Monday, December 31, 2012

Best & Worst of 2012

Best of 2012-

10) The Dark Knight Rises- A fitting end to a wonderful trilogy.
9) Skyfall- A return to form for Daniel Craig and the James Bond franchise. A Bond film with heart and soul.
8) Silver Linings Playbook- The genius of this film is the way it sneaks up on you and wins you over. A terrific ensemble cast.
7) The Avengers- I was worried how all these superheroes would be able to share screen time. Writer/director Joss Whedon pulls it off beautifully. 
6) Bernie- A very black comedy based on a true story. A really wonderful performance from Jack Black, not to mention his great chemistry with Shirley Maclaine.
5) Zero Dark Thirty- The most intense performance of the year by Jessica Chastain fuels the back story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Brilliantly directed by Kathryn Bigalow and meticulously written by Mark Boal.
4) Searching For Sugarman- Amazing documentary that is part mystery, part musical and a revelatory introduction to the music of Rodriguez.
3) Django Unchained- Quentin Tarantino does it again with a film that is funny, smart, violent and always shocking. A great tribute to spaghetti westerns and black exploitation films while staying true to itself.
2) Argo- Blend an outrageous truth with an unbelievable fiction and you get a surprisingly funny and very suspenseful drama from director Ben Affleck.
1) Beasts of The Southern Wild- There is no easy way to describe this original, wonderful fairy tale of a drama that takes place in the Louisiana lowlands. I saw it in July and it's images still linger. Six year old (at the time) lead actress Quvenzhane Wallis is a revelation. 

 Honorable Mentions- Lincoln, The Master, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Life of Pi.
 Foreign Thriller Honorable Mentions- Easy Money, Headhunters, and Sleepless Night. See them before Hollywood ruins them with American remakes.

Worst of 2012 (in no particular order)-
Underworld: Awakening, One For The Money, John Carter, Dark Shadows, The Dictator, Men in Black 3, Snow White & The Huntsmen, Rock of Ages, Savages, and Trouble With The Curve.

Le Miserables

    I must admit, I'm not a big fan of screen musicals. I always believed musicals work better as live theater. "Le Miz", is a beloved show and pretty much critic proof so I approached this film cautiously. My attitude about musicals isn't changed. I don't mind the musical numbers but really can't stand it when actors have to "sing" the dialog that bridges the songs. Having got that out of way, I will admit, the film is still very entertaining.

              Hugh Jackman is excellent throughout as Jean Valijean, the poor tortured soul chased throughout the film by Inspector Javert, played with appropriate intensity by Russell Crowe. Mr. Crowe may not have the best singing voice in the cast but he does a good job with vocals that match his character. Anne Hathaway is getting plenty of accolades as Fantine, deservingly so as she knocks it out of the park with "I Dreamed A Dream". Rounding out the cast is Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, and Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the comic relief, Thenardier and his wife.

               Director Tom Hooper makes a bold move by having the actors sing live and it pays off with wonderful performances (except for that annoying "singing dialog" in between). Mr. Baron Cohen and Ms. Bonham Carter are a perfect pair and pull off a rousing version of "Master of The House". Ms. Seyfried and Mr. Redmayne are well cast as the young lovers but their singing is just adequate.

                The cinematography is beautiful as are the costumes and the seamless CGI work. Mr. Hooper does an admirable job bringing the musical to the screen but with the exception of Ms. Hathaway, it still lacks the thrill and emotion of live theater.

Not Fade Away

     Writer/director David Chase (the creator of The Sopranos) turns his attention to film with this nostalgic look at growing up in the 60's when rock & roll meant everything. There will always be "coming of age" films and the trick is to find an original way to tell your story. While probably not purely biographical, Mr. Chase delivers a film that honestly recalls growing up in suburban New Jersey obsessed with music after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and The Rolling Stones on Hollywood Palace.

      Doug (played by an excellent John Magaro) lives with his sister and parents in a pretty typical family setting. With a hard working dad, stay at home mom, but a restless urge to break out of the mold, Doug forms a band with some friends and starts to play local parties doing covers.  What happens to Doug over the course of the film and where the music takes him is the basis of the story. 

      Doug's dad is played convincingly by James Gandolfini, a blue collar "every" dad who finds solace in his evening ice cream (much like his TV mobster counterpart). His mom is played by Molly Price, also perfect in house coat and curlers usually behind an ironing board. His younger sister, Evelyn narrates the film and offers significant insight and thoughtful questions throughout. The other major characters are Wells, played by Will Brill, the lead guitarist of the band and Grace Deitz, played by Bella Heathcote, the object of John's affections.

               What really sets the film apart is the fantastic soundtrack and attention to detail of every musical aspect. Mr. Chase gave the reins to Steve Van Zandt as musical director and supervisor. As a true historian of rock & roll as well as a wonderful musician in his own right, Mr. Van Zandt is the perfect choice to oversee this important aspect of the film. From his Cuban heels to the way he positions his wrist while playing drums, Doug's got the look and sound just right, as does the rest of the band. Apparently Mr. Chase hired actors first and then Mr. Van Zandt took them to a sort of "rock & roll boot camp" to prepare them for playing musicians. A lot of the instrumental work is actually done by members of the E Street band and fellow guitarist, Bobby Bandiera. The song selection is an eclectic mix of hits and rarities from the 60's.

              "Not Fade Away" is made with love and respect. It's a fresh look at an amazing era, seen through the eyes and actions of a very talented cast. Not to mention, a great musical history lesson for today's teens.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey

        It's great fun to return to Middle Earth but the awe and magic of "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy is gone. Director Peter Jackson and his team of writers, so anxious to film the prequel and satisfy millions of fans have overstuffed a wonderful tale with unnecessary sound and fury. They have super-sized the enchanting story so much that it was necessary to split it into three films. Be warned that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is only part one and part two is coming next holiday season.

          The CGI work and the New Zealand landscapes are remarkable. At times, it's hard to tell the real actors from the computer images...and that's not a good thing. Only Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and Thorin, the dwarf King have any personality. Oh and of course, Gollum, who doesn't show up until late in the film. Hopefully characters will be better defined as we move through parts two and three but for now, it's all a noisy set up for what's to come. It's basically run, fight, repeat.

          Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Wizard and he hasn't missed a beat. He wears his wizard hat proudly. Thorin is played by Richard Armitage and he smolders beautifully. Our reluctant Hobbit hero, Bilbo is played by Martin Freeman and he is perfectly cast in the role (although he is basically playing the same part he played in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy" albeit with bigger feet). Mr. Jackson offers a tasty treat  in bringing back Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee for one scene and it will have to satisfy until the trilogy continues. The scene when Bilbo first encounters Gollum (the always terrific Andy Serkis) is well worth the wait as it's the only one with any real depth and emotional resonance.

           As a side note, the film is available for viewing in multiple formats. I did not see the new High Frame Rate process but I did see it in Imax 3D and it looked and sounded great. As for the overall film, you can't really review this as a finished work since we are only a third into the story but if this is the appetizer, I expect a lot more for the entrĂ©e and Mr. Jackson better blow us away with the dessert.

Life of Pi

   Director Ang Lee and screenwriter David Magee pull off an amazing task with this wonderful adaptation of the best selling novel. Many said the book was impossible to film but Mr. Magee keeps the screenplay incredibly close to the original narrative and Mr. Lee, choosing 3D as his playground delivers a visual stunner of a film.

       Using 3D to enhance his colorful palette, Mr. Lee doesn't waste a shot. From the beautiful opening sequence to the horrific storm at sea and everything that follows, the screen is filled with unforgettable images. The digital creation of many of the animals is flawless and also given an upgrade by the use of the 3D cameras. It is the best use of 3D since "Hugo".

       The central story of teenage Pi's survival at sea is bookended by the adult Pi relating his story to a character known only as "The Writer".  While acted with conviction by Irfan Khan as the adult Pi, these scenes come off a bit clumsy serving as a bridge to the moral and spiritual center of the tale. If you have read the book, seen the trailer or even a poster, you know that a Bengal tiger is a major character in the story. The how and why he's important I will leave for you to discover. God's plan and man's place in the universe are central themes explored in the book as well as the film. It is is the teenage Pi and that Bengal tiger that take us on the emotional and spiritual journey to explore those themes. Teenage Pi is played by Suraj Sharma and he is well up to the physically demanding and emotional draining task.

        The film is long, running over two hours. Mr. Lee definitely could have tightened up his editing with a little cutting now and then. Instead, he choose to put it all out there and let the outstanding visuals and suspenseful plot keep you engaged. The revelations at film's end should have you deep in discussion well after the final credits.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained

       Quentin Tarantino is a craftsman. He knows exactly what he wants and never compromises. The man has made only eight films in twenty years. There is no mistaking a "Tarantino" film, regardless of the genre. And now he takes his camera to the wild west and south for a mash up of spaghetti western meets black explotation. "Django" clocks in at almost three hours and there is entertainment in every frame. If you are easily offended by over the top violence and foul language (especially liberal use of a particular "N" word), this is not the movie for you but if you are a fan of Mr. Tarantino's work, you will certainly not be disappointed.

          Mr. Tarantino has found the perfect muse for his dialog in Christoph Waltz. While Jamie Foxx may play the title character, the film truly belongs to Mr. Waltz's character, Dr. King Schultz. He is brilliantly written and Mr. Waltz is Oscar caliber in the role. Mr. Foxx is also excellent but Django is a man of action, not words and you appreciate him in an entirely different way. When Dr. Schultz frees Django and the two men become partners in the bounty hunting business, a true "bromance" is formed. Both actors play off each other so well and so naturally, it's a beautiful thing to watch.

           Heroes have to have their villains to balance any good story and who would expect Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson to sign up as two of the most vile characters to ever appear on screen? Both are so good at being bad, its scary. It's a toss up for which is the more despicable of the two.

           As a well documented student of film, Mr. Tarantino fills the screen with lots of movie references, some more subtle than others, and pulls character actors out of his bag of tricks that haven't appeared on screen in years. Victoria Thomas, the casting director, must have had a blast filling parts with with the likes of Don Stroud and Russ Tamblyn. James Remar is so good, Mr. Tarantino uses him twice. Robert Richarson's cinematography is wonderful and I believe he captures on film exactly what Mr. Tarantino has visualized in his head. Complimenting the visuals is a perfectly eclectic choice of songs and score. A sequence I especially liked is a montage set to Jim Croce's "I've Got A Name". 

           Early in the film, there is a scene with hooded riders that while amusing, comes off like an outtake from "Blazing Saddles", complete with stunt casting. It's an unnecessary cheap laugh. I forgive the stumble, however, because what follows is such a rich blend of smart movie-making on both sides of the camera.  Mr. Tarantino can take all the time between films he likes as long as the end product is worth the wait.

            "Django Unchained" was worth the wait.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

     Director Kathryn Bigalow and screenwriter Mark Boal  pull off an amazing achievement. Based on real accounts, they have taken a ten year manhunt and condensed it into a riveting two and a half hour film. "Zero Dark Thirty", if you don't know by now is the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and even though we all know the outcome, it is fascinating to watch how it all came together (taking a leap of faith that the real events are just that). 

     Credit Mark Boal for a script that compresses ten years worth of material into a film that flows smoothly and keeps the audience involved throughout. Credit Kathryn Bigalow for her taut, precise direction of the actors and the faithful recreation of actual events. And credit most of all, Jessica Chastain for her lead role of Maya, the CIA analyst who devotes 12 years of her life to one goal, find and kill Osama Bin Ladin. It is Ms. Chastain's performance that is the heart and soul of the film. Her devotion to her character, her driving dedication to her mission is what anchors the film and propels the story forward like a bullet. She is on screen for almost the entire film and never permits herself time to breath until her goal has been reached.

      Besides Ms. Chastain, the film enlists a large cast with many speaking roles but most are flashes of dialogue and short scenes to connect the dots. James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Harold Perrineau Jr. and Joel Edgerton all do admirable work, each with a key scene or two but they will not be the ones you will remember. Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Jason Clarke rise above the others and are all outstanding. Mr. Clarke continues a star making trajectory started way back on Showtime's short lived but excellent series, "Brotherhood".

      The film may be too intense for some, too technical for others but I found it well balanced and an exciting glimpse inside the shadowy world of international espionage and intelligence where occasionally the good guys win (even if they have to get their hands dirty to do it).  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rust And Bone

         The new French film from director/screenwriter Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) is a story of mismatched lovers ala Beauty & The Beast. The beauty in this case is Marion Cotillard who stars as Stephanie, a trainer of killer whales. Her "beast" is Ali, played by Matthais Schoenaerts.  They meet when Stephanie is involved in a brawl at a nightclub where Ali is a bouncer but their relationship takes off only after a tragic accident. 

