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Boring, Long, and Boring
Who was this movie made for? It starts as a cute little story about a GMO pig/hippo who's loved by the girl who raised her in the mountains of Korea. The animal is intelligent, understands English AND Korean, and is a gentle giant. Sounds like a kid's movie, right? Well it's full of eff-bombs, harrowing situations, and a couple of characters get the crap beat out of them, showing gratuitous gore. So is it for adults? Jake Gyllenhaal is a great actor, so I'll blame the director for turning him into a shrill, cartoonish, malevolent sadist. Tilda Swinton is a great actor, so I'll blame the writer(s) for making her irredeemably horrible.

Is it a message movie? Is it about the evil of GMOs? Because the pig-thing is the best thing in the movie, and I want one. Is it about the evil of carnivores? Nothing shows us anything but that animals die to give us meat. We knew that.

Nothing good happens here, don't waste your time, and don't let your kids see it.

The Kings of Summer

Loved this Coming of Age Film
Three high-schoolers can't take their parents overbearing and well-meaning but sometimes thoughtless gestures of "love", and decide to run away and live in the woods, living off the land and hunting for food. They spend the summer bonding, learning, and regretting.

I loved this very charming, very funny, and very thoughtful movie. The kids were amazing and three-dimensional, and the parents were as well. The boys who played the three leads were un-actory (if that's a word), and except for a couple of brief moments,you never caught them acting. Aside from the fact that this movie was filmed just moments from my home, and I recognized so many areas, it was beautifully shot and really well acted. The only thing that prevents me from giving it 5 stars is a climactic point that felt wrong (not giving away any spoilers). It changed the tone of the movie and felt like it was orchestrated by a studio committee to make it more of a "summer movie". If you saw Mud with Matthew McConaughey, it's exactly the same plot point, and felt exactly wrong in that film too.

I don't like "heartwarming". Heartwarming feels sappy, trite, and contrived in so many movies, but in this one it felt real and organic.

Kings of Summer is a really good, really small film and I'm recommending it to anyone who loves non-blockbuster, non-explosion, non-superfluous and gratuitously bloody summer movies. This one is a keeper.

Oz the Great and Powerful

The Terrible Wizard of Oz
James Franco is miscast as the hustler/con-man/magician at the heart of the story. He's a small-time magician who plays traveling carnivals and mystifies the small-time folk with his tricks. There's a tornado (of course), and when it passes, he's dropped into the vibrant and beautiful land of Oz, complete with fairies, munchkins, flying monkeys (more like evil baboons with enormous fangs), Winkies, and witches.

Sam Raimi is a great director, and the film is visually stunning, especially in 3D. The transition between black-and-white Kansas and Technicolor Oz is striking, and the screen actually widens to take in all the CGI glory. The animated porcelain doll was a masterpiece, and the traveling bubbles were beautiful. The visual effects earned my score of three stars and even the opening credits were terrific. The rest of the movie was really, really bad.

Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz are very beautiful witch-sisters, and they're both good actresses. Rachel Weisz was especially effective in her role. Mila Kunis was working against type, and I think it was a stretch of her acting muscles. Too bad, with stronger direction and less reliance on CGI, they could have made the movie so much more.

James Franco played the Wizard-wannabe as a hapless stoner; there were times when it appeared that he was reading cue cards and this was the first time he had actually seen the script. He's a good actor, but it appears he didn't know whether he was playing for comedy, thrills, or horror. All of those emotions played on his face as if he were mugging for a silent movie.

Which brings up another question: Who is the audience for this movie? It's far too intense for little ones, but teens and adults will be bored. For my part, Franco's "phoning-it-in" style of anchorless acting became so distracting it took me out of the movie and I left before the last 30 minutes. I walked out of this film, and I NEVER walk out of movies. It was that bad.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Indeed.

Stand Up Guys

Charming Actors, Disappointing Story
Val (Al Pacino) is released from prison after 28 years. His best friend Doc (Christopher Walken) is there to greet him and give him a place to stay. The movie covers the next 22 hours as they eat, drink, carouse, drink some more, steal drugs, steal a car, "rescue" their friend Hirsch (Alan Arkin) from a nursing home, carouse some more, and make peace with the fact that one of them is being forced to kill another.

The story is very simplistic and unrealistic. The paradigm is that writers are supposed to write what they know; it's clear that Noah Haidle was imagining a scenario in which an aging nursing home resident on IVs and oxygen could disconnect both and take over as wheel man of a stolen car and outrun the police. He imagined that a couple of sexagenarians could be stronger and quicker than criminals half their age. He imagined that a woman who had been kidnapped and violated would want her next move to be a sandwich with some old men. Since Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino apparently needs a gratuitous dance sequence with a very young woman. It had no bearing on the story and seemed out of place. But it added about six minutes to a 95 minute movie.

So take this film as what it is: a fairy tale for three terrific actors. Hopefully better work awaits.


Ethan Hawke? Actor? Author? Director? What did he see in this? The first two thirds were really excellent. Lots of suspense, jolts, mystery and twists. I even bought the supernatural aspects of the plot. Then it got derivative, disappointing, and predictable. Ethan Hawke plays a writer looking for the next great story and moves his family into a home where a horrible crime occurred and a child disappeared. His kids start acting strange, he finds some old movies that depict possibly-related murders, he starts drinking and not sleeping, then discovers the attic full of vermin and more snuff films. The ending is telegraphed an hour before it happens, our hero's actions come too little, too late, and I'm bored just writing about it. Maybe a viewing on Netflix, but don't waste your money at the theater.

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

How Did They Turn a Compelling Story into a Boring Endurance Test?
The story is intense, compelling, and extraordinary. Genesis loves Lady Jaye, and she loves him. Instead of having children, they decide to artificially alter themselves to fuse their identities, essentially mutating into surgically-enhanced twins. She gets rhinoplasty to mimic his nose. He gets breast implants and lip injections to look like her. Though not specifically mentioned, it's inferred that there are lots of drugs on board.

As a lover of performance art, I was excited and curious about the premise and execution of this "pandrogynous" experiment. Then how did the director make such a bland, slow, and boring movie? Why was there so much concert footage? Seriously, it felt like there was 20 minutes near the end that was just industrial garage-band noise. And since this story is essentially a love story, why are there no interviews with Lady Jaye? I realize that her availability was unexpectedly limited, but there's lots and lots if footage of her, but never her voice or perspective.

This film was disappointing and tedious, and could have been so much more.

Paul Williams Still Alive

The Paulie and Steve Show: Brilliant!
I saw this film at the Cleveland International Film Festival, with the director Stephen Kessler, and Paul Williams in attendance. The film is funny, poignant, sad, ecstatic, and riveting.

Is the film about Stephen or about Paul? Both. Stephen reveals himself as a worshipper of pop culture and the 70s, and the target of his adoration, Paul Williams, is a fully- realized three-dimensional icon of his generation. The portrait of the eponymous artist is mirrored in the eyes and film of the director. I loved the obvious admiration and adoration shown throughout the film, and it doesn't hide or white-wash its subject's errors and faults.

Truly a beautiful and elegant film. See it.

Kai apkabinsiu tave

Boring, Slow, and More Boring
I saw this at the Cleveland International Film Festival with a Lithuanian in a theater full of Lithuanians. Ruta is a young girl who fled to America with her mother right after WWII and the Communist occupation of Lithuania. She returned to Germany hoping to reunite with her beloved father, who is was unable to escape Communism and is under control of the KGB.

The story isn't bad, and could have made a good movie. But the direction is slow, distracting, and there are long pauses and focus on irrelevant people and objects that just detract from the story. The overwhelming theme is people smoking. There are actually scenes that focus solely on an ashtray and cigarettes flicking ash. These fill the screen for significant time, and it's as though the director needed to fill time.

When the lights came up there were people asleep or close to it. It was beyond the stamina of most everyone to endure the long, lingering scenes where nothing happened.

Stay away.


See it. Now.
There are good baseball movies (Bull Durham), bad baseball movies (Mr. Baseball), and mediocre baseball movies (Field of Dreams. Sorry.). This is a terrific baseball movie, even more so because it's a true story. Billy Beane is a failed major-leaguer who becomes General Manager of the Oakland As, a team whose budget is in the basement and whose best players have been stolen by better teams. Billy challenges orthodox scouting policy, and hires an economist who gathers stats to put together a team of under-achievers, based on their statistical potential.

More than a sports movie, this is a film that illustrates how loyalty and desperation result in a leap of faith to change the lives of the players, management, and the entire city of Oakland. And it's true. Brad Pitt gives his absolute best performance (remember Benjamin Button? Lame in comparison). Jonah Hill as the statistician leaves his stoner- loser persona behind and actually does some quality work.

Oscars all around!

Dream House

Huge Potential, Huge Disappointment
Will Atenton moves into a dream home with his lovely wife and two precious children. Weird things start to happen and the family discovers an ugly secret about their house. Neighbors are acting strange, the local police are no help, and investigating the house's history begins to unravel the family, and gives way to other supernatural dimensions.

This movie could have been a terrific ghost story in the vein of Shutter Island, The Others, or The Sixth Sense. Instead it loses focus and turns left into a formulaic and somewhat random "whodunnit". More like "who cares?". About halfway through it got boring and stupid and illogical. What a waste of Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and a totally underused Naomi Watts. Recut and re-release it. There's a really good movie in there somewhere.


Stylish, Tense and Thrilling
I walked into this movie expecting a typical "Fast and Furious" no-brainer. I was caught off-guard and was completely mesmerized by the pace, the suspense, and the European-style direction. The minimalist dialogue and the "jump-out-of-your-seat" violence knocked my socks off. Ryan Gosling plays the lead as a conflicted, tortured, possibly Aspergian protagonist who falls for his neighbor, but resorts to extreme violence when he feels threatened. The only caveat is that Carey Mulligan is under-used. She is a terrific actress and her few scenes are powerful and wrenching,

Albert Brooks is a revelation. Remember him in Broadcast News? Lost In America? Mother? This is a whole different actor. He's menacing and terrifying and may be getting an Oscar for this.


Too Bizarre, Hilarious, and Creepy
Do you like movies that are supposed to be scary, yet the score sounds like one from a comedy/circus movie, and is played too loud over the dialog? Do you like movies that make you laugh out loud, wince, then make you wonder if you missed a reel? How about a movie that suddenly turns someone into a pile of bananas without explanation? Or contains imagery of a silk scarf as an omen of evil, but never actually makes that happen? Then you'll love love LOVE this mess. So entertaining, yet so puzzling. Is it a comedy? Was the director dropping acid during filming? Why is a detached head biting someone on the butt and laughing? Why does a mummy show up for a split second, then disappears without explanation? So many questions and absolutely NO answers. HILARIOUS and really creepy too.

Whip It

Inspiring + Heartwarming = Kind of Boring
I love Drew Barrymore, Kirsten Wiig, and especially Ellen Page. Drew is adorable, Kirsten is hilarious, and Ellen is adorable, hilarious, and is a really great actor (forget Juno. Watch Hard Candy.) I was really looking forward to this movie, and was really disappointed. The action scenes were great, and they're all good skaters, but the plot was predictable and tedious. Was there ever a question that she would be allowed to go to the finals? (see Bend it Like Beckham, a far superior film which had the same outcome). And what was that underwater nonsense about? I guess it was supposed to be beautiful and balletic, but left me breathless because I wondered when they'd come up for air.

Although the movie was a C+, I did enjoy Marcia Gay Harden's three-dimensional portrayal of the over-protective southern Mom. I especially appreciated the realistic portrayal of the parents. Too many movies play the parents as clueless, stupid, and/or narrow-minded. These parents loved their daughters and showed it.


Why isn't Sam Rockwell a Movie Star?
I've read a couple of Chuck Palahniuk's books, and they're dark, weird and unsettling. So is this movie, but it's also funny, outrageous, sacrilegious and a little pervy. So I really liked it.

Victor is a sex addict who attends sex addict meetings to pick up girls (Joel Grey plays one of the members with a sly twist on his usual impish character). He purposely chokes on food in restaurants in order to be "saved" by wealthy patrons who feel obligated to "help" him further by giving him cash. He needs the money to keep his mother (Anjelica Huston) in a mental hospital where she's being treated for the delusions that scarred his entire life.

The movie is a labyrinthine journey toward discovering Victor's origins, then regression back through his tangled history. Sam Rockwell portrays Victor better than he's ever played any role before. He slips between arrogance, annoyance, gullibility, disbelief, desperation and humor seamlessly, and the performance is the pinnacle of his career thus far.

Don't take the kids, but don't miss this movie.

Righteous Kill

Good acting. Bad movie.
This film is like a trashy novel turned into a movie in a hurry to make a buck. The trite plot "twists" (telegraphed so that you guess them 45 minutes before they occur), the tired dialog, and the two-dimensional characterizations make this a disjointed, sad little trifle of a movie.

Deniro does his usual excellent job of making a poorly-developed character into a believable person. Pacino appears to be tired of the whole business, and doesn't even break out the scenery-chewing until the end. And by the way, whatever happened to the actor who played Michael Corleone? The 21st century Al Pacino appears to have forgotten the key to subtle acting.

I grew tired of the barely realized characters, the inconsistencies of plot and story (the movie starts with Deniro confessing directly into a camera. By the end we see that the camera is above him to his left, so that "confession" should have showed up from above and in profile. Deniro, Pacino and Dennehy are way too old to be active cops. Police retire after 25 years, and don't work into their 60s), and the never-ending death scene at the end. I really thought he'd survive because he just wouldn't die.

It's always a bad sign when the critics aren't allowed to see a movie prior to its opening. Don't be mislead by the star power of two enormously talented actors. Avoid the movie.


Very sweet, sad and romantic...
...though somewhat unbelievable. Ben Kingsley's character falls in love/lust with his much-younger student, played by Penelope Cruz. He plays the conquering professor well, his motives are palpable and his virility and attractiveness are well portrayed. It's understandable that he attracts women, and that one ultimately falls in love with him.

I wonder if Penelope Cruz's character was meant to be a cipher; beyond her beauty, I couldn't determine what attracted him to her. It was inferred that she was intelligent, but I didn't detect anything else that would attract him so strongly. I felt the chemistry from him, not much from her.

This criticism is minor because the film was beautifully acted and filmed. In his myriad roles, Ben Kingsley plays different characters from Gandhi to Sexy Beast to a man who betrays the woman he loves, and ultimately loses. He continually exceeds expectations.


Not as good as the first one
I came to this movie with preconceived and somewhat prejudicial feelings about John Travolta taking on a role that was originally conceived and played by an iconic drag queen, Divine. It seemed offensive and hypocritical that an acolyte of the Church of Scientology, known for their anti-homosexual sentiments, would take on a role that had only been played by gay men. The movie was pretty good, the music was great, and Nikki Blonsky is a miracle of casting. She sings, dances, and acts like no one in recent memory. I hope that there are more roles featuring her, because she is the real reason to see the movie.

John Travolta in the role of Edna Turnblad is disturbing for many reasons other than the one mentioned. He really overacts (trying to emote through the latex prosthetics may be the reason), and also seems to think that a weird accent, fey gestures, and a furrowed brow convey femininity. In every scene. With no other emotions attempted. His one-note performance became tedious and I started to dread the scenes he was in. What ever happened to the actor who was so good in Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction? Michelle Pfeiffer played Velma with just the right spark of malice, and Christopher Walken is always fun to watch.

That being said, the homage paid to the original movie, with John Waters, Jerry Stiller, and Ricki Lake making brief appearances was really gratifying (though John Waters and Ricki Lake had non-speaking parts). Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but if you want to see a musical, rent Dreamgirls.

Godspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew

What was I thinking?
I saw the stage production of Godspell in Cleveland in the early 70s, and absolutely loved it. Saw it again the following week. That production starred Robert Englund (pre-Freddie Kruger) as John the Baptist (he sings!) I saved my babysitting money and purchased the soundtrack (on tape cassette) and listened to it constantly. When the film version came out I saw it twice too. I recently saw the movie again, and it was nearly unwatchable. What was it about hippie-clown costumes that was so mesmerizing? What was it about broad over-acting and dancing around deserted Manhattan that captured the attention of the hard-earned-money-paying movie audience? What was it about the skinny kid who played Jesus that was so familiar? It took a while, then I realized it was Victor Garber from Alias and Titanic (he sings too?) I realize we were all very young and naive then, but why did we love that infantilized condescending craptastic nonsense so much that the movie industry decided to stick it to film? I tried, really I did, but couldn't watch the whole thing. I realize my innocence is gone, but I require more sophisticated entertainment than that.

Mr. Brooks

Really terrible movie
I believe using the word "suck" is giving this POS too much credit. I'd give it a D+, and only because William Hurt plays malevolent so well. Every "twist" in the movie was either broadly telegraphed many scenes before, or was so random there was no way to guess it was coming. It was absolutely preposterous and ree-effing-diculous. It wanted me to believe that you could get someone's license plate number and go on the internet to find all the details of their life, including a line that actually says "net worth"!! Demi Moore was a detective whose net worth was $60 million, but continued to work for the love of the job. Then there was the meaningless and wasted subplot about the escaped prisoner who was out to kill her. Why? Yet the woman behind me was so overwhelmed by the intrigue, and engrossed by the (arbitrary) plot, she kept exclaiming "OH NO!", and "WOW", every time some idiot thing would happen. I kept rolling my eyes and wondering whether the movie would end before I fell asleep. Really really terrible.

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