Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ Looking Like a Big, Fat Turkey at Thanksgiving B.O.

oldboy2013Well, that’s disappointing news.

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Gravity (2013)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris

Every once in awhile a movie comes along that reminds you to believe in possibility.  3D film was developed so that visionary filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón could make movies like Gravity.  Quite simply, it is a groundbreaking, jaw-dropping experience of visual beauty and vicarious terror that leaves you breathless.

What I liked:  This is not the transcendent wonder of Kubrick’s 2001.  This is a physical and visual encounter with cinema.  For the record, I love 3D movies but not for the sake of it.  I enjoy new ideas being translated through a relatively new facet of technology.  Gravity left me feeling as though I knew what it would be like in space and that is no small feat.    Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have given us a visual story that previously was beyond my imaginative scope.  Just brilliant.

What I didn’t like:  As with most ground breaking films, what Cuarón was trying to accomplish cinematically overshadowed character and dialogue.  This is a rare exception where it’s okay with me.  The movie is not about Bullocks’ back story.  The movie is entirely in the moment and succeeds as such.  Bullock and Clooney are commendable and convincing but their familiar faces within this magical moment of experiencing something new in film, for me, was almost distracting – or a disappointing reminder that it was just a movie.

My rating:  Truly magical.

My IMDb Rating:  9/10        tomato: 97%

Captain Phillips (2013)

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Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Billy Ray (screenplay) and Richard Phillips (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman

Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) knows how to build suspense.  His latest action/adventure Captain Phillips, based on the true 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship for ransom by four armed Somali pirates, is no exception.  The movie creeps, crawls, rises and falls throughout its 2h15min running time.  Tom Hanks delivers but the Somali pirates are the real stars of the film.

What I liked:  Greengrass goes from 0-100 in a matter of seconds.  The movie has a brief and awkward start but with one flicker on the radar and a hand-held camera we are engulfed in foreboding.  The action gives the movie a frenetic pace but the performances win the day.  Hanks is the everyman we can all relate to and be terrified for but it’s the Somali pirates who offer us more than stock villains, even with stock dialogue.  Newcomers Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman are smart, devious, famished, suffering and wilful.  They tug at our heartstrings even as we root for them to fail.  They are the driving force behind a film whose conclusion made headlines.

What I didn’t like:  Why did they cast the wonderful Catherine Keener if she was going to end up on the cutting room floor? This frustrated me to no end when the movie was over.  I can also understand why the Navy hasn’t exactly applauded the film because despite their oppressive presence they don’t actually seem to do or accomplish anything.  I understand the need to draw out action in order to build a climax but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the sequences were just add-in plot points to embellish the drama rather than actual events.

My rating:  Requires big screen viewing.

My IMDb rating: 7/10      tomato:  94%

Best Television Dramas: Honourable Mentions

Here are two shows that I feel have been somewhat undervalued this summer – kind of like indie films in the wake of Hollywood blockbusters.  They are gripping dramas that have kept me glued to my television long after bed time.  This is what you should turn to next if you’ve exhausted the top ten.

1.  RAY DONOVAN

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My one complaint about this show is that Ray Donovan spends more time fixing his family than the Hollywood starlets that make up his bread and butter.  This show is smart, crass, violent, endearing, melodramatic and highly performance driven.  Jon Voigt will make your skin crawl and you’ll want to be Ray Donovan.

Rating:  Perfect show for bingeing.

Airs: Showtime, Sundays at 10pm.  Only three episodes left of season 1.

IMDb:  Unrated. ??    metacritic:  75%

2.  BROADCHURCH

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This 8-part murder mystery is one of the best shows I’ve seen in awhile (and the most Tweeted about show in Britain when it aired this summer).   It is not only a highly suspenseful whodunnit but also a character-driven piece that is beautifully acted and emotionally resonant.  While the story may not be original (given the number of crime dramas readily available at the moment), the deftly handled direction creates an intimacy between the audience and this small town trying to cope with the murder of an 11 year old boy.  We watch in horror as friends and partners turn on each other, and with suspicion when the press gets involved.  The show is wonderfully crafted with exquisite performances from the two leads who, as mismatched partners, offer something new to an old trope.

Rating: Keep in mind, I have yet to watch The KIlling or Top of the Lake, but this show will feel new and different.  It will make you angry, make you laugh and break your heart.

