When Chon and Ben show reluctance O is kidnapped to force them to cooperate. Elena (Salma Hayek) is the bitter drug queen who had to take over after her husband's death. Lado (Benecio Del Toro) is her sadistic enforcer. Not to give too much away, the story progresses from there in crosses, double crosses, and triple crosses with murder a constant accompaniment.
The cast is well-chosen. The younger actors playing Chon, Ben, and O (Kitsch, Johnson, Lively) are sufficiently disaffected characters to be convincing. It is hinted, but never revealed, why none of them grew up with any loving care, values, or a conscience. Instead they cling to each other as the only "family" they have and form an uncommonly strong bond of loyalty. Salma Hayek, John Travolta, and Bencio Del Toro as the older generation characters don't quite get their younger counterparts' sexual relationship. They ironically condemn it though it is okay for them to murder without much thought since they're out for money, power, revenge, and survival.
Demian Bichir plays an associate of Elena's but is underused and only a sketchy presence as are some of the others like Emile Hirsch's Spin. Reportedly Uma Thurman's role of O's mother had to be cut, but at running over two hours already there is no time to develop more about the supporting players. It all feels familiar even as there are many questions left unanswered. The biggest misfire of the movie is the ending. Yet, there is no doubt that it captures much of the audience's full attention. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for sexual
content and smoking.
Even though I was not excited about yet another Spider-Man movie, this new incarnation is my favorite so far. What I like about this one is that it brings more depth to the character of Peter Parker while still exploiting the visual and special effects needed for the Spider-Man character. Much has to do with the choice of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, though when I first heard the casting I couldn’t quite reconcile the idea. He is a serious actor with his recent first role on Broadway in Death of a Salesman. Yet that's what makes him so good. Mr. Garfield does look a tad old for high school, but he makes it work through body language, speech patterns, and emotions. The rest of the cast is equally way above average and that ups the believability factor in a fantasy film like this made from a comic book series.
This time around the audience sees Peter Parker's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) drop him off with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, the quintessential father figure) and Aunt May (Sally Field, well-cast) as they rush out of town. Of course, Peter feels abandoned and grows up to be a loner. Bullied in high school, he is nonetheless a brainiac as is Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, excellent), the girl he likes. This is a nice touch since the character can be a full participant in knowing about the science experiment that helps create him rather than just reacting without understanding.
Peter finds his father's old folder with some scientific equations and decides to seek out his father’s previous partner Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, showing range). He works for a huge corporation named Oscorp heading up experiments involving cross-species transference. Dr. Connors, missing a forearm, starts out as a benign connection to Peter's father, but experiments on himself as he gets desperate eventually becoming the "Lizard" who terrorizes New York.
Peter's transformation to Spider-Man is similar to the previous comic book and movie stories. Gwen works for Dr. Connors after school and when Peter makes his way there he finds an off-limits room he shouldn't be in filled with spiders. His bite from the spider is an accident. The physical transformation is more immediate and Mr. Garfield is able to convey the exhilaration of the bullied now becoming powerful and turning the tables on his tormentors. But a tragic event transforms him also from a self-absorbed teen into a heroic character.
A further complication for Peter is that Gwen's father is New York City Police Department Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary, a clever choice). When Peter and Gwen tentatively begin to become more than friends George is wary and over-protective, and further, thinks Spider-Man is a criminal rather than a help to the people of New York.
All of these conditions lead to familiar events, but the way it's presented with visual effects, special effects, and CGI are spectacular as Spider-Man swings around the tall buildings of Manhattan. The pacing and tone are just right and it seems natural a sequel will be on its way. Though I'm not normally a fan of sequels, I can't say I would mind. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for sexual
content and smoking.
Remember when the world was pure? Or uncomplicated? If so, and definitely if not, relax into the tone and tempo of this movie and share in a quiet, charming adventure with a pure of heart, pre-teen couple attempting to escape their unhappy present surrounded by a cast of engaging eccentrics. Real and imagined, Moonrise Kingdom is a time and place of delight.
As the Narrator, Bob Balaban introduces us to New Penzance Island clueing the viewer, via reference to Gilbert & Sullivan's musical, that we are about to be highjacked from reality into the realm of the whimsical, absurd, and larger than life. He also informs that a major storm will strike this area off New England in three days (in slam bam fashion). The year is 1965 and innocence abounds within the 12-year-old first love birds Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a pair of misfits (he an unpopular orphan and scout member; she a binocular spying, rough house prone rebel) whose affection grows through exchanged letters. Let it be said, the two young actors are completely natural and irresistible. Having run away, it's difficult not to root for them during their sweet wilderness elopement as the island's forces variously join, pursue, and unite to capture and separate them.
First and foremost in pursuit of Sam and Suzy are her unhappy lawyer parents (that they address each other as "counselor" is no accident). Bill Murray as Mr. Bishop, the bored dad reacting with rage, and Frances McDormand as his wife, who communicates with her children (Suzy has three younger brothers) by megaphone, are delightfully daffy. Leading the pursuit is competent and caring Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis, convincingly low-key), earnest, by-the-book Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, believably good), and the scout troop itself, led by Redford (Lucas Hedges, equally menacing and heroic) abetted in particular by Lazy Eye (Charlie Kilgore) and Skotak (Gabriel Rush).
Also playing their parts most ably and amusingly are Tilda Swinton as the bossy, bureaucratic Social Services person, Harvey Keitel as the blustery, self-absorbed Commander Pierce, and Jason Schwartzman as slick Cousin Ben.
With all in place, in the second half of the film, the promised storm prominently, and significantly, arrives adding to the chase, which if not merry is certainly amusing. Twists and turns abound (maybe one more than necessary) and, yes, a happy ending (of sorts) ensues. (And stay for the end credits which run as a recording is heard citing the instruments in an orchestra illustrating, as does this movie, that a satisfying and successful whole is composed of the right parts.)
Hitting every note and not missing a beat or cue, Wes Anderson has masterfully directed this movie with the expert assistance of cinematographer Robert D. Yooman (the look is bright and clean yet touched with the otherworldly), editing by Andrew Weisblum (neat, tidy), art direction by Gerald Sullivan (distinctive), and sets by Kris Moran (nice touches throughout). Anderson also co-wrote the script with Roman Coppola and there's an admirable unity of vision and purpose throughout. Add in a superb cast underplaying appropriately and the result is a movie in synch with pleasure.
Moonrise Kingdom - A ticket to a worthwhile, happy journey. Review by Charles Zio
|PEOPLE LIKE US
Rated PG-13 for language,
some drug use and brief
Did you ever wonder what happened to those charismatic music types who lived wild, messy, chaotic lives years ago? People Like Us, evidently based on actual events, tells the small, personal story of a once-prominent record producer and the heartbreak he left behind. The audience only sees the record producer in question in short flashbacks as his son Sam (Chris Pine) reflects on their strained relationship. The producer, Jerry, seems to have been callous and self-absorbed living only for himself, yet that's not the whole story. Everyone in this movie is complicated with mixed motives. You won't find any real villains or heroes here, just damaged, imperfect people. Maybe that's why it rings true.
When Sam, a smarmy salesman, finds out his father died suddenly he maneuvers it so he misses a plane out of New York to Los Angeles with his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde). He avoids the funeral but this leaves his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) to deal with the service alone. Sam meets with a lawyer only to discover that his father left him little in his will, but he is supposed to deliver $150,000 in cash to someone named Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario, giving a natural performance) at a certain address. He learns Josh is a troubled 11 year old boy with a depressed mother who Sam follows to an AA meeting. That's when he learns she is his sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks).
Since Sam is in deep trouble from a business deal gone bad, he desperately needs the money and decides to walk away with it. Yet he can't help himself from getting to know Frankie and Josh and getting involved with their problems, but he doesn't tell them who he is because he wants to take the money.
Director Alex Kurtzman, who also wrote the screenplay with Jody Lambert and his long time collaborator Roberto Orci, draws good performances from his cast. This is some of the best work from Chris Pine breaking through the self'conscious "good looks" only syndrome on screen. It gives Elizabeth Banks, who sometimes gets trapped in nice girl roles, a chance to show more of her considerable range. Michelle Pfeiffer, still striking, gives a nicely nuanced performance as Sam's mother.
Good technical support is provided by the cinematography of Salvatore Totino, the editing of Robert Leighton, but especially the music by A. R. Rahman. Since the character was a record producer, the music sustains the theme throughout the movie but manages to avoid the mistake of overly loud music blaring during crucial scenes calling attention to itself instead of underscoring the story.
People Like Us is well worth seeing. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for crude and
sexual content, pervasive
language, and some drug use.
You've got to give it to Seth MacFarlane. He has built an empire on insult and put down humor. And now he's moved from Family Guy on television to the movies with Ted, a raunchy, vulgar comedy that uses a teddy bear the same way he uses animated characters. Director MacFarlane, who wrote the screenplay with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, has them come out with as many offensive comments as possible that are the signature of his outrageous brand of comedy. He has them say things regular people would dare not utter, but they can get away with it because they're not real.
As the story begins a young John Bennett is bullied and harassed by local neighborhood boys. He only wants a friend that he can hang out with and his parents give him a large teddy bear on Christmas he calls Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane). Young John is thrilled and wishes Ted was real and be his "forever friend," and sure enough the cute little guy comes to life thanks to very good CGI.
This movie would not work, though, if it wasn't for the performance of Mark Wahlberg. He smartly underplays the role of the adult John as a passive, gullible man/boy taken over by the childhood wish he once made. He often has to act against nothing as he has conversations with Ted, and makes it believable. He usually has an excellent rapport with his leading ladies and that is true here, too. In the meantime, Ted has become your basic teddy bear nightmare complete with grating voice and nasty habits blurting out anything that comes into his stuffed brain and not noticing if it bothers anyone or not. These comments, as nasty as they are, are funny because they expose men's not so secret fantasy -- that is, to be unrestricted party animals.
So what comes between John and Ted? A woman of course. She is Lori (Mila Kunis, nice job), John's girlfriend, and grown-up, of four years. She knows that as long as John has Ted around his baser instincts will take over. John banishes Ted from his apartment but Ted is clearly never far from his mind.
The plot is mainly in service of as many scandalous scenes as the filmmakers can cram into the movie. Supporting actors provide humor as well with Joel McHale playing Lori's smarmy boss, Giovanni Ribisi as a disturbed parent (with funny dance thrown in), and tough guy Patrick Warburton discovering he is gay. Even funnier is the use of surprising cameos with several popular actors and a talented music darling providing laughs. The exquisite voice of Patrick Stewart provides the narration.
Honestly, this movie is a bit too crass for my taste, but the men in my life think this kind of humor is over-the-top funny. Go figure. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for some scary
action and rude humor.
After many movies and stories that highlight the relationship between fathers and sons, Pixar and Disney have now given us an animated movie, Brave, about mothers and daughters. In a faraway Scottish kingdom King Fergus (Billy Connelly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) raise their firstborn, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and their three little princes. Merida turns out to be a headstrong tomboy who loves her bow and arrows and riding her horse in the forest.
Years before Fergus lost his leg to the dreaded, fierce bear Mor'du and so encourages Merida to be able to take care of herself. Elinor wants Merida to be more traditional and "ladylike." As time passes Fergus sets up a kingdom-wide challenge for Merida's hand in marriage. The other clans headed by Lords Macintosh, MacGuffin, and Dingwall present their sons to compete for her. Merida gets into an argument with her mother about it and runs out of the festivities. She wants no part of a marriage and takes her horse deep into the forest. Meeting a witch she asks for a spell but she doesn't realize the effect it will have. As any sensible fairy tale princess she must face her mistakes and save the kingdom.
Pixar has given the movie a lush, striking look. For one thing, Merida's bouncy red curls are fun to look at and almost seem alive. The fairy tale quality is lovely, but the bears are ferocious and may be a wee bit scary for young children. The voice actors do a nice job, especially the leads Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, and Billy Connelly. All the voices are distinctive and easily understood. The music is especially helpful adding much to the Scottish highlands atmosphere.
But all three of the princes presented to Fergus, Elinor, and Merida are unattractive, or silly in one way or another. This is something of an issue if we complain about the opposite situation where all the females are unappealing. It's not that she has to fall in love with one of them, but there is not even a hint that any suitor is appropriate for her. So yes, we can see why she might run away as fast as possible, but there are no boys or young men her age who are even available as friends.
