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Category Archives: Drama

It’s Oscar time again, and that means its time for my top ten movies of the year.
2013:

  • 10. The Place Beyond the Pines
  • An epic sprawling story of how bad decisions have consequences that can affect future generations.

  • 9. The Way, Way Back
  • My favorite of the slew of the indie comedies that came out this summer. Sam Rockwell steals the show and it’s great to see Jim Rash pop up in a few scenes.

  • 8. Inside Llewyn Davis
  • A fun and quirky story of just how much rejection one can take. Great acting all around and another notch in the Cohen Brothers belt.

  • 7. Rush
  • My surprise film of the year. Manages to create suspense out of cars racing in circles while staying away from all the cliches of the sports genre.

  • 6. All is Lost
  • Robert Redford gives a great nuanced performance of a man going through absolute hell to survive when his situation continues to go from bad to worse.

  • 5. Gravity
  • An intimate story of love and loss set in the most beautifully horrific setting one can imagine: space. An absolute visual spectable and unmatched technical achievement. Believe the hype.

  • 4. The Wind Rises
  • A beautiful tale of the sacrifices it takes to achieve your dreams. My favorite Miyazaki film since Spirited Away in 2001.

  • 3. The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Scorsese’s ballsiest directing gig also features DiCaprio’s best performance yet. The funniest scene of 2013 involves Leonardo crawling down a flight of stairs in a half paralyzed state. Raunchy and hilarious.

  • 2. Captain Phillips
  • Tom Hanks gives my favorite acting performance this year in the most intense film of 2013. Hanks puts on a pure acting showcase as he delivers a gut wrenchingly exposed performance in the final scene.

  • 1. Short Term 12
  • A heartbreaking and superbly acted account of the inner workings of a foster care facility. Far better written and acted than all of the over exposed Oscar-bait this year *cough 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Nebraska* , Short Term 12 is my favorite movie of 2013.


A magnificent thriller, and one of the most dumbfoundingly impressive technological feats in the 20 years since Jurassic Park put the world on notice about CGI.
–Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

[The] director’s last effort was another great science-fiction movie, “Children of Men,” which was borne of ideas. This one celebrates sensation. And it deserves to be one.
-Jeffrey M. Anderson, San Francisco Examiner

At 327 miles above earth, there is nothing
to carry sound, No air pressure…No oxygen…

Believe the hype. Gravity, the first film from Alfonso CuarĂ³n since 2006, is one of the best movie going experiences one can have. A total visual spectacle from start to finish, this film will have you holding your breath for entire minutes at a time. Gravity is an intimate story of love and loss set in the most beautifully horrific setting one can imagine: space.

…Life in space is impossible

This is a MUST-SEE for anyone with even a passing interest in film, and here’s why:

  • A technical marvel and achievement unmatched in film
  • Absolutely breathtaking cinematography and effects
  • The closest anyone will ever come to actually being in space (outside of attending space camp, maybe?)
  • Completely and utterly immersive, you will lose yourself watching this
  • The camera hangs on every scene with a very limited amount of cuts, essentially long “tracking shots” in space
  • Just as heartfelt and sincere as it is horrifying
  • Oscar caliber acting from Bullock and Clooney
  • Unquestionably THE best use of 3D we’ve seen in film-making to date

Take it from the master of visual effects technology himself:

“Gravity is the best space movie ever”
-James Cameron

See it in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find.

FilmFire review:
4.75/5 forms


Baz Luhrmann’s vision of the Roaring Twenties dazzles as a purely sensory piece of sight and sound. The hollow narrative doesn’t stop The Great Gatsby from entertaining as a gorgeous, glittering work of visual art.
-Diva Velez, TheDivaReview.com

It looks great, and it’s an impressive tale to bring to the big screen, but the lack of interest in telling the story keep “Gatsby” from being a great film.
-Kristian Harloff, Schmoes Know

And so we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past

There’s never been a movie quite like this. A 3D romantic drama is new ground for Hollywood and if Gatsby’s success is any indication, we will see a lot more of these in the future. I wasn’t too sure what to expect going into this film because I intentionally neglected to read the novel in high school. It turns out, going in without any context was a a good move. The film really surprised me in a way I don’t think would have been possible had I been more familiar with the material.

