Monday, January 31, 2011

Takers


This loud, action film about bank robbers is jam packed with tough guys, gunplay, fight sequences, and explosions.  A crew of 'Takers' including Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, and Michael Ealy get involved in a rushed armed money truck heist.  But cop Matt Dillon is on the lookout for the bad guys.  This film is all adrenaline and style, but no substance.  But, for the dude flick that it is, it's not terrible.  It's just not memorable.  Come next week, I probably won't be able to differentiate 'The Takers' from 'The Losers'.  Of course they're both light years better than 'The Expendables'.  But for a much better film about bank robbers, stick with 'The Town'.

Grade: C+

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mother and Child


'Mother and Child' is an ensemble film about three complicated women with issues related to their mothers and their children.  Thus the title.  Annette Bening plays an angry woman living with her elderly mom, and has a bit of a mysterious past and an estranged daughter.  Kerry Washington plays a woman desperate to adopt a child with her husband.  And Naomi Watts is a career driven women completely out of touch with her emotions.  The supporting cast includes Samuel Jackson and Jimmy Smits.

Not surprisingly, this is a film about women, for women.  It is suprising, however, that it was written and directed by a man.  Rodrigo Garcia seems to have a knack for writing interesting parts for women, as he did with 'Things You Can Tell by Looking at Her' and 'Nine Lives'. 

This film is very well written, and the characters are complicated and intriguing.  It is clearly a film targeted for women, but as a man who likes character driven films, I found it very satisfying.

Grade: B+

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
127 Hours                            Grade: A   (#5/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)

Barney's Version  (Opens in Philly on 2/4)    Grade: A   (#4/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Black Swan                         Grade: A   (#7/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
Blue Valentine                 Grade: A-

The Way Back                 Grade: A-
The Fighter                         Grade: A-
Casino Jack                         Grade: A-  (#10/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
The King’s Speech           Grade: B+  (#11/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
Little Fockers                     Grade: B+

The Company Men            Grade: B+

Rabbit Hole                        Grade: B+
Country Strong                 Grade: B+ 
Another Year                   Grade: B   (#16/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Inside Job                           Grade: B   (#21/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
I Love You Phillip Morris   Grade: B
The Tourist                         Grade: B

No Strings Attached          Grade: B
The Green Hornet              Grade: B

True Grit                              Grade: B-
Burlesque                           Grade: B-

The Mechanic               Grade: C+

How Do You Know          Grade: C-
The Dilemma                    Grade: C-

Somewhere                     Grade: C-
Season of the Witch        Grade: D

The Rite                            Grade: F

The Rite


Anthony Hopkins stars in this dreadful horror film about priests exercising demons in Rome.  I won't mince words.  This movie is terrible.  I mean, really bad.  It should have been called 'The Rong', because there was nothing 'rite' about it.  It has every horror movie cliche, with cheap scares every chance it gets punched by a shrieking score, to try to distract you from realizing it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

And how many terrible movies starring Sir Anthony Hopkins do viewers have to endure before they realize he's totally overrated?  (I realized this years ago.)  His last three before this were Woody Allen's 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger', 'The Wolfman', and 'The City of Your Final Destination'.   That makes four horrible movies in a row.  So, based on that, not only do I suggest we de-knight him and take away his 'Sir' title, but we also consider eating his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.  (I kid, of course, about the latter suggestion.  Please, readers, do not attempt to injure Mr. Hopkins in any way.  I'm sure he's a very nice man.  But I do not look forward to seeing any more of his films.)

Let me be clear.  Skip this film.  And check out 'The Last Exorcism' instead for all your demon exorcizing needs.

Grade: F

The Mechanic


This movie is exactly what you expect from looking at the poster.  Jason Statham stars as a 'mechanic', which is just another slang term for an assassin who 'fixes' problems.  It might just as well have been called 'The Cleaner', 'The Fixer', or how about simply 'The Assassin'?  Ben Foster ('3:10 to Yuma', 'Alpha Dog', 'The Messenger', 'X-Men: Last Stand') costars as his apprentice.  And Donald Sutherland and Tony Goldwyn round out the testosterone filled cast.  Expect cars, guns, graphic violence, gratuitous sex, and explosions.

