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12 reviews in total 
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"Homeland" (2011)
9 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Homeland Needs a Parachute - Oxygen is Thin Up Here, 28 December 2012
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched Homeland with anticipation during the first season. This program grew predictable and less believable by the start of Season 2. Here are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this show:

Wonderful acting by all of the teens, particularly Morgan Saylor (his daughter)

It's a mixed bag with Danes in the lead. Her expressions are overly-animated, irritating, and flat. This in itself provides a distraction in nearly every episode. I've seen her do better in other roles.

There is not much chemistry between the 2 leads. (Carrie and Brody). Their emotional bond feels plastic and stereotypical. I find this to be one of the most disappointing aspects of Homeland.

Rupert Friend and Damian Lewis both do a very fine job. But Lewis' responses are sometimes so abrupt, that it diffuses the power of his persona.

Patinkin gives a lovely delivery, and his character is a nice counterpoint to Carrie. His periodic Hebrew prayers are featured with an obvious healing presence, but this throws the spiritual balance off.

It seems like this show is promoting pro-Israel viewpoints. As others have said, I also sense a political agenda in this program. With the exception of the Danny Galvez character, I can find no other positive role models for Middle Eastern men or women portrayed in this show.

* SPOILER alerts for Season 2 are below *

The writing in certain scenes bubbles over with nonsense. In one key scene, Carrie is entering a building to capture a deadly enemy. But one thing is off -- she just happens to forget to bring a weapon. And her proclivity for self-destruction in the face of imminent danger becomes foolish and tiresome after a while. In another climatic scene, Brody reveals his involvement in aiding the enemy. But he reveals his true past in all of about 10 minutes with Carrie... the sheer brevity of this scene was deflating and anti-climatic.

Season 3 of Homeland, anyone? I'm not feeling too motivated at this point.

Could somebody give me an aspirin, and a cup of mint tea? Skip the sugar.

19 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
A Shot of People on the Rocks, with a Splash of Sentimentality, 24 June 2012
7/10

"People Like Us" has a fine cast, a fairly stimulating (yet safe) plot, and some heartfelt life lessons thrown in for good measure. The next paragraph contains a gentle spoiler about this films' themes.

A man (Pine) receives some bad news about his family. He needs to do the right thing, grow up, and bust through the defenses he has spent years hiding under. As he makes a reunion of sorts with family members, the plot unfolds. Each character deals with their own personal set of challenges.

I'll confess that I had hesitations about the casting. Pine is cute as-a-button, and I tend to be drawn to actors who are a bit rough around the edges. But I was wrong to doubt his abilities. He layered his role with some interesting nuances. His interactions with the Elizabeth Banks character were entertaining and fairly genuine. The young actor Michael Hall D'Addario was absolutely wonderful. Banks and Pfeiffer each turned in very sturdy performances. Wilde was also effective, but she needed more screen time.

Kudos to the director Alex Kurtzman for his reasonably light touch. It seems like he allowed the actors a long leash in developing their characterizations. This is no easy task, because Kurtzman also co-wrote the script.

The musical score had some strong moments, particularly when they highlighted classic rock tunes from decades ago. There were periodic sentimental tunes, which seemed a bit manipulative. And there was a beach scene which was a bit deflated, because it was so typically pretty. I wish this film would have taken more risks, and navigated through an even murkier emotional landscape.

At the end of the day, I would recommend this, and I look forward to seeing more films from Kurtzman. If you're still with me at this point, I beg your pardon. Uh, bartender... I'll have an extra dry martini with 2 olives, please.

Prometheus (2012/I)
10 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Apologies to the Aliens, and Pity the Poor Actors, 11 June 2012
2/10

A significant number of fellow reviewers have been disgruntled, and I must agree: all the CGI in the world does-not-a-good-film-make. Trust me, I do not enjoy giving out such a low rating.

