by     Posted 19 hours ago


[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  Mr. Turner opens today in limited release.]

Painter J.M.W. Turner, the eponymous subject of Mike Leigh’s new biopic Mr. Turner, was renowned for painting shipwrecks. A lazier film would condense Turner’s life around that simulacrum. Instead, Leigh chooses to look at the whole picture, and not just in showing a three-dimensional protagonist. Turner is part of a painting that includes a fascinating look at early-to-mid 19th century life in Europe. Leigh adds all the wonderful touches of the era’s dialect, vernacular, and linguistics along with a collection of other meticulous details to provide a vivid period piece. And it’s all built around an unforgettable performance from Timothy Spall who coughs, whistles, wheezes, and primarily grunts in his portrayal of an artist who personally and professionally defied easy categorization.

ANNIE Review

by     Posted 2 days ago


The story of Annie, whether it’s in the comics, the stage play, the 1982 adaptation, or Will Gluck‘s new, updated version, requires relentless positivity to combat its cynical message.  Annie must devote an entire song to the power of optimism because the story basically celebrates the lottery and the benevolence of the wealthy while also trying to show that love is the most valuable treasure of all.  One way to handle that conflict is to put on the biggest smile possible.  The other is the route Gluck has gone with his version, which is to be constantly clever, charming, and embracing a modern twist on the character even if it requires new songs that may not be quite as memorable as “Tomorrow” or “Hard-Knock Life”, but still channel the fun and upbeat attitude of the character.  Filled with great performances from most of the cast, Annie is a funny, joyous update that keeps the musical’s upbeat attitude intact while still dancing to its own tune.


by     Posted 2 days ago


Near the end of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Robin Williams talks to Ben Stiller about accepting when it’s time to bid farewell to a loved one. The film is filled with flaccid attempts to pull at our heartstrings, but within the context of Williams’ untimely passing this moment is painfully bittersweet. Unfortunately, the rest of the film’s emotional and comedic moments fall flat as we watch Stiller lazily trudge through another series of museum misadventures.


by     Posted 4 days ago


At one point in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Dwalin (Graham McTavish) tells a greedy, paranoid Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), “You are lesser now than you have ever been.”  The same could be said to director and co-writer Peter Jackson and the conclusion of his prequel trilogy.  In an interview with EW earlier this year, Jackson stressed that it was important to keep cutting back to main characters during the action scenes, “otherwise the audience gets battle fatigue.”  He should have taken his own advice as this trilogy is clearly spent and left with almost nothing but hollow spectacle, hypocrisy, poor characterization, and at times becoming an outright embarrassment.  If The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of cinema’s best, then Battle of the Five Armies cements The Hobbit trilogy as one of its most disappointing.


by     Posted 9 days ago


Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice is a mess of absurdities.  It investigates the ludicrous conventions of the detective genre.  It rambles through the self-indulgent, dying age of the hippies.  It lurches along the vainglorious, narcissistic Los Angeles culture and cityscape.  Anderson wants to package everything he can from his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel, and while the result is occasionally interesting, the movie becomes enamored of its own cleverness in how it approaches its various topics with a sense of droll mockery, straddling the border of wackiness and respectability.  We’re wound through a convoluted plot where the mystery may not be the point, but the points don’t matter when any emotional resonance is crushed beneath the weight of smug shenanigans.


by     Posted 9 days ago


Set aside biblical accuracy and historical accuracy.  Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn’t need to be a chapter-and-verse retelling of the Book of Exodus nor does the movie need to back everything up with empirical evidence.  It just needs to tell a compelling story, and it fails miserably.  The Exodus story is a rich narrative filled with betrayal, discovery, destiny, and freedom.  All of these aspects technically exist in Scott’s film, but in the most perfunctory manner possible.  The director couldn’t care less about exploring these emotions and themes in a meaningful way, and it’s only in his desire for big set pieces that he inadvertently stumbles upon the curious viewpoint of seeing the Exodus story as one driven primarily by violence.  The movie is a “biblical epic” not in that it reaches for some grand theme or is willing to consider the role of the divine.  It’s a biblical epic because it’s based off a Bible story and cost a lot of money, and it’s more enthusiastic about letting you know the latter than the former.


by     Posted 9 days ago


There’s more than one way for a stand-up comedian to do a bit, and there’s more than one way for an actor to express frustration with his profession.  Chris Rock is one of the most insightful entertainers working today, and in the press he’s been doing for his new movie Top Five, he’s commented on race, politics, current events, comedy, and much more.  However, his new film is mostly concerned with fame, performance, and the trappings of both.  Although the story is built on a flimsy premise and its constraints create an awkward resolution, Rock has filled his picture with his sharp comedy that skewers celebrity and pride.

WILD Review

by     Posted 17 days ago


[This is a re-post of my Wild review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The movie opens in limited release today.]