Statham began his career in Guy Ritchie's stylish British crime films like 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' and 'Snatch'.  In those films it was easy to see he was going to be a star.  He had the right mix of tough guy appeal and charisma.  But lately he's gone too deep into tough guy territory and too far away from any role that utilizes his charisma.  (Need I reference the dreadful 'The Expendables'?)  It's really Ben Foster that steals the show here.  Foster is consistently a giant ball of fire in a tiny man's body.  I always enjoy his performances and he saves the movie from being a dud.

The film certainly has fun moments and the cast is pretty decent, so it's at least enjoyable throughout.  I wasn't bored at all.  But just don't expect any surprises.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The American


George Clooney stars as an American assassin in Sweden and Italy in this suspense thriller.  And that’s about all I can say about this one.  No, not because I don’t want to spoil the plot, but because it virtually has none.  I’m really not sure what just happened for the last hour and 45 minutes.  I had heard this film was slow, so I readied my expectations, but it is SSLLOOOOWW.  And I really don’t mind slow paced films, as long as they eventually lead somewhere (unlike 'Somewhere').  But no, this one doesn't. 

The cinematography was beautiful.  And Clooney’s always very watchable.  But those two positives just don’t make up for the lack of storyline.  Up until now, Director Anton Corbijn’s directorial career has been music video documentaries.  I think he’s got a bit to learn about narrative storytelling.  And Rowan Joffe, the writer, hasn’t written anything noteworthy except for the sequel to ‘28 Days Later’.  Clooney took a gamble on this one and lost.  I say skip it, but some critics actually liked it.  Am I wrong on this one?
Grade:  D

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State of the Blog

Well, I figured it was about time to offer up my second 'State of the Blog.'  (If you missed my first one you can check it out here.)

I started this blog on September 28, 2010.  So it's been almost four months, and this is my 101st post.  To date, I've had 6,276 page views.  Thank you to everyone who regularly checks in.  I really appreciate your patronage. 

I've gotten over 100 comments so far, so thank you to everyone who comments (especially my regulars Taralyn, Nina, CK, and Jen.)   I always appreciate feedback, even if it's critical.  (This means you, Foodie Mike.  And Jeff, where did you go?)

I have 21 'Followers'.  Clearly that category could use improvement.  Don't be shy if you want to become a 'Follower'.  Don't worry, I won't be able to monitor anything about you (e.g. how often you're checking the blog.)  But it's nice to have 'Followers'.  It makes me feel like a cult leader.

Most importantly I'm still appearing regularly on FOX 35 in Orlando.  In fact, I haven't missed a Friday appearance since my inaugural one on 10/15/10.  So that's 15 weeks in a row.  Plus on the Fridays closest to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years I did double duty and appeared at my regular 7:45 AM slot as well as a second appearance at 9:45 AM for the late sleepers.  I also did a few special appearances in the last week.  On Monday 1/17/11, I gave my thoughts on the Golden Globe Awards from the night before.  And this morning I gave my thoughts on the Oscar nominations immediately following the press conference at 8:30 AM when they were announced.  (That was a bit hectic!)  And I recorded my first pre-taped non-live segment last week, supposedly to be aired tomorrow night after 'American Idol', where I offered up suggestions on how regular folks can easily get free advance screening passes to upcoming films.  So if I did my math right that makes 21 appearances on FOX 35 in Orlando in a little over three months.  I can't thank the folks at FOX 35 enough for having me back week after week and giving me this great opportunity.  They've all been a pleasure to work with.  And the folks who help me out at FOX 29 in Philly have also been fantastic.  And of course countless thanks to my best pal David Martin at FOX 35 for his continued support.

I also wanted to let you know that I have no plans to slow down with the blog, and I will continue to try to post at least one new entry every Sunday through Thursday night.  Plus, once I catch up with the new releases on DVD that I haven't already reviewed when they were theatrically released, I intend to start posting reviews of great movies from the past that you may have missed.  That has always been on the agenda.

