Wednesday, December 4, 2013


4 out of 5. I think Rupert Wyatt's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES washed a bad taste out of most people's mouths that the sequels of the original left. I mean, if I was truly being honest aside, other than the killer score by Jerry Goldsmith, the Planet of the Apes is a well-made B-movie. This one however was a great popcorn flick. It had a nice story set-up, great set-pieces, and characters who's actions were believable given the extraordinary circumstances. It delivers on all cylinders and doesn't leave you with an empty stomach like most tent-pole movies. It was a wild ride that you didn't want to stop. The motion-capture and stunt acting is tremendous. What are you doing right? GO WATCH THIS, ALREADY!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013


4 out of 5. Thomas McCarthy is a really fantastic director and THE VISITOR is just as good if not better than his other works. I think being an actor really helps if one sets out to direct. I generally see better performances overall and Richard Jenkins does great as the lead. Usually I find a lot of unique story situations come out of South East Asia or especially when they are culturally specific. This is a unique story where the recently widowed main character finds illegal immigrants living in his apartment. The setup is great and possibilities keep you guessing, making this film feel fresh and believable as everyone finds their way. It's a great film with deep repercussions.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


3 out of 5. David Frankel's THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is an infectious comedy that you can't stop thinking about. Maybe it's because of the under-dog lead played by Anne Hathaway that most people can identify with. Or it's her high-status boss played by Meryl Streep who's performance seems to diminish everyone under her affecting gaze. Plus, Stanley Tucci is always fun to watch. Overall it's a fairly predictable storyline but the journey is what makes it fun. By the third act it does lose a little bit of the snap and bite of the opening but it's because the character arcs are converging. Great fun.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


3 out of 5. Hong jin-Na's THE YELLOW SEA is a crazy, violent ride taken by a former taxi driver looking for his wife. The directing is really good and the stakes just keep piling on top of each other until they reach a very crazy apex. The lead, Jung woo-Ha plays a great everyman character whose mission is believable and who continues to surprise by his choices. Yun seok-Kim is also great to see as he brings real weight to the screen. He was great in The Chaser and is always fun to watch. South Korea has had a lot of violent films come out on Netflix, this one is little less violent and maybe not as pretty but it's still quite good.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013


4 out of 5. Wolfgang Petersen's DAS BOOT should also be called a psychological thriller as it messes with your aural senses the entire time. This WWII film has a unique perspective of taking place for the most part in a German submarine. The claustrophobia and grime of living and making choices in close quarters grips you the entire time. Relief doesn't come until near the end where things open up and without warning the real Hell breaks loose. The cinematography choices were excellent all around especially in the sub. The detail could have easily overwhelmed the frame but choosing to use atmospheric fog and variations in saturated and desaturated lights to evoke mood was smart.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013


3 out of 5. Kevin Smith while not one of my go-to director's makes a fun and risque film with ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO. I think what's funny is my mother recommended it to me after seeing it in a theater. I'd never pay that kind of money to see a comedy but took her up on the challenge of watching it. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth banks have great sincere chemistry that makes there situation believable and absurd. Kevin undoubtedly has a gift with dialogue that is unique. The acting in general is really fun and funny. At first blush you might think this is just more gross-out humor from Smith but honestly it rises above that to tell a great little story.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


3 out of 5. In CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa spin a very fun tale that doesn't leave your brain at the door. This is one of those films where the casting works so well for the story that the chemistry sparkles between the actors. It shows yet another facet of Ryan Gosling's abilities if you're tired of the gloom and morose work he's done lately. But really all the acting is quite good. I think the only thing that probably worked against this film is the title. In a sea of "like" marketing it's easy to miss this great little film when it's up against Eat. Pray. Oh, and the ending is actually pretty damn good.


Saturday, October 19, 2013


4 out of 5. It's hard to imagine it but Gavin Hood who just completed Ender's Game actually made an amazing crime/drama in TSOTSI. It was reminiscent of City of God with it's music and atmosphere. The cinematography was sharp and clear and I loved the palettes overall. But Presley Chweneyagae was the real diamond in this tragic storyline. Man, what a great performance. The subtle qualities and shifts of emotion constantly telegraphing everything he's thinking without saying a word. What a treat. The casting was excellent all around and the acting was really top-notch with clear defined motivations and character. There was only one technical hiccup for me that didn't make sense otherwise this was a near perfect film.


Sunday, September 29, 2013


4 out of 5. Yasujiro Ozu's minimalist approach continues to be timeless and expressive in letting characters breathe, especially in AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON. I haven't seen anything of his since TOKYO STORY. His strong locked camera choice is so signature that it showed me possibilities of characters and their relationship to the space around them. There was nothing wasted in frame and it all served the scene. The cinematography, costumes and production design are equally deft in illustrating this point. When you watch a simple story like this in the hands of an artist there's a lot more that is peeled back and revealed. In that is where Ozu truly shines.


Saturday, July 6, 2013


4 out of 5. BLAST OF SILENCE, by Allen Baron is raw on every level. I'll admit it I flinched a little, I'm not proud. Allen Baron is not only ambitious but he portrays a really tough bastard of a killer who takes on the world with equal heavy-handedness. There's a lot of great scenes in this film and the story is compelling. All of it combines if a very textural piece that has a teeth-clenching finale that you won't want to miss. Universal Studios buried this for years but now it's been finally released by Criterion. There's a reason for it. This isn't polished hollywood's the stuff crime novels are made of.



