Movie Reviews from The Critic-in-Chief

My completely biased and accurate reviews of recent major films:

• 12 Years A Slave: Predictable (I kept thinking “Roots” of 30 years ago) and often implausible with a magnificent performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor but a hugely overrated performance by Lupita Nyong’o, who did not merit the Academy Award. I think this is a film people feel guilty about not liking.

• Gravity: Almost laughably ridiculous (e.g., Sandra Bullock using a fire extinguisher to maneuver in space), with George Clooney mailing it in. Fabulous effects but woefully lacking in story and acting. Truly terrible.

• Nebraska: It’s been done before (old person on a quest), whether it was that guy on the lawnmower or Don Quixote, but Bruce Dern is still a riveting actor.

• Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey needs an easier name to spell because between this and TV’s True Detective, he’s outpacing and outacting everyone around. Jared Leno was sensational as his transexual business partner, and both richly deserve the Academy Awards bestowed on them. This was the first movie on AIDS since Philadelphia that I thought was done well.

• Captain Phillips: A little bit of Tom Hanks goes a long way these days, but the actor who allegedly simply walked in during the casting call, Barkhad Abdi, seemed to me like he had to be the real deal! Interesting movie that made me wonder why a couple of heavily armed security guys aren’t on all those ships to chase away pirates in speed boats. These guys are hardly rocket scientists.

• Inside Llewyn Davis: A great review in the Times and an interesting cast lured me to this deadly dull, self-indulgent mess about trying to make it in the 60s folk scene. I kept saying, “If I had a hammer….” Woeful and tired, like almost all folk music.

• Philomena: A movie I knew I’d dislike but my wife forced it on me and I absolutely loved it. Judi Dench engages in a tour de force in this true, utterly sorrowful yet redemptive, story of a son lost and pursued.

• The Wolf of Wall Street: Leonardo DiCaprio is ferociously good in the stereotypical role of the unethical trader (think Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe in Bonfires of the Vanities). I don’t understand the negative reaction to the nudity and treatment of women since it would seem all quite realistic and in context. But the movie becomes tendentious and it’s hard to have any sympathy for anyone, including the law. It’s also 45 minutes too long. (It is amazing what people will do to appear in a major motion picture.)

• August Osage County: Meryl Streep is always great but if you’ve seen this production on Broadway (by Steppenwolf Theater from Chicago) then nothing else makes the grade. After a while the novelty of watching a dysfunctional extended family, tortured by a woman with cancer of the mouth and of the temperament, is not entertainment but just too long a stay on someone else’s couch.

• American Hustle: Perhaps THE most over-hyped movie of the year, it deservedly was blanked at the Oscars. Unrealistic scam artists, unpleasant people, and ridiculous sexual outfits on otherwise “sweet” actress Amy Adams do not a good film make. Or even a mediocre one.

• All Is Lost: What a magnificent premise, done superbly well by Robert Redford with practically no dialogue whatsoever. I was riveted by what I thought would be another survival movie but was far, far more. I had to confer with my family to make sure I understood the ending.

• The Counselor: A mess of a drug cartel film, where the lawyer trying to save himself became of interest only to see when and if he’d die. Utterly predictable and without the tension that I’m sure the producers thought would sustain it.

Sorry if I missed others you thought worthwhile, but no one has a gun big enough to force me to see something like Anchorman.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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