Alrighty, well I think that about does it.  Did I miss anything?  Let me know!  And thanks for reading.

Brian 'Flieder on Film' Flieder

Monday, January 24, 2011

Waking Sleeping Beauty


In the early 1980’s the once infallible Walt Disney animation studio produced one flop after another, hitting rock bottom with the release of ‘The Black Cauldron’ which was embarrassingly surpassed at the box office by the Care Bears movie.  And with growing competition in the animation world by the likes of Steven Spielberg, the future looked bleak for Disney animation, which was considered the heart and soul of The Walt Disney Company.  But a triumvirate of men saved the day.  This documentary tells the story of how Roy E. Disney (nephew of Walt), Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg reinvented Disney animation in the late 80’s and early 90’s with new classics like ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Aladdin’, and ‘The Lion King’.  Of course, behind the scenes, there was plenty of conflict despite their successes.  And you get to see it all from actual archival footage from that era.  The film is directed by Don Hahn, who was there to witness it all as a producer on films like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’.   So for anyone who loves Disney (and I certainly fall into that category) this is a must see behind the scenes documentary, now available on DVD.

Grade:  B+

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Way Back


Australian director Peter Weir ('Witness', 'The Truman Show', 'Dead Poets Society', 'The Mosquito Coast', 'Master and Commander') directed this powerful, emotional, and inspiring film based on a true story of a group of men plotting an escape from a Siberian prison camp during World War II.  Besides the obvious problem of escaping their captors, they have a 4,000 mile journey ahead of them, crossing mountains and deserts, where the extreme weather conditions and lack of food and water is their worst enemy.  The cast includes the always watchable Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, and Mark Strong.

I couldn't help but feel that I've seen this movie before.  It's 'The Great Escape' meets 'Survivor' meets 'The Lord of the Rings'. (Well, kind of).  And it plays out in a fairly predictable, formulaic way.  But, the performances are so strong and their journey is so intense that it is still absolutely worth seeing.  At almost 2 hours and 15 minutes it could have felt long, but it didn't at all.  I was completely entranced and blown away by the wills of these men just to survive.  It will make you grateful for what you have and what you don't have to go through, and made me feel particularly bad about complaining to myself a few hours earlier about how cold my 20 minute walk to the theater was.  It's hard to imagine enduring much, much, much worse conditions for months.  Even the cast looked like they had a pretty rough shoot.  (But, to be fair, I didn't bring a hat on my journey.  I mean, not even earmuffs!)

Despite the fact this film just opened wide last Friday, it opened in L.A. on 12/29 so it still qualifies as a 2010 release.  So it looks like my Top 26 just became a Top 27.

Grade: A-

Friday, January 21, 2011

No Strings Attached


22 years ago Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan starred in an excellent romantic comedy called 'When Harry Met Sally' which posed the question, can a man and a woman be friends without sleeping together?  Today we get this romantic comedy starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher which asks the opposite question.  Can a man and woman have sex with no strings attached?  That is an interesting commentary on how times have changed.

I actually liked the trailer for the film, but was a bit concerned that I already saw everything I needed to see and that it would be utterly predictable.  And it was fairly formulaic.  But I was pleasantly surprised that it still kept my interest from start to finish.  And it's definitely pretty funny at times.

And the cast?  I knew Kutcher would fit right in in a film like this.  But it was the casting of Portman that surprised me.  She doesn't normally do romantic comedies, preferring darker, edgier films like 'Black Swan' which is still in theaters, and the upcoming 'Hesher' which is also very dark.  But she was great and the leads had good chemistry.  And I was pleased to see Kevin Kline in the film, playing Kutcher's dad.  Kline is a great addition to any movie.

I shouldn't be too surprised that this film exceeded my expectations, since it was directed by legendary comedy director Ivan Reitman, responsible for classics including 'Meatballs', 'Stripes', 'Ghostbusters', 'Kindergarten Cop', and 'Dave'.  But Reitman hasn't made anything too memorable in the last 18 years, so it's good to see he hasn't completely lost his touch. 

