Friday, June 28, 2013

In Theaters Now



(newest releases are in green):

Before Midnight      Grade: A+

World War Z      Grade: A

The East      Grade: A

Star Trek Into Darkness      Grade: A

Mud      Grade: A-

Frances Ha      Grade: A-

This is the End      Grade: A-

The Hangover Part III      Grade: A-

20 Feet From Stardom    Grade: A-

Iron Man 3      Grade: B+

Byzantium    Grade: B+

The Purge      Grade: B+

Now You See Me      Grade: B+

Unfinished Song    Grade: B+

Man of Steel      Grade: B+

White House Down    Grade: B-

The Internship      Grade: B-

After Earth      Grade: B-

The Bling Ring      Grade: B-

Monsters U      Grade: B-

The Great Gatsby      Grade: C+

The Heat     Grade: C+


Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Attack
Dirty Wars
Epic
Fast & Furious 6

Fill The Void
Hannah Arendt
Much Ado About Nothing
Redemption

20 Feet From Stardom


'20 Feet From Stardom' is the most talked about documentary of the year, beginning with Sundance and playing extremely well at so many film festivals since.  It's the untold story about the people behind the people we normally care about.  This is the story of the backup singer.  Focusing on and with full participation from some of the most respected backup singers like Darlene Love, Lisa Fisher, and Merry Clayton, you get to see what life is like for the unsung heroes of the music industry.  You may not know their names and you may not know their faces, but you know their voices in so many of the greatest songs ever recorded.  Some of them yearn to move those twenty feet forward and become celebrities.  Others prefer to stay in the background and just devote their lives to what they love.  Regardless, they are well respected by big names like Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, and Sheryl Crow, all of whom are interviewed here.  This one's a total crowd pleaser and it's hard to believe this story has never been told before.  Just based on buzz alone I expect it to get nominated for Best Doc come Oscar time.

Grade: A

Byzantium


I'm not real big on the vampire thing, mainly because the tweens and the Twi-hards have turned scary, blood sucking Transylvanians into pale, brooding teenagers with perfect hair and too much eyeliner.  Frankly, the whole vampire thing needs a makeover.  Though the Swedish 'Let the Right One In', followed by the even better American remake, 'Let Me In', took a giant step in the right direction.  They marked a return of the atmospheric, less mainstream, and more indie vampire film.  And 'Byzantium' continues on that path, and adding one super sexy vampire to boot.  Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play sisters who also happen to vampires.  They aren't evil, but rather are just trying to survive, going from town to town, and doing what they need to do.  Big sister Arterton (who plays a polar opposite character here than what she does in 'Unfinished Song') works as a prostitute (and a smoking hot one at that) and takes up at the Byzantium hotel to expand her business.  Director Neil Jordan succeeds at creating a very atmospheric film, with very memorable characters.  I only wish the storyline were as fleshed out as the necks of these vampires' victims.  It's good, but could have been better.

Grade: B+

Unfinished Song

Originally entitled 'Song for Marion', 'Unfinished Song' is the latest septuagenarian ensemble British dramedy, following last year's 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' and 'Quartet'.  This time Vanessa Redgrave is the focal character whose biggest joys in life are her husband, played by Terence Stamp, and her choir group.  Unfortunately, despite how much joy it brings here, her grumpy husband doesn't understand it and won't have anything to do with it.  But everything changes once she is diagnosed with a terminal disease.

There's nothing particularly believable about any of the characters in this film.  Why is this happy-go-lucky woman with this grump of a man?  Why does he despise her singing with this choir group so much?  And, possibly most unbelievable of all, why is the stunningly beautiful Gemma Arterton, who volunteers to lead the choir group, so tragically undateable, with no friends her own age, and needs Terence Stamp as her shoulder to cry on?  Ridiculous.  And yet, it's impossible to deny this is a charming movie, particularly due to Stamp's character arc.  Despite how many times I rolled my eyes, I enjoyed the film and remember it fondly months later.

