Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce; based on the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, Jason Clarke as George Wilson, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker
Running time: 2 hours 23 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1343092/
Plot: In 1920s New York, Nick Carraway relates the story of his friendship with the mysterious, lovelorn Jay Gatsby.
If the Jazz Age was all about excess, then what better director to adapt its greatest novel than Baz Luhrmann? The man behind Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet is all about the shimmy and sparkle. Adapting The Great Gatsby, he gets to indulge his wild visual style while finally approaching something like a serious drama. Well, sort of.
Director: Rodney Ascher
Cast: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Buffy Visick, Jay Weidner
Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2085910
Plot: Obsessive fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining expound on their theories about the film’s “real” meanings.
Superficially, Room 237 is about the elaborate responses some fans have had to Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining. But it’s really about the way conspiracy theorists think. The combination of intelligence, obsessiveness and insecurity that causes people to believe they possess secret knowledge is the real story behind Rodney Ascher’s documentary, in which he allows a handful of…..let’s say “unique” characters to expound upon their ideas regarding the real meaning of Kubrick’s classic.
A discussion of book-to-film adaptations, plus I review The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The Call, Admission & Happy People.
Director: Don Scardino
Writers: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Cast: Steve Carell as Burt Wonderstone, Jim Carrey as Steve Gray, Steve Buscemi as Anton Marvelton, Olivia Wilde as Jane, Alan Arkin as Rance Holloway, James Gandolfini as Doug
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0790628/
Plot: When his longtime stage partner walks out, Vegas illusionist Burt Wonderstone tries to stage a solo comeback, despite competition from “extreme” magician Steve Gray.
Can my love for Steve Carell cancel out my dislike of any Jim Carrey movie that doesn’t have “Truman,” “Moon” or “Eternal” in the title? That’s the question I faced walking into Burt Wonderstone. I still haven’t seen Bruce Almighty because of this very dilemma.
Much to my pleasant surprise, Carrey isn’t in this movie much, and his character could honestly have been written out altogether. As Steve Gray, a sort of Criss Angel-esque stunt performer, Carrey pops in once in a while to say something weird and make a face. Then, the focus shifts back to Carell, Buscemi, Arkin and a surprisingly funny Wilde.
Published at KCActive.com on February 8th, 2013
It’s a good thing MGM went bankrupt. If it hadn’t, the James Bond series might have gotten stuck in the creative rut that was Quantum of Solace. The bankruptcy gave 007’s handlers time to write a real script for Skyfall and make sure it lived up to the standard set by star Daniel Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale.
It does that, and then some. Skyfall may not be the best Bond movie of all time, but it’s definitely in the top five. The plot, involving a cyber-terrorist (Javier Bardem) endangering MI-6’s agents, is slightly more linear than most Bond narratives, although if you’re still trying to untangle the
se things after 50 years, you should re-evaluate your priorities. What matters are the great action scenes, the colorful supporting characters, and how good 007 looks in a suit.
Director Sam Mendes is best known for smaller, more personal films like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, but he acquits himself spectacularly here. He stages the kind of set pieces we’ve all come to expect (the Shanghai sequence is the best), but he also gives the film a calmer, more focused feel than usual. Ironically, that seems to help the more amped-up scenes — they’re easier to appreciate when you’re not annoyed/worn out by jittery camera work and bad editing.
The attempts at humor and emotional backstory don’t always work, and the only interesting female character is Judi Dench’s formidable M. But those are minor quibbles compared to the sheer fun of watching Skyfall. Maybe more studios should go belly-up every few years. It can do wonders for a franchise.
Extras: Four making-of features on the standard DVD, with several more on the Blu-Ray; Blu-Ray also has commentaries by Mendes, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and production designer Dennis Gassner; premiere footage. (PG-13) Rating: 4 – LL
After making gazillion dollars with his Madea plays and films, Tyler Perry has decided to branch out into serious roles, written and directed by others. With this rebooted adaptation of James Patterson’s crime novels, Perry succeeds in not embarrassing himself, but that’s about it.
Going back to its title character’s Detroit roots, Alex Cross pits the psychologist and detective against a twitchy, torture-loving madman (Matthew Fox). As the bad guy threatens the people he loves, Cross uses his considerable deductive skills to track the man down.
Perry and Ed Burns (playing Alex’s partner) do their best work in the movie’s quieter moments, where they have a likable buddy-cop rapport, and moments of real emotion are allowed to play out. Those scenes are few and far between, thanks to director Rob Cohen (XXX), whose response to every storytelling dilemma is “blow something up!” He can’t even use a location like the old Michigan Theatre ruins effectively — the climactic fight takes place there, but it’s so dark and hyperactive, there’s no way to really see what’s going on.
Fox seems to take his director’s style to heart, hamming it up to an alarming degree. When the man who played Madea is the subtle one, you know you’ve got a problem.
Perry could probably continue playing Cross in future installments, but he’ll need a much better director to make this work in the long term. Either that, or the studio could just turn these into full-on dumb action movies, and dispense with the drama entirely. It won’t make them any better, but at least everyone will know what they’re getting into.
Extras: Commentary by Cohen; a feature on the adaptation process; deleted scenes. (PG-13) Rating: 2 – LL
Director & Writer: Jonathan Levine; based on the book by Isaac Marion
Cast: Nicholas Hoult as R, Teresa Palmer as Julie, Analeigh Tipton as Nora, John Malkovich as Gen. Grigio, Rob Corddry as M, Dave Franco as Perry
Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1588173/
Plot: In the aftermath of the apocalypse, a young zombie called R falls in love with human survivor Julie, awakening his own humanity and that of his fellow “corpses”
If you randomly edited The Walking Dead, Twilight and (500) Days of Summer together, then squinted really hard, you might approximate the experience of watching Warm Bodies. Its singular weirdness makes it stand out among the usual generic offerings that crowd the multiplex this time of year (quick – who can tell the difference between the new Stallone movie and the new Schwarzenegger movie?).
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal; based on a true story
Cast: Jessica Chastain as Maya, Jason Clarke as Dan, Kyle Chandler as Joseph Bradley, Jennifer Ehle as Jessica, Harold Perrineau as Jack, Reda Kateb as Ammar
Running time: 2 hours 37 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1790885/
Plot: A determined team of CIA operatives spends a decade pursuing leads on the whereabouts of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden
The day before Zero Dark Thirty opened in Kansas City, the Oscar nominations were announced. While the film, lead actress Jessica Chastain, and screenwriter Mark Boal were included on the list, director Kathryn Bigelow was not. Speculation began almost immediately that this was because of controversy surrounding the film’s depiction of torture in CIA interrogations. Of course, that didn’t prevent all those other nominations. So is Bigelow being singled out, or is this just a byproduct of the limited number of slots in each category (something the Academy needs to fix, pronto)?
Best and worst for the year, plus reviews (from me) of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, This Is 40, Les Misérables, Django Unchained & The Impossible.
Published at KCActive.com on December 7th, 2012
The marketing for Hope Springs makes it look like a comedy, but don’t be fooled. While it contains plenty of humorous moments, this is a serious film about the difficulty in reviving a stagnant relationship.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play Kay and Arnold, whose long marriage has become a hell of routine and detachment. At least it’s hell for Kay – Arnold is completely unaware of any problem. In a last-ditch attempt to get her husband’s attention, Kay books a trip to the town of Hope Springs, where Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) runs a renowned counseling clinic. Arnold is a jerk through the early part of the sessions, but as he realizes he may actually lose his life partner, he begins to see that he and Kay really do need help.
Much has rightly been made of the performances in Hope Springs. It’s a given that Streep will be wonderful in any role she tackles, including that of an otherwise bland housewife, and she gives Kay touching emotional depth. Jones is playing a variation on his usual grouchy persona, but he also reveals more vulnerability than he’s shown onscreen in years, if ever. Anyone who has been in a long relationship, or knows someone who has (and let’s face it, that’s pretty much everyone), will recognize these characters and sympathize with even their most difficult qualities.
Carell is the real revelation here, playing it completely straight as the understanding therapist. Dr. Feld is never the script’s focus, but his presence is a comforting counterpoint to the many awkward moments between Arnold and Kay. Director David Frankel is known for light fare like The Big Year and The Devil Wears Prada, but he handles the drama in Vanessa Taylor’s script extremely well. Hope Springs may not be groundbreaking cinema, but it says important things about the nature of long-term relationships, and does so with warmth and wit.
Extras: Commentary by Frankel; several making-of features; alternate scenes; a gag reel. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 - LL
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is either brave, crazy, suicidal, or a combination of all three. In a country where dissent is a crime, Ai speaks boldly against the government’s treatment of its citizens, and has become world-famous for doing so.
Alison Klayman’s documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry offers both a biography and a fly-on-the-wall look at Ai’s provocative artistry. He doesn’t get overly emotional, but he does get passionate, especially when he sees harm done to everyday citizens.
Klayman zeroes in on Ai’s attempts to draw attention to the number of children killed in shoddily constructed schools during a 2008 earthquake. He literally flips off symbols of oppression (like Tiananmen Square) then sends the photos around the world, to the delight of his fans and the dismay of the government.
Ai has been doing this sort of thing throughout his career, earning constant harassment from Chinese authorities. His fame protects him somewhat, but his apparent fearlessness remains astonishing. When he’s beaten by police, he doesn’t stay quiet – he files aggressive, formal complaints, bringing cameras with him everywhere. He’s been criticized, in fact, for making himself the focus of his art, and there may be some truth to that. But when he literally risks his life exposing the misdeeds of a massive, powerful government, you can see that this self-aggrandizing eccentric is also a true patriot who loves his country, if not its leaders.
Extras: Commentary by Klayman; deleted scenes; filmmaker interviews. (R) Rating: 4 - LL
I’m not doing a Top Ten Movies list this year, because everyone does them and mine won’t be much different. Instead, I’d like to share the individual scenes that made being a critic worthwhile for me in 2012. This list doesn’t cover every great movie I saw – I loved Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, several documentaries, even (gods help me, I can’t believe I’m saying this) Les Misérables, but I can’t name a specific scene from any of them that plugged into my brain the way the ones below did.
So here’s my very personal list, in alphabetical order. There are probably spoilers, but you should see these movies, anyway:
Go to www.kcfcc.org to see the full list of this year’s winners
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Guillermo del Toro; based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien
Cast: Martin Freeman & Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, Ken Stott as Balin, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, William Kircher as Bifur, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, Dean O’Gorman as Fili, Aidan Turner as Kili, John Callen as Oin, Peter Hambleton as Gloin, Jed Brophy as Nori, Mark Hadlow as Dori, Adam Brown as Ori, Andy Serkis as Gollum, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Sylvester McCoy as Radagast, Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
Running time: 2 hours 49 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903624/
Plot: Sixty years before The Lord of the Rings, happily respectable hobbit Bilbo Baggins finds himself on a dangerous quest with 13 dwarves and the legendary wizard, Gandalf.
There are two versions of me reviewing Peter Jackson’s latest trip to Middle-earth. One is the proud geek who became an obsessive J.R.R. Tolkien fan after seeing Jackson’s movie of The Fellowship of the Ring. The other is the professional film critic of 15+ years whose job is to analyze every cinematic effort I see (whether I really want to or not).
I didn’t get to review it for The Star, but I did get to provide a little Nerd 101
December 6, 2012
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
Thirty years after her death, Alma Reville is still overshadowed by her husband. That’s not just a crack about Alfred Hitchcock’s famously round profile, either. Reville was married to “Hitch” for more than five decades and was his screenwriter, editor and all-around creative partner, something he acknowledged and appreciated openly. Yet, when the spotlight finally shines on her in Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock — in the form of Helen Mirren, no less — she can’t even get her name in the title.
She’s the best thing about the movie, too.