‘Runaway Jury’ will leave you feeling swindled… and you’ll like it

[rating=3]Starring: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Jeremy Piven
Director(s): Gary Fleder
Writer(s): Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland, Matthew Chapman

John Cusack and Rachel Weisz co-star in 'Runaway Jury'
John Cusack and Rachel Weisz co-star in ‘Runaway Jury’

I’m always slightly alarmed when I see a new film and find that John Cusack is no longer the gawky, awkward teen I remember in Say Anything. In Runaway Jury, Cusack is anything but gawky in a fast-paced thriller about jury tampering. In fact, Cusack, the proverbial nice guy,” is Nicholas Easter, a mysterious class clown that’s also one of Runaway Jury’s stealthiest manipulators.

Runaway Jury is a courtroom drama full of the kind of suspense, sudden plot twists and turns that make for a fun ride. Gun companies are on trial after a scary shooting kills a loving father (Dylan McDermott) in the workplace. As the trial proceeds, an all-star group of very diverse jurors — look for appearances by Jennifer Beals and Luis Guzman — is chosen. That’s when the real intrigue begins.

Read more‘Runaway Jury’ will leave you feeling swindled… and you’ll like it

‘Love Actually’ is a warm and fuzzy affair

[rating=3]Starring: Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Gregor Fisher, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightly, Martine McCutcheon, Thomas Sangster
Director(s): Richard Curtis
Writer(s): Richard Curtis

Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in 'Love Actually'
Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in ‘Love Actually’

If you are generally disgusted by warm and fuzzy affairs, stop reading this review! Love Actually is so sickly sweet that it’s possible to overdose on the syrupy quality of it all. Diabetics take cover. Dewy-eyed romantics stop clutching your Harlequin novels, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Notting Hill scribe Richard Curtis is taking prisoners. Love Actually packs a lethal punch of numerous London love stories all rolled into one super (long!!!) film.

Read more‘Love Actually’ is a warm and fuzzy affair

Douglas Sirk’s ‘Imitation of Life’ (1959) is a bonafide classic

[rating=3]Starring: Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, John Gavin, Susan Kohner, Sandra Dee
Director(s): Douglas Sirk
Writer(s): Eleanore Griffin

Poster for Douglas Sirk's 1959 classic, 'Imitation of Life'
Poster for Douglas Sirk’s 1959 classic, ‘Imitation of Life’

Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959) was the second adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s popular novel of the same name. The film tells the story of two women, white aspiring actress Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), and her black confidante/maidservant Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), and their struggles to raise their respective daughters, Susie (Sandra Dee) and Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner).

Using his own highly ironic interpretation of the original story, Sirk utilized the lens of fifties melodrama in order to project social issues such as race relations, maternal and sexual womanhood, and the artificial construction of whiteness, and in doing so, criticize the shallow representations that these issues find in “everyday” life.

Lora Meredith starts out as a struggling single mother who has just moved from the midwest to New York City. Her ambition to be a successful actress instantly seems odd, even selfish, especially considering the reality of supporting a small daughter. In addition to this, Lora is in her mid-thirties, hardly a “spring chicken” as one agent points out to her. Her age and situation call into question the soundness of her attempt to make it big as an actress instead of finding more stable work.

Read moreDouglas Sirk’s ‘Imitation of Life’ (1959) is a bonafide classic

Superhero genre established by ‘Superman II’

Jor El (Marlon Brando) puts General Zod on trial in 'Superman II'
Jor El (Marlon Brando) puts General Zod on trial in ‘Superman II’

[rating=3]Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Margot Kidder
Director(s): Richard Lester
Writer(s): Story by Mario Puzo, Screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman

By the end of the 1980s, the movie-going public had tired of campy comic book hero film translations and was in the mood for something darker and grittier. The putrid Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) was the perfect precursor to Tim Burton’s moody and violent retelling of Batman in ’89. The wheel never stops turning, however, and it wasn’t too long before these new dark “edgy” revisionings started too look as hackneyed as their forerunners.

