Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hateship Loveship

Kristen Wiig takes a break from the comedies to play a lonely sad sack moving from one home to another to care for people, and her life changes when she takes on a dysfunctional family with grandpa (Nick Nolte), dad (Guy Pearce), and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld).  Considering the talent involved, this one really disappoints.  It's quiet, slow moving, and boring throughout and ultimately goes nowhere of interest.

'Hateship Loveship' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: D+

Who is this movie for?  You could do worse, but no one need waste their time with this one.

Friday, April 11, 2014

In Theaters Now - 4/11/14

(new releases in green)

Rob the Mob       Grade: A

Non-Stop      Grade: A-

Sabotage       Grade: A-

Draft Day       Grade: A-

Le Week-End       Grade: A-

Nymphomaniac: Volume I       Grade: B+   (Also available on VOD)

The Unknown Known       Grade: B+

Bad Words       Grade: B+

Dom Hemingway       Grade: B+

Captain America: The Winter Soldier       Grade: B+

The Monuments Men       Grade: B

Divergent       Grade: B

Nymphomaniac: Volume II       Grade: B   (Also available on VOD)

Cuban Fury      Grade: B-

The Lego Movie       Grade: C/B/A * (see review)

The Grand Budapest Hotel       Grade: C-

Additional Films Not Reviewed:
300: Rise of an Empire
Child's Pose
Finding Vivian Maier
Frankie & Alice
God's Not Dead
The Lunchbox
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Muppets Most Wanted
Need for Speed
On My Way
The Raid 2
Rio 2
Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club
Son of God

Draft Day

Kevin Costner's comeback continues in his third of five films scheduled for release this year (which already included Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and 3 Days to Kill.)  This time he plays the GM of the Cleveland Browns, wheeling and dealing on NFL draft day to make his current team stronger without sacrificing future picks, upsetting his coach (Denis Leary), jeopardizing his relationships with his coworker/girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) and his mother (Ellen Burstyn), and still managing to keep his job by appeasing the team's owner (Frank Langella).  It's not easy being GM on draft day!

Full disclosure: I'm not a sports watcher at all.  And I've never given the NFL draft a moment of thought.  So, for me, this film by veteran filmmaker Ivan Reitman made for a very entertaining and interesting watch.  It's a look behind the curtain at the business dealings behind football, much like Moneyball was for baseball.  And while not quite as highbrow or A-list as 'Moneyball' (so don't expect any nominations), it's a smooth, likeable and feel good film, making it a great choice that should entertain men and women, sports fans and non-sports fans alike.  Go see it this weekend.

Grade: A- 

Who is this movie for?  Everyone.

Dom Hemingway

I've been looking forward to this film ever since it premiered at Toronto last September, mainly because I think Jude Law is terrific, and this just seemed like a great vehicle for him, and it's directed by Richard Shepard who made the overlooked gems 'The Matador' and 'The Hunting Party'. 

Law plays Dom Hemingway, a convict getting out of prison after 12 years.  Of course he could have significantly shortened his sentence and returned to his family years earlier, had he just snitched on his partners in crime.  But he didn't.  And now he wants what he thinks he deserves for his silence.  It's a Cockney English dark comedy that reminded me more than a little of 'Sexy Beast', at least during the first (and better) half.  The story takes a few turns along the way, but not in a great direction.  This is a very good movie, and at times even a great movie, with a hell of a great performance by Law, reciting some tongue twisting monologues in his thick Cockney.  But unfortunately the film is uneven.  I definitely would have preferred it without the family drama in the second half, and just kept it as a dark comedy throughout.

Grade: B+

Who is this move for?  Those who love the British crime dark comedies where the Cockney leads use the c--- word an awful lot.

Cuban Fury

Nick Frost (best known for his many collaborations with Simon Pegg) decided he wanted to make a movie where he Salsa dances.  And apparently that's all it takes to get a movie greenlit.  Who knew?

Frost plays a loveable overweight loser who never gets the girl.  In fact, he knows better so he never even tries.  But when Rashida Jones takes over as the new boss in his office he instantly crushes on her.  The problem is he needs to keep his nemesis, the office pig (Chris O'Dowd), from getting to her first.  How can he win her over first?  Salsa!