5 out of 5. THE BURMESE HARP by Kon Ichikawa was a surprising film. There's a lot going on here and the backdrop of Burma is well-suited to it. The male chorale aspect of the film is both haunting and uplifting. I'm not a fan of musicals but this was incredibly effective. The lone character of Mizushima, the harp player was the antithesis of change brought on by the conflicts of war. But how he changes is really intriguing and the way Ichikawa films it is quite masterful. If you like the Apu trilogy or Frank Capra films, you will totally dig this. Try not to weep too much. ;)


Saturday, June 8, 2013


4 out of 5. Jason Kohn captures the flavor and feel of a filmic bygone era in MANDA BALA. More than once I had to check the date because the cinematography and color-timing of this great little documentary had me thinking it was from the 70s. There is so much to like about this quirky film. From the players, connected to political crime bosses, to the framing of people on the extreme edges of the camera. There's an underlying threat throughout the interviews too from a plastic surgeon who makes ears out of rib cartilage to a guy who specializes in bullet-proofing vehicles. There's a few very unsettling scenes but if you can hold steady you'll be surprised by this film.


Sunday, May 5, 2013


3 out of 5. RAMPART by director Oren Moverman and co-written with James Ellroy should have been the sequel to BAD LIEUTENANT. Well, Woody Harrelson's character is not that depraved, but he plays a cop who can't help himself. His very nature is corrupt, manipulative, controlling and violent. This is a great role and it's nice to see Ned Beatty along with a veteran cast of very talented actors. The directing at first was off-putting but the camerawork and cinematography is unique and the voice of the story comes across loud and clear. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this character portrait.


Saturday, May 4, 2013


3 OUT OF 5. Paddy Considine's TYRANNOSAUR burns white-hot with some great acting It's interesting when good actors direct other good actors. The fidelity of truthfulness comes across with amazing texture. The story of this film is creatively veiled and reveals itself slowly over time. This in itself is quite rewarding. There's a terrific moment of discovery when your perception is rocked and things just come crashing down. Very raw and powerful stuff. The dialect is a bit strong and at times you lose a lot of what is said but it is well worth it. If you like the strength of Todd Field's filmmaking you'll really dig this.


Sunday, April 21, 2013


4 out of 5. Fatih Akin's THE EDGE OF HEAVEN seamlessly weaves together a Gordian Knot of words and pictures without making it look overly clever. Through careful cutting he shows us that we are watching the film in a different order than we realize. Or that we perceived it correctly and it served the through-line but that it was transmutable. Thus giving it a different meaning. The way characters are brought together make this story really interesting and unique. Luckily, would could have been a drastic coincidence is smartly avoided. The acting is really good, too. At times, many of the characters have such ferocity that the domestic setting they're in seems on the brink of destruction. There's good energy in the film even if there is a slow and easy pace. The movie is an hour fifty-five but feels longer. Beautiful ending.


Saturday, April 20, 2013


3 out of 5. Raoul Walsh would have given James Cameron a run for his money with his epic THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. The energy that Douglas Fairbanks brings to this film must have been how we feel watching parkour today. It had to have blown people's minds. If not that then the sets that were just out-freaking-standing. This film played with scale in so many ways. Incredible production design. It reminded me of other grandiose films like INTOLERANCE. Also, Anna May Wong's magnetism is hard to beat. She was execellent. The story is pretty epic as well to the point of collapsing in on itself. Even for a silent-movie which many may feel impatient about, I assure you there's a lot of great elements that do keep on moving. I had dreams of emotive hand gestures for the next two days.


Saturday, April 13, 2013


4 out of 5. Director, Majid Majidi's CHILDREN OF HEAVEN is a deceptively small film with big talent just under the surface. For the two Persian child-actors, who have never acted before or since, to carry this film was amazing. Their sincerity rang true. As brother and sister, their characters were genuinely caring of each other, which I haven't seen the likes of in a very long time. Maybe, because it lacked the cynicism of the west. The cinematography had me wondering time and again whether this was shot in the 70s. The lighting was gorgeous and the film grain grounded us in reality. Nothing slick here, except for the smart engaging script and storytelling. The ending asks a lot of the viewer but really, we all know the outcome.


Saturday, April 6, 2013


4 out of 5. Hirokazu Koreeda's  NOBODY KNOWS constantly walks the line between documentary and ficiton. A single mother with kids from different boyfriend's is a great setup for a story that I'm surprised I have not seen before. The non-acting that is going on in their interactions and the handheld close-in camera-work makes it feel like a documentary. There's so much to like about this film and yet the crushing sensation of where the story takes you is really tough. Artistically, Koreeda's handle on the writing, directing and editing score really high marks. The believability of the situation and how well the kids handle it tend to be what pulls you back from the edge of realism.


Sunday, February 24, 2013


4 out of 5. Fabián Bielinsky's THE AURA is a quiet minimalist crime thriller that gives you very little clues as to what happens next. It's austere atmosphere also helps to make this film very engaging. The main character, played by Ricardo Darin embodies all these elements as his dialogue and acting are both understated. His face reveals a man who is thinking through the decisions and yet he gives away nothing of what's to come.This is one of those films that are full of surprises in terms of acting, directing and overall filmmaking. There's a transition in here from Esteban's home to a traveling sequence that I've only really seen used in comics and works wonderfully here, too. If you want something different and evocative this would be it.



4 out of 5. Director Steve McQueen's HUNGER shows an alarming skill as a filmmaker. Seemingly to come out of nowhere he's surgically crafted a rather beautifully shot, well-acted, gut-wrenching poem. The writing by he and Enda Walsh is verbose and yet spills over with story. The pacing is intense at times and then cold empty silence. There's one scene where the camera is locked in a two-shot of a prisoner and a priest that is essentially the bulk of the dialogue. It goes on far longer than you expect but what is revealed makes it necessary for the director to get out of the way. While the performances are quite good the emotional detachment is the elephant in the room and I think the audience feels it too. Smart and'll be hard to do better. Because of the rough subject matter (think Midnight Express amped up) it was hard to fully "enjoy" it. Yet it's a must see for filmmakers.