While the theatres are still well stocked with the year end award movies, the other choices are few and further between. This one I call a cross between “Twilight”, “Harry Potter”, “The Witches of Eastwick” and maybe even a little of “The Addams Family”.
By the way, when a movie is referred to in that hybrid fashion, it’s not generally a good thing. This is about two star crossed lovers – one a witch, one a “mortal” (yep, they still call us that, right out of the “Bewitched” sitcom). The female teen is the witch, but we soon learn that’s a bit of an insult. They are more correctly called “casters”.
The boy is the one we meet first – Ethan, an incredibly bright sixteen year old who wants nothing more than to get out of
Anyways, girl meets boy after several typical cheerleader snobs harass her and our love story begins. But you have to wait for Jeremy Irons to show up for it to get remotely interesting. He’s her eccentric uncle Macon. He lives in the big mansion, wearing the fashionable outfits and warns her away from her new mortal friend.
But it’s all for her good –you see
Oh, yeah, there are two more women to mention.
And I almost forgot – Viola Davis has the role of Amma, the local librarian who knows all the secrets. That’s about all I got out of her character - sorry.
I think they’re hoping this becomes a “franchise” much the same as the “Twilight” series. Good luck – it clunked at under $10 million for its debut week at the box office. What’s the matter? It has no tension, no humor and it looks a lot like the veteran performers were told to overact and the younger ones, well they mostly can’t act. But much the same was true for “Twilight”. What do know? I give “Beautiful Creatures” a “4”.
At the beginning, Director Steven Soderbergh's film looked like a serious study of prescription drug "side effects". We have a depressed wife, played by Rooney Mara who really looks the part. Mara, playing a woman named Emily Taylor seems to be in a trance, sleepwalking through her life, both at home and work. Even her husbands release from prison after four years can't cheer her up. Channing Tatum plays Mr. Taylor, a guy sent away for insider trading.
He's good natured and supportive, but is just as clueless about the whole prescription drug thing. He's more focused on getting her back the ritzy lifestyle they lost when he was put away.
That made me realize that drugs to treat depression are usually more the thing for white collar workers and their families. The
Before long, Emily tries to take her own life, which leads her right in to the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks, played by Jude Law. After what seemed like a short time spent "diagnosing" her, he prescribes pills. And, not just any pills - but a new drug which puts Emily in a trial program pushed by a pharmaceutical rep. That lady is waving some nice dollar signs in front of the good doc.
Oh, Naturally, Dr. Banks would be having financial problems so the timing would be right. It all looked like the set up for a serious look at the whole prescription drug business in
Oh well - maybe some day. Because what happens after that is pretty much a hyped up episode of "Law and Order". I can't tell you too much if you plan to see this one - I still feel the story has an appeal, it was just an exit ramp I wasn't expecting.
I've only excluded one other main player here - and that's Emily's former psychiatrist, a Dr. Victoria Siebert, played by the one and only Catherine Zeta-Jones. Still looking good, except don't look at the hands (don't they always give a woman's age away?), she exudes that sexy, smoky confidence which made me think of Sharon Stone. That's a bit of a giveaway that this movie is not just a simple study of legal drug pushing and nasty side effects.
I can't say enough about Rooney Mara though - this is the lady who played the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". Excellent in that role, she now plays something quite different, and it's not a character out of a best selling book. She's really the only reason I went along with this movie's plot twists and sometimes laughable situations. And the reason is that I went in not knowing much about this film, and she drew me in to the point where I went for the bumpy ride.
Jude Law does okay as the perplexed shrink, who may or may not be competent and well meaning. I guess I just wished for something bigger, instead of a
I have to say the ads for this movie were pretty funny. I was looking forward to it with the old idea in my head that maybe they crammed all the funny stuff into those ads and the movie as a whole is going to stink. That happens – too often.
