Sunday, November 03, 2013

October 2013

This will probably be a slightly abbreviated entry, as I haven't been feeling great lately and it's uncomfortable to sit in front of a computer. Briefly, I have continued on my Alfred Hitchcock Presents journey; I have now made it almost all the way through Season 3, which comprises well over 100 episodes. I am continuing to enjoy the series very much. In addition, I've been working my way through Series 4 of Downton Abbey, currently airing only in the UK (fortunately, I know how to bootleg), as well as first-run episodes of Homeland, SVU, Simpsons and Modern Family. And yet, even with all of the TV viewing, I saw a respectable amount of movies this month:


GRAVITY (2013)—An exciting marooned-in-space adventure with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney grappling to survive after debris crashes into their space shuttle. Amazing direction and special effects enhance this edge-of-your seat thriller. (9)

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)—Real-life story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacking by Somali pirates. Tom Hanks plays ship captain Richard Phillips. The movie is divided into two sections: the ship part, and the lifeboat part. Both are very interesting, but the second half does drag on a bit. Still, this is an informative and often terrifying drama. I was somewhat saddened to read several accounts by actual sailors who objected to the virtual canonization of the real-life Phillips on the basis that he dropped the ball and made several mistakes that might have prevented the attack. (9)

ALL IS LOST (2013)—Second terror-at-sea thriller gives Robert Redford a chance to showcase his acting talents with almost no dialogue. Stranded on a sinking sailboat in the middle of the ocean, he must use his wits to stay afloat—and alive. Very enjoyable, except for the ambiguous ending, which I despised. (8)

JACKASS PRESENTS BAD GRANDPA (2013)—Taking a cue from Borat, this is a series of Candid Camera type pranks with several scripted linking scenes to glue it all together. Some of it is very funny, some of it is just stupid, and a lot of it is a combination of both. Sophomoric but undeniably amusing. (7)

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)—Despite the avalanche of accolades, I found this movie excruciating to watch, as it's torture porn of the worst sort—far worse than Saw, Hostel or Human Centipede. And yet people are applauding this unbelievably violent, ultra-sadistic movie as if it were The Godfather. Ugh! Nobody hates slavery more than I do, but this was so brutal I wanted to vomit. Some marvelous acting saves it. (7)

THE DIRTIES (2013)—"Found footage" comedy-drama about a pair of bullied high-school kids who decide to make a movie about their dilemma...and then one of them starts to imagine them as the new Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. A little too self-indulgent for my tastes, but it does have a jolt of an ending. (6)


THE ATTIC (1980)—I always enjoy Ray Milland, especially when he went slumming on TV shows and in horror movies like Frogs. This is from that second phase of his career, a lurid thriller about a woman (Diary of a Mad Housewife's Carrie Snodgress) and her grouchy, wheelchair-bound father (Milland). It's sort of a latter day grand guignol story along the lines of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Sort of trashy, but very watchable and the two leads are great, especially Snodgress. (8)

DARK PASSAGE (1947)—Jay Steele and I caught this mystery at Palo Alto's beloved Stanford Theatre revival house. Humphrey Bogart stars as a prison escapee who sets out to prove he didn't commit the murder he was sent up for; Lauren Bacall tries to help him. The gimmick of this movie is that you don't see Bogie's face for the first 40 minutes or so. I never realized how gorgeous the young Bacall was. The movie is entertaining but more than a little farfetched. Co-starring Agnes "Endora" Moorehead. (8)

WISH YOU WERE HERE (2012)—I continue to chip away at my "2012 Movies I'm Sorry I Missed" list with this mystery involving two Aussie couples who vacation in Cambodia...and only three of them come back. What happened to the one missing man is the secret that isn't revealed until the violent ending. It's a movie that plays around with a non-linear format (i.e., lots of flashbacks), but it's fairly well done. It definitely kept me guessing. (8)