         CGI plays an important part in the film and it is flawless. Suffice to say, one of the characters becomes physically handicapped while the other is emotionally handicapped. They feed an urge in each other and an unlikely relationship develops. The story avoids melodrama although there is a an scene near the end that too easily serves to redeem a character and draw on audience sympathies.

         The film doesn't have the depth of "A Prophet" but it does have an original way of getting to it's obvious conclusion. Ms. Cotillard is wonderful in the complex role of Stephanie and there is a scene between her and a killer whale that is worth the price of admission alone.


        Anthony Hopkins in a dead on portrayal of famed director Alfred Hitchcock is genius. Helen Mirren also stars as his wife, Alma and it's a blast to watch them recreate the period in Hitchcock's life during the making of "Psycho". The style and tone of the film is light-hearted and fun.

          Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel co-star respectively as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles and James D'Arcy plays the role of Anthony Perkins.  Other co-stars include Danny Houston, Toni Colette, Michael Wincott, Micheal Stuhlbarg, Kurtwood Smith, and Ralph Macchio. The film is very well cast and even the actors seem to really be enjoying themselves. 

           Movies about Hollywood's past don't always get it right but based on a book about Mr. Hitchcock, screenwriter John McLaughlin introduces us to a Hitchcock most people never knew as well as a detailed period in time. It's a fun look behind the camera with some standout moments that I won't spoil here.

            Mr. Hopkins and Ms. Mirren should be given serious Oscar consideration. And at the same time, serious consideration should be given to Mr. Hopkins's makeup. It's remarkable, even in closeup. I highly recommend the film for Hitchcock fans and film buffs in general.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

         Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in this new dramatic comedy from director David O. Russell. Mr. Cooper is Pat, a bi-polar and depressed man who has been in a hospital for eight months when we first meet him. His mother, played by Jackie Weaver (so good in Animal Kingdom) brings him home to finish his healing process. There we meet his father, Pat Sr. played by Robert DeNiro. Pat's parents try their best to help him readjust to the world. 

           Ms. Lawrence is Tiffany, a young woman struggling with her own issues after the death of her husband. Tiffany and Pat are introduced at a dinner and the rest of the film centers on their growing relationship. Ms. Lawrence continues down a path of acting excellence since her debut in "Winter's Bone". While she may find herself in comedic situations, she plays Tiffany not for laughs or sympathy but rather very realistically. Mr. Cooper also shows much more depth than his recent string of comedies playing Pat as a very complex and damaged individual.

            Chris Tucker, as Pat's friend with his own mental issues and Mr. DeNiro, with his bookie subplot add comic relief. Mr. DeNiro and Ms. Weaver play a very believable couple and should do more work together. Unlike his parent roles in films like "Meet The Fockers", Mr. DeNiro dials down the broad comedy and gives one of his best performances in years.

             I found Mr. Russell's direction to be somewhat claustrophobic as much of the film is shot in closeup. This  seems to be a deliberate choice I presume, to focus more completely on the characters.  He wrote the screenplay as well, which has its flaws but the solid acting by his cast overcome the cracks. During the course of the film, I was disappointed with some disturbing scenes that are played for laughs albeit with a touch of sensitivity. In the end, the film does sneaks up on you, growing more likable as it goes and will eventually win you over.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


     Impeccable acting all around is the only reason to see this history lesson brought to life by director Steven Spielberg. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into the role of Abraham Lincoln. He embodies the role as he does in all of his movies. He's a wonderful actor but in this instance, his Lincoln resembles little more than the anamatronic Lincoln I remember seeing at Disneyland's Hall of Presidents. Actors who do bring the movie to life include a scene stealing Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as William Seward and an excellent Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. There is also a large supporting cast of well known actors that are directed with precision by Mr. Spielberg.

      The film concentrates on the last few months of Lincoln's life, trying to end the Civil War and pass the 13th amendment. Beyond the opening battle, the rest of the film is a war of words between the Republicans and Democrats arguing in the House of Representatives over the  amendment to end slavery. Tony Kushner's script might as well have been made a TV movie on the History channel if not for Mr. Spielberg's signature flourishes. Sweeping panoramic views, John Williams overly dramatic score, Janusz Kaminski's great cinematography, and a very well directed cast. The film may well be a perfect recreation of history but somehow misses the grit and energy of past work's like "Saving Private Ryan". I'm sure history buffs will still flock to the box office and not be disappointed.

           Mr. Spielberg is a master at manipulating his audience and of course you will leave the theater moved and feeling patriotic. You've just seen one of our most beloved president's finest hour, but I felt the same way visiting the marble statue of the man in Washington D.C.  In striving for perfection, Mr. Spielberg has achieved excellence but it's a hollow victory.

Monday, November 19, 2012


    The latest installment from over 50 years of James Bond adventures is an excellent addition to the series. Ian Fleming would be proud of Neil Purvis, John Logan and Robert Wade for creating a fresh, compelling story that also pays tribute to it's colorful history. Director Sam Mendes, so well known for his dramatical work, does a fine job balancing a strong plot with the fun and excitement we've come to expect from 007.

        Daniel Craig is back for the third time as Bond and after the disappointing "Quantum of Solace" (still trying to figure out what that means), he is better than ever in a role he has clearly made his own. Judi Dench returns as "M" and for the first time, becomes a major part of the plot and finds herself in the middle of the action. New additions Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw are all in top form in various roles of British Intelligence. Berenice Marlohe plays the beautiful and omnipresent "Bond Girl", Serverine and Javier Bardem is terrific as the villainous Silva.

         The film has all the typical "Bond" elements; a fantastic pre-credit opening sequence that sets up the story, beautiful and exotic locations, all the action you would expect but unexpectedly, a strong emotional story never really seen before in a James Bond film. This time, rather than world domination at stake, the story is personal and digs deep into Bond's past. The witty dialogue is always present but there is a serious undertone that takes the film in a new and interesting direction. There are also some fun nods to past Bond elements that fans will surely enjoy.

