Saturday, May 30, 2015


   A two hour PSA wrapped around a commercial for visiting Disney World. Writer/director Brad Bird clearly wants us to know we are slowly killing the earth and only the most creative, brightest young minds can save us.

    George Clooney stars but doesn't really show up until halfway through the film (not counting a short introduction at the start). His character, Frank Walker could have been played by almost any leading actor today. Mr. Clooney doesn't really bring anything special to the role. Hugh Laurie co-stars as the film's villain. The real star however, is Britt Robertson. Ms. Robertson looks like a young Julia Roberts and has many of the same attributes that show she is a star in the making. Her acting is natural, charming and very appealing. She easily holds her own in all her scenes with Mr. Clooney. The other standout role, Athena, is played by Raffey Cassidy. Ms Cassidy is a young British actress who also has a bright future as an actress.

     The special effects are well done and there are a few scenes that highlight Mr. Bird's kinetic energy but the film plods along at times and it's clear message is no revelation. It's hard to tell exactly who the right audience is for this film. It will go over the heads of small kids, teens may not care and adults will get the message right away and then find themselves bored. It's a perfect film for high school science kids. After all, we are counting on them to save us.


       Curiosity got the better of me. I loved the original  so I certainly wondered why bother doing a remake in the first place? Easy, which unfortunately this new film won't make.

       The story follows the same trajectory as the original but embellishes it with new millennial flourishes like flat screen TV's, cell phones and drones. It may do a good job modernizing the story but it completely forgets how to scare you. The original was a roller coaster ride of adrenaline rushes. Now we get second rate acting and stereotypical scares even when they mimic the original. The big climax falls flat and doesn't come anywhere near the first film.

        Sam Rockwell as the dad is the only saving grace in the film. Nobody does snarky sarcasm like Mr. Rockwell and he brings a welcome touch of comic relief. Rosemary DeWitt, as the mom does a serviceable job but doesn't have the "mama lion" instincts of Jobeth Williams. Jared Harris camps it up as a reality show ghost hunter, replacing the diminutive medium, Zelda Rubenstein.

        For real thrills and chills, stick to the original. When will Hollywood realize you shouldn't mess with the true classics?

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Connection

        Fans of the 1971 film, "The French Connection" will not want to miss this French perspective of the same time period. Writer/director Cedric Jimenez faithfully recreates the drug traffic years during the 70's when most of the Heroin in the U.S. was being smuggled in from France. The film overlaps the same investigation that the American film portrayed so well. The disclaimer at the starts reads "loosely based on real events".

        Jean Dujardin stars as Magistrate Pierre Michel who led the charge against the drug lords and in particular, Gaetan "Tany" Zampa, played by Gilles Lellouche. Both Mr. Dujardin and Mr. Lellouche are terrific in their respective roles. They only have a few scenes together but they are filled with machismo tension. 

        The film is a gritty, old fashioned police procedural with an authentic feel. There is nothing like the amazing chase scene in the American film since events don't transpire exactly the same way but the story itself holds your attention. There are enough drugs, corruption, gun play and illegal activity that, if you are a fan, may remind you of "The Wire".

       It's a wonder that  French filmmakers didn't make this film sooner but thankfully Mr. Jimenez has brought the story to life and closed the circle on an infamous period in history.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Clouds of Sils Maria

     An intense  character study of women, art, celebrity and aging. This drama was a hit at Cannes. It features strong performances from it's three leads, Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chole Grace Moritz. Ms. Binoche, in particular, is mesmerizing as the aging star grappling with  her latest role.  Ms. Stewart gives her finest performance to date as Ms. Binoche's  harried personal assistant and confidant  (she won the French Oscar for supporting actress).

     The story borrows elements from "All About Eve" when Ms. Binoche's character is asked to  play the older woman against the younger role she played 20 years earlier. Ms. Grace Moritz is the actress cast as the younger woman in a battle of wills against her aging boss. 

       It's a play within a film. Art imitating life, imitating art and can be terribly confusing at times, especially in the many scenes when Ms. Binoche and Ms. Stewart run lines that blend into their reality. It's a dialog heavy film that ruminates about life on many levels. Don't expect a linear A to B story. Writer/director Oliver Assasyas has no interest in a straight line. He figuratively drops you into this world for a two hour voyeuristic journey and then it's over. The story meanders going nowhere. Even when a major character literally disappears late in the film, no explanation is given.

        The scenery of Sils Maria, Switzerland is breathtaking.  The clouds of the title form an unusual formation through the valley known as "the Snake" and it's the metaphor of the film.  It's beautiful to watch but eventually evaporates.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mad Max:Fury Road

      Writer director George Miller continues the story of Mad Max, the character he created in 1979 with Mel Gibson. The new film stars Tom Hardy as Max and it is an over the top visual masterpiece. However, as good as it is visually, the story is paper thin and only co-star Charlize Theron does anything close to real acting.

         Less a reboot and more of a continuation, "Fury Road" takes place in the same desert landscape as "The Road Warrior"  and like that film is basically a two hour chase scene. Ms. Theron plays Furiosa, a warrior woman more than capable of handling herself in the male dominated world. When she "kidnaps" five women used for breeding purposes, the evil despot, Immortan Joe sets out with his army of albino maniacs to kill her and bring back the missing women. Reluctant at first, Max ends up helping her escape.

            That's the story in a nutshell. Aside from Furiosa and some other warrior women who show up later, all the women in the film are either used for breeding or for harvesting their milk. It's pretty misogynistic but I suppose Ms. Theron's character more than equalizes things.  The title character really plays co-star to Furiosa. Mr. Hardy doesn't even have much dialog. Max is just a device to keep the action moving. Ms. Theron easily steals the picture.

             The real star, however, is the non-stop action. Nicholas Hoult plays Nuxx, the albino that starts out with Max as his human blood bag. He starts things in motion from the very beginning and the action never lets up. The violence, mayhem and road rage are an assault on the senses but actually a lot of fun in a very cartoonish sense.  It is far removed from any reality and quite a blast to watch. Just when the redundancy starts to bother you, Mr. Miller throws up another ridiculous stunt that amps up the wow factor. 

               If you are a fan of the series, you certainly won't be disappointed but this is definitely not a film for everyone.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

    If you enjoyed the first film, then by all means run to your closest theater and revel in all things Avengers. If you had no interest in the first one or you are completely in the dark when comes to Marvel mythology,  then you are walking into the wrong theater.

     Age of Ultron picks up just where the first film left off and even had a prologue on last week's "Agents of Shield" TV show. A very clever tie-in, indeed. The film starts loud, never lets up and is an absolute assault on the senses (especially in Imax 3D). Of course if you are a fan, it's just what you want as the characters come to life, perfectly sprung from their comic book pages.  The returning stars slip into their characters  easily and James Spader is the perfect choice as the voice of Ultron.

     Writer/director Joss Whedon is the most powerful Avenger of all, charged with overseeing the continuous growth of this mighty franchise.  While he does mess with true Marvel mythology to better serve the story (this purist was indeed bothered by Ultron's film origin), he still knows how to satisfy his audience with plenty of action, great one-liners, cameos galore, and evenly split screen time for all our heroes (even Hawkeye).  When your villain is a cold blooded robot, Mr. Whedon feels it's necessary to include warm-hearted subplots but they slow things down and don't really add anything to characters we already know so well.

      The big finale, while exciting enough, is a rehash of the first film substituting killer robots for an invading alien army but it's forgiven since this is ultimately just another chapter in a very long story. More familiar characters from the books are also introduced to broaden the Avengers universe and yes, further promise of Thanos awaits.