Thursday, June 30, 2011

2011 Second Quarter

It's hard to believe but we're already halfway through the year and I'm pleased to say that film-wise the second quarter has been much better than the first.  Below is a summary of my grades for theatrically released films in the second quarter. 

(Note that I've tweaked a few grades since my initial review.  My blog, my rules.)

Beginners                            Grade: A+

Meek's Cutoff                      Grade: A

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

Super                                   Grade: A

The Trip                               Grade: A

Incendies                             Grade: A

Scream 4                             Grade: A-

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop    Grade: A-

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold    Grade: A-

The Hangover Part II           Grade: A-

Beautiful Boy                       Grade: A-

X-Men: First Class                Grade: B+

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides     Grade: B+

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Hesher                                  Grade: B+

Transformers: Dark of the Moon      Grade: B+

Bridesmaids                        Grade: B+

The Conspirator                  Grade: B+

Mr. Popper's Penguins      Grade: B+

Exporting Raymond           Grade: B+

Water for Elephants          Grade: B

Rio                                        Grade: B

Last Night                           Grade: B

Company                            Grade: B

Passion Play                       Grade: B-

Everything Must Go          Grade: B-

Buck                                   Grade: B-

Bad Teacher                       Grade: B-

The Beaver                        Grade: B-

Arthur                               Grade: B-

Submarine                          Grade: C+


Green Lantern                    Grade: C+

Your Highness                    Grade: C+

Thor                                   Grade: C

Cave of Forgotten Dreams    Grade: C

Cars 2                                 Grade: C-

Super 8                              Grade: C-

Hanna                                Grade: C-

Something Borrowed       Grade: D

Kung Fu Panda 2               Grade: D

Forks over Knives              Grade: D

Blank City                          Grade: D-

Hobo with a Shotgun       Grade: F

 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (a.k.a. TF3)


If you read my blog yesterday on Transformers 1 & 2 you know that I'm not a huge fan but I've come to realize that watching them in the right mindset is the key.  They're guilty pleasures and if they were shorter they'd have been much better.  Well since the third installment, 'Dark of the Moon', is actually the longest yet, at two hours and 37 minutes, I was more than a little concerned.  Nevertheless, as is often the case, my expectations were exceeded.  It's actually pretty good and definitely the best of the three.  It's bleaker and more mature, an even more intense ride that doesn't let up, and yet actually contains kind of an epic storyline with a real sense of high stakes danger.  It's almost like it was made by someone completely different than the first two, yet once again it's Michael Bay at the helm.  Is Michael Bay evolving as a filmmaker?  I mean, we all know he can make larger than life pictures and blow stuff up like no one else, but he's not typically known for quality film making.  And yet, this one kind-of sort-of is.  In a way it's one small step for Bay and one giant leap for Bay's kind.

As before, the humans are pretty entertaining.  Returning are Shia LeBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, and Julie White and Kevin Dunn who are consistently enjoyable as LeBeouf's parents.  And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I missed Megan Fox.  Fox is actually pretty good at playing the bad-girl / damsel-in-distress.  On the other hand, her replacement, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, really isn't.  She's a model not an actress and it shows.  But the other name players they added, including John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk, and Ken Jeong, all really bring it.

But what surprises me most is that, unlike the previous two, the transformers don't detract from the film.  They're fairly engaging.  And the action scenes and visual effects are downright astounding.  (Although I guess that shouldn't be a surprise at the rumored $400 Million budget.)  I'm not normally one for long action sequences, visual effects, or gimmicky 3D but it all worked really well on the big screen.  Heck, the film didn't even feel long.  Am I going crazy?

Now don't get me wrong, this is not an A or even an A-.  I haven't lost my mind.  But considering expectations (mine and those of many critics and moviegoers), it was a very pleasant surprise and a pretty good popcorn flick for the summer.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Transformers 1 and 2


