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1553 reviews in total 
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The Prince (2014)
Amateurish script, lots of tough talk and fake interactions...skip it!, 6 February 2016

The Prince (2014)

Ha! A joke. The main character is played by a Bruce Willis wannabe, Jason Patric, and he's decent, barely…but Willis isn't just decent, he's compelling. Still, this movie could have been decent. Barely.

But the writing (and direction, overall) are horrid. I mean so unbelievable and amateurish you have to laugh.

This is a tough guy movie—Patric plays a guy who is just a nice (handsome) old car mechanic with a cute daughter away in the big city, but he has a past as a super fighter, great with guns and wits. But the writer has him enter a bar and say absurd tough guy things, and then the people around the bar say absurd things back, either tough stuff, too, or just whiny mean stuff. It makes no sense.

Of course, you do wish he could save his daughter. And guess what, he does! And kills a lot of people along the way, generally bullet proof in the process. Oh, and his daughter's teenage girlfriend has the hots for him. Etc.

Wait, I'm not done! The movie shows Bruce Willis himself as a character! Yup, and he's pretty good, working with a lousy script. John Cusak shows up, too, and is almost pretty good, also with a lousy script. Don't be fooled. This is Patric's movie, and he is at a loss in the mess.

Chi-Raq (2015)
Impressive and pretentious, important and difficult., 6 February 2016

Chi-Raq (2015)

Spike Lee's latest is dearly ambitious and in some ways brilliant—a retelling of a Greek drama that wraps in edgy contemporary African-American urban culture. There is a narrator, played with usual panache by Samuel Jackson. There are the archetypes, people playing not just characters from the Greek version, but types of characters even if you don't know your Greek plays. And there is Chicago itself, a decaying yet bustling backdrop of the South Side.

What all this doesn't add up to is an immediately bracing experience. It pushes the viewer out rather than sucks them in. It requires patience too often (even the title tracks with words adding intertitles of sorts for the opening song go on long beyond the point we get the point). And it strikes false notes— alternately preachy and stiff.

The intentions are great—heroic even—and the result is singular. It's a special movie with moments of intensity. You might like it just for its being so different, or for speaking so loudly about violence and the idiocy of pretense and posturing among Black males (of the sort here, gangstas and drug lords, normal movie stuff and not the Black males I know). it's a great film at least from a distance.

But I found it tiring and almost dull, having to "try to like it" too often. The fact it's superbly intelligent isn't compensation.

It's worth noting the photography, though professionally sound, is not up to the inventive standards of earlier Lee films. Instead of his trusted Ernest Dickerson (who he stopped using with "Malcolm X"), he's using Matthew Libatique, who comes through much better with his Aronofsy collaborations. Here there is a kind of "fitting in" that limits the freedom the camera might otherwise give the movie.

So, forget the social controversy (and Chicago's mixed reception to the film) and give this a sincere try. I think you'll see if it's going to work for you in the first ten minutes. It won't leave you alone, so find what it's trying to do.

Pure (2009)
Leading actress Vikander is a wonder in this strong, thoughtful contemporary movie, 30 January 2016

Pure (2010)

A stunning performance by young actress Alicia Vikander and intelligent direction (and strong writing) from Lisa Langseth makes this Swedish film a must see.

When 20 year old Katarina finds an escape from her troubled life in a symphony hall, life turns completely around. And she almost keeps up with the change. But her naivite and powerlessness get in her way, as more powerful or misdirected people in the symphony read her signals the wrong way.

That simple set up is all Vikander needs to make her character writhe and shine and fall into despair on screen. It's psychologically tough, beautifully filmed, paced with a sense of importance. I really liked this all around. The story does in ways fall into a familiar power dynamic between older man and younger woman, and so there is by the end something missing there. But other aspects compensate, and Vikander makes small details revelations throughout.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Horrid, torrid tale of murder and accusations leading to an unraveled life..., 25 January 2016

The Honour of Christopher Jefferies (2014)

A very step by step biographical slice of true life England, revolving around the eccentric title character. He gets accused of a murder it seems he didn't commit, and his life falls apart because of it. The leading man, Jason Watkins, pulls of an affected, terribly nice but socially awkward man (with a vague resemblance to Andy Warhol) wonderfully, and he holds the first slower sections together. Once the crime and aftermath kicks in, there is a fascination with the facts, and with tabloid society that keeps it rolling differently.

