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.
American Hustle, David O. Russell’s follow-up to his widely praised Silver Linings Playbook proves to be his latest oft-kilter version of the American success story. It is also a vibrant, volatile, and frequently very funny film that occasionally feels like a cast reunion, what with Russell alums Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, joined by Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K. in what proves to be one of the best ensembles of the year.
It’s a particularly gray New York winter in 1961, and Llewyn Davis, the talented but struggling folk singer at the center of the Coen Brothers’ bittersweet odyssey Inside Llewyn Davis, has endured more than his share of hardships and is approaching a crossroads. Carrying on as a solo act in the aftermath of his partner’s suicidal leap (off the George Washington Bridge), Llewyn’s paying gigs have been dwindling, as is his own manager’s interest in Llewyn’s career; he’s also down to his last few dollars (dimes?) and the list of friends who will offer him a spare couch is pretty much exhausted (his future stayovers with some uptown non-folk friends being jeopardized when he loses their cat).
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ups the ante for all involved, and delivers with a rare sequel that markedly improves on its predecessor. In the have and have-not country of Panem, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson have just won the 74th Hunger games, but uneasy lies their crown—especially since Katniss has inspired devotion in the poorer districts.
12 years a Slave is a noteworthy film in many respects: as an intense, gripping exploration of slavery in the antebellum South; as an examination of man’s inhumanity to man, as well as the indomitability of the human spirit, albeit at tremendous cost; and finally, as the film that will bring long-overdue acclaim to the acting powerhouse that is Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley, the film is based on Solomon Northrup’s memoir in which he recounted his years as a slave after having lived as a free man in the North.
Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips is a riveting, suspenseful thriller, especially in light of how well-publicized the real-life events portrayed in the film and the eventual outcome are to the general public.
Prisoners has some creepy, unsettling moments, but not enough to justify devoting 153 minutes of your life to it. The set-up involves two families whose lives are torn apart when two of their children (one from each family) are kidnapped on Thanksgiving. Fingers are pointed at the slow-witted driver (Paul Dano) of an RV that was parked in the area but the local police (led by Jake Glyllenhaal as a troubled, twitchy police detective) can’t make the charges stick, so Dano is released—to the everlasting wrath of one of the grieving fathers (Hugh Jackman). The religious, blue-collar Jackman, ultimately abetted (albeit reluctantly) by Terrence Howard as the other father, decides to take matters into his own hands, firmly believing that justice will be done. And when conventional interrogation techniques prove ineffective, Jackman decides to employ other, more questionable methods…meanwhile Glyllenhaal sifts through his own conflicting emotions and other leads in his own pursuit of justice.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is an entertaining, occasionally moving journey through recent American history as seen from the perspective of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who, along with his rebellious son Louis (David Oyelowo), seems to be present for many of the decisive incidents in the Civil Rights movement.
The new sci-fi action drama Elysium convincingly depicts a bleak future in which the world is separated into two classes, where the wealthy get to enjoy the highest standards of health care while the rest are left to fend for themselves under increasingly impersonal, hostile conditions—wait a minute, that sounds pretty much like today. In fact, one might think that this latest film from District 9’s director Neill Blomkamp is another attempt to make an allegory for our times under the guise of science fiction.
RED 2 proves to be an unexpectedly entertaining sequel to RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous).
RED was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2010, what with relaxed, amusing performances from Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman and an over-the-top but very engaging turn from John Malkovich.
I know this is somewhat of a backhanded compliment, but The Lone Ranger, as directed by Gore Verbinski, and enacted by Arme Hammer in the title role, and Johnny Depp as Tonto, is far from horrific—it’sactually pretty entertaining at times. It is also overly complicated while remaining more than a tad predictable, so that the protracted length heightens one’s awareness that the movie is wildly overblown. What’s good about the movie virtually begins and ends with its raison d’etre: Johnny Depp’s Tonto. His interpretation is not so much a reconstruction (or deconstruction) as one might think. Depp’s Tonto is wary, intelligent, resourceful, and possesses an innate dignity, as did Jay Silverheels. He also gets the most withering one-liners and several opportunities to provide some humorously quizzical reactions. Depp and Arme Hammer are also able to work up a little chemistry in the scenes where they aren’t being swamped by the machinations of the convoluted plot. The movie also benefits from a nicely done prologue with a 1930’s carnival setting where Tonto is now enacting the “noble savage”. This places the action of the movie from a very old Tonto’s perspective, and further enhances the nobility and humanity of Tonto.
So what’s wrong with the movie? To quote the immortal Lou Costello, I can give you the answer in two words: Puh…lenty! For one thing, the Lone Ranger’s character has been given a literally unbelievable makeover so that it he is now the spitting image of James Stewart’s tenderfoot Ranse Stoddard from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance-just as committed to justice, not guns-only ten times as dense. The character’s thickness serves to promote disdain, rather than admiration, especially around the fifteenth time that he allows the villain to live (and incidentally go on to kill a gazillion more people-slight exaggeration). Tom Wilkinson’s railroad magnate practically has villain written on his forehead, partly because of his portrayal and partly because-he’s Tom Wilkinson (gradually becoming this generation’s Edward Arnold). The movie also tries to have it too many ways, with its elements of western expansion and Indian annihilation clashing with the jokey aspects of the travels of Tonto and the Lone Ranger. Finally, those excessive action sequences don’t do the movie any favors, serving to exhaust viewers rather than rouse them. There are glimpses of scenic grandeur and some amusing moments, but the ‘anything goes’ approach made this viewer long for the simplicity of earlier, more effortlessly entertaining westerns.
