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267 reviews in total 
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Bad Words (2013)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Cack-handed Coruscation, 7 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Bad Words": the very title, isn't so much a slick writer's name for a movie as the very core which permeates the story figuratively, as well as, particularly, literally throughout. The outlandish idea of an angry grown man working out his inner-demons by taking advantage of an obscure loophole in order to compete in The National Spelling Bee is refreshingly brilliant.

The protagonist, Guy Trilby played enigmatically dour and dark by Justin Bateman, is a self-made word-smith extraordinaire. Not that Trilby has ever really achieved much with his gift save for a colorfully dark vocabulary laced long memory he is driven to purge. Trilby is conflicted in the extreme, but his brand of black brooding isn't defined by picking up a gun or jumping from a building. Trilby largely keeps to himself save for his penchant of hurling off-color speak to any, including children, who cross his path.

This collision of the Trilby character and the spelling bee is definite fodder for a refreshingly different, often low-key brilliant, story telling. The fact that the humor sometimes drags the otherwise creative idea down requires forgiving patience (who finds giving a young child alcohol funny, i.e., it is not creative and is otherwise cheap) The viewer, in order to remain invested, must forget the lows Thankfully Bateman can get away with most of the faux-paus and let the story ride on the more entertaining aspects.

While not outright hilarious this movie is laced with plenty of humor throughout. In the end it isn't a me-too type of a story and, as such, keeps you watching. In its dark humor it does inject a sparingly small bit of the warm and fuzzy to lighten things,. It has a few racial epithets that are clearly meant in no literal demeaning way so beware to keep your feeling guarded so as not to "run" with those. A solid and different dark comedy if not great.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Technology...The Double-Edged Sword, 2 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Which is more flawed, humanity or technology? What results in an extreme collision is what Transcendence seeks to explore. As human beings we have came a long way in the thousands of years of our existence, but for all of our accomplishments our understanding of how to love one another in peace and harmony is as volatile as the ancients. Technology, on the other hand, evolves ever faster. Perhaps, ever since Tesla's paradigm shift of powering the world we've been on a ever faster collision with the dark side of technology with little understanding of how to use it only for mankind's benefit. Transcendence, in less than two hours, explores how we had better work on the selfless humanitarian part to avoid a possible horrific outcome.

To wrap this idea into a movie that isn't polarizing is, likely, impossible. People will either dismiss Transcendence as too far-fetched, even silly, or more "on-point" and compelling. Director Wally Pfister and writer Jack Paglen do an admirable job of working through this mostly by a fast paced story with spectacular cinematography. It may not be a classic, but it has it's two sides of light and dark in almost every scene. The message seems to be humans struggle with everything and tend to let fear and hate dictate their actions forcing the aforementioned double-edged sword as an outcome that we then attempt to fix. It's actually an important theme blended with a love story and a bit of that patented Hollywood bombastic, but quite good, effects.

I'd say see it. Judge it with the knowledge it has a mirror of truth no matter if it seems a bit too "out-there". Also worth noting is that the cast fits well serving the story by not over-playing the characters portrayed. It's nice to see Depp subdued and Hall as his wife caught in a situation she must deeply be troubled over as she conveys her predicament through her angst over and over. Suddenly the Beatles' song "All You Need Is Love" sounds downright transcendent.

Rauchy Humor Made Palatable ( If You Have An Open Mind That Is), 26 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"And now for something completely different". If you think, like most, this is simply an overused cliché, especially within comedies, then stop here. This isn't something you're open to. If, on the other hand, you are open-minded and seek a different flavor of comedy then you're in luck.

As many know, the MTV show "Jackass" celebrated outrageously bad behavior wrapped in the guise of mind-numbing stupid, and many times dangerous, stunts. The bent mind behind that, of course, was one Johnny Knoxville. That show was best consumed in small servings as it tested the bounds of taste. The show ran its course, but Knoxville didn't fade into the night. It's been a while since the show and the "cash-in" movie. So, the time could be right for a revival of sorts.

While jumping off of Jackass, Bad Grandpa is a very different animal. It's a fictitious story even as it intersperses some almost stunt-like vignettes as the story unfolds. The bad taste is wholly intact. The question of just how much the, supposedly uninformed, normal people appearing really know looms large. It really doesn't matter if they're wholly in or not because they seem clueless for the most part and act accordingly. It's funny and works.