With the third installment opening in theaters on Wednesday, I figured I'd revisit the first one and finally see the second one, of which I had previously passed.  I must admit I wasn't really looking forward to a 'Transformers' marathon, as I didn't particularly enjoy the first one when I saw it four years ago.  Well perhaps it was just a matter of adjusting my expectations, but I had a much more enjoyable experience this time.  Don't get me wrong, these are not particularly great movies, but I can see why people enjoy them as guilty pleasures.  The humans were actually better than I remembered.  Some people don't care for Shia LeBeouf but he's really not bad.  And Megan Fox plays her role sufficiently well.  And I had forgotten the solid supporting cast including John Turturro, Julie White, Kevin Dunn, Josh Duhamel, and the late great Bernie Mac.  In my opinion it's the transformers that slow down 'Transformers'.  (Granted that's kind of a big problem.)  And that's why I prefer behemoth blockbuster director Michael Bay's other films to these.  He's often known and mocked for putting all of his budget into special effects all the while virtually ignoring any need for script.  And that reputation is not wholly inaccurate, but let's give credit where credit is due.  He clearly knows how to make big, big movies that appeal to a certain audience because his films are ultra profitable.  Movies like 'Armageddon', 'The Rock', and 'Pearl Harbor' are all guilty pleasures.  And that's ok.  I enjoyed all three.  So I get it, Michael Bay.  I see what your talent is and I respect what you do.  I believe you're often under appreciated.  But please, oh please, can you just shorten the running time to keep these under two hours?  Some of us still want to hit the art house theaters afterward.

Grades:
Transformers:  B-  (And would have been a B if it was shorter.)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:  C+  (And would have been a B- if it was shorter.)

C'mon back on Wednesday for my thoughts on the third!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Buck


'Buck' is a documentary about Buck Brannaman, known as a real life 'horse whisperer'.  Brannaman has an uncanny way with horses and tours the country teaching ways to train and control your horse in a humane and friendly way.  Unlike most docs with talking heads in controlled indoor environments, this one is predominantly outside in middle America, letting you watch Buck at what Buck does best.  But the film also includes a few traditional documentary style interviews, most notably Robert Redford who used Brannaman as a consultant on his film 'The Horse Whisperer'.  Based on that it's not surprising the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is now in limited release.  I'd been hearing great things about it, and it is interesting, building to an unexpected climax, but yet not quite living up to the buzz.  Of course as someone who works in corporate America I'm always interested to see how the other half lives.

Grade: B-

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Now on Twitter


Flieder on Film is now on Twitter!  So don't delay, become a part of my cult and start following me right away!  @FliederonFilm

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Peter Falk (1927 - 2011)


Sadly, Peter Falk just passed away.  Most will remember him as the rumpled and surprisingly adept Detective Columbo who he played on and off for over 30 years.  (I've always been a big fan of Kevin Pollak's trademark impression).  And many fondly recall him as the grandfather of Fred Savage's character in 'The Princess Bride'.  But below are some of my other personal favorites.  He will be missed.

Murder By Death (1976) - For my money you can't get a more interesting pitch than a Neil Simon comedy spoof of Agatha Christie books gathering the world's greatest detectives who've been invited to a creepy house by a mysterious host played by Truman Capote.  Alec Guiness, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Eileen Brennan, and James Coco co-star.  If you want to see Falk at his most enjoyable, this is it.

The In-Laws (1979) - Is there a better bickering odd couple (other than 'The Odd Couple') than fathers-in-law Alan Arkin and Peter Falk?  (OK, maybe Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro in 'Midnight Run', but there aren't many).  This was remade in 2003 with Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas and that version ain't bad, but this one's better.

The Cheap Detective (1978) - Neil Simon's take on the classic Humphrey Bogart detective films.

Happy New Year (1987) - Peter Falk and Charles Durning on a jewel heist.  It's one of the few films I loved as a youth still not available on DVD.  Guess it's time to break out the VCR!

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) - Yes, of course Falk is in this madcap comedy about normal folks obsessed with finding buried treasure.  Who isn't in it?

Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964) - It's fun enough getting Frank, Sammy, Dean, and Bing together for a movie.  Throw in Peter Falk and you're guaranteed a good time.

Vibes (1988) - This is a guilty pleasure, I admit.  But who would have thought to cast Jeff Goldblum, Cyndi Lauper and Peter Falk in a comedy fantasy adventure film about psychics looking for a secret energy source?  Genius.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - FOX 35 Orlando - 6/24/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Bad Teacher', 'Cars 2', 'Unknown', 'The Adjustment Bureau', and 'Cedar Rapids'.






