Movie Reviews: 01/2012
Movies seen this month: 26
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  Title: The Art of Getting By
Genre: Drama  Year: 2011  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Sasha Spielberg, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ann Dowd  Director: Gavin Wiesen

My Review: An angst filled, coming of age, young-adult romance. I'm such a sucker. Who doesn't want to see these two beautiful kids fall in love? Better than the typical fare for the genre. The acting wasn't over-blown, over-directed, over-produced or overly sappy. These are just ordinary kids (the actors were 21 and 20 years of age). The plot was a simple 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back' plot. A sappy, feel-good, happy ending with quirky, believable characters, and situations that remind me of days in the halls, suffering the insults and rejection of peers and potential lovers. The only part I didn't care for was the overly adult behavior in clubs and parties. The underage drinking part, which seemed to cast a seriously unrealistic pale of posh upbringings upon otherwise down to earth characters. The pacing, editing, directing and supporting cast were all superb. The cinematography and music were very well done. I give it a 3 out of 5.

Summary: Believing the quote that you are born alone, die alone and everything else is an illusion, George doesn't see the point of life, school, or homework. Then he meets Sally and he now has a reason to go to school and make friends, even if he's not ready to admit to himself or to her that he likes her. The school's principal and art teacher introduce him to an alumni, and successful artist, Dustin, who can help guide George along life's path, but other distractions start surfacing, and George might not even be able to graduate from high school.

  Title: It's Kind of a Funny Story
Genre: Comedy, Drama  Year: 2010  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Dana DeVestern, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Karen Chilton  Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

My Review: Another angst filled, coming of age, young adult drama. This one has a little less romance than 'The Art of Getting By'. This movie is more drama than romance. Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist) is a tragically depressed teen - Seriously, if this kid/character qualifies as depressed, then we're all in some serious trouble. This teenager checks himself into a mental health clinic, thinking he'll get some instant attention and maybe some drugs? Confronting the reality of his life brings assurance that his life isn't quite as messed up as he had assumed. The script was well written, and characters well developed, but the story lacked focus and any sort of climax/conclusion. Acting (another movie starring Emma Roberts) was good, and the supporting cast was outstanding. A feel good movie which avoids any real issues associated with teenage depression or mental health. Entertainment only. 3 out of 5.

Summary: Craig is a high-school junior, in the gifted program, infatuated with his best friend's girl. When he realizes he's suicidal, he checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital, thinking they'll do an observation, help him, and send him home in time for school the next day. Once in, however, he must stay for a week; the juvenile ward is being renovated, so he's in with adults as well as a few youths. Bobby, a man with a young daughter, shows him around; Craig notices Noelle, about his age. He tries to keep his friends from finding out where he is. Little things: he draws, goes to therapy, sings, helps Bobby rehearse an interview. Is this the stuff of insight?

  Title: The French Connection
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller  Year: 1971  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi  Director: William Friedkin

My Review: Wow, I'm blown away - I can't believe I haven't formally reviewed this movie previously. If you've never seen Gene Hackman at his best then this movie defines the career of this excellent actor. The supporting cast is great, but Hackman clearly shines in this award winning (best picture oscar in 1971) movie (directed by William Friedkin - The Exorcist, To Live and Die in L.A., Rules Of Engagement) as a NYC detective. 'Popeye' Doyle is paired with Det. Buddy Russo (played by Roy Scheider) in the city's narcotics division. Desperate to put a recent black mark behind him, Doyle pursues his instinct along a French connection in this single-minded quest to bag the biggest fish in his pond. Doyle as a character is flawed but honorable. A realistic, gritty portrayal of a man obsessed with justice but plagued by his personal demons. The car vs train chase scene was an adrenaline packed roller-coaster ride that left me white knuckled and breathless. The plot is a simple, single track, chase to catch the crooks - Just like the car chase, the outcome is inevitable, but the journey thrilling. The camera work (extremely realistic - a model for generations or 'realistic' cop dramas), pacing, musical score, editing (excellent mix of long shots and quick cuts) and direction were fantastic. I give it a 5 out of 5. I'm glad I own this one.

