Monday, April 29, 2013

Tribeca Film Festival 2013

I just got back from my eighth consecutive year attending the Tribeca Film Festival and it was another great year.  Thanks for the memories!  I'm already looking forward to returning next year!

Below are my grades for the 21 films I caught at the festival and some pictures to make you jealous.  If you were there, share your thoughts!

Before Midnight    Grade: A+
Some Velvet Morning    Grade: A+
Trust Me    Grade: A
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me     Grade: A
A Case of You    Grade: A
Whitewash     Grade: A-
A Single Shot     Grade: A-
Prince Avalanche     Grade: A-
Bluebird    Grade: B+
The Reluctant Fundamentalist     Grade: B+
Sunlight Jr.     Grade: B+
Byzantium     Grade: B+
The English Teacher     Grade: B+
Mobius     Grade: B
Just a Sigh     Grade: B
Adult World     Grade: B-
Almost Christmas (a.k.a. All is Bright)    Grade: B-
Haute Cuisine   Grade: C
Mr. Jones    Grade: D+
Herblock    Grade: D+
Frankenstein's Army    Grade: D

Before Midnight


Some Velvet Morning
Trust Me

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

A Case of You



A Single Shot

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Sunlight Jr.

The English Teacher


Adult World

Almost Christmas

Mr. Jones


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pain & Gain

Movies never cease to surprise me.  Who would have guessed that a film about bodybuilders directed by Michael Bay and starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson would be one of the better films of the year?  And yet it is.

Based on an almost-too-hard-to-believe true story, this edge of your seat action crime film about an ambitious body builder who just wants the American Dream and is willing to do anything to get it keeps you engrossed from start to finish.  Both Wahlberg and Johnson have been turning in consistently good work lately ('Ted' and 'Broken City' from Wahlberg and 'Snitch' for Johnson), and they are helped by an all star supporting cast including Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson, Anthony Mackie, and Ken Jeong.  And Mr. Big-Budget Action himself, director Michael Bay keeps it stylish, fast paced, and exciting throughout.  It's definitely the movie to see this weekend.

Grade: A- 

Friday, April 26, 2013

In Theaters Now

(newest releases are in green):

Jurassic Park     Grade: A   (3D not reviewed)

The Call     Grade: A

Disconnect    Grade: A

Pain & Gain    Grade: A-

Trance     Grade: A-

Oz the Great and Powerful     Grade: B+

The Place Beyond the Pines     Grade: B+

The Company You Keep    Grade: B

The Big Wedding    Grade: B

The Numbers Station    Grade: B  (Also available on VOD)

Starbuck     Grade: B

Olympus Has Fallen     Grade: B-

Oblivion     Grade: B-

To the Wonder     Grade: C+

Angel's Share    Grade: C

42     Grade: C

Admission     Grade: C

Evil Dead     Grade: F

Additional Films Not Reviewed:

Arthur Newman
The Croods
From Up on Poppy Hill
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
The Host
The Lords of Salem
No Place on Earth
Scary Movie 5
Tyler Perry's Temptation

The Big Wedding

Who's up for another wedding comedy with all those non-traditional family members?  You know, the ex-wife, the step mom, the half-siblings, the sexually promiscuous, the unlikely virgin, the conservative, the liberal, and the priest played by Robin Williams?  Well cue the wedding bells, because here comes the bride...

To be sure, this ain't no 'Father of the Bride' (the gold standard for wedding films.)  But it's cute, with pleasing locations, stylish clothes, and an ensemble group of likeable actors with nice hair, and it'll put a smile on your face for the length of the film (though not for much longer.)  It's a nice date movie for the weekend, but not a must see.

Grade: B

The Company You Keep

Robert Redford directed and stars in this drama about a group of Vietnam protesters who took things way too far 30 years ago, crossing over the line from peaceful protester to terrorist.  They've managed to escape retribution and remain in hiding until a persistent reporter, played by Shia LaBeouf, uncovers some truths.

Considering the huge powerhouse supporting cast, including Susan Sarandon, Richard Jenkins, Stanley Tucci, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, and Brit Marling, you would think this would be an Oscar contender.  But it won't be.  It's just not compelling enough, and none of the performances are Oscar worthy.  Redford just isn't a world class director.  Though it's still a reasonably enjoyable watch.

Grade: B

The Numbers Station

As the opening credits state, 'Since World War II, Intelligence agencies have used secret stations to send encrypted messages to agents in the field ...  Governments deny the use of such stations, but the numbers can still be heard today.'  This makes for a very intriguing and original premise for this thriller starring John Cusack and Malin Akerman.

