Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – Miller’s Crossing

Category : Movie Review

Director: The Coen Brothers

Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney

Year: 1990

If I hadn’t known this was a Coen Bros. film coming in, I might have been able to guess it by the mood and the actors, but I might not have been able to believe myself, since the overall product is so much worse than I have ever seen from the incomparable pair.  I’ve said before that there is an entire period of early Coen that doesn’t rank anywhere near the next period, which is their absolute best, but I always liked those amateurish films anyway, because they carry a patented feel that you can tell is just blossoming into something that you know will be great in the future.  But Miller’s Crossing, although still signature, simply feels like a mistake, without the saving grace of inherent genius that bolsters some of the other lesser Coen flicks, and it will probably hold its place at the bottom of this finite list until I someday see The Ladykillers.

The Irish mob controls the police, the Italian mob controls the gambling, the Jews fit somewhere in between, and the groups somehow hold a fragile alliance, as long as no one oversteps his allowable greed.  When Johnny Caspar comes to Leo and asks him to whack Bernie, business should conduct as usual, and Leo’s right hand man Tom OKs the hit, but Leo can’t allow it, because he’s sleeping with Bernie’s sister Verna, and secretly so is Tom.  So now the Italians are mad at the Irish because they won’t kill the Jew, and war erupts between the mobsters, the police in the middle and helping both sides.  Tom is torn between his loyalty to Leo, his desire to do business with Johnny, and his attraction to Verna; a fine pickle he finds himself in, which he made for himself, and from which a can’t easily find a way out.

The first problem in the casting; Byrne and Harden just aren’t good actors.  They’re asked to run the show and they simply can’t; the film fails because it couldn’t fall on their shoulders.  The rest of the cast is solid: Albert Finney, John Turturro, Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi, Michael Badalucco, Frances McDormund, some of which often pop up in Coen Bros. films.  But none of them had big enough parts, and so the worst actors got the most lines, and that’s not How To Make A Good Movie.  The Prohibition-era action was overdone, it always felt fake, the cinematography and music were nice, but they weren’t nearly enough, and the entire thing felt like an experiment rather than a polished gem.  We all know these geniuses would go on to make some of the best art we’ve ever seen; this just isn’t it yet, it’s a growing pain, and really doesn’t deserve much attention.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The House Bunny

Category : Movie Review

Director: Fred Wolf

Starring: Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Colin Hanks

Year: 2008

I wanted to give House Bunny a chance because some people consider it somewhat of a cult classic, and I’m not really mad at them for recommending one of the dumbest movies ever made, I’m honestly just disappointed in myself for watching it.  I don’t know what I was expecting; a hidden gem I guess.  But what I got instead was stupid on top of stupid until the whole thing toppled, killing us all.  This is an utter embarrassing even to sophomoric comedies, if that genre does anything for you, because there have been a few solid ones before, but this definitely ain’t it.  And someone thought this was a film worth making, starring in, and showing to the public; I weep for the future.

Shelley is a perspective but aging Playboy bunny who loves her life at the mansion but wants something a little more prestigious; the centerfold.  When she thinks Hef isn’t giving it to her, she leaves the grotto to find something else, and accidentally stumbles across a college campus, or, more specifically, a sorority.  A House Mother would be right up her alley, if any sisterhood would accept her, but only one is so down on their luck that they need Shelley’s help, and they’re about to lose their charter.  If Shelley can help Natalie and the girls find pledges, meet boys, and throw parties, she might just save the day, and find her true calling in turn.

Anna Faris is pretty funny, and she has her moments, mostly “the eyes are the nipples of the face”.  And Emma Stone has talent, she has her moments as well, mostly being the awkward nerd who has a heart of gold hidden somewhere behind her thick glasses.  But neither of those facts make House Bunny even semi-watchable, because the rest is complete trash.  It’s not funny, it’s not sexy, it’s not clever, it’s not entertaining, and it isn’t anywhere near a comedy of acceptable quality.  The story is moronic, the characters are stereotypes, the acting is abysmal, and by the end you’ll feel so much stupider than when you came in.  The cast is very odd: Faris, Stone, Hanks, Kat Dennings, Hugh Hefner, Christopher McDonald, Beverly D’Angelo, Katharine McPhee for some reason, Rumer Willis for an even stranger reason, Holly & Bridget & Kendra, Matt Leinart & Dan Patrick & Shaq.  It’s nonsensical, insulting, pointless, idiotic, and should be avoided at all costs.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – ParaNorman

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Year: 2012

In the hierarchy of Laika movies, ParaNorman might land near the bottom, but that still means it’s better than 90% of animated films out there, and that it still deserves our applause for its magical production and utter originality.  Missing Link, ParaNorman, Coraline, Corpse Bride, Kubo, Boxtrolls; that’s probably how I would rank them, from weakest to strongest, but still, Missing Link is the only real misstep, and ParaNorman is better than most of the silly Disney stuff, so Laika remains the champion.  If you like morbid claymation, this flick is for you, and the wild ride you’ll soon find yourself on is both fun and frightening, a grand combination in my book, and a great reason to watch anything Laika throws your way.