This one's for all you fans of the 2008 crowd pleasing documentary 'Young @ Heart', which also featured the elderly singing their well aged hearts out.

Grade: B+

White House Down


For the second time in the last three months, the White House is under attack (at the multiplex) and it's up to one Secret Service Agent wannabe (played by Channing Tatum) to save the President, (played by Jamie Fox), save the White House, and save the world as we know it.  Yes, once again, it's time for 'Die Hard While Under Siege in the White House'.  In March it was Gerard Butler saving Aaron Eckhart in 'Olympus Has Fallen'.  And this is basically the exact same movie all over again.  (In my review of 'Olympus', I said that all that was missing was the white under shirt made famous by Bruce Willis as John McClane.  And sure enough, Channing Tatum sports the same look here.)  On the plus side, there's a pretty good supporting cast, including James Woods and Richard Jenkins.  But, despite the money and talent involved, the storyline is so trite, with so many 'roll your eyes' moments, it's hard for me to recommend it to anyone that wants anything more than your standard Hollywood Assembly Line big budget summer shoot 'em up.  It's not bad.  It just is what it is, and some people like 'em that way.

Grade: B-

The Heat


From its ultra-generic title to its ultra-bland teaser poster to its cookie cutter, gal-pal, good cop/bad cop plotline, this comedy starring Sandra Bullock and flavor-of-the-month Melissa McCarthy is anything but hot.  Bullock plays a stiff, lonely, play-by-the-rules kind of federal agent.  McCarthy plays a foul-mouthed, slovenly, makes-her-own-rules kind of street cop.  And of course, hijinks ensue when they partner up to take down a drug dealer.  But unfortunately these particular hijinks are completely predictable and not a whole lot of fun.  Sure, it's got some laughs, mainly due to McCarthy's trademark over-the-top Tourette's-like profanity tirades.  In that respect, it's kind of like watching 'Identity Thief' all over again, except this time it stars Bullock instead of Jason Bateman.  And although she's certainly easier on my eyes, she's also less funny.  So instead of the B- I gave 'Identity Thief', this one gets a ...

Grade: C+

Friday, June 21, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 6/21/13


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'World War Z', 'Monsters U', and 'Before Midnight'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/category/233752/good-day

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now



(newest releases are in green):

Before Midnight     Grade: A+

World War Z     Grade: A

The East     Grade: A

Star Trek Into Darkness     Grade: A

Mud     Grade: A-

Frances Ha     Grade: A-

This is the End     Grade: A-

The Hangover Part III     Grade: A-

Iron Man 3     Grade: B+

The Purge     Grade: B+

Now You See Me     Grade: B+

The Kings of Summer     Grade: B+

Man of Steel     Grade: B+

Shadow Dancer    Grade: B

Stories We Tell     Grade: B

The Internship     Grade: B-

After Earth     Grade: B-

The Bling Ring    Grade: B-

Monsters U     Grade: B-

The Great Gatsby     Grade: C+


Additional Films Not Reviewed:

Augustine
Dirty Wars
Epic
Fast & Furious 6

Fill The Void
Much Ado About Nothing

World War Z


Just when you thought you were zombie-d out and couldn't handle one more apocalypse film ... think again! 

Brad Pitt stars as a man on a mission to find the source of the sudden worldwide zombie outbreak in hopes of finding a cure.  Sure, we've seen it all before, but this one grabs hold of you right from the start and doesn't let go.  It's the most realistic and therefore frightening zombie movie I've seen.  Call it 'Contagion' meets '28 Days Later' with the tone and feel of 'Signs'. 

Now, I haven't read the book, and I'm hearing the film is somewhat different and fans of the book may be disappointed in some ways.  So be wary of that.  But for me, the movie was tremendous.  It's gripping and terrifying from start to finish.  In fact, my heart is still pounding as I write this.  Don't watch the trailer.  Don't read about it.  Just go see it.

Grade: A+

Monsters U


If you follow me on FOX or on my blog, you know that animated films aren't my bag.  And lately I've just been avoiding them.  Frankly, I don't do anybody any good reviewing them, because I generally don't find them entertaining.  But that doesn't mean you won't.  You probably will.  But Pixar is an exception.  To me, they've been the gold standard for animated films and shorts since their first film, 'Toy Story', in 1995.  So I gave this one a go.

As a prequel to 'Monsters Inc.' from 2001, this is the story of how a young Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) fantasized and studied and worked to become a scarer at Monsters Inc., meeting a young slacker named Jim Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) along the way.

Like all of the early Pixar films, 'Monsters Inc' was a clever and original concept.  But, like most sequels and prequels, that originality is no longer a factor.  Instead, you're left with comfort.  You know the characters.  You like the characters.  You get more of the characters.  You feel comforted.  And that's all this was to me.  I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it.  It doesn't provide the emotional wallop that make the best Pixar films so memorable.  But it'll entertain your kids and probably you too.

Grade: B-

The Bling Ring


Filmmaker Sofia Coppola follows up her 2010 snoozer 'Somewhere' with a dark comedy based on the true story of the "Hollywood Hills Burglars", a group of over-privileged teens who repeatedly broke into and robbed the homes of an assortment of Hollywood tabloid celebrities.  And it's hard to know who to hate most in this pseudo-satire that made my blood boil.  The victims, including Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, Megan Fox, and Lindsay Lohan, clearly have way too much spending money (despite their collective lack of talent and hard work) and hoarded a disgusting amount of clothes and jewelry.  (Is it really a tragedy that they were robbed of some of it?)  The parents of these ne'er do-wells were portrayed as 50% clueless and 50% poor role models, and I have no doubt this is quite accurate.  But, of course, it is the reprehensible, entitled teens themselves (one of whom is played by Emma Watson) that did the crimes, and therefore it is they who win the award as the most repugnant characters I've seen on screen all year.  Congrats.

As for the film itself, it accomplishes what it tries to do.  It is a well made portrait of really terrible people doing terrible things.  It's a reasonably smooth watch with a short run time, but it doesn't really satisfy.  It just kind of made me angry.  Though, it's probably slightly better than the similar themed 'Spring Breakers', and it's light years better than brother Roman's mess, 'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III'.  Coppola Scorecard for 2013:  Sophia 1.  Roman 0.

Grade: B-

Friday, June 14, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - FOX 35 Good Day Orlando 6/14/13


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'Man of Steel', 'This Is the End', and 'House of Cards' Season One.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/category/233752/good-day

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now



(newest releases are in green):

Before Midnight     Grade: A+

The East      Grade: A

Star Trek Into Darkness      Grade: A

Mud     Grade: A-

Frances Ha      Grade: A-

This is the End     Grade: A-

The Hangover Part III      Grade: A-

Iron Man 3      Grade: B+

The Purge      Grade: B+

Now You See Me      Grade: B+

The Kings of Summer      Grade: B+

Man of Steel     Grade: B+

Shadow Dancer     Grade: B

Stories We Tell      Grade: B

The Internship      Grade: B-

After Earth      Grade: B-

The Great Gatsby      Grade: C+


Additional Films Not Reviewed:

Epic
Fast & Furious 6

Fill The Void
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Pandora's Promise
What Maisie Knew

Man of Steel


Just seven years after the box office disappointment 'Superman Returns' directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh, the Man of Steel franchise has once again been rebooted.  But this ain't your daddy's Superman.  Gone are the days of clutzy Clark Kent, choir boy Superman, and campy Lex Luthor.  This is a darker and more realistic take on the beloved super hero who has always set the standard for family fare super hero entertainment.  In essence, what Christopher Nolan did for Batman, he tried to achieve here as a producer and co-screenwriter.  And in some ways he succeeded but in others he failed.