Yup, this is every bit as trite as it sounds.  Frankly, I could have written this script in about 10 minutes while sitting on the toilet, but the key to getting it made is getting a likeable cast, and Frost, Jones, and O'Dowd (along with Ian McShane) fit the bill.  They're plenty likeable.  But not enough to make this romantic comedy with no believable romance and only sporadic comedy worth your time.  It's not that it's bad.  It's just not good enough to choose it over all the other options.  Of course I was fortunate to have Nick Frost appear in person for a Q&A afterwards, and that was definitely the highlight of the evening for me.  If you get that opportunity, by all means go for it!

Grade: B-

Who is this movie for?  Only those who are jonesing for a comedy and need to see one in the theater stat!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Goodbye World

A more intimate, 'Big Chill'-ish spin on the apocalypse.  Adrian Grenier, Kerry Bishe, Gaby Hoffman, and Mark Webber are among the ensemble cast of friends, family, spouses, lovers, and ex-es who gather together in a remote house during what seems to be the world collapsing over what starts as a text message received by millions that just says 'goodbye world'.  There isn't anything new here, but the likeable (and attractive) cast makes it an enjoyable enough watch.

'Goodbye World' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: B

Who is this movie for?  Those that can't get enough apocalypse films.


Are there any horror buffs out there who aren't sick to death of found footage films that are basically all the same?  (Apparently there are because the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are pretty good for this copycat.)

In this one two buddies go touring the world, and one of them hooks up with the wrong girl who effectively turns him into a vampire.  And the rest is exactly what you expect.  If you're new to the genre and you've never seen 'V/H/S', 'Chronicle', and all the other (better ones) that came out over the last few years, you'll be entertained.  But I have, so I wasn't.  And people need to stop encouraging these to be made.  There's nothing wrong with this movie, but unless you're going to bring something new to the table, I'm bored by them and y'all should be too.

'Afflicted' is now available on Video On Demand.

Grade: C

Who is this movie for?   Anyone who isn't yet tired of found footage horror films.  Personally I recommend 'V/H/S' and 'Chronicle', or the much scarier Spanish horror film '[REC]'.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Rob the Mob

It's always great to get a reminder why I love to check out films that come out of nowhere with no buzz.  Sometimes they're great.  And they're even better when you don't expect them to be.

Based on a true story during the John Gotti trial in 1992, Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda play ex-cons trying to go straight.  But it's hard making an honest living in this world, and when opportunity presents itself, they decide to rob the mob.

That generic plot could result in a wide range of films.  This one is a completely engaging one, that pulls you in from start to finish largely due to characters that you really care about.  Director Raymond De Felitta ('City Island') does it again, and wows me when I wasn't expecting it, though this time with a more serious tone.  The cast is tremendous including Andy Garcia, Ray Romano, Frank Whaley, Griffin Dunne, Cathy Moriarty, and Burt Young.  It's 'Bonnie and Clyde' meets 'True Romance' meets 'Goodfellas' (but not as quirky or as violent.)  To me, it's the best movie of the year so far.  See it in limited release in theaters now.

Grade: A

Who is this move for?  Mafia movie mavens.  Though it's more character driven, less violent, and even more romantic than most of them.

Friday, April 4, 2014

In Theaters Now - 4/4/14

(new releases in green)

Rob the Mob       Grade: A

Non-Stop       Grade: A-

Sabotage       Grade: A-

Le Week-End       Grade: A-

Nymphomaniac: Volume I       Grade: B+   (Also available on VOD)

The Unknown Known      Grade: B+

Enemy       Grade: B+

Bad Words       Grade: B+

Captain America: The Winter Soldier        Grade: B+

Veronica Mars       Grade: B+   (Also available on VOD)

The Monuments Men       Grade: B

Divergent       Grade: B

Nymphomaniac: Volume II      Grade: B    (Also available on VOD)

Cesar Chavez       Grade: B

Cheap Thrills       Grade: C+   (Also available on VOD)

The Lego Movie       Grade: C/B/A * (see review)

The Grand Budapest Hotel       Grade: C-

Ride Along       Grade: D+

The Wind Rises       Grade: D- *

Additional Films Not Reviewed:
300: Rise of an Empire
Ernest & Celestine
Frankie & Alice
God's Not Dead
Island of Lemurs: Madagascar
The Lunchbox
The Missing Picture
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Muppets Most Wanted
Need for Speed
On My Way
Particle Fever
Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club
Son of God