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2012)—Second of three that I missed last year. "Unique" is the first word that comes to mind about this drama about a couple (Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly) whose newborn son grows up to be a dangerous sociopath (Ezra Miller). Lionel Shriver's novel makes a compelling and sometimes frightening drama that explores the "nurture vs. nature" aspect of the sociopath and how his total lack of empathy for others breaks the family apart. It's a flashback-laden affair that grows in tension, leading up to a nail-biting finale. This movie kept me thinking for a couple of days after I screened it, and I consider that quite an achievement for a movie—few others get under my skin in that way. Only debit: how did homely Swinton and Reilly have such great-looking kids? (9)

BIG MIRACLE (2012)—This is the true story (from 1988) of the effort to rescue three Alaskan whales trapped in ice. Former TV actors John Krasinski (The Office), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Ted Danson (Cheers), Kathy Baker (Picket Fences) and Stephen Root (NewsRadio) join Drew Barrymore as some of the folks who try to save the whales. There's no real villain in this movie except for the very bad weather; the proliferation of TV actors—and the G-rated "family" type feel—make this feel a lot like a TV movie. And of course, since many of the scenes are obviously filmed in a studio, none of the actors walking around in 50-below freezing cold have any fog on their breath, which continues to be one of my all-time movie pet peeves.'s a hard movie to really hate. (7)

September 2013

By the end of September, I had finished watching the first two seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which represents 78 episodes, or roughly 34 hours—the equivalent of 17 two-hour movies. It's been a fun ride; obviously the time I would have spent watching older movies at home has been dramatically compromised. Other TV shows also proved to be a distraction, as Dexter and Breaking Bad wrapped up their final seasons and other current series (Modern Family, Law & Order: SVU, The Simpsons and South Park) made their fall debuts. The bottom line is that I "only" made it to the theater five times in September. Here's what I saw:

SHORT TERM 12 (2013)—Despite some totally unnecessarily scatological talk near the beginning (which almost had me bolting from the theater), this turns out to be a compelling drama about teens battling various demons, including drugs and parental abuse, and trying to come to terms with these issues in a facility for troubled youths. Director Destin Cretton has expanded and recast his 2008 short film to bring his story to a larger audience, and it's a good one. (8)

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER (2013)—Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a character based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, who worked as a butler in the White House from 1952 to 1986, from Eisenhower to Reagan. The movie gives us a look at all the civil rights issues during these times, shows us glimpses of all the presidents during this time period, and provides a peek at Gaines' home life with wife Oprah Winfrey and two sons whose own lives are touched by racial tensions, politics and war. Some of it, like the actual goings-on in the White House, are interesting, but when the action shifts to Cecil's marriage with Winfrey, I got very bored. (6)

ENOUGH SAID (2013)—Writer-director Nicole Holofcener, who captured my attention with the 2010 sleeper Please Give, returns with a surprisingly conventional romantic comedy starring James Gandolfini (who died after filming) and Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Holofcener has a wonderful ear for dialogue, and her film contains an acceptable amount of comedy and good performances from the leads (as well as from Toni Collette and perpetual Holofcener actress Catherine Keener), but it doesn't have anything like the originality or freshness of Please Give. Even so, it's much better than the average Hollywood romcom, clever without being truly exceptional. (8)

DON JON (2013)—I have always enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an actor; he's very memorable in movies like 500 Days of Summer and Looper. Now he's back on screen as a triple threat—writing, directing and starring in Don Jon (originally titled Don Jon's Addiction), about a bartender who really enjoys watching porn on his computer. Even though Jon is fit and good-looking—and can get virtually any lady he sets his eyes on—for a variety of reasons he still prefers watching and masturbating to dirty movies over having sex with a woman. Then Scarlett Johansson enters his life. She's a beautiful blonde bombshell who becomes his first very real prospect for a long-term relationship. When she discovers his secret passion for all things X-rated, though, their relationship is threatened. Or did Jon just dodge a bullet? What's interesting about the film is where the story goes from that point forward, with the introduction of a character played by Julianne Moore (who is about 20 years older than Gordon-Levitt), and the revelation that aspects of Johannson's character may be more troublesome than Jon's interest in dirty movies. Don Jon held my interest throughout, and is one of the few mainstream movies that's honest about how and why men love to watch pornography without totally tsk-tsking it. Although she only has a small role, this is the third movie I've seen in the past two months to feature the gifted actress Brie Larson—although used sparingly in this film, she is remarkable in both The Spectacular Now and Short Term 12. Note to self: I still need to see Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush. (9)

PRISONERS (2013)—This 2½-hour-long movie about a cop (always reliable Jake Gyllenhaal) who tries to track down two kidnapped little girls feels like 3½ hours and needs to be much, much shorter. It contains a respectable amount of tension, suspense and action, but it also meanders and contains way too many super-slow parts for my liking. It doesn't help that I had basically figured out the solution to the mystery about halfway through. A fairly good thriller that could have and should have been much better with more editing. Some people were complaining about the somewhat sly and subtle ending, but I rather liked it. Melissa Leo is a standout. (8)

Currently playing in theaters that I hope to catch in October: Rush, The Dirties, Gravity, Elysium and You're Next. And opening in the weeks ahead: The Fifth Estate, Carrie, Great Expectations, Captain Phillips and Machete Kills. They're all on my to-do list.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

August 2013

Owing to the fact that I decided to watch all five seasons of Twilight Zone, more or less chronologically, I only wound up seeing four movies in August. Of course, it didn't help that pickings are relatively slim this summer—I'm hardly the target audience for releases such as Planes, We're the Millers, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Smurfs 2, R.I.P.D., et al. Even movies I was looking forward to (Kick-Ass, Elysium, Austenland) earned ho-hum reviews. And now that T-Zone is in the can, I've started Season One of Alfred Hitchcock Presents...and there are a LOT more episodes of Hitch's show (361) than of Rod Serling's (a mere 156), so I don't expect a lot of September entries...

THE CONJURING (2013)—Director James Wan (Insidious, Saw) knows a thing or two about scaring audiences. But despite a strong performance by Lily Taylor, there's nothing new in this haunted-house outing, which plays like a mash-up of The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist. Could have been better with some judicious editing. (6)

RED 2 (2013)—Based on a comic book, Bruce Willis's 2010 action-comedy original was pure escapist fun, with a terrific cast that included the always reliable Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren (the sexiest 68-year-old on Earth). RED 2 reunites the whole gang except for Freeman, who died in the first installment; augmenting them for the sequel are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-hun Lee and the slumming Anthony Hopkins, who gives the movie more panache than it deserves. The result is still entertaining, but slightly less successful than the first outing. Still, a comic book is a comic book, and if there's a Part 3, I'll mostly likely be in the audience. (7)

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (2013)—Sutter (Miles Teller) is a high-school senior who lives for the "now," a kid who's a little too forgiving of his own mistakes and bad habits (i.e., drinking too heavily). He's a charmer who smooth-talks an innocent classmate (Shailene Woodley) who's much less of a bombshell than the girl who's just dumped him; we cringe as his inner fool seems destined to break her heart...but fortunately, this is a redemption story. I dug this a bit less than most critics—spectacular it's not—but the film is competently directed and well acted, even if I wanted Sutter to walk into an open manhole through most of the picture. (7)

CISCO PIKE (1972)—Here's an example of two of my weaknesses leading me to an unfortunate scene. First of all, we lost the great Karen Black in August, so I was curious to check out something of hers I haven't already seen. And because I'm always interested in exploring movies from the 1970s (even though many of the blow), I chose this grimy, sloppily conceived garbage about a musician turned pot dealer (Kris Kristofferson) who is conscripted to sell some primo Acapulco Gold by the cop (Gene Hackman) who previously busted him. Black plays Kristofferson's long-suffering girlfriend, who's had enough of the drug busts and longs for a normal life. The movie starts off with a promising setup, but it's just not engaging enough; I didn't care about the musician character as much as I should have, and Hackman's cop behaves too idiotically for my liking. Moreover, there are something like five songs written and sung by Kristofferson, and it doesn't help that I'm not a fan of his music or his voice. Sexy Karen Black does do a nice topless scene, however. It is astonishing to me that the young, clean-shaven Kristofferson doesn't have a fraction of the appeal of his grittier, bearded persona. (5)

SIDE NOTE: Because much of Cisco Pike was filmed in the neighborhoods of Venice and North Hollywood—with lots of street signs and business landmarks—I was able to take some screen shots from the DVD and pair them up with images from Google Street View. It's not possible to get the exact angles and perspectives that the director shot from, but it's interesting to see how the areas have changed in the past 41 years, so I'm including them below.

