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jdesando

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1257 reviews in total 
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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
One of the best sci-fis in years., 7 July 2014

"Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe." Mason (Tilda Swinton)

Social inequality (shoes are working class folk at the rear of the train; hats are front of the train for upper class) is one of the allegorical elements in the satisfying Snowpiercer. Here's sci-fi for the thinking person, a thriller about the last train on earth with the last humans, a microcosm of humanity's struggle to survive global warming.

Set in 2031, the tale tells of the Metropolis-like lower life in the back of the perpetual-motion train revolting to get to the engine (thanks, Hunger Games, for that motif), which runs on perpetual motion, where the swells cavort like rejects from a Gatsby party. Life for this closed ecosystem must be in balance in order for humanity to survive, "balance" meaning the ruling class accelerating the natural selection by eliminating the weak.

Enter Curtis (Chris Evans) to lead the downtrodden against the militaristic forces of the train's Oz-like ruler, Wilford (Ed Harris). Living conditions in the rear cars easily mirror the squalor and horror of Holocaust trains and concentration camps. The ragged revolutionaries move through each car, as if in a video game, while their world becomes incrementally more livable and more dangerous. As in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the lower orders live darkly while the lucky ones cavort in sun-dappled luxury.

Evans underplays as the stoic hero, while Harris, the pro, doesn't ham it up as an autocrat who runs the train, and therefore the world. As much fun as it is to see Harris play a bad guy, Tilda Swinton as his lieutenant, Mason (think Margaret Thatcher gone wild), is over-the top eccentric. Her disdain for common humanity is trumped only by her desire to live a long life. With buck teeth and coke-bottle glasses, she's the film's most entertaining character, almost humorous, if you can even use that word for this post-apocalyptic parable about the haves and the have-nots.

The smart conceit is that we put ourselves into apocalyptic winter by spraying the land with a chemical that would mitigate the effects of global warming but freezes us out instead. While cannibalism has been a part of the good guys' survival, and they're not happy about it, this world-at-the-end brings up questions about how we really could survive and what our behavior might be.

So the conservatives have their day because the neo-liberals botched the remedy with a forbidding winter. No one is blameless.

The audience may long for the simpler sci-fi of director Joon-ho Bong's The Host, but no one should complain that his Snowpiercer lacks intellectual challenges and allegories that stick. Snowpiercer has many layers from action thriller to figurative drama. It's all good.

Consider Wilford's advice to Curtis to be fitting for the film itself:

"Have you ever been alone on this train? When was the last time you were alone? You can't remember, can you? So please do. Take your time." Take your time with this winner--it's worth it.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Relax, it's summer and Michael Bay mayhem. Just enjoy; don't ask for more., 6 July 2014

"Who is this? Who are you? And who are you calling baby?" Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg)

When Yeager calls out his teen's boyfriend and also admonishes his hot 17 year-old, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), for her shrinking shorts and how to use cold water, etc., to wash them, I suspected this Transformers: Age of Extinction might be a verbal cut above the previous three installments. After all, a rebellious teen and a single father present an even bigger challenge than tons of mechanical monster. However, there's not enough smart-ass dialogue and way too much fighting, but Michael bay is in charge and mayhem is the first order of business.

Wahlberg, taking over nicely from the free-falling Shia LeBeouf, is a likeably impecunious inventor who acquires a truck, which happens to turn into Optimus Prime, the head of autobots, who were supporters of humans against other not so nice robots. Anyway, autobots are no longer in favor, and Decepticons are routing them out with the help of two baddies, Joshua Joyce (the always fun Stanley Tucci) and Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar). You can look up the plot because it's too convoluted to keep straight in this review, and the fun is in the visuals, especially the central car chase.

Ehren Kruger's screenplay does superficially deal with interesting topics such as father-daughter dynamic, the loyalties of friends and enemies, and whether or not Michael Bay should produce another Transformer movie. The last point is a given; for that gift Hasbro Toys must be quite happy, as the toy-cartoon-movie progression has generated hundreds of millions of dollars, much summer mindless pleasure, and an intellectual vacation for this critic, who can enjoy silly blockbusters as much as the next patron.

