Friday, October 28, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day - FOX 35 Orlando 10/28/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'The Rum Diary', 'In Time', and 'Puss in Boots'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/entertainment/movies/102811-flieder-flicks-friday

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 this week are in green)

Moneyball                            Grade: A

Martha Marcy May Marlene      Grade: A

The Ides of March               Grade: A

The Way                               Grade: A

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

Contagion                            Grade: A

Take Shelter                        Grade: A

The Help                              Grade: A-

In Time                                Grade: A-

50/50                                   Grade: A-

The Debt                             Grade: B+

Paranormal Activity 3        Grade: B+

What's Your Number?       Grade: B+

Anonymous                        Grade: B

Johnny English Reborn      Grade: B-

Puss in Boots                      Grade: B-

The Big Year                       Grade: C+

Drive                                   Grade: C

Footloose                           Grade: C-

Killer Elite                          Grade: C-

Real Steel                          Grade: D

The Rum Diary                  Grade: D

The Thing                          Grade: F

Martha Marcy May Marlene


This mysterious film with the curiously alliterative title that nobody can seem to get straight has been garnering a ton of buzz ever since it premiered at Sundance and then played at Cannes and Toronto.  It's rare for a film to play at all three prestigious festivals, so I was anxiously anticipating it despite the fact I knew absolutely nothing about it.  And now, having seen it twice, I can tell you it totally lives up to the hype.  (Although it took me some time after the first viewing and a second screening to fully appreciate it.)

As for the plot, I'd rather not say anything at all actually.  The less you know, the more you'll enjoy this quiet, tense, emotional, dramatic thriller.  The joy of a film like this (and I use the word 'joy' very loosely because this dark drama is not joyful in the least) is watching it unfold.  You never know where it's going to go.  But I will tell you what it isn't so you know what you're getting into.  This is not a feel good film.  This is not a horror film or a gory film or an overly violent film (although there is some).  It is an emotionally heavy film that will resonate with you long afterwards.  In some ways it's this year's 'Winter's Bone' (but better).  Partially because it's the lesser known, gritty, dark horse contender for this year's Best Picture Oscar.  And partially because it features another standout performance by John Hawkes who may once again receive an Academy Award nomination, and deservedly so.  He's spellbinding and chilling.  And newcomer Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the twins, gives a really powerful performance as well.

Audiences will likely be split on this film.  Some may hate it for being unsatisfying, and some (like me) will find it to be one of the best of the year.  Regardless, you'll surely want to discuss it afterward, and you won't soon forget it.  And that's about all I ask for.

Grade: A

In Time


Justin Timberlake stars in this high-concept science fiction action thriller where time is a commodity used as currency.  In this world, people stop aging at 25, at which time a countdown appears on their wrist with only one year remaining.  When your countdown runs out, your time is up.  But time can be earned, traded, sold, given away, and stolen.  It's an allegory for our Capitalist class system, but here the rich have many years while the poor may only have minutes remaining.

This is a fun unpretentious popcorn film with an original and thought provoking concept and a great young cast including Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Cillian Murphy, 'Big Bang Theory's Johnny Galecki, and 'Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser.  Sure, it's got more than a few roll-your-eyes cliche moments.  But if you like high-concept sci-fi films like 'Gattaca' (from the same writer/director, Andrew Niccol), 'Repo Men', and 'Source Code', then you'll love it despite its imperfections.  I'd love to say more about it but I don't want to spoil anything and since I have to review this on FOX early tomorrow morning, I just don't have the time.  Ironic.

Grade: A-

The Rum Diary


Johnny Depp plays a journalist writing for a newspaper in Puerto Rico.  And that's all I'm going to say about this movie.  No, not because it's so good that I don't want to ruin anything.  In fact, I just don't know what else to say about it.  Absolutely nothing happens.  And that's why I find the tag line on the poster ironic.  'Absolutely Nothing in Moderation'.  The unintentional meaning of that sentence is eerily fitting.

On the surface this movie looks excellent.  Johnny Depp is always great and he generally picks interesting offbeat roles.  Aaron Eckhart has become a very solid and reliable actor.  Richard Jenkins always hits it out of the park.  And you can always count on Giovanni Ribisi for a fun, over-the-top, explosive performance.  Yet somehow this movie is a maddening bore.  It's two hours of nothing happening.  I wanted to walk out but I didn't dare lest I might miss the payoff at the end.  Well, it didn't come.  This is just bad filmmaking by Bruce Robinson based on bad writing by Hunter S. Thompson.  For me, this was 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' all over again, and I really didn't need to re-experience that hot mess.

