Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blue Is The Warmest Color

Director Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Color won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and co-stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos shared the prize for Best Actress.

If you’ve heard anything about this film, it’s probably that it’s very long (3hrs and 7 min.) and/or that it has a lengthy sex scene (7 min.).  Yes and yes.
But, let’s start at the beginning.  Director Kechiche is a master of the close-up shot.  The character Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is B+ attractive at best, but Kechiche and Cinematographer Sofian El Fani seduce us with her face to the point where, depending on your personality, you become her mother/father, sister/brother, boyfriend/girlfriend or just protector. (If none of these, get help.)  

Adèle, at the beginning, is 17 and wants to find her sexual identity and you want her to succeed and be recognized and fulfilled.  So, at the film’s midpoint, when she and Emma (Léa Seydoux) make love, it may be hot, but it's not salacious.

Over the next 6 or 7 years, Adèle goes through her transformation into womanhood and it’s a joy to witness.
Without in any way denigrating Léa Seydoux’s performance, I feel it a shame that Adèle Exarchopoulos had to share the Best Actress award.  She was, by far, the driving force of this excellent film and deserved this award on a solo basis.

I give Blue Is The Warmest Color a 4+ out of 5.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bad Grandpa

Writer/Director Jeff Tremaine’s Bad Grandpa is a laugh-out-loud riot, starring Johnny Knoxville as 86-year-old Irving Zisman, who is taking his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) across country to the boy’s father, since Irving’s daughter is going to jail for crack usage.  Oh, and Irving’s dead wife is taken along in the car’s trunk so he can, eventually, honor her off-hand wish to have her body thrown off a bridge.

The film is shot in Candid Camera-style with real-life people being roped into the gags that Tremaine and Company have set up along the way.  And, for the most part, the gags are hilarious!

 Thanks to Special Makeup Designer Tony Gardner and the rest of the Makeup staff, Knoxville totally looks the part and is able to get away with antics the unsuspecting non-actors might only let a grandpa get away with.

Because of the cute story with the precocious young Billy,  this film is better than the previous Jackass movies.  The only issue I have is that some of the segments should have been cut a little sooner.  The Editor is uncredited and I suspect it was a group effort that could have used an impartial eye.

If you want to have a fun time, see Bad Grandpa.  I give it a 4 out of 5.

The Counselor

As Dirty Harry said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”  Unfortunately, the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) in Director Ridley Scott’s new film The Counselor did not get the message.  And, while he did heed Nancy Reagan’s, “Don’t do drugs,” he didn’t understand the corollary, “Don’t sell drugs.”

This gristly movie about greed, once again, proves that you can hire great actors like Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, but, if you don’t have a good script, you won’t have much.

If the story is weak, a good actor can shine, but, if the dialogue is bad, it’s hard to get around it.  Bardem does, occasionally, as when he tells the story of Malkina (Diaz) making love with (not “in”) his Ferrari.  (By the way, this flashback, which has little, if anything, to do with the story, is the highlight of the film.) 


The problem is Writer Cormac McCarthy has his characters speaking lines so affected  and unnatural that he might as well have turned their dialogue into iambic pentameter.  Here, even drug kings give heavy philosophic speeches on morality.  You either lose the thread of what someone is trying to say through all the verbiage or laugh because it sounds so ridiculous.  

Production values are slick, however.  Dariusz Wolski’s Cinematography is excellent. as is Arthur Max’ Production Design.  And, Penélope Cruz has never looked more beautiful. 

If you have a strong stomach and want to see the world of the “Others,” you’ll enjoy parts of this ghastly story where the most innocent die and evil wins out in the end.  But, if you’re looking for entertainment and want to have a good night’s sleep afterwards, see something more uplifting…like Carrie. 

I give The Counselor a 2+ out of 5.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Escape Plan

With Escape Plan, Director Mikael Håfström delivers a B+ “B” movie.

No matter what any sissy wags may tell you, both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have aged well.  Here, the “Governator,” especially, gives, arguably, his most relaxed and coherent performance to date. 

