Den of Thieves is a crude, sleazy B movie remake of Heat, with an overweight Gerard Butler in the Pacino role and someone named Pablo Schrieber haplessly trying to fill DeNiro's shoes. The rest of the cast is a faceless batch of B listers, acting butch. A really repulsive movie where it's nearly impossible to tell the cops from the crooks, since both crews are equally greasy, tattooed and foul-mouthed. Avoid!
For a confused action movie, this one isn't bad. It's chockfull of fistfights, car and motorcycle chases, explosions and gunfights. It's only missing two very vital things: a reason to exist and an interesting leading actress. Skipping over the two sequel books and movies, this one takes its generic plot from a fourth book not written by the late Stieg Larsson. In doing that, it dumps Larsson's harsh critique of male privilege--and loses its relevance in that devil's bargain. The very biggest deficit in the film is the same one that dogged David Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: an actress that brings the fierce, feral, sexual Lisbeth Salander to life. Neither Rooney Mara nor the star of this film, Claire Foy (who looks rather like Audrey Hepburn with a nose ring) have come close to original star Noomi Rapace's ferocious performance. The key failures in Foy's performance are allowing Salander's punk/Goth look to be laughably sanitized and an interpretation leaving the character reactive rather than active. Foy spends most of the film looking wide-eyed at what's happening to her. She's not helped by the unknown, pedestrian actors that people the film. Or the drab grey and white cinematography. (Is there NO color in Sweden?) But if you're looking to kill a couple of hours watching people race to fight and blow up stuff in Europe, this one will do the trick for you.
Last night I was reading an interview with two outraged critics, questioning the sense of American filmgoers who weren't turning out for this movie. One of them described the film as "poignant." Not action-packed, not suspenseful, not funny, not clever. (The similar Ocean's 8 was all of these.) But poignant. Frankly, I don't think moviegoers go to a heist movie to grab their hankies in tears. The reason the audiences have been slim for Widows is it's muddled in its narrative, dreadfully slow and not terribly clever, with at least one subplot too many. Some of the performances stand out: Elizabeth Debicki is excellent as a woman torn between survival and salvaging her dignity. Broadway star Cynthia Erivo gives a fast, fun, riveting performance that is a complete flip from her excellent work in the otherwise execrable Bad Times at the El Royale. Viola Davis mourns dramatically. And Colin Farrell gives his best performance since the very early days of his career. But acting won't save a movie that drags its feet this badly. It's a shame, too. The idea had great promise.
Great look at these reporters and their relationship
First of all, let me say how incredibly funny--and offbase, the criticisms of this film are. Crankiness about the acting and script, in particular, are hilarious. Except for being about 30 pounds too light for his part, Clive Owen perfectly captured Ernest Hemingway. He was brave, a braggart, a bully, an unabashed adulterer and he did mistreat John Dos Passos during and after the Spanish Civil War. Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn also did a fantastic job as the hardworking, courageous Gellhorn. (BTW: the priss who objected to her sexiness in pants was laughably wrong. Gellhorn did, in fact, catch Hemingway's--and many other men's eye with her long legs and looks.) After having read several Hemingway biographies, I'd say this is a pretty accurate look at the pair, minus a few points for some Hollywoodisms. For example, Mary Hemingway was asleep in another room the morning Hemingway committed suicide. All in all, a terrific film and it's best to ignore the silly carping of the critics, particularly those who MISSPELL HEMINGWAY'S NAME when it's in the title of the film . One "m," people.
When a film that is loudly and ostentatiously set in Cowboy Texas is actually filmed in neighboring New Mexico you know the director has a shaky grasp on his materials.
When I saw Hell Or High Water in the theater I thought it was about two alcoholic idiots who sit on porches drinking beer before going out and committing violent acts. Seeing it recently on cable tv I realized it's actually about THREE alcoholic idiots who sit on porches drinking beer before going out and committing violent acts. Pine and Foster sling credible Southern accents, which is astonishing in a Hollywood film. Jeff Bridges merely regurgitates the accent and attitude of his last two movies, Crazy Heart and True Grit. (It was wearing thin in True Grit.) There are a number of good, funny, evocative lines in the film, most of them spoken by passers-by. The final scene is, however, a standout. It comes about an hour and thirty-nine minutes into a movie that runs an hour and forty-two minutes. The soundtrack is a good one. Watch the trailer, buy the soundtrack is my advice.
