Hancock (Movie Review)

This is a repost of Will Smith as Hancock: Lacking Human Moments published first on Yahoo Voices Jul 16, 2008.
Will Smith’s movie “Hancock” is a superhero flick that struck me as lackluster at best. There are a few moments toward the end that worked but overall it was just a movie trying to win an audience through special effects.

In the beginning we find John Hancock curled up on bench in Hollywood, California. He’s clutching a bottle of booze much to the chagrin of a little kid urging him to go get the bad guys. This scene is wholly confusing and I found myself guessing that he was a well known bum with amazing powers. Sounds stupid huh? Well, I was 100% correct. In the first 2/3 of the movie we see Hancock go through rehab and do jail time. I kept hoping we’d get something to hold onto in terms of a moral, but it never came. I suppose one could justify that big chunk of the movie by saying it shows people should be responsible and stay in jail even when they have the superhero ability to break any brick wall down (or thick steel for that matter). I’m sorry but the morals here, which are always there in great super hero movies, are cloudy if not non-existent. This superhero movie had no morals and therefore slipped and fell most of the way through. Now, in the last 1/3 of the movie it recovered somewhat, at least in the morals department. We find out he has a wife he didn’t know about and he does a few things to save her life. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will just say this moral of “selflessness” is presented in the most cryptic way it takes a movie reviewer to glean it, at least that is this movie reviewers opinion. If I were to ask one of my kids what the moral is of the scenes between Hancock and his wife I have a feeling I’d get a blank stare.

Should superhero movies be that complicated?

The second area the movie flopped in my opinion was the lack of human moments. Ironically, superhero movies are great because they reveal the humanity through the characters. Not only did these characters lack endearing human qualities, they seemed one dimensional, like a storyboard that was never fleshed out with human characteristics. I found the characters flat and built to serve only the grossly overdone violence that never stops from the first scene. This movie has tons of CGI effects that are neat to look at but unfortunately they don’t carry the weight needed to become a great superhero movie like “the Hulk” or “Spiderman.” I am a big Will Smith fan, but unfortunately, not even Will Smith can save this colossal train wreck.

Hancock will be a good rental for kids that want to see things get destroyed or by drunks that find identification in going to jail to sober up. For the rest of us working class heroes that need good movies to inspire and propel us to do great things, this movie will fall on empty ears and desperately-seeking-for-more than “Hancock,” human eyes. Those eyes, in case the makers of Hancock are interested, want morals and human moments in movies, it’s what keeps us coming back.

The Vow (Movie Review)

Article first published as Movie Review: The Vow on Blogcritics.
The Vow is a movie directed by Michael Sucsy, known for Deep Impact. It stars Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channng Tatum) as its main characters. It has been advertised as a romance flick. It nonetheless presents the difficult, unromantic topic of a brain injury. After a serious car accident where she goes through the windshield, Paige winds up in a coma. After some time, she wakes up unable to remember her husband Leo or any part of their relationship. Leo goes to great lengths to remind her of their life together with no success. His efforts leave her cold and she moves out to live with her parents. Much of the romance of this film is shown in flashbacks. We see what Paige and Leo were like before the accident. We don’t see Leo and Paige happy together throughout the movie as the promos suggest.

Sorry to disappoint the romance seekers but this is not a “feel good” movie. Still, it has some value on a date. Watching Paige leave Leo is uncomfortable. I kept wondering why she wouldn’t give him more time to try and win her back. After all, he did nothing wrong to deserve losing her. The question then becomes: should one keep the vow out of duty when feelings are gone? Watching poor Leo try to win Paige back may be a painful journey but it does raise interesting conversation.

Dating and marriage are popular subjects for movies. When a movie seems to have romance, some call it a “chick flick.” In this movie’s case however, the romance is rare so it doesn’t qualify. I’d call it a decent drama though because good dramas make you think. It reminded me of when someone broke up with me in real life. Others reading this may recall that same “punch in the stomach” feeling. The actual woman the movie is based on, Krickitt Carpenter, who said in a New York Post interview, “You make a promise before God with your wedding vows.” She seems to have a different view of The Vow than the director.  With respect to her and what she has been through, that isn’t a very romantic concept for a chick flick. This film has ads that look more like the Notebook than a brain injury study or otherwise religious film. To summarize my view, the Vow fails as a romance but is ok as a drama. If you watch it on a date, it can serve as an interesting conversation starter.

