Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hotel Transylvania

The conceit of Hotel Transylvania is the irony that Dracula thinks human’s suck.  That’s because crazed villagers killed his wife over 100 years ago.

 So, he has created an oasis in the Transylvanian Alps where creatures of the night can get away with their families without the fear of humans ruining their vacations.  It’s also where he has isolated his young…about to turn 118... daughter Mavis, so he doesn’t lose her to human cruelty.

Cute.  Right? 

Well, Dracula is initially proven right that humans suck, when a hipster named Jonny finds his way into the Hotel.  Unfortunately for the audience, that’s when the movie takes a nosedive and does suck for a while, since Jonny, voiced by Andy Samberg, is ultra-annoying and ultra-obnoxious.  But despite Samberg, who proves to be the only casting error, Mavis falls for Jonny and he, ultimately, endears himself to Dracula and the rest of the monsters, as well. 


Families with children, who haven’t seen the formulaic plot (with dance number at the end) before, will have a good time, except for the above-noted sequence.  Adults, like myself, who just love animated films…, not so much.

The big miss, which most viewers will probably miss, is that the story sets up the possibility Dracula’s wife’s could return, since her spirit is reputed to haunt another castle.  If the writers would have followed up on that, it would have made for a very happy ending for all.  But, they didn’t deliver.

 Nevertheless, I’m giving it a 3 out of 5 for the bright animation and message of allowing kids to do their own thing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best coming-of-age films in a very long time.  It’s also the very successful coming-out vehicle for Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame.  But, she is just one facet of a super-successful ensemble cast that includes Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Julia Garner, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh and Paul Rudd.
Lerman plays Charlie, a troubled freshman whose best friend committed suicide the previous year; an incident that has added to an earlier trauma that is gradually revealed during the course of the film.  Feeling isolated from his fellow classmates, he is taken in by a group of “misfit” seniors, including the half-siblings played by Watson and Miller.  They and their friends take Charlie on a school-year-long journey from childhood to young adulthood, including all the heartache and joy with which most of us can empathize.


The style of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is somewhat picaresque, trying, I believe, to include many episodes from the book, some of which are irrelevant to those, like me, who haven’t read it.  Yet, the spirit of the actors, directed by Steven Chbosky, and the pace of the editing, by Mary Jo Markey, keep the viewer involved and in complete enjoyment throughout.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower gets a 4+ out of 5.


Dredd is not dreadful, if you’re under 20.  It’s not even dreadful, if you’re an action film fan and are over 20.  It’s just that it’s not…  Not anything new. You’ll enjoy the similarly plotted Die Hard a lot more.  The only thing that can be claimed as new is the fact it’s in 3D. But, honestly, the 3D in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is even more thrilling.


On the plus side is the presence of Olivia Thirlby, who, I hope, will be given better fare for her talent and Lena Headey makes a good villain.  As for Karl Urban, who is hidden under a helmet throughout the film, they might as well have used a robot or CGI for the character.
 The technical aspects are worthy, but this is just a same-old-same-old blood-fest that actually had me nodding off at points.

Dredd gets a 2+ out of 5.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Arbitrage & The Master

Arbitrage is a taut, exciting thriller starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.


The story is particularly apt coming at the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and in the midst of the presidential campaign. 

 Hedge fund operator Richard Miller has made a very bad investment in Russia that puts his company in peril to the tune of over $400 million.  He borrows that sum and uses illegal accounting practices to make his empire seem stable while he attempts to merge with another firm to save it.  But, the deal has to close within a few days before the loan becomes due and the head of the other firm is being very illusive.

To make matters worse, Richard falls asleep at the wheel while driving to the country at night with his mistress.  He crashes her car and it explodes with her in it after he escapes the wreckage.

Instead of reporting the accident, he has a young black man (Nate Parker), whose family he has been helping, pick him up and drive him home.

