When the Game Stands Tall — 2 stars — Opens August 22, 2014

August 20, 2014 on 9:03 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

I came to the screening of “When the Game Stands Tall” with high expectations because the filmmakers take an interesting angle for a sports movie.  They tell a story about an unbeatable team that finally loses.  Here’s the set up:  Between 1992 and 2004 Concord, California’s De La Salle High School won 151 football games in a row.  To this day they hold the record for a winning streak and may hold it forever.  The movie takes us to the game where they lose.  I love the idea that if winning isn’t everything, but you win all the time anyway, what do you do when you lose.  The story answers:  teach teamwork and live it and realize there’s more to life than a football game.  Jim Caviezel plays the high school coach with Michael Chiklis as his assistant.  Laura Dern has a nice turn as Caviezel’s understanding wife.  The players look good but it’s hard to sort them out.  The filmmakers don’t quite trust us to buy their idea of a movie about an unbeatable football that loses.   They lay on the heavy music.  They throw in various tragic events from almost every sports movie ever made.  The acting is earnest and sometimes cartoonish.  And they  build to a sentimental twist that left the audience I watched with laughing.  The lessons about teamwork and working for a greater goal rise above the rest.  But I hoped for something better.  Does it deliver what it promises?  High School football movie.  Is it entertaining?  Drags out too many clichés.  Is it worth the price of admission?  Not a great sports movie, but maybe for some.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill for (R) — 1 star — Opens August 22, 2014

August 20, 2014 on 8:45 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

Graphic novel legend Frank Miller and exuberant violent director Robert Rodriguez pour on the sex and violence in “Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For.”  Clearly they want to pay tribute to the “B” movies of the 40′s and 50′s — while celebrating the graphic novels that stand in today for the pulp fiction of yesterday.  The movie requires a lot of getting used to — real actors move and snarl and speak against computer generated backgrounds in black and white.  The movie spins several stories, including Mickey Roark’s night he can’t remember, Josh Brolin’s unhealthy attraction to femme fatale Eva Green (who incidentally spends most of her time swimming, bathing, or reclining nude), Joseph Gordon Levitt’s unhappy try at fatherly revenge involving Powers Booth, and Jessica Alba as a stripper with a heart of steel.   For all of the sex and violence and tough talking,  I found myself checking my watch.  This story arrives in 3 D and mostly black and white — a little old school and high-tech.  I wish I could tell you I loved it.  Instead “Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For” took more energy to watch than I wanted to spend.  Four stories feel like too many and they all take longer than they deserve.  Does it deliver what it promises?  3 D movie of a graphic novel.  Is it entertaining?  I’d rather read the book.  Is it worth the price of admission?  I pass.

The Giver — 2 1/2 stars — Opens August 15, 2014

August 14, 2014 on 9:06 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

“The Giver” does a bit of re-gifting in this familiar plot.  Set in the future when the world has started over and society has eliminated passion and emotion.  Jeff Bridges plays the giver–the elder and only person allowed to hold the memories of the past.  In a scene that feels like the choosing scene in “Divergent” or “The Hunger Games” or even the sorting hat in “Harry Potter”–young Brenton Thwaites is selected as apprentice to “The Giver.”  The old man and his new disciple bond over the loss of love and hate and pain and joy and life and death, and the kid embarks on a journey to return them to society. Taylor Swift has a creepy moment or two as a departed daughter.  Meryl Streep gets more creepy as the all-seeing hologram intent on keeping life safe.  I also liked seeing Katie Holmes as Brenton’s concerned mother.  The plot feels like a lot of other movies, but it tells its familiar story in an easily watchable manner.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Youth in rebellion.  Is it entertaining?  Easy to watch. Is it worth the price of admission?  Some who love the book will love this.

The Expendables 3 — 1 star — Opens August 15, 2014

August 14, 2014 on 8:54 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

Well you should know going in what you get in “The Expendables 3″–geezer action.  The old-timer line up includes Sly Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, and Mel Gibson as the bad guy — a former member of the team now gone rogue.  ”The Expendables 3″ goes beyond over the top–not that anyone plans to take any of this seriously.  I suppose this project kept Sly and his friends out of trouble for a while.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Over the hill stars acting like they’re 21.  Is it entertaining?  Lots of car crashes, helicopter crashes, guns and explosions.  Is it worth the price of admission?  I think I’ll read a good book.

The Hundred-Foot Journey – 3 stars – Opens August 1, 2014

August 12, 2014 on 3:45 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

Helen Mirren stars as a serious French restaurant owner non too happy with her new neighbors from India.  The newcomers — a family headed by Om Puri — immigrate to France after a tragedy leaves the father widowed and the children scarred.  But their love of cooking nourishes their soul in spite of the haughty French woman across the street who looks down on their cuisine. “The Hundred Foot Journey” sticks to a tried and true formula.  Young son Manish Dayal woos the rival restaurants sous chef.  And he dreams of cooking at the highest levels.  Those dreams end the culture war and take him to an unexpected level.  “The Hundred Foot Journey: combines food and romance in the winning way of other successful movies including “Big Night” “Babette’s Feast” and “Chocolate.”   Does it deliver what it promises?  Don’t expect anything new but do expect a pleasant experience.  Is it entertaining?  Easy to watch and enjoy.  Is it worth the price of admission?  Yes and dinner afterward.

Calvary — 3 1/2 stars — Opens August 1, 2014

August 5, 2014 on 8:29 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

“Calvary” works on two levels — as a deeply religious story of sin and forgiveness and as a semi comic who done it with a shocking ending.  Either way “Calvary” qualifies as one of the year’s great movies.  Brendan Gleeson plays a priest assigned to a small Irish parish.  One day in confession, he hears the anguished story of a man remembering his boyhood abuse by a priest.  The confessor goes on to say that he will pay back the bad priest by killing a good priest.  And with that he tells Gleeson he will murder him in two weeks.  From here we follow Gleeson as he goes on his rounds.  We meet several suspects, including a guilt ridden wealthy banker, a bitter doctor, an unhappy youth, plus the men involved with a deeply unhappy promiscuous wife.  The priest indicates he knows the identity of his future killer.  We settle on one suspect or the other.  The story gets deeper with the appearance of Kelly Reilly, Gleeson’s daughter from his earlier marriage.  Imagine this:  a father who really is a father.  His late wife’s death leads Gleeson to the priesthood.  The ending shocks me still and leads to a deeper twist that made “Calvary” one of my favorites this year.  “Calvary” goes way beyond the ordinary and that’s a rare compliment.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Small movie with a big punch.  Is it entertaining?  Funny and mysterious and shocking.  Is it worth the price of admission?  Most certainly.

A Most Wanted Man (R) — 3 stars — Opens July 25, 2014

July 27, 2014 on 7:25 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

The latest John le Carre film thriller receives added heaviness with the knowledge of the death by overdose of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  He reminds me of a slightly younger Sir Anthony Hopkins in this tale, set in Hamburg, where Hoffman heads a German intelligence unit.  Titles at the film’s beginning reminded us the 9/11 plotters gathered in Hamburg.  We infer that Hoffman has this post as punishment for missing the seeds of the 9/11 conspiracy.  The plot involves a humanitarian lawyer played by Rachael McAdams hired to help an undocumented Russian who comes to Germany to claim his late father’s hefty estate.  Hoffman gets the tip and determines to use the boy to bait a bigger catch — a philanthropist suspected of funneling money to terrorists.  Robin Wright — cruel and cool on “House of Cards” — arrives on the scene as an American CIA operative.  Wright — as you expect — has the ability to smile as she plunges a knife in friends and foe.  “A Most Wanted Man” excels at tension and dread and delivers plenty of both.  As with many of le Carre’s movies, sometimes things get hard to follow.  The pace of the story lulls you into submission and then BAM — something happens to make your heart race. Does it deliver what it promises?  Old school spy thriller with added sadness of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death.  Is it entertaining?  Several knock out punches.  Is it worth the price of admission?  An adult rainy day movie treat.

Magic in the Moonlight — 3 stars— Opens July 25, 2014

July 23, 2014 on 7:09 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

Woody Allen goes for a light touch in “Magic in the Moonlight.”  Colin Firth enters as a world-famous magician performing in costume as a Chinese wizard.  His friend invites him to the French Riviera to debunk a spiritualist working her magic on a wealthy family.  Emma Stone plays the young woman who has captures the eye of a wealthy young man using his mother as a mark.  First of course can’t figure out how the young woman does what she does and of course romance blooms.  The costumes and music of the period add to the fun.  “Magic in the Moonlight” feels like the kind of romantic comedies they made back in the day.  Allen’s always interesting cast this time includes Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, and Hamish Linklater.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Light comic romance.  Is it entertaining?  Great fun with a light touch. Is it worth the price of admission?  Just for the fun of it.

Lucy (R) — 1 star — Opens July 25, 2014

July 23, 2014 on 7:03 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

French filmmaker Luc Besson loves wild international chase movies and he certainly creates one in “Lucy”.  Scarlett Johansson begins the story on the wrong side of a drug cartel.  They capture her, beat her up and insert a bag of powerful drugs in her stomach.  She must transport them or else.   By a quirk of fate the bag starts leaking.  The more drug that gets in her system, the smarter and more super human she gets.  ”Lucy” lays on the mayhem and violence and has an outrageous chase scene.  Morgan Freeman joins in as an eminent professor who explains the brain and the small percentage most of us use of it.  About halfway through “Lucy” turns goofy and builds to a conclusion so silly it’s hard to imagine anyone happily paying to watch this.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Superhuman chase thriller.  Is it entertaining?  Too goofy for me.  Is it worth the price of admission?  No.

Boyhood (R) — 4 stars — Opens July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014 on 2:29 pm | In Movie Reviews | Comments Off

Director Richard Linklater — one of the most creative filmmakers of our time — sets the bar for the coming of age movie.  In “Boyhood” he presents a series of scenes filmed over a twelve year period that allow us to literally watch Ellar Coltrane as Mason grow from age six to age eighteen:  boyhood to young adulthood.  Within this framework, Linklater gives us a window on contemporary life:  divorce, adult failings, sibling rivalry, education, and the mystery of finding yourself in an increasingly complicated world.  The story centers on single mom Patricia Arquette, raising her son and daughter as a single mom.  Ex husband Ethan Hawke returns to Texas from Alaska intending to re-establish his role as a drop-in dad.   Arquette marries and divorces a series of flawed men.  The family uproots and moves several times.    Mason makes new friends and loses old ones. Along the way, Arquette finds her way to a better life and Hawke matures and starts a new life with room enough to include all.  “Boyhood” showcases small moments and allows us to fill in the blanks on the big ones:  learning to drive, kissing a girl, sorting good advice from bad.  I feel like the actors improvised a lot of the dialog which is another way of saying “Boyhood” has a naturalness missing from most films.  It leaves me wanting more and hoping Linklater continues this project.  As a viewer I’m invested in Eller Coltrane aka Mason and I hope things turn out well for him.  Does it deliver what it promises?  One of the year’s most profound films.  Is it entertaining?  Fascinating.  Is it worth the price of admission?  A must see for this year and many years to come.

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