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Monday, November 23, 2015


A moving story. 
Anyone who has been waiting for a big romance should head to Brooklyn today. (The film, not the city.)

Newbie director John Crowley’s robust romantic drama tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a wallflower from a small town in 1950’s Ireland who reluctantly leaves her family for job security in New York. She moves to Brooklyn and eventually meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian plumber. When these two lock hearts, it’s the type of startling movie magic I’m not sure we’ve seen since Jack met Rose in 1998. 

Brooklyn is a romance first, but it finds extra purpose by telling the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in this world and hoping to build a better life. It’s hard not to feel something during every moment of this lush film. 

Last year, the best movies of the year were edgy, inventive films (Birdman, Boyhood and Budapest). This year’s best films are non-cynical Hollywood classics: a newspaper detective story (Spotlight), a cold war thriller (Bridge of Spies) and Brooklyn, a non-cynical gusher. While I’ve been looking for the next new thing, it appears the best films of 2015 are throwbacks to what Hollywood does best — the type of films that “Hollywood doesn’t produce anymore.” I like it both ways; I think I’ll just start looking for movies that begin with a “B.”

Simply put: Straight outta Brooklyn: a tender, lush masterpiece. 

Award potential: Expect nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress. I’d love to see newcomer nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, but those seem unlikely, as does Julie Walters for Best Supporting Actress.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Friday, November 20, 2015


All the Globe's Men.
As someone who works inside a newspaper building, I have to confess that I may be biased reviewing this film; I love a solid journalism movies. Spotlight, however, is a stellar one.

Technically, this is the true story of how a journalist team at the Boston Globe shed light on the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.

Artistically, this is a love letter to investigative journalism and the heroism involved in getting the truth out.

This story is set in 2001. That’s just 14 years ago but it was visually amazing to me how much paper the offices and libraries are filled with. And it’s more amazing to watch how director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor) pulls riveting drama out of a docker-adorned team flipping through pages and books, trying to get the story right. They also want to get it first, and that causes a furious tension throughout the film. It's one of the best of 2015.

I can’t speak for someone who is a Catholic, but this film doesn’t have much room for religion bashing. Even our heroes are flawed folks. There have been similar cover-ups in the NFL recently, so I saw the Catholic Church shown as an organization, not a collection of Christians who believe. I don’t see religion or football any differently because of those actions. I think that’s the spirit the filmmakers were going for.

Simply put: Stop the presses! This is the best newspaper movie since All The President’s Men.

Award potential: Likely Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actors (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo). The frontrunner for the Best Ensemble Golden Globe for Drama.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Martian

Let’s go save Matt Damon again.

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead and left on Mars after a storm sent his crew back to Earth. Once Watney discovers he’s alone, the story becomes a deserted planet version of Cast Away.

This is not one of Ridley Scott’s great movies. But it’s not Prometheus either.

The Martian is a faithful retelling of the bestselling book and it delivers a mildly fun night at the movies. It doesn’t hit the spiritual beauty of Gravity, but it doesn’t land in the congested world of Interstellar either. It’s somewhere in between.

For example, while scientific plot points unfold, the characters say things like “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this” and “we ran the numbers and it checks out.” It was a wise choice for a crowd pleaser. This film is surprisingly light-hearted and Damon pulls off most of the subtle comedic bits — but misses when they go too far. When a scene calls for reactions to disco music, you wish Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) was the hero singing along.

If you’re wondering why I keep comparing this film to other space movies, it’s probably because I kept wanting more out of this film given the hype it has received. It’s an average film and a not-so-stellar option in the fall when better movies are available.

Simply put: Not bad. Not out of this world either.

Award potential: Maybe some nominations for FX. If this slides into the comedy category for the Golden Globes, they might nominate Damon so he’ll attend the TV show.

The ten buck review: Consider buying the book instead.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Walk

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An elevated thriller.

2008’s Oscar-winning Best Documentary, Man on Wire, told us almost everything we needed to know about Frenchman Philippe Petit and his illegal high-wire act between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Man on Wire is a superb documentary (available on Netflix at this writing), but it was missing one thing: footage of the walk.

Enter Robert Zemekis (Forrest Gump, Back To The Future) to put us on that wire 1,360 feet above the ground — in IMAX 3D. The Walk is a seamless CGI beauty onscreen and a nail biting thriller. Turns out, we did need two movies.

