The Shadow

In the midst of the current boom of comic book movies, it’s easy to forget that was similar, but smaller Hollywood infatuation with the genre in the wake of the Tim Burton Batman movies. Most of the them were quickly and deservedly forgotten but this take on the old radio serials probably deserves to be remembered better than it has been.

The Shadow catches Alec Baldwin at the height of the leading man phase of his career, before his personal life became a bigger story than his acting. Continue reading


The best way to look at this movie is not as the story of Alfred Hitchcock making Psycho. This movie is about what it was like to be married to Alfred Hitchcock while he was making Psycho. While Helen Mirren receives second billing behind Anthony Hopkins, she is very much in the foreground as Alma, the woman behind the Master of Suspense through much of his career, and it is her performance that carries this movie.

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Judging from the commercials, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is the story of Denzel Washington heroically saving a plane full of passengers from certain death, but the film’s barn-burning crash sequence is over by the 25-minute mark. What follows is an intense portrait of a self-destructive man in what seems like a death spiral.

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Zero Dark Thirty

This is what defeat looks like, bro. Your jihad is over.

It was kind of ballsy to make a major motion picture about a story which had been told to death on basic cable by the time this film was released. The search for Osama bin Laden and the daring Navy SEAL raid that killed the terrorist kingpin were as familiar to Americans as the romantic misadventures of the Kardashians. Most of the events portrayed here have been detailed in Discovery channel documentaries, so what does Zero Dark Thirty have to tell us what we didn’t already know?

The answer is not much, but it doesn’t really matter. Continue reading


Sir, exfils are like abortions. You don't wanna need one. But when you do, you don't do it yourself.

As I have said before, whatever my opinion of Ben Affleck the actor, I have yet to be disappointed by Ben Affleck the director. In my review of The Town, I jokingly suggested that he could have a fine career as the John Ford of the Boston-based crime story. Apparently, he didn’t agree. I won’t argue, so long as films like Argo are the end result.

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Abolishing slavery by constitutional provisions settles the fate for all coming time. Not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come.

Daniel Day Lewis has received so much attention for his incomparable performance as Abraham Lincoln that we have somewhat ignored the other master stroke of this film. Rather than try to forge a sweeping biography of 16th president, something better suited to a television miniseries, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner have chosen to focus on one critical interval late in his presidency, to show the full weight of his political genius brought to bear on the most critical issue of that presidency.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I thought I had Peter Jackson figured. He took three novels volumes of the Lord of the Rings and pared them down to three completely coherent movies. Two years later, however, his King Kong took what Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Shoadstack did in an economical 100 minutes and ballooned it up to three hours. The Peter Jackson who made Lord of the Rings was, to be as polite as possible, a man of generous girth. The King Kong Jackson was skinny. It was as if he took all those excess pounds and poured them into the Kong screenplay.

The Hobbit was made by a once-again rotund Jackson, which gave me hope that it would be a story more leanly and efficiently told, but early signs were not good. As a novel, The Hobbit is barely long enough to qualify as a footnote in Lord of the Rings. Yet, Jackson found a way to turn the story first into two movies and then, as it turned out, another trilogy. I was afraid we would be treated to such DVD chapter names as “Bilbo Ties His Shoes.”

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I don’t know exactly where Thor rates on the pecking order of Marvel characters, but judging from the press coverage, few if any of the cast had heard of the comic book version of the Norse thunder god before they started working on this film. I suspect that, ten years ago, if you had told even the most ardent Thor-head that a movie version would star two Oscar-winning actors and would be the work of a director known for his Shakespearean films, that person would have backed away slowly and warily.

Fortunately, the top-notch talent in front of and behind the camera elevates the material well past what it rated in terms of cultural penetration before the film was announced. Kenneth Branagh may be slumming but he is not doing it grudgingly, not just cashing a check. Continue reading

The Avengers

I suspect that the Avengers exists as a comic book series because, despite their dominant position in that arena and broad portfolio of characters, only one, Spider-Man, really counts as an A-List superhero to the world beyond the fringes of comic book fandom. The rest of the major league franchises, Batman and Superman, belong to DC Comics.

Recent movies have changed that pecking order, but let’s face it: No one really gave a rat’s ass about Iron Man until Robert Downey, Jr. strapped on the suit and when most people hear “Incredible Hulk,” they think Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno before they think of Eric Bana, Edward Norton, or Mark Ruffalo.

Good thing no one told writer/director Joss Whedon. Continue reading


This movie was a long time coming, in more than one sense of the term. First, the financial woes that plagued MGM held up production for a couple of years. The legendary studio was only a shell of it’s former self, little more than a logo and a name with echoes of Hollywood’s bygone era, but it was unclear if the venerable film series would have to go onto the auction block in order to settle a bankruptcy.

In another sense, Skyfall represents a visual return to the Bond movies of the Connery/Moore era. By the end of this movie, they have ditched the high tech look of M’s office and MI6 headquarters that started with the Brosnan era and brought things full circle.

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Taken 2

Don't shoot this one. I like him.

Taken 2 is the epitome of the unnecessary sequel. The original was lean, efficient, and narratively self-contained (if morally suspect). It needed no elaboration or follow-up. This movie does not add anything to the experience, but is a cynical attempt to mine the goodwill earned by the first film by tricking its fans into seeing the same movie again. Of course, that last sentence could be written about a lot of sequels.

What does work here, but not as well as in the first installment, is the Mills family dynamic. The emotional core of the estranged father fighting for his daughter against all odds is diminished. Continue reading