Friday, August 30, 2013

GETAWAY by Pamela Powell

Starring: Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez
Rated: PG-13

I drive like a grandma.  Or at least that's what my kids tell me.  That's usually not what the cop says that pulls me over on the highway though.  In any case, I am not a speed demon.  I don't take chances.  I don't even like passing on a two lane road.  I would rather go 50 in a 55 than risk passing.  Why do I tell you this?  Because GETAWAY was my chance to feel what it's like to be behind the wheel of a race car on city streets.  GETAWAY was a typical car chase movie where the lead character, Brent Magna, a former race car driver, finds his wife kidnapped.  He must literally race against time to accomplish tasks in his car in order to save his wife's life.  Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez are the two prime stars trying to give a little bit of life to a typical chase and crash movie.

Brent Magna's wife is kidnapped.  He is instructed to find a particular car and drive.  Instructions to follow.  During his drive, a girl, but not just any girl, tries to steal the car at gun point.  Turns out that this car, a Shelby Super Snake (for all you muscle car fans out there!) was actually hers.  She was just trying to get it back.  As luck would have it, "the girl" is now in on the rescue mission.  The two work together in high speed to save "the other girl."

Let's face it.  This isn't an intellectually stimulating film.  If you didn't realize that going in, well, then there are other issues at hand.  This movie is exactly what you expect it to be.  It's a car chase movie.  There are good guys and bad guys.  The good guy does some questionable things which makes him a little bad too.  In the end, it's just a car chase and car crash movie.  What might make this movie a little better than your typical chase movie is the entertaining, albeit unbelievable, banter between Selena Gomez' character and Ethan Hawke's Brent Magna. The most amazing star of the movie, however, is the camera work.  There were many times, especially at the end of the film, that I felt as if I was actually in the front seat, racing through the streets in Bulgaria, running redlights and nearly missing accidents left and right.  Throughout the film, unique and seemingly impossible camera angles had you in awe.

I hate to categorize movies into male and female, but I'm going to...this is a guy movie.  It's Need For Speed on the Silver Screen.  If you're ok with 90 minutes of car chases and stunts and a difficulty in knowing how and when to end a movie, then you'll like GETAWAY.  Otherwise, ladies, go see BLUE JASMINE or families, go see THE WAY, WAY BACK.


Thursday, August 29, 2013


CLOSED CIRCUIT stars Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall as the antagonistic ex-couple who are barristers assigned to defend an accused terrorist in London.  Their past may impact not only their defendant, but also their lives.  This "cat and mouse" thriller capitalizes on the basic premises in George Orwell's 1984.  Big Brother is always watching.  In this case, Big Brother is the government of England.

CLOSED CIRCUIT takes on current day issues such as terrorism attacks, homeland security, government spies, and privacy.  As a bomb explodes in Central London, killing 120 people, the government must find the culprit to put the city at ease.  Exposing the terrorist at any cost, bringing him to justice, but still abiding by British law is at the heart of this film.  The story is tense and suspenseful from the beginning and doesn't relinquish until the end.  The complexity of the film comes from the explanation of the British legal system.  While our government and legal systems are similar, there are some very big differences.  Not being an attorney myself, although having watched numerous hours of 'Law and Order' which is the standard of every American thinking herself a relative expert, it is refreshing to wrap your head around this unfamiliar system.

Martin Rose and Claudia Simmons-Howe have a sordid past together leaving each of them bitter toward one another.  As they must work together to adequately defend this accused terrorist, their feelings for each other can't be completely suppressed.  As the two discover more compromising information, they become targets themselves.  The mystery of who is at the bottom of this and how all the intersecting pieces fit together keep you glued to the screen.  It feels as if you are solving the puzzle right along with the two main characters.