Jason Bateman is the victim, Melissa McCarthy is the identity thief – they are both named “Sandy Patterson”. Well, that’s his name and she steals it. After discovering the crime, he finds out there isn’t much he can do unless he tracks her down and brings her back to face charges. Can anybody say “road trip”?
And, boy, do they. Not only is a bounty hunter after Diana (Robert Patrick), but so is a snazzy dressed pair of organized crime operatives. Why? Well, Diana has led a life of fraud and has plenty of enemies. It’s best to forget these three – they are not funny, pretty much make little sense to the story and thankfully are missing for big chunks of the “action”. I figure there was a big edit job here as this movie kind of chops through things.
So, what did work? Well, the actual writing – and by that, I mean the back and forth between Sandy and Diana. It’s sharp and worth tuning in to – for example, after she scores a free plate of food with another scam,
I’m telling you this, because the other aspect of the writing that’s quite lacking is the staging and, well, the plotting. There’s only so many times we want to see Diana give a guy a shot to the Adam’s apple, as cute as that was the first time she hits Sandy. And, really, watching Melissa McCarthy and Eric Stonestreet from “Modern Family” grapple around naked together I could have done without.
Oh, and again, the “bad” guys on their tail - not so hot. But Bateman and McCarthy do have pretty good chemistry, even though they are not quite opposites. Yeah, she’s the lonely fat chick and he’s the uptight accountant, but she still has some feminine qualities and he holds his own against her B.S.
So did the TV commercials have the best stuff? Yeah, almost, although they mostly about the physical comedy. These two had plenty to say to each other and much of it is witty. You may also like the sentimental road this takes by the end – it sort of recalls “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. It looks like Melissa is the female John Candy at the movies for now – she’s got another one coming up with Sandra Bullock. I give “Identity Thief” a “6”.
The pickings are real slim now, and here's one you probably missed hearing much about, even though it "boasts" a star studded cast.
Yes, there's Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Dennis Quaid,
Seriously, you had better be in the right mood for this, or just "appreciate" low brow jokes and sight gags, because this one is almost as low as you can go.
It's made up of a series of about seven "shorts', or comedy skits, built along such hot topics as incest, poop and testicles. You'll know pretty quickly if you are going to stay around for more than the first one, after you get a load of the blind date between Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet.
I don't want to "ruin" this movie, but after Hugh takes off his neck scarf at dinner to reveal a pair of large testicles dangling from his neck, you'll either laugh or say "let's get out of here". Me, I hung around for what was too long a gag (you get it they are around his neck, a gag). That's sort of the problem with all of these - they are barely fifteen minutes each, but you'll start praying for the mercy ending before anything more gross unfolds. The recurring theme here is that Kate is trying to get the attention of everyone else at the restaurant to see what they make of Hugh's neck friends, but they are predictably oblivious. So, then just wait until he eats the soup.
The others run the gamut from themes that include a couple (Naomi Watts and Liev Schriver) home schooling their son where the joke is to give him that horrific high school experience. Then there's two guys battling a nasty foul mouthed pair of leprechauns (one, of the little Irish guys, believe it or not, is Gerald Butler).
It's all "tied together" by Quaid and Kinnear, Quaid being a washed up writer pitching ideas to movie exec Kinnear.
I'm not sure I want to even explain the most over the top skit, involving a young couple and the wife's desire to let her man be the first to...well, lets just say it belongs in the bathroom and not on a person. There's a couple of completely forgettable ones with an odd couple getting horny for each other in a grocery store, and one with Batman interfering with Robin while he's doing a speed dating thing. Yes, it's all forgettable, but some were better than others.
The final skit is a politically incorrect twist on the 1950's racial segregation in sports topic, with Terrance Howard as a coach who must find a way in the pregame locker room to motivate his African American team. Many of the players are concerned they are not a good match up with the white kids. Yes, there's plenty of the "N" word.
"Movie 43" is quite a late January dump off (and I'm not making another poop joke). The producers said they wanted to make another "Kentucky Fried Movie", if you remember that one. If you want to see it - go now, it will soon be gone. I give it a "4".
I wasn’t expecting to see this one – it was the number one movie last weekend, taking in over $32 million, crushing
And, what a creepy, sad opening. Some guy shoots his co-workers, then takes out his ex-wife, and leaves their house with his two young daughters.
It’s a horror story all right, but not what I expected. Ah, but then comes the abandoned house, which the guy, with no real plan, enters with the kids. So this is where the real horror movie begins.
Fast forward five years and there’s Jessica Chastain as a tattooed rocker girl. She’s hot right now, as her other movie “Zero Dark Thirty” was right behind “Mama” at the box office. Looking like Pat Benatar or maybe Joan Jett, she’s the live in girlfriend of the brother of the guy who killed everyone and took the little girls. He’s obsessed with finding all three of them and, sure enough, the girls show up.
Maybe he should have left them unfound - they are dirty and crawl around and appear to have been living off of cherries. Yes, I said cherries. You see, they have been under the care these years by “Mama”. And who is that? Well, she would be the title character of course, And the one designed to get you to pop out of your seat.
I will say that
“Mama” has suffered her own trauma concerning a beloved child – it was like a hundred and fifty years ago, but her “ghost” still walks, or floats I should say, on earth because it is a soul that is not at peace. It’s an oldie but goodie in the horror film story world – we must right a wrong done to the haunted spirit.
Many reviewers like what unfolds here because there isn’t a lot of blood and gore, just good old fashioned suspense built around the growing sense that Annabelle and her boyfriend and some doctor called on to help the girls are about to encounter something they can’t fathom and maybe can’t beat. Me – I’m okay if a few heads are lopped off.
And the kids aren’t bad actors either – they are key to the story because after bringing them back from their “Lord of the Flies” existence, the next step is to get them away from “Mama”. Their adult helpers have no idea just how nasty that could be.
“Mama” is a well produced ride through the usual story of “hell hath no fury like a mother scorned”, and has quite a good ending worth getting to. I give it a “7”.
I’ll tell you about the movie in a moment, but first, a brief John and Ken public service announcement. Don’t see “clown hair's” (Arnold S.) new movie, “The Last Stand” opening today. Please – don’t reward the man who rewarded his friend Fabian Nunez by letting his murderous son out of prison early.
Number two – I experienced a first at the theatre today. The sweet smell of marijuana wafted through the air. It must have been a couple of teens sitting behind me, the place was pretty empty. Yes, the old “contact high”. And some people obsess over people texting during a movie.
So, "Broken City" is another January release with a “big” cast. Russell Crowe is New York Mayor Nick Hostetler and Mark Wahlberg is former NYPD Detective Billy Taggert. There’s also Catherine Zeta-Jones as the City’s First Lady and Jeffrey Wright as the Police Chief, soon to be the Police Commissioner.
So what brings them all together? I rarely say this, but watch the first twenty minutes closely and you’ll have most of the pieces to this “political corruption thriller”.
Billy is a former cop because he was involved in what was judged to be a “rightful shoot”, but the angry mob and the Mayor convince him to move on and leave the force.
Fast forward seven years later, the Mayor is up for reelection in a close race and calls on P.I. Billy to tail his wife, who he believes is having an affair. Yes, get that right, an affair that could hurt the Mayor’s chances, even though he’s the victim.
So, of course, it’s a case of things are not what they appear to be and it’s up to Billy to unravel the mess after we end up with a dead body.
First, how’s the story? Well, like many nasty corrupt politician stories they throw up on screen, not so good. It’s a bit muddled and somehow all leads to shady real estate deals and developers putting political types in their pockets. Holy Trump - this is groundbreaking! And there’s the usual clichés, beginning with Mayor Hostetler’s office, which is loaded with liquor. Do big city mayors still have something like this? Crowe makes a pretty good “Slick Willy”, but much of what he says is riddled with worn out phrases.
Also, on the pretty silly side is Billy’s relationship with his actress girlfriend, who disappears for good after a mostly unexplained spat. Ah, but Billy is still haunted by that shooting years earlier, which by the way bore the marks of the Trayvon Martin shooting, complete with a hoodie. And, lastly, Jeffrey Wright plays one completely confusing character - I guess he just looks to see which way the political winds blow.
What I did enjoy was Barry Pepper as Hostetler’s opponent in the Mayor’s race, and Billy’s relationship with his assistant Katy (played by Alona Tal), who is his real love, he just doesn’t know it yet (I’m writing the sequel). Oh, and the “War of the Roses” relationship between the Mayor and his wife is not a bad sideshow. Sharp exchanges - that might have made for its own story right there.
“Broken City” is a bit broken and Wahlberg looks uninterested, with Crowe giving it his best. I give the movie a “6”.
This would have to be considered a “major release” mostly because of the cast. Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn and Nick Nolte are big stars – so why the wimpy January release?
Well, first there was last year’s outbreak of mass shootings –
It’s another historic look at the good old LAPD, this time the formation of a secret “hit squad” of elite, off the book cops, to rid the city of those pesky bad guys. It’s 1949 and there’s been an influx of gangster types from
You may have seen the ads – Penn has had his face remodeled to bear that tough guy look. He looks like a beaten up boxer after too many years in the ring. Well, that may be because the
Nolte, more gravelly voiced than ever (who is least understandable these days, Nick or Clint Eastwood?), plays LAPD Chief William Parker. Do I have to tell you who that is? But, hey, get a load of the kid playing his driver – it’s Daryl Gates! He assigns a detective played by Josh Brolin to mess with Mickey’s operations. It’s the usual – gambling, hookers and heroin (yes, drugs in 1949). Josh enlists Ryan Gosling (the reluctant lazy one, who needs an eye opener before he joins on), Robert Patrick (who gets the role of the old western lawman, complete with the cigar and the deadeye aim), Giovanni Ribisi (he’s the intelligence man and the conscience of the group, questioning some of the violence) and two more guys. Yeah, they would be the minorities (this is 1949) – the black cop is Anthony Mackie, the Latino is Michael Pena.
Despite the big cast, this one plays out like a greatest hits package of good guys versus bad guys, complete with an actual montage of destruction caused by our gangster squad. Then there are “the women” – Emma Stone is Mickey’s girl, but she develops eyes for Ryan and you know where that leads. And in an undersold role, Mireille Enos is Brolin’s wife. Rather than play her as the submissive cop wife of the 1950’s, she takes the lead in trying to both let her husband be the tough good guy he is, and keep him alive.
Things really do move too fast here, so much so you lose some of the nuance of everyone’s role and personalities. Not that I’d want to sit through another near three hour film. Sean Penn gives it his all and maybe deserved a script only about Cohen. Everyone else plays it safe – and thankfully they went easy on the 1940’s accents and verbiage, such as “Mac”, “Sweetie” and “Be a doll”.
Since it is just a few years after WWII ended, the clear message is this is how guys were – ready for the fight. I mean right from the start, a guy is pulled apart by cars moving in different directions. It’s stylish violence, I guess. You may enjoy the “Christmas” themed shoot out at the end. It’s just an ordinary movie though – I give “Gangster Squad” a “5”.
First of all, I gave no "10's" this year, but it could have been worse. Lets roll out the top ones first:
HUNGER GAMES - Now that I've read the books, I understand some who felt the film left some things out, but that always happens. I am looking forward to Katniss's next adventure.
THE INTOUCHABLES - my one foreign film to make the list, it covers the relationship between a paraplegic and his caretaker, and while it's the usual "opposites unite" thing, the fact that I still loved it made all the more remarkable.
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - sure, there's no wild man like Heath Ledger's Joker in this one, but it rounded out the trilogy nicely.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD - I still think about that remarkable performance from that little girl and say you won't see anything like this at the theatres this year.rilogy nicely.
ARBITRAGE - I think Richard Gere deserves award consideration, playing the rich guy with his world, financially and personally, coming apart. He just always looks so calm and confident, you keep waiting for all to catch up with him.
THE SESSIONS - John Hawkes, as the polio victim who just wants to lose his virginity, is also top notch as a guy who never complains and is just trying to do it the right way.
LOOPER - this one didn't do as well as I thought it would at the box office. Its a piece of science fiction involving the usual complicated time travel whose ending seemed just right.
FLIGHT - Denzel Washingtonas the functioning alcoholic airline pilot is terrific. He almost convinces you we are all overreacting to his "problem".
THE IMPOSSIBLE - don't bring anybody emotionally unstable to this 2004 Southeast Asia "tsunami" movie, because it's almost too much to watch. Focusing on one family, it's really about a mother's determination not to leave her child alone in this world.
LINCOLN - what else is there to say? With all the 2 and half hour plus movies out there right now, this one held my interest the longest. And Daniel Day Lewis gives us a side of Lincoln's personality no history book I've read has ever covered.
Here comes the bad ones:
ABE LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER - well, look at that, the same main character makes my best and worst list. They should have went for funny here because there's no other way to go with this stupid idea. What's next? Benjamin Franklin: Werewolf Slayer?
DARK SHADOWS - Finally, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton team up for a real stinker. Not funny, not scary, just dead on arrival.
MAN ON A LEDGE - yep, this is the one on the list I remember very little about, except, well. the guy on the window ledge thing. He should have just jumped in the first scene.
SINISTER - Ethan Hawke plays a writer stuck in the usual nightmare house. This one's outcome was so obvious from the first scenes, it was torture to sit through.
A THOUSAND WORDS - If Eddie Murphy took any money for doing this movie, it better have gone to charity. Over the last ten years or so, he may be the king of being in bad movies.
Yep – this is the Bin Laden movie all right. Let’s get something clear though right away – it is a fictionalized account, even though there’s a statement up front that it is based on “first hand accounts”. Also, this is not from the NAVY Seal book about the raid that took Osama out. You’ll get a version of that at the end, but this one is mostly about the painstaking 10 year search for the guy.
Jessica Chastain has the role of “Maya”, a
Well, I’m not going to get into that much. What I will tell you is that, this movie, at 2 and just over thirty minutes long, may test your patience, but if you hang in there, it is worth the time.
Let’s be realistic here – the search for the top al Qaeda leader was probably full of bum leads, tragedies and maybe missed opportunities and that is laid out clearly in this depiction. It must have been hard to nail it down to 2 hours plus. By focusing on Maya’s role, we do get a pretty good idea as to how the process works.
And by the “process”, well yes, one of the aspects of this movie getting the most attention is the torture of detainees. We waste no time either – Maya’s introduction after being dispatched from
Anyway, after the first hour or so, there is little torture and the search heads down another path. One thing I will say is that director Kathryn Bigelow, who did the award winning “The Hurt Locker” does have a knack for bringing tense war time scenes to life. In “Zero Dark Thirty”, as I said, not every clue leads to success and you may be like me on the edge of my seat wondering how what’s unfolding is about to go wrong or go right.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I checked the old watch every now and then because Maya went through a lot of twists and turns in her obsessive quest to find OBL. Some were not so absorbing. But here’s another thing that rings true here – “Maya”, whether she exists or not, may have been the only one left in our government by 2011 that even cared where Bin laden was hiding. That explains rather well the skepticism you get when you tell the
The last forty minutes of this film are well worth hanging in for as you get a sense of the difficulties there were trying to confirm what Maya knows is true. And the raid itself is captured superbly through the eyes of the “acting” NAVY Seals. I loved hearing the government suits discuss the percentage probabilities that he’s there.
“Zero Dark Thirty” (that refers to the local Pakistani time of day the operation was carried out) is an ordeal to sit through, but if you want to get an idea of what it’s like to slog through the