From the Editor
Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!
North Texas Film Critics Association
Friday, April 15, 2011
The new Robert Redford film "The Conspirator" tells the story of Mary Surratt, who was convicted of helping murder President Abraham Lincoln and became the first woman executed by the federal government. With an A-list cast, a worthy story and a few compelling moments, Redford's overlong, idealistic film is an intriguing look though it fails to capture a huge emotional connection. Unsurprisingly, Redford and company change some key historical details for cinematic glory. Robin Wright is Surratt, James McAvoy is her attorney Frederick Aiken and Kevin Kline is Secretary of War Edward Stanton. If you're familiar with history, you already know what happens, but Redford wants you to believe that Surratt was harshly convicted so the U.S. Government could heal an ailing country from the Civil War and Lincoln's untimely death. Some of that might be true, though we may never really know what truly happened, ala Oliver Stone's "JFK," though the mildly entertaining "The Conspirator" isn't as ridiculous as that film's theories. A few enjoyable scenes and good performances from Wright and McAvoy highlight the film, though an overlong, uneven tone, particularly in the final act, somewhat dampers the film. Worth a look maybe for history buffs, otherwise wait to rent it.
Wes’s Grade: C+
Worth Seeing: Possibly, for history buffs.
"Certified Copy" is an original, if not, baffling and intriguing film. Starring the lovely Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche, it's a provocative, engaging film that's part romantic dramedy and part mystery. Binoche is a French antiques dealer and single mother who meets a British writer named James Miller (William Shimell) after a public discussion of one of his books, so he can sign a few copies for her. They then take a jaunt to a small French village where it leads to something far deeper than both had planned. This has a similar feel to the Linklater film "Before Sunrise" in scope and tone, except with a big plot twist that leaves the audience hanging. Directed and written by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami it's a unique film, which only works because of the actors and not the uneven script. The best part of the film of course is the always luminous, lovely Bincoche, who delivers a nicely shaded turn as the antiques dealer. She and British actor/singer Shimell also have decent chemistry and deliver the material sublimely. "Certified Copy" will leave you to make the final decisions and complete the story yourself, which isn't always a great thing if you don't feel too manipulated. Worth a look, if just to see Binoche and nothing else.
Wes’s Grade: B
Worth Seeing: Yes, but mainly for seeing the always lovely Binoche.
The dramatic film "Miral" is a compelling portrait of a young girl caught up in the Middle East conflict; I know many who have a difficult understanding a complex subject, but try being in the middle of it. The story centers on an orphaned Palestinian girl ("Slumdog Millionaire's" Frieda Pinto) growing up in the wake of Arab-Israeli war who finds herself drawn into the conflict. She is raised in an orphanage by the opinionated but kind Hind (Hiam Abbass) but as she grows older love draws her first-hand into the difficulties her land faces, but even more important than the conflict her country faces is the inner conflict she has: stand up for what she believes or promote the peace she was taught by Hind. Director Julian Schnabel ("Diving Bell and the Butterfly") skillfully brings out the complexities the Middle East issues bring, and the autobiographical story, based on the life of Rula Jebreal is superbly acted. The downbeat story loses a little focus in the later going, but it's positive message is also a hopeful one. Worth a look to see how this issue affects people in different ways.
Wes’s Grade: B
Worth Seeing: Yes, a complex but downbeat story but Pinto is always lovely to watch.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
In French with English subtitles.
In French, the word potiche is a term used for “trophy wife.” That is the subject of the entertaining French dramedy “Potiche,” starring legendary actors Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Set in 1977, Deneuve is the wife of a tyrannical factor owner (Fabrice Luchini), a despicable man both personally and professionally. Up until now she’s been a faithful, submissive wife, that is until he is held hostage by his employees and she ends up making some key business decisions for him, with assistance from the town’s mayor (Depardieu), with whom she had a fling years ago. Well-acted, funny and touching, Deneuve, now in her late 60s, is still a marvel as the woman who blossoms under less than ideal circumstances to become the person and woman she was meant to be. Based on a French play, the somewhat conventional story seems an unusual fit for young, unconventional French director Francois Ozon, but the feminist themes are brought out nicely. It’s also a treat seeing veteran French actors Deneuve and Depardieu together, who have a warm chemistry together, it’s worth seeing for that alone.
Wes’s Grade: B
Worth Seeing: Yes, especially for Deneuve and Depardieu fans.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
If you've ever read the New York Times fashion columns over the years, you already know who Bill Cunningham is. He's the one responsible for those pictures of people on the street to show what the current trends are. Now in his 80s, Cunningham still rides his Schwinn bicycle all across New York City taking pictures of people on the street and various events. He's one of the last tenants living in Carnegie Hall; irrepressible and incomparable, he's a respected artist and person in many, many circles. Richard Press has created a detailed, sensitive but amusing portrait of man well-ahead of his time and who has had considerable influence over fashion photography and trends. Cunningham can certainly be a finicky artist, but a person you'd still like to get to know. One of the year's best documentaries about one of the last great American artists.
