Author Archive

MOVIE REVIEW: Chronicle (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY:  A “found footage” superhero movie that shows a good deal of craft, skill, and intellectual and emotional honesty.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After encountering a mysterious artifact, a trio of high school students must learn to cope with newfound superpowers before their lives spin out of control.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:  Effective use of documentary techniques; believable cast of unknowns; strong special effects; exceptional direction (and on occasion use of misdirection); intellectual and emotional honesty of the benefits and costs of acquiring superheroic powers.
CONS:  Filmmaking techniques that are, by this point, bordering on cliché; sometimes predictable; distinct lack of women.

Part of the appeal of superhero movies comes from the idea that somebody would use their powers in a way that most of us would not.  Superman’s alien heritage makes him ideal as a savior of humanity because, as Jor-El reminds him in Superman: The Movie, even though he was raised as a human being, he is not one himself.  Peter Parker initially uses his powers to make a quick buck, only to find that his own immediate goals have accidentally and indirectly killed his uncle.  Tony Stark becomes Iron Man out of necessity, using his scientific knowledge to escape from Wong-Chu.  Compare these to Josh Trank’s Chronicle, which, like Pat Cadigan’s “Two,” suggests that adolescents gifted with incredible strength and the ability to fly might behave in exactly the way most adolescents would.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: The best entry of the film series, thanks in no small part to Brad Bird’s engaging direction, several outstanding set pieces, and a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After breaking out of a Russian prison, secret agent Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force team set out to stop a Swedish peace proponent from stealing codes to a nuclear arsenal and detonate a device.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A refreshing ensemble cast led by Tom Cruise, with Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner adding much life to every scene; two soon-to-be-famous set pieces; Brad Bird’s outstanding command of pace despite the movie’s length.

CONS: Inane nuclear weapons storyline; not enough time developed to either the principal or most of the secondary villains; tone at times too slight and diffident.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Silly, with too many subplots and not quite enough brain, this follow-up to 2009′s Sherlock Holmes still manages the same level of energy and dynamism, helped in large part by Guy Ritchie’s energetic pace and Robert Downey, Jr.’s return as the iconic sleuth.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: On the eve of Dr. John Watson’s wedding night, Sherlock Holmes investigates the death of an Austrian prince, whom Holmes believes has been murdered by Professor James Moriarty.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The chemistry between Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr., again; the fully-realized Victorian London; outstanding battle aboard a train hurtling through the English countryside as well as the Holmes-Moriarty fight over Reichenbach Falls.

CONS: Lack of memorable lines; emphasis on action over intellect; a screenplay that makes too little use of deductive reasoning and far too many subplots; Guy Ritchie occasionally losing control as director.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Thing (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Despite good effects, impressive cinematography, and the beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.’s witless prequel to the Carpenter classic offers no new ideas or scares.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Paleontologist Kate Lloyd travels to a research lab in Antarctica run by Dr. Sander Halvorsten, whose team has discovered an alien craft and still-living life form.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Often good animatronic monster effects as opposed to CGI; good cinematography from Michael Abramowicz; good decision by director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. to shoot on 35 mm film instead of digitally; interesting take on the “blood test” from the Carpenter movie.

CONS: Poor script and plotting by Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore; inconsistent alien rules; flat, often plodding direction by Heijningen; flabby Marco Beltrami score; no interesting characters despite sever good actors, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ulrich Thomsen.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Fright Night (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Surprisingly good but still only modestly entertaining remake of the 1985 chiller, with David Tennant stealing every scene.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When he learns that new neighbor Jerry Dandridge is actually a vampire, high school student Charlie Brewster tries to convince others to believe him, setting off a cat-and-mouse game that comes to involve egocentric stage magician Peter Vincent.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Good, endearing cast, with a standout performance from David Tennant; smooth, tongue-in-cheek direction by Craig Gillespie; occasionally clever screenplay by Marti Noxon; enjoyably cheesy 3-D effects in the manner of Friday the 13th: Part III; good deviation from the original about halfway through…

CONS: …but until that time perhaps too close to the original; clichéd relationship between two of the principals; and would somebody please give Christopher Mintz-Plasse a role other than the geeky high school student?!

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Often fun, never pretentious, and a far more compelling precursor to the upcoming The Avengers than Thor, though too slight to be great.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Unfit to fight the Nazis at the outbreak of the Second World War, Steve Rogers allows himself to be the test subject of a top secret experiment that transforms him, ultimately, into America’s greatest hero.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Joe Johnston’s deft, speedy direction; earnest cast that neither takes things too seriously nor plays anything too lightly; good script; minimal jingoism; complete, requiring no knowledge of The Avengers or previous comics issues.

CONS: Never fully engaging; jarring anachronisms; lack of emotional investment leading to unnecessary sappiness toward the end; occasionally sloppy special effects.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: All third act and by turns too sappy and too detached, the final chapter of the Harry Potter series nonetheless possesses more energy and focus than the previous three entries.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt to recover the magical horcruxes in their attempt to defeat Voldemort as he and his followers lay siege to Hogwarts.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Seamless special effects; tighter energy and focus than previous installments; well-realized chases.

