Friday, March 29, 2013

The Host

For the first half hour of Writer/Director Andrew Niccol’s The Host,  I thought I had made a big mistake in seeing it, but, then, it evolved into a very interesting story of love and compassion that was surprisingly entertaining…, if you like love stories…, as I do.

The initial problems of the film have nothing to do with the cast. The film stars Saoirse Ronan (Hanna/Atonement), who is, by far, the best actress under 20 and the reason I wanted to see the film.  Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds/ National Treasure) is a great heavy and William Hurt as the patriarch of the rebel humans grounded the younger members of the cast, all of whom did a fine job.  

The problems come from the production team.  Admittedly, the story is difficult to script, but I feel they reached too hard to have a startling opening before we even knew who was who and then had to use flashbacks to tell us about the key characters.  And, most difficult of all was the fact the main character had a double personality, necessitating that one had to talk to the other in voiceover. Unfortunately, the voiceover was not well done and felt clunky throughout the entire film.

But the actors won out over the production problems and delivered a touching story that is worth your attention.

Because of the production shortcomings, I can only give The Host a 3+ out of 5. 
But, if you can last through the first 30 or so minutes, I think you’ll enjoy this movie.


G.I. Joe: Retaliation

I saw Writer/Director Stephen Sommers’ G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra by accident in 2009 and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to G.I. Joe: Retaliation, but, Jon Cho and the writing team of Rhett Riese and Paul Wernick were somewhat lacking in their delivery.

Even though I saw the initial setup, I was still confused for well over the first third of the film as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.  Unless you are a fan of the graphic novel or wherever this “epic” comes from, you will be, too.

Normally, the tell is that the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear dark.  Here, it’s reversed.  (I hope that helps would-be viewers.) 

 Once I had a better fix on who was who, I enjoyed the bang, bang shoot-‘em-up that followed.  I mean, who doesn’t want the President to be saved and the evil villain defeated, especially when Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson are involved?

Because they didn’t supply a sufficient program of Who’s Who, I can only give G.I. Joe: Retaliation a 2+ out of 5.  For the G.I. Joe fan base, it’s a 3+.




Monday, March 25, 2013

Les Coquillettes

Created coincidentally and without knowledge of Lena Dunham’s Girls, Writer/Director Sophie Letourneur’s Les Coquillettes (Macaroni and Cheese) is the French version of contemporary single women.


The story concerns three horny 30-something women (Director Sophie Letourneur and newcomers Camille Genaud and Carole Le Page), who are attending a film festival in which Sophie has a film and at which all of them are hoping to get laid.


French films usually show how more sophisticated they are in matters of relationship, especially those of a sexual nature.  Here, it was both refreshing and, yet, sad to see how closely they resemble their contemporaries on this side of the Atlantic.
The film unfolds in flashback as the women sit around a Paris apartment relating their memories of the festival as we see what really happened.

Letourneur actually shot most of the film at the Locarno Festival at which a short film of hers was being shown.  Her work is artfully done and I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.  And, I look forward to seeing her friends continuing to perform, as well.

The men, however, don’t live up to the stereotypical version of the suave French male and I can’t help feeling that is a tragedy, if true.

I saw the American premier of the film at the New Directors/New Films Festival and it doesn’t, currently, have a U.S. distributor, so I don’t know if you’ll be able to see it.  That would be a shame, so I hope it is picked up.

 I give Les Coquillettes a 3+ out of 5.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Writer/Director Ken Scott’s Starbuck may not win any “best film” awards, but it’s hard to think of one that can beat it for “heart.”

This is a coming-of-age story about a 40-something Polish-Canadian David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a lovable loser, who is $80,000 in debt to loan sharks, can’t grow healthy pot plants in his apartment and has just found out his cop girlfriend (Julie LeBreton) is pregnant.
But that’s not the worst thing in David’s life.  It turns out that in the period of the ‘80s/’90s, he donated sperm to a clinic over 600 times and, now, finds out that his semen was used in 533 successful births and the anonymity of his sobriquet Starbuck is being challenged in a class-action suit by 142 of those offspring.

