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.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris opens with a montage of the wonders of Paris set to Sydney Bechet’s music, and while it doesn’t have quite the same impact as the New York-Gershwin fanfare that opens Manhattan–it does make you want to book that coach ticket (who can afford first class–heck, who can afford coach?) to France and wander the same cobblestone boulevards while savoring a baguette. And the movie itself? Well, its really rather enjoyable, a light, attractive fable about Americans in Paris. Established Hollywood screenwriter (and implied hack) Owen Wilson is trying to finish his first novel (art!) while dealing with his frustrated fiancee (Rachel McAdams) who wants to both subject him to some seriously overpriced shopping sprees with her supremely snobbish mother and explore the sights in the company of her pedantic American friend (Michael Sheen).
The entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a marked improvement over the last two installments in the seemingly never-endng Disney money-making franchise. Johnny Depp returns—this time under Rob Marshall’s direction-as Captain Jack Sparrow (quite frankly, there’s no series without him) but Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are no longer with the firm; shed no tears though, for the lovely and lively Penelope Cruz is on board as Angelica, a seductive fellow pirate (who has a history with the Captain) who coerces Jack into helping her and her father (the one and only Blackbeard) locate the Fountain of Youth.
The not quite Marvel-ous Thor from self-proclaimed comics afficionado Kenneth Branagh (who it seems, was only biding his time with all his Shakespeare movies), is the most schismatic superhero movie since Will Smith’s Hancock (Is it funny? Is it tragic?—What!!) The lesser part of Thor (in every way) is set in an outerworldly realm with a one-eyed king (Anthony Hopkins in regal warrior mode), his hotheaded, arrogant, hawkish son (the mighty Thor played by the seemingly mighty and fairly likable Chris Hemsworth) and his quietly brooding brother.
Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants is a beautifully filmed, old-fashioned romantic melodrama about forbidden love in a barnstorming circus during the Great Depression. Hal Holbrook continues his string of sterling latter-day turns as old Jacob Jankowski, who has memories of his days in the doomed Benzini Brothers. Circus, circa 1931. Cue flashback and in comes a soulful, brooding Robert Pattinson as young Jacob, a veterinary school dropout (he’s got reasons) who hops the circus train and quickly becomes enmeshed in the filthy (literally and figuratively) side of circus life. His knowledge and compassion for animals quickly catches the eye of star horseback rider Reese Witherspoon –and her alternately charming and sadistic husband, the ringmaster and circus owner Christoph Waltz. Enter Rosie the new elephant and star attraction and before you can say love quadrangle, Witherspoon is making googly eyes at Pattinson, Pattinson is making googly eyes at Witherspoon-- and Rosie (nice chemistry there), Waltz smiles and glowers at everyone depending on his mood or plot development.
Before the first Scream came along, characters in slasher films would often act as if they had never seen a slasher film–or any other horror film for that matter. You know the kinds of behavior I’m referring to: the knock in the middle of the night that causes someone to leave the safety of her house to ask the fatal question, “Is anybody out there?”; a character going to the basement --alone-to retrieve something despite the fact that a homicidal maniac has just been spotted in the neighborhood; a character trying to flee someone by climbing up the steps of her home and then locking the door because gosh, that will keep the killer out. (I almost forgot the villain who talks and talks while he should be administering a death blow). So it was refreshing when Wes Craven’s Scream trilogy poked pointed fun at the horror/slasher movie genre, populating the films with characters (heroes, villains, and victims) who know the genre and try to survive or avert disaster –according to the rules of the game.
It’s difficult to review the entertaining, involving, fast-paced sci-fi thriller Source Code without giving too much away, but I’ll give it a go…Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on a train opposite a beautiful, interested young lady (the beautiful, interesting Michele Monaghan) who seemingly knows him, even though he claims not to know her. Worse, when he looks into a reflecting surface, he does not see himself—he sees the reflection of the stranger pictured on his license. Even worse, the train explodes—all this in the first eight minutes. What we discover is that Gyllenhaal has been chosen –because of a physical/mental affinity with one of the dead passengers of this train—to tap into that person’s memories of the trip (based on the supposition that the brain survives even after the body is dead) in order to discover the identity of the bomber and prevent a possible future calamity . Furthermore, Gyllenhaal has only eight minutes at a time before he is hurled back to “reality.”,only to be “transported” to the train again by his mysterious ‘superiors, —only knowing more than he did previously. Think Tron meets Groundhog Day only the stakes are much higher, as the minutes that Gyllenhaal relives are used in a race against time to alter the future. And then there are more complications, as in when Gyllenhaal comes to care about the beautiful Monaghan and decides to….Perhaps I’m revealing too much. Suffice it to say, the films works extremely well in spite of—or maybe because of its outlandish premise. As in the comic Groundhog Day, Gyllenhaal goes through a series of stages---bewilderment, then impotent rage at the inability to alter fate (as his handler Vera Farmiga says, “It’s only a computer program”), and finally confidence in his ability to respond to things before they happen—and possibly change certain outcomes. Ben Ripley’s script and Duncan Jones’ direction keep things moving, Chris Bacon’s herrmann-esque score transports us to the terrain of North by Northwest, and Gyllenhaal and Monaghan have a lovely chemistry that one hopes—against all odds—will translate to happily ever after. In the end, how you feel about Source Code may be determined by your reaction to the developments of the last twenty minutes, which help push the film even further into the realm of fantasy. It worked for me, but whatever you decide, Source Code is one heck of a ride.
