Run All Night

 

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2015

Vertigo Entertainment/Energy Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Produced by Roy Lee/ Michael Tadross/ Brooklyn Weaver

Written by Brad Ingelsby

Sunday rolls around and as usual I check out the results of Biff Bam Pop!’s box office predictions. On Friday they predict the box office numbers for whatever movies are opening that weekend and then Sunday they post the actual numbers. It’s always fun seeing what they got right and just as much fun seeing what they got wrong. They’ve also got a truckload of other fun stuff going on there that you should check out at your earliest opportunity (like, after you finish reading this review. Nudge nudge wink wink)

Anyway, they predicted that RUN ALL NIGHT, the newest Liam Neeson action movie would take in $14 million. It actually made $10. Which kinda surprised me as Liam Neeson has been a dependable action movie star since 2008’s “Taken” Yes, I know he’s been a badass in movies long before that in movies such as “Rob Roy” and “The Phantom Menace” but for the sake of this discussion let’s stick with contemporary action movies, okay?

Can it be that audiences are growing tired of Liam Neeson in action movies? Sure, he’s made a couple of stinkers. Most recently “Non-Stop” and “Taken 3” but he’s mostly delivered solid, entertaining B-level action movies that I appreciate as homages to Action Movies of the 1980s. And RUN ALL NIGHT (which I would have gone to see just for the title) is one of his better ones. Of his recent movies it’s not as good as “A Walk Among The Tombstones” but it steps all over “Taken 3”

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) once a feared hitman working for Irish mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) is now considered a joke by the other members of Shawn’s gang. So deadly and dangerous was Jimmy back in the day that he was known as ‘The Gravedigger.’ Even though Jimmy hasn’t whacked anybody in years, NYPD Detective John Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio) is still looking to put him away. Jimmy almost wishes somebody would put him out of his misery. Consumed with guilt and despondent after the death of his wife, he’s drinking what’s left of his life away. Shawn looks after him, makes sure Jimmy has booze and walking around money. You get the impression in the movie’s early scenes they have together that Shawn maybe thinks that their positions could very easily have been reversed.

In a truly convoluted series of events that reminds me of Rule #19 of ‘Pixar’s 22 Rules For Phenomenal Storytelling.” Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) ends up dead, killed by Jimmy. Shawn promises that Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) will die before Jimmy but Mike’s got his own problems as he’s wanted by the police for the murders of a cop and a pair of Albanian heroin dealers. Mike’s a working stiff with a wife and two daughters who wants nothing to do with any of this and wants to turn himself in but Jimmy asks for just one night to make everything right. It’s not easy convincing Mike as he absolutely hates his father and his life as a criminal. But he soon realizes that he’s now in a pool of sharks his father used to swim in with ease as he used to be the biggest shark of them all.

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Huh? Where’d all that come from you may well ask. I told you it was convoluted. But it’s a good convoluted. There’s a meaty plot at work in RUN ALL NIGHT and you have to pay attention in order to keep up with what’s going on. But I didn’t mind. This is an action movie that’s more concerned that you understand the relationships between the characters rather than how much real estate can be blown up or how many shootouts can be crammed in for no good reason at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t shoot-ups and explosions enough to satisfy any respectable action junkie. There is. But the movie really wants to say something about the relationship and obligations between fathers and sons and the lengths fathers will go through to redeem themselves for the sins they pass onto their sons.

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Weighty stuff, right? Well, don’t worry. It doesn’t get bogged down in all that for long. Thanks to an exceptionally strong supporting cast including Bruce McGill, who makes a definite presence in the movie despite the fact that I believe he has only two lines. And no, I’m not trying to be funny. Common is an assassin named Mr. Price and there’s a surprise cameo by an extremely well known actor that may well have you shaking your head, muttering; “Who the hell let him in this movie?”

