LawrenceA

From the Last 25 Years

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The Giver - More dystopian sci-fi based on a Young Adult novel, in this case the 1993 book by Lois Lowry. In an undefined future time period, after some cataclysmic event, society has reorganized into a highly structured, highly regulated "utopia" of peace and harmony, although one maintained by daily emotion-suppressing medication and strict, unwavering adherence to the rules. As children come of age, they are assigned their adult working positions. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who has always seemed a little special, is assigned the rare chore of being The Receiver. He is to learn from The Giver (Jeff Bridges), a strange, reclusive member of society. Jonas learns that The Giver is the repository of human memory and history, and that those tasks will fall to Jonas once training is complete. However, the truths that Jonas learns makes him more and more uncomfortable, until he decides to take drastic action to change society forever. Also featuring Meryl Streep as the cold and calculating Chief Elder, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Tremblay, and Taylor Swift.

 

This seems, like 2013's Ender's Game, to be a case of a unique novel taking too long to reach the screen. When it finally does, so many other properties have covered the same ground that the original seems outdated and cliched. This resembles Divergent very much, and that Veronica Roth novel, written in 2011, seems like the author simply combined The Giver with The Hunger Games. Meanwhile, this film, directed by Phillip Noyce, takes a bit of a risk by filming the first third in B&W, in order to express the emotionless, empty state of the people. The cast doesn't get to do too much, and Thwaites seems a bit limited in his acting. Streep is wasted, and Bridges seems to insist on using the same marble-mouthed voice in most of his films anymore (if it wasn't for recent interviews that I've seen with him, I would think he was suffering some debilitating oral disorder). The Giver is routinely one of the most challenged and banned books in the American school system, and yet despite all of that controversy, the film barely made a whimper.   5/10

 

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God's Pocket - Grimy indie drama based on the novel by Peter Dexter. Set in 1983, the story follows the motley denizens of the God's Pocket neighborhood of South Phillie. Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a two-bit crook and gambler. He's married to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), whose slimeball grown son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) ends up dead in a workplace "accident". Mickey tries to get the money together to pay for the funeral, while his friend Arthur (John Turturro) worries about paying back a big debt to local mobsters, and alcoholic newspaper columnist Richard (Richard Jenkins) teeters on the edge of drunken ruin. Also featuring Eddie Marsan, Glenn Fleshler, Domenick Lombardozzi, Molly Price, Peter Gerety, and Joyce Van Patten. This tale of low-lives and losers is often dark, sporadically violent, and occasionally funny. The cast is all solid, and the direction by actor John Slattery is fine. But the film really doesn't seem to have much to say beyond a look at characters that are frequently overlooked in society.   7/10

 

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A Good Man - Ludicrous action flick starring Steven Seagal as Ghost/Alexander, an elite special forces commando tasked with taking out a terrorist group in the country of Dagestan. The operation goes south, and one of the two prime targets escapes, a "Chi-Com Muslim Fundamentalist" named Mr. Chen (Tzi Ma). Cut to several years later, and Ghost/Alexander is now living in Romania. He's a vigilante, attacking the syndicate of a local crime lord. Ghost also finds time to bond with his pretty neighbor (Iulia Verdes), a single mother and sister to Sasha (Victor Webster), who happens to be working for the local crime boss. Eventually Ghost and Sasha must team up to take out the criminals and Mr. Chen.

 

If the rest of the film had been like the first 10, this could become a rival for Plan 9 from Outer Space as a true so-bad-it's-good classic. Seagal's ad-libbed dialogue is bizarre and nonsensical, and his appearance is just as laughable: layers of thick black clothing, heavy scarves wrapped around his neck, an obvious wig of unknown material, and a goatee that looks like black cotton glued to his face. Unfortunately, the majority of the film is the same kind of Eastern European action trash that Seagal has been grinding out for nearly 15 years, with uninspired scenarios and poorly filmed action. I think Webster's Sasha character is here simply to do a lot of the action, as Seagal seems to move a lot slower these days.   3/10 or 6/10 on the bad/funny scale.

