Film Review: Prisoners

By Joseph Doherty

            Though studios try to paint a rosy picture, there is no denying that the summer of 2013 was a colossal disappointment for the motion picture industry, with a seemingly endless string of high profile projects (i.e. After Earth, White House Down, Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger) going down in flames at the box-office. However, cinema fans left shaken by Hollywood's poor output can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to director Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners, a bleak, yet utterly mesmerizing thriller that ushers the much-vaunted fall movie season in with a bang.

            Set in suburban Pennsylvania, Prisoners begins innocently enough, with neighbors Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families at Birch's cozy, middle-class home. However, what begins as an average, run-of-the-mill holiday dinner soon turns into a nightmare for both men, when daughters Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) go missing in the neighborhood. The police, headed by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), are soon called in to investigate but there are precious few leads. The only thing they have is a person of interest in Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a neighbor of the Dover's with the I.Q. of an adolescent. However, after a harsh interrogation from Loki, Alex is released due to a lack of evidence. This does not sit well with Keller, who is convinced Alex is the only man that could have taken his daughter. With that, he decides to take the law into his own hands by kidnapping and imprisoning Alex in a condemned apartment building. There, Keller mercilessly beats and tortures him in a desperate bid for answers.

            Still riding high off his Oscar nominated turn in last year's Les Miserables, Hugh Jackman ups the ante here, delivering what can only be described as the performance of his career. Keller Dover is a ball of fear, despair, and repressed rage. It is not easy for an actor to channel these emotions without going over the top, yet Jackman manages to do just that with ease. It is a remarkable thing to see. Also impressive is Jake Gyllenhaal, who gets under the skin of Detective Loki (complete a cold gaze and noticeable eye twitch), crafting a dark and compelling figure whose past remains ominously ambiguous. The two stars are backed by a plethora of layered supporting performances from A-listers Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo. This is ensemble casting done to perfection.

            For Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners marks his first foray into mainstream Hollywood fare after the unexpected success of his Oscar nominated mystery Incendies. From the opening reel, Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins (proving, once again, that he is the best in the business) demonstrate a mastery of setting and tone. Never before has suburban America felt so cold, soulless, and unforgiving. Villeneuve's haunting visuals enhance a well-structured screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski, which generally avoids many of the clichés associated with psychological thrillers. It is only during Prisoners' protracted finale where the filmmakers veer off course, stretching the believability factor with one too many conveniently placed coincidences.  By that point, however, you will be so immersed in this twisty, harrowing tale, it will hardly matter.









Jane Rosenthal and FilmNation’s Aaron Ryder and Karen Lunder To Produce

New York, NY– FilmNation Entertainment has acquired the rights from Jane Rosenthal to New York Times Bestseller The Good House by Ann Leary. Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham is set to adapt the project. Attached to star are Academy Award winners Meryl Streep, who previously collaborated with Cunningham on The Hours, and Robert De Niro, making this the fourth film Streep and De Niro will appear in together.

Rosenthal will produce and Berry Welsh, VP of Production, will executive produce for Tribeca Productions. Aaron Ryder and Karen Lunder will produce for FilmNation. FilmNation partner Steve Samuels played a role in bringing the project to FilmNation through his relationship with Leary.

The Good House is a wickedly funny look at denial, told through the eyes of Hildy Good (Streep), a New England realtor and not-so-recovering alcoholic whose perfectly compartmentalized life starts to come apart at the seams when she forms a new friendship with Rebecca McCallister. As Rebecca becomes the subject of town gossip, Hildy rekindles an old flame with Frank Getchell (De Niro), a tell it like it is Yankee, who tries to uncomplicate her complicated life in this darkly comic and strikingly authentic tale.

FilmNation’s EVP Production Karen Lunder said, “We knew right away with Jane’s and Michael’s demonstrated talent and Ann’s bestseller that we have the opportunity to create something truly entertaining. It is undeniable the authenticity and chemistry Meryl and Bob will offer us as they bring these characters to life.”

“Ann Leary has an intoxicating voice and created a truly original character in Hildy Good. When I read the book, I was only sorry it ended - but so thrilled that we'll be able to bring it to the screen with Meryl Streep as the irresistible Hildy,” said Producer Jane Rosenthal. “It's the perfect project to work on with Michael Cunningham and we are excited to be doing this in partnership with FilmNation, as they were equally passionate about Ann's characters.”

