Thursday, December 13, 2012

Month in Review: November 2012

Continuing to catch up on the Bond series, I finally got to the Roger Moore era--the man who was Bond when I first discovered the series as a kid--with Live and Let Die, a weird movie with 007 coming across the pond and inserting himself into a blaxploitation movie. Of course, November saw the release of another Bond, the newest installment, Skyfall. This is the third and best of the Daniel Craig movies, probably the leanest and most coherent of the three and a nice sort of re-appropriation of the series' iconography.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


"In a sky full of people, only some want to fly"

If I told you the new movie Silver Linings Playbook was a romantic comedy about two people dealing with mental illness, you might at best expect a cheesy Hallmark movie or at worst an offensive treatment of serious psychological issues. Instead, writer-director David O. Russell gives us a disarming and uproarious film, at once a domestic comedy and a tentative romance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movie Review: LINCOLN

Steven Spielberg is no stranger to historical dramas. Whether completely (and sometimes fancifully) fictional or based on fact, his movies have been set in both World Wars, the Cold War, the 1830s, the 1970s, and others in between. With his latest, Lincoln, he tackles for the first time the bloodiest of American conflicts and arguably its greatest leader.

Month in Review: October 2012

Sorry for the late post. The last month or so was busy personally and relatively slow movie-wise. Here, alas, are some viewing highlights from the month of October.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Month in Review: September 2012

Celeste & Jesse Forever, like Ruby Sparks earlier this year, is an indie romance written by its female lead. But where that earlier one succeeded in challenging the clich├ęs of the genre, this one merely hits all the familiar notes. The performances from Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg as the title characters are charming enough, but can't overcome some of the screenplay's flaws.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Movie Review: ROBOT & FRANK

A movie about self-conscious robot assassins in the mode of the Terminator movies probably makes for a sexier tagline than one that could be potentially pitched as essentially about a version of Rosie from The Jetsons cartoon. But that's one of the many charms of the endearing debut from director Jake Schreier, Robot & Frank.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Month in Review: August 2012

One of my favorite films from this April's Florida Film Festival was Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister, also the opening night movie at this Spring's Tribeca Film Festival. I was happy to revisit it during it's release here this summer. Mark Duplass plays his typically aimless man-boy, but it fits his character here. But Emily Blunt and especially Rosemarie Dewitt are the reasons to see this movie, which is funny and sweet, and whose final frame is just about perfect.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Movie Review: PREMIUM RUSH

Navigating the streets of Manhattan on a vehicle is hard enough as a pedestrian or behind the wheel of a car. But imagine having to do it on a bicycle--without the benefit of either a sidewalk or an airbag. Now picture having to do it while delivering documents on a tight deadline. That's the world we're thrown into in the pulsatingly thrilling Premium Rush.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


"There's a downside for everything," someone says midway through Lauren Greenfield's entertaining documentary, The Queen of Versailles. The queen here is Jackie Siegel and "Versailles" is the new house, a 90,000 sq ft, 30-bathroom behemoth in Orlando, being built by her and her husband--David Siegel, founder of Westgate Resorts, the largest time share company in the world. The downside in this case? The house is only half-built, one of a litany of casualties resulting from the recession of recent years.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Month in Review: July 2012

Belatedly, things I watched in July:

After seeing Whit Stillman's terrific Damsels in Distress a couple of months ago, I wanted to catch up on his work. Having already seen his 1990 debut Metropolitan several years ago, I settled on his second feature, Barcelona. Similar to those others, it focuses on characters who are hyper self-aware and upper class, with Stillman's particular ear for affected and stylized dialogue that is both funny and piercing.

My review of The Amazing Spider-Man is linked here. In a summer that also saw The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, I'm pretty comfortable saying--though thoroughly surprised to do so--that it's probably my favorite superhero movie this year.

