Wednesday, January 29, 2014

August: Osage County - Movie Review

Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard and Misty Upham.
Directed by John Wells.


You can tell this comedy/drama came from a stage play, and while some of its scenes are expanded out, most of it takes place inside the house, the deep house where three sisters grew up under a kind but alcoholic father Bev Weston (Sam Shepard) and a monstrous pill-popping mother Violet (Meryl Streep).

When Daddy goes missing, the three daughters - Barbara, Ivy, Karen - come home to offer support and dread the fights they know will happen.  Barbara (Julia Roberts) comes with her husband (Ewan McGregor) and teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin), though they are separated due to his recent infidelity.  Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the middle child who's never found anyone but plans to announce her new beau soon. Karen (Juliette Lewis) is the flighty youngest who's had numerous boyfriends/fiances but thinks she's found the right one (Dermot Mulroney), even though for him, she'd be Wife #4.

Violet's sister (Margo Martindale) comes with her husband (Chris Cooper) and son (Benedict Cumberbatch) as well, and meanwhile there's a Cheyenne housekeeper (Misty Upham) Bev hired right before he disappeared. Got our cast of characters straight?

Once everyone makes their way in and assemble, there's about a half-hour scene at the dinner table that's filled with verbal jousting and prodding, and years of resentment start to boil to the surface. Violet is an Oxycontin Joan Crawford, and she snipes sometimes just to see what the reaction will be.

There were times Streep was a little too hammy for me, but more often there are scenes where she just commands the screen, and yet she's a generous co-star. Every actor gets to have their moment, and most impressive to me was Julia Roberts. This is my favorite performance of hers to date. You can see all the anger and resentment from her childhood manifest in the vein popping on her forehead, and when she unleashes, there is genuine pain lashing out.

Another standout for me was Nicholson. She's mainly known for her TV work (Ally McBeal, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Boardwalk Empire) and here she's the wallflower/good-girl who's had enough of everyone taking her for granted. I would have been happy if she was a Best Supporting Actress nominee next to Roberts. (She'll also be on Sundance Channel's upcoming Red Road series with Jason Momoa.)

Maybe in the play Ivy was the oldest sister. There's a line in there where Barbara says Ivy is almost 50, and Nicholson's clearly younger than Roberts, so it pulled me out a bit. If they'd just changed the line to "over 40" it would've still been funny and I wouldn't be dedicating a pragraph to it.

Chris Cooper gets a great monologue in there. Cumberbatch shows off what a chameleon actor he can be. Martindale, Mulroney, Breslin, Lewis were all good. McGregor didn't quite work for me. He's just never been able to nail down an American accent and it's distracting.

Fruitvale Station - DVD Review

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz.
Directed by Ryan Coogler.


For a couple minutes after it was over, I just sat there, basking in the silence.

In 2009, a police officer shot and killed Oscar Grant III, who was laying on his stomach in the process of getting handcuffed. The officer later explained he thought he'd pulled out his Taser gun and accidentally pulled out his handgun. The event was recorded on a few smartphones, and outrage over the incident quickly spread.

Grant's story is another example of an unjustified death of a young black man, and had this movie been made 20 years ago, it'd probably be about the white lawyer fighting for justice in Grant's death. What we get here is the last 24 hours in Grant's life. We get to watch a normal, imperfect guy just living his life leading up a senseless, stupid mistake.

Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, That Awkward Moment) is very comfortable in the role of Grant. Sometimes it feels like a hidden-footage film with us just following Grant around. We see him meet up with his friends, call his mother, play with his daughter, and just living life up to New Year's Eve. This subtle style just makes his fate more heart-breaking. Very moving.

And keep an eye out for writer/director Ryan Coogler. This is a fantastic full-length feature debut.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Blue Jasmine - DVD Review

Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by Woody Allen.


Woody Allen may be a pedophile-scumbag, but he's a good writer. It'd be nice to see if he's capable of writing a movie that doesn't have infidelity.

Cate Blanchett is the star of the show here as Jasmine, an upper-crust wife whose life is shattered after her philandering multi-millionaire husband (Alec Baldwin) goes to jail for his Bernie Madoff-level of fraud. The movie goes back and forth between two times, before the fraud was discovered, and how Jasmine's trying to piece her life together now. She goes to move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose own life (and marriage) were ruined when they put all their money into one of her husband's schemes.