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:
(Movies released today are in green)

Beginners                            Grade: A+

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

The Trip                               Grade: A

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop    Grade: A-

The Hangover Part II           Grade: A-

X-Men: First Class                Grade: B+

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides     Grade: B+

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Bridesmaids                        Grade: B+

Mr. Popper's Penguins      Grade: B+

Water for Elephants          Grade: B

Rio                                        Grade: B

Company                            Grade: B

Buck                                    Grade: B-

Bad Teacher                       Grade: B-

Green Lantern                    Grade: C

Thor                                   Grade: C

Cars 2                                 Grade: C-

Super 8                              Grade: D

Something Borrowed       Grade: D

Kung Fu Panda 2               Grade: D

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop


I should start my review by admitting that I am currently and have always been a late night talk show junkie.  And while I am a devoted David Letterman and Craig Ferguson fan right now, I watched Conan O'Brien for many years beginning with his debut show as host of Late Night in September of 1993.  So I was particularly interested in seeing this documentary that was filmed while Conan went on tour after he left the Tonight Show during the period when he was 'legally prohibited from being funny on television'.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the late night wars, I will enroll you in Late Night 101 since it is necessary to understand the back story to fully appreciate this movie.  When Johnny Carson quit the Tonight Show on NBC in 1992 after a 30 year run, many clamored to be heirs to the throne.  The two most likely candidates were David Letterman, who had hosted Late Night immediately following the Tonight Show at 12:35 AM for 10 years, and Jay Leno who was the regular guest host of The Tonight Show whenever Carson was on vacation.  Well, as you undoubtedly know, Leno got the job, Letterman got upset and quit and moved to CBS, and somehow a virtually unknown, 30 year old, very tall, very skinny guy with crazy red hair got one of the most coveted jobs in the world of talk shows, replacing David Letterman on NBC.  It was astounding.  To be fair, he was a Harvard graduate, who served as President of the Harvard Lampoon, and wrote for 'Saturday Night Live' and 'The Simpsons', but this was a high profile gig and no one thought he would last.  But college kids loved him and he went on to have a very long and successful run.  Then, in 2004 NBC made a startling announcement, stating that in five years they would be replacing Jay Leno with Conan O'Brien as host of the Tonight Show.  And sure enough, after 17 seasons as host of Late Night, Conan began as host of The Tonight Show in 2009.  And NBC decided to let Leno have an unprecedented 10:00 PM late night talk show, leading into the news, leading into Conan.  This plan backfired as ratings plummeted, and a mere seven months into Conan's new position, NBC told him they were changing the arrangement, and putting Leno back on for a 30 minute show at 11:35 and pushing Conan back to after midnight.  Well, Conan wasn't agreeable to that to say the least, so he quit, and yet still got NBC to pay him a whopping $30 Million payoff as well as around $12 Million for his staff.  Not a bad severance package!  But part of the terms of his departure was that he was not allowed to appear on TV for a period of nine months.  So he decided to do a variety show tour of the country, appropriately entitled 'The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour'.  And that is where this documentary begins.  (Whew!)  Sorry for the long story, but it was truly a saga and understanding the history is necessary to appreciate this very entertaining and insightful film.

After years of watching Conan I thought I knew him well.  I didn't.  This doc is a look behind the curtain.  He's actually quite different from his persona on TV.  Frankly, he seems to be an ego maniacal attention whore, and at times even kind of a bully.  From the looks of this film, it's all about Conan all the time.  And he surrounds himself with a staff of 'yes men' (and one 'yes woman'), who believe themselves to be writers, producers, managers, and assistants but really they seem to be there to stroke Conan's ego and cater to his every whim.  In the film he states that he doesn't have a sense of entitlement, but it really comes across quite the contrary.  It's hard to have sympathy for someone whose only injustice was that his talk show was pushed back 30 minutes, and ended up getting a settlement of over $30 Million to not work.  Well, that's my opinion anyway.  Nevertheless this movie is extremely entertaining and eye opening.  I get the feeling we're finally seeing the real Conan for the first time in 18 years and it's fascinating.  I only wish we could see a similar doc of him when he was in his 20's to see how much the money, fame, and power went to his head.  I'm guessing a lot.  Although I must admit I'm kind of jealous.  (OK, I'm really jealous.)

Grade: A

Bad Teacher


Well, we've already seen Nicolas Cage and Harvey Keitel as bad lieutenants, Billy Bob Thornton as a bad Santa, and in an upcoming film called 'The Good Doctor' Orlando Bloom plays a not-so-good doctor.  So I suppose it is about time for a bad teacher.  And sure enough, Cameron Diaz' character lives up to the title.  She's a conniving, self centered, crude, gold-digger and clearly no role model for impressionable youths.