The cinematography and time period of this film is every bit a character as Leonardo DiCaprio or Toby Maguire themselves. New York City becomes a living, breathing creature as the characters travel from the mansions of West Egg through the grimy dust of the isolated coal mining town, the “Valley of Ashes”, connecting the wealthy to the sparkling skyscrapers of Manhattan.


The bright lights of 1920’s Manhattan

This movie’s biggest strength is it’s incredible visual style. It is by all accounts a Baz Luhrmann film. The Great Gatbsy looks absolutely fantastic; filmed with precise detail, Luhrmann brings his frenzied visual sense to every scene. The parties, street races, and even moments of dialogue are framed with his own unique stamp.

The decade of the Roaring 1920’s and all the excesses of wealth are on prominent display here: fancy costumes, fast cars, giant parties, extravagant furnishings, bootlegged alcohol. The divide between the rich and the poor is vast and it really takes a toll on the less fortunate. The film does a great job showcasing just how this particular lifestyle dynamic alters the fate of Gatsby and his acquaintances.


Gatsby is no stranger to extravagant house parties

This film has more to offer than just a unique visual style. A great, anochronistic soundtrack composed by Jay-Z pumps through all the party scenes and brings a cool modern twist to the otherwise period setting. All the acting is more or less first-rate, albeit deliberate. Often lines are recited or narrated like being read from the pages of the book. Although intentional, it can be kind of jarring.


Gatsby’s lavish mansion in West Egg – a bit excessive

The Great Gatsby is a ton of fun and deserves to be seen on the big screen. It is the first of its kind, a 3D drama that comes complete with director Baz Luhrmann’s unique and energetic visual style. Clocking in at well over 2 hours, it does seem to drag just a bit in parts of the second act, but not enough to deter the overall enjoyment of the film. Leonardo DiCaprio puts on an outstanding performance as Gatsby that will help this film become the definitive version of the literary classic for years to come.

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms


It’s that time of the year to put out the annual top ten list. After much scrutinizing, I finally feel like I’ve seen everything I need to fill out my top ten. Links to the films I’ve previously written a full review of are provided…I will start with the 6 honorable mentions I have this year, in no order:

The Honorable Mentions

…These honorable mentions are the films that were in consideration up until the last minute but just barely missed the cut.


The Top Ten
  • 10. Rust and Bone
  • Powerful. Heartbreaking. Superbly acted. Rust and Bone tells the triumphant story of man’s will to survive against all odds

  • 9. The Impossible
  • A fascinating true story of a family determined to survive a devastating natural disaster. This is a disaster movie that puts Roland Emmerich to shame, in both special effects and human emotion.

  • 8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • A refreshingly charming coming of age tale. Somewhere, John Hughes is watching this film and smiling.

  • 7. Django Unchained
  • A brutal, blood-soaked revenge tale from Quentin Tarantino. Wildly entertaining and hilarious. Revisionist history at its best.

  • 6. Cabin in the Woods
  • I shouldn’t say anything about this movie. It is really good.

  • 5. Safety Not Guaranteed
  • A great little indie/sci-fi film. An exploration of what it takes to trust someone rejected by society and believe in the impossible. Tremendous emotional payoff at the end.

  • 4. Zero Dark Thirty
  • Completely mesmerizing from start to finish. Outstanding acting and directing. The best and most tense final act of a movie you will see this year.

  • 3. The Dark Knight Rises
  • Blew me away. Obviously not as good as The Dark Knight but what is? If you say The Avengers, you’re wrong. Nolan has completed the perfect Batman trilogy.

  • 2. Life of Pi
  • Gorgeous, profound, visually spectacular and the best film I’ve seen in 3D to date. Life of Pi  has it all. Come for the adventure, and stay for the enlightenment. Ang Lee’s best.

  • 1. Cloud Atlas
  • Six different stories weave their way through this epic tale and seamlessly connect both plotwise and thematically. Groundbreaking editing. So beautiful and ambitious. An absolute blast to watch. The best movie of the year.


