Talk about bad timing. In the wake of the disturbing news about the death of actor Paul Walker in a flaming Porsche (shades of James Dean!), along comes the posthumous release of his best, most mature film yet. Set against the turbulence and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, Hours is about a courageous father (Mr. Walker, as Nolan) trapped in a New Orleans hospital after everyone has been evacuated, doing whatever he can to keep his baby alive. Read More
More bitter, bleak lives of American mill workers without a compass and no place to go if they had one are showcased in the pessimistic drama Out of the Furnace. It’s getting to be a dismal film director’s obsession bordering on cliché. The hopeless losers this time are working-class brothers from the steel mills, caught between crime, drugs and bare-fisted boxing. But it’s the opening scene that sets the tone. A brain-damaged, coke-sniffing redneck named Harlan DeGroat, played by a miscast Woody Harrelson, vomits through his car window at a drive-in movie, slugs down a bottle of rotgut whiskey, sadistically shoves a hot dog down his girlfriend’s throat, beats the man in the next car senseless and drives away, leaving everyone on the ground for dead. It goes downhill from there. Read More
It never ceases to amaze me how many people manage to waste money producing movies so bland, empty and pretentious that nobody will ever see them. Don’t they read the scripts before they sign the checks? We’ve had several this year. Now here’s another. Night Train to Lisbon sounds enticing—like one of those dark flicks about Cold War spies in East Berlin with Richard Burton or William Holden. Check your enthusiasm at the door. It’s an independent co-production from Germany, Switzerland and Portugal (the worst kind, if you ask me) about a schoolteacher in Bern, Switzerland, named Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons), a voyeur of life but never a participant in it. Are you fascinated enough by this news to continue? Read More
As New York City’s streets play the backdrop in an ever increasing number of TV shows and movies, the tension between film crews and local residents has occasionally erupted into melees and/or the posting of passive aggressive notes. Things are so bad in some picturesque quarters of the the city that New York even has a “take five” program to give film-burdened blocks a temporary break.
But a new backlot at Astoria’s Kaufman Studios—the city’s first—should take some of the pressure off the streets, supplementing the burgeoning facilities at Steiner and Silvercup studios. Read More
Garbage never smells good, but you won’t find a landfill anywhere more offensive than Spike Lee’s stupid remake of Oldboy, the 2003 horror flick from South Korea by Park Chan-wook. This one stinks at 10 below zero. Read More
Adding to the avalanche of violence coming to a screen near you for the holiday season is Homefront, another eye-averting cornucopia of bloodshed and torture with Jason Statham, the balding British import who acts so tough you think he gargles with battery fluid. Considering the popularity of the TV show Homeland, it’s either an act of indifferent courage or an act of ferriferous stupidity to confuse the audience with a title like Homefront. I’ll be the judge. You be the jury. Read More
Excessive, over-produced, obscenely over-budgeted and utterly pointless, this second installment in the overrated trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins is nothing more than recycled ideas and stale CGI effects that seemed fresh and exciting the first time around the track but now hobble through the paces with the energy of a plow horse. As a wearer of distance glasses, I hate the revival of 3-D, a silly gimmick for kids from the 1950s that blighted everything from Bwana Devil to Kiss Me Kate then mercifully died out with House of Wax. So I was glad to watch the first Hunger Games without the discomfort of one pair of glasses worn over a second, and I didn’t miss a thing. I can live without another flying spear. This time, I saw part two in IMAX, a format that is a great advancement over 3-D but did nothing to improve this movie.
Philomena is not only my favorite film of 2013, but one of the most eloquent, powerful and perfect movies I have ever seen. A focused and triumphant performance by the miraculous Judi Dench keeps the harrowing aspects of a great story in flawless balance, and every other aspect of this film works like a hypnotic charm. Sensitively and carefully directed by Stephen Frears and brilliantly written by co-star Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that deserves genuflection. Read More
In today’s frenzied atmosphere of zombies, vampires and people floating aimlessly through outer space, the deceptive simplicity of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, the measured pace and the fact that it was filmed in glorious black-and-white, are possible reasons why it might not be every moviegoer’s cinematic bromide. But woe be the fool who misses it. Bruce Dern won the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. As Woody Grant, a grizzled vestige of a fading era of calloused, pioneer American spirit that has all but vanished, he is focused, three-dimensional, fully realized and mesmerizing. Read More
Movies about hopeless losers living below the poverty level don’t pack much entertainment value for the holiday season, and despite the presence of Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon, a depressing dirge called Sunlight Jr. seems headed for a box office burial long before anybody brings out the eggnog. Read More