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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Doesn't stay afloat, 11 April 2016

Captain Phillips is a movie which is certainly well-made but ultimately unsatisfying. The production values are there, the entertainment is not. This should be a tight, taut, tense thriller. But the tension seeps away long before the movie finally draws itself to a close. The movie certainly has a captivating, true-life story to work with, a story which would seem to have great potential. But that potential is unrealized. The movie disappoints.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, who is in command of a huge cargo ship headed to Kenya. Rather awful attempt at a Boston accent aside, Hanks is otherwise reliable as ever in the role. And the completely unknown Barkhad Abdi proves a worthy acting adversary for Hanks. Abdi plays Muse, the leader of the gang of four Somali pirates who hijack Captain Phillips's ship. The first half of the movie, setting up the hijacking from the perspectives of both Phillips and the pirates and then the hijacking itself, works reasonably well. The second half of the film, with Phillips having been taken hostage by the pirates as they fled the giant ship in a small lifeboat, works markedly less well.

Initially there is great tension as hostage Phillips tries to keep his wits about him and keep himself alive while rescue plans are set in motion. But then the movie just kind of sits there. It becomes very repetitive as we wait for that potential rescue to come. Interactions between Hanks and Abdi, Phillips and Muse, are good. But the other three pirates make either a bad impression or no impression at all. The only other standout, and not in a good way, is the character of Najee, the hothead of the pirate group. His frothing rage wears thin quite quickly. Maybe the true-life counterpart really was like this but in the movie it seems way over the top. He's the designated villain but he's too villainous for the film's good. There are some things to admire about the film. Hanks is solid, the young unknowns playing the pirates do reasonably well with their roles, with Abdi doing quite well indeed. The movie looks good, it was clearly a challenging movie to shoot and director Paul Greengrass pulls that aspect of the proceedings off well. Though there is definitely the sense a steadier camera would have worked well at times, there's only so much shaky-cam you can take. Ultimately though, as with any movie, the most important thing is the story. This story had great promise but for whatever reason it just doesn't work. As the movie careens towards, and then over, the two-hour mark the tension fizzles away. You've had enough and you're just ready for it to be over. This compelling real-life story ultimately makes for a less than compelling movie.

Some hits, some misses, 28 March 2016

Try to cram eighteen different stories into two hours and you're going to end up with something which, as a whole, is rather uneven. Such is the case with Paris, je t'aime. This is less one movie and more eighteen movies which happen to be shown in succession. The only common denominator is the setting, Paris. Eighteen different stories, told by eighteen different directors, featuring eighteen different casts. Some famous directors, some largely unknown. Some stories feature famous performers, others feature performers who are completely anonymous. There are little comedies, little dramas, little romances, little tragedies. It's quite the ebb and flow, you never know what's coming next. At least you know that if you're not enjoying what you're watching in a given moment there will be something entirely different coming along shortly.

All in all it's an interesting experiment, buoyed by mostly interesting stories. A few of the mini-movies don't work or seem out of place. In a movie full of ordinary stories about ordinary life in Paris a vampire segment is a little jarring and bizarre. There's a story centered around a Chinatown beauty salon which is quite incomprehensible. A few of the stories fall rather flat. But on the other hand a few of the stories are actually quite brilliant. Most fall somewhere in between. At its best Paris, je t'aime is really good and even at its worst it's not truly terrible. The film may wear you down by the end, there's the sense that maybe there are three or four stories too many. But even if the film does start to drag it manages to pick itself up and get moving again. Such is the benefit of having an entirely new story every few minutes. Everyone will have their own favorite segments. There is something here for everyone. Fittingly the final segment is essentially a love letter to Paris. Margo Martindale plays Carol, a middle-aged American tourist extolling the virtues of the city in truly terrible, amateurish French. Carol may not have mastered the language but the sentiment is clear and sincere. She loves Paris. Simple. There is obviously much to love about the city and in Paris, je t'aime all the different directors with all their different stars do the city justice. It's an up-and-down movie, by its very nature inconsistent. But it's a unique ride, one worth taking.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Charming to the last, 26 March 2016