 

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A Good Marriage - Minor thriller based on a Stephen King story. Darcy (Joan Allen) and Bob (Anthony LaPaglia) have been happily married for a long time. They have wonderful grown children, and Bob's career is going great. Things seem next to perfect until Darcy stumbles onto something in the garage that indicates that Bob may in fact be a serial killer dubbed "Beadie" by the media. Now she is torn as to what to do with the information. But will Bob even give her a chance to decide? Also featuring Stephen Lang, Cara Buono, Kristen Connolly, and Mike O'Malley. This proved to be a fairly pedestrian outing, akin to a classier Lifetime channel TV movie, with ridiculous developments, passable performances, and little surprise.   5/10

 

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Goodnight Mommy - Austrian horror film with a few disturbing moments, although it's a bit tedious getting to those. Lukas and Elias are young twin brothers (played by twins Lukas & Elias Schwarz) who are staying in a secluded but luxurious house in the country. They spend their days roaming through the nearby forest and farmlands. Their mother (Susanne Wuest) has returned home from some plastic surgery, and her head and face are bandaged. She seems distant, and a little cruel, ignoring Lukas and seeming to be short-tempered with Elias. The boys soon become convinced that this bandaged person is not their real mother, and they go to horrific lengths to try and prove it.

 

This film gives you very little information, doling out slowly who these characters are and what their past is. This was my biggest issue with the film, as I could feel that there was a big twist coming and I had it guessed in the first five minutes. There are a handful of shockingly violent moments, but the entire film is built to lead up to the big "shocker" of a revelation that I would think was obvious to most viewers. Alas, this appeared on many best of the year lists, so I guess the twist worked for some, or else the violence did.   6/10

 

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The Grand Budapest Hotel - Delightful comedy from writer-director Wes Anderson. In the fictitious country of Zubrowka, a girl visits a memorial statue to a writer (Tom Wilkinson). This leads to a flashback of the writer reminiscing on the genesis of his book The Grad Budapest Hotel. It came about thanks to a lengthy conversation held at the title location between the younger writer (Jude Law) and a wealthy older gentleman named Zero (F. Murray Abraham). Zero recalls the days of his youth, specifically 1932, when he started as the new lobby boy (Tony Revolori). He is taught his position by the hotel's concierge, Gustav (Ralph Fiennes). The plot concerns Gustav being named a beneficiary in the will of a rich elderly patron (Tilda Swinton) of the hotel, and that woman's greedy, foul-tempered relative (Adrien Brody), who won't stand to see Gustav receiving anything from the estate. Also featuring Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Jason Schwartzman, Larry Pine, and Harvey Keitel.

 

One of the settings in the film is a confectioner's shop, and Wes Anderson's films could be favorably compared to elaborate, meticulously prepared confections, and perhaps none more so than this one. His usual perfectionist's eye for shot composition is on display again, with many frames worthy of close scrutiny. The performances are all suited to the roles, with high marks for newcomer Revolori, and the greatest praise for Fiennes, who has never before appeared to be having as much fun on screen. The script is literate and witty, although there are moments of surprising darkness and vulgarity, but always in keeping with the story's needs. The production design is outstanding, and Anderson's use of deliberately antiquated stop-motion special effects adds to the charm. This was up for many Academy Awards, being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Anderson), Best Original Screenplay (Anderson, Hugo Guinness), Best Cinematography (Robert Yeoman), and Best Editing (Barney Pilling). It won the Oscars for Best Costumes (Milena Canonero), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat). It is also one of the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die. Highly recommended.   9/10

 

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Funny Games - Austrian film from controversial director Michael Haneke. An upper class family of three travel to the country for a weekend at their vacation home. Two young men arrive and slowly force the family into a horrifying hostage situation of torture and cruelty. This made a big splash on its debut, with many people torn over whether it was a brilliant statement on violence in cinema, a highly polished thriller, or just pretentious twaddle. 

