Posts Tagged ‘film reviews’

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Quick Movie Reviews

March 31, 2016

Spy (2015)
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law

After Identity Thief and Tammy I was thinking McCarthy’s schtick was already getting tired, but Spy was actually pretty enjoyable and plenty funny. Rose Byrne playing a smug villainness.. not so much. A comedy that’s just a bit above average.

5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

Sicario (2015)
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

Blunt plays an FBI agent that is enlisted to help with escalating drug trafficking crimes on the U.S./Mexico border, but really, her character’s involvement in the film at all only seems to serve the purpose of being a McGuffin. Sicario is a film that I wanted to like, and it has some intense moments and is shot very well, but I just couldn’t ignore the feeling that if Blunt’s character was removed entirely and the film instead focused on Del Toro’s anti-protagonist, the real central character, we could have seen something quite a bit more gripping.

5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

The Visit (2015)
Starring: some kids, some old people

It has been over a decade since M. Night Shyamalan has directed a movie that I didn’t hate. Not since Signs all the way back in 2002, and honestly, that film’s level of quality is plenty questionable too. With The Visit, Shyamalan returns to the suspense/horror genre that launched his “career” and while The Visit is no The Sixth Sense, it’s easily Shyamalan’s best film since Unbreakable. It’s creepy, scary, and grounded enough in reality that you just might get the shivers. Oh, and spoiler alert, we actually get a “surprise” ending that won’t make you want to bang your head against the wall.

6/10 (Recommended)

The Final Girls (2015)
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Thomas Middleditch

Wow, what a fun movie. I dare (dare!) anyone that grew up loving 80’s horror movies not to love this parody/homage to that amazing genre. So Taissa Farmiga plays a young woman that recently lost her mother, a former 80’s horror genre star, in a car accident. While attending a theatrical showing in honor of her mom’s most famous slasher film, the girl and a group of her friends are somehow pulled into the screen and find themselves in the world of the film, complete with a masked psycho killer looking for young people to murder. The Final Girls is clearly a homage to the Friday The 13th franchise and Jason Vorhees more than anything else, and it is wildly entertaining, although oddly rated PG-13. Still, it’s a great horror flick, with plenty of suspense, the perfect amount of humor, and surprising emotional resonance as watching Farmiga’s character interact with an embodiment of her dead mother can be pretty touching. The Final Girls should be a favorite of horror fans and plenty of fun for everyone.

6.5/10 (Recommended/Must See)

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Safe Haven (2013)

March 6, 2013

Starring: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders
Director: Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules)

Quick Thoughts: I’ll admit to owning The Notebook, but nothing else that has been adapted for the movies in the Nicholas Sparks collection has struck my interest and half of the movies based on his books I don’t even remember coming out. Needless to say, I had no interest in watching Safe Haven and it’s 13% rotten rating had me absolutely dreading having to sit through it. But when you’re in a relationship, sometimes, them the breaks.

Well, Safe Haven certainly didn’t disappoint with it’s snail-like pace and uninteresting, predictable plot. The movie opens with Julianne Hough running away from an apparent law enforcement officer and settling down in a quiet town, hoping not to be bothered or recognized. It doesn’t take much running time to figure out who the real bad guy is and when the “reveal” does happen, it’s borderline insulting… but that doesn’t quite match what Safe Haven has in store for us later in film when the final twist is learned. I mean, Cobie Smulders (from “How I Met Your Mother”) had to be in this movie for some reason, right? Seriously though, Sparks takes the one touching moment he managed to find in his novel and then slaps the audience across the face one more time. Apologies for any potential spoilers here, but if you can’t figure this one out by the half hour mark, well…

I could go on listing reasons why I didn’t enjoy Safe Haven, but I didn’t want to waste my time watching it, so I’m certainly not going to waste too much time writing about it.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: None, IMO
Sequel Potential: None
Oscar Potential: Zero.
Nudity: None
Grade: 2.5/10 (Horrible/Skip It)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 13% Audience: 71%
IMDB Rating: 6.2/10
Recommendation: Boyfriends, if you’re worried about seeing this movie, you should be! I’ve seen more painful movies in my day, but I’d bet Safe Haven is the worst film I see in 2013.