Great Movies – My List

Here is a list of movies I love. The titles with links I have written movie reviews for. It’s a work in progress so check back.

by genre:


  • Chariots of Fire
  • Les Miserables
  • A Beautiful Mind
  • The Village
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • Badlands
  • Amadeus
  • The Wall
  • Winter’s Bone
  • Meet Joe Black
  • Hugo
  • A River Runs Through it
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Kramer vs. Kramer
  • The Black Stallion
  • Urban Cowboy
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Brubaker
  • The Outsiders

Educational and Documentary


  • Dan in Real Life
  • Serendipity
  • Across the Universe (a musical based around Beatles songs)

Sci-Fi and Fantasy


  • King of Queens
  • Seinfeld
  • Swamp People
  • Justified
  • Naked and Afraid
  • Snapped
  • 20/20
  • 48 Hours
  • 60 Minutes
  • Louie
  • Dexter


  • Jaws
  • Halloween
  • The Funhouse
  • Devil
  • The Thing

Action and Suspense


  • Ruby Sparks
  • Despicable Me
  • Curse of the Jade Scorpion
  • Tropic Thunder
  • This is Spinal Tap
  • The Jerk
  • Harvey
  • A Christmas Story
  • The Incredible Shrinking Woman
  • Airplane!
  • Caddyshack
  • Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  • Animal House
  • I Love You Man
  • Yes Man
  • Young Frankenstein
  • Super

Kids and Animation

  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
  • Pinocchio
  • Dumbo
  • Bambi
  • Cinderella
  • Big Hero 6
  • Peter Pan
  • Lady And The Tramp
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • 101 Dalmatians
  • Robin Hood
  • The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh
  • The Rescuers
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Beauty And The Beast
  • Aladdin
  • The Lion King
  • Hercules
  • Tarzan
  • Meet The Robinsons
  • Bolt
  • The Princess And The Frog
  • Tangled
  • Cars
  • The Incredibles
  • Mary Poppins
  • Monsters, Inc.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Pete’s Dragon
  • Rango
  • Ratatouille
  • Toy Story
  • Up
  • Wall*E
  • Gnomeo & Juliet
  • A Little Princess
  • Homeward Bound
  • Cats and Dogs
  • Ponyo
  • The Secret World of Arriety
  • My Neighbor Tortoro
  • Spirited Away
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service

More are added periodically.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Movie Review)

Article first published as Movie Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on Blogcritics.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was directed by Stephen Daldry, known for The Reader, Billy Elliot, and the Hours. It has been advertised as a stunning, avant garde movie centering on how the 9-11 tragedy affects one family. It centers around Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a nine-year-old boy who is hell bent on discovering a remnant of his father’s past. His father is Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), a jeweler, who dies in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The last remnant, as it were, he has left behind for his son is a cryptic key. Oskar finds in a vase in the closet after his father is dead. He is from then on driven and fixated on finding the lock that the key opens. This generates a plot of pseudo adventures meeting all sorts of people and devising all sorts of elaborate schemes along the way. What about the twin towers? That was my burning question most of the movie. Make no mistake: this film is not so much about 911. Instead it is more akin to a public service announcement for Asperger’s syndrome, or some garden variety diagnosis of a tortured genius nine year old. Oskar Schell apparently has license to scream horrible words at his mother, (Sandra Bullock) because of his unique disorder. He rolls on the floor, bangs his hands against furniture, and shows utter frustration when his “genius” ideas are thwarted. I could get into the unrealistic amounts of time he is alone to carry out his adventures but I won’t. I also won’t get into the ridiculous cussing exchanges (equally implausible) he has with the security guard (John Goodman) of his building as he comes and goes. I don’t think this movie is meant to be realistic, it’s up to something else. I am not sure I know what it is. It is definitely hard to follow. Fortunately, we can find some compassion for the boy and that held my interest for some of the film.

Of course, anyone would have sympathy for Oskar. He lost his father who was seemingly his best friend to the tragedy we now refer to as 9-11. Still, it doesn’t excuse his disdain for his mother and the strange fixations he leaps headlong into to find the origin of the key. Along the way, he meets a nice, quiet (mute in fact), man who rents a room from his grandmother. He is aptly called “The Renter” (Max von Sydow). He accompanies Oskar on his key expedition which is very difficult because the old man cannot speak. In a way, the renter is best suited to Oskar: he never talks back. The renter is Oskar’s long lost mute grandfather and ironically becomes the only voice of reason. In my opinion, Max von Sydow gives the most compelling performance in the movie. I must add also that there isn’t much competition.

Oskar is very taken with his own “clever” ideas and likes to tell people about them with every opportunity. His lines are annoying and they are delivered with an equally unsettling voice. There isn’t much more to the story than Oskar finding the lock for the key. The mystery’s end is not exciting and he doesn’t seem to advance much in is grieving process for his dad.

