28 October 13
Since I watch very little television and never listen to commercial radio, in the evenings I share a hobby with many others screenwriters: I go the movies to study the art and craft of motion pictures. I watch a wide variety of films, seeking to learn as much as entertained. I also love swapping opinions.
Listed below are October’s one-sentence reviews for nine recently released films, each judged by my nearly famous “5-finger” scoring system.
Ratings: 5 fingers = a great film well worth the money. 4 fingers = excellent. 3 fingers = just a movie. 2 fingers = disappointing. 1 finger = well, decency demands that I skip using a single finger to score a bad film. Instead of 1 finger I drop down to 0 (a closed fist). A zero rating means that every paying customer should be allowed to do two things: get his or her money back, and punch everyone involved for foisting such a dreadful mess upon an unsuspecting public.
As we swing through autumn and closer toward Oscar caliber projects, here is my abbreviated take on these current releases:
Rush – 3 fingers. Daniel Bruhl’s superlative work as Formula 1 race car driver Niki Lauda highlights director Ron Howard’s loud but flatlined story about the Lauda –James Hunt rivalry, but his work is diminished by Howard’s at times irritating insistence on having way too much of the story explained by narrative voiceovers and blathering talking head TV reporters.
Captain Phillips – 3 fingers. Tom Hanks’ final scene is outstanding and will net him an Oscar nomination in director Paul Greengrass’s long and at times tedious (and mostly made-up) story about the use of U.S. military might to rescue an offshore tanker hijacked by four indigent Somali pirates.
Don Jon – 2 fingers. The only thing that keeps Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s banal vanity film about a dimwit musclehead obsessed with self-flagellation from a zero finger rating is the gutsy work of Julianne Moore and uplifting effort of Glenn Headley as JG-L’s mom—the rest goes down like turpentine.
Carrie – 2 fingers. This lackluster remake is half-over before it begins and by then even the courageous Julianne Moore (as Carrie’s nutcase mother) cannot save it from uneven execution and a very weak lead.
Muscle Shoals – 4 fingers. Much like Standing in the Shadows of Motown did for the Funk Brothers studio musicians, this fun documentary will appeal to music fans and Baby Boomers because it shares the story of the Swampers — an extraordinary talented group of white session musicians from rural Alabama who were a driving, creative force behind a remarkable roster of hits for white and black singers — and whose timeless work helped spawn the southern rock movement of the 1970s and 80s.
Last Vegas – 4 fingers. Older film fans will get a kick out of this Boomer-centric film that showcases four superstars working together — a treat we never get to see — plus the fine work of Mary Steenburgen as she helps the Flatbush Four through their senior citizens’ Hangover getaway to Las Vegas.
All Is Lost – 5 fingers. An Oscar-caliber film and performance by Robert Redford, the film’s lone actor, who carries this near-silent film about a lone sailor — a man we know nothing about — who suddenly finds himself in perilous danger on a small sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
The Counselor – 0 fingers: The Dreaded Clenched Fist of Badness. The only way to make a film this bad with a cast this well known is to overwrite a so-what drug smuggling story, direct it without a plan, edit it randomly, and drag it out ad infinitum — all of which were done successfully in this, one of the year’s five worst films.
Machete Kills – 4 fingers. I love the uniqueness of Robert Rodriquez’s tongue-in-cheek work and lifelong loving homage to old pulp-style action films, where absurdity, blood and guts, and buxom bad-a** girls make cult films like Machete and Machete Kills so wonderfully singular in design and execution; and while only genre fans will enjoy this blow ‘em up extravaganza, I count myself among them.
November promises to be a big month with many great films due to be released. Find one you like, sit back, and enjoy two hours disappearing into what I hope is a wonderful treat.
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