Sexually charged and sexily charging from funny pillow talk into a… MoreSexually charged and sexily charging from funny pillow talk into a serious think piece, the promiscuous, provocative, and pulse-pounding Y Tu Mama Tambien proves WAY more than just your average sex romp. With the players perpetually in and out of every possible state of undress, you wouldn't expect there to be a message sprawling out between the sheets...but you'd be dead wrong. Sure, there's a narrator bullet pointing the characters' taciturn lives and loves, but it's your own reflective inner voice that truly provides the throughline here, instigated and aroused by titillating bed hopping that points up our own inhibitions and desires.
In this subtitled, Spanish, R-rated drama, two Mexican teenage boys (Bernal, Luna) and an attractive older woman (Maribel Verdu) embark on a road trip and learn a thing or two about life, friendship, sex, and each other.
Of course, none of this would ever play out to such an engaging degree without a very brave and electric cast. Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, and Maribel Verdu rightly went onto careers beyond this very memorable film (The Bourne Ultimatum, Milk, and Pans Labyrinth, respectively). Here, they exposed everything to filmgoers in performances that are more than pure exhibitionismtheyre raw nerves, emotional and stinging. It's easy to see why director Alfonso Cuaron went on to fare so well with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Whether his characters are dealing with threesomes or wizardry, he handles the ignorant bliss of youth with great truth, laughs, and style. Even at their sweatiest, Mamas gleefully juvenile leads learn a lot about identity.
Bottom line: Tie This Momma Down
Moving from near-cradle to raves and hitting every emotional coming of… MoreMoving from near-cradle to raves and hitting every emotional coming of age beat along the way, one brave and patient director brilliantly unfolds a heart-tugging and heart-wrenching saga over 11 years with the same players. Not only do we watch a young man grow up before our very eyes, but we experience the slings and arrows of the wonder years - from grade school bullying to new school jitters to debilitating first heartbreak to fearfully going off to college - with a lump in the back of our throats. We've been there and done that, of course, which invests us from the get-go. Still, does this 11-year-spanning experimental film prove to be more than a well played gimmick? Thankfully, yes. You see, it's not enough that Linklater's guided journey features a naturalistic performance by a young man awkwardly navigating life--the story's just as great. This awe-inspiringly magnetic tale takes advantage of our empathy. The notches of our own timeline become strings that the story and performances pluck guilefully but beautifully.
In this R-rated drama, director Richard Linklater (School of Rock) charts the life of a young man, Mason (Coltrane), from age 5 to age 18.
Linklater already proved that he can chart adolescence through manhood with wit and spit (Slacker, Dazed & Confused), flex some experimental muscle with winning results (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly) and take filmgoers on a long rewarding decades-spanning journey with the same cast intact (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight). Here, however, he pulls off all three in one flicker of wonderment. Even when his exceptional and dedicated cast appears to be improvising, there's never any doubt that Linklater's meticulous planning and restraint coached and encouraged their every line.
Bottom line: Joyz in the Hood
Despite lacking the veritable Wow factor of its predecessor, this Dame… MoreDespite lacking the veritable Wow factor of its predecessor, this Dame nevertheless kills it with a graphic novel adaptation that's both graphic and novel. Sure, Sin City creator and credited co-director Frank Miller hard-boiled up the story just for this sequel, but the movie still boasts the living and breathing comic book look and feel of the 2005 trailblazer that spawned it. Granted, the original Sin City rankled those moviegoers who didn't realize that all of the pulpy noir was purposely over-stated and over-stylized. After all, all involved were trying to make a live action comic strip, coloring in-between lines that are - by their very nature - over-stated and over-stylized. Having succeeded beautifully then, they go harder, faster, and stronger for the follow up, A Dame to Kill For. Honestly, it's everything but better. Now that the genie's out of the bottle and audiences have seen Frank Miller's R-rated artistry unveiled in Part 1, Part 2 can only up the ante without boasting this Ah Ha moment. Still, those who reveled in the first debaucherous trip to Basin City will rue this day again.
In this R-rated adaptation/sequel to pulpy comic by Frank Miller (whos credited as co-director), Basin City's most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with some of its more reviled inhabitants.
