Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cloud Atlas

While not the best film of the year (at this point, for me that’s still The Intouchables), Cloud Atlas has to rank as the most fascinating.
The film comprises six interwoven stories that span over 400 years following souls who reincarnate as they follow their paths to ascension or decline with the key to completion or salvation being in my favorite line, "You have to do what you can NOT do." 
Nine actors appear in four or more of the stories with Jim Broadbent, 

 Doona Bae (a new face to me)

 and Hugo Weaving being the most outstanding.

What’s wonderful about this film is that it doesn’t proselytize about reincarnation.  There are only a few instances where a character has visions about his/her past existences…and they don’t realize that’s what they’re seeing.  More often, it’s the case of feeling an affinity for a place or a person.  And, from my own experience as a long-time regression practitioner, that’s how it really is for most everyone.   So, it is the film’s honesty that is appealing, especially after The Master where regression was treated as a parlor game.  And, you really don’t have to accept reincarnation to enjoy the film. (But, could a billion Hindus be wrong?)

However, to me, a film derived from a book needs to be able to stand on its own.  And, Cloud Atlas would certainly be more enjoyable and, no doubt, more understandable to readers of David Mitchell’s novel.

For example, while it is easy to follow the same actor through different looks, sexes and even ethnicities, there is a particular birthmark that is carried through the stories, most noticeably on Halle Barry’s character in the 1970s sequence, when it’s remarked at.  Then, at the end, it’s on Tom Hank’s character while Halle Barry also appears in that sequence.  This made me wonder if different actors were playing incarnations of the same soul while other actors were always playing different incarnations of a single soul.  For the answer, one would have to have read the book.  And, that’s a fault of the film.

 Other faults are technical, but need to be mentioned. 

 The novelist created different speech patterns or lingos and the film starts with a Tom Hanks character uttering one of them.  Unfortunately, either he wasn’t properly directed or it was the sound department’s fault in not recording him so that we could hear what he was saying.  This happened on a few occasions.  And, it wasn’t that the lingo was too difficult to pick up after hearing it spoken clearly.

The other problem was the makeup.  Unfortunately, they didn’t employ T. Roy Helland and the superb crew from The Iron Lady.  And, while this makeup crew did some characters well, they fell short especially in the prosthetics area, making some characters look comical as was the case in J. Edgar.

Those problems aside, I might even see this film again and, at nearly 3 hours of playing time, that’s no small commitment.

I’m giving Cloud Atlas a 4 out of 5 for its daring and thought-provoking enjoyment.

Update: I did go to see Cloud Atlas again a week later and enjoyed it even more.  In fact, I’m raising my rating to 4+ out of 5.

I, also, want to point out the excellent editing by Alexander Berner and the superb acting by James D’Arcy, especially in his role as the Archivist.
In this viewing, I noted that a character in each of the time periods had the aforementioned birthmark, which makes me feel even more that it marks the same soul despite the fact different actors play its progression through the ages.  But, I’ll have to verify that through the book, which still makes it a problem for the screenplay and the reason the film doesn’t get a 5 out of 5. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Sessions

The Sessions is a very special film about acceptance and love that was the Audience Award winner at the Sundance Film Festival this year.

Based on a true story, John Hawkes plays poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, a man who has spent most of his life in an iron lung and is only able to out of for short periods each day.  Possessed of a brilliant mind, he decides to write an article on sexual practices among disabled people.

A devout Catholic, Mark wants to use this article as an opportunity for him to experience sex himself and he seeks the counsel of a priest named Father Brendan (William Macy) as to the ethics of his desire.  In an expression of true humanity, Fr. Brendan says he should “go for it.” 


That’s all you need to know, except for the fact that Helen Hunt gives an award-worthy performance as a sex-surrogate with whom he, ultimately, works.  Hunt shows she is a true actress, i.e., one who will play the character and not worry about her “image.”  Kudos to her and Moon Bloodgood, who plays O’Brien’s nursemaid.


Hawkes and Hunt, especially, deserve a 5 for their performances and this film would deserve a 5 if not for three egregious incidents of “Romnesia” with regard to numbers, two of which are important plot points.  (I’ll point them out to any viewers, who pose the question in the “comments” option of this blog. But, I’m hoping you will spot them yourselves.)  One incident I might let slip by, but, when one falls in love with this sweet story, one hates any such obvious imperfections on the part of the director/screenwriter.  Especially, when they could have been easily corrected.

 As it is, I give The Sessions a 4+ out of 5. 

Alex Cross

Tyler Perry proves he can be an action hero in the well-made thriller Alex Cross.

Aided by a strong cast, including Edward Burns, Matthew Fox, Rachel Nichols, Jean Reno, Cicely Tyson and supported by the excellent cinematography of Ricardo Della Rosa, the production design of Laura Fox and the skilled direction of Rob Cohen, Perry more than does justice to James Patterson’s novel.
Fox plays a psycho-assassin whose assignment is interrupted by Alex Cross’ ingenuity.  He decides to make Cross and his team pay for that.  