Grade: D

Puss in Boots


Have you ever wanted to know the backstory and continuing adventures of fabled characters like Puss in Boots, Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, Jack & the Beanstalk, and the goose that lays golden eggs?  No of course you didn't, because you're an adult.  And since I am as well, I really didn't have much interest in this 'Shrek' spin-off featuring the voice of Antonio Banderas as the titular character and Salma Hayek as his partner in crime and feline crush.  But, in the right frame of mind, and for the right audience, it's really not bad.

I really like Banderas because he understands that a suave lead who gets the joke is better than one who doesn't, as he's shown splendidly in 'Four Rooms' and the 'Spy Kids' series.  He could easily take himself too seriously, but he smartly does not.  And even before I knew Hayek was in the film, I thought to myself, this film could really use Salma Hayek.  And then there she was.  That's good casting.  Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris also round out the cast and are all satisfactory.  Furthermore, the score and the 3D work to keep it from being a snoozefest even at times when it drags a bit.  So I think this is one of the better family films of the year that parents can still appreciate, about on the same level as 'Rango', but not as good as 'Rio'.

Grade: B-

Anonymous


Was William Shakespeare really responsible for the plays that bear his name?  This film tells the conspiracy theorist version.

Unfortunately I can't really offer a proper review on this one.  It's long and there are lots of characters, several who look and sound similar, and lots of dialogue and it's a kind of hard to follow, particularly if you're not completely awake.  And I wasn't.  To be fair, I need to see it again.  But I do think it's smart that the studio decided at the last minute to change it from wide release to limited.  This is not a film for mainstream audiences.  It's not as easily appreciable as 'Shakespeare in Love'.  This one's for the art house crowd.  It may be quite good, but I'm just not sure at this time.

Grade (for now): B

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival - Day 6


The festival is not even half over but I've already seen a ton of great films.  Here's what I've seen the last few days:

Anonymous - Who really wrote Shakespeare's work?  This film explores an alternative theory.  It's good, but my advice is to make sure you're fully awake.  I wasn't.  I need to see it again.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home - an indie-style dramedy by the Duplass Brothers starring Jason Segal, Ed Helms, and Judy Greer.  Mark Duplass participated in a fun Q&A afterward.  Were you there?  I sure was and it was great.

Headhunters - a Norwegian thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Thin Ice - a quirky drama starring Greg Kinnear, an insurance salesman who gets in over his head.

Martha Marcy May Marlene - A heavy, tense, emotional, dramatic thriller.  One of the best films of the year.  Check back for my review on Friday.

Friday Night Lights - a screening of the popular 2004 film about high school football.  Afterwards we were treated to a very entertaining hour-long conversation and Q&A with author 'Buzz' Bissinger and director/screenplay writer Peter Berg.  Fun stuff.

But don't feel left out.  There are still plenty more great fulms and plenty of tickets available.  And may I recommend:

The Artist - a black and white silent film about silent films.   That might not sound appealing, but it's great and is also likely to be an Oscar nominee.

Being Elmo - A documentary about the puppeteer behind Elmo, with the man in person for a Q&A afterward.  I haven't seen this yet but how could that not be fun?

My Week with Marilyn - Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe.  I'm sold.

The Descendants - a dramedy starring George Clooney and directed by Alexander Payne ('Sideways', 'Election', 'About Schmidt').  This one is likely to be an Oscar nominee this year.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival - Day 3


If you're like me you've been thoroughly enjoying this year's festival.  And if you haven't yet been out to see anything, shame on you.  You can still get plenty of great tickets here!

You'll have to wait until the films' official release day for full reviews of what I see, but here's a brief summary of what I've seen so far:

Like Crazy - a romantic drama starring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin telling the story of the highs and lows of a true intense love.  You've got one more chance to see it at the festival tomorrow at 2:00.

Shame - a heavy drama about sex addiction starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.  That was the festival's only screening of it so you'll have to wait until 12/2 to catch this one.

Puss in Boots - A spin-off from Shrek.  Come back and see my full review on Friday when it opens nationwide.

Melancholia - Lars Von Trier's latest film is dark, heavy, and powerful as per usual.  You've got one more chance to see it at the festival tomorrow at 4:15.

Oh and I haven't seen it yet but I hear Headhunters is excellent, playing tomorrow at 7:00 PM! 