Many of the better films these days are lower budget movies premiering on Video on Demand.  What they lack in special effects and marketing budgets they often make up for in originality.  This particular thriller succeeds with an interesting premise, a good cast, and a strong first half, but as is often the case, it falls short with an unmemorable conclusion.  Yet it's a reasonably entertaining 89 minutes and you can see it now on Video on Demand and in limited release in theaters.

Grade: B


I'm a sucker for most big budget Tom Cruise films, and when they're sci-fi even more so.  And this one about the remainder of Earth after the alien apocalypse sure seemed to have a lot of promise.  What initially appeared to be 'Total Recall' meets 'Moon' didn't live up to either one.  It had a lot of potential, including a supporting role by Morgan Freeman, but it never rises above so so.  Unless you're a hard core Cruise fan or sci-fi geek, you probably want to take a pass.

Grade: B-

Friday, April 12, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 4/12/13

Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on '42', 'Trance', and 'The Place Beyond the Pines'.

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now

(new releases are in green):

Jurassic Park     Grade: A   (3D not reviewed)

The Call     Grade: A

Disconnect     Grade: A

Trance    Grade: A-

Oz the Great and Powerful     Grade: B+

The Place Beyond the Pines     Grade: B+

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone     Grade: B+

Quartet     Grade: B

Starbuck     Grade: B

Identity Thief     Grade: B-

Olympus Has Fallen     Grade: B-

Spring Breakers     Grade: C+

To the Wonder    Grade: C+

42        Grade: C

Admission     Grade: C

Evil Dead     Grade: F

Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Croods
From Up on Poppy Hill
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Gimme the Loot
The Host
My Brother the Devil
Scary Movie 5
Tyler Perry's Temptation


Lovers of films like 'Crash', 'Magnolia', 'Babel', and 'Traffic' should get ready for another great emotional drama.  'Disconnect' seamlessly weaves together three storylines about disconnected people and the technology they use to make them feel more connected.  Incorporating identity theft, chat rooms, internet porn, and cyber bullying, this drama is a harsh and thought provoking look at the troubles that have arisen out of the internet.

Henry Alex Rubin, known for his 2005 documentary 'Murderball', ventures into the world of narrative filmmaking, and you would never know it was his first.  Rubin captured great performances from the entire ensemble cast, including Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, and Alexander Skarsgard, and crafted a very well made film that delivers on an emotional and intellectual level from start to finish.  It's the first movie of the year that could truly be considered award worthy (though it won't get any as it's way too early in the year, and arguably too derivative of the aforementioned interspersed/interconnected emotional dramas.)

Grade: A


Those that know me or regularly read my blog know that Danny Boyle is among my favorite directors.  Whether he's making crime films ('Shallow Grave', 'Trainspotting', 'A Life Less Ordinary', 'Millions'), adventure ('The Beach'), horror ('28 Days Later'), sci-fi ('Sunshine'), romantic drama ('Slumdog Millionaire'), intense drama ('127 Hours'), live theater ('Frankenstein'), or the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you can always be assured you're going to see something different, well made, and worth seeing.  Plus, if you ever get a chance to see him speak in person (which I've been fortunate to do three times), he's consistently inspiring and passionate about filmmaking.

And, as usual, his latest project, 'Trance' is completely different than anything he's done before, and anything I've seen before.  The premise of the film is an art heist.  But while I love art heist films, this one isn't really about the heist itself but rather the lost memories of the heist.  It's a twisty, violent head trip of a British crime film centering around the mysterious art and science of hypnosis, featuring great performances by James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel.  Similar to 'Inception', you really need to pay close attention if you even want a shot at being able to follow it, particularly towards the end.  I can't say it's all crystal clear for me, but I look forward to seeing it again later this year.  And it's surely one of the best of the year so far.

Grade: A

The Place Beyond the Pines

Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, and Bruce Greenwood are among the solid ensemble cast that make up this drama about crime and punishment.  Now, as you know, I'm a big believer in not spoiling the very thing that makes a movie like this worth seeing: the fact that you don't know where it's going.  So I'd rather not comment on the plot.  But it's a well acted character driven drama that feels fresh, but unfortunately also feels a bit long, particularly in the third act.  This week 'Disconnect' is definitely the character driven drama to see, and 'Trance' is the crime thriller to see, but once you've seen them, this isn't a bad third choice to pair them with and make it a triple feature.

