Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Movies T - V

-T-
Take Me Home Tonight (2/5)
Take Shelter (3.5/5)
Take This Waltz (4/5)
Taken (3.5/5)
Taken 2 (2/5)  

Taken 3 (0.5/5)   
                                                       The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) (2/5)
The Tall Man (3/5)
Tangled (3.5/5)
Taxi Driver (5/5)
Team America (4/5)
Ted (3.5/5)
Ted 2 (2/5)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (3/5)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 (1.5/5)
Tell No One (3.5/5)
The Terminal (3.5/5)
Terminator, The (4/5)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (4.5/5)
Terminator 2: Special Extended Edition (5/5)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (3/5)
Terminator Salvation (2.5/5)
Terminator Genisys (1.5/5)
They Came Together (4/5)
They Live (3.5/5)

They Were Expendable (4/5)
The Thin Man (4.5/5)
The Thing (4/5)

30 Minutes or Less (3/5)
The 39 Steps (4/5)
The Third Man (5/5)
Thirst (3.5/5)

13 Assassins (4.5/5)
This is 40 (3/5)
This is Spinal Tap (4.5/5)
This is the End (3.5/5)
This Means War (1.5/5)
Thor (4/5)
Thor: The Dark World (3.5/5)
Three Days of the Condor (3.5/5)
3 Days to Kill (2.5/5)
3:10 to Yuma (4/5)
Throne of Blood (5/5)
Tightrope (3.5/5)
Time After Time (4/5)
Time Bandits (3.5/5)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (4/5)
Titanic (4/5)
300 (3/5)
300: Rise of an Empire (2/5)
To Catch a Thief (3.5/5)

To Rome With Love (2.5/5)  
  
To the Wonder (2.5/5)  
                                            Tombstone (4/5)
Tootsie (4/5)
Top Five (3.5/5)
Top Secret! (3.5/5)
Torn Curtain (2.5/5)
Total Recall (4/5)

Total Recall (2012) 1.5/5
Touch of Evil (4.5/5)
The Tourist (1.5/5)

Tower Heist (2/5)
The Town (4.5/5)
Toy Story (4/5)
Toy Story 2 (5/5)

Toy Story 3 (4.5/5)
Trainspotting (4/5)
Trainwreck (4/5)
Trance (3/5)
Transcendence (1.5/5)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (1/5)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (1.5/5)
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2.5/5)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (5/5)
The Tree of Life (4/5)
The Trial (4.5/5)
The Tribe (4/5)

Trick r Treat (4/5)
Trigun: Badlands Rumble (3/5)
The Trip (3.5/5)
Troll Hunter (3.5/5)
Tron (3.5/5)
Tron: Legacy (3.5/5)
Tropic Thunder (3.5/5)
True Grit (4.5/5)
True Grit (2010) (4/5)
True Lies (4/5)
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (3/5)
2001: A Space Odyssey (4/5)

12 Monkeys (4.5/5)
12 Years a Slave (4.5/5)
21 Jump Street (4/5)
22 Jump Street (3.5/5)
28 Days Later (4.5/5)
The Twilight Samurai (5/5)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (3.5/5)
2 Guns (3/5)

-U-

Umberto D. (5/5)
The Unborn (1.5/5)

Unbreakable (3.5/5)
Unbroken (2/5)
Under the Skin (4/5)
Unforgiven (5/5)
Universal Soldier: Regeneration (3/5)
Unknown (3/5)
Unstoppable (3/5)
UP (4/5)
Up in the Air (4.5/5)

Upstream Color (3/5)


-V-

Valkyrie (3.5/5)
Veronica Mars (3/5)
Vertigo (4.5/5)
                                                                  V/H/S (3.5/5)
V/H/S/2 (4/5)
Videodrome (4/5)
The Virgin Spring (4.5/5)


Take Me Home Tonight

Four years after graduation, an awkward high school genius uses his sister's boyfriend's Labor Day party as the perfect opportunity to make his move on his high school crush. 

The Good: If there was an award for re-creating the 1980s with a bit of class, Take Me Home Tonight would certainly win it. It's not  parody, it's not meant to rely on cliches and stereotypes and all the 1980s pop culture references that other films rely on. The 80s is an era beaten to death so there's no need for that. I think the filmmakers behind this movie knew that and that is probably it's greatest attribute. It's less a parody and more wanting to emulate the films of the era and pretend it's some lost movie you dug out of a time capsule along with some Tina Turner cassettes and an autographed Scott Baio poster.

Is that enough to carry a film? No. It's nice to see for a comedy, it's so easy to mock the 1980s, but it can't carry it. The characters are overall likable, the directing is right out of the era itself and there's enough nostalgia trips to make it all entertaining for at least one watch. But even if you grew up watching movies like this in the 1980s, it fails to live up to the standards of the films it draws upon.

The Bad: Other than a trip down memory lane to the classic 80s movies of yore that Take Me Home Tonight pays homage to, there really isn't a ton that will have you laughing. Sure, the popped collars, New Wave dances and occasional pop culture reference are keen, but because the film plays most of it straight (which, again, I actually like) it needs to have comedy written in. Smart comedy. Comedy that is able to transcend its own generation. You know, comedy that's found in the movies it's desperately trying to emulate. It never really finds a foothold for itself as it flails wildly to make something happen and never that funny as a result.

It could have been plucked right out of 1986. It does a descent enough job not being a parody. But it never does a good job being funny and all we're left with is a dry and boring film that might work well as some lost film found in a time capsule, but it's hidden well below better comedies that were probably in there first.

The Ugly: The film does such a terrific job feeling in its own place and time. It really could have been some lost movie from the 1980s as  it rarely draws attention to the fact its set in the 1980s. It's so unfortunate that it gets this aspect so very right, but so much else so very wrong.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Take Shelter

Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself. 

The Good: Dread and anxiety can be difficult things to present on film. It's something that is entirely dependent on the execution - sort of how a writer can use the language in a book to build it or even a musician to choose the right instruments in the ensemble. It's something you can't write on paper for a film and expect it to translate to the screen as you hope it will. In the case of Take Shelter, it gets two things perfectly right: a small scale and restrained directing approach, most of the film taking place in a just a few locations in a 'lingering' sort of way that brings realism to their presentation, and great performances from its actors, in particular Michael Shannon who commands every moment he's on screen as a man who may very well be losing his mind.

I suppose that's to be expected when your dreams are full of apocalyptic visions and you have an undying obsession to do something about it, in his case to build a shelter. It's interesting how the film plays this out: you really don't know yourself. Sure, he's having these dreams and you're wittiness to them, and you can see the toll it's taken on him and those around him, but there's no indication that it's real. It really keeps you guessing and wondering, and that anxiety that the character is feeling ends up influencing your viewing of the film. You share it with him. You sympathize with him. And like him you don't know what to make of it all. Not only does Take Shelter manage to handle the notion of dread and anticipatory fear so well, it actually makes you feel it as well, even if a little during a passing moment. That's success in the medium if there ever was one.

The Bad: While restrained and very assured of itself, the film does turn repetitive to a degree of overzealous anxiety. It's finely paced, but it also dips into the same well a bit too often. The first three or four times we witness the bleak mindset and fearful dreams of the main character, it works well, but by the sixth time it begins to wear thin and the impact that it has on us diminishes. While Shannon is able to get us through fine, his fear and worry begins to almost become a parody of the legitimate feelings we witnessed an hour prior. I wouldn't go as so far to say it becomes laughable, but it does make you realize the point is made and perhaps the film and plot should progress to something else (thankfully it does even if delayed, and with a satisfying end)

The Ugly: This is only director Jeff Nichol's second film (and second with Michael Shannon, I might add). The maturity of his ability, the sense of contemplative restraint and haunting shots, is something a 32 year old, young director just shouldn't have. This is a thoughtful and incredibly mature film that feels directed by an "old hand" that doesn't rely on gimmicks or flashiness. Even moreso considering he won the Critics Grand Prize at Cannes. We might be seeing the early founding of a potentially great director. The greats always show flashes in their late 20s/early 30s…Jeff Nichols might end up being just that, well ahead of the curve of some directors twice his age.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Take This Waltz

A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street.

The Good: A feeling natural and believable life and dialogue brings Take This Waltz to a realm of being something many could relate to - to a point where you swear you've probably been in these similar situations to have these types of conversations. There's something very organic here, as friends feel like friends, a yearning boils to a point of passion or a love becomes erotic. It's all in the delivery of Take This Waltz. Candid. Intense. Funny. It runs the gamut of simple dialogue that, quite honestly, is how people actually speak.

More importantly is there's such profound purpose in every line and, more importantly, how these actors delver it. It's a great cast, Michelle Williams again showing just how damn good of an actress she is. Not only that, filmmaker Sarah Polley shows that that she is a refined, contemplative type of director that mixes elements from humor to incredible drama in an effective manner. You feel as though it's speaking from the heart, from real life, and not once do you really doubt that. It's not a comedy. I'd barely classify it as a drama as much as it is an observation of a situation. It's sporadic in that. But such is life.

Take This Waltz is especially eloquently photographed. It's an intimate and patient looking film that seems to caress its care to your hand rather than try to bombard you with it trying too hard. It's a gentle film that's intelligent about relationships. Love, chemistry, past regrets or alternate paths we may take is the heart of it all. Nothing feels too "written" (and perhaps too loose for its own good) as we peek into a window of relationship commentary that echoes Jules and Jim or The Graduate. It's about finding a purpose when things, perhaps, begin to lose the purpose you thought they had.

The Bad: Despite its ability to capture the nuance of conversation and relationships, Take This Waltz is held down by unlikeable characters and a consistent sense of boredom. Everyone speaks in constant whisper, spend more time looking in a sense of longing or confusion, or attempting to be contemplative, but never really do or say anything. We really end up knowing very little about any of the characters, only their situation.

The movie certainly turns sharply on its heels at one point. But despite the fact the message is "the heart wants what the heart wants" I can't help but feel a bit of resentment towards Margo. I like this element, life and feelings are never black and white and being quite honest about it, but don't at the same time. I don't think Margo acts dumb or short-sighted yet I can't believe how dumb and short-sighted she is. It's an odd conflict that kind of diminishes her character in the end. She's not a bad person, but you damn sure aren't routing for her either and really aren't sure what she's thinking by the end.

The Ugly: I know what the shower scene is meant to represent, but I don't think it needed to be so…direct. In a film about subtlety, this scene was about as subtle as shoving a piano off the roof and hitting Seth Rogen with it. Then again, it might just be the excessive naked old people.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Taken

Seventeen year-old Kim is the pride and joy of her father Bryan Mills. Bryan is a retired agent who left the Secret Service to be near Kim in California. Kim lives with her mother Lenore and her wealthy stepfather Stuart. Kim manages to convince her reluctant father to allow her to travel to Paris with her friend Amanda. When the girls arrive in Paris they share a cab with a stranger named Peter, and Amanda lets it slip that they are alone in Paris. Using this information an Albanese gang of human traffickers kidnaps the girls. Kim barely has time to call her father and give him information. Her father gets to speak briefly to one of the kidnappers and he promises to kill the kidnappers if they do not let his daughter go free. The kidnapper wishes him "good luck," so Bryan Mills travels to Paris to search for his daughter and her friend.

The Good: Director Pierre Morel knows how to direct action. His utterly brilliant piece of action cinema (with an unfortunate bad story) District B13 shows he knows exactly what he’s doing. His action is clear, precise and always serves a purpose. In other words, he doesn’t throw in an action scene because he’s obligated to. He lets it develop and understands pacing in terms of story, then has the action gradually build within the narrative. His second film, Taken, also shows a director on the rise in storytelling as well, the only hindrance to his first film, and combine that with his already-perfect understanding of action sequences, and you have a director to look out for. The story is simple and straightforward, Liam Neeson is perfectly cast and I think the young director having him as the lead only helps in character and, perhaps, a sense of legitimacy to it all. He’s stern, methodically and convincing in his abilities and desire to inflict punishment on those in his path.

The Bad: The only major aspect of Taken that it succumbs to is the lack of originality. When it comes to an action movie plot, there’s really only so much you can put out there. It’s definitely a “been there, done that” routine, even if the execution of that routine is so well-crafted. It’s by-the-numbers and isn’t quite as smart as it likes to think it is. It implies it’s a story about justice and revenge, but it’s really just about getting through it all. It lacks the compelling thriller nature of the Bourne films and their respective plots of mysteries and thread-weaving yet matches it in the action and craftsmanship department. In other words, it’s a poor-man’s Bourne movie, but still a fun one.

The Ugly: Listen to your parents, kids. Especially if they’re former CIA and, most likely, know what the hell they’re talking about.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Taken 2

In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.

The Good: It's exactly as you expect, so if you want to just see a lot of brutal fighting, killing and some nicely structured chase sequences, this movie is for you. Liam Neeson is as convincing as ever, and probably a tad darker in this sequel where the body count is upped and the story put not so much on a backburner, like the original, but not bothered with at all. Action fans will dig it, even when it's clumsy, but it fails to really grab you.

The Bad: There comes a point in Taken 2 where you say to yourself "you know what...I get it," and probably have a sudden urge to no longer watch it. Well, you'd be right to. When a movie has you thinking that, and that you really feel no need to watch any further, then it's on it, not you. Hell, you'd be in the right to just call it a day. "Yes, Liam Neeson will continue to kill and beat up thugs and save his family" because that's all this sequel can do. It isn't going to offer surprises, it's not there for surprises, it's there to follow a formula.

But then that formula just gets tired. You've seen all Taken 2 has to really offer in the first hour and watch the rest more out of feeling obligated rather than truly wanting to. "Well, I've already watched the first hour, so better watch the rest." No surprises, which is probably the film's biggest flaw. If you're going to do a sequel to Taken, you better try to change it up. But it doesn't. And an uninspired action movie simply going through the motions is the worst kind.

The Ugly: I remember seeing Neeson out promoting the film. He was out doing his duty, you go on those press tours if you're the star, but you could tell he didn't want to be there. He wasn't enthusiastic, other than him being Liam Neeson who's hard not to like, but as far as talkinga bout the film it was often along the lines of "Yeah...it's kind of like the first." He was just going through the motions, much like Taken 2 itself. Tired, over it, and just rushing to the end.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Taken 3

Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name.

The Good: Not a damn thing. Maybe some nice hand-to-hand choreography? Does it matter?

The Bad: What a dull, loud, bore of an action movie. That's the biggest problem with Taken 3. Nobody really cares and it shows. They just throw a bunch of stuff out there with nothing to tie it together and none of it ends up feeling like it does anything worthwhile and, worst of all, doesn’t even feel like one cohesive movie. Hell, even those "so bad its good" action flicks can manage that. Action movies don't need a lot of story, but you do need it to have something to hitch its wagon to and take you on the ride.

Taken 3 doesn't do that. It's just a series of scenes that feel inconsequential to each other and is a perfect representation of how not to make a movie.

You know you have a shitty script when you have to have characters explain everything all the time. Not only that, the whole “you did this then this because of this so now I’m doing this…” is just an insult to any audience. They probably knew none of it fit really well and the plot was lost, so they make sure to explain it so you can say "oh...ok then” just to a) fill up more time because Taken 3 is barely feature-length and b) just make sure the utterly convoluted plot at least makes sense (until you actually think about it).

Let’s talk about setting. It’s is also awful. Even the utterly mediocre Taken 2 (from the same director) had an interesting European setting to set itself in. Now we have a rather mundane urban setting in Los Angeles with mundane, poorly shot action scenes (save for one pretty nice set piece in a convenience store) and a lot of loud noises. Liam Neeson really doesn't have a lot to say and do, he's as bored as the story is with itself, but the egregious fault lies on the complete waste of one of today's best character actors: Forrest Whittaker.

Whittaker has absolutely nothing to do in this movie. It starts as though he might be a player in this game, almost in a Columbo-esque crime solver who could put the pieces together and help Neeson clear his name, but it’s completely pointless as its dropped in favor of all that poorly-shot action I mentioned. He’s not really hunting Neeson as much as he has an off-screen side story that never feel relevant and only until their one scene together at the end, the one where we have everything explained to us, is there even a hint that they were on the same page.

Yet that scene falls flat. Hell, there’s this weird tone to it that makes you think the movie is going to go a little longer, as though there’s some tension happening, but no. It just ends. It’s as bored with itself as we are of it.

Taken 3 is an awful movie. It just is. It can't even manage its time in its own relative space where we get no sense of its passage. Apparently, it covers a few days but we never quite see that or even get the sense of it. Come to think of it, I don't even think there's a single scene that takes place at night. Hell, by this film's logic, someone dies one day and less than 24 hours later the funeral is already going on and less than 24 hours later after that all that big gun-fighting, neck-chopping and sternum-kicking is done and over with. It fails on every conceivable level other than a few decent fist-fights. Bad action. Badly shot. Poorly edited. Atrociously paced and dully acted.

I’m someone who gives the benefit of the doubt for action movies, but they still need to create a decent enough movie at the end of the day. They still have to be competent to entertain even if it’s a “turn your brain off and just enjoy” movie. Taken 3 seems to go out of its way to not even manage that. It wastes your time because it wastes its own and is, at only February of this year, one of the worst movies of 2015.

The Ugly: If you're going to call yourself "Megaton" and use that as your credited director name, you better fuckin' bring it. You better earn it. You better live up to that. For a fleeting moment, the man did with the very solid Columbiana. Now he's wasted our time with two awful Taken sequels and let's just hope Besson and company drops this franchise before it becomes a self-parody of itself. Taken 3 does nothing well and for an action movie that falls entirely on the director.

Final Rating: 0.5 out of 5


The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.

The Good: A strong performance by Washington more or less salvages a bad script and over-indulgent directing. There's certainly an energy here, but it's not exactly a plot that requires it nor is it something that is beneficial by having it.

The Bad: "Why didn't we send the money by helicopter?" asks James Gandolfini. Do we get an answer? No. Because the answer would reveal more of the ridiculousness of a good portion of the story - especially considering helicopters are suddenly abundant 15 minutes later. Another would be "if you have internet access in your little subway car, and there a guy streaming it and its all over the news, how in the hell do you not see it too?" or "how the hell do you not see a wide-open laptop on a subway car, especially a car you, as a terrorist, walk and scan over dozens of times" or "the girlfriend wants her boyfriend to talk to her when he has a goddamn gun to his head and he's trying to be quiet?" There are many utterly stupid, almost angering, questions like this in Pelham 123 which does its best to force some tension thanks to points that, in the grand scheme, we really don't care about. We don't get to know any of the characters on the subway car, we know little about Washington's character (his moments with his wife seemingly arbitrary and with no emotional weight whatsoever) and Travolta who hams it up at any given moment and is hard to buy as some brilliant tactician in any way. Hell, even Michael Bay is able to express characters at least (whether you like them or not), and those are action movies, this is meant to be a thriller.

Tony Scott's approach to scenes is the biggest issue here. This is a dialogue-driven script with some shoehorned action moments. Scott's ever-moving camera, slow motion, fast editing and frame cutting is just an absolute awful fit for this material. How can you express tension with the pacing presentation of someone with ADD?

The Ugly: Just see the original or read the book. Better villain, more patience, better pacing and a more fitting end. This is certainly the Tony Scott version of a classic thriller, pointless action sequences and all. And how unabashedly awful is renaming the character "Walter" in homage to Walter Mathau? Maybe some appreciate it, to me it was too tongue-in-cheek and does nothing but remind us there's a better version of this story out there.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


The Tall Man

When her child goes missing, a mother looks to unravel the legend of the Tall Man, an entity who allegedly abducts children.

The Good: A moody, often confusing but bold and earnest film that's not at all what you think it will be. At least, not at all like the trailers make it seem…or the first half of the film for that matter. The Tall Man is a moody, atmospheric piece that tends to go the extra mile in exploring its own concept. Even exploring the beliefs behind myths, legends…and how, at the end of the day, it's something entirely different but with just enough truth to spur the imagination. The Tall Man is a film entirely reliant on its twists and turns and very hard deviations from what you expect, assume and maybe even want in a film like this.

I say "A film like this" because The Tall Man isn't a horror film. At best, it's a thriller, but most of the time it's an exploration of its own ideas. This is intriguing, and certainly goes against the norm for this type of movie which makes me think what people expect will probably play for or against their own reaction to the film. It has a great look to it, Laugier having a great understanding of setting a scene, and Jessica Biel goes against type and plays her role nicely as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Once you realize why that is, and where the film goes with her character later on, makes her performance that much more impressive as she gets beyond the "pretty starlet" stereotype she's associated with and dives head first into this film's difficult and complex lead character.

The Bad: Like Pascal Laugier's previous film, Martyrs, The Tall Man drastically turns itself on its head half way through. Unlike Martyrs, it does show in a manner where the entire tone and conceit of the film is altered, changing from a dark, moody thriller into a film that's more a study about moral ambiguity. The transition is incredibly hard, like pointing one direction with one hand and punching you in the gut with the other. A film changing its subject matter and tone is fine, but not in such a harsh, drastic manner that brings in issues of pacing, structure and no longer answering questions. Watch the first ten minutes of this film, then the final ten minutes and you would swear they're two completely different movies.

This causes for a sensation of discomfort, not an intentional one, just a confusing one. The first portion of the film is about a mystery to be solved, then it solves it, then it needs something else to do and it turns that mystery and that answer into exploring the "why" behind it all that's more akin to a dramatic novella than a film about a Tall Man that kidnaps children. Truth is, the film tries to be more complicated than it really needs to be, and the exploring of moral ambiguity more an expository exercise with an over dependence on twists than a coherent narrative framework.

The Ugly: Despite the issues, this is a film I certainly recommend for genre fans…simply because it is very bold and very interesting and not a typical genre film. You may end up loving it, may just outright hate it, but it will still keep you interested. Laugier has shown he isn't merely going to make a horror or thriller film as we might expect - and personally I like any filmmaker that loves to toy with your expectations.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Tangled

The magically long-haired Rapunzel has spent her entire life in a tower, but now that a runaway thief has stumbled upon her, she is about to discover the world for the first time, and who she really is. 

The Good: Light, fun, familiar yet not as much in the past ten years or so and a tad unapologetic in the process, Tangled (still quite the awful title I might add) is a no-frills, straight up story of lost princesses, kingdoms, love, yearning to be free and a few sidekicks for good measure. In other words, a Disney film, and though it’s about as boilerplate of a Disney film that you could ever imagine, it’s also a fleeting, fun and hugely entertaining one.

The story does a good job, at least enough, to reform the classic Repunzel tale into a fun, sharp and gorgeous-looking animated romp with memorable characters (and great voice acting I might add) and a terrific artistic design of its world. There’s a sensation here that Disney hasn’t dabbled that much in quite a while and that a lot of current animation houses don’t bother with: gleeful childhood charm. It’s not something that will appeal to as wide an audience as what Pixar has been dishing out, but for kids it’s one of the best animated films in quite a while. Think back to when you were a child, you probably enjoyed the likes of Little Mermaids and Lion Kings, before that Sleeping Beauties and Snow Whites. This is in that vein, in an attempt to recapture it and all the cliches that come across with it. Is it a refreshing take on an old premise? No...but it still dos the premise right.

The Bad: For a film that wants to be unique and away from the norm, Tangled really plays everything safe.  Even for a film that is rooted in nostalgia and familiarity, it’s almost TOO safe in that regard.  It alters a classic Tale and adds more to it, but everything is still very much a Disney-safe film with sidekicks, goofy dialogue, awkward love and musical numbers that you quickly forget. The themes and “lessons” are far too familiar and exactly the same themes and lessons that surround a number of other Disney films and the structure is something we’ve seen far, far too many times for a film like this. It does what it does well, but what it does we’ve seen well done many times before and a sensation of tiredness surrounds an otherwise very entertaining picture. Much of its purpose is intentional, but there’s so much in terms of themes, music (very familiar lyrics certainly) and story structure that’s been done before, it makes you wonder why they didn’t try to shake more of it up. You can still shake things up and alter more yet retain the purpose of sweetness and charm and even nostalgia.

The Ugly: Tangled sometimes sulks to an almost-parody, and though I’m thankful it never sees that all the way through, the moments it does wallow in self-awareness seem to stick out like a sore thumb. Better, though, is that it doesn’t dive into pop culture and lets the idea of being timeless work its magic. It’s straight-up fantasy kingdom and very much its own world, and the more I try and think of a recent animated film that did that the more I can’t think of one.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Taxi Driver

Vietnam vet Travis Bickle is 26, a loner in the mean streets of New York City, slipping slowly into isolation and violent misanthropy. In solving his insomnia by driving a yellow cab on the night shift, he grows increasingly disgusted by the low-lifes that hang out at night: "Someday a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets." His touching attempts to woo Betsy, a Senator's campaign worker, turn sour when he takes her to a porn movie on their first date. He even fails in his attempt to persuade child prostitute Iris to desert her pimp and return to her parents and school. Driven to the edge by powerlessness, he buys four handguns and sets out to assassinate the Senator, heading for the infamy of a 'lone crazed gunman'...

The Good: Part thriller. Part character study. Part social commentary. Taxi Driver is the film that would emerge if an art-house director collaborated with a thriller screenwriter. Wait a minute...that's exactly what happened. Screenwriter Paul Shraeder was a young and ambitious writer who just happened to an acquaintance with one Martin Scorsese, a young and ambitious director. This was their first film together and would not be their last (Raging Bull and the underrated Bringing Out the Dead will be two more). It was perfect match, both playing off each other's style and abilities: one a young screenwriter inspired by subtle writers such as Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu  and the other a director still fresh out of film school influenced by the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism and British cinema (and, of course, classic American films of the 30s and 40s about crime and gangsters). The result is one of his finest films. Complex, always compelling, about obsession, infatuation and violence. Impeccably shot and carried well by a young DeNiro, we're given the story of a trouble man and can't tear our eyes from it, even as he slowly dives more and more into insanity. What makes it all the more compelling is the fact the this lead character is neither hero nor villain. You route for him, but you still don't like him very much. For this reason is why Taxi Driver is such a landmark film. It takes risks and sees them all the way through without flinching.

The Bad: Taxi Driver is a difficult film to find faults in. It's so incredibly unique and one-of-a-kind that you don't know if it's failing or succeeding at what it's doing. It's unconventional and in the echelon of Scorsese films, it's often at the top two or three. That's pretty good company. If Taxi Driver didn't tell the world that Scorsese was one of the best directors in America, his next film surely will.

The Ugly: The depravity of DeNiro's character sadly overshadows an incredibly deep and masterful script and the real character gets overshadowed: the city itself.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Team America: World Police

Popular Broadway actor Gary Johnston is recruited by the elite counter-terrorism organization Team America: World Police. As the world begins to crumble around him, he must battle with terrorists, celebrities and falling in love.

The Good: As beautifully politically incorrect as Springtime for Hitler, Team America: World Police is one of the most absurdly guilty pleasure of offensive movies that you could watch (when likely high on something). It’s not art, or high art I should say. It’s low-brow and doesn’t really give a shit on what you think of it...and that is why we should love it. No inhibitions or second thoughts. It takes an idea and turns into a product set out to offend the most amount of people possible with the most limited budget imaginable. Why?

Because for satire to really work, you have to point out the absurdities of it all. Team America is absolutely absurd, crude and offensive because, by its account, the “serious” topics it tackles, in the end of it all, are absurd and ridiculous to begin with. It doesn’t undermine it, necessarily. Ok, it does do that. But it also points out how ridiculous our world of politics and extremism is by being overly political and overly extreme itself. It’s not so much a story as much as it is looking to make a point by merely existing. It’s far more creative and intelligent than it would even give itself credit, able to brush with broad, relevant strokes as easily as it can with pop-culture jabs (just as its creators have been doing for years with South Park).

The Bad: The same little problems that can plague the brilliance of South Park at times creep their way into Team America a little more than necessary: preachiness. The speeches and soapbox moment fit into the element of this satirical world, but it also goes overboard and drolls on and on for far longer than necessary. This is a forced plot device that ends up a cheap if not lazy way to make a point.

The Ugly: The film is a good six or so years old and STILL pretty damn relevant on many of its issues.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Ted

As the result of a childhood wish, John Bennett's teddy bear, Ted, came to life and has been by John's side ever since - a friendship that's tested when Lori, John's girlfriend of four years, wants more from their relationship.

The Good: It may be a bit rough around the edges, a little too dependent on pop culture references and uneven in terms of tone, but Ted is a blissful, almost cathartic piece of comedy filmmaking. It walks a nice line between sentimentality, boyhood nostalgia and crude, make that very crude, R-rated humor and is able to touch on a lot of "cliche" troupes and add in one element that nobody has done yet: a rather rude, vile and obnoxiously-Bostonian teddy bear.

Ted is a film that goes out on a limb to say things that don't get said often in films. In this world of arrested development and man-children, this rather earnest take on childhood dreams and fantasies thrust into the real world makes Ted one of those films that you are kind of surprised hasn't been made yet. It taps into the heart of a lot of things and is able to parody boilerplate troupes, such as the rom-com or family films, without really even trying. It just falls in to place wonderfully. Ted is a great, and I don't use the word "great" lightly, character that is distinct, memorable and has the best lines. Mark Wahlberg plays off him incredibly well and their friendship feels completely authentic. And Mila Kunis is also in the movie...

...alright she does what's best with what she has, but we've seen this character a dozen times before and she's just not as well defined as our two leads. MacFarlane also directs the film, and it's passable, but it's geared completely around the set ups and when he's getting that timing and those beats down on film, it works as sharply and witty as you could ask for. Ted also manages a plethora of comedy styles as well and all feeling a part of the whole, which is no easy feat and also a credit to MacFarlane's comedic sensibilities and just basic understanding of comedy filmmaking.

The Bad: Ted wants to do a lot of different things, but it can't do everything despite its best efforts. Notably, an out-of-place subplot (in a movie that's kind of all about subplots) turns Ted's focus from funny comedy to shoehorned "stop the bad guy" story that is never really built up, explained or even satisfyingly concluded. It's kind of just "there" and ends up a distraction from the far-better-done plot of Ted, John and Lori and that more-than-enough triangle that certainly brought out the most charm, the most laughs and the better characters for it. It's unnecessary and feels out of place from the rest of the movie, as though they needed some sort of "action climax" and the entire "bad guy" subplot was hashed out over a weekend. It's unfortunate because Giovanni Ribisi plays "creepy" very well, it's just that this darker element feels so unnatural to everything else going on.

When it's funny, it's funny. But the path to get to all that comedy is a rough, rough ride. Ted lacks polish despite its effort, often running scattershot as much as an episode of Family Guy, and like Family Guy, Ted becomes a film you might put on once in a while just to get to the good jokes, but probably ignore the rest.

The Ugly: Don't make this series. This is best left as a one-shot even though there are certainly openings to somehow turn this into a franchise. Just leave it be.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Ted 2

Newlywed couple Ted and Tami-Lynn want to have a baby, but in order to qualify to be a parent, Ted will have to prove he's a person in a court of law.

The Good: A few laughs in a comedy movie is one thing, a well made comedy movie is another. Ted 2 is the former, a movie with a loose idea of what it wants to do but best when working with just parts rather than its entire sum. Those parts can be incredibly fun, though as you sit in wait for the gags to be revealed and to find out what direction it will take. If you know the first film, you can probably guess - usually going into vulgar humor or, at its best, being incredibly uncomfortable and you just laugh at that uneasiness its making you feel.

In its favor, having the audience in anticipation for the next bit is a good thing. The characters are likable enough and the movie willing to take a sudden left-turn that you don't see coming. The running gags are cute even if kind of shallow (google searches and gollum references) but it knows its town and its audience which, I'm assuming, would like the movie more if they had ADD.

The Bad: The comedy style of Seth MacFarlane has shown it is at its best in small doses. That’s primarily because that’s about all he works with in an effective way - vignettes and bits for a few minutes, then on to the next. Ted 2 is essentially that: one idea and a bunch of small skits that are kind of played off that idea stretched for two hours loosely held together with running gags and callbacks. It attempts to build a character arc, but there really isn’t one. It all takes a backseat to those small skits.

The first Ted was able to at least get by on this thanks to character chemistry. It really worked in that regard. Ted 2 seems to struggle to find that central cord that can bind all that other stuff together, so everything becomes scattered and detached as a result. Nobody feels like they’re really having a conversation, nobody feels like they’re learning or progressing due to the scattered structure and nothing feels entirely urgent or relevant as it should be. Ted 2 is essentially its one joke taken as far as it can or should be - a foul-mouthed teddy bear in various situations. Not much more than that and not much of a movie to be entertained by as a result.

Like the first film, the final climax feels aimless and clumsy - running around and trying to find things for the characters to do and fails to deliver any laughs while doing so. What makes it even worse is that you must see the first film to get anything from it and understand any motivations as to what’s going on. So not only is it equally as clunky, it’s also completely reliant on previous material that it rehashes to make it work. Then again, such is the way of a the comedy movie sequel and why so few are good in the first place.

The Ugly: Also, can the cameos be any more forced in this thing? It’s build on it, but none of it feels natural and take you right out of it. Sad thing is, there’s one that steals the show.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Through contact with a mysterious substance, called Ooze, 4 little turtles in the canalization of New York mutate to giant turtles. They can speak, walk upright and love pizza. The wise rat Splinter becomes their mentor and educates them to Ninja fighters. Their arch-enemy is the bad, bad guy Shredder, who struggles to gain power over the world. Of course the ninja turtles will do everything to stop him.

The Good: It’s a little hard to look at this film without nostalgia-laced lenses, but I shall do my best. In comparison to the other live-action Ninja Turtles movies, it’s clearly the best. It had the more dynamic characterizations, it was a little edgier and dark (especially in how it was shot) and had some solid action, especially considering the actors are in bulky animatronic costumes. Their personalities shine through, they truly do act like brothers and there’s even a bit of subtle adult emotion surrounding it all, such as Leonardo’s vigil over his brother or the romantic insinuations of Casey Jones and April O’Neal. It’s a product that could and probably should be outlandish and over the top, and instead it reels it all back, adding a little bit of realism in the process, and enables us to be convinced that the Turtles are real people (or mutant turtles, I should say) and not just comic book characters. Plus, you have some pretty solid, although occasional lazy, action set-pieces that are able to be funny to make up for the clumsy directing of them.

The Bad: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles succeeds on us becoming a part of the Ninja Turtles lives and world. It is not, I repeat, not going to draw you in with its story. It’s clunky, plodding and unoriginal even for Ninja Turtle standards. It’s easily the worst part of the film entirely and thankfully the characters lift it up from being a complete failure.  There’s also the fact the film is incredibly dark. Not dark thematically, where it actually succeeds at times (in fact, a scene had to be completely altered because the story had a kid being killed)  but it is simply poorly lit. Maybe it’s the transfer to the DVD I have, I don’t know, but sometimes you can’t tell what’s going on, who is talking and can barely see anything, especially when the Turtles are on screen and the only way you know who is who is by their bandanna. There’s also the clumsy action directing, no doubt a result of an experienced director, which I mentioned earlier, as well as an unsatisfied ending that should have been larger that it really was. But hey…at least there’s no Vanilla Ice, and in that comparison to the film’s sequel, the original Turtles movie is better than most, and actually pretty good in the grand scope of things.

The Ugly: The Turtles themselves look great (they still do even today) as does the rather lanky Splinter. Who doesn’t look good? Their arch enemy, the Shredder. Clearly a prduct of his time, the costume is simply laughably impractical, like someone lost a best on what they’ll dress as for Halloween. It might work in comics and cartoon, but some things just don’t make the transitions well. Strangely, the five-foot tall Turtles did it just fine.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

When a kingpin threatens New York City, a news reporter find a quad of mutants which makes an alliance to unravel Shredder's plan as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The Good: A fantastic action sequence well worth the time to see takes place a little over half-way through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It involves a ten minute or so series of unfortunate events that start from a top of a snow-peaked mountain (that is apparently near New York, mind you, and last I checked the Catskills aren't as big as what we see in this movie but I'll let it slide) and does a great job of keeping what could have been a boring sequence incredibly lively and fun.

