880 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Justice League gets DC back on track, finally
20 November 2017
It's a low bar to clear, but Justice League is way better than Batman v. Superman. It's funnier, it has more action, it has less brooding and darkness, and it's just plain much, much more fun to watch. Justice League is the kind of movie that should put DC back on the same sort of cinematic path that Marvel has been treading over the past decade.

The movie picks up where the aforementioned Batman v. Superman left off. Superman is gone, having sacrificed himself to save the world. Meanwhile, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) begin to recruit an alliance of super-duper people (Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa)) to prepare for what appears to be another alien threat.

That alien threat is one Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), the nephew and second-in-command to the yet-unseen super big bad named Darkseid. Steppenwolf has arrived on Earth to collect three Mother boxes – objects that, when joined together, will grant immense power, etc., etc., etc. Steppenwolf is aided by thousands and thousands of Parademons, bug-like creatures who were once men.

Here's a brief list of what I liked about the movie. 1) Bruce Wayne has a wry, understated sense of humor that – get this – is also self-deprecating. 2) Jason Momoa kills as a manly-man king of the seas. 3) Gal Gadot is just as terrific as she was in her own movie and in BvS. 4) The Flash is hilarious! 5) There were plenty of tight action sequences that, despite being shown in IMAX, were easy to track. I could see who was fighting whom and with what!

The overall tone of the movie is more in line with what Marvel's doing – there's physical fighting, there are biting remarks, there are doubts (our heroes are human-ish, after all), there are touching moments. Everyone delivers, which isn't always the case in ensemble pictures, but Affleck in particular really stepped up his game as the Bat dude. A lot of people liked his performance in BvS, but I found him stiff and boring. That's just not true in Justice League. Bats still has a huge ego, still likes to run things, likes to work alone even among his team. And he's still kind of a jerk. But he's not a boring jerk; Affleck, finally, gives him a personality! And lo! DC was saved!
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Hopelessly dated, mildly racist
16 November 2017
In A Majority of One, Alec Guinness plays a Japanese businessman. I don't mean that he plays a British man masquerading as a Japanese man, I mean that he's supposed to be the Japanese man in the first place. Alec Guinness – spoiler alert – was not Japanese and didn't even look vaguely Asian, and yet there he was anyway. Guinness accomplished his portrayal by kind of squinting, something that I think most of us in 2017 would see as pretty racist. Were there no suitable Japanese actors in 1961? Or even actors with any Asian heritage? Using Caucasian actors to play Asian roles was certainly much more common at that time than it is now. The sentiment on the part of the movie studios was that American audiences wouldn't go to see a movie headlined by an Asian star. Sadly, they were probably right.

The movie itself is a culture clash in which widowed Mr. Asano (Guinness) and widowed Mrs. Jacoby (Rosalind Russell) meet on a ship traveling from the U.S. to Tokyo. Mrs. Jacoby is Jewish and hasn't even left New York, and yet there she is, on a transcontinental voyage with her daughter and her son in law, the latter of whom has received a diplomatic posting to Japan amid some tense trade negotiations. Mrs. Jacoby is not a fan of the Japanese, as her only son was killed in WW II, which would have been fresh in the minds of the audience, having occurred less than two decades earlier. Her wariness of Asians in general and Japanese in particular would have been relatable for 1961 audiences. Not so much for us today.

As Mrs. Jacoby and Mr. Asano become more acquainted, they develop a positive relationship – which, ironically enough, threatens to upend the son-in-law's negotiations with the Japanese government regarding their trade policies. This leads to misunderstandings that, like any good sitcom, are resolved in all good time. But not without some feelings being hurt and some minds being changed.

Guinness does his best to do the job he's given, but personally I couldn't look past the fact that this was a Caucasian man playing an Asian man (and not as a disguise, as Sean Connery's James Bond would do a few years later). Mr. Asano, as a result, feels like a caricature of what Hollywood must have felt Asians were like (or at least how Americans in general viewed Asians). To a lesser degree, Russell is also oddly cast – she, of Irish descent, playing an observing Jewish woman – but the stereotype isn't as stark as with Guinness's Asano. Russell, for her part, is entirely believable. (Look for Mae Questel as Jacoby's bigoted friend and George Takei as Asano's servant, too.) Finally, the movie is just too darn long. It's 2.5 hours! That's great for an action movie, maybe even a mystery, but not a romance drama that takes place in generally close quarters. The plot is simple enough, and the scenes set in Japan are exquisitely shot, but it's not enough to lift a movie that simply drags when it's not being outright offensive by modern standards.
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Delightful Marvel romp!
16 November 2017
Ragnarok, according to Norse mythology, is the destruction of the world. Armageddon! Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! In this movie, it's kind of like that, only it might also be a beginning. So zen. Whatever it means, Thor's third thrilling ride is a blast, with familiar and new characters zooming into view just long enough for us to pay a tiny bit of heed and move on. It's fast, not thickly plotted, and most importantly a lot of fun. More fun than The Dark World.