Against the advice of his would-be lawyer friend (Antoine Bertrand), David decides to, surreptitiously, see one of the offspring, who turns out to a star soccer player.  Of course, just like potato chips, you can’t just stop at one, so David continues to meet several of these millennials until he, accidentally, ends up at a rally being held by the entire 142. 

 If you can walk out of this film without feeling uplifted and/or with a tear in your eye, you definitely need help.
Though this French-Canadian film will probably not have much distribution in theaters, I’m sure you’ll be able to find it on Netflix.   See it and embrace the strength of family.

I give Starbuck a 4 out of 5. 

Olympus Has Fallen

If you like action-packed thrillers, you’re going to enjoy Director Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen.

After a shocking opening event involving a major film star reminiscent of how Kathryn Bigelow used some stars in The Hurt Locker, protagonist Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is taken off the President’s Detail and relegated to a desk job at the Treasury Department in an office with a view of the White House.
A year and a half later, he’s still smarting from the situation despite being married to Leah, played by the beautiful Radha Mitchell.  Tough life.


The day after Independence Day, when terrorists take over the White House and kidnap the President, Mike has the opportunity to redeem himself and it’s non-stop action from there on.

I must say that I’ve never been a fan of Gerard Butler, but Olympus Has Fallen is his coming-of-right-genre film in the same way Taken was for Liam Neeson.  Backed up by a solid supporting cast, including Melissa Leo (one of the hardest working actors there is) as the Secretary of Defense, Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House, Angela Bassett as the Head of the Secret Service and Rick Yune as the head terrorist, Butler joins the ranks of the finest action heroes.


What I especially like about Fuqua’s work is that good guys and bad guys alike fight without compromise and don’t make the stupid mistakes that too often mar action films. 


On the minus side, I will call him out on a matter of protocol…putting both the President and VP in the same safe-room, which I don’t think would be allowed by the Secret Service and wasn’t necessary scriptwise…and a matter of policy…having a General, who should have been fired for his stupid actions, appear in the final sequence as if he were still in good standing.
And, yes, some of the dialogue was trite, but I still give Olympus Has Fallen a solid 4 out of 5.

The problem with many reviewers is that they see films in small screening rooms and don't feel the response of a real audience, which, as in this case, cheered the action.



If you buy a ticket, thinking Director Paul Weitz’ film Admission is going to be a comedy, you’ll probably be disappointed.  What it is is a sweet romantic dramedy, starring the fabulous Tina Fey.


Tina play Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University for 16 years, who’s been in a 10-year relationship with a boring English professor and is now one of two people up for Department Head, when current Head (Wally Shawn) retires.

Portia’s world of routine is interrupted, when the head of an experimental high school, who was in her own college class (Paul Rudd) introduces her to one of his seniors, who, he thinks, may be the son she, secretly, gave up for adoption shortly after their graduation.
I must confess that Tina Fey is my concept of the ideal woman…smart, talented, beautiful and funny…, so it’s hard for me to find fault with her.  But, trust me, there’s no reason to, here.  She gives an admirable, often poignant, performance as a woman befitting my alma mater and, I have to say, Rudd gives a fine turn as a fellow alum, as well.  And, Lily Tomlin gives a fine performance as Portia’s crusty mother.

Kudos to Princeton for allowing this production to utilize its “brand” and campus to show the pluses and minuses of the admission process.

If you like simple, but smart stories, you’ll enjoy Admission.  I give it a 3+ out of 5.






Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Breakers

If you’re between the ages of 15 and 25 and are a fan of Honey Boo Boo and Britney Spears, you’ll probably enjoy Writer/Director Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in the same light as the protest generation of the ‘60s enjoyed Easy Rider.   Depending on the size of that demographic, the film could become successful, perhaps even a midnight-showing cult classic.  However, if you’re outside of that demographic, Spring Breakers can, literally, lull you into a drug-free stupor.

Three fund-less college girls, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Coty (Rachel Korine) decide to rob a diner to get the money to go to Florida for Spring Break, collegians’ traditional rite-of-passage for over a half-century.  They enroll Faith (Selena Gomez), the more religious member of the quartet, to go with them.