As a child of the Sixties, I watched a lot of Westerns, from 30 minute tv shows like Have Gun, Will Travel to the hour long Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I saw the Hollywood films of Howard Hawks, Robert Aldrich, John Sturges and later, the Italian-based movies of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. So as I was watching Hostiles, the new film by Scott Cooper, starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, I kept thinking that Sturges or Aldrich could have told the same story in 90 minutes instead of 2 hours--and made it move. Because this film is verrrrrry slow and more than a little episodic: Every 30 minutes there's an act of random violence followed by scenes of riders walking their horses through gorgeous Western vistas or setting up then breaking down their campsites. That's the movie. As a woman whose family is wiped out by a group of renegades, Pike does fine work, though oddly the costume department decided to purchase her wardrobe from a fashionable, high end Western wear store. As a hard-bitten cavalry officer on the verge of retirement, Bale mostly grunts, glowers or poses against those same majestic vistas. And Wes Studi, playing a dying but stoic Cheyenne chief, is allowed the occasional cough to remind us he's sick. All in all, despite the scenery and Pike's performance, it's an interminable slog.
As a general rule, I don't care for coming-of-age movies. Having already done that myself, I find little reason to pay to do it again. However, led by the reviews of Lady Bird, the fine actresses Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan, and the charm of writer/director Greta Gerwig, I took a shot. I should have waited for it to play on cable. I've seen this film before. You've seen this film before. Pretty much anyone who saw Ghost World or Juno or Thirteen has seen this movie: rebellious daughter fights with her mom, Take 30. Ronan and Metcalf are fine. Gerwig handles her material and cast professionally, though with the actors she assembled that's hardly a surprise. The cinematography is dull and a little under-lit, though, which leaves the film with an overall bland, generic look. There are a few bright scenes scattered throughout the film, particularly towards the end. But overall, it's not a terribly interesting movie.
Dynamic performances raise this film to above average
Chadwick Boseman continues his fine string of charismatic performances portraying historical characters(James Brown, Jackie Robinson)by taking on the young Thurgood Marshall, later a Supreme Court Justice and the first African American in that position. He's ably abetted by Josh Gad, playing his reluctant co-counsel, Sam Friedman. Boseman and Gad have a terrific chemistry, bristling with energy, tension and humor. The film portrays a 1941 case early in Marshall's career as the only lawyer working for the NAACP. The only debits are a pedestrian script and the dully competent direction. Still, it's good look at the bigotry facing African Americans in the US and the performances by the leads are a treat. I hope some enterprising producer bring Boseman and Gad back together on screen soon.
Can we brng back Johnny Weismuller now? Or Lex Barker?
When they were building up Alexander Skarsgard's six pack for this film, director David Yates should have spent some time building him a personality, too. Skarsgard's Tarzan is a blankfaced, lank haired cypher--who loses most of his fights. Sadly, Skarsgard's dreary personality matches the film's. It's a long, slow exercise in tedium. The CGI vine swinging is nearly as cartoonish as the Spider Man movies. Christopher Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson drop in their usual, never-changing, tiresome schtick. Jackson, in particular, needs to go back to acting school to work on his craft. Margot Robbie is particularly mistreated. One of the most beautiful and stylish actresses currently working,Robbie is saddled with a generic American accent and spends most of the film damp and bedraggled. While not the travesty that Bo Derek's Tarzan the Ape Man was, it's still a waste of time.