The film starts out a bit wobbly. It begins with a fast paced carnivalesque sequence of quick cuts, camera tricks and some odd comedy that threatened to distance me from having any emotional connection to Phillippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt) and his entourage. My guess is that Zemekis needed to provide theater excitement early, before audiences settled in for the slow build story.

Not helping the first third of the film, the script includes at least two contrived bits of dialogue that literally explain why Philippe is speaking English in each scene. This is followed by other unnecessary voice-over explanations.

The film settles in when the characters arrive in New York, and it soars once the balletic Phillipe hits the wire. It is here that Zemekis has created the type movie magic that I’m not sure I’ve seen since the Titanic cracked or the Jurassic Park dinosaurs were first revealed.

Simply put: A wobby start, but it quickly finds balance and soars.

Award potential: The Walk has a chance at one of the many Best Picture shots, but I think it will fade by nomination time. I don’t expect an acting nod either. Gordon-Levitt is getting unfair critique for his lively French, which was actually perfect to character (Phillippe Petit had a very strong accent). This film could easily win some well deserved Visual Effects and Cinematography prizes.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Black Mass

Depp is the new Whitey.

Black Mass tells the story of an unholy alliance between the FBI and Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp). It’s the true story of a relationship that allowed Whitey to evade law enforcement and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in 1970’s Boston.

After a decade of comical characters, Depp is back in form as Whitey. The makeup is unfortunately distracting at times, but for most of the film Depp becomes a very scary human. He steals every scene he is in. A key scene, where Whitey flirts and threatens FBI agent John Connolly’s (Joel Edgerton) wife, is one of the most chilling film moments of the year.

Black Mass isn’t a big film like Goodfellas or The Departed. It is a well-crafted, but predictable gangster film. In other words, it’s highly enjoyable.

Simply put:
A solid gangster film and a return to (human) form for Depp.

Award potential:
Depp will be a front runner until December, but I don’t think he will make the top five. He’s done too many silly heavily makeup characters to be rewarded for doing one well. Joel Edgerton has a shot for Supporting Actor. The film has a shot for one of the many Best Picture slots, but I don’t think it will go all the way.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Intern

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Check out The Intern.

Nancy Meyers' films (The Holiday, It's Complicated, Something's Gotta Give, Private Benjamin) are so admirably consistent in tone, laughs and good vibe takeaway that audiences can always expect a good time. The only surprise I have to tell you is that this is one of her best.

The story is a little tighter. The silliness is kept to a minimum. And the kitchens are (spoiler alert) normal.

Having the precocious Anne Hathaway play a precocious founder of an online clothing company, who is coming to terms with her faults, was brilliant. It may be the first time I rooted for one of her characters. DeNiro, of course, plays the "senior intern" with ease. Thankfully, this is the nuanced, subdued Silver Linings Playbook DeNiro and not the Little Fockers one.

It's a light comedy, but it has a lot to say about life, relationships, ageism and second chances. I think it will play heavily on cable for years.

Simply put: Gray is the new green; it will be a hit. Plus, I expect hankerchiefs will come back in style.

Award potential:
It's not Annie Hall, and it's not trying to be. There may be a place in the Golden Globes.
The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The End Of The Tour

Does achievement make you happy? (I'd say yes.)

Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky once said that his five-day interview of acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace was “the best conversation he ever had.” I believe it. The film can be described similarly; it’s a powerful conversation that gives talkmaster director Richard Linklater a run for his money.

The End Of The Tour, directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), chronicles the interview that took place during the last leg of the 1996 book tour for Wallace's groundbreaking epic novel, Infinite Jest. Jesse Eisenberg (Lipsky) and Jason Segel (Wallace) are perfectly cast, but the real star is the tight script.

Last August’s movie lineup included Linklater’s Boyhood, which gave us a lot to think about than the usual summer fare provides. Moviegoers who head to the (more accessible) The End Of The Tour will be rewarded as well.

Simply put: The movie is a great conversation; you’re sure to have many after.

Award potential: Jason Segel surprises in this role. He should start his Best Supporting Actor campaign now.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Cold war served cold.

There is a lot right about The Man From U.N.C.L.E.:  a snazzy script, Ian Fleming’s original characters, exotic locales, retro cold war spy action sequences, Guy Ritchie’s over-the-top directorial style, foxy girls, costumes that should sweep awards and a sleek jazz score.

But there is equally as much wrong. Man of Steel actor Henry Cavil clearly should only play things made of steel. Throughout the film, he and Armie Hammer duke it out to be the most lifeless, boring, stone-faced character in modern film to deliver cleverly written banter. When Cavil bumps in to Hugh Grant, you can’t help but sense how much the film needed someone with star power. Too bad Grant's role is minimal.