Originally a two part television drama, this is released also as a single "movie" that does the job. The high praises seem exaggerated to me—it's all finely done and of course the social effects are disturbing (if not exactly shocking, being expected). So it's all a nicely done study of a particular moment around the murder of a young woman. I don't think you can go wrong watching it, but remember it will be by the book—accomplished and interesting.

Even without Philadelphia Story to put it to shame, this is too much artifice, not enough wit, 15 December 2015

High Society (1956)

You can see this movie as one of the last of the great silver screen musicals —and running out of originality and verve. Or you can enjoy Cole Porter brought down to a middle class sensibility (never mind the wealth of the characters here). Or you can just marvel at some great footage of Louis Armstrong, and at the inclusion a black jazz band as a centerpiece in a big budget movie.

So there are reasons to give this movie a try, even though it is fairly slow going, and a pale shadow of the original, the truly great 1940 "Philadelphia Story." Grace Kelly plays the leading woman about to be married, and she lacks the cool stony quality that Hitchcock wisely taps and instead tries to be a lively, witty, physically lithe leading lady. Just like Katherine Hepburn? Yes, except she's no Katherine Hepburn, and it all feels a bit striving.

Likewise for Bing Crosby, who plays a laid back guy who happens to have a jazz band (and who does a good swinging song with Louis and crew alongside). He isn't quite screen magic—that is, he's no Cary Grant. Frank Sinatra is fine, but he has a smaller role. Alas.

And so it goes. Brightly lit, with big flashy Technicolor set design, the mood throughout is upbeat and fun and funny. And so it's not a bad thing to view.

But if you take at all seriously the contention of one man interceding on the groom for his ex-bride, whatever the Hays Code strategy, it just lacks edge and conviction. Cole Porter doesn't let us down, so there's always that!

Heights (2005)
How much truth is good and needed? Maybe all of it., 15 December 2015

Heights (2004)

An interwoven series of stories, with a stellar performance by Glenn Close as a Broadway actress (and aggressive cougar) and a steady convincing performance by Elizabeth Banks as her daughter struggling for her own path. A third thread is multi-faceted, and a bit facile, but its important, too. That is, a man is engaged to this daughter but he seems to have had—or might still have— feelings for men.

If the improbabilities of coincidence seem to much (as they do to some in "Crash" or in half of Shakespeare) then this won't hold water after awhile. But as a tightly controlled piece that has characters interacting on several planes, as a theater kind of piece made for film, it's really good. It helps a lot that the acting is intensely right without being overcooked. And the direction, but the director, Christ Terrio, brings his literary background (and limited Hollywood experience) to bear very well.

It's become a commonplace to film in New York with all its new upper working class charms. But that's part of the appeal to the film. There are glimpses of the theater, some rooftop views, and so on. And lots of "regular" New Yorkers, people striving for relationship and career success. Which is what we all are going through at one point or another. And really, that's where the pleasure lies, so give it a go. A good one.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Rush is terrific, and the drama moves from inward to outward at the very end, 2 December 2015

The Best Offer (2013)

Oddly enough, this is an Italian film, but the main characters speak English. The settings are wonderfully Italian, however, so it's a welcome decision.

It's almost a spoiler to say that this is a kind of heist film, or a cleverly tricky film that fools everyone. Luckily the film works for other reasons, mainly the acting of Geoffrey Rush, who has so many eccentricities his life has kind of wound him into a corner. This movie is about his finding his way out.

So really it's a touching tale of an older man who loves art, and loves women through art. His room full of portraits of women over the centuries is a treasure trove, and a wonder to see even in a movie. (I wish I had been on the set to just be there—even with reproductions—just to feel the expanse of it.)

Rush plays an auctioneer of fine art, Virgil Oldman. The name is Dickensian, and in fact Oldman is a suffering bachelor, single mostly out of his awkwardness everywhere except in front of a crowd with a gavel. So as he is about to retire, his friend (played a bit meekly by Donald Sutherland) talks about all their years loving and collecting (and scamming) art together.

And there is this one last mansion that he has to go and assess the art scattered on the walls and floors. The heiress of this broken down mess is even more eccentric than Oldman—she won't go outside, and won't meet visitors. So he does his inventory talking to her through a door. But she seems to respond to his patience and his unusual affinity for her art.

In a way this would be a great movie right here—two offbeat individuals who find something in each other as a way to become something more. And that's how it is developed, at first. But is that all there is? You won't know until the end exactly what turns await. Though this cheapened the whole thing a bit, it also makes the movie a big wow and a gasp. Check it out. Superb acting and a steady flow make it work.

A moving part of history and made into a great movie, 15 November 2015

And the Band Played On (1993)

A vivid, well-acted tracing of the history of AIDS from the point of view of epidemiology. That sounds boring, but just the opposite. The intense pressure on the early researchers is part of the drama. And the injustice of the politics getting in the way is important. Most of all, of course, is the terrible suffering of the victims, which is a small but key part of the story.

All of this is really well done, no fat to the story, moving along and keeping the progression of events clear. I resisted watching this for a long time thinking it would dry, or that the story is well known and would offer no surprises, but I enjoyed it all.

The director, Canadian Roger Spottiswoode, has done nothing else on this impressive scale. Even working with the stellar cast (many famous actors with small roles, and a couple, like Alan Alda, more prominent) requires a kind of juggling and intelligence that's great to watch. Is the movie perfect? In a way, yes, given the choice of subject matter.

Magnolia (1999)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Insanely unrestrained story about death and life and obsession, 30 October 2015

Magnolia (1999)

So brazenly inventive and brisk, it's hard not to appreciate what's happening here. And a lot is happening—this is one of those interwoven plots with several lines that join now and then. It's irreverent and tasteless, touching and glib, beautiful and engrossing. What's not to like?

The most famous actor here must be Tom Cruise, who plays an outrageously incorrect man who gives cheesy, shouting seminars in how to get and girl and have sex, period. By the end you learn he's actually deeply troubled (as if you didn't guess). Other key players include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, and William Macy…along with a huge supporting cast. Everyone matters.

The jarring contradictions here are in fact all on the same level of intensity— so we have an inane game show (like Jeopardy) with a talented child contestant and a host dying of cancer. We have a prescription drug addict who is often addled and her much much older husband, also dying of cancer. There are people of real intelligence (the woman interviewing the impossibly misogynist Cruise character) and of real confusion (the nurse played by Hoffman).

The movie rolls and roils, it has hilarious peaks and then sad dips of crisis. It ends slightly awkwardly, without a clear resolution, which might be a strength in the long run but I have to think twice on that. It's also a long movie, though you might not notice since it barrels along like a true roller coaster. Start it and see if you can stop. And wait for the climax—the frogs—and tell me this isn't one of the most inventive mainstream movies ever.

You might ask what it's all about. Writer/director (and producer) Paul Thomas Anderson seems to not answer questions so much as use them as ways to keep us thinking. I like that. Anderson has a good eye for talent and for good stories, and he tends to take his art very seriously, which makes for a series are really strong movies under his control. I've seen most of them and this is the most edgy and flamboyant. See it, for as long as you.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The plot groans, but it's a vehicle for great fun, dance, and polite romance, 16 October 2015

Anchors Aweigh (1945)

In some ways this movie is so innovative and fresh, it's hard to fault. The mixed animation and Technicolor in one scene, the sheer variety of dances, the two great songs (amidst some ordinary ones), and some great dancing all make this a great movie.

In parts. There is a lot of filler—a lot, and at times it almost kills the movie. But then, suddenly, it takes a formal twist (more than a twist of plot) and is suddenly terrific.

The plot? Formula, and not really the point. What matters is the song and dance (of course) and the leading actors: Gene Kelly (wonderful) and Frank Sinatra (a great singer and at this young age a mediocre actor). But it's great to see both, on any level, and to see both together. And to see the real cartoon characters Tom and Jerry act with the mere actors.

The Technicolor is great, and there are scenes of MGM back in those glory days that are almost worth it alone (brief as they are). Look for "I Fall in Love Too Easily" as a highlight. But let's be honest, the plot is a mishmash of mini- events, the leading actress Kathryn Grayson (with a harsh soprano voice) is an old-fashioned taste more famous for other movies, and the insertion of pseudo- classical music strikes us in the 21st Century as interesting and unconvincing.

I suppose this might amount to what makes the movie a great period movie. But be prepared to like it in spurts. But some of those spurts are really wonderful.

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