Monday, February 25, 2013

Dark Skies

Writer/Director Scott Stewart’s Dark Skies is a well-produced, upscale version of my choice for last year’s worst movie Paranormal Activity 4.

It has Keri Russell as its plus difference and she is fine, but Josh Hamilton is terrible as her husband and it’s hard to care what happens to him and, after a while, the whole family.

There are no scary moments in the movie, so it really can't be called a horror film, just fairly horrible.    One wonders why the extraterrestrials would care for such boring people.
I give Dark Skies a 2 out of 5.


Writer/Director Ric Roman Waugh’s Snitch has Dwayne Johnson as its star and a lot of people like Dwayne Johnson.  In fact, the “regular-people” audience with whom I saw this film applauded at its end.  And, no, it wasn’t just because it was over.

There is some good action, but the story demands too many leaps of faith.  A lot of people have their lives disrupted and/or die because a spoiled teen has been spending too much time being indolent instead of working for a living.

The standout performance is Jon Bernthal, who plays an ex-con, who is trying to go straight.  I look forward to seeing him in something more interesting.
The greatest leap of faith is to believe Dwayne Johnson’s character could go into the Witness Protection Program without fear someone of his size wouldn’t be recognized in a few hours, if the cartel just put the search out through social media.

Snitch gets a 3 out of 5 for the fan base.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Almost In Love

Writer/Director Sam Neave’s Almost In Love is a very interesting independent movie that deserves attention.

The story is told in two 40-minute parts, each of which was filmed in a single camera take. 
                                                                                  Cinematographer Daniel McKeown has done an incredible job to accomplish that and deserves to catch the eye of masterful Director Joe Wright, who is known for his long single-take scenes in films like Atonement and Hanna.
Characters move in and out of the scenes as smoothly as in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park and professional and non-actor alike speak so naturally, it's as if everything was improvised.  That's Director Neave's achievement.
Almost In Love is an almost love story the point of which is that nothing is ever perfect. There are just some transitory perfect moments, at best.
The only problem with this film is that I didn’t really like any of the characters.  The men were basically self-centered bores and the women, though interesting and attractive, obviously had severe emotional issues that allowed them to be attracted to these losers.  But, I will admit I felt the same way about Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm and, mystery to me,  a lot of people seemed to think that was a good film. 
Here, at least, though likable characters or not, there is an ingenuity that demands a viewing and Sam Neave is a director worth getting to know.

I give Almost In Love a 3+ out of 5.

N.Y. viewers can find it at the reRun in Dumbo and L.A. viewers can see it next week at the Downtown Independent.

A Good Day to Die Hard

Despite the non-stop action…and perhaps because of it…John Moore’s A Good Day to Die Hard is the weakest link in the Die Hard series. 

Unfortunately, what story there is centers around the boringly drawn out “dad-was-never-there-for-me” issues of Jai Courtney’s Jack McClane and the false accusation that somehow…maybe I blinked and missed was responsible for messing up Junior's rescue mission of a high-powered Russian for the CIA.

Bruce Willis’ John McClane has none of the fun lines of the former films, only the lame, “I’m supposed to be on vacation,” which he continuously utters as if he knows it’s an embarrassment.

The chases are exciting and there is one decent twist, but credibility is stretched beyond acceptability when the McClanes end up at Chernobyl, blowing up crates of U235 uranium while having open cuts and seeming to be invulnerable to contamination.  Or, perhaps this was just a setup for a sequel in a hospital, Die Hard in a Bed Pan or turning them into nuclear superheroes for Die Hard Bombs.  Perhaps, that should have been the title for this one.
I give A Good Day to Die Hard a 2+ out of 5 for being only half as good as it should have been.


Beautiful Creatures

Writer/Director Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures is a beautiful supernatural love story that should appeal to teens and romantics 20 to 80+.

The current-day action takes place in a small South Carolina town, but the breadth of the story stretches back to the Civil War.


I was ready to pan the young, male lead Alden Ehrenreich as a casting mistake based on the initial few minutes of the film, but within another ten he won me over and I think he was perfect for the part of the home town boy, aching to leave small-town life as soon as possible, as was Alice Anglert as the young woman of 15, who dreaded what might be her destiny when she reached 16.

The story covers many themes from fate versus free will to the power of magic, all of which seem to be a bit too much for the minds of some critics, but let me assure you this is a richly threaded and unique story, wonderfully photographed by Philippe Rousselot and splendidly designed by Richard Sherman. 

Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum and Emma Thompson back up the young stars with fine and fun performances, as does the rest of the fine cast.


I give Beautiful Creatures a 4 out of 5 for those who believe in the power of love.

 I hope that, if there is a sequel, the same production team is used so it keeps the same magical feel and look.





Saturday, February 9, 2013

Side Effects

It’s a shame that a director with a track record like Steven Soderbergh’s wants to quick filmmaking at the young age of 50, but, if Side Effects is to be his last film, at least he’s going out with a winner.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I don’t like to divulge plot lines, so I’ll just say that Channing Tatum’s character Michael Taylor is just out of prison for money insider trading and his wife Emily, played by Rooney Mara, is being treated for depression with a variety of drugs, the latest of which has unexpectedly dangerous side effects.

The film has the late-‘90s feel of Soderbergh’s Out of Sight and a battle of wits reminiscent of Primal Fear.

Jude Law is, as usual, solid as Emily’s psychiatrist, but the pleasant surprise is Rooney Mara, whose acting chops have vastly improved since her over-hyped portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Catherine Zeta-Jones is, also, sufficiently spooky as Emily’s previous psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert.

If you enjoy thrillers without all the bang-bang effects of most current fare, you’ll definitely enjoy Side Effects.  I give it a 4 out of 5 for the fan base.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Gatekeepers

Going to the movies is fun, but it’s rarely the case that you can say it’s important.  Today, I saw Director Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers and it was important.

This excellent documentary focuses on the six men, who have run Israel’s secret intelligence service, the Shin Bet, for the last 30 years.   

Why have men, who have had the say on whether or not a terrorist should be killed and most of whom have been responsible for the collateral deaths of innocents during attacks launched under their direction, now appear on camera and allow their stories to be told? 

The answer is that, despite their conservative backgrounds, the wisdom of older age and experience has shown them that it is extremists in Israel, who are just as responsible as the Arab extremists for the ongoing war in the Middle East.  What’s more, they agree that peace is only possible if Israeli and Palestinian leaders enter into dialogue.  And, that means all factions, including Hamas, Iran, anyone.

Seeing footage of some of the key incidents that occurred in Israel and Palestine over the past 30 years, some of which would make one hate these men, countered with their look and attitude of today, makes one believe in redemption and gives a hope for the possibility of peace…someday.  None of them think something like that is going to happen overnight, but they all agree the dialogue must begin today because they also agree that Israel can win every battle, but will lose the war.   

How is that possible?  Because, from the outset, the focus has been and still is on tactics, not strategy. 

I had a chance to speak to Dror Moreh after the screening and asked him about the reception to the film in Israel.  He said it opened in two small theaters in early January, then quickly moved to seven and is, now, in fifteen, including the multi-plexes that have never before shown a documentary.  And, it’s setting attendance records. 

Unfortunately, The Gatekeepers has only opened in one New York theater this week, but I hope it will expand its distribution in the weeks ahead.  I ask you to please see it to help make that happen.

The Gatekeepers is up for an Academy Award.  It deserves it for subject matter alone.  I give it a 4+ out of 5.