Tag: Movie Review

MOVIE REVIEW: Promised Land

December 31, 2012

promise land
In our push to liberate ourselves from foreign oil, a process called “fracking” – hydraulic fracturing of land in order to extract elements to be used for natural gas – has started taking center stage in our discourse on energy alternatives. The process has been bandied about and has both positives and negatives; a lot of focus has been put on the environmental effects and the drawbacks that this process can have. Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land takes us into the lives of two oil company employees tasked with the job of buying out an economically stagnant small town for fracking purposes. Working from a script by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Van Sant focuses on characters that make this country move, no matter how small or large.

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In 1990, my father bought my two older sisters and me tickets to Les Misérables at the National Theater in Washington, D.C. as consolation for the middle sibling being jilted by her Sadie Hawkins date that day. As I recall, it was an afternoon performance, and for nearly three hours in that theater, we sat transfixed by this musical, the likes of which we’d never experienced. As a fourteen-year-old boy just learning to be a musician, I found the score and the singing to be of the highest caliber I’d heard to that point in my life, and it has rarely been surpassed since. Also, of note, the program booklets given to the audience contained one small ad in the very back that excited me to no end – it was the image of Cosette with words announcing a filmed version to be coming soon, with the Tri-Star Pictures logo in the bottom corner. Finally, after 22 years and a lot of studio problems later, Universal Pictures is releasing the filmed adaptation of the Les Misérables musical… and it is, for all intents and purposes, every bit worth the wait.
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MOVIE REVIEW: This is 40

December 19, 2012


Before watching This is 40, I heard a lot of talk about how not funny it was, or that it was just too long, or that it wasn’t as good as director Judd Apatow’s previous films. After watching This is 40, I realized that everyone who was saying that were all of my younger friends. Friends who hadn’t lived through experiences like the ones found in the film. Friends who didn’t have kids. Friends whose parents didn’t remarry and have children thirty years younger than they were. Friends who didn’t own houses or mortgages. For me, This is 40 was hilariously funny, with something to smile about in every scene – or, conversely, cringe about because it hit so close to home.
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Every single last performance in Hyde Park on Hudson is noteworthy. However, the film is also proof positive that performances are only part of a movie; they are the colors that the director uses to make you sit up and take notice. Keeping with the painting metaphor for just a little bit – what good are colors if the canvas, the paint, the brush, and more importantly, the painter himself aren’t up to the task? Director Roger Michell has made a movie quite different to those he’s written and directed in the past; films like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, and Notting Hill all had such unspeakably great souls and hearts to them that the performances only helped to transcend the script as written. With Hyde Park on Hudson, it’s as if Michell wanted to make the very antithesis of the films he’s made before, which isn’t such a bad thing to do. However, he’s lost the greatest thing about his former movies: the reason to care.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Storage 24

December 7, 2012


What do you get when you cross Die Hard with Aliens and Shaun of the Dead? Storage 24, a new sci-fi/horror film from the mind of co-writer and star Noel Clarke, promises to be exactly that. Terse and to the point, Storage 24 is an unpretentious modern horror film that doesn’t have to rely on pop culture references or jokey sight gags to get its message across. Instead, the film relies on claustrophobia and fear to provide a thick, heady atmosphere of nonstop tension.
Oh, and an enormous, toothsome alien, too.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Citadel

November 16, 2012


Director Ciarán Foy’s Citadel is an uncomfortable movie; its aesthetic, its manner, its story – everything about it speaks of great unease. Billed as a horror film, Citadel encompasses one man’s life turning from being a young, hopeful husband to an agoraphobic shell of what barely passes as human. Outside of a shatteringly good performance by lead actor Aneurin Barnard, there’s not much else to look at, and there’s not a whole lot that can be said in its defense as a straight-up horror movie. When viewed in the context of social commentary, however, the film does make some valid statements on inner city, lower class life.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Anna Karenina

November 16, 2012


Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
The story of a woman torn between her family, her extramarital love, and the societal pressures that destroy them all.
It’s a novel that has more film, television, and staged adaptations than you could possibly want to see. The film versions seem to pop up at least once a decade; most have been straightforward retellings, complete with grand set design, beautiful location shooting, and acclaimed performances by all. 2012’s Anna Karenina, as directed by Atonement director Joe Wright, is cut from a wholly different cloth, opting to dispense with grand vistas in favor of grandness on a smaller scale.
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Coldplay have spent the last year touring in support of their new album “Mylo Xyloto” to much critical and audience acclaim. Their live show, augmented by the use of illuminating wristbands (called Xylobands) given to the audience, redefined the relationship between band and observer by making them an active part of the proceedings. On Monday, November 19, they will unleash Coldplay Live 2012 upon the home media market; it is a concert film culled from several performances, dating all the way back to their 2011 Glastonbury show to recent shows in Paris and Montreal. To hype this release further, they added a one-night only theatrical screening on November 13th at theaters worldwide. Locally, the new Angelika Mosaic and a few others were host to this screening, with the theater being filled with fans old and young, all delighted at the prospect of being able to witness this snapshot of this moment in Coldplay’s history.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Skyfall