In contrast, Roger Ebert described this film as "magnificent". Perhaps he benefited from an alien-induced iv drip that many of us common folk are not privy to.

This film was short on character development, and the story lapsed into silly, unsubstantial blather. I found myself chuckling at some of the more absurd moments, where comedy was clearly not intended.

I should have followed my instincts early into the film, and walked out, which I very rarely do. What was my first moment of realized-dread? When I was convinced that I had no investment in most of the characters, and no curiosity about their histories. This movie had several gruesome moments, but that in itself does not elevate the film's quality.

I knew something was off when I felt more sincere enthusiasm towards David, the soulless robot, as compared to the humans. I feel that this was a compromised choice for Theron. She appeared cool-as-a-rotten-cucumber, which is fine, but the seeds were sadly missing. What a waste of her fine skills! An actor can only do so much with shoddy writing.

I gave this 2 stars, because aside from Fassbender's lovely work, the production design was quite impressive.

Last but not least, when I peered into the darkened theater, I noticed what appeared to be several alien beings, a few seats over. They had no need for the 3D glasses. Biding their time, the aliens gleefully tossed Milk Duds towards the screen. Whenever they fluttered their silvery eyelashes, a discordant hum reverberated, and the fibers of the velvet seat cushions trembled. Approximately 10 minutes into the film, the human couple who sat next to the aliens simply vaporized, yet their scorched kernels of popcorn frenetically rotated overhead. Like I said, this film had some early warning signs.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Some Very Fine Moments, But it Needed to Dig Deeper, 26 May 2012
7/10

This film explores what happens when 7 British retirees come to India, seeking love, restoration, changes, and escape. Some of the reviewers have done a good job providing the synopsis, so I will bypass that task.

I agree with others that the country of India is one of the stars, with it's teeming life, vibrant music, electric colors, and a dash of eroticism and the divine. The film could have gone farther, though. Some of the bustling city scenes resembled some typical travel photos I've seen of India. One of the film's most graceful moments was when a character ceremoniously enters a river.

Most of the cast was in fine form, particularly Dench, Nighy, and Wilton. But the tone from Dev Patel was a bit off. He is a fine actor, as seen in Slumdog Millionaire. For this role, he was over-the-top. This offers easy comedy, but it lacks nuance. The responsibility for this lies in the director's hands.

This film was engaging and brought laughter and a few tearful moments to the audience. Although the movie touched upon the caste system in India, it could have gone farther. It might be worthwhile to see a sequel. I'd like to revisit these characters, after they've lived in India a while longer.

Mirror Mirror (2012/I)
17 out of 37 people found the following review useful:
Two Lead Roles Miscast -- Look Forward to a Darker Interpretation, 19 March 2012
5/10

I appreciated parts of this movie more than anticipated. The set design, costuming, makeup, and special effects were fairly substantial in "Mirror, Mirror".

I would like to see more of Lily Collins, who portrayed Snow White. She handled the emotional aspects and physical rigors of this role quite well. Her physical beauty is eerily similar to a young Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet". The Seven dwarfs were a standout, and I especially enjoyed the work of Martin Klebba as Butcher. Sean Bean was dashingly noble as usual, but they forgot to give the poor guy a few more lines! What a shame.

Cue sad drum roll... this movie was miscast for two starring roles. And so the dreary tale goes. Er, there it went.

Portraying the Queen is Julia Roberts, who tried so hard, gosh darn it. But her ageless, fresh, and perky persona work against her. Roberts is a very good actor in certain films, but she did not fulfill the complex embodiment of evil that was required. It seemed purposeful to have her jump from a slight Brit accent to her casual American speak, but it rang hollow, like a gimmick. Without spot on casting for Queen, this film remains trapped inside a snow globe, manufactured by the Disneyfied Effect, where barely a blizzard blows.

Who would have I cast as the Queen? How about Helen Bonham Carter? Ashley Judd (who at a young age could have even played Snow White) would have brought an interesting depth to Queenie.

