Friday, February 28, 2014

In Theaters Now - 2/28/14



(new releases in green)

Philomena       Grade: A+

Hunger Games: Catching Fire       Grade: A

August: Osage County       Grade: A

Dallas Buyers Club       Grade: A

The Wolf of Wall Street       Grade: A

American Hustle       Grade: A

12 Years a Slave       Grade: A

Saving Mr. Banks       Grade: A-

Non-Stop       Grade: A-

Lone Survivor       Grade: B+

About Last Night       Grade: B+

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit       Grade: B+

Tim's Vermeer       Grade: B+

Her       Grade: B+

Frozen       Grade: B+

The Monuments Men       Grade: B

Robocop       Grade: B

Gloria       Grade: B

Nebraska       Grade: B

3 Days to Kill       Grade: B-

Winter's Tale       Grade: B-

I, Frankenstein       Grade: B-

Inside Llewyn Davis       Grade: C+

That Awkward Moment      Grade: C+

Endless Love       Grade: C

The Lego Movie       Grade: C/B/A * (see review)

In Secret       Grade: C-

The Rocket      Grade: C-

Pompeii       Grade: D+

Ride Along       Grade: D+

The Wind Rises      Grade: D- * (see review)




Additional Films Not Reviewed:

The Nut Job
Omar
Son of God

Non-Stop


Much like Jason Statham, who I often come down on for making the same movie over and over (and over), Liam Neeson has allowed himself to be typecast in one particular role.  He is a man with a special set of skills, put under extreme circumstances, and to be sure, he's going to use those skills to kick your ass.  I always do my damnedest to stay away from trailers and any spoilers, so I can't say I had expectations for 'Non-Stop', but the word on the street was that this was going to be 'Taken 3: Taken on a Plane'.  And, while I loved 'Taken' just as much as the next guy, I couldn't imagine how they'd do taken on a plane.  In fact, ever since I first heard of Wesley Snipes making Die Hard on a Plane, a.k.a. 'Passenger 57', I've always wondered how you could have an action film on a plane?  Where can you possibly hide?!?  I'm fairly skinny and I can barely fit my rear end down the aisle!  But I digress.  I'm pleased to report that this movie is nothing like 'Taken', and it is, quite surprisingly, really entertaining.  I was most pleased to find out that it's more of a mystery than an action film, though it does have a few great action sequences.  I will offer no synopsis, as I thoroughly enjoyed watching the story unfold, but I'll just say there are plenty of interesting characters thrown your way to keep you from guessing the true villain.  Be forewarned, the final reveal, at least for me, was the weakest point of the film.  Don't go see this movie for the end.  Go see it to sit back, stuff your face with popcorn, and enjoy the journey.  And, to adapt a phrase made famous by Snipes in 'Passenger 57', always bet on Irish.

Grade: A

Who is this movie for?  Anyone looking for a fun, mainstream, popcorn somewhat Hitchcockian mystery/action/thriller that will hold your attention from start to finish.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me


I saw this doc last April at the Tribeca Film Festival.  And let me come clean, I wasn't really all that familiar with Elaine Stritch before seeing it.  But after having seen it, I became an instant fan.  How can you not?  She's inimitable!  She's like a cross between Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller!  Even in her late eighties, she has so much spunk and is so damn entertaining, you won't be able to help but enjoy following her around for 80 minutes.   So check this one out, and pair it with 'Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work' for a great double feature!

'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: A

Who is this movie for?  Fans of spunky old ladies, Broadway legends, and light hearted documentaries about people who have led really interesting lives.

The Wind Rises


Those who know me and follow my blog know I don't care for animated films.  And among my least favorites are Japanese Anime.  I don't get them at all.  Even the most beloved, many of which were made by Hayao Miyazaki (including 'Spirited Away', 'Princess Mononoke', and 'Howl's Moving Castle'), are pure torture for me to sit through.  I'm not proud of this, nor do I mean it as any insult.  The fact is they just bore me terribly and I can hardly pay attention to them.  And as hard as I try to see in them what so many others do, I just don't.

'The Wind Rises' (which could easily have been called 'Jiro Dreams of Airplanes') pays homage to Jiro Horikoshi, a man obsessed with airplanes since childhood, who eventually designed fighter planes during World War II.  Yes, there is historical value, as well as plenty of intended emotion in Jiro's passion for his work and his soul mate.  And yes, this will be Miyazaki's final feature length film, as he announced last year.  And yes, it was Japan's highest grossing film last year.  And yes, it has been nominated for and won countless awards from prestigious festivals and critics associations worldwide, including Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards this Sunday.  But its two hour and six minute runtime felt like an eternity for me.  And therefore, even though I'm not happy doing this, as it opens me up for mockery by my fellow film critics and film buffs, it would be totally phony of me to give 'The Wind Rises' anything else but ...

Grade: D-

Who is this movie for?  Apparently it's for virtually every film critic and film buff but me.  You probably know by now if Japanese Anime is for you.  It's not for me.