That’s all I’ll tell you, except, if you like thrillers, go for the ride.

Alex Cross gets a 4+ out of 5.

Paranormal Activity 4

I can accept any premises as long as the filmmaker sticks with the logic inherent in that premise.

Paranormal Activity 4 violates its premise of capturing the images of various rooms in a house by, for example, skipping from minute 1 to minute 3 without the intervening minute being shown.  Who edited it out?  Are we seeing the film after the fact?

 Well, no.  After keeping us in a semi-somnambular state for most of the film, the “Stupid Family” and “Dumb Boyfriend” are entirely killed off in the final 5 minutes by a witch and her coven, so who would have edited down the footage at the house?  The would-be filmmakers, I guess.

Usually, I don’t give out endings, but this is the first film I’ve seen in a long time that gets a 0; that’s zero out of 5 and I wouldn’t want anyone to waste money on buying a ticket.  Thankfully, I did not have to.

Friday, October 12, 2012


As an actor and a director, Ben Affleck keeps getting better and better.  His new film Argo is a flawless thriller based on the 1979 Iranian revolution, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
Six Americans escaped during the takeover of the American Embassy and hid in the home of the Canadian ambassador for almost 3 months.

An effort to rescue them was launched by the CIA, headed by agent Tony Mendez, who came up with the idea of bringing them out as members of a film crew, searching out locations for a fictitious movie called Argo.

Everyone in this cast from the ersatz producers played by Alan Arkin and John Goodman to the six embassy fugitives, including Tate Donovan and Clea DuVall, to the Canadian ambassador played by Victor Garber to his maid played by Sheila Vand to the Iranians, including Omid Abtahi and Farshad Farahat are all super excellent.

It’s an incredibly hard job to both direct and star in a film, but Affleck has pulled this off as well as it’s ever been done.


Argo is thrilling throughout and makes you proud to be an American despite the errors of the support of a despot that got the Country into the mess which still haunts us to this day.

The film well deserves a 5 out of 5.

Here Comes the Boom

Here Comes the Boom is a winner as a feel-good movie. 
Kudos to Kevin James for taking on the role of a lackadaisical teacher Scott Voss, who is inspired to help out a music teacher Marty Streb (played by Henry Winkler), who faces being fired because budget cuts are ending extracurricular activities like the school orchestra.  

 Voss becomes a mixed martial arts cage fighter to raise the money to keep his friend, whose 48-year old wife is pregnant, employed.
 The fact the big man trained for this role is inspiring in itself and his character’s actions, ultimately, inspire us, as well.  In an age where art-related extracurricular activities are being cut from schools, it requires us to think about what we might do to stop that from happening.
But as good as James and Winkler are, it is apt that the music theme is a majorpart of this film because Salma Hayek as Bella Flores makes the screen positively sing whenever she appears.  And, though her performance is on a plane above everyone else’s, she has the relaxed air that doesn’t show off her superior talent.  She draws everyone, including the audience, in on the fun she is having with this collaboration.

The excellent upporting cast of actors, especially Bas Rutten as Voss’s trainer Niko and Charice Pempengo as Voss’s smartest student Malia, are smartly directed by Frank Coraci (Click, The Wedding Singer).

Though the fight scenes may be a bit much for some children under 8, this is a family movie that will make you walk out with a big smile on your face.
I give Here Comes the Boom a 4 out of 5 overall, with Salma Hayek getting a big 5. 

Holy Motors

Surreal.  Absurd.  Nonsense.  Grotesque.  Just plain weird.  Any of these descriptions fit Léos Carax’ film Holy Motors.
Actually, the director describes this as a science fiction about people wanting to change their lives and have new experiences.  But, if you don’t know that or aren’t into the surreal, the absurd or nonsense and are expecting some sort of narrative thread, you will find yourself at a loss in trying to understand what is going on and waiting for a payoff that never comes.

However, if you are able to sit back and enjoy the images of a man named Oscar (Denis Lavant), who is driven around Paris in a white stretch limousine by a female chauffeur named Celine (Edith Scob) to “appointments,” for each of which he dons a different disguise and plays out a different role, you will often be amused.

Once I dropped looking for any semblance of sense, I realized the film reminded me of the nonsense plays of Ring Lardner (not his son of Woman of the Year or M*A*S*H* fame), one of which I turned into a play while in college.  A highlight was a wash tub filled with water that served as a boat on a dry sea.  Get the picture?
My issue with Holy Motors, is that, once I got into just seeing each of the appointment segments as a vignette all its own, there was a realistic scene, ending in a suicide, that was just ignored by Oscar as he hurried on to his last appointment where he was at “home” with a chimpanzee wife and baby chimp.  Oh, yes.

