Monthly Archives: September 2012

Flash Movie Review: Looper

It felt like my brain was given an electrical pulse within the first few minutes of this intelligent, science fiction movie. Even those not into this genre, would absolutely enjoy the great story. There were several ways one could interpret the movie. For me, I pondered the concept that our past influences our future and whether fate is finite or can we alter it. From beginning to end, this movie kept my attention with its deft pacing and laser focused direction. Set in the future, time travel has been outlawed. However, large criminal organizations were using it to send people back 30 years where a looper (time traveling assassin) would be waiting to kill them. Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises), was a smart looper; saving half of his earnings with the intention of moving to France one day. His plans were put into jeopardy the day his next kill arrived and it was an older Joe, played by Bruce Willis (Moonrise Kingdom, Red). Hesitating for a moment, the older Joe escaped and set out to change his past; with the young Joe in pursuit and the mob hunting both of them. If this sounds confusing to you, please do not worry; it will make more sense as you watch the movie. The story was fresh and original with skilled acting propelling everything forward. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was eerily good, looking like a young Bruce Willis. Bruce was back with his macho swagger; one could only imagine he thrived playing a well developed character for a change. Another important aspect was the part of Sara, played beautifully by Emily Blunt (The Five-Year Engagement, Your Sister’s Sister). Remembering the audience’s applause at the end of the film and how the rest of my weekend was great, my past really had an effect on my present. I just hope this movie starts a trend of making more creative, original movies in my future. Brief scenes of blood and violence.

3 1/2 stars

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Flash Movie Review: Take

One’s actions, whether they choose to take responsibility or not, always come with a reaction or consequence. I try my hardest to take responsibility for my behavior. There have been times when I was not aware I was causing a person distress. On the other hand, at times I knew exactly what I was doing; not saying it was right or wrong, just going with the moment. It was a pleasant surprise watching this small, independent film. Small in budget, but not in star power. I found this dramatic movie put a different twist on the idea of a person being accountable. The story was about two strangers and how each of their actions led them to one common tragedy and its aftermath. Ana Nicholas, played by Minnie Driver (The Phantom of the Opera, Good Will Hunting) was a mother being told her son needed to be in a better equipped school, to handle his special needs. Minnie was exceptional in the role; I could feel her emotional exhaustion as she struggled to keep everything in control. Saul Gregor, played by Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy), was becoming more and more desperate to find the money to pay back a loan, before bodily harm befell him. It was a treat to see Jeremy in this role, that was filmed before he did The Hurt Locker. One could see what a fine actor he already was becoming before hitting the big time. I found him to be powerful in an ever increasing powerless situation; the anxious desperation oozed out of him. The filming was unique, taking me a few minutes to get into its unusual pacing. Scenes and their story lines alternated between the two characters, with a mixture of colorless starkness and soft edges. This film festival winner was a treat for me. The final message really hit home on how we can be a better person when we take responsibility.

 

2 3/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: The Master

The word “master” comes with several connotations. If I hear master crafter, I think of a skilled creator. When a person is referred to as the master of the house, I think of slavery. The title of this dramatic movie was a perfect choice. Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Hotel Rwanda), was a naval veteran who had a gift for making alcohol, out of a variety of substances. A majority of his life had been spent in a haze of drunkenness. When Freddie met the charismatic Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Moneyball, Doubt), he hoped to find some clarity in his life. Lancaster saw something in Freddie that could be purged with his help. The two men began a tumultuous relationship; Freddie would become both a guinea pig and an example of Lancaster’s unorthodox methods. Staging assemblies around the country, Lancaster’s fervent beliefs began to attract followers. If for nothing else, the amazing acting from Joaquin has to be seen. Besides his explosive, emotional rants; his physical transformation was mind blowing. Pitting him with Philip should easily earn the two Oscar nominations, in my opinion. As for the story, I found it tedious and wordy. Scenes that were carefully detailed did not help with the drawn out passages that I found boring. There were parts that made no sense to me and Amy Adams (Trouble with the Curve, The Fighter) as Lancaster’s wife Peggy was underutilized.  She was the wrong choice for the role.  Without excuses or making judgements, this movie simply presented a man with his flock; others could interpret it as the master and his cult.