Note: I watched the version in Japanese with English subtitles.  Another version is now being released in America that's dubbed with a voice cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, William H. Macy, and Werner Herzog.  Perhaps I would have enjoyed that version better.  I don't know.  But my grade only applies to the version I saw.

Alan Partridge


First off, let me come clean that I'm not one of the cult followers of Coogan's multiple Alan Partridge series. They may be excellent, but I've only had limited exposure to them. Though I became an instant fan of Coogan's when I saw 'The Trip' in 2010. I instantly knew what many British and some Americans discovered long before me. Steve Coogan is a comic genius. He probably delivers more comedy per minute of screen time, with his trademark quick, dry delivery, and sometimes just with an expression. And per usual, Coogan delivers a lot of comedy here. Some of it works. Some of it doesn't. Of course, with that said, a movie is only as good as good as its premise, and this movie's premise was already done at least once before in 1994, in mediocre style, when Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, and Brendan Frasier took Michael McKean hostage in 'Airheads'. Sure the motive is different. And yes, this one features the always great Colm Meaney. But the premise and script are still only so good. It's enjoyable, but it isn't 'The Trip'.

'Alan Partridge' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: B

Who is this movie for?  Well, Alan Partridge fans, of course.  And in general, fans of the goofier Steve Coogan.  Personally, I'm a 'Philomena' kind of guy.  But I did love 'The Trip' as well.

Tim's Vermeer


This doc, narrated by magician Penn Jillette and directed by fellow magician and partner Teller, explores an inventor's obsession with a painter from the 17th Century named Johannes Vermeer.  At a time when most paintings looked unrealistic, Vermeer was creating paintings that looked like photographs.  To this day, no one knows how he did it.  Inventor Tim Jenison sets out to figure out how Vermeer did it and then to create his own.  The most astounding thing to me is what some really brilliant people with too much money and too much free time choose to do with it.  But it's a fun doc of a brilliant man obsessed with his goal.  (Remind you of anyone?)

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Fans of documentaries about obsessive hobbyists.  Count me in.

The Rocket


Since birth Ahlo, a twin baby born in Laos, has been believed to be a curse.  Now 10, Ahlo must prove to his family and to the entire village that he isn't the curse they think he is. 

Having played so well and won so many awards at many prestigious film festivals, I expected a lot more than I got here.  I'd love to be able to tell you this was the next 'Beasts of the Southern Wild', (a film I didn't enjoy nearly as much as others.)  But this one isn't as good as 'Beasts'.  It's not nearly as gripping or as heartwarming, nor does it have the soundtrack or cast that 'Beasts' had to really pull you in.  It's pretty ho-hum actually.  Honestly, I don't see what all the fuss is about.  What did I miss?

Grade: C-

Who is this movie for?  Those who enjoy raw, low budget, subtitled narratives from third world countries.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Real Story (Allegedly) of Why I Got Dumped by FOX



OK, so now that the dust has settled and I got another story on why I got dumped by FOX 35 on Wednesday, I should probably share it with my audience, right?  I always keep it real here, and what follows is what I believe to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Some of it is "he said, she said" so where there are no facts, and only reliable sources, I am clear to say so.  But you can all make up your own minds.

Let me start by saying, the official story from FOX 35 management is that they are re-evaluating their morning show and have simply decided to make some changes.  Well that happens, and business is business, so it would be hard for me to argue with that.  So when they called me on Wednesday and told me that, and said they were suspending the segment, I merely responded that I was surprised and extremely disappointed, but that I appreciated the opportunity over the last 3 years and four months.  I got a brief thank you for the time I had given them, and that was it.  Per my iPhone, the entire call lasted one minute.  That's what 3+ years gets you at FOX for a farewell. So after the call I was, to no surprise, still in shock, wondering what had spawned this?  I have never once heard any negative feedback from anyone at FOX about me or my work as a film critic.  To be fair, it was very rare to get any feedback whatsoever, but when I did, on rare occasion, it was always positive.  So perhaps something else was afoot?

But let's start from the beginning.  In October of 2010 Good Day Orlando was looking for a film critic.  The problem is, they didn't want to pay for one.  So they went for the next best thing ... Me!  Sure, I had seen more movies than most film critics.  And yes, I used all my vacation time from my work as an actuary to travel to film festivals all over the world on my own nickel just for fun, so I had seen plenty of films that hadn't even been released in theaters yet.  But no, I had never had any on-camera experience as a film critic.  I was merely a film junkie who grew up loving movies, only dreaming of being on TV and getting to talk about what I loved.  So I gladly accepted the tryout they offered me on 10/15/10.  Under an inordinate amount of pressure, due to the weirdness of live TV via satellite from FOX 29 in Philadelphia, with no experience whatsoever, and no training, no make-up, no hairstyling, and really not much guidance in any way, I did my absolute best to channel my inner Roger Ebert and give my thoughts on two movies in theaters and one on DVD.  And it went ok!  I didn't throw up or pass out, so I was pretty pleased with myself.  And the folks at FOX 35 were pleased too.  In fact they were so pleased they asked me back every Friday ever since, allowing me to create the format of the segment myself, and almost always letting me say whatever I wanted to say about the movies I saw.  And I was thrilled to do it.  It was the dream come true.  Sure, I wasn't getting paid.  But I was getting to do what I loved.  And I have a real job that pays me, so money wasn't an issue.  The only problem was fitting this all into my life.  And that wasn't easy.  I spent virtually every waking non-working hour watching movies, writing about them on my blog, and preparing to talk about them on live TV.  It may look easy.  It's not.