Prince Alcott is portrayed by the typically handsome Armie Hammer. Like Roberts, he seemed to try his hardest, but this just didn't work. In certain scenes, he comes off as a baffled wimp, which strips the role of it's potential charisma. I realize that Hammer's delivery was intended to provide levity, but it came off as one-dimensional. Even if I were to close my eyes, Hammer's voice quality just cannot carry this part. You need only watch "Camelot", and witness the effect of heavenly voices and acting chops -- Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Harris.

Who would I cast as the Prince? Two charming actors who can carry drama and comedy are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Adam Brody.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest film of them all?

I'll place my bets on the forthcoming "Snow White and the Huntsman". It will be a more sobering portrayal of this fantastical tale. To which I say: bring it on!

The Artist (2011/I)
4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Crafted to Please the Masses -- Failed to Steal My Heart, 28 February 2012
6/10

The Artist was not nearly as bad or "boring" as certain IMDb viewers have reported, with their paltry 1-star ratings. Having said that, this movie leaned too heavily on the easy tricks that convince an audience to swoon. Bound up in its reliance on romanticism, the core plot was traditional and safe. And the adorable mutt (Uggie) who always seems to save the day (with his cuteness) helped to boost the likability factor.

What can I say? It's the feel good movie of the year. But this does not a great film make. The Academy members recently elevated it to their top Oscar choice. Their vote was unsurprising, but disappointing.

Regarding the charming actor Dujardin, whose eyebrows do little dances all their own, I would like to see more of him--in another context. The natural grace and talent of Bejo were lovely, but she and Dujardin did more than their fair share of hamming it up for the camera.

Whenever actors try too hard to please the audience, a part of me shrivels up inside. But the actors cannot bear total responsibility for this. It's the producers and the director who issued this shallow interpretation. At times, it felt like some vaudevillian beast had taken over the stage, and the vibe was trying too "vamn" hard.

Don't get me wrong. The film was pleasant enough. I suppose I'm glad it inspired many people. But, I was not so easily convinced. After witnessing the likes of Master Chaplin, I'm afraid that many others will pale in comparison.

134 out of 193 people found the following review useful:
Sincere Effort, But the Cake Was Left Out in the Rain, 16 October 2011
6/10

What was the source of conflict which caused a gulf to form between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung? When we examine their personal and professional lives, what turning points shaped their theories? What were the storms which blew through the lives of Jung and Sabina Spielrein? These are some of the questions this film attempts to highlight, and in fact begins to touch upon.

Some of the most scintillating moments of "A Dangerous Method" are sexually bracing. But the audience is left feeling a bit orphaned. Do these carnal scenes truly address the significant thematic questions?

Here's my main beef with this film: I wanted to see more time spent on the rigorous conflict between Freud and Jung. I have a sincere interest in the life of Carl Jung, but in the end, I was not sufficiently satisfied. Having said that, the production design, scenery, and costuming were absolutely wonderful.

The somber, instinctual undercurrents of "A Dangerous Method" can be a bit hypnotic. But because the script suffers, I cannot fully come under its spell. As the rolling credits came up, I personally felt a bit deflated, as if a sweet was torn from my curious grasp. Although I think most films would do well with a tighter edit, this movie could have used an additional 30 minutes of character and plot development.

I appreciated the qualities which Fassbender brought to Carl Jung. Vincent Cassel was right on the mark as the impulsive Otto Gross. Jung's insecure wife Emma was tenderly portrayed by Sarah Gadon.

Although Keira Knightley tried her best to portray Sabina Spielrein, there were certain scenes where her delivery seemed pushed. I have long respected Viggo Mortensen, but I was not fully convinced by his affected portrayal of Freud.

So, who would I cast as Sabina? Emily Mortimer, Helena Bonham Carter, or Rachel Weisz come to mind. And how about the part of Freud? Ben Kingsley, Dustin Hoffman, or Geoffrey Rush could have added a riveting twist to this role.