The clever script by Writers Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko sets Ray Breslin (Stallone) as an escape artist hired by the Prison System to try and break out of penitentiaries in order to point out their flaws.  The story points up the inherent danger of privatizing prisons by setting Warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) as the creator of a secret maximum security prison where governments, corporations and miscreants of all types can pay to have untried terrorists, competitors or even people they don’t like permanently incarcerated.  Hobbs has read Breslin’s book and, when Breslin is hired to check out security, he finds that he has been set up to remain there forever.


The sets created by Production Designer Barry Chusid are amazing and Brendan Galvin’s cinematography is top notch.

If you like good action and want to see two superstars at their best, you’ll enjoy Escape Plan.  I give it a 3+ out of 5.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Aided by a fine script by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, Director Kimberly Peirce has resurrected Stephen King’s Carrie with excellent results.


And, of course, it helps to have cast the exceptional teen star Chloë Grace Moretz in the title role and the fabulous Julianne Moore as her mother in Ms. Moore’s most wacked out performance to date.


Fans of horror flicks should be delighted with this updated version which provides ample opportunity to root for the downfall of Carrie’s despicable adversary Chris as admirably played by Portia Doubleday.

One of my favorites, Judy Greer as Ms. Desjardin, provides the only sanity to balance out this nest of vipers.

The only upset is that Carrie doesn’t walk away at the end.  Or, does she?  Two 11 year-old horror film aficionados were discussing this in the men’s room after the movie and seemed to feel she was still alive.  It provided a great after-film experience with all the adults, initially, being aghast at the breadth of knowledge of the two youngsters, but then discussing when each saw his first horror film.

I give Carrie a big 4 out of 5 and recommend spicing your popcorn with a little red sauce.

12 Years A Slave

Writing a review of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is not an easy task for me.  For one thing, when I hear a film is “important,” I tend to react with immediate skepticism. What’s more the “gimmick” opening shot threw up a red flag and took me out of the flow of the action for the critical introduction of the main character.  Strike one for McQueen and/or Editor Joe Walker.

But, that being said, I must say that every actor in this film gives a sterling performance, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor as the lead character Solomon Northrup, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch as different types of plantation owners,  Lupita Nyong’o as a desperate slave and Paul Dano as a sniveling slave driver.  Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt creates spectacular images, Production Designer Adam Stockhausen has wonderful settings, Hans Zimmer’s music is superb as always and the real Northrup’s story is riveting.
Note, I said "story," not "script."  What is this script about is the question.  Is it about inhumanity?  Survival?  Those are the stuff of documentaries. And, indeed, 12 Years A Slave sometimes seems like a documentary or a polemic or a diatribe instead of a drama.  A few scenes even seem a bit "posed," i.e., self-important.
Northrup is numbed by his experience of being torn by kidnappers from his existence as an upscale Northern free-man and being sold into Southern slavery.  And, this numbness hardly changes throughout the course of the film. 

Now, anyone who has ever been torn from a comfortable existence and thrown into, for example, war or prison can go numb and use that to survive until the experience is over.  But, again, that makes for more compelling documenting, than for compelling drama.  Here, our connection to the main character is that the audience, too, is forced to take on a bit of numbness to be able to sit through scenes of whipping and lynching.  As good as this film is, don’t expect an entertainment.  At one point, I likened it to the holocaust story Life Is Beautiful…without the laughs.
These criticisms aside, for anyone, like me, who is in to film, 12 Years A Slave is a must-see.  If, however, you are an average viewer and see, at best, one film a month, I would suggest you go see The Butler, if you want, not only to see a great film, but to develop an understanding of the Black experience in America in the ‘20s through the ‘60s. 
The Southern mentality you will see in 12 Years A Slave is no different from that suffered by any of the victims of the Nazis, Stalin’s Communists, Pol Pot’s crew or the other WOSA (Warts Off Satan’s A#*s) of this world.
Despite my criticisms, 12 Years A Slave does get a 4 out of 5.

PS: After this grim adventure, I had to do something cheery.  So, I went to see Carrie.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Captain Phillips

Though Director Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips has a slow build, once the Somali pirates appear on the scene, the action moves into full throttle and never stops.