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Brave (2012)

June 27, 2012

Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Kevin Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters
Director: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews

Quick Thoughts: I found Brave to be quite enjoyable, but it’s definitely a notch below the standard we’ve come to expect from Pixar movies that aren’t called Cars. The film plays out more like a classic Disney fairy tale than the immensely creative and layered stories we’ve come to expect from the studio. There are some touching moments in the movie due to the conflict between mother and daughter and the pressure some parents put on their kids to be what they want them to be rather than letting them grow into their own destiny; and Brave actually resolves this rift in surprising fashion.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Good enough too warrant a second viewing but it’s not timeless like many of the other films in the Pixar library.
Sequel Potential: Merida is a strong enough character to get a sequel but they would need to go a completely different route to continue her story.
Oscar Potential: Should get a Best Animated Feature nomination but not a win.
Nudity: N/A
Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 76% Audience: 85%
IMDB Rating: 7.8/10
Recommendation: Brave is visually beautiful and has some charm, but the humor is almost exclusively juvenile and the story is much simpler than what we expect from a Pixar movie.

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Revisiting 1990: The Grifters

August 27, 2010

Considered For: Top 5

“I looked and I looked and believe me, brother, I kissed a lot of fucking frogs…”

The Grifters has flown under my radar for twenty years now. I had never even heard of this movie until I started looking at the 1990 movie list, but a cast starring Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, and Annette Bening in a movie about con artists sold me immediately. A production credit from Martin Scorsese didn’t hurt it’s resume either. Despite its relative obscurity, The Grifters was immediately bumped to the top of my Netflix queue.

As noted, this is a movie about con artists filmed by then British director Stephen Frears. The story centers around short con man Roy Dillon (Cusack) and the women in his life. It’s clear from the beginning of the film that Roy is into small cons, like showing a bartender a $20 bill and then swapping it out for a $10 when the bartender comes back to make change for him… or using word play to his advantage for small gains against bar customers. His mother, Lily (Huston), is in a different league, however. She makes rounds at the horse tracks to place large bets for a mob-type organization, diving in at the last second to tip the odds. Not being educated on horse racing, it’s a concept that goes over my head, but I suspect she’s playing for high stakes, both in terms of money and her own personal safety. Roy’s girlfriend Myra (Bening) is a bit more of an enigma. She’s not as easy to figure out and Bening initially plays the character as happy-go-lucky and somewhat naive, but something still tells you that it’s the character doing the acting here. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say she might be the biggest con artist of them all. The core of the movie kicks in when Lily and Myra meet after Roy is hospitalized for a life-threatening injury suffered when a con goes wrong. In a way, the two women are threatened and intrigued by each other, an obsession that could have tragic consequences.

The acting in this movie is superb. We get Oscar-nominated performances from Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening. I’ll be revisiting Ghost relatively soon, but I’ll be surprised if Whoopi Goldberg’s performance is really better than Bening’s in this movie. In a lot of ways, Myra was my favorite character. She’s demented to a degree that the Dillons haven’t really reached yet. Myra is more than willing to use her sexuality to her advantage, even trading sex with her undesirable landlord in exchange for rent. Roy is completely ignorant of his woman’s indiscretions and it’s Bening’s performance within a performance that has him none the wiser. Myra has the wool pulled over everyone’s eyes… until she meets Lily. I wouldn’t ever name Anjelica Huston amongst my favorite actresses–she always seems to play every role with a detached and emotionless air, think The Addam’s Family and The Royal Tenenbaums–but it’s hard to say she’s not consistently solid in her roles. Even though Lily had Roy when she was 14 and didn’t have much to do with raising him, you still get a sense that she loves him and feels responsible for what he has become. She recognizes he’s not really cut out for “grifting” and is frequently suggesting he find another career. Speaking of Roy, John Cusack gives a solid performance as well. In fact, it was his character that hooked me into this movie immediately. In a lot of ways, Roy is the mark here, but Cusack’s calm confidence in the opening scenes makes you think he just might have it all figured out. All in all, a great set of performances from every one involved.