City Lights is a film which is beloved and revered. And it is easy to see why. As comedies go, it may not be among the funniest films ever made. But if there is any shortfall of laughs the film more than compensates with an overabundance of charm. And it is not as if the film is totally lacking in laughs either, there is plenty of good humor here. But in this case it is the story, more than the jokes and gags, which really is the key to the film's success. That story draws you in, makes you root for Charlie Chaplin's famous Tramp. It's a beautifully unique love story which will definitely bring a smile to your face and ultimately maybe even a tear to your eye. City Lights is the brilliant result you get when you have a master of his art form at work.

The simple, though thoroughly captivating story, follows The Tramp as he falls in love with a beautiful, blind flower girl. She can't see him for the lowly hobo he is, a misunderstanding upon her initial meeting leads her to believe he is a wealthy gentleman. The Tramp is more than happy to allow her to maintain that illusion. He gets some help in this endeavor from a drunken millionaire who befriends him. The Tramp gets money from the millionaire, stays in his house, drives his car. All very helpful in keeping up the ruse of wealthiness for the blind girl. Unfortunately the drunken millionaire is only friends with The Tramp whenever he is in fact drunk. When he sobers up he doesn't remember The Tramp at all. This of course causes awkward, and funny, complications. Meanwhile the flower girl has problems of her own. She's behind on the rent and, unknowingly since her grandmother hides the notice, about to be evicted. The Tramp is determined to save the day, pay the rent and also somehow pay for surgery to cure the girl's blindness. How will our shabby little hero pull this off?

Chaplin is a master of his craft at the peak of his powers. When City Lights was released the era of silent films was at its end, the talkies had taken over. But Chaplin was determined to tell his story his way, really the only way a story of The Tramp could ever be told. Who would want to hear The Tramp speak? The brilliance of the character is in the pantomime, the expressions. Chaplin tugs on the heartstrings without ever saying a word. Other performers in the film, most notably Virginia Cherrill as the blind girl and Harry Myers as the millionaire, play their parts well. Cherrill in particular deserves much credit for the film's ultimate emotional wallop. But this film is Chaplin's through and through, his fingerprints are on every frame. A brilliant performer, a brilliant director. Every moment is so well thought out. Maybe the film is not outrageously funny but there is plenty of humor to appreciate. Even if you think a scene may drag on too long, like a boxing match late on in the film, you can't help but appreciate the effort that went into it. It may be a little long but the scene is undeniably worked out beautifully, Chaplin showing an absolute mastery of choreography. It is a comedy film in which ultimately the comedy is secondary. Yes, there are jokes and gags and no, not all of them work perfectly. But there are definitely enough good comedic moments to keep you entertained. But more importantly there is a story to keep you enthralled. The love story between The Tramp and the blind girl warms your heart and makes City Lights a true feel-good movie, one worthy of its status as one of the most beloved films ever made.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Amusing Austin, 15 February 2016

It's 1967 and famous British spy Austin Powers has defeated his nemesis Dr. Evil. Dr. Evil proceeds to do the only logical thing, escape in a rocket ship disguised as a Big Boy statue and cryogenically freeze himself (and his cat). Austin Powers volunteers to be frozen in case Dr. Evil returns to wreak havoc in the future. Thirty years pass. It's 1997 and Dr. Evil is back. Time to unfreeze Austin Powers who is about to find out the '90s aren't quite as groovy as the '60s.

Dr. Evil plots to steal a nuclear weapon and hold the world hostage for one million dollars! Er, one hundred billion dollars! A million bucks just doesn't buy what it used to. Dr. Evil has got a lot to catch up on, as does Austin Powers, the product of the swinging '60s who is very much out of place in the more sedate '90s. This leads to some good laughs, many of which center around Austin's attempt to get his new partner, the stunningly beautiful Vanessa Kensington, to sleep with him. Sadly, Austin's tried-and-true '60s seduction techniques aren't going to work on Vanessa. Meanwhile, there's the small matter of foiling Dr. Evil's dastardly plan.