Streep, De Niro and Cunningham are represented by CAA. Leary, whose booked was published by St. Martin’s Press, is represented by Sylvie Rabineau.

CAA’s Laura Walker brought the project to FilmNation’s EVP Production Karen Lunder, who will also produce. The deal was brokered by Alison Cohen, FilmNation's EVP Business & Legal Affairs.

Founded in 2008 by veteran international film executive Glen Basner, FilmNation Entertainment is a new kind of film company – global, versatile and full-service; and is a go-to destination for many of the world’s most renowned filmmakers. FilmNation can board a project in a myriad of ways (as a producer, financier, sales agent, international distributor or marketer) and at any stage in a film’s lifespan including development.

FilmNation’s upcoming sales line-up showcases the work of many of today’s most exciting, established and up-and-coming filmmakers, and includes three 2013 Cannes Official Selections: Alexander Payne’s Nebraska for which Bruce Dern won Best Actor at the festival this year; Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring starring Emma Watson; and J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost starring Robert Redford.

The upcoming sales line-up also includes: Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin with Scarlett Johansson, a 2013 Official Selection for the Toronto International Film Festival and In Competition Selection for the Venice Film Festival; Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups and an untitled project; David Michôd’s The Rover starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson; Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams; Genius starring Colin Firth and Michael Fassbender; the untitled Marc Lawrence romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei; The Rules of Inheritance starring Jennifer Lawrence; among others.

Production vet Aaron Ryder heads up FilmNation’s production arm. To be released this year is Jeff Nichols’ critically acclaimed Mud, a 2012 Cannes competition selection, starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Michael Shannon and Reese Witherspoon; and Dan Beers’ teen sex comedy Premature. FilmNation is in development on Nic Mathieu’s Story Of Your Life.

Headquartered in New York, Tribeca Productions was founded in 1988 by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. Since its inception, Tribeca Productions has produced more than 25 films with a combined worldwide gross of more than 2 billion dollars. To date, their films have garnered several Academy Award nominations and countless critics awards.

Upcoming projects for Tribeca include for “About a Boy” airing on NBC in 2014, Currently in development on Mercury with GK Films, The Irishman with Martin Scorsese, Untitled Buddy Cianci story with David O. Russell, Another Midnight Run for Universal, The Wizard of Lies and Eating with the Enemy for HBO Films, and for Showtime “The 4th Reich” and “The Good Shepherd”.

Tribeca’s previous film and tv productions include executive producer for “NYC22” (CBS Network), Little Fockers (2010), Public Enemies (2009), What Just Happened? (2008), The Good Shepherd, directed by Robert De Niro (2006), Rent (2005); House of D (2005); Meet the Fockers (2004); Stage Beauty (2004); About a Boy (2002); Analyze That (2002); Showtime (2002); Meet the Parents (2000); The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000); Analyze This (1999); Flawless (1999); the Academy Award®-nominated Wag the Dog (1997); Marvin’s Room (1996); De Niro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale (1993); The Night We Never Met (1993); Thunderheart (1992); Mistress (1992); and Night and the City (1992).

De Niro and Rosenthal are also co-producers of the theatrical musical We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen.


New York, NY - Greetings from Tromaville! Troma Entertainment is pleased to announce that it has launched an Indie Go-Go campaign for a provocative, idealistic, and very entertaining documentary to be filmed at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival about the struggle by independent artists against the mega-media-conglomerates, entitled, Occupy Cannes. Incentives for contributors include a chance to fly to Cannes and join the famous Troma Street Team, full-screen producer credit on the documentary, a photo book exclusive to the campaign, props from Troma's event film Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. I & II, lunch with Troma president Lloyd Kaufman on the French Riviera, advance copies of Return to Nuke 'Em High, autographed Tromabilia, and much, much more.

Occupy Cannes will explore the Cannes Film Festival from the inside out. The documentary will use Troma's latest production, Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. I & II, as its centerpiece as cameras follow the Troma Team at Cannes as they try to sell and promote the film. Occupy Cannes will be a follow-up to Troma's acclaimed 2002 documentary All the Love You Cannes, and a "poke in the eye to media elites who have hijacked Cannes."

"Troma is unique in many ways," says Troma president Lloyd Kaufman. "We are the only film studio that has been in the industry for this long and is using crowd-sourcing and social networking in this manner. All the other studios want to be Spielberg, Jackson or Michael Bay and make a lot of money. We make 'movies of the future' and that's why our fans and the public have helped us in so many ways for almost 40 years."