For fans of Lake Bell's "In A World" (and I'm one of them) who have been waiting for her to produce another comedy at that level, "I Do...Until I Don't" will prove to be a seriously sad disappointment. Trying for a Christopher Guest (Best Of Show) type documentary satire, Bell flops on every level. The film is pointless, shapeless, aimless. Very early in this comedy about marriage, Bell loses track of the story and it wanders blandly between three couples. And despite the cast of accomplished comedic actors, which includes Mary Steenburgen, Paul Reiser, Wyatt Cenac and Ed Helms, it has perhaps 2 laughs and 2 good scenes. Finally Bell, who takes the lead role, has completely wrung dry her stammer-and-stumble acting schtick. I don't think she finishes a complete sentence in the entire movie. I still have hopes for a good Lake Bell comedy. It's just that this one ain't it.
Charlize Theron makes a dynamic action figure in the fight scenes, which are as brutally imaginative as you'll see in films today. In between those fistfights, she mostly spends her time striding the streets of Berlin like it was a fashion runway or smoking moodily in her hotel room. Those scenes are sadly reminiscent of Angelina Jolie's "Hey fellas, look at these cheekbones" scenes in the incredibly dull The Tourist. James McAvoy is splendidly seedy as her British contact. Between them, they make a modestly enjoyable B movie. But that's all it is, a B movie.
A tired, tiresome "action/comedy," one whose idea has been done hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It's insultingly stale. Samuel L. Jackson has wrung the "loud, cursing, angry guy" schtick dry as a bone. Though he hasn't been working as long, Ryan Reynolds is about two steps away from the same trap with his motormouth "comedy" bit. Other than a couple of car chases and two or three well-written jokes, the script is dreadfully dull and unimaginative. I saw it at a matinée and left feeling cheated and angry. Avoid!
After Django Unchained and now, The Hateful Eight, I'm convinced Quentin Tarantino only makes Westerns so he can use the N-word with impunity and suggest it's "historical accuracy," rather than blind racism. Tarantino is now the Leni Riefenstahl of the KKK. H8 is a rancid stew of racism, misogyny, sexual violence, bad Southern accents and worse acting. Once upon a time, QT's strengths were his direction of actors and his dialogue. Both seem to have died snowblind in this Wyoming blizzard. Whether it's Kurt Russell's blustery ripoff of Jeff Bridge's Rooster Cogburn or Tim Roth's twittery Brit (what were you thinking, Tim?) the acting is universally dreadful. Jennifer Jason Leigh's Southern accent is the worst I've heard since Kevin Costner tried for N'Orleans and flopped. And even Walton Goggin's, who rose to fame as Appalachian white trash in Justified, inflates his accent to the over-ripe. The dialogue is mostly Russell bully-blustering the other actors or endless drippings of Southern fried N-droppings. (In one exchange between Bruce Dern and Goggins, it's tossed back and forth something like 7 times.) Tarantino somehow managed to fail the simple task of creating believable character names. They're either ludicrously unpronounceable (Daisy Domergue; Marquis Warren) or ostentatiously silly (Oswaldo Mobray). And QT has managed to take modern special effects (key to an action movie) to new lows of ineptitude. In the various shootings, the blood seems to wash in waves from the victims, from balloons over-inflated with dollar store red paint, then exploded with firecrackers. For most of his career, Tarantino seemed an unusually gifted, if emotionally arrested artist too easily drawn to the juvenile. Now the juvenile emotions seem to have taken complete hold and left him with an empty bag and no way forward. From the evidence of his last two or three movies, "no way forward" may be a good thing.
Conventional rom-com, neither train wreck nor triumph
Except for the casting of the lead actors (Amy Schumer is attractive without being the usual stunning beauty of rom-com, Bill Hader is gawky but appealing) this film is as conventional as any film Katherine Heigl starred in during her heyday. Amy Schumer, who also wrote the script, has a reputation as a transgressive, aggressively sexual comedian. Here that stance is sloughed off pretty quickly, complete with the standard courtship montages from every romance film you've ever seen. Hader does his equally conventional part with some flair but isn't given enough good lines. His scenes with patient/friend, the basketball player Lebron James are actually the comic highlights of the film. James, along with Tilda Swinton, who plays Schumer's magazine editor boss, offer some of the funniest bits in the film. To give her performance chops some due, Schumer does show a flair for dramatic acting in a couple of scenes. Still, this is a very, very traditional film and never comes within shouting distance of the boundary-defying work Schumer's television show is acclaimed for. Given her flowering reputation and the show business might of producer/director Judd Apatow, it's disappointing they didn't push the boundaries. Or themselves.