Simply put: I really wanted this well-scripted film to come together, but eventually cried uncle.

Award potential: Should be a competitor for Best Costume awards.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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Choose to accept it.

Is it possible to root for Tom Cruise, the smug, mugging Hollywood star with ties to a suspicious religious group? The answer is, “yes.”

This franchise has always able to pull off that impossible mission above. From the opening action sequence (it’s a doozy) to the final act, I couldn’t help being Team Ethan Hunt (Cruise).

It doesn’t hurt that there is non-stop suspense and fresh action sequences in multiple, jaw-dropping international locales. With this and Jurassic World, who needs superhero films this summer?

The previous chapter in the series, Ghost Protocol was the best in the series when it arrived. In that 2001 film, we saw Ethan Hunt hanging from the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Director Christopher McQuarrie’s (The Usual Suspects, Edge of Tomorrow) Rogue Nation keeps the series at that high level.

Simply put: Delivering more freewheeling action than 007 and a lightness not found in Bourne films, this franchise is smack! in the middle of some very good company.

Award potential: Not likely until there is an award for stunts.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ricki and the Flash

Turns out, Meryl Streep can't do everything

Streep has yet to pull off a satisfying movie focused on music or a musician. Mama Mia and Postcards from the Edge come to mind as two of her few failed movies (even though I loved the original material).

Add one more; Ricki and the Flash is as average as the title, poster and trailer suggest.

I know you're wondering about her singing chops. No surprise, Streep pulls off the musical numbers convincingly. Yet it was a stretch to see the tight, controlled actress play someone so unhinged. It may be the only time I've seen her trying to act. Perhaps she had to lower the bar a bit since Rick Springfield brings his General Hospital drama to her better half. I was uncomfortably nervous whenever the two were onscreen without guitars.

The story is tired and trite. Ricki is the type of movie where everyone in the bar is staring at the musician all night, hanging on to every word and going wild in unison whenever they play. I think this lighthearted film will play well in middle-aged middle America. It's a familiar crowd pleaser with a happy ending and there's nothing else in theaters like it to fit that bill right now. However, the Oscar trifecta of director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) and Streep (everything else) should have spent their time on something better.

Simply put: With any luck, you'll forget this in a flash.

Award potential: It has music. It has comedy. It has Streep. Expect undeserving nominations for Golden Globe's best picture, comedy or musical and lead actress, comedy or musical.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.


All aboard!

Since her dad told her “that monogamy isn’t realistic” when she was a little girl, Amy (Schumer) has been living an uninhibited life that is starting to feel like a rut. Then she meets a sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader).

That’s the simple setup for a fresh new rom-com that reminded me that a comedy doesn’t have to be a belabored story separated with a few hit or miss laughs — you can laugh and smile the full two hours and two minutes.

Much credit goes to Schumer, whose comic timing makes this a breezy ride. Just when this train is about to go off the rails with a sappy rom-com ending, she surprises with more guffaws.

Simply put: Your basic rom com, except it’s really, really funny. Funniest start-to-finish film since Bridesmaids (2011).

Award potential: Most likely nominations: Golden Globe comedy picture, comedy lead actress.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hot picks on Neflix this August

Netflix, worth the price for Bloodline alone, has some hot choices this month that makes its $8 a month price totally ten-buck-worthy.

 Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp (2015)
I haven’t seen this prequel to literal camp classic Wet Hot American Summer, but this 6-episode series is a good bet for something to watch indoors this month. Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Molly Shannon, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Meloni, David Hyde Pierce and Janeane Garofalo are back. (Available July 31.)

Mission Impossible (1996)
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to enjoy Brian DePalmas flawless heist scene in the first Mission Impossible film to get excited about the well-reviewed Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, in theaters July 31. Mission number two, rally for Tom Cruise as if you have no idea about Scientology, which might prove to be…well, you know. (Available now.)

Two Days, One Night (2014)
What could be hotter than August 2015? Perhaps Marion Cotillard. In Two Days, One Night, she plays a young Belgian mother who has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. (Available August 16.)

Man On Wire (2008)
Robert Zemekis’ (Flight, Forrest Gump Back To The Future) upcoming 3D film, The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have our full attention in theaters October 2. Before that lands, check out the 2008 Oscar winner for Best Documentary that showcases the same story — tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974. (Available now.)
Seeking A Friend For The End of the World (2012)
If the world was ending, you could do much worse than spending your final days with Keira Knightley and Steve Carrell. This is not worth your final two hours on earth of course, but it’s pleasantly worth your time if you’re looking for something simple to watch on TV while folding laundry. (Available Aug 16.)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Terminator Genisys

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“John Connor talks too much…”

… says Arnold Schwaneggar’s Terminator machine character. Everyone in this film talks too much, baybee. They’re all trying to explain the story background, the new plot, time travel, and every muddled thing you can imagine, including why Arnold’s Terminator has aged.

There’s an interesting story buried in the Genisys plot somewhere, but by the time the third act gives John Connor an unwelcome twist, I wish I could time travel to the end of this film. Without spoiling much, let’s just say that Terminator Genisys does to him what Go Set A Watchman does to Attitus.

On the plus, it’s a blast to see Arnold back onscreen as this character, but it hurts to see all these efforts put towards a muddled mess. Emilia Clarke is perfect as a young Sarah Connor. Jai Courtney also has star power onscreen as an everyman hero (but he didn’t play to or pull off his character’s military background). I don’t think these new actors matter though; we won’t see any more of these films for decades now.

We’ve had three sequels since the perfect action film, Terminator 2, in 1991. It’s clear that Arnold’s signature series only works when James Cameron is involved. Someone please tell Skynet.

Simply put: If only we could send a Terminator back in time and terminate this whole production.

Award potential: None.
The ten buck review:
 Not worth ten bucks.

The Wolfpack

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Away from the pack

Locked away from society in an apartment in Manhattan, seven brothers (named the Wolfpack), learn about the outside world through films. Much of their time was caught on film and is showcased in this documentary.

It’s an unbelievable story that should be told in some way. For some folks, this film is it. The Wolfpack took the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

I wasn’t moved as much. Perhaps because I don’t identify with extreme fans of horror film, I found it really hard to get emotionally pulled in to these characters. I watched the footage more distant than the big screen should allow. For me, this documentary seems more suited for a special 20/20 TV show versus a full film.

Simply put: A fascinating story. Not a fascinating film.

Award potential: It could be a contender for Best Documentary Feature, but I’m not betting on it.
The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.

Ted 2

Not its forebear

Ted, was a laugh riot with the right amount of heart. That heart was built around the broship of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg ) and Ted (Voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and the complications that come from the new person in their life, John’s fiancé. Ted 2 flips this basic setup and focuses on Ted’s fiancé’s difficulties. Somehow all that heart stuff doesn’t work when a bear is trying to pull strings about feelings and civil rights. Neither do the tired jokes (Flash Gordon is back, ah-nah). Plus, Ted 2 offers an indulgent opening song and dance number without one laugh planned. What were they thinking?

Simply put: I laughed out loud at a few things that caught me by surprise. Note those last four words.

Award potential: 
None. This film is Seth MacFarlane’s boob.
The ten buck review:
 Not worth ten bucks.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


did her father see the film Amy Winehouse
Yes, yes, yes.

Amy, the documentary about Amy Winehouse, the iconic British songstress who famously sang “no, no, no” to rehab, easily could have been just another Behind The Music rockumentary. You know, know, know the familiar rock star arc: Tortured artist rises to fame, turns to drugs and alcohol and dies too early.

However, the filmmakers had amazing access to her personal voicemails, candid home videos, filmed recording sessions and televised events, which takes Amy to a new level; it’s two hours of fascinating.

I expected the documentary to be half about her personal life and half about the influence her music had on those that followed her. It’s not. There are no clips from Adele or Lady Gaga. The only artist to reflect in this film, Tony Bennett, compares her legacy to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. It’s the only odd moment in the film. With only two albums to her name, that quote would have only felt right in a movie that spent any time exploring her influential place in music. This movie focuses on her chaotic personal life.

It was the right approach. I often find it difficult to sympathize with self-destructive superstars, but this film is so personal that I did. Through the candid footage, viewers can feel the chaos of going from just a girl who can sing to a wealthy worldwide star under scrutiny of both the paparazzi and family and record labels that want the money train to keep moving forward.

Any album-owning fan will enjoy seeing Amy on the big screen.

Simply put: The best parts are the small moments that reveal so much about Amy. Just like the lyrics of her songs.

Award potential: It’s not revolutionary filmmaking nor socially or politically impactful, so it’s  a long shot for an Oscars Best Documentary nomination.
The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.