Category Archives: Drama

Not Fade Away

Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

A coming of age film set in ’60s New Jersey, heavily reliant upon a rock’n roll backdrop and focused on a young Springsteen wannabe, I expected this film to be influenced by, and reminiscent of, American Graffiti, Almost Famous and The Sopranos (it’s written by David Chase) with a terrific soundtrack (produced by Steven van Zandt from the E Street Band, the producer of the Underground Garage station on SiriusXM, and of course Silvio on The Sopranos). It did not live up to my expectations, although it kept my interest and had some realistic portrayals, led by the under-acting John Magaro as the drummer/singer/lonely loser and by Bella Heathcote as his beautiful muse (here:

who, when she first spoke, made me think she was raised in another country (she is Australian). James Gandolfini, as the boy’s blue collar dad, does his Tony Soprano at home portrayal to perfection (David Chase must love to script scenes where Gandolfini digs into a plate of food while talking). The music didn’t blow me away, and the boy and his buddies actually don’t seem obsessed with doing whatever it takes to be the next Bon Jovi, while they stumble into opportunities, both music-wise and relationship-wise. There’s no deep friendships that you think will be the next Clarence Clemens and Bruce. Maybe Springsteen’s dad was like this, but the main message seems to be that you won’t fade away if you keep at it. There’s a side story about Bella’s offbeat sister that surprisingly dead ends unhappily. So, it’s a decent movie, but didn’t inspire me like Cameron Crowe did in Almost Famous, or even other niche films like Garden State. If you want to see a current film that does this perfectly, go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

 

Django Unchained

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is a unique film: quintessential Tarantino with gushing blood, provocative speeches from compelling characters, tongue in cheek humor, homages to spaghetti westerns, and incredible scenes of in your face violence, combined with a revenge fantasy cum morality tale that delves into life during slavery that you won’t see portrayed in too many places in film today or ever. I cringed during the bloody scenes of the worst type of brutality, and my first instinct is to reject such tastelessness, but then I think am I seeing scenes that would have never happened, or was this the unpleasant reality that no one likes to think about happened right here in the US? The current movie, Lincoln, is focused on passing legislation that banned slavery, but it never shows the reality that slavery entails. Django Unchained shows it in a way I’ve never seen. We all know that families were broken up by auctions, but have we internalized the implications of how awful that was? We’ve heard that slaves were treated like chattel, worse than dogs, but seeing it depicted here is something again that I have rarely seen in popular culture. We’ve read about the Uncle Toms, the “house” n***s, the “field” n***s, the “master” who treats his surrogate father who effectively brought him up like a, well, a slave. But watch Samuel L. Jackson’s ultimate Uncle Tom, wielding power over the plantation, watch Leo Dicaprio as the plantation master toying with his “mandingo” wrestlers as he goads them to fight to the death, watch the brutal treatment of the slaves who try to run away…just unforgettable scenes and portrayals. Christoph Waltz, who was terrific in Inglorius Basterds as the Nazi Colonel, is superb here as the cold hearted, sly bounty hunter. Jamie Foxx is a revelation as the newly freed slave who partners with the bounty hunter to find then free his wife, from whom he was forcible separated. I don’t know if any Tarantino film can be considered a serious treatise of an issue such as slavery,  but if you want to watch an engrossing story which depicts the brutality of our not-too-distant past, check out this film.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Whether or not to see this movie should be a relatively easy decision.  If you like Tarantino movies you should go.  If you don’t you should stay away at all costs.

As Bill says it has all of the elements of a Tarantino film.  In some ways the violence exceeds some of his earlier films.  There is the usual violence for Tarantino – the over the top shoot outs, explosions, etc and then there’s the slavery inspired violence which unfortunately may not be over the top.

The dialogue is good although not quite as good as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs.

The movies is very entertaining and despite it’s over 2.5 hour length the movie flies by.  Tarantino gets great performances from Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, Jackson and others.  There are also a ton of people making cameos or in smaller roles – Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern, Franco Nero (from the original ‘Django’ movie), Russ (West Side Story!) and Amber Tamblyn, Tarantino (I love his final scene) and others.

While at times this took a serious look at slavery and how slaves were treated it was also very funny.  At times it reminded me of Blazing Saddles with it’s use of the ‘n’ word and with a scene with the KKK that could easily have been in that movie

For those seeing this movie in Austin you should see it at an Alamo Drafthouse and get their in time to see the pre-show.  It has some clips from some of the films that Tarantino is paying homage to and is also entertaining.  But I’m sure it would take a lot longer to go through all the movies he refers to and it would be interesting to know all that he refers to

