This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of April to June 2013


“Cloud Atlas”-Directed by Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and Andy and Lana Wachowski (“The Matrix”), “Cloud Atlas” is a highly unusual and mesmerizing, albeit confusing, film about the interconnections of a group of people over a vast period of time as they struggle for freedom from tyranny, whether of corporations, politicians, or individuals. With an outstanding cast of actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, and Keith David), each of whom plays a variety of characters, some not recognizable at all, “Cloud Atlas” is cinematically gorgeous. The biggest problem, which becomes very obvious at the start, is that it jumps around constantly between the different tales being told and challenges the viewer to make sense out of it all. With a running time approaching three hours, sense eventually comes, but it’s not an easy accomplishment. While Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, each playing six characters, are the obvious stars of this film, other standout performances come from Jim Broadbent (especially as Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who finds himself outrageously imprisoned in an adult home by his revenge-seeking brother), Ben Whishaw as Robert Frobisher, a hustler and composer with suicidal tendencies, and Korean actress Doona Bae as a replicant in futuristic Seoul who has a real personality and joins the opposition to the corporations that run that world. “Cloud Atlas” is a sight to see and is definitely worth the challenge. A- (6/29/13)


“A Late Quartet”-Set in snowy New York City, “A Late Quartet” is a charming and intelligent film about a group of musicians who, while extremely well disciplined in their professional activities as a classical quartet, are also human and thus capable of being undisciplined in their private lives. For the members of the quartet, it is not enough that a significant health problem arises for one of the members. As things progress, marital and romantic problems threaten the quartet’s future. Christopher Walken, in an unusually serious role for him, plays Peter Mitchell, the cellist, with sincerity and effectiveness. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, in typically outstanding performances, are the unhappily married Gelbarts, whose daughter, Alexandra (Imogen Poots), a violin prodigy, is attracted to the fourth and most intriguing member of the quartet, Daniel Lerner (the excellent Israeli/Russian actor Mark Ivanir). With the background of lovely shots of wintry Manhattan and especially the magnificent music, primarily a Beethoven quartet, “A Late Quartet” explores the lives and problems of these four intelligent but troubled (for different reasons) stars of the world of classical music. A- (6/6/13)


“Silver Linings Playbook”-This is a somewhat over-hyped film. It’s not a bad film, but it didn’t deserve the raves and attention that it received. That was due in part to the cast, including Bradley Cooper as Pat, a manic-depressive just out of a mental hospital after having beaten his wife’s lover. Pat is convinced that his separated wife will come back to him with open arms. But he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) under somewhat unlikely circumstances and, despite his weirdness, Tiffany finds herself intrigued with Pat, so much so that she wants to get him to join her in what is ultimately a very humorous ballroom dancing competition. Pat believes he will find a silver lining in life and you can guess whether or not he does. Jennifer Lawrence is an outstanding young actress and, together with her appearances in “Winter’s Bone” and “The Hunger Games,” is on her way to a major film career. Robert De Niro appears in one of his best roles in recent years as Pat’s OCD-burdened father. But Jacki Weaver, an Australian actress known for playing tough or ruthless characters, such as Smurf Cody in “Animal Kingdom,” is pretty much wasted in the relatively quiet role of Pat’s mother. If you like films about slightly disturbed and wacky people, don’t miss this. B+ (5/24/13)


“Les Misérables”- Obviously, this is a review of the movie based on the live musical play and the book by Victor Hugo, although the story and certainly the play must be considered in evaluating the film. I’ve never thought much of the score of “Les Mis” or the play (seen on television). It’s loud, pompous, has too many characters and coincidences, and, although it has a couple of memorable songs, the score is generally unsophisticated, hokey and over-the-top. Oh, yes, the film has its enjoyable scenes, including the ones involving the humorous Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter--casting that is just right). Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Amanda Seyfried as Collette, and Eddie Redmayne as Marius do workmanlike jobs. Anne Hathaway surprises as Fantine, the factory worker turned prostitute, demonstrating a fairly decent singing voice. I found viewing the film more tolerable than I had expected, but from the perspective of someone with a long history of seeing live Broadway musicals (my first was “My Fair Lady” in 1956), and the films made from those shows, it’s not a film I would highly recommend to those with sophisticated musical taste . B- (5/22/13)


