Quintessential "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" (or in this scenario "betrayed".) Gina Carano stars as "Mallory Kane" the superwoman who with Ramboesque finesse and Paula Radcliff swiftness, fells, singlehandedly, the nefarious forces seeking her obliteration for untoward reasons. Steven Soderbergh's slick and stylish thriller simmers with scintillating vignettes played by Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum. A soufflé of fabulous fun, lacking a deflated, but triumphant, entertaining, conclusion.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!
Just for the fun of it put this one on your list. Greg Kinnear is exhilarating as a conniving insurance agent "Mickey Prohaska" slowly succumbing to moral and financial turpitude; looking for the big score, in all the wrong places; Kinnear is incredulous, hypnotic in his characterization. The scintillating cast includes: Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson, David Harbour.
The setting, in the relentless and unforgiving winter of the Northern Plains, enhances the development of these strange, disparate, desperate souls; souls whose weirdness defines their suffering and strength, unique portrayals, one is unlikely to forget, or ever yearn to meet.
"Thin Ice" challenges the critic to curtail copious commentary, allowing the viewer to experience the revelations, surprises, the unexpected as the filmmakers intended. Sisters Jill and Karen Sprecher wrote (Jill directed) this quirky, pleasurable and ultimately satisfying film.
There are times when a movie is just a movie: entertaining, predictable, shallow but quenching one's thirst for diversion. A film not worthy of massive movie discussion groups; intense analytical dissection, preposterous, pondering, pontification. Just elementary, mindless fare.
"Gone" starring Amanda Seyfried is the perfect antidote for jet lag, escape from the ubiquitous, dunning, recurring chores of every day existence. Ms. Seyfried plays "Jill Parrish" a young woman with psychological problems resulting from an alleged kidnapping; she works the night shift in a seedy diner and returns home to find her sister "Molly" missing. Hence, commences her solo vigilante crusade to find her sister before she is slain by her abductor; Jill is convinced the same perpetrator who took her, has Molly.
A thriller, bland in comparison to many,( "Gone Baby Gone", "Taken") holds your attention because of the intensity of Ms. Seyfried's skill in her convincing portrayal of a woman determined to find her sister before the last grain of sand disappears from the hour glass.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!
Coming from a family of football fanatics; ingrained from birth, intrinsic in our genetic composition, male/female, there was no cure or escape from the game. Oh, the magnetic, magnificent, spellbinding, addictive oeuvre.
There is nothing more compelling than the "underdog", the omnipresent "defeated", rising like a phoenix from the ashes of their humiliation, accomplishing the unrealized, illusive winning season. Such is the Cinderella story of the Manassas Tigers (Memphis, Tennessee) a high school entrenched in archival losses; seasons without a win, hired by other schools as fodder to pound, plummet, and practice against. Along comes Bill Courtney, a mildly successful white businessman willing to pump and plunder the talent he envisions lurking beneath these tough, inner- city, frustrated, angry young men.
Directors Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin follow the team from commencement to conclusion through the 2009 season. The success of the documentary lies in depth of Mr. Courtney's commitment; displaying Olympian fortitude, never surrendering to the tempers, dispositions and whims of these volatile young men; dragging them from their homes to practice; gifting them the ability to function as a team, learning to sacrifice individuality for the collective. Whether a fan of the sport or not one has to revere the tenacity of a man (a volunteer) willing to sacrifice time with his wife and four children to salvage this bleak team; deprived economically, destitute of any formidable role models; struggling to see a light, somewhere in the tunnel of despair, a glimmer of a future.
Players: O.C. Brown, Montrail "Money" Brown, Chavis Daniels give satisfying and worthy performances playing themselves in these transformative times; not just the challenges on the field but also in the classroom, they strive to survive.
Having an uncle who was a college football coach, many weekends were made or destroyed by the final score. He was also a doctor and a philosopher with great equanimity, equally gracious in defeat; Bill Courtney taught his team this beautiful mantra. I will never fully grasp the seduction, lure of coaching; possibly Pygmalion, spiritual in coaxing the divine from the dismal, disadvantaged. "Undefeated" succeeds on many levels: elimination of racial divides; saluting the heroism that resides in all; dignity in defeat; ultimately, hope, love and tears spring from a myriad of guises.
How frequently do you exit a movie with a lighter step and brighter smile?
From the commencement of this preposterous, inane, ridiculous scenario; riddled with absurdities, unrealistic fantasies, you smile, chuckle and wallow in the marvelous performances of Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, (shades of Hepburn/Tracy) as two disparate people conscripted by an idealistic, catastrophically- wealthy Sheik (delightfully sincere and believable performance by Amr Waked) who has countless dwellings, but the one in Scotland allows him to dabble in fishing; with a financial genii of such magnitude he does not have to rub very hard to satisfy his every theoretical whim.