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Those that know me and/or follow my blog know that I'm often pretty harsh on Marvel comic book films.  But let's be honest; They often deserve it, being formulaic and pandering to a wide audience appeal, thereby taking no risks at all.  The bottom line is that if a studio is spending $250M - $500M on a film including marketing and distribution costs, they can't afford to take on unnecessary risk by making it edgy in any way.  And that's the biggest problem with Hollywood tentpole pictures.  Of course, within the range of safe Hollywood blockbusters, there are obviously some that are better and some that are worse, and I'm happy to say I was fairly pleased with this one.  I wasn't a huge fan of the first one, 'Captain America: The First Avenger' in 2011, but I found this one to be a big step in the right direction, and in some ways reminiscent of (but not nearly as good as) 'The Dark Knight Rises'.  Rather than hit you over the head with super heroes, super villains, and mystical alien objects, this one is more of a crime drama steeped realism.  To be clear, it doesn't hold a candle to The Dark Knight trilogy, but it's a hell of a lot better than those terrible Thor films, the action scenes are pretty good, and the storyline is topical.  And adding Robert Redford to the mix adds some old Hollywood to class it up and balance out the fresh faced action heroes like Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.  It held my attention for the entire 2 hours and 16 minutes and all in all was a pleasant surprise.  And that Lawrence Fishburne is always entertaining.  What?  It wasn't Lawrence Fishburne??  Samuel L. who???

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Fans of the first Captain America and of Marvel comic films in general won't be disappointed.

The Unknown Known

Let me guess.  You're wondering why you would want to spend 103 minutes in a dark theater watching an interview with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when you could be watching Captain America kick some ass?  Fair question.  One is undeniably the most patriotic super hero and the other has been judged by many to be the polar opposite.  Well I won't get all political here, but I will tell you that whatever your political stance, I think you'll find this to be a really interesting documentary.  Rumsfeld comes pretty clean on everything he did while in office, and gives you his view on those decisions in retrospect.  And it may just change your opinion of him.  This man who was one of the key people who led us to war in Iraq comes across as your friendliest of grandpas.  He even won over Bill Maher to some degree, though he didn't have the same impact on director Errol Morris.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Political junkies, documentary fans, and those looking to avoid super heroes in spandex.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

First Quarter of 2014

Well, we're already one quarter through 2014 so it's time for my quarter end review.  Below is a summary of my grades for the 69 films I saw released in the first quarter of 2014.  Many of these are available right now on Video on Demand, so be sure to check out my What to See on VOD post for some lazy days at home.

There weren't very many wide release movies worth seeing this quarter, which is typical for the first quarter of the year.  But 'Non-Stop', 'Sabotage', and 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' are all much better than the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic would have you believe.  Don't listen to the fools on there.  In Flieder on Film We Trust, right?

However, there were a decent amount of great finds on Video on Demand this quarter.  Horror and crime dramas were particularly strong.  'Open Grave', '13 Sins', and 'In Fear' are three horror films that any horror buff should definitely check out.  'Jamesy Boy', 'Blood Ties', and 'McCanick' are three crime dramas worth your time if you like that genre.  And, if you prefer the lighter fare, try 'Better Living Through Chemistry', the heist film 'The Art of the Steal', the romance 'Barefoot', or two great documentaries 'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me' and 'We Cause Scenes'.  All of these films are currently available on Video on Demand.  (I use Amazon and Xfinity, which are usually priced the same but occasionally different.)

However, while my focus on this blog remains films, I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight the best movie-like option, not just of the year, but of recent history.  Yes, I of course refer to 'True Detective'.  For those of you living in a cave, this is a new anthology series on HBO which will feature a different story and a different cast each season.  This season starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two detectives on the trail of a satanic serial killer.  And it's my favorite movie or TV show I've seen in quite some time.  The acting, the dialogue, the cinematography, the direction, the opening theme/montage and really every aspect of it is just about perfect.  In my opinion, it's filmmaking at its finest and deserves nothing less than an A++, a grade I have not yet given out to anything else.  It's only 8 hours long, available on HBO on Demand, and will be released on DVD/Blu-Ray on June 10.  I hope you enjoy it nearly as much as I did, though I'm sure some will not, and will kindly offer me their "feedback".  Que Sera Sera.

