The director, writers, producers must have suffered a meteoric meltdown to think that this sophomoric drivel qualifies as entertainment. An ageing, once renown soccer player, "George" (Gerard Butler) returns to a town of desperate housewives (Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta Jones, Judy Greer), to reconnect with his ten-year-old son, "Lewis" (an enchanting Noah Lomax)) and ex-wife, "Stacie" (Jessica Biel). Predictability ensues: ups and downs of a father/son relationship; out-of-work George tackles the challenges of coaching a beleaguered, winless, little league soccer team, hoping to garnish the esteem and affection of Lewis (and still loved ex-wife, Stacie).
If the script would have stayed true to this saccharine scenario it might have been modestly successful; the only scenes of value were on the soccer field and the discourse between Lewis, George and Stacie. Instead, the plot sinks into the salacious behavior of the "soccer moms", beautiful, bored predators, praying on the uninitiated, primate; testing his off-the-field skills; George becomes a tool, a foil, lending supposed legitimacy to women devoid of morals or purpose; their "Stepford" vapidity render characterizations that are repugnant, pitifully embarrassing. It is a conundrum, anomaly as to why fine actors would sink to the level of shallow, superficial, chauvinistic roles.
ONE & 1/2 STARS!
Which was precisely what the audience suffered through 97 minutes of this brutal, taut expose where all are nefarious; just varying degrees of separation. The once, remarkably handsome Brad Pitt, plays philosophical "gun-for-hire", "Jackie Cogan" who "kills" from a distance, so as not to get too personal, sentimentally involved; his creed is ambushed by circumstances and his assassinations spread blood as intensely as water in post-Katrina , New Orleans.
Director Andrew Dominik features a seasoned cast (Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Scott McNairy) in a glum, lugubrious plot, revolving around the financial woes of dismal, droll, untoward individuals.
It is 2008, and the strokes of visual and audio irony, referencing the waning days of the Bush administration, the implosion of the housing bubble and the platitudinous, prophetic rise of Barak Obama, lend minimal humor and legitimacy to the oh-so-sorrowful-scenario.
There is nothing, or no one to champion; just insignificant, worthless, unwashed villains (whose redolent, imagined pungent scent, triggered olfactory hallucinations), focusing on the indelible code of the underworld; it is a business, rules known and ruthlessly enforced; ambitiously, erroneously, paralleled with the United States, "Killing Them Softly" could not conclude fast or hard enough for me.
Eleven years ago I read and relished Yann Martel's irresistible, allegorical "Life of Pi"; many pivotal books gradually sink into the vast recesses of one's mind, titles fade, but in this instance Pi's journey sunk its literary teeth into a comfortable corner of my memory; took up permanent residence, and in gratitude to Ang Lee's profoundly beautiful, visual production, a substantive, realistic vibrancy emerges as the tale unfolds.
"Life of Pi" is a technological jewel: impeccable, magical cinematography (Claudio Miranda); 3-D intensely engaging, the viewer is embraced by nature's ferocity and enchantment. Underwater and celestial sequences, positively pregnant with the wizardry of man's imagination and skill.
The novel resonated as a metaphorical journey, each animal an anthropomorphic example of the human condition; every obstacle bested, resulting in one more sunrise, sunset; addressing why some thrive while others languish. At the powerful core was the mystical, metaphysical belief in a higher being, and Pi's acceptance of three primary religions: Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam; all protected him from demoralization, cloaked him in hope for 227 days; ship-wrecked in the Pacific Ocean; water and its curative, cleansing attributes play a key role in these diverse faiths and purge Pi of any incidentals, illusions as to himself and his insignificance when confronted with the daunting, unrelenting magnitude of nature. His sole companion, "Richard Parker", a glorious, wild Bengal tiger; Pi's nemesis to be trained, fed; a reason to fight the inevitability of death.
Suraj Sharma is genuine, refreshing, riveting, as "Pi" (shortened from, "Piscine Molitor" a swimming pool in Paris); at sixteen he is cauterized from all he knows: family, country, stability; levity, anguish, enlightenment inform his characterization. "Richard Parker", mistakenly named after his captor, is a metaphor for tackling one's eminent fears; Nietzsche thought that what does not fell us, fortifies our resolve. From the onset we know that Pi survives; the narrative is spun by the adult " Pi" (pure, arresting portrayal by Irrfan Khan) who tells his remarkable story to an inquisitive writer ( Rafe Spall).