Then, I remembered the quote from Macbeth and felt this was just “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

 I’ll weirdly give it a 3 out of 5 for its attempt to be different.





Monday, October 8, 2012

Beyond the Hills

Though visually stunning, Beyond the Hills, the new film by Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, whose previous film 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days I thoroughly enjoyed, left me as cold as the Moldova hills where the story takes place.

Young Alina (Cristina Flutur), who has been living in Germany, returns to Romania to visit her childhood friend and, likely, lover Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) in an effort to bring her back to Alina’s new life.  Unfortunately, Voichita is now living as a nun in a religious compound headed by a fundamentalist Orthodox priest known as Papa (Valeriu Andriuta) and is reluctant to leave a life where she does not have to think, only obey.

It’s a story about the conflict between emerging individuality in a society still competing with the dogmatic remnants of Communism, though here, ironically, religion stands in for the old economic system showing any form of fundamentalism can be an “opiate of the masses.”

 Flutur and Stratan shared the Best Actress prize in Cannes and both these newcomers were wonderful. 

Oleg Mutu’s cinematography was also wonderful in its starkness.

What left me cold was director Mungiu’s style of shooting.  He likes to show the uninteresting part of a scene/shot because not all of life is interesting.  I, however, would rather sit through 2 hours of this story and do without the extra half hour of uninteresting footage.

Moreover, there seems to be an epidemic of well-acted, well-photographed films like this, The Master and The Paperboy that are about stupid/cultist people about whom I have little or no interest.

I give Beyond the Hills a 2+ out of 5.


Amour (Love) was the winner of the grand prize Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Directed by Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon and The Piano Teacher) and photographed by the fabulous Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris), Amour is a true masterpiece.

Be warned, however, that this is not an entertainment.  This is a film that makes you think while it touches your heart.
It’s the story of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), who have been married over half a century and live together in a Paris apartment where they are enjoying each other in retirement.

But, as Anne’s health begins to decline and she suffers debilitating strokes, George takes care of her with tender love, compassion and patience. 

At a time when people are living longer and their care is often in the hands of the stronger one of a couple or their children, I often felt myself viewing Amour as a documentary as much as a drama, learning the how-to of George and wondering if I would do some things the same or differently. 
Thanks to the wonderful editing of Nadine Muse and Monika Willi, though the characters move slowly, the film does not.  It’s a sorrowful subject treated with truthful dignity and power.
A sad note was hearing the Cannes press perked up when Isabelle Huppert, who played the couple’s daughter, appeared, but basically ignored veterans Trintignant and Riva, both with over 50-year careers from the iconic A Man and a Woman and Hiroshima Mon Amour,  respectively. 
I’m delighted that the Palme d’Or proved winning is the best revenge.

 I remember that, barely out of my teens, I could not sit through Bryan Forbes’ film on old age, The Whisperers. I simply did not want to deal with this subject at that time in my life.  So, if you’re under 30, I can well understand it if you might not be attracted this film.  However, I would urge everyone over 30 to see it.

I give Amour an unquestionable 5 out of 5.


Passion is Brian De Palma’s delicious homage to himself with this remake of French director Alain Corneau’s 2010 film Love Crime. 

Backed by the exquisite cinematography of José Luis Alcaine, who is noted for filming beautiful women beautifully, and the throbbing musical composition of Pino Donaggio, the composer of De Palma’s films Carrie and Dressed to Kill, Passion pits two ambitious advertising executives, Rachel McAdams’ Christine and Noomi Rapace’s Isabelle against each other with Karoline Herfurth’s Dani thrown in to make for even more fun.

The film is driven by those hatefully dishonest words, “It’s only business.”
De Palma enjoys playing with the audience right up until the end, when we’re left wondering what was a dream and what was real.  He admits he threw in the unscripted final shot at the last moment as a tease.
As long as you don’t take Passion too seriously, you’ll enjoy this retro throwback to Hitchcock and earlier De Palma.

I give it a 3+ out of 5.


Taken 2

I must admit that, being a big fan of Taken in 2008, Taken 2 was one of my most highly anticipated films of the fall.  And, for the most part, the film lived up to my expectation. 

The story takes place the year following the original, when Bryan Mills’ (Liam Neeson) daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) has flunked her L.A. driver’s test for the second time.  This sets up a fabulous car chase later in the film, when Kim is forced to drive while she and her father flee the henchmen of Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija).  He is the father of Marko, who was responsible for Kim’s kidnapping in Taken and was killed by Mills.

In fact, Mills contributed generously to the depopulation of the small Albanian town of Tropojë where the sex traffickers came from.    