The movie maybe never hits the heights of comedic genius. It's never uproariously funny but it is reasonably amusing. And charming too. Mike Myers does very well with the dual roles of Austin Powers and Dr. Evil though there is the nagging sense that the bad guy is funnier than the titular hero. There is little question the funniest moments come from Dr. Evil, the prototypical James Bond villain who knows he's the prototypical James Bond villain. Among other things this means he must have over-elaborate ways of doing everything when he knows darned well a simpler way would surely suffice. And it also of course means he is fated to be frustrated. What's a guy got to do to get some sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads? Dr. Evil is a hoot, Austin Powers sometimes less so but you root for him. He's charming in his own very unique way. Maybe Vanessa will even come to love him. Happily Elizabeth Hurley, playing Vanessa, proves to be a model who can actually act. She more than holds her own with Myers, the two work well together. There are other familiar faces in the cast, including Michael York, Robert Wagner and Seth Green, who all do well with their respective roles. But the movie obviously belongs to Myers, this is his baby. And he pulls it off well enough. Yes, the humor is hit and miss but there are enough hits to keep you smiling. This is the spoof James Bond deserved. Yeah, baby, yeah!

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Solid addition to the saga, 8 February 2016

Kate Beckinsale was quite clearly the best thing the Underworld franchise had going for it. Making an Underworld movie without her was either very bold or very stupid. Happily, with Rise of the Lycans, that decision proved to be more bold than stupid. Yes, Beckinsale is missed. No, this movie is not as much fun as the first installment in the series. But there are enough good things here to make this movie a worthy addition to the saga. It may fall short of the original but it is at least on par with, probably even a touch better than, Evolution. And Evolution had Beckinsale in it so that's saying something!

Beckinsale is not here because this is a prequel, her character of Selene has yet to enter the story. This movie takes us back to the origin of the Lycans, the werewolves who retain the ability to transform back into human form. Lucian, who we know so well from movie number one, is the first Lycan. And that's good news because that means Michael Sheen is back. In the first film, told from a vampire's point of view, Lucian was the bad guy. Here we see things through Lycan eyes, Lucian is the hero. And Sheen gives a very powerful performance, he is indeed an inspiring hero. But if we are meant to sympathize with the Lycans in this movie, and we clearly are, who's the bad guy? Welcome back vampire elder Viktor, played as in the first film by Bill Nighy. Viktor, as any fan of the saga knows, is quite a nasty piece of work. And Nighy plays the part with gleeful relish. This is one of the hammiest performances you'll ever see, laughably over-the-top. But for this kind of film it actually kind of works. We're talking about vampires and werewolves here, let's not take things too seriously.

Sheen and Nighy draw most of the attention. The other key role goes to Rhona Mitra. She plays Viktor's daughter, Sonja, who is of course in a forbidden romance with Lucian. We know how that story will play itself out but it's interesting seeing the journey to that story's end. Mitra gives a solid performance, though certainly not as memorable as Sheen or Nighy. She's obviously meant to be this movie's Beckinsale and while not as great as Kate she holds her own. Even if we already know much of the story heading in this film still manages to entertain and spring a surprise or two along the way. In some ways though the film does disappoint. The scale of the thing seems rather small, almost entirely contained within the vampire fortress. The action is, after what we've seen in the first two films, overly familiar and repetitive. And oh so dark. Yes, vampire stories have to unfold at night but honestly this film is shot in such a dimly lit way it's often impossible to tell what's going on. And there is the sense that the movie ends just when it should be getting good. We see the rise of the Lycans, the start of the war we've heard so much about. And then it's over. There's so much more we already know about the story that we could have seen on screen. The movie could have gone further. We could have seen some more of that war. We could have seen that famous confrontation between Lucian and Kraven. And of course we could have seen Selene. This movie leaves a lot on the table. Though if the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it leaves you wanting more that's not so bad.