Wes's Grade: A
Worth Seeing: Touching and funny, one of the year's best docs and a must-see for fashionistas.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Oh, what memories. Just when you thought it was safe to back to the theater, "Scream 4" returns, 10 years since "Scream 3" and with its majors players intact: Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Neve Campbell, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, along with some fresh faces including Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere. Campbell's Sidney Prescott returns to Woodsboro on the anniversary of the killings to promote a new book, and the killings start happening again. Dewey (Arquette), now Sheriff of the town, and his wife, Gale (Cox), now must help Sidney endure another round of slayings. Bloody enjoyable and tongue-in-cheek fun that's better than the last couple of films in the series. The horror spoofing, is so like, 1990s by now, yet it works best when it doesn't take itself too seriously. There are a few good twists and while the identity of the killers isn't a huge surprise (not to mention the three leads have aged too much for this), you'll still enjoy it far more than you really should. This weathered Clinton-era franchise should probably be put to rest, though that won't happen if the film is a hit.
Wes's Grade: B-
Worth Seeing: Bloody, guilty-pleasure enjoyable, if not a little old by now.
"Rio" is the colorful, entertaining new animated film from the creators of the "Ice Age" animated films. When Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a domesticated macaw raised by Linda (Leslie Mann) in small-town Minnesota, meets the fiercely independent Jewel (Anne Hathaway), he takes off on an adventure to Rio de Janeiro with the bird of his dreams. "Rio" is an amusing, energetic tale for the kids that lacks some of the sparkle of the similarly-themed "Madagascar" not to mention the music isn't well-integrated into the film, but it's well-voiced by all, particularly the straight-laced Eisenberg and the always chirpy (no pun intended) Hathaway. Listen for George Lopez and Tracy Morgan, who also provide a few good laughs.
Wes's Grade: B
Worth Seeing: Yes, good family film.
Friday, April 8, 2011
A mesmerizing, hypnotic chase thriller about a young teenage assassin (Saoirse Ronan) on the run from a CIA agent (Cate Blanchett), who has ties with the girl's father (Eric Bana). "Atonement's" Joe Wright, who directed Ronan to an Oscar nomination in 2007 for that film, skillfully handles the material with excellent performances from all (Blanchett's Southern accent is especially a treat). The moody club-style music is annoyingly overdone, but it adds some nice, stylish touches to the dark but vastly entertaining film, and the breathless ending is a keeper. Definitely worth seeing.
Wes's Grade: B
Worth Seeing: Yes, though a tad intense at times.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
"Your Highness" isn't as bad as you think, but it's still not that great. Silly, sloppy and far too long and busy, it's like "Lord of the Rings" as told by Peter Griffin and enacted by Stewie. Admittedly, there are a handful of guilty-pleasure gags and the cast performs well with the improvised dialogue, but it tries too hard (i.e. loads of unnecessary special effects and creatures among other things), as if to overcompensate for the slack, somewhat misogynistic material.
David Gordon Green, who directed both Franco and McBride in 2008's "Pineapple Express" and also works with McBride on the funny HBO series "Eastbound and Down," seems a good fit for the material, what there is of it. McBride, also an executive producer, is credited with co-writing the script, but all the dialogue and many scenes are improvised, which is a mixed bag. Some scenes work better than others (most anytime a creature is onscreen, it doesn't).
Throw in some expensive costumes, sets and some amped up, busy special effects and creatures, and it ends up a dizzying, somewhat bizarre mix of comedy and action. It's better than say "Year One" or "Land of the Lost," though in fact that's not saying much, and hopefully it will do better than those films.
Wes's Grade: C
Inspiring, well-acted true story "Soul Surfer"
"Soul Surfer" tells the true story of Hawaiian teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who in 2003 lost an arm to a tiger shark while surfing but who continued to make waves by becoming a one-armed championship surfer. Inspiring and well-acted, "Soul Surfer" is a bit too earnest and a tad too long for what it is, but it still manages to tug the heart-strings at the right moments and is a refreshing, suitable family film.
Hamilton (played by Anna Sophia-Robb) is a talented teen surfer in Hawaii born into a surfing family led by Tom and Cheri Hamilton (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt). With the talent to be a professional surfer, Hamilton is out practicing with her best friend Alanna Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson) and her father Holt (Kevin Sorbo) when she is attacked by a shark and her arm is bitten off. With her story gaining notoriety, Bethany is now faced with living life with one arm and must decide if she'll ever get in the water again to surf.
"Soul Surfer" is a touching family film that's a fresh change of pace for those looking for an uplifting family film. Some may not enjoy the faith-filled film, but even with that it should still have wide appeal, particularly with Quaid and Hunt in the cast. Sean McNamara, primarily a TV director of Disney shows, points the film in the right direction, even if the film often has a TV-movie feel to it, particularly with the casting of country singer Carrie Underwood as Bethany's church friend, in her feature film debut. Underwood, a lovely singer but whose acting skills are limited, performs serviceable in a small part.