Lively and fun is the name of the game here, and in terms of tone Ninja Turtles seems to have a good time with that, much in thanks to good personalities from its lead four mutant characters that, though given very, very little to establish themselves, still shine through well enough. Unfortunately, it's not well enough to make them good characters, nor is it well enough to make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a good movie.

The Bad: There was a lot leading up to the release of this movie that, as is always the case with the internet, denounced it before anyone even saw it. The fact is, I don't care about the "look" of the Turtles, I don't care whether their aliens or mutants, I don't care about any sense of "faithfulness" to whatever iterations a person has in their head is the "real" version of these characters that have been done and redone a half-dozen times. The only thing I cared about was that it had a good characters, good story and good action for an action movie.

You know: taking it on its own merits and evaluating it from there, which you should certainly do. Separating nostalgia from critique is easy, especially when the movie is bad.

But it didn't matter because from beginning to end, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is awful. Really awful. Let's start with the characters: they have personality, but they're soulless. There is, I assume, meant to be an arc for all of these characters considering it's about being together and learning, but there is none. The way the movie plays out is, out of nowhere, there is a resolution to them. A chemistry found. A bond created. But all the stuff leading up to that resolution never feels cohesive. It never feels purposeful or interesting. At the end, we're supposed to "feel" they've learned and accomplished something, but it's empty. In fact, from the turtles to Shredder to April, noting feels accomplished or resolved.

Empty like the story, which never really gets off the ground. There's a plot, but it makes little sense. There's things that happen, but like those characters they never really feel connected. There's some nice scenes here and there, but they're not really adding anything. They're just stuff that happens. In fact, for a movie that has a ton of exposition in its first half, there's really not a lot said.

Speaking of that first half, little happens. It's all talking and explaining with little actually "doing." The first major action sequence doesn't even occur until about 45 minutes in, and in an action movie that's inexcusable. Then again, the first actually good action sequence doesn't occur until about an hour (the one mentioned high above) in, then it's a race to the finale where we, at least, get some ridiculous martial arts set pieces that feel powerful and it makes you ask to nobody in the room "Why is this happening just now?  This should be in the second act to make the third act uber-martial-arts fight that much more important.”

Throw in the bad acting, hit-and-miss computer effects and mediocre music, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just a hollow, ugly, obnoxious movie that can't even establish its characters, setting or villain appropriately, much less tell a fun, breezy story without getting lost in backstory and exposition. A dull and pathetic action movie that might have had some interesting ideas had it not caved under the need to explain way too much yet say and do way too little.

The Ugly: Megan Fox is a bad actress. Period. There's not much asked of her charatcer, nor should there be as she's essentially just a plot device (and always has been, though here they throw in the predestined angle that is actually just lazy writing in a failed attempt to make the character more interesting), yet even then can't manage and creates no personality or sincerity in any line delivered. The only one in on the sense of "fun" in this movie is Will Arnett and maybe William Fichtner (who's character, I guess, went to jail? Maybe? We'll never know I guess...just another long line of unresolved plots that I could spend an entire review listing alone).

I could easily go on about the problems in story and character, the mixed messages about parents and children or the complete uninspired villain that literally has nothing to do but stand on a rooftop because there is a lot wrong with this movie (showing the rewrites and production problems never lead to a good flick), but hey...I think the point is made by now.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Tell No One

The pediatrician Alexandre Beck misses his beloved wife Margot Beck, who was brutally murdered eight years ago when he was the prime suspect. When two bodies are found near where the corpse of Margot was dumped, the police reopen the case and Alex becomes suspect again. The mystery increases when Alex receives an e-mail showing Margot older and alive.

The Good: Right now, some of the best horror and thriller films are coming, not from Japan as many might assume (maybe 6/7 years ago) but from France. Tell No One is up there with the best of them, and even up there was just an overall great mystery/thriller. The acting is top-notch and the directing and cinematography is quite beautiful at times. There’s so many different elements to the plot and so many different sides and people involved into unraveling the threads to get to the mystery to be solved, but at its heart Tell No One isn’t so much a thriller as much as it is a romance. It’s about love and the fact that a man who thinks his wife is dead truly and deeply feels that she is very much alive. There are moments of pure emotion, especially the ending, that are so heartfelt and so moving that they touch you right at the core.

The Bad: When it comes to mystery stories, the first instinct of everyone in the audience to figure out what’s going on and who the real back guy is before the hero does. Well, most will figure it out pretty quickly if not in the first 15 minutes. While it makes up for it with a finely tuned thriller, it also forces in some contrivances and convenient plot points that, sadly, never get fully explained or resolved. We get lost in the story and the characters, which is good, but once the credits start rolling and you begin thinking back, you begin to realize it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it doesn’t come together quite as well as it thinks it does. You’re actually left with more questions that, sadly, are never going to be answered even if the main story is resolved.

The Ugly: You see a tall, butch woman dressed in black outside of the building when noone else is around and don’t think it’s a little odd? You don’t warn somebody? You don’t ask questions? Like I said…a lot of questions that just won’t get answered. That God the movie makes up for it elsewhere.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Terminal

"The Terminal" tells the story of Viktor Navorski, a visitor to New York from Eastern Europe, whose homeland erupts in a fiery coup while he is in the air en route to America. Stranded at Kennedy Airport with a passport from nowhere, he is unauthorized to actually enter the United States and must improvise his days and nights in the terminal’s international transit lounge until the war at home is over. As the weeks and months stretch on, Viktor finds the compressed universe of the terminal to be a richly complex world of absurdity, generosity, ambition, amusement, status, serendipity and even romance with a beautiful flight attendant named Amelia. But Viktor has long worn out his welcome with airport official Frank Dixon, who considers him a bureaucratic glitch, a problem he cannot control but wants desperately to erase.

The Good: In an attempt to emulate the great Chaplin or Keaton films of the silent era, Spielberg gives us a fable, although inspired by real events, that has our endearing hero simply try to make his life work and get through his hardships. He’s lovestruck, meets quirky characters, seems to try to the right thing only to fail and is a guy that you hope has it all work out in the end. It has its charm and it’s more or less impossible to not love Hanks in his role or the cast, notably Catherine Zeta-Jones who has never looked so gorgeous, who all fill their characters’ shoes perfectly. It's really Hanks that carries the film, as he so often does in his movies, and luckily he doesn't take a slapstick parody of his character that a lesser actor might have dove into. Viktor feels reel, acts real and we sympathize with him to the very end.

The Bad: If ever there is an example of sappy melodrama, The Terminal is it. Yes, we can enjoy the minutia of the eclectic characters, the story (as fake and overly-sentimental as it is sometimes), the nice look and sheen not to mention bits of comedy…but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have you gawk at the sheer cheesy bits of dialogue and obvious set ups to punchline scenarios. Everything, while well done, can give the impression that it’s just a tad on the phony side. Then you have the drama aspect that rears its head every so often to bring a little human emotion to the whole thing. It’s a balance the film tries to find and seems to never quite get. When it’s working well, it’s fantastic. When it’s not, it’s a chore to sit through.

The Ugly:
The ending. Not to spoil it here, but it’s just a little too mushy even for this film.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


The Terminator

A cyborg is sent from the future on a deadly mission. He has to kill Sarah Connor, a young woman whose life will have a great significance in years to come. Sarah has only one protector - Kyle Reese - also sent from the future. The Terminator uses his exceptional intelligence and strength to find Sarah, but is there any way to stop the seemingly indestructible cyborg ?

The Good: An amazing vision of humanity's future. We take that vision for granted now, but in 1984 the bleak future and war against machines was original and captivating. What's best is all this was created and envisioned by a lover of Science Fiction, who would later be a household name and Oscar winner: James Cameron. It's a simple film that tells a simple story from beginning to end. It doesn't have to deal with paradoxes and theories as much as its sequels would. At its core, it's a horror movie. The Terminator comes across as a legitimate threat and unstoppable and the characters are put to the test physically and emotionally to defeat it. A classic film in every sense of the word. It made stars out of its actors and will go down as one of the best action films of the 1980s and of all time.

The Bad: Cameron's films, for the most part, age remarkably well. This is through a combination of big-budget and smart use (in that being minimal) of special effects. The Terminator, though, did not have the luxury of Cameron's later films and it shows. Audio is poor, shots seem rushed at times and the special effects, although good, were already surpassed by other films of the time. Some of these can either be a problem with a viewer, or you can chalk it up to it being a b-horror movie at heart and just go with it. It depends on the person watching. In my experience, The Terminator makes up for it in other areas ten-fold.

The Ugly: God bless you, Stan Winston, but although many effects have aged surprisingly well, the anamatronic Arnold that cuts out its eye is glaringly bad. I won't hold it against the film, though.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Nearly 10 years have passed since Sarah Connor was targeted for termination by a cyborg from the future. Now her son, John, the future leader of the resistance, is the target for a newer, more deadly terminator. Once again, the resistance has managed to send a protector back to attempt to save John and his mother Sarah.

The Good: What can be said about T2 that hasn't been said already? There's been analysis of its story, its characters and its themes about humanity, its style and directing, special effects...every angle, and this isn't Citizen Kane...it's an early 90s action movie. Can much more be said than that? While the first Terminator was more akin to horror cinema, Terminator 2 is non-stop action through and through. It doesn't sacrifice its characters and plot for the spectacle, however, and is thought-provoking, even sentimental at times. What's more is how memorable it is to this day, now nearly 20 years old, and how it more or less set a new standard for an action film. True, many pf today's action movies have only took the "spectacle" part of the film while neglecting the human side of it, but if anything that goes to show how fantastic T2 was to begin with and how films today still fail to fully live up to it.

Amazingly, the special effects are as good today as they were then, with the CG used intelligently and minimally, the explosions and shots daring and intuitive and the film is able to touch every palette to where you will be unable to find a single person to say anything remotely disparaging about it. 

What steals the show, though, are the Terminators. In 1991 nobody expected Arnold Schwarzenegger to be "good" in this movie, and the sudden "Get down" he gives to protect John, then unload into Robert Patrick, had people in cheers.  It's a great build up and reveal, and from then on we're given the best of both worlds: a Terminator we care about and watch grow from the cold killer we knew before and...the cold killer version played to perfection by Robert Patrick. 

The Bad: The passage of time from the first Terminator to its sequel is noted, but we know little about Sarah Conner and her son during that time. We became pretty invested with Sarah in the first film, and to suddenly see her locked away in a mental institution makes you wonder exactly what the hell happened between then and now. She seems to have military training, knowledge of computers and hacking and explosives. A little more explaining to get to what she is in this film would have been beneficial, its a long way from the little diner waitress we knew in 1984.

The Ugly:  Having seen this movie so many times, continuity problems begin to show up. Now that I know them, it's hard not to notice them, so I'll spare you from them and not say a thing. It's nit-picky and in the hullabaloo that is Terminator 2, inconsequential.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Terminator 2: Special Extended Edition

Nearly 10 years have passed since Sarah Connor was targeted for termination by a cyborg from the future. Now her son, John, the future leader of the resistance, is the target for a newer, more deadly terminator. Once again, the resistance has managed to send a protector back to attempt to save John and his mother Sarah.

The Good: Like many people my age who grew up during the height of Arnold Schwarzenegger's career (and, really, the height of action movies) I I had seen the theatrical version of T2 a few dozen times (at least), it was one of the first R movies I saw in theaters, one of the first VHS tapes I ever bought myself and one of the first DVDs I bought when that format came out (and will probably be one of the first Blu-Rays when I get to that). Most of what is great about Terminator 2 you can read in the original review of the theatrical cut. The same story, characters, directing, music….all carry over to this (in other words, everything that’s great about is here). The main plot and soul of the film is still there. I Therefore I will go into what I really love about this cut: the additions. Nearly twenty minutes of footage had been added with, by my estimation, 90% being integral to the plot to where I’m surprised it was cut to begin with. So below are my reviews of the added scenes, so please be aware that if you haven’t seen the film, and shame on you if that’s the case, then please do so first.

For starters, the dream sequence, the most famous addition to this cut, allows many, many things to occur and is probably the most famous addition to the cut. For one, it connects the first film and the second film directly with Michael Biehn, which is great because it comes at the perfect time, it also allows an emotional connection to John which the theatrical version lacked earlier with her crying and saying “they took him from me.” Two, it allows three bits of foreshadowing: that Sarah thinks of Kyle a lot (mentioned by John later in the film), she dreams of being alone in the hospital (foreshadowing her escape and explaining the dream-like state of shock she succumbs to when seeing the T-800) as well as a brief look into her nightmare of nuclear holocaust that is cut short, but shown fully later on indicating that it haunts her constantly. Three, it gives Sarah even more motivation to begin planning an escape. Four, it shows she is still human and not entirely a cold person, breaking down and crying and appearing vulnerable gives us an indication that all the training and teaching she‘s done for her son is something she has to force and become. The idea of her being a failure kills her inside.

All that, from one added scene. Throw in the others, such as the humorous teaching the Terminator to smile (this also explains why the Terminator smiles when he sees the chain gun later on, something I always wondered about). A look into Dyson as a father and husband. The constant visual cues of the microprocessor throughout the film, showing that it’s the most integral part to the entire plot and must be destroyed. Three  important scenes were cut, more or less ruining the repetition of seeing it pop in: the debate on whether or not the thing should be destroyed with Sarah and John a great one as it shows John at odds with his mom, and her seeing a leader in him as a result, you see the model at Dyson‘s home and the discussion of it with his wife and you see Dyson destroy the prototype model at Cyberdyne and eventually use one of the pieces to trigger the explosives which is the only remnant of these scenes in the theatrical cut.) Finally, above all, John explaining more of what type of person his mom is, her training, the people she met and lived with and how she dragged John along, as well as extended scenes showing a strong emotional connection that the develop, finally hugging (this was foreshadowed as something they don‘t do too often earlier when the both are in the car and Sarah turns the hug into searching for bullet wounds) and actually saying “I love you.” The theatrical version had mentioned these things briefly, but more explanation helps in the development of these fantastic characters and the fantastic world James Cameron gives us.

Other added scenes are showing John’s relationship with The Terminator and how he, as well as a teenager can, explaining humanity. These added scenes, again, allow for consistency in the overall story and even offer a few funny bits with Arnold that are welcome. All of these things built to the best version of the classic film and is the version I will probably watch from this point on for the rest of my life...although probably not as much as I saw the theatrical version, that will take some catching up.

The Bad: While I think many of these scenes add a ton of great character development and fantastic plotting and storytelling, showing great motifs and mise-en-scene that is subtle and smart, showcasing a script that was already fantastic, they were removed for one reason: to help the pacing and shave 16 minutes (20 minutes if you watch the version with the alternate ending, but that one isn't what I'm reviewing here although I did like the extra T-1000 scene as we see him scan for info on John). You can’t have the best of both, but as a fan of the story and world, I’ll take a slower pace in exchange for the expansions.

The Ugly: This was only the second time I have seen this “ultimate” cut. Then I thought back to all the times I saw the theatrical cut and estimate that number to be around 35 to 40...watching the original VHS release, which I bought day one, at least 25 times before wearing it out in less than a coulple of years. The only other film I had to buy multiple copies of due to excessive plays was The Empire Strikes Back.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

John Conner, now an adult, in fear of the events that took place at a young age, lives off the grid--no phone, no job, no credit cards. After failing twice, SkyNet sends their most advanced machine to date, the T-X or Terminatrix, to not only kill John, but his future wife as well. Once again, a Terminator is sent to protect John and his future wife, and has a small upgrade which allows it to mimic humans more. Not knowing how these terminators were sent, considering he thought he destroyed SkyNet, John will soon learn something that will change his life...forever.

The Good: Watching Terminator 3 is like going to a high school reunion. Everyone is a older, different, yet familiar. Like a reunion, you enjoy it for a while, then get bored and realize you already know what everyone is about, then leave rather depressed you attended to begin with because you see its not quite what you remember. Terminator 3 does what it needs to do to be entertaining. Good action sequences, and it's great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the saddle.

The Bad: Unlike T2, though, it lacks the thematic punch, the originality (it uses much of what T2 already did) and the drama side of it, exchanging it for more light humor and action scenes. Much of what T3 offers is a rehash of what T2 did. Two terminators, one reprogrammed to protect, one able to alter appearance and use subterfuge, one an old model, the other experimental and new...it structures itself nearly identically to its predecessor as well with the strange sense of deja vu. Not having Cameron on-board is noticeable, there's a lack of polish and prestige to the whole thing, as though someone had seen Terminator 2 a few dozen times and wanted to make a fan movie with a big budget. Because of this "been there done that" nagging in the back of my head, it's hard to really enjoy it. Yet, while it's not as challenging to the mind or connecting on a level we can appreciate, or completely original, as the previous two, as a stand-alone action movie it gives us some fun moments despite its lack of ambition and desire to play it safe.

The Ugly: Schwarzenegger is old, and it's noticeable. The change from T2 takes some getting used to and we have to just assume that Terminators age also. I love the big guy, who doesn't? But it's hard not to see the mountains of makeup trying to hide the wrinkles.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Terminator Salvation

Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, John Connor is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.

The Good: McG proves a lot of people wrong with this movie. Many discounted him, that he wouldn't know a good action sequence if it was handed to him by James Cameron himself, yet here he is, against the odds, giving us some of the best action I can recall seeing in years. Like classic action movies, he settles on long takes with smart computer effects and fantastic angles. He lets them develop, then take you on a ride that you can't help but enjoy to the end. Two sequences in particular, going on for minutes and minutes, are like a roller coaster ride: fast, fun and you don't know what's around the next bin. Combine that with a great look to the whole film, solid performances by the actors (Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin stealing the show here, Bale is passable but far from steals the show) a grainy documentary style... you have a slick action flick...but not a great film,

The Bad: Despite the special effects and action, which are great from beginning to end, ambitious and daring, the story is the exact opposite and misses the mark, not just by comparing it to the first two Terminator films, but as a story on its own as well. Many holes and a very choppy and contrived resolution, with no emotional drama and impacts whatsoever (which is disappointing after such good buildup) leaves you as cold and empty as a T-800. The story feels thrown together at the last minute, notably the third act which is rushed, unpolished and just plain mediocrity in every sense. As there's little to no action during this act, it's even more glaring as the action was the strong-point of the film, and the ending just goes on and on, showing it fumbling to turn the page of the script so it can bring a resolution. Plot holes and unrealistic events I can forgive to an extent (namely, anything involving time-travel) but Salvation will make you roll your eyes more than once with questions and pondering afterwards. Why not just kill Reece? Why not blow Conner up? How do you not hear a 100 foot tall robot outside of your shack? Why....the list goes on. It tries to be too smart for its own good on the plot, and the final, shoehorned-in "message" it tried to present is about on-par with the final, shoehorned "message" of Terminator 3.

The Ugly:  The direct homages to the previous films are far from subtle, and you'll be laughing rather than enthralled by them when they were first spoken or seen. Also, the re-envisioning of SkyNet, giving it a face, a reason and a voice not only goes against what the previous three films (yes, even T3 got it right) presented us, but comes across as a Bond villain and I expected a "No, Mr. Conner, I expect you to die."

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Terminator Genisys

John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.

The Good: I don’t know what can really be done with the Terminator franchise at this point, but what I do know is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is synonymous with him and having him in any Terminator film is pretty much number one on any criteria checklist. Sure, he’s older, but there’s got to be a clever way to make it work, right? Well, Terminator Genisys tries to make it work and thankfully they don’t dwell too much on it,

Yet, there’s something interesting happening in Genisys. It’s trying some new things and playing with preconceptions. Yes, you pretty much have to have seen at least the first couple of movies to get the in-jokes and references and what’s being turned on its head, but it’s an interesting approach to “rebooting” something that plays with those ideas without trying to force them or completely rely on them to be relevant. It simply fails to make us care about the people that it’s all happening to.

The Bad: Boy does this movie love to constantly explain stuff. As much as I like Jai Courtney’s observation of all this exposition and even the ability to make fun of it…making it self-aware doesn’t change the fact it’s still babbling on and telling us stuff rather than showing (or doing) anything that feels important.

The problem with the Terminator franchise is that the importance and risk of its narrative already hit its peak with the first two films. Sure, you maybe can tell a better story (so far no) or introduce new concepts (probably too many at this point) but as far as escalation and making people feel like the next film is going to be THE riskiest thing that humanity has to go through? No. That’s not going to happen. It can’t.

So the franchise has one thing left to do: a reboot and redo stuff to mix it up. As mentioned, Genisys does this, but it doesn’t change the fact that it does it less out of progressive narrative arc and more out of desperation to try and keep a long-concluded story going. At least Salvation was able to find a new take entirely, Genisys has a new take yet with the prerequisite of needing to know the old takes as well. In the case of this installment, it’s even more at a disadvantage because it requires someone seeing it to know the lore and previous stories as well. Genisys doesn’t work without that frame of reference by the viewer because, otherwise, the viewer is completely out of the (time) loop as to what is going on. So even attempting to approach this movie as it’s own standalone story and plot is literally impossible.

But franchise dissonance aside, it doesn’t change the fact that the acting is flat and overall storytelling muddled with simply too much going on as it flails about trying to make sense of the corner it’s written itself into. There’s also no big moment to speak of as set pieces tend to just fall into each other and never quite giving the movie an identity because it has to shovel in that stilted exposition-fueled dialogue. If Salvation didn’t show us that this franchise is done, then Genisys surely will at this point. Even seeing Arnold back in his iconic role can’t save it.

The Ugly: The Bad Boys song from Cops is incredibly misplaced. Talk about on-the-nose to get a laugh, it’s cringe-inducing. Almost as cringe-inducing as having Matt Smith randomly show up for maybe two minutes making you wonder "why is Matt Smith in this?"

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


They Came Together

When Joel and Molly meet, it's hate at first sight: his big Corporate Candy Company threatens to shut down her quirky indie shop. Plus, Joel is hung up on his sexy ex. But amazingly, they fall in love, until they break up about two thirds of the way through.

The Good: Either you are going to be in on this feature-length joke, or you aren't. They Came Together has one point to make: mock romantic comedies. No, not parody them necessarily, but point out the absurdity of cliched lines of dialogue, the predictable act breaks and beats, tired tropes and unrealistic characters. In other words, They Cam Together takes every Romantic comedy and, with good intentions believe it or not, shits all over it like a too-tight Halloween costume you can't get off in the bathroom.

That's what makes They Came Together so enjoyable. It's fun. It's silly. It's never mean-spirited as it deconstructs the romantic comedy (or, more accurately, absolutely eviscerates it). It even has the audacity to point out specific films from time to time. You know that romantic comedy you like? Yeah, you'll see some of it here completely destroyed.

And it's hilarious. I would say borderline brilliant if it was, maybe, a bit more consistent.

The Bad: At just under an hour and a half, it's a bit obvious what They Came Together struggles with: it really is just one joke. Yes, having so many in on the joke and having fun is hilarious, but it also stretches itself too thin to really sustain its own ideas. This is less a fully fleshed out film and more a series of shorts strung together. Some hit wonderfully, others not quite as much.

They Came Together also has the mis-benefit of starting incredibly strong. There's no way they can sustain that level of humor and satire, and it starts to wear thin especially at the end when they know they need to wrap it up. Somehow. And we'll just have to say "that'll do" and move on. Truth is, it's minor. It turns to parody towards that end rather than deconstructing romantic comedies, but there really was to much good that far outweighs the bad. Hell, even the bad is funny (such as shooting a guy in the face for no reason).

The Ugly: They Came Together can be exhausting. It's playing at a heightened level where everyone is overly-energetic and snarky and...well you (and the film) just tire out. But I know this: I wanted to watch it again immediately.

Final Rating:  4 out of 5


They Live

Nada, a down-on-his-luck construction worker, discovers a pair of special sunglasses. Wearing them, he is able to see the world as it really is: people being bombarded by media and government with messages like "Stay Asleep", "No Imagination", "Submit to Authority". Even scarier is that he is able to see that some usually normal-looking people are in fact ugly aliens in charge of the massive campaign to keep humans subdued.

The Good: While They Live won't win any awards for story, acting and even directing, there's a quality to it that is often not brought up in movies: tonality. It works entirely on concept and ideas, not about characterization or even storytelling prowess. It's a movie that knows it's a b-movie and just runs with it, and when a director and actors understand that, the film is better as a result. It's obvious that Piper, David and Carpenter get it, and so should the audience. It's one of Carpenter's most enjoyable and fun films he's done, up there with Big Trouble in Little China in terms of strangeness and being off-beat. It's like this surreal fantasy film that enjoys playing itself in the moment than try and be overwrought with script and characterization. As it says, it's there to chew bubblegum and kick ass.

The Bad: There's no denying that the acting, and thus the characters, aren't anything to write home about. It's campy and fun, but there could certainly be a lot more polish to the movie and retain that tone. Much of what appears on screen seems ad-libed (some of it was, such as the infamous fight scene) as though they're playing it all loose and just having a good time rather than really try to bring us a tight story and interesting characters.

The Ugly: I don't know about you, but Kurt Russel in the title role here? That would have been perfect. At the same time...Piper does own the role here and you can't imagine anyone else.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


They Were Expendable

Based on the real life heroics of Lieutenants John Bulkeley (Brickley) and Robert Kelly (Ryan), the movie accurately depicts the defense of the Philippines by American PT Boats from December 1941 through April 1942 for which Lieutenant (later Vice Admiral) Bulkeley was awarded the Medal of Honor and Lieutenant Kelly the Navy Cross.

The Good: Although he’s often best known for Westerns, John Ford’s World War II epic is easily one of the finest ever made. This is for a number of reasons. Sure, it’s directing and cinematography is superb, this is John Ford afterall, and its characters rich and actors at the absolute top of their game, Montgomery and Wayne especially, but what’s really interesting is that this isn’t your typical overly-patriotic, flag-waving film about how right the Allies are and how wrong the Axis are. It says it there in the title “they were expendable.” What we’re left with is a very raw and even unsettling look at how a military uses men as mere pieces to win and contrasting that element with the fact they are living, breathing men to begin with. Sure, they’re winning here and there, but at what cost? Soon, war begins to consume a man to where he can barely recognize himself.

They Were Expendable is about the characters, though, first and foremost. That’s typical Ford and here he doesn’t change his approach quite as much as the downtrodden tonality of the film, but the actors most certainly do. Wayne is easily in one of his finest roles, subtle and personable as not so-much the “heroic John Wayne” we often think of, but just a man in dire times. Robert Montgomery shares the screen equally with him, and this unique character simply needs to be seen to be appreciated. He’s a leader, but a quiet, subdued one that shows a different side of leadership and war. The two carry the film from beginning to end and make it well worthy of one of the greatest war films ever made.

The Bad: even though the film is, what some might call, a “downer,” and that in itself is rather intriguing to see for a film shot during the war itself, it still tends to attempt to do some rather conventional plot devices that seem a tad out of place – notably the romance angle that really doesn’t add a whole lot to the overall story or points of the film that are certainly its strengths.  It’s far from a harmful element, but it really doesn’t seem to go anywhere to add anything either. It’s just kind of “there.”

Ford himself admired the hell out of these men, and though he shows various sides of their personalities and evolutions, you never see them anything less than heroic through and through. It’s just the varying types of heroism we often see during these period-made films. Yet, for a film that breaks certain other conventions, it’s a little disappointing to not be a little more cynical with the characters as well. It’s all still very sentimental, painting courage and heroics, but mainly because it was a very personal film for Ford and thus is seen through is own eyes. The sacrifices made by the greatest generation is really the point made here, but a more multi-dimensional approach to the degrees of the human condition would have found a perfectly suited home to the tonality and approach to everything else the film so-well succeed on.

The Ugly: Apparently, Wayne and Ford really didn't get along on the film - Ford even putting Wayne to second billing after taking the lead role from him and putting in Montgomery. I should find a book somewhere and read up on their relationship more. I know the basic gist, but stories like that seem to be in the details.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Thin Man

After a four year absence, one time detective Nick Charles returns to New York with his new wife Nora and their dog, Asta. Nick re-connects with many of his old cronies, several of whom are eccentric characters, to say the least. He's also approached by Dorothy Wynant whose inventor father Clyde Wynant is suspected of murdering her step-mother. Her father had left on a planned trip some months before and she has had no contact with him. Nick isn't all that keen on resuming his former profession but egged-on by wife Nora, who thinks this all very exciting, he agrees to help out. He solves the case, announcing the identity of the killer at a dinner party for all of the suspects.

The Good: Drunks are funny. Actually, let me rephrase that: comedy drunks are funny. Drunks in dramas and in real life are usually annoying or sad. But Hollywood movie alcoholics - now that's where some great comedic gold lies and what better film (and series as a whole) than The Thin Man to exemplify all the things a good tone and atmosphere with a bunch of boozed-up socialites can truly represent. The Thin Man, though being made at the dawn of motion picture sound, is somehow absolutely timeless. Not because the story is interesting, though it somewhat is because it's a mystery and light detective story at heart. Not because the characters are enjoyable, which they are as William Powell and Myrna Loy are absolutely unabashed in their behavior in their respective career-defining roles. It's because of one simple thing: drunks are timeless. The crazy antics and drunken ranting of the characters in the Thin Man are the same today as it was then. To watch them bumble through trying to figure out the roots of the mystery, yet somehow know exactly what their doing with purpose, is some of the smartest and wittiest bits of humor you'll come across (and I'll guarantee that you'll be quoting some of the film's one-liners once it's all said and done).

That's not to say these are slap-stick, falling-down (though sometimes) drunks completely incapable of rational thought. That's not the case at all. Rather, it's all entirely rational...Nick is a detective after all. These are "drunks with a purpose" or "lucid alcoholics" that think clearly, know what they're doing and can stand straight but will sneak in a sip here, blabbering and slurring about their binges and probably act far more important in a room of party guests than they actually are. It's the happy medium that is so fun and enlightening to the senses for any person looking for a classic comedy to entice their palette.

The Bad: If there is one thing that this, and really all the Thin Man movies had a problem with, is that it almost focuses too much on Nick and Nora. It's great they're the centerpiece, the films would be nothing without them, but it would have been nice if a better script (or scripts) was there to serve them. As is, all the films kind of come off as a series of sketches rather than the mystery at hand being the catalyst for everything. Rather, it looks to little asides and quips to entertaining rather than really engage you with an all-encompassing narrative.

Also, and I hate myself for having to say this because I do like the character, Nora can grate your nerves like nails on a chalkboard if she's given too much to say. Luckily Nick is a good balance to her.

The Ugly: It's always been strange that "The Thin Man" is actually in reference to the film's antagonist (the man that disappeared. Yet I guess because of Powell's lanky physique, it somehow got adapted to him for the numerous sequels. It would be like taking the brilliant "the Third Man" and making a sequel called "The Third Man Comes Home" starring Joseph Cotton....film buffs will understand what I just said.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Thing

An American scientific expedition to the frozen wastes of the Antarctic is interrupted by a group of seemingly mad Norwegians pursuing and shooting a dog. The helicopter pursuing the dog crashes leaving no explanation for the chase. During the night, the dog mutates and attacks other dogs in the cage and members of the team that investigate. The team soon realizes that an alien life-form with the ability to take over other bodies is on the loose and they don't know who may already have been taken over.

The Good: In a frozen land, cut off from the world. A place where no human should be living to begin with. That alone is a pretty frightening aspect for any film. Now throw in the other elements: cabin fever, madness, claustrophobia...oh, and an alien creature that can take the form of anything it consumes. The Thing comes from the master horror/sci-fi director John Carpenter and it's actually a personal favorite of mind despite its flaws. It's absurdly gory at times, but the best aspects of it is how it handles its characters (as any decent horror movie should know). It's them versus themselves, not the monster. The whole mystery of who is infected or non-human, the idea that the creature, this amalgamation of organs and tissue, can contort into anything it touches and the location of it all brings out your own inner fear of being alone and blind in the dark (in this case, a whiteout snowstorm). Kurt Russel and John Carpenter made a number of films together, but his acting in the Thing, which is a combination of vulnerability and leadership at the same time, is one of my favorites because he shows great restraint in a film where a lot of the characters lose their minds.

The Bad: Strangely enough, the gory aspect of the film actually seems to be more a distraction and away from what the film is truly about than they feel a part of the natural order of it all. It reaches a point eventually where it's just too over-the-top to be taken seriously, the previous points were gory yet still effective. Here, it almost turns into a comedy. There's also the underdeveloped characters, although you do tend to like most of them and their personalities still come through effectively.

The Ugly: I never understood why many horror films feel the need to show the killing of animals, as though it's some kind of rite-of-passage for a monster or slasher.

Final Rating:  4 out of 5


The Third Man

An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins, arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime, who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime's friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime.

The Good: Visually striking with dark shadows and contrasting lights, compelling shots and angles. Impeccably acted by the always under appreciated Joseph Cotton, not to mention legendary Orson Welles (who, by all accounts, had more to do with the film than merely being an actor to the point where director Carol Reed’s credit is disputed to this day).  Then you have a script that is tight, focused with dialogue that flows naturally and is always with purpose and insight. No, this isn’t Citizen Kane as all that might foretell…but it’s every bit as good, that much is for certain. Good in a different way, of course. This is film noir at its very best. It’s a mystery, a “whodunit” a film that could have easily been made by Hitchcock if he so desired. It’s a hallmark of British cinema and is, by all accounts, an absolute perfect film. I always say a movie has to really earn a perfect score from me, The Third Man not only earns it, it exceedingly does so. It’s a movie about a mysterious murder, death, disappearances…whatever you wish to call it, but is also a movie about irony. Bitter irony, at that. It has its sense of wit too, allowing for some great comedic moments as the rather dark and bleak narrative drives to the inevitable end that we see coming and at the same time don’t want to happen.  It’s also about morals, war and the “diving up” of the city to the Allied powers often referenced, and how evil is subjective which is always a compelling theme when you have what can easily be an easy Good Guy versus Bad Guy story. The Third Man enjoys that shade of gray and that area is where great stories happen. Even the ending, one of the great final shots in film, shows the idea that maybe nobody is as good as we think and maybe nobody is as bad as we think. In the end, we’re all human and taking sides will sometimes leave us alone on an autumn cemetery road.

The Bad:
As much as I would love to dive deep into the nuances of the story, I think the reveals and the chasing of shadows (literally) is the film’s strength and I would do a disservice to those who haven’t seen it.

The Ugly: "You know what the fellow said—in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." It frightens me to think that some people really do have some dark, dark secrets and do it all with a smile on their face.

Final Rating:
5 out of 5


Thirst

Sang-hyun, a priest working for a hospital, selflessly volunteers for a secret vaccine development project intended to eradicate a deadly virus. However, the virus eventually takes over the priest. He nearly dies, but makes a miraculous recovery by an accidental transfusion of vampire blood. He realizes his sole reason for living: the pleasures of the flesh.

The Good: Make no mistake, Thirst is about vampires, but it is not a horror movie. That should be your first bit of knowledge coming into it. It is a drama first and foremost, but is not scary or even graphic. It's a study of the mind, which brings me to think of the fantastic indie-vampire flick Habit (or a more obvious example, the film Martin), and how people would actually act and be vampires in real-world scenarios than what the romanticized, bat-turning, woman-hypnotizing, fang-showing vampires most of us know about. Thirst is utterly unique in this regard and is more a study of man's obsession and personal faith than it is how much blood the man can drink to live.  Like Park's Oldboy, there's a faint aura surrounding the film that makes you uneasy. You don't know why, but you're just uncomfortable with this impending sense of dread. This isn't a sense of fear or horror necessarily, just as Oldboy wasn't about violence and fighting, but is an uneasiness because we aren't entirely sure what's happening or whether or not we should be for or against our protagonist. It's ambiguous, and that is how the film truly unsettles you because vampires, despite all the mythos and stories we have, are really ambiguous as well. In the end, we really know nothing at all.