Troma President Lloyd Kaufman and the Troma Team at Cannes


New York, NY - Greetings from Tromaville! Troma Entertainment has launched a brand-new, free YouTube channel dedicated to sharing decades of filmmaking expertise with aspiring filmmakers, Troma president Lloyd Kaufman announced today. Troma will post free secrets to financing, producing, and selling movies which Lloyd Kaufman has gained over 40 years in the film industry, along with segments featuring the film industry's leading producers, directors, and actors, such as, James Gunn, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, Eli Roth, Penelope Spheeris, Stan Lee, George Romero, Jenna Fisher, Roger Corman, David Cronenberg, and many more.

Based upon Kaufman's hit Make Your Own Damn Movie! book and DVD series, a brand-new filmmaking lesson will be posted every Friday via Your Own Damn Channel. "This is film school on YouTube," said Lloyd Kaufman. "We have thanked our fans for keeping us in business for 40 years by making 250 of our best movies available on YouTube for free, and we are keeping up with that tradition by offering this companion piece to my book and DVD series free of charge as well."

Dave Coulier And Friends Bring Big Laughs
To The Big Screen In First “Clean Guys™ Of Comedy” Cinema Event This Fall

NCM Fathom Events and Clean Guys™ Entertainment Launch
New Clean Comedy Series in Movie Theaters with Dave Coulier, Jamie Kennedy,
Andy Hendrickson, Ralph Harris and Heather McDonald on Sept. 19 and 26

Centennial, Colo. – Providing big laughs for audiences who crave adult minded, clean stand-up comedy, NCM Fathom Events and Clean Guys™ Entertainment present the “Clean Guys™ of Comedy,” a hilarious special event series sure to have audiences roaring with laughter in movie theaters nationwide this fall. Veteran comic Dave Coulier (“Full House,” “America’s Most Talented Kids,” “America’s Funniest People”) and four side-splitting comics will bring hearty, belly-laugh humor to audiences across the country during the first “Clean Guys of Comedy” event, broadcast live from the Buell Theatre in Denver, on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. CT and tape delayed at 8:00 p.m. MT/PT/HI/AK, with a special second showing on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. local time. The “Clean Guys of Comedy” event series will prove that jokes don’t have to be dirty or filled with expletives to be funny—just a healthy dose of “comedy without the F-bomb aftertaste.”

“Clean Guys™ of Comedy” will be presented in more than 660 select movie theaters around the country through NCM’s exclusive Digital Broadcast Network. Tickets are available at participating theater box offices and online at For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the NCM Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).

“I've been in the 'family' entertainment industry for decades, starting as a stand-up comedian on ‘The Tonight Show’ when Johnny Carson was the host,” said Coulier. “From hosting Nickelodeon's ‘Out Of Control’ and ‘America's Funniest People,’ and starring in ‘Full House,’ I've gotten to know what audiences laugh at, and they trust that my brand of humor is funny without being raunchy. Heck, my mom still comes to my shows!”

The “Clean Guys™ of Comedy” event will feature an all-star group of comedians fronted by Coulier, who is perhaps best known as “Uncle Joey” from the hit sitcom “Full House,” which is TV’s longest-running series internationally and is still going strong on the airwaves. With more than 400,000 Twitter followers and an active touring schedule, Coulier sells out numerous shows across the country and continues to appear regularly on TV under the successful “Clean Guys” brand. Also featured in the “Clean Guys of Comedy” event this fall is Jamie Kennedy (“Scream,” “Malibu’s Most Wanted,” CBS-TV’s “Ghost Whisperer”), whose upcoming films include “Jack Hammer,” “Feel So Good” and “Army Brats”; rising star Andy Hendrickson, the showcase winner at HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and a finalist at the Great American Comedy Festival; and Ralph Harris, “Last Comic Standing” reality show finalist and host of “My Momma Throws Down” on TV One; as well as writer and “Chelsea Handler Show” regular guest Heather McDonald.

“Dave Coulier and the comics featured in this first ‘Clean Guys™ of Comedy’ event are hilarious!” said Shelly Maxwell, executive vice president of NCM Fathom Events. “And this series will prove that laugh-out-loud comedy does not need profanity and off-color humor because funny is funny… making it perfect for cinema audiences to enjoy with their families.”