 

Haneke later remade it, supposedly shot for shot, in 2007, in English, with Tim Roth and Naomi Watts starring. I've seen that version, but this will be my first viewing of the original, which I'm sure will have a lesser impact due to my prior exposure. This is one of the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die, one of the 500 Essential Cult Movies, and one of Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Heard Of.

 

 

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I might have enjoyed this (perhaps merely tolerated) when I was (much) younger but getting older can result in better identification with the plight of others even though I may never have actually experienced such. This type of film no longer appeals to me. I stayed with it (three years ago now) because I was on a Haneke kick and was determined to see all his films. Haneke has contempt for general music audiences and wants it to learn that this is not the best of all possible worlds and things will not be all right. The rewind seen is a great betrayal and yet one of the most "funniest" instances in all movies.

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Guardians of the Galaxy - Exciting, frequently hilarious science fiction action-comedy from Marvel Studios. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth as a small boy and raised by an intergalactic band of outlaws. After going solo, Quill takes a job retrieving a powerful object worth a great deal of money to the right people. The object is also desired by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a tyrannical zealot from the Kree race with a burning hatred of the Xandarian race. Quill later ends up in prison with a pair of bounty hunters: Rocket, a talking raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and his friend, a sentient tree-creature named Groot (voice of Vin Diesel); as well as a servant of Ronan, a warrior-woman named Gamora (Zoe Saldana); and an alien named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) on a quest for vengeance against Ronan. The motley gang band together for safety, and end up forming a surrogate family, all the while getting into cosmic scrapes and calamities. Also featuring Michael Rooker, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Karen Gillan, Ophelia Lovibond, Sean Gunn, and Glenn Close.

 

Director James Gunn brings an irreverent snark to the space opera genre, and it works more often than not. The cast of colorful characters is amusing and interesting, even if some of the galactic details don't make sense (everyone speaks English?). Pratt makes for a very likable lead, Saldana continues to stake her claim as the female Sci-Fi actress of the modern era, Bautista (a former MMA champion) steals many of his scenes, and the CGI Rocket and Groot are both also largely successful. Del Toro and Close are both wasted, but with so many people packed into a 2 hour runtime, it was bound to happen. In the end, I felt this was a very well done example of modern popcorn filmmaking with a simple underlying message of family and friendship that should endear it to viewers of all ages. This is one of the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die. Recommended.   8/10

 

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The Guest - Blackly humorous thriller from writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard. Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelly) is a housewife grieving the death of her eldest son in Iraq. Her husband Spencer (Leland Orser) is having trouble at work. Their teenage son Luke (Brendan Meyer) is being bullied at school. And their 20-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) is dating a pot dealer. One day, the doorbell rings and David (Dan Stevens) is standing there. He's a former military colleague of their dead son's, and he's just been discharged from the service. He had made a promise to check on the family, and he's there to honor that pledge. Laura insists that David stay for a few days, and David seems to offer a helping hand in various situations. But Anna (and the audience) can sense something just isn't right about David... Also featuring Lance Reddick, Joel David Moore, Ethan Embry, and Tabatha Shaun. This has loads of style, and an excellent new wave/gothic soundtrack. Stevens is fantastic in the lead role, handsome, charming and alternately scary when the script calls for it. Monroe is good as well as the daughter that just isn't buying David's story. If there's any complaints to be made here it's that the end gets a bit ridiculous and a little too slasher-movie like. But then the final shot establishes it as another kind of movie altogether. Recommended.   8/10

 

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Gutshot Straight - Muddled, middling neo-noir stars George Eads as Jack Daniel, an inveterate gambler and card player in Las Vegas who's deeply in debt to the wrong people. Close to running out of options, he's approached by Duffy (Stephen Lang), a wealthy stranger who offers Jack a chance to make some big, easy money. But when things take a turn, Jack may have met the most dangerous players of all: a sexy kept woman (AnnaLynne McCord), and Duffy's menacing brother Lewis (Ted Levine). Also featuring Vinnie Jones, Tia Carrere, Fiona Dourif, and Steven Seagal. Eads, a likable enough presence on the long-running TV series CSI, doesn't make for much of a leading man here. The script may be to blame, though, as it's tired, cliched, and with terrible pacing. Seagal, who rarely appears in a movie when he isn't the star, has a brief cameo as a loan shark.    4/10