I must admit, while the movie is entertaining, I was a bit disappointed.  Expectations are everything and mine, unfortunately, had been raised.  David Letterman was glowing with praise the other night when Diaz was his guest.  And co-stars Justin Timberlake and Jason Segal can both be excellent in the right role.  (See Timberlake in 'The Social Network' and Segal in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' if you don't believe me.)  And it's directed by Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan), the writer/director of one of my favorite movies of all time, 'Zero Effect'.  But with all of that said, it's only OK.  You can count on some laughs at some crude R-rated humor, but don't expect anything groundbreaking or memorable. 

If you're ok with something a little darker, be sure to check out Nicolas Cage in 'The Bad Lieutenant'.  That's a movie you shouldn't miss.  But since I've seen it twice already I guess I better just sit tight until they finally release the long awaited 'Bad Plumber'.  'Bad Film Critic'?  'The Bad Proctologist'??  Yeah, that's the ticket!

Grade:  B-

Cars 2


If you regularly read my blog you know I'm not a fan of animated films.  I just don't get them.  But ordinarily Pixar is the exception to the rule.  They have consistently exceeded my expectations, particularly with the 'Toy Story' series, blending comedy, family entertainment, and some very heartfelt and emotional scenes.  However, I was not a fan of the first 'Cars' nor was I fond of this sequel.  Quite simply, I thought it was a bore and a struggle to stay awake.  Even the addition of the great Michael Caine as a spy didn't make it any more enjoyable.  (I actually much prefer the impressions of Michael Caine in 'The Trip', although I'm usually a fan of the actual Michael Caine as well.)

Of course, it doesn't matter what I think.  I'm not the target audience.  The question is, will the kiddies like it?  Well, there weren't many kids in the audience at my screening but I didn't hear one laugh and the young kid next to me actually seemed frightened by a lot of the film.  (I can't for the life of me figure out what he was scared of, but then again I'm older than five.) 

Unless you or your offspring is a huge fan of the first one, I'd steer clear.

Grade: C-

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Company


'Company' is a Stephen Sondheim musical starring Neil Patrick Harris, and featuring Jon Cryer, Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton, Patti Lupone, Craig Bierko, Christina Hendricks, Anika Noni Rose, and the New York Philharmonic.  But wait a minute ... musical theatre?  Isn't this site called 'Flieder on Film'?  Well yes it is, but this particular show is playing in limited release in a few theaters around the country.  Filmed just a few months ago at Lincoln Center in New York City, the show originally opened on Broadway in 1970 and revolves around a single man debating the benefits and drawbacks of being married, all the while surrounded by married friends who are trying to convince him one way or the other.

The most interesting thing about this particular performance is the lack of preparation time the cast had.  According to Jon Cryer during a talk show interview with David Letterman a few weeks ago, he only had two weeks to prepare.  And he didn't even know he was signing on for his singing debut with a fully staged off-book musical with the New York Philharmonic.  I can only imagine trying to prepare for a 2.5 hour musical in front of a live audience and filmed for the world to see with only two weeks prep time.  Given that, it's really very impressive.  But that fact notwithstanding, I wasn't blown away.  The performances were good, but the show drags a bit and doesn't really lead anywhere.  But I really shouldn't complain because I got to see a Broadway musical with a close up view of an all star cast without shlepping to New York City and all for the cost of a little more than a movie ticket.  ($18, to be exact.)  I hope this trend continues, because it's a great way for a larger audience to get a chance to see big shows with big stars at a small cost.  So don't delay.  Go see it right away while it's still around if only so that more like it will follow.

Grade: B

Friday, June 17, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - FOX 35 Orlando - 6/17/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Green Lantern', 'Mr. Popper's Penguins', 'Tree of Life', 'Hall Pass', and 'Battle: Los Angeles'.




