stills-6

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Reviews

Coming Through the Rye
(2015)

Angsty feel-good teen flick
Many people will enjoy the crap out of this movie because of its angsty hero and the story of his perseverance in the face of a hostile world. The directional arc of this story is almost religious in its message of faith, of feeling chosen, of attempting to interpret the uninterpretable, and forcing yourself to push through the darkness. If that's what the movie had been about, it would have been an absolute masterpiece. Maybe I'm asking too much for a movie to be so aware of its message that its context and narrative go in that direction also.

Unfortunately, the movie is about the universal nature of the mythic Holden Caulfield character. The screenwriter has done exactly what Salinger told him not to do, to interpret the mythos and reduce it to a cheap psychoanalysis of what that character means. As a fan of the book myself, it's disheartening to see just how misinterpreted it becomes even in the most capable of hands.

Don't get me wrong, this movie is enjoyable in and of itself. The movie itself is great looking and moderately satisfying. Cooper is particularly enjoyable as the man himself, operating as both the wise man on the hill and the man behind the curtain. The filmmaker did a fine job with what he had to work with, which was a flawed script that comes to conclusions that don't quite fit together. The hero on a quest motif works extremely well here, but there were many missed opportunities on the journey to reach for more. The opening half-hour comes from a pretty dark and intense place, but that energy isn't sustained, as it instead veers into syrupy redemption rather than attempting to make any statements about where that darkness and intensity comes from. It's apparently enough just to state it exists, like the dragon that must either be slain or domesticated. I don't dislike this movie, but it's frustrating to see a fairly pat story applied to a very complex subject, and attempt to get away with it by shrugging about what it means. The story could very easily have been about what it means instead of simply the shrug.

The Daughter
(2015)

Real, palpable narrative momentum
Solid generational drama with real, palpable narrative momentum. The actors were fabulous, it looks fantastic, and the script is top notch. It doesn't hurt to have Ibsen behind you, but this movie goes far beyond the constrictions of a stage production. The only real problem for this movie is the obviousness of the premise from very early on. Some of the drama is leaked out of the story because of this. It's still a worthwhile watch though, because it's carried off quite well. The lack of suspense of what the situation is becomes the suspense of what the characters are going to do about it when it plays itself out. And unlike many other movies with this structure, the actors are all up to the task.

5 to 7
(2014)

Flat and weirdly pointless
You expect a romance movie to have something to say about romance, the idea of romance or love. And while this movie has a lot of cheesy dialogue that would point in that direction, it ultimately has nothing to say. And when a romance movie has nothing to say about romance, you would typically expect to see a kind of chemistry that draws you in. And while the female lead attempts to portray this pretty well, the male lead appears to have no idea that his character is in a romance, let alone is in love. And when a movie like this has nothing to say about romance, and has precious little chemistry between the leads, you would at least expect it to have a smart script. Alas, the dialogue leads from one laughably clichéd line to another. The weirdly pointless bench taglines portrayed as "the best writing in NYC" should give us a clue about where the script is going and how the narrative will play out.

Not to say this movie isn't worthwhile in other ways. The character of Jane, the editor, may be the only 3-dimensional one here, and she completely takes over many of the scenes -- of the precious few she's in. Her absence is sorely noticeable when she's not there. The male lead's parents, while not quite as fleshed out as we'd like, are nevertheless extremely enjoyable. The story itself is nothing special -- it plays out as melodrama (stock characters in a situation that forces them to act in stock ways) which isn't necessarily bad if it's well done, but it just isn't.

Something else to mention about the story: The universe in which this story exists is one that rewards and ultimately revolves around complete sincerity. This is intensely aggravating, not just because it makes the whole thing unrealistic, but also as it implies that the people here have no interior lives. That the only thing that matters is what they have chosen to do in a completely sincere manner. That is, the important thing is not who they are, but what they do. For a purportedly delicate character study, this is a weird narrative choice.

There is one piece of irony that is probably not intentional, but which completely destroys any integrity this movie may have had at one point, and the following isn't a spoiler. The line "What would you do for love?" is intended to apply only to the woman and her life decisions, but it ultimately applies to the man as well. Because his own implicit answer to this question is what leads this movie to go into the depths of self-indulgent pretension. All of which could be forgiven if any of the other faults mentioned above were also addressed.

Girlfriend's Day
(2017)

A nice little absurdity
Some will indulge the weirdness, others won't. But if you bail you'll be missing out on a nice little absurdity. It's not exactly laugh-out- loud funny, but it does have its moments, and the cast mostly seems to go along with the idea, playing it mostly as a deadpan film-noir parody. If you think of it that way, it all might fall into place. Odenkirk's world-weary greeting card writer frequenting a card-writer's bar is just a small example. Again, the oddness will put off some people, which is understandable. The narrative, if taken at face value is just as laughable as many other thrillers, but because it's being self-conscious, it has the charm of self-deprecating irony. It can get self-indulgent with how much it falls into this area, and it really has to work to get over its Saturday-Night-Live style setting but I think that's part of the point -- and it does get over itself quite well. And the fact that I'm in love with Amber Tamblyn has nothing to do with this positive review.

Circle
(2015)

The "Reality" Game Show Phenomenon
The current incarnation of the game show, the "reality" show, usually features a large group of people who eventually get winnowed down to a single winner, often through common consensus of the contestants -- voting. This movie is that idea written into a pseudo-plausible sci- fi scenario. Instead of voting people off the island, you vote them off of this mortal coil.

The idea is clever, and the closed-room concept is a great way to keep your filmmaking budget down. But the script focuses on media stereotypes of who we're supposed to expect that people are when the cameras are watching. Which is to say that even though it was inspired by the reality game show phenomenon (alliances, gliding under the radar, obvious villains, shocking twists, etc.) it also took the strict game aspects of it without bothering to examine if those aspects have any validity in an actual real-world setting. Which is to say that the takeaways from the movie aren't really any different from the takeaways of one of those shows. These people are exactly who we would expect them to be and there's no room for nuance. The filmmakers really missed a golden opportunity to allow characters to bloom to demonstrate actual humanity instead of certain "ideal" game theory character types.

This movie answers the question "what if a reality game show really was life or death"? But there is little else to ponder.

The Steps
(2015)

Pretty OK
This movie shot for more than it could handle, in my opinion. It looks like it was intended to be a dysfunctional family comedy like The Family Stone or many other "homecoming" style movies about holidays or meeting the new spouse or whatnot -- there are many movies in this category.

But the overall tone of the movie is less comedy than of a kind of hollow absurdity. The actors appear to have been told to inhabit the script as if it were a Chekhov play. As if the inherently ridiculous things that were happening could be played straight without real- world consequences or effective symbolism.

In a comedy, with a sufficiently comedic tone, those ridiculous moments could be forgiven as just being ridiculous, and you can laugh at the absurdity of it along with (or at) the characters. But they instead try and play those moments off as just that much more extreme moments of personal humiliation that have driven their characters' failures. And instead of exploring those particular ideas, the narrative plods right along as if it were a comedy, almost completely ignoring these moments for the rest of the movie. And the characters tend to drag us down along with them. It gets difficult to watch sometimes because of this awkwardness. This may have been intentional, I don't know. It's certainly possible to blend these elements and have the result come out really well, and you have to give props to the filmmakers for trying, but it's just not there.

There are some pretty good performances here if you can look past its flaws. Lahti is fabulous, as is Chriqui. Ritter is what you might call serviceable -- he seems to be projecting that same sort of awkward conflict between seriousness and comedy -- but he at least seems to get it, whatever that "it" might be in this case. And although the writing gets a little flimsy and self-satisfied at times, it's mostly pretty entertaining. Just don't expect a whole lot.

About Alex
(2014)

Missed opportunity
It hits all the right issues about modern isolation and the nature of friendship, but it hits on them only tangentially and without any depth. And it doesn't really use its theme to its advantage very well. If there's one very positive thing I can say about this movie it's that once a scene gets going it starts to really get going. And then the scene ends way too soon and we're left with a sense of incompleteness. It's as if the director didn't want the players to do too much "acting" to get in the way.

The set-up is weakly explained, the relationship dynamics are barely believable, and the resolution is too neatly tied up. But if you like some of the actors, it will be a pleasant if not terribly worthwhile experience. Overall, it was a missed opportunity to explore how technological progress has affected how we make and sustain friendships in a post-Big Chill world.

Ride
(2014)

Stubbornly insufferable
I'm conflicted.

Normally a movie of this type will be interesting and fun for most of the first 80 minutes and then end in a clunky manipulative way. It is that rare movie that is stubbornly insufferable for more than 80 minutes and then ends in a weirdly satisfying if predictable way.

