Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Movies N - Q

  -N-

The Naked City (5/5)
Nebraska (4.5/5)
Neighbors (3/5)
Never Let Me Go (3/5)
New York, I Love You (2.5/5)
The Next Three Days (2.5/5)
Night Moves (4.5/5)
Night Moves (3/5)
Night of the Creeps (4/5)
Night of the Living Dead (4.5/5)

Nightbreed (3/5
) 
Nightcrawler (5/5)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (5/5)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (5/5)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (3/5)

9 (3/5)

Nine (2.5/5)

1941 (2/5)

Ninja Assassin (2.5/5)
 
Ninja  Scroll (3.5/5)
 
No Country for Old Men (4/5) 

Noah (3.5/5)
Non-Stop (3/5)
North by Northwest (5/5)  

Nosferatu (5/5)  

Notorious (5/5) 

Now You See Me (3/5)

-O-

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (4.5/5)

Oblivion (3/5)
Obvious Child (4/5)
Oculus (3/5)
Odd Man Out (4/5)
Odd Thomas (3/5)
Oldboy (4.5/5)
Olympus Has Fallen (3/5)
On the Waterfront (4.5/5) 
 
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (3/5)

127 Hours (4/5)

Only Lovers Left Alive (4/5)
Orphan (3.5/5)
Oslo, August 31st (4.5/5)
The Other Guys (2.5/5)
Out of the Furnace (3/5)
Outland (3.5/5)
Outrage (3.5/5)
Oz the Great and Powerful (3.5/5)


  -P-

Pacific Rim (4/5)
Paddington (3.5/5)
Pain & Gain (3/5)
Pan's Labyrinth (4.5/5)
Pandorum (2.5/5)
Panic Room (3/5)
Paper Moon (5/5) 

The Paperboy (2.5/5)
                                                   Paranormal Activity (4/5)
Paranormal Activity 2 (3.5/5)
Paranormal Activity 3 (1.5/5)
ParaNorman (3/5)
Parkland (2.5/5)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (5/5) 
The Past (4/5)
Paths of Glory (4.5/5)

Paul (3/5)
Peeping Tom (4.5/5) 
Penguins of Madagascar (2.5/5)
People Like Us (2.5/5)
                                                           A Perfect Getaway (2.5/5)
Philadelphia (4/5)
Philomena (3.5/5)
Pineapple Express (3.5/5)
The Pink Panther (4.5/5)
Piranha 2 (1/5)
Piranha 3D (3.5/5)
Piranha 3DD (1.5/5)
Pirate Radio (3.5/5)
The Pirates! (3.5/5)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (4/5)  
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (3/5)  
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2/5) 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2.5/5)
 
The Place Beyond the Pines (4.5/5)
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (4.5/5)
Planet of the Apes (4/5)

Planet Terror (3.5/5)
Play Misty for Me (3.5/5)
The Player (4/5)  
Poltergeist (4/5) 
Poltergeist 2015 (1/5)
Ponyo (3.5/5)
Precious (4.5/5)  
Predator (4/5)

Predators (3/5)
Premium Rush (3/5)
The Prestige (4/5)
Prisoners (4/5)
The Professionals (3.5/5)
Prom Night (1.5/5)
Prometheus (3.5/5)
Promised Land (3/5)
The Princess and the Frog (3.5/5)  
The Princess Bride (4.5/5)  
Psycho (5/5)
Public Enemies (4/5)  
Pulp Fiction (5/5)

The Purge (1/5)
The Purge: Anarchy (2.5/5)
Puss in Boots (3.5/5)
The Pyramid (1/5)


The Naked City

Amid a semi-documentary portrait of New York and its people, Jean Dexter, an attractive blonde model, is murdered in her apartment. Homicide detectives Dan Muldoon and Jimmy Halloran investigate. Suspicion falls on various shifty characters who all prove to have some connection with a string of apartment burglaries. Then a burglar is found dead who once had an elusive partner named Willie. The climax is a very rapid manhunt sequence. Filmed entirely on location in New York City.

The Good: “This is just one story” says our narrator as we soon come to understand this story, a small simple murder mystery, is just one minor blip in The Naked City that is New York. Something like this happens every day. A woman is found dead, murder is the case and suspects are few and far between. Our heroes are typical, a veteran lieutenant and rookie detective on the beat. The summer is hot, the streets crowded and the smell of the sultry masses emanate from the screen. It’s all very simple, from script to characterization, but all detailed, lined up and told to perfection. Well paced, honest and far from glamorizing of the city or the heroes and one of the most influential film noirs of its time.

What truly defines The Naked City, though, is how it was made. The film is shot entirely on location in New York City. The scenes indoors were real buildings. The outside shots rival some of the finest still photography of its time. It lives. It breaths. There’s a texture to it all that is that much more apparent when put up against other films of the era that used stock footage and studio sets. It feels real and draws you that much more into it. A set made to look like an apartment still feels like a set. Here, it’s a small space cluttered and trashy and probably with a few leaky ceilings dripping into a sink of dirty dishes and peeled wallpaper flaking on worn hardwood floors. Seeing something like this was a rarity (even moreso considering there’s not major stars in the film itself, using smaller character actors for the most part). A film that takes that route has that little something extra, such as Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (a very similar film in many respects), also show in and around Tokyo, that just captures the essence and atmosphere and place and time far better than someone trying to design it to do so. The Naked City is one of the greats films of New York to ever be made, and seeing it today and knowing that much of what you see is real (a documentary, or perhaps an Italian Neorealist approach) teaches and shows us more than simply reading about it. To see it move and live and the real nakedness of it all makes it one of the greatest films ever made.

The Bad: I don’t doubt that there can be “breaks” in cases, but the ones here seem to come a little too conveniently a little too much at the right time for a good beat. While very real, gritty and honest, especially when it comes to police procedures, the film’s structure still plays out a bit too artificially.

The Ugly: The brilliant (and young) director here, Julius Dassin, is a posterchild of how sickening and pathetic the Hollywood Blacklist was. In 1948 he was Blacklisted (like many such things, nobody really has proof...he just was...and even if it was proof being affiliated with a party isn’t illegal). His career was halted until he decided to relocate to France, then showing Hollywood what for by directing Rififi. Still, though, his career was young and he was set to take off but all that was cut short and he only managed to direct a film here and there at most. Could you imagine the movies this guy could have given us if it wasn’t for that bullshit?

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Nebraska

An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

The Good: There’s a deep acknowledgment and humble understanding of human relationships in Nebraska, rarely appreciated in film because it’s rarely captured so elegant. Again, Alexander Payne addresses elements of family, as he did in The Descendants, with a grounded realism and allowing that element of honest mundane life to open the door to humor. If you live in the mid-west, you’ll likely see even more familiarity. The way people speak, the boredom of an afternoon, the quiet desolation of a highway stretched out, like life itself, that is lonely and bleak as you desperately search for that off-ramp to find meaning.

Yes, like any “road movie” there is that “life is a highway” metaphor, but here the hat is tipped in understanding exactly what it is. Yes, it’s about this man’s life, but it’s also about how easy it is to forget where you’ve been and completely uncertain of where you’re going. Woody and David’s trip is brought to understanding for us through the brilliant performances by Bruce Dern and Will Forte. They possess characters that feel lived in, without having to go in to detail why, and are far more similar than they are different as one might assume.

Funny yet touching, silly at time but with enough introspective honesty that you find that silliness at home amidst the sometimes bleak bittersweetness of it all. Payne makes good movies, but this one could very well be his best as he shows restraint when necessary to bring a sense of grounded realism to it all and the insight into the past life of a man on his last stretch of road is arguably his most poignant.

The Bad: There’s a moment of vindication that, out of the entirety of the film, feels a bit tacked on. We really aren’t sure what to feel about it all because the larger story at hand still feels unresolved. Nebraska is very much an “in the moment” film, where it talks vaguely of its past and has a hazy future on where to go. To appreciate it, you need that mind set, but there’s an odd lack of catharsis when it all comes together towards the end. That vindication ends up passive, and all we’re left with is more questions about whether or not anyone achieved anything in the process.

The Ugly: I feel like the critics saying it’s “making fun of” or “exploiting” people in Nebraska have actually never been to Nebraska.

Do you know who was born and still lives in Nebraska? Alexander Payne.

And guess where the writer was born? Ok, it’s South Dakota, but that’s right next to it.

Is it because it’s not as “pretty” or as “beautiful” as Napa Valley or Hawaii? Give me a break. It's a perfect example of "critics" trying really hard to not like something.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Neighbors

A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house.

The Good: Oh, you’ll laugh here. In terms of what qualifies a comedy as good, and laughter being one of them, Neighbors succeeds. Not necessarily because of its script or story or directing, but really just funny people doing funny things: starting small with slightly funny stuff, then more things for them today, then more escalation, then it all kind of peters out but at least you’re still laughing.

Neighbors is far from a memorable or unique movie, but thanks to Seth Rogen and surprisingly well-put-together comedic turns by Rose Byrne (who only had a “straight” role in the brilliant Bridesmaids) and Zac Efron (who hasn’t done a straight-up comedy in six years), it manages to be an engaging and fun low-brow romp of slap-stick and ridiculously over-the-top scenarios of debauchery.

Director Nicholas Stoller can be a tad hit and miss when it comes to his directing, but he manages to at least wrangle-it all in and just let his actors do what comes naturally. Considering the screenwriters are a bit new to all this, it’s good to have someone at least try to find its strengths and weaknesses. It’s weakness? Plot and pacing. It’s strength? When its actors are given freedom, and from that freedom comes a lot of laughs.

The Bad: Neighbors has a strange way of telling its story. There’s really no act breaks or stuff you would expect in a comedy. It kind of just rolls through the punches with little in terms of character arcs and climaxes. I mean, they’re there…but they’re a bit scattershot. Character motivations are a little loose, despite the characters being memorable and fun, and there’s not a ton of conflict and risk other than “let’s see how far we can take it.”

Even when you’re done and it’s over with, that “let’s see how far we can take it” goes on and the movie resets itself. This happens twice, and few lessons were learned, and then at the end it all feels unsatisfying. Not the journey, but that end, because we’ve been to that end a few times already.

What makes it all worthwhile is the chemistry of every actor in this movie. Yes, it’s sloppy and all over the map in terms of pacing and conflict and even comedy style, but the actors pull you through it. Good comedies can buck the trends and expectations, or even good storytelling, if their characters are solid and actors work well with each other. So while Neighbors may not be the most polished, well-written and refined comedy on the planet, far from it, its actors carry the thing proudly.

The Ugly: Dave Franco - always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Never Let Me Go

As children, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, spend their childhood at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they grow into young adults, they find that they have to come to terms with the strength of the love they feel for each other, while preparing themselves for the haunting reality that awaits them.

The Good:  A lot of science fiction tends to be very direct, on the nose or even preachy at times (see Star Trek, the works of Philip K. Dick or any number of James Cameron films). It's not a fault, merely a path it takes because of the nature of the genre. It's fantastical for the most part and usually the presentation and method parallels that. Never Let Me Go, however, plays it far different and puts the science fiction aspect on the back row and presents itself as a straight drama with moral messages and the defining trait of science fiction: making us ask questions. It has that understated (or unstated, rather) realism that's hard to describe on paper but easy to notice when viewing.

One striking thing is how it doesn't look at all like a science fiction film. Again, it plays itself serious and straight as a drama - looking more akin to a period piece than anything. It brings with it a cast that is superb, Mulligan and Garfield in particular as the star-crossed lovers. They say little but express much through the hushed tones and methodical pace offered by director Mark Romanek, who's previous One Hour Photo is an unheralded thriller, and screenwriter Alex Garland, who's previous Sunshine is an unheralded masterpiece. They work to each others' strengths; putting the sensation and tone of disparate fates on a pedestal and human love a mysterious and uncertain thing as the vehicle. No, it's not your typical "science fiction," it doesn't play out like one, but in the end it certainly will strike you as one in how it sneaks that element into your mind and has you ponder all the questions it brings up.

The Bad: Hey kids. Are you feeling too happy these days? Want something to utterly depress you because there is not a single ray of light within it? Give Never Let Me Go a try: a film that relishes in bleakness and despair to a poetic fault. It's the feel-bad movie of the year that falls so deep within its own depressing tonality that about 45 minutes in, you wonder why it is you kept watching. Well, a beautiful look and wonderful acting can help that, sure, but it's not going to put a smile on your face.

More importantly, though, is you can't quite understand or grasp the world it sets up and why it is so dark and bleak. It's an alternate-history, sort of, but you have no bearing on how this world works or why. A rather brilliant dystopian film in Children of Men sets up its world and the characters thrive therein. Here, the characters thrive, but we can't quite relate because we don't know this place and time or can understand the "why" behind it all. The people within it do, occasionally, and they do their best to explain. But nothing is every quite clear or understandable - similar to the film's message where you aren't quite sure what it's trying to tell you on top of it all and is neither poignant or profound...merely there.

The Ugly: I suppose the message might be "life is short, make of it what you can." But that's putting too neat of a bow on it, I think. It does leave you with that sense of satisfaction or understanding, only sadness.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


New York, I Love You

Ten vignettes in New York City: a pickpocket meets his match; a young Hasidic woman, on the eve of her marriage, reveals herself to an Indian businessman; a writer tries a pick-up line; an artist seeks a model; a composer needs to read; two women connect; a man takes a child to Central Park; lovers meet; a couple takes a walk on their anniversary; a kid goes to the prom with a girl in a wheelchair; a retired singer contemplates suicide. There are eight million stories in the naked city: these have been ten of them.

The Good: I've no doubt that there was a mission for New York, I Love You. A collection of short stories about the city and its inhabitants is ripe for creativity and interesting points. For the most part, it at least is entertaining in each one despite its jumbled nature because you're interested in what the next story will be, where it will take place and how the characters will come to know each other.  Most of these short segments are beautifully shot, impeccably acted and, for the most part, have a unique point they wish to address. Whether it's a rather humorous irony of man so full of his ability to pick up a woman to find he's failed miserably, a woman contemplating suicide or a subtle drama between a couple in a restaurant (all three segments easily the more powerful ones in the film but for completely different reasons).  Thankfully, none of the shorts, even if you aren't liking them, ever feel as though they're wasting your time. The rather lyrical one by Natalie Portman, for example, might seem without point when compared to what's bookending it, yet it's one that you realize as touching in hindsight even if it's not quite in tone with everything else. If only some didn't come off as film student shorts that try to be too "arty" or "poignant."

The Bad: I know this is a collection of little stories done by different people, each with unique tones and takes, but there's a couple that really stick out as, shall we say, awkward and completely out of the film's element. Maybe some ground rules needed to be made regarding the tone and approach the film is to have, because few really have anything to do with New York itself (odd, considering the film's counterpart Paris, Je T'aime is both far more creative, unique and with higher profile people involved) and few of the characters come across as actually likable or give us a point to them actually being there. While the film wants to celebrate the diversity and uniqueness found in the great city, it unintentionally shows how utterly disconnected everyone is at the same time. There's really no unity and when it tries to show it, it comes off as forced and nothing more than a mere cameo of someone who is starring in some other short within the film.  Another aspect that wears itself far too thin is that many of the shorts try to bring in some ironic twist to everything at the end. This works beautifully in some, but is utterly not needed in others because the point of the short wasn't the twist but the path being traveled. This all comes across as forced as the film, simply, never quite comes together despite its few hidden gems.

The Ugly: One of these shorts is not like the other, and it's directed by Brett Ratner. It's awkward, to say the least, but as I said...it's still  entertaining.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Next Three Days

Lara Brennan is arrested for murdering her boss whom she had an argument with. It seems she was seen leaving the scene of the crime and her fingerprints were on the murder weapon. Her husband, John would spend the next few years trying to get her released but there's no evidence that negates the evidence against her. And when the strain of being separated from her family especially her son gets to her, John decides to break her out. So he does a lot of research to find a way.

The Good: It wasn't too long ago where I thought to myself "there really hasn't been a good 'prison-escape' film in a long while. The effort and focus of something such as Cool Hand Luke, The Great Escape, Escape from Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption made all those classics. The Next Three Days takes that concept but shifts it. Rather than breaking out from the inside, it's about a man determined to break out someone from the outside. He's not a criminal either, just a normal teacher trying to figure out how to pull it off.

On paper, that sounds intriguing, and for the most part The Next Three Days is, at the very least, just that: intriguing. The film manages to always be interesting, even if it turns a tad redundant (and maybe nonsensical) at times. But Crowe's character, John, shows consistent passion and determination which we end up sharing. Crowe's range as an actor has never been in doubt, and The Next Three Days shows a very "normal" non-character for him to portray. The same goes for Elizabeth Banks who really shines in one of her stronger performances. Also, any film that plugs in a Liam Neeson cameo has to be doing something right.

The Bad: As strange as it may sound, The Next Three Days is simply too neat of a movie. It has its share of tension and suspense, and does those well, but it also seems to be too nice in the end. A very Hollywood path for a thriller to take and not a surprising one considering writer/director Paul Haggis's usual take on these things. Plus, for what it wants to do (which is show how a normal, everyday man can somehow become a criminal), much of what John achieves seems more forced than necessarily realistic. He's told some things, then does it. Much we can buy, such as learning from the internet, but other things where he actually needs to execute everything seems a little too contrived which plays against the "everyday man" story The Next Three Days is going for.

There's also a major hole in the story. Not a plot hole, necessarily, but certainly something missing: and that's showing how the life of John and Lara were before everything. There's little to no attachment to Lara, we really don't know anything about her, and the only thing we know about John is he wants to free her from prison. The son in this story is a footnote. More needed to be focused on the family, the "why" John loves her and wants her back, than the "how" he goes about doing it.

The Ugly: Elizabeth Banks isn't much known for acting, but she does a decent enough job here with what she has to work with. It's just too bad not a whole lot of people are going to see it.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Night Moves

Former footballer and present private detective Harry Moseby gets hired on to what seems a standard missing person case...

The Good: Night Moves is a neo-noir film, rooted firmly in the genre it homages but with the style of a 1970s atmospheric piece. It's more psychological than mysterious as we end up with a character study of our main protagonist - played by a man who knows how to portray a flawed "hero" Gene Hackman. Hackman has been in his share of overlooked gems of movies and I'd consider Night Moves one of his finest performances. Harry is in a situation that, even as a private detective, he just can't fully understand or quite grasp. He finds himself at odds with his own thoughts and, perhaps in a too-late of a revelation for him, realizes there's a lot more at stake than a simple case.

Night Moves is all about the pacing. Its director, Arthur Penn, understands that more than most filmmakers. It's a slow-brew type of film that looks to study the elements of Harry's character, with the case only as the means to his deconstruction as both a man and as a private detective - usually something that's put on a pedestal and beloved. It's a quiet, almost bleak and lonely piece of cinema that doesn't look to take the easy route in any aspect of its plot, characters or themes and, to this day, is constantly analyzed as possibly Arthur Penn's seminal work.

Like Harry, don't expect a full understanding of him or the situation he finds himself drowning in. The film is often intentionally ambiguous as we try to determine who these people are, why they do what they do and how Harry, as both a man, a detective and a symbolic representation of "machismo" and heroism, fits into the picture. This is a film that certainly puts the journey as the emphasis, not the destination; a complex, layered piece that's a lot more than just about a singular man but a look into the culture and society of the era it stems from. It's a deconstruction of what we assume to be the "heroic PI" on the trail to solve the case. It makes you think. Ponder. Not necessarily understand everything, but at least understand that things are a lot more complex when it comes to something that is often streamlined for stories and film. Solving mysteries is never that easy, and we sometimes forget the people going out to solve them are still human, not superhuman.

It's incredible just how great of an actor Gene Hackman, now retired from the craft, really was and Night Moves is one of the best pieces of acting you'll see from him or anyone else. His range is astounding and here he gives an understated and subtle performance of man that holds fast to wanting to do the "right" and at the same time mismanages doing the right things for himself. He's lonely despite being loved and even married - completely disassociated from seeing things "normally" because his job has consumed his entire life.

Yet, the story never shows him as being wrong or unable to be "normal." He desires it, and you pity when he fails and pity even more when it's taken away from him over and over again. Moseby is a weak man who is simply in over his head, but he feels by finding that light at the end of the tunnel he might just find his purpose...if not his salvation. A complex character to say the least and easily one of Gene Hackman's most overlooked performances in his career. Then again, Night Moves is one of those overlooked films as well, forgotten over time despite the acclaim and underrated simply because not nearly enough people have come to appreciate it. It's not just a detective story and a mystery, it's an amazing character study as well.

The Bad: Night Moves is a film that might unintentionally make you feel lax. It's a very casual, laid-back film most of the time, and as a result you might end up not realizing the various impressive layers it dives into. For example, there's a constant parallel comparison to Harry's realistic, human private detective and the private detective that we assume he should. It's as much a deconstruction of archetypes as it is the psyche of a broken man. With the very casual, often quiet dialogue and many moments of simple silence, you become lost in those moments without really thinking about what the film is trying to say. That's all a very broad, general assertion, though. Truth is, if you understand what Night Moves is and isn't, it's hard to find a lot to complain about. It's an understated, contemplative piece of film noir with a brilliant performance and an understanding of pace and structure.

Though the dialogue is interesting and look into the mind of our protagonist a nice addition, it's not quite as well implemented and paced as the rest of the movie. Scenes of banter, action and investigation move freely where discussions of ideologies, the past and attempting to look and understand more about the characters not only feel a little slower and out of place, they almost feel like a completely separate film. The time the film spends in Florida is a great example of this: little happens during this long sequence to evolve the plot. It's an oddly paced movie that, when it hits its stride, is every bit as compelling as the likes of other Neo-Noir masterpieces such as Chinatown, but the slow lulls tend to hinder it in the long run.

The Ugly: The often intentional ambiguity may turn some away. It's not a film that's going to make everything clear, only that in this line of work nothing is ever clear.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Night Moves

Three radical environmentalists look to execute the protest of their lives: the explosion of a hydroelectric dam.

The Good: A well directed thriller with solid performances is about as basic of a description as I can give Night Moves. It’s not a bad film necessarily, but it’s one where you probably enjoy discussing its morality tale of eco-terrorists after the fact than actually sitting through its plodding narrative. Thankfully we have enough interesting material and characters to shuffle us through the often overly-dryness of everything else.

Night Moves is about minimalist filmmaking (for a film that’s also about minimalist living in a way). Shot entirely on location with probably a skeleton crew and small cast, it’s a movie that showcases little dialogue and more about mood and atmosphere. We get more from a look or an awkward pause from Josh, played wonderfully by Jessie Eisenberg, than we do any long paragraph of exposition. Nobody in this movie is particularly likable, yet they are very easy to relate to with their simple body language and director Kelly Reichardt’s willingness to let a picture say a thousand words rather than the characters try to speak it.

The Bad: To an extent, Night Moves has some interesting things to say and to present to us, it simply doesn’t do it all that well. It’s a ponderous film that is more intriguing than engaging. That seems like two things that can’t be exclusive with one another, yet Night Moves somehow manages that by having some intriguing things to be working with, from characters to gray morality, yet never seems to make them all that interesting enough to care about.

It’s a beautifully restrained thriller that becomes a victim to its own devices. There’s some fantastic moments in its third act, but that’s just its third act. The other two-thirds seem wayward and bored with itself half the time with uninteresting characters despite the actors being fine in their respective parts. In other words, “get” a guy like Josh and how Eisenberg portrays him, I have met girls like Dena and Fanning is great as her, but I don’t really care all that much about them here and for the movie to say at the end that I should just doesn’t feel satisfactory.

The Ugly: I truly wish I liked this movie more. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but I’m such a fan of Reichardt that I really wanted to enjoy it more than I did. Maybe her style just didn’t fit with the material as well as it did with something like Meek’s Cutoff or Wendy and Lucy. Same writing collaborator though…

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Night of the Creeps

In 1959, an alien experiment crashes to earth and infects a fraternity member. They freeze the body, but in the modern day, two geeks pledging a fraternity accidentally thaw the corpse, which proceeds to infect the campus with parasites that transform their hosts into killer zombies.

The Good: Original (by not being original, strangely enough). Imaginative. Really one of a kind, actually. Night of the Creeps has a little bit of flavor and style for everyone, from science fiction to classic slasher, but its central story and idea is the always beloved zombie movie. Here, though, is a zombie movie that is a little quirkier and funnier than your typical ones, similar to the way An American Werewolf in London is to werewolf movies. It's not entirely over-the-top gory fun ala Braindead, but finds a nice little corner called "fun" that the recent Zombieland tapped into as well. Fred Dekker also directed a much loved 1980s classic, the Monster Squad, however Night of the Creeps is purely an R-rated experience due to its blood and violence. It takes us on a trip, an homage if you will, of various film genres and styles. From a very 1980s-like science fiction spaceship and a lost experiment, a classic black and white science fiction movie about zombie-creating slugs, a tale of an axe-murder that just escaped from an institution, and of course zombies galore that crave your flesh. All this is intertwined and firmly built around the story of our hero, played by Jason Lively, and 1980s horror-staple Tom Atkins (who claims this his favorite role, and his love and enthusiasm on screen shows) not to mention a college, a perfect place to set a horror movie that is more showing its affection to the genre than really looking to redefine it. It's light, fun, intentionally cliche and an overall great time as one of the unheralded horror classics.

The Bad: Night of the Creeps is a horror movie for horror movie fans. It's that category that will get a bigger kick out of it than someone who maybe doesn't get its darkly humorous puns and homages. Personally, I don't know how you can not like a movie where a hot girl straps on a flamethrower over the evening gown and torches zombies is beyond me, but that's the kind of humor/horror you should expect. Still, though, there are inherent flaws with the script which stumbles and even outright trips in th final act and it's obvious that the body is deadlifted to the conclusion, which amounts to very little satisfactory resolution. i had the same issue with Dekker's Monster Squad where 80% of the film is brilliant and the rest feeling like a blind child in a room after the furniture has been rearranged. Having characters stand around, talking about how they shouldn't be standing around, then one big final climatic battle feels like necessary contrivances that the good time we had been into up to that point.

The Ugly: This movie had faded from public view for a long time thanks to no DVD distribution. Only screenings, importing it or downloading it via torrent could it be found. Finally, though, it has been picked up for domestic release. Check it out when you can, an absolute classic and quintessential 1980s horror.

Final Rating:
4 out of 5


Night of the Living Dead

The radiation from a fallen satellite might have caused the recently deceased to rise from the grave and seek the living to use as food. This is the situation that a group of people penned up in an old farmhouse must deal with.

The Good: Some movies are just timeless. I don’t mean “classic,” mind you, though Night of the Living Dead is that as well, but they are movies that, when you see it, it doesn’t really date itself. In the case of Romero’s classic, outside of the opening and showing the car, it takes place entirely in one little house that could be 1968, 1985 or 2010. When you throw in the quality of the acting, the simple and universal story and the political undertones, you have something that’s also made in a timeless way alongside with what appears on screen visually.

The black and white, almost documentary-style look to it all is the film’s defining trait and has been emulated just as much as the concept of zombies itself. It’s intimate, close and the sense of the claustrophobic pressure cooker of human drama all inside a little shack of a house that could be anywhere. That’s right, it’s a human drama with some scares, a particular formula that is a perfect fit for what we now dub a “zombie movie.” At least, in the Romero sense. It could be anything outside of that house. Wolves. Vampires. Brain-hungry Ewoks. The story isn’t about them, it’s about the people inside and thanks to the strong performances and superb pacing of it all, we find ourselves in that house with them and begin to understand, relate and care about them. Night of the Living Dead is a great film for a number of reasons, but its take on the human condition which supersedes its own desire to be “just a horror flick” is what makes it a timeless one.

The Bad: No matter how hard one might try, it's incredibly difficult to find an element to consider a fault in Night of the Living Dead. I suppose if you don't like these types of movies, you probably won't like this one either, but the film has broad appeal and is on such a small scale that it meets its goals and ambitions and intents perfectly. It's a film you can nitpick but those nitpicks won't amount to the overall film, they're just cherry picking faults and that doesn't make for calling something "bad" or even one element "bad" when it's so minor to begin with. Night of the Living Dead is too well written and too influential to really start trying to try and find a fault to begin with.

The Ugly: So influential is this film, it's sad that so many films dealing with zombies and living dead have to use the same old "survivors locked up in some place" plot. The conventions set in this film are still used in many horror films today...and most aren't nearly as effective.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Nightbreed

A community of mutant outcasts of varying types and abilities attempts to escape the attentions of a psychotic serial killer and redneck vigilantes with the help of a brooding young man who discovers them. Based on the novel "Cabal" by Clive Barker.

The Good: To just get it out there: Nightbreed is a film most casual moviegoers will not enjoy, however genre fans, and fans of Clive Barker in general, will absolutely love it. Why? Because it will speak to them and is made for them.  It's about outcasts and presumptions: our hero used and, soon, finding his place amongst those that are outcasts alongside him. The movie does a great job making you think one thing, then doing a 180 as the real villains reveal themselves. It's a nice change, and there's some spectacular special effects to bring the concept to life.

The Bad: Nightbreed is a mess of a movie, but an enjoyable, original and unique mess nonetheless. Sub plots seem to go nowhere, characters come and go out of the story with little relation to the plot...and the plot not knowing if it wants to be a romance movie, a battle epic with humans and demons or a slasher flick. It's a prime example of ideas and inventiveness not coming together, but those ideas and ambition still being quite admirable in the process. It feels cut up (because it is) and jumpy and uneven with little time given to catch a breath, gain any bearings to the situation or to the develop the plot into something with depth to go along with the concepts.

One of the main subplots that never goes anywhere, though, is so damn good that you wish more was done with it. That's the story that involves Dr. Decker, played wonderfully by David Cronenberg, and his moonlighting as a serial killer in one hell of a frightening mask to go along with his fondness for knives. This subplot is so well done, that you wish there was a spinoff film. Instead, we get something that really dominates the film when it's not really what the film is about. Yet, it's something you badly want to see developed and given more relevance to. It just never happens and gets lost in the minutia of the Nightbreed versus humans story and the romance angle. Too much going on for one film here, and it's too bad because it leaves you with a cliffhanger on top of it all.

The Ugly: I don't excuse a film that succumbed studio cuts and mishandling. I see what's there, and determine everything from that. That being said, if there is a director's cut out there with the longer running time, I can see how much of the issues with the film, the lack of character development, more elaboration on subplots and certainly the pacing, would certainly be alleviated if simply given more time.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Nightcrawler

When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.

The Good: A bit exploitation cinema, a bit character study, a bit dark comedy - Nightcrawler is a down and dirty indie thriller that’s only a “thriller” because it’s a bit hard to actually define the movie with a simple “genre” title. It plays fast and loose with a lot of them but there’s one constant: a sociopathic main character. It’s from him that the tension can build, suspense play out, comedy emerge, drama come forth and analysis on our part to begin. Hell, it begs for it, because you’ll end up analyzing the inner workings of Lou just as much as Lou enjoying analyzing the inner workings of whatever he puts his deranged mind towards.

Lou is played by Jack Gyllenhaal…”played”…hmmm…that also doesn’t quite sound right, does it? He less “plays” him as an actor and a role and more embodies him to a heightened and frightening way where the separation of actor and performance is pretty negligible. You don’t see Gyllenhaal “playing” anyone here. You just see Lou and all his ugly glory. When he stares at you, that’s Lou staring at you, not some actor. When he spouts one of his very-quotable lines, you get the sense that Lou, as a person, sat up nights in his stinky, dirty studio apartment and pretended to give that line or that speech towards someone - not some actor just learning his role in his house.

Gyllenhaal goes places and takes the extra mile here, and it’s all given the attention and respect it deserves by writer/director Dan Gilroy who not only has written by far his finest script but shows an incredible ability to direct and understand the element of performance to get the most out of his actors (long takes, fantastic sense of tone in every scene to deliver emotional context, all shot by the extremely talented Robert Elswit). All parts are in place for a fantastic, small thriller that isn’t “carried” by one thing but of many - a polished, all-around amazing film that manages to ask big questions about news, morality and human interactions yet still retain an intimate, character-driven story.

