Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Capsule Reviews 2013

REVIEW:  Blue Jasmine ****

A woman married to a wealthy business executive finds her life unraveling when she discovers his shady dealings and philandering. She sets out to rebuild her life, while staying with her working-class sister, but struggles to adjust. Superb performances by Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins help make this one of Woody Allen's best recent releases.

REVIEW:  Captain Phillips

Intense, suspense-building story of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his crew combating a take over of their cargo ship by Somali pirates in 2009. The film provides us with a battle of wits between Phillips and the pirate's captain Muse (played with an occasional flash of humor by Barkhad Abdi), who takes to calling his counterpart "Irish." Done with an almost documentary style, much like his "United 93," director Paul Greengrass again brings the audience along on a realistic yet incredible ride. Tom Hanks hasn't been this good in a very long time, probably not since at least "Road to Perdition" in 2002.

REVIEW:  Curse of Chucky

Chucky returns to take revenge on a family he has held a grudge against for many years. As far as Direct-to-DVD titles go, this is actually pretty decent. Director Don Mancini, the creator of the franchise, opts more for suspense before playing up the gore. Some developments are predictable, and there are a few one-liners thrown in that don't quite work (though one victim predicts fate by saying "see you in the morning... at the cemetery"), but fans of the series will likely be surprised that this isn't bargain-basement quality. You could do worse for your Halloween-season horror viewing than to rent/download/stream/ whatever this installment.

REVIEW:  Elysium **

Heavy-handed allegory where a future sees the haves enjoying their own space station away from the have-nots. The effects are good and Damon makes an easy-to-like hero. On the other hand, Foster's villainous Defense Secretary character is sort of a dead-end and the whole thing ends up feeling like countless other sci-fi action movies.

REVIEW:  Gravity ****

Involving, well-crafted story of the struggle of space engineers to survive after their work is interrupted by a catastrophic strike from debris. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) finds herself basically alone in space, with only the reassuring presence of the more experienced astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) to guide her through the harrowing experience of trying to find a way back to Earth's surface. Once everything goes haywire, she must race time or face the real possibility of never getting back. Superb performance from Bullock, with Clooney likable as her guiding voice.

REVIEW:  Pacific Rim **½

Humans fight giant bug-like aliens while manning huge machine gear in this exciting, if a bit cliche, action story. Technically impressive, as it should be -- coming from "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Hellboy" director Guillermo Del Toro.

REVIEW:  Prisoners ***½

Intense, well-acted thriller stars Hugh Jackman as a man who becomes unhinged when his daughter is abducted and the law (represented here in the form of a detective played by Jake Gyllenhaal) seems slow in its investigation. In his frustration, Jackman takes the law into his own hands under the assumption that a particular suspect is guilty. If the third act, which reveals some answers to what happened, seems a bit too neat it is largely because of the escalating tension built through the rest of the film.

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