Category Archives: Film Listings/Ratings

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony and Joe Russo – 2014) A-

It’s really amazing what Marvel has managed to do. We have what is basically a long running series with interconnected stories that are at the same time independent. Some  of those were not great films other were pretty damn good. Here we have another good one. Captain America, played by Chris Evans, manages to be earnest and a genuinely good guy without coming off too cheesy or corny. He is really a fish out of water both in terms of time and his moral values. The movie has some good supporting characters as well like Scarlett Johanssen’s Black Widow and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. We also get some more Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury and he has a fantastic car chase fight scene that is like nothing we’ve seen him do before. The movie tackles some interesting topics like government surveillance and has some very high stakes and conclusions that made me wonder what the future Marvel/Avengers movies will be like. The action sequences are spectacular and lots of fun even though the aforementioned Winter Soldier is not very compelling as a character. Another thing Marvel is good at: making sure we stay in our seats happily until the credits are done to get our teaser fix.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson – 2014) A

This really is one of my favorite Wes Anderson films. Anderson uses many techniques, color pallets and even aspect ratios to tell the story of Gustav H. the concierge of the Grand Budapest between the wars. The story is set in a fictitious eastern European country named Zubrowka and in a smart opening is told to us through the aging Zero Moustafa the lobby boy who is retelling it to an author whose book with the story is being read by a girl in the cemetery at the opening of the film. Anderson is really a divisive filmmaker and even those who like him might not like all his work (I do not care for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). This one is no exception and will not make those who dislike his films fans all of a sudden. I just loved his work here where he composes shots so perfectly, his characters are as quirky as usual, the dialogue is a wonderful mix of high-brow with deadpan profanity as an exclamation point. He also mixes live action and stop-motion animation, comedy with shocking violence, Brooklyn accents with proper British ones,…. It just works.

The film is a heist film, a murder mystery, a prison escape but really above all it’s about a world that is changing and Gustav who is mourning the change. He is a gentleman who loves a certain way of life and traditions that are being eroded by time, politics and an upcoming war. Ralph Fiennes in the role of Gustav is fantastic. His delivery of the dialogue and mannerisms are just perfect. Like almost every Anderson film is, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fairy tale but somehow it feels like these people are real somewhere, possibly in Zubrowka.

We Are What We Are (Jim Mickels – 2012) A-

I don’t go for horror movies much. They are usually very cheesy and repeat the same story it seems over and over again. Both of these are not necessarily bad if done well, but modern horror films are geared to either give the PG-13 crowd a “boo” moment every five minutes or graphic gore and torture porn throughout. In this skillfully made film, Jim Mickels gives us a tense story about a family that has “something off” about them. It’s creepy but not heavy handed at all. It does a very good job in making us care for the two daughters and their brother while not always sure if we should. I guessed what is going on pretty early in the run time but the film still maintained its high wire act perfectly. Boy was I not prepared for the horrific last five minutes or so here though. That’s one scene and a few lines of dialogue that I will never forget.

A Hijacking (Tobias Lindholm – 2012) A

All to often we get corporations and executives portrayed as these big behemoths who could not care less about their employees. They only care about the bottom line. They are the evil men in suits. Well the best part of this small Danish flick is the portrayal of Peter, the CEO of a shipping company as he tries to navigate the rough long negotiation with hijackers who took over one of his ships. He really cares and wants the best possible outcome while  at the same time answering to the board as well as the family of the ship’s crew members.
A Hijacking is not sensational, it is a negotiation from beginning to end with the principal characters and a few side characters. Everyone is excellent in their performances. We have the aforementioned CEO, we have the ship’s cook who is terrified and wants to go back to his family while at the same time being used as a bargaining chip by Omar. Omar is the translator and the one who communicates with Peter, but he vehemently insists that he is not one of “them”, referring to the hijackers. These three are at the heart of this story. Another fascinating character is the consultant hired to help Peter navigate through the negotiation process. The film is subtle and while not much “action” happens, it is captivating from minute one to closing credits.

The American (Anton Corbijn – 2010) A-

The story here is fairly predictable but at the same time has a certain originality to it. George Clooney plays Jack, an American assassin sent to a remote but beautiful Italian village in Abruzzo to hide out after an attempt on his life and await for instructions. It is never clear to me why he is in hiding, but it doesn’t matter. He kills people for a living, so I’m sure a lot of people want him dead for one reason or another.

The film really is not concerned with that on any case. What it did do very well is give Jack time to possibly reflect on his choices. He is ruthless, maybe soulless as we saw in his last mission that went horribly bad during the beginning of the movie. Here in Abruzzo he finds a confidant in the fatherly Catholic priest he befriends. I really enjoyed their conversations that border on arguments as the priest attempts to dig deeper into Jack’s soul and Jack hits right back at him. We spend a lot of time with Jack while he builds a specific rifle for another assassin. He is filled with doubt and fear and constantly on edge. Gradually we also see his humanity and trust in people start to come to the surface as he falls in love seemingly against his will. The film is not a thriller by any stretch. It is plenty brooding, tragic and at times very tender. The director gives some wonderful shots from interesting camera angles of the wonderful location while we get to know Jack and begin to care for him. It’s a solid movie, one that I seem to keep thinking about.

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater – 2013) A

Where is Jesse and Celine now, about 9 years since we last left them in Paris? On a vacation in Greece, they have twin girls together and as far as I could tell they are still in love. It’s not a perfect relationship and is much different than it was in the previous two movies. They shared a life together now and they have their problems, fights and arguments.
I really love this series of films and the glimpses it shows us of the life these couple are leading every few years. These are not movies that everyone would like. If you do not like the main two characters you will probably find this intolerable. This third installment really is the least “romantic” I would say and it focuses on how difficult maintaining a solid longtime relationship can be. I hope we can see more of them 9 or 10 years from now.