Blanchett earned her Golden Globe and SAG wins for this role. It's a great part, but she also makes the most of it. Sometimes good parts float other boats, and all the other actors play well off of her.

Seriously, is there a Woody Allen movie that didn't have infidelity in it?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekend Box Office - 1/26/14

Ride Along remained #1 at the box-office.

I, Frankenstein was the only new challenger, and moviegoers could smell the stench a mile away.  It should plummet as ignominiously as The Legend of Hercules.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Her - Movie Review

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlet Johansson, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt and Portia Doubleday.
Directed by Spike Jonze.


Jonze is a unique voice in cinema. He's only directed four movies, but each one (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are, Her) goes places we don't expect.

This explores a near-future that shows the natural progression of the over-saturation of social media, where people are more and more socially awkward yet yearn for genuine human interaction.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a man who works at, a company that writes heart-felt hand-written letters from one person to another. I love the irony of that, and yet it's something that seems like it would eventually be a successful site.

Theodore is one of the first customers of the new Artificial Intelligence Operating System, about ten generations past Siri.  Theodore's personalized OS is Samantha (voices by Scarlett Johansson), and she is programmed to fit Theodore's needs and personality, but as an AI, she learns and progresses in her own right.

It's funny, it's touching, and it's a movie Ron Swanson would hate.  "Just date a real woman, son." I've seen a lot of good movies lately. If only Hollywood would release them all year round.

Lone Survivor - Movie Review

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman and Jerry Ferrara.  Directed by Peter Berg.


The advertising keeps quoting Bill Simmons calling it the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan. Simmons is a sports guy, so it just shows how insignificant movie critics have become, at least to the marketing department. I'd say it's just a notch below Kathryn Bigelow's efforts, but it's worthy to compare to Black Hawk Down.

It's based on Marcus Luttrell's best-seller about the failed Operation Red Wings that resulted in the deaths of 19 servicemen. It's a tribute to those men, and it finds a way to be pro-soldier without being pro-war. It's angering to see how hard it is to become a SEAL, and how weird the rules of engagement are in Afghanistan, and how so many more lives would have been saved if they just had better equipment.

The soldiers' bodies take quite a bit of abuse, and from what I've read, they were pretty accurate about it. The comraderie of the four soldiers (Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch, Foster) is engaging, and when the bad stuff starts happening, we still hope somehow they'll escape their fate. Kitsch has shown he might have a future in movies after all.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Act of Killing - Movie Review

Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.


I'm not that familiar with Indonesia, I'll admit, but my goodness, this movie opened my eyes and made me want to learn more.

Indonesia went through a violent revolution in the 1960's, and an attempted Communist uprising was squashed, squashed so thoroughly it would never rise again, squashed because those fighting against the Communists were so brutal and sadistic that over a million people were killed.

The killers never faced any trial, felt any repercussions. Indonesia existed with the mantra of "The only good Communist is a dead Communist" and guys who enjoyed torturing and killing were able to do so with impunity.

Forty years later, a filmmaker approached some of the killers with an idea - they'd make a movie where they'd re-enact what they did, and they're given license to do it however they wish. What follows is so surreal. I know we're just getting a slice of life here, but imagine if Hitler had won World War II and let Al Capone run America. That's what Indonesia feels like in this movie.

These remorseless killers are now fathers and grandfathers. They still openly joke about all the people they killed. But the more they get into the project, well, it's remarkable how open they are, and where the journey takes them.

Philomena - Movie Review

Starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
Directed by Stephen Frears.


The Magdalene Sisters was a very powerful film exposing the horrors of the Magdalene asylums run by the Catholic Church, but it was also clearly made by someone who was furious with the Church. This film takes a more temperate, patient approach, and the issues are much more complicated than "nuns are evil."

Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee, a woman who confesses something to her daughter that she hadn't told anyone. When she was a teenage girl in 1952 Ireland, she'd become pregnant, and she was sent to a Magdalene asylum where they forced her to give her baby up for adoption. It was now his 50th birthday.

Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a former BBC reporter who decides to taker her story as a "human interest" piece, even though the thought nauseates him. The two of them go back and forth between buddy comedy and moving drama, as they try to track down her son.

It's a great examination of where faith and forgiveness, without letting anyone off the hook either. It rises and falls on the chemistry of Dench and Coogan, and they're great. Coogan co-wrote it, and he's given himself probably his best dramatic part to date.

I saw it at the $2 theater. If it's still around, do yourself a favor and catch one of this year's Best Picture nominees on the big screen.

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain - DVD Review

Starring Kevin Hart. Directed by Leslie Small.


Dude, we don't need some narrative prologue. We know we're watching a concert movie. But my guess is he didn't have an 75-minute set. He had a 55-minute set so we get some extra stuff to pad out the time to 74 minutes so it can be called a movie. After he establishes that his concerts sell out all over the world, and that his fans all over the world think he's amazing, he finally settles into what we think we came to see - his concert at Madison Square Garden.

Hart as a stand-up comedian has an undeniable energy, even if his material's hit or miss. He's at his best when he's trying to explain the different ways he tried to avoid getting caught cheating on his now ex-wife, and there's also a good story in there where he went horseback riding. Fans will like it; haters will not be converted.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ride Along is #1

Kevin Hart is the next Chris Tucker.

Critics may have lambasted it, but audiences didn't care.  Ride Along is an unqualified hit. Between this and the 21 Jump Street series, Ice Cube is keeping himself relevant in movies as well.

The Nut Job looks awful, but families who rejected Walking with Dinosaurs and already saw Frozen had to see something.  Meanwhile, Chris Pine still hasn't happened as a movie star yet, try though Paramount might. I wonder if they would have been better off calling it Tom Clancy's Shadow Recruit.

Award buzz has really helped American Hustle. Despite losing some screens, it still managed to improve on its box office from the week before.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Wolverine - DVD Review

Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Will Yun Lee, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee and Famke Janssen.
Directed by James Mangold.


It's the sequel no one really wanted, but I'm glad it happened anyway. The "Origins" movie wasn't great, but here we get a stripped-down side adventure for everyone's favorite X-Man. Wolverine goes to Japan to visit an old friend, a friend who can give him the gift of mortality. But from there, he gets betrayed, and we get to see Wolverine take on some ninjas. What has stuck with me is the fight sequence on the bullet train, one of the best action scenes of the year.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Nebraska - Movie Review

Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkerk, Stacy Keach and Rance Howard.
Directed by Alexander Payne.


For the first hour or so, I was annoyed. I was annoyed with the set-up, I was annoyed with the slow pace, and I was annoyed at how unpleasant everyone was. Why is this getting all this buzz for multiple Oscar nominations? Yeah, Bruce Dern's good, but is he THAT good?

But it started to come together for me in the third act. The condescension of the first two acts melted away, and these dysfunctional people started to feel like a real family.

Dern plays Woody Grant, an old man who's getting more "confused" these days, and he thinks he's won a million dollars. It's obviously one of those magazine-sweepstakes scams, but that doesn't deter Woody from trying to walk from his home in Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to try and collect his winnings.

He has a wife (June Squibb) fed up with him, and two sons with different attitudes on how he should spend his last few years. The younger son David (SNL's Will Forte) decides to go ahead and humor Woody and drive him to Nebraska.  They have to take a detour in their home town of Hawthorne, NE, and we meet the dull extended family. It goes from there.

When I walked out, I found it to be a big meh. It's actually grown on me after I've had a couple days away from it. It's aging well in my mind. I liked how the mom, dad and two sons don't seem close at all, but once outside forces start poking at them, most notably other family, they pulled together in a way that felt real. The final few minutes were a nice capper.

The World's End - DVD Review

Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, David Bradley and Pierce Brosnan.
Directed by Edgar Wright.


Pegg/Frost/Wright do here for the Body Snatcher films what Shaun of the Dead did for zombies and Hot Fuzz did for buddy-cop films. What I like about their films is they set up characters thought-out enough that even if mayhem didn't break out, the characters still feel like they have lives to lead.

