The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

Meet Thomas (Callum Turner). Thomas is in love with Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) but even though they had one magical night together (August 8th), Mimi has a boyfriend and isn’t really interested in Thomas like that.

Thomas is estranged from Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) his cold, distant publisher father, who wants nothing more than for Thomas to find a purpose for his life, and concerned over the mental and emotional state of his fragile, clingy mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon). Thomas is also bored in only that way that privileged, self-satisfied young people seem to be able to be bored. New York is too sanitized for him any more. In fact, “New York’s most vibrant neighborhood at the moment is Philadelphia.” [Read more…]


Poster: Anonymous (2011)Who was William Shakespeare?

Questions about William Shakespeare’s identity have been floating around since the 19th century with guesses as varied as Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe. In 2007 Time Magazine reported on the public emergence of some 300 Shakespeare skeptics asking to be taken seriously. Among the signatories to that 2007 “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” was Shakespearian actor Derek Jacobi who gives the prologue and epilogue that frame the story of Anonymous.

Opening near the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, we’re rapidly introduced to a wide cast of characters, both noble and not, including playwrite Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) who is plucked out of near obscurity by Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), the 17th Earl of Oxford, who chooses Jonson to serve has his theatrical beard paying the struggling playwrite handsomely to present de Vere’s plays as his own.

Both the backstory and the current struggles to position the correct man to inherit the throne from a rapidly decaying Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) intertwine with the political nature of de Vere’s plays.

Taken in by William Cecil (David Thewlis) after his father’s death, the young de Vere (Jamie Campbell Bower) agrees to marry Cecil’s only daughter as part of the price for covering up the killing of a houseman the Puritan Cecil had sent to de Vere’s chambers to find out if the young man was, indeed, composing plays and poems in defiance of Cecil’s wishes.

Young de Vere catches the eye of a younger Elizabeth (played in a wonderful bit of casting by Redgrave’s daughter Joely Richardson) leading to a torrid affair which results in the Queen’s pregnancy. Shunned for reasons not known to him when she is sent off to have the child away from the court’s prying eyes, de Vere begins a revenge affair with one of the Queen’s maids only to be exposed upon her return to London and banished from court for the remainder of his life. Before returning to his wife, de Vere manages to pry out of William Cecil information about his offspring, the Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel) who in the film’s current time line allies himself with the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid) in his bid for Elizabeth’s throne.

Jonson, meanwhile, has an attack of conscience revealing to a middling theater actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) that he is just the front for the aristocrat who has actually penned the first brilliant play, Henry V, staged. Shakespeare, seizing the moment, steps into the spotlight as the groundlings call for the playwrite setting in motion what we are to believe is the biggest literary fraud ever perpetrated on the world.

Tensions mount as more of de Vere’s plays are staged and Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg), the hunchbacked son of William, takes over as Elizabeth’s closest advisor after his father’s death. Maneuvering to have both the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Southampton eliminated in favor of his candidate for King, James of Scotland, Cecil manipulates de Vere with the unwitting help of Ben Johnson.

The outcome of the story is, of course, known: James of Scotland becomes James I of England, Scotland, and Wales, William Shakespeare becomes the greatest author who ever lived, and Ben Jonson becomes England’s first Poet Laureate. While Anonymous makes an interesting case that Edward de Vere was the true author behind the words we attribute to William Shakespeare the movie also posits one stunning, unbelievable fact that can’t be revealed without spoiling the end of the film; the timing along strains credulity.

Anonymous is beautifully crafted and acted and a grown-up intellectual exercise into one of literary history’s greatest mysteries.

Tron: Legacy (IMAX 3D)

Let me say this up front: Olivia Wilde is not hard on the eyes. Olivia Wilde in skin tight clothing that features randomly glowing strips of light is especially not hard on the eyes. But even in IMAX 3D she wasn’t the coolest thing about Tron: Legacy.

The coolest thing about Tron: Legacy wasn’t the light cycle races, nor was it the batons that allowed Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to transform into light cycles or equally impressive individual flying machines in a single pull. No, the coolest thing about Tron: Legacy is the hooded coat Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) wears when he leaves his remote hideaway and returns to “the grid.” Black as night on the outside and glowing from the inside, it’s the perfect metaphor for the movie’s themes and also the perfect indicator of one of the things wrong with Tron: Legacy. [Read more…]


Drawn from Mark Millar’s hyper violent, supernatural comic of the same title, Wanted the movie drops both Millar’s supernatural elements and, frankly, the element of pure evil that made it vastly different from most of the “graphic novels” out there.

Wanted, both book and movie, is the story of Wesley Gibson a neurotic, anxiety prone, cheated upon, brow-beaten, dishrag of a man who just happens to be the son of the most talented assassin in the world. His recruitment by Fox (Angelina Jolie in a role that in the comic was clearly penned for Halle Berry) fills him and us in on the back story of The Fraternity, a group of assassins that has been operating for “thousands of years.” Their purpose: Kill one, a save thousand.

Sounds pretty far-fetched, right? This is where Hollywood had to deviate from Millar’s original text which has the Fraternity not as an altruistic order of killers descended from the practices of Christian monks but instead operating in a world where superheroes have all been conquered and The Professor has found a way to wipe the minds of everyone on the planet negating even the memory of those superheroes while he and his criminal peers who include an ancient Chinese warlord and a walking skeleton whose number one henchman is a living pile of excrement divide the planet up to rule as they see fit raping, killing, and thieving as it suits them. It is this deviation that is one of Wanted the movie’s major downfalls.

The film retains enough supernatural elements – the ability to “curve” a bullet, to jump a city block between office towers, to shoot someone from not hundreds of yards but miles away, a super-healing bath that can bring someone back from near death – that it stretches credulity even in a post-Matrix world. Granted, the stunts are amazing and it would be lovely to say that the devotion to the gun is typically American but sadly I can’t; Mark Millar is Scottish and Timur Bekmambetov, the film’s director, is Russian.

It was the necessity of making the characters and storyline even vaguely palatable to American audiences in the transition from graphic novel to film that is ultimately the film’s undoing. Wanted the comic celebrates not only the wantonness of violence but also takes pleasure in criminality for the sake of criminality; indeed, at one point Wesley, our nominal hero, wreaks violence on a bunch of police officers in a station house, including casually raping one of the female officers before he shoots her to death. This is not a set of characters or a storyline that corporate America (which is what Hollywood is) even at its most misogynistic and malevolent would dare to market.

Is it fair to judge Wanted-The Movie against Wanted-The Comic? Probably not. On its own the film is a slapdash, if intensely stylish, action film. To sharp to qualify in the “big, loud, and stupid” category, Wanted doesn’t even make for a good afternoon’s entertainment.


WALL-E is worth seeing despite or maybe because of the controversy over the movie’s messages manufactured that those not blowing hard over the non-existent edginess of the current crop of political advertisements.

Regardless of what has been written by pundits and critics from publications as diverse as Entertainment Weekly and The National Review, WALL-E is pure genius in that, like most of Pixar’s other creations, it can be viewed on a variety of levels.

On one it’s a story about perseverance, evolution, and being true to yourself: Built to clean up humanity’s mess after we’ve completely destroyed the planet – the opening sequence of wind farm turbines up to their blades in trash nicely and succinctly skewers the current hype surrounding the need to concentrate on ameliorating climate change as we completely ignore humanity’s rampant over consumption of resources that is the root of all our problems – WALL-E (Waste Allocation Lift Loader – Earth class) is the last of his kind, and in the 700+ years since he was brought online not only has he done his job, he’s also developed a personality, one that’s curious about the objects he finds, and one that is more than a little bit lonely.

Enter EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) a sleek robot that some critics say echoes Apple’s design sense. Dropped off by a large, automated probe, EVE goes about her mission with ever increasing levels of frustration which she expresses by blowing things up with her embedded laser canon. Once she determines that WALL-E isn’t a threat, she follows him back to the cargo vehicle he’s been using as living quarters, the place where he stores and categorizes all the things that have caught his eye over the years, including the one thing EVE is looking for: evidence of plant life.

It is in his sharing of the things that have intrigued him and in his protective treatment of EVE while she is in hibernation mode waiting for pickup from the automated ship that dropped her and the other EVE units off on Earth that WALL-E most obviously evidences this first way to view the movie. When one thing or set of things fails to intrigue EVE, WALL-E finds something else to share, looks for some other way to connect. He takes care of EVE because it seems like the right thing to do. Indeed, WALL-E follows EVE into space because it seems like the right decision to him not because of some programming sub-routine or because of social pressure to behave in a certain way.

On another level, and this is the level that has drawn the most criticism, WALL-E is cultural critique. From that brilliant opening sequence with the wind farm buried in trash to the fact that it’s a corporation, Buy ‘N Large a not very subtle stand-in for Wal-Mart, that runs the U.S. at least and is responsible evacuating humans from the planet to the state of humanity after 700 years of having every whim catered to by obliging robots in a hyper-controlled environment, there is no aspect of our current self-indulgence and destructive over consumption that is spared.

Of course, it is a little hypocritical of Disney, Pixar’s parent company and one of the prime pushers of plastic crap we just do not need, to make a movie criticizing over consumption while still pushing promotional tie-ins of said plastic crap. But Disney’s hypocrisy doesn’t degrade either the message, or the fact that on the final level Pixar has made a story about connecting and what it means to interact with other people.

Is WALL-E perfect? Certainly not, but it’s a damn good movie regardless of your age.

Movie review catch-up

I’m going to be playing a bit of movie review catch-up for the next few entries because, well, I can, and it’s easier than thinking about something original while work is trying to squish my brain out my ears.

Reviews of the following will be forthcoming:

The Dark Knight


A workman-like remake of Hitchcock’s Rear Window for the short-attention span millennial generation, Disturbia‘s pleasures lay not in the ending of the film but in the journey to the destination.Placed on three months’ of house arrest after slugging his Spanish teacher Kale’s (Shia LaBeouf) transformation from angry – and rightly so (for those of you unnerved by VW’s realistic safety commercials from last fall I recommend skipping this movie altogether. The events that open it are staged with enough intimacy to make them too realistic) – disaffected teen to keeper of the neighborhood’s secrets proves that LaBeouf is, indeed, a young actor to watch.

That LaBeouf manages to turn in a good performance is a feat accomplished in spite of not with the support of the script. The plot points that get us from Kale’s initial teenage whining – OK, so Mom (Carrie Anne Moss looking not old enough to be the mother of a 17 year-old) cuts off his XBox live account…does that necessarily mean he’ll abandon the toy altogether? Aww…Mom cancelled his iTunes account. Last time I checked Mom hadn’t cut off the internet and later the script will have us believe that she’s still buying him cell phone minutes despite the $12 per day “incarceration fee” she has to pay for his house arrest – stretch credibility. Perhaps this stems from the fact that the bulk of Director D.J. Caruso’s experience is in television. Regardless of where it comes from, it’s clear the film makers’ were in a rush to get to the meat of the story.

Turning on the premise that you never really know what is going on under your nose, Kale learns a multitude of things about his neighbors: one man is having an affair with the house keeper; the kids next door are sneaking pay-per-view porn; the lady across the street always walks her dog at the same time every day. And then there’s Robert Turner (David Morse). Turner is an enigma. Seemingly no job, mows his lawn every day, and comes and goes at all hours in the company of redheaded women young enough to be his daughter.

Is Turner the man responsible for the disappearance of a local college girl? Things Kale observes tell him yes. The Powers That Be, including a patrol officer who is cousin to Kale’s Spanish teacher, don’t believe his observations. With the help of his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and new-girl-in-town and next door Ashley (Sarah Roemer) what starts out as a game yields some grisly (and slightly unbelievable) discoveries.

Unlike Hitchcock’s classic Disturbia‘s hip references (YouTube, iPods, product placements for Boost Mobile) will age the film before its time. The thrills and chills are mostly of the things produced by the art department popping out of closets variety. If you don’t go in expecting great art, or great surprises, it’s an OK way to spend 90 minutes on a rainy afternoon.

2.5 popcorns out of 5

Disturbia poster Official site

Smokin’ Aces

Not since Fight Club has a movie been so misrepresented by its trailers as Smokin’ Aces is by both the commercials and theatrical previews that have been advertising the film.

Sold as a race against time to see who can get their hands on Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) first – the various hitters lured by the Mob’s $1M bounty on the snitch’s head or the FBI – this film is characterized by its commercials as a violent romp, a black comedy/action thriller with guns, insanity, and a lot of macho posturing. In reality Smokin’ Aces is a meditation on betrayal whose sweat slick, blood stained surface only begins to ask the question what is loyalty. And while it does have some funny moments it is most certainly not a comedy.

Betrayal is never funny and this movie heaps betrayal upon betrayal. The very foundation of the plot is, in fact, betrayal of the most basic kind: denial of responsibility in the face of fact.

Getting beyond the theme, though, Smokin’ Aces is, to a large extent, as advertised. FBI Agents Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) have been staking out Mafia don Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) for nearly three days when the call is made: put out a hit on Buddy Israel. Israel, showman, magician, three-time Entertainer of the Year, has managed over the years to weasel his way in with the wise guys left in Vegas and not content with the shadow has decided he actually wants to live the life. But as we’re told, in an interesting piece of cross-cut exposition, by bailbondsman Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck), Israel is a wanna-be and a fuck up and things go really bad for him really fast.

Turning one faction of Sparazza’s organization against another wasn’t the problem for Israel. No, it was his own criminal ventures that drew the attention of every bored FBI agent and organized crime task force within 300 miles of Vegas. This is why, when we meet him, Israel is holed up in the penthouse of a hotel on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe waiting for Morris Mecklen (Curtis Armstrong) to call with the final word on his immunity deal – who he’ll have to snitch on, who he’ll have to give up, and what he’ll get in return.

Myriad elements, including the Tremor brothers (three walking pieces of tattooed, Aryan-nation berserker insanity), Sharice and Georgia (Alicia Keys (yes, that Alicia Keys)) (two slick sisters developing a rep in the hitman game), Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan) (a master of disguise as ruthless as he is clever), and Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell) (dubbed “the plague” a hitman who when captured by Interpol chewed off his own finger prints), come together all with a coked out, paranoid, over-whored Israel at the center.

Despite having all the pieces, writer/director Joe Carnahan (Narc) never manages to make the sum worth more than the parts. He just can’t seem to get up any momentum even with a cast of many, many recognizable faces (including Andy Garcia in a role not far from the one he played in Ocean’s Eleven, Matthew Fox (virtually unrecognizable under a ghastly proto-mullet wig), Brian Bloom, Peter Berg, and Jason Bateman (who proves yet again just how underrated he has been as an actor for all these years)).

Even though it doesn’t quite deliver what it promised Smokin’ Aces is a bizarre little film that just might make you think. 3 popcorns out of 5.

3 popcorns out of 5

Smokin Aces poster
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Movie review catch up

This is the time of year that many movie reviewers refer to as “the dumping ground”: Hollywood dumps that which it thinks it can make money on but is unwilling to invest in on a public that has already proven that it will buy tickets to any number of shitty movies (here, here, and here among others) on the most flimsy of reasons (it’s a sequel; the girl in the poster looks hot in leather pants; it looks really violent (Oh…wait…those last two might just be my rationales…never mind)).

Fact is that from about the middle of December to Oscar time (February 25th this year) most of the country gets diddly squat to watch. Given this, it’s unsurprising that my Netflix queue has been getting quite a work out. Be that as it may, here I’ll catch up on reviews of the two things I have seen in the theater since just before Christmas.

Curse Of The Golden Flower
It’s pretty, but don’t expect too much.
1.5 popcorns out of 5

Night At The Museum
So much potential wasted.
1 popcorns out of 5
[Read more…]

Déjà Vu

I have been fascinated by time travel for as long as I can remember. Quite frankly, anyone who has regrets who isn’t fascinated by time travel and the endless potential it offers to get “it” right the second time around probably isn’t paying attention. That not paying attention is something that the makers of Déjà Vu counted on when they pumped out this limp thriller.

Called to the scene of a massive and brutal bombing of the Algiers to Canal Street ferry, Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) proves himself to be a capable investigator right off the bat as he determines that the best place to find the residue of whatever fuel was used to make the bomb that helped kill over 500 ferry passengers would be on the underside of the Crescent City Bridge. Caught in multijurisdictional hell (Carlin is ATF but, of course, the FBI, the NOPD, and the Department of Homeland Security want in on the case), Carlin is recruited by Agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) for a special “task force” that makes use of experimental technology (a ring of satellites, or so they say) that allows this task force to view footage of just about anywhere – with audio – in enormous detail.

Because he’s not completely dim Carlin quickly figures out that there is more to Agent Pryzwarra’s task force than meets the eye. Indeed, the overstuffed complement of nerds Denny (Adam Goldberg), Shanti (Erika Alexander), and Gunnars (Elden Henson) have created an Einstein-Rosenberg bridge that, in theory, will fold to points in time together and greatly reduce the distance between them. How, you ask? By accident and by blacking out half of the Eastern United States.

Carlin is convinced that a murder victim, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), who washed up after the bombing but died before the explosion is the key to solving the ferry crime. Suffice it to say that he has our little time spys concentrate on this woman and her movements in the 4 days prior to the bombing.

I can’t begin to describe the rest of the plot because it is, simply, to trite for words. Can we send something back in time to help stop the bombing? Theoretically possible but what happens if we change something < shock and horror! > Time might branch, or even change completely. No, instead we get to watch Carlin’s partner, 4 days in the past, be murdered in cold blood by our “terrorist” Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caviezel) (Could they have made him more Aryan?). Well, could we send a person back, someone who knows what “has happened” who might be able to prevent the bombing? Three guesses and the first two don’t count. The women in my theater were just happy to see Denzel stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers.

Possibly one of the top five most boring things in the world to watch on screen is people talking on the phone. This movie continues a disturbing trend that makes cell phones a key plot device, at one point even having a version of Carlin walking through a row of body bags in which a cell phone is ringing. Another of those top five things is watching other people watch video footage, which is essentially the middle act of this film.

Part of the reason this movie doesn’t work is that it doesn’t take into account the perennial problem with time-travel movies: the grandfather paradox (i.e.: you can’t go back in time and turn out to be your own grandfather). The Carlin at the beginning of the movie, a movie that opens with the ferry bombing, discovers things that could only have been done by the Carlin of later in the film who has traveled back in time (except, he hasn’t yet). It’s enough your head hurt.

For that, for the fact that everyone in this film except Adam Goldberg, who manages a very nice quip involving cowbell, seems completely and utterly bored, I have to give this film 1.5 popcorns out of 5.

1 popcorns out of 5

Deja Vu poster
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