         I would be remiss if I didn't mention Adele's terrific theme song and Roger Deakins always excellent photography. "Skyfall" will leave you shaken, not stirred. And happily, "James Bond Will Return".

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Perks of Being A Wallflower

                 On the surface, this is just another teenage "coming of age" movie but there is much more depth to this story than you would expect. Serious issues lurk in the shadows and are brought to light during the course of the film. Of course there are plenty of lighter moments as well and writer/director Stephen Chbosky brings his novel to the screen in a very natural way exploring many teenage themes simultaneously.

                  The cast is outstanding, led by Logan Lerman as Charlie and Emma Watson as Sam. Mr. Lerman is stunning in a complicated role as a troubled teen and Ms. Watson breaks out of the Harry Potter series in a big way in her own complex performance. Rounding out the three leads is Erza Miller (so good in "There's Something About Kevin) as Patrick, Sam's step brother and the first person to befriend Charlie in his new school. There is great chemistry between the three actors and the rest of cast. Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh play Charlie's parents but take the background graciously. Paul Rudd has a small part, playing it straight as Charlie's favorite teacher. Mae Whitman and Melanie Lynskey also have pivitol roles that drive the story.

                   It's hard to say more without revealing too much but I can say that  while I found "Perks" to be entertaining, it is also surprising and very moving.

Monday, November 05, 2012


           The new film from director Robert Zemeckis is a powerful drama that is more about alcoholism and addiction than piloting a commercial jetliner. Denzel Washington stars as Captain Whip Whitaker, a pilot who crash lands a disabled jet with minimal loss of life. It is clear to the audience from the start that Whip is a heavy drinker who is drunk at the time of the crash but to everyone around him, he's a hero. Things become more complicated when the FAA begin to investigate the crash.

            Mr. Washington has never been better as a man struggling with the tragic results of his actions. It is an Oscar caliber performance of a man battling his inner demons. He is joined by Kelly Reilly in her biggest role to date, as a junkie trying to get straight. Their lives cross when both end up in the same hospital. Ms. Reilly holds her own with Mr. Washington in scene after heartbreaking scene. The film co-stars Don Cheadle as the Pilot Union lawyer and Bruce Greenwood as the Union rep, both trying hard to protect Whip from his circumstances as well as himself. John Goodman steals his few scenes as Whip's drug dealer and Melissa Leo, in a cameo, is seriously effective as the lead FAA investigator.

            The crash at the start of the film is one of the most harrowing sequences of a plane crash on film. Mr. Zemeckis is a master director who knows his way around a special effect. The authentic look and feel of the crash will set your nerves on end. And When Whip testifies in front of the FAA, Mr. Zemeckis creates the same nerve wracking suspense without any special effects at all, a testimony to his direction of actors as well as special effects.

            I could nit-pick John Goodman's "theme" music (We get it. It worked the first time. No need to repeat it. ) or the "call" of the mini bar in one scene but why bother. This is a serious, authentic, drama that is both entertaining and sobering at the same time.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Sessions

      Helen Hunt and John Hawkes star in an unconventional story of love based on the real life of crippled polio victim, Mark O'Brien. When Mark (played by Mr. Hawkes) decides to discover his sexuality (with the blessing of his priest, played by William H. Macy), he enlists the help of a sex surrogate to help him achieve his goal. Away from the big screen for a while, Ms. Hunt has chosen a daring performance for her return. As surrogate, Cheryl, Ms. Hunt has scenes of full frontal nudity and intimate interaction with Mr. Hawkes.

      The film is billed as a drama/comedy and while there are a few humorous scenes (mostly involving Mr. Macy's conflicted priest), it is most definitely a drama that is both touching and uplifting. As a surrogate, Cheryl must remain unemotional with her clients but Mark's unwavering spirit and poetic nature slowly wins her over. However, this is not a typical story of two people falling in love. It is more about the nature of love itself among all the characters. Besides Mr. Macy the film also features Moon Bloodgood as Mark's aide and Adam Arkin as Cheryl's husband. The relationships among all these people are forever changed when Mark begins his "sessions".

       While Ms. Hunt gives a wonderful performance, it is clearly Mr. Hawkes that shines in a remarkable role. When not in an iron lung, he is either lying prone on a gurney or lying in a bed. He has a body that has failed him. As he explains, his is not paralyzed, it's just that his muscles don't work so well. He  conveys his inner thoughts in voice-over and a full emotional range with just his face. And yet, this physical shell of a man still has the capacity to discover his sexuality and his scenes with Ms. Hunt are so honest and tender, it's difficult not to be moved.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

       The latest black comedy form writer/director Martin McDonagh falls short of his excellent prior film,"In Bruges" but never the less contains moments of sheer brilliance. There are gems of one-liners and moments of comedic madness that are orchestrated by a first rate cast. Colin Farrell stars as Marty, an alcoholic screenwriter, working on a new script entitled "Seven Psychopaths". His co-stars are Sam Rockwell, his best friend, who is easily a total psychopath and Christopher Walken, Mr. Rockwell's partner in a dog kidnapping scam.

       When Mr. Rockwell kidnaps the beloved dog of a psychopathic gangster, played by Woody Harrelson, everything spirals out of control and even as the body count rises, you find yourself laughing at the great dialog and insane circumstances. Mr. Farrell actually plays the straight man here to all the madness around him. Mr. Rockwell all but steals the film with an outrageous performance behind an innocent facade. Mr. Walken is the definition of weird behavior. His deadpan humor and timing are comedic masterstrokes. And like many directors before him, Mr. McDonagh obviously prefers to work with many of the same actors in all his vehicles. There are some wonderful cameos from Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg and Gabourey Sidibe. Unfortunately the women in the film are underused and underwritten but Mr. McDonagh freely admits that in a clever confessional piece of dialog.

       Happily no animals are ever in harm's way but you can't say the same for many of the human characters. Mr. McDonagh's writing is not for everyone. His Broadway shows and films are comedies of the darkest human condition. He doesn't shy away from bloody violence to illustrate his points and while the violence of "Seven Psychopaths" may shock you, it all makes perfect sense in Mr. McDonagh's world. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cloud Atlas

      A sprawling, ambitious film of epic proportions, writers/directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer should be applauded just for  filming it in the first place. The film begins with an old man recounting a story in a strange English syntax and then introduces six individual stories that are connected by a common thread. 

