In 2005, my wife and I went to an event at UCLA's Royce Hall called "Theater of the New Ear". Promised were two one-act "radio plays" – works specifically written to be performed as staged readings. The first was to be "Sawbones", written and directed by the Coen Brothers. The second, "Hope Leaves the Theater", by Charlie Kaufman. For reasons that… read more!
Movies Released in 2015 (in alphabetical order)
I often complain when a sci fi/action blockbuster has a story that could explode into a humongous finale, but instead settles for a low-stakes third act in which hero battles villain mano-a-mano in an isolated locale – see Men in Black or even Iron Man. But after the exhausting third acts of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, with their jillions of CG spaceships and robots, it's actually a… read more!
This entertaining if disposable follow-up to the 2012 blockbuster is a triumph of, well, let's call it "story engineering". Writer/director Whedon deserves kudos for deftly handling an intimidating task: further developing six complicated superheroes while adding at least four major new characters, bringing in several supporting players from previous Marvel outings, delivering eye-popping set pieces, and shoehorning the narrative (reportedly against his wishes) into Marvel's ambitious five-year plan, in which a larger story… read more!
It's becoming a habit, but I'd like to start this review with a little anecdote: In 2010, my friend Bill Lebeda at Picture Mill hired me to research and write some statistics for the end credit sequence of the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy The Other Guys, directed by Adam McKay. (Bill does the titles for all of McKay's movies.) As the comedy… read more!
This run-of-the-mill gangster saga covering the 1975-1985 heyday of South Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) reminds me very much of 1990's State of Grace, also about Southie mobsters, and 1997's Donnie Brasco, an FBI-meets-Mafia drama also starring Depp. All three films take strong casts and potentially exciting crime elements, then bog them down with gloomy scripts and unremarkable direction. Love or hate The Departed, at… read more!
The latest Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks collaboration stars Hanks as James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer who, in 1957, was tasked by his firm, and the US government, to defend captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (a wonderfully laconic Mark Rylance), even though Abel had already been found guilty in the court of popular opinion. Although I don't recall the film explicitly specifying this detail, five years… read more!
Easily my favorite movie of 2015, Brooklyn is a good old-fashioned romance told with great warmth and dignity. Saoirse Ronan, seemingly born for the role, plays Eilis, a shy Irish immigrant who arrives in New York City in 1951 to make a better life for herself, and who eventually wins the heart of a local boy (Emory Cohen). There are a few complications, which… read more!
Fans of classic films will instantly recognize the opening scene of Carol: two star-crossed paramours (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) sit silently at a table, staring into each other's eyes, when they are suddenly interrupted by a clueless dimwit. One stands to leave, placing her hand discreetly on the shoulder of her secret lover, then departs, seemingly forever. We then flash back to… read more!
Critics, fanboys, and audiences alike have been very fickle about Neill Blomkamp – adoring his out-of-nowhere debut District 9, predictably dismissing his inevitable Hollywood follow-up (Elysium), and now writing off Chappie, a return to the gritty Johannesburg of District 9, as derivative. In truth, Chappie is not a bad film at all, and the problems that many are having with it… read more!
I don't know how to not make this sound creepy, but I have a "director's crush" on Mae Whitman. Though I don't exactly find her sexy, I do think she has tremendous on-screen appeal. She's a strong actress with expert comic timing, a unique charisma, and a face that, simply put, is watchable. In short, she's the kind of actor I'd love to… read more!
Oddly-conceived, minor, but wholly likable dramatization of David Lipsky's memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, written about the five days in 1996 that Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone, spent interviewing David Foster Wallace, who was winding down a publicity tour for his landmark novel Infinite Jest. Your interest in seeing The End of the Tour will be directly proportionate… read more!
Indie "it" boy Domhnall Gleeson is Caleb, a shy programmer at a Google-like corporation called Bluebook who has won a company-wide contest to spend a week with Bluebook's mysterious founder Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) in Nathan's ultra-remote mountain hideaway. Right off the bat, Ex Machina asks the audience to suspend a healthy amount of disbelief. How and why, exactly, does the billionaire CEO of a… read more!
It's been a while since I got to review a theatrical release that a friend of mine participated in. In this case, the friend in question is Susanne Wuest, who stars in this brutal Austrian chiller. In fact, my short film 20 Matches was written specifically for her, but alas, she was always too busy to return to Los Angeles to make it (the script was on… read more!
I have to hand it to Quentin Tarantino: two decades into his career, he's still trying to find ways to turn his movies into theatrical events. This hasn't always worked out for him: his four-hour Kill Bill was sliced into two separate films for its theatrical run, and his experiment with Robert Rodriguez, Grindhouse, designed to emulate the fun of watching a double feature at a sleazy repertory theater (such… read more!
Isn't it nice to see Pixar back on top again? The stunning critical and commercial success of Inside Out – which, other than the muddled Brave, is the first non-sequel the studio has released in six years (since Up, also directed by Pete Docter) – is a welcome sign that what audiences really want from Pixar isn't cute characters or toy-friendly franchises, but solid storytelling and genuine… read more!
People have been hate-watching Jupiter Ascending even before it was released. It's as if the real anticipation hasn't been over the film itself, but over what excoriating comments could be written about the film. Sometimes I hate the Internet. While I'm not a Wachowski apologist, the writers/directors earned a lot of goodwill with me with their previous film, the ambitious if polarizing Cloud Atlas, so I was willing to take… read more!
This is the very definition of "summer counter-programming": in the middle of 2015's array of superhero movies, dinosaur blockbusters and the like is this little biopic about an unlikely subject: the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. I say "unlikely" not because Wilson isn't a fascinating or important individual – he is both – but because it's curious to imagine who would feel… read more!
At 70, George Miller returns to the movie franchise he abandoned 30 years ago, and shows all these whippersnappers how film action is properly done. With Mel Gibson now aged out of the Max Rockatansky role, a nearly silent Tom Hardy takes over, and the film picks up at an indiscriminate time after events of the previous Mad Max installments. The… read more!
It's becoming an annual tradition: A-list director and A-list movie star make movie about astronaut lost in space. And so after 2013's Gravity and 2014's Interstellar we have 2015's The Martian. It's less suspenseful than Gravity, less ambitious than Interstellar, but enjoyable stuff, balancing serious science with Hollywood hokum. Matt Damon is Mark Watney, an easygoing astronaut on a manned mission to Mars, presumably mankind's first.… read more!
In the middle of Bill Condon's erratic career, which has veered from Dreamgirls to Kinsey to the last two Twilight movies to the Oscar bait misfire The Fifth Estate, the director reunites with Ian McKellen for a sort of bookend to his 1998 entry Gods and Monsters, the film that put both men on Hollywood's A-list. Like Gods and Monsters, Mr. Holmes is a low-budget… read more!