Pegg plays the former leader of a band of mates from their school days, and one thing they tried to do in their youth but never finished was The Golden Mile - twelve pubs, twelve pints.  Of course, the other four friends have grown up and moved on with their lives, but Pegg's in a state of arrested development. The four friends decide to humor him and give him one last night of glory.

But that's when the robots show up. From there, they figure that in order to stay low and not tip off the body-snatchers they know what's going on, they finish what they started and carry through getting their pints...

Loved the ending too.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Turbo - DVD Review

Starring the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Pena, Maya Rudolph, Luis Guzman and Snoop Dogg.
Directed by David Soren.


It combines the fast pace of Cars with the singing slugs from Flushed Away. Heh. It's an okay animated film for kids. As an adult, I liked the voicework from Paul Giamatti and Samuel L. Jackson, and the actual animation is on the high-end of CG-quality. It just never captured my imagination. Maybe because I could care less about the Indy 500. A better movie would make me care anyway.

My Reaction to the Academy Award Nominations

No real surprises here.  If I was power ranking them on odds of winning, I'd do it this way.

1. American Hustle
2. Gravity
3. 12 Years a Slave
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Nebraska
6. Her
7. Captain Phillips
8. Dallas Buyers Club
9. Philomena

Tenth place could have been any one of August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, Saving Mr. Banks or Frozen.

I'm stunned Tom Hanks wasn't nominated for Captain Phillips. The last fifteen minutes of that film might be the best work he's ever done. I haven't seen it yet, but my wife said Robert Redford wuz robbed for not getting one for All Is Lost. I'm happy for Bale, Dern and Ejiofor, but the actual winner of this group should be DiCaprio or McConaughey.

Meryl Streep bashed Walt Disney as an anti-Semite, anti-woman bigot, and she got the fifth nomination out from under Emma Thompson. Since the other four nominees are previous winners, I think Amy Adams has the edge here.

Three-way race between Russell, Cuaron and McQueen, with the edge to Russell, who's shown with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook he's here to stay.

Do we really want to live in a world where Jonah Hill is a two-time acting nominee? I keed. He was good. Kinda hoped Will Forte might get a nod, just cuz.  Jared Leto's the frontrunner, but I wouldn't bet against Fassbender.

I was a little surprised Oprah Winfrey didn't get one. In fact, The Butler received zero nominations. (The Lone Ranger points and laughs.) I see a groundswell for June Squibb giving her a come-from-behind win, but Lawrence is so darn likable she might win her second one in a row.

2013 Academy Award Nominees

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises

The Grandmaster
Inside Llewyn Davis

American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet from Stardom

Facing Fear
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave

The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Hunt, Denmark
The Missing Picture, Cambodia
Omar, Palestine

Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

MUSIC - Original Score
The Book Thief, John Williams
Gravity, Steven Price
Her, William Butler & Owen Pallett
Philomena, Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks, Thomas Newman

MUSIC - Original Song
"Alone Yet Not Alone" from ALONE YET NOT ALONE
"Happy" from DESPICABLE ME 2
"Let It Go" from FROZEN
"The Moon Song" from HER

American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
12 Years a Slave

SHORT FILM - Animated
Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Room on the Broom

SHORT FILM - Live Action
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
The Voorman Problem

All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness

WRITING - Adapted Screenplay
Before Midnight, Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
Philomena, Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter

WRITING - Original Screenplay
American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club, Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
Her, Spike Jonze
Nebraska, Bob Nelson

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Random Movie Stuff - 1/15/14

- Matt Reeves will return for another Planet of the Apes movie. The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director will now direct third movie in the rebooted franchise as well.  The as-yet-untitled film will open July 29, 2016. Dawn opens on July 11, 2014.

- The upcoming Batman v. Superman film does not have an official title, and even though Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are in it, it is a Superman-centric film. It's confirmed that Lex Luthor will be the villain, with Joaquin Phoenix being the rumored frontrunner. Cavill returns as Superman, and Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Diane Lane (Ma Kent) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) will also be back. There's also rumor that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is in talks to play the Green Lantern.

- Michael Douglas will play Hank Pym and Paul Rudd will play Scott Lang in Edgar Wright's upcoming adaptation of Ant-Man. Also, Michael Pena (American Hustle) is in talks to play a villain.