About National CineMedia (NCM)
National CineMedia (NCM) operates NCM Media Networks, a leading integrated media company reaching U.S. consumers in movie theaters, online and through mobile technology. The NCM Cinema Network and NCM Fathom Events present cinema advertising and events across the nation’s largest digital in-theater network, comprised of theaters owned by AMC Entertainment Inc., Cinemark Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CNK), Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) and other leading regional theater circuits. NCM’s theater advertising network covers 183 Designated Market Areas® (49 of the top 50) and includes approximately 19,300 screens (over 18,400 digital). During 2012, approximately 710 million patrons attended movies shown in theaters in which NCM currently has exclusive, cinema advertising agreements in place. The NCM Fathom Events live digital broadcast network (“DBN”) is comprised of over 740 locations in 172 Designated Market Areas® (including all of the top 50). The NCM Interactive Network offers 360-degree integrated marketing opportunities in combination with cinema, encompassing 41 entertainment-related websites, online widgets and mobile applications. National CineMedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: NCMI) owns a 44.9% interest in and is the managing member of National CineMedia LLC. For more information, visit or (NCMI-E)

About Clean Guys Entertainment
Together with founding partners, Jim Janicek and Mike Sears, funny man Dave Coulier (“Full House”), the Clean Guys™ Entertainment mission is to create a comic “hot spot” that is trusted for big laughs without offensive language. For more information and contacts, visit

Joseph Doherty

Film Reviewer

Since a young age, Joseph Doherty has appreciated films for their entertainment value and cultural impact. Some of his favorites include Boogie Nights, Back to the Future (Parts I & II), and This is Spinal Tap. He dreams one day of relocating to California and becoming a screenwriter. In the meantime, Doherty is doing his best to educate himself on the technical aspects of filmmaking by reading books, watching behind the scenes documentaries, and listening to director commentaries on DVD's. Joseph Doherty is a 2011 graduate of Bridgewater State University and lives in Bridgewater, MA.

Film Review: Man of Steel

Though DC Comics was phenomenally successful transitioning their legendary Batman character from page to screen with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, they have always been on shaky ground when it comes to their other marquee hero, Superman. Over the years the Superman film franchise has run the spectrum in terms of artistic quality, from the epic (Superman: The Movie (1978)), to the corny (Superman III (1983)), to the just plain dull (Superman Returns (2006)). With the Dark Knight trilogy wrapping up last summer, DC Comics felt it was the perfect time to resurrect Superman and enlisted Christopher Nolan to help reboot the franchise from scratch. Now, three years later, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel comes soaring into theaters with a level of expectation reserved for only the most mammoth of blockbusters. Unfortunately, those thirsting for the Superman film to end all Superman films with be hugely disappointed with this overblown, incoherent, self-serving mess. Yes, Man of Steel is a dud.

Anyone even remotely familiar with the Superman character knows the story well. With the planet Krypton facing certain destruction, the brilliant scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) ships his infant son to Earth with the hope that he will be a force for good. Jumping forward 33 years, we find the now-grown Kal-El (Henry Cavill) struggling to find his place in the world, jumping from odd job to odd job while always searching for clues about his past. However, just as he begins to uncover his true identity, a fierce Kryptonian General, Zod (Michael Shannon), arrives on Earth to set up a colony where his people can thrive again. With Zod on the warpath, Kal-El, along with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), lead the charge to stop him.

As the mythic title character, British actor Henry Cavill is solid, if unspectacular. Amy Adams and Russell Crowe are reliable as usual, though both are given far more screen time than necessary. The real heart of the picture lies with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, who illuminate the picture with warmth, honesty, and compassion as Kal-El's adoptive parents. Man of Steel is at its best in those precious minutes they are on screen. The one flaw in casting (and it is substantial) is Michael Shannon. Gnawing and thrashing his way through Zod's plodding dialogue, the gifted performer comes off as a bit of an amateur. Check out Shannon's work on Boardwalk Empire to see what he is truly capable of.

