Saturday, August 31, 2013

Frozen Ground


I'll never understand why some terrible films get a wide release in theaters and huge marketing budgets and other much better ones that would be enjoyed by mainstream audiences only get very limited theatrical releases and virtually no marketing.  This serial killer thriller based on a true story starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens has all the ingredients for an enjoyable popcorn film.  We like to think evil doesn't exist, but this film proves it does.  It's not ground breaking or Oscar worthy, and sure, it's a bit predictable, but it's a very enjoyable and well made film with good acting and an atmospheric setting in Anchorage, Alaska.  Unfortunately for first time writer/director Scott Walker, it won't get nearly the audience it deserves.  Though fortunately for us we can see it right now at home on Video on Demand. 

(It should be noted this is the third enjoyable thriller starring Cusack this year that makes a quiet splash on Video on Demand.  Check out 'The Factory' and the slightly less exciting but still interesting 'The Numbers Station' for more decent 2013 Cusack.)

Grade: B+

Friday, August 30, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 8/30/13



Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'Getaway', 'Closed Circuit', 'Blue Jasmine', and 'Pain & Gain'.

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

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now




(newest releases in green)

World War Z    Grade: A+

Lee Daniels' The Butler    Grade: A

Kick-Ass 2    Grade: A

In a World ...    Grade: A

Jobs    Grade: A

The Spectacular Now    Grade: A

20 Feet From Stardom    Grade: A

Blue Jasmine   Grade: A-

The World's End    Grade: A-

2 Guns    Grade: B+

We're the Millers    Grade: B+

The Way Way Back    Grade: B+

Short Term 12   Grade: B+

Austenland   Grade: B+

Fruitvale Station    Grade: B

Elysium   Grade: B

Closed Circuit   Grade: B

Monsters U   Grade: B-

Drinking Buddies   Grade: B-

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones   Grade: C+

Grown Ups 2    Grade: C+

Ain't Them Bodies Saints   Grade: C+

Getaway    Grade: C+

The Conjuring    Grade: C

You're Next    Grade: C

Paranoia    Grade: C

When Comedy Went to School    Grade: C-

The Wolverine    Grade: D



Additional Films Not Reviewed:

Cutie and the Boxer
Despicable Me 2
The Grandmaster
One Direction: This Is Us
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Planes
Smurfs 2
Turbo

Getaway


Ethan Hawke plays an ex-race car driver whose wife has been kidnapped.  He doesn't know who did it or why, but he knows he has to do exactly what they want or they will kill her.  This, of course, involves his superb driving skills.  And along the way he picks up Selena Gomez and, fortunately for him, she's a brainiac who knows an awful lot about an awful lot of things.  Really?  Does that sound plausible to anyone?

'Getaway' is essentially a 90 minute car chase.  Expect lots of car stunts, collisions, explosions, and I think I may have even seen the requisite fruit cart crash.  It's supposed to be a fun, wild ride, though based on its current 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I think most will just find it tedious and derivative.  It's 'Drive' meets 'Nick of Time' meets 'Die Hard 3', but not as good as any of them.  Frankly, Ethan Hawke is too good for this.  And if Selena Gomez is the smart one in your buddy car chase film, you've got yourself a problem.

Grade: C+

Short Term 12


Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. play social workers who oversee emotionally disturbed youths with behavior issues in a short term housing facility.

This emotional drama received very strong word of mouth and won awards at multiple film festivals, and currently has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  And after two viewings (one on the big screen and one on the small) I now get why.  Unfortunately every year I blow it on at least one review and this was one where I blew it by only giving it a B+ after I saw it.  Blame it on me being tired.  Or perhaps it's just a movie that plays better on the small screen in a quiet environment.  But I really connected to it on my second viewing, and can really see why Brie Larson's performance has such a strong critic following.  She gives a subtle but amazing performance.  And this will surely be a breakout year for her, as she is also in another indie darling this year, 'The Spectacular Now', and 'Don Jon' as well.  For other films of a similar emotional level, check out 'It's Kind of a Funny Story' and 'Smashed'.

Grade: A

Austenland



Keri Russell plays a woman who can't find love, or at least the kind of romantic love you get in a Jane Austen novel or film.  So she decides to treat herself to a vacation at Austenland.  There she can play out her fantasy of being a part of Jane Austen's world and meet her pretend 'Mr. Darcy'.  Basically it's baseball fantasy camp for romance novel obsessed girls.

This is a chick flick for sure.  It's targeted for women, and features a female driven cast, including the zany Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Seymour.  But it's a chick flick that can be enjoyed by men as well.  It's a cute, likeable, predictable, feel-good rom-com for folks who love Jane Austen's works and also those who don't get them.  And it's a good date night pick for the weekend (assuming you've already seen 'In a World...', that is.)

Grade: B+

Drinking Buddies




Olivia Wilde, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick, and Jake Johnson play the emotionally confused romantic square in this mumblecore drinking and date swapping indie dramedy.

Now, is it just me or is anyone else getting tired of the Lena Dunham Age where every indie film is the next installment in the 'twenty-somethings with no real problems so they create relationship drama' genre?  And it's a fine line between a mumblecore film that for artistic reasons doesn't have a firm script, and just pure laziness or lack of talent to make a firm script that works.  At least the cast is good, but nobody really shines here, and Livingston is way too old for this role.  But don't get me wrong, it's an OK movie.  It's just not exceptional or memorable in any way.  Though at least you can see it either in theaters or at home on Video on Demand.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Closed Circuit


Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall star in this British legal thriller/mystery as attorneys defending an alleged terrorist who is suspected of being responsible for setting off a bomb that killed 120 people.  Bana is his regular defense attorney, but Hall has also been appointed as a Special Advocate who is the only one allowed to see classified evidence and present it to the judge in closed court to determine if it's relevant to the trial.  The film certainly has a good cast, including the always great Jim Broadbent as the Attorney General who steals every scene he's in.
And the film has an air of suspense to make it appear like a first class Hitchcockian mystery/thriller.  Though unfortunately it doesn't fully deliver as either.  It lacks any true thrills or memorable moments.  It's good, but not as good as it could have been.

Grade: B

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blood


What is it about British crime dramas that make them better than their American equivalents?  Perhaps I'm just an Anglophile at heart, but this year's 'The Sweeney' and 'Broken' certainly deserved a much wider audience than they received and we can now also add 'Blood' to that list.

Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham and the always great Mark Strong play cops investigating the murder of a young girl.  They're sure they have the right suspect in custody but they don't have the proof to hold him.  So how far will they go to bring justice?  This is a great action-less drama with a lot of emotion and a terrific cast exploring the question, how far is too far?  You can see it (as well as 'The Sweeney' and 'Broken') now on Video on Demand.

Grade: A

A Single Shot


The always great Sam Rockwell stars in this atmospheric and noticeably quiet noir drama as a poor blue collar man who accidentally kills a young woman while hunting deer, and then discovers a life changing amount of cash she has in her possession.  Of course this missing cash doesn't go unnoticed and someone is out to get it back at any cost.  An assortment of quirky and dangerous characters in town may be involved.  Rockwell is tremendous, despite the lack of dialogue. And the interesting supporting cast includes William H. Macy who's also great as a small town lawyer.  It's 'Winter's Bone' meets 'A Simple Plan' and it shows how far destitute men in backwoods America will go for money.  If you're into atmospheric noir dramas, choose this over 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'

'A Single Shot' is now available, before it hits theaters, to watch at home on Video on Demand.

Grade: A-

Friday, August 23, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 8/23/13



Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' and 'The World's End'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/category/233752/good-day FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now




(newest releases in green)

World War Z    Grade: A+

Lee Daniels' The Butler    Grade: A

Kick-Ass 2    Grade: A

In a World ...    Grade: A

Jobs    Grade: A

The Spectacular Now    Grade: A

20 Feet From Stardom    Grade: A

Blackfish   Grade: A-

Blue Jasmine   Grade: A-

The World's End    Grade: A-

2 Guns    Grade: B+

We're the Millers    Grade: B+

The Way Way Back    Grade: B+

Fruitvale Station    Grade: B

Elysium   Grade: B

Red 2    Grade: B-

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones   Grade: C+

Grown Ups 2    Grade: C+

The Heat    Grade: C+

Ain't Them Bodies Saints   Grade: C+

The Conjuring    Grade: C

You're Next    Grade: C

Paranoia    Grade: C

When Comedy Went to School    Grade: C-

The Wolverine    Grade: D



Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Artist and the Model
Cutie and the Boxer
Despicable Me 2
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Planes
Smurfs 2
Turbo

The World's End

 

Writer/director Edgar Wright, actor/writer Simon Pegg, and the rest of the crew from 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz' are back together again ... for a pub crawl.

Pegg plays a man who regrets not making it to the last pub, 'The World's End' on a crawl he did with his mates when he was younger.  So he decides to get the gang back together again to check this one off the bucket list.  Of course, things don't go as planned.  In fact, if you stay away from trailers and spoilers, there's absolutely no way you can see where this film is going.  It's a crazy ride from start to finish, and Pegg is tremendous as the ringmaster to this circus.  There are plenty of laughs and surprises that just wouldn't work in 9 out of 10 similar films.  But everything gels and this one is fresh, original, and fun.

Grade: A-

You're Next


Let me start out by admitting that I'm not a fan of home invasion films for several reasons.  For one, I don't like the idea of giving crazy people even more crazy ideas than they already have.  And second, one's home is sacred, and I certainly like to believe I'm safe in mine.  (So if you're planning on chopping me up with an axe, please do so outside my home, thank you very much.)  And third, home invasion films are pretty much all the same.  They really only vary in the degree of violence, gore, and disturbing material.  Personally I don't particularly like a whole lot of violence, gore, and disturbing material.  And this particular home invasion film is ultra violent, with a lot of gore, and a whole heck of a lot of disturbing material. 

The premise here is a family gathering in a big house in the woods out in the middle of nowhere.  Unfortunately the gathering is interrupted by a group of invaders all wearing creepy masks (like the one on the poster.)  And of course, rest assured, this film comes equipped with boobs, sex, attractive women, and one hot chick in particular who really knows how to kick some ass.  In other words, college boys and midnight film fans are gonna love it.  I, however, am slightly older than college age and often in bed by midnight, so these types of films aren't for me.  And personally I preferred 'The Purge', because at least the premise was really interesting, even if the execution wasn't.

Grade: C

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

 

I saw this film at the Nantucket Film Festival back in June and I must admit I wasn't prepared for it.  As I often preach, I prefer to go into films knowing nothing about them.  Most of the time this works in my favor, but occasionally there are films that might have been better had I been mentally prepared for them.  Channeling his inner Terrence Malick, writer/director David Lowery has put together a film that is more about atmosphere than about plot (and one could argue more about style than substance.)  Like Malick's films (including 'To the Wonder', 'The Tree of Life', 'The Thin Red Line', 'Days of Heaven', and 'Badlands') this is very much an art film, though it may appear at first glance to be a Hollywood genre film.  From what I recall (in between naps) Casey Affleck plays a man who escapes from prison and sets out to meet up with his wife, played by Rooney Mara.  Mainstream audiences should steer clear as they will probably be bored to tears, but art house fans and Malick-lovers may find it brilliant.  It was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and early reviews on the internet are quite favorable.  But as for me?  I'm not sure.  I intend to see it again by year's end to see if it's brilliant or just a giant bore.  But for now ...

Grade: C+

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones


In this post-Twilight and post-Harry Potter world, movie studios are clearly clamoring for their successors.  But that's easier said than done.  There's no formula for the exact amount of witches, werewolves, and wizards to generate a billion dollar tent-pole franchise.  Will Percy Jackson be the next Harry Potter?  Not bloody likely.  But will 'The Mortal Instruments' be the next 'Twilight'?  Hmm ... my crystal ball says, 'unclear ... try again later.'  (Damn Magic 8 ball!!)  Well, poor early reviews would indicate no, it will not.

Lilly Collins (daughter of Phil, and star of 'Mirror Mirror') plays a teenage girl whose world turns upside down when in the course of a day she witnesses a cloaked man killing a demon, her mother is attacked and subsequently disappears, and she learns that she isn't exactly human.  That's a pretty rough week.  (All of this may sound pretty familiar to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fans.  Of course in this one, humans are called Mundanes rather than Muggles, so they're quite different!)  Anyhoo, she joins a group of handsome demon killers and begins to fulfill her destiny.  Blah, blah, blah.

Truthfully I'm not quite sure what I think about this movie.  I didn't hate it quite as much as early reviewers seem to.  Like 'Beautiful Creatures', in some ways it's kind of interesting and in others it's kind of a big mess.  It's a hodge-podge of all the aforementioned films, and accordingly it struggles to have an identity of its own.  The target audience is clearly teen and tween girls, but I think there's enough camp, quirk, and classic sci-fi/fantasy homages to keep the fanboys adequately entertained as well.  It's better than 'Twilight' for sure, but just the same if you're not a teen or tween girl you can probably do much better.

Grade: C+

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I Give it a Year

 

Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall play a couple in love and getting married.  But their friends and family only give it a year. 

This British romantic comedy isn't one of the funniest comedies of the year, but it features a very likeable cast including Stephen Merchant, Anna Faris, Minnie Driver, and Simon Baker, and it certainly has its moments.  I can't say you should rush out to theaters to see it because Lake Bell's 'In a World' is a better choice for a similar target audience, but this one has the added benefit of being available on Video on Demand so you can watch it for $6.99 in the comfort of your own home.  It's a decent, light, and likeable choice for date night.

Grade: B+

When Comedy Went to School


I grew up watching Jewish comedians on TV.  Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, Jerry Lewis, and Jerry Stiller were all part of my comedy coming of age in the 70's and 80's.  So I fully expected to love this documentary hosted by Robert Klein about Jewish comedians who cut their teeth on stand up comedy at the Catskills back in 'the day'.  Unfortunately I wasn't nearly as entertained as I expected.  The doc is around 50% interviews with these comics discussing their hey day performing at the 'Borscht Belt' and 50% archival clips of their stand up that just felt stale and dated.  It just isn't big screen worthy, but rather something you might leave on TV while you're channel surfing.  Frankly, I think you'll probably only love this film if you're one of those old Jewish folks who used to frequent the Catskills and this will provide you a walk down memory lane so you can wax nostalgic.  In other words, if you have a craving for Henny Youngman 'Take my wife, please' jokes then by all means try and catch this in its very limited release in theaters.  Otherwise take a pass and let's see if the eerily similar sounding 'When Jews Were Funny' doc that premieres at the Toronto Film Festival in September is any better.

Grade: C-

Friday, August 16, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 8/16/13


Check out my appearance from this morning on Good Day Orlando where I offered my thoughts on 'The Butler', 'Jobs', and 'Paranoia'.  (And enjoy watching me freak out when they apparently lose me midway due to technical difficulties.  Oy, live TV!)

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

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now



(newest releases in green)

World War Z    Grade: A+

Lee Daniels' The Butler   Grade: A

Kick-Ass 2   Grade: A

In a World ...   Grade: A

Jobs    Grade: A

The Spectacular Now   Grade: A

20 Feet From Stardom    Grade: A

Blackfish     Grade: A-

Prince Avalanche    Grade: A-  (Also available on VOD)

This is the End     Grade: A-

Blue Jasmine     Grade: A-

Pacific Rim     Grade: A-

2 Guns    Grade: B+

We're the Millers     Grade: B+

The Way Way Back     Grade: B+

I Give it a Year    Grade: B+   (Also available on VOD)

Fruitvale Station     Grade: B

Elysium     Grade: B

Red 2     Grade: B-

Monsters U     Grade: B-

Europa Report     Grade: C+  (Also available on VOD)

Grown Ups 2     Grade: C+

The Heat     Grade: C+

The Conjuring     Grade: C

Paranoia    Grade: C

When Comedy Went to School    Grade: C-

The Wolverine     Grade: D



Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Attack
Despicable Me 2
Drug War
I'm So Excited!

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Planes
Smurfs 2
Turbo

Lee Daniel's The Butler


I must admit I've never been a huge fan of Lee Daniels' films.  (And as a Philadelphian, I could be strung up for saying that.)  'Precious' and 'The Paperboy' are both good films but overrated.  And the lesser known 'Shadowboxer' was just bad.  But Daniels has clearly learned a thing or two over the last decade and has put together an Oscar caliber film, with more than a little help from his cast.

The always amazing Forest Whitaker stars as a former cotton picker who has worked his way all the way to the white house, as a butler.  Spanning from the 1920's until present day, Whitaker's character is an observer of the progression of civil rights for African Americans, and ultimately serves under eight American Presidents.  In that respect, he's the black, non-mentally challenged 'Forrest Gump'.  Whitaker gives an Oscar worthy performance (putting him on a short list of candidates for Best Actor as of now) as a black man who understands and accepts he's living in a white man's world (at least in his youth), and works hard to make the most of himself and provide for his family.  Oprah Winfrey plays his wife, and the all star supporting cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, and Jane Fonda.  It's an excellent movie that despite it's 2 hour and 6 minute run time leaves you wanting more.  This is one to definitely go and see.

Grade: A

In a World ...

 

Lake Bell wrote, directed, and stars in this utterly charming comedy about the niche career of movie trailer voiceovers.  Bell plays the daughter of one of the voiceover kings in Hollywood (perfectly cast by character actor and real life voiceover artist Fred Melamed.)  But she struggles to find her own voice in a world where men dominate the profession.  The supporting cast includes Melamed, Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, and Michaela Watkins, all giving the best performances of their careers.  But it's Bell who deserves most of the credit for this must see film.  Her premise is completely original and fresh (and it's hard to believe it's never been done before).  Her writing is delightful; There are lots of laughs, but they're not cheap like in all the crass comedies that dominate the multiplexes.  And Bell charms, seemingly effortlessly, in every scene she's in.  It's a chick flick that men will actually enjoy equally.  In fact, I've already seen it twice and it's just as enjoyable the second time.  In a world where most movies are stale, boring, or contrived, and either involve superheroes or the Apocalypse, this is easily a standout film that just makes you feel good.  It's one of the best of the year and Lake Bell is unquestionably one of the breakout stars of 2013 ... at least in my world.

Grade: A

Kick-Ass 2


Few movies have been as pleasant a surprise as 'Kick-Ass' in 2010.  I had heard very little about it when it was released theatrically and on the surface it just appeared like a kid's film.  It isn't.  It's wild, violent, super fun, extremely cool, and totally unpredictable.  It's directed by Matthew Vaughn (who made 'Layer Cake', one of the coolest movies ever), and it features Nicolas Cage in one of his best roles, and relative newcomer Chloe Grace Moretz, who at only 12 years old really kicks some ass.  It was an instant cult classic.  Needless to say, this sequel has been highly anticipated by fanboy geeks aplenty.  And by and large it does not disappoint.

Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl are once again back as teens with no super powers trying to be real life superheroes.  And they're up against their old acquaintance, Red Mist, who's out for revenge.  Add in Jim Carrey and you have the recipe for a pretty kick ass sequel.  Of course Carrey has publicly declined to do press for the movie, as he deems the finished product too violent to endorse.  So is it violent?  Absolutely.  But it's violent in a comic book way, and hardly as disturbing or inappropriate as films like 'Evil Dead' or the upcoming 'You're Next'.  That hoopla is much ado about nothing.  Now, is it as good as the original?  Not quite.  But how could it be?  It's still way better than most of the summer fare we've been subjected to.  This is adrenaline pumping fun that makes you want to put on a jumpsuit, fight crime, and kick ass.  Go see it because I want another sequel!

Grade: A

The Spectacular Now

 

Writer/Director James Ponsoldt seems to have the secret for great filmmaking.  Last year he surprised me with a little seen film about alcoholism called 'Smashed' that could have been movie-of-the-week schmaltzy but was actually one of the finest films of the year.  And now he's done it again with the coming-of-age dramedy, 'The Spectacular Now'.  Though credit is clearly also due to writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, best known for their brilliant romantic dramedy, '(500) Days of Summer'.  Add in Miles Teller from teen party films '21 & Over' and 'Project X', and Shailene Woodley who was lauded for her role in 'The Descendants', and you have the dream team for a small independent film.  It's charming, poignant, honest, and feels fresh and original.  It's really a model for coming-of-age dramedies and you should definitely see it.  (Now if only Ponsoldt, Neustadter, and Weber would share their secrets with their less talented peers, my job would be even better.)

Grade: A

Jobs


Ashton Kutcher, a well known techie himself, steps into the giant shoes of technological visionary Steve Jobs in this engrossing biopic that traces his life from college dropout to founder of Apple, ultimately leading it to become the success we know it to be today.

It's likely your first question is, Ashton Kutcher?  Really?  Yup, I was skeptical too.  But he really does a fine job here as both the charismatic front man and also the explosive and borderline autistic leader who simply wouldn't allow his colleagues to settle for anything less than the best.  It didn't matter that he wasn't the smartest guy in the room.  He was the pioneer and he inspired the smartest people to work for him and achieve greatness.  Much like 'The Social Network' (though not quite as good), the film is inspiring and extremely entertaining from start to finish, whether you know the whole story or none of it at all.

Grade: A

Paranoia


Liam Hemsworth stars in this high tech corporate thriller as an ambitious 27 year old looking for a shortcut to get to the top of the corporate ladder.  Though he quickly finds himself a pawn in a chess game being played between two executive megalomaniacs, as played by Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman.

'Paranoia' seems to want to be the 'Wall Street' for a new tech/gadget obsessed generation.  But it doesn't even come close.  Hemsworth is no Charlie Sheen (pre or post tiger's blood).  And as much as I always enjoy Oldman's performances, neither he nor Ford are anywhere as larger than life as Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko.  On a weekend when five other great films are opening, I can only give you two reasons to pick this one.  One:  You're a teen girl and your only interest is in seeing Hemsworth with his shirt off.  (This happens frequently.)  Two:  You live in Philadelphia and want to see such recognizable locations as The Comcast Center lobby and the Beasley Building at 12th and Walnut.  Other than that this is a pretty forgettable thriller that all too often just felt like cell phone product placement.  Take a pass.

Grade: C

Friday, August 9, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 8/9/13


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'Elysium', 'We're the Millers', and 'Mud'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9183071

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now



(newest releases in green)

World War Z     Grade: A+

Still Mine     Grade: A

20 Feet From Stardom     Grade: A

Blackfish     Grade: A-

Prince Avalanche     Grade: A-

This is the End     Grade: A-

Blue Jasmine    Grade: A-

The To Do List     Grade: A-

Pacific Rim     Grade: A-

2 Guns     Grade: B+

We're the Millers    Grade: B+

R.I.P.D.     Grade: B+

The Way Way Back     Grade: B+

Fruitvale Station     Grade: B

Elysium     Grade: B-

Red 2     Grade: B-

Monsters U     Grade: B-

Europa Report    Grade: C+

Grown Ups 2     Grade: C+

The Heat     Grade: C+

The Conjuring     Grade: C

The Wolverine     Grade: D

The Act of Killing     Grade: D-



Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Attack
Blood
Despicable Me 2
I'm So Excited!

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Lovelace
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Planes
Smurfs 2
Turbo

Blue Jasmine


It's always a treat to see the latest Woody Allen film.  It's one event I look forward to every year.  To me they're comfort food.  Allen's films have a trademark look and feel that just makes me feel at home.  I find comfort in the familiarity of the soundtrack, the opening credits of white text on black, and of course the Allen-esque line delivery common to almost all his films.  Of course they're not all classics.  Last year's 'To Rome with Love' was largely considered a lesser Allen work.  But it still gave me my annual Allen fix even if it was fairly forgettable.  Fortunately his latest is a return to the more brilliant writing of his career, blending comedy and tragedy in a way that so few filmmakers are capable. 

Cate Blanchett plays a woman who went from riches to rags and now she needs to adapt to her new life as she temporarily stays with her estranged sister, played by Sally Hawkins.  As usual for Allen's films, the casting is brilliant.  Sure, we all know Blanchett can act.  But this is probably her best performance to date, really digging deep and embodying this character who has experienced so much trauma.  And yes, Alec Baldwin is always great, but he's really great here as her rich and successful picture perfect husband.  Of course, Hawkins and Bobby Cannavale are charmers as usual, but who knew that comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. could act as well?  Turns out they can, under the right direction, and with the right material.