“Django Unchained”- The film begins in 1858 with a blaze of gunfire as Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German former dentist turned bounty hunter, frees the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) to aid him in finding three fugitives who are wanted “dead or alive.” When Schultz learns that Django is a married man, Schultz offers Django a deal. Work with him as a bounty hunter for the winter, and then they will proceed to Mississippi to find Django’s wife, the slave Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who can speak some German (taught by her original owners). After killing a few fugitives and taking in their bodies for cash, Schultz and Django proceed to the rescue mission which will take them to a plantation with the unlikely name of Candie Land, owned by the rather creepy and cruel Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). As I watched “Django Unchained,” I wondered whether director/screenwriter Quentin Tarantino was trying to make a point about slavery and human relations, but after what seemed like a couple of thousand uses of the “N” word, a rather surrealistic portrayal of the life of slaves on plantations, and classic Tarantino ultra-violence (at least several thousand shots are fired, a few sticks of dynamite go off, one man is torn to shreds by dogs, another is killed with a hammer after losing a fight, and blood and guts splash in virtually every direction) I decided that he really had no point to make other than using slavery as an excuse for spreading blood and guts all over the screen. There are some memorable performances in this dreary film. Christoph Waltz is brilliant as the clever, smooth-talking Schultz, and Leonard DiCaprio is amazingly sinister for the first time as the murderous Candie. Jamie Foxx is fine as Django, but it’s a part that doesn’t require the subtleties of the other primary roles. And then there is the almost unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson in the astonishing role of Stephen, an elderly white-haired slave who runs Candie’s plantation home and is as much a persecutor of the slaves on the plantation as any white man could be. But after 2 hours and 45 minutes of this, “Django Unchained” left me incredibly weary. It’s never a good sign when a viewer can’t wait for the film to end. “Django Unchained” had potential. The opening portions in which Schultz reveals his nature and character are quite funny and clever. But the remaining and primary rescue portion of the film goes on and on and on in a sickening fashion, and needed some really good editing. C+ (4/27/13)


“Rust and Bone”-Alain, a young somewhat aimless man (Matthias Schoenaerts) comes from Belgium with his young son to stay at his sister’s home. There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of affection between him and his sister, and later Alain's questionable spying activity in a security job results in hostilities between the two. Struggling to make a living, he takes jobs as a bouncer at a club and later as a security worker. While working as a bouncer he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a young woman who has been assaulted at the club. Despite the fact that she is living with her boyfriend, Alain leaves his phone number. Neither says very much about themselves, but later we discover that Stephanie is an orca trainer at a “Sea World” type facility until a horrible accident occurs resulting in the loss of the lower portions of her legs. At some point, the depressed disabled Stephanie calls Alain and he responds, taking her to the beach, but there is little in the way of communication between them. Despite the talents of the two stars, I felt absolutely no chemistry between the two. Alain is obviously courteous to Stephanie but he offers sex in such an off-the-cuff impersonal way that it’s hard to imagine any real affection developing. And yet Stephanie continues to show attachment to Alain, including to his rather violent non-professional boxing activities. My biggest problem with this film is the lack of character development. Both characters seem to have little or no personality. Despite hanging around each other, it’s hard to imagine any real affection. Marion Cotillard is normally one of my favorite actresses, but here she leaves me cold. And never did I get any real feeling about just who Alain is and what he is feeling about Stephanie or anything else. Only at the end is there an artificial exclamation of human feelings. The film has one memorable scene, however. After Stephanie has obtained prosthetic legs and can walk, she visits the facility where she worked with the orcas. At one point, she stands at the aquarium glass and magically communicates with one of the orcas using her hands. A lovely scene and the only scene in the film that seemed to demonstrate any real warmth and affection. (In French with English subtitles) C (4/26/13)


“Lincoln”-When I saw “Argo,” I felt it deserved the Oscar it received. But now, having seen this brilliant film, directed by Steven Spielberg, I have to make something of an about-face and say that whereas “Argo” was an excellent thriller, “Lincoln” not only is an extremely significant and timely historical film but contains some of the best acting performances I’ve seen in many a day. Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful as Abraham Lincoln. He has the amazing ability to almost totally morph into the character he plays, and in watching this film, I rarely thought about the fact that I was viewing an actor playing a role. For 2 1/2 hours, Daniel Day-Lewis is Abraham Lincoln. Some of his scenes, where he is simply conversing and philosophizing with the people around him, are breathtaking moments in film history. On top of that, Tommy Lee Jones’s performance as Thaddeus Stevens is a thing of beauty, but does not outdo the acting of Sally Fields as the manic and hysterical Mrs. Lincoln. “Lincoln” takes place at the end of the Civil War and centers on Lincoln’s efforts to get the House of Representatives to pass a bill sending the 13th Amendment (outlawing slavery) to the states for ratification. It is January 1865 and things are a little topsy-turvy from the Congress we know and “love” today. At that time, it was the Republicans who were the anti-slave progressives and the Democrats who were the obstinate opponents of all that was good and virtuous. Whether this was done by the filmmakers on purpose or not, the actions of the members of the House in January 1865, reminded me of what goes on in Washington today: greed, self-interest, ignorance, and prejudice. “Lincoln” also has a powerful supporting cast, including James Spader and John Hawkes as operatives trying to turn enough Democratic votes in favor of the amendment, David Straithairn as Secretary of State Seward, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln who desperately wants a chance to enlist before the war ends, and Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) as Ulysses S. Grant. I’m not sure why Oscar voters ignored “Lincoln” for all but best actor and production design, but in my opinion “Lincoln” is truly a film for the ages. A (4/22/13)


