Release: Friday, September 30, 2011 (limited)


Though the movie has no disclaimer, you should probably bring along your psychologist to this one, since you’ll be in need of immediate therapy after watching Margaret, a highly emotional, lengthy film about a girl who’s attempting to rectify her involvement in a horrific traffic accident.

Don’t let the title throw you. Anna Paquin (True Blood)actually plays the moody protagonist Lisa Cohen, a relatively wealthy New York City teen, daughter of a somewhat successful stage actor (played by J. Smith-Cameron). One day she’s out searching for the perfect cowboy hat and then sees a Metropolitan Transit Authority driver wearing one. In the light of day, surely it would have been easier to just get on the bus and ask him where he got it, but then, we’d have no story. Rather, she frantically tries to keep pace with the slow-moving bus, waving at the driver (Mark Ruffal0) and signaling to his head. With his eyes on Lisa and not the road, the driver blows a red light and strikes a crossing pedestrian. We’re left with a scene of agony, blood and the turn of the movie. The first twenty minutes will shock you.

However, I have no clue how the film then stretched out for another 130. Click here to read about some of the issues it had with the TRT.

After the wreck, we are presented with thorough day-in-the-life scripture. We get to know her home life is not all that great; that her father is distant, living off odd jobs in the Hollywood grind (presumably), and we know she likes to flirt. We meet her schoolteachers: Matt Damon playing the sympathetic geometry teacher who ultimately takes some wrong angles with one of his students; Matthew Broderick as an English instructor not quite in control of his classroom. Among peers, Lisa’s intelligent, proactive and in possession of a great scholarship.

But it all comes apart at the seams after the accident, and her emotional turmoil tightens its grip not only around Lisa’s, but our throats. Turning to adults for advice instead of close friends and even her own mother, Paquin does an excellent job portraying Lisa’s precocious nature; she’s awkward, and hellishly aggressive in trying to privately assess her role in the death of Monica. However, as the implications of her unique circumstances begin to bear more practical relevance (cops, lawyers, families, etc), we also start to feel a bit repelled by it all.

It’s right around the time Lisa decides she will change her statement to local police about how the accident happened, that we notice a change in our lead role here. Originally claiming that the driver had the right-of-way because the signal was green, Lisa needs the truth to come out so justice can be done. But the further into the movie we venture —  that is to say, the deeper we go into her mind — the more abrasive and downright unpleasant Lisa is, and it becomes more difficult to empathize.   While it’s clear the reasons why we tire of her “stridence” (a bomb she drops on Emily, lifelong friend of the dead woman, during one of several severe verbal confrontations), the emotional fragility of this young girl simply overwhelms the picture — leaving us stranded in our seats, fighting for our heart rates to calm down. You’re not meant to be strung out in a movie, in my opinion, but this one certainly will recede the hairline a little.

While there is a fitting resolution, it is not a pleasant one at all. Lisa and her mother Joan are viewing an opera. The weight of the last weeks of Lisa’s life culminate in a breakdown in the theatre, and the two embrace before credits roll. It all ends quietly, as if the movie itself had finally just, … given up. And what do we end up with?

The wrongful death suit settlement they desired after withering the legal procedures and that had consumed Lisa’s, well, for all intents and purposes — her entire being — was worth $350K but that wasn’t enough for either of them. They wanted him gone from the transportation services, but that didn’t happen either due to a conflicting labor dispute among MTA members.

No. In the end there was hope for the reconnect of Lisa with her mother, as they both wept and seemed to be closer together for the first time all movie. But as far as shedding the burden carried by both herself and Emily, it seemed to be rather hopeless.


2-5Recommendation: I wasn’t a fan, but then again, I don’t think I could kick it on the streets of New York City in the first place.

Rated: R

Running Time: 149 mins.

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Hope Springs


Release: Wednesday, August 8, 2012


You’d think after 30-some years of marriage that everything, right down to the very second of each day, is calculated, controlled… a word, routine. There’s a certain comfort in routines. Arnold Soames (Tommy Lee Jones) is a firm believer in that, and it reflects in the way he carries himself as a CPA, one with a penchant for falling asleep while watching golf tips on ESPN. That’s not the way his wife views her life, though. When the camera cuts to a shot of Kay (Maryl Streep) glancing idly at her deflated husband in the recliner, her eyes tell a whole story. They reveal this plot, actually.

What she needs is a rekindling with the man she fell in love with all those years ago. She’s fed up of the increasing distance she feels from her husband — whether or not that’s his fault or theirs collectively kind of guides the script in a general direction. Emphasis on ‘general,’ as it takes awhile for us to figure out what’s dysfunctional here. The couple sleeps in separate rooms, don’t speak much throughout the day, and have fully-grown children.

Finally, enough’s enough. One day she suggests to Arnold that they seek marriage counseling up in Great Hope Springs, Maine. There’s a well-known therapist who can help rekindle the flame. And it’s a last-ditch effort for Kay, too. These days it seems like a chore having to put food on a table for a man who won’t say a word and who barely has time to kiss her on the cheek on his way out to work. The real question hanging in the balance, though, is whether or not she ever had lived the romantic life that she had imagined years ago.

Enter matured Steve Carell. As Dr. Feld, his job is to either mend marriages or end them. From the very first moment they’re chatting with the doc, it’s clear that Kay is on Feld’s cooperative list and Arnold, quite the opposite. Though not intentionally archetypal, the character of Arnold is something of a model for men who are retreating into their latter years with most of their dignity in tact. The last thing he needs is for some random guy with a degree in sex counseling to diminish it. As can be predicted from the male’s perspective, he walls off most of the questions and keeps to himself.

As the therapy continues, that approach is hardly sufficient, and actually incites Kay to react poorly to her husband, in a variety of situations. Dr. Feld makes it clear that intimacy has to be obtained by working together, and by starting slowly. When applied to the pace of the movie, that is great therapy. The film slips further into comedy and away from the serious examination of mature relationships. But that’s alright — all we want is to see Meryl Streep happy! It takes us awhile to get to that but it’s well worth the fight and hey, even MIB would be happy to hear that Mr. Jones got in touch with his sensitive side.

As slight a cast as Hope Springs requires, it is an extremely stacked one. Jones and Streep need no introduction or qualification, but Carell has definitely stepped up his game. Or put on his Poker face. Whichever metaphor suits — it’s good for him, because we listen intently to what he has to offer, and leaving the theater we hope that, should that time come, we have a therapist as open and caring as Dr. Feld.


3-5Recommendation: This one’s targeted at a slightly older demographic, to be sure. In that way, it possesses great wisdom and experience. It reveals some of the more troubling secrets about marriage; some things that I give credit to Streep and Jones for demonstrating together. It’s sweet, earnest and above all it’s a refreshing dramedy that finds its appeal in unexpected places.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

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The Campaign

The Campaign

Release: Friday, August 10, 2012


Will, meet Zach. This is a man that’s been missing from your itinerary for some time, and I’m glad you had a minute to fit him into your schedule. Though in recent years you seemed to have fallen into this repetitious, Adam Sandler-like funk, trying to fit in as many roles within the decade as possible, its now come to my attention that your work ethic paid off. You’ve reached comic utopia once again with The Campaign. Oh, and your hair….very stylish. Very Ron Burgundyesque.

You were then a series of Burgundy carbon-copies: Chazz Reinhold; Ricky Bobby; Jackie Moon; Brennan Huff; Deangelo Vickers. Some of these stars shone brightly, a few of them couldn’t cause a chuckle. Now, here we meet you as Cam Brady — a name that’s shrewdly comical because it sounds so politically correct. I want to shake your hand, provided you don’t punch me in the face, too.

When you got together with Galifianakis, please tell me you had a line-o-rama with the man’s last name. Presenting the two of you together at the Oscar’s last year may have blown the cover of this new alliance, but even then it seemed to show great chemistry between you two. In the North Carolina story, particularly in scenes where political clout and personal baggage clashed, it was like being back at the news desk with a highly incompetent weatherman and an over-the-top sports commentator. I suppose what I’m saying, Will, is there is no limit to quality banter among highly-paid actors.

Your Brady, the ‘tried-and-true’ choice for the 14th Congressional District of North Carolina, wanted nothing more than to be at the top and to make all others look really, really bad. When a nobody suddenly started challenging, you dashed quickly to your many leather-bound books and an apartment that smelled of rich mahogany. To your dismay, you couldn’t keep up in the end. You made it look like a five-year-old could have competed against you. And possibly could have won.

