I’m almost ashamed to admit how much media I’ve consumed in the past week. In addition to keeping up with recent episodes of True Detective (so good) and The Walking Dead, I polished off the most recent season of House of Cardsand that’s before any of the following movies. I only made one trip to the theater though for a screening of Pompeii on Tuesday and then again to the local second-run theater to catch a showing of The Great Beauty before it fights its way to the top of the foreign language films for next week’s Academy Awards.




Well-acted drama with a sci-fi bent, Never Let Me Go deals with the impossibility of knowing your own fate. Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield each play clones raised to adulthood and then harvested for their organs, always aware that their end will come sooner rather than later and yet ever searching for a means to extent their short stint on earth. It’s occasionally powerful and offers all three of the actors a chance to stand in the spotlight but its shade is too relentlessly black and the absence of hope too primed to get its audience down.


SOLARIS (2002)


Dark and contemplative to a fault, this Steven Soderberg film deals in themes of humanity and society, guilt and hopelessness. George Clooney plays a troubled psychologist sent to a space station orbiting the eponymous, mysterious planet with strange powers, Solaris. In the furtherest reaches of human ambition, Solaris is manifest destiny to the Nth degree, it’s the extension of what we can achieve and at what cost. Sound vague? So is the film. As Clooney’s isolation is mimicked with the backdrop of the desolation of space, he encounters someone from his past that throws everything that he believes into the garbage disposal and turns it on high. It’s an eerie and unsettling film but never shakes the feeling that Soderberg is holding his hand back a little too far. We’re left too emotionally distant to feel the metaphysical welts he’s trying to deliver but good on Clooney for putting so much effort in.




Guillermo del Toro made his name with horror dramas of this ilk and for good reason. The Devil’s Backbone is the perfect precursor for Toro’s later masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth as both deal out horror in the confines of historically accurate, war torn landscapes. This time around, Toro sets his sights on the Spanish Civil War as he tracks Carlos, a 12-year old recent orphan, who encounters a child ghost. Toro is at his most atmospheric here, offering creepiness and tenderness in equal measure that all adds up to a rather intriguing feature.




A slapstick farce of the absurdist bent, the Coen Bros channel Frank Kapra, reminding us of what makes satire satire and why Adam Sandler as Mr. Deeds is a completely futile effort. Biting lampoon of Corporate America at its most corruptible, the Coen Bros are on point moreso than not and deliver sidesplitting gawuffs in healthy dollops. The first twenty minutes or so are solid gold and it kind of peters out towards the middle but the kooky performance from Tim Robbins keeps it hustling along and keeps the laughs coming.




A road trip adventure masquerading as a monster movie, Monsters is a razor sharp satire on border policy. Gareth Evans, the man responsible for the upcoming Godzilla film, directs with searing panache, putting the human drama at the forefront and letting the presence of “monsters” help to bring more gravitas to their spiritual venture rather than drive the action. It’s the kind of genre-defying film you don’t see coming and it’s well worth checking out if not just to acquaint yourself with Evans’ talent.




On the wrong side of the satire fence, this grindhouse-born sardonic action flick is too heavy on exploitation and too light on payoff. Demian Bichir though almost singlehandedly makes it a must-see as his manic villain is a big standout in an otherwise star studded but phoning it in and hamming it up cast. While Robert Rodriquez‘s latest really tries to drive home the necessity of a sequel in which Machete kills again…in space, after this absolutely tanked at the box office (it made a hair over ten million on a twenty million dollar production budget) there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that Danny Trejo will ever wield a machete in full feature form again. Then again, that’s probably for the best.




Absolutely gorgeous cinematography frames what is sure to be this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner. Lead Toni Servillo is fantastic as fading writer but mostly uppity socialite Jep and he’s the perfect guide to stroll around the offerings of Rome with. Surreal and ponderous, Paolo Sorrentino‘s film is the kind that makes us see the trees for the forest, that begs us to realize that life is happening all around us, not something waiting to happen. Best of all, he doesn’t spoon feed any conclusions to his audience but allows them the breathing room to weave their own message from. There’s a little flack in the last act but it doesn’t take away from the monumental impact of this absolute wonder.


