Sunday, April 28, 2013


    This new ensemble drama loosely connects individual stories of characters unable or unwilling to connect in the new millennium. Cell phones, iPads, laptops and the internet all play important characters in director Henry Alex Rubin's cautionary tale.

   The film stars Jason Bateman (serious for a change), Hope Davis, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard, Andrea Riseborough, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist and Max Thieriot. Everyone is excellent in their roles, whether they are parents dealing with disaffected teens, a reporter who oversteps her boundaries to get a story, or a couple trying to cope with the loss of their child.

  Mr. Rubin is heavy handed in making his point. The movie is filled with internet chat superimposed on the side of the screen or text messages going back and forth. Facebook pages reveal more emotion than characters can express in person.

Everything going wrong in our society today is consolidated by this microcosm of disconnected people. It's a serious drama that can leave you depressed. However, there is a glimmer of hope at the end that reminds you it's not to late to change the way we live our lives in the 21st century.

Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

 "Sleight of hand" master and magic historian, Ricky Jay is profiled in this new documentary by Alan Edelstein and Molly Bernstein. Not only is it a wonderful peek into the world and mind of Mr. Jay but it is a fascinating look at the magicians who influenced him.

  We learn a little bit about his childhood including his desire to perform magic at the age of four.  Also his love for his grandfather, who encouraged him and introduced him to some of his early mentors. We learn about Slydini, Cardini, Dai Vernon (The Professor) as well as many more colorful characters and master magicians.

    Mr. Jay does not do "stage" magic like David Copperfield or Doug Henning but rather is a master at cards and "close-up" magic. In addition to the fantastic history lesson, we are treated to many of the effects, illusions and sleight of hand that have made him famous. Through archival footage (some of it quite old), we we also get to experience some of the illusions by the masters.

    There is quite a bit of video footage of Mr. Jay as well performing through the years and also interviews with fans and friends, such as David Mamet (Mr. Jay has acted in many of his films). It's a wonderful ninety minutes that I could have easily watched for ninety more. It also made me immediately want to see "The Spanish Prisoner" again. A wonderful and surprising film in it's own right.

Friday, April 26, 2013


       What an appropriate title for the latest Tom Cruise snooze fest. This new sci-fi adventure is like instant hot cereal. Just add elements from other classic sci-fi films, add Tom, heat and serve.

        The first hour could be best summed up as watching "Top Gun" if it took place way in the future as Mr. Cruise flies around in a cool helicopter, shooting flying copies of R2D2. Earth, we come to find out has been destroyed. Mr. Cruise and his co-star, Andrea Riseborough spend their days making sure all of the planet's water is siphoned off safely to holding tanks for Earth's survivors on Titan.  We are basically watching a remake of "Wall-E" with live actors.

         Things pick up in the second hour with the introduction of a mysterious earth woman (Olga Kurylenko) and the ubiquitous appearance of Morgan Freeman. The special effects are well done but why do we always see remnants of The Statue of Liberty, The Washington Monument, The Brooklyn Bridge, and The Empire State building in every disaster movie? Aren't there other recognizable landmarks to choose from?

          For some strange reason, Melissa Leo thought appearing in this mess was a good idea. She dos play it safe though as she filmed her scenes from home using Facetime on an iPad.

          Of course if you are the type of person who enjoys watching Mr. Cruise grimace, square his jaw and shoot things for two hours, then "Oblivion" is for you.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


     "42" is a rousing, crowd pleasing film based on the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball. Even if you don't like baseball,  it's a very human story of triumph, both in sports and over racial discrimination.

      Chadwick Boseman, a fairly unknown actor, plays Jackie Robinson with all the charisma and self assurance of a major movie star. Co-starring is an almost unrecognizable Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who give Mr. Robinson a shot at the majors. Mr. Ford is absolutely wonderful in the role. It's one of the best things he's done in years.

        The film also stars Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife, Andre Hollard as Wendell Smith, a sports writer and chronicler of Jackie's story and Christopher Meloni as Brooklyn Dodger manager Leo Durocher. The film was written and directed by Brian Helgeland with much love and reverence for his subject. 

       Mr. Helgeland focuses on the first three years of Mr. Robinson's career and does a great job avoiding melodrama. Everything about the film glows with authenticity. Mr. Helgeland doesn't shy away from the ugliness of racism. A scene when the opposing manager in a game taunts Mr. Robinson with unbelievable slurs is difficult to watch but necessary to the story.

         The film has a great cast, a great script and a real life American hero. It should not be missed. 

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines

      The first "serious" drama of the year has a great cast in an unusual character study. The film stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper but don't expect fireworks between them since they only have one very short scene together. Of course, that scene is pivotal and extremely crucial to the story.

         The Place Beyond The Pines is an Indian translation for Schenectady in upstate New York where the film takes place. It's a refreshing location for a film that deals with age old themes. Fathers and sons, family, and the choices we make that define our lives all play out in a low rent Shakespearean drama.

          The film moves in a slow deliberate rhythm seemingly weighed down by it's heavy subject matter. However, the acting is excellent and supporting players Harris Yulin, Eva Mendes, and Ray Liotta all shine (although Ray Liotta's bad cop routine is getting old). Only Rose Bryne is wasted as Mr. Cooper's wife. Newcomers Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen have a bright future ahead of them.

            The cinematography is beautiful. Schenectady and the surrounding countryside have never looked better. Director Derek Cianfrance (who previously directed Mr. Gosling in "Blue Valentine") has stepped up his game and while it has it's flaws ( It could have easily been called "The Place Beyond The Cliches) it's still engaging and worth your time.

Saturday, April 06, 2013


          The latest film from director Danny Boyle messes with your mind from the very start. Most thrillers stick the twist in the middle or at the end but "Trance" starts right out with a twist and keeps you guessing for the rest of the film.

         The film stars James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, and Rosario Dawson. Mr. McAvoy works in an auction house and Mr. Cassel is a thief who wants to steal a valuable painting. Ms. Dawson's character is better left unsaid to avoid spoiling the fun.

         Mr. Boyle sets the story in motion rather nicely and the film gets off to a quick and exciting start.  The film bogs down in the middle, caught in it's attempt to be too smart for it's own good and the audience suffers for it. It makes a decent recovery in the last act but unless you've been totally won over by the premise, it ends as a disappointment.

         Mr. Boyle's films always have great editing and music. "Trance" is no different.  The song choices are terrific and the editing, especially with this plot, really makes a difference. It's just too bad the script asks too much of it's audience and then has a major character explain everything just to make sure you don't walk out totally confused.