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Reviews

16 Jan 2013
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The release date of Gangster Squad was delayed after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, due to a scene depicting violence in a movie theater. That scene, which was featured in the trailer, has been removed. Well, they should’ve scrapped the whole picture. This movie is a mess. Gangster Squad depicts a fictional account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “under the table” efforts to remove gangster Mickey Cohen (played here by a truly awful Sean Penn) from power. While next to nothing in this movie actually happened, I can forgive a little artistic license when it comes to a gangster pic. What I can’t forgive is cartoon caricatures, terrible performances, a misguided directorial tone and a crappy screenplay. The film is set in 1949 Los Angeles, where Cohen has a firm grip on organized crime and the cops. Well-meaning LAPD Chief Parker (a typically grizzly Nick Nolte) tells brave Sgt.…
10 Jan 2013
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The controversial Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow’s excellently crafted version of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has a bunch of politicians and CIA officials crying foul. This makes me think the movie must contain some harsh truths and grim realities about the war on terror. The film is virtually absent of politics, or any of that “America, fuck yeah!” nonsense. It offers an interpretation of the steps that were taken, and the deeds that were done, to rid the world of a true menace. Many of those deeds are done in a calm, calculated and perhaps even cold manner; at times, the film is spooky to watch. The people depicted in this movie mean business, and will do whatever it takes to get a job done. That includes waterboarding and literally scaring the shit out of detainees. The film starts with a black screen and some terrifying messages…
04 Jan 2013
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Promised Land wants to be a message movie, but it's too messy to deliver that message coherently. Originally slated to be Matt Damon's directorial debut, it was instead directed by his pal Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), who, with this and last year's mawkish Restless, finds himself in a bit of a slump. Although Damon relinquished the director's chair, he shared screenwriting duties with John Krasinski, and both have big roles in the film. Damon plays Steve Butler, a likable corporate pawn for a natural-gas company who is sent to a farming town with a mandate to sell the community on allowing its presence. That presence would mean a lot of "fracking," a natural-gas extraction process that involves deep drilling—and some possible environmental side effects. Steve is presented as a virtuous fellow who looks to do well and get ahead. He's just about to get a big promotion, and…
31 Dec 2012
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Quentin Tarantino is repeating himself a bit when it comes to his latest, Django Unchained. Tarantino got off on revisionist history with Inglourious Basterds, changing the events of World War II for entertainment’s sake. He got away with it, because the movie was stylistically awesome, and Eli Roth wowed with his baseball bat. This time, Tarantino has taken his crazy pen to the subject of slavery, and the result is an uncomfortable yet somewhat entertaining mixed bag. The movie has all of the Tarantino-isms (super violence, awesome music choices, cutesy monologues), but it gave me that “been there, done that” feeling. For the first time ever during a Tarantino movie, I found myself a little bored at times. Christoph Waltz, who played the evil Jew-hunter Nazi in Basterds, returns to Tarantino Land as Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter wandering around the South two years before the Civil War.…
28 Dec 2012
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This review comes to you from a man who loves a good musical—and is a diehard fan of Les Misérables. Haters of movie musicals everywhere, I beseech you: Give this one a chance! Lovers of this musical ... unite! The movie is a blast! Les Misérables, based on the Victor Hugo novel set in 19th-century France, has always been the epitome of a big musical done right. When I saw it on Broadway, I remember thinking something along the lines of, "There's no way in hell anybody could ever put this on the big screen in a respectable fashion." To mount a worthy production, one would need a big budget, and one would need big stars with box-office allure who can sing like no other. I'm happy to report that director Tom Hooper didn't just find stars who can sing; those stars make you freaking cry when they are singing.…
22 Dec 2012
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Nepotism pays off in a big way as Leslie Mann stars in husband Judd Apatow's hilarious This Is 40 reprising her role of Debbie from Apatow's Knocked Up. Also returning are Paul Rudd as Debbie's husband, Pete; Maude and Iris Apatow (Mann and Apatow's kids) as Pete and Debbie's daughters; and Jason Segel as, well, a strange variation on Jason Segel. Spinning off Knocked Up to further explore the characters of Debbie and Pete sounded like a strange enterprise. (Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are nowhere to be seen.) Fear not, for This Is 40 is as smart and funny as the film that spawned it. And who needs Heigl, anyway? (As for Rogen, I can never get enough of the guy ... was hoping for a cameo, but no dice.) The film opens with Debbie in denial of her 40th birthday, a worn-out movie cliché, for sure. No matter,…