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 2013

Although I took the trouble to visit the local cinemas about 10 times this month, I barely paid any attention to home releases because I rather suddenly decided to start working my way through five seasons of the old Twilight Zone TV series. (As of this writing, I've made it through nearly three seasons—a fairly respectable chunk.) This was the month I sold more than 200 issues of Hot Boat Magazine from my personal collection for $400+, digested the thrilling and seductive musical oeuvre of Rihanna, and planned an early August cruise with members of my family. I also managed to crack the screen of my fourth-generation iPad. Here's what I saw in July:

FRANCES HA (2013)—Having sufficiently enchanted me in her 2012 film Damsels in Distress (as well as her performances in Greenberg, To Rome With Love and Lola Versus), my hopes were high for Greta Gerwig's latest effort, which she co-wrote with director Noah Baumbach. Filmed in New York in gorgeous black and white, this comedy-drama can scarcely help reminding one of Manhattan, but thematically it's also a lot like the HBO series Girls, and even features Girls co-star Adam Driver. As with Damsels and Lola, the film traces Gerwig's loss of self-respect and self-esteem as bad things pile up, but it's all followed by a resurgence/redemption by the end. All three films in the trilogy mix comedy and drama in a very satisfying way. (9)

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013)—Despite a wonderful score by Randy Newman, I was not a fan of the original Monsters Inc. by Disney/Pixar. Now, 12 years later, here comes a tardy prequel...and it's vastly more entertaining and engaging than the original. Thanks to Joan for encouraging me to see it with her. (9)

THE WAY, WAY BACK (2013)—Sort of a mashup of Meatballs and Adventureland, The Way, Way Back is a boyhood coming-of-age story with Liam James as a kid who has to put up with his mother's vile boyfriend (Steve Carell) during a summer-vacation trip to a beach house, among other assorted annoyances. Then he stumbles onto a job at the local water park, run by Sam Rockwell, who changes his life for the better. Rockwell is a comic genius, doing a variation of Chevy Chase's character in Caddyshack. It's not a perfect film, but there's enough good material in it to make it a very enjoyable summer treat. (8)

THIS IS THE END (2013)—One of the biggest hits of the summer, This Is the End give us comic actors Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, et al., playing themselves in an "apocalyptic comedy" that has the guys hunkered down in James Franco's mansion dodging demons and hellfire after the Rapture. Some of it is undeniably funny (a scene involving Emma Watson is roll-on-the-floor funny in its inappropriateness), but a lot of it is gross and the whole movie is probably much funnier to people who have seen Pineapple Express, which I have not. (I had no idea who stars Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride even were). The movie is a sophomoric crowd-pleaser, but I am not the target audience. (7)

STORIES WE TELL (2013)—Actress Sarah Polley definitively proved her savvy directorial chops in the charming 2012 movie Take This Waltz, featuring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman. Her new movie, Stories We Tell, is a documentary about her family, with extensive interviews with brothers, sisters, her father, et al. The ostensible subject of the film is Polley's colorful mother, who is revealed to have cheated on her father before her death from cancer. This inevitably leads into an investigation into who Sarah's biological father might be, and the results are quite surprising. The movie relies heavily on phony "home movie" footage, so we're never really sure of what's real and what's not, but the story is real enough, so it doesn't matter that much. The interviews and the intrigue are fascinating to watch, and this is just one more reason to keep your eye on this important storyteller. (8)

