Ten Compact Film Reviews

Before David began writing full-fledged film critiques, he crafted brief capsule reviews—here are the first ten

 

1. Interstellar (2014)

Christopher Nolan’s latest film plays a lot like his previous efforts: earnest and well-intentioned, but also long and predictable. Matthew McConaughey is very good, but normally solid Anne Hathaway is miscast, and Michael Caine is wasted. While the film looks good, the jacked-up soundtrack and visual effects make some of the dialogue in the action sequences difficult to hear clearly. Worse, the film plays out more like fantasy than science fiction, with the rules and understanding of the universe being doled out piecemeal, as needed. A lot happens, but none of it is particularly compelling. A decent film, it did keep my interest throughout—though sometimes just barely—but it never pulled me all the way in.

***⅛ (out of *****)


2014 • 169 MINUTES
Paramount Pictures • Warner Bros. Pictures • Legendary Entertainment • SYNCOPY • Lynda Obst Productions

STARRING
Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain

Also Starring
• Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine

WRITTEN BY
Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

DIRECTED BY
• Christopher Nolan

2014 ACADEMY AWARDS (1)
• BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Additional 2014 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS (4)
• BEST ORIGINal Score (Lost to The Grand Budapest Hotel)
• BEST Production DesigN (Lost to The Grand Budapest Hotel)
• BEST SOUND EDITING (Lost to American Sniper)
• BEST SOUND MIXING (Lost to Whiplash)


2. Black or White (2014)

Starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer, this film features an engaging, occasionally humorous script by writer-director Mike Binder. When the protagonist’s wife dies in a car accident, he is left on his own to raise his granddaughter, who is the child of his now-deceased white daughter and a black man. With an even-handed screenplay, good performances, and solid direction, the film deftly explores the issues of race in an interesting and entertaining way. Paula Newsome is particularly winning as a family-law judge.

***¼ (out of *****)





2014 • 121 MINUTES
Relativity Media • Treehouse Films • Sunlight Productions • IM Global

STARRING
Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer

Also Starring
 • Jillian Estell, Bill Burr, Jennifer Ehle, André Holland, Gillian Jacobs, Anthony Mackie

WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY
• Mike Binder

No 2014 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS


3. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Like so many genre films before it—Blade RunnerTotal RecallMinority Report, and others—The Adjustment Bureau adapts a work by Philip K. Dick. Its major conceit is that humanity is directed behind the scenes by an unseen power—“The Chairman”—whose minions monitor and “adjust” people’s lives as needed to meet an overall plan. It’s mildly clever, and the interesting use of doors as shortcuts through New York City is cool, but the concept never gets mined for much more than it initially gives. Still, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are good, and their love story really provides a solid focus. Though I wanted the film to be better, I still liked it.

**½ (out of *****)

2011 • 106 MINUTES
Universal Picures • Media Rights Capital (MRC) • Gambit Pictures • Electric Shepherd Productions

STARRING
Matt Damon, Emily Blunt

Also Starring
 • Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp

WRITTEN BY
George Nolfi
Philip K. Dick (Based upon the short story “Adjustment Team”)

Directed by
George Nolfi

No 2011 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS


4. Moneyball (2011)

Turning a nonfiction book not just about baseball, but about the math behind it, into an A-list film might seem unlikely, but Moneyball does just that. With a very good script from Oscar-winning scribes Steven Zallian (who penned Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), and a deft, note-perfect performance by Brad Pitt, the film tells the tale of a seismic shift in the analysis of what it takes to win in the Major Leagues. Interesting, humorous, and even touching, this is a baseball movie like no other you’ve ever seen—and also one of the best films of the year.

***¼ (out of *****)



2011 • 133 MINUTES
Columbia Pictures • A Scott Rudin/Michael De Luca/Rachael Horovitz Production

STARRING
Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill

Also Starring
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin WrightChris Pratt, Stephen Bishop

WRITTEN BY
Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (Screenplay)
Stan CHErvIN (Story)
Michael Lewis (Based on the book)

DIRECTED BY
Bennett Miller

2011 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS (6)
• BEST Picture (Lost to The Artist)
• BEST Actor: Brad Pitt (Lost to Jean Dujardin for The Artist)
• BEST Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (Lost to Christopher Plummer for Beginners)
• Best Adapted Screenplay (Lost to The Descendants)
• BEST Film Editing (Lost to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
• Best Sound Mixing (Lost to Hugo)


5. The Help (2011)

Based on Kathryn Stockett's excellent novel, this film disappoints from the outset. Beginning with several poor casting choices, undercut by unsuitable music, and plagued by a bad script and bad directing, the film never settles on a point of view. Though faithful in chunks to the source material, it also alters or omits enough detail to frustrate readers and bewilder audiences. With its pedigree, The Help should have headed straight for Oscar contention; instead, it fails to deliver on its meaningful subject matter.

