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2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

thor2DIRECTOR: Alan Taylor

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Alice Krige, Adewale Akinnouoye-Agbaje

REVIEW:

Thor: The Dark World, following in the footsteps of the introductory outing for its title character, 2011’s Thorand the 2012 superhero all-star extravaganza The Avengersis a step down and feels like an obligatory episode.  It moves briskly and serves up serviceable fantasy action-adventure, but it lacks the epic feel of Thor and it’s hard to care much about what’s taking place onscreen despite a bunch of flashy special effects, dwelling in the middle ground of mediocrity also occupied by Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man 3.   Continue reading

Snowpiercer (2013)

snowpiercer1DIRECTOR: Joon-ho Bong

CAST: Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Ah-Sung Ko, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ewen Bremner, Ed Harris

REVIEW:

Snowpiercer, while it contains visceral action sequences that wouldn’t be out of place in a major summer action movie, was given only a limited arthouse release, with major studios leery of giving it high-profile promotion (in fact, it’s a South Korean-funded project).  One can see why upon viewing the complete product; this is not a conventional action movie, or a conventional anything, and it’s too grim and downbeat to be anything resembling “feel good” or crowd-pleasing.  For those not deterred by those disclaimers, Snowpiercer is still a bit of a mess, but it’s an engaging, often fascinating mess bursting with ideas and cool moments, and understanding its allegorical intentions will enhance one’s appreciation of what it’s going for. Continue reading

Locke (2014)

2F3A9835.jpgDIRECTOR: Steven Knight

CAST: Tom Hardy, voices of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner

REVIEW:

So, how engaging can a movie be centering entirely on 90 minutes of a man driving in a car and talking on the phone, with the other characters only present via their voices?  As it turns out, Locke is often surprisingly absorbing in the moment, even if it’s ultimately unable to withstand the onset of monotony.  A small, low-key, low-budget indie movie initially opening at independent film festivals in the UK, Locke moved on to a limited theatrical release in the US amid positive critical reviews  and a much-praised performance by Tom Hardy, but the prospect of spending an hour and a half watching a film in which nothing happens but a man driving in a car dealing with a series of personal crises on the phone is not a premise to draw mainstream crowds.  Locke may be a critical darling, but it’s strictly indie art-house fare, and while an intriguing cinematic experiment, its gimmicky premise ultimately wears thin. Continue reading

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

dallas-buyers-clubDIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Vallee

CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

REVIEW:

Like 1993’s PhiladelphiaDallas Buyers Club centers on an individual’s experience in the AIDS crisis, but unlike Jonathan Demme’s earlier film, it tells a true story, that of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic heterosexual who was transformed by circumstances into a crusader for AIDS patients and the ringleader of a mostly gay Dallas-based group called The Dallas Buyers Club, using medications unapproved in the US and waging a years-long war with the FDA and extending his own life to another seven years, far beyond his initial prognosis of thirty days.  While Philadelphia‘s flaws were somewhat mitigated by its social courage in releasing at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Dallas Buyers Club might have the most value to viewers too young to remember the climate of the time period, with AIDS sufferers treated with fear and ignorance and effective medication hard to come by. Continue reading

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Amanda Plummer

REVIEW:

Unlike inferior book-t0-screen cousins like the Twilight series, The Hunger Games, adapted from the popular book series by Suzanne Collins, proves that “young adult” does not have to be synonymous with vapid.  Halfway through the planned onscreen four-part saga, Catching Fire deepens and expands on themes in the first installment and takes it in darker directions.  Like The Empire Strikes Back, this is an example of a sequel that surpasses the original. Continue reading

12 Years a Slave (2013)

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

CAST: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti

REVIEW:

12-years-a-slave-posterA powerful and haunting film and a stirring and important historical document, 12 Years a Slave may do for American slavery what Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust, using one man’s true story to portray the incalculable horrors of an evil system. While this film does not quite match the power of Steven Spielberg’s epic, it brings the grim, stark realities of slavery home in ways that are hard-hitting and eye-opening.  Nothing is sugarcoated—nor should it be—and there are moments of jarring brutality depicted unflinchingly to the point of being difficult to watch. Continue reading

About Time (2013)

DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

REVIEW:

Writer-director Richard Curtis might not stray out of his romantic comedy comfort zone (he was previously the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and the writer-director of Love Actually), but for his latest installment, he’s souped it up with a time travel twist.  Actually, given how the premise hinges on it, how fast and loose Curtis plays with his own established time travel rules might annoy some sticklers for consistency too much to appreciate the film’s charms, but while riddled with topsy turvy internal logic, About Time is a pleasant, sentimental little romantic comedy-drama that offers an enjoyable diversion for those who appreciate this sort of thing. Continue reading

Grand Piano (2013)

DIRECTOR: Eugenio Mira

CAST: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishe, Tamsin Egerton, Allen Leech, Alex Winter

REVIEW:

A Spanish production with an English-language cast (despite being set in Chicago, all interior sets were filmed in Spain, though some outside scenes were filmed in Chicago), Grand Piano had the most limited of theatrical releases, screening briefly at only one New York City theater, though for anyone interested (or anyone who even heard of its existence), it was available for online streaming.  Those who check it out will find a diverting but slightly silly little Hitchcockian-esque thriller which zips along with enough slickly-crafted style to be engaging in the moment, even if it ultimately builds up too many plot holes and flimsy elements. Continue reading

Now You See Me (2013)

Now-You-See-Me-2013-DIRECTOR: Louis Letterier

CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Common

REVIEW:

Now You See Me is a fast-paced, whizz-bang caper that, like its magician characters, misdirects from some flimsy plot holes with quick-moving panache.  It’s not terribly deep or substantial, but it serves up two hours of compulsive entertainment and a few twists and turns along the way. Fans of the likes of Ocean’s Eleven might find Now You See Me to their liking. Continue reading

The Great Gatsby (2013)

carey-mulligan-600DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann

CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan, Jack Thompson

REVIEW:

 

I’ll get this out of the way right upfront: I have never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, now considered a staple of American literature (though it was received poorly at the time, perhaps partly due to its social commentary on 1920s excess), so this review will not include comparisons to the book or any previous film adaptation (the most prominent of which came out in 1974 and starred Robert Redford in the title role), merely review this as a stand-alone film.  Continue reading

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