Yet, Bay and company hint at larger issues, such as the inscrutable alliances in American war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. When Autobots, Decepticons, the FBI, and the CIA, not to mention some "creators" out there, mix in the mayhem, my Ph.D. in English literature is not as big a help as I had hoped. Regardless, the amalgam of ambitions is challenging to deconstruct. Better just to enjoy the visuals like the shrinking shorts.

Will there really be another edition? Here's what makes me say, Yes:

"There are innumerable mysteries to the universe. But who we are, is not one of them. That answer lies inside us. I am Optimus Prime, and I send this message to my creators: leave Earth alone, for I'm coming for you!" (Voice of Peter Cullen)

Tammy (2014)
18 out of 39 people found the following review useful:
Maybe she should have stayed home., 1 July 2014

Melissa McCarthy has risen to the forefront of female cinema comics, and I want to believe she deserves her place. Is she a better comedienne than Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, or Jenny Slate? No. She has secured her place ever since Bridesmaids as a potty-mouthed plus size who throws her weight and mouth around the screen like a weapon threatening anyone who thinks she is not comical.

She's not always so, at least in Tammy, in which she plays an underachieving rebel losing her fast food job and taking to the road with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), to escape that job loss and the loss of her husband, Greg (Nat Faxon), to neighbor Missi (Toni Collette).

Thelma and Louise this Tammy is not: Besides the regularity of curse words (McCarthy is one of the writers) that substitute for wit, the insults to seniors and fast-food workers are gratuitous. Tammy's 38 days in jail are treated like a light diversion, not the result of a serious fast-food robbery. I must remember, however, not to apply standards of common sense to comedy.

So it seems the writers have a difficult time deciding what tone-- between the comedy about a rotund lady on the lam and the serious issue of alcoholism. It seems they wanted both hilarity and poignancy—mostly they have neither.

One need look only at much better writing in other contemporary buddy films like the Jump Streets, where Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have lines that bite and soothe and a chemistry that Sarandon and McCarthy strive for but don't always achieve. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid's chemistry and wit are superior, so too Sarandon and Davis in Thelma and Louise, and by the way, McCarthy and Bullock in Heat.

However, McCarthy suffers by comparison with heavyweights like Latifa, Kathy Bates, and maybe Roseanne Barr, who is a more direct comparison and at times better able to show range.

Susan Sarandon's portrayal of the alcoholic grandma is rarely humorous or poignant. Her flirting with a guy of a certain age is a good bit for her youthful old age, but the connection is forced under the umbrella of cute for an oldster.

Tammy is not a keeper in the buddy genre; perhaps McCarthy will engage Bullock again for a better brand of banter.

10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
It's music to my ears!, 23 June 2014

"Four guys under a street lamp, when it was all still ahead of us, the first time we made that sound — our sound." Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young)

It's next to impossible to compare director Clint Eastwood's entertaining Jersey Boys with the popular juke-box stage hit without feeling that the live production is superior. It could be using some of the stage cast, including the excellent John Lloyd Young as Frankie, highlights the electricity of physical presence over the celluloid mimicry. Or maybe because it seemed like a fuller musical on stage, with complete songs and less family squabbling. Or maybe because Christopher Walken's mobster, Gyp DeCarlo, is underplayed.

But more to the point, this film is a story of rags to riches with the speed bumps large and disorientations many despite the transcendence of the music (Sherry Baby and Walk Like a Man are only two of the memorable hits by this unusually gifted group). Eastwood spends considerable opening capital on the home life of the Jersey boys with the overdone Sopranos accent and run-ins with local cops to the exclusion of the actual development of their famous songs.