 

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Hercules - Mythological heroics from director Brett Ratner. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as Hercules, the legendary demi-god son of Zeus who roams the Ancient Greek world looking for gold and adventure. He's joined by a band of assorted characters: Autolycus (Rufus Sewell) a cynical knife-thrower; Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) a mute berserker; Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) an Amazonian archer; Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) a drunken seer; and Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) a storyteller and Hercules' nephew. The band of mercenaries takes a job for Lord Cotys (John Hurt): find and defeat the evil Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), a marauding warlord said to control evil magics and a cavalry of centaurs. But is everything as it seems, or is there sinister manipulation at work? Also featuring Rebecca Ferguson, Peter Mullan, Joe Anderson, Irina Shayk, and Joseph Fiennes.

 

Brett Ratner is one of my least favorite modern filmmakers, but here he does an acceptable job. The action is fun and exciting, with the characters clearly drawn and well acted. This version of the often-told tale paints Hercules as being a figure of exaggerated legend, propagated by the storyteller Iolaus in order to intimidate foes and attract potential employers. Therefore, the usual mystical element is not there in the way it has been in the past. Rather, this movie leans more toward traditional sword-and-sandal epics than sword-and-sorcery fantasies. All in all, I found it a perfectly enjoyable Saturday afternoon viewing.   7/10

 

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Third and final installment in director Peter Jackson's adaptation of JRR Tolkien's children's book. Picking up directly from where the previous film left off, the human city of Laketown is under siege from the nefarious dragon Smaug. After that is quickly settled, the film sets up the title altercation: the dwarves, humans, and elves are going to war over the treasure within the newly reclaimed dwarven city in the Lonely Mountain. They then have to put aside their squabbles when two armies of orcs, giants and other malevolent beasts, under the command of the orc-giant half-breed Azog the Defiler, attack them all. Featuring returning cast members Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Manu Bennett, Aidan Turner, James Nesbitt, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace, and Sylvester McCoy, as well as new cast member Billy Connolly.

 

This is the least of the six Tolkien/Jackson films, but it still has its moments. My favorite scene comes early in the film, with the rescue of the wizard Gandalf the Gray (McKellen) by some of the series' heavy-hitters: elven queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), elven lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and wizard Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). It was fun seeing Lee fighting off evil spirits at the age of 92. This would be his next to final appearance. Ian Holm also cameos at the end as the older Bilbo Baggins, and to date this is his final screen role (he'll turn 86 in September). At a mere 164 minutes for the extended edition, this is the shortest of the 6 films, although it still seems a bit long. The very lengthy battle scenes, taking up nearly half of the film's running time, start to get tedious, with a lot of CGI fighting more CGI. But there are some interesting visual moments, and some original creature designs. In some spots the special effects seem shoddier than ever, as if things were rushed to completion, while in others, particularly the presentation of the largely-CGI Azog, they are improved. It managed to nab a single Oscar nomination, for Sound Editing. Listen at the end for the film's theme song "The Last Goodbye" sung by Billy Boyd, who played Pippin the hobbit in the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy.   7/10

 

 

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The Homesman - Dark, at times disturbing, western based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout. When a trio of women go insane in the Nebraska territory, another woman in the community, unmarried farmer Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), volunteers to transport the three to Iowa, where they can then be sent back to their individual home towns for convalescence. Realizing that the journey back East will take may weeks, and will be fraught with peril, Mary decides to take along George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones). He was a claim jumper tied to the hanging rope when Mary set him free, so he begrudgingly agrees. The majority of the film details their journey, the hazards they face, and their growing relationship. Also featuring Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter, John Lithgow, William Fichtner, Jesse Plemons, Barry Corbin, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, and Meryl Streep.