It can be unbearable at times to watch Helen Hunt try and act her way through her impassively clay-like new face, as if she were a Star Trek Changeling character. It can be maddening at times at how sympathetic and misunderstood she thinks her character is. And it can be frustrating at how mechanical the scene construction and the in your face symbolism feels.

But I have to admit that there is a charming tone that coalesces nicely in the last 15 minutes. You know what's coming, and the unflinchingly cheesy dialogue up to this point is often unintentionally amusing, but when it happens at the end it feels real, just like the ending to the story she's been discussing with her son. There's just enough of a spark there to make you understand why she wanted to make this movie.

Barefoot
(2014)

Implausible and charming
Don't look too deeply. This is a movie that wants to be fun and adventurous and a little bit dangerous. If you're in the right mood, you don't need much more than that. Sure it's ridiculous and implausible and poorly edited, and Scott Speedman only has two gears, and the writing is a little off, and the central relationship is a little creepy on several different levels. No matter. This is one of those movies that is touched by the magic of the movies -- maybe not enough to make it great or even good as a movie, but it has a relentless sparkle-eyed charm that makes it pleasant and irrationally satisfying as an experience.

Last Weekend
(2014)

Misery rises to the level of comfort
The people in this movie are clueless narcissists, very well portrayed. I know people like this, limousine liberals, and this is perfectly spot on. And then the portrayal of their humanity gradually shining through the fog of pretension infects every character and makes for a great movie experience. Patricia Clarkson is once again fabulous in a lead role, and the others play off of her nicely. The pretty scenery doesn't hurt, and the director makes full use of the stunning light show that the California/Nevada mountains provides. I question some of the devices that went nowhere, like the screenplay and the Indian museum. They are not used as devices so much as character filler, most of which is not necessary for our understanding of the characters, but which also doesn't get too much in the way.

I have liked Mays in other things she's done, but I thought she was a bit miscast for the role she was asked to play. I thought the story could have done more with the Nora-Sean couple other than just fill up the house and provide background. Overall though, I really liked the way this movie was put together. It does a very good job of showing how insular this world can be and how people who want for nothing will manufacture their own problems just by calling them problems. Misery rises to the level of comfort. All this without veering off into melodrama. Highly recommended.

Snowpiercer
(2013)

Fails at every level
This movie will separate out the people who truly appreciate what kind of transcendence a really well crafted movie can create and convey to its audience, and the pretentious narcissistic film-goer who likes their fairy tales to be just obtuse enough to make them appear to be relevant morality tales.

Take a look through the reviews of this movie and you will see just how many viewers have been fooled into thinking this movie has something to say. All it does is pander to an audience that wants its dystopian action movies to have enough of a message that it alleviates the guilt of watching a mindless action movie, an affliction that I sadly do not suffer from. Naturally, the "message" has so many divergent ideas that everyone who thinks they've figure it out finds themselves to be correct, much like getting all the right letters in the newspaper Jumble puzzle to spell out the funny answer. Raise your hand if you think this movie agrees with your political beliefs.

It's a mess, all over the place without a cohesive idea that brings it together. I give credit to the Asian actors, and a few of the "Tail Section" actors for doing what they can with a preposterous script in this thinly veiled political pander job to just about everyone. OK, there are plot holes and things that don't make sense, but not everything has to stick to make the whole movie hang together. Lots of movies have these features and aren't sunk by them. But you lose me with such blatant disregard for them. A few minor ideas are explained in great detail, but the key ones are just lost. Don't get me started on the dystopian concept as a whole.

But perhaps most unforgivably, the action sequences are weak. For being in a closed-room story, for being on a freaking train that can't stop or it will die, the action sequences are remarkably muted. They aren't intense enough to be exciting, they're not spectacular enough to be impressive, and they're not clever enough to be interesting. I apologize for writing so much about this movie that I didn't like, but I went into it thinking it was a good idea, and wanted to see what could be done with it. I like closed-room movies like this one, and I really wanted this to be good, but it let me down at every point.

Perfect Sense
(2011)

Ferociously Pretentious
Extremely well-acted, well-written, well-shot art-house dramatization of one of the most ridiculous ideas that might have been dreamt up by a third grader. The preposterousness of the idea and the theory behind the science coupled with the utter seriousness of the production makes it a very weird experience, producing some ill-timed laughter and making it very difficult to get into the movie. It's not the fault of the actors, who do what they can. And some of the camera work and visual imagery is interesting if not completely relevant to the story. Unfortunately, the overall effect is an unfortunate pretentiousness that negates any message or metaphor that might have been intended.

Mr. Morgan's Last Love
(2013)

Very intelligent and and sincere until it becomes stupid and manipulative
What starts as a very intelligent, well-acted movie about the nature of relationships and the need for connection, turns dramatically and disappointingly into a sentimental mushpile of a soap opera, and then gets worse. Extremely well-acted up to a point, the characters are fleshed out as real people and you can for the most part understand and empathize with them. Michael Caine's weird attempt at an American accent doesn't quite undermine his characterization of the professor, but it is distracting and sounds too false. He did a pretty OK American accent in Cider House Rules, but nowhere else.

I was very impressed by most of this movie, including the pretty scenery, and the nicely conceived and rounded characters. About 2/3 of the way through however, it goes off the rails. Another reviewer described this movie as having sincerity, and I would agree with that up to a point. There are few false notes in the script, but when they happen they are real clunkers that drag the movie down like an anchor. This may be because the rest of the movie is so sincere and real that the false notes feel just that more false, but I don't think that's quite it.

There is a very soap opera moment at around the 3/4 point which not only feels contrived, but which pulls the story in a really unsatisfying direction. While it's headed in this disastrous direction it's actually succeeding in giving the characters life in a meaningful and sincere way, but then another ridiculous plot device drives it further into the ground. And then another. And another.

And the ending is just stupid. Unwatchably preposterously stupid. Given what we know these characters have gone through, and how much they've grown as human beings, it's outside the realm of believability and is antithetical to the story, erasing the purpose of the movie and voiding its intelligence with a single swipe. Worse, the movie wants you to view the ending as having the sort of lofty nobility that would cause you to leap out of your seat and applaud, which I find personally disgusting. Would that I had leaped out of my seat earlier and left. If that particular ending was in the original source material, then so much the worse for the source material because as portrayed it didn't do the movie any favors.

It's a Disaster
(2012)

Shallow. Awkward. Irritating.
This is more like an extended Saturday Night Live skit than anything else. That is, the depth, if any, comes from the actors trying to riff on their characters' basic premises while something weird happens off- stage. This movie almost succeeds because of the different depictions of how people deal with a crisis, but comes up short because of the shallowness of the depictions. The funniest parts are the ones that deal with the tension between personal and general crises. But I can't say that the movie is funny because it relies on the absurdity of the situation to generate automatic humor without actually exploring it.

Unfortunately, the acting is not that great and the characters are not that interesting. These are regular suburban types as filtered and parodied by the film & TV industry for decades, and they don't get much beyond their stereotypes. Shallow. Awkward. Irritating. Even the revelations about their characters make them types instead of people. But we don't get much else other than the attempted humor of how vacuous these people are, and how we are supposed to point and laugh at them for being that way. This only goes so far, and extending it for 1.5 hours is too much to take.

I like "closed room" movies because of how the characters are forced to interact with each other and reveal themselves (see "Key Largo" or "The Breakfast Club"), and many give us metaphors for the ways in which we box ourselves in. No doubt the people who made this film think it's a success if someone finds it shallow, awkward, and irritating, because that usually means it's funny. But it wasn't funny enough to overcome the irritation, and I think this was a missed opportunity to do something a heck of a lot better.

Deadfall
(2012)

Well-acted adventure story
A very well-written, well-acted drama disguised as a thriller that will confuse and put off a few people who like their entertainment to be one- way thrill ride explosions. This is not that movie. I think a lot of people might have trouble with the fact that these characters are multi- faceted, don't necessarily act logically, and are simultaneously good and bad people. What we're watching are people with complex motivations, placed in situations that expose their worldview to the limit, revealing their true nature in the process.

This is an adventure story, about survival in an alien environment. As such, it's refreshingly honest and brutal that almost all of characters in the story make stupid mistakes on their way. also, there is no one that acts entirely evil for entirely evil intentions or entirely good for entirely good intentions. The bad guys do good things, the good guys do bad things. The females complain about their treatment because they're women, but then they make errors in judgment that lead us to believe that gender has nothing to do with their special treatment. Etc.

