Films Opening 1/10/14

Her (R)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, And the the voices of : Scarlett Johannson, Brian Cox

Directed by: Spike Jonze

Suppose Siri, the golden-tongued female on your iPhone, had an intuitive younger sister named Samantha who could not only answer your questions, but anticipate your needs. That is the premise of a not-too-distant future when the voice on your smart phone will (unlike the vast majority of Issac Asimov-inspired robots), have feelings. They may even be able to fall in love with their—what exactly are future smart phone owners? Partners? Masters? Fellow sentient beings?  Director Spike Jonze makes this future-time work seamlessly, and Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as Theodore, the creator of “hand-written,” computer generated love letters, who falls-head-over-heels for his Samantha.

3 and 1/2 pieces of possibly not too distant future toast 


August: Osage County (R)

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts, Meryl Steep, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney

Directed By: John Wells

Traci Letts’ stage play has been “opened up” for the big screen, but all the scenic vistas of Oklahoma countryside can’t hide the staginess of talented performers over-acting for the benefit of an Oscar nomination. Meryl Streep plays a dying, sewer-mouthed, cancer patient, Sam Shepard plays her dead alcoholic husband, Dermot Mulroney is a Florida con man, Abigail Breslin is a cursing, chain-smoking ,14-year-old, etc. etc. etc.. In this difunctional family, all of the women are mean, and all of the men are p—y-whipped. The caustic mix left a sour taste in this critic’s mouth.

1 and 1/2 pieces of over-acted, foul-mouthed, toast


Lone Survivor (R)

Starring: Ben Foster, Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Josh Barry, Taylor Kitsch

Directed by: Peter Berg

With repeatedly reinforced catch-phrases like “Never shoot a large-caliber enemy with a small-caliber bullet,” and “Moderation’s for cowards,” echoing through their brains, a Navy SEAL team is dropped into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan circa 2005. Based on a real military mistake of historic consequence, the director has chosen to show the bloody results of a the insurgent’s “turkey-shoot” ambush in poly-chromatic closeups as attrition takes its toll on the SEALS and the movie’s title comes to pass. It’s a John Wayne war saga augmented by the latest in special effects technology and abetted by a jingoistic patriotic fervor that almost makes the over-the-top carnage a satirical parody. But it’s played straight-faced and for real.

2 pieces of too much carnage, mayhem and body-parts toast 


The Legend of Hercules (PG-13)

Starring: Kellen Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Liam McIntyre

Directed by: Renny Harlin, Roxanne McKee

Since they wouldn’t show this movie to critics, all I know is that it stars a former Abercrombie & Fitch model who played a were-bear in the Twilight movies, and is directed by guy who makes sequels to horror films. It’s safe to say that this version of Hercules isn’t the klutzy teen-age demi-god created by John Musker and Ron Clements for Disney’s animated version.

Unavailable for screening to critics 




Inequality for All (PG)

Starring: Robert Reich, Nick Hanauer, Ladd and Nancy Rassmussen

Directed by: Jacob Kornbluth

Former Secretary of Labor and current Berkeley professor Robert Reich has collaborated with director Jacob Kornbluth to share the facts, fantasies, manipulations and complacence that have made 400 Americans richer than the combined wealth of all the other 150 million citizens of the U.S.A.

Stop! Read that last bit again. Only 400 rich people own more than the combined wealth of all the rest of us. Reich manages to capture our attention with of combination of common sense, personal stories of overcoming bullying and seasickness, and standing tall enough that your feet reach the ground. This is a must see film for the 150 million of us.

4 pieces of must see and share with others toast 


Closed Circuit  (R)

Starring: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent, Julia Stiles

Directed by: John Crowley

For this film to have worked, there needed to be some genuine chemistry between  the stars. Instead, we have two former lovers on opposite sides of an incendiary terrorist case being tried under Britain’s State Secrets Act who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.  Problem is, the audience doesn’t believe the basic premises—first that the lawyers ever cared for each other, and second, that they are so naive that they aren’t aware of the constant surveillance by the government, the bad guys, and the “public has a right to know” media. The director’s choice of multiple screens (similar to those audiences hated when first used in the original Thomas Crown Affair way back in 1968), just makes things more confusing than they need to be.

1 and 1/ pieces of overused multi-screens toast 


Thanks For Sharing (R)

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth PAltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Carol Kane

Directed by: Stuart Blumberg

I keep writing that addiction is an inherently unfunny topic, but filmmakers keep ignoring my advice. The latest is a “serio-comic” examination of a sex addict who recites the 12-step mantra, but easily gives in to the temptations which surround us all. There’s lots of sharing at group meetings, lots of soul searching and earnest support from fellow addicts and lots of opportunities to show some skin—some of it tattooed, some of it not.

1 and 1/2 pieces of misdirected toast 


Runner Runner (R)

Starring: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton

Directed by: Brad Furman

Princeton University is threatening to expel a student unless he shuts down his online gambling site. Problem is, this is sort of like Harvard asking a guy named Zuckerberg to shut down his website—the payoff is too great not to just leave those ivy-covered walls. This lack of dynamic tension is just one failure in this melodramatic morality tale involving a mob boss with a Russian first name and a sexy female assistant. Powers that be want this film to be the argument for why online gambling should be legalized, regulated and taxed, but since the FBI kidnaps people in this film, it’s hard to tell exactly why this would be a good thing.

1 piece of oddly old-fashioned with a bit of arcane accounting moves at the end toast