      In the original novel, the six stories begin and end individually. In the film version, Mr. Tykwer and The Wachowski's have decided to flash back and forth between the tales creating a dizzying effect that in the beginning, may be hard to keep up with. The editing is remarkable as during various times of this almost 3 hour adventure, scenes may only last seconds or minutes in each segment and yet they all connect beautifully. Once the viewer matches pace to the rhythmic nature of the various narratives, it becomes easier to follow and you find yourself immersed in the overall film. 

      The film stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, and Bae Doo-na all in multiples roles, sometimes under layers of makeup.  Part of the fun of the film is discovering, at the end, who played which character and the answers may surprise you. Regarding the acting ability of such a star-studded cast, I can only say that, with six revolving plots, they are better in some than others.

          As the film weaves in and out of it's various narratives, from the 1800's, the 1900's, into the present and far into the future, each story deepens and some work better than others. It's like watching six little mini-movies and I will leave it up to the viewer to decide which ones they favor.  The camera work and special effects are terrific as well as some of the natural scenery. Taken as a complete work, "Cloud Atlas" is a satisfying fun ride with a thrilling climax as each story plays out within the total narrative. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


    Ben Affleck directs and stars in this exciting new thriller based on a real story. The film works perfectly on every level providing the viewer with a terrific time at the movies. The story takes place during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980 and until recently, had been classified by the U.S. Government. When the U.S. embassy was overrun and hostages taken, six American diplomats managed to escape and take refuge in the Canadian Embassy. This is the story of what happened to those six Americans. 

    The direction is so good that it's hard to believe this is only his third time behind the camera. The editing is terrific as Mr. Affleck cuts through what must be a very complicated story to get to it's core elements and move the action along at breakneck speed. The plan of the rescue mission is faking a movie shoot in Iran and smuggling out the Americans under the guise of a Canadian film crew. The scenes in Hollywood are very funny with the laughs coming from John Goodman and Alan Arkin who help Mr. Affleck create his fake film cover story. The humor here and scattered through the rest of the film is a welcome relief from the dramatic tension of the situation.

     Mr. Affleck brings out the best from his actors, including Bryan Cranston, as his CIA superior and his six American diplomats who display first fear, then boredom, confusion, and fear again as their situation becomes more and more desperate. Using actual archival footage mixed with recreated scenes, Mr. Affleck makes you believe every moment and the last act of the film increases the tension to unbearable "edge of your seat" viewing.

     The film is smart, fast paced, exciting and very entertaining. A great start to the "serious movie" season.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Master

      A master class in acting keeps you mesmerized to the screen even if the story doesn't. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams ignite the screen in Oscar worthy performances.

      Rumored to be based on L. Ron Hubbard and the early days of Scientology, the film tells the story of Lancaster Dodd, the "master" of a new movement called "The Cause".  It is a period film set shortly after the end of World War Two when America was entering into a new age of growth and enlightenment.

       Mr. Hoffman plays Dodd as an towering father figure to Mr. Phoenix's Freddie Quell, a troubled and alcoholic ex-sailor. Dodd takes Freddie under his wing and tries to "cure" Freddie's problems through "The Cause". Amy Adams co-stars as Dodd's wife, Peggy and it is a wonderful performance against type. Ms. Adams shows a depth of acting far beyond her other work. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, he brings out the best from all three of his stars as well as his supporting cast.

       The cinematography is outstanding and there are many beautifully framed and acted moments throughout the film. Mr. Anderson has crafted a fine piece of visual art but the film eventually lives and dies by the plot.  Will Freddie find salvation through "The Cause"? Will Dodd's work be recognized or reviled? The film shares some similarity to Mr. Anderson's last film, "There Will Be Blood". Both films contain scenes of shock and awe and acceptance is a very thin line. Mr. Anderson is a brilliant director but he will always polarize his audience. You will either buy into the story or not.  And if you don't, you will leave the theater feeling your time wasted. But if you do, then images of "The Master" will stay with you for a long time.


 Brian DePalma is the perfect director for a English version of the French thriller, "Love Crimes".  Of course leave it to Mr. DePalma to tinker with the script and create a film that is familiar (to the original version) and yet, unique enough to stand on it's own. The film is a throwback to his early thrillers, "Dressed To Kill", "Sisters", and "Raising Cain" with a little of "Femme Fatale" thrown in for good measure.

        The story of a advertising executive and her backstabbing boss has everything that you would expect from Mr. DePalma. Kinky sex, betrayal, red herrings, and murder all add up to a lurid tale of office intrigue filmed only they way Brain DePalma can do it. Voyeuristic camera work along with a jarring score ratchet up the suspense and an altered ending from the French version keeps the viewer guessing even after the film ends. It's clear that Mr. DePalma likes to mess with his audience's head.

         The film stars Rachel McAdams as Charlotte, the self centered executive and Noomi Rapace as the innocent, yet talented underling on the rise. This is an interesting choice as you would normally expect the roles reversed to showcase each actress but instead they play against type and manage to pull it off. The film, while in English was filmed in Berlin and has a European flavor. Besides the two female stars, there are no known actors to an American audience. There allows Mr. DePalma  freedom to make his film without Hollywood interference. The thriller has it's lighter sides with some humorous scenes that may seem out of place but since Mr. DePalma also wrote the script, everything is intentional whether it works or not.

          "Passion" has already played in other parts of the world and I don't believe it has a U.S. distributor as yet so it may be awhile before you can see it here. However, if you are a fan of those previously mentioned films, seek it out and you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Room 237

      One of the strangest documentaries you will ever see and a must for fans of "The Shining".

           Over the years, rumors have been rampant that director Stanley Kubrick had placed hidden messages throughout "The Shining" to represent it's true intentions. Director Rodney Ascher focuses on five of the most interesting theories surrounding Mr. Kubrick's subliminal meaning. The film explores theories of American Indian genocide, The Holocaust, the faking of the Apollo 11 moon landing and more.

            Rather than just interview his subjects, Mr. Ascher opts for a unique approach. Using visuals from all of Mr. Kubrick's films (as well as others) to serve as a backdrop for the audio, the film takes on a life of it's own in a fascinating way. The result makes for many humorous scenes and  amazing moments of cinema and as the film progresses, the conspiracy theories become more and more credible. Repetitive clips from "The Shining" dominate the footage and yet you never lose interest because the same scenes take on new meaning when each of the various theories are discussed throughout the film.

