Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Movies R - S

-R-

Race With the Devil (3.5/5)
Rachel Getting Married (4/5)
Raging Bull (5/5)

The Raid (3.5/5)
The Raid 2 (3.5/5)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (5/5)
The Railway Man (3/5)
Raising Arizona (3.5/5)

Rambo (2.5/5)
Rambo III (2/5)
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (3/5)

Rampart (3/5)
Rango (4/5)

Rare Exports (3.5/5)
Ratatouille (5/5)
The Raven (1/5)
Raw Deal (1.5/5)
Re-Animator (4/5)

Rear Window (5/5)

The Reader (3/5)
Real Steel (2.5/5)
Rebecca (4/5)
Red (3.5/5)

Red 2 (2.5/5)
Red Dawn (2.5/5)

Red Hook Summer (3/5)        
                                               Red State (3/5)
Red Tails (2.5/5)
Repo Men (2.5/5)
Report to the Commissioner (3.5/5)
Reservoir Dogs (4/5)
Retreat (3/5)
The Return of the Pink Panther (3.5/5)

Revenge (4/5)
Revenge of the Pink Panther (3.5/5)
Rio (2.5/5)
Rio 2 (2/5)
Rise of the Guardians (3.5/5)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (3.5/5)
The Rite (2.5/5)
The Road (4/5)
The Road Warrior (4.5/5)

Robin Hood (3/5)

Robocop (3.5/5)
Robocop (2/5)

Robot and Frank (3/5)
                                                           Roman Holiday (4.5/5)
Room 237 (4/5)
                                                             Rosemary's Baby (4.5/5)
The Rover (3.5/5)
The Royal Tenenbaums (4.5/5)
Rubber (2.5/5)

Ruby Sparks (3.5/5)
The Rum Diary (3.5/5)
Run All Night (3.5/5)
The Running Man (3/5)
Rush (3.5/5)

 

-S-

Sabotage (4/5)

Sabotage 2014 (1.5/5)
The Sacrament (3.5/5)
Safe House (3/5)
Safety Not Guaranteed (4/5)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (3/5)
Salt (3.5/5)
San Andreas (2.5/5)
Sanjuro (4/5)
Saving Mr. Banks (3.5/5)
Saving Private Ryan (4.5/5)

Schindler's List (5/5)
Scott Pilgrim v. The World (3.5/5)
Scream 4 (2.5/5)
The Searchers (5/5)
Season of the Witch (1.5/5)
Secret Agent (3/5)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (3/5)
The Secret World of Arrietty (4.5/5)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (3.5/5)
Selma (4/5)
Serenity (4/5)
A Serious Man (3.5/5)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (3.5/5)
Seven (4.5/5)

Seven Psychopaths (2/5)
                                                      Seven Samurai (5/5)
The Seventh Seal (4.5/5)
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (4/5)

’71 (4/5)
Shame (4/5)
Shane (4.5/5)
Shark Night 3D (1.5/5)
Shaun of the Dead (4.5/5)
The Shawshank Redemption (5/5)
She's Out of my League (2.5/5)
Sherlock Holmes (4/5)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (3/5)


Shining, The (4.5/5)
Shock Corridor (4/5)
Short Circuit (3/5)

Short Term 12 (4/5)
A Shot in the Dark (5/5)
Shutter Island (3.5/5)
Sightseers (3/5)

The Signal (2.5/5)    
                                                           The Silence of the Lambs (4.5/5)
Silver Linings Playbook (4/5) 
                                           Sin City (3.5/5)
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2/5)
A Single Man (4/5)

Sinister (3.5/5)
                                                                   The Skin I Live In (3.5/5)
Skyfall (4/5)
Sleepwalk with Me (3.5/5)
Slither (4/5)
Slumdog Millionaire (4.5/5)

Snow White and the Huntsman (2.5/5)
Snowpiercer (3.5/5)
The Social Network (4.5/5)
Solitary Man (3.5/5)
Some Like It Hot (5/5)
Somebody Up There Likes Me (3/5)
Somewhere (3/5)
Sorority Row (1.5/5)
Sound City (4.5/5)
Sound of My Voice (3/5)
Source Code (4/5)
Southpaw (3/5)

Spartacus (3/5)
The Spectacular Now (3.5/5)
Speed Racer (4/5)
Spellbound (3/5)

Spider-Man (3.5/5)  
Spider-Man 2 (4/5)

Spider-Man 3 (2.5/5)

The Spiral Staircase (4/5)
Spirited Away (4.5/5)

Splice (3.5/5)
Spring Breakers (4/5)
Spy (3.5/5)
Stalag 17 (4/5)
Stand Up Guys (2.5/5)  
                                                      Star Star Trek (2009) (4/5)
Star Trek: Into Darkness (3.5/5)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1.5/5)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (4.5/5)

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (3.5/5)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (4/5)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (2/5)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (3.5/5)

Star Trek: Generations (3/5)

Star Trek: First Contact (4.5/5)

Star Trek: Insurrection (3/5)

Star Trek: Nemesis (3/5)

Star  Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (3/5)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2/5)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (3.5/5)

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (4.5/5)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (5/5)

Star Wars Episode VI: Returns of the Jedi (4/5)

Starman (4/5)
Starship Troopers (3.5/5)
State of Play (4/5)
The Stepfather (2.5/5)

Still Alice (3.5/5)
Stoker (3/5) 
                                                               Straight Outta Compton (3.5/5)                                         The Straight Story (3.5/5)
Strange Brew (3.5/5) 

The Stranger (4/5)
The Stranger (2.5/5)
Strangers on a Train (4.5/5)

Stray Dog (4.5/5)
Stretch (3/5)
Stripes (4/5)

Submarine (4/5)
Sucker Punch (3.5/5)
The Sugarland Express (3.5/5)
Sullivan's Travels (4.5/5)

Sunset Boulevard (5/5)

Sunshine (4.5/5)

Sunshine Cleaning (3.5/5)

Super (3/5)
Super 8 (4/5)
Surrogates (2.5/5)
Survivor (2/5)
Swamp Thing (3/5)

The Sword of Doom (4.5/5)
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (3.5/5)


Race With the Devil

Two couples vacationing together in an R.V. from Texas to Colorado are terrorized after they witness a murder during a Satanic ritual.

The Good: Race With the Devil: a simple concept that handles its material better than most thanks to some smart directing, particularly of action sequences (including a climatic car chase with some great stunts and special effects as only 1970s car chases ever seem to have) and a constant sense of paranoia. While not a fully fulfilling experience, or even that polished for that matter, Race With the Devil is a cult favorite because it hits the right moments right when it needs to hit them.

By today's standards, these moments are all too predictable. It's been decades of movies AFTER Race with the Devil that has caused that. At the time, there's a lot of uniqueness happening that caused a ripple effect for movies to come in the genre, especially the satanic cult and roadtrip/horror movies that flourished after. Now, it's simple entertainment and not much else, but it's still enjoyable and one of the more under-sung horror movies from its era with two solid lead stars in Peter Fonda and Warren Oates and a hell of a climactic action sequence that goes on for a good ten minutes or so where real cars get tossed around a highway like matchbox cars and stuntmen take their licks: a time when moviemaking was all tangible and real.

The Bad: The threats are probably too few and far between with only a scant amount of villain screentime. Our antagonists are mostly faceless and nameless, but even the ones we do get names and faces on feel like they should have more to their characters. Speaking of that, the female characters are most obviously given less time to feel like actual people - more your typical female damsels that need saving and do their share of screaming. This was before the typical horror-staple "heroine" archetype, the other extreme and as equally as annoying and overused. I suppose it wouldn't be as bad had the film not spent a few scenes implying they may be more involved in the story, but it quickly throws that notion out the window in favor a Fonda and Oates buddy picture (not that there's anything wrong with the latter).

The Ugly: It's amazing how well Race With the Devil has aged. It hits all the right beats for a classic road-trip/horror/cult movie that you would see in future films such as The Hitcher or Joyride. It all comes down to some great stunt and camera work, something today's filmmakers could learn a lot from. This is a no-budget early 70s horror flick that has action sequences better shot than anything from Michael Bay.

Also, that poster is just bad-ass 1970s all the way through. I think I might have to find one somewhere.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Rachel Getting Married

A young woman who has been in and out from rehab for the past 10 years returns home for the weekend for her sister's wedding. Past problems and issues arise with her return causing the family to readjust with the emotional rollercoaster about to begin.

The Good: An amazing performance by Anne Hathaway shows a problematic young woman coping with the fact she has caused the family such misery in the past. The entire cast is phenomenal and the heartbreaking scenes are extremely powerful.

The Bad: Jonathan Demme is a fantastic director, but his approach to the story here is an absolute bore and, if anything, distracts from the emotional core of the real story about Kaye (Hathaway) and the family. Instead, those powerful scenes are sprinkled in and what we get most of is a constant barrage that is best described as home videos. Long, rather boring scenes of nothing really happening, we just sit and watch the rehearsal dinner, the wedding itself and the reception as though they handed the camera to trained monkey. I applaud the sense of authenticity, but those things are boring in real life as is, why would I want to sit and watch it in a movie as well? . In the end, a good 40 minutes could have been shaven off the film completely as most of it feels aimless and unneeded. I did what I rarely do when watching a movie: skip forward.

The Ugly: The biological mother of Kaye and Rachel is just a horrible, horrible person, and it's unfortunate that there's little resolution to her.

 Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Raging Bull

When Jake LaMotta steps into a boxing ring and obliterates his opponent, he's a prizefighter. But when he treats his family and friends the same way, he's a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at any moment. Though LaMotta wants his family's love, something always seems to come between them. Perhaps it's his violent bouts of paranoia and jealousy. This kind of rage helped make him a champ, but in real life, he winds up in the ring alone.

The Good: An instant classic when originally released and considered one of the finest American films ever created, listing the attributes of the film dwarfs its own legacy. It's consistently in the Top 10 of the numerous "Greatest Films" list and for good reason. It's beautiful and deeply contrasting black and white gives it strange sense of authenticity, the performances are arguable the best of the stars' careers (De Niro and Pesci, but De Niro especially who so-deserved his Oscar for this role), the plot as tragic as the finest of Greek tragedy as though Ovid himself would write it, and the violence, culture and setting the most fully realized in any of Scorsese's pictures. It tells us LaMotta's story, and we travel back in time to see it, but it also tells us an interesting notion about violence, masculinity, friendship and all the visceral emotion that comes with it all. It's also about fearing loss, such as love, friendship, popularity or simply success. There is no question that it's a flawless film and singing its praises is almost rhetorical.

The Bad:
Often battling the likes of Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Godfather for the greatest film of all time must be hard.

The Ugly: Losing to Ordinary People for best film and director was one of the classic "Oscar tragedies." Hindsight makes it all 20/20, doesn't it? Also, I sadly can no longer watch Jake's argument with Joey without thinking of this. Damn you, internet.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


The Raid: Redemption

A SWAT team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers and thugs.

The Good: "Brutal" is a word that quickly comes to mind when seeing The Raid, an Indonesian-made, Welsh-directed flick about fight scenes. The Raid is a simple formula: set up, then unleash. That's all you really need for a piece of cathartic, engaging action entertainment. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in staging and making sure those unleashed moments are some of the best moments you'll see in any action movie this year.

It all comes down to the directing. For an action movie, especially one concentrating on in-camera framing, sets and live actors kicking and punching (or shooting and stabbing) the hell out of each other, having someone keep it all in line and coherent is a must. Enter director Gareth Edwards who outdoes many action movies that are far more higher in budget and far more laden with special effects. The Raid is gritty, brutally well-choreographed excitement. Plain, simple, and about all you would expect (and need).

The Bad: Despite some intense, insanely well-choreographed fight scenes, and a set-up that's simple enough and all that's really required, the fact is I, and I would assume most audiences, would be more on edge, involved and certainly more caring if there was any risk in our little tale of people killing people. There's story, which isn't really required here, but then there's simple storytelling and despite the efforts of The Raid, we really feel nothing for any character in this entire film. They are as cold and calculated as a punch in the face (or a knife in the kneecap).

This becomes more apparent as we progress, being told we should care for a character or their situation but not really buying it. There's no drama or weight behind it all. You'll route for the good guys, against the bad guys, but only because they're good and bad not because we really know who they are, what they do and why. Everything is very loose and vague and considering how integral the fighting and violence is, it would have been nice to have some context and purpose behind it all. Other than spectacular action...there's really little else going on for The Raid. You'll remember those amazing fights, but absolutely nothing else.

The Ugly: Also, what is the "redemption" title? It was added in the American release yet it really holds no bearing on the story whatsoever.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Raid 2

Only a short time after the first raid, Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.

The Good: Leave it to a more ambitious and inspired foreign market to show how to do big-action movies. The Raid 2 takes the action from the first film and multiplies it by ten as we get more than just fights, we get a lot of different kinds of fights, more gun battles, a couple foot chases, a car chase with some of the best camera and editing work you can ask for and…well, you know, The Raid 2 is just inspired from beginning to end. It’s fun, brutally violent, and bloody.

When I say “brutally violent” know that it’s not just because it’s bloody and bones are being shattered, it’s visceral and ugly. It’s the kind of violence that makes you cringe and squirm in your seat, but it’s also the kind that makes you laugh and kind of smile because it’s so over-the-top that it’s damn near comedic. Take a cartoon with The Road Runner or Bugs Bunny, add in a lot of blood and gore, and you have the absurdity of The Raid 2, and that’s why it’s so enjoyable and insanely re-watchable (much like its predecessor).

But it’s more than that, there’s an art happening here whether you can see it or not. The framing, the choreography, the sharp editing, the staging of spectacular fight and chase sequences and, at least in its second half, a brilliant sense of pace shows the technical proficiency of all involved and the talent of writer, director and editor Gareth Evans, who is perfectly content working outside the Hollywood system and doing action movies the way he wants, not the way that’s expected. And that’s why The Raid 2 is good: it works with the unexpected. Sure, you can telegraph the story and characters to a T, they’re common tropes, but the variety of action and how it is presented and shot is one-of-a-kind.

The Bad: The Raid 2 is a conflicted film. Where the first film knew exactly what it was and ran with it, The Raid 2 wants to be something more. It’s a sequel, more is better, but more is put in the wrong place here. Instead of more action and more amazing fight choreography and variety, all of which is great, there is also more story…and story is not what it is good at.

The Raid 2 begins to become lost in its own layers of stories and subplots, none of which feel very satisfactory. It’s an action movie desperately trying to be a crime drama in the being of Infernal Affairs or Serpico: undercover cop ventures in to the world of gangs with a number of factions and backstabbings and twists…and none of it matters. The Raid 2 loses focus on its strength, something the first film was forced to do, and as a result we have an uninteresting and uninspired crime drama plot infecting a brilliant action movie.

Because of the stronger story focus, the film now has to “set up” fight sequences. You can see them coming a mile away, and it never feels organic to the story its trying to tell. There’s nothing natural about it, and the plot isn’t interesting enough to hold interest - the action is. It carries it, but it should have been the focus of what carries it from the beginning. The Raid 2, more often then not, is trying to fit too small a hands in to too large of gloves rather than finding the pair that fits just right.

The Ugly: Whereas The Raid: Redemption had a simple story, it came at the cost of no character depth. Still, it worked. Here, The Raid 2 has a convoluted story attempting to create character depth and fails, however the action is even better. As a result…it’s on par, but not exceeded by its predecessor. Like the first film review “you’ll remember those amazing fights, but absolutely nothing else."

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Raiders of the Lost Ark

The year is 1936. A professor who studies archeology named Indiana Jones is venturing in the jungles in South America searching for a golden statue. Unfortunately, he sets off a deadly trap doing so, miraculously, he escapes. Then, Jones hears from a museum curator named Marcus Brody about a biblical artifact called The Ark of the Covenant, which can hold the key to humanly existence. Jones has to venture to vast places such as Nepal and Egypt to find this artifact. However, he will have to fight his enemy Renee Belloq and a band of Nazis in order to reach it. 

The Good: Everything. Period. This is not only one of the greatest action films ever made, it's one of the greatest films made period.  Thrilling, Captivating, Adventurous, Witty. It's perfectly cast with amazing chemistry between Allen and Ford, perfectly shot, has some of the best sequences in movie history, perfectly scored and perfectly written. The story spans the world, is structured beautifully and allows us to build into a climax. And that's just on the outside, there's also a subversive, allegorical and metaphorical side to it all, it's just subtle and so well-crafted you don't even know it (Roger Ebert has a large essay on it, so I recommend checking it out).  I dare you to find one fault in, what I consider, a masterpiece of cinema. It's encounter after encounter, crisis after crisis, and Harrison Ford (in his defining, legendary role) pulls it off gleefully. Indiana himself is one of the great heroes to be imagined, and Raiders his finest adventure.

There's one element that Raiders, and all the Indy films do, that today's action movies fail to: give us great characters. Today it's about those special effects, explosions and big-event scenes. Characterization and true heroes are all but dead, and Raiders is proof of that.

The Bad: Only when comparing to today's special effect, us all so accustomed to perfection, would anyone be able to find anything bad. There's obvious blue screen and matte painting usage. But can we fault it as "bad" by comparing it to things 20/30 years later? I don't.

The Ugly: Propellers not only are perfect for allowing lift and control, they also make good dicing utensils. On a side note...anybody ever notice the body is missing when Marion and Indy run away? Nope? Me either...

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


The Railway Man

A former British Army officer, who was tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labor camp during World War II, discovers that the man responsible for much of his treatment is still alive and sets out to confront him.

The Good: It takes a bit to get there, but by its third act The Railway Man finds that emotional beat it was struggling to search for.  Much of that is a strong performance by really one of the best actors working today, Colin Firth. I have yet to see a single film he isn’t the best thing in (and he is, often, better than the films that receive his talent). Here he plays Eeric Lomax, a haunted World War II vet who is losing his grip on his sanity.

The film plays this subtly. It’s not a “big” movie despite the period flashbacks, but an understated human drama about overcoming ones past. This was a time when there wasn’t a thing called “post traumatic stress disorder” and you see it played realistically and powerfully, thanks to that realism, by Firth. Another that is always better and often better than the films he is in is Stellan Skarsgard, who is suffering form the same disorder and has his devils to deal with as well. The acting across the board is sincere and beautifully human.

Director Jonathan Teplitzky hasn’t done a lot else. This is certainly his biggest film both in scope and in star power. He reunites with cinematographer Garry Phillips and their certainty and confidence with each other shows: this is one damn good looking movie. Teplitzky has some astounding shots that let a certain quiet settle in, often with the actors distant in the shot or not in it at all, and Phillips shoots the hell out of it. Though it may not amaze with its story, the acting and overall look and texture of this movie is an impressive feat.

The Bad: For a good chunk of the movie, there’s just not enough happening. Well, there is. I mean it doesn’t lull, but it’s more about a constant path getting to that eventual emotional punch at the end. But the path is where the problem resides: it’s more going through the basic motions for that payoff rather than really getting under your skin. While Firth and others do their dam nest to bring that human element, it just never finds itself for most of the movie: the path isn’t full of peaks and valleys to make for good drama, it’s a just a flat surface you’re driving along at a steady 50 miles per hour.

Spending far too much time on the events and not enough on the human element, the investment is minimal on our part as viewers. Firth sells it, as do the others, but only in their respective scenes. You have much of the movie also taking place in a prison camp, and I couldn’t tell you a single name, person or event that really seemed important or mattered - only that when we cut to the present we see on the faces of someone like Firth or Skarsgard that it mattered. At the “here and now” of those flashbacks - it’s just that flat, bland surface. The fault here, I suppose, is that it’s half a great movie, half a mediocre one, and ultimately just a watchable one.

The Ugly: The flashbacks look great. Costumes. Sets. Actors. Yet…there’s no human factor. I honestly can’t figure out why that is. Perhaps I’ve seen Bridge on the River Kwai or The Great Escape or even Empire of the Sun one too many times, films where you really get to know those people and the situation of their imprisonment. You feel it. It’s its own world and set of rules. Here, though, it never really reaches it.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Raising Arizona

Recidivist hold-up man H.I. McDonnough and police woman Edwina marry, only to discover they are unable to conceive a child. Desperate for a baby, the pair decide to kidnap one of the quintuplets of furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona. The McDonnoughs try to keep their crime secret, while friends, co-workers and a feral bounty hunter look to use Nathan Jr. for their own purposes.

The Good: If I were to choose the defining role of Nicholas Cage’s career, it would surely be this one. It’s not his Oscar winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas, his quirky performance in Adaptation, his understated performance in The Weather Man. No, it’s a goofy, white trash guy stealing babies. Cage, who is a love / hate actor for many, is utterly fantastic in this film and gives us a humorous, insecure and maybe  a tad bit bitter portrayal of a man in who soon finds himself cornered and tries to dig his way out (something the Coen brothers often have as a thematic element). Raising Arizona simply would have not worked with anyone else playing McDonnough. The film’s hilarity and comedic moments are completely dependent on him, and as a result it ends up being a funny, darkly funny at times, film that I would say is a timeless comedy classic and one of the great satires on the whole “American family” concept.

The Bad: Sometimes, the excess energy of this film becomes overwrought. There’s really little holding the story together other than Cage himself. Mostly it’s a loose series of events with no overarching tone, merely scenes that come and go. Some might note Hunter’s performance as another glue to hold it together, although it, like the story, feels forced and barely clinging on to the threads the Coen’s try to pass off as a plot. The path may be a fun path to take, with Cage at the helm it’s hard not to be, but it’s sometimes as gravely and bumpy as an Arizona backroad.

The Ugly:
Sorry, but Hunter’s southern drawl is annoying after the first 15 minutes. I don't think that's the first time I've said that about her.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Rambo

In Thailand, John Rambo joins a group of mercenaries to venture into war-torn Burma, and rescue a group of Christian aid workers who were kidnapped by the ruthless local infantry unit.

The Good: The fourth Rambo film finds a surprisingly good balance with itself. It’s not quite as metaphorical and relevant as the first film, but not as over the top and utterly crazy as the third film. It’s about on par with the second, only better shot and more intriguing with its character, the now old and lonely John Rambo who still hasn’t quite found his life purpose outside of war. Rambo does a great job in its thematic principles as well, lost in the second and third films. Rambo takes a while to even get going being “Rambo.” He’s hesitant, and the people he’s with aren’t exactly people he’s very approving of. He understand them and where they come from, but you can see in his eyes he’s already been there and has done far more than any of those little mercenaries combined. This was an interesting aspect to see Rambo in seeing as how he’s always been the lone-wolf across three previous films.

One thing I do love about this film is that we really see Rambo using his training for more than just killing people. In Rambo III, it was all about how he could kill someone. In this forth installment, we see him use his head a little more and come across as an actual human being than a guy with great muscles and a big gun (or arrows). Hell, he even shows a little regret in having to do some of things he does which is unheard of since the first film. He doesn’t quite have the steps he used to, so he relies on his old training of being sneaky, stalking, tracking and thinking ahead. I found this a rather brilliant take on a character in a similar way Stallone did for his final Rocky film. The character is old. That’s unavoidable. He doesn’t try and shun that but rather embraces it and builds the story with that in mind. He gets winded. He gets hurt. He has a very cynical outlook on life, though that is a bit of a retread of Rambo III (which was a retread of First Blood Part 2). All in all, though, this is the first time we’ve seen various dimensions of Rambo (especially when he talks about his past, which he never did) since the first film.

The Bad: The retread factor is a bit of a downside to the Rambo sequels. There’s only so much you can really do with the character and the situations you put him in. There’s a lot of things we’ve already seen from the second and third films. Even the ending of this film ends as Rambo III did – Rambo kills a lot of random guys with a big gun and things get really, really bloody. There’s really no sense in it all, and it’s not even as well-structured story-wise and action-wise as the second and third films either - things just go crazy and seemingly random without a solid core focus to it.

The Rambo films have never been full of great dialogue. It’s usually about one-liners and quotes from various characters about how awesome Rambo is. Perhaps we’re more forgiving of all that with older action movies, I don’t know, but the dialogue Rambo spouts here is like taking the entire ending of First Blood Part 2’s “message” and making a whole film based on it. It’s cheesy, but it’s not “fittingly cheesy” because Rambo plays itself so straight for the most part with just some very gory and bloody action scenes thrown in. It had foundation with the character, but overall blew it with the story and the pacing which was everywhere.

The Ugly: While I don’t want to spoil the ending, I do wonder what makes Rambo suddenly decide to change his ways. He’s seen plenty of killing and death, so why does this one instance make him realize he needs to do something different with his life at the end? I do like the final shots quite a bit, though, and it is a good end to the character.

What? They’re doing a fifth movie?  Fuuuuuu......

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Rambo III

John Rambo's former Vietnam superior, Colonel Samuel Trautman, has been assigned to lead a mission to help the Mujahedeen rebels who are fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the Buddhist Rambo turns down Trautman's request that Rambo help out. When the mission goes belly up and Trautman is kidnapped and tortured by Russian Colonel Zaysen, Rambo launches a rescue effort and allies himself with the Mujahedeen rebels and gets their help in trying to rescue Trautman from Zaysen.

The Good: Though it lacks the fun-factor of its previous sequel brother, Rambo III is a film you watch when you say “I just want to see people get murdered.” Rambo is still an interesting character, though I think here they make him more a contextual one as it dealt with a pretty serious situation that was happening at the time.

The Bad: Rambo III is a completely unnecessary film. Now arguably, all the Rambo sequels are completely unnecessary, but at least the second and forth films tied into the character in some form, perhaps even showed a side of him we hadn’t quite seen yet. Rambo III is a complete re-tread of the second film, but this is most notable because we really get nothing added to help distinguish itself and offer up something, anything, that we hadn’t seen yet in addition to it being a retread. Like Rocky IV, it’s rooted in the Cold War and, also like Rocky IV, is actually better as a look into that period of history and the thoughts that go through filmmakers than an actual good action film. “Just send in Rambo, he’ll take care of it,” makes less for an interesting movie and more for an interesting window into that era.

What Rambo III really falls victim to, and considering it’s following Part 2 this is saying a lot, is that it more or less is a parody of an action movie than something you want to sit back and watch again. It’s so insanely over-the-top that when people think of the over-the-top 1980s action flicks, this is probably one of reasons they think of it. One reason being that, I think, Rambo kills people in every single possible way you can imagine. That’s enjoyable to a degree, but a great or even passable film it does not make. Rambo destroys an attack helicopter with an explosive arrow. The man even destroys another helicopter by driving a tank into it. A tank, folks. How does that even happen?; and that in the midst of a massive tank versus Arab horse cavalry battle with helicopters. That’s like taking the cavalry charge from Lawrence of Arabia and throwing a few tanks in there for the hell of it. Not to mention he kills a guy by beating him, stabbing him, unhooking the guy’s grenade pin he had in his shirt, kicking him down a hole into a cave where the guy is hung and then explodes. Body count is 76 by Rambo’s hand alone (and I believe only across about two or three days). Jesus Christ. It’s excessive but not all-out fun. It all starts to blur and blend together into static after a while.

The Ugly: One thing I do love about Rambo III that is sometimes lost is the very, very nicely done aerial shots. There’s a lot of helicopters in this film and they love shooting them and their flying every way possible and using them for some large-scoped and largely staged shots too. I hate to admit this, but Rambo III could be, at least on a technical level, the best shot film in the franchise. It has an ugly palette, sure, but it loves itself some helicopters and gorgeous, sweeping shots. They got their money’s worth for those babies.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Rambo: First Blood Part Two

John Rambo's former Vietnam superior, Colonel Samuel Trautman, has been assigned to lead a mission to help the Mujahedeen rebels who are fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the Buddhist Rambo turns down Trautman's request that Rambo help out. When the mission goes belly up and Trautman is kidnapped and tortured by Russian Colonel Zaysen, Rambo launches a rescue effort and allies himself with the Mujahedeen rebels and gets their help in trying to rescue Trautman from Zaysen.

The Good: One of the great guilty pleasure movies and for all the right reasons. Its story is very basic but effective, the rolling into action sequences is structured nicely and there’s just enough motivation on part of our lead to really, really want to kill people and watch him do so in a variety of ways. You can see the elements that writer James Cameron brought into the fold, there’s a certain trademark to how his stories often flow and there’s a share of memorable lines. You can also see the hand of Stallone’s in the script as well, as the ending feels a bit too preachy for its own good. The action is what makes the film, though. It’s completely ridiculous, but there’s a darker and pretty brutal side here too that helps balance out some of the more unbelievable elements (like explosive arrows – sure, I can buy them blowing up, but not completely destroying stuff as they tend to do). It’s unabashed in what it is, save for the tacked-on message, and is one of the most strangely therapeutic and visceral “let go” action movies of its time.

The Bad: First Blood Part Two (just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) is a solid enough action picture for what it sets out to do. That is until the end when it tries, very desperately, to have a message or meaning to it all. The heavy-handedness of the revenge tale was fine enough. Bad guys are bad, Rambo is good, and he’ll just kill anyone that gets in his way for wronging him and the woman he quickly (a bit too quickly) fell in love with. But the need to put in a message about war, POWs,  bureaucracy and the like is laughably bad in the final moments and comes across as just a forced bit of unnecessary gibberish that makes you remember the first film and how much better it was than actually bring everything home to a fitting climax.

The Ugly: This is certainly the Rambo people think of when someone says that name. Jungle. Blood. Gore. Explosions. Macho men. The film sidesteps the rather exposed and vulnerable nature of the character we saw in the first film and supplants it with an action hero. Fair enough, but because John Rambo so tragically broke down at the end of the first film, it seems to undermine that arc and leaves him with nothing for coming to terms with his life other than explosions and a johnny-come-lately revenge tale.

Final Rating:
3 out of 5


Rampart

Set in 1999 Los Angeles, veteran police officer Dave Brown, the last of the renegade cops, works to take care of his family, and struggles for his own survival.

The Good: I love films about cops. Gumshoes. Detectives. Private Eyes. Dirty cops. Heroic cops. Insanely intelligent detectives or over-zealous patrol officers. I also appreciate a sense of gritty realism in those stories, because there's nothing every "grand" about those jobs despite the fact they are so often glorified in television and film - in far the gritty and realistic has become the glorification, and our respect for the real men and women who do that job grows with it. Rampart is a gritty character study about a police officer's spiral into a mental breakdown. It's not a "Bad Lieutenant" breakdown, nor is he as evil or disgusting as Harvey Kietel and Nicholas Cage's characters, but he is a man on his last legs. You sense the life starting to escape from him as the walls begin to close in. The toll of his job, the pressure in his family situation and the controversy around his actions make him despicable and with little redeeming factors that we can attach ourselves to.

Director Oren Moverman does the best thing anyone could do in this situation. Knowing it's a character piece, and that its a film that will probably make you never like its protagonist, Rampart is a film that makes or breaks itself based on the performance. So the only thing to do is to get a great actor and just let them free and loose. You can sense that here as Harrelson owns every scene he's in as Dave, from subtle and contemplative moments of quietness to anger and hatred, usually towards others but possibly towards himself. It's an observational film as we watch a life spiral further and further out of control as Dave, or Daterape Dave as he's known, shows a gray character that we can feel sorry for in one moment, and utterly despise in the next. It takes a commanding performance to pull that off and Harrelson does so.

The Bad: A lack of a coherent story, perhaps the film;s desire to be a visceral, emotive experience causing it, makes for a disinterested approach. Dave himself is interesting. Everything around Dave, from the subplots to the supporting characters to where he goes and what he does, is disjointed and convoluted. There's not enough context and not enough content clarity to drive the film, and Harrelson's performance can only carry it so far before it starts to feel tired and stagnant itself.

Rampart is full of nice ideas and potentially interesting characters, but it simply doesn't do anything with them. It pulls us along with Dave and is slowly-diminishing mental state, but never brings us to feel anything for him, care about the situations around him or end up remembering the film other than "that one movie Woody Harrelson was really good in."

The Ugly: Rampart did succeed in making me want to watch the entire series of The Shield again.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Rango

Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff.

The Good: Rango is an animated film that goes against the norm of animated films. At least, Hollywood animated films. It is utterly unique in story, characters and artistic style that creates an odd, eclectic world of Disney-meets-Sergio Leone. You have talking animals, but formed into the elements of Spaghetti Western style. What's more, is it is dark. Dark enough to not pull punches in terms of characters dying and murders to investigate. It is both charming and entertaining, yet incredibly smart with homages and references that would certainly go over the heads of a younger audience. Adults would probably find it as enjoyable, if not more enjoyable, than the kids in the theater.

On a technical level, Rango is utterly stunning. It manages to blend a very realistic look, from textures to facial expressions to shadows and light to one of the most beautiful looking animated films you've probably ever seen. Nothing is cartoony as much as it is a caricature (most noted by the few human characters that appear on occasion, including a must-have cameo). Exaggerated to a sense of surrealism like Dali, yet real and tangible like a still-life painting.

The Bad: I had been sitting on writing a review for Rango for some time. Most reviews I can knock out right away after a good fifteen minutes of locked-in-a-room writing. Here, I had a hard time really putting together any negative comments to really say about it. It's good, but it's not great. For an animated film it's incredibly original, for a western story, it's pretty standard fare (that and maybe some Chinatown influence here and there). You know the beats beforehand, but that's if you sit and think of all the westerns that Rango (admits to) pulls from. On the level of animation...not so much.

I also can't honestly say something on the lines of "it doesn't really have an emotional core." True, it doesn't. Would I have like it to have a little more heart and feeling to our world of dehydrated desert critters, maybe get to know them all a little better? Sure. But then I think back to its main influences: Spaghetti Westerns didn't really have that either because that wasn't the point of Spaghetti Westerns. Like Rango, they were more style over substance. But by comparison Rango does more than your typical Leone film in trying to move you emotionally

The Ugly: In the end, most of Rango works, and it shoots high and hits plenty of marks, but it could have hit a lot more along the way, I think. It's still one of the best animated films I've seen and really one of the first film to really make a splash in the 2011 year of movies. I loved it, but at the same time wanted it to do and achieve so much more.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 metres deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up! This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.

The Good: I'll keep this review of an odd little foreign film straight and to the point: you haven't seen a film like it. At all. Ever.

Some films you can see previous films in their workings. Those are fine, even if attributes are recycled as long as it's well done, you can't really complain all that much. But every once in a while you get something so insanely original that you can't help help but become a victim to its daringness and charm.

Rare Exports is such a movie. It's charming in the sense you can feel the love given the material. This wasn't some half-assed conceived notion shot on a weekend. It was an ambitious thought that was given some care. To completely turn the Santa Claus myth on its head and see it through with a tongue-in-cheek manner, dark humor at its finest really, all while looking far better than its paltry budget would expect it to look, you have an absolute hidden gem that certainly needs more exposure. It's not a perfect film, but its a wildly fun and original one given thoughtful attention by its creators that balances dark humor with a great sense of tension and escalation.

Being surprisingly well-done and polished aside, where else are you going to see a Finnish kid hanging on the edge of a giant sack of children suspended from a helicopter with a heard of about a hundred naked elves chasing after it?

Yeah…and that's why this movie is awesome.

The Bad: Rare Exports is original, but it seems only slightly limiting itself as it wraps up its story. Namely, a few missed opportunities that you feel the filmmakers wanted to take, but probably didn't have the money to do it. That sense of completion and satisfaction ends up slowly loosing its grasp because, let's face it, you can't constantly build up to a great reveal and then not show it. That's almost as bad as getting blue-balls (which you will see plenty of in this film).

There's a few odd loose threads happening in the film as well. The father character, for example, is about to do something pretty awful, his kid sees it, but it's never really brought up again. Then you have a coda after the main story that really has little explanation and the details or any logistical reasoning on the how it all happened and the only way to really make sense of it is to just assume. Assume the characters know what they're doing. Have the time and money to do it. Have the connections to make it happen. And, especially, assume that certain things won't happen again which we really can't.

The Ugly: How many times are you going to tell your son to "stay here" when it's obvious he's not going to? People never learn...

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Ratatouille

Remy is a young rat in the French countryside who arrives in Paris, only to find out that his cooking idol is dead. When he makes an unusual alliance with a restaurant's new garbage boy, the culinary and personal adventures begin despite Remy's family's skepticism and the rat-hating world of humans.

The Good: I've had two years or so to digest Ratatouille and ponder my thoughts on it. Can you imagine the pitch of the film? "It's about a Rat that wants to cook...and he helps a young guy find love by controlling his limbs...and there's this food critic....and his father doesn't know about his talent...and..." I don't need to go into why it's good. It's story is original, characters, although stock, very personalable and memorable and directing by Brad Bird absolutely top-notch with perfect pacing, reveals, and timing to let us settle, move forward, and develop itself into a brilliant piece of animation. Rather, I will go into why Ratatouille is probably Pixar's greatest film. Does that mean it's my personal favorite? No. That would be The Incredibles (another Brad Bird film) or Finding Nemo (I love fish). But I, and I wish others would as well, have to absolutely concede to the utter brilliance that is Ratatouille. Pixar's films have always had an emotional resonance within them and they give great heart to their characters. Ratatouille has two major messages and themes: don't judge a book by its cover, and find love and acceptance around you (even when you don't think it's there). Two themes and ideas that are pretty commonplace in Pixar films, actually, but Bird, somehow, manages to take them into an entirely new level with such depth and beauty that even the plot of the film itself gets relegated to the background.

Ratatouille is a complex film thematically in this regard, but it maintains an aura of simple storytelling in the process to allow us to ease into its ideals. Remy is, without question, one of the best characters Pixar (or Disney for that matter) has unleashed. He has dreams, wants to know about his world and we come to understand his drive, ambition and feelings when things do and don't go his way. It's all presented eclectically with its animation, so lively and emotive, and on numerous occasions it harkens back to classic Looney Toons shorts where a word doesn't even need to be spoken, the visuals tell you everything through its precise editing, references, angles and character body language and expressions (that's great filmmaking, folks). It never sinks to broad humor, the level of sophistication and Paris setting simply won't allow it, and it never sinks to trying to be "cool" or "edgy." It's a warm film, cold and dreary on occasion to personify the characters' emotions, but overall inviting like...well like a warm kitchen full of wonderful smells and tastes.

The Bad: The only "bad" aspect is Remy's sudden turn to wanting to be acknowledged for his brilliance. It seem far too sharp a change when the rest of the film simmers and stews so delightedly.

The Ugly: The wall of dead rats was an incredibly dark moment that still bothers some. I do wonder if Bird wanted to shock us, as Remy himself would be shocked, or if finding another way to express the way humans view rats to allow more subtlety. It's an effective scene nonetheless.

Final Rating:
5 out of 5


The Raven

When a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's works, a young Baltimore detective joins forces with Poe to stop him from making his stories a reality. 

The Good: Good atmosphere. Good costume and art design. The actors are at least trying.
Well, there's not much good happening in The Raven. It at least tries to put together a compelling mystery based on a great idea, but it just undershoots every chance it gets and wastes a great concept. It's a visual motif based on the word "try."

The Bad: The conceit is there. Damnit. And that's what so frustrating with The Raven. Edgar Allan Poe has to help solve a series of murders based on his writings. How cool is that? Well, maybe this should have been shopped around as a graphic novel or a book first, because the script is so ham-fisted and bland, Poe so unlikeable and characters coming and going and plot threads that are trying too hard to be too clever, the whole thing becomes intolerable very quickly. It's a forgettable, pedestrian period thriller that has one of the worst scripts I've seen that wastes an otherwise novel and potentially great idea.

There's also no craft on part of the production itself, though with such an erratic script it might be expected. There's no sense of thrill here, no tension, no comedy that really hits the mark, no drama, no romance. While the movie tries to incorporate many of those expected elements, it never seems to get any of them right. I simply goes through motions, on to the next, then this thing happened, now this, and here we are again, the end. It all runs flat for it's entire run time. No peaks. No valleys. Just a straight line of blandness and a big yawn. No wonder I kept looking at the clock, and no wonder it felt far longer than it actually is.

I suppose the word "passionless" might be appropriate in describing it, but also "carelessness" as well. The passion isn't found in the script, and the carelessness isn't found in the execution. You really get the sense that nobody really cared, perhaps knowing they had a mess of a screenplay and just tried to make a movie. John Cusack, despite being miscast here, tries to make something happen and you can see he's at least a little invested. But if a miscast actor and costume design is your film's best attributes, then, I'm sorry, you just end up with a bad film.

The Ugly: I really need to start looking at the writers more on these things. Their credits can tell you a lot - especially if they have a history of not doing anything period/thriller/mystery related at all.

Final Rating: 1 out of 5


Raw Deal

Mark Kaminsky is kicked out of the FBI for his rough treatment of a suspect. He winds up as the sheriff of a small town in North Carolina. FBI Chief Harry Shannon, whose son has been killed by a mobster named Patrovina, enlists Kaminsky in a personal vendetta with a promise of reinstatement into the FBI if Patrovina is taken down. To accomplish this, Kaminsky must go undercover and join Patrovina's gang.

The Good: It's violent. It has a lot of explosions and you can't deny that there are iconic Schwarzenegger moments on occasion. One-liners, cigars, camera mugging and a head-scratching accent can make the movie help pass the time. Yet, it's not a movie that you'll get joy out of seeing more than once, and probably don't need to go far out of you way to see it even that many times.

The Bad:  In the grand scheme, Raw Deal is nothing more than a second-rate vengeance tale that, in a decade that was full of vengeance tales, comes in as pretty standard fare. It's easily forgettable, and seeing as how it starred one of the biggest starts of the 80s and 90s and still people don't know it existed, that pretty much shows how little of an impression it made. Everything here in on the B-Level, though and through, from the director to the many writers to the producer to the script itself. Unlike other B-Level Arnold movies, though, there's no sense of "fun" or "entertainment." Honestly, it almost takes itself too seriously and doesn't even try to find a lot of joy when working with its obviously cliche material. This isn't just a bad movie, it's even an antithesis to something like Commando and The Running Man with a B-movie quality but entertaining and enthusiastic execution. It's banal, bland and one worth skipping.

The Ugly: Wow, is Arnold's accent thick here. It's even thicker here than it was in Commando the year before. I think it's more noticeable because he's sort of playing a "normal" person whereas in Predator and Total Recall (and certainly The Terminator films which hid it so well) he's playing more of a caricature or superhero type. It wasn't nearly this bad once the 90s rolled in.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Re-Animator

A medical student returns from Austria after working in regenerative experiments with a well known scientist who died under mysterious circumstances. He enrolls at Miskatonic University where he begs to differ with his professor on issues of the time of death, and eventually enlists his roommate to help him continue experiments on re-animating the dead. Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft.

The Good: Stewart Gordon's dead-pan, dry comedic "scary" movie is like taking Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein and removing the parody of it and playing it straight. You have the odd characters, but they take it serious. From them and the dry wit, we play off of it and end up getting a darkly funny, not to mention nicely gory, romp through the world of one Herbert West. West is a mad scientist and probably one of the great mad scientists you'll ever see on screen. He's not exuberant like Dr. Frankenstein, though, or a parody like, well the Gene Wilder version of Frankenstein or even like the mad scientists prominent in 1950s science fiction (although you can see the inspiration, that's for sure, in all their b-movie glory of which Re-Animator very much is). Like I said, he's completely dead-pan and his so matter-of-fact nature of everything is what gives Re-Animator its own edge and separates it from the crowd. It's based on a classic tale by HP Lovecraft, as many classic tales are, yet this unique spin by Gordon and Combs (who worked together numerous times and on other Lovecraft stories) made Re-Animator a cult classic. It's entirely about the tone and how it all works, the story and plot and even the directing really isn't anything spectacular. No, the tone, the wink of the eye and the tongue in the cheek allows Re-Animator to be a purely enjoyable horror film even for people who aren't a fan of horror. It's not laugh-out-loud funny (usually) but has an offbeat charm and campiness to it that makes it one-of-a-kind. End the end, the best way i can describe to tone is from the film's tagline "Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders...and another one in a dish on his desk."

The Bad: While fun and even a little unpredictable, the film often tends to really not end up anywhere. There doesn't seem to be a huge amount of risk to it all, and let's face it as great as Combs as West is, he's not really a guy you route for. In fact, our resident "heroes" of the story are completely forgettable and one-dimensional, Combs far and away stealing the show

The Ugly:
I don't know, but if a guy like West came to my door looking to rent out the space, it wouldn't be that hard of a decision to just turn him away. His odd behavior and social awkwardness is pretty apparent from the beginning, which makes me think that Dan is quite possibly the dumbest character ever. Then again, what college let West in to begin with? Also, did  you know that West's former mentor has the exact same name as the villain from Die Hard? Hans Gruber must have been a popular name in the 80s.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Reader

Post-WWII Germany: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial.

The Good: Fact: If you put two fantastic, Oscar-winning actors in a film together, it’s guaranteed to not be horrible. Their performances and characters will help carry it even if every other aspect fails completely. Winslet really gives the performance of her career. Yet, it’s not a “powerhouse” performance. That would call for some theatrics and energy. Instead, her performance is of restraint and subtlety – a quiet, hushed lyric. Similar in such chorus is Ralph Fiennes, but he goes without saying by now as one of the always-assuring actors to know a film has something going for it if he’s involved.

And, once more, Stephen Daldry holds an absolute command of the screen and camera. The issues of The Reader stems more from a difficult script going in three or four differing direction, certainly not the director’s ability to lay out the scenes, allowing for intimacy in an otherwise cold world, and certainly not the actors who portray cold characters but far from shallow ones.

The Bad: Fact: Just because you great performances carrying a film doesn’t make it a great film, and The Reader tries really hard to be one and just slips through the cracks in doing so. A good one worth seeing? Sure, most likely. But the Reader is as moving and fulfilling as watching grass grow, sadly. On paper, the story is certainly there, and the performance incredibly strong by Winslet and (at certain points because he’s used sparingly) Fiennes. Yet it’s all so cold and calculated and though I love this story there seems to be a callousness behind it.

Yet, let’s think for a minute. What and who is Winslet’s character in this film? Perhaps the tonality of the movie is an extension of such lack of sympathy from her past now coming into her new world to haunt her once again. Sure, I can buy that, and though you don’t entire route for her character, even when others turn on her (it’s hard to route for such a person), you don’t want to see anything bad happen to her necessarily either. I suppose our reaction is reflected in that of young Michael who is as confused and bewildered, unknowing if he should care or not, as we are.

What is completely undermined, though, is the “reader.” You see, it tries to make this a story about an illiterate woman too proud to admit she’s illiterate on top of the romance, on top of the Holocaust angle, on top of a man full of regret plots. The “reader,” our main story, ends up not feeling that important. I find the romance angle of a young man falling for an older woman, and finding she’s not who she is far, far more compelling. Somehow, on the way to the silver screen, the plot turned into the subplot and the subplot turned into the plot. It’s a film that isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be half the time and the other half just moves along attempting to figure it out. I guess that explains the varying range of critical reaction the film seems to conjure up.

The Ugly: The Reader is a great example of a very well crafted “average” film (average being relative, I suppose). It’s all well acted, well shot, and despite the messy script and touch-and-go pacing of it all, pretty well told. As a result, it’s a forgettable well made movie too.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Real Steel

Set in the near future, where robot boxing is a top sport, a struggling promoter feels he's found a champion in a discarded robot. During his hopeful rise to the top, he discovers he has an 11-year-old son who wants to know his father.

The Good: For a movie like Real Steel, its focus is meant to envelop you into its word. And what a fu world it sets for us. Robot Boxing is easy to disregard as something to take seriously, but Real Steel absolutely believes in itself. It's that belief that really drives it. We're given a world full of energy and life (funny, considering everything is automaton) that's a cross between the pageantry of boxing with the spectacle of professional wrestling.

And you get a decent little underdog story through it all. It's corny, we've seen it before, but the world captivates you enough that you don't mind (all that much, at least). Hugh Jackman is terrific as a father-come-lately and his son, played by Dakota Goyo, finds the heart of the story. It's a silly movie, but it's a fun movie with a lot imagination.

The Bad: The biggest problem is that, despite the big robots hammering each other into scrap, Real Steel follows about every boxing cliche in the book. Name a boxing movie or even actual boxing history and you'll see it laid out here. From Rocky IV's archetypes to the original Rocky's plot and bout, then there's Ali's fight with Frazier and the predictable "final bout" montage of rounds.

I suppose you don't go to a movie like Real Steel for its story. It's a serviceable story, yes, but nothing ever quite comes across as genuine or not-planned-out. It's a family flick that works well with what its given, though it could have been given a lot more to really shine especially in terms of the robot fighting itself. Truth is, there's not a ton of it. What's there is great, but it could have used a few more bouts to work itself out seeing as how the story isn't really going to be the aspect to captivate you further.

The Ugly: Hugh Jackman is having a blast in this movie. He knows exactly the type of film he's in, and his performance will keep you glued.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Rear Window

Professional photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. Confined to his New York apartment, he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbors. He begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. Jeff enlists the help of his high society fashion-consultant girlfriend Lisa Freemont and his visiting nurse Stella to investigate.

The Good: It takes a master storyteller to make a film set in one room so utterly compelling. Alfred Hitchcock created a number of masterpieces during his career and Rear Window is often in the top 5 of many peoples' favorites. It's suspense, smart writing and perfect acting in one pot and as only Hitchcock could provide with such class, determination and craftsfmanship. Hitchcock was a man full of ideas a man even more full of ways to express those ideas. Always through suspense and mystery, perhaps a little bit of adventure and comedy tossed in, and he knew exactly how to play on our thoughts and minds regarding it. How he could know so much about our need and desire to be held in suspense, and his joyful ability to play with us like a string held in front of a cat, is immensely fascinating. Here was a man from a sheltered upbringing who designed adverts, then one day picked up a camera and began shooting. He wasn't trained, he didn't transition to film from theatre as many others, and he wasn't that great of an artist. How he can have such a keen sense of storytelling and understanding of human expectations towards tension is one of the great mysteries of cinema, and to this day no other filmmaker even touches it. It was just pure, natural talent and Rear Window, it's tight script and exquisite use of simple space, is one of the shining examples of his ability.

The Bad: The only bad is that it's sadly one of Hitchcock's more dated films. Obvious sets make it appear more as a play.

The Ugly: Hitchcock never won an Academy Award for directing. That's pretty awful, considering the quality of films and technical innovations he pioneered, don't you think?

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Rebecca

A shy ladies' companion, staying in Monte Carlo with her stuffy employer, meets the wealthy Maxim de Winter. She and Max fall in love, marry and return to Manderlay, his large country estate in Cornwall. Max is still troubled by the death of his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. The second Mrs. de Winter clashes with the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and discovers that Rebecca still has a strange hold on everyone at Manderlay.

The Good: Hitchcok's first American film stars two thespians in absolutely top form: Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. It was also the only Hitchock film to ever win Best Picture (Hitchcock himself never winning) and brings forth a dark tale of intelligent mystery. The story is unique and Joan Fontane arguably upstages Olivier given her importance and signfificance, as well as what the story calls upon her to do (more or less, lose her mind). It's a ghost story without a ghost, and really one unique film in this regard. It's completely based on the legacy of the previous wife, her essence and her spirit, but is not a haunting other than the haunting of the mind. It's more an obsession over the mystery of her and

The Bad: If there's one knock, it's the pace of the film. It is slow, plodding and sometimes outright stagnant. The characters aren't overly interesting enough to really grab you, although the performances are perfectly fine, and the mystery also prevalent, it's rather brilliant screenplay moves along at a snail's pace.

The Ugly: Rebecca is both an underrated film and an overrated one. At the time, it was widely praised and won best picture over films probably more deserving (at least in hindsight now) yet is underrated because it is often not in the discussion of Hitchcock's best due to it be a bit of a departure for him. Either way, it's a fine film.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Red

When his idyllic life is threatened by a high-tech assassin, former black-ops agent Frank Moses reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive

The Good: It might appear on paper that it doesn't take much to make a good action-comedy movie. You have some fun sequences and a little dry comedy and you can make it work? Well, that's not always the case as a lot of action-comedies can't quite balance it all correctly and sometimes people can be miscast in them, especially if its ensemble as Red is. Perhaps the director can't balance the comedy and action, or is incapable of really doing action scenes at all, or maybe the producers and everyone involved can't quite decide on the tone of the piece entirely.

Yet, if you have the ambition of casting Helen Mirren as a tough-as-nails hitman, John Malcovich completely in his element as a nearly-insane (ok, fully insane) nutcase and some solid character roles for Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfus and Brian Cox all spearheaded by the ever-reliable Bruce Willis who can even turn a mediocre film into a watchable one, you are doing something right. That's RED, entirely. It's not fully original, it doesn't "wow" you all the time, but it's inspired in how it sets itself up. The characters drive it with great dialogue and banter, usually with tongue-in-cheek, and there's just enough really well-done action moments to draw you in. The directing works with the material, what little there really is in the script itself, and the characters and performances carry it entirely.

The Bad: Though the characters are fantastic and dialogue well done, the story and plot seems to lessen the impact of it all. It's a one-note joke carried over two hours that can wear thin no matter how great and charming WIllis, Mirren and company are and we're entirely dependent on the likes of them to get us through the mediocre story. It relies on them, and thus the film never tries to rise above itself. There's no ambition or desire to just be a "run of the mill" action comedy. Is it done better than a lot of action comedies out there? You bet...but it could have been so much more with a better story, perhaps a larger scale and more evolving sense of comedy than just the one "they're old and kicking ass" joke.

T
he Ugly: The ensemble action flick was pretty popular in 2010. Red is the only one I'd love to see a sequel to, however - if anything for the during-credits scene which is one of the biggest "what the fuck?" scenes I've ever seen. I doubt it will become a franchise or a series, the cast might be difficult to put back together, but if there's even a slight chance I would be all for it....just give is some better writers next time.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Red 2

Retired C.I.A. agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.    

