Thursday, January 29, 2015

BLACK SEA (B)

The Quick Fix: Intimate, intriguing and intense
The Bottom Line: Examining the depths to which greed can take a man, this wholly immersive submarine treasure hunt is a welcome addition to January’s stale slate of sucky cinema…  It may not quite navigate the deeper waters of superior sub films, but it still finds a way to feel fresh, efficient and engaging in its own right.  Jude Law delivers a riveting and commandingly gruff performance as a scorned captain hell-bent on retrieving rumored booty on the sea bed – and his rag-tag, shipmate skeleton crew (admittedly, all written fairly surface level) are perfectly cast and add varied levels of tension and trust aboard their rusted-out, well-past-it’s-prime undersea vessel.  You’ll be swept away by the ruggedly gritty, tension-riddled, claustrophobically old school vibe this flick oozes…  It’s a thoroughly engaging ride!  It’s may not be in the same league as The Hunt for Red October, Das Boot or Crimson Tide (to name a few of the greats) – but I’d still find it hard to fathom someone not enjoying this well made deep sea thriller.

Starring: Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall and Scoot McNairy
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and STATE OF PLAY)
Rated: R (for language throughout, some graphic images and violence)
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio description: A rogue submarine captain pulls together a misfit crew to go after a sunken treasure rumored to be lost in the depths of the Black Sea. As greed and desperation take control onboard their claustrophobic vessel, the increasing uncertainty of the mission causes the men to turn on each other to fight for their own survival. (C) Focus


Friday, January 23, 2015

THE BOY NEXT DOOR (F)

The Quick Fix: Predictable, flat and decidedly unsexy…
The Bottom Line: Words are essentially wasted on this bottom-of-the-barrel, basement-dwelling, barely-legal, reverse Fatal Attraction borefest....  It’s straight up garbage, and at this rate I’m afraid I’ll have my worst of 2015 list ready by mid-February.  J-Lo’s stale cookies crumble in this formulaically manufactured, awkwardly familiar, ridiculously scripted, poorly acted and horrendously directed pseudo-stalker wannabe.  A movie that’s so blandly awful, that it’s not even campy fun – you’ll laugh, but you’ll be surprised at how little once you realize how seriously everyone seems to be taking themselves. This mess wouldn’t even tip the scales on a guilty pleasure weigh-in.  There is that neighborly steamy romp in the sheets that everyone (no one?) keeps talking about – but it’s a flaccid, forced and flimsy plot device that turns out to be about as sexy as turning your back to the crowd, wrapping your arms around your shoulder blades and moving your head around like your making out with someone.  I think we’ve finally found out how low J can go…  You want abusively sexy – hold out for 50 Shades of Grey.  You want methodically menacing – go rent 2014’s The Guest.  This Fly Girl rarely makes a good movie so, instead, watch her make the talk show rounds gushing how good this movie is – because that, my friends, is the best acting she’s done in years!

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett and Kristin Chenoweth
Directed by: Rob Cohen (ALEX CROSS, STEALTH, XXX, DRAGONHEART and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS)
Rated: R (for violence, sexual content/nudity and language)
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio description: A psychological thriller that explores a forbidden attraction that goes much too far. (C) Universal


Thursday, January 15, 2015

AMERICAN SNIPER (B+)

The Quick Fix: Powerful, personal and provocative.
The Bottom Line: At 84, director Clint Eastwood has rolled up his sleeves, dug his hands in to the dry Iraqi sand and pulled out an efficient, taught and edge-of-your-seat nail-biter that’s sure to please crowds nationwide.  As evidenced in the brilliance of it's trailers and marketing, it’s an action-packed and emotionally charged tug-of-war.  Intense and draining in equal measures.  …and Bradley Cooper – wow – Bradley Cooper.  This guy delivers one of his best performances to date (see also Silver Linings Playbook) by entrenching himself and portraying a collected, quiet and honorable man of duty.  A man out of step with home life who struggles deeply when not deployed overseas to protect American soldiers which, in turn, protects his country and family.  To him, they were brothers – to them he was a hero.  Eastwood and Cooper, together, drum up every last ounce of humanity so that actions and feelings are never vaguely presented – they’re delivered with fiendish force and gritty gusto.  We may be dipped in to broadly brushed yet tough-to-avoid melodrama at home (a huge issue it seems with naysaying critics who don’t know no better) – but it all helps to solidify the urgency and tension with each new tour.  This true life, modern day, military warfare western effectively conveys the good, the bad and the ugly of  war – who better to serve it up raw than our greatest living cowboy himself…