The Bad: The film attempts small bits of humor, but much of this falls flat due to the serious nature a majority of the story centers on. It's bleak, cynical and dark and even when the comedy tries to maintain this tone inside that darkness, it comes off as out of place if now completely unnecessary. It begins to repeat its formula, giving you a sense that it has no idea what to with its brilliant premise. It just starts to meander and is longer than it probably needs to be to stay on point.

The Ugly: I can see genre fans really loving this, and many have expressed their love for it. But as genre fan, I think it's merely solid and not the "great vampire movie" some laud it to be.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


13 Assassins

A group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord.

The Good: Japanese director Takashi Miike is never one to shy of being predictable. He’s always been a daring and ambitious filmmaker and never an easy one to classify or have ad definition for. He takes on a variety of genres and even alters his own visual style depending on the material across his very prolific oeuvre. 13 Assassins shows Miike at his finest, if any reason as it reminds us how hard it is to predict Miike in the first place and how much raw talent he’s always had. 13 Assassins is probably his largest in scope and approached with more homage to the height of the Samurai period film of the 1950s and 60s than trying to re-imagine it. It’s a perfect match, it turns out, as the material is far better suited for a refined classic approach than it trying to re-invent itself. I have a feeling Miike knew this as well. He treats it with respect if not outright love.

What 13 has is a fantastic sense of visceral cathartic release. The range of emotions that can run through your body during the film’s nearly 40 minute climax which never gets boring and shows variety and simple, effective action choreography. The raw brutality or the tired expressions on faces, the anger and determination combined with fear or borderline insanity, is a hard thing to really put into words during this long sequence.  You will thoroughly feel as tired as the warriors swinging swords and shooting arrows – the film’s ability to place into itself is utterly remarkable and is a testament to Miike’s qualities as a filmmaker. Let’s just say you’ll feel such a sense of satisfaction and live it so vicariously that you will get goosebumps.

In the end, it absolutely comes down to execution here. The film itself is incredibly simple, the story and characters completely straight-forward, but the way it’s crafted is all this material really needed. The actors fall into the scenes of brutality and savage battles as well – you are convinced they will truly fight to their last breath.  Miike doesn’t glamorize them, too much at least, and shows a group of warriors who may be fighting their final fight...and they probably know it. Like cornered dogs they lash and combined with the brilliant sets and use of camera, all moving and progressing forward, you don’t even realize it’s been going on for nearly an hour. Like them, you become lost in it all, and when it’s over you release the same breath you’ve been holding during that time. It’s like having a cigarette after great sex.

The Bad: 13 Assassins is a very direct and to the point film. It doesn’t wander, it doesn’t deviate and can sometimes move so fast you forget to realize you really don’t know who is who. There are 13 Samurai (more like 12 and a half) however there’s little in terms of developing them past their one-dimensional personas. They are defined by their personalities but none reach a level of really getting to know them as people, only that they’re damn good at what they do, believe in honor and the moral right. During the climatic battle, nearly half of the entire film, you don’t quite feel the emotional impact of their fight as strongly as you probably should. That’s because, well...half of the film is the final fight and it’s only about two hours to begin with.

Things like this, especially when what we have if so well crafted to begin with, that runtime is more than welcome to go longer. An extra 30 minutes of character during their trek through the wilderness and countryside of Japan would have not only built up to the battle better however giving us more impressions of the thirteen men going to their fate. What we end up having is just a group of rather stock personalities, such as the “cool silent” or the “goofy fun” samurai we’ve seen many times before fighting another group of stock “bad guy” personalities, such as the “blind loyal guard” to the “evil, cold fascist.” Getting to know the men would have done the movie wonders. Still, though not a masterpiece or perfect, it’s too damn good of a movie, incredibly well directed with some beautiful set pieces to not be considered a great movie and truly one of Takashi Miike’s best.

The Ugly: Like the original, Miike’s Samurai epic will no doubt be compared to Seven Samurai. The structure and similar plots tend to lend itself to that. In comparison, it’s not as good (nor was the original), but it’s still damn good and shouldn’t be compared to masterpieces to begin with. As said, it’s still a damn good movie, compared to other movies or not.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


30 Minutes or Less

Two fledgling criminals kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, and inform him that he has mere hours to rob a bank or else...

The Good: For a movie that's only 83 Minutes long, it feels twice that. That's not entirely a bad thing because there is a lot crammed into 30 Minutes or Less which makes me both love it for the eccentric frantic vulgarity of non-stop idiocy but dislike it at the same time because it could have used a longer length to help its pace and not feel so rushed.

30 Minutes or Less is both helped and limited by its own set up. It needs to always move forward, there's little time to think. We'll get to where that hinders the film later, but it also benefits it in that it gives you the sensation of what the characters are going through. As a result,  even when things don't make sense or are unclear, in the heat of the moments you don't quite realize it. It's energy overwhelms your senses and you only notice the holes when you have to sit down and write a review of it.

Running through it all, though, is a highly entertaining cast and a great sense of character. They alone make the lunacy worth the ride. Yes, there's a ton of holes and loose ends and a plot device (or person, rather) that could have used a little more restraint, but the line delivery and chemistry of McBride, Swardson, Ansari and Eisenberg is remarkable. It reminds me a lot of Pineapple Express, another film that was a bit everywhere and wanting to do everything, but it also had the characters to make the time worth it. The same goes for 30 Minutes or Less, only it's much louder and bigger and is able to jab in those comedy lines and banter enough to make you not care about the lack of polish.

The Bad: If it weren't for the actors obviously having fun and having some good exchanges, 30 Minutes or Less would be a tough film to watch. The comedy isn't really there for something this dark and the story has a serious lack of structure and pace going on with it, only the casting helps in this regard. It's trying its best to always be moving forward frantically, really never stopping, which makes the suddenness of backstabbings and bank robbings seem incredibly easy for what they are and numerous contrived conveniences that only hope we don't think too hard on them. Sure, its' a "brain-off" type of comedy, a self-referential one at that, but it doesn't hold a single gram of refining itself to a good film by way of feeling thought out or planned or intended.

The comedy is found less on the large scale and more in the small scale with a few puns and lines that are sure to get you to laugh, but even then it's like looking for a diamond in the rough. Yes, it's funny, but  in the politically incorrect, "shock" way that a show like Family Guy relies on. There's a good line or two and a funny scene here and there, but for every one there's three that are incredibly annoying and irritating in a film that feels rough and too briskly put together for its own good. It's a film that just tries way too hard.

The Ugly: But man, the cast is spot-on here. They make the film worth the time, but over time this is one that I don't think is going to hold up as well as the previous Eisenberg-Fleischer flick, Zombieland.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The 39 Steps

Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to London. At the end of "Mr Memory"'s show in a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is running away from secret agents. He accepts to hide her in his flat, but in the night she is murdered. Fearing he could be accused on the girl's murder, Hannay goes on the run to break the spy ring.
 
Th
e Good: The "wrong man on the run" plot line was a favorite of Hitchcock. He loved that element to stories, and always told those stories remarkably well. The 39 Steps is really no different as it weaves a rather intricate plot like a master seamstress weaving a ballroom grown. It's effort is found
in the sense of it being effortless. The way the camera sways through a crowd, the ring of a  telephone emulating a tense, beating heart in a silent room, the fear of lights and open windows...this is all in the first 20 minutes and is only a precursor to more to come and you eventually find yourself trapped in a methodically paced thriller. This occasionally might hurt the film at times, I'll get to that in a minute, but that doesn't detract from you staying engaged to, at the very least, see what happens next because you certainly will be stuck in awe and anticipation as the mystery unfolds. On a basic, suspenseful level, The 39 Steps surely succeeds. The pace is pitch-perfect and although the characters maybe aren't up to Hitch's usual standards, they serve the story well enough.
 
The Bad: While a beloved British film, and still one of the master's best, The 39 Steps is more a great idea simply lacking a solid realization. As Hitchcock would later explore the similar theme, he would make better stories based on it (Saboteur, North by Northwest). Perhaps the elements at hand, and some far more far-fetched than what Hitchcock is known for (in terms of coincidence versus convenience), all there but not fully realized just yet, needed advances in film technology to be presented better. I mainly bring up the chases across the Scottish Moores in this respect, which were shot on location yet are sloppy, jumping to obvious sets and is noticeably hard to follow considering the person known for his sharp directing and editing is the one behind it. I think what hurts The 39 Steps is that it doesn't quite have an identity for itself. It's all straight-arrow and on the nose with even the reveal coming across as bland dialogue with you saying "oh...ok then." Hitchcock did more daring and more polished films during the era, that is for certain. I think what hurts it, though, is its main character, Hannay. Donat does well with the material that is there, but Hannay is simply not that interesting of a character or one we really find ourselves caring about - in fact he comes across as an immeasurable prick half the time, no wonder nobody believes him. In fact, Pamela, played by Madeleine Carroll, comes across as far more likeable as she gets dragged into things. Still, it is a classic, however I don't think Hitchcock truly came into his own until 1938s The Lady Vanishes.
 
The Ugly:
The 39 Steps is certainly one of Hitch's most important films, however. It was his follow up to The Man Who Knew Too Much and really solidified him as the greatest director the UK had to offer at the time. Many consider it the man's greatest film, yet I sometimes think they confuse mportance with greatest. The 39 Steps is only rivaled by Psycho in terms of Hitch's most important films, but both are lower on the echelon in terms of his greatest (and by that, I mean bottom Top Ten, so we're splitting hairs if anything, it's surely still one of his best)
 
Final Rating:
4 out of 5


This is 40

A look at the lives of Pete and Debbie a few years after the events of Knocked Up. 

The Good: Chemistry, conversation and candidness. That's This is 40 in a nutshell, then again it's kind of the formula for most Judd Apatow project in the first place. Characters and actors work well together, their conversations and dialogue feels real and innate and it's overall honest about everything, from relationships to sex to friendships to family. This is 40 highlights all these, perhaps spreading itself too thin while doing so, and becomes a melting pot of various ideas about the idea of getting older rather than trying to tell a story about it.

Despite the focus, we're shuffled through it with incredibly likeable characters, notably enjoyable performances by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann who really are as good as we've seen either of them. Rudd plays Pete less as a manchild and more as man who hasn't quite accepted the realism of being older. He has responsibilities, he takes care of them, but still feels a bit aimless in life. He's the heart, acting before thinking, then thinking, then probably regretting. Mann steals the show, though, as the drive, catalyst and (even though it peters off a bit towards the end) and most well-rounded character in the film. She wants something, she just isn't sure what yet. She's not even sure if Pete is that something, and that sense of longing and yearning from both, whether it's for love, careers or family, is the heart and soul of This is 40 which says: just because you're married and "stable" doesn't mean you're satisfied - part of the human condition is to always be striving for more even when everything feels "ok."

Apatow, as he always does, sets up scenes and just lets the actors do their thing. Due to the larger dramatic sense in This is 40 (though not nearly as overwritten as his previous effort, Funny People), we get very real and heartfelt looks inside the lives of these people thanks to them simply having a discussion. This is 40 isn't a film that's going to make you laugh hysterically, but it's one that will make you laugh at how well it understands its material and how much you can probably understand it alongside it.

The Bad: Despite the sense of candidness and conversation, the delivery by nearly every actor consists of over-exaggeration to a degree of "obviously trying too hard." I have no doubt there's heightened emotions abound, it's a movie afterall, but nobody ever has a sense of being "real." Relateable? Perhaps, there's certainly situations married couples will probably find taken from their own life. But "real?" Not in the slightest, and that's where This is 40 sadly falls short. It can be funny, likeable, but it can'd decide if it wants to be serious or simply have everyone mugging for the camera.

There's also a severe problem of a lot of screaming. The heightened emotions of everyone with their characters could probably have been passable if people simply weren't whining and screaming at each other every ten minutes. Two and a half hours of that and I'm pretty much convinced that marriage is possibly the worst thing ever in the history of ever. Especially the child actors, who are given nothing to do but be obnoxious and annoying and therefore cause their parents to be nothing but obnoxious and annoying. Equal reaction for very annoying action.

But the worst upon worst is the fact there's just a forced resolution to everything. Nothing really is "learned" or "overcome." Everything fixes itself without any sense of achievement. So the movie ends up a) Set up the problems b) have a lot of people yelling and screaming at each other with some great character moments despite that and c) resolve problems. That's essentially it, not to mention the few other plot threads that are brought up yet never resolved at all, such as losing a house or the older daughter's rebellious attitude or fathers (strangely no mothers) that are set up to be serious discussions but one magically comes around the other's plotline is dropped entirely.

Despite the fact that I think this is Apatow's most earnest film, it's also his loosest script and one that sets up a lot of promise yet delivers little. It does a lot of talking, but really has nothing to say despite the fact it's trying really, really hard to say it. The natural, amost "honest life" approach that worked so well in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up seems to have dissipated into a scattershot of themes that can't gestate into a narrative in Apatow's past two films. You'll laugh here and there, maybe relate as well, but never are quite sure what the big picture of it all is meant to be.

The Ugly: Spoiler...the ending of this film is the exact same ending as The 40 Year Old Virgin, bike ride and all...and it's also just as contrived.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


This is Spinal Tap

Marti DeBergi is a film-maker who decides to make a documentary, a rockumentary actually, about the world's loudest band, the British heavy metal group Spinal Tap. The movie is in fact a biting satire and spoof of the whole rock and roll scene that passes itself off as a real documentary of a real band. Hilarious behind-the-scenes footage is combined with faux-concert clips to breath life into the imaginary group.

The Good: Sure, we know the characters. We know the story. We know the one-liners and gags of this acclaimed satire. I won't bore you here by going over them because, truthfully, if you haven't seen This is Spinal Tap you're doing yourself a disservice as it is probably one of only a handful of truly great, ageless, and still relevant comedies to ever be made - its influence still seen to this day across films and television as the mocumentary has certainly become the vogue thing to do with the comedic sensibilities established in this film predating all of it. The characters are fully realized, the music unfairly catchy and lord knows that despite it being made in the early 1980s, we come to find it a time and place we simply don't want to leave. Rather, I must bring up the directing by Rob Reiner, one of the great directors that never gets enough credit for his filmography which is diverse and rarely with a miss. This could not have been an easy film to direct. To give us something so fully realized without it once feeling stages is combination of a brilliant script and absolute trust in your actors to diverge and ad-lib off of it. Through his lens, and the fact he's a character in the film himself as the "director" we see these odd characters through his everyman eyes. It's not just a satire of the weird world of heavy metal bands, that's something that probably any musician can relate to, but it is a satire of the entire music industry itself that every person can come to appreciate.

The Bad: While we come to like, if not love, the characters in the film and their insanely low intelligence, and we can utilize Reiner as the person we can relate to, we never really know them as actual people other than the scenes that come. The beats can be seen easily and the set ups even moreso sometimes giving an artificial feel. I found the best elements to be the moments when the band, together, are simply doing interviews with Reiner's character. It's those moments where they come through fully realized. As great as the other comedy scenes are, such as the metal detector or getting lost backstage, and as legendary as they are, they aren't as convincing as "these go to eleven" or "he died in a bizarre gardening accident" moments of simple talking.

The Ugly: How is it, a film that is decades old, is still as quotable as ever? Spinal Tap is absolutely timeless because music itself is timeless. What's sad is how high it set the bar. Every rock/rocumentary film that comes out will be compared to it. It's damn near unfair, but you have to ask yourself "what else could be done that Spinal Tap didn't do?" Nothing.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


This is the End

While attending a party at James Franco's house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

The Good: A self-deprecating comedy apocalypse that needed writers like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to make work. Not because they're great writers, but because they are simultaneously both great and awful. They've been through the ringer, played the Hollywood game, and have done great things and horrible things, and that experience manifests itself on-screen in this self-mockery about making movies, actors, living in Los Angeles, making and breaking friendships and living a lifestyle they both love yet despise. Oh, and the rapture happens too.

It's a "loose" script, meaning there's really no structure and everyone just plays off of each other for the most of it, but they all do it so well that you tend to not notice there's really no plot. There really can't be a plot, otherwise what makes This is the End unique would be lost.  The End of the World doesn't go out with a bang or even a whimper, it just all becomes mundane and eventually people turn on each other (and, here, in darkly funny ways). With great chemistry comes the point of the movie ieven if there isn't a story: friendships are hard to make, sometimes even harder to sustain even when you're staring the Devil in the face.

The Bad: This is the End is probably a little too long for such a "loose" film. The sense of banality and boredom surrounding the end of the world becomes an actual, physical sense in the film itself which has a great first act then slogs for the next hour and a half as it tries to find more stuff to do. Don't misunderstand: much of that stuff is funny especially considering it all has to surround one single location and utilizes its core actors extremely well, but it also is nearly two hours long and never quite feels as though it's moving along. Instead of momentum, we only have observation, then a little momentum, then more observation.

As mentioned, it's not a typical structure, it's different and can take some getting used to, but it does become borderline redundant because you start to feel that runtime rather quickly. It lacks the wit and cleverness of the great comedies, and even past Goldberg/Rogen films (Superbad especially), and while you have to admire that it lays itself out there, fully willing to take the risks, the "looseness" can come across as just a bunch of silly sketches and moments than a complete package.

Unfortunately, the movie will be dated in a year or two. It's far from something that will sustain its comedy because it's too rooted in the here and now and who these actors are at this stage in their career. As a slice of pop-cutlure, it's great. As something you'd see again, probably never.

The Ugly: The movie ends on a gag that is extremely underwhelming because it really didn't have a set up. It really needed a set up to come full-circle and complete, and  no, that montage earlier the film doesn't count.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


This Means War

Two top CIA operatives wage an epic battle against one another after they discover they are dating the same woman.

The Good: If you're interested in seeing an example of where talented and smart people work together to create something awful, this is a great start. At least it looks good and the action is handled surprisingly well (though that is something McG is pretty good at). Other than that, this is a potential contender for one of the worst films of the  year.

Well, that's unfair to an extent. Both Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are trying their best with what little they have to work with. Great on-screen chemistry works with the two and, truth is, both are incredibly likable in their roles despite the fact you can see the pain of reading lines from a script that's trying way too hard. Unfortunately you have Reese Witherspoon still doing the Reese Witherspoon being-overly-cute schtick and Chelsea Handler, the comedic equivalent of a third trimester abortion, that sinks the film before it even sets sail.

The Bad: About fifteen minutes in, I pretty much knew how this was going to go. By the "trying to be hip" tone of the film, its constant noise of generic guitar-power-cord music, the obnoxiousness of musical cues including "hip" record scratches, the over-use of blips and bloop computer sound effects (or computer effects for that matter), explosions used as a scene-wipe after the obnoxiously-large titles, fake smiles and smirks left and right and the trying-too-hard banter of its lead characters, whom I never once actually know anything about, at any given moment, I debated whether or not I wanted to watch it further. Note, I was seeing it for free and still had this debate. It was already an obnoxious annoyance to my senses and I was checking my proverbial watch only to be dismayed I had nearly two hours to go.

Two hours of…this. If I'm insulted after only fifteen minutes, do I really need to see the rest? I'm fine not bother to see it or write a review. I think the jury's verdict came in a long while ago.

Alas, I was bored and hey, I haven't punched a movie in the face in a while.

This Mean War is one of the sappy, sloggy studio action comedies that always looks better on paper than what we end up in the theater -  in the same way drinking that glass of milk sounds a lot better until you realize you're lactose intolerant well after you drank it. Conceptually, this is a great idea. In execution, it's a tired, uninspired movie that fails to resonate with its audience in the slightest. It's one of those films that you'll probably forget you saw after a few weeks and that will get lost in the world of other bland movies with big stars, like Tower Heist or Knight and Day - movies where the selling points are the big names, not the movies themselves which are the pure definition of "fluff." It's a film that throws a lot at you, but you really aren't bothering to grab on to a thing. Too contrived, too slick and too artificial for its own good.

I think the reason why is how films like these are marketed. They're PG-13 comedies that are meant to hit a specific demographic target. Perhaps what it wants to do or where it wants to go with its concept is held back by the fact it needs to make money with a teenage audience first, then worry about hitting those jokes home second. The producers, and please see the "ugly" section for a comment on that, sought out to get a very specific type of film made getting certain styles that meshed (PG-13 talents at their finest, one even wrote an Adam Sandler script) and making sure they got the right sexy, hot actors to star in it. Probably a few rewrites occurred, likely high on illegal drugs as the writers tried to connect the dots to get the concept to work. I get a sense of some punch-up meetings here and there with half-assed, post-production gags, throw in McG who has yet to really direct a quality film, yet maintains that righteous, money-hording PG-13 rating, and it all comes to a head when everything feels so unnatural and cold. Jokes fall flat, dialogue feels like they just did one take and went with it and the whole film has that odd, overly-polished sheen to it that only a big-budget studio-backed action comedy can really do right.

The Ugly: A good indication of whether or not a film is going to be bad is to, after taking into account the genre its in (here a comedy/action flick) see how many producers are involved. This Means War has NINE producers. A fluffy action-comedy with NINE producers. Someone has to explain to me why a comedy flick needs that many…that's a number more akin to big blockbuster flicks like The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises (both of which have EIGHT).

In other words, there's a lot of cooks in that kitchen…and you see the result.

I'm surprised it only cost $65 million by the way. Bloated action/comedies like this can be just as bloated in the funding department. I'm sure the studio loved that. Oh, never mind, it only made 17 million. They probably didn't love that…but they probably won't learn any lessons from it either because that's how Hollywood makes movies, damnit.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Thor

The powerful but arrogant warrior Thor is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth, where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.

The Good: It was called a risk by Marvel Studios and Paramount to create a film based on Thor. Though it was a comic book film, it wasn't something that could be adapted all that easily to a medium that's meant for a wider audience. It dealt with fantasy, gods, magic, mythology and is easily the most theatrical and outlandish products that Marvel had to offer. Yes, in a world where mutants live and people wear tights, Thor was even more above all that. That's because, at its core, Thor was also one of Marvel's more ambitious "superheroes." It turns out they had an ace: a director that absolutely "got" it. Noting the Norse roots, the dialogue and overall theatricality of it all, they went with a completely unproven action/genre film director with Kenneth Branagh. It turns out that's exactly what it needed to work. It keeps a simple story yet relishes in its theatrical nature. The result? A surprisingly entertaining, engaging, classically-tragic story with just enough bits of humor and a sense of fun to carry it along. Thor works, though it probably won't have the mass-appeal of something such as Batman or X-men.

It’s especially surprising just how much is really crammed into Thor. The story is very straightforward and simplistic which actually works for the material than against it. Because that element is so streamlined, more focus is put into the world and various mythological elements to bring out a fantastic sense of atmosphere, place and a world that relishes its fantastical and comic book source material - in otherwords its strengths (that and a damn good star-making turn by Chris Hemsworth who brings Thor to life). It’s completely unabashed in its blending of mythology with, what many call, today’s myths: comic books. This is something that people will either love or hate. Comic book fans will likely love it. It’s honest and true and probably the most sincere “comic book” movie since the original Richard Donner Superman. Others who are used to something more digestible and re-imagined into their own reality may not find it quite as appealing. Personally, I see Thor’s approach as so rare that you realize how much out there ISN’T like it and you come to appreciate it even more.

The Bad: The story of Thor’s world is wonderfully imaginative and interesting. The story of his story on Earth and the characters there, however, aren’t quite as interesting or enticing. It’s bland, flat, the characters not given much to work with (other than Thor himself) and the romance angle feels tacked on (though, I admit is is rather sweet given the ending events – a tragedy-style romance rather untapped in the realm of comic book movies).

I feel the plot and scenes on Earth are reflective of the visuals itself, another problem I have in that Branagh seems not able to shoot the real world as theatrically and artistically as he could with Asgard. It’s a wasteland, flat and uninspired - I suppose he could only do so much with it in the first place. Certainly this was to bring a visual interpretation alongside the gorgeously realized Asgard, but it also makes for something that doesn’t quite draw you in. Even the small town could have been an interesting location but it’s pretty much there to be blown up. When these scenes are on, you realize how much better Asgard is in almost every facet. You want to go there because it’s really that much better, not just visually, but story and character-wise as well. The characters are more inspired, it’s better acted and better directed – playing to Branagh's theatrical roots, I’m sure. Earth and the scenes there are entirely forgettable and considering that’s half the movie, that’s a pretty significant hit against the film.

The Ugly: There’s a lot of characters here, but really only Thor and Loki are worth noting. The entire supporting cast feels a part of it all yet without a presence, if that makes any sense. In other words, there’s good actors and characters throughout the movie but little for them to do or make any type of impression. Stars like Natalie Portman or Stellan Skarsgard have about as much of an impact to the story and as much of a personality or arc as the Marvel crossover cameos that crop up.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Thor: The Dark World

Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.

The Good: Marvel’s superhero movies know how to be fun, but as of this writing only a couple of them really take their comic-book world and characters as literal and ridiculous as they can be with childish glee. The two Thor films are just that: willing to say “you know, let’s just get crazy” and make for an epic universe-expanding space opera with gods and aliens and lasers and swords because, well “let’s just get crazy.”

For all that craziness, they thankfully have one of the finest casts you could ask for. The Dark World wouldn’t work as well as it does if everyone wasn’t so distinct, likable and charismatic. The action works well, the comedy even better and the emotion given just enough due to make all the risk worthwhile, but none of that would matter if the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston aren’t so iconic in their roles and owning (and some might say hamming up) every scene they’re in.

It’s an expansive, full-realized universe to play around in and even though it’s only superficial, the style and artistic design of the strange magic-god-science fiction world is something to behold. It’s utterly audacious in it’s no holds barred approach to “just go with it.” And you will, and you’ll have a damn good time while doing it.

The Bad: Running through a film at a break-neck speed can draw you in with intensity and excitement and spectacle, but anything past that leaves it all cold. Characters can feel underdeveloped, notably one villain here, relationships forced, comedy shoehorned, one-liners given more importance over dialogue and emotional beats given the same stance as a zinger of Stellan Skarsgård running through Stonehenge nude.

Thor The Dark World isn’t necessarily badly paced as much as it is a slave to its own momentum. It’s entertaining as Hell, but never resonates beyond what it’s seemingly striving for: a heart, something the first film found in smaller character moments. It’s a romance, an adventure to test the limits of its characters, but little gravity and sincerity making nothing feel quite as riskier or serious as it should be, especially the ending finale which might have meant it was a test of Thor’s will, but in the end comes across as a video game boss fight with a one-dimensional bad-guy to boot.

But hey, emotion is very subjective and when Thor does hit those beats right, it can. It just doesn’t do it as much as it seems it thinks it does, as though there’s footage left on a cutting room floor (or gigabytes on an Avid machine) that should be stuck back in place.

The Ugly: Again, Thor’s Asgard friends are barely touched upon. I don’t even remember their names, just their look, and I also don’t know why they’re important (aside from their comic counterparts). And that love-triangle sub-plot? Why bother?

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Three Days of the Condor

A mild mannered CIA researcher, paid to read books, returns from lunch to find all of his co-workers assassinated. "Condor" must find out who did this and get in from the cold before the hitmen get him.

The Good: One of the many gritty, urban crime thrillers of the 1970s, Three Days of the Condor is a must-watch as it combines the likes of Scorpio and The French Connection with a Hitchockian spy thriller. Even though the great Sydney Pollock didn't direct a ton of thrillers, you'd think he was an old pro with this film that has your staples: a man on the run and wrongfully accused, the villain hunting him, the love interest that becomes inter-tangled and the investigators from the CIA trying to unravel it all. What you want in a thriller, this film has. It's carried primarily by the strong performances of Redford and Max von Sydow, who is absolutely magnificent in his portrayal of a man determined to get his man. It has a fantastic sense of constant paranoia, well as constant as it can be as it attempts to develop a romance that doesn't quite work, but you sense the dread and uncertainty of Redford's fear that he could be killed at any moment if he doesn't figure out the next three moves.

The Bad: About an hour or so in the story and suspense grinds to a halt in favor of a larger focus on a romance that, while a nice addition to the plot to add some dynamics, wallows and moves far too slow and slogs along to have anything happen.  It wouldn't be so noticeable if we didn't have a fifteen minute section of the movie that is noticeably different from the rest of the film dominated by cat and mouse games, guns and paranoia. Some might call it a calm in the middle of the storm, but I call it a plot device that tries to feel more relevant and important than it really is and could have been handled in about three minutes. Maybe if the scene directly after it didn't feel like "here's a recap in case you just forgot everything" scene, it might have worked a little better. I would even go as so far to say the entire character played by Faye Dunaway could be removed completely and nothing would be lost. It holds back an otherwise engaging thriller plot.

The Ugly: In all honesty, this is one of those thrillers that you're glad you saw when you do, but you aren't particularly missing anything if you don't. Yes it's a well directed, well acted and, mostly, well written, but it's also a story that's been done better before.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


3 Days to Kill

A dying CIA agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

The Good: The best thing that 3 Days to Kill has going for it is that it never takes itself too seriously. There’s an element of melodrama, sure, but thanks to a bit of a tongue-in-cheek turn by Kevin Costner and a pretty consistent tone, you can enjoy a couple of hours watching people doing bad things to each other. The comedic edge, and Costner himself, salvages a pretty mediocre script directed by a pretty mediocre director in McG.

As mentioned, Costner is the main highlight. He’s in every scene and doing the best with what little is given for his character to do. Be a dad. Fix a family. Kill some people. Then repeat. That’s the structure of the film which lacks an sense of tension and urgency, but Costner and a handful of action beats can at leafs get you invested for a few hours before you forget it all entirely.

The Bad: If Costner wasn’t so committed to having a pretty good time, and it shows, 3 Days to Kill would be borderline unwatchable. The directing draws attention to itself far more than necessary, the script has no focus whatsoever and the plot devolves into contrived finishes and uninspired climaxes. The action is brief and still effective, yet the film bogs itself down with its main plot about a father and daughter and a broken family. It doesn’t center itself on this nearly enough, and you kind of wonder if it really needed to in the first place and just be a straight-shot action thriller about an aging assassin.

It’s hard to really tell if it’s the writing or the directing, but I would lean towards the directing given that McG has yet to direct a single film that isn’t, at best, middle-of-the-road bland. Then again, writer Luc Besson has been down this road a million times in his career, and maybe that’s why the film has a lovely tone of “eh…it’ll do” thriving throughout it.

3 Days to Kill is just an unimaginative and uninspired work that you’ll forget about rather quickly. It has no voice, no distinction and is a movie that treats its material in a manner that suggests it was far more clever on paper than on execution. A few highlights here and there simply can’t bring the film above simply being average, and Costner’s strong performance is more deserving of a better movie.

The Ugly: McG has yet to make a good movie, he should probably just stick to producing which is more his strong suit.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


3:10 to Yuma

A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who's awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher.

The Good: 3:10 to Yuma is everything you want, and pretty much expect, when you think of a western. It's air of dangerous, it's ever-shifting tales of morality and various ideologies, shootouts, saloons, fistfights, and evil men who are evil because, well, it's pretty damn easy to do what you want. It's a hell of a lot easier being an evil man than it is a good man, and that's really the story and idea behind 3:10 to Yuma and all the ambiguity that comes with such a statement comes along with it. The directing is utterly superb, and the atmosphere echoes sentiments of classic spaghetti westerns but with more refined sensibilities found in a Ford or Anthony Mann.  Performances are solid, but not particularly noteworthy save for the ominous and dastardly Ben Foster and a nice little appearance by Peter Fonda. Crowe's Wade is a nice balance to Bale's Evans, though, and their conversations and obvious unsaid respect really carries the film with assured shoulders.

The Bad: A messy, very messy actually, third act and climatic finale doesn't quite hit the ball out of the park. The characters are nicely developed and acted, but you're left with a sense of unfulfilled goals because so much of the rest of the film is just pitch-perfect. Perhaps it sets its own bar too high, but it feels like an ending rewritten and mulled over time and time again rather than something that flows naturally. Maybe it's the fact it seems to build towards a message - as though it has something to day. Yet, you're left with it not saying much at all, no great revelation or sense of "winning," but at least you're also left with a pretty good film in the process.

The Ugly: Many considered this the film that "breathed new life into the Western." I don't see how or why. It's a good western, but it didn't reinvent anything, much less rekindle the genre. It's the western movie that crops up every few years or so, everybody loves, and it then moves on until the next great western. The entire genre is far from fruitful in today's climate - but it has a decent cycle going for it.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Throne of Blood

A transposition of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' to medieval Japan. After a great military victory, Lords Washizu and Miki are lost in the dense Cobweb Forest, where they meet a mysterious old woman who predicts great things for Washizu and even greater things for Miki's descendants. Once out of the forest, Washizu and Miki are immediately promoted by the Emperor. Washizu, encouraged by his ambitious wife, plots to make even more of the prophecy come true, even if it means killing the Emperor...

The Good: Throne of Blood came out during a time Kurosawa was making endless masterpieces. He covered a large amount of genres during the time as well, and while Throne of Blood is easy to cast into his “Samurai” genre, it’s really as much as “samurai” film as Rashomon is. It’s Shakespeare, and many consider it the best film adaptation of Shakespeare’s work (this being MacBeth) and I would consider Kurosawa’s most streamlined and tight scripts he worked with. Perhaps that’s the faithfulness of Shakespeare coming though.

Macbeth is about fear, if you know the play at least you know what kind of fear it is. With Kurosawa’s presentation of atmosphere and attention to details, that fear shines through and literally leaps off the page. It’s how he lights his subjects and the darkly, unknown backgrounds he utilizes in a seemingly German-expressionist influenced mélange of filmmaking. Dark shadows. Sharp angles. Fine performances (Mifune, once again, showing his range in tackling the melodrama of Shakespeare)

The Bad: Know that, this isn’t a great adaptation of Macbeth in the literal sense. In fact, it changes quite a bit. But it’s a great example of how to actually do an adaptation. It’s called being faithful in spirit and not undermining the original. Both the play and film end very, very differently, yet both endings are fitting to what the theme and context of the story is. It’s that aspect that’s important when adapting something, not whether or not they got a piece of dialogue right or some minor plot element was cut.

The Ugly: This is an example of when filmmaking was real “making.” Kurosawa literally had to have the castle built....on a slope of Mt. Fuji no less. All because he wanted that shot. On TOP of that, they used real weapons and actually shot real arrows at Japan’s biggest star, again because Kurosawa wanted those shots. Keep that in mind when you’re watching the final scenes.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Tightrope

Wes Block is a detective who's put on the case of a serial killer. His victims are young and pretty women...

The Good: Clint Eastwood has always played the "gritty" side of the "good guy." He may be a bit tough, mean-spirited and with a temper in the likes of Fistful of Dollars or the Dirty Harry films, but you always knew, without question, he was the good guy. In Tightrope, he tests even that as an amoral cop that falls into a world of fetish, sex and violence. As he hunts down a serial killer, he's both disturbed yet intrigued by the world he uncovers. This is when you realize that Tightrope is less a "good guy after the bad guy" movie and more a character study about the obsessive nature of man.

Tightrope is a dark and occasionally twisted piece of contemporary noir. Though far from perfectly done, it's an ambitious little film that had Eastwood, arguably the biggest star at the time, showing a new dimension of his acting ability that's full of rage, emotion and contemplative compulsions. Around it all is a pretty nifty, and consistently-tense, little mystery that you fall into yourself as you even begin questioning the agendas of your main character, and when that happens, even when it's the usually-heroic Clint Eastwood, you can never fully predict what will happen and how it will all unfold.

