By Mike Shaeffer
Hercules, USA, 2014
Directed by Brett Ratner
Action fans would look upon Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3 more fondly if no other X-men movies existed before or after it. Sadly, The Last Stand stands as the least enjoyable of the mutant franchise, and I attribute this largely to Ratner’s approach to action sequences. When he attaches himself to a solid story and a talented cast, he can churn out immensely watchable guilty pleasures like After the Sunset (2004) or the pilot to Prison Break, which hooked me into a hermit-like Netflix binge, burning through all four seasons in six weeks. So what about Ratner’s take on Hercules? The iconic lion’s head? Check. Dwayne Johnson dons the headgear like Riddick putting on his goggles just before opening up a can of whoop-ass, and you’ve got the familiar trope of a son struggling with who his father really is—see Superman, Simon Birch, Inception, The Empire Strikes Back, or even TV’s Archer. Read More
By Alice Shindelar
About a month ago, I made the dramatic decision to limit my film and television consumption to only women writers and directors. This isn’t out of distaste for male directors and writers. I love movies of all kinds, for countless reasons. I would never allow my opinion of a film or TV series to be influenced by the gender of the creative force behind it. That said, women writers and directors are few and far between. Their struggle for recognition in the industry and the funds to make their films is well-known (although, not well-known enough). Still, even the most ingenious amongst them tends to fade into the background before they’ve weathered a full career.
As an aspiring writer-director myself, I’ve always kept my ear closely trained on the life events that lead people in this field to success, or even just a career that pays the bills. I look for myself in their stories. I imagine how my flat feet could follow their huge strides. Or, at least, I try. It’s next to impossible to picture myself following in the footsteps of any Kubrick, or Coppola, or Scorsese. My inability to grow facial hair puts a stop to that. So I watch for the women, and this project is an attempt to do that more acutely. Read More
By James Guill
Hitting The Nuts, USA, 2011
Directed by Joe Boyd
Since the poker boom in 2003, film makers have tried to create a movie that resounds with the poker community much in the way that Rounders has. Unfortunately, many of those movies have either fell well short of the mark, or had no clue what the game really was all about.
Last April, independent film producer and director Joe Boyd released a film entitled Hitting the Nuts: The True Story of the Scott County Series of Poker. At first glance, this films looked to be a low budget attempt to cash in on poker’s popular. However, after watching the film, many discovered that this cast of unknowns had actually properly captured the spirit of the game.
By Scott Martin
Casino Jack, Canada, 2010
Directed by George Hickenlooper
The most unfortunate thing about this film isn’t that it degrades the importance of Jack Abramoff’s crimes down to a heist flick along the lines of 21 (2008), nor is it that its screenplay has all of the emotional depth and latitude of Shrink (2009). It’s that this is the late, yet formidable as ever, Maury Chaykin’s last film. Thankfully, his role let him go out in style, and with this film, style is just about all there is. Director George Hickenlooper passed on after filming this project as well.
Where the film’s complete failure begins is with its screenplay, though writer Norman Snider got a couple of things right. Everything he wrote about is ridiculous and, from an outsider’s perspective, kind of funny, if not incomprehensible. What he left out, though, was the weight of Abramoff’s actions, and just how important and destructive they were. He creates one-sided characters and injects them into a 3D labyrinth of movie quotes, political disdain, and Kevin Spacey doing impressions. So. Many. Damn. Impressions. I felt like I was watching another one of Kevin Costner’s movies that “just happened to involve baseball.” It got tiresome, and it wasn’t amusing the first time. Read More
By Scott Martin
Gulliver’s Travels, USA, 2010
Directed by Rob Letterman
In an effort to update and, in more than one sense of the word, modernize Jonathan Swift’s timeless novel, director Rob Letterman and his screenwriters Nicholas Stoller and Joe Stillman have crafted something unique, though distressingly blank. Here we have not the classic, epic story with which many have grown up, but rather a focus on the themes and ideas portrayed in Swift’s writing, and in a few underrated adaptations from days past. The story has always been a meditation on the measure of a man. The 1996 television version starring Ted Danson seemed to lose a bit of the magic of the novel in its translation from text to screen, but stories like this one are hard to tell; damn near impossible to get exactly right, if you consider the vision of the literature to be “exact.” With this one, though, starring the affable Jack Black, the sincere-beyond-all-reason Jason Segel, and the always wonderful Emily Blunt, we as the audience are treated to what contends to define “family feature.” Read More
By Scott Martin
Monsters, UK, 2010
Written and Directed by Gareth Edwards
Gareth Edwards deserves more critical acclaim for his visual effects work than his direction in this piece. Monsters boasts the kinds of creations that recall the beautiful imagery and craftsmanship of Jurassic Park – remember how stunningly real the billion-year-old creatures seemed back in 1993? Well, in 2010, Gareth Edwards made non-existent creatures palpable. So much so that you could almost feel them in the room, next to you, watching the movie, a credit to the eerie, luscious environment he created as well. Last year, District 9 and Avatar brought us just as lively creatures, but Gareth Edwards did it with only $200,000 (estimated) at his disposal, trespassing all over Mexico, and using locals and “non-face” actors; it’s safe to assume that most of the budget went to the FX department. But, regardless, it’s a feat, and one that deserves recognition. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Black Swan, USA, 2010
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
The latest film from visionary director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) continues to show his versatility and determination to not make the same film twice. Originally slated to direct the upcoming David O. Russell film The Fighter, Aronofsky understandably considered the project too similar to his previous film, 2008’s The Wrestler, and opted instead to make the intense, hallucinatory madhouse that is Black Swan.
Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, an up-and-coming ballet dancer in New York City who finds herself in the lead role of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. She is initially chosen for the role as a replacement for veteran dancer Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) because she embodies the qualities of the White Swan – grace and beauty. Her technical perfection is clear, but her lusty French director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, in his best English-language role to date), insists that she find her dark side, the Black Swan representing cunning and sensuality. Read More