LIFE OF CRIME Review

by     Posted 17 hours ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.  Life of Crime opens today in limited release.]

I’ve never read any of Elmore Leonard’s novels, and yes, I’m ashamed. But I know from the film adaptations of his crime novels that there’s a way to do them right and wrong. They have a confidence, a swagger, a sly wink, a braggadocio, and they’re smart. They have the talk for the walk, and some directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino with Jackie Brown (based off Leonard’s Rum Punch) and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, are smart enough to bring that confidence to the screen. Those films make the uninitiated feel embarrassed that they haven’t joined the club. Even with Daniel Schechter’s cautious adaptation of Life of Crime (based on the novel The Switch) the audience can hear the author’s voice. Schechter’s direction is serviceable enough to not get in the way, he wisely trust his strong cast, accents the comedy, and lets Leonard do the talking.

THE CONGRESS Review

by     Posted 19 hours ago

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

Ari Folman‘s The Congress is a trip in more ways than one. Its visuals are lush and its ideas are rich. Like Folman’s previous film, Waltz with Bashir, the writer-director isn’t using animation only as visual expression, but also bolsters the themes by using the form in the first place. The filmmaker carefully builds his movie like a house of cards by trying to use the acting profession as a spring board and then expanding it to an exploration of self-definition, dreams, hallucinations, and detachment from reality. The film can be so head-spinning that it’s possible to get dizzy and lose focus, but when The Congress is on point, it’s as fascinating as it is gorgeous.

FILTH Blu-ray Review

by     Posted Yesterday

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Irvine Welsh made his reputation with both the novel and the filmed version of Trainspotting, with the latter creating the cinematic language that has been borrowed by every adaptation of his work that’s followed.  The most recent big screen Welsh adaptation is Filth, which was written for the screen and directed by Jon S.  Baird and stars James McAvoy as Detective Bruce Robertson, a corrupt cop who’s got some issues at home and in the workforce.  But where it has some of the flash of Trainspotting, it seems more like a Chuck Palahniuk adaptation, replete with a terrible third act twist.  My review of the Filth Blu-ray follows after the jump.

STARRED UP Review

by     Posted 2 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.  Starred Up opens today in limited release and is also available on VOD.]

In movies, a father/son bond can be repaired in various ways: A game of catch, a cross-country road trip, or a death in the family to name a few. Starred Up finds a new one by putting the reconciliation inside a prison, and showing the attempts of a father to protect his reckless son from getting murdered by other inmates. Supported by excellent performances from Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn, director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Jonathan Asser have removed the schmaltz from the father/son story by taking two men who aren’t just estranged; they’re both violent and dangerous in a volatile environment. The filmmakers then proceed to further expand the story by offering the son different support structures and choices that further complicate his familial relationship.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 2 days ago

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The Muppets returned to the big screen with a self-titled relaunch in 2011, and it was met with a lot of excitement from fans, but was not a runaway success.  The follow up Muppets Most Wanted was received with less enthusiasm, and barely made fifty million domestically.  Which is too bad as it’s the slightly better film.  Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and Ty Burrell are the main humans and are joined by all the main Muppets (like Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and more) in this European caper.  My review of the Muppets Most Wanted Blu-ray of the film follows after the jump.

LOVE IS STRANGE Review

by     Posted One week ago

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

“Write what you know,” is a common piece of writing advice. I don’t know how much of Ira SachsLove Is Strange is autobiographical, but it feels true to life. Boring, boring life. Because the film feels true to life, it also feels like one of the most self-indulgent films I’ve ever seen. Sachs is completely oblivious to what its audience would find remotely interesting or even emotionally relatable. The director takes his central relationship, one featuring great chemistry between Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, and completely undermines it with a hypocritical narrative. Not content to ruin his picture’s strongest asset, Sachs also drags his movie down with worthless side-plots and then tries to give his picture the illusion of depth and emotion with cheap tricks and unearned sentiment.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR Review

by     Posted 8 days ago

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In 2005, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller‘s Sin City was an interesting novelty.  The directors were able to transfer Miller’s visually distinct comics to the screen through the heavy use of CGI.  Not adapt; transfer.  The comic was used as a storyboard, and the directors filled in the gaps by casting a bunch of recognizable actors to play the roles.  For people who argue that adaptations should never stray from the source material, 2005′s Sin City was perfect.  Although the novelty has run its course, Rodriguez and Miller are back nine years later with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but the visual panache now feels like a crutch while also diminishing any authentic noir vibe the movie occasionally tries to convey.  Although the sequel is occasionally enjoyable thanks to the actors who are in on the exaggerated tone, the film feels like it was made by a couple of teenagers who mistake whores for dames, sadists for toughs guys, and style for charm.

FRANK Review

by     Posted 14 days ago

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

“He’s the sanest person I’ve ever met,” band manager Don (Scoot McNairy) tells keyboardist Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) about their lead singer and songwriter, Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank wears a giant fake head that he never takes off. Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is a funny, warm, thoughtful story about crafting an artistic identity, and needing to seize on to someone else’s expression when you don’t have one of your own. It also provides an insightful look at the fault in trying to forge an identity based on the acceptance of others instead of embracing one’s own oddities and shortcomings even if the world at large sees them as “insane”.

