Friday, November 30, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 11/30/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'Hitchcock', 'Killing Them Softly', and 'The Queen of Versailles'.

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now

Deadfall  (Video on Demand)   Grade: A

Flight                                   Grade: A

Skyfall                                 Grade: A

A Royal Affair                    Grade: A

Perks of Being a Wallflower    Grade: A

Killing Them Softly            Grade: A-

The Sessions                       Grade: A-

Silver Linings Playbook     Grade: A-

Argo                                    Grade: A-

Hitchcock                          Grade: B+

Lincoln                              Grade: B+

Holy Motors                     Grade: B+

Life of Pi                           Grade: B

The Girl  (HBO)                 Grade: B-

Anna Karenina                 Grade: C

Cloud Atlas                      Grade: C

Hitchcock / The Girl


Good Eeeevening.  I think it's safe to say that pretty much all film buffs admire Alfred Hitchcock, the original master of suspense.  With an extremely prolific career, having directed over 50 films, many of which involve murder, and with all the biggest names of classic Hollywood, he stands out as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  Not to mention his iconic voice, shape, and demeanor.  He was truly a larger than life character.  It's somewhat shocking that this is the first big screen feature film about him.  And furthermore, it isn't even a true biopic.  The film only spans 1959 to 1960, focused primarily on Hitchcock's struggle to make arguably his most memorable film, 'Psycho'.  Anthony Hopkins stars, Helen Mirren plays his wife, and Scarlet Johansen and Jessica Biel play 'Psycho' cast members Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, respectively.

Hitchcock fans (like myself) will surely enjoy it for a behind the scenes look at the master and one of his masterpieces.  But, like many films of late based on actual historical legends, it's more likely to be an award nominee than a large scale crowd pleaser.

Grade: B+





Hard core Hitchcock fans can make it a double feature and follow up with HBO's 'The Girl' which basically picks up where this one leaves off.  This time Toby Jones plays the lead, in a significantly less flattering light, as he creepily lusts after blonde model-turned-actress Tippi Hedron (as played by Sienna Miller) in 'The Birds' and 'Marnie'.  Whereas 'Hitchcock' is at least primarily focused on the struggle to make a film, 'The Girl' is more about Hitchcock's issues with women and obsession with attractive young blondes.  It's much more of a scandalous tell-all smear than an homage to a great filmmaker.  Interesting, but a lot less classy.

Grade: B-

Killing Them Softly


Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandalfini, and Richard Jenkins are among the ensemble cast in this violent crime drama surrounding a poker game heist and its consequences.  One might consider it 'Reservoir Dogs' meets 'Drive' meets 'Burn After Reading', as it oscillates between brutally violent and gory to darkly comic, with snappy dialogue that seems as if it belongs to Tarantino or the Coen Brothers.  It's engrossing, entertaining, stylized, and tight at only 97 minutes.

Grade: A-

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cloud Atlas


'Cloud Atlas':  A true masterpiece of a once-believed unfilmable book beyond the capabilities of my feeble mind, or another ambitious failure from the Wachowski 'Brothers' and the biggest big-budget mess of the year?   This is the question I've been asking myself since I first saw this film a month ago.

Ordinarily I preach that one should avoid all trailers, spoilers, and plot points before seeing a film.  I strongly believe that the less you know about a movie going in the more you'll enjoy it.  (Case in point: 'Deadfall'.  Avoid the trailers.  Just see it!)  Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and 'Cloud Atlas' is one of them.  I knew absolutely nothing about it going in and I was confused from the first minute and that confusion lasted approximately three painful hours.  Is it unintelligible to the uninformed?  Was I tired from seeing 16 other films in the previous five days at the Philadelphia Film Festival?  Am I a dullard?  We may never know the answer to these questions.  But one thing was for sure.  I was not in a proper position to give this film a grade until I saw it again.  So I didn't.  And now, a month later, I saw it again.  And this time I was ready.  I knew what to expect.  I knew how it would start and how it would end.  How hard could it be to follow it knowing all that?  Very, very hard.  I still can't follow the damn film.  Is it me??  Is it too genius for me??  Or is it an unintelligible mess???   I.  Don't.  Know.    DAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!  

somebody help me.

