Sunday, September 30, 2012
Greta Gerwig has been struck in the indie film world for far too long, from her debut in Hannah Takes the Stairs back in 2007 to Damsels in Distress in 2011. She’s had a few bit parts in a few big – or bigger -- budget films, like Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, but she’s usually reduced to poorly written quirky girlfriend parts that don’t give her room to do much but support the guy she’s paired off with. Lola Versus, directed by Daryl Wein, should change that. It’s still an indie film, but it plays better than most of the crappy romantic movies Hollywood has churned out in the past decade, and it’s mostly because of Gerwig’s performance. She’s still charming and quirky, but those are no longer the defining characteristics of her character. As Lola, she plays a fully developed character trying to define who she is after her fiancé dumps her unexpectedly in the middle of making wedding plans. Gerwig plays well with the others in the movie, especially the very funny Zoe Lister Jones as her sidekick Alice, but it’s the moments we share alone with Lola that make the movie work.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 10:52 AM
Saturday, September 29, 2012
If you are looking for a detailed biopic about the career of actress Charlotte Rampling, you better look somewhere else. If, however, you are open to the idea of a film about the actress as a person who just happens to be one of the more famous actresses/beautiful women in the world, then Charlotte Rampling: The Look is the perfect movie for you. Best yet, if you know nothing about Rampling, her films or anything else about her, give it a chance. Directed by Angeline Maccarone, The Look tells Rampling’s story in a unique way. It takes general topics – love, sex, death – and let’s Rampling talk about them in a sort of freestyle form. Sometimes she explores the topics talking with a friend, sometimes she simply talks to the camera, sometimes you hear her voice as if coming from the heavens as we watch her walk around a city or sit quietly alone in a room. Maccarone then uses clips from Rampling’s career to illustrate what the actress has to say. Sometimes the connection between the film and the discussion is direct, sometimes it’s a bit obscure, but it’s never too obscure or confusing. Even if you don’t see or fully understand the connection, The Look inspires you to watch the clip the movie is from so you can discover it for yourself.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 7:28 PM
Friday, September 28, 2012
Her shows are cotton candy colored pop events where the Katy Kats, as fans like to call themselves, sing along with their idol to songs like Teenage Dream and Firework and California Gurls. But what is Katy Perry like off stage? Where did she come from? What is her family like? Is she a troubled diva like her contemporaries or is it possible that she’s actually as nice as she seems to be? If you are already a fan, you probably know all the answers. The best thing about this glossy concert movie/documentary for you will be the chance to see Katy belt out her songs in crystal clear high-def with state-of-the-art sound. The best thing about the movie for non-Katy Kats may be the introduction it gives to the lady behind the image, especially for parents who may only know Perry as the pop singer their kids listen to over and over again. She’s an infectious performer and her songs, with their deceptively simply lyrics about empowerment and other after school special level lessons, are pretty irresistible. And so is she, after a while. The movie tends to gush a bit too much about just how cute, cuddly and crazy Perry is, but if you scrape off the first few layers of sugary adoration, there’s a person underneath who you have to admire.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:13 PM
Thursday, September 27, 2012
There’s a lot of nostalgia for this television cowboy series because it starred a young Clint Eastwood in the supporting role of cowhand Rowdy Yates. And it’s a lot of fun to see the future Dirty Harry -- lean, gangly and totally unsure of himself – try and find his feet as an actor in semi-comical shows like Incident of the Reluctant Bridegroom where Rowdy wakes up after a night in the saloon to find out he went and got himself married. There’s a lot more to these shows that Clint, though, no matter how much fun is to watch. Most of the shows are called “incidents” for a reason since each show centers around something happening that can stop cattleman Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) from bringing the herd to market. The plots are a mixed bag, some are strong and some are silly, but the talented ensemble cast and cinematic camera style make even the mundane shows interesting to watch.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 2:09 PM
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Along with Bond girls, scenic global locations and a cool spy in a well-fitting tuxedo who orders his drinks shaken, not stirred, the one thing that almost all James Bond films have in common is cool gadgets. Most of the films even have scenes showing the super spy heading over to the special gadget shop where the unshakable Q outfits him with the latest in deadly and diabolic accoutrements. This two-part series form the history channel helps make the connection from what Bond used in the movies to what real inventors and scientists have created in the real world. The similarities are amazing – yes there really is a jet pack – but the coolest part about the series is the way art imitates life, and vice versa. Some of the gadgets in the movies were so cool that real government agents were calling up the producers to see where they could get them, while sometimes it was the actual government designers who came up with something so cool the movie producers made sure they were the first ones to reveal it to the public. The series suffers from a lack of actual clips from the films to illustrate how Bond used the gadgets, but fans can easily go watch the films and see for themselves.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:13 AM