The Good: I liked the first Red movie. While it kind of “came and went” it seemed to be one of those flicks that can surprise you because it blended action and comedy so well. On top of that, you had damn good actors in it. Most of those actors return for the sequel and add in a few extra to the cast, notably Anthony Hopkins who proves how diverse he can be with a character - dark one minute, incredibly funny the next, some great use of a comedy-of-errors at the just the right moment. He shines.

With him shines Malkovich and Mirren returning in their respective roles from the original, always great with comedy and Mirren surprisingly adept to action, and of course Bruce Willis, who when the material is right, is great. The material here is built for him, even if he has a sense of sleepwalking through a good chunk of it.

Like the first film, we’re also back with very creative and enjoyable action set-pieces, certainly the drawing point here because, as you’ll see, it seems to be all that director Dean Parisot really cares about. While the film is a pale comparison to its predecessor, or just a pale action film in general, it does manage to be clever and funny enough in spots to at least not be boring.

The Bad: It’s not a matter of being inferior to its passable predecessor, comparisons aren’t needed to see that Red 2 just never comes together to actually work, something the predecessor was able to do and, therefore, coverup some of its shortcomings. Here, we have the same formula, but with less of a through-line to hold it all together. The plot twists and turns as we’re given a series of scenes that never feel fully connected.

While it has some memorable moments, there’s no sense of transition putting them together. Suddenly there’s a chase scene, then suddenly they’re in a car, then a helicopter, then they somehow made it to an airfield…call those “trite” scenes boring…but to bring together the “cool” and “action” moments you need to show them. As a result, Red 2 feels far more frantic than it probably should be, as though it only wanted to shoot the ideas of the plot but not the story.

The Ugly: What’s worse, though, is how those shortcoming really makes everything else feel wasted. Malkovich, Mirren and Hopkins are fantastically fun in this movie and nobody will care because it’s too mediocre to notice.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5    


Red Dawn

At the outbreak of World War III, midwestern high school students turned refugees slowly organized themselves into an effective guerrilla force to turn back the tide of Soviet invaders.

The Good: Despite a solid concept, alternate history and high school guerrillas might actually make for a pretty unique war tale, Red Dawn suffers from an uneven pace and a strange sense of being overly patriotic. There's value in that, sure, and the 1980s were full of such films, but what Red Dawn really excels at is mindlessness. Yes, mindlessness can be an attribute, as long as it's well-made mindlessness. Red Dawn walks one side of that, but sometimes will jump to the other side with bad melodrama and cluttered action sequences. Still, it's a fun romp - teenagers taking arms and mowing down an army in the foothills of Colorado has a certain visceral-release quality you can't deny.

The Bad: All Red Dawn is, and really all it was meant to be, is violent propaganda. That's not a bad thing, but it's certainly all that's really given any focus. The characters are all one-dimensional, feeling more as shells to shoot guns than any of actual substance or depth thanks to hamfisted dialogue and overacting, and the story is merely a backdrop to move from violet set piece to violent set piece with little point other than to show how great the US and the Wolverines are and how horrible the Soviets and its allies are. There are times when the movie is utterly laughable, but it never ceases to be at least entertaining. Writer and director John Milius, I'm sure, had great ideas for this script. He proved he can write (Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now) and write/direct (Conan, The Wind and the Lion) but nothing really comes together to its full potential with Red Dawn. In a sense, it's more a disappointing effort than an outright bad one.  

The Ugly: A movie that certainly has not aged well, though that doesn't have an influence on my final score. A guilty pleasure, but one with fewer redeeming values than other guilty pleasures.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Red Hook Summer

A middle-class boy from Atlanta finds his worldview changed as he spends the summer with his deeply religious grandfather in the housing projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The Good: A strong, emotive effort fro Spike Lee that centers around the idea of faith perspectives. What we believe in. What we shun. Who we put our trust in. Who we think we know. Though as a cohesive and polished film it lacks Spike Lee's usual sheen, though it certainly manages his heavy-hand.

I use that term affectionately, mind you. Lee is heavy-handed, but being melodramatic and on the nose is just one of many ways to approach the subjects of a film or plot as long as it is done well. I suppose that goes for anything. A good action movie. A good comedy. If it fits the context, then there's nothing to complain about. The context here in Red Hook Summer is faith. Faith equals passion. Faith can also equal ignorance. Faith can make one man a king, but make another man despise it.

Like many of Lee's films, Red Hook Summer is full of passion and energy, eclectic characters and earnest contemplation. It's not as smart or as poignant as Lee's typical messages, but with the strong presence of his eye and even stronger presence of Clarke Peters giving an astounding, sincere performance as Bishop Enoch, we have something that is unquestionably Spike Lee when it's all said and done: something unique and to its own.

The Bad: Red Hook Summer feels as though it's going to do something, then doesn't. It's building and building, creating this urban atmosphere and world and loose strands of a plot and story with great feeling and emotion, but it simply doesn't go anywhere with it. Character arcs feel incomplete, or vague, or are completed but we're lacking the reasoning as to why, the story goes one direction than another...but it all is done with that great Spike Lee energy that gives the impression we're going towards a goal. A finish. A conclusion to all of it or a revelation for even a fleeting a moment. But it never happens. We never come to understand Bishop Enoch, we never understand the community around him and we certainly never understand Flik, who is meant to have a purpose and be our eyes and ears into Red Hook.

But Flik doesn't do anything. He doesn't learn. He has a sentimental finale, but we don't know why. Plus, and no disrespect here, Jules Brown just isn't a very good actor. His delivery is flat, he has no "umph" in his character yet we're meant to be completely reliant on him as he's the driving factor and our eyes and ears of this world. It's not entire on Brown here either, because the script doesn't always know what to do with his character either. Then again, the script doesn't know what to do with the subject matter outside of Bishop Enoch either. It just strays and then ends.

The Ugly: This is the first Lee film where, once it's done, I felt like I didn't learn anything or came to an understanding of something. It's a film that says a lot, feels like it's going to have a point (in particular about the subject of faith), yet at the end has nothing to say...and for Spike Lee that's strangely out of place. We don't need a revelation, but we do need something that isn't an incomplete 200 piece puzzle with half the pieces scattered or missing.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Red State

Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.

The Good: Performances can help carry any film, especially when the film has so little else to work with in the first place. If it weren't for the cast of Red State all giving 100% to their roles, though the characters far from memorable, the film might end up unwatchable. Thankfully, the likes of Parks, Goodman and Leo carry it tremendously, and from what I gather that was the entire point of the film: let these great actors just command the screen. As there's little plot or story happening, it needed something to stake its claim in. Thankfully it manages to find it, and fairly early on to grab your hand the yank you through it all.

With it comes a great sense of style as well. Red State simply looks fantastic. Kevin Smith isn't known for great looking cinema, but here he is playful with the camera and cinematographer Dave Klein, known for nearly every other Smith film in history, has probably his best work found here. Action is spotty but visceral and effective and there's enough shooting and blood spliced into the ramblings of an insane Pastor (Parks) and a downtrodden if not cynical federal agent (Goodman) to keep you enthralled. Red State does a particularly good job of doing the unexpected, which probably it's best attribute. It has little story to weave here, but it does enough to keep you on your toes as you get a sense that Smith wants you to look one way while he does something out of left field when you're not looking and least expect it.  

The Bad: It's a brief, very streamlined film, but Red State seems to not attempt to rise above its own material. It's fine settling in and working in its constraints, but unfortunately it's constraints fall a bit flat and boring. There's not enough character interaction, not enough action, not enough suspense and not enough story to really get the film to loftier heights. I can nary recall a name of a character or a moment that truly gripped me. Nor can I honestly say Red State will be a remembered film in its own blood-soaked genre, because even that is rather tame in comparison.

It's a film that's far from horrible but far from good and memorable either. Forgettable, a bit bland, neither atrociously bad to be upset over or tremendously great to recall a year from now.

The Ugly: I would almost think that moments of comedy would have benefited this film so much more. Not laugh-out-loud moments, mind you, but those lightly cynical observations that come and go. There are to chuckle-worthy moments that fit extremely well into the context, and both of those moments are the moments I recall the most. They're brief, simple, but play to Smith's strengths as he explores this darker, gritter side of his abilities. I would have liked to have seen even more of that, but, as I mentioned, it seems to never want to dive head-first into anything.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Red Tails

A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.

The Good: Straightforward, but Red Tails concentrates its efforts on a rallying cry of characters and enthralling action.  It's honed the ability to craft fantastic plane dogfights, and a variety of them at that, and keep all the chaos in line so we might actually be able to follow it. It moves at a quick pace, doesn’t dwell too long on drama (for better or worse, mind you) and looks really good in motion. It’s a small story, but the way it looks on a screen, the beauty of the countryside or the colors of the town, even the smoke and explosions, all look spectacular (even if a lot of it is computer generated, which explains the rather bloated budget for an otherwise small film, that money didn‘t really go to the script)

The Bad: It's not that Red Tails in old-fashioned. It is, and it doesn't deny the fact that it is - so whether or not that is a problem for you is entirely up to you - for me I'm fine going back to old troupes if done well. Red Tails, though, isn't done particularly well.  Characters achieve little beyond mouthpieces for one-liners and cliched lines of honor and duty, the plot is incredibly clunky and often over-reaching and though you might clap at a few moments, the moments feel so by-the-books there's not nearly as much passion and heart in a film where there should be.

The biggest problem, though, is that there really is so little to discuss about the film, much less analyze and critique. It’s so paper-thin and with so little in terms of plot or story twists or character arcs, it doesn’t give you much to criticize other than to say it does very little of any of it, other than great dogfights and exploding planes.

The Ugly: If this movie was made during the eras of World War II glorification cinema, it would easily be considered one of the best. Unfortunately, it now feels tired despite its best efforts.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Repo Men

Set in the near future when artificial organs can be bought on credit, it revolves around a man who struggles to make the payments on a heart he has purchased. He must therefore go on the run before said ticker is repossessed.

The Good: I've made it clear over the past year of writing reviews that I greatly appreciate science fiction. It's ability to be socially relevant and a commentary on our society and the human condition itself is unmatched. It's thought-provoking. It's intelligent. It's always interesting.

Repo Men is none of these things.

Repo Men is, however, a pretty decent action movie with two great leads in Jude Law and Forrest Whittaker (who is obviously having a lot of fun with his role) giving us interesting characters, a hell of a lot of blood and gore and a relatively light tone that tries (usually) to have fun with its story.

The Bad: From about the midpoint on, Repo Men is an absolute chore to sit through. Law is a good lead here and Whittaker steals the show, and Schrieber is great and the world nice and satirical...but all only in the first half of the film. The world soon becomes irrelevant, the characters turn boring and unimportant and even Law, who carried the satirical tone with bravado, appears utterly uninspired with the character and plot.

What's truly disappointing is the film can't quite figure out how it wants to approach its content. Sometimes its witty and funny, maybe comical even, other times its forcefully dramatic to a point where you cringe when someone attempts to deliver a serious line  - having supporting characters that you come to dislike doesn't help matters, such as Remy's wife or the women he, somehow, falls in love with overnight yet has depth that is merely a puddle.  That brings up the fact that Remy also has a son - and again the story completely mismanages that element as well.

I really don't know what to make of Repo Men. It was entertaining, sure, but not particularly good in doing so. The directing is solid, everything with a nice look, but it can never figure out what it wants to do with its story and characters. The world is nicely presented, but it's also pretty uninspired as well. In the end, I look at Repo Men as this year's Surrogates (from 2009). It's worth seeing once, but you'll forget about it in a day or so.

The Ugly: I know it wants to be smart and creative, but the final moments of the film don't work quite as well as they should. As mentioned, the second half of Repo Men is abysmal. The finale does nothing but make you wonder why you wasted your time with the second half and has you kicking yourself as it mismanages its entire finale.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Report to the Commissioner

Police officer Patty Butler, alias "Chicklet," is the live-in girlfriend of Thomas 'Stick' Henderson to gather evidence. Detective Bo Lockley is instructed to try to find her, not knowing she's also a cop. 

The Good: One of the defining genres of the 60s and 70s was the cop/detective thriller. Often shot low-budget, on location with gritty, realistic results, it was to that era as the film noir was to its. The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Serpico, The Seven Ups and Bullitt are just a few examples of the popular films from this mold. However, there's many that were made in this same, gritty style that often get lost in the shuffle, and there's no better example of this than the underseen Report to the Commissioner.

Taking a far more psychological approach, Report to the Commissioner is about a lot of things, but especially concentrating on the mindset of what it takes to be a police officer in New York City. For rookie detective Bo Lockly, played by Michael Moriarty, it's all the more apparent. He's morally good, but being morally good doesn't make you a good cop. They walk a line, often cross it, so our story is basically what does a man need to become to do the right thing. It's a fantastic exploration of this theme and Moriarty's vulnerable, empathic yet uncertain Bo makes for a unique take on the gritty 70s cop movie where, usually, it's all about fast cars, tough guys and big guns. Bo isn't so much a hero in that he's trying really hard to be a hero. Just like those guys in the movies, only they weren't nearly as psychologically unstable. Though it takes a little time to get going, this film really hooks you the more the plot develops and more we come to know Bo.

Of course, that doesn't mean Report to the Commissioner didn't have those shootouts, beatings and chase sequences we've come to know and love. It's a great thriller but most notable is the directing. Long, single-shot moments of simply being uncomfortable or following the scene as it develops throughout a room, and some incredibly well done chase sequences (one across the New York rooftops and through the streets that is just spectacular) that, had more people bothered to see the film, would put them up there with some of the best this era of action movies had to offer. This is a film fans of this genre should certainly seek out.

The Bad: Honestly, is it so hard to just whisper or say "Hey, I'm undercover. Please leave." I just don't understand this gaping hole in logic that kind of permeates through a few scenes where, if someone just explained a few things, a lot of the problems probably wouldn't rise. Sure, Bo is new, but this "you gotta know who is acting and who ain't" philosophy he's supposed to be learning just doesn't fit when you're cornered in a situation or a hotel room and need to just lay it all out, especially when he's the only person in the room.

There's a lot of pacing issues going on too, Report to the Commissioner is good but very rough around the edges.  A steadier directing hand would have not made it so uneven. It starts a bit of a mess, we're not sure what's happening, then settles for a bit, escalates into some great action sequences, then grinds to a halt in the third act and isn't particularly well shot or editing during one particular sequence that attempts to have a hostage stand-off that moves at a snails pace. There's a lot going on in this movie, if only it were a bit more polished.

The Ugly: You get a strong sense that the filmmakers basically said "alright, just go out to this crowd, run around and do the scene." I honestly feel the people and crowds and even the traffic sometimes aren't in on the fact this is a movie. I enjoy seeing shows and movies that, because there seems to just be a great air of honesty and realism happening there that's hard to get from just a group of extras.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Reservoir Dogs

Six criminals, who are strangers to each other, are hired by a crime boss Joe Cabot to carry out a diamond robbery. Right at the outset, they are given false names with an intention that they won't get too close and concentrate on the job instead. They are completely sure that the robbery is going to be a success. But when the police show up right at the time and the site of the robbery, panic spreads amongst the group members and one of them is killed in the subsequent shootout along with a few policemen and civilians. When the remaining people assemble at the premeditated rendezvous point (a warehouse), they begin to suspect that one of them is an undercover cop.
 

The Good: There aren’t too many films that, without even trying, exude “cool.” There’s a smoothness and nonchalant smoothness to Reservoir Dogs. The dialogue, the characters, the simple and effective directing all converge to give us a film about “perspectives.” Strange as that may sound, it’s the running theme in every one of Quentin Tarantino’s films, it’s roots so well founded here in his debut. The story is simple and effective. Notice I said “and” not “but” because a simple story is great, sometimes even preferred, as long as its well-told. It is here, and a lot of that has to do with the characters and the actors so perfect in their roles you’d find it hard to even see them as mere actors. That’s another attribute that follows Tarantino: being smooth and work with the story, not against it. Reservoir Dogs is also one of the top two or three films for a first time director's debut film. Tarantino's first is actually one of his very best.

The Bad: The root of the story is almost a “who done it.” Who is the infiltrator, how do we find him and what do we do now? One of these is not like the other, and you’ll figure out which one rather early and then find yourself slightly disappointed that the air of suspense if let loose so quickly. It’s a smart film with great characters, but not an overly compelling one in terms of narrative. Tarantino wouldn't find that foothold until his next one.

The Ugly: Mr. Blonde. You know what I mean.
 
Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Retreat

Kate and Martin escape from personal tragedy to an Island Retreat. Cut off from the outside world, their attempts to recover are shattered when a Man is washed ashore, with news of airborne killer disease that is sweeping through Europe.

The Good: Retreat is a single-location thriller that reminds us how good single-location thrillers can really be. They're often intense, with a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia, and reliant on a solid script and even more-solid actors. Retreat has all those characteristics, taking place on a remote island and an even more-remote cabin on said island, has a solid script despite some wheel-spinning and gives three good actors plenty to work with to keep you on your toes.

Even better is that Retreat systematically knows how to hit you with twists. Making a small movie with a single location full of twists can be tough, you have to really sell it with the directing and acting, and for what it is (a very low-budget movie with a great hook) it succeeds. It's not perfect, no, and might feel a bit hum-drum as it tries to pad itself, but when it's hitting all the marks that really define movies like this, it's really hitting them.

The Bad: Retreat is a film with a really good idea that's only passively executed. It's elevated to an above-average thriller thanks more to the dedicated performances by the small cast than anything that has to do with the script, which is often seeming to never go anywhere and tries to create scenarios to have things happen, though it works well to always keep you guessing.

There's a subversive narrative going on whilst all the paranoia, but it never feels fully developed. It's there, but it doesn't really explain anything or fit well into the story despite it trying to pound itself on to the screen and into the characters' mouths at any given opportunity. Retreat is a movie that wants to have layers, but it just doesn't have enough going for it to develop those layers and can only fit snugly in being a straightforward, though perfectly capable, thriller.

The Ugly: A first time writer and director here, folks. He might just be one to keep an eye on. For a debut feature it's absolutely impressive.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Return of the Pink Panther

Inspector Clouseau is put on the case when the Pink Panther diamond is stolen, with the Phantom's trademark glove the only clue. 

The Good: Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau will always be good, even if the material doesn't quite meet the heights he and the character so richly deserve. Case in point: The Return of the Pink Panther - an unbalanced film that is carried by Sellers and Christopher Plummer with two tales that seem to not have much to do with each other. The two aren't so much put into good scenes as much as they are able to simply carry scenes and move the story forward. Neither are given a lot to work with, Plummer's story being rather boring actually, but they, along with Herbert Lom, are able to bring out some characters we can at least enjoy and there's enough well-done slap-stick comedy to get us through it all.

The Bad: At this point, The Pink Panther series stopped being less intelligent and more focused on slapstick and sight gags. It’s far sillier, but not overly dumb and is a good show of the midpoint in both style and quality of the Pink Panther films. Far more low-brow and juvenile, even rehashing old gags from the earlier films a decade before, makes it a decent comedy for what it is.

Perhaps it’s the age of Sellers by this point, and the fact he really didn’t want to do another one in the first place, but he seems rather distant in the film. There’s less smiling and gleefulness to him - more just him acting dumb and goofy then moving on. On top of that, there’s no element in the story for Clouseau’s character other than to act goofy and dumb, casting aside the leaps the character made in the first films and, as a result, the lovable humanity of the character entirely. It seems to negate it all in lieu of simply acting silly. Of course I say all this...yet the next (and final legitimate Pink Panther) movie has him at some of his very best.

The Ugly: It’s odd to have one film and two stories that really have nothing to do with each other. This one is by far the least cohesive and most disjointed of all the Panther movies, save for the final cobbled-together "lost clip" film.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Revenge

A minor quarrel escalates into a duel. A death creates a debt of honor. The demands of honor outweigh the demands of justice, and force friends to spill each other's blood. And the need for victory requires the sacrifice of honor. 

The Good: Revenge is one of those rare samurai films that isn't merely a story about samurai, honor and duels, but outdoes its own genre conventions as a harsh, cynical piece of social analysis. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and eventually the poor die so the rich can get richer. Like Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri (or his Samurai Rebellion for that matter) and Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon , Tadashi Imai's subtle and restrained samurai film focuses on the idea of perspectives and stories to be told. Here, though, we know the correct answer to it all fairly early and spend the rest of the film hoping that everyone else would see the same view.

But this is Tadashi Imai, and Imai doesn't pander or look to give us closure and answers. It's less a film about "revenge" as much as it is a film about ousting social classes and political nonsense. It begins as something simple. I would call it "innocent" but that's not the right term. It's about a man with his back against the wall and he has no choice. This leads to another moment of desperation, then another until we're left with one of the most outstanding climaxes in the genre full of boiling emotions and rage. What's so wonderful is just how pitiful our hero,Shinpachi, and his entire situation is. It's a wonderful story, but and even more impressive commentary.

The technique of Imai's directing is unique as well. Revenge isn't a glamorous movie. Sets can look cheap. It's shot very straightforward. The acting ranges from graceful to a bit campy. Yet, the singular thread is the message and the emotion that is conveyed based on that message's impact to the story. The samurai film genre has, often, delved into the realm of the single person battling some larger picture, often a political faction, rebellion, empire or class warfare. Revenge is the last of these, and it hits its points home perfectly. It doesn't just show us the problems, it shows us the cause of the problems and how unfair and unjust this world can sometimes be.

The Bad: As mentioned, Revenge is a serviceable film on the technical level. Outside of a great approach to its narrative, cross-cutting between the present and past stories to a great build up, it does little visually to distinguish itself. It works fine for what it is, but overall it lacks a personality and character to its visual attributes. It has a wonderful setting, as many samurai films do, but there's little in terms of atmosphere or style. Visually, it's a very basic film despite the wonderful costumes and well choreographed fight scenes (which there are only three and one is off screen).

Yet, most of that is forgiven. It's not the entire point of the film. What is a bit odd, seeing as how this is a very story-centric samurai film not entirely about sword play and samurai fighting, is that there are sub-plots that kind of don't go anywhere. The exploration of Shinpachi's madness is never fully realized as he does things and acts in manners that call for it, yet it's only touched upon. The idea of perspectives battling against each other is crucial in this story, yet due to the fact we never really explore Shinpachi's view, we spend more time with the other side debating his madness, we never really get to know the man at all.

The Ugly: One scene makes his madness nearly irrelevant, actually. It makes you wonder if he's even a good person at all. Again, this is never explored, which is disappointing. It simply occurs and is never brought up again.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Revenge of the Pink Panther

To prove that he still is strong and powerful, Philippe Douvier decides to kill Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Once Clouseau's death has been announced, the former Chief Inspector, Charles Dreyfus, feels much, much better and is released from the mental hospital. Jacques Clouseau tries to take advantage of his "death" and goes under cover with Cato to find out who tried to assassinate him.

The Good: That last "true" Pink Panther movie offers up some of the best scenes of the entire franchise. It may the most outlandish and unrealistic Pink Panther movie, going from a heist/murder mystery style to pretty much a parody of a James Bond movie complete with a crazy mad villain and a giant laser that could destroy the world (or at least get rid of all our buildings) but at the same time it has some of the funniest individual scenes with Peter Sellers at his absolute best.

Unlike "Return," our "Revenge" tale feels like a complete comedy full of the great physical slap-stick and Sellers dressing up in multiple characters, but also its share of hilarious comedic dialogue, not least of which is the famous "Does your dog bite?" routine. Sellers as Clouseau at the hotel and investigating the mansion make up the meat of the movie, and even though these places really have no bearing on the main plot (a bit of an issue) they give ample opportunities for comedy at its best. Though a bit messy at times, the plot threads criss-cross and intersect and all have something to do with each other until they finally converge in the final scenes giving a sense of a whole film rather than two separate ones as we saw in "Return." More importantly, there is a lot, lot more of Sellers and though he's older and maybe a bit tired, he absolutely gives this send off a great effort.

The Bad: Though this has some of the best moments of the entire series from Sellers, it has some of the weakest moments from Herbert Lom. Lom as Dreyfus has always been a bit crazy and over the top, but here he's completely lost his mind (the character, not Lom). Now that the plot has turned into a world-threatening James Bond story, along with it comes the crazy villain in Dreyfus.  Unfortunately, he's completely incapable of anything (we've seen this in the previous films and in this one in first ten minutes) and there is absolutely no threat that he remotely presents. He's as inept a Clouseau now, and that doesn't make for a very risky story. If everyone is an idiot, and there's no "straight man" anymore, then what do we have to worry about.More importantly is that this time around Lom really has nothing to do with his character other than "act crazy." The one single scene he has with Sellers is the only highlight he has to work worth in terms of comedy as well. Other than that he just phones in a hammy batch of "I'll destroy the world" scenes.

In other words, a great actor and character ends up completely wasted, makes the film far too loose and light with no risk at stake and all we can do is hope for the next scene with Sellers who actually has a  point to his character in this one (unlike the last Pink Panther film).  Throw in a bit of a mess of a story and plot, though you don't quite notice thanks to Sellers, and you have a good comedy, but just not a great one.

The Ugly: Though slightly better than the previous film, there's still a good drop off when put up against A Shot in the Dark and the original Pink Panther movie. It has nothing to do with laughter, just polish and refinement. It a great way to end the series...even though they tried to milk it a few more times and then have the studio pull out an ill-advised remake decades later of the first film.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Rio

When Blu, a domesticated macaw from small-town Minnesota, meets the fiercely independent Jewel, he takes off on an adventure to Rio de Janeiro with this bird of his dreams.

The Good: I would assume that, by now, "beautiful animation" is to be expected in computer generated animation. Rio certainly falls in line of that. Its visuals have energy, personality, character. It's fun, bright, tropical and fluid. Hell, out of all the animated films released in 2012, it might be the best looking one. Given it's a fairly weak year for animated features, but if there's any impression it will leave with you is this : it will make you want to go to Rio de Janeiro. Any film that makes you fall in love with its setting is certainly doing something right, animated or otherwise.

The Bad: As gorgeous as this movie is, it doesn't offer nearly enough to warrant viewing. There's not a lot of meat on this bird, if you pardon the turn of phrase. The characters are stock, the outcome predictable, the heart of the piece simply goes through the motions and there isn't a single memorable character in the thing - a pretty major fault for an animated film of any kind.

You'll laugh at a few lines, certainly enjoy the quality of the visuals, but nothing takes time to be something great. It's a film that appears to be content on being mediocre. It's fluff entertainment, and that's well and good, but at this stage of the computer-animated-movie stage, many will come to expect, if not demand, a hell of a lot more. Rio doesn't bother to deliver and will unfortunately be forgotten when its all said and done.

The Ugly: I personally enjoyed the moments away from Rio. When our little blue Macaw is at home with his owner, content in his cage, trying to learn to fly or being heckled by birds outside, are probably the best moments of the movie. Sadly, that's only about ten minutes of the film, once the two are seperated it ends up being a story we've seen far too many times.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Rio 2

It's a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids after they're hurtled from Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets his father-in-law.

The Good: Like its predecessor, Rio 2 is utterly gorgeous. I mean, this one of beautiful looking film popping with life, color and vibrancy. Beautifully animated with a beautiful palette, not to mention very smartly directed with great physical comedy scenarios and action. True, that’s about all it has, certainly no witty dialogue or emotive beats found here, but it works well in the realm it puts itself in.

I won’t lie, I wasn’t a fan of the original film. It’s success (and this one as well) is amazing to me, but when you have something so frantic and full of energy, and it kind of knows that and just goes to town with that style and tone, it’s natural for kids to be drawn to it. As someone who looks at things like pacing and writing and structure, this just misfires. But hey, look how pretty it is…nobody, even the most cynical person on the planet, can deny Rio 2 is one gorgeously animated movie.

The Bad: The first Rio was a bit of a surprise. The story was nothing new, nor were the characters, or most of the jokes, but it was all told well and animated beautifully even if it was forgettable and uninspired. Rio 2, as is the nature of the game when it comes to sequels, attempts to recapture that - not that there was a lot to capture in the first police. But it simply can’t, and it’s often painful to watch. Then you start to realize that much of what they introduce in the film isn’t to progress characters but to introduce new ones to make more toys to sell.

In other words, Rio 2, like so many movies that try to franchise themselves out (see Cars or Happy Feet) isn’t necessarily made for a passion to further a story or world, but to market a franchise. When I think of modern animated films pandering to young children with attention deficit disorder, this is probably going to be one of the first movies to come to mind. It’s utterly exhausting.

Now that’s not to take away from the hard work put into it. It’s a gorgeous film, beautifully directed on top of that, the voice acting is solid even when the characters aren't, but it’s also entirely unnecessary. It’s Rio, just simply “more” of Rio and turned to eleven. There’s little of consequence or risk because all that was pretty much handled in the prior film. Here it’s just the same template, but we already know the outcome and have to wonder, outside of looking pretty with big musical numbers, if it’s at all needed.

It’s a bit of a conundrum, I suppose. Yes, it’s a fine movie, nothing particularly “bad” about it. But it’s nothing particularly great either seeing as how so much of it is just rushing through because it seems to be aware it doesn’t have a whole lot of stakes to claim to be unique or interesting. Then you’re left wondering why you bothered to even see it in the first place.

The Ugly: The first Rio already had a plethora of characters with many hard to keep track of. The same is said here times ten, with all those old characters you probably don’t even remember who they are or what their purpose is, but now even more - and you’d be hard pressed to identify the point and personality of any of them (outside of maybe three or four primaries) much less an actual name.  Everyone else seems to talk and act exactly the same…which is being as “look at me” as possible.

Take from that what you will, but if you are already testing your patience with the voices and personalities of the cast of birds in the first few minutes like I was, then just know you still have an hour and a half of all that.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Rise of the Guardians

When the evil spirit Pitch launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world. 

The Good: It sounds a bit odd and strange on paper, but once Rise of the Guardians gets going (and it gets going fast), it's hard to not be captivated by a hell of a polished animated film that may not have the eye-catching title, but is certain to have you watching every second once it gets its hooks in you. Character and personality leap from the screen, and you end up getting to know these personas you've always thought you knew in an entirely new light. That's Rise of the Guardian's best success to me: to reshape these old tropes in to something new and exciting and actually sell it.

It balances a lot of what you'd expect from a Dreamworks animated film. There's a heavy emphasis on action, but there's a core emotion to it all as well that allows there to be a sense of risk and something serious to loose. IN particular, you feel sorrow for the things that are happening to everything and everyone. From Jack Frost, the new recruit, and his past to little Tooth Fairies losing a battle against the Night-mares of the Boogieman. Then you have the thick-accented Santa trying to keep it all together with so much on the line and his team trying to fight, the Sandman fighting a fight like no other in an incredible action scene and the Easter Bunny, an Aussie who gets upset when you call him a kangaroo.

Yes, I know that all sounds weird, but like I said: it sells it. And it's a hell of a lot of fun too.

The Bad: It's strange to say "I wish there was more." To say that means that what is there is already pretty good, certainly good enough to wanting more in the first place, and though it implies dissatisfaction, it's really more a sense of being incomplete. Rise of the Guardians creates something fresh and fun and is able to take this rather absurd concept and make it work, but it also is very straightforward and downright predictable in doing so. The fun and freshness comes from the concept, not in the execution, and maybe that's where it doesn't quite live up to its own potential. It spends its time using the presentation as the execution to create this world of myth and magic, not necessarily to tell a great story along the way. That sense of atmosphere is more than enough to sustain it, though.

There's a heck of a lot of dues-ex-machina going on in the film as well. We give it some leeway because we're hypnotized by the pretty visuals and the world and the (overdone) chasing and whizzing and fast action scenes, but at its heart it's about a big something preventing another big something with really little explanation as to the how and why of any of those somethings doing anything. There's not a lot of explanation of anything, which is good because we get to know characters like Jack and Tooth really well, but bad because we still never get a sense of how it all works and things end up feeling as though a dart was thrown at a board that said "just have this happen and move on."

The Ugly: This is Peter Ramsey's directorial debut, and boy what a debut. Ramsey has worked as a storyboard artist for most of career (including films like Men in Black, Independence Day, Fight Club and Minority Report). He knows how to visually put a story together even if the script isn't quite up to par, and it all pays off in this film.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

An origin story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. 

The Good: How do you make a film about apes? More specifically, apes taking over the planet (or starting to)? Easy...you humanize them. Interesting, if you think about it. Our scientists in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, by making their test subjects more human, make them that much more sympathetic along the way. They were already pretty sympathetic, but as they make them more intelligent and, thus, more expressive and with emotion and personality, we as an audience begin to feel their sympathy. This was something that I don't think anyone expected with Rise of the Planet of the Apes: we're routing for the Apes.

That is just a brilliant angle on this franchise. The Apes have, often, been demonized as the destructors and ruthless in their disdain to human beings. Now go back to the elements of their creation and you realize they are more human-like than they, and the human, would ever realize. Sympathy can go a long way, reaching into your soul and make you realize there's a connection to something that isn't a human being, yet you feel as though they are. Well, great writing and a superb motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis can help a great deal too.

The script is damn good at telling its story. It never feels so convoluted to be confusing nor slim enough to not feel a sense of completeness once its over. It progresses remarkably well, only hitting a few unnatural moments but it flows incredibly well considering how much it has going on in it. Caesar, our "leader ape" here, is tragic. This is his story, another angle I don't think anyone anticipated for this film. Like Taylor in the 1968 classic, he's the complete focus and in a very similar fashion, bringing a full-circle motif to the entire Ape saga while doing it. Sure, they may have sacrificed some integral thematic elements, which is unfortunate, but it plays it off well and never too forced. With sharp directing, notably intimate and sincere almost as a character drama at times, and heating some solid action moments, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is easily the surprise film of 2011. It's not a hammy, shallow action film but a character study that brings a refreshing take to a tired concept.

The Bad: Though Franco gives a surprisingly sincere performance (surprising in that I wasn't expecting his character have that angle to him) and other supporting members equally fine (especially Lithgow), they're all rather simple facades to Caesar's story. Perhaps this was intentional, by downplaying the human characters you make the Apes more sympathetic and worthwhile, but it only helped remind me that this isn't willing to take a dramatic route. In fact, one might argue, which I suppose I am here, that if the film stuck to pure drama rather than needing action at all (because it only really shows up in the final third) it might be even that much better of a movie. Oh, it's good, far better than anyone would expect I'm sure, but more time spent in developing the characters around Caesar might have made it that much more of an effective drama. Then again...we would lose a gorilla beating up a helicopter...and that's pretty damn cool in its own right.

The Ugly: And now...it's time to franchise it all over again. Turning the Apes movies into a series is what eventually killed it, and now history shall repeat with a slew of new movies down the pipe that will likely be in deteriorating quality as they progress.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Rite

An American priest travels to Italy to study at an exorcism school.

The Good: Beautifully shot and with a great idea at its roots, The Rite has, or had, the potential to be a fantastic thriller. It manages to offer some fantastic scenes of tension as director Hafstrom shows he can really construct individual scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat and your heart racing. Now if only he can put them all together into a consistent form we like to call a movie.

The Bad: If you’re going to create a character with a similar arc to that found in The Exorcist, you had best make sure there’s a story around him to make it worth your while. Somewhere in the murk, there might have been an intriguing story around the idea a man questioning his faith being tested by a demon. You even have Anthony Hopkins to make that story at least compelling...but even he can’t quite save it from being an ultimate bore. Hopkins is the only highlight of the film, outside of its gorgeous photograph-quality shots.

The Rite isn’t meant to scare you, it’s meant to explore and be thoughtful. Note, it’s “meant” to do that, but in the end it tries too hard to do the opposite of that. It’s not full of depth and intrigue nor is it a film that consistently spins the exorcism-movie wheel to make something compelling on rather tired troupes for this particular genre. It manages, or tries to, have a take on a tired concept but feels half-hearted in its attempt to present it. It lacks engagement and passion, save for Hopkins who’s effort only manages to make it mediocre rather than abysmal.

The Ugly: The investment for a film stems from characters, and you just don’t care about any of them or know anything about them in the end. This type of movie needs more than cardboard, one-note characters. It shows some attempt to at least try this, but again it just doesn’t hit it and is a road we’ve been down too many time with this Exorcism-based plot.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Road

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind and water. It is cold enough to crack stones, and, when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the warmer south, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing: just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless cannibalistic bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a rusting shopping cart of scavenged food--and each other.

The Good: I don't expect a lot of people to enjoy The Road. It's not a pleasant film and shows the utter disgust of human beings that, sadly, is pretty accurate if it all comes down to it. I'm one who would believe we would regress to savageness rather than come together and start to rebuild. I think those that don't like that thought, that maybe there's enough good in humanity at this stage it wouldn't happen, will have a huge disdain and hatred of a film that seems to exploit it in its raw state. To those people, I say look at the history of any large blackout in a major city then get back to me - and that's just loss of electricity. Then again, to those people I say they're utterly missing the point of the film. Yes, it will probably end up like that...but that doesn't mean there's no good in the world. In fact, the entire film is about what is good, just and the right thing to do. Balancing morality with personal emotion is put to the test, here we see it through two eyes: a grizzled Viggo Mortenson, weary and tired and untrusting, and the baby-faced youth Kodi McPhee who is about innocence and maybe even gullibility to an extent. Viggo, who's character's name we're never given, keep preaching they're good guys, yet McPhee still doesn't understand the difference between being good and needing to do what is needed to survive. This is where perspective comes in, what is right and wrong, good and evil, and the numerous degrees of gray between the black and the white. It's a morality play, poetic, haunting and full of despair. But the little bit of hope, the fire that Viggo tells of within our hearts, is the true hero of the story.

The Bad: There's no denying the cold distance of the characters of the film. You will not find them appealing. You will not connect. You will not love them. You'll care for them, sure, and wish them the best, but you will not find that relationship here. Now, the question is, is that intentional? The film would probably be more emotional for audiences had it gone that route, showing the love of humanity then have it stripped away. At the same time, the film shows that there's little to love in this world. The coldness and callousness of the characters reflects the gray, rain-soakes world they live in and shows how rare warmth of any kind is. While that debate may ensue, it's still a question and an issue that is always prevalent. Would more discussion of the child's mother passing allow for a better connection? Or is everything else so bleak that it wouldn't make a difference anyway? There's a lot of examples such as that, and I would have to say that I wanted to connect with these characters, but they, like the world they reside in, shut me out completely.

The Ugly: This is a small picture with a small story. I think some who see it will want to see that there's a "big picture" sense of hope that all mankind will come together and figure out their future. The Road doesn't waste our time with that. It accepts humanity's fate, blindly devoted to it if anything, and tells us things aren't going to get better. But it relishes in the small hopeful stories that some people in this world will at least find happiness even if the world has turned to Hell around them.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Road Warrior

A former police officer is now a lone wanderer, traveling through a devastated Australia after a nuclear war looking for the now-priceless fuel of petrol. He lives to survive and is none too pleased when he finds himself the only hope of a small group of honest people running a remote oil refinery. He must protect them from the bike gang that is terrorizing them whilst transporting their entire fuel supply to safety.

The Good: The Road Warrior is one of the best action movies ever crafted. I say “crafted” more than merely “made” because anyone can really “make” a movie...but only few are really “crafted.” There’s a certain level of validation and artistic value to that word, and in the case here, The Road Warrior is superbly crafted. It’s thought-out, it’s purposeful and the action always has a measure of risk and poignancy to it – as though it could fall on either side of the knife (or boomerang). The Road Warrior took Mad Max and cut out the fat. It gets straight to the point and retains all the adrenaline-charged rocket fuel of violence, car chases and death. Just the way you should like it.

That’s not to say they got rid of any form of story. There is one here but only to serve the main focuses. The entire trilogy is one large arc and here we see Max, who really cares only for himself, find something to really get him into a hero mold (and, eventually, the leader mold for the final film). As the opening voice over says, this is the film where he "learns to live again" and learn he does in his search for his own bearings. That being said, everything is pretty straightforward here. It doesn’t try to hide from it, though. It knows its focus is fully on Max as a character and the action sequences. It’s less to do about story and more about getting from point to point, a style that reflects its in-movie world, and dealing with the myth of Max more than anything – and it’s a great myth.

The big point, though, is the iconic convoy sequence towards the end. It’s just a classic scene with real vehicles, real stuntmen, real wrecks and real bad-assery.

The Bad:
Although there isn’t much of a story, there is dialogue written that comes across as banal. Max, for the most part, says little which is great for his character. But every other character is tends to deliver a hammy performance due to rather hammy dialogue to begin with. What’s funny, is that the film really has little speaking and you wonder if, perhaps, it would have been wiser to cut the dialogue down even more. Many of these actors aren’t professional actors, and it shows.

The Ugly:
South Park has officially ruined one of the coolest lines in film history. Funny, but I can’t see it in any other way now.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Robin Hood (2010)

The story of an archer in the army of Richard Coeur de Lion who fights against the Norman invaders and becomes the legendary hero known as Robin Hood.

The Good: If there is anyone who is as good at filming the classic, sweeping epic with hundreds of extras, swords, arrows and a huge scope that is better than Ridley Scott, then please point them out to me. Visually, he seems to be able to just do it all in his sleep. The battle sequences, the way everything is shot and lit and everything set on screen is about as perfect as you can get it. This is how you want a Robin Hood film to look, no doubt. Performances are strong as well, though characters sometime lack distinction, and the art design is marvelous in both grandeur and attention to detail.

The Bad: Robin Hood, unfortunately, lacks the compelling characterizations of Gladiator or the thematic moral ambiguity and complexity of Kingdom of Heaven. It plays it safe, allowing for some great action and set pieces but fails to grip you narratively. It ends up bland with little focus on the characters, which it badly needs, and unlike a lot of Scott's films, ends up not really saying anything at all. A movie like this is difficult to review, however. It's not necessarily a "bad" film. Yet, it's a film that doesn't really set itself apart. It's just so...average. We can applaud the technical proficiency, but it lacks a soul to it all and is ultimately a disappointment for fans of epic films, for fans of Ridley Scott and especially for fans of Robin Hood where we end up with something only slightly better in approach than Prince of Thieves but slightly worse than it in terms of a beating heart.

The Ugly: Who would have killed for the original version of this film? If you can find the original Nottingham script online, give it a read. I guess it end up not answering this question: "What makes this new Robin Hood movie even worth making?" the answer is "nothing."

Though...if there ever is a sequel (there won't be) it would be pretty enticing to see.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Robocop

Detroit - in the future - is crime ridden, and run by a massive company. The company have developed a huge crime fighting robot, which unfortunately develops a rather dangerous glitch. The company sees a way to get back in favor with the public when a cop called Alex Murphy is killed by a street gang. Murphys body is reconstructed within a steel shell and named Robocop. The Robocop is very successful against criminals, and becomes a target of supervillian Boddicker.

The Good: Only until you see the rather bland, tame and unoriginal action movies of today do you really come to appreciate a movie like Robocop. It's an utterly absurd film, badly dated and relatively slow-paced by today's genre standards. Yet, that's the way action movies tended to be back in the 1980. Sure, they may have one-dimensional characters and choppy plots, but they at least understood story progression and developing its characters, even if they are rather basic, and using the action to further the story, not just have lots of CG explosions because it looks nice (and lots of blood). I think older action movies from the 70s and 80s had that grounded element to them, long before CG and swooping cameras, and a movie like Robocop relishes it like mustard on a hot dog (and lots of blood). It's story is simple and a major satire on our own society (with lots of blood). A guy gets blown to bits for literally running into a warehouse of badguys, they rebuild him, strip him of his personality and identity, and Robocop is born. But his identity is still a remnant somewhere in that steel facade. Memories of his family and of his death come to him like dreams. They guarantee he's not alive, yet his pain and sometimes outright fear of these dreams say otherwise making for a rather unique action hero: one built of tragedy and sympathetic for an audience to endure. What it lacks in polish it makes up for with a good amount of depth to our main character, smart and bloody action as only the 1980s can deliver and a simple revenge tale that's full of a darkly comic tone (did I mention lots of blood?).

The Bad:
Robocop walks the line of being a really bad and cheesy action movie and a smart and fun piece of satirical science fiction. It never quite reaches a good balance and has the tendencies of veer to the side of the former despite that bad and cheesy action being rather fun. Robocop himself  sometimes comes across as menacing, but other times as a clunky oaf who wandered into the wrong bar. The best scenes of the character are when there's no action at all and you get a deeper look into his thoughts and memories.

The Ugly: If you haven't seen Robocop in a while, and I'm willing to bet you haven't, you'll be surprised at its classic ultra-violence. Then you'll be sad in knowing that ultra-violence (here used more as satire than anything) is pretty much dead outside of a Tarantino film.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Robocop (2014)

In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy - a loving husband, father and good cop - is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.

The Good: Robocop is a capable film. When it comes to action set pieces, it does just enough to skate by as in “well, at least I can tell what’s going on.” Sure, not a ton of it is inventive, or inspired or even all that engaging due to the lack up interesting plot, but at least it can have those brief moments of fun here and there.

Though that plot isn’t all that interesting, there are moments when the movie is. It only skates on the surface of science fiction, it has just enough elements to make a point about man, machine, and what makes us “alive.” It never sees any of these ideas through, it’s far too busy explaining the obvious things that don’t need explaining, but it’s there. A lot of that is thanks to the strong acting, believe it or not. Sure, they have little to nothing to work with, but Joel Kinnaman does a bang-up job humanizing his character, and he plays well off of Abbie Cornish as his wife, Oldman is a great “paranoid doctor” type and Keaton a great presence (though not a particularly great villain).

Sam Jackson, though…wait what was he doing in this movie again? Oh, that’s right. Doing one of the many underdeveloped plot threads thrown in to the melting pot of a mess that is Robocop.

The Bad: Robocop is the type of movie I like to call an “expositional movie.” You have a scene, then you have another scene paralleling that scene of a bunch of people in a room watching that scene and then explaining what’s happening as that other scene unfolds. Lines like “What’s he doing?” “oh, he’s overriding your protocols.” Another example is that there will be a scene, then a scene following it that details and explains what we just saw.

In other words, this is a script that has no confidence in its storytelling. Instead of making it clear and understandable through the cinematic language, it has to have talking heads detail every single element to make sure you understood it all. “He’s thinking of his family.” No shit. Seeing it now. “He caught that guy in 60 seconds.” No shit, just saw it. This is the entirety of the film, undermining any action, character moments or plot throughout as a result. There might have been a really solid movie here, but the inability to just tell a story instead of explaining a story is a crutch that a lot of modern action movies lean on and this one of the biggest culprits I’ve seen in a long while.

Robocop is almost too brisk for its own good. Actually, it is because when you spend more time explaining everything instead of doing, in other words telling not showing, you have a movie that probably could have ended up around an hour long. There’s some really solid moments throughout Robocop but the entire film is brought down by the need to explain everything, then rush through everything else then just throw an ending in that makes you feel nothing. It’s insulting the audiences’ intelligence alongside all that, as though today’s audience can’t put two and two together to make…err…four? Yeah, four.

The Ugly: You don’t need to (and should never) do a comparative critique to the original film to make a point. They’re two different takes on the same concept. Problem is, this Robocop chooses a bland and uninteresting take whether you’re comparing it to the original or not.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Robot and Frank

Set in the near future, an ex-jewel thief receives a gift from his son: a robot butler programmed to look after him. But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team.

The Good: Led by the always-committed, and often under-appreciated, Frank Langella, Robot and Frank isn't so much about how we interact with robots, or view them, in the future but is simply a story about a man trying to age gracefully. It's a very sentimental film that doesn't (usually) require any heavy-handedness. It's the story of Frank's day to day. His "routine" as they say, which is probably, ok most-definitely, slowly killing him. His memory is fading, he can't even recall his own home from time to time. Enter Robot to help him.

It all plays out like you'd expect in terms of their relationship, but the twist is that Frank is a former thief and wants to do some heists. Naturally, he needs his new helper to help him and keep his mind aware so he doesn't "drift." Langella plays this wonderfully, and playing opposite a faceless robot feels natural. The film doesn't really draw too much attention to the fact that it's a robot. It simply is because, in this near-future, that's just the way life is. As it turns out, even in this near-future full of technology, our humanity is pretty much the same. We live, we become accustomed to things, we shun change and still have issues of aging and health that seem to never be resolved and cured.

The Bad: Damn, this was a movie that was so close. By the end, you feel an emptiness that really goes against all the movie was working for, and that ends up completely undermining your entire experience if not undercutting any sense of satisfaction you might have otherwise had. It also has a strong issue of many of Frank's problems and relationship concerns with his family - in that nothing feels resolved, complete or even all-that explained in the first place. You have a dozen questions about how he is with his children in particular, but there's little to no understanding as to why they are how they are, and why their relationship is so strained.

The film has a lot of set up, it also has something to say in terms of Frank himself, but there's a contrived story to push it all along. I think someone said elsewhere that "it's charming, but not necessarily entertaining." I hate to plagiarize…but that's pretty spot on. It's a film with an idea but doesn't really know what road it wants to go down with that idea. The story of Frank, though strong as a character, probably should have been enough rather than the story of a jewel their looking to steal from the hipsters next door.

The Ugly: It tries a twist that normally would be sweet…but this movie really blows the whole deal. At least Langella does his damnest to sell it.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Roman Holiday

Princess Anne embarks on a highly publicized tour of Europian capitals. When she and her royal entourage arrive in Rome, she begins to rebel against her restricted, regimented schedule. One night Anne sneaks out of her room, hops into the back of a delivery truck and escapes her luxurious confinement. However, a sedative she was forced to take earlier starts to take effect, and the princess is soon fast asleep on a public bench. She is found by Joe Bradley, an American newspaper reporter stationed in Rome. He takes her back to his apartment. The next morning Joe dashes off to cover the Princess Anne press conference, unaware that she is sleeping on his couch! Once he realizes his good fortune, Joe promises his editor an exclusive interview with the princess.

The Good: There's only a handful of truly, absolute timeless movies. Those that are as sharp, enjoyable and so well made that they could have been written last week, shot yesterday, or, in the case of Roman Holiday, done in 1953. William Wyler was certainly a eclectic director, full of variety and genres under his belt, from sweeping epics to film noirs. His best, though, is his Romantic Comedy (he only did a couple, and the others weren't quite up to standard). For a good rom-com, even today, you need solid concept and two great leads. Roman Holiday has those in spades, with the addition of a great script and a beautiful setting that combines the romantic nature with easy outlets for laughs (lost in translation gags are always great). It sets a formula for romantic comedies still felt to this day in countless films. Only thing is, Roman Holiday does it better. You know how movies today will end, but in Roman Holiday you aren't quite sure. The romance isn't there at first, in fact for a majority of the film it's a slow progression. Then, finally, it hits both characters, and you along with it, and makes for one of the most effective stories as a result.

Gregory Peck wasn't know for his comedy. You can see that Cary Grant was the original intention for the role, but Peck, amazingly, hits every note straight-laced and upstanding, which allows for a new take entirely. His gentlemanly nature combined with the nieveity, school girl nature of Hepburn allows for a beautiful chemistry that a majority of romantic comedies could only dream of. The fact that we are aware of their strong, off-screen friendship (Peck demanding she receive equal billing despite it her first major film) flows into their personas on-screen. Wyler's directing, on location in Rome, combined with the melange of musical interludes and ambient sounds in the background adds in this idea that we're not just watching a movie, but on a bit of a tour of Rome with these characters as they gallivant around and, slowly but surely, fall in love. In a way, we fall in love with them as well as the two characters are so wonderfully written and acted you just can't help it. I wish I could say that for any romantic comedy, or even romance movie as a whole, but very, very few hit their points and beats as perfectly as Roman Holiday. It's one of those movies that just sucks you into it, breezily going through its fun, light and playful story and charismatic characters, and soon becomes a quick favorite for any person that sees it.

The Bad: Grant backed out, reportedly, because he didn't think audiences would buy the age difference between him and Hepburn. He might be right, as even with Peck it's in the back of your head of "he's old enough to be her father." Yet, with the script as sharp as it is and the overall tone of the movie gleefully entertaining, it ends up something you don't even consider really because the characters end up so well-rounded and with such chemistry, romance or otherwise, you forgive any discrepancy and might even applaud the fact it's a classic, gentleman character rather than some 20 something with pretty hair and a five o'clock shadow. Some of his dialogue, though, seems to be written for someone that might need to be a little younger...otherwise it can come off as a bit, I don't know, creepy.

Then again, the love here is a fleeting one. It wasn't meant to last, merely be a fantasy on both sides as we are reminded by the very final shot, one of the most poetically beautiful shots in cinematic history.

Wait, this is supposed to be a "bad" thing, right? Ok, Princess in the news, nobody recognizes her? What's up with that? Also, haircut or not, how does everyone within ten feet of the Princess not recognize her just by glaring at her because she's utterly gorgeous in the first place, then say "hey, that looks like Princess Anne"? Especially with her picture all over the paper? Not that I'm complaining how Wyler will put in other pretty girls to help her blend in, of course.

The Ugly: How is it that the romantic comedy in the 1950s were far more uplifting, less textbook and more realistic despite absurdities than romantic comedies of the past twenty years?

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Room 237

A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining...

The Good: Room 237 is what one might call a "what if" scenario of a documentary. In it we are given five interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece of a film, The Shining. Each are narrated by the person that found a certain interpretation of the classic film. It's not just The Shining, however, but their view of film as art and cinema as a whole, in particularly Kubrick films which are a genre all their own in a way. The Shining is a catalyst for this documentary. It's the means to the end, the end being film as art, and interpretation one of that art's defining traits.

As noted in the documentary, nothing in a Kubrick film was arbitrary. The man toiled over everything, from the position of a prop to what was in teh background to the way light would be utilized. What should colors represent? When do we jump cut? What is meant by the use of audio, or non-use as he was one to do, in particular scenes? As a result of this, each person tends to get different things from each film. Sure, you can still watch and just enjoy the story for what it is, kill a few hours with entertainment. But with a Kubrick film, that was just scratching the service. He was a man working on many levels in his films, and probably well beyond what we can fully comprehend when trying to dissect what he was doing.

Well, what he was doing was intentionally making levels and layers without answers, only opening the door for interpretations. There's really no right or wrong answer, as movie shows. I suppose that's why I find it funny when cinema fans might argue over a Kubrick film and what something might have meant in it. You're not supposed to know. You take out what you go in to the theater with. One thing is for certain, no matter how ridiculous some of these interpretations might be, that Kubrick loved to provoke thought. He was a filmmaker working on a level that is hard to describe. It wasn't just telling a story for the man, but generating contemplation in an audience watching the film - to have them get something beyond what was simply shown to them. As a result, many of Kubrick's films are still analyzed to this day, decades after they were shown, and still have impact on generations upon generations of filmmakers that try to comprehend what he was doing not just as a director, but as an artist taking a popular media and doing something different with yet without you even realize how different it was.

Room 237 is more a testament to the genius of the man as a director by simply telling a few stories of how a some people interpreted just one of his films. It's about the only way you can do him justice - tackling his entire oeuvre on this intimate of a level would be impossible and the message diminished by just being a "biography" film. Room 237 is about art, plain and simple, and one artist sharing his vision with the world and one artist that we may never fully come to terms with in understanding what or where his full intentions were. But that's the fun part, isn't it?

The Bad: I never really do a "bad' section on documentaries. They're only "bad" to the degree of your interest in the subject matter. That being said, there's a strange use of film clips in this movie. You see, movie fans are going to go see this movie. Movie fans also love "name that movie" games, especially with film clips. So when you have a movie full of movie clips from a variety of movies as you structure your narrative, you end up creating a major distraction for your intended audience. I sometimes wasn't even paying attention to the narrator, just trying to think "Ah...that's Barry Lyndon" or "Eyes Wide Shut" or "Schindler's List" or "Faust" or "Scooby-Doo."

You'll soon get accustomed to that, despite it still being a distraction. However, Room 237 does a poor job explaining who these people are that are narrating the film and giving us their interpretations. We don't see them. They're just disembodied voices of people we aren't sure of who they are or what their backgrounds are. Are they all film scholars? Filmmakers? Just regular people? Literary professors? Painters? We have no idea. I feel something is lost there. As noted, Kubrick kind of made a film where you take out what you go in to the theater with. Well, I'd like to know who these people are and what they took with them to the theater. We hear a few drops and lines here and there about what their interests are, but nothing to really understand their perspective. One might get a sexual innuendo, another will concentrate on a window that's in the background - both in the same scene. There's a whole layer missing in this documentary about a film with layers, and it's a pretty big one in my eye.

The Ugly: Boy...some of these interpretations. I know, judging isn't the point, the fact they're getting these from the film is the point. But man...bit of a stretch. But you'll see things you haven't even thought about (for example, the typewriter color changes, never knew that...)

And seriously, Kubrick's face in the clouds? I still don't see it. Been looking at the supposed frame for about an hour now.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into an apartment in a building with a bad reputation. They discover that their neighbors are a very friendly elderly couple named Roman and Minnie Castevet, and Guy begins to spend a lot of time with them. Strange things start to happen: a woman Rosemary meets in the washroom dies a mysterious death, Rosemary has strange dreams and hears strange noises and Guy becomes remote and distant. Then Rosemary falls pregnant and begins to suspect that her neighbors have special plans for her child.

The Good: It's not what you see that is horrific in Polanski's masterful thriller, it's what you don't see. Rosemary's Baby plays with ominous suspicion and assumption like action movies do with car chases and explosions. It's natural to it in how it handles its suspense like quiet and tempered breathing in a dark room, paced, planned and released to perfection. A sophisticated and (overly) intelligent film that lead many to believe Polanski himself was a satanist as it seems to almost justify Satanic reasonings and beliefs - no more than the already controversial book, I'm sure. It does not, however, as it still paints that belief as horrifically evil. Those that claim that simply miss the point of an ingenious film. It lets us in to its world cordially with smiles and handshakes, inviting us for tea and dinner, rather than blood and worshiping that many assume would be happening. It's that humanizing of something so evil that most find disturbing and can confuse it as apologetic and its also why it was such a daring film that would influence many to come such as The Exorcist and The Omen. A plot exuding paranoia, an entire cast acting in top form and the restrained, quiet directing gives Rosemary's Baby a sense of authenticity that stays with you.

The Bad: It's a slow, thought-provoking film that can sometimes hinder its own progression. There are times when even the suspense and horror is pushed so far back you sometimes forget what it's actually about. It takes its time, lost in its own stylings, but perhaps a little too slowly to be fully appreciative of its own plot.

The Ugly:
The "curse" of Rosemary's Baby has probably transcended the film itself, and now they're looking to remake it. We'll see if that curse continues.

Final Rating
: 4.5 out of 5


The Rover

10 years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner pursues the men who stole his only possession, his car. Along the way, he captures one of the thieves' brother, and the duo form an uneasy bond during the dangerous journey.

The Good: The early days of a dystopia are going to be the hardest. Everyone is still holding on to what little they can actually get their hands on. Money, even if it doesn’t have a lot of value anymore. A few still-working cars. Shelter if around, though it can be argued anywhere will do as long as you have some guns at the ready. Director David Michod is back on firm, familiar territory with another bleak, cynical look at outlaws.

What’s so great about a movie like The Rover is that you need, and get, some strong performances. The Rover is one of those movies that isn’t concerned so much with story as much as it is a thematic idea as we lay witness to Eric, in his quest to simply get back his car, maybe find a little something more to live and fight for. Eric is played by the always-dependable Guy Pearce, who delivers once more in a very restainted performance. You know there’s a story to Eric, and you realize what it is at the end, and that there’s a reason for his hard exterior and “speak softly and carry a big stick” ideology.

Surprisingly, though, Pearce is not alone. After truing to get out of the typecast realm to mixed results, Robret Pattinson is absolutely compelling here to the point of being near-unrecognizable. A thick southern drawl, a sense of ignorance, certainly mental issues…he’s fantastic and offers the most to say in the movie on a number of levels: the younger generation that grew up in this world is dumb-as-rocks, the older generation is full of nothing but apathy, but maybe a dumb kid can bring out the best in people that are probably the worst.

The Bad: Despite the great performances, unlike Michod’s Animal Kingdom which dealt with a lot of similar themes and tones, there’s not a lot to get behind in The Rover. These people are simply callous, awful people and only Pattinson’s dumb-stupidity of a character is a sign of something to pity or, more specifically, route for. Sure, we can say how cool Pearce is with his few words and gun shooting, but it’s also really hard to like him.

Now an unlikeable main character is perfectly fine, but after a while you don’t want to watch him anymore. It becomes tiresome and uninteresting and no great acting from a great actor can climb above what is written for that character on paper. I suppose the nihilism is great up to a point, but this isn’t Cormac McCarthy with a great dynamic range of character exploration. Both characters can be summed up in one sentence, and that’s not enough to chew on or care about in a two hour movie.

Though everything about The Rover is absolutely admirable, it’s not something you’re going to connect with. It’s not really saying anything of interest or for you to ponder. It’s not The Road, or even Mad Max, it’s just…there….and while I applaud the attempt and certainly enjoyed the world created, and even the one-dimensional characters, it’s not something that is all that easy to connect with.

The Ugly: Of course, I say all that and the movie is still probably in my Top 25 of the year. So…take that for what it’s worth.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Royal Tenenbaums

An estranged family of former child prodigies reunites when one of their member announces he has a terminal illness.

The Good: So, what exactly is The Royal Tenenbaums about? If you've seen the movie, imagine someone asking you that. Can't quite sum it up, can you? It's not a movie that can be summarized so easily. It's about a very odd and dysfunctional family, but there's not a structured narrative in the traditional sense. The Royal Tenenbaums is what's called an ensemble character piece. It's about all these people and who they are, not necessarily what they do or what the story needs them to do. We observe, enjoy their idiosyncrasies and quirks, their relationships to all those around them and simply enjoy who they are and the action and reactions they cause. The characters here are as vivid, wonderfully acted (and perfectly cast) and so fully realized as three-dimensional, odd they may be, persons that you soon forget where you are and find yourself plopped right in the middle of their odd little world.

Wes Anderson's humor is about patience. Often comedies will set up the gag, then throw the  punchline. Anderson's take is build to the set up, do the set up, take a step back and think for a beat, then throw the punchline with deadpan humor. He also knows how to shoot a film. Period. His eye and implementation of artistry through sets and backgrounds is probably his most distinct measure. You'll often find yourself looking around the characters rather than at them, and that's where you discover the fine details of a movie like The Royal Tenenbaums: the decor, sets and homes of these characters also says a ton about them. He then throws in a strange progression, usually with title cards and smaller stories within the larger ones. All these, thanks to his vision of the world for the characters, work together like cogs in a machine. That's when you realize what The Royal Tenenbaums is about during its rather brief running time and tightly-written script: musings and observations of life. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And it's funny along the way.

The Bad: One thing The Royal Tenenbaums tries to be and doesn't quite achieve, though this is in part to the deadpan humor of Anderson, is warming to heartfelt. It's intimate, yet calcualated in doing so. It's emotive in brief stints, but never quite moves you. The character of Royal (Gene Hackman) is really as close as you get to seeing someone actually "feel" anything...and perhaps that's why he's such an outcast to the rather cold family. Perhaps that's even a bit of a self-critique by Anderson himself. I don't know. Still, though, on paper it would seem to be a nice, maybe even emotional tale of a family coming together. In execution, completely do to style never wavering, it more "tells" us about it rather than have us feel anything for it.

The Ugly: Did you know Wes Anderson's full name is Wesley Mortimer Wales Anderson? I'd go with just "Wes" too.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Rubber

When Robert, a tire, discovers his destructive telepathic powers, he soon sets his sights on a desert town; in particular, a mysterious woman becomes his obsession.

The Good: If there's one thing you can't deny about Rubber, it's the fact that you have never seen another movie like it. It is, after all, a story about a sentient tire that blows up things - in particular the heads of people that he feels (yes, this tire has feelings) have wronged him in some way. Of course, his interpretation is more like a child seeing as he's only been alive a few hours.

The basis of Rubber isn't about the tire, though. It's about the absurdity of it all. It revels in the fact that it's absurd and goes as so far to deny us explanations of anything because the absurdity is the point, not the exposition of it all. Why is the tire alive? Why can it kill? Who are the people observing? Who are the people "acting?" You will get no answers...

...but it doesn't work nearly as well as Rubber likes to think it does.

The Bad: Being pretentious is something that can actually work for some films...it's not necessarily a bad thing all the time. The thing is, to make it work within the film, you not only have to make sure the material suits it but also the filmmaker and story need to earn it. Terrance Malick, for example, is pretentious...but his style and context of his films fit that and are better for it. Sometimes some soapbox moments of staunch elitism is needed. It's a good thing for him and, honeslty, I can't imagine The Thin Red Line or Tree of Life without that approach of heavy-handed superiority. Rubber, though, hasn't earned a right to be such a way. It's aura of elitism and supposed "artistry" is unnessary and distracting and you end up with a bad taste in your mouth before realizing you just sat through a film that offered you nothing in return other than it's own sense of self-worth.

Rubber is, simply, not as crafty, artsy, darkly humorous or relevant as it thinks it is. It wants to be a Twilight Zone meets surrealist cinema but it spends more time telling us it's so rather than simply being. The daringness is to be applauded. It's audacious and wonderful in its conceit. In terms of the execution and presentation, however, we end up with a film that's simply fodder for people that feel it's a smart, artistic achievement when it's not...it merely likes to say it is.

The Ugly: Some try and excuse Rubber by labeling it an "art film." Seeing as how I consider all film art I feel such a label is redundant, but I still understand what they're getting at - more the concept of "high artistry." It's out of the box. It's abnormal. It's unlike anything else you'll see.

However, a piece of "art" doesn't have to explain itself, which is not only what Rubber does by having a character spend five minutes talking directly to the audience, but it loves to scream it at you and then excuse itself with its "no reason" argument - the entire court it plays on which, itself, is still a reason. An art film doesn't need to tell you that it is art. It simply is. More importantly, I would think anyone who would go see a film about a killer tire would probably "get it" more than someone who goes to watch something a Hollywood Studio would dish out and wouldn't need explaining to begin with.

What we end up with is a level of pretentiousness that does not equate what the film offers us. The "no reason" ideology of it all would have sat better had Rubber not tried to explain the "no reason" in the first place. Now, the "no reason" becomes the "reason," you see. It's like explaining to someone that it doesn't need to be explained...you're still explaining it and you end up insulting your audience as a result.  

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


When Robert, a tire, discovers his destructive telepathic powers, he soon sets his sights on a desert town; in particular, a mysterious woman becomes his obsession.
The Good: If there's one thing you can't deny about Rubber, it's the fact that you have never seen another movie like it. It is, after all, a story about a sentient tire that blows up things - in particular the heads of people that he feels (yes, this tire has feelings) have wronged him in some way. Of course, his interpretation is more like a child seeing as he's only been alive a few hours.
The basis of Rubber isn't about the tire, though. It's about the absurdity of it all. It revels in the fact that it's absurd and goes as so far to deny us explanations of anything because the absuridty is the point, not the expositioion of it all. Why is the tire alive? Why can it kill? Who are the people observing? Who are the people "acting?" You will get no answers...
...but it doesn't work nearly as well as Rubber likes to think it does.
The Bad: Being pretentious is something that can actually work for some films...it's not necessarily a bad thing all the time. The thing is, to make it work within the film, you not only have to make sure the material suits it but also the filmmaker and story need to earn it. Terrance Malick, for example, is pretentious...but his style and context of his films fit that and are better for it. Sometimes some soapbox moments of staunch elitism is needed. It's a good thing for him and, honeslty, I can't imagine The Thin Red Line or Tree of Life without that approach of heavy-handed superiority. Rubber, though, hasn't earned a right to be such a way. It's aura of elitism and supposed "artistry" is unnessary and distracting and you end up with a bad taste in your mouth before realizing you just sat through a film that offered you nothing in return other than it's own sense of self-worth.
Rubber is, simply, not as crafty, artsy, darkly humorous or relevant as it thinks it is. It wants to be a Twilight Zone meets surrealist cinema but it spends more time telling us it's so rather than simply being. The daringness is to be applauded. It's audacious and wonderful in its conceit. In terms of the execution and presentation, however, we end up with a film that's simply fodder for people that feel it's a smart, artistic achievement when it's not...it merely likes to say it is.

The Ugly: Some try and excuse Rubber by labeling it an "art film." Seeing as how I consider all film art I feel such a label is redundant, but I still understand what they're getting at - more the concept of "high artistry." It's out of the box. It's abnormal. It's unlike anything else you'll see.
However, a piece of "art" doesn't have to explain itself, which is not only what Rubber does by having a character spend five minutes talking directly to the audience, but it loves to scream it at you and then excuse itself with its "no reason" argument - the entire court it plays on which, itself, is still a reason. An art film doesn't need to tell you that it is art. It simply is. More importantly, I would htink anyone who would go see a film about a killer tire would probably "get it" more than someone who goes to watch something a Hollywood Studio would dish out and wouldn't need explaining to begin with. 
What we end up with is a level of pretentiousness that does not equate what the film offers us. The "no reason" ideology of it all would have sat better had Rubber not tried to explain the "no reason" in the first place. Now, the "no reason" becomes the "reason," you see. It's like explaining to someone that it doesn't need to be explained...you're still explaining it and you end up insulting your audience as a result.  
Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Ruby Sparks

A novelist struggling with writer's block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.

The Good: A little bit of romance, a little bit comedy, a little fantasy and a little sincerity and drama. Ruby Sparks wants to do a lot of things, and amazing it manages to do pretty much all of it well. Paul Dano carries the film with a great sense of understanding of who and what his character is. Calvin isn't entirely likable, but not entirely unlikable either. You route for him, but sometimes route against him as well. You are drawn to him because he's interesting and feel for him emotionally, but are repealed by his decisions and fits of jealously. In other words: he acts like a real person. He's not a one-note type of character, and Ruby Sparks is a film that is entirely about him, his arc, his feelings, his personal issues and conflicts and how, out of nowhere, the girl of his dreams that he created out of thin air alters everything. It's a charming and irreverent bit of filmmaking, much like the previous film by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine.

Ruby Sparks has a strong, very difficult issue to deal with: at the end of the day Ruby isn't real. While much of the film is light, silly, fun and sweet, when it starts diving into the issues of relationships, of Ruby's own existence and the choices that Calvin has to make or not make, it brings out a beautiful, lyrical look at love, what men want, what women want…and maybe how, at the end of the day, some things simply may or may not be. It's this understanding of the seriousness of it all that really defines Ruby Sparks. Sure, you'll love the characters, the supporting cast including Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and Chris Messina are all wonderful, and certainly love the silly play between Ruby and Calvin, but going beyond convention, dealing with the heart of the mater of being loved and wanting to be loved, is what you'll remember most about a very smart, very witty, very funny and often emotive film.

The Bad: Oh, how unconventionally conventional. Ruby Sparks sets itself apart by being different, yet still dips into classic, overdone tropes of cliche that, because as much of the rest of the film is distinctly original, stick out like a blackberry in a raspberry patch (or, for a more on the nose effort, a ruby in a pile of diamonds). Ruby herself is hard to become attached to, because she's so incredibly sweet…but so incredibly made up at the same time and the script, written by the film's actual Ruby, Zoe Kazan (and girlfriend to the film's Calvin, Paul Dano) often turns repetitive in its schtick. There's plenty of the film to say about relationships, men, women, Calvin in particular, but none of it is necessarily insightful and the ending seems to undermine many of the "lessons learned" that the story stresses.

The Ugly: Though it doesn't do it often, the moments where the film tries to show how smart it is by telling you it's smart also stick out painfully.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Rum Diary

American journalist Paul Kemp takes on a freelance job in Puerto Rico for a local newspaper during the 1950s and struggles to find a balance between island culture and the expatriates who live there.

The Good: Gorgeously shot and directed by Bruce Robinson, and wonderfully acted by a cast full of memorable characters, The Rum Diary is a darkly humorous, quasi-biographical story about not-Hunter S. Thompson, Paul Kemp, and the events surrounding his time in Puerto Rico. If there's anything The Rum Diary does incredibly well, it's that it paints a vivid picture of this time and place. Puerto Rico in the 1950s is full of parties, great cars, beautiful women one one side and a dark, poverty-stricken and sleazy underbelly. One minute you'll see the island as the gorgeous tourist attraction people pretend it is, then see the other side that is often ignored. The Rum Diary doesn't dive deep into these elements but sets them there for you to see and contemplate. Simply putting them on screen will get the message across, even if it lacks the dramatic punch to do anything about them.

To make up for this non-narrative is the cast and characters they portray. Depp is tremendous as the struggling journalist Kemp, which is a younger and more toned-down version of the Hunter S. Thompson we'll eventually meet in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Aaron Eckhart plays the shit-eating-grin in a polo, Sanderson, who has more money than he can figure out what to do with. He's Kemp's antithesis. The show-stealers, though, are Giovanni Ribisi's Moburg and Michael Rispoli's Sala. Depp's scenes with them are hilarious as all three make a motley-crew of well intended yet dysfunctional journalists trying to "take it to those bastards." It's an aloof film, not really having a dramatic angle and the comedy perhaps too subtle for its own good (a reflection of Robinson's similar film, Withnail and I) but it's a fun film that takes a few chances with itself and doesn't always play it safe. Though I wouldn't call it "daring" or even "ambitious," it's got a hell of a lot of personality and a few doses of uniqueness to create a charming, noir-fueled, sharp film full of booze and bumbling journalists.

The Bad: The Rum Diary, desperately, wants to be about something. It wants to make a point, and there's a lot that could be made. From the lack of journalistic integrity to the early rumblings of a revolution to capitalism destroying culture or industry sucking away the environment. Many of these things are touched on, but nothing is really ever stated. They're tossed out there in this free-floating movie like idea bubbles that, eventually pop and then just fall out of the picture. Considering that one of the plot, if not the central plot, is Kemp (Depp) trying to find a story, one would think it would hold more gravitas into the many aspects of that story he could implement into a fiery piece of journalism. It's his ideology that's clear, just not his execution.

Perhaps it's because he gets distracted by a multitude of things, from alcohol to women to rally hating those "bastards" that are bringing down an otherwise beautiful country. But he doesn't ever feel a part of it all, just an observer, and he never really does anything about what he's observing despite his talk in wanting to do so. Perhaps its the tone of the film itself: more a quiet, vacation-like stroll than a flurry of intensity, or perhaps passion would be the better word, the last time we saw a fictionalized Hunter S. Thompson. There's events, there's situations, there's great charters, but no drama or serious conflict. It's content just looking pretty and having Mr. Depp take us on a lovely stroll.

The Ugly: I'm not sure what happened in the film, but Richard Jenkins' character, the editor that hires Paul Kemp, is an interesting one. I would love if the film explored him more as well as their relationship, but it explores very little and that's probably asking too much.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Run All Night

Mobster and hit man Jimmy Conlon has one night to figure out where his loyalties lie: with his estranged son, Mike, whose life is in danger, or  his longtime best friend, mob boss Shawn Maguire, who wants Mike to pay for the death of his own son.

The Good: Before we get into anything about Run All Night, one thing has to be spoken of right away: it is one gorgeously shot film. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe, how also shot other great looking films like Control, The American and Harry Brown, takes a page from the WIlliam Friedkin handbook of how to shoot New York City. It's dark. It's dirty. There's nasty puddles of something on the street and the streetlights only give you so-much you can see. It brings to life the city in a way you rarely seen, at least since it's heyday of 1970s filmmaking like Taxi Driver or The French Connection.

Of course Run All Night as a movie isn't good as either of those, but it's still pretty damn good. On top of the great atmosphere you have memorable characters and strong performances from Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. Joel Kinneman may play third billing but he also pulls out a strong performance as Neeson's estranged son forced to work with his father to get out of trouble. The set up and follow through of the entire story is well paced and told. There's not a ton of twists, but for a solid crime thriller there doesn't need to be. It's not re-inventing the genre, mind you, but it's a well done one.

The Bad: Run All Night is a strange movie. It seems like it's a dark and gritty crime thriller trying to claw its way out of a Liam Neeson action movie (considering the director has directed two such Liam Neeson movies, it's actually more obvious). It moves along with gun fights and drugs and car chases and crooked cops, but then will throw in a hand-to-hand fight scene of two elite killers taking each other on or some close-quarters judo action of Neeson dispatching a half-dozen guys single-handedly.

When its working on the level of a crime thriller with Neeson acting as a flawed character rather than going into Neeson-terminator mode, it's a damn good crime flick. It's not going to wow you with originality, but the execution is there even if the script always isn't. It's those weird moments when it's less Mean Streets and more Taken that feel out of place.

Despite all that, and it's almost unavoidable predictability, Run All Night is a highly entertaining film, moreso than it probably deserved, but that's thanks to its great pacing, solid acting and beautiful cinematography.

The Ugly: The style of Run All Night really needs to settle on one thing and go with it. It's already a dark, often hard to see film so it should have just gone with that. All the CG and fancy stuff sticks out. If you want gritty French Connection-esque style, then see it all the way through. The flashy stuff just takes away from it and the gorgeous photography by Ruhe.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Running Man

A parody within an action thriller. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an innocent man who is sentenced to the Running Man game show, a futuristic audience participation capital punishment television show. While Arnold is running from champions with Chain saws and sharpened hockey sticks, the host (Richard Dawson) is busy with calls to the network about ratings.

The Good: A campy, fun straightforward romp in a deceptively smart and well done action movie. Arnold's character, if you want to call him that, is pretty standard fare but he gets by on personality and charisma as Schwarzenegger always does (he wouldn't start developing actual "characters" until Twins and start doing it well until Kindergarten Cop and Terminator 2. Most of his 80s movies were more about his presence than anything, and he has a great presence here. It's a fun movie, plain in simple, in the same way Commando is a fun movie.

The best character, though, is Damon Killian, perfectly cast with Richard Dawson obviously having an absolute joy with his dialogue and personality. He steals the show and is such a great dynamic and ringleader, that it's nearly his movie over a Schwarzenegger vehicle.

The Bad: The Running Man is cheesy. We know that. I don't know if the filmmakers were quite aware of that, though. It has that identity, but I always felt it lacked the polish. It's rough around the edges and its villains, outside of Killian, come across more as goofy than actually menacing. I suppose that's where the joy lies in this rather dated flick, but with a bigger budget and, perhaps, a more capable director, this could have gone down as a sci-fi classic.

The Ugly: Man, those costumes are just horribly dated. Hell, they were pretty dated even back then in 1987, especially when similar art styles in other films of the time (or before, such as Escape from New York) far surpassed it. It really lacks an identity in its atmosphere.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Rush

A re-creation of the merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The Good: Like any good "sports" movie, Rush is less about the sport itself and more about the people. Yes, it depicts the racing and the points standings and the turns and speed and crowds...but it does that as merely a backdrop between two distinct personalities that were a major part of the 1970s racing culture, their rivalry and, above all else, the philosophy and approach of those personalities when it comes to racing: James Hunt is the brash playboy who takes risks on and off the track while Niki Lauda is the stiff, technically-sound racer who feels steady is how to handle yourself on and off that track. Basically, it's the real-life story of the tortise and the hare.

But whereas that story the race is the end, here it's just a plot. The real story is of these men and their lives, the boldness of racing and the rock-star like way people would treat them. They loathed each other, but over the course of this story about them, their families, their approach to press and each other, we learn that they still respected each other.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl do an astounding job capturing the essence of their real-life counterparts in all their glory, and their lowest of lows. Howard's directing is as sharp as ever as it merges real footage with newly shot film that captures the dangers of F1 Racing as few films have. It's not a complicated film, there's a simplicity about it that allows that racing and these two men to speak for themselves, and it's that much better of a film for it.

The Bad: As it goes through its checklist of historical accuracy and biopic requirements, Rush never quite lands the emotional beats it desperately tries to strive for. There's not enough nuance in to the characters other than that checklist and "ok, you're brash and you're stern" attitude that the script treats them with. Truth is, we know the checklist, but we really don't know the men at all even if the story can be compelling at times.

More importantly is that there's little consistency to Rush's tone. Perhaps that is the primary reason we never "feel" for these characters or have the sense that we know them, because a lot of it is broken up with the energetic and high-octane racing, making major turns and twists in the plot seem relatively uninteresting by comparison, or simply washed over.

The Ugly: The thing is, this is about the only way you can approach this story, faults and all. You can't not have the racing, even if it takes away from the human and emotional side of things. Thankfully, it's well told enough to get by those issues.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Sabotage

Mr. Verloc is part of a gang of foreign saboteurs operating out of London. He manages a small cinema with his wife and her teenage brother as a cover, but they know nothing of his secret. Scotland Yard assign an undercover detective to work at the shop next to the cinema in order to observe the gang.
 

The Good: Considered by many to be Alfred Hitchcock's earliest masterpiece, Sabotage is also one of the best film from the 1930s, certainly when it comes to thrillers. The reason is that it's completely uncompromising in its tale, bittersweet and far from a "Hollywood ending" that people are accustomed to. A majority of the film is Hitchcock style, but the final third is what really sells it and turns Sabotage more into a tragedy than a suspenseful thriller. The climate of Europe at the time is undoubtedly the reason for this, and in a way this is very much a commentary on those ssues. It's not pretty. It's not heartwarming or uplifting. Some people are simply awful people and a certain twist towards the end, which I don't think anybody would expect, shows the utter balls Hitchcock had. It's climax is undoubtedly some of the best material the master ever filmed, so much so that the ending feels more a hushed whisper as it fades to black than ending with a bang (or any sense of resolution, because war itself brings a similar feeling).
 
The Bad: I want to go into detail on what doesn't quite work in this movie, but I can't do that without really giving everything away. In vague terms, I simply didn't buy the fact that Sylvia would ever, in a million years, marry Verloc. This is the foundation of much of the film, their relationship, but Verloc who is twice her age and far from attractive somehow wooed her. The film doesn't go into detail why, but she insists he's a nice, wonderful man. I just don't know what appeal there was that got her to even say anything to him, especially when there's sexy Ted Spencer next door. Hitchcock doesn't other with showing a loving relationship between the two either, which I think would have made for a fantastic dynamic to the story and would have sold her reaction to the events later as far deeper and much more convincing. Verloc is meant to be a mystery, but because Sylvia and her young brother Stevie are so attached to him, I either needed to see a warming side of Verdoc or at least an explanation as to why they are so enamored with him - everything hinges on this, and it just doesn't quite work. That unexpected twist I mentioned earlier? The event itself is shocking, but a lot of it has to do with Verdoc's underdeveloped character to begin with (then when he tries to show emotions after, it just falls flat).

The Ugly: This one little important factor is actually the only fault I really had with the film and depending on what you found important (the hunting down of the man or the character relationships) will determine your own verdict, I'm sure. I just found this relationship critical, but fails to be convincing. Hitchcock would fix that in later films of man and woman/husband and wife.
 
Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Sabotage (2014)

Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.

The Good: Visceral, cynical, dark, moody. Yes, this is a David Ayer directed film and for the tone it’s going for, it certainly works. In fact, the atmosphere around Sabotage is of constant questioning and uncertainty that it’s even the real world - always on edge, always paranoid, always quick with a hailstorm of bullets and blood. Acting is strong (notably by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Olivia Williams) but not enough to carry what is essentially an ensemble piece. Ayer knows this material well…and he’s certainly done it better. Far far better.

The Bad: I don’t know what happened here. The set up and beginnings of Sabotage start remarkably well, but it just keeps getting worse. And worse. And more ridiculous. And worse. It’s as though someone made a great set up then someone else came in and did the middle, then someone even worse came in and did the final third. But here’s what this shows: a bad script can’t be saved if it’s really that bad and the director, perhaps, not capable enough to get the film to rise above it.

Director David Ayer is a solid director, but he can’t salvage this script. He just doesn’t have the ability to raise the mediocre story above, and what’s worse is even the stuff Ayer is usually good at (solid, intimate visceral action) just never gets footing - most notably in a final chase sequence that is one of the sloppiest most confusing ten minutes of action directing I’ve seen in years.

Clumsy is one word to describe Sabotage directing, but also its script is just un-salvageable as it throws you into the middle of a situation without really establishing us a reason to care. Then it tries to shoehorn backstory for false sympathy alongside trying to do a whodunit - it’s a movie that’s being pulled from multiple ends and has no direction. Should we concentrate on a quest for vengeance? Or who stole the money? Or who is killing people? Or the investigator (played admirably by Olivia Williams who is so much better than this movie deserves her to be) and her quest to uncover the corrupt task force?

What does the movie want to be? That’s a question that should have been asked and answered in the earliest stages of development, and instead we see the jumbled mess of no answers strewn across the screen. Nobody cared. What’s sad is I wanted to.

The Ugly: Seriously, Williams is the best thing in this movie. You buy her, and it’s also good considering how absolutely unlikeable every single other character in the film is. I mean…aggressively unlikeable. Despite Schwarzenegger and Worthington delivering decent performances as well, it’s utterly impossible to get behind them. You end up with nobody to care about, and that’s a failed movie before even a frame is shot.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


The Sacrament

A fashion photographer is traveling to meet his sister at Eden Parish. Once there, his friends begin to film interviews with the Eden Parish inhabitants, all of whom speak of the commune in glowing terms. However, they soon discover that there is a sinister edge to the commune that belies the seemingly peaceful setting.

The Good: The trick to a slow burn thriller is to never show your hand. Never even give a peek. It’s all about buildup and revelation, not foreshadowing and anticipation. You feel the tension slow build and build until the proverbial other shoe drops and the rest of the movie looks nothing like the movie that came before it. Director Ti West has shown, once more, he is a master of this approach. Restraint, focus and subtlety…a rare thing in the thriller and horror world today.

West’s previous films, The Roost, Trigger Man, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, show an evolution of a great filmmaker. West is able to do a great amount with very little - staying low-budget but certainly not at the cost of vision and ambition. He has a goal and he sees it through to the bitter end. He shows with The Sacrament a comfort in form and function - growing intense atmosphere, believable characters, extremely well acted and well shot to the point where you realize that just because something is below-the-line doesn’t mean it has to look that way.

Yet he also takes risks while still being very much his style. This is a “found footage” film that actually impressed me, and the first he’s done as far as I know. I’m not a fan of found footage films, but here it works: make them journalists. That way, going around with a camera and wanting to shoot everything makes sense, and there’s even a clever moment in the woods where Ti plays with this a bit and fools the audience - making the camera a character itself in a way. While not as polished as The Innkeepers or jarring as House of the Devil, it’s another in a long line of damn good films from one of the best genre directors working today.

The Bad: The only downside is that you know how this will all end up. You’ve seen this place before in other movies and even in real life (see below), so when things start going awry, it doesn’t come as quite as a surprise. West is still able to throw you a wringer in there, something he does so incredibly well as his movies have that one moment that really unsettles you (this one no different, though a bit forced).

So, in retrospect, there's no surprises happening in The Sacrament. It's intense at the right moments, incredibly well made in that regard, but it goes through every expected beat and even though when the other shoes drop...you were kind of expecting a third shoe to come in and do something that will really wow you.  There's a sense that it will happen, but it never quite does, though that certainly doesn't mean there aren't some pretty harrowing and memorable moments - including one very difficult to watch long-take with a brother and sister.

The Ugly: There’s obviously an inspiration taken from Jim Jones and the Jonestown stuff.

Then you’re reminded that what happened at Jonestown was actually ten times worse.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Safe House

A young CIA agent is tasked with looking after a fugitive in a safe house. But when the safe house is attacked, he finds himself on the run with his charge.

The Good: Safe House is an odd duck of a movie. It's one that is better than you expect it to be, yet when it's over you feel it could have been better than what you just saw. Safe House looks good. Damn good. The aesthetic style is a blend of gritty realism with action-movie palette. Colorful, energetic, uses slow motion, but intimate and believable as real places, real people and real gunshots or fist fights.

It's a series of escalating action scenes that never get dull or boring. It's not clunky or aimless, but progressive and with purpose. Often times, action movies don't think out their action set-pieces, but here things twist and turn, stop then go and you're never quite sure where you're heading next. Action fans will love this, because Safe House is about 80% action, from shootouts to brutal and very bloody fight sequences to enticing chase sequences. You have two interesting, though overall unremarkable, given some credibility with the presence of Denzel Washington and with a surprising, gritty turn by Ryan Reynolds who handles an emotionally fragile character with grace as we see him slowly lose his grip on things, including his own moral center.

The Bad: Safe House doesn't really run towards the finish line more than it limps to it. The story starts out promising with two promising characters and an interesting espionage plot. There's even a sense of thoughtfulness put into their dialogue and background. Yet, the entire sense of us going anywhere with them or that plot not being derivative fades into a trite story of conspiracy and an inevitable climax that is underwhelming at best when pit against the action set pieces we've been exposed to up to that point.

I get the sense the film wanted to be one thing and ultimately conceded in being another. I felt as though I was going to be enjoying an "art-house" type of action movie where there's really well done fights and shootouts, but it's actually a story of these two men and their relationship. That never develops and the film ends up shifting to a completely obvious story about CIA moles and where you know the bad guy before he even opens his mouth.

The Ugly: Ryan Reynolds gets a bad rap. Most of that probably is a result of over-exposure - let's face it the guy seems to be in just about everything. But when you get right down to it, it's a pretty nice little actor, as shown in Buried and especially here, where he does a great job in some brutal action scenes and is able to have a sense of believability of vulnerability in the process. He holds his own.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Safety Not Guaranteed

Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.

The Good: A writer in Derek Connolly and a director in Colin Trevorrow, neither experienced in filmmaking, just made one of the best movies of 2012.  Safety Not Guaranteed is one of the oddest, sweetest, and genuinely funny (in that funny/charming kind of way full of quirks) that you could ask for. It all comes down to a brilliant concept: a group of reporters investigating a very strange classified advertisement about a man looking for someone to travel back in time with him (which was a real listing, I might add).

There's a ton of heart going on in Safety Not Guaranteed - far more than you're expecting. It deals with relationships, societal norms, mental illness and, at the heart of it all, the idea of just being you no matter what others might think or say. It's an oddball of a film full of oddball characters led by Indie-film-vet Mark Duplass as Kenneth who you should pity, but actually end up admiring the man. Maybe if we all make our own time machine, we could be as admirable no matter what the townsfolk say about us.

The Bad: A sluggish middle makes Safety Not Guaranteed just a few steps behind the greatness it nearly had. It starts fresh, fast and runs briskly through a set up, then drags as we deal with character development. Development is great, it's the heart of this film and they can be memorable as a result, but the pacing slows to accommodate it as it ends up dwelling on sub plots more than the actual plot.

It can be unfocused in this, which is the issue. The story is more Kenneth and Darius, the young college grad that befriends him, but it likes to dip over to Jeff, the lead writer who's supposed to, yet never does, write the article about Kenneth. He just isn't all that interesting, both on paper and performance-wise, and the entire story about him feels oddly out of place. It's a theme of second chances and new roads to take, which fits the entire point of Safety Not Guaranteed, but in reality the film puts his entire arc on a higher shelf than it needs to be and you find yourself wanting to get back to Kenneth and Darius the more it dwells on Jeff, because at the end of the day Jeff is someone we really don't care as much as the obviously-established leads. Again, sluggish more because of lack of focus and energy than anything.

The Ugly: In an odd bit of miscasting and in a role that's not much more than a cameo, Mary Lynn Rajskub is the head of the magazine. Talk about absolutely not buying her character, the rather nice and sweet Rajskub just can't sell the hard-edged magazine boss hunting for a story and it comes across as bad parody.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

A fisheries expert is approached by a consultant to help realize a sheik's vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert and embarks on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible possible.

The Good: Director Lasse Halstrom still gives us great, intimate moments with characters, really letting the actors act and the dialogue, really the saving grace of an overwritten script, comes flowing naturally. Moments are what Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does best. It captures certain emotions and sensations and simple conversation in a capsule of believability that we can swallow, seeing as how the larger-picture is something you can probably take or leave.

As always, Ewan McGregor is fantastic. He has a subtle, reserved quality to his acting that allows for you to pretty much believe him in any role he partakes in. Like the film, I suppose the character of Alfred just flows over him naturally. His scenes with Emily Blunt play out authentically, making for the trek of us looking to bring fishing to the Yemen storyline become more palpable because you end up invested in the characters.

The Bad: Here's the problem about Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: I don't care about salmon fishing in Yemen. I don't really care about the reasons why a sheik wants it, I don't care about the struggle to make it happen, I don't care about the bureaucracy and I don't care about the story of it all happening. What I do care about are the characters slowly falling in love, but the means to get to that never quite works outside of those capsules of emotive chemistry. I care just enough about the characters and the small thread of a romantic story to keep watching and I enjoy the theme of two cultures coming together well enough, but the film never tries to grab you otherwise. Stories about our character's relationships and when they're on screen: fantastic.

Stories about fish and fishing and a constant discussion about fishing: couldn't care less. Especially when it's throwing in more and more sub plots that feel as organic as someone saying "oh, yeah, that would be a good scene...now where can I stick it in?" Maybe it's just not told well, or maybe the over-written melodrama of the novel is seeping into the film adaptation to the point of contrivance. Two scenes in particular stick out that are just some of the most awful things I had to sit through due to them feeling so incredibly forced into the story, and despite the elements Salmon Fishing in the Yemen can get right, the primary sense of compelling storytelling always feels like it's swimming upstream.

The Ugly: Gun versus fishing pole: fishing pole wins. Seriously. What works on paper in a book comes across as just silly on screen. Then again, who would write such a silly scene in a book in the first place?

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Salt

Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent and highly respected by all, including her boss, Ted Winter. Out of the blue, a Russian spy walks into their offices and offers a vital piece of information: the President of Russia will be assassinated during his forthcoming visit to New York City to attend the funeral of the recently deceased U.S. Vice President. The name of the assassin: Evelyn Salt. Concerned about the safety of her husband, who she cannot contact, she goes on the run. Winter refuses to accept that she is a mole or a double agent but her actions begin to raise doubts. Just who is Evelyn Salt and what is she planning?

The Good: Angelina Jolie is, truly, one of the best action stars in Hollywood these days. You know, ten or so years ago the idea of a female action hero was pretty unlikely. Perhaps there weren't enough good tentpole vehicles or convincing stars to do so (Milla Jovavich is about the only one I could think of in that period). Jolie, though, is like a living action figure. She's stunningly beautiful yet completely convincing and confident in her athleticism and ability on camera. Salt is a perfect role for her, allowing her to act and bring out a character alongside doing all the ass-kicking and gun shooting, and it's no surprise that the character was originally set to be a man and she walks in and blows it out of the water.

Salt is a finely crafted action movie only lacking a plot to back it up. The action is at a constant high, and Philip Noyce handles some fantastic sequences with sureness and confidence. The fight scenes and Jolie's complete dedication to the role comes through perfectly (she did much of her own stunts) and Noyce's handling of it all makes Salt one of the better shot action pictures this year. He gives everything room to allow us to both feel the impact and force of it all, but be able to tell and understand everything that is happening - a rare feat in many action films (the Expendables a recent example). Smart shooting, smart editing, and some excellent stuntwork and choreographed sequences. Great action should serve the story, and everything here is done with purpose and with a point in what is essentially a long chase sequence, even if the story probably isn't worth serving to begin with.

The Bad: Sadly, Salt's plot and story is both predictable and completely ridiculous. It's half Bourne, half Death Wish, but all completely ludicrous. The extent our villains go to just to have everything fall in line perfectly - the convoluted backstory, the absurd motivations - just comes across as laughably forced and more a disservice to the spectacular action, and Salt as a character, that are handled so well. A weak script, but thankfully the ride is worth churning through it.

The Ugly: Do Want sequel. It sets itself for one, and I'd be more than happy to have another go.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


San Andreas

In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey across the state in order to rescue his daughter.

The Good: It’s exactly what you want it to be or, at least, what it needs to be.

Want to see destruction en-masse of various locations and cities and lots of destruction? You’d be hard pressed to find a movie that does it better because San Andreas looks damn fine in its orgy of shaking, booms, falling debris and grinding metal. This is a movie that you absolutely go to the theater to see. It’s about the moments like that, even if going from one of those moments to the next can be a tedious chore as it attempts to create characters you care about that are way too boilerplate to actually care about.

That’s not to say the actors don’t do a good job. Dwayne Johnson is as charismatic as he always is, and Paul Giamatti, who does the most heavy lifting here, delivers that stereotpypical “scientists who knows everything and has to explain everything” hat incredibly well and is incredibly convincing even when the lines are as cheesy with dramatic pauses. There’s not depth to them. There’s no distinct to them and other movies that also do those types of characters. But they do the roles well as what comes across as co-leads, even if Giamatti is absent from the one-sheet.

The Bad: It’s exactly what you expect it to be, whether you want it or not.

I don’t know how to review a movie like San Andreas. As far as disaster movies go, it hits every beat, plot point, arc and set piece you fully expect it to. Good on it in that regard. But with that comes the bad things about disaster movies: no characters really yet we’re given lots of plot points and heightened emotion to indicate we should care, ridiculous set pieces crossed over many locations with various characters that you’d be hard pressed to remember names of and more science babble-talk and grand heroic gestures of self-sacrifice and saving family and friends that makes it like a grand Greek Apocalyptic myth.

Yet, it does the one thing that any movie like it has to do: be entertaining. It is that, and it gets those big spectacle moments down with the best of them, but it’s as easily forgotten as it is to sit through. It just comes and goes like so many of these movies do, and there’s no identity or major element that makes you think to yourself you wasted your time nor spent it wisely. It’s a movie that just exists for the sake of existing as a spectacle and while the spectacle at large is engaging and, dare I say, even fun at times, it’s also predictably so in a way that makes you realize how much it runs parallel with so many of its kind from the past 15 years or so.

You can both enjoy the movie yet loathe it, enjoy it for that spectacle and effects and loud noises (it’s purpose of existing) yet loathe it because so much else is run-of-the-mill blandness full of characters and plot points we’ve seen a dozen or so times before and not bothering to offer anything new in that regard to really give San Andreas its own identity. It’s a movie about an earthquake, the people in it are just plopped in from other movies to get to those earthquake parts.

The Ugly: Boy is that disaster movie structure readily apparently here. Set piece, dumb talking stuff, set piece, dumb talking stuff, more forced family stuff, set piece, sciency stuff to make sure we’re clear on how it’s all happening, a “this is it!” moment along one more set piece, wrap it all up with a nice bow, orchestral music and montage of media outlets detailing everything we just saw, everyone we expected to die dies, everyone we don’t expect lives, science guy has a final moment as we recap with our central family on how important they are to each other as they hug and smile. Credits.

Oh, and a contrived shot of the American flag for good measure. Forgot about that too.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Sanjuro

Toshiro Mifune swaggers and snarls to brilliant comic effect in Akira Kurosawa’s tightly paced, beautifully composed Sanjuro. In this sly companion piece to Yojimbo, the jaded samurai Sanjuro helps an idealistic group of young warriors weed out their clan’s evil influences, and in the process turns their image of a “proper” samurai on its ear. Less brazen in tone than its predecessor but just as engaging, this classic character’s return is a masterpiece in its own right.

The Good: You can't not like Toshiro Mifune in, well, anything, but especially Sanjuro. He gives us a samurai of Yojimbo but reels back the drama and puts in a little more lightness and maybe even heart into a persona that's otherwise cold and calculating. Either way, you can bet Sanjuro can kill you before you blink. Like nearly all of Kurosawa films, the story has to do with moral issues, two sides, and one in the middle observing. Sanjuro is a little more blatant in its observations and presentation and allows for an otherwise complex story to be told clearly. Kurosawa was known for subtly in his films, and Sanjuro is probably one of the most subtle due to the lightness of it - behind all that is a very serious and dramatic human drama which he downplays effectively.

The Bad: The only way someone could consider it "bad" or anything bad in it is in comparison to Yojimbo, its predecessor. The story isn't quite as intriguing and characters as memorable or developed, but thats like saying a red Mercedes isn't quite as sharp as the jet black one laced with chrome.

The Ugly: I have a feeling many of today's Japanese animation was influenced by the final samurai showdown at the end of the film. Fountains of blood spraying every which way, I'm actually glad it wasn't in color.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Saving Mr. Banks

Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.

The Good: Saving Mr. Banks does a great job with a pretty big task: telling the story of PL Travers, Mary Poppins, Walt Disney and the early 1960s entertainment world. That’s quite an undertaking considering all the moving parts involved, but Saving Mr. Banks, while certainly not pushing any boundaries or testing its characters, manages to pull it off with a bit of grace and a hell of a lot of class.

Is it over-sentimental and glorified and sometimes outright cheesy? Sure it is, but those aren’t critiques, those are observations. As melodramatic as Saving Mr. Banks gets, it knows that’s the tone it’s going for and keeps is consistent. Those elements are symptoms of that, not the cause and certainly not a disease that should be deplored. The script is too sharp, however fictional it may be, the performances too likable, even when they’re meant to be unlikeable, and tone of the film a constant. No matter the film, “based on” isn’t “real” and expectations of accuracy and trying to be “realistic” seems to be doing more harm with film criticism than good.

Emma Thompson as Travers ant Tom Hanks as Disney, somehow, don’t fall into caricatures, which is a concern of a film like this. They speak well, have a fantastic presence and, in the case of Hanks especially, you see the real person behind the performance. After a while, that’s Disney, not Hanks playing Disney. While it may not be the “real” Disney and still very much the entertainment persona the man created for himself, there are flashes here and there that it’s all just a ruse. His drinking. His smoking. His abusive father. His shrewdness. On the flip side is Travers with her stiffness and internal conflict on whether or not what she is doing is right. Say what you want about the story or accuracy, but at the heart of it, Thompson and Hanks at least humanizes it a way that’s beyond just bullet-points of what might or might not have happened.

Plus you have some great music. It’s Mary Poppins music. I dare you not to sing along.

The Bad: But that aside, the arm-chair psychoanalysis of Travers in a film that’s far more light and whimsical than that seems oddly out of place. It’s important we know her life, and who “Mr. Banks” is and what he means to her, but, like a brief bio on someone’s website, we really never fully understand her father, her relationship with him or the “nanny” (Travers’ aunt) that comes to her Australian childhood home that was the prototype for Mary Poppins as a character.

It’s never a world or backstory that comes fully formed. The lines of relevancy are loosely drawn, if not outright forced to bitter contrivance, but it’s often a distraction and a plot point that could have been recreated in a few lines by Hanks or Thompson in one or two scenes.  That doesn’t mean the flashbacks aren’t well done, Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson are terrific in them, but they’re excess and take away from the main story of Disney, Travers and the rights to Mary Poppins. The men and women of that era, from the Shermans to Ralph to Walt’s secretaries, are just far more interesting and relevant. Yet, we aren’t given enough of them, because we need to draw a line to Travers’ past on why she doesn’t like pears.

The Ugly: There are certainly moments of forcing the plot forward, but none more than a final “chat’ with Disney and Travers towards the end. Oh, I don’t care whether it happened in reality or not, it was just something you saw coming and realize that the film needed it for story structure purposes, not that it was particularly good or well-written.

Final Rating:  3.5 out of 5


Saving Private Ryan

Opening with the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Cpt. Miller fight ashore to secure a beachhead. Amidst the fighting, two brothers are killed in action. Earlier in New Guinea, a third brother is KIA. Their mother, Mrs. Ryan, is to receive all three of the grave telegrams on the same day. The United States Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, is given an opportunity to alleviate some of her grief when he learns of a fourth brother, Private James Ryan, and decides to send out 8 men (Cpt. Miller and select members from 2nd Rangers) to find him and bring him back home to his mother...

The Good: Saving Private Ryan is a movie that is fully aware of what it is. You can only do so much with the subject matter at hand and there have been hundreds of films already about it. As a result, it doesn’t try to do anything necessarily new, it just tries to do it all incredibly well. Actually it doesn’t “try” to do…it just simply does seemingly effortlessly, I might add. Liam Lacy of the Globe and Mail noted in his review “The greatest Steven Spielberg film since the last great one? Sure.” as though it’s saying “how much more can we possibly say about this glorious director? True in every facet, Saving Private Ryan has become another jewel in Spielberg’s crown. It’s one of his most aesthetically pleasing films, in all its hand-held camera glory, and beautifully photographed as our heroes traverse the French countryside, moving from town to town and story to story. The characters are remarkable and easy to get attached to, even if they are a tad stock, and Tom Hanks gives a fantastic performance as the team leader trying his best, as only a school teacher can, to keep his kids in line. There are times when you love them, and times when you hate them, and that only adds to the complexities and difficulties that war creates-brutality, instability, immorality and question after question that often never get answers. Saving Private Ryan reminds us it’s not just a person on the right and the person on the left…it’s that it’s people to begin with.

The Bad:
Every film that has done the D-Day scene or will do the scene in the future will never surpass this. Never. Thus all war films are to be judged by its standards…and that scene is only in the first 20 minutes. As a result, this intense and adrenaline rush of an opening almost makes the film seem like its downhill after it and nothing can live up to it. Well…nothing does.

The Ugly: This film lost best picture to Shakespeare in Love. It won everything else, but not that. Ask yourself…what movie do you discuss more? Can you even remember who played Will Shakespeare or the name of the character he was in love with? I bet you even forgot Ben Affleck was in the damn thing. Oh, it’s a smart movie, nicely done…but Best Picture is to go to a film with significance. Shakespeare in Love was hardly that.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Schindler's List

Oskar Schindler is a vain, glorious and greedy German businessman who becomes unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric Nazi reign when he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. A testament for the good in all of us.

The Good: Schindler’s List is the definitive film of Spielberg’s illustrious career. Considering the films the man has made, that might seem a little presumptuous. I’ve seen numerous films of the holocaust depict it vividly, but we need to remember that before Schindler’s List, none did. Some talked about it, a few showed documentary footage, but it was never outlined, detailed and presented through the eyes of someone who both wanted to shock us into realization and show the varying degrees of human dignity and morality from all sides. As one of the greatest films to ever be made, to go on about its attributes seems redundant. I can only repeat what’s already been said about the directing, the cinematography, Neeson and Kingsley’s acting, the sound and music not to mention the complex script surrounding it all that the director, somehow, manages to not glorify everything.  Trying to be colorful and creative describing those really doesn’t need to happen at this point, considering the praises the film has already received. But it does allow me to go on to say that Spielberg really came into his own as the greatest director alive and stakes his candidacy for the greatest director of all time. Considering the competition: Kubrick, Kurosawa, Ozu, De Sica, Bergman, Ford, Lean, Truffaut, Hitchcock and so on, he made himself “legitimate” with Schindler’s List. It showed that he could do anything, tackle any subject and even change his entire directing style to suit that subject effectively. Schindler’s List is his magnum-opus, the definitive career film…and his career isn’t nearly done yet.

The Bad: While some applaud the “shocking” imagery, some were actually appalled  by it. I see it as a presentation of honesty…some things need to be said and some things need to shown. Schindler’s List doesn’t skimp on the details and graphic nature, as a result those sometimes overshadow the rather heartfelt sentiment and moving story behind it all.

The Ugly: The fact it feels incredibly real.

Final Rating: 5 out 5


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim plays in a band which aspires to success. He dates Knives Chau, a high-school girl five years his junior, and he hasn't recovered from being dumped by his former girlfriend, now a success with her own band. When Scott falls for Ramona Flowers, he has trouble breaking up with Knives and tries to romance Ramona. As if juggling two women wasn't enough, Ramona comes with baggage: seven ex-lovers, with each of whom Scott must do battle to the death in order to win Ramona.

