Author: Beth McDonough

What If

Overview:  A broken-hearted medical school dropout falls in love with his unavailable best friend.  2014,  distributed by Entertainment One, rated PG-13, 101 minutes. The Cute:  What If takes ownership of its whimsical, cutesy tone from the minute the opening credits begin.  Chantry’s (Zoe Kazan) occupation as an animator creates the opening for her drawings to come to life and remind us that the movie is fully aware of just how adorable it is.  However, the balance of the chemistry between Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe, along with the grounding of the supporting characters, helps ensure the story never slips too far into the realm of cheesy. Even a wildly romantic gesture ends in a black eye, a reminder to viewers that Michael Dowse and crew know when they’ve almost gone too far, and they bring us back to the real world.  Because that’s where the strength of this movie lies, in the real world. The Real:  The downfall of most romantic comedies is their inability to present an engaging love story in a realistic situation that doesn’t translate as either too over the top or too messy.  What If chooses to boldly drive head first into the subject of infidelity, while making a successful effort to maintain likability for each of the characters.  We see Chantry and Wallace from the moment they meet, realizing as they do that they’re perfect for...

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Only Lovers Left Alive (DVD/Blu-Ray Review)

Overview:  Director Jim Jarmusch gives viewers a brief glimpse of a vampire love affair that’s stood the test of time for centuries.  2014, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics,  rated R, 123 minutes. Take Notes Twilight:  During a time when it seems as if every possible vampire movie angle has been exhausted, in saunter Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton with their alabaster skin and lazy, effortless demeanor to breathe new life into the genre.  But what is this one exactly?  On the surface Only Lovers Left Alive is about two longtime lovers who view their existence in drastically different, yet equally...

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The Giver

Overview:  A young boy is selected for the responsibility of receiving of the memories and emotions of the past, leading him to question his society’s good intentions.  2014; The Weinstein Company; rated PG-13; 94 minutes. The Age Old Question: The Giver isn’t just another installment in the slew of YA dystopian novels teens and adults alike have been devouring over the last several years.  The novel by Lois Lowry is revered by some as a classic, and it was one of the first of its kind–a dystopian novel written not just for teens, but for children.  I was assigned to read the book in middle school, and it’s remained with me ever since (both figuratively and literally; it’s still sitting on my bookshelf) by influencing my love of reading  and sparking my imagination.  When the book was released in 1993 it was innovative in every sense of the word, but to someone who is unfamiliar with this beloved story, The Giver has the potential to feel like a knock off of  this year’s Divergent, with less romance and much less action.  However, this book is now more than 20 years old.  If the movie had been made even 5 years ago, we’d be using it as the benchmark of comparison instead of The Hunger Games. The Giver and the Receiver:  The best moments in this movie happen when The Giver (Jeff Bridges) and Jonas, The Receiver of...

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Psycho

Overview:  A Phoenix secretary checks into a hotel run by an odd loner.  Paramount/Universal.  1960.  Rated R. 109 Minutes. From Rejected to Revered: Many people, including this writer, hold Alfred Hitchcock in high esteem as one of the greatest directors of all time. His style, creativity, and technique has proven influential to… well, pretty much every modern movie.  Perhaps none of his films has offered more influence than one of his best and most famous works: Psycho.  In an attempt at veering away from his usual noir style of storytelling, Hitchcock  presented his idea for a movie adaptation of...

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The 39 Steps (1935)

Overview:  A man wrongfully accused of murdering a spy who reveals military secrets to him goes on the run.  1935, distributed by Gaumont British Distributors, 86 minutes. You Might Miss A Step:  Most spy espionage movies can be broken down into two categories: 1.) the ones that take their time setting up and playing the game, moving pawns, watching and waiting, and 2.) the ones that take off in a frenzy, leaving it up to you as the viewer to keep up and simply enjoy the ride.  Hitchcock is the master of the latter, and it’s never more apparent...

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The Case for the Caper: Bring Back the Detective Movie

Movies and television have seen the rise and fall and subsequent rise of of countless genre fads– most recently: vampires, YA dystopian fantasies, and superheroes.  But one formula that has always stood the test of time (pre-dating moving pictures actually) is the mystery detective genre.  Television has never had any shortage of whodunit thrillers or case-of-the-week procedurals.  In fact, the TV detective genre is stronger than ever thanks to the recent critical success of shows like HBO’s True Detective and NBC’s Hannibal.  And the usual suspects, such as the various branches of CSI and Law and Order, still continue...

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Toy Story 2

Overview:  While Andy is away at camp, Woody is toynapped by a collector who intends to sell him to a museum in Japan.  1999; distributed by Buena Vista Pictures; rated G; 92 minutes. Bigger and Better:  In the four years after the original Toy Story was released, Pixar’s animation software and technology expanded by leaps and bounds.  Years of experience  in which to further develop their computer animation (along with triple the budget) allowed for the sequel to the groundbreaking 1995 film to become even more visually astounding.  Although Pixar was careful to preserve the integrity and aesthetics of the characters...