              This is not a film for a casual viewer but conspiracy fans, fans of Mr. Kubrick, and of course, "The Shining" itself, will have a great time and have you rushing home to watch the original film again in a whole new way.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Trouble With The Curve

      Otherwise know as "Trouble With This Movie", this plodding "baseball" film is more about a father/ daughter therapy session than baseball. Clint Eastwood plays Gus, the baseball scout losing his eyesight when he needs it most. Amy Adams is his daughter, Mickey, a successful lawyer who leaves in the middle of a big deal to help out her dad. Watching these two work out their issues with baseball as a metaphor is like watching paint dry. Justin Timberlake is introduced as a love interest for Mickey and his acting here is as wooden as a Louisville slugger.

       Mr. Eastwood plays a gruff old man which at this stage in his life is not much of a stretch and while Ms. Adams is a terrific actress, the material lets her down and she barely rises above it. The story is so obvious and predictable, you just can't wait for it to end. When the villainous characters gets payback, it's the most satisfying thing in the film but you see it coming like a slow pitch softball and it lessens the impact.

         The film costars Matthew Lillard at his most stereotypical and John Goodman who looks like he's spent too much time at the concession stand. Much like the NY Mets this year, "Trouble With The Curve" is a big disappointment.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

     More like "The Boring Legacy" but don't blame star Jeremy Renner. Mr. Renner is in the unfortunate position of replacing Matt Damon, who has become iconic as Jason Bourne. He tries hard but the script lets him down.

      The first hour dedicates itself to lengthy dialog attempting to tie the current story back to Jason Bourne. In between trying to convince you that you are right back where you left off, we see scenes of Mr. Renner running around the Alaskan wilderness showing off his survival skills. "There was always more than one" is the tag line in the ads. Sorry to tell you but there was only one and Edward Norton along with Stacy Keach's complicated CIA double talk won't convince you otherwise. 

        I don't recall Matt Damon popping little green and blue pills to become a "super" agent but Mr. Renner and the 8 other subject agents seem addicted to chemicals that mentally and physically enhance them. Rachel Weisz plays a scientist who helped develop the drugs and goes on the run with Mr. Brenner when their handlers shut down the program and try to kill them. Their reason being that Jason Bourne is still out there. Huh? I guess that's a good enough reason for our government to kill a dozen innocent people. The second hour injects some much needed action but the climax just turns into a derivative of the motorcycle chase scene from "Terminator 2 Judgement Day".

        The film ends abruptly either paving the way for another chapter or the producers felt sorry for the audience and put us out of our misery. It's no wonder this disappeared from most theaters faster than Jason Bourne in a crowd. I wouldn't even recommend the DVD. If you want a "Bourne" fix, watch any of the original three.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Total Recall

      Let's get it out of the way, immediately. The original film was a classic and why mess with a classic? When Hollywood can't come up with enough original material, they go to the well over and over again and very rarely succeed. I expected to hate this "remake" but instead, found it  exciting and a pretty decent "summer popcorn" movie.

           If you can get Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone out of your mind (or even better, don't see the original) and take this new film on it's own merit, you won't be disappointed. The story takes elements from the original but changes things up enough to create a new vision for the film. It's an exciting sci-fi thrill ride with a great cast. Colin Farrell returns to action hero form as the "average Joe" who finds out he may actually be a resistance fighter. Kate Beckinsale is his wife, who has perfected her action scenes from all her "Underworld" films. Also starring is Bryan Cranston (Mr. Breaking Bad, himself) in the villain role Hollywood has finally realized he can play so well. As the other woman in Mr. Farrell's dual life, Jessica Biel holds her own, especially in a close quarters fight scene with Ms. Beckinsale.

           Director Len Wiseman knows his way around a futuristic set having directed "Underworld" and keeps the action moving pretty much non-stop. He does favor blue lighting a bit too much but his CGI vision of the future blends well with the live action. The chase scene through the air in flying cars is one of many fun moments. And they do pay homage to the original with a few familiar bits.

            Unfortunately the film got a bad rap and is probably fading from theaters. If you like Sci-fi action try to see it while it's still out there as it's the type of film that works much better on the big screen.

             And note to Hollywood, enough with the remakes. Find more original material or your audience will go elsewhere.

Friday, August 31, 2012


       Based on a true story, this Prohibition story set in 1931, aspires to greatness and while entertaining, falls short of that mark. Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, and Jason Clarke are the BonDurant Brothers, independent moonshiners making illegal whiskey in the back hills of Franklin County Virginia. 

      Mr. Hardy, as Forrest, has terrific screen presence even with little dialog. Mr. Clarke (so good on Showtime's short-lived series "Brotherhood") is very capable as the hotheaded Howard but Mr. LaBeouf tries too hard as the youngest brother, Jack, trying to make a name for himself in the family business. The standard for transitioning into the family business remains Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. Mr. LaBeouf doesn't even come close.

        Jessica Chastain wanders into the story for no reason except to brighten up the screen with her wardrobe. She's an excellent actress but her character seems very artificially placed. Gary Oldman has two "blink and you miss him" scenes and is completely wasted. Mia Wasikowska is the love interest for Mr. LaBeouf and out acts him in every scene. Guy Pearce chews the scenery as Charley Rakes, the lawman brought in to put the brothers out of business. Rakes is a most bizarre character and if portrayed accurately, that's even more incredible. Words fail to describe Mr. Rakes.

          Director John Hillcoat and screenwriter/composer Nick Cave have collaborated before on the excellent Australian western, "The Proposition" (also starring Mr. Pearce). Here they attempt a Terrance Malick atmosphere and while the cinematography is excellent, making good use of the Georgia countryside, the film never quite reaches that quality. Mr. Cave's script is filled with illogical holes and  overly dramatic dialog, again reaching for more than it is, a backwoods western that only comes alive in the violent and bloody action sequences. 

            This is a film with a good cast trying to make a great movie. It succeeds as entertainment but I can't imagine any Oscars in it's future.

The Campaign

              Vulgar and raunchy but loaded with laughs, "The Campaign" is unlike any other political satire you may have seen. But what else would you expect from Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis?

               Mr. Ferrell's films are hit or miss and Mr. Galifianakis is more or less a "one trick pony" type of actor but they have great chemistry here as political opponents running for Congress. It helps when your director is comedy veteran Jay Roach and your producer and screenwriter is Adam McKay.