Bana's performance isn't exactly stellar, but Hall is always a pleasure to watch as she is natural and believable in any character she portrays.  The attraction between Hall and Bana doesn't really work, but it's not the ultimate key in this film, so that aspect can be forgiven.  Rounding out the cast is Ciaran Hinds and Jim Broadbent.  Both actors are so versatile, but it's Broadbent's rather intimidating part as the villian that he plays with such ease that captures your attention.  He is the perfect villain you love to hate.  Or perhaps you hate to hate him because he's such a pleasure to watch!  Julia Stiles has a small, but important role as an American Journalist.  As always, Stiles fits whatever role she is given.

Overall, CLOSED CIRCUIT is an intense and suspenseful mystery thriller that is completely entertaining.  It mixes in a bit of romance as well, but not to distraction.  The topical relevance is eye opening as well as compelling to watch.  This one is worth seeing either in the theater or on DVD later.  It's not too violent and tells a good story.


Saturday, August 24, 2013


Starring:  Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, and Peter Sarsgaard
Written and Directed by: Woody Allen

I'm going to lay it out for you right now.  I'm not a Woody Allen fan.  However, in the recent past, his work has become more appealing.  First with "Midnight in Paris," and now with "Blue Jasmine" his true creativity and distinct abilities behind the camera are apparent to me.  "Blue Jasmine" has an all-star cast with Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, and Peter Sarsgaard to name a few.  But the talent doesn't stop with those names.  Allen seems to be able to direct each and every actor, known and unknown, to make them shine.

"Blue Jasmine" is the story about a woman who has lost everything and now, with her sister's help, tries to rebuild her life.  Initially, Jasmine lived the life anyone would envy.  She and her husband had many homes, attended and hosted dinner parties for charities, shopped at only the best stores and discussed vacations in Italy and other charming places.  That all came to an end when Jasmine's husband was arrested for the way he made his money.  They both lost everything and now the penniless Jasmine has traveled from NY to San Francisco to live with her sister.  The two couldn't be any more opposite.

This story captures you from the moment we are introduced to Jasmine.  We quickly realize that Jasmine isn't exactly emotionally stable.  But she covers that well with her upscale attitude and other social graces.  This complex story keeps Jasmine at the center while she interacts and reacts to her new surroundings.  Finding a job and dealing with the ordinary daily life issues the rest of us have are well beneath her, but she still tries.  She's judgmental and difficult and life needs to center around her.  She affects everyone around her and not always in positive ways.

This film truly shines in every capacity.  The acting is spectacular.  Cate Blanchett has such depth and emotion to her character that you had no question as to what she was feeling and why.  You may not always agree with her, but you truly understood her.  Sally Hawkins plays Jasmine's sister Ginger.  The two sisters are not biologically related as they were both adopted.  Ginger is the poor white trash of the family and the two have always resented one another.  Hawkins gives heart and life to this very complex character.  With Baldwin as the smooth business man and womanizer and Sarsgaard as the sweetheart, the depth and complexity continues.  Even Andrew Dice Clay's performance as the softie with very low potential is a character you care about.  How Allen developed each and every role so that the viewer would truly relate to and care about them, I will never know.  But he has.  The filming technique is reminiscent of other Allen movies, but not to distraction.  The music, also classic Allen, just accentuates the mood of the scenes which is complementary.

"Blue Jasmine" is a complex yet simple story about one woman dealing with the loss of her entire world as she knew it.  Her journey to try and regain the person she was is captivating.  "Blue Jasmine" feels real.  Allen's ability to write a script and transport the viewer into the film is amazing.  The story develops in a two-fold manner.  You skip back and forth from present to past while the past story is stapled together to explain the present.  This parallel story telling gives you just enough information to understand the protagonist's viewpoint as well as the supporting character's actions.

"Blue Jasmine" is a wonderfully acted, directed and written film.  Surprisingly, Woody Allen has ventured out of NYC and into San Fran with flawless perfection.  Blanchett's performance is Oscar worthy with a supporting cast of equal performances.  The film's nuances and unpredictability pulls you in for total entertainment.    "Blue Jasmine" is Allen's perfectly flawless film!

