Reviews

29 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Side Effects (I) (2013)
6/10
interesting flawed complicated psych thriller
11 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The immensely likable Jude Law and limpid eyed sexy Mara Rooney anchor this flick, which starts out very well, then becomes too trite and dubious. I'm beginning to think that one shouldn't read reviews at all- if you weren't told that she kills her husband it would come as a really tremendous shock.

The actors are really good- the dilemma agonizing, but Laws conversion from a hapless victim whose life is trashed to a Machiavellian manipulator outmatching his tormentors is unbelievable.

Would the devious shrink Catherine Zeta Jones really threaten him and confirm the conspiracy? Would they let him remain Mara's doctor after the tragedy, without review? The wife leaves him after receiving the compromising photos, but she was there- she knew there was no time for them to have romance + the negligee photos prove nothing. Would Mara actually give up the game SO easily. And lastly, most idiotically, would the DA allow Law to destroy his cooperating informant/witness and be re-institutionized and zombie-ized??

The first hour is great and gripping, the second way too facile and dubious. That said it is a tense watchable movie and Rooney an interesting new actress.
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Wonderful smart quirky heartwarming romantic tale of love, redemption, + craziness
18 April 2013
This really is a great movie- a tour de force by Jennifer Lawrence, who has exploded out of the gate (meatiest woman's role since Mulholland Drive), but Cooper is brilliant too, even DeNiro and Tucker are good, whom I usually find tiring- DeNiro is the most human I've ever seen him as a neurotic superstitious compulsive bookie who has passed on his problems to his son (like Claire's dad in "Homeland"), and finally makes one forget the Good Fellas' scumbags; + Tucker doesn't do that gay scream. America's mistreatment of men is manifest- you get sent to loony bin for beating up some guy ravishing your wife in your shower??? Russell truly deserved an Oscar too for writing or directing this very smart, wordy, brilliant script. But it is crazy slutty tough tender erotic glib wounded gamin JL (her cop husband has been killed), who shines in every scene. I didn't want to see a movie about manic-depressive or OCD "nuts", my father was the latter, but Cooper and Lawrence are so funny and entertaining, and really admirable, AND Russell slickly tapers down the harrowing wildness (suspiciously so in Lawrence's case- she ain't taking meds?) till you love these people. She obviously was a real dancer (if that wasn't body doubles), and has the rubber physicality and athleticism (like say Jessica Alba) previously evident in Hunger Games, that is very sexy and allows her to morph into different characters and moods.

The ending is surprising and really wonderful, and the entire cast, from the lip-biting worried mother, to the stolid brah, to the dubiously patient parole cop, to the football-mad Indian shrink are tremendously likable and appealing. Check this out- for woman it is really romantic; for men it is has sports arcana galore and JL; for business it has the power of positive thinking; for families it displays the infinite value of true loyalty, love, and support; for film buffs it is a superbly crafted and inspirational tale.
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Looper (2012)
7/10
Enjoyable character study even if premise is dubious
1 April 2013
Seriously disagree with the many reviews trashing this movie. Yes, the basic premise is idiotic- sending people back in time to be killed, but watching the relationship between Gordon-Levitt and his older self Bruce Willis is loads of fun, Gordon Levitt is becoming the go-to young actor for action flicks ("Shutup, kid")- he plays the young Bruce stupid: even after there is no reason to kill his older self, he keeps trying as though it's a point of honor. Yes, the paradoxes of time travel are unresolvable- EVERY movie has huge holes- don't let it bother you. It is so entertaining I saw it again 2 days later (very rare)- it helps to understand the convoluted plot- watching one target's fingers and limbs disappear as his younger self is butchered in the past is viscerally chilling, but I missed it the first time.