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Out in Theaters: THE MONUMENTS MEN

“The Monuments Men”
Directed by George Clooney
Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Winslet, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban
Action, Biography, Drama
118 Mins

George Clooney
‘s The Monument’s Men is a monumess. A sloppily assembled patchwork of scenes, it’s a great story with no backbone that flops from event to event like a fish out of water. Without the propulsion of any kind of momentum, the tale sags, leaving us dulled to the story’s eventual important moments. With all the talent involved and Clooney behind the camera, we expect something with panache, wit and style and instead are served up this goofy slop of events thrown at the stage with all the disheveled precision of a pie-in-the-face. However intriguing the “true story” behind the film, it is apparently best left in books or relayed in insightful anecdotes as Clooney has all but snuffed the life out of what ought to be a monumental account. As Roger Ebert famously said, “Movies are not about what they are about, but how they are about it.” Here, Clooney’s how looks a lot like wingin’ it.

As mentioned above, the biggest problem holding The Monuments Men back from glory is how frumpily the series of events are organized. Scenes flow into each other like class five rapids, positively clashing and jarring any sense of time or place. Tacking a scene set in France onto one in Germany or America, we never have a foothold on where we are or when exactly anything is taking place. Clooney throws date on the screen but they will hop to another moment in time and another character whose location and significance we can only guess. Only when Clooney’s voiceover cuts through are we informed of the context of the content; a sure sign of narrative failure. When you’re tasked with explaining to the audience what they’re seeing, you know you’re taken a wrong turn off the successful storytelling highway.

So as the film crashes from one scene to another, we’re left trying to hold onto some semblence of structure and even the characters give us little to grasp onto. With the likes of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin and Bob Balaban assembled, one would expect stirring ensemble work but, for the most part, Clooney shies away from satisfying character development or captivating ensemble work. The only time he stops to really try and delve into characters are when they face death. What he fails to understand is that we already need to be invested at that point. You can’t kill someone off and then try and make them important posthumously. These “oh wait” moments ring a clear signal of his inability to save the unfocused screenplay from itself and a blinding sign of his desperate attempts to course correct too late in the game.

Even with all these missteps, there are a number of intriguing and poignant scenes interspersed throughout but even they come across as too clunkily set and architecturally inorganic to propel the audience into a suspended state of caring. We want to know who these characters are but we rarely do. Goodman is just kind of there, Dujardin plays up his irresistible French charm and Balaban has some nice material to work his mousey persona on but none really amount to much more than appreciators of art. When Murray is given a dramatic moment to break down in the shower, he puts in some solid work but it makes no sense in the context surrounding that moment. It’s like watching wrestling at the nail salon. It just doesn’t gel.

Where Monuments Men’s biggest disappointment is its squandered use of a killer cast. I will give credit to Cate Winslet, who will soon likely be an Academy Award winner, for her work as a Parisian art aficionado as her work is more notable than any of the gentlemen with whom she shares the screen.

And if you thought War Horse was old-fashion wait until you get a load of this. From the hokey John Williams-wannabe score (courtesy of Alexandre Desplat) to the almost played-for-laughs Nazi presence, it’s just one long page in the book of cinematic taboo. While this may have worked better in 1965, it certainly doesn’t fit 2014. Clooney has been able to manipulate time periods to his liking in the past but his attempt to do a period piece told in dated fashion works about as well as telling the Rwanda Genocide as a rom-com.

One thing is abundantly clear at this junction, Clooney’s art junkie project was certainly not moved from its original release date to “fix up the effects.” Columbia must have know they had little more than a hodgepodge of scenes and didn’t know how to piece them together. The resulting papier mâchéd clunker of a wartime dramedy is a futile effort at grasping at straws. Worse yet, it’s boring.


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30 Most Anticipated Films of 2014 (20-11)


For those of you who missed yesterday’s segment on my Most Anticipated Movies of 2014 (30-21), check it out in full by clicking the link. Otherwise, take a look at slots 20-11 for some upcoming movies you definitely want to be aware of.

20. Dom Hemingway


Mixed reviews saw this film out of the gates at TIFF but I have confidence that what may turned many off about Dom Hemingway will work wonders for me. A violent crime caper with Jude Law playing a machismo, coked-up safe cracker, Dom Hemingway has been called a “second cousin to Nicolas Winding-Refn‘s Bronson” [RoS] a film I tremendously enjoyed. I love an interesting protagonist and Law’s Hemingway certainly seems like a character who’ll grab your attention and won’t let it go until the movie finishes. Hopefully, I’ll be on the side of the supporters when this one lands.

