Saturday, April 27, 2013


Much is being made of Writer/Director Jeff Nichols’ film Mud. 

While it is true that Matthew McConaughey (Mud) and his young co-stars Tye Sheridan (Ellis) and Jacob Lofland (Neckbone) do a great job, the film tends to move at a glacial pace, occasionally forcing members of the audience to do some stretches to stay awake.


Mud is a scalawag, who is being hunted for the murder of a man, who had been beating up on his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).  His hunters include not only the police, but the man’s father, whose other son has hired a half dozen thugs to join in the pursuit.

The action takes place in the bayous of Arkansas leading to the Mississippi and on a remote island where a hurricane has parked a large motorboat in a tree, which Ellis and Neckbone have found and are claiming for their own.  However, Mud, who is hiding on the island, has also found it and sees it as a possible escape vehicle…if he can get it out of the tree and rebuild its engine.
The film is 14 year-old Ellis’s coming-of-age story.   He believes in family and true love and convinces Neckbone to join with him in helping Mud retrieve and rebuild the boat so he can escape with Juniper.  Unfortunately, for him, Ellis sees relationships falling apart…that of his parents’, Mud’s and Juniper’s and his own with an older high school girl. 

Better editing might have helped, but the film is no Beasts of the Southern Wilds.

I give Mud a 3 out of 5.



The Big Wedding

The best gifts are those that are truly unexpected. 

I had not heard anything about Writer/Director Justin Zackham’s The Big Wedding and thought with the multi-star cast, including Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace and Amanda Seyfried, it might be a picaresque affair like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day.  Instead, it turns out to be this year’s most fun film to date.

De Niro and Keaton play Don and Ellie, a divorced couple of 10 years, whose adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) is marrying into a Catholic/Republican family (Seyfried’s).

Not only does the couple have to undergo the scrutiny of the orthodox Father Moinighan (Williams), but Don and Ellie have to pretend they are still married since Alejandro’s birth mother, a very devout Catholic, who is coming from Columbia to the wedding, thinks divorce is the worst sin of all.

The interplay of all the characters, acting out their foibles and exposing their secrets, makes for constant laughs.  And, it’s all done with heart. 


I give The Big Wedding my first 5 out of 5 for 2013.





Friday, April 26, 2013


Director Neil Jordan, who made Interview With A Vampire nearly 20 years ago, is back in the genre with Byzantium, a coming-of-age story about a 16 year-old girl, who is actually 200.

Saoirse Ronan plays Eleanor, an insular succreant or bloodsucker, who is forced to move from place to place because her succreant mother Clara, played by Gemma Arterton, works as a hooker, who likes to feed on her clients.   They are, also, being pursued by a cabal of male succreants, who are not happy with their being the only two females of the species and want to get rid of them.

They take refuge in a seaside town, living in a rundown hotel named Byzantium where most of the story evolves.

I’ve already mentioned in my review of The Host that Saoirse is the finest actress under 20 and, here, she, again, proves it.  Ronan expresses with looks more than most can express with the best of lines.

I believe this film has distribution through IFC, so I expect it will be out this summer or fall and it is well worth seeing.  Written by Moira Buffini, it is a unique take on the vampire genre.

I give Byzantium a 3+ out of 5. 






Thursday, April 25, 2013


The Möbius strip is a surface with only one side and only one boundary componentOne could travel from one point around both surfaces without crossing an edge to come back to the starting point.

What this has to do with Writer/Director Eric Rochant’s film Möbius is, perhaps, easier to discern if you are a mathematician.

Möbius is a spy-thriller in which my favorite French actress Cécile de France (Avenue Montaigne, Hereafter) plays Alice, a brilliant, but disgraced derivative trader, whose one mistake destroyed Lehman Brothers and helped bring about the global economic crisis.  Banished from the U.S., she is now working for a Russian bank in Monaco and is actually a spy for the CIA, assigned to help take down a corrupt Russian businessman played by a buff Tim Roth.
Alice is approached by the Russian FSB (the reinvented KGB) to work for them to do the very same thing and the CIA sees this as an opportunity to develop a mole in the FSB.

Here’s the problem…  When you start the film with characters speaking financial jargon in French, English and Russian, without knowing who is on what side and have the FSB giving Cécile’s character a code name and referring to her, for some unknown reason, as if she were a man, the audience is setup for confusion and it takes quite some time to figure out what the hell is going on.

The film is saved, however, by Jean Dujardin (The Artist), whose character is the chief of the FSB group assigned to cover Alice.  Not knowing who he is, she hits on him in a bar and, against orders not to get involved with her, he succumbs.  Their resulting affair takes over the film and we soon don’t care about understanding the rest of the plot. 

Cécile and Jean are both excellent to watch and Tim Roth and Aleksey Gorbunov, who plays his head of security, add to the fun.   

I give Möbius a 3+ out of 5, but Cécile and Jean get a 4+.
Note that the film was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival and does not yet have a U.S. release date.



Saturday, April 20, 2013


Writer/Producer/Director Joseph Kosinski has created a wonderfully cool science fiction epic with Oblivion.

What was really good about Oblivion is the fact it had a slow build during which we could study Production Designer Darren Gilford’s incredible sets and computer graphic images (CGI) and get a feel for what it would be like to be in a world that had been ravaged by war with an alien race.


Thanks to star performances by Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough, we also get a clear feel for what the relationship of the last two humans on Earth might be as they get ready to join the rest of the human survivors on one of Saturn’s moons. 


Then, we move from drama to action that has added star performances by Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko, plus ingenious twists and turns without overly doing the “bang-bang” and noise factor that ruin other films of this ilk.


