Point Break

Movie Review #829: Despite a hypnotic performance from Patrick Swayze, ‘Point Break’ fails to successfully mix its philosophy and action.

★★½
By Red Stewart

point_break_ver1

Action, Crime, Thriller
Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity
122 minutes

Sometimes I feel like filmmakers try too hard to make their products greater than what they are. They obviously don’t have a concrete story down, so they figure pumping in a lot of random philosophy will make up for the deficits in the script.

Such is the case with “Point Break”, an action movie recognized as a classic of the ‘90s like the first two “Die Hard” sequels and “Ed Wood”. In Los Angeles, several bank robberies by a group of thieves wearing ex-president masks have left the police stumped and frustrated. New FBI recruit Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is partnered with veteran agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), who’s convinced that the robbers are local surfers based on their tanning patterns. Using this theory, Utah goes undercover, eventually meeting and befriending the gang and their leader, Bodhi (Patrick Swayze).

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Labor Day

Movie Review #828: Escaped convicts are so hot. Especially the creepy ones. At least that’s what Kate Winslet seems to think in ‘Labor Day’.


By Alexander Diminiano

labor_day_ver2

Drama
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality
111 minutes

“Pie crust is a very forgiving thing.” – Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) in “Labor Day”

Jason Reitman should really be working with Diablo Cody. They’re one of the greatest duos of the new millennium, for sure. When she’s writing, and he’s directing, you get sincere dramedies like “Juno” and “Young Adult”. Alas, Reitman decided he’d fly solo for one film, and I hope it is only one film. He’s written and directed this year’s “Labor Day”, a film that bears not his style, nor his charm. This isn’t a postmodern coming-of-age dramedy, either. His last two were, but now it seems he’s decided to have fun going up the creek without a paddle.

The paddle being that Academy Award-winning writer Diablo Cody that he’s just suddenly abandoned. You need the paddle, Reitman. You need ‘er.

But whatever. I can’t spend a whole review griping about how some director didn’t hire some writer that makes him a better director. I can, however, spend a whole review yammering on about what a shitty director he is when he’s the one writing the scripts. Everything starts out hunkydory in “Labor Day”. Flowers, dandelions, probably some subliminal messages involving smiling, happy people. It’s like the Partridge Family, except we’re watching a movie about a depressed, single mom who is trying to get through life with her son, despite the constant flashbacks to her three miscarriages, her stillborn child, and her divorce. Oh and they don’t play instruments or sing, either. But otherwise it’s all Partridge Family fare. It’s just cheery, so cheery.

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Everyone Says I Love You

Movie Review #827: ‘Everyone Says I Love You’…I lurve you, I loave you, I luff you. I love the movie.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

everyone_says_i_love_you

Comedy, Musical, Romance
Rated R for one use of strong language
101 minutes

“Everyone Says I Love You” pays a spunky homage to old time musicals and ends up becoming one of its own. This is a movie from 1996 that takes us back to the music of more than six decades before. The film opens with Edward Norton singing the jazz standard “Just Me, Just You” to his girlfriend. Before we know it, the whole borough of Manhattan is singing along.

After this number, we are introduced to a narrator: Natasha Lyonne, who provides a bubbly, melodramatic voice for the story. This was the first in a new wave of Woody Allen movies to take place not only in New York City, but also in other dream cities abroad, such as Venice and Paris. We switch between the three cities numerous times, but Lyonne’s narration seems to let then act as one, single, majestic city.

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Minority Report

Movie Review #826: Surprisingly underrated in Spielberg’s filmography, ‘Minority Report’ is engaging, thought-provoking and intense, and features an excellent performance from Tom Cruise.

★★★★
By Red Stewart

minority_report

Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content
145 minutes

There’s a scene early on in “Minority Report” where Cruise rolls a ball across a table towards Colin Farrell, who promptly catches it. When inquired about his action, Farrell replies that the ball was about to fall, leading Cruise to comment that there was never a chance it would change its trajectory; in other words, it was always going to drop.

The banter is obviously a sly metaphor for human freewill and how, once someone has made up their mind about a future decision, there’s no turning back. Now, one might obviously point out that there’s a significant difference between an inorganic object like a ball and a human being; we have a brain capable of producing sapient thoughts. But “Minority Report” pushes past that apparent solution and explores this concept further in an exhilarating escapade that ranks as one of the greatest sci-fi films ever created.

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New York Stories

Movie Review #825: Three stories, two good.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano
new_york_stories

Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated PG
124 minutes

I’m not really a fan of anthology films. The guarantee is seldom of a great movie, but instead of a randomized compilation of good and bad short subjects. Some folks tend to like this concept, and perhaps the better segments are what stand out to them. “Paris, je t’aime”, for example. If you saw it, you more than likely loved it. I thought it was all right.