November 8, 2012


This is kind of a new foray for me. How does one actually rate and review a James Bond movie? Do you treat it like any other movie, or are these movies held to a different standard due to their cultural status? This is the first movie of this kind that I’ve had to cover, and I’m kind of frightened at the prospect. Well, let’s start with the obvious: Skyfall is a hell of a good time at the movies, with every cent of its $150 million-dollar budget being used and captured with masterful clarity. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins have made a very great-looking film (note: Skyfall is the first Bond movie to be shot 100% digitally) and have made an indelible mark in the James Bond canon. Yet I can’t help feeling that Skyfall needs to be held to a different standard – the kind not only set forth by the previous two Bond movies, but other real-world dramatic action films like The Dark Knight and Heat.
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Everyone remember Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley and the movie that was based on the novel starring Matt Damon? The Big Picture – also known as L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, literally translated as The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life – seems to almost remake this movie, but with kinder circumstances and none of the sociopathic tendencies. Originally released in 2010 and spending two years on the festival circuit, The Big Picture provides an examination of the moral, ethical, and emotional dilemmas that come with making drastic choices under duress.
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MOVIE REVIEW: The Bay

November 2, 2012


Eco-horror movies have been around for ages. One could conceivably call the Godzilla films eco-horror films, as the giant lizard was born in a hostile environment, emerging to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting populace; likewise with The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha (the 1970s originals of both, not their latter-day remakes). All are movies about creatures whose natures have been changed by man’s meddling with nature, only to grow nasty and homicidal. Acclaimed director Barry Levinson marches into the eco-horror genre with a “found footage” movie called The Bay, which focuses on a town called Claridge in Maryland, where some unusual circumstances caused 700 of its citizens to die horribly in one day.
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MOVIE REVIEW: High Ground

November 1, 2012


If last month’s Beauty is Embarrassing was my favorite documentary of 2012, High Ground has become the first documentary of the year that I demand that everyone watch; it should be required viewing for anyone and everyone with a television or access to a movie theater. High Ground invites you to walk in the shoes of 11 wounded Iraq War veterans and one Gold Star Mother as they team together to take on Mount Lobuche in the Himalayas. Some do it to conquer their personal demons; some do to spite their injuries; some do it for those they lost; all of them do it to heal. (more…)


Wayne White is a fascinating individual. Having an artistic bent from a very early age, his output has reached far and wide, from art galleries to MTV. Chances are likely that you’ve seen one of his works, even though you may not have known his name or who he was. Known for works ranging from straight-up paintings to oddball television to the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight Tonight” video to the word paintings which have brought him his notoriety, White has become an oddity in the art world: an entertainer. In the new documentary Beauty is Embarrassing, he says that being an entertainer in the art world is something that gets looked down on with disdain. Intimating that art is supposed to make you think and challenge your worldview, he has taken a “F**k you” approach to his art as far as this notion goes, and instead has made it all right to laugh at art.
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“The War on Drugs may be well-intentioned / but it falls f**kin’ flat when you stop to mention / an overcrowded prison where a rapist gets paroled / to make room for a dude who has sold / a pound of weed – to me, that’s a crime…”
– Nick Hexum, “Offbeat Bare-Ass”, from 311’s “Grassroots”


Addiction.
It touches all of us and it takes many forms. People are treated for many types of addictions – gambling, food, drink, violence, even sex; but an addiction to drugs can be the most costly one of them all. The physical toll it takes on one’s body, the financial toll it takes on one’s bank account, the spiritual toll it takes on one’s self-worth and morals, and the emotional toll it wreaks on family members who have to stand by and watch as their loved one descends into nightmarish circumstances. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki seeks to tackle drugs, addiction, and the prison system that deals with it all in his new documentary titled The House I Live In. It’s an extremely personal look into the many hows and whys of drug addiction and how it affects our society and our families.
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Everyone in this country knows our healthcare system is the pits, no matter what side of the fence you’re on politically. Bureaucratic red tape, avoidance of reimbursement or even paying for contracted services, Health Maintenance Organizations versus private care… it’s confusing and sometimes nasty. Personally, I’m dealing with a situation currently that involves healthcare and some of what the new documentary Escape Fire: the Fight to Rescue America’s Healthcare seeks to shed light upon and expose. While Escape Fire doesn’t really show us anything new as far as what’s wrong with our healthcare, but it does give us differing facets of how the system affects caregivers and those needing said care.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Looper

September 28, 2012


There are things I’d really like to write about Looper, yet I cannot, as I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Looper, as you may well know, is a time-travel movie having to do with criminal organizations from the future disappearing people by sending them back to the past, where they are shot dead upon arrival by assassins called Loopers. When the older version of one of these Loopers is sent back to be executed and escapes, that’s when all hell breaks loose and parties on all sides are up in arms trying to find both versions of the same person.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Backwards

September 28, 2012


When I think about Backwards, I feel like singing that Nina Simone song: “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good / Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”  Its heart is in the right place, and its intentions are, indeed, good… but when it’s executed as a film that one is supposed to either get behind or not, I fall on the latter side. Why? Its predictability, its paint-by-numbers script, a terrible lead performance, and for being another entry in what I consider “me cinema” – it’s one of those movies where the lead actor is in almost EVERY SCENE OF THE FILM. Also, in this case, she carries producing and writing credits. Maybe the term is “vanity project”, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it needs something stronger than what Sarah Megan Thomas has on display for us.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Liberal Arts

September 21, 2012


Liberal Arts
shows us that our youth (and youthfulness) is slipping fast through our grasping fingers, no matter how hard a grip we may exert. Time and its pressures are a constant wear on the psyche and the soul, and yet we brace against the inevitable by reverting to a former mind-state or reveling in arrested development. Throughout it all, the world continues to turn, with no heed paid to our battle against time. As much as we want to hold on to those fleeting moments of perfection and idealism, they’re not ours to hold permanently; they must be passed and given away.
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Every one of us is trying to carve out a little bit of love for ourselves in this world. It doesn’t matter who or what you are; we all want to share a lasting connection with someone else. How we get there, though, is the stuff that gets turned into great stories and great films. Keep the Lights On tries to be one of those stories, yet is based on an unstable foundation at its very start. When love and trust are based upon flimsy beginnings, what’s the point in the rest of it if all it provides you with is heartbreak?
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MOVIE REVIEW: Kumaré

September 7, 2012

Writing about a documentary where the documentarian loses objectivity due to learning deep truths about himself is difficult. How do you pass judgment on one’s own learning experience that almost negates the proposed experiment? Kumaré is the story about a man who seeks to expose a needless addiction to religion and our reverence of human leaders by becoming a holy man himself; if anyone can simply pick up the reins of a holy man, why can’t he? However, when the line between sociological experiment and actual life gets blurred, interesting things start to happen, and that’s where Kumaré’s truth lies. It’s a very strange, yet enlightening film about true self-discovery, and although the method may not be the best, the result needs to be seen to be believed.
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MOVIE REVIEW: V/H/S

August 31, 2012


Anthology films can be a lot of fun. 1982′s Creepshow, directed by George A. Romero (of Night of the Living Dead fame) and written by Stephen King, took us through as many as five stories of the macabre and terrifying – depending on which country you were in when you saw the film. Single director-anthology movies are quite common, like Romero’s Creepshow, Michael Gornick’s sequel to Creepshow, and  John Harrison’s Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Every now and again, however, multiple directors converge upon one movie to make a lasting, memorable, singular piece of storytelling, such as Joe Dante, George Miller, John Landis and Steven Spielberg all contributing to Twilight Zone: The Movie, or Dario Argento and George A. Romero doing Two Evil Eyes. Combining a specific genre technique with a multitude of up-and-coming directing talent has culminated in a fascinating six-story anthology movie called V/H/S.
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I feel like I’ve finally internalized one of the differences between European cinema and American cinema after being exposed to more of the former. American cinema chooses to focus on the surface aspects of their subjects, often going for “eye-catching” over depth. European cinema tends to look at the beauty that lies in the souls and spirits of their subjects, often eschewing loud clutter for introspective space. Oslo, August 31st plays to a lot of space – an overwhelming space that screams volumes with the weight it carries.
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Author Robert Ludlum published a trilogy of novels concerning a man named Jason Bourne from 1980 through 1990, starting with The Bourne Identity. The Bourne Supremacy was published in 1986, followed relatively shortly by the final installment, The Bourne Ultimatum. In 2002, Swingers director Doug Liman helmed an adaptation of The Bourne Identity, which ushered in a new era of action movies characterized by very simple, brutally realistic action sequences, the dismissal of gratuitous gun-fu slow motion (the type made popular by Hong Kong director John Woo), and a gritty, almost documentary-like feel throughout. Paul Greengrass took over the directing reins for the last two movies, …Supremacy in 2004 and …Ultimatum in 2007, effectively ending the Jason Bourne storyline, just as Ludlum’s novels had done. The plots of the novels and movies diverge completely starting with the first movie, with the latter two movies being name-only adaptations, not having anything to do with the novels’ plots.
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MOVIE REVIEW: 360

