Call it a pseudo documentary. Call it a musical comedy. Call it the… MoreCall it a pseudo documentary. Call it a musical comedy. Call it the umpteenth home video cash-in of this particular title. Regardless, A Hard Day's Night ends up to be a series of fortunate events for both fans of the band and fans of anarchic comedy in the style of the Marx Brothers. Ironically, in this reviewer's critique of their finest film, Duck Soup, a similar comparison gets made: Just as persnickety musicologists debate the better Beatles album (the structured themed brilliance of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" vs. the organized chaotic excellence of "The White Album"), Marx Brothers enthusiasts (a different kind of Marxist than the followers of Karl just as the Beatles invoke a different kind of Lennonist than Vladimir) have the same back-and-forth over pretty much the same discussion points. Is the anarchic, Hellzapoppin', fun abandon of Duck Soup REALLY better than the polished studio musical comedy A Night at the Opera? Here, that point is moot but filmgoers see the unusual Marxist/Lennonist worlds brilliantly unite. Audiences get the best of all worlds, a merging of the greatest ever comedy team's side-splitting anarchy with the young, vital, and expert musicianship of the greatest ever rock band. Seeing as the world was sitting on a veritable faultline (the US was still smarting from JFK's assassination and escalating their involvement in Vietnam while the UK was dismantling the final pieces of the British Empire and undergoing a cultural shift that would later be called 'the Swinging '60s'), this chaotic romp all somehow made sense. Thankfully, it still does.
In the Beatles 1964 film debut, director Richard Lester captures a, ahem, 'typical' day in the life of the world's greatest rock band at the height of Beatlemania.
What's remarkable is that Lester, who takes to some remarkable handheld framing with his fly-on-the-wall shooting style, turns out a slapstick sing-a-long that owes as much to Jean-Luc Godard as Groucho's favorite director, Leo McCarey. Most importantly, in an era when it's nearly impossible to latch onto one face or personality in the rock bands that have sprung to popularity over the last 2-3 years (OneRepublic is dandy but just try visualizing one of the band members), this film evinces 4 distinct players who each shine with enough charm and wit to fuel the slapdash goings-on in the madcap kinda-sorta parody of their own early success. Loaded with too many extras to list here, the latest release, a "director approved" version, is the perfect way to celebrate 50 years of an unlikely film classic.
Bottom line: Worth Watching 8 Days a Week
Hitting its target demographic square in the AARP, Michael Douglas's… MoreHitting its target demographic square in the AARP, Michael Douglas's latest lobs a softball romantic comedy at older audiences that's safe at home because it never attempts to leave the plate. God bless Nora Ephron. She birthed the modern rom-com with When Harry Met Sally... That particular film displayed great edge and wit while still adhering to the classic man-meets-girl H'Wood formula. Then there's Nancy Meyers, who birthed a sub-genre comprised of overlong pensioner love stories with dated expressions for titles that WISH they were When Harry Met Sally... (Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated). With And So It Goes, she's nowhere in sight but her fingerprints are all over it. It's not nearly as smart or funny as those aforementioned flicks but it does get one thing right: At just under 100 minutes, it's lean and keen. Unfortunately, the script plays it painfully safe. Predictable and full of situations recycled from other comedies, you can call the movie's shots like a seasoned billiard player. Still, the stars somehow make it like able even if you've already connected the dots straight through to the end.
In this PG-13-rated comedy, a self-absorbed realtor (Douglas) enlists the help of his neighbor (Keaton) when he's suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter (Sterling Jerins) he never knew existed until his estranged son drops her off at his home.
When did Meathead become the Head Chef of the Easy-Bake Oven? The great Rob Reiner directed When Harry Met Sally... 25 years ago. Now, he's helming a paler imitation. And granted, even a polishes gem like The American President proves paler in comparison than that modern classic. Still, in following The Bucket List with this, he pretty much boils down his formula to: Add Water and Mix. At least with Alex & Emma and Rumor Has It, he took chances. This fan hopes he does again. At least his supporting turn bears some comic fruit. The same can be said of Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in spades. Boy, does he look more like his father with every flick (not a bad thing even if the similarity skews more Tough Guys than Spartacus these days). But he pulls off The Grumpy Old Man shtick like a seasoned pro, while she gives us a reminder of why we fell in love with her in Annie Hall, lounge singing and all.