Sophia-Robb, whose performed in other family films "Bridge to Terabithia" and "Because of Winn-Dixie," is a touching Bethany, and the film pulls the right amount of heart strings, if it does feel a smidgen manipulative. Earnest and suitable, this is one the whole family can enjoy, though this story fits the small screen a little better. Stay over through the credits to see Bethany, along with her family and friends portrayed in the film.
Wes's Grade: B-
Brand muddles way through the mediocre, unnecessary "Arthur" remake
If you haven't had enough of British comedian Russell Brand from last week's dreadful animated flick "Hop," then you're bound to go see him in the muddled new remake of the Oscar-winning classic comedy "Arthur," with Dudley Moore forever remembered as the rich, lovable drunk. It's really just a thinly disguised vehicle to showcase Brand's hit-or-miss schtick to the big screen, and Helen Mirren fans should rejoice that she is by far the best thing about the tiresome comedy.
Brand is Arthur Bach, a rich playboy and heir to a fortune and a business empire currently run by his distant, cold mother Vivienne (Geraldine James). Arthur's mother and her many investors are troubled by his rowdy, substance-abuse induced behavior. Arthur's long-suffering nanny Hobson (Mirren) does her best to keep him in line, to no avail. In order to keep the business in the family and for Arthur to keep his fortune, he has been ordered to marry the business-savvy Susan (Jennifer Garner), who Arthur isn't attracted to, and further complicates matters when he falls for a common working girl named Naomi (Greta Gerwig).
"Arthur" is an unimaginative, needless remake that lacks the utter charm and playfulness of the original, not to mention Dudley Moore and John Gielguld, who won an Oscar for his role. Those are mighty big shoes to fill, and the unconventional Brand would seem an inspired choice for the remake, but whereas Moore was well-loved, Brand is still an emerging, somewhat untested talent who many find offensive. Granted, Brand has a few moments of wit and charm, but otherwise his schtick grows tiresome very quickly.
Fortunately, "Arthur" has the brilliant, Oscar-winning actress in Mirren, who makes Hobson her own and nearly steals the show with her effortless one-liners. Though Gerwig makes for a humble working girl, Garner is miscast in a role that was originated by "L.A. Law's" Jill Eikenberry. Some of the updates to the original work well (Arthur sobering up through AA) while others don't at all (a badly executed love scene with Garner and Nick Nolte, you don't belong here) and by the time it delivers it's shabby, predictable ending, you won't care about the time you've invested with such unsympathetic characters.
"Arthur" could've also benefited from better direction than than newcomer Jason Winer, a TV director whose direction feel very episodic here. Above all, they should've known not to mess with an classic, and the original "Arthur," released exactly 30 years ago this year (my how time flies!), was playful, charming and loads of fun. The calculated, muddled remake isn't nearly as charming or fun. Skip this and rent the original instead.
Wes's Grade: C
Friday, April 1, 2011
Rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language, 93 minutes“Source Code” an intriguing but baffling ride
Just when you thought you had “Inception” figured out after several viewings, along comes "Source Code,” another sci-fi action adventure in that same vein. Thrilling, confusing fun, this is on a far less epic scale than “Inception” and likely less cerebral, but still just as baffling, particularly the heartfelt ending. You won’t figure out “Source Code” in one sitting, but it’s good escapist fun.Jake Gyllenhaal is decorated army airman Captain Colter Stevens, who finds himself in the body of an unknown man, then discovers he’s part of a secret U.S. military mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. Over time, he learns he’s actually part of a highly secret government experiment called the “Source Code,” a program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life in a parallel state. In order to uncover the identity of the bomber, he must relive the incident over and over and piece together clues. In the meantime, he gets to know a girl on the train (Michelle Monaghan) along with his colleague (Vera Farmiga) who becomes his ally in this deadly mission.
“Source Code” is as preposterous as it sounds on paper, but it works as original sci-fi escapist fare due to the engaging performances of leads Gyllenhaal, Monaghan and Farmiga, along with the skilled direction of Duncan Jones, who directed another underrated sci-fi thriller a few years back, “Moon,” and who may be better known as rock legend David Bowie’s son. “Source Code,” much like “Inception,” brings the sci-fi realm to the mainstream, just don’t expect to understand it all. The visuals effects, particularly the huge, jumpy explosions, are the highlight of the film.On paper, this seems like a dramatic, sci-fi version of “Groundhog Day,” though in fact there’s more to it than that. There are lots of hidden messages and overtones about afterlife and secret government projects, and the more you try to decipher it, the more ridiculously confused you’ll get, particularly the film’s final act, which is a bit anti-climactic and predictable but still enjoyable fun. The romantic subplots aren’t well developed either, but Gyllenhaal and Monaghan make for a handsome couple.
