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Rating History

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto
6 months ago via Movies on Facebook

Hiroshi Inagaki's samurai trilogy starring Toshiro Migune are perhaps the definitive samurai films. Truly breathtaking.

We Are Your Friends
10 months ago via Flixster

It's not a bad idea to find a visual equivalent for EDM, so at least first-time feature director Max Jones (MTV's Catfish) gave it a try. Unfortunately We Are Your Friends, from a horrid screenplay written by Jones and Meaghan Oppenheimer, taken from a story by executive producer Richard Silverman, is a movie that surrenders to formula instead of subverting it.

Zac Efron is Cole, a struggling DJ from the Cali EDM scene who believes all you need is a laptop, talent and one really killer track. Cole, 23, lives among the fringes of the unfashionable San Fernando Valley and does odd jobs with his high school buddies, Mason (Jonny Weston) wannabe actor Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) and nerdy Squirrel (Alex Shaffer). Ollie sells drugs as all the guys sign up with Paige (Jon Bernthal), who runs a mortgage company that regularly cheats people out of their houses. The money works until Cole's conscience gets the best of him. Then nothing happens until Cole meets and makes an impression on James Reed (a pretty good Wes Bentley), a boozing DJ icon who takes Cole to all the right people and hooks up on PCP. Then at an art gallery, Cole sees the paintings and guests dancing like the animated characters from Richard Linklater's Waking Life. It's tripping, but pointless.

Cole sees his idol fall, but that's apparently not enough for the movie. 'He used to be good,' Cole tells James' girlfriend and personal assistant, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). 'I think now he just gives the people what they want.' That's just what the movie does. It takes the road often traveled. It's never in doubt that Cole is going to hook up with Sophie or that a major character will die or Cole would actually start heeding the real world.

The cliches pile up as if being scratched off a checklist. It helps that Efron maintains his natural charm and Bentley has a knack for nuance and getting beneath the surface. There's also the soundtrack from music supervisor Randall Poster, including a main score by Segal. But what bogs the film down is the fact that Mia Hansen-Love mined more drama in the film Eden, about the French house movement of the 1990's. In We Are Your Friends, James tells Cole that the perfect EDM track works up the heart rate of the crowd to 128 beats per minute. You won't even break a sweat with this movie. Bummer.

Goosebumps (2015)
12 months ago via Flixster

Jack Black brings life and energy to this crazy-funny film version of R.L. Stine's best-selling kid-lit horror stories. Stine wrote over 60 original Goosebumps novellas, and dozens of spin-offs. Is it too much for one movie? Probably, but director Rob Letterman, working from a script by Darren Lemke, makes it work in high style.

It turns out to be a neat trick having Stine (Black) live like a creepy hermit in the town of Madison, Delaware, sitting atop a metaphorical volcano. Stine has a daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush) that he keeps locked away. He has his reasons: if anyone were to crack open one of Stine's Goosebumps books, monsters will fly right out of the pages and wreak havoc.

Things kick off when New York teen Zach (the appealing Dylan Minnette) moves in next door to Stine with his widowed mother (Amy Ryan), and begins nosing around. Zach is instantly hooked on Hannah and soon there's no fence strong enough to keep them apart. Except maybe Stine's secret.

What secret is that? No fair telling. It's enough to say that Zach and his buddy Champ (Ryan Lee), sneak into Stine's library and crack open a book and soon enough the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena is on their tail. More nonstop mayhem follows when Stine's most sinister villain, Slappy the living ventriloquist dummy (voiced by Black himself in a nice touch of what may in fact be Stine's alter ego) unleashes more monsters. It can be a bit draining but Goosebumps knows it audience and it's a kick.

Crimson Peak
Crimson Peak (2015)
12 months ago via Flixster

Guillermo Del Toro doesn't direct films so much as he paints them and shapes them to fit the fantastical colors and viscera that exists in his head. His 2007 fantasy Pan's Labyrinth won the Mexican filmmaker a slew of awards, and its that visionary style that is again at the center of Crimson Peak, a ghost story in which superior camerawork, costumes and production design combine for a hypnotic journey down the Gothic rabbit hole. It threatens to swallow even the actors whole.

Thankfully, Del Toro has some game actors. Tom Hiddleston, Loki himself, is dashing as British baronet Thomas Sharpe, a smooth talker looking for an heiress in Buffalo, New York. He strikes gold when he meets the virginal Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska). Chils begin when he sweeps her off her feet to Crimson Peak, his haunted family estate in England, overseen by his twisted sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, delicious and demented. This brother-sister combo are not to be trusted, something that gears the movie more towards camp than horror.

As for the crumbling mansion---it's killer, built upon blood red clay and filled with portents taken from just about every genre Del Toro lives for. Is it too much? Pretty much, but watching Del Toro craft this Gothic romance with eye-popping beauty and terror is still a pleasure.

Bridge of Spies
12 months ago via Flixster

An old-school spy thriller from Steven Spielberg where he employs his skills at building tension? Sign me up. Bridge of Spies won't exactly win over the Transformers crowd, but it's a potent historical drama crafted by experts. Start with director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Hanks, working from a script by Matt Charman that was polished by no less than the Coen brothers. The subject is the pivotal moment in the Cold War when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 and the U.S. had to negotiate the release of its captured pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). The only way to do it, according to lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks), is to exchange Powers for Col. Rudolf Abel (the terrific Mark Rylance), a British-born Russian spy working undercover in Brooklyn until he's caught by the FBI and jailed on conspiracy charges in 1957. His capture, excitingly staged by Spielberg, begins the movie on a high note.

Then things get a bit harder to sell. Start with the insistent score by Thomas Newman in for Spielberg regular John Williams. Even the trailer does the film a disservice ('In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stand for.')

That one man is Hanks, an actor with infinite gifts for understatement (just check Spielberg's own Saving Private Ryan). So really that rah-rah and trumpets are highly unnecessary. Donovan works as an insurance lawyer with a wife (Amy Ryan) and children. When his boss (Alan Alda) volunteers him to represent Abel, Donovan is suddenly reviled as the man trying to free a traitor. Hanks expresses Donovan's quiet heroism with amazing restraint. The script does him no favors by pushing for more cheer, with Abel dubbing him 'the standing man' who gets back up to do right when knocked down.

Bridge of Spies is best when it steps more into the gray areas, such when Donovan sees Abel and Powers as patriots simply doing the bidding of their respective countries. It resonates best when Spielberg delivers on action that defines character, as in Donovan's Berlin trip where he's nearly killed as a result of conspiracies. During the climactic prisoner exchange on the Glienicke Bridge there are moments when we cannot tell good from bad, and the cliches of spy movies suddenly become potent and provocative.