Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fast & Furious 6

I was really looking forward to Fast & Furious 6 and Director Justin Lin, Writer’s Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson and the Cast, including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Ludacris, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans and Gina Carano did not let me down one bit.

Fast & Furious 6  is the best of the action films this year, so far! 

Stephen F. Windom’s Cinematography, along with Composer Lucas Vidal’s soundtrack, Jan Roelf’s Production Design and Editors Greg D’Auria, Kelly Matsumoto and Christian Wagner combine with Lin, the writing team and the awesome cars to make the action fast and fun from one end of Europe to the other without a letdown.

The secret ingredient to this franchise is that it’s about family.  The team sticks together no matter what.  And, that’s why the audience sticks with them…no matter what.

I was going to give Fast & Furious 6 a 6 out of 5, but was upset that the Writers didn’t let two member of the family survive.  Or, did they survive?  I guess we’ll have to wait until the next installment of the franchise to find out.  That’s when they’ll have to face down with Jason Statham’s villainy.  Can’t wait.

Fast & Furious 6 gets a 5 out of 5.  Go for it!





I haven’t seen a good animated film since last year’s Brave, but this year’s crop of animated productions will have to go a long way to equal Writer/Director Chris Wedge’s amazing Epic.


The charming Father/Daughter-relationship story deals with the beauty of nature facing destruction.  It has aspects of a mini-Avatar, dealing with the little creatures that keep the Earth fertile and green and fight against those who wish to blight it.  The voices of Amanda Seyfried as the heroine M.K. and Christoph Waltz as the villain Mandrake head a great cast of characters.
This wonderful work will appeal to audiences from 8 to 88.   Actually, those above and below those ages will love it, too.

Blue Sky Studio’s 3D animation is spectacular and should impress even those who normally shy from “cartoons.”
 I give Epic a 5 out of 5.  Go see it!

Before Midnight

Writer/Director Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is an excellent final segment of his trilogy on the relationship of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who met in their 20s (Before Sunrise), reconnected in their 30s (Before Sunset) and are now a family in their 40s.

Though they might not realize what's happening, the romantically naïve Jesse and the tough, feminist Celine are each faced with an impeding middle-age crisis.   This situation reaches a fever-pitch at the end of their 6-week vacation in Greece, when Celine receives an offer for her “dream  job” in Paris and Jesse’s guilt over being absent from his son by his former marriage has him considering moving back to the States.

The film is an adult “talkie” in the tradition of Louie Malle’s My Dinner With Andre (1981), but it’s not about philosophy, but real relationships and, with the talent of co-Writers Delpy and Hawke, the talk is real and superbly executed.

Will their relationship survive?  Will it last?  You’ll have to decide for yourself.  As for me, the key is that they talk.  Their interaction is only interrupted by a few short calls from Jesse’s son, who is checking in as he flies home to Chicago.  There is no texting or glancing at messages.  There is honest conversation.  And, that, I believe, will be their salvation.  With whom else will they find that...besides a good therapist?  Well, yes, they both could use one.

I give Before Midnight a 5 for those who have seen the first two films and a 4+ for smart viewers, who are new to the trilogy.



Friday, May 24, 2013

Hangover III

Writer/Director Todd Philips, along with co-Writers Craig Mazin, Scott Moore and Jon Lucas, has moved to the dark side with Hangover III, the last episode of the Hangover trilogy, but there are still enough laughs to make it enjoyable for the fan base.
An intervention is held for the incorrigible Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and the rest of the Wolfpack…Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Doug (Justin Bartha)…are taking him to a convalescent home, when they are run off the road by Marshall (John Goodman) and his gang.  Marshall has had $21 million in stolen gold stolen from him by Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and demands they find Chow and get it back or he will kill Doug, who he keeps as hostage.
 As in the original Hangover and Hangover II, there are over-the-top and outrageous incidents, but, this time, some are too absurd even in this context and, what’s worse, too mean-spirited to be funny.  Mr. Chow loses his wacky charm and his eventual breakup with Alan has no poignancy.

Alan’s own dive into the pathetic is only saved by his newfound relationship with pawnbroker Cassie (Melissa McCarthy), but even that is not able to elicit more than a who-cares “duh” from both the audience and the rest of the Wolfpack, when he wants to resign from the group. 

Still, for what does succeed, including the scene during the end-credits, I give Hangover III a 3+ for the fan base and a 3 for those who are just coming into the franchise.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

3 Geezers

There’s not much good that can be said for Director/Editor Michelle Schumacher’s embarrassingly poor work with 3 Geezers.


However, I will give it a 1 out of 5 for the one thing that is good about it, a surprisingly interesting music track, including some hip hop and an exceptionally fine title song written and sung by a newcomer, who goes by the name of StEviE.  Would that they had just shot her performing.   As it is, skip the movie and download the album.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Frances Ha

Half-way through Writer/Director Noah Baumbach’s depressing, find-myself movie Frances Ha, I thought I’d be glib and just say Cinematographer  Sam Levy does a splendid job in reviving Black & White filmmaking and, perhaps, not even rate this work.

