Established May 2010.

Gordie: Do you think I'm weird?
Chris: Definitely.
Gordie: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

Member of THE LAMB: The Large Association of Movie Blogs LAMB #1588

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie, Joanna Lumley, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Christine Ebersole

Who's in for a three hour ride full of drugs, debauchery, profanity, and horrible people? I do not think Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) quite knew what was in store for him when he decided to become a stockbroker. A luncheon meeting with his new boss Mark Hanna (McConaughey) becomes a lesson on what it will take to survive in this market. He recommends an excessive supply of cocaine, martinis, and prostitutes to get through the average day in the world of stocks and trading. That company folds quickly and Belfort joins another dumpy firm to keep working. He quickly becomes the best broker by making tens of thousands of dollars in a short period selling penny stocks to innocent naïve individuals.

His quick rise to wealth and riches leads him to opening his own brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, with his neighbor Donnie Azoff (Hill). They underwrote numerous fraudulent IPOs, and it is not long before that company makes Jordan a fortune. Millions of dollars are coming into his pocket like it’s no big deal. The office is a bed of wild antics, parties, prostitutes, drugs, alcohol, and naked marching bands to amp up their energy and power to keep the business going. Jordan and Donnie live on a constant high from the excessive lifestyle and let no one and nothing stop them from going further into the rabbit hole, not even FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Chandler) who is bound to take down Belfort.

It is shocking and disturbing that this is all based on a true story. Screenwriter Terence Winter (TV's "The Sopranos") has adapted his wordy script from the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort. The end credits do state that some of it was dramatized and some of the names have been changed, but I have a feeling the majority of the film is plausible and should be noted that it is coming from Belfort's point of view. Once Belfort got in too deep his life was so extravagant and excessive, you wonder how he never died in the process with all the liquor, cocaine, and Quaaludes that were consumed. Scorsese and DiCaprio produced the film, which is their fifth collaboration together as director and actor. I still hold that The Departed is my favorite film of theirs. They have chosen to not hold back in regards to how excessive they want their film to be to match the life Belfort led. From the first ten minutes, the audience is blasted with the profanity, nudity, sex, and drugs that comprise the three hour long film. Yes, you read that correct. I do not mean a few "F" words. The Internet Movie Database states it is used 506 times, making it the most used in any Scorsese picture over Casino or Goodfellas. I warn you now as your ears will bleed if you object to that word. I am a bit desensitized after all these years so it does not affect me as much. I also find it very believable that it was the standard vernacular for Belfort and his gang of cohorts. The sex and nudity is never ending with the amount of prostitutes Belfort engages in. The abundance of all of this will inevitably turn people away. There was a group of five or six people when I saw it that left five minutes after the film started and never came back.

If you can get passed all of that, hopefully you will be as intrigued as I was. I have extreme patience for long movies. The three hour run time did not bother me, as I was fascinated by the story as I wondered how long Belfort's horrendous behavior and deceitful nature would keep going. The film does feel like three hours as it is a very extensive and thorough look into Belfort's reign as "The Wolf of Wall Street". In an interview with longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, she revealed that the originally cut of the film was four hours long. Even though I do not mind the length, I still think it could be shorter and tightened up a bit. The film does a decent job at conveying the disturbing affect that greed, money, wealth, and power has on people. This story is solely focused on Belfort and his rise and how it affected the close-nit people around him. Scorsese and DiCaprio have received some push back regarding how the film portrays Belfort and the hurricane of debauchery that is unleashed. Some viewers are critical on how they think the two of them have glorified and glamorized the story to not show off the true nature of Belfort's actions. While I do not necessarily agree with that completely, I would have liked to have learned more about the aftermath and what happened with some of the victims that were affected by his illegal pump and dump schemes. I do not get the impression that they are condoning his actions or are trying to make him out to be some sort of hero or victim of the times. There are many scenes that portray the disturbing and disgusting sides of Belfort which are some of the harder scenes to watch as you cringe watching him destroy his family.

One thing you can always bank out of a Scorsese picture is stellar actors giving powerhouse performances. Let me just throw it out there that I am a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. I have been following his career ever since the “Growing Pains” days and have been a great admirer of his choice in projects and what he brings to each role. I think he is too often thought of as just a pretty boy actor and passed aside like your average heartthrob. I always see him giving each character his all in a fully embodied portrayal. He gives no less than that as Jordan Belfort, which I would rank as the best performance of his career. I would venture to bet that he is in 98% of the movie in a very physically, emotionally, and mentally draining role. As Jordan’s second wife, Margot Robbie (About Time, TVs “Pan Am”) gives a fierce and vulnerable performance and can easily go head to head with the cast at such a young age. Whether you want to believe it or not, Jonah Hill may just receive another Oscar nomination as Jordan’s business partner and friend. Even though much of his stuff is very Jonah at times, it completely works and he can be downright hilarious. I would venture to guess he and Leo were given liberties to ad-lib and play around at times. They make a great duo together, which I would not have expected going in. There are many great cameos and smaller roles along the way from the likes of Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, and Matthew McConaughey.

