Saturday, August 31, 2013

Closed Circuit

Director John Crowley’s Closed Circuit is a taut, British political thriller that is definitely a film for our times.
As in this country, the real issue is not that everyone is being watched, but who is doing the watching.  As is the case here, as well, government workers forget they are public servants, not masters and believe their vision of state security overrides the well-being of individual citizens.  And, as here, these servants are really only interested in keeping their jobs.

Writer Steven Knight’s crisp story concerns the trial of the supposed ring-leader of a suicide bomb squad that explode a truck in London, killing 120 people.  

Under the British legal system, the public trial will be preceded by a private hearing at which it will be determined what evidence will be allowed in the public trial so as not to expose any government secrets.

Barrister Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is appointed the terrorist’s lawyer for the public trial after the original lawyer dies and his former lover Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) is the Special Appointee to represent him in the private hearing.

But, don’t think it’s a courtroom drama.  What the lawyers uncover provides plenty of nail-biting action and intrigue as their own lives are jeopardized.  And, Cinematographer Adriano Goldman’s use of close-ups drives the tension while, also, taking time-out to provide us with eye-candy by exploring every facial pore of the lovely Rebecca Hall.

 I give Closed Circuit a 4+ out of 5.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

I look forward to films like  The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, but Director Harald Zwart’s work fell below my expectations, mainly through the poor script by Jessica Postigo Paquette.

This was a movie for which you needed to have read the book by Cassandra Clare to understand what was going on.

Though not at all a clone of The Twilight Saga as some “little old ladies of either sex” contend, the film does evokes comparison with the far better Beautiful Creatures that came out this past February.  I hadn’t read the book behind that film either, but had no problem in following the story because of the clear writing of Richard LaGravenese.

As an example, because the friend of the heroine played admirably by Lili Collins is a “mundane,” i.e., human, he cannot see the Shadow Hunters, when they appear to  Lili’s character Clary.  However, a few scenes later, he, for some unclear reason, can see them.  Did I miss something?  Was he not a mundane, but a Shadow Hunter?  This kept me out of the story for a while until I just let it go as bad writing.  However, I did, later, ask another viewer if he could explain the change and he could not.  It was bad scripting.

 Notwithstanding the muddled script, there are, however, great action sequences and some fabulous special effects.  And, I have to give a shout out  to the Casting Director for casting Lena Headey as Collins’ character’s mother.  Collins looks exactly like a younger Headey.

If only the sequel would have a better writer, perhaps this franchise could be saved.  But, unfortunately, I’ve read that is not to be the case.  Rewrite anyone?   Anyone!?

As it is, I can only give  The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones a 3+ out of 5.






The World's End

Fans of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz may be a bit disappointed in Writer/Director Edgar Wright’s The World’s End.  I’m one of those fans and I surely was.  Perhaps there was too much anticipation, but the fault lies clearly in the slow build of the script, which was penned along with lead actor Simon Pegg and Wright’s somewhat tired direction.  The beats were off and, although Pegg tried to keep the energy up with his manic character Gary King, the other actors from the initial two films seemed half asleep and Pegg, too often, went over the top to compensate.
The object is to complete the Golden Mile of twelve pubs between dusk ‘til dawn, drinking a pint of ale at each before ending at The World’s End.  The five Musketeers had failed in their attempt after graduation, but the alcoholic Gary King, who is the only one of the five not to have grown into adulthood sees fulfillment of this quest as the one way of giving his life meaning.

 Now, that is sad.  And, the film lumbers along until the team reaches The Crossed Hands, the fourth pub, when two interesting things happen.  Firstly, Rosamund Pike enters the story as the sister of Oliver, one of the team.   Pike, who has been excellent in every film she’s done since I first saw her in Pride & Prejudice, shows her comic chops and puts most of the tired team  to shame.  (Look for her as the lead in Gone Girl.)
The other interesting thing that happens is the realization almost all the people in the town are cyborg replicants of their former human selves.

From then on, the film becomes a chase in which, while most of the team wants to get out of town, Gary King wants to complete the Mile.  And, finally, we are treated to great fun and action until the apocalyptic ending.

This film should have been a lot better, but I still give The World’s End a 3+ out of 5.

 PS: I have to confess, that feeling cheated, I went to see We're The Millers for a second time to feel satisfied.  Now, that's a real comic triumph!



Sunday, August 18, 2013


Austenland has a great premise that there is place where one can go immerse oneself in the Regency period that filled the novels of Jane Austen by dressing, eating and living as a character from that time period.  If such a place doesn’t already exist, I think it would be a  sure money-maker.

Unfortunately, this movie won't be a great money-maker.  Writer/Director Jerusha Hess with Co-Writer Shannon Hale have not made a film that meets the potential of this premise.  It’s like an old car that sputters and goes, then sputters and goes. 