Starring: Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and Mystic River)
Rated: R (for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references)
Running time: 134 minutes
Studio description: U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname "Legend." However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, becoming emblematic of the SEAL creed to "leave no man behind." But upon returning home, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind. (C) Warner Bros


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

BLACKHAT (F)

The Quick Fix: Uninspired, uninteresting and unbelievable. 
The Bottom Line: Blackhat is the cinematic equivalent of standing over your company’s IT person as they methodically tap, click and navigate their way through your computer’s problem du jour.  You follow for a few seconds, get completely lost and suddenly a rousing game of smartphone Subway Surfers sounds like a more compelling option…  Heat, The Insider, Collateral, Last of the Mohicans - director Michael Mann has brought us some powder keg moving pictures (some of my favorites); so here I stand/sit disappointingly telling you that this time he has delivered a downright dud.  A formulaically flat, disjointed, chemistry-free and uncompelling flick about computer hacking, cybercrime and the digital age – an unintentionally laughable film that follows a collaborative group of globe-hopping digital do-gooders following a narratively anorexic and coaxialy confusing bread crumb trail to the bad guys…  We’re treated to a few scant scenes of manic Mann-in-action that give the movie a fleeting crackle but nothing ever truly pops…ever.  Thinly scripted, lazily acted and poorly executed – Chris Hemsworth may shine as the Avenger’s God of Thunder, but here he’s reduced to the mighty bore.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang and John Ortiz
Directed by: Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, The Insider and Last of the Mohicans)
Rated: R (for violence and some language)
Running time: 133 minutes
Studio description: Set within the world of global cybercrime, Legendary's Blackhat follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.


Official site: www.blackhatthemovie.com

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

BTMG'S TOP TEN LIST-A-PALOOZA!

Added value.  That’s exactly what you’ll get when you place me in your critic corner…  Instead of shoving my sole opinion of any given movie down your throat – I’ll break these flicks down workshop-style with my family members, have them drum up a ‘best of’ list of their own…and THEN shove our opinions down your throat.  Male, female, over 25, under 25.  Whatever studio-dictated demographic target you and your brood identify with – we've got you covered.

I've even cut them down to easy-to-digest, printable, postable, top ten morsels.

Happy Movieing!










Wednesday, December 31, 2014

BTMG'S WORST TEN OF 2014

I’ll keep it brief (because most critics wouldn't) – these were my least favorite movies of the year...

10. Boyhood
It was kind of entertaining to watch the majority of America’s movie critics come together in praise over this unfocused, emotionally distant and virtually substance-free gimmick-flick whose narrative almost never rings true.  A movie about life should have a little life to it…

9. Transformers: Age of Extinction
I was kind of hoping the addition of Mark Wahlberg would bring this franchise up to a more respectable level.  Somehow this funky bunch of explosive garbage got louder and leagues more obnoxious than its predecessors.

8. Lucy
Boldly claiming that we only use 10% of our brain, this incoherent and disjointed tale of a party-girl-turned-power-grid begs to question if the filmmakers had access to even that much.  I did not love Lucy.

7. Sex Tape
This toothlessly overpromising comedy seems content on giving its audience the shaft.  It’s flat, flaccid and forgettably dull.  Sex Tape blows.

6. Exodus: Gods and Kings
Director Ridley Scott adds a loathsome eleventh plague to the biblical mix in the form of this uninspired, uneven and underdeveloped flick.  It’s nothing but a big ‘ol Christian fail.

5. 3 Days to Kill
The off-kilter, lazily constructed and ill-conceived offspring of a drunken one-nighter three-way between True Lies and The Professional and Taken.  It may take three days to kill, but only three minutes to move on to something more interesting – like folding laundry.

