Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the tag “Movie Review”

Movie Review – Evil Dead

Evil DeadEvil Dead is the most shocking, violent and bloody horror film I’ve ever seen. This 2013 reboot of the classic film franchise was produced by the original team behind the 1981 cult classic. I can’t compare Evil Dead to its predecessors because I don’t recall seeing any of them from start to finish, which is shocking since I’m an ardent fan of horror movies. Nonetheless, I can tell you with great confidence that this movie is only meant to be seen by those who don’t mind a lot of gore. If you have a weak stomach, steer clear of this one. However, if you’re game, what you’ll find here is a gritty horror film with excellent acting, terrific cinematography and a compelling narrative. I also enjoyed Evil Dead’s score. Whether it was a tender moment or an adrenaline-infused showdown, the music elevated the visuals and amplified the emotion in every scene. For horror fans with a strong stomach, I can’t recommend Evil Dead enough. It’s one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most satisfying.

James Bond – Moonraker

MoonrakerLast week I read Moonraker by Ian Fleming and watched the film of the same name. The book was better than the movie – big surprise – but neither were spectacular. The novel was a straightforward old-school thriller that, unfortunately, lacked mystery. It’s plot was more cohesive and believable than the film’s, but it didn’t keep me guessing. While I’ve yet to read them all, Fleming’s Casino Royale is still my favorite in the series and coincidentally it’s also my favorite Bond film. But back to Moonraker the movie. The opening scene, where Bond is fighting another man in mid-air for a parachute, is one of the greatest in cinematic history (check it out below). And the movie’s theme, written by Hal David and sung by Shirley Bassey, is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. For your viewing and listening pleasure, I’ve also included the opening title sequence from Moonraker below. The bottom line is this: If you’re a James Bond fan, you should read the book and see the movie. Just don’t expect either of them to blow you away.

Movie Review – The Expendables 2

The Expendables 2I finally got around to watching The Expendables 2 and it was great. Like its predecessor, it was a balls-to-the-wall action movie that featured a ton of gunfire, explosions and humorous one-liners. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the references the characters made to some of the real-life stars’ iconic films, such as The Terminator and Rambo. The acting, while not Oscar-worthy, was appropriate for the subject matter, and I loved Chuck Norris’ role in the movie – especially when he dished out a line that could have easily been one of the endless “facts” people tell about him. Jean-Claude Van Damme was a terrific villain, and his showdown at the end with Stallone was awesome. The Expendables 2 was a non-stop action movie I enjoyed just as much as the original, and I highly recommend you check it out.

Movie Review – Nick of Time

Nick of TimeI recently watched the 1995 thriller, Nick of Time, and it was great. Unfortunately, this film was a box office bust. It cost $33 million to make and only brought in a little over $8 million. Part of this lackluster return may have been because of dismal reviews from critics. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it only received a 29% approval rating, which is shocking considering the gripping narrative and wonderful cast. For me, what made this film so good was Christopher Walken’s performance; Walken always excels as a villain, and this was one of his greatest roles ever. Johnny Depp also did a terrific job and the supporting cast, including the always-consistent Charles S. Dutton, was strong across the board. Ignore the naysayers and give Nick of Time a shot. It’s a compelling thriller that’ll keep your attention from start to finish and make you wonder how Christopher Walken is able to effortlessly embody a deliciously villainous role.

Below’s the film’s synopsis and trailer, as well as a clip highlighting Christopher Walken’s stellar performance. Enjoy!

Synopsis 

A stranger pulled into a deadly scheme races against time to save his daughter in this thriller. Gene Watson (Johnny Depp) is an accountant who comes to L.A. with his ten-year-old daughter Lynn (Courtney Chase) to attend a funeral. On the street, Gene and Lynn are pulled aside by Mr. Smith (Christopher Walken) and Ms. Jones (Roma Maffia), who flash what look like police badges and usher them into a van. Gene soon discovers that he’s been kidnapped, and his captors have an unusual demand — if Gene does not murder Gov. Eleanor Grant (Marsha Mason) within 75 minutes, his daughter will be killed. Gene now has just an hour and a quarter to tip off the authorities, spare Gov. Grant, and find out what Smith and Jones are trying to do, along with saving his daughter’s life. He finds a much-needed ally in one-legged shoe-shine man Huey (Charles S. Dutton).

Movie Review – Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra is the best film I’ve seen this year. Going into it I knew practically nothing about Liberace other than that he was a campy, closeted pianist from years gone by. The moment I saw one of my favorite actors – Scott Bakula – in the beginning of the movie, I knew I was in for something special. Behind the Candelabra is filled with shocking moments that I don’t want to spoil. But at its focal point is a love story between Liberace and Scott Thorson.