Norman isn’t like other kids; in fact, he’s pretty much a freak.  See, he talks to dead people, can see them walking around everywhere, and isn’t afraid who knows it.  Of course, most people don’t believe him, including his own family, but he talks to his dead grandma every day, her ghost sits right there on the couch, and he’s not about to lie about what’s happening to him.  What’s about to happen to the town his family lives in is much more scary, and only Norman can put a stop to it, if anyone will trust him enough to let him help them survive.  A witch was killed 300 years ago and she’s about to raise the dead to attack the town, at least that’s what a creepy old relative of Norman’s has passed on to him, and so talking to spirits is about to come in real handy.

With Laika, the first thing is always the stop-motion animation, which is flawless and fantastic.  No one can do this better, few even try, and this studio just keeps pumping out the original hits.  It’s amazing what they can do, what they can bring to life, and I love that they tend toward death and morbidity and creepy characters, because it fits this medium perfectly.  Add in a little spooky music and some fresh story nuggets and you’ve got yourself a family film that pushes at the boundaries, while keeping modestly within them and counting on the artwork to blow your mind.  ParaNorman‘s cast is cool too: Smit-McPhee, Mintz-Plasse, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Alex Borstein, John Goodman.  The film is a wonderful combination of scary thrills, awesome artwork, and clever moments, which is really what we’ve come to expect from this company, and they almost always deliver.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Serenity (2019)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steven Knight

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke

Year: 2019

Serenity slides into the Bottom Five of 2019 like it was made to fit there on purpose; if you watch it for yourself you’ll start to wonder if that isn’t exactly what the director intended, because how could someone make something so bad on accident.  It should be noted that Steven Knight isn’t a director, he’s a screenwriter who’s trying his hand at something else, and although it worked well with Locke, the experiment failed this time around.  And, really, it did more than that, it embarrassed everyone involved; this movie isn’t just one of the worst of the year, it’s one of the strangest, dumbest, most pointless, least talented bombs you’ll ever watch, an utter disaster from every angle that should be ridiculed for all time.

Baker Dill (no that isn’t his real name) is a fisherman with an obsession; catch the giant tuna that’s been teasing him and escaping him for the last however many years.  You know, it’s funny, Baker can’t really remember how many years it’s been, or why he just has to catch this fish, but he still goes out every day to try to hook it, going broke in the process.  He lives on the island of Plymouth where everyone knows everyone and no business is private, which is just plain weird sometimes.  Especially when his ex Karen comes along, asks him to off her abusive husband, and everyone in the town seems to understand the choice Baker is now faced with, fish or man, while the fisherman himself flounders to make a decision.

I can’t stress this enough; don’t get curious and watch this movie.  You will regret it, I assure you, and you’ll have no one but yourself to blame.  For the longest time the story will make no sense, and when it finally does you’ll wish you had never found out the answer, because it’s that stupid.  Seriously, Night should be ashamed of himself for writing this plot into existence, and how he fooled so many amazing actors to be a part of such a flop is completely beyond me.  The “twist” is ludicrous, the characters are all ridiculous, the plot makes you want to tear out your own hair, and no level of talent could have pulled off these roles, not if the cast was given a lifetime to try to figure out what it was all supposed to mean.  Don’t waste your own time trying to solve the riddle either; there are real movies to be seen, and this isn’t one of them.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Mustang

Category : Movie Review

Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern, Jason Mitchell

Year: 2019

I’ve documented my love for MattSho before, I listed a bunch of his great performances in this film’s trailer, so I won’t dive into it now, but just know that I think he’s amazing, and I’ll basically watch anything that has his name attached on the off chance that it might be brilliant, because that’s the ceiling of his talent; genius.  I was a little worried that The Mustang would lean too far toward Hallmark status, that it wouldn’t be able to appropriately convey the amount of emotion present in order to create a stunning drama, and in that I do think I was right to be concerned, but I still got to watch Schoenaerts work, so it’s not a total loss.  This movie is a little too cookie cutter and was obviously handled by a director who couldn’t force it from its constricting form, but that doesn’t mean it was a total waste; it simply won’t make Top Ten lists, and that’s pretty disappointing.