4. Transcendence
Johhny Depp’s cold, clunky, illogical, humorless and not-at-all mind-bending sci-fi flick.  More aptly titled Blandscendence. 

3. Winter’s Tale
The cinematic equivalent of dressing for a formal event with toilet paper stuck to your shoe all night.  It’s a cheese-riddled, connivingly convoluted, horribly written, oddly edited, painfully executed mess of a romance movie that made me laugh – but I’m certain that wasn't it’s intent…

2. Tammy                                                                                                                         
You know you’re in trouble when Melissa McCarthy is the least interesting thing in a Melissa McCarthy movie.  It’s a flat, forced, sluggishly dull and humorless ‘comedy’ fueled on Cheetos dust and room temperature beer.  

1. Divergent
A big part of this societally segregated, dystopian flick focuses on identifying and conquering your fears - I’ve decided that what scares me most is the thought of there being at least two more movies left to tell…  DIVERGENT is dull, derivative and more deserving of the similarly sounding DETERGENT moniker – if only because, above all things, it was a complete mess.

BTMG'S TOP TEN OF 2014

It’s called the entertainment industry for a reason, right?  I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I’m pretty sure that’s what 80 percent of people want when they spend their hard-earned dough on a night at the movies or a quiet evening at home with an on-deck copy of the latest Hollywood release.  Move us emotionally in some type of entertaining direction – expose us to laughter, drama, romance…something.  Just make sure our time and money are both well spent.

I could plug this list with art-house films to gain favor from some of my fellow critics; I could point out movies that are completely inaccessible to the masses.  Or, keeping things simple, I could lay out (in descending order for appropriate tension) my favorite ten of the year – ten movies that grabbed my attention and did what they’re meant to do.  Ten movies that I’ve willingly watched a second, third or fourth time and would happily watch again.

So you get a full sense of what worked for me this year, here are my top twenty that didn’t make my top ten (aka 11-30):

30) John Wick, 29) A Most Violent Year, 28) Annie, 27) 22 Jump Street, 26) X-Men: Days of Future Past, 25) The Fault in Our Stars, 24) The Drop, 23) Wild, 22) Selma, 21) The Guest, 20) Snowpiercer, 19) Top Five, 18) The Theory of Everything, 17) American Sniper, 16) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 15) How to Train Your Dragon 2, 14) Begin Again, 13) The Lego Movie, 12) Locke and 11) Guardians of the Galaxy


The following are my favorite movies of the year – an accessible list of films that you should print, cut out and hot glue gun (or tape maybe) to your refrigerator for easy reference.

10. Fury
Bombastically brutal and claustrophobic, this visceral, boot-to-the-ass World War II experience wholeheartedly embraces the horrors – both physically and psychologically – of war.  It’s a tale of wartime brotherhood that’s haunting, gritty and raw.  The bottom line bonding may fall short of the far superior Saving Private Ryan, but it’s a thunderous and tough-to-forget addition to the 2014 cinematic slate.

9. Chef
Honest, breezy and engagingly energetic, this father/son food truck movie is one of the most easily recommendable movies of the year.  Seriously, to not enjoy this is to have no soul.  Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara and Robert Downey Jr. serve up laughs-a-plenty.  It’s a hilarious, heartfelt and hunger-inducing delight!

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Immersing viewers in yet another uniquely stylish world, director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom) delivers an ornately screwball tale that’s accessible to the masses – and does so with a quirky wink and graceful smile.  Elaborately wacky and teeming with depth, you can never help but notice how much vibrant love Anderson has for each and every one of the characters he puts up on the screen.  Frenetic heartfelt fun.

7. Noah
Mad Max meets Middle Earth in this primordially non-preachy interpretation of the famed Biblical story.  Ambitiously gritty and spiritually warped, director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) intriguingly meshes creationism and evolution, and explores one man’s grapple with his beliefs, his duty, his doubt and his free will.  It’s a film that had the balls to be bonkers and that’s what worked most for me…

6. Gone Girl
This devilishly wicked tale of modern marriage and the meddling media is another David Fincher masterpiece (along with Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac and The Social Network).  It’s a gut punch of a film that fiendishly swoons and squirms viewers through a nightmare scenario as if told through the generically dreamlike pages of US magazine. Superb acting and direction give this yarn a charbroiled charm and sinister sense of humor that makes it the most weirdly perverse must-see date night movie of the year!