It's the layered character stories like this that makes this movie so interesting, but it's the actors that make the story compelling. The acting in this movie is outstanding all the way around. Wilde is great, Spacek is great, Mara is great. Kistofferson is his usually gruff self; Treat Williams makes for a good authority figure who may or may not be a misogynist; but Eric Bana is phenomenal. Bana gives a performance that is understated at the same time as it is magnetically entertaining.

There are some problems with the somewhat sanitized production that make this a less than real experience. I think this is why this movie is great but not awe-inducingly terrific. Even though a good part of it takes place in the frozen wasteland of rural Upper Michigan, we don't really feel that we're in a frozen rural wasteland the same way we do in, say, Fargo. Much of the production feels boxy and stagey, a little too slick in places, and a little too closed in, when it's supposed to represent the expansive nature of the setting. It might have been able to portray the movie's themes somewhat more effectively had there been more focus on viscerally visual authenticity rather than the attractive cast. But still, it's good viewing, and it's ultimately satisfying.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
(2012)

Failed Downton Abbey Script
Because of the presence of Elizabeth McGovern and other similar traits of an early 20th century English estate family, this movie felt like a failed script for the TV program Downton Abbey. There was no particular compelling reason for this story to be greenlit in the manner it was produced except to take advantage of this similarity.

It's nice to see the subtle anti-romance character traits of the two leads play out over the narrative, but it's more curiously interesting than it is intensely interesting. The sophomoric foreshadowing and symbolism feel extremely contrived and almost insulting. The scenes that should be amusing are not amusing. The cleverish storytelling isn't clever enough to make you want to care about anyone or what happens to them. And the big reveal isn't at all revelatory, but serves more as a device to unlock the grand mystery of why these people behave the way they do. Sad to say, the mystery isn't all that grand and the viewer is left with the bad taste of being inexpertly manipulated.

The Paperboy
(2012)

Unpleasant, and not in a good way
Extremely well-acted for the most part. Just to give you an idea, John Cusack gives the worst performance, and it's not all that bad. And the story idea is great. Fantastic even. I could see a great movie being made out of the narrative flow of the underlying plot. I could have gone without the useless narrator, but fortunately after the first 10 minutes or so, that doesn't make much of a nuisance of itself.

But hoo-boy what a terrible terrible execution of a good idea. As unpleasant a film as you will ever experience, but worse than that, it's pointlessly unpleasant.

"Boy, the swamps sure are a terrible place, look at how terrible they are. Ha, ha. It's so terrible. And The South, what a messed up place that was in the 60s and 70s. Ha, Ha. Look at these people and be horrified."

Absolutely worthless sentimentality drags this movie down at its core and every last ounce of humanity and dimension is wrung out of the characters to serve this sentiment. And to make matters worse, the focus of the narrative is all over the place. I'm sure many of these actors thought they were making an important movie at the time, and they seemed to put something extra into it. It's palpable how much they want to believe in it. Sadly, it was not worth the effort.

Your Sister's Sister
(2011)

Unsatisfying but not unwatchable
The soapy plot provides what may have been intended to be drama, but was instead a contrivance. For almost every scene, you could feel the actors trying to internalize the situation and improvise, almost as if they had read the description of that scene only that morning and were trying to assimilate their characters into it instead of the other way around. The movie kind of has that feel of being written as it is shot, and though this can sometimes cause an actor to grow into their part right before our eyes (and therefore project character growth), it instead is put together like a series of scenes in which these static characters find themselves. There is nothing about the characters that we find out in the course of this movie that we couldn't have guessed right from the beginning. That is, despite the intention of mining character-study type drama from what should be a character-driven dramatic situation, it becomes instead what feels like a bullet-point presentation on the character's reactions to it.

The drinking scene is wonderful, and also the scene of the three of them discussing Iris's conquests. The improvised dialogue absolutely works in these situations, and guides the character portraits in interesting directions. Unexplored and ultimately useless directions, but directions nonetheless. The scenic montage at the end of the movie is nicely done for the situation it portrays, not the least reason because there is very little of the absurdly inauthentic dialogue that plagues the rest of the movie.

Emily Blunt is good as a young widow, but it's not the visceral type of performance you might expect from a movie like this where deep primal feelings are supposedly explored and vented. The tone is oddly light and airy, and the actors may have picked up on that, or they may have caused it. Mark Duplass is particularly reluctant to allow his character to feel more than one thing at once, and it's difficult to tell if it's because the overall tone of the movie veers into melodrama or because he just doesn't believe in his character enough to give him any depth.

Don't get me wrong, this is a very pleasant movie to watch. Blunt is pretty, Duplass has some amusing moments, and DeWitt has a very watchable awkwardly nihilistic manner about her. Usually, with aspects like these, combined with beautiful scenery, a movie isn't tough to get through. But don't expect much else.

--- Spoiler Alert --- As an example of the superficiality of the tone, the only hint of the internal conflict in Iris upon confessing that she's in love with her dead husband's brother is when she says, "Is that weird?" This is a stupendously unsatisfactory line that is delivered as if she were saying she prefers kale over cabbage. From the plot to this point, we are led to believe that there should be other unexpressed conflicted feelings underneath, but there apparently aren't. And because we don't believe and aren't led to understand what is driving her to this conclusion, we can't really buy any of it.

Contagion
(2011)

Blah
Speculative mockumentary, social-consciousness motivated afterschool special for adults has at its heart an interesting premise, but sadly does nothing with it. There is nothing special here except for the basic idea, which for some reason was made into a movie. It's given the "actual" movie treatment, which makes the lack of action, plot, or characterization rather uncomfortably weak and banal.

Some of the sequences have the potential to be compelling drama, but this movie isn't interested in drama. Instead, it's interested in trying to scare the hell out of us by showing just how fragile our existence is, which it does rather clinically. A 500-word article on the subject would have had the same effect.

I would have been happy if it had explored the thin line between human civilization and the animal survival instinct. Or the exploration of anything with any sort of depth -- you know, a movie -- might have been nice. I think there were too many slugs in the shotgun here to portray anything with depth. Focusing on two or three of the stories and actually using narrative technique could have turned this into a nifty scientific object lesson. Instead, we are left with a questionable campfire story with little or no actual narrative value.

Like Crazy
(2011)

Cloying and insincere
I like movies that have this kind of style. The camera work gives the story a naturalistic feel. Unfortunately, this motif isn't kept up and there are plenty of overly-artsy moments that are trying to make shortcuts for, and ultimately supersede, the story.

The great thing about this style of movie is that it enhances the idea of character, because it forces the story to focus on the smaller, telling moments in a relationship. Using this technique to focus on the absurdly decisive moments (as it does here) instead of these telling moments in this relationship counter-intuitively feels inauthentic because cheats the audience out of being able to see them for who they are instead of what they do.

The two leads have very little chemistry, and although this may have been intentional, it also makes watching this movie a very frustrating experience. In addition, their angsty narcissism makes them unlikable. These traits in and of themselves are not movie-killers, and there are plenty of examples of such characters in good movies. However, this movie is trying to steer us in a direction where the pathos for the characters has already been assumed instead of allowing the story to help us generate it on our own. Some of the things they do are outright baffling because we have not been allowed to see their third dimension, and as a result, we may not particularly care what happens to them.

At some point, this movie may have been trying to tell us something about the nature of being in a relationship and why people feel connected to one another, instead of just laying out the foundations of a story about one such relationship. It feels like the skeleton of a story that was never fleshed out because ultimately the details don't matter. Well, the details SHOULD matter and shouldn't be skipped over because that's where the magic happens.

I like most meet-cute sequences. But the first 20 minutes of this movie are so offensively cloying that it was difficult to take the rest of it seriously.

5 Steps to Danger
(1957)

Entertaining for what it is
Poorly directed, poorly staged, and veers into propagandist self-parody, it nevertheless works because of the two leads. Sterling Hayden is fantastic as the everyman drifter, and manages to make the occasionally ham-handed script sound authentic. This is a kind of American-character type study that sets the American everyman as more of a puzzle-solver than an ass-kicker, though both are in evidence. Ruth Roman is somewhat off-putting and passionless, but it's the kind of performance that keeps you guessing and makes you wonder about her. Whether or not that was intentional is debatable. Their relationship is also off-putting, but has a strange resonance, if only because of Hayden's droopy-lipped deadpan.

The somewhat stiff supporting cast, except maybe for Cooper, gives the impression that this is army-issue "What To Do" type stuff for a Cold War audience. And I'm sure there was some of that kind of thinking behind it. The all-seeing Deus-Ex-Machina of the espionage machine is very heavy.

