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Buddy-51

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1822 reviews in total 
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Middling through Mittleton, 16 April 2014
4/10

"At Middleton" is a mid-life romance that suffers from a terminal case of the cutes. Edith (Vera Farmiga) and George (Andy Garcia) meet while taking their respective children, Audrey (Taissa Farmiga) and Conrad (Spencer Lofranco), on a tour of a fictional college (their respective spouses are conveniently unable to attend the event). While the kids are going through the official orientation, the two parents break off and conduct a tour of their own, exploring the campus as well as their own growing relationship.

Despite the best of intentions, "At Middleton" feels phony from the get-go. We get the sense that Edith and George are unreasonably antagonistic towards one another at the beginning just so they can become an item by the end. And things don't get any better from there, as the parents proceed to make fun of the tour guide, steal bikes from some unsuspecting students on campus, horn in on an acting class, smooch in a projection booth, get stoned in a dorm room, and in general act superior to everyone they meet, with corn, affectation and heavy-handed life lessons the order of the day.

Though the movie tries very hard to achieve moments of "little people" sentimental uplift, virtually every scene in "At Middleton" emerges as hopelessly contrived and calculated, a reflection more on the screenwriters Glenn German and Adam Rogers (who also directed the movie) than on the actors, who do their best under the circumstances. Farigna, so impressive in TV's "Bates Motel," comes across as unnecessarily grating at times, the result of a grown woman behaving in a less mature fashion than her teenaged daughter perhaps, her joie de vivre and truth-telling assertiveness, which might have seemed refreshing in small doses, ultimately falling over the edge into obnoxiousness (though she does well playing opposite her real life daughter). As the buttoned-down heart surgeon who really needs to loosen up and learn how to enjoy life, Garcia is constrained by having to embody a character with no truly interesting or compelling personal traits (the fact that he's supposed to be that way doesn't exactly make him any more interesting).

I know we're supposed to be moved and inspired by what's happening between Edith and George, but all I could think about while watching their story unfold is how some parents just can't help making what is supposed to be a special day for their kids really all about themselves.

Unwatchable, 15 April 2014
2/10

Shot in grainy black-and-white, the ultra-low budget "Computer Chess" is the type of movie that gives art films a bad name among audiences who never go to art films. Slow-moving, meandering and technically unpolished (to put it mildly), it might be of interest to anyone who has a fascination with computers, chess or possibly both. Anyone else will likely be bored to tears by this static tale of a group of early '80s nerds attending a tournament designed to determine which tech team has come up with the most effective computer chess program.

The movie is obviously intended as a satire of sorts about the ancient days of computer technology and those who have an easier time interacting with technology than with their fellow human beings. It also makes fun of Man's relentless quest to create artificial intelligence, but the whole thing is so lacking in clarity, energy and humor that I imagine that half the audience will have drifted out of the theater long before the midway point, while the other half will be in too much of a stupor to get up and leave.

aimless crime drama, 13 April 2014
4/10

After flying high for five brilliant seasons on TV, Bryan Cranston lands with a thud on the big screen in "Cold Comes the Night," a murky and undistinguished indie crime drama written by Tze Chun, Osgood Perkins and Nick Smith and directed by Chun. It's unclear what the overall purpose of the movie is; we just know that it must be a "serious" work because nobody ever smiles and the sun never comes out.

Chloe (Alice Eve) is a streetwise single mom who runs a motel where the local prostitutes and drug dealers regularly come to transact their business and sell their wares. Indeed, the locale is so questionable that child services is threatening to take Chloe's daughter away from her if she doesn't hightail her to a more appropriate place toot sweet. One of the motel's guests is a half blind hit man named Topo (Cranston) who finds himself stuck at the place after his assistant/nephew is involved in a double homicide and some important money goes missing. Topo suspects that Chloe may know the whereabouts of the loot, but the spunky Chloe figures she has little to lose in a high stakes gamble with fate. And thus the game is on…Eventually, so many bodies have piled up at Chloe's little roadside establishment that even the Bates Motel starts looking like a wiser option for any weary traveler passing through the region.