Is there a doctor in the house? I will leave that for you to decide.

4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
The Underbelly of Politics, Driven by a Stellar Cast, 15 October 2011
8/10

For a good, well-rounded synopsis of this film, please read Dan Franzen's astute review, written on October 8, 2011.

My review focuses on character development, script, and metaphor.

Sizzling with a dark undertone, "The Ides of March" delivers on it's campaign promise. It's politics as usual in this story, and the film is driven by a stellar cast, with George Clooney at the directorial helm. For me, this film is a standout among the 2011 fare.

It's fortunate that Clooney is wise enough to cast himself as the co-starring role of Governor Morris, a man who is trying his fate at winning the Presidency, one state at a time. Although he does not get a lot of screen time, Clooney's character retains a burnished charisma, which is filtered by quiet ambiguity. As other reviewers have mentioned, this is a morality tale. There are numerous cogs in the wheel, which include Governor Morris, his opponent, and their support teams. But one thing is clear: they are all in service to Politics. It's a game that they thrive on, and sometimes despise.

I would suggest that the main character of this film might very well be the Puppetry of Politics.

Yes, Politics, with a capital P.

As it brandishes it's bravado, and thinly disguises it's blood-thirsty intentions beneath a veil of nobility, the puppet strings of Politics are taunt. So entrenched are these strings, that a politician's reputation can be snuffed out, and in quick order. Politicians may hate the theatrics of the puppet show, but they still pay their allegiance to the Puppet Master. They are required to do a little jig to the corporate-sponsored tune, but politicians are not the Maestro of the Puppet Show. And they never will be.

Actress Jennifer Ehle deliciously plays her limited role as the governor's wife, so that we are hungry for more. But, this might be an intentional choice by Clooney and his fellow scriptwriters. As is echoed in real life, the politician's wife-in-waiting is often relegated as a mere background player. In Ehle's one key scene, she is filmed in a tight closeup with Clooney, as they traverse the campaign trail. Her face is a moon-lit, and is framed by her husband's granite-like, shadowy persona. For me, this visual offers a nod to Mount Rushmore. Both Clooney and his cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael, must be be praised for this. Furthermore, the script for this scene is particularly well written, as what the Governor and his wife infer is more telling than what they say aloud.

Ryan Gosling and Phillip Seymour Hoffman adroitly shine in their roles, as political power players in their own right, who help carve up a slice of the Political Pot Pie for their boss, the Governor, while also looking to advance their own careers.

Some of the reviewers here have characterized the role of Gosling as idealistic at the start, but I see his character as more complex, as witnessed in the ironic opening moments. Gosling's character of Stephen has a stoic, graceful focus which is tempered by a street smart stance. All of this is a nice contrast to his boyish handsomeness.

Hoffman plays his role of Paul with a nice mix of explosive staccato, peppered with a quiet stealth. Another fine turn for this gifted actor.

Paul Giamatti also delivers as the political henchman for the opponent's team. I always like Giamatti, and I wanted to see more of him. I have some squabbles with the script quality in one juicy scene between Giamatti's character and Gosling. Giamatti's lines play out in a silly fashion. Subsequently, one of the final scenes between the two men loses it's momentum.

Evan Rachel Wood is finely cast as a young temptress who serves as an intern to the Governor, and who happens to be the daughter of the head of the DNC. She offered some nice nuances to her role.

Jeffrey Wright, who offers wonderful interpretations to his various roles, plays a Senator who offers favors, but is a shrewd player. In one scene, he comes off like a frenzied clown, whose job it is to hype up the audience, in support of the Governor. On the surface, Wright's delivery seems exaggerated, but we must remember that this sort of evangelical zest delivers ample votes to certain politicians.

Overall, this was a quietly satisfying film, with a handful of script foibles. It would have been even more compelling if at least 3 of the roles were more fleshed out. "The Ides of March" reveals the narrowed odds a politician has for maneuvering the Puppet Show. Although this them will not come as a surprise to most modern day viewers, this tale still stands as a confirmation of sorts.

21 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Childers Story Holds Great Potential -- Lead Role Sadly Miscast -- Inconsistent Script, 3 October 2011
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Machine Gun Preacher" is produced by Gerard Butler, who by no small accident has absorbed the lead role, which is based on the real-life story of Sam Childers. Sam is a reformed ex-con, whose former life was dangerously reckless, until he turned his life around and began to do the Lord's work. I was inspired by the core storyline, which concerns itself with themes of transformation.

There were some missing puzzle pieces in the script. One example is just after Childers comes to Jesus. After a mandatory church scene, the period of time when he truly changes his life is not addressed. If the film had shown this difficult transition of what it really means to leave "the old world behind", then the plot would have benefited by a reality-shot to the arm.

Some of the African scenes were moving, like where Childers has built an orphanage and becomes a freedom fighter who rescues war-torn children. And that's why I felt that I had to give this film a rating of 6 stars, rather than a mediocre 5.

Kathy Baker and Michael Shannon, both very fine actors, should have been given more lines and more screen time. Savane did a fine turn as the African comrade. I'm not as convinced as some of the pro critics about the casting of Monaghan as his wife. She played it with a quiet sincerity, but what I hoped for was a stirring undertone, revealing fragments of her former hard-scrabble life. Who could have done this role real justice? How about Melissa Leo?

At the end of the film, the rolling credits reveal the real-life Sam Childers. It was at this moment in seeing and hearing the burly, earthy-looking biker man that I was further convinced that Childers himself was miscast. Gerard Butler's handsome looks are distracting. He does a fair enough job, but the role does not shine. In the church scenes when he was preaching, the credibility was sorely lacking. It felt like Butler was going through the motions.

Can Gerard Butler get an Amen, brother and sisters?

Sadly, not from this viewer.

So, who could carry the mantle of Childers with sufficient gravitas? Several actors come to mind: Billy Bob Thornton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, or Michael Shannon. Each of these gentlemen have the chops to tackle a difficult role like this.

I'm grateful that this story has come to light in this film. But after going online to find out more about Sam Childers, I see that his personal web site is polished and fairly commercial. This slick branding is the opposite of Childers, who is a gruff rebel rouser, and also happens to save children. Similarly, this film seems to try too hard to be accepted into the fame-driven flock of Hollywood.

And that, dear brethren, could be the weak link in this film. While the movie is clearly faithful to the commercial demands of Movietown, the genuine story of Sam Childers has been watered down and compromised. My hope is that 10 years from now, some indie filmmaker will re-develop this story, and infuse it with all the complex, gritty glory which it deserves.

Like Crazy (2011)
4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Like Crazy Did Not Drive Me Nuts, But I Like Nuts, 1 October 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Like Crazy" starts out strongly. Fresh young love, imbibed with an earthy, quiet spontaneity. The 2 leads actors have a playful, heartfelt energy between them. Yelchin (Jacob) and Jones (Anna) were finely cast, as were Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead, as the parents of Anna. Several scenes were familiar territory to me, even offering a few gentle reminders about the fragile nature of romantic dreams.

Kudos to the production design and costuming people, who were willing to let the actors shine. The scenes were rendered with comforting modernity, without trying too hard. It's refreshing to see a creative team who are not compelled to be edgy or trendy.

The push-pull dynamic of long-distance relationships is revealed quite well in this story. Having said that, the core energy and rhythm seemed to dissipate after a while, and I felt like the movie lost its bearings. This film could have benefited from a tighter edit. In a way, the director may have intended for the audience to feel a bit haggard at various points. The romantic part of me wanted some reassuring escapism in the final scene. Instead, we are left to grapple with the evidence of awkwardness, which some of us are all too familiar with.


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