Friday, July 27, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 7/27/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'The Watch' and my favorite content featuring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn.
FOX 35 News Orlando

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

The Dark Knight Rises       Grade: A+

Your Sister's Sister            Grade: A

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

Ted                                        Grade: A-

Brave                                    Grade: A-

Prometheus                         Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Savages                                Grade: A- 

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

Safety Not Guaranteed       Grade: B+

The Intouchables               Grade: B+

People Like Us                  Grade: B+

Dark Horse                        Grade: B

To Rome with Love          Grade: B

Rock of Ages                     Grade: B-

Take This Waltz                Grade: B-

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter      Grade: C+

Beasts of the Southern Wild             Grade: C

The Watch                                Grade: C

Snow White and the Huntsman     Grade: C

Men in Black III                 Grade: C

The Amazing Spider-Man     Grade: C-

Ice Age: Continental Drift     Grade: C-

Moonrise Kingdom          Grade: D+

Madagascar 3                   Grade: D+

The Watch


Frat Packers Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn team up once again and add Jonah Hill and newcomer Richard Ayoade to the mix, to form a neighborhood watch to help keep their 'hood safe from a killer on the loose, after one of Stiller's employees at Costco is mysteriously and brutally murdered.  Sounds funny, right?  Despite the cast, don't expect the zaniness of a 'Dodgeball', 'Zoolander', or 'Anchorman'.  This one's closer to a creepier and dirtier 'Night at the Museum'.  And that's a peculiar hybrid.  It's hard to tell who the target audience is here.  It's way too creepy and dirty for young kids, but not creepy or dirty enough for us creepy, dirty adults.  (We know who we are.)

Originally entitled 'Neighborhood Watch', the title was later shortened to 'The Watch' to distance themselves from the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman incident in Florida a few months back, as if removing that one word really makes a difference.  Of course it matters not.  That's just Hollywood PR silliness.  What does matter here is the quality of the film, or lack thereof.  The script is surprisingly weak and awkwardly unfunny particularly in the first half, but this is somewhat offset by the likeability of its cast.  It's a vaguely pleasant ride if you allow it to be, but it's also completely uninspired and unnecessary.  And don't wait for those to-be-expected cameos of fellow Frat Packers Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell.  They don't come.  And that's surprising but it's not the most unbelievable thing about the film.  Despite the many ridiculous plot points, nothing is more unbelievable about it than the idea that Ben Stiller's character could afford his particular house in his picture perfect neighborhood on the salary of a Costco manager.  Really?  That I'm not buying.

Grade: C

Friday, July 20, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 7/20/12


Today was going to be a special themed segment dedicated to director Christopher Nolan, where I would offer my thoughts on 'The Dark Knight Rises', 'Memento' (2000), 'Insomnia' (2002), The Presige (2006), and 'Inception' (2010).  In light of the terrible shooting that occurred in Colorado, the producers at FOX thought it would be in bad taste to do the segment, and I completely agree.  This is such a tragedy and my thoughts are with the families of those killed and injured.  I can't even process why this kind of craziness occurred.  And unfortunately this great movie will forever have an asterisk next to it.

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

The Dark Knight Rises       Grade: A+

Your Sister's Sister            Grade: A

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

Ted                                        Grade: A-

Brave                                    Grade: A-

Prometheus                         Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Savages                                Grade: A- 

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

Safety Not Guaranteed       Grade: B+

The Intouchables               Grade: B+

People Like Us                  Grade: B+

Dark Horse                        Grade: B

To Rome with Love          Grade: B

Rock of Ages                     Grade: B-

Take This Waltz                Grade: B-

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter      Grade: C+

Beasts of the Southern Wild             Grade: C

Snow White and the Huntsman     Grade: C

Men in Black III                 Grade: C

The Amazing Spider-Man     Grade: C-

Ice Age: Continental Drift     Grade: C-

Moonrise Kingdom          Grade: D+

Madagascar 3                   Grade: D+

The Dark Knight Rises


Well, it's over.  I just watched my most anticipated film of 2012: the third and final part of the Dark Knight trilogy.  And as high as my expectations were, it did not disappoint.