Emily Blunt is solid, sexy, and very credible; and Jeff Daniels has a meaty role as mob kingpin manager of the past.
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Vanilla Sky (2001)
9/10
Deep haunting moving examination of Reality, Illusion, Truth and Dreams
30 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I'm frankly mystified at the powerful negative reactions this movie arouses- I think it is one of the best science fiction and meaning of life movies ever! Reviewers raved about the sterile AI but pretty much ignored this gem, which packs a deep emotional impact, especially to those who lived through the 60's (Crowe has woven in 60's-70's photos and music with the consummate skill of a Madison Ave wizard), but the simple and incredibly potent dilemma is this: If you have the ability to live in a seamless fantasy world of illusion... or the shattered reality of your broken dreams.... which would you choose? It embodies the literate moral quandary that all great sci-fi has, and truth be told- probably won't remain fiction for 70 years. At some point they will develop neural interfaces that allow people to be jacked into computers and experience artificial "life"- at first it will be sex fantasies, of course. But eventually, simulations will get better and better till people can choose to live their very lives in the Matrix (to, ah, coin a phrase). If drug addiction is bad now, imagine how far people would drop out with such an option.

VS is sometimes melodramatic and visually garish, but one must realize- that FITS- it is ALL a creation of Cruise's mind, and he is choosing cloud colors from Monet's paintings and theatrical drama, just as we do in our dreams. What is the reality of this movie? Is it all a coma-induced dream, or is he really living the Lucid Dreams of the cryogenic company he signed up with. Huge themes of immortality, eternal youth, true love, man's penchant for destruction and psychological sabotage jockey around for position- people that panned this movie are soulless nerds with no sense of curiosity about any of this. Life is a mystery and this ventures to ask some Big Questions.

Another classic theme is someone who has it all (Cruise inherits an empire), loses it all, them gains it all back- so there's a lot of pathos there, letting Tommy play the gamut from smug radiant winner to broken loser- he can be a great actor when pushed (Born on the 4th of July) and he's far better here than most of his roles.

Cameron Diaz is simply terrifying here- frankly her unhinged wild lustiness always gave me the creeps- this is exactly what I imagined her capable of- an obsessed deranged Fatal Atraction ex, and her reappearances are as shocking as the best horror flicks. Penelope Cruz is a little too Betty Boop cute and adorable here, though Tom liked her enough to do a corporate merger (they should have picked a 3rd spelling of their name- Crooz?), while Jason Lee plays the angry aggressive friend a little too broadly.

If you've never seen it, DO. It is a preview of our future.
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Cloud Atlas (2012)
10/10
Magnificent brilliant sweeping sci-fi love revolutionary masterpiece from Watch twins
6 January 2013
This is a MASTERPIECE from the Wachowsky twins- a magnificent sweeping sci-fi love revolutionary story splayed across 3 centuries, 6 societies, with the often fast cuts between story lines as finely crafted as the best symphony. It all holds together and comes clear in the end (actually must watch it again)- incredible acting tour de force by every one of 10 or so major actors, who each play 4-7 roles- you won't believe or realize 1/3 of them till the picture credits- Hanks + Berry are amazing. The photography is beautiful, the acting spectacular, the multiple story lines so exquisitely done that the Watch Twins have invented a new form of film making that approaches a 3 hour classical music video in its audacity and emotional wallop. Although complex, the stories are laid out and intercut so perfectly that they aren't hard to follow, and build to simultaneous climaxes that scream with tension.

At its root it is about throwing off the shackles of slavery and fear that bind us all, with a few recycled ideas from the Matrix- but with the gov bankrolled banksters cackling as they bleed us suckers, and the Republicans (+ Dems) turning the US over to the rich as they make the planet uninhabitable... who can doubt some revolution is necessary. (Note- one Watch twin has become a woman with sex-change: Lana, which adds some poignancy to the sad gay story line. Well, they are from another planet, aren't they?)

All audio is English, except the Hawaiian 22nd century pigeon, which maybe I can write a subtitle track for, since I lived on the Big Island (real locations used?- Honoka'a, Waipio Valley, Kohala Mtn.?, Mauna Kea?, where I worked on biggest telescope complex on Earth) for 2 years, Maui for 1. Whites are oppressed, beaten, and killed there now; so undoubtedly will be in a century or 2 (which this courageously portrays)- it is the most violent racist place I've ever seen... as well as the most magnificent geological meteorological biological oceanographic place on Earth. Also blew into San Francisco in '73 in first contact with Pacific in first Great Trip, and am a journo with big interest in nuclear power/war and AGW, so film is paralleling some of my life.

