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41 reviews in total 
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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Very Worthwhile and a Bit Problematical, 19 September 2014

This is one of those films that is sure to be divisive: what is good about is genuinely very good, and yet it surely has problems (which critics are typically over-reacting to).

It is in most ways a very satisfying entertainment, with a smart and witty script populated by a trio of terrific supporting roles (Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, and Toni Collette; the other big-name cast members, like Christopher Plummer, do well with much thinner characters). I saw it with a large crowd at an art-house cinema (as part of the NYC Film Critics series) and there was much laughter and general appreciation.

You should know that the titular lessons on happiness are not intended to be revelatory; the point is that even a psychiatrist like Simon Pegg's lead character, who presumably possesses all the book knowledge about happiness, needs to *experience* those lessons firsthand. He writes each one in his notebook, and more often than not they elicit fine ironic laughter at the contrast between their obviousness and the complexity of the situation that led Pegg to discover it.

The problems: First, Pegg's Hector has been altered from the source material to give him more of a character arc, but in doing so, they've removed all rationale for Rosamund Pike being his girlfriend at the outset. You have to seriously suspend your disbelief that she would be so devoted to someone with merely the *potential* to be a satisfying and compatible mate (a potential which he will of course realize by the movie's end, very nicely).

Second -- and this is the one that has the handful of early reviewers up in arms -- the movie comes across as tone-deaf culturally. Africa, for instance, seems to be almost entirely populated by either really happy people who sing and dance wonderfully, or by armed thugs. (Reno's character is the exception.) Now, I think it's perfectly defensible to argue that Pegg's character is only learning his lessons from extreme experiences, and hence what we see of Africa is all that he would remember and hence all that would be worth putting into the movie. Nevertheless, it still will strike some as hewing to stereotypes.

Less defensible, perhaps, is Pike's character, which is pretty much a Perfect Girlfriend wish-fulfillment, and hence will strike many as at least a bit sexist ... and yet she's admittedly very appealing.

Finally, the tone does vary, from naturalistic to somewhat dreamy and stylized, but both styles are executed confidently. In fact, it's very nice to look at.

If any of the above are deal-breakers for you, avoid this. However, I think that most viewers will be able to roll with all of that-- they're the sort of problems that you think about after you've finished the film. And if that's the case, you will find yourself thoroughly entertained and even a little moved. 77/100.

37 out of 42 people found the following review useful:
A Widely and Profoundly Misunderstood Gem, 20 August 2014

Most viewers are taking this film as a conventional (and admittedly entirely predictable) romantic comedy which happens to be about a magician who debunks fake spirit mediums, and a beautiful young woman whom he believes is just that. But that's getting it *entirely backwards*. It is in fact a thought-provoking exploration of the extreme materialistic worldview -- the view that holds that modern science has eliminated the possibility of the existence of the soul, an afterlife, and God -- and an exploration of the psychological relationship between embracing that worldview, and being pessimistic and unhappy. As such, it is one of Allen's most personal and thought-provoking films in years.

And if that sounds "heavy," the miracle of the movie is its very lightness. Obviously, the themes enter in so effortlessly that many people are missing them entirely! You need to be interested in the tension between the materialist worldview and the conventional one that accommodates the spiritual and the mysterious, but if you are, you will be astonished at how delightful and entertaining an exploration of those deep themes can be.

The age discrepancy between Frith's and Stone's characters, which I am sure will bother many, is in fact completely necessary: he must be old enough to be set in his pessimistic ways, and she must be young and beautiful enough to challenge them at first sight.

Obviously there are happy atheists and there are miserable spiritual people, so the question that Allen is asking here is whether some unhappy atheists have embraced the soul- and God-denying position too vigorously, as a sort of defense mechanism to shield themselves from the fundamentally irrational possibility of falling in love. The way the movie knits together the materialist / spiritualist question, the possibility of love, and the metaphor of magic -- well, it's sheer magic itself.

This is far from Allen's funniest movie, and it's only a 7/10 as entertainment. But not only does it easily gain an extra point for its depth, it almost gains two. Admittedly, I am fascinated by the movie's themes, but I think that anyone who is interested in them may find themselves as charmed and, ultimately, as deeply moved as I was. 89/100.

Chef (2014)
11 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Fabulous "Chef" Has Its Cubano and Eats it Too, 6 May 2014

Pretty simply, Chef has all the strengths of mainstream Hollywood comedies and all the strengths of indie films, without the weaknesses of either. The plot has continual forward momentum without any art-house slack, but nothing that happens is a contrivance, and all the key performances are wonderfully naturalistic.

It's wall-to-wall laugh-out loud funny, it's wickedly smart about social media, and it has touching but entirely unschmaltzy father / son and ex-husband / ex-wife relationships to boot.

And, oh yeah, pure food porn. I never thought I'd see a scene featuring Scarlett Johannson and a bowl of pasta where I desperately wanted to eat the latter.