Part of the reason is that Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth) smiles almost continuously throughout the movie. In previous Marvel films, Thor's been kind of serious, a more grounded counterweight to Tony Stark but not as angry as The Hulk. Here, he's both smart and giddy. And he has every reason to be giddy, because this is a fun movie, as so many Marvel films are.

Thor returns to Asgard with the horns of some demon who's kind of important to the story, but he discovers that Heimdel (Idris Elba) has been accused of treason and is in exile, that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is using his powers of trickery to run things (including staging plays telling his tales of bravery), and that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is actually on Midgard (aka Earth). Oh, and that Odin's actual eldest child, Hela (Cate Blanchett) has now escaped her own prison – where Odin placed her when she got particularly rambunctious – and wishes to initiate Ragnarok. Death to everyone! Thor's adventures in trying to save Asgard land him on a remote planet, though, imprisoned to fight as a gladiator at the pleasure of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who's equal parts hilarious and brutal. And who's the grand champion in the arena? Why, none other than The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)! Can Thor escape the Grandmaster, get back to Asgard, stop Ragnarok, defeat his older sister, and then drink some mead? Some of those, anyway! So why does this Thor work so well? Because it's HILARIOUS. It's less comic-book movie and more comedy. There's a buttload of comedy, which is a lot no matter how big of a butt we're talking about. Everyone is aces. Even Stan Lee (yes, of course he has a cameo). Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) essentially subverts the superhero film, taking on tropes, clichés, you name it. It's not that Thor acts like an anti-hero (like Iron Man), it's that he appears to have fun saving the universe. It's a nice switch. And Thor: Ragnarok gleefully (and gracefully) sets up the next movie(s) in the endless franchise, so it's a virtually seamless fit into the vaunted Marvel Universe.
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On film, in life, out of focus
16 November 2017
In the late 1980s, the Long Island town of Great Neck was rocked by multiple allegations of child molestation on the part of a well-liked pillar of the community, Arnold Friedman, and his son Jesse. This retelling of the events proved to be equal parts cringe-inducing and unsatisfying, although the use of home footage shot by the Friedman family itself is put to terrific use.

Arnold Friedman taught a computer class to local kids in his basement. He also taught piano and was considered a really good guy. He was married to Elaine Friedman, and they had three boys: David, Seth, and Jesse. At the time of the allegations, each son was a young adult. Jesse often assisted his father during the computer classes. But what tipped authorities off was that a magazine containing underage porn and addressed to Arnold Friedman, was intercepted as part of an ongoing operation. Investigators then delivered the magazine themselves (posing as postal employees) and showed up later in the day with a search warrant. Friedman thought they were after only the magazine, but the search warrant was for the entire house – and lo and behold, a huge trove of underage porn was discovered. This discovery led to officials interviewing various students from Arthur Friedman's computer classes, and their answers – and eventual testimony – led to charges being filed.

The film itself interviews the three sons and Elaine Friedman; Arnold Friedman died in prison. Other participants include psychologists, detectives, and even former students of Arnold Friedman. But what's most interesting is the interplay among the Friedman family members. While Arnold's (and Jesse's, as he too was swept up in the charges) court case was being played out and he was out on bail, his sons would argue at the dinner table about how best to combat the obviously false charges. But just as obvious was Elaine's silence – or at least the absence of her offering her own full-throated support. This was something that none of the sons appreciated, of course.

I found the documentary to be fascinating but still troubling. We are presented with a lot of evidence that Arnold was a pedophile. We are presented with conflicting evidence that the kids in the computer class were molested by Arnold and/or Jesse. Huge questions are raised regarding the guilt borne by the Friedmans. I wanted to know more. Documentaries don't need to show bias in order to present a possible outcome. In other words, if the makers of this film felt that it was pretty clear that the crimes had been committed, then that would be the thesis of the movie; conversely, if they felt that either Jesse or Arnold didn't get a fair shake, that would also be a thesis.

But the film takes no stance either way, and we're left with a lot of maybes that don't add up to much. Only the home video shot by the family is compelling, showing as it does the internal struggles between full support of a family member despite the accusation of a vile crime and the withholding of that support because of that accusation. It's just not clear who to believe; the movie just presents details, and not enough for anyone to come down strongly on one side or the other of the issue.
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Intruders (2015)
The house that fear built
16 November 2017
In Intruders, a severely agoraphobic young lady (Beth Riesgraf) is menaced by three baddies in search of cash somewhere in her home. But this isn't a standard home-invasion flick, and she's not the standard victim, either. This Intruders contains a devilish twist about midway through, and suddenly this isn't a movie about a damsel in distress but something wholly different – and much more interesting.

Anna (Riesgraf) lives in an old house with her brother Conrad, who's quickly dying of some disease. The two have lived in the house by themselves since their father passed away some ten years earlier, but Anna has developed a paralyzing fear of the outside. She can't even open the door without hyperventilating.

Conrad dies very early in the film. The only other person Anna has been in contact with over the past decade has been the faithful delivery boy from Meals on Wheels, Dan (Rory Culkin). A few days before Conrad's death, Dan and Anna discuss the possibility of either leaving their small town for bigger and better things. When Dan says he'd love to strike out on his own somewhere, Anna offers him a sackful of cash. Which Dan turns down.

A quick fast-forward to the days after Conrad's death. It's time for the funeral. Anna doesn't go, despite the pleadings of her brother's lawyer. And then, while she's at home doing pretty much nothing, a couple of vehicles pull up in her driveway and men enter the house. They don't know she's there. Because she's not supposed to be there.

Riesgraf's Anna is no shrinking violet. At the same time, the thugs aren't exactly one dimensional themselves, with each character carefully defined without being a stereotype. Perhaps this affair won't be as one sided as it initially appeared. After all, this is Anna's home turf.

I found Intruders to be fairly brilliant, with a neat twist on a standard plot that ultimately transforms the film from a pile of predictability to a tsunami of terror and guessing.
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Martyrs (2008)
Sometimes, they have nothing to do with religion....
16 November 2017
The synopsis for Martyrs on Netflix (where it is not yet available, even on DVD) indicates that the movie's about a young woman who enlists the aid of her longtime friend to exact revenge on the couple who imprisoned and tortured her when she was a kid. But that covers only about the first twenty minutes of this gory thriller. Then stuff gets weird.

First, a disclaimer. As I was watching this movie, I realized I really didn't like it. I just didn't get it. Didn't know why the plot was moving forward. Wasn't the revenge over? And then the third act finally arrived. And when I went to bed, I still didn't like it, but I was wavering. When I woke up the next morning, I had to admit to myself that it was a pretty good movie after all.

In a sense, the plot isn't quite linear. We first see the women getting the revenge. But then the focus shifts from the original victim, Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi), to her friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui), who herself becomes a victim of immeasurable suffering. It's like watching the events that probably happened to Lucie play out with Anna. I started to wonder what the point or the endgame was. Was this just for the sake of bloodletting? The answer lies in the title. I certainly can't tell you why, as that would spoil the surprise. But if you do take the time to watch this movie – and beware, it's in French, and the version I saw was dubbed, not subtitled – try to stick with it. It'll give you something to think about, if nothing else.
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The Beguiled (2017)
Arty but lacking drama, focus, or a point
16 November 2017
Sofia Coppola's remake of the '71 Clint Eastwood western The Beguiled didn't completely click for me. I guess I had it in my head that it would be more of a new-wave feminist take on the original plot, but I found the movie – despite strong performances – to be tedious and frustrating to watch. It's a shame; a lot of talent was wasted on both sides of the camera.

Nicole Kidman plays Miss Martha, the headmistress at a girls' school in Virginia in the middle of the Civil War. One of her charges, searching for mushrooms for dinner, comes across a Union soldier named Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), who's badly wounded. Miss Martha agrees to take in the Yankee – they're in the middle of Confederate territory – give him medical attention, and allow him to convalesce at the school. The young corporal is charming and graceful, and the ladies know that if they return him to the woods, he wouldn't last long. And if they waited until their own troops stopped by, they might want to take McBurney with them before his leg has healed.

It doesn't take long for McBurney to win the hearts and minds of the lasses, which include teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and student Alicia (Elle Fanning). Each lady has designs of some sort on their new guest, but who's playing whom? I haven't seen the Eastwood film, so I didn't know how this one was going to play out – until less than halfway through, when I got a pretty good idea. McBurney doesn't actively play each woman against the others, but his manipulations aren't exactly subtle, either. Farrell does a fine job, but it really feels like ages go by before anything beyond passing character interactions develops – and even then, the focus is mainly on Martha and Edwina. There's little action to speak of and even less suspense. The result is a movie that feels amorphous, even useless.
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May (2002)
Oh, sure, it's a mite gory, but it's also hillllarious
16 November 2017
May is a horror film that was released in 2002. I know this only because I looked it up. Prior to adding it to my Netflix queue a short while back, I had never heard of the movie. And I wish I had! It's gross, unsettling, weird, and funny. Those are all qualities I look for in a horror film.

The titular May (Angela Bettis) is an odd young lady who works as a veterinarian's assistant. She has a lazy eye that's mostly corrected by glasses and, later, contacts. And she also has an old doll in a glass case, a doll given to her by her mother when May was just a little girl who had just injured her subsequently lazy eye. That's quite a present, huh, a doll that you're not allowed to take out of the box.

But fret not, viewers, this isn't about a possessed doll. It's about May, who's just plain not all there. May's coworker at the vet clinic is Polly (Anna Faris), who has intentions of her own with May. Meanwhile, May spots a mechanic she'd like to get more familiar with, Adam (Jeremy Sisto). But, you know, she's socially awkward and has no concept of personal space. So when her brief relationship with Adam ends and she runs into trust issues with Polly and her family-heirloom doll (made by mom, by the way) is irreparably damaged, May turns to her sewing skills to make do. Blood is then spilled.

Love the acting. Bettis is essentially a grown-up Wednesday Addams (complete with an overabundance of forehead), and she embodies May with both innocence and a sort of civil evilness. Faris is stunning – and outstanding – as the promiscuous, amoral, and flighty Polly. Might be the best role Faris has ever had. And Sisto, looking a heck of a lot like a twentysomething John Travolta, also holds his own.

I kind of think that if you like movies such as Re-Animator and Dead Alive, you'll go for this one as well. Seems like it should be better known, but it was sure new to me.
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Revolver (2005)
I don't think so, Statham.
20 October 2017
Revolver is a Guy Ritchie movie, so I figured there'd be a lot of mayhem, with blazing gunfire, mumbled British dialog, and car chases. And Jason Statham is in it! But that's not really what I got. Instead, this is more of a psychological thriller, and that's not Ritchie's forte. There are more minds being blown than there are heads being blown off, that much I can tell you. Which made this movie a bit of a disappointment to me.

Statham plays Jake Green, a gambler just out of jail after seven years. Soon after his release, he's winning games of chance left and right. Which doesn't sit will with his nemesis, one Dorothy (!) Macha (Ray Liotta), who owns the casino where Jake's winning his winnings. When Macha's goons go after Jake, he receives some unexpected help from a couple of strangers – the suave Avi (Andre Benjamin) and the burly Zach (Vincent Pastore). They'll keep Macha's hounds at bay, for a price – all of Jake's money and his willing participation in their own loan-sharking racket.

This still sounds like a fun movie. And let's not forget, "revolver" is right there in the title, too. But as the story progresses, it becomes less and less about feuding and fussing and fighting than about mind games. Who are Zach and Avi? Is Macha insane? Why won't these people just shoot each other? The body count is way too low for this sort of genre thriller. Heck, after a while I began questioning my own eyes. Was Jake actually hallucinating the whole thing? Maybe Jake wasn't real, either. Maybe I was the one hallucinating! Maybe I'm in Purgatory, endlessly watching the same boring Guy Ritchie movie. It's not quite Hell – that'd be watching any Uwe Boll movie on a loop – but it feels just as tedious.

Revolver seems like a baffling foray into a theater of the absurd for a director who's not known for overly cerebral flourishes in his work. That's not to say that Ritchie's earlier films are for dummies only – they're fun, visceral treats, for the most part, and a lot of fun. But this one? This one was dull and inscrutable. The novelty of seeing Jason Statham with hair wore off rather quickly, although he's just as good in this movie as he is in almost any other movie (except maybe Spy, where he was hilariously good). Liotta is an unhinged menace, as he typically is. It was nice to see Vincent Pastore playing someone who's not a low-level organized-crime fall guy, though. And Andre Benjamin is smooth. But no, and I fully intend this pun, Revolver is a misfire.
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The Voices (2014)
Good thing your pets don't actually talk...
19 October 2017
Ryan Reynolds plays a warehouse worker who has conversations with his cat and his dog. Weird enough on its own, but in this case Reynolds' Jerry is seeing a shrink, is off his meds, and is told to do pretty horrible things by his pets.

Jerry a hard worker with a fine reputation, falls for a coworker named Fiona (Emma Arterton). When she stands him up for a date – sort of a miscommunication – tragedy ensues. And then when other coworkers (like Anna Kendrick) enter the mix, more tragedy ensues.

The movie's tone shifts an awful lot. Sometimes it's slapstick comedy – look, talking animals using profanity! – but other times it's a pretty serious, deadpan horror movie. I mean, there's a plethora of blood and guts. Think of this as a predecessor of sorts to TV's Dexter. Bodies are chopped up. Jerry's madness is at turns amusing and horrifying.

Fun fact: Reynolds himself does the voices of his cat (Mr. Whiskers) and his dog (Bosco) – and they don't sound much like Reynolds' normal voice. Mr. Whiskers appears to be Scottish, and Bosco has a Southern drawl. But as they're both aspects of Jerry's damaged psyche, so there's a little bit of him in there.

Jerry's descent into utter madness (juxtaposed with his endless smile and optimism) is fun to watch, and Reynolds does a fine job. He gets some able support from Arterton and Kendrick, too. But it all adds up to a movie that doesn't strike a consistent tone, thus just missing its mark.
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