FIND IT, WATCH IT NOW. You will be blown away. This is Best Picture material, and I've picked 3 or 4 of them without seeing other nominees way before the AA.
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4/10
serviceable TV level thriller of venal government corruption
24 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This movie starts out with a corrupt Brit PM giving away the position of some Brit soldiers in Afghanistan who supposedly killed the Saudi king's jihadi nephew, to his assistant in exchange for not canceling an $80 billion arms deal. They are expendable grunts in the kind of brutal treacherous exchange that one could imagine happening, but immediately, the figure is outlandish- no single arms deal has ever been $80 billion- America has probably given that much to Israel in the last half century. John Rhys-Davies of Lord of the Rings is almost too over the top as the blustery bastard PM, casually dispensing with the lives of his underlings, as the plot unravels. The coordinates of the title are annoyingly round numbers- military units don't travel 40 miles just to get to even numbered GPS coordinates.

Heather Peace plays Capt. Jill Mandelson, captured by oh so evil Taliban as the only survivor after her commando unit is wiped out, and later also as her twin sister in Britain. The torture scenes are the lamest and most unpleasant of the movie and the whole thing drags there- she is soooo tough, she takes months to just give up her name, claiming to be a CNN reporter. While relatively slickly shot, it has the look of a TV movie- Peace has starred in multiple TV series- London Burning, Coronation St, The Chase, and sometimes waxes too arrogant and self-confident. French Intelligence are the heroes of this flick (a nice touch, considering all the grief they received from America for being right about Iraq), monitoring the betrayal, attack, capture; then arranging Mandelson's rescue through their extensive Middle East contacts. Aurélie Bargème is quite credible and appealing as the sexy, cool, concerned French agent injecting some decency into the stew. Back in England, Mandelson is ordered killed by the King's adviser, because the PM, finding the "guilty" soldiers were already aboard the Nimitz, gave them the coordinates of another unit, and the PM again dubiously obliges to help in her domestic assassination lest the King wreak vengeance on his adviser for the foul-up.

Almost bailed out on this in the first 15 minutes, but it gets better as the plot moves along. Her sister, an ex-Intelligence operative, discovers what is happening, with the aid of French Intelligence, and sets up an elaborate wildly implausible plot to kidnap the PM's assistant- Sarah, played by Marina Sirtis (Councilor Deanna Troi of Star Trek) and torture her live on the Internet with a slow-acting poison. Over a day, Sis somehow demands apologies for Gulf War Syndrome and the Invasion of Iraq, without ever getting to the pointed question of her sister till the assistant is 1½ hours from death. Luckily she's a computer whiz, so all the PM's men can't find her, but wouldn't they simply immediately yank the live TV network coverage?

Director-producer Tristan Loraine, a former airline pilot and documentary producer, deserves credit for at least allegorically calling attention to the monstrous lies used to start the Iraq War, which still provokes great rage in Britain and have engendered a serious investigation of Tony Blair. In America it has been whitewashed and categorically ignored by the media, Congress,and Obama- it is simply not mentioned, but there is a deep subterranean sickness at the vicious manipulation and betrayal by Bush and the neo-cons to start that misbegotten invasion, and the vast cost it has entailed in lives and treasure- now estimated at $2-3 trillion, with 30 years of disability payments.

Still, this is a weak movie- save your movie minutes for something a bit more edifying.
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I Am Legend (2007)
8/10
Oscar nomination worthy performance in terrifying movie
24 July 2009
Thought this was a turkey from the arrogant title (oh, it's from the original book), and I'm really not a big fan of Will Smith, who I long thought cruised to great fame with a modicum of talent. But, this is a dandy, terrifying, sci-fri, zombie-vampire last man on earth movie.. and Will Smith turns out a tremendous nuanced performance. The shot of him cringing in the bathtub as night falls is an indication of how good he is in this virtual nonstop monologue, on screen almost every second, but he cycles through every emotion: hysteria, desperation, longing, madness, resolution, denial, disbelief, terror, agony… all told it's an Oscar nomination worthy performance.