               Mr. Ferrell is Cam Brady, the incumbent Congressman running unopposed until two millionaire brothers (hmmm) played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd decide a change is needed and back Mr. Galifianakis's character, Marty Huggins. Marty is a sweet man who loves his family and pet pugs but during the course of the campaign is transformed by his ruthless campaign manager (played by Dylan McDermott), into a political fighting machine. Cam Brady is a walking cartoon of a Congressman more interested in money and women than anything else. Jason Sudeikis plays his campaign manager, who tires of getting his candidate out of trouble.

               They are some genuine "R" rated laughs here and while the inevitable outcome doesn't surprise, the campaign trail along the way has many twists and turns as each candidate seeks to outdo the other for votes. The TV ads, in particular, are extremely funny and a confessional at Marty's dinner table had me laughing out loud. 

               "The Campaign" is worth your vote.

Premium Rush

    A thin plot propels you through the streets of Manhattan as seen through the eyes of bike messengers.

 Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, the daredevil messenger known for his speed and lack of fear as he races from pick up to drop off. The story centers on a dirty cop played by Michael Shannon who needs to intercept an envelope Wilee is trying to deliver. That pretty much sums it up so director David Koepp ramps things up by moving the story around through flashbacks and a digital clock reminding us of the time Wilee has to deliver his package. He also constantly shows us Wilee's path through the city using a big map  with a thick yellow line moving through it. The map gets very annoying after a while. We get it Mr. Koepp, Manhattan is a big city.

    The appeal here, besides the always reliable Mr. Gordon-Levitt is the great street photography and use of real riders doing real stunts without the addition of CGI. Some of the camera work is nothing short of amazing with thrilling "point of view" angles. All the racing begins to get repetitive  but cutting back to Mr. Shannon's manic cop and the hapless police cyclist both trying to catch Wilee break things up and keep the story moving. 

    Dania Ramierez plays Vanessa, another messenger and Wilee's love interest. She and Mr. Gordon-Levitt do much of their own riding and it's very impressive. Stay through the credits and you will see the result of a stunt Mr. Gordon-Levitt did himself. If you are looking for something light and mildly exciting, rush to this one otherwise you can wait for the DVD or better yet, go for a bike ride.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Killer Joe

    Based on the play by Tracy Letts, this new film by director William Friedkin, is a Texas "trailer trash" whopper of a tale. When Chris, played by Emile Hirsch, needs six thousand dollars fast to pay off debts, he schemes to kill his mother for her insurance policy. His plan is to hire "Killer" Joe Cooper, a police detective that moonlights as a hired hiller. Matthew McConaughey plays the title character and it's one of his best roles. The rest of the cast includes Thomas Haden Church as "Ansel", the dimwitted father, Gina Gershon as his 2nd wife, Sharla, and Juno Temple as Chris's sister, Dottie.

    The filmed version of the play still plays like theater even when director William Friedkin opens up the story with more locations. I imagine that the play probably took place completely in the lone trailer where most of the film's action still takes place. It is a depraved story of drunken, cheating, dumb characters who's plans go seriously wrong. Mr. McConaughey's "killer Joe" is a scary psychopath who comes across as a quiet, polite gentleman but his twisted personality still glimmers in his eyes. He is just terrific even when he performs a very perverse and graphic scene towards the end with Ms. Gershon. And speaking of Ms. Gershon, she is fearless in the role of Sharla from the very moment we meet her. Mr. Church and Mr. Hirsch are both perfectly cast.  Ansel is an extension of "Lowell", the character Mr. Church played for years on the TV show, "Wings" (although here he prefers to be drunk or stoned most of the time). Mr. Hirsch puts the plot in motion and he is a whirlwind of stupid actions that lead to a very violent finale. And finally, we have Ms. Temple who ends up surprising everyone in a most unexpected way. 

      The film makes much fun of it's stereotyped characters but the humor is dark and so is the plot. There are a few scenes of graphic violence and female full frontal nudity that earn the film an NC-17 rating ( it probably would have gotten a "R" if not for the aforementioned graphic scene between Mr. McConaughey and Ms. Gershon). With an NC-17 rating, you can be sure this film won't be in theaters long but you have to give Mr. Friedkin and Mr. Letts credit for staying true to the material.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Easy Money

 Not the Rodney Dangerfield '80's comedy but a new crime thriller from Norway, endorsed by Martin Scorsese. The film stars Joel Kinnaman, who fans of the TV show, "The Killing" will recognize as detective Holder. As "JW"  Mr. Kinnaman couldn't be more different in character and tone. Here, he plays a business student who likes living well beyond his means and drives a cab just to get by. Dreaming of being part of the jet-set lifestyle he desires, JW agrees to take an unorthodox job from his boss.

       Pretty quickly JW is caught between Serb and Arab criminals who end up battling over a shipment of cocaine. But there is more to this thriller than a simple mob war. Director Daniel Espinosa, pulls you in right from the start. A jailbreak, a bloody fight in a club and rich kids partying seem very disconnected at first but things quickly come together and our protagonist, JW, soon finds himself in way over his head. Mr. Kinnaman is just terrific as he twists and turns with each lie and double cross. The criminals he is forced to partner with are much more than just thugs. Two in particular, have deep back stories and are fully defined characters with their own crosses to bear.

       You can get lost in the growing complexity of the plot and who's who but the film rewards if you are paying attention. It is very European in it's style and sensibility with an uncompromising ending that may not sit well with an average American audience but never the less, it is a powerful and exciting thriller.

Searching For Sugarman

 I knew almost nothing about this film but a few people I know started recommending it. I finally caught up with it and I'm so glad I did. The raves were certainly warranted. This is a terrific documentary about an singer/songwriter from the late '60's who was basically unknown in the United States but became bigger than Elvis in South Africa.

       The singer is Rodriguez, an American Mexican who lived in the Detroit area and released two albums that never found an audience in the United States. But as legend goes, when an American girl traveled to Capetown to visit her boyfriend, she brought a tape of "Cold Fact" with her and his music then spread like wildfire through the country. The anti-establishment and freewheeling lyrics made an powerful impact on the teens struggling through the Apartheid era of the time.