One of the best ways I can describe the latest opus from Martin Scorsese is that it is polarizing. It will leave audiences divided. There will be plenty of people who are turned off from the language and sex and disgraceful people it focuses on. There will be others like myself that dive into it and are left baffled at how people like this exist that do not seem to have any consciousness of their actions. Their lifestyle is so beyond my everyday life. It has been a few days since I saw it, and the film and its subject matter have been stuck on my mind. I went in being a hardcore Marty and Leo fan expecting it to be this grand masterpiece that would be in my top of the year list. I have mentioned it before that I should not go in with such expectations as I most likely will come out disappointed. The Wolf of Wall Street was not the masterpiece I was hoping it would be. There is a disappointment to it on that level. I would have liked to have it structured a bit differently, and it cut down a bit more in length. It opened up my knowledge of the stock market, insider trader, money laundering, and that whole world to which I am a bit naïve about. Scorsese‘s cast led by the ballsy Leonardo DiCaprio, crazy Jonah Hill, and fierce Margot Robbie sucked me into these characters which I found fascinating and disturbing. I think it requires a second, if not third, viewing soon to take it all in again. For a three hour movie, I think there are some elements and choices I may have missed. Who knows I may grow to enjoy it even more or grow frustrated with it.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Saturday, December 28, 2013


Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Kathryn Hahn

The imagination can do wondrous things. It can take us to adventurous places, brighten our days, and give us the confidence to battle any tough situation. For Walter Mitty (Stiller), daydreaming is the norm. Whether he is fighting his boss, saving a dog’s life, or trying to impress his dream girl Cheryl Melhoff (Wiig), his imagination takes him to numerous heights. Outside of that, he leads a very normal and traditional life. He assists his mother (MacLaine) with moving into a new apartment. His sister Odessa (Hahn) is a little kooky and relies on him for more than she ought to.

He takes great pride his work in the negative assets department for Life Magazine only to find out the company is ending it's magazine publications and switching to an online format. Walter’s boss Ted (Scott) is your average scumbag of a boss who really has no interest in his employees or the work. Hopefully you can get passed his douchey facial hair which is so fake looking but makes complete sense for the character. Famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Penn) sends frame 25 by telegraph to Walter to be used as the final cover image. When Walter opens the package of frames, frame 25 seems to be missing from the set. From the advice of Cheryl, Walter decides to use the other frames as clues to track down the whereabouts of the elusive and enigmatic photographer to find that final frame. His daydreaming finally becomes a reality as his real life adventure begins.

If you have read any of the background on the film, you may know that it has been stuck in “development hell” for years with various studios, directors, and actors attached to it. It is a remake of the 1947 film of the same name which was based on the short story by James Thurber. I am glad it finally got in the right hands as Ben Stiller has successfully brought Walter Mitty back to life again. The film crosses various genres as there is some comedy, adventure, drama, and even a little romance thrown in there. I think finding the right tone is the key to making this film work. It is not a screwball comedy like Zoolander or some of Stiller’s other work. I do not think I would consider the film a comedy, but there are some humorous moments which are a bit more genuine for both Stiller and Wiig. They leave their silly characters of the past behind and just play their scenes together in a truthful and honest way. There are so many sweet and tender moments between the two of them that I would not mind seeing a stripped down romantic comedy with the two of them as the leads. I wish the characters MacLaine and Hahn play as his mother and sister would have been a bit more fleshed out. There are both great actresses, so they seem a bit under used here. The mother character plays a vital part in the story but has only been given a couple of scenes to develop that.

For a story that relies heavily on the photography of the Sean Penn character, Stiller makes good use out of cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. He beautifully captures the scenic landscapes of Greenland, Iceland, and the other places Walter ventures to on his journey to find Sean. You know the cinematography is stellar when various shots look like photos themselves. I found myself repeatedly soaking up these glorious images and missing some of the actual dialogue.

I have a seen quite a few movies recently with heavy topics and such deplorable characters. While I love a good character study in which those provide, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is that refreshing change of pace I needed. I, for one, am known to get caught daydreaming so I am right there with Walter Mitty. I am not about to go into what goes on in my head so don’t ask. It is not always as adventurous as Walter’s inner monologues and storylines. There is something inspirational about watching Walter’s daydreams shift into reality as he goes from living his everyday somewhat boring life and watching him take that leap and literally jump onto that helicopter. While that may not be quite practical for everyone in their normal day to day routine, I am sure you can find a way to start off small and go from there.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Movie Rewind: LOVELACE (2013)

Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Adam Brody, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, James Franco

The world of pornography is fascinating, especially in the 1970s as it started to gain in popularity with the mainstream media. Much of this is due to Linda Lovelace and a little film she was in called Deep Throat. Linda (Seyfried) grew up in a pretty conservative household with her fairly strict parents (Stone and Patrick). I guess it was only time before she pulls a 180 and gets involved in drugs and porn. She meets Chuck Traynor (Sarsgaard) at a roller rink after she impresses him with her sexy dance moves. He schmoozes his way into her life causing a series of bad choices on her end. She inevitable moves out of her parents' house and in with him causing a rift with her parents.

It is not long before Linda learns of his involvement in the porn industry. He decides to make her his next big star after learning of her "gift" which inspires his new movie Deep Throat. Chuck's demanding and forceful presence on set raises some eyebrows from the producers (Noth and Azaria). Linda and co-star Harry Reams (Brody) become big stars once the film opens, and she starts to love all of the attention it comes with it. It comes with a price as Chuck grows increasingly violent and abusive toward her.

You know those Lifetime movies based on true stories that seem like the abridged Reader's Digest version of what actually happened? That is essentially what Lovelace feels like. The film has all of the right ingredients to be a probing insight into such a fascinating story. If you are completely unfamiliar with this story, this is a good introduction. If you have seen the documentary Inside Deep Throat, you know there is so much more to this story. The documentary focuses on the filming of Deep Throat and the impact it had on pop culture, the porn industry, and what happened to its stars. Lovelace spends its time on the horrible relationship between Linda Lovelace and Chuck Traynor. If I remember correctly, all of that is covered in the documentary. The script feels a bit choppy at times as it is trying to cover a lot of ground but in a short period of time. A lot of if feels a bit glossed over and does not ever feel too gritty or dark like the material happens to be. It plays it a bit too safe the majority of time. Not to sound crass, but there is barely any nudity in it. I am sure the filmmakers would say that the film is not about pornography, but Deep Throat plays a factor into it. It seems odd that the nudity is quite tame at times.

When you look at the cast list, you see some great actors involved turning in decent performances, but I question what drew them to the story. Did the script read better on paper and then got lost in translation to the screen? Yes, it is a fascinating story to tell, but this material does not do it justice. Some people like James Franco as Hugh Hefner show up in cameo size appearances. Sarah Jessica Parker filmed scenes as Gloria Steinem but they were edited out of the movie. The film is only ninety minutes, so how much of it was edited out? Peter Sarsgaard plays another despicable human being with Chuck Traynor. His performance would feel more authentic if he doesn't always seem to play this type of character over and over again. It is great to see Sharon Stone as Linda's mother. She is another one that gives a strong performance, but feels wasted at times with a lack of screen time. Maybe more of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor as well. I applaud Seyfried for taking on such an edgy role. I suspect she was thinking this was going to be her break out of the more goody goody girl roles she normally plays. She is terrific with what she has been given, but she needed a better script and stronger directing to elevate the performance and push her even farther.

There is another Linda Lovelace movie in development called Inferno that had the likes of Malin Ackerman and Lindsay Lohan set to star as Linda Lovelace. That movie seems to be stalled, so we shall see if it ever gets made and turns out better than Lovelace. In the meantime, I would watch Deep Throat and then the documentary Inside Deep Throat for a thorough look into the history behind the iconic movie and the tragedy that was Linda Lovelace's life.

RATING: ** (2 out of 5 stars)

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Movie Review: SAVING MR. BANKS

Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, B.J. Novak, Jason Schawartzman, Annie Rose Buckley, Bradley Whitford, Rachel Griffiths, Ruth Wilson

I would assume it is safe to say that many people, like me, grew up watching Mary Poppins. I consider it one of my favorites in the Disney canon. You believed that Julie Andrews or some magical nanny would fly in and take you on an adventure. Saving Mr. Banks gives us some insight on how that classic made it to the big screen. Author Pamela “P.L.” Travers (Thompson) was strictly opposed to having her beloved novel “Mary Poppins” adapted for the big screen, especially by Walt Disney (Hanks). She assumed he would turn it into some sugary sweet animated movie that would ruin her characters. Disney has pursued Travers for the rights to her story for twenty years as a promise to his daughter. Her agent begs and pleads with her as she has now run out of money.

She finally abides and heads to Los Angeles for her meeting with Disney. Even after their initial talk, she will not sign over the rights quite yet. She makes it quite clear that she will have to be part of the creative process. Not only does she want script approval, but she has very strong opinions about the design and look of the characters, the actors cast, and the conceptual drawings. Composer Richard Sherman (Schwartzman) and his writing partner and brother Robert (Novak) find it quite difficult to appease to her needs as she is not even keen on it being a musical. What they do not know is true meaning behind these characters to Travers. They hold a very special place in her heart as she based them on her childhood and the relationship she had with her father (Farrell).

The film goes back and forth between the two time frames of when Pamela was a child in 1906 and the Walt Disney portion of the story in 1961. I originally thought that her childhood would only be treated as brief flashbacks. I was quite surprised to find that a third, if not half of the movie, is devoted to her childhood and how Mary Poppins came to be. Unfortunately, I think this portion of the film drags the energy down. There is a vitality and sense of humor with Thompson and Hanks, so when we switch out of 1961 and go back to 1906, there is tonal change that is quite evident. That is not to say that Buckley and Farrell are bad, they are actually quite good. The writers could have gotten to the point of that storyline a bit quicker. As someone that is quite obsessed with “Six Feet Under”, I also wanted to see more of Rachel Griffiths who plays the real Mary Poppins.

The film boats quite a strong supporting cast that may go unnoticed next to Thompson and Hanks. There are many actors here like Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, and Jason Schwartzman that are not quite used to being under the Disney banner or making family friendly films. Giamatti has played numerous schmucks, and it is a great change of pace for him to play the sweet innocent chauffeur who has to cart Travers back and forth to the Disney lot. Schwartzman steps away from his usual Wes Anderson fare and pares well with B. J. Novak as the Sherman brothers. Hanks has had a strong year after his stunning work in Captain Phillips. He captures those charming and charismatic qualities that Disney needs. Disney was an iconic figure and you need an actor that is believable as someone who has built an empire that has lasted decade after decade. Hanks is quite believable and capable of pulling off that lofty feat. It should come as no surprise that Thompson is practically perfect in every way. I would watch her read the phone book. There is the outward frosty demeanor to Pamela, but Thompson knows how to easily add that inner dimension behind her eyes that elevates her from being a one-noted bitchy villain. You can see the inner struggles she continually battles. The comedic side of Thompson comes alive as she can deliver every zinger and witty jab flawlessly.

Some people have issues with the fact that Disney is making a movie about one of their own movies. They can just go complain to themselves. Yes, there is definitely a Disneyfied sheen to this story that definitely has some drama behind it, but oh who cares. Like Mary Poppins, this is a wonderful family film that can easily tap into your inner child. The songs are infectious and it is hard to not want to start singing along as the Sherman brothers start to plunk them out on the piano. My Lord, I completely lost it when “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” started. I started to well up, and I rarely cry at movies. I have many fond memories of watching Mary Poppins as a child. I attribute that to my Grandma Lois who has long passed away, so Saving Mr. Banks was a nice trip down memory lane.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, December 26, 2013


Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso

The film opens with a lavish rooftop party in Rome, and I thought "I would give anything to go back there right now." I flew out to Rome on Christmas Day 2004, and it was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Jep Gambardella (Servillo) is a writer and journalist celebrating his 65th birthday with another wild and crazy party. There are burlesque dancers, drugs, liquor, interesting characters, and even a self-proclaimed dwarf who happens to be his editor. Jep has only written one novel but is continually questioned about when he will write another one. Unfortunately, finding the motivation to write said novel is stopping this literary genius from his next big hit. In the meantime, he is stuck interviewing random people like a performance artist who bangs her head against a cement column while naked. He sees right passed her "art" and refuses to ask the questions she would like to answer. Jep is stuck at that inevitable crossroads where the eccentric parties and extravagant lifestyle are no longer fulfilling in life. He spends his free time traveling the streets rediscovering the architecture, museums, and artistry of the city and reflects on the interesting and indulgent life he has led.

This is the first film I have seen by Paolo Sorrentino or Toni Servillo. Servillo has previously worked with Sorrentino on four films including Il Divo and The Consequences of Love. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, another Sorrentino collaborator, exquisitely captures that beauty of Rome the film asks you to notice. Jep's apartment overlooks the Colosseum which is stunning to see, especially during the nighttime party scenes. As someone that loves to travel it was sublime to view all of the beautiful shots of the city and the history it has to offer. Like Sorrentino states, it is easy to get wrapped up in your everyday life or dive deep into the parties we tend to throw ourselves. When you step back to think about it, there is a sad quality to it when you think about these aging characters or the people you know in life that will be forever 21 in their attitude and philosophies about life.

I think it is important for any movie goer to experience something a little different or may be outside their comfort zone. I love foreign films, yet somehow do not see nearly as many as I would like to. The film opens with a quote from Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, "To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength." This quote struck me as I love to travel and soak up as much of the culture and beauty in any given place I venture to. It was quite my bad luck as there were two gentlemen that came in late to the movie and were trying to sit right in front of me as this quote was appearing on screen. They proceeded to slowly take their coats off and settle in to which I had to move and adjust around them just to read the quote as they took forever to sit down. Why do all of the talkers and late comings always seem to gravitate toward me. I digress.

You may hear about The Great Beauty more and more if you follow any of the critics Top 10 lists or awards ceremonies. The film is the official selection for Italy for the Academy Awards and has been nominated for The Golden Globes for Best Foreign Film. It is also receiving many comparisons to Fellini and his classic, La Dolce Vita. The two and a half hour run time feels a bit long at times, but with Servillo's performance and the city of Rome on display, there is enough beauty to soak up and indulge in.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013



Merry Christmas to all of my loyal readers! I hope you have a joyous holiday.

Even though my favorite Christmas movie is the James Stewart classic It's a Wonderful Life, my favorite Christmas song is Judy Garland's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from Meet Me in St. Louis.

Here it is and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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Friday, December 20, 2013


Director: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicholl, Greg Harris

Do you like watching pranks performed on innocent people? Boy, do I have a movie for you! If you have ever watched MTV's "Jackass" or saw any of the three movies that were spawned after it, you will be familiar with Knoxville's character of Grandpa Irving Zisman. Now he gets his own movie! At the funeral for his wife, Irving's estranged daughter shows up to drop off his grandson Billy (Nicholl) without any warning as she has been ordered back to jail for violating parole. Billy likes to tell people his mother is a drug addict. Irving has no choice but to take Billy on a road trip back to be with his dad and to find a proper burial spot for his dead wife.