Bottom line: Feeble Attraction
Re-teaming for the first time since the bad education given moviegoers… MoreRe-teaming for the first time since the bad education given moviegoers in Bad Teacher, Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz fare even worse here, never managing to turn their Sex-Capades into Laugh-Olympics. At the outset, Sex Tape turns a funnier and more acerbic eye on the truisms of being Married...with Children than Segel's co-hort Judd Apatow did with This is 40. There endeth any moments resembling comedy, however. Also, This is 69 just wouldn't cut it as a title, so the focus falls on the proposal of making and aftermath of making - not the actual filming of - a sex tape, slow-building toward some expected hilarity that just never shows. As an audience member, you kind of hang back patiently waiting for this slow burn approach to finally deliver a whammy moment, fully thinking the long awkward scenes and drawn-out plotting is part of Sex Tape's eventual comedic payoff. Even the post-ending scenes shown over the credits, scenes where we finally get to the see the filming of the Sex Tape in a delayed manner similar to The Hangover's photographic reveal of their hazy fun-filled night, ultimately sets viewers up for disappointment. Worst of all, despite boasting an R-rating and salacious title, Sex Tape plays out tamer than the characters' humdrum lives. It's shame too because the case is firing on all cylinders.
In this R-rated comedy, a married couple (Diaz, Segel) made harried by being parents decide to spice up their relationship by filming their first sexual encounter in months...only the video doesn't stay their secret for long.
Cameron Diaz has never been better. She may've cut her teeth in comedy (My Best Friend's Wedding, There's Something About Mary) and honed it along the way (Being John Malkovich, In Her Shoes) but she doesn't make a wrong move here save for signing off on the half-baked script. Meanwhile, Jason Segel excels at playing a goofy put-upon everyman even when the only one putting anything upon him proves to be himself. Any beef with Segel gets directed toward his screenwriting. He and partner Nicholas Stoller have turned out A-Grade hilarity before (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement, The Muppets). In working from Kate Angelo's story idea and first draft, however, they just can't mine many funny moments.
Bottom line: The Five-Year Disengagement
A visually awe-striking piece of popcorn buttered with some rich… MoreA visually awe-striking piece of popcorn buttered with some rich social commentary, Snowpiercer's loco motive never feels preachy because the action and humor moves at a bullet train pace. Easily ranking among the year's biggest and best event films, this entertaining and thought-provoking film boasts an expert script, pitch perfect casting, and Oscar-worthy production design. Even if the downloadable option presents a rare opportunity to see a summer blockbuster in your own home while it's still in a theatrical release, the pure joy of experiencing this A-Level spectacle for the first-time will encourage you to run right to the cinema and see it again on the big screen.
In this R-rated sci-fi thriller set in a future where a failed global-warming experiment kickstarts the next Ice Age, a combustible class system evolves on a train that travels around the globe non-stop.
Based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette, South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho (with help from Kelly Masterson) develops the original's class struggle story into a post-Great Recession tale that resonates with truth and, amazingly, laughs. He also paints us a brilliant canvas brimming with an arresting amount of detail. Each train car - from slums to plaza suites to engine - gets its own distinctive motif. Here, he helms a none-greater cast headed by once and future Captain America Evans. Tilda Swinton, however, manages to steal the show with a loopy and androgynous supporting turn. Reportedly, Weinstein Company (the flick's distributor) head Harvey Weinstein took his scissors to Joon-ho's cut and there was talk that the writer/director's artistic vision got compromised. It doesn't seem possible that this high concept futuristic tale could be any better, however.
Bottom line: Hella Good on Wheels
Purging any trace of the deathly hollow The Purge save for the… MorePurging any trace of the deathly hollow The Purge save for the whipsmart premise, halfway decent thriller Anarchy improves upon the original exponentially by takin' it to the streets. Granted, this improvement doesn't elevate this chapter anywhere near A-Grade entertainment but it is exhilarating at times...and then an unwanted and unnecessary story thread involving a safe house made unsafe by jealous spousal infidelity pops up and nearly unravels the whole suit. In Screenwriting 101, it's what's called plot point B, which propels us into Act 3. It's plot point B-Movie, however, which isn't necessarily bad for a horror flick with such an exploitive incendiary hook. Thankfully, it doesn't derail the blood-splattered action or arch social commentary much.
In this R-rated thriller, some victims ousted from their homes struggle to survive on the streets as the annual purge commences, but a vindictive stranger (Grillo) can't turn a blind eye.
If this slice of urban horror is meant to establish Frank Grillo as a star, consider leading man status achieved. After ace supporting turns in The Grey and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he more than holds his own amid the, well, Anarchy. Considering he just signed on for a remake of Death Wish (not-altogether-different story-wise), this review bodes well for all involved. Wiping his previous slate clean, writer-director James DeMonaco improves upon his own Purge with a streamlined - if occasionally predictable and daffy - torture porn sequel.
Bottom line: Anarchy in the OK
Singing a similar tune in a bigger venue, John Carney's fun soulful… MoreSinging a similar tune in a bigger venue, John Carney's fun soulful follow up to Once mostly hits high notes. Sure, New York City replaces Dublin and the main character proves to be another heartbroken singer-songwriter finding a career-making muse but the canvas becomes much bigger. The stakes, of course, remain the same which ground this melodic character piece. Knowing that the achingly tuneful, youthful, and beautiful Once is a hard act to follow, writer-director Carney doesn't reinvent the wheel. Rather, he changes the playing field and takes a more pointed acerbic look at the music industry. Backed by some amazing casting and a hit worthy songbook, Begin Again gracefully sets toes tapping and hearts fluttering.