“Anna Karenina”-This is a painful movie to watch. Despite being based on the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy, the filmmakers have managed to turn this story of a late 19th century Russian noblewoman’s romantic misdeeds into an awful soap opera. Using a pretentious stylistic theater/stage setting for portions of the film, they've provided a relatively good cast (Emily Watson, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly McDonald, Ruth Wilson, and Michelle Dockery, for example) but ruined everything by a disastrous miscasting of the primary romantic roles. Keira Knightley (as Anna) is simply a mediocre actress who attracts significant roles for no apparent reason. When she is on the screen I am usually checking the clock to see if the film is going to be over soon. But the worst mistake, by far, was the casting of Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky. Taylor-Johnson, who once played the young John Lennon in “Nowhere Man,” looks and acts like a kid trying to play an adult. It was impossible to take him seriously as the romantic Count who is supposed to be so charming and handsome that Anna throws away her marriage and social standing. It is inconceivable that this man would have the power to cause a woman to violate the rules of late 19th Century imperial society by having an affair and a child out-of-wedlock. The irony is that Jude Law, who plays Karenin, Anna’s husband, looks far more mature and attractive in every imaginable way (despite the filmmakers’ attempts to make him look dowdy), than Aaron Taylor-Johnson could ever be in this role. My recommendation: miss this mess. C- (4/2/13)

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“Jack Reacher”- This is one of those films that makes you wonder what the filmmakers were thinking. Tom Cruise, looking his age, plays Jack Reacher, a slightly mysterious former military cop, who is called in after a sniper murders five people in downtown Pittsburgh. Not only does the accused sniper ask for Reacher, but the accused’s attorney, Helen (Rosamund Pike), thinks he can help. In typical fashion, Reacher arrives and raises questions about the sniper’s motives, and is always seemingly several steps ahead of everyone else, even when getting beaten up by apparently hired thugs. The main problem with this film is the very thin plot. There is nothing logical or convincing about the motives for the shootings, in a screenplay loaded with clichés. In addition, in this film Cruise just doesn’t seem to have the spunk necessary for a first-rate action hero, a flaw multiplied by the fact that the filmmakers make no effort to take advantage of Rosamund Pike’s talents. She’s a good British actress with an American accent in a part that could have been played by virtually anyone. The cast includes some very good actors who have to plod through the silliness of their roles, including David Oyelowo as the cop in charge of the murder investigation, Richard Jenkins as the DA who also happens to be Helen’s father, and the great filmmaker Werner Herzog in a listless role as a German bad guy. On the other hand, Robert Duvall provides a little bit of pizzazz as a rifle range manager who joins Reacher’s efforts, for no logical reason other than that he seems to like shooting, as the film climaxes. “Jack Reacher” is mostly a dud. C- (6/13/13)


“Hyde Park on Hudson”-Despite having the presence of Bill Murray as FDR and Laura Linney as his cousin Daisy, “Hyde Park on Hudson” seemed more like a slightly flimsy TV show than a feature film. It tells the story of wheelchair-bound President Roosevelt seeking out his distant cousin Daisy while spending time at his mother’s home in Hyde Park, NY. When Daisy is summoned, FDR initially flirts with her by encouraging her to peruse his stamp collection. But it doesn’t take long for them to enter into a physical relationship, despite the presence nearby of his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams). In the midst of all this, the King (Samuel West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) of England come to visit in what appears to be a rather uncomfortable occasion for the Royals. Queen Elizabeth (the current Queen Elizabeth’s mother) seems especially uncomfortable with drawings making fun of British soldiers in the War of 1812 and with a proposed picnic where the fare is to be good old American hotdogs. But the King, the same one portrayed in “The King’s Speech,” understands the need for rapport with the US as war is looming in Europe. The heart of the film is the story of Daisy, who has fallen for her presidential cousin, but who ultimately is shocked to learn things about her powerful cousin’s proclivities. Laura Linney is especially fine and appealing as Daisy. I like Bill Murray but can’t say that he provided a totally effective portrayal of FDR, a man with a distinct look and accent. Nevertheless, he portrays FDR with a sense of humanity often missing in historical portraits. In the end “Hyde Park on Hudson” is a nice but not terribly memorable film. B- (6/15/13)