I loved the film, though as a critic I can usually find at something to criticize.  And the area I had trouble with here was Allen's choice to use his trademark zippy oldies tunes as background for a few otherwise dramatic and fairly painful scenes thereby, in my opinion, weakening those moments.  It was clearly an artistic choice but I'd personally love to see how the film would play with a more dramatic score, or perhaps no score at all, particularly towards the end.

Lastly, be forewarned: Don't expect the feel good experience that was 'Midnight in Paris'.  There are plenty of laughs, but at heart this is a tragedy disguised as a comedy.  But if you like a little down with your up and appreciate Allen's playwright style then don't miss this one.

Grade: A

Prince Avalanche


OK, I'm not a fan of writer/director David Gordon Green ('All the Real Girls', 'Pineapple Express', 'Your Highness', 'The Sitter', 'Eastbound & Down').  For the most part his resume consists of bad stoner, loser, and white trash movies and TV shows.  But even those auteurs I don't care for can surprise me every now and then (like Green did with 'Snow Angels' in 2007).  And this is one of those times.  'Prince Avalanche' is Green's best film to date.

'Prince Avalanche' is loosely based on an Icelandic film called 'Either Way', about two road workers who spend a summer working all by themselves.  (As the story goes (per Paul Rudd), Green dreamed of the title of the film and then tried to find a movie to go with it.  And this film seemed about as good as any to go along with his title.)  Rudd and Emile Hirsch play two very different people who learn to get along as they work for an entire summer on the road away from society.  Rudd sorely misses his girlfriend, who also happens to be Hirsch's sister.  And Hirsch basically just wants to get laid.  But each of them learn from the other in this male bonding bromance dramedy.  And it really works, though it's hard to say exactly why.  It's just one of those miracles that came together despite any particular reason why it should.  Those of you who dig the festival/indie/dramedies like I do should be sure to see it.

'Prince Avalanche' is in limited release in theaters and also available at home on Video on Demand.
Grade: A-

We're the Millers


I think it's a sign of the times, but every comedy that comes out these days is crass, filthy, cheap, and grossly inappropriate.  Fortunately for me I generally like crass, filthy, cheap, and inappropriate humor.  So 'We're the Millers' happens to be right up my alley.

Jason Sudeikis is just your average single, 30-something, grungy marijuana dealer.  But when he finds he needs to transition from pot dealer to pot smuggler, he decides the best cover would be the picture perfect family on a road trip in an RV.  Enter Jennifer Aniston (the stripper), Emma Roberts (the runaway), and Will Poulter (the virgin) as his beard.  And of course hilarity ensues.  Truly.  I'm not proud to admit it, because in many ways this is just your typical dumb comedy for your typical dumb audience.  But there are a lot of laughs here (for those who aren't easily offended).  And the cast is great, including good supporting work from Ed Helms, Kathryn Hahn, and the ubiquitous Nick Offerman.  This movie won't make you any smarter, but it's just the right fare after a long work week.

Grade: B+

Elysium



Matt Damon stars in this bleak sci-fi film from Neill Blomkamp, the writer/director behind 'District 9'.  It's 140 years in the future and overpopulation has spawned the creation of a space station called Elysium where the rich can live in the manner to which they are accustomed without fear of the poor back on Earth.  Immigration to Elysium is strictly prohibited and Homeland Security, run by Jodie Foster, ensures that no one disturbs the peace of the wealthy.  Enter Matt Damon.

Just like with 'District 9', 'Elysium is filled to the brim with allegories to our current society and hot button political issues.  Though, while 'District 9' was embraced by critics and Oscar voters (more than it should have been) I believe 'Elysium' will not be met with nearly the same acclaim.  Amidst a summer of ho-hum big budget sci-fi like 'Oblivion' and 'After Earth', 'Elysium' is just another marginally entertaining entry.  Sci-fi buffs will undoubtedly flock to it regardless, but it's just not anywhere near as interesting as it could have been.  In other words, it's a Neill Blomkamp film.