Grade: B+

To the Wonder

There are two extremes of movie-goers in this world: those that love Terrence Malick films and those that can't wait for the next 'Fast and Furious' sequel.  Most people fall somewhere in between, but few, if any, fall in both categories.  'To the Wonder' is very much a Terrence Malick film in every way.  And in many ways it's the anti-'Fast and Furious'.  In fact, perhaps it should have been called 'Slow and Sedate'. 

Attempting to offer a synopsis of 'To the Wonder' is challenging.  Honestly, I can't really explain what it's supposed to mean.  But the storyline is quite basic.  Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko are deeply in love.  But then they hate each other.  But then Affleck likes Rachel McAdams and Kurylenko's with some other dude.  Oh, and Javier Bardem plays a priest.  And all the while there's a lot of cryptic voiceover narration ... in subtitled French.  And there's a lot of beautiful scenery in the heartland of America.  To be sure, this is an art film for art film lovers, not Ben Affleck fans.  And it's the kind of film that lowbrow comedies might parody as one of those art films that takes itself way too seriously.  Though some will undoubtedly proclaim its brilliance.  The best gauge to know if it's for you is how you felt about Malick's 'Tree of Life'.  If you're one of the minority who liked that you might like this (although, believe it or not, this one is even slower paced and with a more cryptic meaning.)  On the other hand, if you hated 'Tree of Life', or just despise slow paced foreign films, then definitely steer clear.  No one will hold it against you (except maybe those Cannes-attending film snobs.)

Grade: C+?


'42' tells the story of Jackie Robinson.  You know, the one about the first African American major league baseball player?  Jackie Robinson is selected by the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, played by Harrison Ford, to join the team in order to attract African American ticket buyers, and maybe even win the World Series.  Of course, Robinson is met by bigotry at every step.  It's a pretty straightforward story.  And therein lies the problem with this movie.  It's too straightforward a story.  There is a difference between great and historic moments in American history, and what would make an engaging and original film.  (Does anyone recall George Lucas' passion project, 'Red Tails'?  Unfortunately I do.)  Of course, great filmmakers and great actors can make great films out of any story.  (Take the similarly themed 'A League of Their Own' for example!)  Unfortunately this one doesn't have either to fall back on.  Writer/Director Brian Helgeland has some impressive credits to his name, but you'd never know it from watching this Disney-esque corn-fest.  And Harrison Ford continues to underimpress me, though not for lack of trying.  He was clearly going for that Academy Award he never won, though this performance won't get him that long sought after Holy Grail.

If you like feel-good, predictable, corny baseball films with cheesy triumphant scores then you'll probably enjoy this movie.  Personally, I recommend staying home and revisiting Tom Hanks' magnificent performance in 'A League of the Their Own' instead.

Grade: C

Sunday, April 7, 2013


I rarely blog about older releases these days.  It was always my intention to do so, but I just don't have the time.  But I just found myself needing to do so for this French horror film from 2008.  I caught it last week on DVD (thanks to fellow film buff Tim McGlynn, after I turned him on to director Pascal Laugier's exceptional follow up film 'The Tall Man') and, like 'The Tall Man', I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since.  In some ways it's the exact type of film I love and continuously search for, constantly changing and playing with you so that every time you think you know what it's about, you don't.  Is it a monster film?  Is it a revenge film?  All I'll say is to expect the unexpected.  Of course, it also includes what hate most and find most repelling in films: brutal torture.  (Those that take issue with the relatively brief and necessary torture scenes in 'Zero Dark Thirty' should be sure to steer clear of this film.)  I had more trouble getting through this film than any I can remember.  But was it just me?  Apparently not, because afterwards I Googled it and the overwhelming consensus is that it's extremely upsetting and one of the hardest films to watch.  So much so, that there is an introduction by the director on the DVD where he literally apologizes for what you're about to see.  After it was over, I sat on my couch in silence for quite some time, contemplating what I had just seen, and feeling the overwhelming urge to cry.  Should this film have been made and should I be promoting it?  I'm really not sure.  I fear it gives disturbed people bad ideas.  But I can't deny that it's the most powerful film I've seen in quite some time.  See it if you have the stomach for it.  (And you should be sure to see 'The Tall Man' which is much less disturbing but equally thought provoking and impressive.)  And if you do decide to check out 'Martyrs' please don't blame me if it's too intense for you.

Grade: A