Life is about choices and in conclusion "Life of Pi" leaves the choice to the reader/viewer. Herein, lies the greatness of this immaculately wonderful book and film.
It is a rarity, but it is nothing short of stupendous when a film exponentially gets better and better; David O. Russell's ("The Fighter") rocks the charts with this winner. Anticipation eliminated: "Silver Lining Playbook" garnishes five sterling STARS!!!!! I loved it.
From its tragic-comic commencement: "Pat Solitano" (herculean performance by Bradley Cooper) is picked up from a stint in a mental institution; he went berserk after discovering the infidelity of his wife with a fellow teacher; his mother "Dolores" (quiet, sensitive, masterful performance by Jackie Weaver, "Animal Kingdom") gingerly brings him home to "Pat, Sr." (Robert De Niro is pungently powerful as the obsessive, superstitious Philadelphia Eagles fan); from one raucous moment to the next, Pat's life is a cacophony of unexpected experiences; disjointed, misinterpreted dialogues with friends and strangers; lacerating honesty springs from his uninhibited mind; his inhibitions, boundaries have vanished; what spews off his tongue results in hilarious "truisms" that perpetually hit the bulls-eye on the reality scale.
The plot soars and sizzles when he meets "Tiffany" (Jennifer Lawrence at twenty-two has hermetically cornered stardom; palpable genius shimmering on the screen) a woundedâ€“widow, with the "mouth" of a stevedore and a will molded by devastation, she's a force that "Pat", bereft of innate defenses, challenges, but any victory, pyrrhic.
"Silver Lining Playbook" is profound in addressing life's cruel interruptions: loss of the known, love, and self; wounds heal but scars remain sacred, reminders of what's past but not determining, forecasting the future. Resonating with redemption, every character evolves, wordless introspectiveness morphs into rejuvenated, revived genuinely likeable even loveable individuals; striving, struggling within their natural sphere, all achieving their "personal best".
Minor roles by Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker gift layer upon layer of rollicking richness to this fine, joyously entertaining, uplifting film: signifying everything; leaving, believing the silver lining was always there, within reach, illusive but attainable.
Daniel Craig is an incredible actor but I felt was totally miscast as the dashing, elegant special agent "007,James Bond"; he lacked the debonair, savoir faire, Lothario charm and beauty of his predecessors; his female interactions hovered at the wham/bam level. He excelled as the robotic, mechanical slayer of evil miscreants, but lacked the instincts of a man who felled women with a single glance.
"Skyfall" is one of the finest action films in recent years: magnificently, thrillingly filmed; award-worthy cinematography; gone are the ubiquitous cliches, dated double entendres, casual, blase intimacies (one exception that is justified); now audiences are treated to a playing field where men and women are on par with each other.
The success of "Skyfall" lies in the contemporary and stunning portrayal of a more human, wounded, flawed and ageing "James Bond" and Daniel Craig is dazzling, brilliant in the role; magnificent commencement leading to his demise, resurrection, reinstatement, compellingly, realistically depicted; empathizing and rooting for the lacerated, crestfallen hero.
"Skyfall" triumphs in the relationship between "M" (another iconic performance by Judi Dench), "Silva" (Javiar Bardem, corners the market on unctuous, slimy, blazing villainy), and composed, mysterious Bond. Their relationships, history bleed wonderfully into each other; they are masters of their trade and with each hair-raising, surprising scene, reveal the essence, core of their nature, morphing into an intriguing, mesmerizing menage a trios; a triangle for the ages.
"Skyfall" (only at the conclusion does one learn its meaning) is titillating, scintillating, tauntingly innovative; minor roles of "Q" (Ben Whishaw), "Eve" (Naomie Harris), "Gareth Mallory" (Ralph Finnes), "Kincade" (Albert Finney) change previous conceptions of archival Bond films; Sam Mendes has directed a twenty-first century gem, a fascinating genesis destined to be exploited throughout the millennium.
FOUR & 1/2 STARS!!!!