 

This isn't a pretty picture of the Old West. Instead, it's the real West of disease, starvation, rape, murder, casual cruelty, and oppressive societal pressures. Mary is a nice, decent woman who never seems to find the peace and happiness she deserves. George, given to capricious hostility and shocking violence, is not a typical western film hero. Both Swank and Jones are excellent in the leads, but a few of the supporting players go more than a little over the top. Some of the story turns genuinely surprised me, and the vaguely nihilistic ending sticks with me, too.    7/10

 

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Horrible Bosses 2 - Needless sequel to a fairly unexceptional comedy. In the first film, three buddies, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Nate (Charlie Day), commiserating over their workplace misery, made a pact to kill their bosses. They didn't actually end up killing anyone, so they're all free and clear at the start of this one. This time out, they have teamed up to design a new bathroom product, but when a corporate boss named Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) use deceptive practices to bankrupt the trio, they decide to try crime one more time by kidnapping Rex and forcing Bert to pay a ransom that will solve their financial woes. Of course, since they are 3 largely incompetent doofuses, things don't go as planned. Also featuring the return of Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, and Lindsay Sloane, as well as new cast members Jonathan Banks and Keegan-Michael Key. This was obviously a half-hearted cash-in made quickly and with little effort. The jokes are lazy and often unfunny, and the characters are even stupider this time around. I watched this for Spacey, whose role was barely a cameo.   5/10

 

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 - Fun sequel to the excellent 2010 animated fantasy. Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) continues to live in the craggy seaside village of Berk, where the viking people have put aside their fear and hatred of dragons, instead embracing them, raising them, and even riding them through the skies. While out on a scouting trip, Hiccup and his dragon Toothless discover a band of dragon poachers led by Eret (v: Kit Harington). Eret captures dragons to be used by the dreaded Drago Bloodfist (v: Djimon Hounsou), a fearsome conqueror. When Drago learns of the dragon-loving people of Berk, he sets out to destroy them. But Hiccup and the other residents of Berk will fight to the last, with the help of Hiccup's previously presumed dead mother, Valka (v: Cate Blanchett). Also featuring the voices of Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, TJ Miller, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and Craig Ferguson.

 

The filmmakers maintain the unique visual design of the previous film, while also adding new landscapes and creature designs. The animation is fluid and well-done, with particularly interesting results with the snow. The voice cast is also good, with Blanchett and Hounsou inspired casting. I think most animated film fans should enjoy this, especially the young (and young at heart). This was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.    8/10

 

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The Humbling - Misfire drama adapted from the novel by Philip Roth, adapted for the screen by Buck Henry and Michael Zebede, and directed by Barry Levinson. Simon Axler (Al Pacino) is an aging actor, a star of stage and screen, who has a mental breakdown on stage. He decides to enter a sanitarium in order to get his mind in order, but things get complicated with a fellow patient (Nina Arianda). He goes home, and gets surprised by Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the grown daughter of one of his friends. She admits having had a crush on him when she was younger, and they start having an affair. But instead of clearing his mind, it brings even more misery and uncertainty. Also featuring Charles Grodin, Dan Hedaya, Dylan Baker, Kyra Sedgwick, Billy Porter, and Dianne Wiest. I can understand why this tale of an actor dealing with confidence issues in light of advancing age would appeal to Pacino, but it doesn't hold much appeal for me. Gerwig, an actress that I've liked in other things, felt flat here and seemed miscast. The film's style is also sloppy and low-fi, with a lot of handheld digital video, all filtered to an ugly gray-blue.   5/10

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 - Third film in the series of adaptations of the young adult science fiction books by Suzanne Collins. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has now joined the rebellion against the government of Panem lead by the dastardly President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The rebellion is headed up by the residents of District 13, an area reported to have been destroyed, but which has secretly been gathering strength in an underground base. District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore), along with media analyst Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), hope to exploit Katniss as the symbol the resistance needs to rally all of the other Districts into the fight. Katniss struggles with her new role, as her relationship with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) cools, and she worries about Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), her former fighting companion and supposed love interest who has been captured by Snow and is being used as their own propaganda figure. Also featuring Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Mahershala Ali, Geoffrey Wright, Elizabeth Banks, Natalie Dormer, Wes Chatham, Jena Malone, Evan Ross, Elden Henson, Sarita Choudhury, Robert Knepper, and Stanley Tucci.