UNFINISHED SONG (2013)—There are plenty of bittersweet movies about old people coming to grips with the inevitability of life's final bow, and the importance of living life to the fullest, regardless of what your age is. Unfinished Song, starring Terrence Stamp as the grouchy husband of ailing sweetheart Vanessa Redgrave, is one of these movies. As corny and manipulative as it is, I totally fell for this British import (called Song for Marion in the UK). There are a couple of tiny plot points I felt could have been better handled, but this is a tearjerker of the first order, magnificently played by Stamp, and with a delightful performance by lovely Gemma Arterton as a choir director. (9)

BEFORE SUNSET (2004)—1995's Before Sunrise was a charming little love story about a young American guy (Ethan Hawke) and a young French woman (Julie Delpy) who meet on a train and spend a romantic evening together in Vienna. Nine years later, writer/director Richard LInklater reunited the couple for what the viewer assumes is going to be a second one-night stand. The first movie ended with the pair planning to meet in Europe a year later; in Before Sunset, we find out that didn't happen, but fate has brought them together again. Not much happens in either movie, except the couple emotionally bonding as they chat about life, religion, family and love. I missed the sequel when it was first released, but now that Linklater has apparently decided to turn this into his own personal Up series, I decided to check this one out in preparation for the third in the series. (9)

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)—And again, nine years later, here we are again with Hawke and Delpy. This time out, we learn that romance finally did take root, and we join them on a vacation in Greece. This film differs from the first two in one important way: for the first half, it follows the basic walking-and-talking pattern of the first two movies, but in the second half, our lovers start arguing—and it turns into one colossal clash that threatens to tear them apart for good. It's a bittersweet affair, but compelling. Looking forward to the next one in 2022! (8)

STILL MINE (2013)—Perhaps I was still tingling over the geriatric romance of Unfinished Song, and took in this second old-people drama while I was still in the mood. (It didn't hurt that reviews were uniformly excellent.) James Cromwell, so fine in the TV series Six Feet Under, as well as movies like Babe, The Green Mile and The Artist, deserves this starring role as a Canadian carpenter who's caring for a wife (Genevieve Bujold, absolutely perfect) slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. He decides to build her a smaller house on their large piece of property so he can better take care of her…and becomes entangled in a lot of legal red tape from the local building commission. It's a tender, moving and serious piece of work—the anti-summer movie. (9)

BLUE JASMINE (2013)—The latter third of Woody Allen's directorial career has been spotty, with disappointments like Hollywood Ending, Anything Else, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Cassandra's Dream and Celebrity missing the mark so disastrously that one mourns the genius that produced classics like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig and Stardust Memories. On the other hand, despite a rough patch, the Woodman has rebounded in recent years—I've enjoyed his last five movies, even if none of them stand with his best work. Happily, Blue Jasmine is an unqualified success, a comedy-drama that features, at its center, a truly bravura performance by Cate Blanchett as the wife of a Bernie Madoff-like financier (Alec Baldwin) whose life begins to crumble after he's sent to jail and is revealed to be a cheating louse. Superb performances are also turned in by Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and the always-dependable Sally Hawkins (who, like Blanchett, is a British actress doing a thoroughly convincing American accent). I will want to see this film again. (9)

THE HEAT (2013)—The Heat is a raunchy summer comedy that I attended with a friend who wanted to see it. Rotund Melissa McCarthy—whom I enjoyed as part of the ensemble Gilmore Girls cast between 2000 and 2007—has become a popular star of both the small (Mike & Molly) and big (Bridesmaids, Identity Thief) screens. Her specialty has gone from second-banana characterizations to very broad, profane, physical comedy, scoring big laughs from the hoi polloi with her bellowing, extended-middle-finger shtick. In this buddy comedy with Sandra Bullock, she plays the pit-bull undercover cop to Bullock's prim, know-it-all FBI agent as they team up to bust up a drug-smuggling ring. It would be a lie to say I didn't laugh occasionally, but there's no escaping the fact that this is a contrived, calculated variation on an old formula, perfected by Eddie Murphy in 48 HRS. (7)

