Motley Crue on last dates of farewell tour, from Fox Rochester:
Judas Priest open tour in Rochester - interview with Rob Halford and Ian Hill:
The majority of the reviews on this page can be found in full elsewhere and the excerpts here appear with permission. You'll find links to the full reviews below.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (It Is What It Is)
Well, Rochester looked amazing.
Audiences where this writer is based had perhaps the most interest in The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s opening chase scene – filmed in downtown Rochester, NY, done up to look like New York City (And did you all catch the Kodak-brand on full display during the later Times Square scene?). Director Marc Webb staged a wonderfully exciting police chase with Spider-Man bouncing from car to car, while trying to keep his love life in order.
And then we have to wait a long time for another good action scene. Like – a long time. The only action sequence worthy of the opener is at the movie’s near-climax, and it is hugely suspenseful (code for comic fans – I say the words “Gwen Stacy” and you know why it’s suspenseful). Otherwise, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is devoted to the romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, and it goes through the motions of your typical Spider-Man story. He’s a misunderstood hero; he works through his personal relationships with his girlfriend, Aunt May and best friend Harry; there’s a brilliant scientist who suffers a workplace accident and becomes a super-villain.
That villain is Elektro, played by Jamie Foxx. A super-hero movie is only as good as its super-villain, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 totally wastes its dynamic Oscar winner with a role that is nothing special. He’s underwhelming as nerdy scientist Max Dillon, and so awash in special effects as Elektro that really anybody could have played the role. His motivations for villainy are never fully realized and you kind of wonder what the whole point is.
When I walked the streets of Rochester trying to get a glimpse of the filming, the crew moved me along and told me “nothing to see here.” Ironically, they were kind of right.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Tremendous)
There are at least two different Captain America eras in the comic books – his initial adventures during World War II and the Golden Age of Comics, and his adventures alongside The Avengers and the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. after he’s thawed out of suspended animation in modern times.
Captain America: The First Avenger was a great throwback to the Golden Age of Comics – a movie you can show your parents (and grandparents) that will remind them of classic, traditional war movies or even the old serials.
And now once again, Marvel Studios has successfully adapted another era of Captain America onto film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier can stand up to most recent spy thrillers, the only difference being the hero isn’t exactly undercover in his American Flag uniform. It’s a thrilling action movie with an intriguing villain in the enigmatic Russian “Winter Soldier.” It fits in nicely with the narrative of The Avengers-based movies, giving nice parts to not just Captain America but to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. It even earns a new level of credibility for a super-hero movie with the addition of the very credible Robert Redford. Most importantly, Chris Evans is great a somewhat square man-out-of-time who still inspires those around him and earns the name “Captain America.”
Bottom line: It’s the best post-Avengers Marvel Studios movie. It makes me look forward to Captain America 3 much more than I would Thor 3 or Iron Man 4.
The Lego Movie (Tremendous)
The whole Lego thing has escaped me the last few years – I remembered them as simple building blocks. I’ve been shocked it’s turned into a giant brand with its own stores, video games, expansion kits and somehow video games featuring Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
And when I heard there was going to be “The Lego Movie,” I rolled my eyes and asked why. I thought it would be a crass Lego commercial.
But seriously, I loved this movie.
I loved how it enters a child’s mind and creates a play world that doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. If you’ve got figures of Batman, Gandalf, Abraham Lincoln and The Simpsons’ Milhouse, why can’t they co-exist? And since they’re small, why can’t they live in a world where batteries, X-acto knives and used Band Aids are giant props?
The Lego Movie is very clever – there are jokes and puns aplenty to keep adults entertained, great voice work from stars including Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman, and it has cameos you wouldn’t expect.
It’s even fairly touching. It’s no Toy Story, but it has the potential to make you cry. Seriously.
And if features a better Batman than George Clooney.
Anchorman 2 (Kept Checking My Watch)
It’s not that we should have expected a smart sequel to the brilliantly stupid Anchorman, but we should have expected a movie that didn’t think we’re stupid too.
But Will Ferrell and company thought it would be enough to put the news team into their decade-old costumes and just rehash the same jokes. And if you don’t get the jokes, don’t worry – they’ll spell them out for you. That’s most evident when Ron Burgundy is lamenting his blindness after an accident. He tells the news team he drank a half a bottle of ketchup thinking it was wine. OK, not a bad little joke. But if you didn’t get it, Brian Fantana asks Ron about it: “you didn’t realize it was ketchup after a half bottle?” “No, I’m blind!” shouts Ron. And on and on and on. Does he think we need a teleprompter too in order to get things?