Like clockwork, Woody Allen comes out with a new film every year. Continuing his recent European tour, he lands in Italy with To Rome With Love, following a large cast of characters in a vain similar to his recent You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger or his mid-90s musical, Everyone Says I Love You. Allen's in typical form here--both as a writer/director and, in a rare occasion (first since 2006's Scoop), as an actor. Like the jazz he loves, a lot of Allen's work these days are merely variations on a theme. It's not Annie Hall, or even Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but if you're attuned to his particular rhythms (and enjoy them), it's worth a try.

I'd provide a link to my review of Seth MacFarlane's Ted, but somehow more than half of it got deleted. I don't care enough to go back and rewrite it, so in a nutshell, I found it sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, most times completely unfunny. MacFarlane tries to be raunchy and offensive without fully getting there. Part of what makes humor work is when the comic goes for it. In this case, I would've actually liked Ted to be raunchier. Much of the remaining humor comes simply from the presence of obscenities. The rest of it is hit-or-miss and a B-story involving a creepy Giovanni Ribisi (redundant?) doesn't work at all.

I caught up with Robert Redford's directorial debut Ordinary People, the Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 1980. It's a dark and emotional film with nice performances all around, including an against-type turn for Mary Tyler Moore (more famous for her comedic work on The Dick Van Dyke Show and her own self-titled sitcom) as the tough mother dealing with the death of one of her sons.

I also attended my first ever press screening for Lauren Greenfield's hit Sundance documentary, The Queen of Versailles. I'll post my (positive) review of it upon its release locally at the Enzian later this month.

If I'm correct, then The Dark Knight Rises is the last superhero comic book movie to be released this summer and, frankly, not a moment too soon. As I alluded to in my review, while I may have enjoyed it sitting in the theater, it immediately loses its luster the moment its assault on you finally stops and your senses begin to recover.


The last superhero... until the next one.

The movie summer of 2012 may very well go down as the summer of the comic book superhero, with one major franchise getting its reboot and two others reaching its apparent apex.


What to expect when you're expecting.

It's impossible, going into any movie you even know the slightest bit of information about, to leave your expectations at the door. As a critic, you do your best to be open to what you're about to see. We want the movies to be good. Sure, quietly I think some enjoy (I sometimes do) being able to make fun of a movie we think is just by most standards laughable. But that's when we encounter a movie that actually deserves it. Otherwise, we approach each movie hoping for the best.

Unless, of course, we expect much less. We're only human after all and it's difficult, with the endless promotions, the commercials, the cross-platform tie-ins, and, more importantly, the multiple-film franchises, to not sit down at a screening without some measure of pre-judgment or, worse, outright cynicism.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Month In Review: June 2012

June was a pretty good month, with several good movies and, unfortunately, a couple of sad passings. Here's what I watched last month.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Movie Review: ROCK OF AGES

"It's all the same, only the names will change."

In 1987, the wailing guitar solos were as big as the hair you couldn't get your headphones around to listen on your Walkman. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) wants to make it big so takes a one-way trip to Hollywood. She's from Oklahoma (aren't they all?) and when she arrives in the big city, there are protesters outside The Bourbon Room, a happening rock club, crying against the depravity this type of music brings to their community. Lugging a suitcase full of her favorite records (to refresh your memory, they're big and made of vinyl), a thug mugs her. Drew (Diego Boneta), a barback at The Bourbon with his own dreams of making it big (don't they all?), sees this and gets her a job as a waitress. Oh, and while most of this is going on, they're singing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Movie Review: PROMETHEUS

Engineer this!

Ridley Scott has said that his new movie, Prometheus, isn't a prequel to Alien, but that it does contain "strands of Alien's DNA." Whatever the basis of that rhetorical distinction means, DNA is an apt term for describing the new film because it is concerned with, more than anything, the beginning of life as we know it.


