Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Wolverine

Wow! I went to see Director James Mangold’s The Wolverine just because it was the big film of weekend and was expecting to see more of the same old bang-bang of recent action films.  But, surprise, surprise…  The Wolverine is an excellent story of honor and honor disgraced thanks to Writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.  
And, with superb performances by Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Tao Okamoto (Mariko), Rila Fukushima (Yukio) and Svetlana Kohdchenkova (Viper) plus the fabulous Cinematography of Ross Emery and the Production Design of François Audouy, The Wolverine is one of the best action films of the year.  In fact, it is one of the better overall films of the year, so far.

I fear, however, that my low expectation might be due to a poor marketing campaign by Twentieth Century Fox concentrated on selling this to fan boys, when they could be bringing in young women and adults of both sexes, as well.  Perhaps they feel that the killing they’re likely to make in Japan, where the movie takes place, will make up for it.

But, if you want to have an exciting time at the movies, check out The Wolverine.
I give The Wolverine a 4+ out of 5. 




PS: Remeber to stay for the epilogue scene during the credits.

Blue Jasmine

Writer/Director Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is brilliantly written tragedy that is brilliantly acted by Cate Blanchett in what could be considered her crowning achievement to date.
In her portrayal of Jasmine, Blanchett is able to evoke the pain and agony of a woman who is stepping back and forth over the line between mental breakdown and lucidity with a dignity that doesn’t make the audience squirm uncomfortably until the very end.   

On the contrary, we are riveted with her story and are able to laugh throughout.  Although, I must say, much of the laughter is misplaced, perhaps because we aren’t able to understand the type of neurosis from which Jasmine suffers in the same way the uptight media pundits don’t understand the type of addiction from which one of New York’s mayoral candidates suffers.  So, instead of offering understanding and help, they laugh and castigate in the same way the characters around Jasmine do.
It is astounding how Woody Allen’s films have relevance to current life.  And, that is his genius.  However, Woody does offer a bleak picture of the human condition.  Everyone in this film is a loser without exception.  They connive, settle for less than they deserve and opt to survive instead of live.  And, poor Jasmine ends up…  Well, go and see this extraordinary tour de force.

Blanchett is backed up by superb performances from Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin and Bobby Cannavale and the excellent Production Design of Santo Loquasto.

I give Blue Jasmine a well-deserved 4 out of 5.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Writer/Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s well-done documentary Blackfish is an eye-opening exposé on SeaWorld and similar exhibitions featuring black orca whales.

 Inspired by the death of Dawn Brancheau that achieved national attention a few years ago, Cowperthwaite goes back into the history of Tilicum, the orca responsible for killing Ms. Brancheau, and proceeds to detail 2 other deadly attacks by Tilicum and the over 70 killer-whale attacks that have taken place over the last 20 years. 
Interviews with former trainers give a clear picture of the horrible conditions in which these extremely intelligent creatures are kept and the film posits that Tilicum may be wreaking revenge for its kidnapping from its family as a baby.


However, the real villain does not appear to be Tilicum, but the greedy management of SeaWorld that has kept the truth of the attacks not only from the public, but from their own employees.

I give Blackfish a well-deserved 4+ out of 5.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Red 2

Since I thoroughly enjoyed the original Red, Director Dean Parisot’s Red 2 was one of my most anticipated films of the summer.  Thankfully, it lived up to my expectations.

Red 2 is the perfect summer film, blending great action with great laughs.  The quartet of writers, including Jon and Erich Hoeber, Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, have created an ensemble of wacky characters that form a perfect screen family. 
The core characters, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), Marvin (John Malkovich)), Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Ivan (Brian Cox) are joined by Anthony Hopkins as the mad bomber Bailey, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Russian General in Intelligence Katja and Byung-hun Lee as the world’s greatest contract killer Han Cho Bai. 


The team has to prevent a Cold War bomb that was hidden in Moscow from detonating. 
With action in Paris and London, as well as Moscow; with Helen Mirren shooting up all venues; and with Mary-Louise Parker leaving Kansas in the far past to embrace her inner spy, how can one not enjoy this film?

Go have some fun.  I give Red 2 a strong 4 out of 5.






Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fruitvale Station

Writer/Director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, based on the real-life story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay resident, won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for "its skillful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency."  It also won Sundance’s Audience Award, both deservedly so.
It is powerfully told with a strong cast led by Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mother Wanda, Michael B. Jordan as Oscar and Melonie Diaz as Oscar’s girlfriend Sophina.

                                                                This film is especially relevant and impactful given the present real-life story in the Florida court.  What becomes clear above all is the profiling that is rampant among both police with badges and wannabe policemen, as well as the fact it’s imperative to keep guns out of the hands of immature real or fake security people.

 Fruitvale Station demonstrates the tragedy, not just of victims of violence, but the emotional lives of people who care about them.  It is, obviously, not a happy story, but it has a nobility that cannot be denied.  I give it a 4 out of 5.

The Way Way Back

If you’re tired of bang-bang and juvenile humor, you should enjoy the respite provided by Co-Writers/Co-Directors Nat Faxon’s and Jim Rash’s delightful The Way Way Back.  (Note: They even act, brilliantly in small roles.)

It’s a coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old boy named Duncan (Liam James) whose mother Pam (Toni Collette) forces him to endure a summer vacation with her schmuck of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his aloof daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) at a beach community.

According to Trent, Duncan starts the summer as a 3 out of 10.  Actually, I’d give him a 1.  But, thanks to interaction with Owen, the manager of a water park, played fabulously by Sam Rockwell and Susanna (Anna Sophia Robb) the daughter of Trent’s alcoholic neighbor Betty, also fabulously played by Allison Janney, Duncan starts to find his inner core.
I mention all these actors, as well as Maya Rudolf as Owen’s potential girlfriend Caitlin, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet as Trent’s friends and River Alexander as Betty’s son Peter because this is one of the best ensembles you’ll find this year.  That’s thanks to Casting Director Alison Jones.  I often wonder why there is no Academy Award for Casting.  If there were, Ms. Jones would surely be a contender.

The Way Way Back is a lot of fun.  The only thing to fault it for would be the rather unfortunate title.  I give it a 4+ out of 5.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Despicable Me2

Co-Directors  Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have translated Co-Writers Ken Dario’s and Cinco Paul’s Despicable Me2 into a thoroughly enjoyable film for both children and adults, although I felt some of the best parts were even more appealing to adults. Think Soupy Sales and you’ll know what I mean.
                  Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is recruited by The Anti-Villain League through the efforts of Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) to help thwart a new master criminal.

This is  a job he is reluctant to take on because it takes away from his time with his lovely adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher).


The plot is secondary, however, to the antics of adorable Minion characters (voiced by the Directors), who create multitudinous belly laughs.  The hilarious final scene, alone, is worth the price of admission.  Don’t miss it.

And, the extra cost for seeing it in 3D is worth it, especially for the end credits.

I give Despicable Me2 a 4+ out of 5.

The Lone Ranger

Director Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, more aptly titled The Lame Ranger, is 149 minutes in length, which makes it 148 minutes too long.

In politics, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  In film, “It’s the script, stupid.”  That’s the overall problem here.  Writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have created the worst piece of tripe imaginable.  It’s not only bad, it’s insulting to the iconic legend they’ve massacred. 

Of course the casting of wannabe actor Armie Hammer in the title role only adds to the travesty.  When William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish draws down on him, members of the audience yelled, “Shoot him!”  They could stand neither the poor portrayal nor the simpering character to which their hero had been reduced.

Rarely does a film sink to the depths of “crimes against humanity,” but this is The Lone Ranger’s only claim to dubious fame.

Not too far into the ordeal, I was thinking, “This film is only half as good as it should be.  At best it should get a 2+. “  But, then, it continued to get worse.

Near the end, an audience member kept pacing back and forth at the front of the theater.  Was he contemplating suicide?  Was he in a stupor?  Whatever.  No one objected because it was more interesting than anything on the screen.


And who did Disney have to pay off to get a PG rating?  The gratuitous violence that made one of the characters on screen vomit does not make this a suitable film for children.  Nor adults.

 There are too many good films out now to waste your money on this turd.


I give The Lone Ranger a 1 only for the effort Johnny Depp and Ruth Wilson gave to rise above this garbage.