The chips got stacked against Robert Rodriguez. A director of great style (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn), he nevertheless makes painfully poor sequels that manage to drain any trace of style out of the original as well as their follow up. Once Upon a Time in Mexico proved a muddled mess while The Spy Kid flicks got progressively worse. Oh, and Machete Kills? Well, Machete wasn't cinematic gold to begin with, but that particular follow up reached a new kind of low for Rodriguez, creatively and shamefully. Thankfully, he's back in finely tuned form, presenting a hyper-surrealistic detective story chock full of sexy blood and bloody sex. Picking up the strands from the last go-round, Miller brings back most of the Sin-ful denizens that you know and love for this sequel/prequel, as well as a thrill-seeking and thrill-giving cast that's unencumbered by a greenscreen. With this chapter, they throw a lot of pulp at the wall and it thankfully mostly sticks.
Bottom line: From Dusk Till Hot Damn
By and largess the most Expendable chapter in the franchise, a third… MoreBy and largess the most Expendable chapter in the franchise, a third go-round only goes to show that it's three times the chum for this gathering of rusty and retired action figures. Actually, in consideration, that first sentence isn't fair. Some amped-to-the-max whippersnappers show up only to get shown up by these veterans, so some respect is in orderonly sadly, its not for the audience. Yes, it's the many moments like this that make this script as lunkheaded as the steroid-addled characters they play. Sadly, with the rewired star wattage attached, moviegoers would be right to expect a much more exciting and smarter go-round. And sadder still, new additions Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas came ready for a good fight. They're just not given much to play with outside of recycled tough guy shtick and comic relief. Their contemporaries including Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Expendables newbie Harrison Ford, however, are starting to look more worn, chipped and craggy than distressed furniture. Geez, will someone get Steven Segel to sit on the cast, get Liam Neeson to slum it, or take a car battery to Bruce Lee's chest so moviegoers can get some REAL action in this franchise?
In this PG-13-rated actioner, mercenaries Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables.
Some critics already gave this series two passes for nostalgia's sake but, in fooling us three times, it's shame on we. Not surprising at all, Mel Gibson seems to be having the most fun as the fearlessly whacko Big Bad. He's already pulled this duty in Machete Kills, however, so it looks like his public disapproval punishment needs to get suspended before this ridiculously talented star becomes an amnesty case. Seriously, between the reheated leftovers passed off as action sequences and the anticlimactic, well, climax, it's as bad as the substandard notches in their filmic CV referenced in their groan-worthy one-liners. It's like Charles Bronson took a crap and that crap produced this movie.
Bottom line: Drudge Match
Though the post-Summer of Love goings on remain very much a product of… MoreThough the post-Summer of Love goings on remain very much a product of their time, the relevant honesty and comedy of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice definitely still connects with generations who never got to take their pants off during the Sexual Revolution. Table turning. Manipulation. Cheating. Remorse. Regret. Whether you're a still-love struck Baby Boomer or a lovelorn Generation Y-er, these themes and games doubtlessly transcend through the Me Generation to today. Hell, they probably resonated with cavemen, which is why Paul Masursky's whipsmart hilarious dissection of a 4-person Swingtown still works. Just as precisely attention-grabbing is his assured but freewheeling direction. Alternately, he captures the close intimacy (the 4 stars awkwardly sharing a bed - and a moment of clarity - remains a classic) and distant loneliness (Robert Culp, who should've been given more feature leading man roles), films the curious but innocent interaction between his too-mellow Free Loving wife (the transfixingly engaging Natalie Wood) and reticent oaf best friend (never better Elliot Gould) from a rooftop zoom.
In this R-rated comedy, newly "enlightened" couple Bob and Carol (Robert Culp, Natalie Wood) return from a weekend retreat and chastise their closest friends, Ted and Alice, for not coming to grips with their true feelings.
Granted, a hippie dippy retreat weekend and one or two period hiccups (Gould and the tsk-tsking but beautifully game Dyan Cannon don't seen to know how birth control pills work) ages things a bit, but no more than Gordon Gekko's gi-normous 'mobile' phone in Wall Street. Marsursky's confident chance taking, however, never fared any better than in this classic. Just look to the closer, which finds Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice & countless souls commiserating in a warm 4th wall-breaking gathering to Jackie DeShannon's "What the World Needs Now is Love" (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for this film, mind you). Like the film, this songs stays with you and brings home the whole point--free or at great cost, we all need the L-Word, wherever however.