Coming to you from the man who brought you Independence Day, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down is also rather overblown and overlong. It’s also generally exciting and involving throughout, mainly due to the easy rapport between Jamie Foxx’s imperiled President and Channing Tatum’s off-duty police officer, and a scenery-chewing performance from James Woods as the President’s Head of Security. I won’t reveal much about the plot except to say that, like the earlier Olympus Has Fallen, the White House falls prey to well-armed, well-prepared terrorists who manage to easily overcome White House security (after these two movies, one would think there’s some remedial training in the works) and easily repel the efforts of the armed forces to reclaim the President’s House. Once again, there’s more than money involved in the terrorists’ motivations, and you can guess what that is-and once again, there’s the lone cop with something to prove. The action sequences are well-staged, the key relationships are believable (for this kind of genre film) and there is an emotionally satisfying climax and resolution to the whole affair. It’s all good summer fun.
If you knew the end of the world was coming, you might want to have a last laugh enjoying This is the End, featuring a whole gallery of current Hollywood A-Listers hilariously playing exaggerated versions (?) of themselves. Seth Rogen stars and co-wrote and co-directed with Evan Goldberg this apocalyptic comedy in which Jay Baruchel comes to L.A. to visit old friend Seth and winds up being dragged along to a bacchanal at James Franco’s mansion. As Jay’s discomfort level reaches its peak (he’s not crazy about Seth’s new Hollywood friends, particularly Jonah Hill), he and Seth head out to a convenience store—and lo, the end of the world arrives in the form of explosions, mass chaos and a huge earthquake (which sucks in many game guest stars including Rihanna, Jason Segel and Aziz Ansari), as well as the arrival of some lascivious, murderous, and ravenous monsters. Rogen and Baruchel, along with Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, take refuge at Franco’s house, and all is semi-well (considering it’s the end of the world) until they’re rudely surprised by Danny McBride, who not only has crashed the party, but proceeds to use up many of their supplies for an exorbitantly wasteful breakfast.
Much of This is the End is seriously funny, as the six stars vie for food (especially the Milky Way bar), attention and affection. All the actors are inspired: if you like Rogen, Robinson, Hill, Baruchel and McBride you won’t be disappointed. Michael Cera also scores, playing himself as so coke and sex-obsessed that an errant light pole barely deters him, while an armed Emma Watson makes a welcome appearance until she takes off with the group’s supplies (as the result of a misunderstanding that goes on a little too long). However it is Franco who especially impresses as a screamingly wealthy, secretive, self-centered version of himself who is obsessed with the idea of sacrificing himself to show what a good friend he is---if not in real life, at least with the proposed sequel to Pineapple Express. The idea of sacrifice in the service of friendship runs throughout the hijinks and the carnage, leading to a satisfying ending…at least for most of the cast.
For some reason, The Internship has been gathering some hostile notices. I hope some reviewers aren’t confusing this second Vince Vaughn/Jared Smith-scripted, Shawn Levy-directed collaboration with last year’s The Watch. I mean, The Watch was grim fare indeed with nary a chuckle among the powerhouse cast. The Internship, which reteams Vaughn with Owen Wilson is another matter altogether: light-hearted, fast-paced, genuinely funny at times, while keeping a smile on your face at other times. Vaughn and Wilson are both at the top of their game as career salesmen who are left in the lurch when their watch company goes under. In the ever-changing world of technology, they’re viewed (by others and themselves) as dinosaurs. Vaughn hits upon the idea of interning for Google, and convinces a wary Wilson to brave a Skype interview and join the ranks of summer interns competing for the rare Google paying job.
Much of The Internship can be seen as formulaic; Vaughn and Wilson have to win over their much younger colleagues, as well as their…younger superiors; there are the inevitable screw-ups; there is the one evil guy who wants to sabotage them (although in a nice moment, he says to Vaughn that he doesn’t have to do a thing-Vince can foul up all by himself); some tentative attempts at romance among the younger and the older set; and the inevitable moment when the guys prove they can still be relevant. However, it’s all good clean fun and features some good supporting turns from Assif Mandvi, Rose Byrne and John Goodman, as well as an amusing cameo from Will Ferrell as a man who makes his living with mattresses.
Now You See Me is a lot of fun indeed-- most of the way through. Four magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher) are maneuvered into joining forces by a mysterious benefactor, and one year later, as a group called “The Four Horsemen”, dazzle audiences in Las Vegas with a trick that seemingly involves using an audience member to rob a bank—in Paris—through teleportation. That the trick succeeds all too well brings them to the attention of the FBI (led by Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent) as well as a professional magic-debunker (Morgan Freeman).
From there, the complications mount, and the sleight of hand continues as characters and motives are not necessarily what they seem. While I enjoyed the various twists and turns (though a little Jesse Eisenberg goes a long way), Now You See Me loses momentum at the moment of its biggest trick, consisting of a twist that many might guess in advance—but without an altogether satisfying payoff.
American Dreamers: The Great Gatsby, Pain and Gain
The American Dream-success, excess, money, more money—is the subject of two very entertaining films attracting the crowds to your local cinemas. The bigger draw is the latest adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, brought to the screen with maximum 3-D (or 2-D if that’s your choice) razzle-dazzle--and a surprising degree of sensitivity by Baz Luhrmann.
Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is at the plate many times in 42, Brian Helgeland’s effective, occasionally rousing film that focuses on Robinson’s first few years in the majors with the Brooklyn Dodger organization.
The wonderful thing about the movie Dorfman in Love, playing at the NoHo 7 theater on Lankershim Boulevard, is that it is an extremely well acted story with quite a few unusual twists.