All-in-all, Oblivion was far better than I had expected it to be.  It gets a half-point off for the writers’ violating their logic near the end and a final resolution that I, personally, didn’t care for…although it didn’t seem to bother others in the audience.  Nevertheless, Oblivion still gets a 4 out of 5.

If you go, let me know what you think of the ending.







Friday, April 19, 2013

Adult World

Director Scott Coffey, famous for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, has created another fun film on emerging youth called Adult World.
Emma Roberts plays Amy, a 22 year-old, recent college graduate with $90,000 in student loans, obsessively believes she is destined to be a great poet, when she hasn’t even had any real experience with life.  Running away from home, she can only find a job as a clerk in Adult World, a store that rents/sells sex films and toys.

While Emma earnestly tries to make us believe in Amy, it’s hard not to dismiss her as a spoiled brat…as does John Cusack’s character Rat Billings, who is Amy’s poet idol.

 Thanks to great performances by Cusack, Armando Riesco as a drag queen, Cloris Leachman as the owner of Adult World and Evan Peters as the eventual love interest plus…let’s face it…Emma’s cuteness, the film is interesting enough to appeal to fans of movies like High Fidelity and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

 Adult World is currently appearing at The Tribeca Film Festival.  I give it a 3 out of 5.




Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Angels' Share

Director Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share is a fun Scottish drama/caper that, interestingly, is subtitled even though the characters are speaking English, albeit with a Scottish brogue.  It turns out the subtitles are often necessary.

Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a Glaswegian, i.e., from Glasgow….and from one of the poorest and roughest sections of the city where family feuds last for generations.  Trapped by his upbringing and lack of schooling, he has been in trouble with the law most of his young life and has no possibility of advancement.  However, his girlfriend (Siobhan Reilly) is about to have a baby and Robbie’s got to make something of himself.

While doing community service as a result of a judgment on a fight he was in, Harry (John Henshaw), who is in charge of the miscreants working off their sentences, takes an interest in the young man and begins to teach him about the craft and pleasures of Scotch Whisky.

 It turns out Robbie has a nose for discerning the differences between brews and sees that as a way out of his dilemma…by stealing the rarest and most expensive Scotch of all.

Thanks to his motley crew, including Gary Maitland, Jasmine Riggins and William Ruane, working with Paul Laverty’s script, the caper is a pleasant romp that will appeal especially to those who enjoy a good glass of single barrel malts.

I give The Angels’ Share a 3+ out of 5.




Friday, April 12, 2013


Writer/Director Brian Helgeland’s bio-pic 42 is a fine tribute to Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in major league baseball, and should be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of the sport.

Thanks to Production Designer Richard Hoover, viewers are immersed in the look and feel of the 1940s.  This was an era when ball players had to have winter jobs because the salaries weren’t the humongous sums they are today.     Players were driven by the love of the game.

Jackie Robinson was a true American hero, forging ahead against the more outspoken racism of the day and demonstrating that skill trumped color. 

TV soap star Chadwick Boseman does a great job portraying Robinson and Nicole Beharie is admirable as his wife Rachel.  Harrison Ford’s first real test as a character actor, playing Dodger owner Branch Rickey, is a little rickety at first, but mellows out as he relaxes into it.  And, Alan Tudyk does a fine turn as the bigoted manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

 Even if you’re not into baseball, 42 is a great history lesson for African-Americans and Whites alike.  Though this era was a little before my time, I do remember as a little boy visiting the South and wanting to go into the “Colored” bathroom because I thought it would be…well…, more colorful. I was, thankfully, oblivious to the real meaning.  But, most viewers might not even be aware this type of segregation ever existed.  I noted that the chatty couple seated behind me went silent as the movie progressed.


I feared that 42 might be too pretentious or self-important, but that was not the case.  I give it a 4 out of 5 for the fan base and 3+ for the non-sportive crowd.



Friday, April 5, 2013


Director Danny Boyle has hit a home run with his latest film Trance...great directing, great writing, great acting and great production values.

Writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge have crafted a clever script, Editor Jon Harris weaves Cinematographer Anthony Don Mantle’s crisp images into an easy-to-follow representation of the twisting storyline and the cast led by James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel is absolutely superb.


Other than to say that the story is about the theft of a Goya painting that has just been auctioned for $40 million and the search by the thieves for what happened to it, I won’t tell you anything else…except that, even if you think you know the answer, you’ll be wrong. 
Trance is a must-see for anyone who really loves a smart ride.  I give it a strong 4+ out of 5.



It’s shot in black and white, has title cards instead of audio dialogue and is a tragic story, but Writer/Director Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves (Snow White) is absolutely wonderful.

It’s 1910.  Spain’s top matador (Daniel Giménez Cacho) becomes paralyzed from the neck down after a bull gores him and his wife dies in childbirth on the same day. 

A crafty nurse weds the crippled matador and immediately takes over his estate, leaving the maternal grandmother to raise his baby daughter, who the fallen idol is too broken-hearted to even see.  

Seven years later, when grandma has a heart attack and dies on the girl’s communion day, Carmencita (Sophia Oria) is sent to live with her wicked stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdú), who treats her like a slave.

Sound like fun?  Well, it really is. 

Cinematographer Kiko de la Rica’s black and white images are fabulous, Alfonso de Vilallonga's music makes dialogue unnecessary, Maribel Verdú is the most evil stepmother ever and both Sophia Oria and Macarena Garcia as the child Carmencita and the teenage Carmen, respectively, are perfectly splendid.

Unfortunately, Blancanieves may not get much distribution outside of a few major cities, but, if you can’t catch it in theaters, I urge you to find it on Netflix.

Blancanieves gets a 4+ out of 5.