Did you hear the one about the pair of British sci-fi/ comic book fans who attend the San Diego Comic-Con and subsequently meet a bona-fide foul-mouthed alien? You probably did if you ran across ads for Paul, the latest writing/starring collaboration from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The opening section is indeed a hoot for Comic-Con fans as myself (indeed, I wish there had been even more footage) as they pester pompous authors, take endless pictures, and wander with wide-eyed delight during their first trip to America. Pegg and Frost have such a nice rapport (if you want to see them in prime form, rent Shawn of the Dead or Hot Fuzz) that the arrival of the fugitive alien Paul, voiced by the ubiquitous Seth Rogen inevitably alters the balance, and not always for the better. Rogen’s Paul has his moments, especially when he recounts his use (or misuse) by the government, but the movie threatens to turn into the Seth Rogen show, when in fact, there are a number of worthy rivals for your attention, especially the wonderful Kristen Wiig as an extremely religious, father-dominated woman who becomes liberated by Paul and becomes a walking fount of profane malapropisms. Jason Bateman (who also seems everywhere) is on target as the government agent who’ll stop at nothing to find Paul, while a familiar disembodied voice is the head honcho dedicated to Paul’s destruction. The movie overall is likable enough, but I missed the nonstop inspiration of the Pegg and Frost’s earlier endeavors (which were helmed by Edgar Wright–this was directed by Greg Mottola). The pacing is uneven and occasionally meandering, and the comic set pieces, while funny enough, rarely even come close to scaling the heights of hilarity. Still, Pegg and Frost are such a winning team that you’ll generally keep smiling, which makes it at least twice as good as what passes for comedy in your local multiplexes.
I also wanted to pay tribute to a cinematic giant. You know who I’m talking about...the late, great Michael Gough, whose theatrical flair graced the screens from the 1940's till shortly before his recent death. Broadway fans might know him from his Tony-winning turn in Bedroom Farce Batman fans know him as Alfred the butler in the Tim Burton Batman films; fright fans know him as a Hammer Films villain, as in the underrated Phantom of the Opera-- my Michael Gough is the gleefully overblown, fantastically florid menace of such films as Horrors of the Black Museum, The Black Zoo and the glorious Konga. To see Gough in these films is to see a master of supercilious self-assurance which frequently gives way to raging rants at a moment’s notice. In his finest over-the-top vituperative outbursts (usually stemming from his reaction to a world that he feels does not understand him), Gough goes from zero-sixty in the span of a nanosecond. To see him erupt at his wife in the Black Zoo is to make the Martha-George exchanges in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf look like a waltz in the country. To see him try to force his affections on an unwilling coed in Konga, or better yet when he shrieks to his overgrown creation, “KONGA! PUT ME DOWN, YOU FOOL!” to witness a kind of theatrical magic seldom seen elsewhere. On a few occasions when I’ve acted, certain friends will say I remind them a little of Michael Gough. I say with no trace of irony that the sentiment is greatly appreciated. Mr. Gough, you will be missed.
Limitless, directed by Neil Burger, is an action drama with a sci-fi kernel lurking within its taut storyline. Handsome, blue-eyed Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Spinola, an aspiring novelist suffering from writer’s block who is two steps away from becoming a homeless loser. His life and career turns around after he chances upon a top-secret drug that grants him super human mental capabilities. Next thing you know, our hero is Icarus striving to reach the sun. Eddie’s insatiable greed for power, fame and attention fuels his quest for glory, but is his fall inevitable?
There is one genuinely funny bit in Hall Pass–a married supporting character fantasizes what his life would be like if his wife gave him a “hall pass” (a coansequence-free week off from marriage and his scenario is a quick homage to Double Indemnity/Blood Simple, replete with illicit passion, murder, witnesses and a backyard which soon becomes a graveyard. It’s fast, clever and hilarious. Alas, it comes about 95 minutes into the movie– long after the main conflicts have been resolved and immediately after a title card flashes “Directed by the Farrelly Bros.” The rest of Hall Pass reeks of both laziness and desperation.