Now you may be saying to yourself, "Since when does a Jackass movie have a plot?" Yes, I am as surprised as you are. All of the other films Johnny Knoxville has done under the Jackass banner have been a collection of gross out gags performed by his buddies on each other. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa weaves together an actual plot working as transition material between all of the gags. There is indeed a script full of dialogue between Irving and Billy in the car throughout their trip. I was pleasantly surprised at this mix of documentary style filmmaking with a faux story thrown in. Borat is another good example of this mix. Let's be real though. The majority of the audience will remember this film for the hilarious gags on its unsuspecting victims. Irving and Billy strike up random conversation with people on the street, the ladies at the bingo hall, restaurant patrons, a male strip club, and even a gang of motorcycle riders.

If you are familiar with the Knoxville canon, you are probably already aware of what kind of humor you can expect. It's a mix of physical comedy, slapstick gags, fart jokes, penis jokes, and old man hitting on younger women jokes. The bits are crass, crude, gross, dumb and everything in between. Some of it seems so ludacris at times you wonder how people are falling for it, but it sure is damn funny to watch it all unfold. If you stay and watch the credits, you get a glimpse into the filming of it and how they were able to pull it all off. I give credit to many of the innocent bystanders that signed over their waivers to appear in the film. I am glad to see people able to poke fun at themselves and be up for showing their more embarrassing moments. I could not help but wonder how many people did not, how many were pissed off at them, and how many people they had to pay off to pay for their damages.

Not every bit or gag is laugh out loud funny; the big ones make it all worth while. I am typically appalled by Little Miss pageants, so I took a bit of pleasure out of Billy performing a lewd dance to "Cherry Pie" to the shock and disgust out of all of those stage parents watching him. Sometimes after you have had a really crappy week or month, a dumb comedy like this can be just the 92 minute release you need from the everyday life. Is it the best comedy of the year? No. Is the the worst? No way. Some may find the humor to be crewd and mean, but the able participation from its victims make it feel a bit more justifiable. You may also be interested in knowing Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Her) produced and helped write the story behind it.

RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Movie Rewind: UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)

Writer/Director: Shane Carruth
Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins

You know those indie movies that you can tell right away that they are very artistic and have a certain style to them. You can tell the director has a very specific vision for the film, but you may be unsure of what that is. That is Upstream Color, the latest from writer/director Shane Carruth who last intrigued audiences with 2004’s Primer. You will know after ten minutes if you will enjoy Upstream Color or not.

Kris (Seimetz) is tasered and drugged one evening after a late night at work. The kidnapper, known as The Thief (Martins), claims his head has the same element as the sun, so she can cannot directly look at him when she comes to. He puts her through these trials and tests keeping her in an alternate state of mind similar to hypnosis as she performs any task he commands her to do. Paranoia takes over and she realizes she has been invaded by some sort of worm as she sees it crawling around inside of her. She tries cutting it out on various parts of her body but is unsuccessful. A mysterious man, known as The Sampler (Sensenig), lures her to a remote area where she becomes the subject of a dangerous operation where he transfers the worm in Kris’ body to a pig. The pig is tagged with her name and info after the procedure is over. After the transfusion, Kris is back to her normal state of mind without any real knowledge of what happened to her. I am sure I have won over all of my readers by this description.

A year passes by and Kris meets Jeff (Carruth) on a train. We get the impression there is a connection between them, but we do not know what it is and what their exact relationship happens to be. Their continual run-ins lead to a passionate night and an eventual romance as they try to figure out what happened to them. Their individual memories, feelings, and emotions all seem to co-mingle and shift between each other as they desperately try to sort it all out and seek revenge on who did this to them.

The film is obscure, abstract, mysterious, and everything in between as you try to put the pieces together. Some may even call it pretentious. I typically find these film intriguing. If you are like me who tries to figure everything out, it may be hard to just shut your mind off and soak it all in. You will undoubtedly get fed up and disgruntled if you try to make sense out of everything Shane Carruth is throwing out you. Parasitic worms, pigs, special magical water, muted dialogue, mysterious characters, visual imagery, and metaphors are just some of the many items Carruth plays with to tell this story. It should also be noted that Henry David Thoreau's novel “Walden” plays a factor into it. Maybe if I had read "Walden" I would be able to connect all of those dots. Was does that say about a filmmaker if their work does not always speak for itself and instead you need another work to help interpret it? Maybe it is time I read this piece of classic literature as I feel like I have run into it numerous times this past year.

I could not help but think that Carruth seems to be inspired by Terrence Malick. Even my husband came in toward the end and said “This looks like The Tree of Life”. There are many moments and full scenes that are dialogue free but are led by the actions of the characters and the musical score behind it. Like some Malick films, there is a patience that is needed and a willingness to go along on this interesting ride where you have no idea where it is going. Upstream Color will not appeal to everyone, which is perfectly fine. Not everything is explained or laid out in front of you, but I was perplexed enough to want to give it another viewing.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Cate
Blanchett, Luke Evans, Ken Scott, Aidan Turner, Stephen Hunter

It was around this time last year that we were introduced to Peter Jackson's version of "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien.  The first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was hit with some hesitation and disapproval. The second part in this new trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, should hopefully bring some uptight fans back for more. Our fearless gang led by Gandalf the Wizard (McKellen), head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage), twelve more dwarves, and their "burglar" hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) are still on their adventure to the Lonely Mountain to obtain the white gem known as the Arkenstone and for Thorin to reclaim his position as the king of Erebor.

What stands in their way at the Lonely Mountain is the fire breathing dragon Smaug (voiced by Cumberbatch) who destroyed Erebor from the dwarves that called it home. It is their time to reclaim their kingdom. Their journey takes them through Milkwood and Esgaroth as they come face to face with the Orcs as well as being captured by the Elvenking Thranduil (Pace), who the dwarves have had a long feud with when he merely stood by and watched the destruction of their kingdom without offering help. Let us not forget that Bilbo is still in possession of the magical One Ring that he stole from the creature Gollum.

Let me just say first and foremost that this second part is a vast improvement from the first in The Hobbit trilogy. I should also state that I am a avid lover of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They rank as #6 in My Top 20 list. I think my passion for those films made me appreciate the new trilogy more so than your average moviegoer or someone that is not as invested in Tolkien's story. I can agree with some of the negative feedback and grumblings that the first one received. Jackson and fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro have expanded one story and made three movies out of it while The Lord of the Rings trilogy consisted of three movies from three separate books. I must admit that I have not read the book of "The Hobbit", so I go in not necessarily knowing where the film diverges from the story unless I have read rumblings from other fans. The character of the female elf Tauriel (Lilly) is completely made up for the movies.  While Legolas is a Tolkien character, he does not appear in this book. Even without having read the book, it is apparent that this aspect of the story is more fleshed out by Jackson and his writing team. I place no blame on Bloom or Lilly as they are quite good, but many of their segments make the film drag on at times. Lee Pace is fantastic as Elvenking Thranduil, but I am not quite sure we needed Legolas and Tauriel as well.

Despite some of the more meandering moments in the story, the writing team succeeds at raising the stakes a bit and letting the audience in on who some of these characters are. While the gang of dwarves seemed to blend in together in the first movie, their individualistic qualities come out to play here especially for Bombur (Hunter), Balin (Scott), and Kili (Turner) and we get to know what their roles are as part of the gang. Some may scoff at the romantic flirting that occurs between Kili and Tauriel. The film boasts some heightened actions sequences which is another plus as it brings the pace back up for the almost three hour movie. I am warning you now if you have a fear of spiders, but that sequence is one of the best in the movie.

The hype surrounding the film involves the creation and execution of Smaug. We get glimpses of him from the first film, but I sat eagerly anticipating his arrival throughout this movie. I am not really ruining anything by stating that Bilbo makes it to the Lonely Mountain and faces the diabolical dragon. Leave it to in demand actor Benedict Cumberbatch to breathe some life into him with the perfect maniacal tone. Peter Jackson had huge success with bringing Gollum to life, and he has done it again here with Smaug. The special effects and CGI animation for the character is stunning like so many other aspects of Jackson's attempt at bringing Tolkien's tale to the bring screen. The grandiose scale of Smaug and menancing fear he adds to the story brought me right back to that feeling I had when the T-Rex shows up in Jurassic Park. If you feel at all like the middle drags, you will perk right up with the arrival of Smaug as it kicks the story into high gear.

Jackson proves again what a visually stunning director he can be. The whole design of Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain in particular is stunning and a feast for anyone that loves the Tolkien universe. I appreciate that it seems he has built massive sets and sound stages for filming without feeling the need to over-CGI the movie to death, like certain Sam Raimi and Baz Luhrman films from earlier this year. Jackson has once again shot the film using the High Frame Rate of 48 frames per second. Not every theater can show it in this format, but you can definitely notice a difference in the picture quality. I do not know if I am more accustomed to it after viewing the first film in HFR, but it did not seem nearly as distracting this time around. Maybe Jackson and his crew knew how to work with it better on their second attempt with it. I will say that the 3D is quite gimmicky at times with arrows, bees, fire balls, and other objects that are constantly popping out of the screen. I am far too old for that cheap thrill. I would rather have the 3D enhance the world and picture by giving it dimension, not by cheap thrills. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug hopefully will bring naysayers from the first film right back into the series. We are getting back to some of that feeling of what made The Lord of the Rings trilogy so special.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, December 12, 2013



Here are the nominations for the 71st Golden Globe Awards brought to you by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Captain Phillips
3. Gravity
4. Philomena
5. Rush

1. Cate Blancett, Blue Jasmine
2. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
3. Judi Dench, Philomena
4. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
5. Kate Winslet, Labor Day

1. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
2. Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
3. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
4. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
5. Robert Redford, All is Lost

1. American Hustle
2. Her
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Nebraska
5. The Wolf of Wall Street

1. Amy Adams, American Hustle
2. Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
3. Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
4. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

1. Christian Bale, American Hustle
2. Bruce Dern, Nebraska
3. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
5. Joaquin Phoenix, Her

1. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
2. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
3. Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
4. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
5. June Squibb, Nebraska

1. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
2. Daniel Bruhl, Rush
3. Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
4. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
5. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

1. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
2. Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
3. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
4. Alexander Payne, Nebraska
5. David O. Russell, American Hustle

1. The Croods
2. Despicable Me 2
3. Frozen

1. Blue is the Warmest Color, France
2. The Great Beauty, Italy
3. The Hunt, Denmark
4. The Past, Iran
5. The Wind Rises, Japan

1. Spike Jonze, Her
2. Bob Nelson, Nebraska
3. Jeff Pope, Steve Coogan, Philomena
4. John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
5. Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell, American Hustle

1. Steven Price, Gravity
2. John Williams, The Book Thief
3. Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave
4. Alex Ebert, All is Lost
5. Alex Heffes, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

1. "Atlas", The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
2. "Let It Go", Frozen
3. "Ordinary Love", Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
4. "Please Mr. Kennedy", Inside Llewyn Davis
5. "Sweeter than Fiction", Once Chance

The 2014 Cecil B. DeMille Awards will be presented to Woody Allen

Make sure to tune in Sunday, January 12, 2014 to hear the winners.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013



1. 12 Years a Slave
2. American Hustle
3. August: Osage County
4. Dallas Buyers Club
5. Lee Daniels' The Butler

1. Bruce Dern, Nebraska
2. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
3. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
4. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
5. Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels' The Butler

1. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
3. Judi Dench, Philomena
4. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
5. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

1. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
2. Daniel Bruhl, Rush
3. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
4. James Gandolfini, Enough Said
5. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

1. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
2. Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
3. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
4. June Squibb, Nebraska
5. Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler

Any surprises or snubs? Happy to see some recognition for the late great James Gandolfini for his wonderful work in Enough Said. I am a bit surprised that The Wolf of Wall Street is nowhere on the list, especially for the all star cast, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Jonah Hill. Maybe screeners have not gone out yet...

Tune in to TNT or TBS on SATURDAY JANUARY 18 to find who who goes home with the coveted Actor.
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Friday, December 6, 2013

Movie Review: DELIVERY MAN

Director: Ken Scott
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Bobby Moynihan, Britt Robertson, Jack Reynor

It is not unheard of for a director to do a remake of his own work. Alfred Hitchcock did it with The Man Who Knew Too Much. Michael Haneke released two versions of Funny Games. Director Ken Scott's 2011 film Starbuck received pretty positive reviews and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. His follow-up to that is an exact remake to that film, but now stars Vince Vaughn and is renamed as Delivery Man. David Wozniak (Vaughn) is an incompetent, irresponsible, delivery man working for his family's meat market. He cannot seem to handle any task large or small that comes his way. He decides to start growing marijuana in his apartment because he owes $80,000 to some drug lords. He soon finds out his ex-girlfriend Emma (Smulders) is now pregnant. He sees this as the eye-opener he needs to get his life back together if she will let him back into her life.

To make matters even worse, David finds out that he has fathered 533 children after donating to a sperm bank in his twenties. He made his donations under the name "Starbuck" and now 142 of them have gathered together to form a class action lawsuit for his identity to be unveiled. He is handed a list of names, contact information, and pictures of these 142 children and attempts to meet them without them knowing who he is. He wants to do some sort of good samaritan deed as each of them seem to have problems or be in some sort of rut. He turns to his friend Brett (Pratt), a non-licensed lawyer, for help on his case who strongly objects to every step David is taking when dealing with his new predicament.

Right from the opening scene you see that David is not a great guy. He is that irresponsible slob that you just do not have time for or even care about. With Vince Vaughn playing him, he brings out that cocky jerk type quality he brings into every role. You have no sympathy whatsoever for the character as he keeps making these dumb decisions over and over again. His good deed attempts try to be genuine, but the script never allows us to fully get to know these new children that he is helping. We only get to know roughly six of them that each get their basic introduction scene when David meets them and then fade into the rest of the group after that. The overall writing seems poor and disjointed at times. There is a general wash of emotion from the children as they all feel the same way about David. They all want to meet him and as the story unfolds they all still continue to feel chummy and happy about him no matter what lies and deception he has told. You cannot tell me that each of them would all react the exact same way or that a few of them wouldn't be a little more pissed off than the others. The subplot of David owing $80,000 is unneeded and feels out of place the very few times we come back to it. It feels like an unnecessary plot device to just show him off as a deadbeat.

I kept wondering if this was supposed to be a comedy, a drama, a dramedy, or some sort of feel good inspirational movie. To put it frankly, I got a little bored at times. That is what happens when I do not really care about any of the characters. I have heard wonderful things about Starbuck. Much of this remake is a direct replica of that as Ken Scott wrote and directed both of them, so I am wondering how this one really missed the mark. You may be thinking that I truly hated this movie, but that is not the case. It will not even make my Worst of 2013 list. There are already five films on the list that are worse offenders. It has an interesting premise, and I enjoyed the concept of the good deeds he does for his children. I keep calling them children, but they are all in their twenties. There is potential here, but it all comes down to the execution of how we get to the point. This same story and idea could have been structured in a different way with better character development and more heart to have the audience feel a bit more sympathy for David or the children. I know it would have been far more enjoyable with a different actor as the title character.  I wonder what it would have been like with either Steve Carell or Adam Scott as David.  Instead of re-imagining this movie, maybe I should just head over to my Netflix streaming queue as Starbuck is available in that format.

RATING: ** (2 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, December 5, 2013


Director: Mark Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Dane DeHaan, Chris Cooper, Sally Field, Denis Leary

The 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man seemed a bit too soon to revitalize a franchise with a brand new cast. While I did not think the film was that strong overall, director Mark Webb and his cast did a decent job at setting the groundwork for some exciting new Spidey stories.

The new teaser trailer has been released and naturally is long enough and filled with enough footage that it feels like your standard trailer. The new film brings in Chris Cooper and Dane DeHaan as father/son duo Norman and Harry Osborn. Our villains this time around include Jamie Foxx as Electro and Paul Giamatti as Rhino. There also seems to be a glimpse of Green Goblin as well! From the look of this “teaser”, it will sure be one massive, high-octane, action packed adventure that will be huge at the box office

What are you first impressions? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!

Release Date: May 2, 2014

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Movie Review: PHILOMENA

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Peter Hermann, Sean Mahon

It was this same time last year that I was enamored with Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Skyfall. The grand dame is at it again with another exceptional performance to add to her long resume. I am hoping her role as Philomena Lee nabs her another Oscar nomination. Philomena (Clark) gets pregnant at a young age and is forced to deliver the baby at a Catholic abbey in Roscrea, Ireland. She is forced to live and work at the abbey with limited contact with her son, Anthony. When Anthony is three years old, he is sold with another girl to a young couple in the United States. Philomena is heartbroken at the loss of her child not knowing if she will ever see him again.

For the past fifty years, Philomena (Dench) has not stopped looking for her son. She opens up to her daughter Jane (Martin) about the son she was forced to give up as a young girl which she has kept a secret all these years. At a party Jane meets Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), a former BBC correspondent who was recently fired from his position in the Civil Service under Tony Blair. Martin is now a freelance writer who cannot seem to decide on his next project. Jane tells Martin about Philomena's story and the never-ending search for her son. Feeling pressured for work from his editor, he decides to take on this "human interest" story. Martin's interest in her story grows as their journey for her son continues and takes them from the Roscrea to Washington, DC.

When you have a movie like this that is based on a true story, the tone of the film is vital. Stephen Frears' (The Queen, Dangerous Liasons) sharp direction knows how to keep this story on point without ever reaching a sappy Lifetime "Made for TV Movie of the Week" feel to it. Coogan penned the screenplay which is adapted from Sixsmith's novel "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee". The script is poignant, heartfelt, and funny as it explores not only Philomena's search for her son, but the relationship between her and Martin. They are both two very different people with very different outlooks on life. He is an atheist who has become a tad bitter and pessimistic about life. Despite her hardships, she has a slightly naive, positive, cheery outlook on life. You can tell her past has made her a stronger person who still has faith in God and the church, which is hard for Martin to understand. There is a patience that Martin has to have with her when their journey first begins but they both have so much to learn from each other.

The words "Inspired by a true story" are mentioned at the beginning of the movie which usually means it is loosely taken from true events but the majority of the movie is made up for dramatic purposes. From what I have read and heard about this story, the film stays very close to what actually happened. Both Dench and Coogan were able to meet the real Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith so there is a care and truthfulness that is told to the story. Rumors of Dame Judi Dench retiring from acting made headlines last year when she announced she had macular degeneration. She has noted that she is no longer able to read scripts but balks at the idea of her retirement. Thank God! From what she has stated in interviews, Coogan read his entire script to her, and she accepted the part right after he was done reading it. There is a sweeter, more innocent side to Dench that comes across here. Since she is the master that she is, she makes it all look so effortless. Doing an Irish accent is not easy, and it flows beautifully from her. This is a departure for Coogan as he is known more for his comedy, yet he seems quite comfortable taking on a dramatic role especially opposite Dench.

I knew after I first saw the trailer that I was going to love this movie. I know I should not go into a movie with such grand expectations, but this is Judi Dench we are talking about. She is one of my acting goddesses. Throw in some Catholic nuns and Ireland and it felt like I was thrown right back into my childhood at a Catholic school. The nuns at my school did not seem nearly as harsh as these nuns as the era of cruel nun abuse at schools was over by the time I entered grade school. Philomena's story is fascinating and heartbreaking at times. It is hard not to get frustrated at the Catholic Church for their continual lies and deception. You hope that other families and mothers are able to find their children who were forced from them at an early age. Philomena Lee, who despite all of that, is able to show forgiveness and hold onto her faith. She is one hell of an inspiration.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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