I think this movie failed to impress me because it was not about what it advertised. A movie can get away with that when it is such a powerful film you forget you were cheated by the ads. In my opinion, this movie used 9-11 as a “bait-and-switch theme to get people into the theater. There is only minimal reminiscing about the tragedy. On the other hand, the movie centers on Oskar who is not an emotionally well young man. We therefore have nothing to relate with. The boy’s actions are annoying and obtuse, he treats his mother atrociously. I can’t relate with how a kid like that sees his mother and the world. We want to relate with Oskar but the feelings never come. Then there is the theme of 9-11. We want to relate with that but it has such a small small place in the movie. I think it would have been better to either make a well developed movie about 9-11 -or- to make a movie with a decent script about Asperger’s syndrome. They didn’t do that though so what we are left with is a movie with an extremely long title and an incredibly flat plot. I was very let down by this movie and the way it promoted itself to be something it was not. If you like the actors, it is worth seeing. If you want to re-examine 9-11 or anything “real” about the grieving process, or Asbergers for that matter, stay incredibly far away from this one. While this movie may be extremely loud & incredibly close on one level, it is most decidedly not incredibly deep.

Hugo (Move Review)

5/5 stars
Article first published as Movie Review: Hugo on Blogcritics.
Sometimes a film comes along that I think of as perfect, not because it was made well or even acted well, but because it gave me a space in which to think clearly. These types don’t tell you what to think like so many modern ones try to. Hugo is about life and more specifically the role movies play in our lives.

When I first saw the previews for Hugo I thought it was a kid’s film about a rapscallion pre-teen who lived in a train station and called everyone “gov’na.” It isn’t that at all. Ben Kingsley’s character says when addressing his movie fans, “I address you all tonight as you truly are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, and magicians. You are the true dreamers.” Are you one of those? If so, you’re who Hugo was made for.

Hugo is based on the bestselling book by Brian Selznick. It was produced by Johnny Depp and directed by Martin Scorcese. It’s about a 12-year-old named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a huge clock in a train station. His father was a tinkerer and repairman who died in a museum fire. He left his son a broken automatron, a sort of 1930’s version of a robot, and Hugo is determined to get it working. He thinks there is a message in it from his dad. He meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) a girl of his age who has a mysterious grandfather, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). He has a toy stand in the station and seems to despise Hugo for some reason. He is unusually cruel.

There is also a ruthless inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) with a Doberman and a leg brace who captures vagrants in the station. He sends them to jail or to the orphanage. He is a sort of lingering nemesis of Hugo throughout the movie, although he provides few scenes of subtle comic relief; I laughed out loud watching him try and pick up a woman.

The boy is on a quest to make the automatron work, and through the process learns a lot about the people in the station and Isabelle. There is a message here about the role of fantasy in our lives as well as the role of movies.

In conclusion, Hugo is a little slow in the beginning but the 1930s sets, costumes, and Parisian music makes the slow beginning worthwhile. When Hugo steals a croissant from a food cart you feel like you can taste it. The colors and attention to detail are so convincing, you feel like you are in the movie. The stalled action en principio is important in that it develops the characters. I really enjoyed Hugo. Once the ride began, I never wanted it to stop. If you want to go on a cinematic ride and be inspired, watching Hugo should be on your to-do list. I gave it 5/5 stars. Oh yeah, and if you love the history of movies, Martin Scorcese knows a thing or two about that! He certainly says it well in Hugo.

Straw Dogs (Movie Review)

Article first published as Movie Review: Straw Dogs on Blogcritics.
Straw Dogs was directed by Rod Lurie, known for the Contender (2000). He is an ex Los Angeles film critic who took on quite a challenge directing a remake of the original Straw Dogs from 1971 which starred Dustin Hoffman. Surfing around the web I found this remake has similar controversy to the Cape Fear movies: volatile opinions exist. I believe any remake will have its detractors and Straw Dogs appears to have its fair share. While I enjoyed some aspects of the movie I found the script unrealistic and the characters under-developed. Had those two features been enhanced, it could have been a great remake.

The film centers on LA screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth). They have just inherited a large house way out in the boonies of the deep South since Amy’s father’s passing. They decide to spend some time there in the town where Amy grew up so David can work on his most recent movie script presumably away from the noise of the city. Amy’s high school flame Charlie (Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd) comes on to her right away and there is a tension there that hints at trouble. Charlie works with a group of ruffians that have long since graduated from high school but still cowtow to the coach Tom Heddon (James Woods) with regards to drinking games in the local saloon and other important facets of their small lives.