9 1/2 REELS

Friday, August 23, 2013


Starring: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Written by: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Rated R

“The World’s End” opens today nationwide starring and written by Simon Pegg.  Apocalyptic themes abound this year in Hollywood with films such as “Oblivion,” “Elysium,” “World War Z,” “After Earth,” “This Is the End,” and “R.I.P.D.”  “The World’s End” follows right along this theme in comedic style.  But at the end of the day (pun intended), will this film separate itself from the myriad number of its predecessors?

“The World’s End” is about, well, the end of the world.  This film focuses on five friends who rather unwillingly reunite to accomplish a task gone unfinished from their days as seniors in high school:  drink their way through 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven, England.  Twenty years have now passed and four of these five men have grown up and accomplished goals in their lives.  The leader of their group is quite the opposite.  He has not changed at all and continues to function as if in high school.  With his encouragement and manipulation, they attempt to complete the “Golden Mile.”  As they skip from pub to pub and drink pint after pint, they realize their town isn’t what it used to be. Even though it all looks the same, something is eerily different.  The five finally realize that their town has been taken over by aliens!  They must now somehow still accomplish their task of hitting all 12 pubs yet save the world at the same time.

“The World’s End” is in a line with the rest of the end of the world cinematic flops this year.  The ridiculous premise of five friends drinking their way along the “Golden Mile” while trying to save their hides can be forgiven if the story is funny.  It’s not.  Yes, there are a few chuckles along the way such as witnessing the logic of the completely intoxicated and learning the term “Starbuck it.”  The few literary and direct film rip-offs are funny as well.  And Pegg does remember to weave concepts and lines from the beginning of the film into the middle and end, but if you don’t think endless drinking and fighting with robots/aliens is funny, then you might get bored.  The childish humor and redundancy of scenes makes “The World’s End” continues on and on into oblivion (pun intended again) as there seems to be no end in sight.  With the final summation of what is happening, you realize it’s not the final summation.  There’s more.  “The World’s End” just wouldn’t.  

“The World’s End” is Simon Pegg’s movie all the way.  Pegg plays Gary King, the leader of the pack.  The rest of the cast just seems to be along for the ride.  King is the guy from high school who just doesn’t grow up.  He is continually absent in conversations, focusing on immature goals and bringing the group down to his level.  Pegg seems very adept at playing this character as it is similar to so many of his other roles.  Nick Frost plays Gary’s best friend, Andy Knightley, the rational one of the group.  Most of these actors have starred in several other films together in the past and play their roles well, although the one dimensionality of each character isn’t exactly a challenge. PIerce Brosnan’s cameo brings some humor to the film, but not enough to make it worth-while.

When I entered the theater, there was an overwhelming aroma of beer and alcohol.  This younger crowd seems to have  properly prepared to view this film.  “The World’s End” is a spoof film geared toward the generation that still parties hardy.      There is a definite lack of substance and creativity which makes this film monotonous.  The story feels as if it will truly never end even though the title promises that it will.  The  countless fight scenes and watching lots of people drink to excess becomes boring.  As the pints are being poured, it makes one look forward to partaking in some libations afterward to make you forget you just spent 109 minutes of your time.  Truly it seemed longer than that.     


Friday, August 16, 2013


Starring: Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey
Written by: Danny Strong and Wil Haygood
Directed by: Lee Daniels

“The Butler” opens Friday in theaters nationwide competing with “Kick Ass 2” and “Jobs.”  The limited marketing of this summer showcase of stars is rather surprising.  Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey are the headliners, but other standout celebrities include Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jane Fonda, James Marsden and Alan Rickman.  That’s quite a talented cast, but can the story outshine or even equal the brilliance of actors?

“The Butler” is based on the real life story of Eugene Allen who served as a butler in the White House for 8 terms.  The movie takes Allen’s life and turns it into a story about the fictional character, Cecil Gaines.  Gaines’ life begins in turmoil as a young boy in 1926, in Macon, Georgia on a cotton farm.  He witnesses his mother’s rape and his father’s murder.  This horrific scene is just the beginning of Cecil’s journey to find equality.  With the help of his master’s mother, Cecil learns a skill that shapes his life to come.  He then leaves the plantation and becomes one of the butlers serving many of the presidents of the United States.  During his career, he also raises two very different sons.  Their goals, seemingly different, are actually one and the same.  It’s how they perceive the means to the ends that pulls them apart.  When is it too late to make amends?

