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Mr. Right (2015)
This movie has no message, no deep meaning, no pretensions at all. It is simple entertainment, with a few wry plot twists to keep you guessing and a really wonderful cast of characters.
To start with, Anna Kendrick's character Martha is just eccentric enough when she first appears that you can easily imagine her zaniness turning cheerfully violent in the end. And indeed it does. Martha is the sort of person who, bound and gagged, can't stifle her giggles at the absurdly macho kidnappers she's about to kill.
Sam Rockwell, as a practically invincible hit man, somehow senses that Martha shares his superpower (for lack of a better word) and opens the door to it for her just enough to enable her to join him. He is in fact her Mr Right, and she is his perfect match.
100 Bloody Acres (2012)
You find out your girlfriend has been cheating on you. You start quizzing her about it. You want not only number of times but when, where, what specific acts did they perform, everything. Your obsession with it is so intense that you start to sound a little bit not right in the head. You just won't let it go.
Now, imagine this conversation takes place while you and your girlfriend are both bound and bloody, and waiting for a couple of maniacs to grind you up into human fertilizer in a giant meat-grinder. That's how crazy this movie is. I especially loved the Aussie country music, which is every bit as goofy as you'd expect.
I have no proof of this, but I suspect the movie was inspired by an Ambrose Bierce story called "Oil of Dog."
Insert food pun here
This is like a cross between Big Night and Good Will Hunting. Bradley Cooper plays Adam, a supposedly brilliant chef whose temper tantrums and other personality flaws make him impossible to work for. He's so abusive and fragile that when the guys from Michelin finally arrive you want to shout, "Don't tell Adam!"
Cooper is of course playing the familiar figure of Gordon Ramsey. The problem with that is that Ramsey's childish behavior - screaming fits laced with obscenities and crockery smashing - might be considered (although I confess not by me) to be appropriate and even entertaining in a kitchen full of students, but certainly not when the kitchen is staffed by your own hand-picked employees. In the end, you don't care whether Cooper's self-pitying piece of shyte succeeds or fails or trips and breaks his neck.
Beyond the Lights (2014)
At one point in this cold mess of a movie, Noni's mother, played by Minnie, shouts, "You're a bloody cliché!" Bingo, Minnie, Noni, Gugu et al., you're ALL bloody clichés. There's the spoiled little pop star who has absofreakinlutely everything a girl could want, except true love and the will to live. There's the harridanish stage mom whose nastiness translates to excellent negotiating skills with music industry execs. There's the impossibly dull love interest - a cop who aspires to be a city councilman, just writing that made me yawn.
What made it a little bit interesting for me was the way the black characters were all good and the white characters were all either evil or incompetent. Me, I'm Italian; my grandparents came to the USA 60 years after the American Civil War ended, so you guys fight it out amongst yourselves, please. It was just nice to see the caucasians get theirs for a change.
Btw, the music doesn't even try to be good.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
David Beckham is a British soccer star and the husband of Victoria Beckham ("Posh Spice" of the Spice Girls). His trademark is a goal shot that curves across the pitch and into the net. The soccer equivalent of an unhittable curve ball in baseball. "Bend it like Beckham" means making that type of spectacular shot. Apart from that, and a little shrine to him in the main character's bedroom and a faux-cameo at the very end, the movie has nothing to do with him.
The movie is full of little soccer in-jokes, such as the present that one of the characters' parents give her of a jersey with the number 9 on it (property of the great Mia Hamm, to those in the know), references to "Posh 'n' Becks," the video homage to the WUSA one of the characters plays for a disbelieving friend ("They *have* that??"), lesbian gags, sports-bra gags, and so on.
The story is about a teenage girl in England who idolizes Beckham and wants to be a soccer star. She has a real gift, but the two seemingly insurmountable obstacles she must overcome are the absence of a professional women's league in the UK (hence their fascination with our WUSA), and her parents, who are set in very old-fashioned ways that do not allow daughters, among other things, to engage in contact sports. The girl's family are portrayed with great affection -- think My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The girl loves and respects them enough to go through sitcom hell to conceal her growing soccer stardom from them.
