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Author: Owen Gleiberman (1-10 of 341)

'Divergent': Did it get trashed for coming after 'The Hunger Games'?

Divergent, whatever you think of it as a movie (I found it to be your basic, agreeably rousing sensitive-teen-in-Amish-linen-finds-her-inner-tattooed-jock-to-fight-the-power formula dystopian thriller), is, like the young-adult novel it’s based on, a piece of pulp mythology that obviously borrows a lot from The Hunger Games. The heroine who hails from a downtrodden district or, in this case, a faction (Abnegnation) that prizes self-sacrifice; the fascist schemers up top; the whole gym-class-on-steroids feeling of a seemingly normal girl who rises to a series of death-defying physical challenges; and, of course, the sense that the heroine can accomplish all this because, while ordinary on the surface, she’s really different, she’s special, she’s a rebel, she’s divergent in her innate superiority. (Why do I feel as if Leni Riefenstahl would have loved these movies?) READ FULL STORY

'Veronica Mars' and Kickstarter: Is this the future of movie financing?

Now that the big-screen version of Veronica Mars has finally come out, and has turned out to be a breezy, pulpy, enjoyable, disposable entertainment (Veronica attempts to solve the murder of a famous rock star in Amy Winehouse makeup…whom she happened to go to high school with! Look, it’s Dax Shepard dancing!). And now that the film has proved, for the first time, that a movie funded by crowdsourcing (in this case, via Kickstarter) can readily make its money back — and perhaps even do better than that — one could, I suppose, choose to be cynical by viewing the entire phemonenon of the Veronica Mars movie, from the very concept of making it to the let-a-thousand-handouts-bloom financing to the opening weekend, as the triumph of a closed, hermetic fan-based system. You could see it as the ultimate (trivial) example of a movie that exists solely to reflect the adoration of its fans right back at them. READ FULL STORY

The Oscars: At last, a show that no one can complain about (though, of course, they still will)

In recent years, grousing about the Oscars, which used to begin and end as water cooler chatter, has turned into a trivially self-serious industry, an annual collective rant in which the Sins of the Telecast are dutifully compiled and picked over and excoriated. “The show was way too long!” “It was boring!” “The host was a bust: unfunny and, at times, offensive!” “He (or she) should never be invited back!” “The musical numbers were terrible, and the In Memoriam segment left out far too many people!” “The tribute to _____ stopped the show dead in its tracks, and so did the montages!” “They were badly done, and there were at least three too many of them!” “______’s gown was hideous!” “The acceptance speeches went on way too long!” “Except for the ones that were cut off by those egregious music cues!” “And what was up with ______? My God, he looked so old!” READ FULL STORY

The Best Actor race is the hottest ever. And yes, Leonardo could win

In decades of tracking the Academy Awards, I honestly can’t recall any category, in any year, when a race was as fiercely, thrillingly white-hot competitive as this year’s Best Actor race. Just think about it: Not one, not two, not three, but four of the nominees each stands a very real chance of winning. Consider each scenario, and you’ll realize it’s true. When Jennifer Lawrence gets up to present the Best Actor award and tears open that envelope, if she ends up saying, “And the Oscar goes to…Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave,” it will not be a shock, because Ejiofor, playing a man who endures the torments of the damned, and must hold in his emotions (even as he shows them to us), and must somehow, on top of all that, figure out a way to keep his faith burning, has been justly acclaimed for being incredible beyond words in that movie. If Lawrence says, “And the Oscar goes to…Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club,” it will not be a shock, because McConaughey, this year, is the official front-runner, and has been justly coronated for giving a tough, sinewy, moving, and anger-singed performance that is widely viewed as the culminating act of his 20-year career in Hollywood. READ FULL STORY

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a bravura actor who made his pain a timeless expression of us all

I’ll never forget the moment I first sat up and took notice of Philip Seymour Hoffman — the moment that I knew I loved him as an actor and knew, as well, that he was a different kind of great actor from anyone I’d ever seen. It was the moment in Boogie Nights (1997) when Hoffman’s Scotty J., the boom-mike operator who has spent most of the film hanging around the sidelines of the porn set, a sweetly insecure dude in long red hair, his gut poking out of his ’70s tank tops, confesses to Dirk Diggler that he’s got a crush on him. This comes as news to Dirk — and news to the audience as well, since we didn’t know that Scotty was gay, because it’s clearly something that he was hiding from the world. Drunk, and a little less shy because of it, Scotty shows Dirk his new sports car, which he thinks will impress him (it doesn’t), and he then tries to lay a smooch on him, which Dirk, in this paleo-days-of-gay-liberation era, thinks is beyond weird. But that’s the rejection that Scotty’s been living in terror of, and now that it’s happened, he breaks down. READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: With tons of movies sold, the lack of a mega deal was no big deal

