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Everybody Wants Some!!

Not about a decade - just an amazingly specific character study that takes place over 3 days in 1980
I went because I thought it would be an "80's Dazed and Confused." But it was so not that, so much better than that. I got to tell you about it. Whereas Dazed was a "generalized" version of the 70's (with a bit too much 90's still in the lens), this movie is about a highly specific group of people (college baseball jocks) at a very specific moment in time (3 days before the start of fall semester 1980, which any nerd can tell you is still technically, not to mention stylistically still very much part of the 70's) at a Texas university (presumably UT Austin). Where Dazed featured over-the-top wacky 70's characters who repeated "catch phrases", this movie is about some very real guys dealing with the transition from being the best athlete in their high school to just an average player at the bottom of the heap who has to get used to being humble and proving himself. Trust me. Go to see the movie that proves 12 years of making "Boyhood" has transformed Linklater to an auteur without peer. This movie is so perfectly in tune, light as a feather but with the full weight of an honest character study, played by an ensemble cast very much in tune with one another. Memorable characters for sure, but never overblown and always breathtakingly real. This is an amazing film. And the soundtrack is sheer perfection.

Love & Mercy

Walking the Fine Line Between Genius and Insanity
Paul Dano takes us on a descent into madness not yet seen on film. Paul Giamatti chews the scenery ferociously but never steps over the line - a truly scary villain. I laughed, I cried, I swooned but mostly I had to keep consciously closing my slack jaw for fear of drooling. Elizabeth Banks is also amazing as the Cadillac Woman of the 80s making it on her own after a tough scrape with love, Cusack is fine as always as the older shell of a man Brian would become, over-medicated and afraid of his shadow. Supporting performances all nuanced and fleshed out, from the loving brothers to the angry cousin and angrier dad, Murray, seriously butt hurt over being fired by the boys who still pine for his approval and acceptance.


Entourage: The Marky Mark Wahlburger Story
In the late 90s, the unlikely bubblegum rapper-cum-underwear model- cum-actor really did seem like the coolest guy in Hollywood. He became famous playing clueless lunkheads in some pretty brilliant films for which he was probably given too much credit, and in some real stinkers for which he was probably not given enough blame (made you miss the subtle acting chops of Charlton Heston in the horrendous remake of Planet of the Apes). But that was then. Apart from a late acting career hit in "Ted", he is mostly known now as a TV producer and reality TV show star. A decade ago the TV show about his personal group of insiders seemed like a desirable glimpse into his charmed life of debauchery and privilege. Now it just seems stale and aging. Like a "Sex In The City" for men, it worked as exploitation titillation substituting Ferraris for Manolo Blahnik shoes and Tequila for Cosmos. And like that show, it was very much of its time and TV itself and did not survive the transition to the Big Screen.

Far from the Madding Crowd

Gone with the Whirlwind of Fate
I love Thomas Hardy books but as films they usually end up slow- moving, morose and/or heavy handed. As this was his "sunny" novel, I was cautiously optimistic but not super enthused. Perfect way to walk in: only vaguely aware of the story, hadn't seen the previous version, no one I know has seen it or is talking about it. So, overall very impressed. Really fun, if strangely modern for something written in 1874 as "present day." OK, stop here if you're afraid of spoilers. (but seriously, what are you doing reading reviews if you are? just go see the bloody thing and then check if you should have gone or not) Anyway, independent, and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (the lovely and charming Carey Mulligan), is like a British Scarlett O'Hara; of course she has plenty of suitors, including Gabriel Oak, a loyal and upstanding sheep farmer played by an appropriately rugged and approachable Matthias Schoenaerts, Frank Troy, a feckless and reckless military officer (an overly coiffed and elaborately manscaped Tom Sturridge); and William Boldwood, a brooding older and wealthy gentleman who sees their pairing as a pleasant and logical convenience (the always brilliant Michael Sheen). Like Scarlett, she is more interested in preserving her own self- possession than giving into the whims and dominance of any man and therefore swats away marriage proposals like flies at a barbecue, even as she faces an uncertain future. In quick measure Hardy's fickle finger of fate causes her to inherit her childhood farm from an heirless uncle just as it cuts Oak down to a farm hand. So however plucky a Victorian single lady as she is, she does end up relying on the kind assistance of her former suitor to help her in her new role as "woman farmer." Things are going along swimmingly for a while, but as tough and smart she is, she does foolishly succumb to the mildly erotic charms of Sergeant Eyebrows. A little swordplay and she's off to a secret marriage, despite the only slightly self-interested warnings of the sturdy and steady Mr. Oak. As luck would have it, Oak is proved correct in his suspicions of the dandy soldier boy on the night of their wedding when his warnings of an impending storm are blithely dismissed in favor of drunken revelry. Her marriage goes downhill from there and even as the ever-escalating array of Hardyesque tragedies pile up, the ending is ultimately happy, satisfying, and mostly believable.