I wonder about people who think that the absence of suspense in a movie like this is a weakness. I suppose if you were expecting thrilling suspense or some kind of a mindless noir-caper style of movie you would be sorely disappointed. The at-times blocky and then wildly uncontrolled staging make it very difficult to sustain a consistent tone, and the director doesn't appear to want to pay attention to any kind of thematic imagery. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this makes the threat posed by the story seem more artlessly plausible, and the tension created revolves around psychological issues rather than mortal ones. If any attention had been paid to the implications of this idea, it might be a better movie. As it is, it's mostly entertaining and highly watchable.

Two for the Seesaw
(1962)

Has not aged well
Aside from the occasionally ridiculous dialogue, the claustrophobic sets, and Mitchum's stone face, this is a very pretty B/W experience. The Dance sequence is especially nice. Unfortunately, the male/female dynamic is horribly dated. This was intended to be the meeting of 50s conservatism with 60s licentiousness. And although that dynamic still exists in our society, the attitudes that drove these characters are long gone.

The bare story is about two people who need to have other people depend on them. The power in the relationship shifts back and forth between the two characters, never actually being equal. This is an interesting idea, and there are some interesting passages. The script is peppered with some nice exchanges and some really weird "huh?" moments. However, as is most important for a closed-room movie of this type, the two leads don't really have much chemistry. You never get the sense that they believe the words they're speaking.

The Woman in Black
(2012)

Not spooky, not scary, not creepy, and worst of all, not interesting
Attempting a creepy vibe, this movie doesn't succeed. Instead of building the creep factor, it only manages to build impatience.

In the first 10 minutes, the scene is set perfectly for a good old fashioned ghost story. And for some reason, the next hour is devoted to little except maddeningly tedious scene-setting ambiance. Blinking shadows, clattering mechanical toys, and faces in the window, during which the plot is not moved forward.

Radcliffe is OK, but he doesn't really show the rising levels of fright, frustration, or anything really that might have made the sequences useful. A better actor (or more experienced, if you like) would be able to come unhinged at least a little bit and make the movie more interesting, even if just for those 40 minutes. The role calls for someone who can carry this movie alone, and he's not there.

As for the ending, I'll just say this: the resolution comes all too easily and the "plot" seemed ultimately pointless, with the end a complete mushy letdown. Not spooky, not scary, not creepy, and worst of all, not interesting.

One for the Money
(2012)

Surprisingly enjoyable despite itself
Very enjoyable light entertainment. A crime story that revolves around a clueless but persistent woman. The crime itself isn't all that important, and the focus is not on the narrative drive forward (which is good because it's kinda predictable). The focus is instead on the character of the female lead. Oddly, it's not about her growing as a character, or even about her getting more and more confident about her chosen line of work. It's not even about proving herself to everyone that she is capable.

The story is about persistence, about how this character is somehow ideally suited for this situation, but just lacks the knowledge to be truly successful.

If this wasn't such a light and airy movie, I would suspect that it was a metaphor for living in the age of the Internet, where knowledge is a commodity and anyone who has access to specific areas of knowledge can be an expert. Alas, it's a little less than that.

Unfortunately for the movie, the lack of character depth and the cumbersome box-like production make it seem very TV-ish. Like this was the pilot episode of a series. It also suffers from useless-narrator syndrome. I didn't read the book, but I suspect the source material may share some of the blame for that via lazy exposition.

Speaking from a guy's point of view about what is essentially a chick movie, it doesn't hurt that Heigl is hot, has a nice smile, and can handle a gun. And is a pretty good actress, sure, yeah... that. The casting could have been a lot worse. I would watch Heigl in just about anything if she stayed brunette.

Pieces of April
(2003)

Outstanding
From the initial scene of the ordeal of getting April up in the morning to the final shots, this was one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen in a long time. And it's enjoyable on many different levels -- it's funny, charming, weird, intelligent, and it has a real honest heart to it that isn't nearly sentimental or gushing. The psychological depth of this movie is astounding; and the characters, though there are many of them, are well realized. It is very clear that this film was made with a lot of care and compassion. With the possible exception of Wayne (overdone by a miscast Sean Hayes, reminiscent of the cringe-inducing Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's), you felt real emotion from every character. Katie Holmes is great as the disaffected daughter and Patricia Clarkson is just fantastic in a very complicated role. Well made and well acted. Highly recommended.

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