The Bad: I needed to digest this one for a week before doing a review on it. It’s one of those movies that you contemplate rather than just react to, and those are often rare. So, in all that contemplation, I needed to think of what I would consider “bad” in a movie where many things are intentionally bad (not a single likable character, for example. Troubling and violent crime depictions another). Nightcrawler feels like a movie that was combed over and delicately put together that nothing feels unintentional. So…yeah, I had a hard time coming up with anything. I still do.

Because Nightcrawler might just be a perfect movie.

I know, I know. “Perfect” doesn’t hold the weight it once did. There’s so much hyperbole out on the internet that everything is “the greatest” or “the worst” or “You must watch this baby panda video it will change your life.”

Well I don’t think Nightcrawler will change the life of anyone, not like that baby panda at least, but it will teach someone the superb craftsmanship of making a movie. I mentioned the directing, I mentioned the acting, the cinematography…they’re all fantastic. Then you have the wonderful score and overall sense of mood (a constant sense of uneasiness in the urban decay of Los Angeles) and you know…Nightcrawler doesn’t really do anything wrong. It’s not meant to move you, our main character is a sociopath after all, and it sets out to say and to show what it wants to convey with such precision that nothing feels wasted or without purpose.

In other words, Nightcrawler could be the best movie of 2014. At least in terms of craftsmanship. Now I personally may not put it at #1 but I damn sure wouldn’t argue if someone did. Then again, who cares about numbers and rankings anyways? A good, no “Great,” movie is a great movie no matter what and you should see this one as soon as you possibly can.

The Ugly: The more time that passes, the more I like this movie, if not love it. It will easily become a cult classic in the same vein as a Drive or American Psycho.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween -- but alas, they can't get it quite right.

The Good: As a timeless masterpiece of animation, I’d be hard pressed to know where to begin when attempting to review The Nightmare Before Christmas, one of the most brilliant films ever shot and animated. The phrase “timeless masterpiece of animation” pretty much is self-explanatory, is it not?  So are other phrases that are often associated with it: “a film for all ages,” “universally beloved,” and “goddamnit I love that movie.” - The latter being the usual first response to anyone who says “So, what did you think of The Nightmare Before Christmas?”

It’s this unique blend of dark, gothic airiness and atmosphere with just a dash of Grimm’s fairy tales for good measure. It’s most notable feature is the artistry and look – this combination of a horror movie meets Salvador Dali painting and is utterly convincing in its execution. This uniqueness isn’t what allows it to be so universally appealing: its characters and concept achieve that. It’s plot, also not completely original but, again, the execution of it all allows it to captivate us in this dark, Grinch-inspired fable, is strewn with wonderful songs by Danny Elfman and some impressive voicework by the likes of Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara and William Hickey. In fact, it’s kind of ironic that there’s so much life here amongst all the “dead things.”

It’s a spirited film (pardon the pun) that’s incredibly optimistic, romantic, adventurous and even a little scary at times. It’s arguably the greatest stop-motion film ever made (as in fully animated, we’re not including Harryhausen in that discussion) and unarguably one that brought a sensational sense of credibility and mainstream acceptance to it all. Before A Nightmare Before Christmas, the best stop-motion animated films were arguably foreign imports (the likes of Barta and Trnka come to mind, Wallace and Gromit aside of course) and were more shorts than features on top of that.

The Bad: There are some minor issues with pace, a few lulls in the ocean waves as they say, and perhaps some songs less memorable than others, but in the grand scheme of things it's pretty damn hard to find a lot of faults in this film. I say that with complete honesty. I love the film, but I don't have a particular bias or fondness towards it. Truth is I didn't even see it until I was well into my film studies in college a decade after it came out. It's just a finely made film that, I'm sorry, is just impossible to not like or hold any disparaging elements it might have against it.

The Ugly: Did you Jack Skellington also made a cameo appearance in James and the Giant Peach? He wasn't really his same character found here, though. It was pretty cool to see him in it, though he was a "bad guy" in every sense of the word.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


A Nightmare on Elm Street

In the early 1980's, a psychopath named Freddy Krueger - known as the Springwood Slasher - murdered several children with a glove outfitted with straight razor blades attached to the fingers. When a foolish decision by a judge sets him free, Krueger is burned alive in the boiler room where he worked by an angry mob of the parents whose children he terrorized & murdered. Years after his death, the children whose parents were responsible for Krueger's death - including Nancy Thompson, daughter of the police officer who arrested Krueger - are experiencing terrifying nightmares involving a burned man wearing a glove with razor blades on the fingers. The ghost of Freddy Krueger is haunting their dreams, and when Nancy's best friend Tina dies in her sleep violently during a dream confrontation with Krueger, Nancy realizes she must find a way to stop the evil psychopath's reign of terror - or never sleep again...

The Good: Although he turned into a parody of himself in the numerous sequels, Freddy Krueger in the original Nightmare on Elm Street is probably the greatest horror villain of all time. Why, you ask? There are plenty of others, such as The Wolfman, Dracula, Michael Myers, the Alien and Frankenstein's Monster. It's because Wes Craven put a huge amount of mystique around Kruger and proved in the first film that it's not so much what you see that scares but what you don't see. Krueger is actually barely in the film until the end, we never see him directly, but we hear him, see shadows dance on walls, his silhouette in a dark alley, but we really have no idea who he is or what he looks like. The slasher movie was at its height at this point, yet Freddy wasn't your typical slasher. The entire original concept of a killer that invades your dreams had never even been considered before. Throw in the visual artistry of those dreams on screen, you have a cross between Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls and Halloween. Yet, even that isn't quite a good comparison because Krueger was, on top of all that, a killer with a personality - something that I think it exclusive only to him. Silent, he is not, and the threat of him doesn't come from the claws and dreams as much as it is the characters' in the real world trying to not fall asleep. He's joyous when they do, however, because now he has them.  He knows he is simply more powerful than you. Not powerful in the strong, bash your brains in power, but because he could control your mind and thoughts. The dream concept allows for so much imagination and creativity to be expressed, reality versus fantasy, and were later exploited to comedic lengths. But in the original dark, truly frightening and unique A Nightmare on Elm Street, where you were frightened of corners in the dark and pitch-perfect atmosphere, characters were believable and Freddy taken seriously (as in secondary to Nancy's story), it shows how it is quite possibly the greatest slasher movie of all time and easily one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Playing with our perception of what is real and what isn't has never been so frightening and this film masterfully toys with us in a way rare with horror films.

The Bad: Although the teens are actually written in a respectable manner (as in, not dumb, although slightly stereotypical), the adults are utterly stupid.So much so that their odd, apparently satirical, approach as the "adults who never believe their kids"ends up more like an impersonation of actual adults than actual adults in a film that otherwise takes itself incredibly seriously.

The Ugly: Surprised by the score? You should be.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

A re-imagining of the horror icon Freddy Krueger, a serial-killer who wields a glove with four blades embedded in the fingers and kills people in their dreams, resulting in their real death in reality.

The Good:  A movie with some really nifty ideas, and certainly some great effects and a slick look, that trips over its own desire to get really smart with its story. If it took the simple, straightforward route, it could end up one of the better horror movies in recent memory. As is, we have to make do with a fantastic performance by Jackie Earl Haley, some solid characters and leads and a really nice look to everything that shows a good level of polish yet retain the gritty look its going for.

The scares start out cheap. Simple jumps and loud noises, but soon turn moody and interesting as the dreams and "micronaps" start to play a more prominent role. It's a movie that slowly escalates and always, always moves forward which is a great thing. It's dreams become more and more hectic if not elaborate, all with a great mood to them and some that has you always questioning if our characters are awake or not. I also found the characters a lot smarter and, surprisingly because most slasher movies do the exact opposite, pretty likable. For once in a slasher movie, I really didn't want to see them die. I...I actually wanted them to win and defeat what's haunting them. This is a major attribute for the movie. One not to be taken lightly because even the original Nightmare on Elm Street had characters that were just asking for it. Of course, not everything is sunshine and rainbows here and the nightmares of annoyances and contrivances begin to show themselves.

The Bad: (Spoilers) I can buy kids forgetting things from their past. I can buy them especially from traumatic experience. But I cannot, whatsoever, buy that every single kid forgets their past. It just doesn't work like that. This isn't some family trip over a weekend that a child might forget, this was a school they went to every single day and with a person there that they played with and knew well for a while. It takes it one step further on top of that and says that the four friends don't remember each other on top of that...yet they're friends now (which tells me they probably grew up with each other because that's what kids in small towns do). What's worse is the movie even has a character say "who doesn't remember things when they're five?" Do you know who says that? One of the parents of the kids that is supposed to not remember anything. Then another kid, apparently, remembers later on judging my his saying they lied when they were kids (which is later ruined and never explored).  What? Now you're just tripping over yourself.

You see, this is where the movie tries to get a little too smart for its own good. The original just went with a revenge tale. It was simple. It worked. Here, you just complicate things and you end up having more questions than anything because you naturally know that every single kid, surely, would forget their entire past. To Elm Street's credit, though, it does tend to wash over this quickly and shifts to the background of Kruger and the deaths of many other children. Even if the "why" makes no sense, at least it stays focused on what's really important. Not the mystery of things, but the  killer in your dreams. It's the same as with the original which also had questions (such as "why now does Freddy appear?") but it too washes over this to get to what's important. Still...things do stack up.

A Nightmare on Elm Street, despite it's desire to be a smart film, just never sees anything through. THis is most noted by a very, very rushed third act where everything that felt like buildup ends up wasted opportunities as the final battle must commence. I won't go into too much detail, but when a characters says "come on, I know what we have to do" and it feels about thirty minutes too soon, that's a problem.

The Ugly: So let me get this straight. One of the kids has a video blog, we see him "die" apparently....so who uploaded the video? Again...logic...not around in this world, it seems.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


9

After an apocalyptic war between human and machines, the world is completely destroyed and without human life. The burlap doll 9 awakes without voice and finds a weird object in the middle of the debris that he brings with him. While walking through the ruins, 9 is attacked by a machine called Beast but he is saved by another doll called 2 that fixes his voice. 2 brings 9 to meet his hidden community, leaded by the coward 1. When 2 is captured by a machine, the newcomer 9 convinces the other dolls to go with him to rescue 2. However, 9 places the device that he found in a slot and activates a lethal machine called Brain. The burlap dolls are chased by Brain and despite the advices of 1 that they should hide, 9 organizes an attack to destroy Brain.

The Good: There's not a whole lot of animated films, or films in general, that are able to express the despair and atmosphere of a lifeless world. For a debut film, Shane Acker gives us something, visually at least, that is utterly unique, dark and mature. The story is nothing unique, however the film's ability to take little sack dolls and bring such personality to them gives us something to hold on to, and actually feel for, all the way to the end. Although the story is a mixed bag of cliches, the action sequences are enthralling and little sack characters people (yes, people) you will surely root for.

The Bad: Perhaps too dark for its own good, after seeing 9 you're left wondering "what now?" It doesn't exactly end on a high note, or even a bad note.  It just ends with a small bit of closure but nothing insanely satisfying. The film wants to be a mystery, and it has a nice an interesting premice, but it loses focus of a concentrated story in the process. In fact, it's incredibly repettive and on occassion horribly predictable as it reuses certain plot devices multiple times. There's little joy to be found here, save for one character who is certfiable insane and thus off-kilter, but one of the apsects of the human condition is at least a little bit of a smile, or even happiness, yet everyone is miserable and depressed. I think that the lack of light anywhere brings in an unnessary bleakness to everything, not just the world which is obvious, and would have us not see the characters as mere personalities in sacks, but emotionally resonant characters.

The Ugly: If this movie and the Terminator series and the Matrix series teaches us anything, for the love of God please stop making smart robots.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Nine

Arrogant, self-centered movie director Guido Contini finds himself struggling to find meaning, purpose, and a script for his latest film endeavor. With only a week left before shooting begins, he desperately searches for answers and inspiration from his wife, his mistress, his muse, and his mother. As his chaotic profession steadily destroys his personal life, Guido must find a balance between creating art and succumbing to its obsessive demands.

The Good: My worst fears came to realization as I began losing interest in an otherwise lavish looking and photographically beautiful movie - Nine is a by the numbers adaptation of a Broadway play from first scene to last. There's little creativity and originality here, something I criticized Rob Marshall's Chicago for yet that went on to win best picture for whatever reason. It has beautiful sets, Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic as Guido and the choreography and dance numbers, as removed from the film as they may be, are engaging.

The Bad: Like Chicago, there's little weight to this story or characters, songs that have little to no relevance to what's going on (although Chicago's songs were, at least, catchy...although that had nothing to do with the film itself those were written decades prior) and the main portions of the film appear to be Marshall simply setting the camera down on a stage (or inside a warehouse) with some crane shots thrown in for good measure and shooting the Choreography. I'm sorry, but my feelings have not changed here. This is just lazy and shoving a camera into the production of something done years before with little to no alteration is an insult to the craft of film. The posters should read "Missed NINE back in the 1980s? Now you can see it." In that respect, I liked Nine...but the awards, the material used as a vehicle for name celebrities and the lack of originality to the presentation make me cringe. There's no feeling as a whole to film either, something I'll admit even Chicago was able to do well, and everything feels more a set up to a musical piece than an actual story being told. Eventually, it just turns into a mess a movie that I lost interest 40 minutes.

The Ugly: This is Awards-season bait if I ever saw it. The voters love this tripe and, despite the very mixed reviews this time, probably won't sway them. I'll give them Day-Lewis, he's great, and maybe Cottilard but anything else should be left aside.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


1941

It's been six days since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Panic grips California, supposedly the next target of the Japanese forces. Everywhere in California, people are suffering from war nerves. Chaos erupts all over the state. An Army Air Corps Captain, a civilian with a deranged sense of Nationalism, civilian defenders, and a Motor Pool crew all end up on the trail of a lost Japanese sub that has picked Hollywood as their own target. Will these people be able to defend their homes? Will they be able to preserve the safety in California? Will they be able to get a hold of themselves?

The Good: A visually impressive film with subtle special effects (for which it was nominated). It’s characters are eccentric and compelling and the series of gags, while ham fisted, can get you laughing. There are numerous comedic styles ranging form parody (even riffing on Spielberg’s own Jaws), screwball and slapstick and Blake Edwards-esque dialogue banter.

The Bad: While not as bad as some might assume, it is a film with a pretty big laundry list of problems and is still considered one of Spielberg’s worst films. It tries to be a classic screwball comedy (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) combined with a parody (Airplane). It has its moments where those comedic styles work and you’ll get some chuckles, but it’s so drawn-out, inconsistent and, well, the whole film just seems to be a patchwork of scenes and ideas. There’s nothing really coherent about it. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes its serious (Spielberg himself says it should have been marketed as a drama) most of the time, though, it’s merely mediocre entertainment and the result of a director who felt invincible. It‘s self-serving and you can sense the ego running from the first flam to the final credits..

The Ugly: I would love, love, to have seen Spielberg make this later in his career. He just wasn’t at the right point in his career to tackle it, I think, and has made better comedies and light-hearted films since. I should also note that I reviewed the full Spielberg cut of the film, not the theatrical cut that Spielberg never approved and was against. I gave that one the benefit of the doubt, but this one doesn’t change a whole lot.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Ninja Assassin

Trained since childhood to be a lethal killer, Raizo has since turned his back on the Ozunu clan that raised him and now seeks revenge for their heartless murders. Teaming up with Europol investigator Mika, Raizo steadily butchers his enemies while inching ever closer to the long-awaited bloody reunion with his former master.

The Good: Is it 1987? I feel like I stepped back in time when action movies were bloody, gory, had ninjas and an awful story and bad acting to cap it all off.  In a basic, fundamental action movie sense, Ninja Assassin works. It has some decent choreography and passable action set up excuses to get your adrenaline going. But nothing quite justifies the awfulness of everything else.

The Bad: Had the faults and homages to classic action movies been intentional, I would say Ninja Assassin would have been a really witty and sharp action flick. As it is not, and immediately takes itself far, far too seriously, we end up with something that isn't nearly as "cool" and "unique" as it likes to think it is. A dash of comedy or a lighter tone would have done wonders here. Throw in the awful acting with characters spouting dialogue as though they're reading a teleprompter, and you really end up with something disastrous.... which Ninja Assassin pretty much is. I think there's basic elements it wanted to do, but can't quite figure out how to piece them together and everything comes across as the "basic take" of what could have been something far more engaging, original and inspired. As it is, it's a decent rush but otherwise a complete mess of a film that makes you wonder if James McTeigue has any ounce of talent in him after V for Vendetta.

The Ugly: RAAAAAAIN!

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Ninja Scroll

A ninja-for-hire is forced into fighting an old nemesis who is bent on overthrowing the Japanese government. His nemesis is also the leader of a group of demons each with superhuman powers.

The Good: Violence, blood, sex and demons all at the edge of a ninja’s blade. Ninja Scroll, is known for those elements above all else, and rightfully so. It does it and does it well, better than many animated films, and the quality is astounding and the story pretty much writes itself from beginning to end. All that was needed for these things was a vehicle: a basic plot, and with it’s simplicity in story and dynamic scene directing, you have one of the most popular animes of all time. I look at it like an ultra-violent western or a Kurosawa film (influenced by westerns) had he decided to do more fantasy action. It has all those simple qualities that make westerns so great, and the character element in particular – especially Spaghetti Westerns where the lone-wolf against the many is a common theme.

The Bad: The set up is there to be an interesting and involving story. A lone warrior wanders and defeats various foes with special powers, all in his quest to take down the main man behind it all. Honestly, what brings Ninja Scroll down is it’s low-brow approach to it all. It could be much smarter and beautiful than it really is, but rather it decides to pander to a teenage crowd more interested in nudity, sex and violence. It’s not particularly thought provoking and, while I think there’s a place for those elements in any film, it’s simply overused and even unnecessary here. They don’t really contribute to the story and I think a more intelligent use of the sexual nature and violence would allow a more compelling tale. Now it’s known for those elements than for its fantastic stylized look and directing and interesting character study: elements that are overshadowed all because blood, gore and sex are deemed more important. There are flashes of this from time to time, and to see it work so well (such as the fantastic fight scene with the blind swordsman) shows it could have easily gone that route, and also shows the uneven nature of the film as a whole.

The Ugly:
Exactly where did that extra snake come from?

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


No Country for Old Men

In rural Texas, welder and hunter Llewelyn Moss discovers the remains of several drug runners who have all killed each other in an exchange gone violently wrong. Rather than report the discovery to the police, Moss decides to simply take the two million dollars present for himself. This puts the psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh, on his trail as he dispassionately murders nearly every rival, bystander and even employer in his pursuit of his quarry and the money. As Moss desperately attempts to keep one step ahead, the blood from this hunt begins to flow behind him with relentlessly growing intensity as Chigurh closes in. Meanwhile, the laconic Sheriff Ed Tom Bell blithely oversees the investigation even as he struggles to face the sheer enormity of the crimes he is attempting to thwart.

The Good: In brass-tax speak: No Country for Old Men is a story about evil. It’s about what is wrong in the world and how, no matter how hard we try, we never really understand. It’s about black and whites and the countless shades of gray so many get caught in.  Winner of best picture, and deservedly so even in a year full of quality films, the Coen brothers masterfully craft a tale of suspense, intrigue with dash of drama, philosophical questions and action. It’s no doubt their most complex film and one that will be analyzed for years to come. The script is what drives it. Every scene seems to have a purpose, every word spoken to have a meaning. It’s a thinking man’s movie and although it comes off as cold and cynical at times it’s simply too good on so many levels that it’s seemingly calculated approach, no different than its story’s calculated killer played brilliantly by Javier Bardem, might feel too artificial in most stories but comes across as a fitting contribution to the world Joel and Ethan have created for us. It’s not entirely realistic, no, it seemingly treks through a dream state that is just slightly removed from reality, but is strangely hypnotic and appealing as a result.

The Bad: No Country for Old Men is far from standard in its approach. Its shots last longer, scenes from outside rather than within, it defies what we want from a movie such as this: straightforwardness. It’s otherwise elegant in its simplicity of characters, themes and the story itself, just the opposite in its presentation that seems to go out of its way rather than feel natural as so much of the film already does. A design choice, perhaps, and not entirely detrimental. The downplayed part of it all, though, are the characters. As eclectic as they are, and as real as they may seem, there seems to be a callousness behind everyone’s eyes: an emotionless figure either waiting to kill or be killed and in between it all we have Tommy Lee Jones trying to figure it all out. He never does…he and us are not supposed to. Tommy Lee Jones aside, and despite the solid performances, the characters are simply far from appealing and deep and even further from understanding. The film wallows in its cynicism and strategic in its commentary on rights and wrong, its unfortunate that, while displacing the characters in their world, it might also displace an audience in ours.

The Ugly: You would think a cold, emotionless killer would be a little bit better at deciding on a hairstyle.

Final Rating:
4 out of 5

Noah

A man is chosen by his world's creator to undertake a momentous mission before an apocalyptic flood cleanses the world.

The Good: Though a bit clumsy at times, as though it's batting its ideas around like a teatherball, Noah is never not interesting, compelling, intriguing and absolutely visually stunning. This is less a tale of the Bible and more an intimate portrait of a man trying to make sense of what is asked for him - and the consequences it brings him and his family. But while that's the throughline, that's not entirely what it's about either.

What's interesting about Noah, to its benefit, is that it does not make compromises. It absolutely humanizes a story that is often held up in gleaming acknowledgment of greatness - of man, of god, of existence. Yet, here, it's not bringing conclusions as much as it is starting a conversation. This isn't just about a man, family, a boat and lots of animals, it's about the good and evils of mankind itself and if we are naturally good or naturally evil.

The film doesn't give a lot of conclusions all that, mainly because we know how it all ends and that, if anything, our existence is cyclical. We make mistakes, literally rinse and repeat. Director Darren Aronofsky's vision here is fully realized, for better or worse, making this seemingly a passion project and a commentary about who we are as people and the choices we make that impact those around us.

The Bad: Noah is a film that approaches its subject matter on a grounded level, then...well then it doesn't. It seems conflicted, both wanting to be a high-fantasy/mythological tale and at the same time be a tale about  a man's crisis of faith. While it can be strong on the latter, every so often the former creeps in and the next thing you know angels and monsters and epic battles ensue.

What are the more interesting Noah-family doing during this time? Just...kinda hanging out.  Watching, just like we are. In other words, they're shoved aside because we need epic battles for some reason. They really don't serve any purpose to the story or to our main characters, and I'd argue they are a blot on an otherwise interesting and compelling story. It's one thing to take a fantasy angle, it's another to unleash overlong battle epics in the middle of it.

Aronofsky's vision is intriguing despite that, but unlike his past films, it's not as consistent as a result. The dark depth's of mankind and Noah's arc, and that of his family, are the wonderful parts of the film. The almost-pandering action of magical beings and hordes of men simply an inconsequential distraction.

The Ugly: The early "visions" and smaller-scale action sequences are fantastic. They're intimate, and therefore interesting and in tone with the rest of the movie. The minute a war breaks out, Noah's final, and easily its most important, third act falls flat.

But pay attention to that third act. There's some great acting and writing going on there. Don't let the early climax of giant rock monsters distract you.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Non-Stop

An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

The Good: If ever there was a fine example of a cast rising above the material, Non-Stop is it. As a script, it’s ridiculous. Ok, it doesn’t start that way. It actually starts incredibly well, but it loses focus. Thankfully solid directing from Jaume Collet-Serra combined with Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson helps salvage it (something that didn’t happen with their previous effort, Unknown, though neither are particularly great this one is at least watchable).

Contained thrillers are hard to pull off but you see the value of a director and strong star when it does work. Non-Stop does work despite a troublesome third act - something a lot of contained thrillers have issues with because often twists and reveals end up being really forced. Still, Neeson sells it and Collet-Serra directs the hell out of it. It’s always intense and the cast of characters surrounding Neeson are both interesting  and memorable - from a NYPD cop to a Muslim doctor to a crazy air marshal with a suitcase of cocaine.

Ok, it’s ludicrous, but that’s what makes Non-Stop a pretty entertaining thriller. A masterfully crafted one? No. But with Neeson, the characters around him and Collet-Serra’s smart, focused directing that never leaves Neeson’s point of view, it’s a fun entertaining one (that you’ll probably forget about soon after).

The Bad: There’s a whole lot of questions, very few answers. The reason why is because some of those answers don’t make sense so they kind of just drop it all and say “Liam, go and punch more people.” Then Liam does and all is right.

But that doesn’t make it a really good movie, necessarily. In fact, Non-Stop starts incredibly well then completely nose-dives and spirals out of control like a drunk prop-plane pilot thinking he’s being chased by the ghost of the Red Baron. It just goes out of control, and what began as a taught, contained thriller does what a lot of movies of this nature fall to: it tires to constantly “up” itself.

Soon, Non-Stop is no longer about the suspense and characters but about the twists and the misdirection. You need those, sure, but Non-Stop is a great example of “trying too hard” with the red-herrings by its end - the conspiracy theories, the villain motivations and the convenience of everything falling into place so we can have an atrocious third act climax that makes as much sense as there being a cell phone hacker guy that can write programming in 8 minutes and nobody questions him once. While entertaining and overall well acted and directed, the script just gets out of control and nearly crashes the whole thing into the ground.

The Ugly: There’s an hour-long episode of Person of Interest with this same type of scenario. Well, a thriller on a plane isn’t anything new, but this one just came out while Non-Stop was in theaters and kind of showed that trying to “up yourself” in the third act isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes, just having a solid, contained thriller about finding the bad guy, with interesting characters and with minimal plot twists can be much more effective.

That episode of Person of Interest also didn’t have an awful climax that’s really trying to force in a “wow” factor that falls flat as well. It stays right in its realm - sometimes knowing where to say "no" is just as important as when to say "yes lets do this."

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


North by Northwest

New York advertising executive Roger Thornhill is kidnapped by a gang of spies led by Philip Vandamm, who believe Thornhill is CIA agent George Kaplan. Thornhill escapes, but must find Kaplan in order to clear himself of a murder it is believed he committed. Following Kaplan to Chicago as a fugitive from justice, Thornhill is helped by beautiful Eve Kendall. In Chicago, she delivers a message to Kaplan that almost costs Thornhill his life when he is chased across a cornfield by a crop-dusting plane.

The Good: Spies. Adventure. Mystery. North by Northwest is a favorite of many for good reason. It offers us everything from romance to murder, conspiracy to a final set piece on a national monument. It's one of those movies that flashes through your mind when someone asks you what some of the greatest movies every made are. It's simply a remarkable film. The scenes are all finely shot and acted, the editing spot-on to get the most out of us and the action used effectively to progress the story rather than merely draw attention to itself. The anticipation of the infamous crop-duster, sequence, is just a testament to Hitch's ability to craft a scene, know how to break and understand pacing to draw us into it as though we're running with Cary Grant himself. Speaking of which, although he was showing his age slightly by this point, Grant plays to his strengths here as both intelligent, charming, but certainly a fish out of water as his world unravels around him.

The romance angle also serves the story well, rather than detract from it. It never loses focus of the big picture and adds another flavorful ingredient to a stew full of at least a dozen (including interesting villains, the conspiracy, symbolism, twists, a dash of comedy, etc...). What's so interesting here is how intimate and tight the film feels yet is one of Hitchcock's larger-scoped film, nearly verging on a suspense epic than anything. It's the ultimate wrong man movie, arguably sets an early standard on action and influencing the James Bond films around the corner; a perfect movie.

The Bad: Good luck trying to find one.

The Ugly: I had the luxury of seeing a remastered print of North by Northwest back in college. This is a movie gloriously made to be seen for the big screen. I haven't seen the new Blu-Ray, though, but much of what I enjoyed had more to do with the scope of the theater screen than the picture quality itself. If you can ever come across a local theater playing it on the silver screen, go and check it out.

Final Rating: 5 out of  5


Nosferatu (1922)

F.W. Murnau's German silent classic is the original--and some say most frightening--DRACULA adaptation, taking Bram Stoker's novel and turning it into a haunting, shadowy dream full of dread. Names had to be changed from the novel when Stoker's wife charged his novel was being filmed without proper permission. Running times vary depending upon versions of the film. Count Orlok, the rodentlike vampire frighteningly portrayed by Max Schreck, is perhaps the most animalistic screen portrayal of a vampire ever filmed.

The Good: Roger Ebert said it best, and I think this goes for many silent films, that Nosferatu doesn't scare us, but it haunts us. There's a distinct difference because coming away from a film like Nosferatu, you aren't relishing in the scares you went through or laughing with friends about a moment that you jumped out of your seat. Often, like the film, you're quiet about it. You think about the scenes, the shots, the appearance of Orlok (Dracula) and his lanky, menacing shadow creeping down halls and up stairs. It's a movie that stays with you and you often find yourself having nightmares as a result of. Great horror movies have this quality and Nosferatu was probably the first one to do it. At the same time, it also gives us a lyrical representation of a vampire tale. It's somewhat faithful to Bram Stoker's novel yet streamlines it as well as alters the ending slightly that really brings it home and to a fitting conclusion. It's simply one of the silent cinema's true masterpieces and matched by very few.

The Bad: What can you say is inherently bad about Nosferatu, especially considering it pretty much set the standard for horror films (along with the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde although Nosferatu has still surpassed all of these and remains frighteningly effective to today). It's length is just right, shots precise and acting, well, silent and expressionistic as you'd expect. It just does everything so well and precise. It's predictable only by today's standards, in 1922 nobody had seen the idea of a vampire on film like this.

The Ugly: Orlok is still the most effective and truly frightening vampire to ever appear on screen. Since then, vampires have become a parody of themselves if anything. Orlok is respected and treated seriously...now we have vampires that sparkle and talk about their teen angst (when they're over a hundred years old).

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Notorious

Following the conviction of her German father for treason against the U.S., Alicia Huberman takes to drink and men. She is approached by a government agent (T.R. Devlin) who asks her to spy on a group of her father's Nazi friends operating out of Rio de Janeiro. A romance develops between Alicia and Devlin, but she starts to get too involved in her work.

The Good: I would have to think that Hitchcock's second favorite plot, next to that of murder, is certainly espionage. Spys, romance, the thrill of a chase or a man on the run from conspirators. Notorious is arguably his greatest of those, at least in terms of how it balances the espionage with a legitimate romance plot. This 1946 showcases three actors at the top of their game at the time: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and one of my personal favorites, Claude Raines. Just one of these names would have got people in their seats in that era, yet here's all three rolled into one fantastic story. Hitch is in absolute command of this movie, and is one of his best stories to be told with so much crammed into it that it's a perfect example of a movie made for going to the movies...you get your money's worth. I think what Notorious does so well is how it moves about its plot. It's so streamlined and efficient, nothing is wasted and shows that there's a difference between being slow and being methodical. Notorious is the latter, and you're always intently in tune with every second.

The Bad: I can't think of much in terms of a fault. Perhaps the way the film begins feels a little awkward, but that might be it. It's pretty damn flawless and one of Hitchcock's many, many masterpieces.

The Ugly: I think I have a man-crush on Claude Raines. I just love everything the man does, and when he's a villain, he's at his very best.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Now You See Me

An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

The Good: Now You See Me is one of the worst balanced, detached and absurd movies you'll see in years…but it's also one of the most entertaining. It's there to "sell" you on its absurdity and, for the most part, it does just that with inventiveness that makes for fun elements of misdirection, sleight offhand and other magic lingo in to the elements of the film itself. You think you know it. You don't. You think you don't know it. Turns out it was obvious. Now You See Me loves to toy with you like that, and in today's cynical moviegoing audience world, being toyed, misdirected and tricked is a rare feat. Now You see Me is able to always keep you on your toes even if you know the end.

