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Sweet and touching at times but nothing too memorable., 8 July 2014

'THE LUNCHBOX': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

Indian romance flick about the relationship that develops between a retiring accountant and a married young mother, when the accountant keeps getting lunches that were originally intended for the young woman's husband. The two communicate to one another through notes in the lunchbox. It stars Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur as it's two leads and costars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Denzil Smith and Lillete Dubey. It was written and directed by first time feature filmmaker Ritesh Batra. I found the movie to be sweet and touching at times but nothing too memorable.

Khan plays Saajan Fernandez, an accountant who's been lonely and depressed since his wife died (years earlier). He's about to retire, in a month, and is supposed to train his young replacement, Shaikh (Siddiqui). Saajan is annoyed by the eager young man and does not intend to teach him anything, until he learns he grew up a struggling orphan. An odd friendship develops between the two and another relationship develops between Saajan and a young mother, Ila (Kaur), that he only knows through letters. A lunch Ila made for her husband (Nakul Vaid) was delivered to Saajan by mistake (through an error made by Mumbai's famous lunchbox delivery system). She had put a lot of passion into the cooking of it, in hopes of reviving their struggling marriage. Saajan and Ila continue to communicate through letters, they deliver back and forth in the lunchbox, and tell each other about their problems.

As far as simple romance flicks go this is a pretty good one. There's not a lot to it but the concept is pretty good (about the two leads communicating through letters in a lunchbox). There's a decent amount of good character development and the main characters are all likable. Batra seems to be a capable new filmmaker and the performances are all good, especially Khan (who is always outstanding). I enjoyed the movie a lot while I was watching it, and think it was well made, but it's not one I'll take much away from. It's memorable, because of the unique (but simple) premise, but not a great film by any measure.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
There was potential for something really good here., 8 July 2014

'TRANSCENDENCE': Three Stars (Out of Five)

Sci-fi flick directed by cinematographer Wally Pfister (making his directorial debut) and written by first time film writer Jack Paglen. Christopher Nolan (who Pfister often works with) executive produced the film and Johnny Depp plays the lead role. The movie also stars Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Clifton Collins Jr., Cole Hauser and Morgan Freeman. It tells the story of a scientist, experimenting in artificial intelligence, who later becomes a part of his own experiments when he dies and is uploaded online. The film has a lot of cool ideas but due to the inexperience of the filmmakers they're poorly executed.

Dr. Will Caster (Depp), and his wife Evelyn (Hall), have been trying to create a fully functioning sentient computer. Will hopes it will help him answer life's most puzzling questions about the universe. Evelyn is more interested in finding cures to humanity's biggest problems. Their work has drawn the attention of radical terrorists though, who want to stop a technological singularity. One extremist (Lukas Haas) shoots Will, with a radioactive bullet, and doctors give him less than a month to live. Evelyn, with the help of their best friend (and colleague) Max Waters (Bettany), tries to upload Will's consciousness to the computer, they've been working on, before he dies. Max fears what this could lead to but he helps Evelyn anyway. Will's body passes on but he is reborn in the computer. Evelyn then loads Will's consciousness online, against Max's warnings, and it looks as though Will's thirst for knowledge and power could lead to certain doom for humanity.

The film, in a lot of ways, is sort of like a darker B movie version of 'HER'. It plays with the concept of singularity, a lot, but not in a very realistic or believable way. The ideas presented in the movie are all interesting, and thought provoking, but the rest of the film gets too bogged down in silly action scenes and cheesy dialogue (and character development). The performances probably would have been a lot better under a different director but as they are they're all pretty bad (especially Depp). The film's biggest flaw is just the inexperience of the director. The screenplay probably could have used a few more rewrites, as well, but a better filmmaker, at the helm, would have seen that. There was potential for something really good here but as it is it's pretty disappointing.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Deserved a wider release!, 7 July 2014