Roman Coleman is a convicted felon who has spent too many years behind bars to keep the entirety of his humanity, beginning to withdraw from contact, reality, and the world around him.  He’d rather be kept in isolation away from his problems than face them head on, but when he is forced to enter gen pop at a new facility his new job might just bring him out of his defensive stupor.  This particular prison captures and breaks wild mustangs, selling them at auction to fund the program, which in turn helps inmates learn control, empathy, and a skill, as they learn to love their animals and the special privileges that come with this responsibility.  Roman, at first both angry and afraid, learns the importance of the bond he creates with his animal and of taking ownership for his own, often harmful, actions.

I really want to get MattSho trending; he deserves a nifty nickname.  The guy is a rare talent, and he shows it every time he shows his face on screen, he just knows how to delve deep down to places most of us would rather not go, but how also to turn on the lights there, how to make us see more than what we were afraid to learn.  The Mustang is no different, existing as an opportunity to showcase his skill, and that of at least two others: Dern slides into his role perfectly, and I’m really growing to like Mitchell the more I come across him.  Otherwise, the film just isn’t a strong showing.  It relies far too much on standard recipes and old cliches, without the imagination necessary to elevate it to that special level we’re looking for, that we’re longing for so that we can get especially excited.  The director simply allows the expected to occur without reining the plot in and forcing it to do what she wants, the result being a semi-sleepy, all too predictable story that might feature good acting but won’t stick with us much past turning off the DVD.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Aftermath

Category : Movie Review

Director: James Kent

Starring: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke

Year: 2019

James Kent is a TV director who has done one real movie, Testament of Youth, which was a wonderful surprise and is a splendid film.  You should really check it out; it stars Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Dominic West, Emily Watson, and is a really incredible blend of romance, war, coming-of-age, and the early years of feminism.  And if I lean too heavily in that movie’s direction, it’s only because Kent’s second try is equally disastrous as his first was successful.  The Aftermath is everything we don’t want from the genre, a completely lifeless blob of recycled pulp that has no business being in your local cinema.  Whatever he did right the first time, Kent did wrong the second, and no amount of star power in the world could save a film that falls this flat.

WWII has ended, and the Allies occupy Germany with their armies to begin a pathway to peace.  But first, old hatreds rear their ugly heads, and violence isn’t quite done with its time in the limelight.  Nazis still rally underground, protests pop up at every embassy, food shortages during the harsh winter are a major problem, and harmony seems a long way off.  For the British in Hamburg, the mission is simply; quell rebellions, establish order, get Europe back to normal, but that’s easier said than done.  Lewis & Rachel Morgan move to the city so that he can take command of English forces, and they take control of a wealthy architect’s house for the duration of their stay.  Living in the home with them are the former owner and his daughter, Stephen and Freda Lubert, who struggle with accepting foreign enemies into their home.  Both sides have suffered losses, both families have been injured, and neither can forget old grief, as they all struggle to find some semblance of their once-happy lives.

The story isn’t the problem, at least not the base of the story, because we don’t touch enough on Post-War drama; there’s a lot there to sift through.  Nazi sympathizers, good Germans, angry Allies, greedy men, the collapse of an empire, the rebuilding after years of war; some heavy stuff.  And this film prods at a lot of wounds, covers many uncomfortable topics, from death to new life, and had definite potential at some point, before the actual movie started rolling off the assembly line.  After you’re invested and watching, after you’re interested in the plot, that’s when the rug is pulled out from under you, and that’s when the disaster starts.  First, Skarsgard & Clarke are asked to change their accents, and that fails miserably, so, bad start.  Then a romance blossoms out of literally nowhere, leaving audiences so confused and completely blindsided.  And it just gets worse from there; odd sex scenes, weird subplots, awkward conversations, nonsensical decisions, and a total mess of anything resembling proper storytelling.  The acting doesn’t help, but it wasn’t helped itself by the script or by the direction, both of which felt cheap and lifeless.  The Aftermath was dead on arrival, a complete bomb of a love triangle that also tries to be a war story, an utter failure to produce something new and fascinating.  Instead, what we got was dull and old, uninspired and over-rehearsed, lacking the emotion necessary to create a unique spark.  Its name cast and possible potential might keep it off the bottom of most lists, but that might be exactly where it belongs.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – I Am Yours