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And at the center of the movie are the really excellent performances of Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. They’re terrific at playing a pair of criminals who have lived this life for a long time and know how their current situation has to play out. But they take no joy or pleasure in it. In fact, there’s a lot of grief and regret on both sides. But they know no other way to resolve this tragedy other than with more death. There’s a scene they have in a restaurant that may remind you of a similar scene between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in “Heat.”  No, I’m not saying it’s that good but there’s the same kind of vibe at work there. If you see the movie you’ll know what I’m talking about.

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So should you see RUN ALL NIGHT? If you felt burned by “Taken 3” by all means don’t let that stop you from seeing this one. It’s a solid crime thriller backed up with a firm story and performances that elevate the movie a few notches above what you might expect. Well worth your time and money.

Rated R

114 Minutes

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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2015

Marv Films/Cloudy Productions/20th Century Fox

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Produced by Adam Bohling/David Reid/Matthew Vaughn

Screenplay by Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn

Based on “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons

People will often email me or in a phone/Skype conversation or even face-to-face ask me: how  do I write my movie reviews? Do I write them right after I’ve seen a movie or do I sit and think about them for a while before writing them? Do I write reviews of every movie I’ve seen? And if not, why not? How do I decide which movies I write a review of?

My answer is probably more mercenary than most would be comfortable with and it goes like this: if I were being paid to write reviews of movies then yes, I would write a review of every single movie I saw regardless of whether I liked it or not. Because that is what I’m being paid to do. And I come from that generation where nobody really cared of you liked the job you’re doing or not. You’re being paid to do a job. You came to us for the job. Not the other way around. So do it. End of story. And before you ask; yes, it is a way of thinking I believe in and subscribe to. YMMV.

However, living in this enlightened Internet age of ours, I can write reviews on movies that I really do care about one way or another and hopefully enrich the movie education and enjoyment of those of you good enough to give valuable time out of your busy day to read these reviews. Which brings me to KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE.

I saw it about two weeks ago and as usual on our drive home from the theater, my wife Patricia asked me was I going to write a review about it and what would I say in it. I told her that I honestly didn’t know if I was going to write a review because I honestly didn’t know if I liked it or not. What KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE gets right it gets spectacularly right. But what it gets wrong it gets wrong in equal spectacular fashion. My Better In The Dark co-host Tom Deja and I talked about the movie over the phone we agreed that it’s absolutely astounding how schizophrenic this movie is. It’s actually almost brilliant in that respect. But it still left a very bad taste in my mouth after I saw it.

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Internet billionaire and philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) announces a world changing plan to give away SIM cards which will grant unlimited free access and use of the Internet and cell phones. But Valentine is also linked to the disappearances of many heads of state, diplomats and VIPs. This brings him to the attention of The Kingsmen. They are an elite corps of espionage agents, based on the concept of The Knights of The Round Table. Led by Arthur (Michael Caine) who is assisted by Kingsmen trainer and technical wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) The Kingsmen uphold the highest tradition of gentlemen spies. Impeccably dressed, extraordinarily polite and sophisticated, The Kingsmen are also supernaturally lethal, armed with the most cutting edge of technology and weaponry.

The Kingsmen’s top agent is Harry Hart also known as Galahad (Colin Firth) who recruits Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, the son of his deceased partner. Harry feels he owes this to Eggsy’s dad to try and pull his son out of the delinquent life he’s heading for. There’s an opening for a new Kingsmen agent that Eggsy will have to compete with a dozen other hopefuls but Harry believes that Eggsy can do it, based on the scores he got during his time in the Royal Marines and his aptitude tests that indicate Eggsy’s I.Q. and physical abilities are off the charts.

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While Eggsy is desperately trying to survive his Kingsmen training, Harry investigates Valentine. What he learns is utterly horrifying: Valentine considers humanity a virus and The Earth, being a living organism is resorting to global warming in order to kill of the virus. Much in the same way that a human body generates a fever to get rid a flu virus. Valentine’s plan is is to broadcast a signal to the entire world to his SIM cards via his satellite system. This signal will cause humanity to become homicidal berserkers and they will kill off each other enough to cause The Earth to cease global warming.