Does anyone have any suggestions of not-to-be-missed films?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day - FOX 35 Orlando 10/21/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Paranormal Activity 3', 'Johnny English Reborn', and 'Grave Encounters'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/entertainment/movies/102111-flieder-flicks-friday

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 this week are in green)

Moneyball                            Grade: A

The Way                               Grade: A

Midnight in Paris                 Grade: A

The Ides of March               Grade: A

Contagion                            Grade: A

Take Shelter                       Grade: A

The Help                              Grade: A-

Crazy Stupid Love               Grade: A-

50/50                                   Grade: A-

The Debt                             Grade: B+

Paranormal Activity 3        Grade: B+

What's Your Number?       Grade: B+

Johnny English Reborn      Grade: B-

The Big Year                       Grade: C+

Drive                                   Grade: C

Footloose                           Grade: C-

Killer Elite                          Grade: C-

Real Steel                          Grade: D-

The Thing                          Grade: F

Take Shelter


Michael Shannon ('Reservation Road', 'Boardwalk Empire') stars as a man plagued by bad dreams about an apocalyptic storm coming.  As the dreams progress he becomes increasingly obsessed with building a shelter for his wife, played by Jessica Chastain, and daughter.

This slow burn drama with elements of suspense and horror about one man's descent into madness is all about atmosphere and performance.  Don't go see this one for action or even story.  Go see it because Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain are utterly engaging.  These two rising stars give unbelievable performances, and combined with the understated haunting score, you can't help but feel as uncomfortable as they are.  Its slow pace may turn some off, but if you're ok with that it's very powerful and sticks with you afterward.  And while the film probably won't score a Best Picture nomination, the cast just may.

Grade: A

Paranormal Activity 3


In the Fall of 2009 a small low budget home video-style horror movie took Hollywood by storm after slowly building a following, playing at various film festivals for two years and eventually impressing important folks like Steven Spielberg.  The original version only cost around $15,000 and is a good example of the theory that what you don't see is often scarier than what you do.  (Take note, big budget horror filmmakers!)  At Spielberg's suggestion, and with DreamWorks' additional funding, the ending was changed to include a few special effects and Paramount/DreamWorks bought the domestic rights for the film and any sequels for $300,000.  The original plan was to remake it and only include the original as a bonus on the DVD.  But once they realized how positive audience reactions were, they decided to keep it as is.  This turned out be a very wise decision.  (Who even remembers the significantly bigger budget sequel to the inspiration for this film, 'The Blair Witch Project'?  Often times more money = worse movie.)

'Paranormal Activity' went on to gross over $100M, so it's no surprise that a sequel quickly followed the next October.  And while I'm a big fan of the first, I found the second to be mostly rehash.  It works as a companion piece to the original but doesn't really add much to it.

And now we have the third (and perhaps final?) installment.  So does this one bring anything new to the table?  A little.  It's a prequel to the first two, giving some insight into the backstory.  But the format is basically the same.  And while I can't reward it for being innovative, I must admit it's very scary.  In fact, I'm still tense as I write this.  So if you're a fan of the first two, and like a good scare, then go see it for sure.  But if you haven't seen the first two, or don't care for horror films, steer clear.

Grade: B+

Johnny English Reborn


Prequels, Sequels, Reboots, and Remakes.  That's all we have to look forward to these days in theaters.  And if ever there was a movie I didn't think would get greenlit for a sequel, it was the 2003 spy spoof 'Johnny English' starring Rowan Atkinson.  (Did anyone even see that movie?)  Atkinson plays the titular character, a British secret agent who somehow manages to get the job done despite being a total buffoon.  Of course it doesn't hurt that he's been training with monks who teach him to make up for in mind what he lacks in body. So he's been reborn, so to speak.

Best known as Blackadder and Mr. Bean, Atkinson has formed a career out of playing silly, British slapstick.  If you've ever seen any of his work, you pretty much know what you're going to get from all of his work.  You either like him or hate him.  And I must admit (and I'm not proud of it) but I kind of like him.  He amuses me.  And this sequel is funnier and a bit better than the original.  So if you've been jonesing for another secret agent spoof film in the vein of 'Austin Powers' or 'Get Smart', then feel free to turn your brain off and check this one out.  You don't have to admit to it afterward.

Grade: B-

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival Starts Thursday


The festival starts this Thursday so if you haven't bought your tickets yet, you still have time.  You can still buy all access badges, 20-passes, and 6-passes at very reasonable prices.  Or better yet, become a member of the Philadelphia Film Society and get passes and tickets to the festival plus year round benefits.