Someday My Axe-Wielding Drunkard Will Come

A beautiful daughter is born to a king and queen. The queen falls ill and dies, leaving her family in mourning until, many years later, the king rescues in battle the fairest of them all--golden-haired Ravenna (Charlize Theron)--falls in love with her then crowns her the new queen. But she is a wicked one, beholden with magical powers and an omniscient mirror, kills her husband, and enslaves her stepdaughter (Kristen Stewart). If the story sounds familiar, it should.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Month In Review: May 2012

May was a little slower month for me, movie-wise, mostly due to a short trip we made to NYC for my best friend's wedding. Nevertheless, I saw a few terrific movies as well as a couple of duds.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Movie Review: THE AVENGERS

"Superheroes. Get your superheroes."

In case you haven't watched your TV or listened to your radio or read any entertainment magazines recently, The Avengers have finally assembled--the Marvel Studios culmination of seven years and five previous movies, inevitably leading to this super-est of super hero franchises, The Traveling Wilburys of comic book movies. It's an oddly mixed bag of high concept spectacle and witty banter, where multiple stories collide like a disaster movie. (That's not to say that the movie itself is a disaster.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Month in Review - April 2012

For me, April is always dominated by the ten days of the Florida Film Festival. I've written at some length about it already, so I won't expound anymore than to merely say it is a simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting week-and-a-half of movie watching. I watched some great movies, met a couple of very nice filmmakers, and experienced it for the first time as a somewhat legitimate member of the press.


Monday, April 23, 2012

2012 Florida Film Festival - Highlights, Day 7-10


Documentary as activism isn't new to the festival (representatives from Amnesty International were in attendance of the Give Up Tomorrow screening earlier in the week, for example). Films traveling a festival circuit is certainly a way to create awareness. This, perhaps serendipitously, is the case with Girl Model. The film fundamentally follows the stories of two people: Nadya, a 14-year-old, Siberian girl who is plucked from a gaggle of other young Russian girls that are on display on stage to be hired as Japanese ad models; and Ashley, herself a former model a decade or so ago, who now is well-employed as a scout choosing girls like Nadya.

Friday, April 20, 2012

2012 Florida Film Festival - Highlights, Day 6

Two more movies on Wednesday that exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, Kid-Thing from FFF regulars the Zellner Brothers and the biopic, The Lady, from popular French director, Luc Besson.

The Lady follows the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese expatriate living with her husband and two kids in London, suddenly becoming the symbolic and political leader of a burgeoning democratic movement in her home country. The movie is framed by two separate events: the assassination of Suu's father, Aung San, who himself was instrumental in bringing independence and democracy to Burma; and the cancer diagnosis of her British husband, Michael Aris.

And I think this is part of the failure of this movie. By framing Suu's story as both a political one and a personal one, it seems to not do real justice to either. Michelle Yeoh as Suu and David Thewlis as Michael are very good here and do their best to convey their support for each other as longtime partners. But the real-life events of the couple being separated for years while she was in exile in Burma and the movie's decision to not include their courtship and instead jump into their relationship well after their kids had been born doesn't give us any connection to their connection. But the moments of Michael and Suu having protracted phone conversations (don't get me started on how many times someone says, "Hello? Are you there?" followed by a dial tone) and pining to be with each other also take up time that could be better utilized explaining her politics or showing how she was able to mobilize her significant supporters.

If The Lady does little to surpass the conventions of the standard biopic, Kid-Thing complies no ideas of convention. Throughout the early moments I was ready to dismiss the meandering story of Annie, a ruthlessly delinquent child, living on a farm with her mostly inattentive father. But amongst stealing from convenience stores, throwing uncooked biscuit dough at passing cars, and shooting dead cows with paintballs, a potentially tragic discovery gives her at least some semblance of direction. The Zellner's perfectly calibrated pacing and tone matches a great performance by newcomer Sydney Aguirre. The movie languishes in its poor rural setting, but it always knows where it's going. And by that final frame, Kid-Thing just hits the most perfect note.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 Florida Film Festival - Highlights, Day 4 & 5

The beginning of the week often provides a brief respite from the busy weekend of movies at the start of the festival and Monday and Tuesday were no different, as I attended only three screenings--all features--during that time. Two of those movies, Dog Years and The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, were not only among the best of the fest so far, but also emblematic of what I think this festival and probably many others represent.


Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Florida Film Festival - Highlights, Day 3

Sunday's Day 3 was a relatively protracted day of screenings, watching only two feature documentaries along with their accompanying documentary shorts. If part of the allure of film festivals is to experience a wide variety of movies, then a natural result of that is being able to experience vastly different cultures. And the two documentary features I screened Sunday--in widely disparate ways--were eye-opening looks at places and situations that exist on the other side of world.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

2012 Florida Film Festival - Highlights, Day 2

Day 2, which is actually the first full day of the Florida Film Festival, always (ALWAYS, I tell you!) seems to begin not with a bang, but with a stutter. Technical difficulties at the makeshift tickets booths outside the Regal screenings generally mark the beginning of each year's festival before things settle down as the week progresses.

In any case, the two Saturdays are usually the busiest days for me during the festival, as I normally try to fit in 5 or 6 screenings. I (and my sister, who joined me for the entirety of Day 2) opted for only five this time, skipping one of our scheduled movies for something I like to call dinner.

Khen Shalem's THE OTHER SIDE

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Florida Film Festival - A Brief Preview

The arrival of spring is usually one I greet with dread. Plants in bloom make my sinuses go "boom". The Florida heat is beginning to rear its ugly head and this past winter--or should I say "winter"--was almost nonexistent. But another April means another Florida Film Festival. And another week-plus of movie watching and hopping from screen to screen or from theater to theater and sneaking in a meal in between films (or during films) and more movie watching.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Month In Review: March 2012

In a new, hopefully regular feature here, I'll be briefly writing about things I've seen over the past month but didn't get a chance to discuss in longer form. Here's what I watched in March.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Marchons! Marchons!

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of that obscure, little movie called Casablanca. In honor of such an occasion, Turner Classic Movies presented a special screening of the movie in theaters all across the country. At least in my area, the theaters showing the movie had two screenings, 2 pm and 7 pm. I attended the matinee screening and, somewhat surprisingly for a early Wednesday afternoon, the theater was packed. Unsurprisingly, that audience skewed much older than me. But peppered in the crowd were some younger folk and some who hadn't yet seen the film. (The girl next to me, for instance, audibly gasped when Ilsa brandished a gun in Rick's upstairs quarters.)

As prelude to the movie, TCM's Robert Osborne hosted about a 15-20 minute documentary discussing the legacy of the Michael Curtiz film. A doc like that is fine when randomly on TV or as a supplement on a DVD, but when it precedes the actual movie, it dilutes its power. So much of it consisted of scenes from the movie that I felt as if I were witnessing the movie pass before me instead of watching it, even though that act was still to come.

In any case, the movie started with nary a hitch. Sure the much older, shabbily dressed gentleman two seats away from me burped several times during the screening. And when I say burp, I don't mean one of those things you do as you put your hand to your mouth and silently let out a breath. These were belches, audible certainly to those other than myself, especially to the four elderly women sitting right next to him. Outside of that, the only other distractions came from the faint whispers of those reciting the more quotable lines of the film. I could hear the woman in front of me say (along with Bogey), "We'll always have Paris," then (not with Bogey), "Awwwww!"

Duplass, who zooms his camera.