Despite the oddly virulent reviews of Serena posted on this site, Serena is not a bad film, simply a dull one. Beautiful cinematography (it was filmed in the Czech Republic) and costume design can't hide the flaws of the director's decisions. The film is weirdly static, with no flow from scene to scene. Because of that, the actors aren't allowed to build their performances, actions seem simply to happen and no point of view is made or advanced. The famed Lawrence/Cooper chemistry is notably absent because of this directorial decision. There are births, deaths, accidents with no relation in the larger scheme of the movie. Lawrence is stunning in the period costumes, Rhys Ifans virtually unidentifiable in the best performance of Serena and Bradley Cooper continues his aversion to razors as the stubble-faced husband/owner of the logging company. (BTW: this appearance is notably out of sync for a period piece. No business owner in the first half of the 20th century would appear in public with a 2 day growth of whiskers.)Coming off the previous successes of the Lawrence/Cooper team, this film is a failure that can only be laid at the director's feet. It's a shame that their work is dissipated in this way.
I've seen this movie twice now and I've absolutely enjoyed it both times. It's one of the very best movies I've seen this year. Always a smart, snappy stand up comic, it's great to see Chris Rock mature into both a good writer and a good actor. He's handles himself with a maturity and self-confidence--even in scenes where his character is faltering, that makes the movie shine. He and Rosario Dawson have great chemistry together, working off each other like Tracy and Hepburn. There's a long list of supporting characters, Gabriel Union and JB Smoove at the top of the group, that add both depth and hilarity to the film. There are at least 4 or 5 scenes that will go into the Comedy Hall of Fame, to boot. RUN to see this movie!
There is no reason for this film to exist. It's a foul, odious, cretinous waste of time. No talent was wasted in making it because there is no talent evinced in its performances. There is no reason for Seth Rogen to exist in the entertainment industry. Hollywood already has a curly haired idiot in Will Ferrell. There is no need for an unshaven, pot-addled version. If the phrase, "F--k, man" were struck from Rogen's vocabulary he would be rendered mute. James Franco should be given a show selling knives and baseball cards and forgotten for eternity. I watched 20 minutes of this movie on cable, turned it off and threw myself against my apartment walls for 90 minutes. It was a smarter use of my time than this movie.
Because there is no arc to the character--and only a loose and very arbitrary arc to the film, Inside Llewyn Davis is ultimately an empty exercise in black and white photography. (Although it is a great audition tape for Oscar Isaac. If anyone is thinking of remaking Serpico, here's your star.)
Inspired by a biography ("The Mayor of MacDougal Street") of folk music legend Dave Van Ronk, the screenplay is only a very superficial skim of the scene. And acclaimed music producer T-Bone Burnette is out of his depth in that role for the film.Where he worked with genuine bluegrass artists like Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch on O Brother, Where Art Thou, here he's on his own. He doesn't have roots in folk music (he's an LA rocker) and, like the Coen Brothers, is too young to have been part of the early Sixties NY scene depicted here. It leaves him unable to provide any insights into the music or musicians.
The film picks up Davis at a bad point, follows him through several more of them in a very bad week, including a hellish odyssey to wintry Chicago, then stops--as the opening scene is (without explanation) repeated. If the movie had started a month earlier or a year later, the journey would be totally different. (Five years later and he'd be playing with the Lovin' Spoonful.) This can be read strictly as the fault of the screenwriters. You never see Davis at rest and only fleetingly at work. Davis himself is neither a bad person nor a bad musician. He's good looking, audiences are enthusiastic and he's a terrific singer and picker. He's recorded two albums. He's attractive to women. His personal relationships are a little tangled though he has a set of friends who are more than willing to feed and shelter him. But like most musicians at the beginning of their professional careers, he's sleeping on other people's couches and scrambling for gigs and money.
