Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Most Wanted Man


Had this film come out a year ago, it would simply have been known as a decent but unremarkable film about a CIA spy group fighting the good fight in the war on terror.  Sadly though, it will be better remembered as the last Philip Seymour Hoffman led film.  (Fortunately, we'll still see him in a supporting role in the last two Hunger Games.)  Hoffman gives yet another fine performance as the disheveled head of a group of spies climbing up the terrorism ladder, using one informant to identify another.  Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, and Robin Wright co-star.  It's a reasonably good film with a reasonably good ending and reasonably good performances across the board.  But this "thriller" is hardly thrilling.  In fact it's pretty slow.  While it's decent, it's unfortunate that neither this one nor 'God's Pocket', Hoffman's two posthumous starring role films, were exceptional.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Phil Hoffman fans and those who appreciate a well acted, but slow CIA ops / war on terror film.  I'd probably wait for it to come to VOD.

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Theaters Now - 7/25/14




(new releases in green)

Boyhood      Grade: A+

I Origins      Grade: A

Chef      Grade: A

Edge of Tomorrow       Grade: A

Snowpiercer       Grade: A    (also available on VOD)

The Immigrant       Grade: A-

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes       Grade: A-

Lucy      Grade: A-

X-Men: Days of Future Past       Grade: B+

Life Itself        Grade: B+    (also available on VOD)

The Purge: Anarchy      Grade: B+

A Long Way Down       Grade: B+   (also available on VOD)

A Most Wanted Man      Grade: B+

Very Good Girls       Grade: B+   (also available on VOD)

Begin Again       Grade: B+

The Fault in Our Stars       Grade: B+

Obvious Child       Grade: B

Wish I Was Here       Grade: B-

Jersey Boys       Grade: B-

And So It Goes      Grade: C

Happy Christmas      Grade: C-   (also available on VOD)

Venus in Fur       Grade: C-    (also available on VOD)

Earth to Echo       Grade: D





Additional Films Not Reviewed:

22 Jump Street
America
Deliver Us From Evil
The Fluffy Movie
Hercules
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Maleficent
My Man is a Loser
Persecuted
Planes: Fire & Rescue
Sex Tape
Tammy
Think Like a Man Too
Transformers: Age of Extinction

I Origins


On 12/31/13 I published a blog post entitled A Look Ahead at 2014 where I listed the films I was most looking forward to in 2014, and 'I Origins' was #1 on the list.  Why?  Director Mike Cahill caught my attention in 2011 with 'Another Earth', which was co-written by and starring Brit Marling who co-stars in this one as well.  Not because it was an amazing movie, but because it was an extremely interesting movie showcasing amazing potential.  I just had a feeling that his next film would be something special.  And when I heard it would be starring Michael Pitt and Brit Marling, and would be even further steeped in science, I knew this could be something great.  And I'm thrilled to say it does not disappoint at all.  I've actually seen it twice already, and surprisingly enjoyed it just as much if not more the second time.  The cast is perfect.  The acting is amazing.  The attention to detail is unmatched.  And it takes you on an unexpected ride from start to finish that will make you think and make you feel.  Just please don't watch any trailers or read any reviews.  Just go see it.

Grade: A+

Who is this movie for?  Unlike most summer fare, this is a movie for adults.  It's more Science than Science Fiction.  And if you're anything like me, it will take you by surprise, give you chills, and make you think about life in a different way.  Pair it with another brilliant but overlooked Brit Marling film called Sound of My Voice for an excellent double feature.

Lucy


It's nice to be reminded every now and again that not all wide release movies are franchises that come from the Hollywood Assembly Line.  We've had a few so far this year.  'Edge of Tomorrow' was totally awesome, but no one went to see it because it wasn't a known property like a comic book character, toy, or video game.  'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' is every bit as good as its reputation.  (Sometimes even the general consensus gets it right!)  And now, thanks to legendary action director Luc Besson, we get an original and exciting film that takes you on a fun ride in directions you don't expect (assuming you haven't already seen the trailer.)  Both Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman are at the top of their games here.  This is the movie that Freeman's 'Transcendence' and Johansson's 'Under the Skin', both of which were boring misses, should have been.  Don't watch the trailers.  Don't read any (other) reviews.  Just go see it and enjoy.  Besson crams an awful lot into its short 89 minute runtime and it flies by.