- Quentin Tarantino is writing and directing another Western. Plot details are being kept secret right now, but it's titled The Hateful Eight, and Christoph Waltz is attached.

- Not a movie thing, but Sasheer Zamata is about to become famous. She's been named the latest cast member of Saturday Night Live, and the first black woman in the cast since Maya Rudolph left.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2013 Golden Globe Winners

BEST PICTURE DRAMA - 12 Years a Slave
BEST DIRECTOR - Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
BEST ACTRESS COMEDY - Amy Adams, American Hustle
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
BEST SCREENPLAY - Spike Jonze, Her
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - “Ordinary Love,” by U2, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

BEST TV DRAMA - Breaking Bad
BEST TV COMEDY - Brooklyn Nine-Nine
BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Robin Wright, House of Cards
BEST ACTRESS COMEDY - Amy Poehler, Parks And Recreation
BEST MINI-SERIES OR TV MOVIE - Behind The Candelabra
BEST ACTOR MINI-SERIES OR TV MOVIE - Michael Douglas, Behind The Candelabra
BEST ACTRESS MINI-SERIES OR TV MOVIE - Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Jacqueline Bisset, Dancing on the Edge
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

Cecil B. DeMille Award - Woody Allen

The Golden Globes are known for being a little wacky, the speeches a little looser, the winners a little cool-kids. When they announced they were giving the Cecil B. DeMille Award to Woody Allen, I thought, "Wow, are they really going to get him to attend an awards show?" but no, Diane Keaton comes out and accepts for him in intentionally surreal fashion.

Movie-wise the love was spread.  The Globes have been looser in what they consider a comedy to help strengthen the category. American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street have a lot of funny stuff in them, but are they really comedies? Eh, I'm not complaining. Happy about all the results, at least for the ones I've seen.

TV-wise, I was shocked that Brooklyn Nine-Nine won, but very happy for the show. It's the best rookie comedy out there, and it could use the boost. Also thrilled Amy Poehler finally won.

Saving Mr. Banks - Movie Review

Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Melanie Paxson, Annie Rose Buckley and Rachel Griffiths.  Directed by John Lee Hancock.


I've never read P.L. Travers' original Mary Poppins book, but this film successfully filled me with desire to hunt down a copy. Seems like something my kids should read, familiar as they are with the Disney version with which Mrs. Travers had so many issues.  And if a movie makes you coming out wanting to read a book, that's a good thing, right? (I'm currently in the middle of reading 12 Years A Slave.)

This movie is a soft approach to the battles between Disney and P.L. Travers over her work, at least as far as the 1961 scenes go. It also keep flashing back to 1906, when Travers was a small girl, and those scenes inform why Mary Poppins means so much to Travers, and how protective she is of her work.

Colin Farrell, absent from the marketing save for his voice in the trailer and his name on the poster, has a substantial role as P.L.'s father, a banker who gets beaten down by life. His stuff is at least a third of the movie, and he and Ruth Wilson (as his wife) are very good in their very serious roles.

I'll admit I was moved by the end. Came together quite nicely, so when Travers (Thompson) had her emotional catharsis, I was right there with her.

Lone Survivor is #1

The first true box-office hit of 2014 has emerged. Lone Survivor had the second-highest opening/expansion ever for January.  Mark Wahlberg is still a movie star, in case anyone was wondering.

Some of the award-hopefuls are expanding, and they could really use a boost from when the Academy Award nominations are announced later this week.  Her and Inside Llewyn Davis are sputtering before they've been able to get started. August: Osage County at least had some success, able to boast Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as mother and daughter.

It still blows my mind that someone thought it was a good idea to sink $70 million into a Hercules movie starring Kellan Lutz. Yes, Lutz was in Twilight, but the last movie that had him top-billed was Arena, which co-starred Samuel L. Jackson and still went straight to DVD.  It was directed by Renny Harlin (Driven, Mindhunters, CutThroat Island).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Movie Review

Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn and Patton Oswalt. Directed by Ben Stiller.


I saw part of the same-titled Danny Kaye movie on TV when I was a little kid, but I don't remember much about it. It was based on a two-page James Thurber short story. This movie has nothing to do with that original story.

Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a boring man who constantly zones out into fantastical daydreams. He works for Life magazine but he soon learns that their next printed issue will be their last. Stiller wants to have it both ways and for the most part, does, with very funny daydreams combined with thought-provoking drama about actually living life.

Its main weakness would be with the blatant, intrusive product placement. The use of Papa John's as a plot device bordered on grotesque.

This is an elegant panoramic tribute to his locations. Greenland and Iceland look like places I'd want to visit. Nice to see Stiller take full advantage of the big screen.

Admission - DVD Review

Starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Michael Sheen, Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn, Nat Wolff, Olek Krupa, Gloria Reuben and Sonya Walger.
Directed by Paul Weitz.


Paul Rudd is not the kind of actor who can save a movie. He's pretty bland, a blank-slate harmless beta-male who might be a really great guy to hang out with in person, but on-screen, he's as crazy as a Snuggie. Making him a love interest for Tina Fey is a safe choice, but there's no spark or chemistry there. The last time I thought he had chemistry with a woman on-screen was Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.

So, Rudd distraction aside, this is more about Tina Fey, and while Fey tends to play brainy types unlucky in love, at least she's brainy. But this hinges on the Idiot Plot Device. Roger Ebert would refer to this when a movie has a plot that only keeps the movie going by having the main characters be or act like total idiots.

The device here, the hook, the first-act reveal, is that Rudd may have found Fey's son she gave up for adoption 18 years ago. She believes him. But she doesn't ask/tell/confront the kid. Takes her an hour of the movie to dance around the issue until she breaks it to him after everything else in the movie that needs to happen happens. See, she works in Admissions at Princeton, and Rudd thinks this kid would be a great student there.  Now, had Fey just tried to get to the bottom of it right away, the movie would have been 30 minutes long.  So...

And if this movie is remotely accurate as to how Ivy-League schools select their students, then screw Princeton.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Frozen edges Paranormal in weekend box office

In its sixth week of wide release (seventh total), Disney's Frozen has recaptured the #1 spot at the box office.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the fifth one in the franchise and wasn't able to take advantage of the horror crowd the way this weekend usually lends. (Texas Chainsaw 3D cleaned up on this weekend last year.)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will pass Iron Man 3 in the next day or two as the highest domestic-grossing movie of 2013.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Monsters University - DVD Review

Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Dave Foley, Sean Hayes, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Alfred Molina and Aubrey Plaza.
Directed by Dan Scanlon.


Pixar must have had a hankering to do a college comedy, a G-rated riff on Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, so they revisited the Monsters Inc crew.  I don't think if you took a poll of the Pixar library that Monsters Inc would have won "Which Movie Do You Most Want a Sequel To?" but it's entertaining in its own right.

Mike and Sully are rivals at college. They fight at first, but when they both get kicked out of the Scare program, they have to work together to get back in. I liked it more than their past couple efforts (Brave, Cars 2).

Televisually Speaking - 1/4/14

THE ASSETS (ABC) - This mini-series seems to be playing off the success of The Americans, about the CIA's attempt to find the mole in their organization that keep feeding information to the Soviets in the 1980's.  I watched the first hour but it never really gave me enough to want to watch more. And the ratings bear out it won't last long.

RAISING McCAIN (PIVOT) - This show might be informative if it had a different host, but then it wouldn't exist without Meghan McCain. Senator John's daughter has people smarter than her tackle issues with her about her generation. If her dad wasn't famous, she'd be a retail clerk in a Phoenix suburb.

KIRSTIE (TVLAND) - There's a circle of life with sitcoms. In the beginning, when they're aimed at teens and tweens, they're awful. Then as the kids mature, they can discover truly funny shows. But then there are shows aimed at middle-aged and senior people who watch just because it stars people that used to be funny.  Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards are together on the same show, but all the jokes are broad, and the sitcom tropes trotted out without irony. When "special guest star" Kathy Griffin walks out, the live-studio audience applauds, just like they would have done on a show in 1981.