Anchorman 2 had a few things going for it: the 1980-centered soundtrack, the cameos (that came too late to save it) and the idea that it could parody the 24-hour news networks by showing one at its creation. Unfortunately for Anchorman 2, that last concept is already being executed by the likes of Stephen Colbert nightly – and smartly.
The Wolf of Wall Street (It Is What It Is)
I liked it the first time – when it was called Goodfellas.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still Scorsese (and frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio) so it’s going to be a good film to watch and it’s going to be interesting storytelling. Ultimately, it’s a good movie.
But it’s a movie that goes on way too long – ironic given that it’s about a man consumed by excess. It didn’t need to go three hours for us to get the point – which was kind of the same point as Goodfellas: you can make yourself feel like a king and live on the edge, but in the end, you’ll pay – even if in the end you’ll have no regrets.
Seriously, if you saw it, tell me you didn’t hear Ray Liotta every so often over DiCaprio’s narration. And tell me you weren’t wishing for some Goodfellas violence to break up the sameness. White collar crime may affect us more than armed car robberies and prostitution, but it’s not as interesting. Scorsese should have presented a “wolf” we got to know better instead of an imitation white collar Henry Hill.
American Hustle (Tremendous)
I faintly remember seeing news reports as a kid of something called ABSCAM. I knew it involved hidden cameras, disgraced Congressmen, the FBI and fake Arab sheiks – but my juvenile brain never processed what it was. It was over my head, and when I think of those elements as an adult, I think: it couldn’t have been real, right? It’s ridiculous, right?
David O. Russell’s made a movie about it all, and he embraces its ridiculousness. Operating behind the opening disclaimer “Some of this actually happened,” Russell has created a movie that’s suspenseful, dramatic, twisty, unexpected, funny and cheesy in all its late 70s/early 80s glory. Maybe he’s hustling us, but he’s crafted it all into the most entertaining movie of the year.
The great Christian Bale personifies all that’s good about this movie. He is easily one of our best dramatic actors. And here he is in a life and death situation – with a gut and one of the worst hairpieces ever on film. We’re laughing and we’re enthralled. He leads a quartet of actors (fellow Oscar nominees Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper) who are just as cheesy and yet just as sympathetic. They’re our guides through a ridiculous dramedy about white collar crime and con men that is honestly what I had hoped for from The Wolf of Wall Street.
12 Years A Slave (Tremendous)
I’m glad I saw it so I could learn more about this horrible, shameful part of history. I’m glad I saw it because it absolutely made an impact on me. And while I recommend it, I warn anyone who might go that 12 Years A Slave is sometimes excruciating to watch.
Most any other movie about slavery might have shown the same atrocities, but the camera would have cut away at the moment where you would have understood what was happening but didn’t have to see it. Not 12 Years A Slave. Director Steve McQueen lingers. I’ve seen movies on slavery where I see a slavemaster lash a whip. I’ve seen the faces of someone getting whipped. I’ve seen the simulated scars on an actor’s back. But I’ve never seen a whipping look so brutal.
There’s also a scene where Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejifor) - the free man sold into slavery - is caught in a noose and just left there, struggling on his tiptoes. And it goes on forever. You feel his pain. You think about what you would do in his situation. You look around at the screen for someone to come into the shot and do something. But you never once stop paying attention. Ejifor is incredible in these moments. There’s one part where he looks right at us – he doesn’t break the fourth wall, he stays in character – but he looks at us – beyond the camera, and it takes your breath away.
NEW ON DVD:
Philomena (Judi Dench, Steve Coogan)
Viewed after knowing it got a Best Picture nomination leads to a little disappointment – you think: “this little movie is a Best Picture?” That’s too bad, because what you should think is “this is a good little movie.”... The two have a thought-provoking dynamic, especially considering Philomena is an actual person who went through this. Dench and Coogan are a good team, and while the real life events in this movie don’t have the scope of Oscar contenders like 12 Years A Slave or Dallas Buyers Club, they are no less interesting. Philomena is worth a good little chunk of your time. (Tremendous)
August: Osage County (Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts)
I won’t give away what happens, but I’ll tell you something about the screenwriter and playwright who created August: Osage County. Tracy Letts is a man. I tell you this so that you don’t spend the movie as I did – thinking it’s a tell-all by a woman with a horribly dysfunctional family who made the movie to get back at them. The real Tracy Letts didn’t have a family like that. So now that you know that, you finish the movie and see if you also ask yourself “What was I supposed to get out of that?” (It Is What It Is)
Nebraska (Bruce Dern, Will Forte)
Director Alexander Payne continues his streak of presenting quirky movies about men at crossroads, and while it’s not going to have the impact of Sideways or The Descendants, it gets the job done. Dern is getting all the attention – and got a Best Actor nomination -- as the grizzly demented dad who wants his last chance to be a big shot. So I’m going to use this space to talk about SNL veteran Will Forte – who is a giant surprise. One wouldn’t think “MacGruber” had this in him – he’s played some sad sacks on SNL of course, but he’s never made one “real” until now. I’d argue Forte is the true lead actor of this piece. Bruce Dern is a beloved veteran who gives the more dramatic and flamboyant performance, but I don’t know that the story is really about him. (Tremendous)
Her (Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson)
It’s actually not as creepy as it sounds. Oh, a guy falling in love with his “Operating System” (think Siri who can do and knows everything) has a bit of an “ick” factor. But Joaquin Phoenix’s isn’t portrayed as some kind of degenerate or sex offender. He’s a lonely guy looking for something more out of life. It’s not a sex movie – it’s a relationship movie disguised as science fiction. Like any good science fiction movie, Her has something to say about the world we live in – but who or what he falls in love with isn’t the issue. “Her” could have been a talking car or a television set or someone on a phone sex line – what’s important is that we see Phoenix use his OS (who names herself Samantha) to work through finding himself. The movie is less about “Her” and more about “Him.” (Tremendous)
About Time (Domnahll Gleeson, Rachel McAdams)
It’s ironic: one wishes someone connected to About Time could inherit the same time traveling powers as the movie’s protagonist. He or she could go back and encourage some editing or even a rewrite to keep a movie that was a sheer pleasure in its first half from becoming unbearable to watch in its second. It’s such a shame because Richard Curtis created a film that could have been “actually loved” as much as his own Love Actually... You’re happy for Tim. You’re happy for Mary. You’ve got a new star in the relatively unknown but very humorous Domnhall Gleeson. It’s a feel good movie... And then it’s a REALLY feel good movie. And then it just keeps laying it on thick.
(It Is What It Is)
Gravity (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney)
If you know what it’s about you kind of know the story, and Sandra Bullock, while good, is no Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Why you need to see Gravity is for the spectacle – so do so on the biggest screen possible. Outer space has never looked so big, and it’s a marvel to see how Gravity choreographs it. Watch a single bit of debris move from a blip in the background to an important piece of scenery, as it moves past more debris, or a celestial body, or Bullock and George Clooney. You should also watch it with a good sound system – the soundtrack booms. (Tremendous)
Dallas Buyers Club (Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto)
Matthew McConaughey’s transformation to serious actor is complete, with the best work of his career. And he did it with a physical transformation – the man with the famous shirtless laid back look becomes an AIDS-stricken cowboy. Yet amazingly, he’s never weak. He’s a determined man out to prove something – and to make a buck while he does it. Jared Leto’s work as a cross-dressing colleague is just as good. They’re the acting pair to beat this year, and together they anchor a gripping movie that reminds us of a sad time in our history – when we were uneducated about a disease and many chose to remain naïve and ignorant. (Tremendous)
Blue Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins)
Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine is insufferable – even her name is made up because she doesn’t like “Jeanette.” But you can’t stop watching her. Blanchett owns this pretentious character, a disgraced socialite forced to “settle” and live with her blue collar sister. In the sitcom world, this would be Two Broke Girls. In Woody Allen’s world, it’s a fun movie about two sisters you want to watch and see how they’re going to figure this all out. (Tremendous)
Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks, Barkhad Adbi)
Paul Greengrass made us sweat and even panic a little watching United 93 – we watched real-life heroes in an unthinkable situation and wondered “What would we do?” He’s done so again with the real life story of the shipping captain and his crew hijacked by Somali pirates. The director captains an uncomfortable yet gripping movie – one where we know the ending but still have to wonder how it all turns out… First-time actor Barkhad Abdi declares “I’m the captain now” and in some ways he is – he actually commands as much attention as Tom Hanks, and surprisingly, the movie is as much about his pirate wannabe as it is about Phillips. (Tremendous)
Man of Steel (Tremendous)
You know who this movie is about, right?... “Man of Steel” though may not have been the most accurate nickname to use to title the first film in Zack Snyder’s rebooted franchise. “Man of Steel” describes the hero we all know. This movie is not about that guy. “Son of Krypton” may have been more accurate... Man of Steel doesn’t present the character we all know, but it does get to the root of the character – which is fascinating when you think about what it is and what it means. What we have here is a pretty decent science fiction film, but not necessarily a Superman movie.
The Way Way Back (Liam James, Sam Rockwell)
You don’t have to go way, way back to find a movie about a young man or woman surrounded by misfits using their time away on summer vacation to find themselves. But it has probably been awhile since you’ve seen one this clever and well put together... It sounds like a throwback to a time way, way back – the above description is a template for a coming-of-age summer movie. And yes, lakeside cabins, pretty girls and water parks could exist in a flashback tale, but the movie also feels very contemporary. It’s got smart pop culture references, dialogue that’s clearly written for a modern audience, and kids dealing with 21st century family problems -- including divorce and parents who have come out. Liam James plays the sad sack Duncan just right, too shy to speak up or even to smile when he should. He nails the part with his body language – watch how his shoulders are slumped and how his skinny little arms don’t even move when he walks. He’s just the right counterpoint to Sam Rockwell, who goes way, way back to channel Bill Murray in Meatballs. (Tremendous)
The Internship (Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn)
Like the boss that fired them, the internship supervisors and even the other interns tell Billy and Nick they’re dinosaurs who won’t accept the new world. It’s ironic given that we’re watching a movie where Vaughn and Wilson are doing the same old things... To its credit, the advertised “team that brought you Wedding Crashers” hasn’t tarnished the legacy of the 2005 hit. That movie was an R-rated raunchy sensation, and smartly, they never did a sequel... So at the very least – instead of saying “Wedding Crashers 2 sucked,” audiences will ultimately just forget. Maybe they’ll even have to Google: “Other Movie Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson made.” (Kept Checking My Watch)
Star Trek Into Darkness (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto)
It’s been said more times than there are Star Trek movies: the best science fiction reflects the times. So I should be depressed that a movie titled “Into Darkness” reflects these times so well. Star Fleet is dealing with some heavy issues beyond “exploration.” What is its role? Who is in charge? Where does it have jurisdiction? How far is far enough when it comes to dealing with its enemies – both obvious and covert? But I can’t possibly be depressed at a movie that’s so much stinking fun. Star Trek Into Darkness could also be called Star Trek Into Action. It’s one of the best sci-fi action movies in recent memory and has plenty of humorous moments to keep you smiling. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto continue to be dead-on as Kirk and Spock – they are true to the iconic characters they’re playing, yet are never doing an impression of Shatner and Nimoy. You don’t have to ever have seen a Star Trek movie to enjoy this (although I think there is one tiny little moment that may throw you). And if you are a Trekkie? Heaven. Some parallels to canon are sprinkled in nicely to make you smile and know that the moment was just for you. And if you’re bothered by them, you’re too far “into darkness” to be saved.
Iron Man 3 (Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow)
Well OK, it’s better than 2, not nearly as good as 1 and certainly nowhere near The Avengers (which is Robert Downey Jr.’s second best work as Tony Stark). The ending is a little baffling and a little abrupt, and it puts a little bit of rust on the movie as a whole, but until then, there were some moments. Downey is dependable as the cocky billionaire and fires off some trademark lines. He’s a little too happy in life – we need some edge. “Demon In a Bottle” from the comics is where we should have been going – not “I’m Afraid Because of What Happened in The Avengers.” Ben Kingsley -- proving now anybody can do a comic book movie – is a pleasant surprise. Not that he wouldn’t be good as The Mandarin, but in that he takes The Mandarin to some places comic fans wouldn’t have expected. (It Is What Is)
Django Unchained (Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz)
Quentin Tarantino characters have pretty much always been cowboys anyway, so it’s about time we got a Tarantino Cowboy movie (I’d call it a Western but that’s only in spirit – this is the South). Django himself (Jamie Foxx) is a unique cowboy hero, who we watch transition from sidekick to alpha male. But even more engaging is the alpha male who takes him under his wing – Oscar nominee Christoph Waltz. And Waltz is just part of a great supporting ensemble, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tarantino stalwart Samuel L. Jackson and Don Johnson – the latest nice bit of Travolta-esque casting in an “A Band Apart” film. (Tremendous)
This Is 40 (Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann)
…40 minutes too long as it starts getting into the melodrama. Until then – hysterical in how damn true it is. It may be less about being 40 than it is about being 40 and being married, but it just nails it. If by chance you’re reading this in the bathroom in between turns on Words With Friends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Pete and Debbie were the best parts of Knocked Up, so the idea of giving them their own movie is actually pretty brilliant. (Tremendous)
Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones)
So much has been said about this movie that I’ll be repeating – but despite the “Tremendous” rating, I’ll point out it goes too long. We kind of know what happens to Lincoln ultimately – there was no need for the little extra epilogue. Now, as to the performances – Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones – no brainers, they were fantastic. So I’m going to use this little blurb to point out how damn good James Spader was as the behind-the-scenes operative with the foul mouth. Any other real stories to be told around that guy? (Tremendous)
Silver Linings Playbook (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence)
The ironic thing about Silver Linings Playbook is, unlike Bradley Cooper’s bipolar star, you don’t have to make an extra effort to find a silver lining in what you’re experiencing. It is easily one of the best movies of the year... Silver Linings Playbook is somewhat bipolar itself. It’s a comedy and a drama. It’s a ballroom dancing movie and a football movie (you’ll see)... If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s one Russell, Cooper and Lawrence can pat themselves on the back about. The portrayals of a bipolar man and angry widow are so well-written, so well-acted and so realistically disjointed, the audience can get as frustrated with them as anyone in their support network might. (Tremendous)
The Sessions (John Hawkes, Helen Hunt)
A movie about a polio-stricken man who hires a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity is actually one of the funniest movies out right now. It’s not that it’s a comedy – it’s that John Hawkes’ character is so charming and witty you can’t help but laugh along with him. It helps alleviate the tension in what would otherwise be awkward scenes. It doesn’t hurt either that Helen Hunt is so damn good as the surrogate. She alleviates the tension for us as well as she does for Hawkes, making their sessions perhaps the best non-erotic sex scenes I’ve ever watched. (Tremendous)
Argo (Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin)
It’s amazing how you know the ending already, yet you can watch Argo and be on the edge of your seat the entire time. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a movie this tense. I give credit to Ben Affleck for creating such a harrowing re-creation of the siege of the US Embassy in Tehran. When you’re reminded so vividly of the real life villainy, it reminds you of the real risk Affleck’s CIA agent and the escapees he was trying to get home were actually taking. Affleck also deserves praise for re-creating the period with such accuracy, right down to making sure that when his kid said he was watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes, that that is what he was watching – not just any other Apes film. The Mego dolls and Star Wars action figures on the shelf were a nice touch too. (Tremendous)
The Master (Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman)
Rochester’s PSH nails it again. He is mesmerizing as a the religious leader (con artist?) who may or may not be based on L. Ron Hubbard. But he’s really just the supporting player to Joaquin Phoenix’s disturbed WWII vet looking for a purpose and a direction. You won’t be able to take your eyes off them – which makes Paul Thomas Anderson’s conclusion to thing all the more frustrating. If I was so mesmerized and paid such close attention, how do I not understand the ending? The first two-thirds make The Master a worthwhile experience, but you do end up needing a Master yourself to make sense of it all. I saw Looper within the same 24 hours and was less confused by the movie about a guy who has to kill an older version of himself sent back in time. (Tremendous)
Looper (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis)
We’ll look past the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s makeup doesn’t make him look like a younger Bruce Willis but instead makes him look like Kirk Cameron – because otherwise Looper is a pretty much flawless work of science fiction. Time travel movies can sometimes make your head spin, but Looper manages to bring it all full circle to an extremely satisfying conclusion. Gordon-Levitt has graduated from Inception/Dark Knight sidekick to his own action leading man. Shia LeBeouf probably wishes he could go back in time and be Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (Tremendous)
Finally, some misspellings of my name that I'm putting here to try and ensure that this site shows up when you search for it:
Hello, and welcome to the site.
Things have been slow in the movie reviewing business of late - so let's declare 2007 - 2013 to kind of be the Glory Years of Movie Reviewing, and I'll hope you find something here to check out. I'll post some links eventually to some of my work at Good Day Rochester on 13WHAM and Fox Rochester - the kinds of things you'll enjoy if you know me.
For the reviews: some of my reviews are in full right here on the site, while many are at www.upcoming-movies.com (formerly moviejungle.com), which may or may not be active.
Thanks for your patience following links.
I've got most of the movie reviews I've done for the last few years, some of which I did independently, some I wrote for other sites (links included) and some go back to my radio days. I tend to tack new ones on top, so they're pretty much in order by release date.So please... click around!