 

Like many of the movie studios looking to squeeze every last dollar from these franchises, Lionsgate made the decision to split the final book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy into two movies. The result has the same problems most of these have: the story drags to pad the running time, and the lack of resolution is worse than in any previous film in the series. One problem I have with this film series in general, but it's really evident this time around, is their distinct lack of humor. Drama can exist in films with no humor if the story is compelling or original enough, but in these derivative popcorn movies, no humor makes for a dour, often unpleasant experience. I've haven't found much to enjoy in the previous films, and I'm honestly a little baffled by their appeal, as the action elements are not very exciting (and few and far between in this entry), the science fiction is old hat to any but the most sheltered of viewer, and the political philosophy is as black and white and obvious as to be childish. This installment also manages to make Jennfier Lawrence look both uninteresting and like a bad actress, descriptions I normally wouldn't apply to her. Hopefully the final installment will manage to be a little better.   5/10

 

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I, Frankenstein - Dopey action-fantasy that jumbles a lot of supernatural elements into a cheesy, embarrassing mess. After a quick recap of the events of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, we see that the mad doctor's creation, later named Adam (Aaron Eckhart) has carried his creator's body back to the ancestral Frankenstein family cemetery for burial. No sooner is this accomplished than Adam is attacked by a group of demons who are determined to capture him. Adam fights back with supernatural strength, but things look grim until a pair of gargoyles (!) fly in and help save the day. Taking Adam back to their headquarters in Notre Dame cathedral, the gargoyle queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) explains that they are actually angels, pitted in never-ending war against the demonic forces of Satan, led on the earthly realm by Naberius (Bill Nighy). Adam wants nothing to do with their battle, so he spends the next couple of centuries (he's immortal) roaming the world. After realizing that the forces of Naberius will not stop trying to capture him, he decides to become proactive in the modern age, and goes to war against the demons himself. But the demons have their own plans, involving the work of a scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) and her work in reanimating the dead... Also featuring Jai Courtney, Kevin Grevioux, and Bruce Spence.

 

The effects are bad, the gargoyle and demon designs are lazy and uninspired, the dialogue is laughable, and the story nonsensical. Eckhart's turn as Frankenstein's monster is closer to a superhero than a Gothic creature, with six-pack abs and a stylish overcoat. Grevioux, a large, intimidating character actor, co-wrote the story with director Stuart Beattie. Grevioux is perhaps best known for his role as a werewolf in some of the Underworld films, and that's what this film resembles, although failing to rise to even that film series' level of competence. I hope Eckhart and Nighy bought something nice with those paychecks.    4/10

 

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I Origins - Cerebral drama dealing with the intersection of science and spirituality. Ian (Michael Pitt) has been obsessed with eyes since he was a child. He takes pictures of people's eyes as a hobby, and he works as a scientist, trying to map the complete evolution of the eye throughout the animal world. He meets a beautiful model named Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and falls in love, just as he and his new lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling) make a breakthrough discovery in their work. But Ian's happiness is short-lived as tragedy strikes, and he is left despondent. Many years later, he and Karen are now married and having their first child. Using a system invented by a former colleague (Steven Yuen) that maps the human eye and saves it to a data-base, their child comes up as a match to someone else, a man who died before their son was conceived. Ian realizes the implications, and will travel around the world to prove them. Also featuring Cara Seymour, William Mapother, and Archie Panjabi.

