Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Modern Classic Movie Review: Reservoir Dogs

The performances in Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature Reservoir Dogs are so good they may be the real glue that holds the film together. Tarantino’s writing, both structurally as well as dialogue, is fantastic, but I wonder where it would have taken him as a director without the phenomenally believable acting of his ensemble cast. The first step in the right direction was getting what might be the perfect cast. The principal leads are Harvey Keitel, who was instrumental in getting the film made after reading the screenplay, Michael Madsen, who has since gone on to a modestly successful Hollywood career, and Tim Roth, a virtual unknown before Reservoir Dogs. Reports suggest that James Woods fired his longtime agent for not bringing the project to his attention after learning that Tarantino wanted him for Roth’s role.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Flirting with Disaster Movie Review

One of the most criminally undervalued comedies of the 90s was written and directed by a man was an Oscar nominee this year for the critically acclaimed The Fighter. But back in 1996 he made a modest comedy, his follow-up to the indie hit Spanking the Monkey. Sporting a great cast and some fantastic comedy writing (combining situational comedy with great one-liners), Flirting with Disaster deserves a lot more notice than it has gotten over the years.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II Movie Review

It was fairly obviously a cynical ploy to maximize profits that led Warner Bros. executives to split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films. One film made from the seventh book in the popular series by J.K. Rowling would have had to top the four hour mark to have even a semblance of coherence, but that hasn’t really stopped the writers and directors of the previous films. Last year we were treated to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I and now this summer the final chapter concluded with Part II.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review: You Blew It Up! Damn You to Hell!

For the life of me I can’t understand why critics have been heaping praise on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Are our standards and expectations for big-budget studio productions so low that as long as it’s not a documentary about idiots falling down we think it’s good? Have we come this far and sunk so low? Really, I don’t see what there is to appreciate in this sub-par CGI-enhanced non-spectacle that completely fails to grasp any of the subtlety or even the humor of Planet of the Apes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Horrible Bosses Movie Review

I thought for sure while watching Horrible Bosses that Charlie Day was the next Zach Galifianakis – a little-known actor who lands a breakthrough role in a smart comedy, stealing just about every scene. Then I learn he has starred in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” for six seasons and “Third Watch” before that. Okay, so I’ve been living out of the country for a long time and I’d never heard of the guy. But man is he fantastic as a wiry, fast-talking, high-pitched, manic dental assistant with a boss he hates.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens Movie Review: An Interesting Melding of Genre Films

What a fascinating concept, the mixing of genres in Cowboys & Aliens, director Jon Favreau’s latest action spectacular with enough brains to rise slightly above the usual mediocre dreck. Why must it be inevitable that every science fiction film about alien invasion has either a contemporary or a futuristic setting? If you’ve ever wondered how men on horseback with six-shooters and rifles would fend off technologically superior alien invaders, Cowboys & Aliens is a mash-up that might satisfy your thirst for knowledge. At any rate, all alien invaders are by definition technologically superior to humans.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love Movie Review

I think the Steve Carell sad-sack schtick is beginning to wear a little thin for me. In the new romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love he plays Cal, yet another lovable loser who needs outside help from someone much cooler than he is to redefine his style. Aided by the affably funny Paul Rudd in both The 40-Year Old Virgin and Dinner for Schmucks, this time it’s Ryan Gosling, whose inclusion is in the cast is little more than a desperate plea for the teenage girl demographic to show up, who helps with the makeover.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau Movie Review: A Bunch of Empty Shirts

The empty shirts go marching in.

What is it with black actors who achieve critical praise and then start taking Magical Negro roles? Morgan Freeman and Will Smith are the prime examples, but now Anthony Mackie? The character actor who made some noise in The Hurt Locker? In The Adjustment Bureau, he plays Harry Mitchell, a member of an adjustment team (angels, perhaps?) who are able to make things happen in the world according to “The Plan.” Who designs The Plan? That would be The Chairman, a character we never see but whom Harry and his partner Richardson (John Slattery) speak of in hushed tones. I leave it to you to decide who or what The Chairman is or represents.

Friday, August 5, 2011

25 Years Ago This Month: August 1986

Amid all the garbage that opened in August '86, there was one stand out, and also the biggest money-maker of the month, in Stand By Me. Based on one of Stephen King's better stories, it is not incidentally one of the best coming-of-age movies from the period. It's one of Rob Reiner's best films and stars Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell and River Phoenix all boosted their careers here.

This month saw Spike Lee's electric film debut She's Gotta Have It. It's not nearly as sharp as some of his later films, but at the time his was an important new voice in independent cinema.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Classic Movie Review: The Great Escape

It’s hard for me to get behind a movie that paints Nazis as benevolent and forgiving. John Sturges’ classic war film The Great Escape would have us believe that the real evils in the European front of WWII were the exclusive purview of the Gestapo. The Luftwaffe, on the other hand, are depicted as kindly, obedient and good-natured soldiers and officers just doing their jobs. So when British officers attempt escape from a prison camp, the response of the Kommandant is generally along the lines of, “Aw shucks, you guys. Are you at it again? Solitary confinement for you.” But the Gestapo officers are established right away as torturers, the subjects of the wary eyes of the Luftwaffe officers, who know they’re also being watched.