Monday, July 01, 2013

June 2013

The TV season officially over, I can devote more attention to the movies. Amazing to me how many of these I never even heard of a mere month ago. But things suddenly pop up on the radar, and I need to satisfy my curiosity in a hurry. It also never ceases to fascinate me how certain actors unexpectedly pop up in different films I view in the same month, as Alexander Skarsgård and J.K. Simmons did in June. Here's what I sampled this month:

THE EAST (2013)—Described as an "eco-thriller," this film gives us pretty Brit Marling as a (married) private eye for an intelligence firm who successfully infiltrates a group of anarchists bent on bringing down big businesses that are busy polluting the environment, producing dangerous prescription drugs, et al. The twist is that once she becomes tethered in their organization, she comes to sympathize with their mission (and, of course, fall in love with the group's leader, played by Alexander Skarsgård). Ellen Page is riveting as one of "The East" (as they call themselves), a woman who is revealed to have a very personal connection with one of the CEOs she plans vengeance on. It's watchable and engrossing, but also flawed, and the movie glosses over a number of plot machinations that deserved clarification. Still, not bad. (8)

WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2013)—Henry James' 1897 novel about the young daughter of divorced and irresponsible parents proves its enduring relevancy 116 years later with this modern-day version, featuring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan. Moore, playing a sort of Stevie Nicks-ish rock star, and Coogan, as a British art dealer, take turns neglecting their child (Onata Aprile), whom they also use as a pawn against each other. Each also takes on a younger and more attractive lover (The East's Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham, respectively). It's a very simple story, though the parents' infuriating behavior really makes you cringe. (8)

THE GOOD DOCTOR (2012)—Continuing to catch up with some of last year's movies I missed, here's Orlando Bloom as a British med student working at a Southern California hospital—and slowly proving himself to be a liability in the field of saving lives, to put it rather mildly. For reasons that are a bit bewildering, he starts to treat an attractive young high-school patient (Riley Keough, Elvis's granddaughter) and then deliberately keeps her sick—presumably to keep her coming back to the hospital, but also because he just loves to play God. The title is intended to be ironic, as the adventures of this sociopathic medic become increasingly creepy. An interesting thriller; the great J.K. Simmons is wasted in a small role. (8)

IT'S A DISASTER (2013)—Every so often, a small indie comedy comes along—one that's not too quirky and contains an excellent cast—that restores my faith in the cinema's funny bone. It's a Disaster has good company in the "apocalyptic comedy" genre; last year's terrible Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and this summer's hit This Is the End are two obvious recent examples. To be fair, though, Disaster isn't really about the end of the world—just the (likely) end for people in the city inhabited by Julia Stiles, David Cross, America Ferrera, etc. Four couples gather for a brunch when a series of dirty bombs apparently are set off in various cities in the U.S. How the eight friends react to the news—while continuing to interact with each other about their various personal problems—is the charm of the movie. Cross is typically hilarious, while the females (especially Stiles and Ferrera) are lovely to look at; the film also contains a great punch line. Director Todd Berger gives himself an amusing cameo as a neighbor in a frightening yellow suit. (9)

COLLABORATOR (2012)—This is another movie from last year that I was sorry I missed. It's essentially a two-person movie: Martin Donovan is a writer held hostage by an unhinged neighbor and childhood friend (David Morse) whom police are looking for, apparently in connection with some kind of shooting. The idea here is that the two men, who come from very different economic and political backgrounds, learn from each other during what is obviously a very tense situation; they talk about a wide range of subjects, and their revealing interaction is the heart of the movie. Interesting concept, but I didn't care about either man enough to be totally engaged. No longer sorry I missed it. (6)

DARK SKIES (2013)—This came and left theaters so fast back in February that I had to wait for the DVD release. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are parents of two boys; out of nowhere, the family finds itself threatened by strange, possibly supernatural forces, such as flocks of suicidal birds inexplicably diving straight at their house. A kind of Paranormal Activity situation unfolds, with lots of creepy things happening…but reliable J.K. Simmons eventually arrives on the scene with an unexpected and alarming diagnosis of the situation. Pretty nifty horror/sci-fi flick, ideal for late-night viewing. (9)