CONS: All third act; steep learning curve for those who have seen none of the movies; by turns too sappy and too emotionally detached; still too long; despite tightening, still difficult to follow the number of characters.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Midnight in Paris (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Woody Allen returns to magic realist territory for an enjoyable if ultimately slight look at Paris is the 1920s.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: One evening, successful screenwriter Gil Pender, on vacation in Paris, gets into a car with a group of strangers and finds himself transported among Gertrude Stein’s Lost Generation.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Allen’s most beautifully shot movie since Manhattan; excellent casting of the writers, artists, and filmmakers of the period, notably Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí, and, as usual, an excellent jazz soundtrack.

CONS: Allen’s shallowest movie since Scoop; too slight; the ninety-minute running time leads to one-dimensional portraits of the artists, writers, and filmmakers…and most of the other characters; Wilson’s character not neurotic enough; slightness of observations and epiphanies.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Super 8 (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: J.J. Abrams enters Steven Spielberg territory in a surprisingly effective, even endearing, homage the Golden Age of the summer movie.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Strange, unexplained events occur in a small Ohio town after a group of teenage aspiring filmmakers witnesses, an inadvertently records, a train crash that might not have been an accident.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Outstanding young cast, particularly Elle Fanning, aided by Abrams’s fine direction; good use of suspense; strong script populated with interesting characters that almost never slides into melodrama or postmodern irony; a creature that’s genuinely creepy; truly captures the period.

CONS: Excellent pastiche of some of the best Spielberg hampered by a last minute from the very worst; science fictional elements don’t hang together; occasional plotting and elements that might appear silly to modern audiences.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Restless, noisy and ultimately lethargic fourth entry in a series that should have quit three pictures ago, and one that makes almost no use of the novel on which it is “based.”

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After a daring escape from a London court and a meeting with King George II, Captain Jack Sparrow teams up with the pirate Bluebeard and his daughter to search for the Fountain of Youth.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: …I’m thinking, I’m thinking…okay, the mermaid hunt, maybe…

CONS: Fine source material jettisoned for a script that incorporates numerous chases to little or no effect; scenery chewing by most of the major players; listless action sequences and lackluster direction; borrows heavily from other, far better movies.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Thor (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Good looking and fun but ultimately slight.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After impetuously attacking the Frost Giants on their home planet Jotunheim on the eve he is to ascend the throne of Asgard, Thor, the God of Thunder, is cast from the higher realms to Earth, where he becomes the defender of humanity.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Good cast, attractive design and good action sequences, all under director Kenneth Branagh’s deft hand.

CONS: Predictable script hampered by Kenneth Branagh’s too deft touch; rushed pace; feels more like a placeholder than an adaptation.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Source Code (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Duncan Jones avoids a sophomore slump after Moon by making an engaging Dickian, even Malzbergian (yes, you read that right), thriller.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Soldier Colter Stevens wakes up in someone else’s body as part of a time travel operation to learn the identity of a bomber of a Chicago commuter train.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Strong, compelling script from Ben Ripley; engaging direction by Duncan Jones; good cast, with an especially strong performance from Jake Gyllenhaal; suspenseful execution reminiscent of Run, Lola, Run; good blend of action, character, existential angst.

CONS: One or two too many climaxes; lead character doesn’t so much solve the mystery as luck into it; drags somewhat as the movie approaches its conclusion; confusing title; clumsy and rather nonsensical discussion of its scientific bases; quantum handwaving.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Sucker Punch (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Noisy, incoherent adolescent fantasy that borrows shamelessly and artlessly from every genre since the inception of cinema.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Institutionalized by her stepfather after her mother’s death, Baby Doll retreats into an alternate world which helps her devise a plan to escape.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Well, at one point I saw biplanes and zeppelins. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

CONS: Ridiculous action sequences, including repeated, pointless use of slow motion; quest looks and feels more like a videogame than a movie; slapdash mashup of images ripped off from multiple movie genres; overwrought soundtrack; fetishization of women; and, despite the presence of a number of actors, not one actual character.

Sucker Punch gives away its game before the end of its prologue. In a montage set to the background of Emily Browning’s cover of The Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This”), Baby Doll (also Browning, and yes, that’s her name) defends her sister from her stepfather’s advances after their mother’s death and winds up in an institution known as “The Lennox House.” This of course will mean nothing to anybody over the age of thirty, or who didn’t grow up in a box, but it shows exactly where director Zack Snyder’s mind is throughout the entire enterprise. (He also receives story credit, and co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Shibuya.) No need for those who think of anything that happened prior to Gulf War I is ancient history and can’t quite get the hang of Google to scratch their heads, I’ll explain: The Eurythmics’s lead singer was a platinum-haired woman named Annie Lennox. Snyder’s attempt at humor does not liven the events in a joyless movie but underscores his own lack of interest in making a film about adults or even human beings but instead creating a twelve-year-old boy’s adolescent fantasy about what women fantasize about.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Limitless (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A frequently glib but smoothly paced and visually arresting take on a Twilight Zone idea.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Unemployed writer Edward Morra is introduced to the drug NZT, heightening his intelligence.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Neil Burger’s direction and cinematography, specifically during the moments when the intelligence-amplifying drug takes effect; remarkable soundtrack; a strong cast, with a very good central performance by Bradley Cooper; unpredictable thriller execution; mostly convincing examination of the effects of superhuman brainpower…