Now, I gotta be honest…that’s James Bond Supervillain level thinking we got going on here and I give credit to the writers for that. See, now that’s a plan. Batshit insane, you betchum…but you can’t beat it for creativity and ambition.

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But here’s where the bad taste in my mouth comes in. And it did begin earlier with the unnecessarily dropping of the F-bomb every thirty seconds and the wretched sleaziness of the situation Eggsy’s mother finds herself in. And then there’s the already infamous slaughter in the church.

Those of who that know me and have read my reviews and stories know that I’m far from being a prude when it comes to violence or language. When it’s in the appropriate movie. While watching KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE I had a mental note pad where I was checking off the stuff I felt was Matthew Vaughn which I liked and the stuff that was Mark Millar which I didn’t like. On one hand I was getting a wonderful throwback to 1960s spy movies I was loving with all my heart. And on the other I was getting this truly vile and despicable ultra-violent, mean-spirited movie that seemed bent on sucking away all my good times. If the slaughter in the church had taken place in a Quentin Tarantino movie I wouldn’t have blinked an eye because it would have been appropriate for his kind of movies, you get me? I wanted the 1960s spy movie with Colin Firth playing a badass British secret agent who could easily give John Steed a run for his money (and what wouldn’t I give to see Matthew Vaughn writing and directing a movie with James Bond, John Steed and Harry Hart as students attending Eton) and that delightful 1960s spy movie was continually being interrupted by this really repulsive ultra-violence and vulgar language that wasn’t needed to make the story stronger because it already was strong.

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I will say that KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE has some of the best and most astonishing fight scenes I’ve seen in movies recently, especially the slaughter in the church which is a masterpiece of editing. It truly has to be seen to be believed. And if anybody had told me that Colin Firth had this kind of performance in him before I saw it, I wouldn’t have believed it. He’s no less than magnificent. And Samuel L. Jackson and Sofia Boutella are equally magnificent as perfect Bond level villain and henchwoman. Sofia Boutella has bladed prosthetic legs that she uses with frightening lethality. Especially in a showdown battle with Eggsy that’s a lot of fun to watch and should be seen by those so called “action directors” working today who are so in love with their cursed shaky cam.

When KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is about Harry Hart and The Kingsmen organization it’s the best 1960s spy homage/spoof you can imagine. I would love it if Matthew Vaughn would do more Harry Hart movies or even do Matt Helm or Derek Flint movies set in the 1960s. But there’s lot of KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE that I found disappointing and sleazy. When it’s good, it’s off the chain. But when it’s not, it’s downright appalling in how far it falls away from what it could have been.

Rated R

129 Minutes

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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2015

Blueprint Pictures/Participant Media/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by John Madden

Produced by Graham Broadbent/Peter Czernin

Written by Ol Parker

Based on characters from the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach

If you go to see THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL I strongly suspect it will be solely because like me, you went to see the first one and liked it. Or maybe you’re a movie lover who is retired and in their golden years like the characters in this movie and you’re not interested in going to see a movie with a lot of sex, cussing and stuff blowing up. Fair enough. I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.

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And to be honest, it wouldn’t hurt some of you whippersnappers reading this to get your head out of all that angry sex and hyper-violence once in a while. Dark movies that are grim and despairing and full of angst are okay and all but you don’t have to revel in your wallowing in it, okay? Watch something cheerful and life-affirming to cleanse your mental palate. Trust me, it’s better for you.