The Good: In flashes and bursts, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film that bombards you to such a degree that if you blink, you'll miss something. Whether it's a small cue, music note, background effect or jump cut, the film is full of hundreds of small visual gags, cutaways and homages to comic books, videogames and other movies that make up the primary meat of the film. It's flashy, energetic and never lets its foot off the pedal.

The story works well with this, setting it up simplistically with a very basic structure, then dishing out the goods as it moves along and develops, not having to worry about depth or context or consistency. It's a film that knows its premise well, but it knows its audience even better. This is pure Edgar Wright style completely released with no thought to the process - a stream of consciousness film that is made by people of a sub culture for people of a sub culture (that being the world of videogamers, internet bloggers, comic book fans and genre movie buffs). It's damn easy to see how such a film can receive such a mixed reaction from audiences. All the elements are style is build and focused directly towards one specific type.

Yet, there's one thing you can't deny whether you are that type or not: Scott Pilgrim is unique, different and one-of-a-kind. There's nothing quite like it across the board and you'll say more than once "I've never seen that before" or "I can't believe I haven't seen that in a movie yet." Even if you're not a part of that audience its targeting, you can certainly see a little bit of insight into that type of world.

The Bad: With pretty much every character being a shallow, over-the-top caricature, they can get a bit annoying if not downright shrill. Even our protagonist, Scott Pilgrim, isn't exactly the most likable guy on the planet. He can't be "flawed" because, as mentioned, ever character is pretty one-dimensional, he's just an annoying bug of a character. Also, how does he know how to fight like he's Jet Li again? Ah, welcome to the film...it just comes with the territory.

But the hardest aspect of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to really accept is that it's incredibly uneven.  It's a film that's full of a ton of genre styles, from action, hong kong martial arts and romance, but it needs something to string all those elements together. It needs comedy to do that, and though it tries, I think, it never really seems concerned with being funny as much as it is being goofy and over-the-top. This goes back to the characters themselves, far too shrill or unlikable to find them funny at all or even able to identify as actual people. But then you start wondering if you're supposed to find them funny in the first place or even believable people.  Are any of these people friends or just basic props to throw at the screen? There's a lot of characters in Scott Pilgrim, but not a lot of human beings.

The constant barrage of styles never brings consistency to that or to the world it all takes place in, which is also never clearly defined or explained. It allows for a fun and energetic film, as I said, but never an even one. With things that happen out of nowhere, and a majority of peoples' reactions either "what?" or standing around saying "what?" you can't quite gauge how you should be reacting either. Is it funny and expected? Is it dry comedy or some sort of satire? Nobody in the film seems to think so. Is it understandable? No, and nobody in the film thinks so on that either as characters fly, fight and go crazy with every extreme emotion possible with no middle ground to find its footing.  The analogies and metaphors are readily apparent, but not particularly placed together into a complete, finished puzzle.

By making the context of the film's style and thus its world limitless, you create something that's hard to grasp or understand. Applaud its vivacity and energy, but to see at as something more than a bombardment of that with loose ideas rattling around is difficult to even attempt.

The Ugly: Again, we're supposed to like some of these characters, right? It's a fun film, no doubt. But if they had managed to put in some less over-the-top personality traits, it would have done wonders to really make a more cohesive unit than just the prop characters placed here and there for set pieces and random encounters.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Scream 4

Ten years have passed, and Sidney Prescott, who has put herself back together thanks in part to her writing, is visited by the Ghostface Killer.

The Good: Far from utilizing postmodern subtlety but cynically self-referential, Scream 4 might not offer a lot for the slasher movie genre, but it's still a decently entertaining enough one that has enough twists, death and humor to hold your interest for the duration of its very brisk running time. At their hearts, all the Scream movies have been mystery flicks with a major reveal or two and a few red herrings along the way. Scream 4 doesn't disappoint in this regard as it puts the mystery front and center, even if it doesn't spend as much time as it should making you really care about it.

But you have to admire one thing about the Scream films, and Scream 4 certainly being no exceptions: it exudes personality. Where the slasher portion of the film is a pretty weak, the character and identity of the film is as strong as its ever been.  It manages to strike a great balance between the serious mystery aspect and the fun, quirkiness of a movie that's understanding it's a movie and has a good time with it.

The Bad: Is it so hard to create characters to care about? Perhaps the rather rushed pace of the film in the first 40 minutes is the cause of it; it spends more time trying to be witty and funny than giving us character that, by act 3, you know are going to likely be killed off. In fact, the only characters to like even remotely are the ones from the previous films, and even they are pretty shallow in many respects. It trips and stumbles over its own desire to be self aware that it neglects basic character introduction and development. They literally throw them on screen.

And as for that first 40 minutes, it's entirely forgettable. The second half of the film redeems Scream 4 for the most part. It's intense, well done and reaches the point of being smart but not "too smart for its own good" where are first half likes to be stagnant in. Due to half of the film being passable (if at least good) and the other half being rather forgettable and boorish, aware how pointless it is by saying (and repeating) how pointless it is, we end up with a fairly mediocre horror movie that nobody really asked for yet somehow we were delivered.

The Ugly: It's amazing that David Arquette has a character that is probably the most likable and relatable in the film, is on screen a ton, yet does absolutely nothing in the story.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Searchers

As a Civil War veteran spends years searching for a young niece captured by Indians, his motivation becomes increasingly questionable.
 

The Good: Everything.
 
No, seriously, everything. Think of all you love about westerns and why: the setting, the vistas, the archetypal characters, the layered symbolism and meanings to it all. The Searchers has everything, and though I could write paragraphs discussing its various aspects, other, better writers have analyzed the film to death. From the commentary on violence, national myths and need for heroes to character studies on the aspects of living in such a time and racial prejudice. It’s complex to say the least.
 
So I’ll keep it simple and discuss the basics. The cinematography here is grand, lush and shows the landscapes that draw you into this open, epic frontier full of hardships and danger. Yet, our heroes strike out into it to save their kidnapped family member. There’s much discussion between them along the way as we peel back the layers of the characters – Wayne’s especially who, despite being a “hero” to most of the world is a shunned figure to his own family. That dynamic is poetically beautiful and Wayne plays the role perfectly. He was and always will be the “hero” of Western genres, but here it shows a little chink in that armor…an armor and wall his character build up around himself that consists of bigotry, some might even say a bloodlust of sort, and a sense of entitlement to his own sense of right and wrong. Despite not even earning a single Academy Award nomination, The Searchers is a masterpiece on every level.
 
The Bad: Did you not just read what I wrote? Anything I list here is nitpicky at best. I suppose that allows me to say something about reviewers on certain things, though. Yeah, I know these are “Quick Reviews” and not full of depth or deep analysis, and are probably full of grammatical errors seeing as how they’re a bit off-the-cuff and barely proofread, but some reviewers will review a film and list off bad things about it for pages upon pages (or minute if it’s a video). The only thing is, those “bad” things are far from movie-breaking. There’s a difference between not liking something in a film and there being something that inherently breaks it in some form. The minute a reviewer, especially online (not to name names) begins listing things that are so tepid and barely significant to somehow justify their dislike of the film is when I start tuning them out if not outright lose respect for them entirely. It’s fine to not like things, but if that’s your crutch holding your argument why the entirety of the film is “bad,” it’s a wobbly crutch at best. Hell, that’s a crutch made of wet toothpicks and years-old scotch tape.
 
The Ugly: Is the Searchers my favorite western? No, probably not even my favorite John Wayne or John Ford western. But is it a film I would consider the pinnacle of the craft and genre? Yeah, it’s hard to argue against that.
 
Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Season of the Witch

14th-century knights transport a suspected witch to a monastery, where monks deduce her powers could be the source of the Black Plague.

The Good: A nice sense of atmosphere and overall likeable characters, though a bit dully played by Nicholas Cage and Ron Pearlman, make Season of the Witch watchable...though barely. If b-movie quality fantasy period pieces with knights and evils and so forth are your interest, and you've already seen the surprisingly good Black Death from earlier this year, then perhaps this is up your alley.

The Bad: Conceptually cheesy and annoyingly dull, Season of the Witch is a waste of film. Not in the "it should never have been made" way of being a waste, but in the "there's probably a good version of this somewhere and it's completely squandered here" way of being wasted. There's a place for b-movies and low-grade entertainment, but Season of the Witch takes itself far too seriously and attempts to be too melodramatic to be taken as just the cheesy entertainment it should be.

The film is a conflicted one. The opening and ending feel like an over-the-top and potentially fun romp whereas the meat of the film wants to be a character story about two fallen knights, Cage in particular trying to play the drama up while Ron Pearlman, though giving a better performance and feeling much more at home in the role, has so very little to work with.  Visually drab, achingly slow-paced and far too serious for its own good, Season of the Witch is one of the worst films 2011 and it really didn't need to be.

The Ugly: Low-grade CGI is expected, and though I still consider it bad, it's not necessarily out of place in a film like this. It's kind of expected and working within its own bounds. There are few special effects that are quite impressive, but others laughably bad. The problem here is consistency more than anything. Either be entirely good or entirely mediocre, to see variations in quality shows a lack of focus and commitment, if not an outright rush-job to get a film completed. Then again, this comes from director Dominic Sena who's given us the likes of Whiteout, Swordfish and, probably his best film which isn't saying much, Gone in Sixty Seconds.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Secret Agent

Novelist-turned-soldier Edgar Brodie is recruited by British intelligence during World War I to ferret out a mysterious German spy and eliminate him. Brodie is given a new identity by his "handler," R, and teamed with two professional agents, an amoral, but amusingly deadly assassin known as The General and Elsa Carrington, a beautiful blonde who will pose as his wife and cover for his new identity. After they mistakenly target an innocent old man as the operative and The General cold-bloodily murders him, both Edgar and Elsa question the morality of the mission, especially when The General only finds amusement in the blunder. When they eventually discover the spy's true identity, Elsa is determined to stop her two fellow agents from fulfilling the mission.
 

The Good: An intriguing look at the moral ambiguity of war, made during a time when war was certainly in the air. Out of all of Hitchcock's early films, Secret Agent is one of his more refined. His directing and Bernard Knowles fantastic photography are easily the best aspect of the film. Well, that and Peter Lorre, who utterly steals the show from the two main stars. The story is intriguing as well, and it's well told and paced for the most part especially in terms of how it handles its characters - certain plot elements are what ultimately drag it down, but thematically it's brilliant. It reminds us that spies are still people, have regrets, feelings, and might even sometimes question themselves and whether or not what they're doing is right.
 
The Bad: Yes, there is certainly a Deus Ex Machina thrown in towards the end, and in that respect the movie undoubtedly plays itself safe. I find this odd, considering it really wasn't playing it safe up until that point. Characters we like do things we don't like, characters we don't like seem like their conflicted, all to be ended rather artificially and without a sense of satisfaction. This morality play shouldn't have been surmised by such an event, the material was far too good for that to simply happen. Some might justify it as something used to put it all "in perspective" in terms of what the wartime atmosphere was like. I think it was just a writer trying to find a good climax, which ultimately fails considering the climax felt more purposeful and fitting in the scenes prior to it. Watch the film, you'll see what I mean.
 
Other than that, other plot elements don't quite fit. Edgar becoming a spy doesn't make sense, Elsa is more a damsel in distress than a spy with experience (this is an assassination attempt) and even Lorre's The General is out of place because his character certainly is one to draw attention to himself. Not exactly secretive. Had this been more a reconnaissance mission rather than an assassination , and it escalates, I could buy these people in that situation far more. One of Hitch's weaker films in terms of the narrative, although his directing and scene structure is in top-form.
 
The Ugly: Peter Lorre is a fantastic actor, his character steals the show as far as I'm concerned (the others, while good, don't match up). But I find it odd that the public perception of Mexicans hasn't changed since 1936.
 
Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A day-dreamer escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker are threatened, he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.    

The Good: Either you’re going to be on board with the journey that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty takes you on, or you aren’t. You aren’t going to get a lot in terms of character, but you are going to be traveling. A lot. And like Walter Mitty, you’re experiencing it for the first time, sometimes it’s not even real. Sometimes it’s fantasy. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference.

And that drop in and drop out of reality and fantasy is what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty does so well, and it takes it all in literal fashion. A daydream explodes into an action set piece, a look at an object turns into something beautiful and sweet as we witness literal thoughts and expansive imagination, another is saying “screw it” and just traveling to Greenland and Iceland and Afghanistan to start experience life itself.

That’s the concept of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - less a story and more of a tracing of a life experience, both internally and externally. We all have those fantasies, and the film points out that if you experience the wonders of life and what there is out there, you won’t become as lost in them, and maybe not as lost in life. I found this theme rather beautiful and inspired and handled with grace in a film that may not nail everything its’ going for, but has an enjoyable way to showcase affirmation by way of imagination.

The Bad: Moments of dragging out the plot, moments of uncertainty of whether to take a comedic or dramatic angle, moments of awkwardness where you aren’t sure what you should be getting from the scene…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie full of moments, some work. Some don’t. It’s inconsistent - resulting in a movie that’s better than the sum of its parts. As a singular experience, it’s actually exhilarating, but as a film that wants to show and express and say something, it never quite comes together because all those little moments just don’t work well with each other.

That’s not on fault of the directing or the acting or even the script. It’s a film that’s meant to be a “hodgepodge” of ideas and variety, ranging from something scary to something full of action to something sweet and charming to something dramatic, and these tonal shifts result in an inconsistent movie, causing certain important moments, such as a scene about a Snow Leopard that might have given us more insight into Walter as a person, lost amidst it all. There’s ambition struggling to find the heart, and it never quite gets it beating.

The Ugly: I’m not entirely sure why the film is being panned. Perhaps they expected a standard comedy, but instead got more of a drama, or it could be its constant variety of tones and styles that is off-putting, but taken as a whole, I quite enjoyed it. Is it amazing? No. It’s not even that memorable, but I didn’t budge from my seat for over two hours. That’s more than I can say about a lot of movies.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Secret World of Arrietty

The Clock family are four-inch-tall people who live anonymously in another family's residence, borrowing simple items to make their home. Life changes for the Clocks when their daughter, Arrietty, is discovered. 

The Good: The fact is this: The Secret World of Arrietty is everything you want it to be. Close you eyes and imagine Studio Ghibli doing what Studio Ghibli does best. This meets all those requirements. A beautiful animated portrait of fantasy, friendship, a bit of adventure and a great sense of place and atmosphere shows how above and beyond the studio is above many animation houses. Animation, or even film in general, like this is rare. It's thoughtful, emotional and majestic. It's unassuming in its artistic brilliance and, like many of Ghibli's films, one that you'll certainly remember for years.

That's the thing about the studio. You can't really list what the great animated films are without including a good chunk of their material. That's why many can only compare one Studio Ghibli film to another to make such a determination. The Secret World of Arrietty is certain to go down as one of their best, written by Hayao Miyazaki (the soul of the entire studio) and Keiko Niwa and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (in his first directing role) the trademark sense of wonder and beauty is found that hasn't been seen in years (at least since the studio's last film in 2008). What they do better than anyone is a sense of subtlety. Small animation, mannerisms, body language, little things like drops of water or grass blowing. All done by hand. Toiled over. Put out for us to take in and our only reaction is full appreciation. The story is sweet and charming, simple and straightforward but rich in its narrative purpose, characters incredibly memorable and we end up with a film that shows just how far the studio has come, as though it's always been working up to this, and how far others still have to go.

The Bad: Outside of a rushed third act, and some plot lines that seem to come from no where (and others end nowhere), there's really little to say badly about the film. It's a small film, a small story, done in grand fashion. Pardon the "small" puns, of course. perhaps more could have been done, a larger sense of adventure, something with a grander scope, but the sweetness of it all might lose something as a result of it and being bombastic would be a disservice to the plot more than anything.

The Ugly: I really would have liked some characters to get a better "just deserts" at the end.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

As an asteroid nears Earth, a man finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. Accompanying him is a neighbor who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan.

The Good: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is probably one of the darkest, blackest comedies you'll ever see. It's the end of the world, afterall, and it plays out about how you'll probably expect it to play out. People just stop caring, and either fall to the lowest form you can think of with orgies, sex, hating their spouses and children, murdering, suicides and laughs at all of it. It's an R-rated comedy about as R-rated as you can get. Not through raunchiness, but just through the uninhibited darkness of it all as we try, through Steve Carrell who is perfectly cast here because we need his dead-pan normalcy to get through all this craziness, try to find a little glimmer of light in your final days and lay witness to the humorous side of Sodom and Gomorah.

What really makes it work is how, even though everyone knows they have no time left, they all act and converse normal, everyday conversations, only with more urgency. The tone is much like an early scene in the film: everyone goes to a dinner party with their kids, sit around and just casually talk about what they're going to do with their final days. Some people are sincere, others bored out of their minds, but all pretend like it's just another day and another conversation, and seeing this mundane aura through such a satirical set of "end of the world" goggles makes Seeking a Friend for the End of the World a movie you didn't know was missing in your life.

"Lacy wants to go to her step-fathers in Aspen so she can tell him to fuck off," says a husband.

"And also ski," says Lacy.

"Well, I think I'm finally going to take that pottery class," says Karen with a smile, wearing a tiara and fur because she never wore a tiara and fur.

This dinner scene is then followed by the parents getting their young kids drunk and smoking cigarettes while listening to 80s music. Then Patton Oswalt shows up and notes how the Apocalypse has leveled the field, because girls will now have sex with anyone. Then they bust out the heroin.

See...this is the absolute unabashed dark satire that I, personally, enjoy. It's a commentary on humanity as a whole, because even though you like to think you know what "normal" is, it's really not. Get rid of the structure, let humans be humans, and you'll probably get what this film shows you.

Everyone is overly happy and excited and want to destroy themselves before a big asteroid does. Even best is through all this craziness, there's actually some very deep conversations happening. Brief interludes of life and regret. Emotions pour out, putting a hell of a lot of drama in the basket as well. Seeking a Friend for the end of the World isn't "laugh out loud" funny, more funny in awkward hysteria, but it's a very smart, very heartfelt comedy that should have been seen by more even though it is certainly one of those movies you probably will only want to see once as it puts you through the emotional ringer on more than one occasion.

The Bad: It's a 90% masterpiece of dark satire...but 10% very, very, very bad of a finale. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World brings out one of the single worse final acts I've seen on a film, completely changing the entire course of the movie that showed more promise in its first 15 minutes alone than most films do as a whole. The heart is still there, but the willingness to go down less-trodden paths gives way to predictability. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's far too convention for a film that's so unconventional, though it still manages to be a bit bold despite it. It's a film that starts strong, puts its best foot forward, but ultimately is trying to find where to go after that culminating in a sense of dissatisfaction by the time it turns the corner and starts heading to predictability town.

The Ugly: Ten minutes in, I knew I loved this movie. True, it eventually showed some flaws the further we went down the road, it's one of those films that just clicked with me even though I see many people probably disliking its dark humor and probably more-disliking the shift at the end (I know I did, I would have given it a higher score otherwise). You know how it is: it just knows your sensibilities. Most of all is that this is a melodrama that makes sense in being a melodrama. In a way, it's a bit of a deconstruction of your typical romantic comedy, only with a far, far sweeter side to it all.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Selma

A chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

The Good: So you want to make a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. Taken on that, it seems that it would be a straightforward, touting movie to make. He was great, what he did was great, and then credits. Yet, Selma isn’t quite that. Firstly, it doesn’t entirely show King or those around him as shining white knights. Oh, they’re certainly in the right across the board, but Selma manages to show their flaws as well. In other words, it humanizes figures we only hear about. It shows the power, but it also shows the shortcomings, and from those we come to appreciate the emotional and spiritual side of the people behind it.

Secondly, Selma is smart in how it handles its story. It’s about Martin Luther King Jr, yes, but that’s less the focus of the movie and more a player in the grand scheme of the film’s scope. It’s about race, corruption, inequality and what is worth fighting for. As powerful as King is, he’s still just one name in a movie that tells the story of a situation. But focusing entirely on that situation, everything else falls into place: the human factor, King’s story, those around him, the state of the government and state of Alabama, the way outsiders perceive it. It’s a solid script handled with grace.

The person handling that is doctor Ava DuVernay off a script from first-time screenwriter Paul Webb. There’s something here that, in a sort, is lightning in a bottle. Between the brilliant casting, notably of David Oyelowo who embodies King, and great cinematography, it simply seems everything is in its right place to create a stirring, thoughtful drama that isn’t so much a biopic as much as it is a comment on race relations in the 1960s which is reflective of the state of those relations today.

The Bad: Selma offers enough to warrant you saying “I know this story, but I feel as though now I know more.” From that the “more” is either going to be something worth your time or not, and in Selma it’s a bit of both. There’s great “more” when it comes to King and those around him, as we’re given plenty of insight and context on them and their situation. However, there’s not enough of that given to elements of Lyndon Johnson, George Wallace, Lee C White or Herbert Hoover. In fact, there’s just not enough to really nail it other than one-dimensional views of their views. There’s complexity on one side, and shallowness on the other that makes you wonder why bother showing a Hoover or even a Wallace at all outside of background fodder.

So, essentially, when it’s on Selma and those events, the movie is great. When it leaves there and goes to try to give insight on other things, it comes across as disingenuous: as though it’s less interested and more obligated to show it. The human drama of Selma, done so right, makes those “mores” outside of it seem that less inspired or interesting or even needed.

The Ugly: Very realized it, but yeah…Oprah as Annie Lee Cooper is actually damn good casting.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Serenity

In the future, when a passenger with a deadly secret. Six rebels on the run. An assassin in pursuit. When the renegade crew of Serenity agrees to hide a fugitive on their ship, they find themselves in an awesome action-packed battle between the relentless military might of a totalitarian regime who will destroy anything - or anyone - to get the girl back and the bloodthirsty creatures who roam the uncharted areas of space. But, the greatest danger of all may be on their ship. From the mind of Joss Whedon, comes a new edge-of-your-seat adventure loaded with explosive battles, gripping special effects and fantastic new worlds.

The Good: With a tongue firmly planted in cheek, Serenity offers us a fun and charming piece of a science fiction western. It’s smarter than I think it gives itself credit for, layered with rich depth, moral issues, involved and chemistry-laced characters and a unique universe to base it all around in. While those who had seen the short lived Firefly series of which this is a “sequel” to probably don’t need explaining of it all, writer/director Joss Whedon not only introduces new viewers to his characters and world quickly and effectively, he does so in a way that doesn’t feel redundant to old fans. It’s seamless and natural, much like the rest of the film for the most part. Those new will feel engaged quickly, those old fans will feel as though they’re at a reunion. Whedon knows his characters, their wit and dialogue is showcased from beginning to end, and the actors know them equally as well. Like those classic westerns (or Star Wars) it has a dash of wry humor, great action, romance and a clear good versus evil story. It’s greatness is in the presentation of it simplicity. It isn’t paving a new road here, but it surely has the one with the most flowers and few potholes. 

The Bad: All that Serenity really allows is a condensed second season rather than one story that is well-paced and told. Due to the fact that an entire story arc has to be wrapped up, we get the cliff’s notes version of it and it sadly gives off this feeling as the movie unfolds. It rushes to the finish line promptly, perhaps worried a sequel won’t arrive to finish off the story after a set-up, and much of the natural feel to everything seems to be clicked to autopilot as we lose the chemistry and personalities of the characters along the way. Those characters are the strongest points of the entire film by far, the plot and special effects really secondary, and to lose even a hint of that element brings down the entire product.

The Ugly: I saw Serenity before I even realized it was based on the Firefly series. After seeing it, becoming so endeared towards the characters, I soon saw the series. It’s sad but it’s a single-season series that, once watching, you kind of understand the clamor of fans that became attached to it. You can become attached to the characters that you were hoping to get to know even better over time; cut short well before it even came to full fruition. Serenity isn’t the mountaintop even after that, as though the franchise that Whedon attempted still had more to give us, but it’s a solid basecamp on the way up a cloud-covered peak.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 


A Serious Man

A black comedy set in 1967 and centered on Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern professor who watches his life unravel when his wife prepares to leave him because his inept brother won't move out of the house.

The Good: Michael Stuhlbarg finds a perfect fit with the Coen brothers' dark humor in this rather mature and adult tale of a Jewish man wanting to do the right thing. Always wanting to the do the right thing, I should say, even if it comes at the cost of his own dignity. This is one of the Coen's most intimate films they've done, a reflection of life and family as well as faith and belief within that family. I don't need to praise the cinematic eye of the Coens, their films always look remarkable, and their use of space and framing among the elite, but I do need to praise their pacing of the film. It doesn't test your patience yet is patient in nearly testing it. As the film stresses, and it encompasses the Coens so well, trying to find a point or a sense of completion is futile: just enjoy the time you at least have with it. This is clearly a movie by the Coens for Coen fans, but also drastically different enough to tell show progress and change as writers/directors to those fans. It's new, yet familiar, and a solid film on their behalf.

The Bad:
I've come to expect the Coens' style and approach to stories, I'm even a fan, and so I also have come to expect their approach to ending. I simply don't think their approach to how the film ends is a fit for this particular story. Everything is distinctly them, right down to the "world against me" element of the protagonist, but there seems to be no moving forward to where there is even a shred of hope that it might end well. Their philosophy of bleakness is a staple of their films, but I think this story needed, at least once in a while, a slight shred of that hope or at least a few of the loose ends tied up for a slight sense of completion. Also, Larry's family is utterly despicable, almost to the point of disbelief, but they never grow or learn and it makes my suspension of disbelief that they could be so oblivious to everything to the extreme.

The Ugly: It's hard to believe that the only fairly decent person in the movie just happens to be a lawyer. Who'd of thought? Oh, the Coens...and their sense of irony probably.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Serpent and the Rainbow

Dennis Allan is a scientist who visits Haiti on the strength of a rumour of a drug which renders the recipient totally paralyzed but conscious. The drug's effects often fool doctors, who declare the victims dead. Could this be the origin of the "zombie" legend? Alan embarks on a surprising and often surreal investigation of the turbulent social chaos that is Haiti during the revolution which ousted hated dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Often a pawn in a greater game, Alan must decide what is science, what is superstition, and what is the unknown in a anarchistic society where police corruption and witch-doctory are commonplace.

The Good: If there's anything that absolutely can't be denied about this film is that it is absolutely ambitious.  Even its detractors, the film being one that does divide people and critics, will admit to that. Shot on location in Haiti, I can't think of many films that are able to transport you to a location so convincingly. We see things that feel authentic because they are authentic, with hundreds of Haitians involved at times in crucial scenes. Like Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, there are slight surrealist qualities to it all that enforce the mysticism of the land and the mysteries that surround Voodoo and actual zombification. It's not so much frightening, although the dream sequences are quite intense, as much as it is unsettling - especially considering that much of the film is inspired by the real story of (note "inspired by" not "based on") Wade Davis and his travels to Haiti in the early 1980s and his book The Serpent and the Rainbow which he wrote in 1985. There's little that can be understood or grasped as to the plot, it's more a series of odd events, but I liken this to our own inability to fully grasp Voodoo as a whole in our culture. To the Haitians, it is their life and simply an everyday thing. The film does a wonderful job showing this and it doesn't try to explain it to us because it's pretty much impossible to surmise an entire belief system in an hour and a half.  It's easily one of Craven's more intelligent films and better constructed ones.

The Bad: The film's least appealing quality is its lead, actor Bill Pullman. He simply is completely unconvincing in the film and a more mature and capable actor probably could have pulled it off. Instead, we have Bill wandering through scene to scene and we still have no understanding of his character, his views and opinions and how all these things are affecting him. Unlike Lost Highway, similar in its odd and surreal approach, Pullman doesn't keep us grounded as all the crazy things go on. Perhaps the character was underwritten as well, which surely doesn't help matters and Pullman does some daring things for the role (like wrestle live Jaguars), but the lack of personality is entirely on Pullman in this regard and the film would have been even stronger with a more efficient and effective central character to pull is through it all. In the end, we simply don't know him at all.

The Ugly: Wade Davis has been woefully outspoken against the film since its release, however at the same time I could find no quotes or interviews with him on exactly what bothered him with it other than that he originally wanted Peter Weir to direct and Gibson to star. I'll assume it's just the Alan Moore approach and he dislikes it because he can simply dislike it. Of course, his book came under criticisms from the scientific community as well because of alleged fabrications, poor methodology and grave robbing, so eat it, Davis.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Seven

Set in a perpetually gloomy unnamed city, the film follows Somerset, a retiring police detective, as he experiences his final week on the job, reluctantly working with assertive newcomer Mills. When an obese man is found brutally murdered in his home, the seasoned Somerset realizes this is no ordinary killing--someone tortured him because of his appetite. Slayings that reflect the sins of greed and sloth soon follow, leading Somerset and Mills on a desperate search to find the mysterious John Doe, who is responsible for these methodical murders. As the case builds to a startling conclusion, both Somerset and Mills become more involved than they ever could have imagined.

The Good: A story full of great twists can either be thrilling (as this is a thriller, I hope so) or insulting (as in cheating to try and get a reaction). Seven is the former, to an extent, but we’ll get to that in a minute. What makes a good thriller are those plot twists, the revelations, the engrossing characters (especially the villain) and a sense of style to it all. Obviously influenced by classic film-noir of the 40s, Seven is dark, gloomy and stylish demented and in utterly love with the genre’s foundations as much as the film’s killer loves killing to make a point and send a message to the dregs of our society. One of Seven’s best aspects, and rare for this type of film, is the fantastic relationship between Detectives Mills and Somerset. They don’t merely come across as partners, but develop a friendship that is believable despite it being new. It’s wonderfully subtle and these “real” world scene of normalcy are a fantastic contrast to the dark, gory and brutal world the killer sets up for them. Through them and the strains they’re put through we not only find ourselves routing for them (some serial killer films unintentionally will have you routing for the killer) but actually start to hate the zealous killer as much as they do. We begin to care for them and sometimes even forget there’s a murderer on the loose...but he’s just around the corner to thrust into that dark reality of his once more. Impeccably paced and beautifully shot, Seven is the film that put David Fincher on the map as an incredible talent, gave Brad Pitt acting credibility from his magazine-cover good looks and reminded us why we all love Morgan Freeman in anything he’s in. Many films have tried to emulate the success of Seven, not to mention its style, and none have come close since its release.

The Bad:
What keeps Seven from being a perfect thriller is, sadly, its finale. Fincher and screenwriter Walker have noted that they simply couldn’t quite figure out how to end it. This does show, from bad dialogue to overacting, and while the idea works to a point, it reaches absurdity and a scene that goes against the natural flow of the rest of the film. It’s a standoff that struggles to conclude, so someone finally just pulls the trigger and puts it all out of misery.

The Ugly: Since Seven (and, to an extent, The Silence of the Lambs), studios and filmmakers looked to “one-up” the serial killer thriller by shelling out many films and trying to figure out just how dumb they could make a killer’s motives and premise - now more elaborate and artificial as ever. It's like slapping a "new and improved" sticker on a product and just as untrustworthy. The slasher genre, for all its faults, at least kept things simple. Instead of fun slasher movies, most anyways, we’re subjected to serial killer movies which are overly serious, overly dark, and overly absurd.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Seven Pychopaths

A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu. 

The Good: Fun characters and character actors abound, but Seven Psychopaths has only that going for it in this trite, trying-too-hard dark comedy. It is a wonderfully absurdist and utter rediculous movie, however. Though it never qutie gets a hold of whatever it is it's trying to do, the energy and enthusiasm is most certainly there. To that, you have to give a tip of the hat for even attempting it all.

The Bad: I don't know if I've ever seen a film get its own premise so wrong. Here we have a great cast to play our resident "psychos" and nothing to do with them. Nothing, except have them do goofy things and tell weird stories that really have no connection to each other. In fact, it's not so much seven as much as it is four. That "seven" that's advertised is really just bit players that barely show up and barely have lines and are a part of the "stories" being told.

Those stories? Oh, well you see, our lead is trying to write a film. It just so-happens to be titled "Seven Psychopaths." Yes, it's one of those movies. Constantly self-referential, trying to be far too smart for its own good and a movie that thinks being over-zealous is the equivalent of comedy. Being nutty, screaming and "psychotic" isn't funny. At least, not when your entire story is overwrought with it all.

But Seven Psychopath’s biggest fault is its tone. It really has no clue what kind of movie it once to be - hence the reliance of self-reference and hence the inability to figure out what to have all these characters do. It all ends up like Christopher Walken just rambling in to a tape recorder: potentially entertaining, but nonsensical along the way.

The Ugly: Arguably one of the worst films of 2012, it's really a massive disappointment more than anything. The director's previous film was the terrific In Bruges.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Seven Samurai

One of the most beloved movie epics of all time, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) tells the story of a sixteenth-century village whose desperate inhabitants hire the eponymous warriors to protect them from invading bandits. This three-hour ride—featuring legendary actors Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura—seamlessly weaves philosophy and entertainment, delicate human emotions and relentless action into a rich, evocative, and unforgettable tale of courage and hope.

The Good: Action, great characters, drama, fantastic story, Seven Samurai has everything you want in your epics. It's rooted deep in Japanese culture and history and feels more authentic than any Hollywood epic film made around the same time (mid-1950s). What most people love about it is that each character is well-developed and recognizable through their traits, the seven all have their own approaches and views on war, fighting and morality, and this allows for a great variety in action scenes as well as philosophical agendas. Toshiro Mifune portrays the high-energy and immature samurai Kikuchiyo, although in a supporting role here he steals the show and would go on to do a lot more Samurai movies. Takashi Shimura, though, isn't the leader of the samurai for nothing as he too puts out a fantastic performance as a brave veteran samurai who is a great contrast to the inexperienced Mifune character. Then you have five other unique and distinct ones (the quiet honorable samurai who can kill a man in one move is a favorite of many) Despite the length, the movie is paced and edited so immaculately, the story so well told and the characters engaging, that you'll hardly notice

The Bad: It's a little difficult to find flaws in Akira Kurosawa's movies. The minor love story plot might not have been needed, but it's minor and the film doesn't really suffer. Seven Samurai is one of those movies that is called a masterpiece for a reason.

The Ugly: The villagers themselves can be difficult to like, even Samurai have a tough time doing it. 

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


The Seventh Seal

A Knight and his squire are home from the crusades. Black Death is sweeping their country. As they approach home, Death appears to the knight and tells him it is his time. The knight challenges Death to a chess game for his life. The Knight and Death play as the cultural turmoil envelopes the people around them as they try, in different ways, to deal with the upheaval the plague has caused.

The Good: Ingmar Bergman loved existentialism. In fact, nearly every single one of his films deals with it in some form. Considering the man made 62 films, that's quite the accomplishment. His most obvious out of those, though, is his highly-influential (and highly influenced by, as it owes some debt to Carl Theodore Dreyer's approach) The Seventh Seal that has more allegories and metaphors about life and death than this film reviewer cares to count. At its heart, it's about human nature and our fear of death. It's grand in scope yet small in execution allowing a strong since of personalization to a viewer, as though they are traveling with Antonius and Jons through the landscape that is death's ambiguity. Of course, the strongest attribute is the striking visuals that Bergman is known for. It's haunting, even frightening, and completely atmospheric that stays with you long after the final fade to black.

The Bad:  Attempting to pick apart a story so rooted with metaphors and allegories is utterly pointless. The film is less concerned about telling a story than it is being intellectual. While it succeeds in fold in that department, weaving together a story is completely secondary and thus is hard to hold against the film when it doesn't really attempt to bring in a story; it's merely scene after scene ranging from the surreal to the darkly haunting. Unconventional yet completely purposeful, from discussions about death to discussions with death. As I noted in the 2001: A Space Odyssey review, meaning is more pertinent if it's told through a narrative rather than spite one from the beginning. The Seventh Seal isn't quite as much a failure to that, mainly because it doesn't attempt to and is more surrealist cinema than a conventional one.

The Ugly: Bergman was nominated for 9 Oscars as a writer and director over his long career, not winning any. His controversial self-exile (look it  up) probably halted his career far earlier than it needed to be, especially in comparison to how prolific he was before that.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

When captain Sindbad and his men land on the island Colossa they are confronted with man-eating cyclops. They can escape with the help of the magician Sokurah and his magic lamp. The lamp which contains a helpful demon unfortunately gets lost. Back in Bagdad the magician performs impressive tricks. He wants to start an expedition back to Colossa to bringing the lamp back in his possession. But the kalif rejects the magicians requests. The malicious Sokurah breaks into the rooms of the princess at night and shrinks the princess to the size of an elf. The magician offers his abilities to heal the princess on next day. But one of the magic potions necessary components must be procured from the island Colossa first. So captain Sindbad sails again to the island Colossa and to the dangers expecting him there...

The Good: An icon of a movie for many reasons, this film was arguably the first "great" film from Ray Harryhausen (mainly because it was the first he really had a large hand in as a producer). Don't get me wrong, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers is a classic and The Beast from 20,000 Fathomas a personal camp favorite, but Sinbad ushered in the eventual love affair that Harryhausen will have with sweeping, effects-laden epics (and fighting skeletons). The story is a simple, straightforward epic that would eventually be the standard formula for a Harryhausen film: an adventurer on a quest who comes across various special effects and matte paintings as he journeys onward. You know what? That's not half bad.

The Bad: I don't know about you, but Sinbad is a bit weak lead here. He is just completely bland and uninteresting. Then it kind of hit me how indistinguishable most of the characters were as a whole, not to mention rather forgettable. Rather than being a part of the story, naturally fitting into it, they are simply props to a fairly loose plot, a weak story even by this genre's standards and a rather generic feel to every set piece that, admittingly, would be topped in every single film Harryhausen would later do. A groundwork, certainly, but not the full build.

The Ugly: Yeah, I didn't like the other two Sinbads either (the characters, not the movies). However, they did bring in a more complete personality and a dickish attitude at times.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


'71

A young and disoriented British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the deadly streets of Belfast in 1971.

The Good: ’71 could easily have been a simple propaganda film. Perhaps intentional or unintentional, it very well could have taken sides in a conflict between Ireland and England that is still very much debated to this day. Thankfully, screenwriter Gregory Burke, in his first script I might add, puts that in the background in favor of a story that is more about humanity and interactions with others than it is a politically charged discourse.

That’s not to say 71 doesn’t have political overtones, it very much is about the conflict in Belfast, but it doesn’t turn into a soapbox because the driving force is the story of the people, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) and the various people in Belfast he encounters, including the “enemies” that he was fighting against. It puts a face on the sides of each, humanizing “The Troubles” as it came to be known over the course of 30 plus years.

It’s a tense, gritty film of survival and emotional context that you don’t get too often, especially for something that is politically-charged in the first place, with a strong performance from O'Connell who's quickly becoming one of England's finest actors. He grounds it. Makes it real. The shooting style, often handheld, on location in Belfast gives it a documentary feel and puts you right there in the streets of 1971 Belfast. Though it can be uneven at times, '71 is a great example of young talent coming together to create something memorable, unique and entertaining while having something to say along the way.

The Bad: There is a plot point that kind of detracts from the film. It’s more a sub-plot, really, but it doesn’t creep up until a good third way into the thing and though it’s great to paint a picture around our lead beyond “get out of Belfast alive,” it also shoves in a dozen new characters to track and attempt to make it a crime thriller when, in reality, we lose the focus of the story at hand.

It’s a story that might have been interesting had it been in its own film, political assassination and IRA Hierarchy in-fighting would make for some great drama no doubt, but we also lose Gary Hook in the process. It wouldn’t be such a detraction if the film didn’t start with tense escalation of Hook’s story, then just put it on the back burner for something that’s, although interesting, isn’t nearly as relevant.

The Ugly: The director, Yann Demange, who directed this has done little, only television, but man…you can’t really tell. This feels like a tried and true old hand in its directing style, wonderfully shot by cinematographer Tat Radcliffe whom Demange worked with on TV.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Shame

In New York City, Brandon's carefully cultivated private life -- which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction -- is disrupted when his sister Sissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay. 

The Good: Shame is a film that will make you feel bad, then ultimately make you feel worse. As a meditation of sex addiction, it's a complex character study of desires, drive and passion with a stunning turn by Michael Fassbender. Candid. Every bit deserving of its NC*17 rating. Poetic yet in a way of constant anxiety and discomfort. It's a film built to generate an uneasy response from its audience and it achieves that in every way, from visuals to emotion.

Shame is not a film you will enjoy. It's not meant to be. It is a film you can appreciate, however. It's candid, however not on its sexual attributes as one might think. Alright, it is candid on that, but it's also strikingly candid on the idea of human emotion. Brandon (Fassbender) takes a route of connection that is visceral and raw. It's the lustful and physical. His connection on an emotional level, however, is gone. Perhaps it gave way to his desires, or perhaps he was just raised that way and can only find a connection to others through sexuality.

With this comes conflict. Brandon knows he shouldn't just be focused on sex, perhaps he even wants to have some sort of human connection through emotion and love (especially with his estranged sister) but he feels he's too far gone down one path to ever really know what that's like. He can't even tell when others might care for him or simply want to spend time with him because he's far too distant in thinking about his next sexual achievement, even if it's self-gratification. Self-destruction is inevitable, and Shame is a methodical dive into the deep end of such a destruction.

The Bad: Many times, the film can seemingly be ponderous and slow simply for the sake of being ponderous and slow. It's not a film that gets to its point quickly. The fact that you know the point pretty much before going into the film makes the extraneous nature of some scenes that much more of a bore to sit through. There's taking your time...then there's wasting the audience's.
For a film that's meant to be a character study, we really know little about our character. Fassbender is magnificent and we see his character in full candid rawness, but we never really know who he is or what he thinks. We only know what he does and what his conflict is. Any emotional attachment or even a sense of relatability of him is absent, especially once his sister enters the picture. We observe, yet we learn little, if anything.

The Ugly: It's unfortunate that given an NC-17 rating, many simply will look at that surface quality of the film. You'll see nudity and sex and a hell of a lot of it, but don't become so focused on that to not see the purpose behind it all. It's not a film that receives a rating like that because there's lots of nudity and that's it. It's not arousing nor titillating. It's not meant to be. There's a method to this madness and meaning to every scene and frame. To many, though, that rating and all the penises and breasts will probably clout it, if not dilute it completely. Think of it less like Showgirls and more Eyes Wide Shut or Last Tango in Paris.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Shane

A weary gunfighter attempts to settle down with a homestead family, but a smoldering settler/rancher conflict forces him to act.

The Good: In every genre of film, there is a select group where the final result exceeds its defining, expected traits. For a comedy, it's something along the lines of The Great Dictator or for romance a movie like Harold and Maude, Annie Hall or The Apartment. It's these film's that, yes, define their respective genres but at the same time appeal to all basic storytelling premises on an instinctual level, thus catapulting them to wide appeal and grandeur. There's something about them that goes beyond saying "yes they're a comedy" or "yes it's a romance" because the film in and of itself isn't simply defined by mere categories at a video store. For the western, it's a movie like Shane: It's great not because it's a western, it's great in spite of even being a western entirely. Shane is a rather simple, archetypal story that finds its roots in mythology ranging from Greek tragedy to Arthurian Legend - perhaps even a bit Biblical at times. What Shane does, and what all "great" films do is tell a remarkable story and tell it well. No tricks. Just good writing and characters because, in the end, that's all we want from a good picture no matter what else it strives for. What good are constant twists, turns and tragedy if you can't even tell a basic, fundamental story correctly?

Shane is a fable; a contemporary story with a mythological angle, thematic resonance, understated subplots, believable people and a central reason for its being that few films even bother with. Ladd is at the top of his game and gives us a beautiful, understated performance while the directing by Stevens is commanding and purposeful. Not a thing is wasted by either and what you end up with is a streamlined, poetic piece of filmmaking and a movie that has a reputation that well exceeds the amount of people that have probably watched it - which is a shame.

The Bad: As noted, you simply can't approach Shane as merely a western. Sure, you can see it as such. It's a pretty standard western story for the most part. But it goes beyond that - more personal, psychological and allegorical. These elements are fantastic, however what's odd is that the film seems completely aware that it wants to do this - as though at any given moment it will do what it can to showcase it's own intelligence. It's not that it's pretentious or full of its own grandeur, only that it seems to go out of its way to be different rather than naturally thinking outside the box. It's a film that takes its time, almost a bit too well, to develop its core narrative rather than streamline its primary one.  

What I find odd, and if you've read my reviews you know I never hold this against a film in either regard, is how one reviewer will call it "timeless" and another "dated." I'm in the former mindset. While it's presentation might seem a bit old-fashioned at times, the underlying elements were well ahead of their time.

The Ugly:  What isn't noted by the regular viewer is the audio of the film. Next time you watch it, pay attention to the use of sound. It's not full of music, some of the action sequences are nothing but fists pounding, feet stomping and heavy breathing. Like everything else about the film, it's more unconventional than you first realize.

And I'll be damned if Jack Palance isn't one menacing villain. He has a brief, oddly somber gunfight that is incredibly powerful for what it doesn't do rather than what it does. I've never called a gunfight "somber" or "heartbreaking" before. Like I said....intentionally unconventional.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Shark Night 3D

A weekend at a lake house in the Louisiana Gulf turns into a nightmare for seven vacationers as they are subjected to fresh-water shark attacks.

The Good: A one-armed black man punches and kills a shark with his bare hands. Sweet. Well, at least this movie is less than an hour and a half.

Well, it does have some nifty shark kills, though it's completely hindered by a PG-13 rating. If death was the route the film was planning to go, toning it down was not what it should have done to get a lower rating.

The Bad: A few month ago, I read an interview in Creative Screenwriting Magazine with JJ Abrams where Abrams really bought a unique aspect of filmmaking (writing especially) to light. He brought up Jaws and how Jaws still seems to be the echelon of monster-based summer blockbusters. It's memorable and timeless. However, that has nothing to do with the shark itself. Instead, Abrams notes that writers are focusing on the wrong things when it comes to making "big" creature films (his being Super 8). It's not the creature, but it's the characters that you remember. It's that scene on both with comparing scars, or the townspeople and mayor frightened...writers will look to make the Shark the center of the picture and not take the elements that made Jaws great: characters and memorable scenes without the shark.

Now Shark Night 3D isn't trying to be Jaws, but I couldn't help but think back to that interview as the writers here certainly haven't read it. In SHark Night, the sharks are all that matter and nothing else and Shark Night, like every other shark movie, fails as a result.

After an over-long two and a half minute opening credit sequence, my hopes for a good, b-movie "let's have a good time" horror flick was dashed relatively quickly. Two and a half minutes of credits was bad enough, but an opening that's trying to homage Jaws and play itself straight in the process. Maybe if you didn't throw in an unlikeable guy and a dumb girl that likes unlikeable guy, then we're introduced to every cliche horror movie character in the book. The arrogant jock, the nerd, the bookworm, the innocent survivor girl, the token black guy, the not-quite-lesbian bitch and so on and so forth. Good lord, they even have a dog. Predictable pace, stock scenes including the "old flame." the "red herring" that's the dimwit sheriff that you know will probably be first to die (which he is) and "let's all clink our glasses together we're about to Par-tay!" followed by the eventual "Let's Par-tay!" montage fit with awful music. Oh, and of course the expository "there's no reception out here" bit of dialogue.

All of that could have been forgiven if the film just got the tone right and had fun with its own concept. You would think that the director of Snakes on a Plane would get that easily, at the very least - that "yeah it's awful, but let's have some fun in the meantime." Well, that is quickly dashed as well as bad dialogue makes itself known quickly and the sense of humor is nowhere to be seen and joylessness and annoyance soon dominates. As much as I could go through a scene-by-scene questioning for the entire film, that's simply not seeing the forest through the trees. Here, it's the entire scope that can be handled in one simple issue:

The days of these types of movies being "serious" are over.

Nobody is buying it anymore, and with the awfulness of the special effects in Shark Night 3D, a sense of humor for this film was badly needed (you kind of think it would be if the "3D" is so nonchalantly slapped on to the title like a badge of honor for silliness). Audiences don't want it and really don't need serious takes of this genre at this juncture. Films like this, rather, need to love their campy roots, not take themselves seriously and play it straight because, as I've noted, we've seen it all before and if we've seen it before we've seen it done better when it was original, not desperate to use a boilerplate script guide and pass itself off as a "homage" to better shark flicks. Hackney, laughable dramatic moments, boring due to the predictability of the plot, stereotypical characters and just half-assed directing, gore and effects, Shark Night 3D is about as enjoyable as it's uninspired title would suggest.

The Ugly: How this got a theatrical release, and a big ad campaign along with it, is beyond me. It's, at best, a direct-to-DVD or VOD quality film that didn't really need a big ad campaign behind....ah, I see. Once you invest in 3D, you better bust your ass to get that money back and "3D" itself is a marketable name.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Shaun of the Dead

A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

The Good: It started as some quirky, unknown little British movie at one point. It was shown amongst friends on DVD at homes, spread around as word of mouth caused it to explode in popularity. Now, everyone knows it. Some know it by heart. "You got red on you," is a call to arms amongst its fans, now the world over - if someone looks at you knowingly when you say it, you are like kindred spirits that share one of the most popular, sharpest and arguably perfect comedies in the past decade.

Shaun of the Dead is just that. Its script is a combination of campy horror, dry Brit humor and slapstick all wrangled in by a young director and his friends as they took a simple sketch from a television show and extended it into a feature film. Edgar Wright's energetic directing, almost hypnotic in its pace and purpose, keeps you engaged without even realizing it and the sharp script that is equally as purposeful, full of heart and comedy and homages, that you can't help but say "I want to watch it again" after just seeing it. The back-beat to this little band are Nick Frost and Simon Pegg who's chemistry brings back thoughts of great comedic duos of the past. They are as one, synergistic, as they play off each other so easily that you forget their simply acting: they really are two friends who just happen to find themselves surrounded by zombies.

Every film that tried, note "tried," to be a comedy with zombies might have had a few moments, but Shaun of the Dead is the entire moment. There isn't one minute that isn't thought out and enjoyable, not one gag or pun of dialogue not wasted as it not only references other zombie movies but references itself as it calls back previous plot points and gags to add to its sense of wholeness and completion. Romance, action, horror, comedy...Shaun of the Dead is everything you would ever want and arguably exceeds even that.

The Bad: There's no denying that if you don't like British humor, this isn't for you. It's dry, full of one-liners, and seeping with satire, which sometimes might conflict with the slapstick, spoofs and gory nature of other elements it dives into. Though it balances everything well, it may not hit all the marks for some people who might not enjoy the British take on a horror-comedy.

The film also seems to build to something as sharp and witty, but in the end we're left with a pretty damn standard (hold off the zombies) arc that tends to go on a little too long and seems to screech the flow of the film to a halt. The characters still carry us through it, but the plot itself could have used a better punch at the end.

The Ugly: Incidentally, that "punch" is found in the follow-up, Hot Fuzz.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Shawshank Redemption

Andy Dufresne is a young and successful banker whose life changes drastically when he is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife and her lover. Set in the 1940's, the film shows how Andy, with the help of his friend Red, the prison entrepreneur, turns out to be a most unconventional prisoner.

The Good: There are a lot of prison movies. Usually they deal with the day to day workings of being a prisoner. Often there’s a rebellious attitude towards authority, always unique criminals to meet and numerous villains, from fellow prisoners to the Warden, that make it all Hell. Yes, there are many, but only one could and should be considered as inspirational. You see, ambiguous things like “hope” or “longing” is a lot more difficult to center a story on than merely a tale of prisoners and a jail. While The Shawshank Redemption has that very simple and basic story of Andy Dufresne and his friends and hardships in prison, it’s not about that. It’s about always believing that there is something outside that stone wall and metal gates - Lord knows the guards and Warden of Shawshank will do their best to make you forget. They do their best to dehumanize a man so that eventually, he no longer is a man. Shawshank shows us this, from the tale of Brooks to Andy knowing what fights to fight and what to let go. Speaking of its technical qualities is completely inconsequential here, its thematic impact outshines even its quality directing and outstanding performances. It doesn’t quite hit home, though, until the final scenes showing a paroled Redd, who’s crime is never stated to show him as a human being first, walks along a stone wall and inside it finds a treasure buried by his friend. It’s calming here, a quiet summer day under a large shady oak, and he finds Andy’s words on where to go. Freeman’s wonderful narration enters one last time:  I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”

The Bad:
It’s almost shameful to have to list anything bad about the film. It’s one of those rare films that makes listing faults gives you a tumultuous sense of regret, one where you hate yourself for having to do it. It’s only fault is its needing to become lost in subplot after subplot, sometimes losing focus of our main story in the process. It’s a movie that often can be confusing without you realizing it, only until repeated viewings do you start to bring it all together and pay attention to the various stories the film throws at you. It's in those repeated viewings, though, that you come to appreciate it even more.

The Ugly:
Shawshank came out in the amazing film year of 1994, which gave us the likes of Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, The Lion King and Ed Wood, four other films that would be in a many Top Lists for that decade entirely.


Final Rating:
5 out of 5


She's Out of my League

An average Joe meets the perfect woman, but his lack of confidence and the influence of his friends and family begin to pick away at the relationship.

The Good: Jay Baruchel's Kirk is a likeable guy. He's average and a little shy, but overall a nice person who probably deserves better than what life has dealt him....and Jay Baruchel's performance deserves better material than what She's Out of my League offers up. While nearly ever other character is annoying and nauseating, Kirk is a strong core that honestly makes the film. Baruchel carries the entirety of the movie on his relatively inexperienced shoulders, and as a result lifts it up above being mediocre. Some of that is attributed not to just Baruchel, however. His character is well-written and has a lot for the actor to play with and so some credit has to be given to that aspect of the script. It's unfortunate the story itself doesn't quite live up to the performance, serviceable directing and the character of Kirk created within it.