Of course I won't say anything about the plot.  I knew nothing about it going in and that's the way I recommend it for you.  That is, if you can possibly avoid the trailers, posters, articles, reviews, spoilers, interviews, and overall marketing and media blitz.  (Somehow I managed to.)  But I will say that Christopher Nolan, the director, continues to be among the best filmmakers in the history of film.  The guy just knows how to make a great movie.  If there is a secret, he knows it.  And yet you really don't hear him bragging about it.  He's certainly the most under-the-radar great director.  Most people don't even know him by name.  A smart investor should just give him $300M for his next project, whatever that is, and walk away and let him do what he obviously knows how to do.

As far as this particular franchise goes, to me these are the gold standard for movies based on comic books.  In fact, the genius of them is they don't even seem like comic book films.  They're really well made, surprisingly realistic, epic crime films with a few costumed characters sans super powers thrown in to punch them up.  In fact, Batman is probably only on screen for under 30 minutes out of 2 hours and 45!  (That's an estimate.  Don't hold me to it.)  (And I should also mention that despite the hefty running time this movie amazingly does not feel a bit long.)  My point is, a lesser made film would feel the need to have him on screen every frame.  But by holding back it gives it that much more punch when the Dark Knight actually does 'rise'.  These are comic book films for grown-ups.  And, unlike that ultra-boring reboot featuring your friendly neighborhood web-slinger, you have absolutely no idea where these films are going.

And of course the cast continues to be top notch.  A quality actor like Christian Bale is refreshing at a time when Hollywood is casting models rather than actors as leading men.  (I'm referring, of course, to 'Thor' and 'John Carter', and I'm more than a little concerned about the upcoming 'Man of Steel'.)  Bale is the real deal.  I'm glad to see he got recognized by the Academy for 'The Fighter', but at this point he deserves a lifetime achievement award.  And speaking of lifetime achievements, brilliant character actors Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman are all at the top of their games here.  Pound for pound this is among the best casting I've seen.

And I must also point out how great the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is.  When two of the best film score composers collaborate on such a huge film franchise, it's not surprising it turned out so well.  It sets the tone perfectly and consistently runs in the background creating just the right tension but not drawing attention to itself.  I listen to it all the time and it makes me feel like going out and fighting crime.  (I rarely do, though).

Now, keeping it real as I always do, is this the best of the three?  No.  There are a few things I won't discuss here that I would have changed.  But it's still spectacular and I loved every minute.  It's just virtually impossible to top the perfectly told origin story and Heath Ledger's classic portrayal of the Joker.  And if those aren't perfectly clear in your mind, I highly recommend revisiting them before you see this final part.  Otherwise you won't get the full impact.  Sure, it's a combined running time of 7.5 hours for the trilogy, but like other epic series, including 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Harry Potter', I firmly believe you get out of them what you put into them.  (Those who tell me they don't like these series generally say something like, 'I saw the last 30 minutes of the second one and didn't like it.  Well, duh.  You need to start from the beginning and commit to the end.  You can't dabble.)

But now it's over and I have to move on with my life.  And, like with 'Potter' and 'Rings', I'm thrilled to have experienced it, but overwhelmingly sad that it's now over.  It's hard to say goodbye to something you love.  I can only hope we aren't subjected to a Batman reboot anytime soon.  You can't improve upon perfection.  An attempt to do so would just be based on corporate greed.  And yet, sadly, I expect one within a decade.  Let's all agree now to a boycott.

Grade: A+ (for the trilogy as a whole)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 7/13/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Ice Age: Continental Drift', 'To Rome with Love', and 'Safety Not Guaranteed'. FOX 35 News Orlando

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

Your Sister's Sister            Grade: A

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

Ted                                        Grade: A-

Brave                                    Grade: A-

Prometheus                         Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Savages                                Grade: A- 

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

Safety Not Guaranteed       Grade: B+

The Intouchables               Grade: B+

People Like Us                  Grade: B+

Dark Horse                        Grade: B

To Rome with Love          Grade: B

Rock of Ages                     Grade: B-

Take This Waltz                Grade: B-

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter      Grade: C+

What to Expect When You're Expecting     Grade: C+

Beasts of the Southern Wild             Grade: C

Snow White and the Huntsman     Grade: C

Men in Black III                 Grade: C

That's My Boy                   Grade: C-

The Amazing Spider-Man     Grade: C-

Ice Age: Continental Drift     Grade: C-

Moonrise Kingdom          Grade: D+

Madagascar 3                   Grade: D+

Battleship                          Grade: D

Beasts of the Southern Wild


Every year there are movies that play extremely well at festivals and become the talk of the film community.  By mid-year last year that movie was 'Tree of Life' (which I watched twice and didn't find as satisfying as others), and by year's end it was 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' (which I thoroughly enjoyed even more the second time I saw it).  Without a doubt, this year's 'it' movie to date is surely 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'.  Having won prestigious awards at Sundance, Cannes, Seattle, and Los Angeles, it had already received a ton of word of mouth by the time I saw it at the Nantucket Film Festival last month.  To be fair, I saw it at the end of a long day, and in a less than optimal seat, but I always keep it real here on 'Flieder on Film' and I have to admit, I didn't get it.

But of course, most of you reading this probably haven't even heard of this movie.  So here's the general idea.  This is the story of a six year old girl (though, of almost indistinguishable gender), living in extreme poverty in Louisiana with her verbally abusive and increasingly ill father.  To its credit, I can't say I've seen anything like it.  It's quite original.  And considering its obvious low budget, it was shot well, with a few memorable scenes.  And the young girl, played by Quvenzhane Wallis (and no, I can't pronounce that), will surely be receiving a lot of attention come awards time, if only because of how young she was when she made the film.  According to the director and IMDB, Wallis was only five but lied and said she was six to get the audition, and ultimately beat out 4,000 kids for the part.  (Awards voters love those kinds of stories.)  But ultimately I found the film to be fairly unsatisfying and more than a little dull.  Perhaps my expectations were too high from all the hype.  But I could argue that had I not heard any hype at all I would have left this film and forgotten it a day later.

So the question is, is this movie as good as all the other critics say?  Or is it just the latest bandwagon?  I'll surely see it again before awards voting time to give it another chance.  But for now I say it's overrated.  Of course I may eat those words in February.

Grade: C+

Dark Horse


There are two kinds of filmgoers in this world.  Those that like Todd Solondz and those that don't.  (And generally, if you know him by name, you probably like him.)  With a filmography including 'Welcome to the Dollhouse', 'Happiness', 'Storytelling', 'Palindromes', 'Life During Wartime', and now 'Dark Horse', Solondz (like Woody Allen and Wes Anderson) has created a recognizable style of filmmaking that some, like me, always look forward, but others might find too weird, quirky, awkward, and sometimes disturbing.  But for those of you who haven't seen his films, if you dig weird, quirky, awkward, and sometimes disturbing, you should check out 'Dark Horse', an awkward romance featuring Selma Blair, Jordan Gelbar, Christopher Walken, Justin Bartha, and Mia Farrow.

Grade: B

Take This Waltz


Back in 2006, director Sarah Polley made a big splash among movie buffs with her ultra-heavy, and ultra-realistic film about Alzheimer's disease, 'Away from Her'.  Critics marveled at how such a young girl (at the age of 27) with very limited filmmaking experience could create such a mature and poignant film.  It certainly seemed like a film made by someone much older and much more experienced.  So the pressure was on.  Could she do it again?  Well, she followed up six years later, with a drama about relationships, and a strong cast including Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, and Sarah Silverman.  But unfortunately this one is nowhere near as good.  It's fine.  And it has some good performances, but it's a bit of a downer, and doesn't pack the punch to make that worthwhile (like 'Blue Valentine').  Despite comedians Rogen and Silverman, don't look for too many laughs here.  There are some for sure, but this is relationship drama.  And it's only ok.  I'll hold my ruling on Polley as a filmmaker for now, but in my opinion she's batting .500.

Grade: B-

Ice Age: Continental Drift


Oh joy, another animated family film.  By now, y'all know how much I love these.  Of course I'm being sarcastic.  This isn't my genre.  I don't get the 'Ice Age's or the 'Madagascar's or the 'Kung Fu Panda's or the 'Happy Feet's or any of those non-Pixar animated films.  But that could be just me.  Other people, young and old, seem to love them.  So I've learned that I really have no business grading these.  The honest truth is, you know by now if these are for you.  If you like the 'Ice Age's, 'Madagascar's, 'Kung Fu Panda's, and 'Happy Feet's, then you'll like this.  If you don't then you won't.  But since I always provide a grade, to me this seems like a ...

Grade: C-

As an aside though, the one thing I do enjoy about animated family films is that they're preceded by a short.  And even though I'm generally not big on seeing shorts programs at film festivals because they really don't allow time for a proper beginning, middle, and an end, seeing one short before a feature film makes for a nice experience.  I wish more films did this, since there's really no marketplace other than film festivals for good short films.  'La Luna' before 'Brave' was quite good.  And the Simpsons short that precedes 'Ice Age 4' is better than the feature film itself.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

To Rome with Love


Sometimes the secret to success is failure and the shortcut to failure is success.  (Profound, don't you think?)  Of course sometimes a clever rule is just a clever rule.  But I digress.

If you regularly read my blog you know that Woody Allen is one of my favorites.  And one of the only things I can count on in this oh-so-unpredictable world is that I'll get to enjoy 90 to 105 minutes of Woody Allen filmmaking a year.  He's very consistent, having made around 43 films in the last 43 years.  That's an impressive record by any standard.  Of course they're not all gems.  In fact, his films tend to go in waves.  Often a great one will follow a not-so-great one and vice versa.  It's as if he gets motivated by critical failures, while his creativity gets stifled by critical success.  Of course, I'm a fan of even his lesser received work, and I just hope he keeps making them for a long time to come. 

After the huge success of 'Midnight in Paris', probably the best in his career, it's clear to me that Allen decided he had to construct his next script under certain rules.  It would have to take place in Europe, in a city equally beautiful to Paris if not more so.  It would be a comedy, as many but not all of his films are.  And, it would have to have elements of fantasy.  OK, sounds good to me!  And, like all of his films, he was blessed with a dream cast.  I can't recall how many talented and successful actors I've heard say that when Woody calls, you just go.  Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig, Judy Davis, and Woody Allen himself (for the first time on screen since 'Scoop' in 2006) make up the enviable ensemble cast for four interwoven but separate storylines that take place in Rome, all with an element of fantasy.  Sounds like the perfect recipe for a very enjoyable movie.  And to a large extent it is.  It's just lacking the 'je ne sais quoi' of 'Midnight in Paris'.  The Baldwin/Eisenberg/Page/Gerwig storyline is the best of the four, but the rest just aren't quite as fun as I would have preferred.  Unlike 'Paris', this one won't be an Oscar nominee.  But it's a pretty good movie to see on a date or a weekend afternoon and pretend you live in Rome, if only for 102 minutes.

Grade: B

Friday, July 6, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 7/6/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'The Amazing Spider-Man', 'Savages', and 'The Artist'.

FOX 35 News Orlando

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

Your Sister's Sister            Grade: A

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

Ted                                        Grade: A-

Brave                                    Grade: A-

Prometheus                         Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Savages                                Grade: A- 

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

Safety Not Guaranteed       Grade: B+

The Intouchables               Grade: B+

People Like Us                  Grade: B+

To Rome with Love          Grade: B

Rock of Ages                     Grade: B-

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter      Grade: C+

What to Expect When You're Expecting     Grade: C+

Snow White and the Huntsman     Grade: C+

Men in Black III                 Grade: C

That's My Boy                   Grade: C-

The Amazing Spider-Man     Grade: C-

Moonrise Kingdom          Grade: D+

Madagascar 3                   Grade: D+

Battleship                          Grade: D

The Dictator                      Grade: F

Savages


You never know what to expect with an Oliver Stone film.  In the late 80's there were few directors that were better.  'Platoon', 'Wall Street', 'Talk Radio', and 'Born on the Fourth of July' from 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989 respectively has to be one of the greatest runs in film history.  Of course his last four, 'Alexander', 'World Trade Center', 'W.', and 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' are certainly nothing to brag about.  So you just don't know.  And with a mixed bag cast of Taylor Kitsch (from this year's duds 'John Carter' and 'Battleship'), Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, and Salma Hayek, who the hell knew what to expect?  But, I'm happy to report, this is an exciting drug crime thriller from start to finish.

Kitsch and Johnson play marijuana dealers who get mixed up with a nasty Mexican drug cartel, including Del Toro and Hayek.  Lively plays their shared, vapid love interest.  And Travolta is a crooked D.E.A. federal agent.  But while all that sounds standard and cliche, this movie actually grabs you and doesn't let go.  It's a reminder of what a good filmmaker Stone can be when he's not being too preachy or overly stylized.  Sure, the sex, violence and gore are a bit gratuitous.  But from the guy who made 'Natural Born Killers', you should expect nothing less, and it's pretty tame in comparison.  So if that doesn't bother you, check this one out this weekend and take a pass on your friendly neighborhood web-slinger.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man


Ah, Hollywood.  It's been only five years since the final entry in the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man series and already we have a reboot!  I don't know about you, but to me it feels way too soon.  Of course, I'd happily welcome this new take on the iconic Marvel comic character if there was a good reason for it; Perhaps a great script, a markedly different tone, a fresh new approach, or even one memorable performance?  Unfortunately this dud provides none of those things.

Now, lest you think I went in wanting to knock this film, I most certainly did not.  I honestly wanted to love it.  This was my favorite comic book character growing up.  And on paper, it sounded intriguing.  Andrew Garfield, who plays Peter Parker, was excellent in 'The Social Network' and very good in the under-seen 'Never Let Me Go'.  Emma Stone, playing Parker's love interest Gwen Stacy, is always delightful.  And the sterling supporting cast includes Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, and Campbell Scott.  Yet none of them are remotely interesting.  In fact, I've never seen any of them less interesting.  Compare that to the memorable performances from the Maguire trilogy, including J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, and Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus.  No comparison.  And when all performances in a film are lackluster, that falls on director Marc Webb.  (Yes, the director of Spider-Man's last name is Webb.)  To be sure, Webb's breakout film '500 Days of Summer' was utterly charming, but giving him a blockbuster super-hero film to follow it up was a huge mistake.  He wasn't ready and it shows. 

Of course, I won't put all the blame on him.  The script is terrible.  I mean, we have to sit through a slightly modified version of the origin story again?  Seriously?  Is there anyone out there who doesn't know the story by now?  It would have been a much better idea just to make this Spider-Man 4, even with this completely new cast, and just pick up where the last one left off.  At least that would give us something fresh.  And the tone is neither light enough nor dark enough, providing neither the laughs of 'The Avengers' nor the intensity of 'The Dark Knight'.  It's just dull.  And who picked the villain?  The Lizard?  Really??  Huge mistake.  I know they want to differentiate themselves from the 2002 entry, but The Green Goblin is a no-brainer.  Or maybe The Hobgoblin would have been a good compromise.   And even the score is lackluster compared to Danny Elfman's from the other films.  This one's a misfire from start to finish and made me wax nostalgic for the Tobey Maguire trilogy.  I feel the need to remind Hollywood of a valuable lesson I once learned:  With great power comes great responsibility.  Do better next time.

Grade: C-