The Bad: Sometimes a film can lose track, and Tightrope often loses track. It wants to be both a character study and an intriguing murder-mystery, but sometimes it forgets the latter as it will dwell more on Eastwood's character and the issues involving him, moving slowly in doing so, then trying to remind us there's still a killer on the loose and we need to address that now. It's a mesh that doesn't work as fluidly and seamlessly as it should.

The Ugly: One of the better noir thrillers that nobody really talks about.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Time After Time

In late 19th century England, writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) unwittingly includes Jack the Ripper (David Warner) in his social circle. When one of Wells's dinner parties is crashed by the police looking for the Ripper, Jack uses the author's time machine to escape. But there's one catch--after it has been used, the machine returns to Wells's time. Thus the literary genius bravely sets out to find his evil friend before he can wreak havoc on another time period, and soon arrives in modern-day San Francisco.

The Good: "Ninety years ago, I was a freak. Today...I'm an amateur." Lines like that is what gives this movie so much credibility. The script is far more intelligent and smart than the premise probably deserved. It's easy to find movie with ridiculous premises. It's hard to find one that makes those premises work. For some reason, as strange and bizarre as it may seem, Time After Time gives a movie that works in an off-the-wall "what if" scenario. Two historical figures are fictionalized as traveling to our own time, and we buy it completely. There was a time when movies were inventive and creative, not merely just sequels or based on something else (or remakes), Time After Time is purely original from the script, to the smart casting of Malcolm McDowell and Warner, both acting effortlessly in their respective roles, to understated directing and special effects. It really is "Time Machine" meets "From Hell" (or, rather, Murder by Decree with From Hell more or less takes from). Despite the serious plot, the movie is just plain fun. It has gags, romance, smart dialogue between Welles and Jack and gives us a precursor to another time-travel comedy, Back to the Future, that shares many similarities in tone. It underplays it all, as though it's just another day, and that attitude and approach is what sells us on it.

The Bad: To make the story work, it had to name Jack the Ripper. While the crimes of Jack are what gave him notoriety, it's also his anonymity that added to his mystery. To point the finger so early, only to give us a Jack-H.G connection seems forced and ruins the mystery of Jack's identity, which I think would have added even more to the story itself. Sometime the script is too smart for its own good as well, unable to levy the scale of effortless storytelling with forced scripted scenarios to movie along. Thankfully, the characters hide much of that and the good scenes are so good that any problems with that is more or less pointless to bring up. I only do because it is there.

The Ugly: When it comes to special effects, I never discredit a movie as a result of their quality, especially older movies, but...yeah, they're pretty dated. Plus, as it was made in 1979, the "modern" wow factor for Wells seems moot.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Time Bandits

A young boy's wardrobe contains a time hole. Through this hole an assortment of short people (i.e. dwarfs) come while escaping from their master, the supreme being. They take Kevin with them on their adventures through time from Napoleonic times to the Middle Ages to the early 1900s, to the time of Legends and the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness where they confront Evil.

The Good: A classic Gilliam satire that pretty much established the man's style in the first five minutes. This was his very first major film he directed after Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well, there was Jabborwocky but there's probably more people who know about that film than have actually seen it. As is the case with much of Gilliam, his characters, so often over-the-top, really leap out of the screen. They're all caricatures, yes, but they're incredibly fun (or frightening) caricatures. We're not looking for depth here, just a cause and additional elements to help add to the sense of adventure.

It's a perfect fit for Gilliam. Bouncing from period to period allows for new characters, stories and skits to come and go - all beautifully shot and with striking costume designs, individual sound and music for each and, in a few cases, shot on location in a number of differing terrains, periods and visual tones make for a sharp production that looks well beyond its rather small budget. It's perfectly suited for the director considering the sketch comedy background. He handles each with the eyes of a child and has enough to play and work with to bring out the best elements. It's all wondrous, random and surprisingly smart with its balance of adventure, comedy and dark satire. I suppose it's a bit more Monty Python than we realize. Only here masked as a kids movie that's certainly more Grimm than Mother Goose. In fact, most of the humor and situations would be well over children's heads, yet it all completely and willingly succumbs to its joy of childhood and imagination.

The Bad: Having long stretches with nothing pushing the story forward simply happens a lot more than it should, especially if the story itself is already thin and not with enough happening within it in the first place. The sketch attributes helps for moments of hilarity, but it doesn't help in a story to be developed or characters established. After some time of this, and the fact it's a wash-rinse-repeat method, it can grow a little tiresome. New period, new situation, find a way out, move on. None are connected so you can pretty much do anything without severe consequence to any over-arching narrative or character development. 

The big hit here, though: the ending. You're really going to end this movie like that? There's no resolution, it's a completely downer and it just ends.

The Ugly: While almost all of Gilliam's films have the plot launched from apparent randomness, things often just happen for the sake of happening, they at least stem from some sort of story. Brazil had a malfunction, Fear and Loathing had drugs, 12 Monkeys had an extinction. So...who do all these things just happen to happen to our little hero here? I guess we just have to take the "it's his imagination run rampant" theory. There's really no reason to be had here. It all just happens for the sake of going on an adventure. At least Bill and Ted had a goal and reason to go on their adventure.

Now I don't hold that against Time Bandits, necessarily. It's a children's story and those often just have young protagonists stumbling into adventure. Of course, in many of those cases its the protagonist that imitates. Here all these things come to him, as though he's the center of the universe.Also, of course, it's hard to really call this a children's story when you have so many depictions of war, people being executed, a gameshow where contestants have to kill themselves if they fail and cute little dogs blowing up into nice meaty chunks.

Well, I guess that's why the word "irreverent' exists, no?

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6's echelons. 

The Good: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an exercise in steadiness and pace. Not a word is spoken without thought, a shot wasted without purpose or a reveal exquisitely timed without merit. If James Bond is the action version of spies, this entry into the genre is the dramatic and, quite astutely in its own world, the believable side. It isn't a film of breadth, but a film of depth and thought. Of dialogue and character. Of mystery that harkens back to films of the 50s and 60s that relish in patience and atmospheres of anxiety.

The film never overplays its hand. Behind the performances, notably one of Gary Oldman's very best, is a story that is cool, calm and always tense. Nothing is made simple here. One would assume that, in this world, nothing is simple. Like the visuals, everything about the plot is about shades of gray and puts it out there to be discovered by the audience, not simply llaid out in obnoxiously obvious fashion of simplistic good and evil, or right and wrong. With a firm root into its time period and a sense of constant dread, whether its warranted or not, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the most intellectual spy films to come out in some time.

The Bad: This is a thinking-man's spy movie, so much so I probably need to go back and watch it again. I don't recall the original mini-series being so convoluted, then again they took the entire mini-series and crammed it into a feature so I suppose convolution is to be expected. The problem is it takes a very simple plot and pushes to complex proportions that probably didn't need to be. The complexity, as great as it is, is found more due to execution, not in concept and as much as I enjoyed it, a film's job is to, at the very least, tell a clear story. You can be clear and complex, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is simply intent on focusing sorely on the latter and letting you have to think a little harder to put it together.

This approach will turn off most. I myself found it somewhat frustrating because the greatness of it can easily be seen. We get a very matter-of-fact film with little in terms of depth to its characters as its far too sincere on its plot and world. As the best analogy I can come up with, the film is like a two-plus-hour chess game and the characters not that much different than the pieces on the board. Intriguing. Gripping. Smart. But altogether can turn a bit dull at times as you try to wrap your head around it.

The Ugly: I don't know if Oldman will be nominated for Best Actor for his role here, but it's really one of the man's best. His range is astounding. The calm, cool demeanor of George Smiley comes across with great authenticity to the point you forget you're watching an actor "act."

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Titanic

84 years later a 100-year-old woman named Rose DeWitt Bukator tells the story to her granddaughter Lizzy Calvert, Brock Lovett, Lewis Bodine, Bobby Buell, and Anatoly Mikailavich on the Keldysh about her life set in April 10th 1912, on a ship called Titanic when young Rose boards the departing ship with the upper-class passengers and her mother, Ruth DeWitt Bukater, and her fiancé, Caledon Cal Hockley. Meanwhile, a drifter and artist named Jack Dawson and his best friend Fabrizio De Rossi win third-class tickets to the ship in a game. And she explains the whole story from departure until the death of Titanic on its first and last voyage April 15th, 1912 at 2:20 in the morning.

The Good: It was sold, shot and promoted as spectacle...and that's exactly what we got. You know how it will end, but I've always believed in the journey being far more important than the destination - especially when you already know that destination is a big iceberg dead ahead. For the most part, Cameron keeps things interesting and moving with an attention to detail that is the product of a perfectionist. A big boat, a handful of key characters, and lots and lots of water. Titanic's greatest achievement is this spectacle because the tragedy itself really is difficult to imagine unless you were there. Well, Cameron does what he promised and puts us there in a fashion that is rare in film. I don't think there's a moment where you really have a suspension of disbelief because everything is so believable. Well, almost everything. We'll get to Jack and Rose in the next section.

The Bad: It's hard to tell if the film would have benefited from concentrating less on Jack and Rose's romance and, rather, take an "A Night to Remember" approach, a superior film I might add, and tell various stories equally (most disaster movies also take this approach). I can understand Cameron's thought process here, Jack and Rose allow a always relevant story to the events rather than shifting one to the other, however it does it to a degree that is more distracting and, arguably, undermines the event itself. Their lustful affair is convincing enough, and both character pretty likable although far from Winslet or DiCaprio's best performances even at that time (they showed their chops in previous films, this was a bit of a step back), but so were other characters that we really see very little of yet wish we could...and especially knowing their fate and how it will end up.

The Ugly: Despite winning every Oscar under the sun, I honestly wasn't that impressed by the special effects at the time (note, the CG, not the practical ones those were great). PS, love that poster. Not sure why, maybe the paining-like quality of it.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


300

In 480 BC, the Persian king Xerxes sends his massive army to conquer Greece. The Greek city of Sparta houses its finest warriors, and 300 of these soldiers are chosen to meet the Persians at Thermopylae, engaging the soldiers in a narrow canyon where they cannot take full advantage of their numbers. The battle is a suicide mission, meant to buy time for the rest of the Greek forces to prepare for the invasion. However, that doesn't stop the Spartans from throwing their hearts into the fray, determined to take as many Persians as possible with them.

The Good: A stylish, visual feast of large sword and spear Greek warriors killing a lot of people. Well, if that’s all the movie is it fully succeeds. Well…that is about all the movie is, actually and its at least entertaining in that regard. Gerard Butler is a presence on screen and, while we know and thus appreciate very little about his character, his scowl and steel in hand is more than enough to draw us in. He carries the film well and the action scenes are a well-conducted orchestra of blood and brutality.

The Bad: The worst part of 300 is its prevalent and pompous need to feel self-gratifying to a legion of teenage boys. A simple and straightforward action movie would have suited the material well, but it tried to present itself more than what it really is. Trying too hard, rather than lift up the content to a higher level, we’re instead reminded of the problems of one-dimensional characters, overbearing directing and atrocious dialogue throughout the entire length of the film. It tries to be distracting in that regard so you don’t notice those issues rather than going with the motions of the genre it’s really set in (mindless action) and understand what kind of film it is in the first place. Also, despite it being, as I noted, a "stylish visual feast," that doesn't necessarily mean it's a pretty film to look at. Stylish and beautiful aren't always synonymous with each other, and this case it has lots of style but it all takes place in a world of black and brown that is as bland and boring as the characters that inhabit it. It has plenty of nifty tricks, special effects and action, but it's done in a world that's simply ugly, desolate and boring. It's like taking a dull black and white photo and trying to photoshop in the pretty flowers.

The Ugly: As popular as this was a few years ago, I think 300 is going to be forgotten as time goes on if it isn’t already. People would rather buy it to show off a new television than for what’s really inside the package.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


300: Rise of an Empire

Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.

The Good: You can’t fault a film for trying, even though it’s only trying in one area. That area, though, is visually spectacular and plentiful as blood sprays across the screen in visceral, nasty action with a high gloss sheen. 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t without a style. A style over substance, mind you, but a distinct style nonetheless. It takes what little actually happens in the story and makes it entertaining, if not outright fun at times.

To sell the absurdity a bit further, though, and much like the original 300 film, Rise of an Empire is full of outlandish acting to coincide with that outlandish acting. It’s not a flaw, mind you. This is classic Greek-style mythological melodrama where everything is over-the-top and absurd, led by a brilliant performance by Eva Green who has a screen presence rarely seen. She’s violent, angry, alluring yet completely insane - as in there’s absolutely no logic to her whatsoever. I mean, one of her opening scenes is her nonchalantly decapitating her own brother. That tells you the type of character she is and Green owns the role, putting the rest of the cast, who aren’t horrible mind you, to shame. She has little to work with, yet does an astounding job with it.

Though it’s not enough to make the film good, it’s more than enough to make it entertaining and watchable. All other scenes without her on screen may be dull by comparison, but thankfully she’s given plenty of screen time with her shallow yet undeniably memorable character to play with.

The Bad: Rise of an Empire feels less a complete movie and more a bunch of ideas kind of carried out on film. I say “kind of” because it’s only “kind of” seen through. It’s as though nothing is fully realized and it skates by with its 10 or so scenes stretched out and none of it really coming together to make a whole. Because it also has that fantasy/dreamlike element of the original 300 film, the Snyder aesthetic practically trademarked here, it also comes across as completely uninvolved in to actually making a good film. Here’s some pretty stuff. Here’s some blood. Some action. Here’s a thing with some boats. Here’s a character you remember from the other film. Here’s a bunch of stuff…and though none of it really ever comes together or even make a lot of sense, here it is.

That seems to be the philosophy of Rise of an Empire. It’s as though the producers and filmmakers looked at 300 and only saw the pretty pictures. “Let’s do more of that,” they said. Yet they failed to also see that 300 at least had a solid pace, memorable characters and a structure to it. I couldn’t tell you what the structure to this sequel is because the filmmakers don’t give a shit about it. They just want to make sure they nail that aesthetic. It’s like if someone on the internet wanted to do their own 300 fan movie and had a budget.

But all that aside, even the one feather in the cap of anything 300 was the action, and outside of a sex-fight, there’s nothing here to remember. It’s all shallow. Ugly. Uninventive. Often unclear or well shot. It’s just a mess, and in a year that has already seen some of the best action movies to come down the pipe in a while, this reeks of nothing more than a shameless cash-grab for fanboy eye orgasms. Usually, I’m in the “it is what it is” side of things when it comes to movies, especially genre and action flicks, but the problem here is that this movie is a sequel. 300 was very much an “it is what it is” yet this movie fails to live up to even that and shows how much better done 300 was and how sub-par this movie is.

The Ugly: A remarkable performance by Eva Green is wasted here. She’s fantastic. But damn…what an utter waste.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


To Catch a Thief

When the jewelries of millionaires are stolen in French Riviera, the former burglar and member of the French resistance John Robie "The Cat" is the prime suspect of the police. John convinces the Lloyds of London insurance agent H.H. Hughson that a copycat is committing the burglaries and he offers to chase the thief to prove his innocence, requesting a list of possible victims in the spot. He befriends the wealthy American widow Jessie Stevens that is in the list and her spoiled daughter Frances Stevens falls in love for him. When Jessie's jewelries are robbed, Frances blames John, but her mother believes in his innocence and decides to help the retired burglar to catch the real thief.

The Good: One of Hitchcock's most gorgeously shot films, and I believe his first shot in VistaVision, one thing you will certainly take away from To Catch a Thief is its setting. The French Riviera has never been as romanticized and gorgeous as we the scenery, the ocean, the architecture, the twisting roads all highlighted by two fantastic stars, Gary Grant at his most charming and Grace Kelly at her most gorgeous (and also her last film before moving on to be a princess of Monaco, of all things). It's a romance film first, cat-and-mouse movie second, and is refined in developing the romance between the two leads due to its centered focus in doing so - much of the sub-plots fall to the wayside to achieve this, and we end up with  great on-screen couple by the end. It's a fun film, alluring and charismatic from beginning to end thanks to its setting and legendary stars.

The Bad: Despite the concept, the cast, the location and the man handling it all, To Catch a Thief is really a simple, easy to enjoy romantic comedy that really doesn't carry a lot of weight or intrigue to it as we've seen in usual Hitchcock stories of the same fare. The mystery isn't that important, it's merely background fodder to the Grant-Kelly relationship than anything and to show off the couple in beautiful vistas and French architecture. It's light, and there's certainly no problem with that, but it also feels as though there's something better trying to get out of it. Perhaps a better plot, or a better who-dun-it, or a simply a better storytelling process than going from scene to scene with Grant and Kelly playing off each other and a finale that is as low-key and anticlimatic as much of the film itself.

The Ugly: I don't hate this film, certainly, but I can't say I love it either. It's certainly a great effort and a unique romantic comedy, but it's never quite in the discussion of Hitch's best because it feels a little off-balance. I'll tell you what it reminds me of: The Pink Panther. No, not the awful remake, the original from the early 60s. It's light and fun, like that, but with a romantic angle, only half the wit and no Peter Sellers.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


To Rome With Love

The lives of some visitors and residents of Rome and the romances, adventures and predicaments they get into.

The Good: There's a certain expectation when it comes to a Woody Allen movie. Not necessarily it's quality, that rises and falls like the tide, but in whether or not it showcases Allen's strength: dialogue, conversation and a self-aware sense of humor. To Rome With Love has all that, it just doesn't quite have enough of it, though it certainly has enough good intentions.

There's a sense of fondness coursing through these characters. Well, the male characters, at least, all of which seem to be bits and pieces of Allen's own neurotic personality. The film treats them nicely, believably despite the rather fantasy-driven aspect of their respective stories, but all with care and affection; distinct archetypes we've seen before but expressed well and written with admiration. This isn't a love-letter for Rome, Rome actually plays very little part of it, but it's a love letter of personalities and on that level, it works just fine.

The Bad: The women of To Rome with Love seem to be either a) sluts or b) neurotic shrewd bitches. There's a major discrepancy between how the men are written in this film and the women, the only strong female character being the wife of a suddenly-famous Italian played by Roberto Benigni. Well, "strong" maybe isn't the right word, I suppose "normal" and "believable" is more like it. Sure, the film may be full of male wish-fulfillment and fantasy for the most part, but there is an aura of self-indulgence that is incredibly off-putting.

Self-indulgence is nothing new to Allen, but the story and direction often makes up for it. Here, it just doesn't. There's nothing bad here, but nothing particularly great either. It's an easily digestible bit of male-driven fantasy with solid acting and dialogue, but that's about it. There's little to no impression it will give you other than to say "these are people in Rome doing things" and all saying it in Woody Allen's voice.

The Ugly: I know it's hard to follow up Midnight in Paris. That film really hit all the right things that this movie fails to, but this is still as much of a Woody Allen as I've seen in a long time, which is why the lack of impact and distinctiveness of it is a bit disappointing.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


To The Wonder

After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Marina meets a priest and fellow exile, who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane.

The Good: Like all of Malick's movies, To the Wonder is an ever-evolving mediation on life and perspective. Malick doesn't tell stories, he goes where the thought and the moment takes him and tries to have the themes and characters express the story through their voiceover dialogue and moments of clarity, if not outright poetic beauty. Less a sentimental narrative and more a textured emotive situation - meant to be seen and felt, not necessarily thought upon. To the Wonder begins as one thing, turns in to another, then turns again in to another, starting as a look at life, then faith, views of the world and the various  aspects of love from father, to God, to lover.

Malick is great at tracing these steps through unique visual storytelling. He's never direct and follows a line of steps in sand not entirely knowing where they will go. It's easy to become invested, though where Malick goes sometimes isn't entirely clear and almost always never expected. Though much of his thematic punch is a retread of his other films, the dedication he has to it and to express it is never in doubt.

The Bad: Yet, it's much of a retread to what Malick has done in the past. While, as usual, the expression and execution of the craft is as gorgeous as you'll ever witness, and his conviction undeniable, Malick lacks anything new to say or do - less of a standalone film and more an epilogue to two or three of his past ones. As he's a thematic filmmaker, looking to explore the aspects of an idea and concept, he's already done much of it already. The view of life and love, faith and belief has already been stated by him in numerous other films that didn't try to shove it all in one. Days of Heaven is about love, the Tree of Life about living and dying and faith, The Thin Red Line about life choices and perspective….and whereas all those were dedicated to one inert and single poignancy, To the Wonder tries to encompass all of it like a footnote to better films.

Though it tries to be profound, it comes across as a film with incredibly beauty but uninspired interest in amateur poetry. Malick still captures "moments' better than anyone, but we're unfortunately treated to voiceover with those moments that say a lot, yet say nothing. Lots of, what could be mistaken for, lyrical annotations end up not contributing to what it is we're needing to grasp, or more importantly "why" we need to grasp it - especially considering that much of that voiceover can often be mistaken as a B-side to a previous Malick album that left it on the cutting room floor - and for good reason. Repetitive, often rhetorical, To the Wonder is the Malick film that is an example of what most people complain about Malick films - only this time they're actually right.

The Ugly: Perhaps it's just a tired, almost lazy approach that makes me put off from the film. Malick is almost always intriguing. Even if you don't like his films, you're interested in what he does…but there's nothing to be interested about here because the film itself is uninteresting.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Tombstone

After success cleaning up Dodge City, Wyatt Earp moves to Tombstone, Arizona, and wishes to get rich in obscurity. He meets his brothers there, as well as his old friend Doc Holliday. A band of outlaws that call themselves The Cowboys are causing problems in the region with various acts of random violence, and inevitably come into confrontation with Holliday and the Earps, which leads to a shoot-out at the OK Corral.

The Good: Val Kilmer.

Need I say more?

Oh, this is a review, so I suppose I better because going on about the outstanding, memorable, quotable and defining performance by Kilmer, who's Doc Holliday utterly makes the film, can only go so far. I suppose we'll talk about a great sense of style to it by director George Cosmatos has a something to do with it as well. Cosmatos wasn't really a renowned director, his "best" film before this being First Blood Part II, and he manages the scenes and action moments well, though with him you must give a nod to photographer William Fraker, Oscar nominated in numerous films before Tombstone, with his use of light, shadow and surprising vivid colors for a dusty ole western. With Val, you have the Kurt Russell. While his Wyatt Earp is more the comic book hero myth than an actual man, he fits nicely in it because, if anything, Tombstone is completely about the love of the myth, not the actual story, of Earp and his coming into the old western town. Tombstone is shallow, yes, but it's also a bit of a love-letter to what we like about Westerns and it manages to be better than films that also try that approach (such as The Quick and the Dead or Maverick). This isn't The Searchers or Unforgiven - but it's not trying to be. Rather, it's there to be "fun" as a western, and it hits that element out of the park. I mean, if you're going to attach the director of Cobra and the writer of Rambo II and Glory, you know exactly what kind of film you're going for.

The Bad: There's a moment in Tombstone where, from that point on, the film switches from "fun and entertaining" to "heavy handed and overly melodramatic." It's when a character suddenly has an "epiphany" of sorts and everything feels ham-fisted and far too self-important for its own good. Tombstone doesn't try to make itself more than it is: a simple, light western. It's pleasantly rewatchable and simply enjoyable with that, not to mention its characters, rather than the morality parables a lot of more dramatic westerns might go for. Yet, it turns around on itself and when it calls for a time to be "serious and sincere" where it comes off as laughably contrived.

The Ugly: Did you know Val Kilmer voiced Moses in The King of Egypt? Let me repeat that: Val Kilmer was Moses. My theory of him being the savior of mankind just went up a notch.

Final Rating:
4 out of 5


Tootsie

An unemployed actor with a reputation for being difficult disguises himself as a woman to get a role in a soap opera

The Good: Tootsie is hinged on one thing: a singular, star-making performance by Dustin Hoffman. There's a lot of films, especially in his early career, that can claim that. Here, though, he utterly owns it and well deserved of his Oscar nomination (one of seven over his career). He may not have won for Tootsie, but I think it's hard to argue it's probably his most famous role. It's easy to say it's merely because he puts on a dress and a wig, but it goes well beyond that. Hoffman plays to very distinct roles as Michael, our struggling and eccentric out-of-work actor, and Dorothy, our strong and determined successful actress. They are night and day and it's striking how absolutely convincing he is. You forget they are the same person on occasion. Yes, it's Hoffman in drag, but the character he puts out in Dorothy is so strong you completely forget about it.

Behind Hoffman, though, is an amazing supporting cast, especially Bill Murray who seems to always shine in great, small roles like this throughout his career. You sense a fantastic character with an actor that doesn't have a whole lot of screentime - just great scenes and working with some great material given to him.

Like early Woody Allen or John Hughes at his height, Tootsie manages to be both hilarious, intelligent and significant at the same time. It's poignant without being preachy, smart without being pretentious and funny without needing to be forced to do so. It's one of those rare "natural" comedies that has a very "unnatural" situation yet completely feels aware of itself. More importantly, is that it manages to be dramatic without having to dip too much into melodrama. Oh, it can here and there, especially as we conclude our cross-dressing adventure, but it manages to be moving while doing so: showing elements of love that feels honest and right while questioning the established norms and perceptions of all of us.

The Bad: Structurally, Tootsie won't offer a ton of surprises for people. It has been labeled a "situational comedy" in that it is, one by one, knocking out scenes and dialogue that is about on par with a standard television sit com. That's not meant to be insulting necessarily, it's just that it seems to fall back on that as a crutch - but if anything to allow the performances to shine and it's the performances that the film is meant to be focusing on. It knows it's pretty standard fare and those "sit com scenes" are masked and hidden by Hoffman and company to where you really wouldn't notice in the first place.

The Ugly: It's Hoffman in drag no matter how much makeup you put on him. It's a bit...obvious, isn't it? Movie magic, I guess.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Top Five

A comedian tries to make it as a serious actor when his reality-TV star fiancée talks him into broadcasting their wedding on her TV show.

The Good: Top Five is a simple movie but one with depth. Yes, you can have depth with simplicity, they aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s about a man and a woman walking around New York for a day and having conversations about life. That’s it. But those conversations…that’s where Top Five is incredibly brilliant. The natural, organic and personal nature of what leads Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson discuss is less something written on a page and more the two discussing their own lives.

There’s no denying that Top Five, in a way, is semi-autobiographical. It’s certainly a personal movie for writer/director Rock and it shows in its desire to be authentic, stripped-down, simple and just let the characters and dialogue speak for themselves. A discussion about substance abuse isn’t so much a revelation about Andrew, Rock’s character, as much as it is about Rock commenting on his own life and the fears he has about “not being funny.”

This is they type of movie that someone like Rock could make a million of. It’s a mouthpiece of him, but also has a lot of heart and personality to it as well. It’s a stand up routing brought to life with characters and for someone like Rock, it’s a perfect fit and transcends simply being “about” something and finding an audience because it not being “about something” ends up far more universal. You take away small elements that are easily identifiable, and remember the points and themes along the way as Rock creates a movie that isn’t about story and more about people’s feelings, emotions and lives that are incredibly easy to relate to.

The Bad: Top Five wants to find a way to end, and it feels as though it forces itself to. When your entire structure is centered on just talking, giving a few reveals and having many paths on how it could end, it might be difficult to know how to wrap it up and unfortunately it kind of shows. It’s a movie with people kind of just “hanging out” and a lot of clever, organic dialogue so when it seems to force something that’s a little more contrived, it simply sticks out and feels out of place.

The theme there is a recurring romantic angle about Cinderella as a theme, which feels awkward against the more observant comedic elements giving commentary on the media, relationships, celebrity and fame and especially the stronger angle of faults, regrets and personal problems. A sudden shoehorning of this idea just doesn’t feel natural, and thus doesn’t feel part of the rest of the movie…and to end on it all really seems to be a misfire because it doesn’t add anything to to otherwise smart and witty conversation that Rock gives us.

The movie strongly enforces being “real” and “natural” - that’s the point of most of the dialogue between Rock and Dawson on top of the entire structure and feel of the movie itself. They talk about reality versus fantasy, and when you end on a fantastical beat, it kind of throws the whole thing out of balance. It’s less intelligent. Less real. More cheap and fake and almost undermines the smartness of everything else.

It’s a minor thing, though. But Top Five’s almost need to throw in a plot ends up undermining the rest of its points.

The Ugly: Stop with the Woody Allen comparisons, folks. Just because it’s a dialogue-driven film about relationships doesn’t need to be put up against or a Manhatten or something. In fact, if you have to do that you’re just being lazy.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Top Secret!

Parody of WWII spy movies in which an American rock and roll singer becomes involved in a Resistance plot to rescue a scientist imprisoned in East Germany.

The Good: As a follow up to the extremely popular Airplane!, you might expect Top Secret! to fall in line with the same comedic style. After all, it is falling in line with the use of exclamation points. However, it's not so much Airplane! as much as it is a farce in the vein of The Pink Panther or Blazing Saddles. It takes place during World War II, but it's clearly not accurrate. That's kind of the fun in this film. It meshes a classic, 1940s espionage film with the early 1980s parody and creates this weird, alternate universe that makes fun of both eras.

It's a casual but surreal comedy. Gags and sight jokes seem natural to the world its created, many of the funniest moments happening in the background of otherwise normal scenes or some just kind of wander in as though it's a regular afternoon. Yet, every so often you'll have something come out of left field and take you off guard like a dance number or a pie to the face. Then in an instant, it will turn into some fun, dialogue.

"Pleased to meet you, my name's Nick."
"Nick? What does that mean?"
"Nothing, my dad thought of it while he was shaving."

The cast handles everything wonderfully. Omar Sharif steals the show while Val Kilmer, in his very first picture, shows how he was pretty much destined to be an entertainer - handling the comedy nicely, knowing how to use the camera for his scenes, singing, dancing and all of the above. A lot is asked from him, and he delivers. He's only about 24 or so and having fun with everything, and Top Secret! has a lot to have fun with. It meshes dry wit with slapstick, irreverence with cleverness and seems to handle every style of comedy you can think of well. It may come at the cost of a story, but considering the ridiculousness is handles so wonderfully, I think many of the faults have to be forgiven.

The Bad: As mentioned, Top Secret! is a bit aimless when it comes to story. It wants to do everything and be everything, but all that is far more focused on the comedy than trying to make the narrative work. It's convoluted as it dwells far too long on certain plot elements without moving on and you end up forgetting where you were to try and understand where you are going. Then again, as they say "it all sounds like some bad movie." It's almost hard to hate the film for admitting it has no idea what it's doing.

It also really spends itself about an hour end. You'll keep watching for the upcoming gags (and especially the climax) but you'll also find yourself losing a bit of patience with it as well. The investment you'll have with the characters, even Kilmer's, is pretty limited and there doesn't seem to ever be a great deal at stake. When it finally decides to toss in the kitchen sink as well, you realize that nothing really made a huge impact, though it was fun watching it for an hour and a half.

The Ugly: I can just imagine the director shooting the opening musical credit montage. "Alright, everyone grab a shotgun and a surfboard and run towards the water."

Also, is it wrong that I want that Hitler clock in Der Pizza Haus?

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Torn Curtain

U.S. rocket scientist Michael Armstrong and his assistant/fiancée Sarah Sherman are attending a convention in Copenhagen. Michael is acting very suspiciously and Sarah follows him to East Germany when he apparently tries to defect to the other side.

The Good: Another solid espionage film, Hitchcock's guilty pleasure, only this time with one of his most star-studded casts. Julie Andrews and Paul Newman were huge in 1966 and it’s interesting seeing a different generation of actors and how they approach Hitchcock material. There are solid moments of tension, a great sequence involving a bus, but overall this is a film that is lacking the standards Hitchcock has always set.

The Bad: It’s two hours long and you’ll feel every minute of it. Torn Curtain is probably Hitchcock’s most plodding and bland film he made. Problems during production show through, as the script was rewritten, things reworked on the fly, a new music score put in and Newman and Hitchcock not seeing eye to eye on things. Speaking of that, Newman and Andrews are just not a good fit here. They’re personalities are uninteresting their chemistry unconvincing and not once do you buy them as a couple that even remotely cares for each other. Armstrong himself is very dislikeable and we’re as confused by him as Sherman is. Cheap looking sets and poor special effects hinder the visual aspects of the film as well. Nothing feels quite real, and the muted tone and lack of personality can lull you to sleep. It all feels more a fabrication than a compelling espionage tale. I suppose that reflects our characters and story if anything.

The Ugly: I haven’t seen every Hitchcock film. A majority, yes, but not all. While doing this retrospective of the man, this is no-doubt the black sheep of his career and for good reason. It’s the worst film the man made. I don’t need to see the three or four others I’m lacking to know this, because there’s not way much can be worse. Still…a “bad” Hitchcock film is still an average film in the grand-scheme of things. Just keep that in perspective.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Total Recall

It is the future. Technology has flourished, and humans have successfully colonized on the planet Mars. Douglas Quaid, a mild-mannered construction worker with a gorgeous wife and a nice apartment is very happy. But when Doug wanted to go to a place called "Recall" a place where doctors provide artificial memories on vacations, his life becomes another that he knows nothing about, before he knows it, his wife turns on him and agents from an Martian organization led by the colony leader, Vilos Cohaagen are bent on his death. Doug receives a message from a man named Huaser, telling him to go to Mars and find a woman named Melina. Doug will also have to unlock the details of his former life with the help of a mutant rebel leader named Kuato to defeat Cohaagen and save the colonies on mars.

The Good: For some reason, I've always loved Total Recall. I'll try and keep my personal preference of it to a minimum, but at the time it's vision and style of the future was one of its best aspects and it stared the biggest star in the world. Based on a Philip K. Dick story, as any good Science Fiction should be, Total Recall has action, a mystery story and does a pretty good job playing with your expectations and sense of reality. Maybe it's all happening, maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is really likable in this fun flick, is still just strapped down in a chair, maybe he's sleeping and cuddling with a sexy Sharon Stone. The story covers all bases and at the same time delivers a unique vision of a bureaucratic future controlled by corporations while giving us a solid sense of action and great special effects. Going back now, there's actually very little action going on, much of it is situational and chase sequences with a few bits of fighting here and there, like a good spy story.

Paul Verhoven gave us two of the best films back to back (and would nearly derail his career a few years later wit Showgirls but bounced back with Starship Troopers - a film that recaptured the essence of Robocop and Total Recall perfectly). Both balanced fun, entertaining action with pretty solid craftsmanship, concepts and storytelling. One is the classic, Robocop. The other is this little gem here. Though it's an action movie at heart, and a bloody one at that, the psychological aspect is what really sells it. Is it all a dream? Is it just a fantasy he's living? It it all in his head? Or is it destiny? Verhoven tackled thought-provoking questions in Robocop too, though in both films you really have to dig to find them. The fact they are there, though, shows a concept and writing that, perhaps, is less about just action pieces and more about telling a good story, and Total Recall does manage just that. Schwarzenegger, though the role calls for a regular person, sells his less-than-hero role and is a convincing everyday man despite his physical qualities. There's really little that shows him fighting and manhandling people, taking up more guns than throwing punches, actually. In fact, he tends to get his ass kicked a number of times in Total Recall, and the only time his strength brought into the fold when an early plot device is recalled (pardon the pun) upon (his construction/jackhammer background). The character of Quaid is just an overall likable guy and if we are going to spend a couple of hours with him, it takes a lot of smart writing and solid acting to pull it off. Total Recall would probably not have worked as well as it did, considering it's action heart, if Schwarzenneger wasn't in the role and reel back his larger-than-life abilities found in most movies (and Michael Ironside stealing the show as the villain). Total Recall is one of the few films that show him vulnerable, bloody, beat up and just a regular person caught in a bad situation, especially considering most of it is tongue-in-cheek (and even darkly comedic at times).