The Bad: What begins as a relatively fun little comedy movie turns completely formulaic towards the end. Not just a little, mind you, but absolutely completely. Every beat, every scene and every bit of dialogue you have seen already and to bring us an ending we expect, the film sacrifices everything it had done well up to that point and crams the sappy final moments right down our throat.  That's when you realize that not only is the movie conventional, it didn't even need to do this. It was working well enough as it was, and as much as I hate to say it: these final moments ruin the film. It's not a romantic comedy in the traditional sense, then it turns into something best suited for a Sandra Bullock romcom film. Throw in a lot of forced low-brow humor that the subject matter probably would have benefited had it been more space (if removed entirely) and you just have a very unbalanced film that lacks a central identity to itself. The root of the problem is found at its roots: a messy script.

The Ugly: If I could give an A for Effort, this would be a prime candidate. As it is, it nudges by with a passing grade, but there's a lot more in it that could have lifted it up to a higher curve.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Sherlock Holmes

After finally catching serial killer and occult "sorcerer" Lord Blackwood, legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson can close yet another successful case. But when Blackwood mysteriously returns from the grave and resumes his killing spree, Holmes must take up the hunt once again. Contending with his partner's new fiancée and the dimwitted head of Scotland Yard, the dauntless detective must unravel the clues that will lead him into a twisted web of murder, deceit, and black magic - and the deadly embrace of temptress Irene Adler.

The Good: More of a James Bond take, action fight scenes and all, than a mystery that needs solving, Sherlock Holmes still is able to take the action element and use it purposefully and smartly so that it doesn't dominate the film. Yes, the big mystery may be secondary, and the action a means to the end, but in that end we have, actually, a character study and a story of friendship. The characters are Watson and Holmes, and both are what make Sherlock Holmes gleefully entertaining. It's a smart film when it needs to be, although some loose threads aren't quite wrapped up as neatly as Holmes usually entails. It builds and builds, puts in many elements and numerous small mysteries against the big one, and all become intertwined if not confusing. Alas, that is where we trust Holmes. In a way, we see it all through Watson's eyes as he deals with the oddities of Holme's lifestyle and obsessions. Jude Law is perfectly cast and, as always because we should know not to doubt him by now, Robert Downey Jr. brings forth a character, reinvents it yet at the same time stays faithful to its essence. With these two, all those strange mysteries and occurrences become unraveled and we soon understand them in their process while we understand what is really going on with the case. It's a sharp script, two great leads and fantastic art and set design that all comes together for one fun movie.

The Bad: It's hard to tell is Guy Ritchie's style is a good fit for this material. He always draws attention to the camera, using lots of camera tricks and fast edits. But the material here feels to be needing something a little more subtle, lets action scenes develop and dialogue scenes flow easier so as not have the two primary elements seem so contrived. He's a frantic director, and that style fits most of his films, and it even is used effectively at times in this film, but it seems to know only one speed even when it's trying to change gears. Also, while Downy and Law are exceptional, some of the rest of the cast is rather sub-par and Ritchie's directing, not to mention the numerous characters that come and go, we really never get to know anyone (even the female leads and villain who's reasoning we never really understand) on any level other than one dimension. Thankfully Watson and Holmes hold it all together, but you're often wondering who is who, why we should be concerned and even what is going on (especially when some characters suddenly appear only to leave a few moments later).  I might also make mention of the plot. Mostly, it's solid and the script written better to cover up any issues, but the story falls to "save the world" junk that really wasn't needed at all. It's irrelevant to everything that is happening and actually seems minute in comparison to the gravity of numerous other situation.

The Ugly: This is probably Jude Law's best role ever. He's one of those actors that is always around, has had some solid movies and performances (Alfie, Road to Perdition, Enemy at the Gates, Gattaca) but never really has made a definitive name for himself. He does so here, finally, in something that he really brings into his own.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.

The Good: Like the first Sherlock Holmes film, the best thing is, without question, the sense of chemistry of all the players involved here. Downey Jr. and Jude Law, who is given a lot more to do in this sequel, are having fantastic fun with everything that's thrown at them, including each other. With a dazzling array of Victorian-style meets steampunk sensibilities, the world in which they go on on adventures and solve the grand mystery is as much of a draw as their banter and quips of humor.

Unlike the previous film, this one also throws in Holmes' arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty. He's every bit Holmes' equal and their shared scenes are full of intellectual wit and occasional snide remarks that flow naturally from the actors like water from a faucet. The film spends a good amount of time developing their little game. It's intricate, some might say cluttered, and vivacious as the movie never lets its foot of the pedal as a slick, period action movie. And slick period action movies are pretty hard to come by.

The Bad: This sequel isn't quite as sharp as it thinks it is, nor as it should be. There's a lot happening yet it's all made to look smart by its execution, not necessarily by its merit. It's flashy, dazzling even, but when it comes right down to what is going on and why, it's a good step or two behind where it should be in terms of plot and certainly three steps behind the first film in terms of execution. It's a movie that is certainly in love with itself. Fast edits, flashbacks, flashforwards, misdirections and snappy voice overs can only hide so much as it builds itself on its own clutter and frantic nature than it does a methodical and sharply constructed action mystery.

The Ugly: You'll either love this take on the Holmes character and world or you'll hate it. In the end, there's still nothing quite like it and it's immensely entertaining. More than large-budget spectacles, at least.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Shining

A man, his son and wife become the winter caretakers of an isolated hotel where Danny, the son, sees disturbing visions of the hotel's past using a telepathic gift known as "The Shining". The father, Jack Torrance, is underway in a writing project when he slowly slips into insanity as a result of cabin fever and former guests of the hotels ghost's. After being convinced by a waiter's ghost to "correct" the family, Jack goes completely insane. The only thing that can save Danny and his mother is "The Shining".

The Good: The coldness and detachment of human relationships and emotions were a perfect fit for both parties: the book needed Kubrick and Kubrick needed the book. Far more pessimistic than the source material, Kubrick’s cynical nature ended up creating a consistent and well told story about a man slowly losing his mind that Stephen King’s novel ever did. He scares you extroverted, with quick jump-cuts or slow reveals around corners, to introverted as you begin to feel a sense of discomfort watching Jack Nicholson merely grin-you questions what‘s behind that sickening smile. The odd, monotone music gives the sense of cold and isolation, reflecting the Overlook Hotel itself as well as the faltering Jack, who you hope can win out but by then it’s too late. The story plays with us regarding Jack-is it the hotel causing him to think and do these things, or were they already there to begin with? There’s hints for both sides, but either way it brings the man’s ruin. Kubrick’s slow brew of story progression and character dialogue, too, feels oddly in-place causing even more disorientation and a sense of dread. There’s a huge amount of depth and intelligence to the way the movie was shot that only the keen eye would catch (keep an eye on those mirrors). One of Kubrick's best films, and one of his most popular, and for good reason. It's a near-flawless thriller that still holds well to today, nearly 30 years later.

The Bad: We might love Jack, but little Danny Lloyd is far from fitting into his role. You can sense his struggle and likely has Kubrick off-screen causing tenseness which reflects in his performance. He doesn’t feel like a kid, he doesn’t act like a kid, and this shows Kubrick’s inability to handle child actors (which he admitted to). Due to the fact that much of the film focuses on Danny, it hinders much of what is otherwise a perfect piece of psychological horror. Then you have Wendy (Shelly Duval), who is about as developed of a character as the old naked woman in Room 237 and only half as interesting. Luckily she manages some good, and sometimes understated scenes, but we still know little about her outside of being Jack's wife and coming with him to the hotel. It’s obvious this is Jack’s movie, his story…but to not feel anything for the family leaves you with no emotional connection to their struggle. As a result, many viewers sympathize with Jack, and that wasn’t the intention, I think.

The Ugly: The Shining was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director…at the Razzies. Oh, and King hated it, but I think that’s because Kubrick knows how to be daring and write good endings, even if it means being unfaithful and overly pessimistic. He's gone back on that sense then, stating it's good, just different.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Shock Corridor

Johnny Barrett, an ambitious journalist, is determined to win a Pulitzer Prize by solving a murder committed in a lunatic asylum and witnessed only by three inmates, from whom the police have been unable to extract the information. With the connivance of a psychiatrist, and the reluctant help of his girlfriend, he succeeds in having himself declared insane and sent to the asylum. There he slowly tracks down and interviews the witnesses - but things are stranger than they seem ...

The Good: As one of the more daring and controversial directors in the 1950s, Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor was met with tepid response in the 1960s. It was low budget, still dealing with controversial themes and ideas (notably ethics and racism) and was true to the style and tone Fuller always had in this films: Characters thrust out of their comfort zone, a backdrop of sociological commentary, simple but intimate directing and often theatrical acting and dialogue. Shock Corridor is really all this, and it all comes together memorably as one of Fuller's best films. It's not so much of a story being told as much as it is a situation needing to be resolved. It has moments of terror as we see a normal man succumb to madness, irony as a black man preaches hate speech, discomfort with women and family and the basic roots of, not necessarily a character study, but an environmental study. The film is complex, the visuals outstanding (especially the infamous rain-corridor hallucination) and everything done with a bittersweet disposition.

The Bad: Even for the 1960s, the film feels somewhat dated with its approach to dialogue and acting. This is somewhat expected with Fuller, but there are moments where you feel a more subtle, realistic approach would have been that much more effective in drawing out the gritty, character drama the film tries to go for. Rather than the 1960s, the film is far more fitting for something made in the 1940s (sans the controversial commentary) as obvious sets and performances more exaggerated seems to indicate it as much older than it actually is. It suffers from an odd pace to itself as well, rushing through some sequences yet dawdling with others making for an uneven buildup until the final climatic moments.

The Ugly: The film has a moment that is unabashedly racist, yet incredibly meaningful and powerful. It's a moment you have to see first hand to appreciate because it makes you shake your head at the ugliness of the world but in a different manner than you might expect.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Short Circuit

Number 5, one of a group of experimental military robots, undergoes a sudden transformation after being struck by lightning. He develops self-awareness, consciousness, and a fear of the reprogramming that awaits him back at the factory. With the help of a young woman, Number 5 tries to evade capture and convince his creator that he has truly become alive.

The Good: A loose and often jumbled farce that takes elements of silent comedy and thrusts it smack into mid 1980s robot obsession. In that respect, Short Circuit works. Dated? Yes. At times too silly for its own good? Absolutely. But there's no denying there's a certain amount of charm going on it. Not heart, necessarily. It doesn't quite have that element that made something like ET or Starman so appealing (and memorable) but it does have good intentions.

At is core, it's about the uniqueness of Johnny 5, our resident robot-out-of-the-military-facility. There's a good chance, if you haven't seen the movie in a while, you won't recall the other characters all that well, the overall plot, the gags or jokes...but you will certainly remember Johnny 5. To be able to ingrain yourself into the collective consciousness of pop culture means you're doing at least something right.

The Bad: The biggest problem Short Circuit has is that it really is one gag stretched to feature length: Goofy robot on the run exploring the world. Like Johnny 5's body, it's rather cold and simplistic in how it does this. Many scenes are excruciatingly drawn out and the human characters lack any appeal because so much is put into the robot's discovery of itself as "alive."

Perhaps it's because Short Circuit is so much a product of its time. Looking back now, it's just passable entertainment at best. In the 1980s, though, it was a unique, fun fantasy with a science fiction twist in a time when the populace was in love with robots and the fish-out-of-water child/alien/robot plots found in movies like ET. The difference is those other movies managed to draw out human characters and Short Circuit mismanages its living cast to identify with. Had it a better supporting cast (and maybe less racial stereotypes...ahem) it might have been something with a lot more heart while retaining its beloved charm.

The Ugly: Damn you, Debarge...you and your catchy lyrics and melodic hooks.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Short Term 12

A 20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.

The Good: The story of troubled teens (and a troubled system) is a dramatic and often lyrical look at how lives, no matter how young and inexperienced within the world, need help. Much of the time, that help simply comes in just listening. As Grace, played by Brie Larson, notes “you’re not their parent, not their therapist, you’re here to create a safe environment.”

In many cases, lines like that would come across as stilted. But in the case of Grace, it doesn't. As much as this film is about the facility and its kids, it’s really the story of Grace and Brie Larson creates a full-realized person on screen that sells it. Amongst all the characters, all of which are memorable and believable in the subtle nuance the actors bring to them, Larson has Grace front and center and not once do you think “that’s just Brie Larson playing a character.” No, because you both love Grace and feel for her. You want to meet that person, go out to coffee and talk about the day. If there’s any person not getting enough “buzz” (I hate that word) amongst awards-circles, it’s Brie Larson in one of the finest performances of the year.

Director Destin Cretton has a certain niche he plays around in. His previous film explored it, but it never really settled on it. It was almost trying too hard at times. Here, that quiet, often unassuming approach to a simple scene of dialogue works, much in thanks to the cast, the chemistry and the patience he shows with every moment lingered on.

The Bad: The characters, in particular Grace, are great for a reason: the script is a bit wayward with its focus and intent. There’s only about three characters with any real resonance, a few more that we know names of, and everyone else is background fodder, but the focus shifting from those supporting roles never feels fully resolved save for one.

The importance of the kids is put front and center: it’s why these people do what they do. However none of the kids are truly explored to the “why” they do what they do. We just assume as conflicts often go unresolved, or they reach a climax and are just dropped entirely. These are interesting people doing interesting things, but the story skips through them without giving them a chance to become people that matter. They matter to these supervisors, like Grace, and we need to know why. Though I would loathe the thought of having “happy endings” or any sense of trite exposition to anything here, there’s little to explore beyond just saying “these kids have problems.” Not much is said beyond merely bearing witness.

The Ugly: Kaitlyn Dever does a hell of a job here, though she does get lost amidst it all. Her character has a wonderful small arc and she shines in every scene opposite Larson. But liker Larson, not enough people are putting her name out there.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


A Shot in the Dark

As murder follows murder, beautiful Maria is the obvious suspect; bumbling Inspector  Clouseau drives his boss mad by seeing her as plainly innocent.

The Good: Fully and entirely on the shoulders of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, A Shot in the Dark is one of the best balanced comedies of the Sellers/Edwards series of Pink Panther films. Let us not forget that the character of Clouseau was only a supporting character in the original Pink Panther film and this follow up takes that and creates one of the most endearing "heroes" to ever grace the screen. The situations are perfect, the comedy and gags right on time and the characters memorable despite the large number of potential murderers to keep track of. It's a farce of a Whodunit and if there's anything that Blake Edwards was a master at, it was the farce. What's so interesting about A Shot in the Dark is the story behind its creation, and as a result we have the film that many people consider the best of the Pink Panther movies all done on a relative whim (it wasn't a Clouseau or even an Edwards film when it first started).

A Shot in the Dark is Blake Edwards at his most absurd and at his very best - in these series of films he always was observing the absurdity of the situations or the people and entrusted Sellers to do as he will. There's a controlled explosion with every scene. It's ever progressing, never hesitating from gag to improve to banter to gag, ever evolving in terms of story (and a dash of romance) and always unpredictable. Yet, you sense the craft in it all. It's not simply funny actors doing crazy things and hoping something funny happens. There's planning to this unpredictability, putting to shame so many other comedic directors and actors in the process. It's all organic, never forced. Clouseau is as naturally bumbling as he is French. With so much of it on Sellers' shoulders, you realize how integral he was to Edwards, Edwards to him and how much of the original Pink Panther was great due to the chemistry of both and, therefore, how elegantly insane A Shot in the Dark ends up being.

The Bad: Unlike The Pink Panther, there's never really a "lull" in A Shot in the Dark. It is a perfectly paced and always entertaining film, full of a variety of gags from dialgoue  misunderstanding to simple mise-en-scene observations and improvisational brilliance. It's one of the few cases of a smaller character from one film, who might have flourished as a supporting role, becoming even better when thrust into the lead. He still manages great character development on top of consistently meddling and getting the laughs - a rare balance for any film.

The Ugly: A forced ending to end it all could have handled it far better, yet at the same time I don't know how else you could end it. It was building up the entire time thanks to a great B Story involving Henry Lom and a slight nervous tick.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Shutter Island

It's 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital. He's been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn't been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. Teddy's shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals "escape" in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, Teddy begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.

The Good: As always with Scorsese, Shutter Island is absolutely visually compelling. The way he is able to set up his scenes, utilize angles and lighting and manipulate space makes a psychological thriller an absolute perfect fit for his approach. What Scorsese had decided to do, though, is forgo a more modern, trendy approach to his thriller and, instead, brings Shutter Island to life by approaching it as a classic noir thriller. The music. The dialogue. The setting. It might as well have been made in the 1940s and 50s because the atmosphere and presentation is spot-on and Scorsese, decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo (who is one of the best in the industry) and cinematographer Robert Richardson (ditto for him) are to be applauded in the visual splendor and attention to detail all three have become known for. DiCaprio is good, although his accent forced at times, as  a man absolutely on edge and he really comes through with what little is given him.  However the supporting cast arguably overshadows him with great character actors like Ben Kingsley, Jackie Earl Hayley, Max Von Sydow and certainly the always under-appreciated Mark Ruffalo really bringing the entire thing to a new level.

The Bad: Despite its best efforts, Shutter Island fails to really draw any sympathy or emotion towards any of the characters. There are some harrowing moments, in particular for DiCaprio, yet you're left stone-faced and unmoved by it all because by that point the ridiculous nature of the plot has made you sublime to any hint at actual human drama.  To me, this is the biggest down fall. Sure it's also derivative, but the presentation makes up for it. The characters might be one-dimensional, but they're all character actors and do their job well enough. The music might be jarring at times and seemingly out of place, but that is the ode to classic noir than anything else. Some might see these faults, others as nuance, but for me the one central care of the entire script was DiCaprio's character which the film handles strangely and, ultimately, doesn't quite pull it off.   It shows disinterest to his strife, as though it's merely running through the motions and putting DiCaprio's solid performance to waste, and the predictable outcome (other than the final scene, which I liked a lot) doesn't make up for the film's inability to make me care for him and really view him no less or more than the supporting characters that come and go. Simply put, there's no feeling here when I should be feeling the gamut of emotions from the opening credits on.

The Ugly: While this is a great change of pace for Scorsese in terms of his approach and the genre itself, it's really not one of the man's better works. Still, an average Scorsese picture is still better than most of the crap that is flushed out of Hollywood, especially good thrillers.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Sightseers

Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn. 

The Good: There's a little bit of fantasy/wish fulfillment coming through Ben Wheatley's Sightseers. Obnoxious and annoying and rude people sometimes, just sometimes, need to be beat to death with a rock. Or ran over with a Winnebago. Or just steal their dog. Whatever it may be, like Falling Down or even American Psycho, there's a certain amount of catharsis that runs through Sightseers' runtime. Though it doesn't have as much to say as either of those films, it's in the same spirit of taking what bothers you in life and the world, and just murdering it.

Here, what bothers Chris and Tina are the fellow travelers they meet during their holiday in the country. You can't blame them, some are just absolute assholes and need to be killed, from just the mundane to the annoying persons that we all probably fantasize about kicking off a cliff sometimes. Chris is the first to do so. The film doesn't, and need not, tell us the why, he's obviously a troubled person, and he soon takes Tina with him down that rabbit hole.  We go with him, and her, and though Sightseers never slouches in terms of entertainment, you might wonder if you should be enjoying what you're seeing nonetheless.

The Bad: Ok, it starts well enough. It has a nice set up. Funny, dry British comedy moments. We see where it's going. Then it pulls the rug, and not in a good way because now, well now you just don't like anyone, really.

I haven't really seen a film do this in this way, but you'll come to really dislike everyone in the movie by the end of it. The comedy it strives for no longer works - that dark humor that can garner a laugh easily in the first half of the film becomes irrelevant as the tone shifts. The shift itself is fine, Wheatley wants to say something here and it’s obvious what it is, but the characters are no longer people we want to watch anymore. Sometimes, people just need to die. Yet then it turns ugly. We no longer like these people, we no longer route for them, we no longer want to see them kill other people because they're no longer people we really want to see do anything. In some cases, I might say it's director Ben Wheatley's cleverness working here: we aren't supposed to like these people and he wants to make sure of that. 

However, the change to that commentary is sharp and sudden, not gradual and shouldn't come to a point where I question watching any more of the film. Not because it's ugly or disturbing, it's not that, but more because all that I've invested at that point has become irrelevant and now I feel more annoyance than assurance that the film even knows what its doing. Sightseers ends up an exhausting movie that you no longer want to commit to when it decides to change tone and doesn’t have the energy to really see itself all the way to the end. It just never knows what it wants to go for: never serious enough to be scary that these people might exist but not quite crazy and silly enough to be dark funny all the time either. It’s a conflicted movie that wastes away the potential of its stars and its upstart director.

The Ugly: There’s a better version of this film out there. The directing and style is great, the performances spectacular (and sometimes even heart-wrenching) but there’s no vigor in what’s happening and no good way out of the hole it kind of digs itself.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Signal

On a road trip, Nic and two friends are drawn to an isolated area by a computer genius. When everything suddenly goes dark, Nic regains consciousness - only to find himself in a waking nightmare.

The Good: Strong in concept and ideas, weak in a lot of other areas, The Signal is a failed, though certainly interesting and engrossing, experiment in genre filmmaking. Wrapped around the thin story is a great sense of atmosphere - as though dread and uncertainty flows through the film like rivers of concepts. Yes, those elements are here, and it’s impossible not to get swept away by them as the mystery of what occurs flows.

Brenton Thwaites and Laurence Fishburne have the most screen time, thankfully, as it’s a game of minds in a way. We have the young Nic trying to make sense of the world he’s been thrust into, much of which I can’t say without revealing too much but let’s just say it’s not where he wants to be, and Fisburne, a presence as always, spouts exposition without feeling as though you’re simply listening to exposition. It’s an Us vs Them even if we don’t know who Them (or even Us in some cases) really is. Heady at the right moments, terrific in suspense and buildup, it’s unfortunate that the areas where it needed the strongest current ends up a tide pool at best.

The Bad: The Signal hinges on a reveal that, sadly, seems to just fall flat. There’s some great build up happening in the movie, and a lot of different directions it probably could have gone, but when all comes to light and we put all the strangeness behind us, it’s underwhelming. The fact that we don’t have a lot in terms of character is another reason, so when it all comes to a head I found myself asking “what was his name again?” Considering there’s only about four characters in the entire movie, that’s probably not a good thing. The movie really wants to drive home the point that these people care about each other, but it comes too little too late.

Perhaps it was how it was revealed as well, perhaps the buildup went on for too long for too little, or maybe we, after being conditioned by these types of movies for so long, just came to expect it. Maybe it’s that we like being toyed with a little, and like having questions built, that any answer would be underwhelming, but even then it treats the reveal as inevitable rather than shocking.

The Ugly: There are moments in the film that would suit a better film. I wish the movie worked.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Silence of the Lambs

Young FBI agent Clarice Starling is assigned to help find a missing woman to save her from a psychopathic serial killer who skins his victims. Clarice attempts to gain a better insight into the twisted mind of the killer by talking to another psychopath Hannibal Lecter, who used to be a respected psychiatrist. FBI agent Jack Crawford believes that Lecter who is also a very powerful and clever mind manipulator have the answers to their questions to help locate the killer. Clarice must first try and gain Lecter's confidence before he is to give away any information.

The Good: When you think of films that win best picture, rarely does a winner fall under the category of “thriller” or “horror.” Even Alfred Hitchcock, the master of that genre, had one picture win an Oscar…and that wasn’t even one of his renowned thrillers. In fact, during his 60 year career, he was only nominated for Best Director 6 times and only had 6 films nominated. Why bring this bit of history up? Because thrillers don’t win Best Picture. So when one does, it better be pretty damn good. The Silence of the Lambs is that damn good. It not only won best picture, it won best actress, best actor, best director and best screenplay. It is only the third film in history to do so and it is far from a fluke. Demme’s directing techniques is a combination of handheld documentary style and direct audience interaction (in that the characters look directly into the camera when speaking). It draws you in and makes the performances more personal and the story more real. Foster’s acting is one that shows vulnerability and sadness, and maybe a young woman who isn’t quite ready for what she is about to face. Of course, what she is about to face is the insurmountable Anthony Hopkins. He’s as intelligent as he is demented and sadistic…and as a result we have one of the screens most frightening villains of all time. His performance is legendary, and as a result so is the film, one of the finest pieces of suspense and horror you’ll ever be witness to.

The Bad: Hannibal Lecter is smart. At the same time he’s an opportunist. He plans and schemes and puts the pieces into place, only waiting for someone to move a piece onto the wrong square. While this is fantastic and definitive of his character, there comes a time when a) the characters he is up against are apparently very dumb and b) he is apparently very invincible. He makes no mistakes. The story isn’t meant to humanize him, he’s a monster after all, but there comes a point where there is no worry that he will not achieve his goal. He sets them up but also knocks them down..noone else even puts him in check.

The Ugly: The film does a good job of depicting its violence without being too graphic…only when necessary. Considering what Buffalo Bill does to his victims, it’s actually surprising and could easily be done less tastefully. Unfortunately Bill is a Q-Lazarus fan, and he likes practicing, in football terminology, is called the “tuck rule.” Demme doesn’t shy away from it….we’ll just leave it at that.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Silver Linings Playbook

After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own. 

The Good: Is it more because it's so well done, or because it's surprisingly better than you expect? I don't know if I have that answer for Silver Linings Playbook, or any movie for that matter, so I'll just go with a default "it's probably both" when it comes to Silver Linings Playbook being a damn good movie. The script and acting is far better than you expect it to be, Bradley Cooper showing how good of an actor he could be if pushed and DeNiro (his best role in years) reminding how good the old guard can be with the right material, something he showed earlier in 2012 as well with another indie drama, Being Flynn.

The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is palpable. As the driving core of the store, it needs to be and these two actors create two unique and completely three-dimensional characters to a point where you don't even see the actors any more.  You just see Pat and Tiffany, their faults and uniqueness and the understanding of how those faults can bring two people together. In a way, Silver Linings Playbook isn't so much about overcoming mental illness and regret but seeing how negative qualities of life and love can still be positive.

With a fantastic, and I mean truly fantastic, script, Silver Linings Playbook creates a world and characters within it that truly feel real. From football to family arguments to love and getting through what life throws at you. Director David O. Russell has a great track record for films like that, and Silver Linings Playbook could very well be his best.

The Bad: An almost overly sentimental third act can take away from a film that has been playing everything pretty grounded for most of its two hour runtime. It could be argued that it needed it, and it probably does. Truth is, when it works, it really works, such as a sub plot about a letter that is handled more off screen and results in a payoff for Cooper's character.

Yet, it drops one thing for another: a serious look at mental illness for a bit of a contrived resolution to overcome it. Yes, it needed it...but maybe not quite like that. So direct and obvious that Russell simply finished and said "well, that will have to do."

The Ugly: This shows Cooper as more than just a pretty face, which is what he's often typecast as. He's an absolute legit actor, who probably won't be recognized for this wonderful role at all.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Sin City

"Sin City" is infested with criminals, crooked cops and sexy dames, some searching for vengeance, some for redemption and others, both. The film incorporates storylines from three of Miller's graphic novels including 'Sin City,' which launched the long-running, critically acclaimed series, as well as 'That Yellow Bastard' and 'The Big Fat Kill.' Where Hartigan, a cop with a bum ticker and a vow to protect stripper Nancy. Marv, the outcast misanthrope, is on a mission to avenge the death of his one true love, Goldie; there's also Dwight, the clandestine love of Shelley who spends his nights defending Gail and her Old Towne girls from Jackie Boy, a dirty cop with a penchant for violence.

The Good: Sin City is a lovefest of film noir, only far more graphic and violent than what the classic example of noir is. It’s got the mystery, the darkness to it all, the down-and-out characters scavenging the alleys, however it’s also got lots of blood, gore and violence of the action movie genre. In this I think Sin City isn’t so much as an appreciation of the style as it is merely an interpretation of it with mixed results. Visually, it’s striking and gleefully stylish, the dialogue and voiceover in classic form of the genre only now with uncompromising and graphic visceral violence that is as raw and as brutal as the side of Marv’s face. There may not be anything incredibly original in terms of story, but it simply doesn’t shun away from making the typical noir story that much more violent and bloody as it takes us into its carnival of crime and horror.

The Bad: An uneven story has its periods of disinterest and boredom even of itself. Too long for what the material demands, eventually the voiceovers and visuals begin to blend and become indistinct. I can’t tell one pretentiously gritty voiceover from the next, and after a while it all just becomes static.

The Ugly: The fact that I can’t tell where Marv’s face ends and Rourke’s face begins.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Some of Sin City's most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with a few of its more reviled inhabitants.

The Good: Style over substance was what made the first Sin City, director Robert Rodriguez’s homage to pulp-noir via Frank Miller’s graphic novel series, a unique and memorable one. The sequel…well it’s still doing that. In terms of consistence in tone and style, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a good-looking continuation that knows re-inventing the wheel would ruin the entire point of it. If you watched the first film and this sequel back to back you’d notice no differences despite the ten-year release gap.

While all the actors do a good job with what little they have to work with, the highlight is (and this is no surprise) Eva Green who plays her femme-fatale of a character with hammy, sexy and intimidating precision. In other words, she seems to know exactly what she needs to do to sell the character and the story that surrounds her, lifting the rest of the film as a result. There’s no need for fancy tricks and over-stylized moments during her segments. It’s often just her, a room and some fantastic dialogue for her to sink her teeth into.

The rest of the cast may not live up to that, as though she’s simultaneously taking is as serious as they are but playing it up as a caricature, but they do their serviceable jobs even if the rest of the film isn’t as interesting or memorable.

The Bad: With only a handful of stories and little to nothing interesting happening within them, Sin City: A Dam to Kill For is sadly dull. Yes, it’s stylized and full of macho-noir-dialogue but nothing interesting really happens despite some solid efforts on part of the actors. There’s not one thing, other than Eva Green, that is utterly memorable and I found myself struggling to remember anything.

I figure that’s due to the mess of it all. Sin City struggles to connect al its story but it’s all done so haphazardly that it makes the original seem like an Elmore Leonard novel. Sin City has the ideas for moments and scenarios, not so much about taking them make sense or fit together, or even getting you invested in the nihilism of it all. What’s more is it’s so dull it doesn’t even work on the easy-breezy-dumb level of the original film, A Dame to Kill For is a movie nobody asked for and, what’s more, it seemed the movie justifies that sentiment by not really bothering to make a memorable impression either.

The Ugly: I haven’t seen the original Sin City in years. I liked it fine when it came out, but I never saw it as this end-all be-all piece of filmmaking put on a pedestal that some seemed to gush over. It had its moment, and that was it. It’s B-Movie schlock heavily stylized. The sequel, though not as good with the plots and scenarios, really is just more of the same…and it’s all very tired.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


A Single Man

A SINGLE MAN is based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. Set in Los Angeles in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, it is the story of a British college professor (Colin Firth) who is struggling to find meaning to his life after the death of his long time partner. The story is a romantic tale of love interrupted, the isolation that is an inherent part of the human condition, and ultimately the importance of the seemingly smaller moments in life.

The Good: Newcomer director, yet full-time fashion designer (go figure) Tom Ford shows incredible control over the story of A Single Man. In fact, it's one of the finest directorial debuts I've ever had the pleasure of seeing. It's an elegant picture, beautifully shot from the opening scene to the final cut to black, with a fantastic acting turn by Colin Firth that, like the film itself, is subtle and muted (and sometimes darkly comedic). Julianne Moore is fantastic as a supporting role and the few other actors in the piece serve their purposes well. It deals with loss, a difficult subject matter to try and tackle but when done well, as seen in other movies such as In the Bedroom, in a very personal and internal way. You can have a very intense and compelling picture when it's done with the aura of class that A Single Man, for the most part, handles well.

The Bad: Ford does a good job balancing subtlety with self-serving stylishness. It's artistic just for the right amount, indulging only when needed, but the ending seems to struggle a bit when trying to find a way to finish. The balance is lost, and we're given long stretches of monotone blandness that doesn't showcase the capable acting nor the solid directing; mere scenes for the sake of needing scenes that don't quite go anywhere. Then it ends. It reaches a point shortly before the end where it feels like it's going to end, then it's merely treading water.

The Ugly: A few contrived moments might bring many other films down, but there's a hypnotic quality to A Single Man. He's alive, but he's not living. Everything is a bit like a dream. As a result, weird scenes such as a little girl carrying a jar with a scorpion, or a greaser that apparently can spot a homosexual a mile away then hit on him, are given much more leeway than they would normally.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Sinister

A true-crime writer finds a cache of 8mm "snuff" films that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose career dates back to the 1960s.

The Good: There's nothing like a good story about moving in to a house and dealing with the previous inhabitants. Well, Sinister's "ghosts" aren't so much ghosts, as you'll see, as much as it is a demon. Fair enough, the endgame is still the same, and "Mr. Boogie" is one nasty looking creature that you never really see completely clearly...making him that much more sinister.

What's great about Sinister, and maybe what lacks in a lot of horror films, is that it's just as much a character study of a broken man desperate to hang on to his own legacy and infamy as it is a tale about ghosts, spirits and demons. Ellison makes compromises and puts himself and his family in danger not through some film contrivance, but because he himself is a very flawed individual. He's obsessive, callous, alcoholic and self-righteous, making him just as much of a villain as he is a hero and likely having you conflicted on whether or not you should like him or not. The fact he's not perfect, and far from a hero, was what makes Sinister a cut above the rest. There's a lot of movies like this, but Ellison is just as much the villain as he is the victim making for a dynamic deconstruction of your standard horror "hero."

Ethan Hawke handles the task with grace. He gets what is asked of him and for his character. We route for him, hope for him, but don't necessarily like him. His arguments with his wife feel authentic, just as much as his love for her, and his selfishness is simply an understanding of the complexities of humanity than it is necessarily "evil" on his part. But that's the root of the story: our demon prays on that humanity and our flaws and exploits it, which is why he's just as sympathetic as much as he is pathetic.

Sinister is a well directed piece, taking place pretty much entirely in one location, knowing how to understand anticipation and space to create a sense of creepiness and fright, but especially utilizing auditory cognition as well. Things you think you hear, things Ellison thinks he hears, is just as scary as the things you think you see. If a film can't quite express the corner-of-the-eye that makes you think twice about turning your head, it can at least play with our auditory senses. Sinister does that about as well as I've seen.

The Bad: A great mood and deconstruction of man doesn't make for necessary scares, though. Overly dependent on "jump scares," which is surprisingly considering the consistent amount of dread and darkness to the atmosphere, Sinister just never quite finds that balance. It wants to be a moody, engrossing atmospheric horror film like an Exorcist or The Innocents, but far too often neglects it in favor of things leaping out at the camera and looking right in to it as though breaking the forth wall is suddenly scary (That being said, there is one jump scare involving the "found footage" involving a lawnmower that is exactly how a jump scare should be).

On top of that you have unresolved sub plots, lack of clarity in character motivations and just a bit of a sloppy handling of a story. The character of Ellison is the drive and force, and thankfully strong enough to carry the entirety of the film, but plot and story wise, Sinister is just all over the place and never fully reels it in before finally ending itself in a pretty bold way.

The Ugly: Though far from perfect, Sinister is certainly the type of horror I personally enjoy. It gets the characters down right, has a logical sense in motivation and character actions; no..."hey guys, where are you?"teenagers wandering in to a dark room. Just the sheer act of being a protective father trying to do the right thing automatically makes making stupid decisions a little more believable.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Skin I Live In

A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession.

The Good: Writer/Director Pedro Almodóvar pretty much sums up his own film nicely: it's a horror movie without frights or scares. In fact, it's quite reminiscent of the French film, Eyes Without a Face, not merely because of the subject matter but the unsettling and odd feeling the film evokes. An always observant eye from the legendary director, a stunning and downright sinister turn of character by Banderas and the always-reliable right hand of Almodóvar that's worked on some of his best works, Spanish cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, may have outdone his gorgeous photography on Volver with this one.

At its core, though, is an interesting premise. Not the story itself, but a plot that makes you both love and hate both sides. Almodóvar spends time to develop the notion that nothing is every black and white, good and evil. You understand both, sympathize with both, but never can choose one side because you know some of what they've done is absolutely wrong (though some certainly more than others). Like Badneras's character, you start to have these odd feelings that you just don't know what to do with. The movie always keeps you guessing and on your toes, predictability is completely absent from this one, and it gives quite the satisfactory pay off.

The Bad: The Skin I Live In is a rather cold film. It's cold in execution. Cold in style despite its gorgeous look. It's especially cold emotionally with none of the characters quite coming off as genuine people - more hollow shells for Almodóvar to use to explore his premises. Those "sides" I mentioned earlier? That probably has less to do with exploring moral gray areas and more to do with there being no sympathy or passion and merely blank slates.

The film is also one to always move forward, but it does so awkwardly. Sudden plot changes or left-field antics are great for unpredictability and, as it turns out, uneasiness. However it does so with the elegance of an anvil being dropped. Characters will sudden appear out of nowhere, there's one sub-plot that was absolutely unneeded, at least in how it was handled, and a backstory that's never quite clear on what's going on and why it relates to the present - at least on that ever-fleeting emotional level or, in a case or two, simple logic.

The Ugly: Coldness may have been the only way Almodóvar could really explore his rather intense themes. Obsession and desire being a big one here. I suppose you have to take the good with the bad in some cases, and The Skin I Live In is just one of those cases and far more "good" than "bad" in the end.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Skyfall

Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

The Good: Everything you want in a James Bond movie is found in Skyfall. The one-liners, variety of action, the car, the martini, the sex, the incredibly memorable villain, the overall sense of fun that can be forgotten at times, the solid action and fight-scene directing, a komodo dragon, exotic locations, Walther PPK, exotic women, chase scenes, all sorts of vehicles and even a bit of an emotional edge and a slight character study of Bond himself - blending elements of everything we love about Bond but balancing it with the more gritty, rough and character piece the Daniel Craig Bond films have kind of made themselves known for.

It all starts and ends with three things in this film: Daniel Craig just slides into James Bond as well as we've ever seen him, Judi Dench is as good as ever as M and given more to do in this film than she ever has, and Javier Bardem has shown he is one of the great screen villains and can transform himself at the drop of a hat (or some false teeth). Bardem is able to create a villain that not only has that classic Bond-villain personality and presence, but one that gets under your skin a bit and makes you squirm in your seat. It's a focused insanity, masked with a charm that we haven't seen in a Bond film in...you know I can't even think of one quite like it. It's pretty damn one-of-a-kind and now, having let it all settle in, I feel safe in saying it might be the best Bond villain in the series.  More visceral than a Goldfinger, more involved than a Blofeld and more menacing and crafty a Janus or Grant. It's like an amalgamation of everything you want in a villain, and damn does he make you a bit squeamish while doing it.

The story, though, cetners on Bond and M, and it's as crafty as Bardem's Silva. It plays off the notion of Bond's love/hate relationship with his superior, her parental-like overseeing of young men she helps raise to be spies and the entire screwed up world of MI6 in the process. Going in and exploring Bond and M's past, one would think, would make this just a big drama and get boring, but it never pounds you over the head with it. It just kind of flows as the film follows the standard James Bond structure, done damn well, and lets the action and Bond-isms that make these movies as great as they are (or should be, rather) do all the driving like it's a sleek  Aston Martin DB5.

Sam Mendes came in to this film pretty unproven as an action director, especially of this caliber where we're thrust in to so many variety of things and on such a variety of scale, but he impresses to no end. Small, intimate, tense moments and close-quarters action is just as impressive and effective as the large scale stunts and over-the-top moments like driving over rooftops in motorcycles or destroying a train with construction equipment (or, as Bond probably sees it, just a Thursday). There's been a lot of action movies this year, but Mendes shows that it's not about quantity, but quality and just polishing standard approaches to action scenes, let the script work with the action rather than setting up the next beat, makes for the best action movie you can ask for. Certainly the best of this year and the best James Bond film we've seen in nearly 20 years.

The Bad: Skyfall is really one of those movies that you need to watch again to find something inherently bad within it. I'm sure there's something, but the film is so well-put-together and polished, you become lost in its world.  Maybe a third act that needed a bigger bang, or better motivation/explanation of the villain, perhaps the self-aware-references grow a bit tired after a while, or maybe the lack of conviction in the delivery of wit by Craig who never quite seems sold on the tongue-in-cheek humor, or maybe the lack of explanation of Bond's past which ends up shoehorned in to the film, or maybe it's just the overuse of M and her relationship to Bond as the surrogate mother - a theme that's pounded repeatedly into the film as though we aren't "getting it" yet.

It probably is all those things, actually, but a collection of small elements like that can hinder the overall experience, even though the film does so much else so damn well. It's a movie that you sit back and think about to find a fault, because once you're in it...you're in it for the long haul and probably don't care of what little flaw might creep up. That's the sign of a good action flick: be so well-crafted that the problems you might have don't mean a thing while watching it.

The Ugly: Most of what makes Skyfall work is entirely on the shoulders of director Sam Mendes. We can only hope he will come back for another, even if he set the bar high with this one. Though, I do hope the obvious "hey, remember this from the past movies" nods are a thing of the past. It was fun in this one being an anniversary and all, but I hope others reel it back and let the movies be themselves.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Sleepwalk with Me

A burgeoning stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore. 

The Good: At only 75 minutes, Sleepwalk With Me manages to pack in a lot of material. That material is primarily that of Mike Birbiglia's standup, because Sleepwalk With Me isn't just some indie-comedy about love and romance and jumping out of second-story windows at La Quinta Inn while sleepwalking, it's completely autobiographical. Mike, who plays "Matt" and I can't really understand why the name was changed, "hosts" our little story. He doesn't narrate, per se, but cuts away to tell us how all these situations during a very stressful time in his life were interconnected.

The through-line is his life, but the heart is his acceptance that marriage, for some people, isn't for them. We're told to live one way, find true love, get married, yet that's not the right way to live for some people. As Matt comes to terms in understanding this, paralleling his understanding of being a comedian and his realization he has a serious sleepwalking disorder, we realize that Sleepwalk With Me is a small comedy that actually has quite a lot to say. That packaging of material isn't wasted. Just through one man telling us about a time during his life, we come to understand him and the perspectives his brings. That's the entire point of standup comedy, and it turns out that translates well to an endearing film.

The  Bad: Endearing, but messy. Sleepwalk With Me, due to its linear nature of telling points of interest, doesn't really have turns and twists. As long as it builds up to that "understanding" at the end, we're taken a bit for a ride. Flashbacks. Dream sequences. Day dreams. We're really not sure what we're supposed to be feeling in certain situations, some which comes off as callous and others that are hilarious, but a sense of unevenness from beginning to end.

The Ugly: Surprise visits from Carol Kane and James Rebhorn kind of made this movie. They play Mike...Matt's...Mike's parents and kind of steal the show in the little time they have. Kane is as great as ever, I wish she would do more films. She is in Thanks for Sharing, a movie I want to see (from Stuart Blumberg, who wrote The Kids are All Right) but has yet to get a distributor last I heard.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Slither

In this blend of the B movie classic  Blob, The (1958) and some Romero's zombies film, a meteorite collides in a small town. Grant finds it, and is infected by a parasite worm, which installs in his brain and causes him a creepy transformation into a monster. Starla, his wife, and Bill, a policeman, will try to stop him and the plague of worms generated by the creature.

The Good: Well, I don't exactly agree with that brief line above I pulled. It's not really The Blob or Romero, far more in tune with Night of the Creeps, the Thing and Shivers (a.k.a. They Come From Within). But I digress. I would contest, and I can't think of many horror fans that would disagree, that Slither is one of the best (some might say could be the best) horror film in the past ten years. I say could because, despite all the remakes and unoriginal movies, there's still a good amount of great horror films from the past ten years. Let the Right One In would be another, Shaun of the Dead certainly and films like 28 Days Later and Audition go without saying. But for some reason, I have a strong love of Slither. This John Carpenter/David Cronenberg inspired horror movie, though derivative (no denying that) just loves what it is. It's a modern 1980s horror movie, and truthfully, considering the material, that's the only way it could ever work. It has all the modern techniques with computer effects and a great look to it, but never goes overboard with it and never undermining it's humble 80s horror roots. It is completely self-aware of this fact and as a result doesn't try and remind how self-important it is and never, ever takes itself overly seriously. It's B-Movie horror with a solid cast and fun script, and just a blast to watch on boring, late Saturday night with friends.

The Bad: As gorgeous as she may be, Elizabeth Banks is the one aberration in the cast that can really grate on you. Fillion and the rest of the cast are superb, but Banks seems to take everything a little too seriously at time and considering she's our main character, and has most of the screen time, her dramatic take on everything is far too noticeable when compared to the rest.

The Ugly: Way too much fleshy Michael Rooker than I bargained to see.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Slumdog Millionaire

The story of Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika, the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show's questions. Each chapter of Jamal's increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show's seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out. At the heart of its storytelling lies the question of how anyone comes to know the things they know about life and love.

The Good: Beautiful, poetic, moving. The sense of looking for love, the emptiness without it and the fulfillment once found is rarely shown well in film. We're usually subjugated to romantic comedies, rarely something that actually will move you. Winner of best picture and rightfully so, Slumdog Millionaire gives us deep, emotional characters, an engaging story of one young man's life in a world none of a really know, yet its themes are as universal as ever. It gives us everything, plain and simple. Love, betrayal, occasional comedy, drama, all wrapped in an imaginative and creative approach, it's damn near a perfect film, and I don't say that lightly. Danny Boyle shows us why he is one of the best filmmakers alive today.

The Bad: The many, many jumps, while easy to follow for the most part, can sometimes give us a hard idea on when something is taking place (past or present, or future even). 

The Ugly: Not so much ugly, but even a large face scare can't make Frida Pinto ugly, I've concluded it is impossible for that to happen. Also...is India really that corrupt? Man, that's rough.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Snow White and the Huntsman

In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

The Good: A gorgeous visual style of a fantasy world is the strongest aspect to this rather misguided and underwritten film. There's no denying it nails the atmosphere, creating a rich and vibrant world and feeling completely comfortable within it. The themes and motifs of nature and beauty versus human constructs and ugliness carries through it from beginning to end. It does a particular good job of taking elements of the classic Tale but growing something new from it and creating an interesting world and people within it. Along the way, we are treated to a nice array of action set pieces, and two distinct characters.

The first is the Huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth who approaches the character as "Thor...but drunker." It works. He's likeable. He's convincing. He's our true hero...well, he should have been. The other is Charlize Theron, showing that she has a dark side to her by dominating the screen with her Evil Queen who does about all the evil things you expect an evil queen to do. Underused, much like the Huntsman himself at times, but there's no denying she's memorable...and this is a film that really needs some life like these two to make it even watchable.

The Bad: All this movie really needed to be damn good was a nice dose of energy and enthusiasm and maybe just a bit of humor. It has neither, though Chris Hemsworth does his damn best to try and make both happen and Charlize Theron brings a sense of credibility to her evil queen. When it comes to the rest of the cast, in particular our title character played by an apathetic Kristen Stewart, the film is like taking a couple of ambien and, once in a while, throwing a monkey into the room to wake you back up.
Not that Hemsworth is a monkey, but the film treats him like one. If it weren't for him, this whole thing would be unwatchable.

Instead we're given an unimpressive lead actress in Kristen Stewart who can't deliver a line without the sense she just finished yawning and the gorgeous, evil titillating Charlize Theron given absolutely nothing to do with an otherwise compelling villain. Oh, when she's on, she's on. There's no denying her character is wonderfully evil. But she does absolute nothing but stand around and sometimes turns in to birds. Who she is, who her brother is, the motivations, the whole thing with bathing in milk, the extent of her powers, again...the milk thing...still not understanding that, taking life essence (I have to assume that's what she does), the transporting ability that makes you wonder why she doesn't just kill Snow White herself or at least try repeatedly.

The fact is, the film is just a mess across the board, taking a great atmosphere and visualized world and squandering it. The Huntsman himself is great as well. The Huntsman is fun and has a personality and a motivation and a great screen presence and is a guy you care about and want to see him win and kill all the bad guys. But The Huntsman isn't the lead. He's more in the background and treated like one of the seven dwarves who's names are never spoken as though the film is embarrassed they're even in it. The Huntsman plays third-billing after Stewart and Theron who haphazardly wade through their mediocre characters in the mediocre script and just waste our time, yet he's still the best thing in this misguided, sloggy piece of fantasy filmmaking that strains hard to be "epic" in scope and idea but is really a film who's reach is exceeding its grasp.

The Ugly: Apparently, this is turning into a franchise. Thankfully, it's expected to concentrate more on The Huntsman. If they can extend the "fun" that the Huntsman has surrounding him, it might just be a film worth seeing...just get some new writers first, producers.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Snowpiercer

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.

The Good: As to be expected with any film from Joon-ho Bong, Snowpiercer is a visual powerhouse of a film. Atmospheric, dark, unique and even occasionally beautiful, it’s a film that carves out its own take on a post-apocalyptic word with its own style. Bong is able to make a small space seem large thanks to light, camera movement and angles that bring out an intimacy that plops you right there with these people struggling to survive on the last train of humanity in a post-apocalyptic world.

The highlight here is a great turn by Chris Evans. Evans has been making waves in smaller films, most recently almost un-recognizable in The Iceman (2013), but here he’s asked to become raw, emotional, pitiful and sincere and he nails it across the board. Easily the best performance of his young career, Evans manages to be a vulnerable “hero” that reminds us that he’s still just a person on that train like everyone else. This is a film that could have easily been that “hero's journey” type of story, and while it has elements of that, Evans’ and the way the character is written makes it much more complex.

Though it lacks the fun of The Host or the focus and drama of Mother, Bong’s latest is arguably his most unique and ambitious, showing the man’s talent and range as one of the best filmmakers working today. Simply put, this is a movie that is surprising it actually got made. There’s a lack of ambition when it comes to genre movies sometimes, in particular science fiction, but Snowpiercer tries to push the envelope forward to not become a derailed train on an over-driven track.

The Bad: Drops in logic is Snowpiercer's biggest downfall. Your suspension of disbelief is surely to be tested as little to nothing makes sense in the film’s second half. Twists, character motivations, the ‘danceclub/crackhouse” car…it’s a weird string of scenes once the film decides to take that route. Some of it you can chalk up to the book probably expanding on it whereas the film can’t quite do that. Others you can’t quite explain, you just go with the flow and hope it doesn’t dwell on it too long lest you start actually thinking about it.

Yet, here we are, having to look back and discuss it, and it’s a weird movie. Really weird. Not weird in structure or even plot, but weird in concept because the concept is flat-out illogical. There’s a lot of head-scratching to be had, a lot of “Why did” or “Why don’t they…” type of questions to be asked. Most of which I can’t describe because the film hinges so desperately on them. Thankfully its strengths, such as acting and directing, more than make up for the weirdness of things like people suddenly deciding to murder someone or having a sushi bar and aquarium or attempting to have a gun fight through a window on one part of a train with a guy at a window on another par as it circles an incline…boy, it’s weird. I think because it’s so weird, a lot of those illogical things just scamper by.

But the hardest thing to get over with Snowpiercer is how it has a lot of ideas it sets on the table, yet never really sees any of them through. In fact, it needs a big dose of exposition at the end from one character to try and bring just one of those ideas to a conclusion. It’s really a film that leaves you with more questions than answers and probably hopes you don’t think too hard on it - hard to do considering how serious it often takes itself. There is a logic to this train full of final humanity, a theme and point to be made, it just has a hell of a time trying to focus on it and make sense to actually have those themes and point mean something.

The Ugly: Mmmm…protein bars…..now nobody ask where it could possibly come from, just eat them. ok? Those in charge haven't given us any reason to doubt them.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Social Network

On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.

The Good: One of the things The Social Network does incredibly well, and I realized this after the first fifteen minutes or so, is the parallel of digital social interaction with real life social interaction. No matter how you try to say it, a digital interaction no matter how many people are involved is still a disconnect. Talking to someone in person, living and breathing, looking into their eyes, is a personal and more human experience - and that something Mark Zuckerberg in the film never quite grasps. He can become "wired in" and feel complete, but ask him to simply have a conversation with you, and he's, as the film and superb script notes, comes across as cold, emotionless and an asshole even though he doesn't mean to be an asshole. Despite all the money he made, the real world is still out of his grasp.

The script moves a mile a minute, as though we're streaming down the internet ourselves and struggling to keep up. Alongside this is the directing, quick cutting and just as sharp. This, folks, is a marriage of two perfect entities (three if you want to throw in a soundtrack that is spot on in every single scene and moves just as beautifully through the film as Sorkin's rambling dialogue). Fincher's visuals and approach to each scene highlights everything from intensity, to drama to even the occasional comedy (which does fall a bit flat sometimes, but you're off into something else anyways in 0.3 seconds). Sorkin's script is able to balance a human element with the business drama about blogs, hacking, computers and every type of internet jargon you can think of. It moves in a manner where you can't have a moment to digest, yet at the same time you have it presented in a manner that you can understand and follow. Spot-on acting, especially the likes of Eisenberg and Garfield, helps bring it all to life.

Above all else, though, The Social Network is ambitious. It's ambitious on every level - to take a seemingly rudimentary story you can read books and articles about, note the betrayals, the determination, the business backstabbings, lawsuits and broken friendships, the ambition of the craft of cinema brings it to an entirely new level. I usually dislike hyperbole and seeing the "Film that defines a generation" quotes usually would irk me. Yet, when you see it, it absolute does. That's where the ambition resides - it's both a tale of a rise of a billionaire and a website that seems one with the internet, but it also encapsulates a generation of young peoples where the internet is something they've never lived without and can't imagine living without. It defines them because they allow it to define them, and thus The Social Network as a film fully grasping that, showcases how it defines them, from relationship statuses to Cats that Look Like Hitler to a screen on every desk and phone in every palm. It's all there, and it takes intelligent, thoughtful if not rare brilliant filmmaking to achieve that.