The thing that makes THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL a good sequel for me is that it actually continues the story of the characters we met in the first movie and gives them new challenges  and takes their lives in new directions, building and expanding on what happened to them in the first. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) has suddenly and amazingly found herself with a whole new career on her hands. She’s been offered a job to purchase textiles in India and ship them to her native England as she’s become a whiz at haggling for the best prices with the local merchants. Co-owners/managers Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) and Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) have ambitious plans to expand The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that depend on them impressing the representative of an American hotel chain they hope to get financing from. The problem is that they don’t know if the representative is the somewhat mysterious Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) or the cheerful Lavinia Beach (Tamsin Greig)

Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) has become a tour guide. A job made all the more difficult as he doesn’t have the slightest idea of the history or architecture he’s supposed to be an expert on (his solution to the problem provides some of the best laughs in the movie) Aging playboy Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) fears that while during a drunken venting session with a cab driver he may have mistakenly put a hit on his unsuspecting girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle) Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is juggling two suitors, both of them immensely rich and both capable of providing her with the financial security she craves. But is that enough for her?

Yeah, that’s a lot of subplots elbowing each other for space. Throw in the upcoming wedding of Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) and the romance between Guy and Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) and that’s a lot to keep track of. But I didn’t have a problem doing so as I was invested in these characters and genuinely wanted to see how things were going to work out for them. And the multiple plots doesn’t give you time to get bored. We’re constantly going from one plot to another and that makes for a rather lively pace.

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That doesn’t mean the movie was all that. The relationship between Evelyn and Douglas gets a bit tiresome as there’s no real reason for them not to consummate it. She obviously likes him and he obviously likes her. Hell, even Douglas’ estranged wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) asks Evelyn, “What the hell are you waiting for?” I missed the insights in Indian culture and the scenery we got in the first movie. After I saw the first movie I wanted to jump on a plane and go to India. I didn’t feel like that after I saw this one and I missed that feeling.

But we do get an absolutely wonderful performance from Maggie Smith who with such brazen ruthlessness steals every scene she’s in. She has all the best lines in the movie, including one I’m going to put on a T-shirt. Her relationship with Dev Patel’s Sonny is for me, the sweetest and most heartfelt one in the movie. It’s a great friendship, one that doesn’t feel forced or contrived. It’s a testament to the acting talent of both Smith and Patel that we buy 100% into this oddest of odd couples.

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So yeah, I’ll admit that THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is little more than a Lifetime movie on steroids. But I can’t find it in my heart to dislike a movie that has so many characters that I genuinely like and enjoyed spending a couple of hours revisiting. The cast is so enormously talented and elevates the material in such fine fashion that I feel they gave me my money’s worth of entertainment. Highly Recommended.

Rated PG

122 Minutes

The Poseidon Adventure

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1972

20th Century Fox

Directed by Ronald Neame

Produced by Irwin Allen

Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes

Based on the novel “The Poseidon Adventure” by Paul Gallico

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE didn’t create The Disaster Movie genre. If you go all the way back to 1937 you can find “The Hurricane” which I suppose could classify as a Disaster Movie since the climax involves the mother of all hurricanes devastating a South Seas island paradise.   But even though it may not have created the genre, over time it has emerged as the undisputed Champion of Disaster Movies. Yes, there have been Disaster Movies with far bigger budgets, more spectacular special effects, better received by critics and have grossed more at the box office. But I guarantee that if you ask anybody what their favorite Disaster Movie is, they’ll say THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It’s the “Citizen Kane” “Gone With The Wind” and “Star Wars” of Disaster Movies.

The S.S. Poseidon is on her last voyage. This luxury liner, once the queen of the ocean has been retired and is scheduled to be scrapped. She’s heading from New York to Athens at full speed at the insistence of Mr. Linarcos (Fred Sadoff) who represents the ship’s new owners. The Poseidon’s captain (Leslie Nielson) warns that the ship is heading into rough weather and does not have enough ballast to ride out a severe storm.

During the New Year’s Eve celebration, The Poseidon is indeed hit by a tsunami that capsizes the ocean liner. Despite the insistence of the ship’s purser that help will be coming, a small group elects to undertake a perilous escape route through the now upside down vessel from the dining hall to the hull and hopefully they will be able to get out near the propeller shaft where the hull is the thinnest. Their decision proves to be the right one since it is quickly and horrifyingly apparent that The Poseidon is sinking. Slowly, yes, but still sinking.