In my 3+ years on TV, I've seen them come and I've seen them go at both FOX 35 and FOX 29.  Anchors, Reporters, Producers, Directors, Assignment Editors, Guests, Security Guards, etc ...  Just like any job, it's a revolving door of people.  And I actually believed I was friends with every single one of them.  At FOX 29, the staff, security guards, and guests would often go out of their way to come over and talk to me about movies.  It was great.  A side benefit of this gig was that I got to meet a whole lot of people and make some new friends.  And at FOX 35 we all had a great repoire, even though it was primarily over email.  All was fine and dandy!  Sure, I still wasn't getting paid, but I wasn't complaining.  It WAS awful strange that I couldn't even get them to provide me a proper custom earpiece that wouldn't fall out of my ear during live segments, which I imagine every other person on the show has.  You would think they'd want to invest a tiny bit of money to "produce" the segment a bit.  But whatever.  So I look a little foolish on TV.  I'm ok with it.  I mean, I'm getting to do what I love, right?

Now I should tell you that even though I'm willing to look foolish for the common good of making good TV, I am no fool.  Over the years, I obviously tried to make this opportunity that had fallen in my lap into something bigger.  Heck, if I can't get any compensation, at least I'll try to get as much experience and exposure as I can, right?  So for three years I've been offering my services at FOX 29 in Philly to be their film critic.  They actually didn't have one, and I was dressed, rehearsed, and ready to go on Fridays anyway.  And I work for free!  So why not?  Yet, the powers that be at FOX 29 remained adamant that they didn't want a regular film review segment.  I thought this was silly, but it's their job, not mine to decide what to do with their show.  I am merely a guest in their home.  And I always thanked them for letting me use their camera.  Read my State of the Blog from 1/1/14 if you don't believe me.  But every once in a while I just casually mentioned that I would be happy to do their show while I was there.  And over my 3+ years they actually had me on four times.  Each time I thought went over pretty well, and the limited feedback I got from them was all positive.  So I thought I was headed in the right direction at least.  But late last year I learned from a friend who watched FOX 29 that they were using another film critic via satellite from DC.  This obviously hurt my feelings.  So I emailed the news director of FOX 29 and inquired about it.  His response, in the nicest possible way, was that they had tried this other guy out and the cast and crew simply thought he worked better for the show than I did.  This hurt my feelings even more, but I was professional about it.  I thanked him for his honesty and for any future consideration if they change their mind.  I knew at that point they wouldn't, but I at least wanted to keep my relationship good with them since they let me use their camera every week to do the Orlando segment, and I liked them all very much.  And according to the news director they all liked me very much as well, just not for the show.

OK, here's where it gets good.  On 2/14, I published the following on my personal Facebook account:

"So is it wrong that I feel cheated on when FOX 29 uses another film critic via satellite from DC instead of me even though I'm physically there at the studio doing my segment for Orlando?  Seems particularly hurtful on Valentine's Day."

Now, I ask you, is that post crossing any line in any way?  That was the one and only time I ever dared express my feelings of hurt on social media, and I actually thought it was done in a mildly amusing, albeit true way.  I received many comments from friends who thought FOX 29 was silly not to use me since I'm right there.  But I didn't trash them in any way.  I merely responded that this would be my one and only mention of it and that this was my closure and that I'm now done with it.  I decided right there and then I would never ask FOX 29 about it again.  If they wanted to use me they knew how to reach me.  Well, sources tell me that the folks at FOX 29 didn't take too kindly to this post, intended only for my 300+ Facebook friends, many of whom work at FOX 29 and FOX 35.  Rumor has it they were no longer comfortable with me being in their studio and using their camera on Friday mornings, despite the fact that I had been doing so for 3+ years without ever hearing one complaint from anyone who even implied that I was in the way or had made them feel uncomfortable in any way.  Trust me, that's the last thing I wanted to do.  I really tried to be as friendly and respectful as I could, and I honestly felt that most if not all of them enjoyed having me there, or at worst didn't care.