The music in the film was outstanding. While he may be remembered for his over-the-top outfits and larger-than-life personality, Liberace was a tremendous pianist. Michael Douglas, who should win an award for his role in this movie, did a fantastic job of portraying Liberace’s musicals talents and passion for the business. The songs that appear in the movie run the gamut, everything from “Begin the Beguine” to “The Impossible Dream.” It’s a musical feast for the ears.

Behind the Candelabra SoundtrackDouglas was also phenomenal when it came to conveying how insecure and self-centered Liberace was. Matt Damon, who played Liberace’s love interest, Scott Thorson, was equally compelling. His emotional – and physical – transformation from the start of the film to the end was both shocking and heartbreaking.

The stellar supporting cast included Rob Lowe as a frightening doctor, Dan Aykroyd as Liberace’s manager and an unidentifiable Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother, Frances. The chemistry between all of these actors and actresses helped bring this fascinating story to life in a way that kept me glued to the screen the entire time.

Behind the Candelabra - Entertainment WeeklyVisually, Behind the Candelabra was a gorgeous movie. Steven Soderbergh’s skillful direction resulted in a film filled with vibrancy. Not only did it do a wonderful job of highlighting the different years of the story through visuals and music, but having the chance to see Liberace’s opulent lifestyle was breathtaking.

I can’t say enough good things about this movie. It opened my eyes to Liberace’s musical talent, as well as his infatuation with young men and himself. But despite all his flaws, I wound up caring about his fate at the end of the film. The most moving interaction involved Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the final 15 minutes of movie; it was so good that I watched the scene a second time before finishing the film. And what made it so good was the fact that the feelings these two individuals had for each other was palpable. In a cinematic world filled with superficial dialogue and paper-thin characters, this was no small feat.

Behind the Candelabra was an excellent movie about an extremely talented man. I recommend you stop what you’re doing and watch this film right away; it’s a riveting tale that you won’t soon forget.

Below is the trailer for Behind the Candelabra and a look at how the film was made.

Movie Review – The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyNot remembering whether or not I had to read the book in school as a child, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of The Great Gatsby narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal. Like the recent film adaptation, the first two thirds were interesting and the last third was very good. The recently released movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is the fifth cinematic interpretation of the classic novel – the first being in 1926.

What struck me when the movie started was the almost overwhelming amount of fast cutting used by the Director, Baz Luhrmann. The constant change in direction and dramatic zooms, not to mention the overdone computer-generated imagery, made the beginning of The Great Gatsby feel more like a music video than a film. It was as if Luhrmann felt the audience would lose interest without all this dramatic flair.

And let’s talk about the music. The Great Gatsby is supposed to be set in the 1920s. I understand that the producers wanted it to appeal to the younger generations, but including music by Jay-Z and Beyonce didn’t mesh well with the subject matter. The score itself was good, and the song “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Ray was gorgeous. But when I think about the botched soundtrack, one scene in particular comes to mind: At one point in the film Gatsby and Nick Carraway are driving over a bridge and to their right is what can be best described as a pimp and a gaggle of scantily-clad “women.” Rap music is blasting from the pimp-mobile and there are countless bottles of champagne strewn about the car. Not only did this disrupt the entire scene, it was superfluous. Great composers like Michael Giacchino understand that a soundtrack isn’t supposed to overpower a scene, it’s meant to enhance it. Unfortunately, The Great Gatsby’s soundtrack served as a jarring distraction.

The acting was very good across the board. Toby Maguire turned in a solid performance, as did the rest of the supporting cast. But the star was clearly Leonardo DiCaprio, who did a terrific job of inhabiting a mysterious man of wealth. And for those who read the book, you’ll be glad to hear that the phrase “old sport” was as overused in the movie as it was in the novel. By the last third of the film the lousy music and chaotic cinematography was cast aside and the story was the focal point. This was when The Great Gatsby was at its best. I don’t want to spoil the plot for those unfamiliar with the story, but you can rest assured that the movie’s epic conclusion will leave you satisfied.

So, should you go see The Great Gatsby? Sure, just don’t expect it to be the film of the year. It’s a slightly misguided interpretation of a classic novel  that showcases one of the best leading men in the business. And if it gets you to read or re-read the book upon which its based, then that’s an even better reason to see it.

Below is an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio about the film from 60 Minutes and the music video for “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Ray.

 

Movie Review – Phil Spector

Phil SpectorEarlier this year, HBO released an original film called Phil Spector about the legendary music mogul’s first trial for the alleged murder of Lana Clarkson. The movie focused on the relationship between Spector and his attorney at the time, Linda Kenney Baden. While Bette Midler was supposed to play the attorney, she couldn’t continue after three days of filming because she was ill. This role was assumed by Helen Mirren, who did a wonderful job. But Al Pacino as Phil Spector stole the show. His impassioned portrayal of this enigmatic virtuoso was spellbinding. Whenever he was on the screen, I was transfixed, especially when he delivered a stirring speech towards the end of the film. I highly recommend this movie; it’s an engrossing inside-look at the tumultuous world of a music icon that shouldn’t be missed.

Synopsis

Written and directed by David Mamet, Phil Spector is his exploration of the client-attorney relationship between legendary music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) and defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), who represented Spector during his first trial for murder. Mamet serves as executive producer with Barry Levinson. The cast also includes Rebecca Pidgeon, Jeffrey Tambor and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Movie Review – California Solo

California_SoloWhen recently speaking with Michael Des Barres, he recommended that my girlfriend and I watch his latest movie, California Solo, so we did. The film, starring Robert Carlyle, premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win several awards at other film festivals. After watching the movie, I’m not surprised it received such acclaim. It’s a terrific character study about an endearing former rock star I couldn’t help but feel for. Carlyle’s ability to convey MacAldonich’s internal and external struggles was mesmerizing. Even when he didn’t speak a word, his body language said everything. As expected, Des Barres’ role as the former manager of MacAldonich’s dissolved band was delightfully charming. And at one hour and 35 minutes, this movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. I highly recommend you check it out.

Synopsis

Lachlan MacAldonich is former Britpop rocker who has settled into a comfortably numb existence in farm country just outside Los Angeles. By day, he works on an organic farm and travels regularly to the city’s farmers’ markets to sell produce. By night, he retreats to his crummy apartment to record “Flame-Outs,” his podcast that recounts the tragic deaths of great musicians. The only spark in his humdrum existence is Beau, a lovely struggling actress and amateur chef who frequents the Silver Lake farmers’ market.

One night, Lachlan gets pulled over for a DUI, a charge that dredges up his past drug offense and threatens him with deportation. Lachlan’s only hope of staying in the U.S. is proving that his removal would cause “extreme hardship” to a U.S. citizen spouse or relative. Lachlan contacts his estranged ex-wife and daughter, raising past demons that he must finally confront.

California Solo is a human story about post-fame life and personal redemption.

Movie Review – The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin In The WoodsI recently watched The Cabin in the Woods for the first time and, overall, it was enjoyable. When it came out in 2012, I remember hearing a lot of hype around it being a top-notch horror film, and it was marketed as “the Inception of horror.” Let me set something straight: This film wasn’t nearly as intricate as Inception, and, in some ways, that’s a good thing.

Being a horror-movie buff, I assumed that a film about a bunch of kids in the woods would be a straight-up slasher in the style of Friday the 13th. Thankfully, I was wrong. While there was plenty of blood and guts spilled in and around the cabin, the plot was deeper than that. Similar to The Hunger Games, it involved an organization controlling the action. What is this organization? And what is its purpose? These questions were answered towards the end of the film.

To me, the greatest horror film of all time was Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. This film doesn’t even come close to that. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think it’s more compelling or clever than the original Saw. But it is entertaining and it tried to do something different. The acting was a mixed bag, but some terrific thespians made up the supporting cast, one of which blew my mind when she appeared on the screen at the end.

If you like horror films, check this out. Just don’t expect it to be the next Halloween – no, not Rob Zombie’s Halloween – or Hellraiser.

Official Synopsis

Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen. If you think you know this story, think again. From fan favorites Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard comes The Cabin in the Woods, a mind blowing horror film that turns the genre inside out.

Movie Review: The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of HappynessLast night, at the request of my girlfriend, I watched The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith. To my delight, it was an excellent movie based on the true story of Chris Gardner. While the ending is predictable, it’s also gratifying and inspiring. Out of all the dramatic roles I’ve seen him play, this is Will Smith’s best. He convincingly conveys the heartbreak and struggle of a man doing his best to get by, move up and provide for his family. And being a fan of Wall StreetI smiled when I saw James Karen in the film as a big-time stock broker. The rest of the supporting cast, including Will Smith’s real-life son, Jaden Smith, were equally enjoyable in their roles. The movie’s score, composed by Andrea Guerra, is also worth noting because it effectively amplifies the deep emotions weaved throughout the film. Overall, this is a great movie that I highly recommend you check out.

Official Movie Synopsis  

Will Smith stars in this moving tale inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman struggling to build a future for himself and his 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Smith). When his girlfriend Linda (Thandie Newton) walks out, Chris is left to raise Christopher (Jaden Smith) on his own. Chris’ determination finally pays off when he lands an unpaid internship in a brutally competitive stockbroker-training program, where only one in twenty interns will make the cut. But without a salary, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and are forced to sleep on the streets, in homeless shelters and even behind the locked doors of a metro station bathroom. With self-confidence and the love and trust of his son, Chris Gardner rises above his obstacles to become a Wall Street legend.

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