COMMUNITY (NBC) - Dan Harmon is back, and it's obvious. This show is inventive and funny again. I'll miss Pierce as part of the group dynamic, but I love the addition of Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks as a criminalogist professor.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Worst Ten Films of 2013

I haven't seen 21 & Over, The Last Exorcism 2, Trance, Scary Movie 5, The Big Wedding, The Hangover III, The Internship, Grown Ups 2, The Look of Love, Kick-Ass 2, The Canyons, Paranoia, Getaway, Battle of the Year, Runner Runner, Machete Kills, Winnie Mandela, The Fifth Estate, CBGB, The Counselor, 47 Ronin and some of these other movies making Worst Ten lists, but of what I saw, these were my least favorites.

I'm going to wait a couple more weeks before I do my Top Ten, as there's a few that haven't come to a theater near me I know I want to see.

Talented Misfire:

To the Wonder - An independent editor could probably assemble a beautiful film about love and betrayal from the footage, but Terrence Malick left most of those pieces on the cutting room floor in favor of sunsets and Olga Kurylenko twirling.

Dishonorable Mentions:

After Earth - Flat, uninteresting sci-fi flick that feels like an unintentional sequel to Battlefield Earth. Mostly because of the Scientology philopsophy throughout the movie, but also because it feels half-baked once it's over.  At least B.E. now has camp value.

Elysium - This sci-fi actioner makes zero sense when you think about it, but it also gets dinged for having what may be the worst performance of Jodie Foster's career. I don't know what she was going for, but I'm guessing South African Disney Villain.

Gangster Squad - Shallow mobster movie that more closely resembles Dick Tracy than DePalma. I'm confused why they assembled all this talent but didn't even try to be a good movie.

A Good Day to Die Hard - Worst installment yet, with Bruce Willis hopping around Russia like a superhero against bad guys who can't shoot, exuding zero chemistry with Jai Courtney as his estranged son. But the fact that they gave this to director John Moore (Max Payne) shows they didn't really care about quality.

The Purge - Takes an interesting Twilight Zone premise but doesn't do anything with it besides stretch it out as a home-invasion thriller. Missed opportunity.

And now...

.... the worst ten.

10. R.I.P.D. - Men in Black 2 meets Ghostbusters 2 meets CGI left over from the Mummy sequels. The Pluto Nash of our times.  I can see a lot of movies pitched as "It's [Hit Movie A] meets [Hit Movie B]!" as a way to get sold, but it needs to become its own thing somehow. This one doesn't.

9. GI JOE: RETALIATION - I didn't think Rise of Cobra was good, but this sequel made me think I was too harsh on it.  Most of the initial cast is killed off or replaced, and Dwayne Johnson is left to shoulder the load while Bruce Willis collects a paycheck. I'm surprised it didn't climax with a dance competition.

8. BROKEN CITY - I suppose there was a reason the studio put the ending of the movie in all their trailers and previews; it was the only way to make it look interesting.

7. IDENTITY THIEF - Major misfire for two comic talents whom I wouldn't mind seeing try again with a different script.  This one though makes Melissa McCarthy as unlikable as possible in the first half, but then tries to tug our heartstrings in the second half. Not buying it.

6. SAFE HAVEN - Remember the twist ending of Deadly Friend when Kristy Swanson revealed she's been a Terminator robot all along? This otherwise dull romance ends on about as ridiculous a note.

5. ONLY GOD FORGIVES - Lots of macho posturing and posing, where the actors must have thought their slow walking would be enhanced in post. Nope. Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) leaves his actors dangling out there in this empty yakuza-style "thriller" and betrays his Drive star Ryan Gosling in their reunion.


The worst four don't really count as movies, yet they had theatrical releases nonetheless.

4. A HAUNTED HOUSE - The parody format that the Naked Gun did so well get diminishing returns with each passing year. This send-up of the Paranormal Activity movies starts with a too-long fart joke and goes downhill from there.  Awful.

3. THE ABCs OF DEATH - 26 short films about death. 24 of them sucked.

2. MOVIE 43 - A-List talent assemble in this anthology trying to be the next Amazon Women on the Moon. I guess. Whoever convinced Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Dennis Quaid, Naomi Watts, etc., to appear in this is one heck of a salesman. The goal of a dirty joke should be to be funny first and shocking second. Unfunny shock is just a turd on your front porch.