You’ll leave “Source Code” baffled but still entertained. A good time will be had, just try not to figure it out.Wes’s Grade: B
Creepy but uneven "Insidious" has a handful of chills
The new low-budget horror film "Insidious" comes from the makers of the "Saw" franchise, but don't worry, this film is nowhere near as gratuitiously violent and bloody as those films. The film, about a family who is haunted by demonic spirits, has a few good jumps and bumps and evokes a creepy vibe, but it nearly falls apart midway through with an unexpected change in tone that dampers the film's effectiveness.
A successful middle-class family, college professor Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his songwriting wife Renai (Rose Byrne) move into a new suburban home with their three children, including the precocious Dalton (Ty Simpkins). After Dalton unexpectedly falls on a ladder, he goes into a coma and weird things start to happen around the house with Renai seeing some highly unusual spirits that seem to surround Dalton. After they move houses and with the help of a spiritual guide and family friend named Elise (Lin Shaye), they soon discover the truth about the demons following their son.
"Insidious" is a bizarre, chilly but uneven horror film that starts off well but is hampered by a change in tone midway through that hurts the film. Director James Wan, director and producer from the "Saw" film franchise, directs the film and co-writes with his business partner Leigh Whannell (who also has a small part in the film) with some originality; as a straight horror film the film is chilling particularly in its first half. Less is always more, and the more that's revealed, the more murky "Insidious" gets, not to mention an uneven tone. It goes for more laughs than chills in the last act, an uncomfortable and striking change that throws the film off course.
Wilson and Byrne mix the right effectiveness of parental angst and confusion as Dalton's parents, though the final twists, including the mildly surprising ending and some fuzzy, otherwise ridiculous explanations make their performances an afterthought. Considering the low-budget feel of the production, "Insidious" is not a terrible film and certainly not as bad as it could've been, but it should've stuck to being an honest to goodness horror film instead of the attempts at camp horror, itself a tricky thing.
Worth maybe a look for horror film enthusiasts but you've seen better before.
Wes's Grade: C
Humans the weakest part of the otherwise amusing "Hop"
Sometimes mixing live action with animation can work into a magical film like "Who's Roger Rabbit?" or a mediocre one like "Alvin and the Chipmunks." The new Easter-themed "Hop" takes on an age-old icon with mixed results, with the human being the weak link. "Hop" is a fun take on the Easter Bunny and while the animation is colorful, the voices are energetic, the humans are as bland as ever, with as much freshness as a week-old candy Easter egg. It would've worked far better without the stale live-action that simply drags this otherwise amusing film down considerably.
The movie tells of E.B. (Russell Brand), a teenage rabbit who on the eve of taking over from his father (Hugh Laurie) as the Easter Bunny, leaves his home in Easter Island for Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a drummer, and is hit by Fred O'Hare (James Marsden) an out of work slacker who was driving home. Feigning injury, E.B. manipulates Fred to take him in as he recovers. As Fred struggles with the world's worst house guest, both will learn what it takes to finally grow up, as Fred is pressed to partner with E.B. to save Easter from a evil Easter Chick named Carlos (Hank Azaria) who wants Easter Chicks to be in charge of Easter.
"Hop" is a mildly amusing, colorful take on the Easter Bunny that's hampered by it's live-action and a very very thin story stretched out over 90 minutes. If all of this seems familiar, it's because it's directed by Tim Hill, who did the first "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and the live-action-animated infused "Garfield," neither classics in any genre. As long as the animated characters are onscreen, "Hop" works OK, but when the humans come on screen, the film slows down considerably.
Marsden is a decent actor but he's miscast here; it's simply hard to buy the fact he's a twenty-something slacker and it would've been wiser to focus on the character's sister, played by "Bing Bang Theory's" Kaley Cuoco, younger, prettier and funnier. Brand, Laurie and Azaria all hit the right notes as the bunnies and chicks hashing it out over who wants to run Easter.
It also borrows too many elements from Santa Claus to be truly original. Kids will want to hop down to the theater to see "Hop," especially with Easter on the horizon, and the movie isn't altogether terrible, but it misses the mark more than it doesn't, and overall an unmemorable animated effort.
Wes's Grade: C
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity, 106 minutes
“Kill the Irishman” an entertaining, gritty look at real-life mafia
“Kill the Irishman” is the entertaining new crime-drama based on real events and real people, and on a “Pulp Fiction”-type level it succeeds grandly. Violently but thoroughly enjoyable, it’s unrevealing and relies heavily on stereotypical mafia types, but it’s superbly acted by some A-list character actors.
“Kill the Irishman” is based on the exploits of a real-life crime boss and FBI informant named Danny Greene (played by Ray Stevenson of “The Punisher” fame here), an Irish-American based out of Cleveland in the 1970’s. The tough-minded but kind-hearted Danny first becomes involved with the Cleveland underworld when he becomes a union boss, including John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), who later becomes a close ally of Danny. When Greene attempts to take a loan with assistance of a local loan shark (Christopher Walken), he angers the wrong people, including a group of Italian mobsters with ties to New York City and it sparks a bloody mob war within the city that garners national attention.
