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At Middleton (2013)
What were Andy and Vera thinking?
They may not be Daniel Day-Lewis and Cate Blanchett, but Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga are solid actors, and usually make solid film choices. That is part of the reason why At Middleton is such a surprise. The film is shockingly bad. Vera Farmiga's character is extremely unlikeable, while most of the rest of the characters (including the "dingleberry" tour guide) just don't behave, respond and react in in a way that is realistic. The portrayal of college students is especially bad...it's neither negative or positive, it's just not correct. I knew after 15 minutes that this film was terrible, but hoped it would get better. It didn't. After seeing on IMDb that this won some minor film festival awards, all I can say is that beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder.
The Knick (2014)
It's all good
After watching the first four episodes, unless there is a drastic drop off, this is a super-good series done by Soderbergh. It was a weird rationale to put it on Cinemax rather than HBO, but if it gets people subscribing to Cinemax, then it was a successful choice. It's another example of how the best TV shows in America are found only on the premium channels (e.g., HBO, Showtime, etc.)
Although Clive Owen is the star and does a great job, just about everyone in the cast is superb. But what to me is the "star" of The Knick and makes it so interesting is showing what New York City was like at the turn of the century. I'm no expert, but it seems realistic and believable, and is fascinating to see, including the medical field at that time, the introduction of electricity, the super-wealthy and super-poor living side-by-side in Manhattan, and the overt racism, even though Manhattan is not even remotely the South.
Blue Ruin (2013)
All these plot holes...
I'm watching this movie, and it immediately has zillions of plot holes. Among them... 1) Wade's friends are knocking at the door, waiting for him to come out of the bathroom. Instead, Dwight walks out to escape, but he's all covered with blood, and apparently no one sees him! 2) The young boy is inexplicably waiting in the limo, when everyone else in the car has been inside partying for who knows how long 3) Dwight walks out of the hospital in broad daylight after he is stitched up, and no one in the hospital seems to notice. I realize this convention is often used, but really, this is very unlikely to occur.
I could go on and on. And Macon Blair is terrible in the lead role of Dwight. From time to time, you can't believe the film you're seeing is the same one that has received such high ratings. Maybe there's two versions of "Blue Ruin" out there on DVD, and I saw the wrong one.
Rob the Mob (2014)
This film is by no means Oscar material, but it is very entertaining, and I'm surprised that it was barely released out to theaters before going onto DVD. If this wasn't based on a true story, it would be unbelievable, but since this did really happen in 1992 (I'm sure there are embellishments in the film, of course), it really is an amazing story. I didn't care much for Michael Pitt as one of the robbers, but his girlfriend/fiancée, played my Nina Arianda does a great job. Also excellent in supporting roles are Griffin Dunne, Andy Garcia, and shockingly, Ray Romano as a newspaper columnist. This film is very "New York" in style, attitude, and accent, so maybe that was a turnoff to some people. But not to me.
Xi you xiang mo pian (2013)
As an American who is not aware of the story with which this is based on, I had to evaluate it strictly as a movie. It is a bit of a mixed bag, but overall, I'm positive about the film, as the good stuff is really good.
The not-so-good: The first 20 minutes with the opening set-up scene is not very funny and drags on. Also, for American sensibilities, it's a little shocking to see a five year old girl get killed and swallowed up by a giant fish in what is ostensibly supposed to be a comedy. I also thought the last 10-15 minutes or so, with the battle with the Monkey King was also not as exciting as I think it was supposed to be.
The very good: About 20-25 minutes in, when the scene shifts to the restaurant/inn, the film becomes very funny, and wacky. It's definitely got the "Stephen Chow" signature look and humor. Wen Zhang does a very good job in what I would call the "Stephen Chow" role that he probably would have taken himself had he been younger. Seeing Chow in the behind-the-scenes with gray hair is indeed a bit shocking. Finally, Shu Qi, in an intentionally over-the-top comedic role as a rival demon hunter is sweet and surprisingly very funny. As she has gotten older, she has begun to transition well to other roles where she has to perform, and not rely solely on her stunning beauty when she was younger.