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
"Before you embark on a journey of revenge,” the Chinese philosopher Confucius states, “dig two graves." The quote serves perfectly as the subtitle for director Kaige Chen’s epic film, Sacrifice, the story of a military coup in 5th century China (The Yuan Dynasty) where a ruthless general wipes out 300 members of the powerful Zhao clan to clear a path for him to take over the throne. The only problem is that there are actually 301 members of the clan. A boy is born to the princess just as the coup is taking place and the royal doctor is forced to make a tragic sacrifice to make sure the young prince survives. Although the plot is straight forward – the doctor raises the child as his own with the sole purpose of teaching him what he needs to get revenge on the man who killed his family – Kaige does a masterful job of pacing the story, weaving together the formative moments of the young man’s life to create a compelling and thoroughly entertaining cinematic experience. And he does it without ever letting the audience forget that there are real people experience real human emotions at the heart of the history that is taking place.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:40 PM
Monday, September 24, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 12:32 PM
Sunday, September 23, 2012
A man lives alone in a remote cabin and is surprised by desperate visitors…it’s a basic idea that serves as the framework for at least half the horror movies out there today. Sometimes it’s told from the point of view of the visitors – teens lost in the woods usually – and sometimes it’s from the perspective of the homeowner who either terrorizes or is terrorized by the visitors. From the outset, it looks like writer/director Michael Biehn, who we all know as John Connors’ future dad in the Terminator movies, doesn’t have much new to bring to the plate. And having the person who knocks on the cabin door a stripper doesn’t count. But stick with it. Biehn is a talented director and while there are a few missteps along the way – like the way his character and the stripper hop into the sack despite the fact that evil is hunting them down and could be right outside the bedroom door – he knows how to build tension and is pretty good at navigating the film’s overwritten plot twists.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:44 AM
Saturday, September 22, 2012
If you are looking for a cheesy Inside the Music style expose of the underbelly of rap music – the hustlers and hoes, the Crystal and the blow – then look somewhere else. Directed by Ice T – that’s right, Ice T – this is a serious study of the men and women who created the rap genre, as well as those who still carry the flag in its honor. And although it’s a serious look at rap music, don’t make the mistake of thinking that means it is dull or scholarly because it’s not. Ice T, who acts as host for the film, too, is the perfect guy to interview other rap stars and not just because he’s been in the game longer than some of today’s ‘rap stars’ have been alive. The key to it all is the honest enthusiasm he brings to each interview, combined with his obvious passion for the other players. It’s a blast to watch him ask everyone what other rap artists lyrics they have stuck in their head, the listen to them belt the lyric out for the camera. When Ice T joins in because he just can’t help himself, you know you are watching pure love on the screen.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:47 PM
Friday, September 21, 2012
Fans of the original History Channel pawn shop reality series, Pawn Stars, may be a little put off at just how familiar this southern friend version of the series is to the one set in Las Vegas. Such quibbling misses the point, though. Although the shows may look the same, from the confessional style chats the hosts have with the audience right down to the seemingly endless array of experts at theta command to judge the real value of anything brought into the store, this Cajun version set in the Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry Center in Alexandria, Louisiana, is spicy enough to stand on its own. The hosts – Jimmie “Big Daddy” DeRamus and his family – are informative and entertaining, if a little bland, but the singular set of people who wander in to sell everything from a pigmy goat to an actual $10,000 bill more than make up for it in the sheer entertainment quota.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 12:58 PM
Thursday, September 20, 2012
As actress Susan Sarandon explains in the introduction to this series, Joseph Campbell: Mythos is an acquired taste. After all, the DVDs are really only a series of filmed lectures, and not very well filmed at that, at least in purely cinematic terms – the camerawork is shaky at times and the editing equally choppy. What the films lacking visual style, however, is more than made up for by the sheer brilliance of what Campbell is talking about: Us. It’s clear after just a few minutes of listening to him lecture why he is generally acknowledged as not only one of the great teachers of our time, but a world class philosopher who has the rare ability to share his thoughts in a clear and concise language that everybody can understand. More than that, he has the talent to make you think, and not just about the subject at hand. Mythos is a rare experience that makes you think for yourself, and about yourself, when it is over.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 10:31 AM
A tsunami hits a coastal town in Australia and the ocean floods a seaside supermarket. A group of people are trapped inside and soon find themselves being preyed up on by a pair of great white sharks who are swimming up and down the grocery store aisles looking to feed. It sounds like a really stupid idea – and it is – but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, too thanks to some believable performances, some decent special effects and more than a few gallons of blood red paint. Director Kimble Rendall (Cut) makes the wise decision of playing it pretty straightforward throughout the movie, especially when the situations become increasingly unbelievable. He also has a wicked sense of humor when it comes to horror – just pay attention to what happens to the yappy little dog that gets trapped in the parking garage. Bait isn’t as good as Jaws, which recently got the full Blu-ray treatment, but it isn’t trying to be, either. That being said, it’s still a heck of a good shark movie.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:47 AM
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Chico & Rita is such a beautiful film to look at that you could turn the volume off completely and still have a wonderful time. You’d easily be able to follow the story of two musicians whose passion for music is only eclipsed by their passion for each other, but if you did that, you’d miss out on some incredible music, as well as some seriously smoldering vocal performances from Eman Xor Oña as Chico and Limara Meneses as Rita. Chico & Rita starts out with scenes of an elderly Chico spending his days shining shoes and his nights sipping rum in his tiny apartment as he picks through a cigar box of memories. Hearing a song on an oldies station on the radio – a song he recorded many, many years ago -- Chico starts to remember the time of his youth when he was a talented but unknown jazz pianist in Havana. It was also the time when he first met the love of his life, Rita. Giving too much of the plot away would spoil the enjoyment of watching it unfold so beautifully on the screen. Suffice it to say that although it is obvious from the minute their eyes first meet that Chico and Rita are made for each other, the paths they take are so divergent that you never really know what will happen to them next – as individuals or as a couple – or if they will find each other by the end of the film.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 7:34 PM
Monday, September 17, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 8:47 AM
Sunday, September 16, 2012
For about the first hour, it feels like a run-of-the-mill action movie about a government operative (Sean Bean) forced to go outside the official organization policy to try and stop a terrorist (Abhin Galeya) from putting his destructive plans into action in London. The performances are good, if a bit predictable, and the action scenes are well shot and well executed. It’s fun to watch, but nothing really special. Just when you start getting comfortable, though, writer/director Hadi Hajaig takes the time to stop the action and take the audience on a journey into the terrorist’s past to see how he became the potential mass murderer we’ve been watching from the beginning. Seeing the reasons he wants to kill people doesn’t make him sympathetic, but it does add shading to the story that most films of this kind just don’t bother with. Such knowledge also underscores the agent’s actions in subtle, but revealing ways. By the time we’ve returned to the present day, the story has shifted, the stakes have been raised and the outcome is exciting and unpredictable.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:25 AM
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 4:54 PM
Friday, September 14, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:36 AM
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 5:05 PM
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Ah, the 80s. A time when horror movie makers weren’t interested in toning down the onscreen sex and violence to make sure the movie got a PG-13 rating so it could play to the teens hanging out at the local mall. All they wanted to do was push the envelope and give the real horror movie fans something to talk about when the lights came up, and director Lloyd Kaufman did it better than almost all the others. This classic gore-fest tells the tale of three young women whose camping vacation becomes a nightmare when an evil elderly lady and her two crazy sons kidnap them for a series of disturbingly bizarre episodes. The blood looks faker now than it did when the movie was in theaters 30 some odd years ago, but the violence still has the power to shock and, if you like this sort of film, entertain.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:59 AM
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Franklin (Topher Grace) is a recent MIT grad who is unsure just what he wants to do with the rest of his life, so he spends his post-grad summer working at a mall video store. He enjoys the anonymity of the job until the girl of his high school dreams, Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), walks in and, after he lies to her about having a job at a big investment company, invites him to an end of the summer blow out party where all the popular kids will gather once again to be cool for a night before starting their adult lives. Directed by Michael Dowse (It’s All Gone Pete Tong), Take Me Home Tonight does a great job of capturing the look, the feel and the fashion madness of the1980s, from the Flock of Seagull haircuts to the Men Without Hats dance moves. What separates it from the mass of similar movies that seem to hit theaters every five years or so ever since Animal House first made being dumb and drunk in college popular film fodder, is the strong script and the equally effective acting. While it, unfortunately, still thinks a movie like this has to have its share of gross out scenes to be effective, Take Me Home Tonight balances the scale by also giving us something to think about as we watch it.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:00 PM
Monday, September 10, 2012
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….the makers of the 2010 cheese-fest, Piranha 3D, have released a sequel that is so bad it never even made it into theaters. It’s easy to see why, and you don’t even have to see the movie. All you need to know is that in the sequel the flesh-eating fish are now running amok inside a giant water park. That’s right, a water park. If you can wrap your head around that idea and still want to see it, then by all means do so. Piranha 3DD isn’t as gory as the film that spawned it; heck it’s not even as funny or as smartly written. There are, however, a few good death scenes and a few chuckles to be found, especially if you watched and liked the first one. If you read the title and think you are going to get 90-minutes of buxom bikini clad babes, then you should look somewhere else. The title, probably the cleverest thing about the sequel, is as fake as the boobs of most of the women in the film.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 10:29 PM
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Okwe, an undocumented Nigerian immigrant trying to make a living in London doing jobs that nobody else wants, like driving a gypsy cab and working the overnight shift on the front desk of a seedy hotel. The fact that he was a doctor in his home country means nothing without the papers he needs – and can’t get – to live in London legally, so he keeps his head down, doesn’t make eye contact and keeps his mouth shut. Unfortunately for him, his slimy boss (a chilling Sergi lopez) finds out what he used to be and blackmails him into performing illegal operations in the hotel, operations where undocumented people desperate for papers sell their kidneys for a passport. The film is beautifully acted, and surprisingly lovely to look at given the disturbing subject matter. Director Stephen Frears does a masterful job of pacing the story for maximum tension, while at the same time giving the cast plenty of room to do their job, which in this case means bringing a humanity and dignity to the people we walk past without thinking about every day.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 1:57 PM
Saturday, September 8, 2012
The cinematic highways are littered with stoner comedies that even the most stoned person in the audience wouldn’t find funny. This is not one of those films; in fact, it’s just the opposite – a smart stoner comedy. The film stars Matt Bush as Henry Burke, an ace student about to leave high school behind and go to MIT on a full scholarship. One day he hangs out a little too long with the school’s biggest burnout, Travis (played by John Belushi style with by Sean Marquette), and succumbs to peer pressure to get high. The next day, Henry finds out the school principal (a hilarious Michael Chiklis) has instituted a school-wide drug testing program, and Henry knows a failed test could lead to his scholarship being taken back. So Harry and Travis come up with a plan to save the day by getting the entire school stoned on pot brownies. After all, if everybody fails the drug test then nobody can get in trouble, right? It’s a nice twist on the plot to most pot comedies, and the actors all deliver the kind of funny, off kilter performances a film like this need to be more than just another Cheech and Chong rip-off.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 6:56 PM
Friday, September 7, 2012
We all know him now as the great chameleon of rock and roll, able to change musical styles and genres as easily as he changes outfits on stage. One year he’s Ziggy Stardust leading the Spiders from Mars, and a few albums later he’s The Thin White Duke “throwing darts in lover’s eyes.” Being so musical flexible didn’t come easy for Bowie, it’s something he worked very hard on, and very publically, with the recording of this first three albums -- the self titled David Bowie, The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory. This fascinating documentary takes audiences for an in depth journey through the albums using a combination of interviews with the musicians who helped Bowie create them and the rock critics who were there when they were first released into the world, some who heralded their arrival with praise and some with disdain. It’s a nice mix of opinions, and there are plenty of clips of the man behind all these masks to make their stories come alive. The only thing missing, as it often is in these kinds of music biographies, is an interview with Bowie to put everybody’s opinion in place.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 12:22 PM
Thursday, September 6, 2012
A well known character actor on the big and small screen, Gaffigan started as a stand-up comic and still makes the simple act of standing in front of a room full of people with nothing but a microphone and making them laugh themselves silly the backbone of his career. And why not? As this very funny performance proves, he’s really good at it. His latest set has him covering topics ranging from his joy at eating at McDonald’s to his experiences going to the gym to life on the road compared to life at home. The situations are familiar, but the way Gaffigan thinks about them is original and funny. The title may refer to the comedians lack of physical health, but it’s equally appropriate in describing his universal style of comedy. The jokes are intelligent and will give you plenty to think about when the show is over, if that’s what you want from your stand-up performers. Or you can just listen, laugh then hope you friends haven’t heard it (yet) when you retell the joke the next day.
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:20 AM
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 6:54 AM
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 3:40 PM
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 3:38 PM
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 11:06 AM
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Posted by John Black, Movie Critic at 9:48 AM