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223 reviews in total 
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Maleficent (2014)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
"So you see, the story is not quite as you were told", 15 July 2014

Angelina Jolie gives an outstanding performance as adult Maleficent; ditto for Isobelle Molloy as young Maleficent and Ella Purnell as teen Maleficent, a fairy with the body of a cute young fairy girl who matures into a beautiful woman with large, plain, but VERY powerful brown-feathered wings and twisted ram's horns. At an early age, Maleficent makes the mistake of befriending a human boy from the neighboring quasi-English realm who ultimately hurts and betrays her. From there, the story, with many clever deviations and without seven dwarfs, follows some of the rough pattern of the fairy tale popularized by the Grimm Bros/Charles Perrault and the earlier Disney movies. Elle Fanning also gives an impressive performance as Aurora ("Snow White").

MALEFICENT strikes just the right balance of fantasy and reality, humor and horror, meaningful storyline and simple entertainment. There are all sorts of reasons to enjoy this film: The unique version of the story itself, the visuals, the character study of the protagonist, you name it. For me, the single best thing about MALEFICENT is its vivid portrayal of the Fairyland Moors, complete with pixies, elves, dryads, naiads, dragons, talking toads, Bokwus-like tree giants, and a host of others, including a were-crow.

This is a film without absolutes: No one is completely evil or noble, and no one, no matter how powerful, is invincible. MALEFICENT goes much deeper than the original tale of the handsome prince randomly falling in love at first sight with Sleeping Beauty and awakening her with a kiss from the evil swoon imposed by her horrible wicked fairy godmother. There are all sorts of big themes here: Good versus evil (and there are intermixtures of both in all the major characters), love versus lust, deception, greed, and so on. Many historical parallels can also be seen, the British Empire and American expansion to name just a couple. Yet, all the film's allusions will not get in the way of anyone who just wants to watch it for the rich and surprising ride it gives.

Some violent (and entertaining) battle scenes and disturbing images, but no serious gore. There's probably nothing here the average 8-year-old can't handle. Still, MALEFICENT is primarily a fairy tale for adults. Younger children may be confused by who they're supposed to root for, who's supposed to be "good" and who's supposed to be "bad." "Good" characters, after all, generally do not have horns. All the same, it provides a fine illustration of the complexities of human and other natures.

While the script and soundtrack could have been a little better in places, the whole quality of the acting, filming, and everything else is superb. Great use of Anglo-Celtic accents. Last but far from least, a beautifully fulfilling and well-earned ending.

1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
"I see now how much like them we are", 15 July 2014

After experiments on chimpanzees infected with the mind-enhancing Simian Flu virus go awry, the chimps escape and the backfiring virus decimates most of the human population. Complete background is available at It might be helpful to look over this site before seeing the movie, especially if you're like me and haven't seen the earlier RISE Of The PLANET Of The APES. The chimps, along with gorillas and orangutans--also subjects of experiments or possibly liberated from the zoos?--develop a rudimentary civilization of their own, hunting with spears and arrows and riding horseback. Small contingents of humanity survive, however, and soon a band of apes in the forests near what's left of San Francisco encounters a hold-out of these survivors. There are some attempts to peacefully coexist, but . . .

DAWN of the PLANET of the APES ("DPA") is a fun, enthralling, and carefully filmed prequel that does a nice job of showing the back-story of the earlier "Planet of the Apes" films of the '70s. It begins as a thoughtful science fiction drama, gradually descending into more of a fast action-driven thriller. Still, I'm sure a thriller is what most people are after here, and I'm not sure how it could have gone any other way. Even in the violent latter portions, there are some touching moments and interesting turnabouts, with excellent special effects throughout.

There are all kinds of potential themes and parallels in this film. The dual dove/hawk power struggles between the competing chimp alpha males--pragmatic and basically peaceful Caesar versus embittered Koba--and two human alpha males--conciliatory architect Malcolm versus the more bellicose former Chief of Police Dreyfus--are especially interesting and do much to support the story. As in the earlier films, some may find the apes a bit over-idealized with all their noble "Ape not kill ape!" business. Chimps can be quite vicious and are often cannibalistic: Apparently they're supposed to have evolved beyond that here (even though they obviously haven't completely). A few more choice minutes toward the beginning on how the ape society develops, particularly in how the orangutans and gorillas, who take a vague cheap seat to the more numerous and practical-minded chimps, are supposed to fit in would have been a plus. There's one gibbon or monkey sentry shown early-on, but s/he's apparently a loner. Yep, a more diverse ape society would have been great, but I guess you can't expect everything. While it can be fun to analyze and interpret DPA, too much of this is likely to ruin a film that's intended mainly as simple entertainment.

All that being said, there's some interesting character development in DPA: Caesar and Koba are particularly fascinating even though the former seems more like a man in a chimp's body than an evolved chimp. Perhaps that's the point: For better or worse, brilliant Caesar was more responsive to the early experiments and became "more like us." Still, why oh why does he speak English even to his fellow chimps? Nevertheless, Andy Serkis does a magnificent job with the voice, the motions, and everything else he was given in portraying Caesar. The costume design is more problematic. The primary chimps, along with the cute babies (actual chimps?) look quite real, but many of their supporters are less so. While the orangs and gorillas look real, they are a bit bigger-than-life. The humans all look amazingly clean and well-groomed considering the conditions under which they've been living. Still, the human acting is generally good, with some fairly memorable performances by Jason Clarke as Malcolm, Keri Russell as his nurse-wife Ellie, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Malcolm's son, Alexander.

For all its kinks, DPA does an admirable job of showing some truly fantastic situations in the most convincing manner possible, and I'm sure anyone who's enjoyed the other "Planet of the Apes" films will like this one.

Enemy (2013)
"Did you have a good day at school?", 14 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I enjoyed ENEMY but can still understand the negative reviews. Those who want a really solid storyline that makes complete sense will definitely NOT enjoy it.

ENEMY is a strange, solipsistic, rather Kafkaesque Canadian production based on a novel by Portuguese author José Saramago. Introverted history professor Adam Bell, well-played by Jake Gyllenhaal, discovers his apparent doppelganger in B-movie actor Anthony "Daniel" St. Claire. Bell's girlfriend and St. Claire's pregnant wife--similarly well-played by Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon respectively--also bear a more-than-passing "incidental" resemblance to each other. After a brief stalking by Bell, the two men meet and discover that they are indeed perfect facsimiles of each other. They both try to keep things congenial and then go their own ways, but that, of course, simply cannot happen. The first hour of this dark, humorless film is pretty draggy, but some weird and unexpected stuff happens in the last 30-40 minutes. A lot's open to interpretation, but ENEMY's whole conflict, it seems, has two basic possibilities that I won't give away.

A sort of poor man's FIGHT CLUB, ENEMY raises the questions, "What if I were to meet someone who looks and talks exactly like me, with certain personality likenesses as well as certain differences, who's led a completely different life than me? Would we like each other? (And how much do we like ourselves?) Would we want to trade places?"

While definitely not for all tastes, ENEMY is nothing if not different. Though the budget was obviously low and the scope is limited, it's generally well-produced. One final thing: I can't make up my mind about the constant synthesized drum-rolls and "mm-MMMMB!" sounds. Though they add suspense to this simple but intriguing film, sometimes it seems that less would be more here.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
"During the war, we stopped looking for reasons why things happen", 26 June 2014

HOW I LIVE NOW is a poignant, disturbing, enthralling, and horrific film. Wonderful soundtrack and natural imagery that contrasts beautifully with the ugly and treacherous human world. Allegorical qualities: We don't know many of the specifics of who the terrorists are, the backgrounds of many characters, their full names, exact locations in Britain, etc. In those and many other respects, HILN is more for the heart than the head.

Good performance by Saoirse Ronan as Daisy, a brash, cantankerous, and troubled American teenager who is sent to live with some distant relatives in the English countryside. Ditto for the others who play the various teenagers and children. However, the relationship between Daisy and Eddie develops a bit suddenly and unconvincingly; with everything else that is happening here, the character development suffers. I have not yet read Meg Rosoff's original novel, but I would guess that it is yet another book that can never be done justice on screen. Nevertheless, I found this film well worth watching, and it should prove especially useful as a basic illuminator for the book.

Squatters (2014) (V)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"You have a beautiful family--It's nice to be part of it", 26 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Desperate, drug-addicted, and homeless, Kelly (Gabriella Wilde) and Jonas (Thomas Dekker) have a random stroke of luck and find themselves squatting in the lavish home of the wealthy Silvermans, who are vacationing in Greece. Jonas rationalizes that it should be their privilege to do this because rich people are all corrupt pigs anyway, but Kelly watches the Silvermans' home movies and finds them to be more tragically ordinary and human than Jonas will ever realize. Jonas gets a little too eager and greedy with the Silvermans' expensive jewelry and cars, arranging a lucrative deal with a dangerous racketeer, and to tell you any more would be spoilous.

SQUATTERS is well-acted by just about everyone involved, with especially memorable performances by Wilde and Luke Grimes as Michael Silverman. Some other reviewers have criticized its Hollywood-slick portrayal of life's underside in L.A., and it could have shown a bit more sympathy in that area, but what it does show seemed pretty realistic to me. The general cinematography is excellent, with some really pretty south Cali scenery.

On the other hand, the transformation that Kelly and Jonas make is pretty unconvincing, as are certain other things, e.g., Jonas's safe-cracking abilities, and wouldn't the maid be coming by occasionally? The ending's somewhat rushed plus a little too neat, easy, and Peter Pan for many tastes. Overall, it just seems that the directors and writers could have made a little more-in-general happen here.

Still, SQUATTERS does have some interesting turnabouts and nice old morals to it. The fine acting and expert production help compensate for some of the basic flaws to the story, and I like the way it left me rooting for both Kelly/Jonas and the Silvermans.

Joe (2013)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"What keeps me alive is restraint", 26 June 2014

{8.5 stars}

I've never been a huge Nicholas Cage fan, but he really won me over with his memorable performance as Joe, a tough but paradoxically sensitive, hard-drinking, lonely, childless, and at times, it seems, clairvoyant ex-con who runs a small forestry service and gives a good shake to anyone who looks him in the eye and works hard. Tye Sheridan is similarly good as Gary, a stalwart 15-year-old with an abusive alcoholic father who comes to work for Joe and unexpectedly finds a surrogate father in him. There is an interesting alter-ego effect between Joe and Gary's father, Wade "G-Daawg," who, interestingly, was convincingly played by Gary Poulter, a homeless man who died on the streets of Austin a couple of months after JOE's filming was complete.

There have been a lot of comments about how depressing and "slow" JOE is, and it's definitely not the thing to see if you're in the mood for something fun and uplifting or something with tons of thrills and action. It's a slow-burner with a quietly hypnotic plot and a mildly explosive--and very moving--ending. While it's not quite on the level of 1996's Oscar-winning SLING BLADE, it's reminiscent of that film, with a similarly believable anti-hero as its central character. Though JOE is understandably not for all tastes, the realism is undeniable: This is the sort of stuff that really happens and the kind of people who really exist.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"There's power in the blood", 18 June 2014

Based on the book by the same title, DEVIL's KNOT is a docu-drama about the 1993 ritual murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. This film does not contain any basic information that is not already covered in the documentaries PARADISE LOST and WEST of MEMPHIS. It does, however, provide some fairly interesting reenacted personal perspectives of the various parties: victims' families, the accused "Memphis 3" and certain of their friends, the police and prosecution, the defense teams, etc. DEVIL's KNOT makes for a compelling enough show and is expertly filmed with decent but not great acting. Though I'm sure that there are some misrepresentations of certain details, it is faithful to the basic events of this case. The biggest limitation is that those who have read the various books and seen earlier films will not find anything terribly new here while casual viewers who are unfamiliar with the case will find all the various characters and shifting perspectives confusing.

Colin Firth gives a nice performance as private investigator for the defense Ron Lax; ditto for Reese Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs. DEVIL's KNOT might have worked better with a stricter focus on one or maybe both of these characters, even if that meant ignoring certain other people and factors in the case.

Regardless, this film is very revealing of how incompetent police work, selective use of evidence by the prosecution, and public hysteria in this rather superstitious Bible Belt community led to the denial of reasonable doubt for the accused "Memphis 3." Without telling you what to think or pointing the finger unduly, it also cursorily examines other potential suspects. There are some brief bits of courtroom drama, but again, the focus changes just as things get really interesting.

In short, DEVIL's KNOT is quite watchable, but the attempt to tell the entire story in a narrative of less than two hours is inadequate and dissatisfying.

WARNING: Though there's not a lot of gore, there are some brief and graphic post mortem shots of the young victims.

D'Curse (2013)
"This is my kingdom, my paradise", 14 June 2014

{7.5 stars}

When trigger-happy NYPD Officer James fatally shoots an innocent man, the man's mother, a voodoo high priestess, throws a curse against the Department. The precinct captain must enlist the help of unpopular weirdo voodoo high priest Officer Ruda in order to break the curse and set things right.

THE CURSE--as the title reads in the Redbox version--has very arresting (npi) beginnings. The remainder of the film is not quite as gripping, and the sequence of events is a bit hard to follow. Several prominent plot-holes and question marks, some of which are rather inexcusable. Otherwise, there is a solid and tangible storyline here. The number of characters is similarly confusing, but the acting and script are unusually good for an Indie of this sort: It often seems that you're watching via eyes and ears in the walls of the NYPD. Despite the narrow, confining camera eyes, the cinematography is striking with its varied views of NYC.

A crime thriller, a horror film, and a bit of something indefinable, THE CURSE is just a very different all-around experience. Though they don't remedy everything, its strengths compensate for its weaknesses pretty well. Simultaneously chilly and silly, this film is definitely one of the better recent Indies that I've seen. With more funding, THE CURSE could have been something quite impressive, and even as is, it exemplifies low budget appeal.

Patrick (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"Sometimes people don't know what they need", 12 June 2014

Low budget Australian affair about an obscure and remote mental "hospital" whose star patient, Patrick, forges a bloody bond with new smart and able but unsuspecting nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson). The opening prologue seems to promise another predictably lame slasher flick, and the entire film is a little slow to develop, yet the last half-hour or so entails some interesting and creative layers and twists. This film becomes a lot more distinct once we get to know Patrick's story. Decent all-around acting, with good performances by the three women who play the nurses: Vinson, Rachel Griffiths, and Peta Sergeant.

It seems the makers were trying to create a circa 1950 Gothic horror film set in the age of GPS with modern horror tropes (something like that). A valiant attempt, but PATRICK would have been better if it were more consistently modern. Many of the props (nurses' uniforms, etc) look unrealistically antiquated, and the outside views of the hospital. . .well, you can tell it's not an actual building. The constant rubber stamp suspense symphony soundtrack also gets a little annoying--There's just no need for it except in a few select spots. All the same, none of the various weaker points should get too much in the way if you're a big horror fan.

Some brief "incidental" nudity and a fair measure of really nasty-gory death and dismemberment. Still, PATRICK makes good use of its gore, using it briefly and shockingly.

"You really are a bizarre little creature, aren't you?", 12 June 2014

ADULT WORLD is an odd whimsical comedy about Amy (Emma Roberts), a naive, sheltered,recent college graduate with an impractical degree in "Poetry" who yearns for publication and recognition but doesn't seem able to impress anybody anywhere. In desperation, she takes a low-paying job as a clerk in a sex store, which, though it serves as a symbolic backdrop for the story, isn't the real focus. This film is all about growing up, facing the world, and becoming, for better or worse, an "adult."

Mood-wise, ADULT WORLD reminds me a bit of SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: There's a name for this type of humor, but I'm not sure what it is. I wasn't digging it at all for most of the first hour. As others have noted, the characters seem more like cheap caricatures, and Amy in particular is treated as a glib joke of a person. But the way life (and this film) seem to be constantly laughing in her face gave me compassion for her, and I'm sure others will have the same reaction. We've all been there, haven't we?

For most of its length, ADULT WORLD's storyline seems as unfocused as its character development. Yet, again, it meanders its way to a conclusion that is both meaningful and touching, and again, therein lies its magic.

An interesting assortment of supporting characters, most of whom initially seem as cardboard as Amy herself but blossom as the film goes. Particularly noteworthy are John Cusack as reclusive a-hole writer Rat Billings and Evan Peters as nice normal guy coworker Alex. Austerely beautiful cinematography of the smaller town upstate New York setting. Good thematic soundtrack.

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