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Man of Steel (2013)
Super Still Isn't Really the Word for It.
A young Superman (Henry Cavill) must finally come to terms with his place on Earth and his birth on his home planet of Krypton in "Man of Steel", yet another cinematic retelling of arguably the most popular and beloved comic book superheroes of all time. Michael Shannon leads a group of militaristic Kryptonies to Earth in the hopes of resurrecting their lost civilization on a new planet and also along for the ride is Amy Adams (dare I say making us yearn to see Margot Kidder or Kate Bosworth instead) as our heroine/Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane who constantly seems to be putting herself in danger's way. "Man of Steel" makes itself out to be revolutionary and creative, but it struggles the whole way with strange casting, an interminable running time, offbeat pacing, and a resolution which is more migraine-inducing than memorable (and also more reminiscent of something this side of "The Transformers" rather than something from the "Batman Begins" series). Flashbacks strangely are the most compelling and interesting parts of the movie as we are transported back to seeing a young Clark Kent in Smallville slowly coming to terms with who he is and what his true purpose for existence is. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner (Costner, in particular doing quietly some of his best cinematic work in years) shine as the titled character's adopted parents. Russell Crowe is also on hand (and never seems to disappear even after his early demise) as Superman's biological father/accomplished scientist of Krypton. Superman's home planet destruction is a fascinating side-board as we get deep into politics, failed science, and even an unhinged militaristic coup. In the end, "Man of Steel"'s main story pales in comparison with its sidelines and this makes the film basically a special effects-heavy would-be tour de force which unfortunately never does really take off in the end. A shame too because Cavill's performance and the aforementioned attributes were right in line to make "Man of Steel" much more memorable and critically successful than it really is. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Definitely Has That Chameleon Feel to It.
Highly impressive animated feature which is tame enough for the youngsters and surprisingly entertaining and thought-provoking for adults. A young chameleon (voiced pricelessly by Johnny Depp) is accidentally thrown into a town of dirt which is in desperate need of a sheriff. Oblivious to the politics of the town, there seems to be a group trying to control the city's water supply (which of course is needed by the town's inhabitants for survival). Shades of some of the more interesting live-action westerns of the years past and even Roman Polanski's contemporary classic "Chinatown" as under-rated director Gore Verbinski creates a cartoon that has depth and ingenuity ala Walt Disney's earliest feature-length ventures or newer productions like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and the "Toy Story" series of films. Innovative, smart, technologically impressive, perfectly-realized production which succeeds on various levels with a wide-range of moviegoers. 5 stars out of 5.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Two Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Former teacher Bradley Cooper is let out of a mental institution after having a mental breakdown after discovering his wife (Brea Bee) was having an affair. He tries to handle his bi-polar condition with the help of his parents Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as he moves back in with them and attempts to put his life back on track. His success is hit-and-miss at best and then another potential monkey-wrench is thrown into his life when he meets a young sex-addicted widow (dynamite role by the always impressive Jennifer Lawrence). Together these two very similar, yet very different individuals go on an emotional journey to reclaim normalcy and self-reliance in their lives. "Silver Linings Playbook" is brilliant in most every way. The performances reach near epic heights with Lawrence leading the talented cast. The film's screenplay is deeper than it appears as it shows subtleties in its characters where you have trouble understanding who has mental deficiencies and who does not. In the end the movie is about humans doing their best, with the help of those around them, to find happiness and success against sometimes grim and seemingly insurmountable odds. In a crazy world, doing one's best in a dance competition and making that little extra money betting on the hometown Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL can become the most unexpected roads to individual happiness and group camaraderie. A definite winner. Kudos to director David O. Russell in keeping what could have been a schizophrenic screenplay (no pun intended) on the straight and narrow path to cinematic success. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Historical Lessons Still Viable Today.
Sixteenth U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (a mind-blowing part by the seemingly always flawless Daniel Day-Lewis) struggles to get his policies for emancipating all enslaved African-Americans passed through the Legislative Branch of government as the bloody final days of the Civil War continue in early 1865. An amazing cinematic achievement by director Steven Spielberg as he primarily uses the the nearly unending novel "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin to create a portrait of quite possibly the most polarizing political and social reforms in this country's long history. In a time now when bi-partisanship is a romantic idea which seems more hypothetical than realistic, Lincoln struggled with North vs. South and Republican vs. Democrat just as contemporary presidents today do. Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene as Thaddeus Stevens, a politician trying to get all of Lincoln's policies through Congressional meanderings. Sally Field is also on hand as Lincoln's wife who struggles herself with the death of the couple's young son. Field's emotional fire has to be tamed though as her part could almost be an entire movie to itself and in the end the 16th President's ability to somehow immerse himself further in the nation's civil war and its possible political future uncertainties even after a potential emotional breakdown after his family's personal tragedy. "Lincoln" is deeper than an ocean. It has a bare minimum of action and is highly talkative ala something in the line of "Lawrence of Arabia" or even "Gandhi". Spielberg almost makes the film feel like an elaborate stage play with top-of-the-line performers going effortlessly from scene to scene and creating emotional fireworks. Day-Lewis is the catalyst, but his supporting cast never backs down from his challenge of acting excellence as they all add to his almost mythic portrayal of quite possibly our most important commander-in-chief. As usual, Spielberg creates a historical atmosphere (basically showing Washington, D.C. as a small village which doubles as a mud trap of a town with moist soil at least a foot deep in almost every direction) which puts his audience in another time and another place. Towering achievement on many various cinematic levels. "Lincoln" is destined to be one of those rare productions which will likely survive time, its critics, and those who fail to believe in the power of the cinema to educate, influence, and enlighten. Total excellence. 5 stars out of 5.
