I watch a lot of movies. Probably more than I should. Most of them are tortuously bad, and often incite dramatic rage deep within the bowels of my eternally creative, hopelessly underachieving self.
HOW could that have gotten made!?!? That CAN'T be the end! I could have shat out a better script passed out on a moldy cot in a Mexican hospital.
Those are all things I have said aloud to my cat after finishing a film and vat of popcorn on my couch. But I won't be bothering you with my opinions of the Netflix deep catalog. I am slightly more discriminating when I choose to see a movie at the theater, so here I will only review my big screen selections. And as a bonus, I will keep them short. Movie critics tend to be somewhat pretentious and wearisomely verbose; I promise to be only the former.
If however you would like to request a personal three sentence review of an older film, (of any genre), I'd be happy to write one for you. Chances are, I've seen it and have strong feelings about it. Just message me and I'll send it over pronto.
*Tyler Perry or Twilight films NOT included in this offer, or any offer of any kind from now until the Rapture.
Spike Jonze has taken us to many bizarre and curious alter-universes in the past, but this brief glimpse at a very near future feels more familiar than strange in more than one unsettling way. Among the slew of films made this past decade cautioning us to tread lightly through the minefield of rapidly advancing technology, this one stands out as the most poignant, authentic and perhaps plainly shocking of the bunch. See it because it's gorgeous; see it because Joaquin is one of the best actors alive; or see it because your phone is charging and you don't know what to do with yourself: but just see it.
You can't really go wrong with a Tom Hanks movie...well, you can, Larry Crowne was pretty nauseating. But most of the time, like Cruise and Denzel, he shows up early and puts in overtime, delivering exactly what you expected. Here, in a solid hostage negotiation action flick on the high seas that happens to be true, Hanks is on the top of his game confronting insanely realistic, limo-driving Somali pirates.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Fucking Coen Brothers man, they're so good it's annoying. Masters of sculpting surreal, mid-century noir pieces from the most peculiar corners of time, they hardly ever let you down. LLewyn represents one of their most finely crafted works in years: beautiful, rhythmic, frustrating and puzzling - everything we love about them.
August: Osage County
As far as family dysfunction goes, AOC reigns supreme. From incest and infidelity to cancer and alcoholism, this big screen adaption of Tracy Lett's Pulitzer Prize winning play opens all the bolted closets of this family's home, and does so with dazzling chaotic emotion and laser sharp dialogue. An insanely talented cast lead by a gracefully unhinged Meryl Streep make this one of the most intimately disturbing films of the year.
All is Lost
The way I see it, you're either intrigued by the idea of a nearly wordless movie with a single actor, a fuzzy backstory and essentially one set, or you're bored, maybe even angry by it. I fell into the former category, and was not only pleased, but thoroughly in awe of Redford's most earnest and believable performance in decades. And as a fan of well-executed ambiguous endings, I will say this one is as well crafted as they come.
An incredibly funny, fiendishly clever, somewhat true story of a bizarro FBI sting in the 70's aimed at bribe-hungry politicos. Some of the intricate plot's sharp turns are occasionally confusing, but you'll be too freaking entertained to give a shit. I literally can't remember the last time I've seen an entire cast throwing down their A-game all at once.
Steve Coogan, an underrated genius of comedy (The Trip, Coffee & Cigarettes), plays it more evenly here, bringing a subtle cynicism to a very true and emotional story of survival and guilt. Judi Dench plays the title character beautifully: a mother searching for her child who was essentially stolen from her by the church and sold to wealthy strangers in America while she and countless others sustained physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of those Irish nuns back home. It's peculiar how it often takes a Hollywood film for us to realize something as extensively cruel as Ireland's forced adoptions actually (and recently) occurred, but I guess it doesn't matter how we bring these things to light, just that we do.
Dallas Buyers Club
Bold, brazen and severe, this movie grabs you by the Bolo tie and never lets go. McConaughey and Leto destroy it on screen, thanks in part to a blazing script. But it's the overpowering, improbably true story underneath it all that elevates this chilling portrait of tenacity to what I believe is the year's best film, period.
