Everybody’s Fine

It’s refreshing to see Robert De Niro shove aside his tough guy screen persona now and then, to remind viewers used to his antics that beyond his icy glare and powder keg temper lies a uniquely sensitive actor. “Everybody’s Fine” is a thorough tear-jerker, but the feature earns most of its sentiment, due in great part to De Niro and his gentle, worrywart lead performance. I’m not suggesting this is De Niro at his most invested and commanding, but his communication of concern adds a needed push of authenticity to a film forever on the precipice of pure schmaltz.

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Rating: B+
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The House of the Devil

“The House of the Devil” is a throwback horror film that actually makes an effort to look and sound like a bygone era. Granted, 1980’s genre nostalgia is nothing cinematically revolutionary, perhaps even tiresome cliche at this point, but writer/director Ti West keeps to the task at hand. Forgoing irony or vile retro winks, “Devil” plays it straight. While that doesn’t generate the most riveting suspense piece of the year, it does deliver a hugely satisfying chiller that’s effectively minimal and marvelously made.

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Rating: B+
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Whip It

I’ll give director Drew Barrymore this: she made Ellen Page appealing. “Whip It” takes the tart-tongued “Juno” star to the crashin’, smashin’ world of roller derby for a coming-of-age dramedy that bites off a little more than it can chew. Energetically woven by Barrymore, the film suffers from an acute case of the adaptation blues, trying to cram in as many plot points as possible to fill its belly with caloric melodrama. It’s a diluted journey of feminine self-realization, better with bruises and teamwork than it is with pliable matters of the heart.

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Rating: B-
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Amelia

There’s a power of mimicry and lavish flight photography that keeps the bio-pic “Amelia” in the air. This is not a strong motion picture, nor a particularly informative one. Instead, it’s a finely polished soap opera from a wonderful director starring fantastic actors, and nobody can quite connect the ambition of the piece with the execution. Moments of midair ecstasy hold it together and without those peaceful pauses of expression, “Amelia” is simply mawkish entertainment, stable and worthwhile for the uncommitted moviewatcher, but it never finds a comfortable altitude.

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Rating: C
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Ice Castles (2010)

1978’s “Ice Castles” was a minor hit, but it struck a particular chord with teenage audiences, who ate up the treacly figure skating melodrama. The picture is a distant memory now, which leaves a sizable opportunity for a remake; something soft and sentimental to appeal to a whole new generation of young romantics. Stripped of its apple-cheeked Midwestern identity, grainy cinematography, and amusing histrionics, “Ice Castles” doesn’t make much of an impression the second time around. Forgoing nostalgia to play shamelessly to the Radio Disney generation, the upgrade is a gawky misfire, criminally monotonous from start to finish.

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Rating: D+
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The Boys Are Back

“The Boys Are Back” had every possible invitation to fully submerge itself in the comforting folds of teeth-grinding melodrama. A story of parental misconduct, the picture is swarming with opportunities for grandstanding performances, domestic tragedy, and teary acts of forgiveness. Thank heavens for writer Allan Cubitt and director Scott Hicks, for they attack the material with an aim toward emotional realism, for better and for worse. A convincing drama helped along by a refreshingly vulnerable turn from star Clive Owen, “The Boys Are Back” shows unexpected resolve to approach the central conflict with sincerity, and that small effort takes something with the potential for dispiriting routine and makes it a truly responsive motion picture.

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Rating: B
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