This is a film of full spectacle, much like the magic shows it bases itself on. There's no logical reason for what happens, but that's kind of the fun of it. That's why people still go to those Vegas acts. You know there's a reason, but at the same time you don't want to know. Now You See Me makes sure you never have too much time to think about it. It just moves right along, giving us thrilling moments (including the best chase sequence of 2013) with a cat and mouse game between Mark Ruffalo and a band of magicians. That's fun. That's ridiculous. That's why we go to the movies and to those magic shows.

Director Louis Leterrier has always had a great hand towards action. He's one of the best in the business even if the material can't quite make the best use of him. With a large cast where everyone is "game" and pretty much having fun, the shoddy and often convoluted script becomes an afterthought. It's a fun film, easily digestible and worth the price of admission. Then you'll probably forget about it until it's on basic cable and you remember "oh yeah, that movie was pretty good" and watch it again. An entertaining, but short-lived burst of entertainment.

The Bad: It all hinges on the reveal. Now You See Me is a fun and enjoyable magic trick, but it still needs to show how the trick was done and how much misdirection we've been falling for over the course of two hours. It calls for it. You don't toy with the audience and the characters for that long and not bring it all back around to show how the trick was done. Yet, it asks a lot. It demands a lot. No matter how ludicrous and absurd it might seem, no matter how many things it's trying to sell you, the reveal just doesn't work. It can't. It's too complicated, too elaborate and too ridiculous to buy and in a film full of ridiculousness that I'm more than happy to buy because it's fun, this one thing is just that much harder to swallow.

You know it has to happen. The film is entirely built on that reveal with numerous mysteries and twists throughout it. But what seemed to happen is that it just wrote itself in a corner. It's easy to tell the film already achieved that "fight to get out" after the Second Act turn which was easily the high-point of the whole thing. Then it seems to just limp to the finish, hoping to wow you one more time with that reveal, but it's probably too late. It already spent itself out and can't reach those heights - no "shocking" element or "twist" can rectify a poor structure in hopes you'll be wow'd one last time.  Instead you'll either be disappointed that it feels so forced and uneventful or angry because so much of the rest of the movie was enjoyable and it never gets back up to those standards.

Now You See Me is a tale of two sides: the first is like the ride to the amusement park. Your anticipation building, then you get there and it's the most fun you've had in a while. You even got to ride on one of the best rides in the world. The second half is the end of the day at the park, and the quiet, sleepy ride home. For a film that notes the elements of magic showmanship and to always leave the audience gasping for more, it sure as hell didn't follow its own rules it so happily kept pounding in to our heads.

The Ugly: You have all these actors, all these characters…I think I remember one name. Maybe two if you can't "Not James Franco" as a name.

Final Rating:  3 out of 5


O Brother Where Art Thou?

Loosely based on Homer's 'Odyssey' the movie deals with the grotesque adventures of Everett Ulysses McGill and his companions Delmar and Pete in 1930s Mississippi. Sprung from a chain gang and trying to reach Everetts home to recover the buried loot of a bank heist they are confronted by a series of strange characters. Among them sirens, a cyclops, bankrobber George 'Babyface' Nelson (very annoyed by that nickname), a campaigning Governor, his opponent, a KKK lynch mob, and a blind prophet, who warns the trio that "the treasure you seek shall not be the treasure you find."

The Good: The best script the Coen brothers have written? Perhaps, there’s only a select handful I would even consider and despite its episodic nature and jumbled menagerie, it retains its effectiveness through its world and characters and a consistently engrossing pace that is not once predictable. It surely is the most original, however, in this unique adaptation of The Odyssey (although I’ve always found it a little more biblical than anything, then again the Coens didn‘t even read the Odyssey before making the film). What’s great about a film like O’ Brother, Where Art Thou is the fact that there really is no other film even similar to it. It is, in fact, like a mythological tale told in the early 20th century. In that is succeeds: A modern fairy tale in our own land, our own history and culture intertwined. Myths, as they say, are made to be rewritten, revised and retold over the years and if they can stay on the caliber of this one, then at least we can be in store for some fantastic entertainment. It’s characters, something the Coens know so well, are presented fantastically and the performances all top-notch. I love the thematic sense of irony and the idea of coincidences, although far fetched to the extreme here, a playful element rather than a serious one (as seen in other Coen films such as The Hudsucker Proxy). The biggest draw here, though, is George Clooney who really gives his best performance as a man who thinks he’s incredibly smart, he sure knows how to lay it on to someone, but is actually incredibly stupid.

The Bad: After all the build up for Everett to finally get to his wife, he arrives to…Holly Hunter as a complete bitch? I have to assume he returns more for his daughters than he does his wife, nobody could be drawn to her shrill coldness. It’s an odd relationship for an odd man, but her constant rejection makes me wonder why he would so easily destroy himself and everyone around him solely for her. That’s a minor complaint, there’s still a sense of history and love between the two, but what hurts the film is the unabashed neatness to its ending. A rally and everyone joining together at the end was cliché as is, the bad guys clearly shown as bad and the good guys clearly shown as good - throw in a music number and it’s even moreso (which is does, and is unfortunately very catchy). For a film that is so utterly unpredictable and unique, the ending feels more like a compromise than something equally as unique.

The Ugly: I've seen the devil interpreted many times on film, the one here is no-doubt one of the most haunting and poetic. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if that's how the devil would actually look. Just a regular man with black, vacant eyes. That's a scary thought.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Oblivion

A veteran assigned to extract Earth's remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

The Good: Atmospheric and with a great sense of bleak mood, yes that's a good thing, Oblivion may be forgettable on plot but memorable in those "moments." You know the kind, that sense of peace and calmness, or flying over a scorched Earth while listening to the smooth, synth-pop sounds of M83. It's like when you go on a road trip and need to make a Mix Playlist. If a great, visual experience and road trip is what you're waning, Oblivion delivers. Visually, it's gorgeous and the soundtrack fitting.

But that's not to discredit its story. It's no-frills and certainly tries to do way, way too much, but it always moves forward, always has something interesting happening to keep your attention and Tom Cruise does a great job bringing a certain humanity to a rather cold character. Oblivion has some ambition to it, a nice sight to see in a big-budget studio sci-fi pic. Certain plot lines go where you don't think they'll go, because you kind of assume it'll play it safe, and it's far more heady than it is an action film, because you see "Tom Cruise" and "rifle" you tend to think it's just action beat after action beat. It's not, and it's able to find a series of increasingly twisty plot lines to play with your presumptions. It may not have the clearest road it sets for itself, but when it comes to a vision and atmosphere, Oblivion is well worth the ride.

The Bad: Unfortunately, Oblivion begins to trip over its own plot threads. The connections are there, but they're really forced to make it happen and to find the relevance throughout most of it. You can see it all begin to ball up and loose focus as you're watching: it begins as a very straightforward film with a sense of poetic beauty amongst desolation, then it tries to find a clever and twisty way to take its story. Then it tries to do it again. Then yet again one more time. If you're on board with twists, no matter how unnecessary they might be and how muddy it can  make things, this might be your film. If you're a sci-fi film, and you probably know these twists are coming (thanks, trailers), then you might enjoy the ride but certainly feel the story lost something in the process.

That "something" is the connection to humanity. It's a central, integral part through much of the first act of Oblivion, but then the film tries to get too clever and, as a result of all that "cleverness," it puts that on the back burner and replaces it with big reveals and twists. That connection fades and we end up feeling as cold and lonely as the the wasteland of Oblivion itself, wishing it weren't this way, knowing it doesn't have to be, but only finding a brief escape in a little corner of paradise that makes it feel right. That corner is just too small, though, and the rest of the film suffers.

The Ugly: Critics: "derivative" isn't a critique, it's just an observation. This is sci-fi, everything is derivative.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Obvious Child

A twenty-something comedienne's unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront the realities of independent womanhood for the first time.

The Good: I don’t know who or where writer director Gillian Robespierre came from, she has no other credit to her name and google says very little, but if her debut feature, Obvious Child, is any indication, we best take notice. And fast. This is a voice worth paying attention to. Authentic. Genuine. Relatable no matter the gender, age or generation, Obvious Child is about finally growing up and dealing with the harsh reality that is being adult. Finances. Family issues. Friendships. Looking for a relationship.

It might be say to call her similar to a Lena Dunham, but whereas Dunham has a voice that is particularly narrow, dealing with many a “first world problems” from a privileged background making it difficult to really relate to, the down-and-dirty world that Robespierre, though the lead of fantastic stand-up-comedian-turned-actress Jenny Slate, feels more natural. Organic. Personal. IT’s less a story as much as it is a slice of life and concerns and problems that people in their late 20s going-on-30 have to realize and deal with.

A similar style came from last year’s Frances Ha, another film I loved, but even that feels more calculated and less personal as Robespierre seemingly pulls from elements of her own life but in a big dose of dry sarcasm that totally works with Jenny Slate’s own comedic sensibilities. The set up and logline sounds familiar, you can name a dozen other movies with the same situations, but it never feels that calculated. It’s entirely thanks to the execution and vision of the film that Gillian Robespierre and her co-writers are able to find a ground that is firm and wonderfully witty while never seeming pretentious. It’s a brilliant piece of self-deprecation and snark that never feels like its trying too hard, which is a rare in the comedy world these days.

The Bad: As mentioned, there are plot points that are familiar, and though it is al entirely in the execution that make the movie so wonderful, it’s also not something that is entirely original on a conceptual level. How many stories about a mid-20s girl or guy going through a personal crisis can we honestly have? How many more of those stories about getting broken up with or getting pregnant or finding a calling or dealing with a parent or, simply, learning to be an adult are left out there to be told? The young filmmaking generation is full of fantastic voices but all kind of saying the same story in their own way, and that’s becoming tiresome.

Does that broader scope make Obvious Child bad? No. In fact I think it’s one of the best films of the year. It’s just not original on a conceptual level is all and though loved the acting and the wit, the situations and plot bored me to no end. I cared about Jenny Slate, but I didn’t care where the story went, which is an odd combination from, perhaps, a viewer who is simply conflicted on whether or not he’s excited for new outstanding voices like Robespierre or simply tired of all those voices being essentially in the same choir.

The Ugly: Jenny Slate needs to act more. And in stuff like this. I know she has a pretty solid TV resume, but she is totally capable of playing a major part in larger comedies. More specifically is she has the range to be very bold and take some risks on the acting front, I find.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Oculus

A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

The Good: A lean, sharp script and a couple of solid actors can really make for a solid low-budget horror movie - though I would use the term “horror” loosely here as the best part of Oculus is entirely psychological suspense. Sure, there’s a supernatural element about a cursed mirror and such, but Oculus is best when it messes with the characters’ and by association your, perception of what is and isn’t real. It asks the questions: am I doing this…or do I only think I’m doing this? Because let me tell you..some things the characters do in the film you really don’t want to do, and it brings them to the breaking point.

What’s particularly impressive is how Oculus remains a contained thriller and never shows too much. It never leaves the comfort of one house, we’re just dealing with two time periods telling a parallel story. It’s intense at just the right moments, and the characters, of which there’s only six and four of them are just the same two people at different ages, allows for a lot of variety when it comes to scares and a sense of dread.

The Bad: Well one of those timelines is pretty much spoiled, though. It’s more there to “fill in the gaps” about what we’ve heard, though it still manages to have plenty of scares when it needs to be. Considering it’s from the perspective of children, it’s a perfect fit. The adult versions of those characters, though…well they’re just not really all that interesting or likable. That’s not to say that Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites aren’t good in their roles, it’s just that their roles don’t really have a lot for them to do other than walk around, have some thousand-yard stares like their parents did years before and eventually get spooked.

Oculus may do a good job playing some tricks of perception on you, but it’s not always scary. There’s a few moments and really well-done scenes thanks to director Mike Flangagan, but a lot of Oculus is buildup and exposition - not necessarily showing or doing anything all that interesting. It’s at its best when it plays that “not sure what is real” card. The “scaring you” one falls flat when its dealt despite a couple of good lands. The former card is, also, just a more interesting movie made from it than possessed/ghosts/scary things you see. Not knowing if what you’re seeing is real is far more frightening in the way Oculus handles it.

It makes me think that, at some point, the lean script by Mike Flanagan was solely the perception angle. The scares just don’t always work, especially when the movie jumps the shark in the third act. It feels forced. Shoehorned. I would even say desperate to have a big finish when, truth be told, it was doing just fine without it.

The Ugly: Karen Gillan. So pretty. That may be skewing my view. Red hair….what?

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Odd Man Out

In the aftermath of a botched hold-up, intended to finance the activities of his IRA cell, a wounded Johnny McQueen takes shelter in the back-alleys of Belfast, a shadowy underworld where sanctuary is freighted at every moment with peril. Meanwhile, a vast police manhunt is launched -- a net that closes steadily, remorselessly in upon him.

The Good: As with many of Reed's films, Odd Man Out offers us a gorgeous style of dark atmosphere, shadows and little light with a story of two opposing forces and ideologies that are slowly, surely, boiling over. The story is simple: we follow a dying fugitive as he wanders through a Northern Irish town at night after a botched heist. We follow his steps, his aimless walks and his brief encounters as he becomes increasingly tired and weak. It's an allegory, you see: it's the dark night of the soul if there ever was one. Here, Johnny is that aimless soul in search of a purpose. We see his resolve waiver early in subtle foreshadowing, and it explodes into tragic melodrama, self-reflection, hallucinations and a series of morality player characters as his night must have an inevitable end.

It's not merely a "crime thriller" though. Truth is, there's not much thrilling about it in the traditional "cops and robbers" style of things. It's a human drama about morality, right and wrong and the various perspectives people have of those lofty ideas. It's about the human element behind all those things. Here, our leader is dying a slow death and nobody he meets during his night of wandering is willing to help him or even see him as a human being - more a burden they simply don't want to take in or an advantage for their own gain. Those souls are as tragic as Johnny's in many respects. Johnny is caught between those two forces - a type of purgatory of you will. It's tragically poetic and strikingly beautiful, particularly the accompaniment of Reed's visual style, in its tale.

The Bad: The story here is a tale of two halves. By the mid-way point, we're introduced to a series of characters Johnny encounters, none of which really have a connection to him. They know of him, and want to use him for their own  purposes in many cases, but they enter the story sharply yet completely randomly. The real story should have been with Rosie, Johnny's love, but we're  limited in what we see of her and instead have the stories of a man obsessed with birds and an artists hoping to paint Johnny as he dies.

Johnny himself can do little to help this. He's weak, as I mentioned, and speaks very little so he's not exactly guiding us here. We merely follow him, his staggers and falls, and hope that someone has a decent bone in their body to not worry about politics or selfishness and just help him.

The Ugly: One person eventually does, and it ends the only way it truly can.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Odd Thomas

In a California desert town, a short-order cook with clairvoyant abilities encounters a mysterious man with a link to dark, threatening forces.

The Good: Flying under the radar is a movie that reminds me that despite something being an absolute mess with no direction or focus, you can still have a damn good time with it. While watching, I couldn’t help but think of The Frighteners: another mess of a movie but something that had a similar tone and style to it. In other words, Odd Thomas is only concerned about entertaining you and sincerely hoping you don’t think too hard while watching it.

It doesn’t always succeed in that, the heavy melodrama causes it, but it did in The Frighteners as well and like that movie, I’m able to forgive it and just enjoy what it’s doing. So what is Odd Thomas doing? A helluva lot, actually. It’s horror, it’s suspense, it’s action, it’s comedy, it’s drama, and though it only dips its toes in all those ideas and genres, it’s able to keep a consistent notion of having fun along the way. Much of that is thanks to Stephen Sommers, who’s no stranger to just having fun in movies as shown in The Mummy or Van Helsing, and Anton Yelchin, who is absolutely brilliant here.

Yelchin is given very little to do with his character on paper. But there’s something innately likable about ever scene he’s in, just as Michael J. Fox brought that same likeability to his character in The Frighteners and pretty much burdened that entire movie on his shoulders. Yes, I bring up The Frighteners a lot because I’m basically saying if you liked that movie, you’re going to like this one. In fact, I damn near love the absolute mess that is Odd Thomas. It’s a broken movie through and through yet, like Sommers’ past movies or that Peter Jackson cult favorite, it’s also a hard movie to not find a bit of fun in and simply like.

Note…that’s ”like” certainly not “love."

The Bad: Odd Thomas is oddly paced. I’m not sure if the script was able to wrangle all the ideas its working with in, but it’s all over the map in terms of how it presents it. There’s really no act structure, there’s certainly no handling of its themes appropriately, or its town that shifts for whimsical to tragic at the drop of a hat, and the ending that is rushed in that way of “screw it lets just get this script done" kind of way. Also, there’s a lot of throwaway characters, and a twist that…oy...

Actually, there’s a lot of things wrong with Odd Thomas. But there’s one thing that keeps you in it: it’s fun. Yes, it’s a bit of a mess, the effects aren’t always convincing, the backpedaling of everything slows it all down…but you know, it’s never dull. It certainly has that going for it, and Anton Yelchin is impossible to not like in this role. While everyone around him are kind of phoning it in, he keeps it all together and Sommers knows how to shoot the hell out of special effects, even if they can look cheap and artistically uninspired in their designs.

As I review in relative terms, it’s as easy as this: if you like movies like The Mummy (the recent ones) or John Dies at the End or The Frighteners, you’ll probably have a good time with this. Up against those types of movies, it holds its own, and like those movies it’s not exactly a great movie either. It’s just fun for a niche audience.

The Ugly: You have understand the way genre pictures work. Most genre movies amongst critics are usually scored low, which is why Odd Thomas isn’t the best reviewed film out there across those aggregated scores. However, people that are in to that genre moviemaking, your horror and sci-fi and schlocky stuff, tend to think better of it. They kind of know what they’re getting in to. In the case of this movie, I knew it…and I had a damn good time with it.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Oldboy

An average man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a shabby cell for 15 years without explanation. He then is released, equipped with money, a cellphone and expensive clothes. As he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, he soon finds out that not only his kidnapper has still plans for him, but that those plans will serve as the even worse finale to 15 years of imprisonment.

The Good: Stylish, incredibly paced and perfectly acted, Oldboy is one of the finest thrillers that tests our presumptions of what a mystery and suspense film can be. The concept alone is unique, almost a cross between a 1970s exploitation revenge tale and an episode of the Twilight Zone (which is a pretty damn good combination if I do say so). Its story, though a bit convoluted and even ridiculous at times, has the unique approach of always staying from our protagonist’s perspective. Through his journey, the mystery begins to unfold, and things become revealed to him and to us as it all happens, and we share his fright and paranoia and emotion along the way. It moves fantastically because of this, seemingly never taking a break from his momentum.

Min-sik Choi gives a raw, visceral and emotional performance a Dae-su Oh. The demands asked of him and his ability to pull through it all is astounding as his performance shows every side of a man – violence, loneliness, love, determination, sadness, intense rage, intensity in that “my god, I want to kill myself” way... Choi and Park create a figurative hand reaching out of the screen that you can’t help but grab on two and be thrust right into the middle of the film’s intensity and our lead character’s growing madness. It’s a powerful notion of everything being taken from you, first your dignity, then your heart. The film would not have worked on the level it does if it weren’t for Choi’s magnificent and utterly heartbreaking performance and the ambitious, artistic directing of Park.

The Bad: While Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance pits two revenge tales against each other, and Lady Vengeance is about moral ambiguities, OldBoy is about rage and emotion. At the same time, though, it adds in many, many other elements that tend to clog up gears and convolute the story to a degree where you might need to keep notes to keep certain points of reference in check. On paper, it could (and probably should) be a bit more streamlined than it actually is, but when it’s going you probably won’t notice or question things along the way. It’s far too compelling a picture for that.

The Ugly: The film does have a certain twist that seems to really go above and beyond the call of duty to try and be as shocking as it can, and as a result it’s a little more ridiculous than perhaps meant to be.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Olympus Has Fallen

Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.

The Good: A mildly entertaining, gritty action film is a dime a dozen these days. A mildly entertaining, gritty R-Rated action film is a little harder to come by. In the case of Olympus Has Fallen, despite the basic nature of the entire thing, it doesn't water down itself to a degree of PG-13 blandness. If it had done that, it would probably be even more bland than it all ready is.

But at least the action is there. It's technically savvy, has some nice moments and one particular long-running action set piece that makes the  cost of admission well worth paying, and it’s violent. Nice and violent. Bloody and action packed that makes up for its rather stagnant and uninteresting story.

The Bad: There’s nothing here to really define the movie to make itself unique. Even right after the film was done, I had a hard time remembering most of it. I enjoyed the ride, but couldn’t quite recall the specific reasons why. There's some nice moments, sure, but I have to try to recall them as best I can and, outside of a rather brilliant 20 minute action set piece early on, it slows and lowers it all to a simmer. A simmer that doesn't so much make you remember the flavor of the meal, just that the appetizer was so much better.

It's well paced and full of action, it has solid characters, but it does little to truly distinguish itself. All the action scenes and subplots are as basic and uninteresting as you could ask for and that brilliant 20 minute set up was blowing the load way too early because the rest of the script and film just can't keep up. The stories aren't strong enough, the characters not interesting enough, the action merely passable and other than sticking firm to that "R" rating, which says more about the state of action movies today than anything if that's the best thing this film has going for it, Olympus Has Fallen will go as quickly as it came.

The Ugly: Every time I see Gerard Butler, I see a guy that has always been on that border-line of being a great action leading man. He’s always great, very physical, very convincing and this one is no exceptions. At the same time, the movies he’s so damn good in just aren’t the best for him to be so damn good in (see: Gamer, Law Abiding Citizen, The Bounty Hunter).

They should cast him in a Transporter movie and have a top-notch action director film it. Now that might be something to take notice with him in it.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


On the Waterfront

Terry Malloy dreams about being a prize fighter, while tending his pigeons and running errands at the docks for Johnny Friendly, the corrupt boss of the dockers union. Terry witnesses a murder by two of Johnny's thugs, and later meets the dead man's sister and feels responsible for his death. She introduces him to Father Barry, who tries to force him to provide information for the courts that will smash the dock racketeers.

The Good: The film that defined Brando’s career. On the Waterfront is an actor’s film. It’s about the performances. The story is nothing special, although the script is fantastic, and the plot is fairly simple. It never pressures or preaches, it all flows with a sense of natural believability as though someone were merely doing a documentary. It’s the characters, though, that are its drive and the performances that lifts the film to its now lofty heights. It was also a technical achievement, shooting entirely on location in and around the docks of New Jersey and whose story and characters are loosely based on newspaper reports of corruption in and around the area. It’s hard to understand the time and era of its story, but, even today, the sense of authenticity transports you there, its characters make you believe in their convictions, good or bad, and the whole gritty and grimy world of mob informants, betrayals and moral decisions gleams like a sunlight hitting the rainy puddles of a Hoboken alleyway.

The Bad: Despite the dark tone and down-and-out world, the ending seems to want to force a “happy” ending to its audience. Perhaps that is merely a product of its time, but after being so daring in other categories, it shifts its tone to accommodate audience satisfaction. It’s not as though it doesn’t work for it, merely that it didn’t need to. Some scenes, especially if a character has to give a big speech, seem stark contrast to the more natural, conversation-like scenes and can also come across as a bit contrived. When they are natural, they appear comfortable as do we when watching, when the scene is forcing the issue, it merely sticks out.

The Ugly: For those who don’t know their film history, this film is directed by Elia Kazan. Who is that? You may ask. Well, he wasn’t exactly a very “on the level” fella, as some of his film characters might say. He pointed fingers and named names to the House of Unamerican Activities, fingering other communists (of which he was a former member) which eventually led to those people’s careers ending abruptly due to being blacklisted. Some have said Kazan did it to further his own career, I say it was a weird and difficult (and rather shameful) time in Hollywood and US history and the hatchet should be buried.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Once Upon a Time in Mexico

In this sequel to 'Desperado', a Mexican drug lord pretends to overthrow the Mexican government, and is connected to a corrupt CIA agent who at that time, demands retribution from his worst enemy to carry out the drug lord's uprising against the government.

The Good: El Mariachi and Desperado are violent. Overly-violent, in fact. Hard-R action movies are becoming an endangered species, with blood and limbs and all sorts of things going "splat" against walls. Once Upon a Time in Mexico is easily the most violent out of the Mariachi trilogy and while it's nowhere near as good as the previous two films, it certainly has some elements beyond what those two did in terms of extreme violence.

And I love it. I mean...just love it. Now don't get me wrong, Once Upon a Time in Mexico isn't a particularly good movie. It's characters don't go anywhere, it's story is a complete mess and there's barely any good or memorable action scenes, but damn is it nicely violent when it needs to be. When you watch it, you feel like you're at a boxing gym and just finished 10 minutes on the big bag - chaos and nonsensical stories and so forth be damned.

That being said, while I can't say the characters have any quality development or the story any sense to be made, the actors are obviously having a good time here, even if there are a bit too many to keep track of. From Banderas to Dafoe to Rourke to Danny "I'm a mexiCAN" Trejo - they and the tone of the film is a bit more dark comedic and self-aware than what we had seen in the previous two movies. That's where it kind of distinguishes itself when, certainly, other elements don't quite match up. If anything, the movie does have character and a personality to it. I mean, you have Johnny Depp's character, Sands, wearing a t-shirt with "CIA" printed in large letters on it in public. That's just hilarious. Speaking of, Depp, naturally, owns his character through and through. In fact, he just demands the screen even more than an equally-charismatic Antonio Banderas (unfortunately, having two really cool characters in one movie tends to cause each other to cancel the other out). He just has some great fun with the dialogue and suave delivery. It's a fun, darkly campy movie that, though not as good as the previous two films, is still an enjoyable romp.

The Bad: What should be an continuation of the saga of El Mariachi turns into a film starring Johnny Depp. El Mariachi pretty much becomes a supporting role in his own movie. Now one might say that has to do with Depp’s absolutely fantastic performance, and it surely is that, but I say it’s more that Rodriguez simply put more effort into that character and left poor El Mariachi in the dust. He becomes a spectator rather than someone who feels as well-rounded and integral like he did in the first two films.

On top of that, Rodriguez seemed to have spent all his ability for the character in arc, presentation, relevance and enjoyment in the first two films, making this third film not only feel more unneeded, almost like an epilogue, but uninspired on top of it all. It's just a convoluted mess of a movie. Let me put this into a frame of reference: Desperado cost 7Million dollars to make. It had style. It had inventive action. It had a great lead and a hell of  a lot of fun with in. Once Upon a Time in Mexico had a budget on 30 million. Now in action standards, that’s still fairly low, but it also shows that just because you have major stars and a bigger budget doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. While Once Upon a Time in Mexico certainly isn’t horrible, by comparison in the El Mariachi trilogy, it falls way, way short.

Then again, El Mariachi was made for 7,000 bucks and people often argue over which is better, Mariachi or Desperado. I say: either way it proves Once Upon a Time was bloated and bland.

The Ugly: You need more Salma Hayek in this movie...then again, I can say that for any movie.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


127 Hours

A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive

The Good: When hallucinations of Scooby Doo start scaring you, you know you're in trouble. Knowing you need style to go along with the substance, it's almost entirely inside a little tiny cavern with one guy, after all, writer and director Danny Boyle brings his very keen and noteworthy eye to something that might have been handled far differently with someone wanting to "play it straight." His use of color, camera angles and editing draws you into a horrifying situation. You see and feel the thoughts and the feelings tangibly and can even picture yourself in this same predicament. It's called transference - and some films really need it to work. 127 Hours is able to achieve that, putting you intimately close into the situation, using many first-person looks and claustrophobic shots to set you within it. You feel the world darkening, the chill at night, the brief sun at dawn and the ants biting on your skin. Yes, a lot of other director/writers would have played it straight and just give us the tale. Boyle isn't like a lot of other director/writers out there, in case you haven't realized that by now over the past 15 years.

However, the directing on a story like this can only take you so far. Seeing as how the film's almost entirely on the shoulder of one actor, you need one who can carry it. James Franco has always been a solid actor with good performances under his belt, but he's never quite had a tailor made role for him like this. Pretty much everything is asked from him and he delivers. 127 Hours doesn't paint Rolstan out to be a hero...only that he did a heroic thing and to say otherwise would be pretty nieve.

Through the directing, the script and Franco's performance, we see what 127 Hours is really about. It's completely about life regrets. Ralston goes in there a free-willing, arrogant and obviously not-too-bright boy and comes out someone who realizes all the things he did wrong in his life. It starts simple: what did he do wrong to get himself into this situation? It then grows. How he hurt people. How his selfishness led to him shutting people out. How he simply never said "I love you" enough to people who most certainly loved him. A good script would have just told his story and be done with it. A great script, which 127 hours most certainly has, mattes it to a larger frame where you yourself begin to see and understand exactly what such a predicament is like as you start to rethink your own life in the process.

The Bad: With only one main actor and such a small scope, there's little to really go into in terms of the film as a whole, much less if it is "bad" per se. It tells the story of 127 hours of hell and ends. Perhaps it doesn't grasp the profoundness it's seeking, and perhaps we could get to see and know Aron more before all this happens and how it affected him afterward seeing as how we spent so much time with just him on screen, but it's not a biopic...it's a story of a harrowing experience that is hard to categorize into typical genres. Then again, this is Boyle, you'll be engaged no matter what label you attempt to put on it.

The Ugly: This, along with 2010's The Social Network as well, are proof that anything can be made and filmed. I never believe the "it can't be done" excuse for a story. Cinema isn't some article in Newsweek, it can move and go beyond that. Touch you. Make you feel the pain, the joy, the sensation of the experience at hand.

You know, there's a group of people out there who will refuse to see the film because they, not directly mind you, find Aron Ralston an asshole? Well, first off the film doesn't shy from that. He comes across as pompous and arrogant. But really...is that a legitimate reason to not see a rather brilliant piece of filmmaking? There's been movies about assholes, real and fictional, and they've made for some damn fine films. Why hold it against something like this, especially when you're really just assuming it to begin with? "So-and-so heard he was prick" - yeah, well Charles Foster Kane wasn't the nicest guy in the world either, you know.

Maybe they feel they'd be "supporting" him somehow by seeing it. Sometimes the blog-o-sphere can be pretty jaded like that. Well, I don't care to be honest...asshole or not the man survived something that would kill most of us. So come up with some other reason, please.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Only Lovers Left Alive

A depressed musician reunites with his lover, though their romance - which has already endured several centuries - is disrupted by the arrival of uncontrollable younger sister.

The Good: “Jarmusch with Vampires” sounds like it would be an interesting fit. You take a filmmaker who is strong in mood and dialogue and give him a couple of undead to have lengthy conversation and voila, magic. Jarmusch’s style and approach is a perfect fit as we look at the less-romanticized side of being immortal: things turn tiresome, mundane and dreary as you realize you’ve pretty much done everything there is to do. Even a side-comment on Tesla and Shubert is so matter-of-fact that you might as well let out a big yawn at the end of it.

And that’s why Only Lovers Left Alive is so damn good. You learn about these people and who they are without big plot reveals but, in Jarmusch’s strength, dialogue and casual conversation. What’s more is how the environment tells you just as much: such as Adam’s hovel of a home that’s full of countless “things” from various decades - all pretty much cast aside and put there off-handedly as they collect dust.

Adam is played by Tom Hiddleston, a fan of music and a vampire that’s thankless for his situation. You get the sense that, at one time, he loved it. Now…it’s just so…”ungh” in that “I really don’t feel like getting out of bed today” kind of way. He plays this so incredibly well that Adam, for what little we know in terms of specifics, we feel as though we actually know in real life.

His counterpart, Eve, is played in similar fashion by Tilda Swinton, but she’s embraced it far more easily it seems as she tries to lift Adam’s spirits by simply being there. Adam is, after all, a lonely undead and Eve knows her being around him will hopefully keep from falling further into depression. Scattered around all these wonderful sets and these two leads are great actors in Jeffrey Wright, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelchin. Bit parts they may be, but memorable characters all around. Only Lovers Left Alive is the vampire movie about trying to live as a vampire in today’s society - and it could only be told by Jim Jarmusch.

The Bad: The more I think on the film, the less negativity things I have to say. That’s kind of common with a Jarmusch flick. It kind of simmers and let’s you contemplate it. I know I wasn’t a fan of Dead Man when I first saw it, now I’ve seen that movie a dozen times. Same with Broken Flowers, Coffee and Cigarettes, Ghost Dog…ok the only one I can say I liked right away was Down by Law. Everything else took a little bit of time, and so has Only Lovers Left Alive.

It’s a finely crafted piece of dramatic filmmaking. Perhaps a little too mundane and too loose in the plot area, even the characters wear on as the film continues, but that’s kind of a Jarmusch staple to be honest. Less direct, more contemplative. Then again, Dead Man also allowed more tension, which is something Only Lovers Left Alive attempts in its third act but it never quite gets it - as though it’s a rushed note to put a little spice in the mundane. The only big issue is that the comedy he attempts doesn’t quite work. In spots, it’s great. In others, the joke is a little lost with all the dreariness.

The Ugly: I will say this: two hours is a little long for this. If it tightened itself up a little more, or maybe got to those third act elements sooner and spent more time on them, then the slow dreariness and ultimate end would probably feel more satisfying.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Orphan

A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be.

The Good: It amazes me to see the ability of an actor or actress, and it's even more amazing that 12 year old Isabelle Fuhrman handles her character with such authority and maturity that you can't believe she isn't a veteran actress.  Rather, this is only her second film and to bring out a character that is so menacing and truly frightening is astounding. You see, Orphan's story has been told numerous, numerous times before. Not just a child being a villain, but in the way she handles the situations, is utterly manipulative and sets people against each other. But Esther is so impressively vivid and detailed that it sets Orphan well above others with the similar plot (The Good Son, The Omen, etc...). A strong supporting cast comes through as well with the always fantastic Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga.

The Bad: Despite the ability of the cast, Orphan is sadly a very formulaic film - one that you see once and probably forget about later. The script is choppy, taking potentially tense moments and throwing them aside to get to the next set up to showcase Esther's insanity (of which we never really get a clear picture of). It begins as something fresh and compelling, but you can almost draw the lines to each next number as it hits every predictable mark. In the end, Orphan doesn't so much lack an identity of its own as much as it shows that this story is played out and Esther, as great a villain as you can ask for, gets wasted in mediocrity.

The Ugly: The ending. I'll just say that. The film really tries to close itself as quickly and on the nose as it possibly can...and I doubt that was intentional. It's like they were approaching a deadline, had to come up with something, and took the easy way out.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Oslo, August 31st

One day in the life of Anders, a young recovering drug addict, who takes a brief leave from his treatment center to interview for a job and catch up with old friends in Oslo.

The Good: Conversation in film can sometimes be difficult to pull off to where it feels natural and that the actors aren't "acting." It's also difficult to always keep it flowing and to have the characters actually have something worthwhile to say rather than just having them speak. A lot of scripts do that unfortunately: just have throwaway dialogue that doesn't feel real at all and that really doesn't have much through behind it. Oslo, August 31 is entirely about conversation, but real, natural, flowing conversation. It's interesting, revealing, discussions range from the personal to the humorous and about a variety of things. The entire film is about conversation with people, and from there we learn all about their pasts, presents and futures.

It's not just listening to our main characters have conversations, however. It's also their overhearing the conversation of others. It's amazing how, one you feel you know a character and care about him, just how awful overhearing snippets of other peoples' discussions can make you feel incredibly uncomfortable not to mention sympathetic. In one scene, all Anders wanted was to have a quick bite, but of course he overhears schoolgirls talking about suicide - he being someone who is struggling with those very thoughts on a far more serious level than giggling over some fast food. These little vignettes we see Anders encounter throughout the day, the things he hears and says or sees are an incredibly realistic, from the way people speak to their mannerisms or voice inflections when he notices their actions or reactions, often poetic look at the plights of depression, drugs, loneliness and sadness.

Everything is driven by our main character. He's self-loathing, but he's incredibly sympathetic. A lot of times characters in a movie might be self-loathing to the point where you just don't like them anymore, but Anders never gets to that. He's still a nice person, he's just upset at himself for making so many mistakes. He worries about his demons coming back, and his self-loathing is more from a fear of those than from someone who utterly hates himself or the world around him. His thoughts, the tender moments of silence mixed with sad self-reflection turn him into a layered, complex individual - in other words a real human being we're able to spend August 31st with. It's a wonderfully realized character with a sensational, honest performance from Anders Danielsen Lie (yes, the actor and character share the same name).

The Bad: Oslo, August 31st as a very good handle on what it wants to do and how it wants to it…and it succeeds in doing so. It's us, with Anders and slowly peeling back the layers of his life through a span of 24 hours. Done, and done well. Complaints might stem from the character, who we are incredibly sympathetic with yet really don't know a ton about,  and issues in terms of pacing where it moves slow, then fast, then jumps, then fast again, then ends.  But there's something so assured in the technique that makes it pretty unnoticeable and the questions about our "hero" and who he is aren't as important as where he is on this one day and what he's struggling with. The lingering regrets on his face or his internal conflict expressed in his distant gaze and thoughts are more than enough to paint the picture. It's a "day in a life" if I've ever seen one, even to the point where you aren't sure if this is a film or a documentary.

The Ugly: It's always difficult on foreign film release dates, sometimes. Some films have been out for a year, even longer, in some countries and it takes even longer to get a release to where we non-Nords can see it. This one is over a year old and didn't get a US debut until Sundance. Why that long for a pretty damn brilliant movie? It makes me wonder how many other great films we might not even ever see…

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Other Guys

Two mismatched New York City detectives seize an opportunity to step up like the city's top cops whom they idolize -- only things don't quite go as planned.

The Good: Well, if you want to laugh, you probably will laugh here. The Other Guys is able to find a good combination of slapstick with dry humor to make a fun and entertaining movie. As far as parody goes, it gets more right than it does wrong. Elements that make up the "buddy cop" genre are laid out and mocked, our leads give a great effort (though upstaged by members of the supporting cast) and you come to enjoy their company. Will it be something that'll stay with you and you'll remember? Probably not.  However, despite inspired casting and many good comedic moment, it will at least do its job in being funny.

The Bad: I'm sorry, but Adam McKay simply can not direct a film. At least not one that is more standard comedy than irreverent farce. He can set a camera down and have actors do their scenes, but there's no sense of flow or interconnection to anything going on. In many cases you can draw fine lines of beginning and end scenes like sketches in a show. When the filmmaker shows a complete lack of care about what's happening, simply wanting to get the day's scenes shot, let the actors do whatever they want, then move on. For some films, such as Anchorman, it can work due to the absurdity of the content. The context allows it to work. Here, we have something that can't quite figure our what it wants to be and certainly doesn't give us incentive to care.

Despite it wanting to be a parody, it just doesn't hit the right beats. It literally feels like a group of writers writing individual sketches and then McKay placing them one after another.  As a result, you can have some funny individual scenes (in fact, I feel the scenes with Sam Jackson and Dwayne Johnson are some of the funniest in the film, and that's only the first 15 minutes or so), but not a consistent and cohesive film. On top of that, it wants to do way too much, especially when it starts actually trying to take itself seriously. It's that moment, when it tries to be more than what it should be, that the film loses all footing.

The Ugly: I do like the fact that Ferrell plays such a nerdy, restrained individual. The guy has many sides to his comedic ability, and this is actually one of his best ones. We need to see more of this.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Out of the Furnace

When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement fails to follow through, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own  hands to find justice.

The Good: A hard, emotional, raw film is Out of the Furnace. I would also say “ugly” but in a good way: these are all just awful people and in their world, trying to find a glimmer of light or of hope or clawing your way out is impossible. Not ifs. No buts. It’s a dark place and director Scott Cooper takes you there and pulls no punches. You will not like these people, their world or what they do, and you’re not supposed to. The atmosphere is palpable, you can practically smell the sweat and dirt as though you are in such a furnace, but you can feel the evil around you, smell the alcohol on Woody Harrelson’s breath or feel sticky looking at Willem DaFoe’s slick hair.

With this cast, you know you’re going to get some great performances. Everyone not only brings their a-game, they do it in a way that is less “wow what a performance” and more “wow, that person feels real.” There’s no big speech, not a lot of dialogue in most cases, but when it hits, it hits. Hell, Zoe Saldana only has two or three small scenes, but she’s damn good in them.

Of course, Christian Bale carries the film here, and he always delivers. His mannerisms, his accent, his “twang” that fits perfectly all bring to life a hard man. A very hard man in a very hard world of factory working, trailer trash, meth, hunting and bare-knuckle fighting in dingy back alleys. There’s no surprise here other than watching a master of his craft take on another unique role and absolutely nail it, well enough for you to take this dark journey with him.

The Bad: There’s a lack of a sting - an emotional center in Out of the Furnace that it claws for but never brings out from the depths. Yes, there is emotion, but there’s also way too much apathy. These are rough men, but the film barely takes a moment to let us feel an ounce of sympathy for them.  In fact, there’s often barely a sense of a human behind it all, just bad people in desperation, or bad people who are just bad. There’s a lot at work, a lot of ideas and themes across the screen, but nothing to ground them and, therefore, nothing for the film to say. What’s that song lyric? Everybody is talking at me, but I don’t hear a word they’re saying.

There’s some meaty roles here, they’re interesting and bursting with personality, yet this tale of revenge lacks that connection for us to care that it’s a tale of revenge.  There’s no satisfaction, though you are rooting for the righteous to come as he searches for redemption. You hope he found it, or it found him, but it’s a lot of walking with a blasé golf-clapping crowd at the end.

The Ugly: Whittaker…what are you doing? Stop that. Talk normal.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Outland

Marshal W.T. O'Niel is assigned to a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter's moons. During his tenure miners are dying - usually violently. When the marshal investigates he discovers the one thing all the deaths have in common is a lethal amphetamine-type drug, which allows the miners to work continuously for days at a time until they become "burned out" and expire. O'Niel follows the trail of the dealers, which leads to the man overseeing the colony. Now O'Niel must watch his back at every turn, as those who seek to protect their income begin targeting him...

The Good: While it is a loose remake of High Noon, it is still a remake. So to that, I have to say this is how remakes should be done. Same premise, different setting, and it’s simply a very compelling “space western.” The story is solid, and Connery really gives one of his best performances that is understated and calming as the Marshall. Outland is a perfect example of a movie’s story not being deep or complex, but extremely well told. It knows its elements, and when a film and those behind it understand what it is they’re making, the film is often that much better. A solid action movie that will grab you and thoroughly entertain, even if it is a bit dated by familiar science fiction director, Peter Hyams.

The Bad: Like High Noon, Outland’s story is about morals and rights and wrongs. Unlike High Noon, we really only get one character to really get to know and care about. Connery is running around, solving the mystery and waiting for the bad guys, but we feel that, because he’s new to the mining facility to begin with, that we have to wonder what stake he has in it. His family has left, he has no friends save one that is so far in the background she might as well be just another gun Connery shoots. Everybody isn’t so much staying out of it as much as they are against him, as though they don’t care they’re being abused and attacked. This slight discrepancy of the characters is what causes us to wonder why anybody would want to stay anyways. High Noon had people not helping because they were scared…here they aren’t helping because they seemingly don’t like the guy protecting them and don’t care about being taken advantage of. I can’t care about people if they don’t give me a reason to care about them.

The Ugly: Arguably, Peter Boyle is severely miscast. He serves the story, but brings no personality to the villain which the story badly needs.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Outrage

The boss of a major crime syndicate orders his lieutenant to bring a rogue gang of drug traffickers in line, a job that gets passed on to his long-suffering subordinate. 

The Good: Takeshi Kitano's Outrage seems focused on doing one thing: giving us some incredibly memorable scenes. It's in his usual style, full of blood and brutality, but they will certainly stay with you in many respects. Kitano knows how to construct scenes. He's patient, observant and often uncomfortably intimate.

There's a lot to keep track of. Sub-plots, supporting characters, hierarchy structure and so forth. A lot is crammed into Outrage, but for the most part it keeps it clear and straightforward despite the convolution of content. It might be overzealous at times, but you always know who is who, what is happening and why even if, at times, it might deter from the path more than what's is welcome.

The Bad: For the first 45 minutes or so, the film starts incredibly well. The characters are given to us, the plot, there's a direction. Then it starts to turn into something else. New characters are thrust at us, old ones put on the backburner. The story changes as it turns more episodic. Even the directing and editing style is altered. After a while, it just becomes a series of inane dialogue scenes that stretch an already convoluted story and various scenes of men beating up other men.

There's simply a lack of cohesiveness and consistency. Sure, it's all fairly interesting, violent and engaging, but nothing feels wrapped in the story. We're merely observing scenes that don't feel as though they're connected to the other scenes and their relevancy becomes an afterthought, this becoming more and more obvious as we wonder why this film needs to be nearly two hours long. Outrage falls victim to its own redundancy which ends up revealing many of its faults.

The Ugly: Takeshi has been around the block on these types of films. Outrage, though, feels more like a foundation for something grander. In fact, I'd argue it would have made a fantastic Mini series exploring the Yakuza. His current planning of Outrage 2 reinforces my opinion on that. There's so much more that could be explored, expanded and paced out in better fashion.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Oz the Great and Powerful

A small-time magician arrives in an enchanted land and is forced to decide if he will be a good man or a great one. 

The Good: A solid, good-hearted and incredibly creative effort to recapture that sense of "epic family films" without having to have too many compromises along the way. Sure, it might try to be a little too clever and cute for its own good, but it makes up for it with actual cleverness and wit, an understanding and appreciation of its source material and a great turn by James Franco to be incredibly charming in the suit of a character that isn't meant to be incredibly charming. Truth is, I'm mainly glad on what it didn't do more than what it did: try to go too far off-base or try to low-brow it. Thankfully does neither and plays it all pretty straight outside of some solid meta-humor and self-referential gags that aren't overdone to death.

But everything here is Sam Raimi's doing. Ok, it's a hell of a group of CG artists and legitimate special effects wizards more than anything, not to mention a great art design surrounding it all, but Raimi's style and sense of "fun" in his films and with a fairly straightforward story with a good dose of classic "family movie" themes like teamwork and overcoming impossible odds and finding your "true" self…he's able to make it all come together with that same (though unable to entirely be original) sense of wonder that these films seem to lack in a lot of cases (see Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, for a sad example).

Franco might be the title character, and shows his greatness for comedic timing even though he's mostly serviceable rather than dynamic, but the supporting cast of Witches really steal the show. Especially Mila Kunis who has never been better in, well, anything. She's a solid actress, but really hits it out of the park as everything begins to tie in to her linchpin of a character. Another surprisingly little gem is Zach Braff as Finley, a completely CG monkey with wings that, on paper, might just be there to play off of Oz and offer some comic relief, but is really Oz's conscious that always nags him.

What it really nails, though…and you'll going to hate me for saying this incredibly overused phrase…but the film also has a lot of heart to it. Characters you care about, you know their dreams and goals, and the film manages to always keep that in mind as it moves along.

The Bad: As we approach our third act, the film begins to change direction. It's moving along, you're enjoying the visuals, the characters are fun and world engaging. It's doing its job. Then, for some reason, it drops a few things and adds in new things. It's not "bad" as in a game-breaking run to the wrong end zone, but it does make you scratch your head as some characters override the priorities, we lose touch with other characters and the entire tone of the film shifts to a desire to get the last feather in its cap - to be epic and have a whiz-bang finale.

Well, that finale is pretty whiz-bang, but I feel it was a bit bittersweet as there was just a few things not present or shoved so far in to the background that you say "oh yeah…forgot he was in this too."

The Ugly: Not sure why this is PG-13. Pretty family-friendly all around. The witches can be scary a bit, but no more than the original film Oz…or Hocus Pocus.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Pacific Rim

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

The Good: I will take a movie, as silly and dumb and crazy as it is, that knows exactly what it is over a film that tries too much. In other words, give me a Top Gun or Point Break over a film that tries to layer exposition and character and action and explosions and humor and romance and keep piling stuff on until…well until we pretty much get a Michael Bay movie.

What is Pacific Rim: It's as advertised. Robots. Monsters. Fight to the death on a massive scale. You're not going in there to "understand" characters and the world, you're there to have a good time with solid, though very familiar, tropes and personalities all around and just enjoy the ride. Because the ride is worth it because a ride like this is rare: a brilliant film that, itself, is just one giant action set-piece after another that never feels "cluttered" with exposition in story, character or action itself. It's a trim, two hour spectacle that defines perfunctory…in a good way, mind you. "Simple" doesn't mean something is "stupid," just like complex doesn't mean something is smart and "thought provoking."

Sometimes, when action movies try too much, I just get bored. Messages. Meanings. Some sort of character trait that is a reflection of humanity in some way. They're fine when done well, but they're rarely done well. I feel, if you realize how difficult it is to do that, then nix it entirely. Go back to basics. Go watch Top Gun or Commando and see how its done.

Maybe I'm just tired of it. Maybe I "fun" in an action movie is and Pacific Rim made me feel like I was having a good time for once. Some might call it a "Popcorn movie" like a derogatory comment. I say a Popcorn movie is better than most when done right because we need a place for popcorn movies. Good popcorn movies. Well done, exciting and fun movies with so much energy and creativity put in to it that it puts all those other movies, the ones that try to hard and have their reach exceed their grasp, to utter shame. Pacific Rim reminds us its fine to go and just have fun at the movies once in a while.

The Bad: As lean and tight as the script is, and a movie like this needs a leanness to its script because its the spectacle that's the selling point, it struggles harshly on dialogue. Some scenes work well, others fall flat, some just feel awkward because they're good actors delivering pretty bad lines.

You'll enjoy these archetypes, they're familiar and silly and their arcs as expected, but the lines they're given is like a blend of the worst lines of those silly action movies of the past, but here they feel too intentional. Too forced. Perhaps its because there's so many of them, perhaps it's just that some scenes just don't work with the silly characters in the first place. The film is fun, no doubt, and the cheesiness can be fun too, but sometimes it widely misses the mark when it tries to inject drama or any moment of seriousness.

The Ugly: A potential franchise, but the mass audiences won't care. It's not a "name."

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Paddington

A young Peruvian bear travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the kindly Brown family, who offer him a temporary haven.

The Good: Sweet and charming, and yes quite British, Paddington is an interesting blend of a comedy that manages to be incredibly broad but also incredibly sentimental and sweet at the same time. It has the slap-stick, though never too over-the-top, that doesn’t become low-brow that is appealing to children and adults, but it also has some fantastic themes about family and living in London as well. Paddington is, simply, a great mix of new and old, comedy and sentimentality and a true “family film” that doesn’t turn adults off or go over the heads of children.

You know, that kind of family film is a bit rare these days. Usually they’re full of low-brow fart jokes and one-line puns that were interjected thanks to a punch-up that takes the cheapest route to wrangle comedy out of it because you need a joke every minute and a half like some bad 90s sit com. But Paddington respects its audience. It trusts it. It never feels to be taking the low-road for kids, which is appreciated by those like myself who want to watch a nice little movie about a talking British (actually Peruvian) bear.

It’s not a movie that’s brilliantly original, mind you, it’s simply well done and sweet and it all feels earned rather than forcing it. That’s really all it needed to be too. Director and writer Paul King, along with co-writer Hamish McColl strike a brilliant balance in updating a classic tale not to mention a great voice performance from Ben Whishaw (who came in last minute to redo the voice after Colin Firth dropped out) and we end up with a lovely and fun movie that, to me, is what a broad family comedy should strive to be.

The Bad: To create drama, Paddington has to foster in a villain to bring some conflict. That’s fair enough, but it’s also not all that inspired or interesting. Paddington is at its best when it’s dealing with the family and Paddington’s adjustment to London and at its very worst when Nicole Kidman shows up, hams it up for a bit and the story gets phoned in with some very clunky and clumsy third act action and adventure.

In other words, Paddington is fantastic when its subtle and sweet and intimate. But as soon as it tries to be an action comedy it falls flat. Things end up underdeveloped, notably the character arcs which suddenly seem throwaway, and the entire angle of the antagonist versus the family feels rushed and completely shoehorned into the story - as though there are two completely different films made and they cut them together. Thankfully, the strengths far outweigh the concerns of the forced conflict and bland villain, but it could have been an absolutely family classic if it didn’t approach its conflict as a checklist of rudimentary comedy action.

The Ugly: Seriously, there’s a great movie in Paddington between all that bad. The characters and Paddington himself are fantastic, but it just falls apart every time it wants to throw in a Cruella de Vil knock off that isn’t nearly as interesting.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Pain & Gain

A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong. 

The Good: What’s this? A Michael Bay movie that actually has something to say? Who would have thought that? which probably says more about the script and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely more than anything. They made a hitman likeable in You Kill Me, made Captain America actually work as a movie and managed to do a nice adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia. As ridiculous as Pain & Gain can get, and what is having to say about as subtle as a sledgehammer, it’s look at the “American dream” as it appeals to people who can’t tell the difference between entitlement and hard work is a feather in the film’s cap and shows that it's at least trying to not be utterly mindless- certainly when put up against other films in Bay's oeuvre which usually involved explosions and urinating robots.

Along that, every actor brings their A-game. Walhberg’s macho-douchebag fits in perfectly, but we also witness a slow spiral of self-destruction and slowly emerging anger. The sthow-stealer, as is so often the case with him, is Dwayne Johnson in probably his best role as Paul Doyle: a reborn Christian and alcoholic that ever so slowly can’t realize he’s going back to his old ways…and probably worse ways at that. The characters pull you through an otherwise uneventful story, and the themes it plays with at least makes you interested in what direction it all might take.

Michael Bay’s directing, which has always looked great despite the questionable material, particularly lays a strong visual foundation for this film and is actually reeled back a bit. The energy and constant momentum is always there, but he captures mid 1990s Miami about as well as anyone can expect and manages to not over-glorify but instead fits with the times. The women. The cars. The roids. He’s a perfect fit even if the script didn’t quite call for his excessive energy in the process. Perhaps that says more about Bay’s style, more fitting for a 1990s music video than anything, but if the glove fits…

The Bad: Over two hours? Michael Bay has always been about excess, especially in the runtime department, but this particular story plays itself out in about an hour. There’s not enough interesting things happening or developments that occur to justify sitting there for over two hours, which feels even longer due to the kinetic, constant-rush nature of the entire thing where a ton can happen in just ten minutes and you're sitting there thinking it's thirty. There’s never a rest, never a moment of thought, just the excessive for the sake of excessive and that two hours begins to become a static.

It’s even more difficult when every character is pretty unlikeable. Their personalities are appealing and will get you drawn in to this 90s Miami world, but at the end of the day you’re not really rooting for a single person in the story and more or less wish the worst upon everyone. Except Ed Harris, who was a nice surprise and shows I should read opening credits a little more closely.

The one thing that is very hit and miss, however, is the tone. The humor doesn't always work, though seeing a coked-up Dwayne Johnson is a sight to behold, and it usually falls in either the redundant side or just mean-spirited side. Even the coked-up Dwayne Johnson runs its course after the third or fourth scene. It has a nice element of dark humor, but never quite nails that either as the film attempts to be less Coen Brothers at times and more Farrelly Brothers other times.

The Ugly: I know this isn't a film for accuracy, but the shreds of truth are still pretty amazing.

Also sue me, I had a lot of fun with this movie. There's always a place for the absurd. As Albert Camus said, "Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable."

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Pan's Labyrinth

In the fascist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.

The Good: Pan's Labyrinth is not fantasy. At least, not in the way one might expect. It's like Alice in Wonderland in that regard: the real world influences the world a child sees as she tries to make sense of it all or, in this case, deal with the traumatic events that surround her. Escapism through a child is expected to be odd, frightening, weird, and Pan's Labyrinth has all that as you try to determine what might be real and what might not. Through this concept and artistic ambition, Guillermo del Toro has created an unquestionable masterpiece of cinema that's to be admired, respected, analyzed and, of course, thoroughly enjoyed. Few films can lay claim to all those qualities.

Pan's Labyrinth asks a lot of its audience, yet it never seems overbearing in doing so. It wants you to give in to its ideas and a child's perspective, perhaps having you feel like a frightened, confused child yourself. It asks for you to see the brutality of war and violence and fully understand how a child might confront those issues. You will. You can't help yourself. You become intrigued at every turn as more unfolds, if anything for the originality of its visual achievements with some of the finest make up and special effects captured with a camera. It's dark, moody, unique in every way. It's a film that any cinema fan should see, and most likely already have. If you haven't, then shame on you.

The Bad: Pan's Labyrinth is full of complexity, save for one important one. A one-dimensional villain seems oddly out of place amidst everything else that's happening in this world del Toro has created. The performance is fine, everyone in the film are fantastic, but it's completely one note in a piece that's otherwise a symphony - like having a Sonata and then a ukelele pipes up. It can be distracting, sometimes detracting, and it makes one wonder why it was simplified so much to a point of being so obviously uninspired compared to the rest of the film.

That said, just to play devil's advocate here, one could say that is simply the way the child sees him. As the film is entirely from her eyes, it's a valid argument, but I still found it oddly out of place.

The Ugly: Practical blood will always be better than computer generated effects, but in the case of Pan's Labyrinth del Toro had no choice due to restrictions on location filming. There's not a great deal of it, but it is noticeable.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Pandorum

Two crew members are stranded on a spacecraft and quickly - and horrifically - realize they are not alone. Two astronauts awaken in a hyper-sleep chamber aboard a seemingly abandoned spacecraft. It's pitch black, they are disoriented, and the only sound is a low rumble and creak from the belly of the ship. They can't remember anything: Who are they? What is their mission? With Lt. Payton staying behind to guide him via radio transmitter, Cpl. Bower ventures deep into the ship and begins to uncover a terrifying reality. Slowly the spacecraft's shocking, deadly secrets are revealed...and the astronauts find their own survival is more important than they could ever have imagined.

The Good: A well-shot, well acted piece of claustrophobic science fiction that, while not quite hitting all the marks, makes for at least an entertaining and suspenseful film. It's primarily carried by the solid acting of Ben Foster, who is probably giving more than the film deserves, but that's something he's always done. He's a leading man in the making, and it shows with great delivery of mediocre dialogue and making it work. Quaid is serviceable, but that is usually the case with him. He rarely goes out of his comfort zone, but he's well-cast here. Christian Alvart, who also directed the small and very good film Antibodies from 2005, shows promise as a visual-minded director that knows how to present his setting and his characters. He has a visual acuity to his scenes and, combined with the fantastic audio in the film, brings forth a great sense of tension and suspense. It's unfortunate he simply didn't stay with that and focus on making a thriller rather than trying to take a thriller and cram action scenes into it.

The Bad: Pandorum's biggest downfall is its inability to find a balance on what it wants to do. Half of it wants to be an intense, psychological thriller, the other half wants to be some sort of survival horror movie with action sequences. The first part, although shallow, works. The second certainly does not. The action clashes with the rest of the film, one being the tone isn't quite set for action and the second being the action itself is rather poorly done - this is especially noted during martial arts fight sequences, as out of place as Keanu Reeves in Dracula, where they feel completely set up and contrived. It strives to do too much, and as a result everything ends up being underwhelming and uninspired to the point that the film ends up being disappointing on the sole reason it had so much potential.

The Ugly: I think Pandorum would have made a great video game, had Dead Space not already been released, that is.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Panic Room

Recently divorced Meg Altman and her daughter Sarah have bought a new home in New York. On their tour around the mansion, they come across the panic room. A room so secure, that no one can get in. When three burglars break in, Meg makes a move to the panic room. But all her troubles don't stop there. The criminals know where she is, and what they require the most in the house is in that very room.

The Good: At its core, Panic Room is a solid thriller thanks to a strong lead performance, a strong supporting performance, and capable (although trying too hard) directing from Fincher who utilizes a limited space and tight quarters as best he can to keep your interest. There is certainly a great look to the film, shot by Conrad Hall (not the legendary Conrad Hall, a personal favorite, but his son...both worked on American Beauty...bet that was weird) and who worked with Fincher on Se7en and Fight Club as well. So he certainly knew the man's style and sensibilities. Conceptually, Panic Room is unique and refreshing in that "reshaping old concepts" mentality.

The Bad: On paper, Panic Room has a set up for a taught, almost Hitchcock-like thriller. But let's face it, Hitchcock Fincher is not, and his large-scope and big-picture approach just doesn't quite work with the material here (at least, not at this stage in his career - a sense of "overdirecting" comes through with it trying too hard). That, and the script doesn't lend itself well to his abilities as well. He handles the story as best he can, but the script itself has issues, forcing itself along and, eventually, making you feel as though it's just trying to stretch itself to a feature-length runtime than really feel like a natural progression with suspense. Things turn implausible, ridiculous, or even just dumb and the concept (this is David Koepp, so it really isn't that surprising), Foster's performance and Fincher's attempt to bring us a story as best he can just falls flat and becomes lost.

The Ugly: Originally, this was to be a small, low budget movie from Fincher. But you'll realize the man probably doesn't understand the word "restraint" until his next offering five years later when he arguably reinvents himself.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5

Paper Moon

Paper Moon introduces us to a traveling salesman named Moses Pray who cons widows into buying his Bibles. While attending the funeral of one of his former girlfriends, Moses discovers that the deceased left behind a nine-year-old daughter named Addie. He soon finds himself pressured into escorting the young orphan to relatives in St. Joseph, Missouri. However, Moses' new traveling companion is no angel (she smokes and curses) and she's a quick study in the art of the hustle. In record time, Moses enlists her as a partner in his deception of unsuspecting rubes.

The Good: Peter Bogdanovich brings forth an homage to classic comedies and classic directing styles with the instant classic, Paper Moon. Bogdanovich himself is rarely brought up when discussing the great directors, perhaps his number of films being so low is the cause of that, but what he does have is a solid stable of quality films and I would venture to say that Paper Moon is certainly his masterpiece. The pacing, the characters, his spot-on style choices in combination with the script's tone and the gorgeous black and white all lend one to realize there's more to Paper Moon than meets the eye (strangely, a major theme in the film as well). It plays out like a moral parable: a fable set in depression era United States and a road trip that certainly parallels the journey of life, from childhood to adulthood. All this complexity, however, is based by  the light and often humorous tone which strikes an uncanny balance of emotion, thoughtfulness and comedy. By using these tools to convey the thematic motifs, we come to witness something beautiful and touching, not to mention how the film seems to be one thing and do something completely different- a reflection of the characters within it. Speaking of, how could I not mention Tatum O'Neal's performance (and her father, Ryan for that matter)? She didn't win the Oscar at only ten years old for nothing and she is the absolute engine of purpose of one of the industry's best scripts. Through her we see life and lightness during an era full of such dreariness, and as a result we find that light in Paper Moon as one of the best movies ever made.

The Bad: Many people are turned off by the classical style the film decides to implement (it's no surprise John Huston was originally going to direct this back in the 60s).

Those people are idiots.

I suppose a bad element might be how Paper Moon sets such a high bar in terms of the classic "road movie." Most of the time, you don't even notice they're on the road. Rather, it finds itself, just as life does, in the smaller moments of life along the path rather than the path itself. Few movies that try to do the "road trip" really grasp that element so poetically.

The Ugly: After so much good, do I feel like going through an "ugly?" I mean, I did this as a treat for myself because I found so much enjoyment in rewatching the film recently. I could mention how Bogdanovich loathed working with Tatum O'Neal, but that would undermine everything. We didn't even know that until much later anyways. So if you've overlooked this great movie, get out there and see it. It simply doesn't get enough credit.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5

The Paperboy

A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.

The Good: Well, that was interesting. The Paperboy is a disaster, yet it's an interesting and captivating disaster.

Think about that for a moment. It's not a good movie, yet I couldn't stop watching it. Maybe it was the visceral sexuality and excessive violence, or maybe it was these weird, David Lyncian characters that inhabit this bizarre, humid world in Florida, or maybe it's just that Nicole Kidman peed on Zack Efron.