Grade: B

Europa Report

 

A team of astronauts go further out into space than ever before on a mission to explore possible life on a moon of Jupiter in this art house sci-fi flick.  Like last year's 'Prometheus', the film teases with possible answers to big questions like where did we come from and are we alone in the universe?  I love movies that explore those topics, but unfortunately teasing is what this film does best.  There just isn't enough payoff to make the building anticipation of the journey feel satisfying.  Sci-fi geeks will still get enough out of it to make it worth the watch, but I just can't recommend it for the casual sci-fi film-goer.  It's not bad, but you're much better off with 'Sunshine' or 'Moon'.

'Europa Report' is in limited release in theaters and also available at home on Video on Demand.

Grade: C+

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Still Mine


American treasure James Cromwell, known for all his great supporting character acting work, really gets a chance to shine in the lead as a loving husband to his ailing wife who is slowly losing her memory and her ability to live at home on their farm in their multi-story house.  So at the age of 87 he sets out to single handedly build a smaller single story home on their estate, but runs into unexpected regulatory troubles. 

At a time when every movie strives to be bigger and louder than the last, 'Still Mine' is a sweet, quiet, low budget, well acted, true romance that dares to focus on the subject that no one wants to discuss: death.  And it also inspires, as Cromwell remains determined to finish what he started to honor a loved one.  In that respect it reminds me of 'The Way', another wonderful film that should be on your must see list.  The entire cast is good, and kudos to Campbell Scott for popping up in a small supporting role for a film he obviously did for love rather than a pay check.  Best of all, Cromwell gets the opportunity to showcase what he does best as a true actor in a rare leading role.  And since over the last few weeks we lost both Dennis Farina and Eileen Brennan, I'm grateful that this film got made before it's too late for 73 year old Cromwell.  Of his 164 acting credits listed on IMDB, this is certainly one of his best.

Grade: A

Friday, August 2, 2013

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 8/2/13


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on '2 Guns', 'Broken', and 'Some Girls'.  (Links to On Demand the latter two are below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Watch-Now-While-Theaters/dp/B00D7JCJZU/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1375409329&sr=1-1&keywords=broken

http://vimeo.com/ondemand/somegirls

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+

Still Mine    Grade: A

20 Feet From Stardom       Grade: A-

Blackfish       Grade: A-

This is the End       Grade: A-

The To Do List       Grade: A-

The Hunt       Grade: A-

Pacific Rim       Grade: A-

2 Guns      Grade: B+

R.I.P.D.       Grade: B+

The Way Way Back       Grade: B+

Man of Steel       Grade: B+

Fruitvale Station       Grade: B

Girl Most Likely       Grade: B

Crystal Fairy       Grade: B-

Red 2       Grade: B-

Monsters U       Grade: B-

Grown Ups 2       Grade: C+

The Heat       Grade: C+

The Lone Ranger       Grade: C

The Conjuring       Grade: C

The Wolverine       Grade: D

The Act of Killing     Grade: D-



Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Attack
Despicable Me 2
I'm So Excited!

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Smurfs 2
Turbo

2 Guns


Action comedies are a tricky genre.  So when I heard both Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington on talk shows over the last few days, both describing this as being a very funny comedy, I began to have concerns.  Often the key to success for an action comedy is to go light on the comedy and just play it straight.  And, despite their recent misleading marketing campaign, that's exactly what they did here.  And it works.

To say too much about this movie would spoil the fun.  (Any other reviews you read or trailers you see spoil too much, but unfortunately there's really no way not to and still properly market this film.)  But basically it's an assortment of drug dealers and law men all looking for stolen money, and it features Washington, Wahlberg, Edward James Olmos, Bill Paxton, and James Marsden.  Washington and Wahlberg have good chemistry and camaraderie.  The reveals are all decent but not mind blowing.  The action works but isn't over bearing.  And the comedy is present but not overly present (despite what Wahlberg and Washington say.  Have they even seen the film?)  In short, they did good in this tricky genre.  To equate it to action buddy cop/bromance classics like '48 Hours', 'Lethal Weapon', or 'Midnight Run' isn't fair, as it's not at that level.  But it's still one of the better of that genre I've seen in a while.

Grade: B+