Sunday, January 29, 2012

THE HEROES: a review of "Red Tails"

Executive Producer George Lucas
Story by John Ridley
Screenplay Written by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
*** ½ (three and a half stars)

In 1996, when I was 27 years old, I saw an awe-inspiring image, the likes of which I had never, ever seen before, in one of the unlikeliest of motion pictures, Roland Emmerich’s science-fiction action, disaster epic “Independence Day.” It was an action sequence set after the remarkable destruction of the White House and the first waves of the alien attack. In a desert, one alien fighter pilot is feverishly pursuing none other than African-American fighter pilot Will Smith. After some aerial derring-do and shootouts, Smith blasts the alien ship and both crafts crash land. A furious Smith eventually makes his way to the spacecraft, opens up the hatch and catches his first glimpse of the creature housed inside. With a roundhouse punch, Smith beats the alien unconscious and says with finality, “Welcome to Earth!” In all of my life of going to the movies and especially being weaned upon the incredible sights and sounds of the blockbuster films released during the summer movie season, never had I seen the sight of an African-American, male or female, in such command. Especially not to the degree that the focus of the entire film shifted to that African-American in particular. As “Independence Day” stretched onwards to its rousing climax, I was further thrilled beyond imagine that Will Smith’s character was never once relegated to the sidelines and that his actions were instrumental in the act of saving the world.

I mention this story because, again, in my lifetime of watching movies and being enthralled by superheroes, villains, explosions, chases, battles either hand to hand or interstellar, African-Americans were, and remain, in depressingly short supply. Even with my beloved “Star Wars” saga, as a child, I could always pretend to be Han Solo, and see Lando Calrissian help Han Solo but I would never see anyone that looked like me as Han Solo.

So, I applaud George Lucas’ “Red Tails,” a passion project inspired by the events and history of the Tuskegee Airmen fighter pilots, that has been in gestation for nearly a quarter of a century. As directed by veteran television filmmaker Anthony Hemingway (who has helmed episodes of the extraordinary HBO series “The Wire” and “Treme”) and written by veteran screenwriter John Ridley and “Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder, Lucas’ visions of a rip-roaring, unapologetically old fashioned World War II action film, but featuring a nearly entirely African-American cast, has finally hit the big screen and I am very happy to tell you that I was enormously entertained. “Red Tails” is everything that Lucas proclaimed for it to be. It is as defiantly patriotic, flag waving and as heroic and even (or especially) as corny as an old John Wayne war movie, like “Sands Of Iwo Jima” (1949). But don’t let that wooden, clunky dialogue and those thin characterization fool you. Lucas, Hemingway, Ridley and McGruder all have something grander and even gently subversive in mind which made for an experience that rewarded me richly.

“Red Tails” opens in Italy 1944 as the 332nd Fighter Group of young African-American pilots are finally sent into aerial battle against the Germans. Unfortunately, this particular collective of pilots, deemed by the top brass as being unable and too unskilled to take on plane to plane combat despite the fact that the Tuskegee airmen have all successfully graduated from the training program, are commanded to remain in the background with worn out planes and exclusively search for enemy ground transport vehicles.

While the group’s overall morale is low, regarding any potential that they will one day be allowed to fully defend the United States Of America just like their Caucasian counterparts, their camaraderie to each other and to their country in steadfast and unshakable. Leading the team is Martin “Easy” Julien (Nate Parker), a closet alcoholic filled with a secret pain of self doubt and his best friend is the hotheaded, reckless Joe “Lightning” Little (an excellent David Oyelowo). The twosome are the yin-yang of a squadron that includes, and is not limited to, the eager Ray “Ray Gun” Gannon (Tristan Wilde), the wise-guy Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley), the guitar playing Andrew “Smoky” Salem (Ne-Yo) and the newly arrived Maurice “Bumps” Wilson (Michael B. Jordan). The team is commanded by both the perpetually pipe smoking Major Emanuel Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), who constantly run up against the upper military bureaucracy who are still extremely resistant to accepting Black fighter pilots as equals.

At long last, the team is granted the opportunity to truly test their wings as part of Operation Shingle, where they will fly in support of the Allied landings. The team’s successful aerial engagement with German fighter pilots, led by the flying ace “Pretty Boy” (Lars van Reisen), affords them the chance to participate as bomber escorts. Acceptance for this request comes with Col. Bullard’s stipulation that the run down planes be permanently docked and replaced with the spanking new North American P-51 Mustang, the sleekest, fastest planes in the military. The top brass conceded and the team, now dubbed the “Red Tails” due to the red paint that adorns the tails of their planes are ready, more than ever, to defend and fight for their country down to the last man and the last bullet.

“Red Tails” is rousing, tremendously exciting entertainment from beginning to end. The film is filled with strong performances (especially from Nate Parker and David Oyelowo), and possesses a large amount of spectacularly staged, choreographed and executed aerial battle sequences that are visually stunning and from a special effects standpoint, completely fulfill the promise of “white-on white background” effects that Lucas pioneered with “The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Now, as about half of the two-hour film is set in the air, it would be very easy to dismiss the film as some critics have already by stating that the film soars when it is in the air but is stagnant whenever it is on the ground—kind of like Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” (1986). To that criticism, I fully disagree.

For now, I must turn my attention once again to Director Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” a film I have spent more than enough time expressing to you how much I hated. I promise not to go through all of my personal vitriol against that film all over again but for the purposes of discussing “Red Tails,” I feel it necessary. As I have previously stated, one of the majors reasons I found “The Help” so distasteful was that I felt the film was much too simplistic and facile considering its subject matter. I felt a much more uncomfortable experience was necessary for that particular story but the character were terribly thin, their motivations and feelings were painted in the broadest of strokes making for an experience I felt to be wholly false.

“Red Tails” shares many of the same qualities as “The Help” from its own broad strokes, the extremely simplistic and narrow swath of a deeply complicated story, fairly thin characters who voice clunky dialogue and cornpone sentiments from time to time. Yes, “Red Tails” has a near complete lack of subtlety and it is a film that is not nearly as complex, nuanced or especially as angry as it could have been or some feel that it needed to be. So, how and why could I champion this film and not “The Help,” you ask? Well, to me, while many of the qualities of both films are very similar, there is one major and extremely important contrast between the films. “The Help” is a presentation of the African-American experience almost exclusively through the eyes of a Caucasian while “Red Tails” is a presentation of the African-American experience seen through African-American eyes!

For all of the criticism Lucas shoulders regarding the characterizations and dialogue of his films, and yes the characters do stand out as archetypes rather than full, three-dimensional human beings, he is a masterful visual storyteller who almost always knows exactly the right image to use to make his grandest points. In “Red Tails,” the image of young, strong, intelligent and attractive African-Americans as patriotic fighter pilots, doing their parts to save the world from the likes of Adolf Hitler is unquestionably powerful. The image is everything you need for a film like this and from the image, we make the connections and the conclusions. Compare and contrast the images between “The Help” and “Red Tails” and the potential effect it could have not only within the African-American society but throughout the larger global society. In “The Help,” we see African-Americans as silently suffering, endlessly noble victims waiting to be saved by a white woman while in “Red Tails,” we see African-American actively defend their country. In “The Help,” African-Americans are sidelined within their own story while in “Red Tails,” African-Americans are the story.

And this is where I feel that “Red Tails” is a more and cleverly subversive film than it really lets on…and much more than film critics are giving it credit for. No, George Lucas is not Spike Lee and I would never imagine Lucas making a film in the fashion Lee creates his work. All of that being said, I think Lucas has accomplished something fairly remarkable. “Red Tails,” by being presented in the style of a classic war movie that would air on late night television somewhere, belies its actual importance. In some ways, it is as if Lucas is getting the messages to the masses by going through the back door instead of the front.

Yes, the issue of race is placed front and center throughout all of “Red Tails,” but since the characters of Easy, Lightning and their team are all presented in broad strokes, in a sense very naïve strokes, I would think that any audience member could possibly envision themselves in their shoes…like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. The film almost transcends race while firmly keeping the race and accomplishes and inequalities faced by the characters entirely as the focus. You are thinking of race while not thinking of race.

The war movie clichés also allow the history of the piece to go down smoothly. “Red Tails” never preaches to you but also creates a sensation that is fully designed to inspire one to want to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, their full history, struggles and of course, their victories. Therefore, “Red Tails” is a history lesson without feeling like a history lesson.

Lucas has also stated that he has wanted this film to serve as inspiration for teenage African-American boys and I found it fascinating that he has essentially created an experience that provides what African-Americans can aspire to be in the present and the future while viewing images of what African-Americans have already been.

And then there is the nature of the film itself as a big budget blockbuster experience. The great Roger Ebert, in his so-so review of the film, even questioned why Lucas had to make a big budget, blockbuster sized film of this material in the first place. To that, I answer: why not? This is yet another one of Lucas’ subversive moves as historically, big budget blockbuster motion pictures about the African American experience or featuring large African-American casts are simply not made. African-Americans can be in those movies of course. But, we cannot be those movies. We can be the sidekick but we cannot be the hero. We can serve the story but we cannot be the story. Lucas, in one big budget blockbuster swoop, straight from his own deep pockets no less, has upended that perception by funding the production and distribution of the film himself. Now that the film has been released and proven itself to be a hit film, I would be thrilled if the color of money would force the suits in Hollywood to give more African-American filmmakers a chance. Yes, Lucas is going to receive all of the credit and notoriety as his name is above the title. But, the fact that “Red Tails” carries an African-American director, producer, two screenwriters and a squadron of talented, skilled actors all ready to work, I would hope would bode well for an ushering of more African American creative talents to helm a wider variety of films from big budget blockbusters to independent films to everything else in between.