The creatures are fearsome hairless mutant humans, able to run 40 mph, climb walls, take 5 shots and keep coming.. and of course with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. The hiding from light of course is vampire behavior and zombies are supposed to be slow and dull witted, but who says genres are fixed in stone. This movie looks good- the scenes of an abandoned derelict New York are magnificent, the music is moving and ominous and the whole premise is deeply terrifying. Smith makes this movie work, and it really is a tremendous piece of work.
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8/10
knockout impressive movie
23 December 2008
Just saw this in Kiev without knowing a thing (except it was in English) because Evan Rachel Wood is a great actress and going to be a major star. This has all the tension and nail-biting suspense of Rukrainian Vadi Perlman's House of Sand + Fog- too much considering the subject. (I could have questioned him at Molodist FF, but saw listing too late). Wood made her bones in this movie- being erotic, sharp, deep, beautiful, wounded, terrified in utterly effortless and unaffected acting. Uma is not my favorite actress- showing the deeply neurotic side of her that I think is real, but it works perfectly in this movie- as she displays the PTSD that every person back from Iraq knows too well. The parallel track of what is going on with her wanton, wild, and maybe damaged daughter adds more tension- has the poison of that event somehow soaked into her daughter? The cinematography is excellent as it charts the deep feelings between 2 best girlfriends, and the mystical internal turmoil over time and memory, now and then, real and illusion.

My only problem is that I know this subject intimately - I reviewed the book Copycat Effect: http://hammernews.com/copycateffect.htm , which proves that almost any publicity about these mass shootings causes kids and adults to reenact them, usually on anniversaries of previous events. "Eyes" showed the shootings again and again in lovingly graphic detail and I don't think this subject should get any major movie play- it's just too dangerous. See if, in a couple of years, some schoolyard shooter doesn't say he saw this movie 20 times. On the other hand, emphasizing the pain and horror of these events is also recommended by shrinks.
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8/10
brilliant haunting evocative look at McNamara's life and tortures
26 June 2006
We helped choose the title of this movie in a Morris questionnaire at an advance screening at Brown U. in 2002. My title was "The Wars of Robert McNamara", since it is about his inner travail and guilt even at the murderous bombing raids of Japan, where we were killing 50-100,000 a pop in the 1000 plane firebomb raids for the last 8 months. I remember seeing the statistics and being stunned- Americans had become scientists of death. The title "Fog of War" is pretty hackneyed. The movie is a brilliant haunting evocative look at McNamara's life and tortures in the powerful positions he held. The most moving stuff is his deep qualms about the murderous raids on Japan, which he planned as Curtis LeMay's deputy. Most stunning was his revelations about the near end of the world in the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Cubans actually had 162 live nuclear warheads on the island, and Castro's recommendation was to USE THEM if we invaded. Everything the US did was based on our belief that they had NONE. I actually heard that a few days earlier from McNamara himself, at a concurrent conference on the Missile Crisis, and questioned him after (http://hammernews.com/mcnamara.ram). It was a stunning revelation, like being punched in the stomach, since I'd done several big articles on the threat of nuclear war.

McNamara is still smart, wily, and unwilling to be forced into any unwanted admission. He does show sorrow and pain at the results of his actions in Vietnam, and Morris's expert merging of historical audio show Mac and Kennedy were advocating withdrawal as far back as 1963. A fascinating character study, an important historical document, and a slick merging of media, music, man, and movie.

Michael Hammerschlag
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Munich (2005)
Powerful masterpiece on the horror of war, risks of vengeance, and costs of killing
15 June 2006
June 14- The ambiguity and confusion of counter-terror terror has never been so accurately portrayed- nothing ever goes exactly as intended, and the firefights and bombing scenes are very realistic and harrowing. This actually shows the effect of a machine gun ripping through a human body, not the TV cartoon violence of thousands of shots without ever hitting someone. The killing of the gorgeous Dutch seductress assassin (a Montreal Naomi Watts type) is one of the most horrible ever displayed. "Such a waste," she says as she's killed. The shadow war of retaliatory killings unfold as regular Palestinian terrorist events happen in the background, sometimes in apparent retaliation (vaguely remembered from my semi-youth).The Munich massacre was searingly and relatively accurately depicted. The incredible moral quandary of becoming what you hate, and are warring against, is vividly displayed and has immediate application to America, where our Bike Boy President and his nitwit neocons are disemboweling the Bill of Rights, sanctioning torture of innocents, and lying us into a conflict of faiths that could last generations.