Brave is Merida's story, but there is enough action and comedy to keep the boys interested, like the young boy sitting next to me who would excitedly gesticulate with his arms now and then. The adults will recognize the age-old situation of parental conflict, and overall will probably find something to like in this movie. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
FOR THE END
OF THE WORLD
|SEEKING A FRIEND FOR
THE END OF THE WORLD
Rated R for language
including sexual references,
some drug use and brief
Where would you be, who would you be with if the world was coming to an end? Writer/ director Lorene Scafaria believes it's not about what you have when you die; it's about who is there to spend your last minutes with you.
Total annihilation is coming to Earth in three weeks after the government has failed to stop an asteroid on its way to a collision with the planet. As Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell) sits in a car listening to this news his wife runs out of the car never to be seen again. Dodge dutifully makes his way to his job in an insurance company where several employees still come in to the office in denial of the news.
This is listed as a comedy/drama but there is less humor than poignancy as the human race struggles to make their last remaining days "pleasant." These pragmatic, low-key scenes are a strength of the movie as people drink, take drugs, have sex, anything to anesthetize themselves to their coming demise. They even talk about it but the false joviality is difficult to watch. One woman wears a fur and tiara, something she never got a chance to do during her regular life and probably never would. Amidst all this Dodge remains depressed and refuses to be set up with anyone. Instead he looks through old high school mementos of the "girl that got away."
His downstairs neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley), a flaky young woman who loves old records, and her boyfriend, have just broken up. Dodge befriends her almost by accident and when a riot breaks out he leads her, minus the boyfriend, out of harm's way. This starts their trek to find several important people in Dodge's life. Since Penny didn't give him a three year old letter from that love of his life she feels she owes him.
This screenplay is really a journey of the main characters of Dodge and Penny as life lessons are compressed because of the coming apocalypse. Two unlikely people form a strong bond and find the right person as time runs out. Ms. Scafaria does a mostly good job with the script even if a number of the elements seem forced. She cast two actors I couldn't imagine together and she, and they, make it work. Steve Carell mopes too much, but otherwise gives a touching performance. Yet here are too many close-ups of him staring lovingly at his love interest. Ms. Knightley's evolution is even more heartfelt.
Seeking A Friend for the End of the World is a well done independent effort about what really matters when everything superficial is stripped away from our lives-except the truth. The problem is that the movie is depressing, no matter what way you look at it. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|ROCK OF AGES
Rated PG-13 for sexual content,
suggestive dancing, some heavy
drinking, and language.
Rock of Ages tries too hard to be cool proving again that if you have to convince people you’re cool, you're not. It also has several distinctions; one being it has a large number of the worst wigs in any recent movie. The other is several cringe-inducing scenes that are examples of a movie that doesn't seem to know exactly what it is or what it wants to say. Written by Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, who wrote the original light-hearted Off-Broadway show, and Allan Loeb, it tries to be cohesive while adding some weightiness but is so absurd and shallow you end up not feeling anything for any of the characters. Though it is now a musical comedy/drama, and uses many of the classic 1980s songs, it's not about musicians or people devoted to the love of rock and roll which might have been more interesting. It's about wanting to "make it" and the fame and perks that come to the posers and minor gods of rock music.
In 1987 Hollywood the Bourbon Room is the hot to-go spot. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is a starry-eyed innocent from Oklahoma whose suitcase gets stolen within the first five minutes after she arrives by bus. Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) sees the whole incident and helps by getting her a job as a waitress at the Bourbon Room where he works though he actually has the makings of a rock singer. They fall in love, what else? Meantime the owners of the Bourbon Room Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, miscast) and Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand, relentlessly mugging) have financial troubles and have contracted with the rock star Stacee Jaxx's (Tom Cruise) manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti, edgy like he's in another movie) to have him perform one night only before he splits from his band.
Several subplots are introduced as the mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston, a good utility actor), and his crusading wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones, missing her usual sparkle) try to clean up the neighborhood by wanting to shut down the Bourbon Room. Reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman, looking stunned most of the movie) shows up from Rolling Stone Magazine to interview Stacee Jaxx and confronts him with the emptiness of his life, yet is ready to please him seriously blurring the line between media and star.
Melodrama ensues as there is a misunderstanding between the lovers, they separate, singing through their heartbreak as Sherrie finds work at a men's club after being rescued by owner Justice Charlier (Mary J. Blige, showing potential in a small part). Drew, looking ridiculous, unwisely changes his image to become the main singer in a boy band.
The movie has a gritty look to it, with nearly everyone seeming like they need a shower. Some scenes are over the top parody, others too serious. It leaves some in the audience feeling disoriented. Is this a light-hearted look at the foibles of rock and roll fame, or is it trying to be a slice of life example of the ruin of living for an image. What about the music? The musical numbers don't generate much excitement, even with people screaming and gyrating all over the place.
The movie is careful to make sure that Stacee Jaxx is an alcoholic, not a drug addict, but wasn't much of the 80s excess about cocaine/ drug abuse? Drugs have always been a big part of the rock scene. Of course, then there probably wouldn't be a PG-13 rating. The decadent lifestyle and groupies that fall all over Stacee Jaxx give the impression (maybe correctly) that women are only around to service rock stars. So, despite the reporter's apparent smarts she is vulnerable to his "charms." The innocent girl pays a price because she can't find a decent job and is degraded by having to do whatever it takes to survive.
Director Adam Shankman doesn't add anything more to the usual cliché's of the rock star business. Tom Cruise gives an amusing performance though it gets tiresome, but I didn't forget for one minute it was Tom Cruise playing a part. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are good-looking, talented young singer/actors though they are rather bland and don't generate much heat either with each other or on stage performing.
Am I being hard on Rock of Ages ? You bet. It's so - uncool. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for sexual content.
People are ever so polite in this comedy of manners that takes place during the Victorian era. That it is about the creation of the first vibrator in that repressed society makes it all the more amusing, but overall not a funny movie. It is a tricky subject to be sure, and we're told it's based on a true story.
Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) treats women, many women, who have the diagnosis of hysteria. It’s a sort of catch-all category for unhappy, unfulfilled upper-class women. The way he treats them? By massaging their genital area, of course. At the time this technique had been used to elicit "paroxysmal convulsions" without understanding what they were actually doing. As time goes on, Dr. Dalrymple has so many patients that he has to hire an assistant, Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy). Dr. Granville, it turns out, had been fired from a number of jobs because of his strange habit of washing his hands and trying to keep wounds clean. He turns periodically to his friend Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) as he is released from various jobs. Later he and Edmund will become inventors of note. But Dr. Dalrymple is desperate and needs his help and so the young doctor joins him and is given a salary and even a room.
The family dinner table at the Dalrymple house is active with the quiet, pretty daughter Emily (Felicity Jones), and the spirited daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is at odds with Robert. Her feminist beliefs infuriate her father as she continues to press him for money and support for her work with the poor. She is banned from the house but does make a trip back with a woman with a broken ankle who Mortimer helps when her father is not around. When he makes a follow-up visit he sees the conditions where she works and begins to soften toward Charlotte.
Up to this point the story is believable, but begins to reach beyond what seems plausible at the time. Director Tanya Wexler does a credible job with the cast and the details. Though the acting is good, especially Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the cast looks like they are enjoying themselves, sometimes the performances veer off into comic excess while most of the time it's low-key. The production values are good with impressive costumes and makeup, but the sets look a little too staged and clean.
The movie certainly brings home how little medical knowledge existed at a time of great flourishing manners and formality. Yet against this backdrop ignorance of the female body is astounding. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THAT'S MY BOY
Rated R for crude sexual
content throughout, nudity,
pervasive language and
some drug use.
Just when you think an Adam Sandler comedy can't get any more obscene - it does. From the start of the movie where a 7th grade Donny Berger becomes involved in an affair with his teacher Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri) to the final wedding scene where a "secret" is revealed, this movie is beyond tasteless. The movie fast forwards to the present day where Donny (Adam Sandler) needs $43,000 or he will go to jail. He finds that his son with McGarricle, Hans Solo Berger renamed Todd Peterson (Andy Samberg), is something of a math whiz making his fortune in the financial business.
Todd left home at eighteen to get away from Donny. He is about to marry the high class Christina (Leighton Meester) and they all go to his boss Steve Spirou's (Tony Orlando) upscale house for the weekend. Desperate Donny shows up with a plan to get the money and creates havoc.
Sandler is his usual boy-man, while Andy Samberg plays it straight but whiny for all but a few later scenes. A number of surprising actors/singers show up: James Caan, Susan Sarandon, Vanilla Ice, Todd Bridges, Alan Thicke, Colin Quinn and Ana Gasteyer among others. I’m sure they had their reasons.
I can't say I didn't laugh even at some of the outrageous scenes because the characters are so obviously parodies of our most esteemed citizens. But if you are a thinking person there very well may to be a line somewhere you don't cross. This movie has two of those lines for me. Some people may think this movie is funny because it rips apart stereotypes. Or is that just an excuse? Others will still see it as gross in an unacceptable way no matter what. Count me with that group. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for sci-fi violence
including some intense
images and brief language.
Written as a prequel to 1979's Alien this movie attempts to give some context to that story. A number of events in this film parallel events that happen in that sci-fi classic, so maybe the lesson is that we never learn? Yet this film leaves more questions than answers. As the movie opens a strange humanoid drinks a liquid and disintegrates in our water source spreading his DNA. Fast forward to 2089, archaeologist/lovers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover some kind of map from an ancient culture. Elizabeth decides this as an message from our ancestors, the "Engineers" to discover our origins. That's a leap, but okay.
A group of scientists and technical crew on a spaceship named Prometheus (what is the connection to the myth of Prometheus who stole fire from the gods to give to man then was punished for it?), funded by a wealthy businessman Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) with an agenda of his own. They make the trek to a distant moon landing there in 2093. The expedition is headed by Vickers (Charlize Theron) with Janek (Idris Elba) as the captain. Once they arrive they find a huge structure that shows evidence of an extinct culture even finding dead bodies seeming as though they were running away from something. The crew has no idea what destroyed these humanoids. Shaw takes the head of one of these creatures. Before they can explore further a storm kicks up and two crew members, Milburn (Rafe Spall) and Fifield (Sean Harris) have to be left behind. When Shaw gets back to the spaceship the scientists test the head they found and discover it matches human DNA.
The peculiar android David (Michael Fassbender) lurks around the ship and he acts all too human wanting to control what is happening instead of being told what to do. When they return from the structure, he secretly brings a cylinder back with fluid in it and purposely infects Charlie who then has sex with a supposedly sterile Shaw. She immediately becomes pregnant with this sequence the most horrifying in the movie. Of course, conditions get worse still and Shaw must make decisions in order to save the future of mankind.
The actors do the best they can with Noomi Rapace adequate as Shaw the precursor to the tough Ripley. Michael Fassbender is notable as the android with an ego. Guy Pearce is unrecognizable as the elderly Peter Weyland.
The movie is tension-filled, gruesome, but sometimes slow. And there are many elements that don't make sense. Are we supposed to sort through the clues and come up with our own answers?
They travel through space to find our creators who then want to destroy us? Why? Also, when Milburn and Fifield are left behind, Milburn sees a snakelike creature and starts talking to it like a pet. In outer space where they know a culture was killed off by something vicious? For reasoned scientists many years from now the crew doesn't act as logically as one would hope. There is no rationale for a number of crucial choices. Could that be the answer: humans are inherently emotional and will not always act in our own best interest? That's just a guess. Shouldn't a movie prequel give us more than that though? Yet, it is the nature of sci-fi to be vague and mysterious. The special and visual effects are the real stars here. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
EUROPE'S MOST WANTED
EUROPE'S MOST WANTED
Rated PG for some mild
action and rude humor.
Ever want to run away and join the circus? This Madagascar group does, on their way home to the Central Park Zoo. The gang includes Alex the lion (voice of Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (voice of Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (voice of David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (voice of Jada Pinkett Smith). It's difficult to guess what they would do with these characters after #1 and #2 movies, but I think this is the best one yet.