Bottom line: Still H'Wood Swinging
In Slumdogging the audience's way through The Art of French Cooking,… MoreIn Slumdogging the audience's way through The Art of French Cooking, the eye-pleasing and sometimes delicious spread known as Hundred-Foot Journey often boasts Millionaire credentials despite a few cheap moments. Overall, it's a polished affair, worthy of two Michelin Stars in terms of direction and content. Conversely, there are some specific scenes, that - presentation wise - unfortunately knock this Journey back down a star. Well, for better and worse, this is the two-headed serpent known as Lasse Hallstrom. Like a classic H'Wood director, he crafts scenes beautifully with a literally steady hand courtesy of Steadi-Cam shooting (welcome in an age when so many projects get shakily shot in hand held). However, with such specific fine tuned beauty comes a heavy hand. After all, this is the director who nearly ruined the entire experience known as Chocolat by over-stating the final scene with a smiling statute. We got it, the town's happy. Here, filmgoers get treated to similar chicanery--fake fireworks behind a burgeoning romance. Still, these few moments of gristle aside, the grounded performances, zesty adaptation, and overall style make for a tantalizing recipe that cooks up like an adult tale even though the rating's PG.
In this PG-rated drama based on the book by Richard C. Morais, the Kadam family clashes with Madame Mallory (Mirren), proprietress of a nearby celebrated French restaurant, until the Madame takes their gifted young chef and son Hassan (Puri) under her wing.
Whether Queen or Chef, Helen Mirren always wows her way through prickly but ultimately loveable performances, accent and all. Likewise, Bollywood veteran Om Puri equals her verve with every like and beat. Cooks-in-Love Manish Duyal and Charlotte Le Bon, however, throw off some fireworks of their own, albeit seemingly real and really colorful this time. And yes, Hallstrom pulls off some lovely scenes. It's Steven Wright's ace adaptation of Richard C. Morais's popular novel that stands out as the true star.
Bottom line: Eat Pray Grub
Most definitely Wanted and desired despite a pitch black view of the… MoreMost definitely Wanted and desired despite a pitch black view of the world, the latest powerfully acted John Le Carre adaptation proves to be a clench fisted thriller with a gutpunch finale. Le Carre's storied works personify both British spy craft and Britishness itself. Basically, his books feature emotionless players moving precariously across a chess board that's actually a minefield. Granted, much of his plotting involves clerical work, but there's still a simmering intensity. Even when his characters find themselves in a highly emotional situation, they hide that lit fuse behind a steely veneer. Their mental state belies a veritable powder keg, which mirrors the stakes of their mission. The best Le Carre adaps exemplify this quality and Most Wanted Man ranks in this rarefied league along with The Constant Gardener and the most recent itineration of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In long takes with an almost colorless photography, Corbijn tracks the back room long con of trapping a terrorist financier with patience and restraint, letting powerhouse understated acting convey the deadly stakes.
In this R-rated spy thriller from Anton Corbijn (The American), a Chechen Muslim (Grigoriy Dobrygin) illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.
It's cliche to lionize a recently departed actor's actor, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman always astounded and heads a wonderfully precise ensemble here. He might keep his feelings close to his chest but we feel the menace and dread of this spymaster playing an impossible game in a burning house of cards. Bleak and brilliant, Corbijn's atmospheric canvas perhaps remains the standout character. Pop culture spies were never more in fashion than the '60s and this modern Eastern Europe-set thriller somehow feels like a retrograde tale, as if the Spectre of Communist East Germany still colors inside and outside of these geopolitical lines.
Bottom line: Tinker Tailor Soldier On
An important, heartbreaking work of genius illustrated with a classic… MoreAn important, heartbreaking work of genius illustrated with a classic H'Wood feel, A Normal Heart truly gives audiences a history lesson worth repeating. Modern filmmakers like Roland Emmerich made careers out of recreating disasters in an epic star-studded fashion, but none come close to the hard-hitting drama evident in Ryan Murphy's film version of Larry Kramer's award-winning play. The furthest thing from stagy, the film sometimes feels sprawling and at other times feels rather intimate, which grounds the characters all the more in this historical fiction character piece. This is, after all, a matter of context and we quickly understand these beautifully drawn victims' place within the global catastrophe chronicled here. Yes, there's a foreboding feeling of insignificance and hopelessness but - with 30-Year hindsight - we leave the film with the understanding that the plight of their real-life counterparts was ridiculously significant, hopeful, and something the Social Network Age can't forget.
This HBO drama focuses on the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984 and gets seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), the gay Jewish-American founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group.