Oh, that happens. Somebody had to write that, but more interesting is how somebody went out of their way to write that. It doesn't do anything for the story, much like a lot of other scenes in the film, yet it's...strangely alluring. Like watching a car wreck in slow motion.

Now you're thinking "Wait a minute...this is the 'good' section you're writing." It is, and The Paperboy has elements that keep reeling you back, thus making it for good elements. The fact they make little sense and the film has little to say about...anything...is what makes it so entertaining. The directing is all over the place, ranging from experimental, hallucinatory 1970s shlock to white trash masterpiece theater to sex-crazed softcore porn. I haven't seen another film that quite blends all these things in to one. Have you? The Paperboy walks that line: where you know it's pretty bad, yet are entertained by it. Now whether or not you're entertained by the film itself and what it offers or the fact the film is bad is the question.

The Bad: Despite the cathartic, trashy nature of the film, it's a complete mess. There's no way about it, the story is all over the place as various subplots are never really explored or expanded on, the characters cardboard cutouts of better cliche characters from better films, the acting ranges from damn solid to just silly, the film can't even decide who our main character is. It starts as one as we see events from her perspective, then dips in and out of that seeing as how another character is far more integral to the story, another the drive of it and a third with the most screentime; shoving her aside for narrative convenience rather than consistency resulting in a film that shows it can't stay with its own convictions. It also doesn't even know what its message or who it's from is as it does a complete 180 and changes itself from a film about equality and civil rights into a murder-mystery with a lot of dead bodies. What exactly does this film want to do? Even the director isn't sure.

I won't deny there's a certain hypnotic effect to The Paperboy. Yet, I can't quite figure out if it's because of the overall captivation of trashiness and presentation or if it's simply because you're surprised how bad it is. I think the latter: there's a lot of really good people doing really good things in pretty bad movie, and that's impressive. It's like a Perfect Story of a movie: a lot of good things clash with a lot (a lot) of bad things and you end up with a lot of collateral damage and debris in the process including, most likely, lots of crumpled and torn up script pages that might have been able to make this a better film.

The Ugly: Self indulgent? Yes. But I don't hold that against it. In fact, I think the self-indulgence is one of the more interesting things about the movie. Sometimes, self-indulgence and pretension can be a good thing, and it is here, it just doesn't come together and make all that self-indulgence worth your time.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Paranormal Activity

After a young, middle class couple moves into a suburban 'starter' tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.

The Good: Being genuinely, and convincingly, scary is difficult. I know I can go into a "haunted house" attraction at Halloween and absolutely not be scared. I know it's not real, I know the people aren't real, and it's simply just a show. For a film to be scary, it has to feel authentically scary. The situation needs to be tense, the characters people you feel are real and care about and the directing intelligent with out it presents those scares. Paranormal Activity hits most of the right marks in this regard and shows that simple use of audio, perfect timing and convincing character reactions are what can really sell a good scary movie. Alien had a similar approach: what you don't see is far more scarier than what you do and it develops the scary moments throughout, starting small and gradually growing to a payoff. The directing is pretty much in the hands of the actors, and unlike other "handheld camera" movies, this one feels authentic and as though this was a couple doing what any real people would do with cameras (bad focusing, angles, tripod use and all). Because of it being so relatable (we all hear odd things at night, I would bet) and the effects simple but brilliantly done, sometimes bringing everything back down to earth, to a level we all can see ourselves in, is where the true fear lies and why a lot of people, perhaps, will think twice about getting out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Those thoughts are already there as you stagger down the hall...this reinforces fears we all already have. To touch that real element of our own personal fears is what truly makes Paranormal Activity one of the better horror movies to come out in some time.

The Bad:
You'll find yourself liking the characters one minute, and really hating them the next. Micah, in particular, simply does things that are incredibly stupid even for a guy who, otherwise, I would believe would be the take-charge, "I can handle this" type. I like seeing how he tries to hold on to what little he actually knows, but there comes a point where any person will just have to say "this is out of my control." Not once does he even accept that and it feels more like he's playing with the situation without ever taking it seriously and he's far too cold and distant especially in contrast with Katie who is highly emotional. The acting has moments of being convincing as regular people, other moments of just, well, bad acting. A few sagging moments with the camera also feel a little contrived. They use it realistically like a camera for the most part, but some things feel as though they are only shooting to develop the story for its own sake, not like it's some lost tape. In otherwords, it's a lose-lose situation. A realistic approach wouldn't have the camera on so often, but at the same time the story would suffer if it wasn't shown.

The Ugly: Ok, so they're in their 20s, the guy never works (apparently) and the girl goes to school full time...how can they afford this house and all the nice things again? Just an odd attribute, I think.

Final Rating:
4 out of 5


Paranormal Activity 2

After experiencing what they think are a series of "break-ins", a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realize that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem.

The Good: Paranormal Activity 2 is a direct sequel to the first, meaning you need and must see the original film to really understand what's going on here. It not so much is a sequel, though, as much as it is an expansion. This take is pretty unique and interesting, especially for the horror genre where sequels, at best, might acknowledge another exits but never are as ingrained into each other. For example, Friday the 13th Part VI is a direct sequel to Part IV, but even then you don't need to see Part IV to get Part VI because it only touches on it. It's more in-line with the two recent James Bond films where Quantum of Solace, also a direct seuqel, requires you to see the first film to understand it. Unlike those two, where the latter feels more like an epilogue to continue onward, Paranormal Activity 2 ingrains itself into the first film to make one continuous whole. Here, the two films of Paranormal Activity are interwoven and it's effectively done.

The scares are similar to the original in how they progress and escalate, but every bit as effective. It's the more violent and obvious of the two films, meaning subtlety isn't its strongsuit, but certain scenes are well done enough and frightening enough, and the last 20 minutes scary enough, to really get under your skin, give you goosebumps and unsettle you. It uses the security system attribute incredibly effectively. Now you don't always need the handheld camera, which often felt forced into scenes so the first Paranormal Activity could work, and is a natural evolution for where this series (and it will be a series) will be heading. I would hope, though, a third film gets away from this plot and move in a different direction. Possibilities are, indeed, limitless and the studio should look to progressing the series rather than expanding one narrow part of it - quickly, guys, before the fad of it wears thin like the Saw franchise. 

The Bad: Much like the first, Paranormal Activity 2 is a film you can really only watch once. After that, its take on how it scares you loses its effectiveness and there's not enough artistic creativity here to warrant re-watching it on that level either. Because it takes on the "expand the story" route, the film also lacks a good punch or stinger and a sense of completeness to it. It seems more apt to bring stronger resolution to the original film than it is to bring one to itself, which is why I think the films are better together than separate. Still, as mentioned, re-watching them loses its effectiveness of intent (to feel real and scary) and re watching to appreciate the "full picture" thus becomes utterly pointless.

We never quite get to know the family here, other than the daughter who's easily the best in the film yet not in nearly enough of it. I couldn't tell you the name of her or any of them, actually, other than the baby who would probably the third best character in the film behind the dog. The mother and father are hard to like or understand, and if it weren't for the daughter and the dog, there would be no direction to the plot or sympathy for the characters at all...then again there barely is already. Is "sympathy" necessary here, though? That's hard to determine, but more developed characters might have at least allowed for a stronger like towards them at the very least.

The Ugly: While the acting is good enough, the characters lack intimacy. They never come across as real people and many of the emotional beats feel more systematic than natural.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Paranormal Activity 3

In 1988, young sisters Katie and Kristi befriend an invisible entity who resides in their home.

The Good: It's the 1980s and something spooky is happening. With a new camcorder and a lot of time, we get to see spooky things happening again in this, the third Paranormal Activity film. The series has, so far, shown a great element: having patience and playing with anticipations. Even though this third one dips into the jump-scare aspect more than the previous two, the bumps in the nights and shadows out of the corner of your eye are still handled meticulously well. There's no denying it knows how to play with you, it's just that everything else is so uninteresting.

The Bad: One of the problems with all of the Paranormal Activity films is that it's just a little hard to believe that someone would go through and tape everything. The first one got by on novelty, the second with the element of being a security set up, but the third one is pretty ridiculous for the most part. Who really goes around with a camera this much and tapes everything? It's an aspect that's a bit hard to believe and, as a result, took me right out of the film. It's meant to be a realistic "found footage" horror movie, but it all feels contrived resulting in a film that's more a shallow parody of one of these movies rather than an actual one.

Another thing that's gone on for three films too long is people doing incredibly stupid things. A perfect example: you can hear what's being opened and closed on the tapes, the father constantly reviews it, but never sets the camera right where it needs to be to catch it. Another thing: a babysitter gets frightened and hears something loud from the little girls' room, but doesn't bother to wake them in case of danger. Then doesn't tell the parents anything. Another: If you're trying to convince someone about the ghost, just show them the tape, don't sit them down and start talking about witches. Another: there's conclusive evidence something weird is happening and nobody does anything about it. This is one that's been going on for all three films, but the father in each seems obsessed with doing nothing but trying to get stuff on video and to put his family in danger. If this is supposed to be "real" then people need to act realistic. They do not.

With an over-abundance on jump scares, and too many instances of cheap jump cuts and "gotcha" moments to exasperate that even further, Paranormal Activity 3 goes against its own principles of being "real" and doesn't go much beyond being a silly movie made by amateurs that got a camcorder for Christmas.

The Ugly: The legs on this series is already showing weariness.  Badly. The drop off from the second one to this one is quite dramatic and it's own formula, a point of being unpredictable, is beginning to become predictable itself.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


ParaNorman

A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

The Good: A loving film made for all fans of horror movies. To the point where it's probably more for adults than it is for kids; like Fantastic Mr. Fox which was too droll and dry for kids, where this is probably too dark and scary for them as well, making the audience pretty much entirely for adults and, thus, making my review a bit easier because I don't need to step out of myself and imagine myself a kid watching it: because as an adult I liked it, but didn't love it.

What I liked is three fold: the setting, a classic "goofy town" full of equally goofy townspeople that creep up from time to time. The town and its inhabitants are just as much a character itself. The second is the most obvious: the animation. This is slick, high-quality stop motion so well done you can't believe it's stop motion. Just simple things and techniques that are taken for granted in computer animation. There's an organic aesthetic that stop motion captures so well and that computer animation, for all its flash and wiz and action, just can't quite capture.

And lastly there's Norman. Norman is a bit of your typical outcast hero, but he's one of the better realized, three-dimensional ones I've seen in a film like this. He's incredibly likeable and you unabashedly route for the kid and his Sixth Sense type power that he treats with affection and happy he can speak to ghosts rather than  shun or run away from it. He can do good things, he knows he can, so when things begin to escalate he knows what he has to do...he just needs to rally people behind him.  Though it might find more fans in a niche market, it's still a high-quality and beautiful animated film that will go down as one of the best this year even with the missteps.

The Bad: When does "trying to hard" begin to work against a film? There's a breaking point for each viewer, I suppose, but there's a point that comes in ParaNorman that just feels like it's trying too hard to bring its "message" home. Yes, some kids are weird and unjustly outcast, yes some have powers and are treated poorly, but do we need a large speech about it…multiple times?

Then we have two critical areas that really don't work: 1) some of these characters are just overly-awful without explanation or context and 2) some of them change all that without explanation: I'm looking at you, Norman's sister and father. The suddenly coming-around of characters like that lacks a sense of natural progression, or an understanding between Norman and those around him. For example, the bully Alvin is another that does that, but Norman saves him and shows him the truth on what to do, making his coming-around befitting of such an arc. In the case of his sister, she simply stands with him after we see her treat him absolutely horrible for most of the film, and the father…well…sorry but if you're calling your son a pansy and wimp for most of the film, suddenly hugging him at the end lacks a serious amount of heart that the film desperately tries to scramble for. There's a lack of middle in that three-act showcase.

That's kind of where ParaNorman structurally stumbles. Maybe I was too caught up in lack of character development to pay attention to the plot, but the film purposely puts those characters as a centerpiece, and none of them quite work other than (thankfully) Norman himself, and to a lesser-extent Neil who should have been give a lot more to do. ParaNorman is a visually striking and wonderfully atmospheric film that just needed some better storytelling to really bring it home.

The Ugly: Just because it's the same animation trope that did Caroline doesn't mean the material is up to the standards of that film. It's still a different writer and director, even if the animators are the same. But then again, you're comparing a first time director of ParaNorman with legendary Henry Selick. Unfair, but you can see the level of difference even if the animation is still superb.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Parkland

A recounting of the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The Good: If you ever wanted to say "I wonder what the people were like in Dallas Texas when President Kennedy was shot" then you have your film.

And that might be about it. Not to say that Parkland is bad, it's at least interesting, but it's not compelling or showing enough to justify its own existence.

No, really. Parkland could have been a revealing look, and maybe to some extent it is in terms of expanding the story around the assassination of John F. Kennedy and how everyday people suddenly became tangled up in it, but that's about all you're going to get. Who they are, how they got there or just happened to be there, what happened to their lives afterwards...yeah none of that here. But at least it looks very 1960s and the actors do fairly well with what little they've been given.

While I can not recommend Parkland to simply see as a film-goer, I will say if this era and this event truly interests you and you just want to see more of what happened beyond the death of the President, then it will at least engage you on that level. It's one of those films that you'll see and go "Oh, that happened" and then it'll move on and you'll say "Well that happened too, that's kind of interesting." Nothing shocking. Nothing revealing. It's just a recreation of what happened, and if what happened is all you care about and you care little about who the people were, the whys and the many hows and whats...then Parkland is your film.

The Bad: I honestly don't quite understand the point of the film. I know that sounds dismissive, but I need to be blunt here. There's no insight or reveal of a person or character, just re-enactments of factual moments in history. There's no emotion, no investment and no sincerity - just a rundown of events that might as well have synth music playing in the background with Robert Stack narrating. While it's interesting to see them "live and in person" so to speak, as all these things unfold and you see what others might have talked about, it's not an exploration of those events. It's a re-enacted documentary and feels more like something you would show a class then give a quiz over afterwards than a film that's revealing of the failures of the day, of the people or just the general tone of the country at the time.

If the intention was to "bring these characters around the JFK assassination to life" then you'd have to have the only criteria really be "actors are moving." There's no understanding, no distinct personality (the closest being Paul Giamatti as Zapruder but he's barely given enough time to do anything with it) no distinct point of view and no narrative other than "then this happened at this one place." It's inertia undermines it all as it runs roughshot through the checklist of events making you wonder why you just don't do an educational documentary or just read the book.

The Ugly: I would have loved, and I mean loved, a film just about Zapruder. I would have enjoyed knowing more about that man, especially in how Giamatti portrays him. The pitch: he's just an everyman, we get to know his life and who he is, until this one day he became caught in the biggest event in the world, changing his life forever.

Take that one, Hollywood. You can have it for free.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Passion of Joan of Arc

A chronicle of the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

The Good: Silent movies have this strange quality to them. We can see the roots of the art in this kind of “time capsule” of the era. Watching one is like being transported to that time in some quasi-dream like fashion because all silent movies have this odd tone to them: one of lucidity as though it’s just outside the bounds of reality. Watching a movie like The Passion of Joan of Arc explores this even more because it itself is presented almost as a dream (or should I say nightmare). It’s more or less a play based on the transcripts and eyewitness accounts of the trial of Joan of Arc. It plays out exactly like you would expect it to.

Director Carl Theodor Dreyer did something special here. During the silent era, close ups were actually frowned upon. People didn’t want to see a screen full of a face, they wanted to see around them, wanted to see them in motion and enjoyed the landscape interaction. Dreyer chose to, though, have a very minimalist set and fill the screen with faces. Emotions and passion rarely come across as well as they do here as he balances expressionism, popular at the time, with stark reality...and it doesn’t even need to say a word. No better than the performance of Renee Jeanne Falconetti who is absolutely daring and sympathetically beautiful as Joan of Arc.

The Ugly:
This film was lost until 1981, found in a janitor’s closet at a mental institution in Oslo Norway. I think that the story of where some of these lost films are sometimes found is a great story in and of itself. Dreyer nearly went mad, fumbling through old footage for decades, trying to reassemble the original film after it was lost in a fire. He never did, and yet the full film sat comfortably in a closet the entire time.

Final Rating:
5 out of 5


The Past

An Iranian man deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. Meanwhile, his wife starts up a new relationship, a reality her husband confronts upon his wife's request for a divorce.

The Good: Like his previous film, A Separation, auteur Asghar Farhadi is able to capture an honesty amidst a family full of problems. “Dysfunctional’ might the correct term, but it’s more a family (and associates) that is simply broken. Even that doesn’t quite sound right because The Past takes it further as it explores the causation of what is broken, what is barely holding on but not necessarily giving answers. A man comes home, sees the changes, and we delve back in to the stories through dialogue and conversation, putting the pieces together as more and more layers are peeled back. Perhaps it was always destined to be broken, perhaps it was broken the entire time because these people simply can’t figure out how to put things together in the first place.

The Past is about that discovery and the regrets that come with it, not to mention the unintended victims along the way and how that cascades. I like to look at it as a butterfly effect film - where one action in the past will send ripples in to the future. Here, though, those ripples are still felt and the people that cause them have to deal with the consequences. With it’s stellar acting, Farhadi knowing how to encapsulate every mood and tone for each scene he sets alongside them, The Past gives less a sense of watching a movie and more the sense of, often, uncomfortably sitting in a room with them (best noted by its rather poignant final credits).

Though it may suffer from pacing at times, it never suffers from disinterest. Farhadi’s ability to take one small element and show the large impact in just a small group of people is astounding, and he’s done it twice now as he’s easily the finest filmmaker to ever emerge out of Iran.

The Bad: There’s a point, or perhaps a revelation that’s quite large, where the film seems to slow down but not by its own accord. I suppose you could say it says all it needs to say by a certain point, then everything after that is less revealing and exploration and more repeating the same elements, points and themes that were already repeated before. At over two hours, this becomes noticeable and it makes you wonder why Farhadi decided to stretch rather than make point and move on to a conclusion. Perhaps he ran out of steam as well, but there’s a noticeable break between the first two thirds and the final third of the film.

I think much of that has to do with the characters. The film is its strongest when we’re still trying to explore and understand them, but eventually you have nothing else to know about them after a certain point, particularly with Marie, played beautifully by Berenice Bejo, who says all there is to say, and Ahmad, arguably our “lead” in many respects, who feels nonexistent.

The Ugly: Seeing movies like this, or something from Michael Haneke, shows that there's really no American filmmaker that has an ability to capture the subtleties of a family.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Paths of Glory

The futility and irony of the war in the trenches in WWI is shown as a unit commander in the French army must deal with the mutiny of his men and a glory-seeking general after part of his force falls back under fire in an impossible attack.

 The Good: As one of Stanley Kubrick’s more cynical works, Paths of Glory tries to present itself as a war movie. This is not the case as the film is more about morality. Everything is crafted with a keen eye, from placement of the characters on screen to the use of sound and music. The good guys are the ones you loathe, full of cheaters, liars and bureaucrats, and the bad guys are the ones you cheer as they are merely pawns in this tale of human decency lost. It’s a cold film, bitterly so, with little to no light to see through the fog of military hierarchy and injustice. Along with Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick makes his points of war clear: it’s pointless.

The Bad: Kirk Douglas is a legendary actor, but his style does not mesh particular well with the rest of the cast and the tone of the story itself. He’s loud, exuberant, while everyone else is mellow and subtle. He gives some great looks/expressions and when he’s silent tells a lot with his face alone, but his delivery was a wrong choice for the film other than the moments of sheer anger and frustration, which he shows perfectly, and the almost required idealistic hero that he eventually presents, which is far too contrasted to the grim story and feels unnecessarily obligatory.

The Ugly: Paths of Glory was banned in France until 1975 due to the disparaging look at World War I, and war in general, and of course, the French.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Paul

Two British comic-book geeks traveling across the U.S. encounter an alien outside Area 51.

The Good: It takes a good while to find itself, but Paul is a movie that is made for the little alien geek in all of us: those that sat around in awe of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, watched the X-files every  week and wish we had our own ET as kids. Even if it's a bit trite at times, the movie is helped along with characters, cameos and an eventual sense of self-awareness to the brink of satire (though it's not quite as witty and clever to achieve that fully). A film like this, which is essentially a road-trip movie, is completely reliant on characters and it's hard to not enjoy the presence of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as, what else, two science fiction nerds traveling across the desert after attending, what else, Comic Con in San Diego. Then Paul enters, and like them both, we eventually warm up to the guy. In fact, it's damn hard not to by the end of the film.

The Bad: If only the first half of Paul was half as good as the second half. The film starts slow. In fact, it's easy to see the idea with Paul and when a film is so loose, if not broken, the first half and so enjoyable the second is an indication the writers had the idea but didn't quite know how to get there.  By midway, the characters turn likable (before lacking chemistry and believability - which isn't a good thing considering Frost and Pegg have been working together for years) and the film finds a strong footing as it moves beyond the single-gag Paul and turns into a loving homage to various science fiction and fantasy movies that helped make a film like Paul possible. It goes from trying to be a campy parody to a self-aware satire.

It's good to end on a strong note, but it sadly seem to drag and take far too long to get going in the first place.  Much of the humor is reliant on one gag during the first half: a weird gray alien saying and doing absurd things.  If it was a regular human, it would be annoying. As an alien, it can be funny but it's more giggle-funny than something that will get you laughing.  Splattered throughout the film is stilted dialogue about life and evolution and God and character banter that lacks wit and charm. Jokes often fall flat. Chemistry is as forced as the plot. Though the film finds its charm element eventually, overall Paul is a jumbled movie that doesn't quite come together. Overall, it lacks the polish and skill to really be a great
movie, but in the end it's at least a good one...even if it's merely "good enough."

The Ugly:  I was concerned Seth Rogan's voice would be a distraction, it's so very distinct to his persona, but after it completely fits.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Peeping Tom

As a boy, Mark Lewis was subjected to bizarre experiments by his scientist-father, who wanted to study and record the effects of fear on the nervous system. Now grown up, both of his parents dead, Mark works by day as a focus-puller for a London movie studio. He moonlights by taking girlie pictures above a news agent's shop. But Mark has also taken up a horrifying hobby: He murders women while using a movie camera to film their dying expressions of terror. One evening, Mark meets and befriends Helen Stephens, a young woman who rents one of the rooms in his house. Does Helen represent some kind of possible redemption for Mark - or is she unknowingly running the risk of becoming one of his victims?

The Good: Released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Michael Powell's take on a psychopathic killer, even making him oddly sympathetic in its process, was much more direct and controversial than Hitchcock's masterpiece which resulted in Powell's career being ended and the man's reputation destroyed. It's odd, considering that the themes of sexual frustration, voyeurism and overbearing parents are found in both movies. But time goes on, as it did for Citizen Kane for Welles, and re-evaluations and reassessments are commonplace in the world of film: now Peeping Tom is regarded as one of the greatest British films and one of the best horror/suspense films ever made. It's use of the camera was incredibly unique and shows how, when we watch through a lens or on a screen, we accept it's not quite reality. Mark, our peeping tom, understands this to the extreme. He's fascinated by it and through him we become fascinated and intrigued as we watch what he loves to do, and badly wanting to turn away when he realize what it is he's filming and what he has a fetish for: killing women on film - the fear on their face, the confusion in their eyes, the moment when they realize they will die that he, and us, become fascinated with. For Mark, though, it's an obsession. His life is the camera, and to use it as his window to death brings him a satisfaction we'll never understand other than seeing what he sees, being invited into his world, and still unsure if that's an invitation we're willing to take. A complex film that is still powerful today, as only the classics can be.

The Bad: Carl Boehm gives a daring performance as Mark, however much of the rest of the cast (and story for that matter) is an afterthought. Peeping Tom is a character study at heart, the rules and regulations of a structured story doesn't quite apply as it's far too intent on showing us Mark's world and mindset rather than us trying to understand and know the real one and its inhabitants (even Helen, the primary other character is merely a footnote in the grand scheme). It also ends fittingly yet not fully satisfactory. An odd thing to say, yet let me put it like this: it can only go one way, but there are many paths to that way. The path taken in the film seems lowly and unfulfilled whereas another path to the same conclusion would have been far more fitting if not poetic. I'd hate to go into detail, and it's only a minor issue I have, but I think it's just too convenient the direction Powell takes the final scenes.

The Ugly: It's odd that Powell, like Hitchcock a British director, would be blacklisted after Peeping Tom yet Hitchcock universally celebrated after Psycho. This is proof on how expectations and presumptions can hurt how someone approaches a film (or any media form, really) - Hitchcock was a suspense director, he gave what many expected he would give. Powell, though, was known as a rather high-art director of dramas (especially with partner Emeric Pressburger). Doing something like Peeping Tom, to many, was seen as a man losing his mind. Now we celebrate diversity and variety in our directors, in 1960 it was the exact opposite.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Penguins of Madagascar

Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private join forces with undercover organization The North Wind to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine from destroying the world as we know it.

The Good:  What happens when you take comic-relief supporting characters from a tired animated film franchise that are really only there to be sidebars to the main story an entire story all their own?

Well, you get the Minions movie. But you also get a lesser of those evils with Penguins of Madagascar. I say lesser because, unlike the Minions, here we actually have characters and a story and things for them to say and do. Plus they’re far more tolerable and have a purpose to exist.

The Penguins of Madagascar may be an unnecessary movie, but it’s not an offensive one either. Yes, it’s as pandering and broad as an animated movie can get, but it also has a uniqueness to it with a spy-themed idea and a solid cast of memorable characters. Seriously, if you don’t love Peter Stormore cast as a lovable polar bear, then you probably a) aren’t getting the joke and b) kind of heartless.

Dreamworks played the movie smart, even though it’s not a smart movie. I know it sounds like I’m backhanding the film left and right here, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but overall it’s a solid animated feature that’s worth an hour and a half of your time. The smartness comes from the approach of still having these rather one-dimensional characters but having an entirely new cast of characters to play their schtick off of and a new world to set them in. It’s vibrant. Alive. Unique and, best of all, fun.

The Bad: Yet, Penguins isn’t really all that funny. Or interesting. It’s entertaining at times, but it’s kind of basic and generic too. It never really pushes any boundaries on humor, emotion, character or even concept as the “secret spy team of animals” thing, believe it or not, has been done quite a few times in animated features. Penguins plays it all safe to give kids a safe animated movie and that’s about it. It’s not particularly funny, but you can see how it is made directly to appeal to the attention deficit of young children with a lot of silly noises and slap-stick and butt jokes.

Yet, even from that, as a very basic children’s movie, it kind of fails. Let’s take Madagascar, for example, where these characters originate. The penguins were only there for comic relief because the more interesting, fun and endearing characters are there to be interesting, fun and endearing and the non-sequiturs wouldn’t work for them. Outside of a Stormore polar bear with a handful of lines, there’s not a ton of endearing qualities to the cast. They’re all there to give us gags and jokes and not much else. Even when it tries to give a character or two an arc, it just comes across as disingenuous. The fact that you know there’s no risk to all of it doesn’t help matters. It’s not as though Dreamworks is going to kill off a character or alter anything major. This isn’t Up or even Dreamwork’s own How to Train Your Dragon. Like I said, it’s safe.

The lack of a center conflict, and the film’s inability spend a lot of time with any character to relate to, is where Penguins of Madagascar falls short of even a children’s movie. As a visual and audio injection of candy and mountain dew for children, it’ll get the job done and I’m sure that’s why it was made in the first place. But as a movie that you’ll retain or your children will retain, it’s as gone as quickly as it came. In the meantime, Frozen, over a year old at this point, is still going strong.

The Ugly: Dreamworks Animation, not in the best financial and business shape these days, is so hit and miss in the animated film department I’m surprised they still have any good graces with audiences any more. This movie is a reflection of them playing it safe, and it didn’t do too great on that return investment either.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


People Like Us

While settling his recently deceased father's estate, a salesman discovers he has a sister whom he never knew about, leading both siblings to re-examine their perceptions about family and life choices.

The Good: A melodrama about a fairly believable situation, believable thanks in part to our lead actors selling it well. There's enough depth here with Banks and Pine exploring the idea of a brother and sister with the same father, different mothers, and had no idea each other exist. It even, though slightly, goes down the road of the two having strong feelings that would probably fit in with certain parts of the South but, thankfully, reels it back when it all comes to a head. People Like Us is all about build up to a reveal. Not a reveal for us, though, but a reveal for Elizabeth Bank's character that causes unease in both us and Chris Pine's character as well. Like him, we know what the right thing is, what needs to be done, but the man just keeps digging himself into a hole and, soon, it's damn deep making that reveal that much harder to climb out of. You know what's going to happen. He knows what's going to happen. The film doesn't disappointing in making that outcome believable.

What's interesting, to me at least, is that the entire situation could come across as contrived horse shit, yet the script and the actors sell it well. It feels completely realistic and conceivable. Sure, it dips into staunch melodrama with it, but it's good melodrama - something people sometimes forget until it's actually done right.  Always believable and not-stilted/contrived? No. But it seems to know that for the most part and just goes with it, bringing out a sweet sentimentality like an over-played, radio-friendly love song. I could see how Sam (Pine) could be conflicted in telling someone the truth and how Frankie (Banks) could be so conflicted emotionally and her reaction honest. "You're gonna hate me" says Sam…and that's a very honest moment of self-realization for the script and the character.

The Bad: That moment is short-lived, though. Without spoiling too much, the film still isn't done when it really should be done. Instead of a very earnest movie about a very complex situation, we end up with a very predictably generic one. There's even a "montage of people sad and thinking" with a soothing indie ballad that just oozes cheese. Melodrama is fine, but cheese…this is like the biggest block of Velveeta sometimes. It's a film that I enjoyed for what it is, does its story well, but has a few things that make it difficult to swallow: lack of clarity on the father situation, lack of understanding on the mother situation, never really knowing what to do with the child other than as a plot device and dropping his entire "angst" story arc entirely.

I'm also still trying to figure out the purpose of Olivia Wilde's character. She's kind of just there, not really offering much to the story (especially in comparison to the other two strong female characters we have).

Two plus hours is also a bit long for this story as well. It becomes repetitive, trite, just flat-out tired after a good hour or so and, soon, it begins to force the contrivances of the story rather than explore the interesting aspect that it was building on. It takes a lot of risks, which I applaud, but ends up playing even those risks safe when you reach the end.

The Ugly: This is from the guys that wrote all the Transformers films. Watching this, it's pretty obvious the script wasn't the issue with those movies, but the person directing it. Here we have a well-acted, well-shot film that has you care about our characters. There we have…lots of noise.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


A Perfect Getaway

For their honeymoon, newlyweds Cliff and Cydney head to the tropical islands of Hawaii. While journeying through the paradisaical countryside the couple encounters Kale and Cleo, two disgruntled hitchhikers and Nick and Gina, two wild but well-meaning spirits who help guide them through the lush jungles. The picturesque waterfalls and scenic mountainsides quickly give way to terror when Cliff and Cydney learn of a grisly murder that occurred nearby and realize that they're being followed by chance acquaintances that suspiciously fit the description of the killers.

The Good: A movie that will have you, lose you, then at least try and entertain you in the end. It can really be defined in those three elements. The opening is full tension and a great buildup. The final sections are intense in a different way: running, action, chasing...it's incredibly frantic and entertaining. The middle...we'll get to that. The best part of this movie, though, are the characters. Olyphant and Zahn are really into their roles here, Zahn showing how underrated an actor he really is, and Jovavich gives us a unique show of a competent actress who is often typecast as the "tomboy" type, but shows some interesting takes on her character here. Their various chemistries is what the film is really about and it works well.

The Bad: With this type of film often comes a good amount of plot holes and contrivances. I simply cannot go into all that is bad without detailing this element, but I will do my best. Basically, during the middle portion where the movie "lost me" is full of these things. Everything we've seen before, and all the information given, we might as well throw out the window. The way characters act? Forget about it - even when they aren't trying to be "pretending." The twist could have been good had the film not intentionally showed us one thing, then completely show us something different during this middle portion. All I can say is there's not even a "hint" of this twist, but it's not intelligent or smart. It's dumb to show us characters, then try to explain things and still not make any lick of sense. A wasted cast and wasted cinematography thanks to some seriously sloppy storytelling that simply can't be justified.

