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Drama

Only God Forgives (2013) – Review

1/2 Star

You used to be able to spot a bad movie by a certain level of incompetent craftsmanship. That is not the case anymore. Only God Forgives is one of the best-looking bad movies I’ve seen, it’s also one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had to endure in quite some time. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has not lost his sense of visual boldness in the stark and intriguing shot compositions, but this is a case of style greatly over-riding substance. Refn likes to shock, sometimes with a single image, or a line of dialogue, or even an entire scene. He spells out nothing for his audience and expects, you do figure out the pieces and what is reality or memory. It’s a valid directorial choice, but when the underlying material is this thin, these artistic touches come off as self-indulgent and unnecessary.
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Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) – Review

1 Star

Ridley Scott is credited as director on the erotic crime thriller Someone to Watch Over Me and yet, outside of a few shots that feature billows of fog and nice cars I can’t detect the guiding hand of Scott in a single frame of this lackluster movie. Featuring two of the most bland characters to ever appear in a noir thriller and brought to life by Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers, two actors that have zero chemistry with one another. These disastrous mixing of awkward elements creates, not surprisingly the worst film to ever emerge from the talented Ridley Scott. The problem may be with the iconic british helmer himself, his ponderous and heavy-handed approach to the simple material overwhelms the story, until it results in a case of style outshining subject.
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About Time (2013) – Review

3 Stars

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a self-described oddball, he’s too tall, too skinny, and by his reckoning too orange due to his ginger hair and pale completion. He’s the kind of unsure fellow that goes in for a handshake with a girl instead of a kiss at midnight on New Years Eve. Awakening the following morning and stewing about his lack of confidence with women, Tim is summoned downstairs for a heartfelt talk with his father (Bill Nighy). During the discussion Dad tells his son that every male in the family has the ability to time travel. Obviously Tim is skeptical, until he tries the trick and is transported back to the night before, where he takes advantage and plants a big kiss on his New Years Eve date.

From here we have the broadest outline of this quirky and quite charming English import from esteemed writer/director Richard Curtis. Nighy’s character is the Doc Brown of the tale, the guide who gives Tim the rules of time-jumping and warnings of the ramifications it may cause in real-time. He urges his son to use it for something that he truly craves, Tim decides that he will use the new-found power to obtain a girlfriend, to which his father slyly replies, “that’s major”.

Curtis writes Dickens’ size romantic drama-comedy hybrids, his too busy plot at times loses its narrative path but all in interesting ways, showcasing eccentric and often humorously dis-likable rogues. Most notably here a bitter and fame obsessed playwright (Tom Hollander) who suffers from writer’s block, but offers Tim a room for rent in the city. The two become an unlikely household and the writer’s ensuing brush with success, at the expense of Tim’s time-hopping antics, is one of the film’s repeated sources of comic inspiration.

The unfortunate casualty in this otherwise enjoyable love story is the miscalculated ‘meet-cute’ scene at a singles event hosted in the pitch black, that has to rank as one of the worst of its kind, ever. When Rachel McAdams’ Kate Moss loving character Mary emerges it’s flat. The costume designer’s have toned down the striking natural beauty of McAdams and saddled her with a frilly unflattering dress and a frumpy haircut. Why cast one of today’s most beautiful romantic comedy stars, only to attempt to make her look like Diane Keaton in a 1970′s Woody Allen movie? This distracting quibble aside, McAdams is a pro at this stuff by now, able to play these parts in her sleep. At least she looked more engaged than the sleepwalking she did through the thoroughly lame The Vow.

Thankfully this is a movie that is about more than a simple love story, it is about multiple relationships and the value of singular moments with loved ones. As the picture progress you’ll either go with Curtis’ sometime obvious emotional manipulation or be induced to sleep, I chose the former and found myself having to fight back that growing lump in the throat by film’s end.

Director: Richard Curtis
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

Lone Survivor (2013) – Review

4 Stars

Rebounding in spectacular fashion from the dismal naval themed Hasbro tie-in bomb Battleship, director Peter Berg and his top-notch cast deliver one of 2013′s best films. Taken from the first hand account of the failed mission Operation Red Wings in June of 2005, the gripping and thunderously intense tale is constantly involving and mercifully short at just under two hours. Having read the book by Marcus Luttrell, played here by a superb Mark Wahlberg, I was not quite sure what to expect from the ‘Hollywood’-ization by Berg and his cast of pretty boys. I’ll eat my words, as Lone Survivor the movie is as intense as the source material that inspired it. I loved this film, not only is it the most outstanding movie to deal with the Afghan conflict to date, but it is also one of the greatest war films ever made, period.
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‘R Xmas (2001) – Review

1/2 Star

It’s Christmas eve in the heart of Manhattan, and a young couple are caught up leading a dual life; loving parents by day, and heroin dealers by night. They have the seemingly idyllic life, until their financial empire begins to crumble. Double crossed by fellow dealers, who threaten to steal their profits and posts, the wife receives a message that her husband is being held , and she has 20 minutes to pay a hefty ransom or face his death.
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The Holiday (2006) – Review

2 Stars

The Holiday is so slight and unfocused after you’ve watched it, you don’t even feel like you’ve seen a movie. The stars do their best but Nancy Meyers’ script traps them inside a tale not worthy of a first draft from the normally dependable writer. There are two stories competing for our attention and neither are interesting enough to be told individually so it makes sense to combines the dueling narrative, I would have just expected a more cohesive melding from a leading voice in the genre.
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The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Edward Burns is one of my favorite actors, that he is as equally talented behind the camera is just a testament to the auteur spirit he possesses. Nearly two decade after bursting onto the indie scene with his irish family drama-comedy The Brothers McMullen, and the vastly overlooked She’s the One, Burns has finally recaptured the tone of those early projects and has delivered a film worthy of adding to the short list. Staying within his comfort zone as a storyteller, the New York based filmmaker once again sets his tale of estranged immediate family in the Empire State. In typical east-coast fashion, this is a christmas tale with an attitude.

Gerry Fitzgerald (Edward Burns) is the family patriarch, he is one of six siblings, each grown adults with busy lives and varying degrees of interest in keeping the family ties strong. It’s two days before Christmas and Gerry is in the final stages of organizing a family get together to celebrate their mother’s seventieth birthday. One by one and for different reasons, some valid, each child bails on the party. Leaving Rosie Fitzgerald (Anita Gillette) hurt and Gerry furious at his ungrateful brother and five sisters. Rosie brushes off the canceled party and rationalizes that all the family will still be together on Christmas Day as per tradition. Though this year will be a lot different from the past.

Straddled with a tough predicament, Gerry looks to confer with his broad about the reappearance of their father (Ed Lauter), who walked out on the family twenty years earlier. Dad is dying of pancreatic cancer and his wishes are to spend his last christmas with his large family. This of course leads to a lot of discussions and bickering between the grown children, and sides are drawn in the battle.

Burns’ script deftly handles over a dozen different characters, and he doesn’t short change any. Each sibling has a back story and current problems, indirectly related to the emotional scars left by their abandonment. Clichés are acknowledge but avoided for the majority, and the winning performances most notably from Anita Gillette as the doting and fiercely loyal mother Rosie Fitzgerald, help propel this touching Christmas movie into the top of Edward Burns’ work. The final scene and shot is a tear-jerker and well-deserved.

Director: Edward Burns
Stars: Edward Burns, Kerry Bishé, Connie Britton

The Best Man Holiday (2013) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Malcolm D. Lee delivers an excellent follow-up to his debut film nearly 15 ears after the original became a surprise hit and paved the way for the likes of Tyler Perry. Returning cast members all turn in solid performances and the camaraderie onscreen creates an infectious joy in the audience. Like the original this sequel runs for about 20 minutes longer than necessary and threatens to get overwhelmed by a heavy-handed plot twist late in the film. However, writer/director Lee deftly navigates the course and delivers an unabashedly romantic and funny new-age holiday classic.
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Spring Breakers (2013) – Review

1 Star

The opening few minutes of director Harmony Korine’s latest is exactly what one would expect from a film title Spring Breakers made outside of the studio system. Hedonistic titillation is gracelessly splashed across the screen until the barest semblance of a plot emerges from the anemic screenplay. If the entire shooting script ran more than 60 pages, I would be surprised. There is a tremendous amount of filler, which lends itself to the ad-lib naturalistic vibe that Kornie is popular for employing in his sparse filmography.
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Don Jon (2013) – Review