Munich is based on a semi-discredited 1984 book: Vengeance, which already produced a 1986 movie: The Sword of Gideon. "Munich" doesn't claim strict historical accuracy. Many of the Israeli assassination targets had little or nothing to do with Munich; amazingly the alleged mastermind Abu Daoud(who was shot 6 times by Israelis but survived) claims the unwitting financier of the Munich kidnappings was Mahmoud Abbas- current Palestinian Authority President. Much confusion exists over whether the remaining 3 terrorists were later killed by Israeli hit squads or not- 2 may have been, but at least one was alive in 1999 for a documentary One Day in Sept.

Spielberg addresses the book controversy at the beginning of the DVD, saying "Vengeance" was attacked but never discredited. He does avoid the most atrocious event of the Mossad vendetta- the killing of the wrong man in a street in Norway, which publicly outed the whole plot. The Palestinians aren't cardboard cutouts, in the most impossible scene PLO gunmen and the Israeli hit squad share a safe-house after a long standoff ("ETA- Basque!", scream the Mossad men). After, Eric Bana and a PLO guy argue about Palestine and the Palestinian has the same motivations- honor, homeland, family, stopping them from killing us. No way they wouldn't make them for Israelis, though.

According to a new book, Striking Back, the tragedy in the 1972 Olympics was the result of incompetent, pompous, cowardly German officials. It was run by blithering blow hard Bavarian bureaucrats, who because of the German Constitution, had almost complete autonomy- nothing of the rescue was run by the national German Gov.- it was all Bavarian and Munich police, who had no anti-terrorist training. In fact, there was no such thing in demilitarized Germany- no SWAT, no special forces, no anti-terrorists. The top Israelis who flew in were ignored and abused- their offer of a counter-terrorist squad rejected. Because they had no experience at all with Germany, because of..... the past (only 27 years from the death camps), they thought the Germans would run the rescue with their usual devastating efficiency and effectiveness. They couldn't have been more wrong.

First the Munchkens had a group of assault cops dressed on track suits assemble on top of the Israeli building- in full view of TV cameras airing footage to the Palestinians. Forced to retreat there, they sent the terrorists and captives by 2 helicopters to a military airfield, where a 727 was supposed to take them Cairo, but an ambush by sharpshooters was actually planned. 6-10 Munich police dressed as crew simply bailed out of the plane while the helicopter was in flight without telling anyone- it was suicidal, they thought. They were probably right- they still were wearing their police pants with Lufthansa jackets. They thought there were only 5 hijackers; when there were 8 (4 were employees at the Olympics); they had only 5 marksmen there out of 29 in the area, they had no proper searchlights, no night vision gear or scopes, no radios, no generator power, no armored cars, no forces or plans to storm the plane if things went bad.

"Later it was discovered that one of the snipers never fired a shot, and yet another sniper was positioned directly in the line of friendly fire, without any protective gear"-Wikipedia They just opened fire- killing 3 terrorists- and commencing an hour and a half firefight. The remaining terrorists quickly knocked out the 3 light stands with grenades, so snipers were firing in the dark. The Chermans refused to storm the plane, and insisted on waiting for armored cars. When they appeared, however, the hostage takers, realizing the game was up- blew up one helicopter with hogtied hostages with a grenade, and wiped out the rest with machine gun bursts. The Germans did kill 2 more hijackers after the massacre; 3 survived and were released 2 months later when Black September hijacked a Lufthansa jet. They were flown to Libya for a heroes welcome. German firefighters refused to go in and put out the fire even when the terrorists left- one hostage died of smoke inhalation.

To their credit, German officials did offer to exchange themselves for the Israelis, or an infinite amount of money, and one cop was killed in the shootout. Somehow the story got promulgated that all the hostages were safe, and Israelis and much of the world wept in relief. Then, like in the West Virginia mine disaster, they wept much more. The good Bavarian burghers stonewalled the Israeli families for decades, denying the existence of any documents about the case, giving them nothing in info or compensation (Israel also did nothing) until 2002. Finally- in 2004, they offered $114K to each of the 36 family members, now only 27. Disgraceful.

Truly a masterpiece, and a film that will have you thinking, and remembering- long after you see it.
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