Escaping Hell...Twice, 26 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie has a looming darkness and it follows the central character Ewa, played by the talented French Academy Award winning actress Marion Cotillard, as she and her sister escape one nightmare to fall into another. Immigrating from war torn Poland, where both their parents were massacred in front of them, the sisters encounter more problems on their journey across the ocean compounded more upon their arrival at Ellis Island. What should be their salvation turns into pure corrupt indenture. Ewa is quite unwittingly used by a man who basically bribes immigration officials into his own crooked purpose as her sister is sequestered due to suspicion of having TB. This is the fast unfolding story of Ewa and her sole hope to avoid deportation, Bruno Weiss.

The story may be too predictable for some, but nonetheless it is a believable tale of how corruption leads to a confluence of events more harrowing and accidental. It definitely engages the viewer, but the two leads are so immensely strong that they carry the movie. Joquin Phoenix gives an utterly fantastic conflicted man who has managed to survive and prosper until he, sinks to a level even he has trouble living with. His portrayal of Bruno Weiss makes this movie which is a lot because it is against Cottilard's Ewa character who brings an almost unbearable amount of quiet suffering which permeates everything. There's a doomed love story playing out as well to which Jeremy Renner's performance accentuates. Renner's role adds tremendously as a catalyst to greater levels of both hope and despair.

The Immigrant is an extremely well crafted movie with great period cinematography. It looks dark and old blending despair and beauty expertly. Easily recommended for the performances of Marion Cotillard and Joquin Phoenix which are extremely strong.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Solid Human Drama Sci-Fi Film, 21 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One would guess one of the worst horrors a person could endure would be the sudden, and completely mysterious, loss of a loved one as if that person just suddenly fell of the face of the earth. This is one of the lesser roads traveled by science fiction movies. No, it's not entirely original, but certainly can be with certain creative story turns. That's the kind of humble brilliance shown in "I'll Follow You Down".

A Toronto based physics professor, a husband and father to a young son, takes a speaking engagement at Princeton University. The man gets there, he's met by his wife's father, also a professor, but simply disappears. Years pass and the young son is on the cusp of going to, possibly, MIT. The boy still doesn't know what became of his dad. His grandfather decides it is now time to tell his grandson a quite wild hypothesis which is that the boy's father was able to create negative energy which allowed him to travel in time. This sets up a good story because the boy's father was attempting to do the impossible: meet Einstein. Haley Joe Osment, seldom seen since childhood….at least by this viewer, comes back to the screen playing the young son of the missing man. He is actually quite good. His mother is played by the excellent Gillian Anderson, another seldom seen diamond herself. Finally, the grandfather is played by Victor Garber, also an excellent choice.

If you sense I liked this film you are correct. It is purposely slow because building the human element is served well as such. It's humble and it doesn't try to be anything it shouldn't. A creative sci-fi story brought to the screen simply as an excellent idea realized through solid acting. If you like Sci-Fi with a very solid human drama this is good indeed and highly recommended.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Pitt & Arianda Have Chemistry...A Homerun Here., 15 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A kid grows up in NYC with memories of The Mob roughing up his dad, likely being the very reason his dad was murdered. The kid has a penchant for trouble early eventually landing in prison…And, now, only, a short while out of the joint, that chip won't go away,, plus, straightening up ain't exactly making the ends meet. In a nutshell, this is the story for Tomas Uva, who, along with his girlfriend , Rose Marie De Toma, became a huge embarrassment as well as the ultimate Achilles heel cinching the bringing down of The Mob.

There's nothing spectacularly creative about the story here…Excepting it's a pretty spectacular story which actually happened yet most of us, outside of NYC, never heard of. A true story told almost as straightforward as Hollywood can tell anything true which is to say: "sure, it's romanticized, but in a quite palatable way". Michael Pitt (Jimmy in Boardwalk Empire) is a fantastic screen presence here. He's very much like a fully formed, yet still hungry, Leonardo DeCaprio which is to say excellent playing the volatile, yet highly charismatic Tommy Uva . Add the other half of the couple, Rosie, is played to real NYC perfection by Nina Arianda. Arianda, given the right roles and opportunity is beyond magnetic. For the rest of the cast, as truly great as this creme De la creme gathering is, they have to pedal hard to keep up with Pitt and Arianda ( and, they do in equal marvelous fashion).