Besieged by a wily detective (Tim Roth) and the internal accounting investigation of his daughter/colleague (the exquisite Britt Marling whose own film Another Earth is a must see and is currently available on HBO), Miller tries every means possible to survive.
Well-paced and well-acted, the issue with Arbitrage is this: are we for this Wall Street magnate or not?  Do we want him to win because he claims he does what he does for his family, workers and investors or do we want to be caught because he has betrayed his wife and his daughter’s principles, avoided confessing to his crimes and cheated his merger partner?  What does our answer say about us?

Director Nicholas Jarecki handles this story well.  The only thing I think he missed was one shot in the mirror of the Miller bedroom, when his wife gives him her ultimatum.  Has he learned that he who yells loudest is not necessarily the winner or has this odyssey taught him nothing? 

 Interestingly, the only one who doesn’t seem to care is the merger partner, who has his own nefarious reasons for needing the union of the companies.  That’s Wall Street ethics.

 Arbitrage is worth seeing.  I give it a 4 out of 5.

In parallel to Arbitrage is the story of another guy who thinks yelling loud makes one The Master.


Let me start by saying this film is brilliantly photographed by Mihai Malaimare, Jr backed up by a fabulous lighting crew, including Thomas M. Dangcil, Mike Gerzevitz, Frank Helbig and Michael Lyon. The close-ups, the long shots…all exquisite.

 The acting by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Ambyr Childers and Laura Dern is masterful.
 Now, we come to the three Ws…Weird, What? and Why?

Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson, backed by editors Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty, has for some “Weird” reason chosen to pick scenes that start, but don’t end. There’s a jump to some other scene without conclusion to the one we're watching.  And many of these scenes are uninteresting or as if they're from some book I should have read in order to understand why they are there.

So “What” is this all about?  The buzz is that this is a takeoff on Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, but apparently Anderson did not have that in mind when he initially wrote the script.  Nevertheless, it’s a great marketing ploy that’s made for sold-out shows all weekend in Manhattan and may keep the film going.  The bad news is that there’s no lack of cult leaders to form the basis of stories like this one.

 Finally, “Why?” I wouldn’t buy gas from any of these people, much less want to spend more than a minute meeting any of them, if I were visiting an asylum.  The only entity I had empathy for was the great house in which much of the action takes place and where Phoenix’ character was beating on the fine woodwork. I was worried that he might break the lovely windows, not that he might hurt himself.

When I asked the stranger seated next to me what she thought of the film, she, too, mentioned the cinematography and the great acting, but as far as the story, she was speechless.  She’d have to think about it.  Don’t waste your time, dear.  Take in something more intelligent like a 3 Stooges episode. This is not an important work and anyone who thinks it is is fodder for a cult.

For its actors and tech people, I give it a 3 out of 5.  If you're going to go, I recommend seeing it in 70mm projection to enjoy the richness of the images.





Friday, September 14, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

Boom! Boom! Boom! Run…Run… Squint. Squint. More Boom! Boom! Boom!
That pretty much sums up the plot of Resident Evil: Retribution.


If you’re a young gamer, you’ll probably enjoy this.  I mean, what young man (or, face it, even older man) doesn’t enjoy looking at Milla Jovovich for an hour and a half?

But this fifth edition of the Resident Evil franchise is wearing thin.  The story (and I use that term loosely) is basically same old, same old.  Even the 3D and the effects don’t add much kick.  And, you’d think that after all she’s been through, writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson wouldn’t put the Alice character in some of the dumb situations she faces.

Milla Jovovich is actually a fine actress and a good singer, as well.  She obviously is making a fortune off this franchise, but she deserves a project that would let her show how capable she really is.

I’m giving it a 2 out of 5 only for Milla still looking hot.


Hit and Run

Since I referenced Hit and Run in my review of 2 Days in New York, one of my readers suggested it would only be fair to review it. 

Okay…  But, in this case, the less said the better.

Let me start with the fact I’ve been a huge fan of Kristen Bell since her Veronica Mars days on TV.  I think she has great comedic talent and will only get better as her career progresses.

So, I’m assuming she appeared in this film only as a favor to her boyfriend Dax Shepard.

I’m not going to discuss the plot other than to say it was about stupid people doing stupid things.  That’s a big turnoff for me, especially when the script is so embarrassingly lame and unfunny.

The only bright spot came near the end of the movie when the wonderful Jason Bateman appeared in a one-scene cameo role as a cop and rose above the script to shine.  It was the telling moment for this movie.  He was actually performing while everyone else was just playing dress-up.

 Hit and Run is lucky to get a 1 out of 5. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

2 Days in New York

 Julie Delpy prides herself on being provocative; even annoying, because she thinks life is annoying.  Her first film, 2 Days in Paris, was, indeed, annoying due mostly to the unfortunate choice of her male lead.  But, she has redeemed herself with the totally enjoyable and charmingly provocative 2 Days in New York.
Backed by the wonderfully funny Chris Rock and a great ensemble cast, including her jovial real-life father, Julie allows herself to descend into banshee angst only because….  Well, I’ll let you discover why for yourself.
And, do try and discover it.  It’s a shame that this funfest does not have a marketing and advertising campaign that would get it into more theaters while the swing and a miss film Hit and Run does.  I guess that would give anyone angst.  But, hopefully, this fine work will earn Julie the future support she deserves.

The story takes place over the two days Julie’s father and sister come to New York to attend the opening of her photography exhibit. 

Bringing along her sister’s nutty boyfriend, who happens to be Julie’s ex, the Parisians move in with Julie and Chris, who have been living together with her son by a previous marriage. 

Chaos erupts with Julie claiming she has a brain tumor, her ex being deported and Chris having private conversations with a cardboard poster of Obama. Bizarre, yet often brilliant.

If you can’t find 2 Days in New York in a theater, it’s already out for streaming.

 I give 2 Days in New York a 4 out of 5 for fun and pure enjoyment.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The New York Film Festival

Jean Vigo
The New York Film Festival starts at the end of the month.

I’ll be seeing Michael Haneke’s Palm d’Or winning film Amour, the gala tribute to Nicole Kidman and her new film The Paperboy, Brian DePalma’s Passion with Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, the Cannes Film Festival best actress winners in Beyond the Hills and the Cannes’ Award of the Youth winner Holy Motors.

I’ll be reporting to you on all of these.

The Crimson Rivers

The first shot of a film can usually establish whether the director is in control of the production and the viewer can relax and enjoy the show.

 The French film The Crimson Rivers is a prime example of this truism as director Matthieu Kassovitz, backed by brilliant cinematographer Thierry Arbogast and the powerful musical composition of Bruno Coulais, shows us a spectacular, yet bleak view of the French Alps and leads us on a thrilling and, often, gruesome hunt for a deranged killer of staff members at a remote University for France’s most gifted.
Though released in 2000, I had the good fortune to see The Crimson Rivers at MOMA’s recent festival of French crime films.

Big city commissioner Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno) has been relegated to the hinterlands to investigate the grisly death of an unidentified man near the Alpine university.  Coincidently, nearby small town detective, Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel), is investigating the desecration of a grave of a young girl who died in a horrific car crash nearly 20 years earlier.
As each pursues his investigation and the body count rises, they are drawn together in the realization their cases are one and the same.  The plot, ultimately, moves on to a conspiracy to use Nazi-style eugenics to create perfect humans from the University’s students.

 Apparently, the director cut out some of the expository scenes to make the action move faster, e.g., we don't know why Niemans is out of favor.  In fact, Vincent Cassel is quoted as having said, “I can't help explain the film because I didn't understand it!"  Usually, I would find this a problem, but in this case, it works.  Here, the audience is bonded with the two heroes in their frenetic effort to figure out what is happening and who is culpable before more mayhem occurs.

The Crimson Rivers had a heavy budget for a French thriller ($14 million), but made an outstanding $60 million, mostly in Europe, because viewers, like those at the MOMA screening, were bowled over by the thrilling ride taken by two great actors, the fabulous cinematography and heart-pounding music.  It was a breathtaking experience!

 As we discussed the plot, most audience members I talked with wanted, as I did, to visit the University of Guernon. Unfortunately, I discovered it doesn’t exist.  The site used was part of an aeronautic research center. Oh, well…

If you enjoy good thrillers, you can see The Crimson Rivers on DVD.
I give it a 4+ out of 5.  


    Filmed over a period of five years on 70mm film, Samsara, Sanscrit for “cyclical existence," is a nonverbal meditation on life with haunting images from twenty-five countries on five continents.

    Backed by a beautiful musical score by Marcello De Francisci,  Lisa Gerrard and Michael Stearns, filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson show how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.
    Though some images like the chicken “harvesting” machine may disturb, the vast majority of what you see, like Ramadan in Mecca, will enthrall and all, like the creation and subsequent erasure of the sand mandalla at the Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh, India, will inform.

    This is a film you need to see on a large screen in order to appreciate its richness.   I urge you to seek it out and enjoy. 

    A definite 4+ out of 5.



    For A Good Time, Call...

    For A Good Time, Call…is both a very funny and very sweet film about two quite different females, who are able to bond despite a horrendous initial meeting during their high school days.
    Lauren Powell (Lauren Anne Miller) has just been jilted by her live-in boyfriend and has lost her prospective dream job as an editor through nepotism.  In dire need of a place to live, her friend Jesse (Justin Long) brings her to the spacious Gramercy Park rental apartment Katie Steele (Ari Graynor) has taken over after her grandmother's death.                                         
    Financial need forces the two women to tolerate each other, but, when Lauren learns her roommate is operating a phone sex business on the premises, her entrepreneurial sense comes into play and the two join forces to make the business thrive.
    What, in some hands, might have turned into sleazy fare, becomes surprisingly charming as Katie’s psyche is unraveled and the women bond.
    Sharp writing, smooth direction and fine production values make For A Good Time, enjoyable date movie.  I’m giving it a 4 out of 5.



    Monday, September 10, 2012


    Sorry to say, but Bachelorette turns out to be a wannabe Bridesmaids meets The Hangover and loses its soul in the attempt.

    Yes, there are some very funny moments because there’s some really good talent involved…Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson. 

    However, Kirsten Dunst, who is a really fine actress, has been playing too many heavy parts in the past few years and, at least here, hasn’t been able to make the jump to comedy.  She plays her character so utterly mean that there is nothing likable or funny about her.  Kristen Wiig was also an angry character in Bridesmaids, but she was able to show her angst in a likable way.  I would counsel Kirsten to take some improv lessons and lighten up.

    There is an overall problem with this film that hampers the humor.  It acts on an unconscious level and is rarely admitted to or even understood. 
    Comedy needs to be bright and crisp and it is the job of the cinematographer to make it look so.  Bachelorette looks flat and dull, almost as if you are seeing it through a curtain.  There’s no “pop” off the screen, so the audience experience is muted.  Things have to be REALLY funny to break through.  Whether it’s the camera, lenses, the lab…who knows in this case?  But, these are not areas to skrimp on in comedy.  And, to make matters worse, the sound recording was poor, as well.

    I was looking forward to this film, so I hate to say it, but it only deserves a 1.5 for the few scenes that broke through the curtain.


    Cold Light of Day

    If you like chase films in which an average guy is forced to become a man of action,
    I think you'll enjoy The Cold Light of Day.
    It would be easy, as critics have, to trash this film, because of the wooden Henry Cavill, whose character defies the genetics of being the child of Bruce Willis and Caroline Woodall. (Note that I'll buy into any premise as long as it keeps its logic.)

    However, I think that a negative view does a great disservice to the director Mabrouk El Mechri, cinematographer Remi Adefarasin and editor Valerio Bunelli, who kept the pace moving forward with enervating speed. Kudos, also, go to the excellent Roschdy Zem (see him as the Obama-look-alike inspector in Une Nuit) and Penelope Cruz look-alike Veronica Echegui.  Along with Willis and Sigourney Weaver, they manage to carry Cavill through the adventure. 
    Madrid and the Spanish Coast help for pleasant viewing, as well.

    I'm giving this film a 3 out of 5 for enjoyability and production values.