When illicit partying at the bacchanal gets them arrested, the girls are bailed out by a drug/arms dealer named Alien (James Franco), who wants them to do some work in exchange.  Here the “fun” gets murkier, ultimately, leading to murder and survivors Candy and Brit riding off to more excitement á la Thelma and Louise.
There is a “rule” in writing thriller novels that you need to repeat key plot points at least  3 times, so they will sink in for the reader.  Applying this concept to film, Screenwriter Korine has his actors repeat the same lines 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or more times, I guess so the Honey Boo Boo fans will understand heavy dialogue like, “I think you’re afraid.”  It gets to the point where your skin crawls.
The film is amazingly boring, yet, I must admit that it's often mesmerizing, thanks to the excellent cinematography of Benoît Debie.


Along with Debie, James Franco, much more at home in this role than he was in Oz, The Great and Powerful, saves the film from complete boredom with the complexities of the silver-toothed Alien. 


The ladies, unfortunately, look like they’re playing dress-up or, in this case, dress-down to be sexy.  Hudgens and Benson do look sexy to some extent, especially when Debie takes advantage of the neon colors Costumer Heidi Bivens gives them; the other two, not so much.  But, the problem is that they all look too L.A. to be any more scintillating than Barbie.
For the above-mentioned demographic base, I’ll give Spring Breakers a 3+ out of 5; for the rest of us a 2.
In full disclosure, I must confess that I dozed for a few moments at the point Selena Gomez’ character left the story.  I’m assuming she returned home of her own accord and was not harmed.  I, obviously, was so overwhelmed by the excitement that I had to take a brief rest.  Mea culpa.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ginger & Rosa

Writer/Director Sally Potter has created a poignant coming-of-age story with Ginger & Rosa.


The age is 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which struck terror into the heart of every thinking human, but especially young Ginger, who was born, as was her best friend Rosa, at the time the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.   

 The two girls have been best friends all their lives, but the world’s impending doom and the booming hormones of womanhood begin to change all that.
Elle Fanning gives a superb performance as Ginger and is admirably backed-up by Alice Englert, who I enjoyed tremendously in Beautiful Creatures, as Rosa.

Beautifully photographed by Robbie Ryan, whose use of close-ups fully explores every nuance of the girls and the superb supporting cast, including Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt and Annette Bening, Ginger & Rosa clearly depicts the advent of the protest era of the ‘60s.
I give Ginger & Rosa a 4 out of 5.


The Call

Director Brad Anderson, working with Writer Richard D’Ovidio’s fine script, has created a taut thriller with The Call.


Halle Barry plays Jordan Turner, a 911 call operator, who makes a mistake at the film’s outset, that ends up costing a young girl her life.


A half-year later, when Abigail Breslin’s character Casey gets kidnapped by the same killer, she is able to call 911 from the trunk of his car.  The, now, more fragile Jordan takes over the case and vows the same fate will not befall this young woman.

The Call is a fast-paced race to rescue thanks to the cinematography of Tom Yatsko and Avi Youabian’s excellent editing.

The only flaw is the fitting, though…I could say…unrealistic..., but, not wanting to put you off on the film, I’ll, instead, say…controversial…ending.
Nonetheless, I give The Call 3+ out of 5.


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

“Everybody loves a magician,” is the mantra of Director Don Scardino’s The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and, if you’re looking for light-hearted fare, you will enjoy this film.

Young Burt and his friend Anton are adolescent nerds…before that was a term…, who learned magic tricks as a refuge from being picked on by the cooler kids at school.

Now, thirty years later, they’ve become The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) with a topline magic act at one of Las Vegas’ major casinos. 


Unfortunately, their act is getting stale after a ten-year stint and audiences are turning to the more fantastical stunts of Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who performs in the style of David Copperfield on speed. 


But, the self-absorbed Burt doesn’t face this reality until hotel boss Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) fires them and he learns his high lifestyle has left him broke. 

Thanks to Olivia Wilde, whose eyes are worth the price of admission...,

...and Alan Arkin’s hilarious antics as the retired magician, whose box of tricks was Burt’s original inspiration, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is wonderful family fun.
The old adage from the days of vaudeville is, “Always leave them laughing” and the last moments of this film, in which Burt and Anton perform their greatest trick, will give you genuine belly laughs.

For that alone, I give The Incredible Burt Wonderstone a 3+ out of 5.