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A Most Wanted Man

Overview:  Unites States and German intelligence agencies find themselves in a power struggle over the fate of a potential terrorist threat. 2014, distributed by Lionsgate, rated R, 121 minutes. Patience Is A Virtue:  A  Most Wanted Man is not a high octane thriller; it’s a slow moving, somber look at the world of counter terrorism.  It’s also an observation of the delicate nature of trust and snap judgments.  The top secret anti-terror intelligence unit, led by Günter Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), relies on its ability to be discreet and patient, manipulating and obtaining pawns in order to strike against the queens...

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Lucy

Overview: A young woman is able to access more than the average human’s brain capacity when she’s forced to smuggle a new drug surgically implanted in her body.  2014, Universal Pictures, rated R, 89 minutes. More, Or Less Than You Bargained For?: If you walk into this movie expecting a Limitless style science fiction action flick that follows Lucy around while she kicks some revenge ass and attempts to get a grip on her own humanity, you’re in for a surprise.  You’ll see some of this, but it turns out that story line is buried beneath a much more ambitious, yet almost...

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Let It Rain!: A Celebration of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Today marks the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s 47th birthday, and in recognition of this and the release of his last fully completed film, A Most Wanted Man, we wanted to take a moment to remember one of our generation’s most gifted actors.  Since his untimely death, most of the reflections on Hoffman’s career have revolved around his Oscar worthy performances in films such as Charlie Wilson’s War, The Master, and Capote.  Although the ability to tackle these dramatic roles as seamlessly as he did is a feat in itself, it’s not a true testament to the skill and range...

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Video Killed The Radio Star: Best And Worst Musicians Turned Actors

This month Adam Levine makes his big screen acting debut in Begin Again.  The verdict is still out on whether or not this is the beginning of a flourishing Hollywood career for the Maroon 5 front man, but he’s far from the first to attempt the crossover from musician to actor.  Let’s take a look at the some of the biggest hits and misses in the world of radio turned video star. Best 5) Barbra Streisand Although Babs can be an acquired taste, you can’t deny her talents.  With 8 Grammys and 2 Oscars (one of each in the same...

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Begin Again

Overview:  A broken hearted songwriter and a failing record company executive come together to make music and repair their lives.  Distributed by The Weinstein Company, rated R, 104 minutes. You Mean That Adam Levine Movie?:  Yes, 2013’s Sexiest Man Alive makes his acting debut in Begin Again.  It turns out Adam Levine is actually comfortable on screen as a crooning, heartbreaking womanizer (are we sure he’s acting?), but he’s completely overshadowed by both the chemistry between Mark Ruffalo (Dan) and Keira Knightley (Gretta) and the charm of the token best friend, James Corden (Steve).   Ruffalo’s at his best with...

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How To Lose A Genre In 10 Days: The Disappearance Of The Romantic Comedy

The recently released They Came Together prides itself as a parody of the romantic comedy genre, and although it plays on tropes commonly used in these formulaic films, it makes minimal references to specific movies, particularly current ones.  Rom-coms are low-hanging fruit for parody as they shamelessly recycle the trademark elements, such as the chance encounter, the funny friend, the overuse of New York City and its iconography, and the superficial obstacles standing in the way of “true love,” but can you remember the last time you saw one of these staple conventions in play?  Although many of the...

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They Came Together

Overview:  A couple on a double date reminisce about their relationship, which unfolds just like a romantic comedy.  Except, you know, it’s real life.  2014, Lions Gate Entertainment, rated R, 83 minutes. The Comedy A-Team:  Director David Wain boasts an all-star comedic cast, with Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd headlining a spoof of the romantic comedy genre.  Joel (Rudd) and Molly (Poehler) tell the tale of their cheesy, rom-com inspired love story while every star from Kenan Thompson to John Stamos stops by to say hello.  Except Chrisopher Meloni, who pops in for a few extra minutes to shit himself in a...

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Tammy

Overview:  After a terrible, no good, very bad day, Tammy embarks on a road trip with her diabetic, alcoholic grandmother. 2014, Warner Bros Pictures, 96 minutes, Rated R. Road Trip:  Unless you came into the movie specifically aware of the run-time, there’s zero indication of plot progress when you’re riding along with Tammy and her grandma.  If you pay close attention, you might catch a brief mention of the intention to journey to Niagara Falls, but otherwise this road trip is one without a destination in mind.  In this case, it’s not supposed to be about where they’re going, but how they get there.  Unfortunately, the audience isn’t always having as much fun as the cast.  Ben Falcone’s lack of experience in the director’s chair is apparent as some of the awkward moments translate as unintentional fumbles rather than carefully planned opportunities. The McCarthy Show:  Since Bridesmaids firmly placed Melissa McCarthy in the comedic movie star spotlight, I’ve learned that her style is one that most audiences either love or hate.  In most of her previous roles, another actor’s performance has been enough to buffer the abrasive presence that is McCarthy (Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sandra Bullock) for those who aren’t fans.  However, she co-wrote and produced Tammy with her husband Ben Falcone  and the result is an aimless story that firmly rests its dynamic and success on her shoulders.  Melissa McCarthy’s...

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