Journey to the West isn't as good as Chow's Shaolin Soccer, but I thought it was better than his Kung Fu Hustle. That might be blasphemous, seeing how many Chinese awards Kung Fu Hustle received, but I just thought this one was funnier and easier to follow.
Run & Jump (2013)
Well-Intentoned But Excruciatingly Slow
I suppose it's evil to criticize a film about the recovery of a stroke victim, but this isn't a documentary, and the primary focus of the movie is instead about the relationship that evolves between the academic monitoring Conor, the stroke victim, and Conor's wife. And it was all so slow and uneventful. I came very close to shutting it off after about an hour, but I have this weird movie code of trying to see films all the way through, if I can, no matter how bad it might be.
I realize that the reviews thus far have been overwhelmingly positive. All I can say is that according to IMDb, it played in America for one week only on two screens before going to DVD. That's it, and it didn't exactly break any box office records during that engagement as well. So that, hopefully, should tell you something about this film. I see I'm the first American commenting on this movie...we'll see what others think.
Grand Piano (2013)
Implausible and Far-Fetched
Not only had this film received mostly good reviews (which is why I rented it in the first place), it actually was nominated (and won!) some minor awards in Spain! That is really hard-to-believe, as this film was very bad. In the first 10 minutes or so, once the plot starts developing, I thought it was extremely implausible and far-fetched. Sadly, it continued to get even more implausible and far-fetched in so many different ways that it would be impossible to list them all. I was going to give it a "4" rating, and then the ending came, and the ending was so ridiculous, that as punishment, I have now ranked it a "3." As this is technically a 2014 release in America, it is almost definite that it will be on my "Worst 10" list of 2014.
If you like Seinfeld, this is for you, if you don't...
OK...I finally decided to give this show a go at the start of the 4th season, based on the high critical acclaim it has received. The nicest thing I can say about this series is that it is basically an homage to Seinfeld, complete with stand-up riffs to open and close the show. And I hated the Seinfeld show, although most think it's one of the greatest sitcoms of all-time. So there you go. The show has completely unrealistic plots with unrealistic characters, and worst of all, isn't funny at all. I watched the first two episodes of season #4. In the first episode Charles Grodin plays a doctor, and I think the segment was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't. In the second episode, Seinfeld himself is in this one, and at the end, Louis is supposed to be paying a rich couple $5,000 a month for injuring their model/daughter. It was just ridiculous. I was waiting for the Seinfeld music in-between the scenes to play.
This film was a huge and pleasant surprise for me to see, and I'm sorry I didn't see it in 2012 when it had originally come out. The critical reviews were good but not great, and when there's so much out there, you try to make the best choices you can on the information that you have.
I didn't see the surprise end coming at all. It really blew me away. Emma Watson was also extremely compelling and charismatic in this film. And while of course there were a few lines spoken by high school students in the film that were a little too mature/clever for their ages, it doesn't go overboard like in Juno or Brick, and of course movies are made to entertain.
I really thought they "got" a lot of what high school was about and being that age. It's been awhile since I graduated from there, and I still thought it was great, so I feel confident saying this movie has the potential to please just about any age group.
Tang shan da di zhen (2010)
This might be the best Chinese movie I have ever seen. Although I was a bit skeptical to see it, it was so highly recommended to me, that I finally gave it a try. I wish I had seen it when it was first released on DVD, as this would have been one of my favorite movies of 2010. The earthquake scenes at the beginning of the film were so realistic and so upsetting to me that I had to remind myself that this was a dramatization rather than a documentary...I rarely have to calm myself down like that when watching a film. It's powerful, sad and heartbreaking, and my wife and I had both shed tears by the end of the film. I was a little worried that I would get bored because it was about 2 hours and 15 minutes long, but honestly, when something was this good, it could have gone on even longer.