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.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012 09:35

Movie Review >> Oliver Stone's "Savages"

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Savages - a Vicious Califor-noir from Oliver Stone

savages movie review oliver stone

There is so much to savor in Oliver Stone’s Savages, especially if you’re a fan of clever dialogue, pulp fiction, film noir, Salma Hayek-and John Travolta.

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To Rome With Love, Woody Allen’s latest European love letter, finds the prolific writer/director presenting an assortment of vignettes set in a beautifully photographed Rome (courtesy of cinematographer Darius Khondji). It is also fairly enjoyable, as long as you’re not expecting another Midnight in Paris.

Just when you thought you were done with the ‘80s, they’re back, courtesy of two new music-laden, star-driven vehicles, Rock of Ages and the latest Adam Sandler chuckle-fest, That’s My Boy. There is a good deal of amusement/curiosity value to be found in both as they resuscitate (some might say regurgitate) ‘80s pop culture in the service of musical mashups and predictable plotlines.

 

Snow White and the Huntsman, or 2012’s second revisionist look at Snow White, is a brooding, beautifully filmed work that attempts to graft a blend of Gladiator and Joan of Arc onto the tale of the fairest maiden of them all—with somewhat mixed results.

the dictator

If you’ve seen the coming attractions for The Dictator, the latest teaming of Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles, you’ve seen many of the best bits, and considering the film runs a scant 83 minutes—heck, you’ve seen almost the whole movie. Cohen’s General Aladeen is the avaricious, lascivious, supremely childish ruler of the fictional country of Wadiya.

the pirates band of misfits

Well....I love Aardman films....(creators of Wallace & Grommit)...and directors Peter Lord (who also directed Chicken Run) and Jeff Newitt (key animator on Flushed Away) made a visually stunning clay-mation feature that is filled with panoramic views of old London, the Caribbean and the open sea!

A few years ago, Iron Man and Iron Man 2 helped reinvigorate both Robert Downey Jr’s career and the comic book superhero genre. Last summer, cinemagoers and comic fans were treated to a surplus of comic book epics, ranging from the very disposable, non-Marvel-ous Green Lantern (don’t know anyone who is clamoring for that sequel) to the hugely entertaining Captain America (Thor falls somewhere in-between). This spring, Marvel fans (and I predict many others) will be able to enjoy a superhero equivalent of The Magnificent Seven with Joss Whedon’s very entertaining The Avengers, only this time it isn’t a poor, hardworking village at stake—it’s nothing less than the entire Earth (by way of New York).

the three stooges 2012 poster

With their occasionally very funny The Three Stooges, the Farrelly brothers have rebounded somewhat from the comic abyss that was Hall Pass.

the hunger games movie review
Heralding the start of blockbuster season, Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games-from the bestseller by Suzanne Collins- is a fitfully exciting, somewhat entertaining post-apocalyptic action drama with some regrettably modern touches (the “handheld” effect—oy!) and a scenario free of any moral ambiguity—which would be fine if it weren’t so clearly aiming for something more.

Friends with Kids aims to be a romantic comedy for the not-so-new millennium, incorporating the perils of parenting, the death of marriage (at least when kids are involved), and the bonds of friendship into what eventually turns out to be standard romantic comedy fare.

Friday, 02 March 2012 07:49

Wanderlust and The Iron Lady: Flights from Reality

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In David Wain’s enjoyable but uneven Wanderlust, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are a married couple who have just moved into their overly expensive, not-so-ideal New York City apartment (you’ve seen closets that are bigger) only to be undone by a perfect storm of job loss (his), unfulfilled job expectation (hers), and a plummeting housing market (his and hers). They happen upon a commune in Georgia run by a very shaggy Justin Theroux and an almost equally shaggy Alan Alda. Rudd loves the free and easy nature of the place, whereas Aniston is a tad apprehensive. Nevertheless, after an unhappy interlude with Rudd’s successful vulgarian of a brother, they decide to make a new life for themselves (on a trial basis) with these happy-go-lucky vegans (never thought I’d put those words together). Rudd gets his share of laughs as he tries to reconcile his tenuous hold on marital morality with the free love temptations presented by the enticing Malin Ackerman. Aniston, in her best work in years, does a fine job depicting a frustrated, conflicted soul who leaps at the chance for liberation. However Justin Theroux steals the proceedings as the ultra-hippie whose pseudo-naïve, seductive ways with Aniston prove to be a thorn in Rudd’s side. Yet, for every funny bit, there’s another that falls flat or feels forced, and the screenwriters Wain and Ken Marino do themselves no favors by including a Little Guy vs. Big Casino subplot that causes the characters to behave in generally implausible ways.