Girl Most Likely (2012)
There is a genre of film - this one and Switch come to mind - that depict the denizens of New York City as absurdly neurotic fast-talkers who can't seem to find happiness but who, you realize as the movie hits the 5-minute mark, are all secretly pleased about their excruciating personalities and their irrelevant lives. Pleased. Pleased, when they should be looking in the mirror and telling themselves to snap out of it and get over themselves.
I am here to tell you that these movie characters are all figments of some writer's lazy imagination. Do not be afraid to move to New York, it's a lovely place with all kinds of nice people. If you move there - specifically, to the island of Manhattan, either east of west of Central Park or points south - you will find that if you love the city, it will love you back. It's as simple as that. And I promise you will never meet idiots like the preposterous fictions in these movies.
War Story (2014)
Imagine, if you will, Catherine Keener bending over a sink for whatever reason. Imagine a mournful solo cello noodling away on the soundtrack. Now imagine Catherine Keener snapping photos of Sicily (which, it turns out, is a sh*thole) or of various fashionably grungy Middle Eastern types. Minimalist synthesizer noise on the soundtrack. Now she's back at the sink. Now taking snapshots. Ear-splitting vocal on the track. Now the sink.
Regarding the spoiler alert: there is no plot. That's the spoiler.
Regarding the music: we all love music, right? I love music, too. But the music on the soundtrack made me want to run twin power drills into my ears.
English Major In-Jokes!
This is a Jane Austen film for a generation of kids who have never heard of Jane Austen. The flood of Jane Austen in-jokes I think we have a right to expect from a movie made around this premise never appears. Maybe a trickle, a drop or two. Idiotic pop culture references, yes (Bee Gees lyrics, hand on my heart), but nothing to cause an old-fashioned English major to glance up from his OED, much less deliver a genteel muffled guffaw.
There are many farcical moments, if you enjoy farce. The attempts at rom com (and by the way, I would like to apologize to all Gypsies for that abbreviation) are signaled by ghastly pop songs of the kind you hear in the background of Gray's Anatomy, and soulful piano music. I hate soulful piano music. No, I mean really, it makes my skin crawl. Please rom coms, no more.
The Loneliest Planet (2011)
The Longest Movie
It starts with a girl with mismatched rug and curtains bouncing up and down without needing to dampen any chestal oscillation. Neither was there any plot or characterization to speak of or write about, so I decided to focus on the scenery, which I confess is usually my favorite part of any movie.
The scenery in Georgia consists mostly of rocks and grass. No trees or shrubs or anything. Mostly rocks, actually. In fact, one of the male characters tries to offer the female character a rock as a present. It was a grayish, irregularly shaped rock and did not seem to impress the girl at all. Then they walked for several days, albeit not long enough for the ginger girl's black roots to emerge.
Regarding the grass: I wonder if it might not actually have been sedges, (cyperaceae) owing to the visibly poor soil of the region. On the other hand, my knowledge of Georgian flora is meager, so don't take my word for it. Imagine my review going on like this for three- or four- hundred pages and you have a good approximation of this movie. You're welcome.
American Hustle (2013)
Overacted and confused
A movie about Italian and Jewish hustlers back in the late 1970s, made by people whose idea of these things apparently comes from magazines and TV. I grew up with such people, and here's a little hint: They had better taste in clothes, and they weren't always screaming at each other at the top of their voices.
And seriously, guys, if you want to portray a Jew from the Bronx, why not cast a real one in the role? Christian Bale's performance was one long cliché, punctuated by Bale's embarrassing scenery-chewing "Oscar moments." He didn't know what he was doing. Amy Adams' strength is her looks and the occasional camera take, but that's about it. Bradley Cooper was better but still not great. Jennifer Lawrence was the best of them, by far the most convincing (except for her character's inexplicable attraction to the repulsive Bale).