While the Academy recognized the acting performances in this movie, The Grifters may have been overlooked in the Best Picture department. Granted, I’m still early in my quest of 1990 movies, but I know for sure it’d rank in my top 5 at the moment, which at least gives it an edge over The Godfather: Part III, which was nominated. The story here is based on a novel, but I’ve never read it, so I have no basis for commenting on the translation to the big screen, but it did get a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and I’ve read that a lot of the dialogue is taken word for word from the book… dialogue that is often very good. I enjoyed the story here and was highly invested in all the characters. You can’t help but root for Roy in this movie… he’s out of his league dealing with his mother and girlfriend, which in a way, makes him more likable than Lily and Myra. I also can’t help but point out Jeremy Piven’s cameo in this movie. Piven was never a household name until Entourage, so it’s kind of funny seeing him in his earlier days as a relatively unknown. You can still see some of the character tics that Ari’s made famous today.

I’ve never heard one person I know mention this movie, so hopefully this review can open some eyes. The Grifters is a solid film, with an interesting story and some great performances. Bening is terrific here and the movie is fun, despite a noticeably dark tone. Anyone that’s never seen this movie, should at least give it a shot. I highly doubt you’ll walk away disappointed. It’s possible The Grifters will make my final Top 5 of 1990 list, but I can guarantee it will at least be in the Top 10. Check it out.

Grade: A-
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Maybe not collection worthy, but I’d definitely watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscars?: Four nominations: Anjelica Huston for Best Actress, Annette Bening for Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Stephen Frears for Best Director.
Nudity?: Annette Bening gets VERY naked… a couple times… and she’s spectacular.

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Revisiting 1990: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

August 24, 2010

Considered For: Guilty Pleasure

“You’re a claustrophobic!” — “You want a fist in the mouth? I’ve never even looked at another guy.”

Yeah, I went there. Not all the movies I’m going to be revisiting are because of Top 5 potential. Each year, I also want to take a look at my the top sequels, animated films, comedies, horror flicks, sports movies and guilty pleasures. I would define a guilty pleasure, in this case, as a movie that isn’t particularly great in the grand scheme of things, but either holds a special place in my heart because it’s a childhood favorite or has qualities that make it fantastic that don’t normally coincide with top film-making. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly fits the bill. I grew up on The Turtles, so there’s an obvious sense of nostalgia here and while I didn’t particularly love the original TMNT movie as a youngster, when I was scrolling through the 1990 film list, I immediately wanted to see it again.

It’s silly to say this now, as an adult, but I actually think the first Turtles movie was a little dark. You have Raphael saying “damn” and “bitchin'” throughout the movie, which isn’t shocking today, but in 1990 I was eight, and I never heard any of the Turtles use that kind of language on the cartoon show. I remember as a child that it struck me and I remember thinking the film was a little boring. Even though I can see it’s clearly a campy movie now, it didn’t seem that way when I was young. I always preferred the sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze as a kid, something I now recognize as the inferior film.

Another thing I remember being disappointed about was the lack of any recognizable bad guys outside of Shredder and the Foot Clan. Seriously, no Rocksteady and Bebop? Three movies later and these guys still haven’t made an appearance. It’s an unforgivable exclusion. No Baxter Stockman? Come on! These are not only easy, but essential villains in the TMNT universe. I can understand why The Rat King, Leatherhead, and even Krang weren’t included, but I still can’t get over the fact that in four TMNT movies total, only Shredder and the Foot Clan have been used from a pool of a pretty solid rogues gallery. Snoooooooooze.

Thankfully, I’ve had twenty years to get over all of this and revisiting this movie in 2010 was actually fun. It’s rare that I like a movie I watched frequently as a kid more as an adult. Usually in this situation, I can barely stomach getting through one of my childhood favorites. While this TMNT movie is often corny, it’s actually a fairly decent origin story. As much as I want to ridicule a caged rat mimicking his master’s martial arts moves, I have to remember that I’m willingly and knowingly watching a movie about fully grown, Ninjutsu-performing, TALKING turtles. I forgive you scriptwriters!

The story here is pretty simple. Our heroes have been secretly living and training in the sewers of New York for over a decade. On the surface, the city has become overrun with organized crime and the Turtles rise above to start cleaning things up. This ruffles the armor of Shredder, the leader of The Foot Clan, and mastermind behind the majority of crime taking place in New York. He has taken in the rejected and morally challenged youth of the city and has created an army of ninjas. We come to discover that the Turtles mutated rat of a sensei, Splinter, has a history with this Shredder and the beef between the two camps becomes personal, especially after Splinter is kidnapped. Meanwhile, April O’Niell (Judith Hoag), the only news reporter that suspects the truth behind the crime rise, becomes the Turtles first human friend. Together, along with vigilante Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), they all set out to stop the Foot Clan from further damaging the city.

It’s pretty easy to nitpick this movie to death. My favorite scene in the movie is when Raphael puts on a trench coat and a hat to roam the city. Granted, he looks like a freak in a costume, but if we’re supposed to look at these characters as realistic, I’d have to assume that Raph’s disguise isn’t really cutting it amongst civilized people. It’d be one thing if he was completely devoid of human interaction, but Raphael has several encounters while costumed and somehow, no one is the wiser. I also like the fact that once kidnapped, Splinter is chained to a wall looking like Jesus on the cross, but is completely unsupervised and readily accessible to even the lowest of Shredder’s henchmen. It’s the type of nonsense that Austin Powers pokes fun at whenever Dr. Evil manages to imprison an enemy.

The costumes in this movie are also ridiculous. Yeah, it was twenty years ago, but it’s quite an embarrassing effort considering a movie as advanced as Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out less than a year later, followed by Jurassic Park in 1993. Those movies make TMNT look like it was made in 1980. I actually paused the movie last night during a scene where Michaelangelo pulls out a container of turtle wax and turns to Donatello to say something… you can see the separation between the head and torso sections of the stuntman’s costume! What part of the film editing game is that?

It seems like I’m griping, but in some way, it’s these flaws that make TMNT so endearing. I don’t think anyone involved with this movie thought they were going to be getting Oscar attention or critical raves. They set out to make a movie that kids that grew up on the cartoon could enjoy and I think they did a fairly decent job. With the exception of Donatello, the personalities of the Turtles were accurately depicted in the adaptation. I also like the fact that Shredder is a menacing and formidable foe, unlike his mostly hapless TV series counterpart. The casting of Elias Koteas was spot on for Casey Jones. In a film filled with laughable acting, he put in a laudable effort, despite some terrible dialogue.

It’s certainly easy to laugh at this movie twenty years later, but last time I checked laughing is an enjoyable activity, so TMNT is alright in my book, regardless of whether some of the humor is intended or not. In no way is this a good film, but in a lot of ways it is a fun one. We all know a better Turtles movie could have been made–and it was with 2007’s TMNT–but the original can still be viewed fondly, and I think the best Turtles movie is still ahead of us. I’m not going to offer any stern recommendations here, but revisiting the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t the worst way to spend a couple hours of a day.

Grade: B-
Viewings: 5-7
Replay Value: Surprisingly decent
Sequel Potential: 3 sequels have been made and I doubt we’re done yet.
Oscars?: No Best Costumes nomination?! What does the Academy want?!
Nudity?: We get plenty of turtles in a half shell, but the highlight is seeing April O’Niel’s nipples poking through her blouse.

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Revisiting 1990: The Godfather: Part III

August 22, 2010

Considered For: Top 5, Best Sequel

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

Here are some interesting facts: I own three movies that were released in the year 1990; all of them are sequels; and until last night, I had owned one of them for at least eight years and had never seen it. That movie would be Francis Ford Coppola’s conclusion to his The Godfather trilogy (the other two 1990 movies I own are Die Hard 2 and Child’s Play 2). There are a couple of reasons why I never bothered to watch The Godfather: Part III even though it is a sequel to two of the best films ever made. One, it was released sixteen years after The Godfather: Part II, which is a bad omen in itself. Two, when people talk about the best movies ever made, they always mention the first two Godfather films, but never the last one; it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist. Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of talk over the years that Sofia Coppola’s performance in the movie completely ruined it.

I finally forced myself into watching the last Godfather movie because of this column and after noticing that it actually was nominated for Best Picture, which surprised me because I’ve long thought it was a universally hated film. It was nominated for seven Oscars in total and even has a respectable 7.6 rating on IMDB.com. For all the negative energy surrounding this movie, when I blew the dust off the cover, I discovered that it was actually somewhat critically acclaimed and probably worthy of viewing for my Revisiting 1990 column.

Oh my God, wake me up when it’s over. That pretty much sums up my thoughts on The Godfather: Part III. You have to ask yourself: was that really necessary? It’s been sixteen years… your two Godfather films have been widely accepted as two of the five best films ever made… Mr. Coppola, why are you revisiting this franchise? Did this story really need to be told? After watching it, I’m going to say NO. Unlike the first two films, which have many memorable and iconic characters, this movie doesn’t really make much of an impression. Al Pacino doesn’t even seem like he’s playing the same person. He reminds me nothing of the Michael Corleone I remember and he looks sixty years older. With the exception of Kay (Diane Keaton) and Connie (Talia Shire), and some verbal and visual references to the first two films, this movie might as well have nothing to do with them.

It’s kind of hard to say what the story was here. I honestly had a hard time following it. I don’t know if it was actually confusing or if I just was having difficulty because I didn’t care about it. From what I did manage to retain, Michael Corleone is trying to legitimize his business. He has become estranged from Kay and his children, Mary (Sophia Coppola) and Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio), and is reunited with them in this film. He’s displeased to hear that his son would rather sing opera than finish his degree in law. His son also wishes to have no part of Michael’s business. Michael is introduced to Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), who is apparently Michael’s brother Sonny’s illegitimate son and Vincent is more than happy to carry on the family business. Blah blah blah blah blah.

Seriously, who cares? What annoys me the most about this film is that it simply did not have to be made. The story here isn’t nearly strong enough to bring the franchise out of retirement after a sixteen year slumber. Mr. Coppola, you already made two of the greatest films ever, please don’t spoil it with a convoluted third installment. If there was a story dying to be told here, then I’d understand, but in my opinion, the script is the worst part about this movie. It’s not like the extremely belated sequel can’t be done. Toy Story 3 did it extremely well as recently as this year.

While the script was by far the biggest offender for me, the casting of Sofia Coppola is deservedly panned. She honestly does a laughably bad job in this movie. While the immensely talented actors around her naturally deliver their lines, she’s sounds like she’s doing an imitation of bad dialogue. Something about the way she says her lines screams that there is someone in this movie that doesn’t belong. Kudos to Coppola not letting this role ruin her self-esteem and growing up to become a pretty talented filmmaker in her own right. As if the casting of his own daughter wasn’t suspect enough the role called for an incestuous relationship. Sleeping with your first cousin is still considered incest, right? Seriously? Your own daughter? In her first major acting role? Good job, buddy.

While it might seem like I hated everything about The Godfather: Part III, I did enjoy Andy Garcia’s performance as Vincent Mancini. He’s the lone character that seemed like he would’ve been at home in the world created in the first two films and thus, is the really the only character I liked in this movie. He gets to shine in a quite a few scenes, particularly when a couple of would-be hit me break into his apartment and find themselves in an interrogation. I also enjoyed his line to Mary Corleone: “Love someone else.” Garcia was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise cloudy movie.

I don’t really understand how The Godfather: Part III received seven Academy Award nominations. It makes me wonder if these people saw the same film I did. Could they really tell me today, with a straight face, that they would rather watch this movie instead of Miller’s Crossing? I’ll give them credit for recognizing Andy Garcia’s performance, but Best Picture and Best Director for one of the more disappointing sequels of all-time? Really? While Coppola might have gotten a pass based on past credentials at the 1991 Academy Awards, my recommendation to everyone else is to skip this movie (or pretend like it doesn’t exist) and remember the first two Godfather films as the great pillars of film excellence that they are and not let this last entry tarnish their memory.

Grade: C-
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Not much. I would watch it again someday to see if I can better follow the story.
Sequel Potential? Has it been sixteen years yet? God, let’s hope not.
Oscars: Undeserved nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Five more nominations, including a deserved nom for Andy Garcia in the Best Supporting Actor category.
Nudity? Bridget Fonda has a decent scene. Not sure if you actually see anything though.