The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

RUM DIARY Review

Let me be the first to say that I have never seen "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in its entirety and so that first, early incarnation of Hunter S. Thompson that Johnny Depp took had no impact on me as I viewed "The Rum Diary". This film, unlike the previosuly mentioned one is actually based on one of Thompsons earliest novels that wasn't published until 1998. It feels more a small chapter out of an autobiography than a complete story though. It even says just before the end credits roll that this is indeed the end of one story and the beginning of another. It might have been better for the audience had this been combined with that story that follows. While I enjoyed aspects of this movie, and besides having Depp as the headliner there is a great supporting cast here as well. Still, this is unable to translate anything more than a handful of moments that periodically bring life to a rather standard story line. Depp gives it a good go, that is clear but the urgency with which the story is told, the originality, the poignancy, the wit and brains that seemed to exude in Thompsons writings doesn't seem to translate to the screen in a way that is as impressive as I'd hoped it to be.

Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) complains to new hire Paul Kemp
(Johnny Depp) about his drinking habits.
The story follows Depp's take on Thompson who is here called Paul Kemp as he arrives in Puerto Rico to take a writing position at a failing news publication. It is here we first meet Richard Jenkins (doing a great job with a small part as usual) as the editor, Lotterman. Depp's Kemp also encounters Sala as played by Michael Rispoli and as they hit it off pretty well they decide to room together after Kemp gets kicked out of his hotel for drinking one too many mini's on the newspapers tab. Rispoli has an inspired character here and for as many loose strings as this story leads us down the only real guidance seems to come from Sala as he keeps up with Kemp and in a way gives us a tour through Puerto Rico as he does with Kemp. The two share their dump of an apartment with another writer at the newspaper who only shows up once a month. As played by the somewhat over the top Giovanni Ribisi, Moburg is a man who's brain has been lost to the drink and to drugs. He offers up the more off the wall moments that you expect when seeing a film based on a Thompson work, but the problem is they almost feel out of place as the rest of the film is so by the book standard. Kemp stumbles into the company of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), an American entrepreneur looking to turn the beautiful parts of the island into a major cash flow and convienently needs Kemps help to run good advertising for him. The plot never gets as dirty as it should, and the underdeveloped love story between Kemp and Sanderson's gorgeous girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard) feels way too tacked on to be neatly resolved by a line of text before the credits.

Kemp becomes acquainted with Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart)
and his girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard).
It may sound like I am almost disgusted by the film, but that isn't entirely true. Depp and Rispoli have a few great moments, especially as they exit a local cafe that refuses to serve them food. The site of Depp breathing fire and riding atop Sala as they galavant down a Puerto Rican street in an old busted up car is priceless. They are bits of comedy that are well executed and though I have never seen any other of writer/director Bruce Robinson's films it is clear he is capable of capturing a tone and working with his actors to have them compliment that tone. Where the problem lies is in his standard storytelling style that does not in fact match the tone. The hot, sticky atmosphere of Puerto Rico is captured in every frame and that greasy greed exudes from Eckhart's Sanderson while the drunken haze, that gritty existence is given shots of life every time Depp and Rispoli get together. It is almost unnatural the way their actions don't match the reputation. Eckhart is an able actor, but his Sanderson should be much more menacing, a figure that epitomizes corrupted power and a real enemy that we want our protagonist to take down. Instead, he almost comes off as a harmless rich boy who is going to run to daddy if his plans don't go well and his peers don't do as he tells them. There is a sense of emptiness to the film as it slams on the breaks and concludes abruptly, leaving us not necessarily with a yearning for more, but with deflated dreams that the film as a whole was going to reflect the energy we were given in the trailer.

Kemp takes a ride with his new found friends Sala
(Michael Rispoli) and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi).
The film, for me, almost is the pinnacle of something you expect too much of. That Thompsons reputation precedes him and gives you such high expectations of the zaniness that will surely ensue in a story that once you actually experience it and realize, "I guess they are only human and their adventures had to be some kind of relatable." you are, in more ways than one let down by the final product. But more than being let down, I was dissapointed. Dissapointed that this did not live up to not the standards, not even the expectations, but the whole level of who this guy was as a person. Depp is one of the most famous people on earth, and has become so making off the wall characters acceptable in mainstream society. With the reputation "Fear and Loathing" has I expected Depp's own reputation to prove true when he translated Thompson to the screen as well. And while I am still interested in some day viewing all of Depp's aforementioned venture into Thompson land, I have to say this didn't exactly up my excitement for what I will be seeing. Though Terry Gilliam was probably much more experimental than Robinson has treated "The Rum Diary" there is still an aspect of Thomspons writing that you can't take away from the material. That is what this film is missing, it just needs that extra bit of gonzo.

RUM DIARY Review

Let me be the first to say that I have never seen "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in its entirety and so that first, early incarnation of Hunter S. Thompson that Johnny Depp took had no impact on me as I viewed "The Rum Diary". This film, unlike the previosuly mentioned one is actually based on one of Thompsons earliest novels that wasn't published until 1998. It feels more a small chapter out of an autobiography than a complete story though. It even says just before the end credits roll that this is indeed the end of one story and the beginning of another. It might have been better for the audience had this been combined with that story that follows. While I enjoyed aspects of this movie, and besides having Depp as the headliner there is a great supporting cast here as well. Still, this is unable to translate anything more than a handful of moments that periodically bring life to a rather standard story line. Depp gives it a good go, that is clear but the urgency with which the story is told, the originality, the poignancy, the wit and brains that seemed to exude in Thompsons writings doesn't seem to translate to the screen in a way that is as impressive as I'd hoped it to be.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 Review

I almost feel like a sucker when I pay to go see these movies. It is something you cannot help though. Besides the fact they are made for almost nothing and feature no-name actors, the "paranormal" movies continue to prove themselves as the only reliable source for honest scares at the movies. I was skeptical when it was announced they would be making a sequel to a film that in no way, shape or form seemed like it would be possible to create a credible follow-up. I was proved wrong when, after exiting the theater last October I was more shaken then I was the previous year after seeing the original. Again, I hoped they wouldn't run the chance of ruining the franchise by making a third one, but here we are the week of Halloween 2011 and I have just seen the third and arguably scariest installment of the series. Audiences may scream and yell at the screen and I was a little disappointed a lot of the footage from the creepy trailer didn't end up in the final film, but nonetheless the overall effect this third film has on you makes it easy to second guess every noise you hear at night as you try to get to sleep. Bringing on the guys who crafted last years oddly intriguing "Catfish" allows the "found footage" gag to still remain credible while taking the literal paranormal activity in the film to new heights.