The group still wants to get home. They have nostalgic feelings about the zoo and so set their hopes on getting there. As they try to work their way home they end up in Monte Carlo of all places where they are targeted by a crazed animal control offical named Captain Chantel DuBois (voice of Frances Mcdormand). She can't let her prey get away and so stalks them across Europe with a bumbling group of fools. To escape her clutches they join a decrepit circus. There they meet the once spectacular Russian tiger Vitaly (voice of Bryan Cranston), the sweet Gia the jaguar (voice of Jessica Chastain), and Stefano the sea lion (voice of Martin Short).
Marty and friends discover the circus is falling apart, and they are no help because they have never been in one, so they resolve to become the best circus acts they possibly can. They practice hard and, of course, love blooms, for several pairs of animals. By the time they get to London, the circus is a fantastical sight with the circus mesmerizing the crowds, and with Captain DuBois right behind them.
I don't think it spoils anything to say that they do make it back to the Central Park Zoo because it doesn't turn out exactly as you might think. The message of home being where the heart is is central to the plot of the movie.
The animation is well done with 3D adding more than usual although the movie is so visually interesting that it would be fine otherwise. All the voice over parts are distinguishable and add to the fun. A curious fact is that there are no clowns in the circus. It's been reported many children are scared of them so they are left out, but not missed.
Both children and adults will get a kick out of this movie. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
AND THE HUNTSMAN
AND THE HUNTSMAN
Rated PG-13 for intense
sequences of violence and
action, and brief sexuality.
Fairy tale princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) turns into Joan of Arc. That's the bottom line for Snow White and the Huntsman. This is not your grandparents' or even your parents' Snow White. As Hollywood goes in search of stories to exploit because they are afraid of anything too original we get this hybrid. It is fine to try to expand themes, change them, or add new twists even to beloved stories---when it works. It doesn't quite meet that level here. What does succeed are the visuals (without 3D), including the special effects, costumes, and makeup which are often stunning. The revisionist story is what turns out to be most inconsistent.
Snow White's mother dies when she is a child and her father, the king, is killed by his new bride Ravenna (Charlize Theron) leaving her at the mercy of the beautiful but evil queen. She rules her kingdom with help from her effete brother Finn (Sam Spruell, a good match for her). Yes, the famous mirror is in the story except when she calls on it to tell her she is the fairest in the land the medal liquefies and then turns into what looks like a body under a gold sheet to answer.
The first hurdle for this movie is the fact that Charlize Theron is so beautiful that is difficult to believe that Kristen Stewart, pretty as she is, is going to be a more striking queen. To be fair, they do have scenes where Ravenna starts to age and then has a unique way for her to become beautiful again. The feminist sensibility of inner beauty meaning more than outer beauty makes sense, but movies are a visual medium and you don't have to imagine what the actors look like. Ms. Theron is such a sensational evil presence that she dominates the screen, even in her final scenes with Ms. Stewart.
The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, handsome and doing his best with the role) is a hyper-masculine drunken widower who is chosen to find Snow White in the dark forest and kill her since she's already escaped. Even though he's coarse and desperately needs a bath, you just know he's not a bad guy. He makes the decision to protect her even before he finds out who she is. Even Snow White's childhood friend and presumed love William (Sam Claflin) shows up to try and protect her.
Yet, when they find their way to a magical forest, having some nice visual touches, and finally meet the smart mouth dwarves the movie slows. It gets weighted down by going in too many directions. The symbolism gets heavy with even a white stag (a Celtic messenger from the other world) showing up. And still more has to take place before Snow White has to inspire the troops.
There were moments when I came very close to laughing at the dialogue which is never a good thing when what the character is saying is not supposed to be funny. Yet this movie is not a dud either. It just goes wrong in too many places. Whatever happened to keeping it simple? Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for some
sexual content including
references, and language.
Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (along with Meg Kasdan as co-writer) have taken a group of people with "issues" connected as family and friends and put them in a stressful situation to let us see how they work it out. He did this before with baby boomers and had a big hit with the ensemble movie The Big Chill. The people in this movie are also baby boomers, but they are upper middle class people facing different challenges now that they are the older generation.
What happens to a wife when she has raised a family but has a hard time letting go? Beth (Diane Keaton), wife of a spinal surgeon named Joseph (Kevin Kline) is the kind of dynamic woman who has energy of five woman. You can imagine her as the young mother taking her children her and there, making brownies and volunteering too much. Many women her role seriously and now she has lost her reason for being. Her husband probably always worked too much, but she was so busy she didn't notice and now he isn’t listening that she needs more from him.
Driving along the highway with her unmarried daughter after the other one's wedding, she spots a wounded dog and out of a sense of compassion, and needing a purpose, rescues him. They take the dog to a vet and wouldn't you know it, the daughter and vet hit it off so well they become a couple. Okay, her work is really done now.
Joseph wants her to get rid of the dog but Beth loves him and won't let go. At their vacation cabin after yet another event, Joseph loses the dog. This sets off a crisis and chain of events that includes their housekeeper acting as the gypsy fortune-teller (Ayelet Zurer). Joseph's sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her son Bryan (Mark Duplass) are there with Penny's new boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins) and all get caught up in the hunt for "Freeway".
This is a gentle movie without loud, offensive action scenes about a real stage in one's life. It has merit for that large group of baby boomers now facing retirement and not knowing what to do with the time they have left while they are still vital. In this period of economic recession it may be difficult for some to identify with the Winter family's problems though. The older cast members have a riches of acting experience and it's a pleasure watching, especially, Diane Keaton without any mannerisms, Diane Wiest, and Richard Jenkins. Yet the movie doesn't have any energy, and despite some saucy retorts the biting dialogue, one of Mr. Kasdan's strong suits, is missing here. Unfortunately, the movie feels forced and contrived. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|FOR GREATER GLORY
Rated R for war violence
and some disturbing images.
Based on actual events leading up to and including the Cristero War (1926-1929), what could have been a sweeping epic of faith, loyalty, and rebellion about a noble cause, instead is disappointing. In the 1920s the Mexican government headed by President Plutarco Elías Calles (Ruben Blades) wanted to eliminate any connection of the people to the Catholic Church recognizing the power it had over them. The measures they used to do this were especially harsh. As the situation became more desperate they wanted to raise an army but needed a leader.
They tried to entice Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia), a war hero who was a non-believer, to take over. His wife Tulita (Eva Longoria) had strong beliefs in the Church and influenced his decision after witnessing of the brutality of the government. They finally convinced him to take over the disorganized forces in the countryside and turn them into a valid fighting force. He had to deal with a number of characters including Victoriano Ramírez "El Catorce", a brave but impulsive revolutionary, a warrior-priest Father Vega (Santiago Cabrera) who becomes his conscience, and a young boy named José Sánchez del Río (Mauricio Kuri) who leaves his town with a friend to join the cause and becomes like a son to Enrique.
As the War lingers, the Mexican government is unmoved and continues to kill their own people at will, including priests and local civilians suspecting of helping the rebels. Diplomats like Ambassador Dwight Morrow (Bruce Greenwood) sent by President Calvin Coolidge (Bruce McGill) try to expedite the end of the War, but President Callas remains unmoved. Locally even Mayor Picazo (Nester Carbonell) can’t exert much influence.
The brutality of the government is shocking, but today we see examples of governments trying to control and subdue their own people. Yet, the drive of human beings is for freedom from oppression which is all the more reason for distress that this movie falters.
The look of the movie, and production values are lush. The actions scenes are well done. Where the movie weakens considerably is in the small scenes. The dialogue is so cliché-ridden and much of the acting so wooden that it takes you right out of the film. There are exceptions. Santiago Cabrera as Father Vega is very good, and the young Mauricio Kuri is earnest and convincing as the martyred child. I wanted to like this movie because it says something about the resilience and sacrifice of a people who are willing to give all for a cause, but it lets them, and the audience, down. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|MEN IN BLACK 3
Rated PG 13 for sci-fi
action violence, and brief
Get ready to get back to the originality and fun of the first Men in Black movie. Agent J (Will Smith) can't understand why his partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is always so grumpy and doesn't communicate with him. One day after returning to headquarters he finds that Agent K has been dead for forty years which erases their time together. In order to bring him back he gets permission from the new boss Agent O (Emma Thompson), Agent K's love interest, to go back in time and change history.
This means 1960s New York when Agent K was a young agent (Josh Brolin) of 29. Of course, he has no idea who Agent J is or why he is there which makes it all the more enjoyable. He tells K that they must find the evil Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement). It seems that Agent K severed his arm and arrested him. When Boris escapes his supermax prison it gets dicey because Agent K actually saved the planet, but if Boris kills K for revenge the earth will be destroyed, got it?
Agent J gets some help from a friendly alien named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) who can see the past (the Amazin' Mets win the World Series in 1969) as well as the future. A race against the clock takes place before the first landing on the moon when Agent K saves all of us.
Will Smith with his brand of cool and Tommy Lee Jones with his craggy face and sour demeanor work well off each other and are a delight as usual. Yet it's Josh Brolin who channels Tommy Lee Jones so well that he steals the movie. Emma Thompson is a welcome addition as a woman, finally, in charge. It's also a relief from all the nasty aliens to see a helpful, gentle one here as played by Michael Stuhlbarg. David Rasche is mostly wasted as Agent X, but Bill Hader does a comical Andy Warhol impersonation.
The special effects are up to the standards of the previous movies with seemingly normal people having alien features, and with noteworthy scenes in outer space. I can't say that the 3D made a big difference. It only added to the look of the movie fitfully.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld and writers Etan Cohen, Lowell Cunningham, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson, Michael Soccio provide a solid, tight script and affecting twist ending. If you are a fan of the Men in Black you will be grateful this one is back to the standard of the first movie, and if you're not you will still have a good time. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for intense
sequences of violence, action,
and destruction, and for language.
Aliens try to destroy the earth--yet again. Very loosely based on the Hasbro game "Battleship" where each side tries to out-maneuver the other, the Navy has to stop them, or more precisely a Navy screw-up does. He is Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, redeeming himself) who has come into the military after his older brother Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard, nice job and with an undetectable accent) has had it with his antics. The final straw is when he is attracted to a pretty blonde named Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) and tries, in a funny scene, to get her a chicken burrito after every place is closed, but don't try this at home or you'll end up in jail. Wouldn't you just know it her father turns out to be Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson).
Even in the Navy Hopper does it his messed up way. They are in the middle of war games off the coast of Hawaii. In a soccer game against the Japanese he suffers a soccer shoe in the face and is determined to get back at Captain Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) who hit him. When he has a chance to even the score they both get in trouble, but Alex is looking at being kicked out of the Navy.
But then a strange alien presence appears on the water with a shield that stretches up into the atmosphere so no planes can get through. It looks like hunks of metal but no telling what it is. Alex is sent in a small boat to investigate with Petty Officer Cora "Weps" Raikes (Rihanna, never once losing her hat, and seeming to enjoy herself), and Chief Petty Officer Walter "The Beast" Lynch (John Tui). Apparently you can't mess with the aliens command center and this ignites a blast of weapons that starts a war with these large beings called Regents. They can shoot explosives from afar that destroy ships and kill hundreds at once.
The question is what do the aliens want? Communication was sent to them from Hawaii by some techno-nerds and now they've come seeking materials for their own planet. Samantha, a physical therapist, unaware of all of this is climbing a mountain nearby the NASA facility where the aliens ultimately end up. She is trying to help Army veteran Mick Canales (actual amputee Colonel Gregory D. Gadson) to adjust to the loss of his legs. When they discover the raid, they decide to stay and do what they can to help.
The special effects are well done, though not particularly original-looking. Director Peter Berg and writers Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber have taken a complicated set of circumstances and story and given a pat on the back to the military, even including real sailors and older veterans in the mix. Of course, some of the narrative is truly outlandish, even silly, but then so are many things that happen in summer action popcorn movies. If you don't try to be too logical, you can have fun. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING
|WHAT TO EXPECT
WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING
Rated PG 13 for crude and
sexual content, thematic
elements and language.
I was certainly expecting better than this. This ensemble movie about having babies has a few humorous moments and a few tender ones, too, but overall is a let down. It follows five couples that are connected in various ways though we often don't find out until later on exactly what the connection turns out to be. Exercise guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) is on a television show with dancing partner Evan (Matthew Morrison) when the two find out she is pregnant. They have control issues.
Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone) have been trying and finally succeed in getting pregnant but he's in constant competition with his retired race car driver father Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) who has a pretty, young wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker, who has some funny moments). Then there is Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) who are unable to conceive and are trying to adopt although he is unsure of himself. The final young couple is Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marko (Chace Crawford) who have had an on-again off-again relationship since high school. They both run food trucks.
An added element is a group of Dads led by Vic (Chris Rock) who walk their kids in the park together (though it seems nobody actually has a real job) and dispense wisdom to Alex when he comes to them for advice.
The movie is packed with a recognizable cast. This is a good-looking group of actors who have to deal with standard ho-hum material about pregnancy and relationships. Unfortunately, good looks don't make up for lack of originality in the script by Shauna Cross and Heather Hach very loosely based on the popular book by Heidi Murkoff, "What to Expect When You're Expecting." Director Kirk Jones tries to bring out the comic elements from the actors but many of the scenes fall flat. What can you say that is different about pregnancy and how it changes or deepens relationships? That is the challenge here. The production values are good and the movie has a glossy look to it as you might expect.
Ironically, some of the more touching scenes are with the two couples who aren't pregnant because, though every pregnancy is special to the people involved, it isn't necessarily that way for those observing. You have to have a reason to care about these people on the screen, but when you know what's going to happen before it does, it is disappointing.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for strong crude
and sexual content, brief
male nudity, language and
some violent images.
The laughs in The Dictator are interspersed with mirthless stretches and some of the jokes are genuinely funny, some satiric, a goodly amount political, and a large number offensive (in every way imaginable). It's possible to have somewhat of a good time, but a laugh riot this is not. Some lines and bits will no doubt be quoted (more for shock value than genuine humor) but the comedy pantheon has nothing to fear.
Sacha Baron Cohen plays the title dictator, General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen, the crazed enemy in particular of Israel and the U.S. who rules his North African kingdom of Wadiya with an egotistically self-indulgent mind backed by an iron fist. It seems the only person he trusts is his Uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley, given too little to do), the rightful heir to the throne, but delusion is part and parcel of dictatorship so Aladeen is unaware that Tamir is engaged in plotting his demise. In something of a prince and the pauper device, Aladeen recruits look-alikes whose sole purpose is to be killed in his stead in assassination attempts (Cohen plays both parts). Aladeen's great quest is for the nuclear bomb that his chief scientist, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas, good job), is developing to be used against his enemies. When the United Nations demands he personally come to speak to the gathered countries in New York, Aladeen assents, unaware that Tamir is going to have him kidnapped, executed, and replaced by the latest doubly dumb double.
A complication arises when Tamir's kidnapper (John C. Reilly, on the mark as usual) ends up shaving Aladeen and fumbling the murder. Aladeen wanders the streets and outside the U.N. is mistaken for a political freedom fighter by Zoey (Anna Faris, a delight) a militant feminist and the manager of a vegan market in Brooklyn. Aladeen, using the alias Alison Burgers (a routine with fake names is most entertaining), a fountain of racial, ethnic, physical, and sexually blatant prejudice, refuses the job Zoey offers in the store and takes off. In the meantime, Tamir has announced that a new, democratic constitution is being prepared for the fake Aladeen to sign before the U.N. that will free up Wadiya's oil for sale to the highest bidders (and heavily line his pockets). As it happens, Aladeen finds Nadal (who he had sentenced to death in the homeland) and the two decide to crash the signing and tear up the constitution, guaranteeing a continuing dictatorship.
Sacha Baron Cohen is, of course, an equal opportunity offender and no group or idea is spared. Though Aladeen states he is not an Arab, the evidence is to the contrary. The political satire and barbs are sharp (the slant is liberal democrat) and when he recites the virtues of dictatorship, it's funny and sad at the same time. Inserted, and none too comfortably, is a love story between Aladeen and Zoey but proving that Zoey makes Aladeen a good man is hard to believe of a character who has been, both above and below the surface, a total creep throughout the movie. Okay, it's a comedy and one doesn’t want to be a stick in the mud, and there are a few fun cameos, but in the end, it was a relief to reach the end.
The screenplay boasts four authors (Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, and Sacha Baron Cohen) who have crafted a work that is sometimes plain funny, other times queasily humorous, and still others look away distasteful. Director is Larry Charles who worked with Cohen on Borat and it must be said they have collaborated and put forth a better film. Not this time, but there's enough wit, cleverness, and skill to suggest the best is yet to come.
The Dictator - More comedic low points than high, but has its moments. Review by Charles Zio
Rated PG 13 for comic
horror violence, sexual
content, some drug use,
language and smoking.
You would expect a visually arresting film from director Tim Burton, and you get one. It's too bad the vampire's teeth are worn down. Since when did the combo of Burton and Depp lose that "cool" factor they had going? Based on the old Gothic television soap opera, this like-named Dark Shadows features a romanticized, satirical vampire named Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp).
The backstory is that the family comes over from Liverpool to Maine when Barnabas is a child to start a fishing business. It is so successful that the town is named Collinswood. As Barnabas grows into a young man he callously uses a maid named Angelique (Eva Green) for his own pleasure then abandons her when he falls in love with Josette (Bella Heathcote). Wouldn't you know it, it turns out Angelique is a witch? She disposes of Josette, turns Barnabas into a vampire then arranges for him to get buried alive for almost two centuries.
When Barnabas is found he's naturally famished so construction workers are served up. Making his way back to his former home with the help of Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) who becomes his servant through hypnosis, he discovers that the family is all but out of money. Angelique has survived to have a rival fishery business. The remaining family consists of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michele Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David Collins (Gulliver McGrath), and David's psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).
It starts out well enough with Barnabas narrating the beginning of the story and the Moody Blues' song "Nights in White Satin" playing over the credits. It is only mildly humorous when Barnabas has to get used to the culture of 1972. More problems come after that. The screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (with a nod to original writer Dan Curtis) has a story line that moves from one episode to another and back again without much interest.
The art, production, set design, costumes, and makeup are all good with notable cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, and effective original music by Danny Elfman. The visual and special effects are not bad, just somewhat of a let down.
Having Johnny Depp and Tim Burton partner again had many people anticipating an outstanding fun horror movie experience, but although there are humorous moments the abrupt shifts in tone defeat the overall mood. It's difficult to say where it went wrong because all the elements are there for a good time, especially with the caliber of the cast. Johnny Depp loves to play dress up, but maybe it's time again to show us what he can do with something other than makeup and a costume. Michelle Pfeiffer is still beautiful and can carry a scene. Jackie Earle Haley had potential here, but is wasted in the part, as is Chloë Grace Moretz whose character takes a surprising but ineffective turn. Eva Green as the witch Angelique tries hard. Yet, I came out of the movie disappointed. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG 13 for intense
sequences of sci-fi violence
and action throughout, and a
mild drug reference.
Here we go again earthlings. Our planet is being threatened with total domination but have no fear because our Marvel superheroes are here. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of the counter espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D and his people are attacked by exiled Norse god Loki (Tim Hiddleston, excellent) when a portal opens in space. Ever the opportunist Loki steals The Tesseract, some kind of mysterious energy source that may help him conquer the earth and make everyone his slaves with the help of those outer space outlaws the evil Chitauri. Loki is able to control the minds of several important S.H.I.E.L.D people including Hawkeye, Agent Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, up to the others), and physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to help in his plan.
This threat calls for drastic action and Fury contacts superheroes, or has his special Agent Philip Coulson (Clark Gregg, a witty performance), or Black Widow, Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson, smart, sexy and strong) contact them. They include: Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., fun to watch), Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, can pull off the earnest "old" man), and Incredible Hulk Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, low key and surprisingly appealing). Thor (Chris Hemsworth, a true hunk), estranged brother of (adopted) Loki, shows up to try to reason with him, but eventually joins with the other superheroes to stop the assault on earth.
Writer&director Joss Whedon has come through with a movie that is non-stop action. Even at almost two and a half hours it seems to go so quickly before your eyes it's difficult to catch everything. The plot is not complicated and even though the cast is large no one gets lost in the story. Initially the superheroes with huge egos spend time fighting with and trying to best each other. This presents much room for sarcasm and humor which really helps as it did in the Iron Man movies with Robert Downey, Jr. Delivering lines that mock each other, themselves, and the movie allows the audience in on the joke and that much more fun, but it does start to get old.
The major battle takes place in, where else, Manhattan among the crowded skyline with tops of buildings being sheered off, explosions, and cars overturned everywhere. The special effects and the visual effects which take up a large portion of the movie are somewhat dizzying, and the total amount of action can be overwhelming. Good cinematography by Seamus McGarvey adds to the look of the movie. Each superhero gets his&her moment to shine and all are likable and watchable. Tim Hiddleston as Loki is especially effective because there's something about him that shows arrogance mixed with vulnerability. Don't we always have a special affection for the outsider?
The Avengers is a "feel-good" action movie and it lives up to the hype, especially for those who are invested in the Marvel comics superheroes. Nothing is especially deep about the story, and it doesn't pretend it is anything special in that way. If you are, at best, a marginal Marvel fan you will still have a good time with the movie, strictly as entertainment. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for sexual content
and language throughout.
Emily Blunt and Jason Segel are talented, likable actors, but that doesn't necessarily translate that they will always turn into compelling characters. That's probably more about the screenplay than the acting. Written by Mr. Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, it unfortunately doesn't live up to their previous collaboration on "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Where that movie flowed naturally, this feels forced and too long. It also sags in the middle when it gets too serious and makes you hope it will be over sooner rather than later.
From the start Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) and Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) seem an odd pairing who meet at a New Year's Eve costume party in San Francisco. She is dressed as Lady Diana and he's in a big pink bunny costume. I suppose that is meant to be charming, but comes off rather ho-hum. She's British, refined and intelligent being a post graduate student in psychology, where he's a down to earth chef. They do seem very much in love when they get engaged, yet her sister Suzie Barnes, and Tom's friend and fellow chef Alex Eilhauer (Chris Pratt) meet at their engagement party, they become a couple more quickly.
The engagement is exciting even with the family situations. Tom parents Carol and Pete (Mimi Kennedy and David Paymer) support him in a dead pan style that is okay, but not that interesting. Violet's British family is more eccentric. Her parents are divorced but clearly Sylvia and George (Jacki Weaver and Jim Piddock) have issues. At this point all the grandparents are alive and the parents are hoping the wedding takes place soon so they can make it to the altar for them to see. This becomes a running gag throughout the movie and is mildly amusing.
The real problems begin when they move to the University of Michigan, which is only supposed to be for two years. Violet does extremely well as a grad student but Tom can't find work except in a delicatessen making sandwiches. It beings to get even more complicated when there is an unacknowledged attraction with her advisor Winton Childs (Rhys Ifans). This is where the movie starts to slow down and lose its spark. Tom gets involved with some eccentric characters, but it doesn't help the tone of the movie. The couple separate with Tom moving back to San Francisco. Each move on to other relationships but, of course, still pine for each other.
I'll say one thing, it certainly felt like five years. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
PG for thematic elements,
brief nudity, language
First and foremost this film has a wonderful screenplay that has both ethical and moral implications. Footnote was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film this year and also won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Writer/director Joseph Cedar has crafted a story that stays with you long after you've seen the movie.
Father and son professors and Talmud scholars Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) and Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) are very different personalities. Eliezer is bitter feeling unappreciated and unacknowledged for what he considers his painstaking work. His son is not only recognized but applauded, and is popular with his colleagues and students. As the movie opens Uriel is elected a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Eliezer makes his displeasure known in subtle ways. He can't even be happy for his son who idolized him.
Eliezer feels robbed of the recognition he believes he deserves as he worked for years on a project when a rival scholar Yehuda Grossman (Micah Lewensohn) published similar results right before he did. Ever since, after a lifetime of work, he has had to accept that he is considered a minor scholar. His one great ambition, the only one left to him, is to win the Israeli Prize which has eluded him now for many years. One day as he walks home from the National Library, he gets a phone call that informs him that he has won the Israeli Prize. He is stunned. His family, especially Uriel and Eliezer's wife Yehudit (Alisa Rosen), are happy for him.