 

2 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Robin Hood

I do not want to be biased here; but when I hear the words Robin Hood, I think of Errol Flynn. I cannot think of anyone else playing this role besides him. When I received this DVD I assumed the story would have a different spin on it, due to the director being Ridley Scott (Prometheus, Black Hawk Down). More than a spin, the movie was a prequel to the Robin Hood story most of us have seen before. Robin Longstride, played by Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator), was an archer in King Richard’s army. Upon Richard’s death, Robin returned to England, to bring the sword of deceased Sir Robert Loxley, played by Douglas Hodge (Vanity Fair, Mansfield Park), to his father Sir Walter Loxley, played by Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). Hearing the news of his son’s death, Sir Walter Loxley convinced Robin to  become his son, which would protect his land holdings. In doing so, Robin had to step in and become the husband to the widow Marion Loxley, played by Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Notes on a Scandal). With the English monarchy being threatened by the French, Robin would have to do battle with Sir Robert Loxley’s killer. Are you confused yet? It took me a while to get a grasp of what was taking place in this odd movie. I found Russell Crowe a poor choice; he brought no emotion to the role. Cate, on the other hand, was her usual stellar self. The story made no sense. An entire town was to believe Robin was Sir Robert Loxley? Also, having a battle scene that looked like it was copied from Private Ryan was weird. Instead of robbing from other movies, why couldn’t they make a decent story for us poor viewers? Violent and bloody scenes.

 

2 1/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: House at the End of the Street

As I drove to the movie theater, I had to wonder who made the decision that put Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games) into this film. From the ad campaign it looked like this was a horror movie; why would Jennifer put herself into this type of film? All I could think was Jennifer would look back at this film as a speed bump in her career. Playing teenaged Elissa, she and her divorced mother Sarah, played by Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas, Hollow Man), moved to a small town to get a fresh start. Upon arriving at their new home, the two discovered a tragic event had taken place at the house next door, several years ago. The parents were murdered by their daughter, who then fled the scene, never to be found again. The only survivor was her brother Ryan, played by Max Thieriot (Jumper, The Pacifier); who years later returned to the house, only to be shunned by the townsfolk. Elissa ignored the warnings and tried to befriend the quiet neighbor. But, would Elissa be safe being alone with Ryan in that house of tragedy? While watching Jennifer in this role, I was relieved to see she still had not lost her command of the screen. This woman has a great screen presence. Elisabeth as the mother was the perfect antagonist to her daughter; their scenes together sparked across the screen. Unfortunately they could not save this cliched thriller that left me emotionally detached. I did not find the movie scary, though I liked a couple of the twists in the story. With a PG-13 rating, this was not a slasher type of movie; think of it more like Psycho light. I cannot remember seeing any blood in the movie, but I may have missed it when I was checking the time on my watch. Was this a bad choice for Jennifer? I do not think it will hurt her in the long run; but let us say, it was a lateral move in what I feel will be a long movie career for her.

 

2 1/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Ray

With my family’s predisposition for hearing loss, I am grateful I still have my hearing. In fact, I am lucky that I still have use of all my senses; it is something I do not take for granted. Whether I am in the house or driving my car, I always have music playing. The idea that composer Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a symphony while he was deaf truly amazes me. Have you noticed when a person has lost one of their senses, the other ones become heightened? Look at Stevie Wonder or Jose Feliciano; they were great musicians who did not have the ability to see. Do you think the lack of sight fine tuned their other senses and pushed their musical capabilities higher? I think it did. One of the most influential figures in the music world has to be Ray Charles. He was without sight by the age of seven, but that did not hold back his musical genius. He was the first person to blend rhythm and blues with gospel music, creating a whole new sound that captivated millions of people. I love the quote in this movie from Ray’s mother Aretha Robinson, played by Sharon Warren (Glory Road). She said to a young Ray, “Never let nobody or nothing turn you into no cripple.” It was a great line. C.J. Sanders (First Sunday, Beautiful Loser) was excellent as the younger Ray in this biopic. As an adult Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx (Dreamgirls, Law Abiding Citizen) was stupendous in the role. Having the opportunity to sit down with Ray Charles, Jamie did a flawless impersonation; even wearing prostheses on his eyes, to create a true sense of blindness as he acted. Kerry Washington (Lakeview Terrace, The Last King of Scotland) did a beautiful job playing Ray’s wife Della Bea Robinson. The story traced the life and career of this musical genius who was not a perfect man, by any means. It was an honor for me to watch and listen to this wonderful movie.

 

3 1/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: End of Watch

Breathe, breathe, keep breathing was what I had to keep reminding myself to do through this intense, gritty movie. There were times I was on the edge of my seat from the tense scenes and the mockumentary style of filming interspersed throughout, without the head shaking dizziness. Los Angeles policemen Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Source Code, Love and Other Drugs) and Michael Pena (The Lincoln Lawyer, Crash) were more than partners, they were as close to being brothers as any two men could be. They were young, cocky hotshots working the toughest part of the city; who made some spectacular, newsworthy busts. Things were going great with Officer Taylor dating Janet, played by Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, 50/50) and Officer Zavala expecting a baby with his wife Gabby, played by Natalie Martinez (Death Race, Magic City Memoirs), when they became targeted by a drug cartel. This movie was one of the best examples of the police film genre I have ever seen. The script was tight, with electrifying tension being cut with stress relief comedic lines. Jake and Michael had killer chemistry between each other, giving this film a true sense of the camaraderie between partners. The acting was incredible; both Michael and Jake went through extensive training for this film and it paid off. They were believable; handling all the police hardware in a fluid, realistic way. I never felt as if the story was copping out (sorry for the pun), there were no neat and tidy scenes included just to please the audience. The movie grabbed you by the throat and forced you to watch ever single frame without any apologies. End of story. Graphic violence and bloody scenes.