This is not a classic romantic comedy.  It won't be remembered fondly 22 years from now like 'When Harry Met Sally'.  But it's a good, funny, sexy date movie and not a bad choice for this weekend.

Grade: B

Company Men

A major corporation run by CEO Craig T. Nelson is downsizing.  Sales executive Ben Affleck is hit in the first round of layoffs.  And seasoned executive Chris Cooper is nervous about his position as well.  But friend, cofounder, and Executive Vice President Tommy Lee Jones is fed up with Nelson’s lack of loyalty to his people.

This somber film about the impact of the crashing economy on the upper middle class is timely, but probably would have been even more timely had it come out almost a year ago when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.  It just seems a bit late now that the economy appears to be on an upswing. 

On the plus side, the performances are all very solid, with Tommy Lee Jones giving a particularly good one as the rare multimillionaire executive with a conscience.  And Affleck and Cooper successfully come across as sympathetic despite their enviable lifestyles prior to the financial crisis.  And the supporting cast including Kevin Costner, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Maria Bello all pull their weight.

My only major issue with the film is that it seems to want to draw sympathy from the viewer as an 'it could happen to you' cautionary tale.  And while it's true, getting laid off certainly could happen to any of us, it is hard to feel sympathy for these fat cat executives who apparently didn't save a nickel.  I mean, come on!  They have beautiful homes and cars but are still living paycheck to paycheck?  Really?  Nevertheless, the cast does a good enough job that it worked.  I felt for them.
The downsizing aspect of the film will undoubtedly draw comparisons to ‘Up in the Air’, and the motivational speeches that Affleck endures at his career placement service will probably be compared to ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’.  But neither comparison is really warranted.  This film is significantly different than those two and stands on its own legs.
Grade:  B+

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Now Available on DVD

Looking to head to the video store, but don’t know what to see?  (Does anyone still go to video stores?)  Well, here are my grades at a glance for some recent releases:
The Social Network                            Grade: A+

Kick Ass                                                Grade: A+

City Island                                           Grade: A+

Please Give                                          Grade: A+

The Greatest                                       Grade: A

Buried                                                  Grade: A

Heartbreaker (L'Arnacoeur)              Grade: A

I Knew it Was You:  Rediscovering John Cazale    Grade: A

Against the Current                           Grade: A-

The Secret in their Eyes                    Grade: A-

Inception                                            Grade: A-

Winter’s Bone                                    Grade: A-

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work          Grade: A-

The Art of the Steal                          Grade: A-

The Kids are All Right                        Grade: A-

Toy Story 3                                        Grade: A-

The Last Exorcism                             Grade: B+

Centurion                                          Grade: B+

I’m Still Here                                     Grade: B+

Going the Distance                          Grade: B+

The Disappearance of Alice Creed     Grade: B+

Easy A                                                Grade: B+
               
Cyrus                                                 Grade: B+

High Rollers                                      Grade: B

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps     Grade: B

The Town                                          Grade: B

Leaves of Grass                                Grade: B

Knight and Day                                Grade: B

Sorcerer’s Apprentice                     Grade: B

How to Train Your Dragon             Grade: B

Dinner for Schmucks                      Grade: B-

The Other Guys                               Grade: C+

Disney's A Christmas Carol            Grade: C+

Eat Pray Love                                  Grade: C

Salt                                                  Grade: C

Despicable Me                                Grade: C

Piranha                                           Grade: C

Splice                                              Grade: C-

Frozen                                             Grade: C-

Devil                                                Grade: D

The A-Team                                    Grade: D

The Extra Man                               Grade: D

The Killer Inside Me                       Grade: D

The Expendables                           Grade: D

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World         Grade: F

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Last Exorcism


I can hear the pitch to the studio right now:  It's 'Paranormal Activity' meets 'The Office'!  A charlatan reverend who practices exorcisms but doesn't actually believe in demons decides to do just one more before he moves on to a different line of work and a cleaner conscience.  And he brings along a partner and a cameraman to record it all.