Read moreSuperhero genre established by ‘Superman II’

Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton are wonderful together in ‘Something’s Gotta Give’

Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton get cozy in 'Something's Gotta Give'
Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton get cozy in ‘Something’s Gotta Give’

[rating=3]Starring: Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, Amanda Peet
Director(s): Nancy Meyers
Writer(s): Nancy Meyers

Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton are characters that hit close to home in Something’s Gotta Give, a film that asks what if Jack and Diane got together and fell in love in a Nancy Meyers film? Jack is Harry Sanborn, a womanizer in his 60s who only dates women in their 20s. Diane Keaton is Erica Barry, an accomplished but neurotic playwright who hasn’t dated in quite a while and wears turtlenecks… in the summer. Harry, of course, is dating Erica’s 20-something daughter, Marin.

All relationships have their obstacles.

Read moreJack Nicholson and Diane Keaton are wonderful together in ‘Something’s Gotta Give’

‘Lost in Translation’ is just two bored people in Japan who do nothing

Scarlett Johansson in 'Lost in Translation'
Scarlett Johansson in ‘Lost in Translation’

[rating=2]Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
Director(s): Sofia Coppola
Writer(s): Sofia Coppola

This is a great film, critics raved. Sofia Coppola has finally done it! She’s the first female up for Best Director because of this film! So I watched and tried to take it all in… I warn you, this is going to be more of a rant than a review.

Read more‘Lost in Translation’ is just two bored people in Japan who do nothing

Katie Holmes is refreshingly charming in ‘Pieces of April’

Katie Holmes in 'Pieces of April'
Katie Holmes in ‘Pieces of April’

Starring: Katie Holmes, Derek Luke, Oliver Platt, Alison Pill, John Gallagher, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Alice Drummond
Director(s): Peter Hedges
Writer(s): Peter Hedges

In Pieces of April, a pierced Katie Holmes donning red-streaked raven hair is our proverbial black sheep, April Burns, anxious about having her family over for Thanksgiving dinner at her tiny New York City apartment. A stubborn April plans on cooking an entire meal herself despite her obvious lack of cooking skills. In a rage, she attempts to mash uncooked potatoes. There is an eerie silence of apprehension when April begins to prepare the meal only to discover that her oven is broken.

Read moreKatie Holmes is refreshingly charming in ‘Pieces of April’

‘View from the Top’ crashes and burns

[rating=1]Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Christina Applegate, Candice Bergen
Director(s): Bruno Barreto
Writer(s): Eric Wald

Gwyneth Paltrow and Kelly Preston co-star in 'View from the Top'
Gwyneth Paltrow and Kelly Preston co-star in ‘View from the Top’

After sitting through View from the Top, you might get the impression that somebody at Miramax has a whole bunch of incriminating photographs of the film’s cast. Either that or Bruno Barreto (Bossa NovaOne Tough Cop) must be one damn nice guy that nobody can say no to. Nothing else seems to explain how a film as god awful as this could have been made in the first place, let alone released on an unsuspecting public.

As directed by Barreto (from a script from first-time scribe Eric Wald) View from the Top is a film that never has a sense of itself, and as a result flounders for 87 seemingly endless and laugh-free minutes.

Read more‘View from the Top’ crashes and burns

‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ is John Wayne at his best in classic western

John Wayne with Joanne Dru in 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon'
John Wayne with Joanne Dru in ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’

[rating=3]Starring: John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., John Agar, Joanne Dru, Victor McGlaglen, Mildred Natwick
Director(s): John Ford
Writer(s): Story by James Warner Bellah, Screenplay by Frank Nugent and Laurence Stallings

Few filmmakers have left their mark on American cinema as John Ford has. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon comes second in Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy, between Fort Apache and Rio Grande, and it is perhaps the strongest film of the three.

Read more‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ is John Wayne at his best in classic western

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (2003) is not a film for the weak hearted… or those with weak stomachs

Jessica Biel leads a cast of young, beautiful people in the 2003 remake of 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'
Jessica Biel leads a cast of young, beautiful people in the 2003 remake of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’

[rating=3]Starring: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski
Director(s): Marcus Nispel
Writer(s): Screenplay by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper, Scott Kosar

There are two reasons to explain why I didn’t view the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre before watching its remake. I didn’t want my review of the remake to be colored by comparisons. Also, I was just too damn scared — especially after I made it through the bone-chilling remake!

Read more‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (2003) is not a film for the weak hearted… or those with weak stomachs