I suppose what put the icing on the democratic cake here (sorry, I’ll never vote for  elephants) is the combination of slapstick humor and a rather politically satirical script. What wasn’t working for a long time for you, Mr. Ferrell, has seamlessly come together in  one single movie; a short one at that! Clocking in at an anorexic hour and twenty-five minutes, The Campaign provides all the lighthearted guffawing we require in an election year. There’s far too much at stake to crack a joke at a debate (much less a fart); there’s far too much buzz surrounding opponents for real-life candidates to actually get close enough to one another’s wives as to be able to make a move on them. And there’s far, far too much liability in getting into a car completely hammered, then driving off. But that’s how Cam Brady does, as his wife maintains.

If Anchorman was designed to put men on the silliest, most sexist pedestal in 1960s and 70s corporate America, The Campaign has done wonders for the modern political process, while cleverly avoiding parodying particular figures at the same time.

It’s clear Galifianakis would have fit into many Ferrell comedies in the past. But with them waiting until now to join forces, this truly was a campaign I would vote as Best Comedy of 2012.

Will Ferrell clobbers a baby

3-0Recommendation: Two thumbs up (Ebert & Roeper-style). If you’re a fan of his past work, this will further prove your faith in Ferrell. Personally, I think he should really try running for office. A nation led by one of the funniest men to come out of SNL could be a better place to live. Or we might not ever get anything done. Who knows.

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins.

Quoted: “Because Filipino tilt-a-whirl operators are our nation’s backbone!”

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Bernie poster

Release: April 27, 2012 (limited)


It’s always a joy to be the youngest viewer in the theater by a good 30 or 40 years. And also one of the only ones present. Then again, that’s not really surprising when I came to the realization that this movie had been out since April this year. !!!!! I hadn’t seen but a single trailer or teaser for this hilarious revamping of Jack Black’s career. I guess if you snooze, you lose. It could be even more of a sleeper hit than Moonrise Kingdom. And in terms of the enjoyment you’ll experience the two are on par.

Great to see Jack Black graduate from the School of Rock! In this humorous little hit directed and written by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused; A Scanner Darkly), we’ve learned the man can flesh out a character just as well as he can act like a total goofball. But I think there’s more to it than that, even. He’s invented a new, more believable brand of his old comedic wonkiness. He still gets to wear his britches high as hell (well past where a normal person would consider their waistline), he potters around the screen with a slightly weird walk — one Carthagian described him as “light on the loafers.” Despite the ridiculousness, Black’s Tiede has far more depth than any character he’s had in the past. I’m so glad to see him finally break the mold, I think it’s a respectable career move.

‘Respectable’ is a slight understatement when describing Bernie Tiede. The town of Carthage, Texas, loves the man as though he were family. As an assistant funeral director, Tiede takes the extra-extra mile to ensure the deceased always get a proper burial. That’s a mindset that effloresces his wonderful personality, the affection that has won the townspeople over. That’s why it is so difficult and so bizarre, when, due to a thorough investigation done by none other than District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey), they learn of Bernie’s murder of Marjorie Nugent, the richest and most despised woman in Carthage.

She is a character that would even give the Pope trouble maintaining objectivity in his dailies (if ever she graced the Vatican). She wears on Bernie’s sweet nature as a matter of fact which is exactly where it all goes wrong.

Packed with interviews from actual Carthage locals commenting on the identity and controversial arrest and imprisonment of the real Bernie Tiede, Linklater has drafted a cleverly funny and endearing story that boosts its stars as well as bring attention to an otherwise unknown community. He infuses the locals in such a way as to ensure there’s always a gut-busting moment for each second of tension — the source of which is traced mainly to one knucklehead named Nugent.

While the ending may surprise you, it’s part of the shock that rocked the community when it all happened in the mid-90s, and is recreated with exceptional taste.

Jack Black stars as Bernie

4-0Recommendation: Bernie is hysterical, yet not over-the-top at any one point. Instead you’ll enjoy a rather steady chuckle that builds and builds and builds, like the sneeze you can’t even get rid of staring into bright sunshine.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “Ms. Nugent is in a deep-freezer headed for Dallas.”

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The Watch


Release: Friday, July 27, 2012


I’ve always been curious about how it would go — putting men of the Stiller/Vaughn/Hill variety into situations that become larger than life, as opposed to the white suburban hills garden variety stories these actors have been pampered by. A Hollywood director thought it could work. Umm…..big mistake.

Originally titled ‘Neighborhood Watch,’ Akiva Shaffer’s newest attempt at filmmaking (okay, I’ll concede 2007’s Hot Rod) has been plagued from the beginning with issues. Following the tragic shooting in Sanford, Florida, the film had to undergo a title change to avoid controversy. The resultant film stirs an equal dose of controversy as it shoots for the stars, while missing horribly.

I consider myself not among the populace’s more mature individuals, and even I thought there were one too many penis references for an alien movie. Hell, it was the most inspired moment of all when, towards the end, it was revealed that these alien invaders have a weakness in their crotch department. That the aliens could be taken down with a simple shot to the cock was hilarious. A dangling, awkward and downright immature script otherwise fell all over itself throughout the majority of this piece.

And that’s a real shame, too. If given a cast with professional penis-joke-tellers and facial-expression masters, one should be able to achieve great things. Shoot for the moon, and beyond, even. Instead, Shaffer’s idea was to bring the stars to them, to a little innocent neighborhood in Ohio, to be exact. Although not entirely original, it’s an interesting enough premise that invites all the potential for some ridiculous anti-alien invasion jokes. I don’t think there was one insult made on an alien; instead, we get caught up in our own domestic lives, bitching about stuff that doesn’t truly matter when compared to……yes, an alien invasion.

An extremely irritating, borderline brain-dead acting performance from Will Forte made me hope I will never cross paths with him in a movie setting ever again. I almost felt the same with Stiller. Since the man went over the hill in age, so did his acting skills. Or perhaps he hired the worst agent ever. Can we please have a fourth installment of Meet The Parents?

To give some credit, the cast do what they can with a script from co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that gives them an anorexic joke reel (oddly enough they were the parents of Superbad, relatively a successful comedy when compared). The chopping block must have become so crap they ended up ad-libbing many lines. Vaughn yells most of his. And some guy named Richard Ayoade predictably reveals himself to be not of the terrestrial sort.

I can handle all the silly cliches and recycled penis jokes — 60% of the time, they work every time. But come on, Rogen. You’ve been in the business, how long? — and I can completely understand if it was co-written with your five-year-old niece. I wouldn’t put this film down on your resume, pal; there’s no telling how many residents you just pissed off with this bit of film.


2-0Recommendation: I would recommend, just on the basis that it will not be the worst film you’ll see this year. But I also recommend taking the trailer below with a large grain of salt. It’s rather misleading. I was equal doses disappointed and not overly surprised by the cheese factor that resonated after The Watch.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

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My Week With Marilyn


Release: Friday, November 4, 2011 (limited)


We can all imagine how luxurious it would be…….but, if only getting to spend time with Marilyn Monroe was as simple and as serene as it gets portrayed in Simon Curtis’ new film. Arguably one of the biggest names that ever graced the Hollywood landscape, the thirty-year-old phenom gets a new light shone on her brilliant and elusive career in My Week With Marilyn. In fact, it is so well reincarnated that you may easily mistake it for masterfully restored found-footage on the subject, rather than a feature film of the modern generation.

It’s strengths certainly lie with the central characters: the fact that its not the real Marilyn Monroe is almost shocking, as Michelle Williams all but disappears inside her character, flaunting her epic, ethereal beauty to scores of men throughout the world. That said, the film truly is only a sliver of her public life and thus can only express a portion of who she was beyond the superstar. But Curtis and Williams handle it significantly better than anyone who’s ever had the courage to try before.

Beyond the brilliance of Williams there are some other notable performances, like Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike; Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence “Larry” Olivier; and Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clarke. Each one of these characters comes to symbolize the  mixed emotions that many people had towards Monroe; emotions that arose out of misunderstanding or perhaps the opposite, with the intent to know her more intimately. Sir Laurence, who’s directing the film The Prince and the Showgirl, is a man with short fuses and can be downright mean and bullying to his cast and crew. The tightly wound Olivier and Monroe clash frequently, allowing Branagh to bring a rather profound loathsomeness to the screen, a personality that we feel compelled to loathe ourselves.

Colin, named third-assistant director on-set of The Prince, represents something of the quieter, more modest and hard-working type who gets things done just to see his dream through. His determination is somewhat responsible for his many close encounters with Ms Monroe. He’s likable, and, with all things considered, a respectable member of the film crew.

And Judi Dench shines in her supporting role as the highly revered Dame Sybil, who from the start is never perturbed by Marilyn’s jittery, unusually tense presence on the British scene. Dench’s compassionate nature is a much-needed contrast from the jealous hostility brooding in all the male aspects.

My Week With Marilyn in a nutshell is the memoir written and documented by Colin Clarke as he got personally close with and helped guide the bombshell through one of her more difficult acting performances. It is a brilliantly balanced piece of art; neither too hot nor too cold and certainly not absonant on the material. One of the strengths of the film is how we are so quickly inclined to believe this world despite what it lacks. There’s little time wasted with character development, unnecessary dialogue between secondary cast and its extreme intimacy rewards constantly.

A particularly memorable scene is the skinny dip in the river. Man oh man. If this woman were alive today, and if she had a Facebook page.


3-5Recommendation: Marilyn Monroe epitomized the perceived godliness that great actors/actresses achieve in the motion pictures. Imagine a film that epitomized such an individual. Here it is. You will enjoy the many quirks and childish spasms she possessed, as  well as gather a greater understanding of her near-nomadic sense of being on planet earth. A wonderful character study, with a quaint storyline to back it up, My Week With Marilyn serves as a journey back in time that will continue to impress for years to come.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 99 mins.

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The Descendants


Release: Friday, December 9, 2011


How the Oscars chose a black-and-white film over this now seems absurd. Old-school film noir is a pretentiously nostalgic stance to take when approaching the 84th presentation of the Oscars. When it became clear that taking such risk would eventually merit a Best Picture, The Descendants, then, quickly and unfortunately descended into a stack of lesser (though still quality) DVDs-to-be. (It also did go on to win Best Adapted Screenplay, from the novel of the same name penned by Kaui Hart Hemmings, which was a thoughtful acknowledgement.)

“Don’t be fooled by appearances. In Hawaii some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen.”

That line effloresces the casual motif presented in The Descendants. What a nourishing experience; an intelligent and humane bit of film roll doled out to us upon a serene Pacific palate. Though for all the beauty of the locale, it’d be an idea to keep a tissue handy, as well.

George Clooney stars as Matt King, a rather wealthy if not detached Honolulu resident with a large stake in his family’s land inheritance — 25,000 acres of unspoiled Kaua’i utopia. It’s a perfect backdrop to serve against such a dramatic and heartfelt story about a middle-aged man coming to terms with some of life’s more unappealing offerings. King is married and a father of two rambunctious daughters, but as Clooney eloquently states in the narrative that whisks us into the story, appearances are nothing what they seem.

King’s life is a summation of lawyering and land-holding, of biding time at the office and not so much on sunset-dappled beach walks or with his kids. That’s until the day of Elizabeth’s boating accident, where she “hit her head a bit too hard,” as Matt reassuringly tells friends and family time and again. But here’s how this movie and, though I hate to bring up the cliche, life works: nothing’s certain. In fact what’s certain is its unpredictability. We’ve got that in spades during the course of this exotic adventure of finding truth and clarity, and ultimately, forgiveness in times of such despair and tragedy.

There’s yet another link in the chain of unfortunate events when 17-year-old daughter Alex (excellently portrayed by Shailene Woodley) admits that mom’s infidelity was the source of their quarreling. Understandably enraged by the fact that he’s having to learn that his love life was not without flaw and also that his daughter has to be the filter for such information, King embarks on a journey, determined to find the man responsible for wrecking things. Inexplicably, he’s also going to give the guy a chance to say goodbye to his summer fling, for good.

Along the way virtually everything we encounter is sublime. The morning jog on the beach; the dashboard bobbling hip-shaking hoola dancer in Matt’s cousin’s jeep; the spurts of conversations peppered across the beach as per the script; even the confrontation between Matt and Brian Speer — the man with whom Elizabeth had purportedly slept with. As crucial as it is for Matt to find these things out about his wife and the life he led to this point, there’s a surprising lack of tension, given that the source of a majority of his frustration lies comatose in a hospital bed.

It seems that under the direction of one Alexander Payne, what needed to be created emotionally within this movie had already been done when John Jackson recruited the cast. Clooney is a fairly polished actor, it’s safe to say, and with as big a reputation as he’s been endowed with, the man’s suitably understated as Matt King. Combined with brilliant deliveries from precocious, young actresses like Woodley and Amara Miller (the fifteen-year old Scottie King), plus a script that doesn’t call for weighty and wasteful dialogue, The Descendants may even accomplish something a great many films cannot: matter.


4-0Recommendation: It’s very easy to get swept up by the breeze. Every character — even one you would not expect (without giving spoilers away…) — becomes endearing to us, thanks to superb acting. The setting is serene. Plus, it boasts a man who continues to age and gray handsomely. What excuse, exactly, can you conjure to miss seeing this masterpiece? (Speaking of, anyone seen Sideways…?)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 110 mins.

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