Beautiful & Twisted (2015) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Rob Lowe executive produced and stars in this off-beat and highly entertaining television movie, chronicling the sordid love affair between a mega rich/eccentric hotel heir and his wife, a former stripper turned murderer. Balancing a campy tone with real life violence, this is based on a whacked out true story, can be a difficult act. For the most part Beautiful & Twisted manages to be successful. Finding cinematic inspiration that ranges from Mommie Dearest to Fargo, the filmmakers have applied a stylized touch to material that is darker than the visual design would suggest.
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The Gambler (2014) – Review

4 Stars

Mark Wahlberg stars as a destructive addict whose sole joy in life is wagering high amounts of money that he doesn’t have the means of paying off. The Gambler is an updated retelling of James Toback’s fantastic screenplay, this version has been covered by Oscar-winning scribe William Monahan, and nearly everything works. From the small supporting characters to the lead, all have juicy lines to savor and the up-to-the task casting makes for an easily digestible movie-going experience.
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Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Historical inaccuracies be damned, Ridley Scott’s biblical epic is a rousing achievement. Anchored by two solid leading men in stars Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, Exodus manages to get the pulse pounding even if the details are a bit shaky. Scott has dedicated this tale of warring brothers to his late brother, Tony Scott. Perhaps, this explains why the director has chosen to adapt the tale of Moses’ exile and eventual return to Memphis as an action film mixed with a disaster epic. Purist and fans of Cecile B. Demille’s work have cried foul, but Scott’s take can’t be dismissed so easily.
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Jersey Boys (2014) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

I’m admittedly not a fan of musicals, but Jersey Boys is one of the best to come along. There have been a select few over the years that have been memorable, but typically the genre bores me to tears. Story momentum is constantly broken by three or four-minute interludes that do nothing but serve as either bad karaoke or just bad music. Oddly, Jersey Boys contains all my usual quibbles with the genre, all the musical bio-pic clich├ęs abound, and still I enjoyed this picture. The performances are winning-if a bit theatrical-and the direction from Eastwood is sublimely handled. Fans of the stage production have cried out in regards to the toned down aesthetic of this film version, but that is appropriate given the medium and the seriousness of the tale.
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Interstellar (2014) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious sci-fi project is a visually beautiful experience. The often stunning effects work and set designs are among the most striking committed to screen. Obviously inspired by 2001, Solaris, and a host of other ‘high-minded’ space parables, Interstellar is at its most appealing before its main character launches into orbit on a mission to save humanity. The thespian pyrotechnics are laid on thick as each of the film’s three major stars is given numerous close-ups while shedding tears. The hoped for emotional impact on audience members is virtually non-existent, the final scene in Armageddon pulled more tears, although this is admittedly Nolan’s most heartfelt work to date.
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Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (2014) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

Lifetime network has produced their second musical bio-pic of the year, like the previously released TLC Story, this retelling of majestic R&B singer Aaliyah Haughton is a flimsy piece of patchwork filmmaking. The end product is laughably bad in spots, with no participation from any surviving members of the Haughton family or any professional collaborators, the film is void of her iconic music and insight into the artists motivations. On the positive side, this rekindling of the pubic’s one-time love affair for the beautiful and equally talented singer, should ignite sales of her record catalogue.
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The Judge (2014) – Review

3 Stars

The Judge is a slickly entertaining package, beautifully photographed on well-chosen locations populated with actors that handle this material with off-handed ease. It’s the kind of legal courtroom drama we’ve seen a thousand times before. Although, nobody told leads, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, both of whom devour their scenes and faithfully perform as if they’re in another, better movie. The result is a commercial product of ‘importance’ run through the Hollywood mill, homogenized, drawn-out, and given a shiny gloss.
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St. Vincent (2014) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

St. Vincent is the first truly good film I’ve seen this winter. This time of year OSCAR hopefuls are unveiled every weekend leading up to the new year. A number of those so-called important films have been disappointments, now we have the crotchety screen veteran Bill Murray to save the season. St. Vincent is predictable to be sure, but there are many comedic delights and dramatic events unfolding to keep the film on-track.
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Runaway Train (1985) – Review

4 Stars

Runaway Train is undoubtedly the best ‘film’ ever produced and released under the Cannon Films banner. Directed with remarkable precision by Russian helmer Andrei Konchalovsky, based on a screenplay that originated from the mind of Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, this is truly an action-thriller that delivers. Jon Voight and Eric Roberts earned Oscar nominations for their portrayals of two escaped convicts who find themselves in an even worse predicament.
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A Breed Apart (1986) – Review

1 Star

A Breed Apart is a curious mixture of Rambo, Robinson Crusoe, and Southern Comfort, with an environmental conservation message. The two main characters are driven men, one fights to protect the wilderness, the other is out to capture a rare bald eagle egg for a rich collector. The always watchable Powers Boothe rescues this nature adventure from the ranks of bomb, just from his steely presence. Hauer, on the other hand appears to be recycling his Blade Runner performance in another setting.
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Snake Eyes (1998) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Brian DePalma will forever be remembered for his lasting contributions to film and pop culture with Carrie and Scarface. Yet, it’s his lesser known fare that proves the most satisfying. Among, those titles is Snake Eyes. Featuring a story concocted with prolific screenwriter David Koepp, shot in dazzling fashion by Stephen H. Burum, and laced with an energetic turn from Nicolas Cage, Snake Eyes is DePalma’s unheralded masterpiece.
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The Monuments Men (2014) – Review

2 Stars

George Clooney’s continued fascination with the golden era of cinema and the birth of Americana culture is further explored in his latest directing assignment, The Monuments Men. This, his fifth film behind the camera, is a mixed bag of good scenes tied together in the loosest possible manner. While better than his last two pictures, The Monuments Men isn’t able to reach the creative style or emotional intensity of his debut feature, Good Night, and Good Luck. Packed with a talented cast of thespian Expendables, the story struggles to incorporate each character with enough obstacles to sustain interest, using their literal face value for stereotypical recognition is appreciated otherwise these soldiers would be indistinguishable.
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Gone Girl (2014) – Review

2 Stars

An astute master craftsman’s befuddled love letter to the two directors he loves most: Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher. The resulting movie, taken from the book by Gillian Flynn and interwoven with the director’s almost trademark nihilism, is watchable for the first 45 minutes or so, until ludicrous plot turns and genuinely unlikable characters cave the story in on itself. It’s tempting to dismiss Gone Girl as topical sensationalism. But Fincher’s film is too meticulously crafted to write off as mere exploitation. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly boring.
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Rage (2014) – Review

2 Stars

Nicholas Cage has played nearly every type of role onscreen. From cop to convict, addict to dealer, this performer has tackled them all. Now, in the simply titled, Rage, Cage is Paul Maguire, a retired gangster with a renewed blood lust. For a movie with such an aggressive name and a star with a predilection for over-the-top theatrics, the flick is not nearly as violent or action-packed as suggested. Instead we have a revenge-thriller with familiar plot elements, and an on-the-noise denouncement that violence begets violence. The saving grace of the picture is the patently off-kilter line readings from Cage and a late in the game surprise ending that is earned.
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