Meryl Streep just took home a third Oscar for The Iron Lady, and she—aided by her Oscar-winning make-up men Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland-turns in a remarkable performance as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She is compelling both in the sections that show her confronting labor unions, foreign unrest, and dissension within Parliament—and the sections that depict her in her dotage, carrying on conversations with her long-deceased husband (Jim Broadbent). The problem here is that the film doesn’t provide any fresh insights into Thatcher, and the film shuttles back and forth between a steely Thatcher in her prime and a dementia-fighting Thatcher of the present to no real discernible effect. What we’re left with is a worthy performance that transcends its material.

Some unsolicited Oscar thoughts:

Billy Crystal was good-not great, but good. He faltered in trying to be a little “hip” but some of the bits worked. I’ve always liked Crystal’s “reading minds” with Nick Nolte and Marty (!) and he amusingly acknowledged when jokes fell flat.

Having watched the Oscars all my life, I’ve noticed something: just when you think the show should be hurtling toward its conclusion, it stops—dead. Just when you think there’s no room for another superfluous montage—there’s yet another superfluous montage of filmmakers, or a musical number, or an homage—or something that causes the last thirty minutes to feel like a hundred and thirty minutes. It doesn’t matter who the host is, who the producer is—the show can’t help but shoot itself in the foot.

I liked Octavia Spencer in The Help—but-she had no idea she was going to win? Really?

Denzel Washington and his charisma glide through director Daniel Espinosa’s Safe House, a sporadically exciting (not for lack of trying) action thriller that puts an exceptional cast (Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard) at the mercy of a pretty flimsy script with fairly predictable twists. Ryan Reynolds (it’s been a busy year for Ryan—he should take a break) is a naïve, reluctant CIA operative stuck in the thankless job of being “innkeeper” at a CIA safe house in South Africa. After rogue ex-CIA agent Washington is apprehended and brought to the safe house to be interrogated (read tortured), some armed and very dangerous men breach security and manage to kill everyone except for Reynolds and his handcuffed prisoner Washington, who manage to escape amid the carnage. From here on in, the chases come semi-fast and furious (the automatic weapon-toting henchmen remind me of the armies in the Rambo films who manage to hit everything in sight-except their intended target) as the intrepid duo test each others’ mettle—not to say allegiances- while attempting to evade their murderous pursuers—who come in all shapes, sizes and nationalities. The movie works best in the scenes between Washington’s enigmatic, lethal prisoner with secrets and Reynolds’ reluctant captor. Washington is entertaining, even here on auto-pilot and brings out the “best” in Reynolds, who is earnest but overmatched; Gleeson, Farmiga and Shepard invest their roles with some verve and more than a little bite—almost successfully persuading us that they’re not marking time until something of value comes along.

In Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, a plane carrying an oil drilling team crashes in the freezing Alaskan wilderness and seven survivors led by a grizzled, grim Liam Neeson (well, let’s face it, after working for this “team” as a wolf-killer, crash-landing and enduring dream-like flashbacks whose real import isn’t made clear till the end—he’s got reasons to be gloomy) try to survive despite the cold—and several wolves who would like to make a meal out of them (poetic justice?) One can see that The Grey is not aspiring to be a standard action adventure: the pace is a little deliberate and the opening scenes with the dispirited men at work and play in the harsh landscape, present an atmosphere of despair-even before the harrowing crash. Unfortunately, the lugubrious pacing continues after the crash, and on through the survivors’ attempt to elude the murderous wolves (hopefully avoiding the wolves’ den) and to live to fight another day. If this were a Twilight Zone episode, the trek would have been over in a half-hour, ending with the requisite (and in this case, not-too surprising) twist. However, Carnahan’s man vs. the elements saga aims for something deeper, as in a treatise on nature, faith, despair, and survival. This is fine, as long as the participants’ actions and dialogue are occasionally interesting. However, the clichés are lurking as much as the wolves: who’ll fall behind and be killed; who’ll drop his guard while standing watch and wind up as wolf-chow; who’ll go on and on about his family before a life and death situation-in which he comes out on the short end. (WARNING -SEMI-SPOLER ALERT COMING) Where the film departs from cliché is at the very end. If you’ve seen the ads, you’ve seen the picture of a determined Neeson poised to go mano a mano with the wolves. What Carnahan (as writer and director) does with this situation might cause you to feel you are either in the presence of a cinematic innovator—or feel cheated (I am in the latter category). However it makes you feel, be sure to stay until after the closing credits.

(And a Few Semi-Random Musings) 

While there are some touching moments in Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Soer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, courtesy of Sandra Bullock and Jeffrey Wright. The problem is it takes about two hours to get there, trapped in the company of an extremely—shall we say talkative-ten year old protagonist Oskar Schell.

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.  

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