“Kill the Irishman” is a stout, enjoyable true-life crime drama, though it’s unfortunate it couldn’t have been made earlier, before the likes of Tarantino and “The Sopranos” popularized them. It’s based on the 1998 best-selling nonfiction book “To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia” by Rick Porrello, which is an account of Greene’s life in Cleveland. Writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh (also of “The Punisher”) changes some details of Greene’s life, though it certainly portrays Greene as a colorful, smart character who angered many of the wrong people.
Irish actor Stevenson’s engaging performance as Greene anchors the film, though the highlight is all those creative explosions which pepper the film. It becomes a little redundant after awhile, and some of it is very stereotypical, but you get a sense that these folks actually lived their lives this way. Watch for a host of other A-list character actors who also do a superb job, including D’Onofrio and the always-watchable Walken in a role that’s far smaller than the trailers make it seem.
“Kill the Irishman” is still an entertaining, colorful look at Cleveland mafia in the 1970’s, and the gritty vibe it gives off is worth a look.
Wes’s Grade: B
Rated PG for some mild rude humor and mischief, 96 minutes
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” a fun family film
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” follows more adventures of Greg Heffley that’s based on the best-selling children’s books of the same name by Jeff Kinney and is a sequel to last year’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” “Rodrick Rules” is suitable, clean fun and a modest family film, though it’s a little redundant and some younger kids may be easily bored with it.
Our wimpy hero Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), now 12 and enters seventh grade , he and his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), must deal with their parents' misguided attempts to have them bond, for which their mother, Susan (Rachael Harris), will give them “Mom Bucks.” All while Greg tries every attempt to impress his crush, the new girl in town, Holly Hills (Peyton List). Also, he must keep a party Rodrick threw a secret from his parents to avoid getting in both of them in trouble, especially Rodrick, who is looking forward to playing in the big city-wide talent show with his rock band, Loded Diper.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” is more of the same amusement and will likely appeal to the fans of Kinney’s book series and the first film, though it all has a TV-series feel to it. It’s enjoyable and sprightly but predictable, and some of it is loose filler, with some gags staged for easy laughs (one bit early on involving a candy bar is one of the better ones). Gordon and Bostick are engaging leads and help the thinly plotted film along. Red-haired chubby Capron nearly steals the show as Greg’s best friend Rowley, who is to Greg as Larry Mundello was to Beaver Cleaver in the 1950’s TV show “Leave It to Beaver.”
As a matter of fact, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” would play better on the small screen, to the “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and “iCarly” set, where this type of thing would be seen by more audiences in this demographic and it would end cleanly and more efficiently within 30 minutes. Younger kids might get easily bored with the 96 minute running-time, which is fairly short for a feature film but overlong for what it is.
But you can’t fault “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” in its good messages (be close to your siblings!) and the fact it actually provides decent family entertainment, which seems to be in short measure these days.
Wes's Grade: B-
Listless but visually stunning "Sucker Punch" a hot mess
The awful new fantasy thriller "Sucker Punch" is not a film to be taken seriously on just about any level. The stunning visuals from the director of the action hit "300" easily become the film's highlight along with a handful of well-staged action set pieces, but that can't overcome its ridiculous, lazy plot and the laughable acting of the young pretty actresses who star in the film. Essentially, the film is a mess from start to finish, but there are enough energetic visuals to keep you awake.
"Sucker Punch" is set in the 1950s and concerns Babydoll (Emily Browning), a lovely young blonde who is sent to a mental institution in Vermont by her wicked stepfather following the death of her mother and sister. Retreating to an alternative reality as a coping strategy, she envisions a plan which will help her escape from the facility.
Determined in her fight for her freedom, she urges four other young girls-the outspoken Rocket (Jena Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung), and the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish)—to band together and try to escape from their captors, Blue (Oscar Isaac), Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) and the High Roller (Jon Hamm). Together and with the help of The Wise Man (Scott Glenn), their journey—if they succeed—will set them free."Sucker Punch" is an entertaining, hot piece of trash from director and writer Zack Snyder, the guy behind the hit films "300" and "Watchmen." Snyder's unique style and brand of incorporating heavy CG visuals, close-ups and slow-mo action will certainly appeal to the comic con set and likely make the film a hit, but "Sucker Punch" is overall his weakest film, with a slack, confusing story and second-rate acting that hurts the film. Browning, a young British actress and model, seems content with the Milla Jovovich style of acting - poses and pretty looks - that make for a truly bland lead.
Vanessa Hudgins, Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish, all decent, likable actresses in their own right, can't do much with the material they're given, not to mention it wastes fine actors like Carla Gugino and Scott Glenn amidst all the CG-busyness and explosions. There are a few decent action set-pieces, but it all seems a little redundant and confusing as the girls go back and forth between reality and the alternate universe and why exactly they must do all of this nonsense just to escape a mental facility.
In an effort to appeal to the masses, this type of thing usually does well the first week or two and then peters out after bad word of mouth, though Snyder's own "300" and last year's "Alice in Wonderland" certainly proved that point wrong. "Sucker Punch" may do well with some audiences, and it certainly has enough energetic visuals to keep it moving, but it's all still a piece of mindless nonsense. Not worth the time or the money unless you feel like being sucker punched for real.
Wes's Grade: D
Sunday, March 13, 2011
"Of Gods and Men": Powerful, affecting true story
There are some incidents that may have you question your faith and why things happen the way they do. The highly acclaimed French drama "Of Gods and Men" details such an event, the true story of a group of Monks who were murdered in 1996 in events that remain clouded in mystery. The slow-moving but absorbing film takes its time getting to its destination but leaves you with some haunting, unforgettable images.
Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist (a strict Catholic sect) monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay. Some of them are ultimately kidnapped by Islam extremeists and beheaded in events that are still unclear.
"Of Gods and Men" is a beautifully made, emotionally rich and poignant film that honors the dedicated monks who were murdered in 1996. The story details the events leading up to the monks deaths; it's handsomely filmed by French director Xavier Beauvois and stars well-known French actors Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale.
The absorbing, acclaimed film (it won the Grand Prix prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival) is filled with some haunting, quiet moments, particularly a handful of scenes with the monks reflecting on their lives, and the film's final moments as the monks are being led to certain death are both sad and chilling.
"Of Gods and Men" is in French with English subtitles. It is a must-see for foreign-film enthusiasts and those who enjoy an affecting interpretation of a true story.
Wes's Grade: B+
Exquisitely sad but touching "Jane Eyre"
Charlotte Bronte's classic novel "Jane Eyre" gets another big-screen treatment, and if you count the silent films, this 2011 version is the 16th time it's hit the big screen, which of course doesn't include all the television and stage versions that have been done. This rendering of "Jane Eyre" is one of the stronger efforts, capturing the downcast spirit of Bronte's novel; it's superbly-acted, elegantly filmed and if you're familiar with the story, will leave you feeling quite sad.
After a bleak childhood, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) goes out into the world to become a governess. As she lives happily in her new position at Thornfield Hall, she meet the dark, cold, and abrupt master of the house, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Jane and her employer grow close in friendship and she soon finds herself falling in love with him. Happiness seems to have found Jane at last, but could Mr. Rochester's terrible secret destroy their love?
The latest adaptation of "Jane Eyre" is a sublime, affecting effort; it's faithful to the tone of Bronte's early feminist novel. Well-acted, handsome and pensive, there are some unforgettable images throughout. Sure, this leisurely film may appeal mainly to females but this painful portrait of unrequited love is on par with anything Merchant-Ivory did back in the 1980's.
Especially memorable is the strong performance by "Alice in Wonderland's" Wasikowska, who plays the mousy, titular character with the hope of a delicate but bruised flower. It's one of the stronger portrayals of Eyre, and Wasikowska, who looks markedly different from her other onscreen portrayals, remarkably resembles Olivia De Haviland (best known as Melanie from "Gone With the Wind") from her Oscar-winning performance in the similarily-themed "The Heiress."
She and "Inglorious Basterds" Fassbender have a nice, subdued chemistry that marks the film, especially in the later chapters. Rounding out the strong cast is Oscar-winner Judi Dench, affecting as a veteran governess, and Jamie Bell ("The Eagle") in a small role as another of Jane's suitors. Director Cary Fukunaga handles the proceedings well in what is only his second big direcorial effort; the first-rate production is highlighted by some of the most detailed costumes, music and set direction seen in recent memory and only underscore the film's effectiveness.
Unlike the novel, this film version of "Jane Eyre" doesn't have as much closure, even though you still have a sense of how it turns out. On the down side, the film doesn't do anything to lift the spirits, and don't go expecting to leave a happy camper, even the romance isn't all that happy. Fukunaga could've left a few elements out, as they aren't explored as fully as Bronte does in the novel, particularly near the end of the film.
"Jane Eyre" shows us that love often comes through suffering, and Jane does suffer much to get to her happy place, if she ever gets there. But this "Jane Eyre" is still a fulfilling, richly satisfying experience, one worth seeing, even if you leave feeling sad.
Wes's Grade: B
"The Lincoln Lawyer" is slick, guilty-pleasure entertainment
"The Lincoln Lawyer" is guilty, guilty of being a slick, entertaining and well-acted crime thriller, one of the best of recent memory. This crowd-pleaser predictably hits all the right notes but you'll find yourself enjoying it far more than you think. It becomes a bit redundant and draggy in the last act before it regains its footing for a nice, twisty ending.
Based on the 2005 best-selling novel of the same name, "The Lincoln Lawyer" concerns Los Angeles defense attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a slick, smooth-talking attorney who conducts most of his work out of his 1990's-era Lincoln Town Car; he's defended lots of questionable folks, including his current client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a rich young real-estate agent who comes from a powerful, very wealthy L.A. family. Roulet claims to have been set up, but things don't appear to be adding up for Roulet as Haller and his assistance Frank (William H. Macy) start digging around. Now Haller is stuck defending someone he doesn't like, putting his career and his family, including ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) in danger.