 

This was written and directed by Mike Cahill, who had previously collaborated with Brit Marling on 2011's science fiction film Another Earth. This film shares that same low-key vibe, with discussion and dialogue the key components. The issues raised are interesting, regardless of where you fall on the science vs faith debate. I don't want to get too far into details, as the revelations are key to the film. The performances are good, although nothing exceptional, and the film's visual style is adequate. I would recommend this for more philosophical viewers, but others may find the proceedings dull.   7/10

 

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Iceman - Terrible and outright stupid action/fantasy/comedy, heaviest on the comedy, from China. Donnie Yen stars as Ho Ying, a 17th century vassal in the Ming Dynasty who, along with a trio of enemies, is flash-frozen. They are thawed out in modern times, with the bad guys quickly adapting to the criminal life, and Ho Ying falling in with a beautiful woman named May (Shengyi Huang). Several people are after Ho Ying, though, in order to get a medallion that he has that will activate a mystical device known as the Wheel of Time. This all leads to chase scenes, fights scenes, and a lot of fart jokes. Also featuring Baoqiang Wang, Kang Yu, Suet Lam, and Simon Yam. This looks cheap, with bad effects and awful fight scenes. The jokes are lowbrow, and most of the characters are ridiculous caricatures. Even for fans of the genre, skip it.    3/10

 

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The Imitation Game - Excellent British drama detailing the life and wartime service of mathematician Alan Turing. Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a math genius and theoretical mechanical engineer with a passion for puzzles and cryptography who volunteers to work for military intelligence in their efforts to break the Enigma machine, the encoding device used by Nazi Germany. As part of a team of other brilliantly gifted men, he sets out to win the war through code-breaking. He also meets Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a gifted math expert in her own right, but who can't get taken seriously because of her gender. She joins the team as they work to solve one of the greatest mysteries of WW2. The film also shows Turing's formative years as a young student in boarding school, and also his post-war run-in with the law when he was arrested and convicted of indecency under Britain's anti-homosexual laws. Also featuring Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Steven Waddington, and Charles Dance.  

 

The character of the genius with poor social skills has become rather cliched at this point. Going back to 2001's A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crowe, or more recently with TV's House or Bones, or any of the Sherlock Holmes adaptations, and you've seen this type of personality over and over again. Therefore it's a testament to the screenplay, to director Morten Tyldum, and especially star Cumberbatch that this film still manages to be interesting and compelling. I was already aware of Alan Turing and his contributions to the war and in pioneering computers, as well as his unfortunate post-war legal troubles, and yet I still maintained interest and involvement in the films' proceedings. The remaining cast are all also terrific, and I was particularly moved by Alex Lawther as the younger Turing. My only real complaint was that the post-war section was a little too vague, and I would like to have seen it explored a bit more thoroughly. This was a major film at the Oscars, receiving nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Tyldum), Best Actor (Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Knightley), Best Editing, Best Score (Alexandre Desplat), and Best Production Design, while it won Best Adapted Screenplay (Graham Moore). Recommended.   8/10

 

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In Order of Disappearance - Norwegian-Swedish-Danish co-production stars Stellan Skarsgard as Nils Dickman, a Swedish immigrant living in frigid Norway. He's a respectable member of the community, and he runs a snow removal company, an important position in an area where the snow never seems to stop falling. His normal, middle class existence is shattered when his grown son is found dead of an apparent drug overdose. Nils doesn't buy the official story, and he learns that his son was collateral damage from a drug gang reprisal targeting the wrong person. Nils sets out to get revenge, and as the bodies start piling up, he inadvertently starts a gang war between the Norwegian crime syndicate led by the spoiled rich Count (Pal Sverre Hagen) and their rivals, the Serbian crime family led by the old and infirm Papa (Bruno Ganz). Also featuring Peter Andersson, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Kristofer Hivju, and Jack Sodahl Moland.

 

This is a well-made, cleverly-written crime thriller, with a generous dash of dark comedy. As people die off during the film, the screen goes black and their names are shown in memoriam on screen. The cast is all fine, with Skarsgard underplaying his role of the grieving father out for blood. Hagen was nominated for several awards for his turn as the short-tempered, ill-suited crime boss. Director Hans Petter Moland does a tremendous job conveying the icy atmosphere of the setting.   7/10

 