It has long been my opinion that if Hollywood is going to keep rebooting the same classic super hero tales over and over, the key to making them entertaining to repeat customers is by making them significantly different than prior versions.  This is where 'The Amazing Spider-Man' failed completely.  That reboot was basically the same exact movie as the Tobey Maguire version, but worse.  So why the hell would I want to waste my time with it?  Here, we at least have a markedly different tone and a twist on the origin from 'Superman' and on the villain from 'Superman II'.  That's the good news.  Relative newcomer Henry Cavill is a decent Superman, though Michael Shannon steps into the iconic role that Terence Stamp rocked in 1980 as General Zod, and while I'm a big fan of Shannon, he unfortunately doesn't really fit the part here.  He's fine, but not good enough to fill Stamp's shoes.  And, once again, we are still subjected to a lengthy origin story, albeit slightly different than the one we know.  For that reason I enjoyed the second half more than the first.  But the entire film is riddled with action sequences that, while impressive on the surface, get old quick.  The film lags a bit for my taste.  There are some great scenes, but it's not nearly as good as The Dark Knight trilogy.

The bottom line:  This is a decent and much darker reboot with some nice twists and homages to the 1978 and 1980 films, but I'll take 'Superman' and 'Superman II' anyday.  To me, Christopher Reeve is and will always be Superman.  May he rest in peace.

Grade: B+

This is the End


Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson are among the celebrity guests partying the night away at James Franco's house on the eve of the Apocalypse.  And if that premise isn't wild enough for you, the best part is, all these stoner pals actually play themselves.  (It's like totally meta, dude.)  And it's also totally hilarious.  This is a zany comedy that also provides an excuse for all these Hollywood pals to play together yet again and satirize themselves and celebrity in general, thereby increasing their street cred.  Brilliant.  Certain cameos which I won't spoil really portray themelves in bad light and as a result make for some classic moments.  It's a really fun R rated comedy that is definitely worth going to see this weekend.

Grade: A-

Friday, June 7, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 6/7/13


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'The Internship', 'The Purge', and 'Breaking Bad'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/category/233752/good-day

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now



(newest releases are in green):

Before Midnight    Grade: A+

The East    Grade: A

Star Trek Into Darkness     Grade: A

Pain & Gain     Grade: A-

Mud     Grade: A-

Frances Ha     Grade: A-

The Hangover Part III     Grade: A-

Iron Man 3     Grade: B+

The Purge    Grade: B+

The Iceman     Grade: B+

Now You See Me     Grade: B+

The Kings of Summer    Grade: B+

Stories We Tell     Grade: B

The Internship      Grade: B-

After Earth     Grade: B-

Oblivion     Grade: B-

The Great Gatsby     Grade: C+

Love Is All You Need     Grade: C

42     Grade: C

Peeples     Grade: D+


Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Croods
Epic
Fast & Furious 6

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
What Maisie Knew
Wish You Were Here

Before Midnight


18 years ago a talky romance called 'Before Sunrise' was released with minimal reception.  Directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, with a modest budget of only $2.5M, it was very low concept.  A twenty-something guy meets a twenty-something girl on a train in Europe, they hit it off and he tries to convince her to spend the day with him in Vienna.  Consisting almost entirely of dialogue between them, it more closely resembles a play than a film.  Though, despite its low concept it is extremely engaging due to its two stars and the quality of their dialogue.  And so this little film found a cult audience on home video and spawned a sequel nine years later called 'Before Sunset' which picks up where these same two characters are nine years later.  And though it is rare, this sequel is perhaps better than the original.  And now, nine years after that, we have been blessed with a third installment, showing us where these two are in their 40's.  And once again, miraculously, this sequel is arguably the best so far.

Just like the last sequel, this one just feels right where we find our characters nine years after the last time we saw them.  Unlike all those phony big budget studio films (yes I am thinking of 'The Internship'), these films just feel honest.  Jesse and Celine (played by Hawke and Delpy, respectively) feel like real, complex characters who are probably soul mates but always having difficulty being together.  And by now, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have known each other so long that these characters have become an extension of them, allowing them to make the films and characters pitch perfect in every way.  But they never take short cuts.  In fact, many of the takes in this third film are extremely long, with no cuts, and incredibly verbose, making them extraordinarily difficult to get just right.  And yet they are.

I love these movies.  And this one is a must see for fans of the series, lovers of great plays, appreciators of great acting and great dialogue, and anyone who wants to see an honest romance in all its ugliness, rather than that fairy tale bull#$@! that Hollywood shovels us all year long.

Grade: A+

The East


As I always practice and frequently preach, I try my best to avoid knowing anything about a movie prior to seeing it.  Almost always, the less you know about a film going in, the more you will enjoy it.  And this is particularly true for the best films.  Though I am generally aware of the writer, director, and principal cast.  And when I saw this film on Sundance's slate last January, featuring Brit Marling, directed by Zal Batmanglij, and cowritten by both Batmanglij and Marling, the incredible duo behind 'Sound of My Voice', it immediately became one of my most anticipated films of the year.  And it totally held up to my expectations.  Marling and Batmanglij are among the best new filmmakers to arise out of the last few years, making films that are suspenseful, original, thought provoking, and extremely well made despite a very limited budget.

As per usual, I won't say much about the movie.  But, I'm very intrigued by all the movies and shows lately about cults, communes, and collectives (e.g. 'Sound of My Voice', 'Martha Marcy May Marlene', 'The Master', 'The Following') and this one deals with a similar idea, yet significantly different than any of the aforementioned.  The cast is perfect, including Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, and Jason Ritter.  And it keeps you guessing from its enigmatic beginning to its thought provoking ending.  It's not fast paced by any stretch, but those with patience who yearn for something different should definitely see it.  Frankly, it's Academy Award Best Picture worthy, or at least Best Original Screenplay worthy, and my favorite of the year so far.

Oh, and two other tips:  If you haven't seen 'Sound of my Voice', do yourself a favor and check it out.  It made my top 10 of 2012.  And if you get a chance to see Marling and Batmanglij in person for a Q&A, take it!  They are fascinating, humble, and inspiring.

Grade: A

The Kings of Summer


When we were teens, who amongst us didn't run out on our families to build a cabin in the woods with our friends with the intention of gathering and hunting for what we needed to live?  Ummm, I didn't.  Did you?  Regardless, who doesn't love a good film festival indie coming-of-age tale?  And that's what we have here with this dramedy featuring a trio of new faces and a familiar supporting cast including Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, and Alison Brie.  It's fun.

Grade: B+

The Internship


Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play two old dogs trying to learn a new trick.  Skilled at face to face salesmanship, specifically in the dying industry of watches, they find themselves no longer relevant in a world where smart phones serve as our clocks and the internet as our means of purchasing them.  So what should they do?  Apply for an internship at Google, of course!

I have mixed feelings about this movie.  There's just no avoiding how phony it is in every respect.  Seriously, are we to believe that two guys who don't even own a computer are going to be selected for an internship and then become successful at one of the most highly competitive tech savvy firms in the world?  No way.  Or how about that these middle aged men would be embraced by anyone, even the nerdiest of the nerds, in this twenty-something-centric environment?  Of course not.  (This reminds me more than a little of the phoniest of phony movies, 'Larry Crowne'.)  And don't get me started on a particular relationship between the king of the nerds and a certain exotic dancer.  Puh-lease.  All of the characters are way too black & white and simplistic.  They're good or they're bad.  They're street smart or they're book smart.  They're hot or they're nerdy.  This isn't the real world and I'm sure it doesn't represent the employees at Google.  But this whole movie is basically one long commercial for what a paradise Google is to work for, and it works.  (As soon as I finish my review, I'll surely be sending them my resume!)

But, on the other hand, there's no denying that Vaughn and Wilson have extremely strong chemistry.  They make the movie fun and playful and enjoyable enough to please most crowds who aren't as jaded (or I would argue, realistic) about the world as I am.  So for that reason I still give it a ...

Grade: B-

Though for a much better viewing experience about an internship you're much better off going with the drama, 'The Pursuit of Happyness' instead.

