Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Now here is my list of the films from 2013 that failed to impress me and in some cases, wish I had never even left the house:


The last time "The Great Gatsby" was made in to a film, it starred a miscast Robert Redford and Mia Farrow way back in 1974. That outcome was an uninspired, glacial affair and now Baz Luhrmann decided it was time to make a new version and put his own special spin on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Bloated, garish and underwhelming is what he seemed to have in mind. This simple love triangle involving lies and infidelity is buried under so much exhausting whirling and twirling camerawork (in 3D, no less) that the main intent appears to be to only induce a seizure. Although Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan make a slighter better Gatsby and Daisy, they both seem uncomfortable and out of their element.


The latest from Pedro Almodóvar, "I'm So Excited (Los Amantes Pasajeros)" is by far my biggest disappointment of last year. At first, I was so excited to see this because it appeared to be the Spanish director's return to his racy, comic work from early in his career but as the stale antics wore on, "I'm So Excited" simply grew insufferable. This painfully unfunny farce involves three over-the-top stewards trying to keep peace and calm while the plane is in danger of crashing. All I kept wishing is for the aircraft to finally smash in to a fiery ball to put everyone out of their misery.


When Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn previously teamed-up, the result was the riveting crime drama, "Drive". Now, the two have come together again but this time the outcome is far less than thrilling. "Only God Forgives" is another violent crime drama but this is more of a muddled nightmare with obscure dialogue and filled with ugly, demented characters. Set in Thailand, Gosling plays Julian, an American running a boxing club which also serves as front for a drug-dealing operation. After his brother rapes and murders a teen-aged prostitute, he's quickly caught by the police. The Lieutenant (Vithaya Pansringarm) allows the girl's father to kill the man but cuts off his arm as punishment for allowing his daughter to turn to that life. Julian tracks down the father but spares his life however his monster of a mother (Kristen Scott-Thomas) arrives and demands vengeance. After this unrelenting mess was over, all that kept running through my head was "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!!"


"The Counselor" started off with an incredible cast that features Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt, direction by the gifted Ridley Scott and an original screenplay by the acclaimed novelist, Cormac McCarthy so what could possibly go wrong? Try absolutely everything. This dud about an unnamed lawyer (Fassbender) who unwisely gets involved in a deal with a Mexican drug lord (Bardem) that quickly goes sour which threatens not only his life but that of his new fiance (Cruz). This baffling script is far too wordy and unfocused to work as a film. At least the actors seem to be enjoying themselves with Ms Diaz playing the most fascinating character as the sociopathic girlfriend of the drug lord who has a thing for wild cats and delivers the only real reason to see this disaster; an obscene moment with a car that is just too crazy to describe.


More of a major letdown than downright awful, "Man of Steel" brought Superman back to the silver screen after an eight year hiatus yet seemed ashamed to acknowledge who he is. Despite the perfectly cast, Henry Cavill as our hero, the film was too busy trying to appear hip and distance the character from his storied past while also struggling to make Superman still recognizable to fans. The film doesn't work in either case. This is the origin story we're all familiar with that takes full advantage of modern-day visual effects but lacks the heart and soul of the 1978-Christopher Reeve flick. The film is a star-studded affair with casting that works (Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Michael Shannon as General Zod) and some that does not (a hammy Russell Crowe as Jor-El and sadly,  Amy Adams as Lois Lane). "Man of Steel" was a box-office hit so, there will most certainly be a sequel. There's a possibility that some of the problems can be fixed on the next one but I'm not holding my breath.


The premise of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" sounded so fascinating and in addition to an amazing cast attached, this project seemed like a sure-fire winner. However, in the hands of Lee Daniels, the fictionalized story of an actual White House butler who served five U.S. presidents lacks nuance and believable characters. The events in Cecil Gaines' (Forest Whitaker) life have been overly simplified as the film rushes through history placing characters improbably in the middle of the action. Mr. Whitaker is in fine form and it's great to see Oprah Winfrey back on the screen as Cecil's neglected wife but their efforts are squandered. There are brief stops with badly impersonated Presidents (Robin Williams (Eisenhower). Liev Schrieber (Johnson) and most particularly John Cusack as Nixon) and their families during their time in the White House that are painful to watch.


"Trance", a stylish thriller by Oscar winner, Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire"), distracts with breathtaking visuals that are wasted on a convoluted plot that will leave you frustrated and utterly confused. James McAvoy stars as an art dealer involved in the heist of a valuable painting but he's hit on the head and can't remember where he's hidden the artwork. The leader of the gang (Vincent Cassel) that helped with the robbery hires an attractive hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to dig in to the recesses of his mind to figure out where he's placed the stolen art. Highly implausible to the max, "Trance" wastes not only the time and energy of the talent but of the audience.


Every year, this final space is reserved for a lousy remake and that honor goes to "Carrie". This inferior version of the Stephen King novel features Chloë Grace Moretz as the sheltered teenager with something extra who went to the prom and only came home with a bucket of pig's blood. While the young actress is passable and age-appropriate, Moretz will not make you forget the indelible performance by Sissy Spacek who was twenty-seven when she made the original film. Director Kimberly Peirce is in way over her head as she struggles to make her own rendition but unable to find the right tone. The worst part is there's not a single frightening moment to be found with most attempts to be downright laughable. The only bright spot is Julianne Moore as Carrie's mother who displays all her amazing gifts yet unfortunately, cannot save this dreadful movie.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Now that Meryl Streep has received her eighteenth (!) Academy Award nomination, the question is asked: "How many of those given are either actually well-earned, a weak year for female actors or simply because she's Meryl Streep?" New York Magazine has taken a look and given their opinion on which films were Meryl at her very best or were given because of a lack of better choices.

Click below to read the article:

Well Deserved, or Just Because It’s Her? Meryl Streep and Her Many, Many Oscar Noms


My favorite time of the year is here and the Oscar nominations have finally been released. The mighty Chris Hemsworth and Academy President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs made the announcement this morning that featured a diverse selection of honorees but there were a few surprises, most notably by the names that were absent. Tom Hanks was missing for his brilliant work in "Captain Phillips" and surprisingly, Robert Redford for his big comeback role in "All Is Lost". "Lee Daniels' The Butler" was completely overlooked while "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" were mostly ignored despite those films collecting serious attention from The Golden Globes and the SAG Awards."The Wolf of Wall Street" wasn't given much of a shot initially but made a major comeback by earning five nominations including one of the nine contenders for Best Picture. "American Hustle" and "Gravity" tied for the most nominations this year at ten with "12 Years a Slave" collecting nine.

With her nomination today for "August: Osage County", Meryl Streep has extended the most acting nominations at eighteen while Woody Allen now has the most nominations in the Best Original Screenplay category at sixteen.

The 86th Annual Academy Awards will be held on March 2, 2014 with Ellen DeGeneres serving as host.

Here is the complete list of the nominations:

Best Picture:
"12 Years a Slave"
"American Hustle"
"Captain Phillips"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"

Best Director:
Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"
Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"
Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"
Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
David O. Russell, "American Hustle"

Best Actor:
Christian Bale, "American Hustle"
Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Actress:
Amy Adams, "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"
Judi Dench, "Philomena"
Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"

Best Supporting Actor:
Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"
Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
Jonah Hill, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Supporting Actress:
Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"

Best Original Screenplay:
Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Spike Jonze, "Her"
Bob Nelson, "Nebraska"
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, "American Hustle"

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, "Philomena"
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, "Before Midnight"
Billy Ray, "Captain Phillips"
John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"
Terence Winter, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Best Animated Feature:
"The Croods"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Ernest & Celestine"
"The Wind Rises"

Best Animated Short Film:
"Get a Horse!"
"Mr. Hublot"
"Room on the Broom"

Best Foreign Language Film:
"The Broken Circle Breakdown" - (Belgium)
"The Great Beauty" - (Italy)
"The Hunt" - (Denmark)
"Omar" - (Palestine)
"The Missing Picture" - (Cambodia)

Best Live Action Short Film:
"Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)"
"Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)"
"Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything)?"
"The Voorman Problem"

Best Cinematography:

Bruno Delbonnel, "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Roger Deakins, "Prisoners"
Philippe Le Sourd, "The Grandmaster"
Emmanuel Lubezki, "Gravity"
Phedon Papamichael, "Nebraska"

Best Documentary Feature:
"20 Feet from Stardom"
"The Act of Killing"
"Cutie and the Boxer"
"Dirty Wars"
"The Square"

Best Documentary Short:
"Cave Digger"
"Facing Fear"
"Karama Has No Walls"
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"
"Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall"

Best Film Editing:
Joe Walker, "12 Years a Slave"
Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, "American Hustle"
Christopher Rouse, "Captain Phillips"
Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger, "Gravity"
John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa, "Dallas Buyers Club"

Best Original Score:
William Butler and Owen Pallett, "Her"
Alexandre Desplat, "Philomena"
Thomas Newman, "Saving Mr. Banks"
Steven Price, "Gravity"
John Williams, "The Book Thief"

Best Original Song:
"Let It Go" from "Frozen" -(Music and lyric by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
"Alone Not Alone" from "Alone Yet Not Alone" - (Music by Bruce Broughton, Lyric by Dennis Spiegel)
"The Moon Song" from "Her" - (Music by Karen O, Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze)
"Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" - (Music and Lyric by U2)
"Happy" from "Despicable Me 2" - (Music and lyric by Pharrell Williams)

Best Production Design:
K.K. Barrett and Gene Sedena, "Her"
Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler, "American Hustle"
Catherine Martin and Beverly Dunn, "The Great Gatsby"
Andy Nicholson and Rosie Goodwin, "Gravity"
Adam Stockhausen and Alice Baker, "12 Years a Slave"

Best Costume Design:
William Chang Suk Ping, "The Grandmaster"
Catherine Martin, "The Great Gatsby"
Patricia Norris, "12 Years a Slave"
Michael O' Connor, "The Invisible Woman"
Michael Wilkinson, "American Hustle"

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny, "The Lone Ranger"
Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Stephen Prouty, "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa"

Best Sound Editing:

"All is Lost"
"Captain Phillips"
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
"Lone Survivor"

Best Sound Mixing:

"Captain Phillips"
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
"Lone Survivor"

Best Visual Effects:
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
"Iron Man 3"
"The Lone Ranger"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"

Monday, January 13, 2014


2013 didn't exactly start off very promising but as the months progressed, the slate of films improved immensely. By the end of the year, there was a massive explosion of must-see, highly entertaining movies filling the theaters. While it was slightly challenging, I did manage to narrow my selections of the films that thrilled me, made me giggle, brought tears to my eyes or simply made me forget about what a lousy day I'd been having.


I don't put these lists in any order of preference nor do I proclaim one to be "the very best of the year" but if I were to ever do such a thing, David O. Russell's brilliantly absorbing and wildly absurd dramatic comedy, "American Hustle" would come very close to earning that title. The tale of two lovebird con-artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who get swept up in to a major sting operation by a ruthless FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) in order to catch a politician (Jeremy Renner) getting his hands dirty. The couple struggle to stay one step ahead of the authorities as well as the man's loose-cannon younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence, who should definitely win another Oscar for her work here) who threatens to unravel the whole thing.. From the flawless performances to the razor-sharp screenplay to the perfectly exaggerated 70's fashions to the right-on musical soundtrack, "American Hustle" is film making at it's very finest.


Brutal, devastating and completely unforgettable, "12 Years A Slave" tells the unimaginable true story of Solomon Northup, a free, Northern African-American who was torn from his family and sold in to slavery in the deep South. Lead by a masterful turn by Chiwetel Ejiofor and a gripping screenplay by John Ridley, director Steve McQueen makes no effort to hold anything back which makes every moment feel even more tragic and terrifying. The standouts in a collection of amazing performances include Michael Fassbender as a vicious slave owner, Sarah Paulson as his equally deranged wife and in her first major screen role, Lupita Nyong'o who breaks your heart as the slave who is mercilessly tortured by them both. Months after seeing this, the images in "12 years A Slave" still haunt me.


Just when you thought that the state of the modern romantic-comedy was a complete lost cause, along comes "Enough Said". Not only is it smart, funny and very touching but the film refreshingly focuses on a mature couple. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as a divorced woman whose daughter is preparing to head off to college. Facing an empty nest, she's encouraged to start dating and meets a man (James Gandolfini) who, on the surface, appears to not be exactly her type. Their relationship is further complicated for a number of reasons but mainly due to his ex-wife (Catherine Keener). This is another winner written and directed by Nicole Holofcener who has, sadly, made very few films but they all feature her biting yet delightfully insightful and humorous views on relationships. And the underrated film maker is finally getting some long overdue attention as "Enough Said" is her most commercially successful to date.  


"Her" is a romance designed with the miliennials in mind. Set in a recognizable future, an introverted man (Joaquin Phoenix), recently separated from his wife (Rooney Mara), purchases an animated operating system to help simply his life. This talking computer (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) not only organizes his affairs but develops true affection for her human. He soon finds himself also smitten and struggles to return those feelings. While this all might sound a bit preposterous but Spike Jonze, who directs his first original screenplay, makes it all seem quite plausible and features Mr. Phoenix at his most charming. Shockingly, this is only the fourth feature film by the talented Mr. Jonze since "Being John Malkovich" way back in 1999 and while "Her" shares that film's quirky, whimsical spirit but there's also a surprisingly lovely tenderness to be found.


Ignore all the fuss regarding the no-holds-barred sex scenes or the on-going bickering between the director and the actresses, "Blue Is The Warmest Color" is a transcendent exploration in to a young woman's discovery of first love. That it involves another woman makes it even more uneasy and arduous. Abdellatif Kechiche has co-written and directed a lengthy but passionate film that doesn't judge the characters but simply reveals their story. Twenty-two year old, Adèle Exarchopoulos makes you feel every joyous, messy, and painful moment in her breakout role while Léa Seydoux also amazes as the object of her desire.


Based on a real-life incident, "Philomena" tells the story of an unwed, Irish teen who becomes pregnant and sent away to a convent. Forced to sign away her parental rights, her son was adopted and Philomena has been searching for him every since. The film has been accused of being anti-Catholic but this is far from accurate. "Philomena" does not go out of it's way to bash the church but only attempts to tell one woman's tragic experience. Even the real Philomena Lee harbors no ill will. Stephen Frears has crafted a heartfelt work that manages to be both somber and witty. As Philomena, the extraordinary Judi Dench  is simply a marvel and Steve Coogan (who co-wrote the screenplay) is perfect as Martin Sixsmith, the reporter who helped with the investigation and wrote the book which the film is based.


Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater have together created possibly the world's first art-house trilogy. The team has written another engaging chapter in the lives of Jesse (Hawke) and Céline (Delpy) who first met back in 1995 in "Before Sunrise" on a train to Vienna. Almost ten years later in "Before Sunset", the couple reconnected and now with, "Before Midnight" Jesse and Céline have become parents and are suffering from a mid-life crisis. As with the previous films, we simply follow them as they have nothing more than rich, fascinating conversations but this time regarding family, marriage and aging.


The films of Woody Allen have always been hit or miss affairs and his latest,  "Blue Jasmine" certainly falls in the hit category. Cate Blanchett has been given one of her best roles in years and takes full advantage as the high-class wife of a wealthy, New York banker (Alec Baldwin) who stole millions from investors. Broke, disgraced and in need of shelter, Jasmine heads to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). However, Ginger's blue-collar boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) and ex-husband (Andrew "Dice" Clay) who lost money in a bad investment are less than thrilled by Jasmine's arrival.


Despite a troubled production that required serious rewrites and major re-shoots, "World War Z" managed to become not only a thrilling but thought-provoking zombie flick. Brad Pitt stars as a former UN investigator who is brought back in to help save the world as a mysterious virus is quickly spreading and turning everyone into the living dead. I'm not usually a fan of gratuitous blood and gore but this suspenseful thrill-ride worked for me because it kept all of the non-stop action grounded in a plausible reality.


"Spring Breakers" takes the annual ritual of college kids heading to Florida for some fun in the sun and gives it a wicked, dark spin. Disney alums, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens shake up their good-girl image as not-so-sweet, bikini-clad young ladies who party-hard and commit armed robbery to help pay for their trip. The ever-busy James Franco makes an amusing impression as Alien, a corn-rowed, local rapper/gangsta who seduces the girls with his high-rolling lifestyle. Indie-film maker, Harmony Korine has made his most commercial film to date although this trippy film is as eccentric as it is electrifying.


Lead by two star-making performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, "The Spectacular Now" takes an honest look at the stress and complications of being a modern teenager. Teller (who reminds me of a young Tom Hanks) plays a popular high school senior that knows exactly how to have a good time but really has no idea what he's going to do with his life after graduation. He's also becoming increasingly aware that he may be developing a serious problem with alcohol. Woodley (first making an impression in "The Descendants") dazzles as the sweet, shy girl who overlooks his issues and only sees the potential.


"20 feet From Stardom" is a documentary that's a celebration of the unsung heroes of pop music; the back-up vocalist. Morgan Neville has focused on some of these talented singers (many whose names you may not be familiar with) that worked their magic on almost all of the most popular songs of the rock & roll era. These dynamic ladies such as Merry Clayton, Gloria Jones, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and Darlene Love all attempted to make a name for themselves in front of the stage but ultimately accepted their place behind the spotlight. The famous voices of Mick Jagger, Sting, Bette Midler and Stevie Wonder appear to gladly sing their praises. I am a big music lover, so this vibrant and informative doc was right up my alley.

Honorable Mention: "42", "Captain Phillips", "Don Jon", "Fruitvale Station". "Gravity","The Invisible Woman", "Nebraska", "Pain & Gain", "Saving Mr. Banks", "Short Term 12", "The Way Way Back"

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Where & When: AMC Livonia 20, Livonia, MI. December 2, 2013 10:35 PM

"Dallas Buyers Club" is set in the early days of the AIDS epidemic (which was then referred to as a "gay disease") where a passive U.S. government displayed no sense of urgency in helping the victims as their inaction seemed to imply that these undesirables brought this plaque upon themselves. The film tells the little known story of Ron Woodroof, a narrow-minded, skirt-chasing Texan cowboy who discovers that he has developed full-blown AIDS and only given about thirty days to survive. Not one to back away from a challenge, Woodroof went on a one-man mission to prolong his life by researching the virus and traveling across the globe to get his hands on potential experimental drugs that were long from being approved by the FDA.

"Dallas" is competently directed by Canadian filmmaker, Jean-Marc Vallée but it's greatest strength is in it's performances which is lead by a barely recognizable Matthew McConaughey. The usually bronzed, herculean actor appears here scary-thin and plays Woodroof with redneck gusto. This is another departure for McConaughey who had become a staple of the uninspired romantic comedy (with Kate Hudson usually by his side) but has seemed to have left that far behind as proven by his varied recent roles in "Bernie", "Killer Joe" and this year's "Mud". He's been challenging himself as well as audiences by giving them an opportunity to see him as more than a bongo-playing good ole' boy. As Rayon, the transgendered AIDS patient who connects Woodroof to desperate gay purchasers of the alternative drugs, Jared Leto (who has been enjoying success as a rock musician with his band, Thirty Seconds To Mars) returns to acting and gives a fierce and committed performance as he also dropped thirty pounds for the role.

When we first see Woodroof, you immediately sense that something is not quite right due to his cadaverous appearance. However, that doesn't prevent him from continuing to party hard with drugs and women. After collapsing and ending up in a hospital, Woodroof is informed of his illness by a couple of doctors who are surprised he's still alive but are not optimistic of him making it to the end of the month. The cowboy manages to surpass that timeline which impresses one of the physicians, the comely Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner) and offers AZT, an effective but highly toxic drug currently approved for use. Unwilling to accept this only option, he travels to Mexico where an exiled American doctor (Griffin Dunne) informs him about a safer medication and Woodroof smuggles large quantities across the border.

Always looking for a way to make a fast buck, he creates a membership club where patients pay a fee for the illegal drugs but has difficulty connecting to his main customer base; gay men. That's where the sassy, Rayon comes in and upon their first meeting, Woodroof is repulsed by everything that she represents yet they soon form a bond and business partnership as he finds a fellow frightened soul fighting to survive beneath the wigs and heels that he can relate with. Another obstacle is U.S. law-enforcement which is determined to stop Woodroof from bringing unapproved medication in to the country and distributing them.

"Dallas Buyers Club" is an effective, serviceable affair but it never really draws you in completely. Part of the problem is our leading protagonist. He's supposed to be the emotional center of the film yet he represents the most unappealing aspects in a human being; racist, homophobic, and misogynistic and while he eventually softens his views and inadvertently responsible for helping many people as well as forcing the government to put a fast track on approving experimental drugs, Woodroof still doesn't offer much to root for.What the character lacks in likability, it's more than made up with plenty of charisma and with the affable Mr McConaughey in place, Woodroof is easily able to charm the pants off (sometimes literally) everyone who crosses his path. Despite a strong script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and compelling camera work from Yves Bélanger, the director is unable to elevate this intimate film from standard biopic fare .What "Dallas Buyers Club" has going for it is the amazing, solid work of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto as they touch us deeply while their characters struggle to live out what's left of their lives with courage and dignity.