5. Whiplash
Ask me tomorrow and this brutally poignant and motivationally resonant minor masterpiece just may have moved up my chart into the top four.  It’s tale of a jazz student striving for greatness can be applied to anything – never settle, never stop and ‘good job’ are the two most harmful words in the English language.  If you want to be the greatest then strive for greatness.  Sometimes, though, the person pushing you the most can also be the wall in your way.   Its breakneck jazz personified.  You don’t have to love the music for the movie to work, just appreciate the harsh but timeless message within.

4. Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat.)
An electrifying and exhilarating blockbuster experience, this Groundhog Day meets The Matrix meets Starship Troopers meets Source Code meets Independence Day mash-up somehow managed to beat with a gung-ho heart all its own…  It’s that rare popcorn action flick that effectively packs a bit of brain power in with the gun play. Workhorse efforts from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt keep the action fresh, fun, and in your face. 

3. Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best performances in recent memory in this slick, seedy and meticulously noir-ish drama/action/comedy/thriller hybrid.  Suspensefully riveting, it’s a fiendishly fun and pulse-poundingly rich ride through the late night, morally bankrupt streets of Los Angeles.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Torn between freedom and fear, Marvel’s best superhero flick to date deftly balances adrenalized fight sequences and a We-the-People, go-go America mindset with a seemingly real world, protect-the-country-at-all-costs political climate.  Chris Evans adds a slew of depth to the Boy Scout in blue in this sharp and suspenseful Jason Bourne-like ride.  It’s explosively action-packed, morally charged, and grounded in all sorts of governmental goonery.

1. Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Moving at the speed and rhythm of jazz – this riff-like search for relevancy at the cost of celebrity is playfully bizarre, dazzlingly layered, hilariously energetic and elegantly schizophrenic.  A career defining performance from Michael Keaton (plus wildly brilliant turns from Edward Norton and Emma Stone) makes this whirligig examination of artistic integrity, self realization and the ongoing battle between high art and box office gold, one of the richest films in recent history.  For the right viewer, Birdman soars.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

MY TOP 20 (THAT DIDN'T MAKE MY TOP 10) OF 2014

Since my ten favorite movies of 2014 list is currently under construction (I’m making it real purdy for y’all – you’re welcome!), I thought this would be a good place to offer up a few other flicks you should make an effort to see – because let’s face it, there’s always more than ten notable movies at the end of any given year.

Some of these spent many weeks treading water in the upper echelons of my ‘best of’ list, some white-knuckled it on the cusp and still others never stood a chance of making the cut – but they’re all solid cinematic experiences (some brilliant) and deserve – nay, demand – my endorsement.

You know the drill: read it, print it and magnetize it to your fridge. Whether you’re taking a trip to the theater or organizing your rental queue – I’m fairly certain this is one of the handiest movie lists you’re bound to find.

Back soon with my best and worst of 2014…

30. John Wick
Take the life of Keanu Reeves’ dog and he’ll take the lives of your Russian mob army.

29. A Most Violent Year
With a little corruption and some rampant violence the American dream is just within reach.

28. Annie
The majority of critics have spoken and they’re just plain wrong (and soulless), this was fun for the whole family.

27. 22 Jump Street
22 is greater than 21, both numerically and cinematically (in the form of cop comedies starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube).

26. X-Men: Days of Future Past
A time-traveling superhero flick that breathes new life in to a somewhat stale franchise.

25. The Fault in Our Stars
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort will simultaneously warm and wrench your heart.

24. The Drop
Tom Hardy delivers again (see #12) in this toned down tale of neighborhood mobsters.

23. Wild
Reese Witherspoon is wildly riveting in this true-life tale of redemption.

22. Selma
A gripping tale of MLK Jr and the movement for equal voting rights.

21. The Guest
Do me a favor, open the door and let this intentionally cheesy, B-movie, slasher flick in.

20. Snowpiercer
An ingenious sci-fi action flick that moves full steam ahead.

19. Top Five
Chris Rock’s occasionally self referential comedy damn near made my top ten.

18. The Theory of Everything
You don’t need to be an astrophysicist to appreciate this beautiful Stephen Hawking biopic/romance.