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:
(Movies released today are in green)

Beginners                            Grade: A+

Incendies                             Grade: A

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

The Trip                               Grade: A

The Hangover Part II           Grade: A-

Beautiful Boy                       Grade: A-

X-Men: First Class                Grade: B+

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides     Grade: B+

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Bridesmaids                        Grade: B+

Mr. Popper's Penguins      Grade: B

Water for Elephants          Grade: B

Rio                                        Grade: B

Everything Must Go          Grade: B-

Submarine                          Grade: C+

Cave of Forgotten Dreams    Grade: C

Green Lantern                    Grade: C

Thor                                   Grade: C

Super 8                              Grade: D

Something Borrowed       Grade: D

Kung Fu Panda 2               Grade: D

Beginners


Like many of my reviews, I first saw this film last September at the Toronto Film Festival.  But unlike most of the films I saw there, I had no intention or interest in seeing it.  Nevertheless I had a free window and there wasn't anything else too appealing playing so I figured I'd give it a shot.  And I'm really glad I did because it was easily one of the best films of the 38 that I saw there.  So the question was, would I have the same feeling nine months later at my second viewing?

Ewan McGregor plays an artist overwhelmed by sadness.  And with good reason.  His mom passed away five years prior.  Shortly after that his dad, played by Christopher Plummer, came out of the closet and began dating men.  Shortly after that Plummer's character was diagnosed with cancer.  And then just recently he passed away.  The film is told non-linearly, bouncing back and forth between McGregor's last years with his father, his childhood with his mother, played by Mary Page Keller, and present day when he's met a new girl, played by Melanie Laurent.  Of course, the description doesn't do the film justice (and neither does the movie poster, of which the tone is very misleading.)

This is a film about love, understanding, family, sadness, grief, life, and death.  It's heartbreaking but also life affirming.  It's sad but also sweet and heartfelt.  It's a quiet film and it's very comfortable with its quietness, and embraces the quiet in all the right places.  But even though it's sad by nature I don't think you leave the theater feeling overwhelmingly sad, but rather with just the right balance of emotion.  At least I did.  Twice. 

Simply put, this is easily the best film of the year and the only Oscar worthy picture so far.  It's way early but I think it deserves a Best Picture nomination and all of the performances are nomination worthy as well.  I've never seen Ewan McGregor better.  He delivers more with a look than most actors could ever do with the perfect line.  And the same goes for Plummer, Laurent, and Keller.  Frankly, even the dog probably deserves a nomination, and I'm not even kidding.  And when all the performances are that great, and the tone is that perfect, you have to give credit to the director, Mike Mills, who in this case was also the writer.  His only other feature film credit is 'Thumbsucker' and I don't remember it being that good, but I may have to give it another try because he's clearly an amazing filmmaker.

This film totally deserves more recognition than it will undoubtedly receive, but unfortunately it's not the kind of movie that attracts a wide audience, and it was released too early in the year and Academy voters have short memories.  Well, it gets my highest grade and I won't soon forget it.

Grade: A+

The Trip


I already reviewed this when I returned from the Tribeca Film Festival last month, and since I don't really have anything more to add, I'll just repeat what I already said:

British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves in this abridged compilation of the 6 episode series from the UK, where they embark on a road trip throughout Europe as food critics, all the while exchanging witty repartee and competing in bringing the funny.  In typical British fashion, the humor is dry, but it's often a riot, particularly during the many scenes where they face off with their impressions.  If there's one thing funnier than a great impressionist, it's two great impressionists competing and it just doesn't get much better than duelling Michael Caine's.

It's now in limited release, so look for it because it's one of the best films of the year so far.  (I'm even upgrading it from an A-)

Grade: A

Mr. Popper's Penguins


Jim Carrey plays the titular character, Mr. Popper, your stereotypical career obsessed, emotionally devoid, divorced father who thinks his life is perfect but in reality has no real attachments to anyone.  But when he's sent a mysterious crate from his recently passed father who neglected him as a child, the contents bring about changes in his life.  Based on a children's book published in 1938, this adaptation has been significantly updated and modernized.

I must say, just like with all movies targeted for children, I wasn't looking forward to seeing this one, despite the fact I do like Jim Carrey.  But I was very pleasantly surprised.  It's quite good for a children's movie.  Carrey is in top form, blending real acting with the rubber-faced comedy he's known for.  The supporting cast is great, including Angela Lansbury, Carla Gugino, David Krumholtz, Jeffrey Tambor, and Philip Baker Hall.  The sets and locations in New York City, many in Central Park, are beautiful.  And it's pretty funny and likeable, for both kids and adults.  I could hear the kids laughing a lot and I had a smile throughout with a few real laughs along the way.  It's rated PG so it still has some adult material, but it's the most enjoyable family film I've seen all year.