While We're Young

Perfect in its Imperfection
Although ostensibly about an aging documentarian (the remarkably restrained and cogent Ben Stiller) who gets the "All About Eve" treatment from a young, apparently doe-eyed fan (Adam Driver), that this exhaustively soup-to-nuts treatise on truth, aging, parenting, flirting, cheating, ambition, self-love, selflessness, morality, mortality and every synonym, antonym and homophone in between somehow works at all is a minor miracle. That it also happens to be in nearly equal parts fun, charming, and light, as well as serious, irritating and heavy-handed is testament to the flawed genius that is Noah Baumbach. For it surely is genius on some level, (perhaps the first Oscar worthy film of 2016?) just as it is most definitely flawed, even tortured, much like the 7 hour sophomore documentary on which the lead character has squandered 10 years of his and his wife's (the always amazing Naomi Watts) youth. I can't reveal how and why their lives get intertwined, the details of his abortive relationship with his father-in-law (the sublime and much-missed Charles Grodin) or all of pontificating about how the ever evolving rules of documentary filmmaking have intersected with and naturally been corrupted by the influences of reality television, celebrity culture and timeless youthful capriciousness. My reticence is neither out of respect for nor fear of violating the high Internet "spoiler" ethic, but because the details only barely matter anyway and frankly only barely make sense at all. Unlike Stiller's character's doc, however, I would not have advised that he cut any of the nonsense because it was all at least funny, some of it in fact quite affecting. I would so much rather be touched, moved and/or emotionally informed by what the kids like to call randomness but what people my age would primly describe as "flawed" storytelling, than I would to sit through another cold 3- act perfectly flaked, formed and arched drama that Hollywood demands of its denizens. Feh. Now that independent film has truly been co- opted by the same mediocre middle-weight managers who treat scripts like commodities, directors like pimps and actors like party guests to be paraded in front of their powerful friends, a film like this that actually traffics in humanity and decency is so rare it can be forgiven virtually any flaw. In fact, its imperfection should be reveled in since this is the last of its kind.

Magic in the Moonlight

Magic or Not?
Woody Allen's 45th film in as many years, the wondrously poetic yet intellectually dazzling "Magic in the Moonlight", proves once again that he is the greatest living American director. Virtually without peer, besides the prodigious output, no one moves as effortlessly between styles and genres while still managing to grapple with the usual existential themes in new and exciting ways: is love really real, magical vs. rational thinking, cynicism vs. optimism. Like the master magician here played so brilliantly by Colin Firth, he manages to use illusion to ensnare you, to keep you guessing at the outcome despite his classicist's adherence to form and tradition. But like an artist, he is also as enthralled as we, as lost in the journey, as anxious about the final determination of the question of life's purpose and meaning or complete lack of it. Once again he proves that he is both right and wrong in his cynical outlook on life, that rationality and irrationality can coexist perfectly, that one cannot judge or evaluate the other fairly as neither has a framework to understand the other. Absurd and frothy on the one hand, nuanced and emotional on the other, it manages to be at once a light, popular entertainment and great work of cinematic art.


Lucky there's a family guy who isn't ashamed of being a GUY
If you can believe it, we loved it. Don't care what the critics say, obviously. But you know why they hate it. Stubbornly suburban, vaguely sexist, more like sketch comedy lacking a finely crafted story arc, and definitely an unashamedly traditionalist pro-family view of "boys need dads and girls need moms." So that's Sandler's POV. You can go to the art house to see witty, urbane and progressive films (and we do) or to the multiplex to see the endless parade of horror, action, YA and/or comic book dumb dumb fare. (and we don't) But I'm still glad there's room in this world for Adam Sandler movies. Because they're funny and human.