There's something about small towns in the middle of this country that is hard to explain: an eerie, unspoken neglect of time and progress that hangs heavy in the air. Nebraska captures this stillness perfectly, while never missing a chance to color in the strange majestic canvas of the flyover states with humor and sincerity. I found it to be a quietly charming trip, and always kind of knew how it would end, but never quite wanted it to.
Wolf of Wall Street
There's nothing quite like a ride on the vintage Scorsese rise-and-fall-coaster; and Wolf is a beast right out of the gate. As usual, flamboyant montages and wry narration expertly guide you along this epic tour of greed and lust left unsupervised; but don't expect to learn anything you don't already know about how money poisons souls. After McConaughey's perfectly warped character exits, Jonah Hill does an astounding job of keeping this three hour monster alive.
This is the best looking movie I have ever seen about space; and unlike anything since Avatar, should be viewed in 3D for the gorgeous and crucial textural depth. As is the case with most beautiful people however, there isn't a tremendous amount of substance lurking underneath. That being said, the film performs its taut, one note symphony exceedingly well and earns and deserves every second of your attention and respect.
In a World
A long overdue nod to this niche corner of the industry. Despite being perhaps a bit overacted by both male antagonists, Lake Bell's very funny, award-winning screenplay and excellent ensemble are plenty strong enough to withstand it. Fans of Pablo Francisco's 'Little Tortilla Boy' should definitely see this.
The Spectacular Now
It's the authenticity in this film that will catch you off guard. Rarely do you notice the acting, and so it isn't long before you care, quite deeply for these characters. Parents take note: it's much easier to build a relationship than repair one.
The Way Way Back
Finally a coming-of-age story that doesn't rely on Kristen Stewart's hair flipping or Michael Cera's cringing. A well-acted, tightly-written, (from the pair that penned The Descendants), ensemble piece that all fits together like one ridiculous, sad, heartfelt, and most importantly, realistic portrayal of how people treat each other and what influence that can have. Super performances by a fermented Allison Janney and a genius Sam Rockwell, who undoubtedly is only inches away from that perfect role that will land him in the chair across from James Lipton.
Yeah I saw it, and I won't apologize for it either. I was shopping in the stupid mall all day and I wasn't anywhere near my favorite trio of indie theaters, (that's right in Philly we have 3 of them, and they're all right next to each other for some reason) so I went to see this. I'll tell you what, maybe it's just because my other choices were all shitty cartoons and aging super heroes, but I laughed pretty hard about a half dozen times - and that my friends is worth every penny of my fraudulently discounted admission with an out-of-state student ID from 1999.
The Bling Ring
If you really want a glimpse of the melancholy tedium that makes up the DNA of celebrity fame, I would turn to Sophia's Coppola's shrewd and compelling Somehwere or even her more wistful Lost in Translation instead. The story here moves along nicely, if not redundantly, and is particularly interesting when it's not doing much. There are a few moments of that eerily gorgeous cinematography we've come to associate with her films, but unfortunately not much else worth marveling at that isn't already in the very good Vanity Fair article which inspired this movie.
I've been following these two wandering, wondering, hopeful romantics since they first met as strangers on a train somewhere in the nineties. I've always liked the idea of their story, and find each of their meetings enchanting in its own way. In case you don't know, this is part 3 of a trilogy that was both shot and set nine years apart; each stands alone comfortably as a brief snapshot of serendipitous romance and the often beguiling promise of idealism.
The Great Gatsby
I don't think high schoolers should have to read about Jay, Daisy or Nick anymore. To fully understand this ambitious film, the precocious novel or the eponymous hero of both, you have to be at least pushing 30. Melancholy, infatuation, self-delusion or the utter devastation of corrupted dreams won't make any sense if you haven't lived long enough to have a past; neither will the legendary last line.
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's
It's a documentary about an obscenely lavish department store in Manhattan. My wife made me watch it. I enjoyed it, if not just for another chance to see Karl Lagerfeld politely answer questions with studded leather fingerless gloves on.
Part WALL-E, part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and part the unmade sequel to Independence Day, Oblivion constantly feels like it's either missing something or is just simply the back story of a film that we never really wanted to know. Beautifully shot, mostly in Iceland, it's smooth, precision-contoured textures are certainly gorgeous to look at. What falls flat here unfortunately is Morgan Freeman's mailed-in performance, the seemingly forced Kubrick ambiguity piled on at the end, and to be honest Cruise's Scientology vibes emanating from his furrowed brow were extra strong this time.
These stories about emotionally immature, quasi-independent women who don't know what to do with themselves other than mope, philosophize, or run down crowded city sidewalks barefoot in vintage dresses with their eyes closed listening to the Fleet Foxes in their head, are getting tiresome. They're not artsy, funny, or even remotely cute anymore. Regarding any similarity to HBO's Girls; the film borrows one of its actors, is set in NYC apartments, stars a few celebrity daughters and of course Greta Gerwig, who is essentially the only person who can play awkward better than Lena Dunham - so yeah.
Venus & Serena
At times this behind-the-scenes look at the lives of the most successful and polarizing sisters in the history of sport feels like it belongs on the Oxygen network. That kind of fluff is welcome though, as this portrait was intended to reveal a vulnerable, human side to those indomitable merciless machines we often see decimating stunned challengers on the court. This film is about understanding, and understanding them and their extraordinary tenaciousness is to love them.
Matthew McConaughey has been taking off his shirt in movies for over 20 years, and that's a cold fact we all just have to deal with. In Jeff Nichols' outstanding Southern tale of suspicion, friendship and revenge, it actually has rich meaning when he does it. You'll enjoy every minute our titular character is on screen; and in a film that feels like Huck Finn and Stand By Me wandered onto Cape Fear, the brilliant directing will mesmerize you when he's not.
Olympus Has Fallen
John McClane is played by Gerard Butler, the White House stands in for Nakatomi Plaza and an impressively boring Korean man snoozes his way through a sterile Hans Gruber impression. Repackaged for stimulus-starved, attention-deficient millennials, this big budget waste of time feels like a dollar store knockoff of your favorite brand. And if the lazy, tired premise wasn't enough to offend you, the grand finale features a frantic scramble to punch in the deactivation code of a ticking bomb, which of course counts all the way down to 1 second - just how long it takes you to forget about this trash heap.
Zero Dark Thirty
In the days following 9-11, I made a bet with an old friend that we would find, capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden within 10 years. He wagered it would take much longer, possibly never. Though I felt a kind of vindicated relief to win the bet with only a few months to spare, there was hardly any respite from the foul, angry sadness dredged up by this gripping recount of the events leading up to the most deserved execution of modern times.
You know what happens here. Spielberg does that thing where he delivers you to a meticulously crafted snapshot in time, sprinkles in a few billion production dollars, hires a handful of elite actors to shout and grimace their way through internal struggles, adds a majestic sprawling score to accent every scene, and stamps it a classic before it even hits the screens. We almost always love it, hardly ever complain and only occasionally wonder if he is cinema's Antichrist.
Life of Pi
Simple as Aesop, this tale sneaks up on you just like one of his fables. Distinctions between morality and religion are hard to pinpoint here, but gorgeous, clean visuals and Avatar-impressive digital effects are not. You may somehow know less about things after watching this film, but often when that happens, it's a gift.
The controversy swirling around Tarantino's graphic depiction of the treatment of 19th century deep south slaves is both unwarranted and unfortunate. Here, the master of cathartic revenge fantasies is firing on all cylinders; gleefully churning out a full-blown, bat-shit crazy thrill ride that is both captivating and exhilarating -- and often as insanely funny as Basterds. If you can't respect a guy who can sublimely transform the atrocities of Nazi's and slavery into legitimate, hard-rocking, laugh-out-loud entertainment, then you should probably just quit life - it won't get any better for you.
Remember the tsunami that killed fifty trillion people like ten years ago? No, not the Japan one that had its own Youtube channel - the one at that beautiful island resort where they filmed that horrendous Leo DiCaprio movie that took a dump at the box office because it followed Titanic? Well anyhow, in this excruciatingly realistic thriller, we follow one particular vacationing family surf that merciless hell ride (The wave, not The Beach) all the way to its bittersweet end.