Here are just a few recommendations to consider:
  • 'The Descendants', a dramedy starring George Clooney and directed by Alexander Payne ('Sideways', 'Election', 'About Schmidt').  This one is likely to be an Oscar nominee this year.
  • 'The Artist', a black and white silent film about silent films.   That might not sound appealing, but it's great and is also likely to be an Oscar nominee.
  • 'Martha Marcy May Marlene', a tense drama about a woman who returns home after becoming part of a cult.  Also, an Oscar possibility.
  • 'Melancholia', an atmospheric, apocalyptic drama starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland, and directed by the infamous and controversial Danish director Lars von Trier.  
  • 'The Good Doctor' - a tense thriller starring Orlando Bloom, Rob Morrow, and J.K Simmons
  • 'The Swell Season' - A documentary for everyone who loved 'Once' and wanted to see what happens next.
  • 'Barton Fink' - A quirky Coen Brothers classic from 1991 starring John Turturro and John Goodman which is easily my favorite Coen film.
So what are you waiting for?!?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Thing


If this non-specific title sounds familiar it's because you've heard it before.  This is a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film of the same name, which was itself a remake of the 1951 film 'The Thing from Another World'.  They're about a group of men (and this new version has one woman) in the Antarctic who find an alien that's been frozen for 100,000 years.  And, of course, the alien gets unfrozen and wreaks havoc on them, absorbing them one by one and morphing into their likeness.

You know, I used to think the 1982 version was a bad movie with a few decent moments of suspense.  But I have to admit, at least that one had an interesting ensemble cast including Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, and Richard Dysart.  And while those aren't A-listers, they were at least engaging.  This version has absolutely nothing going for it.  The cast is the antithesis of engaging.  The alien is a complete bore.  And there's nothing new brought to the table.  It might as well have been a remake, because it's the exact same story.  Awful, awful, awful.  One of the worst of the year and a giant waste of time.  Stick with the 'Alien' series.

Grade: F

Friday, October 14, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day - FOX 35 Orlando 10/14/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Footloose', 'The Big Year', and 'The Trip'.

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 this week are in green)

Moneyball                            Grade: A

The Way                               Grade: A

Midnight in Paris                 Grade: A

The Ides of March               Grade: A

Contagion                            Grade: A-

The Help                              Grade: A-

Crazy Stupid Love               Grade: A-

50/50                                   Grade: A-

The Debt                             Grade: B+

What's Your Number?       Grade: B+

The Big Year                       Grade: C+

Drive                                   Grade: C

Footloose                           Grade: C-

Killer Elite                          Grade: C-

Real Steel                          Grade: D-

The Thing                          Grade: F

Footloose


Hollywood execs are clearly desperate for material when they decide to dig up this cheesy film from the 80's.  And it really hasn't been updated very much at all.  Many scenes and lines are taken directly from the original about an out-of-towner who shakes things up in small town America where they've banned dancing to keep their kids safe.  And that's really the heart of my issue with both of these movies.  Are we really supposed to buy that any town in America would actually ban dancing to keep their kids safe?  Crack down on alcohol and drugs?  Yes!  Implement a curfew?  Sure.  Ban certain types of profane music?  OK, I buy that.  But a ban on dancing?  It just doesn't make any sense.
Let me come clean.  I wasn't a fan of the original.  And even though the remake wasn't nearly as painful as I anticipated, it's really just not worth going to see unless you really are.  The fresh faced teens just aren't captivating.  Dennis Quaid does a good job of replacing John Lithgow as the minister father responsible for the dancing ban, but that's about all the film had to offer for me.  (Andie McDowell must be looking for work because her role doesn't really have much meat at all.)  And even the soundtrack isn't really a draw here.  And that's key for a movie like this.  You'll leave the theater with the Kenny Loggins classic stuck in your head, but that's about it.

Oh, and I know you want to know if Kevin Bacon shows up, right?  I mean, how could he not?  Well, I probably shouldn't spoil it, but I wouldn't rush to the theater just to be able to add this film to your 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' list.

Grade: C-

The Big Year


Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, and Jack Black are all trying to have 'a big year'.  In Birding terms, that means spotting a whole lot of different types of birds.  Wilson has the record and he's trying to keep it.  Martin and Black are trying to break it.  And that's pretty much all there is to it.