Grade: A-

Who is this movie for?  Fans of Besson's films (The Professional, The Fifth Element, Ronin) will definitely appreciate the action.  And fans of science based action films like 'Limitless' will enjoy it for the storyline.  I enjoyed both aspects.



And So It Goes


Director Rob Reiner and writer Mark Andrus, both very accomplished in their own right, seem to have borrowed this romantic dramedy right from the Nancy Meyers playbook.  The recipe that has served her well with films like 'Something's Gotta Give' and 'It's Complicated' is the same.  Take two or three silver haired and talented movie stars, add in a generous amount of beautiful homes and enviable locations, force some chemistry that isn't really there, waste most of said talent with trite drama and comedy that falls flat ... and so it goes.  This mixture of family drama and geriatric romance is filled with every cliche in the Meyers book.  I actually even considered walking out in the first half because it was just too painful to watch Douglas and Keaton have to endure this.  The good news, however, is the second half is more palatable.

Grade: C

Who is this movie for?  There's just no reason to see this in the theater.  If you love Nancy Meyers' films and/or enjoyed 'Parental Guidance' with Billy Crystal and Bette Midler in 2012, then see it when it comes to Video on Demand.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Boyhood


With over 100 years of films, it's extremely hard to do anything groundbreaking anymore.  But director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight) has done it again with 'Boyhood'.  At face value it's just another coming of age film, spanning 12 years.  But what makes this one truly remarkable is that it was actually filmed over 12 years, with the actors returning to Galveston, Texas every year to make the next part of this epic film.  Featuring terrific performances by Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (Richard's daughter), this movie isn't just about life ... it IS life.  It's Terrence Malick's 'Tree of Life' minus the pretentiousness.  It's 'The Up Series' but fictional.  And at two hours and forty four minutes, making it the longest film I've seen all year, it's shocking that it's one of the few films of the year that not only did I never once look at my watch, but I actually wanted more afterward.  This is truly something special and will surely be remembered come awards season, in one way or another.  (My prediction is Richard Linklater will win Best Director and the film might snag a nomination for Best Picture.)

Grade: A+

Who is this movie for?  It's a must see for those who enjoy a good coming of age film, with no action, explosions, twists, or major surprises.  It's just plain life.  And truly captivating.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Among Ravens


It seems like every other week there's a new title premiering on Video on Demand about friends in their 20's and 30's reuniting.  Every movie wants to be the next 'Big Chill'.  Few of them are.  And this is one of the worst entries I've seen of late.  Despite a decent ensemble cast including Amy Smart, Joshua Leonard, Will McCormack, and Natalie Imbruglia, it really has nothing of interest to offer.  No moments.  No chemistry.  No memorable dialogue or scenes.  It's just there.

'Among Ravens' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: D+

Who is this movie for?  No one.  It's not the worst I've seen, but it's not worth your time.

Video Games: The Movie


Take a trip back to the days of the Atari 2600, Nintendo, Xbox, Playstation, and whatever other video games you played with when you were younger.  This documentary, executive produced by Zach Braff and narrated by Sean Astin takes you from the dawn of video games, with rudimentary classics like Pong, to today's 3D and virtual reality games.  For those of you like me, who once loved them but are now far removed, it serves as nostalgic and entertaining but also educational.  Things have certainly come a long way since I hung up my controller with games like Super Mario Brothers.  Today's games are almost indistinguishable from movies, but yet more active than the passive entertainment of TV and movies.

'Video Games: The Movie' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: B

Who is this movie for?  Real gamers might enjoy it for nostalgic purposes.  I enjoyed it for that but also to see what the kids are playing with today.  Anyone who ever enjoyed any video game will probably find it entertaining.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Brony Tale


OK so we all have guilty pleasures we like but we're not proud of.  Think yours is embarrassing?  Well guess what?  There are actually men (many of them straight) who happen to love 'My Little Pony'.  (Yes, that 'My Little Pony'.)  So many, that there's even a term for them:  Brony.  So many, that they even have a convention for them.  And no one was more surprised to discover this than Ashleigh Ball, who voiced many of the characters.  This fun documentary introduces you to a group of men who, for whatever reason, are willing to own up to their guilty pleasure on camera for our entertainment.  And it's a guilty pleasure to watch.