I think Total Recall's greatest quality, though, is its originality. There is simply very little like it. It's satirical. It's smart. It's visuals are original and interesting and the entire concept of "dream vacations" and toying with memories have never really been tackled so head-on (or with so much fun). It's just an enjoyable film from beginning to end with few films that are like it, and that goes a long way in a genre that is known for its derivative nature.

The Bad: Total Recall doesn't forget that it's still a Schwarzenegger vehicle. It's bloody, gory and excessively violent in select bits. Similar to Verhoven's Starship Troopers, much of this violence and blood comes across as campy comic mischief and humor and I think brings down an otherwise solid action thriller. While it's fun and exciting, it wears thin after a while. It doesn't hurt the overall story, luckily, but does stick out like a bloodied, detached thumb. Also, while I loved the conspiracy theory and concept, I don't think terraforming works by merely heating up ice. Then again, that's a good example of those that support the "it's all a dream" theory, because the movie kind of leaves that up to the viewer.

The Ugly: I swear if they make a sequel to this or if the remake says it's all a dream or definitely real, I will punch someone. The best thing about it all is its ambiguity, something it plays off of from the very beginning. You don't know what's real, who to trust, or if you're feeling what you're feeling: that all makes for a good thriller. If in the right hands, I'd be for a remake. Verhoven needs work, somebody call him....of course since this writing, much has changed and a remake is in the works brought to you by the producers of XXX and other crap movies. Wonderful...just....wonderful...

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Total Recall (2012)

A factory worker, Douglas Quaid, begins to suspect that he is a spy after visiting Rekall - a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of a life they would like to have led - goes wrong and he finds himself on the run. 

The Good: The acting is solid, the characters well done, the leads in place. Total Recall is a well cast film, Ferrell doing well with what little he has given to him, Kate Beckinsale in full ass-kicking mode and Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy add some classic character acting with their respective roles and Jessica Biel is in the movie too. Don't get me wrong, none of these characters are particularly memorable or have any sense of depth, but the actors do well with the little bit that's given to them.

Total Recall plays out like one extended chase sequence. To tell the truth, it does this pretty well. Thanks to a great world that it's created for itself and outlining how it works with minimal exposition, we're able to never worry about much more than that. Thankfully, there's also variety in the chase sequences, with plenty of moments you'll feel familiar with, but plenty that also feel fresh and new for this type of film, in particular an elevator sequence that's easily one of the best long-form action sequences in the film. Len Wiseman handles most of it well, but the problem isn't the action or the acting, it's the fact the film never settles down on what type of movie it wants to be. Specifically: whether or not it wants to be its own movie or just an homage/derivation of a bunch of movies.

The Bad: The biggest problem with Total Recall is that it doesn't want to be itself. Instead of re-envisioning the book by Philip K. Dick, it spends more time giving nods and winks to fans of the 1990 film which does two things: undermines what the new take is trying to do plus taking out you of the film entirely. Instead of getting lost, you're being engaged with homage and after a while, you're only looking for those homages while whatever Total Recall is trying to do, trying to be original with and trying to entertain you with fades into the background. In other words, we already have an action/spy/adventure loosely film based on We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. We didn't need another one and we certainly didn't need another one that acknowledges every ten minutes that the first one existed.

In other words, this was the worst direction to go with this film. It's not a new adaptation of the book, it's just a nostalgia-fueled remake of the first film that lacks that film's absurd take on the material that made it fun. It plays it straight but still wants to gather in that crowd that enjoyed the original 1990 classic. Every step this film takes to push things forward, such as a great sense of atmosphere and world design, it takes two steps back because it has to stop and make us remember the first film at every turn.

The Ugly:  To detail this, let me point out one scene in particular: You remember that moment from the first Total Recall where Quaid, disguised as a large woman, begins to have a "malfunction" when asked about how long his/her stay on Mars is going to be. "Two weeks." Asked a different, he/she repeats "two weeks." Then repeating again and again until the next thing you know he rips off the mask and it explodes.

In this film, there's another scene, also a checkpoint. A large woman is asked how long her stay is. She is looks very similar to the woman in the original. "Two weeks," she says. Then she moves off camera and we move further behind her to someone else in a checkpoint. "Three days," he says...and then he starts to malfunction.

See the problem there? Yes, it's a homage, but the entire point of that scene is misdirection...and that misdirection doesn't work unless you've seen the first film. You're watching thinking Quaid is, again, the woman because she's wearing the same thing and asked the same question and gives the same response. But it's not. She just leaves and we realize that Quaid is a malfunctioning Asian man in the back. By then the sudden reveal of who he actually is has no impact. You were teased with the woman and having two moments of misdirection that close together is just cause for confusion and probably a little bit of anger knowing you're having your nostalgia dicked with. It was at this moment, only about 45 minutes in to the overlong run time, I pretty much realized I was not enjoying this movie...and I probably wasn't going to enjoy it either.

Total Recall is full of scenes like this. It has no desire to just be its own film, and as a result an utter disappointment and mishandled movie that squanders great potential.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Touch of Evil

An automobile is blown up as it crosses the Mexican border into the United States. Mike Vargas, a high ranking Mexican narcotics official on honeymoon with his bride Susie is drawn into the investigation because a Mexican national has been accused of the crime. The figurative and physical presence of Hank Quinlan as the 330 pound sheriff looms all over. Quinlan is a fanatic where "justice" is concerned, even if obtaining it involves planting evidence. Quinlan's reputation for law and order enables him to bend the law without question until Vargas confronts him. From that point on, it's a battle of wits between the two that, with an accelerating pace, rushes to a climax.

The Good: Like a lot of Welles’s movies, there’s a certain “playfulness” to the presentation of the film that shows how much fun Welles sometimes loved to have with his audience. This, though, doesn’t diminish the overall seriousness and rather dark mood of Touch of Evil – a mood that Welles touched upon in past films but doesn’t seem to hit a full, sinister edge until this film that, for 1955 and despite being a movie now pasted together, is a little ahead of its time dealing with drugs, corruption and more an exercise in the artistic qualities of the noir genre and end up with a sophisticated, complex and overall thoughtful and intelligent noir movie that exceeds merely “gangsters” “guns” and “dames.”

Welles in the role of Hank Quinlan is one of the finest performances the man has ever given, if anything for the utter uniqueness it is in terms of his performance history. His directing, too, is admirable as he really brings his own style to the world of suspense and mystery with fantastic bold camera work – a movie full of energy and creativity that, to a lesser director, would have just been another noir mystery movie of the then-dying genre. A masterpiece? No. But an entertaining film and amongst Welles best.

The Bad: Heston was known as a hammy overactor then and now (some movies it’s good for, others not). He’s very much that here. Sure, some scenes he’s in work well enough, but put up against the other performances, the man sticks out like a sore thumb. Now there’s often a confusion on whether or not Welles wanted Heston or if Heston was first and wanted Welles, but either way the man is horribly miscast here and his performance can sometimes detract from the overall mood of everything. It’s easy to say that a more subtle actor would have served the material far, far better.

The Ugly: A difficult film to review due to its awkward choppiness at times as this is a pieced together, re-edited version and not the original version Welles intended (many shots are put in that weren’t his own). Then again, some say the original version was every bit of a mélange of ideas and elements that didn’t quite come together either, so it’s hard to say what’s what or what’s intended.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Tourist

Revolves around Frank, an American tourist visiting Italy to mend a broken heart. Elise is an extraordinary woman who deliberately crosses his path.

The Good: Beautiful visuals and a handful of nice scenes are found in The Tourist. It's unfortunate that it has little else going for it.

The Bad: How on earth do you screw this up? You have a fantastic director, two the best actors in the business (three if you're like me and like to throw Paul Bettany a bone here and there) and some great writers...and everything, from the first frame to last, just falls completely flat. The Tourist is trying so hard to be something that it has no idea what it ultimately wants to be. It wants to be a farce, it fails. It wants to be a Hichcock-inspired thriller. It also fails. It wants to be a romance. It fails. The laughs  I haven't seen a film with so much going on yet amount to so little in a long time. Well, at least since Burton's Alice in Wonderland and in neither case would I simply blame Johnny Depp.

In the case of the Tourist, it's a conundrum. Who can you blame for a film that amounts to nothing? Was the director, previous giving us the utterly brilliant The Lives of Others, perhaps in over his head dealing with two major stars (three, sorry again, Paul), an exotic location and a larger budget? The screenwriters, despite all being with great credits, clashing on their passes of the script? Perhaps trying too hard to remake the original into something else? The actors not knowing what to do with their characters as Depp is serious one minute, comedic the next as the script calls for it and Jolie is cold and impersonal as a femme fetale one minute and a romantic love interest the next also? I think it's all of the above. You can't blame just one thing and say "that's it." It's everything all at once. Some things are good, like Depp, but it doesn't work when paired with all the other things, like Jolie (and vice versa).

Nothing works. It's too convoluted as it tries to hide it's predictable end and the road to said end is mixed with scenes that feel stripped from other movies. Uneven. Uninspired. Uninteresting. A disappointing film on every level and, objectively speaking, a flat-out poorly made and conceived one on top of it all.

The Ugly: Just because all the stars appear in alignment for a film doesn't mean they're be shining brightly at the end.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Tower Heist

When a group of hard working guys find out they've fallen victim to a wealthy business man's Ponzi scheme, they conspire to rob his high-rise residence.

The Good: Eddie Murphy shines and the ensemble cast is given some good moments, paced out nicely for the brisk hour and forty minutes, for otherwise bland characters. It also has a good set up, conceptually and perhaps on paper the plot and events unfolding seem interesting and fun as it's surprisingly socially relevant and timely. But Tower Heist has little else going for it even as dumbbrain, escapist comedies go.

The Bad: Comedy can be subjective. What I find funny isn't what others find funny and vice versa. So, this perhaps being something you should take with a grain of salt, I simply have to say that not only did I not find anything particularly funny save for a few moments with Eddie Murphy (who doesn't show up in any significant way for a good 40 minutes or so and even then only in spurts), I honestly don't see how they were supposed to be funny in the first place. There's set up for jokes, but there are no punchlines. Even the final act feels like it's building to something but never delivering. Be prepared because that's essentially the entire film.

It's easy to expect a by the numbers broad comedy from this. That's exactly what it is. What isn't expected, other than the utter vapidness of everything, is the notion of it being boring. That's Tower Heist's biggest crime: it's just joyless and boring. The jokes are flat, characters forgettable with twists far too derivative as they express their own sense of going-through-the motions and therefore not indicating how major or minor the sudden conflicts might be because everything has a sense of baseline boredom and simply not caring about anything that happens. The directing by Ratner is, as seems to be the case with all of his films, unimpressivly devoid of any sense of style or engagement. Action. Cut. Print. On to the next shot with only the hope of character chemistry to carry it of which there isn't enough to sustain an entire film.

The Ugly: I think back to another broad heist movie full of comedy. That would be Oceans 11. Ensemble, a bit cliche as well but full of personality and style and certainly never boring. Tower Heist has no sense of fun with itself and its humor wades around with a sense rotting stagnation.  The film's greatest achievement is able to find a unique balance of trying too hard yet simultaneously not caring at all.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


The Town

As he plans his next job, a longtime thief tries to balance his feelings for a bank manager connected to one of his earlier heists, as well as the FBI agent looking to bring him and his crew down.

The Good: An odd but effective mix of character drama, romance story, action and a touch of humor, Ben Affleck's The Town is a film that is on a fast-track for Oscar talk. It's well plotted, the action scenes showcasing a keen eye for suspense and flow, and the music is a beautiful blend of introspective piano and the occasional riffed tension of beats to each scene.

The script carries the film incredibly well and I'd go as so far it's the best script I've seen from a film this year. With many bits of foreshadowing, call backs and full-circle ironies that show a sense of refinement and polish into every scene shot and every word spoken. All that balanced against some great character arcs and themes such as the constant theme of "getting away." No, not getting away with a crime, of course, but getting away from life stuck in a cycle that goes on for generations. It's about finding the right path, and then hoping there's at least a fork or two along the way to allow just one more chance.

With that, you need a hell of a director, and as odd is is to say with all the b-list movies the man has sometimes acted in, Ben Affleck is one of the best directors working today. One reason, as this and Gone Baby Gone certainly showed, is that he knows how to get the best out of his actors. This goes back to he himself being one, as well as the likes of Redford or Eastwood who also are often praised with working so well with actors and getting remarkable performances from them - not least of which is the performance by Affleck himself which is remarkable in its depth. He's supported by Renner, who is so in-character its impossible to distinguish him other than a real Charlestown criminal, and Rebecca Hall, a bit of a newcomer but you'd think she'd been doing it for years. John Hamm plays the impassioned FBI Agent to perfection, just the right balance of smarmyness and determination, and an out-of-nowhere, superb turn by Blake Lively. The Town is just full of amazing actors and, as a result, amazing characters you end up caring about no matter what side of the law they're on.

The Bad: Remember that "thematic" thing I mentioned? Well, that's a strong aspect of the film, yet our hero Doug (and I won't spoil too much here) leaves a former lover and, though it's not stated specifically, a daughter behind. It's touched upon and implied, but there's a very major scene that explains Doug's past, and then another scene towards the end that shows how he may not be too much unlike his father as he thought. It's really never resolved or explained, and found it something that needed to be handled perhaps a little more delicately and be a little more involved in the plot.

The Ugly: Affleck nominated for Best Director? It could happen. Some wanted to see it for Gone Baby Gone, even. Congrats to Ben for finding his niche, I can't wait to see what he has next and if he'll succumb to the "third film not as good" syndrome some directors fall into.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Toy Story

Imagination runs rampant when toys become mobile when not watched. Two toys, Woody and Buzz Lightyear despise each other like no other. But, when the toys are separated from their home, a truce is formed between them all in an effort to journey home.

The Good: Toys coming to life, even secretly, might have been seen many times before, but I can’t think of a film that so fully-realizes it better than Toy Story. Not only does it fully realize it, through its characters’ personalities and the world itself, but it absolutely finds joy within it. It celebrates those toys, the kids that play with them and the adults that once did.  With this film, Pixar found “it.” “It” is what they have banked on since. “It” is a rarity that few films can attest to. What “It” is, is the ability to cross every boundary and, literally, be a film for everyone. Adults and kids are most notably factors in “It” as every person of every age finds joy in Pixar, starting with Toy Story (Ok, so A Bug’s Life and Cars may be more kid-oriented) and being what they have implemented in all their movies.

In the case of Toy Story, with a charm and vibrancy, a wonderfully animated tale of adventure and identity. The elements of what Pixar has become are found even in this first feature: wonderful characters, a great world and a fun pace with a tight script (a bit surprising considering you have seven people credited to the story and screenplay). I should also make mention of the soundtrack. Randy Newman’s light melodies and playfulness (with just a hint of a few serious moments) really adds a great deal to the mood of the film and to each Toy Story film afterwards. I think the soundtrack is as much a part of Toy Story as the toys themselves.

But what is best on Toy Story, as I touched on, are the characters. I might as well get it out of the way in this review because it relates to Toy Story 2 as well. Toy Story 1-3, arguably, offers up the single best cast of characters to any animated film. They are distinct, memorable, incredibly well voiced and all an element of a person’s personality – the nieve hero, the leader, the coward, arrogance, jealousy – it’s all there and says something about us and the toys we played with. In a way, the toys were an extension of our own personality and traits. So not only are these great characters, these are characters that every person can relate to because every person can identity to that concept of your imagination putting life into inanimate object and, thus, a little of yourself in the process. You end up getting closer to them, moreso than a lot of animated characters, because there’s that personal layer of tangibility, thinking back to the feel and enjoyment of your own toys as a child and how you brought them to life, that regular characters just don’t have. It’s here where the Toy Story films succeed and even Pixar, though they have made more moving and even better quality films, have made more toys based off of their films even, have yet to recapture the personal touch of the entire cast of the Toy Story films. People know these characters by heart. Their images are as identifiable as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, though I don’t know if Mickey or Bugs ever made me tear up in a film.

The Bad: The only element that Toy Story really falls victim to is predictability. Pixar wouldn’t really get more into the story elements of their films until Toy Story 2 (and really growing from that one) – their early films were more about the atmosphere and world with quirky characters, not about trying to do anything fresh outside of that. Only to enjoy the look and “feel” of everything. For what it does, even on that, it does it well, but this is a film where you tend to know what will happen before it really happens. It hits all the right beats you’ve heard before and achieves the exact arcs you can expect.

The Ugly: Sure we like Woody. Sure we like Buzz. I'm all about Mr. Potato Head, though.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Toy Story 2

While Andy is away at summer camp Woody has been toynapped by Al McWiggin, a greedy collector and proprietor of "Al's Toy Barn"! In this all-out rescue mission, Buzz and his friends Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Rex and Hamm springs into action to rescue Woody from winding up as a museum piece. They must find a way to save him before he gets sold in Japan forever and they'll never see him again!

The Good: Take the foundation of Toy Story, all those wonderful characters, that incredible art style and sharp animation, the voices, the humor, the adventure...then add a big heart to it all. That’s Toy Story 2 – a flawless animated masterpiece that gets you to applaud, cry a bit, hug your friends and family and applaud it in the end.

What Toy Story 2 is able to do, and the first for Pixar at the time, is really, truly bring a touching element to its films. It explores themes that, though over the head of the children in the audience at times, hits a chord with the adults. The entire idea of “what is life worth living for?” is a pretty damn serious topic, and in that Pixar escalated its notoriety in making, not merely “family animated” films, but films with a purpose and heart to them. Toy Story 2 was that turning point, almost all the lines can be traced to it that Pixar is known for today. It’s not just about puns and jokes, or being funny at all. Instead, it shows drama well beyond just a story of toys and their owner. Its visual metaphors are subtle and fitting, it's far more complex thematically than one would initially realize and the character arcs, though very much a repeat of the first, dive more into each on - especially Woody as this is very much his film.

The Bad: Though it outdoes the original, it no so much “outdoes” it as it takes the exact story and just makes it better. It retools a few things and adds in a bit more feeling in everything. Well, you know, if it works...then what’s the issue? Thanks to a more emotive plot and interesting turns, it isn’t nearly as predictable as well.

The Ugly: I feel Toy Story 2 is more about the journey than the destination. I only say this because its final act seems a bit unsure of itself, much like Woody unsure of himself. It seems a bit aimless but by the time it's wrapping itself up, it knows the direction it wants to go and we end up "getting it" even more.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Toy Story 3


Woody, Buzz, and the rest of their toy-box friends are dumped in a day-care center after their owner, Andy, departs for college.

The Good: I thought it might be fun to, rather than put up a review of Toy Story 3, to kind of take a moment and think back to my past and recollect for a moment for everyone and hopefully get some thoughts back on the subject. Pixar, yet again, is able to get me thinking and perhaps a bit moved in its latest film. Oh, Pixar...you and your magical spells of nostalgic hypnosis.

You know...I can't really summarize all the good that is Toy Story 3. So go check out the blog I wrote where I go in more detail, but I can say this: it's a perfectly balanced movie with heart, drama, comedy and adventure. Pixar struck gold again in every single department - this company and simply not make a bad movie if they tried.

The Bad: Toy Story 3 begins a cycle of surprise-danger-escape scenarios that can really grow tiresome after a while. There are asides and smaller subplots that help break it up, but the final third especially really has a rinse and repeat cycle and becomes a bit too dependent on it. I can't really detail without spoiling it all, but it really rushes through them quickly in a movie that already had a good handful of putting everyone in dire situations then working to them out.

The Ugly:
Well, that's the last we'll see all these guys. It's kind of sad, but in reality I don't know if there could have been a more fitting and perfect ending to it all.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Trainspotting

A wild, freeform, Rabelaisian trip through the darkest recesses of Edinburgh low-life, focusing on Mark Renton and his attempt to give up his heroin habit, and how the latter affects his relationship with family and friends: Sean Connery wannabe Sick Boy, dimbulb Spud, psycho Begbie, 14-year-old girlfriend Diane, and clean-cut athlete Tommy, who's never touched drugs but can't help being curious about them...

The Good: From the opening segment, Trainspotting exudes "energy." It does this without holding a single thing back, and the film simply would not have been as effective if it did. It is as in-your-face and edgy as its subject matter dictates. What trainspotting shoves in your face is not something you're asking for, though. It's vulgar, it's direct and the world of drugs rarely seems so unappealing and disgusting. It succeeds in making you uncomfortable as you watch the characters, all of which perfectly portrayed (especially Ewan McGregor, who is utterly brilliant in every way in this movie), try to exist in this despicable world they've created for themselves. Yes, it exudes "energy" but it's not particularly "fun energy." You want to turn it off, but can't because you're captivated with the imagery, the performances and the dark humor that Boyle wields like a masterful conductor. You want to hope the world will get better for the characters, but the world of Trainspotting is an honest one. In hindsight, now fifteen years later, Trainspotting was one of the most important films of the 1990s. It's not perfect, no, but it portrayed a world that many simply never got and it few films do it so blatantly.

The Bad: While the nature of the beast is that all these young men are meant to be pretty unlikable, at the same time none of them are people you find yourself really routing for. The film attempts to parlay this by injecting some dark humor in to it, but that humor does nothing but undermine the very serious and realistic depiction it's going for regarding drugs. In the end, it's just a bunch of junkies.

The Ugly: If you've seen trainspotting, you know what's ugly about it. There's a lot, but one scene involving waking up and finding a surprise in your bed....

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Trainwreck

Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy.

The Good: It’s easy to see the poster of Trainwreck, it’s title, and that it’s written and starring Amy Schumer as, most likely, some low-brown vulgar comedy that might as well be a Hangover flick with a woman. Thankfully, Schumer has talent and knows better than putting out a “boozing woman afraid of commitment while traversing the New York dating world” has a lot more to offer than just that. Yes, Trainwreck is funny. Yes, Schumer and co-star Bill Hader are great and have fantastic chemistry.

But that’s not where Trainwreck grabbed me. It’s a movie with a lot to say about family. Yes, it sells itself as a relationship comedy and whatnot, but the movie’s strength, and Schumer’s for that matter, are when it turns that emotional knife. Director Judd Apatow has always had that way with a film, and him directing Schumer’s script is a perfect fit for hitting that one of making you laugh, but then making you have a moment of Amy (the character) coming to a realization about something or confronting her sister or upset over screwing up again. Her scenes with Colin Quinn and Brie Larson, technically just supporting roles, are what make Trainwreck unique and more than just a romantic comedy movie, even when it decides to become that conventional romantic comedy in the end.

More importantly here, though, is that this is a movie with a unique voice. There’s a lot of comedies out there but most just fall into line with whatever the studio can sell and is the most broad. Trainwreck, even when its working with standard tropes, has a unique perspective that is distinctly Amy Schumer’s. Sure, it’s directed by Apatow and the great actors around her have a lot to add (Tilda Swinton is almost unrecognizable in this movie) but it’s a movie that is broad but at the same time intimate. You care about the characters and what happens to them. You want to see where it goes. It’s just about landing jokes, it’s about putting weight and purpose behind those jokes and conversations of the people in the scene. Schumer, in her first outing (credited outing, I’m sure, as most comedians are constantly brought in on script work without getting credit), totally gets that and is a voice worth listening to.

The Bad: Trainwreck is an interesting film in that it is willing to push boundaries yet simultaneously be pretty safe in terms of its plot and structure. I suppose the devil is in the details - small moments that you don’t see coming whether it be a line of dialogue or a surprising emotional moment - are what make it a great comedy. Yet, it can’t sustain that and it eventually has to become conventional in its predictable final act, which feels so oddly out of place because we no longer see the strengths the movie was working with.

This isn’t new, really, nor is it a bad thing. Merely a disappointing one because we start to realize, or I did at least, that the point of the comedy and the voice of Schumer overall wasn’t as unique as we had thought for a good hour and a half (the movie being two hours is already a bit too long in the first place, but that’s true to form for Apatow). Everyone is so good in this movie and it’s doing its own thing so well, when it starts to tumble into an a-typical mid-90s romantic comedy boilerplate you can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Like any comedy, some jokes land, some don’t, but the ones that land are strong and the characters good enough to pull you through the ones that fall flat. Trainwreck, though it may not fully see its own idea all the way through, manages to be funny and surprisingly introspective enough to be one of the best comedies of the year.

The Ugly: As noted, there is a bit of a disappointment in that the film just follows the checkpoints at the end, but one scene significantly stands out involving an intervention of sort. It seems it’s only there for cameo purposes, which feels even more out of place than anything else in the movie. Maybe if the scene was funny, I would be ok, but it’s not. It’s just random and weird.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Trance

An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.

The Good: A movie that slowly unfolds before you is a sight to behold. So often it’s about a build up to a reveal – some twist and “gotcha” moment. But sometimes, it’s a layered puzzle that has you constantly taking pieces it throws at you and trying to find the ways they fit, then it all starts to come together at the end. Well, Trance’s puzzle may not be the best puzzle, but it’s damn fun trying to put it together. It’s a film that loves to toy with you, and audiences love to be toyed with.

Danny Boyle is a fantastic director. This film, Trance, is not a fantastic film, but that's not due to his lack of skill in presentation. Though his style may not lift it above its mediocre story and flat performances (save for Rosario Dawson who is superb here), it manages to always have a distinct ability to visually toy with us. Certain cues, angles and lighting - the way its shot is the best aspect of an otherwise dull plot with an identity crisis.

But there's good here outside of that. As mentioned, Dawson steals the show, her performance quite possibly the best of her career as a vulnerable (or is she?) character that toys with us as much as the plot does. In fact, she's the driving force of that entire plot, and though the plot itself can't decide if it wants to be a love story or a heist film, she's the wild card in all that and makes Trace well worth a viewing. The other is that Trance is a bit daring in the right places. It's fun to play with assumption and the script, despite its lack lack of focus, will certainly always keep you guessing. To have a film be unpredictable is rare these days, and Trance certainly has that going for it.

The Bad: The emotional impact that Trance is trying to go for, especially in its final act, simply never quite reaches the level that is keeps telling us its reaching. Perhaps it's the sudden shift in tone, or the re-focus on a character we really knew little about, or perhaps we just got lost in the "you're only dreaming" layer that becomes tired half-way through the film, but either way it's not a film you really end up caring for anyone about by the endgame. You kind of just want it over, not because it's bad but because it's tiring.

It's a light script yet a convoluted one, which makes for this strange imbalance that I can't quite describe. My best is that it has little going on, yet it takes the long-route to tell you that there's so little going on. It starts to fall down a rabbit-hole that might have made for a intriguing mystery slowly unfolding - a good slow-burn thriller in the hands of a great director - but it just becomes lost and whatever energy might have emerged dissipates into head-scratching and apathy.

The Ugly: Too many red herrings ruins the stew.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Transcendence

A scientist's drive for artificial intelligence, takes on dangerous implications when his consciousness is uploaded into one such program.

The Good: The good.  Well…hmmm…let me first start by saying that Transcendence is a great idea. It just doesn’t have a story to really capture it. The idea of man and machine becoming one, an often-used sci-fi trope, is always going to be intriguing and fun to explore. Transcendence is smart in the right areas but dumb in the ones that really matter: smart with the technobabble and theories and ideas, it challenges your preconceptions certainly, but dumb in just about everything else.

The Bad: There’s probably a good story rattling around the concepts of Transcendence somewhere. It simply never finds it. For a moment, it briefly had a strong element of a wife in love with her husband and willing to do anything, but it seems to lose that heart and passion mid-way through for something far more broader and far more impersonal.

That lack of connection, or just having it outright cut off, is what hurts the most in Transcendence. There’s no real reason to care about anyone or anything that happens. There’s kernels that it could have been there, in fact it’s rather obvious given the nature of the ending, but it just never hits. The pace never quite lands nor does the tone, which shifts from that personal angle to a far more broader one about machines taking over the world. It simply loses focus.

Had it all been better made, or the characters better written, then some elements could be easily forgivable. Yet Transcendence looks bland and uninspired, it never dives head-first into what could be fascinating people with views of this idea - most notably Max, played by Paul Bettany, who goes through a transition that never quite feel organic - only serviceable to the rest of the movie’s broader ideas.

“Serviceable.” Hm, that’s kind of the right word for this movie yet not. It’s right because everything serves the ideas the movie presents to their own detriment. Characters are plot devices, plot is a footnote. Yet it’s not the right word because “serviceable” at least implies a capable film, which Transcendence certainly is not and is one of the most disappointing films of 2014 because you can see what it wants to do, but it just never quite gets there.

The Ugly: This cast and this idea is utterly wasted. I’m unsure of who is to blame for this, but those behind the camera seem to be the easy shot. It might have been a descent script at some point, yet who knows when that point was or what happened along the way.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

A bunch of shit happens with giant robots and things blow up. There's also Megan Fox.

The Good: It sure looks pretty. I like the sound effects also. We all know those are the most important factors for a good movie, right? Right? Well, Michael Bay seems to think so.

The Bad: It's amazing that while I was watching Transformers Revenge of the Fallen, I had asked myself as scenes were occurring "what is the point of this?" From Megan Fox saying goodbye to a mother taking pot brownies, saying goodbye to Bumblebee, dogs humping each other, a politician whining and complaining about asinine points and constant banter between characters that served no purpose to the story. Then I realized we were only thirty minutes into the film, and there were still two hours to go. I had been avoiding Transformers 2 since its release. I knew it was a bad movie, if not awful, so I knew I wouldn't enjoy this so my final score shouldn't be a surprise. I had put it off because writing bad reviews for this film has been overdone by every person with a keyboard. It's like every person who owns a dog: you have to pick up the shit eventually.

We better grab some extra bags.

With awful characters thanks to actors chewing scenery like a thick steak, Shia trying too hard at any given moment, Fox just a pretty face and everyone else lost in the minutia of pitiful and cliche, or downright insulting characterizations (notably the racist caricatures of Transformers, more on them later) it's no wonder we never have time to breathe and get to know anyone or anything. Even Optimus Prime is all but a footnote and dialogue or getting to know any of these individuals supplanted with constant yelling, bullets, clanking and symphony crescendos as though it's trying to pass itself off as some sort of art. The characters are so bad that you actually pray for them to shut up just over small conversations. They're that annoying. Give me robots, shut the hell up. The drama and emotion doesn't work because Bay has never been able to get it to work in his entire career. He treats suspense and tension like he does action movies: always moving, being unrelenting and eventually moving on.

Michael's Bay self-indulgent, and absolute pretentious sense of self worth (a Bad Boys II poster? Really?) style of directing is at its utter worst. There's no sense of scene development or pace, no direction to anything that's going on and is just one, large jumbled mess of a film. From the action scenes suited for the tone-deaf, like a grinding gear that never stops and refuses to let you fully see it working because it's either rapidly edited or not backing away from the action to establish itself (preferring constant closeups it seems), to even the small "dialogue driven" scenes where the camera must always appear moving, at an angle and characters are able to transport through time and space from shot to shot because Bay shoots and edits like a ten year old riddled with ADD.  Nothing holds any weight, even death, and nothing feels as though there is a risk or sense of suspense that something might be lost. There's even plot events we are told happening, but don't see them happening or the consequences of them happening (such as some massive world-wide attack yet everyone seems to be find and going about their day to day business). Even in individual scenes, Bay isn't able to connect A to B to C in a scene. Usually it goes from A to C with D thrown in the middle because it might get a chuckle.  The disconnect of every single aspect is astounding, even characters in the same scene, which leads us to...

The final sequences in Egypt are easily the worst aspect of the film. It drags and drags, makes noise and still thinks we should give a damn about what's happening (also, how the Hell did Shia's parents arrive? Weren't they in Paris two scenes ago?...also....why is it daytime everywhere? It's got to be night somewhere, right? Right?) Sorry, there's just so many questions during these final segments that make absolutely no sense on a simple logic level and that's without throwing in the Deux Ex Machina that arrives. That's portion I'm actually lenient on. A majority of the film takes place here, and we're all the worse for it as it keeps telling us how epic and climatic it is, yet I can't help but yawn every five minutes.

Oh, and I love how there's this final fight scene yet through most of it we are trying to look around pillars and walls because Bay hides the action from us. The fight looked like it might have been pretty entertaining, of course I don't know who Optiumus was fighting. Something about some ancient Decepticon...like I said, a lot of things are said, but Bay never makes a point to make sure we know anything.

Let me end this by saying two things. One, Transformers wasn't the holy grail to begin with in terms of intellectual property. The cartoons and animated movie were as cheesy and dumb as the Bay incarnations but worked.  Surprisingly, the recent two films are able to pull it off and make the Transformers work in the real world - something surely difficult to really do in the first place. It may not be great, but it works for what it needs to do because the standard wasn't that high to begin with. Those that praise the original Transformers probably haven't seen the series or original movie and most likely have fond memories of just the toys. Secondly I actually somewhat enjoyed the first film. It wasn't high art but it worked for what it needed to do. Cut out about 20 minutes or so and come up with a better final act, and you could have had, at least, a guilty-pleasure classic. It missed the mark there, and ended up being mediocre at best, but I still enjoyed what it offered despite that.

Taking those elements into account, Transformers 2 is even worse by comparison. I don't like comparing, and only at this point do I really set out to because it does have a direct connection to those before it. The bar was already low with the cartoon and previous Bay film, now it's fallen off the rack and has dirt kicked on it.

The Ugly:  Also, I have to make a serious note regarding the characters Mudflap and SKids. Simply put, these are two of the most racist things I've seen in a film in a long time. The filmmakers went out of their way to a) write them like that and b) design them like that (obviously references to monkeys).  As if the film wasn't insulting enough, this was utterly insulting. It's fine if you want to make them "cool" and "urban" but to be so unabashedly stereotypical and insultingly racist, the people who said "yes" to those should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

Easily the second worst film I saw from 2009. Yes, Horsemen was still the worst and I can forgive Mutant Chronicles because it was made for absolutely nothing (still an awful film, though). For all those criticizing Avatar, do yourself a favor and watch this: then you'll see what a real bad movie is supposed to be like. Any person, and I mean any person, who considered this film remotely good are as dumb as the people who made it. If you want to say it's just a popcorn flick, you're missing the point. Just because something is a popcorn flick doesn't mean it can't be a well-made movie. They aren't mutually exclusive and I don't know where that mindset began - perhaps as an excuse to explain Michael Bay films.

Final Rating: 1 out of 5


Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon, and race against the Decepticons to reach it and to learn its secrets.

The Good: Oooh...shiny.

The Bad: How do you make a movie that's three hours long and has a ton of stuff happening in it to the point of convolution yet you find yourself saying "who cares?" through 90% of it? Sam's having job problems. Who cares? He fights with his girlfriend. Who cares? Turturro's character. Who cares? Malkovich. Who cares? Sam's parents are apparently rich now while Sam lives in a shithole yet still manages to date the hottest girl on the planet. No, a different one. Again, who cares? Of course, that one not so much "who cares?" as much as it is completely lacking in logic. And I'm not talking about "movie logic" where there's suspension of disbelief and you can give some leeway to just about any movie. I'm talking about simple storytelling and plot logic where you scratch your head, roll your eyes, shrug and wonder what exactly the fuck happened because it didn't make any sense.  Then again we're dealing with a film that has the audacity to say that giant robot fights seen throughout the world is covered up and nobody knows about it.  Yeah, they're still holding on to that plot thread.

In a movie that is meant to be about robots, their "war" and action, there's more time given to our shallow, forgettable human cast in a completely random, dart-throwing series of scenes of a script that forces every single thing it can, especially toilet-humor cheap laughs and sidekicks, to a point where being completely illogical is the only thing it actually does well.

Now logic has never entered into a Michael Bay film. That's expected...but why should it be accepted? There are better action directors out there that can actually weave a story while they're at it. Who gave Bay a free pass? How much more will the populace say "well...it's Michael Bay" and just let it go? I love action movies. I love science fiction. I love awesome robots. Bay can't handle any of them. It's a constant cram fest as he shoves things repeatedly in your face, you turn off your brain, and you don't think about it. It's passivity - the defining word of Michael Bay's career. That and the word "hack." You can't follow this plot. You can follow it as well as you can the constant bombardment of characters into every scene that you can't keep track of...or be able to recognize which Autobot is which seeing as they all look like some jagged heap of scrap metal.

To go into the detail of what this film does horribly would simply take too long. I can tackle the large issues, though. You know, things like plot...or script...directing...characters....yeah, all those things that go into creating a quality film. Think of a film that does it right. Even an action film. Let's say...Aliens. There, there's an action flick that does it right. Solid plot. Amazing, tension-filled script. Memorable characters and sharp directing. Hell, let's go with another, even more into special effects. The Matrix. Again, sharp, big spectacle, but remembers to give us characters and a story, a world along with it and understands the idea of "telling" a story. Now think of the exact opposite of all that. There, you have this thing...whatever it is. It's not as though Transformers NEEDS to be an amazing series of films. I'm willing to bet that I, or critics or fans, really don't ask for much when it comes to a movie about giant fighting robots. They're based on toys for christsakes. But even in the realm of action blockbuster summer movies, there are still standards of quality. Well, there should be, at least. The masses have spoken, though. They would far prefer this than something that would even get one or two good elements right. They want awfulness on every level...that's exactly what they get.

All these Transformers movies have been, especially the last two, is just noise. Visual and auditory noise. Nothing more, nothing less. You can't tell what's happening because too much is happening. You can't hear or think because of the constant yelling, explosions, gunfire and orchestral music or drum beats. But what do you expect? A fourteen year old will love this because it's made by a man with the sensibilities and nuance of a fourteen year old to begin with. It's loud and fun and shiny to them. It's like throwing a piece of tin foil into a monkey pen at the zoo. In fact, that's all these movies, or any Michael Bay movies, are: pieces of scrap thrown to monkeys.

The Ugly: "It's better than the last one" doesn't mean anything. Yes, it is better than the last one. It does tone down the crude humor and has far better action scenes. But is the last one our baseline comparison? Should it be? No. It's a horrible, horrible movie and this, too, is a horrible, horrible movie. It's like asking "Do I want to eat the rat carcass or the skunk carcass?"

You are probably asking yourself "Wow, do you HAVE be a film snob?" No, and I'm not. Hell, I have my guilty pleasures. But this is just the lowest of the low. If you're wondering if I like any Michael Bay film, the answer is also no. At best, I can tolerate some over others, but I don't like them. It's not because they're all bad (they are) as I do I like my share of "bad" movies too, it's that they're insulting. They're the lowest form of action movies and that, my friend, is damn low. Bay's films aren't about fun and joy, even crafting a comprehensive action sequence, they're just to throw stuff at you and hope something sticks. Look at Commando. Awful movie. But it's fun. It's simple. It has awesome action scenes and a character you can route for. It doesn't throw in pretentious slow-motion special effects to get people to stand up and cheer as though they just took down M. Bison in Street Fighter II. Commando's goal was just makes a solid action picture. A good movie? Not by a long shot. But an entertaining one that knows how to be well-made enough to follow, get into, route for and not annoy the fuck out of you.

I'm a movie fan that can certainly separate myself. I can go into a film knowing exactly what it is and wants to be. I can turn my brain off. Yet, even knowing that, knowing this is Michael Bay, knowing I haven't liked either of the previous films, I still shake my head at it.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Transformers: Age of Extinction

A mechanic and his family join the Autobots as they are targeted by a bounty hunter from another world.

The Good: Well, you can’t say this one wasn’t at least entertaining. Sure it has a ton of problems, but in terms of action, variety, special effects and, surprisingly, well shot sequences from Michael Bay, Transformers: Age of Extinction arguably redeems a franchise teetering on the brink of obsoletion. Maybe it should have, or maybe a different “take” needed to happen at some point as many of the fault of the previous films are very much prevalent here, but either way this one does what it needs to do better than those and, therefore, those faults aren’t as blindingly cringe-inducing.

Most specifically, Age of Extinction is probably the best shot out of all these things that Michael Bay somehow churns out in his sleep. Action is easy to follow and engaging, though it does still dip to the “focusing too much on the foreground humans than the fighting robots” on occasion, it has solid character beats that don’t feel as throwaway as they often are in these things and there’s a lot of variety in how everything is done and feels far more organic to the plot.

Well, until that third act comes around. A lot of that stuff feels tacked-on for Chinese-money purposes.

While it still overextends itself and often scenes go on for way, way too long, it’s an entertaining romp. The one thing that is undeniably better are the characters. Oh, they’re still shallow caricatures that spout awful dialogue, but they also feel more interesting overall and have personalities that don’t consist of cardboard. Well, you still have those too…but come on we’re kind of doing a comparative analysis so everything is relative. Fact is, Wahlberg has more to say and do and does it better than the previous “star” of this franchise, though one might still argue that the real star should be less a guy with a screwdriver and obnoxious daughter and the actual Transformers themselves.

The Bad: Is this a movie that needs nearly three hours to be told and presented? No. Like its predecessors, Age of Extinction is an overwritten and bloated flick that wears itself out after two hours and then you realize you have nearly another entire hour to sit through. It simply overextends itself, which is unfortunate because for a good chunk of the movie it’s moving along fairly well, sets up its plot and characters nicely and seems like it will have a good place to go.

Then it doesn’t. Suddenly we have tons of robots fighting (in the background mostly) and things shooting and exploding and no sense of bearings as people leap from place to place like magic (for example, Texas to Chicago in apparently a couple of hours). Lost in sub plot after sub plot with an entire second act that could have been halved runtime to get to the climax, Age of Extinction is just tiresome. Really, at this point, this entire franchise is.

The sad thing is, though, is that this might be the better movie out of any of them. The human characters are more likable, Bay gives us a little more breathing room and restraint when it comes to non-action things and exploding watchamacallits, and there’s no shoe-in crude humor that makes you face palm because it’s grossly out of place. It’s weird: it’s a lean movie, but only lean by comparison to the previous overwrought Transformers movies, otherwise it’s still just a movie with a lot of stuff that could easily be cut down without losing a thing.

The Ugly: There’s a lot that we can nitpick here that I don’t have the time for and really don’t want to waste my fingers on typing, but in broad strokes, it’s a bad movie that’s better than the other bad movies based on the bad cartoon based on the cool 1980s toy line. It’s more entertaining and focused than the previous movies but is still a messy experience.

So, in relative speaking with that in mind, this is the best score (if you care about that sort of thing) I can give it and it’s still by far better than any of the previous three movies.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Fred C. Dobbs and Bob Curtin, both down on their luck in Tampico, Mexico in 1925, meet up with a grizzled prospector named Howard and decide to join with him in search of gold in the wilds of central Mexico. Through enormous difficulties, they eventually succeed in finding gold, but bandits, the elements, and most especially greed threaten to turn their success into disaster.

The Good: There are few good tragedies these days. By that I mean in movies, of course, and more specifically in regards to how they handle their main characters. Film has, somehow, gone from great drama and stories to a need for convention and a happy ending that has everyone glad the boy got the girl, the cop got the bad guy or the man who struggled for so long found success. You might find the antithesis in that in smaller films, sure; little indie dramas make their bank in carrying the torch to showcase human tragedy and faults. Yet, there was a time, many decades ago (maybe in a galaxy far, far away) where the big stars and big studios and big audiences absolutely loved it. This is especially true with their large, epic adventure titles, a precursor to the blockbuster today, where things didn't always end the way you think they will.

Ah, maybe I'm being a bit cynical there. Afterall, there's been a lot of movies that do ride the tragedy train. I suppose, though, I might be thinking of the risks taken, and with Treasure of the Sierra Madre, you have a ton of them and I can guarantee you no studio in today's climate would ever take a risk on such a movie and especially a risk with a character like Dobbs - an absolutely unsympathetic character that shows the worst of humanity made even more tragic because you start the film actually liking the guy. It's story is layered so much so that, still to this day, I will come across an essay or article peeling some more elements back. It's comparisons to Kafka or Conrad or Joyce is fitting and still discussed as well as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (a novel first, mind you) is often put into the same breath as the great literary works that explore the elements of the human condition and, often, have rather disparaging things to say about it. There's a lot happening in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, well more than you realize if you only watch it once.

The character of Dobbs, played by Humphrey Bogart, is probably the biggest focal point of it all for a number of reasons. He's one of the most complex, though-provoking characters to ever hit the screen. You can parallel the plot with Dobb's plight as a man who starts with good intentions and slowly, never forcefully, spirals down to the depth of human underbelly. Considering Bogart was at his height of popularity as a leading man, he's more ensemble here (though with only three main characters, they all seem equal), this reminds you of many things: one being that the man was a damn good actor with a fantastic range - this film was released between two leading-man roles in Key Largo and Dark Passage. The other is that Bogart absolutely owned this role. You can't imagine anyone else pulling it off, and the risks he was willing to take to make it happen - making Dobbs utterly despicable and impossible to feel pity for - reminds us why he was one of Hollywood's greats. He wasn't nominated, though. That went to he supporting role by Walter Huston, who well deserved it, but Bogart was every bit as good.

What's more impressive of the film is how it downplays anything, even the rise and fall of its characters. It's subtle and juggles it all with soft touch, and thankfully winning Best Director more or less proved that people noticed it. It wasn't about "Men's Men on Adventure!" as its marketing or trailer might suggest. It's adventurous, but never glamorous. There's a difference. The men are men, but they're real people and far from heroes..a point you only grasp when actually seeit it. On the surface, it all seems simple and conventional. Then you start watching. You start noticing how it seems to evolve and how things seem to simmer and boil over at just the right moments. It ends unconventionally as well, thought I won't quite spoil that here.

I always seem to recommend The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in my first few breathes to anyone wanting some film recommendations to explore film history. It leaves an impression that few films are capable in doing. It's consistently in the "great movies" lists out there, usually in the Top 30 or so. I'd say that's about right, though when you're talking about great movies it's hard to determine any kind of hierarchy. It could just as easily be number one as it is number thirty or forty. Either way, it's a movie that's required viewing for any person that's a fan of film or just a great tragic story in general.

The Bad: Nothing. I mean, really. This story, these characters, the dialogue, the cinematography, the message...it all moves across this film a soft rainstorm and pools into a puddle that, if you look hard enough into, you will see the perfection of cinema. Sierra Madre is a film that many, many have tried to duplicate and even more have looked to as a source of inspiration that they want their films to be like. It has the adventure and the drama, the suspense and the depth of its plot resonating all across its two hour running time. I don't need to tell you to look at the 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as proof. Truth be told, you should know about this movie. It's an important film, especially for 1948 yet feeling well ahead of its time.

The Ugly: Well...I guess the fact that the line "We don't need no stinkin badges" lines is often quoted yet few people probably even know what movie it's from.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


The Tree of Life

The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence.

The Good: There is no filmmaker that makes a film quite like Terrence Malick. Malick approaches his films less with story and plot and more with themes and ideas: a sense of needing to share and enlighten than storytelling. It's a journey through all his films through thought, not structure. The Tree of Life is Malick at his most grandiose and unrestrained. Even his past films still manages a structure for ease of accessibility. Tree of Life gets rid of even that approach and only presents itself as the journey of thought and idea, the place of existence against the cosmos of the universe and the miniscule facet of mankind's time on a world young itself.

It's a lyrical attempt to assess life in a pondering and thought-provoking manner more in line with an extended poem than anything Aristotle could write up in a dramatic fashion. Here, the drama is feeling, not conflict. Perhaps it's there to explore (not answer) the question of existence, of the profound unanswerables that surround us and how our miniscule lives mean so much to us yet so little in the grand cosmos of the universe. It juxtaposes the creation of all living things with what those things become and wants to speak  to us in a way of visual poetry and thoughtfulness an idea, not a story.

There is no story other than the point it makes about living and life through observation. Malick explores these themes often, will set beauty within war or human discovery amidst turmoil. Those are his conflicts and here he is at his most free. No structure. No plot. Just purpose of thought and a stream of conscious, feelings, emotions and conjuring up those sensations in you.  They're seemingly random, but are a reflection of our own memories and our own thoughts of our lives. What we recall to now, the years of our existence, are never clear, likely glossy and come in bits and pieces. We remember the sensations more than the specifics. In the randomness and chaos, much like the film's own journey of the cosmos and creation of the unfathomable, The Tree of Life finds purpose.

You see, that's the message. We were, like the universe, a creation of happenstance and perfect conditions. It was random and Malick wants to show how our own randomness of our thoughts and own being aren't that much different. In chaos we find purpose. Faith and God is our attempt to make sense of it all. We struggle with that daily. If we accept divinity, do we fit that purpose? But if we accept chaos and chance upon our creation, do we actually have meaning ourselves? Tree of Life is a beautiful, though not entirely accessible, film of provocation. Now whether or not he really needed over two hours to tell us that is up for debate. But at least it looks striking beautiful, not unusual for a Malick film, along with giving you the material to think upon while being intimately, and strangely, chaotic along the way.

The Bad: As I mentioned, Malick has explored these ideas but he always has done so the structure and confines of a story. Here he has none, and though I understand the scope and stratagem, I don't understand why he's discarded the element of story entirely when he was so versed in it to begin with. Do I consider that "bad" necessarily? No. Objectively speaking that is obviously not the point of The Tree of Life.

However, if a message and purpose is to be captured, not adhering to a structure and simply just "going with it" makes it far simplistic than it really is and far more pretentious than it needs to be. Here, Malick just doesn't care. He throws it out there and despite the grandeur and the beauty, what is said is clear very early and after that it holds little to no interest. A message can be stated quickly in a film, and that message is clear. With no story, there is no exploration of it, though. There's just imagery and music and scenes that don't draw any other meaning other than the one that was already stated and, to us, already known. What we ultimately end up with is less an revelation of discovery and more a history lesson of the creation of life more akin to The History Channel with home videos thrown in than Malick's own The Thin Red Line or Days of Heaven.

The Ugly: Good Lord is there some beautiful music in this film. There always are in Malick's movies, but this, with the beautiful imagery, brings out the feelings and sensations.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Trial

Josef K wakes up in the morning and finds the police in his room. They tell him that he is on trial but nobody tells him what he is accused of. In order to find out about the reason of this accusation and to protest his innocence, he tries to look behind the facade of the judicial system. But since this remains fruitless, there seems to be no chance for him to escape from this Kafkaesque nightmare.

The Good: Orson Welles noted in an interview that he felt his best film was The Trial. This is more due to his own satisfaction and control over the project (which was complete control) than it was, I think, the quality of the film as a whole. Still, though, The Trial is a spectacular piece of work. Welles is sharp and in top form with his dynamic use of camera and utterly astounding sets and his knack for shooting them. He draws you in, compels you and amazes you, and while I don’t agree with him that it’s his “best film” but it is a fantastic one, certainly – every bit as ambitious as Citizen Kane and unique as Touch as Evil where it’s familiar yet strangely not familiar.

The performances, too, are top notch thanks in large part to the excellent dialogue. Even in his “average” movies Welles manages to get the best out of his actors – Welles himself here putting on a nice effort as The Advocate (that was supposed to go to Jackie Gleason before he backed out). It’s Anthony Perkins’ show, though, and he carries it well. We need a guy like Perkins here, his enthusiasm and constant sense of paranoia working wonders against Welles dark and sometimes surrealist approaches and how it touches upon very Orwellian themes about society (with just a tinge of science fiction thrown in for good measure). If Touch of Evil and The Magnificent Ambersons weren’t enough to prove to people Welles was just as much a genius after Citizen Kane (the assumption he “fell off” couldn’t be more wrong) then The Trial certainly does the job.

The Bad: Welles’s stage sensibilities sometimes appear and contrast with the very cinematic approach. An elaborate set piece can take place one second, then a very fake looking one the next. Though, to be fair, it is meant to look a little “off” here and there for aesthetic purposes. Welles not only adapts Kafka from a narrative point, but from a visual point as well. Sometimes it works, beautifully so, and other times it doesn’t quite hit it as some sets are elaborate whereas others feel fake and designed for a stage. As for it’s “adaptation” quality to Kafka’s story: who cares? It’s a great movie.

The Ugly: Probably Welles most overlooked film, considering how good and bold it really is.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Tribe

A deaf teenager struggles to fit into the boarding school system.

The Good: "There's no other movie like The Tribe."

As lazy of a Gene Shalit-esque, superfluous poster-quote as that is, it's pretty damn true. I have no other words to really add to it because there simply isn't a movie that I can draw from the well of cinema history to tell you what The Tribe is like or how it might make you feel. Actually, I can tell you the latter: it'll make you feel uncomfortable. You're thrust into a world that isn't one you're going to be familiar with, that already will make you unsettled and probably more engaged that you would expect a quasi-silent film to be. It has to tell its story through visuals completely so you best pay attention.

That's not the uncomfortable part, though, because, as mentioned, this is a "silent world." No person in this film speaks because no person in this film can hear. To have them say something would ruin the audience's experience. The Tribe cleverly makes you a part of its world and you don't even realize it - you just know its not a world you know. There are people. There's a school. There's crime and drugs and prostitution. There's awful people all-around, actually....

So here you'll find yourself fully engaged in this off-putting world that makes you unsettled with unlikable characters doing distasteful things...and you'll be hard-pressed to not keep watching. The Tribe is a superbly shot and acted film that, though the story a bit anemic at times, progresses through the (I have to assume) year of a new student at a school for the deaf and his world of crime. It's a film that is universal in its simplicity of visual storytelling and dramatic beats of meeting new people, making friends, making enemies, finding love, finding power and so on.

The Bad: If there's one odd component, it's the simple question "what have we learned?" that isn't entirely answered. I suppose if you want to just baseline it as "deaf people are just like us" then that's a pretty shallow interpretation, but then I can't help but wonder if there was any depth in the story to begin with. There's emotion. There's passion. There's an arc. There's symbolism and metaphor to what this story is meant to represent.

Yet, is it a film that's more interested in its own design, as great as it is, rather than telling us much of anything or going anywhere other than become bleaker and bleaker as we go along? I don't know if I can answer that fully. As engaging as the film is just as a drama, I left not really learning anything or really understanding much of the characterization going on. The world is fantastic, the sense of ghetto mafia in this school is fully realized, but we leave the film with as much knowledge about it as we entered it: slightly uncomfortable and not entirely sure where it wants to go.

As a simple approach to cinema and telling a story with no words, I adore the film. Yet even films I adore I have to sit back and look at with a critical eye and for The Tribe, it's a movie that is easily one of the best of the year yet I left it feeling completely empty because it seemed it wasn't entirely sure what it wanted to say.

The Ugly: Well...that's one way to deal with your problems, I guess.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Trick 'r Treat

Four interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer; a college virgin might have just met the one guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; a woman who loathes the night has to contend with her holiday-obsessed husband.

The Good: Horror movies as short-story collections is nothing new. Creepshow, Trilogy of Terror, Twilight Zone the Movie are just a few fantastic classic films that did it before and did it well - not to mentions TV series such as Tales from the Crypt which spent years with that formula. Trick 'r Treat isn't episodic as those are, however, and instead interweaves its stories into one overarching plot where we finally understand what's happening by the very end and end up loving every minute of it, putting those building blocks together and realizing it's a Halloween film truly about the love and affection we all have for Halloween (or, as the film shows, the respect we should have for it). As cliche as it is to compare to, I can best describe it as Pulp Fiction like in how it handles its material. As a result, is actually supersedes those that came before it while at the same time being a fantastic homage to them. It's a throwback to classic horror tales while still maintaining a fantastic sense of unpredictability yet setting itself apart from them with dark humor and simple solid storytelling.  It not only gives you a sense of nostalgia but brings out your own inner child reminiscing of your own past Halloweens. That slight, subtle touch is what really makes Trick 'r Treat just a fantastic film that had me thinking of campfires and ghost stories of my own childhood. Michael Doherty gives us a smartly directed and well written film with great use of practical effects and atmospheric artistry and its unfortunate its been pushed aside by Warner Brothers for so long.

The Bad: There's not a whole lot of "goodness" happening in Trick 'r Treat. I suppose I can only say that none of the characters are really that likeable and you kind of expect what's coming to them in that regard (the journey is far more interesting than the end, as Doherty wonderfully shows). There's really not one story with one character you can actually like, and I can't help but think back to those aforementioned films and see how, at least somwhere, there was someone you can look to or even see yourself in. Trick 'r Treat is rather cynical in its approach; always going for the sense of brutal irony or simple revenge at every given moment rather than attempt to diversify out of it. By two-thirds into the movie, you being to realize it's treading water and no matter how well-written it may be, it becomes uninspired by the final act.

The Ugly: I've never understood the attraction of Anna Paquin. Her voice in particular is an absolute annoyance in just about everything and, sorry to say, she is probably the least attractive woman in the entire film (especially in the story that revolves around her).

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Trigun: Badlands Rumble

20 years after meddling into the bank heist of a notorious robber named Gasback, Vash the Stampede is heading towards Macca City... 

The Good: I think my recommendation for Trigun: Badlands Rumble can be summed up in just a few words: if you were a fan of the energetic and western-inspired anime series from the 1990s, you'll likely enjoy this. If you have no idea what Trigun is, you probably won't. Trigun was an odd blend of genre - a bit science fiction, a lot of western and some comedy thrown in along the way. Badlands Rumble continues that tradition, as strained as it is at times, and reminds us that if there's anything that Trigun did right, and that this movie does as well, is give us an incredibly sense of atmosphere and style. Badlands Rumble is the shining example of style over substance.

Fans can jump in easily, it's all there. The humor and goofiness blended in with the action and violence. It's an odd mash-up, to be sure, and it's gorgeously animated while doing it and is a hell of a lot of fun if you're just looking for a simple, straightforward action animated movie full of dust clouds, explosions and giant guns. Recommended for fans of the series, slightly recommended for those that like anime but not familiar with Trigun, and probably not recommended for those that have no idea what I'm talking about.

The Bad: Trigun: Badlands Rumble is sort of stuck. With a series, it can dip its toes in various waters of tonality. Comedic one episode, dark the next, dramatic after that, then slapstick and so forth. With the film, it still tries to do all that, and it just doesn't quite work. It's frantic and chaotic and can't get a grip on itself - how can it expect an audience to do the same?

It's entertaining, but an absolute mess of a movie. Call that a double-edged sword, I suppose, but its slow parts are painstakingly slow and comedy scatter-shot throughout its western-action influence. Sincerity is light, Vash the Stampede far more annoying than he perhaps needs to be and the supporting cast given barely anything to work with in the story. Then you have a ton of questions at the end when you realize there's a ton of holes and odd things that occurred - the lackluster subtitles not helping in this regard.

The Ugly: You must watch the series to really enjoy this movie. I stated that already, but I consider it a good entry into this category of my review because it's still a nicely done animated film, it's just going to be a turn off and incredibly confusing to those that aren't familiar with it. Call it unfortunate, but seeing as how Cowboy Bebop was able to make a great standalone movie away from its series, I wonder why this one is so reliant on the audience already familiar with the series in the first place.

As a fan, I felt it a solid continuation, though a bit odd considering how the series ended, but I can't even imagine someone who's never seen Trigun to get into this. They probably wouldn't understand Vash's way of things (and his ideology) or any of the supporting characters and the one-note story that throws you into the middle of it all with no explanation probably isn't the best way to be introduced to it all.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


The Trip

Coogan plays a food critic for the UK's Observer and travels with Roby Brydon through the English countryside.

The Good: Follow two comedians, or caricatures of the real men at least, through a country-trip to stay at various inns and eat a variety of foods, enjoy their banter and lines and impressions, then come home.

Yes, The Trip is very straightforward like that. It's more a fictional documentary than a "road trip" comedy with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing the odd couple game, but not in the traditional sense of a film. At its most basic level, The Trip is just one long conversation carried over some days.  But that's a bit much the way an actual road trip is. The Trip doesn't try to make anything happen externally, or develop a plot, it's just a roadtrip with a conversation over the course of days, looking into each comedian, their lives and their issues, and having fun with it along the way (though there's a dose of sincerity at the end).

That ending is what allows The Trip to put it all into perspective. Yes, it's a lot of talking, a bit of boredom and trying to find entertaining things to do along the winding roads and open fields. The Trip, though, doesn't just follow two British men on their roadtrip, doing impressions and having conversations about everything from scallops to the Ice Age, minutia certainly being the recurring dialogue between the two, but it brings it all home in its final moments as it shows that the best times are those shared with others now matter how boring or annoying it might seem. Friends, even when they make you roll your eyes or can't get their Michael Caine impression just right, are missed the moment they're gone. Sure, they might draw you to near suicide and annoy to no end after a long time with them, but the minute its over is the minute you miss them. The Trip might not grab you instantly, but the core it finds as it journeys down that road makes it one that you retroactively appreciate.

The Bad: The Trip begins to grow tiresome in its final third. Perhaps, like life, it shows that stagnation is the root all evil when it comes to a road trip. Things turn repetitive, a bit banal and disinterest sets in. Even the characters on screen are disinterested in what they're doing and they never quite learn to grow and learn. They still drive. They still have conversations. They still are funny but even the wryness grows thin after a while.

The Ugly: It should be noted this is the film version of The Trip, which is basically an edited and cut down version of the television series. If anything, The Trip will make you want to see the original show even more.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Troll Hunter

A group of students investigate a series of mysterious bear killings, but learns that there are much more dangerous things going on. They start to follow a mysterious hunter, learning that he is actually a troll hunter.

The Good: It's so rare to just have a little bit of fun at the movies. Movies that try to be fun usually come across as forced, and in others they try so hard we realize they just don't know what fun is. I can't blame them, though. "Fun" is one of those intangible things you can't really write or predict, it just happens. Troll Hunter, despite the hiccups in story and pacing, is simply fun. It's silly and over the top, but made in this humble, unassuming way where you magically become invested in it.  I have no way of explaining it precisely. It's a movie that's just having a good time with its material and we end up having a good time as well.

It's not a comedy, mind you. It's not trying to draw out laughs with gags and puns, it's within its process where the humor is found. It is simply funny in its absurdity and its willingness to take its concept and just run with it and we end up going along for the ride. We become invested in this fake-documentary, captivated by the same things our filmmakers are captivated by, only we find the humor in their ability to play the absurdity so straight, almost with boyish glee of running around the woods and in caves hunting for trolls. The special effects are spectacular, even for such a modest film, and it never lets up with wanting to simply entertain you.

In time, Troll Hunter will grow in popularity as more come to know it. It's one of the best monster-movie genre films to be released in years. It finds joy and entertainment while still being thrilling, making it surprisingly re-watchable.

The Bad: About two-thirds in, maybe a bit further, the tone really shifts in Troll Hunter. It tries desperately to turn itself into a drama, maybe even have a message, but the emotion feels as though it's coming out of left field. You're invested in the experience, not necessarily the characters, so when things start happening that take things in the wrong direction for them, I just wasn't sure how I should be feeling. The fact they underplay it by "moving on" makes it that much more uncomfortable, and along with that their attempts to recapture any humor feels equally uncomfortable. It turns darker and a bit more preachy, but you still at least have the wonder to carry you through a hell of a climax.

The Ugly: You're being chased by a giant troll and you're asking if you should go to the hospital now? The one thing that the film sometimes does is have its characters not really react appropriately to what's going on around them. They can sometimes come across as stupid

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Tron

A hacker is literally abducted into the world of a computer and forced to participate in gladiatorial games where his only chance of escape is with the help of a heroic security program.

The Good: There really isn't anything quite like Tron, that's is for certain. That's what really pushes the movie alone and has made it a part of pop culture history. It's an adventure, a pretty basic good guys versus bad guys/fight the system plot. But here, it's all about the setting: this amazing, unique and one-of-a-kind world set before us. It's pure spectacle but a fun, well done one that might depend on its special effects but in a way that is understandable and acceptable. It's just a fun film, through and through.

The Bad: Tron follows the nonsensical route in storytelling. Basically things happen seemingly randomly and, often, conveniently. Here's the thing, though: the movie, in a small bit of self-awareness, completely acknowledges this. It explains that a game is always evolving, and you have to adjust, for better or worse, and this is reflective in the world of Tron. Sure, you might call that lazy storytelling, and you're right, but at least the filmmakers have the moxie to sit there and try to explain why that might be, especially when really contrived plot events start showing up and things come and go as fast as they appear as we move on.

But that's not the entire issue with Tron, though. I would say its biggest flaw is its lack of characterization. It's not one to really have anything beyond your regular shallow archetypes, and even those play pretty loose with it all. They're not so much actual people as they are, in a way, just videogame characters moving through the story.

The Ugly: The Tron Sequel I'm all for. While Tron, here, is certainly a product of its time, it's also a product that can be easily updated and maybe envisioned even better than what was allowed back then.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Tron: Legacy

The son of a virtual world designer goes looking for his father and ends up inside the digital world that his father designed. He meets his father's creation turned bad and a unique ally who was born inside the digital domain of The Grid

The Good: If there's anything that Tron: Legacy needed to be cautious with, it was the idea of continuity. The original Tron was unique in style, atmosphere and visuals and to create a sequel to a movie decades old, to retain its look and feel but not feel dated, is not an easy task. Tron: Legacy, though, absolutely gets it. It knows exactly what it is and feels like the sequel people have been waiting for. Tron and everything about it was always the visuals. The original wasn't a great film, it was a vehicle to an "experience" and Tron: Legacy continues that notion. It was and always be about the special effects and atmosphere. Some like to put the original film on a pedestal. Surprisingly, Tron: Legacy does not. It doesn't glorify the original, it just feels consistent to what it founded.

You don't see a movie like Tron for a story or character depth. Tron: Legacy's story isn't anything special and the only really appealing characters are played twice by Jeff Bridges, who is both messiah-like and Cain-evil. The script could have barely referenced him, but if you're making a sequel to Tron, having him truly feel a part and ingrained within shows a love the filmmakers have the original film and that Bridges himself has for it. Tron and Tron: Legacy are what they are: spectacle and atmosphere. Visual splendor and, in case of Legacy, auditory orgasms thanks to Daft Punk's score that re-creates an 80s feel. And that's what Tron: Legacy is, if you think about it. It's an 80s special effects movie using today's special effects. Exciting at the right moments, even if it's a tad oddly paced and a bit slow (the original was as well). I don't know about you, but I think that's all we could have really asked for.

The Bad: As mentioned, the only noteworthy characters are played by Bridges as he reprises his role. Everyone else is either paper-thin or completely wasted (such as Martin Sheen's character and entire scene, which was utterly pointless). Not to mention, there is surprisingly not a lot of Tron in Tron: Legacy. He's in it, as is his human counterpart, but he is played more as a deux-ex-machina for plot convenience and fanboy cheers than a character that is, well, a character.

The Ugly: The de-aging of Bridges is hit and miss. Only one scene can I say was particularly "bad" and didn't quite look right, but most others are nicely done showing emotion and subtleties. I also think the place in which it all takes place helps mask the moments that you can "tell" isn't real. If it were not a computer-generated world but a film shot in the French countryside, then you might have issues more often than not, though I do wonder if you didn't know it was an effect if you would be looking as hard at it.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Tropic Thunder

A film crew is in Southeast Asia filming a Vietnam-war memoir. It's early in the shooting, but they're already behind schedule and over budget. On the day an accident befalls the novice director, the cast and crew are attacked by a gang of poppy-growing local drug dealers, except the cast and crew don't realize these aren't actors who are stalking them. The thugs kidnap Tugg Speedman, an actor whose star seems on the decline, and it's up to the rest of the ragtag team to band together long enough to attempt his rescue. But will Tugg want to leave?

The Good: There's no denying that Tropic Thunder is full of itself, but this over-indulgent parody by Ben Stiller wouldn't have it any other way.  It's excessive, heavy handed and pretentious...and we love it for that. It's a mockery of everything wrong with Hollywood in ever facet, even in its execution, and will go down as one of the best comedies in the past few years.  It doesn't hold back. The characters, or caricatures, are the film's srongpoints-each problematic, each distinct, and each demands your attention with their comedic stage presence. 

The Bad: There are many jokes and situations that people outside of Hollywood may not get. It's very much an "insider" comedy and can alienate people as a result. It's about Hollywood, it's opportunistic nature and narcissistic stars from the inside, that doesn't quite grab everyone. The story is unfortunately choppy on top of that, wandering aimlessly at times and giving the impression that the actors are sleepwalking through their roles, only spouting lines when the script demands. It's a story that's all over the place and sometimes, between the action, the gags and the characters, you have to catch your breath when trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

The Ugly: Jack Black in underwear? I say "no sir!"

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


True Grit

The murder of her father sends a teenage tomboy, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), on a mission of "justice", which involves avenging her father's death. She recruits a tough old marshal, "Rooster" Cogburn (John Wayne), because he has "grit", and a reputation of getting the job done. The two are joined by a Texas Ranger, La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), who is looking for the same man (Jeff Corey) for a separate murder in Texas. Their odyssey takes them from Fort Smith, Arkansas, deep into the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) to find their man.

The Good: One of the final films of John Wayne and director Henry Hathaway, who had consistently been directing films since the 30s (and was an assistant to the likes of De Mille before that) and Wayne, respectively, just as long acting in them. True Grit thematically shares a bit of purpose to the two older men creating it. It’s about generational gaps and being “out of touch” if not outright stubborn. Our “hero,” easily one of the greatest screen characters in cinema, “Rooster” Cogburn is iconically and multi-dimensional. He’s our heroic Marshall...but let’s just say he comes with a few caveats. Like buying a used car that has quite a lot of miles and its share of dents and dings.

His character is matched, however. Not by an enemy or villain, but by Kim Darby who plays the character of Mattie Ross. Whereas Wayne’s Cogburn is the old beat up truck with miles and a cynical rear-view mirror, Mattie is the fresh, newly imported Honda that still has new tread on the tires. This chemistry is what makes the film work. Throw in some great character actors very young in their careers (Roert Duvall, Dennis Hopper) and what do you have? Well, just one of the best damn westerns ever if you ask me (which you are, I’m sure). Westerns work like poetry. They’re thoughtful and poignant if done right. True Grit comes across as that and more, as though it’s a reflection of the Old Duke himself – larger than life but humbled mostly

The Bad: Director Hathaway probably doesn’t quite take as many risks visually as the film itself does. Then again I could be saying that because True Grit is a 1969 Western that feels more at home circa 1959. Only ten years, you ask? Well, the genre really turned to something else through the 1960s. There are times when Hathaway seems to attempt to grasp on to that as well but doesn’t quite succeed.  

The Ugly: Glen Campbell if a fine singer, but as an actor, he feels out of place here. It's hard to say if it's the shadow of Wayne and the strong presence of Darby that might make him seen not up top snuff, or maybe the fact as an actor, he's just not much of one. He rarely did roles, but I think with a more capable actor from this era, it would have worked a lot better and given the character more...well...character.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


True Grit (2010)

A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.

The Good: True Grit is just a solid western. Period. Does it try to change things up and wow you? No. But it does tell a damn good story with damn good actors as the legendary (yes, I consider them that already) Joel and Ethan Coen bring classic sensibilities to the genre. It deals with themes like redemption and morality, christian idealism and what is done for the right reasons versus what is done merely because someone says it's the right reasons. It echoes the approach of something like the masterpiece Unforgiven, which is less about action set pieces and more a lyrical journey with brief stints of violence. Then again, Unforgiven echoed the original film True Grit as well.