When it was first announced that Zack Snyder would be helming Man of Steel, my gut told me it would not be a good fit. As it turns out, I was right. Christopher Nolan is on record saying that the deciding factor in hiring Snyder was his impressive visual sense. To his credit, Nolan has a point. Snyder certainly demonstrated a flair for crafting large scale, CG heavy set pieces in 300 and Watchmen. However, those two films also showcase his major flaw as a filmmaker in that they are severely lacking in story structure and characterization. Man of Steel continues the trend. After racing through Kal-El's familiar, yet compelling, origin story in the first half, Snyder throws any semblance of an intelligible plot out the window in favor of constant, wall-to-wall action. The last 50 minutes of Man of Steel have more explosions, fisticuffs, and gunfire than the entire Dark Knight trilogy combined, but so what? You can turn on any one of the horrid Transformers films and see the exact same thing: a shameful, excessive display of style over substance. We deserve better. Superman deserves better.

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Like James Cameron and Christopher Nolan, director J.J. Abrams is simply masterful at hyping his films. For four long years, fans clamored for details on the follow-up to Abrams wildly successful Star Trek reboot, but the director barely uttered a peep. As a result, the anticipation leading up to the release of Star Trek Into Darkness grew to near mammoth proportions. So, did Abrams deliver or was this all some big, money-making charade?

Since taking command of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) has been a constant thorn in the side of his superiors due to his penchant for adventure and maverick tendencies. After violating several directives during a botched mission on a volcanic planet, the rebellious Kirk is demoted to First Officer under his friend and mentor Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). However, after Starfleet is savagely attacked by a brilliant ex-Commander named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), Kirk finds himself back in the captain's chair with orders to bring down the elusive terrorist by any means necessary.

It is really remarkable how Chris Pine has been able to take the iconic role of Captain James Kirk and make it his own. Brash, cocky, and uber macho, Kirk is a rather unappealing protagonist on paper. However, with his natural wit and swagger, Pine is able to turn Kirk into a relatable figure that you cannot help but root for. It is a great turn from a young actor with true star power. Though Zachary Quinto exudes more poise and confidence as Spock in this second outing, he still cannot escape the vast shadow cast by series veteran Leonard Nimoy (But, in all fairness, who could replace the irreplaceable?). The rest of the supporting players including Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin, effortlessly slip back into their roles as if no time has passed at all. Finally, there is Benedict Cumberbatch, who manages to steal virtually every scene he is in with a sly, impassioned, and surprising layered performance as the villainous John Harrison.

For Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams basically reassembled the entire creative team from Star Trek and the results show. Come to think of it, I don't believe I have ever seen a sequel so similar in style and tone to its predecessor. Once again, Abrams shows a sure hand when it comes to the film's large scale action sequences and, boy, are there a lot of them (Star Trek Into Darkness must hold the record for "The Most Life-or-Death Moments" ever put on film.). You will be enthralled. Unfortunately, like many "action directors" out there today (i.e. Michael Bay), Abrams is severely lacking in one area: subtlety. Much like the first Star Trek, Abrams oversells virtually every dramatic moment. This is a shame because, unlike Star Wars, Star Trek is populated with fully realized characters that we genuinely care about. Yet, far too often, their suffering is washed out in a sea of clichéd scenarios, melodramatic music, and strategically placed tears that end up drawing unintentional laughs. While J.J. Abrams can justifiably be labeled Hollywood's go-to man for mile-a-minute-thrills, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Film Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

After several years of helming television documentaries and short films, writer/director Derek Cianfrance was finally given the chance to flex some artistic muscle with his second feature, Blue Valentine (2010). Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, the low-budget indie chronicled the collapse of a young couples' marriage in a brutal and uncompromising fashion. While Blue Valentine was a critical triumph, it failed to attract much attention at the box-office given it grim subject matter. For his follow-up, Cianfrance chose to tackle the more accessible "Cops and Robbers" genre with The Place Beyond the Pines. However, those expecting a run-of-the-mill shoot 'em up will be disappointed with this daring, yet flawed tragedy from one of Hollywood's most promising young artists.

Unlike most vapid blockbusters released in cinemas today, The Place Beyond the Pines is a film driven plot and character. Derek Cianfrance describes the film as being a "triptych", one story divided into three chapters, with each main character essentially handing the story off to the next. The first chapter follows motorcycle stuntman Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) as he goes on a string off dangerous bank robberies to support his infant son Jason. In the second chapter, the action abruptly shifts to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a rookie police officer who finds himself in an intense fight against the corruption within his own department. Eventually, Cross starts to bring the stress of work home, much to the dismay of his to his wife (Rose Byrne) and infant son AJ. Cianfrance closes the film out by jumping forward 15 years. There we meet the now-teenage Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), both of whom are having trouble escaping the shadows casts by their fathers.