An oxymoron; there are no "perks" to being a "wallflower"; many a wall was stained with my youthful DNA, some memories time does not erase; watching "Charlie" dealing with his disturbing visions, paranoia and primarily crippling shyness; hoping for the balm of friendship to sooth his painful vulnerabilities. Logan Lerman's performance as Charlie is skillful, lacking cloying sensationalism; as a freshman in high school he yearns for a single companion and fathoms the thousand- plus days left to be tortured, taunted, bereft and excluded.
Because of the tenacity of one particular friend; I succumbed to her intransigent insistence and saw "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (a phenomena that exponentially keeps audiences, returning, enthralled); it is compellingly- acted, powerfully- written and a contemporary commentary on intelligent, over-exposed, indulged, technologically sophisticated teenagers; but teenagers, nonetheless.
It is a movie about acceptance, longing not to live one's life on an island of solitude, isolation breeds discontent, insecurity, stymieing emotional and physical development; it accomplishes its mission, due to the scholarly depictions by these young, gifted actors. Lerman's Charlie is sensitive, grave, memorable; Emma Watson is "Sam" a kooky, bright, iconoclastic senior, she recognizes Charlie's needs and incorporates him into her sphere of nerdy outcasts; Ezra Miller (the bad seed in "We Need to Talk About Kevin") as "Patrick": gay, droll step-brother of Sam, is positively hypnotic in every scene; he is wise, weird, and wonderful; Mae Whitman sizzles as "Mary Elizabeth", the pragmatic, Harvard-bound temptress, an enthusiastic muse willing to eliminate Charlie's virginal state. What was so refreshing was the intellectual acuity exhibited by all the students; they were not flunking or bucking the system; they were studying and thriving within it.
Leaving, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" remembering Max Lerner's quote: "the turning point in the process of growing up, is when you discover the core of strength within you, that survives all the hurt". Charlie and his friends are halfway there!
Never, is one reminded more, that life is a series of transitions, than in Yaron Zilberman's "A Late Quartet"; four supremely talented musicians, after twenty-five years of performing together have reached a nadir in their professional and personal lives. Every actor brilliantly imbues their character with profound dignity. Philip Seymour Hoffman (2012 is his year) is second violinist, "Robert Gelbart", married to "Juliette" (group's violist), Catherine Keener; his life and love revolve around music and wife, but Juliette has kept her feelings in an impenetrable fortress throughout their marriage, even affecting their daughter "Alexandra" (simmering, sensual, Imogene Poots).
The primary focus of "A Late Quartet" is Beethoven's Quartet No.14, Opus 131 in C sharp minor (actors playing parts themselves; Brentano Quartet, the major portions), a challenging forty -minute composition, seven movements, performed without a break; herculean stamina is required to execute this masterpiece. Hence, the metaphor for the disintegration of this ageing quartet. Christopher Walken gives a divine, poignant portrayal as the senior member of the group, cellist "Peter Mitchell", diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, grieving the death of his operatic wife "Miriam" (mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter); the complexity of one of Beethoven's last creations is reminiscent of the vicissitudes facing the quartet.
The youngest and stratospherically gifted first violinist "Daniel Lerner" is depicted by smoky, explosive Mark Ivanir; he is wound as tightly as the hairs on his bow; controlled but possessing combustible emotions; the slimmest trigger could ignite a conflagration of the highest, destructive order.
Hoffman's performance is on par with Beethoven's Quartet; he is maimed, bleeds, his heart is torn but with instrument in hand, the world and all its glories, vices disappear; affirming the magnitude, awe, power, genius of the second violinist.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!!
What a remarkable surprise, entering with massive trepidation, realizing after fifteen minutes that "I really liked it".
"Cloud Atlas", (referring to a symphony composed as the film progresses ) is based upon the novel by David Mitchell, directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski ("The Matrix"); it is elegant, beautiful, lyrical, metaphorical, comical, confusing and confounding; a feast for the imagination; my best advice is to let "Cloud Atlas" imprison your mind's eye, take reign and gallop with one of the most ambitious, compelling stories in recent film. Confusion eventually morphs into understanding as we watch a myriad of talented actors assume various personages, gender changes, good/evil depictions through three disparate eras.