The Ugly: SPOILER (JUST GONNA DO IT, SO DON"T READ FURTHER): You can't have two characters sit there and argue, in secret, about who the killers might be...then have them be the goddamn killers. This was just cheap. Throw in the other plot holes when you start thinking back more, and it just ends up messy if not downright ugly. If your entire film is going to based on a twist, you better make sure the twist doesn't contradict the rest of your film and actually makes sense.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Philadelphia

When a man with AIDS is fired by a conservative law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.

The Good: Is it anything new to see a courtroom drama about a man overcoming oppression? No. The trick is to understand the human element of the scene, and I'd argue that Philadelphia is possibly the most relevant and important courtroom drama in the history of film; at least since To Kill a Mockingbird which was still a book first.

But it's interesting that most, including myself, don't consider it just a "courtroom drama." It goes well beyond that, almost as an exercise in morality and right and wrong on every level beyond just legalities. It deals with the idea of "perspectives" and understanding how one sees the world. It takes assumptions that a person can have and exposes them to the factual nature of it all. The whole courtroom thing is just the vehicle it uses to structure a story. It's about people first.

Philadelphia may be preachy, but at the time (and still to this day) perhaps it was needed. The points of equality, fairness, rights and enlightenment on homosexuality and AIDS as a whole probably couldn't have been handled any other way. Thankfully, it never overshadows the human element of the film, which is the entire point. Gays were (and sadly still are in many circles) demonized and feared only because of ignorance. The idea of fearing what one doesn't know or understand rings true both in 1993 when the film was made, 1987 where it takes place and 2010 where, despite progress, the "sanctity of morality" or some other blanket-statements tends to still catch fire as neo-conservatives love playing off of fears in the first place. What do you expect? They need votes and gays are an easy pawn to move around the board to garner them, thus undermining them as human beings entirely.

Philadelphia, a film on the other side and sympathetic, doesn't have to ever do that though it easily could have. We see the people in it...and nothing more than that. They are gay, they Hanks' stunning performance of Beckett is never a showcase of that (there's a beautiful moment where he leaves a building and the camera sits on his face for an extended period of time. You can read the sensation that he is utterly lost and alone). It's a showcase of a man and the labels that's given him in the film never carry over to us the audience. He's a human being first. It shows how you overcome labels and stigmas, Denzel being that vehicle for the straight audience who are now also exposed to this world and looking in for the first time, and see them as people first and nothing else second. It's that element that has made Philadelphia both a timeless film and a still very relevant one that it seems has garnered more appreciation as time goes on yet little has actually changed.

The Bad: What can we determine is the difference between being preachy and being pandering? The fact is Philadelphia is made for a straight audience, of which I am, so I can only value it from my own perspective. To me, it goes beyond the call of duty to relate homosexuality and afflictions such as AIDS to me and view it, however I can see how, perhaps, homosexuals might view it as something that doesn't necessarily speak for them. The performances are great, but also melodramatic at times. I would call it passionate, though. It's a courtroom drama so I think that's expected to a degree because the morality play is what a courtroom drama is all about. Really, though, there's not a whole lot bad with a powerfully emotional film no matter how over-emotional it might dip to.

The Ugly: It's both good and sad that Philadelphia, nearly 20 years old, is still as relevant today. It's good that something can be made so well and echo over the times and touch upon elements that are still dealt with today...and its sad for those very same reasons.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Philomena

A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.    

The Good: Dramatic without being overbearing. Comedic without making light of the situation. Wonderfully acted without feeling artificial or forced. Philomena’s success can first be boiled down to a rather brilliant script by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, not to mention directed by someone who understands this tone of something like and always bringing out a balanced story, Stephen Frears.

It’s based on a true story, but isn’t necessarily a biopic. It’s more of a series of events that are almost too odd and coincidental to believe that an ounce of believability is in it. Sure, there’s probably your typical adaptation elements and things being “written up” for emotion or laughs, but the overall plot and people are very much who they are in real life. The titular character, Philomena, is the one that you’ll cherish, though. Judi Dench is able to make her in to a sympathetic, if not just wonderfully endearing character. Like our lead, played by Steve Coogan, it’s quite easy to find her an nuisance at first, but just like him, you’ll fall in love with her as she’s the sweetest lady you would ever want to meet.

Philomena is just a solid film from top to bottom. There’s little in terms of fat or unnecessary exposition or any moment that isn’t geared to pushing forward or revealing something relevant. It’s a lean (pony an hour and a half) wonderfully paced and beautifully acted drama that never forgets to find levity in times of despair.

The Bad: Come the third act, the film takes an odd turn. Suddenly, you begin to see less of Philomena, or hear more of what she says, as much as you do Martin (Coogan). It begins to veer towards being heavy-handed, suddenly wanting to be a commentary on the Church and nuns and righteousness and forgiveness, none of which quick meshes well with the breezy drama we had been enjoying for an hour already.  The tone shifts, the characters shift, and the entire movie feels different by its final act. Perhaps its reveals early on had to have that last reveal be a little more contrived, or that last message a little more soap-boxy, but it never feels quick in place as so much of everything else.

There’s no fault in being divisive or even cynical, and one might say that it being a British film, which often turn quickly and without warning, is the main reason for that shift into heavy handedness. But so much of the rest of the film is absolute and in-place that I think it going from nuanced to heavy just sticks out like a sore thumb, and the final scene with Philomena and Martin bringing that element home even further as, suddenly, it’s as though they too want to forget the more dramatic elements they just went through as though they didn’t happen.

The Ugly: Coogan might just have a knack for these types of movies. Third act problems aside, the consistency and tone of everything else is quite proper and spot-on, old chap.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Pineapple Express

Lazy court-process clerk and stoner Dale Denton has only one reason to visit his equally lazy dealer Saul Silver: to purchase weed, specifically, a rare new strain called Pineapple Express. But when Dale becomes the only witness to a murder by a crooked cop and the city's most dangerous drug lord, he panics and dumps his roach of Pineapple Express at the scene. Dale now has another reason to visit Saul: to find out if the weed is so rare that it can be traced back to him--and it is. As Dale and Saul run for their lives, they quickly discover that they're not suffering from weed-fueled paranoia: incredibly, the bad guys really are hot on their trail and trying to figure out the fastest way to kill them both.

The Good: Seth Rogan and James Franco have great chemistry together on screen and the entire cast seems to have a great time with their characters. It's more slapstick than anything, but stoners will love its off the wall humor.

 The Bad: What's the story again? I suppose we're as clueless as the characters on that one, it really seems to be all over the place and the ending is a little too neat if not forced.

 The Ugly: Danny McBride's "Red" just can't get a break.

 Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 

 


The Pink Panther

Bumbling French police inspector Clouseau tries to catch The Phantom, a daring jewel thief whose identity and features are unknown - and is acting right under his nose.

The Good: Legendary comedian George Gobel comedian once asked Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show "Did you ever get the feeling that the world is a tuxedo and you're a pair of brown shoes."

I would have to think that no better line describes The Pink Panther, as those Brown Shoes, here in the form of Inspector Jacques Clouseau, are certainly the part of the outfit that will be most noticed. Not simply because he's so out of the ordinary, but because everyone else is so very very opposite. They are all good looking and beautiful, well-off men and women and our resident clutz of a police man can't even get a glass of warm milk without spilling it every where. "That was all they had" he says as he hands it to his wife.

The Pink Panther is certainly something special: a rare treat of smart comedy that makes silliness and absurdity seem sophisticated in their execution. A brilliant director and writer creates half of that, the other half is a great cast, here spearheaded by Peter Sellers as Clouseau though Niven, Capucine and Wagner are certainly in top form in their own right.

The Bad: Sometimes, our little bit of zany sophistication tends to do a little more than it really needs to: notably the story of Sir Charles and his romantic wooing of Princess Dana overstaying its welcome. It's needed in terms of plot, but not to the extent of creating it's own plot in the process. Rather than serve the story, it takes away and tries to create it's own - the term "too many cooks in the kitchen" more than an adequate description of it all. In fact, there's one long, dull scene that doesn't add anything to the story involving Charles getting  the Princess drunk. It takes something that could have been a few minutes and turns it to ten, screeching everything to a complete halt. A few too many plot conveniences also hinder an otherwise smart script - smart in spurts, I suppose, as it doesn't always feel as cohesive as Blake Edwards movies usually tend to be and that the follow up film, A Shot in the Dark, hit on perfectly.

But those halts tend to come more often than not, especially in the ending finale and in the epilogue. The Pink Panther is a damn good comedy, but it's not quite as balanced as it wants to be.

The Ugly: I still have a problem with the ending. It's not exactly a happy ending, but more importantly it makes you realize that our central "heroes" are people we really don't care all that much about. Instead, we care far, far more about Inspector Clouseau, who was meant to be a punchline of a supporting character, not our central lead. Well, the next film, A Shot in the Dark, more than makes up for all that.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Piranha 2: The Spawning

A sunken US supply ship off a Caribbean island resort is the focus for a series of mysterious piranha attacks. Investigating the death of one of her son's companions after a scuba-diving trip, Anne Kimbrough breaks into the morgue with holidaymaker Tyler Sherman, only to discover that the fish have wings and can fly. But the hotel manager refuses to call off the annual fish fry on the beach, with inevitable consequences...

The Good: Look, I'm not going to beat around the bush here. This is a pretty awful movie. A highlight is Lance Hendrickson and flying Piranha which make for campy, dumb fun. Event that wears thin after a bit and, man, what an awful picture. I'm probably wasting my time trying to even wright something here, so let's just say early movies of most directors are awful...this one could very well be the worst.

The Bad:
Absurd story and just an awful, sometimes tedious, film that would even make the Roger Corman produced original look like Citizen Kane. It fails to even live up to that, which was no prize-winner either but at least had a aura of tension and thrills.

The Ugly: Even Cameron disavows knowledge of this movie, citing the Terminator has his debut, and Lord knows I only watched it because of its notoriety as one of the worst movies ever made.

Final Rating:
1 out of 5


Piranha 3D

After a sudden underwater tremor sets free scores of the prehistoric man-eating fish, an unlikely group of strangers must band together to stop themselves from becoming fish food for the area's new razor-toothed residents.

The Good: You have to love a film that is all-out shameless. Piranha 3D isn't going to win any award (though I will say it's certainly nicely photographed) but it doesn't care. It cares about as much of taking itself seriously or holding back as the idiotic spring breakers in the film do about the police yelling "get out of the water!" I'm not getting out of the water...there's breasts to be seen and in 3D no less. Piranha 3D is not only a film that you'll have a blast seeing, but one that you might just revisit once in a while years from now when you're in the mood for something that's just simple, effective summer b-grade fun. It's like the Weekend at Bernie's of horror movies.

Piranha 3D is also one of the goriest films to come around in a while. Director Alexandre Aja returns to his overly-bloody roots we saw in the likes of The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension in crimson glory. Body parts of all shapes and sizes fly, faces get ripped off in interesting ways, entrails droop and tangle and, let's just say, no body part is immune from the ravages of hungry ancient piranha. Aja also shows a bit of a different side to his abilities. Piranha is light and fun with a good balance to scares, far different than the rather dark and serious nature we've seen from the director. This shows that he's a filmmaker that "gets it" and can probably adjust his horror approach to whatever the film needs. If Piranha played it straight, if the director asked his actors to take their roles seriously and to show great drama and character arcs as we saw in, say Jaws, it would have ended up a lesser film. The film didn't need that, and you can tell everyone from the director to the leads to the extras, knew exactly what kind of film they were making and just went with it.

The Bad: Piranha 3D is meant to be mindless fun, and for 90% of the film it is. But there's a sequence of events that will even have you scratching your head on how stupid the characters are. Obviously, I can't describe this without completely spoiling the film, but I'll say the film establishes one thing, then has the characters dumbly doing the exact opposite thing all in sake of forcing in some tension and suspense. Even when you have your brain turned off for a film like this and enjoy the ride, even a turned off brain will be as confused as one turned on.

Piranha 3D never tries to exceed itself, too. This is good on one side, it's still a low-budget B-movie, but bad because we're pretty much left with only about two major set pieces in the film. It feels as though it should be grander...but have no fear, I guess. They set up the sequel pretty obviously.

The Ugly: Why was Ving Raimes' character given so little screen time? His character is one of the cooler ones but used very little.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Piranha 3DD

After the events at Lake Victoria, the pre-historic school of blood-thirsty piranhas make their way into a newly opened waterpark.

The Good: Piranha 3DD starts getting good, or at least interesting and at least resembling the fun and silliness of its predecessor, about 45 minutes in. The question is, do you want to sit through 45 minutes of obnoxious characters and increasingly stupid scenarios put together just to get you to squirm to get to it? It's a fun climax, but the film is entirely based on the climax. And that sexual innuendo reference is about as clever as Piranha 3DD itself.

Sorry, that doesn't sound glowing, but truth be told there's not much good happening in this pale imitation of a sequel. There's some occasional fun moments, some of the name actors are having a great time, notably David Hasselhoff, and you might get a chuckle at a few scenarios and callbacks, but nothing is ever clever and the film pretty much decides to be a gory, breast-filled, low-brow cartoon by the end of the day. That works well on paper, but you still need quality execution to at least make it enjoyable as a film (i.e. see the first film and it's done right).

The Bad: The first Piranha 3D film was a highly entertaining, surprising mix of vulgarity, silliness, over-the-top gore and fun characters to which I and a lot of people quickly became fans of. It was absurdity at its finest. Piranha 3DD gets the vulgarity part down, and that's it. The sense of fun, silliness, characters you kind of route for and really getting into the ridiculousness of it all is gone and supplanted with a desire to just find the nastiest and most unsettling ways to kill people with fish.

The best way to describe Piranha 3DD is that it feels like a fifteen year old saw the first film and wrote some fan fiction for a sequel. The first was juvenile, but it ran with the fact it was and managed to craft a quality b-movie around the fact it was meant to be a b-movie. Piranha 3DD is a b-movie because it didn't have a choice and probably should have ended up direct-to-video. It's just ten times more juvenile than it needs to be and leaves it at that as it expects the juvenile nature of it all to carry the entire picture leaving it not so much juvenile as much as it is amateurish. Everything that made the first film great is not found here, but even that could be forgiven if Piranha 3DD was still able to be a good, fun movie despite that. It isn't.

I suppose this is what happens when you throw out the entire team responsible for the first movie and replace them with someone else. The writers and director (especially the director, the first film having the immensely talented yet constantly underused Alexandre Aja at the helm) understood what they were doing in the first film, in this one it's as though someone just wanted to try and recapture those basic, elements and built it from that - as in: instead of a horror film that's going to be campy and fun in the end, let's take those campy and fun elements from the first movie and try to make a horror film out of it.

A movie like this needs to at least succeed in the elements of its own genre, but it's not fun, it's not funny and it's not scary. It fails at even these basic elements.

The Ugly: This movie is only about 70 minutes long if you remove the credits. 70 minutes: about as long as an extended lunch hour. For the life of me, I can't figure out why despite its shortness it still manages to feel padded.  The excessive slow motion, the inconsequential characters I can't remember other than to just die and have no relevance and the cameos that go nowhere.  It's a film that's about 20 minutes of plot and 50 minutes of filler on top of having a credits sequence a quarter-length of the film's runttime.

Also, it might be a good idea to make sure your credit sequence isn't better than the film you just forced the audience to watch.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Pirate Radio

"The Boat That Rocked" is an ensemble comedy in which the romance takes place between the young people of the '60s and pop music. It's about a band of rogue DJs that captivated Britain, playing the music that defined a generation and standing up to a government that, incomprehensibly, preferred jazz. The Count, a big, brash, American god of the airwaves; Quentin, the boss of Radio Rock -- a pirate radio station in the middle of the North Sea that's populated by an eclectic crew of rock and roll DJs; Gavin, the greatest DJ in Britain who has just returned from his drug tour of America to reclaim his rightful position; Dave, an ironic, intelligent and cruelly funny co-broadcaster; and a fearsome British government official out for blood against the drug takers and lawbreakers of a once-great nation.

The G
ood: A love letter to the 1960s if anything, Pirate Radio is drenched in nostalgia of the era as it is viewed from Britain, probably the stormfront of rock and roll of the era. Pirate Radio makes sure you know that, but it does with without the air of pretension but of love. Sometimes a caricature, but always with a sentiment because the story is quirky and the characters equally so (they being the centerpiece of the story). This is another strong entry into the filmography of Richard Curtis, who's Love Actually is first and only other film (Curtis more a writer). He understand the UK better than most, and obviously loves it as that love exudes from the screen through his characters and nostalgic sensibilities (many odes to classic 60s videos, music, clothes and movies can be found throughout). It really presents itself as one long music video set to the best of 1960s rock.

Th
e Bad: It's a great ensemble cast, and all do their roles well, but it's difficult to keep everyone in mind as the story continues on. Because it's so centered on the music and quirky personalities, it's hard to really ever get a feel or understanding of any of them, much less try to get a grasp on what the story is about. This probably stems to it all being centered in one location with many walking in and out of scenes; scenes with little relevance to the one before it or the one after it. It can be jumbled and random at times, but when the film works it works well. When it doesn't, we simply wait for someone to come along and tells us what is going on. Sloppy, perhaps, and it doesn't quite hit the mark of Almost Famous which it tries to be at times, but it's at least a fun ride despite some rocky waves.

The Ugly: I've read some reviews that it's inaccurate and shallow to the real story of pirate radio. No offense, "professional" reviewers, but I think you're missing the point of the film. It doesn't sell itself as a historical account.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Pirate Captain sets out on a mission to defeat his rivals Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz for the Pirate of the year Award. The quest takes Captain and his crew from the shores of Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London.

The Good: Aardman is an interesting animation house. Their films have never been geared towards children, as strange as that might seem. Perhaps that's the wrong word: it's more they don't pander to children. Truth is, I think more adults probably enjoy their films than actual children, who might get a laugh at the occasional sight gag and silly humor, but the witty dialogue and comedic timing of its characters that are a combination of speech and mannerism interaction that makes up most of their films, is going to become lost.

Adults, though, can see that and appreciate it, and though The Pirates! Band of Misfits isn't Aardman at is very best, it still showcases their sense of whimsy and fun and overall very, very British sensibilities. The animation is strong, vivacious and alive with that classic Aardman art style that is often imitated but never quite duplicated. Best of all is this is as fine of stop-motion as I've ever seen. It's one that makes you have a double-take due to its smoothness and absolute detail. There are still a few computer effects (and they're obvious, such as water) but overall you're looking at finely crafted backgrounds, foregrounds and characters that remind us just how rarely great stop-motion can be if its done with his much care. It's pure talent, artistry and skill just sprawled out on your screen.

The Bad: Unfortunately, it's not pure storytelling. The Pirates! Band of Misfits lacks the sensational originality that Aardman often has in their films. We're left with a pretty basic and straightforward plot and concept and all told equally as straightforward with little deviation (as in none) in what you're going to expect and see. It goes through the motions of telling a story and offering up enough original jokes, scenes and moments of humor to truly make it memorable outside of its astounding visual refinement.

It's a great deal of time and polish for your visual enjoyment, but there's a lack of depth to enrich it all and leave an impression. Not just in story and plot, but in atmosphere. While the visuals are very much Aardman...we've seen worlds like this before and characters like this before (speaking of which, only a few actually leave you able to recall them). As a fan of animation it's hard to not love it despite these shortcomings. Animated films like this are rare, and even if it falls short of Aardman's standards, that's still above and beyond most animated films thrown out there today.

The Ugly: Rumor is there's to be a sequel. I sincerely hope so. Yes, this may not be the best Aardman film, but it's one of the best foundations of a potential franchise you could ask for. Great setting to play around with and characters to send on adventures. That being said, this movie took years to make...and I think franchising it out to computer animation might be the best way to go so Aardman can dive into original stop-motion to bring us.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

This swash-buckling tale follows the quest of Captain Jack Sparrow, a savvy pirate, and Will Turner, a resourceful blacksmith, as they search for Elizabeth Swann. Elizabeth, the daughter of the governor and the love of Will's life, has been kidnapped by the feared Captain Barbossa. Little do they know, but the fierce and clever Barbossa has been cursed. He, along with his large crew, are under an ancient curse, doomed for eternity to neither live, nor die. That is, unless a blood sacrifice is made.

The Good: A mix of action, high-seas adventure, fantasy and comedy, Curse of the Black Pearl is just a fun movie that knows its a fun movie with equally fun characters. It’s a pure example of “popcorn entertainment” and, unlike its rather lackluster sequels, knows this and absolutely thrives in it. Not enough can be said about Johnny Depp who brings in one of the great movie characters with Jack Sparrow. If it weren’t for him and that character, you’d have a special-effects extravaganza of an action movie, but you wouldn’t care as much about it. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly are good as supporting roles (which is where they should have stayed in the sequels) and Geoffrey Rush is obviously have a great time as the villain, Barbossa. This is, indeed, the Indiana Jones version of a pirate movie. An adventure that walks a good line between the action and humor and delivers.

The Bad: If anything, The Curse of the Black Pearl can, at times, get a little caught up in its own self-importance. It knows it’s supposed to be fun, and it tends to know this a little too well and do nothing to expand a story as much as it wants to try and bit a bit too smart for its own good. Some might call this “zany” but even “zany” has its limits as rarely takes a moment to take it all in. Characters are solid, though lack any hint of depth and when the moment calls for a possible “serious” take, it all is often shunned aside for the next special effects-laden action sequence across its overlong running time. Then again, you aren’t watching this for the drama and the movie knows this which is why it the slower, dialog-driven scenes come off as out of place and hammy...something its sequels seem to forget and reverse the roles and focus with humor last and melodrama first. At least the action is always enjoyable.

The Ugly: One thing that is inescapable across all the films: the dialogue is utterly awful 75% of the time (Depp and Rush making the other 25% at least enjoyable). It hides it well thanks to so many character actors delivering it, but if you look at the stuff on paper...man, cheesy if not horrible lines, quips and pointless banter seems to be the foundation for all three films. At least this first one, though, is aided by a stronger emphasis on the comedy. Once it turns melodramatic, it’s ear-gratingly noticeable.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Jack Sparrow races to recover the heart of Davy Jones to avoid enslaving his soul to Jones' service, as other friends and foes seek the heart for their own agenda as well.  

The Good: Like the first film, the scale and sense of adventure is surely in tact here. It does what a sequel, especially as second film in a trilogy, should really do: be a little darker, evolve the world and push forward. It doesn’t do this perfectly, but it still does it and, for the most part, has a good time doing it. Though Will, our hero from the first film, is shuffled aside and not nearly as enjoyable as Jack, at least he isn’t completely ruined and a good character to be around. Will won’t be ruined as a character until the third film. This movie, though, is entirely based on Jack Sparrow – as it should be. He’s our hero and everything else just kind of falls around him. For the most part, that works, though the film isn’t without it’s serious flaws.

The Bad: What allowed the first film to succeed was that it walked the line of campy humor and fun adventure on one side and romance and melodrama on the other. Well, it somewhat retains the fun adventure but it’s more or less entirely on the melodrama if not overly serious side this time around – and thus the essence of what we liked about the first film, it’s ability to not take itself too seriously, is gone and replaced with bad pacing, self-indulgent set pieces and characters that are less evolved (considering they were fairly paper thin to begin with, this is an even bigger hit).

I suppose that wouldn’t be such a fault if the movie didn’t try so damn hard. That’s something the first film kind of captured. It was gleefully not trying, it felt, and rarely forced the issue. Here, though, things are so obviously “written” that not only is the spontaneity and energy lost, so is the humor which was the first film’s greatest attribute. Nobody wants an overwrought and melodramatic Pirate adventure movie, especially one that has a basis in myth and magic and not realistic in the first place.

The Ugly: This was when they tried really hard to get Orlando Bloom's character to "be a man." Yeah, that doesn't work at all. The boyishness worked in the first one, but him taking a more prominent "lead man" role isn't the way to go. It's not completely bad until the third one, though. Also, is it just me or is Knightly's character suddenly really unlikable in this one?

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Captain Barbossa, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann must sail off the edge of the map, navigate treachery and betrayal, and make their final alliances for one last decisive battle.

The Good: Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush utterly save a film that has little quality outside of a great mythological world, visual splendor and impressive CGI. (The terms “salvage” completely relative here, it’s like salvaging your kitchen trash from a dumpster because you left a really cool action figure in there). How they couldn’t achieve more than that with a near three-hour running time is something I still can’t quite figure out.

The Bad: Convoluted does not even begin to describe this film. Convoluted and self-indulgent is a little closer, but there isn’t a word that can fully express the pretentious, heartless, boring and overall disappointing finale to the Pirates films (so disappointing it’s actually not the finale, so they decided to do a forth one as a make-good). While the second film added more elements, for better or for worse, the third film, instead of explaining and exploring those added elements, just added even more and more until you have a pile of stuff injected onto film with little point, reverence or thoughtfulness put into it. It’s a pure example of stuff happening for the sake of stuff happening, little care put into characters outside of Jack Sparrow and a plot that is utterly mediocre in every sense and nearly acting as though the events in Dead Man’s Chest didn’t even happen or tossing them aside for mere spectacle. In other words, it doesn't feel like a continuation – more of an aside.

What I felt was pretty inexcusable, though, is how utterly boring the movie is. If you throw a bunch of stuff into the pot, eventually you have no idea what you’re supposed to be tasting. It all comes off as bland and self-serving rather than doing what the first film (and even the second film) was able to achieve and just be simply entertaining for entertainment’s sake. A yawn here and a droopy eye-lid there, you realize it just doesn’t quite get it and is only there to bring a conclusion, the characters, world and plot already stretched thin with little relevance to each other (especially anything involving Bootstrap Bill, who seems to come and go about as unevenly as Davey Jones), and not much else outside of that.

The Ugly: You know, despite the final two films a relative mess, lost in their own self-importance and muddy scripts – the movies can still be fun to watch on those lazy afternoons when there’s nothing else to do. There’s some quality element there that shouldn’t be tossed aside so easily because all three films, if anything, express a great deal of imaginative effort and a sense of fantasy and wonder, even if it forgets itself at times.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Jack Sparrow and Barbossa embark on a quest to find the elusive fountain of youth, only to discover that Blackbeard and his daughter are after it too.

The Good: If you are in love with Captain Jack Sparrow, then this film was absolutely made for you. It's a vehicle for Depp to have a great time with what is a great cinematic character. Sparrow is always welcome to entertain, and he's certainly here more than enough as far as being on screen goes (and it's hard not to just like him), but it's too bad the film doesn't offer up much more for him to do.

In fact, that's kind of across the board for On Stranger Tides: it's there to have a group of incredibly talented actors really ham it up and have fun. It will offer you that. Depp is joined by the fiery Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush is still chewing up magnificent scenery as Barbossa and Ian McShane is a spot-on casting for Blackbeard. It's fun due to the characters, it's just not all that enjoyable due to a lackluster script.

The Bad: Say what you want about the previous Pirates films, but if there's anything they absolutely hit on perfectly is a sense of atmosphere. Hell, it relished in it. You got a sense of time and place in this wonderful world of fantasy and full of character.

On Stranger Tides is like a party that's gone on too long, and it misses the car ride home that's full of such wonder and fantasy. It's bland, tired, boring and wants to go to sleep yet it manages to stay somewhat awake, staggering to a cab and ha just enough change in the pocket for a ride. The excitement and wonder of the party is over, On Stranger Tides just hasn't realized it yet.

There are nice action sequences, at least on paper because they lack any visual panache or flair for action. The characters have tremendous personality but predictable and shallow personalities as well. The story has no sense of adventure, only tasks to be completed, nor does it have any time for comedy as all the jokes fall flat and those personalities wear out their welcome - almost as much as the plot threads that were already seen in the previous three films. Surprising considering it has over two hours to work with and it might have come up with something, anything, new... though two hours is still significantly shorter than the previous two film - it may not be as convoluted, but it's full of a heap of irrelevant fat.

The Ugly: Don't you love it when something completely out of nowhere happens? Yeah...get used to that in this one.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Place Beyond the Pines

A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department coverup.

The Good: See that logline above? That’s the official logline of the film. I just get it off of IMDB or a website to give a quick summary of what a film is….and that’s not at all a summary of what The Place Beyond the Pines is. It is so very much more than a simple story of a guy robbing banks and a cop dealing with corruption. In fact…neither of those things are major points of the film at all – they’re just means to an end, which is a complex and layered look at notions of legacy, generational influences and fatherhood.

Sometimes I hate movies like this. While I can absolutely see the faults and problems in a film like this, easily something that can be polarizing to an audience, I utterly loved it. Every minute and every frame of it captivated me and the term "flawed masterpiece" kept running through my head as the final shot faded out. It's a riveting, emotional piece of American filmmaking I haven't seen in a while, and even though it struggles in its final third, it nails so much else so dead-on. It's an epic piece of filmmaking centering on an idea more than a story - the idea of life being cyclical and stuck in a life that you didn't choose, generations influencing future generations, how one small moment can change everything and that no matter your good intentions, sometimes its difficult to get out of that cycle to set things right. Themes of family and fathers is the central core here, feeling organic and natural as we progress and breathing life in to a story that captures a "sense" of authenticity. It's not sappy, nor does it really try to "write" its melodrama. It sets it all out there in this "this is how life happens" kind of way.

The Place Beyond the Pines plays out like a puzzle box. You move one thing, push another, to unveil the next thing. This continues on throughout the film, which is ever-changing. Some of it is a crime thriller, a lot of it is a family drama, some is about teens in angst, some of it a love story and little more of that a mystery waiting to be solved by a child who wants to know what happened to his father and feels nobody is being honest with him. Lies. Secrets. Regrets. Burdens  all equating to the notion of "legacy." These all play out poetically with a sense of epic filmmaking yet never forgetting intimacy along the way.

This film really stakes a claim for Derek Cianfrance, who's previous Blue Valentine was probably more balanced by also not nearly as ambitious, as one of the more unique and up and coming voices in American cinema. Strong turns by the entire cast, notably Ryan Gosling and Dane DeHaan, really bring a very unique picture to a full understanding of what this film is trying to say. True, it may take a little too much time trying to getting around to saying it, but it stays with you well after its over as you contemplate it, relive the emotions and the themes that flow through it and maybe think about your own path in life in the process. It's a beautiful film to see, gorgeously shot from beginning to end capturing moments that are touching in honesty and saddening in heartbreak. We shouldn't idolize those that came before us, but we should understand where they came before us and why and maybe find our own purpose through understanding the struggles of the past.

The Bad: It's a film that's hard to forget, no doubt. It reaches a great height of storytelling, but also a new level of triteness and, perhaps, undermining certain aspects that needed more expansion. There's so much that The Place Beyond the Pines wants to do and wants to touch on that some elements end up glossed over or dropped entirely. At two and half hours, it takes its time but doesn't really get through a lot in terms of plot. Ideas and themes? You bet. Story? Well, it boils down to about three central plots, each centered on a theme and each pretty straightforward for the most part. The Place Beyond the Pines is more sincere in its moments of honesty and capturing imagery and characters that identify the theme its going for than it is trying to tell a story.

It's good to keep the story basic and work on the concepts and ideas, but it comes at a cost of a film that drags and moves at a snail's place because no revelations in the plot are going to come your way. What you see at the beginning is about what you'll get at the end if it's story you're looking for, though it does say a hell of a lot about notions and ideas along the way. Whether or not that is something to grip a viewer is pretty subjective - 2001: A Space Odyssey had little story and worked more on ideas and themes and I still meet people that can't stand it because of that. The Place Beyond the Pines is probably in that same style of filmmaking.