But, then, I remembered that I volunteered myself to this task of letting you know what to see and what not to see.  So, I will say that Co-Writer Greta Gerwig does a fine job of depicting Vassar alum Frances, an ill-mannered, slovenly, talk-too-much-about-nothing, 27 year-old wannabe dancer, whose Rubenesque figure condemns her from ever being taken seriously as such.  I don’t know Greta, but I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for her.  It was almost like watching a desperate friend doing a porn flic.  Why do I want to witness this?

Spoiler alert: Frances does begin to find her calling as a choreographer…at least enough of a finding to be able to get the first two initials of her surname on her mailbox…the “Ha.”  But, I couldn’t help thinking of Woody Allen’s line, “Someday you’ll find yourself…and I’m sure you’ll be disappointed.”  Or, was it Henny Youngman?

In any case, again, because of Sam Levy and in hopes that the film might serve as a mirror to scare some 20-somethings into getting their acts together, I’m giving Frances Ha a 2+ out of 5.

P.S.: Feeling as if my wallet was violated, I had to go home and shower, during which I found myself humming Maurice Chevalier’s song from Gigi…I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness is a masterful production from Director/Producer J. J. Abrams. 

It succeeds on every level: Abrams’ directing; script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof; cinematography by Dan Mindel; production design by Scott Chambliss; editing by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; casting by April Webster and Alyssa Weisberg; and the acting of Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Zoe Saldana (Uhuru) Alice Eve (Carol Marcus), Anton Yelchin (Chekov) and Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime). 
On top of that, the visual effects and 3D that, for a change, really is worthwhile make this an outstanding film that will appeal, not only to Star Trek fans, but anyone who wants to see a great action film. 

The true test of a prequel to stories you’ve already seen is the ability of the production to constantly keep you on the edge of your seat from the potentially fatal peril confronting the protagonist(s).   In this regard, Star Trek Into Darkness triumphs throughout.

Not only is Star Trek Into Darkness exciting; it is a lot of fun, not only for, but certainly including, the brilliance of casting such talented lookalikes to the original players.   I give it a big 4+ out of 5.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby

The problem with Writer/Director Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is that, like its title character, it tries too hard.

 When you bring to the screen what is reputed to be one of the great American novels, you open yourself to comparison, not only to those who have tried to do the same thing, but to those who have done other classics, as well. 

Sorry to say that, though I’ve been a big fan of Luhrmann’s previous work, The Great Gatsby falls short in comparisons.
What Luhrmann does best are big song and dance numbers and, here, the party scenes are fabulous.  Unfortunately, there are not enough of them.  Sad to say, but the story gets in the way of the fun.  And, it’s because the story is not told that well.  Why?  It’s a function of the script and, surprisingly, of the acting.

The tale is told in flashback by Gatsby’s friend Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who is in rehab after Gatsby’s death.  Though Carraway turns 30 during the story, Maguire plays him more like someone just out of his teens.  I began to long for the more mature Joseph Cotten of Citizen Kane and The Third Man; someone I could believe just lost a mentor/friend. 

But Maguire and his way of telling the story wasn’t the only problem.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby at 32 also seemed unbelievably naïve to relationships for one, who, in only a few years, dealt with mobsters and politicians to build an empire of incredible wealth. 

My mind wandered to thinking how the young Orson Welles or Humphrey Bogart would have brought more believability to the role.  And, I’ve always liked DiCaprio!  What’s more, I never think about other actors doing a role I’m watching! 

 Even Cary Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan began to drift from her fine depiction of a weak-willed ditz to being a little too level-headed and I began to who would have handled her final decision more believably. 

Only Elizabeth Debicki in her role as the vampy Jordan Baker her character. 

So, what was going wrong?   I had to believe it was Luhrmann’s directing decision to make the characters stylized ‘20s caricatures instead of real people in a heavy drama. 

And, perhaps the decision to shoot digitally was meant to give it that TV soap opera feel.

Not the choices I would have made.  But, with those assumptions and out of deference, I sat back and enjoyed the visual feast of the Gatsby-lite version of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, which I give a 3 out of 5.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3

The best parts of Writer/Director Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 are not the battles, but the humorous smaller scenes, including Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) interaction with a smart, young boy (Ty Simkins), his meeting with his nemesis The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and the overly security conscious Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).

Shane Black and Robert Downey, Jr. worked together in the 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where they developed the comic rhythm that worked here.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Rebecca Hall bring some welcome female energy to the franchise, adding to the fun.

Of course, the effects were spectacular, as well, but they are so many we become numb to them after a while and the little things provide the flavor that makes the film most enjoyable.

The film’s one mistake was not refreshing our memory as to what, in The Avengers, caused Tony Stark to, now, have anxiety attacks. As a result, those viewers with short term memory lapses or who didn't see The Avengers have no clue as to what the problem is and have to suffer through these bouts along with the character.  Since the dictum in film is “show, don’t tell,” I was surprised that Shane Black would have missed this.
Nevertheless, I give Iron Man 3 a 4 out of 5 and hope the rest of this year’s blockbusters match its energy.