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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Queen of Versailles

Jackie Siegel

The Lauren Greenfield-directed documentary tells the story of top 1-percent-ers David and Jackie Siegel, who began building the largest home in America (the 90,000 square foot Orlando mansion modeled after Versailles) before the housing crash put their fortune in jeopardy. Greenfield spent three years with the unfiltered couple and their family. And a lot happened in that short span.

The film offers not only a peek at the time-share industry mogul and his company, but also a rare look at fragile moments of the extremely wealthy. Most of the film is played for laughs, but it’s the heartfelt moments from the extended family that take this documentary beyond the likes of television reality shows about the rich and distracted. 

This is a larger-than-life family in monstrous denial so their unique brand of humility won’t leave you sympathetic, but you’ll be surprised how much you care about the outcome of their situation. Which leads to my only complaint; finished in 2011, this film seems like it’s missing a final act.

Simply put:  Expertly plays more like a fascinating character study film and unscripted comedy than a reality show.

Award potential:  As a comedy it’s too slight to get a nod for Oscar Best Documentary. Greenfield took best documentary director at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 for this film. 

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks. Probably worth your hard-earned ten bucks just to hear what the Hertz rental car salesman has to say to Jackie.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Darling Companion


A lost dog forces a stellar ensemble of couples (Diane Keaton & Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest and Richard Jenkins) to spend days hiking around the Rockies to look for a lost dog — and sort through their relationships.

But the film is every bit as lost.

If the dialogue had been more sharp than soggy, perhaps the lost dog premise might have worked as a catalyst to explore marital tensions. Unfortunately, the script is soft and Lawrence Kasdan’s (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, Big Chill, Accidental Tourist) first film in 9 years is... a dog.  

Darling Companion opens in Dallas May 2012.

Simply put:  Lost dog, lost film

Award potential:  No awards.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks. Rent Enchanted April or Kasdan’s Grand Canyon instead.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Heleno de Freitas (portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro) was a soccer icon in Rio de Janeiro during the 1940s, before his playboy lifestyle, temper and hubris led to a lonely end. Pele became the star that Heleno could have been.

Sounds like a great setup for a sports biography, or the soccer-version of Raging Bull, but if you want info about Heleno’s fabled soccer career, you’ll have to visit Wikipedia. If you just want to see his self-destruction, you’re in luck.

The sometimes-gorgeous black and white film starts with Heleno’s later years and flashes back and forward and back again with musings on his love triangles and temper tantrums.

There is something powerful in this film about the story of a man whose life was ruined by his passion for a World Cup title that would never be his (WWII caused the cancellation of the 1942 and 1946 World Cups during his prime) — but I never really cared enough about the title character. The creators would have been wiser to introduce us to the soccer star before his downfall so we’d be more invested in the outcome.

Simply put:  Heleno de Freitas never attained the glory he sought, nor does the film about him.

Award potential:
 The buzz on this film could translate to Best Foreign Film, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

Blue Like Jazz

Blue Like Jazz is a beloved book that spent 43 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold over 1.5 million copies.

It’s one man’s story about the complexities of living out your faith. For our character Don (and likely to many viewers), the college years ignite opportunities to re-examine both faith and purpose.

But taking this earnest story to cinema resulted in an indie movie with a lot of heart and a lot of missteps: stereotypes, hit-you-over-the-head storytelling, uneven acting and even some awkward creative choices utilizing  —  I’m not kidding — digital cartoon animals.

Traditional Hollywood hasn’t been graceful to faith-based stories. Unfortunately, neither is this.

Simply put:  I wasn’t jazzed how this personal story comes across on screen but it might lead to some strong discussions — or lead viewers to the book.

Award potential:

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks and two hours. Grab the book instead.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Titanic 3D

Fifteen years later, I still have a heart on for Titanic. And yes, the new 3-D treatment is worth another trip. 

The White Star Line's R.M.S Titanic was “the largest moving work of man in all history,'' a character boasts — and this film is the motion picture equivalent. James Cameron’s 194-minute, $200 million, 2-studio film was the most expensive film in Hollywood history at the time of its release, and it became the most successful.

Titanic required a 17-million gallon water tank and a large-scale set constructed with meticulous attention to historical detail from the chandeliers in the staterooms to the china on the table.The rest was digital magic.

It was a spectacular demonstration of what modern technology and historical detail can contribute to dramatic storytelling. The result is still as true today as when this ship arrived in 1997. I can’t imagine any special-effects movie from its time that would hold up quite as well to audiences familiar with Avatar or Hugo. And the new 3-D treatment heightens the whole spectacle  – in this case, that’s a compliment. Cameron bypassed the 3-D tricks (there are some water bubbles that come your way) and focused the technology on pulling you into the many rooms of the mighty ship.

I understand those who find the romantic story too traditional or too melodramatic. There’s a point where Billy Zane is chasing our love-torn characters with a gun in the air that’s a bit too conventional for such a well-crafted film. 

But I’m not looking for an alt romance in a movie called Titanic.

When lovely Kate Winslet’s Rose utters “This is where we first met” to Leonardo DiCaprio’s doomed Jack, and the ship begins to crack, I felt the same chill of excitement as when Titanic and I met years ago. What a treat to see this film set sail again on the big screen once again.

Simply put:  Deliciously overwrought, flawlessly crafted and still as dynamic in 2012

Award potential:
Titanic gathered a record fourteen Academy Award nominations and eleven wins, including Best Picture.

The ten buck review: Worth another ten bucks.