EDEN (2013)—I was inspired to check this out after seeing the trailer. The film is based on the true story of Asian-American Chong Kim, a victim of human trafficking. In the movie, she is known as Eden (Jamie Chung), a Korean girl who is kidnapped from her family and forced into a life of prostitution. Over the course of a year, though, she uses her wits to gain the confidence of her deranged, drug-addicted captor (Matt O'Leary) in order to plot her escape. Sheriff Beau Bridges (playing O'Leary's ringleader dad) is another great bad guy at the center of the action. Superbly written and directed, the movie contains a lot of suspense and a satisfying finale. (9)

BURNING PALMS (2010)—Inspired by the sight of drop-dead-gorgeous Chung in the previous movie, I sought this poorly reviewed anthology film on the basis of both her and equally bewitching co-stars Zoe Saldana and Rosamund Pike. Given my intense attraction to these lovely ladies—and the fact that I'm a sucker for multiple storylines—I knew the experience couldn't be a total disappointment. With a kind of graphic-novel framework, Burning Palms has been described as Creepshow meets Pulp Fiction, and that's a fairly accurate description of it, even if the movie isn't quite as good as either of the ones it hopes to evoke fond memories of. Like Cloud Atlas, the stories have tenuous but not particularly critical connections to one another. Of the five tales, we get: (1) Pike as the girlfriend of a man who is revealed to have a terribly disturbing affection for his daughter; (2) Chung as a woman who can't get an embarrassing odor off her finger; (3) Peter Macdissi and Anson Mount as gay lovers who adopt a strangely silent young girl from Africa; (4) Lake Bell as a free-spirited nanny to some boys who plot against their Hispanic maid; and (5) Saldana as a meek rape victim who tracks down her attacker and does something unthinkable to him. The stories are meant to push the boundaries of political correctness, good taste and decency, and on that score it succeeds beyond your wildest dreams. While one reviewer on IMDB said that these five stories "will make you to want your time back," I found them to be good, trashy fun. Perennial Coen brothers favorite character actor Jon Polito has a small but very amusing role as a pharmacist. (8)

APOLLO 13 (1995)—Every month, I try to squeeze in at least one major film I missed throughout the years, and since I started keeping this blog, I've managed to cross a lot of them off the list, including A Clockwork Orange, Papillon, Bridge on the River Kwai, A Night at the Opera, Picnic, and so forth. It's rather humiliating to admit that I saw the 2011 found-footage horror movie Apollo 18 before finally getting around to watching Ron Howard's classic filming of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission from 18 years ago, but least I can now say I've seen it. For those who haven't: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon are on the way to the moon when technical issues force them to abort. Panicking NASA technicians (including Joe Spano and Clint Howard, Ron's brother) struggle to bring them home, while grounded astronaut Gary Sinese tries to work out a solution to the problem. A tense and suspenseful ride—and an educational one. Was no doubt even more effective on the big screen than on my Macintosh. (9)

REGARDING HENRY (1991)—Somehow I missed this crowd-pleasing story when it was first released; I assume it was because reviews were less than enthusiastic. Harrison Ford is an arrogant, unlikeable attorney who get shot in the head during a robbery (by NYPD Blue's John Leguizamo!); after the healing process, he's reborn as a nice guy. The movie doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with Ford's convalescence and rehabilitation, preferring to fast-forward straight to his ironic transformation. It's all a bit unbelievable, a trifle corny, and perhaps forgettable…but it's a decent time passer. Annette Bening is Ford's supportive wife; the legendary Mike Nichols directed. (8)

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945)—Gene Tierney dumps lover Vincent Price to marry her new flame, played by Cornel Wilde. For the first half hour or so, everything goes swimmingly. You wonder: What's the twist? Where's the conflict? Then the conflict appears: Tierney is 17 different kinds of crazy! Thoroughly enjoyable drama that brought lovely Jeanne Crain (who plays Tierney's sister) to my attention—I'll be looking for more of her movies soon. (9)