Naturally, the first question people want to know is how Jeff Bridges handles the character of Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn. It's easy to jump right in and wonder because John Wayne's portrayal of that character, earning him an Oscar, is legendary. Knowing this, you have to appreciate Bridges's effort even more. It's very much Rooster, but it's also very much not Wayne's Rooster which was important to handle with delicate hands. Bridges utterly absorbs into  the drunken old, one-eyed lawman and after time spent with him, you'll forget it's just an actor and start seeing the character himself. But despite the focus on Bridges, the story is entirely about Mattie Ross played by Haille Steinfeld and she nails the headstrong and perhaps overly-confident role, delivering dialogue perfectly and carrying her own against the veteran cast of Bridges, Damon, Brolin and Pepper. Considering the story is entirely from her perspective (much happens off screen), her acting is just perfect for it. Every actor gives their all, though, and the film is that much better for it. Damon is absolutely spot-on as the rather naive, boyish and "in over his head" Texas ranger, Brolin and Pepper, though only in for brief moments, play the villains roles to a T (Pepper so well that I didn't even realize it was him...also his character's name is Pepper so that seemed destined).

What's interesting is the decision to create a film that isn't the dark, ultra-realistic western but more in line with classic western cinema. The music. The dialogue. The slow, evolving pace (that seems to only show a flaw towards an ending). The vistas all presented with gorgeous (as always) cinematography of Roger Deakins. All the aesthetic are more homages than merely classic Coen Brothers "takes" on it all. It's less them pushing their style, dark humor and wit and more them just wanting to make a really good western, and in that they've succeeded.

The Bad: But the first was already a great western. In fact, much of the pacing and beats are identical to the original film (based on the novel). Wasn't the entire point of the Coen Brothers doing a True Grit film to have the Coen Brothers take it and make it their own (as they did O Brother Where Are Thou and The Ladykillers?)

Truth is, I can't complain. The film is too well-made and well acted for that. If you go in expecting the usual Coen Brothers dark humor and style, you might be surprised at how straight they really play it and just let the visuals and acting speak for themselves. Maybe by not setting out to make it a "Coen Brothers" film, they actually succeed in being the unique and quirky Coens we know and love all along. They are ever-evolving and ever changing in how they tackle material and the decision to not make it a "Coen Brothers" film makes it that much more of a "Coen Brothers" film.

But there is a problem regarding the characters, at least for me. They're all well written and well acted, but you never get that sense of camaraderie or completion to their arcs and personal journey. They come and go with leaps rather than the slowly-threaded plot that carries most of the film; dipping here, rising there, disappearing at other moments. As we are seeing all of the story from Mattie's perspective we never quite feel the human condition behind the others.  The film attempts to have them all seem as real people, but it never quite feels right. Their conversations never quite turn too personal and we never quite get a sense that anyone really cares that much for each other. Great characters, just not great friends, I suppose.

The Ugly: This is classic western cinema. Moves slow, takes its time...makes it a "journey" and not hails of gunfire. Violence is quick, fast and raw. Audiences may not like it. They want guns-a-blazing and showdowns.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


True Lies

Harry Tasker leads a double life. At work he is a government agent with a license to do just about anything, while at home he pretends to be a dull computer salesman. He is on the trail of stolen nuclear weapons that are in the hands of fanatic terrorists when something more important comes up. Harry finds his wife is seeing another man because she needs some adventure in her life. Harry decides to give it to her, juggling pursuit of terrorists on one hand and an adventure for his wife on the other while showing he can Tango all at once.

The Good: Two of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best films can be contributed to James Cameron yet, strangely, this fantastic action (and comedy-action) classic is rarely brought up. True Lies is both Cameron and Schwarzenegger's homage to classic action with a mid 1990s polish. It's incredibly fun, the governor showing a comedic side to attach to his tongue-in-cheek 1980s hero, and giving us one of his better performances thank to the fun and even joyful tone the film cascades itself into. I also love seeing actors do their own stunts, which Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis show here. Speaking of Curtis, some might say this is the best movie she's ever been in (I disagree, Trading Places is too good and Halloween too much a classic) but it's also great to see her have so much fun in as well....and I think that's what the movie does better than other action flicks that try the same schtick (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, various Michael Bay movies etc...) is you get a sense of fun with it all and memorable characters to route for (or against).

The Bad: True Lies centers itself more on its set pieces and concept, as any action movie does, but I think by this point Cameron had shown he can also tell a great story in the process. He doesn't quite hit that mark here, although to be fair he set a pretty high bar with Terminator 2 and Aliens. Certain plot points go nowhere or are just forced in, even ridiculous such as setting up your wife to be a hooker so you can reveal your secret. Not the best told story, but a fun one nonetheless.

The Ugly: Whatever happened to Tia Carrere? She was on a high during this time with this and Wayne's World. She had that relic hunter show ten years ago, did anyone see that? Anyways...it's also cool see Bill Paxton in this movie. Why isn't he in Avatar, Cameron? You could have given him Ribisi's role. Paxton plays goofy and obsessive like nobody's business.

Final Rating
: 4 out of 5


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Two hillbillies are accused of being killers by a group of college kids camping near the duo's cabin.

The Good:  It's been a hit at the festivals and after sitting through it's relatively short length, I have to say it has me convinced as a soon-to-be cult favorite film for horror/comedy fans. Imagine Dumb and Dumber somehow blending in with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the directing style of Sam Raimi and you'll get a rough idea of what you're in store for. It's hilarious with its comedic timing and slap-stick approach (with quite a good amount of blood in the process) and has quite the memorable characters in Tucker and Dale as they are endearing as much as they are stupid. That stupidity is where the heart of this comedy lies and although it stretches itself a tad too thin, it manages to always keep you laughing, cringing, maybe even thinking a little in terms of how people view each other, and you're certain to have a good time on top of it all.

The Bad: While you shouldn't expect a story of any particular worth in a film like this, it does tend to drag itself in the final moments that weighs everything down; almost as though it should have been an hour long short than a feature length film.  Most of it takes place in and around a cabin. While fitting, it seems not enough is done within the cabin or even outside of it to really pull the "variety" trigger in terms of what happens and how. There's also a scene that takes place in it towards the end that is pretty contrived and on the nose, which really goes against the great tone it had going for it in terms of "miscommunication" and "misdirections."

The Ugly: I've said for a while that a problem with slasher movies today is that you actually want the killer to succeed because the regular people (as in victims) are so unappealing. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a film that, I think, seems to be a direct letter to those that have made that a cliche for so long. Thank you, Eli Craig. I'll be keeping on a eye on your next projects from here on out.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


2001: A Space Odyssey

The monoliths have been watching us. They gave us the "evolutionary kick in the pants" we needed to survive at the Dawn of Time. In 1999, we discovered a second monolith on the moon. Now, in the year 2001, the S.S. Discovery and its crew, Captains Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, and their onboard computer, HAL-9000, must discover what alien force is watching us...

The Good: A visually stunning film with metaphors and allegories that still have people today analyzing it from every angle. It’s intentionally ambiguous and intentionally meant to have you ask questions, ponder philosophical ideologies and wonder exactly what is happening; if anything to get you to reflect upon yourself. A classical soundtrack is juxtaposed and given as much meaning and purpose as the camera lens itself. It’s daring, especially its vision of space (such as not having music, only breathing, for sound). The acting is muted, drawn back, even robotic at times, but this fits in with the rather matter-of-fact approach to the world. While it gives us spectacles of outerspace, and we are in wonder of it, the humans act as though it’s all the norm. This approach allows us to feel the world is natural, like it’s always been there, and was a conscious decision by Kubrick. The HAL story, the third act of the film, is one of legend. It’s ambitious and intelligent, thrilling and even scary and is work of sheer brilliance that has caused numerous copycats, parodies and college essays thanks to a little computer that becomes self-aware (or, as this is the case with the entire film, another theory suggests it is merely using logic that humans are absolute, all appear right).

The Bad: Despite the symbolism, theories and numerous thesis written about this legendary film, it has more levels than most films could dream of, 2001 fails on one essential part of filmmaking: entertaining us. Drawing us in with its story and characters are set back and stimulating us thoughtfully put forward. An interesting history is that the book and script were written at the same time, by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, so it’s curious to see how the book explains more, telling us a story in three acts, whereas the movie comes across as a jumbled series of ideas from the book, and we’re just left to assume we’ve read it (which, if you have, you will probably enjoy the movie more). Despite Clarke’s objection, Kubrick insisted on trying to stay vague. The results from this ‘experiment’ is mixed. Ambiguity works to an extent, but not meant to encompass an entire narrative. Reading a book shouldn’t be a requirement to understand a movie. That’s like saying I need to read up on Da Vinchi to appreciate the Mona Lisa.

In the end, 2001 is more of “ideas” that have scenes based around them rather than a story. There are films that do this, they’re call surrealism, but 2001 defies even those conventions and ends up a mish-mash of film styles. There’s no denying that it’s a very very thought-provoking and interesting film, it just doesn’t quite hit all the marks as an entertaining one.

The Ugly: After the fact, Kubrick acknowledged that the differences between the book and movie are so substantial, that it’s best to view both as different approaches to the same idea. I applaud this, because it allows people to still enjoy the book and movie without needing to compare the two, but that doesn’t change the fact the film fails as a narrative, luckily it makes up for it in many other areas.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


12 Monkeys

An unknown and lethal virus has wiped out five billion people in 1996. Only 1% of the population has survived by the year 2035, and is forced to live underground. A convict (James Cole) reluctantly volunteers to be sent back in time to 1996 to gather information about the origin of the epidemic (who he's told was spread by a mysterious "Army of the Twelve Monkeys") and locate the virus before it mutates so that scientists can study it. Unfortunately Cole is mistakenly sent to 1990, six years earlier than expected, and is arrested and locked up in a mental institution, where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist, and Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert.

The Good: Whether you like him or do not, one thing is for certain with a Terry Gilliam film: it will offer up something, anything, that you probably haven’t seen before. 12 Monkey’s stays true to that, though it’s far from a typical Gilliam over-the-top fantasy film he’s often associated with. In fact, it’s rather conventional for the most part, but you still get that energy and sense that Gilliam is behind the camera. That enthusiasm and pace is what allows us to really enjoy 12 Monkeys, really. There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, going on in this film. Yet, as we ride the rollercoaster and it throws everything at us, we still manage to understand it all and enjoy the ride. That doesn’t necessarily mean it all makes sense, but the moments provided at least enthrall us and we can put the puzzle pieces together.

I would argue, as well, that our two leads in Pitt and Willis (more Willis and Stowe, really) offer up some of the best performances of their career. Willis plays the troubled Cole perfectly – he always has that look of paranoia, heavy breathing and uncertainty like a newborn kid in the world. Then there’s Pitt’s Goines, and he plays one of the best nutcases you’ll ever see. He is a perfect balance to Cole and helps put him into perspective. Sure, Cole might be a bit crazy...but he’s not THAT crazy. Their relationship is a great bridge into the plot, an equally crazy and outlandish one that just happens to involve in the end of the world. That’s probably how it will all end up happening, you know: crazy people doing crazy things. That jumps off the screen, and after a while you start feeling a bit paranoid and insane yourself with everything you’re seeing, hearing and feeling.

But despite the “craziness,” of it all, its pace a mile a minute and energy most filmmakers don’t have in their entire bodies, 12 Monkeys is a dark, brooding and intelligent film from beginning to end. It might seem all over the place, yet at the same time that’s a directed, focused intention. What a person says at one moment seems completely outlandish, then a bit later that comes up again and it all starts to make a little sense. Perfect sense? No...this is a Gilliam movie. But it draws you in, compacts itself tightly for your entertainment and thinking, and at least hits the right mark to give that illusion, doesn’t it?

The Bad: One element that 12 Monkeys tries to conjure up but doesn’t quite hit as the human condition. We like Cole, sure, but we never quite connect to the larger scene that being the end of the world, humanity’s destruction and why we want him to succeed. You see, you want Cole to succeed for the sake of Cole at the end...not to save the world because we really know so little of the world that Cole comes from. Now, you can sit there and say “Cole is a representative of humanity” and you’d be right, but we still don’t know the people or place he comes from. Only that he doesn’t like it...then again perhaps that’s the point. Humanity where Cole comes from his lost. That’s why he doesn’t like to talk about it, that’s why he can’t feel love and is frightened of everything, and perhaps that’s why the ending of the film is as poetic and perfect as you could fathom – because when he could feel and love and find happiness was a time long forgotten and lost to him.

The Ugly: A lot of people don’t realize it, but 12 Monkey’s was co-written by the same guy that did the screenplay for Blade Runner. It’s interesting to see two films that are very similar in certain areas but certainly very different in how they’re presented and told.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


12 Years a Slave

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

The Good: 12 Years a Slave depicts exactly as its title tells us. Through Solomon Northup, a freeman forced into slavery, we see many angles and perspectives and simple situations that you rarely see on film, at least not in such a frank and earnest manner.

What's most interesting is how it depicts white slave owners. It's not a one-note "evil" man, though there are those in here certainly, but men who work and live because that's just the way they are and that's the way people lived - slavery was as common as buying bread and milk. It's how they treat their slaves that is most interesting, some you get a sense are good men, others awful, but either way they are slave owners making neither particularly appealing, just some wielding their power more than others. Power corrupts some, has others questioning their morals, and then others do what most people would do if given the opportunity: flaunt it and become those "masters."

It handles it all very matter-of-factually. There's drama and melodrama to be sure, but how people of color are treated is done in this casual demeanor of "that's just the way things are" which I find far more interesting and insightful to the period than a scene of torture or emotion. These people at this time considered it merely a way of life, no different than us making a car payment, and that's what's more frightening to me.

Of course, that's to me. This is a film that is going to say something different to each person watching it. It's a layered and complex look not just in to one man's life, but the way of life as a whole by both slave and slave owners. The performances all around showcase the complexity, from misguided faith to self-doubts to a constant stream of hope that could be dashed at any minute. You see it across all the acctors' faces, but there's no denying that  Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon gives a career-defining performance and that  Michael Fassbender gives us one of the most vile men to appear on screen.

Director Steve McQueen's style is perfect for a film such as this. He can paint a broad portrait, but treats every moment with intimacy no matter the scope. He lets a scene breath, the world and ambient sounds drive a moment (there's very little score here), and captures the performances of his actors more with the lens, less with the script. 12 Years a Slave says more about the way the world was with mere imagery already, let alone the terrific performances and true-story behind it all. It's a document more than a film and never without a moment you won't forget.

The Bad: As great as this film is, and it is great, there's a serious lack of knowing much about Solomon. We know he can play the violin. We know he's a freeman. We know he has a family. But the film never quite paints him outside of that. Now Ejiofor's performance more than makes up for any lack of depth to the character, but the film never quite tells us his state of mind or has a "theme" that can surround him. He says he will not fall into despair...but it doesn't show him having hope either. It lacks that personal touch, something to give us a look at the human condition, rather than the awful conditions a human can go through.

In other words, there's no sense of "overcoming." There's not quite that emotional beat that it needed. There's little life in it, nothing raw or human. That's not to say there aren't strong moments, but nothing that gives us a better understanding of Solomon. In fact, we seem to know a bit more about the supporting casts than we do Solomon himself, and that "passive observer" approach just doesn't quite fit with such a powerful story. I know his story, but simultaneously I don't know him as well as I should.

Then again, if he spoke more, it wouldn't be accurate, and internal-monologues would ruin the calm, still beauty of the cinematography and story...so I suppose it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, and either way it's only minor considering how powerful of a presence Solomon is, and hwo much you'll still remember that despite not knowing much behind the curtain.

The Ugly: It's the best film you'll never want to see again.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


21 Jump Street

A pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.

The Good: There's a moment in 21 Jump Street where you just can't help but succumb to its charms. It hooks you. Grabs you. You realize it's laughing at itself just as much as you're laughing at it. 21 Jump Street has a fantastic and gleeful sense of self-awareness. It's playful. Smart. Witty. With a script full of awareness, satire and focus, this is a film that is far smarter  than most action-comedies deserve.

21 Jump Street finds success in two ways: the first is being satirical without trying to be satirical. The comedy found here, full of homage and affection, is organic. Putting the absurdity out there for the audience to digest works far better than putting it out there then repeatedly pointing at it as though the audience doesn't "get it." We do, and 21 Jump Street, the director, the writers and the actors all know we do and play off it as well.

Speaking of the actors, that's our second element of success. The chemistry in 21 Jump Street is so natural, so efficient, so perfect, that you immediately want to see all these players back in a sequel. Jonah Hill's comedic presence is expected, but the counter-punch of a surprisingly gifted comedic actor in Channing Tatum tends to steal the show. Their play off of each other is what great buddy-cop slash comedy-action is meant to be.

The Bad: 21 Jump Street is a lot of wonderful foreplay but little in terms of actual payoff. Notably, a rushed third act and sloppy handling with a climax brings about a sense of disappointment when you get the sense they decided cash the check before actually signing it. 21 Jump Street works in bit-parts and stays together with character chemistry, but it still needs to finalize it all to bring out a quality whole. It's a film full of various working cogs for a machine that isn't quite sure what it's making yet.

Though it may hit the right notes as it goes through the motions, the broad motions themselves lack the same keen comedic punch. The plot is bland, the story really doesn't go anywhere and arcs are predetermined boilerplates we've seen, and though this is satirizing those cliches, it still falls victim to what many of these new "reimagined" takes of old troupes always fall victim to: it may be fun to poke fun at the method, but the method is still being used and is still every bit as tired. 21 Jump Street might get more right than usual, but it still has a good number of uninspired conventions the genre just can't escape.

The Ugly: Isn't it a little strange that there's an NWA song, at the moment when Ice Cube is rapping, and we're seeing Cube on screen in character? I guess that's kind of funny, and certainly intentional, but believe it or not it just feels weird to me.

Also, the chase scene contained some of the funniest things I've seen in an action-comedy in a while - a great blend of fun and self-awareness. It's that tone that really distinguishes the film despite its flaws.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


22 Jump Street

After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Jenko when they go deep undercover at a local college.

The Good: Going in, I knew this movie would work. Unlike the previous film, 21 Jump Street, where you have no idea what will happen or how it will turn out, this one was pretty much guaranteed. We know this cast works well together, we know that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller understand the material and know how to get laughs and we know the writers can deliver funny scenes and situations for the actors to be in.

So yes, you’ll enjoy this. It’s hard not too. It’s the same movie. No. Literally. It’s the same movie and they completely acknowledge that in the film taking the whole “meta” (awful word) approach to a whole new level. 22 Jump Street is a commentary about movie sequels just like 21 Jump Street was a commentary about reboots and remakes from dead old franchises that nobody cares about. Though it’s not quite as clever, you’ll be laughing enough to not care.

So in one simple line, if you liked the first one you’ll like this one. It’s the exact same movie, but amazingly you go with it and love that it acknowledge it.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are great just as they originally were and considering their character arcs are exactly the same, you know where it will all end up. But it’s the journey, not the destination, for one of the year’s funniest movies.

The Bad: Too frantic in pace, plot lines dropped or outright holed, action sloppy and inconsistent - 22 Jump Street is a sloppy movie. It’s a hilarious movie, mind you, but a sloppy one. The first film was also frantic, but it was at least focused on its characters and their arcs. 22 Jump Street doesn’t really have that, wanting to “up the ante” yet never quite having the solid ground to do it on. It’s two incredibly funny guys with fantastic chemistry set loose, and that’s kind of it.

That’s not to say the self-referential nature is a bad thing, but it never quite embraces it all the same. It’s less organic, as it was in the first film, and more a pun and joke that keeps cropping up that’s funny in bits but not strong enough to hold up everything else. Thankfully, the stars are and allow the scenes to work when the cleverness of the script isn’t quite hitting its mark.

But I think one of the biggest problems is with the action itself. The first film managed to have some really solid action sequences - well shot, inventive and funny. The sequel doesn’t have a single memorable one. I only bring that up because, though it’s a “meta” comedy about an old television show, 21 and 22 Jump Street are both witty parodies of action and “buddy cop” movies form the 1980s. Not a single action sequence in 22 Jump Street is all that engaging and none are particularly well shot - most observable considering the first film had one of the most memorable chase sequences in cinema in the past few years. In that regard, it’s a serious step back and I is why the sequel is only slightly less of a polished film than the first.

The Ugly: You are seriously reminded again, just like the in the first film, that Ice Cube can really shine if in an R-Rated comedy. Cube, come on, man. Do more R-Rated comedies, he arguably steal the show here.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


28 Days Later

It has been twenty-eight days since Jim, a young bicycle courier, was knocked off his bike and injured in a car accident. When he wakes up from his coma, the world has changed. London is deserted, litter-strewn and grim, and it seems the entire world has disappeared. The truth, however, is even more horrifying - a devastating psychological virus has been unleashed on the world, turning the population into blood-crazed psychopaths driven only to kill and destroy the uninfected. A bitter struggle to get out of the city with fellow survivors to a military encampment at Manchester follows - but there, their troubles are just beginning...

The Good: Despite it not being your typical zombies, per se, 28 Days Later still adheres to the classic zombie movie formula: survive, fight, escape, survive again. There's a strange sense of intimacy in 28 Days Later in a time where human contact and touch is a rarity - vacant streets and pure silence now dominate the landscape of England it its own version of the end of the world. The film takes a brilliant approach to introducing it all to us as we see it all through the eyes of Cillian Murphy's character who has awaken from a coma, which just so happens to coincide with our own beginning of the film. What he sees and what he is introduced to is meant to be us vicariously experiences it with him, and it's strangely and hypnotically effective in doing so. 28 Days Later, and I know I've said this numerous times, does exactly what a horror movie should do yet few actually succeed at: have fantastic characters. I can't say the characters are entirely original, they are not, but they are surely believable and sympathetic as we tag along with them on their journey to, hopefully, a better place and a better life. The more we sympathize with them, the more we want them to succeed and the more frightening at the thought of them failing at that really is - at that's the real horror here. Ordinary people in extraordinary situations - 28 Days Later does it better than most, and that's probably why it was so celebrated upon release because the blood and violence isn't nearly as important as hoping our traveling companions succeed in their task.

The Bad:
It's been noted how 28 Days Later is symbolic; an allegorical story about human nature, morality and evil. After all, this whole viral breakout began with an act of moral goodness. Some applaud it and its message, and it's definitely more intelligent than other movies of this nature, however it also has occasional moments where it forces the theme down our throat in the final act of the film. It seems to struggle to find a way to end itself, having multiple endings is proof of this, and while the message is clear it seems to want to dominate the film towards the end rather than the film wrapping itself up in a more satisfactory manner.

The Ugly:
Many cite 28 Days Later as Danny Boyle getting "back on track" after doing The Beach. I don't know...i kind of liked the Beach as well. That's when it hit me - The Beach might not have been that good but it's really Danny Boyle I like and he is easily one of the best filmmakers out there today.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The Twilight Samurai

A 19th-century samurai tries to protect a battered wife.

The Good: As far as contemplative, thought-provoking samurai films go, I don't know if any quite outdoes Yoji Yamada's masterpiece of cinema, The Twilight Samurai. Samurai films, sometimes, are thought-provoking in nature. They use the concept of one of Japan's most prominent historical figures to tell stories of morals. Rights and wrongs. Changes in the way of life. Sometimes glorified, usually solitary, always intriguing and respectful. In the case of The Twilight Samurai, it doesn't glorify anything. In fact, it takes a moment to look at the humanity behind the dying world of the samurai, taking place at the end of an era when samurai weren't as held in high regard and politics and bureaucracy began to emerge.

This brings up an interesting notion: just because there may not be samurai protecting lords, or ronin wandering for meals and pay, doesn't mean the "idea" of them is dead. Their belief system, their concept of honor, their entire function in society is still there, even if they don't carry a sword. Here, we have humbleness in style and in substance. It's a quiet film, using action briefly and painting a portrait of a world that may be foreign and hundreds of years in the past, but real, organic and believable. The Twilight Samurai is poetry in motion and a commentary on an era past that resonates to today. It puts its purpose and message forward before drawing a blade at all.

Much of what The Twilight Samurai is to the world of samurai film is often compared to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. I can think of no better comparison to explain how the film works. Like Unforgiven, a western that is more than just being a "western" where the mythos is put on the backburner, Twilight Samurai puts the idea of sword play and fighting aside. It's there, in spurts, but it brings out its points and purpose through dialogue and situations. Like Unforgiven, we come to know the man, Seibei, and his way of life. His thoughts. His dreams. His entire being. This puts the final act of the film in much more perspective, and you truly feel for the character and the risk involved as it unfolds.

If I were to make a list of the ten greatest samurai films to be made, The Twilight Samurai would surely be in it. It's a film you can't ignore. It's a samurai film that is more than just a samurai film. It's a window into the past and how people lived and thought, how they treated each other in an era where certain social norms, such as honor and obligation, began to shift to something more meaningful. More human. It's quiet, yet always tense as though every moment could explode and is a film that has few as its equal.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Essentially a prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's earlier TV series "Twin Peaks". The first half-hour or so concerns the investigation by FBI Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and his partner Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) into the murder of night-shift waitress Teresa Banks in the small Washington state town of Deer Meadow. When Desmond finds a mysterious clue to the murder, he inexplicably disappears. The film then cuts to one year later in the nearby town of Twin Peaks and follows the events during the last week in the life of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) a troubled teenage girl with two boyfriends; the hot-tempered rebel Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) and quiet biker James Hurley (James Marshall), her drug addiction, and her relationship with her difficult (and possible schizophrenic) father Leland (Ray Wise), a story in which her violent murder was later to motivate much of the TV series. Contains a considerable amount of sex, drugs, violence, very loud music and inexplicable imagery.

I think a majority of people find the Northwest of the United States, it's pine forests and mountains, generally strange, creepy and scary. I also think we can point to David Lynch's Twin Peaks as the cause for that. I can also point to him in never letting me forget about David Duchovney in drag. Fire Walk With Me isn't as bad as some might make it out to be, although it's not particularly great either.

Lynch gives a solid effort here, there's no doubt, and a good mystery to center it all around with some great characters, the story is secondary. Guess what? It's those elements that usually make a great Lynch film, because trying to figure out the story is part of the mystery. As long as it keeps you engaged and keeps moving, and the characters appealing, you will find yourself enjoying the ride even if there is no end in sight. That's something that really permeates through all of Lynch's films, and especially here.

I hadn't seen Twin Peaks in years when I finally got to watching it. To my surprise, I found myself not really needing to know the series to find some enjoyment in the film. Sure it doesn't really go anywhere, and there's a serious lull to everything about half-way that can be frustrating as a viewer, but you still get through it as a great piece of odd entertainment with even a slight bit of wit and humor to it.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


2 Guns

A DEA agent and a naval intelligence officer find themselves on the run after a botched attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel. While fleeing, they learn the secret of their shaky alliance: Neither knew that the other was an undercover agent.

The Good: A "buddy" action movie is only as good as the chemistry of its leads. Going back to the early days of cinema with comedy duos through the 1980s and "buddy cop" tropes, you need one hand washing the other with wit and cleverness. Thankfully, even though it throws its plot aside in the process, 2 Guns gives us a formidable duo of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, who exude charisma and personality in their respect characters. Wisecracks, one-liners, banter…lots of banter…the two seem to have a fun and that fun is contagious.

The movie itself is a mess, but it's a strangely alluring mess. It takes it's over-the-top, 1980s visage and plays around with it like a child with his action figures. It's silly, nonsensical, irreverent and still entertaining as it pops out old tropes like a weapon accessories and runs around its world like a play set just received for a birthday. There's no denying the energy and fun you can have with it. It knows it's not anything new and doesn't care, it just wants you to have fun with it, and sometimes that's all we really need for an action movie.

Well…you also need good action. Unfortunately that's kind of where 2 Guns falls short.

The Bad: Well…you also need good action but that's kind of where 2 Guns falls short. That and it's bad storytelling, but we'll get to that in a minute. The action scenes in 2 Guns are, unfortunately unremarkable. There's nothing new or inventive here and everything feels incredibly underwhelming, even moreso when you have the two fantastic leads trying to make the most of it. There's little intensity or uniqueness to it, and is nothing more than caps and squibs with no sense of engagement or trying to get you in to the action.

However, it does manage suspense well. It's best moments have no action at all and just let the tense set-piece speak for itself (a military base infiltration or a bank heist) and skates by thanks to the characters. However, to get to those you have a strange wibbly-wobbly script that is all over the map with supporting characters, factions vying for money, most being forgettable despite the good actors involved, and something about the CIA being at the heart of it all. Sure, you'll bite for the Denzel and Marky-Mark, but that's also all you'll end up tasting when it's all over. All the other stuff? It's as though they had these characters ready to go and wanted to just throw something together for them to do.

The Ugly: It is what it is, as they say. A nicely violent yet strangely "light" and "breezy" film that can suck you in. Just try to not make sense of it and enjoy the moment.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Umberto D.

Shot on location with a cast of nonprofessional actors, Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist masterpiece follows Umberto D., an elderly pensioner, as he struggles to make ends meet during Italy’s postwar economic boom. Alone except for his dog, Flike, Umberto strives to maintain his dignity while trying to survive in a city where traditional human kindness seems to have lost out to the forces of modernization. Umberto’s simple quest to fulfill the most fundamental human needs—food, shelter, companionship—is one of the most heartbreaking stories ever filmed and an essential classic of world cinema.

The Good: Italian Neo-Realism is one of the more unheralded film styles in all of cinema by the majority (mainly because many don't know what it is). For those who don't know, it often consists of a loose script, non-actors, a documentary style in filming and focuses on compassion. That last bit is probably why I'm fond of it myself as compassion for characters is often overlooked, and here's a whole style geared towards it. Whereas De Sica's film The Bicycle Thief focused on a man searching for his bike (and thus create a bond with his son), Umberto D. focuses on an elderly man in search of a home for his dog (and thus regaining his only and best friend). You see, Umberto wants to kill himself, but doesn't want to leave his dog a stray. He loves it too much, and in the process of finding a home for it, he realizes that his love for his best friend is the meaning of life he was looking for all along. It's beautifully simple and poetic. Like much of De Sica's films, you don't merely watch the character's desolation, you truly feel a part of it. We, somehow, live vicariously through him. It's hard to explain, perhaps it's the neo-realist style or perhaps it's how we see ourselves becoming like Umberto himself; old, alone and merely getting by and living on little due to the bad economy.

The Bad: The constant comparison's of Umberto D. to a Chaplin film is unnecessary if not insulting. Not that Chaplin didn't have as similar approach to character, and especially not that Chaplin wasn't a master himself, but Umberto D. is simply too personal of a film to so half-heartedly compare it to someone or something else.

The Ugly: Amazingly, the issues of Umberto D are incredibly relevant today. The forgotten generations, the elderly scraping to get by, often tossed aside and not helped. Like many neo-realist films, the issues are timeless...and that completely lack of progression is the true ugliness of society as a whole.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


The Unborn

While babysitting a boy and his baby brother, Casey Beldon has a dreadful nightmare involving a weird dog and an evil child, and she tells her best friend Romy over the phone. Casey is haunted by this boy, and when she goes to the ophthalmologist, he asks if she has a twin brother or sister. She asks her father and discovers that her mother lost a son that died in the womb. Casey suspects that she is haunted by the spirit of her brother. She finds a letter addressed to a woman called Sofi Kozma and a creepy picture at home that belonged to her mother. She goes with Romy to a retirement home to meet Sofi, a survivor of the experiments during the Holocaust. But Sofi tells Casey that she had never met her mother and later calls Casey to tell her she is in great danger.

The Good: It’s only 80 minutes. Seriously, though, it’s probably the visual experience because the film does have a good look to it and knows how to play with the audience as it uses its camera. There’s a couple of legitimately scary moments…but just a couple and for a horror movie that just isn’t going to work. There’s also Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman rocks.

The Bad: Have you ever seen a movie that just tries too damn hard? Everything about the Unborn is contrived and conventional. You know when the scares will happen, there’s no fun in it because it takes itself way too seriously. It wants to be the Ring…it’s not as well scripted. It wants to be the Exorcist….it’s not well acted or thought provoking. It’s a typical horror story with typical horror characters doing typical stupid things. Our heroine’s best friend especially who is supposedly the superstitious one but seems to fall victim to “horror dumbness” (a term I just made up, you like that?) and despite all her friend’s warnings, her best friend mind you who is seriously hysterical, eventually finds herself dead which is, sadly, the final result of “horror dumbness.” The story doesn’t make any sense whatsoever nor does it try to. It’s a horror movie built around “ideas” to scare you. Certain visuals or sudden orchestral hits to get you to jump or feel creeped out. Yeah, it might do that if you don’t quite see it coming, but that’s rare. Due to that, I couldn’t tell you what the hell the story was about. It has something to do with twins, then her mother and grandmother, a dead brother, the kid next door that stalks her and a demon that is somehow connected to it all. Very few of these plot points are expanded upon much less tied up. The film doesn’t attempt to tell you anything, it just wants to scare you. If it at least did the latter then I would be easy on it because it at least does what a horror movie is supposed to do. The Unborn does neither and you‘re left thinking it wants to be campy and fun one minute yet then realize it‘s actually taking itself seriously the next.

The Ugly: This is written and directed by David Goyer. His previous effort, the Inivisble, at least showed promise even though it wasn’t particularly good. This is a major step back and perhaps its best he stays on the screenwriting front.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Unbreakable

This suspense thriller unfolds as the audience is introduced to David Dunn. Not only is he the sole survivor of a horrific train-crash that killed 131 people he doesn't have a scratch on him. Elijah Price is an obscure character who approaches Dunn with a seemingly far fetched theory behind it all.

The Good: Unbreakable is a finely directed and shot, well-acted and intriguing bit of character study. The “character” here not Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson, but us as people. It notes our views of good, evil and right and wrong. The “character” is humanity as a whole and all the ambiguous forces that pull us in various directions to define us. What makes one person “evil?” What makes another a “hero?” These are the questions Unbreakable brings up, though not directly for the most part, and though it never really sets out to answer them, it does note how the universe tends to balance itself. Where one person is a great man...there is an equally evil man his antithisis, somewhere in the world. Through a sharp script and a very keen photogenic eye, Unbreakable is easily one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films.

I particularly like the gloomy, washed-out atmosphere of the piece. It’s not “gritty” necessarily, but it’s a film that has a look and pace of an apathetic world – which is sort of its point entirely. There’s no joy really, and there are adult characters with adult problems in a world that hears “so and so was murdered” and simply says “oh, well that’s too bad” before turning the channel to Family Guy and moving on. Mr. Glass, a role perfectly tailored to Samuel L. Jackson, realizes this and it drives his obsessions even further. Sure, we love our heroes and comics and tales of great feats...but in reality what do any of us ever really do about it? Mr. Glass is the guy that kicks you in the pants – and he does that with Willis’s David Dunne to where David completely has to reassess his life, the world around him and what a man is potentially capable of.

I’m reminded of a monologue in Kill Bill Volume 2, Tarantino’s ode to...well his ode to everything pretty much, where Bill notes how Superman is the real person and that Clark Kent is the “mask” or “costume.” Superman becomes Kent to blend in – and Kent is a coward. Thus Kent is a commentary by Superman on all that is humanity. Weak. Apathetic. Cowardly. Unbreakable is that concept in an hour and forty-five minute running time.

The Bad: Yes, it’s a more serious, contemporary and “adult” look into heroes and villains, and boy is it self-involved and pretentious in doing so. Unbreakable likes to remind us how important it is, and at the end you kind of wonder why it needed to be as such. Unbreakable is a smart film, but it’s not nearly as smart, thought-provoking and full of revelations as it likes to think it is. It’s all rather basic in the grand scheme. It takes those basic concepts and utilizes and presents them remarkably well, but it’s not the second-coming of plot, commentary on humanity and the original thought-provoking adult superhero tale it tends to think it is. It’s well-crafted, though not entirely entertaining all the time as it can be a rather muted, depressing tone to it, but enjoyable as a genre film that doesn’t act like a genre film...but at the same time still is a genre film.