Summary: William Friedkin's gritty police drama portrays two tough New York City cops trying to intercept a huge heroin shipment coming from France. An interesting contrast is established between 'Popeye' Doyle, a short-tempered alcoholic bigot who is nevertheless a hard-working and dedicated police officer, and his nemesis Alain Charnier, a suave and urbane gentleman who is nevertheless a criminal and one of the largest drug suppliers of pure heroin to North America. During the surveillance and eventual bust, Friedkin provides one of the most gripping and memorable car chase sequences ever filmed.

  Title: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Thriller  Year: 2010  Country: USA, Australia, Mexico  Rating: Starring: Bruce Gleeson, Eddie Ritchard, Garry McDonald, Bailee Madison, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen  Director: Troy Nixey

My Review: Don't be afraid of the dark is a remake of a classic 70s horror movie. Here the original story has been slightly twisted by the incomparable Guillermo del Toro (Chronos, The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth). The screenplay has been expanded to give the story more background. The atmosphere of a creepy old mansion enhanced by the addition of some fog enshrouded gardens and rich colors throughout. A young girl is sent to live with her father in his latest restoration project. Uncovering the secrets of this old mansion turns dangerous when Sally (played by Bailee Madison) discovers strange creatures emerging from the basement during the dark of night. Directed by Troy Nixey (his first feature length effort), the tension didn't build to a sufficient level, and the characters seemed a bit flat. The camera work was fair, the set production, costumes and artwork excellent. The acting fair, the chemistry and characters poorly executed. I give it a 3 out of 5 for the production value and scripting. 3 out of 5.

Summary: A young girl is sent to live with her estranged father and his girlfriend at their new home. The father, Alex has plans to spruce up the home with the help of his interior decorator girlfriend, Kim. The previous owner of the home was a famous painter who mysteriously disappeared. Alex's daughter, Sally, soon discovers the cause of the painter's disappearance.

  Title: Some Kind of Wonderful
Genre: Drama, Romance  Year: 1987  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lea Thompson, Craig Sheffer, John Ashton  Director: Howard Deutch

My Review: A classic 80s film from writer-producer John Hughes (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink) and director Howard Deutch (The Replacements, Pretty In Pink). The story. Keith (Eric Stoltz) and Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) are best friends from working class families. When Keith falls for a girl on the wrong side of the tracks (Lea Thompson), it takes him places his heart has never been, and opens his eyes to the reality his been ignoring. A fantastic if somewhat simple teen romance. The casting was outstanding and the editing excellent. The best part about this movie, like so many of John Hughes' films - The characters. Easily recognizable, intimately identifiable and highly believable. Somehow, whenever I watch his movies, I always find myself identifying with the characters. Another bonus? The soundtrack. An 80s soundtrack from some less than stellar names, yet perfectly matched to the story being told. I give it a 5 out of 5.

Summary: A young tomboy, Watts, finds her feelings for her best friend, Keith, run deeper than just friendship when he gets a date with the most popular girl in school. Unfortunately, the girl's old boyfriend, who is from the rich section of town, is unable to let go of her, and plans to get back at Keith.

  Title: Risky Business
Genre: Comedy, Drama  Year: 1983  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Masur, Bronson Pinchot  Director: Paul Brickman

My Review: Risky Business: Starring Tom Cruise, this movie brings back memories of high school, first dates, and teen rebellion. Sometimes you have to say 'What the F*ck!'. A weekend with the parents away turns from teen freedom into complete disaster in a very short amount of time. Joel (Tom Cruise) and Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) run a 'venture capital startup' out of the family home in the Chicago suburbs. Tom Cruise in briefs, lip-syncing to a Bob Seeger tune... This classic gets a 5 out of 5.

Summary: A suburban Chicago teenager's parents leave on vacation, and he cuts loose. An unauthorised trip in his father's Porsche means a sudden need for lots of money, which he raises in a creative way.