There are a few interesting acting bits by Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund and Coen stalwart John Goodman. F. Murray Abraham has some brutally amusing scenes as an imperious club owner. But in the end, it's a frustratingly wasted look at a pivotal point in American music.
Let's start with the most important point: Ryan Gosling has ridden the dead-eyed, stonefaced acting schtick as far as it can go for him. At this early stage in his career, he simply doesn't have the life mileage, the gravitas or the looks to play at being Steve McQueen.He desperately needs to go back to, you know, ACTING. Moving onto the movie is ironic for a movie that is drugged out slow when not frozen completely, filled with innumerable tracking shots down hallways to people sitting perfectly still in whatever room the director decided to decorate that day. (I can only assume that the per diem package for participants included an opium pipe.)The script, such as it is, aims for that odd, defeated junction where pretentious meets silly. Besides Gosling, there is an actor playing a cop who sings karaoke and brutalizes people. Kristin Scott Thomas curses fragrantly in her scenes. There is a fight scene that looks like a 6th grader was pitted against Bruce Lee. The set decoration and photography are gorgeous though, some of the richest, most sumptuous (the only word that fits) in recent film history. It's not enough, unless you're looking for someone to help furnish your new home. This is a ridiculous film.
Costner and Kasdan come together to make another bad Western
In the summer of 2013 Wyatt Earp has been showing up regularly on cable. I thought I'd view it again to see if it worked better in my living room than in a multiplex. It does, though just barely. Although this is not the silly, Baby Boomer mess that Silverado was, WE is final proof that Westerns are not in Lawrence Kasdan's area of competence. For Costner, it's another of the bloated vanity projects that crashed his career after multiple Oscars wins for the majestic Dances With Wolves. As I said, it does view better on the small screen; which is small comfort for the viewer. It's too long, it's humorless and it has that grungy, unshaved, unwashed look that hack film makers mistake for "authenticity." Costner, at this point in his career, didn't want to share the screen with equals. So he surrounds himself with mainly B-list co-stars, Gene Hackman being the sole exception. Some give good performances: Mark Harmon is a terrifically sleazy Johnny Behan, for example. And Dennis Quaid gives one of the very best portrayals of the legendary Doc Holiday. Unfortunately for him, the absolute best on screen Doc is Val Kilmer in the rival Wyatt Earp film, Tombstone. Still, it may be his finest performance on film. On the other end, the usually gifted Mare Winningham is lost as Earp's mistress, Mattie Blaylock. That Costner let his ego overwhelm the film is, finally, what dooms it. Dominating screen time while dispensing with the warmth, humor and sex appeal of his previous films, his Earp is relentlessly vicious and morbidly sullen throughout. In the end, the best way to watch the film is to wander the house doing chores while running to the TV room only when you hear on screen threats or gunfire.
Because I consider the Swedish version of Girl...to be a classic on the level of The Maltese Falcon, I avoided the English language version when it was in the theaters. (In reality, the original version may be a better adaptation. John Huston had a Dashiel Hammet book to work from. Steig Larsson's work is transcendentally awful, on a level not even the purple pronouncements of The Bridges of Madison County descended to.) However, late one empty night, the American version showed up on cable and I decided to watch it. It's not bad, only slack and uninspired. The screenwriter and director hewed somewhat closer to the book but to no obvious purpose. And there are at least 4 narrative choices (spoiler alerts won't cover them, I'm afraid. You'll have to trust me--they didn't work.) that damaged the momentum of the film and the chemistry of the two main actors. And finally, David Fincher wasn't able to find an actress to match the ferocity, killer grace and awkward beauty of Noomi Rapace. Rooney Mara is a fine actress (catch her in Soderbergh's Side Effects.). But she's simply too faceless for as vivid a presence as Lisabeth Salander. She's like the 3rd Goth girl at the table, pale and unremarkable. Daniel Craig does a fine job as her partner. But the other actor choices are uninspired if professionally handled. It would have been better if Fincher and co. had done a wholly revised version, set in the US or England with different villains (imagine an African American Salander and the KKK, for example) rather than this dull work.