The Bad: Like much of Sorkin's writing, there's certainly a sense of self-gratification in every scene. The dialogue is rich and movement endless, yet Sorkin tends to draw attention to his material rather than it feel natural. Thankfully, the directing and acting hides most of that, as I said it's a perfect marriage, but some bits here and there relish in its self-importance and you will find yourself laughing not because something is funny, but because its unrealistic and feels odd or uncomfortably out of place. That's only when it seems to go out of its way to do that, those brief lulls at the end of a scene here and there.

But that can be forgiven, if you think about it. Much of The Social Network deals with ego, self-service and "being noticed." Strangely, Sorkin is so damn perfect in this execution and layering, that I doubt any other writer could have done this material as much justice.

The Ugly: Much has been said about the lack of female characters and those that are in not being much more than "prizes." Look, groups that bitch a lot: that's where the "defining a generation" comes in to play. Whether you like it or not, the male character in this story, like a rowing finish line or a new website and big check, sees women nothing more than prizes.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Solitary Man

Ben Kalman is aging: he has heart problems, his marriage is over, he's lost a fortune after being caught cutting corners in his East Coast car business, and he's sleeping with as many women as possible - the younger the better. He's chosen his current girlfriend, Jordan, because her father can help him get a new auto dealership; she's asked him to escort her daughter, Allyson, 18, on a visit to a Boston college campus. He behaves badly, and there are consequences to his love life, his finances, and his relationship with his daughter and grandson. Is there anywhere he can turn?

The Good: At nearly 70 years old, Michael Douglas can spout dialogue and showcase more energy and levity to his characters than some actors a third his age. Ben Kalman, a probably-not-coincidental reflection of Douglas himself, is a complex man that seems to never quite do the right thing despite his, at least we can assume, best intentions. His character is interesting because you don't like the things he does, yet you still want him to succeed and find that path in life he's just now searching for. Dealing with lost youth, mortality, self destruction, life purpose and impulsive desires, Solitary Man is a sincere picture about life and the pursuit of happiness.

There isn't really a plot here, just a story of a man who, at least we hope, can find a little redemption in his sins. He never admits to those sins, in his eyes he's free-and-clear, but there's something behind those eyes that make us pity him and end up routing for him to finally see what us and every other character in the film sees. This can get a bit aggravating, sure, but Douglas's performance allows the character to at least be likable while doing so. A strong supporting cast around him helps flesh out his character even more, but make no mistake: if it weren't for Michael Douglas, the film wouldn't have worked.

The Bad: The reason why it wouldn't have worked is primarily because there is no other character of significance in the story. It's all props and though the supports are well cast and acted, you could easily throw anyone else into those roles and the tools would still be used for Douglas to partake in. The revelations, the roadblocks and the self-destruction would happen either way. With a thin plot alongside that, outside of Douglas's character, there's not a lot to really engross an audience.

The Ugly: Is it the performance that lifts the film to better heights, or is it the film that ends up wasting a performance entirely?

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Some Like It Hot

Two struggling musicians witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and try to find a way out of the city before they are found and killed by the mob. The only job that will pay their way is an all girl band so the two dress up as women. In addition to hiding, each has his own problems; One falls for another band member but can't tell her his gender, and the other has a rich suitor who will not take "No," for an answer.

The Good: Comedy will make you smile. Good comedy will make you laugh. Great comedies do all that, and are timeless. Some Like it Hot is, quite possibly, the most timeless comedy ever made. Its style, its timing, even its plot, as absurd as it is, has you hooked from the very beginning. Why? Because Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis give us two the most likable characters you could ever ask for. They’re nice guys in a bad situation and to watch them squirm to get out, chasing the girls and hiding from the mob, brings back a style that hadn’t been seen since the Marx Brothers (musical influence, quick banter, flowing dialogue and all). It’s often debated whether or not this is the greatest comedy ever made. I don’t like the term “greatest,” but I will say it’s about as flawless of a film that can be created, comedy or otherwise. It’s always moving forward, it’s characters never irrelevant, it has this fantastic sense of irony to everything that happens and, in the end, it just does everything it wants to do, never too much or too little, and does it right.

The Bad: Well, I could have done without Monroe singing. But that’s just me...

The Ugly: Josephine and Daphne are pretty hot...wait....what?

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Somebody Up There Likes Me

A comedy about a man, his best friend, and the woman they both adore watching their lives fly by.

The Good: If you go in to the world of Somebody Up There Likes Me with an understanding that it's a surrealist film, just a bit outside of reality but so casual it doesn't realize it, then it's all that much more interesting to watch. Note, "watch" and "consume" rather than "laugh" and "understand."

Though it classifies itself as a comedy, it's a film that takes a "slice of life" style, noting many scenes that you have probably been in yourself at some point, and points at it with an absurdist's finger. "You've probably had a date like this," it'll say. "Looking at it now, isn't it odd? Aren't all these life moments odd when you look at them through a different lens?" It easily does this thanks to some great acting by its actors, but also through musical cues and smart editing as it falls in to the next scenes, then the next, as the absurdity of each situation slowly begins to tie in to each other and we realize we're pretty much watching someones' life…and it's only a step removed from our own in its contextual silliness.

All that I can say is that, though there are a lot of shortcomings for Somebody Up There Likes Me, there's a sense of lightness to it all. Sure, they all may be acting and performing in that "I'm too cool to identify this is a comedy" type of way (meaning it's all very, very dry but also very, very nonchalant) which can wear thin, it's ultimately playful and sometimes even a little sweet along the way. Smart and funny lines are found through out, I'd even say much of it highly quotable because you've probably had the same types of conversations but really never noticed it before. It has a charm that's hard to fully describe even when it's bordering pretension and a relatability even when it's bordering contrivance.

The Bad: Sometimes, it just doesn't work. In some movies, you see the premise, you see that, on paper, it should work. But there's a disconnect: a dart thrown and it misses the center circle and, instead, hits the badly paneled bar wall to the side. At least it was thrown, at least it hit something, but it hits off the mark. I suppose if you want to watch a film that flourishes with the awkward and uncomfortable, this is for you. Mind you, that doesn't mean it's funny. It tries to be funny, but it never hits that mark.

I have no doubt that the actors and actresses involved are fantastic. They are all committed. They all show good comedic timing. But the comedy doesn't work. Thankfully, the characters do and there's some memorable moments all along, but if you're hoping for laughs, and can maybe stand the annoyance of a lot of people saying things yet ultimately saying nothing, then this is a nice little indie flick to check out. The problem I found myself in was that it wears out its welcome after 20 minutes and begins to become thin, simply repeating the same awkward tone only in different 5-year vignettes. Because of the constant tone, even after 20 minutes my interest and investment began to dwindle. I think writer director Bob Byington might have know this as well, because the film only clocks in at around 75 minutes.

The Ugly: If there's one thing that Somebody Up There Likes Me just nails, it's the ability to have you analyze your own life in its process…and realize how mundane it probably is. At least we're laughing at the mundane of this film's world and characters, but then we realize we aren't laughing at our own. In the end, Somebody Up There Like Me might just be one of the more depressing films you'll see. A conversation about breadsticks is funny in the context of the movie, a conversation about breadsticks in our own life is just dull.

Maybe if I had a quirky tuba playing in the background of my life, it'd be easier. Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm does the same approach.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Somewhere

A hard-living Hollywood actor re-examines his life after his 11-year-old daughter surprises him with a visit.

The Good: The tedium of day to day life, even to a movie star like Johnny in Somewhere, is a bore. Yet, you never quite see Johnny as a person, more as a "thing" people like. This is interesting, especially as he becomes paranoid of paparazzi and seems distant to everything and everyone around him as a "safe" zone, as even he himself isn't sure how to act as a person anymore. He comes home to his hotel room, yes "home" as in where he is staying from his separated wife and child, to find a bunch of people there having a party. Who are they? How'd they get there?Johnny is as surprised as we are, but he rolls with it because it's about the only sense of being wanted he really has - that and nightly strippers doing pole dances for him as he lays in bed and falls asleep.

Somewhere indicates "anywhere." It's an idea that the day to day life of even the most famous still finds difficulties where they matter. Family. Questionable friends. Loneliness and apathy and, I'm willing to bet, a hint of depression as Johnny is someone who could have everything but isn't quite sure what he wants. "Somewhere" to him means a distant dream away from his bland life. The film is a portrait of him and little else. It has nary a plot and only one other character worth caring about, his daughter Cleo played nicely by Elle Fanning.

The Bad: I suppose if there were more conflict, more heart might exude and, thus, more desire to care about the characters and their situation. There are occasional flashes, but nothing ever develops. It's interesting, but not enthralling. It's enjoyable, but not entertaining. It's as apathetic to itself as the characters within are to their own lives, and we of it as it becomes as involving as staring at a puddle of water and getting excited when a few drops hit it to cause a ripple here and there. While that might be a reflection of life, even to a famous person as Johnny is in the film, it doesn't necessarily have much to say or bring to us to ponder it all or offer some revelation or insight into the characters themselves. Coppola certainly goes back to the minimalist style she flourished with in Lost in Translation, as well as very similar themes and directorial approach, but it lacks the characters to draw you in as they seem to go nowhere rather than somewhere.

The Ugly: A good film but it badly needed something to happen in it...if that makes any sense.
Also, why does Dorff not get more roles? He's fantastic here.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Sorority Row

After finding out a guy cheated on their sister, sorority house Theta Pi play a simple prank on him. They trick him into thinking that he has killed his girlfriend, then take him into the middle of nowhere to 'dismember" the body, only then revealing it was a prank. However, the prank goes horribly wrong and all involved swear never to speak of it again. A year later at graduation though, they are all reminded of the past..

The Good: Pretty girls and some nice bloody effects. Want more from your horror? Look elsewhere. I will say, it’s a basic film, but in a good way. It’s a streamlined slasher flick. You won’t get good characters or a good story, but you’ll definitely get to the point quickly and efficiently. It just asks a little too much of us, I think, and our suspension of disbelief can really only go so far.

The Bad: I knew within the first three minutes this film was going to annoy me to no end. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think it was going to be good, I had yet to know that, but the tone and setting, the take it and style of it, was established during the opening credits and if it weren’t for the pretty girls, I’d have skipped it entirely. As for when I realized it wasn’t going to be good, that was to occur a few minutes later. Five minutes forty-five seconds to be precise. I know because I was more interested in looking at the timer on the DVD player than I was watching the movie as it had already caused me to roll my eyes a number of times.

But that’s to be expected in horror films, right? I’d say no, but there are those that take that approach of stupidity and you just go with it and hope for the best. I hoped. I didn’t receive. Sorority Row ended up being one of the worst horror films I’ve ever seen. I don’t expect a huge amount of logic in this genre. I’ve seen so many, there’s no need to. So when I say “it doesn’t make sense” or “I don’t buy it” then please know that I sincerely mean that.  Look, if your prank ends with “then we drive out to an abandoned field where there’s no phone reception” then I can’t pity your stupid ass when it all goes wrong. Then right on cue, tah-dah! The “leader” says “Wait, you guys…we need to talk about this for a minute.” You know…I actually mouthed along as she said that? I mean, how trite can you get? It’s by the numbers after that.

Know this, though. It’s a slasher movie. The point of slasher movies is to kill people, not be logical or have a set-up that makes sense. Alright, it failed those, but surely the killing is good, right? No. No it’s not. There’s one that’s at least inventive, but the rest are as uninspired as…wait, this is a remake. It’s all uninspired to begin with. The characters are unbelievable (in that “let’s throw away our friendship in three seconds kind of way), the humor flat and concept just played out. It’s a movie that knows what it is, but tries too hard to try and tell us that.

Also, who pays a dead girl’s cell phone bill after four years? I mean, really.

The Ugly: Notice one thing about this review: I don’t once compare it to the original film The House of Sorority Row. I can come up with plenty of points without having to do that, as most reviewers should, but if I were to compare it, I’d say this: The House on Sorority Row wasn’t that good of a movie either, but it was a horror masterpiece in comparison to this and had the benefit of an original hook to it all (or should I say cane?…no, that makes no sense. Tried a pun there.)

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Sound City

A documentary on the fabled recording studio that was located in Van Nuys, California.

The Good: Flat out, one of the best damn documentaries about music you'll see. Sound City isn't merely a simple documentary about an old music studio that happened to be the recording location for some of the greatest albums and artists in history, nor is it fully about the stories of all those there. IT's a love letter to music and the fate that seems to bind to it. Maybe it's just happy coincidences, maybe just destiny, but either way Dave Grohl needed to make this movie and we, as lover of music for the past 30 or os years since Sound City's founding to its demise, are destined to see it.

Grohl sets the stage early. He weaves his own story in to that of Sound City, coming up with nothing, being a part of one of the biggest bands in history and just walking in to the dumpy studio for the first time. From that point on, it was written. He became a part of that studio's stories, his fate intertwined, and now over 20 years later he's telling his story alongside that of the famed studio. He's just one of many stories, going back to the early 70s with the likes of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac through the 80s with Tom Petty or Rick Springfield and, finally, the 90s with the likes of Nirvana or Rage Against the Machine. It's not just interesting, these stories of seemingly destined stories and encounters, but utterly entertaining as we also get a bit of a history lesson of music and the music industry.

Not to mention great music all along the way. It's a very simple documentary, it's great talent telling great stores when it comes right down to it, but an incredibly entertaining one made with a hell of a of heart and passion for the stories to be told.

The Bad: I feel there's a lot of stories just lost in the shuffle. Sound City is already a bit of lengthy documentary, but Grohl really concentrates on the highly influential music, or at least important to him, and there's not a ton outside of that though we see them for brief snippets here and there (and during the credits). I'm sure it was tough to decide what to cut and not to cut on Grohl's end - there's just a ton of great material to work with - but when something is glossed over or passed by quickly, it's pretty noticeable. For example, little is discussed about the late 1980s. We're just told some major bands came in, recorded, maybe see them for a few seconds in an interview, then it's moved on before we really hear any of those stories.

But honestly, that's about it. You can't blame Grohl for having to cut stuff. There's way too much love and heart put in to this, a passion project if there ever was one, that trying to pick it apart is futile. If you're a music lover, this might just go down as one of your favorite documentaries ever.

The Ugly: Why can't Paul McCartney rock like that more? I admire the man, but his music the past many albums (he still cranks those out like crazy) is so far removed from his rock roots that seeing him really rock out in this ends up bittersweet.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Sound of My Voice

A journalist and his girlfriend get pulled in while they investigate a cult whose leader claims to be from the future.

The Good: Cults are scary things. Not the "let's all go to the woods and dress in robes" cults, but the kind that involves everyday people coming together in a suburban house on a weeknight as though they're going to a friend's house to watch a football game. The "everyday" nature of a cult like that is far scarier than the predictable ones that make their intentions readily known from the moment you see the severed goats head on a cross.

Sound of My Voice is a frightening film that isn't trying to be frightening. Perhaps "unnerving" is a better word for it. It's uncomfortable in its realism, because it could very much be real as we watch our two "heroes," Peter and Lorna who want to expose this cult, fall victim to the charms they knew were there, were prepared for, yet still can't separate themselves from. It's intimate. That intimacy of it all is where that tension and apprehension comes across so organically. The slow-brew approach of their involvement to the vague ideas that the cult presents, headed by the mysterious "Maggie" who is frighteningly calm in her demeanor, shows the gradual nature of people's ideologies. It's not something overnight, but a long process that we witness in a basement that looks like it was shot at your parent's house. The fact it looks so mundane is why Sound of My Voice is an interesting addition to the thriller genre - because it's not trying to be a thriller at all.

The Bad: I don't know why, but there's something that just doesn't quite sit right with me regarding Brit Marling. Marling is an actress moonlighting as a writer, and in the case here she has written Sound of My Voice (collaborated with her director friend Zal Batmanglij). As mentioned, the idea and approach is great, but then we come to Marling's character, Maggie. Knowing she wrote this dialogue herself, knowing she's a producer on this film, there's just this large elephant in the room as she delivers these lines. It's self-gratifying, borderline pretentious, and her line delivery gives off this sensation that she practiced every single one of these lines as she wrote the script knowing she would say them, which explains why our two other main characters, Peter and Lorna, don't have as interesting things to say.

She's not subtle about it, which is where I probably have the problem. Marling also wrote and starred in Another Earth, and I was fine with that because she was very unassuming. Here, she's front and center, writing a film for herself and, literally, setting up her character as a Messiah-figure. It reeks of ego-writing, for lack of a better term, and I can't help but find it a distraction as I watch the film. Her performance comes across as disingenuous as a result of it all. Then, when you throw in the lack of clarity of character with Peter and Lorna and a non-ending, it re-enforces that assumption that she was far more concerned writing for herself than putting a full film together.

The Ugly: All that said, the idea of Sound of My Voice and the "texture" of the film, the ominous sensation and quietly growing intensity, more than makes up for anything Marling might have undermined with her own selfishness. But it would have benefited to just put in a different actress, or keep the character of Maggie more in the background.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Source Code

An action thriller centered on a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he's part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train

The Good: The best thing I can say in starting this review is that director Duncan Jones is now two for two. Like Moon, Source Code is a difficult and complicated idea that's simply executed extremely, extremely well. In the hands of a director that didn't "get it," it would be something that could easily end up a mess. Anything involving dimensions, realities and time travel is an easy thing to screw up. Here, though, we get a fantastic thriller that never loses steam in it's intensity. It grabs you and it's a hard thing to shake off as you dive deeper and deeper into its concept.

Surrounding it is what Jones has shown he has a knack for: lyrical humanism. Source Code isn't simply a thriller, but a moving look at one man's life. This "story within the story" is exactly what set Moon apart from the pack - though here Jones did not write Source Code he handles it with such a sure hand that he might as well have. He has a fantastic lead actor to carry the weight of the film as well in Jake Gyllenhaal who shuns his pretty-boy, would-be action star persona for a twisty and turny character driven genre piece. If he keeps choosing fantastic projects like this, and stay away from Prince of Persia-studio junk, he will carve out a hell of a career out of the cake.

Source Code is unique in that it has a lot to say (and thus a lot to take in) without having to actually "say" it. From war to military rights to family to love to life itself - it's really what science fiction is supposed to be.

The Bad: Sometimes, when a film is so rooted into a scientific concept, it ends up tripping over some rather basic story points. In this case, I can't quite line them (actually just two) without utterly ruining the film for those who have not seen it. So I'll just leave it at this: once all is done and the credits roll, sit and think of Sean.

I think the film might have ended better, and bitter-sweetly, if it rolled those credits five minutes earlier. It's a film that wants you to think of its ideas, but when you do it shows the holes that it develops as it goes along.

The Ugly: I don't know if Jones plans on doing more science fiction, but right now he's one of the best things about the genre which really could use a leader. His next potential film, Mute, is based on the graphic novel. As much as I want to see variety for the sake of his career, I would love for him to stay in science fiction realm.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Southpaw

Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.

The Good: I can't sit here and deny the fact that, despite it's common tropes and seemingly-recycled plot points and story elements, I was on the edge of my seat in Southpaw. I was routing for Billy to the final credit roll. This is how you have to approach sports movies: yes, the plot is going to be boilerplate and Southpaw is simultaneously a comeback story and an underdog story. Been there, done that.
But you have to focus on characters. Yeah, that plot isn't going to wow you. Old guy teaching young guy. Young guy learns new ways. Sure, it's predictable, so you have to focus on who these people are. Why they do what they do. That sucks you in. Gets you invested. Makes you cheer for them. Makes you on the edge of your seat in hopes they succeed.

So you take that boilerplate setup of a boxing story, write some memorable and interesting characters and cast the hell out of it. Jake Gyllenhaal is here, yet again, showing us how he's still one of the most under-appreciated actors working today. This guy has been busting his ass for a good decade now with seemingly little fanfare despite making solid movie after solid movie, showing great range and variety in genres while doing so. He sells you Southpaw. He makes that character work.

Southpaw's a solid story and characters full of great performances. It passes by smoothly, thanks to the sharp directing and precision-like editing. It's a movie that seemed to come and go this year, which is a shame considering how, despite what's working against it, so much of is nailed spot-on.

The Bad: Yeah, you'll know what's happening. Like I said, there's not much more that you can do with a sports movie anymore in terms of plot. Especially a boxing movie. Southpaw is able to overcome all that where it counts, but there's no denying that it doesn't necessarily say or do anything from the standard "underdog comeback" story. It's an unoriginal idea that holds back the otherwise solid execution of it all.

I try to not hold "Oh, it's been done before" against any movie. There's only so many stories that can be told, but you can play with it if you're writer. The problem with Southpaw isn't that we've seen it before, it's that it's beat-for-beat something we've seen before and doesn't look to change or alter its structure or approach in any way. It's like you have something brewing inside there, especially with Gyllenhaal, that is yearning to come out, but it just keeps the lid on with a template that isn't nearly as bold as the tone of the film implies.

The Ugly: There's, like, three subplots that I thought were going to be something. I'm not sure what happened, maybe they got cut or the script was overlong, but Southpaw sets up a story about the case worker and her relationship to Billy and his daughter, the story of Titus (Forest Whittaker getting a great scene, but the character ending up feeling empty) and the fact that the major story of Billy's fall isn't reconciled. Seriously, the killer is still out there. What happened?

I can write off the first two as just minutia. They're small factors, nothing big, but there's a lot of scenes and talk about the death of his wife that no resolution whatsoever doesn't work. It's great we get a full arc for Billy and his daughter, that is obviously the focus, but the many plots circling that are completely neglected and for the core element of why everything is hinged onto Billy's arc to not have a resolution makes it all bittersweet at best or just plain unsatisfying at worst in retrospect. I mean, Billy was at one point about to do the worst thing imaginable and that's just brushed aside. Gotta box, I guess.

Again...thank god for solid characters and great acting because there's a lot here that could have been so much better.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Spartacus

The rebellious Thracian Spartacus, born and raised a slave, is sold to Gladiator trainer Batiatus. After weeks of being trained to kill for the arena, Spartacus turns on his owners and leads the other slaves in rebellion. As the rebels move from town to town, their numbers swell as escaped slaves join their ranks. Under the leadership of Spartacus, they make their way to southern Italy, where they will cross the sea and return to their homes. Meanwhile, in Rome, the slave revolt has become a deciding factor in the power struggle between two senators: the republican Gracchus and the militarist Crassus, each of whom sees the fortunes of the rebellion as the key to his own rise to power or humiliating defeat. As the two statesmen attempt to aid, hinder and manipulate the rebels for their own benefit, Spartacus and his followers press on toward freedom.

The Good: A sweeping epic in the classical sense, similar to the likes of Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments. Large-scale battles, graphic fight scenes and a notable hero to thousands are the driving force of Kubrick's lauded, yet polarizing, film. Kirk Douglas fits the mold well and the rest of the cast are top-notch, with the likes of Lawrence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laugton and the legendary Tony Curtis in a small role. Big budgets, hundreds of extras and an ensemble cast were the norm for these types of films.

The Bad: Kubrick, who was the second director to be involved on the project (the first being fired by Kirk Douglas) was limited on what he could and could not do with the script, the look and the acting. As a result, it’s an uneven film in search of identity and torn between the styles of classic, big-epics and more nuanced, experimental style of Kubrick (and other similar filmmakers at the time). With numerous production difficulties, many coming from Kubrick and his frustrations, the film feels jumbled and sloppy. Obvious sets, a dated approach to the character drama and a lack of compelling characters makes Spartacus seem bland in comparison to other epic movies at the time.

The Ugly: Several directors passed on the film, including veteran David Lean. Kubrick was far from the first choice. The haphazard feel of the thing shows a movie that needed a director more willing to be controlled and more experienced with large-scale projects. We can thank it, though, because Kubrick grew as a director and learned much of his own limitations and what direction he would take his career.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Spectacular Now

A hard-partying high school senior's philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical "nice girl.”

The Good: It’s very easy to not make a film about teens, love and high school without being sentimental. Rarely does a film come by and say “these are teens, this is how they love” and not make a big deal about youth and adulthood, innocence, doing some puns about virginity and proms. With The Spectacular Now, we’re given a look at a young generation that are trying to understand the world and themselves…and a generation that is as uncertain about their futures as they are unclear about their pasts. (hence the title).

The Spectacular Now doesn’t placate things here. It’s grounded and understands that life isn’t as simple as a musical montage, goofy friends and teen crushes. It’s honest about growing up and trying to find yourself, and maybe find someone else along the way. This isn’t meant to be John Hughes, this isn’t a comedy, it’s a drama straight-through about the awkwardness of teen life and broken families. It’s a drama. A damn good one thanks to great performances by the cast, a script that understands to keep everything level and director James Ponsoldt, who’s film from last year, Smashed, was criminally overlooked, understands how to set memorable and often bittersweet scenes of real life.

The Bad: Good lord is our main character unlikeable. Of course, it’s about his realization of this and he overcoming the obstacle that is himself, but he’s just not a likable person. He’s barely a good person. The only thing that makes him not awful is that there are worse people out there, notably his dad in a surprise turn by Kyle Chandler. That’s not to say Miles Teller doesn’t do a good job in the role, it’s just that the role is written that makes him unsympathetic until you realize there are worse people out there.

That feels kind of cheap. As though he wouldn’t have had a realization until he met his dad. His mom and sister never talked to him about that kind of stuff, he had to go out and do it on his own and pretty much realizes that everyone is a liar…and he doesn’t want to be like them. But I can't get over the notion that everyone is just either a bad person or an apathetic one.

The Ugly: This is what, the third film for Shaliene Woodley? Sheesh. She’s already a pro. This is a young talent to keep an eye on, folks.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Speed Racer

The story begins with Speed Racer who is a young man with natural racing instincts whose goal is to win The Crucible, a cross-country car racing rally that took the life of his older brother, Rex Racer. Speed is loyal to the family business, run by his parents Pops and Mom. Pops designed Speed's car, the Mach 5. The owner of Royalton Industries makes Speed a lucrative offer, Speed rejects the offer, angering the owner. Speed also uncovers a secret that top corporate interests, including Royalton, are fixing races and cheating to gain profit. With the offer to Speed denied, Royalton wants to ensure that Speed will not win races. Speed finds support from his parents and his girlfriend Trixie and enters The Crucible in a partnership with his one-time rival, Racer X, seeking to rescue his family's business and the racing sport itself.

The Good: When it comes to a film being a fun, entertaining ride, you can go one of two ways. You have one that just let’s you turn off your mind and sit back and enjoy it and have a good time while doing so, or you have the one where you turn off your mind, sit back, and roll your eyes at how simply a bad movie it is-it’s awfulness so overbearing that any “good” that might come from its mindless entertainment gets beaten submissively into a corner. Speed Racer is the former…and I wish more of those mindless movies were like Speed Racer. It’s not intelligent, but it is smart. It’s not artistic, but it is rather beautiful. It’s not paced particularly well, but it’s hard to get bored with the visual and auditory stimulation it puts you through. It’s actually a rather simple piece of entertainment, about racing, races and racers, only with a lot of flash and style so well-done that the shallow plot and cheesy characters strangely fit into it all. It’s meant to be simple mindless fun and doesn’t waste its time to force itself beyond that. It relishes in its simplicity and pure enjoyment and we should as well.

The Bad: When it comes to a story for “Speed Racer,” the original anime having barely one in the first place, I do think the Wachowski brothers did about as well as they could with the material given. It has the elements from the show, faithful in every detail, but also adds in a good sense of character and emotion. Unfortunately, there is a sense of franticness to it all, as though even the dramatic parts where you want to be drawn into the characters, feels as rushed and fast as the action parts. They seem obligatory, not natural, and we’re stuck with contrived dialogue and scenes that simply make us wish they didn’t bother in the first place. The pacing is all over the place, had the story been a tad more streamlined it might have worked, but we’re often left with some plodding bits that feel out-of-place from the rest of the film. The actors work fine, for what’s given them that is, but the drama and emotion are about as believable as the Wachowski’s previous efforts in the Matrix films. A tad overlong and certainly overwritten, the vision of it is luckily able to overshadow the parts that, let’s be honest, you don’t really go to films like this to see in the first place.

The Ugly: There are popcorn flicks out there that could take a cue from Speed Racer. It succeeds and gives us exactly what we want in movies like this. It’s smart, for the most part, the action engaging, story, while secondary, still enough to drive us forward and not insult us while doing so and is the definition of “well-made fun.” I bring this up because some use “it’s not art, it’s just fun” for other popcorn flicks as a blanket excuse for their mediocrity. Speed Racer, though, isn’t mediocre. It’s not full of toilet humor, excessive violence, sexual innuendos…no, it’s what “pure fun” is supposed to be all about. So take note, Mr. Bay, you might learn something about loving your material and maybe loving your audience as a result.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Spellbound

Dr. Anthony Edwardes, sent to replace Dr. Murchison as head of Green Manors mental hospital, is an impostor. When Murchinson calls the police, Edwardes leaves, followed by Dr. Constance Peterson, who has fallen in love with him and wants to treat his amnesia. She believes he is a medical doctor whose name is John. Skiing down a long slope, accompanied by Constance, John relives the memory of his brother being impaled on an iron fence with parallel bars, an accident for which he feels responsible. Police find the real Dr. Edwardes' dead body and John is accused of his murder.

The Good: It's hard to really know what to expect from a movie when it's most acclaim sequence had nothing to do with Hitchcock. That sequence is a surrealist dream designed by Salvador Dali, and is easily the most significant aspect of the film entirely. Spellbound is more a simple mystery to be solved than it is a piece of suspense and tension. Gregory Peck is terrific here, and Ingrid Bergman in full-on at her leading lady best. Hitchcock really shows his artistic ability here with some very, very impressive directing and utilizing of the camera (some appearing in unique first-person scenarios) and some fantastic cinematography by George Barnes who was nominated for an Oscar (and whom Hitchcock worked with on Rebecca, another notably gorgeous looking film).

The Bad: So what was it about Spellbound that didn't quite hit the mark? The acting is good, mystery certainly unique and there is some fantastic camera work going on. I suppose it's just the blandness of it all. It's a slow paced film, but while a slow pace is good you truly feel it here thanks to a lot of exposition by the characters and even characters themselves that are a tad lacking in the personality department.

The Ugly: Hitchcock, too, considers himself a tad happy wih the results on how Spellbound turned out, noting it turned more into psychological analysis that an actual story told.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Spider-Man

On a school field trip, Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically modified spider. He wakes up the next morning with incredible powers. After witnessing the death of his uncle, Parkers decides to put his new skills to use in order to rid the city of evil, but someone else has other plans. The Green Goblin (Dafoe) sees Spider-Man as a threat and must dispose of him. Even if it means the Goblin has to target Parker's Aunt and the girl he secretly pines for.

The Good: Energetic. Fun. Smartly humorous and overall simple. Sam Raimi's approach to Spider-Man is not only incredibly faithful in tone, but in how it handles the material itself - a balance between fun and campy alongside drama with sincerity (and of course, lots of action). It's very straightforward, and that's why it is as good as it is. Spider-Man doesn't lend itself well to attempts at "seriousness" or "realism" but, rather, shows what a little bit of humor and basic character development can do in going a long ways with something so high-concept. When I think of simple, fun, summer films, the superhero genre is always the easy one to look to as an example. Spider-Man goes one further and shows that you can also have a nicely made movie in the process. Raimi's use of the camera is a perfect fit for the franchise and Maguire is absolutely infallible as both the awkward and insecure Parker and the sharp-witted Spidey. While he won't stretch his wings until the sequels, James Franco is another spot-on casting decision as Harry Osborne, the son of Norman Osborne played by Willem Dafoe. Dafoe is a safe decision for the role, although he doesn't exactly demand your attention he is at least serviceable and a good, small threat to accompany a story mainly focused on Parker's life and new powers.

The Bad: There's not a whole lot of "meat" to Spider-Man, and some of the more serious moments seem a tad forced in comparison to the naturally fun tone it otherwise has, but it at least works on a basic level and to get the rare "humanism" of a superhero across as anyone can really expect. While the action is solid, there is a lot of repetition going on (which, thankfully, becomes rectified in the brilliant sequel) and some of it tends to fall flat not because it's bland, but because of repetition and our desire for variety. There's also the issue of Kirsten Dunst - a solid actress but wrong as a lead role in this particular film or really any where she's being billed as the "love interest." Then again, she doesn't have a lot to work with in terms of her character, and never really does throughout the entire trilogy. Much of the film does feel like more a set up for a sequel than a self-encompassing tale of superheroism,which is odd considering nobody was entirely sure how this one was going to end up. I guess we kind of lucked out.

The Ugly: Although completely by-the-numbers, Spider-Man is a perfect example of how a simple story and concept can do wonders with the right execution (Jon Favreau would revisit such ideas with the Iron Man films). It's smart in that it never tries to do too much, and that's really how these types of movies should be approached. When they try and do way too much, you end up with Rise of the Silver Surfer and Transformers 2...and we don't need any more of those, I think.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker is an unhappy man: after two years of fighting crime as Spider-Man, his life has begun to fall apart. The girl he loves is engaged to someone else, his grades are slipping, he cannot keep any of his jobs, and on top of it, the newspaper Daily Bugle is attacking him viciously, claiming that Spider-Man is a criminal. He reaches the breaking point and gives up the crime fighter's life, once and for all. But after a failed fusion experiment, eccentric and obsessive scientist Dr. Otto Octavius is transformed into super villain Doctor Octopus, Doc Ock for short, having four long tentacles as extra hands. Peter guesses it might just be time for Spider-Man to return, but would he act upon it?

The Good: The simple lesson of approach and execution from the first transition nicely to Spider-Man 2, not to mention Maguire and Franco really at their very best here. What's added, and thankfully, is a sharper, less stilted script that flows nicely, better action sequences and beats, a more compelling villain played brilliantly by Alfred Molina and still, on top of all that, enough character development to probably make two films if they had wanted. Spider-Man 2 is not only what you want from a sequel to a successful original, but really what you want from your superhero films to begin with. What's most unique with Spider-Man 2, though, is the emotional core it is able to present. The original touched on a more human side of the superhero tale, but never quite explores it. This sequel does and there's a nice amount of heart and personal conflict for many of the characters, including the villain, that is presented that few films of this nature even bother with. It's that added element, along with the better action beats, that really bring this sequel home as one of the best of its kind. It's influential, practically brilliant in how it so casually seems to handle its variety of material, and is simply one of the best comic adaptations, or just plain fun movies to really ever be made.

The Bad: Because Spider-Man 2 works its material so well, is incredibly balanced not to mentioned polished, it's a little difficult to want to point out flaws, but it must me done otherwise I'm not doing my job. Spider-Man 2 came out at a time when Superhero movies weren't that prominent, and arguably is the one that rekindled interest in the genre and shows how focusing on the human side of things is what a movie about super-humans needs to be about. I suppose it may be a little unfair, then, when I say it tries too hard to get us to like them. The natural moments are great, the moments of cheesy melodrama miss their mark and arguably undermine the subtle emotion that threads itself nicely through the entire film. Peter's constant self-doubts wear thin after some time as they seem far more direct and needlessly heavyhanded when it seems every other character, too, is doing nothing but having doubts about themselves and their situations. It's almost overkill in that department whereas the better moments, such as Peter's relationship to Octavius, Harry and Mary Jane, not to mention some nice moments with his aunt, are far better because they don't take such a direct and obvious approach. I suppose it's more that me saying that those elements of Peter should have been handled more delicately, because we see the story do it so well in his relationships, rather than try and force it on screen as subtlety and obviously as a tangible villain waiving eight arms around.

The Ugly: I debated between a 4.5 and a 4 for Spider-Man 2. I'm always comfortable in the 4 area, many 4s I consider great films if not some of my favorites, but 4.5 and the lofty 5 are have to be pretty definite on . I don't like giving scores and numbers to begin with, they're only there for reference if anything, so I go by what I feel comfortable with and so Spidey and the gang just didn't sit right with me giving anything higher, despite how great this film might be.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Spider-Man 3

Life finally feels good for Peter Parker. He has managed to balance life as both Spider-Man and as Mary Jane's boyfriend. He is even planning on proposing to MJ. But life isn't always going to be easy for the webbed hero. Harry Osborn still hasn't forgiven Peter for the death of his father. He has developed the perfect technology and crowns himself the 'New Goblin'. Harry isn't the only problem. It is revealed that an escaped convict, Flint Marko is the real killer of Peter's uncle. After an accident, he is now the invincible 'Sandman', who has teamed up with Venom to target the superhero, who is struggling to handle his life.

The Good: Spider-Man 3's best asset is its energy which is something that is always maintained well through the entire trilogy. Maguire is enjoyable, even as the "darker" version of Spidy (although not so much "darker" as just being a douchebag). In terms of tone and overall style, Spider-Man 3 no doubt if faithful and continues the trend. The special effects are also noteworthy, particularly the Sandman being fantastically rendered and certainly better than I think a lot of people expected he would be. It's escapism, certainly, but escapism has been done better by this very franchise which ends up making Spider-Man 3 a bit of disappointment and certainly a bit of a mess.

The Bad: Have you ever found a pair of jeans in your closet and thought "I wonder if these fit?" You unfold them, step into the legs and then start to pull up. You'll know in about two seconds whether or not they're too small for you, meaning you're too big and have outgrown them. You don't want to believe it, you haven't gained that much wait have you? So you start yanking and maneuvering and contorting yourself to try and get them on...then you finally do. You can't walk, bend your knees or touch your toes, but damnit they at least look good. In an essence, that's what Spider-Man 3 is. It's a film that tries to cram way too much into a slim two and a half hours that probably needs to be refitted to at least three. Spider-Man 3 simply tries to do too much and seems to create an obligation to itself to see every single plotline through because, most likely, there won't be a fourth one to do it in (turns out that assumption was right). It's bloated, poorly paced because of its bloating and not once lets itself breathe and develop - something both previous films did extremely well while still having that burst of energy. The action may be great, but feels random rather than a grounded element in the story. There's more characters, but most fall flat including our lead and especially wasted is the effort by Thomas Hayden Church as The Sandman. There may be more subplots, but a good portion of these are either not needed, should be a film all their own, or are simply repeated elements of the first two films (especially the second). The story and script might be able to bring everything together, which is still commendable, but it never "develops" anything or attempts to bring any emotional weight to what is happening. It's as though the film wants to have two main course dinner steaks when one of those steaks probably should have just been left under the warmer for the next time the restaurant opens...that way you won't gorge yourself and you can at least fit in those jeans for the time being.

The Ugly: Amnesia? Really? You couldn't at least drop that plot line?

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Spiral Staircase

Beautiful young mute Helen is a domestic worker for old ailing Mrs. Warren. Mrs. Warren's two sons, Albert (a professor) and womanizing impudent Steven, also live in the Warren mansion. Mrs. Warren becomes concerned for Helen's safety when a rash of murders involving 'women with afflictions' hits the neighborhood. She implores her physician, Dr. Parry, to take Helen away for her own safety. When another murder occurs inside the Warren mansion, it becomes obvious that Helen is in danger.

The Good: An exercise in atmosphere and beautiful black and white photography, Robert Siodmak is one of the unheralded great directors of cinema who brought us some fantastic thrillers and film noir. Right before his biggest hit with The Killers, Siodmak gave us one of the best serial killer movies in history yet it is as unheralded as the director himself despite the Oscar nominated performance by Ethel Barrymore, although I would argue the young Dorothy McGuire is the real star here.  Its stunning shots and use of shadow is its biggest attribute, similar to the style found in the likes of The Third Man or Siodmak's The Killers, and sets a perfect mood and atmosphere for a fantastic thriller. It's a slow to develop film, it keeps the pace and major plot events relatively subdued, yet is a complex and entertaining piece of moviemaking that uses the notion of a serial killer as a way to develop its plot and characters rather than limit them to mere victims to be murdered.

The Bad:
While there are frightening moments, and the suspense perfectly tuned to a Hitchockian-like presentation, the fact is you will know what is going on, who the killer is and how it will all end up probably within the first 30 minutes. The Spiral Staircase doesn't do the best of jobs of hiding the fact that one of the people in this house is not like the other although it tries to. There is no real twist due to the obviousness of our killer and thus much of what is suspenseful can be lost outside of individual scenes set up. Sure, we may be intently fixated on a wonderfully done segment of a woman fumbling in the dark, trying to hid from an unseen killer, but the movie doesn't want you to know who the killer is in terms of the overall story. Yet we do know, and that's the film's only major fault.

The Ugly: How do you know who the killer is so quickly? There's obvious various of the killer's eyes, and there's only one other character with those very distinct eyes. Mystery solved.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Spirited Away

While moving to a new home in Japan, Chihiro and her parents take a wrong turn down a mysterious wooded path. They come across an ominous-looking tunnel of which only Chihiro is scared. Going through the tunnel, they are lead them to a mysterious town filled with restaurants that have all kinds of delicious food on display. Chihiro's parents quickly sit down and start gorging themselves, assuming they will pay the restaurant upon their return. Chihiro's doubt of this strange town leads her to wander off, and she comes across a building of titanic size, where a young boy warns her to leave before nightfall. However, as the sun sets, the town begins to fill up with the gods of Japan's mythology, and Chihiro returns to find her parents mysteriously turned into pigs. The young boy, Haku, works in the building, which is a bathhouse for 8 Million gods. He helps Chihiro find work in this new world, find a way to save her parents from a dinner platter, and find her way home.

The Good: Beautiful and subtle as master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki can only do. Spirited Away is simply one of the most purely original and touching films you could ask to see that pulls on the strings, as unraveled as they can be for some, of what it means to be a child lost in imagination. Like many of Miyazaki’s films, it progresses slowly and understates the action, only using it sparingly and when needed, and concentrates entirely on our main character and her journey into this strange and mysterious land (ala Alice in Wonderland).  It’s fully of metaphorical nuances and a rich, deep understanding of a child alone in the world. Everything, fantasy world or real, will be odd, scary, whimsical and unique from a child’s perspective. While the film may seem like it wanders and goes all over the place, it might once in a while, it’s more about appreciating this aspect of childhood than really trying to tell a typical three-act narrative. It’s not restricted by some formula and feels like an unleashing of everything imagination has to offer. Of course, the strongest aspect is the emotion of it all, something Miyazaki does so damn well. You become so attached and fall in love with so many of these characters, you share Chihiro’s sadness as she says goodbye to them all. Children and adults will feel that impact but for completely different reasons, and in that is why Hayao is the greatest animated filmmaker living today.

The Bad: I know there are elements of Spirited Away that didn’t work, and these are the same issues have with many stories that throw a character into a dream-like world – being odd for odd’’s sake just gets redundant sometimes. The issue with many of Miyazaki’s films is that he doesn’t waste time on exposition and pretty much throws things at you without explanation. Usually, to some degree, they make sense. The odd thing is with Spirited Away is that it seems to have more odd things happening than many Miyazaki films usually do, and you begin to wonder if he just sketched things onto a piece of paper, and said “animate this” to his team. It’s not lazy, quite the contrary as it shows the enchanting energy, but it feels more random at times than needed or even significant, something that is odd for a Miyazaki film as the man seems to have a purpose for every frame that is drawn and word spoken. Minor complaint? Absolutely. I mean really...it’s not a big deal and considering there are only four bad reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, (all online reviews and consisting of dumb phrases like “Sorry y’all – give up” and “it takes itself way too seriously,”)who the hell cares?

The Ugly: For some reason, Hayao likes to make “gooey” things in his movies. Just weird.

Final Rating:
4.5 out of 5


Splice

Elsa and Clive, two young rebellious scientists, defy legal and ethical boundaries and forge ahead with a dangerous experiment: splicing together human and animal DNA to create a new organism. Named "Dren", the creature rapidly develops from a deformed female infant into a beautiful but dangerous winged human-chimera, who forges a bond with both of her creators - only to have that bond turn deadly.

The Good: Where can we begin when discussing Splice? Firstly, let's point out it's a" mad-scientist creates monster" movie at heart. It deals with basic moral principles and consequences as most films of that nature tend to, such as Species, and any of its various sequels, and even the classic of classics, Frankenstein (or, if you like, Young Frankenstein).

 It goes beyond that, though. Splice explores more than just the monster-scientist or morality play aspect of it all. It dives into the instinctual level of parents, sexuality and evolution of life. Scientists "create" in monster movies, but they never really go into the notion that "creating" something also forms a bond and attachment to it as well - especially if it's a living thing. It's like when someone adopts a dog. At first, it's just a dog. After a year or so, you start to feel it's "a part of the family." That's what Splice explores, and though it doesn't fully see that element all the way to the end, the fact it even attempts to explore it in the first place sets it apart from merely a "monster movie" and more in the line of an intelligent, thought-provoking piece of science fiction.

The Bad: The ending is really all over the place. Suddenly people show up, shit happens, and we're watching Sarah Polley...well I won't spoil that.  Most of the film intentionally goes to not be one thing, then turns into exactly what it seemed to avoid trying to be. It's more disappointing and rushed than anything thanks to the final twenty minutes or so. In fact, it throws everything that it seemed to be building up towards out the window and just decides to go the generic monster route.

The Ugly: This could have been an instant classic. It's right there on the cusp of it. As it is, it's a solid science fiction, monster movie certainly better than most of its kind. He has a few things in the pipe, though we may not see anything for a few years.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Spring Breakers

Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work.

The Good: A visceral, dark film that might sell itself as a fun movie about "spring break" but, in reality is a dark, cynical piece of filming about the illusion of "spring break" that society has built up. "Spring break" could be anything put on a pedestal that people are told to strive for, its element and purpose is simply a means to the end - that end being that nothing is ever as great as you make it out to be and that everyone has their own vision and version of what that thing should be in the first place.

Spring Breakers is light on story, very thick on plot, and as a result we have an idea presented as an video essay about…well about a lot of things that you could take an entire class on. Disenfranchisement, gun culture, hedonism, generational disassociation…you can name a lot here that Spring Breakers touches on and really drives those ideas and themes home for you to ponder and think about. It's not the story or characters you'll think about, but those little kernels of ideas that will burn in your head well after the film itself is over.

The Bad: Spring Breakers is a film that's entirely meant to be a commentary, not a story and certainly not some sort of character study to the point of actually caring about any of the characters. As a result…we don't care about any of the characters. Most likely, you'll come to loathe all of them and while that's the point, it comes at a cost of context. Yes, this is a commentary about a lot of things, a raw hedonistic look at American (specially American) youth, but we don't really know any of them, only what they do.

Certainly characters are given elements that might define them, but it's not especially expanded on, and while the voiceover might be haunting as we get in to their heads, its hard to know who they really are despite that because we are never entirely sure where it was they started from. Their faces. Props. Merely there to serve the greater commentary, but as a result we can't distinguish them as actual people and therefore can't come to fully care about the risks they take or the regrets they have. They're morally dysfunctional, but while we can enjoy watching these exposed cracks, we can't appreciate the human element inside them clawing to get out.

The Ugly: I think I might do a little “best scenes of the year” at the end of the year. You know, that one scene that moves you, or is just spectacular action, or just has great acting. Right now, the Britney Spears music montage from Spring Breakers is a hard 5 minutes to beat.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Spy

A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster.

The Good: The best thing about Spy is that Melissa McCarthy is able to play a different type of character. She’s always had the range to do that but seemed to be typecast as the vulgar, obnoxious character that, after a while, made you not like that character. In Spy, though, she plays Susan Cooper who is immensely likable from the very beginning. She’s a sweet lady totally out of her element but can turn on a dime and kick some ass. It’s like finding out your aunt actually knows kung-fu or something and will take on a car-jacker because she’s that awesome. Totally unassuming but absolutely sells it. While it doesn’t ask a lot of her to be serious or dramatic (as she did in her previous Feig movie, The Heat, or the indie  St. Vincent) it doesn’t ask her to low-brow the whole thing either.

But as much as I’d like to say McCarthy carries the thing, she doesn’t. Really the entire cast is game here and McCarthy is one of those people that seems to be fine letting others shine in a scene and they totally do. Rose Byrne and Jason Statham in particular are obviously having a ton of fun with their characters, with Byrne fitting the bill as an uppity high-society type that layers insults like a magician layering a complicated trick. Her dialogue just flows and you don’t see it coming. Statham, on the other hand, is pretty much parodying his own typecasting as this awesome bad-ass that you never really get to see be a bad-ass. Throw in a Jude Law and Miranda Hart and even a Bobby Cannavale, which there’s not nearly enough of in this movie I find, and you have a fun group of people playing it all up.

But Spy never goes overboard. Feig has a great way to find a balance in his comedy that never tries to be over the top for the sake of being over the top - something a comedy from a Seth McFarlane or whoever is writing a Hangover movie seems to rely the most on. It all feels natural and the cast comfortable in their roles. Nothing feels forced in Spy, well almost nothing, and it feels like it loves its roots in the spy genre and celebrates it rather than try to parody it. It’s a fun, well done movie focused on character and with just enough action to sell it as a spy flick, but the action isn’t what you’ll remember and be laughing at. Another solid comedy from the Feig camp and, best of all, a more enjoyable character for McCarthy to spend time as.

The Bad: There’s a continuing problem that I’ve been noticing in comedy action films as of late. They often feel like the third act action finale is almost trying too hard. I mean…you want it to try hard, sure. You don’t want something underwhelming. But maybe it’s that it feels like it knows it has to go through the motions as an action sequence or series of them so it really tries to drive home other things to get you to laugh. Banter. Dialogue. Physical humor and so on. And a lot of it just comes across as disingenuous and in some cases it feels oddly paced and just sloppy.

Spy is no different. While that’s a good thing in that it kind of shows how well done most of the film is, it hits this wall as it forces things and situations to happen that don’t feel as organic as the rest of the movie. In the case of Spy I also felt that even the action, which it had done reasonably well for the most part, comes across as sloppy and hard to follow as it just tries to throw one thing after another at you while trying to be funny in doing so. None of that really works and it screams “lets’ just find a way to finish this and just have these people do some funny shit” instead of it being a full package.

The Ugly: Paul Feig has made a solid movie again and again (and television for that matter) yet still doubt he can pull of a Ghostbusters? While I do feel simply swapping genders is a little cheap in terms of selling the idea and putting a fresh coat of paint on it, the guy is still totally going to get the approach, concept and humor because he knows how to handle characters, which is the heart of what Ghostbusters is. Plus Spy shows he can do a bit of action as well, though he can probably back off on the slow-motion a tad.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Stalag 17

Set in a German POW Camp for enlisted American airmen, a spy is discovered to be living in one of the prison barracks after an escape attempt fails resulting in the deaths of two inmates. The prisoners at once suspect Sefton, an unscrupulous inside dealer who trades almost anything with the Germans for extra privileges. After Sefton is beaten up, he himself determines to find the real spy and the result is a mixture of intrigue and betrayal leading to a surprise ending.

The Good: Like a lot of prison movies, those that are done well at least, Stalag 17 offers up everything you could ask for. A great ensemble. Memorable and identifiable characters. A wretched villain. Tension. Suspense. And, if done right, a nice bit of comedy. While Stalag 17 might be a little too dependent on the comedy, it still offers up everything else on a silver platter and is really one of the best “prison movies” in cinema. It’s held together by its remarkable cast, Preminger, Taylor and Holden headlining for good reason, and some of the best dialogue you could ever ask for – then again this is a Billy Wilder film and dialogue to a Wilder film is like bad dialogue to a Twilight movie (it’s just natural and expected).

There’s nothing overly complex with Stalag 17. You know the good guys and the bad guys. You know the situation. It’s just a really well done story based on a play and brought to gritty life on screen and far better than you might even expect. It’s top-notch storytelling with elements that can attract just about anyone – then again, again, this is a Billy Wilder film and attracting just about everyone is to be expected in that department as well.

The Bad: There are moments, though few, where you aren’t sure whether or not you should be finding certain lines or situations funny or if it is meant to be dramatic. The film doesn’t make light of the POW camp, however some things arise where you aren’t entirely sure if the reaction of characters is supposed to appear comedic or if they’re merely trying to use humor in such dire times and difficult situations. Most moments you can tell if you’re to be laughing, either at or with the eclectic personalities, or if it’s a time when you feel sadness and disappointment. You know when you see Animal on screen, it’s probably going to be a funny moment. But when he or his partner aren’t, and maybe its still meant to be a funny situation, you aren’t entirely sure. It doesn’t quite strike its balance, although every scene that is meant to be as they are, and clearly, are the best parts of the film. Those that aren’t so clear usually result in awkwardness.

The Ugly: The film is almost too dependent on characters that are there solely to provide comedy. A new prisoner is good at impressions, the comedic duo of Animal and Harry, as great as they are, seem to dominate the film more than they probably should – almost oblivious to the situations going on. I wonder if the play handled these characters, or even had these characters, in such a prominent role when, clearly characters like Duke and Sefron. Yet, when it works, it works, and we have Hogan’s Heroes as the remainder.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Stand Up Guys

A pair of aging con men try to get the old gang back together for one last hurrah before one of the guys takes his last assignment -- to kill his comrade.

The Good: It's Pacino being Pacino. Walken being Walken. Arkin being Arkin. Though their characters may be pretty one-dimensional, Stand Up Guys isn't without a bit of charm and heart as they all, especially Walken and Pacino who are in just about ever scene together, play so incredibly well off each other. You sense their characters' friendship, and their past, without them really having to detail it. Val telling Doc he was the only guy to visit him in prison from the old days tells you all you need to know.

Though there's little for Val and Doc to do, there are small vignettes for them to be involved with. It's their last night together as friends. They know. We know it. It's not going to get any better for them, and for a final night it's not so much what they do or even how they do it, but the purpose of it all is found in their conversations; idle though they may be, they also feel legitimately like two old friends having such conversations. Stand Up Guys finds a sweet spot in that respect: little in terms of plot or story or even character development, but a lot in understanding relationships and friendships by simply having a couple of great actors have a chat.