The film focuses on several aspects of Cecil’s life, not finding one main focal point.  We see Cecil as the versatile and perceptive servant to many presidents.  Cecil appears to impact each and every one of them, but the interactions are too fleeting. to be believable. Cecil’s relationship with his wife is yet another point of interest which is underdeveloped. Cecil and his wife Gloria have many issues typical of any marriage, but unique to a black couple who are in Washington, DC at that time and are connected to the White House.  Again, missed opportunities to explore a very interesting and complex aspect of the story.  In addition, we then have Cecil’s inability to relate to his two growing sons. The tumultuous 50’s and 60’s directly impact his family as Cecil’s son, Louis,  becomes a Freedom Rider and eventually a Black Panther.  Louis and Cecil have completely contradictory views on how to gain equality.  The resulting interaction consistently falls short. There are so many missed opportunities to really explore their relationship. We then have the obvious focus of the film which is the civil rights movement.  Unfortunately, just as the story is becoming intense, the cut is made back to the White House to a dinner with the next incoming president.  The film attempts to cover too much in too little time.  There are too many stories trying to be told.  This takes away from telling any of the stories well.  

Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines in Whitaker style.  He is adept in conveying pain, disappointment, and conflict without saying a word.  You feel what he is feeling whether you have experienced what he has or not.  Oprah Winfrey is quite competent in the role of Cecil’s wife, Gloria.  She is a mom and a wife, but an unfulfilled one.  She loves her husband, but is conflicted.  All of these emotions are clearly displayed.  The well-known actors playing various presidents are spot-on with their speech and mannerisms.  James Marsden, playing JFK, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan are particularly impressive.
“The Butler” tackles the daunting task of relating history accurately, telling a story of an influential butler in the White House,  and most importantly,  relaying a tale about a father and son in an entertaining way.  “The Butler” can’t do it all.  It misses the mark by trying to do too much.  The heart of this story is about Cecil and his son Louis, but you have to brush away too many layers to really see this.  In the end, this very ordinary man has a very extraordinary life possibly influencing American history.  The changes he is witness to are amazing. Unfortunately, the pace of “The Butler” is too slow and the overall entertainment too low. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Starring: Sam Witwer, Armand Assante, and Talia Shire
Written and Directed by: Sam Auster

"The Return of Joe Rich" is set in Chicago where every mob story should be set.  Joe Rich is a story about a son/nephew, Joe (Sam Witwer) returning to Chicago to live with his mother after the financial crisis hits him and he has lost everything.  Joe’s family is “connected.”  His Uncle Dom (Armand Assante) is the patriarch of this connected family and Joe "wants in".  As he says, “Crime does pay.”  How far will Joe go?  Is this type of work truly in his blood? 

As Joe moves back in to his childhood home, we see the immediate struggles any man moving back home would have.  These struggles are compounded by a very strong mother in an intimidating family. Joe's relationships with his mother and other family members appear to pick up right where they left off when Joe was young.  He also reunites with his long lost love adding the necessary love story in a rather brutal mob tale.  Joe sees first hand where loyalties truly lie and what kind of a person he actually is.  

Violence is a big part of this movie, but there are also some great comedic lines thrown in to balance the film. The rolling meatballs across the screen to segue from one scene into the next are reminiscent of Batman, taking the tension of the film down a level.  The home movies and the interviews with the “retired connected men” were the two aspects that keep this movie grounded and real.  These men were truly a part of “The Family.”   These old guys tell it like it was back in the day.  I can’t even begin to imagine the stories they could have told or maybe those stories are on the editing room floor!  Maybe it’s best that I don’t know!  The scenes of Joe pretending to shoot a gun in the bathroom add yet another level of entertainment in this film. No, not just because he shows off his six pack abs (although, that is a bonus!), but because it’s funny and immature in a serious movie.  He shows us that moving back home and living with mom in your late 20’s has it’s drawbacks!