Murphy might have successfully shepherded the highly entertaining Glee and American Horror Story to the small screen had Eat Pray Love to the big screen, but the highly informing Normal Heart feels achingly personal. His brushstrokes are controlled and precise but arty at just the right moments, painting an unarguably authentic landscape. This only comes about because he's so confident in both Kramer's letter perfect script, which conveys almost as much weight-of-the-world important as with the stageplay. As for the brave performances, whether, gay or straight, the marquee names assembled here - Taylor Kitsch, Matthew Bomer, and Jim Parsons - prove far more than stunt casting, seemingly taking it as deep-down personally as their captain. This goes tenfold for sure-thing Emmy winner Mark Ruffalo, who lays bare his soul in a heart-wrenchingly real performance. The only sore point ends up to be Julia Roberts who, although giving a perfectly laudable performance, has become too big a superstar in real life to disassociate her from screen characters.
Bottom line: Angelic in America
Throwing everything from turtle soup to nutso visuals at the eyes and… MoreThrowing everything from turtle soup to nutso visuals at the eyes and ears of moviegoers, the predictable but occasionally likeable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knows karate and crazy and demonstrates both qualities quite often. Full of cheap jokes and expensive thrills, the movie proves to be what every young Turtles fan dreams of. Just as horny fan fiction dowagers didn't get to write their versions into the canonical Harry Potter, however, so hyped up teenage fanboys didn't write this reboot...but it feels like they did. In the post-9/11 era of presenting dark 'n' dirty vigilante cinema and, conversely, every old toy and cartoon is new again, it's only natural that Eastman and Laird's black and white cult comic book get remade again. If the 1990-1993 Jim Henson creature features aped Tim Burton's dark, Gothic, and slightly camp Batman, then the current TMNT gleefully falls in the shadow of Christopher Nolan's realistic, modern, and sociological commentary-pieces, The Dark Knight Trilogy. Whereas this threesome boasted a whiz-bang kinetic style that kept the drama, action, and thought provocation moving at a generous clip, however, Turtles just overly busies itself with sugar rush action sequences and a myriad of plot points borrowed from other superhero flicks. Despite being dizzying, the movie never bores though the paper doll-cutout characters sometimes grate on your patience.
In this PG-13-rated fantasy-adventure, four unlikely supersized outcast turtle brothers must work with fearless reporter April O'Neil (Fox) and her cameraman Vern Fenwick (Arnett) to save the city and unravel Shredder's diabolical plan.
Surprisingly, in throwing so much at the wall, some decent moments actually stick. Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and William Fitchner chew the scenery accordingly, which is a left-handed compliment. It's a live action cartoon, not a Lee Strasberg Acting School recital. Plus, the CGI-rendered heroes look authentic, albeit creepy, and the eye-popping costume and set design catch the mind's eye. Oh, it's not Mutant Shakespeare, but it hits the teenage demographic square in the PG-13, giving its target audience a pop culture bullseye while keeping adults mildly amused.
Bottom line: Story on a Half Shell
Despite the sheen of sentimentality afforded the dog of a calamity… MoreDespite the sheen of sentimentality afforded the dog of a calamity presented here, this Disneyfied true story can't help but keep all but the most cynical moviegoers invested in this somehow loveable snow job. Fluffy but earnest, the real events sometimes feel sanitized more than dramatized. This proves purposeful, allowing for a broader (read: family) audience. So, facts get kinda sorta truncated, characters become near-caricatures, and human drama mostly gets played safe. The bare Milk Bone facts behind the almost Movie-of-the-Week spit and polish, however, punches through any hint of melodrama and grabs the audience. There's an art form to this kind of filmmaking, after all, and it's a precarious balance that the ultimately heartwarming Eight Below pulls off.
In this PG-rated drama, a scientific expedition comprising sled dog handler Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) and a rugged American geologist (Bruce Greenwood) become forced to leave behind their team of beloved sled dogs due to a sudden accident and perilous weather conditions in Antarctica.
The late Paul Walker always stood and delivered like a well oiled matinee idol. Oh, there was never any chance of putting him in the pure, raw nerve, Oscar-baiting acting league of Daniel Day-Lewis or even Ryan Gosling, but this was never his or H'Wood's plan. Great looking and likeable to girls AND guys, he wasn't hired to go method and actually live among the huskies in the frigid tundra snow, he was hired to be the concerned and heroic human face behind the true star, man's best friend--a task he does truthfully and beautifully here.
Bottom line: 7 Up-Lift