Cranston spends most of his time growling and scowling, while continually dropping his articles in a vain attempt at a Russian accent (although even that isn't done with any real consistency). It's a bit like Walter White (albeit with hair) playing at being Gus Fring - though with little of the complexity or charm of either of those two "Breaking Bad" characters. Eve suggests she might be worth watching in a role worth playing. This is not it.

Turbo (2013)
Rollicking, fast-paced entertainment, 12 April 2014
7/10

One of the risks with having too much of a particular type of movie is that eventually you have to start stretching for ideas just to keep the audience coming back for more. That seems to be happening to some extent with the seemingly ubiquitous family-friendly animated feature, where the plot lines have become a tad far-fetched even for anything-goes CGI animation.

Take "Turbo," for instance, a tale of a NASCAR-loving snail (!) who dreams of one day competing in the Indianapolis 500. After he's accidentally exposed to a massive dose of nitric oxide, Theo becomes a turbocharged speed machine capable of clocking in at 200+ m.p.h.. When he's "discovered" by Tito, a husky L.A. taco vendor who sees Theo's potential as a racer, the snail's dream gets one step closer to becoming a reality.

The good news is that those who made the film - writer/director David Soren, co-scenarists Robert Siegel and Darren Lemke -- have the talent and conviction to bring the concept home. With an underdog racing plot very similar to the one in "Planes," "Turbo" is a sweet, fast-paced and visually elegant film that knows how to move and how to mix humor and sentiment in roughly equal measure. The race sequences are so good that you realize while you're watching them that they owe as much to "Ben-Hur" as to any racecar picture - which is very high praise indeed.

With voice work by Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Samuel L. Jackson, Luis Guzman, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez and Snoop Dog, "Turbo" takes the absurd and makes it entertaining.

A remarkable social document, 4 April 2014
8/10

So your last movie went way over budget, then tanked at the box office? Think you've got it bad? Jafar Panahi is an Iranian director (of the wonderful "The White Balloon" and "Offside") who's currently serving six years in prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking for making a movie the nation's ministry of film didn't approve of. No joking. But the law doesn't say he can't READ a screenplay on film. So before his imprisonment, Panahi invited his documentary filmmaker pal Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to his apartment in Tehran to film him reciting and acting out his latest creation. "This is not a Film" is a record of that event.

It's a noble venture, but as a filmmaker himself, Panahi quickly realizes the futility of his stunt, as he concludes, "If we can tell a film, why make a film?" then dissolves into tears. The rest of the movie, therefore, is taken up with Panahi screening parts of his older films while providing running commentary on his artistic choices, discussing everyday concerns with Mirtahmasb, and awaiting word of his fate.

The movie is certainly an indictment of the repressive society in which he lives, yet it also demonstrates that film comes in many forms, and while Panahi may be unable to make the dramatic feature he would like to, it is an equally valid and valuable form of artistic expression to simply document his own real life experience for others to observe - and just as powerful in its effect.

And, indeed, the most compelling scene in the movie is a completely extemporaneous one, as Panahi interviews a substitute custodian who stops by to pick up Panahi's trash when the camera just happens to be running and we get to know a little something about this utterly charming man's life in the few unguarded moments we get to spend with him. It's a subtle yet potent reminder that no regime, however cowardly and repressive, can completely dim the human spirit and our basic human need to connect with one another on a personal level.

The movie, which was spirited out of the country on a flash drive hidden inside a cake, functions as a frank political statement for what life is like for film artists living in Iran, but, equally important, it makes the rest of us appreciate the freedoms of expression we all too often take for granted in our own parts of the world - and the need to be ever vigilant in preserving them.

mystical and magical, 1 April 2014
8/10

Little Hushpuppy and her papa, Wink, live in a place called The Bathtub, a fictional marshy island that is fast becoming one of the early casualties of a rapidly warming planet. It is a world of great poverty, but also one where the people live in harmony with the environment and each other. They are generally a happy people, quick to party and to find joy in life and in each other's company, but there's a dark side too, for the residents appear to be living on borrowed time, as the sea gradually rises, threatening to submerge their land and destroy their homes.

