Tuesday, January 6, 2015

We've Moved!

I have moved, for the most part, to letterboxd.com where I will comment on ALL the movies I see each year. I may post longer reviews here as the spirit moves, but for the most part you can find me there.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year at the Movies - 2014

Happy New Year!

Here is a chronological list of the 2014 movies I saw in theaters this past year. My top ten favorites of the year are accompanied by images.

Jack Ryan
The Invisible Woman
The Monuments Men
Winter’s Tale
300: Rise of an Empire
Need for Speed


I enjoyed this surreal, sci-fi rendition of the Biblical story of Noah and the flood. Russell Crowe stands out as an Ahab-like captain of the Ark.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Although I was not always totally engaged by this film, I have to say that this is without a doubt the most meticulously conceived film of the year. Some of the sets are so full of color and detail you wish for the camera to linger longer - or you wish for the characters to return to that set but they don't. Though some parts work better than others, this film is always visually arresting.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Under the Skin

I’ve never seen anything like this movie. The surrealistic depictions of what the “alien” does with her victims is bizarre. The shots of Scotland are awe-inspiring. The film hits you in the gut in a number of places, and Johansson is perfect for the role.

Spider Man 2
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Million Dollar Arm

Edge of Tomorrow

I saw this a number of times at the movies, and I’ve watched it multiple times on DVD. Clever story, great editing, and an excellent Cruise performance as he mixes humor with serious acting. The year's most watchable movie full of humor and action.

The Fault in Our Stars
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Rover
The Immigrant
22 Jump Street
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dawn of the Apes
Planes: Fire and Rescue


Johansson strikes again in this violent but wildly bizarre action film that's basically about Scarlett Johansson turning into the Internet. At first you think that Lucy will just be this vastly intelligent and superior killing machine. Then the film takes Lucy where no action heroine has gone before.

The Giver
If I Stay


Real moments follow stilted moments and make this film worth watching. More than a film, it is a visual experiment that chronicles the real growth of a real boy throughout his ups and downs.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This engaging film takes tropes from Star Wars and has a lot of fun with them. One of the most delightfully entertaining films of the year.

The November Man
A Walk Among the Tombstones
The Maze Runner
The Equalizer
Gone Girl
The Boxtrolls
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The Judge


This grim depiction of the last year on the western front in World War II features a thrilling tank duel and a solid performance by Brad Pitt and even an excellent supporting performance by Shia LaBeouf


This creepy, uncomfortable, suspenseful film features an amazing performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.


I saw this film six times at the movies. This doesn’t mean that it’s flawless. It means that I think it’s the best movie of the year for its epic vision, its transporting visuals, and the, excellent performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain.

Big Hero 6
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
The Theory of Everything
Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb
Big Eyes
Into the Woods

Monday, November 17, 2014

Space Odyssey

Here is my contribution to the Voyage to the Stars Blogathon, John Hitchcock's very imaginative blog challenge inspired by the recent release of Nolan's Interstellar.

Here is my crew for my mission:


Janek - Idris Elba - Prometheus (2012)

He's the commander with a commanding presence but he still knows the importance of a sense of humor. "Try not to bugger each other." "Are you a robot?" Also, with his Christmas tree and vintage accordion, he's got character.


Victoria - Andrea Riseborough - Oblvion (2013)

She will make our crew "a perfect team"! She's attractive and very capable, in high heels or spacesuit.


Penny Robinson - Angela Cartwright - Lost in Space (1965 - 1967)

Well, she's classic, and she's had a lot of experience dealing with different planets, dimensions, aliens, robots, and weird doctors.


Nadia - Antje Traue - Pandorum (2009)

She will be able kick mutant or alien butt if we get attacked, but she still looks sexy when she's covered with grime. She can keep plants and meal worms alive under adverse conditons.


Cassie - Rose Byrne - Sunshine (2007)

She has that sensitive bedside manner that will soothe us through the long voyage, and she's not likely to vote anyone off the spacecraft if supplies run low.


Dr. Josh Keyes - Aaron Eckhart - The Core (2003)

He can fix anything, solve any scientific conundrum, and he can figure his way out of an inner-spaceship sunk at the bottom of the sea.


HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Re-programmed, he has promised to be good. Risky, I know, but his voice will keep us calm in an emergency, and he's really smart!


Only light travels at the speed of light. Okay, so ship and crew have been transformed into beams of light although from the point of view of the travelers, fellow astronauts and ship are solid entities. How will we do this? No need to explain. This is science fiction.

Traveling at the speed of light, we can go far, where no man or woman has gone before. The mission is to find extraterrestrial life. Half the crew members believe they will find nothing; we are alone! The other half disagrees. We shall see!


We originally thought a 3 to 3 ratio of male to female passengers was essential. Then we decided the more sharp female thinkers the better. In order to defray possible partnering conflicts, we found women who would be more than happy to pair up and go in for a threesome with one of the two male crew members. Use you imagination as to who will trio up with whom.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Leap of Faith: Interstellar

I’ll take an epic movie any day, and thank God Christopher Nolan is willing to oblige – especially considering the narrowly envisioned, copycat films released one after the other.

The thrill of Interstellar is its masterful juxtapositioning of touching, earthbound family drama with mind-blowing space odyssey, its cutting back and forth between hardships at a dilapidated farmhouse in a rural dustbowl and a surrealistic journey into a black hole.

Thrilling, too, is how the film starts out in the dusty cornfields, with Matthew McConnaughey as Cooper, a farmer struggling, with the help of his father-in-law (John Lithgow) to preserve his crops of corn and raise his son and daughter. The daughter, Murph, as played by Mackenzie Foy, is an example of Nolan’s casting at its best. As a budding math and science genius fascinated by strange piles of dust on the floor, Foy gets your attention in every scene she’s in, and she sure as hell looks like a younger Jessica Chastain who plays the older Murph.

On the other hand, Matt Damon as a crazed Robinson Crusoe-like character stranded on a frozen planet doesn’t always work out. And what the hell is Topher Grace doing in this film? He does nothing as the unsuitably wimpy partner for the amazing Jessica Chastain who, as the grownup Murph, uses her brain power to solve the story’s physics conundrum while her father uses his courage and instincts to pilot a spacecraft where no film has gone before. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway is mostly just servicable.

I will say little else about the plot because the joy for me was seeing Interstellar knowing nothing more than its basic premise – Earth is dying and a mission is sent into space to find a suitable planet to colonize. That the film takes you from a dusty farm to different levels far beyond space and time is what makes it special.

Though the story might get shaky with stuff that only Stephen Hawking really understands, the film is always lifted up by the performances of McConaughey as the father, and Chastain, as the daughter, separated by light years, but battling together to save the human race. Throw in some dazzling shots of the belittling vastness of space, mix in some space-action tropes, keep taking the story to another surprising level – like the multiple dream levels in Nolan’s Inception - and Nolan thankfully delivers a substantial epic.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Up in the Air: Birdman

In Birdman or The Unexpected Virture of Ignorance Iñárritu makes nifty commentary about the illusory nature of cinema and stage drama as well as about the power of social media to diminish anyone’s talent – when anyone can be a star on YouTube and any trivial thing can be more popular than legitimate theater. Meanwhile, his following shots down dingy, narrow backstage corridors capture the unseen shabbiness behind the façade of playacting. Raucous, unnerving, sometimes irritating drums accompany the frantic passage down those hallways of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a has-been actor who made a name for himself playing a superhero called Birdman and who is now trying to make an artistic comeback by staging an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, employing, as an audience draw, an incorrigibly egotistical stage star, played brilliantly by Edward Norton, whose penchant for realism goes to the extent of drinking real alcohol and showing a real erection on stage. Another strong supporting performance comes from Emma Stone as Riggan’s lost, in-and-out-of-rehab daughter, and she gets the credit for one of the best moments in the film when she shows her father the power of that little iPhone screen we all carry or would like to carry. Keaton does a fine job as the desperate, fading performer; like Riggan, Keaton is attempting his own comeback in films these days. Keaton’s Birdman voiceover, in a deep, raspy tone imitating The Dark Knight, is, however, mostly as irritating as the drum score. I like many of the individual parts of this film, but the plummeting, fiery asteroid; the dead, beached jellyfish; the pointed commentary about the world of theater – especially the moment in which Riggan enters the theater in his underwear, just in time to enter his scene through the audience – all of this is meant to be brilliant, sometimes forced to be brilliant, and that’s what makes me feel indifferent about this film, that it’s all so deliberate about saying something without making you feel anything, like all the bits in which Riggan’s Birdman persona intrudes upon his real life with demonstrations of telekinesis and flight that are sometimes startling but ultimately “full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Three Tries

Three character-driven films include strengths but fail to become compelling overall.

The best of the three - A Walk Among the Tombstones - features Liam Neeson in his usual guise as the tough-guy-who-feels-pain-both-inner-and-outer as he searches for and fights two gruesomely psychotic serial killers. There is a taut showdown among the tombstones, but the final act turns unnecessarily lurid and derivative.

In the same way Neeson’s guilt-ridden Matt Scudder bonds with a young outcast in a diner, Denzel Washington’s smoldering loner Robert McCall strikes up a relationship with a teenage hooker in a diner in East Boston in The Equalizer. Denzel’s diner scenes with Chloe Grace Moretz are superbly shot and performed. The rest of the film turns into an excessive, often silly, deluge of blood spilt as McCall sets out to eradicate all the bad guys involved in victimizing the “innocent” girl.

Finally, Gone Girl is mostly a dull ride as Ben Affleck goes through the motions as the framed hubbie, and Rosamund Pike comes off as mostly unchilling as the cold-blooded "Amazing Amy" Dunne. What happened here? Part of the problem is that the novel is a long and drawn out melodrama that stretches credibility to the snapping point. David Fincher seemed promising as the kind of director who could turn it into something visually arresting and disturbing, but Fincher is tame until a stand-out scene of orgiastic blood-letting that certainly woke me up. Ultimately, however, the film as a whole is a bland disappointment.