Grade: D+

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holy Motors


Holy Motors, Batman!  This is one crazy-ass movie!  Believe me when I say it's definitely the weirdest film I've seen all year.  I won't tell you what it's about, partially because experiencing it is the fun part, and partially because I'm not sure what it's about.  I will say it's French with subtitles.  And if you think you have an odd job, you need to see a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar.

This is the second ambitious film of the year to predominantly take place in a stretch limousine (with 'Cosmopolis' being the other), and like 'Cosmopolis' I'm not sure if it's a complete success.  But I know I enjoyed the ride, all the while trying to understand what it's about.  I just wish I knew if movies like this really have a defined storyline in the filmmaker's head, or if they're intended to be ambiguous and somewhat random.  This one's not for everyone, and don't expect a fully satisfying conclusion and everything wrapped up in a bow, but if you like David Lynch or Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this one's for you.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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)

Deadfall  (Video on Demand)   Grade: A

Flight                                   Grade: A

Skyfall                                 Grade: A

A Royal Affair                    Grade: A

Perks of Being a Wallflower    Grade: A

Seven Psychopaths            Grade: A

A Late Quartet                   Grade: A

The Sessions                       Grade: A-

Silver Linings Playbook     Grade: A-

Argo                                    Grade: A-

Lincoln                              Grade: B+

Holy Motors                     Grade: B+

Frankenweenie                Grade: B

Pitch Perfect                    Grade: B

Life of Pi                           Grade: B

Anna Karenina                Grade: C

Cloud Atlas                     Grade: C

Here Comes the Boom         Grade: C-

Deadfall


These days, some of the best films premiere on Video On Demand.  And I can't think of a better example than 'Deadfall'.  I saw it in April at the Tribeca Film Festival and have eagerly awaited its release to recommend it to others.  Though I easily could have missed it at the festival, because when I saw it in the program guide it didn't jump out at me.  The ensemble cast is made up of competent actors, none of which were previously on my must see list:  Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Kate Mara, Treat Williams.  Yet, in the film, they're all fantastic, as are the locations, the cinematography, and the action scenes.  And that's the sign of a great director, Stefan Ruzowitzky.  It all comes together perfectly.  'Deadfall' is an exciting, violent, sexy, action packed crime thriller set in an atmospheric blizzard, that packs a heck of a lot in a scant 95 minutes, and features a stand out performance by Eric Bana.  It's one of the best performances in one of my favorite movies of the year, and it's perfect for Thanksgiving weekend.  You can see it right now at home on VOD, or beginning December 7 in limited release in theaters.

Grade: A

A Royal Affair


Generally, people either love or hate historical European costume dramas.  There aren't many released in a year, and rightly so, because it's targeted to a niche audience.  But as a lover of good films from all genres, I will always try a film that doesn't initially appeal to me if the buzz is good.  And I'm glad I did with this 18th Century Danish aristocracy drama, which is Denmark's submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.  It's excellent.

Child-like, immature kings seem to be all the rage these days (e.g. Game of Thrones) but King Christian VII is also a buffoon, much to his betrothed's dismay.  But when a German doctor and scholar of the Enlightenment enters the picture and becomes his right hand man, things are about to change.

While I admit, the 2 hour 20 minute run time feels a bit long, and the film takes a bit to get into, it's very rewarding once it hits its stride.  It's not to be missed if you're a fan of the genre, and you should consider it even if you aren't.  It's one of my favorite foreign language films of the year.

Grade: A

Life of Pi


Pi is a young Indian boy finding his way in the world, and this adventure film is his almost too hard to believe shipwreck story.

During the first third to half of the film I had dismissed it as a visual achievement but grossly lacking in the casting and story.  (i.e. an Ang Lee film.  Not a fan, with the exception of 'The Ice Storm'.)  But once it finally gets to the heart of the story, it improves significantly and builds to a memorable conclusion.  So, while I can't recommend this for your list of must see films (despite what some other critics are saying), if you do find yourself watching it, stick with it.

Grade: B

Anna Karenina


Joe Wright ('Pride & Prejudice', 'Atonement', 'The Soloist', 'Hanna') directs this umpteenth version of the Leo Tolstoy novel, and it's pretty much exactly what you expect it to be: style over substance.  Like most of Wright's work, it's visually interesting, but not enough to make up for its substandard storytelling.  And of course, like almost all films set in the 18th and 19th centuries, it features Keira Knightley.  (It's becoming a requirement.)  Fans of Baz Luhrmann films will probably enjoy it.  But the rest of us should probably steer clear.  If you're in the mood for a period film, you're much better off with 'A Royal Affair'.