Though The Place Beyond the Pines is an ensemble piece, Ryan Gosling steals the show with his brilliantly nuanced performance as the sly, crafty, and impulsive Luke Glanton. Who would have thought after The Notebook that this man would go on to become one of the most versatile and electric actors in Hollywood? Certainly not me. Bradley Cooper makes the most of his fairly one-note role, giving Avery Cross a wonderful everyman quality which elicits our sympathy for him. Cooper's solid work here proves that his Oscar-nominated turn in last year's Silver Linings Playbook was no fluke. Leads Gosling and Cooper are offered fine support by Eva Mendes, Ray, Liotta, and vastly underrated character actor Harris Yulin. The only major misstep in casting is Emory Cohen, who draws unintentional laughs with his over-the-top portrayal of the thuggish AJ Cross.

Though some will say it is premature, I rank director Derek Cianfrance up there with Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson as one of Hollywood's few modern auteurs. In addition to wearing multiple hats behind the scenes, Cianfrance's films all bear his unique artistic flourishes, the two most prominent being intricate, almost poetic, camera shots and improvisational dialogue. Unfortunately, Cianfrance's sheer ambition occasionally gets the best of him with The Place Beyond the Pines' narrative. While the "triptych" motif generally works well from a dramatic standpoint, Cianfrance explores far too many themes in the span of 2 1/2 hours including betrayal, guilt, redemption, empowerment, and revenge. The film's overall message is muddle as a result of this. However, scripting issues aside, The Place Beyond the Pines is still a remarkably moving epic and one of this spring's strongest releases.

Film Review: Side Effects

Even though he is in the midst of the most productive and artistically ambitious period of his career (releasing no less than 6 features in the last 4 years), director Steven Soderbergh recently announced that he will be stepping away from the cameras to focus on painting. If that were the case, Side Effects would be the eclectic director's final theatrical release. I could not think of a better swan song. Taut, twisty, and undeniably immersive, this psychological thriller is very much a throwback to Hitchcock's works in that it never lets the audience get a step ahead of the narrative. You will be left breathless.

Side Effects is a film that's success rests on its ability to shock and mystify. With this, the less said about the plot the better. Here is a quick overview. When her husband (Channing Tatum) is released from a 4 year prison stint for insider trading, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) finds herself slipping into a deep state of depression. After a botched suicide attempt, Emily is put under the care of an arrogant and opportunistic psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Banks prescribes Emily a series of medications but her symptoms only seem to worsen. Baffled by this, Banks consults with Emily's former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The two decide that Emily could be the right candidate for an experimental antidepressant called Ablixa. Though he has some reservations, Banks has Emily sign a waiver and she begins her first round of the medication. The results are disastrous.

In an age of typecasting, many wondered whether Rooney Mara would be able to escape the shadow cast by her Oscar nominated turn as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). If her performance here is any indication of where the young actress is headed, this should not be a problem. Mara is simply mesmerizing as the tormented Emily, making a her a figure to be empathized and feared. While Mara certainly lives up to and even exceeds expectations, it is Jude Law who anchors the film. Once one of Hollywood's most charismatic and alluring young prospects, Jude Law's credibility has taken a beating due to his supremely poor choice of roles over the last decade. Side Effects marks something of a return to form for the versatile actor, bringing wit, smarts, and a touch of paranoia to the obsessive Dr. Banks. Less successful is Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose sultry, femme fatale psychiatrist feels like an over-the-top caricature. Her presence hurts the film's surprisingly gritty and realistic tone. Despite an impressive comedic showing in last year's 21 Jump Street, Channing Tatum comes off as flat and inert next to the dynamic Mara. Fortunately, his screen time amounts to an extended cameo.

Throughout most of career, Steven Soderbergh adopted a "one for them and one for me" approach to choosing his projects, jumping back and forth between highly personal independent films and more mainstream fare. However, in recent years, he has developed a real proficiency in melding the two genres, crafting some high profile blockbusters with a strong art house sensibility. For his final film, Soderbergh continues this trend to great success. Though packing more bone-chilling sequences and unexpected plots twists than most thrillers of this era, Side Effects is also an intimate character study, touching on themes like obsession, deceit, and betrayal. Indeed, there is a little something for everyone in this crackerjack piece of escapist entertainment. Encore, Mr. Soderbergh!