The next day, however, Uriel is called to an urgent meeting with the Israeli Prize committee and told there was a mistake and that he, Uriel, is really the winner of the Prize. Realizing that this would devastate his father he tries to reject the Prize for himself saying the phone call was their mistake. Instead the committee gives him a difficult choice to make.
Shlomo Bar-Aba, actually a comedian, brings a terrific understated comic quality to the character of the father. His controlled acting is exactly right for the part. Also excellent is Lior Ashkenazi as the emotional son, and Alisha Rosen as Eliezer's wife.
This erudite film has no need of extreme bloody action scenes, shocking sexuality, or multiple twisted plots; the story and the intense family drama are compelling and haunting enough. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
BAND OF MISFITS
BAND OF MISFITS
Rated PG for mild action,
rude humor and some
Simply named Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant), he is probably the silliest, most soft-hearted pirate you will see on the high seas. Pirate Captain has a dream. He wants to be Pirate of the Year which seems more like a daydream since he doesn't have much a chance. His rivals Black Bellamy (voice of Jeremy Piven), cutlass Liz (voice of Salma Hayek), and Peg Leg Hastings (voice of Lenny Henry) think he's a joke because he’s not a very successful pirate.
As he tries to collect bounty so he can win the award, he comes across Charles Darwin of all people who is conducting experiments. When Darwin sees the Pirate Captain’s parrot Polly, he promises him untold riches. The Pirate Captain thinks this is a way to win the prize he has sought for years. This leads the Pirate Captain and his odd and inept crew to Victorian London. He shows his parrot at a meeting of scientists and finally understands why it is invaluable. In the meantime, Queen Victoria enters the picture and wants the parrot as well. She hates pirates and the Pirate Captain barely escapes. When the Queen manages to take the parrot away, the Pirate Captain and his crew must go through some heroics to get her back.
His merry crew are loyal to the Pirate Captain and the camaraderie is something that kids would be aware of in pirate stories. Here it is fun to see them constantly messing up and then getting out of scrapes. The voice actors all do a nice job and are distinguishable from each other.
If you like the claymation and look of "Wallace and Gromit," and witty, droll stories, you will appreciate this movie. It is surprising in the use of Charles Darwin as a silly, lovelorn nincompoop, and also Queen Victoria as a nasty monarch who has some strange appetites. The 3D is not wasted, though some scenes that look better than others, but overall it's fun to watch. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for bloody violence
and grisly images.
Edgar Allan Poe's life and death are mysterious, notorious, and intriguing to succeeding generations of writers and fans. Screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare use the days before his unexplained death in 1849 Maryland to plot a story of partial redemption.
Poe (John Cusack) is a broke and broken alcoholic who can't even afford to buy drinks anymore. He has long since written his best work, and his unusual genius is lost on bar patrons. The editor (Kevin McNally) of the local paper has paid him for reviews of others' writing before, but instead wants more macabre stories from Poe because they sell newspapers. A gruesome murder of a mother and daughter brings an investigator named Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) into the case. He notices similarities between the murder and something he has read. Fields soon realizes it is the writing of Edgar Allan Poe. He contacts Poe explaining the situation. Poe is horrified but says he will help stop the killer.
Complicating the situation is Poe's clandestine love affair with fiancée Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve). Her father Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) hates Poe and forbids him to come near her. The serial killer who used "The Pit and the Pendulum" short story to murder another person seems to know everything about Poe's work and life. To further taunt police and Poe, he kidnaps Emily and forces them to do his bidding to get her back alive.
Director James McTeigue takes the story seriously, but the tone seems a bit too formal, and not terrifying enough. There are television shows that have plots more intricate than this one. The ending is not up to Poe's standard; no twist that grabs the audience like Poe would have created. The metaphors and symbols are recognizable and typical so they're not especially scary. The movie works best when John Cusack plays the dissipated Poe, who is mocked and despised by those around him. He sobers up too fast when Emily is taken and he is working with Fields.
Yet, though the movie doesn't entirely work, you can still appreciate the effort of the production team. The movie does pay homage to a writer who was unique in his time. Because Poe's genius still fascinates, and there are unanswered questions about Poe's death there will always be mystery, and audiences like mystery. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE LUCKY ONE
PG 13 for some sexuality
A soldier in Iraq, U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Effron), sees a reflected glint of light on the ground. When he goes to retrieve it an explosion kills several buddies were he was just standing. When he looks at the object it is a photo of a pretty young woman. Logan immediately takes the photo to be his good luck charm. After his discharge from the military, feeling alienated from his family he identifies the lighthouse in the photo and sets off from Colorado to Louisiana to find the woman he believes saved his life.
Based on Nicholas Spark's book of the same name, The Lucky One is supposed to be about fate and love, but is formulaic and disappointing. This time a war brings together two people who would not otherwise know each other: the soldier with three tours of duty behind him with a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a young teacher named Beth (Taylor Shilling) whose bullying ex-husband is sheriff Keith Clayton (Jay R. Ferguson) of the small town where they live. Logan walks across the country with his dog Zeus to find Beth, but then curiously can’t bring himself to tell her about finding the photo. When Beth’s grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner) hires Logan to help with their dog training business and kennel, Beth is annoyed and mistrustful of him.
In theory this may sound intriguing, but as presented in this movie feels totally contrived. Too many coincidences and wooden acting don't help. What does help is a veteran actor like Blythe Danner who plays the part of the grandmother/sage in the story who dispenses wisdom to all around her. Adding to the cuteness factor is Riley Thomas Stewart who plays Beth's son Ben. He is natural in the part and has a good rapport with all the adult actors, especially Zac Effron. What is less believable is the love story between Logan and Beth with dialogue something like, "You should be kissed every hour, every minute..." Beth alternates between rejecting Logan and staring longingly at him. For his part the character of Logan hardly changes during the course of the story. Yes, he is traumatized, but when is he going to show some emotions or change in response to everything that has happened to him? The love scenes are more awkward than hot.
Zac Effron is certainly handsome, and it may be a surprise that he is the now the grown up version of that teenager who was in High School Musical , but more animation or expressiveness would have really helped here. The audience was almost exclusively women, and several times there were whispers and murmurs when his shirt was off; maybe that's enough for some. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THINK LIKE A MAN
Rated PG 13 for sexual
content, some crude humor
and brief drug use.
It's still a mystery, and maybe always will be, despite any advice books written; how do men and women connect--and both get what they want? The advice book here is Steve Harvey's "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man." Mr. Harvey was on Oprah before she went off the air, and must have hit a nerve, because this movie is built around his book's theories, so much in fact, that he appears on screen a number of times talking directly to the women in the audience.
Apparently he thinks women are not good advice givers for each other, so he made it his mission to let them in on the way a man thinks and how to counter what he wants (mainly the "cookie") with what they want (mainly commitment).
The group of men includes stereotypes of: Zeke (Romany Malco) the player, Michael (Terrence Jenkins) the mama's boy, Dominic (Michael Ealy) the guy with potential but no clear career path, and Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) the guy who doesn't want to grow up and get rid of his toys. They are countered by the women: Mya (Meagan Good) who wants commitment, Candace (Regina Hall) a single mother, Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) a high powered business woman, and Kristen (Gabrielle Union) an adult ready for marriage. Also in the mix is the comic relief of an almost divorced Cedric (Kevin Hart).
The women get the book and begin to follow the suggestions, with surprising result that the men actually do respond. But then the men discover that the women have all been asking the same questions like, "What are your short and long term goals?" Now the men decide to turn the tables on the women.
While hilarity doesn’t exactly ensue, there are enough comical situations and one-liners to make this movie enjoyable despite the predictable outcome. The actors are all appealing and accomplished in their roles, especially Meagan Good and Romany Malco who are paired, and Taraji P. Henson and Michael Ealy who are paired as well. Kevin Hart is full of energy which the movie needs. Cameos from Wendy Williams and Sheri Shepherd help move things along, but Chris Brown's does not.
If you think you might like a light-hearted comedy about the age old questions of how to manage relationships, while watching a group of good-looking people attract and repel each other, you could do a lot worse than this movie, just don't expect anything too deep.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated Pg 13 for intense
sequencesof violence and action,
and language including some
Action/Thriller/Sci-Fi 95 minutes
Guns, guns everywhere and not a drop of originality. Just proves that sending a rogue agent to save a president's daughter, trapped in a prison with hundreds of hardened criminals doesn't necessarily produce engrossing action. In the end, there's little reason to care who’s the ultimate bad guy (easily guessed) or whether the odd couple will final pair off (no doubt whatsoever). What's to hold your interest when you've already seen bits and pieces of this movie before?
Agent Snow (his first name is a lame joke milked at the end) is a rogue agent whom, upon the picture's commencement, is being beaten at the behest of the secret service chief Langral (a capable Peter Stomare) about an incident that happened previously in his hotel room. Snow is played by Guy Pearce and is the film's great asset imbuing his character with sharp cynicism and genuine toughness (in attitude as well as bulk). Predictably he is being accused of murder but, though he denies it, he is found guilty and is slated to be sent to a maximum security prison in space (this is 2079) in which prisoners are put into stasis (suspended animation) for the term of their sentences. Only hitch is that some prisoners seem to suffer from mental damage. And at the moment just prior to Snow being shot (into stasis and then space) who should be up at the prison caringly and responsibly checking out the side affects of stasis but the president's do-gooder daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace, only half convincing). She intends to interview several prisoners but she never gets past the first one, Hydell (Joseph Gilgun, a great villain and the film's second acting asset), a tattooed, rotten-toothed, sex-crazed, psychotic killer.
Hydell easily, and murderously, escapes and defrosts all the others, including Alex (Vincent Regan, has little to do but scowl and threaten menacingly) who takes charge. At the urging of another secret service chief, Shaw (Lennie James), Snow agrees (big surprise) to go up into space to rescue Emilie. What follows is a long stretch of rescue, pursuit, retreat, mishaps, and daring escapes all over the prison space ship which is nowhere near as exciting as the mind may conjure because there is no spatial sense of the floating prison. Visually, it is large, but everyone is dashing around various levels like desperate or crazed (as the case may be) rats in a maze that is viewed from inside. The viewer is left with no sense of up or down, just around and around, seemingly without end. And for all the supposed high tech equipment, it seems that doors open and shut (or not) easily and conveniently. It almost seems that the only reason for Snow and Emilie's scampering about is to allow them to trade quips and insults (in other words, develop their attraction).
Maybe the unhappy result is too much overlapping among the filmmakers. The story is based on an idea by Luc Besson who collaborated on the script with Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather, the later two of whom co-directed the movie, with Mr. Mather additionally contributing as director of photography. Again, Guy Pearce is a dandy hero and Joseph Gilgun a reprehensible villain but the movie lets them down. One last disappointment. Audiences want, and wait to see, a villain get his comeuppance. Here it happens off screen. Overall, a disappointment.
Lockout – A washout. Review by Charles Zio
|THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Rated R for strong bloody
horror violence and gore,
language, drug use and
A goodly portion of this movie is predictable - a group of young, attractive, generic character types trapped in a desolate spot to be picked off one by one. But it is the remaining sections, those that set the film apart from its genre kin, that make for an interesting viewing experience. So forget the lone killer with simplistic motivation (he/she was mistreated somehow or other) or no motivation at all (just plain evil). Instead expect a satisfying stew of tricks, surprises, the unexpected, and mystery.
To begin, the opening credits are suitably ominous and, though it will not be clear until later, a clue to the action to come. The opening is conventional, college students preparing for a trip to a relative's secluded country place. The five vacationers seem standard specimens - Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the easy girl (Anna Hutchinson), Holden the smart one (Jesse William), Marty the stoner (Fran Kranz), and Dana the heroic good girl (Kristen Connolly). However, since the filmmakers have determined to upend the form, the characters are given more dimension (which the actors nicely flesh out), so that the jock is no dolt but on full scholarship, the easy girl is being manipulated to be overly erotic, the smart guy is built like a gym rat, the stoner is the most perceptive, and the good girl is not quite innocent and in fact unleashes the specific horror the group will face.
Still, none of the group is wise to the fact that their departure and progress is being monitored in a large, gleaming, modern, knob-filled organization of some sort by a pair of cold, cynical, smart aleck functionaries (in white shirts and ties) played to the hilt by Richard Jenkins (as Sitterson) and Bradley Whitford (as Hadley). In counterpoint to this confident duo, are a nervous co-worker Lin (Amy Acker) and an uncomfortable security guard Truman (Brian White). (To movie buffs--the security guard's name is a bit of a tip off.)