Grade: C

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Queen of Versailles


Ordinarily I preach that reality shows about the Hiltons or the Kardashians or other spoiled 'lucky sperm club' socialites, famous for achieving nothing, exemplify everything that's wrong with America.  For many impressionable kids, these poor role models are who they idolize.  And why not?  Why get an education and work for a living if you can somehow just get rich quick and party all the time?  Sign me up!  But that's not reality for 99% of us.

So I may seem hypocritical when I tell you that this documentary about Westgate time share billionaire David Siegel and his former model trophy wife Jaqueline is fantastic.  For one, it's extraordinarily entertaining (as I must admit watching the Hiltons and Kardashians can be, in a guilty pleasure kind of way.)  But it also digs deeper than all those trashy reality shows.  You really get a pretty sobering look into the unfortunate as well as the fortunate side of being uber-wealthy.  And, for those of us that don't know their story, this doc has some pretty unexpected turns.  I won't ruin them for you, but do yourself a favor and check it out.  It's now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Oh, and you also get a brief appearance and voiceover narration by my friends, FOX 35 anchor Amy Kaufeldt and FOX 35 reporter David Martin, respectively.  Bonus!

Grade: A

Friday, November 16, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 11/16/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offer my thoughts on 'Lincoln', 'Silver Linings Playbook', and 'Brave'. 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 Master                         Grade: A

Looper                                 Grade: A

Flight                                   Grade: A

Skyfall                                 Grade: A

Perks of Being a Wallflower    Grade: A

Seven Psychopaths            Grade: A

A Late Quartet                   Grade: A

The Sessions                       Grade: A-

Silver Linings Playbook     Grade: A-

Argo                                    Grade: A-

Lincoln                              Grade: B+

Sinister                             Grade: B

Frankenweenie                Grade: B

Pitch Perfect                    Grade: B

Here Comes the Boom         Grade: C-

Silver Linings Playbook


If you've been paying attention to the festival scene, you know the latest film from director David O'Russell ('The Fighter', 'I Heart Huckabees', 'Three Kings', 'Flirting with Disaster', 'Spanking the Monkey') has been taking it by storm, winning audience awards at Toronto, Philadelphia, the Hamptons, and Austin.  It received rave reviews from everywhere I read and everyone I know who had seen it.  And frankly, I was surprised by all this.  This film wasn't really on my radar prior to September.  But suddenly it's on the short list for Academy Award Best Picture nominees.  Could it possibly live up to its reputation?

Bradley Cooper plays a man who spent the last eight months in a mental institution, and now he's coming home to his parents (played by Robert DeNiro and 'Animal Kingdom's' Jacki Weaver) and trying to learn to control his outbursts.  But he may have found his match when he's introduced to his friend's sister-in-law, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who also has more than her share of emotional problems. 

'Silver Linings Playbook' is a slightly dark, severely dysfunctional family dramedy with complicated characters, Philadelphia Eagles fanaticism, and even a dance competition.  And if that's not something for everyone, I don't know what is.  It's a well made film with comedy, drama, and a great cast, and it's sure to be a crowd pleaser and you should go see it.  But, like 'Argo', I just don't think it's one of the top 10 of the year.  The Academy will disagree with me.  Do you?

Grade: A-

Lincoln


In the last two years we've seen movies about the alleged secret side of Lincoln as a vampire hunter, the trial of one of the possible conspirators in Lincoln's assassination, and 'The Lincoln Lawyer' (which actually had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln at all, but rather a Lincoln Town Car.)  So it's about time we saw a film about the man himself.  And who better to portray the most American of all Americans than a Brit, right?  Well, if that Brit is Daniel Day-Lewis then it totally makes sense because that guy is one of the greatest actors in the history of actors and a total chameleon.  As you can see from the poster, he totally looks the part.  It's downright frightening how he transforms into his roles in classic films like 'In the Name of the Father', 'The Last of the Mohicans', 'Gangs of New York' and 'There Will Be Blood'.  And with long breaks in between each film, it's truly an event when a Daniel Day-Lewis film comes out.  And, as expected, he completely sinks into the role, portraying our most famous President as a soft spoken, slow moving, fatherly sage-like figure.  You almost feel the need to lean forward to make sure to catch each and every whispered word of his long monologues, because you know each and every word is of great importance.  And that's the genius of Daniel Day-Lewis.