So sources tell me that Philly told Orlando that they didn't want me using their camera anymore and the rest is history.  To be sure, FOX 35 management denies all of the above, and stands firm that they simply decided (coincidentally less than one week after my Facebook post) to suspend the segment.  And FOX 29 has not commented on this at all, even though I gave them the opportunity.  And yet suddenly I appear to be persona non grata by everyone at both stations.  Very few people responded to my kind farewell emails.  Very few wished me good luck.  It's almost as if anyone who is caught talking to me may get dumped as well.  And why?  Well I can't say for sure.  But it's possible and maybe even likely that it's all because of one harmless Facebook post.  I almost killed myself for 3+ years, dedicating virtually every spare moment to try and make good TV for them, for no compensation at all.  And now they've all washed their hands of me.  (Although since this post, many from FOX 35 have been classy enough to comment publicly on my Facebook or privately via message, and offered me compliments and well wishes.  And though it only took a minute of their life to do so, I will always remember it and appreciate it.  Surprisingly, many from FOX 35 and FOX 29 that I would have expected to have heard from in some way, have remained suspiciously silent.  It certainly appears I was not as welcome at FOX 29 as I thought, though I always thought I was more intuitive than that.)

So wait, I'm sure you're asking yourself, if that Facebook post got back to FOX 29 and FOX 35, won't this blog post get back to them as well?  I would think so.  But you know what?  I really don't care anymore.  Am I burning bridges?  Probably.  But only bridges I have no intention of crossing ever again.  I have no intention of accepting another unpaid position, requiring 20 - 30 hours of work a week, only to get banned, dumped, ignored, ostracized, and quite possibly even lied to.  So here's a message for any of my "friends" from FOX who are reading this:

If you're truly my friend, why would anything I wrote above set you off?  And if you're not, why the hell are you reading my blog?  Don't you have better things to do like pretending to be friends with other people to get what you want out of them and then stabbing them in the back when you're done? 

If you work at FOX 29 and did actually participate in banning me from coming in and using the camera to do the Orlando segment, you should be ashamed of yourself.  Here's an idea:  If you had any problem at all with me, why not talk to me about it?  Maybe just a quick mention?   To you, getting me banned may have just been one quick phone call or email message that removes a headache from your regal presence.  To me, it's my life.  Thank you for destroying what I have worked so hard to build over the last 3 years and 4 months ... allegedly.

If you work at FOX 35 and dumped me because FOX 29 told you they wouldn't allow me to use their camera anymore, and then lied to me about it (allegedly), you should be ashamed of yourself.  Your priority should be making the best TV, not kowtowing to the childish demands made by FOX 29 management?  Does the end result serve the FOX corporation in its entirety?  I think not.  I was free talent that you apparently liked, and perhaps we could have skyped me in from somewhere else.  And if you're sticking with your story that it had nothing to do with FOX 29 and had any concern about the segment or with me, wouldn't it have been smart to mention it to me at least once before you dumped me?  Maybe we could have made some changes?  Where I work, there are proper channels one needs to go through before firing someone.  You need to document that you have warned them of the problem first.  Sure, I'm not an employee at FOX, but after 145 appearances over 3+ years, aren't I due some consideration?  It wasn't that long ago that your executive producer contacted me to ask me if I would do an additional segment with all new material on Saturday mornings as well.  (I said I'd be happy to if I could be compensated for my time, though I never heard back from her about it.  Heaven forbid you actually give me a dollar or two.  FOX might go under!)  So you went from liking me enough to want me on two days a week to dumping me without warning?  It doesn't make any sense to me.  Though I admit I'm not a TV executive.  I'm just a simple Ivy League graduate with a degree in math, 20 years experience as an actuary, and a film junkie who sees almost 500 movies a year, maintains a blog, and did 145 appearances on your show for free and without any proper gratitude on your part.  What do I know?

And to all of the above, watch out because karma is a bitch.  You just might be the next one to get dumped.  Remember, I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go.

Now you may be wondering, if I could change anything that I did, would I?  Believe it or not, I don't think so.  I enjoyed and appreciated the experience (up until a few days ago) which I never thought I'd have.  But suddenly I feel less grateful to anyone for it.  I now completely understand it was simply a business transaction.  They needed someone to work for free and I did it.  Nobody did me any favors, and clearly I wasn't a living, breathing organism with feelings to anyone involved in getting rid of me.  But, you might ask, wouldn't I at least not have posted the infamous Facebook message?  Nope, I would do it again.  I've always wanted to know just exactly what my value was at FOX, and I finally found out.  Even for free, I'm worth less than the offended feelings of some overly sensitive, thin skinned, cold hearted, self serving management babies ... allegedly.

I'm done with you, FOX.  Good Day.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Flieder's Flicks - The End


Well folks, all things must eventually come to an end, and unfortunately today marks the end of my run on Good Day Orlando.  I got the call today that they've decided to "suspend" the segment.  No need to ask for any more details, because I really don't have any more to offer.  I'm extremely disappointed, of course.  I can honestly say that I gave it everything I had for the 145 appearances I did on that show over the last 3.3 years.  And I spent pretty much all my free time seeing films, writing about them on this blog, and preparing to offer interesting, candid, and entertaining reviews under the surreal situation of live TV via satellite.  But that's that.  I hope you enjoyed watching them.  I know I enjoyed the experience of doing them.  Thank you to all the folks at FOX 35 for the memories.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll be on TV again somewhere at some time in the future ...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Odd Thomas


Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) lives up to his name.  He's not a normal kid.  He sees dead people, which helps him track down those responsible for their deaths, and allows them the peace to move on to the afterlife.  (Sound familiar?)   And he also sees evil creatures invisible to others who gravitate towards the damned, thus giving him a heads up to possibly prevent unnecessary harm.  Willem Dafoe adds street cred (but not a whole lot more than that) as the police chief who knows of Odd Thomas' sixth sense.