3 Stars

Don Jon is the first movie to deal with porn addiction in an honest manner, while wrapped in the guise of a romantic comedy. There are funny moments to be sure, Joseph Gordon Levitt proves himself a fine writer in addition to his equally talented acting chops. However, this is one of the rare films that directly responds to and address our modern sexual anxieties. The lead character is so frighteningly realistic, it is a wonder that he has not been pinned down in a movie before. Don Jon has the feel of something alive, and unforced, like it was easy to make–but it must not have been because movies this honest, offensive and likable hardly ever get made anymore, and certainly not by the major studios.
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The Postman (1997) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

If The Postman had been released prior to, rather than on the heels of the Waterworld debacle, it may have been mentioned in the same breath as Costner’s universally heralded masterpiece Dances With Wolves. This is a richly detailed, post apocalyptic tale that runs nearly three hours in length, yet remains swiftly paced and utterly watchable through out. Adapted from the novel by David Brin of the same name, the story is broken down into three major movements. Each as gripping as the last until a final thirty minutes that pulls all the combined elements together beautifully.
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Skin Deep (1989) – Review

2 Stars

Blake Edwards’ umpteenth mediation on alcoholic womanizers is a meandering affair, filled with moments of comedy and insight yet sidelined by a tone-deaf script and unlikable characters. Doing some of the best work of his career is John Ritter as Zach Hutton, a once great novelist now suffering from writers block and the effects of addiction to alcohol. However this isn’t a serious profile of the disease, but a playful ribbing of chauvinistic attitudes and 1980′s sexual promiscuity.
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Chico & Rita (2010) – Review

4 Stars

Chico & Rita is a dazzling adult animated film; filled with such rich detail of character, time, place and music that it transcends the genre. This isn’t the twisted work of Ralph Bakshi or Anime pandering to fanboys, but a full-blooded love-story set inside the frame-work of a musical that transpires over the course of five harsh decades. This a fantastic film that deserves adulation for its endless visual creativity and intelligent writing, to the exceptional music performed by Cuban legend Bebo Valdés.

Chico is a womanizing piano player, looking for the right female vocalist to front a duo. One night in a club in Havana he meets Rita, a beautiful woman with the right look and sound. Chico is infatuated and relentlessly purses Rita, eventually romancing her and thus convincing the talented singer to partner up in the quest of getting from Cuba to New York, with the likes of Tito Puente and Chano Pozo. Before long the love affair goes south and threatens the newly formed union on a personal and professional level.

In a moment of weakness Rita is signed by a rival talent agency that sends her to America and leaves Chico without an act. In the States, Rita rises to the top of the musical world and is even headlining movies, something that is not lost on Chico, who catches a screening while touring with Dizzy Gillespie in Europe. The competing success of both parties and years of hardened emotions leads to a number of bitter and serendipitous encounters.

Would this story have the same impact if it had been filmed live-action? I don’t believe so. Firstly, the period production detail would have been far too costly to recreate, whereas the animation allows the artists to imagine virtually any environment or landscape to accommodate the evolving story. Chico & Rita is a nearly flawless movie with only a few lapses in narrative momentum, but the startling weight of the story and splendor of the visual style add aesthetic beauty to a heart-breaking show-biz love story.

Director:Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal

Side Effects (2013) – Review

4 Stars

Side Effects is a movie that blindsided me. From its subdued opening to the far-reaching and nearly over-the-top conclusion, this is a film that never steps wrong, not for a scene or line of dialogue. Perfectly capturing the tone that has eluded the likes of Brian Depalma, and even lesser filmmakers for the last 40 years. Steven Soderbergh has quietly delivered one of the year’s best films, and if this is his last feature (as widely reported), it’s a graceful bow-out. Two years ago Contagion appeared on my Top 10 Best of the year list, I have a strong suspicion that Side Effects may top-line that list this year. Featuring a star-studded cast doing career best work, Soderbergh has concocted a twisted crime-thriller that delivers one of the years best head-trips.
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Officer Down (2013) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Officer Down has a distinguished cast of veteran actors capable of elevating standard material into something from its mediocre roots. Stephen Dorff has toiled with stardom for nearly 25 years and yet never attained the leading man status that befitted the likes of Christian Slater. Dorff has had a rough time finding mainstream success but has quietly racked up quite a resume on the qt. In addition to working with Sophia Coppola in the dreamy Somewhere, Dorff has also shared the screen with acting luminaries William Dafoe and Wesley Snipes.
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