Monday, July 28, 2014


    Written and directed by Richard Linklater, "Boyhood" is a remarkable achievement in so many ways. The film focuses on Mason, a 6 year old boy living an ordinary life and was shot in sections over a 12 year period. We watch Mason, his actor parents, played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and everyone else in the film age naturally over the course of 12 years.

    The screenplay was written as the film was shot to match each time period so all the dialog and references are authentic to the appropriate year. The editing is flawless and you get the sense you are watching a 12 year documentary rather than a scripted story. The film itself runs almost three hours and captures moments big and small in Mason's life. There is nothing in the story that is sensational or manipulative. Everything is rather ordinary but the screenplay focuses on the little details that make even an ordinary life, extraordinary.

     When the film starts Mr. Hawke and Ms. Arquette are divorced and Mason and his sister (Played by Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter) live with their mother. Mr. Hawke gets the kids every other weekend. Characters come and go and more importantly grow in many ways as the film progresses. 

      Ellar Coltrane plays Mason and being privy to the intimacy of his life from 6 to 18 is fascinating. Yes, the film is scripted but Mr. Coltrane and the rest of the cast are so natural, you feel like a voyeur in his life and once the film ends, you will find yourself wishing for a sequel. What happens next is left to the imagination but credit Mr. Linklater for stimulating us and looking at life through his lens in a new and captivating way.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

  From the novel by John LeCarre, this is Phillip Seymour Hoffman's last completed film.  As with all of Mr. LeCarre's spy novels, this story is more about intelligence than gunfights and chase scenes. It is a slow, intriguing story with a meticulous performance by Mr. Hoffman. 

    Mr. Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann, a German counter-terrorist agent leading a rogue task force in Hamburg. For his final performance, Mr. Hoffman's character is overweight, drinks and smokes too much and has pasty white skin behind a glimmer of intelligent eyes. Physically, he's a wreck but his performance still shows what a great actor he was.

   The film co-stars Rachel McAdams as a civil rights lawyer protecting a major character, Willem Dafoe as a banker brokering an important transaction and Robin Wright as a U.S. diplomat with her own agenda. The cast is very good but on film, the story comes off rather dull. We follow the players and we follow the money but the film never rises above a slow burn.

    Espionage films without much action depend on twists and turns and a complex puzzle for the audience to solve if you intend on keeping them involved. This plot is not that complicated and almost disappointingly easy to follow. While it does have one or two twists, it's really not enough to satisfy fans of this genre.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sex Tape

     Cameron Diaz has sunk to a new low starring with Jason Segel in this raunchy but boring comedy. The subject is appropriate for the times. What if you made an amateur sex tape for your own enjoyment but it leaked onto the internet and you tried to retrieve it? The antics of this married couple to get back the video are meant to be funny but the script fails horribly.

      Aside from the sex tape itself ( of which we see "R" rated bits and pieces)' there is little action. The film is all exposition and terrible dialogue. There is only one mildly amusing sequence at the home of Ms. Diaz's boss, played by Rob Lowe. It starts out creepy, gets stranger and stranger but the weirder it gets, the funnier it somehow becomes.  Pay close attention to all the paintings. The laughs during this sequence involving Mr. Segel come at the expense of simulated violence to a German Shepard which I only enjoyed because Mr. Segel is on the losing end of the encounter.

         The film had promise...a good cast and an interesting premise. It's a shame it falls apart quickly and never really recovers. Even a cameo by a particular comedic actor late in the film can't save it.

          Life should have imitated art. Someone should have deleted the film before it showed up in theaters.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

       What a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting much as far as a sequel to a reboot of a beloved classic but "Dawn" is actually a better film than the first. It's a smart script with lots of emotion. The special effects are absolutely breathtaking and the motion capture work is brilliant.

         Andy Serkis breathes 100% life into Caesar, the ape leader. The film goes out of its way to show extreme close ups of Caesar as if showing off just what the technology can do. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman are the human stars in the film. They end up in conflict with the apes when they want to restart electrical power at a dam in the ape's territory.

           There are some good action sequences throughout and as I mentioned, the film actually packs an emotional punch. This is a film that deserves to be seen on a big screen. My biggest criticism is that it runs too long. It could have been better edited. Losing fifteen minutes or so would have kept things tighter and possibly more exciting.

          With technology advancing with every film, they can keep sequels coming for years although sooner or later the ape/human conflict has to end with the apes winning. After all, it isn't called Planet of the Apes for nothing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wish I Was Here

     Zach Braff follows up "Garden State" with this new film that could be described as a "Garden State" for adults. He tackles lots of themes, some better than others but his script is at its core is filled with stereotyped characters and situations that try too hard to be funny in a depressing drama.