Breathe In

Auteur Drake Doremus reveals a dark, cynical heart
At the risk of reading too much into writer/director Drake Doremus' slow-moving, creepy film, the psychological markers are so easy to see that it's impossible not to muse about the mind behind this predatory fantasy. The movie begins as it ends with a smiling, suburban family posing for pictures on their lushly manicured mini-estate. The conceit is that you will look at this 'picture-perfect' family differently at the end ... you will literally see the scars of their phony baloney lovey-dovey upper middle class dystopian existence. OK, cool Gen-Y hipster filmmaker, go for it. Tell us one more time why bourgeois values are at best naive and otherwise mostly hiding lives of quiet desperation and painful denial.

Alright, to begin with you are projecting yourself in the character of the main lead, I assume? (who knows to what extent he may also see himself the doe-eyed temptress but we'll leave that possibility to the experts) I know he's you because "musician forced to work as a teacher" = "artist in another medium who has had to make commercial sacrifices" isn't a big leap, right? I mean, you must have waited tables or something until you got your big break. And its always possible you might have to once again get a "day job" in the future (especially after opening weekends in the low 5 figures)

And this is sometime in the future, right? Something bad happened to force our hero into this gilded yet stultifyingly dull and demeaning cage in which he has found himself trapped for nearly 18 years? What was it? Oh yeah, his wife got pregnant and she forced him to 1) move from studio apartment in the dingy yet magical city to suburban hell and 2) get a "day job" that he hates even as he begrudgingly admits that "at least its teaching music." Nice guy. So much for "giving back." Damn students stealing what hasn't been picked over of your soul by the scheming wife and non-artistic daughter.

So you can see where this is going, with its disdain for "ordinary people" only barely disguised and the almost always attendant "rules don't apply to special people like artists" libertine philosophy.

Mind you, Mr. Repressed, Long Suffering Artist doesn't technically ever cross any legal lines. The script makes a point of letting us know early on how he resists the longing looks from the luscious exchange student who is, after all, a completely legal 18 (although he is still her teacher AND guardian).

But just for good measure, he presents the wife as a domineering dilettante over-obsessed with crockery. The daughter isn't much better. She's a drunk who actually had sex with the bad boy the wiser exchange student wouldn't let touch her.

Well, you know the heart wants what the heart wants, and the beautiful vixen does offer him an escape from this humdrum drudgery. And after all, they're both artists and the wife and daughter are at best artisans and/or amateur athletes. Not as evolved and deserving of romance as our star-crossed musicians.

I'll stop right there because despite over an hour of excuses, justifications and attempts to "gray" the facts of a married 40- something father actively pursuing an 18 year old, the bottom line doesn't change one smidgen. Despite Doremus' valiant attempts to muddy the water by assassinating the characters of not only his wife and daughter, but the exchange student, and virtually all of the students and even his neighbors. Everybody is weak, if not outright sleazy EXCEPT for him. He's just a poor befuddled artist who can't decide whether to follow his heart in search of art, truth and freedom, or stay chained to his loser life as a harangued husband with an ungrateful and unworthy family, friends and students. But in the end the man is still completely AND SOLELY at fault and all the others he hurts are innocent of his reckless, destructive behavior and complete disregard for his family. His punishment is being able to keep this outwardly idyllic life. But WE now know that it is a sham and only a single, urban existence of art and sex with teens is a truly authentic, satisfying existence. Thanks for the insight, bro. There is obviously so much the rest of us can learn from Hollywood screenwriter/directors trying to justify bad behavior.


Mom's mad at dad again
a frighteningly and hilariously uncomfortable observance of the personal and sexual politics among family and community in a classic mid-western setting: an eternal struggle between taciturn men and their fiery wives who have to talk sense to them in short, vitriolic diatribes to keep the bullies, louts and drunkards in check. It's long and meandering but well worth it for the cathartic recognition of the kind of repressed yet angry passion that have ensnared many of us for much of our lives. On a softer side, a touching look at a man's attempt to connect with his aging alcoholic father and a journey of family discovery both light and dark.

Don Jon

I loved this movie until I saw it
I've been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt since his first recurring role on a series, as David Collins in the prime time revival of Dark Shadows. Although I kind of lost interest in 3rd Rock after the first few years, I was blown away by his fearless, aggressive turn in the 2001 indie Manic. From then on I have avidly anticipated his films and virtually never been disappointed. He seems to be one of the few actors who can slip easily between edgy, quirky character studies and big budget popcorn fare without sacrificing his own unique charm, style and vulnerability.

So much so that I almost resisted seeing "Thanks For Sharing" last week out of fear that it would compare so unfavorably to this similarly- themed investigation into the thrills and perils of sex addiction. I could not have been more wrong. Whereas Mark Ruffalo delivered a nuanced, engaging and very believable portrayal of a man struggling with his objectification of women and it attendant intimacy issues in that film, JG-L seems here to be engaged in some sort of Funny or Die YouTube parody of Jersey Shore. I'm still reeling a full 24 hours later at not only his lack of understanding or remotest sensitivity for the material, but his complete lack of credibility in the role. He was everything he never is: mannered, stiff (not in a good way) and really kind of vague in his choices. I'll let others complain about the holes in the storytelling, clunky dialog, laughably obtuse attempts at sexual satire and the cartoonish supporting cast (apart from the always ethereal but mostly wasted presence of Julianne Moore).

The main takeaway, the one that I find truly mystifying if not downright disturbing is the work of the auteur himself. All I can suggest is that he get himself to the filmic equivalent of a nunnery and stay there in penitent seclusion until he has thoroughly paid for this sin, as well as seriously confronting not only his strengths but also his limitations as an artist. At 10 he was a protégé but at 32 he should be much more prepared before attempting such lofty creative feats lest he end up an overnight cessation.

Bright Lights, Big City

Dim Bulbs, Bad Acting
It's easy to hate Michael J. Fox's "Gee Whiz Doc! I dropped the coke in the toilet!" performance but please consider all the other serious contenders for movie moronistocracy here. Keifer is SUPPOSED to be playing a successful, EDUCATED (if decadent) Ivy league Preppie, not a scuzzy New Jersey druggie. His accent veers wildly from Brooklyn Paluka to Malibu surfer. Frances Sternhagen spits out every line with the a cartoonish venom of a spinster schoolmarm and Swoozy Kurtz is positively motherly as his long-suffering, over-concerned colleague (who he makes a pass at in the book but here she seems to be more interested than he is for presumably obvious reasons). Jason Robards makes a wasted (and I do mean wasted) cameo as a slurry by-the-numbers drunk. Even John Houseman looks disoriented and uncomfortable in his role as the boss editor. But the worst is Fox's real-life wife Tracy Pollan. Supposed to be the bookish, intellectual cousin of Sutherland's character, she is a blonde bobblehead indistinguishable from the other blonde bobbleheads who populate the nightclub scenes. The only thing remotely watchable in this movie (mesmerizing actually) is Fox's hand. He rubs his face, bites his nail, scratches his chin and when it gets wrapped it a bandage following a ferret bite (! don't ask), then the hand really starts working overtime. At least it helps pass the 2 hours because there is nothing else going on in this star-studded fiasco. And yes, the book is brilliant. Go read the book instead.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I started out as Brad and blossomed into a Frank N Furter
Mere days after the UK premiere and a few weeks before the US premiere, I moved with my parents from the real Denton, Ohio (Toledo) to the closest thing we had to the planet of Transsexual in 1975 (Los Angeles). A few years later I worked at a movie theatre which rescued itself for a short time from the inevitable obliteration of the old fashioned single screen movie house via twice weekly (!) midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." It changed me forever and I shall always be thankful for that. An awkward, bi-spectacled dork, I was shocked to see my high school classmates give themselves over to absolute pleasure in a way I'd never suspected as I tried to blend in with them for those years. I quit that job a few months later (trying to go to college while working until 3:30 AM every Friday and Saturday proved to be a Sword of Damocles however exhilarating it was viscerally). But I never forgot the fresh faces of my classmates in throes of that rush of lust from the pelvic thrust. I realized no matter who you are or where you go, you can always be seduced by the sonic transducer. So I shook off the nice guy pathology of Brad and determined to never dream it, always be it. Just went to see the way they do it now a few weeks ago with the Sins O' The Flesh cast at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles. Happily it was more or less as I'd left it a decade or so before ... a perfectly lovely mixture of hopeless nerds and hipper-than-ever scenesters, virgins and de-flowerers. Enchanté indeed.