We learn very little about these washed-up football players. When they commit horrible acts we have no idea why. This is due to plain and simple shallow character development. There is something going on with the coach’s daughter and that makes for a side story that I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say it is once again, shallow character development and weak screenwriting. The premise of the movie is that ex-high school football stars in a small town often become feared villains. This group, defined by David Sumner as “Straw Dogs,” are in no way cute or interesting. They are savages and their criminal behavior wreaks havoc until the final scene.

I found the plot very predictable. Something done with a bear trap piqued my interest just minutes before the credits rolled. Too bad that was the only high moment for me. Perhaps it should have happened an hour earlier and I would have liked this film more. If the writing were better along with the character development of both the straw dogs and the other characters, it could have been an awesome new concept of a classic. As it is, this remake “drops the ball” in more ways than one.

Everything Must Go (Movie Review)

Article first published as Movie Review: Everything Must Go on Blogcritics.
Everything Must Go
was directed by Dan Rush. This is his debut as a director. Will Ferrell (Nick Halsey) lends an everyman face to suburban failure and renewal in this dark comedy. Alcoholism and depression are addressed in this movie, hefty topics for an independent film but they are handled deftly and respectfully.

It begins with Nick Halsey losing his job. If you think it can’t get worse than that for a suburban married man in a mortgage, it does. When he gets home, he finds all his possessions, including clothes, strewn across the front lawn. Can’t get worse? Yes it can. Soon after he arrives home he finds he cannot get into the house as his wife has changed the locks. This is when we begin to see he is an alcoholic. He plops down on the easy chair in the yard and decides to have a yard sale. The course of events that follow involve a young kid who visits him on the lawn (Kenny Loftus played by C.J. Wallace who is the son of Notorious B.I.G. in real life). Their interplay is marvelous because it is tender and human.

Kenny doesn’t judge Nick for his misgivings. Instead, they find a common ground where they share a love of baseball and a common theme of loneliness. For me, this relationship was the most significant. There are other ones in the movie though. Samantha (Rebecca Hall), Nick ex-wife, is adamantly against him. Though we don’t know the details it can be boiled down to the well-known failings of an alcoholic in a marriage. Details show us that Nick was not just a casual alcoholic but a raving black-out type. He’s quite lucid and sensible in the movie though. The cop that drives by and has befriended Nick, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), seems to have Nick’s best interest at heart but that remains to be seen. Needless to say, Nick’s days on the lawn must come to an end. When they do, we see a transformation. While a bit predictable, it is the journey that held my attention. What would you do if you lost everything in a day? This movie let’s that “what-if” play out to a clear conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, it was an image of our humanity. Who has never been afraid of living out in the street? At a time in history when so many people are being forced out of their homes, it can be cathartic to watch this. Will Ferrell shows us in this film that he can act. Sure, he is funny but his acting makes it easy to believe he is homeless.

Watching Nick and Kenny together is touching. With all the bad going on in Nick’s life, he takes the time to get to know Kenny. I know from personal experience as a teacher kids require patience. The other relationships are a little flat and I thought could have been developed more. Still, this movie was valuable in the way it portrayed Nick’s relationship with Kenny. There is a lot to take away from that and it makes Everything Must Go highly entertaining.

Win Win (Movie Review)

Article first published as Movie Review: Win Win on Blogcritics.
Win Win was directed by Thomas McCarthy (known for: 2012 and Meet the Parents). It is about a man who learns that using people to get money is a lose-lose. The acting is excellent and the script first rate. It’s about the choices we make regarding the people we let into our lives.

The story begins as a struggling lawyer, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), takes over guardianship of his client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young). At first it seems to make sense to make money off Leo. After all, Mike is almost broke and has a family to feed. It appears to be a “win” for Mike for a little while. Unfortunately though, the situation soon goes bad. Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), shows up one day looking for his grandpa. Kyle has run away from his mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) who is a drug addict and Kyle needs refuge from her.

Mike takes him into his own home and finds out that Kyle is a star wrestler. He has a chance to be a real champion, which Mike uses again for personal gain. Things go along pretty smoothly for a whileuntil Kyle’s mother shows up with an attorney, Mike’s sternly realizes he will gain nothing through taking care of Leo and Kyle. He has to make a moral decision at that point which makes the title Win Win indeed an ironic one.

This is a heart warming story. The characters are real, like the ones on an ordinary suburban street. Are people more important than profits? That’s the basic question Win Win raises. There are slow moments but it’s an entertaining vignette of Mike and the choices he makes.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Movie Review)

Article first published as Movie Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin on Blogcritics.
We Need to Talk About Kevin was Directed by Lynne Ramsay, known for Morvern Callar (2002). Comments on IMDB seem to indicate that she has a small but devoted following. This movie could be what gets her name into the mainstream. I for one will be watching her career, I think she made a quite innovative movie here.

It was produced by a multitude of people but the name best known to me on the list is Steven Soderbergh, known for Ocean’s Eleven and Traffic. The movie stars Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian/Kevin’s mother, John C. Reilly as Franklin/Kevin’s father, and Ezra Miller as Kevin as a Teenager and a cast of others. The age old question of nature vs. nurture is a fitting discussion topic after watching this film. Are kids born bad or do we make them that way?

In We Need to Talk About Kevin, we see a mother going back over the events of her life trying to determine what caused her son to commit a mass murder. It is a series of flashbacks. We learn the events of a child’s life that led him as a teenager to commit mass murder at his high school. The main character is the mother whose eyes we see the flashbacks. She trying to understand why her child committed the mass murder. In the end we are left with no real answers but lines that get us thinking. John C. Reilly is the mostly absent father who seems to think the problem is the mother and exalts the son as a very good kid. There is a lot of dark and frightening imagery of blood and sorts of 1970’s style psychedelic spinning rooms. Once all this is digested, the stark, ominous truth of what has happened appears. It isn’t even remotely pretty.

I liked this movie a lot but I don’t think it will be very popular. In a world where Columbine happened, we still ironically have many people who choose to hide their heads n the sand. Rather than blame the devil, we ought to be talking about kids like Kevin who threaten to kill and kill again all throughout the land. This movie doesn’t show us what went wrong with Kevin but it opens the door which I’ll admit opens to a macabre discussion room, one we need to enter. The cast is perfect for their roles. You will likely hate Kevin’s character as I did, I hope they paid Ezra well! You will want to shake John C. Reilly when he acts like there is nothing wrong. I don’t mean to sugar coat this movie, it was uncomfortable to watch. At the same time, I feel it should be watched. From the dream sequence of a mosh pit of blood to the final chilling words of Kevin, this movie is a study that will most certainly keep brave viewers entertained. What’s more, it is a topic for discussion about another one of societies taboos. Having said that, some scenes had unnecessarily gratuitous violence so that is where it lost points.

The Beaver (Movie Review)

Article first published as Movie Review: The Beaver on Blogcritics.
The Beaver is directed by Jodie Foster who is well known as an actor and now fairly well-known as a director for Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays. This is her most gritty production to date, taking on the issue of mental illness. Jodie Foster also plays an important role in the movie, that of Meredith Black, the main character’s wife. The Beaver stars Mel Gibson as the protagonist Walter Black. There are also key roles played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek’s “Chekov”) as Porter Black, the main character’s son and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone and the upcoming Hunger Games) as Norah, the friend of Porter Black. Seldom does a movie bring such an important yet taboo subject into the light with such clarity. Mental illness now has an illustration to show us our humanity and better understand the mentally ill people around us.

This is a story of a family man and executive well into his 50’s who appears to be depressed. In reaction to his depression, he buys a crate of alcohol seemingly to drink himself into oblivion. In the parking lot dumpster, he notices a haggard old hand puppet in the shape of a beaver. He is drawn to its charm and takes it home with him. Through much of the movie he communicates only through the puppet and puts his wife and those around them through a frustrating series of challenges. The executive tells his wife he’s been back to the psychiatrist and the use of a beaver hand puppet is a form of therapy. When the “therapy” seems unending, there begins the movie’s conflict. Walter is sick, and his wife knows it. Unfortunately, his sickness is generating great ideas at work that earn him a spot on the Today Show with Lauer, among another places. Mentally ill people often make creative contributions to our world, that’s what this movie appears to be telling us.

There is a father/son dynamic going on here as well. Walter and his son Porter are at odds. Walter has been guilty of the same thing most middle aged executives are: being absent in the home. Porter accepts payment to write people’s essays in High School and has a very dysfunctional crush on Norah that winds both of them up in jail for the night for vandalism. One can’t help but wonder if Walter’s condition contributed to his son’s issues. There is a climax and a slowing and at the end a horrific self mutilation leaves Walter “better.”

I really like this movie because it shows that mental illness is not just an embarrassment we should hide in our family trees. I am deeply interested in people which is probably why I like movies so much. The extent to which they portray the human condition is usually the extent to which I like them. If you know someone who has a mental illness or if you yourself struggle with on, this movie is a must see. This is not Braveheart and it’s not Nell. Instead, it is something in the middle and it addresses mental illness quite accurately, in my opinion.  Only through understanding the unknown can we embrace it and make peace with it in our world, Mental illness is largely an unknown in our society. It is good to see Mel Gibson stepping away from the action hero role to shine light on something many families and individuals deal with.