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