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The group is led by the charismatic yet heretical Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman). Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) is a tough, old school NYPD detective. His wife Linda (Stella Stevens) is an ex-prostitute he married to keep her off the streets. Susan Shelby (Pamela Sue Martin) and her little brother Robin (Eric Shea) are travelling by themselves, on their way to meet their parents. Manny and Belle Rosen (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters) are a retired Jewish couple going to Israel to meet their two-year old grandson for the first time. James Martin (Red Buttons) is a lonely, shy man who seems like the last person in the world who would go on a trip like this. Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley) was the lead singer of the band entertaining during the celebration. Acres (Roddy McDowell) is a waiter who’s knowledge of the ship is essential to the group’s survival. It’s a desperate race against time and it tests the group to the limits of their spiritual and physical strength. Some of them rise to the challenge. Some don’t. Some live and some die.

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THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is one of those movies that I simply will not hear a bad word against. I saw this in the theater way back in 1972 and I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. I watched it today on Turner Classic Movies for what must have been the twentieth time and I was still just as engrossed in the characters and the story as I was the first time.

The performances are absolutely first rate. You’ve got no less than five Academy Award winners in the cast and they all give it all they’ve got. And it’s the performances that sell the movie as everybody takes this material as serious as cancer. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine are especially good fun to watch as they bark and bite at each other like junkyard dogs. Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson may come off at first as if they’re playing a stereotypical old married Jewish couple but they get in nice little bits of characterization that display a lot of understanding of this particular type of couple they’re playing.

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And yes, this is the movie where Shelley Winters gets to play one of the greatest, most classic death scenes of all time. And the reason why it’s so great is that Shelley Winters knew what she was doing with Belle in each and every scene that leads up to the death scene. So by the time we get to it, it’s a real gut punch. Yeah, other people die in the movie but it’s the death of Belle Rosen that we actually feel.

But it’s Red Buttons that always stands out for me. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan of his comedic roles or his stand-up. But when he’s in a dramatic role I can’t take my eyes off him. His quiet little haberdasher character surprisingly turns out to be quite the man of action when he’s put to the test and I really like the scene where he’s the one who jumps in between Reverend Scott and Mike Rogo when they’re about to come to blows and makes them stop their squabbling. And when Mike Rogo has given up and Susan breaks down into hysterics, it’s James Martin who steps up to the plate and takes charge.

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Technically you couldn’t ask for anything better. It must have been an absolute nightmare to have filmed on those upside down sets, many of them filled with fire or water or in some cases fire and water. And it’s obvious that the cast did a whole lot of their own stunts, especially Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman in those truly tense underwater scenes. And of course everybody knows the iconic theme song; “The Morning After” but did you know that the movie’s score was composed and conducted by a young up and coming composer named John Williams?

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is one of those movies that I simply cannot imagine anybody who claims to love movies saying that they’ve never seen it. It’s got a preposterous premise that is given real life and real suspense by the superior performances of the cast and the technical expertise that totally convinces you of what you’re seeing on the screen. It’s quite simply one of the best movies of its kind ever made and there’s a good reason it enjoys the reputation it enjoys today.  It earned it.

PG

117 Minutes

Authors Anonymous

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2014

Bull Market Entertainment/Forever Sunny Productions/Screen Media Films/Starz Digital

Directed by Ellie Kanner

Produced by Ellie Kanner and Hal Schwartz

Written by David Congalton

Being a writer myself (Hey, I heard that snickering in the back! You there! You get your coat  and get out right now!) I’m always on the lookout for movies about writers and writing. And there’s plenty of good ones out there. Even a few great ones. AUTHORS ANONYMOUS falls in between good and great. It could have been a great one if it hadn’t been for the filmmakers forgetting at many crucial moments that the premise of the movie is supposed to be a mockumentary. It switches between being one and a regular movie and that’s something that gets on my nerves. Much the same way Found Footage movies will switch POVs back and forth. Once you’ve settled on a format and style of telling your movie, have the commitment to stick with it and work within that format instead of simply switching to a straight-up and down movie when it’s convenient.

Having gotten that off my chest, let me just say that if you’re writer, you should see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS. If you’re the spouse or offspring of a writer, you should see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS. If you’re the therapist, psychiatrist or bartender of a writer, you should see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS. Trust me. It’ll explain a lot about the type of writer you are or the type you’re dealing with.

The movie tells the story about a writer’s group. The members are a seriously dysfunctional group and I guarantee that if you’ve got a writer’s group you’ll recognize some members of your group in this one. Henry Obert (Chris Klein) is the nicest guy in the group. He’s also struggling with a severe writer’s block that isn’t helped by his long standing crush on another member of the group, Hanna Rinaldi (Kaley Cuoco). Alan Mooney (Dylan Walsh) is an optometrist who is constantly speaking into his mini-recorder with ideas for books he’ll never write. That’s because he’s way too busy nurturing the earthquake sized ego and insecurity of his wife Colette (Teri Polo) who is amazingly shallow and pretentious. She’s the type of writer who believes with all her heart she’s divinely imbued with writing ability. William Bruce (Jonathan Bennett) sees himself as the new Bukowski and rewrites the same three pages over and over and over again. John K. Butzin ( Dennis Farina) is rock solid in his belief that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Clancy’s throne and is convinced that just as soon as his cousin’s neighbor’s best friend gets his book “Roaring Lion” into the hands of Clint Eastwood, it’ll be the next blockbuster movie.

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The group is disrupted by the news that Hanna has gotten an agent and there’s a very good chance the book will be published. While on the surface the other members of the group are supportive and happy, underneath they’re spewing volcanoes of resentment and jealousy. Especially from Collette and John K. Butzin who are the most delusional and hungry for attention and proceed to launch their own campaigns to get published by any means necessary. And as Hanna’s star continues to rise with a movie deal impending, the group as a whole gets more and more frustrated and desperate.

Now before you start thinking the wrong way, let me say that first and foremost this is a comedy and an extremely funny one. And it’s funny because there’s a lot of truth in it that if you’re a writer and hang out with other writers you’ll recognize it. Part of the group’s resentment of Hanna’s success comes from the fact that when it comes to writing and literature, Hanna is totally ignorant. In fact, Henry damn near has a stroke on the spot when Hanna reluctantly admits to him that she’s never read “The Great Gatsby”.  Kaley Cuoco really surprised me in this movie as she didn’t play a version of her Penny character from “The Big Bang Theory” Hanna is a totally different type of person, one who is far more in touch with her talent than the other members of the group because she doesn’t take herself so seriously. She wrote a book because she thought it would be fun and not because she thought it would change the destiny of human civilization.

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Dennis Farina, Teri Polo and believe it or not, Tricia Helfer as John K. Butzin’s German mail order girlfriend Sigrid walk away with the acting honors here. The level of John K. Butzin’s delusion about his talent is mindboggling. No matter what goes wrong with his plans to become a published author, he manages to turn it into just another part of his belief that he’s destined to be a success. Teri Polo’s Collette has that really creepy narcissistic bent that way too many writers have and she manages to make it utterly hilarious. But at the same time she wrings every last drop of sympathy out of a later scene where she simply just can’t take it anymore that Hanna is where she always dreamed of being and she’s not.

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So should you see AUTHORS ANONYMOUS? Absolutely. I enjoyed the premise and the performances and it made me laugh a lot. It’s got enough insights into the hopes and dreams and yes, delusions of aspiring writers that if you’re a writer yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll have a good time watching it. It’s available for streaming on Netflix right now. Enjoy.

92 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Jupiter Ascending

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2015

Village Roadshow Pictures/Anarchos Productions/Warner Bros./Roadshow Entertainment

Written and Directed by The Wachowskis

Produced by Grant Hill and The Wachowskis

When it comes to The Wachowskis I think it’s only fair to tell you that their track record with me has been up and down. I really liked “Bound” but thought that “Cloud Atlas” was just okay. To be honest with you, I had to watch that one three times before I got it and even now I’m still not sure. “Speed Racer” I consider a magnificent masterpiece. As a confirmed “Speed Racer” addict ever since I was a kid I feel like The Wachowskis made “Speed Racer” just for me, that’s how perfect a translation from animation to live action I feel it is. Matter of fact, just talking about it gets me so hyped just thinking about it I’m gonna go watch my Blu-Ray of “Speed Racer” just as soon as I finish this review.

And as for “The Matrix” trilogy of films…they’re okay, but I’ve never been as wild about it as I’m sure many of you reading this were/are. They’re solid action films, sure. An exceptional visual style, sure. Outrageous action sequences, absolutely.  But if you’re a fan of science fiction movies, books, Marvel comics and Honk Kong martial arts/action movies for any period of time longer than ten years then nothing in any of “The Matrix” movies was new to you. What I give those movies a lot of credit for is being the first multi-racial science fiction trilogy.

Which brings us to JUPITER ASCENDING. Where would I put it in the Wachowski filmology? Let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way and then we’ll get to that, okay?

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal Russian immigrant living and working with her family in Chicago. Along with her mother and aunt she cleans the houses of the wealthy and fantasizes about what it must be like to be so rich and live in such luxury. She sees no future in trying to rise above her station in life until she’s rescued from alien bounty hunters by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) Caine is himself a genetically modified warrior who explains to her that she is the genetic reincarnation of The Matriarch of The House of Abrasax. As such, she is not only galactic royalty but the owner of the planet Earth.

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Caine takes her off Earth and into deep space where Jupiter runs into a bewildering and astounding variety of alien and humanoid races, including her genetic children: Balem (Eddie Redmayne) Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth). All of them are scheming and plotting to get control of The House of Abrasax, which seeded life on Earth millennia ago to finance the family business which is immortality, plain and simple. Jupiter is the pivotal piece in the galactic chess game being played by her treacherous genetic offspring as they each seek to manipulate her for their own ends. Balem hasn’t got time for that felgercarb, though. He’d rather just kill Jupiter and get it over with. Good thing that Caine is there to thwart him at every turn, backed up by his former partner/mentor Stinger Apini (Sean Bean).

I have greatly simplified the plot because believe me, it is a lot more complicated than that. The Wachowskis have gone to a lot of trouble to establish this universe and I give them the highest of credit for it. They aren’t content to simply swipe from “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” in the creation of their universe. Everything looks absolutely incredible. The technology, the architecture (one spaceship looks like a flying Vatican) the fashion…JUPITER ASCENDING’s universe is one of the most complete, detailed and fully realized I’ve seen on film in a long time. The only movie I can think of that comes close is “The Fifth Element”. And indeed, there were moments when JUPITER ASCENDING had the same vibe as that movie.

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But the movie suffers from having two miscast leads who have zero chemistry together. Channing Tatum should have taken his cue on how to act in this kind of movie from Sean Bean. Mr. Bean knows he’s in a B-movie Space Opera with an A-movie budget and plays it accordingly. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis play it as if this thing were written by Tennessee Williams. Tatum in particular is about as interesting as a tree stump. Considering that he’s got this badass pair of funky anti-gravity boots that let him skate on air and Errol Flynn all over the place, he goes through the whole movie as if he’s got the universe’s worst job. I watched his performance and all I could think of was how Chris Pratt’s committed performance was so integral to the overall fun and success of “Guardians of The Galaxy”. In contrast, Tatum looks he can’t wait to get out this movie and go make another “Jump Street” sequel.

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And I guess that is my main problem with JUPITER ASCENDING. For all the astounding visuals and outrageous action sequences, nobody in this movie looks like they had fun making it and there’s not much fun in watching it. It’s spectacular to look at, yes it most certainly is. But it’s a movie you can wait on for the Blu-Ray or Netflix.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13

American Sniper

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2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Mad Chance Productions/22nd & Indiana Pictures/Malpaso Productions/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Produced by Clint Eastwood-Robert Lorenz-Andrew Lazar-Bradley Cooper-Peter Morgan

Written by Jason Hall

Based on “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle-Scott McEwen-Jim DeFelice

Say whatever else you want to say about Clint Eastwood’s direction of AMERICAN SNIPER but this you have to admit: the man knows how to clearly put images up on the screen so that at no time are we unclear as to what is happening, who it’s happening to and why it’s happening to them. I would so dearly love to sit Paul Greengrass down and have him watch this movie to show him that movies can be made without the camera wildly whipping around as if the cameraman is drunk. You put your camera down firmly. You put your actors in front of the camera and let them act. What’s so hard about that?

And if your story is strong enough, you don’t need fancy camera tricks to tell it. And the story of Chris Kyle is a strong one. When we meet him, his life is aimless. But then he joins the U.S. Navy and is accepted for SEAL training. His exceptional skill at shooting a rifle paves the way to his ultimate destiny as a Navy Seal sniper.

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The movie follows Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) through four tours of duty in Iraq. He proceeds to rack up an extraordinary number of kills. So many that he earns the nickname of “Legend” Its a nickname he’d rather not have. Between his tours, he returns home to Texas and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their children and tries to settle down to normal life. But there is obviously something going on with Chris that he either will not or cannot verbalize. When he’s Iraq he misses his family. But when he’s in America he is filled with a guilt that turns him into an emotional cripple. Chris feels a personal obligation to take out Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) an enemy sniper whose skill and commitment to his craft is just as powerful as Chris Kyle’s. The two men have a war of strategy going on in their brief, but deadly encounters and Chris will not consider his job done until Mustafa is dead.

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Besides the outstanding direction by Clint Eastwood, the other reason to see this movie is Bradley Cooper’s amazing performance. I gotta give Mr. Cooper a standing ovation. Here’s a guy who could easily coast along on his good looks and charm. Which he has more than his share of. But he makes some very interesting acting choices ranging from the action fest “The A-Team” to science fiction thrillers like “Limitless” the romantic comedy “Silver Linings Playbook” and the “Hangover” comedy trilogy. It’s gotten so that he’s one of those actors on my list I’ll watch in anything because even if the movie if crap *coughAmerican Hustlecough* I know without a doubt that he’ll be terrific.

I liked how he played Chris Kyle as a man who does not revel or delight in his exceptional talent at sniping. It’s a talent that saves lives, but also puts him somewhat alone. There are several instances where he leaves his post as a sniper to get down on the ground with Marine troops as they conduct house by house searches. Does Chris feel that he should be taking equal risks along with them even though those men are more than willing to go on missions knowing that “Legend” is out there with his sniper rifle watching their backs? It’s a question the movie doesn’t answer and I’m glad it doesn’t. It’s enough that the movie shows us how others view Chris and how he views himself. It’s two very different views.

I wish I could recommend the other performances as well. Sienna Miller gets to play Taya in a manner we’ve seen in a dozen other war movies. She’s got the job of staying home with the kids and being the loyal wife. The rest of the supporting cast is competent and professional, but that’s about it. There’s really no one I can single out as we never really get to know anybody else in the movie except for Chris Kyle.

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Should you see AMERICAN SNIPER? It’s a movie that has already generated a lot of heat on The Internet, but I’m not going to get into that here. I’m not here to debate the politics of this (or any) movie. I simply give my opinion on a movie’s entertainment value. And on that basis, AMERICAN SNIPER is well worth your time and money.

138 Minutes

Rated R