The Bad: All the film is, is this: a set up, and then the actors just playing their characters through a series of scenes. There's really little to no story, just a "background plot" that takes forever to get to and is barely hanging in the film. After a while, it becomes redundant as you begin to ask yourself "Why is this scene important?" or "what is the purpose of what is happening in this scene?" There's a lot of that, especially in the first half of the film where you also might ask the question "is that meant to be funny?" As it begins to drag this out, making an hour and a half seem like an eternity for some reason, you then begin to lose interest and boredom creeps in. As great as Walken and Pacino are, there's also not enough for them to really sink their teeth in to and drive this entire movie.

It's hard to to really answer those questions in Stand Up Guys. The actors are great, but we're never quite sure what it's trying to do. It has some sweet and charming moments, but it never quite feels like it's trying to do it intentionally - as though it's only happening by accident because the actors are having fun with their characters and earnest in their ways. Yet, they're still pretty one-dimensional, so it's hard to call Stand Up Guys a character piece either. Either way, they are the only reason why you'll probably keep watching because there's little else going for Stand Up Guys.

The Ugly: Is that a painting of Billy Dee Williams with a Colt 45?

I want that.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Star Trek (2009)

The greatest adventure of all time begins with Star Trek, the incredible story of a young crew’s maiden voyage onboard the most advanced starship ever created: the U.S.S. Enterprise. On a journey filled with action, comedy and cosmic peril, the new recruits must find a way to stop an evil being whose mission of vengeance threatens all of mankind. The fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of bitter rivals. One, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), is a delinquent, thrill-seeking Iowa farm boy. The other, Spock (Zachary Quinto), was raised in a logic-based society that rejects all emotion. As fiery instinct clashes with calm reason, their unlikely but powerful partnership is the only thing capable of leading their crew through unimaginable danger, boldly going where no one has gone before. 

Good: Let's face it, Star Trek has been many things. Philosophical, intriguing, adventurous, dramatic, exploring the human condition. "Cool" has never been one of those things. Unlike Star Wars, Star Trek, the series the films, all of it, doesn't transcend itself across all demographics. While loved by science fiction fans, most people could take it or leave it. JJ Abram's Star Trek is "Cool." Luckily, it doesn't sacrifice all those things Trek fans love to make it so. It's sharp, entertaining, funny, adventurous, truly emotional and, like all good Trek should, deal with the human factor of it all. The performances are all solid, not parodying (but giving a few nods) to the original actors, Karl Urban really stealing the show as "Bones" McCoy, however all give a solid effort. Star Trek also retains the classic Trek look, yet at the same time manages to make it feel new, which had to be difficult for any art designer. It also manages to give us the reasoning of it all. Why certain things happen the way they do, yet retain the original Trek's presence at the same time.It's well paced, well told and simply a lot of fun, and I hadn't had fun with a Star Trek movie since First Contact. I'll say this also, due to me approaching this film as something new and not a fan of Star Trek, I'm more of a "casual" fan than anything, I won't be complaining about things like Trek facts, canon or anything else. As far as I'm concerned, this is something new...and maybe just something a little better than what Trek usually gives us.

The Bad: Two things I would classify as "bad." One I would give us an "well...it is Star Trek." First the latter, the story is pretty tough to swallow (but....this is Trek). Let's say it involves red matter, whatever that is, and exploding planets. It also involves time travel, and any fan of the TV series (all of them) can tell you a time-travel plot can be either really good or really bad. In this case, it's just ok. Parts of it work, others not so much. The two things I would say are "bad" are firstly the directing. It looks great, yes, however the action scenes are typical for JJ Abrams. A lot of shaky camera, a lot of blurring and a lot of close ups in action and unneeded weird angles during the slower scenes. This just makes things a little hard to follow. When he calms them back, he can be great, but they rear their ugly head more often than not. The other "bad" thing would have to be one rather unbelievable plot device just to get two major characters to meet. It's all been pretty believable up to one point involving an escape pod and a marooned Captain Kirk. I won't spoil that for you...but you forget about that once you see who he meets. Also, one quick note, while the cast is solid, Uhura does a few things that, well, are just strange and really don't fit her character or any logical reasoning. There's no indication that some of her actions are warranted or even needed. If you've seen the film, you know what I mean. Also the villain, Nero, while suitable, comes off a little flat. There are moments when he's great, and others when Eric Bana looks and sounds bored. But I liked his motivations and could sense his rage, very similar (maybe too similar at times) to Kahn.

The Ugly: Wait....is that....no....no.....yes....why? Why is Tyler Perry in my movie? Goddamn you Abrams. Abrams!!!

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Star Trek: Into Darkness

After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

The Good: When it comes to large-scale scope and spectacle, J.J. Abrams is arguably, or unarguably depending on who you ask or pay off, one of the best out there. While he may not have anything distinct in his style, his style itself is polished enough to handle the aesthetic of "atmosphere" with a surprising adeptness of tense action.

There's a good deal of inventiveness strung throughout the film, at least on the action side of things, and Abrams deals a good hand when handling that as well as tension. He gives good time to his characters, and the actors give good performances to stake a claim to them. Chris Pine grows in to the role of Kirk well, showing a vulnerable young upstart that's still learning the ropes (often the hard way). Simon Pegg arguably steals the show as Scotty, then again he did that last time - though this time more for plot than for comedy relief.

At the end of the day, despite the many problems the film might have, it doesn't disappoint on sheer entertainment. It's exciting, enticing, engaging, energetic and certainly never without a chance for you to fully catch your breath thanks to sharp pacing and a constant sense of forward momentum. Taken on that, it's brilliant fun. However, Star Trek does have a certain bar it strives for, and this one misses the mark like a photon torpedo a good half-mile off the bow of a bird of prey.

Not that he isn't funny. In fact, it's a pretty comedic film at times, but thankfully all that is balanced well against the rather bleak (and sometimes turgid) plot - which is probably where the "thankfully" should be put in considering the comedy helps alleviate those shortcomings of its overarching story.

The Bad: There's a little bit of disappointment undercutting everything that Into Darkness is attempting to do.  This was the chance of making this new direction for a long, storied franchise all its own, but instead it seems more focused on taking old stories, plots, dialogue, specific scenes and beats and simply re-purpose them. It's one thing to do a nod, or even an homage, but to structure and build and entire story on past threads of the same franchise, you're more or less admitting you can't quite find an original enough concept to run with. Some of the specific scenes and characters are so engrained in our popular culture, that by repackaging them, you're not making it your own, you just want an audience to notice your attempt at being clever.

While Into Darkness makes up for its lackluster plot with some wonderful action, and even great character moments, the central structure of it all simply being a repackage holds most of its attempted brilliance back. There's a really cool movie here. A really good action movie with a lot of variety and a great sense of fun. There's some solid acting with memorable character and villains. But the parts that matter aren't fresh or unique, you end up spending time being distracted by the repackaged ideas from the original show and films, and the parts that don't matter feel slapped together.

I suppose for all of its desire to be a "fresh" take on Star Trek, it hinges itself far too much to things the franchise has already seen and stories it already told all while disregarding too much the things that it initially stood for and sought to bring out. Thanks to that, the parts it does get right are undermined entirely and forgotten, and the parts we remember is simply us re-remebering when we saw them originally.

The Ugly: There's a certain line of suspension of disbelief that the film crosses - and like Spock, it has all to do with logic. It's been established that this is a new timeline. From that, we can assume certain differences between the two. Also, from a simple production standpoint, we can accept different actors playing the same characters (and doing a bang-up job, I might add).

What doesn't fit, at all, is redesigning one particular race entirely. This is a different timeline, not a different universe altogether. Plus, you establish the "prequel" Enterprise NX-1, meaning that what we see in that timeline hasn't changed, only from the moment that Nero from the first Star Trek in 2009 appears, which means that showing a refitted race is just someone not checking the books and making sure things make sense.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

An alien  phenomenon of unprecedented size and power is approaching Earth,  destroying everything in its path. The only starship in range is the  U.S.S. Enterprise--still in drydock after a major overhaul. As Captain  Decker readies his ship and his crew to face this menace, the legendary  Admiral James T. Kirk arrives with orders to take command of the  Enterprise and intercept the intruder. But it has been three years since  Kirk last commanded the Enterprise on its historic five year  mission...is he up to the task of saving the Earth?
 

The Good: Arguably,  this first film is bar by far the franchise's weakest. At the time, it's  biggest praise was that it was great to see all the old characters  together. Now, with better original series films and better Star Trek  films in general released, it's hard to really find a lot of good things  to say about the very first one. If you're a fan of Trek, then sit and  enjoy seeing the original crew together in one of their early adventures  (although "adventure" might be pushing it), that is if you can stay  awake through the bland pacing.

The Bad: I'm sure Robert Wise was an obvious choice for director. He was a legend in his field. The Haunting, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Run Silent and Run Deep are phenomenal films. But there's a problem: the man was old, and with him came a very old style and approach to the material. This shows, as the film is dated even for 1979 (yes, that's after Star Wars). The directing and the script approached the material as typical science fiction, nothing more. There's little story, little characterization and no action whatsoever. Star Trek was known to be intelligent and cerebral, but was also known to be adventurous and fun at the same time. The truth is, the first Star Trek film feels nothing like Star Trek other than it has the placeholder characters. The pace drags and the plot offering nothing entertaining or even enlightening. This wouldn't have even made a good episode of the series. It's "Space Opera" in the most lamest sense-pretentious, slow and bloated like a tenor on its last legs. It's surprising the franchise survived this.

The Ugly: It's  strange to see the special effects today, as they feel more akin to  2001: A Space Odyssey which was out 10 years prior. Douglas Trumball did  the effects for both, showing that gathering up old veterans may or may  not be in your best interest to start a film franchise.
 
Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn

It is the 23rd Century. The Federation Starship U.S.S. Enterprise is on routine training maneuvers, and Admiral James T. Kirk seems resigned to the fact that this may well be the last space mission of his career. But Khan is back. Aided by his exiled band of genetic supermen, Khan--brilliant renegade of 20th Century Earth--has raided Space Station Regula One, stolen a top secret device called Project Genesis, wrested control of another Federation starship, and now schemes to set a most deadly trap for his old enemy Kirk . . . with the threat of a universal Armageddon!
 
The Good: This is considered the best Star Trek film and for good reason. Everything that people loved about Star Trek can be found in this near-flawless science fiction epic. Unlike the first film, director  Nicholas Meyer (who also did VI and co-wrote IV) understood the material forwards and backwards. He, and writers Harve Bennett and Jack B Stowards, knew what to bring to the front. Characters with emotions, legitimately moving scenes. Action and thrilling battles to have you the edge of your seat. Drama that explores our humanity and all wrapped up around the fiction of science: the Genesis Project. Then, of course, you have Kahn, one of the best (and most quotable) movie villains ever. You sense and feel his loathing of Kirk, and as a result you feel for Kirk and the drama that surrounds him, his crew and his family (for lack of a better word). It's no wonder many consider this film to be the legitimate first Star Trek film.

The Bad: Despite the quotes and one-liners, Kahn is pretty hammy in and of himself and Shatner chews scenery like nobody's business. While I can classify both as "bad" only due to the fact they stick out, would we really have it any other way?

The Ugly: Kaaaahhhhhhhhhn!  In hindsight, it's hard not to laugh seeing his shout that today, and then it echo...echo...echo....

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Picking up where exactly where Star Trek II left off, the Enterprise and crew are returning to port for some essential repairs to their ship. When they arrive, they are shocked to discover the Enterprise is to be scrapped. When Dr. McCoy starts acting strangely, Kirk is forced to steal his old ship back and fly across space to a lonely planet to save a friend.

The Good: While not as action-packed as its predecessor, Search For Spock carries a great deal of human drama with it. There's nothing about Part III that significantly sets it apart from the Trek universe, but there's nothing significantly bad about it either. It's entertaining and is one that feels most like the original series, namely the climatic battle at the end. A solid film through and through, even though we may not rush to see it before other Trek entries, I honestly have little to say both positively or negatively. Overall it's a good film.

The Bad: It's hard to gauge Star Trek III. On one hand, you do have a solid Trek experience, on the other, though, much of the greatness of Star Trek II becomes meaningless, such as, I don't know, the death of one its main characters. It's a followup that feels more like an epilogue.

The Ugly: Although Spock is the title character, and this film was directed by Leonard Nimoy, Spock as we know him is barely in it. In honesty, his absence is noticeable...and it goes to show how really beloved that character is as a result.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

A space probe appears over 23rd century earth, emanating strange sounds towards the planet, and apparently waiting for something. As time goes on, the probe starts to cause major storms on earth and threaten its destruction. James T. Kirk and crew are called upon once again to save mankind. They discover the strange sound is actually the call of the humpback whale - which has been hunted to extinction. They have only one choice - to attempt to time travel back into the 20th century, locate a whale, and bring it back to 23rd century earth to reply to the probe.
 
The Good: One of my personal favorites, and one that really grows on you over time. It's ridiculous, even moreso for Star Trek, but the chemistry of every character is really unmatched. Most of the films and the series focused primarily on Kirk-Spock-McCoy. While we get that here, everyone else feels more relevant and important, and many get a chance to shine thanks to some fantastic dialogue, much of it banter, and great scenes to base them around. There's little action in this installment, yet it's not missed because of the concentration on the characters.

The Bad: Whales? ....Really? That's really digging hard there, and I really think if they're looking for some Deus Ex Machina to get the crew in the past, only to have a fish-out-of-water plot, it could have been done better. Some of the jokes can be really forced in a times as well, and the love plot between Shatner and Hicks really isn't needed. At all. If we're going by time line, this happens right after Part III, like, a few hours. Kirk would be a little more of an emotional wreck having just found out his best friend is still alive and having his son killed.

The Ugly: For some reason, this one has been known as "the funny Star Trek." I think there are more set ups for comedy in this one, that's for certain, but that's a bad title. Star Trek has always had funny moments, sometimes unintentionally, but more often tongue-in-cheek. Either way....on paper the main plot is pretty laughable

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

When the newly-christened starship Enterprise's shakedown cruise goes poorly, Captain Kirk and crew put it into Spacedock for repairs. But an urgent mission interrupts their Earth-bound shore leave. A renegade Vulcan named Sybok has taken several ambassadors hostage on the planet Nimbus III, an event which also attracts the attention of a Klingon captain who wants to make a name for himself. Sybok's rag-tag army captures the Enterprise and takes it on a journey to the center of the galaxy in search of the Supreme Being.

The Good: There's some memorable moments in the film, no doubt. In fact it's been noted its' more light and humorous than part IV, and for that is where it has problems. The concept is unique, and philosophical in the grand sense of it all, and there's still solid camaraderie but mainly between Kirk and Spock.

The Bad: As mentioned, the concept of this one is interesting, unique, even deep. Yet it's one of the more difficult ones to watch and get into for various reasons (intentions seem better than the execution in this case). Because this one is actually light, it's a rough balance when put up against the idea of "finding God." It's jarring, even disorienting. Sybok is a horrible addition, yet he's in nearly the entire film. On top of it all, we at least hope we will have a payoff, even tough the plot has failed to grab us or even to find itself, and are left with a rather anticlimactic finale that makes one watch and wonder "why did they make this?"

The Ugly: Roddenberry himself wasn't much of a fan of the film, to have your creator pass such judgment is pretty ugly in and of itself, throw in all the critics, fans and cast and crew and specifically William Shatner who publicly apologized for directing it, and you're left with...well..this. At the same time, I don't find it quite as bad the first film.
 
Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

After an explosion on their moon, the Klingons have an estimated 50 years before their ozone layer is completely depleted, and they all die. They have only 1 choice - to join the Federation, which will mean an end to 70 years of wars. Admiral James T. Kirk and crew are called upon to help in the negotiations because of their "experience" of the Klingon race. Peace talks don't quite go to plan, and eventually Kirk and McCoy are tried and convicted of assassination, and sent to Rura Penthe, a snowy hard-labour prison camp. Will they manage to escape ? And will there ever be peace with the Klingons ?

The Good: An interesting take on Star Trek. Firstly, everything they got wrong with V they fixed with VI, so that's good. In fact, it's more of an echo of IV with similar banter, lightheartedness but not forgetting the drama and human side of things. It's not a rip-roaring adventure through space. Instead, The Undiscovered Country is, at it's heart, a mystery and about intrigue more than phaser blasts and space combat. It's good to see a prominent villain back, and although Chang may try a little too hard to emulate Kahn, he's still pretty good. Also, this film has the best final line any Starship captain will ever say " Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."

The Bad: It's a little tough to really look at Star Trek VI without thinking of part V. Anything after that would appear genius. While better, Star Trek VI forces in a hard to ignore cold-war allegory. Star Trek has always taken contemporary issues and dealt with them, some more direct than others, in this case, if feels a little more forced in than natural. It can be said that the ending, too, is a little uneventful and anticlimactic, especially considering there is great buildup. However, with the change in tone and style, it's hard to imagine anything larger that would end up not fitting at all.

The Ugly: It may be smarter than the average bear, but it's still rather underwhelming.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Star Trek: Generations

In the late twenty-third century, the gala maiden voyage of the third Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701-B) boasts such luminaries as Pavel Chekov, Montgomery Scott, and the legendary Captain James T. Kirk as guests. But the maiden voyage turns to disaster as the unprepared ship is forced to rescue two transport ships from a mysterious energy ribbon. The Enterprise manages to save a handful of he ships' passengers and barely makes it out intact...but at the cost of Captain Kirk's life. Seventy-eight years later, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D find themselves at odds with the renegade scientist Soren...who is destroying entire star systems. Only one man can help Picard stop Soren's scheme...and he's been dead for seventy-eight years...
 
The Good: One of the more technology and truly "science fiction" entries of Star Trek, Generations is a solid, entertaining film. Director David Carson gives us a sharp-looking film with fantastic special effects. If you've seen episodes of The Next Generation, you will get a great amount of enjoyment from the film. It also retains a light feel to it all, despite the menacing presence of Malcolm McDowell and the end the world scenario. It also has enough large-scale plot devices to keep you guessing on what could happen, allowing you to stay on your toes until the end.

The Bad: There's a lot to like about Generations, but there's a lot to not like about it also. While it brings in an epic feel to the story, overall all the characters come across as just flat and uninteresting. It's as though you really have to know them before the film to understand them in it. As a result, I sometimes look at Generations as more fitting as an episode of The Next Generation, where you don't' have to spend so much time on everyone and fans already know who is who, how they are and can just follow the plot. It forces the issues a lot to us, nothing seems to just come natural, and even the legendary Picard-Kirk scenes lack any sense of meaning in them like a quick fanservice than a relevant piece of the story.

The Ugly: Was the death of Captain Kirk needed? If so, did have to be so...weak? This was a man that should have gone out in a blaze of glory.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Star Trek: First Contact

The time is the 24th century and the ship is the newly commissioned Enterprise-E. It's captain, Jean-Luc Picard, has been ordered not to interfere in a combat between a Borg Cube and ships from the Federation. However, seeing the Federation is about to lose, Picard ignore his orders and take command of the defending fleet. With his knowledge of the weak spot of the Cube, they destroy it. However, a small part of it escapes and plot a course directly to Earth. The Enterprise chases it and enters a time distortion created by the Borg. They end up in the mid 21st century, their only chance of stopping the Borg from assimilating Earth being to help Zefram Cochrane make his famous first faster than light travel to the stars...
 
The Good: This is really one of the best Star Trek films and easily the best of The Next Generation crew. I first must make mention of the change is design and style, going a little darker, a little sharper and updating everything we know about Trek. Everything is fit in perfectly. That aside, the plot, another time-traveling scenario, is done remarkably well, believably, understandably and ends up giving us something that fits a into the Star Trek we all know and love: Adventure, Drama, Philosophical Issues and the always beloved comedy that hits better and more fittingly in this film than in those in the past (V and Generations, most notably). It also has a very memorable score, the first I can really say for any Star Trek film at this point outside the main theme, and each character gives us their best. On top of it all, you have the Borg, the greatest enemy in the Trek universe. Almost following a zombie-film scenario, they are a dark, menacing terror that are without motivation or emotion, they just do what they do because that's who they are. Simple and efficient, a bit like the Borg themselves.

Also, I really, really like it when we are able to see Picard, who is sometimes unmoving, get emotional, angry, even violent. Patrick Stewart is at his best in this film, and Picard has never been as wonderfully expressed.

The Bad: Like much of Star Trek, this really focuses only on Picard and Data. While that might give us a better focus on their story, the other characters end up getting a little forgotten about. Even though we may not see the likes of Jordi or Riker much, luckily when we do, they're usually good scenes. Worf is a little forced into scenes, as well as the film itself, but there's no denying that he is needed for the film.

The Ugly:
You know, there's nothing ugly, dumb, or weird to make fun of about the movie. Well...that rock song is a little jarring at first that Cochran plays.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Star Trek: Insurrection

When an alien race--and forces within Starfleet--attempt to take over a planet that has "magical" properties, it falls upon Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E to defend the planet's people as well as the very ideals upon which the Federation itself was founded.
 
The Good: A very Picard-heavy episode...I mean movie....that shows us a softer side of Picard that is a bit different than the rather violent one we saw in First Contact. Insurrection pulls back the action and takes a deeper look at themes and issues, in this case morality, rights and wrongs, all of which are akin to what Star Trek really is about. It's hardly original or ground-breaking, but entertaining nonetheless and offers just enough excitement, drama and humor to keep our attention to the end.

The Bad: But is "just enough" really what a Star Trek movie should be about. Honestly, this might as well been a two-part episode of the series. It lacks the scope and overall feel that a film version of the franchise needs to have and ends up being a rather basic, boring film. The two best installments, First Contact and Wrath of Kahn, have that.  I suppose my major problem is the notion of Starfleet working with an alien race to take a planet from peaceful people. It's a contrived conspiracy, moreso because Starfleet, under my recollection, just doesn't do things like that. I mean, there is the whole "Prime Directive" is there not? If you're going to tarnish the idea of Starfleet, that humankind, although flawed, has at least one bright spot, then how can we even take it seriously? It's not a "bad" film, but complacent. 

The Ugly: This is the last Star Trek Jonathan Frakes directed, which is disappointing considering First Contact was so brilliant on numerous levels, especially the directing. They went off and gave Nemesis to Stuart Baird, and his inexperience with the franchise showed.
 
Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Star Trek: Nemesis

On their way to Riker's and Troi's honeymoon, the Enterprise is sent near the neutral zone to Romulan space, and picks up a prototypic twin of android Data. Immediately they are further sent to Romulus, where a new praetor, Shinzon, a human cloned from Captain Picard who lives on the slave planet Remus, appears to want peace with the Federation. But then the crew detects a break-in on their computer systems, and Picard is captured by the Remans because Shinzon needs him as his only matching supplier of genetic material. Picard and the Enterprise can escape, only to find themselves battling Shinzon's completely cloaked Warbird, who is after the complete destruction of earth.
 
The Good: Engaging, fun, entertaining. Oh yes, Nemesis does in fact have this. It will draw you in and give you a good time. As per usual, the acting is good, Picard and Data the primary focus and there is a good unity to the entire crew together, a throwback to the series as the past few Trek films had a tendency to keep them separated. It's a solid story with beloved characters. In that much, it succeeds.

The Bad: It feels as though the producers looked at First Contact and Kahn, thought that a darker tone would be best to go at. While very faulty, Nemesis, though, has grown a bit on me and actually ended up being a little better than I remembered. That being said, it's a very paint-by-numbers Trek experience that fits the tone of a good film yet fails to fully grasp it as Wrath of Kahn or First Contact did. It wades through it, predictably and blandly, when it should be having us hold tight and anticipate what will happen next, not already know it.It makes me wonder what we would have got had the entire budget been approved for what the filmmakers originally wanted.

The Ugly: Nemesis was released the same year as a Harry Potter film, a James Bond film and a Lord of the Rings. As a result, it didn't meet expectation at the box office. As a result, this is the last you'll ever see of Picard and crew...and that's a little sad. Also...a clone? Really? That's almost as dumb as whales.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The evil Trade Federation, led by Nute Gunray is planning to take over the peaceful world of Naboo. Jedi's Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to confront the leaders. But not everything goes to plan. The two Jedis escape, and along with their new Gungan friend, Jar Jar Binks head to Naboo to warn Queen Amidala but droids have already started to capture Naboo and the Queen is not safe there. Eventually they land on Tatooine, where they become friends with a young boy known as Anakin Skywalker. Qui-Gon is curious about the boy, and sees a bright future for him. The group must now find a way of getting to Coruscant and to finally solve this trade dispute, but there is someone else hiding in the shadows. Are the sith really extinct? Is the Queen who she really says she is? and what's so special about this young boy? All these questions and more in the first chapter of the epic Star Wars saga.

The Good: There’s no denying that The Phantom Menace has some great moments. Even once the sense of awe and overwhelming nature of the worlds and structures that we‘re introduced to, various races and the art design, has subsided, there’s still enjoyable scenes spread throughout. While none of these are really dramatic or character driven, they are full of action, artistry and well done and paced. The pod race scene and the light saber duels are the heights of this, although the pod race is a little too long for its own good-it’s at least entertaining. We see a tried and true veteran Jedi  in Qui-Gon Jinn and the opposite of that, the inexperienced Obi-Wan Kenobi, both are shining of examples of what we think of when someone says “Jedi.” It’s a very bare-bones story will little complexity to it, even though it likes to think itself otherwise, and that, too, is a bit of a recaptured nature of the Star Wars universe we once knew.

The Bad: While I don’t think the prequels are as bad as people like to make them out to be, often that comes from comparing them to the original trilogy, there are definite problems. I mentioned in my original Star War review that George Lucas can’t direct. The man is full of ideas, nobody can deny that, but the execution is best left to others, I think. That approach is applicable to the entire prequel trilogy. There are great ideas in the Phantom Menace, it’s the journey he takes us on that fails to get there and really let them shine. The characters are impersonal, the acting sub-par and everything has a rather sleek and new feel rather than the grittier, more realistically toned Star Wars universe we often think of. I always thought the rough-around-the-edges factor was one of the saga’s most identifiable traits. But on to the main problem: the storytelling. Lucas just seems to have no sense of what he’s trying to tell us. He rushes from scene to scene, rarely lets any emotional impact take place as though he wants to cram everything into the timespace given to him. The acting is serviceable, but that’s really about it. There’s no sense of personality to the characters. While I can give the Jedi’s a pass on this regard, everyone else feels no different than just people going through their lines. We need dynamics here and solid characters, but everyone is as subdued as the entire Jedi order, and that makes for a pretty bland and seemingly artificial universe much different than the otherwise exuberant one we knew in the original trilogy. As for problems with Episode I itself, much if has to do with the 180 it does regarding Star Wars. Rather than the mysterious and ambiguous force, or the strange worlds we know nothing about, Lucas feels the need to explain everything. Exposition from characters we don't really feel attached to is never going to work, and such is the case with the spouting of political factions and medichlorian counts. Rather than simply dropping us into the universe he created, as the original trilogy did, Lucas has to be heavy-handed with every little thing. In other words, he holds our hand like we're children rather than lets us figure it out for ourselves and appreciate what we're watching. As a result, explaining is at the height of the franchise while the sense of story and character takes a back seat. 

The Ugly: I refuse to say the name of the character, you know who it is, but he’s insulting to anyone that sees this movie. It’s a throw away character that serves no purpose other than forced comedy. Micahel Bay would be proud, though.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5

*Note: Much of what is stated in this review can be applied to Episodes II and III as well, notably the acting, the lack of characterization, the solid action but abysmal storytelling and pacing. As a result, I will limit the repeating in those two reviews.


Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Set 10 years after the events in "The Phantom Menace". After an assassination attempt on the life of Senator Padme Amidala, Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Padawan learner Anakin Skywalker are sent to investigate. After tracking down the assassin, she is killed before any information can be driven out of her. The two Jedi are then sent on two different missions, Anakin is sent to Naboo with Padme and Obi-Wan is sent to the planet of Kamino where he will investigate the assassination attempts. Little does he know, he is investigating some of the biggest events of the Star Wars saga, as he finds out that there is a connection between the assassination attempts and a separatists movement led by a former Jedi against the Republic. The Galactic Republic finds itself at the brink of a civil war.

The Good: While we never see the full-on Clone Wars, we do see its beginnings. Fantastic set-pieces and events help keep you entertained and, if for a few brief moments, allows you to forget about the shortcomings in many other aspects. The characters fit their roles, even if there’s little love behind the actors’ lines, but at least Ewan McGregor is able to rise above most of it and does the best job of any actor throughout the trilogy. In fact, I’d go as so far to say all three films seem more adjusted and worthwhile towards Obi-Wan than any other character.

The Bad: Much like Episode I, there's too much attempted to be stuffed into one space with this film. A lot happens, but there's little time to get you to take it all in. It's frantic and ill-paced, unfortunately now we have a love story forced down our throats. Trying to show our characters in “love” is one of the most gut-wrenching things to see. The prequels are known for their wooden acting and stilted dialogue, and to try to do a romance story with that just fails on every level. Nothing is believable, nothing is emotional, you want to fast forward past those scenes to the few good action sequences the movie has. Unlike its predecessor, those few good sequences aren’t enough to lift the film out of mediocrity. Simply put, there’s not love in the picture. There’s no enthusiasm, just arbitration. It as though Lucas is merely going through motions to get to his climatic Episode III, as a result, everything in this film suffers. While Lucas can bring us a fantastic sense of awe and bring life to an unrealistic universe, he kills the true living things within it: its human characters. The methodical Star Wars saga hits its low point.

The Ugly: The acting...just...the acting.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It is 3 years after the Battle of Geonosis... Politican Chancellor Palpatine has been kidnapped by General Grevious, the evil commander of the Droid Army and renegade Jedi Count Dooku. Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker comes to the rescue and Anakin kills Count Dooku and frees Chancellor Palpatine, but General Grevious escapes. On Coruscant, Anakin learns his secret wife, Padme Amidala is pregnant and Anakin begins having horrible nightmares of Padme dying giving birth. The Jedi council assigns Anakin to spy on Chancellor Palpatine, as Anakin is forming a close friendship with the politician. As Obi-Wan and a platoon of clone troopers are sent to the planet Utapau to destroy General Grevious and put a end to the war. Anakin learns Chancellor Palpatine is the mysterious Sith Lord Darth Sidious and is the mastermind behind the war, and he converts Anakin to the Dark Side and Anakin becomes the evil Sith Lord known as Darth Vader, believing the powers of the Dark Side will save Padme from death. With Anakin turned to the Dark Side, could this mean the fall of the Republic and the end of the Jedi Order?

The Good: Obi Wan Kenobi. Ewan McGregor lifts this entire film up with his portrayal of the famed Jedi is fantastic and almost appears as a reincarnated
young Alec Guiness on top of it. It’s been building to this point, I think, as he commands the screen and people actually care what he says and does. To see why Kenobi is so revered and a legend, his actions, his words, is what fans had been waiting for. Lucas delivered on that, and I think having the darker tone and slower pace helped the story overall. It has its fan service, it has its drama, it even has a better sense of characterization and emotion than the previous prequels could ever dream of. The romance is downplayed more, the dark side built up and the action really some of the best in the entire saga and helps overshadow the shortcomings that plagues Episodes I-III (characters and story progression). Revenge of the Sith is as close to the original trilogy as the prequels gets in style, structure and overall quality. Out of all the prequels, this is by far the most satisfying on many levels and not since Return of the Jedi does it make you feel happy to be watching Star Wars again.

The Bad: Much like the previous films, the acting (other than McGregor and, this time, McDiamard as the vindictive and menacing Emperor) is like beating a dead horse. We see Portman and Christiansen try to bring out their characters, and they’re fine actors as seen in other films, but their delivery is still as bland and believable as the Emperor‘s rise to power. The dialogue is better, but I think that’s because there’s little in exchange for the action sequences.  One problem, though, is the emergence of Darth Vader. While we see him as a normal person with all his limbs before the infamous Vader mask is put on, and all the power that comes with him, Anakin’s passage to the Dark Side is completely contrived and it’s simply hard to take his reasoning for it all, especially with the entire prequels inability to establish the relationship between Obi-Wan and Skywalker effectively to begin with. Again, a fault of its creator who simply knew the points, but didn’t understand the progression.

The Ugly: So, is this good by comparison to the two previous entries or good because it's actually a decent flick? I think it's a bit of both. It has some of the best moments out of the entire prequel trilogy, everything has more weight and purpose to it, and the movie, unlike the second film, actually has things happen in it. Yet, still, it's just above average.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Luke Skywalker, an impulsive but goodhearted young man who lives on the dusty planet of Tatooine with his aunt and uncle, longs for the exciting life of a Rebel soldier. The Rebels, led by the headstrong Princess Leia, are fighting against the evil Empire, which has set about destroying planets inhabited by innocent citizens with the Death Star, a fearsome planetlike craft commanded by Grand Moff Tarkin and the eternally frightful Darth Vader. When Luke's aunt and uncle are murdered by the Empire's imperial stormtroopers and he mysteriously finds a distress message from Princess Leia in one of his androids, R2-D2, he must set out to find Obi-Wan Kenobi, a mysterious old hermit with incredible powers. On his journey, Luke is aided by the roguish, sarcastic mercenary Han Solo and his towering furry sidekick Chewbacca as they run into a host of perilous situations while trying to rescue the princess--and the entire galaxy.

The Good: It’s amazing how we take Star Wars for granted. At the time, no other film was so imaginative, original and makes it all seem as though it could happen. Well, I would say that still holds true today because no film universe is as epic, convincing and beloved. From political structure to weapons, ships and droids to alien races. It’s vision surpasses any shortcomings as a film it may have. The story is basic, there’s nothing complex about it, which is why it is so accessible and the characters so well-defined and interesting, you know what each is thinking even before they think it. Obi Wan is mysterious, Darth Vader menacing, Princess Leia strong willed, Luke the everyday boy and Han Solo the cocky and witty gunslinger. The conventions have been there before, notably in westerns and Japanese samurai movies, but the presentation is what’s completely new and is what makes A New Hope one of the greatest films ever made. Original, daring, innovative in style and special effects technique, the legendary John Williams score...there’s too much good to say. From beginning to end, it’s one of the best complete films you’ll ever see in that it brings closure to the story and you feel completely satisfied with the result. Star Wars is the epitome of why we love to go to movies.

The Bad:
“Clunky” is a term I often use with George Lucas’s directing. Even American Graffiti had a sense of someone with a huge amount of ideas but didn’t quite now how to handle the content when shooting. Concept is above execution when it comes to Lucas, as great as Star Wars is, it's no exception to his inability to direct.

The Ugly:
Let’s face it, Lucas was not an action director. The saber battle is noticeably clunky and the firefights are random blasts all over the place. The action, I don’t think, would be defined until Episode V.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

The Rebel Forces--which include young adventurer Luke Skywalker, rogue pilot Han Solo, and the beautiful but seemingly humorless Princess Leia--have been successful in destroying the Evil Empire's Death Star. However, the Empire's top commander, the terrifying Lord Darth Vader, is scanning the galaxy for the Rebels' secret location. After a visually stunning showdown on the ice planet Hoth, the Rebels are forced to flee, and Luke separates from Han and Leia. Masterful storytelling weaves multiple, archetypal plotlines that pit Vader against Han and Leia as he desperately attempts to capture Luke for political--and, secretly, personal--reasons. Luke, meanwhile, finds himself under the tutelage of the tiny but powerful old Jedi Master Yoda, who teaches him the ways of the Force and warns the impatient but talented student against the threat of the Dark Side.

The Good: A classic tale of tragedy, betrayal and even moral ambiguity. While A New Hope is the reason why we go to movies, Empire Strikes Back refines it to transcend mere entertainment and give us artistic value, thematic depth and a balance between drama, action and comedy that rarely sees the light of day. Simply put, Empire is that light. It’s more or less a flawless film in style, structure and execution. It one-ups the original with emotion and even moreso with action and special effects. The characters are the best yet, with the romance brewing between Solo and Leia, the struggles of Luke Skywalker to become the hero he needs to be and the overall feel of darkness and betrayal looming that every character has to confront. It hits every beat perfectly, from the points to bring in twists, to the witty humor, to action pieces and a climax that takes us and the characters we’ve become so attached to out on a low note rather than a high one. Yet we love it for doing that to us, and that’s a testament to the path we took to get there.  

The Bad: The more I try to think of something “Bad” about The Empire Strikes Back, the less I can think of anything. Everything is simply done better (thanks to the Lucas story, the screenplay by Kasdan and the best director for the entire franchise, Irvin Kershner, who was never surpassed with his vision of Star Wars and as a result we have a movie that feels as though it hasn’t aged a day.) Please email if you know a flaw for the film, would love to hear one.

The Ugly: Empire proves two things. One, that putting Star Wars in “science fiction” is completely wrong. It has more in common with fairy tales and fantasy if not Greek Tragedy. Second, it’s as deep and layered as the best pieces of fiction dating back to The Iliad. It’s the only entry out of the six Star Wars films that transcends mere “popcorn entertainment” or a fun time. It’s rich in depth and character, and is the last time the classic series will ever achieve such heights.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The third and final chapter in the wondrous STAR WARS saga is RETURN OF THE JEDI. Luke must save Han Solo from the clutches of the monstrous Jabba the Hut, and bring down the newly reconstructed--and even more powerful--Death Star. With Solo imprisoned, Luke accompanies his faithful droids R2D2 and C3PO in a rescue bid, with Princess Leia and Chewbacca also lending a hand. After they valiantly disentangle their friends from Jabba's clutches, Luke returns to his Jedi Knight training with Yoda. Meanwhile, the Rebel Troops amass in an attempt to see off the impending threat from Darth Vader  and his new Death Star, with the operation being lead by Han Solo. But Luke must face Vader himself if he is to become a true Jedi Knight, and as he enters into a spirited battle with his light saber-wielding enemy, some surprising revelations await the young warrior.

The Good: Two thirds of Return of the Jedi is every bit as good as its predecessors. Compelling, fantastic and memorable scenes and an overall good time. The opening sequence involving Jabba the Hutt and Han, the final scenes with Yoda and a good portion of events on Endor are all great. Of course, the space battle, too, is fantastic, even if it is a bit of a repeat of Episode IV, with the first feeling of “epic battle“ to really hit its mark. Luckily, the special effects were up to par at the time and we‘re given some fantastic space fighting. Skywalker is now a full Jedi, his training complete, and his progression to this point feels natural (he’s good, but not fully great). He has now learned much of his ability and of himself and his scenes with Yoda touching.

The Bad: I could easily just say “Ewoks” and be done with it, but it’s not so much an indigenous species on a planet as much as it is their use in the film. They simply dominate it and the entire alliance is dependent on them, almost weakening the credibility of Han and company as they attempt to do their job on Endor. Their role was much bigger than need be and as a result brings much of the film down. Sadly, everything also feels too “familiar” in terms of characters and story, there’s little that turns us over and on our seat edges other than our first seeing and understanding the Emperor and the fantastic opening sequence. Outside of Skywalker’s arc coming to a close (and Vader's, of course) many of the others feel slapped into their roles and we’re stuck merely running through the motions.

The Ugly: I know I’m not reviewing the “revised” versions here, but putting Christiansen in the final scene was atrocious. What was Lucas thinking on that?

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Starman

Jenny Hayden never did get over the death of her husband. So when an alien life form decides to model "himself" on the husband, Jenny is understandably confused if not terrified. The alien, or Starman, as he is called, has a deadline to meet, and kidnaps Jenny in order to meet it.

The Good: Easily John Carpenter's most sentimental, and probably personal film he's ever done. It's a film that, if not for the cast, probably would have ended up nowhere as good as it is. The trick here, though, is Jeff Bridges. His boyish performance as Starman is one of the strongest of his illustrious career - balancing childishness with simple curiosity and outsider ignorance with simple humanistic poetry. His performance, though, is only as good as the people he can play off of, here being Karen Allen who probably goes through as much change as our visiting alien.
That's really what Starman is about: change. Change people go through, the emotions, the tragedies, the sadness and the eventual acceptance that sometimes life hands us things we don't ask for, but we need to make do with what we're given.

The Bad: Starman safely resides its plot into a road-trip format. Almost anyone can tell you that putting a story on the "road of life" is pretty simplistic storytelling and a boilerplate for plot progression. Starman is no different here as it goes from location scene to location scene. It's often used to help cover up a sub-par plot, of which Starman is, though it hides it better than most thanks to the characters we're traveling with. It's pretty by the books, but warming and touching despite that.

The Ugly: I never really understood why John Carpenter didn't try to do more films like Starman. I suppose, perhaps, he tried with Memoirs of an Invisible Man, but Starman is just one of his more sweeter and humanistic movies, something Memoirs didn't quite have. It was fantastical and whimsical but with a lot of heart. Maybe that just killed his entire desire to do more films that weren't in the horror genre.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Starship Troopers

In the distant future high school kids are  encouraged to become citizens by joining the military. What they don't  know is that they'll soon be engaged in a full scale war against a  planet of alien insects. The fight is on to ensure the safety of  humanity.
 
The Good: Satire first, that’s often Paul Verhoven’s approach to movies.  It worked in Robocop. It didn’t really work in Showgirls or  Independence Day (though Showgirls, I don’t think, was trying to be  satirical...then again I don’t know what it was trying to be at all).  Total Recall has a cool balance. A Verhoven movie certainly has a unique  tone and style to it, and is also, usually, an acquired taste. The good  ones, at least. Starship Troopers is a good one. In fact, out of all of  Verhoven’s movies I would say it’s the most fun by a mile. That doesn’t  mean it’s the best, but it is a blast. The action is frantic, the  cutaways to the news broadcasts (a commentary of desensitized society  and the whole “war is cool” videogame mentality the movie picked up on  years before Call of Duty). The special effects are still spectacular.  You have Neil Patrick Harris, NPH himself, as a scientist. What more  could you ask for? The movie is just flat-out fun, well done and doesn’t  try to waste your time with story and character development. It’s  tongue-in-cheek and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truthfully, if it  tried to be serious and dark with good scripting and characters, you  might as well just watch Aliens.
 
The Bad: That’s because these actors, other than Michael Ironside, are  not what I would call “good actors.” They fit their roles, though,  especially Casper van Dien as the macho-jock meathead and goofy-as-hell Jake Busey as Ace. They aren’t supposed to be some sort of “deep”  characters in the first place. That said, though, much of the dialogue  they deliver is pretty stilted and the acting itself pretty awful. It  kind of fits into the campy tone of everything, but when it tries to  play it straight and serious, it just falls flat. Notably, Denise  Richards is pretty miscast here, especially when put up against the  other female lead Dina Meyer who does a pretty good job with the little  she’s given and her relationship with van Dien keeps things fairly  grounded.
 
The acting, I think, is pretty forgivable to be honest. But the script  is where the problem really lies. Our main baddies, the “bugs” seem to  get pushed further and further into the background and are replaced with  bad character melodrama. Considering we care little about these  characters, it’s like it’s wasted space. Then it culminates to a rather  anti-climatic ending that leaves you wanting more than the MacGuffin  known as the “brain bug.” In fact, it seems it intentionally wants to  set itself up for sequels, which is both pretentious and pretty stupid  considering the sequels were the worst thing that could have happened.
 
The Ugly: Starship Troopers is a difficult movie to really review. It’s  hard to tell what is intentionally bad and what is just bad. Verhoven  usually knows what he’s doing when it comes to this, but I can’t say  everything is meant to be campy and bad (such as the acting). Either  way, though, it’s fun and really one of the more enjoyable (and  original, let’s not forget the rarity of that word) sci-fi action movies  of the 1990s.
 
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


State of Play

A petty thief is gunned down in an alley and a Congressman's assistant falls in front of a subway - two seemingly unrelated deaths. But not to wisecracking, brash newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey who spies a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered. With a turbulent past connected to the Congressman and the aid of ambitious young rookie writer Della Frye, Cal begins uprooting clues that lead him to a corporate cover-up full of insiders, informants, and assassins. But as he draws closer to the truth, the relentless journalist must decide if it's worth risking his life and selling his soul to get the ultimate story.

The Good: With screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs, the Kingdom), Tony Gilroy (Bourne series, Michael Clayton) and Billy Ray (Breach, the most overlooked movie of 2007), you can either expect an amazingly written script or just a complete mess with so many writers taking it on at various stages (Peter Morgan also had a brief rewrite stint). It's also based on a six hour BBC One program, which means you have to condense the hell out of it. Director Kevin MacDonald manages to keep things clear and interesting as the film becomes more and more full of suspense, intrigue and interest as it progresses and the solid, if not occasionally brilliant, script shines through despite a few hiccups that can probably be attributed to a few different hands writing it. His directing and the fine acting from the cast gives us a classically taught thriller reminiscent of All The President's Men or the Manchurian Candidate, more the former with the strong emphasis on journalism and ethics.  It has a remarkable pace, and within its two hours does more than a lot of movies could ever do in that span with smartly directed/written and acted scenes and the sense of constant forward momentum.

The Bad: The film has a snowball effect, which is fantastic in how it increasingly becomes more and more thrilling, then it all ends with a melted pile of slush. The ending is both unsatisfying and uninspired in a movie that was already retooling past film ideas and could have used something completely different (or at least fulfilling) but instead falls flat.

The Ugly: Proof again that Ben Affleck is best in supporting roles, not as a lead. His best films are when he's not at the center (Hollywoodland being the other one where he gave a great performance).

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Stepfather

Michael returns home from military school to find his mother happily in love and living with her new boyfriend. As the two men get to know each other, he becomes more and more suspicious of the man who is always there with a helpful hand.

The Good: If anything, The Stepfather is well acted,  with an especially nice turn by Dylan Walsh who is charismatic, mysterious and subtlety pure evil. While not really the best thriller on the block, it does a solid job building tension - especially considering we know that Walsh is the villain from the opening scene. Nelson McCormick is a capable director who is able able to craft individual scenes well and is still trying to find the right niche in feature. While his previous film, Prom Night, was a disaster, his television work speaks for itself (NYPD Blue, Southland and Nip/Tuck - no doubt where he found a good connection with Walsh who is perfect for this film). It's not the worst film in the world, but doesn't offer a lot to the table either.

There's also Amber Heard, who looks gorgeous but her character only serves as eye candy...not that there's anything wrong with that.

The Bad: There are these odd moments that the film shows of David (Walsh) mentally disturbed and, perhaps, schizophrenic. It's disappointing that it doesn't bother exploring these elements whatsoever, and as a result when we see those moments, they don't quite fit in and seem tacked on if anything in some failed attempt to be deeper and more psychological than it really is.  This only adds to the rather disjointed nature of the film, where there's some nice tense scenes but nothing really overarching that we can really buy as a mystery movie (this is because we already know Walsh is the bad guy, in contrast something like Rear Window or Distrubia where they smartfully make it ambiguous until the reveal). There's a lot that simply doesn't make sense, some moments that really force to cheaply "scare" you but never really succeed, nothing is ever set up or foreshadowed well and we end up with a series of events until they ultimately end.

The Ugly: While it isn't needed to make the point, and I hate doing it now, I must bring up the original film The Stepfather. The first, while certainly falling into the "slasher" category was almost more of a psychological thriller than anything.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Still Alice

A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

The Good: I had been putting off scrambling together a review for Still Alice for…well…quite a long time considering it’s nearly May and the movie made my Top 30 of last year. It made that Top 30 based on one singular, beautiful performance by Julianne Moore who plays a woman succumbing to alzheimer's. There’s really nothing else to the movie outside of that (for better or worse, we’ll get to that) but she is so strong, so focused and so very human in her portrayal of someone losing everything she is, it’s difficult to not only be moved but to write something that encapsulates what seems to be such a personal, intimate portrayal.

It’s a film that asks a lot of the viewer. Do you want to sit for an hour and a half and watch as everything is stripped away from this woman? It’s an endurance test because there really are no compromises to the disease. The movie makes that perfectly clear as it goes head-on into presenting her story, how it affects her and her family and that she is “still Alice” even if she’s not the Alice you meet at the beginning. Julianne Moore is given plenty of space and time to really get you into her head, and feel incredibly sad at what you eventually find.

The Bad: Despite a strong supporting cast, there’s not a lot going on with the other characters outside of Alice. There’s a nice touch with her daughter, Lydia played by Kristen Stewart, but the way the film presents itself it has the rest of her family come across as absent or even utterly ignorant of her struggle - more concerned about their own lives than hers. I don’t think they are, they all certainly love her, but we’re with Alice in every scene. What the family thinks or is doing seems inconsequential, yet it isn’t because, as we see early on, her family means a lot to her. It’s a strange dynamic, perhaps something the screenwriters had difficulty tackling: if you leave her then you may ruin the sense of gradual loss that makes her such a strong character and a unique story, but if you don’t try to put more of the family and friends around her and give them time, they come across as dismissive if not outright assholes.

Maybe they’re meant to be that, but we don’t get enough of Alice on her own to fully understand that. As it is, she’s fairly one-dimensional. It’s a powerful and strong dimension, certainly, but the flavor around it, to give it depth and understand the loss more, is but a footnote because what she is losing doesn’t feel as though it’s something worth losing.

The Ugly: Kristen Stewart can act in the right roles, this is one of them, thankfully.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Stoker

After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.  

The Good: It's sometimes hard to know what to expect when a lauded director from overseas jumps to making films outside his own language. The failings of Stoker, though, isn't entirely on Chan-wook Park, though. He's as commanding and solid through the film as he always is: setting scenes and framing actors in a way that is truly defined as his style. He understands pace, tension and certainly understands how to dynamically get in to the heads of characters - much being said by how they're shot combined with the actor's expressions, or just letting shots linger for a beat longer to really bring it home.

That's a good thing, too. The mindset of these characters is the central thread of the entire plot, so getting in there and digging around, letting the actors really do their thing, makes Stoker a damn fine psychological thriller in the vein of much of Park's previous films (notably his Vengeance trilogy, including the masterpiece that is Oldboy). It's about thoughts and contemplation rather than action.

The Bad: A complete lack of interesting and intriguing characters really holds Stoker back from being a really good, methodical thriller. Personalities are rather blank, emotion distant, something that Chan-wook Park is far from known for. Often his characters are reserved, but there's a brewing of something behind it all.  In fairness, these aren't his characters, and it's easy to see his draw to it based on tone and texture of the story, but nothing ever impacts the film. Plot twists are handled in the same light as a dinner conversation by all parties in front and behind the camera.

What's more is that we really can't relate, much less care, about any of these people in this movie. The closest is India, who is fantastically played by Mia Wasikowska, but we aren't really attached to her. She's as distant and as dreary as the rest of them and though we can see some familiarity in situations (awkward family conversations, bullies at school), she still lacks that spark and emotion to draw you in.

I suppose "flat" might be a good description of the film. A plank. A straight line. Nothing too responsive one way or the other in terms of story, acting and Park's handling of the material the biggest note here. It's not bland, that "flatness" is likely intentional and there are some memorable moments, but memorable because of the craft of cinema, not because they're invoking something from you on any emotional level.

The Ugly: When everyone at the party just stares at each other, talks monotone and rarely have anything interesting to say…then why are you at the party. In other words, Stoker is far from inviting, but you keep holding out that it'll say something interesting. It only occasionally does.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Straight Outta Compton

The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.

The Good: An incredibly energetic biopic that puts you square into the late 80s through early 90s rap and hip-hop world. It’s alien in a way, but though simple storytelling and characters it invites you in to see this world that most of us really were never a part of. Straight Outta Compton is a film that wants to show you a world around the artists of legendary rap group NWA rather than really dive too deep into them as people. For better or worse taking that approach, they find that throughline of showcasing regular people in this pretty crazy world of fame, music, women and money.

But there’s a caveat to that, which is what makes Straight Outta Compton unique, well more unique than your standard biopic. The world that’s expressed here really never leaves them. There’s fear of gangs, violence, drugs, police brutality and betrayals when the likes of Easy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have all the money just as much as there was when they were living in south central LA. It followed them, and what Straight Outta Compton may lose in really detailing their lives, it gains in a strong message that is still relevant to this day: the opportunities of young African-American men are limited, and even when they get them they’re still harassed and hounded by those in power or, even worse, their past simply catches up with them (i.e. one villainous Suge Knight who starts as a mere bodyguard but brings the violence of the streets into their lives).

Straight Outta Compton is full of strong direction and there is no question that this is to be F. Gary Gray’s finest film. It’s the same story for any long-time director who is waiting for that one thing to hit. There was no better director choice to be made, Gray with a legendary history of hip-hop and rap videos as well as strong features like Friday and The Italian Job feels as though he has been building up to this one moment where all that came together into a visceral, raw experience. Solid performances from the cast, most notably Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E who is probably the strongest because he’s asked to go to far more emotional places than the rest of the cast and, in a way, comes off more candid and honest while doing so, which means he carries the weight of the story.

The Bad: Straight Outta Compton is as straightforward of a story as you can imagine. It’s a great story, with great acting and characters, there’s no denying that, but it also plays out like a live-action timeline that’s just going through the motions and checking things off (and, in more than one case, leaving things off entirely as many articles have pointed out). Little deviation from its straightforward and surprisingly by-the-books story of artists coming together then breaking apart and even more - surprisingly little insight or depth in it’s two and a half hours in doing so.

It’s self-glamorizing but is desperately wanting to show how glamor-less the world that these men come from is. It’s just not willing to fully take that step into doing so and plays off as an incredibly energetic film that is only interested in covering its bases rather than really explore who these men are and how they came to be. As enthralling as the film is, I know as much about NWA and its artists going in as I did coming out, and I only knew a little in that regards. Biopics, naturally, have to walk a fine line between fiction and reality, but at the very least you want more exploration. While Easy-E is given a rather poetic journey, from the streets to fame to paranoia and the realization he’s lost power, nobody else's story feels as honest and upfront about it all, as though someone took a red-pen and crossed some things out.

What’s in the film is good. Hell, I can’t wait to see it again if anything because the world they plop you into, something as simple as sitting and watching what’s essentially a Live NWA concert, gets your adrenaline up, but in terms of exploration of it all, and maybe getting to know these men as people rather than just artists, it spends more time hitting the high notes rather than making sure to nail those down-beats once in a while.

