THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (***1/2) is one of the best superhero movies I've seen. It doesn't just throw stupid action on the screen with hackneyed underdeveloped plotlines to keep it moving. Instead it created genuine characters that we care about as the strong center of this adventure story. Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone have magnificent chemistry.
AMOUR (***1/2) is the slow & sad story of a very old couple's undying love in the face of the wife's imminent death. Emmanuelle Riva & Jean-Louis Trintignant provide lovely performances to this slightly tedious but overall hypnotically heartbreaking film.
In ANNA KARENINA (***), director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) tries an intriguing approach to the telling of this story, setting it all inside of a theater and implementing theatrical conventions in lieu of realism for a lot of the storytelling. It’s hard to explain exactly what he does, largely because the convention is inconsistently implemented in a way that makes it hard to distill the what & why of the approach down to an stimulatingly direct effect. Thusly, the picture sort of never picks up full steam; however it is full of enthralling scenes and decent acting (though I’m growing tired of star Keira Knightly’s auto-pilot glowing & wincing).
ARBITRAGE (***1/2) stars Richard Gere as a Bernie Madoff-type suit who's in so deep that we just revel in watching him fight desperately to pull through unscathed while keeping his facade. Watching it, I thought about how legal thrillers like this truly can be the thinking man's Indiana Jones - Indiana had a physical rolling rock & a hard place to slip through by the skin of his teeth, Gere's Richard Miller has seriously threatening metaphorical ones. Gere is terrific, as are Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, & others in supporting roles. Check it out!
ARGO (***1/2) is Ben Affleck's third & best directorial achievement, about the CIA operation to ex-filtrate 6 Americans from the embassy in Iran in the late-70's. Based on a shocking & nail-biting true story, it's quite a film.
THE AVENGERS (**) was... barely bearable. Sure, RDJ was funny, Mark Ruffalo was interesting enough to watch, & the special effects were... effective? But seriously people - what the hell was going ON in this movie?? Ugh. I've had enough weird "super" Norse gods battling in Manhattan to last me a lifetime after Thor and now this. And that giant metallic cockroach crawling the city at the end?? Uh uh, nope...
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (***1/2). I first gave this movie ** and wrote: "Beasts..., about a young poor girl in rural New Orleans, is the 'feel-good, inspiring, indie family drama of the year', it seems like people are saying. But I gotta say, I was bored off my katoosh. Sorry... I think that means my tastes are unsophisticated, but hey - that was my genuine response. Take it or leave it." And now I say: nevermind! Just needed to actually be awake & ready to tune in to its unique preciousness. What a world, what a tale; I still have a few small qualms, but check it out!
BERNIE (***1/2) features Jack Black's best work that I've seen, in a rare mostly-dramatic turn. He plays the true character of a mortician who's hiding a dark murderous secret from his warm suburban community. It features interviews with real people who knew the real guy. It's unlike any other film I've ever seen, and rather terrific.
BRAVE (***) was slightly sub-par for Pixar - formulaic and not hilarious. But it's a lovely adventure story with some solid storytelling.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (***) is one of the most inventive horror movies I've ever seen. It's far from the scariest or the most convincing moment-to-moment, but the big-picture gimmick is really quite ingenious and entertaining to watch play out. Go & enjoy!
THE CAMPAIGN (***) features Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis as Democrat & Republican candidates, respectively, in this hilarious politic satire. Not a top tier comedy, but very funny - Zach G in particular. See it if only for his masterful comedic skill.
CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER (***1/2) stars Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg as ex-lover best friends. It's tender, deep, true, and hysterical. More of a drama than I expected, it balances the drama & comedy of real life beautifully. I hope award voters strongly consider the duo, especially Jones.
CLOUD ATLAS (***). I have absolutely no idea what to say. Wow. Um. What a strange movie. If you're ready to sit through a 3 hour opus with 6 different story lines (that span centuries) whose connection is ethereal, then please go for it with this one, because it's flirting with greatness. But sadly it only flirts, missing the mark in a lot of ways. For some it will be unbearable, for others it will blow your mind. For most, it will probably waver between each response over & over again, as it did for me. Some bonus points for bold efforts & lofty goals almost land it ***1/2, but I just can't go there.
COMPLIANCE (***) is based on the true story of a man who prank calls a fast food restaurant and convinces the manager (Ann Dowd) he's a cop, convincing her to do fairly awful things to an employee who he claims stole money from a customer, to speed the process along while he's "on his way there". It's pretty shocking what goes down, so much so that it's fairly hard to buy these characters and makes you question how many liberties the movie may have taken on the story. Some of the dialogue & acting is hard to swallow, but it's certainly an engaging story, and Ann Dowd is just terrific.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (***) is a B- movie inside the clothes of an A- movie. I think that averages out to a B, unfortunately. It's a far cry from bad - it's definitely thrilling & engrossing & beautifully filmed - but it's no Dark Knight unfortunately.
THE DICTATOR (***) was pretty hilarious. Sacha Baron Cohen plays a cartoon of Bin Laden in this biting & wildly creative satire.
DISCONNECT (***1/2) is a Crash-like tapestry of lives & relationships strained by the disconnections instigated & exacerbated by modern technology. While heavy-handed at times, it's ultimately a touching & effective piece, featuring some wonderful performances, including Jason Bateman in a rare dramatic turn as the father of a suicidal teen.
With DJANGO UNCHAINED (***1/2), Quentin Tarantino does it again! And the blend of Tarantinoism and the slavery south is really something. German Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, delightful to watch as always) frees a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) & takes him on to help him as a bounty hunter, until they ultimately take on the task of attempting to free Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from saucy uppity plantation owner Monsieur Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio, excellently alive & playful). Guess what: blood ensues. It’s quite a fun ride, and Samuel L. Jackson delivers a hilarious, career-revitalizing performance as DiCaprio’s head butler.
END OF WATCH (***) follows Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena as buddy LA cops as they rough it on "the beat", as they call it. They have cameras & are filming their daily lives "for a project", making the movie feel like a peek in at real LA-cop life. It's a little been-there-done-that cliched, but it's well-acted & intense. Moderately worth it if it sounds up your alley.
THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (***) stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt as a couple that are engaged for... you guessed it: 5 years. Comedy ensues as they try to stay engaged despite life's obstacles. It's not terrific, but it's solid funny & tender entertainment.
Early on in FLIGHT (***), there is an amazing scene in which a plane malfunctions and pilot Denzel Washington manages to miraculously crash land it in a field in such a way that only 6 people die. But it turns out he was drunk & high on coke at the time... Investigation ensues, along with moderately entertaining drama and a slightly cliched & tiring, but nonetheless relatively moving, alcoholic-character-study.
HAYWIRE (**1/2) is a Stephen Soderbergh thriller, and therefore something you'd expect to be awesome. At moments it is, and it's ultimately enjoyable enough. But it's far more confusing than it needs to be, and there are too many movies where the acting &/or directing just feels sloppy and... bad. A true mixed bag.
HITCHCOCK (***) is the probably-not-all-that-true story of the making of Psycho, with Anthony Hopkins in a pretty great turn as Hitch and Helen Mirren in an excellent turn as his wife Alma. It focuses on the complexity of their nuanced relationship and how moviemaking, especially when Hitch flirts with his beautiful young leads (such as Psycho’s Janet Leigh, played by Scarlett Johansson), causes tumult in their dynamic. It’s a little meandering and unexciting, but sufficiently entertains, especially due to the performances.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (***) is decently entertaining, for sure! But it is 3 hours and a distinct step-down from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so... not worth the investment of time if you're on the fence about it. The writing is weaker and it's a lot more fake & CGI-ey & glossy looking, BUT there are some terrific action sequences and the last hour is pretty rad. Martin Freeman makes a MUCH more entertaining main character than Elijah Wood does, too.
HOLY MOTORS (????), a crazy-ass French film, is SO strange that it merits the creation of a new rating: 4 question marks instead of stars. I can’t give this movie a bad review because it created such a unique & enthralling world, but I simply can’t give it a good review either because it was SO, SO WEIRD!!!!!! And not in a David Lynch kind of way (a good way), where you sit there thinking to yourself “Ok, I don’t exactly know what I’m watching, but I feel like if I keep leaning in, I’ll figure it out.” Instead, you’re more thinking “I know exactly what I’m watching and am not confused at all; I’m just confused by the fact that anyone would think that THIS is a story that should be told, cuz this story is SO WEIRD!!!!!!!!!!!” So, go if that interests you?...
HOPE SPRINGS (***1/2). Meryl Streep & Tommy Lee Jones go to marriage counseling with therapist Steve Carell in Maine in an attempt to resuscitate their sex life. Wow - If you wanna watch two absolute pros go to work, take a look. A true dramedy that captures the funny & heart-wrenching in tandem.
THE HUNGER GAMES (***) was fun. Sure. I see what the big deal is. Kinda. Yeah, ok. That's all.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (***1/2) is based on the true story of a family that miraculously survived the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Child phenom Tom Holland is outstanding as the central character, and Noami Watts deserves her Oscar nod as the mom. Ewan McGregor provides some of his finest work as the dad, though for me that just means he's pretty good. I wished it had used camera angles & music to greater effect, but it was profoundly moving indeed.
JACK REACHER (***) is no Mission:Impossible, but it's also no load of crap. It's about as enjoyable as a movie like that has to be to be barely worth seeing. The dialogue and action are often scoff-worthy, but the plot holds it together.
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (***) is a divine dramedy starring Jason Segal as the arrested-development titular Jeff and Ed Helms as his mess of a married older brother. Susan Sarandon shines as their mother, and they both do wonderful work. The movie itself is at times note-perfect, balancing comedy & drama in a lovely way. But it's also a little precious and skin-deep, so only go if you're not allergic to that kind of thing.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (***) pits a pretzelly crime world against the backdrop of the fall of 2008 market crash & election, which bubbles up some undercurrents of the parallel between crime & politics. It features some excellent performances (Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Scott McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn) and is almost an excellent excellent film, but never quite hits the nail on the head.
A LATE QUARTET (***) features Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, and Mark Ivanir as a string quartet which starts to crumble when Walken comes down with Parkinson's Disease, trigging the surfacing of some deep-rooted inner-quartet turmoil. It's impressive how entertaining these actors make a movie about a string quartet, but it's still a movie about a string quartet...
LAWLESS (***) is an ensemble period crime drama starring Shia Labeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain & Guy Pearce. It's a *good movie*. Not a great movie. That's all I feel like bothering to say about it right now.
LES MISERABLES (***1/2) is one of the best movie-musicals I've ever seen. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, and Eddie Redmayne stand out in an aces ensemble, in an enthralling & heart-wrenching world created by the fine craftsman Tom Hooper (Oscar winner for The King's Speech). Go!
LIFE OF PI (***) is about as good as a movie about a boy & a tiger on a lifeboat can possibly be. So, it’s interesting, relatively dramatically satisfying, at times enthralling, and ultimately heartwarming. But it’s also decently boring.
LINCOLN (***) features a crazy good performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham, but beyond him the movie sort of inches along through over two and a half hours of politalk, predictably “inspirational” story, & manipulative sweeping scores. However, it manipulates well enough to muster a 3-star rating out of this guy…
LOOPER (***1/2) is one of the best sci-fi thrillers in quite some time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a "looper" in 2044, who is hired by the 2074 mafia to kill targets that they send back in time, until the send back his future self (Bruce Willis), intending for him to "close his loop". It's twisty and a whole lot of fun! Really well thought out & well made.
MAGIC MIKE (***), the stripper movie starring Channing Tatum, is a lot better than I thought it would be. It's classic Steven Soderbergh storytelling - a slow-burn plot with rich & dynamic characters that surprises you in how much it consumes you.
THE MASTER (****) is the "scientology movie", with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd (who is "not L. Ron Hubbard") and Joaquin Phoenix as his demented, PTSD-suffering dominion. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson succeeds with flying colors yet again, crafting a delicate piece that subtly dazzles. Beautifully-shot with a perfectly odd score, it wows you with one good scene after another, most of them pitting two of Hollywood's best actors against each other, in what I would deem their respective finest performances yet.
MEN IN BLACK 3 (***) does a decent job of resuscitating the series. It's certainly better than MiB2 and quality enough fun.
MOONRISE KINGDOM (***1/2) isn't Wes Anderson's best (that's still Royal Tenenbaums for me), but it's right up there - gorgeous, enthralling, hilarious, & stiltedly moving.
PEOPLE LIKE US (***) is about a man (Chris Pine) who, upon the death of his music producer father, discovers that he has a half-sister (Elizabeth Banks). He tries to involve himself with the life of her & her young son while keeping the familial connection a secret (for good reasons I have insufficient time to explain), and guess what - that leads to stickiness. It's a little cliched and saccharine, but it manipulates rather well - telling quite a story in a moving way.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (***1/2) is one of the most nostaglia-inducing films I've ever seen - at least that was my experience. The story of a loner high school freshman (the subtle & enchanting Logan Lerman) coming of age and finding himself through his friendship with a group of seniors (primarily pretty-girl Emma Watson and her gay step-brother Ezra Miller), it's moving & relevant on a macro level by telling a story with precious micro details. And Miller has really proven himself to be quite a talent, delivering a layered performance here that nails the comedy while also diving deep.
PREMIUM RUSH (***) is a high-octane thrill-ride. Yes, it's the "Joseph Gordon-Levitt bike messenger thriller", which can sounds like a lame turnoff; but it really is suspenseful and a well-unfolded nail-biter.
PROMETHEUS (**1/2) was kinda gross. Unnecessarily so. It was decently engrossing & visually impressive, but was rather wonky in it's logic & pacing and generally didn't make a whole lot of sense.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION (**1/2) is a relatively entertaining Indonesian action flick about 20 cops infiltrating a tall building in Jakarta, primed to take down an evil crime boss at the top. It doesn't try to be anything it's not, and has some pretty stellar action sequences; but it's being hailed by many as more revolutionary in the action genre than I'd give it credit for.
RUBY SPARKS (***), about a writer (Paul Dano) and the sprightly character Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) who comes to life as he writes her, is magical & creative & lovely. Not terrific, but fine storytelling.
RUST AND BONE (***) is likely to be nominated best actress for Marion Cotillard’s deeply-felt performance a whale trainer who loses her legs in an accident. Though the movie is more about her friend (Matthias Schoenaerts) whose life involves its own struggles – he’s quite good, but his story line is not quite as interesting as hers is. You sort of spend the movie just wanting to watch more of Cotillard being French & beautiful & enthralling – as she always is - and less of other things.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (***1/2) stars Mark Duplass as a man who believes he has built a time machine, and the journalist (Aubrey Plaza) who befriends him in order to secretly write a story about his "crazy" beliefs - but are they so crazy? It's a very enjoyable, very well-crafted film.
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (**) is a moderately contrived romantic comedy about a British government employee (Ewan McGregor) and a fish researcher (Emily Blunt) who are brought together (with romantic sparkle, despite their respective pre-existing relationships) to create a news story out of bringing thousands of salmon to Yemen to fulfill a rich man's dreams of...salmon fishing in the Yemen... in order to eclipse some bad British government news with the press. Ridiculous story, moderately successful acting & sweetness at times, but ultimately sort of blah.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (***). Steve Carell & Keira Knightly develop a maybe-romantic friendship as the world is coming to an end. It's not as great as I had hoped, but it's fairly lovely & funny.
THE SESSIONS (***1/2) is based on a true story about a man with polio (John Hawkes) who has only been able to move from the neck up since he was a kid, and lives his life between an iron lung and a gurney that assistants roll him around on. At age 39, he's a virgin, and sees a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to satisfy his desires to...change that. Hawkes is incredible, the movie's very very good (funny, tender, fascinating), and I wish Helen Hunt knew how to do a consistent Boston accent and not look like part of her wishes she were 10 years younger still (her face seems to have had some help looking so).
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (***1/2), in which Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken kidnap a mobster's (Woody Harrelson) dog, causing some...trouble... is a boat load of fun. Written & directed by the daaaarkly funny playwright Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), it's not only hilarious, it's also quite inventive & invigoratingly original. Definitely check it out if you like dark & twisted comedies.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (***1/2), mainly about two moderately crazy people (Bradley Cooper & Jenniver Lawrence, both excellent) in a will-they-or-won’t-they sexually charged friendship, is quite good. Director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings) does excellent work yet again, curating a set of delicious characters in a dramedy. Though I felt it took almost half the movie to really start take off.
SKYFALL (***) was a successfully entertaining Bond entry, but in my mind nothing to write home about. But definitely worth the fun ride, featuring a delicious performance by Javier Bardem as this outing’s baddie.
SLEEPWALK WITH ME (***1/2). Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia made a play in NYC about his life's struggles with stand-up and sleepwalking (and relationships and everything under the sun), and then made that into this movie! He narrates to the camera as we watch a reenactment of awe-inspiring true life stories. One of the most hilarious & precious movies about the pursuit of stand-up success and the fears & anxieties tied up in committing to a partner.
TED (***), about Mark Wahlberg and his potty-mouthed teddy-bear best friend, is hilaaaarious. Check it out if it sounds like your jam.
THIS IS 40 (**) was a real disappointment, which is very sad because it was clear to me just how good it COULD have been, if it had just been a little tighter, sharper, & funnier. But sadly, this comedy about a 40-year-old couple of parents (Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann) and their growing pains narrowly misses the mark time & time again for 2 hours and 15 minutes (wayyy too long). The first thing director Judd Apatow should have done to make it better was not cast his wife Mann in the female lead, as she is atonal & inhuman - she has character actress chops, but simply can't carry a movie. Apatow's real-life kids do better in the child roles.
21 JUMP STREET (***) is a riotous action-comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. It's not fine art, but it's a blast. Jonah Hill continues to be a Rumplestiltskin of comic gold in my book.
YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (***) stars Mark Duplass who finds himself in a sort of love triangle with his late brother's ex-girlfriend (Emily Blunt) and her mostly-lesbian sister (Rosemarie DeWitt). It's not enthralling but it's full of high-quality scenes & terrific acting.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (***1/2) is a rather engaging depiction of the 10-year hunt for Bin Laden. It's more impressive than it is entertaining, but I do mean it when I say it's impressive. The last 45 minutes are amazing, as you dive in among the soldiers for the actual strike on the house he was in. The almost 2 hours before that are a little more repetitive and talky than I would have liked, but it's all relatively fascinating stuff. This might be the worst review I've ever written. Does anyone read these anyway?