Halle Berry and Tom Hanks are the principal standard-bearers, storytellers; they are magnificent speaking a bastardized pig-Latin; with attentive listening, the viewer adjusts, meaning is clarified. Jim Broadbent adds Shakespearian comic relief as publisher, "Timothy Cavendish"; his escape from a home for the ageing, mentality deficient, is hilarious. Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Hugo Wearing, Jim Sturgess, Keith David, James D' Arcy, and ethereal, Korean Donna Bae appear at different times, in various, barely discernable guises.
At the core of this remarkable film is the question, pathos, comprehension of reincarnation; are we all contemporary versions of past selves? "Cloud Atlas" gifts resounding affirmativeness of previous lives, loves, chances lost, regained.
The film is flawed, oftentimes too surreal, too long (almost 3 hours) poorly edited, but its heart is grand; pulsating with vision and fortitude, "Cloud Atlas" transcends the ordinary, resonating with dazzling, luminous, extraordinary ingenuity.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!
A tiresome, true tale of an Israeli man, after the death of his 98–year-old grandmother, discovering correspondence, photographs and empirical evidence of a lifelong relationship between his Jewish grandparents and a German family, ranking high in Nazi echelons; their friendship commenced before the second world war and lasted well into the sixties with repeated trips to post-war Germany and other spots throughout Europe. We watch the "flat" being divested of archival material: papers, clothes, jewelry, long unread, unworn and the unearthing of a mysterious, unexplained personal fusion, that despite monumental obstacles, never died.
Arnon Goldfinger burrows deep into the lives of Kurt and Gerda Tuchler (his grandparents) and Leopold von Mildenstein and his wife. He follows the trail to Germany, interviewing the daughter and son-in-law of Von Mildenstein. What follows is obfuscation, ignoring the reality on the part of the Germans but also the lack of interest, inquiry of Mrs. Goldfinger, the daughter of Kurt and Gerda; she never asked or exhibited a modicum of curiosity in her parents past, their emigration to Palestine in the thirties, or why they lived for decades in Tel Aviv surrounded by German memorabilia; Gerda never mastered Hebrew.
Droningly narrated by Arnon, his dispassionate mother in tow, the answer from the embryonic stages to the conclusion, was completely obvious. Two intelligent couples, similar interests, forged a bond of friendship that the era, ideologies, war, could not render asunder; topics permanently avoided: religion and politics.
For those with the "cut to the chase syndrome", this line should suffice: I did not care for "Flight"! Admittedly, Denzel Washington is a terrific actor, even a great one, but he cannot save this tiresome, plummeting plot revolving around an alcoholic, cocaine-addicted airline pilot. From the onset we watch as he sniffs and drinks with a fellow airline employee before flying and landing an ill-fated plane, totally stoned. The first twenty -plus minutes are breath-defying and Washington's performance as "Whip Whitaker" is commanding, compelling, mesmerizing.
A blood test reveals toxic levels of alcohol in his system and he must testify before investigators, clarifying what occurred and led to the demise of the doomed aircraft. The audience is bludgeoned with scene after scene of massive consumption of legal and illegal substances; as Whip sinks into the possessive, smothering arms of perpetual inebriation, his credibility desecrated, garnishing pure disgust from family, friends, and the viewer.
Whitaker develops a relationship with a kindred addict, "Nicole" ( solid and likable performance by Kelly Riley); totally bereft of chemistry. She struggles with both of their defining issues, ultimately lacking the mettle to succeed, with Whip.
Minor roles depicted by John Goodman, Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood as "dealer, "lawyer" and "friend" add integrity, but lack enough screen time to change the rating.
In fairness to "Flight" (directed by Robert Zemeckis, also a pilot) I have never been a fan of "The Lost Weekend", "Days of Wine and Roses", "Leaving Las Vegas"; inimitable acting cannot overcome the bibulous subject.
Problematic and frightening was the lack of accountability, hedonistic, godlike, cavalier cockiness, flagrant disregard for captive souls, exhibited by Captain Whitaker; after almost 2&1/2 hours many took "flight" , recognizing that the "friendly skies" might be the playground for the unworthy navigator.