Kick-Ass (2010)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Hit Girl kicks...well, you know, 4 February 2016

If the idea of a foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl slaughtering people is just too repugnant for you then do not watch Kick-Ass. If you are willing to accept such an idea then there is much for you to enjoy in this movie. This movie is gleefully over-the-top in every way. And it makes for a rollicking good time. The movie has great wit, action and, surprisingly for a movie which is absolutely drowning in blood, charm. But make no mistake, for all the movie has going for it the best thing it has to offer is that pint-sized, potty-mouthed terror, Hit Girl.

But before we get to Hit Girl a word about Kick-Ass since the movie is after all entitled Kick-Ass. Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, an ordinary, anonymous teenager who decides to become a real-life superhero. He buys himself a cheesy costume, christens himself Kick-Ass and takes to the streets to save the day. And proceeds to get his ass kicked. But soon enough he manages to become an internet sensation...who's still getting his ass kicked. Enter Hit Girl. Begin the slaughter. She's got a costume but, unlike Kick-Ass, she's also got skills. And no qualms about hacking off a bad guy's limbs. She's been trained by her father who dresses like Batman and calls himself Big Daddy. This is one deadly duo. They're going to team up with Kick-Ass who, all things considered, might want to go back to being plain old Dave Lizewski.

There is much to like about the movie. It's funny, it's exciting, at times downright exhilarating. Not everything works perfectly. A subplot where Dave's dream girl, Katie, suddenly becomes interested in him because she mistakenly thinks he's gay doesn't add much to the proceedings. Mafia boss Frank D'Amico, the main villain for most of the film, is not the most exciting of antagonists. A movie this far out there (and boy is this movie far out there) needs a more compelling adversary for our heroes. Happily Red Mist enters the fray. Yes, another weirdo in a costume.

The one flaw with the film which is most clear is that the central character is nowhere near as interesting as the supporting players. Johnson gives a reasonably fine performance as Dave/Kick-Ass but the character is a little flat. Happily Hit Girl is here to liven things up. This girl is dynamite and Chloë Grace Moretz plays the part perfectly. A star-making performance. Moretz looks every bit the action star and is utterly convincing with the dialogue (including the raunchy stuff) and emotional scenes as well. And Moretz works beautifully with Nicolas Cage, playing Big Daddy. Cage decided to go way, way over-the-top with his performance and in this movie that works perfectly. He hams it up and he should be hamming it up, it's that kind of movie. Christopher Mintz-Plasse brings a very unique personality to Red Mist and, though her character seems a bit extraneous, Lyndsy Fonseca plays the part of Katie well. This is a pretty good movie up to the point we first see Hit Girl in action. From there the movie kicks into a higher gear and never lets up. Embrace the violence, enjoy the carnage, cheer on Hit Girl, one of the unlikeliest heroes you'll ever see. She kicks ass.

Contagion (2011)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Avoid like the plague, 31 January 2016

A medical disaster which could potentially kill millions of people all around the world...well that shouldn't be boring. But in Contagion boring it is. This is a medical thriller which is not at all thrilling. The film is a largely tedious, totally unfocused mess. You have a great cast filled with some of the most renowned performers of our time. You have a highly acclaimed director in Steven Soderbergh. And you have a story which should be absolutely gripping. How could it all go so wrong?

A woman drops dead in Minnesota. Soon people are dropping dead all over the place, felled by a new disease doctors can't figure out. The world goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket. We see doctors investigating the origin of this new virus and trying to find a cure. We see ordinary people trying to survive in a society which is crumbling all around them. And, in a subplot which should have been excised from the film, we see an unscrupulous blogger who professes to have the cure. There are a lot of strands of the plot and these strands don't come together at all satisfactorily. Honestly the whole thing is a mess. And a quite boring mess at that.

