Movie Reviews

Read the best movie reviews for the latest films showing in N Hollywood movie theatres including: Regency Theatre North Hollywood, Century 8, and Laemmle NoHo 7.

Thursday, 12 January 2012 06:49

2011 in Review: Not Exactly a Best-Of List

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What can I say about the Year in Film- 2011?  Well for one thing, there were too many sequels, superheroes—and superfluous 3-D.  I mean—enough already with this universally accepted shell game aimed at wresting more shekels from unwilling viewers. Only a few of these films (such as Hugo) showcased the technology in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  And still, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have preferred these movies without 3-D.  

Wednesday, 28 December 2011 14:06

War Horse

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War Horse is an epic film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg. It is a beautiful, tender story about the love between a man and a horse and the love between two horses and the love between people, all during the horrors of World War I. The cinematography is breath taking in contrast to the scenes of war that were emotionally horrific. However, through out the movie, the common thread was how kindness and love can be found even during war. The film was an emotional roller coaster ride for the majority of the audience that was sitting near me. Spielberg truly touched the heart in a profound way as he is so well known to do. I would like to say that one of my favorite stars was Joey, the "almost" thoroughbred horse that was sold to the army saving the Narracott family's farm. Albert Narracott played by Jeremy Irvine is the young son who was grief stricken when his cherished Joey left for war...a very convincing performance.



The film unfolds showing the experiences that Joey is confronted with during the war as a work horse for the English and German armies. The interwoven theme is how Joey touches the lives of soldiers and village people caught up in the terrors of war. I was very moved by a scene beautifully acted by a German and an English soldier who both wanted to help Joey. This book was a children's novel but by no means is this only for children. It is a masterpiece that should be seen by all ages. This is definitely an Oscar contender.

www.warhorsemovie.com

Wednesday, 21 December 2011 09:17

The Artist and My Week with Marilyn: Movie Magic

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By the time you read this, The Artist should have made its way to more local cinemas, and it’s about time. For those of you who might put off seeing it because “it’s silent” or “it’s in black and white,” all I can say is that you would be missing one of the more enchanting pictures of the year—and all the pleasures that the film has to offer. Michel Haznavicus’ loving homage to silent cinema—and old-style romance, uses music and well-placed sound effects to tell the tale of swashbuckling silent star George Valentin (winningly played by Jean Dujardin as a cross between Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly) whose star falls as he tries to resist the coming of sound, and Peppy Miller (warmly portrayed by Beatrice Bejo) a dancer whose star rises with the advent of talkies. Valentin and Miller are drawn to each other, but life gets in the way-specifically his marriage, his pride (namely, his disastrous decision to finance a downbeat silent starring vehicle for himself), the changing times-- and her own resounding cinematic success. Yet they never stop thinking about—and caring for each other, and you will pull for them to get together despite the odds—I know I did, and judging from the applause at the end, so did my fellow moviegoers. While you can probably guess some of the plot points The Artist will hit (especially those with some knowledge of film lore and A Star is Born), this is ultimately an upbeat, buoyant romance with very appealing performances all the way down the line, including James Cromwell as Valentin’s ever-faithful employee and John Goodman’s huffing studio boss; a lovely score by Ludovic Bource (with assists from period composers—and Bernard Herrmann in a pivotal scene); gorgeous black and white cinematography by Giullaume Schiffman, and above all Jean Dujardin and Beatrice Bejo, the two beguiling leads who help turn what might have been an academic exercise into a heartfelt exploration of the fleeting nature of fame—and the redemptive power of love. Heck, I’d love to see it again.