In this R-rated musical-dramedy from director John Carney (Once), a chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive (Ruffalo) and a young singer-songwriter (Knightley) turns into a promising collaboration.
We knew Carney was aces at marrying music and material. We just didn't know that Kiera Knightley wound realize this role so lovely. Warbling as beautifully as she conveys heartbreak and passion, this actress astounds. Likewise, minus the singing, Mark Ruffalo gives an excellently nuanced performance--desperate, energetic, and blue in one fell swoop. Adam Levine assumes the usually thankless heel role. Evincing a voice as polished and a swagger as knowing as the greatest '70s singer-songwriters, he falls so seamlessly into the tapestry that you begin to wonder if he's really aware that a lot of the film's cynical music biz critique gets aimed squarely at his real-life pop star persona.
Bottom line: Once More with Feeling
Still swimming mightily in the hippest of H'Wood waters, film's first… MoreStill swimming mightily in the hippest of H'Wood waters, film's first bona fide summer popcorn blockbuster possesses as thrilling and entertaining a bite as it did nearly 40 years ago. And yes, the rubber mechanical shark still looks a bit dodgy. It looked dodgy back then as well, however, which is why the captain of this ship hid it away until nearly the end of the film...well, that and the fact that it luckily kept breaking, that is. Granted, Jaws didn't invent the genre. In fact, the film employs a Hitchcockian style of suspense in building up to a slowburn reveal of the actual shark. And, at its heart, the film remains a first-rate monster movie that often baits its audience from the creature's underwater point of view in the tradition of Universal horror classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Indeed, a certain soon-to-be legendary director knew his film history which is a major reason why he became a part of film history. Because of his vision, all aspects - from letter perfect performances to expertly written script to powerful score to masterful direction - amount to a ridiculously exhilarating scaremaker of the highest order--then, now, and for years to come.
In this surprisingly PG-rated thriller, a police chief (Roy Sheider), marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss), and seasoned fisherman (Robert Shaw) set out to stop a gigantic great white that's threatening the island town of Amity during its busiest tourist season.
Regardless of the legendary technical problems that plagued the process, the production also boasted a weapons grade talent who still would've been on a superstar trajectory whether the mechanical shark worked or not. Indeed, the path to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Lincoln may've been different without Jaws, but this director was always bound for greatness. Spielberg cut his teeth on television (Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Marcus Welby, M.D.) and already had a few flicks under his belt (Duel, Sugarland Express), but consider that his landmark filmmaking touchstones were already in full effect in Jaws. Framing ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Maintaining humanity and morals while facing inhuman terror. Finding humor even in the most horrific of moments. Zoom-in close ups of his star's awe-struck faces. It's all there, along with soon-to-be frequent collaborators John Williams (giving us an unforgettable - admit it, it's playing in your head right now - score) and Richard Dreyfuss (giving us a quirky career-making performance). Roy Scheider, who Spielberg admired in another '70s classic called The French Connection, brings an authentic feel to the lead character, Police Chief Brody, which grounds the drama all the more. Luckily, the script developed the players beyond caricatures. Perhaps, no character evinces this more than Robert Shaw's Quint, who turns from a salty son of a sea cook into a tortured survivor with one speech that gets burned into your mind forever from the first time you hear it. When talk came of Jaws 2, Spielberg initially wanted nothing to do with the inevitable sequel. At one point during pre-production of the film, however, he reportedly entertained one possibility. What if they made it a prequel based solely on Quint's searing USS Indianapolis speech, a chilling first-hand account of hundreds of sailors getting picked off by sharks in icy waters following their vessel getting torpedoed that was written by writer/director John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn)? The sharks at Universal, of course, said 'no.' Perhaps, this muted prequel idea remains one of H'Wood's greatest unfulfilled coulda-beens. Without this follow-up, we'll just have to make do with the scary near perfection of Jaws. Lucky us.
Bottom line: Here's to STILL swimming with bow-legged women
If you take a ludicrous plot involving super smart sharks, an… MoreIf you take a ludicrous plot involving super smart sharks, an impossible setting aping Sealab 2021, and improbable casting pitting LL Cool J, a failed Punisher, and the future Nick Fury against a CGI Dino-fish, you know you've just stepped in Deep Blue something. Just because this muddled undersea non-thriller winks at the audience as if to say "Hey, we're going for a B-Movie feel" doesn't make this Z-Grade pill go down any easier. "Beneath it's glassy surface...a world of gliding monsters." And THEN Michael Rappaport shows up. Chewing more scenery than Sterling Hayden on a bender, he and the rest of the cast go for broke, using histrionics to drown out the inevitable Rifftrax quipping that was sure to follow. Sure, it puts forth a phony baloney backstory about using shark brains to find an Alzheimer's cure, but the only ones who will want to perpetually forget this moment are moviegoers.