This movie is light entertainment and nothing more.  Don't go in expecting to laugh.  This is not your typical Frat Pack broad comedy.  (Don't expect any Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, or Steve Carell cameos).  In fact, surprisingly, considering the cast there really aren't any jokes and it's not intended to be very funny.  Nor is it intended to be dramatic or poignant or 'big' in any way.  But its best quality is the likeability of its leads.  And they're fairly likeable, but at a time when there are so many good movies in theaters, that just isn't enough reason to justify your time.

Grade: C+

Friday, October 7, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day - FOX 35 Orlando 10/7/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'The Ides of March', 'Real Steel', and 'Scream 4'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/entertainment/movies/100711-flieder-flicks-friday

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 this week are in green)

Moneyball                           Grade: A

The Way                              Grade: A

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

The Ides of March               Grade: A

Contagion                            Grade: A-

The Help                              Grade: A-

Crazy Stupid Love               Grade: A-

50/50                                    Grade: A-

The Guard                           Grade: A-

The Debt                             Grade: B+

What's Your Number?       Grade: B+

Rise of the Planet of the Apes     Grade: B

Drive                                 Grade: C

Killer Elite                         Grade: C-

Real Steel                         Grade: D-

The Ides of March


George Clooney directs and co-stars in this political drama with a dream ensemble cast.  Clooney plays a governor campaigning in the Democratic presidential primaries.  Ryan Gosling plays a young prodigy at campaigning, working for old time pro and Clooney's campaign manager, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Paul Giamatti is the campaign manager for the competition.  And Marisa Tomei plays a nosy newspaper reporter.

I don't want to say much about the plot because this is a great film and the less you know the more you'll enjoy it.  But if you like a tense political drama with plenty of twists and meaty performances, this is the film to see this weekend.  It could be considered the next 'Glengarry Glen Ross', but without all the F-bombs and the Mamet-style of dialogue.  And it's certainly amongst a small group of films released this year to date that could be Oscar worthy.

Grade: A

The Way


This is the very first movie I blogged about over a year ago after I saw at it the Toronto Film Festival.  It was surprisingly my favorite at the festival last year.  And it's finally being released today.  I haven't had a chance to revisit it to see if I liked it as much, but here were my thoughts last year:

Emilio Estevez directed and also plays a small role as a wandering soul with an adventurous spirit who opts to walk El Camino (The Way, translated in English), a long trail in Spain that takes months to walk, but due to a mysterious storm, he dies on day one.  Martin Sheen stars as his dad, who is devastated by the loss and decides to walk El Camino in his son's honor.  Sheen's journey is both emotional and spiritual as he meets others along the way with issues of their own.

In the wrong hands this could have easily been corny and felt like a made-for-TV movie.  But Estevez and Sheen hit all the notes right and for me it worked tremendously.  And, given the subject matter, it's not overwhelmingly depressing, but rather life affirming.  For those of you who aren't into the 'Grieving Parent Mourns Child' genre, you may opt to skip this one.  But if you appreciate the genre, then I highly recommend it.

Grade: A+

Real Steel


I'm going to cut to the chase and keep this review short since this movie already robbed me of more than two hours of my time:  Real Steel is Real Stupid.

Hugh Jackman plays a down-on-his-luck loser who enters large robots into fighting competitions.  And he's also a deadbeat dad who agrees to look after his boy for a summer in exchange for a large sum of money, after which he will dump him off on his ex-girlfriend's sister.  But, amazingly enough, the world of robot fighting manages to bring them closer together. (sniff sniff)

I could tell early on that the real fight here was going to be me fighting to stay awake.  I found myself alternately drifting off and waxing nostalgic about 'Rocky' (a great movie), 'Transformers' (a fun guilty pleasure) and 'Warrior' (which wasn't very good, but suddenly I feel as if I was too hard on it.)  Nothing works here.  The father-son relationship is so cliche it's laughable.  The barely touched upon romance between Jackman and Evangeline Lilly is completely devoid of any chemistry.  And the interminable robot fighting was like watching a terrible video game that never ends.  And at 126 minutes, this film is way, way, WAY too long!  Hugh Jackman, is too good for this movie.

This movie is the exact type for which the Razzie awards were created.  It's not the worst film of the year, but because of the talent involved, I think it deserves the anti-Oscar,

Grade: D-

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cinedelphia - 31 Days of Horror


There's a great local blog in Philadelphia called Cinedelphia that all cinephiles should frequent.  This month it's temporarily renamed Sinedelphia and is featuring 31 Days of Horror, a horror film related post every day in October.  Today's post is called Flicks That Frighten the Philly Film Community, with film critics and horror afficionados recommending their favorite horror films, and includes an entry by yours truly.  Check it out.