Here’s a bunch of random mini reviews of films that have come out this holiday season…

  • Seemingly marketed as an Anne Hathaway vehicle, she doesn’t have nearly enough screen time
  • Has Russell Crowe had a good performance since Gladiator ? Terrible acting and worse singing from him here
  • Weird “wide angle lens” shots of characters faces during musical numbers
  • None of the songs were pre-recorded which lessens the quality; the actors vocal imperfections are really noticeable
  • Difficult to become invested in all of the side characters

FilmFire review:
2.75/5 forms


  • Astounding lead performance by John Hawkes, undeniably deserves this years Best Actor Oscar
  • The story here isn’t particularly engaging and it does start to drag at a certain point
  • The chemistry and supposed romance just do not exist between the 2 leads, which is the main failing of this movie
  • The subject matter isn’t particularly fun or entertaining to watch play out
  • Despite the grimness of the subject matter, the film can be very funny and light

FilmFire review:
3/5 forms


  • Great acting from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence
  • Robert DeNiro’s return to his Meet the Parents style comedic chops
  • The set up for the final act of the film is a bit too convenient
  • Cliche cliche cliche……………
  • It may be an unconventional romantic comedy, but it ends in the most conventional possible place it could have

FilmFire review:
3.25/5 forms


  • An interesting twist on mobster films, playing on the themes of “America is a Business” and “Every Man for Himself”
  • Great colorful side characters played by James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta and Vincent Curatola
  • Intense scenes of brutal violence may turn some away
  • Incredibly stylish, entertaining and not subtle at all
  • The message is pounded home so often, it ends up being much too heavy handed

FilmFire review:
3.5/5 forms


  • Incredible opening sequence/hook that sets the pace of the film
  • Very intriguing and mysterious plot that is fun to figure out along with the character
  • Tom Cruise doing his best Tom Cruise performance (essentially a flawless and magnetic hero with great one-liners)
  • Best car chase sequence of the year
  • A nice little down-to-earth and workmanlike action film

FilmFire review:
3.75/5 forms


  • A heartwrenching and devastating story
  • Mesmerizingly raw performances from the leads, Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts
  • Intense and brutal with plenty of touching and tender moments to balance the tone
  • Beautifully shot with incredible seamless special effects
  • A powerful and triumphant look at the survival instinct of human nature

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms


  • Charming, sweet and funny. The best “John Hughes-esque” film to come out in years
  • So many great character moments really help put the audience in the mind of the introverted teenager at the center of the film
  • Fun cameos by Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Mae Whitman, Melanie Lynskey, Joan Cusack & Kate Walsh
  • Terrific performances by the 3 young stars – Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller
  • An expertly crafted coming of age story; surprisingly refreshing and heartfelt

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms


  • Opens up conversations about many important topics, most notably the success of using torture as a practice to obtain information
  • There is a pace and urgency present in many scenes that, with a lesser director, could come across trivial or boring; really showcases Kathryn Bigelow as one of our best working directors
  • Maintains such an incredible level of suspense despite knowing exactly how the film ends
  • Jessica Chastain’s lead performance is the best you’ll see this year from an actress
  • The last 45 minutes of the film are truly mesmerizing

FilmFire review:
4.5/5 forms


A terrific supporting cast, especially the non A-list actors, make the dramatic license taken justified and redeem Affleck for miscasting himself in the hero’s role.
-Bruce Bennett, Mad About Movies

Let’s face it, Ben Affleck is a better director than an actor. Argo is an amazing story hindered only by the lead actor’s performance, and it’s a shame because casting a different actor could have brought much more to the role.

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of Argo :

Pros

  • A large supporting cast that is excellent
    Bryan Cranston. Alan Arkin. John Goodman. Victor Garber. Kyle Chandler. Zeljko Ivanek. Titus Welliver. Richard Kind.
    All these actors round out the supporting cast and really elevate the believability of the events on screen.
  • Very tight editing
    From scene to scene, Argo never misses a beat. Every shot has a purpose and the film flows nicely, never allowing the audience to lose interest. The tension is at a perfect level throughout and does a great job keeping one invested in the events that play out.
  • Jack O’Donnell: They’ve got revolutionary guards going door to door. These people die, they die badly.

  • An intense and horrifying opening sequence
    To kick this movie off, Iranian citizens overthrow the U.S. Embassy in a violent and brutal manner. It is a heart-stopping scene of terrorism and very effective at setting up the crisis that plays out during the rest of the film.
  • It successfully depicts a historical event while satirizing Hollywood
    Argo maintains a humorous almost light-hearted take on the Hollywood system while the serious events of the main plot are taking place. And it manages to take nothing away from the grimness and severity of the situation, which adds a nice light undertone to the film. Also, it takes a pretty big shot at the legitimacy of film journalism.

Cons

  • Ben Affleck isn’t a good actor and is miscast. That’s it. Everything else about this movie is great.