In this R-rated thriller, a scientific crew (Jane, Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J) on an isolated research facility become the bait as three intelligent sharks fight back.
"What you've done is knocked us down the goddamn food chain." Yep, this line gets delivered by Jane...with some deathly serious rage-tinged vigor, it must be said. Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin is capable of crafting over-the-top thrills and, truthfully, Deep Blue Sea boasts a few. Here, however, everything - from the lines spoken to the bodies eaten - gets over-the-top treatment. Only 2 of the cast make it out of this Grindhouse thriller wannabe (think: locked Jaws) alive, but no one truly gets away without some psychological damage...audiences mostly.
Bottom line: Shark Weak
Achingly beautiful, truthful, and youthful from the first note, Once… MoreAchingly beautiful, truthful, and youthful from the first note, Once truly earns a vaulted spot among this generation's greatest musicals. Sure, there's the rough hewn almost DIY style utilized in delivering the film's simple but powerful story. It's this down and dirty independent feel, however, that makes this tuneful tale so damn effective. How else do you frame a street busker's journey from the dusty, tourist-filled curbs of Dublin to...well, a fulfilling passion? Notice the word choice. Once's modern romance often flirts with heartbreak but the do-or-die vigor carries quite a tune. And thankfully, the tunes comprise one of the loveliest soundtracks ever.
Writer/director John Carney presents this R-rated musical about a busker (Glen Hansard) and an immigrant (Marketa Irglova), who spend a fateful week collaborating on an album that tells their love story.
Before filming ever began, actor/musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were already romantic collaborators. This makes sense given the palpable affection that they give off in each scene. Their heartfelt songbook echoes this sentiment tenfold. "Falling Slowly" deserved its Oscar win for Best Song. Likewise, "If You Want Me," "When Your Mind's Made Up," "Lies," "Leave," and "Fallen from the Sky" also deserve such a prize which is why this rightly lauded flick got adapted into a Broadway musical. On screens big and small, however, the material and music pulses with naturalism thanks to writer/director John Carney's vision and obvious love for perfect chords.
Bottom line: All the Right Notes
Always technically brilliant and oftentimes thrilling, ace paranoid… MoreAlways technically brilliant and oftentimes thrilling, ace paranoid thriller The Parallex View isn't the best '70s conspiracy tale but its slick presentation ranks it near the top of the genre nonetheless. In a day and age when the U.S. outsources some of it's intelligence operations, a story about a corporation that recruits, trains, and "uses" political assassins doesn't sound too off base. In fact, this View seems almost prescient. If only more of Parallex dated as well. In a post-9/11 world, it's hard to buy the main character, over-his-head reporter Joseph Frady, boarding a plane from the Tarmac at the last minute and - like the 20th Century Limited - paying once they've taken flight. Also, the then landmark hypnotic film-within-a-film orientation sequence lasts too long for modern Still, the concept and thrills hold up even when some of the twist and fisticuffs come across ham fisted. Thanks to a screen icon at the top of his game and a director just hitting his stride, however, the View is always magnificent.
In this R-rated conspiracy thriller, an ambitious reporter (Warren Beatty) uncovers a vast conspiracy involving a multinational corporation behind every event in the worlds headlines while investigating a senator's assassination.
Stuck between Klute and All the President's Men in director Alan J. Pakula's 'Paranoia Trilogy,' The Parallex View didn't fare as well come awards time (Jane Fonda bagged an Oscar for her performance in the former and he himself won Best Director for the latter) but the film is every bit as stylish. Framing modern marvels (Seattle's Space Needle! Pong!) and backwater dives with the same eye, Pakula presents a sprawling puzzler that never feels too far reaching for its hyper realistic, cynical post-Watergate grasp. Long takes allow the ambitious script some room to breathe. In hiring cinematographer Gordon Willis, however, he spun a golden straw man story into cinematic gold...almost, at least. The lived-in newspaper offices, wood paneled taverns, and spare motel rooms all get bathed in low light by a shadowy canopy that brilliantly heightens the worrisome tension. And then, there's Warren Beatty. At this point in his career, he has already proven himself time (Splendor in the Grass) and time (Bonnie and Clyde) and time again (McCabe and Mrs. Miller), he had already proven himself a top shelf actor with a gift for making anti-heroes sympathetic, but here, he hit a new low. Playing a recovering alcoholic reporter who wings his investigative application, this superstar daringly makes for an awesome political pawn.
3 Yays of the Condor