August 10, 2012


Sometimes, a film’s genre definition tends to get turned completely on its head. Fernando Meirelles’ 360, for example, is a Crash-like film where the characters’ lives all intersect at one point or another, often through disparate circumstances. Right off the bat, describing it as a “Crash-like film” gives you the sense that it’s a drama (which it is, and that’s not to be ignored); what people often miss about films like this is that there’s a little bit of suspense built in. Not a terrifying suspense in the Hitchcockian sense of the word, but more of a small, yet lingering “what’s going to happen next?” thrill.
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The tagline for the Killer Joe posters reads “A TOTALLY TWISTED DEEP-FRIED TEXAS REDNECK TRAILER PARK MURDER STORY” over a picture of what looks to be a piece of fried chicken in the shape of the state of Texas, with some blood spatter off to the side.  The marketing folks at LD Entertainment aren’t joking around; this movie, adapted by writer Tracy Letts from his own stageplay, is everything they advertise.  An interesting, quick view into the shadier side of trailer park trash, Killer Joe doesn’t waste any time getting down and dirty.
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What happens when you want to make a film with the soul and heart of Zhang Yimou’s Hero, the complexity of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the family conflict of Curse of the Golden Flower, but generate no spirit of your own?  You wind up with Chen Kaige’s Sacrifice, receiving its US theatrical release today.  This is not a film made to tell a story; this feels more like a film that will succeed thanks to those who have gone before it.  Kaige approaches the material with a shotgun-like plan: just get the story out there and let it fall where it may.
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We all know what goes into recruiting our Olympic athletes here in the US; it’s not so much recruitment as it is being the best at what you do and getting noticed for it.  In China, it seems that for the sport of boxing, they have to actively recruit boys and girls for their provincial and national boxing squads, as Chairman Mao Tse-Tung had banned boxing in 1959, stating it was “too Western and too brutal.”  The ban was lifted in 1987, and as director Yung Chang’s documentary China Heavyweight shows, recruitment is happening at secondary schools for the provincial and national teams, keeping an eye out for the next Olympic gold medalist.
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In 2008 in the sunny climes of the Dominican Republic, two young men – Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista – are being developed into star baseball players to be courted by Major League Baseball teams.  These two have been playing baseball most of their lives in order to reach their ultimate goal: to sign a multimillion-dollar contract with the MLB in order to give their families a better life.  Hopes and entire fortunes have been put into these two, and Pelotero tells the story of it all.  For 77 minutes, we peek into the lives of these two players as they prepare themselves to be scouted.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Ted

June 29, 2012


When we were children, we all dreamed and wished that one day, our stuffed animals or dolls would be able to talk and actually interact with us.  More often than not, we would say, “Oh, ____ (insert object of childhood desire here), I wish you were real.”  And, of course, it never happened.  With Ted, writer/director/voice actor Seth MacFarlane takes it to the next level, using his usual overblown, sight gag-filled comedic style that he has honed on his television show, “Family Guy”.  And much like “Family Guy”, some of it will make you laugh until it hurts; other parts will make you stare at the screen blankly, wondering where the funny is.
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I have to ask:  okay, what was that?  Pawel Pawlikowski’s film adaptation of Douglas Kennedy’s novel The Woman in the Fifth is one of the most head-scratchingest films I’ve ever seen; it’s been fifteen hours since I watched it, and I’m still puzzling over it.  While some things are readily understandable, others require a lot of thought, and I welcome that.  If you’re expecting The Woman in the Fifth to be wrapped up nicely with a big, pretty bow at the end, this is not the movie for you.  However, if you’re looking for something a little more challenging in a movie, have at it with two hands gripped firmly on the tiller.
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