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.

LOOPER Review

It is an understatement to say I was excited for Looper. As a fan of the science fiction genre it is always nice to see what seems to be a smart, legitimate sci-fi flick get good treatment from the studio system. It is clear these aren't always appealing to a mass audience but when they are made right, and with visionary directors at the charge of them they can easily be the most captivating of journeys on film. While my preference goes toward things that venture further into the cosmos, Looper is a piece of time travel bonanza that is escalated by so many different elements that are so much better than you expect them to be that the entire film rises from its own genre trappings and becomes something entirely fresh. Fresh is one of the hardest words to come by when we think of the future these days. Our ideas of what it should be, what it will look like, what it should contain have all been shaped by movies that have come before. As we now live in a future that was imagined by moviemakers twenty years ago, it only makes the task of developing an authentic, non-CG created world set even further in the future all the more challenging. Writer and director Rian Johnson has risen to that challenge, realizing that  the world develops but not with the major overhaul that most future-set films would like to imply. The world in 2044 is still very much one we recognize and can see the place we live in now transitioning to. It is all in the little details that add credibility to the films filthy landscape. Moving past that, Johnson also gives his characters quick, intelligent dialogue to ring off at one another while not getting overly wrapped up in the semantics of the consequences that will naturally come along when we begin tampering with things that should never have been touched with such hands in the first place.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hired gun who kills
men sent back from the future.
While the set up of the film may sound a bit standard: time travel exists. A guy meets himself from the future. No big deal right? Seen it before, probably know where it's going. That is what makes Looper great. Though we've seen these tricks before, and in much worse fashion, Johnson has fleshed out a film where the set up incorporates time travel but doesn't allow it to drive the narrative. As an audience we are introduced to Joe in 2044 (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young, hired gun whose job it is as a "looper" to instantly kill anyone the mob decides to send back in time to him. You see, time travel does not yet exist in 2044 either, but it does in the future. It was immediately outlawed and is only available for use on the black market. The mobs use it to dispose of guys they need taken care of and sending a man back in time to die immediately erases him from the future leaving no body for evidence. As young Joe, Gordon-Levitt wears a mug that allows us to believe he could age into Bruce Willis. He also incorporates a nice gravel into his youthful voice that hints at the extent the actor likely went in order to help us genuinely see the evolution of a man. Naturally, things are destined to fall apart. One can only expect this to happen when mere men attempt to take on the power of Gods. When a new mob boss in the future decides to start "closing loops" i.e. sending the older version of the looper back in time to kill himself; things get messy and future Joe (Willis) no longer likes the deal he made as a young man. The loopers receive a hefty reward for closing their loop and are relieved of their duties, but are burdened by what they know is coming. Even with the trailer you may think you know exactly where the film is heading but there are several different layers to the film that as it unfolds reveals to its audience that this is more epic moral tale than a futuristic effects fest.

Joe is taken off guard when his older self (Bruce Willis)
is the one he has to kill.
Director Johnson's first feature was the well-reviewed and often underrated Brick while his second, The Brothers Bloom, was certainly underrated and I enjoyed it much more than everyone else around me seemed to. What always stood out about the two though was the fact of how different they were and as he adds Looper to his canon it is clear the diversity informs the intelligence of his scripts and their defiance to be confined to what would otherwise feel like a standard romp through script writing 101. While the design of the film is appealing and captures a perfect overall tone to the film the soundtrack feels a bit off if not flat out cheesy at some points. Other times, it's great and when a smooth jazz number slides perfectly against the tough images we're seeing on screen a sense of cool oozes off the actors. It is in more typical, action-oriented scenes that the orchestral music doesn't give a good build-up or feels as if a single loop (no pun intended) was thrown in out of nowhere to emphasize the moment. The action scenes themselves can also at times feel a bit clunky in their direction. These are minor complaints though as from the opening shot, even the opening title, we are hooked by what is unfolding on screen because the movie has style and smarts. Not to mention, the performances are great from everyone involved. Not only does Gordon-Levitt cement his status as a force to be reckoned he proves he can pretty much do anything. He makes Joe a man we don't necessarily like, but who we still understand and come to sympathize with. Willis will likely go overlooked in the smaller, less flashier role here but he does some great subdued work here. After phoning in performances in The Expendables 2 and the horrible Cold Light of Day Willis fully realizes what began as a great year with his moving turn in Moonrise Kingdom. In Looper, he plays the older, wiser version of a man who we think we already know and when it turns out we don't, the ride becomes even more exhilarating.

Sara (Emily Blunt) has a secret on her secluded farm
she is intent on keeping.
In an aspect that has been largely ignored in the marketing campaign Emily Blunt also shows up here to provide some of her best work of the year and there has been a lot of it. Though I have yet to see Your Sister's Sister others like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Five Year Engagement were good enough if not slightly underwhelming. Here, though Blunt pulls off a flawless American accent and stands as a pillar for what the state of society is in this time period. She is beaten down, desperate, and has likely thought about giving up and giving in multiple times yet she keeps on going looking towards a beacon of hope that might make tomorrow better than today. She is an inspiring character and for as central as the story is to Joe, Blunt's Sara feels like the heart of the film. There are also smaller appearances from the likes of Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels who add a flair to the rollicking first act of the film. In the end though, what the greatness of Looper comes down to is the originality and the unusual path the script takes. It is a witty film that though it has a very serious meaning and a hard-edged exterior never seems to take itself too seriously. It is a refreshing entry in the sci-fi realm that along with Source Code and Sound of My Voice have added real credibility and new ideas to a genre that had become quite lacking. This all lends itself to a film that when you walk out of it will leave you more than satisfied. The problem it leaves you with is that in its few shortcomings it leaves you wanting more and even though you immediately want to go back and watch it again to dig deeper into the details you secretly just want it to keep going, to keep giving. But, as the main theme of the film explains so well, sometimes we have to sacrifice our own wants and needs for the greater good. Too much of a good thing is anything but, and Looper delivers just the right amount to hold us over until Johnson creates his next film.

 

LOOPER Review

It is an understatement to say I was excited for Looper. As a fan of the science fiction genre it is always nice to see what seems to be a smart, legitimate sci-fi flick get good treatment from the studio system. It is clear these aren't always appealing to a mass audience but when they are made right, and with visionary directors at the charge of them they can easily be the most captivating of journeys on film. While my preference goes toward things that venture further into the cosmos, Looper is a piece of time travel bonanza that is escalated by so many different elements that are so much better than you expect them to be that the entire film rises from its own genre trappings and becomes something entirely fresh. Fresh is one of the hardest words to come by when we think of the future these days. Our ideas of what it should be, what it will look like, what it should contain have all been shaped by movies that have come before. As we now live in a future that was imagined by moviemakers twenty years ago, it only makes the task of developing an authentic, non-CG created world set even further in the future all the more challenging. Writer and director Rian Johnson has risen to that challenge, realizing that  the world develops but not with the major overhaul that most future-set films would like to imply. The world in 2044 is still very much one we recognize and can see the place we live in now transitioning to. It is all in the little details that add credibility to the films filthy landscape. Moving past that, Johnson also gives his characters quick, intelligent dialogue to ring off at one another while not getting overly wrapped up in the semantics of the consequences that will naturally come along when we begin tampering with things that should never have been touched with such hands in the first place.

END OF WATCH Review

End of Watch is a great movie. It is as plain and simple as that. There could honestly be nothing more said about it and if, on that alone, you walked into a theater and experienced it for yourself you would come out nodding in agreement. It is a brutal, unflinching look at two cops in one of the most dangerous areas in the U.S. It centers around two partners and friends who are not related by blood but share the bond of family and hold it to be just as sacred. While there have been plenty of cop dramas in the last few years, and very good ones including this years Rampart, there is something fresh about this take on the day-to-day lives of two inner city cops. Maybe the fact this doesn't feature corrupt cops, cops getting in too deep undercover or any of the other typical situations we find our movie law enforcement officials getting into but instead are doing nothing more than going along for the ride. Watching End of Watch is like experiencing an in your face, real and raw episode of Cops. If Cops were to air on HBO this is probably what it would look and feel like. I didn't really know what to expect going into the film. Both leading men here have had their fair share of credible and award-worthy type films while also having starred in plenty of B-movies and nonstarters. This looked to naturally be in the former category for both actors but the same could also be said for writer and director David Ayer who has made a few films in this genre before. Sure, he wrote Training Day and directed the underrated Harsh Times, but he too has had a hand in a number of projects that attempted to capitalize on his successes that instead ended up being nothing more than generic. Do you remember Street Kings? Probably not. It is safe to say with End of Watch though that everyone involved has hit a home run.

Officer Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and new girlfriend Janet
(Anna Kendrick) share a first date together.
From the beginning Ayer decided to keep it simple. Telling the story in its most basic form and not becoming overly worried or concerned with plot complications but instead allowing the characters and their interactions, their attitudes to do the work. Ayer has created two seemingly naturalistic characters on the page and Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena have taken those blueprints and fleshed them out to living, breathing people who we could see actually hanging out with were they not the most fearless guys on the force. They have an intimidation factor to them, as any cops on film with certain egos will, but these guys are not above bowing down to the system either. They know their place and know better than to test their limits. They are rewarded by the work they do even if they feel like every single day pushes them to the limit of what they might be able to handle. As Brian, Gyllenhaal exudes a confidence in knowing what he wants to do with his time. He is smart, capable, and eager to move up in the ranks thus is the reason he is going to Law school and in the process has to take an art elective where he lands on filmmaking. With this little (and unnecessary) tidbit we are given the handheld camera that re-defines the "found footage" film. There is no pretending this really happened, it isn't cast with unknowns, the technique isn't used as much for the gimmick as it is to make the audience feel they are actually right in the middle of the action. It works, for the most part though it does sometimes feel like a stretch that even the gangs so conveniently have cameras in the most crucial of times as well. This little qualm can be easily dismissed and forgiven as the feature grabs you from moment one and doesn't let go over its nearly two hour run time.

Actors Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as Officer Zavala
give award worthy performances.
Over the course of the film we become closer and closer to Officer Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Officer Zavala (Pena) learning more about them and their tendencies as police officers. There is also a nice little community of officers that our two protagonists fit in with that is filled with small but merited performances of real value that are filled out by the likes of America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) Cody Horn (Magic Mike) and David Harbour as Officer Van Hauser. Beyond these small, but crucial roles in the believability of the atmosphere we also have Anna Kendrick (who is apparently the female Chris Messina) and Natalie Martinez as Taylor and Zavala's significant others. Talk of love, happiness and where to find these fill most of the conversations that our heroes have as they ride around patrolling the streets daily. There personal lives absolutely inform there day jobs and we see each of them develop in how much they allow what is going on outside of the patrol car inside it and what calls they decide to take, when they have the power to choose. As we are introduced to the two of them though they have a made a name for themselves by being legit street cops who don't take in the street criminals unless they absolutely have to. They don't abuse their power and they gain a reputation of respect among the locals who live in the decrepit houses on their block. That is of course until they stumble upon one too many cases involving a Mexican cartel that have taken over these neighborhoods. In doing this they uncover disturbing secrets upon more disturbing scenes. The in your face, unfiltered honesty of the piece mixed with the great chemistry that Gyllenhaal and Pena have make the movie not what you would traditionally call enjoyable entertainment, but it is inescapably engaging.

Mike Zavala and his wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez)
welcome a new addition to their family.
Though I didn't really know what to expect going into the film I certainly had high hopes after hearing such positive word of mouth. The film did not disappoint, if anything it surpassed anything I might have expected from another cop drama. That it is not just another cop drama allows it to stand out for defying the genre restrictions and by turning itself into a character study of the kinds of men it takes to wake up every day and go out there not knowing what they might face is exhilarating enough from a theater seat. I can't imagine the rush it must give these guys who enjoy such things. It is something I don't think I could ever do. It is made clear that not every police officer faces the day to day risk these guys do and that they pull their guns out more in one day than the majority would in an entire career. We understand this is specific to the region of LA it documents and it only makes the performances of the two lead actors all the more genuine in their portrayals. It shows how much they want it, how much they honestly couldn't live without it. No matter the story, the action or even the surrounding players, what it comes down to in the end that makes End of Watch not only so good as a film, but so exciting and real are the performances of Gyllenhaal and Pena. Their acting, their commitment is what raises the film above standard cop dramas that you might otherwise be able to catch on network TV any night of the week. As commanding and charming as Gyllenhaal is Pena could not have been a better match for him to feed off of and to make every scripted moment truly feel like the camera was catching two friends goof around while at the same time seamlessly slipping into moments of real meaning. The film will likely go unrecognized during the awards season for its standard premise, but End of Watch is something special, an experience not soon forgotten.

END OF WATCH Review

End of Watch is a great movie. It is as plain and simple as that. There could honestly be nothing more said about it and if, on that alone, you walked into a theater and experienced it for yourself you would come out nodding in agreement. It is a brutal, unflinching look at two cops in one of the most dangerous areas in the U.S. It centers around two partners and friends who are not related by blood but share the bond of family and hold it to be just as sacred. While there have been plenty of cop dramas in the last few years, and very good ones including this years Rampart, there is something fresh about this take on the day-to-day lives of two inner city cops. Maybe the fact this doesn't feature corrupt cops, cops getting in too deep undercover or any of the other typical situations we find our movie law enforcement officials getting into but instead are doing nothing more than going along for the ride. Watching End of Watch is like experiencing an in your face, real and raw episode of Cops. If Cops were to air on HBO this is probably what it would look and feel like. I didn't really know what to expect going into the film. Both leading men here have had their fair share of credible and award-worthy type films while also having starred in plenty of B-movies and nonstarters. This looked to naturally be in the former category for both actors but the same could also be said for writer and director David Ayer who has made a few films in this genre before. Sure, he wrote Training Day and directed the underrated Harsh Times, but he too has had a hand in a number of projects that attempted to capitalize on his successes that instead ended up being nothing more than generic. Do you remember Street Kings? Probably not. It is safe to say with End of Watch though that everyone involved has hit a home run.

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET Review

In what feels like amateur hour at the movies House at the End of the Street piles on every cheap scare, cliche about teenagers, and desperate plot twist it can to try and keep its audience engaged while in all actuality it is doing nothing more than scaring off audiences from ever wanting to trust in mainstream Hollywood horror ever again. Everything about the film is just so typical it is hard not to shake your head every single time you know what should happen next actually does. The dialogue is stale and the movie drags on for no point other than what feels like it's biding time before the "shocker" of an ending comes around. We are then forced to re-evaluate everything we've seen in order to feel that it was a legitimate twist. I really wanted to enjoy the film, I wouldn't have wasted time going to see it if I didn't believe it had potential and even despite the measly 11% tomatometer rating that showed up after its release because it wasn't screened for critics. Everything was going against the film, leaving no reason to believe it could rise above what low expectations were being created for it. I try to be fair when it comes to feature films, giving the benefit of the doubt, considering all the work that several people had to put into this to make it work but here I feel like there is no choice but to look past that. The whole production feels lackluster and thrown together not benefiting any of these actors especially the blooming star at the center of it. Following up one of the biggest films of the year and using this as a precursor for what will likely be an Oscar-nominated role in The Silver Linings Playbook Jennifer Lawrence should have passed on this script and let some other hopeful take a shot at carving out a chance of a career; but no matter who is in the lead role this horror schlock is nothing if not easily forgettable.

Newly divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) moves into a new
town with hopes of starting over fresh.
In what doesn't stray too far from the beaten path when it comes to scary movie patterns House at the End of Street opens with the grisly murders of two parents of a sweet looking little girl named Carrie Ann. Flash forward four years and newly divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) is moving her and her teenage daughter Elissa (Lawrence) to the small rural town where the murders took place. Lucky for them, they can afford the rent at the upscale house due to it being what looks like less than a few hundred feet from the sight of the murders. It is made evident but never explains that Elissa and her mother have a strained relationship, that her mom wasn't there for her much and made me wonder why, if the girl is 17, she didn't just stay with her dad? It seems like there was more to that story, something going on there that was possibly going to forshadow the events of what the movie actually entailed but no, instead this is just used as a way that the story being told strengthens the bond between mother and daughter. Even still, the final shot dismisses even this simple storyline. Where the meat of the story lies though is in the sole survivor of the family that lives next door. Ryan, who was living with his aunt at the time his parents were murdered is the older brother to Carrie Ann has returned to his boyhood home to fix it up and put it on the market (good luck, right?). So sad, sorrowful, but sweet seeming Ryan gets a new neighbor in the younger, cool, indie chick that is Elissa and we know where this is going right? There are moments in the movie where you really think this is going to end up being more a love story than a horror one and for the most part, it felt like it was. The horror bits pop up every now and then in the classic form of build up and jump but they, like the rest of the film, feel like a second thought to the fact they actually got Jennifer Lawrence to star in this thing.

Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence)becomes close with the town
outcast Ryan (Max Thierot).
What I don't understand about the film though is why it maybe didn't necessarily decide to be so standard, but why exactly it went the route it did of being shot and edited to such a perfect playbook of every other horror film that has ever been made. In all honesty once the story comes full circle in the end I could see plenty of opportunities where this could have been made on a smaller scale with a more intimate look at the psyche of the main antagonist. There are moments in the film where a crane shot is so obviously used for the sole fact they were able to get a crane that day. These more cinematic shots stick out like a sore thumb because the tone of the film has such a smaller feel to it. Co-writer Jonathan Mostow has dealt with big budget productions and has even directed a few (Surrogates, Terminator 3, U-571) but you think this would lead him to give director Mark Tonderai, who really has no other major feature credits to his name, a little help is communicating his story to the big screen. It might not have helped that screenwriter David Loucka took hold of the duties from Mostow's story though as he is credited with last years horrible Dream House. It almost doesn't make sense that the film turned out as bad as it did. There is clearly a credible force behind the story and a solid if not tested hand in the directors chair, but the actors here are all more than capable of handling the material. I couldn't help thinking as I watched the film that Lawrence and Tonderai must have been good friends and she was doing him a favor by lending her name to the movie. I could literally think of no other reason she might have agreed to do this. After breaking out in Winter's Bone and following that up with a mixture of credible big budget flicks (X-Men: First Class, The Hunger Games) and smaller indie dramas (The Beaver, Like Crazy) it was clear the actress had a clear mind of what material she liked and wanted to do leaving us to question what separated this from the no doubt mile high stack of offers on her desk.

Elissa discovers some frightening things
about her new home.
This will pass not causing much of a stir for Lawrence though it will not likely help bump the names of the rest of the cast starring alongside her or the man in the director's chair either. Lawrence's name garnered this a stronger debut at the box office than it would have otherwise as she likely attracted the teen audience that wanted to see Katniss do something else. There is no coincidence in the fact that five months after one of the biggest films this year there comes along this small, horror film perfectly capable of handling (and likely shocking) the 15 year-olds that will flock to the theaters with groups of friends to see this. And in all honesty there is nothing wrong with a film serving this purpose, but as a lover of cinema you kind of hope that studios would push out horror films that are going to gear younger generations towards what makes scary movies good scary movies. This is neither here nor there as House at the End of the Street is what it is and there is no turning back now. Props should be given to the actors who try their best to convey a natural sense of communication with each other while strictly weird things are abounding around them and also credit Mostow with not allowing his story to go all super natural or resorting to the possession gimmick that would have landed the film an even poorer score. The film has a few things going for it here and there but the final product can't make up for the overall feeling of carelessness and lack of craft. It is a poorly made film, but one that we could have seen going several different directions had the right care been taken to fulfill its potential. I would have liked to see something in the vein of a southern gothic tale a la Martha Marcy May Marlene dealing with the mind of a tormented child and the way they see the world. It would be an interesting, maybe torturous film to endure, but it would likely be a horror film in the truest sense of the genre. Maybe next time Lawrence decides to join the fright fest she'll put more care into how the story will be told and not just the story it is telling.



HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET Review

In what feels like amateur hour at the movies House at the End of the Street piles on every cheap scare, cliche about teenagers, and desperate plot twist it can to try and keep its audience engaged while in all actuality it is doing nothing more than scaring off audiences from ever wanting to trust in mainstream Hollywood horror ever again. Everything about the film is just so typical it is hard not to shake your head every single time you know what should happen next actually does. The dialogue is stale and the movie drags on for no point other than what feels like it's biding time before the "shocker" of an ending comes around. We are then forced to re-evaluate everything we've seen in order to feel that it was a legitimate twist. I really wanted to enjoy the film, I wouldn't have wasted time going to see it if I didn't believe it had potential and even despite the measly 11% tomatometer rating that showed up after its release because it wasn't screened for critics. Everything was going against the film, leaving no reason to believe it could rise above what low expectations were being created for it. I try to be fair when it comes to feature films, giving the benefit of the doubt, considering all the work that several people had to put into this to make it work but here I feel like there is no choice but to look past that. The whole production feels lackluster and thrown together not benefiting any of these actors especially the blooming star at the center of it. Following up one of the biggest films of the year and using this as a precursor for what will likely be an Oscar-nominated role in The Silver Linings Playbook Jennifer Lawrence should have passed on this script and let some other hopeful take a shot at carving out a chance of a career; but no matter who is in the lead role this horror schlock is nothing if not easily forgettable.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA Review

It's hard to sometimes put a finger on how one can gauge an Adam Sandler production. This is especially true when it comes to the comedian pushing out children's movies rather than his standard PG-13 fare. You hate to bash the guy because he genuinely seems invested in putting out fun, enjoyable films for parents to take their young ones to. It is clear his current life situation inclines him to know what youngsters might want to see in a film (he has a four and a six year old) and despite his current lack of both critical and commercial success he still has the clout to concoct pretty much anything he would like. Thus, we have a cute if not predictable movie that follows the pattern of pretty much any Sandler movie where we learn generic lessons of love and life. There is nothing really wrong with what the guy is doing and I wonder if there is even a point in complaining anymore and so I wiped Jack & Jill from my mind and walked into Hotel Transylvania with a renewed sense of hope and trust in Sandler and his gang that provide the voice work here. While that trust didn't extend to giving the comedian more credit than he is due it should also be taken into consideration that this film will be overshadowed as one of three Halloween-inspired kid flicks this year. This was the biggest deterrent for the feature as having just witnessed Paranorman and its fantastical quirks I was hoping this more light-hearted fare might provide some wonderfully clever bits while subliminally teaching the tykes of today that discrimination and bullying aren't cool. Rest assured, there are some creative and inspired sequences here while the story focuses more on the father/daughter relationship, but what is truly refreshing is that I didn't come out of a Sandler produced film having cringed multiple times throughout. I'll take it.

Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) tries to persuade his
daughter that the outside world is nothing but hateful.
We begin with a re-introduction to the famous Count Dracula who we see as the curtain's pulled back is a Dad who cares above all for his brand new baby girl, Mavis. We get no explanation of where Mom is but we can guess as is typical with animated films that something tragic has happened and it will greatly affect the relationship of the father and daughter. Whatever happened to the Count's precious wife it has made him decide to build a place where no humans will ever find him or his daughter and will also provide a place of refuge for fellow monsters who just need a few days off. Naturally, this safe haven ends up being the title of our film and all things accounted for, its a pretty good premise. I know it's hard to give Sandler any ounce of credit and he likely doesn't deserve much in coming up with the story for this thing as it was written by Peter Baynham who had a hand in last years wonderful Arthur Christmas and Robert Smigel who is known for the animated TV Funhouse shorts that were an SNL staple a few years ago. Still, it is Sandler's gang that likely got this thing to the big screen and provide the voices for the array of monsters that show up for Mavis's 118th birthday. This is an annual event at the hotel, but this year is something special as Mavis (innocently and sweetly brought to life by Selena Gomez) wants to know what lies outside the castle walls. It is her time to discover her own self. The arrival of guests such as her Uncle Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), the Big Bad Wolf who is here known as Wayne (Steve Buscemi) his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and their litter of little ones, as well as Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade) and Murray the Mummy (Cee Lo Green) likely don't help in easing the stress of always having to please her father and meet his expectations. Mavis gets her taste of the outside world when a free-spirited adolescent kid named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) happens upon her dads hotel and they share an instant connection.

Mavis (Selena Gomez) does end up getting a taste of the
outside world when Jonathan (Andy Samberg) shows up.
Naturally, there is tension here as Dracula feels the pressure to hide the fact a human has made it into the hotel while keeping a good relationship with his daughter which he has already damaged by not telling her the truth one too many times. While the story plays out in exactly the fashion you know it will the screening I attended had plenty of young children enjoying themselves and laughing continuously at the creative little quips that are thrown in. This little facet is truly what saves Hotel Transylvania from disappearing quicker than it might have into the onslaught of family films hitting the cineplexes this fall. While it realizes its own simple premise and the fact they are conveying a universal message with monsters in place of people it is still nothing but good fun watching as these guys play up the exaggerated characteristics of each of these classic characters (especially Sandler as our protagonist Dracula). Whether it be the little skulls giving bingo numbers, the alarm clocks or do not disturb sign substitutes in the hotel, even the personalities assigned to the characters are funny if not a little expected. The real relief from the typical here though is the voice work of Andy Samberg. Love him or hate him in his second Sandler collaboration this year he livens up the movie as his character does the party going down at the hotel. Playing what was likely himself a few years back his character Jonathan is a youthful guy probably taking that year off between high school and college to travel the world for no specific reason other than to travel. Samberg plays the goofball with such an aloof sense of wonderment and privilege as he gets to visit a sweet castle filled with what looks to be the best costume party ever. There are a few scenes including Jonathan disguised as a Frankenstein that are designed to display the character arc of Dracula that do almost give off that classic childhood scene vibe that kids seeing it now will reference when they get older and reflect on this long forgotten film they will probably re-watch every October for the next few years. If that is any indication, its clear the film has something going for it.

Cee-Lo, Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, and Molly Shannon
all provide voices for the parade of monsters in
Hotel Transylvania.
In writing a review for any film involving Adam Sandler lately it feels one has to be on the extreme defensive if they indicate anything at all about it might be remotely enjoyable. This was the case going through the process of putting my thoughts down here, but I can honestly say that despite the cliches and standard quality of the overall story and even the character design and animation I had a fun enough time watching the movie to recommend it. Of course, it will appeal much more to an audience who haven't seen this story play out before (and likely in much better form) but it is the imaginative ways in which these monsters have been integrated into the casual day-to-day life that reflects our own proving that despite their evil-looking exterior they are just people as well; this allows the kids in the audience a way to kind of brave their fears of monsters while the film is smart enough to not go for genuine scares but instead to laugh at how silly it is to be scared of these characters. The movie especially gets going as the monsters exit their comfort zone after their leader experiences his epiphany and we actually get a chance to see the entire parade of monsters leap into action for the first time as the majority of the running time is dedicated to the Mavis/Dad/Jonathan storylines. While I was hoping for a bit more of the ensemble feel throughout It's hard to be that upset over an animated movie you weren't exactly holding out high hopes for in the first place. In this regard Hotel Transylvania succeeds in surpassing my expectations and it will probably yours as well.

  

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA Review

It's hard to sometimes put a finger on how one can gauge an Adam Sandler production. This is especially true when it comes to the comedian pushing out children's movies rather than his standard PG-13 fare. You hate to bash the guy because he genuinely seems invested in putting out fun, enjoyable films for parents to take their young ones to. It is clear his current life situation inclines him to know what youngsters might want to see in a film (he has a four and a six year old) and despite his current lack of both critical and commercial success he still has the clout to concoct pretty much anything he would like. Thus, we have a cute if not predictable movie that follows the pattern of pretty much any Sandler movie where we learn generic lessons of love and life. There is nothing really wrong with what the guy is doing and I wonder if there is even a point in complaining anymore and so I wiped Jack & Jill from my mind and walked into Hotel Transylvania with a renewed sense of hope and trust in Sandler and his gang that provide the voice work here. While that trust didn't extend to giving the comedian more credit than he is due it should also be taken into consideration that this film will be overshadowed as one of three Halloween-inspired kid flicks this year. This was the biggest deterrent for the feature as having just witnessed Paranorman and its fantastical quirks I was hoping this more light-hearted fare might provide some wonderfully clever bits while subliminally teaching the tykes of today that discrimination and bullying aren't cool. Rest assured, there are some creative and inspired sequences here while the story focuses more on the father/daughter relationship, but what is truly refreshing is that I didn't come out of a Sandler produced film having cringed multiple times throughout. I'll take it.

THE MASTER Review

There are several different seeds for several different ideas going on within Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, The Master. By the end of the film you will likely even find yourself wondering what exactly the point of it all was, if there was a point at all. Of course there is a point, as perplexing or scatterbrained as it may sometimes seem, there is most certainly a point. The problem Anderson faces and has likely always faced is in bringing to the screen a platform where he can play with the ideologies, philosophies or spiritual ideas and questions floating around in his head. The problem I've had in dealing with this is that I haven't first become as accustomed to Anderson's work as I might like. I have seen all of his previous films, some even more than once, but none within recent enough memory to where I can recall what their influences might be on this latest work. Though the visual style is elevated even from his last acclaimed masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, the story seems more in line with the questions the director was asking himself around the time of Magnolia. The film should be taken on its own terms despite the fact it will always be part of the Anderson canon and constantly compared to his previous and forthcoming films. This may be the reason I decided not to go back and re-watch even the two aforementioned films. I needed to take in The Master with a clean slate, forget what everyone was saying about it, dismiss the hype even and let the movie play out in front of me with no preconceived notions of what I wanted it to be. Walking out of the film I was more than just satisfied with the final product, but completely fascinated by what I'd just experienced. It was certainly a summary, a concentration of many ideas with no certain answers, but it was also something much more than that. It was an experience to take in and one I don't think I've ever had in a movie theater before.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) does time as an in-store photographer before moving on to his next job.
If one does not typically go out of there way to notice smaller, and for lack of a better word, artistic films it is likely that the only thing known about the film is the fact that writer and director Anderson has used the foundation of the much talked about Scientology religion to express these ideas with which he is currently dealing. I honestly don't know that much about Scientology and I don't really care to know the ins and outs of it. I suspect I know just about as much as everyone else who hasn't researched it and that is that Tom Cruise participates in it. While this may have been a well placed link for the Weinstein Company to draw attention to the film it matters little to the actual content of the what is up for discussion here. Anderson could just have easily meant for it to be a modern day depiction of the disciples traveling across the lands to spread the word of Jesus as it is a mystical man who preaches unconventional, albeit pretty crazy sounding, theories to its ever growing number of followers. It is not a stretch to argue that there are plenty of people regardless of their background or credibility that find Christianity and other major religions to have strange or even sinister teachings. It is all in the eye of those looking in from the outside. That is what makes the film so appealing to an audience looking in on the action. That is what allows us to indulge so deeply in what is going on with our two main characters. Every single person has experienced that feeling of wanting to belong. Taking a step back though every person also realizes or second guesses how deep we can become enamored with something. We know that getting in to deep causes blindness and those that are too weak or too naive to realize what is actually happening never allow themselves that step back to see the bigger picture. They are consumed by what has become ingrained and feel it too difficult to turn back, to in essence, be made a fool of. Thus is the point Anderson seems intent on making, thus is the reason we are given the perspective we are allowed to witness. These ideas about ideas and how capable the human mind is to expand itself when searching for answers to what will forever be unknowable on this earth.

This brings us to where the director has found a way to communicate these ideas and propose such questions. That relationship between those two main characters. We first meet Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) as a sailor in the Navy in the late 1940's. He is already a lost soul, a drifter who is waiting to be released as the war comes to an end. It is clear through the process of his discharge that Freddie is obsessed with two things. He needs to drink and will turn to anything he can get his hands on in order to fill that desire and the same can be said for his sexual needs. After being discharged we see Quell go from job to job staying just enough time at each to test himself before he goes too far. One night he wanders upon the familiar setting of a yacht that is manned by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his entourage of family members and close followers that include his wife (Amy Adams) his daughter and new son-in-law as well as his own son. From the first conversation between Freddie and Dodd it is clear there is not necessarily a connection, but a great impression. Freddie is a damaged psyche, the kind of mind Dodd needs in order to test his style of therapy on before exposing it to his masses. As Dodd travels across the States the next few years Freddie becomes his kind of right hand man, not necessarily a friend but a companion who feels the need to be an enforcer. It is a way to expel his rage that he feels is a justified manner to do it in.

Peggy (Amy Adams) with her husband Lancaster (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
and his daughter Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers).
These two are the anchor for a film that doesn't necessarily have typical narrative structure. In many ways, The Master skews closer to Terrence Malick territory in that it does tell its story in a kind of linear fashion but it is filled with beautiful images that tell as much of that story as the dialogue does. What really makes the film an accomplishment besides its beautiful cinematography is the interesting characters it presents us with but moreso the two actors playing them. The attraction here is Phoenix, a man who swore off acting a few years back only to make a fake documentary that pushed his reputation even further to the edge. Anderson has given the actor a redemptive opportunity here with a role that is perfect for an actor who seems as lost and disillusioned as the character written for him. Phoenix, as he did with the role of Johnny Cash, digs so deep into who this man is that he becomes lost in the mind of him. He is unafraid to go as deep as it takes to understand and inhabit the character fully and he does that to the utmost with Freddie Quail. Everything about the man is so defined and so carefully constructed, from the way he stands to the way his lip is positioned. The commitment from Phoenix as he stares into the eyes of Dodd during one of their sessions not only makes you understand Freddie more but it also develops the character of Dodd as well. As Dodd, Hoffman plays him just as you might expect a man of his own expectation to be. He talks with confidence and clarifies his constantly thinking mind with fancy, flowery language that makes him come off as a great intellect, an academic which in turn convinces a great number of people of his credibility. Though it is exactly the way you might expect a figure such as he to act, Hoffman knows this and knows he has no other choice for he won't be taken seriously as the person he aspires to be if he does not come off as self-serious. He bites at the person who objects him though, he is fueled so much by his ego and what he believes he should be and how he expects to be regarded that he is smitten when he sees the loyalty with which Freddie deals with those who challenge him. Also to be noted is the great Amy Adams who shows a range of capabilities, shedding her sweet coating to reveal a wife purely devoted to her husband and his teachings.

Freddie becomes a drifter after serving his time as a sailor.
While Anderson has provided me an experience in the theater I've never had before there are moments in the film that never seem to mesh as well as they could have or can even seem forced. I can remember well enough in both There Will Be Blood and Magnolia that while they share similar running times with The Master they never seemed to lose focus. Like its main character though, this film seems to wander occasionally, drifting from the beaten path that would better benefit its story and the ideas and questions that fuel it. Even despite its moments of great clarity there are times in the film we wonder if such excessive focus on one aspect of the character is necessary. We realize that Freddie is a drunk and has no filter when it comes to his sexual desires and it displays these issues warts and all, giving a glimpse of a man who has no secrets he can hide from Anderson's audience. He gives us the bad with the good, but the bad certainly outweighs the blessings as most memorable characters turn out to be those composed of tragedy. Still, there is plenty of defend the asking of a question such as is it really necessary or even realistic that Freddie would masturbate out in the open on the beach? Maybe he would, maybe that argument is invalid but for me it detracted not from the character but from the film. There is plenty left to the audiences own interpretation as well, especially the actual beliefs of The Cause (Dodd's name for his organization). Despite giving the audience plenty of explanation on what his cause stands for and what he believes to be true about our existence in past lives we never really get to the core of what it is that Dodd is trying to accomplish with this. Maybe I'm being a bit narcissistic but I couldn't help the feeling there was something more to Dodd's agenda than to spread his made-up theories.

Still, any way I look at it I can't help but be captivated by the film. I can't help but want to talk about it. Whether it be in discussing what might be meant by the open-endings Anderson leaves or interpreting the different meanings or representations of characters and actions that take place throughout. It is hard to even feel like you are scratching the surface when attempting to discuss the film. It is a complex piece of work that has great characters and plenty of rich ideas that get explored with wonderful, thoughtful dialogue and gorgeous images. With all of the hype surrounding it and a lot of the small, indie films letting me down this year I expected The Master to be a kind of meandering piece of artsy images and ideas that form an incoherent story that could easily be taken to mean more than it actually does. While this description could likely be made by some and they would have evidence in support of that provided by certain sequences in the film, I find it hard to believe one could not become wrapped up in the odyssey of Freddie Quell and his quest to find some type satisfaction from things he already knows will disappoint him. He wants to meet his most basic human needs and nothing more. He wants no attachments, no specific set of ideals to live by. He wants to be alone and no matter how hard he tries to go the other way by submitting to Dodd's brainwashing he can't help but to rebel against that urge. Plus, if you think this is all too artsy for your own good The Master also has fart jokes, so there's that too.                      


THE MASTER Review

There are several different seeds for several different ideas going on within Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, The Master. By the end of the film you will likely even find yourself wondering what exactly the point of it all was, if there was a point at all. Of course there is a point, as perplexing or scatterbrained as it may sometimes seem, there is most certainly a point. The problem Anderson faces and has likely always faced is in bringing to the screen a platform where he can play with the ideologies, philosophies or spiritual ideas and questions floating around in his head. The problem I've had in dealing with this is that I haven't first become as accustomed to Anderson's work as I might like. I have seen all of his previous films, some even more than once, but none within recent enough memory to where I can recall what their influences might be on this latest work. Though the visual style is elevated even from his last acclaimed masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, the story seems more in line with the questions the director was asking himself around the time of Magnolia. The film should be taken on its own terms despite the fact it will always be part of the Anderson canon and constantly compared to his previous and forthcoming films. This may be the reason I decided not to go back and re-watch even the two aforementioned films. I needed to take in The Master with a clean slate, forget what everyone was saying about it, dismiss the hype even and let the movie play out in front of me with no preconceived notions of what I wanted it to be. Walking out of the film I was more than just satisfied with the final product, but completely fascinated by what I'd just experienced. It was certainly a summary, a concentration of many ideas with no certain answers, but it was also something much more than that. It was an experience to take in and one I don't think I've ever had in a movie theater before.

BACHELORETTE Review

It is hard to really have an opinion on Bachelorette more than that of a simple meh. It is funny sure, a little surprising with how dark the humor sometimes goes, but in the end does it come off as anything more than a subpar version of last years mega-successful Bridesmaids? Not really, it is, in its lowest form attempting to capitalize on the indention left by Kristin Wiig's film. Just because the film follows a similar setup does not allow us to dismiss it as pure junk though. In fact, there is no reason not to like Bachelorette unless you are easily offended by some pretty nasty people. This is what provokes much of the humor here though. The idea that not one of our three lead characters is even remotely likable ups the ante for first time director Leslye Headland, who also concocted these characters, to make her audience want to watch these people. Lucky for us, despite their sometimes vile actions towards who they are supposedly "friends" with this ultimately comes to be a film about redemption and how three very different women on three different paths are brought face to face with their issues when the one from their high school click who likely had the least aspirations yet has come out ahead of them all. You can chock it up to a writer/director who wanted to express a more genuine look at women and how they might act in their most desperate forms who simply had the misadventure of taking it through this vein because it is a guaranteed success in how hijink comedies go these days. Lucky for us, the film features some sharp writing and a great cast who turns this into a fun enough time.

Joe (Kyle Bornheimer), Trevor (James Marsden), Dale
(Hayes MacArthur), and Clyde (Adam Scott)
get ready for a night out.
I will admit though that a good amount of the time I spent watching Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan parading around on screen while giving it their all to deliver the funny that they were almost trying to hard because they desperately wanted to be a part of that community of funny women that made up last years similarly-themed ensemble. It is even more fitting that they seemed to be chasing the goals set by Wiig and co. figuratively while literally chasing after what Rebel Wilson's character already had. Wilson played the female half of the weird sibling pair who were roommates with Wiig in Bridesmaids and so she is seemingly getting the best of both worlds here. Wilson is a talented Australian comic (check out some of her you tube videos) who is slighted here as the bride to be that isn't your typical high maintenance, pretty face that is getting what she likely deserves in a husband instead of settling. I did like however that Headland gave the groom no ulterior motives and instead made him a general, stand-up kinda guy. While I would have liked to see more of Wilson I will likely get that chance soon enough as she seems to be stealing the show in the upcoming Pitch Perfect, but I can't say that I was let down by the drug abusing, terror causing trio that is Dunst, Fisher, and Caplan. The chemistry is there, especially between Fisher and Caplan who sound off one liners like nobody's business. Caplan as the bitter and narcissistic Gena who lives in LA with no job, no ambition and a thing for her high school boyfriend that won't go away. Fisher is the ditz with a drug problem who is so stupid its cute. Fisher plays the role to perfection and drops some of the best lines but when it comes to the somewhat poignant ending these two stories wrap up with a bit too much sap for their own good.

Katie (Isla Fisher), Regan (Kirsten Dunst), and Gena
(Lizzie Caplan)  overcome some serious obstacles the
night before their friends wedding.
The lead role of Regan, the college graduate who is dating a guy in medical school and eats right as she so often likes to point out is where our focus lies though. In this lead role Kirsten Dunst defines her status as the VOD queen (All Good Things, Melancholia) as she turns in the most commanding and demanding performance in the piece. Regan is the sole member left of their high school squad that still lives close to Becky (Wilson) and is tasked with the maid of honor duties that have her planning the wedding she believes she so rightly deserves over her friend because of who or at least how she is. While the major disconnect for me is that while these girls naturally seem to get along there has clearly always been a rift between Becky and her three, beautifully standard friends. Why are they still around? Why is it even a big deal if they come to the wedding if it would just be easier to not have the reserved and overweight Becky as a part of their clique. Regardless, once Becky has retired from the tame bachelorette party Regan, Gena, and Katie are allowed to let loose a little and regain that same dynamic that likely existed through high school while continuing to show how little they've actually matured. Regan has always been the ringleader, the overachiever while Gena and Katie were likely the bimbo cheerleader and pretty goth who both remained so wrapped up in their personal lives they decided nothing else in life was important including where they were heading. Gena now sleeps in every day and likely with a different guy while Katie works in retail while retaining little of what schooling she ever received. They are a mess of a group and thus this makes them pretty entertaining to watch it just doesn't always remain consistently interesting.

Gena and Clyde have a past that is hard to overcome
when they meet again at Becky's wedding.
As stated at the beginning of the review no matter how hard the movie tries it simply can't rise above a mere feeling of carelessness. I enjoyed it well enough as I imagine anyone who might like a raunchy little comedy on a Tuesday night would, but there is nothing about the film that stands out. The performances are fine, there is nothing to complain about there except for the fact that the excellent male cast is also under-utilized. Also, am I noticing a new pattern of featured comics that like working together here? While James Marsden and Adam Scott are certainly bigger names that you would think warrant more screen time but the skimmed over roles of Joe (Kyle Borrnheimer) and Dale (Hayes MacArthur) are what really intrigued me. These guys have starred in She's Out of My League and the failed sitcom Perfect Couples as well as several smaller roles in different films over the past few years along with David Walton and T.J. Miller. This really has nothing to do with the film other than it adds to the fact I'm interested to see where these guys are able to go in the next few years. While all these guys, along with Marsden and Scott are used for nothing more here than to see that each of our girls end up with a nice guy I was kind of surprised it went that way at all. Bachelorette has that women-hate-men attitudes going for it, that mantality of they don't need men in their lives other than for trophy purposes, maybe. And maybe that's the point. Forcing home the idea that men need women just as much as they need us; which turns out, according to Headland is not all that much, we simply like to entertain the idea of the fairytale. There is something about the film that draws you in, and it could be several things, but I'll settle for the fact that it's just downright funny sometimes and I didn't mind wasting eighty-seven minutes on it at all.

      


BACHELORETTE Review

It is hard to really have an opinion on Bachelorette more than that of a simple meh. It is funny sure, a little surprising with how dark the humor sometimes goes, but in the end does it come off as anything more than a subpar version of last years mega-successful Bridesmaids? Not really, it is, in its lowest form attempting to capitalize on the indention left by Kristin Wiig's film. Just because the film follows a similar setup does not allow us to dismiss it as pure junk though. In fact, there is no reason not to like Bachelorette unless you are easily offended by some pretty nasty people. This is what provokes much of the humor here though. The idea that not one of our three lead characters is even remotely likable ups the ante for first time director Leslye Headland, who also concocted these characters, to make her audience want to watch these people. Lucky for us, despite their sometimes vile actions towards who they are supposedly "friends" with this ultimately comes to be a film about redemption and how three very different women on three different paths are brought face to face with their issues when the one from their high school click who likely had the least aspirations yet has come out ahead of them all. You can chock it up to a writer/director who wanted to express a more genuine look at women and how they might act in their most desperate forms who simply had the misadventure of taking it through this vein because it is a guaranteed success in how hijink comedies go these days. Lucky for us, the film features some sharp writing and a great cast who turns this into a fun enough time.

ARBITRAGE Review

Early on in first time feature director Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage Richard Gere's character Robert Miller (a character with less zing in his name than Gordon Gekko but just as much if not more zeal in his greed) talks about the only thing that truly matters in his life are the wonderful people that have come to fill it. He is thankful for what he says is truly important to him, but it quickly becomes clear what little emphasis those people have on Mr. Miller's day to day decisions no matter how much he himself likes to think so. In what has become a rather interesting career Gere fills the shoes of this Bernie Madoff-like billionaire whose world begins to crumble after several years of fraudulent activities very well. Gere has become an actor who is now more regarded as safe and uninspired than he is the daring, diverse handsome face many people expected him to become after 2002's double whammy of Unfaithful and Chicago. In the ten years that have passed since his Golden Globe win for the latter Gere has gone more in the direction of standard roles for someone of his age and stature only every now and then wandering off the beaten path for such interesting work as The Hoax, I'm Not There, and even the underrated Brooklyn's Finest. Here, he again  proves he can be just as interesting as he can sometimes be bland. As the film plays out carried by a story we recognize and for the most part realize, where it is going, we are not as much bothered by that as we are pleased with how well it uses it to its own advantage. The ins and outs of what Miller is managing pull us in while outside forces push us to understand who he really is, and what actually is important to the man.

Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) is hot on the trail of
Robert Miller for what he thinks is a closed case.
The ideal picture of success is how we first come to meet Robert Miller. He is at a level of wealth few could ever imagine, a level where he doesn't even know what an Applebee's is. We meet him on the eve of his 60th birthday where he makes that earlier referenced speech. He is seemingly, happily married to (a slighted) Susan Sarandon with two children who have inherited fine lives from their fathers empire. Emphasis is especially placed on daughter Brooke (the wonderful Brit Marling) who operates as her fathers CFO, and is thoroughly going through the companies books in the middle of a merger. Miller is selling his company but is borrowing a small $400 million to cover a hole in his accounts. This is all on its own ripe enough with drama that the layers of keeping his faults and compromises secret from his family is only escalated when he gets in a car wreck. Oh, the car wreck that not only involves him but also his French mistress. Of course he has a French mistress and yes that is very predictable but wouldn't it be weird if he didn't? You expect a guy with that amount of money, with that big of an ego not to feel contained by what us mere mortals find so much value in? Of course you don't and that is why he has dug himself a deep hole. They are in her car, she dies instantly and he escapes only to entangle another poor, useless soul into the mix. None of this places Mr. Miller at the scene, but his investment in the woman links him for questioning from the detective on the case (a great, surprising turn from Tim Roth).

Robert Miller (Richard Gere) and wife Ellen (Susan
Sarandon) share a moment with no substance.
The beauty of it all is the fact that we should naturally, without question find Miller despicable. He is a greedy, soulless man who has no idea what real struggle is. He is the embodiment of the 1% and yet the script and Gere do such a great job we find ourselves rooting for him. We see him not for what the social constructs would paint him as but instead as an actual living, breathing person with feelings. We see his stress and his anger, we can almost taste the tension and arrogance that rolls off every scene that deals with Miller facing off against Roth's Detective Bryer. We watch as a man who has become accustomed to getting whatever he desires struggle to make up for years of floating by on ease that he didn't likely deserve. It is not that of a typical fall from grace either. I won't spoil any more plot points here, but as far as story we have seen these kinds of events play out before (the more economic, less emotional version of this film being last years underrated Margin Call) yet we never see Arbitrage take the route of an anti-corporate stance or typical rising of the little man to conquer the ubiquitous "they". No, instead the little man is almost made out to be the bad guy here. Miller has come to be in his position of power and wealth for a reason and those reasons likely have nothing in common with being stupid or even compassionate. Those qualities make the character not only intriguing but interesting to watch because no matter how much we think we may know him, his decisions will likely keep surprising us. The way in which the circumstances of Miller's situation are discussed so casually even take us off guard. In the end though, it is everyone around him that ends up taking the hit and succumbing to his best interests for no matter how cold he can be he never becomes an archetype. He remains consistently complex.

