January 27, 2015

Movie Review: A Most Violent Year**

A Most Violent Year in a Most Boring Two Hours.
Oscar Isaac drew me into his character, Jessica Chastain not so much, but it wasn't the performances I had a problem with, it was the writing. I couldn't wait for this film to end. Too many holes, too long, too contrived, characters I didn't care about. Need I say more?
Two out of Five Stars for A Most Violent Year.

January 25, 2015

Movie Review: American Sniper *****

I sat with my hand over my mouth for this entire film, wanting to see what was happening and not wanting to see. Bradley Cooper's performance is riveting, and the film feels like a documentary.
I'm about 50/50 on Clint Eastwood's films but this is a big five for me. There's a lot of controversy surrounding this movie but for my money a film works if I'm engrossed from beginning to end, if I'm not checking my watch, if I have feelings about the characters, if I feel I have a stake in what happens. Yes, yes, yes and yes.
American Sniper works for me. Big time.
5 out of 5 stars for American Sniper.

Movie Review: Still Alice ****1/2

Isn't it everyone's nightmare to have Alzheimer's disease? I'm too old for early onset, so that's a relief of sorts, but who knows what's to come?
Still Alice is the story of a 50-year-old woman; an intellectual, a world-renowned linguist, someone whose intelligence is her identity, and she's diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's; the ultimate irony.
I unfortunately didn't like the book the movie is based on but I loved the play that was done by Lookingglass Theatre. And I loved the film.
Julianne Moore, who's not one of my favorite actors (she doesn't seem to melt into the characters she plays) is very moving in this film. Alec Baldwin's part is not big but his performance is poignant and authentic.
Still Alice is tough to watch - it hits too close to home - but it's worth the tears, and the tissues you'll need during this movie.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars for Still Alice.

January 4, 2015

Movie Review: Big Eyes **

Big Eyes would have been a much better film if it had been less heavy-handed. If you read my reviews, tho, you know I'm a big fan of subtlety, and there's nothing subtle here.
Amy Adams is excellent but Christoph Waltz, who was great in films like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, is completely miscast in this part. I could see someone like Mark Wahlberg or Mark Ruffalo in the roll, someone likable who would be charming in the beginning (Waltz never is) and then sympathetic, even when perpetrating a hoax on the art world and the public.
Waltz's performance is a more of a caricature - much too broad for me. In order to buy in to the whole scenario (based on real-life events of the woman who painted those icky, but ubiquitous paintings of the big-eyed waifs in the 60s) you need to see what Margaret (Adams) sees in Walter (Waltz) in the beginning, and we never do, because Waltz's performance is too kitschy.
So, re-do the film with less melodrama and recast the part of Walter and it would be better, but you'd also have to cut about 20 minutes. It's way too long - the courtroom scene goes on forever - and had me checking my watch about 80 minutes in.
Nits to pick:
1. Why does the daughter sit in the back seat of the car? Answer: so Tim Burton (director) could put in the theme of Mom reaching across the seat to grab the daughter's hand in times of stress. And then again, in the courtroom. A nice device if it's subtle, but of course it's not, in Big Eyes.
2. Walter Keane was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, so why, in the movie, does he have a German accent?
Two stars out of five for Big Eyes, because I didn't walk out. Although I considered it.

December 11, 2014

My Book for Only $6!

My book, What More Could You Wish Foris selling for $6 on Amazon.com, just in time for the holidays! It's an especially great gift for that friend who's turning 50 (or 60 or 70 or even 30!). If you like, I will send you a personally signed book plate to put in the book, next best thing to a signed copy. Just send me your address.
It would make a great stocking stuffer!

And...here are a few other great books for the book lover on your list - all written by some of my talented friends:
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
Swastika Nation by Arnie Bernstein
The Temple of Air by Patricia Ann McNair
The Glass Wives by Amy Sue Nathan
Cheeseland by Randy Richardson
Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck
The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

November 30, 2014

Writing Tip: How Your First Page Stacks Up

Are you writing during this holiday season? Of course you are!
I recently attended the fabulous WriterUnboxed UnConference and had the fortune to attend a workshop led by Ray Rhamey, in which he asked us to submit the first page of our work in progress to see if you, the reader, would turn the page. It's an eye-opening exercise.
When you send your work to an agent or publisher you basically have one page to hook them. How does your first page stack up? 
If you want to see, run it through the ringer - or at least Ray's checklist:

A First-page Checklist
  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
Find the rest of the checklist here.

November 25, 2014

Movie Review: It's Movie Season

It's movie season, my favorite time of year. Filmmakers are rushing to get their movies out under the wire for Oscar consideration. So, of course, I've been very busy. So busy I haven't had time to write individual reviews of all the films I've seen. Just so you won't miss some of the year's best, here are shortened reviews.

The Theory of Everything ****1/2
Amazing performance from Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. He will definitely get an Oscar nomination for this role where he transforms himself, not through makeup, but through his physicality. Beautifully acted by all. I don't know how much of it is accurate, but it's a fascinating story of love and determination and hope.

Rosewater ****1/2
Based on a true story of an Iranian journalist covering the elections in 2009. After doing a satiric segment on the Daily Show, Maziar Bahari is arrested, thrown in solitary confinement and tortured as a spy. Jon Stewart capably directs this film and Gael Garcia Bernal is superb as the journalist who finds humor in his arrest until it dawns on him they believe he is a threat.

Whiplash *****
The story of a passionate drummer with an obsession to get into his music conservatory's jazz orchestra, and the borderline abusive conductor who pushes his students to their limits, and beyond. Phenomenal performances from Miles Teller as Andrew, the student, and J.K. Simmons.
Perfect pacing, perfect character development, perfect film.

Birdman *****
Great to see Michael Keaton in a starring role as a former movie superhero trying to regain his fame through a Broadway debut. Edward Norton is riveting as the obnoxiously arrogant co-star. This film is great fun to watch, with all its tension, drama, humor and poignancy. Superb performances. Great storytelling.