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1906 reviews in total 
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Mortdecai (2015)
Manic and mannered comedy, 1 June 2015

Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is a notoriously shady British art dealer whom MI5 enlists to help nab a foreign terrorist who's stolen a priceless Goya painting that he can then turn around and sell to finance his criminal operations. Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) is Charlie's semi-supportive, semi-nagging wife who may have a thing for Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor), the inspector who's investigation the case.

As a parody of the classic British spy drama, made popular via the Bond films of the 1960s, "Mortdecai" had the misfortune of being released at the same time as the far superior and much more critically and commercially successful "Kingsman." Though the actors give their all in the cause, writer Eric Aronson seems to be under the delusion that, as long as you keep the characters running around in a state of perpetual motion, it doesn't much matter how funny the script is. How wrong he is. Let's face it: when nearly half of the jokes center around Mortdecai's comically curly moustache, you know something's lacking in the writing department (the movie is based on the novel "Don't Point That Thing At Me" by Kiril Bonfiglioli). Director David Koepp doesn't help much, substituting kinetic energy and frenetic pacing for style and wit.

Paul Bettany and Jeff Goldblum round out the cast, a cast that deserves far better than what they've been given to work with here.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Strong atmosphere, conventional execution, 30 May 2015

During the height of the London blitz, a teacher (Phoebe Fox) and her headmistress (Helen McCrory) take a group of schoolchildren to a place of "safety" in the country, which turns out to be a decaying old mansion filled with spectral figures, creepy-faced dolls and things- that-go-bump-in-the-night.

"Woman in Black: Angel of Death" is the latest in a long line of haunted house movies that treat their audience like the human equivalent of Pavlov's dogs, conditioned to respond on cue to every telegraphed fright, false scare, and quick-cut shot that the movie makers can throw at the viewer.

Though the foggy, boggy marshes provide a creepily effective background for the story, even the novelty of the WW II setting can't keep the stench of déjà vu off this picture.

The writing doesn't do the performers justice, 25 May 2015

In "The Wedding Ringer," Kevin Hart plays an enterprising young man who hires himself out as a best man to grooms who can't come up with one of their own. Josh Gad is the friendless chap who has to convince his fiancé (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) and her family that not only is Gad one of his best friends but that the motley crew of ersatz groomsmen that come as part of the package have been a major part of his life as well. Hilarity ensues.

Or at least it would did the Jeremy Garelick/Jay Lavender screenplay not consist almost entirely of contrived set-ups, strained slapstick and corny reaction shots. The writers even toss in an extraneous car chase scene - which, inexplicably, ends with a random nod to "E.T."

There are a few touching moments towards the end when Hart and Gad learn a little something about honesty and the true meaning of friendship, but they're hardly enough to redeem all that's come before. Though, the movie's punch line, delivered by Jorge Garcia of "Lost" fame, might just do the trick.

Paddington (2014)
Entertaining for all audiences, 23 May 2015

Based on the works of author Michael Bond, "Paddington" tells the story of a talking bear (Ben Whishaw) from "darkest" Peru who stows away on a cargo ship to start a new life for himself in London. Once there, he becomes involved with a family named Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin), who take him into their home on a temporary basis, and a villainous taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) intent on literally "stuffing" the bear for an exhibit in a natural history museum.

Written by Paul King and Hamish McColl and directed by King, "Paddington" is a seamless blend of live action and animation, cheery in tone and beautiful to look at, thanks to the highly stylized art direction and production design that adorn the film. The humor ranges from the brittle to the overly broad (Bonneville dressed as an old scrubwoman sounds a discordant note in an otherwise fairly sophisticated screenplay). The movie also includes some subtle little homages to "My Fair Lady," "Home Alone," "Mission Impossible" and, most notably, Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins."

Fast-paced, well acted, and with warmth and charm to spare, "Paddington" is a whimsical treat that should appeal almost as much to oldsters as it does to youngsters.

"Monuments Men" done right, 7 May 2015

Set in the late 1990s, "Woman in Gold" is a true-life David-and- Goliath story about a headstrong elderly woman who, essentially, takes on an entire nation in her pursuit of justice.

The woman is 82-year-old Maria Altmann, a native Austrian from a well-to-do Jewish family, who fled with her husband to America to escape Nazi persecution. Now that Maria, who currently resides in Pasadena, is nearing the end of her life, she's decided to try and get back some of the priceless artwork that was confiscated when the Nazis ransacked her family's home, pieces that now reside in various museums around Austria. Even though the country has ostensibly adopted a policy of "restitution" to the Jewish families whose artwork was stolen, the government is actually loath to relinquish its hold on the pieces, which it now considers to be national treasures. Maria, thus, turns to her friend's son, Randol Schoenberg, for help in getting back a series of paintings that once belonged to her family, in particular, one (unofficially referred to as the "'Mona Lisa' of Austria"), a portrait of her beloved aunt who died at a young age in the 1920s. Because the identity of the woman in the painting was unknown for so long, the work became known in the art world as "Woman in Gold."

Schoenberg is a neophyte attorney whose own grandfather perished in a concentration camp. Initially reluctant to become involved with this eccentric old woman and her seemingly hopeless case, Schoenberg, despite having little experience in restoration law, eventually relents and dedicates much of his waking life to seeing that the paintings - and especially "Woman in Gold" - are restored to their rightful owner.

Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and directed by Simon Curtis, "Woman in Gold" is a legal thriller and an historical drama centered around the burgeoning friendship between two vastly different individuals who likely would never have met or, at least, never connected emotionally under other circumstances. Together, this determined duo triumphs over one bureaucratic setback and one legal hurdle after another on their way to ultimate victory (the case even makes its all the way to the United States Supreme Court). Throughout, the screenplay regularly flashes back to Maria's harrowing experiences living under Nazi rule.

In both format and style, "Woman in Gold" is a fairly conventional "feel-good historical drama," a bit bland and risk-averse, and, as such, it misses the opportunity to really distinguish itself in a major way. But despite the temptation to view it through cynical eyes, I must say that it's awfully hard not to give "Woman in Gold" the benefit of the doubt, partly because the scenes set in the past can't help but be affecting, and partly because Mirren never falls into the trap of becoming the starch, brittle, cranky old-lady stereotype that a lesser actress might have had a much more difficult time avoiding. It's also nice to see Ryan Reynolds taking on a more challenging role than the ones he usually gets to play (his slightly nerdy appearance is an obvious attempt at downplaying his matinée-idol handsomeness and thus generating some gravitas for the character), but he feels slightly overmatched when put up against Mirren (as who wouldn't be?). He has some very good moments, no doubt, but a certain overall callowness in the performance limits its effectiveness and knocks the movie off-balance.

"Woman in Gold" explores some interesting themes, the most notable being whether a victim of something as incomprehensibly horrific as the Holocaust can ever really achieve any kind of peace in this life or whether the wounds simply run too deep to ever really heal. The outcome of Maria's quest provides one answer, while the lovely coda with which Campbell chooses to end his film seems to provide another.

Incidentally, "Woman in Gold" might make an interesting double feature with "The Monuments Men," a lesser movie that, nevertheless, deals with some of the same subject matter as "Woman in Gold." But the latter is the far richer film.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Triumphs over its credibility-defying premise, 8 April 2015

New York City may be home to around eight-and-a-half million people, but you'd never know it from "Run All Night," a crime drama whose credibility hinges on our willingness to swallow a rather implausible, it's-a-small-world-after-all coincidence (which, in the interest of avoiding plot spoilers, I won't spell out for the reader).

Fortunately, that doesn't turn out to be as much of a hindrance as it might have, since performance is the primary reason for watching "Run All Night" anyway. Liam Neeson stars as Jimmy, a down-on-his- luck, alcoholic ex-hit man for an old Irish mob boss (Ed Harris) who himself claims to have gone straight. Joel Kinnaman (from "Robocop" and TV's "The Killing") is Jimmy's son, Michael, a morally upstanding, solid family man who wants nothing to do with his ethically compromised old man - until, that is, thanks to that aforementioned coincidence, Michael becomes the unwitting target of the mob boss and finds he needs his dad's skills as a straight- shooting killer to help keep him from meeting an untoward and untimely demise.

If you can get past the unlikely premise, "Run All Night" provides a reasonably diverting time at the movies, thanks to Brad Inglesby's twisty/turny screenplay and Jaume Collet-Serra's caffeinated direction. And Jimmy and Michael even manage to work out a few of their father- son issues in between shootouts, car chases and non- stop threats from gangsters and crooked cops alike. Actor/rapper Common also makes an appearance in the movie.

Even though "Run All Night" is clearly miles above Neeson's most recent action opus, "Taken 3," it would still be nice to see this talented actor taking on a few more challenging film roles sometime in the near future. Here's hoping.

Focus (2015/II)
Above average caper movie, 4 April 2015

"Focus" is like a modern-day version of "The Sting," with bits of "Pygmalion" and "Pretty Woman" thrown in for good measure.

Will Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a seasoned thief who leads an elaborate, well-oiled cadre of fellow criminals whose activities range from simple pick pocketing to high-tech identify theft. Spurgeon plays the Professor Henry Higgins to Jess Barrett's Eliza Dolittle, as he trains this promising, attractive crook-in-the- making in the fine art of stealing.

Audiences love a good con game, and "Focus" provides one, as Nicky and Jess hustle carefully chosen targets as well as each other. And therein lies the rub for the two characters, for when one makes one's living by being dishonest, is it really possible to establish that basis of trust upon which any romantic relationship must inevitably be built if it is to survive and flourish?

Filled with the twists and turns of plot and personality that are essential to the genre, the screenplay by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who co-directed the film) is sufficiently clever without ever being overly original, while Smith and Margot Robbie make a very appealing couple as Nicky and Jess. Moreover, there are fine performances by Rodrigo Santoro, Robert Taylor and Gerald McRaney in supporting roles. The locales range from New York City to New Orleans to Buenos Aires, which means we always have at least something to look at when the action gets a little slow - which isn't often.

"Focus" is not likely to make it into anyone's pantheon of great caper movies, but it provides enough entertainment to make it fun and enjoyable for the duration.

5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A comedy that doesn't feel like it came off a Hollywood assembly-line, 29 March 2015

A comedy comprised of equal parts heart, brains and soul, "Unfinished Business" is so low-keyed and laid-back in its humor that it's practically guaranteed to get lost amidst all the crasser and flashier items that Hollywood has to offer.

The movie reminds us, too, of just how nuanced and instinctive an actor Vince Vaughn can be when he's given material worthy of his talents (check out 1998's unforgettable "Return to Paradise" for definitive proof of this assertion). Vaughn stars as Dan Trunkman, a harried St. Louis businessman and father of two who feels so unappreciated by the firm he works for that he decides to strike out on his own and start his own company. The problem is he's saddled with two less-than-impressive employees to help get the business off the ground: a 67-year-old associate named Tim McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), and a baby-faced neophyte with the giggle-inducing name of Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) whose infectious smile and childlike eagerness at least partially make up for his lack of experience, social graces and smarts. While Dan and his merry band of social misfits try and land a major account in Europe, Dan also faces crises back home with his overweight son and hyper-sensitive daughter who are struggling with issues of self-image and bullying.

It's hard to imagine that we'll encounter a more purely likable character at the movies this year than Mike Pancake. Indefatigable, perpetually smiling and almost pathologically eager to please, Michael represents all of us who are just trying to find validation and acceptance from a world that is all too often looking for ways to marginalize us or put us down. And Franco plays the role with the perfect mixture of unaffected simplicity and pathos to make us care deeply about the character.

The script by Steven Conrad is so self-assured and knowing in its reflection of human nature - especially in those moments of off-the- wall surrealism that come seemingly out of nowhere - that its lapses into crassness and vulgarity are all the more painful and regrettable when they come along. But those occasions are few and far between, and the movie has some endearing things to say about the power of team work, self-esteem and unconquerable determination in getting us the things we need and want out of life.

Directed by Ken Scott, "Unfinished Business" is a scruffy, underdog of a movie that may not be perfect but, thanks to its innate sweetness and delightful performances, certainly gets you in its corner rooting it on.

19 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
Not a good thing when the only real laughs come in the closing credits, 9 March 2015

"Hot Tub Time Machine 2," the sequel to the critical and box office hit from 2010, proves definitively that if at first you DO succeed, don't try again.

As Part 2 opens, we find that two of the original time-trippers (Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry) have parlayed their earlier visit back to 1986 into fame and fortune in 2015 (a third, Clark Duke, is pretty much the "butler" to his successful dad). John Cusack, the fourth member of the group, has wisely chosen to take a pass on this misbegotten reunion. He clearly used the hot tub to attain the foreknowledge that this particular venture had disaster written all over it.

Now the remaining trio has to travel ten years into the future to prevent Corddry's assassination in the present (don't ask). Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") and Gillian Jacobs ("Community") join in the festivities, though we suspect they'll not want to emphasize this particular part of their resume in any future auditions.

The screenplay by Josh Heald is, to put it mildly, a bit of an incoherent mess, short on logic and humor and long on jokes involving punctured testicles, spurting semen and homosexual rape. There is one funny scene in which the three look into a mirror to see their true selves in 2025, but the writer seems to have saved most of his best material for a clever and amusing end-title sequence. Whether it's worth the ninety minutes of dreck you have to sit through to get there is something you'll have to determine for yourself.

3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Even a surfeit of blood can't tarnish the fun, 8 March 2015

Deftly directed by Matthew Vaughn, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is a nostalgic throwback to those early Bond days of the 1960s, when just about every other comedy coming out of Hollywood was a spy-movie send-up ("Our Man Flint," "In Like Flint," "The Silencers," "Agent for H.A.R.M." etc.).

This latest addition to the genre, based on the comic book "The Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, tells of a spy agency so secret that even other spy agencies don't know it exists. Kingsman is made up of a cadre of highly trained, dapperly dressed "gentlemen" spies who consider themselves to be the descendants - in spirit, if not in flesh-and-blood - of the knights of yore (they've even given each other code names like Lancelot and Galahad). That dapperest of dapper gentlemen Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, aka Galahad, a veteran agent who recruits a directionless youth (Taron Edgerton) from the streets of London - the son of an agent who over a decade earlier saved Hart's life - to train in the art of spying (like in "My Fair Lady," the eager trainee pipes in). Eggsy's first major assignment will be to thwart the dastardly high-tech plot of a crazed gazillionaire, played by a lisping Samuel L. Jackson, who intends to save the planet by eliminating the "virus" (i.e., humanity) that seems bent on destroying it.

The humor in the Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn screenplay ranges from brittle and dry to pitch-dark satire, so dark in fact that the movie occasionally threatens to run off the rails into a tonal train wreck. Luckily, however, it always manages to right itself just at the point where we're about to bail out on it. It's true that the violence may probably be a tad too graphic for a movie of this type but the overall spirit of good cheer and unalloyed fun triumphs in the end.

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