As is standard, the young people casually ignore every sensible and intelligent hint or suggestion of danger (in this case, most prominently, stopping at a wreck of a gas station with a menacing creep of an owner). The movie, of course, is filled with the usual scary noises and music, hints of past havoc, erupting violence, heartlessness, mayhem, brutality, jolts, and wicked forces that refuse to die. There is also genuine humor and laughs and, while not revealing the name, a great cameo near the end. But what is most entertaining for the viewer is being presented something different from the usual and all the more enjoyable for that very reason. And that is precisely why to say or reveal more would be a real disservice and, truly, would spoil the fun.
Director Drew Goddard is to be complimented for his skillful work in balancing and interweaving the look, feel, and elements of a traditional horror movie with those of a high tech mystery. The script, of which he is a co-writer, is a clever reworking of what would seem to be contrary genres. Leading and abetting him in that effort is Joss Whedon (who also produced) no slouch in the expanding and redefining of genres himself (e.g. Buffy the Vampire Slayer ). Okay, maybe there might be one or two twists too many, but overall, the payoff is worth it.
The Cabin in the Woods - Typical horror story, with many a neat twist and turn. Review by Charles Zio
|THE RAID: REDEMPTION
Rated R for strong brutal
bloody violence throughout,
Welsh writer/director Garth Evans has created an Indonesian action movie highlighting the traditional Indonesian martial art called Silat. It is one of the bloodiest, fastest-moving, most-action packed martial arts crime thrillers in years. It stars Iko Uwais as Rama, a young policeman with a pregnant wife who is part of an early morning raid on a previously untouchable criminal. This is Iko Uwais' second collaboration with Evans. It seems to be working out just fine; he is incredible in the role.
An elite SWAT team, led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim), under senior police officer Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), enter a rundown apartment house in Jakarta's slums to find the vicious drug crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) who has turned the crumbling building into a safe house for criminals. The SWAT team is full of young inexperienced policemen who are ready to follow orders without question and fight the offenders bravely but end up trapped in the building when their cover is blown early on. Crime boss Tama, along with his two trusted men, Andi (Donny Alamsyah), and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), are prepared to have his men find the cops and kill every single one of them.
As they go through the floors looking for Tama, they are confronted by the apartment's residents. Most are killers themselves, but there are a few who want no part of the violence. During the early scenes of the movie when they first enter the building, guns are the weapons used the most, but as the fight progresses martial arts are the main fighting tool. There is a storyline, but it is secondary to the action, though it isn't difficult to follow because they keep it simple. There are subtitles, but it isn't crucial and the audience is watching the incredible action sequences anyway.
The action is virtually non-stop. It is impossible to keep up with how many kicks and jabs are thrown. The fighters also finish each other off with anything they have in their hands like knives, or nearby like chairs, even throwing each other out windows. They go through floors, walls, climb over banisters to get to each other.
Those who know something about martial arts say that the actors' are not just throwing their bodies around, they and the stunt men are using the highest form of martial arts. Those who don't know much about it might feel that in actuality some of these people would be taken out after only a few blows, but here they keep coming back for more. The movie is extremely violent and bloody, but if you are into this kind of action, the choreography of the fight scenes is truly impressive. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|BLUE LIKE JAZZ
Rated PG 13 for mature
thematic material, sexuality,
drug content, and some
It's often said that one must question one's faith in order to finally believe. This faith-based coming of age movie, adapted from the best-selling semi-autobiographical book by Donald Miller, follows a disillusioned idealist who wants to get as far away from his Texas Baptist roots as he can. As the movie opens he lives with his single mother, is an assistant youth minister, and always wears a tie. On a visit to his deadbeat father, he is offered the chance to attend liberal Reed College in Oregon instead of the Baptist college where he has been offered a scholarship. In a bitter twist of fate, he learns a fact that sends him reeling and off he goes to the Pacific Northwest.
Donald's (Marshall Allman) rage against hypocrisy doesn't prepare him for the back-to-the-sixties anything-goes liberal college atmosphere that is Reed, where it looks like Halloween everyday on campus. On his arrival he meets The Pope (Justin Welborn) who is always dressed like one and has bizarre rituals like burning books in the middle of the night and hearing confession from other students. The Pope hands him condoms the first time they meet. His best friend is a lesbian named Lauryn (Tania Raymonde) he meets in the gender neutral bathroom. She clues him in that Reed is about as anti-Christian as he could find. Yet, he then meets the pretty girl Penny (Claire Holt) that he falls for, who is a steadfast believer.
The story has some clever visual elements that wink at the audience and assure us that "setting, conflict, climax, and resolution" will all be in evidence. Donald has to experience life and come around to face the inevitable cold hard truth to be able to grow up, become an adult, and perhaps see his faith with new eyes. Several of the connections are tenuous, though. His father says, "Life is like jazz son, it never resolves." Yet jazz doesn't figure prominently in the story with only a few bars of a John Coltrane song played several times. But, the book speaks to a common growing-up experience and appealed to enough people that the filmmakers raised money on the internet to complete the movie.
Marshall Allman, as Donald, is a likable, everyday hero; not a genius, but sincere and hopeful despite his new-found cynicism. Claire Holt does a nice job with Penny, though the privileged character's piety can be annoying at times. Justin Welborn has some of the most affecting moments when the pain behind the purposely odd behavior is revealed.
If only the filmmakers hadn't try so hard to make it cool. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for crude and sexual
content throughout, nudity,
sensuality, and brief
Some people never outgrow high school. Why others think this is a fascinating topic, even though it has been so overdone at this point, is another matter altogether. This is a raunchy comedy that is the fourth in the American Pie franchise. If you remember liking any of the previous movies it is more of the same sex-obsessed frivolity, except the group of friends is getting older and trying to settle into adulthood.
The thirteenth high school reunion is taking place and the guys plan to get together beforehand to get reacquainted and have some fun. The boys to men are Jim (Jason Biggs, he of the famous pie episode), Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Ian Thomas Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and the obnoxious "Peter Pan" of the group, Stifler (Seann William Scott). Life intrudes on fantasies of future fame and riches as one gets older, and each one of the men is dealing with issues. For Jim, he and high school sweetheart Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) have a baby and their sex life isn't so hot anymore. Oz is a celebrity sportscaster with an over-baked girlfriend (Katrina Bowden), but still longs for his former high school flame Heather (Mena Suvari) now a doctor with a doctor boyfriend so unbearable you can't possibly miss the cues. Finch, the most inscrutable, shows up on a motorcycle and has been traveling around the world. Kevin is happily married but has some pangs as he sees his still pretty former girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid).
There are several subplots. One is about the now teenage neighbor Jim used to baby-sit for who is too anxious to grow up wanting Jim's help. Another is about the next generation of obnoxious teenagers. The most comical is about the scene-stealing Eugene Levy who plays Jim's father. He sadly lost his wife but still gives Jim advice in too much embarrassing detail. He meets Stifler's mother in this movie and that provides a few humorous bits.
Comedies can offer relevant reflection on growing up even as they are funny, and American Reunion does make an attempt to interject some serious notes for thirty-somethings. The problem is that it seems half-hearted when compared with all the raunchiness that is the real focus. This reunion is like many, a disappointment after such a big build-up. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
IN THE YEMEN
IN THE YEMEN
Rated PG-13 for some
violence and sexual
content, & brief language.
This is not a blockbuster movie and it's not going to knock your socks off, but Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a charming, mild comedy romance with a few dramatic elements that dares to be out there with the big movies. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (adapted screenplay Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire ) has done a perceptive job distilling the political satire of the novel by Paul Torday down to understandable elements.
Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries expert, is asked to work on the seemingly outlandish project of introducing salmon to the Yemen. Fred thinks this is not doable and resists the efforts of the very rich Sheikh Muhammad represented by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt). Politics raises its ugly head though, and the Prime Minister's spokesperson Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) pushes the project because it's believed they need some relation-building/good news about the Middle East that doesn't involve explosions.
Fred is married to a callous career woman named Mary (Rachael Stirling), and Harriet has a boyfriend of three weeks named Capt. Robert Mayers (Tom Mison, well done) who is abruptly sent to Afghanistan, but their rather formal, icy relationship begins to slowly melt. Against all odds they become invested in the project and each other. Fred comforts Harriet when her boyfriend is listed as MIA, Missing in Action, while his troubled marriage further unravels.
The acting is skillful starting with Emily Blunt who glistens as the emotional Harriet. Ewan McGregor takes on a different role for him as the very controlled, even dull, fisheries expert with limited sense of humor, and conveys the feeling hidden deep below the surface. Kristin Scott Thomas has the most fun as the push-them-to-the-wall political dynamo always finding an angle to promote her man. Amr Waked brings a quiet, devout dignity to the role of Sheikh Muhammad who loves fly-fishing. It is refreshing to see a different kind of Middle Eastern character. In fact, it is the Sheikh's character who sets the whole storyline in motion. What initially seems frivolous is actually his attempt to provide a more open future for the people of the Yemen. There are consequences to pushing through with those plans no matter what, which eventually he is wise enough to understand.
Those working in the government are viewed as bumbling bureaucrats who only care about losing their jobs. Many miscalculations lead to false solutions and an outrageous plan to export 10,000 North Atlantic salmon to the Yemen until Britain's fisherman band together. Ultimately, hard work and "faith" bring an unexpected resolution. The movie is not deep, but clever, gratifying, and well worth viewing. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for some fantasy
action and mild rude humor.
This movie is an odd mixture of a Grimm's Fairy Tale, stunning visuals, and snide sarcasm that is supposed to pass for bringing hip modernism to a "once upon a time" story. The look is not a surprise given that Tarsem Singh is the director. He is well known for his striking visual style. Casting is another story. So is the screenplay by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller. A different spin has been put on the "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" tale while keeping the main elements. It's admirable to want Snow White, who has always been a naive, helpless maiden in distress, to be able to toughen up and have some control over her destiny. Yet, there are few heroics here with enough energy to put that over to the audience.
Julia Roberts seems to relish her role of the evil Queen (in beautiful costumes) but her performance doesn't have much variation for the duration of the movie. She's not scary in the least. Nathan Lane, as Brighton, plays his standard sycophant role as the Queen's go-to sniveling subject. Lily Collins is delicate and lovely though someone went a little too heavy on the eyebrow makeup. I wish I could say it was an awe-inspiring performance but placidness doesn't substitute for shyness. Someone who is well-cast is Armie Hammer as Prince Alcott. Not only is he handsome, but he has just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek cheekiness for the part. The other bit of good casting is the dwarves; not your standard issue Sleepy, Sneezy, etc. They are: Jordan Prentice as Napoleon, Mark Povinelli as Half Pint, Joe Gnoffo as Grub, Danny Woodburn as Grimm, Sebastian Saraceno as Wolf, Martin Klebba as Butcher, and Ronald Lee Clark as Chuckles. They are not wimpy at all; in fact, they are macho thieves who eventually teach Snow White a thing or two. Several other good actors are in the movie such as Mare Winningham, Michael Lerner, and Sean Bean as the King, but are not used to full advantage.
Early on the King disappears in the forest and is presumed dead. This is when the Queen locks Snow White away and takes over the kingdom which, in turn, takes all the joy out of the people who used to sing and dance. Now they mope around because they are constantly pressured to pay taxes. (You may recognize the feeling.)
There is no doubt about the outcome of the story, but getting there should be more interesting, even a bit thrilling, otherwise why bother to re-make it? This is certainly a movie that you can bring children to see, but the reaction seemed to be lukewarm from the kids in the screening that I attended. The visuals may be enough to keep you watching, but otherwise, keep your expectations low. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE HUNGER GAMES
Rated PG 13 for intense
Violent thematic material
and disturbing images
all involving teens.
The translation from book to screen can be a difficult one. Many decisions need to be made because there's so much material. This is especially true when books become a pop culture phenomenon like the trilogy of books starting with "The Hunger Games." Since everything can not possibly be included, what you hope for is that a movie is true to the essence of the book. Does The Hunger Games achieve that distinction? More yes than no, but there are some disappointments.