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Innocence - Really dreadful mystery-"thriller" based on a novel by Jane Mendelsohn. After her mother dies in a tragic accident, teenager Beckett Warner (Sophie Lane Curtis) and her father (Linus Roache) move to NYC, where Beckett is enrolled in an exclusive all-girls school. The school nurse, Pamela (Kelly Reilly), becomes close with Beckett's father, while Beckett falls for the handsome young Tobey (Graham Phillips). After a shocking suicide happens at the school, Beckett begins to wonder if something sinister is going on. Or is it merely the side effects of her new anti-anxiety medication? Also featuring Sarita Choudhury, Sarah Sutherland, Perrey Reeves, Liya Kebede, and Stephanie March. This was numbingly dull and uninspired, with below-TV-Movie-level story and dialogue. The lead performer, Curtis, seemed bored and half-asleep most of the time, and the eventual revelation as to what was going on was not worth the slog to get there.   3/10

 

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The Interview - News-making comedy from writer-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that proves to be undeserving of the attention. Rogen also co-stars as Aaron, a TV producer working for narcissistic idiot Dave Skylark (James Franco), a vapid entertainment news interviewer and star of his own widely syndicated daily program. When Dave learns that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a fan, Aaron manages to land a one-on-one interview between Dave and Kim, to take place in North Korea. The newsmen are then approached by the CIA to compel them to take the opportunity to assassinate Kim Jong-un, to which they reluctantly agree. Also featuring Lizzy Caplan, Diana Bang, and Randall Park as Kim Jong-un.

 

This made headlines when the North Korean government vehemently objected to the film's plot, and then a hacking campaign commenced against the film's distributor, Sony Pictures, believed to be the work of North Korean agents. The hacking resulted in a mass of embarrassing inter-office e-mails being made public, as well as copies of films leaked onto the internet. When Sony seemed to be bowing to pressure to withhold the film's release, there was a counter-protest launched urging that the company not bow to terroristic threats. The film was finally released, and then quickly disappeared. The reasons for that being that the film forgot to be very funny. I've enjoyed some of Rogen's work in the past (I have This Is the End ranked in my top ten of that year), but this was just not humorous. Franco's character is so over-the-top ridiculous that he becomes completely unbelievable. The obnoxious soundtrack doesn't help, either.    5/10

 

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Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson's take on Thomas Pynchon's novel about "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a Los Anegles pothead, hippie and private eye, circa 1970. After he's approached by an old flame named Shasta (Katherine Waterston) and warned about a plot to fleece a rich land developer, Doc begins a convoluted odyssey involving neo-Nazi bikers, anti-radical groups, Asian drug cartels, a sex-crazed orthodontist (Martin Short), a reportedly dead saxophone player (Owen Wilson), and a crew-cut sporting thuggish cop named Bigfoot (Josh Brolin). Can Doc get to the bottom of what's going on when he has trouble figuring that out even at the best of times? Also featuring Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Donovan, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Michael K. Williams, Jena Malone, Peter McRobbie, and Jeannie Berlin.

 

This exists somewhere in the intersection of Chinatown and The Big Lebowski, a P.I. mystery seen through the eyes of a habitual drug user, be it marijuana, LSD, heroin, PCP, alcohol, or whatever's at hand. And yet the film doesn't take any cheap shots with the drug angle, as many films would play it up broadly for laughs. Instead it's the filter through which Doc has to process the story's complicated events, and Phoenix does a tremendous job in the lead. Waterston (the daughter of actor Sam Waterston) is also good, with one really amazing scene that should have nabbed her a few awards. As the film started, I was surprised by the grainy look of the cinematography, as Anderson and DP Robert Elswit usually have outstanding clarity and compositions. But as the film progressed, I realized that the film style changed as Doc's perception changed, but thankfully in subtle ways (no cheesy kaleidoscopic scenes or Jefferson Airplane on the soundtrack). The movie doesn't work quite as well as it could, but as I noticed as it progressed, it is more multi-layered than it at first seems. It feels like a movie that I will like more as I watch it again in the future, but as it is, I still liked it quite a bit, and would recommend it to the more adventurous or sophisticated viewer (or to current or ex-druggies, as the depiction of that cultural was very spot on).    8/10

 

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