"The Lincoln Lawyer" is a standard, but handsome by-the-numbers crime thriller that you've seen before but is still vastly entertaining, thanks to a superb cast headlined by McConaughey, who make this thing worth watching. McConaughey, who gained fame playing a lawyer in John Grisham's "A Time to Kill," gives his most engaging, least self-aware performance in years as the lawyer who does his business in the back of a Lincoln. Even better is the stellar supporting cast, including Phillippe as a slimeball client, Tomei, Macy, along with Josh Lucas, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston, Michael Pena, John Leguizamo and even country singer Trace Adkins, nearly unrecognizable in a brief but key role.
With newcomer Brad Furman's direction, you have a sense of where the stylish, smooth production is going, even down to a mildly surprising ending that has a decent emotional payoff. Some of it lacks efficiency, especially in the draggy second act, until it reawakens for a decent climax. With wavy hair, Southern accent and a swagger most would envy, McConaughey seems born to play this smooth-talking type, but one thing's for sure, you won't be looking away.
McConaughey needs a hit (commercial, critical or otherwise), and "The Lincoln Lawyer" could be his ticket out of the mediocre rom-coms he's been plagued with the last few years. "The Lincoln Lawyer" is guilty of being guilty-pleasure entertainment that could find repeat business with the lack of decent cinematic choices lately, and I would have no objections to that. A crime thriller worth a look.
Wes's Grade: B
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language, 105 minutesSlick, fast-paced “Limitless” is mostly eye candy
“Limitless” explores the question, what if you had a drug that made you rich and famous? Many of us would like to have that drug, though we don’t realize the consequences of what our new life brings us. “Limitless” is slick fun for the senses, just don’t think about the plot holes or contrivances that threaten the film, particularly in the film’s fast-paced last act.
Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”) is Eddie Morra, an unemployed New York City thirty-something writer who hits snags both professionally and personally, when his stable girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) leaves him. He meets an old friend who introduces him to a top-secret new drug called NZT, which changes a person’s mental capabilities to make them sharper and brighter in every aspect of their lives. Soon Eddie finds himself at the top of his game, living a lavish lifestyle and working for some powerful Wall-Street financiers, including Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro), though Eddie’s life may be in danger with a limited stock of the drug and with some bad guys who are also in pursuit of him and the drug.
“Limitless” is an energetic, well-acted action-thriller of drug-fueled success and the dangers that come with it. Most of it works well, and Cooper’s engaging performances enlivens and grounds the film well. Based on a 2001 novel “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn, the story is a little murky and it becomes bogged down in criminal exercises near the end, but there’s enough to keep you interested throughout.
Cornish and DeNiro both have minimal footage, so don’t go into this thinking it’s an ensemble piece, but DeNiro is used wisely by director Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) and the final exchange between DeNiro and Cooper is a treat to watch. Burger wisely steers the film away from any anti-drug preachiness and uses it strictly for entertainment value.
“Limitless” lacks emotional depth but makes up for it with slick, fun entertainment value and eye candy that the cast becomes early on. It’s filled with some fun scenes though you may not remember much of it after it’s over.
Wes’s Grade: B-
Saturday, March 5, 2011
"The Last Lions" a fascinating look at the big kitty
"The Last Lions" is a sublimely compelling look at the African lion, produced by National Geographic and narrated by actor Jeremy Irons. The absorbing new documentary is a beautiful portrait of a one lion's survival and ability to care for her cubs. The lush photography is the highlight of the film, and the film is suitable for the entire family, though younger kids may be frightened by a few intense scenes of animal life.
The film documentary focuses on a lioness named Ma di Tau ("Mother of Lions") as she battles to protect her cubs against the daunting onslaught of enemies to ensure their survival. The underlying message of the film is on the low population of large cats in the world and whether or not Ma di Tau and her cubs are among the last lions.
"The Last Lions" is a mesmerizing, entertaining look at big cat life on another continent; the film is a great study on animal instincts and survival, though largely unrevealing given that National Geographic has been doing this awhile, with other big cat docs such as "Eye of the Leopard." If "The Last Lions" feels familiar to that film, it's because the film's directors Dereck and Beverly Joubert, also made that film (and also with Irons narrating).
Along with the handsome photography, it also helps that the first-rate narration, told with great inflection by Oscar-winner Irons, helps move the film along and actually adds insight and a dramatic feel to ordinary animal life. Even with the familiar story, all of it's engaging, insightful and a treat to watch, whether Ma di Tau is protecting her cubs (always cute when they're babies) or searching for food, you won't be able to look away.
"The Last Lions" is a worthwhile, enjoyable documentary that's worth a look, especially for animal lovers.