1. INAPPROPRIATE COMEDY - This anthology comedy makes Movie 43 look like Monty Python by comparison. It's directed by the Sham-Wow guy.  No kidding. The biggest star it conned into appearing was Adrien Brody, who should sue. Bury all negatives of this in the Earth.

R.I.P.D. - DVD Review

Starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Robert Knepper and Mike O'Malley. Directed by Robert Schwentke.


It's not Men in Black meets Ghostbusters.

It's Men in Black 2 meets Ghostbusters 2.

It's an example of unoriginal filmmaking filled with CG effects that can't hide that the jokes fall flat, the mystery is obvious every step of the way, and the action scenes have no consequence.

Ryan Reynolds plays a cop murdered by his partner, but before he faced Judgement, he's allowed to put in some years in the Rest In Peace Department (RIPD), a luxury that Earthly law-enforcers are allowed to tip the scales in their favor.  They go to Earth and hunt down the dead (nicknamed dead-o's) who are masquerading as the living.  See? Very MIB.

He's paired with a squinty-eyed Western lawman played by Jeff Bridges, cashing in his True Grit goodwill.  They fly through the exposition so they can get to the chases and monsters and stuff.

The most clever aspect of the movie is how they appear to the living as a supermodel and old Chinese guy. Unfortunately they don't really do much with this premise.

So yeah, waste of money, and it deserved its box-office failure.

To the Wonder - DVD Review

Starring Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, and Rachel McAdams.  Directed by Terrence Malick.


Malick is one of the most frustrating artists for me. I loved Badlands. I found The Thin Red Line to be tremendously overrated.  The New World was okay.  I was disappointed by Tree of Life.

But 21st century Malick is more concerned with images, impressions, moments that linger in the memory, disconnected.  He's not telling a story; he's pre-jumbling your memory of the movie for you.  We have shots or scenes that might stay in the head for a few days, even as most of it vanishes.

His movies are undeniably beautiful, but you can only watch an artist chase butterflies for so long. He films hours and hours of footage, and he doesn't use most of it, and the "most" part tends to include plot elements that would make the whole affair more comprehensible.  Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Barry Pepper and Amanda Peet were all in this movie at one point too, but he cut them entirely out of the picture. (Why as an actor would you want to be in a Malick film when you know how good the odds are your part will be whittled down to nothing, or almost nothing?)

Ben Affleck, I get the feeling, had a character and dialogue, but almost all of his lines are cut. I think he gets six lines of spoken word in the whole movie.  Olga Kurlyenko gets the most screen time.  She narrates her thoughts in French while she twirls in flowing skirts in fields of wheat.  Rachel McAdams shows up as an old flame that Affleck reconnects with, and then there's Javier Bardem as a priest.

About 70% of the words we hear are narrated, most by the wife but some by the priest (in Spanish), and most of those times it doesn't appear connected to what we're seeing on screen. I think this is a reflection on how our heads are often elsewhere from what our bodies are doing.  There are times it's jarring when the camera focusses on a person's face and they actually speak some dialogue. I can almost feel the frustration coming out of Affleck. "Let me speak! Some words!"

So while I love his eye, I wish he'd rewatch Badlands and see how it's okay to have a narrative attached to his images.  We can have both cinematography and a story!

Dallas Buyers Club - Movie Review

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts and Griffin Dunne.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.


Physical transformation is the name of the game for this true-story drama.  Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto lost a lot of weight to play men ravaged by AIDS, and on top of that, they do great acting jobs.

McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a straight rodeo cowboy/electrician who finds out in 1985 that he has AIDS.  Not much was known about AIDS then. It was a scary gay disease that Rock Hudson had.  Woodroof refuses to accept the apparent death sentence and fights tooth and nail to find any possible cure.

For dramatic purposes, the movie changes the history to make the FDA look less cooperative than they were, and they make the drugs Woodroof used seem more effective than they were.  You'd think Woodroof personally cured AIDS.  But on its own, as a movie, it's very effective at what it's trying to do.

McConaughey has come a long way from his Kate Hudson rom-coms (or even from Ghosts of Girlfriends Past which co-starred Garner), and this might be his best work to date.