ALEXANDER: THE ULTIMATE CUT Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 14 days ago

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When Oscar-winning writer/director Oliver Stone first unleashed his epic Alexander the Great biopic back in 2004, critics launched a war of words and audiences retreated from the box office battle lines.  In the aftermath of its disastrous theatrical release, Alexander was re-tooled for its 2005 home entertainment debut by Stone, who trimmed 8 minutes for a special “Director’s Cut” DVD, whose packaging promised a “faster-paced, more action packed” film.  Although the “Director’s Cut” sold moderately well, certain critics pummeled Stone once again, this time for further de-gaying an already largely de-gayed narrative about history’s most famous bisexual conqueror.

Determined to placate critics once and for all, Stone re-edited the film a third time in 2007 and, rather than subtracting footage, added in a total of 40 extra minutes, which included more literal sword fighting and implied naked sword fighting.  The resulting release, Alexander Revisited, was supposed to be the final word on the film.  Seven years later, however, and we have a fourth cut of the film, Alexander: The Ultimate Cut, which shortens Revisited by seven minutes.  The question is, has Stone finally made Alexander great?  Hit the jump for my Alexander: The Ultimate Cut Blu-ray review.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 Review

by     Posted 15 days ago

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The Expendables movies have never really thought beyond their casts.  The thinking has apparently been: “We’ve got classic action heroes, some new blood, and we shoot stuff.  The end.”  It’s been an action franchise without any memorable action, and a big cast of likable actors devoid of almost any charisma.  Although there’s something admirable in how the franchise has sought to be lo-tech in comparisons to today’s CG-loaded blockbusters, it rarely tries to even match the likable characters of those blockbusters.  The Expendables 3 is the same old bag of tricks, and while there’s a hint of passing the torch to a younger generation, Sylvester Stallone and his co-writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt have no intention of really moving forward.  The cast just got bigger, the action remains bloated and unimpressive, and only magnetic performances from Mel Gibson and Antonio Banderas manage to break through this tired series.

THE GIVER Review

by     Posted 15 days ago

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Trends come and go in Hollywood with varying degrees of success, and one of the genres that appears to be “in” at the moment is the YA adaptation—specifically films with a dystopian bent.  The Hunger Games and Divergent both dealt with young protagonists rebelling against oppressive, authoritarian governments, and while at first glance The Giver may look like a simple cash-in on the trend, the source material predates the current dystopian craze by over a decade.  The road to a feature film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s novel has been long, but it now finally makes it to the screen with producer Jeff Bridges taking on the titular role.  However, though the film is surprisingly deft at handling some of the deeper questions raised by the book and boasts a pair of strong lead performances, the adaptation fails to flesh out other aspects of the story, resulting in a rather mixed bag.

LEGENDS Review: Sean Bean Is Finally a Master of Survival in New TNT Drama

by     Posted 17 days ago

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TNT’s marketing strategy for its new drama Legends, based on a spy novel by Robert Littell, was promoting the Twitter hashtag #DontKillSeanBean.  Sean Bean is of course known to certain fans for his exits from TV shows and movies, which has happened often enough to become a running joke that TNT did well to capitalize on. In Legends, Bean plays an FBI undercover officer named Martin Odum, whose main objective is to change his identity, and not get killed (seems to fit). The series comes from Howard Gordon (Homeland), who has had his irons in many TV fires of late (including the mediocre Tyrant).  Hit the jump to see if this one has caught flame.

BAD WORDS Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 19 days ago

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Movies like Bad Words tend to fiercely divide critics, with one half accusing them of empty shock tactics and the other half praising their edginess and daring. I fall into the latter camp with this one, though I can certainly understand the former. Not everyone wants to watch Jason Bateman’s misanthropic protagonist laying into small children with a viciousness that would make Terrell Owens blanch. The question becomes why his character would do such a thing, and in its journey towards the answer, Bad Words actually goes to some very interesting places. Hit the jump for my Bad Words Bluray review.

OUTLANDER Review: Ronald D. Moore Brings Historical Novel Series To Life On Starz

by     Posted 21 days ago

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Based on the novel series by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander follows a married WWII nurse, Claire Randall (Cairtriona Balfe), as she is mystically transported from 1945 to 1743.  The Starz series, adapted by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) combines history, romance, sci-fi, and even a little realpolitik as Claire ventures from a sleepy “second honeymoon” in Inverness, Scotland, to being part of a dangerous and confusing time in a place she knows almost nothing about.  Hit the jump for why, “so far I had been kidnapped, assaulted and nearly raped, and somehow I knew my journey had only just begun.”

WHAT IF Review

by     Posted 21 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.  What If opens today in limited release.]

Being a platonic friend sucks. It just does. No matter how much chemistry you have with a person, the relationship dynamic inevitably pushes you into a Hobson’s choice: take the less-than-ideal relationship you have or lose it entirely. There’s not much middle ground unless the platonic relationship finally becomes romantic, and that tends to be in the realm of wish fulfillment, especially when the one you want to be with is in a healthy relationship with someone else. What If takes on this familiar story, and while it does keep the wish fulfillment intact, director Michael Dowse obliterates the selfishness and single-sided nature of these stories to create a rich, full, and painfully funny ensemble piece that offers sweet sentiment with salty comedy.

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