Grace of My Heart

Pop Movie Hits All the Right Notes
One of my favorite movies of any genre. You may be put off at first by the efficient TV movie opening which quickly and perhaps a bit glibly sums up the relationship of a domineering, aristocratic mother and quirky daughter who yearns to break free of her privileged suburban upbringing to become a pop music singer. But hang in there. A few scenes later you realize the rapid pacing and concise storytelling is the director's unusual and apparently risky choice of creating a film in the manner of it's subject: the breezy and innocently naive world of pop music of the late 1950s and early 60s. You will soon become captivated by the plucky "That Girl" adventures of the heiress turned streetwise bubble gum songstress (played to perfection by the creamy, otherworldly Illeana Douglas) as she defers her dreams of pop stardom to write some of the biggest hits of the girl (and boy) group era. The ensemble is brilliant, including the lovably domineering John Tuturro as the Svengali-like visionary producer and the pouty, preening ego-maniacal boyfriend and writing partner (Eric Stolz). The rest of the characters are amalgams of many of the legends of 60s pop music our heroine meets on the journey toward finding her own voice. And if any of this seems too familiar, it is loosely based on the amazing life and career of Carole King. In some ways, this is the female bookend to another great, under appreciated movie about pop music of this era, "The Idolmaker." But don't go dismissing this as a "girl's movie," just because it's director Allison Anders is perhaps the finest female auteur in the business. This is a story that crosses sex, age and all other boundaries. For anyone who has ever felt they didn't fit in, who tried to please everyone and played it safe, waiting to follow their own dreams until "the time was right," and then woke up afraid that it was too late ... this is a story for you. And the soundtrack. My God, the soundtrack. Far from parody, slavish recreation or disco-influenced revisionism, Ms. Anders has wisely chosen some of the heavyweights of the era to create pop hits that easily could have been hits on their own merits. The film is chock full of wondrous, alternate universe creations by such composers as Burt Bacharach and King's real-life partner Gerry Goffin, and even one by her daughter Lousie Goffin. This film is a joy from the first frame to the last. More than an homage to an era, it is an important addition to its story. "But what if I can't just write another song?" "Keep your eyes and ears open ... everyone is in pain"


Too much Dick!
... Tricky and the other kind. It is funny at first but distracting and mildly irritating later on.

Otherwise, some great performances (Jackie Earle Haley especially) and an interesting, if very dated premise. Alternate histories end up being fairly restricted to the narrow line of what changed to cause the principle effect (in this case, Nixon winning 5 terms instead of resigning) and the immediate vicissitudes that result. They often make overblown assumptions about what would have had to have changed (Woodward & Bernstein's assassinations instead of, say, an ounce of professional prudence on the part of Ben Bradlee) and what might have resulted (the end of the Cold War!!!) That might have been pretty ponderous stuff in 1985, when this was written. A few short years later the entire premise would be obsolete and remain so two decades later.

Shanghai Surprise

The worst lead actress performance in a major American release EVER
There is no reason to struggle with justifications, nor to reach for words to describe such an amateurish, hackneyed, stilted, banal ... well, there I go. Just suffice to it say that it is completely understandable why the talented Mr. Penn reportedly chose to stay drunk for every shooting day of this miserable, limp, pointless ... you see where I'm going. However bad you remember it to be, you must re-see it to believe it. Madonna is the worst American actress of all time without peer. The only thing she's done on film that is worth seeing is Evita (a music video) and "Desperately Seeking Susan" (in which she has little dialog and rolls her eyes a lot).