Dom will likely only arrive in a small number of theaters when it hits on April 4.

19. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a staggeringly successful revival of the 60’s sci-fi pop franchise and although it had some serious issues (pretty much all of the human characters were lacking), Andy Serkis and the WETA digital team knocked it out of the park. Gone were the hackneyed makeup jobs and inherent silliness found in later installments and Apes all of a sudden had a purpose again. This sequel sees the return of Serkis and features a whole new cast of human actors including the always reliable Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Since the events of the first film, all out war has broken loose so it’ll be interesting to see things going ape shit against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic human race. 

I’m guessing this one will be my birthday movie with a July 11 release date.

18. X-Men: Days of Future Past


Since before superhero movies were even a thing, Fox has known they had something on their hands with the X-Men movie property and although not everything from the franchise has been great, their track record so far has been largely in the green, both financially and critically. So while just another X-Men movie might not quite be enough to really amp up the anticipation levels, the idea of combining the original cast of the first trilogy with the cast of X-Men: First Class, a film I adored, is enough to get my blood boiling. Just seeing that post credits scene of The Wolverine was enough to get me amped and I’m really hoping this is the superhero movie of the year.

May 24th will unveil whether X-Men is truly looking toward the future or has run out of steam.

17. Exodus


This won’t be the only biblical epic on the list (hint, hint) which means this, depending on how you look at it, will either be a good or bad year for Christians at the cinema. Exodus isn’t quite garnishing the same controversy that its biblical counterpart is at the moment but the fact that we have Ridley Scott behind the camera really means that anything goes. Scott has definitely been on a strange path of late and though many have laid claims that he’s become too out there with films like Prometheus and The Counselor, I’m very much interested in his recent career and find almost as compelling as his inauspicious beginnings. The always terrific Christian Bale will portray Moses (a strange choice physically but hell, is there anyone out there better than Bale?) as he leads Jewish slaves from Egypt.

Hoping to part the Red Sea and head straight for the Oscars with a December 12 release date.

16. Guardians of The Galaxy


So while I admitted that I’m fully expecting X-Men: Days of Future Past to be my favorite superhero movie of the year, I can’t deny that I’m very interested in Guardians of the Galaxy. For the first time since Iron Man, it seems that the Marvel folks are stepping outside of their comfort zone. With a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and a talking tree courtesy of Vin Diesel’s gravely vibrato, this is surely the most risky endeavor Marvel has taken in quite some time and, hopefully, will be a welcome break from the monotony of their core Avengers films. Plus, with James Gunn (Slither, Super) behind the camera, we’re sure to be in store for something unexpected.

Alien superhero gang set to show up in 3D IMAX on August 1.

15. Sabotage


So you probably didn’t expect an entry starring Arnold Schwarzenegger so high on this list but, in this case, it’s all about director David Ayer. In 2012, Ayer delivered one of the finest and certainly the most unexpected picture of the year with the stunning End of Watch and ever since, I couldn’t wait to see what he cooked up next. Although the name Schwarzenegger has become more of a punchline since his tenure as the Governator, this film which co-stars underdogs Joe ManganielloMireille Enos, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, and Sam Worthington looks to be a revival for the badass that once was. 

Bursting down theater doors on April 11.

14. Big Hero 6


Marvel + Pixar = Big Hero 6. Yes, you heard right, Big Hero 6, although not so well known to the world at large, is a Marvel property being handled by the old big guns over at Pixar. Although Pixar has been on a slumping trajectory of late, the inspired idea to play in the superhero world just sounds like a recipe for success. Pixar already proved that they can do superhero fare with The Incredibles and, with it, have set themselves a high bar. I know it’s been a while since we’ve seen something truly original from Pixar and although this is an already established property, it’s unknown enough for them to have a true hand in creating something innovative and magnificent. They have a sandbox to play in, now let’s just hope they bring their imaginations.

A near holiday release with a November 6 opening.

13. The Raid 2: Berenthal


The Raid is one of the single most over-the-top ridiculous action movies I have ever seen and yet I loved every single second of it. I watched it in bed and found myself cheering. I mean, come on, when do you do that?! You’re in bed to relax, not jump up and down like a little kid. Well that was the effect The Raid had on me. I felt like a little kid again, watching The Matrix for the first time. Picking up right where the first one left off, The Raid 2 follows the trail of corruption unveiled in the first film. But let’s be honest, these movies aren’t about plot, they’re about bone-breaking action and so long as director Gareth Evans can keep things fresh we’re hopefully in store for another unforgettable action movie. Keep in mind, this is the second film in a planned trilogy so it’ll be interesting to see how much the world does open up and how self-contained the story is.

Debuting at Sundance, The Raid 2 will strikes American theaters on March 28 with nearly 2-and-a-half-hours of action.

12. The Monument’s Men


Originally slated for a Oscar-qualifying run in 2013, George Clooney‘s The Monument’s Men got pushed due to incomplete post-production work. While the move is enough to make some nervous, the fact that Clooney’s WWII caper has taken the often unforgiving early February slot is hopefully inspired by financial reasons and not suggestive of its lacking quality. But honestly, even a bad Clooney movie is pretty good and from everything we’ve seen from this so far, there is absolutely no reason to think that this is bad. In fact, it looks pretty great. The trailers have showcased the comedy of the thing, which in my opinion is a great step away from the stuffy high-nosery that could have come from a movie focusing on art and Nazis. Backed by Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, and John Goodman, how can this not be a score?

In may not be Oscar season with a February 7 release but could it have what it takes to stick around all year?

11. Transcendence


Wally Pfister makes his directorial debut with Transcendence, a story about a terminally ill scientist who synches his consciousness with a computer before he dies. Up to this point, Pfister has spent his career as a cinematographer, most notably for The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, and hopefully his time spent with blockbuster guru Christopher Nolan has rubbed off in a serious way. Although I’ve approached anything with Johnny Depp in a lead role with trepidation over the past few years, this looks like it could be a return to form for the wacky actor.

Will land across the nation on April 18.

That’s it for today folks. Check back tomorrow for the Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2014. (Which will actually have 11 films because of my miscalculation. Whoops.)

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Clooney's MONUMENTS MEN Pushed to 2014, Leaves Oscar Race

Another one bites the dust as George Clooney‘s much anticipated WWII drama The Monuments Men will no longer make its December 18 release date, effectively slicing it out of next year’s Oscar consideration. Following today’s official announcement that The Wolf of Wall Street will now see a Christmas day release, it seems that big 2014 Oscar contenders are crumbling like dominoes. As for the reason for the move, Clooney has cited unsatisfactory progress within the special effects department.

“We just didn’t have enough time,” Clooney told the Los Angeles Times, “If any of the effects looked cheesy, the whole movie would look cheesy. We simply don’t have enough people to work enough hours to finish it.” While the reasoning is fair, it does seem like they have quite a bit of time in the nearly two months before that release. It makes me wonder if there isn’t more to the story than is being shared at this point. On the push to 2014 affecting the film’s Oscar odds, Clooney made it clear that Oscar attention was never his goal for the film. He added, “All we’ve ever said, from the very beginning, is that we wanted to make a commercial, non-cynical piece of entertainment.”

Although Clooney seems insistent that Oscars were never the hope, the move to an early 2014 date will most certainly lower any chances for an Oscar. Whether it will remain a player next year is impossible to say now but I would put my money on a steadfast “no”.

The Monuments Men
is written, starring and directed by George Clooney. It also stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and John Goodman. It hits theaters in the thick of Oscar season on December 18.

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Round One of the 2014 Oscar Predictions

As 2013 races to a close, it’s time for the first round of Oscar predictions. 2013 started with a whimper with a truly slumping spring season that moved into a relatively disappointing summer slate of blockbusters (at least from a critical perspective). But the fall season hopes to make up for any inadequacies of the rest of the year with a lump sum of certifiably great films. Although some of my predicted contenders have yet to see the light of day, there are now enough pieces in play to make a fair judgement as to what may and may not make the cut come the year’s end. Come join us to discuss our first round of 2014’s Oscar predictions.

I’ve personally only seen a few of the big contenders for Best Picture (Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips), some have played their way through the festival circuit (Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis) and the remainder have yet to be seen at all (The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, The Monuments Men). But even for these unknown qualities, all you have to do is look at the talent and directors and a shoe-in is the rule rather than the exception.

Coming off a fiery debut at TIFF, 12 Years a Slave seems the clear front runner and is sure to nab nomination across the board (including Steve McQueen‘s first directing Oscar nomination as well as first time nominations for Chiwetel Ejifor and Lupita Nyong’o). Others such as Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks won high praise out of Cannes and the AFI fest respectively and will similar play across many categories.

As far as those that have yet to play for any audience, David O. Russell’s sterling track record speaks for itself and, depending on how well-received American Hustle is, he may prove to be 12 Years a Slave and Steve McQueen‘s biggest challenge. While The Wolf of Wall Street is involved in a bit of a juggling act, it’s darkly comic tone may keep it from being amongst the top tier, a similar situation to George Clooney‘s The Monument’s Men. Although Clooney’s name, an all-star cast, and a historic context have proved successful in the past, the first trailer looked a little too light to make it a serious player in a very heavy year.

Gravity still sits pretty as a critical darling that will have the backing of the mainstream, who rushed out to see it this weekend to a tune of more than $50 million and for it, is likely to take home a bulk of the technical categories.

Probably one of this year’s biggest talking points will orbit the discussion of an unprecedented amount of African-American nominees. Steve McQueen may not be the first black director to be nominated (he would actually be the third after John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) and Lee Daniels (Precious)) he is the first who actually stands a fair chance at winning. Likewise, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o lead their respective category. Even more impressive is the fact that the Best Supporting Actress category is likely to see nominations for three black actresses (Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey, and Octavia Spencer)

Best Picture:

1. “12 Years a Slave”

2. “American Hustle”
3. “Gravity”
4. “Saving Mr. Banks”
5. “Captain Phillips”
6. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
7. “Dallas Buyers Club”
8. “The Monuments Men”
9. “The Wolf of Wall Street”

10. “August: Osage County”
11. “All is Lost”
12. “Nebraska”
13. “Rush”
14. “Before Midnight”

Best Director:

1. Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave”

2. Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity”
3. David O. Russell “American Hustle”
4. John Lee Hancock “Saving Mr. Banks”
5. The Coen Bros “Inside Llewyn Davis”

6. Paul Greengrass  “Captain Phillips”
7. George Clooney “The Monuments Men”
8. Martin Scorsese “The Wolf of Wall Street”
9. JC Chandor “All is Lost”
10. Alexander Payne “Nebraska”

Best Actor:

1. Matthew McConaughey “Dallas Buyers Club”
2. Chiwetel Ejifor “12 Years a Slave”
3. Tom Hanks  “Captain Phillips”
4. Robert Redford “All is Lost”
5. Forest Whitaker “Lee Daniel’s The Butler”

6. Leonardo DiCaprio “The Wolf of Wall Street”
7. Christain Bale “American Hustle”
8. Bruce Dern “Nebraska”
9. Joaquin Phoenix “Her”
10 .Oscar Isaac “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Actress:


1. Cate Blanchett “Blue Jasmine”
2. Judi Dench “Philomena”
3. Meryl Streep “August: Osage County”
4. Sandra Bullock “Gravity”
5. Emma Thompson “Saving Mr. Banks”
6.Amy Adams “American Hustle”
7. Julie Delpy “Before Midnight”
8. Brie Larson “Short Term 12”
9. Adèle Exarchopoulos “Blue is the Warmest Color”
10. Berenice Bejo “The Past”

Best Supporting Actor:

1. Jared Leto “Dallas Buyers Club”

2. Daniel Bruhl “Rush”
3. Michael Fassbender “12 Years a Slave”
4. Tom Hanks “Saving Mr. Banks”
5. John Goodman “Inside Llewyn Davis”

6. Bradley Cooper “American Hustle”
7. Jake Gllyenhaal “Prisoners”
8. Barkhad Abdi “Captain Phillips”
9. Sam Rockwell “The Way, Way Back”
10. Andrew Dice Clay “Blue Jasmine”

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Lupita Nyong’o “12 Years a Slave”

2. Oprah Winfrey “Lee Daniel’s The Butler”
3. Julia Roberts “August: Osage County”
4. Octavia Spencer “Fruitvale Station”
5. Cameron Diaz “The Counselor”

6. Margo Martindale “August: Osage County”
7. June Squibb “Nebraska”
8. Melissa Leo “Prisoners”
9. Jennifer Lawrence “American Hustle”
10. Carey Mulligan “Inside Llewyn Davis”

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