Film Review: Django Unchained

Those familiar with Quentin Tarantino know that what you see is what you get when going into one of his films. Ever since breaking onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs (1992), the director and self-professed "movie geek" has crafted a series of hugely popular crime epics marked with rapid-fire dialogue, humor, gratuitous violence, and a steady dose of pop culture references. Unfortunately, with Django Unchained, Tarantino has difficultly melding these elements into the dark, emotionally charged narrative, making it the most tonally inconsistent film of his career.

In 1858, the bounty hunter/ex-dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is bent on tracking down the ruthless Brittle brothers. Unable to identify them by sight, Schultz purchases the freedom of enslaved Django (Jamie Foxx), who had a horrific encounter with them years prior. After successfully hunting the Brittle brothers, Django agrees to partner up with Schultz full-time and the two men set their sights on freeing Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). This leads them on a dangerous mission across Mississippi to the brutal plantation Candyland, owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, but he certainly knows how to guide his actors to their full potential. After spending the better part of the decade hovering between the absurd (Stealth) and the shamelessly manipulative (The Soloist), Jamie Foxx is finally given a chance to let loose and show what a force he can be on screen. Foxx also has the tremendous fortune of being paired alongside Christoph Waltz, who brings a surprising amount of warmth and dignity to Schultz. The father/son bond that slowly develops between these two men is, without question, the soul of the film. As dynamic as the protagonists are, the antagonists certainly give them a run for their money. Never have we seen Leonardo DiCaprio display such exuberance playing the loathsome, psychotic Candie. His energy is infectious, giving the film a much need jolt in its sluggish second half. Finally, in a performance packed with laughs and pathos, Samuel L. Jackson shines as Candie's servant Stephen.

With Django Unchained, there has been a considerable amount of controversy surrounding Quentin Tarantino's decision to present one of the darkest chapters in American history (Slavery) as a spaghetti western. The most vocal opponent has been African American director Spike Lee, who derided the film as being disrespectful to his ancestors. Normally, I dismiss these squabbles because movies are not THAT important in the grand scheme of things. However, after viewing Django Unchained, I can sympathize with Spike Lee to a certain extent. Despite being an action/adventure, the film does cover some of the most heinous aspects of slavery and occasionally makes bold statements about them. However, every time Tarantino delves too far into the tragedy, he feels compelled to up the one-liners, vulgarities, cartoonish gore, and overbearing pop soundtrack. In the end, you are left with a film devoid of any coherent theme or message. In the future, Quentin Tarantino would be wise to stick with crime capers because his revisions of history border on offensive.

Film Review: Lincoln

Of all the film's in director Steven Spielberg's near mythic resume, none has had a more storied history than his historical drama Lincoln. This has been a pet project of Spielberg's for well over a decade, with numerous screenwriters and actors attached to it at one time or another, most notably Liam Neeson. However, for some reason, the project never got off the ground. Things changed for the better in 2010, when playwright Tony Kushner finally cracked the story and two-time Academy Award winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis signed on to play the title role. So, after all the script rewrites, casting changes, and false starts, does Lincoln pay off on the big screen? Well, sort of.

Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's novel Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film begins shortly after Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) re-election in the latter half of the Civil War. Though Washington is being ripped apart by partisan politics, the President decides to take what capital he has and propose an amendment abolishing slavery. However, passing this extremely polarizing amendment proves to be no easy task and Lincoln is forced to use all his skills as a humane leader and savvy politician to get the votes he needs.

There is not much that can be said about Daniel Day-Lewis's performance as our 16th President that hasn't been said already. He is brilliant, completely inhabiting Lincoln down to the most minor hitch in his feeble walk. While everyone else involved in the picture (Spielberg and Kushner included) wants to mythologize Lincoln, Day-Lewis goes out of his way to break down that iconic, superhuman image we all have of the man. His Lincoln is a fully realized character, warm, strong, and compassionate yet sly, insecure, and stubborn. It is a wonderfully complex portrayl of a wonderfully complex man. Unfortunately, the rest of the amazing cast including Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, and Bruce McGill is not given sufficient screen time to really dig deep into their characters. That is the inherent weakness of an ensemble film. Only Tommy Lee Jones and the underrated James Spader, who plays a hilariously sordid operative sent out to wrestle votes, make any kind of impact.