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms


For all its good intentions and spurts of innovation, it never really comes alive as living, breathing history. Instead, it too often plays like an audio reading of the Congressional Record, with some unwieldy domestic scenes tossed in for good measure.
-Matt Brunson , Creative Loafing

I was disappointed with Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. After last year’s very mediocre and overly sappyWar Horse, I expected somewhat of a comeback film for Spielberg and I had been anticipating Lincoln greatly. Then the awful trailer was released and I lost a lot of interest. The film is fine if expectations are kept low, but don’t expect a monumental piece of film-making that changes the way history is viewed.

Here is the basic outline of the story: politicians on opposing sides of the aisle argue vehemently over some topic and are so divided there is no hope for any resolution. Enter Abraham Lincoln who proceeds to tell a whimsical story that relates to the issue at hand that makes everyone laugh and smile and forget their differences. Rinse and repeat until the movie’s over.

I wasn’t enamored with Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Lincoln, it was played very low key and I didn’t feel it had enough gravitas for a movie centered around this character. Strangely, I think Lincoln himelself was probably my least favorite character in the movie. Tommy Lee Jones actually has the best scenes in the film, playing outspoken House representative Thaddeus Stevens:

Thaddeus Stevens: How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands stinking the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio? Proof that some men are inferior. Endowed by their maker with dim wits, impermeable to reason, with cold pallid slime in their veins instead of hot red blood. You are more reptile than man George, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you.

The scenes of courtroom-esque drama and political maneuvering are done well and are very entertaining, but Spielberg for some reason tries to shoehorn terribly done family drama into the narrative that just doesn’t work at all. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows up out of nowhere as Lincoln’s son Robert in a poorly executed plot that goes nowhere. Sally Field does great work as Mary Todd but she is given virtually nothing to do other than whine and cry about the war.

There is probably enough historically interesting about Lincoln to warrant a watch but it is a definite disappointment. The politics are a lot of fun but that’s about it.

FilmFire review:
2.75/5 forms


This is Washington’s movie from beginning to end, and full of little layers.
-Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger

One of Denzel Washington’s finest performances. And that’s really saying something, considering everything he has accomplished on screen.
-Clint O’Connor, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Flight is Robert Zemeckis’s first live action film in 12 years and he doesn’t appear to have lost a step. Clearly his current work isn’t going to hit the highs of such classics as Back to the Future, Forrest Gump or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but Flight comes close, at times. Seemingly a vehicle for Denzel Washington to flex his acting muscle, he puts on an absolute show playing alcoholic commercial pilot, Whip Whitaker.

Flight contains the most intense plane crash sequence you will ever see on film. This visually terrifying sequence within the first few minutes of the movie really does a great job maintaining the reality of what would be happening in the cabin of an aircraft during such an emergency. The way the shots are set up showcasing how Denzel handles the situation is fantastic and really shows what we’ve been missing from Zemeckis the last decade. The final shot of the plane’s wing crushing a church steeple as members of an outdoor congregation scatter in fright is truly haunting and about as effective as any scene this year.

Whip Whitaker: No one could have landed that plane like I did. No one.

So, the crash sequence starts Flight out with a bang, but does the rest of the movie hold up? Yes and no. There are some moderate pacing issues with what goes on with the narrative through the bulk of the second act. It slows down substantially from the adrenaline rush of the first few scenes and it actually is kind of jarring, but it never stops being entertaining. A tense courtroom style scene towards the end brings the energy back up and nicely brings the the film to a thematic close.

There is some great acting to be seen in Flight, and not just from Denzel (who probably puts on his best performance since his Oscar winning role in 2001’s Training Day) The way he handles the mix of physical toughness and emotional fragility of his character with such nuance is remarkable and he will assuredly be in the Oscar conversation this year. John Goodman also shows up, chewing the scenery in a comic relief type role that really pays off plot-wise towards the end and Don Cheadle does his usual great work as well, playing Hugh Lang, an attorney assigned to Whitaker’s case.

Hugh Lang: The FAA placed ten pilots in simulators, recreated the events. Every pilot killed everybody on board! You were the only one who could do it!

Flight is the complete package, expertly mixing great scenes of intense action with a mostly slower paced and dramatic narrative that concludes with a hugely satisfying ending. Denzel Washington is a total scene stealer here, and there are some fantastic performances to be seen by the character actors as well. Flight will definitely get some mentions around Oscar season and is a definite must-watch, the crash sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms