Archive for the Drama Category


Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on April 23, 2014 by Mark Hobin

  Transcendence photo starrating-2stars.jpgYou really have to believe in the narrative thrust of your story to begin a movie with the conclusion. The ending in Transcendence is spoiled at the start by the screenwriter. Without the necessary suspense, everything leading up to that point had better be exceptional. Simply put, it isn’t. In the opening scene we’re presented with the aftermath of a catastrophe in which virtually all power has been lost throughout the entire world. No cell phones, computers or Internet. We meet a man named Max Waters (Paul Bettany) who remembers his friends Will and Evelyn Caster.

Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall play a brilliant husband and wife team of researchers in the field of artificial intelligence. After Will is shot by a terrorist (Lukas Haas) from an anti-technology group called RIFT. Evelyn suggests they upload Will’s consciousness into the sentient supercomputer in their lab.   Although Will’s body dies in the material sense, his mind is kept alive in the mainframe.  Over time he connects himself to energy sources stretching around the country. He grows more powerful and omnipotent. Part of the problem of Transcendence is the tale is unnecessarily complicated. It’s patently ridiculous. That’s okay, but be cognizant of that absurdity. I mean there’s an inherent irony that RIFT’s attempted murder of Will is the very motivation for him to pursue “transcendence” via the computer. This was the precise activity they were trying to eradicate. The chronicle takes itself way too seriously. I mean they’ve even given the supercomputer a boring name: PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network).  Wouldn’t it have been funnier if they named it GOD (Good Orderly Direction)?  Well that was a wasted opportunity.  <sigh>  The dreary script just sucks the fun out of what should have been a whimsical concept.

Transcendence is a chore to watch. It’s an overly elaborate, unconvincing, joyless bore. A lot of really great actors are wasted by standing around not doing much of anything. Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser and Morgan Freeman are particularly useless. Not because they give bad performances but because they are given awful parts. All four could’ve been taken out of the story and it would’ve made matters much simpler and less convoluted. Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany fare better. You’d think Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer (The Dark Knight, Inception), would at least have the presence of mind to create a visually impressive film. Unless you enjoy watching numerous scenes of electronically charged water droplets moving in slow-motion, it’s a downer there as well. At the core, the saga is merely a series of uninteresting standoffs between good vs. evil. Ultimately the drama’s big idea is: Technology Is Bad. At the end of this turgid ordeal, I wasn’t even convinced of that. But this movie sure is.

Heaven Is for Real

Posted in Drama with tags on April 16, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Heaven Is for Real photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgHeaven is for Real is a well meaning drama about parents with a child who has a near death experience. Four-year-old son Colton suffers from an undiagnosed ruptured appendix. After father Todd Burpo takes him to the hospital, Colton claims to have visited heaven and comes back to testify about what he saw. Giving his story validity is the details of what his parents were doing while he was on the operating table in a completely separate room. He also gives other extraordinary details of past events in his parents’ lives that were heretofore unknowable to the little boy.

With one exception, the performances don’t extract much emotion from the audience. Little actor Connor Corum is a beatific little tyke with blonde hair and blue eyes. He’s certainly cute but he doesn’t quite register the personality it takes to anchor a film like this. He’s a bit of a blank slate. Much better is Greg Kinnear as his father. He perfectly embodies everything this part requires. He is likable, sensible and sympathetic. He expresses the kind of genuine excitement tempered with doubt that a real parent would have in this situation.

The biggest issue I had with this story is the Christian church’s reaction to the little boy’s message. Todd Burpo doesn’t quite know how to explain what his child has seen or knows, but at least he registers some happiness. As a pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church he has an audience to which he can recount his son’s visions. You’d think the members of a Christian church would embrace such news with open arms but such is not the case. Leading the opposition is Nancy Rawling as portrayed by Margo Martindale. She worries that his account will turn their parish into a circus. I had to wonder. Is that a problem? The added attention could be a wonderful jumping off point for a parish to discuss the hereafter with believers and non-believers alike. Instead the boys stories become a worrisome thorn in the side of everyone from Todd’s wife (Kelly Reilly) to his close friend (Thomas Haden Church). Only Todd Burpo, his father has the desire to explore further.

Heaven is for Real is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Todd Burpo and best selling conservative writer Lynn Vincent. It was a true story so maybe the negative reaction that Connor’s chronicle received from the congregation at the time was what actually happened, Yet it was a #1 New York Times hit so it obviously touched a lot of hearts outside the religious world. The boy’s experiences should prompt more probing questions. He saw Jesus for goodness sakes! At least he believes he did, why aren’t people in the Church more excited? Regardless of your personal beliefs in the afterlife, it seems like this bestseller should have inspired a more uplifting tale. This could have been the seed for a galvanizing discussion that Christians, non-Christians, atheists and agnostics could have regarding the concept of heaven. The 1977 picture Oh, God! dealt with this subject in a much more innovative way. In contrast here we are nearly 4 decades later and we’re presented a fascinating story that is handled in the most utterly routine fashion. It doesn’t probe enough to inspire the faithful, the skeptics or anyone in between.

Under the Skin

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 13, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Under the Skin photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgA mysterious young woman drives a van along the Scottish Highlands picking up men. She almost preys on these unassuming blokes, ostensibly for sexual encounters. The conversation always begins with a flirtatious air, an exchange whereby the seductress probes into their lives. Where are you going? Do you have a family? Are you single? A hitchhiker, a clubgoer, a surfer, each male selected is unattached and alone, lured into her van by their own choice where she takes them back to her place. What has the beginnings of an erotic thriller, a woman who adopts a passive demeanor for predatory purposes, transforms into something much different – a surprising chronicle that draws on horror, thriller and sci-fi.

This is an atmospheric mood piece. The narrative drifts at a meditative pace. The woman’s behavior is presented as a series of repetitive actions. The script meanders often without words. There is no explanation, no back-story and little dialogue. The woman rarely talks except in her introductions to the men she meets on the streets of Scotland. I’m told these conversations were unscripted with non-professional actors. An early shot shows the woman shopping, picking out clothes to wear in a store. Hidden cameras were used to film with the locals unaware until after the scene was finished. They certainly have a realistic feel. At times, the visuals are so static and the action so trance-inducing, the picture teeters on the brink of monotony. Forgive me for being vague, but the less details you know, the better. I walked into the theater knowing absolutely nothing other than that Scarlet Johansson was the star. My advice, don’t read any reviews (other than this one). Allow the surprising developments to be discovered as you watch with an unspoiled perspective.

The story isn’t challenging to follow but it does challenge the viewer. Director Jonathan Glazer initially made a name for himself in music videos, notably with Jamiroquai‘s “Virtual Insanity” which won the 1996 MTV Video of the Year award. Glazer isn’t a prolific director with only 3 full length features to his credit. These include both the widely praised Sexy Beast (2000) and the widely panned Birth (2004). The latter was disturbing but in an audacious way. I quite enjoyed its creepiness which shares stylistic similarities and themes with Under the Skin. The work of director Nicolas Roeg is an obvious influence. First-time UK composer Mica Levi’s experimental music score brilliantly adds to the growing tension. The whole production defies convention. Jonathan Glazer is a master craftsman when it comes to assembling a work of art.

There is a quiet beauty in telling a languid story that merely relies on the humanity of real life. Scarlett Johansson disguised in a short wig of jet black hair and pale skin sort of physically recalls silent film star Pola Negri but with a blank slate personality that makes her character oddly unsettling. For most of the muted solitude of the tale, we the audience must infer what the woman is thinking. The events are deceptively spare but in reality a lot of themes are addressed. It’s a meditation that comes to a head when our protagonist ultimately suffers an existential crisis of sorts. The drama explores human emotion in the interactions regarding an enigmatic seducer of various men. Her scenes with actor Adam Pearson are particularly memorable. As she interacts with each individual, their personalities expose aspects of the human condition. In doing so, the picture brilliantly demonstrates the qualities that make human beings so wonderful and what also makes them monsters.


Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on March 30, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Noah photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgNoah is Paramount Pictures indefatigably middle-of-the-road biblical fantasy. Anyone expecting a theological epic with the dramatic heft of something like The Ten Commandments will be mostly disappointed. There’s an innate difficulty in expanding a tale that comprises 4 brief chapters in the Book of Genesis into a 138 minute movie. A big budget biblical production utilizing the full extent of technology of today could be the recipe for a huge success. Visually the spectacle is impressive. Watching the large assemblage of animals march in line to board the ark is an awe-inspiring scene. The narrative even explains logistical details. For example it answers how these creatures could co-exist without eating each other. But elsewhere the story feels padded with vignettes that utilize spectacular special effects but add no emotional drama. Cue The Watchers, angels cast out of heaven who have fallen out of favor with The Creator. They have become encased in mud and dirt on Earth and are now gigantic stone creatures not unlike something found in The Lord of the Rings. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

At first glance one might think Darren Aronofsky, a self-professed atheist, to be an odd choice to helm a big-budget, A-lister epic based on scripture. However individuals driven by obsessive quests have long been a tenet of his work, so the religious subject mater isn’t as foreign as it seems. A man driven by obsession could be the focus of a fascinating film, but this drama doesn’t cut beneath the surface to delve deeply into the emotional concepts present. There is inherent drama in this story. We’re talking about God’s displeasure with the sum total of mankind. This is angry vengeful Old Testament God. Noah experiences visions or dreams that he believes are messages from the Supreme Being. The Creator, as he’s called here, apparently wants to not only wipe out all of humanity that currently exists, but to end it completely with his family, never to continue again.

You’d think that this might be cause for alarm. Sadly the chronicle rarely explores that concept deeply. Noah has been entrusted with a major task. He must build an ark and take 2 of every creature so that they may thrive after a great flood kills every living thing. Except for a few worried glances, Noah doesn’t seems conflicted enough by what he’s been asked to do. That is where the narrative should mine his complex struggle. Obviously he wasn’t completely successful because humanity continued to thrive, but that conflict happens at the very end. We lack an outlet for the sheer magnitude of his emotional struggle that demonstrates his problems/fears/stress. As a result the character remains a vague representation of a man in crises with whom we never truly connect.

Director Darren Aronofsky’s point of view is just so blandly neutral. Noah isn’t a terrible picture. There are moments of greatness. At one point, the flood has consumed the world, yet there are still some mountain peaks exposed. A scene with the huddled masses wailing out to the ark, while Noah and his family enjoy safety within, highlights this concept brilliantly. Unfortunately it’s one of the few moments we experience that anguish. It’s as if he was asked to comfort the religious with a perfect portrait of Noah’s unwavering devotion but also placate movie goers looking for a CGI extravaganza. Early test screenings back in October of 2013 to determine which version of the film would “please” the most people is not the way to make great art. This is the product of a talented director being kept under reins. The end result is that it’s not inspirational enough to inspire the faithful and it’s not innovative enough to entertain Aronofsky’s fans. By trying to stay neutral and satisfy everyone, he ends up pleasing no one.


Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Enemy photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpg“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”

So begins Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s confusingly twisty but oh-so-stylish ode to David Lynch. The brew is a head trip of a cocktail that goes down deliciously smooth but will no doubt disorient you for days afterwards. Imbiber beware! It’s a refreshingly tight 90 minutes but has enough style to populate 2 additional movies directed by the likes of Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg. Its visually stark set design, champagne-hued color palette, cinematography, and score make watching every minute of this little perplexity a cineaste’s delight. By the end, however, I really didn’t know what I had actually witnessed. This will irritate some and enchant others. If you haven’t guessed by now, I happily claim to be a member of the latter group. I totally dug the film.

Enemy was adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, a mild mannered history professor. One day a colleague recommends a movie, which he subsequently rents from a video store soon after. Do those still exist? While watching late at night he notices an anonymous extra in the background that looks eerily like himself. Pausing the frames reveals a similarity that appears identical. Fascinated, he researches the actor and learns his pseudonym is Daniel St. Claire (real name Anthony). The curiosity becomes an obsession as Adam rents the performer’s other films. Next he finds out where Anthony lives. Then Adam uncovers his phone number and calls his home. Anthony’s wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) answers and mistakes Adam’s voice for her own husband’s. And that is only the beginning.

The whole production has this unrelenting feeling of dread. There’s something sinister looming you can’t quite put your finger on. Enemy plays with the conventions of doppelgangers. Adam Bell is the humdrum one, emotionally distant with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). He teaches history with languid enthusiasm to college students.  Anthony St. Claire on the other hand is more confident. He’s an actor who rides a motorcycle. His wife is expecting. For some reason his existence proves unsettling to Adam’s identity. The atmosphere instills Adam’s discovery with a sense of alarm. The narrative grows more fascinating with each new development.

Director Dennis Villeneuve worked with Jake Gyllenhaal on 2013’s Prisoners. That was a solid Hollywood studio picture, but this little independent is far better because it’s so bizarrely original and unexpected. The Canadian filmmaker knows how to exploit Gyllenhaal’s strengths. Jake gives two powerfully nuanced performances here, each one masterful in their own right. It’s a complicated balancing act because both guys must look identical in every way, yet remain two separate people. Even the physical similarities between the women in their respective lives are uncannily alike as well. An inquiring mind can be a dangerous thing. Adam’s visit to his mother (Isabella Rossellini) provides hazy details to an individuality that feels increasingly threatened. Bits and pieces of evidence of various sorts are offered up to the audience to help formulate an explanation as to what exactly is going on – that opening scene in a nightclub, for example.   You might think you’ve already guessed how it ends. Let me tell you, you aren’t even close.

The Shawshank Redemption

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on March 26, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Shawshank Redemption photo starrating-5stars.jpg“They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take.” — Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding

So laments Red (Morgan Freeman) as he reflects upon his duration at Shawshank State Penitentiary. He is in jail for murder. The “only guilty man” there he informs us as narrator. The year is 1947 and banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who has been convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, has just been admitted. He has been given two consecutive life sentences. Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the tale recounts a 20 year friendship between the two men. It is a story that is undeniably powerful as a moving portrait of camaraderie.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more genuine ode to male bonding than this drama spanning two decades from 1946 to 1967. When Andy arrives, he is subject to beatings, humiliation and all manner of horrors within the prison system. He endures the harassment seemingly unfazed. Slowly he learns to adapt, utilizing his talents as an auditor to garner favor from the powers that be. In time he inspires his fellow inmates, making friends with them, in particular Red. This is the same inmate that had originally bet Andy would be the first inductee to crack upon arriving.

The film is highlighted by several superlative performances. Morgan Freeman rightfully earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as Red, our narrator. He embodies the character with reverence, heart, and warmth. Freeman has never been better and that is saying quite a lot of the 5 time nominated actor who would ultimately win an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. Tim Robbins is every bit his equal in a role that is more difficult to warm up to. If the actor appears a bit of an enigma, that is only because the character is meant to be that way. There is a quiet stoicism to his performance that recalls the great Gary Cooper. Actor Bob Gunton is a villain for the ages as Warden Samuel Norton. A stern man that exploits the prison for his own gain as low-cost labor. He presents himself as a god-fearing man, although his true nature is gradually disclosed. The depth of his evil seems to know no bounds. His reaction regarding testimony from young convict Tommy Williams is particularly memorable.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of those movies whose estimation has only grown with time,. It wasn’t a box office hit in 1994, barely making back it’s production budget when initially released. However it was a critical success and received 7 Academy Award nominations of which it won absolutely NOTHING, losing Best Picture to Forrest Gump.  Nevertheless, it has occupied the #1 slot as greatest film on the IMDb’s user-generated list since 2008. Like a flower that grows through a crack in the concrete, the narrative is filled with one uplifting note after another amongst the most oppressive of surroundings. There are many, but here’s my personal favorite: Andy’s letter writing efforts to secure a better library for the prison are finally rewarded with a collection of old records. In an act of defiance, Andy locks himself in the warden’s office and using the central microphone, blasts an opera record. As Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro echoes through the penitentiary, Roger Deakins cinematography captures the emotion as the inmates look upwards, embracing the audible gift. I can’t exactly describe the feeling, but the scene always reduces me to tears. Shawshank is brimming with moments like this where the human soul triumphs over adversity in the most inspiring way.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on March 12, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Grand Budapest Hotel photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe Grand Budapest Hotel is a dazzling slice of enchantment. It’s a tale wrapped up in a tale wrapped up in a tale. Try and explicate the nested account and its convoluted evolution threatens to implode upon itself. I’ll admit the chronicle is, shall we say, meticulous?  Ok so naysayers might say tortured. If you‘re not already a Wes Anderson fan, this film won‘t change your mind. But for this aficionado of the auteur, the intricate set up was only the beginning of an exquisite yarn that had me captivated from the get-go.

We begin in the modern day with a young fan reading a book at the grave of a dead novelist. Zoom to 1985, the writer is played by Tom Wilkinson who recalls a time that he stayed at the hotel. We then flashback to 1968. That same writer is now Jude Law interacting with F. Murray Abraham as Mr. Zero Moustafa. As the hotel’s old owner, Moustafa reminisces about a time when the place was more opulent. Another flashback to a grander time, 1932 to be exact, where we meet the boyish Moustafa now played by Tony Revolori. The main narrative concerns the friendship that develops between M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), as the hotel’s respected concierge, and the youthful Moustafa who becomes his devoted protégé.

Have you marveled at the depth of acting talent on display? I’ve only barely begun to name-drop. Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray are all present and accounted for. The latter’s presence in a Wes Anderson film shouldn’t be a surprise, yet his role as the concierge at Excelsior Palace, Grand Budapest’s rival hotel, was greeted with cheers of applause at my screening. Despite the expanded cast, everyone adds value. But I digress.

Wes Anderson has done a most noble thing. He has taken the fabric of a genuine reality and formed an alternate universe. His amalgamation alludes to history but manipulated to suit his romantic world. The Grand Budapest Hotel is located in the Republic of Zubrowka. I’d place the fictional European nation somewhere in the vicinity of Germany and Hungary. The proper saga begins in 1932, a year when elections in Germany would appoint Hitler as the head of government. A time between the two world wars, still several years before the outbreak of WW2, Yet Germany, Hitler, Nazis and Jews are never mentioned. The SS for example is actually the ZZ — the Zig-Zags. The director has carefully fashioned a drama set within his impressionist vision of a country on the brink of war and the results are intoxicating.

The plot of The Grand Budapest Hotel seemingly hinges on the fate of a priceless Renaissance painting. “Boy with Apple” is a key plot device credited to artist Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger, an entirely fictional construct. Once again Anderson’s attention to detail is impressive. The mannerist artwork is impressive in its own right, perhaps something attributed to Albrecht Dürer or Il Bronzino or Hans Holbein the Younger. I can’t decide which. At one point M. Gustave is bequeathed the valuable painting in the will of a wealthy old dowager who has died under mysterious circumstances. The objet d’art represents something over which everyone obsesses. When the canvas is removed from the wall, it’s replaced by a lewd watercolor that suggests Egon Schiele. It’s a hilarious visual joke. Ah but the piece isn’t the point at all. Its existence is really the MacGuffin if you will — an unimportant bit of nonsense deliberately constructed in the same playful spirit as everything else in Wes Anderson’s universe.

The composition of a scene has always taken precedence to actual story in a Wes Anderson picture, but here even more so. The ornate milieu is home to an offbeat comedy that focuses on a missing painting. But what makes the narrative so affecting isn’t the future of the portrait. It’s the fastidiously created world in which our characters live. I could spend pages explicating the distended cast. In the interest of brevity, I’ll merely disclose numero uno: Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave. As the hotel’s concierge, he is nattily attired and consistently perfumed. Then there is the hotel itself, a beautiful storybook creation that is the soul of the film. The stunning art nouveau palace is highlighted by a funicular and rows of columns. An edifice photographed with an eye for detail not seen since Stanley Kubrick’s ode to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Notice the red lacquer walls in the elevator or the pink pastels of countess Madame D.’s suite. Naturally the architecture is the director’s vision but it’s flawlessly presented through the work of cinematographer and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator, Robert D. Yeoman. One does not simply watch a Wes Anderson film as you would say a pot on the verge of a boil. No you experience it. The Grand Budapest Hotel is best appreciated as a work of art in which to luxuriate in the glorious ambiance of its fastidious charms.

300: Rise of an Empire

Posted in Action, Drama, History, War with tags on March 9, 2014 by Mark Hobin

300: Rise of an Empire photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgOkay let’s see now. Pecs, Blood, Pecs, Blood, Pecs, Pecs, Pecs, Blood, Blood, BREASTS, Pecs, Pecs, Blood, Blood, Pecs Blood, Pecs. That pretty much sizes up the narrative formula of 300: Rise of an Empire. This is the sequel (prequel) to 300, the once cutting edge action/fantasy movie based on the Dark Horse comic by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Released back in March of 2007, its innovative visual style borrowed from Sin City, favored the appearance of a comic book. Now almost a decade later, the look has been copied (The Spirit, Immortals) and even parodied (Meet the Spartans) to the point where innovative spectacle isn’t enough. We require a story.

Stepping into Gerard Butler’s leather briefs as the star this time around is Sullivan Stapleton who plays Greek general Themistokles. He’s leading the charge against the invading Persian army. The Persian people are once again represented by Xerxes, the giant god/king. You might remember him from part one. He was the eccentric that looked like he was dipped in bronze, adorned with gold chains and then applied Joan Crawford eyebrows. He’s ticked off because Themistokles killed his father. Xerxes thinks he’s calling the shots, but he’s really just a puppet of Artemisia, the queen/commander of his naval fleet. As portrayed by Eva Green, she is the real star of the show. Following years in captivity after being raped by a gang of Greek soldiers, she is out for revenge. That is a pretty good reason to be upset. So after you hear her side of the events, you’ll switch allegiances and root against the Spartans. As the most memorable character, she rises above the mire with her wickedly scene-chewing performance.

Unfortunately characterization, story and drama are pushed aside solely in favor of a dated style that isn’t innovative anymore. Gushing fountains of CGI blood garnish a scene like parsley on a plate. The super slo-mo sepia toned plasma streams across every battle scene. Oh and there are a lot of battle scenes in this picture. It never lets up. Throats are cut, men are beheaded, women are raped. The amount of slaughter shows no subtlety or justification. It’s merely offered up as entertainment for an audience that might have to pay as much as $19.50 to see this filth in IMAX 3D. And let me tell you, the dichromatic visual palette is dark, muddy and not impressive. So save your money and see it in 2D at a bargain priced matinee, if at all.

There are some hilarious lines however. 300 seemed kind of oblivious to the homoerotic subtext of so many half naked muscular gym bodies in a historical context. Seriously, why don’t these men wear armor? On the other hand, 300: Rise of the Empire seems to not only embrace it, but exploit it. “You’ve come a long way to stroke your c*** watching real men train,” quips Sparta’s Queen Gorgo upon Themistokles’ arrival. Later Themistokles proudly states, “I have spent my life on my one true love — the Greek fleet.“  Naturally he says this right before a most ridiculous sex scene between him and the seductive Artemisia. There is so much punching, choking and hair pulling, it’s unclear whether they’re making love or physically assaulting each other. Once they’re done she deadpans “You fight much harder than you f***” on his performance. Ouch!

The triumph of the few against the many was unquestionably a more engaging plot point in the first film than the ugly tale of revenge on display here. You can laugh at the unmitigated excess of the saga and try to appreciate it on that level. Unfortunately all the carnage without any redeeming value gets pretty mind numbing after awhile. 300: Rise of an Empire is too witless to really enjoy. Surprisingly this became a huge success which proves that an interesting script is not required of a hit.  300: Rise of An Empire did $45.1M in its opening weekend.  Expect studio execs to dust off other 7 year old properties now. Wild Hogs 2 anyone?

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Live Action

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on March 1, 2014 by Mark Hobin

OSCAR SHORTS photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgThe Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film was first presented at the 5th Academy Awards in 1932. Paddle to the Sea was a nominee in this category one year and it still holds a special place in my heart. I saw it in kindergarten. Judging from this year’s selections, the category isn’t constrained by the country actually giving the award. Every film is represented by a different country and not one is from the U.S.  This is usually a strong category but it’s a mixed bag this year with one really gripping film.





Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
FINLAND / 7MIN / Director: Selma Vilhunen
A mother in a panic tries to get her husband and two daughters ready in the morning for a wedding they are late for. The girls don Halloween costumes when their party dresses are discovered still in the wash. An amusing little comedy that is refreshingly succinct.



DENMARK / 23MIN / Director: Anders Walter
A young dying boy in a hospital learns about an imaginary land called Helium from a kindly hospital orderly. Tender story is whimsical tale with fanciful storytelling and magical elements. It’s also pretty sappy too so you‘ll either roll your eyes at the payoff, or sigh a big “Awwwwww!”.



Just Before Losing Everything
Just Before Losing Everything
FRANCE / 30MIN / Director: Xavier Legrand
A boy supposedly on his way to school, is picked up by his mother. She proceeds to get her daughter from school as well who bids a tearful goodbye to some school friends. Both are driven to her place of employment instead. The only production in this group of five that is a truly gripping work that compels us to keep watching. It’s unclear just what exactly is happening and that keeps us interested as each new bit of information brings us closer to clarification. It’s a nailbiter.



That Wasn't Me
That Wasn’t Me
SPAIN / 24MIN / Director: Esteban Crespo
3 European social workers are held up by child soldiers involved in some unnamed African conflict. This is a subject requiring a much deeper handling than this brief 24 minute film can give. Gratuitous without the necessary depth to make the violence meaningful.



The Voorman Problem
The Voorman Problem
UNITED KINGDOM / 13MIN / Director: Mark Gill
Martin Freeman stars as psychiatrist that treats a prisoner Voorman (Tom Hollander), who believes he is a god. Amusing concept feels like it’s over before it even begins. Oh well. The interesting seed of an idea for a Twilight Zone episode.



The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Documentary

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on February 28, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Oscar Nominated Short Films photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) has been awarded every year since the 14th Academy Awards beginning in 1941. In the early years many were propaganda films focused on the U.S. effort in WWII. Over time however they have focused on a variety of subjects. This year’s crop were an extraordinary mix of both feel good and heartbreaking subjects. A very strong collection that was the most substantial of the three short film programs. As far as I’m concerned any one of these could triumph and it would be a solid winner.



USA / 39MIN / Director and Producer: Jeffrey Karoff
Ra Paulette is an artist. He digs “cathedral-like caves” into the sandstone cliffs of Northern New Mexico. He has done commissioned work, but often his desires do not always match those of his clients. An absolutely fascinating portrait of idiosyncratic fellow and the jaw droppingly beautiful spaces he creates. This is seemingly the most lighthearted, but I found it deeply moving and my favorite of these five strong choices.



Facing Fear
Facing Fear
USA / 23MIN / Director: Jason Cohen
The lives of a neo Nazi skinhead and a gay man living in West Hollywood intersect in the 1980s. 25 years later their paths would cross again. Fascinating document of how these men, once enemies, would become unlikely allies. Tale of forgiveness and redemption unfolds gradually with emotionally compelling results.



Karama Has No Walls
Karama Has No Walls
YEMEN, UK & UNITED ARAB EMIRATES / 26MIN / Director: Sara Ishaq
The population in Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen, has assembled in Change Square as an act of civil disobedience. Without weapons, they peacefully demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh end his three-decade-long rule due to widespread corruption and human rights abuses. Under a barrage of sniper bullets, a peaceful demonstration turns violent. Emotionally powerful chronicle is difficult to watch but, like Oscar nominated documentary feature The Square, it’s a powerful record of atrocities that cry out to be recorded.



Prison Terminal
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
USA / 40MIN / Director: Edgar Barens
The final 6 months in the life of a terminally ill prisoner, Jack Hall, is detailed. Hospice volunteers, also prisoners, attend to the once war hero. One might ask, as I did, why we should even care about the life quality of a convicted murderer in the Iowa State Penitentiary. If so, you are the perfect audience for this documentary.



The Lady In Number 6
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
CANADA / 38MIN / Director: Malcolm Clarke
Alice Herz Sommer is 109 year old, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and high on life from her piano playing. The subject is unquestionably touching but it’s also a bit expected as well. Come on! Let’s combine growing old, classical music, and the Holocaust all in the same documentary. I mean how can this lose? It’s almost scientifically designed to win the Oscar.




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