As one would expect from a director of Steven Spielberg's calibre, Lincoln is a gorgeous motion picture. All the elements (cinematography, set design, costumes, etc.) blend together seamlessly to bring the audience back to a time often written about, but seldom visualized. It is in the narrative where Lincoln stumbles. While the passage of the 13th Amendment was a monumental event in history, the process by which it was passed does not necessarily make for a compelling film. Ultimately, Lincoln suffers from the same problem as many courtroom dramas in that, more often than not, it is emotionally inert. There are just far too many sequences of politicians sitting around long tables, griping about the legislative process. Though the cast delivers their lyrically written speeches with conviction and gusto, much of what is said rings hollow because it feels as though they are talking at us and not to us. As a result, Lincoln comes off as a small, albeit impeccably crafted, film about a very big man.

Film Review: Skyfall

It has been 50 years since the release of the first James Bond film Dr. No (1962). 6 lead actors and 22 entries later, the series is still going strong, despite having a rocky last decade or so. After Pierce Brosnan's exit with the embarrassingly hokey Die Another Day (2002), producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson wisely decided to give the series a full makeover, casting Daniel Craig and going back to tell Bond's origin story. The result was Casino Royale (2006), a pulse-pounding adventure that managed to breathe new life into the aging franchise. However, any good will the filmmakers managed to build up was quickly demolished with Craig's disjointed and shoddily produced follow-up Quantum of Solace (2008). In fact, the fierce backlash against the film, coupled with some legal wrangling over MGM's bankruptcy, left many to wonder if cinema's most legendary spy had finally reached his end. Well, fans can rest easy because after 4 long years James Bond is back in Skyfall, a rousing and surprisingly poignant thriller that ranks up there with On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) as a series' best.

Like all great Bond films, Skyfall bursts out of the gate with a breathless chase through the streets of Istanbul, culminating with a botched assassination attempt on Bond. The kicker is that the hit is ordered by MI6 head M (Judi Dench), who is in the midst of a professional crisis after losing a disc containing the identities of her undercover agents. Soon enough, M and Chairman of the Intelligence Committee Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) discover that the disc has fallen into the hands of Silva (Javier Bardem), a highly intelligent sociopath with ties to MI6. As you all know, there is only one man who can stop him. Bond.

Up to this point, Daniel Craig hadn't quite got a handle on how to play James Bond, being far too smug and cold in his first two outings. At times, this made him very difficult to root for. In Skyfall, Craig finally settles into the role bringing subtle traces of vulnerability and self-doubt to the usually suave Bond. Most important, Craig finally lightens up a little, delivering sly witticisms with ease and knowing when to wink at the camera. As good as Craig is, he is matched by an incredible supporting cast including Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Whishaw. However, at the end of the day, Bond would be nothing without a worthy adversary. Javier Bardem's Silva is certainly this, and much more. While many Bond villains were one-dimensional megalomaniacs who drew unintentional laughs, Silva is a towering figure who intimidates simply through his ability to manipulate. Bardem is in complete control right from his first scene, some 50 minutes into the film. Though flamboyant and over-the-top, Bardem carefully dials it back at certain moments, allowing us to catch a glimpse of the deeply wounded man Silva is underneath. With that, he may very well be the first villain in the series' history that you actually sympathize with. It's a brilliant characterization.

When it was announced that Sam Mendes was taking over directorial duties on this entry, fans immediately expressed understandable skepticism. Prior to this, the Oscar-winning Mendes was best known for his work on intimate character pieces like American Beauty (1999) and Revolutionary Road (2008). Given that resume, could he handle a large-scale action blockbuster? The answer is unequivocally yes. In having a such a long break between features, Mendes was able to collaborate extensively with screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan. Their screenplay is remarkably rich, further exploring M and Bond's mother/son relationship and giving nearly every character some kind of backstory to help us understand their motives. Mendes' work behind the camera is even more impressive. Along with his go-to cinematographer Roger Deakins, Mendes masterfully uses light, shadow, and vibrant color to enhance not only the dramatic elements, but the film's numerous action sequences as well. A well choreographed and fluid fight sequence set in front of a flashing teletron in Shanghai is as brutal as it is beautiful. This is the most visually stimulating Bond film by a mile and Deakins should take home an Oscar for his work here. However, the lush cinematography is only one of Skyfall's many highlights. It is one of those films that has something in it for everyone including thrills, suspense, tragedy, romance, and humor. Make no mistake about it, 007 has returned.