10 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Peter Jackson Returns to Form!, 13 December 2013

The second installment of Peter Jackson's Hobbit adaptation is an immense improvement on the first, which (especially in the Extended Edition) is an excellent film, but falls far short of the historic brilliance of his LOTR. The biggest challenge facing Jackson and his fellow screenwriters in the entire adaptation was turning Bard into a full character worthy of Tolkien, and they have done so spectacularly well. A less obvious challenge was the fleshing out of the Elven King Thranduil (Legolas' father), and that's superb, too. The invented character of Tauriel doesn't have nearly the depth of those two, but she serves her plot purpose very well and is a treat to watch.

Unlike the first movie, which simplified and dumbed down the back-story of the Dwarf and Goblin / Orc War for no good reason, the changes to the story here are nearly all well thought-through, and some are so smart that Tolkien himself might have applauded (e.g., what they've done with the moon rune inscription). There's a sequence from the back-story that has been moved into the time frame of this film that's just stunning. The relentless pursuit by Orcs that I thought marred the first film (too much, too soon) here feels organic. The result of all these smart decisions is a film that, much more than Part 1, feels like part of the same Middle Earth epic as the classic LOTR.

Needless to say, the film is a technical marvel (although I don't think the 3D adds much), featuring some of the best action sequences of any of the films, and -- are you surprised? -- Best. Dragon. Ever.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Great Twist on a Classic Theme, 16 August 2013

Here we have a story you've seen countless times: someone has experienced something remarkable and unbelievable, and not even his best friend (let alone the bartender in a bar) buys it. "Am I crazy?" wonders the hero. "But no, I can't be; I *know what I saw.* You must believe me! Even if no one in the world remembers things the way I do!" That's the starting point, and then it goes in an entirely unexpected direction.

Some reviewers have stated that the brilliant "twist" is telegraphed very early. This isn't true at all. What they really mean is that the twist is revealed not in the final moments, but several scenes previously, and that the final scenes then play out with a dread that is all the more chilling because is it predictable, inevitable -- to both us and the characters.

Certainly one of the underrated gems of the series.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Watchable, But the Characters are Stupider than the Viewers, 16 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The premise here is that astronauts have crash-landed on an asteroid, one that happens to not only be in the same orbit as Earth (which they note explicitly), but which also happens to have an atmosphere identical to Earth's (which they mention in passing, without noting that this is physically impossible, as no asteroid has enough gravity to retain an atmosphere). Oh, and which also seems to have the same length day as Earth, meaning the asteroid is rotating at the same speed -- after first wondering whether the sun will in fact go down, they never mention this again.

No effort is made to portray the astronauts as being addle-brained as a result of crash trauma. So we have the classic flaw of the characters being in possession of the same facts as the audience, but not getting the "twist," which couldn't be more obvious. (This is true, alas, even if the episode takes place in an alternate reality where there *are* immense asteroids in the same orbit as Earth. The crew would know of those, and probably know their rotational speeds / day lengths, as well). If you work it backwards, there's absolutely no reason why the crew would have ever thought they *were* on an asteroid; there's no reason they would have ever given that answer after asking the obvious question "where are we?" It would have made as much sense to have them believe they'd crash-landed in Oz.

The human drama involves one astronaut who is immediately revealed to be a sociopath, concerned only for his own well-being at the expense of his crewmates. Again, it's hardly credible that someone like that would be among the crew of the first manned spacecraft. That drama would have been much more effective if he'd been initially portrayed as caring, and had devolved into selfishness from the stress of apparent imminent death. Had they been able to make that belief credible, that is.

A rare misfire from Serling, on every front that matters.

9 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Not the Most Lovable of the Trilogy, But, Yes, the Best Yet, 10 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The giddy romantic tension that pervades every moment of Before Sunset -- the literally pivotal film of this brilliant ongoing series -- is never going to be topped. But that doesn't mean that Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke cannot produce a deeper, richer, film, one that offers an entirely different set of rewards. And they have done exactly that.

I would strongly urge fans of these movies to re-watch the first two installments, and then see this. They really do inform one another in rather remarkable ways.


Probably the most important thing that couples do is *fight*, and this movie includes the best, truest, and most honestly portrayed couples fight you will ever see. Each character alternates between insight and obliviousness, between playing fair and striking low blows, between adroitly defusing the tension and needlessly escalating it, and there's no good guy and no bad guy, just two achingly human, real people that we have grown to know so well and root so strongly for.


Unlike the first two, the movie ends with major unresolved issues between Jesse and Celine (the issues underlying the fight). It's thrilling to consider that the filmmakers will soon be plotting out the next nine years of their lives, including the resolution of those issues, and planning how the next screenplay will reveal what happened in casual dialogue, as they face the next key point in their relationship. 2022 cannot come too soon!

24 out of 52 people found the following review useful:
An Overwhelming Masterpiece (For Some), 12 April 2013

Make no mistake about it: Shane Carruth makes Christopher Nolan look like Jerry Bruckheimer. If you're not the type who relished figuring out what was going on in MEMENTO (and in its untold backstory), if you haven't spent countless pleasant hours debating INCEPTION, do yourself a favor and skip this movie. As you can tell from the other reviews here, this will just make you mad. If, OTOH, you're someone (like me) who felt let down by LOOPER because it didn't live up to its billing as mind-scrambling and was in fact too easy to get, then this may be just your thing.

Key take-home points:

-- For fans of this sort of storytelling, there's plenty of stuff that's reasonably easy to get, and hence the basic storyline is not hard to follow.

-- OTOH, there are bits that are clearly important and that just as clearly will take three or four viewings (and probably liberal use of pause and rewind) to get. That's Carruth's narrative aesthetic: rather than give you one big "OMG I think I understand this" experience, like in VERTIGO, or two, like the first and second times you see THE PRESTIGE, he wants those bombs of comprehension to explode in your skull gradually, over many viewings.

-- At all points in time I felt that every shot was important, every shot contained information. It never felt like art for art's sake. That of course is partly my trust of Carruth, but I also think I got that feeling because *it's true.* This isn't LOST, folks. This is all designed to eventually cohere completely, leaving holes only where Carruth intends, and leaving the viewer knowing quite a bit and knowing precisely what is unknowable.

-- It's exquisite. Carruth has a directorial and editing (and composing) style that I find transfixing (YMMV, of course). Unlike PRIMER, it's at times beautiful and emotionally resonant. My friend was reduced to tears. It has thematic weight already and I know it will acquire more as the story coheres with repeat viewings.

-- Speaking of which, even though I'll be watching the Blu-Ray on May 7 on a great home theater, my friend and I will see this again at the theater next weekend. That's how blown away we were.

Margaret (2011/I)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Masterpiece and an Empathy Test, 12 March 2013

(This is a review of the extended cut.) This is a divisive movie; most think it's flawed at best and a minority think it's a masterpiece. One thing I've noticed reading reviews is that those who have the former opinion invariably describe Lisa Cohen (a phenomenal Anna Paquin) in negative terms: unlikable, unsympathetic, even "reprehensible." Whereas I spent much of the movie weeping tears of empathy for the grief she was in.

So the question is: if, when you were 17, a stranger had died bloodily in your arms and you believed you were partly responsible for her death, how well would *you* have handled it? Apparently, a lot of people can't make that leap, can't ask themselves that question. Folks, that is a trauma that could easily give you PTSD. Lisa's reaction is quite different: she starts to do things.

The ubiquitous description of this film by those who don't think it's a masterpiece is "unfocused" (if not downright "incoherent" or a "mess"). This is clearly an opinion offered by people who are not aware that *every waking moment of Lisa's life must be colored by the accident.* There's no lack of focus at all when you see every scene through that lens.

Make no mistake: Lisa doesn't handle things well or admirably. She's 17 and a bit spoiled and in general wholly unprepared to shoulder such a burden. But she wants to do the right thing and at times is painfully self-aware that her best efforts are hurting others. In other words, the more she tries to make things better, the worse she makes it. That makes her plight all the more tragic.

This is one of the most powerful narratives in the world, one that can blow your head clean off. You've got to ask yourself one question: how much empathy do I have? Well, how much?

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One of 2011's Most Underrated Docs, 11 March 2013

We're in the golden age of documentaries -- in 2011 alone, we had (in my rough order of preference) Pina, Bill Cunningham New York, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, We Were Here, The Arbor, Project Nim, The Interrupters, Into the Abyss, Senna, Buck, and The Last Lions all released to some combination of critical and popular acclaim (and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which I missed in 3D).

But not every great doc gets the attention it deserves. I saw a trailer for this at my local art-house cinema (part of the Landmark chain), so I'm flabbergasted that it only grossed 40K, has so few votes here, and has been rented less than 2000 times at Netflix. (In comparison, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, which was the best underrated doc of the year, has been rented 770,000 times despite going direct to DVD.) I watched this with my 20-year-old godson, who is a regular (and one-time winner!) at the Wednesday night slam at the Cantab in Cambridge, Mass. He gives it a 9.2. The film captures remarkably well the sense of community that bonds slam poets together, and some of the poetry and performances are jaw-droppingly good.

I actually wonder whether this film would have been even better if at had been *longer*. It is very clearly modeled after Spellbound -- the "problem" is that the competition here is so worth watching that the film devotes much more time to it, and hence there is significantly less background about the four young poets that are being followed. It's clear that the filmmakers did not follow their home lives a la Hoop Dreams, and it's not hard to wonder whether they might have had a minor masterpiece if they had had the opportunity to do so. (I admit to brain cramping and not checking the DVD extras for deleted scenes before sending the disk back -- which I regret now!)

I can't call this a "must-see" for general audiences (hence the 7 grade -- I'm a very tough grader), but it certainly is for anyone who loves poetry, slam or otherwise.

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