The Ugly: Though the theme of paternal relationships is arguably the biggest point here, there's a strange lack of a female presence and the one that is there is…well it's just "there." It doesn't really do or say anything. Also, Ray Liotta is in this movie and I completely forgot. You'll see a lot of faces kind of come and go, but if you stay with the three, maybe four main ones, you'll be fine.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Planes, Trains and Automobiles

All Neal Page wants to do is make it home from a business trip in New York City and spend Thanksgiving with his family in Chicago. Instead, he finds himself rerouted from New York's La Guardia Airport to Wichita, Kansas. With no other options, Neal decides to share a room in a fleabag hotel with Del Griffith, a shower-curtain-ring salesman and fellow stranded traveler. Although Neal finds Del to be a buffoon, he just can't seem to get away from him. To make matters worse, all their efforts to get back to Chicago fail as trains break down and rental cars catch on fire. Along the way they encounter crazy cabbies, redneck truck drivers, and oversexed bus passengers.

The Good: Taking a break from the teenage dramedy genre, John Hughes brought us a film about adults that for adults. It tries to cover it with being labeled a “family” film, but I think the scene where Steve Martin spouts 18 f-bombs in about a minute and the MPAA agreed by slapping an R rating on it from that little tirade alone. It’s a road trip film and influenced dozens upon dozens of imitation comedy road trip films to this very day. The difference, though, is the sentimentality and subtle honesty found in John Hughes’ masterpiece of comedy. It’s full of laughs, but it’s also full of touching moments that can really tug at the heartstrings. It builds a bond between Martin and Candy rarely seen, and rarely as believable, and also builds a great bond with the audience. It’s hard to not like either one and even harder to not get a little sad to see the credits begin to roll. It’s about friendship, and instead of telling us they become friends like many films might do, with antics and dumb humor, it lets us decide on our own part and thanks to great storytelling and characterization, we all have the same conclusion of a natural friendship without the movie having to bash us over the head with it. Two strangers, one goal, and lots of miles in between.

The Bad: It’s hard to make a film like this without being melodramatic, and it does succumb to that numerous times. It’s overly gushy and sentimental which makes for some emotional impact at times, but seems strangely forced at times when the friendship story about trust and camaraderie is so wonderfully done and subtly executed. There are a few times when it seems to have a plot device or two just to get them from Point A to Point B, but those rare, thankfully. Much of the faults are hidden thanks to the great performances and how Candy and Martin handle their characters.

The Ugly: There is a three hour version of the film that the studio locked away and we’ll probably never see it. Come one, Paramount.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Planet of the Apes

Taylor and two other astronauts come out of deep hibernation to find that their ship has crashed. Escaping with little more than clothes they find that they have landed on a planet where men are pre-lingual and uncivilized while apes have learned speech and technology. Taylor is captured and taken to the city of the apes after damaging his throat so that he is silent and cannot communicate with the apes.

The Good: More of a drama than perhaps people realize, Planet of the Apes is a simple story of communication and understanding. It also has various political and social commentaries and wishes to express that in terms of our relationship to animals, the planet and our views on life, faith and law. It does all these, and is still able to maintain a solid story throughout, one of suspense, a bit of action but primarily a character study: the character here being mankind itself. Heston is a strong lead here. While his performance is mocked today, I don’t think the movie would work at all without it. The centerpiece, however, is the story itself which really is fantastic. It may be brought down by some camp and cheese, but the concept and thematic elements permeate through and have lasted for, now, generations.

The Bad: Planet of the Apes has aged poorly, however even at the time the costumes were noticeably cheap. What’s amazing it it still won an Oscar for them, although the ape costumes in 2001: A Space Odyssey were clearly superior (Kubrick incredibly upset once the winner was announced). Throw in rather cheap looking sets and cheesy dialogue, you have a movie that would be more in place in 1958 rather than 1968. It’s not as sophisticated as other science fiction at the time.

The Ugly: Sadly, we and every other generation will never be able to experience the utter shock of the ending as it was upon its release. The revelation was one of the greatest twists of all time, now it's a punchline having been parodied and mocked countless times in television and movies.

The Ugly: Charlton Heston has always been known as hamming it up, but he does it no better than he does in this film. If you can get past the overblown voicework and melodrama, he actually gives one heck of a performance. It’s just lost thanks to his Shatner-quality delivery.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Planet Terror

After an experimental bio-nerve gas is accidentally released at a remote U.S. military base in Texas, those exposed to the gas turn into flesh-eating, mutating zombies out to kill. An assortment of various people who include stripper Cherry, her shady mechanic ex-boyfriend Wray, a strong-willed doctor, the local sheriff, and an assortment of various people must join forces to survive the night as the so-called "sickos" threaten to take over the whole town and the world.

The Good: Planet Terror is one of those movies that, once you're done viewing, leaves you saying "I wouldn't have it any other way." The acting is bad, characters shallow and it's incredibly over-violent and drenched in blood. That's the entire point, though, isn't it? The bad acting and stock characterizations are completely purposeful, just like the scratches in the film and missing scenes and grainy, sometimes out-of-sync audio soundtrack. This isn't just a b-movie, it's a love letter to b-movies and really satire at its finest.

So looking at it from that perspective, this is, for all sakes and purposes, a really well-made B-Movie trying really hard to look like a badly-made B-Movie and as a result ends up as just a really well-made flick. It just gets the tone and atmosphere, the feeling of watching some lost film from the 70s where you feel you're sitting in some dingy theater long before IMAX screens and stadium screening. Even watching this in your living room will have you checking the soles of your feet for sticky gum and looking around you to see if anyone is wearing a Zeppelin T-Shirt. A movie that knows what it is ends up actually working better than what it's actually trying to emulate. Rodriguez and Tarantino are not only here to share a campy, crazy sci-fi horror movie, but an experience of grindhouse cinema and in that alone they have made the experience believable but a film that is nowhere as bad as those old movies. Another movie that did this, Slither, didn't play up the period atmosphere and look as much the part, but was certainly it in spirit (and little more polished). I've noticed that really good horror movies in recent years just "get it" like this...and I think the genre isn't as dire as some might lend you to believe.

The Bad: I don't know. Actually, I can't tell. When things are meant to look bad, how do you know what's bad from a technical standpoint if all things are so intentional?

Well, you can still manage to find some problems, though. The final act slugs along, moving far too slow for what should be a bit bigger of a climax and some characters you just absolutely do not like in any form - even when you're supposed to not like them. Take for example the Insane Babysitter Twins. True, they're just throw away characters, but they are introduced with such spite that when they try to redeem the characters, you really just wish for them to be eaten by a zombie. I suppose, in the end, if a movie is supposed to be so much fun you can overlook the mistakes, even the unintentional ones.

Now that I think about it, all of the characters have this issue. None are really likeable and Rodriguez's own obsession filming the sexiness of his wife comes on a little too strong. Planet Terror also lacks a really solid lead. There's some decent characterizations and personalities, but many are one-dimensional and not having anyone to really route for is a bit of a hindrance in wanting to stay with them all for an hour and a half.Compared to the last horror script Tarantino and Rodriguez knocked out, From Dusk 'til Dawn, Planet Terror is barely a shadow of it. It still has the wit and the dark humor but lacks the characters to really drive it home.

The Ugly: There's a certain scene involving Tarantino and...well...it's gross. Really gross...I don't know what it is about the fondness of testicles in this film, but there a number of scenes about them. It's a little weird.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Play Misty for Me

Disc jockey Dave Garver attracts the amorous attentions of a demented fan named Evelyn Draper. Evelyn lets Dave pick up at a bar; later at her apartment, Evelyn admits that she is the cooing caller who repeatedly asks Dave to play the Erroll Garner classic "Misty." From then on, the film is a lesson in how one casual date can turn your whole life around. Evelyn stalks Dave everywhere, ruins his business lunch, assaults his maid, mutilates his house and all of his belongings, and finally threatens to butcher his girlfriend Tobie Williams. You'll never be able to hear that song again without looking over your shoulder.

The Good: A simple yet highly effective thriller that relishes in the idea of suspense, stalking and obsessions, Play Misty for Me may not go out of its way to be wildly original or amaze an audience, but it manages to just simply be well made and get the elements it thrives in right. It’s one of those “hole digging” types of thrillers where our hero, DJ Dave Garver (he’s a DJ, if that wasn’t apparent) where everything begins normal, then the situation simply gets worse and worse and Dave reaches a point where he simply can’t take any more. Great thrillers like Strangers on a Train, Misery and certainly Fatal Attraction fall into this category as well. Is Misty as well-crafted as those? Not quite, but it’s highly suspenseful and Eastwood both gives a solid performance and handles his first directing duties nicely.

But for a movie like this to really work, you have to have the antagonist be compelling. That’s where Jessica Walter come in, and boy does she ever own every scene she’s in. The bi-polar, obsessive stalker (with some strong sexual themes about love, attachment and so forth that you could probably write a psychological thesis about) really started with this film. Up against the rather laid-back style of Eastwood’s acting, and his directing for that matter, when those sharp, percussion hits that are scenes of torment, self destruction (and property destruction, the scene of Dave coming home to his place just classic),

The Bad: Play Misty for Me is deliberate to a fault. Despite the escalation of tension that happens on paper, everything feels reserved and very matter-of-fact in atmosphere. It’s the sign of a first time director: shoot what’s on paper and don’t give a whole of substance or weight to anything. Just rely on the script and the actors. In that regards, it allows Play Misty for Me to be better than it probably would have been because the script is solid and performances spot-on, but the rather calm and overly consistent, straight-line, “on to the next” manner of the directing and editing doesn’t quite have the punch and effect a thriller would normally convey.

The Ugly: Despite its share of problems, Play Misty for Me really taps into the idea of an obsessive, stalker

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Player

A studio script screener gets on the bad side of a writer by not accepting his script. The writer is sending him threatening postcards. The screener tries to identify the writer in order to pay him off so he'll be left alone, and then in a case of mistaken identity gone awry, he accidentally gives the writer solid ammunition for blackmail. This plot is written on a backdrop of sleazy Hollywood deals and several subplots involving the politics of the industry.

The Good: Many consider The Player the definitive film about Hollywood and making movies. It’s satirical, darkly humorous, self-aware and completely cynical. What’s more amazing, however, is that it was made in 1992 and everything it brings up, pokes fun at and condemns (or praises) is just as relevant today. Where the film works, though is a combination of a very well-written script (of which it was nominated for) and the effortless performances by the actors. It feels natural yet slimey, just as Hollywood should. It’s clever and influential, self-reflecting and had it not been made for Hollywood condemnation but was sent as a message to another industry, people might have taken notice. But not Hollywood, it will nods and moves on, shallow, blankless and expressionless as it searches for the next, best way to market itself just as the film itself depicts.

The Bad: As it is about Hollywood and the real goings-on the business, naturally you’re going to have stars and cameos who play themselves, which The Player is full of (Steve Allen, Peter Falk, jack Lemmon, Nick Nolte, Bruce Willis, Jullia Roberts, Jeff Goldblum, John Cusack to name just a few). If you stick nearly 50 cameos in a film, what happens? “Star Watching.” Even if you try to set out to not do that, you’re going to and looking for the next cameo can take over from paying attention to what the film has to tell you or the brilliant story that is going on. It almost wastes the entire script as a result. Almost...Altman is too good to let it completely ruin it.

The Ugly: Altman, who many are in agreement is one of American’s finest directors, never received an Oscar despite being nominated 5 times. They finally gave him a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2006...he died later that year.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Poltergeist

A young family are visited by ghosts in their home. At first the ghosts appear friendly, moving objects around the house to the amusement of everyone, then they turn nasty and start to terrorize the family before they "kidnap" the youngest daughter.

The Good: Poltergeist is less a "horror" movie (though there are some genuinely creepy moments) and more a movie that has ghosts in it. On the outside, it appears as a frightening tale of ghost terrorizing a family. That's the plot. But really, it's more a story of a family, their unity, and how these external supernatural forces are tearing them apart. It's about a haunted house, yes, but the sense of dread is mostly limited to the family at hand and your investment in them. Thankfully, the family is so incredibly believable as a unit and the home so realistically portrayed, it draws you in and even though you may not be scared the entire time, you will certainly be interested in what happens to them. Poltergeist is storytelling 101 executed through a sharp script (based on a story by Steven Spielberg) and even sharper, special-effects laden directing by Tobe Hooper that brings out a believable suburban home and the threats against it. It's that element that makes Poltergeist one of the most memorable, and one of the most beloved, "horror" movies: It's regular and believable everyday people in extraordinary situations. Scary in a traditional sense? No. But it has a central core of family that makes you fearful of what will happen to them.

One thing I've always loved about Poltergeist, and this really goes for a lot of Spielberg produced or directed movies from the 1980s, is how "real" the home feels. It's lived in, to say the least - the movie even pokes a little fun at it as some potential home buyers classified the neighborhood as having such as look. It's far from clean but is full of those little touches that brings it to a certain level of believability. The characters look like they belong and they seem comfortable and completely at home here, and thus more together as a result. You get that sense of history with them and that they truly care and love each other. This little, and it is little, attribute and aesthetic makes what happens to them even more personal. They look and feel like any other average suburban, middle-class family. Some films will simply tell you this, and maybe force that idea on to you. With Poltergeist, you just have to look at their kitchen, bedrooms and backyard. It says it all without saying anything and Hooper's shots combined with the intricate set design is what really brings Poltergeist to life (pardon the pun).

The Bad: Poltergeist throws out any preconceptions of it being merely a "ghost story" pretty early and pretty quickly. In some regards, it may jump the shark a bit too much, what with child-eating trees, tornadoes and earthquakes. Those things are intense, however they're not particularly scary. The scariest moments of Poltergeist are when it's more subdued, such as a strange little girl watching static on television, a quick pan off from a dining room to only pan right back and see all the chairs stacked on top of each other or simply a menacing little clown doll sitting in a chair. When it goes over the top, it can be a bit comical as a result.

There's also a serious lack of balance in the film. Tonally, it gets enough drama, tension and a small bit of humor and false-scares pretty right. Content-wise, though, it ranges from goofy to serious family drama to explicitly-disguising and gory (such as the infamous face-ripping scene which is still quite brutal). It's not a PG film, but sometimes it very much is with simple ghostly happenings and some light humor touches. Other times it's a bit of an R-horror film - that face-ripping scene still holds up to this day. It seems it wants to do as much as possible and the balance be damned. It wants to surprise and shock you by changing it up a bit. Fair enough, ghost stories do that a lot, but it brings in inconsistency as a result here.

The Ugly: Why get in the car? Seriously, why? Just run down the street, family. I really dislike those forced-tension moments like that. The last thing any of them would do is get into a car and drive away, fumble with keys etc... They would run down the street and maybe go back for the car later. Then again, why were they staying any more time in that place to begin with after what just happened? It's questions like these that are, sadly, a bit common in Poltergeist. It's just that the film is so entertaining it makes you incredibly passive on asking them.

Also, the daughter is 16, the mother is 31. Has this ever been addressed? I find that odd. It's not as though it's unbelievable, but it makes me wonder that if they intentionally had her pregnant at 14 or 15 or if it was an oversight through rewrites and maybe adding the teenager daughter later (she is the least involved out of the family, afterall).

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Poltergeist (2015)

A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.

The Good: I like the lighting in Poltergeist. I looks nice and moody as any good haunted house movie should be. It’s from the director of Monster House so I’m willing to bet he, Gil Kenan, knows a thing or three about creating a moody house, how to shoot it and getting an experienced genre cinematographer to make it all come together. That man is Javier Aguirresarobe who shot one of the best “scary house movies” of the aughts in The Others. Not to mention Talk to Her. Or The Road, a personal favorite. He also did some of the Twilight movies and, like here, probably the best thing about those movies.

Oy, don’t bring up a better movies…don’t bring up a better movies…

In case you haven’t realized over the past few years, when all I can bring up in the “good” part of these quick reviews is about the lighting and camera shots, it’s probably not all that good of a movie. Poltergeist looks good and creates a nice mood, even if it feels shallow and sterile at times. I can give the movie the benefit of the doubt - new house, not quite lived in and so on. It still manages to be a character itself and, possibly, the most interesting character in the thing. Hey, the actors try, but there’s nothing in this script that feels consistent or any sense of an “arc.” I see Sam Rockwell playing an alcoholic, but it doesn’t really go anywhere with him and I’m not sure if even he knows what he’s supposed to do here.

Drink more. Maybe that’s it. I know as someone watching this thing I needed one.

The Bad: The problem with remaking an already good movie in the horror sphere is that it, more often, just comes across as a knock-off - the cubic zirconia of the original diamond that might try and shine as brightly but its still just a fake trying too hard to be like the original rather than trying to distinguish itself from it. Some, I would say a good percentage, tend to work well because they don’t have an already great movie to try and remake, just a not-so-great movie with a good idea that didn’t get the job done the first go-around. Poltergeist is not only taking a great idea, they’re taking that great idea that was done really well  before and struggles to recapture it rather than try a new spin. They just try to gloss it up, throw some less subtle or creative things into the mix and call it a day.

Yet, I don’t need to bring up the fact its a remake to note that Poltergeist is an egregiously awful horror movie. Are these ghosts ghosts? Are they murderers? Why does nobody say what they experienced (so conveniently alone) when everyone is kind in agreement ghosts are around? Why is the exposition delivered like a textbook? Is there an arc to these characters or to this family? What are their names again?

The movie makes tension from plot convenience or character stupidity and it has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be - something the original film also suffered from a bit but made up for it with good characterization overall and great scenes. Sometimes this remake wants to be gross and weird, sometimes it wants to be like a slasher movie (a bit with a drill feel incredibly out of place), sometimes it wants to my just a regular ghost story, other times it’s…I don’t know what but it shows us a “ghost world” in a found footage motif sometimes and I kinda don’t buy it. The final third act is all about this stuff and it just feels weird, especially considering nobody feels at major risk because it's hard to care about people we haven't spent any quality time with and tend to not like from the get-go.

Have you ever watched a movie and just felt like the actors are just saying lines? I mean, of course they are, but there’s usually an element of a performance that makes it seem more than that. Actual conversation. Actual ways people talk. A sense of a relationship that feels natural and real that makes a movie that has high stakes feel that much more important.

The movie doesn’t seem to have anybody feel real and doesn't bother to make us want to care about them. I think the actors are trying, certainly, but plot takes precedence over character and the editing doesn’t help matters as scenes feel choppy and the whole movie oddly paced in its presentation and transition from moment to moment. So when we have “family coming together” as the central idea and it so chopped up inconsistent, you never get a sense of an arc or a central message to it all. Then you wonder what the purpose of the movie was in the first place, remake or otherwise.

The Ugly: What made the original Poltergeist work so well was its pacing. It was all about escalation and it took its time until WHAM, shit hits the fan. Well shit hits the fan nearly right away in this remake making it feel awkward seeing as we don’t really know anybody. The original was about two hours long, this about 90s minutes. Guess they cut that half hour of subtlety and character stuff because…well it kind of tells you what audiences are like these days, doesn’t it?

Speaking of remake, the big twist at the end of Poltergeist is here too, so this movie completely relies on you not seeing hat movie to find any sense of surprise. It’s also not nearly as cool, just a big computer effect fest that lacks the awesomeness of the “shit hitting the fan” the original had. To this movie’s credit, though, at least it remembers the teenage daughter is still here and doesn’t just send her off to an aunt.

Final Rating: 1 out of 5


Ponyo

The son of a sailor, 5-year old Sosuke lives a quiet life on an oceanside cliff with his mother Lisa. One fateful day, he finds a beautiful goldfish trapped in a bottle on the beach and upon rescuing her, names her Ponyo. But she is no ordinary goldfish. The daughter of a masterful wizard and a sea goddess, Ponyo uses her father's magic to transform herself into a young girl and quickly falls in love with Sosuke, but the use of such powerful sorcery causes a dangerous imbalance in the world. As the moon steadily draws nearer to the earth and Ponyo's father sends the ocean's mighty waves to find his daughter, the two children embark on an adventure of a lifetime to save the world and fulfill Ponyo's dreams of becoming human.

The Good: Beautiful animation and a lively, vibrant world is something always associated with Hayao Miyazaki. While Ponyo might lack the refined touches of some of his other work, it is still an absolutely gorgeous, hand-drawn film that feels more natural and grounded than the high-concept and fast world of something created with computers. It has this utterly beautiful surreal quality to everything, from the art style to the way the animation moves and flows like the waves that crash upon the shore.  Miyazaki’s films have always had a fantasy element, but Ponyo is more like a classic folk story (inspired by Hans Christian Anderson) like something that would creep up by old wise men in fishing villages. Well, that’s pretty much exactly as it is, actually, and like those old wise men it can captivate you and amaze you, certainly entertaining you, but sometimes it can get a little lost in its own ramblings.

The Bad: Ponyo has a charming story, and at its heart is a very simple one, but oddly Ponyo lacks a focus and a direction – a method to its madness, if you will. It runs more on instinct than it does something that’s perfectly planned out. There’s joy to be found in that, certainly, but you often end up with something where things happen without explanation and a movie that’s about fifteen to twenty minutes longer than it really needed to be.

The Ugly: I would still take this, a movie with a certain kind of magic to it, than most computer animated movies that are more clinical if not sterile – focused on bad puns, gimmicky characters and a hollow soul. If there’s anything Ponyo has: it’s a soul.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Precious

Claireece Precious Jones endures unimaginable hardships in her young life. Abused by her mother, raped by her father, she grows up poor, angry, illiterate, fat, unloved and generally unnoticed. So what better way to learn about her than through her own, halting dialect.

The Good: A powerful and heartbreaking film centered on a story that might seem fairly typical for such a film, but never so direct and uncompromising. With any good drama, especially what is essentially a slice of life, we find the connection of a world not our own through the common denominator that is humanism. The acting in the film is astounding causing us, especially with the subtle and poetic voiceover, to truly feel Precious and those in her life as actual, living people and Lee Daniels merely dropped a camera into Harlem and let it roll. Daniels, who is fairly new to the directing world but a veteran in producing films with difficult subject matters (Monster's Ball and The Woodsman most notably) but makes a strong candidate for a Best Director nomination with his effort.

The Bad: There's honestly not a lot to dislike about Precious, other than that it can be difficult to watch due to its unrelenting honesty. It dips towards melodrama at times, but the dynamic performances pretty much keep it in check and only in passing. It's hard to discount the film in any way, and I suppose if one were it would be based solely on the reason the inner-city heartbreaking story has been done numerous times before and Precious does little to find an certifiable original take on the matter.

The Ugly: I have to admit, Monique is utterly brilliant in this film. It's hard to believe she staked her career as a comedian, and I have to say I damn sure wasn't a fan. I found her loud and obnoxious and definitely not funny. Now...she probably just earned herself an Oscar. In fact, I'll call it now: Monique will win best supporting actress. I don't think there was another perforce I've seen that was so deeply emotional, moving and convincing from another actress this year, lead or otherwise.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Predator

Dutch and a small group of commandos and sent by the CIA to a Central American Jungle, to rescue capture airmen from Guerrillas. But it's not the armed terrorists which are the problem. Something hidden in the jungle, something invisible to the naked eye, something not of this earth is the problem. As Dutch and his men had back to transport, they are slowly targeted one by one.

The Good: A 1980s action classic, Predator has everything you want. Interesting characters (cliche by today's standards), lots of explosions, lots of guns, lots of blood and something getting shot every five minutes. It's a visceral piece of cinema, rarely letting its foot off the gas, and at the same time a good piece of horror cinema-if these trained men with all these weapons are getting picked off, god help the regular people. But as Dutch (Schwarzenegger says) there's "no sport" in that. It's both a fun action film but also an interesting commentary on what happens if humans are the prey and what is "fair" in terms of the unwritten code of sportsmanship. Dutch slowly descends into near-madness, becoming a brutal hunter, stalking and alone. He becomes exactly what he's hunting, if not better, and this shift in character is well-done, ending in brutality. The selling point, though, is the Predator itself and the complete raw power of this hunter/killer, not to mention the location and the think jungle a character itself. You feel like anything could be around you at any given moment.

The Bad: Predator does what it sets out to do and does it well. There's really little to complain about. It's about excessive violence and blood and it delivers. It's very by-the-books and predictable even, although now only in hindsight. Probably its biggest faults, though, is when it tries to be melodramatic and make itself out bigger than its supposed to be. The acting is serviceable, dialogue predictable  but fun and very quotable, but when it tries to dramatize the situation (such as the Mac-Ventura relationship) it hams it up more than need be.

The Ugly: "You one ugly muddafucker." Arnold's accent was never "great" but it's pretty thick in his earlier films when he's trying to play a normal guy, Predator especially. Then again, is Arnold ever a normal guy?

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Predators

Chosen for their ability to kill without conscience, a group of killers, some trained and some who are not, must endeavor the alien race of predators that have set out to target them as prey. Dropped into the vast jungle of a distant world, these human predators must learn just who, or what, they are up against, and that their ability, knowledge and wits are tested to the limits in the battle of survival of kill or be killed.

The Good: This is the Predator sequel you've always wanted. It only took 25 years or so to happen, but finally it did. It captures the spirit of the classic guilty pleasure in every facet and does what a sequel should do: love its roots and expand upon it. The look and feel is very much a homage, even down to the music and gore, with atmosphere and style that even remembers to not show the Predator characters at all through most of it. They don't even appear until about 45 minutes in. It may not have the "surprise" factor they once did in the original, but there are still surprises to be found - namely that they, finally, have recaptured the purpose of their name: they are predators or, more specifically, hunters. They aren't mindless warriors that some interpretations have them being. They are in the shadows, using traps, using blinds, using skill such as flanks, flushing, predicting, tracking and, as only they can, enticing fear.

The directing here is what really allows the film to work. Visually, it's a great combination of unknown perils in a jungle and claustrophobic nightmares in the dark. Nimrod Antal, after much mediocrity, finally shows a calling that suits him well: action science fiction. It's beautifully shot, compelling and with great atmosphere. Rodriguez was right in his choice of director (I was on the fence on him) and he came through. I don't know if Predators would have ended up nearly as good without Rodgriguez spearheading the production and Antal's knack for some solid action sequences.

The Bad: Unfortunately, because this is an ensemble piece (it needs to be), it has a dependence on characters. It manages to have variety in them, all with distinct personalities, but none of them are particularly memorable or even fun to be around. When one dies, it's just a plot point. You don't really care that they're dead and the story loses nothing from their absence - which is a good way to gauge the quality of a character in the story. This is fine for a movie like this, it was fine in the original Predator even, but unlike the original there's nobody to really get behind and WANT to route for - at all.  All the actors perform well, but they barely have anything to work with.  This makes for a weird element where you don't hate them or route against them, but you aren't really drawn to them or behind them either. They're just sort of "there."

A bigger questions is: is this movie good because the franchise had been in mediocrity for so long and we've seen the worst elements of it already, thus making anything appear better or is it actually a good action/horror movie? Honestly, I veer towards the former. The action sequences are good enough, and I'll buy the concept for what it is, but the story falters, loses pace and falls flat at the end. In fact, it's far stronger in the first hour where we don't even see a Predator compared to when the screen, soon, becomes bombarded by them. It causes for an unevenness to it all, starting off with a subtle, smart, well-paced action thriller then into an over-the-top series of fight sequences and special effects. It's also a film that could have used a little more lightness to it and reel back the serious take it seems to have in its final act (overly melodramatic, to be more precise).

The Ugly: I don't care what people say, this is a re-imagining of the first film. Many iconic scenes are placed in at the exact same moments only slightly retooled. That might be why it ended up better than anyone's expectations on it.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Premium Rush

In Manhattan, a bike messenger picks up an envelope that attracts the interest of a dirty cop, who pursues the cyclist throughout the city.  

The Good: I can only imagine how difficult pitching Premium Rush was in a room. "It's a movie about bike messengers." That's a phrase that won't get anybody excited. Even if add in the element of a dirty cop, a love triangle, a ticking clock and practical stunts on bikes weaving through the streets of new york like a videogame, it still doesn't sell well on paper. In fact, I don't think the script would sell well either. Here, it's all about the execution.

Premium Rush is a lean film. By that I mean it's focused, it knows its goals, it doesn't wander or stop or throw out a lot of exposition. It's always "in the now," moving forward and bouncing around as we are given more tid bits of the story throughout and eventually (and a bit anticlimactically) putting it all together. David Koepp has a pretty spotty resume when it comes to directing, but I think he found something he works well with: keep the story simple and easy and just let the movie do the talking. This results in Premium Rush being a far better film than you really expect it to me. Hell, it makes bike riding exciting and enticing. Mission accomplished.

The Bad: One dimensional characters, save for one, do bring the entire thing down. There's not a lot of characters to like, and those you do like are more for their personality and the voice the actors give them rather than feeling like real people. Premium Rush is lean, yes, but it's also a very superficial and empty one that comes off as disingenuous when it tries to have a story that "means" something. When it tries to hit those emotional beats, it's damn-near cringe worthy. It's not enough to overcome the generic nature of the plot and we're only left with action to carry everything.

The Ugly: It has Robin and General Zod in it. That's neat.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Prestige

In the end of the Nineteenth Century, in London, Robert Angier, his beloved wife Julia McCullough and Alfred Borden are friends and assistants of a magician. When Julia accidentally dies during a performance, Robert blames Alfred for her death and they become enemies. Both become famous and rival magicians, sabotaging the performance of the other on the stage. When Alfred performs a successful trick, Robert becomes obsessed trying to disclose the secret of his competitor with tragic consequences.

The Good: However director Christopher Nolan is able to do it, somehow he knows how to engage an audience.  Perhaps it’s his ability to capture atmosphere and have a stylish sense of realism while, somehow, make all feel like a fantasy. The Prestige may not be Nolan’s best work, but it’s one of his more compelling and intriguing. It’s a fantasy film, not a “period piece” as some have claimed and has two actors really at the top of their game: Hugh Jackman who shows obsession turning into malice and Christian Bale who shows a mysterious quality even after the big “reveal” regarding his persona. Friends, rivals, loathing and respect are all played well through a film that is wonderfully shot and acted, beautifully decorated and lit, and nearly makes up for a sluggish script. The basis of the entire film is entirely on magic, misdirection and trap doors and this is exactly how it is structured and told. It can be jarring or uncomfortable for a lot of people with so many things hidden and puzzling, but that’s the basis of magic in the first place, isn’t it? To these men, magic was a way of life, not just a job, and the story reflects that.


The Bad: There could have been an aspect of whimsy and fun with the script had it not taken itself overly seriously. Magic is not fun in this movie. In fact, it’s almost loathsome. As a result, we as an audience tend to not find a lot of fun in as well; far removed from the engaged audiences at the time. It’s perhaps overly complex for its own good. The plot and story are actually fairly simple on paper, yet the way it’s pieced together makes for it to be confusing when it really doesn’t need to be making a false sense of complexity when it’s really just convoluted. The performances may shine, but the characters themselves are people we really don’t get to know at all even when the final curtain falls.

The Ugly: Both Jackson and Bale give really top-notch performances here, even if their characters are a bit shallow, but it gets lost in the mulling of the film and it’s desire to contrive a bit of intricacy.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Prisoners

When Keller Dover's daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?

The Good: Ever progressing, ever evolving, ever suspenseful, Prisoners never lets up its journey of slow-brew suspense that tests you in regards to what to expect and especially on what your moral standing might be.  I can't say if there's ever been a character that you can both sympathize with and pity sa well as loathe and resent as much as Hugh Jackman's turn in this movie. Though he's not the driving force of it all, that would fall to an equally-capable Jake Gyllenhaal, he's the passion and the fervor that you'll remember.

Prisoners is able to get in to a very human and very real part of our psyche. It draws upon realism, even if the plot itself can be unrealistic at times. The realism comes from emotion and presentation. These feel like real people, in real homes and in a real town that brings out an authenticity and makes it that much more bleak and desperate. An even film, well paced to the end, and easily gets you invested at every turn, even if you're really, really, really uncomfortable as it makes you asks questions about yourself as much as it does about the characters within it. At times, it's a bit like a test, but it's a test worth taking and bold and daring enough to see that test through to the end.