'A Brony Tale' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: B

Who is this movie for?  Morgan Spurlock executive produced this doc, so that should give you a pretty good idea.

The Congress


Robin Wright plays herself in the not-too-distant future in this original high concept sci-fi film.  As an aging actress in Hollywood that's made some poor choices, her career is quickly fading.  But when the head of Miramount studios makes her one final, and somewhat surreal offer, she has no choice but to accept.  And then things get really trippy.  Half live action film and half animation.  Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti, and Jon Hamm round out the amazing cast.

'The Congress' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: A-

Who is this movie for?  It's definitely not for everyone, and I'm not sure it's fully satisfying, but it gets a LOT of credit in my book for being experimental, ambitious, and totally original.  See it if you want to see something completely different.

Friday, July 18, 2014

In Theaters Now - 7/18/14



(new releases in green)


Chef       Grade: A

Edge of Tomorrow       Grade: A

Snowpiercer       Grade: A    (also available on VOD)

The Immigrant        Grade: A-

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes      Grade: A-

Third Person       Grade: B+

X-Men: Days of Future Past       Grade: B+

Life Itself       Grade: B+   (also available on VOD)

The Purge: Anarchy       Grade: B+

Begin Again       Grade: B+

The Fault in Our Stars       Grade: B+

Obvious Child        Grade: B

Wish I Was Here       Grade: B-

Jersey Boys       Grade: B-

Ida       Grade: C-

The Grand Budapest Hotel       Grade: C-    (also available on VOD)

Venus in Fur       Grade: C-   (also available on VOD)

Belle       Grade: D+

Earth to Echo       Grade: D





Additional Films Not Reviewed:

22 Jump Street
Aftermath
America
An American in Hollywood
Deliver Us From Evil
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Maleficent
Persecuted
Planes: Fire & Rescue
Sex Tape
Siddharth
Tammy
Think Like a Man Too
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Yves Saint Laurent

The Purge: Anarchy


'The Purge: Anarchy' really could have been called 'The Purge: The One We Should Have Made the First Time'.  It's a rare thing when a horror franchise actually improves, and is even more surprising here considering the first one featured a better cast including Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey.  Of course, the first one gets credit for the original and intriguing concept: In the not too distant future, the government has devised a way to drastically reduce crime and unemployment.  For 12 hours a year, you may murder, rape, steal, and basically let your inner beast free without fear of penalty.  With that concept, any number of stories could be told.  Unfortunately, the first one devolved into nothing more than your standard ho-hum home invasion movie.  This one, on the other hand, takes place on the streets where all the action is, with a few groups of unfortunate people looking for shelter all the while crossing paths with various purgers.  It's dark, it's gritty, and it's violent ... basically everything you would expect from The Purge.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Horror movie fans will get their money's worth.  And you can bet your bottom dollar on another Purge this time next year.

Wish I Was Here


Sure, Zach Braff is best known as that affable young doctor J.D. on 'Scrubs', but film buffs fondly remember him from his directorial debut 'Garden State', which he also wrote and starred in.  It spoke to a generation, featured very affecting performances by Braff, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgard, and had one of the best soundtracks of the new millennium.  Needless to say, many of us were waiting for his sophomore follow-up.  And we waited a decade.  Though this one made headlines before we even knew what it was about, as Braff funded it via Kickstarter (amidst a lot of bad press questioning whether a rich celebrity should be funding his films through donations from his fans.)  Regardless of how you or I feel about how he got the money, he got the money and therefore had complete creative control over this project.  That can be a great thing in the right hands, but sometimes it isn't.  There are many things right with this film including the cast:  Braff (who I think is a really fine actor), Mandy Patinkin (who I think is an amazing actor), and Kate Hudson (who I'm generally not fond of, but she can be quite good in dramatic parts, as she showed us in 'Almost Famous'.)  This family drama certainly comes across as very personal to Braff, and that can either draw you in or keep you feeling distant, depending on whether you can connect to his Jewish upbringing, his rebellion from his father, and his current day struggles with his family and his career.  Personally, I felt a bit distant to it, and didn't connect as strongly as I would have liked.  It's good, but it's not nearly as good as 'Garden State'.  It's too long.  The soundtrack isn't as remarkable as I expected.  And it's just too small for the big screen.  This one should have premiered on VOD.