Certainly, that is a lot of responsibility for one film to carry and I concede that it is unfair for “Red Tails” to shoulder that level of responsibility. But, I have to say that as it stands, “Red Tails” was enormously entertaining and I would see it again in a heartbeat. The collective of actors bring soul, spirit and humanity to the well-worn clichés and make them seem fresh again. The collective of actors coalesce so strongly that the ease they share with each other is obvious and our affection goes out to them instantly. Crucially, the friendship and tension between Easy and Lightning gave the film a pure and grounded emotional core. And I even found myself surprisingly affected by the film’s love story between the Lightning and Sofia (Daniela Ruah), a young Italian woman who astonishingly and improbably captures Lightning’s eye as he sails overhead, fresh from his latest flying victory.

Most importantly, I was inspired and so very thankful that I could finally see a film of this size and scope, filled from one end to the other with people who look like me firmly placed, literally and figuratively in the pilot’s seat.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


And now it is time!!

Yes, dear readers, I have arrived at my annual tradition of giving one last, pounding kick to the films that let me down during the past year. If there is a constant theme, it just may be that these are a collection of films that never went the extra mile, never exited any sense of sanctuary to create movie experiences that would be truly unique and unforgettable. Nope. These were the time wasters, the impersonal and the poorly conceived and executed. The gloves are off and I'm ready to rumble!!!!!

As always, these are solely my opinions and not designed to offend anyone's personal tastes. Full reviews for all of the following films are on this site so let me know if you'd like to read one in its entirety.


“CONTAGION” Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Ever since his spectacularly horrible creative stumble with “Ocean’s Twelve,” a film I hated so much that I felt it was the very worst film of 2004, Steven Soderbergh has never really regained his cinematic feet in my eyes. “Contagion,” the well reviewed global thriller about a terrifying pandemic, was not a bad film and it even had its good points. What I appreciated most about the film was that is was essentially a 1970s styled disaster film played to an exceedingly more intelligent and even scientific degree. The problem was that Soderbergh was all too aware of that quality and that level of self-congratulatory smugness upended the film as a whole leaving me with something that was extremely underwhelming, uninvolving and sadly unemotional, especially considering the subject matter. Also, a major problem I had with this film was that it suffered from Soderbergh’s reliance and (again) self-congratulatory adoration upon an “all-star cast” which was more than a little distracting. Despite strong performances by everyone, Marion Cottilard and Jude Law’s roles were completely superfluous and honestly, was it really necessary that Gwyneth Paltrow was cast as Matt Damon’s wife, as opposed to an unknown actress, when she dies within the very first few minutes of the film?

“COWBOYS AND ALIENS” Directed by Jon Favreau
The title? Outstanding!! The first trailer? Also outstanding!! One of the most anticipated films of the year became one of the year’s biggest disappointments by a long shot and it was just so sad as the potential was there to create something truly special. Again, it is not a bad film and it does have its good points from the performances, special effects, period set design and overall visual sheen. But if you are going to bother to title your film with a moniker as out of the box as this one, then I feel that the filmmakers were obligated to create a film that lived up to that title. Unfortunately, after some opening razzle dazzle, “Cowboys and Aliens” settled into the exact same, tired, predictable summer movie rhythms that we have all seen for the last 15-20 years.


“DRIVE” Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
I liked this movie. I really did. But I have to also tell you that I have barely given the film even one thought ever since I saw it this past September. In fact, the only time I have really thought about this movie has been during the previous month when film critics were listing their favorite films of the year and “Drive” found its place upon one Top Ten list after another. Now, to each their own when it comes to opinions of course. First of all, there was nothing Oscar worthy about Albert Brooks’ performance as a ruthless gangster. Sorry, but the novelty of playing against type is not enough to receive an award. Secondly, I found “Drive” to be too in love with its own visual aesthetics that it even crossed the line of good taste. The film contains not one but two sequences of graphic violence so extreme that it felt obvious that Refn cared more about how a woman’s head, splattered by a shotgun blast, would look against the décor of a shabby motel room than actual storytelling. And finally, this dark thriller about a reticent Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for all manner of crooks and thieves (very well played by Ryan Gosling) was nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing more than an homage to the archetypal characters and situations from films by Sergio Leone, Walter Hill and mostly, film noirs from the 1980s, complete with a pulsating electronic music score. Now this would be all well and good if Refn bothered to insert any personality or even humanity into the proceedings. Something that would make the film stand on its own cinematic feet. I said it last fall and I’ll say it again at this time: If Director Michael Mann had never made a film, then “Drive” would not exist. Period.

“MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE” Directed by Sean Durkin
In my recent posting that compiled my initial reactions to the Oscar nominations, I remarked that I was saddened that Elizabeth Olsen was not nominated for Best Actress with her intense and layered debut performance in this rustic psychological thriller about a young woman’s; attempts to regain her psyche after escaping a cult. But, unfortunately, I exited this film feeling that for all of the hand-wringing, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” was an exercise in self-congratulatory ambiguity and not much more, therefore making the end result feel almost pointless.

“WIN WIN” Directed by Tom McCarthy
This film is also not a bad one by any means but for my sensibilities, I felt this film was not nearly as funny, perceptive, insightful, or as honest as it, and many, many critics, thought that it was. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a struggling New Jersey attorney who grows so financially desperate that he becomes the legal guardian for a wealthy, yet Alzheimer’s disease ridden client solely to pocket a monthly fee of $1500. When the client’s troubled, runaway grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) arrives in town, Mike takes the boy in to live with him and his own family. When Mike discovers that Kyle is in fact a star wrestler, Mike utilizes his athletic skills to transform the perpetually losing team he coaches into all-star winners. “Win Win” is a cultural commentary about the financial strains faced by the middle class plus also existing as a wider examination of modern day morals and ethics. What disappointed me was that this provocative storyline was told with a surprising lack of ambition and fearlessness. The most questionable aspects of Paul Giamatti’s character are simply waved away because it seemed as if McCarthy was too focused on getting the audience to like him, always a bad move. And worst of all, the final act and film’s resolution just wrapped everything up much, much to tidily and unconvincingly.

And now, dear readers, here they are…


“THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU” Directed by George Nolfi
Sometimes movies are just stupid. There’s no reason to become wrathful against them. There’s no reason to allow a film like that to ruin your day. It was a decent idea executed poorly. “The Adjustment Bureau” is that kind of movie. Now, this one really did have a strong idea at its core, not a surprise as this was an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. Unfortunately, “Blade Runner” it ain’t!! Matt Damon shares excellent chemistry with Emily Blunt in this existential thriller that is about nothing less than the battle for free will against pre-determined destiny as Damon attempts to outsmart the Brooks Brothers suit and fedora wearing “watchers” who oversee and control the personal destinies of every living being for “The Chairman.” Sadly, the film came off as more than a little ridiculous as the story’s rules seemed to change at will, nothing really made any collective sense and the “watchers” themselves, beings who proudly state that they have influenced every human decision known since the beginning of time, make one foolish error after error, one of which was simply oversleeping. It was difficult to feel any storytelling tension and urgency when the antagonists are nothing more than overworked, understaffed members of middle management. But hey, at least it tried. Too bad it failed.

“BAD TEACHER” Directed by Jake Kasdan
The more I think about this movie, the more I hated it and I realize that my original “two star’ review may have been more than a little generous. I think it was after seeing the terrific “Young Adult,” that whatever feelings I had about this movie began to sour even more. Frankly, don’t waste my time with a so-called edgy comedy proclaiming that it is going to be about an extremely unlikable character when it doesn’t and never intended, to have the guts to follow through with the concept. Cameron Diaz stars as a surly and unmotivated middle school teacher and you know, that’s pretty much the movie right there. Unfortunately, Jake Kasdan, who should know better as he has made several much better, funnier films, has created an increasingly lazy, trite and safe comedy when it should have been dangerous, risky and unafraid to alienate some viewers. Not every comedy needs to slide down the middle of mass appeal. It should be unafraid to break some rules and take some creative risks. Dirty words, the suggestion of nasty sex and loud flatulent jokes, in and of themselves are just not enough and that is entirely what this film had.

“CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE” Directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requa
I have to take out the big clubs for this one. I would have just placed this film into my “Over-Rated” category if I had liked the film more but I’m sorry, and without any intended disrespect to those of you who did love this film, I truly thought that this latest entry in the struggling romantic comedy genre missed the mark by a wide mile. Steve Carell (who gave the film's best and most touching performance) and Julianne Moore portray a couple on the verge of divorce. Their teenage son is helplessly in love with the family babysitter who happens to be nursing a secret crush on Carell. Ryan Gosling plays a smooth operator at the neighborhood bar who takes the distraught Carell under his wing for a course in male self-improvement and Emma Stone also appears as a law student traveling through her own romantic disappointments and eventually shacks up with Gosling, forcing him to re-evaluate his own romantic thoughts and desires. So far, so good but the problem was that the film offered complex emotional situations and let them all squander in horribly contrived sitcom situations and resolutions. Please do not even try to defend the sad sequence involving a nude photo of the babysitter combined with her parent’s disdain for Carell’s character—the stupidity, inherent in the film’s title, was at a peak during this point. Furthermore, dear readers, was there ever any realistic and viable reason for Gosling and Carell to become friends other than to satisfy a late film plot point? Marissa Tomei was utterly wasted in an ill-conceived role as well. Even the teen romance between the son and the babysitter felt so false and concluded with a completely unrealistic and unromantic wish fulfillment fantasy that bordered on an adult male driven fantasy. Every time the film seemed to veer towards a moment of truth, like in a school hallway scene between Carell and Moore or even the film’s best sequence, a night long courtship between Gosling and Stone, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” always found a way to take the easy way out when it needed to be funnier and more emotionally honest and aching. Just because a modern day romantic comedy walks a taste on the side of being a tad more realistic than the garbage that is usually released, it does not make it a great film. And “Crazy, Stupid, Love” wasn’t even a good film.