        The film follows a South African music store owner and a journalist  as they both try, independently and then together, to find out whatever became of Rodriguez.  Interviews of people that knew Rodriguez are sprinkled throughout the film as the two men pursue answers to the fate of the talented musician.  It is at once a fascinating mystery as well as a testament to the power and beauty of music. Thanks to the film, a new generation of music lovers are discovering Rodriguez's songs and helping to spread the word about a musician who, as it turned out, was a zero in the U.S. but a hero in South Africa (to borrow a line from the film).  

         Filled with great music, drama, humor and a little magic, this documentary is one of the best films of the year.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

To Rome With Love

   Using the amazing city of Rome as his background, writer/director Woody Allen weaves four separate stories creating a humorous and charming tapestry of human foibles. As with most Woody Allen films, he directs an all star cast and for the first time in quite a while, plays one of the characters himself. The film may lack the magic of "Midnight in Paris" but it contains a wonderful flavor of it's own.

      Alex Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Pace, and Greta Gerwig star in an interesting love triangle with a very possible magical element that Mr. Allen will leave the viewer to decide. Roberto Benigni is an everyman who suddenly becomes famous for no apparent reason and Mr. Allen gets a chance to ruminate on the fleeting nature of fame. Penelope Cruz is a prostitute who enters the life of a young newlywed in a most unexpected circumstance. And the remaining tale stars Mr. Allen himself (costarring with Judy Davis and Allison Pill) as a retired opera director who discovers a new talent in a very unusual way. Mr. Allen cuts back and forth between all four stories rather than film them in a linear fashion and that serves to keep the viewer very engaged.

     As he has done with recent films set in other European cities, Mr. Allen and his cinematographer, Darius Khondji incorporate the beauty of Rome into his various plots to the point it becomes a character itself. Mr. Allen also uses many international stars who may not be well known to American audiences but they add authentic flavor to the film.

      As Mr. Allen continues his love affair with Europe, we can only guess which city will serve as his next backdrop. It's clear that filming overseas has recharged his creative batteries and I look forward to his next film with great anticipation.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Like it's partial inspiration, "A Tale of Two Cities", the last part of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is a tale of two movies. After an exciting opening sequence, the first half of the film bogs down in exposition and red herrings but the second half has enough action, suspense, fun and surprises to more than make up for slogging through the first hour.

             Much of the ongoing cast returns including the outstanding Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine as faithful butler/surrogate father, Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman as stoic Commissioner Gordon. Mr. Nolan introduces some new actors who perform very admirable amidst all the CGI chaos. Tom Hardy is the villain, "Bane", who, with his mouth covered by a breathing apparatus, conveys much through his eyes and his actions (although he's a bit hard to understand at times). Marion Cotillard is a mysterious woman in Bruce Wayne's life. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a favorite of Mr. Nolan's) is police office/detective, John Blake and Ann Hathaway is the best Catwoman of any of the numerous Batman films. Ms. Hathaway has captured the essence of the comic character perfectly. Tough, sexy, and dangerous, she takes the part very seriously and yet has fun with it without going over the top. 

            Early on, the complex plot takes time to unravel but at the same time it does bring us up to date eight years after the end of "The Dark Knight". The film comes full circle to "Batman Begins" and features some surprise cameos. The CGI is outstanding and yet the humanity of the characters takes center stage, especially early scenes between Mr. Bale and Mr. Caine. Once the story reveals it's true intentions, the film heads down it's now linear path and the action doesn't let up. It all leads to a very exciting and satisfying finale, even saving a last surprise for fans (although some may see it coming).

           Trilogies more often than not, don't satisfy in the third film but Mr. Nolan ultimately gets it right. Unfortunately one can't help but feel terrible sorrow for the real life tragedy that occurred in Colorado during the midnight showing of the film and that will mar it's legacy. However, the films themselves, taken as a complete work should still be considered a masterpiece.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Intouchables

        This new foreign film was a smash hit in it's native France and it's easy to see why. It's an unusual story about a relationship that would seem utterly impossible except that it's based in truth.

         Francois Cluzet plays Phillipe, a wealthy but paralyzed man looking for a new aide. When street punk Driss, played by Omar Sy, shows up just to get a signature for unemployment, an unexpected bond begins between the two men.  Coming from completely different worlds, you would think this could never happen in real life but apparently it did and formed the basis for the film.

         The relationship between the men is joyful, frustrating, dramatic and at times very amusing as each learns from the other and become better men for it. Omar Sy is very charismatic, with a charming smile that can melt hearts. Mr.Cluzet manages to convey a wide range with just head movements and facial expressions. 

          The film never gets dark, even though it deals with a serious subject. There are moments that hint of danger but the film is directed with a deliberate light touch and you can't help but leave the theater in a good mood. During the credits, we get to see the real Phillipe and Driss which makes a lovely coda for a remarkable story. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012


       Director Oliver Stone has made many memorable films over the years. Sadly, Savages is not one of them. Mr. Stone is at his best when dealing with weighter subject matter. This is a violent throwaway thriller that could have been directed by anyone. There are no heroes here. It's a story of drug dealers versus a drug cartel and just to remind you of the title, characters repeatedly call each other savages.

          Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson are Chon and Ben, two Marijuana producers and distributors who live a peaceful life getting rich off their product. They are both involved with "O", played by Blake Lively. When a Mexican drug Cartel led by Salma Hayek force them to do business together by kidnapping O, the pair must find a way to get her back and stay alive in the process.

          Benicio Del Toro plays the Cartel enforcer, and "phones in" his performance. John Travolta also co-stars as a double dealing DEA agent and he too, adds nothing to his character. Ms. Hayek, to her credit, actually gives more than a one note performance. As for Mr. Kitsch, he redeems himself nicely here after the horrific "John Carter" playing a hot headed ex-soldier who will do anything to get Ms. Lively back. However, there is really nothing likable about the Chon, Ben or O characters. We're meant to sympathize with them as they want out of the drug business that has already made them millions but the lengths they go to get the vapid O back are ridiculous. 

          The film is violent and oozes sleeze. It left me wanting to shower off the dirt after watching it. By the end, everyone has acted savagely, including Mr. Stone, who pulls a fast one on the audience.

           If a crime thriller about drug dealers appeals to you, you can find a much better written, directed and acted story on television. It's called "Breaking Bad" and creator Vince Gillian can teach Mr. Stone a thing or two about how to get it right.