** (out of *****)




2011 • 146 MINUTES
DREAMWORK Pictures • Reliance Entertainment • Participant Media • Imagenation • 1492 Pictures • Harbinger Pictures 

STARRING
Emma StoneViola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard

Also Starring
• Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison JanneY

WRITTEN BY
Tate Taylor
Kathryn Stockett (Based on the book)

DIRECTED BY
• Tate Taylor

2011 ACADEMY AWARDs (1)
• Best SUPPORTING Actress: Octavia Spencer

Additional 2011 ACADEMY Award NOMINATIONS (3)
• BEST Picture (Lost to The Artist)
• Best Actress: Viola Davis (Lost to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady)
• Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (Lost to Octavia Spencer for The Help)


6. Broadcast News (1987)

James L. Brooks wrote and directed this Best Pic nominee, which follows the transition of American newscasts from public service to revenue generation. Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks all earned acting noms for their top-notch performances. The film holds up, alas no longer as a cautionary tale, but as a history lesson. Kudos for the uncompromising ending.

***½ (out of *****)












1987 • 133 MINUTES
Twentieth Century Fox • Gracie Films 

STARRING
William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter

Also Starring
Robert Prosky, Lois Chiles, Joan CusaCk

WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY
James L. Brooks

1987 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS (7)
• BEST Picture (Lost to The Last Emperor)
• Best Actor: William Hurt (Lost to Michael Douglas for Wall Street)
• Best Actress: Holly Hunter (Lost to Cher for Moonstruck)
• Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks (Lost to Sean Connery for The Untouchables)
* Best Original Screenplay (Lost to Moonstruck)
• Best Cinematography (Lost to The Last Emperor)
• Best Film Editing (Lost to The Last Emperor)


7. Whiteout (2009)

A perfect storm of a film, where bad acting, bad writing, and bad directing come together to produce a surpassingly bad work. It’s actually difficult to fault the actors for what they’re given to say and do, and it’s a coin toss as to whether the dreadful dialogue or nonsensical action is worse. An absolute misfire, with no redeeming features beyond some beautiful Antarctic shots.

* (out of *****)







2009 • 101 MINUTES
Warner Bros. Pictures • Dark Castle Entertainment 

STARRING
Kate Beckinsale

Also Starring
Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt

WRITTEN by
Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber
Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes
Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber (Based on the graphic novel)

DIRECTED BY
Dominic Sena

No 2009 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS


8. Luftslottet som Sprängdes [English title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest] (2009)

The third Swedish film made from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy of bestsellers, this effort, while well made, fails to live up to its forebears. Unlike its predecessors, the story lacks complexity, and it also relies too much upon knowledge of the earlier tales. Good acting and directing, and it looks nice, but hardly a must see.

**⅞ (out of *****)









2009 • 147 MINUTES
Film i Väst • NORDIC Film • Sveriges Television (SVT) • Yellow Bird • ZDF Enterprises 

STARRING
Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace

Also Starring
Annika Hallin, Lena Endre, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Hans Alfredson

WRITTEN by
Ulf Ryberg
• Stieg Larsson (Based on the novel)

DIRECTED BY
Daniel Alfredson

No 2009 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS


9. Winter’s Bone (2010)

This gritty tale of rural criminality tells the tale of a young woman struggling to keep her dirt-poor family alive and together. A Best Pic entry, the film also merited Oscar nods for star Jennifer Lawrence and supporter John Hawkes, as well as for its adapted screenplay. The story feels true and is sometimes difficult to watch, but it ultimately satisfies.

***½ (out of *****)









2010 • 100 MINUTES
Roadside Attractions • Anonymous Content • Winter’s Bone Productions 

STARRING
Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes

Also Starring
Kevin Breznahan, Dale DickeyGarret Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor

WRITTEN by
Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini (Adapted for the screen)
Daniel Woodrell (Based on the book)

DIRECTED BY
• Debra Granik

2010 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS (4)
• Best Picture (Lost to The King’s Speech)
• Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Lost to Natalie Portman for Black Swan)
• Best SUPPORTING Actor: John Hawkes (Lost to Christian Bale for The Fighter)
• Best Adapted Screenplay (Lost to The Social Network)


10. Catfish (2010)

It’s difficult to know if the filmmakers made this documentary in real time, or if they recreated some scenes that take place early in the film. It also doesn’t matter much, as the story intrigues, with enough twists and turns to maintain interest levels. An inevitable but—in some details—surprising conclusion makes this more of a Facebook zeitgeist flick than The Social Network.

**⅞ (out of *****)











2010 • 87 MINUTES
Supermarché • Hit The Ground Running Films

STARRING
Yaniv Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Angela Wesselman, Melody C. Roscher

DIRECTED BY
• Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

No 2010 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS