Tuesday, December 31, 2013


FROZEN is a great Disney film for kids that fools you into thinking it is going to be your typical Princess movie but pays off in a big way. The film has two strong female character, along with some great animation and songs.

I had heard so many good things about this film that I have to admit I was a little let down by the fact that the film is not really for adult audiences as much as it is for young children. I think they could have made it more in the Pixar style with more for adults. (For instance, the film's mix features the music far more than the sound effects, which harks back to Disney movies pre-Pixar.)

But that's a small criticism. This is one of the smarter films out there.


The end of the film completely turns the typical Disney princess film upside down, which made me quite happy. The stereotype is broken. Long live the new princess!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

O Coen Brothers, Where Art Thou?

Do yourself a favor, and watch A MIGHTY WIND again, rather than watching INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, an epic fail of a movie. Everything about the film is terrible, starting with the title. (OK, quick, write the title down without misspelling it.) Followed by a completely forgettable cast, except for John Goodman, who is the most sympathetic human in the film). Add to that the fact that the characters are all despicable, and the music is (I think) deliberately terrible to show how insipid folk music is, and it's the longest two hours of my life I've ever spent. That includes being in a coma.

What happened to the geniuses who gave us A SERIOUS MAN? This is a sad excuse for a movie. And if you are an animal lover, you will be very upset about the treatment of two cats in the film. It's really sad when I care more about a cat than I do about the main character, or anyone else in the film.

Monday, December 23, 2013



While it isn't exactly a competition, it is awards season, and these two films are topping a number of lists.  I happened to see them on back to back nights, so I will cover them in one review.

I really enjoyed AMERICAN HUSTLE a lot, so don't take this the wrong way, but this movie is seriously overrated. Although it was a lot of fun, and there are some really good performances in it, the film is completely lacking in originality. Making a movie about ABSCAM is kinda like making a movie about the hostage crisis (ARGO). There are numerous plot, character, and visual references to GOODFELLAS and BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and Chistian Bale's performance is really little more than warmed-over De Niro, which makes De Niro's appearance a lot less powerful than it should have been. 

That said, both of the main actresses in the film, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, deserve nominations for their work, as well as the production designers, and the makeup and wardrobe designers. But the film is pretty forgettable. It's only been 48 hours since I saw it, and I had to look up who some of the actors were.

12 YEARS A SLAVE, however, I think will stick with me for a long while. It's not a perfect movie either, but I think it's a far more original and stylish piece of filmmaking. Steve McQueen has a number of nice directorial touches that underline the incredible performances in the film, starting with the second scene in the film. Just about every actor in the film is extremely well cast, with the exception of Brad Pitt, but hey, he slept with the producer to get the job, so he earned it. 

One thing I thought I would never say in my life: Hans Zimmer deserves a nomination for the score, which is unique and appropriately dissonant for the film. 

It's one of those films that will stick with you for a while, and may even be worth watching again in the near future. I don't say that about very many films. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley is a long title for a HBO documentary about the legendary comedienne, who is almost completely forgotten by contemporary audiences, even though she was hugely influential on generations of performers. This film does a good job of placing her in time as an important storyteller and sublime political satirist. It is odd seeing (and mostly hearing) bits of her routines, though, as much of it has not really aged well. We have such different expectations of a comedian's performance, I doubt that younger audiences would get her at all today.

Some of her best material isn't even remotely funny, like her song that is a tribute to "Abraham, Martin, and John," the three victims of assassins, two of whom she had known personally. It is pretty amazing what she managed to sneak onto TV in her few performances in the 60s and 70s. Thank goodness for The Smothers Brothers and a few other shows that invited her on, regardless of her peculiar look and performance style, so we have at least a few images of her at work.

Whoopi does a pretty good job of keeping her own personality from overrunning the documentary (except maybe in the title), and has a nice lineup of academics to help frame Moms' work historically and philosophically. In addition, virtually every important black comedian who was alive when Moms was working is interviewed, and they give very smart analysis of why her work was so monumental at that time. Moms was one of the few women working in comedy at the time, one of the few black comedians to make it into prime time (and had 20 comedy albums in her career), and was also a lesbian, making it even harder for her to the type of attention that typical women performers needs to be successful. (I think they could have further explored how that helped create her onstage persona.)

This is definitely worth viewing.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Stories We Tell

STORIES WE TELL is one of those movies where, the less you know about it, the better. The only thing I knew about this documentary before seeing it is that it was directed by Canadian actress Sarah Polley, who is probably best known for her role in the film THE SWEET HEREAFTER. I did not know that she came from a family of artists and actors. The fact that it was directed by an actor might have put me off initially for fear that this was a vanity project, but if anything, it is the opposite of that.

The film is nominated for an International Documentary Association Award, a Film Independent Spirit Award, and has made the short list of 15 Oscar films that will be eligible in the documentary category. If you like documentaries, I recommend you see this without reading any more. If you have not seen it, be aware that there be SPOILERS!!! below.

Ms. Polley uses the film to tell the story of her family. The process is very interesting as she tells it in a Rashomon-like manner, allowing multiple viewpoints of specific events even when they conflict with each other. Some of the subject matter is intensely personal to her and I am frankly shocked that she got so much on camera from family members and friends about such intimate details. There are a couple of confusing moments where she leaps back in time and then forward again, but otherwise the filmmaking style is excellent.

The film makes extensive use of recreations, which I normally detest, but in this case it makes a lot of sense. There is a tremendous amount of real footage of her mother and other people on what appears to be Super 8 and 16mm, and the recreations are intermingled in an incredibly seamless fashion. I suspected they were recreations but she herself reveals this to the audience at the end of the film by showing the current family members alongside the actors who recreated the flashbacks in earlier scenes. This use of recreations is masterful, as it ties in well with one theme of the movie, that we can never know the empirical truth, instead, we only have the stories we tell ourselves about what might have happened. In essence, even a documentary can never tell you with 100% certainty what happened.

It's a very smart film, and I highly recommend it. Oh, and it also is very moving emotionally.