This is the latest entry in the documentary style horror film genre, which started a decade ago with 'The Blair Witch Project'.  Since then we've seen a lot of inferior knock-offs, along with a few triumphs like '[REC]' and 'Paranormal Activity'.  But just when you think the genre is dead and ready to be put to bed, you get this one which is fresh and exhilarating.  By now we're familiar with the format, but the acting is great and the atmosphere is just right.  So rent this one, turn off the lights, and get ready to get scared.

Grade: B+ (and close to an A-)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Piranha


I was definitely skeptical about this one.  I knew it wasn't going to be art, but I was hoping it would at least be a 90 minute guilty pleasure.  And it certainly starts with a lot of potential, with Richard Dreyfuss alone in a small fishing boat, in an obvious homage to Jaws.  But let's face it, how good can a film about extra fierce piranhas on a rampage be, especially when Steven Spielberg is not the director?

The supporting cast includes the ageless Elizabeth Shue (47, seriously?), Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Adam Scott, Eli Roth, and Christopher Lloyd.  The cast was really what drew me to the film.  Those are some pretty fun character actors, and O'Connell in particular is always a blast to watch.
The film was released in 3D, and many of the scenes were clearly made to maximize the 'coming at you' effect.  But since most of us don't have 3D at home, it just feels like it's missing something.

I couldn't in good conscience give this film any better than a C, even though it is definitely fun in some parts.  But if you want a taste of spring break, campy horror, exploitation, and gratuitous nudity, violence, and gore then by all means, jump in.

Grade: C

Monday, January 17, 2011

FOX 35 News Orlando - Monday 1/17/11 - Golden Globes

In case you didn't get your Golden Globes on last night, here is my recap of the highlights, fresh from FOX 35 this morning:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Somewhere


Sofia Coppola (daughter of director Francis Ford) wrote and directed this slow paced drama about the privileges and price of celebrity.  Stephen Dorff plays a movie star who has it all, at least seemingly.  He's good looking, famous, rich and soaks in the debaucherous Hollywood lifestyle that comes with those attributes.  But when his eleven year old daughter, played by Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota), re-enters his life, he starts to re-evaluate things.

This is Coppola's second follow up to the lauded 'Lost in Translation'.  (In between she made 'Marie Antoinette'.)  And like 'Translation', this film is about a guy who seemingly has it all but has lost his way.  But unlike 'Translation' this one is not particularly worth seeing.  The extremely slow pace, which is evident right from the very first scene, can be painful at times.  But I'm a patient man, as long as the pacing is purposeful and leads somewhere.  This one doesn't and the end is just as unsatisfying as the journey.  I do give Coppola credit for attempting an ambitious non-Hollywood art film about Hollywood.  I just didn't find it satisfying.  Skip it and re-watch her true masterpiece, 'Lost in Translation'.

Grade: C-

Friday, January 14, 2011

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
127 Hours                            Grade: A   (#5/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Black Swan                         Grade: A   (#7/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
Blue Valentine                 Grade: A-
The Fighter                         Grade: A-
Casino Jack                         Grade: A-  (#10/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
The King’s Speech           Grade: B+  (#11/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
Little Fockers                     Grade: B+

Rabbit Hole
                        Grade: B+
Country Strong                 Grade: B+
Love and Other Drugs    Grade: B+  
Inside Job                           Grade: B   (#21/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
I Love You Phillip Morris   Grade: B
The Tourist                         Grade: B
Megamind                          Grade: B
The Green Hornet              Grade: B

True Grit                              Grade: B-
Made in Dagenham           Grade: B-
Burlesque                           Grade: B-
Due Date                             Grade: B- 
Morning Glory                  Grade: B-
Fair Game                           Grade: C-
Unstoppable                     Grade: C-
How Do You Know          Grade: C-

The Dilemma                    Grade: C-
All Good Things                Grade: C-
Season of the Witch        Grade: D