Wes's Grade: B
Loopy fun in familiar "Mars Needs Moms"
The new Disney animated/motion capture movie "Mars Needs Moms" mixes a perfect amount of silly fun with simple sci-fi fun and a few heartwarming messages thrown in for good measure. The story emotes a "been there done that" type of feel, combining a lot of different sci-fi elements from different films ranging from "Aliens" to "Star Wars" to "2001: A Space Odyssey" but there's enough wistful energy to keep the young ones entertained for roughly 90 minutes.
Nine-year old Milo (voice of Seth Dusky/body of Seth Green) is a normal precocious boy on Earth who doesn't appreciate his Mom (Joan Cusack) much until she is kidnapped by Martians with plans to strip her of her "mom-ness" for their own young. Milo's quest to save his mom involves stowing away on a spaceship, navigating an elaborate, multi-level planet and taking on the alien nation and their leader, the Supervisior (Mindy Sterling). With the help of a tech-savvy, underground earthman named Gribble (Dan Fogler) and his bionic underground pet named Two-Cat (Dee Bradley Baker) and a rebellious Martian girl called Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), Milo just might find his way back to his mom — in more ways than one.
"Mars Needs Moms" is a colorful, loopy and entertaining adventure perfect for kids of all ages, especially ones who must appreciate their Mom's more. Produced by Robert Zemeckis and directed by Simon Wells ("The Prince of Egypt"), the film utilizes the same stop motion capture used on some of Zemeckis' earlier films including "A Christmas Carol" and "The Polar Express" and the film continues to show how this technology evolves to produce smoother, more fluid human movements that look remarkably like animation. Unlike those earlier films, "Mars Needs Moms" has a lighter tone to appeal to a younger, wider audience, which could work in the film's favor.
The story is predictable but energetic, light fun and you have a sense of where the story is going, but it's still fun to get there. Zemeckis and company add some nice sci-fi touches (women in charge, the men are doofuses), and while the film seems overly familiar, it's actually based on a Berkeley Breathed (of "Bloom County" fame) children's picture book of the same name. The film is well-acted and voiced, even with the limited taste of an annoying comedian like Fogler, who gives the film's most touching performance as someone who's had similar experiences to Milo.
The film's target audience, the younger set, should enjoy this outing more than the slightly creepy "Polar Express" or the dark "Christmas Carol," both of which have found taken time to find audiences. Kids should have no problem enjoying the warm, heartfelt "Mars Needs Moms," which could be a treat for the whole family, especially Moms.
Wes's Grade: B
"Battle: Los Angeles" is a loud but entertaining fight
Aliens are invading. Again. That's the simple new premise of the unoriginal new action sci-fi thriller "Battle: Los Angeles," a movie that will make you very, very thankful for earplugs. "Battle: L.A." is a turbulent, tiresome video-game package of a movie, slickly done to appeal to the senses in the gaudiest way. With that in mind, "Battle: L.A." packs a wallop visually, with stunning special effects and a pace that would leave Will Smith breathless, but its cornball storyline and redundant intensity are likely to leave you exhausted.
Aaron Eckhart is Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, a veteran who's on his way out but is drawn back in when alien forces begin invading Earth. The mysterious alien forces are out to destroy mankind and take over Earth to use it for its natural resources, primarily the need for water. Los Angeles is one of the last major centers of the West still standing, and its up to Nantz and his troops, including Air Force Sgt. Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) and a pretty civilian (Bridget Moynihan) he meets along the way.
"Battle: Los Angeles" is a conventional, entertainingly headache-inducing action film that's peppered with some impressive visuals and a breathless pace. If you slow down long enough, you'll realize the predictability of the sappy plot and the cookie-cutter characters you'll find in just about every sci-film this side of "Avatar." Director Jonathan Liebesman, who's helmed mostly horror films such as "Darkness Falls" and the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" reboot, serviceably handles the visuals, but you'll quickly realize where most of the money in this expensive production went to.
Eckhart, along with Rodriguez, Moynihan and Micheal Pena and Ne-Yo, headline a bland cast that is clearly secondary to the excessively loud visuals (note: there are gazillions of explosions in this movie). The plot is borrowed and predictable, and you'll know instantly that these guys will find a way to win, a familiar formula seen in so many other sci-fi films such as "War of the Worlds," "Independence Day" and "Cloverfield." Still, there are a handful of intensely enjoyable moments including a showdown on a deserted piece of L.A. freeway and of course the climactic showdown with the mothership. As a side note, none of this was actually filmed in Los Angeles, but the much cheaper Louisiana.
"Battle: Los Angeles" isn't nearly as terrible as you might expect it to be, and as mindless, guilty-pleasure entertainment it actually works well. It's also miles ahead of last fall's "Skyline," a dreadful, depressing film that seemed to have ripped off the plot of this movie (not to mention its visuals). Those that enjoy this type of thing will go and likely go again; those who enjoy their entertainment without earplugs or a headache should stay home and watch "The Big Bang Theory" on DVR.
Wes's Grade: C+