With the emergence of the Four Seasons, the musical becomes vibrant. Eastwood deftly weaves the songs into the narrative without bringing attention to just the songs. Somehow after the death of Valli's beloved but troubled daughter, My Eyes Adored You fits the distancing that fame brought to the relationship and the sadness of the loss. As Frankie moves into performances without his original group in order to pay off mob debt for his partner, Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), the songs still evidence the greatness of the falsetto and the humanity of the singer.

Eastwood builds the sentiment into the narrative arc, beginning roughly in the hood and ending sweetly at the Hall of Fame, where the reunion reminds us of their unique charm even though they are old but not out of tune. Jersey Boys may not be the fullest musical imaginable with its middlin' family life sequences, but when it breaks into song with tunes accurately fitting the times, the film becomes a testimony to Clint Eastwood's ability in any genre and the glorious sound of real humans trying to balance audience, mob, and songs.

Maybe it's in the New Jersey water—someone ought to bottle it; otherwise never again will we enjoy the high-pitched romance of local boys making great music. A musical about that rarity has its challenge built into a narrative that must compete with the almost supernatural expression of music:

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." Aldous Huxley

Palo Alto (2013)
Teens in Anguish:A clichéd but credible entry for another Coppola., 18 June 2014

"If you were in olden times, what would you do?" Fred (Nat Wolff)

If the ennui and aimlessness of teens, as depicted in Palo Alto, represents the upper-middle class's decline, then we all may be in trouble. The above question is answered about the universal life of teens throughout modern times: Things will be no different, and maybe worse. Writer/Director Gia Coppola captures the disaffection and confusion of late high schoolers in an affluent suburb while she eschews the basics of good story telling, like meaningful conflict and resolution.

The coming-of-age tale of burb loneliness has been told since the 60's. Yet, with cell phones to text each other, maybe these emotional wanderers are more connected and purposeful than I thought. It's just that the story too well mirrors their purposefulness.

Palo Alto captures the lost world of drug and sex-addled seniors who indulge too much and suffer the expected consequences of excess and conscience. April (Emma Roberts) appears to be the only virgin in the crew, a soccer player having a hackneyed illicit affair with her coach, Mr. B. (James Franco) but seemingly unrequited love for sweet artist Teddy (Jack Kilmer).The others lost in a fog of weed and useless sex like Teddy and Fred wander in the night doped up and hungry for meaning.

And that's all, folks. Like the lost souls of the story, the film wanders among the strands of James Franco's short stories looking for a common thread to bind the characters more than the typical stoner discursiveness and the serious limitations of suburbia. Look for Aunt Sofia's Bling Ring to get a better feel for true teen angst, disaffection, and lawlessness.

The best I can say is that Coppola shows the familial gift of mesmerizing compositions and lighting, promising the great patriarch Frances's gift for powerful storytelling. Right now, Gia Coppola gets the kids right, nails the mood, and will get the story in a few years.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A quiet indie with character, 16 June 2014

I awoke last night to the sound of thunder How far off I sat and wondered Started humming a song from 1962 Ain't it funny how the night moves When you just don't seem to have as much to lose Strange how the night moves With autumn closing in . . . . Bob Seeger

Three characters in search of environmental radicalism find it in Night Moves. Yes, they move by night when "you just don't seem to have as much to lose," a dark world lit by their headlights and instrument panel, but dark nevertheless. Here is a film that redefines the thriller genre into a slow-moving study of eco-terrorists committed to the longevity of nature's balance while they suffer the imbalance of committing a crime with real consequences.

Director Kelly Reichardt cares not about the CGI of destruction but deftly exposes characters who barely know the consequences of their decisions. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) broods incessantly but rightfully so— he's committed to blowing up an Oregon hydroelectric dam to make a point in favor of conservation. His friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), a survival pro and former Marine, is relaxed about the enterprise but lacks a respect for the details that make a difference. Dena (Dakota Fanning) is a rich young woman funding the project but nonplussed by any of these serious shenanigans.

