Thursday, August 27, 2009


What I wrote on Twitter: "True" story of an MIT professor, Kevin Spacey, who teaches students to count cards in Vegas. Sure beats my financial aid package. 7.5 (out of 10) I always wonder about movies based on real stories. You never know how much of the story is real. But shortly after I wrote this review, I met someone who knew the professor Spacey’s character was based on. He confirmed that the scam took in a lot of money, But also that the filmmakers took a lot of license with the story. Nevertheless it’s still fun to watch a bunch of college kids rob the casinos blind while under the watchful eyes of the security cameras. And it’s always a pleasure to watch Spacey play the heavy. (For another great Spacey performance, check out "Swimming with Sharks.") Jim Sturgess of "Across the Universe" is the student who reluctantly joins Spacey's card-counting crew to pay the tuition, gets seduced by the money and ends up in over his head. Both Spacey's and Sturgess's characters are done in by their greed and arrogance. The big plot question is if and how they'll be able to get out of the mess. My personal question is why these sorts of characters never manage to quit while they’re ahead. But I guess "boy learns how to count cards, wins big and retires" wouldn't be much of a movie.


Released: 2008

Rating: PG-13

Length: 123 minutes

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth

Director: Robert Luketic

Genre(s): Drama, Adaption, Crime

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Short Take: “Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine”

What I tweeted: Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine-Chess master loses match to a super computer and struggles with the fact that he's only super human. 6.5 (out of 10)

What I thought: I wish this documentary was more insightful. Unfortunately, it’s basically a vehicle for Kaparov’s conspiracy theories. As a result, he comes off as whiney while complaining that he got rooked in a rigged content against IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer. The fact is, if the machine can crunch every possible move and outcome in the blink of an eye, eventually you’re going to get beat. It’s just that Kaparov was arrogant and gullible enough to believe that he was invincible. For a better man versus machine (and conspiracy) documentary, I’d recommend “The King of Kong.”

“Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine”

Released: 2003

Rating: PG

Length: 85 minutes

Cast: Garry Kasparov, Terry Wogan, Anatoli Karpov

Director: Vikram Jayanti

Genre(s): Documentary

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Swimming with Sharks: A different kind of buddy movie

For fans of Kevin Spacey, of which I count myself, “Swimming with Sharks” is a must see. Heck, even if you’re not a fan, it’s worth it. Spacey’s performance in this black comedy is a real treat. He plays Buddy Ackerman, a Hollywood studio executive who's expert at chewing up and spitting out assistants. (He makes Ari Gold of "Entourage" look like Mother Teresa.) And when an innocent new assistant, Guy (Frank Whaley) arrives, Buddy quickly sets his expectations for life in hell and keeps piling on the abuse until Guy can’t take it anymore. But rather than quit, Guy has other plans. This led me to tweet: Kevin Spacey plays an abusive studio executive who learns that the love you take is equal to the love you make. 8 (out ot 10) It can get a little brutal at times. But if you ever think you’ve got a bad boss, or have a revenge fantasy of your own, pop “Swimming with Sharks” into your DVD player. You’ll feel better.

"Swimming with Sharks"

Released: 1994

Rating: R

Length: 101 minutes

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley, Michelle Forbes, Benicio Del Toro

Director: George Huang

Genre(s): Drama, Comedy, Thriller

Monday, August 24, 2009

Short Take: "Eagle Eye"

What I tweeted: Eagle Eye-Mysterious woman phones Shia LaBeouf & makes him do bad things. The strongest argument yet for being on the do-not-call list. 6 (out of 10)

What I thought: A popcorn movie from the Michael Bay school – lots of rapid-fire cuts, lots of explosions. The film is built on a well-worn plot device and much of the action defies logic. But if you’re in the mood from some mindless action, you could do lot worse.

"Eagle Eye"

Released: 2008

Rating: PG-13

Length: 118 minutes

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Azizi, Billy Bob Thornton

Director: D.J. Caruso

Genre(s): Drama

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Infamous: The other Truman Capote movie

“Infamous” had the unfortunate luck of being released a few months after "Capote" and was overshadowed by that film and Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance. Unfortunate because I actually prefer this film. For me, “Infamous” feels more personal and offers a better glimpse into the workings of Truman Capote’s mind. For one thing, Toby Jones’s physical presence is more like the writer’s. And Jones does an amazing job demonstrating how this odd little man from the big city cajoled his way into the lives of straight-laced Kansans to get the "In Cold Blood" story. This is especially evident at an awkward Holiday dinner as Capote discovers he can win over his hosts with his insider celebrity gossip. It’s not long after that he becomes the toast of the town. “Infamous” also dives into how attached Capote became to condemned killer Perry Smith, played by Daniel Craig (yes, James Bond), and the effect of their professional/personal relationship. The supporting cast that includes Jeff Daniels as Kansas Bureau of Investigation detective Alvin Dewey and Sandra Bullock as writer Nelle Harper Lee is very good. My review from Twitter: "Capote" may have gotten an Oscar. But this film, also about the writer's "In Cold Blood" experience, reveals a truer Truman. 8.5 (out of 10)


Released: 2006

Rating: R

Length: 118 minutes

Cast: Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Peter Bogdanovich

Director: Douglas McGrath

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Period

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“Being There”