The fact this is a true story defies all conventional beliefs about The Mob's armor plated invincibility. The real meat of the story is how the blind naiveté of a small time kid with criminal tendencies can decimate the entire hierarchy of that famed Sicilian institution, even doing so in an almost comic fashion. Like all organized crime, even if you cut off the head and most of the body there's always those who remain ready to step up. There's the problem and the viewer just knows this really might go on for a short time, but there will be a reckoning to be dealt with. In spite of this predictability It's an entertaining ride with the gore pretty much parked at the door. It simply is a very solid movie that works and isn't in any way "another mob movie". Rob The Mob has a real heart front and center of which Pitt and Arianda are to be commended for. See this one as it is very good.

Blended (2014)
5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Landing In Africa...With A Big Thud!, 31 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I guess you could say Adam Sandler's Blended has a heart as opposed to Will Farrell's Anchorman 2 which doesn't? That postulated, for this viewer anyway, Anchorman 2 kept me in constant laughter while Blended hardly manages an occasional snicker. It's good to see Drew Barrymore and Sandler back together as they've had, I think, two previous pairings that, perhaps, had a modicum of chemistry. Here that pairing seems strained, perhaps because of Sandler's character needing to be actually funny since that is what Blended is obviously trying for. The laughs are truly spaced out which is to say way too many fall flat.

As the story progresses a forced blending of Sandler's and Barrymore's families get thrown together. The premise which this springs from is abysmal. To make it more picturesque the blending is an African romantic getaway of which Sandler's boss was to take with Barrymore's business (Closet Queens, ha ha) partner. The African thing seems, mostly, bizarre as well as well as heavy handedly plied; poking fun at quite likely every possible tasteless stereotypical way. That forced nature comes off as a total nonsense (i.e., not funny). How hilarious is Adam Sandler riding an ostrich? A real kneeslapper...Not.

One gets the feeling Sandler has lost his way, if not his best comedic center; kind of like someone who knows he needs to get back in the game while he's throwing something on the proverbial wall with a Hail Mary to hope it sticks. It slides off with a splat constantly.

As you can gather this is not a particularly good Adam Sandler movie. Looking back, maybe those were, in fact, rarer than one realized. Still, the man had that post Saturday Night Live "next big thing" talent at one time. Personally, I don't believe you just lose that for good. Times do change, but talent adapts and with Sandler there needs to be a big "tune-up" which requires the right vehicle of which this movie is, mostly, a polar opposite. These two are capable of so much better it just has to be said. They're not the Tracy and Hepburn of comedy, but this is purely a wasted effort. Sandler's deadpan, dour if you will, comedy needs something that fits and if he doesn't find it his time may have passed is the most serious takeaway though.

Bold Idea Ends Up Plain Silly, 21 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is one of those movies you go into thinking a good cast and a unique story, it sounds very interesting in a genuinely creative way. A mystery playing out during a classical orchestral concert. I'm definitely in and expecting something quite good.

The set up is a bit convoluted feeling. As a viewer I'm not sure exactly what confluence of events are in place here. Perhaps the best living pianist, one who hasn't played for five years due to an unfortunate last public appearance is set for a comeback. If that wasn't enough pressure an unknown person has set up the whole concert as a kind of opportunity to kill the pianist and his lovely wife unless he plays a certain piece that unlocks a key hidden inside the Bosendorfer piano made specially for a now deceased composer.

All I can say is it must have sounded like a grandiose mystery that needed to be realized in film. That realization fell sadly flat however. The continuity of the story was continually interrupted by the writers attempts to build the tension. It made it seem totally implausible and plain "choppy" as to the unfolding of the story. Elijah Wood is obviously talented and could have really made this movie a good one if he wasn't failed by the writers. John Cusack is just a voice of a ridiculous, quite silly, psycho. Nope, this one never gelled along the way. The only points it gets is for Elijah Wood's crazed attempts and nice piano playing (he obviously can play). A wasted effort for all involved in the final analysis.

Trust Me (2013)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Absolutely Jaw-dropping Film, 9 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We're born into this world alone. In the in-between there's, usually, a whole series of bonds that enriches and builds us into who we become. Enter the strange world of child actors. In that world if one experiences a degree of success everyone wants to celebrate you. The only problem is child actors are a kind of disposable asset. They give up so much of themselves as they ascend the heights, but that almost never lasts; instead a sort of Machiavellian trade-off ensues. Instead of a continuance of a fantastic future comes one loss after another. The greatest of which can be a sort of isolation where further success is always just around the corner yet rarely found. A sad isolation becomes reality. The question becomes how to find salvation before the inevitable end.

More or less, this is the setup for the movie "Trust Me". Clark Gregg plays Howard a middle- aged struggling adolescent talent agent. Howard has never found continued success, but that doesn't stop him from trying. He's desperate and he has a kind of foot in the door, but he is his own worst enemy and almost, in his desperation, attracts failure. As the story begins he loses his best prospect almost totally due to his inability to cloak his neediness. Howard practically begs to be crushed and Gregg brings it 100% as far as realism and believability is concerned. I mean the guy wrote and directed a masterpiece and then brought it to life by starring in it. This is like the best example of an almost otherworldly talent which I only slightly noticed heretofore nailing it Academy Award style in one fell swoop. Already I will gladly go out on a limb and say best actor and director with confidence. Saxon Sharbino is almost as likely for best supporting actress. The adjunct supporting cast is also first rate. This, simply, is already the must see movie of the year and deserves the whole enchilada. Brilliant filmmaking!

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Left Wanting So Much More For Ryan...Clancy As Well., 8 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie, at least to me, stumbles right out of the block. To build the back-story of Jack Ryan we're forced to pictorially revisit 9-11 from kind of a distance and we get it that Jack was compelled to enlist. I can't put my finger on it, but when I read Clancy 20-+ years ago this immediately seems at odds with what the writers were updating the character to? It gets worse, Ryan is in no short order seriously wounded. He can't walk in any conventional sense, but in short order he's running. Folks, this ain't eloquent character building here. It feels like the "hurried-up" super-saver version. Seriously, I'd rather be plopped simply into a after recruitment Jack Ryan doing something compelling.

It does seem refreshing to have our old arch nemesis, Russia, back in place of homeless Middle Eastern zealots. The story isn't half-bad where Russia attempts a much more worldly "power- grab" the likes we haven't seen since the Cuban missile crisis. So, the actual core story here has good legs. But, in the unraveling of that story there's holes galore and tension that never really gets to the point you're on the edge of your seat. This movie just "almost" gets you really invested, but it simply doesn't turn that crucial corner of "good enough" and believable enough.

Chris Pine is a decent enough young Ryan, but Costner, other than his immense screen like ability, infuses nothing vital into the character of Ryan's handler. Really, I can't tell if the director wanted this detached performance, or if Costner just didn't have his heart in to it? Costner is seldom, if ever, bad, but he's sleepwalking here. I was going to avoid this, but for some reason I keep thinking about it. Ryan was a lot less interesting because of his love interest in the movie instead of it being the other way around. Keira Knightley just didn't create any chemistry that was compelling, basically she gets in the way and isn't memorable. Finally, there's those sometimes pesky plot holes. Ryan has to go to Russia just because his bank's biggest investment partner has made all of their joint investments locked down to where Ryan's bank can't see what's going on? How delusional is this? Either the bank is in on it or the bank wouldn't partner up blindly, especially with Russia. Not to mention Ryan dispatches (i.e., kills) the guy who picks him up at the Moscow airport even though he's not expecting to be attacked by a physical specimen twice his size packing a gun. I want my Jack Ryan to be more believable and more intellectual, not a physically challenged "superman".

I didn't mean to go on as long as I did, but I did watch the entire movie and was, intermittently, entertained. It's not by any means bad (however I wouldn't call it too good), it just never reaches the level it aspires to. Bottom line: It doesn't do the Jack Ryan character justice. James Bond (a much more iconic character to be sure) has been restored. Clancy's Ryan has been whetted down and slung into a bit of a hole. Hope, if they revive the character someone gives it the intellectual push it deserves and whoever continues the role fits. Pine is decent (I'll say it again…meaning not superb), but wasn't given the best palate here to paint Ryan.

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