It’s definitely in the writing and directing where the fault lies because the acting, except in one notable instance, does hit the mark.  Keri Russell is admirable as the wall-flower Jane Hayes, who is obsessed with Pride & Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and all things Austen, but, at times, she is given out-of-character lines and actions that belie who she has been set up to be.
Jennifer Coolidge…forever, aka, Stifler’s Mom…shows her acting chops by keeping the brightness going despite the weakness of the script.  And, Georgia King makes the most of what she was given to work with to add to the fun.  Only Jane Seymour could not overcome the frightening look and weakly constructed role given her.


Yet, Austen fans will enjoy the film, nonetheless.  I give Austenland a 3 out of 5.



Kick-Ass 2

Having been a fan of the original Kick-Ass film, I was really looking forward to Kick-Ass 2.  Unfortunately, it has Jeff Wadlow as the Writer/Director instead of Matthew Vaughn. 


What Wadlow failed to understand is that the original was worthy of a sequel, not because of the Kick-Ass character, but Chloë Grace Moretz’ character Hit-Girl.  Here, she was Lone-Rangered…the new term, meaning the attempt to or succeeding in turning a hero into a wimp…for more than half the movie. 
And, instead of Nicholas Cage as the adult hero and Mark Strong as the villain, we were given a half-hearted Jim Carrey as the adult hero and, in an incredibly weak performance, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the villain.  Mintz-Plasse, unfortunately,  “jumped the shark” or, in this case, was eaten by the shark.  Poor Sharkey’s probably got a belly ache.
To be sure, there are some great scenes…all with Hit-Girl…, but I can only give Kick-Ass 2 half of a perfect score, i.e., 2+ because she was really only there for half the film.
It’s interesting that the next generation of female stars is already secured with Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, Emma Watson, Emma Roberts and Chloë Grace Moretz, but there are no male actors who have yet matched up to them.  The opportunity is wide open.

The Butler

Happily Director Lee Daniels is out of his “sophomore slump” (The Paperboy) and has delivered a wonderful hit with The Butler.  He has been aided in great part by the splendid writing of Danny Strong, who has accomplished an incredible feat with a script that transpires over 82 years from 1926 to 2008 and keeps the audience riveted throughout.

 Five-star performances by Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, Oprah Winfrey as Gloria Gaines and David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines complete a trifecta in making The Butler one of the best films of the year, so far.
The film enlightens while it entertains, detailing events that stunned this viewer.  And, one of the great delights that “screening room reviewers” miss is seeing the numbers of African-American mothers and fathers, who are bringing their young children to see this movie.  I can’t imagine how shocked they must be to see what their race has suffered, especially from the ‘20s through the ‘60s.  Feeling empathy with them is a true bonus. 

There are very few faults to this film and they are only in some of the casting choices for the seven presidents Cecil serves in his term at the White House.  I would have preferred lesser known actors, who were more lookalikes. 

And the only real problem is that those who should see this film probably won’t.  It would be great if there were a mandatory screening for all members of Congress.
I give The Butler a 4+ out of 5, with the abovementioned actors getting high-5s for their performances.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium is a dark view of the future where the one-percenters live in a luxurious space station hovering 19 minutes above Earth, while the masses suffer in squalor on the planet.  Residents of Elysium even have home pods to restore their health whenever needed.  And, only a select few Earthlings get to visit for physical restoration.

Matt Damon plays Max, a former thief, who is trying to go straight with a menial factory job until he gets a lethal dose of radiation and is given 5 days to live.
He needs to get to Elysium for a cure, but the only way he can do that is to try to get beyond the defenses of the ruthless Secretary of Defense played by Jodie Foster with delicious evilness.


Sharlto Copley, who played in Blomkamp’s District 9, is, also, a fabulous villain as the Secretary’s go-to man for mayhem.

It is not always clear exactly what is going on or why, but the main objectives are clear and the audience is swept along with Max’s efforts to save his life and, ultimately, the lives of his former lover and her daughter.
Elysium is a well-made view of what we would hope our world does not become.  I give it a 3+ out of 5.



Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Director Thor Freudenthal’s Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is not the worst film of the year, so far.  That title goes hands down to The Lone Ranger.  However, it does have the worst dialogue of the year, so far.  And, its construction is just silly.

It reminded me of the TV series Revolution, which has arguably the most attractive cast on the tube, especially its women, but the characters make such idiotic decisions that it has become just too painful to watch.  Here is an attractive cast of teens, but their characters’ actions are just too ridiculous to take seriously. 

I was tempted to walk out more than a few times, but took solace in rooting for the monsters to eat them.

I will say, however, that some in the audience seemed to enjoy the film.  So I suggest… not in any way disrespectfully…that the distributors make special group rates for homes/schools/hospitals for the mentally challenged and bus them in for screenings.  They’ll be amused by the images and the plot and dialogue won’t matter.
I give Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters a 2+ out of 5 for its fan base, but 1 out of 5 for thinking people.

PS: Oddly enough, I remember liking the original film in this series, but that had better writing and direction.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

We're The Millers

If you like to have fun at the movies and enjoyed The Heat, then you will have a great time seeing Director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s We’re The Millers.

Wedding Crasher Writers Bob Fisher and Steve Farber have teamed up with Hot Tub Time Machine Writers Sean Anders and John Morris to create a hilarious story full of belly laughs for men and women alike.

Jason Sudeikis plays David Clark, a small-time drug dealer, who loses his boss’s drugs and money to some teen thieves.  Owing $40,000, his boss, Brad Gurlinger (Ed Helms) sends him to Mexico to pick up and bring back what he describes as a small shipment of marijuana.  Wanting to avoid being checked at the border, Clark hires a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), who lives in his building, to pose as his wife; a teen neighbor (Will Poulter), whose mother has left him, to pose as his son; and a street thief (Emma Roberts) to pose as his daughter.  They are the Millers.


Everything that could go wrong, does…and more. 

The cast is fabulous, as is Kathryn Hahn, who plays the randy mother in a family they meet on the trip.

If you’re looking for respite from the action flicks and self-important dramas coming out, close your eyes and ears to "the little old ladies of either sex" who may put this comedy down.
Go have some great summertime laughs.
I give We’re The Millers a 4+ out of 5.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

2 Guns


Director Baltasar Kormákur’s 2 Guns is a fun buddy movie with Denzel Washington playing Bobby Trench, an undercover DEA agent, and Mark Wahlberg playing Stig Stigman, playing an undercover naval intelligence officer.   

Both are after the leader of a drug cartel Papi Greco, played admirably by Edward James Olmos. 
The fun derives from the fact neither knows the other is a good guy and they are both trying to catch or kill the other.  Further complications arise when the money they stolen from Greco actually happens to belong to a heartless, rogue CIA agent played by Bill Paxton.

Paula Patton adds the appropriate eye candy.

Fans of this genre will have a good time with the banter and the action.  After several recent poor choices of roles by Wahlberg where he plays a basically stupid person, he finds his right niche here, playing a smart guy, who tries to come off as stupid to fool his foes.
I give 2 Guns a 4 out of 5 for the fan base.

The Spectacular Now

The impact of some films gets better the longer you think about them.  My annoyance with this one has grown the longer I think about it.

The Spectacular Now sounded like it would be an uplifting drama.  Not.

I thought Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine was tragic, but Director James Ponsoldt’s  The Spectacular Now seemed even more tragic, dealing with the sad plight of teens, who hadn’t yet begun to live their lives.

What the two films have in common is spectacular performances by the leading women, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine and the fabulous Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) in this film. 
What they don’t have in common is a brilliant screenplay.  Here it seems a life drama was written by writers who haven’t yet begun to have lives.

A second problem was the worst miscasting since Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina with the film’s mail lead.   It’s not that Miles Teller is a bad actor.  On the contrary.  The problem is that he is not believable in this role of Sutter Kiely, an 18-year old loser, who appeals to Cassidy (Brie Larson), the hottest babe in his class, and, then, to Woodley’s Aimee Finecky, who, though an inexperienced young woman, is very smart and has a clear vision of what she wants from the future.  Why these two young women would be attracted to a pimple-faced, alcoholic party boy defies my wide suspension of disbelief, especially when his male classmates have him rightly pegged as a joke. 

Despite this fact, Woodley’s honest portrayal keeps the audience totally focused on her and hoping the frog next to her might somehow be transformed into a worthy prince.  Unfortunately, that’s not to be.
Then, there’s the misguided title.  There’s nothing spectacular in the young creep’s or his estranged father’s concept of the “now.”  In fact, they and whoever came up with this title denigrate the positive philosophy of living in the moment.

Those who are readers of my reviews know that I don’t, usually, give away too much of the plot unless the film is really bad or, as in this case, is truly annoying. 

So, here’s a Spoiler Alert…  The writers/director, here, pull off a nasty trick on members of the audience, making us believe Aimee has been killed and, then…while I was wondering whether to leave now that the only character worth watching was gone… after a few scenes lasting several minutes where Sutter talks under ominous music to a doctor and then is back in school, casually bring Aimee back with just an injured arm.  Not cool.  And, there were murmurs of, “What the f…?”

The film ends with one of those phony redemptions where the uneducated drunkard may be on the mend and goes to find Aimee, who had, smartly, moved on.  Better he should have found the main character from Frances Ha and hooked up with her so they could have lived lives of mediocrity than, tragically, attempting to pull Aimee down to his level.

I give The Spectacular Now a 2 out of 5, but Shailene Woodley gets a 4+ for a star performance that, at times, shows the power of Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Lining Playbook.  She has a great future ahead of her and should be watched by aspiring actresses, who want to learn how to rise above poor material.