The Ugly: So many people put stock into the ending, some even saying “the ending wasn’t as good as the Sixth Sense therefore this movie isn’t as good.” What kind of reviewing is that? The ending of the Sixth Sense was meant to put the entire film in perspective – you look at it completely different once its revealed. For Unbreakable, it’s more a commentary, not a twist or meant for you to completely rethink the film’s narrative. Did the path there become suddenly irrelevant and pointless? When did a film’s ending define the quality of the entire piece? Not only that, the ending of Unbreakable isn’t meant to be some revelation to turn you on your head. It’s a fitting (and I admit predictable) ending that brings closure and understanding of how we view heroes, villains, good and evil. “The ending wasn’t as good as The Sixth Sense” ....give me a break.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Unbroken

After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he's caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

The Good: Saved by a strong lead performance and a great visual style (thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, Unbroken has all the elements in place to be compelling - full of drama and tense scenarios as we follow along the life of Louis Zamperini. He grew up in poverty, got beat up, ran for the Olympics, got shot down (twice), was stranded in the ocean for over a month, imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II where he was abused mentally and physically.

And there you go…that’s kind of it. If you’re looking for something more, some sort of message or meaning to to know Louis Zamperini more on a human level, you’re not going to get it. It’s an engaging film, but it has no sense of pace, no memorable characters, no notion of what it really wants to be (it’s not about the human spirit though it so desperately wants to be) and no heart to be had.

The best thing about Unbroken is when we see the real Louis and it feels satisfying that way. Until then, get ready for mediocrity. Nothing is powerful enough to truly bring an impact on the emotional (or spiritual) level it seeks despite some fantastic qualities the story and star Jack O’Connell dish out. I’m not saying we need overly sentimental notions for this biopic to work, but its matter-of-fact nature conflicts with everything it’s trying to stand for and be marketed as.

The Bad:  Here’s the thing about Unbroken that hurts the film immensely: I still, after two hours or so, know absolutely nothing Louis Zamperini. In fact, I know as much about him going in as I did coming out because, essentially, Unbroken has the richness and depth of a wikipedia article at best. It progresses through his life and visually presents them. No humanity. Little emotional resonance. Louis himself is as bland and one-dimensional as you can get. You never get to know him. Understand him. See his dreams or his aspirations. You know he can run fast, did so in the Olympics, then went to war and was in a camp. That’s the movie.

There’s no discovery here. There’s no power. There’s a steeliness to it all. There’s some visually compelling moments, and I’ll say that Jack O’Connell absolutely does a wonderful job despite having nothing to work with whatsoever. But here’s an example: there’s a sequence in the movie where Louis is on a liferaft in the ocean with two other men (it’s also an overlong sequence that brings the story to a screeching halt for 20 minutes, but I digress). For a good chunk of that sequence, I couldn’t tell Louis and another character apart. Only until that other character had a breakdown and they start getting facial hair did I realize I was thinking the wrong person was Louis.

There’s a few great moments of Louis talking about his past, and some strong elements with him and the “villain” of the piece (we have to assume Louis is inspiring the other prisoners but we never really get that because we don’t know any other character in the movie…in fact I can’t recall a single other name outside of Mac) but there’s little beyond that to have us actually know him. The final real-life shots of him at the end were the most it had to finding a heart (it also, out of nowhere, shoehorns in a line about his faith when, in the movie, it’s never really brought up). Unbroken is a cold, flat and uninspired biopic that does a great job depicting Louis’ life but never do we get to know the man, or appreciate him even more.

The Ugly: The movie feels like it went through rewrites because it did. At least O’Connell helps wrangle it in because Jolie really doesn’t. She gets great shots and has some wonderful moments, but the pace of the thing and the fact it tries to bring in a message that never seems to land right ends up a detriment.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5


Under the Skin

A mysterious seductress preys upon the population of Scotland.

The Good: Look at that log line. It’s less than ten words…and boy does it not tell you anything it’s about. That’s direct from the filmmakers and distributors, probably because trying to describe Under the Skin is pretty much impossible. It’s a little bit of this, it’s a little bit of that, it’s a little gut-wrenching, a little troubling, a little sexy, a lot sexy, extremely moody…and it’s handled thanks to the steady hand of writer/director Jonathan Glazer who, with cinematographer Daniel Landin, creates a mood and world that envelopes you and consumes you like a hungry alien.

That’s not a spoiler at this point. You know who and what Scarlett Johansson is in this picture. What you don’t know is how fantastic and understated she is. While our unnamed lead character is on the hunt, there’s a sadness about her, as well as sense of curiosity of people - think Jeff Bridges in Starman only he says little and isn’t nearly as funny. Johansson says a lot with a few looks, or a beat, or her simply walking down the street scanning the world around her.

Of course, that’s before it all gets even weirder and even sadder as she explores things about being human and the good and the ugliness that comes with it.

Is it “thought provoking?” No, not necessarily, but it does evoke a strong emotional response - something that’s a blend of uncertainty and perhaps anger that turns into pity and sadness all wrapped with the through-line of tension and suspense. Under the Skin does an astounding job of toying with your reactions and presumptions making for a movie that lingers with you.

The Bad: For much of the film, we have little that is given to us. We’re just observing before, finally, there seems to be a direction the story decides to head down. Up to that, it’s tedious if not outright dull. At nearly two hours, much of that seems nearly unnecessary as our first act plods along and quickly becomes repetitive.

Even minimalism is usually structurally sound, and while the latter half of the film is utterly fantastic, its beginnings are shaky at best. Aimless, tiresome, sometimes just outright boring. Though visually striking, there’s little to have you interested or care - made even more apparent with the fantastic ending and its themes coming full circle. You ask yourself “you could have made that point quite more simply and certainly shorter.” The point  is obvious, it’s roots and gestation just didn’t need to be dragged out, especially when the final punch in the gut is so quick and visceral.

Then again…such is birth , life and death…

The Ugly: Stop it with the "heir to Kubrick" line, please. Is this something Kubrick might have made? Maybe. It certainly has his tone. But I also know Kubrick would be more interested in telling a story as well, which Under the Skin doesn't quite grasp.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Unforgiven

The town of Big Whisky is full of normal people trying to lead quiet lives. Cowboys try to make a living. Sheriff 'Little Bill' tries to build a house and keep a heavy-handed order. The town whores just try to get by. Then a couple of cowboys cut up a whore. Unsatisfied with Bill's justice, the prostitutes put a bounty on the cowboys. The bounty attracts a young gun billing himself as 'The Schofield Kid', and aging killer William Munny. Munny reformed for his young wife, and has been raising crops and two children in peace. But his wife is gone. Farm life is hard. And Munny is no good at it. So he calls his old partner Ned, saddles his ornery nag, and rides off to kill one more time, blurring the lines between heroism and villainy, man and myth.

The Good: In the vein of the great westerns such as Shane or The Searchers, Unforgiven is less a film that’s a western and more a film about something else. Unforgiven is about internal struggles and ideologies of what is considered “good” in a world where, in reality, “good” is completely relative. Sheriff Little Bill, played by Gene Hackman, has a badge and the law on his side, but is he “good?” Does he do the “right thing?” Then you have Munny, played by Clint Eastwood. By all accounts, he’s an evil man. People speak whispers of him in dark alleys and his reputation well precedes him. Yet, do we see him do anything “bad?” He’s on a vendetta to help a woman he doesn’t even know of all things, which starts out as just doing it for some extra money and eventually turns into a tale of ridding the world of people that are worse than him. How can anyone consider that bad? The notion of honor and principles and chivalry seem to run deeper into the man dubbed “evil” than any man in the film dubbed “good.”

These ideas are all about perspective, and that’s the entire point of Unforgiven. The title deals with Munny’s past and the horrible things he’s done, not the man he is now. What he’s done haunts him and lingers with him despite the fact he does more to do the “good” than any man with a badge on his chest. Thematically complex and poetically shot, in that kind of breathtaking sense of a world with no boundaries, Unforgiven is one of the best westerns to ever exist. Considering that it came at a time when that genre was considered “dead” by moviegoers and critics alike, it’s that much more of an accomplishment and it rekindled the viability of the artistry that is the American Western, though no western since has been able to touch its daunting ambition and lyrical beauty (even when it’s covered in blood). It does so without glamorizing the Old West like so many westerns tend to do. It’s hard times, hard men in a hard land and the various perspectives of heroism, legacies and the concepts of good and evil with them from characters like English Bob to the murderous and underhanded Little Bill. Like Shane, it’s the mythological aspect of the west versus the reality of it all only taken to a darker place of a man’s soul. It demands rewatching, it demands your intellect above your desire for entertainment and it demands your appreciation.

The Bad: In a film full of great performances, in fact 1992 a year full of great performances (The Player, Howard’s End, Glengary Glenross, Scent of a Woman), only Hackman and Eastwood were nominated (with Hackman winning). I personally have a fondness for Sir Richard Harris, though, who’s character seems like a footnote at first but if you put him in the thematic scope of the film, one of the most important and actually my favorite role from the late actor. However, he just isn’t given enough credit for a very interesting character and how that character is utilized. Watch again and see how he’s introduced versus how he leaves company, and how the idea of “legacy” seems to cause Little Bill’s view to skew. Little Bill himself is a man who thinks he deserves a legacy; a name people know. His way to go about trying to make a name for himself, though – to force one that is – seems to go the wrong route in his own skewed since of justice and “good.” Their scenes together are some of the strongest in the film and probably aren’t given as much credit due to the story more centered with Eastwood and Freeman’s journey.

The Ugly: When I say no film has quite matched it, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good westerns in the past 20 years. They’re just not quite at the level Unforgiven is working on.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5


Universal Soldier: Regeneration

When terrorists threaten nuclear catastrophe, the world's only hope is to reactivate decommissioned Universal Soldier Luc Deveraux. Rearmed and reprogrammed, Deveraux must take on his nemesis from the original Universal Soldier and a next-generation "UniSol".

The Good: Every once in a while, a movie will come up and absolutely surprise you. It may not be the greatest film ever, but it will do what it does well and you become engaged and entertained by it as a result. Universal Soldier: Regeneration is just that. I could tell from the opening simple yet effective tracking shot that while this might be a piece of junk, it's at least going to be a well-crafted piece of junk. The directing of the action is absolutely top-notch, polished, well shot, framed and is exactly what we demand in something like this. The entire film is absolutely inspired and you can tell, from the stuntwork to the set pieces and action beats, that some thought and care went into it because, quite honestly, some of the action sequences are better than what Hollywood has been doing for its action films lately in terms of inventiveness and drawing you in. If anything, this film is a love-letter to all things action, and the way director John Hyam handles it is probably a hundreds better than what the material even deserves...and as a result it becomes a solid little movie lifted up well above it's line of expectations.

The Bad: There is no story here. Something about a bomb...and some kids...and a Russian guy...none of this is told particularly well because the film seems to stretch out the narrative portion far longer than they really need to go resulting in bland and boring "drama" that is completely inconsequential; it's a movie where people might say a lot, yet say very little at all in the process. Down to brass-tacks, the story probably could have been told in about 5 minutes with another 40 for the action. There's little dialogue, thankfully yet at the same time excruciatingly quiet as we partake in monotone mubling and cold stares, and one character is more or less thrown in as a cameo than anything with substance or purpose (much to my disappointment).

The Ugly: Needs more Dolph, stat.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Unknown

A man awakens from a coma, only to discover that someone has taken on his identity and that no one, (not even his wife), believes him. With the help of a young woman, he sets out to prove who he is.

The Good: Unknown is a classic tale of mistaken identiy where the mistaken identity isn't so much those around our central character mistaking it as much as it is him. As the title (and trailer) suggest...he really has no idea who he is. He is "unknown." It uses a standard amnesia trick to get this jumpstarted, but it manages to throw in enough curve balls, red herrings and mysterious tidbits to keep you engaged...even if you figure it all out beforehand.

Neeson already brings a large amount of credibility to the picture which is otherwise devoid of major stars. This puts the focus solely on him and, thus, the film is made or broken with him at the helm. He help raise the film enough to be slightly better than a mediocre thriller, but even then it still offers some elements that are a bit difficult to swallow:

The Bad: Those elements mainly be convenience. Everything feels to elaborate to really be convincing, but the film does a strange thing: when the reveal is, well, revealed...it ends up underwhelming at the same time. The more it builds, the deeper the hole becomes that it digs itself. After a while, you simply have no choice but to start wondering why you should care in the first place.  It's an interesting dynamic that you become enthralled in the machine that's working but under-whelmingly apathetic when you see the final product that emerges from the assembly line. It's an oddly clunky yet engaging movie that simply delivers an item you'll leave on a shelf and forget about.

The Ugly: Unknown is a movie that likes to hint that it has ambitions, but then doesn't bother to try and achieve them. More a disappointment than a bad film. There are pieces here that are fantastic, they're just strewn around a little too much and a little too often. Neeson can only do so much as the foreman, folks.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Unstoppable


With an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train barreling toward a city, a veteran engineer and a young conductor race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe.

The Good: There aren't very many disaster movies anymore. During their heyday, they were great (cheap) star vehicles to get people into theaters. Pure spectacle, melodrama and usually impending doom for everybody. Unstoppable is right in line with all those concepts and manages to breathe new life, though probably just temporarily, into a fairly dead genre. Its directing is by Tony Scott, who is custom-built for this type of picture as he has always managed to be stylish and fun but able to have scripts to work with that put just enough into characters where he allows actors to actually act. Here those actors are Denzel (who has earned his one-name moniker if you ask me) and Chris Pine (who hasn't yet, but holds his own well enough against the veteran).

Is it formulaic? Yes. All disaster movies are though. it's the path to the end that matters and through Scott's stylish visual eye, which he actually restrains compared to some of his previous films, and solid acting by all involved, Unstoppable is just a fun, enjoyable time at the movies. It won't set the world on fire, but even achieving "it's entertaining" and not be insultingly badly made in the process is a hell of an accomplishment in today's world of bang-pow CG wizardry and massive explosions. A well made film through and through even if it doesn't attempt to jump out and grab you.

The Bad: Action movies are told through what's called "beats." Basically, it's set-pieces driven by the plot that are meant to offer up satisfaction as you watch. 90% of Unstoppable hits those beats dead-on (there's about seven total or so). But you can't help but feel it needed one last, major one to really drive home that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with the climax. Perhaps it overshoots it, seeing as how it seems to want to set up one but then throws in an alternate one at the last minute, or perhaps it was just tired by that point.

Maybe it's also because you expect those beats and how they're handled. Unstoppable is a nice, brisk and enjoyable ride, but it really needed one last major event to occur to really, truly nail it. As it is, it's a solid film I recommend and feel it's one of Tony Scott's best since Man on Fire, but it really was on the line of being great...then again it was also on the line of being potentially horrible if not handled right...and doesn't go that way either.

The Ugly: Not enough train-smashing stuff. It almost got that horse...almost. It's strange to say that in a film about a runaway train, you'd think more stuff would be smashed and destroyed along the way.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


UP

By tying thousands of balloon to his home, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn't alone on his journey, since Russell, a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip.

The Good: A subtle and beautiful piece of filmmaking that's as touching as it is imaginative and adventurous. Pixar, as per usual, is able to bring a nuanced balance between a film that offers a compelling story, character development and emotion with the kid-friend bits of comedy and laughter.This is a daring animated film on many levels. The plot is innately mature and adult-oriented, the notion of death and age far over a child's head. The main character himself is far the easily marketable pandas and Woody toys of the world. The animation not flashy, letting the scene unfold and take shape, and not throwing action just to get attention. Everything in the film feels to have a purpose and a point, topped off with the emotional motif of fulfilling your life dream, even when your better days are behind you. This is best exampled by Carl himself. Some might say the story is about fulfilling his deceased wife's dream. While that is a plot point, it's actually about finding love and a family and even a child that he could call his own...something he was never able to do before.

The Bad: At times the film seems to lose its own direction on what it wants to be. While full of heart, it throws in the seemingly obligatory slapstick puns for children which, surprisingly, feel out of place. It's obvious the story and characters came first with the writers and the jokes and gags after.There are pacing issues as well with many peaks and valleys in the flow, especially once they get to South America and it feels everything is loosely thrown together rather than a tight script.

The Ugly: Trying to watch this when kids are around is a horrible experience. Annoying children aside, the film itself is a slower pace, subtle and there isn't something flying at you every five minutes. It's emotional, heartfelt, dramatic....and that's stuff kids don't want. They don't get the theme of the soda pop pin or why Carl's wife is shown crying at the doctor's office. Is it the movie's fault? No, of course not, but at the same time I wonder who exactly this movie was made for.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Up In the Air

Ryan Bingham's job is to fire people from theirs. The anguish, hostility, and despair of his "clients" has left him falsely compassionate, living out of a suitcase, and loving every second of it. When his boss hires arrogant young Natalie, she develops a method of video conferencing that will allow termination without ever leaving the office - essentially threatening the existence Ryan so cherishes. Determined to show the naive girl the error of her logic, Ryan takes her on one of his cross country firing expeditions, but as she starts to realize the disheartening realities of her profession, he begins to see the downfalls to his way of life.

The Good: Like his previous two films, Juno and Thank You For Smoking, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is not a comedy. Rather, and thankfully, it’s simply a story that is incredibly well-told, observant, relevant and utterly incredible. It doesn’t lower itself to be comedic, it doesn’t force character development, it smartly utilizes satire and occasional cynicisms balanced with emotion and humanity and it doesn’t even end on a note that people will find happy...yet at the same time they will probably find it deceptively fitting. It’s half character study, Clooney in what is easily his greatest role balances sympathy and vulnerable charm with astuteness and ruthlessness, -half a study of human relationships and hope, sometimes followed by heartache, that they entail. It’s a steady film, never going overboard but staying true to its actors and story. It’s touching without being melodramatic, it’s funny without having to move mountains for laughs, it’s poignant and timely without being preachy, it’s genius without even trying – and that’s hardest part of all.

The Bad:
I hate the word “dramedy.” I have decided to stop using it. I find the word lazy and unappealing as it, poorly, tries to label a film that has elements of various genres (I, personally, would label Up in the Air a tragedy, if anything, in that classic Shakespearian sense). The film does toy with you. You'll find yourself liking Ryan one minute, despising him the next. You hope for the best, yet sometimes reality rushes in to show how cruel it really can be. In that respect, the film lacks consistency...but at the same time it tells us that Ryan, his life and perhaps our own are less consistent than we really like to believe.

The Ugly:
I don’t want to jump the gun, but as of right now this is my pick for Best Picture.

Final Rating:
4.5 out of 5


Upstream Color

A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.

The Good: Slow but never boring, and well adjusted and focused on the plot points of its story to get us through the ambiguity. Upstream Color is a film that's hard to review, to be honest. It's a film that sets itself out there and kind of leaves it all on the table. What you do with that is entirely up to you. There's a lot to pick up, and if you're interested in what it is you can pick up then you'll likely enjoy the film. Or not. It's one of those kind of movies, you know the kind: puts out outstanding imagery and themes and ideas, mixes in some solid performances and solid cinematography then throws in weird stuff that may or may not involve us having our consciousness transferred to pigs.

Whether or not that's a commentary on our society is up to the viewer. As noted, it puts a lot out there, and what you pick up is probably a reflection more of yourself than what the film is probably trying to actually say. It's really not trying to say anything other than its story, what you take away from it is what you bring to your own mind as you watch. It's an interpretive film, not exactly the most stimulating or exciting but certainly one that's intriguing at the very least.

The Bad: Sometimes a style can turn in to an annoyance if not outright distraction, and Upstream Color has some moments that has a blend of "stop jump-cutting" and "get on with it." Case point: what should be a very straightforward conversation is actually a constant stream of scenes where the dialogue is exactly the same, then they're all cut together to form one line of dialogue. As much as I want to think "what is the filmmaker trying to say?" with that, at the same time I'm thinking "I don't know what the character is saying because I'm too busy trying to figure out what the filmmaker is trying to say and as a result I have no idea what that character just said." Then I realize that I kind of didn't care on either front and kind of wish he's stick with the Malick-esque voiceover dialogue and put those scenes in instead. At least then there's a continuous and consistent thought and idea instead of tossing that in from time to time.

Speaking of Malick, I almost feel like this is an attempt at that style of imagery. Little in terms of story, very focused on moments and feelings, though I think Upstream Color offers more fascination.

It's not exactly experimental, this isn't Warhol we're talking about here - it's still telling a linear story but is merely doing is uniquely (again, much like Malick in a way).  It's a style, and the style is quaint for a while but wears out its welcome. Thankfully the film picks up an hour in, starts to make the connections and weave together something pretty magical. True, it did take an hour, but it's worth the wait. The mystery really starts to settle in at that point and even though the style might grate on you at times, it's never without intrigue.

The Ugly: This is the kind of Indie, art-house film that makes people not like indie, art-house films. Some are very abrasive and non-inviting in their style, tone and presentation and this is one such film. While there's a lot that Upstream Color wants to share with us, it doesn't want to share it with everyone.

Final Fating: 3 out of 5


Valkyrie

In Nazi Germany during World War II, as the tide turned in favor of The Allies, a cadre of senior German officers and politicians desperately plot to topple the Nazi regime before the nation is crushed in a near-inevitable defeat. To this end, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, an Army officer convinced he must save Germany from Hitler, is recruited to mastermind a real plan. To do so, he arranges for the internal emergency measure, Operation: Valkyrie, to be changed to enable his fellows to seize control of Berlin after the assassination of the Fuhrer. However, even as the plan is put into action, a combination of bad luck and human failings conspire on their own to create a tragedy that would prolong the greater one gripping Europe.

The Good: There's something about World War II and The Nazi party that automatically makes anything intriguing. So a historical account of a failed assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler by his own people will get people to pay attention. That idea is thrilling and intense, and for the most part Valkyrie does a great job with what it sets out to do: be a thriller. The ending is already known to the viewer, so it's a matter of the path for us to get there to appreciate a film like this. While I think there's a lack of interest in story and character, there's a great sense of authenticity to the look and style of it all. It's not glorified, but subtle and believable to see 1940s Germany and Berlin or the interiors of Hitler's private estate, which is as cold and empty as the man himself. 

The Bad: Honestly, this feels like a movie too large for Bryan Singer to handle. It drops plotlines and story nonchalantly, you have no attachment to the main character, his family and barely his cause. It simply goes through the list of what needs to be shown to tell the historical story. While it might get some facts correct and be accurate (I honestly don't know, this is Hollywood) it simply doesn't have a good sense of plot and storytelling from beginning to end with characters coming and going and our hero completely unable to come across as anything beyond a shell of a man. One character just kills himself in the end without being seen for over an hour after he was built up for the first 30 or so as a major factor. When it tries to be dramatic and serious, it fails. As for Cruise, he's okay and does a solid job despite his coldness. Everything, though, just comes across as bland and mismanaged by someone more interested in going through a timeline than maybe trying to understand the people behind the whole thing.

The Ugly: I don't quite understand why Stauffenberg needs to wear an eye patch. In various times he puts in a glass eye and looks fine. I'm sure many people ask themselves that when they watch this and can be detracting as a result.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Veronica Mars

Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars gets pulled back to her hometown - just in time for her high school reunion - in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls, who's embroiled in a murder mystery.

The Good: While the mystery is the drive, as it was on the original Veronica Mars television show, it is only a tool. A means to the end. The end being great dialogue and great characters. Veronica Mars isn’t going to “keep you guessing” and you’ll see its ridiculous twists a mile a way, and much of the time is gets a little aimless, but thanks to Kristen Bell and the Veronica Mars crew, you can forgive.

At its heart, it’s a comedy. Yes, there’s a serious overtone of a mystery to be solved, but as mentioned it’s not that important in this movie just as it wasn’t always important in the show. It’s the melodrama. The love triangles. The friendships and enemies and memorable characters of Neptune California (which totally isn’t Santa Monica, guys) that keeps it hip, fun and edgy. It’s a light mystery built with firm, grounded and solid characters created by actors who know them like the back of their hands. And it shows. Comedic at the right times, dialogue that’s fun and immensely quotable, Veronica Mars finds a good balance between being fanservice and being fun.

The Bad: With a lot of characters to wrangle in, most of which are, at most, only in a few scenes and most of them throwaway, Veronica Mars lacks one thing: focus. It wants to do so much, much of which I have to assume is there for fanservice, that it lacks the control to drive its main plot. When it’s focusing on its main three or four characters, it’s solid. When it deviates, it doesn’t know what it’s doing at all. Subplots, asides, distractions…it’s all here muddling up what could have been a good whodunit.

Fanservice is to be expected - that’s the entire reason the film was made, but when it comes to causing a severe apathy towards its central plot, as in “who cares?” going across your mind more than once while watching, it ends up being disappointing.  While those solid three or so characters are more than enough to drive the film, and to make it entertaining, the uninspired and overall uninteresting plot device of badly-imitated Agatha Christie doesn’t quite gell to a fulfilling experience.

The Ugly: But hey…the fans will love it, right? And that’s really the point. Yes, the mystery is dumb, but it settles in nicely with its old style and nobody has missed a beat in regards to their characters in the 8 (!) years its been off the air.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5


Vertigo

John "Scottie" Ferguson is a retired San Francisco police detective who suffers from acrophobia and Madeleine is the lady who leads him to high places. A wealthy shipbuilder who is an acquaintance from college days approaches Scottie and asks him to follow his beautiful wife, Madeleine. He fears she is going insane, maybe even contemplating suicide, because she believes she is possessed by a dead ancestor. Scottie is skeptical, but agrees after he sees the beautiful Madeleine.

The Good: Hitchcock has been known for doing daring things and trying new things when it comes to film. Vertigo is not only one of his most daring, but a film that was probably ahead it's time. It's a dark, psychological thriller to which many psychological thrillers are judged. The theme here is obsession, and boy does this film dive into that notion. From the desire to know the truth, to desire over a woman, to simply obsession over the self. Vertigo is popular for one reason: it's complexity. There is so much happening on screen, so much implied off screen, that Vertigo is probably Hitchcock's most analyzed, surveyed and broken-down film out of his entire repertoire. Go ahead, do yourself a google search and read about the various takes on what the film is really trying to tell us behind what it tells us. I'll wait....

Life. Death. Sex. Fantasy versus reality. Visual motifs. Symbolism. Vertigo has quite the list, doesn't it? None of these are on the surface, though. It's all underneath, what is usually called the "core narrative" of the story. It's not what it says, but what it really says.

The Bad: It's sometimes hard to tell what is intentionally jumbled and what is not...but that's also a point of the film as well. There are numerous tones the film presents, starting simple and really becoming more and more complex as it evolves to the point where, now, most may not be able to tell you what the narrative was, but can damn sure ramble on about the core narrative for pages. I think Hitchcock, too, was more focused on symbolism than anything else as the story is often difficult to follow.

The Ugly: Proof again that nuns are untrustworthy. Also, that quality films are often only realized in hindsight.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5


V/H/S

When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.  

The Good: It takes a bit to really get going, but once V/H/S hits, boy does it hit with ferocity. It's a pure, low-budget piece of visceral genre filmmaking that shows what the now-tired "found footage" type of horror filmmaking could, and probably should, be capable of. It still has the issues regarding its base concept (everybody is filming everything all the time…it's difficult to accept that all the time) but when it sets out to be creative, inventive, fresh and raw like this, combining a sense of unrelenting, uncomfortable realism with great effects and very, very smart camerawork (when it's not trying too hard to be shaky, at least).

V/H/S has a little bit for everyone in terms what you want in a horror film. It's creepy, atmospheric, has subtle "spooky" scares that build, has bloody and gory moments and throughout, just a lot of well done tension and suspense. That's the great thing about anthology horror films, and done smartly like this one is. It doesn't intentionally try to be as smart as it is, it kind of just falls into something interesting, creative and frightful, but at the end of the day it is, because the smartness comes from it's very basic premise, and it's quality in the execution of that premise thanks to just bringing in talented genre directors.

The Bad: It's still found footage, which means you do need to suspend your disbelief and kind of not think about how odd some of these people look in reality filing everything, but it's also one of the more "found footagey" of a found footage movie you're going to see. Camera angles are smart, and you see what they want you to see, but there's lots of shaking, bad audio and bad focusing and dizzy spells that are likely going to ensue. The film also lacks a good dose of "fun" which I think would help round out this anthology film nicely. It's a very nasty, dark movie just bent on doing only that. There's not a lot of geniality here, and for a movie that's intent on looking for a variety at its heart, it could have used some as light and comedy are very much a troupe of the genre as someone getting their throat slashed.

The Ugly: The last vignette makes up for all the assholes we had to put up with in the previous ones. Seriously, not a lot of likable people, but at least we get some believable guys in the last one (and yes, a lot of these are male-driven).

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5


V/H/S/2

Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be dark motives behind the student's disappearance.

The Good: Less about trying to make an impact and more just trying to find new and creative ways to film old tropes, V/H/S/2 overshadows its predecessor in every conceivable way. From fresh, original takes on classic horror tropes to solid story and characters through its handful of anthology shorts. The idea of VHS is literally "Found footage." By its very nature, "found footage" is a very limited style of filmmaking. Somehow, though VHS is able to make sense, or at least be creative.

The first short is through an experimental eye camera. A bit of a stretch, but it utizlies that for the actual narrative. What the brain processes through the electrical device can appear as "blips" in reality. In other words, we're seeing stuff that's always there now. A fun concept. The second one is straight out of reality. People love their HD Sports cameras, and all it is a setup for a bad day in the park. The fourth is pretty standard style of "found footage" but it does a great job depicting its story. It's certainly the hardest to "buy" in terms of answering that found footage rhetorical question of "why are they shooting all this?" but its also something we haven't seen done quite this way.

Notice I kept out the third short. The third short, titled "Safe Haven" is nothing short of brilliant. While there's no way it can explain how its all edited, the set up is there. The story is there. The tension is certainly because Safe Have is not only a well made piece of horror cinema, it's probably some of the best you'll see this year and something that arguably deserves a full feature. It's no surprise that it comes from Gareth Evans, who's brilliant action flick The Raid was one of the best films of 2012.

Like its predecessor, there's nothing here in terms of characters or even story, it's all about the execution of creativity in the horror genre. We've seen zombies before, but never quite like this. We've seen weird cults before, but this is one done smartly and sharply. It's balanced with its variety and simply feels more polished and purposeful with its shorts.

The Bad: Unfortunately, like its predecessor, V/H/S/2 feels it needs to string all these vignettes together with a loose story of people finding old videotapes and…watching them…then weird things happen and they are no longer watching them. These portions might just be filler, but its bad filler. Boring. Certainly far more uninspired than the tapes they watch, certainly unnecessary considering how forgettable it is.

While not as uneven as the first film, and imaginative and creative to its fullest, V/H/S/2 also isn't entirely scary. Creepy, a bit funny at times, but few of the shorts are really "scary" in terms of getting you on the edge of yourseat or hiding behind a blanket. I suppose it's "scary" in the same way a good Hitchock film can be "scary." Intense and maybe a little morbid at times, it's more about an interesting situation that sucks you in and you want to see where it goes, something that can be unsettling as more is revealed, than someone really going "boo."

The Ugly:  The incredible third short is worth it alone. That could make one hell of a full feature.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


Videodrome

Sleazy lowlife cable TV operator Max Renn discovers a snuff broadcast called "Videodrome." But it is more than a TV show--it's an experiment that uses regular TV transmissions to permanently alter the viewer's perceptions by giving them brain damage. Max is caught in the middle of the forces that created "Videodrome" and the forces that want to control it, his body itself turning into the ultimate weapon to fight this global conspiracy.

The Good: Videodrome was a movie well ahead of its time. It is, at its heart, a parable to the media sensations that would come in the decades to follow it. Violence. Sex. Nihilism. Art. Pornography. Lust. Obsession...  Our society's infatuation with things like this have grown immensely, the exact point that Videodrome, made in 1983, made and seemingly predicted the storm that things like television and home video would create (or, really, just technology as a whole and how we rely so much on it for our own, animalistic needs). It's not so much about story, here, as it is a philosophical and, perhaps, theological exploration of the human psyche. It's a movie that is there to explore the ideas of things than to structure itself as some sort of narrative.

But on this journey we have James Woods. Truth be told, without Woods's performance, the movie wouldn't work as nearly as well as it does. We see a lot of ourselves in him. He has that side of him that lusts after things, those deep desires that are sometimes afraid to show themselves. He also has a humanistic side to him, one that eventually gets in well over his head as he explores and unravels the mysteries of Videodrome. Is a film for everyone? Certainly not. Not many Cronenberg movies are. But it's an enticing and intriguing, intelligent one nonetheless and one of the best pieces of psychological horror of its kind, if not the standard entirely.

The Bad: How do you really know what is bad and what is good in a movie like Videodrome? Everything seems purposeful, whether you like it or not, and it's bizarre and weird for the sake of being bizarre and weird, thus is this era of David Cronenberg's career. Perhaps its thematic principles are often undermined by the oddities, and I might even say overall self-serving, moments of strangeness and discomfort. But really...who can say? James Woods has  a vagina in his torso and other visual hallucinations have you question what is reality and fantasy every single moment. In the grand scheme...that exactly the way it's supposed to be.

The Ugly: Did I mention the torso with a vagina? Yeah..that...and James Woods naked. Nobody wants to see that.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5


The Virgin Spring

Set in beautiful 14th century Sweden, it is the sombre, powerful fable of wealthy land-owning parents whose daughter, a young virgin, is brutally raped and murdered by goat herders after her half sister has invoked a pagan curse. By a bizarre twist of fate, the murderers ask for food and shelter from the dead girl's parents, who, discovering the truth about their erstwhile lodgers, exact a chilling revenge.

The Good: The winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960, The Virgin Spring was Ingmar Bergman’s first film to win an Academy Award (though the director himself had never won one). The auteur revisits the medieval period found in his masterpiece, The Seventh Seal, and reunites with Max von Sydow, here as a father seeking justice once he discovers what happened to his daughter. At it’s heart, The Virgin Spring is, structurally, one of Bergman’s most simple and affective pieces of storytelling (note that he didn’t write the script, however, so that might have much to do with that) yet it still manages to have a layered thematic motif dealing with the standard Bergman troupes (notably God and religion and faith).

Like all of Begman’s work, the film is quiet, contemplative and purposeful. A long extended moment of silence has as much meaning to the story as a brutal and violent rape scene. It doesn’t have the visual artistry of a Wild Strawberries of Seventh Seal, but it is still beautifully shot almost in a documentary style with long takes that rise the tension. Tension is a good word to summarize The Virgin Spring. An early scene with an old, one-eyed man in a mill is a red herring of the evils still yet to come. From that moment you can’t imagine things getting worse, but it starts to grow and fest like a cancer. A simple picnic and dinner has you thinking swords will be drawn at any second. A poetic piece, as always with Bergman, and one of his finest during the height of his career.

The Bad:
Made in 1960, the violence is still one to be a bit shocked from and not something you’d want just anyone to watch. There is an alternate cut that cuts down some of the shots, you’ll notice where it was probably once spliced, but most likely you’ll be seeing the full version by now because it’s a hell of a powerful scene to the artist’s vision that brings context and weight to the events that unfold later.

The Ugly:
A classic story that has been remade a few times, most famously as Last House on the Left, but the complexity of The Virgin Spring has never been repeated. Like much of Bergman’s work, it deals with the confusion that is God, the idea of faith and the pointlessness of religion. Our main character is the virginal angel destroyed by evil men and the righteous father seeks his revenge. The end scene of the father kneeling at a creekbed is as powerful of a moment as you’ll ever see.

Final Rating:
4.5 out of 5

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