“THE GREEN HORNET” Directed by Michel Gondry
Oh boy…the limitations of Seth Rogen became abundantly clear with this terrible comic book film which was (again!) conceived and performed without one stitch of creative ingenuity and risk. It is a one-joke movie, which I will explain so as to save you the trouble of seeing this film and wasting your time: sidekick Kato is the brains and brawn of the two man team. That’s it. Nothing more to see here. So, let’s just move along, shall we?

“THE HELP” Directed by Tate Taylor
I have to take out even bigger clubs to go against this film, one of 2011’s blockbusters and now Oscar nominated piece. Dear readers, I have to politely yet vehemently disagree with all of you who were deeply affected by "The Help" when I say that for me and my sensibilities, this was by far one of the worst films I saw in 2011. Aside from some basic and poorly executed storytelling and narrative issues I hated that “The Help” was yet another story about the African-American experience as seen through Caucasian eyes. Mostly I don't think the film, which is set in the south at the dawn of the Civil Rights era, was ANYWHERE near as daring, provocative, courageous, or as fearlessly UNCOMFORTABLE as it had to be. The maids were all noble, silent sufferers waiting for someone, anyone to give them an outlet for their voices and experiences to be heard. Most of the white characters were cartoon racists designed to appeal to the contempt of any good natured person who happened to be watching the movie. Throughout and sadly, there were no three dimensional human beings anywhere in sight. Everyone was a type and did not exist beyond that type and for a film of this nature and subject matter, that is condescending as well as an embarrassment. The overall messages of the film were no deeper than “racism is bad” and “not all white people are racists” and essentially everything all boiled down to a disastrously cartoonish crowd pleaser of a toilet joke. It disturbed me that a film that spent most of its time speaking of courage was one that was so fearful of its topic, so aware of the imaginary white audience that it was painfully, desperately trying to not offend that it profoundly suffered from a complete lack of honesty. “The Help” did not work for me at all. And in fact, I find it cringe worthy that it has received so many Oscar nominations but it shouldn’t be a surprise as this is the awards show that anointed “Driving Miss Daisy” as the Best Picture of 1989, the very same year they all but ignored Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.” I realize that I am in the minority as far as the response to “The Help” is concerned but that's how I felt about it and I make no apologies for it.

“ONE DAY” Directed by Lone Scherfig
How do you turn a great book into a terrible movie? Look no further than this monumental failure, which is such a shame as it could have been a love story for the ages. Based upon the wonderful, beautiful novel by David Nicholls, Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess star as Emma and Dexter, whose relationship is chronicled over the course of 20 years as snapshot moments entirely presented to us as the events which occur on July 15th. The framework could have allowed all of us to chart the trajectories and inherent fragilities within our own lives, loves and friendships through the prism of Emma and Dexter. Unfortunately, Scherfig’s presentation and execution was lifeless, emotionless and therefore, pointless. By not digging deeply into the themes of the novel, most notably how friendship grow, change and the difficulties of maintaining them as we age, all we received were essentially the “greatest hits” of the story yet without any meaning attached to them. Hathaway looks to be on the verge of tears in almost every scene but moist eyes alone cannot convey deep sadness with life’s disappointments. Sturgess seems to solely be acting by hairstyle, signaling to us the passage of time not through an actual performance but by how much gray has been applied to his temples. Crucially, Scherfig also made a classic error of telegraphing a late film and seismic plot twist in the film’s very first scene! The failure of “One Day” was not a case of the movie on the screen not matching the movie in my head as I read the novel. The failure of “One Day” stemmed completely in the fact that there was no passion, no urgency, no intimacy, no understanding of the euphoria and ache that accompanies love and the deepest bonds we share with our nearest and dearest.

“OUR IDOT BROTHER” Directed by Jesse Peretz
The less said about this film the better. The superficial, shallow story of a perpetually stoned, family black-sheep (played by Paul Rudd) being shuffled around from one insufferably narcissistic sister to another, never delved past its concept even on iota into a deeper understanding of tenuous family relationships. Ultimately, this clichéd, painfully obvious sitcom of a movie wasted the entire talents of the terrific cast and nearly two hours of my precious time that I will never get back.

and now….the WORST FILM of 2011…

“SUCKER PUNCH” Directed by Zack Snyder
I gave this film a rating of one half of one star and looking back, I am surprised that I even gave this film that high of a rating. This CGI nightmare of a movie was a repugnant experience that did nothing more but shower unending contempt over any potential audience and dunked that same audience over and over into Director Zack Snyder’s wet dream fantasies of imprisoned, abused scantily clad babes with big guns blasting apart all manner of creature warriors in a synthetic dream world. And worst of all, he actually wants us to believe that this is a film about female empowerment! The disingenuousness of the film was bad enough but it also had absolutely no conviction in the world it was trying to set up in the first place. Look, if Zack Snyder wants to air his prurient fantasies, that’s his creative prerogative but at least have the bravery to go all the way and make that loud, nasty film instead of this one, which is akin to him covertly peek at a nudie magazine in a public place. It’s a dirty film that has no courage to be dirty. Beyond that, the visual aesthetics of the film are flat-out ugly and a reminder that CGI needs to be utilized as a creative tool, not as the means to an end. The action sequences are endless, the performances are wretched especially Emily Browning as the horrifically named “Babydoll,” who carries less dramatic heft than a sex blow up doll—which I gather is how Snyder wanted it anyway.

Look, when I posted my original review, several of you actually defended the film by offering me all manner of subtext and meaning that apparently Snyder revealed after the release and some cash that it earned. The problem is that Snyder can say ANYTHING he wants after the fact, and try to make himself and the film brainier than it actually is. But, here’s the bottom line as I see it…Snyder was angry that his excellent adaptation of “Watchmen” (2009) was not well received at the box office or critically and he purposefully made a terrible movie as a result. This was not some sly and intended rebuke against the brainlessness of Hollywood nor was it some sort of psycho-analytical exercise of audience members secret sexual desires. Because in that universe, everyone from the Hollywood suits to the people that did see the film are all idiots in his mind and “Sucker Punch” was him having one over on us all. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the movie that is remotely intelligent enough to be so cunning. Let’s be real, Zack Snyder is no Stanley Kubrick!

“Sucker Punch” was just Zack Snyder lost in a bad mood brought on by a lack of acceptance to his perceived creative genius and utilizing millions upon millions of dollars to jizz on celluloid. That’s it.

Ah....I feel so much better now!

Stay tuned for my TOP TEN FAVORITE FILMS of 2011!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Life has truly made its presence known over the last week. While I will not bog you down with any details, just know that the illusion and relativity of time itself has proven itself to be abundantly clear as one day has bled into the next, sometimes confusing me as to which day it actually happens to be.

So, imagine my surprise, as I was ready to leave my home this morning that I happened to see the announcements of the Oscar nominations for the 84th Academy Awards, which will be telecast on Sunday, February 26th. As I process the entire listing of nominees, I would suppose that I was generally not surprised by the selections overall, but there were a few that made my whoop in celebration.

I have to begin with the Best Picture nominees. This year, the Academy has placed nine titles in the running for the grand prize. At this time, I can tell you that I have seen eight of the films (I have not seen “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” yet), several of which have found cherished places upon my 2011 Honor Roll, my Top Ten favorite films of the year and yes, one of them is even dishonorably placed upon my Least Favorites list. I was thrilled most of all to see that Terrence Malick’s “The Tree Of Life” was recognized in this category as it is an esoteric film that reaches across time and space and it is also as intimately primal as the finest dramas. It is a difficult film. A challenging film. A film that takes the kinds of risks that most films have forgotten how to take anymore. It is no secret that the film is one of my favorites of 2011 but I have so happy to see it and Malick himself for Best Director, honored with nominations.

Speaking of the Best Director category, I feel that this is one of the strongest, toughest selections of the entire list as all of the nominees created personal, visionary, stellar works this past year. Yet, not surprisingly, the Academy has continued to make the cinematic crime of nominating a film for Best Picture, in this case “War Horse,” without nominating its Director, in this case Mr. Steven Spielberg. Also, I guess I was a bit surprised that David Fincher did not receive any notice for his work in helming his American adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” The omissions felt as if the Academy was covertly expressing that Spielberg and Fincher have been honored more than enough and this year was one to give others a chance to grab the prize.

