Posts about Movie Reviews

Film Review: “Transcendence”

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Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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If you’ve ever wondered why Johnny Depp is such an amazing character actor but rarely features in roles that require him to be, well, the guy next door, then Transcendence provides you with more than enough reasons.

A sci-fi thriller that deceivingly convinces itself that it’s about a brilliant man transferring his mind to a machine and thus achieving ‘transcendence’, the film suffers – terribly, miserably, and oh so boringly – because it hasn’t done its homework. It has no idea how the science behind any such transference of mental acuity could possibly work. This isn’t 1970. Even the writers of The Big Bang Theory get their science right. And in the age of a populace bombarded with endless scientific studies on Climate Change, Cancer and miniseries like Cosmos are a television event… well, you better get your science damn straight.

It also doesn’t help that the film relegates Depp to secondary status: he’s sidelined in deference to the airy fairy ideas of “science” in the film that don’t amount to much. And when Johnny Depp – the scene-stealing center of many a classic and blockbuster – is relegated to second best to essentially nothing….well, we’ve got a bomb on our hands, folks.

And that too after The Lone Ranger. Yikes.

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Film Review: “The Railway Man”

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Photo Credit: The Weinstein Co.
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Confession: the movie I was most looking forward to last year was Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man. I found the trailer unbelievably moving, the performances from Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman seemed Oscar-bound, and the subject of war, torture and the remaining lifetime scars is something that seems ever-relevant in a world where a former administration is forever propounding the benefits of torture in protecting the American mass.

I’m happy to say that even though The Railway Man did not manage to mark its ground during awards season, it is as true blue Oscar bait as any film in recent memory. It’s a pity, then, that it’s being released in the run up to the popcorn festival that is the Summer Movie Season, but we’ll take what we can get, I suppose.

The story follows Eric Lomax, a WWII veteran played hauntingly by Colin Firth in what is perhaps his best work since The King’s Speech and (my favorite) A Single Man. Lomax is making some very awkward attempts at romancing Patricia (Kidman) who seems to pity him more than anything. We soon learn through flashbacks that Lomax was tortured by the Japanese during the war, and this Patricia finds unfathomable. They journey to Japan, where decades later, Lomax is reunited with his torturer, Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada). What follows is a confrontation of utter devastation … and enlightenment.

Most people probably won’t see The Railway Man because it’s an Oscar contender far outside of awards season. But the sublime work done by both Firth and Kidman (in a thoroughly sidelined leading role) are sure to win favor with those who enjoy cinema that makes difficult demands on its audience.

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Film Review: “Rio 2”

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
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I know I’m in the curmudgeonly old critical minority when I say this . . . but I genuinely did not care for the first Rio in 2011. It was as ho-hum and clichéd and been-there-seen-that as anything a major animation studio has put out since that 18th Land Before Time.

As such, I was prepared to hate the sequel: but lo! Low expectation saved the day! It’s actually not so shabby, with gorgeous animation (much better than the first) and spritely voice performances (led by Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg) leading the way. The songs are also not so bad (take this damning as praise, I say: singing toucans that aren’t in a Froot Loops commercial can only soar so far, figuratively or vocally).

The story picks up with the lead pair taking their newly hatched brood on an adventure into the wild where they can find the rest of their species, human scientist in tow. It’s cute, it’s adorable, it’s totally tailor-made for the under-10 crowd. Parents will likely tire of it halfway through given its focus on cute baby birds instead of the inside jokes of Shrek and Toy Story.

As decent a movie babysitter as you can hope to find this side of Pixar.

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Film Review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

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Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
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I will try (repeat: try) to be as objective as possible about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As a critic in an industry where superhero films are produced at higher speeds than the earth produces nitrogen, it has become a pitiless chore to sit through yet another superhero franchise movie. As such, it can be admittedly difficult to go in with an open mind. So, sorry, fan boys (and girls).

That being said, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is pleasantly refreshing. An obvious attempt to out-iron man Iron Man, the film has tons of lighthearted moments that keep the action fresh and from feeling labored (watch out for that disc). Some who saw the film with me found its mix of dark scenes with humor more than a bit jarring (it does get cartoony at times . . . but it’s based on a comic book, for Christ’s sake!)

The most surprising thing about the film is that it’s directed by a brother duo best known for their work on Arrested Development, about as far a reach from the cold heroism that permeates this movie. But the duo does justice to its story (kinda rickety at first, but then things begin to chug along smoothly, especially when Scarlett Johansson shows up). For those who have tired of a genre whose only purpose seems to be to spawn further and further franchise movie heroes, Captain America: Winter Soldier is, while predictable and formulaic, enjoyable for those willing to forgive its adherence to the mandates of modern movie superherodom.

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Film Review: “Under the Skin”

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Photo Credit: A24 Films
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My initial guess after walking out of the screening of Jonathan Glazer’s bizarrely fascinating new sci-fi feature Under the Skin is that most moviegoers will find it (if nothing else) difficult. This is a movie that defies classification. Can we really call it science fiction? Is it more along the lines of interspecies drama? Perhaps it’s so absurd we ought to call it ‘comedy’? ‘Black’ comedy? Is it, perhaps, even a movie in the traditional sense at all?

I’ll leave it to others to answer these questions for themselves. For me, I can only say that I found the film fascinating and superficial at the same time: Scarlett Johansson plays an alien being who comes to Earth and assumes the form of a plain young woman in Glasgow who then travels across the country looking for men to . . . destroy. She doesn’t want to destroy them because she’s evil. She has no concept of good or evil. She just wants to interact. The point of these interactions is to see how they go – her male conquests end up dissolving in a pool of black ink … and the alien doesn’t understand how or why anybody should be bothered. It’s just how things are when she’s around.

Johansson plays the character with a beautiful mix of flat placidity and eerie detachment. She doesn’t feel human emotions because she is, quite obviously, not human. But when a small flicker of what we might call ‘sympathy’ enters into her consciousness, something shakes. It’s not enough to make her question her actions, but it is enough –perhaps- that she asks the question at all.
One of the more thoughtful sci-fi entries in recent times, and definitely one you won’t be able to forget.

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Film Review: “Frankie and Alice”

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Photo Credit: Lionsgate
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Like most movies about characters suffering from multiple personality disorders, Frankie and Alice requires its audience to make huge leaps of faith in buying whatever dilemma the main character is really experiencing. We have, I believe for the first time, a story about a stripper with a split personality.

It would be easy to simply sit back and laugh at the many over-the-top situations that real-life 1970s stripper Frankie Murdoch experiences – it is an exercise in the absurd to imagine a woman offering up her lady parts to random, singles-waving male patrons while battling the voice of an inner demon . . . but to Berry credit, she pulls it off – really, really well. Even when Frankie is battling her alter ego Alice (a white racist, of all thing), Berry really makes you believe that she is judging herself. It gets emotional and raw (and often confusing), but this works in the film’s favor as it reflects precisely what Frankie herself experienced.

The plot does go off in too many directions a few too many times – just when you think the focus is taken off of Frankie for too long, the film comes back . . .only to meander again in another 10 minutes. I’ll blame the 9 credited screenwriters for that – what I can’t find fault with is Berry’s performance: easily one of the most memorable in recent years, and definitely the best thing she has done since her Oscar-winning turn in Monster’s Ball.

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Film Review: “Cesar Chavez”

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Photo Credit: Lionsgate Films
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What do you do when you love something too much? That seems to be at the heart of the troubles that comprise the admirable but flawed biopic Cesar Chavez.

Told by a group of filmmakers and actors who clearly revere the central subject of their story, the film works as a historical narrative of Chavez’s struggle to establish workers’ rights, but never quite gets rid of the halo it seems to have firmly implanted above Chavez’s head. Many historical figures – even ones like Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Freida Pinto, even Jesus – all get sainted by the conventional wisdom around their legacies. But these depictions often times translate to one-note and flat portrayals on screen, with too many of them reduced to the predictable foibles of being ‘heroic’. That’s what happens to Chavez.

The primary struggle in the film apart from Chavez’s very visceral head-to-head combat with American presidents Nixon and Reagan is that of the relationship he shares with his son. His son is forever carping that his father cares more about the social struggle of migrant workers and illegal aliens than he does for his own children – and he’s right.

But the movie brushes aside Chavez’s priorities and family life to make him a golden hued crusader. It all plays well, but feels much too muted. Chavez deserved better.

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Film Review: “Breathe In”

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Photo Credit: Cohen Media Group
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The first thing you will notice in the new drama breathe in from director Drake Doremua (whose name sounds like a character from Harry Potter) is that its lead Felicity Jones is very pretty. Once you get past how pretty she is, you will notice, damn can she act! She’s that rare combination of beauty and talent that is genuinely talented.

Unfortunately, the film she’s forced to hold up does its best to weight her down. She is supported by her co-star, the uber talented Mr. Guy Pearce, who also conjures a magnificent performance that is buoyed down by the so-so script. The film is kind of a rehash of American Beauty, with a 40-ish husband and father named Keith (Pearce) bogged down by a critical nag of a wife (Amy Ryan) who does her best to squash his dreams and keep him in the misery to which she is accustomed. Their teenage daughter is kind of a nightmare . . . until her foreign, British friend (Jones) shows up and reignites a passion for life and creativity in Keith which also includes an undeniable sexual chemistry. Uh oh.

If this sounds like American Beauty 2.0, it certainly doesn’t play like it. It has all the ingredients but none of the zest that the Kevin Spacey-Annette Bening classic did. The performances by Jones and Pearce are out of this world, but even they can’t rewrite the balderdash they’re given to perform. Eh.

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