The plot was confused. Not really worth following - there's a time-saver for you. And the setting was not convincing as either New York or New Jersey. What a missed opportunity this movie was.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
If you've read much H.P. Lovecraft you will understand this movie. There is a race of Ancient Gods, or Great Old Ones, or whatever, lurking just underneath our perception. They are "dead but dreaming" down there, waiting for the moment when they will be released to rule, or kill, the human race. There is a cult of humans trying to keep the Ancient Gods down, or perhaps trying to release them. Some poor soul says the wrong words and releases one of the Great Old Ones. Use your bloodiest imagination to fill in the rest. It's all rather nonsensical, but if you suspend your disbelief for a few pages you will lose sleep over it. If you are young and impressionable it might scare the crap out of you.
What this movie does is to techify Lovecraft's idea and then take it further than Lovecraft himself ever took it. It's not pretty.
If your idea of a good time is watching people sitting at a table talking, with the sound so bad it sounds like it was filtered though a garbage can, and the talk is nonsensical and pretentious at the same time, then this one is for you. We found if you turn the sound off, it's boring beyond belief. If you leave the sound on, it's also boring beyond belief. Fast-forward it, it's boring. Leave the room altogether, it's still boring.
Okay seriously, if you died and found that in the afterlife you had control over physical phenomena and could make lights flicker and loud noises happen, could you even be bothered with such things? Well, actually, yes you could, if you were an asshole. In fact, that's the message of this movie: asshole in this life, asshole in the next. For you, the hereafter is an eternal state of excruciating insanity, to quote a famous writer.
Good! But if you're gonna make a movie about it, at least try and have a few good scenes, nice special effects, something. Don't, I beg you, for the zillionth time think you can get away with depicting a ghost as an attractive but obviously demented young woman (you know she's crazy because her hair is a mess) who crawls toward you across the floor. Or the ceiling, in this case.
Kill List (2011)
Buncha dottie oldsters troop out to the woods naked or in masks and bed sheets and perform silly rituals that sometimes involve suicide or bloodshed. They need to crown a new murder-king, so they recruit a couple of semiretired hit men to prove their prowess. The hit men don't know what's happening to them and, being good hit men, don't ask. Same goes for the audience (except, apparently, for the know-it-alls who write IMDb reviews) who sit there in the dark, trusting that something interesting will eventually happen.
I have to confess, I love pagans and wiccans and throwback cultists in general, New Age and Old Age both. Adding them to a seemingly routine gangster movie can only make for a better gangster movie, at least for me. In this case, the "reveal" at the end, where the psychotically nasty gangster is crowned as the new prince of the pagans/wiccans/Druids/whatever, thus showing that he'd been their unwitting recruit all along, might've been more interesting to me than it will be to you, judging from the unhappy tone of some of the reviews here. And even I, closet pagan that I am, lost interest in the gangster part of this movie, with its low-budget mayhem and its incomprehensible accents. By the time the bed-sheeted and straw-masked crazies made their appearance, my first thought was how invitingly combustible their outfits looked. Plus all those torches! If I'd been that hit man I don't think I could've resisted.
the forest is the main character
I love landscapes like the one in which this movie is set. I could climb for days around the hilly hardwoods groves and fern beds and decaying leaf mats and never miss civilization or my precious electronics.
Adrian Brody, as an amnesic and badly injured accident victim who wakes up in a mangled car in just such a landscape, has no reason at all to enjoy it. In fact, he barely notices it, as he struggles to save his own life and gradually pieces together the truth of his situation. He remembers, in flashes and glimpses, and he also hallucinates.
None of this is especially involving, and the flashbacks and dreams come so far apart that I was never able to sustain much curiosity about it. So much footage is devoted to woodland scenes, in fact, that the woods eventually take over the movie.