I wish that possible sentiment could have been utilized for the Best Actress category which, face it dear readers, should just be re-named, “MERYL STREEP AND FOUR OTHER WOMEN.” Honestly, I am so sick of Meryl Streep being nominated solely because she is Meryl Streep. I have nothing personal against the woman. But, she is essentially Hollywood royalty and it has long been obvious that she will find herself nominated for Best Actress no matter what she does on screen. Every performance cannot be Oscar golden and for her work in “The Iron Lady,” a film which has not been receiving great reviews across the board, here’s another chance to roll out the red carpet because she has mastered yet another accent. Yawn! In fact, with the exception of Rooney Mara’s blistering work in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” I found this category to be more than a little lackluster. Granted, I have not seen every single performance of the year, but with what I have seen, these selections were not truly representative of great leading performances by women in 2011.

While I did not care for “Martha Marcy May Marlene” very much, I felt that Elizabeth Olsen’s work, as a young woman attempting to hold her psyche together after escaping from a cult, to be deeply layered and intensely brooding. Or how about Charlize Theron’s risky, petulantly bitter and brutally honest performance as a former high school diva barely facing down her disappointing middle age in “Young Adult”? Most shockingly was the snub for Kirsten Dunst’s grave and career best performance as the depressed new young wife who finds solace in the potential end of the world in Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia.” While I was extremely excited to see her nomination (along with writing partner Annie Mumolo) for Best Original Screenplay, how sad I was to see that Kristin Wiig was not recognized for her acting work in the terrific “Bridesmaids.” Wiig was so achingly wonderful and absolutely hysterical as she gave a rich performance that was as three dimensional and true to life as every 21st century woman I happen to know. Right there, those are four leading female performances that I would easily switch with those that were nominated this year…and yes, that includes Meryl Streep.

In the Best Supporting Actress category, I guess I was simultaneously surprised and not surprised to see Jessica Chastain nominated for her work in “The Help.” Dear readers, I am no fan whatsoever of “The Help,” and I feel that some of the nominations were given simply because that film was one of 2011’s biggest box office hits and they want to represent a crowd-pleaser. If that was the case, then that is wholly unfair to Chastain who appeared in no less than seven films in 2011, including the psychological thriller “Take Shelter” as well as “The Tree Of Life.” Do they really expect me to believe that after performances in seven films during one year, her work in “The Help” represented her talents at their best?! On the flip side, I LOVED seeing Melissa McCarthy’s nomination for her fearlessly comic work in “Bridesmaids.” She was the ROCK STAR of the year for me!

I was also very happy to see Jonah Hill’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor with his surprisingly subtle, nuanced work in “Moneyball.” I was stunned to see that Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures Of Tintin” was completely snubbed in the Best Animated Film category as well as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ omission from the Best Film Score category with their innovative, disturbingly grim soundscapes for “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” in favor of yet more scores (albeit very good ones) from the legendary John Williams.

And yet, I did find some honest laughs in this year’s selections. When I saw that “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon” had been nominated in the technical categories of Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, I howled as…cough, cough…Director Michael Bay has been a..cough, cough…filmmaker with a complete lack of subtlety and sophistication for his entire career. When everything is edited and mixed to the same bludgeoning, ear shattering degree, there is no technique to be awarded.

But then, there were the nominations, all two of them for Best Original Song. You will find no complaints from me that there will be less songs to suffer through during the telecast but let’s be real, it’s “Man or Muppet” all the way. No contest!

Now, after the nominations were announced, I happened to hear some DJs on a morning radio talk show complain that aside from "The Help," the nine titles nominated for Best Picture were all films that were either too sad or too unknown to a degree that they and the general public would not have seen any of them. Therefore, the Academy Awards telecast would be bound to have low ratings again because there just weren't enough hit movies to make television audiences care enough to watch the spectacle. That opinion burned me up, dear readers, and of course, I will tell you why.

Yes, the Oscars are the ultimate popularity contest. Yes, the show is essentially a horse race filled with showbiz politics. But, the Academy Awards is also a time to celebrate the art and artistry of the cinema and many times, the movies that are the most popular do not represent the art and artistry of the cinema at its best. Frankly, if you want an awards show where Kristin Stewart wins for Best Actress and "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" wins for Best Picture solely because those films made an ocean's worth of box office dollars then, let me say that we have the People's Choice Awards and the MTV Movie Awards for that.

This is the Academy Awards, baby! As bloated, self-aggrandizing and too lengthy as that telecast has been and will always be, I would never miss it and I am already anxious to see the results.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Based upon the novel by Anthony Burgess
Written, Produced and Directed by Stanley Kubrick

The image in the above photo is about as iconic as it gets.

The image of the darkly sinister and disturbingly mischievous, glowering gaze of Alex DeLarge is one that I have seen for most of my life. It was a fixture of pop culture iconography that I was completely aware of and yet never knew its origin and significance. Just take a moment and look at him and try to think of a time when you did not know this face and figure. The eyelashes on the underside of one eye. The white boiler suit complete with combat boots, bowler hat and a codpiece as outerwear. Simply unforgettable.

By the time I made the connection of this character to something called “A Clockwork Orange,” I was deeply entertained by science fiction genre material and that title and face emerged time and again as a particularly revolutionary tale. I tried watching the film sometime during early middle school. While renting movies for the weekend one night with my Father, I casually asked him if he had heard of the film and he informed me that he and my other had seen it when it was originally released in 1971. I asked him if I could rent it and then, his face grew an unusually perplexed look as he stated simply, “Sure. But…it’s really…strange.”

That weekend, I placed the video tape into the VCR and began to watch. For all of this film’s legend, what I saw just didn’t take. It wasn’t that I didn’t like what I was seeing. I just didn’t get it at all, even despite my proud status as an Anglophile. Again, I really didn’t understand who exactly Stanley Kubrick happened to be, let alone his importance in the world of cinema and the entire proceedings sailed over y head. I remember turning it off after about a half and hour or so (the comically sped up sequence where Alex beds two girls he meets in a record store set to a breathless electronic version of “The William Tell Overture”) and never thought about it again throughout my teen and college years.

I never even thought to attempt to watch the film again until the release of Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” (1994), a wild, epic, hallucinogenic, ultra-violent film in which Stone places his sights upon the media and the public’s obsession and attraction to graphic violence. In nearly every review that I remember reading about that film, Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” was always referenced as being the starting point for a film like Oliver Stone’s. So, at the age of 25, I rented it again and began to watch and this time, the experience took…and relentlessly.

Set in an indeterminate future version of London, England, “A Clockwork Orange” immediately introduces us to Alex (Malcolm McDowall) and his gang of “Droogs” (James Marcus, Warren Clarke and Michael Tarn respectively) as they sit inside of the Korova Milk bar drinking narcotic laced glasses of milk, preparing themselves for an evening’s worth of what Alex fiendishly, yet excitedly, refers to as the “ultra-violence.” The gang of four bludgeon a drunk, older tramp in the road, get involved in a gang fight with a rival group, steal a car, stage a home invasion where they batter Mr. Frank Alexander (Patrick Magee), a writer and viciously rape his wife, Mary (Adrienne Corri) as Alex sings and dances to “Singin’ In The Rain.” Yet all is not harmonious within the Droogs as Alex’s demonstrative style is causing severe inter-political tensions. Alex is abandoned at the scene of a new crime, when he accidentally murders “The Cat Lady” (Miriam Karlin) with a fatal blow to the head via a giant penis shaped sculpture.

Alex is arrested and soon sent to prison. After two years behind bars, he catches wind of an experimental procedure that would supposedly cure a person of their malicious tendencies and then, that person would be fully released back into society. Playing all of the requisite angles to ensure that he is the perfect candidate for this treatment, Alex is soon taken to the Ludovico Medical Clinic where he undergoes a torturous two week session called the “Ludovic Technique.” This process involves the subject being forced to watch violent imagery while strapped to a chair, wearing a straightjacket and having his eyelids fastened open widely and unable to close.

Has Alex, the ultimate con man, the terrifying hoodlum, finally met his comeuppance? Will the untested technique cure him of his violent tendencies once and for all? Will he a last face the consequences he deserves for his insane choices or has he outfoxed everyone, including the entire British government in the process?

By the time I finished the film, I knew on an artistic and filmmaking basis that “A Clockwork Orange” was indeed a masterpiece and completely lived up to its legend. From an emotional standpoint, I was troubled, to say the least. It felt as if Kubrick and his conduit Malcolm McDowall personally reached inside of my brain and forced me (almost like Alex at one crucial point), to see things I didn’t necessarily want to see, think thoughts I did not want to have and experience emotions I didn’t want to feel. That famous first shot of Alex staring into the camera and then slowly pulls back to reveal the sights of the Korova Milk Bar, adorned with bizarre erotic sculptures and scored to Walter Carlos’ innovative and disturbing electronic score, lasts for an uncomfortably long time and after a spell, Alex’s piercing gaze actually made me feel queasy. I watched the film over the course of two days as I felt I needed a break from the mayhem and disturbing content.

All of that being said, the opening passages of “A Clockwork Orange,” from that very first shot all the way through to Alex’s capture by the police after the murder of “The Cat Lady,” is probably one of the most visually and viscerally arresting collection of sequences I have seen in any film throughout my life of watching movies. As I viewed the film again over this past week, after not having seen it for many years I remained riveted. Even knowing everything that will occur, I am still hanging on for dear life. It is as if Kubrick is clearly getting off on his own sense of unfiltered and endless creativity and pursuit of how to make each scene not even a great scene but an unforgettable scene. Again his reputation for filming endless takes in pursuit of what he called “the magic” served his absolutely brilliantly. It would be euphoric if it weren’t so despicable, inhumane, and stomach churning and cringe worthy.

The controversy surrounding “A Clockwork Orange” is as legendary as the film itself. The film originally received an “X” rating in America and England upon its original release (it was soon downgraded to an “R” in America after Kubrick trimmed 20 innocuous seconds). After several copycat crimes based upon the movie’s exploits of Alex and his gang began to plague England, coupled with death threats placed upon his life, as well as his family, Stanley Kubrick performed the incredible task of having the film pulled from theatrical release despite its box office success. “A Clockwork Orange” was banned in England for 27 years, the remainder of Kubrick’s life.

Why is this film still so controversial, even in the 21st century during a period when the general public happily views all manner of graphic violence, including rape, as entertainment on prime time television programs? (I am looking right at you CBS and NBC for your “CSI” and “Law & Order” franchises as well as Lifetime whose almost entire programming revolves around women in jeopardy.) For a film that plunges us deep inside of the ultra-violence, “A Clockwork Orange” is a nearly bloodless affair and there is no gore whatsoever. Alex’s inadvertent murder of “The Cat Lady” climaxes not with blood splattering the screen but with a quickly edited barrage of cartoon artwork images that seemed to have arrived from a surreal issue of a “Batman” comic strip. Even the actual rape scenes, while dangerously squeamish, are not as graphic as they could have been. In fact, the most difficult sequence for me to watch are actually the Ludovic technique conditioning treatment sections. Stanley Kubrick stages the entire proceedings of “A Clockwork Orange” with an extremely heightened and heavily stylized visual canvas so every single moment of the film never feels as real as life and yet the disturbing power of the film is as abhorrently potent as it was upon its release over 40 years ago. To date, there just has never, ever been an experience quite like this one and there probably never will be again.

As I wrote in my posting of ”The Shining,” that film felt as if Kubrick was staging a bird’s eye view of madness, allowing the audience to make any interpretations and connections for themselves. “A Clockwork Orange” works very similarly yet with a twist. In that famous first shot, Alex toasts the camera (therefore the audience) with his glass of milk before drinking. By breaking that visual fourth wall, Kubrick is informing us without question that the experience we are about to witness is indeed a movie and not a representation of life as it is lived. The exaggerated style of the film from this point onwards also contributes to this hyper-real quality. But perhaps the queasiness of the film arrives because Alex does raise his glass in a toast to the audience and then continues throughout the entirety of the film speaking to us in a sort of sing-songy, hushed tone as if he is reciting the most illicit bedtime story into our ears before Mom and Dad enter the room. This is a brilliant textural stroke as it makes the audience completely complicit in Alex’s horrific pursuits. Alex, referring to himself as “your humble narrator,” and addressing us as his “friends” is sharing his darkest secrets with us.

Furthermore, as Malcolm McDowall, in what is unquestionably his signature performance, is in every single scene of the film, the world of “A Clockwork Orange” is seen entirely through his eyes, hence the film’s stylized nature as Alex is clearly a psychopath and for the duration of the film, we are stuck inside of his head. We are so far inside of his mind as we even see his fantasies. When he listens to Beethoven for instance, he has visions of hangings, explosions and his own face adorned with bloody vampire teeth. While in prison reading the Bible, does he engage himself with the teachings of Christ? Not in the least. He envisions himself as a Roman flogging Christ on his way to being crucified as well as being fed grapes by a trio of bare breasted handmaidens.

Kubrick’s mastery of merging music and images also works to establish the psychological state of Alex as Beethoven has never sounded as sinister and the electronic versions of classical pieces performed by Walter Carlos sound more disturbing as time passes. Those distorted classical music sounds of sonic wallpaper feels as if this is how the world even sounds to Alex. With all of these qualities, it is as if we are trapped in a speeding car with a madman at the wheel. And since we are unable to stop him, we are unfortunately implicated in his actions. We are Alex’s co-conspirators.

From an acting standpoint, Malcolm McDowall has a devilishly delicious time portraying Alex and we cannot help but to be swept away with his obvious enthusiasm, which worked extraordinarily in tandem with Kubrick’s vision and that also makes for some difficulty when thinking about this awful young man. He is highly self-aware. He is funny and is definitely not without charm. He is not the typical thug that we could easily find ourselves stoning the screen in protest and disgust. He is deeply intelligent and possesses a lofty sense of artistic taste, mostly depicted through his devotion to the music of Beethoven. And he is one hell of a storyteller.
Still, through all of those attributes, Alex is a thief, rapist and murderer and how Kubrick almost makes us feel some level of sympathy towards him as he becomes a government and scientific pawn is something of a motion picture miracle. Kubrick and McDowall constantly force us to question our feelings towards Alex’s personality and his actions. If we like him, even for a moment, what does that say abut us?

With “A Clockwork Orange,” Kubrick is again utilizing a bird’s eye view of nothing less than the nature of evil while simultaneously forcing us to confront the nature of evil that exists within all of us. Maybe that is a major reason why this film still feels like an almost forbidden piece of work. There is absolutely no getting away from Alex and since we are all along for the ride there is absolutely no way of getting away from the ugliest parts of ourselves.

Beyond evil, Stanley Kubrick places questions of morality and how the freedom of choice plays into whatever avenue of morality we all attempt to travel directly in front of us and without judgment. This is also a masterstroke as he utilizes a completely immoral character to have us explore morality itself, much like how Director Milos Forman explored the nature of censorship and the First Amendment with another deplorable individual in “The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996).

And somehow, Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” is indeed a comedy. However, its a comedy with the sharpest teeth attached to it. This satire hinges greatly on the game Alex plays with every authority figure in the film as we are constantly wondering who exactly has the upper hand in an overall system that may be as barbaric as Alex. Kubrick pokes great and Monty Python-esque fun through his characters’ surreal depictions. All of the characters that represent the exaggerated forms of education, the clergy, the prison system, advancements in psycho-therapy and of course, the massive pomposity of the British government itself are all presented as looming, blustering, sinister, monstrous figures with cartoon faces and reactions shots.

None moreso than Patrick Magee as the poor, elderly writer, who re-appears late in the film, crippled from Alex’s attack at the start of the film. The level of his rage and justified sense of revenge against Alex is palpable and simultaneously hysterical and tragic. Watching him await a level of retribution against Alex was almost like viewing Wile E. Coyote setting the ultimate trap for the Road Runner and just as in the classic cartoons, it is all to no avail. The film’s final moments, show Kubrick’s greatest indictment and perhaps a hugely, yet too often truthfully, nihilistic viewpoint concerning the lack of justice in the world. For at the end of “A Clockwork Orange,” Kubrick makes us question exactly which character truly suffers the fullest consequences of Alex’s actions and how can justice exist in such a harsh, violent, and seemingly morally bankrupt world. I wonder if this film, which remember is set in the future, was functioning as a societal warning from Stanley Kubrick. No one will ever know but the fact that this film still provides us with the questions is nothing less than spectacular to me.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a film produced during a time period where the Hollywood studios were not so terrified of taking grand, artistic risks and supporting filmmakers with unrepentantly personal visions. It is a level of risk that is of such depressingly short supply these days. With “A Clockwork Orange,” Stanley Kubrick completely re-wrote the rules for cinema and satire in particular, even expanding past his own already revolutionary film “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb” (1964). “A Clockwork Orange” is its own beast to such a degree that its brand of satire feels exclusive to absolutely every other brand of satire. It firmly exists within its own universe.

And what a universe it is to return to every once in a while.

Friday, January 20, 2012


For this second installment, I will now turn my attention to a collection of films I saw in 2011 which I awarded four stars, yet they did not find their way to the final Top Ten list. Therefore, all of these films sit proudly at a collective "Number 11" slot.

Just as before, full reviews for all of the following films are located within Savage Cinema and all films are available on home video except where indicated.


One of the classiest film series that I have ever had the absolute pleasure to view drew to an supremely entertaining, profoundly emotional and elegantly funereal close. David Yates masterfully tied all of the plot threads of the eight film series together with precise skill that always, always, always placed the characters and story first. Just as wonderfully, it was so touching to view the maturation and depth in the performances by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as our heroic wizard world triumvirate. As with the original novel, by the time the film reached its poignant final moments, I was satisfied beyond measure and wanted for nothing more. A beautiful piece of work by all participants involved.

"RED STATE" Directed by Kevin Smith
Smith, at long last and especially after a couple of lackluster features, why he is one of cinema’s most unique creative voices by arriving with a film that was a complete stylistic change from all of his prior works. “Red State” is a brazenly, boldly fearless, pitch black religious themed horror film that offers absolutely, positively none of Smith’s trademark humor whatsoever. The story depicts the grim tale of three teenage boys out for a Friday night of illicit action with an out of town older woman they met on the internet and ultimately, they find themselves drugged and trapped within the clutches of the cult of the horrific Five Points Church, led by the unsettlingly charismatic Pastor Abin Cooper (a flat out sensational Michael Parks). John Goodman also stars as an ATF agent who is dispatched to the site of the cult when the situation explodes into a battle not unlike past events in Waco, Texas. This is a film where Smith, working in top form, does what he does best by not only breaking all of the conventional rules of storytelling to create a wholly original piece by but also redefining what exactly horror films can be. It was a disturbing, complex, uncompromising film that really spoke to the nature of evil that once lived on the fringes of society but is now edging closer and closer into the mainstream.