Sam Witwer (a Glenview native), Armand Assante, Joe Minoso, Tim Kazurinsky, and Vanessa Vander Pluym are an outstanding cast.  Talia Shire plays Joe’s mom with a sense of ease and reality.  Uncle Dom (Armand Assante) is perfectly cast and I guarantee that I wouldn’t want to cross this guy in real life!  He plays a spot on mob boss; not that I’ve ever met one, but it’s how I imagine one!  Sam Witwer  takes on this rather complex role effortlessly.  The writing, directing and acting seem to meld seamlessly to give us a compelling story not just about the mob, but about people.

The movie ended and the director and actors took front and center to answer questions.  The director, Sam Auster, is from Oak Park and shoots commercials as his day job.  His love is making movies.  Again, another movie shot on a shoestring budget in just 20 days.  The home movie footage in “Joe Rich” was from Sam’s family!  And I confirmed that the old guys were real.  Amazing!  Sam also described how scenes had to be shot over and over in alleys and definitely made the audience realize that not all aspects of making a movie are fun!  Sam has many other ideas for movies and when he finds that financial backer, we will be the lucky ones to benefit from seeing the completion of those movies.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

ELYSIUM reviewed by Pamela Powell


It seems that besides super hero/comic book movies, we have end of the world movies this year and ELYSIUM fits this second category.  Neill Blomkamp has written and directed this futuristic thriller starring Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley. Blomkamp's name is known primarily for the movie "District 9" which also delves into science fiction as well as social injustices.  Copley seems to be the common denomonator between the movies.  With the harsh judgement of calling this film a socialism movie, can one just sit back and enjoy it?  Read on to find out.

ELYSIUM is set in the year 2154 where the Earth is overcrowded, diseased and chaotic.  The dark, dirty, and dingy people scrounge for food, beg for health care, and are monitored by robots and those above.  The rich, beautiful and healthy people live in a bubble (or at least a ring) located in Earth's atmosphere.  These people control everything on Earth and live a peaceful life similar to that  of the rich and famous.  This contrast in life-style make the oppressed inhabitants of Earth want nothing more than to reach Elysium, become a citizen, and be healthy.  When Max is exposed to lethal doses of radiation at his pathetic job, he has only one choice:  go to Elysium to be healed.  Getting there is much easier said than done and his success could change the world.

ELYSIUM is an apocalyptic, high action thriller typifying what everyone's perception of the future will be for Earth: dark, dirty, dingy, diseased, and difficult.  Dreading yet another one of "this" kind of movies, I didn't have my hopes up for any entertainment.  I was wrong.  The story hooked you with introducing you to the main characters as children.  Had we have been introduced to Max just as an adult, the connection and caring would not have been there.  Max and Frey were best friends in an orphanage vowing to go to Elysium when they grew up.  Years later with much history behind them, the two meet again.  Max, not the citizen of the year, but still a character you like, finds himself with 5 days to live.  Given that information, he has nothing to lose trying to get to Elysium.  The intensity of the film was at nuclear level from the moment Max was shown as an adult.  Impending doom, explosions, bad guys, special effects and chases happened continuously to get your blood pumping.  The film was gruesome in parts, but all appropriate to the story.  With all of these aspects of the film constantly bombarding your senses, it still was able to tell a story and develop characters that were interesting.

Damon's character, Max, was initially a selfish, but humorous man in a world devoid of happiness.  His  self-serving attitude, however, is what helped him survive this inhospitable world.  Damon deftly depicts this seemingly empty soul and gives it life.  He's occasionally funny and ironic while still pulling off the tough-guy persona.  Sharlto Copley is the epitome of evil in looks and actions, although I found it difficult to understand his accent.  What was disappointing was Jodie Foster's performance as Delacourt, Secretary of Defense.  Her waxing and waning British or upper-class accent (I couldn't distinguish the two), was obvious and irritating.  It sounded like she was trying too hard to sound elitist and bad-ass all wrapped into one.  It didn't work.  The rest of the cast seemed to fit their characters wonderfully and believably.