Grade: B-

Who is this movie for?  Braff fans should see it, but wait until it's available to watch at home.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

In Theaters Now - 7/11/14




(new releases in green)

Chef       Grade: A

Edge of Tomorrow       Grade: A

Snowpiercer       Grade: A    (also available on VOD)

The Immigrant       Grade: A-

Third Person       Grade: B+

X-Men: Days of Future Past       Grade: B+

Life Itself       Grade: B+    (also available on VOD)

Begin Again       Grade: B+

The Fault in Our Stars       Grade: B+

Obvious Child       Grade: B

Jersey Boys       Grade: B-

Godzilla       Grade: C+

Ida       Grade: C-

The Grand Budapest Hotel       Grade: C-

Venus in Fur       Grade: C-   (also available on VOD)

Belle       Grade: D+

Earth to Echo       Grade: D





Additional Films Not Reviewed:

22 Jump Street
America
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Deliver Us From Evil
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Maleficent
Tammy
Think Like a Man Too
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Yves Saint Laurent

Sunday, July 6, 2014

They Came Together



Leave it to David Wain to create an over-the-top send-up of the Nora Ephron romantic comedy genre in all its cliched glory.  Often clever.  Sometimes hilarious.  Occasionally painful and just really wrong.  But always enjoyable.  Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Cobie Smulders, Max Greenfield, Ed Helms, Christopher Meloni, Michael Ian Black, a host of other cameos, and a short but welcome runtime make it worth your while.  And the best part is that you can watch it at home on Video on Demand. 

Grade: A-

Who is this movie for?  Anyone who wants to laugh and doesn't mind some inappropriate material.  It's probably a good compromise of a comedy for both men and women.  And for more wacky Wain's World absurdity, pair it with the overlooked 'The Ten'.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Christmas


Actor/writer/director Joe Swanberg has a flare for making increasingly attractive low budget films that are also increasingly unsatisfying.  Like his Mumblecore contemporaries, he specializes in creating low budget films based on outlines with improvised conversations rather than scripts with rigid dialogue, and focusing on low concept ideas centered around ensemble groups in their 20's and 30's.  To his credit, he manages to assemble amazing talent on his shoe string budget.  (This one includes Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber and Lena Dunham, which is on par with last year's 'Drinking Buddies', with Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jake Johnson, and Jason Sudeikis.  But, while I was underwhelmed by 'Drinking Buddies', I was even more so with 'Happy Christmas'.  Quite frankly, he squanders the talent and there's just not enough here to make a movie out of.  I kept waiting and wanting for the payoff, in its scant 82 minutes, but at a certain point I realized it was never going to come.  Swanberg really needs to take a lesson in Mumblecore from Jay and Mark Duplass who do it best.  Naturalistic conversations in micro budget films can work, but you still need a good concept.  Without one you're just wasting everybody's time.

'Happy Christmas' is now available on Video on Demand.

Grade: C-

Who is this movie for?  It's just not worth your time, even if you're as big a fan of the cast as I am.

Snowpiercer


One of the most magical things about the best and most original genre films is that they can take you out of the world you live in and transplant you to a completely new one, unlike anything you've experienced.  And that's exactly what this alternately bleak and darkly comic, sci-fi-esque post-apocalyptic thriller does.  Chris Evans, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, and Octavia Spencer are among the ensemble cast representing the last of humanity, subsisting on a moving train after the rest of Earth has been accidentally frozen in an attempt to reverse global warming.  Over its 17 years in existence, the train has had a class system with the privileged in the front and the underprivileged in the rear.  But under these extreme conditions, a revolt is inevitable.  It's a completely original ride on a train unlike any you've imagined.

Grade: A

Who is this movie for?  It's a must see for anyone who loves original genre films.  See it in limited release in theaters or on Video on Demand beginning 7/11.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

In Theaters Now - 7/2/14



(new releases in green)

Chef      Grade: A

Edge of Tomorrow       Grade: A

Snowpiercer       Grade: A   (also available on VOD beginning 7/11)

The Immigrant       Grade: A-

Third Person       Grade: B+

X-Men: Days of Future Past       Grade: B+

Life Itself       Grade: B+   (Also available on VOD)

Begin Again       Grade: B+

The Fault in Our Stars       Grade: B+

Obvious Child       Grade: B

The Discoverers       Grade: B-

Jersey Boys       Grade: B-

Godzilla       Grade: C+

Ida       Grade: C-

The Grand Budapest Hotel       Grade: C-

Belle      Grade: D+

Earth to Echo       Grade: D





Additional Films Not Reviewed:

22 Jump Street
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
America
Deliver Us From Evil
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Maleficent
Tammy
Think Like a Man Too
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Yves Saint Laurent

Third Person


Writer/Director Paul Haggis is probably best known for 'Crash', a 2004 film with multiple (eventually) overlapping storylines that won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.  And ten years later, 'Third Person' is surely the most 'Crash'-iest film he has made since.  And with a powerhouse ensemble cast including Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Maria Bello, Mila Kunis, James Franco, and Kim Basinger, he had a lot to work with here.  It's a long film at two hours and 13 minutes, and I understand that is after some substantial cuts and re-editing done since it premiered at Toronto last September.  The version I saw in TriBeCa in April was well filmed, well acted, and complex, though flawed.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first half but it seemed to unravel and slightly disappoint in the second half.  Perhaps it's been tweaked since.  Perhaps not.  Regardless, if you liked 'Crash' you should definitely see it, but just keep your expectations reasonable.

Grade: B+  (Though I might upgrade to an A- after a second viewing.)

Who is this movie for?  People who like ensemble dramas with multiple storylines that eventually connect.

Life Itself


You might think that a documentary about the most famous (debatably) film critic who ever lived would be my dream doc, and therefore my review would certainly be biased.  Prior to seeing it, I certainly thought it might.  But the reality is, I never really loved Roger Ebert as a critic or as a person.  I only coveted his career.  (And the same for Gene Siskel.)  But there's no doubt that every broadcast film critic (myself included) is just doing a version of what these guys pioneered some 40 years ago.

So needless to say I was excited to see this film.  But, surprisingly, its focus really wasn't on film criticism.  Sure, it covers his combative and childish relationship with Siskel.  And yes, it goes all the way back to his childhood and early career and the Chicago Sun Times.  But it seems like the focal point of the film is his final years, battling cancer, and the unconditional love he shared with his surviving wife and step children.  In essence, this is more of a romance and inspirational story than a niche documentary on the history film criticism.  For some, that may be a pleasant surprise.  For me, it was a bit of a disappointment, as times this movie has the most energy and comedy are in the archival clips of Ebert and Siskel exchanging barbs and appearing on the Tonight Show.  This is a really good doc, to be sure.  I just want another two hours dedicated to Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  Film buffs will enjoy it for nostalgic purposes.  Women will enjoy it for its romance.  Cancer survivors may appreciate it for its positivity in the face of a horrible disease.

Begin Again


From the writer/director of 'Once' comes another music-centric film.  This one stars Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, as a once-successful but now struggling music exec and an unknown yet talented singer/songwriter, respectively.  Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, and Mos Def appear in supporting roles.

This one is much less raw, much more polished, and much less romantic than 'Once', all of which make it inferior to its predecessor.  Nevertheless, it's sure to be a crowd-pleaser as Ruffalo is energetic and enthusiastic, Knightley is adorable (as always, making bad teeth look great), and the music is annoyingly catchy (though certainly not as good as the soundtrack to 'Once').  Personally I don't think it's quite as good as its reputation, but it's likeable and certainly has its moments.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  It will make for a great date movie for sure.

Earth to Echo


You probably know I don't like kids' movies.  And since I'm not on FOX anymore, I really don't have to see them anymore.  And yet I caught this one because it sounded interesting and was the opening night film at the Philadelphia International Children's Film Festival at the Roxy, with star Astro in attendance.  Well, quite frankly, I was extremely unimpressed by both the film and by Astro himself.  It's amateur hour through and through.   Don't be fooled.  'E.T.', this is not.  It's 'E.T.E.' and that extra E stands for enferior.

Grade: D

Who is this movie for?  No one.  Don't waste your time and money taking your kids to it.  They're better off watching 'Frozen' for the 99th time.