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Under the Skin

Movie Review #824: Exhilarating.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano
under_the_skin

Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
108 minutes

“Under the Skin” rivets from the very beginning, which is more of a monumental genesis than a conventional opening. We zoom in from what might be millions of miles away toward what appears to be a star. Closer. Closer. Closer. And than it suddenly bursts with radiating light. Closer. Closer. The star now appears to be a planet. Closer, and we discover that we are watching neither the creation of a planet nor of a star. We are watching the creation of a human eye. At least, that’s what we’re sure of at that moment.

It’s barely suggested at all in “Under the Skin” that what we’re watching is pure science fiction. Not until the ending do we discover that the woman whose perspective we have been studying for nearly two hours is not a “she” but an “it.” Laura (Scarlett Johansson) is an alien from another world, who has practiced hard to look, talk, and act like a Scottish woman. None of that is clear for most of the movie, though we do feel alienation throughout the entirety of this story, as we watch Laura react stoically to anything she sees. She can just about fake a smile, and as a matter of fact, she does so rather frequently.

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The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Movie Review #823: We become jaded to the interesting premise soon enough.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano
curse_of_the_jade_scorpion

Comedy, Crime, Mystery
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content
103 minutes

“The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” dedicates a whole title card to telling use that it’s set in 1940. And I’m glad it does, to tell y’all the honest truth. I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be set in the 1940s, or set at one of the earlier rehearsals of a high school play in 2001. The set design is extremely unconvincing. It’s not the appearance of actors like Dan Akyroyd that make this seem too modern. It’s the phony backdrop and set pieces.

Though I’ll sit back and relax about this point, because it might not even matter. It more than likely was intended. Woody Allen’s “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” is a cheesy film-noir homage, film-noir sendup, whatever you want to call it. Except I use the word “cheesy” with caution and deliberation here. It does mean that perhaps the art direction and set design were intended to look hokey. It does not mean I enjoyed the movie.

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300: Rise of an Empire

Movie Review #822: ’300′ with even more blood, more abs, more nudity, more CGI.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano
three_hundred_rise_of_an_empire_ver7

Action, Drama, Fantasy
Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language
102 minutes

“300: Rise of an Empire” acts as more of a companion piece to “300″ than as a prequel or a sequel. There’s two reasons for this. One, the movies depict separate events that are happening virtually at the same time. But more importantly, “Rise of an Empire” is stylistically the same exact movie “300″ was eight years ago.

There’s a story in “Rise of an Empire”, but it doesn’t matter. Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) spends at least ten minutes providing a dramatic voiceover about the Battle of Marathon, and it’s pretty difficult to pay attention to her. Literally all we care about during these opening moments of the movie is what we’re seeing: bodybuilders sporting swords and sandals, and blood spraying everywhere in slow-motion. The movie seems to lose its story as well as its logic after the opening narration, and it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps there was some story we cared about in “300″, but this followup is ten times the big-budget glorification of blood, abs, nudity, and CGI.

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Hollywood Ending

Movie Review #821: At Point A, it’s funny. By Point B, it’s no longer interesting.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

hollywood_ending

Comedy, Romance
Rated PG-13 for some drug references and sexual material
112 minutes

“Hollywood Ending” doesn’t start calm and develop its angst later on. It opens up in the middle of a conversation filled with angst. It jumps right to the action, wherein a neurotic film producer (Téa Leoni) still hates her ex-husband (Woody Allen) after ten years of separation, and yet it seems to her that he’s the best fit director for a script they’ve recently selected. Now let’s be clear that for anybody who knows that Woody Allen continued to work with Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, and Mia Farrow after their respective breakups with him, and that he’s already channeled this in his movies before, “Hollywood Ending” feels overly familiar. Let’s not forget that Allen is also dating someone around half his age in this movie, an incident that happens in both his life and his movies. Or the fact that his character is at war with the studios throughout the movie. That, too, has happened to Allen on several occasions.

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Mystic River

Movie Review #820: ‘Mystic River’ is a well-acted, somber drama that takes a giant U-turn at the end.

★★★
By Red Stewart

mystic_river

Crime, Drama, Mystery
Rated R for language and violence
138 minutes

Clint Eastwood was an interesting choice for director given his background in rural westerns. I say this because “Mystic River” falls under the genre some critics have created in recent years called “Bostonian crime,” which center on suburban transgressions and the effects those have on the working class. Other movies in the category include Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”.

The film follows the lives of three friends, Jimmy Markum (Penn), Dave Boyle (Robbins), and Sean Devine (Bacon), who all experienced a traumatizing event in their childhood and have now grown distant from one another. They find themselves reunited in the aftermath of a brutal murder where the tensions and guilt built up over the years come out to haunt them.

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  • The Grading Scale

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