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The Sidekick (II) (2013)
9/10
Immediately likable with a lingering feeling of goodness
9 February 2014
Anyone who has seen Rob Benedict perform knows that he has a skill for portraying characters who are down on their luck that are easy to root for, but I was delighted to find that he could skillfully write them just as effectively. He also shows a talent for writing something that is instantly entertaining, but where other comedic films could be very forgettable after viewing, this one lingers in your brain.

Max, the titular sidekick is an impressive balance of ineptitude and skill, bravado and vulnerability, and is very, very funny to watch. All the actors involved in the film are to be commended for the immensely human quality that they bring to heightened reality that they occupy and the chemistry that they use to show us the relationships within the short period of time that we have with the characters.

If you see this playing in a festival near you, you must do yourself a favor and improve your day by watching it. And then see if you can watch it again. It appears simple enough at first glance, but you will enjoy the subtleties it uses throughout and how it chooses to show rather than tell us about these endlessly quotable characters.

I'm trying to think of a more clever way to say that it was the highlight of the short films I saw recently, but I'm not as good with catchphrases as Max McCabe. Just try to watch it.
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Karl Mulberry (2010)
8/10
Charming and fun
20 March 2012
Saw this film as part of the LA Comedy Shorts block at a festival. It was easily my favorite of the films in its set.

The slightly heightened reality of Karl's world was enjoyable and because it was never presented in a heavy-handed way it was quite believable.

The title character is flawed, likable and very real in his mixed emotions. And the actor, Paul Goetz, was a treat to watch, especially in his interactions with his mother (also a delightful performer). All of the main three characters were very easy to like. I would love to see more of them. It succeeded for me in a way that the films I heard it being compared to (Juno, Napoleon Dynamite) weren't quite able to.

Very nice journey!
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10/10
As refreshing as the title implies
11 March 2012
Writing a good short film is a challenging undertaking. You want to tell a whole story with most of the things that major motion pictures have around ninety minutes or more to accomplish. This lovely short film succeeds at that on every level. I couldn't have been more pleased to have watched its screening. The writing is an excellent mix of grit, heart and humor with characters making the growth and transitions that they needed to to make the journey complete.

The acting is excellent, with everyone in the best role for their abilities. I cannot say enough good things about Parker, who was as good a fit for the script as I can imagine. From her first appearance she is a character to root for.

The visuals fit well with the movie, with the setting and surroundings playing as much a part as most of the actual people.

Very enjoyable and engrossing film overall. I'd suggest that everyone watch it.
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Clue (1985)
8/10
Frantically fun
3 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Before we were translating literally every board game, video game or action figure into a film, there was Clue. And what a success that was. It managed to combine laughs and slapstick with genuine suspense throughout.

Good character interaction that seems to reflect the quick back-and-forth of old noir mysteries without ever delving into making fun of it. Each character is cleverly crafted and played with obvious enjoyment.

The several possible ending scenarios was inspired. I watched it on television once with one person guilty. Imagine my surprise when someone else told me an entirely different character. It wasn't until I bought the movie that I figured out their game and then I laughed even harder at the coup they pulled off.

Watch it on a rainy night. It won't disappoint.
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Halloween (2007)
4/10
Sometimes it's better to fear the unknown
3 March 2012
I'm not always against remakes as a concept (some movies have benefited from them) and honestly, if a horror series was going to get a reboot, I would be rooting for Halloween, a series that started out so strong, but eventually fizzled a bit. However, this remake seemed tremendously mishandled.

To delve too much into Myer's back story is to rob us of one of the most frightening aspects of the character. The fact that we don't know why he does what he does or what makes him tick is erased when you make him an angry abused redneck child who wasn't allowed to go trick or treating. It also a common problem with Zombie's films that he tries for over-the-top dialog that doesn't mesh well with the gruesome action of the film.

Again, I'm not a "don't f*** with the original" purist, but I think this one would have best been left alone.
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9/10
Thrilling
3 March 2012
By which I don't mean to say that it's non-stop action or a thriller, only that it was a thrilling experience for me. I went into the movie knowing really nothing about except that a trusted friend recommended it. I have even more trust in his opinion now.