Vertically-challenged ex-convict Marlon Wayans disguises himself as an orphaned baby to a yuppie couple (Shawn Wayans and Kerry Washington) so he can reclaim a valuable diamond he placed in a purse while trying to elude the authorities. Also along for the ride is Marlon Wayans' dim-witted accomplice Tracy Morgan and comic book-styled crime boss Chazz Palminteri (no idea what he's doing in this film). Basically a rehash of old Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon concepts as the novelty wears thin pretty quick. The film starts fairly but the material cannot hold up for a feature-length production like this. The typical insanity and crazed situations would be better suited to a variety show or an animated sitcom. Ho-hum comedic misfire that could only be from the Wayans'. 2 stars out of 5.
Stick With Your DVDs.
Mind-numbing and migraine-inducing horror anthology involving several stories (all filmed via home movie cameras) wrapped around a small group of miscreants (themselves filmed on home movie cameras as well) who have been hired by an unknown character to steal a certain VHS tape. Naturally, all hell breaks loose quickly as the gang of thugs finds a dead body and a whole library of video tapes which they watch one by one. On the tapes are discombobulated tales involving the supernatural, wild behavior, dirty dealings, sexy women, and head-scratching images. Pure wreck of a feature which was created by no fewer than 10 directors (not a misprint) and a dozen screenwriters (once again, not a misprint). Pure late-night fare which has that "Blair Witch Project" feel to it. The movie wears out its welcome pretty quickly. Don't waste your time. Turkey (0 stars out of 5).
Near Dark (1987)
Burnt by the Sun and Illuminated by the Moon.
Early writing/directing venture by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow ends up being a fascinating, but very underwhelming entry in her list of cinematic credits as Oklahoma cowboy Adrian Pasdar is bitten one night by the beautiful Jenny Wright (really a vampire). As Pasdar goes through his demonic change he falls in with Wright's small group of drifters led by Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton as they terrorize small towns and deserted roads late at night as they continue to keep their strength feeding on unlucky strangers. As day comes in they must do all in their power to stay out of sunlight or be burned beyond recognition. Nothing really new to speak of here as vampires were all over the place in the mid-1980s with bigger-budgeted and better though-out ventures (think "Fright Night" and "The Lost Boys"). Bigelow shows potential here as a relatively new film-maker, but in the end "Near Dark" is little more than a late-night cable dud which does nothing to distinguish itself from three dozen other films of the genre and the time period. Turkey (0 stars out of 5).
When a Stranger Calls (2006)
All Kinds of Busy Signals.
High school-aged babysitter Camilla Bell is called over and over again for nearly 90 minutes in this would-be horror yawner. A crazed psychopath who has a history of hunting down other young, vivacious, and physically well-endowed young ladies for a reason which is never made clear. And ultimately an attempt at an explanation is never even pursued. Bell does what she can with her admittedly good looks and an ability to keep a straight face during the unintentionally hilarious romp, but in the end her Tom Hanks-esque role ala "Cast Away" cannot save this typical, dim-witted, and overly-done production. In the end, the phone ringing repeatedly is about as annoying and unwanted as the entire film in the end. 2 stars out of 5.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Epic Lessons From the Batman.
Eight years after the events of "The Dark Knight", Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, aka Batman) must once again come to Gotham City's aid as a crazed masked terrorist known as Bane (Tom Hardy) terrorizes anyone and everyone in his demented path. A seductive cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) is also along for the maddening ride as biblical-styled destruction, atomic warfare, and even stock market tampering turn out to the most devastating orders for the day. Long, winding, and ultimately towering installment in co-writer/director Christopher Nolan's new-age "Batman" trilogy is a triumph of vivid characterizations, advanced-styled story-telling principles, and wonderful technicalities such as cinematography, editing, sound, and visual effects. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines as a good cop caught up in the chaos; the same can be said for new love interest Marion Cotillard who makes an impression as an associate to Bale's Wayne Industries. Traditional standouts Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman also add well-timed and effective roles for the production's nearly three-hour running time. Once again, a great accomplishment of style, flair, and dynamics in a tightly-wound cinematic product which blends and meshes in well with its two predecessors of the dominant trilogy. 5 stars out of 5.
One Night Stand (1997)
Los Angeles commercial director Wesley Snipes goes to New York to visit dying childhood friend Robert Downey, Jr. (who is in the latter stages of AIDS) and has a quick affair with yuppie Nastassja Kinski. Their secret seems safe until one year later Snipes returns to New York with his erotic, but oft-times mean-spirited wife (Ming Na-Wen) and they meet Kinski by chance when they find out that she is actually married to Downey Jr.'s older brother (a cold and seemingly unfeeling Kyle MacLachlan, even equipped with latex gloves because of his fear of catching AIDS). Would-be potboiler is actually pretty tame in the end with Snipes and Na-Wen providing a few light sparks with a couple of emotional sparring matches, but probably the greatest conflict actually occurs between Snipes and his boss (Thomas Haden Church who in the end is really only a window-dressing character here). Kinski and MacLachlan are more quiet and supposedly deep-thinking than anything else and in the end it is Downey, Jr. who is the revelation being almost unrecognizable as a young man whose body and mind are beginning to decay from his horrid illness. However, it is almost like he is in the wrong film as his part just basically is used as a bridge on more than one occasion between Snipes and Kinski. Writer/director Mike Figgis (who was fresh off "Leaving Las Vegas" in 1995) tends to use coincidence, chance, and splintered relationships between major roles to get his points across. The film stutters and drags to its finale, finally resolving with a would-be jaw-dropping conclusion which in actuality most could probably see a mile away. Just lacks the fire and intensity needed to be much more than a curiosity and little else. 2.5 out of 5 stars.