Murad has been searching for the man responsible for his son’s death over the past year and, having uncovered Mills’ identity, has ordered for him, his daughter and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) to be taken while they are all in Istanbul.  That’s the setup.  Go and enjoy the ride.
The film's only “problem” is that, in the original, we did not know what a tough character Bryan Mills was.  So, as the action rolled forward, there was a high degree of tension as to if he was going to get out of deadly situations.  Here, viewers of Taken know who he is and only wonder how fast he will get out of the situation and how many bad guys he will take down as he does.  This is not a fault of the film, it’s just how it is.

James Bond and other sequel heroes get around this situation by varying the villains.  Here, the villains are essentially the same as in the original film…same look, same family, same lack of honor. 

As an action film, I’m giving Taken 2 a 4+ out of 5.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The Paperboy

Here I am at the New York Film Festival...

For the first time in its 50-year history, the Festival has done a Tribute to a cinema icon.  Nicole Kidman was given this honor.
At first, you might think this an odd choice, but when you see the body of her work from To Die For to Dogville to Eyes Wide Shut to The Hours to Moulin Rouge to The Paperboy, it begins to make sense.  She is incredibly diverse.  And, if not the obvious choice, she is certainly a well-deserved choice.

Nicole showed up in a beautiful red dress with golden glitter and answered smart questions from Program Director Richard Peña for nearly an hour before the screening of The Paperboy.

Unfortunately, this sophomore effort of director Lee Daniels, who created the exceptional film Precious, was not at all precious, nor was it the highlight of the evening. 

Due to his initial success, Daniels was able to attract excellent talent like Nicole Kidman to The Paperboy.  And, she is excellent.  John Cusack is excellent.  Macy Gray is excellent. Matthew McConaughey, who is not usually, in my opinion, excellent, is on a roll since Killer Joe, this summer, and is excellent.  In trying to keep up with the others, Zac Efron, who is too novice to have yet been excellent, turns in his best effort to date.

The problem is like that of The Master.  They’re in a story about low-life, stupid and/or unlikable characters that is poorly written with erratic direction and editing. 

The only likable character is Macy Gray’s Anita, who is the narrator of the film, speaking we know not to whom for a reason we know not why because it seems to be some years after the fact.  And, Anita, who later endears us, looks like she’s stoned, so, in reflection, her arc is not so endearing. 

Nicole Kidman’s Charlotte, who wants to marry a mean-spirited convicted murderer she’s never met, supposedly, because she believes he’s innocent brings out, in a scene after she’s slept with Zac Efron’s Jack, a street-smart wisdom that elevates her above anyone else in this lurid story.  But, then, she goes off to live in a swamp with Cusack’s wife-beater Hillary, who, ultimately, kills her. 
It doesn’t make sense; nor does a confusing editing style where shots stutter, seeming to leave out frames of, for instance, walking to a door.  The character starts and then, without a cut to a new shot, is at the door without the intervening steps.  Perhaps this was a way to shorten the film, but it could have been more easily done by not making it in the first place.

I have to, at least, give it a 2 out of 5 because of some great performances, the guts of shooting in the swampland and in the hopes everyone involved in this film learned what not to do in the future.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fat Kid Rules the World

Actor Matthew Lillard (The Descendants, Trouble With the Curve) succeeds with his first directing effort, Fat Kid Rules the World.

Made for $750,000 and with an advertising budget of slightly over $150,000 derived from the Internet site Kickstarter, Fat Kid Rules the World is the quintessential independently produced movie, a project that took over 10 years to bring to the screen. The young actors in this coming-of-age story are unknowns, smartly anchored by veteran Billy Campbell (The Killing, The Rocketeer) and backed with an original score by Pearl Jam’s lead guitarist Mike McCready.

The story, taken from a novel by KL Going, concerns high school student Troy Billing (Jacob Wysocki), who has doubled in size since his mother’s death a few years prior.  Living with his former Marine father, who now works in security, and his younger, more sportive brother Dayle (Dylan Arnold), Troy has become a self-created outcast.


At opening, Troy attempts to walk in front of a bus, only to be saved by an expelled stoner named Marcus Macrae (Matt O’Leary). Marcus is a homeless punk rocker, who befriends Troy for the money and food he is able to mooch off of him.  He manipulates the inept young man into learning to become the drummer for a new band he is creating, since his former band members have kicked him out of the group.

Troy goes along with the scam because Marcus is the key to a community of outsiders, including the attractive Isabel (Lili Simmons).

Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, the film is only flawed by trying to fit in too much of the book.  Or, perhaps, it was just my own cringe factor resulting from a few too many visits to the refrigerator, which is the first thing Troy does every time he enters his home.

 Fat Kid Rules the World opens in New York this weekend and Los Angeles the week after.  I hope 
it gets around more of the Country.  Anyone who feels like a misfit or outsider, their parents and 
those who enjoy good movies will be delighted with this one.


I give it a 4 out of 5.