Many have questioned the casting of Tom Hanks as a gangster and I can see why, but as a fugitive, a family man and a human being, I can't imagine a better fit for the movie. Tyler Hoechlin is also to be commended for his wonderful performance. I found the entire movie amazingly well-cast, actually, everyone a good fit. And kudos to Jude Law also for going so very much against type and embodying such a repellent character.

The best interactions are between Michael Sullivan's Sr. and Jr, but much credit has to be given to the contrast between their relationship and John and Connor Rooney's (acted to perfection by Paul Newman and Daniel Craig).

I found that one of the film's greatest strengths was it's decision to depict so much of the violence barely in frame or viewed through an opening. It was a a nice way of establishing how Sullivan tried to put up a barrier between his job and his family.

Which, essentially, is what the whole film is about. Family, perspective and who we are versus what we do. Beautiful, stylish and wonderfully executed.
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Away We Go (2009)
8/10
wit, warmth and growth
3 March 2012
This movie was not what I expected at all. Maybe the fact that I went in with low expectations made it better for me. It was a quiet movie, slow moving and such a small piece of the characters' lives that at first I wasn't sure what story they were trying to tell, but it doesn't, nor should it, end with a baby being born, it ends with them coming a little bit closer to understanding where their place in the world is and what they want for themselves and their children.

The acting was fantastic from the two leads. Krasinski thankfully surprised me with being able to be something besides a variation of the Jim character and I look forward to seeing what else he is capable of. Maya Rudolph was a revelation. I've seen her effortlessly slip into "big" characters in all her years on SNL, but to see her play someone so subtle, breakable but resilient was fantastic. Their scene together on the trampoline remains to be one of the most poignant that I've seen in years.

The journey with them is worth taking. Give it a shot!
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The Artist (I) (2011)
8/10
Low on story, high on charm
3 March 2012
I very much enjoyed this movie. If it was an imperfect movie, it was equally as charming. The pacing never seemed to lag and though the story has been told before it was handled in some imaginative new ways.

Though a silent film, some of the scenes were clearly heavily inspired by Welles (the scene when they are watching the first clips of a movie in sound is very reminiscent of the newsreel scene in Kane and the breakfast sequence was an almost shot for shot copy of the dinner scene). I was very enchanted with the complicated relationship between Peppy and George.

Dujardin is a gift to silent film. His easy smile and somewhat Clark Gable-like charm keep George likable even as he spirals into depression, despair and ego-fueled meltdown. Bejo brings an energy and liveliness that is a credit to her. It's easy to see why he would both admire and resent her.

All that said, the story is actually a short one. With different direction and different actors, it would have been a sluggish movie indeed. There comes a point when it seems like they could have put more effort into the characters than just showing George lose more and more to the changing times.

Still, it is made up for by an inspired dream sequence and one thrilling dance number. These were the moments that truly made the film for me. It won't be for everyone, but I'd encourage anyone to give it a try.
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Citizen Kane (1941)
10/10
A game changer
1 March 2012
I understand why people don't like this movie. 100%. Some very intelligent, very film savvy people that I know are not fans of the film and they are right in their complaints: It IS too long, a bit dry, not exciting, and so it goes...

But I love it. The cinematography and shooting techniques (as you've probably heard before) changed filmmaking and survive even to this day. The dialog seems silly at first blush, but when I hear what the characters are ACTUALLY saying, it is heartbreaking "You'll hate it in Chicago, the wind comes right off that lake..." really means "Don't leave, you're the last one left that loved Charlie and Mr. Kane." The acting is still good even by today's standards. If you can get past the screeching voice of Mrs. Kane the 2nd, you'll find that she's very capable. Welles is like a pot left to slow boil with occasional eruptions and Joseph Cotton handles his role with an admirable mix of humor and sadness.