Young Katie and Kristi play a round of Bloody Mary.
To break it down, if you thought the second one explained anything, wait till you see what this third film has to offer. Going back to when sisters Katie and Kristi were young in a slightly modernized 1988, this latest feature addresses what brought the demons to pick on these two young women. There is still no mention of their father as we are introduced to their mother and her new boyfriend, a wedding videographer named Dennis. Shortly after Kristi develops a friendship with a new invisible friend named Toby wierd things begin to happen. Dennis being a man who feels the need to film everything, and in some way feel as if he's doing something useful, starts to document the family's day to day as he recognizes the level of strange. Naturally, their mother ignores Dennis' claims and is forced to learn the hard way. The film is paced just as well as the previous installments with that being the trick to its frightening success. The paranormal movies don't go for in your face scares with disfigured creatures or perfectly timed sound effects but instead they thrive on your anticipation. And while this one is able to take the things that go bump in the night to a new level the scares are still subtle with the effect being even greater.

In relation to the methods these movies use to scare there audience it is almost an experiment in what people really want from their scary movies. Not in a long time have I felt tense when watching a glossy hollywood production that enlists some major villian to chase down and kill his victims. As odd as it may sound, movies using the "found footage" technique are almost the only way to go if you want to craft a legitametely frightening film. It adds a sense of reality. It does not take you out of the situation, but instead gives you the feeling you could just as easily be staring into nothing yet be positive you heard something move. The makers know this and they know that story is just as important as well. The combination is what continues to make these films a hit. We are intrigued by the plight of these two young women. We have seen what they have come to be and in being given a glimpse as to how they got there we ponder just as many new questions as answers we recieve. Why the simultaneous events of the first two films occured is given purpose when we hear little Kristi utter those words, "Okay, I'll do it!" to Toby but once we experience an unexpected turn in the finale it is hard to imagine how these girls turned out so normal.

Little Kristi encounters some strange experiences with
her new friend Toby.
As I did last year I hope they don't stretch this series out to the point it becomes a joke or too hokey and people no longer flock to see them. I am really rooting for the franchise to remain credible but can accept the fact they will likely be able to squeeze one more film out of this. Those inbetween years would easily be better if we knew nothing of how they were raised but there is a yearning to know how the girls turned out so unjaded as adults in the first two movies. It would be even harder to explain having this much "found footage" on these two young girls lives but I am sure there will be some creative twist on that though I can only buy the fact every man in their lives has an obsession with cameras. I would be pleased if this was the last "Paranormal Activity" but have no doubt I will be in a theater a year from now watching either the teenage years or the aftermath of what happened in films one and two. In ways I can't complain because I stand by the fact these are the only "real" scary movies on the market and to have no more would be to go without any hope for the horror genre. On the other side of things, if this turns into the "Saw" franchise, I'm gonna be pissed. I trust you Oren Peli, you haven't let us down so far. Don't start now.


PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 Review

I almost feel like a sucker when I pay to go see these movies. It is something you cannot help though. Besides the fact they are made for almost nothing and feature no-name actors, the "paranormal" movies continue to prove themselves as the only reliable source for honest scares at the movies. I was skeptical when it was announced they would be making a sequel to a film that in no way, shape or form seemed like it would be possible to create a credible follow-up. I was proved wrong when, after exiting the theater last October I was more shaken then I was the previous year after seeing the original. Again, I hoped they wouldn't run the chance of ruining the franchise by making a third one, but here we are the week of Halloween 2011 and I have just seen the third and arguably scariest installment of the series. Audiences may scream and yell at the screen and I was a little disappointed a lot of the footage from the creepy trailer didn't end up in the final film, but nonetheless the overall effect this third film has on you makes it easy to second guess every noise you hear at night as you try to get to sleep. Bringing on the guys who crafted last years oddly intriguing "Catfish" allows the "found footage" gag to still remain credible while taking the literal paranormal activity in the film to new heights.

THE BIG YEAR Review

What went wrong here? That was all I could think as I watched the depressingly below standard "comedy" that is "The Big Year". Upon first hearing about the project it seemed like a dream team of a film. I really enjoy the work of both Owen Wilson and Jack Black no matter how bad Black's work and box office have slowly gone down hill the past few years. Wilson on the other hand has had a pretty great year with "Midnight in Paris" as well as "Hall Pass" and "Cars 2" making solid entries at the box office if not exactly stellar products in the critic's eyes. Having Steve Martin here was just a bonus, though he has resorted to more family friendly films recently, "It's Complicated" gave a glimpse of that inappropriate funny guy again. Having him team up with this younger generation of comedic actors might not have been "Bowfinger" but I certainly expected more than this. Especially with David Frankel at the helm. He and Wilson made a hit out of "Marley and Me" not to mention he made the fashion world appealing to all with "The Devil Wears Prada". So again, what went wrong here?

Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson compete
to spot as many species of birds as they can in
a single year.
Let's start with the subject of the film: birding. I don't have an issue with this as much as I do the execution of it. I have no doubt the book this idea spawned from was rather charming and insightful to a world so many people don't even acknowledge. Some of the tidbits Black's character narrates hint at what a vast world and regal aura these animals have around them and to the people who dedicate their lives to studying and seeing them. What is wrong with the film is that it hardly seems to let us into this world. It doesn't convince us of a real reason as to why these men are so passionate about their feathered friends, there is no motivation that shows us reason for the passion. This leaves us not in the dark but in a state where we are made to accept that it isn't out of the ordinary for regular guys to have a goal in life that requires them seeing hundreds of species of birds in a year. The whole movie though feels like a half hearted effort. There is no urgency in the pacing, even as the competition draws to a close. There is nothing that elicits big laughs and besides the fact this feels unnecessarily tamed down to be a family film all it really means is that this is a waste of a collaboration that should have been much more rewarding.

Black's Brad Harris and Martin's Stu
Preissler become good friends...
The story centers around Black's Brad Harris who is 36, divorced, and working at a job he hates. Brad's one passion is birds and has a gift of being able to recognize them by their songs. Black actually does turn in a solid performance here though he is made to narrate the film in what feels like a really amateur move by Frankel. We are told the feelings everyone is going through even though we clearly get what the images and the actors are telling us. It is as if the story was so scattered in the directors mind that he had to rely on his protagonist to keep everything straight in his head. Maybe he thought this might help the audience as well, but in reality we understand what's going on here and don't need to be talked down to, I felt almost insulted as an audience member, that we were underestimated in not being able to understand the aspirations, goals, and purposes for Black, Martin's, and Wilson's characters. The actors should almost feel the same way. Wilson does his best here to bring his usual zestful charm to a man who is the current record holder for seeing the most birds in his big year but is also too distracted by his own interests to realize the wants and needs of his wife who desires to have a baby with him. This role brings up another disappointing aspect of the film. The lovely and talented Rosamund Pike plays Wilson's Kenny Bostick's wife but it is such an underdeveloped, stock character her time feels wasted. The same can be said for Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale, Rashida Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parsons and Anjelica Huston. Brian Dennehy almost makes the list as well, but a scene late in the film with he and Black is one of the films only honest moments.

...while Wilson's Kenny Bostick is determined to not allow
his new competitor's to break his record.
Throughout the course of watching these three men trying to accomplish their goal of completing a big year that also serves as a kind of metaphor for them attaining that position in life where they feel content is what drives the movie. It should be about finding a satisfaction in life that no one can give you but yourself, but instead this feels like a standard inspirational film that would have played better as a TV movie. The worst part being that three great talents were wasted on such a tame piece of material. When you hear Jack Black, Owen Wilson, and Steve Martin you should not be wrong in expecting a collaboration that will produce a fair amount of laughs and a comedy film that proves itself worthwhile. But instead, "The Big Year" feels like a rushed effort that unlike its subject matter, never gets its feet off the ground. The fact the marketing for this film was horrible doesn't help either. Why did we not get a trailer until less than a month before its release date? Why was such a star-loaded vehicle put on the back burner? And why even sign these three on for a movie if you aren't going to go big or go home? This is an average movie, that when you take it for what it is: a reliable film that has its moments, and will make you chuckle a few times but never laugh out loud. It is when you begin to think of what this could have been that "The Big Year" seems more of a disappointment than ever.


THE BIG YEAR Review

What went wrong here? That was all I could think as I watched the depressingly below standard "comedy" that is "The Big Year". Upon first hearing about the project it seemed like a dream team of a film. I really enjoy the work of both Owen Wilson and Jack Black no matter how bad Black's work and box office have slowly gone down hill the past few years. Wilson on the other hand has had a pretty great year with "Midnight in Paris" as well as "Hall Pass" and "Cars 2" making solid entries at the box office if not exactly stellar products in the critic's eyes. Having Steve Martin here was just a bonus, though he has resorted to more family friendly films recently, "It's Complicated" gave a glimpse of that inappropriate funny guy again. Having him team up with this younger generation of comedic actors might not have been "Bowfinger" but I certainly expected more than this. Especially with David Frankel at the helm. He and Wilson made a hit out of "Marley and Me" not to mention he made the fashion world appealing to all with "The Devil Wears Prada". So again, what went wrong here?

FOOTLOOSE Review

My dad allowed me the experience of growing up listening to that Kenny Loggins tune that makes it impossible to not stomp your feet. It was through the music that I also learned to love that 1984 Kevin Bacon film. Yea, it was cheesy in moments, but it was the overall affect it had on me as a viewer that really made it memorable. So, needless to say I was among the biggest of doubters when it was announced they would be remaking "Footloose". Why? There was no point to mess with the legacy of a little 80's film that the youth of that decade held so dear, but I assumed some Hollywood producer thought it wise enough that they could cash in on nostalgia and thus, we sit here with a remake of the film. Before I go any further, after seeing it, I have to say it isn't hard to give this thing a fair shot. Yea, it's pretty much the same movie, but it has an edge to it; an appeal that crosses the generational boundaries and allows a brand new group of teenagers to discover what it means to cut loose. In the screening I attended I sat between a man and wife who looked to be in their late forty's and had brought their kids. On the other side were two younger teenage girls. It was clear both groups enjoyed this just as much as the other. Whether it be for reasons of reminiscing or that first experience, the new "Footloose" has a little somethin' for everyone.

Ren (Kenny Wormald) meets his new best friend Willard
(Miles Teller) in this remake of "Footloose".
Like I said, we get the same basic story here with little alteration, city kid Ren McCormack is forced to move in with his aunt and uncle in a small town called Bomont after he loses his mother. Ren is a gymnast, a dancer, someone who has no intentions of being tied down or told how to live his life. That doesn't make him disrespectful or any kind of trouble, he is a good kid, but his reputation precedes him in most cases. Upon first seeing the trailer for the film I feared the worst after seeing clips of newcomer Kenny Wormald's performance. He seemed a little stiff, as if he were trying to hard, but the former Justin Timberlake back-up dancer brings his A-game and delivers a performance that is both bombastic and subtle. He handles the wide range of emotion and sensation the audience should receive from the movie with ease and in those little iconic moments of Bacon-dom he gets it right. Julianne Hough adds a nice amount of sass to the tone as well as the preachers daughter Ariel Moore. Hough hasn't yet had her moment to shine outside of her comfort zone, but this gig points to good things for her. We knew the girl could dance, but it was if she could pull off the troubled teen persona that made me wonder. As with Wormald, I can't help but to give her kudos. What director Craig Brewer really gets right though is the supporting cast. He has fleshed out these other characters with actors that feel genuine, truly southern and whether it be great touches like Ray McKinnon as Ren's Uncle Wes or Dennis Quaid as Reverend Moore, they all contribute to the amount of heart this film has that puts it right up there with the original.

Rev. Moore (Dennis Quaid) and his wifeVi (Andie
MacDowell) discuss their daughters behavior.
What is really a treat about this new "Footloose" is the fact it doesn't care what you think about it. This care-free attitude is no doubt a result of Brewer's decision to take on the project and while paying plenty of homage to the original allows it to stretch into today's cultural scene and grab some dancing styles. What might be my favorite aspect of the film is the incorporation of hip-hop, country line dancing, and just pure all out rhythm that motivates everything our protagonist does. The film is centered around that timeless need to live for the moment and make it memorable and in doing so Brewer, as he has done with his two previous films ("Hustle & Flow" and "Black Snake Moan") we see people dealing with tragedy in their own way while also realizing the effects those choices have on other people. While that may make this sound a heavier film than anticipated, don't fret, there are plenty of laughs to be had here. The real shining star though ultimately goes to Miles Teller as Willard. The guy steals every scene he is in and allows a better balance for the film overall. Teller is a gifted actor who knows how to serve the story and he is able to support Wormald's performance in a way that makes the whole affair come off as more credible, something the original was slightly lacking in.

Cut Loose.
I realize there may not have been a real reason to remake "Footloose" but truth is, they are going to happen. We will likely see "Flashdance" and "Dirty Dancing" remakes in the near future, but if they are going to happen, truth is you could do much worse. Walking into "Footloose" you know what to expect and at the very least you get that. In my case though, I really felt a sense of fun. In fact, the entire theater did. As the high school seniors on screen reared up for their first real "prom" you could taste the excitement; and when that new version of Loggin's ole' foot stomper kicked in the entire, packed theater mind you, began to clap. Literally. This turned the film into an experience. A week ago I had no desire to see this film, it was an unavoidable mess in my opinion. My mind has been changed, director Brewer did a fine job and paid tribute in just the right ways while expanding on the original in aspects that only improved it. There is nothing more you could ask of a film such as this, and I can't help but to think what a strange situation this must have felt like for everyone working on it, to have to know people are rooting against you but to still come out, prove them wrong and on top of that, leave them with the best feeling they could possibly feel as they leave the theater: the need to dance.


FOOTLOOSE Review

My dad allowed me the experience of growing up listening to that Kenny Loggins tune that makes it impossible to not stomp your feet. It was through the music that I also learned to love that 1984 Kevin Bacon film. Yea, it was cheesy in moments, but it was the overall affect it had on me as a viewer that really made it memorable. So, needless to say I was among the biggest of doubters when it was announced they would be remaking "Footloose". Why? There was no point to mess with the legacy of a little 80's film that the youth of that decade held so dear, but I assumed some Hollywood producer thought it wise enough that they could cash in on nostalgia and thus, we sit here with a remake of the film. Before I go any further, after seeing it, I have to say it isn't hard to give this thing a fair shot. Yea, it's pretty much the same movie, but it has an edge to it; an appeal that crosses the generational boundaries and allows a brand new group of teenagers to discover what it means to cut loose. In the screening I attended I sat between a man and wife who looked to be in their late forty's and had brought their kids. On the other side were two younger teenage girls. It was clear both groups enjoyed this just as much as the other. Whether it be for reasons of reminiscing or that first experience, the new "Footloose" has a little somethin' for everyone.

TREE OF LIFE Review

It is difficult to even know where to begin when discussing "The Tree of Life". I guess to say that I anxiously awaited seeing this film for its pure grandeur and scope made the actual experience of watching the film all the more engaging. Let me be clear in saying that it is indeed an experience when sitting down to take the journey director Terrence Malick has concocted here. He has seemingly taken all of the questions he has wondered his entire life, whether they be about God, our purpose on this earth, where we came from and what it all means and placed them into this somewhat experiment of a movie that tries to give us his thoughts on it all. It is a movie that while it does include a short sequence with dinosaurs as well as a mind blowing, visually stunning sequence in which we see the heavens and galaxies created, is mainly about how we function as living organisms and what choices we make every day determines the life we will lead, the memories we will have, and how small we really are in the whole scheme of things. Malick does this without losing focus of how this all relates to a young boy growing up in the 1950's. It is a stunning, emotional film that will forever change the way I view not just filmmaking, but my life.

In trying to explain my thoughts on the film it seems best to divide it into two sections and while it is clear that Malick's intention was to give a chill inducing realization to the role our lives play in the bigger universe the film never came off to me as disconnected. This is a coherent story, one that will test your patience if you go into this unprepared, but if you are familiar with Malick and his style you will enjoy every moment of his biggest statement to date. The film begins with a quote from Job, the one that reads, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth ... when the morning stars sang together?" this leads to the focus on the Texas family who we get to know intimately as a loving graceful mother in Jessica Chastain and a naturalistic, periodic father played with great anger and resentment by Brad Pitt. He is a righteous man, always giving, searching but never seeming to reach that ideal state of livelihood that he saw himself experiencing as a young man. Like Job, he feels he has lost everything and yearns to avoid such things falling upon his children. These opposing forces that are his parents cause serious conflict within their eldest son. In thanks to Sean Penn we are able to see this son as an older man and how he still wrestles with the influences that were instilled in him as a young boy. We are constantly hearing voice overs, many from the son, Jack, wondering aloud what are no doubt Malick's personal musings. The film is resolved when jack finds his own way to resolution no matter how abstract that might actually be. It is a testament to nature vs. nurture and how instead of one winning out over the other that instead that we, as mankind are able to navigate between both of them.