"Harriet" (Blunt) is a management consultant working with the Sheik; without guile, but with a sprinkling of humorous, enchanting theatrical nuances she hires "Dr. Alfred Jones" (McGregor), the bland and rather doltish Scottish fisheries expert to implement the salmon oasis in the Yemen.
The allure of the film is that the preposterous becomes plausible, ridiculous morphs into reasonable, the absurd and fantastical blur into the miraculous possibility of fruition; the Sheik with a diaphanous touch of spiritualism captures and converts the imagination of Harriet, Fred and an audience, initially leery into full-fledged believers.
Kristin Scott Thomas gives an absolutely hilarious jewel of a performance as a British public relations guru who seizes upon salmon fishing in the Yemen as the perfect foil to distract the public from Britain's role in the Afghanistan war; another notch on her spirited journey into the rarefied chambers of those whose abilities know no parameters.
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is maximum entertainment; it is warm, heartening, irresistible; we root for the success of the project; but the essence and unmitigated joy is witnessing two, maybe not extraordinary, but far from ordinary individuals, believing, growing, shedding illusions, finding solutions, happiness.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!
With the name "John Carter" images of elections in the fifth district appellate court; CEO of a Dow Jones Industrial Company, even president of a local school board are conjured up, but never as a mega- muscled hero, an Adonis, championing the just on Earth and Mars.
Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, produced by Disney and dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs this grossly overwrought, inflated financial endeavor (350 million dollars) is a misguided and senseless narrative; a flagrant waste of digitalization, not to reference squandering the precious commodity of time. Time better spent in a library, museum, online shopping, or vacuously gazing into space.
In fairness to "John Carter" (Taylor Kitsch is the hunk)) this is a genre that has never appealed to my (possibly limited) aesthetic. So on the plus side it is a visual, fantastical, beautiful sight to behold; a scientific, technological wonder, a feat of twenty-first century wizardry.
After fifteen minutes my brain catatonically collapsed, unnoticed behind the 3D glasses; sadly bereft of the "dozing" gene, zero emotional involvement with the characters, a predestined happy ending; I clandestinely analyzed my fellow attendees and surmised that I was a solitary representative of my age range and should have been wiser, and I should have left!
Read no further if spine-chilling, skin-prickling, nightmare-inducing "horror" flicks are not highlighted on your movie menu.
It is challenging to verbalize the addiction, affliction, attraction to terrifying, tortuous "scary" genres; they are universally ubiquitous and multitudes flock to first screenings at film festivals.
At the risk of offending those whose tastes conflict with mine, I am an elitist when it comes to the fear factor; it has to be real, believable; the first "Halloween" (1978) ranked at the top of the horror heap until "Michael" did not die; it skidded into the fantastical, unbelievable; eliminating the reality of a murderous, mortal miscreant. I also draw the line at "slasher", "saw", "vampire", stomach- rebelling, grizzly gore and guts: selections absent from my film fare. At this point Australia's "Wolf Creek" (2005) garnishes the Oscar as the most frightening film I have ever seen; resulting in a temporary remission from my fascination of fiendish flicks.
"Silent House", a remake of Gustavo Hernandez's "Las Casa Muda" supposedly based on actual events which occurred in 1940's, Uruguay, registered on my scare scale close to the summit. Husband and wife directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau ("Open Water", brilliantly, brutally, truthfully terrifying) have created a well-crafted, structured scenario, filmed in real time; the audience crawls through the shuddered, creepy darkness with the hapless "Sarah"; all emphasize with her painful, paralyzing plight.
Rarely do I go to a film for the actor but "Silent House" was an exception. Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Mary May Marlene") as the persecuted "Sarah" is beyond riveting; her potency as a performer is infused with the divine; she is mesmerizing; she thrashes, scorches and devours every scene; her metamorphism, without precedence; a force at twenty-three, I jubilantly anticipate her smashing, meteoric assent.
If this is your first tasting of the "ghastly" you might be tempted to go back for seconds.
This Israeli film delves into the lives and relationship of a father/ son; renown scholars of the Talmud (Judaism's holiest book; the literal translation is "to teach").
"Footnote" commences with the induction of "Uriel Shkolnik" (younger Professor Shkolnik: solid, sensitive depiction by Lior Ashkkenazi) into the Israeli Academy of Sciences; his speech resonates with respect, close to idolatry for his father and the tremendous inspiration instilled by "Eliezer Shkolnik" ( Shlomo Bar Aba). The camera focuses on the grumpy, curmudgeon who instead of pride and joy for his son, exhibits distain, envy, anger; hard to imagine the weight of the Sisyphean chip on his shoulder resulting from his lack of recognition by his peers; denying him for twenty years the coveted Israel Prize.