'SNOWPIERCER': Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

'SNOWPIERCER' is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film based on the 1982 French graphic novel (of the same name) by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. The movie was directed by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (who is famous for helming films like 2006's 'THE HOST' and 2009's 'MOTHER'). It was written by Bong and Kelly Masterson (who also wrote 2007's 'BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD') and it's also Bong's English film debut (80% of it was shot in English). It tells the story of a future world where all of mankind is killed off by a failed experiment to stop global warming, except those lucky enough to board a train (which constantly travels around the world). A nightmarish class system develops. It stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho (who's previously worked with the director multiple times before), Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Go Ah-sung (who's also worked with Bong before) and Ed Harris. It was released in South Korea last August, where it more than doubled it's $39 million budget and broke box office records there. It was supposed to have a wide theatrical release here in the US, as well, but Bong refused to make the cuts and changes that the Weinstein Company (who purchased the American distribution rights) demanded. So instead the film received only a limited release in art house cinemas (it also debuts on VOD later this week). I found it to be an immensely entertaining sci-fi action flick.

The film begins 17 years after global warming struck the planet (in 2014). Humanity tried to save itself, through an experiment gone wrong, and instead caused a new ice age. The only survivors boarded a train, which circles the entire planet (throughout the year). A horrible class system was developed, which divided the poor people to the back of the train (surviving in horrendous conditions) and the wealthy people to the front of it (living in luxury). Curtis Everett (Evans) leads the latest rebellion, of the poor, to take over the train; by overcoming guards and fighting their way to the front of it. The super train is called the 'Snowpiercer', by it's inhabitants.

Like all great science fiction the film of course has great social commentary; not only on global warming (and our meager efforts to try to prevent it) but also on the increasing separation of the very wealthy and the starving poor. It's of course extremely exaggerated (and the film does get very fantastical at times) but it's still an excellent examination of where life on this planet could be headed. What I like even more than the political message of the film is just the action. It's pretty violent but it's a lot of fun and it's so refreshing to see an old-school action movie rather than another big budget CGI filled one. Bong's stylistic directing is superb, Evans is great in the lead and the story does have a lot of surprising (and clever) twists and turns. Tilda Swinton is also amazing in the movie; giving a very cartoonish performance but still a very memorable one. The whole movie is just extremely entertaining; the perfect summer popcorn flick. It deserved a wider release! Screw Harvey Weinstein!

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
They're definitely not getting any better., 1 July 2014

'TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

The fourth installment in director Michael Bay's live-action adaptation of the popular Hasbro toy line, of the same name, about transforming robot aliens. It's a reboot to the series and has Mark Wahlberg taking over the lead human role (from Shia LaBeouf) as an inventor named Cade Yeager. He now aids the surviving Autobots in a battle against corrupt CIA agents and a robot alien bounty hunter (who's assisting them). Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor and T.J. Miller also join the new cast. Peter Cullen once again voices Optimus Prime and actors like John Goodman and Ken Watanabe join the voice cast. Bay directed the flick, Steven Spielberg executive produced it and Ehren Kruger returned to write the screenplay. I found the movie to be entertaining at first but then just exhausting (and mind numbing) as it kept going on and on.

The story takes place four years after the Autobots and Decepticons battle in Chicago, of the last film, that left that city in ruins. A CIA unit, led by agent Harold Attinger (Grammer), has been tasked with hunting down the remaining Decepticons. Due to prejudice, and paranoia, Attinger (and his men) secretly hunt down and kill all of the remaining Transformers (including Autobots, who were US allies). Optimus Prime (Cullen) is hiding out in an old theater, wounded, when he's discovered by inventor Cade Yeager. Cade is hoping to find parts, for new inventions, so he can pay for his daughter, Tessa (Peltz), to go to college (and save his house from being sold). After discovering that the old truck he bought is a Transformer, Cade and Optimus team up; with the other remaining Autobots and Tessa's boyfriend Shane (Reynor). They must elude the CIA and an evil Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown (Ryan). In the meantime a corporation called KSI is trying to use the remains of dead Transformers to build new ones. Joshua Joyce (Tucci) is the ambitious inventor who heads that company.