Grade: B

Green Lantern


Ryan Reynolds gets recruited to be an intergalactic superhero in the latest comic book franchise based on the DC comic.  This one is pretty different than the other hundred or so comic book films we've already seen this summer.  (At least it feels like a hundred.)  It's definitely darker than the rest.  And it's pretty crazy with an overwhelming amount of exposition.  I knew nothing about the film going in and I was lost in the first five minutes trying to absorb the backstory, but I picked it up as it went along.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the film.  On one hand, I respect that it's different than the rest of the pack.  But on the other hand it's kind of a crazy mess.  Reynolds is usually a solid lead, with his trademark wit and sarcasm, but he doesn't really shine in this film and I think it's because he wasn't really given anything interesting to say.  And even though Blake Lively is ridiculously good looking, she just doesn't belong in a serious film.  (If her performance in 'The Town' didn't prove that, this film definitely does.)  She clearly tries hard to be taken seriously, and I do respect that, but she really belongs in romantic comedies and lighter fare.  Many of the scenes with Reynolds and Lively where they deliver serious, dramatic speeches are laughable.  And the other top talent, including Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard, and Geoffrey Rush, really don't bring anything to the table. 

A film like this should be really fun, but a lot of it just wasn't.  But again, at least it's different and unlike many comic book films that fall apart at the end, this one actually gets better as it goes along.  So go ahead and see it if you really want to, but there are lots of better options in theaters now so I can't recommend it.

Oh, and because you know you want to ask ... Green Lantern or Green Hornet?  Green Hornet.

Grade: C 

Submarine


Chances are you haven't heard about this British coming-of-age dramedy now in limited release in theaters.  It's a small, quirky film which, in typical coming-of-age fashion, deals with the struggles of a teenage boy, with girls and with his parents.  Craig Roberts, who plays the lead, is a relative unknown, as is most of the cast (except for Sally Hawkins, recently giving solid performances in 'Happy Go Lucky' and 'Made in Dagenham'.)

I didn't particularly care for this film.  It's not terrible, mind you, and hipsters will probably dig it.  But I found the characters to be way too untrue, the cast (other than Hawkins) to be way too dull, and the directing style to be way too omnipresent.  To me, newcomer writer/director Richard Ayoade seems to be crushing on Wes Anderson a bit too much, and I really think you need to be an expert at your craft to make your directing footprint that distracting.  He's not there yet.

Oh, and don't let Ben Stiller's name on the poster fool you into thinking it's a Ben Stiller type film.  It's not at all.  And that's not meant to be a judgment, but it's just not what you expect from Gaylord Focker.  He's only the executive producer.  I'm guessing all that time on the set of 'The Royal Tenenbaums' got his juices flowing to discover the next Wes Anderson.  I say keep looking, Ben.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ewan McGregor Tribute


Revisiting 'The Ghost Writer' last week and 'Beginners', which is now in limited release in theaters, reminded me how great Ewan McGregor can be in the right role.  So I got to thinking that a tribute post was in order.  Below are 11 films you should check out if you're not yet a believer.

Shallow Grave (1994) - For my review check out my blog post on director Danny Boyle from 10/12/10.

Trainspotting (1996) - For my review check out my blog post on director Danny Boyle from 10/12/10.

Brassed Off (1996) - A great underappreciated Miramax classic, also featuring the late, great, Pete Postlethwaite.  What more do you need?

A Life Less Ordinary (1997) - For my review check out my blog post on director Danny Boyle from 10/12/10.

Little Voice (1998) - Another underappreciated Miramax classic, also featuring Michael Caine, and a woman who can mimic all the classic singers from her father's old records.  Seriously, what more do you want already?

Star Wars Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (1999) - OK, so it's not great.  Agreed.  But casting McGregor and Liam Neeson were probably the two best things going for it.  And maybe Darth Maul.  That dude's a bad ass.

Moulin Rouge! (2001) - Some like it and some don't.  But you can't deny McGregor went all in and can sure belt out a tune.

Big Fish (2003) - Tim Burton directed this fun and very original fairy tale.  McGregor doesn't necessarily shine, but the film deserves a mention on the list anyway.

Cassandra's Dream (2007) - Written and directed by Woody Allen and co-starring Colin Ferrell and Tom Wilkinson, this film is better than the attention it received.  It was made during Allen's renaissance in Europe.  'Match Point' got all the attention, but this one is equally dark and equally engaging if not more so.