Brooke (Brit Marling) is shocked and discouraged by
the actions of her father after realizing the truth.
It is with that ability to take a character so easily judged and turn him into someone we not only feel sympathy for, but hope he comes out on top despite his wrongdoings that the film succeeds. I am not one who pretends to know everything about the content in which this film tackles and in many ways that sometimes makes me fear a film in that I will be unable to comprehend all of what is going on. The motivations and the consequences for actions and why certain things might have come to be. Still, even in this complicated, high-stakes world he is a man who has to make decisions as we all do on a daily basis. There are films made about people like him simply because those decisions are on a much larger scale. The performances are all strong, but it is Gere who rightly steals the show and carries the responsibilty of translating Jarecki's attitude towards the wealthy with such genuine grace. In fact, what is so stirring is that writer and director Jarecki has no judgements of his own towards his character but instead is able to create a fully fleshed out human being who functions in his world truthfully. He wants us to judge him, and he wants us to see that all isn't always as it appears. That to every situation therein lies details and relationships that make it so much more complicated than an episode of 48 Hours might otherwise indicate. The line is not so clearly defined. We are made to ask ourselves what we might do were we in Miller's shoes and how close that answer skews to what unfolds on screen may scare you. Thus is the power of the film and a testament to the talent of a new writer and director whose career hopefully flourishes.

        

ARBITRAGE Review

Early on in first time feature director Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage Richard Gere's character Robert Miller (a character with less zing in his name than Gordon Gekko but just as much if not more zeal in his greed) talks about the only thing that truly matters in his life are the wonderful people that have come to fill it. He is thankful for what he says is truly important to him, but it quickly becomes clear what little emphasis those people have on Mr. Miller's day to day decisions no matter how much he himself likes to think so. In what has become a rather interesting career Gere fills the shoes of this Bernie Madoff-like billionaire whose world begins to crumble after several years of fraudulent activities very well. Gere has become an actor who is now more regarded as safe and uninspired than he is the daring, diverse handsome face many people expected him to become after 2002's double whammy of Unfaithful and Chicago. In the ten years that have passed since his Golden Globe win for the latter Gere has gone more in the direction of standard roles for someone of his age and stature only every now and then wandering off the beaten path for such interesting work as The Hoax, I'm Not There, and even the underrated Brooklyn's Finest. Here, he again  proves he can be just as interesting as he can sometimes be bland. As the film plays out carried by a story we recognize and for the most part realize, where it is going, we are not as much bothered by that as we are pleased with how well it uses it to its own advantage. The ins and outs of what Miller is managing pull us in while outside forces push us to understand who he really is, and what actually is important to the man.

TAKE THIS WALTZ Review

Take This Waltz tries to be tragic, but we just can't feel any empathy for the main character simply due to her personality. This was not the outcome I expected from the film as I was rather looking forward to seeing director Sarah Polley's follow up to her touching 2006 film Away from Her. While it seems that Polley has gathered an appealing enough cast to relate her story of tested love the inherit problem with the film is that story itself. It is just something about the idea of a young couple lost to the idea that nothing lasts. It is depressing to the degree not that the audience can't deal with it, but to the fact that it is done with such cutting deception to what is made out to be a real and humble couple. For all of its indie garb it is pretentious in actually affecting the greater importance of the relationship it chronicles. It instead comes off as trying too hard not only to paint an authentic portrait of relationships but as a piece of work underdeveloped to the point it operates only on those cliches that it tries so hard to avoid. In essence it is almost a parody of itself the way these people operate in a world defined by its quirkiness. I wanted to like the film, I really did. At first glance you have to wonder what there is not to like. Michelle Williams? Seth Rogen? Sarah Silverman? All funny, talented people who seem to know a good project when they see one (though I know an argument would automatically be made about Rogen here) but when each of them see something in a nice, little indie script about love and relationships you think there might be something inspiring here. Instead it just turns out to be a tepid interpretation of an experience that could have easily struck a chord with so many.

Lou (Seth Rogen) and Margot (Michelle Williams) are
faced with an unexpected challenge.
We are first introduced to Margot (Williams) as she is on a writing assignment in Nova Scotia composing a brochure for a Canadian tourist attraction (a job that serves well enough to pay the bills apparently) but the importance of this trip is that our main character first meets Daniel here (Luke Kirby). Daniel is similar in age to Margot, attractive and willing to call her out on her intriguing perspective towards life and terminals. I don't know if it was just me, but knowing Margot has a husband back home who has no aspirations in love outside of taking care of her forever does nothing but make you dislike Daniel from the very beginning, and Margot even more. As they both arrive home, conversation really sparking when they are seated near one another on the plane and share a cab ride home we learn that Daniel just so happens to live across the street from Margot and her husband. In what is the shining light in this exercise in narcissism coated with sunshine is Seth Rogen as the unsuspecting Lou. Lou also has the blessing to have one of those jobs that seems to carry little responsibility while garnering enough of an income for he and his wife to live comfortably while not really considering much of their future together. Maybe that is part of the inherent problem here, but if Margot is looking for more or as we come to see it, simply something new, she doesn't stray far from her first pick as Daniel is even more artsy and likely has less of a promising career ahead. Who cares, what they're doing is fulfilling right?

Daniel (Luke Kirby) presents an unexpected dilemma
for the married Margot.
The real jolt of what made the film so disheartening though was not the fact it isn't something people can relate to. Naturally, there are going to be folks who relate to feeling trapped within certain things, trapped because they do in fact feel an obligation to the person they are with more than they do a connection and this in turn raises some interesting questions the film addresses. Those having to do with true love, what it is, what that even means and if real, honest happiness can ever be achieved through it. What makes it so hard to get in line with and really understand the sticky dilemma the film chronicles is our lack of care for that main character. This is strange, as I said earlier, seeing as she is played by the very meek and loving Michelle Williams, but not even Williams skill can bring Margot to resonate with the masses. She is annoying, more a distraction than adorable and we begin to wonder why Lou even cares what he is losing and why Daniel puts so much on the line for such a person. I understand the point director Polley is trying to illustrate with Margot; that there is nothing wrong with her, that she only feels her relationship has gone stale and though she tries, in her opinion, to salvage it the best she can, the shiny new guy across the street is just to tempting to let the opportunity go. As the movie describes it, life has a gap and sometimes people seek out things to fill that gap. Margot certainly does that, she takes the easy route or maybe the route she believes she really wants and who's to take that away from her? Still, we all know in the end that everything gets old at some point and Margot will end up behind more than she will ahead. Stuck in a place where it is not so easy to find a dancing partner as it once was.

Margot and her sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman)
have an argument over each of their current
situations.
None of this is an excuse for the first hour and fifteen minutes though. It creeps by at such a slow pace it might be he cause of my dislike for the characters all the more. It becomes boring, even when Rogen appears on screen and evokes such loving goofiness that we ache for him to know the truth we also can't help but feel like we don't care all that much either. If you'd like to see a better film addressing a relationship from the end rather than the traditional rom com of boy meets girl than I would recommend something like Celeste and Jesse Forever over this. Where the current film under review attempts to paint a portrait of two people who have been in a relationship for quite some time, one growing restless the other completely content the Rashida Jones starrer gives a more honest look at the resonations of a break-up on the soul of a person with a more clear head and cast of characters that we feel we understand even if we may not agree we let their decisions pass whereas in Take this Waltz we can hardly stand to watch them operate and we certainly can't get behind them and root for the relationship to work. Some critics will enjoy this if for anything because it depicts a different picture of relationships than anything the Hollywood pipeline would ever produce, but just because it is different doesn't automatically make it more satisfying or even good. I liked parts of the film, the setting, the costume design the overall look of the film in general was very aesthetically pleasing but in the end I couldn't relate and I couldn't see why anyone would want to be like Margot.