Olympus Has Fallen is a paint-by-numbers action film by Antoine Fuqua, a director who generally performs better behind the camera. Die Hard at the White House as its been referred to, is in the main, a humorless and very bloody action film with Gerard Butler as a Secret Service agent on a mission-to-redeem-himself, which entails lots of knifings and bullets to the brain of his faceless opponents. It's all very professional--and totally generic. Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett and Melissa Leo are on hand to recite their lines and write their names on the back of a paycheck. This is a movie for people who have seen everything else at the cineplex but still feel the need to spend 2 hours in a darkened auditorium.
Like Inglorious Basterds, this is another juvenile cartoon by the perennially adolescent Tarantino. However this time he manages to make it a racist cartoon, as well. How is it racist? Tarantino plays out a macho fantasy game by featuring a strong though implausible African American protagonist and yet spreads the N-word liberally throughout the film. He's defended that particularly odious over-usage by suggesting that being "authentic" to the times demanded it. And yet much of the film's details are otherwise incorrect: the rifles are wrong for the time period, for example; and the soundtrack is a hodgepodge of rap, old pop (Jim Croce?) and music from other films. And most obviously, the racial attitudes of both white and African Americans are simply ludicrous. The taunting, insolent attitude by Django towards white people would never have been tolerated in the South, circa 1858. And certainly no Mississippi plantation owner would allow him at the dinner table with white guests. Tarantino has also led many to believe--dishonestly, this is his version of an Italian western. However, it hews closer to a sub-genre of Seventies Blaxploitation--Westerns (Buck and The Preacher, Take A Hard Ride and very obviously The Legend of N---- Charley and its sequel The Soul of N---- Charley, to name a few.) Of course there are the standard QT touches in the film: odd flashes of humor, odder cameos (Michael Parks, Lee Horsley, Don Johnson, father and daughter Russ and Amber Tamblyn) and over-the-top violence--although even the violence is handled ineptly. The gushing blood shots look more like exploding balloons over-inflated with red paint. QT hasn't lost his touch with actors and he gets good performances from his leads--Waltz, Foxx and especially DiCaprio. Samuel L. Jackson as the boss of the African American house crew gives a masterly performance reeking of evil. But all of it comes in service to a trashy, overlong and digressive film. Tarantino is over-due for a course in films not marketed to 13 year old comic book readers or grindhouse fans. Until he shows an adult perspective I think I'll forgo any more of his films.
If you're going to make a movie with a voice-over narrator, the first step must be finding a voice the audience can clearly understand . Macy Gray is an able enough actress in small doses but she's far too inexperienced and has much too odd and weak a voice for the role. But the failure of this film lies almost entirely with the bumbling of director Lee Daniels. Had this inept effort been his first directing job Precious would never have been made. The film is structurally muddled, with surrealistic fantasy sequences mixed with hard realism and big splashes of sexy Southern Gothic melodramatics. The sound recording is, in the main, low and nearly inaudible. The cinematography is the standard indie mix of shakycam amateurishness, lens flare and out of focus artsiness. The story meanders wildly and with no particular focus on any of its several narratives strands. The acting is more interesting than good, with McConaughey, Cusack and Kidman playing against type but too no real purpose. Lee Daniels crush on Zac Efron's torso means Efron is showcased lovingly but at an embarrassing, centerfold length. Several reviews I've seen called this movie a "hot mess." I'd emphasize the "mess" end of that critical construction.
If your idea of film entertainment is to spend 2 hours and 17 pointless minutes with a violent, unstable creep in the final stages of alcoholism, The Master is your ticket to fun! Joaquin Phoenix plays the creep, a wet-brained WWII vet who concocts revolting cocktails from whatever material--beer and coconuts, paint thinner, photo developer, he can lay hands on. Watching him mix his brews will cause your throat to constrict with revulsion every time. At one point in the film he falls into the sphere of cult leader Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's relationship with Phoenix' character seems to be a metaphysical form of pulling the wings off flies. It's all terribly pointless and boring. It's not often I walk out of a movie theater wanting to rush home and take a long shower to wash the film experience away. After The Master, I did.