I can disclose that they do blow the dam, a symbolic gesture because this river has a dozen such—the radical "theater" is to get people thinking about the destruction of the environment, not to perpetrate permanent damage to man-made projects or kill anyone. The film spins on the aftermath, the insidious damage of conscience and ill-luck. Each character responds differently, exposing how elusive such a violent project can be when anyone tries to control violence.

"It's gotta be big." Josh

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Cruise controls., 3 June 2014

"What I am about to tell you sounds crazy. But you have to listen to me. Your very lives depend on it. You see, this isn't the first time." Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Tom Cruise)

Although Edge of Tomorrow could have felt like Source Code on steroids or living Groundhog Day over and over, it doesn't. Thanks to The Usual Suspect's writer, Christopher McQuarrie, and his colleagues, this sci-fi engages your mind with scenarios that repeat but don't get old because the film doesn't either, despite the fact that the repetitive cycling through past and present has been worked over in film ad nauseum.

Cage (Tom Cruise) is a soldier in a battle against Mimics, spider- octopus-like creatures doing a successful job taking over earth. That Cage begins as a reluctant combatant is a chance for the usually heroic Cruise to play against type. As much as we dislike Cage, he retains his sense of humor and the trademark Cruise self deprecation. In other words, Cruise is the linchpin of the film's success.

Yet, Emily Blunt as Rita, the global soldier-hero, commands attention next to Cruise because she's a delicate actress who steps up to a warrior role and gives some of Cruise's sense of humor companionship. More than that nuance is the low-key romance between the two warriors, a joyful all- business attitude strong and sexy in its minimalism.

While the plot requires some attention, and I consider that a plus, the demons are hardly unique, and their mother source hidden on earth is nothing new in fighting screen aliens either. What saves the repetitive trope is the sardonic script and superior acting, not forgetting that the estimable Brendan Gleeson plays the stodgy general who makes sure Major Cage is Private Cage. In addition, James Herbert's (Sherlock Holmes) editing from past to present is smooth and flawless.

For those of you who would like to see Cruise die multiple times, this is the film for you. For those of us who have enjoyed his knowing swagger and youthful energy, he is, in his early 50's, a film star who can.

11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Take terrifying and titillating in one great noir., 28 May 2014

"Sometimes the good guy wins."

Start with Cape Fear, then merge into Killer Joe with a side Touch of Evil, and you will have an inkling of how macabre and comical Cold In July can be. It touches most of the familiar neo-noir bases including being set in East Texas and in the '80's. Revenge is the name of this game--director Jim Mickle paces the suspense and blood just about right.

Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) and his family experience a home invasion, for which Richard kills the intruder point blank. The murder is reasonable until the corpse's dad, Ben Russel (Sam Shepard, more laconic and bad than ever), shows up just out of prison to menace the Danes for the death of his son. Yet as usual in pulpy noir, not all is as it seems including the motives of the local law enforcers and the identity of the dead "son."

Add to the grimy mix the Dixie mafia, who produce snuff videos using young girls. Russel is affected because it involves his son (even bad guys have the blues.)

The revenge formula ramps up considerably and the film becomes gleefully unglued with the advent of Don Johnson's swaggering detective, Jim Bob. His red Caddy convertible with the steer horn on the grille and his florid outfits signal an out-sized noir character channeling Matthew McConaughey from Killer Joe with a touch of Orson Welles' evil south of the border. A serious pig farmer, Jim Bob is hilarious as the swashbuckling, cheesy hunter. But make no mistake—he can give physically as good as he gets with some impressive sleuth work to boot.

The center of the darkness is Richard, a seemingly solid citizen who has the ambiguous demons usually reserved for the noir hero (think of Bogey's characters). His strong revulsion at the murder passes into something less than that but more than just vigilantism. Anyway, the blood bath at the end is worth seeing for its noir excess and dark humor.