The Bad: Despite it's desire for realism, understanding bleakness and even cynicism, there's a few moments that just happen out of nowhere and feel completely out of place.  It lacks the organic nature, and even the thematic punch, of everything else that the film is working with. Yet, it needs these to keep moving forward, showing that despite the patience and realism, it still has to rely on some screenwriting conventionalism to keep it from getting too boring.

When it's affective, boy is it affective. Prisoners has you looking at yourself in the mirror sometimes. But when it's not, such as those moments that feel out of place, it nearly drops the ball. Of course, by that time you're too invested in the plot and characters to really care or notice, and perhaps that's credit to a great director to play off the strengths and sweep some of the other things under the rug, or at least hide in a dark hole.

The Ugly: It doesn't take a genius to see the foreign-director influence on this thing (though he's French-Canadian, not Romanian or German or similar). Denix Villeneuve is going to become a hot commodity as he shows a great balance between something you might see more in foreign film markets and standard Hollywood style - a balance I wish more filmmakers would be willing to try for.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Professionals

A rich Texan, J.W. Grant, selects three men and invites them to his private train to offer them a contract: Rescue his wife who has been kidnapped by a Mexican revolutionary. The leader of the men, Rico, decides they would be a better team if Grant would hire one more man, an explosives expert. Grant quickly agrees and soon the four are off to complete the contract. However, while on the trail, they discover some interesting facts, like has Mrs. Grant 'really' been kidnapped?

The Good: It occurred to me while watching The Professionals that it's a bit of a rare western considering the era it came from. It was 1966 and, more often than not, many westerns at the time were rather cynical and bleak. Those types of westerns were more the norm than the exceptions, so a film about comradeship, friendship and justice seems more at home in the previous decade with the likes of Ford or something more akin to 1960s John Sturges remake masterpiece, The Magnificent Seven.

Lee Marvin was at the height of his career during this time, and Burt Lancaster a staple in the industry as well, make for a great one-two punch that shows trust and chemistry between our two main characters. We need this for a few of reasons: one being the story isn't anything spectacular and the film is more set on dishing out set pieces than plot, so we need good characters to carry our interest. The other being we really, really need heroes in this thing and the arc here, especially for Lancaster's character, is perfectly suited to what the message of the film is. It's about doing what's right and finding something worth fighting and dying for. It's a bit of a retread to what we saw in The Magnificent Seven but, thanks to a smaller group and the chemistry between Marvin and Lancaster, it ends up defining itself and is one of those long-forgotten, beautifully shot (thanks to legend Conrad Hall) and overlooked westerns that fans of the genre should certainly check out.

The Bad: The third act is thematic on target, but story-wise is an overly long extended scene with Lancaster's character that lacks the climatic tension and sense of urgency the film, up to that point, really coasted on. It feels as though it peters out and has nothing left in the tank as it tries to connect one scene, an extended gunfight, to another one, the very last scene. Lee Marvin's character also seems to dip in this area as much more focus is put on Lancaster's. I suppose that's understandable, he is Burt Lancaster after all, but Marvin's character was incredibly intriguing and feels pushed aside.

The Ugly: Woody Strode is awesome. He never quite made it big outside a couple of lead roles, it's great to see the pioneering actor in a pretty prominent role across two Hollywood majors in Lancaster and Marvin. Also, I'm thinking Rambo ripped off his character trait: arrows...and explosive ones at that.
However...Jack Palance as a Mexican? Well, he pulls it off better than Heston did, at least.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Prom Night (1980)

For six long years, Hamilton High School seniors Kelly, Jude, Wendy, and Nick have been hiding the truth of what happened to ten-year-old Robin Hammond the day her broken body was discovered near an old abandoned convent. The foursome kept secret how they taunted Robin - backed her into a corner until, frightened, she stood on a window ledge... and fell to her death. Though an accident, the then-twelve-year-olds feared they'd be held responsible and vowed never to tell. But someone else was there that day... watching. And now, that someone is ready to exact murderous revenge-on prom night.

The Good:
Other than some nice performances from its cast, better than a lot of horror movies of the period, there’s little I can note about Prom Night to highlight good qualities. It’s one I wouldn’t recommend to anyone except die-hard fans of the genre, many of whom might be disappointed on the so-called “classic” status of the film.

The Bad: Despite being considered by many a hallmark of horror, Prom Night is unoriginal even for its time and even more dated than real hallmarks of horror such as Halloween, The Fog or Terror Train (Jamie Lee Curtis films as well that were out at the time). Mishandled by director Paul Lynch, the film isn’t scary, the mystery obvious, the killer uninspiring, the reveal contrived and the kills, the staple of any slasher movie, uninteresting save for one at the finale. More importantly, though, is the awful pacing including the faltering first two acts before the killings in the third which also has a dance sequence for no reason other than to pad some runtime and try and give one last-ditch 1980 effort to save Disco, which was dead by that time. The climax is the biggest problem, a clumsily shot and acted scene that gives a sense of a slapstick comedy than any sense of dread. Disappointing and as a fan of the genre, for me to be disappointed a horror film has to try really hard to do so…this one succeeds without trying at all.

The Ugly: The ugly is actually the best part of the film…a nice decapitation.

Final Rating:
1.5 out of 5


Prometheus

A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

The Good: Science Fiction has one strong element that it always carries with it: it loves to ask questions. From theories to simple possibilities to questioning mankind's place in the universe and existence itself, it loves to probe and play around with that. It's a defining trait, and sometimes it's a burden, but it's why science fiction fans love science fiction. Despite its various faults to simply tell a coherent story, if there's anything that Prometheus excels at, it is rooting itself firmly into this aspect of science fiction. Sometimes, it's not about the answers, it's just about the incessant questions that drive us as human beings.

Prometheus isn't a thriller, despite what you might presume it to be or how its marketing campaign might appear.  It's a traditional piece of intellectual science fiction that, unfortunately, tries to be a thriller causing for a large sense of unevenness, awkwardness and a lot of things that occur that doesn't make sense or seems to happen for convenience. Still, though, the ability of the film to merge theology with science should be applauded, not simply dismissed because it wasn't what you might have wanted. The essence of "smart science fiction" is still here, which is something you rarely see in cinema these days, and it's full of ideas. From the idea of the Dying God creating life and the desire of the created to become creators, to the allegorical pondering of Space Jesus (the numerous references to crosses, Christmas and "belief" isn't off-script banter), sacrifice and the notion of creator versus destroyer - Prometheus is working with a lot of ideas and handles a lot of it with grace, class and thoughtfulness, not to mention poignancy even if the storyline suffers as a result of that.

Prometheus is, what I would consider, an example of unpolished brilliance in filmmaking. It has as much going for it as it has going against it. Unfortunate, yes, but you can't deny it still puts together a hell of an engrossing film even if its reach well exceeds its grasp. Wonderfully acted, notably by Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace, and full of a patient, sophisticated style that an old-hand of a director in Ridley Scott could really only put up on screen.  

One thing you can't deny is that Prometheus is trying to put a lot into its story, often resulting in convolution, but resulting in ambition at the same time and ambition, especially in asking those wonderful science-fiction questions we all know and love, has been sorely lacking in the genre for years. It's working with a ton of ideas that are wonderfully explored, poetic even in many cases, but it tends to forget it's supposed to tell a story that at least makes sense along the way as well.

The Bad: Prometheus does a fantastic job creating amazing atmosphere and building a great mystery, but it doesn't really know where to go with it. Oh, it has those ideas, but the film is seemingly stronger when it's working on the philosophical concepts of life's beginnings than trying to craft a taught thriller. Its themes are nothing new, but it does a good job presenting them better than most films with similar agendas - unfortunately it plods along with nothing else to do except, somehow, try and fit it all into an Alien film. The film works best when it's not trying to be an Alien film and, rather, an exploratory thought of the mysteries of the universe, faith and the beginnings of life. It works worse when it tries to find interesting ways to kill people, and that's what it tries to do the most often and usually compromises its own tone, purpose and entire concept in the process just have someone be killed by something we didn't get a good explanation about in the first place.

There are throwaway characters left and right, many cliched troupes we've seen before. That would be fine had they at least been somewhat interesting or memorable or at least not do absolutely stupid things that a person wouldn't actually do. Plot holes are another major issue, things happening without real explation or, even worse, too much exposition and it all just becomes a jumbled mess. As I said, it's entirely unpolished brilliance - but can you get by the rough edges of its storytelling and uneven nature?

As a story, however, it's a congested cluster of traffic (traffic being plot lines and character arcs) that isn't quite sure what to do after the first 30 minutes of a brilliant set up - probably some of the most taught, well-done first acts you could ever ask for. Unfortunately, it's a lot of writing and great set up with a script that, you can tell, went through a series of rewrites along the way; as though it wrote out every possible road and only remembered to pave a couple of them as the others continued on to dead ends. Eventually, those paths that were set up start to not connect and just diverse into who-knows-where. Simple questions, not of thematic elements as being ambiguous is fine in that regard, but of basic plot reasoning and human actions just start to not make a whole lot of sense. There's some great characters in Prometheus as I mentioned, but most are purposeless or underdeveloped and in many cases do incredibly stupid things that basically write their death certificate before they even need to pick up a pen.  To make a film where the human condition is integral, it's important we are convinced these are actual humans and outside of of Noomi's wonderful acting, there's nobody left to understand or relate to. The film's second-best character isn't human at all and not meant to be related to.

When it's staying in the realm of theoretical science and theology and exploring the human condition, the root elements of science fiction, it's a wonderfully engrossing film. When it tries to be scary and a thriller, it feels heavy-handed and stilted in that regard. The detached, contemplative elements work, the moments of attempted scariness, plot twists and even violence feel oddly out of place. Uneven and not entirely sure where it wants to go with all those wonderful ideas and the characters outside of one or two aren't really strong enough to pull us all the way through.

The Ugly: Prometheus is quite the divisive film. It's a result of its very genre's nature, so it's not surprising. It comes down to this: everybody will note the flaws, the question is how much will those flaws bother you? It's one of those films that's quite easy to see both sides of the coin.

One thing I can say without reservations: despite some of the venom the cynical internet spews out there, it's far from a bad film. A misguided and rough one? Certainly. But not bad. If you want bad, try the previous two Alien films.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Promised Land

A salesman for a natural gas company experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town, where his corporation wants to tap into the available resources. 

The Good: Promised Land is an odd film. It's a good film, mind you, but strange in that I can't quite put my finger on who it's attempting to appeal to. It's a very direct and on-the-nose political and sociological piece about small towns, big corporations and a man stuck between those two worlds, but it's not really broad enough to find the appeal for an audience. It's a very subdued and simple tale that comes in waves - good and bad moments throughout but mostly enough to at least keep you intrigued, though not necessarily invested.

We have here a solid film, though not spectacular. Gus van Sant's usual sense of challenging himself as a director seems more restrained, yet a quiet and rather subdued drama might have actually benefited from that (in fairness, van Sant wasn't the original director, it was Matt Damon). Despite some quality performances and an overall good message, not to mention really capturing a small-town's authenticity, Promised Land is probably a movie you'll enjoy seeing but ultimately forget about.

The Bad: You know how this is going to end before it even begins. It's very apparent from the first scene as we're introduced to Steve. In these cases, the journey needs to be good enough to make the obviousness of the ending worth it, but here it just stretches and misses the mark. Steve is a great character, as are most in the town in which the story takes place, but it doesn't ever push itself. It just gallops along to the next scene. "Gallop" still doesn't sound quite right...maybe "trod" is more fitting as it moves along and often forgets scenes and development it just set up.

There are parts that are wonderfully interconnected, then there are those that drop in and out and then others forgotten about entirely; plot moments and character reveals that never seem satisfying in their frankness. One in particular in the third act feels shoehorned, or simply not explained all that well as it's quite a big moment that just happens and not naturally. Thankfully, Damon plays Steve straight and he carries the film entirely, but the script never quite hits the marks it should to really nail it. Considering the writers involved (David Eggers and Matt Damon) it's all the more disappointing it never really gets where it needs to go, it just happens and we get an end to it all that we already knew was coming.

The Ugly: Needs more Halbrook. Not just in that he's a great character actor, but because the film establishes him very early then neglects him for an hour or so. Why set up such an interesting character only to have him in just two or three scenes (and arguably the best scenes in the film)?

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Princess and the Frog

A modern day retelling of the classic story The Frog Prince. The Princess and the Frog finds the lives of arrogant, carefree Prince Naveen and hardworking waitress Tiana crossing paths. Prince Naveen is transformed into a frog by a conniving voodoo magician and Tiana, following suit, upon kissing the amphibian royalty. With the help of a trumpet-playing alligator, a Cajun firefly, and an old blind lady who lives in a boat in a tree, Naveen and Tiana must race to break the spell and fulfill their dreams.

The Good: If there's anything that I've seen that truly defines "getting back to your roots," it is surely The Princess and the Frog. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like a kid again an realize how much I missed classic Disney animation (music and all) as well as be able to appreciate the beauty of cell animation once more. It's entertaining, that's the first step it gets right even if we've seen it before from Disney. It's charming, another good step and an under appreciated one. It's memorable, and that's saying a lot, thanks to its beautiful art design, distinct soundtrack and the setting itself. Our characters are likable, heroine one of Disney's best and the "prince charming" unique in that he's a bit of an ass. The villain is brilliant, so much so that I wanted to see much more of him. Keith David did a fantastic job, and he has one of the better songs in the film as well. While it may not be the most original idea in terms of plot, there is a lot going for the film and is a joy to sit and watch.

The Bad:
While Princess and the Frog certainly had things going right, especially to reach me personally (I love Jazz and New Orleans) it doesn't quite offer up new things. It's a return to roots, so that's to be expected, but this is a story Disney has really told a lot and it hits the beats, has the sidekick characters and musical numbers you'll expect, but also call when exactly they'll enter, sing, dance and where the plot will go down to the letter. It shows that while hand-drawn animation is far from dead, this formulaic, and very, very safe plot and story, is still overly done. Also, while the music is one-of-a-kind for a Disney movie, it's also very vanilla and forgettable. The fact is, the movie as a whole hits the marks, but those marks are starting to wear thin after being hit so many times.

The Ugly:
I wonder how Creole's feel about how they're depicted in this movie - as insects.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Princess Bride

A kindly grandfather sits down with his grandson and reads him a bedtime story. The story is one that has been passed down through from father to son for generations. As the grandfather reads the story, the action comes alive. The story is a classic tale of love and adventure as the beautiful Buttercup is kidnapped and held against her will in order to marry the odious Prince Humperdinck, and Westley (her childhood beau, now returned as the Dread Pirate Roberts) attempts to save her. On the way he meets an accomplished swordsman and a huge, super strong giant, both of whom become his companions in his quest. They meet a few bad guys along the way to rescue Buttercup.

The Good: There's a certain amount of joy and charm in Reiner's classic fairy tale adventure that is so missing in many films today. Maybe it's the fun that the actors appear to be having in their role, they know exactly what kind of film they are in and roll with it almost as though it's a parody (which it is, but not over-the-top in doing so). Perhaps it's the wry, sometimes tongue-in-cheek humor that comes with it. Like any good fairy tale, it seems to run the gamut of genre. It has adventure, drama, romance and humor all wrapped up into an enjoyable story with memorable characters that is so well-crafted that I have yet to meet a person who does not like it. It's simply fun, well-paced and you never lose interest. It's familiar and friendly to anyone who watches it.

The Bad: When it's working and flowing, the Princess Bride is at its best. Occasionally, though, there are some forced bits of dialogue and shoehorned-in jokes that gets a little too cute for its own good. There are moments with its momentum staggers and the whole thing falls into a lull, but it's simply too fun, light and enjoyable to consider that of any significance.

The Ugly: Supposedly working on this film inspired Billy Crystal to make the film, My Giant. I shudder at the though.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Psycho

Phoenix officeworker Marion Crane is fed up with the way life has treated her. She has to meet her lover Sam in lunch breaks and they cannot get married because Sam has to give most of his money away in alimony. One Friday Marion is trusted to bank $40,000 by her employer. Seeing the opportunity to take the money and start a new life, Marion leaves town and heads towards Sam's California store. Tired after the long drive and caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into The Bates Motel. The motel is managed by a quiet young man called Norman who seems to be dominated by his mother.

The Good: Do I really need to review this movie? I mean, really? Well, if you do a four-part Hitchcock retrospective, you better not leave out his most famous film, I suppose. Let's start with one thing: it's not famous simply because of the shower scene and the twist ending (although I'm sure that helped). It's famous because it's an absolute perfect thriller. The shots, never wasted by Hitchcock in any of his films, really, are up close, personal and intimate. The tension is thanks to discomfort, such as the image of Norman Bates, our resident motel manager, from a low angle with dark shadows behind him (that just happen to be dead animals). It's the tense music combined the way the camera moves with the person rather than just sitting there shooting them. It's the lighting, the choice to do it in black and white to showcase light and dark elements of the human psyche. It's the performance of Perkins who, you would swear, isn't even acting at all and that Bates is in fact a real person. It's the streamlined nature of it, like the shots, never wasting time and getting to the point all in a tight hour and forty minutes. It's the legacy, ushering new thoughts of violence, horror movies (slashers notably), sexuality and thrilling and shocking twists that catch the audience completely off guard. Hitchcock himself demanded that people not arrive late to the movie, considering its main character dies in the first half-hour. It's at that moment we realize that person isn't our main character at all, but rather it's the person identified with the film's title. It manipulates us (if not outright toy) and rarely does a film actually do that in such convincing fashion. Unlike other films with a twist or character-change less than mid way through, Psycho still manages to be entertaining and enticing even on repeated viewings. I don't know why, I'm sure the craftsmanship has something to do with it, the layers upon layers we can pick the film apart that is best reserved for an essay, not a review. But it's interesting that when you watch it, even a dozen times and know the twist and what's to come, you don't even realize it. You just keep watching.

Oh, well it seems I did just go on and on, didn't I? Can you blame me, though. You can pick element after element of Psycho, analyze it, appreciate it, realize there's really no flaw (other than a bit of heavy-handedness towards the end). It's an accessible film, but is an understated complex one that people still write about to this day. It's a masterpiece from a man with, even in 1960, a good dozen masterpieces already in his back pocket. It's a testament to Hitch, his adventurous and sometimes darkly humorous nature and ability to reinvent himself and try new things. It's his crowning jewel on a heavy crown crafted by a man who will be unmatched in how he wears it.

The Bad: Psycho is one of those movies that if you see it on TV, you get stuck watching. I have other things to watch, damnit. I don't need to be watching a movie I've seen 20+ times already.

The Ugly:
Everybody knows the twist these days, even if they haven't seen the movie. It's unfortunate, as the twist was what Hitchcock demanded be kept secret and not even implied about. Nobody will feel that utter shock and surprise again like they did in 1960.

Final Rating:
5 out of 5


Public Enemies

The difficult 1930s is a time of robbers who knock over banks and other rich targets with alarming frequency. Of them, none is more notorious than John Dillinger, whose gang plies its trade with cunning efficiency against big businesses while leaving ordinary citizens alone. As Dillinger becomes a folk hero, FBI head J. Edger Hoover is determined to stop his ilk by assigning ace agent Melvin Purvis to hunt down Dillinger. As Purvis struggles with the manhunt's realities, Dillinger himself faces an ominous future with the loss of friends, dwindling options and a changing world of organized crime with no room for him.

The Good: Strong performances and precise Michael Mann directing bring a relatively overdone story of John Dillinger to new heights. Mann is at his very best here with amazing camera work. The man knows how to tell a story through action and some of the best scenes are up there with his best work. Both Depp and Bale bring their A-Game, although the character of Dillinger is far more focused on and thus more engaging. The story itself is nothing new, but the style and setting is fantastic and completely realized, now shown down to the nitty-gritty with Mann's in-your-face and completely realistic action directing. It's also quite the effort due to its accuracy, being shot at the actual locations (when possible) that many of the events were noted to occur. While not Mann's best, it's still a worthy addition to his legacy. The man knows cops, criminals and gunfights better than any other director today and it shows.

The Bad: Much of the film will bring in certain elements but never really expand on it. In other words, it dips its toes rather than really explain. We'll see and hear a few things about the syndicate, Purvis, Dillinger's national celebrity, his friends, his rivals only for brief moments but nothing to really give us insight. In that respect, Public Enemies can be considered a film full of flavors but nothing really savory. It's a shallow film despite its engagement of viscerally intimate action and solid performances. Running at 140 minutes, it makes you wonder how it could end up so shallow to begin with.

The Ugly:
The character of Purvis (Bale) is really give a raw deal. He starts strong yet fades into the background. The change and focus onto another "good guy" character is nearly instantaneous. Accuracy is good, but unfulfilled character arcs are not.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Pulp Fiction

Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega are two hitmen who are out to retrieve a suitcase stolen from their employer, mob boss Marsellus Wallace. Wallace has also asked Vincent to take his wife Mia out a few days later when Wallace himself will be out of town. Butch Coolidge is an aging boxer who is paid by Wallace to lose his next fight. The lives of these seemingly unrelated people are woven together comprising of a series of funny, bizarre and uncalled-for incidents.
 

The Good: There’s a sense of authenticity in Pulp Fiction. It’s a whole different world yet a completely identifiable one because the characters, their speech, their context, is are themselves believable and identifiable to us. Nothing is ever forced. It all feels natural yet strangely just set outside of reality. Pulp Fiction is really a series of short stories intertwined and told beautifully and effectively to evoke our reactions time and time again. The thrilling energy that comes with the film is a rarity. It’s enthusiasm and bravado a combination of a classic gangster flick with something that, I can best compare to, high-fantasy and fairy tales. It’s one of the greatest films (especially independent films) to ever be made and, while it didn’t reinvent the wheel, it surely sanded it down to a smooth surface and spiced it up with rawness and character studies.

The Bad: If you can note something “bad” about Pulp Fiction, by all means leave a comment at the bottom of this page or email me. Some films…the more you try to think of one the more you realize how damn good the movie was and just want to watch it again. One of the top films of its decade, easily. I would have loved to written even more about Pulp Fiction, but I'm willing to bet you already know what makes it so great: amazing storytelling and cool characters. It just does both too well that trying to find something "bad" would be like complaining the Mona Lisa doesn't have enough yellow paint.

The Ugly: As Tarantino sets out to show us there’s are varying levels of “bad guys,” he has to really show us , as best shown during Butch’s story. While it’s nice to come to the revelation there are far more evil people at there, Ving Rhame’s naked ass is now ingrained in many filmgoers’ minds.
 
Final Rating: 5 out of 5


The Purge

A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.

The Good: I like that robot. That's a nifty little robot. It reminded me of that creepy dolls-head-spider-robot from Toy Story. I don't like that it's a gimmick and something this film relies on, but it's kind of neat. You know, like that robot from Rocky IV that was also just a gimmick because people loved robots in the 80s almost as much as they loved cocaine, ninjas and Bon Jovi.
I miss the 80s. If a movie like The Purge was made in that decade, it might have actually understood the concept of enjoying being a fun, b-grade cheesy thriller. Instead, we get something that takes itself way, way too seriously - so much so that it writes itself in to a corner with no other direction to go other than to just make itself worse and see how low it can take itself.

The Bad: The Purge is an idea in need, bad need, of a story. As it stands, it barely has a plot, just a seed of an idea that probably could have spent a few more months with a room of writers to at least work it out. At the end of the day, it just doesn’t work, and as a result of the plot and story not working, the idea is even harder to sell.

Sometimes, a film that struggles with those elements can skate by with just characters and the performances of the actors, but The Purge falls short there as well. In this future, we’re meant to believe that this “Night of anything goes/The Purge” is just a way of life, yet the film treats its characters as though they’re not of that environment – it’s more a transplanted current family thrust in to a world that they don’t fully understand. Noticeably, this is with the children, two teenagers in the family, who question what The Purge is and, somehow, have a natural instinct to want to do the right thing.

Considering the extremes that everyone else in the film have, some sense of “class righteousness” that might have made for a nice short story by a better writer, their entire existence doesn’t fit with the world that the film builds up around them.

The thing is, if you’re sheltered like they are, and if that’s all you are nurtured on, then where does that instinct stem from? The point of The Purge was, likely, to show the natural state of human nature; to admit that we need that “release” violence in ourselves because that’s who we are…so by that formula these kids, and later on the parents, shouldn’t have any understanding of that. But they do, and like a lot of things in the The Purge it remains completely unexplained and, like the story itself, it hopes we just enjoy the vague ambiguity of nearly everything to overlook the problems they actually hide all around it.

With an incredibly sloppy sense of pace and structure, flat acting and characterization and an obvious unwillingness to really explore the idea it has, it’s hard to really start listing the many issues with The Purge and you can only say that “there are many.”

The Ugly: A sequel is already being fasttracked. That is all.

Final Rating: 1 out of 5


The Purge: Anarchy

A young couple works to survive on the streets after their car breaks down right as the annual purge commences.

The Good: Dear James DeMonaco. Thank you. I’m not sure what happened between the abysmal original film, The Purge, that made you realize that there’s a lot of potential in this concept, but I’m glad you realized it’s low-grade, B-movie schlock and should be treated as so. As a result, you get something unique. Something that, had it been made in the mid 1980s alongside something like Repo Man, Escape from New York or The Warriors, it would feel snugly at home.

The Purge: Anarchy isn’t a great movie. It’s barely a good one. But it’s a movie that’s really comfortable in its skin and understand that to get through on something high-concept with a shoe-string budget, you really just have to understand how to make it work by looking to the past. Those are great examples from a decade that was full of imagination but really limited in the practicality and the budget. Now that’s a model to follow. It doesn’t “recapture” the elements of the movies from the era as much as it understands how to make a movie in that way. Just get some solid characters, a solid concept, a thin enough plot to push it along and shoot the hell out of it.

The Bad: As far as midnight-grindhouse type of movie goes, this one achieves it better than most. It’s not trying too hard, just barely a semblance of a story with only the idea pushing it through, but it gets the job done. When its at its weakest, though, is when you…well…you kind of think about it. I know there are movies when you have to “turn off your brain” but that’s more an excuse saying “you need to have a mindset of absolute stupidity to enjoy it.” That’s fine, that’s how you can enjoy it, but enjoying it doesn’t make it a good movie.

Even in relative terms, The Purge: Anarchy, though carried by a solid sense of style and directing and a particularly solid lead performance by Frank Grillo (a name that sounds like it belongs in its own movie of this nature alone), the movie turns repetitive and often dull as we wander the streets on Purge Night and there’s seemingly no end in sight. It sets up some nice elements, certainly, but it never really tries to elevate itself despite being a vast improvement over its low-rent and extremely generic predecessor.

The Ugly: I suddenly want to see a Punisher movie with Frank Grillo. Because this is essentially if a Punisher movie was made without the Punisher license.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Puss in Boots

A story about the events leading up to the sword fighting cat's meeting with Shrek and his friends.

The Good: The best thing about the later Shrek films was the addition of Puss in Boots. He's a fantastic character, incredibly well realized with a perfectly fitting personality and fantastic voice work by Antonia Banderas. His own starring role was inevitable and, for the most part, you get exactly what you expect from this film: a fairy-tale adventure with contemporary sensibilities, a bit of Spanish flavor and a dash of some sexual innuendos. Vibrant colors, gorgeously animated characters and a fun, straight-forward story of finding magic beans and getting the golden goose - only with the Dreamworks twist on those old tales such as Humpty Dumpty a greedy inventor, Jack and Jill criminals and the golden goose an adorable hatchling.

The film is entirely centered, as it should be, on giving Puss in Boots a lot to do and a lot to say. He's the central point to every moment, flashback and twist and his himself a fantastic arc to explain his outlaw nature and his deep rooted passion to always do the right thing. He's a hero…almost. He still has to come to the realization that a cat with his talents and desire to always do good is going to be looked as one eventually, and those wanted posters will be stripped down. You know that's how it will end, but the path there is a wonderfully charming and fun ride with Puss as our guide, you won't even care about knowing the beats before they happen. The Shrek films began fresh and original and eventually became tired, but here is something similar yet different: the same take on Fairy Tale classics but with a vibrant and fresh character to get us through it, and far less reliance of pop-culture references.

The Bad: Though not deep or touching, as that's not the point of the film, Puss in Boots is a fun adventure. Unfortunately that adventure begins to tread a little water about two thirds in with a second act that drags to the point of boredom. At this point, you start to realize how thin it all really is. It's a very simple story, but it's stretched over an hour and a half. The time is fine, the film's ability to fill that time is not and we're left with an awkwardly paced plot and a story that can't quite figure out what to have Puss do while on his adventure - show that he's more personality than depth which is why he was a supporting character in the Shrek films in the first place. The supporting characters aren't quite there to pick up the slack or allow for fun banter and dialogue, they're all pretty simple and shallow (though voiced nicely by Salma Hayek and especially Zach Galifanakis as Humpty Dumpty.

In the end, it's a story stretched and no depth to really back it up and really get you involved…but ti's still a hell of a lot of fun.

The Ugly:  Dreamworks seems to have finally decided to go more for the timeless quality of a film rather than throwing in low-brow jokes and pop-culture references. There's barely any of either in this film, which shows the studio has probably learned nicely from its Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon films which took a similar approach. Though not as emotionally resonant as the latter, nor as sweet as the former, it's every bit as fun and charming as either.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Pyramid

An archaeological team attempts to unlock the secrets of a lost pyramid only to find themselves hunted by an insidious creature.

The Good: The idea is here…the execution absolutely is not. We have a set up and idea as well as a decent amount of atmosphere, but The Pyramid swings and misses to make any of it actually matter.

The Bad: You know, I went into this movie thinking it might be a bit of a hidden gem. I mean, you have major distributor with Fox, you have a couple of well known producers in this space, you have the screenwriter of Maniac from 2013 directing (which is the epitome of a hidden gem) and you have an overall solid concept…

…and it’s horribly dull. In fact, I would call it damn near unwatchable because horribly dull I can kind of deal with, especially with horror movies as a whole, because they can kind of be what they are and deal with it, but The Pyramid is so offensively bad that it, and I’m not exaggerating, took me two days to see it. It’s one of those movies that you watch, then you leave for a bit, watch a little more, then struggle to get through the rest of it 24 hours later because it literally offers nothing to you so you can say “Oh, well, this looks like a good hour and a half well spent.”

From the opening line “What’s going on? Are you getting this?” I kind of knew I was going to have problems with the movie. The two most generic found-footage horror lines in the history of the genre kicks the entire movie off. I half-expect them to also say “Did you guys hear that?” or “Must have been a dog...” at some point…

…then they do. Those lines somehow creep out of someone’s mouth on top of that. For Christ’s sake…

But bad lines, a dull look and way too much exposition can also be dealt with…at least be scary, right? Well The Pyramid unfortunately can’t manage that and squanders its own premise. A claustrophobic horror movie in an ancient Pyramid might have been great, but when you don’t have a ton happening and don’t care about the people it happens to, it ends up a waste of time.

I was, at the very least, expecting something bad but watchable, such as previous Alexandre Aja movies Horns, P2 or Mirrors. Those movies had a story and things happening. In The Pyramid, we have a slew of bad actors spouting bad dialogue and being all-around obnoxious. Plus the way it’s shot: Found footage does not help, that’s for sure, what with everything being perfectly framed and conveniently shot at just the right moment that we’re supposed to buy as actual footage. We also have inconsistencies even there such as shots that, in no way, could be shot (like shots of the entire group when there’s no person there to shoot them…or a satellite orbiting Earth…exactly who shot that from space?) It’s incredibly off putting, either sell the whole thing as found-footage, as your opening title cards dictate as you try to sell the “realism” of it all, or shoot it like a normal movie because not dedicating yourself ruins both angles.

The Ugly: Aja’s name is losing serious cache with me. I don’t know another person that has been so up and down in quality of films he’s directed or produced.

Final Rating: 1 out of 5


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