 

3 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: The White Countess

It has been said that outside of divorce, moving is the most stressful thing in one’s life. I remember gaining 15 pounds on my last move. Having lived in the same area my whole life, I cannot imagine how much more anxiety ridden it would be, to move out of state. There was a time when I was planning to move out of state; the saving grace being it was my choice, for a happy reason. It has to be awful when one is being forced out of their home. And what must it be like if you had to leave the country of your birth? Set in Shanghai, China during the 1930’s; Russian Countess Sofia Belinskya, played by Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap, Maid in Manhattan), was the sole income earner for her displaced family. She worked at a bar, entertaining the male clientele. One day she noticed Todd Jackson, played by Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, The Reader), a blind American ex-diplomat. When Countess Sofia noticed two men plotting to jump Mr. Jackson outside of the club; she interceded, guiding him to safety. From this chance meeting, the two sad individuals formed a working relationship. The countess would be the centerpiece to Mr. Jackson’s new business venture, a nightclub called The White Countess. This beautiful period piece was good because of the acting. It is sad that we do not have Natasha in our lives anymore; for she was wonderful as the melancholy woman of royalty, reduced to degradation and worry, as Japanese forces began exerting their presence in the city. Ralph Fiennes did an outstanding acting job with his role. However, I found it disappointing that Natasha’s mother and aunt, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave were underutilized. The story dragged in parts, in need of some tightening up. If you are not familiar with Natasha Richardson’s work, you would be well served by seeing her in this movie.

 

2 3/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: Samsara

Imagine taking a trip to 25 countries on 5 continents, seeing natural wonders to questionable man made structures, without the intrusion of the Transportation Security Administration and no need of a passport. All of this can be done from the comfort of your seat in your favorite movie theater. Five years in the making and 20 years since his incredible film Baraka; director Ron Fricke brought another absolutely gorgeous movie to the big screen. There was no dialog as the audience was transported to sights most of us will never see in our lifetime. And what I would like to think of as a gentle slap to the digital world, this movie was shot in 70 mm film. The results were massive and impressive to me. Where some movies depend on their musical score to distract from the lack of acting or story, the original music used in this great film was the ideal accompaniment; the perfect blend of spices to the visual stew of images that welled up before our eyes. Do you think I liked this movie? I loved this movie! The word samsara is sanskrit for “continuous flow.” Think of it as birth, life, death and rebirth. What I got out of seeing this movie was how ancient cultures/structures have been reincarnated over and over again. What is that saying that goes “Everything old becomes new again,” or something like it? I found it fascinating the way scenes from opposite spectrums were paired up to show, in essence, their similarities. This was truly a remarkable film. Walking out of the theater, I looked at the buildings around me in a different way; wondering where in a past time were these structures born before.

 

4 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Cold Light of Day

Since I began posting movie reviews here, I have tried alternating between first run movies and those on DVD. You will notice with today’s review it is of a film I saw this past week at the theater, instead of one at home. The reason is simple; if you are so inclined to view this movie, do not spend any money seeing it in a movie theater. Do not waste any money on it. The first 15-20 minutes started out well, with Bruce Willis (Moonrise Kingdom, Die Hard franchise) as Martin doing okay, for what seemed like a typical role for him. Taking his family out sailing on his boat, Martin tried to keep the peace, though it was obvious there was tension between him and his son Will, played by Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals). When there was a slight accident on the boat, Will swam to shore to get first aid. With supplies in hand, he returned to the beach only to discover the sailing boat was gone. It did not take Will long to find the boat tucked away in a nearby cove. Imagine the surprise he got when finally reaching the boat he discovered it was deserted. The search for his family would lead Will on a high stakes chase, that involved the CIA and terrorists all looking for a mysterious briefcase. Let me make this easy for you: the story was dopey, the acting was putrid and the action scenes went by so fast, I had a hard time figuring out what the heck was going on. This movie looked like it was one of those payback films, where actors had to sign on to repay a favor to some producer or movie studio honcho. The whole time watching this movie I thought the missing family members were the lucky ones; they did not have to stay and watch this mess.

1 2/3 stars

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