Very few characters in this delightful summer indie get out unscathed, and some indeed find July very cold.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Terrific blockbusting beginning of summer, 24 May 2014

"So many battles waged over the years... and yet, none like this. Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite? Is the future truly set?" Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart)

It's not set if you can, like Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), go 50 years back into 1973 and stop the creation of the Sentinels, Terminator- like robot warriors created by scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), whose robots always defeat the mutants: "From the beginning, the Sentinels were targeting the X-Men. Then they began targeting everyone." (Wolverine)

So the plot of the exciting X-Men: Days of Future Past begins. The use of mutants in the Vietnam War, and the war itself, serve as a conflict backdrop to show the path to annihilation begun even without the help of Sentinels.

This iteration of a Marvel Comics hero collective is more complex and philosophical than its predecessors with new characters (mostly young versions of the X-men and women) that lend variety and interest and a measure of actor charisma. Besides the usual sturm and drang of robot arms like Gatling guns with eyes like beacons, this film has heart and humor as mutants and their leaders, Professor Xavier and his nemesis- now-bud, Magneto (Ian Mckellen), convene to send Logan back to convince their younger selves (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender) to save surviving humans and sometimes to deal with misunderstood loves and friendships.

When director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg open with a moving shot of downtrodden mutants and sympathizers marching in unison, Fritz Lang's silent-movie Metropolis immediately comes to mind, and it evokes the theme of the oppressed waiting to rise up against the ruling class. Holocaust-like images of mutants and their sympathizers herded for internment camps chillingly reveal a doomed New York City.

The mutants are, after all, different, and in current conservative thinking, enemies of the good American life, lily white that is. As the various outliers, including the X-Men, fight for equality and against suppression, Hollywood again does a credible job of mixing imaginative action with contemporary lives of the disadvantaged.

Our heroes struggling with a vendetta-prone Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) adds interest to the usual survival motifs. She kicks butt with the best of them while she carries through her plan that actually dooms humans and mutants even more.

The cast is terrific, even if the story goes on too long, as the film moves thrillingly from a sober beginning: "Mutants, we now find ourselves on the edge of extinction...." Professor Xavier

Locke (2013)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A rewarding ride, 16 May 2014

"Make one little mistake and the whole world comes crashing down." Ivan Locke (the incomparable Tom Hardy)

Put a man in a car that's your entire set. The actor,story, and cinematography must be superior, or no one will sit for an hour and a half (a little less than real time) while construction manager Ivan drives his competent BMW on the M6 from Birmingham to London (similar in some of the set-up for Drive). The exceptionally-involving minimalist movie Locke is almost beautiful with auto lights cascading in and out of frame while the protagonist navigates the toughest trip of his life.

Although Ivan has made "one little mistake" (his wife, Katrina, played by Ruth Wilson, would consider that an understatement), he is determined to go forward as an honest man to accept his responsibilities. He must leave on the eve of overseeing the biggest non-military concrete pouring in European history to attend the birth of a baby born to an introvert (Olivia Colman) out of his one-night stand. By leaving his family and his job on this night, he faces losing both for a point of honor.

Ivan is an honorable man whose sense of good and bad is so strong that a fellow worker calls him "the best man in England." Notwithstanding his weak moment a year ago, he exemplifies as we fully face him in most of the shots—remember Her?) the steadfastness and resolve that define a well-ordered engineer's life. His mantra "The traffic will be okay" resonates with the resolve of a man who is used to completing efficiently his duties both domestically and globally.

The dynamism of the story comes from the calls on his hands-free phone system. Writer-director Stephen Knight expertly paces and alternates the calls mainly from his wife, his almost mistress, and Donal (Andrew Scott), whose job is to coordinate the pouring although he is drinking too much "cider" and has no experience managing. Ivan handles the separate crises with a relative cool (he does barely weep sometimes) so that by the end we are fully familiar with a man of substance challenged as few men would ever be.

His imaginary conversation with his father, from which we infer that dad left Ivan long ago, reveals Ivan will not repeat history by avoiding his responsibilities. We ride along with a man of principle whose resolve is reflected when he says, "I have made my decision."

Decide to see this impeccably-made indie—it's a rewarding dramatic ride.


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