Creed (2015) – Review

4 Stars

Earlier this year there was much pre-release Oscar buzz for the boxing flick Southpaw. That film and its lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal were being mentioned as possible heavyweights on Academy Awards night, all sight unseen. Then the movie came out and despite a remarkable physique change for Jake Gyllenhaal, Southpaw was instantly forgettable. Now, comes the most unlikeliest of Oscar contenders in Creed. Resurrecting a franchise that has spawned nearly 40 years, writer/director Ryan Coogler (a Bay Area native) does a remarkably nimble job of sculpting a love-letter to the series and for long-time fans of Balboa.
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Flashpoint (1984) – Review

3 Stars

Long before Cormack McCarthy and the Coen Brothers collaborated on the Oscar-winning classic, No Country for Old Men, a similarly plotted thriller Flashpoint, dealt with the same themes. Released in 1984 to little fanfare both critically and commercially, it now waits to be rediscovered by audiences that may appreciate it’s offbeat script and electronic score from 1980’s staple Tangerine Dream.
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The Martian (2015) – Review

3 Stars

The Martian continues the recent trend of giving audiences intelligent, supposedly scientifically accurate, space melodramas. While it doesn’t scale the emotional heights and technical wizardry of Gravity, it trumps the confused storytelling in the overly ambitious Interstellar. This is perhaps Matt Damon’s most appealing performance and Ridley Scott hasn’t displayed this sort of nimbleness behind the camera in sometime.
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Cape Fear (1991) – Review

3 Stars

Cape Fear is a mostly successful psychological thriller from Martin Scorsese. This remake of the 1962 film of the same name that starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, casts Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro in the same roles, respectively. Re-using a thunderous score from Elmer Bernstein and working from a taunt script courtesy of scribe Wesley Stick, who adapted the original screenplay which was also based on a novel by John D. MacDonald, Scorsese builds a film of increasing intensity until the whole thing gets so over-heated by the final reel that the story veers into melodrama.
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Angel Heart (1987) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Alan Parker’s hellish vision of 1950’s film noir mixed with 1980’s horror genre creates an often magnificent and always interesting piece of work, even if the story strays into the overblown and preposterous on occasion. Mickey Rourke is ideally cast in the role of bumbling gumshoe Harry Angel, I was just waiting for the line, “I’m no Angel,” but the screenwriters have shown great restraint in not stating the obvious. Gorgeous production design and imaginative use of lighting are the strongest elements, in the good-looking and overly ambitious, Angel Heart.
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Dead Man Down (2013) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Dead Man Down is a deadly serious movie, about serious people, doing serious things. The melancholy mood set early weighs on the story until the hardboiled crime thriller threatens to turn overwrought along the path to its conclusion. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, re-teaming with his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace, has crafted a modern noir with overt shades of European new wave cinematic storytelling. That sensibility works for the film in the stark opening passages, where the audience must piece things together quickly with virtually zero exposition or initiation.
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McFarland, USA (2015) – Review

4 Stars

From its opening frame till the final shot McFarland, USA is right on target. Thanks to swift, assured direction from New Zealander Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) and another winning performance from Kevin Costner, the film never lags for interest and proves, yet again, that a sports movie can raise themes that stimulate the mind and tug at the heartstrings. McFarland, USA is ideal family viewing for those tired of animated fare.
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The Loft (2015) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

I sort of enjoyed the juicy pulp trash aspect of, The Loft. This is more an exercise in screenwriting principles and genre conventions than anything else. The picture is undeniably well-cast and it has been lensed with skill. Director Erik Van Looy is the man behind the camera, adapting his own Dutch-language Belgium film into an American remake. I have not seen the original so I can’t tell you if much has been altered. As it plays, The Loft is entertaining in the moment if not memorable, with a few shots and sequences out of the DePalma aping Hitchcock playbook.
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Blackhat (2015) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

2015 has seen established respected filmmakers hitting career lows. Cameron Crowe’s lame Aloha was especially disappointing. Now, Michael Mann joins the list with the goofy techno-thriller Blackhat. This is a film that is desperately trying to be ‘of it’s time’, but continually relies on genre conventions that are at least twenty years old.
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The Unauthorized Full House Story (2015) – Review

2 Stars

The Lifetime Network has recently found great viewership (and critical derision) by delving into ‘unauthorized’ behind the scenes tele-movies based on wildly popular 1980s-1990s television programs. The script here is based on rumors, publicized contract negotiations and creative fluff. Sporting a script that hasn’t been adapted from a memoir, interview or talent themselves, the story is a sometimes amusing but extremely predictable series of events that led to Full House latching onto the national zeitgeist.
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Aloha (2015) – Review

1 Star

Aloha is unquestionably Cameron Crowe’s weakest film to date. It is unfocused, forced, and lacking any sort of narrative drive. Since the script was written by Crowe (in addition to directing duties) there are occasional glimmers and specks of the talent shining through but, too often characters become irritating. Another fatal flaw is the blatant misuse of the collective star power of Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray and Danny Mcbride, all wasted in throwaway roles.
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Strange Days (1995) – Review

3 Stars

Kathryn Bigelow’s ambitious, futuristic tale is a rambling opus that features just enough fresh elements to qualify as a recommendation. This is a technically dazzling film that attempts to tell a traditional murder mystery within the framework of a sci-fi thriller. The most surprising aspect of the story is a sub-plot about an assassinated militant rap artist, this creates turmoil in the streets between citizens and law enforcement. All of this takes place on the last days of the millennium as growing concerns mounts and general anarchy is the rule of the day.
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American Sniper (2014) – Review

3 Stars

American Sniper is a movie that has aspirations for greatness but settles for being a rather ordinary film about an exceptional human being, Chris Kyle. Clint Eastwood’s dialed back withdrawn directional style is an awkward fit for such an impassioned story. Stars Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller have never been better used, both do OSCAR worthy work. The real life tragedy of Chris Kyle’s death is acknowledged yet, mercifully not shown.
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The Identical (2014) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

The Identical opens with a gorgeous shot of a Cadillac driving along a dirt road in the middle of a deserted cotton field. It’s Alabama 1972, in the back of the luxury car sits Drexel ‘The Dream’ Hemsley (Blake Rayne), sipping on the last of a bourbon cocktail. The look and strange behavior of the character is supposed to invoke an obvious Elvis Presley comparison. Hemsley rolls down the window and peers out to the long stretching acres. The ghost of field workers from the past begin to appear. It’s a sequence that works and it’s noteworthy, because very little else works.
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Paranoia (2013) – Review

2 Stars

If John Grisham ever penned a YA novel and Oliver Stone adapted it for the screen, it would look and play a lot like Paranoia. This is an example of a perfectly mediocre movie. It’s a corporate-thriller b-movie with an A-list cast hamming it up. Slick visuals and a pulsating score unsuccessfully attempt to elevate this routine material.
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