A tragic dilemma occurs resulting in a psychological study of father, son and their families. Of particular interest are the wives of these difficult men; devoted, conflicted women, searching for solutions and meaning in their brilliant, tortured mates and how to find a common ground in which to thrive.
This is a disturbing, and at times humorous slice of life. Watching it I thought of other father/son relationships where historically the son outshines the father in the same profession: Picasso's father knew when his son was ten that he had taught him all he could about painting; Bernini, late sixteenth, early seventeenth century Italian sculptor, transcended his father's gifts; Sammy Davis, Jr., Cal Ripken,Jr. starred and eclipsed in music and baseball the skills of their fathers; General Douglas MacArthur far exceeded his father on the battlefield. Today's Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli are the progeny and radiant legacies of Archie Manning, whose abilities on the football field have been bested by his sons. Most fathers would rejoice at the prowess of their sons, inheriting their gifts and taking those abilities to a higher level. Not Professor Eliezer Shkolnik; ultimately worthy of the solitary, lonely "footnote".
"Footnote" left me with an uneasy, disquieting sense of incompletion; I felt somewhat cheated by the outcome but not enough to deprive it of...
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!
There are times when one goes to a movie simply for its therapeutic, redemptive powers; times when life has delivered the unexpected curve ball; impatiently waiting for the "silver lining" to rear its healing head. "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" by the Duplass brothers (Jay and Mark "Cyrus") is quirky, compelling and in the end magical: why we enter a darkened venue and exit rejuvenated, calmed.
"Jeff", pivotally, charmingly, disarmingly portrayed by Jason Segal, is a thirty-year-old aimless, corpulent nerd, living in the basement of his mother's (Susan Sarandon, forever marvelous) home. He is fascinated by the movie "Signs" (M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 film, starring Mel Gibson as Reverend Graham Hess who discovers a 500 foot crop circle on his property , hence "signs"). Jeff is fierce in listening to his instincts, and when his phone rings and someone demands to speak to "Kevin" he is apologetic in telling the surly caller that Kevin does not live with him. Jeff leaves home and collides with his destiny.
At first ridiculous, but Jeff's "Kevin" quest is a journey resulting in reconnecting with his brother "Pat", (Ed Helms, annoying, egotistical portrait of a boy in a man's guise); his sister-in-law "Linda"(Judy Greer, "The Descendants"; her powerful performance lends legitimacy and potency to the film); ultimately his mother "Sharon" (Sarandon) whose frustration with her sons ("they were so cute", what happened?) and her life, climax on this catastrophic day, her birthday; all she asks for is a shutter to be repaired; receiving "Murphy's Law" moments in spades.
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" improves with each sequence due to Segal's imbuing Jeff with spiritual, almost messianic determination to follow his "signs"; culminating in the knowledge that by perpetually adhering to and acting upon your instincts, will result in contentment, completion, satisfaction, salvation of the spirit; an affirmation that goodness, decency and heroism reside in the core of the least expected.
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" annihilator of gloom, bestowing laughter; the quintessential curative for life's temporary shadows.
"Between the devil and the deep blue sea" originated in the Bible and has been a universal phrase throughout history; its major implication addresses a choice. Beautifully acted, but a morale depressant. "The Deep Blue Sea" revolves around "Hester" and her choice; Rachel Weisz imbues Hester with the intensity needed to portray a woman so blindly, passionately in love, forsaking everything to bask in the aura of her obsession: "Freddie" (Tom Hiddleston, F. Scott Fitzgerald in "Midnight in Paris") a beautiful, rum -guzzling, fun- seeking boy with the intellectual depth of a puddle after a five minute mist.
Director Terence Davies bases the scenario on the 1952 play by Terence Rattigan of the same title. Dreary, soggy London in 1950. All the characters are informed by WWII; Freddie peaked in 1940, still savoring religiously his military feats; Lady Hester, in a loveless marriage with a dignified, older, titled judge, ("William", Simon Russell Beale); witnessing her tortured psyche, wondering who she was before plunging recklessly, dashing all dignity, into the mire of paralyzing, hypnotic, numbing passion; her love for Freddie erased the past; her existence, her heart and her soul are defined by his presence, she is lifeless in his absence. The power of the film lies in questioning when love no longer ennobles, becomes lethal, empowering it to destroy, transform, maim the giver; suffocate, enervate the recipient.
To brighten and enlighten the lugubrious mood of the film, a lustful, "lushful" rollicking, nostalgic tavern scene where all wobbled and warbled to Jo Stafford's "You Belong To Me"; could there ever be a more physically perfect pair than Hester and Freddie?
Another ubiquitous expression "tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all" (Alfred Lord Tennyson). "The Deep Blue Sea" disturbingly ponders Hester's answer and choice.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!