Based on a best-selling Dean Koontz novel, though it sounds more like a rip off of M. Night Shyamalan's classic, it's actually less creepy and more geek teen friendly.  It's actually pretty fun and filled with potential, much like a reasonably decent network TV pilot.  But unfortunately it didn't finish as strong as I'd hoped.  Though I'd sure be down for a sequel with a little more money put into it!

'Odd Thomas' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  This one's for those of you that appreciate all those cheesy made for TV movies based on Dean Koontz and Stephen King novels, and maybe those that miss 'Heroes' on TV (which apparently is coming back for 13 episodes and a new cast.)

Haunt


'Haunt' is yet another generic haunted house movie with another generic family played by a generic cast, and with an even more generic title.  I really have absolutely nothing to say about it.  It's fairly well made, and the mystery of the ghost revealed in the last five minutes is reasonably interesting, but the first hour and 15 minutes just isn't.   The only really interesting mystery is why I even bothered to pay for it and see it?  Fool me 10 times, shame on me.

'Haunt' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: D+

Who is this movie for?  The one person out there who isn't bored to death of these unoriginal haunted house / demonic possession movies by now.

Jimmy P.


Benicio Del Toro stars as an American Indian suffering from headaches and other symptoms which he attributes to his service during World War II, but he undergoes psychotherapy to discover the real roots of his problems.  This is a quiet and slow dialogue based film, often consisting of conversations between patient and therapist, which offers a few interesting reveals, but there's just too much sluggishness between sessions.  David Cronenberg's 'A Dangerous Method' with Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, and Viggo Mortensen is a hell of a lot more engaging film about psychotherapy, but Del Toro is always superb and makes an otherwise dull film almost worth watching.  Almost.

'Jimmy P.' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: C+

Who is this movie for?  Those of you who understand the value of a good therapist in getting to the root of your psychological disorders and are down with a sloooow movie.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cheap Thrills


A rich man (David Koechner) looking for twisted entertainment for himself and his trophy wife (Sara Paxton) tempts two down-on-their-luck old pals (Pat Healy and Ethan Embry) to do increasingly bad things for money.  Of course things escalate and spiral out of control in this dark and violent gore-fest.  Unfortunately the thrills aren't the only things that are cheap, as the movie itself lacks decent production values.  And the fairly predictable script (at least by mid-way) makes this less fun than I would have hoped, particularly because the cast is good.

'Cheap Thrills' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: C+

Who is this movie for?  Those who enjoy violent and gory low budget midnight films billed as dark comedies, when in actuality there aren't any laughs at all.

Friday, February 21, 2014

100,000 Page Views!


Well, it took almost three and a half years, but today Flieder on Film hit 100,000 page views!  I know some sites get that in a day, but I certainly never expected to get that many when I started this blog.  So I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who contributed to this milestone.   Hopefully this includes a lot of satisfied repeat viewers (and not just one crazed fan who's checked in 99,000 times!)

If you enjoy my blog, please be sure to like my Flieder on Film Facebook page and/or follow me on Twitter

And if you want to see me hit 250,000 page views one day, please share this with all your friends, family, acquaintances, enemies, and even any complete strangers you've been wanting to meet.  (It could be a good pick up line!  "Hey, do you like Flieder on Film?")

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 2/21/14


Unfortunately I won't be on Good Day this morning because they're busy covering the Daytona 500.  But here's what I would have talked about:

Pompei     Grade: D+
3 Days to Kill     Grade: B-
House of Cards season 2  (now streaming on NetFlix)    Grade: A

In Theaters Now - 2/21/14



(new releases in green)

Philomena       Grade: A+

Hunger Games: Catching Fire       Grade: A

August: Osage County       Grade: A

Dallas Buyers Club       Grade: A

The Wolf of Wall Street       Grade: A

American Hustle       Grade: A

12 Years a Slave       Grade: A

Saving Mr. Banks       Grade: A-

Lone Survivor       Grade: B+

About Last Night       Grade: B+

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit       Grade: B+

Her       Grade: B+

Frozen       Grade: B+

The Monuments Men       Grade: B

Robocop       Grade: B

Labor Day       Grade: B

Gloria       Grade: B

Nebraska       Grade: B

3 Days to Kill      Grade: B-

Winter's Tale       Grade: B-

I, Frankenstein       Grade: B-

Inside Llewyn Davis       Grade: C+

That Awkward Moment       Grade: C+

Endless Love       Grade: C

The Lego Movie       Grade: C/B/A * (see review)

In Secret      Grade: C-

Pompeii       Grade: D+

Ride Along       Grade: D+




Additional Films Not Reviewed:

Like Father, Like Son
The Nut Job
Omar
Vampire Academy
Visitors

Pompeii


It's a well known fact (at least by film critics) that movies released in the first quarter of the year are, on average, worse than those released in the last three quarters.  They're too late to be eligible for awards from the prior calendar year and too early to be remembered by voters for the current year, so studios release their weakest products in January through March, preferring to save their best blockbuster "tent-pole" films for summer because they don't believe people will come out for them in winter.  (I fail to understand this antiquated logic, but statistically it's true.)  But the fact is, if a mainstream, big budget, action film comes out in the first quarter, chances are it's not good.  And if it's in 3D, it's even more likely to be bad.  And this year, there seems to be a trend towards gladiator/shirtless-men-with-six-packs-and-swords films.  Last month I suffered through The Legend of Hercules.  Next month I will have to endure '300: Rise of an Empire' (which has a ":" in the title, and therefore I believe it to be even more likely to be bad.)  And now we have 'Pompeii'.  And yes, much like in 'Titanic', we know where this one is going.  And much like in 'Titanic' there is human conflict as well as a romance to try to make us care about the characters before the historic disaster inevitably occurs.  But, unlike 'Titanic', I didn't care.  I wasn't pulled in at all by the characters, and frankly I couldn't wait for the volcano to finally erupt and get that molten lava rolling.  It's not that this movie is terrible.  It just doesn't have anything in it to make it worth seeing.  In fact, the best thing I can say about it is that it's better than 'The Legend of Hercules' and probably better than the upcoming '300: Rise of an Empire'.

Grade: D+

Who is this movie for?   Got me.  I don't think it's worth anyone's time.  You're much better off revisiting 'Gladiator', followed by either 'Volcano' or 'Dante's Peak' (which weren't all that great either.)

3 Days to Kill


Kevin Costner plays a terminally ill secret service agent who's offered an experimental drug that might save his life if he completes one last assignment.  And he wants to stick around to mend his relationship with his wife and daughter.

With Costner in the lead, a script by Luc Besson, and McG in the director chair I had some high hopes for this one, and it's really quite good.  Action packed and everything you'd expect from a Besson-McG collaboration.

Grade: A

Who is this movie for?   Mainstream action buffs.  Though Liam Neeson (with his special set of skills) will probably give this one a run for its money next Friday with 'Non-Stop'.  It's going to be a battle of the aging actions stars for the same audience.

In Secret


Elizabeth Olsen stars as a sexually frustrated young girl in 1860's Paris growing up in a stifling environment run by her controlling aunt (Jessica Lange) and forced to marry her aunt's son, as played by an extremely sweaty and unappealing Tom Felton (in stark contrast to his role as evil Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise.)  But her sexuality comes to life when she begins an affair with her husband's friend (Oscar Isaac).

Unfortunately that brief synopsis says it all.  You can see the entire tragic storyline coming a mile away.  The cast is decent, and the overall mood and tone work well, but much like Isaac's other film out now, 'Inside Llewyn Davis', the end product is overwhelmingly dull.  (And the poster sure isn't doing anything to imply otherwise.)  Unfortunately this is one to skip.

Grade: C-

Who is this movie for?  Take a look at the poster and you'll know immediately if this one's for you.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Knights of Badassdom


I always wonder at what point good actors realize they've made a really bad decision.  Peter Dinklage obviously thought, at least at some point, this goofy film about LARPers (Live Action Role Players) who accidentally summon up a real demon would be a good companion piece to his acclaimed role on 'Game of Thrones'.  It's not.  It's an embarrassment for all involved actually, including the usually found in better fare Steve Zahn, and other geek TV favorites like 'True Blood's Ryan Kwanten and 'Firefly's Summer Glau.  Well from one geek to another, please take my advice and skip it.  It's not worth the seductively priced $4.99 on XFinity on demand.  Even for free, it's a complete waste of time.

Grade: D

Who is this movie for?   No one.  Don't be fooled by its geek appeal.  Just rewatch 'Game of Thrones' for your eighth time instead.

Grand Piano


I caught this fun and weird little thriller featuring Elijah Wood, Kerry Bishe, and John Cusack last October at the Philadelphia Film Festival and it is now available on Video on Demand.  Wood plays a concert pianist who receives a disturbing note during his concert, and needs to follow certain instructions ... or else.  Playing out in real time, this movie feels like a mix of real time thrillers like 'Nick of Time' and 'Phonebooth' but played out like an episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'.  It's not a must see but it's a fun 90 minutes you can watch in the comfort of your own home on Video on Demand.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Fans of thrillers that take place in real time and those suspense anthology series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

At Middleton


Two seemingly polar opposite married strangers (Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga) spend the day together as their college bound kids (Taissa Farmiga and Spencer LoFranco, both also in 'Jamesy Boy') take a tour of Middleton's campus.  Feelings begin to develop as they slowly open up about their current situations.  And what begins as a breezy, slightly quirky, and kind of sweet and innocent romantic day eventually devolves into corn and melodrama.  Unfortunately the heavier it gets, the less enjoyable it becomes, which is a shame because the first half is fresh and charming.  It's worth seeing if only for the charming and aging gracefully Andy Garcia.  And I may revisit it again later in the year and see if it works any better the second time around.