Motion picture fame is also at the forefront of My Week with Marilyn, a bittersweet behind the scenes look at the making of The Prince and the Showgirl-which itself had been a slight (though some might say ponderous) romance directed by Laurence Olivier and starring Olivier-and Marilyn Monroe. These events are viewed through the idealistic eyes of that film’s assistant director Colin Clark, who had the enviable task of looking after Miss Monroe—especially after her newlywed husband Arthur Miller, left Britain to return home for a spell. Kenneth Branagh makes a terrific Olivier, capturing not only his imperious nature—which is rendered helpless in the face of his mercurial co-star, and her overly attentive-not to say indulgent acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker, oozing seemingly sympathetic venom), but also the insecurity of a man who knows he’s a supreme actor but longs to be a movie star. Julia Ormond is a lovely Vivien Leigh in her few moments on screen, nailing not only the fragility of her beauty, but a temperament that knows her hold on her husband is tenuous at best. Eddie Redmayne does a good job as Colin ambitious, idealistic, and somewhat callow starstruck youth who manages to (temporarily) win Miss Monroe’s affections with his the diligence of his attentions—while neglecting a lovely, albeit ordinary colleague (Emma Watson). Yet in the end, a film like My Week with Marilyn rises or falls with its Marilyn—and Michelle Williams doesn’t disappoint. I admit I was a little apprehensive, but Williams makes for a superb Monroe: flirtatious, fun-loving, all too aware of her effect on the opposite sex, more than a little calculating, and more than a little vulnerable: having surrounded herself with sycophants, high-powered studio types and intellectuals, her sense of inferiority keeps spilling over to the surface. Williams-as Monroe-projects the antithesis of Branagh’s Olivier—as she is the movie star who yearns to be considered an actress. The “scenes within the movie” allow Miss Williams to recreate Monroe’s cinematic appeal—a a certain “something”that made directors want to work with her despite her somewhat exasperating behavior, not the least of which was legendary tardiness. It is a lovely performance in an intelligent, most entertaining movie.

Thursday, 15 December 2011 10:06

Hugo

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Directed by Martin Scorsese

The Invention of Special Effects in Films Through The Eyes Of A Magician.

You will find this review of Hugo a little different from anything you may have read about the film. It is mostly known that Hugo is a 3D adventure drama based on Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

I had decided not to read any reviews about the film before I went so that I would experience it without any preconceived notions. All I knew was based on its advertisement's description. "Twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity." Written by John Logan (screenplay) and Brian Selznick (book); I found that the story was cleverly brought to screen with a perfect balance of drama, comedy, intrigue and adventure. It wasn't until I was sitting in the theatre, watching it, that I realized it dealt with something that was very close to my heart; the history of magic and movie making. I will be focusing on the part of the story you don't typically read much about in the film's publicity: Scorsese's tale of one of the greatest magician innovators of our times.

Last weekend I showed up at the nearest ArcLight Cinema near NoHo to catch Hugo. I stood in line for quite a while waiting to buy a ticket. There were dozens of people in front of me. When it came to my turn they sadly informed me they were sold out. Boo Hoo! and I had already bought my popcorn. So I stood there in the lobby, pacifying my sadness by chugging down as much popcorn that could comfort me, Then from out of nowhere, just like in the movies, a stranger walked up to me and said, " I have an extra ticket, do you want it?" Graciously grinning like the Cheshire Cat I thanked him and ran off to catch the film which was about to start in moments.

As the previews flickered in the dark, I took my seat and the feature began. But for a moment I thought I had eaten too much popcorn. The screen was all blurry and I wondered if I was getting sick. As my eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness I noticed people wearing 3D glasses. "Oh My!" I remembered, this film was in 3D and since I did not get a ticket from the box office, I had no glasses. So I ran to the lobby, got myself a pair and made it back in record time, just in time for the opening sequence. That sprint alone burned off all the butter calories I had just consumed and I was ready for the adventure.

These were not your typical cardboard red and green 3Dglasses. They were a super comfortable, deluxe, hard framed XPAND glasses with olive green tinted lenses. Now, I have seen over 50 films in 3D and I found that they don't always integrate 3D technology appropriately. I was thrilled to discover that Scorsese uses 3D the way 3D should and needs to be used, to enhance the story. It not only enhanced the depth of field, it added depth of feeling and gave it a sense of really being there; inside the movie, inside old Paris. Without giving anything away here, some of the scenes take place inside a giant clock mechanism. The 3D version of this film puts you so much inside these clocks, you feel you are one of the cogs in the ticking machine's wheel. Beyond it being so visually immersive, Scorsese's 3D helps amplify the emotional connection that the characters have with their environment.

The opening sequence was exquisitely spectacular, worth the price of the ticket alone. Wait, I got my ticket as a gift! OK, you get my excitement. It was breathtakingly sensational, Scorsese directs a track shot through a 1930s train station that totally takes you on an E-ticket visual ride that will drop your jaws and pop your eyes out. To think I had almost missed it. If you are one of those people who miss the beginning of movies, get there early, do not miss the opening. This film is one of the best examples of using effects as a storytelling ingredient and not just for the eye candy of the effect. The effects are part of the story. Very appropriate too, since the story is about the man responsible for pioneering special effects in films.

Let me also applaud Director of Photography Robert Richardson for his visual contribution to this masterpiece. Mr. Richardson goes way back as a brilliant cinematographer to Platoon and image-rich movies such as Kill Bill. His cinematography is goose-bumping transcending, completely capturing the look and feel of Paris in the early 1900s. Having worked together before in Aviator, Scorsese and Richardson make a fantastic team in creating movie magic that makes you suspend the awareness of your current reality and completely puts you inside another very real and believable world. This film is wonderfully successful in not only bringing history back to life, but also in re-creating how some of the earliest motion pictures were made.

Being a filmmaker and magician myself, I was pleasantly surprised that Scorsese chose to tell the story of the father of special effects, Georges Méliès (1861 -1938). Méliès discovered the stop trick and was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves and hand-painted color in his films. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the First "Cinemagician." The role of Georges Méliès is masterfully played by one of my favorite actors, Oscar winner, Ben Kingsley. A fascinating character, Kinglesy is perfect for the role and truly captures the essence of the spirit of a magician-visionary inventor.

The movie takes place during a very important period in the history of stage magic. Méliès was a very active magician during the catapulting era of modern conjurers. He purchased French patriarch magician, Robert-Houdin's famous theatre, specifically to do magic. Méliès created over 30 new illusions staged with comedy and melodrama, most of which are still done today in one form or another. One of the stage tricks I recently performed at the Experience NoHo event, the headless woman, is probably somewhat a related descendant of Méliès's Recalcitrant Decapitated Man.

Méliès life changed when e saw one of the very first films ever made shown by the Lumière Brothers. The Lumières are credited as one of the first inventors of Cinema as a mass medium. The short film had a train arriving at a station. People had never seen anything like this and jumped out of their seats in fear believing the train was leaping out of the screen. It's interesting to note that the Lumière Brothers were trying to achieve a 3D image even prior to this first ever public exhibition of motion picture. Here is yet another reason why Scorsese's choice to direct Hugo in 3D is so well fitting. Méliès was so stunned by the amazingly realistic illusions created by moving pictures he wanted to buy the machines to make his own movies. The Lumiere's didn't think there was a future for movies and refused to sell to him. So Méliès decided to build his own camera and so began our cinematic history.

The greatest illusionists of the early 1900s such as Harry Houdini (1874- 1926), Harry Blackstone Sr. (1885-1965) and many others, probably grew up themselves watching his movies. This was an exciting time in history where people's minds were being blown away with stage illusions and the new art form of films. As a magician I can tell you that most of us live and thrive to find ways to create illusions that will provoke our audience's senses. This movie totally captures that passion and gives us a glimpse inside that unique human phenomena that steers some of us to be part magician-part jester and the drive that makes us continue to do so, in spite of life's ups and downs.

So besides being a fun and entertaining theatre experience, Hugo can inspire all of us artists. Méliès produced over 500 movies, most of them lost or destroyed. Through the eyes of the character Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield, we gently get the message of the importance of following our dreams and protecting our creations. This is strongly conveyed in how young Cabret is so fixed on re-constructing an automaton left to him by his father. It is through this innocent kid's raw passion to bring the robot back to life that we learn about Méliès' life work.

Hugo is Scorsese's homage to the innovations created by our predecessors. With Hugo he gifts us with the opportunity to be motivated to think of new things. It reminds us that there is much to learn from what has been created in the past. It is a call to the awareness of the importance of perceiving art.

As soon as I left the theatre I called many of my magician friends and filmmakers to urge them to see this movie. Many did not know that the film was so rich in movie-magic history. One of my fellow magic colleagues, Harry Every, went to see Hugo the very next day. As Chairman & CEO at Transmersive, Harry has been involved in the business and innovation of 3D technology for years. He is quite an accomplished producer, effects supervisor and imagineer himself. This is what he wishes to share with us after seeing Hugo.

"It's a fascinating adventure in its own right that looks into the mind of one of our greatest illusionist innovators of our time. It's truly inspiring and motivating to just imagine the amazing creations they were able to produce back then. This, without any instructional books or references and with technology that by today standards barely qualifies as nomadic. Illusionists and filmmakers today could be, and should be, wanting to create new effects and run out to shoot new innovative films."

Brandon Scott is a professional magician and featured performer at the Magic Castle. He is an award winning filmmaker and a resident actor/theatre producer in NOHO. http://storywizards.com/

 

Alexander Payne’s adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel The Descendants deftly walks a fine line (for the most part) between comedy and drama as it tells the tale of a workaholic Hawaiian lawyer (George Clooney) trying to cope with the irreversible coma of his wife, while brokering the imminent sale of a huge tract of pristine, picture-postcard family-owned (it’s a big extended-family, including Beau Bridges) Hawaiian real estate. In addition, the wife’s coma forces him to reacquaint himself with his daughters, the eldest of whom (Shailene Woodley) blindsides Dad with the news that Mom had been having an affair.

“He’ll do anything to hold on to his power.” An older J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio in fairly good old-age make-up) says this about Richard Nixon late in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, but he might as well be talking about himself. It also exhibits a characteristic of the screenplay, in that it—to borrow Billy Wilder’s phrase-tends to “make the subtleties obvious.” Certain motifs are reiterated and underlined just in case we missed them (abuse of power, grandstanding, self-deception). Not that the movie isn’t entertaining—it is--it just could have been a lot more.

The best parts of George Clooney’s The Ides of March are those scenes centering on loyalty, betrayal and revenge—which is not surprising as the title is an allusion to a pivotal moment in the Roman political arena immortalized in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. While there is nothing that compelling on display here, Clooney’s (co-writing, directing, starring) film is a fairly enjoyable drama about a rising young junior campaign manager(Ryan Gosling) for Democratic presidential candidate Clooney—and what happens when some crises fall Gosling’s way--in the form of an invite (from a cool, calculating Paul Giamatti) to join the other team—and a casual fling with a campaign intern (Evan Rachel Wood) that leads to some unwanted revelations that could bring down candidate Clooney. The weakest parts have to do with Gosling’s savvy character’s first reactions to the news regarding his intern. It reminded me of supposedly sharp cop Andy Garcia’a over-the-top, shocked reaction in Night Falls on Manhattan when he learns that there’s (gasp!) corruption in the NYPD. In other words, how could the Gosling character—in this day and age—be so overcome by certain developments? However, once you get past that, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in scenes involving Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman (whose monologue about loyalty is one of the best moments of the year), Gosling and Giamatti-especially when Giamatti reveals his Macchiavellian side, and in the climactic confrontation between Clooney and Gosling where each plays his hand—with no less than the future of the free world (perhaps I’m exaggerating) at stake.

Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill contribute sterling work in Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, an intelligent, engrossing drama about taking risks and using the odds to succeed--by going against the accepted wisdom.

It’s the end of the 2001 baseball season, and the Oakland Athletics not only lose to the New York Yankees in post-season play, but face the defection of several key players to teams with deeper pockets.  General Manager (and former glowing prospect) Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) hires Peter Brand  (Jonah Hill) away from the Cleveland Indians because of Beane’s belief in Brand’s radical ideas about assessing players’ true value through their on-base percentage.  This puts Beane in conflict with his players, scouts, and most of all, scowling veteran manager Art Howe (Hoffman)— and for a while, it looks as if this strategy will not yield the desired results, until…well, if you’ve seen enough—or any--sports films, you know what kind of turn the film will take—and this movie earns that turn.

Contagion
It could be the end of the world as we know it as Gynneth Paltrow has the misfortune to be "patient zero" in Steven Soderbergh's earnest, intense all-star thriller Contagion. Poor Paltrow spends but a few minutes onscreen, having returned from China to the U.S, (by way of a quick illicit rest stop in Chicago), and succumbing to a mysterious virus that she may well have brought over. Paltrow's grieving (and immune) husband Matt Damon tries to protect his surviving daughter from infection while health official Lawrence Fishburne uses his expertise (and extensive staff) to try to come up with a vaccine. In the meantime, scientist Kate Winslet looks for answers stateside while Marion Cotillard 's WHO investigator looks to China, and the fate of the world might just fall to two dedicated doctors, Jennifer Ehle-and Elliott Gould. Lest you think that this worldwide outbreak only inspires acts of altruism, there are disturbing passages of mankind running amok in scenes of looting, home invasions and killings. Soderbergh presents these episodes with a degree of restraint, but it's no holds barred in the graphic depiction of the effects of the virus (only beginning with Ms. Paltrow). In addition, Jude Law is on hand as an unscrupulous blogger who uses the outbreak as a chance to promote himself -and some dangerous conspiracy theories. The movie's solemn, almost clinical tone gains emotional impact as it goes on, and all the actors do convincing work; however some key players disappear from the proceedings in a not so credible manner (and I don't mean by dying), while some plot developments are dropped abruptly. In spite of this, Contagion is worth the trip-just don't forget the hand wipes.

DRIVE
If you crossed Michael Mann's 80's crime films with the French New Wave cinema, and then tossed in some Sergio Leone references and soaked them all in a Sam Pechinpah-style bloodbath, you'll have something resembling Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive, a somewhat unconventional thriller with its roots in well-known (primarily Hollywood) conventions. Ryan Gosling is a Hollywood stunt driver-- and occasional getaway driver-- with no name: steely, calm, taciturn, with a disarming smile he trots out on occasion, especially in the company of innocent neighbor Carey Mulligan and her young son. When his boss Bryan Cranston introduces Gosling to a shady ex-producer (Albert Brooks) with money to invest, the future seems momentarily bright. But as we're in the land of film noir, the inevitable complications arise in the form of Mulligan's ex-con husband, a heist gone awry, double crosses and some mighty bloody (and I do mean bloody) confrontations with some very dangerous characters. While the movie's plot outline may not hold many surprises, there are many pleasures to be had throughout: the car chase sequences work on a visceral level; Gosling and Mulligan make an appealing pair; Christina Hendricks is fine as a calculating moll while Ron Perlman is an imposing presence as a gangster with hidden interests. However, when all is said and done, Albert Brooks steals the show. He plays the role of an ex-producer turned murderous gangster as if he were waiting for this part all his life. In the movie's early sections, he displays hints of menace, along with the usual witty displays of Brooksian neurosis that is a hallmark of his own work. He makes this shady character likable, believable, and very dangerous, up until-and way past---the moment when he uses his fork for something other than to twirl spaghetti.

Vengeance is Beautiful, says the ad for Colombiana,  and this isn’t false advertising, especially as embodied by Zoe Saldana as a lovely assassin who wants to kill the men who murdered her parents in Colombia.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011 08:15

Blockbuster Time with Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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First the Academy Awards--tomorrow the world!  Not content with wreaking havoc with his hosting gig at the Oscars, James Franco has now set his sights—on all mankind.  In another cinematic case of man meddling in things he should have left alone, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes casts Franco as a dedicated scientist earnestly looking to cure Alzheimer’s by testing an experimental serum on chimpanzees. While the results are questionable for humans (such as Franco’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted father John Lithgow) the serum does result in greater intelligence for the chimps, especially Caesar, who has been raised by Franco after an unfortunate earlier incident results in the killing of Caesar’s mom.  

Wednesday, 17 August 2011 08:09

Cowboys and Aliens

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Jon Favreau’s entertaining genre hybrid Cowboys and Aliens casts Daniel Craig as an amnesiac fast-drawing westerner (come on, Errol Flynn also rode the Old West) who comes equipped with a mysterious device on his arm.  Dang if he doesn’t know where he got it.  Harrison Ford is the town boss who’s a bit miffed that his wastrel son (Paul Dano) has been given a very public shellacking by Craig—and has subsequently been arrested for shooting a deputy.  Meanwhile, the lovely Olivia Wilde hovers in the background as a very mysterious young woman--and then the aliens come attacking.  Craig’s device proves very useful in repelling the attack, but not before the aliens take some very high-profile hostages including Dano and Sheriff Keith Carradine.  After all the (somewhat negative) hype, I’m pleased to say the movie plays it fairly straight.  The opening scenes convey a dusty flavor and an air of foreboding, while the subsequent melding of genres (complete with Indians and cowboys forging a tentative truce to fight a common enemy—albeit an indestructible enemy with a seemingly impregnable spaceship) provide the opportunity for several exciting, well-staged action sequences.

Post image for Captain America (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger is a stirring, old fashioned, and highly enjoyable preamble to the highly anticipated 2012 Avengers movie.  Set (mainly ) after America’s entry into World War II, Joe Johnston’s action-packed adventure boasts  a sincere and appealing Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, the perpetual 4-F weakling  who willingly becomes the subject for a military top-secret  body enhancement experiment because it will give him the chance to fight those nasty Nazi bullies.  

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the remarkably satisfying finale in the Harry Potter series–an entertaining, exciting, enthralling journey into darkness that will move even those who  missed Hallows, Part 1.  Without revealing too much, this final chapter pits Harry against the shadowy Hogwarts  now-headmaster Snape ( Alan Rickman) and the apogee of evil himself Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who for various reasons, is driven to destroy Harry- and those who might protect him-- as in the students and staff at Hogwarts, who (with the notable exception of Draco) have grown awfully fond of Harry over the years.  After a talky beginning and a sequence that borders on an Indiana Jones theme-ride take-off, the movie plunges Harry into deep water–and sure ground-- as the various plot machinations lead to the inevitable showdown between Harry and Voldemort. Along the way, motivations are revealed, , sacrifices are made, destinies are decided, and the entire school becomes a symbol of grace under pressure. Steve Kloves’ screenplay does a fine job of streamlining J.K. Rowlings’ hefty tome; David Yates’ direction places characterization above spectacle throughout; and the performances by all are top-notch: Daniel Radcliffe is an assured yet conflicted and vulnerable Harry; Maggie Smith is a tower of strength as Harry’s champion and Snape’s nemesis; Rupert Grint’s Ron and Emma Watson’s Hermione are as sensible and appealing as ever.  There are also welcome re-appearances by Michael Gambon, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, to name but a few.  Fiennes’ Voldemort is a magnificent creation, ruthless, menacing, and almost purring when Harry seems within his grasp; he is matched by Rickman’s Snape, a haughty, tortured soul whose character arc is an essential emotional component of the series. Worth seeing more than once (preferably non 3D if the option is available).

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