The Purge


The year is 2022 and the government has devised a way to reduce crime, reduce unemployment, and stimulate the economy to thrive.  For one day a year, crime is legal.  You can legally murder, torture, rape, loot, and do basically whatever you like to get it out of your system.  And now Ethan Hawke and his family must survive the night.

This is a great, original, and disturbing premise, not unlike 'The Hunger Games', showing us what kind of behavior people are capable of if not for our laws as a deterrent.  The cast is good, particularly Hawke.  And it starts out with a lot of potential, but then devolves into a standard and predictable cat and mouse home invasion movie.  Though all in all it's a pretty good popcorn horror/thriller that will hold your attention and really creep you out.

Grade: B+

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Frances Ha


Around the time when I was graduating from college, Noah Baumbach's 'Kicking and Screaming' (from 1995, not the Will Ferrell one) was one of my favorite movies.  It struck me as a unique and honest picture capturing the voice of my generation and their post-college educated-yet-unmotivated angst.  Baumbach just seemed to have his finger on the pulse of what that was like, and brought it alive with Chris Eigeman, Parker Posey, Eric Stoltz, Josh Hamilton, Olivia D'Abo, and a slew of other great actors.  It remains way better than any more popular 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High'-type movies.  Now it's almost 20 years later and amazingly enough Baumbach still totally gets it today, even at 43.  Yet it's become harder for me to associate with his characters.

Greta Gerwig plays a 27 year old dancer-wannabe living in NYC who just doesn't have her shit together.  She suffers from those problems that only cute, educated girls from rich families living in New York City who won't commit to a real job because they want to be an artist have.  She complains about how poor she is, yet she lacks for nothing.  She dotes on her gal-pal BFF, seemingly her soul mate, yet all they do is talk about boys.  And she mopes about how she doesn't have a boyfriend, yet she is surrounded by those who would happily have her.  Essentially this is the black & white 'Lola Versus', and Gerwig has cornered the market on this character.  She's perfect for it and it seems to suit her just fine.  And while I would have been gaga for it in 1995, it's a bit harder to swallow now.  As I quickly approach 40 and have had a 'real job' for almost two decades, it's hard for me to understand and sympathize with this type, of which I've known too many.  And yet, I can still totally appreciate a great movie about any subject, and this is certainly one of them, largely due to how utterly charming Gerwig is and how whip-smart the writing is, courtesy of Gerwig and Baumbach.  So, if you're up for a cleverly written, well acted, black and white, fast paced, dialogue driven film about what it's like to be a 27 year old artist/slacker in NYC, this one's for you.  Pair it with 'Lola Versus' and/or 'Greenberg' for a Greta Gerwig-a-thon.

Grade: A-

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sightseers


If dark comedies are your bag then be sure to consider this British film in limited release in theaters about a new couple in love and on holiday, touring the countryside with their caravan.  Directed by Ben Wheatley, the up and comer who made last year's underseen horror/thriller 'Kill List', this film is much lighter in tone, but still has that indie feel which makes it a crowd pleaser for the film festival audience.   Pair it with the even better 'God Bless America' for a fun violent dark comedy double feature.

Grade: B+

3 Geezers!


How does a film featuring the always amazing J.K. Simmons as well as cameos by Kevin Pollak, Tim Allen, Scott Caan, and Breckin Meyer open in limited release in theaters and on Video On Demand without any buzz or marketing whatsoever?  Well, for one reason, it's terrible.

Simmons plays himself as an actor researching a role as an 85 year old man and follows three old men at an old age home.  He quickly learns that these three geezers are still full of life and every bit as crass and troublesome as your average teenager.

This is total amateur hour, and you can tell right from the start what you're in for.  The comedy is painful, the acting is pathetic, and the filmmaking wreaks of inexperience.  So how did it attract Simmons to begin with?  A little research of my own uncovered that first time director Michelle Schumacher is a.k.a. Mrs. Simmons and co-writer Randle Schumacher is her brother.  Mystery solved.

Grade: D- (and dangerously close to the big ol' F)