17. American Sniper
Bradley Cooper fights for his country and delivers one of the best performances of his career.

16. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
This masterful sequel to the fantastic reboot peals back layers and delivers thought-provoking thrills.

15. How to Train Your Dragon 2
Builds on character and depth from the original in a way that’s saved for classic sequels.

14. Begin Again
A lost Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightly make music and get found.

13. The LEGO Movie
Everything is…well, everything is really creative, energetic and fun.

12. Locke
A brilliant Tom Hardy…in a car…on a phone…and little else (in a really good way).

11. Guardians of the Galaxy
A C-level Marvel property that grooves to its own tune and introduces five rowdy new heroes.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

BOYHOOD (D+)

Bottom Line: Finally caught up with a movie I’ve been avoiding most of the year – due largely in part to its central ‘gimmick’ of filming a narrative regarding a young boy (over 12 actual years) as he navigates the emotionally treacherous waters of growing up, divorced parents, a single mother, abusive stepfather, starting new schools, etc… I have three boys at home and I watch them grow older every day and it breaks my heart, I didn’t need to see how it all plays out on the big screen.  The hype surrounding this film continues to hum along at a deafening roar with many saying it’s a frontrunner for a Best Picture Oscar.  This artistic beast is a critical darling.  Have to say though – aside from sporadically welcomed appearances of energy and urgency from Ethan Hawke – I was fairly unimpressed.  Having lived many of the central conceits, I found Boyhood to be an emotionally distant exercise in staying engaged.  I get the high-art factor here, the slice-of-life/coming-of-age story randomly unfolding over time…  But that’s how real life works, some may say.  A movie about life, however, should have a little life to it.  This does not – it just…kind of…moves through a series of uninteresting (for the most part) and unmemorable moments.  An adolescent mumbles, a teenager mopes and a mom makes a series of frustrating decisions.  Okay great – I’m gonna Google ‘how to build a time machine’ so I can get those 165 minutes back.  It’s also worth noting that Patricia Arquette (as the mom; a large part of this film) is said to be leading the pack in the Best Supporting Actress category – her acting chops here are so freshman stage play-like it makes me question the very sanity of 90% of my peers.  Seriously, she’s jarringly bad in this…  Crazy thing is you need not look any further than Linklater’s own masterful Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight) to find brilliant commentary on relationships and the human condition – you know, slice-of-life stuff.  Obscure, unfocused and virtually substance-free, Boyhood is not a film I’ll revisit nor one I’d recommend.

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Richard Linklater (BEFORE SUNRISE, BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, SCHOOL OF ROCK and DAZED & CONFUSED)
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs. 45 min.
Studio description: Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason's parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay's Yellow to Arcade Fire's Deep Blue. BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It's impossible to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey. (c) Sundance Film Fest

Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (C+)

Bottom Line: Once again lacking the energy, depth and sheer cinematic prowess of its preceding Lord of the Rings trilogy (three books, three movies), this final chapter of The Hobbit series (one book, three movies) inefficiently attempts to wring a few remaining drops of creative juice from a virtually dry sponge.  There’s a definitive pattern at play here where roughly 37 solidly entertaining minutes of each of the three films could have been used to make one impressively epic flick (An Unexpected Desolation of the Five Armies?  …or maybe we just call it The Hobbit and leave it at that).  Either way, this was a sporadically rousing and always bloated exercise in giving a damn.  It’s overly produced, meanderingly mechanical and earnestly unengaging.  When we’re not knee deep in The Real Dwarves of Middle Earth drama, you might favor some of the action scenes – but there’s little else to truly admire…  If you’re invested in this drawn out series it makes sense to take a look – but we've been here and it kinda feels like were going back again and again…and again.  At least this time though it’s the last time.

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom
Directed by: Peter Jackson (THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hr. 24 min.
Studio description: From Academy Award (R)-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the third in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town. Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor tohoard it as Bilbo's frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf, the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide - unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance. (c) Warner Bros


Official site: www.thehobbit.com