"Elysium" is an intense futuristic thriller that will keep you glued to the screen and on the edge of your seat.  Its violence is quite intense and disturbing, but it is keeping with the overall film.  The story works.  I even think Blomkamp had the perfect ending; a feat not usually accomplished in Hollywood. I'm not going to go into the supposed political statements.  To me, it is a story that is intriguing, exciting, and action-packed.  If you want to see this movie as a form of entertainment and you enjoy high intensity films, go.


Starring Matt Damon and directed by Neill Blomkamp, this futuristic thriller takes on a ruined earth where all the lowly dregs of humanity live and the wealthy and healthy (but not necessarily wise) have escaped and live in the beautiful man made Elysium, floating in Earth's sky.  When the overcrowded Earth

Thursday, August 8, 2013


We’re the Millers
Starring: Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis
Running time 1 hour 49 minutes
Rated R

We’re the Millers,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, opens to positive reviews already.  This summer-time flick is about drugs, deceit, and family.  If that seems an odd combination of ideas, you’re right.  Another noteworthy point is that this is Aniston’s second time playing a “naughty girl.”  With her first role as the demented dentist in “Horrible Bosses,” this paved the way for her current role as a stripper in “We’re the Millers.”  Knowing that the film is directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber you might find some similarities to “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” from 2004. Can the writing, acting, and directing pull this strange film together to entertain the audience?  Read on to find out.

David Clark (Sudeikis) is a small-time drug dealer peddling pot.  When he loses his merchandise and cash to thugs, he must somehow repay his boss, Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms).  The payback plan is to have David smuggle a “smidge” of marijuana back into the States.  David knows he can’t pull this off without a little help.  His plan involves creating a wholesome family to distract officials in order to complete the task.  His new “family” is anything but wholesome and they must now deal with David’s whacky plan and decisions.

“We’re the Millers” starts off slowly with the first third of the film trying too hard to be funny.  Humor is derived from vulgarity and raunchiness and finds itself falling a little flat.  When the family of four is finally off on their lucrative adventure, the film picks up its pace and finds its humor through more creative writing and utilizing the situations and characters at hand.  While the raunchiness is still there, it’s not the main draw for laughs. The situations the family finds themselves in are totally ridiculous, but the film never takes itself too seriously.  It capitalizes on this awareness and runs with it.  For example, there is an outright ripping off of “Flashdance,” and it works!  The film is light, raunchy, silly, and at times very, very funny.  

“We’re the Millers” centers its story around Sudeikis’ character David which gives him the opportunity to have the most character development and laughs.  Even with the understanding that this is a lighthearted comedy, similar to “Dodgeball,” it still has a  few underlying plots.  David is shallow and self-serving and this aspect of his personality changes with the help of his new “family.” Although this role is not a stretch or challenge for Sudeikis, he fits the bill perfectly.  Aniston is gorgeous and seems to totally enjoy her part as a stripper.  As she transforms into the mom next door, she still looks gorgeous even wearing a lovely eyelet sleeveless shirt, frumpy capris, and “sensible shoes.”  The raunchiness shows up again as she “entertains” her audience with her previous working skills.  Emma Roberts always shines and  her performance in this film is no exception.  But the standout performer is Will Poulter who nails his role as the sweet, nerdy brother with a big heart.  His facial expressions and physical humor brings the audience to tears of laughter. He is off-kilter and goofy in just the right way and seems to take chances that pay off wonderfully.  Throwing Nick Offerman and  Kathryn Hahn into the mix with their off-beat and over the top characters continued the hilarious expedition.  

“We’re the Millers” is a quirky, fun, and raunchy summer film.  Although its slow start is worrisome, it quickly regains momentum and succeeds in entertaining. The jokes, sometimes crude, do make you laugh throughout most of the film.  The overall story is silly, but somehow it works in pulling opposing concepts together. This film is most definitely geared toward the younger generation, but if you are open to a bit of off-color humor and raunchiness, you will enjoy this summer trip of a film.