But, this is not just an action film, it is a thoughtful struggle of wills between men of different cultures.
Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips, who is in charge of the enormous NV Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacked off the coast of Somalia by four young men, looking to get rich with a ransom payoff.
When things go awry, the pirates kidnap Phillips and head for land in a life craft. 


Thanks to Hanks’ usually excellent acting skills and those of inspired newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as the wily captain of the pirates, Billy Ray’s fine script is a master chess game for survival.
I give Captain Phillips a 4 out of 5. 

Machete Kills

Watching Writer/Cinematographer/Director/Editor Robert Rodriguez’ Machete Kills is like watching a Roadrunner cartoon.   Like Wile E. Coyote, Machete, played by Danny Trejo, takes plenty of lickings and keeps on ticking. 

The story is too convoluted and ridiculous to even begin to discuss.  You’re either a fan or not. 

Fans can sit back and laugh at the antics of characters like Desdemona, the brothel queen with bras that shoot bullets, as played by a rather amazing Sophia Vergara;  El/La Chamaleón, the body-changing assassin, as sequentially played by Walt Goggins, Cuba Goodings, Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas; and the bi-polar Mendez as played by Demian Bichir; as well as a lot of other funny characters.  Plus, there's also the copious head-chopping by Machete, himself.   Non-fans, however, will probably be sorry they came.

Though not as good as the original Machete this sequel still gets a 3 out of 5 for the fan base.   And, for them, the beat goes on with the expected Machete Kills – In Space.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bastards (Les Salauds)

I have to borrow on a legend.

It’s said that when the great Director Mike Nichols is approached for a compliment by the perpetrator of an artistic fiasco he has just witnessed, his standard comment is, “Well, you’ve done it again.”

Last night, I saw Claire Denis’ Bastards (Les Salauds) at the New York Film Festival and I can only comment, “Well, you’ve done it again.”
Ms. Denis is by no means a linear thinker and is proud of it.  It would seem that she shot a lot of scenes with good actors, then threw them into a barrel and pulled them out, haphazardly, to string together her film, which left me to often wonder, “What the f…?”

In this piece of s….sorry, story, unlikeable characters are brought together in a sordid thriller wherein anyone with a potential for our empathy is destroyed and only the most evil survive.  Sound like fun?

Of course, what some, like myself consider pretentious, others consider artistic.  I will say that there was copious applause at the film’s end.  But, perhaps, it was, in some part, a survival reflex.  I was extremely happy to see those credits pop up at the end.  Or, was it the beginning?  The middle?  Did I care?  I was just relieved the torture was over.


The only unique aspect....unless I've always been clueless...was Denis’ ghastly take on the concept of “corn-holing,” which drove some of the audience out of the theater.

I tried to sit through the Q&A after the screening, but it became so simpering and pedantic that I soon realized I had an appointment back on planet Earth and left.

I give Bastards a 1 out of 5 only because I liked the comfort of my seat in a balcony box.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Gravity is one hell of a ride! 

Writer/Director/Producer/Editor Alfonso Cuarón has created a cinema masterpiece that could not have been made before this digital age of computer graphics.  But, the film does not rely only on its effects.  It has a solid story with stellar performances by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

On her first trip into space, Bullock’s Ryan Stone is an engineer sent to repair the Hubble telescope along with a veteran pilot Matt Kowalski (Clooney) and co-pilot Shariff (Phaldut Sharma). 

We get used the serene beauty of space for the first dozen minutes while repairs are being made.  Then, Mission Control alerts them to the fact the Russians have blown up one of their own satellites and the debris is now hurtling around the globe, smashing other satellites and space stations with incredible force and speed. 

From then on, it’s a matter of surviving and the viewer is put into Stone’s “suit,” twirling and grasping for lifelines, giving up and growing. 

There was hardly a sound from the audience until a collective…well, I don’t want to tell you what happens.  If you want to see something truly stunning, you’ll find out for yourself.

I give Gravity a 4+ out of 5.