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Reviews

08 Feb 2013
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In Stand Up Guys, a bunch of great actors get together and do their best with middling material. Al Pacino plays a criminal released from a long prison haul, and Christopher Walken plays the guy who is supposed to pick him up—and take his life soon thereafter. I have a hard time with this premise: If you are a crime boss with any brains, and you want somebody smoked, you don’t hire the dude’s best friend to do the gig. Don’t you think there’s a chance the dude won’t follow through? Anyway, Pacino and Walken hang out for a night that includes stealing cars, snorting prescription drugs and hanging out with another old guy (Alan Arkin). The trio makes most of this watchable, but with this cast, you want something more than just watchable. Pacino works hard to get credibility back after a string of loser movies, and he redeems…
07 Feb 2013
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The movie year gets it first big, sweet surprise with Warm Bodies, a funny and surprisingly moving take on the zombie genre from director Jonathan Levine, who gave us the wonderful 50/50. To call Warm Bodies a straight-up zombie flick would be inaccurate; it’s a love story set in a horror-movie world. It’s everything the Twilight saga wanted to be, but failed to become. It’s a movie that knows it is ridiculous, embraces its ridiculousness, and emerges as astonishingly real and true-to-life. The movie opens on a figure in a red-hoodie we will come to know as R (Nicholas Hoult, in a stardom-cementing role). He’s zombie with a fried memory, but he’s still able to conduct a relatively cohesive inner narrative, heard through a voiceover that is clear and concise. However, when R tries to speak out of his mouth, he slurs, moans and groans. He’s a lost boy in…
30 Jan 2013
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I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks! However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong. Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud. First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber…
24 Jan 2013
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This genuinely chilling haunted fairy tale comes from producer Guillermo del Toro and writer/director Andres Muschietti, and is based on Mushcietti’s original short film. Two little girls are abandoned by their demented father in the forest. They are discovered years later and adopted by their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain). The little girls have taken on the characteristics of feral beasts and are convinced they are being watched over by a force they call “Mama.” As it turns out, Mama is very real—a decent CGI creation that is both scary and just the right touch of funny. The film works well, not just because Muschietti knows how to construct a good scare, but also because he does a great job getting you to care for the little girls and the Chastain character. Chastain, looking rather gothic, delivers another good performance, even though she isn’t very convincing as…
21 Jan 2013
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Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to a starring role with The Last Stand, a film that falls somewhere in the middle of the Arnie canon. It’s not a terrible effort—but it’s not anything to get all that excited about, either. Arnie is back, murdering the English language with his own special brand of finesse—but he’s refusing to take his top off. He needs a little more time with the HGH so he can take off his shirt, Stallone style! Yep, Stallone is 66 and has no problem showing off his gloriously fake old-guy pecs. Arnie plays Ray Owens, sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border. When stopping at a local diner to have some coffee, he notices one of the patrons is played by Peter “Where is pancakes house?” Stormare (the actor who put Steve Buscemi through the wood-chipper in Fargo). Ray correctly assesses that this guy means trouble—and bad…
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…