These philosophical questions the film attempts to answer only tend to spawn hundreds more. This keeps us on the edge of our seat as does every frame of the film. Malick is easily one of the most recognizable filmmakers in terms of his style and he does not disappoint here. Every frame could be hung on a wall as a beautiful portrait. He finds such interesting ways to frame things and with minimal dialogue is able to convey powerfully every emotion that is going on between those on screen as well as evoke a response from the viewer. What is great and indeed powerful about Malick's camera work is that even though we can tell this is different than anything we may have seen before we can't immediately put our finger on what separates it. It is a technique all his own, more sensations than concrete moments. One's he has clearly meditated over and very carefully chosen for specific reason why he has chosen to deliver this story, these visuals in the way he does. For many, this seems to be the biggest division in "The Tree of Life" and that is why I wanted to discuss them separately. One being the visuals the other being the story. It would be easy to dismiss the film as a series of pretty pictures that is at times, indulgent. I can't help but disagree though as a visual style of this film so greatly forms an inseparable relationship between those visuals and the story that it is telling. Everything enforces the beautiful images further, the way in which the characters speak and move as well as the way it is edited and how it comes out as an overall soulful experience. The early montages of the creation of our world and the galaxies around it to the molecular cells that sparked our race are representative of natures power that allows it to go on whether we as humans survive or not.

The film is best described as an epic. An event, that is more ambitious and is itself a small piece of a larger puzzle that Malick seems to be searching to complete. The state of mind in which you walk away from this film will no doubt baffle you, you may not understand it and no matter how long you seem to concentrate on it and try to decipher all the meaning it means to convey you still feel as if you haven;t even scratched the surface. Even after going through this review I feel i have left out so much, I have missed so much of what Malick was attempting to tell me. The best part about this though is that it means this is a challenging film. It is gorgeous and unconventional, but it truly makes you think. It makes you wonder. There are so many layers to this movie, but it works due to that central drama of the family in Texas and I have to go by instinct here and believe Malick is giving us a glimpse into how his childhood memories still ring in his mind every day. How he felt, how he questioned the ways of which he was expected to act and the defiance with which he dreamed to achieve. Even that sentence feels to small in scale to explain the film, but at its core, that is where we are taken. This is unlike anything else you will see or have seen before, I don't know what else to say. Please see this, and please give it a chance. It will change you, at least for the moment.


TREE OF LIFE Review

It is difficult to even know where to begin when discussing "The Tree of Life". I guess to say that I anxiously awaited seeing this film for its pure grandeur and scope made the actual experience of watching the film all the more engaging. Let me be clear in saying that it is indeed an experience when sitting down to take the journey director Terrence Malick has concocted here. He has seemingly taken all of the questions he has wondered his entire life, whether they be about God, our purpose on this earth, where we came from and what it all means and placed them into this somewhat experiment of a movie that tries to give us his thoughts on it all. It is a movie that while it does include a short sequence with dinosaurs as well as a mind blowing, visually stunning sequence in which we see the heavens and galaxies created, is mainly about how we function as living organisms and what choices we make every day determines the life we will lead, the memories we will have, and how small we really are in the whole scheme of things. Malick does this without losing focus of how this all relates to a young boy growing up in the 1950's. It is a stunning, emotional film that will forever change the way I view not just filmmaking, but my life.

REAL STEEL Review

It is easy to dismiss "Real Steel" as a rock 'em sock 'em robot movie that is here to capitalize on the success of the "Transformers" films. I sure did, and up until rather late in the promotion campaign did I really have any desire to see the film. It was odd to think director Shawn Levy, who mostly worked in family films and comedies such as the "Night at the Museum" series and last years "Date Night" would be able to pull off a big budget action flick with tons of special effects and Hugh Jackman at its core. Strip away all that though and what we have is an inspiring father and son story that, while I admit has its cheesy parts, is exactly the kind of movie I would have loved when I was younger. Levy balances the tender bonding moments with the fight scenes rather well and I never cried boredom during the entire two hour run time. This is one of those films that if you see it as a 10 or 12 year old it becomes ingrained in your childhood memories and you forever relate to it as nostalgia. That I can so easily relate this to that kind of emotion not only makes me love the movie more than I ever thought I would, but it makes me appreciate that it was even made. So many films for younger audiences these days are either slanted too far to one side whether it be animated movies for youngsters or juvenile tween comedies only 13-17 year old's could stomach. "Real Steel" is truly a movie for everyone and if you aren't cheering at the end, well, you really need to re-discover that kid you used to be, because they would have loved this.

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) instructs his robot
boxer "Noisy Boy" what to do in his next bout.
Hugh Jackman has always proved an interesting actor to me. Outside of Wolverine I have never felt the guy really had a career. Though I loved him in Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" as well as Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" I never viewed them as hits that the general public were able to access and take away from them a performance that allowed them to see Jackman outside his adamantium clawed persona. This, for me, is his first real commercial success outside of the "X-Men" franchise and I couldn't be happier for him, because he is clearly an uber-talented guy that just hasn't caught his break. For Jackman not to be defined by that comic role is critical to how he will be remembered and to know that he will now be a young audiences hero for other reasons is refreshing. Why am I drooling over Jackman? I'm not really, but if you have seen or plan on seeing "Real Steel" you will understand. He plays Charlie Kenton here, a washed up fighter who is now a bot jockey as the 2,000 pound, eight foot robots have taken over the sport he once held so dear. Traveling across America in a completely believable 2020 (kudos to the production designers for not over doing it) he makes stupid bets and takes fights his beat up bots can't win hoping to get himself out of debt, but only digging his hole deeper. Where we come in is naturally when things begin to change for our protagonist. Charlie is kind of a jerk, he's so desperate for cash that when he learns he has a son who he now has custody of he basically sells the kid to his rich sister-in-law. The catch is, uncle and auntie will be out of the country this summer and need someone to watch little Max. You can imagine where the kid ends up and the bond they form from there.