Whether this was what the director intended or not is beside the point. It got to the point where even the briefest plot interludes became vaguely annoying, almost offensive. The wilderness is the hero, and it doesn't care about Adrian Brody and his broken leg and his broken memory. The wilderness is perfectly represented by the mountain lion that keeps showing up to drag off the bodies of the other accident victims for dinner. All we are is meat.
The Back-up Plan (2010)
Doris Day and Rock Hudson without Doris Day or Rock Hudson
Movies that start with stylized cartoons and breezy music over the opening credits already have two strikes against them. I mean, haven't we outgrown Doris Day and Rock Hudson? And this is not even Doris Day and Rock Hudson, it's Jennifer Lopez and some guy selected to be less famous than Jennifer Lopez. When they're on-screen together you look at Lopez - impeccably coiffed, dressed and made up, obviously rolling in money in real life and no longer able to play it down - and then you look at the poor guy - boring, shabby, boring, awkward, boring - and you just roll your eyes.
The Back-up Plan is about a plucky middle-aged woman (and how sad is that?) who wants a baby but can't find a guy. So she gets pregnant and THEN finds a guy, through the tritest series of stock misadventures you ever saw. It's as if somebody dropped one of those instant screenplay kits on the floor and just went with it.
Leap Year (2010)
This is one of those if-anything-can-go-wrong-it-will romantic comedies. If there's a plane, it won't take off; if there's a car, it'll break down in the middle of nowhere; if there's a train, the heroine will miss it. This simple-minded fun wears very thin very quickly.
What I found even more offensive was the long list of stereotypes the movie presents as truth - the Irish are not terribly bright, they drink too much and they love to fight. They are also terminally colorful, with boatloads of goofy mannerisms and mumbled Gaelic weirdness. They are impossibly rude to lost Americans, at whom the men point and laugh like mean girls. Even their dogs are mean.
One thing this movie gets completely wrong is the Boston Irish girl played by Amy Adams. Apparently, the writers think Boston Irish are a stuffy, humorless race of gingers who never joke about anything and never realize they're being teased. Also, she sounds like she grew up in Colorado. (I'm told Matthew Goode's Irish accent is all wrong, too.)
There is some lovely authentic-looking scenery, which earn 5 stars for this movie.
Old man's sad fantasy
If the young-hottie-inexplicably-f*cks-ugly-old-guy theme of this movie reminds you of "The Human Stain," that would be because they are both based on novels by Philip Roth, who evidently either has been chronicling *someone's* use of literary celebrity (Library of America editions already!) to get awestruck girls into bed, or else enjoys writing out his harmless fantasies about same. In either case, who can blame him?
It does make for some "Oh, please" moments, but this movie is somewhat better than "The Human Stain" because it is a real love story. The ugly old guy actually falls in love with the young hottie; he breaks off the relationship because the problems presented by the 30-year difference in their ages seem insurmountable to him, only to find out two years later that the young hottie was in love with him all along, not merely an infatuated young lit-groupie.
Sadly, the movie solves the age-difference problem by giving the young hottie breast cancer, which, as she puts it, now makes her feel like the older one. This shamefully simple-minded plot twist supposedly makes the two of them a little bit closer in the looks department (but not really - I mean, it's Penelope Cruz vs Ben Kingsley), deprives the ugly old guy of one of the young hottie's breasts that he loved so much by way of punishment for being such a lecher, and, in the worst case, might put them on their death beds at about the same time. Problem solved, if you're a senile writer or a heartless filmmaker, but it leaves a very, very bad taste in the viewer's mouth.
Ben Kingsley is quite good in this, as is the always-likable Dennis Hopper in an uncharacteristic role as a dispenser of sane advice (which turns out to be wrong). And, of course, Penelope Cruz spends a lot of time topless. Our final glimpse of her breasts comes when she asks Ben Kingsley to photograph them before her mastectomy. It is meant to be the elegiac scene that gives the movie its title, but there is something embarrassing and almost laughable about it, as if the writer's fantasies finally run away with him. (In fairness to Roth, I am told the novel ends differently.) If I had written it, it probably would have been about getting a last glimpse of a woman's double-D's before she has breast reduction surgery to relieve her backaches, so it's all relative, isn't it?