And yet, as much as I looked forward to this film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in some ways it's slightly disappointing.  It's a long and slow paced film, and never quite reaches its potential by offering those kinds of moments we relish from past Day-Lewis performances.  And the large supporting cast is impressive, but few of them have shining moments either, with the exception of Tommy Lee Jones who shows more life here than he has in his last several on screen appearances.  FYI, this is not a biopic, as it focuses only on one year of Lincoln's Presidency.  Oh, and don't expect any large scale civil war battles either.  This is not that movie.  This one's for history buffs and Day-Lewis devotees.  Casual movie goers will likely fall asleep long before slavery is abolished.  (Oops, should I have said spoiler alert?)  Actually, this film might have worked better as a two part mini-series on HBO.  Or perhaps as an attraction at the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World?  But, despite its imperfections, I'll still take happily this version over 'Vampire Hunter' any day.

Grade: B

Friday, November 9, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 11/9/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I discuss the essential films of Daniel Craig:  'Skyfall' (2012), 'Layer Cake' (2004), 'Munich' (2005), and 'Defiance' (2008).

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 Master                         Grade: A

Looper                                 Grade: A

Smashed                             Grade: A

Flight                                   Grade: A

Skyfall                                 Grade: A

Perks of Being a Wallflower    Grade: A

Seven Psychopaths            Grade: A

Sister                                   Grade: A

A Late Quartet                   Grade: A

The Sessions                       Grade: A-

Argo                                    Grade: A-

Sinister                             Grade: B

Frankenweenie                Grade: B

Pitch Perfect                    Grade: B

Here Comes the Boom         Grade: C-

Skyfall


Let me begin by admitting, I'm not a Bond fan.  (Gasp!)  I know this is a beloved franchise, but the early ones are undeniably cheesy, and while the later ones have significantly reduced cheese, they're still frequently dull, predictable, and devoid of a memorable storyline.  There, I said it.  So, for the last month I've been telling people how little I was looking forward to this 23rd official entry in the series, marking its 50th Anniversary.  But I'm always more than happy to eat my words when warranted, and this is definitely one of those times.  This. Bond. Is. Excellent.

Exciting action.  Engaging story.  Superb casting including Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes.  Breathtaking locations.  Pumping sound.  A vibrant score.  And the perfect Bond villain, as played by Javier Bardem.  And at a whopping 2 hours and 25 minutes, this could have been a very uncomfortable marathon at the multiplex, but it flies by.  Quite simply this is the best Bond film I've seen.  Like last year's 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol', it's one of the best action films of the year and it needs to be seen on the big screen.  Happy 50th, Mr. Bond.  You've never looked better.

Grade: A

A Late Quartet


I'm fairly certain most people reading this aren't clamoring to see a movie about a string quartet.  But, think again, because this particular entry in that niche genre is definitely worth seeing if you're into dramas made for adults.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, and Mark Ivanir play the long time colleagues who make up the renowned quartet.  And while their lives and relationships all seem perfect on the surface, various events force them all to reassess their situation.  'A Late Quartet' is a drama about life, love, and friendship.  And the cast is perfect.  As usual, Hoffman gives one of the best performances of the year, and the rest of the quartet are all in accord.  Like the movements of a great symphony, this one flows from start to finish.  Bravo.

Grade: A

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Smashed



November is a great month to be a film critic.  The best films of the year are released in the fourth quarter and, if you're lucky, you belong to a film critics association and get sent screeners for awards consideration.  Many of these I've seen already, and many I would have seen once they are released, but the best surprises are the gems that you may have overlooked.  'Smashed' is one of those gems.

The story is pretty standard and as old as time itself.  It's about alcoholism and how it can take over your life.  Yeah, yeah, we know.  But this is the second film this week about alcoholism that has been a wonderful surprise (with 'Flight' being the other).