Matt Damon is so likable, John Krasinski even more so. Put them together in bucolic western PA, throw in the always perfect Frances Mcdormand and gosh, you could tell any story you want and we'll happily watch. At least until you pull the rug out from under our work boots at the end and topple that idyllic little Jenga tower of morals we've quietly been building for the last two hours.
Silver Linings Playbook
An honest, grounded, eye-level look at the faces of some overlooked and misunderstood mental illnesses that have become so pervasive in our modern lives. A family so desperately struggles to hold themselves and each other together as sanity unravels at practically every seam. There's an Edvard Munch Scream in all of us, and here is a film that will free yours.
Joaquin brings the fierceness and intensity to this party like a boss. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I'm not even sure is a real person anymore, oversees it all like some kind of supreme acting Lord. The problem is, I'm not sure all of its brilliance adds up to anything more than another beautiful, subversively complex dream from the Sandman himself, P.T Anderson.
Don't ever take anything belonging to Liam Neeson. He will find you. And he will kill you.
This is 40
If you generally enjoy the breezy, clever worlds that Judd Apatow creates, where awkward intimacy and witty dialogue reign supreme, than this one will not disappoint. Fans of his have come to expect some familiar ingredients in his recipes, and that's not always a bad thing. Bring pop culture references to a boil, sprinkle in a couple of unrealistically lucrative cool jobs, a de rigueur fart scene, a few nipples and some awfully cute kids, and they'll be back again next time, with bells on.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Never mind Daniel Day Oscar-Snatcher, Bill Murray plays FDR here with more than enough finesse and muted charm needed to play one of our greatest leaders in history. The movie, based on a true story, zeros in on our paralyzed, philandering, and artfully manipulative president as he entertains King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who are visiting his home for the weekend. The King is there to convince the US to join the war, Bill is there to show us why he's so much more than just an indie cult hero.
I'll just put it out there right now - right out in the open for all to see: I like Tom Cruise, and the movies that he's in. Sure, many of them are ridiculous and defy all sets of conventional logic, but in them he's almost always entertaining and on point. This one falls somewhere in between Minority Report and Collateral, and despite Werner Herzog's distracting performance as an overtly cliched, one-eyed Russian villain who makes people eat their own fingers, it manages to move along at a brisk clip.
Denzel saves dozens of lives when he literally flips the script on a doomed airliner and averts a major disaster in his typically cool, unnaturally confident style. Problems arise when peeps find out he was banging out lines, screwdrivers and stewardesses before the plane took off. Solid acting up front (and throughout the supporting cast), coupled with a good soundtrack keep this beast aloft, right up until the house of cards inevitably comes crashing down.
I want to hate Ben Affleck, I really do. But after The Town, Gone Baby Gone and now this - little Benny Bostonpants has really proven himself behind the camera. This highly dramatized version of a hostage rescue mission disguised as a low-budget Star Wars ripoff is great from start to (its almost self-parodying) finish.
James Bond gets killed in the first 10 minutes of the movie. Not sure if this was meant to fool anyone except the black man in the Ravens Starter jacket and wool cap sitting next to me who shouted out loud "OHHHH SNAAAAPPPP" while physically jolting in his seat and spilling half his popcorn. The rest of the movie is a bit darker and moodier than your standard issue 007, but the melancholy introspection, delightfully unhinged Javiar Bardem and unexpected back story make this feel like an all around fun outing on an otherwise gloomy day.
Angst, awkwardness, death and abuse all get whipped up with some great music into a strange but familiar custard that we're never sure if we really like, but still want seconds of. To the relief of fans everywhere, the guy who penned the very popular adolescent cult classic novel the movie is based on also directed, produced and wrote the screenplay. So that might at least cut down on the number of indie scenesters you have to karate punch in the throat who say "the book was sooo much better."
There are enough logistical conundrums and time travel paradoxes here to keep your brain occupied for way past the 2 hour runtime. As engaging as that is, it's also Looper's potential weakness. Basically what's happening here is Inception meets Back to the Future and they go out to buy drugs from Memento and somehow everyone gets date raped by The Terminator.