Perseverance is easier said than done.  We all understand that if we can just get through this, push a little harder, fight through the pain, then we will more than likely come out on the other side better off than we were before.  But it is so easy to stop trying.  Laze seems to be some kind of natural instinct that takes over and tells us to just give up and accept our life as it is.  Director Jean-Marc Vallée follows up last year’s Dallas Buyers Club with a much more solitary drama in Wild, which recounts author Cheryl Strayed’s three-month hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, during which she reflects on past mistakes and hardships, and struggles to find some inner peace.  That’s a trite enough premise, but through Vallée’s confident, dynamic direction and a truly fearless lead performance by Reese Witherspoon, Wild turns out to be an honest, surprising, and unabashedly feminist chronicle of determination and rebirth. 


by     Posted 22 days ago


[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The Imitation Game opens today in limited release.]

In September 1933, General George S. Patton told the Calvary Journal, “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men.” Mathematician Alan Turning proved Patton’s statement was only half true when it came to World War II. It was won by men and a machine. Turing and his team used a computer to decipher the Germans’ “Enigma” code, which turned the tide of the war and was one of the key contributions to the Allies’ victory. Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is a compelling look at a man treated inhumanely and the creation of his machine that helped saved humanity from evil. The film isn’t hard to crack, but led by Benedict Cumberbatch’s outstanding performance and Tyldum’s strong direction, it’s a compelling tale of secrets, lies, and sacrifice.


by     Posted 22 days ago


[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The Babadook opens today in limited release.]

One of the great things about film festivals is that you can go in cold to almost anything. There’s been little to no advertising, and you make choices based partially on what’s available at a certain time and partially on word-of-mouth. Yesterday, I needed to fill in a gap in my schedule, and I remembered two of my friends had seen and liked The Babadook. I didn’t actually ask them what they liked about it or anything at all about the plot. My assumption: That’s a funny title, so I bet it will be a funny movie! And I was oh so very wrong. Writer-director Jennifer Kent has created a thoroughly creepy, nerve-wracking horror film with old-fashioned scare tactics. However, Kent does her job so well that eventually The Babadook burns itself out as it keeps trying to claw away at our nerves.


by     Posted 25 days ago


While 2011′s Horrible Bosses doesn’t hold up quite as well as I had hoped it would, the chemistry between leads Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis is still a lot of fun.  Watching the three actors bounce off each other is electric as they bicker and argue like foul-mouthed children.  Comedy sequels are always tough, but Horrible Bosses 2 makes the wise decision to shake things up not only in terms of avoiding a rehash of the first film’s plot, but also changing the tone of the comedy and the trio’s dynamic.  Although the movie falters at the end, Horrible Bosses 2 feels surprisingly fresh while never losing what made the original work so well.


by     Posted 25 days ago


Can scene-stealers carry a movie?  Or do some characters only work best in small doses?  Even though they don’t have big-name voice actors, the espionage-minded penguins from the Madagascar franchise have consistently been more appealing than the central characters.  They almost feel like they’re more for the adults in the audience and the kids can have the slapstick and fart jokes.  Now Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon), and Private (Christopher Knights) have taken center stage, and their spin-off, Penguins of Madagascar, easily surpasses the first two Madagascar films (I didn’t even bother with the third) through its rapid-fire wit, cuteness, and offbeat jokes that will amuse kids and adults alike.


by     Posted 26 days ago


This weekend, three out of the four films presented in the official competition at the Paris International Film Festival were directed by a duo, and each feature offers a unique look at the theme of love where the eerie protagonists are all female.  Oscillating between passion and obsession, their Delphic climax invite the spectator’s conclusion.  Or imagination.

Presented in the official selection of the Directors’ Fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the Franco-Belgian production Alleluia, directed by Fabrice Du Welz, takes on an odyssey of crime and passion in a psychological thriller based loosely on the story of the notorious Honeymoon Killers, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, a young nurse and confidence trickster who went on a rampage in the late 1940s.

Paris International Fantastic Film Festival Day 2: Tattoos, Hot Dogs and Butterflies in Our Stomachs

by     Posted 28 days ago


The second day at the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival was filled with a lot of — pardon my French — WTF moments. It leaves one wondering whether David Cronenberg had anything to do with today’s program.

It turns out the Canadian director was clearly an influence and thanked in the closing credits of Ink, the short film screened before the first competing film du jour and worth a mention. Written and directed by Glasgow-based horror journalist Andy Stewart, this sinister and horrific story features a young loser in Glasgow who is so desperate for some ink that he’s willing to go to extreme lengths to get tatted up and transform himself into an ambulatory work of art.  Instead of going to the local tattoo parlor like a normal person — well, the shop owner shoos him away — he has a more, um, unusual method.  He spots a tattoo he likes, he takes out his box cutter and cuts the patch of skin out of the person, before wrapping it in a newspaper and heading home. He then endures the agony of carving out his own skin in order to sew the stolen tattoo on his own body. No pain, no gain, right? 


by     Posted 30 days ago


The first day of the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival kicked off with a cult classic and three first-time feature films that are a promising debut for their respective directors: Time Lapse, Housebound and Nightcrawler kept the audience on the edge of their seats, while Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street, programmed in the Retro category, still manages to scare us witless for 90 minutes some 30 years after its release.

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