Category : Movie Review

Director: Iram Haq

Starring: Amrita Acharia, Ola Rapace, Prince Singh

Year: 2013

Iram Haq has only directed two movies: I Am Yours and What Will People Say.  Both focus on the culture clash between traditional Pakistani beliefs and modern Norwegian living, but they go much deeper than that, dealing with abuse, manipulation, depression, sexuality, and feminism, piling issue upon issue to show how terrible life can be under all that weight.  I hope we see more from Haq, because you can feel her passion in her work, and I’d say let’s see some variety as well, but I don’t know; they say write what you know, she does that, and I’m not sure I want that to change.  She has a powerful voice and is shedding light on an important topic; I feel like it’s my job to help spread the word that this is a name we need to know.

Mina is an actress living in Oslo who is torn between many worlds.  She’s part of a very strict family from Pakistan, and her story isn’t a comfortable one to hear.  She’s trying to be a typical Norwegian woman, but her background makes things so complicated.  She was married, is divorced, has a son, wants to date, loves acting, loves her boy; the ropes that pull her in all directions are getting tighter by the day.  When Mina meets Jesper, a filmmaker from Sweden, she thinks she has found someone to love and who will take her away from this torn existence, but her son Felix makes matters a little more difficult, and to find happiness through others you first have to understand yourself.

This is Iram Haq’s first first, and in it Mina mentions the basic plot of Haq’s second film, though the two characters have different names, so it’s cool that there’s some continuity and an over-arcing theme.  Haq knows how to weave this tale, she’s done it twice now, and I’m excited so see all she has to offer, though of course this might be her talent focus.  I Am Yours is sexy and then sad, upsetting and than unsettling, filled with lovely moments and times of utter despair; the term ‘roller coaster’ has rarely ever been more appropriate.  Mina is a complicated character with a lot of faults and trauma, a flawed hero who we understand might never find the love and peace she’s looking for, and that’s a burden for audiences.  But if you can manage the weight, this film has a lot to say and a pretty seamless deliver, showcasing the skill of a director and a unique plot that audiences should be impressed by.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Book of Eli

Category : Movie Review

Director: The Hughes Brothers

Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis

Year: 2010

The Book of Eli is basically a movie you should probably watch with your dad and try not to pick apart too much, because it neither deserves nor can withstand a large amount of scrutiny.  Fury Road it is not, The Road is could never be, but Waterworld it surpasses in quality, so lower some expectations and enjoy some post-apocalyptic gun play, because that’s exactly the level this film both aspires to and achieves.  It almost feels like a graphic novel come to life, or like what The Dark Tower should have been, more than what it was, a mix of sci-fi and Western that we’ve generally come to enjoy, but unfortunately also with a slew of problems that keep it from becoming something special, something that can reach that upper echelon.

The world has moved on, to steal one more nugget from Stephen King, and nothing is as it was.  Thirty years after the survivors of The War emerged from underground onto a scorched surface, society has struggled to find the order they once had.  Most humans can’t read, some went blind in The Flash, the roads are unsafe, food and water are scarce, everyone fights to see the next day, and no one has control.  But a Walker named Eli travels west across what was once the U.S. with a book in his possession that he thinks can fuel a new age, on a quest that he thinks was ordained by a higher power.  He’s not the only one who wants the book though; a despot christened Carnegie is always on the lookout for knowledge, for power, and he’s not about to let Eli walk through his budding town without a challenge.

The good parts of The Book of Eli are many, which saves it when an equal number of negatives rear their ugly head.  The theme music, the comic book feel, the sepia cinematography, the rapid action, Denzel’s demeanor, Oldman’s villainy, the post-apocalyptic atmosphere, humanity clinging to the edge of extinction; there are a lot of pieces to like here, and a lot of reasons to watch, as long as you don’t start picking apart what’s flashing before your eyes.  Because there are problems are well: questionable acting, a sketchy story, an over-arcing theme that is hard to get behind.  And Mila Kunis, god bless her epic hotness, has the worst performance to ever grace a dusty, dirty set, failing even to appear 80% human.  Really, it’s awful, and the rest of the cast is mostly hit or miss: Ray Stevenson, Tom Waits, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon.  If you’re willing to watch to simply appreciate Denzel’s excellence and the plot’s intrigue you won’t be disappointed; just don’t look too close and start pulling at the threads, because you’ll just ruin your own experience.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Rounders