In the Duplass brothers' Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Jeff (Jason Segel), who--more accurately--lives in his mother's basement, is presented as your typical slacker. Or at least your typical movie slacker. He's a couch potato, he loves his bong, and a pair of shorts and a hoodie is his sartorial preference. He also believes in signs. Or should I say he believes in Signs, the 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. The M. Night Shymalan film gets Jeff thinking. Thinking that everything happens for a reason. That something great is his destiny. That everything is connected. That the wrong-number phone call he gets in the basement for somebody named Kevin is a sign that he must follow the first "Kevin" he sees into a bad neighborhood and play a pick-up basketball game with him.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Closing the books on '11

2011 was a kind of spectacular movie year. From middlebrow, awards-bait movies to foreign dramas, obscure indies to highly ambitious visual epics, small-scale documentaries to big-budget blockbusters, the past year had a treasure of riches that ran the gamut of styles and tastes. And we are now getting to a point where the availability of these vast array of titles is rapidly growing. Yes, you can see the latest $200 million action flick or buddy comedy at your local megaplex. But you can also discover any number of smaller, more obscure movies or even rediscover those Hollywood blockbusters at your own leisure in the comfort of your own home with the growing access to streaming titles online and on demand. As I endeavored to narrow down my favorite movies of the past year, I began to notice how this access affected what I chose. And because of it, my top 10 has maybe the widest variety it has had since I started making these year-end lists.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Earthly matters never cease to surprise."

In Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the titular character suspects to his sister-in-law Jen that his terminal kidney illness is karma for past deeds. Deeds that aren't necessarily wrong or immoral given the context. Except of course, in this film, we aren't really given the context. In an earlier scene, the apparition of Boonmee's late wife, Huay, sits down at the outdoor dinner table. Moments later a monkey ghost--an invented mythological creature to us, a thought-to-be mythological creature in the world of the movie--creeps up the stairs. Somehow, Boonmee and Jen intuit that the creature is actually half monkey ghost and half human and is Boonmee's long lost son, Boonsong.

Everyday People

A Separation--from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi--begins and ends with a two-shot, each with the same two characters. But while the first has them facing the same direction, side-by-side, it serves as a harbinger of the rupture that will eventually befall two separate families. They are directly facing the camera and, despite their opposing desires, are active and adamant in their stances. By that final shot though, they're simply waiting, the wear of the baggage accumulated through the course of the movie pushing them to either ends of the frame that might as well be a mile long.

Monday, January 9, 2012

That's just like jello on springs.

There are movie stars... and then there are movie stars. And then there was Marilyn Monroe. By 1956 she had already accumulated wealth and fame, as well as three husbands. In the summer of that year, she and that newly-acquired third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, made a trip to England. But it was no honeymoon. The two traveled to England because Monroe was set to work on a film called The Sleeping Prince (later changed to The Prince and the Showgirl). This is the subject of a new movie by Simon Curtis, My Week With Marilyn, based on the memoirs of Colin Clark.

Check the rhime.

As with many things, I am often a bit behind the curve when it comes to music. (My car radio is always locked on the oldies station for example). I caught on to hip hop when I was in middle school, at the height--or just after--of gangsta rap. And as with other genres, I find something I like, then work backwards. The first time I heard of A Tribe Called Quest was catching the video for "Award Tour" on MTV sometime in the early 90s. I was in love. It was not the aggressive and bleak stuff coming out of Compton at the time. It was laid back and jazzy; the video was sepia-toned. I bought the album, Midnight Marauders. That was their third album and, as I said, I had to catch up by going backwards.

Please, no more days.

At the very beginning of Lone Scherfig's One Day, a character is doing something that, say, if you've ever watched another movie, pretty clearly foreshadows a major incident later in the film. That the movie then jumps back about 20 years, just about confirms it.

It ain't over 'til it's over (or at least when the credits roll).

Baseball people, and that includes myself, are slow to change and accept new ideas.
--Branch Rickey

Late in Bennett Miller's Moneyball, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) asks Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), "How can you not be romantic about baseball?" That's true of course because it is the most revered of American sports. Football may have the most fervent fan base. Basketball may be the most globally popular. But baseball is still America's pastime. And in a lot of ways it still has a lot of trouble letting go of some of its traditions.