With the film being so unfocused it's hard to form attachments to any character. If there's one person we come close to connecting with it's an ordinary man, played by Matt Damon, who just wants to keep his daughter safe. But any time you want to invest in his story the film abandons him and goes off somewhere else. We go to Atlanta where Laurence Fishburne plays the man heading the efforts of the CDC. We go to Hong Kong, where Marion Cotillard's character investigates the origin of the disease and ends up in a surprising situation which does absolutely nothing to advance the plot. We have Kate Winslet playing a doctor investigating things in Minnesota. Her story has a little juice to it but it isn't sustained. And we have Jude Law, playing that incredibly annoying blogger, whose story sends the film completely off the rails. All the while there's a global disaster going on so the film should feel big, have some real weight to it. But it doesn't, it's all very mundane. An easy film to compare Contagion to is Outbreak. In that film, the focus was on an outbreak in one town. Not as big a deal as a worldwide pandemic. Maybe Contagion is too big for its own good. Outbreak was a taut, tight thriller. It had focus. Contagion is all over the place. And the thrill is gone.

Wit, charm and naked girls, 22 January 2016

Mrs Henderson Presents tells the charming, and more or less true, story of the Windmill Theatre in London. It's the 1930s. Newly widowed Laura Henderson buys a theater and enlists gruff, old Vivian Van Damm to manage the place. After some fits and starts Mrs. Henderson hits on the idea which will make the Windmill a sensation. Her show will feature naked girls. This sort of thing just wasn't done in the United Kingdom back then. Well, it would be done now.

The movie succeeds largely because of the performances of Judi Dench, playing Mrs. Henderson, and Bob Hoskins, playing Van Damm. Mrs. Henderson is eccentric and mischievous, Van Damm is quite serious-minded. Put these two together and you're going to get something good. The relationship between these two characters is at the heart of the film and Dench and the ever-exasperated Hoskins bring that relationship to life beautifully. Van Damm isn't the only man Mrs. Henderson flummoxes. Her negotiations with the Lord Chamberlain, who must approve her show, over exactly what bits and pieces of the female anatomy will be displayed, and how they will be displayed, is priceless. Christopher Guest is wonderfully, and entirely appropriately, flustered in playing the role. You'd be flustered too if you heard what comes out of Mrs. Henderson's mouth. The woman has no filter and for this film that is a very good thing. She'll definitely keep you entertained.

The movie is witty and charming and, for a story about naked girls, very tastefully done. Those naked girls are very much in the background, both in the show within the movie and in the movie itself. Kelly Reilly plays the lead girl, Maureen. We get to know a little bit about her character, the rest of the girls remain a largely anonymous bunch. The story really isn't about the girls, it's about Mrs. Henderson and Van Damm. And that's fine, it works well, especially with the excellent performances by Dench and Hoskins. But there is the sense the girls maybe should have had a little bigger part in the story. Other than Maureen none of the girls really have any story at all. There may be minor misgivings here and there, maybe some things could have worked a little better. But all in all Mrs Henderson Presents is good fun. And when World War II, in the specific form of German bombers, intrudes on the fun the film does well with its serious moments too, finding the right tone. Maybe not a masterpiece but Mrs Henderson presents is definitely worth seeing, a charming little movie to put a smile on your face.

Green Fire (1954)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Grace Kelly's most forgettable film, 17 January 2016

Grace Kelly only appeared in eleven films during her brief acting career. Green Fire is the most obscure of them. Obscure for good reason. This is an eminently forgettable film. Kelly plays Catherine Knowland, owner of a coffee plantation in Colombia. Stewart Granger plays Rian Mitchell, who's hunting for emeralds nearby. Paul Douglas plays Vic Leonard, Rian's reluctant partner in the emerald mining expedition. Rian wants emeralds. He also wants Catherine. Unfortunately there are complications. The mining is going poorly. No emeralds. Local bandits show up and threaten to steal any emeralds he may eventually find. Rian gets frustrated, then he gets desperate and desperation can lead to terrible consequences.