      We learn early that a major character is dying, which is important to the story but the impending death casts a pall over the rest of the film. Mr. Braff's character is struggling with family, his job, and his relationship with his father and brother to the point of exhaustion. He has the loving supportive wife, played well by Kate Hudson and the requisite precocious little boy and more mature than her years, teenager daughter played wonderfully by Joey King.  His slacker brother is played by Josh Gadd, a good actor in a typical role and Mandy Patinkin is perfect as Mr. Braff's judgmental father.

        Mr. Braff stars, directs and has co-written the script with his brother. It is obviously a personal film for him and it's his direction that stands out. He does an admirable job getting the best out of his cast.  Ms. King, in particular excels here and is the best thing about the film. She has been steadily building up her resume in a slew of films, usually playing someone's daughter and is definitely a young actress on the rise. As with his previous film, Mr. Braff also makes excellent choices for the music in the background.

          There are some fresh settings for the story which helps mask the "I've seen this before" feeling but the ambition of the script ultimately disappoints. And, after suffering along with the characters, the audience is treated to a feel good ending that ties everything up neatly so you can leave the theater feeling better. So, at least, thank you for that, Mr. Braff.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Life Itself

 A new documentary from "Hoop Dreams" director, Steve James that examines the life and unfortunately, the death of film critic, Roger Ebert. The film is based on Mr. Ebert's book of the same title and it follows him from his early days at college writing for the school paper until his untimely death from cancer.

    It is an unflinching portrait of Mr. Ebert, the man and the critic and whether or not you agreed with his reviews, you still had to admire him for (along with fellow critic Gene Siskel) for making film criticism accessible to mainstream America. It was Mr. Ebert and Mr. Siskel who brought the world "Two Thumbs Up" when they would agree on a review. Many would argue that Mr. Siskel was the better critic and probably deserves a documentary of his own someday but it's Mr. Ebert who reminds us that he has won a Pulitzer Prize and is a critic of the people.

    The film balances flashbacks, film clips and interviews evenly to represent Mr. Ebert's contribution to film and more importantly to his family and the world. We see scenes from some of his favorite films and great clips from the TV show Mr. Ebert shared with Mr. Siskel for so many years. We learn that he married at age 50 to an African American woman named Chaz and that they had a wonderful marriage for 19 years. Many of scenes with Mrs. Ebert  after her husband's cancer diagnosis and subsequent deterioration are so raw and honest that they are hard to watch. However, it is Mr. Ebert love of life and fighting determination right to the end that you will remember and admire.

Obvious Child

   Comedian and actor Jenny Slate steps into the spotlight starring in this new comedy and she shines brightly. Her character, Donna Stern works in a bookstore during the day and does stand-up comedy at night. When her boyfriend dumps her,  Donna's life begins to take unexpected turns.

    Sometimes laugh out loud funny and sometimes heartbreaking, the film is always honest, and it is Ms. Slate that drives the raw comedy and emotions of the film.  Director Gillian Robespierre also wrote the screenplay and directing from her own material really helps keep the story grounded and brings out the natural performances from her cast.

     The film co-stars Gabby Hoffman as Donna's best friend, and Polly Draper and Richard Kind as her parents. But the film completely belongs to Ms. Slate who balances vulnerability and strength in an uncompromising performance. 

Saturday, July 05, 2014


         Forget the latest installment of that noisy, repetitive Hollywood robot movie and treat yourself to an incredibly original science fiction film that you will label an instant classic. Famed Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) makes his English language debut with this exciting, funny and smart sci-fi adventure.

          In the near future mankind attempts to stop global warming but instead sends the earth into a deep freeze that wipes out the majority of the planet. Survivors circle the globe on a high speed train called "Snowpiercer" where the poor are forced to live in squalor at the tail end and the rich live in the luxurious front end. Seeking better living conditions and equality for all, a plot is hatched by a rebellious lower class to break through the train and take over the engine. Sounds like a simple enough plot but this is no ordinary train and Mr. Joon-ho is no ordinary director.

         As the rebels move deeper through the train, the film gets weirder and weirder with each train car, a one of a kind set piece. The visuals are amazing and the action scenes are made even more exciting by the claustrophobic nature of the train. Mr. Joon-ho balances scenes of extreme violence with scenes of beauty and humor throughout the film.

          Chris Evans (fresh from playing Captain America) plays Curtis, the reluctant anti-hero of the rebellion. Jamie Bell plays his sidekick, Edgar. John Hurt is Gillam, the wise old mentor and Korean superstar Song Kang-ho is Namgoong Minsu, a mysterious character needed by the rebels and Ko A-sung is his daughter Yona. Octavia Spencer and Allison Pill are also aboard in very original roles. There is also a surprise cameo by a very recognizable dramatic American actor that I won't spoil and completing the great casting is the remarkable, unrecognizable Tida Swinton as Minister Mason, who provides much of the film's humor.

            Without the big bucks of Hollywood to promote this film, you won't find it playing multiple times a day in multiplexes but search for it while it's still on the big screen and you will be rewarded with the summer's most original and fun film so far.