Catch Hell (2014) – Review

3 Stars

Imagine Deliverance, Black Snake Moan, and JCVD re-envisioned through the satirical haze of Robert Altman, these are the heavy influences of Ryan Phillippe’s directorial debut. Shot on a small budget and confined to limited actors and locations, Catch Hell is a hell of a lot better than it probably should have turned out. Recently fellow thespian turned first time helmer Ryan Gosling spawned the horrendous Lost River, at least Phillipe’s foray is literate, structured and not out to punish its audience, only its lead character and by extension Phillippe himself.
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Hours (2013) – Review

3 Stars

He paces anxiously back and forth in the waiting room. Outside the torrential rains from Hurricane Katrina beat on the building, threatening to break through the Hospital’s windows. Soon a doctor appears to inform Alex (Paul Walker) that his wife has passed away during childbirth. His newborn daughter is weeks premature and being kept alive in an incubator, with assistance to her breathing. The infants precious life hangs in the balance until she cries for the first time, a clear sign her lungs and respiratory system are functioning. Before long the storm has caused an emergency evacuation of all hospital employees, leaving Alex behind to care for his vulnerable offspring.
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Last Knights (2015) – Review

3 Stars

Last Knight isn’t half bad, but its also half the movie it probably could have been. Commander Raiden (Clive Owen) leader of the seventh battalion was once a man prone to drink and the violence that comes with such a darkened state. Now, years removed from his wayward years Raiden is a first knight, and has been appointed heir to the throne of Bartok (Morgan Freeman).”A man should be praised for his rehabilitation, not judged for it.” says the youngest member of Raiden’s ranks. Little does the young man know that darkness is about to descend on Raiden once again.
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Eight Men Out (1988) – Review

4 Stars

What is it about the sport of Baseball that so easily translates to the screen? If you were to make a list of the best sports movies of all-time, I’m positive movies about baseball would comprise the majority of the spots. On that proverbial list, would surely be John Sayles’ excellent film Eight Men Out. This is a picture as concerned with organized crime, greed, workers unions, and sports writers as much as it has to do with the game itself. From the opening shot of a young boy running through the crowed streets of Chicago circa 1919 on his way to the ballpark to catch the White Sox, Sayles establishes an authoritative tone on the story, which is told with clarity, and a level of sympathy towards the outcast players.
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The Factory (2012) – Review

3 Stars

John Cusack has recently found himself stranded in the wasteland of direct-to-DVD fare, and it may be faint praise, but he has consistently chosen the top project in the second tier realm of filmmaking. The Factory has been released as part of the Dark Castle/Warner Bros pact, specializing in genre pictures with recognizable cast members and violent story lines. This is an implausible, yet entertaining police procedural that packs a well-deserved surprise ending.
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Focus (2015) – Review

3 Stars

Focus tells a story that could only transpire in the movies. This is a tale of con artists but it’s told with the same cool detachment that tonally defined other similar adult themed capers like Out of Sight and The Thomas Crown Affair. It also share a romanticized view of criminals that was so prevalent in those titles too. Sure, the main characters are thieves but they are portrayed as cool — too cool, in fact, for this low-key film to develop much heat.
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A Most Violent Year (2014) – Review

4 Stars

40 years have passed since the release of cinema’s most influential film, The Godfather. In those following decades many lesser films emerged in its shadow begging comparison. Some have even been remarkably close at capturing certain aspects of what made that landmark film an all time classic. J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year rightfully deserves comparison to Coppola’s heralded series. Everything from the casting of Oscar Isaac, who bears a striking resemblance to Pacino circa 1972, to the lighting design that frequently backlights characters to offer ominous silhouettes and shadows, and the central theme of a good man attempting to stay the righteous course on his way to success in America, have been lifted from Puzo and Coppola’s work. Shockingly, A Most Violent Year doesn’t feel like a retread but as if it’s been locked in a time capsule for 35 years and newly discovered, this movie is so good it could serve as companion piece.
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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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