Charlie and Max become more like father and son
during the course of "Real Steel".
Yes, the story can be rather corny, but Levy, his team, and his actors seem so dedicated to making this an enjoyable and fun film that it seeps through the chessiness and we appreciate what we are being served. The movie really turns on not only Jackmans enlightened performance but just as much on that of young Dakota Goyo who plays Jackmans son, Max. He is a cute kid and the chemistry he and Jackman pull off on screen cements the believability of their trek through the back roads of America to the big time. The only qualm I really had with the kid was making him up with the Bieber cut and then having him dance as a gimmick with the robot behind him as they entered the ring. This was the cheesy extreme and though it was fun in its first improvisational moment, from that point on it only garnered unintentional laughs. What Levy does best here is pace the film at a perfect speed so that the relationship grows from self-centered, money grubbing dad and abandoned child to that of awkward roommates and from there through the trials of finding common ground and then addressing why they have reached the point the find themselves at in the films climax. That the movie can chronicle this relationship so well, and in a most genuine of Hollywood ways while mixing it with the back drop of fighting robots is what allowed the movie to rise above it's early labels I placed on it. Speaking of those fighting robots, they're pretty awesome. The flawlessness in which the humans interact with them and the rawness of them in the early scenes is visually dazzling. It made me feel like i was watching a summer movie in fall, in a really good way.

In the main event, Atom beats up on the champion, Zeus.
I held a good amount of doubt for "Real Steel" and in that regard, this may be the biggest surprise of the year for me. I had similar feelings about the MMA movie "Warrior" which also turned out to be a great movie. And while I wouldn't go on to think this holds near as much clout as that movie could have had it given a better box office showing, this is instead a big film with a lot of fun packed into it. This movie is the reason whole families still go out to see movies together and no matter how cliche the story might be or how dumb it may seem that robots could replace flesh and bone boxers in the future, it all seems rather credible once you reach the underdog fight between Charlie and Max's Atom and the undisputed world champion Zeus. There is also a sweet love story that develops between Jackman and Evangeline Lily's Bailey, the daughter of Jackmans trainer from his boxing days. Lily, who most will know from "Lost" adds a nice balance and voice of reason to Charlie's life and though this relationship is not the focus of the film, it comes off completely genuine and we care as much about Charlie and Bailey as we do Charlie and Max. This, mixed with grand tension, great action, and a story we've seen many times before told in an innovative way, you can't help but fall for its charms.


REAL STEEL Review

It is easy to dismiss "Real Steel" as a rock 'em sock 'em robot movie that is here to capitalize on the success of the "Transformers" films. I sure did, and up until rather late in the promotion campaign did I really have any desire to see the film. It was odd to think director Shawn Levy, who mostly worked in family films and comedies such as the "Night at the Museum" series and last years "Date Night" would be able to pull off a big budget action flick with tons of special effects and Hugh Jackman at its core. Strip away all that though and what we have is an inspiring father and son story that, while I admit has its cheesy parts, is exactly the kind of movie I would have loved when I was younger. Levy balances the tender bonding moments with the fight scenes rather well and I never cried boredom during the entire two hour run time. This is one of those films that if you see it as a 10 or 12 year old it becomes ingrained in your childhood memories and you forever relate to it as nostalgia. That I can so easily relate this to that kind of emotion not only makes me love the movie more than I ever thought I would, but it makes me appreciate that it was even made. So many films for younger audiences these days are either slanted too far to one side whether it be animated movies for youngsters or juvenile tween comedies only 13-17 year old's could stomach. "Real Steel" is truly a movie for everyone and if you aren't cheering at the end, well, you really need to re-discover that kid you used to be, because they would have loved this.

THE IDES OF MARCH Review

There is a certain intrigue to politics in the movies that has never reached me in the real world. I have never been one to get caught up in a candidate's campaign and buy into everything they say, because at the end of the day my life will more than likely go on as it always has. They are the incarnation of ingenuine beings with the intent of being the most admirable. It is such a convoluted business to be in and there almost seems a breaking point that suggests we need a new way to go about this as those involved in running campaigns have become so good at what it really takes to win, that it doesn't matter what they stand for anymore, it only matters if they know the right people. I guess that is how this whole world works though and this isn't a paper on my thoughts on government (I am the last person who should be writing on such topics) it is instead a review of a movie based in this political arena. Luckily, it revolves around a young campaign manager who still holds on to the fact that ideals are what wins a man the position of president, and how quickly that idea is disproved.

Stephen (Ryan Gosling) and Molly (Evan Rachel Wood)
share a drink during a break from the campaign.
If you have seen the trailer, you get the gist of what goes down here. George Clooney (in a smaller part than you might expect) plays a Governor who is in the final days of an Ohio primary and facing difficult decisions that could either cost or win him the election. The real star here, Ryan Gosling, who, for the third time this year displays why he is finally getting the recognition he deserves plays an up and coming campaign manager who truly believes what his candidate stands for until he finds himself caught in the middle of scandal. The cast truly is a dream team with both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti playing opposing campaign managers and Marisa Tomei as a digging journalist too close to both parties while Jeffrey Wright as the governor willing to endorse either candidate for the right seat in the white house adds a rough edge to the drama. Evan Rachel Wood displays real charisma as a young intern working on Clooney's campaign that makes a few questionable decisions. Clooney, being the actor he is, manages all of these performers well and knows just how to use them in their most effective ways. Gosling is young and smart enough to earn the position we find him in yet lacks the experience to justify all of his decisions. Same with Hoffman, who is pitch perfect as an almost paranoid, and cynical minded manager who has been on too many campaigns to know the difference between business and reality.

George Clooney gets his President on.
Clooney, though able to demand gripping performances from each of his fellow thespians, is also able to tell the rather unimpressive story in an enthralling way. I was worried at first though, I won't say I wasn't. For the first half hour or so of the film as we learn what each players role is in this game, the story actually seems to be going nowhere, that this is more a documentary of the inside workings of a campaign rather than the nail biting drama the trailer promised. Things get even more testy when we find out the reason people begin stabbing each other in the back is for none other than the standard sex scandal. I mean, I get it, it certainly pulls the audience in and gets our ears to stand up. Clooney knows that, he understands what will grab a moviegoers attention and I almost want to believe he did this so that once he had us hooked he could really begin to dissect the corruption at hand. This is where the movie feels lackluster. Its too simple story. That may sound harsh as "The Ides of March" is actually a smart film, but for me, it never felt as if Clooney ever reached where he wanted to get to with this. I imagined it being more complex, even a movie I feared venturing into because I might not understand all the facets of what it was preaching. This was a film I almost expected to learn something from but instead it was a rather by the numbers story that is elevated greatly by the amount of fine performances going on here.

Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) congratulates Stephen
on his, shall we say, skills.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy the film, it is by no means a bad movie and it will probably get some Oscar talk, just not as much as I originally anticipated. It is a great showcase for all involved, especially Gosling who really does seem to prove with every role that he is just as much a pivotal figure in the acting game as Clooney himself. And here, he gives the common moviegoer a pass into the world that Clooney has documented. He is not necessarily a good person, he can be downright ruthless and yet we are still drawn to the magnetism he provides his characters. Clooney should really be commended for his restraint in not going all melodramatic with this, he shows restraints and in his focus on each performance he allows the story to become more about the people involved in these actions rather than just the actions alone. The choices these characters make still define who they are, but we are given clear pictures of who these people are and why they do what they do making the ho hum story appear much more provocative than it would have been in lesser hands.


THE IDES OF MARCH Review

There is a certain intrigue to politics in the movies that has never reached me in the real world. I have never been one to get caught up in a candidate's campaign and buy into everything they say, because at the end of the day my life will more than likely go on as it always has. They are the incarnation of ingenuine beings with the intent of being the most admirable. It is such a convoluted business to be in and there almost seems a breaking point that suggests we need a new way to go about this as those involved in running campaigns have become so good at what it really takes to win, that it doesn't matter what they stand for anymore, it only matters if they know the right people. I guess that is how this whole world works though and this isn't a paper on my thoughts on government (I am the last person who should be writing on such topics) it is instead a review of a movie based in this political arena. Luckily, it revolves around a young campaign manager who still holds on to the fact that ideals are what wins a man the position of president, and how quickly that idea is disproved.

DREAM HOUSE Review

You know how you wish some stories would have been told differently? Whether it be in tone or structure, you can see the hint of an intriguing plot and interesting characters in it and what might have made this appealing to actors and a director on the page? Well, "Dream House" is about the epitome of that. For the first half hour or so I really began to wonder what such credible actors as Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts saw in such material. Not to mention the waste that is Elias Koteas in a bit part. But despite the pace somewhat picking up and the conclusion being slightly more satisfying than I expected after the first hour drug by, "Dream House" still feels like a mess of a film that had all the right in the world to be much better than it is, but it simply just...isn't. Craig gives a solid performance and I know he is starring in a big murder mystery later this year as the lead in David Fincher's American "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" but that is what this film needed to be. A man, accused of murder who can't remember if he killed his family or not and may or may not be psychotic goes searching for clues as to what actually happened. Then again, that would be "Memento" mixed with "Shutter Island" and while those are fine films it just makes it obvious there was nothing fresh about this idea in the first place and thus no need for it at all.

Will (Daniel Craig) and Libby (Rachel Weisz) are
concerned when their daughters see someone outside. 
The story (as if you don't already know all of it from the trailer) centers around Craig's Will Atenton who quits a job in publishing in the city to relocate his family to a small, peaceful New England town. With Weisz playing the loving wife role and two cute daughters at home as well, Will is living the dream as he works on his novel by day and spends more time with his family than ever granted before. Of course, this trying to be the horror film its advertised to be, things start to get a little strange. Too bad none of it actually elicits any genuine scares as they seem more a distraction to the usually reliable director Jim Sheridan, than critical moments that aid the plot of the story. Sheridan has worked countless times with Daniel Day-Lewis and made charming films like "In America" and solid dramas such as 2009's "Brothers". The man also made "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" though and here again seems to be plodding through a pointless script for the paycheck. Even in interviews Sheridan seems to be lackluster about his passion for the project acknowledging that while slightly more art house in its nature, you have probably seen this film before. I couldn't agree more.

Will's neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts) knows more than
she wants too in "Dream House".
The story is set up so that Will and his family learn of the murders and are surprised that such brutal crimes were committed at their idyllic home. As I said though, if you have seen the trailer you know all of this as well as the major twist at the center of it. Why the producers decided to divulge so much information in the trailers could only mean they didn't have much faith in the film without that hook, and even in promising that wasn't the biggest twist in the film, I think we all knew. Even if we had no idea, it is apparent early on the wife and children never leave the grounds of the house and that they are in fact figments of our protagonist's imagination. This is only confirmed when Naomi Watts, playing the estranged neighbor across the street, shows up and looks strangely at Will as he talks to his family. And I do apologize if you think by reading this I am spoiling this film for you, but honestly if you had any intention of seeing it you would have known as well as I before entering the theater that this is where it was heading. I will give "Dream House" this though, and that is I was pleasantly surprised by the enlightening epiphany Will reaches at the end of the film rather than the cliched cheap scare or easy out. The film does respect his character and everything he has gone through, but still, this last ditch effort doesn't erase the fact I wasted an hour and a half on the rest of it.

Will is able to leave his "dream house" and all its
baggage behind him.
I really can't be mad though, I knew this wasn't going to be my new favorite horror film going in and I came out with a feeling that while somewhat disappointed this didn't prove the rest of the critics wrong it did prove to be better because of those expectations set by critics and fans alike. "Dream House' is a mystery thriller that tries to scare us, but the only real mystery is why such time and talent was wasted on such a half baked product when they could have been producing something much more worth an audience members time. Both Watts and Weisz are no strangers to the art house/indie scene and make important choices in their efforts to play real characters that reflect real world issues. Sure, it is fun to do a project like this every once in a while, but at least pick one that is fun! Not something that your audience will get bored with or that has been told countless times prior. We may never know why such talent was wasted on this half hearted film, but if you really want to get to the bottom of it-"Dream House" isn't the worst you could do on a rainy night in October when you have absolutely nothing else to do. It has a few redeeming qualities, just not enough to recommend outside those exact circumstances.