Grade: B

Who is this movie for?  Fans of 'Before Sunrise' should reasonably enjoy it.  But it's no 'Before Sunrise'.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 2/14/14


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offered my thoughts on 'Winter's Tale', 'Endless Love', 'About Last Night', and 'Robocop'.

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

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now - 2/14/14


(new releases in green)

Philomena       Grade: A+

Hunger Games: Catching Fire       Grade: A

August: Osage County       Grade: A

Dallas Buyers Club       Grade: A

The Wolf of Wall Street       Grade: A

12 Years a Slave       Grade: A

American Hustle       Grade: A

Saving Mr. Banks       Grade: A-

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug       Grade: B+

Lone Survivor       Grade: B+

About Last Night       Grade: B+

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit       Grade: B+

Her       Grade: B+

The Past       Grade: B+

Frozen       Grade: B+

The Monuments Men       Grade: B

Robocop       Grade: B

Labor Day       Grade: B

Gloria       Grade: B

Nebraska       Grade: B

Winter's Tale      Grade: B-

I, Frankenstein       Grade: B-

Inside Llewyn Davis       Grade: C+

That Awkward Moment       Grade: C+

Endless Love       Grade: C

The Lego Movie       Grade: C/B/A * (see review)

The Great Beauty       Grade: C-

Ride Along       Grade: D+

Devil's Due       Grade: D




Additional Films Not Reviewed:

Kids for Cash
Like Father, Like Son
The Nut Job
Vampire Academy

Endless Love


I first saw writer/director Shana Feste in 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival premiering her first feature, The Greatest, and was immediately impressed by her.  Right out of the gate, at a relatively young age, she was able to capture love, and to an even greater extent the loss of love, in a very honest and heartfelt way, largely helped by a tremendous cast including Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, and newcomer Carey Mulligan.  If you're up for a very emotional tearjerker, I highly recommend you track that little seen film down.  In 2010 Feste followed up with the critically panned Country Strong, which in my opinion wasn't nearly as strong as her debut, but also wasn't nearly as bad as other critics would have you believe.  And now, four years later, she delivers yet another film about true love, which answers the question, how many cliches can you pack into one romance flick?  The answer is in the title.  Seemingly endless.

In many ways this, her weakest film to date by far, was an effort to get through.  Cliche #1:  An impossibly beautiful, lovely, smart and personable high school senior (Gabriella Wilde) manages to graduate from high school without having a single friend or boyfriend.  For real?  You see, she's been totally into studying to get into a good college so she can get into a good medical school like her dad.  Plus, her brother recently died, so the family has been in mourning.  Woe is them.  Cliche #2:  An extremely handsome and yet oh so tender high school boy from the wrong side of the tracks has been crushing on her for ages, but just could never bring himself to approach her.  He's the strong silent type, you see.  Cliche #3:  They fall madly in love upon first speaking to each other.  This is true and endless love, of course, and has nothing to do with the fact that they're both, like, totally hot.  (Note: this makes twice in two days I've had to endure this vomit inducing madness.  It's called lust, people!  It passes, either when you 'hit the wall' or when you find someone new.)  Cliche # 4:  Her overbearing dad (the too-good-for-this-movie Bruce Greenwood) isn't having any of this, because his daughter needs to devote all her time to an internship in medicine, before going off to Brown and becoming a world class doctor.  She can't live on love after all!  Says him!  In the movies you can live on love!  Cliche # 5:  At one point she bursts into a restaurant at the exact moment her true love is sitting with another girl, and gets the wrong idea and storms out while he chases after her.  You get the picture?  I could go on, but I won't ruin all the rest of the seemingly endless cliches.

And yet, I am somewhat ashamed to admit I didn't hate this movie as much as I wanted to.  As much as it looks and feels more like a bad Nicholas Sparks film or an after school special than a film from the woman who made The Greatest, I've seen worse.  Sure I rolled my eyes, groaned, and laughed under my breath too many times to count, but I also stayed awake and paid attention to the whole thing.  And that's more than I can say for my experience at 'The Lego Movie'.  So how can I give this movie a worse grade than I did for that one?  It's an apples vs. oranges conundrum that I struggle with as a film critic.  I welcome your criticism.

Grade: C

Who is this movie for?  Teen girls and die-hard romantics.  It's not for those of us who live in the real world.  (I believe some of you call us pessimists?)

About Last Night


It's a surprisingly rare event these days to get a comedy that actually makes me laugh, and I'm pleased to say 'About Last Night' succeeded where many have failed.  Based on the 1986 comedy starring Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi, and Elizabeth Perkins (which was based on a play written by David Mamet), this is a dirtier, sexier comedy for those who prefer their comedy to come with a hard R rating.  There's nothing original about the story, of course, but it's the fast paced dialogue that brings it to life, in no small part by motor-mouth Kevin Hart.  This film really plays to Hart's strength, allowing him to do what he does best: profane improv.  But the rest of the cast, including Regina Hall and Michael Ealy (both of whom co-starred with Hart in Think Like a Man) and Joy Bryant all bring the charm as well.  Fortunately this film is a lot more Think Like a Man and a lot less Ride Along.  It's a good date movie for Valentine's day, assuming you aren't turned off by crude humor cranked up to a 11.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Those who enjoy the better, funnier, sexier African American ensemble comedies like Think Like a Man, and who aren't offended by hearing words like p----. A lot.