A woman who is not your wife - a slightly unhinged temp at your company - follows you into the men's room at the Christmas party and tries to go down on you. You are happily married. Even though you are slightly drunk, you are in control of yourself enough to leave her there and go home to your wife and son, whom you love very much. Question: What do you do first thing the next business day? Unless you're a complete moron, you go straight to Human Resources, relate the incident as best you can, and let them deal with it, right? Well, in this simple-minded piece of junk, the characters are all - ALL, without exception - morons.
"Obsessed" is basically an adolescent guy's fantasy of how awesome it would be to be married to Beyonce Knowles and to be stalked by Ali Larter at the same time - and, to be noble enough to Do The Right Thing. It is "Fatal Attraction" for the new millennium, when Hollywood no longer knows how to write, produce, direct, act or anything else that makes a movie watchable. I mean, the stalker actually slips the stalkee a mickey at one point! Seriously!
This is an unwatchable movie, and everyone who had anything to do with it should be ashamed.
The Family Stone (2005)
Rachel McAdams is the jewel
We were chatting the other day about the movie "Married Life" and how much we love Rachel McAdams in it, and gradually we realized that we love Rachel McAdams in everything we've ever seen her in. My daughter even went so far as to call McAdams her favorite actress ever. And then we saw her in this embarrassing clunker and it all came back -- she is literally the only good thing in it. And she is very good indeed.
The movie, alas, is not so good. It's filled with clichés, farcical, pseudo-emotional. It's a chick-flick-wannabe and it fails even at that. All of which makes McAdams' performance the more amazing, being set, as it has to be, against a cast of hopelessly bad actors trapped in a terrible script. I mean, you know when the pater- and materfamilias are Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton (who, naturally, is diagnosed with terminal cancer halfway through) and when one of their children is both deaf and gay (haven't those two minorities suffered enough?), and one of the characters - it doesn't really matter which one - is played by the unwatchable Sarah Jessica Parker - well, then you know you have serious problems.
But Rachel McAdams, who is forced to transform from acid-tongued meanie to repentant goodgirl, somehow manages to shrug off the unpleasantness and deliver a performance so convincing, so professional, that it brings tears to your eyes at precisely the moment when the less critical members of the audience are reaching for their third hankies.
Merry Christmas, everybody.
O death, where is thy stingalingling
These scuzzball horror flicks share the same handful of shopworn techniques and stock characters. In this case, there are the dimly lit interiors and nocturnal exteriors, the cartoonish "urban" black guy, the cute but ditzy starlet-wannabe, the noble Native American, the don't-mess-with-me hardass, the alarmed scientist nobody listens to until it's too late, the "Alien" ripoff monster, the interminable and absolutely pointless conversations and creeping around cluttered sets -- and, last but not least, one character who's gone all guilty and depressed and alcoholic over some mistake he or she once made, and who, we have to admit, would probably be better off dead. In this movie, it's ***************SPOILER ALERT*************** the lady sheriff, whose flashbacks about the little girl she accidentally killed make it very clear that she will sacrifice herself in the end to kill the monster and save her friends. Which she does. The scientist and the ditzy blond survive, everyone else is killed. And most of the time when there's a sudden noise and everyone spins around and points their guns at it, it's just one of the other characters tripping over something. Also, I think it has something to do with nuclear testing (it takes place in New Mexico), so it's kind of a Godzilla movie underneath it all. There, now you don't have to see it.
Smart People (2008)
No Oscar moments here
What on earth possessed the director of this movie to have his cast play all their scenes with absolutely flat affect? In the older actors, it looks like unrelieved clinical depression. In the younger ones, it comes off as adolescent smart-ass obnoxiousness. Either one is fine for a scene or two, but for the whole movie?? You wait for something, anything, to happen, and when it never does, your boredom turns to cynicism. Your most typical reaction is "Oh, please." When Sarah Jessica Parker cracks a tiny smile at the very end, it's so little and so late that it would've been a laugh-out-loud moment for the audience if we hadn't already given up in despair.
And I have a request. Will Hollywood please stop dumbing down the supposedly "smart people" in movies like this one? If somebody starts to quote a tiny little 16-word poem by William Carlos Williams - "so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens" - let them quote the whole freakin' thing, not just the first 8 words. We can take it, I promise. And please, don't have the same character go on to spout the first Cliff Notes platitude about it that comes to the writers' minds. Either say something meaningful, or shut the f*ck up. Thank you.
Starring actors you've never heard of, and taking place entirely at night and in sewers and other dark venues (the predator actually cuts the power to the town at one point to insure the movie makers won't have to spend any money on sets and effects), with cretinous dialog, no plot whatsoever, and characters whose deaths you greet with a shrug and a yawn, this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. It is the disgraceful bottoming out of two great franchises, and I spent $4.99 on pay-per-view to see it. Go ahead, laugh, I deserve it.
There is nothing more to say about this horrible movie, but IMDb won't let me enter my review until I've used up ten lines, so here goes: Don't see this movie, don't rent it, and for heaven's sake don't see any movie ever made or that ever will be made by the schmendricks who are responsible for it.
Le ballon rouge (1956)
Still the best
My wife needed some movies as a treat for the children in a reading group she teaches at a local elementary school, so she brought in some VHS movies our kids loved when they were little, including a few Disney classics and Le Ballon Rouge. She said they fidgeted through all of the other movies, but they sat absolutely entranced by Le Ballon Rouge. When it was over, they made her rewind it and play it again. And unlike the other movies, they had no question for her about this one -- the understood it immediately.
This is no ordinary kids movie, in other words. It is a beautifully filmed, spellbinding classic. If you have young children, or you just want to see what all the fuss is about, because I see I am not the only person here to give it 10 stars, you need to rent or buy this little gem right away.
The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007)
If you love professional wrestling you'll love this stinker
In professional wrestling matches, at least in the good old days, there would come a moment when the "good" wrestler, the "clean" guy who would never engage in "illegal" moves, after having been put through 10 minutes of excruciating pain by his "bad" wrestler opponent who has no such scruples, far from being permanently disabled as you would expect, finally gets fed up and decides not to take it anymore. With one swift but satisfying drop-kick, he turns the tables and proceeds to deliver a humiliating trouncing to the bad guy as the fans scream approval.
That, in a nutshell is the plot of this movie. Only instead of 10 minutes it lasts for -- I don't know, it felt like 3 or 4 hours but I guess it was only about 90 minutes. The acting is nonexistent, the plot is stupid, the special effects are laughable, and the whole thing is so badly lit you get a headache squinting at it. The only use I can think of for this movie is as a safe and effective alternative to sleeping pills. Some of the talkier sections are that boring.
The world is an evil place
I assume Sidney Lumet can have his pick of projects, and I assume he picked this one as a kind of last word on the human race. He gave that word to Leonardo Cimino, who plays the ancient, wizened diamond dealer who fences stolen gems from his walk-up shop on 47th Street. The world is indeed an evil place, if all you knew about it was this grim story about two sons, one a worthless deadbeat dad and the other a self-pitying heroin addict, who who try to pull off the perfect robbery and instead land themselves in the worst trouble imaginable.
It's almost too horrible. The tragedy is Jacobean in its working out, as if John Webster or Thomas Middleton had come back. Lumet spits on the character's hopes at every turn, and in the end even spits on the audience's hopes. I don't know why, but there is something exhilarating about these dramas. Maybe they appeal to the sadist in all of us; maybe they confirm our most secret cynical thoughts about the damned human race; and maybe we leave the theater feeling not quite so depressed about our own troubles.