  1. Open Grave       Grade: A
  2. Non-Stop        Grade: A-
  3. Sabotage        Grade: A-
  4. 13 Sins        Grade: A-
  5. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me       Grade: A-
  6. Better Living Through Chemistry       Grade: A-
  7. Le Week-End        Grade: A-
  8. Jamesy Boy       Grade: A-
  9. Blood Ties       Grade: A-
  10. We Cause Scenes       Grade: A-
  11. Nymphomaniac: Volume I      Grade: B+
  12. McCanick       Grade: B+
  13. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit       Grade: B+
  14. The Art of the Steal        Grade: B+
  15. Barefoot        Grade: B+
  16. Enemy        Grade: B+
  17. Bad Words        Grade: B+
  18. Veronica Mars       Grade: B+
  19. Chlorine       Grade: B+
  20. Big Bad Wolves       Grade: B+
  21. Grand Piano       Grade: B+
  22. Odd Thomas       Grade: B+
  23. About Last Night       Grade: B+
  24. In Fear       Grade: B+
  25. The Bag Man       Grade: B+
  26. Journey to the West     Grade: B+
  27. The Monuments Men       Grade: B
  28. At Middleton       Grade: B
  29. Divergent       Grade: B
  30. Robocop       Grade: B
  31. Nymphomaniac: Volume II       Grade: B
  32. Cesar Chavez       Grade: B
  33. The Face of Love       Grade: B
  34. Alan Partridge      Grade: B
  35. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones       Grade: B
  36. 3 Days to Kill       Grade: B-
  37. Winter's Tale        Grade: B-
  38. I, Frankenstein       Grade: B-
  39. 7 Boxes        Grade: B-
  40. A Birder's Guide to Everything        Grade: B-
  41. Jimmy P.        Grade: C+
  42. The Best Offer        Grade: C+
  43. Cheap Thrills        Grade: C+
  44. Adult World        Grade: C+
  45. Reasonable Doubt        Grade: C+
  46. That Awkward Moment        Grade: C+
  47. Run & Jump        Grade: C
  48. Endless Love        Grade: C
  49. The Lego Movie        Grade: C/B/A * (see review)
  50. In Secret       Grade: C-
  51. Cold Comes the Night       Grade: C-
  52. Maidentrip       Grade: C-
  53. The Grand Budapest Hotel        Grade: C-
  54. The Rocket      Grade: C-
  55. A Field in England        Grade: D+
  56. Pompeii        Grade: D+
  57. Haunt        Grade: D+
  58. Ride Along        Grade: D+
  59. Devil's Due        Grade: D
  60. The Wait        Grade: D
  61. As the Palaces Burn      Grade: D
  62. Knights of Badassdom       Grade: D
  63. The Legend of Hercules        Grade: D
  64. A Fantastic Fear of Everything        Grade: D-
  65. Awful Nice      Grade: D-
  66. Back in the Day        Grade: D-
  67. Maladies      Grade: D-
  68. Hide Your Smiling Faces        Grade: D-
  69. Summer in February       Grade: F

Films Not Reviewed:
300: Rise of an Empire
Afternoon of a Faun
Ernest & Celestine
God's Not Dead
If You Build It
Kids for Cash
The Lunchbox
Like Father Like Son
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Muppets Most Wanted
Need for Speed
The Nut Job
Particle Fever
Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club
Son of God
Stranger By The Lake
Vampire Academy

13 Sins

How far would you go for money?  Mark Webber plays an everyman about to get married and with a disabled brother dependent upon him, when he suddenly loses his job.  So when he receives a mysterious phone call offering him increasingly large cash prizes for each of 13 challenges he completes he can't say no.  It sounds a lot like Cheap Thrills which also came out recently on Video on Demand, but it's much, much better here.  In fact, this could be the start of the next great horror franchise.  Catch it at the very beginning!  It's great disturbing fun!  And anything with Ron Perlman in it is always worth seeing.

'13 Sins' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: A-

Who is this movie for?  Fans of the better horror franchises like 'Saw'.

Blood Ties

Two brothers, one a cop (Billy Crudup) and one an ex-con (Clive Owen) must coexist within the bonds of family all the while going their polar opposite paths.  A tremendous cast including James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Lili Taylor, Noah Emmerich, and Griffin Dunne and a compelling story make me wonder why this crime drama got such a limited release in theaters.  Fortunately you can see it on Video on Demand.

Grade: A-  (Perhaps a bit generously)

Who is this movie for?  Fans of crime dramas and family conflict.  Pair it with Jamesy Boy for a good crime drama double feature of films no one has seen, both now on VOD.