Archive for February, 2015

Focus
The Big Con

The con-artist movie has been a popular sub-genre for movie stars to show up in and just be movie stars over the years. From Paul Newman and Robert Redford in 1973’s Oscar-winner The Sting to 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven—a con-artist movie disguised as a heist movie—these movies have been the perfect vehicle for popular and attractive stars to look cool, act cool, and be cool. In the history of movies, few stars have had cooler personas than Will Smith and so it seems inevitable that he should grace the genre in this year’s Focus.


McFarland, USA
This Ain't Golf

Disney has been successful with their inspirational sports dramas since 2000’s Remember the Titans, releasing one just about every year. They all feature good acting, well crafted stories, and happy endings. They are always based on a true story and all pretty much follow the same formula. As such, few of the individual movies stand out from any of the others to the public at large. If one of those movies happens to touch members of its audience on some kind of personal level, however, it can accelerate that particular film out of the pack and turn it into a champion. That is how it was for this writer with the latest Disney sports drama, McFarland, USA.


America’s Heart and Soul
Cynics, Stand Aside

This is a documentary about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Those documented in this film are truly living. They march to the proverbial different drummer. They are the thrill seekers that live among us, people who listen to a different economy and a different system of reward. The carrot on their stick is not a paycheck but the doing of their “thing” itself, from making ice cream, to stunt-flying airplanes, milking cows seven days a week (is it all workdays, or is it all weekends?), to metal sculpting, to [insert your own special ability or interest here].


Kingsman: The Secret Service
Spies, Gentleman Spies

There are those out there who feel that the James Bond franchise has gotten a little too serious; that 007 has forgotten himself in his pursuit to be more like Jason Bourne. Fortunately, for those who feel that way, director Matthew Vaughn is on your side. The director of hits like X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass now brings you Kingsman: The Secret Service, a clear tribute to the earlier Bond films; most notably those of the Roger Moore era. There are gentleman spies, maniacal villains, deadly henchman, and lots and lots of gadgets. The result is a movie that is crazy fun from start to finish.


Lawrence of Arabia

When the restored “Director’s Cut” of Lawrence of Arabia played at Seattle’s legendary Cinerama theater in 1989, I was naturally at the first showing… even though it meant cutting work that afternoon. As the overture began playing to a fairly crowded house, the lights failed to come down… and the projectionist opened the curtain and unblocked the projection aperture. As the dumbfounded and confused audience looked on, timing marks on the 70mm print were projected onto the screen… and then the curtain closed. So much for the intended effect of the overture.


Jupiter Ascending
Sci-Fi Chaos

The Wachowski siblings have had a very up-and-down directing career. After their modestly budged The Matrix became a popular hit in 1999, the directing pair was given carte blanche for its two sequels and the result was a couple of bloated and incoherent movies that were still financial hits. They were reined back in for the ambitious Cloud Atlas, which they co-directed with Tom Tykwer, and which turned out to be very good movie. The critical cred they earned with that movie, however, leads to their latest, Jupiter Ascending, an ambitious and lavish sci-fi spectacle, which unfortunately plays closer to the overblown Matrix sequels than the ground-breaking original.