Hushpuppy, however, has more immediate problems of her own to deal with, including a father whose mercurial temperament may mask a more serious health issue, and a mother who left years ago and whom Hushpuppy expects to return any day now. Hushpuppy believes that she has a gift for communicating with animals, which is a very important power to have in a place where beasts are celebrated and cherished for the sustenance they provide the community. Though still a little girl, Hushpuppy already has a guiding philosophy for her life: "The entire universe depends on everything fitting together just right…if you can fix the broken piece, everything can go right back." And indeed, throughout the course of the story, she spends a lot of time trying to fix broken pieces. And while sometimes broken things just remain broken, Hushpuppy also learns that true power can only come when one recognizes that all elements of nature are inextricably linked to one another in some vast cosmic web, each part having its own unique role to play. It's an insight that indigenous peoples, i.e., those who live closest to the land, have always seemed to have had a better grasp of than those who boast of a more "civilized" style of life.

The village faces an existential challenge, a possible prelude to what lies ahead, when a huge storm floods the island, making it virtually impossible for the community to continue sustaining itself there. But they are determined to try, despite the well-meaning government officials who have orders to evacuate them to a shelter back on the mainland.

The movie has a gauzy, hallucinatory quality to it at times, as Hushpuppy has dreams and visions of both her absent mother and some exaggeratedly large marauding beasts that may or may not hold the key to her understanding of the universe.

Based on a one-act play by Lucy Alibar, adapted by both her and director Ben Zeitlan, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" serves as the vehicle for Quvenzhane Walllis , whose work here earned her the distinction of being the youngest person ever to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Wallis is transcendent as she embodies all the wide-eyed innocence and shrewd comprehension of a young girl intensely in touch with the world around her. A nonprofessional, Dwight Henry is also excellent as her irascible but loving father who's trying his best to raise a child despite all the physical and emotional struggles he himself is going through.

Replete with a soaring score by Zeitlan and Dan Romer, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" offers a lyrical and life-affirming glimpse into a fascinating, exotic world.

The Coens in a minor key, 30 March 2014
6/10

Llewyn Davis is, what one of the characters in the movie calls, a "loser." That is, a struggling folk musician in 1961 Greenwich Village who's so bad off he doesn't even have a place to call his own. Instead, he's been reduced to sleeping on friends' couches for as long as they're willing to put up with him. Then it's on to someone else's place (he seems to have a rotation system set up amongst a group of regulars). Llewyn has also recently become a solo act following the suicide of his partner, and no one seems much interested in hiring Llewyn to play on his own. To further complicate matters, it seems Llewyn might just have impregnated his best friend's wife during a recent one-night stand, a woman, by the way, who really can't stand a thing about Llewyn, least of all the prospect of being a mother to his child.

In comparison to the flamboyance of some of their more recent works such as "No Country for Old Men" and "Burn After Reading," "Inside Llewyn Davis" finds Joel and Ethan Coen at their most subdued, spare and inward-looking. More somber mood-piece than narrative-driven drama, this is what we get when the boys decide to compose in a minor key. As such, the movie may try the patience of some in the audience and appear too slight to others, especially with its lack of a clear-cut resolution come fadeout time. The movie becomes especially stripped-down when Llewyn heads off on his own to Chicago in search of a gig, sharing a ride with an enigmatic and eccentric musician/heroin addict played by who else but John Goodman (this IS a Coen brothers movie after all).

Llewyn finds his identity and purpose in music and in the counterculture persona he displays to the world. The only trouble is that, while he feels superior to all the unenlightened "squares" whom he sees as having sold out to the Man and to crash commercialism, he's still dependent on those people to lend him a helping hand. After all, what's the point of being your own man when you have to keep throwing yourself on the mercy of others just to find a warm place to bed down for the night? Llewyn's troubles seem to be the result of a combination of factors: a lack of ambition, grief over his partner's death, and his decision to hide behind nonconformity as a justification for never growing up and never accepting the responsibilities that come with being a man. It could also be that he's just a bit of a jerk by nature.

Oscar Isaac gives an effectively understated performance as the title character, and the rest of the cast (including Carey Mulligan, F. Murray Abraham, and Justin Timberlake) is fine as well. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is starkly beautiful, especially in those scenes set against the bleak landscape of a wintry Midwest.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" isn't quite the engaging survey of the music scene or of Bohemian life in that specific place and time that the critics have claimed it is (the soundtrack is not really all that impressive), and it is no crowd-pleaser by any stretch of the imagination, but if you lower your expectations a mite, you may just get find yourself getting into its subdued portrayal of a social misfit.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Top-notch action movie extravaganza, 28 March 2014
7/10

In Joss Whedon's "The Avengers," three Marvel Comics superheroes - Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) - are recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to do battle against Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who has come to Earth with an alien army to claim the world for his own. But can three such distinctly talented yet strong-willed individuals put aside their differences and egos long enough to function as a team - as the Avengers - to save the planet?

There's no question that gathering three classic superheroes into a single film was a stroke of marketing genius, as well as a considerable treat for fans. The movie itself is lively, loud, and epic in scale with just enough character delineation to keep us engaged on a human level. Plus, it culminates in a spectacular jamboree of destruction in New York City that turns into a veritable Valhalla for CGI aficionados.

All the above-mentioned actors enter into the spirit of the enterprise, as do Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, and Harry Dean Stanton as the pure humans in the cast.

Good fun.

A Film Artist at the Top of His Game, 20 March 2014
9/10

Quentin Tarantino's wickedly original farce "Django Unchained" does for slavery what his "Inglorious Basterds" did for World War II. Namely, it rewrites history as it SHOULD have been, not how it actually was. In "Basterds," we got to see Hitler and his murderous minions taken out well ahead of schedule by a motley group of allied assassins. In "Django," we get to see freed slave Django Freeman doing pretty much the same to just about every racist white villain unfortunate enough to cross his path. In short, "Django Unchained" goes beyond mere historical revisionism to historical wish-fulfillment fantasy and helps to lay the foundation for a new genre in the process.

As "Django Unchained" opens, the title character is part of a group of chained slaves en route to auction. However, before they can get there, Django is freed by a loquacious, silver-tongued German man (played brilliantly by the scene-stealing Christoph Waltz) who is appalled by slavery and who asks Django to partner up with him as a bounty hunter. In addition to tracking down and killing wanted fugitives, the two make it their mission to rescue Django's wife (Kerry Washington) from bondage to an infamous plantation owner, played by Leonardo DeCaprio in one of his finest performances to date.

Django actually began life as a character in a series of spaghetti westerns dating back to the mid 1960s and, indeed, Tarantino has included many spaghetti western tropes in his film, even though most of the movie takes place in the pre-bellum South. This Django is "very loosely based" on the earlier one, seeing as how the original, played by Franco Nero (who makes a cameo appearance in this film), was not a black slave but rather a white Union soldier.

There's no denying the purgative effect of seeing Django delivering some frontier justice to all those slave owners and white oppressors who deserve everything they get at his hands. But Tarantino has never been one to see the world in black-and-white terms, nor as a simplistic conflict between evil and good. There's a highly disturbing scene, for instance, where Django, determined not to blow his cover as a black slave trader, allows another slave to be mauled to death by dogs, a scene that shows Tarantino will even risk alienating Django from the audience if that means staying true to his vision. The director has clearly come to play, and he has no use for cleanly delineated lines between right and wrong, not when a person's very survival is at stake. The world he is showing us is simply too brutal, too unforgiving for such moral niceties to have much sway.

As an artist, Tarantino is clearly at the top of his game here, blending a host of seemingly contradictory elements into a seamless, eclectic whole. He mixes acerbic humor with hyper-stylized violence, and places flawless period piece detail against a soundtrack filled with contemporary songs, some already released and some written directly for the movie. Tarantino isn't afraid to linger long over his scenes, letting the audience savor every last juicy line of dialogue he's placed in the mouths of his characters. For the writing is always the best part of any Tarantino film, and he doesn't let us down here.

And that's probably why the actors seem to be having the time of their professional lives in this film. While Jamie Foxx is taciturn and tight-lipped (as any hero - or antihero - of the West should be), Waltz, Di Caprio and Samuel L. Jackson, as the ultimate sycophantic house slave (often playing the Fool to DiCaprio's Lear), go head-to-head in a no-holds-barred war of verbal gymnastics. The writing and performances are so much fun on their own, in fact, that Tarantino's dazzling visuals sometimes seem like just an unusually tasty dessert designed by the chef to top off the meal.

Tarantino clearly lives and breathes cinema, and thus he has populated his canvas with a vast array of familiar faces from movies and TV, past and present, some in very minor roles: Don Johnson, Walter Goggins, Russ and Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Don Stroud, Jonah Hill, James Parks, and Tarantino himself.

The filmmaker's latest opus may not be for every viewer, but if you're looking for an iconoclastic work that has little regard for propriety and good taste and is not afraid to venture out into previously uncharted territory, then "Django Unchained" is the movie for you.

RoboCop (2014)
Strong first half dominates weak second, 17 March 2014
7/10

Paul Verhoeven's "RoboCop" was one of the crown jewels of '80s action cinema, a cautionary tale about the role of technology in our society presented in the form of a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure tale made up of equal parts black comedy and social commentary. Since the movie's release, technology has only become an ever more intrusive part of American life, so it would seem fitting for someone to mount a remake of "RoboCop" for the early 21st Century.

Well, that reboot is here, in the form of a movie written by Joshua Zetumer and directed by Jose Padilha. There are many devotees of the original who will likely balk at this update, but I think it works pretty well, at least before it goes off the rails somewhat in the second half.

The time is 2028. Technology has advanced to the point where policemen can essentially be replaced by giant robots capable of taking out the bad guys with minimal risk to human officers and innocent bystanders. Problem is many Americans remain skeptical about leaving such a task to mechanical instruments that feel no human emotion and thus might make the wrong, and potentially disastrous, calls at critical moments. Enter OmniCorp, a high-tech multinational corporation whose CEO (Michael Keaton) comes up with the plan to make such a robot out of an actual person, thereby combining the best of both worlds in a single entity. Alex Murphy, an undercover Detroit cop who has been severely wounded in the line of duty and hovers on the brink of death, is chosen from among many candidates to become the first human/robot hybrid in history. Voila, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you RoboCop.

As with the original, "RoboCop" is concerned with far more than the average action movie shoot-'em-up. It explores the issue of just how far, as a society, we are willing to go in sacrificing our civil liberties in exchange for enhanced security. It also questions just how much of a person's physical attributes can be replaced by technological ones before he or she ceases to be truly human. In the movie's best scene, a newly-activated "mechanical" Alex learns just how little of his original body remains to him. It is a haunting and heartbreaking moment beautifully realized by both the special effects department and Joel Kinnaman (who made his mark in TV's "The Killing") who makes us actually care about the man in the machine. Without him, all the CGI in the world couldn't have made the scene work this effectively.

The movie also looks at how readily public opinion on controversial topics can be molded and shaped through carefully honed messages, much in the same way as products are marketed to easily manipulated and persuadable consumers.

This "RoboCop" is definitely at its best in the first half, as Alex and those around him adjust to his new and unprecedented condition. Unfortunately, as with even the best action movies, the second half is less satisfying, as the plot tries to do too much for the time allotted to it and the story becomes muddled and confused as a result. For instance, a subplot involving corruption on the force is so poorly executed that it's resolved almost before we know it's going on.

Kinnaman receives some excellent support from Gary Oldman, who portrays that rare movie scientist who isn't either a madman or an evil genius but rather a compassionate man who really wants to do good in the world, even if the technology he's using threatens to spiral out of his control from time to time.

At times, "RoboCop" seems to be playing both sides of the fence on this issue of the role of technology in society. It clearly warns against allowing technology to override our humanity while at the same time seemingly endorsing Alex and the role that's been thrust upon him by those with the wherewithal and capabilities to do so. And maybe it's that very ambiguity - one that clearly reflects the world we all now live in - that makes "RoboCop" a movie with something of importance to say to our times.


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