DREAM HOUSE Review

You know how you wish some stories would have been told differently? Whether it be in tone or structure, you can see the hint of an intriguing plot and interesting characters in it and what might have made this appealing to actors and a director on the page? Well, "Dream House" is about the epitome of that. For the first half hour or so I really began to wonder what such credible actors as Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts saw in such material. Not to mention the waste that is Elias Koteas in a bit part. But despite the pace somewhat picking up and the conclusion being slightly more satisfying than I expected after the first hour drug by, "Dream House" still feels like a mess of a film that had all the right in the world to be much better than it is, but it simply just...isn't. Craig gives a solid performance and I know he is starring in a big murder mystery later this year as the lead in David Fincher's American "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" but that is what this film needed to be. A man, accused of murder who can't remember if he killed his family or not and may or may not be psychotic goes searching for clues as to what actually happened. Then again, that would be "Memento" mixed with "Shutter Island" and while those are fine films it just makes it obvious there was nothing fresh about this idea in the first place and thus no need for it at all.

50/50 Review

One may not believe cancer can be amusing, and in fact it is not, but to the person going through life who is blindsided by the disease, it seems crucial they make good on their situation. That is essentially the hook for "50/50" a dramedy of sorts that shows a most genuine portrait of what it must feel like to be young and sick and how it affects the people that are a part of your life. From a script penned by Seth Rogen's real-life friend Will Reiser who did in fact go through this experience, we are given a glimpse as to why it is just as important to allow yourself to enjoy life as it is to not take it for granted. Director Jonathan Levine who is mainly known for "The Wackness", his own little bio-pic from 2008, gives the film a perfect tone; shifting from humorous moments to ones laced with deep meaning and sadness that really resonate in our protagonist. This really is a moving film, a wonderfully well-rounded movie that is consistently effective both in its humor and moments of hurt. Who would have thought September, usually a dumping ground for crap, would warrant some of the best films of the year so far. After "Drive" on the 16th and "Moneyball" last week, "50/50" definitely continues the streak and does so with an honest, human story that you should go out and see. Now.

Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Adam
(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) upon discovering he has cancer.
The story centers around Adam, a young, genuine guy who is in a relationship with a pretty girl and has a meaningful job working in radio. Adam then begins having night sweats, his back hurts; he goes to the doctor and learns he has cancer. It is at that moment we see why the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is indeed so valuable to this film. Adam is a likable guy, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink...he recycles. He means well in everything he does, and Gordon-Levitt knows exactly how he would respond to such news. He's in shock sure, but he seems more worried about how those around him will react than anything. He is so unsure he gives his girlfriend an out before letting her tell him she is going to take care of him. Too bad she turns out to be the only real source of vengeance Reiser let seep into the script. Bryce Dallas Howard has become accustomed to the bitch role this year playing what could have essentially been the mother to her character here in "The Help", but other than this one sour note, the film moves along nicely with Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen as his best friend Kyle making an interesting pair as well as a great couple of scenes with Anjelica Huston as Adam's mother and Philip Baker Hall as a fellow patient Adam gets chemo with and does weed with. As much as Rogen has played the pot-smoking, moocher before, there is a different level to it here that no doubt comes from Rogen's real life stake in the project. Yea, he is a loud-mouthed, trash talker, but he has a big heart and he cares about his friend. Rogen is firing on all cylinders and after different roles in "The Green Hornet", "Funny People", and "Observe and Report" I don't think I ever realized how much I enjoy just watching Seth Rogen be himself.

Adam and best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) have fun
destroying some "art".
To be honest though, Gordon-Levitt is the real anchor here. If not for him this might have come off more melodrama than either Reiser or Rogen would have liked, but the truth is it is hard to make a movie with this type of subject matter and avoid being overly-sentimental. "50/50" works it out though and while Rogen takes care of most of the humor there is also a nice new relationship brewing between Adam and his therapist Katherine. As played by "Up in the Airs" Anna Kendrick, Katherine is a student gaining her doctorate who is getting experience through patients such as Adam. Adam is skeptical at first, but the awkward banter between the two that becomes an honest learning experience for both of them is something only such gifted actors as Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick could bring. Whether we smile as we watch their chemistry grow or try to hide our chests swelling up as we see Adam sit along side Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as they receive their chemotherapy from the silence of those awful drips we are fully invested in this character. As the treatment goes on, and the disease gets worse, Adam becomes a darker character, but Gordon-Levitt does not allow this to make him someone we no longer know, he makes him honest. We see why he feels the way he does. Why he doesn't call his mother back, why he won't invite Katehrine in when she gives him a ride home, and why he is afraid to tell Kyle to stop using him to score sex. He is, at his core, that same unselfish guy, who just wants to live in peace. The cancer disturbs that goal, that peace of mind and to watch Adam try to cope with that while allowing the people in his life to go through whatever process they need to is plenty engaging, but it also demonstrates why Gordon-Levitt is one of the best actors of this generation.

Katehrine (Anna Kendrick) and Adam cross some
Doctor/patient boundaries...
When Adam is finally sent into surgery, the film visually describes that culmination of uncertainty perfectly. Not many words are spoken, but everyone understands. The nicely balanced scenes of laughter and heart continue through the movie's conclusion. The actors rising to an occasion that makes "50/50" one of the best films of the year and gives us a certain comfort level that let us know it is okay to laugh in the face of a disease that could kill you. It is okay, in fact, it is probably for the best that you do laugh. This is no "Bucket List" this is what you do when you don't know and you just take it as it is. You shave your head instead of letting the cancer do it for you, you be brutally honest with the girl who cheated on you while you were sick, and you mend relationships while finding out which ones really mean the most to you. It is raunchy, it is heartfelt, but it is not an all out Rogen comedy. It is a great little film that continues Gordon-Levitt's winning streak and delivers a story of finding the humor unlikely places and the joy of quiet triumphs. Odds are, you will love "50/50".