JAKE'S WOMEN (1996)—Neil Simon's acclaimed 1990 comedy was made into a TV movie six years later with Alda reprising his stage role. I'm a fan of both Simon and Alda, so I was bound to check this out eventually. It's full of the trademark Neil Simon gags, and Alda is his usually hilarious self. He plays a writer separating from his wife (Anne Archer) and struggling to come to grips with the death of his previous wife (Mira Sorvino). Much of the unfolding action is played out in the form of Alda conversing with characters, both alive and dead, in his mind; occasionally real people appear "on stage" with the imaginary ones as Alda tackles his inner demons. It's a clever conceit, and most of the time it works. With Julie Kavner and Lolita Davidovich. (8)

MAN OF STEEL (2013)—The latest reboot of the Superman tale—and the first movie not to contain the word "Superman," an all-too-obvious attempt to copy the success of the Dark Knight series. Henry Cavill stars in what is basically a remake of 1980's Superman 2. It was a free screening, and the popcorn was not bad. I'm getting a bit bored of these superhero movies where invincible guys beat each other up for 30 minutes at a stretch while buildings topple on top of them but neither one gets hurt. (6)

THE LADYKILLERS (1955)—Still working my way through the cumulative film credits of Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers; here's one that features both comedic geniuses. Guinness and four associates plan a heist, little realizing that his sweet old landlady will prove to be a major fly in the ointment. Very funny, very cute…love this kind of stuff. Tom Hanks apparently remade this in 2004. (9)

THE KITCHEN (2012)—Another indie comedy—more of a comedy/drama, actually—that completely takes place in the kitchen of a house owned by Laura Prepon (of TV's That '70s Show) during her birthday party. Her sister (dreamy Dreama Walker), lover, friends, roommates and various partygoers flit in and out; secrets are revealed, people are sprayed with fire extinguishers and so on. It's a small, not very important movie, but never boring—especially when Prepon and Walker are on screen. (8)

GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)—In anticipation of watching my beautiful and talented adoptive nieces in a stage version of Guys and Dolls, I quickly memorized the score and watched the movie, so that I could follow what was going on up on their stage. As with many Hollywood versions of stage musicals, several of the songs have been excised, and three new ones put in their place. An adaptation of some short stories by Damon Runyon (which I also managed to read this month), G&D is a fun story loaded with famous songs ("Luck Be a Lady Tonight," "Bushel and a Peck," "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat"); the movie version is draggy in parts, and features the oddball casting of Marlon Brando in a singing role (hardly what he was known for). It's too long, for sure, but fitfully entertaining. (8)

WORLD WAR Z (2013)—I'm not a zombie fan, but Joan offered a free screening at Paramount, so we checked it out. Turns out I'm still not a zombie fan. (6)

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (2013)—With a promising cast headed by Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde and Jim Carrey, and with a magician theme, I had high hopes for this springtime release…until it flopped amid lukewarm reviews. Still, I thought I would check it out, now that it's available on DVD. Low expectations paid off in spades: this is a fairly funny movie, with enough sight gags and one-liners to keep me satisfied from beginning to end. There's one scene toward the end involving Carell and Buscemi that I would have cut or rewritten (it's pretty stupid compared to the rest of the movie), but it's worth enduring; I laughed pretty consistently otherwise. This is a simple redemption story, well performed by its leads, and there's a nice part for the recently deceased James Gandolfini as well. Once again, Olivia Wilde proves she is one of the most adorable leading ladies working in film today. (8)

EUROPA REPORT (2013)—This outer-space adventure had a magnificent and compelling trailer, but the film itself doesn't live up to it. Sound familiar? A team of scientists head to Europa, Jupiter's moon, to look for signs of life. It's not spoiling anything to say that what they find isn't nothing. Like 2011's Apollo 18, this is another "found footage" movie with astronauts encountering numerous problems on the way to a heavenly body, notably sheer terror. The movie is beautifully photographed and technically brilliant, but there's very little character development to make us actually care about anybody. What we're left with is a variation of the old slasher-movie genre, with members of the crew getting killed off one by one. Some of it is fun, but overall it's not  really worth the voyage. Great visuals and effects, though. (6)