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Lincoln

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

Daniel Day-Lewis (or is it Daniel-Day Lewis?) is a tour-de-force in this Oscar-worthy performance confirming with me he’s one our the top actors in films today. He is Lincoln, and while I was prepared for a slow first hour (thanks to Howard Stern’s assessment) I was never bored. Spielberg directed this with incredible attention to period detail that fascinated, from the way Lincoln traveled around Washington (a driver who carried a rifle was his only protection while his neighbors didn’t give him a second glance), to his office (constituents were given 1 on 1 audience to plead their case, no matter how minor), to the internal political wranglings, reminiscent of today’s situation where a newly re-elected president tries to pass major legislation (in 1865 it was the 13th amendment banning slavery) while the opposing party controls the House of Representatives. Tommie Lee Jones is terrific as the fervent single-issue abolitionist, as is Hal Holbrook as the slick power broker who must be catered to. While keeping the story suspenseful (we know the outcome!) and entertaining, we learn how politicking was done, how Abe conducted his business, how his “crazy” wife (excellent Sallie Field) pushed him to be more relentless in winning his political battle, how the House was more like British Parliament is today with people shouting down and insulting each other. Most importantly, you get a glimpse of how brutal the Civil War was, with the hand-to-hand bayonetting and fighting to the death, and what a battlefield looks like afterwards. It’s hard to believe that Americans fought each other like this only 4-5 generations ago. You see how the southern states wanted to negotiate peace as though they were a sovereign nation, while the North treated them like individual rebels from within the one nation. I recommend this for all audiences.

Bill C’s Review 4 out of 5

Bill has not left me much to say. What makes this movie so worthwhile is Day-Lewis’ performance, the realistic view of what the U.S. was like in the mid-1800s, and how our government worked so long ago.

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Anna Karenina

Bill C’s Review – 2 out of 5

Anna Karenina is the third teaming of director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley. I liked Atonement, the one earlier collaboration I saw, and his directing of Hanna. His Anna Karenina was a very stylized adaptation of the Tolstoy novel. It’s the type of thing you’ll either love or hate. In my case (as  I was told by Janis afterward), I laughed or snickered at inappropriate times due to the directorial choices. I guess that means I am in the hate category. Despite this, I am sure that this film will win all sorts of awards for things I am not capable of judging, like cinematography, musical score, costumes, and art direction. If they have an award for hair styling, they might win an award for that, as I could tell how depressed Knightley’s character was supposed to be by how bad her hair looked.

I thought Knightley and Jude Law were good. I was not as impressed with Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played an impassionate Vronsky.

A lot of people will love this movie. I just happen to not be one of them.

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Hitchcock

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Hitchcock tells the story of great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock during the making of Psycho and his relationship with his wife Alma Reville during that time.

Alma was a great filmmaker in her own right who subjugated her career to Hitchcock’s.  Helen Mirren is excellent as Alma. Initially she plays the neglected, nagging  wife trying (and failing) to help Hitchcock keep his weight down, but eventually she helps to save the day by re-writing key sequences and helping to edit the final product. The movie-making aspects and Hitchcock’s dealings with the studio are interesting, as Psycho represented a departure and a crossroads in his career.

I had mixed emotions on Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock. His performance seemed to be a caricature of the Hitchcock from his TV show and his cameos in the movies. I think Hopkins almost smiled once in the movie. Hopefully Hitchcock was more than just his caricature.

The director also made some interesting choices in starting and ending the film as a Hitchcock TV episode. He also had some scenes with Hitchcock and the real life character that inspired the  Norman Bates character to show Hitchcock’s psychological state of mind during this time.  I don’t think these choices really added to the movie.

Hitchcock was ok, but isn’t a movie that will stick with me for a long time.

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Killing Them Softly

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

I had mixed emotions about this movie. Brad Pitt stars as a hit man sent to find the folks who hit a mob-backed poker game and restore confidence so the games can be resumed. Pitt gives a fine performance as a no-nonsense enforcer who clearly sees what must be done to restore order. While he’ll willingly kill if needed, he likes to do so as efficiently as possible without causing the victims any unnecessary angst. His superiors (as represented by the always excellent, always understated Richard Jenkins) refuse to see things so clearly and make things more difficult than they need to be.

For the most part, I liked the movie as a character study of Pitt out to do his job and I found the plot fairly interesting. The point of the movie is to show the parallels between how the mob world and business/political worlds work. The movie takes place during financial meltdown and the presidential campaign in 2008. At first it’s interesting how they intersperse the movie plot with some of the Obama speeches, but they do a ton of this and, if you haven’t figured it out by the end of the movie, they let Brad Pitt give a speech to make sure you get it.

I thought they could have toned down one very violent scene. It’s funny–I can watch a Tarantino movie with hundreds of people getting killed and losing limbs without it bothering me, but this one did troubled me due to its realism and focus on a single person.

Overall I liked this film, but this is a luke-warm recommendation.

Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

I agree with Bill’s lukewarm review. I found it watchable, but the tenuous link to 2008 politics and greed in greater society was a big stretch and not insightful or compelling at all. Yes, people are greedy, but I can’t relate to these hit men (as thoughtful as Brad’s character is, when he kills them so quickly they don’t feel any pain) or small-time idiot thiefs. I kept waiting for the point, for some underlying reason to care about any of these characters. I found James Gandolfini’s wheezy fat hit man for hire character who’s seen better days to be the most fun to watch, but he’s also the most despicable character in the film. Bill references Tarantino, whoI think was probably an inspiration for the film makers here, but it’s missing the excitement and style, leaving mainly the graphic violence and the characters spouting dialogue that sounds like it should be interesting.

If you want to see greed, big time money up for grabs, suspense about a dead body, and a characters you care about, spend your 2 hours or so seeing Arbitrage with Richard Gere, much better than this.

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Flight

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

I would rate Denzel higher, as he is the movie, other than the remarkable flight crash (no spoiler!) scene at the outset. I cringed during this ultra-realistic flight crash, and will try to forget it by the time I take my next flight. This movie is more enjoyable than Leaving Las Vegas where it was just painful to watch Nicholas Cage drink himself to death. Flight has a predictable story arc, where Denzel needs to hit rock bottom as an alcoholic (flight pilot!), but he makes it captivating while the focus is on the post-flight investigation (was he drunk!), and his union rep and lawyer try to help him clear the charges. One side note: is anyone else bothered as I am by Denzel’s tooth situation? He’s always working his mouth, and it’s distracting to me, then the big teeth sometimes seem to get in his way when talking. Denzel will probably get an Oscar nomination, because he takes the ultimate sacrifice of any Hollywood actor trying to show he’s a great actor: he lets loose with a flabby body, and loses any six pack abs he may have chiseled (with trainer, cook and whatever supplements are needed) in prior action films. His character here is conveyed by his body, and expressions as much as his dialogue. Let’s see Tom Cruise match that!

Silver Linings Playbook

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Very well done, thanks to superb casting of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Deniro. The story is straightforward – manic guy meets cute depressed girl, while his parents try to keep him centered and calm – but it’s elevated by the great chemistry, the captivating Lawrence

amid not terrible sub-plots: dance contest and dad Deniro is rabid Philadelphia Eagles fan who bets the farm. I really enjoyed it, especially the couple of moments where one of the leads gets upset in their own intense way. Not a depressing movie, and in fact, an uplifting message (no spoiler since it’s in the trailer).

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I also liked this movie.

In addition to good performances by Lawrence, Cooper and De Niro, I also enjoyed Jacki Weaver (Cooper’s mother), John Ortiz (Cooper’s long time friend) and Chris Tucker (Cooper’s friend from the mental institution). This was Tucker’s first screen appearance in 5 years. To drive home the point that lots of people have issues in our hyperactive world, all of the characters in this movie have their own problems to deal with.

As Bill points out, Russell made some interesting plot points as director, but the very end gets pretty formulaic for a romantic comedy. I felt the final little bit of advice from De Niro (also shown in the previews) was unnecessary, but overall I really enjoyed and recommend this movie.

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The Sessions

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 put of 5

The Sessions is a touching movie based on the autobiographical writings of Mark O’Brien.  O’Brien was a writer who spent most of his time each day in an iron lung after coming down with polio at the age of 6.  At 38, he decides to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate. This is a well-told story, with some humor thrown in, of a man who despite the his terrible misfortune strives to get and give the most out of life.

The performances by John Hawkes (as O’Brien) and Helen Hunt as the sex surrogate are excellent. The physical limitations of his character makes Hawkes’ performance even more impressive.

While not for everyone, The Sessions is a very good and emotionally uplifting movie.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I really enjoyed this coming-of-age movie about a shy high freshman trying to come to terms with issues in his life and the friends he makes that help to bring him out of his shell. This movie has been out a while and is an art house movie but, if you can find it, definitely go.

This movie is at times sweet, sad, and funny and does a good job of showing what the high school experience can be like. Logan Lerman from the Percy Jackson movies does a good job as the shy freshman dealing with some issues.  It’s a nuanced performance that shows his highs and lows. Emma Watson (Hermione from Harry Potter) and Ezra Miller play seniors with issues of their own who befriend him.  Both are very good but I thought Ezra Miller was excellent. He was also great last year in We Need To Talk About Kevin and is an actor to watch.

 Bill I’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

If you are a teenager you should see this movie. If you once were a teenager you should see this movie. If you are not yet a teenager, you should wait, otherwise you might not want to be a teenager.

On its surface, this film is filled with cliches: the bullied high school kid, the jock bullies who love to trip the nerd carrying his lunch tray, the band of outcasts who befriend him, the gay best friend, the female “best friend” who is slotted (in his mind at least) to eventually become his girl friend, the search for ending his virginity…BUT, it’s got an amazing sense of life, captured in a few perfect scenes, that makes you realize that cliches are based on the truest reality. Ezra Miller plays the gay best friend as an original character, exciting, charismatic, and so genuine you will be amazed. Emma Watson, as the queen of the outcasts is similarly captivating. You won’t for a second wonder why the main character (Logan Lerman) falls so in love that he’s at times speechless in her presence. The parents are not cliches, they are believably distracted and ignorant to the day-to-day trials their son is going through, all the while thinking they are super sensitive to his emotional life due to past events. The brother and sister, while given so little screen time and less dialogue, are amazingly shown as real people and will bring tears to your eyes. Finally, you realize that this is a movie driven by child abuse, and what people do to get over it, or not get over it. I won’t give away the incredible moment when the viewer realizes what’s happened, but it gave me insight into what kids go through and try to regain a normal life. I considered giving this film a 4 star review, but realized it’s better than other 4 star movies in its essence.

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