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as a woman who seems to have a great life.  She has a loving husband, played by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, and a great job teaching first grade, with caring coworkers played by 'Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman and 'Will & Grace's Megan Mullally.  And everyone really shines here.  It's a great choice to show range for the talented supporting cast, particularly Paul, but also Offerman, Mullally, and Octavia Spencer.  But it's Winstead who anchors the film perfectly.  Honestly, I wasn't aware of her before, but looking at IMDB, few people have had worse bodies of work. ('The Thing', 'Final Destination 3', 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World', and 'Live Free or Die Hard?!?)  Her filmography reads like a list of movies you should avoid at all costs.  Yet I mean no offense to Ms. Winstead.  Frankly, I don't remember her from any of those and don't blame her for them all being terrible.  Here, she gives one of the most engaging performances I've seen all year.  I'm now a fan.  I'll strongly consider her for the Critics Choice Movie Awards of which I am a voter, and I hope this is the beginning of a long line of great roles for her.

Writer/Director James Ponsoldt should be proud of himself for making a flawless film.  And you should see it.

Grade: A

Friday, November 2, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando - 11/2/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'Flight', 'Sleepwalk with Me', and 'Ruby Sparks'. 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 Master                         Grade: A

Looper                                 Grade: A

Smashed                             Grade: A

Sleepwalk with Me            Grade: A

Flight                                   Grade: A

Perks of Being a Wallflower    Grade: A

End of Watch                     Grade: A

Seven Psychopaths            Grade: A

Sister                                   Grade: A

The Sessions                       Grade: A-

Argo                                    Grade: A-

Arbitrage                             Grade: A-

Sinister                             Grade: B

Frankenweenie                Grade: B

Pitch Perfect                    Grade: B

Trouble With the Curve     Grade: B-

Here Comes the Boom         Grade: C-

Flight


Like many critics, I often come down on Hollywood studio films.  And a lot of the time it's justified.  But after a week of seeing mostly smaller fare at the Philadelphia Film Festival (many of which were quite good), it was nice to see something with more money and proven talent behind it as PFF's closing night film.  Honestly, this 'Flight' was a way better ride than I'd expected.

Without revealing any major plot turns, it's safe to say there are two major stories told here.  One about a terrible plane malfunction, which is one of the scariest things I've seen on film all year (much more so than any lame horror film in 2012.)  But the film is also about addiction.  And while many films about addiction tend to grate on me, seeming like they belong on Lifetime, this one totally works from start to finish.  It's gripping, and in no small part due to the talent attached.  Director Robert Zemeckis ('Back to the Future', 'Forrest Gump', 'Cast Away', 'Contact'), after a decade working in animation, has once again proven himself a master at his craft with live action.  (I admit I suspected his time had passed but I was very wrong.)  And the cast, particularly Denzel Washington, but also John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and Melissa Leo all give superb performances.  This drama is truly one of the best surprises I've seen during awards season.

Grade: A

The Sessions


What's the difference between a sex surrogate and a prostitute?  (No, sorry, that's not an opener for a dirty joke.)

Based on a true story, John Hawkes plays a man stricken with polio who sleeps and lives most of his waking hours in an iron lung.  He cannot move from the neck down but still has full sensation in his body.  And now, as he approaches 40, more than ever he wants to know what it's like to have sex.  Enter Helen Hunt, a sex surrogate.

With that premise, this film could have gone any way.  It could have been a silly comedy or a corny melodrama.  But it's not either.  It's sweet, honest, funny, serious, and painfully awkward in all the right ways.  Hawkes ('Martha Marcy May Marlene', 'Winter's Bone', 'Me and You and Everyone We Know') consistently proves himself a great lead with a huge range.  Hunt gives a truly fearless performance.  And William H. Macy, playing a down-to-Earth priest who offers Hawkes his advice and his friendship, can make any role, big or small, a memorable one.  See it.

Grade: A-

Sister


Sometimes it's hard to put your finger on exactly why a movie is so good.  And that's the case here with this partially subtitled family drama, Switzerland's submission to the Academy Awards to be considered for Best Foreign Language Film.  Set at a Swiss ski resort, the film focuses on Simon, a 12 year old boy who lives modestly with his older sister, and steals equipment from the rich atop the mountains to pay the bills.  It's a simple premise, and a hard film at times, but it's the characters that make it special.  They're extremely engaging, and when it's over you want more and wish you could spend a little more time with them.  As a bonus, fans of the X-Files will also appreciate a small supporting role by Gillian Anderson.

Grade: A