For those not familiar with the book, it takes place in a dystopian future where a high price has been paid for a long-ago rebellion in North America. The country is now called Panem and is divided into 12 poor districts, while those in power corruptly run The Capitol and live it up. The Districts are forced each year to offer up a male and female "tribute" between 12 and 18 chosen by lottery to go to the Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death gladiator-type spectacle for the amusement of the rich and horror of the poor. Only one teen emerges alive who then gets to have a life of luxury. This year, in the book, is the 74th Hunger Games - -so it's clear the oppressed people of the Districts have been suffering through this a very long time.
The biggest asset of the movie is Jennifer Lawrence who plays the fiercely independent 16 year old heroine Katniss Everdeen. In many ways this role is similar to her Oscar-nominated performance as Ree Dolly in Winter's Bone. Both characters are forced by circumstances to be tough, unsentimental teens, yet essentially they are caretakers. In the movie, Katniss' father dies in an accident and her mother has gone numb. She is left to fend for her and younger sister Prim in District 12, the Appalachian coal-mining area, and does so by becoming an excellent archer/hunter.
As the "reaping" comes around-when they choose the tributes-Prim is terrified of being chosen and so, of course, gets selected, until Katniss volunteers. Going with Katniss is Peeta Melark (Josh Hutcherson), the baker's son who has admired her from afar. Those two and her childhood best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) form a romantic triangle. The trip to the Capitol, getting ready for the Games, and the Hunger Games themselves, make up the rest of the story. Probably the most perverse aspect of the Games is the way they are manipulated and telecast, reality television-style, for everyone in Panem to see.
What the book conveys so well: the desperation, the hunger, the fierce loyalty, the oppression, the fear, the silent rage is sanitized in the movie. The books are written for the young adult market, but can only make their points if the audience identifies with those on screen. For instance, the character development is limited. We know little about the tributes at the start of the games yet 23 out of 24 of them are expected to be killed. When they die in various ways reactions tend to be muted because there is little investment in the characters. The violence is played down and not at all bloody. The filmmakers obviously took the ages of the potential audience in to account to get a PG 13 rating, but something is lost in the depth of feeling.
Even at two hours and twenty-two minutes much of the second half of the movie feels rushed. Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Hutcherson develop a good rapport over the course of the movie. The supporting cast, like Woody Harrelson, do their best with the screen time they are given. Yet some get more time than others. The emphasis on certain elements at the expense of others is puzzling at times. Since the screenplay was written by director Gary Ross and author Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray, they certainly told the story they wanted.
There is little problem transferring the interior dialogue that Katniss has in the book to the visuals that Jennifer Lawrence so ably portrays. Overall, the movie does tell the Katniss story, if in a less intense and compelling way than the book.
Perhaps worth keeping in mind is that this is a film brought forward from a book aimed at the young adult/teen audience, and while the more sophisticated adult audience may have higher expectations, the fact is that the film will please and delight the legions of young fans of what has become The Hunger Games franchise, many of whom are early in their film viewing experience and will likely rank this movie as the best they've ever seen. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|21 JUMP STREET
Rated R for crude and sexual
content, pervasive language,
drug material, teen drinking
and some violence.
Comedy/Action 109 minutes
Crude guy comedies don't usually stand out this much or are as much fun, but 21 Jump Street is a surprise. Its main asset is the casting of Jonah Hill as Schmidt and Channing Tatum as Jenko who have an excellent rapport on screen. Also a script by Michael McCall with story credit to him and Jonah Hill loosely based on the television series 21 Jump Street that made Johnny Depp a star. How loose? As loose as you can get.
Jenko and Schmidt are on opposite ends of the social status spectrum in high school with Jenko being the cool but dumb jock while Schmidt is the classic smart nerd who no girl would look at, let alone go with to the prom. They meet again when both are at the police academy. Jenko needs Schmidt to pass the written course and Schmidt needs Jenko to pass the physical course. They become partners thinking they are going to become heroes, but are two loser cops who mess up everything they touch with Jenko not even remembering how to recite the Miranda Rights when making an arrest.
They get sent to a church where Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) makes no secret he has no use for them. This clever bit of casting works as Ice Cube, once the cop hater, now plays an angry cop. He’s still good at being angry no matter where it's directed. He sends the two undercover to a high school to find the dealer and supplier of some kind of synthetic drug before it goes on to other schools. They are made-up brothers, but Jenko didn't memorize the file and can't remember which one he is and so is supposedly the brainy one, while Schmidt ends up in drama class and is supposedly a track star.
The high school scenes are funny with a nice touch of poignancy that helps elevate the movie. They only graduated in 2005, but with the internet time has accelerated changes and Jenko finds his brand of cool is out while nerds now rule. Schmidt starts taking his role a little too seriously as he finds that for the first time in his life he is the cool guy. The fantasy to go back to high school and do it all better the second time around drives many of these type comedies, but it could never quite be the same, as Schmidt finds out.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have been able to bring out the best comic side of their two actors and their supporting cast: Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, DeRay Davis, and Rob Riggle, so that everyone plays well off each other.
Some of the scenes are not as humorous as others or go on a little bit too long and could be cut without harm, but overall a good job. You want to have fun at the movies? You will at 21 Jump Street. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for intense
sequences of violence
It seems Mars is not the "red planet" I imagined it to be. In fact, the colors are rather muted. This version of John Carter based on writer Edgar Rice Burroughs' series is an elaborate mix of odd characters, wars, ancient enemies, but most of all spectacular 3D CGI. That is what is most memorable when you walk out of the theater, because the story is packed with so many made-up facts that it's difficult to follow.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) a Civil War veteran, though a fierce soldier, wants no part of war. Through a series of events he ends up on Mars where he can jump like nobody's business. A strange breed of green being with four arms called Tharks find him in the dessert. The kindly leader Tars Tarkus (Willem Dafoe) finds Carter useful and somehow ends up speaking English, though it's best not to dwell too much on logic.
Carter reluctantly gets involved in the civil war on Barsoom, what the natives call Mars, when he can't help but intervene on behalf of a princess named Dejah (Lynne Collins) who is being forced to marry a Zodangan named Sab Than (Dominic West). Her father (Ciaran Hinds) believes that a truce brought on by the marriage will save their city of Helium. That's right, it's named Helium. Are you with me?
Director Andrew Stanton who won an Oscar for WALL-E about another strange world, along with co-writers Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, earnestly try to get the viewer drawn into this world, but it proves too confusing, and worse, not very interesting. The elements are there: a strong hero, a beautiful princess wearing little, a city on the brink of an epic war but close to certain defeat, even a funny-looking overgrown monster dog that is really like a lively puppy. Yet it doesn't come together.
The actors do the best they can with the roles, especially the leads. The visual effects team, stunt team, and special effects team make a spectacle of the movie. But the tone of the movie is neither witty enough to make fun of itself and engage an audience, nor serious enough to warrant praise as a movie that has the heft to make a statement about war. Simplifying the complex story would have been a good start. Yet, there is probably an audience for this movie that can appreciate the visuals while ignoring logic.
Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for brief mild language.
Today is the 108th anniversary of Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's birthday. Children continue to be thrilled by and love his stories, and in that sense he is still very much with us. So much so, in fact, that it looks like we will eventually have every animated version of his books known on screen one day. It is impossible to imitate Dr. Seuss, such is his originality, yet adaptations for the movie screen must expand his visions or they would last about half an hour.
The Lorax, a fable about the environment, presents young children with the idea that if we are not good stewards of our earth we could end up destroying it. The book was published in 1971 when Dr. Seuss was smart enough to see what a desolate and artificial future could mean.
That's not to say that screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul don't take into account the parents/grandparents who will be taking their children to see the movie. They make sure there are amusing lines that they will catch. And co-directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda give us a visual candyland of colors in the land's better moments.
A boy named Ted (Zac Effron) likes a girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift) who paints pictures of "Truffula Trees" that once existed in Thneedville. They are all gone now replaced by tech tree versions that blink and sparkle, but don't help clear the air in their polluted town. The bad guy is the rich businessman Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle) who doesn't want any real trees around since he sells bottled air for a huge profit. Audrey dreamily wishes trees were still there, which gives Ted a motivation to find out what happened. Ted's grandmother Grammy Norma (Betty White) sees his plight and tells him how to find out about the trees.
Ted heads out of town to a barren landscape where he comes upon the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who tells him the story of his greed and how he destroyed the once pristine land. He found the Truffula Trees when he was a young man seeking his fortune. They were beautiful slim trees with puffy sherbet-colored, cotton-like tops. When he cut one down The Lorax (Danny DeVito), creature of the forest shows up as their protector saying "I speak for the trees," but can't convince the Once-ler to leave them be, and so they are destroyed and used to make the Once-ler rich. No forethought or moderation exists, and though there is "progress" it destroys the environment and the culture along with it.
The voiceovers are all well done, and the animation is eye-catching. The movie can seem rather frantic at times with chases and characters running around after each other. Unnecessary elements are added to pad the movie. Yet, the essential story is maintained. This is a children's movie that makes a point, as Dr. Seuss intended. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|ACT OF VALOR
Rated R for strong violence
including some torture,
and for language.
This unique mix of real and unreal in the filmmaking process is disorienting. The use of real-life Navy SEALS, whose heroism is unquestionable, leaves you stunned when they try to act and deliver dialogue. They are the best at what they do in combat, and those parts of the movie that focus on action and warfare come across, no surprise, as believable. Yet, even when the SEALS are ready to parachute out of a helicopter, their banter is as fake as it gets and takes you right out of the film.
The incidents are "inspired by true events" and just the violence and damage done by human beings to each other is scary. Yet, we have this group of people who put their own lives on the line for the rest of us. It is humbling. But I don't think this film does them justice.
The early part of the movie concerns a rescue operation of a CIA operative, a woman who is kidnapped by terrorists for information. Scenes of her torture are difficult to watch. Since time pressure forces the SEALS to move ahead with the operation, you understand their state of readiness. When they do enter the enemy camp, they dispatch the bad guys with amazing accuracy. These sequences, well-directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, along and their harrowing escape from the area by land and water keep your attention riveted to the screen. That holds true for any of the action sequences, yet as the movie goes on the plot by screenwriter Kurt Johnstad seems to become more unwieldy and loses focus becoming a generalized all-out battle wherever they go.
Scenes on the home front also seem contrived, yet the emotions of the families and the men they evoke, are genuine. At the beginning of the film it is stated by the directors that only the "real" SEALS can play these parts, but it puts the SEALS in the awkward position of doing great at pretending to do their real jobs, and then "trying" to act. If acting at this level were all that easy, especially in carrying a movie, everyone would have an agent.
If you like action movies, that part of the movie may appeal to you. As for the rest, I gratefully acknowledge the Navy SEALS' sacrifice and bravery, but they could have used more help from the filmmakers. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THIS MEANS WAR
Rated PG-13 for sexual
content including references,
some violence and action,
and for language.
In romantic comedies especially "chemistry" is the ultimate and elusive intangible you look for in co-stars. Sorry to say it's missing here. The kick is it's the chemistry between the two male co-stars that doom the movie. On paper the premise must have looked like good: two spies and best friends fall for the same girl, or is it that they just want to get the better of each other? It doesn't matter because it falls flat no matter how you look at it.
CIA agents FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are the hot shot best friends. After they mess up a foreign assignment they are taken out of circulation and put on desk duty. This gives them too much time to get into mischief. Tuck, who is divorced with a young son, decides he's going to try computer dating. He meets Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon) and they take an immediate liking to each other. The problem is that FDR meets Lauren shortly after in a video store and goes after her too. Neither Tuck nor FDR will give up dating her.
Lauren's friend Trish (Chelsea Handler), who is married, has been giving her dating advice, and finally puts her profile on the dating website where she meets Tuck. Lauren can't believe her luck when she is dating both FDR and Tuck. When the guys find out about the coincidence, they go into full spy mode using all the tech gadgets and devices they can to get one up on each other. Really, who is watching the store?
This screenplay had potential given that one of the screenwriters is Simon Kinberg (along with Timothy Dowling) who wrote Mr. & Mrs. Smith which has some of the same spy elements. The difference is that movie had Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Need I say more? It also made more sense somehow. What might have helped is for the actors to be less standard issue. This is a comedy after all, and it certainly didn't work with these low key/bland performances.
