Movie Review: "Listen Up Philip" A- October 31, 2014
[In theaters and Video on Demand.]
Movie Review: "John Wick" B+ October 24, 2014
There's a certain kind of action movie where a former cop/assassin/mercenary is dragged out of retirement by a nefarious act that begs for -- nay, demands -- justice (this time it's personal, usually), whereupon we are treated to a satisfying tale of violent retribution. "John Wick" is that kind of movie. In fact, it's determined to be the quintessential That Kind of Movie, slyly boiling the plot down to its barest essentials and exaggerating its hero's power for the sake of humor, all without failing to deliver the impeccably choreographed fight sequences that are the hallmark of a quality production of this genre.
Movie Review: "Fury" B October 17, 2014
The title character of "Fury" is a Sherman tank operated by the U.S. Army at the tail end of World War II, in the heart of Nazi Germany. In addition to the home-field advantage, we're told the Germans also have more firepower and better war machines than we do. But do they have more pluck and determination? More than the Yanks?! Think again, Jerry!
Movie Review: "Birdman" B+ October 17, 2014
"Birdman" opens in a dressing room at Broadway's St. James Theatre, where a fifty-ish man in tighty-whiteys sits meditating. And levitating. And hearing a guttural, self-doubting voice in his head berating him for falling this far. The man is Riggan Thomson, once the star of a blockbuster superhero franchise, now washed-up and trying to revive his career by starring in a stage version of a Raymond Carver story that he adapted and directed himself. Also, either he's losing his mind, or he really does have superpowers. Or maybe both.
Movie Review: "Whiplash" B+ October 10, 2014
"Whiplash" is about a demanding teacher trying to coax greatness out of a student, yet it couldn't be further from the saccharine exploits of Mr. Holland, Mr. Dead Poets, and the countless other educators who have inspired their pupils and moved audiences to tears. For one thing, the teacher in this instance is abusive well beyond the acceptable limits of "tough love," more like a drill sergeant than a mentor. For another thing, instead of gently reminding us that we mustn't let pursuing our dreams hinder our personal relationships or prevent us from having functional everyday lives, the film suggests the only way to realize some goals is to ditch everything else.
Movie Review: "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day" D October 10, 2014
Bearing so little resemblance to Judith Viorst's 1972 kid classic that the matching titles may as well be coincidental, the movie version of "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day" is a pointless series of wacky mishaps that befall a generic suburban family over the course of 24 hours. But where many kids' movies pummel the audience, with a message or moral, this one is content to resolve itself without anyone learning anything or overcoming any obstacles. Things turn out OK for everybody in the end, but only through dumb luck.
Movie Review: "Kill the Messenger" B October 10, 2014
"Kill the Messenger" begins with footage of Richard Nixon calling drugs "public enemy No. 1," followed by clips of subsequent presidents reaffirming their commitment to eradicating the foe. This is all prelude to the film's soberingly ironic subject matter: the C.I.A.'s complicity in selling crack cocaine in the 1980s (funneling the money to anti-communist efforts in Nicaragua), followed by the U.S. government's predictable efforts to discredit a journalist who exposed the scheme.
Movie Review: "Annabelle" B- October 3, 2014
In the summer of 2013, a spooky movie called "The Conjuring" struck terror in America's hearts and pants, telling a "fact-based" story about husband-and-wife paranormal investigators checking out a worried family's haunted house in 1971. Among the bedeviled artifacts this couple collected (one that had no bearing on the main story) was a creepy doll named Annabelle. I don't know how the math works, but somehow this means that there's now a movie called "Annabelle," about the doll's origins.
Movie Review: "Gone Girl" B- October 3, 2014
David Fincher, a sly, calculating filmmaker with a fondness for dark themes and plot twists, was a perfect match for "Gone Girl," a 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn that's full of both. The story was lurid, "trashy" crime fiction, but Flynn also offered insightful, incisive commentary on marriage, gender roles, and the lies we tell the people we love. Surely the man who directed "Seven" and "Fight Club" and "The Social Network" would know what to do with that.
Movie Review: "A Walk Among the Tombstones" B- September 19, 2014
Liam Neeson, now deeply invested in his mid-career pivot into revenge-and-justice thrillers that allow him to threaten kidnappers on the telephone before killing them in person, could do a film like A Walk Among the Tombstones in his sleep. Goodness knows enough actors before him have breezed carelessly through a formulaic crime drama or two (or 10) for a paycheck.