The movie is a lot less coherent than it sounds; a lot of the time I had no idea what was going on (especially during action sequences). The visuals look great (much better than the earlier films) but the fight scenes just get more and more dull (and less involving) with each movie chapter. Seeing robots fight is always cool, at first, but when it stretches on and on, for nearly three hours of it, it gets really repetitive and boring. If this had been the first installment in the series it probably would have been more entertaining but after three other movies, just like it, the film does seem to be the worst of the bunch (although I hesitate to say it's worse than 'REVENGE OF THE FALLEN'). I also don't think Wahlberg is nearly as talented an actor, or as manically funny, as LaBeouf is (despite what type of people they might be in real life); so it's definitely lacking there as well. I don't hate these films, and I'll keep watching new installments, but they're definitely not getting any better.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
One of the worst found footage flicks I've ever seen!, 1 July 2014

'WILLOW CREEK': One and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

Actor/comedian, turned filmmaker, Bobcat Goldthwait wrote and directed this ultra-low budget found footage flick. Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson star in the movie; as a couple making their own documentary about the Bigfoot myth (and the Patterson-Gimlin film). I enjoyed Goldthwait's last writing/directing effort, 'GOD BLESS America' (to a certain extent), and like him as a comedian and actor, but I have to say this movie was pretty bad. It's one of the worst found footage flicks I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot).

The story revolves around Jim (Johnson), and his girlfriend Kelly (Gilmore), traveling to Willow Creek (in Humboldt County, California) to make their own Bigfoot documentary film; Jim believes in the legend and Kelly does not. Willow Creek is where Roger Patterson and Robert "Bob" Gimlin supposedly captured footage, of a Sasquatch, in October of 1967. Jim interviews various locals, while Kelly films, and they tell all kinds of Sasquatch stories (and sing songs). Then the two travel into the woods, to find the location of Patterson and Gimlin's famous film, but of course something goes horribly wrong.

I will say that parts of the movie are really funny (in the first half) and the two leads are pretty good (they've both worked with Goldthwait before on previous films); especially Gilmore (who's strikingly beautiful). The second half of the movie is where it really goes downhill though. It's a complete rip-off of 'THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT'; there's even a similar tent scene and a portion of the movie where the couple, while trying to leave, circles past the same tree again. It's ridiculous how unoriginal and recycled this movie is (and I really like most found footage films). It's entertaining at times but most of it is a waste. Extremely disappointing coming from Goldthwait.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Tries to make Mick Taylor a classic movie maniac villain (in the same league as Leatherface and Jason Voorhees)., 28 June 2014

'WOLF CREEK 2': Four Stars (Out of Five)

Sequel to the 2005 Australian horror cult classic about a crazed serial killer preying on tourists in the outback. John Jarratt reprises his role as the crazy bushman Mick Taylor and Ryan Corr costars as the unfortunate target he's hunting. The film was once again directed by Greg Mclean. It's written, this time, by Mclean and first time film writer Aaron Sterns. This installment is a lot more over-the-top and relentless than the original; it's not quite as well made, as it's predecessor, but it's still very entertaining.

The film begins in North Western Australia with the crazy pig hunter Mick Taylor (Jarratt) being pulled over and harassed by two cops (Shane Connor and Ben Gerrard). After the cops are total dicks to him it doesn't take a horror film expert to see what's coming next. Taylor then spots a young German couple (Philippe Klaus and Shannon Ashlyn) camping in Wolfe Creek Crater. After he decides to make them his next targets, one of them manages to make her way to the road; where she waves down a British surfer, named Paul (Corr), driving by. She unwittingly makes Paul a target of Mick's as well and the film becomes one big chase.

The movie definitely doesn't have the atmosphere and suspenseful tension that the original was so good at. It's still creepy and disturbing but it relies much more on brutal gore and shock value than trying to make the viewer actually feel scared. It doesn't have the classic slow build up, that the original one was so good at, and it doesn't feel as realistic either. It has some very crazy and memorable action scenes though, including a spectacular car chase (involving some kangaroo victims as well). It's a much more routine slasher flick this time, which tries to make Mick Taylor a classic movie maniac villain (in the same league as Leatherface and Jason Voorhees). It's not as well made as the original movie but it is just as entertaining.

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The Rover (2014)
Robert Pattinson finally gets a chance to prove himself!, 27 June 2014

'THE ROVER': Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

A dystopian action/drama flick set in the Australian outback. It was directed by David Michod and written by Michod and actor Joel Edgerton (who also costarred in Michod's last film 'ANIMAL KINGDOM'). The movie stars Guy Pearce (who also costarred in 'ANIMAL KINGDOM') as a violent drifter chasing the gang of thieves who stole his car. It costars Robert Pattinson (of 'TWILIGHT' fame) as the brother of one of the thieves, they left behind. It becomes a very odd and dark buddy film, which Quentin Tarantino calls "The best post-apocalyptic movie since the original 'MAD MAX'". I actually think it's better but it's not as good as it's two sequels (especially 'THE ROAD WARRIOR').

The story is set ten years after a global economic collapse when people from all over the world have moved to Australia to work in the mines. It's of course a lawless and violent time and the hero of the movie, Eric (Pearce), is not a very nice guy. His car appears to be his only possession (that he has left) and when it's stolen, by a gang of thieves, he'll stop at nothing to get it back. He stumbles across the brother of one of the gang members, Rey (Pattinson), that they left behind in a botched robbery. Rey is very naive and dependent on others, so when Eric forces him to lead him to his brother, a very strange relationship develops between the two.

The movie is very dark, violent and gloomy; it's definitely not a 'feel good movie'. As my friend says though "movies like it are uplifting because they make you see how bad you 'don't' have things". It is a very sad look at life, with absolutely no signs of hope, but it's also a very interesting examination of human nature. I don't agree that humanity is that bleak but I found it to be a very fascinating film anyway. I also really liked the ending, which exposes the main driving force behind it's anti-hero (something I can really relate to). It's a very memorable film that's superbly directed and well written. The plot isn't what stands out about it as much as it's characters though; and the two lead ones are outstanding. Pearce is always good and he gives one of his best performances here (without saying much at all) but it's Pattinson that really shines. He's finally gotten a chance to prove himself; by distancing himself from 'TWILIGHT' as much as he can and taking on unique and fitting roles (for him) like this one. He's great and the movie is excellent as well. One not to be missed.

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10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
If you like musicals, and The Four Seasons, you'll probably really enjoy it., 25 June 2014

'JERSEY BOYS': Four Stars (Out of Five)

Film adaptation of the popular (Tony Award-winning) jukebox musical (of the same name); based on the history of the 1960s pop group The Four Seasons. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice wrote the screenplay (and the musical book it's based on) and Clint Eastwood directed the movie. John Lloyd Young reprises his role, from the musical, as Frankie Valli (and does all of his own singing). He's joined by actors Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda as the rest of The Four Seasons (Christopher Walken also plays a big role in the movie). I found it to be a little too long and clichéd at times but entertaining enough (especially with the great music).

The story begins with the four young singers starting out as a 'boy band' in the 1950s and follows their many years of touring, recording, breakup and reunion (decades later). It focuses on the different singers struggling with family relationships, friendship drama and mafia trouble (due to large debt accrued by one member). It pays special attention to the bond between Frankie Valli (Young) and Tommy DeVito (Piazza). Different band members narrate different parts of the story (by talking directly to the camera).