There's a lot of melodrama here but it doesn't really make for a very good film. The plot is threadbare. The film is billed as a spectacular adventure but there is absolutely nothing spectacular about it. It's very mundane, in many places dreadfully boring. Granger comes across very flat in playing Rian. Douglas brings much more personality to the role of Vic, at least he has some wisecracks which perk things up a bit. The romance between Rian and Catherine never sparks to life. Vic is interested in Catherine as well but that would-be romance seems unlikely to say the least. The film plods along, leading man Rian being unlucky both in love and emerald mining, desperate enough to do things which make both the other characters and the audience detest him. He becomes an entirely unsympathetic character, which certainly doesn't help any with enjoyment of the film. The film really struggles to hold your interest and keep you invested in the proceedings. The romance falls flat. None of the action sequences are particularly memorable. Douglas does have some good moments. Kelly isn't given much to do besides look pretty, though she certainly is good at that. Granger really disappoints. All in all, it's a movie not worth remembering. It's Grace Kelly's one true dud.

Brothers (2009/I)
Doesn't reach its potential, 16 January 2016

Brothers is a movie which has the pieces to succeed but those pieces do not end up coming together to form a satisfying whole. The story is certainly compelling. Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal are reliable performers who are certainly capable of making something good out of the material. The whole production is in the hands of well-respected director Jim Sheridan. The movie should work. But it really doesn't. You can see the potential here but Brothers falls well short of what it could have been.

Portman and Gyllenhaal do fine work but the key performer in Brothers is Tobey Maguire. And therein is the first problem with the film. Maguire never really convinces in the role. He plays Marine captain Sam Cahill, who as we meet him is about to head out for another tour of duty in Afghanistan. He'll be leaving behind his wife, Grace, and their two young daughters. Also left behind is Sam's brother, Tommy, the black sheep of the family. Tommy just got out of prison, he's always drunk, he's a complete loser. Sam loves his brother but nobody else wants to deal with Tommy. His own father, a military man who worships Sam, despises him. Sam's wife is disgusted by Tommy and does not want him around at all, ever. With Sam gone, Tommy will be rudderless, left to fend for himself. And then things get a lot worse. In Afghanistan, Sam's helicopter crashes. Sam is dead.

Only we see right away that Sam is not dead at all, he survived the crash and was taken prisoner by the Taliban. Which begs the question of why the U.S. military was in such a hurry to tell Sam's family that he was dead. Anyhow, while Sam's family tries to carry on and cope with his death the very much alive Sam does whatever he has to do to survive to try to get back to his family. The movie proceeds on these parallel tracks. What will happen if these tracks come together, if the "dead" Sam comes home? Certainly an interesting situation but there is the sense the movie fails to make the most of it. With Sam supposedly dead Tommy cleans up his act. He tries to help Grace around the house, grows close with her and her kids. It's a nice redemption story but uncomfortable for obvious reasons, especially as we keep cutting back to the trials and tribulations of Sam in Afghanistan. And, as you might expect when one is imprisoned by the Taliban, those are some pretty nasty trials.

There is the sense the movie chickens out a bit, Grace and Tommy never go as far with their relationship as you might expect them to. It becomes more about Tommy's relationship with Grace's kids. Sam's kids. The kids come to love Uncle Tommy, accepting him as more or less a new father. So what happens if the old father comes back? Awkward. And not just awkward, potentially frightening because after what he's been through Sam is not the same man he once was. The loving husband and father, the heroic Marine...that Sam is gone. He's a shell of the man he once was. How this all plays out ultimately is disappointing. You buy into Maguire as the nice Sam at the film's beginning. The not-so-nice Sam we see later on Maguire struggles with. The actor doesn't fit the role. He's trying really hard. Too hard. Rage and fury just don't come naturally to Maguire it seems, he's overacting trying to pull it off and it's just not believable. Portman, playing Grace, and Gyllenhaal, playing Tommy, are good. They work well with one another and they play off of Maguire well. Their reactions to Maguire work, Maguire himself doesn't. The story has some failings in the end, seen most clearly at a family birthday party where everybody behaves in ways which are hard to believe. It eventually comes to a big dramatic, climactic (though overacted) head...and then the movie just kind of ends. There is very little in the way of resolution. For a movie which seemed to hold great promise in the end there is not much satisfaction.

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