Winter's Tale


Colin Farrell seems to have a thing for fables.  Five years ago he starred in a strange and unique Irish romance drama, 'Ondine', about a mermaid.  And now he's the protagonist in a somewhat lighter toned fable, as a man battling evil in the form of Russell Crowe, who believes it is his destiny to save a beautiful but terminally ill red headed woman (Jessica Brown Findlay) who he has immediately fallen madly in love with at first sight.  (Of course, there's a word for this in our non-fable world.  It's called lust.  I've experienced it frequently.  In fact, I too fell madly in love with her at the same time he did.  Go figure.)  Oh yeah, and there's a flying horse.  So that's something.

I admit, I get Farrell's affinity for fables.  Perhaps it's because there aren't that many of them made, but even my cold heart can sometimes be slightly warmed by a little magic mixed with romance, not unlike a live action Disney film.  And while I was a bit skeptical at the beginning, by the end this one won me sufficiently over if only by feeling original and fresh (and being the only film released this week that isn't a remake), and with a better than expected cast of cameos who pop up along the way.  I enjoyed it enough to recommend it once it's available for home viewing, but you really don't need to see this in the theater.  Of course, full disclosure, over time I've even warmed up to the widely panned 'The Lady in the Water' and the little seen but overwhelmingly criticized 'Passion Play', so you may not want to listen to my recommendation when it comes to fables.  I may be biased towards fables as much as I'm biased against animated comedies.  It's not my intention, but it is what it is.

P.S.  What important lesson did I learn from this fable?  Well, if you're dying, and you want a hero to save you, it's best if you're really, really good looking and always smiling and looking your absolute best, despite your terminal illness.  Take heed.  It could save your life one day.

Grade: B-

Who is this movie for?  Young adults and the young at heart who can appreciate a feel good magical romance, even if it is more than a little corny.

Robocop


Few weeks highlight nearly as well as this one the fact that Hollywood is out of new ideas, as 'Robocop' is actually the third remake released this week!  ('About Last Night' and 'Endless Love' are also based on earlier films of the same titles.)  But at least none of these films are based on toys, so I really shouldn't complain.  And in fact, if ever there was a franchise that sorely needed an update, it might be this one.  I rewatched the 1987 original over the weekend and either it doesn't hold up or it was never all that good to begin with (and 14 year old me just didn't have nearly as refined taste as 40 year old me) because it was cheesy as all Hell.  It's rare for me to say a remake is better, but this one is.  For one thing, this one does a much better job of handling the origin story, and the internal conflict between the man and the machine.  For another, all of the characters are more fully fleshed out human beings.  In real life, there is rarely a clear cut good or evil.  These characters have shades of grey.  And, all due respect to Peter Weller, Ronny Cox, Miguel Ferrer, and Ray Wise, but the cast here is a much better group of eclectic character actors including Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jay Baruchel, Jackie Earle Haley, and of course the always recognizable Lawrence Fishburne ... errr, I mean Samuel Jackson!  (My bad!)  This isn't a must see but it's certainly better than it could have been, and a reasonably fun watch.

Grade: B

Who is this movie for?   Dudes.  Chicks have better options this week.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 2/7/14


Check out my appearance from this morning where I offer my thoughts on 'The Monuments Men', 'The Lego Movie' and give a tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, with my favorite three performances of his.

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

 

FOX 35 News Orlando

In Theaters Now - 2/7/14



(new releases in green)

Philomena       Grade: A+

Hunger Games: Catching Fire       Grade: A

August: Osage County       Grade: A

Dallas Buyers Club       Grade: A

The Wolf of Wall Street       Grade: A

12 Years a Slave       Grade: A

American Hustle       Grade: A

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty       Grade: A-

Saving Mr. Banks       Grade: A-

Captain Phillips       Grade: A-

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug       Grade: B+

Lone Survivor       Grade: B+

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit       Grade: B+

Gravity      Grade: B+

Her       Grade: B+

The Past       Grade: B+

Frozen       Grade: B+

The Monuments Men      Grade: B

Labor Day       Grade: B

Gloria       Grade: B

Nebraska       Grade: B

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues       Grade: B-

I, Frankenstein       Grade: B-

Inside Llewyn Davis       Grade: C+

That Awkward Moment      Grade: C+

The Great Beauty       Grade: C+

The Lego Movie       Grade: C/B/A * (see review)

Ride Along       Grade: D+

Devil's Due       Grade: D

The Legend of Hercules       Grade: D



Additional Films Not Reviewed:

Gimme Shelter
Kids for Cash
The Nut Job
Vampire Academy