I've never seen the musical, and didn't really know anything about it's story (prior to seeing the film), but I've heard it's much better than this movie. As a film the story is definitely pretty cheesy and clichéd at times. It's still really entertaining though. It's hard to see why Eastwood wanted to direct it and his presence, at the helm, is hard to detect (while watching it). Still the music is beautiful and watching it come to life is pretty moving. The performances are decent enough and Walken does shine throughout. It's too long, and would be much better cut to less than 2 hours, but if you like musicals, and The Four Seasons, you'll probably really enjoy it.

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I like a lot of Wingard, Barrett and Swanberg's other work., 25 June 2014

'24 EXPOSURES': Two and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg (who recently made the outstanding 'DRINKING BUDDIES') wrote and directed this ultra-low budget mumblecore/slasher flick starring Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Wingard and Barrett are filmmakers too (mostly horror) and have worked with Swanberg before on films like 'V/H/S' and 'YOU'RE NEXT' (which they wrote and directed and Swanberg acted in). Many others in the cast have also previously worked with the three before; like actresses Helen Rogers, Sophia Takal and Hannah Fierman (all in 'V/H/S'). I like a lot of Wingard, Barrett and Swanberg's other work but this film, I'd say, is one of their weakest.

Wingard plays Billy in the movie; a photographer who's made a career out of selling morbid fetish photos (mainly of naked women posed as dead people). His partner is his girlfriend Alex (Caroline White), who helps him hire models and sometimes invites them home for threesomes (with her and Billy). Barrett plays a depressed homicide detective named Michael Bamfeaux, who's been obsessing over his ex. He's investigating the murder of a recent model, that was hired by Billy and Alex for a recent shoot. More girls turn up dead, of course, and it looks like Billy could be the killer.

The film is pretty exploitative; there's a lot of explicit sex, nudity and disturbing imagery. The main storyline, involving the twisted photographer, is pretty disturbing as well; especially because they present him as a pretty nice and mostly normal guy (who just really likes sex and twisted pictures). The movie tries to explore why Billy does what he does but it never really gives a satisfying answer. I did like the attempt though. I admire the movie's ambition and think it could have done a lot more if it wasn't restrained by it's micro-budget and poor production values. I always think filmmakers (and their films) deserve points for trying; especially if they're trying to do something unique and different, like this is.

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Filth (2013/I)
I think I'm a little crazy too., 25 June 2014

'FILTH': Four Stars (Out of Five)

A Scottish crime drama/comedy flick based on the 1998 book (of the same name) by Irvine Welsh (who also wrote the immensely popular 1993 novel 'Trainspotting'). The film was directed and written by Jon S. Baird and stars James McAvoy. It costars Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots and Jim Broadbent. It's funny and manic but also very disgusting and truly leaves the viewer feeling dirty at times. Definitely an interesting and wild ride though.

McAvoy plays Bruce Robertson; a drug addicted and alcoholic corrupt cop, in Edinburgh, who's obsessed with his ex-wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald). Carole left Bruce, with their daughter, and now he thinks the only way to win them back is to get a promotion, to Detective Inspector, at work. To do so he thinks he must humiliate, and ruin the reputation, of all of his coworkers. There really is no low he'll go to in order to reach this objective. We watch how truly disturbed Robertson is but at the same time we see glimmers of hope and compassion in him (especially when he thinks back on a young brother he lost).

The film is yet another story centering on mental illness; in this film the character is said to be bipolar (but it seems like a pretty severe case of it). This is definitely a popular subject matter in movies and music (in just about any form of art really) I think because most really talented artists are mentally ill; to varying degrees but usually the more talented an artist is the more crazy they are. I think I'm a little crazy too so I never get tired of seeing films (or hearing songs) about it. I think this is a pretty good one; McAvoy is outstanding in the lead and it's superbly directed. Maybe it's a little exaggerated but if it's made by crazy people I think that's to be expected.

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