As the old saying goes, "When you assume you make an ass out of you and me." If you'd like a demonstration, I suggest you watch "Being There." In this satire, Peter Sellers is Chance, a simple-minded gardener put out on the street when attorneys come to settle his dead employer’s estate. Up until that point, Chance has only experienced life through the television set. (And mind you, this is before 500 channels of cable, so it’s not much of a life.) Chance's fortunes change when he’s struck by a limousine carrying wealthy socialite Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine). A mumbled introduction later and Chance the gardener is rechristened Chauncey Gardiner. His well-groomed appearance, expensive clothing and reserved speaking manners compound that error by leading Eve and her politically-connected husband Benjamin (Melvyn Douglas) to assume Chance is a man of importance. So when introduced to members of the Rand’s inner circle, Chance’s simple gardening tip responses to complex questions take on the air of sage advice. From there it's only a matter of time before Chance is being courted by Washington power brokers and being groomed for greatness. All of which led me to tweet: Peter Sellers is simpleton who ends up wielding tremendous influence in the nation’s capital. This is fiction, right? 8.5 (out of 10)

"Being There"

Released: 1979

Rating: PG

Length: 130 minutes

Cast: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden

Director: Hal Ashby

Genre(s): Comedy

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Enemy at the Gates: Unwelcome to Stalingrad

Here’s what I wrote on Twitter: Crack shot Jude Law leads the Russian welcoming committee sent to greet the Nazis in Stalingrad during WWII. 8.5 (out of 10) “Enemy at the Gates” is the story of Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a Russian sniper who played a key role in defending Stalingrad against the invading Nazis during World War II. In the beginning of the movie, it looks as though the Russians don’t have much of a chance. Their troops are headed for an almost certain death against the better armed and better trained Germans. And if the situation weren’t bad enough, the officers warn that if the men retreat, they will be shot. And many of them are. The pivotal scene occurs shortly after the first battle. As the dust clears and Zaitsev is hiding amongst the dead bodies, he’s handed a rifle by political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) and proceeds to pick off five German officers with five perfect shots. Before you know it, Zaitsev is the poster child for the Russian forces and everyone is reading about his continued exploits – including the Germans, who send in Major König (Ed Harris), their top marksman to take out Zaitsev. Once König arrives the tension ratchets up considerably as the game of cat and mouse begins between König and Zaitsev, each man setting traps for the other and lying in wait. It’s just a matter of time before one of them slips up and the other draws blood. There’s also a love triangle between Danilov, Zaitzev and a female soldier (Rachel Weisz) in there. But it’s a minor distraction to the main event between the two shooters. Because in the end it’s not about Zaitsev getting the girl, it’s about him getting the Major.

"Enemy at the Gates"

Released: 2001

Rating: R

Length: 131 minutes

Cast: Jude Law, Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Adventure

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"Across the Universe"

This isn’t the first film to use the Lennon/McCartney songbook as the basis for a narrative. Let’s not forget 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees and such other musical luminaries as Steve Martin and George Burns. On second thought, let’s forget it. “Across the Universe” tells the love story of Jude (Jim Sturgess), a dockworker from Liverpool, and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), the affluent American girl he falls for, set amidst the political events and social upheaval of the 1960s. The music is more than familiar to anyone with a radio. But director Julie Taymor switches it up in some interesting and surprising ways. When you hear Prudence (T.V. Carpio) sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” as a wistful ballad about her unprofessed love for a fellow cheerleader, you know you’re in for something different. The art direction and staging are equally creative. The draft office and Vietnam sequences are appropriately trippy. So while I might have tweeted Characters who express themselves in Beatles tunes prove that all you need is love & a really great soundtrack. 8.5 (out of 10) “Across the Universe” delivers much more than just that.

"Across the Universe"

Released: 2007

Rating: PG-13

Length: 133 minutes

Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, T.V. Carpio, Dana Fuchs, Jim Sturgess

Director: Julie Taymor

Genre(s): Romance, Period, Political

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Top 8 DVD Reviews (so far): “Fail Safe”

Article 8 of 8

To celebrate the first 100 TweeterFlix DVD reviews, I was going to do a Top 10 List. But the field got a little crowded after the first eight. Besides, everyone does Top 10 lists. I’ve already written, and hopefully you’ve already read, about the other seven. So here’s number 1 (so far):

Fail-Safe (1964)

This gripping cold-war drama revolves around the same circumstances as Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.” A nuke is on its way to Moscow and can’t be called back. But while Kubrick played the doomsday scenario for laughs, director Sidney Lumet plays it straight and wrings an incredible amount of suspense from it. As the clock ticks, you’ll wonder how our mutually assured destruction can possibly be avoided. Cautionary tales like this have been sold a lot since then. But this one is still the best. My review from Twitter: When a nuke is accidentally launched at Moscow, President Henry Fonda has a novel way to keep peace. 10 (out of 10)

Number 6: “Thirteen”

“Fail Safe”

Released: 1964

Rating: NR

Length: 112 minutes

Cast: Henry Fonda, Dan O'Herlihy, Walter Matthau, Frank Overton

Director: Sidney Lumet

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Thriller

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Top 8 DVD Reviews (so far): “What's Up, Doc?”

Article 7 of 8

Here’s the number 2 DVD (so far) in the Top 8 countdown of the first 100 TweeterFlix DVD reviews:

What’s Up, Doc?

What I wrote on Twitter: Peter Bogdanovich’s screwball comedy is a reminder that Barbra Streisand used to be funny. I recommend she see it. 10 (out of 10) Ryan O'Neal used to be funny, too. And Madeline Kahn always was. “What’s Up, Doc?” is a throwback to the comedies of the 1940s and centers around at a hotel in San Francisco, when four identical red plaid overnight bags containing rocks, diamonds, top-secret papers and Streisand’s clothing get mixed up. There’s a great supporting cast and funny bits throughout the picture. But the chase scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Number 6: “Thirteen”

Coming up next: “Fail Safe”

“What's Up, Doc?”

Released: 1972

Rating: G

Length: 94 minutes

Cast: Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Genre(s): Comedy, Family