IMDb:  8.2       metacritic: 91%

3. Dexter

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Dexter is a show that I came across and started watching because I liked the premise: a television drama about a serial killer who is also the narrator, protagonist and quasi-hero. The narrative voice was literary, believable and astonishing.  The crimes were interesting, the characters wonderful.  I was obsessed with this show for two seasons.  How or why I stopped is beyond me, other than to say that the fall of the video store and the rise of streaming has reintroduced me to a lot of television I loved but let slide through my fingers.  Right now, in it’s 8th and final season everyone is not only back on board, they are talking about it; they are gearing up for Sunday nights rather than waiting to watch it online.  This is television at its best.

Ranking:  Dexter must be everyone’s guilty pleasure because the general Metacritic rating is in the high 70s (only seasons 2 and 7 are above 80%)  whereas IMDB ranks it at a 9.0. Season 6 has the lowest Metacritic rating on this list at 63%.  Keep in mind, however, that Dexter is also the longest running drama on this list and every show that goes the distance has one or two seasons that don’t measure up.

IMDb: 9.0     metacritic: Season 1, 77%

4. Homeland

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I was hooked on the first three episodes and then wasn’t too keen on the direction I felt the show was taking so stopped.  Clearly, I’m alone; and worse, I’m the jackass at the dinner party that blocks their ears when Season 1 comes up in conversation, pleading with my eyes for the conversation to stop because even with my ears blocked I can hear everything.  I get it;  the show is a must-see.  Why I never got back on board with this superbly cast and well-written spy thriller that has raked up a ton of hardware is beyond me, other than to say please see nos. 5, 7 and 8 – and there are only so many hours in a day.   Expect a review soon.

Rating: Highest we’ve seen so far.  Metacritic has a 91% positive rating for Season 1 and a 96% for Season 2.  What to start first? Walking Dead or Homeland??

IMDb:  8.6      metacritic: Season 1, 91%

7. Sherlock

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Ok, so this one might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but with season 3 premiering in the fall (or so I thought. Rumours have it premiering in Jan. 2014) I had to include this on my list, because it’s one of my favourite shows.   After Season 2 ended with a “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” cliffhanger, Sherlock fans have been waiting with baited breath for this thrilling, funny, intelligent, fast-paced, character driven drama to return to the air.  Seriously.  If there are rumours about a release date then I can’t be the only one watching.  If you haven’t watched seasons 1 and 2 now is the time to catch up.  Guaranteed it will grab you.

Rating: Metacritic has season 2 ranked at 92%, the best we’ve seen on this list so far.

IMDb: 9.2       metacritic: Season 1, 85%

Now You See Me (2013)

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Directed by: Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans, Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk)
Written by: Ed Solomon (screenplay), Boaz Yakin & Edward Ricourt (screenplay and story)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

I’ve learned to distrust trailers, as much as I enjoy them.  More times than not, a movie doesn’t live up to the hype presented in a 2min clip (Warm Bodies being the current exception).  In this case, the how’d-they-do-that thriller had me from the trailer and I rushed out to see it.  The movie, about four magicians who conduct a series of heists and the cop who is trying to capture them, has a great premise but it flounders as it tries to focus too much on a story that isn’t deftly constructed.

What I liked:  The movie is, quite simply, entertaining – if you ignore the holes.  It moves forward fluidly with a chuckle here and there and the characters are engaging if underdeveloped, to the movie’s great misfortune.  The Four Horsemen: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco have characters that suit their strengths as actors, which would be great fun if they were ever onscreen as more than a plot point.  Their grand spectacles are funny and baffling but fail to generate any tension.  Mark Ruffalo carries the film as the frustrated cop trying to catch up to their trail of larceny.  Riding his wave of frustration is the best part of the movie.

What I didn’t like:  Again, the premise is what engages but the follow-through is lacking.  For a movie that claims it is smarter than we are, I was overtly aware that it wasn’t, on most counts. That said, I did enjoy the trick reveals and the magicians’ great spectacles.  However, the movie never delves any deeper than the heist itself.  As David Denby noted in his New Yorker review, “It seems that the director, who also made “The Incredible Hulk” and “Clash of the Titans,” will do anything to distract us from the emptiness to which he has devoted himself.’  That said, we don’t all need depth to be entertained and I would recommend the movie as a fun summer flick.

My rating: Enjoy it for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

IMDb 7.5     rotten 47%