Film Reviews


Television / Perhaps it truly was an accident. But something real intruded on the third season premiere of the PBS hit mini-series Downton Abbey two weeks ago.

Maya has been a CIA operative for l2 years, and from the beginning she has been involved in the Find bin Laden industry. It’s a job that has proved exasperating, full of lies and blind alleys.

Call me a cynic, but I am so over the romcom–the will-he-get-her-in-the-last-shot kiss. Also, I am done tearing up.

Sneaking in under the wire to qualify for the Oscar nominations, one or two of which it might get, Promised Land–written by its stars, Matt Damon and John Krasinski–might just get patronized by Hollywood types watching its screener at the Polo Lounge. Its lazy publicity gives off an aromatic mixture of predictable Americana, but don’t you believe it: This is a B-plus movie beautifully acted–again credit Damon and Krasinski, with Frances McDormand–with a story by the great Dave Eggers.

The New Year holiday always brings out confusing emotions in me: bittersweet and nostalgic regret for the year just passed, unadulterated stress for what might lie ahead, the constant reminder that I’m one year closer to being dead. I may need to talk to someone, especially since we’ve just come through the other end of 2012, a year in which we were forced to confront our mortality in more ways than were comfortable.

Move over, Meryl. Helen Mirren is crowding you again–this time as Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant wife, Alma, who participated in more than a half-century’s worth of Sir Alfred’s movies as secret writer and producer .

Film Reviews

Film Reviews

Film Reviews / By now, we’re all familiar with Peter Jackson’s long, drawn-out, expositional style of filmmaking, in which the first hour–the so-called “popcorn hour”–amps up to a majestic battle of good versus evil, or in one case, a giant primate going berserk in Manhattan. At best, the long lead-in creates suspense and excitement, but when the droll fluff begins to cloy, we moviegoers suffer.

Film Reviews

Film Reviews

Film Reviews / What follows immediately is a list of those movies, studio and independent, that this writer thinks comprise the “best” of the year. The Best?

“Gotta dance, gotta dance!” is the musical refrain Gene Kelly repeats over and over again throughout “Broadway Rhythm” in Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a good thing Kelly let himself and others he was directing dance in continuous, flowing, single-camera takes of mesmerizing movement.

Nothing can save us from shopping at this time of year, but at least there’s a chance of ducking inside a multiplex while the mallrats we love most go wild. In desperate times, almost any movie will do, but if you’re a sensitive soul you pray for one of those rare Christmas-movies-for-grownups.

“America’s not a country. It’s a business.

Before we get to Film of the Year . .

For a kids’ movie, Wreck-It Ralph tackles some pretty heavy issues. There are the usual storylines of an outcast just trying to fit in (whom we’re basically programmed to love), a hero’s journey to defeat evil and the quest to do what’s right at whatever cost.

Oscar-bound, and for all the right reasons, the cunning true-life story in The Sessions is based on the writings of Mark O’Brien, iron-lung-encased polio victim, who, at age 38, decided to seek out a sex therapist to help him lose his virginity. He does, finding a compatible spirit in the form of Cheryl Greene, as played by Helen Hunt, returning triumphantly here to the screen in a starring role.

The drama of a prisoner and the long-suffering woman/mother/child who waits for him was a cornerstone of the Depression–and Depression-era movies–when life was lived on the margins and the system created miscreants (see: Criminal, They Made Me A). Indeed, my great-uncle, Robert Tasker, a convict at San Quentin in the early ‘30s, wrote chain-gang and jailhouse movies upon his release.

You can be flooded with admiration by the superb achievement of Life of Pi, helmed by that most versatile of our filmmakers, Ang Lee, who has translated an allegedly unfilmable eccentric novel into one of the most beautiful and–dare I say it?–spiritual movies in years. And years.

I don’t cotton much to biopics. Tuned into part of Gandhi once and thought I was watching a Speedo competition.

A collision of West and East, the Chinese-made Dangerous Liaisons doesn’t run away from the -isms that typically imprison works of art in cages of politically determined rhetoric. With a wave of a cigarette holder, it pleads guilty of Orientalism, exoticism, Francophilism, gaze-ism and probably some others yet to be invented in the halls of academe.

Contrary to rumor, Skyfall does not concern a chicken named Little. It does have a Wiki-Leaks plot, some kind of evil computer genius who aims to take revenge on MI6, the British Secret Service.

For Erik and Paul, the question is whether freedom and love go together. Authentically told–no melodrama, no sensationalism–this quietly searing drama examines the decade-long relationship between two bright but troubled gay men who find it difficult to compromise.

Do audiences care whether a movie is biochemical (imprinted on film, as it has been for a hundred years) or digital (no film involved–images converted into numbers and then turned back into images when projected)? Probably not, although it appears that one day digital will have higher image resolution.

Like thrillers? We got you covered.

When we were young and just acquiring a taste for Junior Mints and Jujubes, a movie meant only one thing: fun. There were varieties of fun–thrilling, spooky, slapstick, virtually any of The Spawn of Godzilla–but that was the promise, and the joy, of going to the movies (along with meeting up with your friends and scoping out the other kids).

Passing through a tunnel on the way home after his first Homecoming dance, his first high school party and his first “special” brownie with the first friends he’s had since his best friend killed himself, Charlie looks up at Sam standing in the truck bed with her arms outstretched as Patrick cranks up David Bowie’s “Heroes” on the radio. With the lights rushing past them he turns and says, “I feel infinite.” And it makes sense in the suspended transition of growing up but not really going anywhere.

Written and directed by playwright Martin McDonagh (the sublime In Bruges), the beautifully cast Seven Psychopaths is right next door to ultraviolence but delivers big laughs to a tough-minded audience. The story is what used to be called zany, but it’s also foul-mouthed (sometimes inspiredly so) and inventive.

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