The Ugly: I don’t know what Jason Mitchell’s next film will be, but I’m going to see it. This kid is someone to watch and I hope the industry takes note that he can carry a movie.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Straight Story

"The Straight Story" chronicles a trip made by 73-year-old Alvin Straight from Laurens, Iowa, to Mt. Zion, Wis., in 1994 while riding a lawn mower. The man undertook his strange journey to mend his relationship with his ill, estranged, 75-year-old brother Lyle.

As a departure in both style and technique, The Straight Story is one of Lynch's strangest films. Considering his other films, that's saying a lot, but I think it has to do with the fact that in most of his other films, you know his surrealist sensibilities and expect the odd, dreamy approach. None of that is here, yet it still retains a very strange feel to it as we watch an elderly man travel through a couple of states on a lawnmower. It's not complex or multi-faceted ala Lynch's other movies. It's just a man, and a lawnmower, and a lot of road.

Due to that, it can get really boring really quick if you're not in the right mindset. Little happens in the movie, but I think the real story is the one behind the camera. It was a labor of love, especially for Richard Farnsworth who was stricken with terminal cancer while shooting it and who died shortly after the film's release. The truth is, it's that story I admire even though the story of Alvin in the film is meant to parallel Farnsworth's own personal dilemma and, in a way, is a record of him just as much as it is a record of Alvin Straight. It's full of emotion and heart, something new even for Lynch, and is a rather beautiful little film despite it being overlong and very slowly paced. Then again, he was on a lawnmower...and those only go so fast.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Strange Brew

Canada's most famous hosers, Bob and Doug McKenzie, get jobs at the Elsinore Brewery, only to learn that something is rotten with the state of it.

The Good: An often forgotten comedy out of Canada that is one of the most idiotic yet entirely enjoyable comedies you could ask to see. It might sound strange to label something "Canadian" humor, seeing as how plenty of comedians come from Canada and it's really just right north of the United States, but there is certain style that it has, just as British humor has a certain style to it. See any episode of the classic Kids in the Hall and you might get an idea of the tone of Strange Brew...including a ton of self-referencing Canadian jokes because, as strange as it sounds, Canadians often like to make fun of their own stereotypes as much as the rest of the world and Bob and Doug McKenzie are as stereotypcial Canadian as you could ask for. After all, this is film that has the rest of the world thinking all Canadians say "aboot" and "eh" and call each other "hosers." Yes, this one film probably set Canada back a few decades. The only stereotypes missing from Strange Brew is a mountie and a jug of maple syrup. Hockey, Canadian beer, the slang and ways of talking, hockey again and barren, abandon cold lands and crappy cars are all pretty much standard here. That and flying dogs.

But it’s just goofy fun with two bumbling idiots that, I would say, are two pretty underrated comedy character duos. Sure, they aren’t Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, but at least up there with a Bill and Ted or Wayne and Garth. They play off of each other well and seeing Strange Brew is more than enough incentive to hunt down old episodes SCTV and bask in the glory of Bob and Doug even more.

On a side note, despite its utter stupidity, it’s actually a brilliant adaptation of Hamlet. You have never seen the Bard like this, probably never will in such affective parody, and that certainly accounts for something.

The Bad:
Irreverent for irreverence's sake. Strange Brew is both referring to the strange brew concocted in the film and the overall strangeness of the film itself. It is, indeed, strange, random and really all over the map. The characters keep it grounded and you can follow everything because they’re so enjoyable and realized, including the villains of the bunch, but point As to Bs to Cs never quite match up. The biggest is the lack of understanding the world it takes place in (not Tone, mind you...the tone is very, very Canadian in nature) where it feels like a comedy ala Blues Brothers but then it throws in ghosts and flying dogs seemingly out of nowhere. That’s part of its charm, I suppose, even if you can’t quite get a handle of it. Thankfully the goofy and campiness of everything is well remembered, though...it is a strange brew, afterall, eh?

The Ugly:
  If Strange Brew set Canada back thirty years, then by my math is it officially 1983 in Canada the year Strange Brew was released. So if you watch it now...it's aged surprisingly well.

Final Rating:
3.5 out of 5


The Stranger

Wilson of the War Crimes Commission is seeking Franz Kindler, mastermind of the Holocaust, who has effectively erased his identity. Wilson releases Kindler's former comrade Meinike and follows him to Harper, Connecticut, where he is killed before he can identify Kindler. Now Wilson's only clue is Kindler's fascination with antique clocks; but though Kindler seems secure in his new identity, he feels his past closing in.

The Good: Orson Welles understood every aspect and every medium when it came to storytelling. From his memorable radio performances to his ambitious theatre work, the man new how to manage the medium and make even the most basic of things incredible. The Stranger is a perfect example of hiw cinematic acuity. Its story is nothing special and it's fairly by the numbers when it comes to film noir, but how he visually tells it, masterfully controlling the camera and constructing scenes, is what sets it apart as many of his films tended to do. His use of dialogue and actors even moreso, with flowing dialogue conversation and  subtle performances used in The Stranger that allow for great tension, making me wonder how great of a suspense director he could have become even more than he was had he simply made more films.

One of the great character actors, Edward G Robinson, is often known for his over-the-top character personalities, but he shows his brilliance as an actor with restraint, patience as he plays his role straight. He's menacing, yet at the same time you're more on his side than that of Charles, whom you quickly grow to loathe in the first twenty minutes and begin to realize it's not Orson Welles you're routing for (hell, he bails on his own wedding receptions to go and hide a body). Robinson was known through most films as a villainous sort, and I'd be willing to bet Welles put him intentionally in the role to throw off the audience and give everyone a big reveal which not only pays off for the audience, but for Robinson who goes against his sometimes typecast roots here. That sounds like something he would do. The Stranger marks the only major box office success for Welles. It's a complete film, well made, well acted, well written and with just enough ambition to be quite memorable especially for something so bluntly dealing with Nazism and the "final solution" directly after World War II. It's easy to see how Welles was drawn to the material based on the boldness of the script alone.

The Bad: Unlike, say, Touch of Evil of The Lady of Shanghai, there's a lot of "Orson Welles" moments in The Stranger. Monologues and speeches were the man's forte, and he delivers them wonderfully. The difference here, though, is that it's almost overly dominant. Now Welles was someone who commanded the screen and was a presence, but when he goes on a diatribe it seems everyone else shuts up and doesn't argue. There's no other character that puts out a monologue or an argument to not merely dispel the villainous Kindler, aka Rankin, but to simply help balance out the script. Rather they throw out a question or brief statement to simply have Kindler go on and on with the monologue or his point.

The Ugly: If it weren't careful, this movie could have ended up just another mystery movie. To Orson Welles, never satisfied, that's all it ended up being. Yet, does that detract from the notion of it being a really, really solid thriller (especially considering he's a little wrong - and only by comparison to other Welles films)? It shouldn't, but apparently Welles demanded much more...I just don't know what when the movie itself is capably done and pretty entertaining. To Welles, I think, it lacked soul...and he might just be right.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Stranger

A mysterious man arrives in a small Canadian town seeking his wife, though his presence plunges the community into a bloodbath.

The Good: With a constant sense of dread and menace, The Stranger is a movie that makes you feel uneasy from beginning to end. As we progress through it all, more and more is gradually revealed on the situation. This is simultaneously good and bad - it strikes its chords, yet it’s the only chord it strikes. You probably have an idea of what’s happening early on, but The Stranger takes enough interesting left turns to have some interesting things to do with its lore if you can will yourself through its tone.

One particular, though I might argue all-too-brief, element I like are the flashbacks. There’s a handful of them, but there’s something beautifully human and haunting about them. In fact, I think they’re the most memorable thing in the movie are these small vignettes into The Stranger’s past, making moments of him looking off into the distance, deep in thoughts, or in quiet solace, or fear to be near another person, not simply understandable, but allows the audience to have great empathy for a guy we could easily not have empathy for. It’s too bad he’s the only interesting character in the thing and there's not enough plot to hold interest.

The Bad: There’s “Slow brew” then there’s that sense of “let’s get on with it.” The Stranger is working with very little. It has a great mood happening, solid actor in the lead and some interesting ideas, but it can’t tell a good story to save its life. Well, there’s a difference, actually. The story in The Stranger might actually be good, it’s just that the storytelling itself isn’t. Poorly paced, seemingly wayward, never really giving our characters an arc or purpose and kind of flailing about to get to the next good scene as we wade through some (most) bad ones.

The “bad ones” really comes down to the fact that nobody in this film is likable. Everybody is just a bad person. One maybe tries to be good, but the film even turns him into a head-shaking aberration. One might call the film cynical on human relationships, I call it nihilistic. Soon that sense of dread and menace that I think works starts to mutate into something that doesn’t just make you feel easy because of its tone but downright bad that you’re watching bad people do bad things and get no satisfaction from it. You learn nothing. The characters learn nothing. The world spins as we all continue to devour each other.

The Ugly: If you aren’t into it in 20 minutes, you may never be.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Strangers on a Train

Psychotic mother's boy Bruno Anthony meets famous tennis professional Guy Haines on a train. Guy wants to move into a career in politics and has been dating a senator's daughter (Ann Morton) while awaiting a divorce from his wife. Bruno wants to kill his father but knows he will be caught because he has a motive. Bruno dreams up a crazy scheme in which he and Guy exchange murders. Guy takes this as a joke, but Bruno is serious and takes things into his own hands.

The Good: I couldn't tell you a thing about Farley Granger or his character, the lead Guy Haines. The truth is, he's a solid character and is used well for Hitchcock's needs. What I can tell you, and who essentially steals the show, is our villian: Bruno Anthony played by Robert Walker. Walker's character is unabashedly vile, and perhaps a closet homosexual (undertones, for certain) with some absolutely spot-on dialogue delivered with such confidence you almost think Bruno is a real person and Hitch just happened to drop a camera in front of him.  From that center, we build a thriller that is absolute Hitchcock at his best and I can't deny this one is a personal favorite of mine. The concept just lends itself to a broad appeal that makes it a timeless classic. From the repeated visual motifs (something Hitchcock explored a lot, but especially during his prolific 1950s), to the camerawork, to the story itself, it's all utterly superb.

The Bad: A buildup to a rather lackluster climax is the only dissapointing part of the movie. With such clarity and poignant scenes for a majority, the final portions feel oddly out of place if not overly convenient. It's almost as if Hitch wanted to make something much, much darker here, and he nearly does, but pulls the rug out from us at the final moment. That wouldn't be a problem, if he didn't replace the rug he pulled with a brand new one that clashes with the rest of the decor.

The Ugly: This film is being remade (of course). I wouldn't have a huge problem with that if the screenwriter was someone else. Instead, it's David Selzter who's only script of worth was the original Omen back in the 1970s. Since then he's given us Dragonfly, Bird on a Wire and My Giant. One of the major writers for the original 1951 script was goddamn Raymond Chandler. If that's not a drop off, I don't know what is.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Stray Dog

Murukami, a young homicide detective, has his pocket picked on a bus and loses his pistol. Frantic and ashamed, he dashes about trying to recover the weapon without success until taken under the wing of an older and wiser detective, Sato. Together they track the culprit.

The Good: When he wasn’t doing Samurai films, the next genre Kurosawa loved to dabble in was noir. Stray Dog was not only one of his earlier genre films, but also one of his earliest films that started to put him on the map (Rashomon’s success was a year away).  Even this early, he had Mifune to fall back on to for a fantastic performance (Mifune a rising star at the time) as well as another Kurosaswa vet Takahashi Shimura who often starred alongside Mifune in many of the master’s masterpieces (and for a while got top billing over him, Stray Dog and Seven Samurai most notably). This one, though, has the two really working together. They are, as the story notes, partners – and thus one of the earliest examples of a “buddy cop” movie is born. Two complete opposites, one young and brash and the other older and wise, team up to take down a thief.

It’s not quite as “grand” as that sounds, though. Stray Dog is more an exercise in subtlety and restraint than some ambitious plot to take down a criminal. It starts like that, then you begin to realize it’s about these two characters and, in a way, a commentary on justice versus personal vendettas and the varying degrees of generation gaps, the increasing westernizing of Japan during a turbulent time and, as odd is it might sound, the classic desire to be honorable (having your gun stolen, much as it would have been in feudal Japan with swords, is quite a dishonorable thing to have happen, and our young detective knows that). The “bad guy” here is, arguably, not even that important. It’s about Murakami and Sato. It’s about Japan. It’s about that damn heat and its metaphorical representation of increasing tensions and increasing fears of a confusing and difficult time for Japan. Kurosawa was wonderful at hiding and masking the complexities of his films. He just told stories so damn well that you often didn’t notice the numerous depths they often would have to them. Stray Dog showcases that approach was prominent even early in his career before his mainstream success: a fantastic, well-told story that says a lot more than we hear.

The Bad: Kurosawa’s got a nice handful of solid noir films. While I’ve always been more of a fan of The Bad Sleep Well for the uniqueness and ambition of it all, Stray Dog is probably his best, pure piece of police catching the bad guy stories with fantastic subtext to it all. It showcases Tokyo wonderfully, an atmosphere he’d later repeat in High and Low (but by then it was the 1960s and that uniqueness of post-war Tokyo gone).

Stray Dog also has the benefit of having Mifune AND Shimura – not only two Kurosawa veterans but arguably the two best Japanese leading me during their time (ok, Shintaro Katsu is a given by the early 60s and Tatsuya Nakadai is too damn awesome to deny, though his height would come until the 60s as well with Kurosawa latching more to him and with amazing movies like Karakiri, Kwaidan and Sword of Doom – especially Sword of Doom. Oh I love that movie...and I’m rambling...this is a review, right? What section is this? The “Bad” section of Stray Dog? Ha...haahahahaha.)

The Ugly: I need to do more Kurosawa films. That’s like reaching up to an apple tree and every single apple you pluck from its branches is the tastiest apple you’ve ever had.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Stretch

A hard-luck limo driver struggling to go straight and pay off a debt to his bookie takes on a job with a crazed passenger whose sought-after ledger implicates some seriously dangerous criminals.

The Good: Stretch is a satirical comedy of errors done, for the most part, pretty spot-on. It has your set up, then the tumbling “how can things get any worse” scenarios unfold for our lead, played by Patrick Wilson, who just needs to make some cash. It’s a simple premise turned unfortunately convoluted for Stretch, who struggles to dig out of a hole but, as is the case, just makes it deeper.

Now all that makes Stretch sound pretty straightforward. In terms of its formula, it is. But what sets it apart is the style brought to it by director Joe Carnahan, who has shown a great knack for really understanding the material put in front of him and adjusting his approach. The Grey was a slower paced character deconstruction, The A-Team an homage to crazy 1980s excess with over the top action, NARC, still his best work, a 70s inspired gritty crime film, and The Blacklist a superslick show where his directed episodes are always the standouts. With Stretch, it’s a mix of the slickness of The Blacklist with the excess and tone of The A-Team brought to a boil.

So in terms of style, Stretch gets it. It’s fun. Loose. Fast. It has the players in the right positions to make it work, including Patrick Wilson who shows how solid and diverse of an actor he can be and for a self-aware punch-to-the-face-of-Hollywood kind of movie, you need that straight “everyman" who is in over his head and I can’t think of another actor that could do the role as much justice.

The Bad: “Exhausting” sums of Stretch perfectly. It’s a frantic, dense movie that feels twice as long as its hour and a half would make it seem. To say a lot happens is putting it mildly, even the small longline just tells you the plot, but it’s the absurdities of the stories and characters throughout that plot that both gives Stretch its distinct style yet simultaneously causes it to not really settle on one set of ideas and points to focus everything.

It needs to keep moving forward, as exhausting as it is, because too much time in one place creates a lot of annoyances. Characters you don’t want to be around (sans Wilson) and places you don’t want to be or care about wear out their welcome very quickly. It's the tone of the movie overall - it knows if it slows those things will become an issue, but sometimes it doesn't quite know when to knock it off and move on. When it does settle like that, this really shows how obnoxious it can be because it can feel like a joke gone on for far too long as you wait for it to end and, even then, it sometimes doesn't (Chris Pine hamming up scene after scene becomes excruciating, for example, because the punchline never comes).

The Ugly: Seriously, Patrick Wilson never gets enough credit for his work. Maybe Bradley Cooper stole all this thunder, but he does snark very well. Then again, it’s good he’s not typecast because you get to see him in anything from dark indie dramas to horror movies to comedies to epic science fiction and fantasy.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Stripes

Thanks to a run of bad luck and go-nowhere jobs, John convinces Russell to join the army so they can get in shape, likening it to a health spa. Once in boot camp, wiseguy John tangles with his by-the-book Sgt. and becomes the unofficial leader for his platoon, made up mostly of other misfits and assorted losers. After somehow making it through graduation, they are given a special assignment but, thanks to John's romantic interest in a pretty MPO, the other men wind up behind the Iron Curtain until John, Russell, their dates and Sgt. Hulka make a daring rescue attempt in explosive style.

The Good: Though more an ensemble piece akin to the classic war movies it pokes fun at, Stripes wouldn’t be much without the inclusion of Bill Murray. You can see that director Ivan Reitman, who’s previous film starred Murray as well, absolutely trusts the man. Murray is able to present a casual demeanor that feels natural and has its share of ad lib and improv style that not only makes Murray better, but makes everyone around him better as well. The other actors fall in line with this method as well, simply “going with it” and creating those honest and hilarious moments that the film is known for. It’s so perfectly cast that you simply can’t see any other actor in the role. From Murray and Ramis to Candy and Larroquette, the characters and the actors placed within them are absolutely perfect.

Nothing in Stripes feels “written” when it comes to the dialogue and jokes, making for a natural piece of comedy that, thanks to co-writer Harold Ramis who tailored the script for them, and who’s long-standing friendship with Murray has benefited both incredibly, we get something that not only is incredibly well-written and natural but absolutely timeless in its comedic style. While comedy in general is timeless, the uniqueness and natural flow found in Stripes (and similar Ramis-written films such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, Animal House and Caddyshack) still is seen today in films and arguably changed much of how comedy is written. It took a path of dryness – to make jokes and be funny but not point out it’s making jokes and being funny. It just was funny and one of the smartest comedies of its era yet retains an irreverent and loose style that hides it.

The Bad: Two thirds of Stripes is damn near perfect comedy. Everyone is on their game. Then, somewhere and somehow, it slowly begins to lose steam and has to end with a big “punch” at the end that feels completely out of place (Animal House had this same type of ending, but worked as it was foreshadowed and far more fitting for a bunch of frat boys). Here, we have a problem and the ending seems to indicate that nobody really progressed anywhere despite achieving everything. They got their way, but have they really achieved their goals set out at the start of the film?

The Ugly: John Candy in mud wrestling...oh no.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Submarine

15-year-old Oliver Tate has two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to extinguish the flame between his mother and an ex-lover who has resurfaced in her life.

The Good: Like a lot of films dealing with teens coming into adulthood, high school and the awkwardness of it all, Submarine concentrates on the idea of searching for an identity. Like a lot of fifteen-year-olds, Oliver Tate feels a bit lost, his parents distant, that girl at school in his thoughts and bullies' fists in his face. Unlike a lot of teenager dramas (though there are a good dose of comedic elements here as well, ala John Hughes or, more similarly, Wes Anderson because straight drama wouldn't serve this story well at all) Submarine never feels "written." It rings true in the ideas we've seen many times over, but comes at it with fresh eyes and a more honest presentation. The family and situations feel real, the lead less a hero and more just your typical awkward teenager and the dialogue not so much about conversation and exchange as it is more the realistic awkward and mumbled slurs of a teenager or the distant stares of thought that teenagers have when it comes to their troubles.

Oliver is a conflicted youth, though. The story might be yours standard boy-meets-girl, but Oliver and the other characters are so wonderfully realized, the simplicity of the plot you end up not even noticing. He's a boy that might have angst, but it's more about the situation he's trying to figure out, not necessarily directed towards others. In fact, he's actually a kind teenager who wants to do the right things for people but somehow gets cornered with doing something unkind or plain strange. His intentions are good, though, and instead of feeling pity, you end up routing for Oliver from the get-go.

I'd like to thinks\ writer/director (first time on both counts for a feature, I might add) Richard Ayoade came to this story like an entry in a journal, not as a typical three-act narrative to find some clean resolution at the end. It's like a memory of teenage years, not a story to be told but an emotion to be evoked, and like a lot of memories, it's the places (which are nautical in motif here) and times, the emotions and the people you recall, not what led to point A, to point B and wrapped itself up with Point C. It's a depiction of youth, not too far-off from other great depictions of youth that followed similar creeds and looked back with that sense of time and place first and foremost, such as The Breakfast Club or Dazed and Confused - no story to either but with characters you can't forget and situations that feel like they should start with "Dear Diary." Submarine doesn't harken back to one person's youth, though, and more youth in general and all the awkwardness and confusion that comes with it.

The Bad: Not until the final third or so of the film does it finally reach its main point. It's a very patient film, but much of its ideas and themes seem to rush to ahead and yearn to be resolved in flurry, which knocks that pacing on its ass. Then you think back and realize that, had it spent more time resolving those along the way, it might have cleaned up those lingering ones that ended up not getting resolved at all (and there's a good three or four that seem to just drop from the film entirely).

The Ugly: Submarine has a particularly great style and look to it. It shouldn't look and move as well as it does for a first-time writer and directory. It feels confident and sure of itself and Richard Ayoade is a talent to keep an eye on in the years to come. At only 34, he's going to be giving us some great things, I'm hoping.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Sucker Punch

A young girl is institutionalized by her abusive stepfather. Retreating to an alternative reality as a coping strategy, she envisions a plan which will help her escape from the mental facility.

The Good: Dragons. Giant robot samurai. Steampunk Nazis. High speed trains. Helicopters fighting dragons. Swords. Guns. Beautiful women. Action. Explosions. All hell breaking loose...and all well done enough to where you can actually follow it all. If there's anything you can say about the films of Zach Snyder, it's that the main knows how to pain a picture. Every frame comes across as a painting, whether it's something bombarded with special effects or something as simple as a closeup of a lightbulb.

Sucker Punch isn't really there to tell a story or move you in some way. It's cold, mostly, and is immersed in its world than really trying to make a connection to you on any emotional level. Like Snyder's "300," though, it's a visceral dose of therapeutic wonder. You become lost in its world(s) and can't help but sit back and realize you just lost an hour and half without even realizing it. It washes over you, you take it in. The entire film isn't so much about suspension of disbelief as much as it is saying "believe nothing...just go with it." Snyder does that about as well as anyone. He doesn't need you to think or contemplate or even connect with the characters as much as he wants you to connect to the visual poetry he lays before you. Every shot and scene he thought-out and with purpose, not just a series of explosions and loud noises. It flows, moves and breathes its own life rather than just force it all upon you...it just naturally overtakes you.

The Bad: For a dose of cathartic, geeky visual joy, Sucker Punch is one of the best films you could ask for. For a compelling film, one that structures itself into a great story with appealing characters, it shoots wide-right by about a mile and a half. Sucker Punch's method is to find a way to tell smaller stories and films into one larger one. Each is associated to the "real" story but the "real" story you simply don't care about, you're too entranced by those smaller, visual splendors of the shorter films.

There's a lack of gravitas to it all on a level of human emotion to have you feel a sense of risk or actually begin worrying about an outcome. The film is, mostly, a shallow, fleeting exercise of special effects, not dissimilar to the shallow fleeting exercise found in Snyder's 300, another film where visuals take precedence over content. Like that film, there's nothing wrong with such an approach as long as it's done well. Both, though, could have been so much more. As they are, they are fun distractions.

The Ugly: I look at Sucker Punch as a bit of an experiment. It knows there's no point in its story and doesn't really bother to get you invested in the characters...yet there is always a place for a well-done, visually stunning action film. Finely crafted. Polished. Enjoyable. Far from everything you want in a film...but for this type of film it is everything you want.

But Snyder should leave the writing to more seasoned writers, I think. It was a risque move to make a film like this, and for a studio to put up the money for it, but for what it is it works fine, just enough.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Sugarland Express

When faced with the loss of her infant son, Lou-Jean Poplin makes her husband, Clovis, escape from a minimum security prison. Threatened with capture, the couple take rookie Texas State trooper Maxwell Slide hostage, and head across the state in his patrol car. Pursued by dozens of police cars, the trio contend with their sudden elevation to folk heroes, and vigilantes out to stop them. Their only real friend may be trooper Captain Tanner, who struggles to find a peaceful end to the situation. Based on a true story.

The Good: Fugitives on the run can be a difficult subject to tackle. Despite them being criminals, we find ourselves trying to find sympathy for them and see a real human face beyond the new stories and mug shots. The Sugarland Express does this effectively. The heroes aren’t necessarily “bad” people, but they aren’t good either. The police, too, are in that odd gray area where you want them to succeed. Sugarland plays the devil’s advocate for both views. It glorifies the situation, not necessarily the sides, and you come to understand the difficult choices people have to make as a result. As the caravan reaches its destination, a strange ominous occurs. You realize the fun ride is over and that situation needs to be dealt with. Only one side can come out on top and you’re holding your breath to final shot.

The Bad: There come a point in Sugarland where you no longer route for our “heroes.” In fact,there comes a point where you actually want them to be shot. Well…Goldie Hawn, at least. Considering her character is considered the “main” character, it’s all the more irritating to see others so blindly follow her, you just know you start to dislike her, and them, and actually want it all to end.  And end it does, rather suddenly and surprisingly, but after growing to dislike the characters I have to say to say someone dropped the ball. It’s hard to know who to point the finger at in this. The script had to stay faithful to the source material, but maybe the pacing was off in it. Spielberg is the director, this is his first film, but so much of the rest of the film is fantastic, but maybe he had difficulty with a complicated ending. Or it could be the actors grating on our nerves after a while. I will say the ending took some guts from everyone, it’s just so different than the rest of the film you’re often still seated when the credits start, just blankly staring and a tad shocked. You wanted to like those characters and for most of it you do, then there’s a change and you merely feel robbed of what could have been one of Spielberg’s finest pieces of cinema.

The Ugly: This is our tax money at work? By the end of the film the single car with three people has, I kid you not, close to 200 cars tailing them (not chasing, mind you, just following) and a couple of news vans and helicopters and the usual group of morons that follow just because of the spectacle. What the hell can dozens and dozens cop cars do that ten cars can’t?

Again, as mentioned on Killer’s Kiss by Stanley Kubrick, his earliest film, I’m not judging based on what the director will become and the flashes of greatness that may or may not appear within the work. I just watch the movie as is and won‘t use “future brilliance” as a crutch to explain the film‘s mediocrity merely because the director “wasn‘t there yet.” …not that Sugarland isn’t better than Killer’s Kiss, mind you. In fact it’s a solid first effort for any filmmaker.

Final Rating:
3.5 out of 5


Sullivan's Travels

Sullivan is a successful, spoiled, and naive director of fluff films, with a heart-o-gold, who decides he wants to make a film about the troubles of the downtrodden poor. Much to the chagrin of his producers, he sets off in tramp's clothing with a single dime in his pocket to experience poverty first-hand, and gets some reality shock. 

The Good: It's unfortunate that one of the most influential writer/directors in Hollywood history has gone so unknown for so long by the masses. Preston Sturgess, a former midly successful playwright, brought out the inspiration for Welles's Citizen Kane and himself won the first Oscar given to screenwriters in the early years of Hollywood. There's a great story, and if you want to know more about him there are plenty of books, where Sturges sold the studio his screenplay for ten dollars as long as they put him in the director's chair. Thus began his directing career, and great films emerged as a result. While many would cite The Lady Eve as his masterpiece, and rightfully so (I won't argue), I've always had a propensity towards Sullivan's Travels.

Sturges knew how to write. Period. More importantly, though, is he knew how to cast people who could deliver his rather unique blend of dialogue and banter, something future directors will utilize themselves. It was dialogue with purpose and wit without appearing purposeful and witty. It was casual yet intelligent, all dependent on the actors to rightfully deliver it. In Sullivan's Travels, it is Joel McCrea that really delivers it through and through as he seemingly embodies Sturges himself. He's rather cynical and certainly obsessive, similar to Sturges, as he embarks on what begins as a director "getting to know" his material and ends up as self-discovery and truly learning, perhaps the hard way, on how the world actually works. To him it's just a job. He's to explore the downtrodden and poor of the world, and ends up seeing things far different than looking for material to create a movie about. Movies aren't real life, and this rather self-aware approach is what makes Sullivan's Travels truly shine.

Like later directors, such as Billy Wilder or Woody Allen, there are dramatic and sincere moments in this comedy, which itself is a film more about comedy than necessarily a comedy itself. It probes and prods and knows how to laugh at itself and not the material it's discussing by being sort of this impartial third party as it shows how comedy affects people and how important escapism is to the world, and thus how important films and directors like Sullivan (in essence, Sturges) truly are.

The Bad: There's one element that simply doesn't fully sit right and that's the final resolution to Sullivan's plight. I won't dare spoil it, but it feels cheap as though Sturges himself couldn't think of anything and had to make do with the only way he could end it. If he were a tad more daring, it would end more bittersweet than overly thick with sweetness.

Also Veronica Lake, gorgeous sure, just doesn't quite work here. She was never known as a great actress, and her trying to stand her own against McCrea shows how average of an actress she really was.

The Ugly: Sullivan wants to make a movie called "O Brother Where Art Thou?" Sound familiar? The Coen Brothers were huge fans of this movie, and was a major influence in their fantastic screenplay and film itself.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Sunset Boulevard

The story, set in '50s Hollywood, focuses on Norma Desmond, a silent-screen goddess whose pathetic belief in her own indestructibility has turned her into a demented recluse. The crumbling Sunset Boulevard mansion where she lives with only her butler, Max who was once her director and husband has become her self-contained world. Norma dreams of a comeback to pictures and she begins a relationship with Joe Gillis, a small-time writer who becomes her lover, that will soon end with murder and total madness.

The Good: If you claim to be a fan of movies and the cinema and have no seen Sunset Boulevard, then stop reading, go find yourself a copy and watch it immediately. There are few movies that I will say are must-watches and required viewing and, strangely, even few of those are actually what I would call good movies, but Sunset Boulevard is certainly one that falls into both categories. It’s great because of its story and characters are so well done and its great because its an absolute classic influencing films for generation to come. What is that influence, you ask? Well, sit down, skippy, because you’re about to get a small movie history lesson.

I don’t go on about a film’s “influence” as a justifiable reason to give it a good rating. Just because something is influential doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, as I noted. But Sunset Boulevard is that good and is influential as a result. For starters, it’s a film that was well ahead of its time. The script is dark, gritty, realistic and self-aware that it’s a movie about making movies (in this case, writing for them). It’s a commentary on what the fame, success and the film industry itself can do to people – especially once those protective walls are torn down. It also has quite a bit to say with how the film industry treats celebrities and shuns those that are “washed up” like lepers with only their mausoleum like mansions to reside in for some false sense of comfort. It was always under threat of censorship for the way it depicts the industry that made it though some stars and filmmakers deeply moved by what it had to say.

The Bad: Hard to, if not impossible, to really say  what could be construed as bad here. It’s story is superb, Wilder’s directing at his absolute best and the performances by Holden and Swanson and a dead monkey absolutely flawless.

The Ugly: The legendary final shot...creepy, unsettling and just flat-out perfect.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Sunshine

50 years into the future, the Sun begins to die, and Earth is dying as a result. A team of astronauts are sent to revive the Sun - but the mission fails. Seven years later, a new team are sent to finish the mission as they are Earth's last hope.

The Good: Much of Sunshine we've seen before. Science Fiction only has so much it can throw into the pot without us eating leftovers. So, at this stage, you almost have to not hold being derivative against anything. Just as long as it does it well. Sunshine does it well. In fact, it does it brilliantly. It's a "claustrophobic" thriller out in space with only the characters and a ship to its tale, and the tensions mount, people come to the brink of sanity and, all the while, there's something strangely beautiful about it all.

Yes, we have seen much of this before, but Sunshine and Danny Boyle are perfectly aware of this. They don't try to hide it, they just want to craft as good a film as they can, and in that they do and give us something near-perfect as a result. Sunshine has grown in popularity the past few years because of its execution and presentation, not because it's some original piece of work. Its pace is flawless, its story constantly moving forward yet still maintaining a sense of thoughtfulness and taking time in developing itself. The visuals, the music, the way scenes play out all fold into a varied science fiction film that's thriller, drama, intelligence and in the end beautifully poetic.

The Bad: The story is rich and always moving forward, but the characters are sadly pretty one-dimensional. They're distinct, and Cillian Murphy is great as is Chris Evans, but there's not a lot of weight to any of them. There are good, humanistic moments, but the film would have probably touched a more emotional core had the characters not been so paper-thin. Instead, it uses the "mood" of the moments to get a rise out of this. It's effective, but not necessarily good in trying to have that connection that great science fiction is able to achieve. Sunshine just misses the mark in that regard, which is unfortunate.

The Ugly: If you don't quite understand why a "monster" shows up at the end, you need to really listen to the dialogue the movie has. It simply would and could not end any other way until you're face to face with the devil himself.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Sunshine Cleaning

In order to raise the tuition to send her young son to private school, a mom starts an unusual business -- a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service -- with her unreliable sister.


The Good: Despite what the trailers might tell you, the impression of it being a quirky comedy, Sunshine Cleaning is actually a rather sincere and heartfelt story about two sisters, dealing with the passing of loved ones and parenthood. The title is meant to be ironic, as there’s little sunshine in the film and everyone is rather dysfunctional, but we eventually see some light emerge from the dark tunnel. The sisters are extremely well portrayed by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt and they lift up the entire film from being a failure. It’s no coincidence the best parts of the film are when they are in a scene together. The truth is, their job with Sunshine Cleaning is merely a means, not the end, of the film. It’s a little bit more than that.

The Bad: The film has it’s charm and definitely has its great character moments of drama and meaning, highlighted by a final scene between the two sisters in a restaurant bathroom, but the film seems to teeter between wanting to be quirky and comedic with wanting to be a family drama. It doesn’t quite work on the same level as Little Miss Sunshine, which found a great balance (and was by the same producers) and doesn’t quite have the wit of something like Juno. It seems to always be searching. The highlight moments are fantastic, moving and believable, but much of the rest of the film is aimless and only waiting for the next big thing to happen to get to the end.

The Ugly: Alan Arkin plays a great Alan Arkin in this movie.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Super

After his wife falls under the influence of a drug dealer, an everyday guy transforms himself into Crimson Bolt, a superhero with the best intentions, though he lacks for heroic skills.

The Good: I don't know if there's quiet anyone who does deadpan humor as good as Rainn Wilson. I feel the problem some have shown with Super is that it's assumed to be a "superhero" film. It's not. If anything it's a story about a very mentally disturbed man and that for someone to put on a mask and costume to fight crime, they are probably having mental issues themselves. Whereas comic books glorify them, reality is there's something deeply wrong with them. More specifically, something painful to a point where there's a sadness inside that they just can't deal with.

That's where Frank comes in, and Rainn Wilson seems so involved in his role you can sometimes forget it's just an actor. It's more about a mid-life crisis and a man who doesn't understand why his life is the way it is than it is wearing a costume and fighting crime.

But Super is not about a man putting on a costume and fighting crime. It is a revenge tale full of blood and murder that's more comparable to a Death Wish than it is a Spider-Man or even a Kick-Ass. In fact, it's one of the goriest and bloodiest movies you'll probably see and, unlike in Kick-Ass, it all fits perfectly with the realm of being a man on the verge of being a psychotic and having a complete mental breakdown.

The Bad: Super is already a fairly short movie, but it's a movie I feel could have benefited from being even shorter. The flashbacks seems to stall the movie and seem unimportant, more or less re-telling us what we already know.

Then you have the Ellen Paige issue. Paige is a fine actress, but her over-the-top antics don't mesh well with the deadpan Wilson. More specifically, though, is that her character knows a great deal about comic books yet seems hell bent on killing people and not understanding what a superhero is supposed to do. Her excessive excitement combined with her depravity makes for a very, very unappealing character that brings down the film as a whole.

The Ugly: The heavy-handed ending isn't going to sit well with a lot of people, including myself. It doesn't make any difference to anything and perhaps a slow fade to black rather than a "see I told you so" would have restrained it a bit.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Super 8

After witnessing a mysterious train crash, a group of friends in the summer of 1979 begin noticing strange happenings going around in their small town, and begin to investigate into the creepy phenomenon.

The Good: I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to "liking"  something, I tend to focus more on what something isn't rather than what it is. Not the smartest the way to approach critiquing something considering I'm against being negative towards something based on what it isn't. I suppose it doesn't go both ways or, perhaps, I'm wrong in the approach. But liking something for what it isn't is a far, far more positive approach than not liking it based on expectations on what it "should be."  

In that light, what Super 8 "should be" is exactly what it is, therefore it's not being negative at all. Noting what it isn't rather than what it is, in this case, is a positive outlook. I take notice of things you don't see too often, make note of how it's unlike all the other things that are too often over-saturated with the same thing and often applaud something original and fresh rather than adaptations and sequels. Of course, that doesn't mean I'll give a bad review to a comic book movie or the fourth installment to some tired franchise, but seeing as how studios and movies as a whole are often lacking in originality, anything that takes and original path is automatically ahead of the curve in my book. Super 8 is strange in that it is simultaneous like and not like everything else out there.

To put it simply: it's unlike most other films you'll see in a theater this summer or even the past fifteen or so years for that matter. It has charm. It has emotion. It has children as leads. It's a blockbuster that actually cares about it's characters far more than it does plot or story (perhaps to a fault) and certainly spectacle outside of one phenomenal train wreck. Yes, it is unlike all those comic book superhero movies that can come across as disingenuous if not outright calculated to a cold chill, and it is certainly unlike your usual big action or science fiction movie where special effects, car chases and explosions are all the trend. Hell, it's unlike most movies out of a studio because there's nary a "movie star" in the entire thing - making the marketing and publicity department probably pull out their hair in the months up to the film's release and keeping their fingers crossed that people know about it. To all this, you have to applaud Super 8 for being something you just don't see in movies...or at least movies today.

That is where Super 8 is simultaneously like something but not in the usual negative-connotation of that phrase. I'm certain by now I don't need to say it, it's been out there for a good few weeks now in reviews and various periodicals, but Super 8 is a film meant to harken back to those great, child-driven and "sense of wonder" movies from the 1980s. When JJ Abrams set out to make Super 8, alongside producer Steven Spielberg fittingly enough, he focused less on the broad aspects of those movies (those "log line" one-sentence synopsis) and more on the things that made them memorable: characters and themes rather than "monsters" or "aliens." An example: ET isn't about a child befriending an alien, that's the easy summary and the one sentence you probably would use to describe it. But that isn't why you probably remember it so well or think on it fondly, is it? It's more the heart, the believable characters, those "heart moments" that you can't fit in one little tagline and the appealing themes of family, of growing up and dealing with childhood that parallel that one, easy-to-summarize sentence.

What carries Super 8, outside of remarkable young actors and a hell of a lot of heart to all their characters (to see child actors feel natural rather than "act" is a rare thing indeed, and all that more appealing - not to mention having child characters that don't feel "written" to be children and end up not treating them as real children in the process) is such a central theme which makes the film work on such a level and allows us to forgive the other things it might not get right. It's the same type of thing that carried films that Spielberg was involved with in the past, such as ET and The Goonies (two films that Super 8 will no-doubt be compared to the most). Here the theme is acceptance and forgiveness. It's that little strand of emotion in those ideas that separates Super 8 from all those things I mentioned earlier, action spectacle and the like, yet places it into the realm of all those things I mention here. While it's more interpretive of the era and those classic films, this is through JJ Abram's nostalgic eyes afterall, it comes across as genuine and sincere. I don't know about you, but genuine and sincere is a rare thing to have in a lot of movies today.

The Bad: Super 8 doesn't necessarily have anything "bad" going on with it as much as it has some things that just don't quite work as well as they probably should. You can see what it wants to do, but the puzzle pieces don't quite fit seamlessly, nor does it try to pound them together with a hammer, it just twist and turns until it "somewhat" fits. Perhaps the film loses focus, I tend to think it tries a little too hard to bring everything together and doesn't quite know the tone. While I certainly applaud the characters and treating kids and "real" kids and not "written" kids, the "big" story it has to carry all this doesn't quite work as well. Unfortunately, to go into detail on Super 8 at all, would ruin the surprise of the movie, but let's say it attempts to parallel two similar character threads but one enters so late that it comes across as a bit contrived and certain plot points are far more shallow than they perhaps should have been - perhaps indicating that it was trying to spread itself a bit too thin.

Super 8 also doesn't quite know what to do with its mystery at times. Maybe it unveils too much too quickly, maybe it's just that it builds up to something that didn't need build up in the first place. Still, though, with the focus being character and their struggles, and less the "big picture" it doesn't necessarily ruin the film either. Super 8 is far from perfect but far from bad either. I feel it's one of those pictures that you won't know the full perspective until some time has past and we can see where it sits in the pantheon of JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg, movies of this year of the past few and in the halls of those handful of great movies that are hard to describe but you know when you see. Is it up there with Gremlins, Stand By Me, The Iron Giant and ET or is it more on the bottom end of "still good but not greats and you probably will forget until someone brings them up" like Monster Squad, Flight of the Navigator or The Explorers? Either way...it will be in good company.

The Ugly: Elle > Dakota. Just saying...

Also, the ending credits "movie" is just fantastic and a great payoff to see after all that happened. A nice touch, Mr. Abrams.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Surrogates

People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates -- sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It's an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don't exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.

The Good: Truthfully, there’s little to get excited about with this film. That's not to say it isn't entertaining, it really can be at times, but it's not something you're going to feel satisfied with when it's over. That's sad because Bruce Willis is a solid lead and does as well as he can with the material, but he’s pretty much wasted in this film that seems to have no idea what it wants to do with itself. It does have some interesting ideas as well which were probably more provocative on paper than the final film’s blasé execution will allow.

The Bad:
If there’s one critical flaw, it’s the fact that Surrogates has a lot of ideas but is so utterly generic and apathetic in presenting it. In fact, everything about the film lacks an angle, a personality, a tone to identify with. It’s as a-typical and boring as you can get, and for a futuristic world where people live from their living rooms and control robots, you have to really try to make it uninteresting. Either that, or just not care, which is what I think Surrogates falls into and lacks an identity as a result. I think there’s a world here, there’s maybe even some unique ideas, but it seems uncaring in it. There’s also the complete predictability of the story and even the action is uninteresting and special effects are often mediocre (although the robotic effects are pretty solid). It doesn’t even try and hide the twist or the secrets and because the world and characters are bland  you end up simply not caring about any secrets to begin with...if anything at all. I suppose it's biggest flaw is that it should have been much more.

The Ugly: Honestly, this films story should have been set a little further into the future (ala Minority Report which the film strives so hard to be). I could accept the drastic life change of the societal masses a little better if it were 50 years in the future than merely 7 or 8.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Survivor

A Foreign Service Officer in London tries to prevent a terrorist attack set to hit New York, but is forced to go on the run when she is framed for crimes she did not commit.

The Good: How can I best describe Survivor? Better than you might expect but not memorable either? Well directed and acted but kind of vapid and cliche?

Why it’s all that and more, but it comes down to this: it’s a well made thriller that doesn’t do anything particularly bad but isn’t setting the world on fire with its tense moments, characters or action sequences. There’s a handful around but none that really make you think it’s a movie that is unique and distinct. It’s an ok movie that feels fine with just being ok, which kind makes you wonder why bother in the first place.

It’s easy to forget that Milla Jovovich is actually a pretty good actor. She’s so often put in films where she says little and just fights and kicks ass. She’s also in so many bad movies that it’s hard to really get a pulse on her talent, but when I see her playing a regular person she always seems to give it her all. Here she plays the smart girl on the run well, and works nicely against the cold character played by Bronson who probably isn’t nearly as cool and badass as you want him to be, but has some decent moments at least.

And that’s really Survivor in a nutshell: it has some decent moments. That’s it. That’s not a movie, though. A movie is a series of moments, not just a handful stretched across an hour and a half as you struggle to get invested in it.

The Bad: Survivor’s biggest problem is its plot. In that there isn’t really much of one. Someone wants to do something bad, they try to kill some people to cover up that fact, Milla survives, an assassin is on her tail to quiet her and that’s it. There’s also this sub-plot of a British officer after her that mysteriously vanishes from the story two-third into it. I’m still trying to figure that one out, but I thought surely it would payoff. It never does.

Then again, the movie kind of never does. It’s a movie where our hero needs to get that final moment, the bad guy and conspiracy plot get exposed…and none of that really happens. At least, it doesn't in a satisfying way.

it seems the whole movie struggles to find something interesting to do. It has a good enough set up, but it seems to never live up to that or deliver the feeling something was achieved by the endgame. There's not a lot to really say about it, to be quite honest. It's a movie that has some nice performances and looks good but never hits it home with the thrills, plot and action that is stages. In a time when direct to VOD/DVD action movie can be damn good (Everly, this year, is a perfect example, or The Guest last year) or have limited theatrical runs before digital release, Survivor can't even muster up enough to bat an eye at.

The Ugly: That last title card before the credits…wow. Was that the point of the movie?

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Swamp Thing

Dr. Alec Holland, hidden away in the depths of a murky swamp, is trying to create a new species - a combination of animal and plant capable of adapting and thriving in the harshest conditions. Unfortunately he becomes subject of his own creation and is transformed . . . Arcane, desperate for the formula attempts to capture the Swamp Thing. An explosive chase ensues that ultimately ends with a confrontation between Holland and a changed Arcane . . .

The Good: A goofy, campy flick that would be damn forgettable if it didn’t have this unabashed sense of fun about it. It’s a guilty pleasure by every definition – it’s got problems and not particularly well made, but you still have a good time watching it. It has a solid heroine with Adrienne Barbeau, and Craven knows exactly what aspects of her to accentuate, and the set of bad guys and villains might be stock, but they serve their purpose well as they get in the path of Swamp Thing who is actually more emotive and appealing thanks to well-done makeup and actor Dick Durock. It’s not quite high-up of films one might consider in the pantheon of guilty pleasure flicks, and truth me told its a bit of a forgotten film even in the filmography of Wes Craven, but an enjoy flick to see on a Saturday night with friends and a few drinks.

Also, I have to say for a 1982 flick, it still looks and moves quite well. Never sluggish, always moving forward, stays light and fun. I’ve noticed that about a lot of Craven’s films. They tend to age very very well, Swamp Thing included.

The Bad: Swamp Thing is really a mess. It’s an entertaining mess, sure, but still a mess. The action is sloppy, the stunts uneventful and the choreography not much beyond “Go over there and hit that guy a few times.” It doesn’t quite have a whole lot of creativity going for it either. It’s a camera crew, a bunch of stunt guy and another guy dressed as Swamp Thing fighting a lot. There’s not a lot of big action moments to really define itself and it rarely leaves the Swamp setting to entice you with more interesting visuals and locations.

The Ugly: Want to hear something incredibly stupid. When writing a review, I like to see what others think as well (maybe they bring up interesting points that I hadn’t realized etc...). Then I came across some half-assed review: “What Brit writer Alan Moore made work on the printed page, is as dumb as the plot synopsis makes it sounds. “

Yeah, except Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing didn’t come out until after this film. In fact, the whole reason why DC went to revive Swamp Thing was because the film brought in a new interest into the character. Moore completely reinvented it when he came on board, so don’t hold a film that is based on the earlier versions of Swamp Thing to that standard, please.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Sword of Doom

Through his unconscionable actions against others, a sociopath samurai builds a trail of vendettas that follow him closely.  

The Good: The Sword of Doom asks a simple question: what if our hero wasn't heroic? Tsukue is, by all accounts, a blood-thirsty, violent and evil man. He kills without remorse. Has not a shred of decency. Is arrogant. There's one scene, in particular, that occurs that makes you realize that this man, our main character, a samurai, is not someone you want to route for. You aren't even sure if you can pity him. Samurai have always had questionable morals in jidaigeki films, but they, usually, have good intentions if their methods aren't always the righteous path taken to get there.  In Sword of Doom, it sets out to make the antithesis of what is assumed of a samurai.  Think of Sword of Doom as the "Scarface," in all that films sociopathic glory, of samurai cinema. Unlike Scarface, though, Tsukue's past literally begins to haunt him.

As a samurai film, full of swordplay, violence and the like, The Sword of Doom meets all expectations. Where it excels, though, is as a study of character. Can violence make a man evil, or is he evil already and uses violence as his way of life? Perhaps it's a never ending cycle that, as you see in Sword of Doom, leads to insanity. Sword of Doom is one of the most visceral samurai films to be created. Directed by Kihachi Okamoto, who's previous film in 1965, Samurai Assassin, is another can't-miss samurai classic starring the legendary Toshiro Mifune who also makes an appearance in Doom, we are shown a very candid film that disregards the presumptions people have of samurai. We realize that Tsukue has little redeeming values. We realize we can't route for him. We realize, finally, that we are watching the villain's perspective on everything. He might act like our wonderfully stoic samurai, wandering and fighting, but it's entirely in his manner that changes it. He carries himself not with confidence, but with arrogance. That slight alteration makes all the difference.

The film exudes mood like few others. It's a dark movie in content and presentation. Harsh contrasts of black and white, long close ups of faces and expressions that suggest thoughts and emotions, notably anger and more notably again in the final act of the film. It's full of detail and precision, as only a samurai could expect in a film about them.

The Bad: Much as been made regarding the film's ending, which unfortunately I can't quite  get into detail without utterly ruining it for those that haven't seen it. All I will say is that, while I do agree it is abrupt and, perhaps a bit unsatisfying, at the same time I couldn't think of any better moment to end the film or any other film where an ending would be as fitting. Deep down, though, I would have loved to feel as though the various points and plots and things that appeared important were treated as such by the endgame.

The Ugly: I want more Mifune!

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

In Seoul, the deaf and dumb worker Ryu is very attached to his sister, who needs a transplantation of kidney. He tries to donate his own kidney to his sister, but his blood B type is not compatible with her. When Ryu is fired from Ilshin Electronics, he meets illegal dealers of organs and the criminals propose Ryu's kidney plus ten millions Won per a kidney suitable for his sister. Ryu accepts the trade, but he does not have money to pay for the surgery. His anarchist revolutionary girlfriend Cha Young-mi convinces him to kidnap Yossun, the daughter of his former employer Park, who owns Ilshin Electronics. However, a tragedy happens, generating revenge and a series of acts of violence.

The Good: “Revenge” is probably one of the simplest plots in storytelling. A person is wronged at some point and sets out to get retribution, usually by exposing the wrongs at hand or simply killing people in their way. It’s simple, effective and allows us to feel attached to the wronged person and enjoy their revenge alongside them. Easy sympathy makes of easy enjoyment. Chan-wook Park’s vengeance films are these at heart, but with a slight twist. Nothing in Park’s world is so easily defined, it’s all a shade of gray and his tales of revenge are less Death Wish and people dying, but more an exploration of justice and morality being questioned, not to mention a character study along the way of how the human condition can be explored in numerous ways and how emotions can turn on a dime without notice.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a violent, yet methodical film that, though it might be the “simplest” out of his Vengeance trilogy, still maintains a high level of commentary on the pursuit and outright purpose of what the “right” - of course what is right is merely a matter of perspective. The world “Sympathy” is used almost in ironic fashion here, because in both pursuits of revenge that occur, it’s easy to feel sympathy for everyone, yet at the same time difficult to. Our “hero,” Ryu, isn’t fighting against a group of thugs, but an establishment and a society that structures itself to allow indifference and uncaring thanks to social class, that’s one sympathy. Then he goes to rectify that with a rather bumbling plan causing harm to others, who, in turn, seek out their own vengeance – that’s their sympathy. It’s one hand washing the other here, and makes for a unique conflict on the old revenge tale and certainly makes for an interesting dynamic on the cycle of eye for an eye (as they say, the whole world will eventually become blind). It’s more pity in how it all plays out than sympathy for intentions.

The Bad: Still, though, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance lacks the consistency of Park’s latter two vengeance tales and really makes it difficult to stand beside individuals when they do things that are, simply, bad or at least obviously bad decisions. It’s interesting how it turns a 180, where you start to dislike the hero more than the villain, but doesn’t quite handle it all with a refined take – more a heavy hand. Also, at times, you aren’t sure if it’s wanting to be serious or darkly comedic. This unbalanced tonality makes for an unsympathetic film, though that is probably slight the point to begin with.

It also has a problem with convenience in the plot. Those are all too obvious, though, and I won’t detail them here – but basically things happen and they just happen to help in a way to push the plot forward, not a story that flows naturally or is convincing or even attempt to hide the convenient development themselves. It’s a little lazy and forced. Not film-breaking, though.

The Ugly: As I mentioned, there’s slight nods and portions where it feels as though it’s meant to be darkly funny. I simply cannot tell if it is. The timing and the way things are set up in a scene seem like they would be, such as the very end where everyone smokes and takes drags at the EXACT same time (I chuckled, maybe that’s me....but am I supposed to chuckle?). I think these moments tend to undermine the political message and human drama, though, and aren’t nearly as balanced well as, say, a Hitchcock thriller. That’s because the world Park paints is a dreary one, and its characters even moreso, so when something “funny” is attempted, it simply sticks out more than it should.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Recent Movie Reviews

Sept 10: Southpaw

Sept 8: Love & Mercy

Sept 3: Cop Car

Sept 1: Magic Mike XXL

Aug 25: Straight Outta Compton

Aug 20: Inside Out

Aug 18: Trainwreck

Aug 11: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Aug 4: The Tribe

July 28: Ant-Man

July 23: The Gunman

July 21: Creep

July 16: Terminator Genisys

Twitter

Facebook

Links and Friends



Search

only search Digital Polyphony

Share

ShareThis