Yet, as mentioned, not much might have helped given the lack of chemistry. Reese Witherspoon is her usual perky self, Tom Hardy broods well, and Chris Pine is the conceited player. Angela Bassett is wasted in a small part. Even Chelsea Handler doesn't manage to bring any laughs with her caustic line deliveries. None of three of them main characters makes a connection with another that creates any excitement in the audience. Neither the romance nor the manufactured "war" works. Forget about laughs. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated R for strong violence
and some language.
Though the storyline of Safe House is a recognizable chase movie, the execution is well-done and makes up for some of that familiarity. Even so if you are getting close to your fill about CIA agents run amok, you may still find plenty to like about this movie. The main one is Denzel Washington who elevates his character of rogue agent Tobin Frost. He has almost legendary status among the other agents, and as played by Mr. Washington it is easy to see why. He seems to be able to slip away and escape from just about anywhere.
The setting is a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa where new agent Matt Westin (Ryan Reynolds) sits around all day babysitting the facility. He’s been there for a year with nothing to distract him except his French girlfriend Ana (Nora Arnezeder). One day he gets a call from his boss David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) that a "package" is being delivered. A group of agents led by Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) shows up with none other than Tobin Frost, who we have already seen double-crossed and trying to escape some bad guys led by Vargas (Fares Fares).
As the agents begin to interrogate and waterboard Tobin, Vargas and his men break into the safe house. Matt must make a quick decision and instinctively rushes out with Tobin in handcuffs. The first of several well done car chases take place as now both Tobin and Matt are on the run. Who are these killers and what do they want? Why is the CIA after Tobin as well? Back at CIA headquarters Barlow argues to boss Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepherd) that he believes Matt will get Tobin to yet another safe house and wants to give him a chance to get there. Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) thinks Matt had a part in the breech of the safe house. Whitford is focused on Tobin and wants whatever needs to be done to get him. Tobin is too much for Matt and escapes, but instead of Matt coming in as he's told, he goes after Tobin again.
The movie is bloody and violent as you would expect. This is one of Ryan Reynolds better efforts after a tough year, and he is able to elevate his game as the inexperienced agent playing off Mr. Washington. Brendan Gleeson is effective as is Ruben Blades in a small part.
Credit to director Daniel Espinosa and his technical team for the car chases and stunts. Too much hand held camera work leaves the viewer dizzy, but otherwise the South African landscape gives audiences a look at something different.
The movie is familiar enough to wonder about the CIA going after their own all the time. As we've seen before in these kinds of movies, you just can't trust anyone. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for language.
Inspired by true events, The Vow is a love story/drama with an intriguing twist. What if you were married, then in a car accident, and woke up months later not remembering several years of your life? The last thing you do remember is that you were engaged to another man. Would you fall in love with your husband all over again?
Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) do meet and fall in love. He's into music, she's studying art. They are married when they have the car accident that puts Paige into a coma. She initially thinks Leo is her doctor, but is frightened when she learns he is her husband because can't remember him. That would be scary, but the worst part is that she doesn't trust her old self, the one that married him.
Her parents (Jessica Lange and Sam Neill) haven't met Leo for reasons we learn later, but it's obvious they are wealthy, interfering people who want more control over their daughter than they had before the accident. She also has a sister and though there was some kind of argument that estranged her from her family, she clings to them as the only safety net. Leo struggles to win her over, but she resists at every turn, even becoming friendly again with her former fiancé (Scott Speedman).
Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams are certainly not your average-looking couple. He is well-built and good-looking, and she is vibrant and pretty, and they have a nice chemistry. The main problem is that the pacing is slow and could be tightened considerably. Normally, non-linear scenes with flashbacks showing past events can help tell the narrative faster, but here has the opposite effect. Also, a voiceover by Leo is unnecessary and slows the movie down even further. Having said that, the acting by the cast is earnest all around. Ms. McAdams and Mr. Tatum are convincing as lovers. Sam Neill is appropriately smug and Jessica Lange is touching in a scene where she is confronted by her daughter as she gardens.
The audience gets more of a sense of Paige's home life. Leo is dedicated, and obviously in love with Paige, but other than that the character is somewhat sketchy. Yet, if you are a romantic, while you may not be blown away on this weekend before Valentine’s Day, you can still find the tenderness in this bow to love. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for some sensuality/
Partial nudity and smoking.
This 3D documentary featuring choreographer Pina Bausch's dances is visually stunning. Ms. Bausch died suddenly when director Wim Wenders was preparing to shoot the film, and he almost cancelled it but Ms. Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal (in Germany) dancers convinced him to complete the project. The dancers included in the documentary make up her international company. A number of them give their impressions or insights about Pina throughout the film.
Several of her famous dance pieces are performed including "Le Sacre du Printemps" (the rite of spring) which includes a layer of dirt on the stage. "Café Mueller" showing a blind woman enter a café and men moving chairs and tables out of her way before a man and woman come together and hug, and then pulled apart numerous times. It apparently has been performed many times. "Kontakthof" has young dancers as if at auditions, but then are shown older as the younger and older generations repeat the same movements. The final staged piece is "Vollmond" which has one large rock and water coming down as rain as the dancers dance on the flooded stage.
But these aren't the only places where the dancers are placed: subway cars, parks, streets, hills, various outdoors scenes are used, too. The 3D technique works especially well in all of these areas. What is intriuging is how near the camera gets to the dancers allowing the audience to see them working up close. The men are slim but muscular, but the women are extremely thin, and you feel that you can almost count every rib. Another surprise is how many middle-aged dancers there are, which would probably not happen here in America, but shows a certain beauty of confidence in movement by dancers who have been doing this work for years.
Pina apparently didn't say much to her dancers, but she let their natural abilities complement her sensibilities. Her style of modern dance, which uses certain ballet movements, and much repetition, is recognizable after only the first dance. Yet Pina herself remains elusive even though she is shown briefly here and there, interacting with her dancers at rehearsal and even dancing herself in "Café Mueller" that was previously filmed. But I wanted to know more about her because she was totally dedicated to her art and the dancers' loyalty and dedication to her and her work is touching.
This documentary/dancing is not going to be everyone's taste, but the artistry with which it is captured is masterful. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG-13 for intense action
and violence, thematic material
some language, sexual content
and teen drinking.
Three teenagers find a glowing alien object one night, and somehow develop increasing powers from their contact with it. The reason this object is in the ground, why it is there, why it transfers powers to these particular teens is never explained, but it doesn’t need to be. The movie is about how these superpowers affect them. The three high school seniors are: Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), and Steve (Michael B. Jordan).
Andrew is a sullen, bullied kid with a dying mother and an abusive alcoholic father, Richard (Michael Kelly). Andrew hangs around with his cousin Matt who tolerates his behavior and tries to get him to socialize though Andrew resists. Matt doesn't pay too much attention because he is love sick and preoccupied with a pretty classmate. Steve is the popular guy who is everyone's friend. Andrew uses a camera everywhere he goes as a way to hide. The director Josh Trank uses this device, the hand-held camera footage, as a way of creating a reality for the audience to invest in.
When Andrew attends a party with Matt one night he gets roughed up by yet another bully. As he sits outside the party, Steve comes by looking for Matt. The three see a depression in the ground and discover the object. The early scenes where they are discovering how to lift and move items have them laughing and fooling around sharing the secret only with each other. The light-hearted atmosphere changes abruptly when Andrew’s out-of-control anger pushes him to go beyond minor use of the powers and causes an accident. Matt and Steve decide they need rules to use the superpowers and force Andrew to agree.
Writer Max Landis, with an additional story credit from Josh Trank, creates believable high school teens, especially one with serious problems leaving him unstable and dangerous. Could any bullied kid with so much abuse heaped on him resist retaliation? The pacing is effective as Andrew's darker urges emerge and he is essentially unstoppable.
The three actors draw in the audience with their performances, especially Dane DeHaan who thoroughly inhabits the disturbed Andrew. Alex Russell as the distracted Matt is an okay guy who tries to look out for his cousin, and Michael B. Jordan is engaging as the popular kid who everyone likes.
The stunts escalate with the teens superpowers, and this is where the movie doesn’t entirely work. They seem to be a step behind the best of what the audience has seen in other movies. Yet, the story is good enough to carry it to a respectable conclusion. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
|THE WOMAN IN BLACK
Rated PG-13 for thematic
material and violence/
This is an old-fashioned haunted house/ghost story that takes place in the late 1800s-early 1900s in England. A young lawyer, Arthur Kips (Daniel Radcliff), whose wife died in childbirth is left with a young son. Because he is having trouble adjusting to his loss his job is in jeopardy. His employer calls him in and tells him he has one last chance to save his job. He is being sent to a remote village to settle the estate of a widow.
When he arrives the townspeople are less than welcoming except for a wealthy local man named Daily (Ciarán Hinds) and his wife (Janet McTeer). Everyone else looks at him with suspicion. He finally secures a ride out to the crumbling mansion of the widow to look through all the papers. Arthur hears unusual noises and investigates, but comes upon objects and clues he doesn't understand yet. Of course, stranger things begin to happen, especially after he sees the Woman in Black. Eventually Arthur learns the story of the ghost and why she is so vengeful towards the townspeople.
There are leaps of logic in the screenplay by Jane Goldman that are difficult to ignore. These may have been handled differently in the 1983 book of the same name by Susan Hill, or the play made from the book. But in the movie why doesn't Arthur question the villagers' odd behavior until well past a time that he is deeply involved? Itdoesn'ts left to Daily to explain much of what happens. He has lost a child as have many of the townspeople.
Daniel Radcliff does a fine job anchoring the movie as Arthur. In flashback the audience understands his predicament and why he is brokendoesn-thearted. Empathy from the audience helps as he is put in harmdoesn'ts way. Ciarán Hinds is also effective as Daily, the man who befriends Arthur. Janet McTeer as Daily's wife has a few moments of bizarre channeling behavior. Director James Watkins makes the most of the sets, set design, and costumes which are spot on and add considerably to the atmosphere. Creaking floors, visions of the dead, candles that blow out for no reason; all of these devices are used and more that are familiar. The visual effects and stunts are handled well if not is outstandingly original.
Some in the audience were frightened through the whole movie, others groaned at various times. If you like suspenseful ghost stories with twists here and there you may find this English horror tale your cup of tea. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Rated PG for language.
It's an instinct of certain caretakers to want to come to the rescue of beings that need help. They can be human beings, or they can be animals that are helpless in certain situations. Big Miracle, based on a true story, about a family of three whales trapped in ice in Barrow, Alaska galvanized people across the United States in 1988. How all this happened is an uncommon, heart-warming general audience account with many people/sub-plots contributing to what would have normally been a non-story. The whales would have died quietly.
One thing you begin to understand is the power of the media in spreading news. An easy-going news reporter named Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) comes upon the trapped whales and sends the story along to his news division which is then picked up by national news organizations. His ex-girlfriend Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), who does work for Greenpeace and is a local irritant to Alaskan politicians and businessmen, refuses to let the whales die. They did not make it to the open ocean as it turned colder sooner than expected and the water around them froze before they could escape. The two adult whales are becoming battered by trying to keep the hole open so they could breathe. Their young offspring is struggling even more.
The native people of the area who are whale hunters want to let the whales die and use them for badly needed food, but Rachel has other plans and gets television audiences, especially children, to sympathize with her position. This includes an oil executive named J. W. McGraw (Ted Danson), who has been on opposite sides from Rachel. The governor is "forced" to use the National Guard when President Reagan requests that an ice breaker be brought to the scene. Colonel Scott Boyer (Dermot Mulroney) is one of two helicopter pilots dragging the ice breaker.
In the meantime, Jill Jerard (Kristin Bell) is a reporter sent to Alaska to report on the story and Adam finally sees an opportunity to get promoted to the national news media. Some of the humor comes out of the visitors' naïve misunderstanding of the environment.
Screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler do a credible job adapting Thomas Rose's book Freeing the Whales with all the details/people/politics involved. Director Ken Kwapis does manage to convey the cold isolation and desolation of Alaska. The visual effects work as well.
All the characters in the movie are helping the whales for their own reasons, some of them are selfish, some unselfish, most begrudgingly, but the end result is a movie the whole family will appreciate. Review by Ann Marie Oliva