17 Dec 2012
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Although it is being pushed as heady Oscar fare, Hitchcock is a little too bizarre and too goofy to find itself seriously in the running for Best Picture. I'm not complaining; I am a fan of bizarre, goofy movies, and I like this one. I just don't think it's going to take home a bagful of awards. As this film explores the making of Psycho—Alfred Hitchcock's biggest risk as a filmmaker—Hitchcock takes a few enjoyable diversions. It contains a blast of a performance from Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, with Helen Mirren perhaps outpacing him as Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville. The film has a surface sheen to it, seemingly placing more of an emphasis on Alma's possible love affair with a fellow writer (Danny Huston) than on the making of Psycho. Still, when it's dealing with Psycho and the mechanics of making a movie, Hitchcock is a lot of fun. Hitch…
07 Dec 2012
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As I watched Brad Pitt's Killing Them Softly, from director Andrew Dominik, I sat in a virtually empty theater with a few friends and several other patrons. The movie is a slow, meditative and strangely beautiful examination of bad people, and I could sense it was testing people's patience. I kept hearing the relentless "tap, tap, tap" of restless-leg syndrome coming from somebody behind us. I heard a lot (a lot) of deep sighing from the few people who were there, along with rustling as they fidgeted. What I am trying to say is that Killing Them Softly requires great patience while viewing. This is a movie that takes its time, features more than a few wordy monologues, and has lots of poetic slow-motion shots. Pitt plays Jackie, a smooth, shady type called upon to clean up a situation gone bad regarding an organized-crime card game. The film is set…
29 Nov 2012
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It's that time of year when studios release their Oscar hopefuls, continuing the tradition of saving the best (or what they hope to convince us is the best) for last. So here's Life of Pi, an adaptation of the seemingly unfilmable novel by Yann Martel about a 14-year-old boy spending more than 200 days at sea on a lifeboat alone—except for a Bengal tiger that totally wants to eat his face. Many have looked at making the 2001 spiritual novel into a film, and many have just thrown their hands up in the air and said, "Screw this. I'm going to Cabo!" I've never read the book, but seeing a synopsis of the story had me thinking it would be best to leave this particular fable on the page. It looked like a real bitch to film. Then I read that somebody got director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Hulk) on…
20 Nov 2012
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Skyfall is my all-time-favorite Bond movie. Mind you, this is coming from a guy who didn't really get it when it came to James Bond. I've warmed up to him over the years, but I used to hate him. The first time I witnessed Bond in action was as a boy, seeing Sean Connery use a bikini top to choke her in Diamonds Are Forever. This act scared the shit out of me, and made me think Bond was some sort of bad guy. (I had similar child-brain confusion with Robert Shaw's Quint in Jaws ... he was just so mean.) When I was "coming of age," so to speak, Bond got silly, with Roger Moore and stuff like Moonraker and Octopussy. I turned my adolescent attention to the likes of Star Wars, Rocky and The Pink Panther movies. It wasn't until Pierce Brosnan took over the franchise that I…
09 Nov 2012
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A reckless alcoholic who happens to really know how to fly a plane gets a rather strange and romantic screen treatment in director Robert Zemeckis' uneven but entertaining Flight. As airline-pilot Whip Whitaker—who likes vodka, beer, cocaine, cough syrup and flight attendants to excess—Denzel Washington delivers a typically great performance. The movie is excellent in the first half-hour, but just OK after that. Even though the film drags and gets a bit melodramatic or trite in spots, Washington always manages to hold it up. That's a tough task, seeing as this one clocks in at nearly 2 1/2 hours. The film opens with Whip, hung over to the point of still being intoxicated, waking up in a hotel room. A beautiful naked woman prances around while Whip has a tense phone conversation with his ex-wife. Washington plays this scene with a wicked finesse, especially when he leers at the nude…
02 Nov 2012
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About 45 minutes into the nearly three-hour Cloud Atlas screening I attended, some dude blew out his lips, sounding not unlike a bridled horse after piloting a carriage around Disneyland for a half-day. Others stood up, shook their heads and walked out solemnly with their popcorn corn tubs for the first of many refills. Cloud Atlas is one mightily ambitious film. Three directors are at the helm; the cast is high-profile, with most playing multiple roles; and there are interconnecting story arcs spanning centuries. All things considered, it’s remarkable how cohesive the film is. While different directors handled different stories, the film doesn’t feel as if different directors were handling the shots. It has a nice, smooth, unified vision. It's not smooth enough to please everybody, judging by the mass exodus from the theater, but smooth enough to impress the likes of me. The directors are the Wachowski siblings (Andy…