Category : Movie Review

Director: John Dahl

Starring: Matt Damon, Ed Norton, John Malkovich

Year: 1998

Rounders gets low critic’s ratings on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, and I can only assume that those people didn’t understand the 90s.  This film is so dated it hurts, but in the best way possible, and watching it is like traveling back to a simpler time when every single plot outline hadn’t already been recycled a million times.  Some standard recipes were still fresh, and directors knew just how to manipulate them enough to convince audiences that what they were watching was pure gold.  But we should let ourselves be convinced, let ourselves be swept away, because that’s the joy of the movies, isn’t it?  Rounders is a 90s icon with great acting to propel the story and predictable events that chug along in a perfectly lovely and comfortable way, making this smooth ride nothing short of genius.

Mike McDermott is a poker player, that’s what he was born to do, and taking the game away from him is like cutting off an arm or a leg; you know it’s gone but you can still feel the tug.  After he loses a giant pot to the sinister Teddy KGB, which represents the loss of his dreams of going to Vegas and making it big as a professional gambler, Mikey swears off the game, hitting the books to become a lawyer and trying to forget poker.  But that’s impossible, and when his best friend Worm gets out of prison and asks Mikey to become his gambling partner once more, it’s hard to say no.  Now he’s back in over his head and owing money to some dangerous people, but the call of the cards is stronger than ever, because he knows that he has what it takes to play with the big boys, and that winning isn’t merely a matter of luck.

The narration, the angst, the dark dens, the petty violence, the notable hotties; it’s a 90s dance party and we’re all invited.  It might have come out in 1998, but Rounders is a summation of the decade and of this type of drama; people really ought to respect it more than they do.  Its delivery is near perfect, and its characters are gold; what else are you looking for than a cool crime movie about underground poker that succeeds around basically every corner?  Thrills, defeat, grit, growth; check, check, check, and check.  And then there’s the cast: Damon, Norton, Malkovich, John Turturro, Martin Landau, Famke Janssen.  That’s quite a group, all in their respective prime, you don’t see that every day, and that’s just another reason to love what we’re watching.  Rounders is not just a drama, not just a gambling movie, it’s a pot we’ve already won before we even sit down to ante up, a gift given to us by the cinema gods that shan’t be taken in vain, so help me, amen.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Cloverfield

Category : Movie Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Odette Annable, TJ Miller

Year: 2008

You know, I’ve seen Cloverfield Paradox and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but never the original Cloverfield, so I thought it was time to remedy that.  I always figured it would make me motion sick, even though that usually doesn’t affect me, and I was kinda right, but that’s not really the reason I didn’t end up liking it though, it was probably because it was mostly crappy.  I’m glad sci-fi and horror can be created in new & interesting ways, and I think we owe this movie some applause for its guts and longevity, but that doesn’t exactly mean that we can watch/enjoy it now.  Looking back, it’s just a stupid and poorly-acted mess of shaky cameras and shaky acting, which, I mean, isn’t what we should want.

Rob is taking a job in Japan, so his friends throw him a going-away party.  Among them are his brother Jason along with his girlfriend Lily, his idiot best friend Hudson along with the girl he likes Marlena, and then Beth, who Rob loves and has a tenuous relationship with.  They get into a fight and Beth leaves, which makes Rob sad, but he’s got bigger problems to deal with; all of a sudden some sort of creature erupts into New York City, rips the head off the Statue of Liberty, and begins destroying Manhattan.  Capturing the action on videotape for future generations, Hudson chronicles the group’s attempts at survival as they search the city for Beth, who they just can’t leave behind.

TJ Miller saves the film with his organic comedy, but even he can’t make up for what is otherwise a one-trick pony.  There’s the monster and the shaky cam, so I guess two-trick, but that’s it, the rest is really bad amateur horror that wouldn’t stand up without its dual props.  And I didn’t even like the camera work; I get that it makes the whole thing authentic but it also made me queasy, so I’d rather a director just make a good film, like 10 Cloverfield Lane for example.  Miller and his friends gallivant around the city avoiding death (or do they) and we see a monster from different angles; I guess I don’t exactly understand how this one movie spawned a franchise.  Hats off for trying something big, I guess it kinda worked, Cloverfield at least made its mark, I just wouldn’t recommend going back to watch it after all this time has passed; it wasn’t built strong enough to last.

My rating: ☆ ☆