  Title: Black Heaven / L'autre Monde
Genre: Drama  Year: 2010  Country: France, Belgium  Rating: Starring: Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Louise Bourgoin, Melvil Poupaud, Pauline Etienne, Pierre Niney  Director: Gilles Marchand

My Review: This movie showed up in my Netflix 'recommended' list. A french movie with a 'video game' angle. Gaspard and Marion stumble upon a missing cell-phone and get wrapped up in a mystery when they start reading the text messages. They intervene when they sense danger and narrowly avert a tragedy. Eventually Gaspard gets pulled into a dangerous game online and in real-life. The dangerous characters of the online game turn out to be less dangerous than the real-life characters. With the mystery revealed, logging off may be far more dangerous than Gaspard imagined. The movie is well paced and well shot, but the story lacks visceral impact. The script paid far too much attention to the characters and their personal motivations. I had no idea where this movie was going, and no concern for the characters. Not enough danger and a finale that's both rushed and anti-climatic. I give it a 2 out of 5.

Summary: An innocent young man becomes enamored with a mysterious girl. He is lured into "Black Hole" - a dark, obscure video game world of avatars with deadly serious intentions in the real world.

  Title: Wanted Dead or Alive
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller  Year: 1986  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gene Simmons, Robert Guillaume, Mel Harris, William Russ  Director: Gary Sherman

My Review: An action flick starring Rutger Hauer and Gene Simmons? Hauer plays Nick Randall a former CIA agent, a bounty hunter, the descendant of Josh Randall an old west character portrayed by Steve McQueen in a TV series by the same name as this movie. The acting is mediocre. Rutger Hauer did a good job, but the rest of the cast wasn't up to par. Thankfully, the action is top notch in this 1987 thriller that featured Middle Eastern terrorists who terrorize LA with bombs and a chemical weapons threat. The characters, settings and primary plot are similar in many respects to the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon franchise, but this movie's plot lacks some of the subtlety, humor and star attraction. The best part of this movie is the memorable ending. I give it a 3 out of 5.

Summary: This movie features a character who is supposed to be the descendant of the character played Steve McQueen in the television series of the same name. And like McQueen's Josh Randall, Hauer's Nick Randall is also a bounty. But also an ex-CIA operative, who is asked by his former employer to help them track down a terrorrist, Malak Al Rahim, who is in the country, and has already made a move. But he is also looking for Randall, and the people, whom Randall is working for, is telling Malak, where he can find Randall.

  Title: Big
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Romance  Year: 1988  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jared Rushton  Director: Penny Marshall

My Review: Starring Tom Hanks, here's a great story. A whimsical comedy with lots of heart. A young boy (12/13 years old) gets fed up with adolescence, he wants respect, wants responsibility, wants to be 'big'. His wish is soon granted by a magical 'Zoltar' machine. Josh learns that being grown up isn't all that great. He has to get a job, and deal with grown-ups and some new found 'feelings'. Eventually he wishes he was a kid again. I've seen this movie many times, and it keeps getting better every time I watch it. 5 out of 5.

Summary: A young boy makes a wish at a fairground machine to be big. He wakes up the following morning to find that his wish has been granted and his body has grown older over night. But he is still the same 12 year old kid on the inside. Now he must learn how to cope with the unfamiliar world of grown ups including getting a job, and having his first romantic encounter with a woman. What will he find out about this strange world?

  Title: Pale Rider
Genre: Western  Year: 1985  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Chris Penn, Richard A. Dysart  Director: Clint Eastwood

My Review: Clint Eastwood playing a 'Stranger with no name'. Reviving his most famous role. Here's a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Not his first direction role, but one of his finest. Some of the best acting came from the supporting cast. The story was enigmatic and powerful. A mysterious stranger (a preacher) shows up in sleepy little mining town, just in time to help the oppressed people throw off the oppression of a local tyrant. A familiar, yet workable theme, which often repeats itself in Clint Eastwood movies. With some supernatural emphasis on the 'Preacher' character, this movie feels like something of a 'High Plains Drifter' remake.

Summary: A small mining town is terrorized by a local gangster, and salvation arrives in the form of a gun-toting preacher.


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