I come back to this movie time and time again and it doesn't disappoint. I won't try to change anyone's mind about it because as I said, the critiques are sound, but I'm glad this movie exists.
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5/10
An interesting attempt, but ultimately bland
1 March 2012
To start off with, let me say that I admire the attempt and it's always interesting to see filmmakers try to break away from the norm, but the risk you take with that is missing your mark. I know that he was not trying to make a film with a traditional narrative or a clear storyline, and that's admirable, but the ultimate result didn't sit well with me.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the acting reasonably good, but the writing is almost nonexistent and the characterization struggles. He is too unbalanced with the portrayal of the parents for them to be sympathetic (she too much of a doormat, he too much of a tyrant), but not thorough enough to make them realistic. I liked some of the ways they decided to compose the shots. Showing Sean Penn's character in a city full of sharp angles and massive buildings as opposed to the open spaces and gentle curvature of his surroundings as a child and all the shots taken through doorways were nice, but not ultimately worth the almost three hours I had to invest in muddy dialog and unconvincing accents to get to them.

This movie will very much be some people's cup of Darjeeling (I've heard it described as genius and a masterpiece), others will find it incomprehensible. I'm somewhere in the middle: I admire the filmmaker and its spirit, but don't think it's that great in the final analysis. I'm glad it has its audience. I'm also glad that I'm not part of it.
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Jekyll (2007– )
8/10
Excellent one-shot series
29 February 2012
I'm excited by any version of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (much like Treasure Island, but that's for a different review), but this one caught my attention before the first title card ever rolled.

James Nesbitt is a phenomenal character actor in this role, gleefully diving into the Hyde character and dolefully struggling to plant his feet in the world as Tom. Gina Bellman long ago earned her place in my heart as one of the most natural comedic actresses that I was lucky enough to watch, but she also performed her role as a ferocious mother and determined wife in the series.

It stumbled a bit in the last episode, but was captivating and tense for almost its entire run. A very good showing.
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3/10
Fails to deliver comedy or horror
29 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I have a hard time grading this movie because I'm never entirely sure what it was trying to accomplish. It was devoid of scariness because it never felt like there was any hope of survival or suspense. It just felt like a boring meandering route we had to take to see these characters ******************SPOILERS************************* die. Any movie that relies too heavily on gore, torture or shock value seems to fall into this trap.

If it was meant to be comedy, it failed because the over-the-top characters were goofy, but never clever.

Ultimately it was too silly to be scary and not silly enough to be funny. Very disappointing.
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Newsies (1992)
9/10
Uplifting and fun, takes me back to younger years
29 February 2012
Very important movie from my childhood. It has it's obvious flaws, too long, a few unnecessary musical numbers, not very true to historical events, but for me the positives outweigh it.

Some of the joy felt while watching comes from the fact that the entire cast seemed to be so joyous and fun while filming. They throw themselves into the songs, dances and silly New Yawk accents with relish and delight. Christian Bale was revealed to be a powerhouse performer even back then. The songs are fantastic even today, transportive and beautiful and the choreography allows the skilled dancers to shine.

It always manages to be a fun one to come back to.
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8/10
Great fun if ultimately unsatisfying
29 February 2012
The idea is spectacular in theory. Take the scene-stealing characters usually reserved for the supporting cast and give them the main stage with plenty of room to play. The execution was also good up to a point. Giving the likes of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branaugh free rein in a recording booth to just improvise and riff with each other was an inspired choice. The back and forth between the two characters and the genuine affection they seem to feel for each other in spite of their differences is delightful. It's in the other aspects that the film falls apart. The problem sets in because the movie was built around a good premise, not a good story. There isn't a strong enough antagonist, a believable romantic angle (though Chell makes a very interesting and different love interest) or a satisfying enough resolution to the conflict. The songs also sail, but fail to soar. I enjoy the movie in the same way that I enjoy a Hostess Cupcake: It's fun and delicious, but ultimately fails to feed me. Still, the heart comes from the friendship, and that's a lovely thing.
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Son of Rambow (2007)
9/10
Watched on a whim, THRILLED
29 February 2012
It isn't often when I pick up a movie out of boredom that it makes me excited about the stories to tell in film, but this was simply wonderful. The love between the two boys was amazing. That Will was so lonely he was grateful for whatever attention was paid him, that Lee was so nourished by Will's adoration and to have someone simply notice him for something besides bad behavior made both of them flawed, lovable and deeply human to me.

The comedy is a strong presence in the film, but it is full of heart, sincerity and tender moments. Both of the young boys in the leading roles are notable talents and the brother and exchange student both made for entertaining supporting characters.

The payoff of the film is the movie being made within the movie and getting to watch it in its entirety is special and moving. I urge everyone who hasn't watched the film to give it a shot.
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Tangled (2010)
9/10
Disney gets its sea legs back
29 February 2012
I can't say enough good things about this movie. It was a visual delight, strong on layered characters, well written, and just when I was considering the idea that the songs weren't as strong as they might be, along came "I See the Light" to bring back memories of watching movies from Disney's prime (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, etc). Rapunzel is one of the most endearing and believable Disney princesses I've seen and Rider was a comedic, cocky, but well-roundedly vulnerable hero for the story. Mother Gothel was the real standout, a clever, slinky, brilliant villain magnificently acted by Donna Murphy. A strangely realistic portrayal (in many aspects) of manipulation and brainwashing.

I've seen it three times and am not finished yet. Wonderful, rewarding movie.
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8/10
A very pleasant surprise!
29 February 2012
Having seen and enjoyed (if not been bowled over by) the original, I was surprised and delighted by this movie that seems to prove that Dreamworks, while still not quite on a Pixar level (Yet!) could soon catch them up. It handles much more sensitive material than the first movie and tackles some truly dark and heavy subject material, but manages to keep it from becoming a drama by dropping in comedic material in a manner that is never jarring, out of place, or desperate. Lord Shen made for one of the most delightful villains of recent movie history. His push against the future contrasting with Po's struggle with the past was wonderful to watch. Po's talks with his father brought a tear to my eye in more than one moment in the film. This company and production team have firmly established themselves as formidable storytellers and I'm eager to see what's next.
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8/10
Well crafted family story
29 February 2012
I find that when people ask me what this movie is about I have a hard time successfully telling them. Read the synopsis by all means, but like most summaries it barely scratches the surface. It's a story about a mother who leaves her family in the most permanent way imaginable. It's about a father struggling to maintain his unflappable optimism, a sister whose self-esteem leads her into self-sabotaging habits, another who is in complete emotional freefall, a son who is becoming aware of his family's dynamic and how it compares to the rest of the world's and how they manage to regain their footing by pursuing a very unusual profession. At its heart it is always about family. At their best Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are some of the most talented actresses working today and I was happy to see them both in a script worthy of their skills. Both are gifted at line delivery, but some of their most powerful scenes are nonverbal. The dynamic between all the characters is thoroughly real and enjoyable. I found myself very satisfied by all their resolutions. It was an excellent story to watch unfold.
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Juno (2007)
6/10
A mixed bag
29 February 2012
On a superficial level, I liked the film. It was an enjoyable little story with some character growth and unusual choices and some fairly well-established characters. The problem was that however firmly a character is established, I have trouble getting the movie if I don't like them. Juno is acerbic, quirky and mildly interesting, but I also found her largely unlikable. The voice overs all were enjoyable, but her actual dialog I found grating. It felt like having a conversation with that person who is only ever talking to try and land a joke. The only actor who seemed to be playing a character in the real world was Garner, who by my estimation was by far the most unsung cast member. That said, I found most of the supporting cast decent enough, all the acting well above average and as the Juno character did actually make some transitions in the course of the film, it is much better than it should be. I'd be interested to revisit it at some point.
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Sherlock (2010– )
10/10
My favorite version of the character yet
29 February 2012
I was cautiously optimistic about this series, having greatly enjoyed "Jekyll" for most of its run, but having watched the first series, I am completely on board. In with both feet. Up to the knees if necessary. Cumberbatch and Freeman are both excellent actors in their own right, but together they are a force to be reckoned with. Their interactions and chemistry are very fun to see as the competent and wry Watson plays off of the brilliant but completely socially disconnected Holmes. Each episode does well standing on its own and clocking in at around 90 minutes they are each more like movies in a series. The fact that the pace never drags is an impressive feat. I'm excited to have found it and look forward to more.
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The Prestige (2006)
10/10
Remarkable. Nolan's best
29 February 2012
This movie was truly a game-changer for me. I initially saw it simply because I enjoyed some members of the cast so much (Bale, Caine, Bowie), but I left the theatre in awe. It is such a well-written, layered, intense, character driven story on par with Faustus or Jekyll and Hyde in terms of characters that are overly driven by their obsessions. It invites you to watch in the first lines of dialogue and from that point forward, you hardly have a choice. One of Nolan's strengths is that he doesn't shy away from difficult stories to tell. None of the characters are entirely likable. It's hard to pick someone to root for, but that is one of the things that makes them so human. Jackman and Bale are both fine actors that attack their roles with tremendous capability and Rebecca Hall is one of the best discoveries I've had in movies. Even Johansson, who is easily the weakest link, was used sparingly and didn't detract from the movie. The plot is fascinating and leads to an immensely satisfying ending. I can't watch this enough times.
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Pretty Little Liars (2010–2017)
7/10
Enjoyable indulgence.
29 February 2012
The best fare yet that ABC Family has had to offer. Certainly a flawed mystery with an almost omnipotent foe for our four heroes and flashbacks that you'd think it wouldn't take them so long to remember, but however muddy the plot, it is more than made up for by the likable characters, interesting family dynamics and intriguing twists. The girls are all interestingly fleshed out and well-rounded individuals with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses and Spencer Hastings may well be the most exciting characters that television has offered in recent history. Aria, less so, but well-acted. I find myself tuning in every week in spite of knowing that they probably aren't going to tell me who A really is or who killed Allison, but fortunately the girls' individual issues and plot lines are generally developed well enough to distract me from the constant carrot-on-a-string treatment. Very fun and everyone should give it a shot.
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The Flight of Dragons (1982 Video)
10/10
Haunting and lovely
29 February 2012
A movie from my childhood that stands the test of time surprisingly well. Too often nostalgia casts things in a certain light that went revisited doesn't hold up, but this film is an exception. The story (about magic striving to survive in a world where science is increasingly able to do without it) is one that most people would be familiar with. Staying relevant is similar to survival in many cases. And James Earl Jones's voice is a true gift to the film as he adds a sense of menace that feels very real. John Ritter similarly is fantastic. He attacks the role with an admirable level of both self-importance and wonder. The animation is a bit primitive by today's standards, but I still find that I adore the character designs and colors. Finally finding a copy of this to own was one of my better days!
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Toute ma vie (2009)
9/10
Watch it if you have the chance
23 February 2012
I had the chance to see this at the Magnolia Film Festival in Starkville Mississippi 2011 and it was one of my favorite entries that year. It's dark and well-written, and interesting concept that left me with many questions about who was whom in the film. The script keeps your interest from the very beginning and the shift in mood before the end is palpable in the audience. The ending provoked literal gasps from many (probably including me, but I was very engrossed). In addition to the sharp and interesting dialog, it was well performed, making the characters' interactions and reactions feel very sincere and believable. If it's ever on a festival lineup in your area, be sure to give it a watch.
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8/10
Glamorous, giddy fun
23 February 2012
Two of the bombshells of their time in the same movie turn in enjoyable performances as the wry and clever Dorothy and the effervescent Lorelei. With the two of them capably steering the ship the amusing lines and fun songs are a treat to watch. It is a glitzy musical, making for wonderful spectacle from beginning to end. It is also a bold choice for the time, posing such theories as the fact that it's possible to be both a wide-eyed innocent and intelligent, or that one can love a man and his money. Or that a pragmatic and wise-cracking character can be swept off her feet without losing any of the qualities that made her unique and funny to start with. Modern romantic comedy could stand to learn a lesson from this movie.
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