Sci-Fi and Survival Abound in Fall Film Offerings, Out Now

Posted on | November 10, 2013 | 1 Comment

Sandra Bullock in Gravity (2013)Before Gravity opened on October 4, this year was seeming like another rather ho-hum year for movies, after the very good year for cinema of 2012. But perhaps this sudden flood of great movies should be expected; after all it is awards season. So far, I’ve seen three fall films: Gravity, Robert Redford boating drama All Is Lost, and sci-fi book adaption Ender’s Game. Sci-fi and survival seems to be the current trend in movies, because all three films focus on staying alive under the hardest circumstances and/or jaw-dropping special effects with a dash of scientific smarts. Here are my takes on these three films.

Alfonso Cuaron’s stunning science-fiction masterpiece, Gravity, is one of those films that comes along every so often and simply blows your mind. It’s incredible, beautiful, thrilling haunting, and full of heart; not to mention special effects filled set pieces that you’ll be replaying in your head for weeks. The premise here is fairly basic: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first trip to the moon. Leading her mission is seasoned space vet Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). Everything is going fine when, you guessed it, things start to go wrong. Debris hits, the shuttle is destroyed, and Stone and Kowalsky are separated. As Dr. Stone tries to find safety, a deadly survival adventure begins.

A chaotic space disaster in Gravity (2013)The genius of Gravity is how Cuaron takes this standard disaster movie plot and turns it into a riveting contemplation on life, death, and letting others go. Clooney is funny and likable but he’s basically playing, well, George Clooney The Astronaut. The real surprise here is Bullock, who, as our inexperienced protagonist, gains our sympathy and hope from a brilliant performance. Oscar is sure to come calling.

Gravity is a must-see movie. A must see movie on the big screen. If you didn’t catch it in IMAX 3-D, try just the 3-D, which is probably the most gorgeous, terrifying, and brilliant use of the medium to date. In fact, all of the visual effects are beautiful from the opening pan over Earth to the more showy spacecraft explosions. With awe-inspiring spectacle, terrific performances, and a dazzlingly flawless script, this is truly the best movie of the year so far. From conception to cinema, it took 6 years for Cuaron to make this masterpiece. But trust me, it was worth it. Gravity reminds us of the power of life. And the power of the movies. 5 Stars

Robert Redford fights the ocean in All Is Lost (2013)Another tense adventure, All Is Lost stars Robert Redford as a nameless guy in his mid-70s on a simple boating adventure. When his 39-foot yacht hits an abandoned shipping container and his boating electronics lose power, he must use his tools, his books, and his will to survive against all odds.

Redford is quite good as the only character in the film and his near-wordless performance is harrowing, beautiful, and achingly amazing. But apart from some truly spectacular moments, I can’t say this is the “performance of a lifetime” acting showcase that most critics have been raving about. In fact, I’d prefer the witty daredevil character type that Redford perfected in classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting over the brooding, elderly everyman we get here.

But the film’s big problem is director J. C. Chandor (Margin Call), who does just an okay job with the script. We know nothing about the only character in the film and most of the running time consists of Redford being tossed around his boat. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of greatness. The cinematography is ravishing, the scenery is terrific, and Redford’s breakdown moment is truly affecting. But these stronger elements can’t save the film from feeling a little bit empty… and occasionally lost. 3 Stars

Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield in Ender's GameEnder’s Game, the young adult sci-fi adventure based on the classic 1977 novel by Orson Scott Card, is a surprisingly good film. The first reason is the high caliber cast of Oscar all-stars including Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfield, and Abigail Breslin. These performances vary from slightly laughable to totally enjoyable, bit parts to major characters, but everyone is a blast to watch. Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield plays Ender, a boy who’s a cunning genius at military tactics and battle commands. He must train to lead an army of kid soldiers against an imminent attack by the evil aliens called Formics who almost destroyed the human race long ago.

Battle Room thrills in Ender's Game (2013)Director Gavin Hood keeps the story interesting thanks to a smart script and eye-popping special effects. The sequences inside the zero-gravity training environment, The Battle Room, are worth the ticket price alone. When Ender first steps into the room, I got a sense of “I haven’t seen that one before” magic. The film isn’t flawless, however. Thirty-six years after the book was published, the story isn’t really anything new and the movie occasionally drags. But Ender’s Game is still a worthwhile thrill-ride with a smart script and gorgeous visuals that make it worth seeing. 4 Stars

Well, that’s it for now! Expect an early Oscar race analysis soon…

2013 Summer Wrap-up Video (Flick + Flack)

Posted on | September 2, 2013 | 1 Comment

Flick and Flack discuss the highs and lows of Summer Movies 2013. It’s been a (mostly) great summer for film but now it’s time to say so long to the backup singers, comic book superheroes, and other characters that had us riveted at the movies. Goodbye summer, hello fall movie season….

Quick Takes On Summer Releases (Flack’s Article)

Posted on | August 30, 2013 | 1 Comment

Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, and Jacob Lofland in Mud (2013)Here’s a quick wrap-up post on five films I’ve seen this summer but haven’t yet reviewed. They’ve been out for a little while but some are definitely worth seeking out.

Jo Lawry, Judith Hill, and Lisa Fischer in 20 Feet From Stardom20 Feet From Stardom: 4 1/4 Stars (Limited release, on DVD soon): You know their voices but not their faces. That’s basically the concept of this fascinating documentary about back up singers (many African-American women) for artists like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Sting, the Talking Heads, Lou Reed, and many more. The women spill the secrets of being a back-up singer and even discuss more wide ranging topics about the music industry. The movie’s funny, insightful, fun, and a good time. Just like listening to your favorite song, you’ll never get tired of this one.

Shark v.s. man in Kon Tiki (2013)Kon Tiki 4 Stars (Limited Release, on DVD soon): A good ol’ fashioned adventure in an age where everything exciting must be out of this world.  The film tells the true story of Thor Heyerdahl, as he leads a small crew of fellow men on a balsa wood raft to cross the 4,300 miles of the Pacific and prove South Americans settled in Polynesia during pre-Columbian times. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have a particularly strong eye for action and have a real sense of location. They’re slightly less talented in the story department; some scenes are too long, others too repetitive. In the lead role, Pål Sverre Hagen is a bit wooden. But for the most part this is a wildly entertaining survival story with depth, seamlessly realistic special effects, and a thrilling shark sequence that makes the film worth seeing alone.

Alexi Denisof and Amy Acker in Much Ado About Nothing (2013)Much Ado About Nothing 2 1/2 Stars (Limited Release, On DVD soon): Joss Whedon’s black and white remix of Shakespeare’s comedy classic tries to be modern and old fashioned, hilarious and solemn. It ends up as an incoherent mess saved by some talented actors. The main problem is that Whedon misunderstands Shakespeare; he directs the early scenes with zero- interest in the source material. Whedon also doesn’t have a clear vision of his interpretation: it’s neither a home movie nor a professional film, and some scenes have a comic fizz while others reek of pretentious melodrama. Luckily, the third act has more comedic energy and dramatic importance than the rest of the film. For the most part you can give the thanks to Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, as Benedick and Beatrice. Unlike their weaker co-stars, the two have the gusto of stage veterans and the timing of stand-up comedians. They deserve to be stars. There are other strokes of brilliance (some unforgettable slapstick, some fabulous dialogue, beautiful cinematography). But for the most part, the rest of the film lacks the two leads’ energy.

Tye Sheridan in Mud (2013)Mud (Limited Release, Now on DVD) 4 1/4 Star: This Southern drama is part romance, part thriller, and part coming of age story. Thanks to the capable hand of director Jeff Nichols, all the parts turn out incredible.  The cast is phenomenal: Matthew McConaughey gives a hauntingly commanding standout performance as the title character, but it’s Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, as two teens vowing to help Mud escape the law and reunite with his girlfreind, who steal the show. The rest of the cast is dominated by terrific character actors including Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon (playing against type), and Michael Shannon. This is exactly what a movie should be: moving, exciting, and funny. The film had a small release, but you won’t want to miss it on DVD and iTunes.

A robot falls down to earth in Pacific Rim (2013)Pacific Rim 3 Stars (Wide Release, On DVD Later This Fall): I don’t mid a rock-em sock-em action movie that tries to be just that. But Guillermo Del-Toro’s robots v.s. monsters epic (Jaegars vs. Kaju, if we’re getting technical) is overly pretentious. It tries to have soul and character, and sometimes does, but you can feel Del-Toro is fighting between his film-making smarts and the 8 year old mindset that’s required for this type of film. If only he had given in to the 8 year old. Instead, we’re left with some strong material: admittedly cool action, a bit more character development than you’d expect. But there’s also some weak stuff; for example, while the cool action scenes are fun to watch once or twice, the battles have are derivative of each other. Alas, the film feels like a B-movie with some extra heart.

Well that’s it! If these films have left theaters near you, seek them out on iTunes and other streaming/renting devices. Enjoy your the end of another summer at the movies!

The Summer So Far (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | June 21, 2013 | Add Comments

Summer Movie Season 2013Summer Movie Season 2013 has seen spectacular highs and shattering lows, even though it’s only half way over! I’ve seen three summer blockbusters already, but haven’t written a review of any of them. So here’s a triple review comparing the disappointing but original Iron Man 3, the thrillingly wonderful Star Trek Into Darkness, and the letdown epic Man of Steel.

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3
Rating: 3 Reels

Let’s start off with Iron Man 3, Marvel’s latest attempt at a mega-hit superhero flick (don’t worry they succeeded). Shane Black replaces Jon Favereau as director which was NOT a good idea. The movie has less laughs than we’ve come accustomed to and it’s by far the darkest of the Iron Man trilogy with onscreen deaths, disturbing fight scenes, and massive explosions. Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark with the usual mix of hilarity, sarcasm, and witty one liners. He’s fantastic, as is the rest of the cast. But it’s basically a one man show with Tony traveling from point A to point B and killing bad guy one and bad guy two, etc. The movie is uneven, over violent, and poorly executed. The plot is mediocre and though we do get the bang for our buck (or something like 14 bucks if you see it in IMAX 3-D) we don’t get much story. But three quarters into the film something crazy happens. A twist. Out of the blue, the film turns a corner and shocks us with it’s best moment. It defies the advertisements that have had us thinking one way and…Well I won’t spoil it but I’ll just say this; it’s SHOCKING. And in this world of trailers that give everything away, that means awesome.

Chris Pine and Karl Urban in Star Trek Into DarknessStar Trek Into Darkness
Rating: 4 1/4 Reels

J. J. Abram’s latest installment in his reboot of the Star Trek series, titled Star Trek Into Darkness, is a whirlwind moviegoing roller coaster. After a chase scene on another planet, we’re thrust into the latest Trek adventure: a one man war against the entire U.S.S. Enterprise crew (Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, and more) led by James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). The “one man” in question is John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mysterious evildoer with suspicious morale. The cast is phenomenal because they’re more comfortable with their roles; sure some supporting characters are a bit too, er, supporting but everyone gets their moment. And the leads are incredible: Saldana and Pine are well cast but it’s Zachary Quinto as Spock who really steals the show. He’s essentially as central a character as Kirk, plus he gets all of the best wisecracks and fight scenes. Cumberbatch is also amazing thanks to an intensity that’s plain undescribable. The story is simple but effective and occasionally touching. The best thing about it is that it’s entertaining: exhilarating, yes but also hilarious and fun. But the film’s not perfect. The previously mentioned opening chase scene comes to mind: instead of starting where Kirk and fellow crew member Bones are about to steal the map they’re looking for, Abrams begins when they’re already running from baddies. However movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark take their time to set the stage before the action. Abrams, meanwhile, is all payoff. He directs with a sharp intensity and a knack for elaborate spectacle.  Sure all the action sequences are pulse poundingly sweat inducing (especially in IMAX 3-D where I saw it) and this is all well and good but sometimes he could have paused for a conversation scene that’s not right in the middle of a battle. Sure it’s flawed, but this is nearly everything you could want in a summer popcorn action flick.


Superman flies in Man of SteelMan of Steel
Rating: 2 Reels

Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie, has a lot going for it. The film has a likable star in Henry Cavill, some thrilling trailers, an excellent supporting cast, and the producer of what many call the greatest superhero film of all time. However I’m sorry to report that they’ve failed. Badly. It opens with with an incredibly realized Krypton sequence which is way too long. Do we really need two intense fight scenes before Superman/Clark Kent is even out of the crib? No, but we get them, all right. And despite a few expertly crafted moments, the only scenes that have much impact are the flashbacks to Clark’s early life. And then, BACK TO THINGS BLOWING UP ALOT, ALOT, ALOT!!! The film is dragged on for almost an hour too long, thanks to overblown battle sequences that are cut between different shots so fast you can’t even tell what’s going on. Director Zack Snyder would probably be a master at making video games but that skill set really doesn’t work here. In fact, the whole movie feels like a video game that you don’t control: dead characters guide living ones around, there’s objects that must be found, there are flashbacks to explain what’s going on, and, most of all, there are pretentious combat scenes that go on like the film makers just needed to fill up the running time. The performances are decent and likable but Henry Cavill (who’s okay but a bit bland) and Amy Adams have neither much chemistry nor time to develop their characters. Kevin Costner was the perfect choice for Pa Kent but again all he gets are flashback sequences that suggest of a much greater film. Less than halfway through the movie, I started not care what happened to these characters: it just got uninteresting. Man of Steel sadly goes where every violent video game has gone before.


Last but not least I have a few concluding statements:

1. Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel are racking up billions of dollars despite being much lesser films than the underperforming Star Trek Into Darkness. What does this tell us about the film industry?

2. If there are three films that represent the state of modern blockbusters it’s these three. However I’d like to say this: sure, all action movies have to include explosions but please Hollywood: dial it down. J.J. Abrams was on the right track with Into Darkness and I’m confident about his new Star Wars.

3. With so many big budget blockbusters being released each year where is this all headed. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have some ideas. In fact, Spielberg may be right: if five of these summer epics flop something is going to change. Take 2015. What films are going to be released? The Fantastic Four, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Avengers 2, Justice League, The Smurfs 3, Hotel Transylvania 2, Ant-Man, The Peanuts, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, Finding Dory, Alvin and the Chipmunks 4, and Kung Fu Panda 3. Woops, forgot to mention a little indie film titled Star Wars: Episode 7. Okay, is your headache over? Many of the films mentioned will flop, so could that signal the death of the blockbuster? No. Star Wars and Avengers 2 are as close to a sure thing as you can get and even if critics and audiences despise them, people will keep coming back to the multiplex. But someday (probably in an estimated 100 years) people will get back to making small, personal films. Until then, there will be terrific action films and wonderful art house pictures. So perhaps, they could both survive together.

Spider-Man Trilogy (Flack’s Triple Review)

Posted on | July 1, 2012 | 1 Comment


In the following article I will review the Spider-Man trilogy. This includes Spider-Man (2002) Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider Man 3 (2007). Sam Raimi directed all the films and Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker aka Spider-Man along with Kirsten Dunst as his love interest, Mary Jane Watson also known as MJ. Let the  superhero triple review begin!

The first Spider-Man film tells the origin story of the hero: how Peter Parker got bitten by a spider, put on a costume, had his friend Harry Osbourne get mad at him, fell in love with Mary Jane Watson, and battled the Green Goblin. In Spider-Man 2 MJ is now going to marry an astronaut while Peter now has more trouble as Spider-Man with Dock-Ock trying to ruin the city. Harry is meanwhile out for vengeance. Peter being Spider-Man is also distracting him from his personal life as he tries to get MJ to love him again. In the final film, Spider-Man 3 Peter faces more romantic troubles, a demon creature called Venom living within him, and an addictive but evil black Spidey suit plus new villains the Sandman, rival photographer Eddie Brock as Venom, and Harry as the New Green Goblin.

Spider-ManThe overall tone for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is entertainment. Yes at times the films are dark and brooding (but never too much and there’s no blood) and at others silly and ridiculous (but always after a supposed to be silly scene the bad guy comes in and havoc ensues). The first Spider-Man movie was  released on May 3rd, 2002 (a decade ago) and it broke Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone‘s opening weekend box office record of $90 million by bringing in $114 million in just three days. It went on to make $403 million in the USA making it (unadjusted for inflation) the 6th highest grossing movie of all time. It also cost $139 million to make, made $821 million in it’s worldwide total, and was the highest grossing movie of 2002.  It also received generally favorable reviews from critics and was applauded by fans. So what’s my take? An exciting superhero action picture with bad CGI and emotional scenes that try and sometimes fail but nonetheless a suspenseful, action packed thrill ride. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and Willem Dafoe among others are good and fit their roles. Maguire and Dunst have so-so chemistry and Cliff Robertson and Rosemarie Harris are enjoyable as Peter’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  However, it definitely did not deserve it’s 89% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. For a movie only ten years old some of the effects are pretty cheap! I mean even some of the stuff from 1977’s Star Wars holds up a little bit better and that movie came out 35 years ago! One of the main problems with the film is the Green Goblin. Because he is stuck in a suit Willem Dafoe is not able to move around his body to make the fight scenes more exciting, or show any expression on his face thereby restricting him to a one note, cheesy bad guy. Luckily Dafoe is pretty strong as the Goblin’s alter ego Norman Osbourne though it’s not an amazing performance or anything like that. The emotional stuff works occasionally but magically the origin story is just so watchable and all the elements come together to create an entertaining ride.

Spider-Man 2Spider-Man 2Spider-Man 2Spider Man 2 was released June 30th, 2002 just in time for the 4th of July. It cost $200 million to make, opened to $88 million, had a domestic total of $373 million, a worldwide total of $783 million, and became the second highest grossing movie of the 2004. It got a 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and Roger Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 stars (he gave the first one 2 1/2 stars and the third one 2 stars) and called it the best superhero movie ever. The only problem I have with this film is that there is one silly scene where they play bad music as Peter Parker walks down the street (I guess they were just preparing you for Spider-Man 3). Other than this minor complaint, Spider-Man 2 is basically perfect. It’s filled with interesting characters, awesome action, a great story, and terrific special effects. For every astonishing fight on top of a train set piece there’s a sad moment when two people talk. Dock-Ock could have used some more emotion but Alfred Molina is fantastic and the villain is wwwwaaaaaaayyyyy better than the Green Goblin. This is the only sequel I have seen that I would call an actual improvement over the original. Not only is the Spidey series back, bigger, and better it’s also more humane. Maguire and Dunst as well as James Franco have gotten heavily better in their roles and now feel more comfortable. This is not just a great Spider-Man movie, it’s not just a great superhero movie. It’s a truly great movie. And for all the great dialogue and fantastic screenwriting, this is an action movie. And it’s a cool one. Unlike a lot of  action movies there are more great battles than just the climax in this. There is a spectacular set piece where Dock-Ock and Spidey battle. After so many emotional scenes this  battle sequence really gets your blood pounding. And of course then there’s the inevitably awesome climax with thrills, chills, and spills all it’s own. The film takes big steps forward but stays true to the characters. An amazing movie.

Spider-Man 3Spider-Man 3Spider-Man 3 was released May 4th, 2007 and was immediately disliked by fans. Critics had mixed feelings about it too, rewarding it a 63% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It made $151 million on it’s opening weekend setting a new record, made $336 million domestically which was worse than all the others, made $890 million worldwide which as the best for the trilogy, and became the highest grossing movie of the year.  While there are some absolutely ridiculous dance numbers, a convoluted plot, and a disappointing ending there is still real emotion, surprising revelations, and okay special effects. And then there are the often discussed villains. Three of them. Flint Marko aka The Sandman is portrayed fairly lifelessly yet just okay by Thomas Haden Church for most of the film until the last scene he is in where he does a good job. The CGI Sandman is inhumane and a boring bunch of goop. Performance capture would have been helpful. Luckily Marko’s back story is interesting enough. Another villain Venom is basically three villains. At first he is a slimy black blob, then he turns (most interestingly) Peter bad, and later on gets into rival photographer Eddie Broch (Eddie wants to take Peter’s photography job at the newspaper business The Daily Bugle) who tries to kill MJ by hanging her from a building (strange, that never happened before) The story gets very interesting when Peter becomes evil but a more sure and consistent director than Sam Raimi maybe would have helped. Topher Grace is annoying as Eddie and doesn’t have realistically evil motivations. Just because SPOILER ALERT: Peter made him lose his job doesn’t mean he has to try to kill him at all costs. SPOILER ALERT IS OVER NOW! As for the third and possibly best villain is the New Green Goblin aka Harry Osborne played by James Franco. Franco is terrific as the troubled Harry but at times too smiley and often dry as always but during key scenes late in the film you feel for him. However with so many villains it would have been nice to see more variety with the baddies. In fact all three of them are good guys turned bad who have one person they love (Flint’s daughter, Norman Osbourne for Harry, and Gwen Stacy for Eddie). None of them are as good as Dock-Ock who yes used to be good but felt menacing and you wanted them to be good at the end (although you didn’t feel for him when he was bad too much). The baddies however are not the only problem with the movie.  The tone is very unbalanced and the mix of comedy, humor, and emotion mostly fails here. Also: did we really need to see Spidey dance like a weirdo? I don’t think so! The climax is also the same as what we have seen before, though exciting nonetheless. The other non evil characters (Elizabeth Banks as Miss Brant, Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy, James Cromwell as her father, Captain Stacy, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Bill Nunn as Joseph ‘Robbie’ Robertson, Dylan Baker as Dr. Curt Conors, and Rosemary Harris as Aunt May Parker) are okay but with so much else going on it’s hard for them to be as developed as they could be. The dialogue and script are also not well done. One last note: This year the day The Avengers came out celebrated half a decade (5 years) of this film. Sadly there isn’t enough to celebrate other than disappointment.

Spider-Man 3There are many great scenes in the trilogy. The “With great power comes great responsibility” line from the first one is classic, the climaxes are all exciting and there are numerous emotional scenes that made me attached to Peter Parker. But my two favorites scenes are two astonishing set pieces from Spider-Man 2: the train fight battle and the pier exploding climax. They have great CGI, amazing stunts, and awesome action. They also combine visual wonder with character development and have a great but not the best score from Danny Elfman. These are some of the greatest action scenes of superhero movies and movies, themselves.

Spider-Man 2My favorite character of the trilogy is a no brainer: Spider Man aka Peter Parker. How could you not love the superpowers, acting, and webslinging jumping. The charater is also a good person and learns not to want revenge in the third film. Tobey Maguire does a terrific job especially in the second one.

All three films are rated PG-13 by the MPAA for action violence. I agree but there is also some romance.

Spider-Man 2And what do I give the three films out of  5 stars? Well I’ll tell you!

Spider-Man 121 minutes, 3 stars

Spider-Man 2 127 minutes, 4 1/2 stars

Spider-Man 3 140 minutes, 2 1/2 stars

Out of 15 stars added up the movies gets 10 stars. But out of 5 stars I would give them an overall 3 1/2 stars, almost 4 stars. Though at times disappointing the Spider-Man trilogy is in parts genius. If you’re willing to have a great time watch all three films. Spider-Man 2 is the best, Spider-Man is not bad, and Spider-Man 3 is the worst. Yes the first one is simply enjoyable and the third one is just disappointing, although it has it’s moments but the second one is well, amazing. Overall though this is 388 minutes of superhero entertainment worth watching.