Category Archives: Reviews

The Grime-Coated Wings of “Black Swan” Make For a Worthwhile Viewing

title: Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)
director: Darren Aronofsky
cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
one sentence or less: As sleazy as it is arty, “Black Swan,” is worth the price of admission.  Continue reading
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A Worthy Legacy for Tron

title: Tron: Legacy (Disney)
director: Joseph Kosinski
cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner
one sentence or less: A truly extraordinary experience, even if the film itself isn’t.

 

 

I’m sure there was a generation of kids who grew up with Disney’s 1982 film, “Tron,” and that those now-grown kids were clamoring for a sequel to that first foray into digital animation. I was not one of those kids. When I saw it, as a sophomore in college, it was like listening to a Yaz record; memorable only as a curious artifact from an earlier cultural time whose echoes still resonant. And yet, I was intrigued when I heard about a sequel and positively enthralled when the first concept images first appeared online in the summer of 2009. I kept abreast of developments and trailers, and walked into the theater with high expectations, some of which were met, others not. Continue reading

A Stuttering King That Begs for Oscars

title: The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company)
director: Tom Hooper
cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pierce, Michael Gambon, Darek Jacobi
one sentence or less: This excellent tale of friendship between a stuttering prince and an unconventional therapist has a lot of charm to spare.

 

For public figures, a voice is just as important as an image. Take poor, silent film stars like John Gilbert, a man who fell out of public favor when his high-pitched voice didn’t match the public’s expectations. The search for a voice that suits one’s public persona is the quandary befalling British Prince Albert, Duke of York and stutterer extraordinaire. As the subject of the new film (and Oscar supplicant), “The King’s Speech,” Prince Albert (better known to modern audiences as King George VI and father of Queen Elizabeth II) makes for a surprisingly compelling viewing. Continue reading

Inception: Bigger, But Not Better

title: Inception (Warner Bros.)
director: Christopher Nolan
cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard
one sentence or less: Inception, the film that proves the age-old adage that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

The time has come for Christopher Nolan to scale back. After four straight films that actually fit hyperbolic descriptors like “grandiose” and “epic,” one senses that a trend is emerging. As Nolan’s images become increasingly grand and assuredly awe-inspiring, the returns on the substantive aspects of his films are steadily diminishing. The trend, unfortunately, continues with his latest blockbuster, “Inception,” which was released this week on Blu-Ray and DVD.  Continue reading

Doesn’t Anyone Want to Be My Friend?

title: The Social Network (Columbia)
director: David Fincher
starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
one sentence or less: This is me shrugging my shoulders with indifference. Continue reading

Alice Sounds Better When You Can’t Hear Her

title: Alice in Wonderland
director: Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow
cast: May Clark, Cecil Hepworth
one sentence or less: a story best suited for short adaptation

Do you have ten minutes to watch a movie? I’m sure you do. One of the free options at the Criterion Collection- sponsored MUBI is a rare gift from the BFI; a ten minute long silent adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” from 1903. This was the first ever adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s headrush of a tale, made 37 years after the story’s first appearance and a mere eight after the brothers Lumiere first filtered light through a piece of moving celluloid. It’s not the most interesting early film available to view, but it’s definitely worth the time needed to hunt it down.  Continue reading

Early Kubrick Kills

title: The Killing
director: Stanley Kubrick
cast: Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor
one sentence or less: In his second feature, Stanley Kubrick shows glimmers of his bright future as one of film’s greatest directors.

Stanley Kubrick stepped on the set of “The Killing” at the ripe old age of 28 with a single feature and several shorts under his belt. Armed with a B-Feature budget(approximately $320,000), a cast of aging film noir stars, and little studio support (United Artists relegated the finished film to the second half of a double feature), Kubrick spun Lionel White’s short novel “Clean Break” into a classic caper film. It might not be able to stand amongst the best of Kubrick’s films, but it is an entertaining little heist film with equal bits suspense and humor that showcases an emerging talent in director Kubrick.

Continue reading

Steve McQueen-a-palooza: Sam Peckinpah vs. Steve McQueen, and The Winner Is…?

title: The Getaway
director: Sam Peckinpah
cast: Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickins
one sentence or less: Peckinpah def. McQueen

It is a great credit to Steve McQueen’s star power that his character, unlikeable though he may be, gets through to the end of Sam Peckinpah‘s “The Getaway” with the audience still on his side. The second of two films McQueen and Peckinpah did together, “The Getaway” drew the derision of critics and an enormous audience at the time of its 1972 release. Its $26 million box office take made it one of the biggest hits of McQueen’s career (as well as Peckinpah’s, for that matter), and it also marked the first time in which McQueen’s alpha male persona was subordinated to the style of his director. The results are mixed at times, but in spite of a character that shoots cops, murders politicians, beats his wife, and is in a foul mood for most of the film’s running time, McQueen’s star is so firmly fixed in Hollywood’s celestial body of “good guys” that we can’t help but root for him. It was very smart casting by Peckinpah and a major coup for the always beguiling McQueen.   Continue reading

Revenge, Cranky Old British Man Style

title: Harry Brown (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
director: Daniel Barber
cast: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Charlie Creed-Miles
one sentence or less: They just don’t make ’em like they used to…

Man, “Harry Brown” starts off really promising. The latest English revenge thriller (calling something bereft of thrills a thriller seems a bit disingenuous…but I’ll play along) starts off showing a gang initiation shot on what we later learn is a shaky cell phone camera. Guns are handed out, crack is smoked, gang stereotypes are exploited. The film then smashes into quick cutting and very precise sound design that place us into the driver’s seat of a dirt bike as it zips around the courtyard of  a London housing project. The dirt bike driver and his companion on the back shoot at and kill a woman with a baby carriage before driving off. The bike enters the road recklessly and is creamed by a speeding truck. It’s actually a very exciting introduction to the world of this grimy, dark little film, that the rest of the picture  just can’t live up to. Continue reading

Revenge, Gloriously Post-Modern Style

title: Inglourious Basterds  (Universal)
director: Quentin Tarantino
starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbinder, Melanie Laurent
one sentence or less: “this might just be my masterpiece”

My appreciation of Quentin Tarantino comes in waves. When “Inglourious Basterds” dropped into theaters at the end of last summer my feelings could be described as lukewarm at best, and I knew that seeing “Inglourious Basterds” was not a good idea. I let the hype, criticisms, DVD release, and Award season pass by before I finally felt ready to sit down for a viewing. In the interim my esteem for Tarantino, while not necessarily reaching the fever pitch it started at, had grown. But, even with the award nominations and praise of friends still rattling around in my head, I was still unprepared for the filmmaking mastery and intellectual power on display in “Inglourious Basterds.” Continue reading