Savage Grace

Salacious and Boring -- now that takes effort!
True or not, a random series of alternately tawdry and horrifying events do not a cohesive narrative make. Just because something really happened doesn't necessarily mean it's a story worth telling.

What was the point here? Avoid having a menage-a-trois with your son and his boyfriend as it may lead to a stomach ache? Don't respond to your husband stealing your gay son's girlfriend by having sex with some anonymous troll of a cab driver? Keep up on those RSVPs or they will make for an unsightly "in" basket in the foyer? Who knows? Who cares? Was he "bi" because he did his mom? Was daddy comparatively sane for running like hell away from both of them? You know, we have an outlet for such nasty true crime stories and they are mostly aired at late hours on A&E. That's where this belongs. Pronto.

Mommie Dearest

I think you're overacting, Miss Dunaway
"I think you're overreacting, Miss Crawford" ... "I'm not acting" -- Faye Dunaway chews the scenery in a performance Joan herself would have envied. After all, Joan once said that Faye was "the only movie star left in Hollywood." It's not a facocta Broadway play. It's a movie within a movie about movies. It's Commedia dell Arte at an operatic pitch in black face (which Joan herself wore in the movie "Torch Song.") Yes, it's all a gawd-awful mess but that's what makes it so fun. It's not about acting. It's about movie stars playing movie stars and the ultimate truth that involves.

"Box office Poison" -- They circled the wagons and made her pay for daring to make fun of them. It goes to prove the theory that Hollywood was created and is maintained by the freaks and geeks who were teased in school and have no sense of humor at how ridiculous they and their little "art form" truly are.

"With me, feeling is more important than money" -- Make no mistake: if this movie would have made $100 million, it would be on AFI's Top 100 and Miss Dunaway would have gotten her fourth Oscar nomination. Don't think for one minute this isn't about the Benjamins.

"That son of a bitch is trying to ruin my career" -- Frank Perry is the genius of the soft drink world! Too bad he makes movies. He didn't have a clue how to rein in and control this Category 5 Hurricane of a performance.

"You've always given me my share of bad scripts because you knew I'd make them work!" -- It's the script, LB. Too many writers, too many points of view, too many scenes, and ... to quote Amadeus, another over the top biopic: "too many notes."

"Bad with you, good with others" -- Anne Bancroft would have been brilliant but boring. Oh, sure, character development, Smart-Aleck back-story, nuance … so what! Would she have slammed Diana Scarwid's head against the floor, back handed Rutanya Alda full force, smashed a glass lamp and near toppled to the ground herself in one fluid explosion of furious kinetic intensity? I think not. Ms. Bancroft would have been far better suited to playing one of Crawford's more composed, dignified rivals, for example, the forgettable Norma Shearer or the superb Greer Garson.

"No studio, no money … I don't know what I'm gonna do" -- And so she was cast out of the golden city, forced to take refuge in Europe and … television. (Do you know how shameful that is to her??) But the truth was, she was getting old. That was the truth to face and deal with. She needed bot-ox if she wanted to survive.

"I'll only speak well of you" -- And now she will barely discuss it. Not that I blame her. The ferocity of her rejection by Hollywood is matched only be the fictional firing of Joan by LB Mayer in this film. Of course, in reality Ms. Crawford asked legendary agent and eventual studio mogul Lew Wasserman to get her out of her contract and make the deal to move to Warner Bros. But that was neither tragic nor humoresque enough for these screenwriters.

"I could be mother and father to a kid" -- As Joan tended to do in her later movies, Faye takes over the male and female lead roles, relegating male co-stars to be window dressing for her histrionics. Again, a more truthful depiction of Hollywood movie making has rarely been seen. This isn't just a star vehicle, this is vehicular co-star slaughter.

"Something good had to have rubbed off" -- Mark my words, this movie and Faye's performance will continue to grow in stature, eventually all but erasing memories of our Joan, just as Crawford's own late career Grand Guignol performances in such films as "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" and "Strait Jacket" forever replaced affection for decades of her often very popular films since her breakthrough silent movie role in "Our Dancing Daughters" in 1928. How sad that is.

"But nobody ever said life is fair Tina. I'm bigger, I'm faster and I'll always beat you."


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