The Ghost Writer (2010) - Hitchcock would be proud.  For a complete review, check out my blog post from 6/7/11.

Beginners (2011) - It's brilliant.  For a complete review c'mon back and check out my post this Friday and then head to the theater to see it.  Or vice versa.  Whichever.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tree of Life


I knew absolutely nothing about this film going into it except that it was written and directed by Terrence Malick, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  But that alone told me to be prepared for what I was about to see.  Anybody who knows anything about Malick, who's greatly respected by hard core film buffs for 'Badlands', 'Days of Heaven', 'The Thin Red Line', and 'The New World', knows that you better arrive at the theater wide awake and be prepared for a slowly paced, thoughtful film.  He's a real artist and it's not uncommon for him to take five to seven years in between projects to get them just the way he wants them.  (There was actually a 20 year gap between 1978's 'Days of Heaven' and 1998's 'The Thin Red Line'.)  Aside from Malick, the Cannes Palm d'Or is generally not given out to a feel good film.  They like them dark in France.  And Penn and Pitt generally seek out material with gravitas.  So buckle up, at 2 hours and 18 minutes this is either going to be a masterpiece or a long and painful ride.  Or maybe both.

It's hard to describe the film.  In part it's a very straightforward story about a working class family in Texas in the 1950's.  Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play the parents of three young boys, and Pitt is a loving, but hot tempered and nagging father who wants his kids to be better than he was.  Sean Penn has a brief role as a grown up version of one of the kids.  But what makes this film extremely different is how that story is juxtaposed with a more metaphysical, visual experience that seems to tackle the origin and meaning of life, with strong religious reference.  It's hard to compare it to many other films, but it's certainly reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' in terms of pace and visual imagery.  It's artistic and ambitious, to say the least.

So, does it succeed in it's ambition?  Well, after my first viewing I honestly had no idea.  I had prepared myself beforehand to be ready for whatever I was about to see, but yet I was still unprepared.  So, after 138 minutes I decided to stay in the theater and immediately watch it again.  And I rarely do that.  But after my second viewing I had a better understanding of what it is and what it's trying to be.  Yet I'm still not sure if it's a success or not.  Ordinarily I believe an artistic, ambitious film like this should either get an A or an F.  It's either a complete success or a complete failure.  But in this case I don't think the answer is at the extremes.  I really respect and liked what Malick was trying to create, and this is my favorite film of his to date, and I do believe it's his personal masterpiece.  I didn't find it pretentious, although some may.  In fact I think Malick may be the true heir to the Kubrickian throne, but perhaps only because there aren't any other suitable contenders.  Unfortunately I just don't think this film totally worked or was completely fulfilling for me.  But I honestly wish it did and it were because we don't get many films that aspire for so much.  So, see it anyway.

Grade: B+

Blank City


This is a documentary about the renaissance of filmmaking that took place in downtown Manhattan in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  And it's unbelievable what a completely different place that was then than it is now.  In short, filthy and dangerous.  Yet it was the right place at the right time for poor, artistic filmmakers who wanted to make films with no money and have venues to showcase them.  And to me, that sounds fascinating.  Unfortunately, this movie is anything but.  It was a dreadful bore.  I wasn't familiar with most of the talking heads, and the few I was familiar with, including Steve Buscemi, Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, and Debbie Harry really didn't have anything interesting to say.  Sadly, I was bored to tears.  In fact, I left before it ended, which I almost never do, despite the fact that the director was there for a Q&A afterward.  I know you wouldn't have heard of this movie or seen it anyway, but in case you happen to run across it, don't waste your time.

Grade: D-


Friday, June 10, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - FOX 35 Orlando - 6/10/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'X-Men: First Class', 'Super 8', and 'Midnight in Paris'.



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:
(Movies released today are in green)

Incendies                             Grade: A

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

The Hangover Part II           Grade: A-

Beautiful Boy                       Grade: A-

X-Men: First Class                Grade: B+

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides     Grade: B+

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Bridesmaids                        Grade: B+

The Double Hour                 Grade: B

Rio                                        Grade: B

Water for Elephants          Grade: B

Everything Must Go          Grade: B-

Cave of Forgotten Dreams    Grade: C

Thor                                   Grade: C

Something Borrowed       Grade: D

Kung Fu Panda 2               Grade: D

Super 8                              Grade: D

Blank City                          Grade: D-