"SUPER 8" Directed by J.J. Abrams
The fantastical story of filmmaking obsessed pre-teenage kids in 1979 Ohio who stumble upon a grand interstellar mystery is the wondrously entertaining third, and best film to date, from J.J. Abrams. With a terrific cast of young actors, who all felt to be completely authentic to the time period, Abrams crafted an exciting thriller (that train crash was one of the most spectacular set pieces of the year) anchored by huge emotional content and also functioned as an homage to one of his filmmaking heroes, Steven Spielberg. Yes, “Super 8” looks uncannily like one of Spielberg’s films from the late 1970s/early 1980s but through the homage, Abrams weaves a deeply personal story that illustrates his own passions to the degree that we never forget that we are watching a J.J. Abrams film. He gives the film purpose and passions, making the experience resonate grandly. “Super 8” is exactly the very type of summer movie from my own Middle school years. It is presented with such high quality that it is sad to think that films of this sort are a rarity when they were once the norm.

"TAKE SHELTER" Directed by Jeff Nichols
One of the most disturbing films of the year was this psychological drama about a construction worker afflicted with horrifying dreams and apocalyptic visions that he soon becomes obsessed with building a storm shelter in his backyard to protect his family. Michael Shannon delivered a crippling performance as Curtis the construction worker who is so terrified of any fatalities occurring to his family that he is increasingly unable to function in the any day-to-day activities. Nichols effectively creates his story to constantly keep the audience as unbalanced as Curtis as we are unsure if the visions are due to psychological damage or if they are indeed a dark prophecy of some unforeseen doom to come. It is an unnerving experience and we are left guessing even after the powerfully ambiguous final images.
Scheduled for home video release February 14, 2012

"WE BOUGHT A ZOO" Directed by Cameron Crowe
I will always stand firmly and proudly by this lovely film that celebrates the possibilities of life, love, family and community as it is a “feel good film” that legitimately earns every single moment that made me smile and smile broadly. Matt Damon gave a deeply committed performance as journalist and Father Benjamin Mee, who is struggling to rear his family after the tragic death of his wife. In a move of absolute desperation to save his family from emotional ruin, Mee uproots his two children to rural California to purchase a new home yet inadvertently acquire a dilapidated zoo. Mee, his children and along with the zoo’s skeletal staff led by Scarlett Johanssen, band together to revamp the zoo to its once former glory, potentially healing Mee’s family in the process. With great performances from the entire cast, gorgeously sun soaked cinematography and of course, Crowe’s impeccable taste in music selections, this film was a supremely warm experience that I simply never wanted to end and further showed how artistic, sophisticated, honest and intelligent PG rated family films can actually be. If I could have reached out and embraced it, I would have.
Currently playing in theaters

"YOUNG ADULT" Directed by Jason Reitman
While not for everybody, I loved this darkly comic film from Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody which told the story of a former high school diva and failing young adult novel author (a fantastic Charlize Theron) who returns to her hometown with the attempts to reclaim the love and life of her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). Unfortunately, he is now married as well as a new Father. Delusional and undaunted, she returns to selfishly lay claim yet is “befriended” by Patton Oswalt, the high school geek she never once spoke to during their teen years. What was so daring about this film to me was how it had the audacity to create a completely unlikable character and make her even more unlikable by the film’s end. And in the end, she learns absolutely nothing. There is no redemption. There is no epiphany. Just the hard, cold truth that some people just never grow up, mature, become more enlightened and simply remain trapped in the time of their life that actually wasn’t that great to begin with anyway.
Currently playing in theaters

Coming soon...The disappointments, the over-rated and the films I HATED in 2011!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


“THE SHINING” (1980)
Based upon the novel by Stephen King
Screenplay Written by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson
Produced and Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Steven Spielberg once said that if you happen to see a Stanley Kubrick film on television, it is virtually impossible to turn it off or change the channel.

While I would never be so presumptuous to ascribe that sentiment to all of you dear readers, especially as the extraordinary film legacy of Stanley Kubrick is defiantly not suited to everyone’s personal tastes and references. But I will say that this peculiar phenomenon that Spielberg described occurred with me very recently and has taken such a stronghold that I am currently delving deeply into a “Stanley Kubrick phase.” It all began this past New Year’s Eve, the day I returned home from my holiday family visit. On this particular night, as I searched the cable TV grid, I noticed “The Shining” was about to begin and I had solely intended to watch the first couple of scenes as I had not seen the film in many years. Nearly two and a half hours later, I had watched the entire film. I could not have changed that channel even if I had tried.

Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” his controversial adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel was a film I gave an extremely wide berth. I was 11 years old when the film was released, and as I was deeply involved with watching movies, any kind of movie with the intention of expanding my cinematic horizons, the name of Stanley Kubrick had already made an impression. I wasn’t exactly certain of who he was but his name carried a supreme weight that permeated the world of popular culture so completely that I was very aware of this presence of this figure whose mere name held such reverence.

My personal history with “The Shining” was one based in tremendous fear. Like Kubrick own name, I really didn’t know much abut “The Shining” at the time other than it was a horror film. But not just any runoff the mill horror film that was the standard release of the day. This film also carried a certain weight and reverence that permeated every wall of pop culture and I somehow knew that I needed to stay far, far away from it. But I was curious.

The story and plot of “The Shining” is well known but I will recount it quickly as a reminder or even as an introduction for those who may not be familiar with the work. Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance, a novelist and former teacher who takes a job as a caretaker for the massive, isolated Overlook Hotel during the business’ winter off-season. While Jack is longing for the solitude and the opportunity to work on a new writing project, and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) contains a certain spooky excitement towards the change in scenery, their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) is troubled, uncertain and voices his doubts through his imaginary friend “Tony,” who, as Danny describes, lives inside of his mouth. Unbeknownst to his parents, Danny possesses psychic abilities and through private conversations with Tony, the boy has seen some disturbingly dark visions indeed.

Once the Torrance family arrives at the Overlook, Danny finds a kindred spirit in the hotel’s head chef Dick Hallorann (the immortal Scatman Crothers), who is also psychic and can speak telepathically, an ability he refers to as “shining.” When Danny asks if there is anything to be afraid of in the hotel, Dick thoughtfully explains that the building itself also has the ability to shine as it contains memories, some of which are not good. When Danny presses on and asks about room 237, Dick severely warns the child to never, ever enter that room.

The remainder of “The Shining” details Jack Torrance’s psychological descent as he is engulfed with horrific homicidal tendencies towards his family leading to a confrontation, involving elements from the spirit world, in which the survival of the participants hang in the precarious balance.

As I had previously stated, “The Shining” carried a level of menace that felt greater than any other horror film of its day and that was during a period when the thought of William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973), Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976), Richard Donner’s “The Omen” (1976), and of course, Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975) filled me with fright. It seemed as if just one look at the film would unleash unquestionable evil into my life. How superstitious of me but I was a child and that is how I felt. Yet, as I look back upon my fears concerning this film, it all feels appropriate. Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” with its scant collective of characters, is essentially a chamber piece but it is executed on the scale of an epic as the film’s surroundings suggest a superior world of darkness that exists far outside and even deeply inside the members of the Torrance family.

The very first time I attempted to peek at the film was when I was 12 and “The Shining” made its pay TV debut. I would turn to the channel and become almost hypnotically engaged with the sight of jack Torrance throwing a tennis ball against the wall of the mammoth hotel lobby and then, I would begin to feel unnerved enough that I changed the channel back to something safer. And then, I would change the channel back to the film one more time and I became mesmerized by the sight of Danny riding his big wheel through the cavernous hallways and then, without warning, the female ghost twins would appear and believe me, I could not find the channel remote fast enough.

Over the years, I saw the film in bits and pieces and I actually finally saw the film in its entirety sometime in my late 20s as a local (and now closed) theater held a film society series showing classic motion pictures on one of their screens. It was then that I realized that my initial feelings were confirmed as well as alleviated. Yes, it is a supremely frightening experience but it was conducted in the style that appeals to me much greater than blood, gore and torture porn.

Stanley Kubrick was a visual stylist without equal. I have always been amazed with how he is able to establish the tone and vision of each and every film from the very first shot and “The Shining” is no exception. That opening helicopter angled shot of the tiny Torrance family car driving towards the Overlook Hotel with gliding, sweeping camera work over mountains and water accompanied by Rachel Elkind and Wendy Carlos’ (formerly Walter Carlos) ominous opening theme music perfectly sets the stage. Speaking of music, Kubrick remains one of the very best filmmakers to merge music and images in ways where the thought of one without the other is impossible. Along with Elkind and Carlos’ electronic textures, Kubrick utilized the dissonant classical pieces by Bartok and Gyorgy Lygeti, plus loops of sound textures including heartbeats to give the terrifying spell of the Overlook an unforgettable audio identity.

Visually speaking, Kubrick’s shot composition remains astonishing, with its floor to ceiling ratios and how every shot can exist as a still photograph (a technique most likely devised from Kubrick’s days as a professional photographer). Kubrick’s cinematic innovation was revolutionary as “The Shining” was one of the first films to utilize the Steadicam camera, which gives the camera operator the ability to take long, unbroken tracking shots with a smooth fluidity. (Kubrick even hired the inventor of that camera to assist him for this film.) Just think about all of those incredible sequences of Danny riding that big wheel through the hotel, or Danny running for his life through the hotel’s snowy maze. Those sequences make me think of a soul in flight.

Most effective for me were the moments when the characters emotional and physical states were at their greatest peril. These moments are often reflected within Danny’s psyche as quickly presented still shots intercut with Danny’s frozen, silent screams, suggesting a child trapped within the throes of a nightmare and still haunted by the frightening images upon being awakened. And then there’s Kubrick’s masterful usage of slow motion cinematography utilized at its very best during our entrance into room 237 and of course, the classic, iconic shot of an elevator drowning in waves of pouring blood.

Thematically, I loved the conceptual swan dive the film takes into the disintegrating psyche for both Jack and Wendy. Kubrick’s notorious reputation for filming endless takes of sequences allowed Nicholson and especially Duvall (as Kubrick was infamously nasty to her on-set) to arrive with unhinged performances they may not have otherwise arrived at. While some sections may feel comically over the top, I think they are intended to feel that way, as Kubrick did possess this bizarre ability to merge dark comedy with the nightmarish and somehow, at least to my sensibilities, everything felt to be so true and just right. And that was one of Kubrick’s many gifts. He was never a filmmaker that ever tried to tell the audience how to feel. “The Shining” feels almost like a bird’s eye view of insanity and the story of the Torrance family is given to us in pieces, allowing the audience to make the connections and provide the meanings.

“The Shining” is an ambiguous film, an open-ended film where everything is purposefully unexplained, a quality that further increases the tension and horror of the story. Yes, the film is a ghost story but even that simple aspect is left open for interpretation. Who truly has the ability to shine? Danny and Dick certainly but does Jack as well? And how about that oddball moment when Wendy, escaping from the axe-wielding Jack, happens upon a hotel room and catches the sight of a person in a rabbit costume performing oral sex upon another male patron? Who are the spirits aligned with? The great “redrum” moment when Danny enters the sleeping Wendy’s bedroom and awakens her so she can read the message presented in reverse in the mirror, is a sequence where the ones in peril are aided. But then, the ghosts also seem to have physical abilities as they release the previously unconscious Jack from a locked room.

Going even further is the overall explanation of Jack’s madness. It is just a case of “cabin fever,” as suggested by a story Jack is told during his interview concerning a family who served as off-season caretakers in 1970 and were murdered by the Father? Or it is something even grander as we discover, in a line of dialogue that is almost presented as a throwaway, that the Overlook Hotel was built upon a Native American burial ground. Much speculation over the years has suggested that “The Shining” is actually an allegory about the eradication of Native Americans by white people and Kubrick apparently has planted clues throughout the film as Native American logos, artwork, and photographs are placed throughout the hotel. Is there a certain significance that Wendy arms herself with a wooden bat for self-defense while Jack carries an axe, chopping everything down in his path?

There have even been questions if “The Shining” is an allegory about the Holocaust, especially as the tragedy of the Holocaust was something Kubrick carried deep fascinations with and even came close to making a film about entitled “Aryan Papers”…that is until Steven Spielberg made the formidable “Schindler’s List” (1993).

Regardless, the level of the unknown and unknowable about “The Shining” ads tremendously to its lasting power. In fact, I recently read about a new documentary premiering at the current Sundance Film Festival entitled “Room 237,” and is completely about the conspiracy theories that have originated from Kubrick’s film. A film of this sort feels very appropriate as with Kubrick, one thing always leads to another. And for me, this piece will lead to a future installment of “Savage Cinema revisits” as I write about Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian, satirical and controversial classic, “A Clockwork Orange” (1971).

This is the majesty of Stanley Kubrick as he made works, love them or hate them, that are unforgettable and impossible to shake once you have experienced them. Their power and artistry is limitless and timeless, even in a film that could have been conceived as being nothing more than a haunted house tale.


For many, 2011 was yet another lackluster year at the movies creatively and financially, especially as recent newspaper articles have greatly illustrated how the year's box office totals have dramatically decreased from box office totals of previous years. While I could spend a mammoth amount of time decrying exactly what is wrong with the status of movie going in 2011, I would rather spend my time telling you about what made 2011 special.

I felt that 2011 was actually a fine movie going year and a marked improvement over 2010 for certain. Instead of a year where some good films are scattered throughout the first 10 months of the year and all of the great material arriving during the winter holiday season, 2011 was a year where I saw what I considered to be great films from as early as April, throughout the entire summer and even more at the end of the year.

For this first installment in my 2011 wrap-up, I turn to my "Honor Roll." These are the films which I awarded star ratings of three and a half stars and they are listed in alphabetical order. Full reviews of all of the following films are housed on this site and if you wish to locate one in particular, just ask and I will provide you with the link.

And finally, all of the following films are available to view on DVD except where indicated.


“50/50” Directed by Jonathon Levine
This film, too easily described as a “comedy about cancer,” was understandably a difficult sell and just as understandably, a box office disappointment when it was released in the Fall. That said, this film was one of the most empathetic, emotional films of 2011 as it delved into the life of Adam Lerner (beautifully underplayed by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt), an athletic, eager, young Seattle public radio employee with his entire life ahead of him confronted with a rare cancerous tumor located on his spine. Seth Rogen co-starred as Adam’s best friend and the lovely Anna Kendrick made a terrific impression as the young therapist in training who counsels Adam throughout his cancer treatment. What Levine accomplished most of all throughout “50/50” was a mastery of tone as it walked a precarious emotional tightrope by exuding a risky amount of ribald humor combined with the painful realities of cancer treatment and the unpredictable fragility of life itself. I laughed heartedly only to find myself choking back tears and then suddenly laughing heartedly all over again showing that this film really captured the odd rhythms of life as it is lived.
Scheduled for home video release on January 24, 2012

“THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN” Directed by Steven Spielberg
A splendidly executed, staggeringly well-animated treasure hunt starring an intrepid young journalist, a blustery yet alcoholic sea captain and a faithful wonder dog. Steven Spielberg, collaborating with Peter Jackson for the first episode in this proposed trilogy, has effortlessly crafted a joyous experience that is his most unabashedly entertaining film in years. The high amount of fun he is having with the material, based upon Herge’s comic book series, as well as the animation format is deeply infectious. What a feat to create something that is simultaneously nostalgic and forward thinking through its usage of the most state of the art animation techniques on hand, including terrific motion capture performances from Jamie Bell and the amazing Andy Serkis as the story’s heroes.
Currently playing in theaters

“BEGINNERS” Directed by Mike Mills
An exquisite short story of a film that tenderly encompassed life, love, family and death with the questions of the true origins of our personalities as the film’s succulent core. Ewan McGregor gave one of his most empathetic and emotionally bare performances as Oliver, a young man and artist coming to terms with the death of his Father from cancer (an enchanting Christopher Plummer). Even moreso, Oliver is coming to terms with the life lessons taught to him through his Father’s unwillingness to live his final years in vain as he comes out as a gay man after 45 years of marriage to Oliver’s Mother. “Beginners” is a languid, non-linear film that flies through the past and present as it explores our relationship with our own memories and how sometimes unreliable those memories may be in regards to providing us with the fullness of truth about the people we love and who have shaped our lives. Also featuring a terrific performance by the beguiling Melanie Laurent as Oliver’s potential new love interest, Mike Mills delivers a film that is equal parts deliriously romantic and beautifully melancholic.

Our comic book film warm up to this summer’s “The Avengers” continued in wonderfully old-fashioned style with the origin story of our red, white and blue clad hero armed with the mighty shield and an unshakably innocent good will towards his fellow man. Filled with gorgeous cinematography, great special effects and action set pieces, what made this film special was how very wisely, Johnston and the film’s star Chris Evans focused their collective sights upon the man underneath the costume. This quality, plus some of that trademark Marvel comics melancholy, gave the film the proper amount of humanity to guide us through the admittedly and unashamedly corny story depicted completely without any irony or 21st century hipster cool.

“CEDAR RAPIDS” Directed by Miguel Arteta
This charming, raunchy, perceptive social comedy stars Ed Helms as Tim, an idealistic and sheltered insurance agent from Brown River, WI who nervously travels to the titular city for the annual insurance convention. Over three days, Tim meets and is adopted by a collective of colorful characters including the perpetually crude and drunk Dean Zigler (John C. Reilly) and the darkly alluring yet unhappily married Joan Ostrowski-Fox (a wonderful Anne Heche). The film is laugh out loud funny from beginning to end yet it is completely grounded by realistic characters who all utilize this convention as a simultaneous escape from reality as well as a period for deep self-reflection. For Tim, it is a time to stretch his wings, see the larger world, have his sense of integrity tested and discover exactly what kind of a person he is and aspires to be. “Cedar Rapids” is a simple film yet what makes it so special to me is the high quality of the writing, the acting, the construction of the characters, storytelling and overall direction. When you have all of those qualities on display at the level presented in this film, you just cannot go wrong.

“EVERYTHING MUST GO” Directed by Dan Rush
Will Ferrell
gave a rare dramatic performance as Nick Halsey, an alcoholic salesman whose life rapidly spirals down the tubes to the point where his wife has taken all of his possessions and placed them upon the front lawn of his home. Over the course of three days and nights, and under the advice of his sponsor, Nick reluctantly holds a yard sale, figuratively and literally ridding himself of his life’s baggage. Surprisingly, he obtains two tentative new friendships along the way with a lonely latch-key kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and a sad, pregnant housewife (the consistently excellent Rebecca Hall), a new arrival to the neighborhood who is wearily awaiting the arrival of her husband. Like “Beginners,” this is a film that encompasses large, complex themes within an easily digestible package with excellent performances thrust front and center. Ferrell is absolutely terrific in the leading role as he miraculously is able to convey the various levels of sobriety with complete and controlled nuance. This film was criminally underseen during its theatrical release and I gently urge you to check it out now that it has been released on home video formats.

“FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS” Directed by Will Gluck
Ah yes, the romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies. This selection may arrive as a shock to many of you, dear readers and I have to admit that it did arrive as a shock to me as to how much I actually enjoyed this film. Gluck, who previously directed the amazing “Easy A” (2010) has created a romantic comedy expertly designed for my sensibilities as I have long displayed my dread for the current state of romantic comedies. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis make a wonderful pairing as like-minded, emotionally guarded and yes, sexually voracious individuals who forge a terrific friendship that contains an emotionally free sexual relationship. What made this film stand out for me from all of the other romantic comedy pieces of dreck that have littered our movie theaters for too many years now, is that the film was very witty, sexy, and completely self-reflexive as it gently satirized the horrible traps of movie romantic comedies while also upholding those same qualities. And most of all, Timberlake and Kunis displayed incredible chemistry in one scene after another as Gluck wisely allowed his two leading actors to talk, talk and talk some more, weaving a flirtatious spell that proved to be infectious. For those of you that may feel that my tastes tend to swing towards the more esoteric, the inclusion of “Friends With Benefits” is a perfect illustration of how strong writing, snappy direction and energetic performances can make cinematic cotton candy confections as entertaining and as artful as any other type of motion picture.

“FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH” Directed by James Moll
This affectionate portrait of the alternative rock giants led by the charismatically engaging singer/songwriter/guitarist/drummer extraordinaire Dave Grohl is the first of four music documentaries that made 2011 a great movie watching year for me. What made this particular film so winning to me was viewing the band’s level of perspective with their good fortune as well as how grounded and downright innocent they continue to be, even after all of their global success. The film ultimately works as a portrait of a band that is fully aware of the graces that have been bestowed upon them and their refusal to not waste a moment of it. As with two other musical documentaries that will make an appearance throughout this review of 2011, “Foo Fighters: Back And Forth” joyously presents the career of a band made up of music fans performing for music fans and through the shared love of music, we witness rock and roll dreams being fully realized.

While the life and career of George Harrison would technically make Martin Scorsese’s epic two-part, three and a half hour film qualify as a music documentary, in many ways, this film transcends that particular genre. What Scorsese has accomplished by placing George Harrison’s spiritual life, quest and beliefs front and center is to craft an experience that nearly emulates the philosophical outlook Harrison held for himself and tried to impart upon the world. Scorsese has created a languid film designed for us to become washed inside of. While Scorsese presents elements and events from Harrison’s early life to his death in 2001 in a chronological trajectory, I loved how he allowed the film to float forwards and backwards in time as well as digress into a variety of side stories and memories, much like how we experiences our lives each day. Martin Scorsese has helmed a deeply spiritual film. A sublime, anecdotal, hypnotically conversational, sprawling experience that beautifully presents this legendary figure not as a pop-culture mythical being but as the idiosyncratic, individualistic humane being he gloriously was. And the film is loaded with the very best soundtrack any film could hope for!
This film aired on HBO and is currently not in the programming schedule. Hopefully a home video release will arrive shortly.

“THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO” Directed by David Fincher
Although I was armed with all of the skepticism I could muster, David Fincher happily proved me wrong. The American adaptation of Steig Larsson’s blockbuster thriller was a film I had more than enough trepidation towards, in regards to its actual purpose as the three Swedish adaptations of the same material felt to be definitive. Yet, Fincher has ingeniously devised a way to make his version stand firmly on its own cinematic feet by creating a more visceral and therefore more cinematic experience than the chilly docudrama original version. Additionally, I must give high praise to the gusty, full throttle, caged animal and wholly realized performance by Rooney Mara as the dark titular character. Mara, and the film as a whole, is an experience that does not exist to compete with the original film(s) and what I felt to be an iconic performance by Noomi Rapace. The two films work together as brothers…or better yet, as sisters in arms…weaving an engulfing and provocatively grim spell.
Currently playing in theaters

“MONEYBALL” Directed by Bennet Miller
This was one of the most unlikely films that I would’ve seen in 2011 due to its subject matter of baseball statistics, something that interests me even less than the game of baseball itself. But, this film, the second feature from Bennet Miller who debuted with the excellent “Capote” (2005), was surprisingly one of the most maturely satisfying films I saw. Brad Pitt gave one of the finest, most nuanced performances of his career as Billy Beane, General Manager of the disastrously low ranking Oakland A’s who utilizes the unorthodox ideas provided by Yale Economics graduate Peter Brand (an excellent Jonah Hill) to hopefully transform the losing team into winners and ultimately, the game and business of baseball as a whole. Despite the subject matter, “Moneyball” is not strictly a film about baseball or even the statistics. What Miller has accomplished so deftly is to present us with another character study of an almost unknowable figure and phase that study into a cultural commentary of the trials and pitfalls of sitting at the altar of winning above all costs.

“THE MUPPETS” Directed by James Bobin
I bow down to actor/writer Jason Segal for his bottomless love of Jim Henson’s collective of felt creations. It is a love so enormous he essentially rescued the characters from pop-culture irrelevancy due to his sheer force of will! “The Muppets” was truly one of the warmest, most entertaining films of the year that, like a few other very special releases geared towards families and children, perfectly demonstrated that family entertainment need not be shrill, dumbed down or flatulent (despite a brand of comically noisy shoes Fozzie Bear wears in one scene). “The Muppets” was a film of reunion between the collective of long disbanded characters as well as that entire collective of characters will all of us in the audience. It is a film of tender friendship tinged with that classic, earnest, melancholic wistfulness merged with manic energy, sincere laughs and smiles from start to finish and a heart as wide as the open sky.
Currently playing in theaters

“PEARL JAM TWENTY” Directed by Cameron Crowe
My affections for this film have already grown…ahem…tenfold (I couldn’t resist). Cameron Crowe’s passionate, accelerated, celebratory yet professionally clear-eyed documentary is a visual scrapbook designed for longtime fans of the seminal alternative rock band as well as existing as a supremely effective window into their world for new listeners and for those, like myself, who had never previously felt an attachment to the band. As with the Foo Fighters, the birth of Pearl Jam arrived through tremendous tragedy yet the newfound musical brotherhood between the band members and commitment to forge ahead for the sake and spirit of artistic creation made for a surprising and powerfully emotional experience. Watching events from the band’s twenty year history, during which they have shown a ferocious vow to creating and performing on their own terms, showed me exactly what I had not previously understood about Pearl Jam and I now see them in an entirely new light. The film’s extraordinary finale, which stitches together two performances of “Betterman” and “Alive,” show how the communal bond between band members to each other and the audience is a moment that gives honor to our collective shared experience and in one shining moment, a perfect rock concert brings forth harmonic convergence. These are not mere songs to simply perform and enjoy. The music of Pearl Jam is an act of fierce integrity and spiritual deliverance.

“SOURCE CODE” Directed by Duncan Jones
The story of a man who suddenly awakens upon a train headed into downtown Chicago and forced to relive the final eight minutes of his life over and again in order to discover the identity of a bomb maker and potential nuclear terrorist was one of the more gripping surprises I saw in 2011. Jake Gyllenhaal gave a performance of feverish intensity as the man caught in the fateful time loop and he shared terrific chemistry with Michelle Monaghan, a passenger with whom he tragically falls in love. I have deeply appreciated how Duncan Jones, now with his second film, has so effectively created science fiction films that are about ideas and emotions and not entirely abut cataclysmic pyrotechnics, although “Source Code” does provide much bang for its buck. With this feature, Jones has proven himself to be a filmmaker to keep your eyes wide open for. I have a feeling that he is just beginning to hit his stride and when he makes that GREAT film, it will be a stunner. But for now, we have this strong film, which presents to us a decidedly grim wheel of karma yet also functions as an easily digestible edge-of-your-seat thriller.

“TERRI” Directed by Azazel Jacobs
Jacob Wysocki
gives a winning, meditative performance as the titular character, a tall, overweight teenage boy who is always dressed in a set of pajamas, who was abandoned by his parents, is currently caring for his Alzheimer afflicted Uncle and is mercilessly teased at school. John C. Reilly co-stars as the school’s unorthodox Vice Principal who notices how deeply Terri is caught in an emotional downward spiral and the twosome begin a tentative friendship. This quiet, perceptive sensitive, sad little film where nothing actually happens may seem to be the type of film many of you would not make an effort to see. But I gently urge you to give this film a try as its empathetic spirit and nuanced messages against teenage bullying made “Terri” a film to root for.

“THOR” Directed by Kenneth Branagh
This film was a blast as it took me back to the summer movie seasons of my youth when comic book features were filled with terrific storytelling, strong performances and characters and the special effects and action sequences were utilized solely in support of the story and characters. Chris Hemsworth starred as the hammer swinging warrior Thor, the arrogant son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who is banished from his astral plane of Asgard and falls to Earth to walk among humans to learn humility. Along his journey, he meets and falls in love with astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), battles a collective of mean ice giants and also finds himself under the jealous gaze of his duplicitous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Yes, this is all very silly yet Branagh fully knows it and does not allow the film to descend into any false sense of importance. Branagh gave us all a rollicking good time loaded with great action, psychedelic vistas of rainbow bridges and wonderful sections of humor. Again, this film not only made another exciting set up for “The Avengers,” I am also looking forward to seeing Thor’s next solo adventure.

Coming soon...2011 IN REVIEW PART TWO-"NUMBER 11"