CONS: …that really should go farther than it does; the potential for a morality tale, but absent any morality; predictable thriller elements, especially with corrupt Wall Street brokers and Russian gangsters; lack of a truly transformative ending.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Despite good performances and strong chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, director George Nolfi’s earnest adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Adjustment Team” only comes to life in fits and starts.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: On the day he loses the election for U.S. Senate, David Norris becomes inspired by Elise Sallas, only to learn that there are forces designed to keep them apart.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Good cast, especially Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp; Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have good chemistry; good multi-dimensional chase through New York City; and it’s refreshing to see a Dick adaptation that concentrates more on character than situation.

CONS: A good idea that simply doesn’t go far enough; silly fantastic conventions that are never given any reasonable explanation; bland direction from Nolfi; letdown of an ending.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Drive Angry (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A Cormanesque ripoff so laughably bad that it becomes enjoyable.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Milton breaks out of Hell to find a murderous cult responsible for murdering his daughter to stop them from sacrificing his infant granddaughter.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Over-the-top performance by Nicolas Cage; tongue in cheek direction by Patrick Lussier (who co-wrote the screenplay); fast paced, often silly action sequences that never stop being enjoyable; and (surprise) the 3D effects are actually pretty good; and how long has it been since we’ve seen gratuitous nudity on a movie screen?

CONS: For all of its fun, it’s just not very good, and never transcends being an ersatz grindhouse B-movie.

How much you enjoy Drive Angry will depend a great deal on how much you enjoy Roger Corman. Or maybe not. Granted, this high octane mélange of The Dunwich Horror, The Fast and the Furious and The Wild Angels never achieves the sublime B-movie pleasures of its obvious inspirations nor salvages the reputation of Nicolas Cage. Even when you realize how cheesy it is, you cannot help but realize that it’s the kind cheese that comes out of a can: highly processed, bright yellow, tasting of something grown in a vat rather than having ever seen the innards of a cow, and with absolutely no nutritional value. If the movie posed an original thought, I missed it. Say what you will of Corman’s ouvre, but they had a degree of vigor and sleazy charm that, even at its best Drive Angry only wishes it could manage.

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MOVIE REVIEW: I Am Number Four

REVIEW SUMMARY: Derivative rehash of Twilight in science fiction garb, with lots of special effects but no imagination.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Number Four, one of nine aliens sent to Earth, hides from the invading Mogadorians while learning the nature of his powers and falling in love.

MY REVIEW

PROS: Well, it was under two hours…

CONS: Cliché-ridden story that borrows way too heavily from other movies and television shows; flat action and listless direction; bland actors.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Black Swan (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Disturbing, visually arresting meditation on art, obsession and madness that engages the viewer on the most intimate levels yet is very difficult to enjoy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Cast as the lead “Swan Lake,” ballerina Nina Sayers loses her mind as she captures the essence of the White Swan’s evil twin, the Black Swan.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Outstanding performances from Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey; beautifully shot; disturbingly surreal; real feel for the world of ballet; surprisingly controlled direction from Darren Aronofsky…

CONS: …despite some lapses into hackneyed territory; Mila Kunis not quite able to match the talents of her costars; an easier movie to respect than like.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Tron Legacy (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Dull, lifeless sequel to the groundbreaking 1982 cult classic holds little visual interest and no soul.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Twenty years after the disappearance of ENCOM CEO Kevin Flynn, his son Sam sets out on a quest to locate him, finding him, and his evil counterpart Clu, in the digital world of The Grid.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Good soundtrack from Daft Punk; Olivia Wilde, who looks incredible in Quorra’s costuming; digitally transforming Jeff Bridges into a younger version of himself; excellent sound effects…

CONS: …but you don’t go to a movie like this for sound effects; visually flat; aggressively dull action and direction; inconsistent in construction and character; listless dialogue; incomprehensible storyline; way too long.

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FILM REVIEW: Monsters (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A unique blend of science fiction and cinema vérité techniques featuring interesting, sympathetic characters. Easily one of the best science fiction movies of the past two years.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A photojournalist must escort his boss’s daughter through the Central American jungle, which, six years after a space probe crashed, has become a No Man’s Land of alien flora and fauna.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Low key, understated use of effects; telling details of how alien invasion has been incorporated into everyday life; smart, strong script and direction from Gareth Edwards; strong, sympathetic performances from leads Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy.

CONS: One or two minor plot holes that don’t quite make sense; a bit of alien biology that probably could have been explained a little better.

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