I can testify that when you go to a film festival, and someone inquires about how the movies were that year, the answer you end up giving — “Really terrific!” “Lousy!” “They were okay!” — is often dictated by exactly one movie. If you saw something that totally knocked you out, the sort of film that you think is going to get major play in the real world, and you’re already dusting off a place on your 10 Best list for it, then that one movie can determine your entire perception of the festival. That’s what happened to me last year at Sundance when I saw Fruitvale (they hadn’t added the Station yet). The fact that you’ve witnessed a certified home run makes the festival feel to you, in hindsight, like…well, a baseball game in which your team hit a home run. It’s more than a good movie; it’s why you came — to see an unheralded filmmaker knock one out of the park. A single movie that rocks your world can define, year in and year out, the Sundance experience — the reason that a festival like this one exists. Some of the films I’ve seen at Sundance that have had that effect include Crumb (1995), Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), Buffalo 66 (1998), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Chuck & Buck (2000), Wet Hot American Summer (2001), American Splendor (2003), Capturing the Friedmans (2003), Thirteen (2003), Hustle & Flow (2005), Precious (2009), and Fruitvale (2013). READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon cut each other up once more in 'The Trip to Italy'

Fifty years ago (on Feb. 7, 1964, to be precise), the Beatles came to America with a sound so blissful and spangly and new that it would have seemed — still seems — counterintuitive to think how much that sound was influenced by America. The four magical mop tops seemed to relish our rock & roll even more than we did (though, of course, they gave it their own incandescent spin). Mind you, I’m not comparing Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, the two brilliantly funny quipster cynics who portray themselves going on a culinary road adventure in The Trip to Italy, to the Beatles (though the barbed cheekiness of these two goes right back to the spirit of the banter in A Hard Day’s Night). But if I can at least make an analogy between comedy and music, Coogan and Brydon, who spend a lot of the film doing their slashing impersonations of Al Pacino, Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, Christian Bale, and others, appear to be driven by a heightened fixation on the personalities of Hollywood stars that seems at once peculiar to Britain and, just possibly, even more obsessive than our own. READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: Roger Ebert makes an enthralling documentary subject in 'Life Itself'

The first time we hear Roger Ebert talk in Life Itself, a deeply enthralling documentary about the late film critic who changed film criticism, he’s giving a speech (which he did quite often — sometimes, I can testify, when he was just standing in a room with you), and he observes that every one of us is more or less trapped inside the person we are. It is therefore our job, says Ebert, to attempt to understand who other people are; that’s basically the premise of civilization. And that, for Ebert, is where movies come in. Movies, he says, are “a machine that generates empathy,” and that’s just about as perfect an evocation of the primal appeal of movies as I have ever heard. It’s also a great example of why Roger Ebert was such a compelling writer, thinker, talker, and human being. It didn’t even matter whether you agreed with him — he had a way of putting things that was pithy and practical and philosophical all at the same time. He stopped drinking in 1979, but the easy, flowing panache of the barroom raconteur never left him. His thoughts, and the way that he expressed them, were catchy, infectious, contagious. Even when you did disagree with him (which, in my case, was often), the way he put things created a logic of enchantingly fused thought and passion. READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: Richard Linklater's entrancing 'Boyhood' captures the Zen of growing up

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which premiered at Sundance last night, is an entrancing, one-of-a-kind act of dramatic storytelling: a beautiful stunt of a movie. It was shot over a period of 12 years, beginning in 2002, and it takes two hours and 40 minutes to tell the story of a boy named Mason as he grows up in Texas. The hook of the movie — and if it is a stunt, it’s a visionary one — is that Mason is played throughout by a young actor named Ellar Coltrane, who we literally watch grow up, year after year, on camera. That makes the film a kind of cousin to Michael Apted’s series of Up documentaries, but I’m not sure if this sort of thing has ever been attempted in a work of cinematic fiction before.

Linklater, of course, is a storyteller who reveres the art of naturalism, and Boyhood, though it’s a genuine movie, full of bustlingly staged scenes and performances and motifs and arcs, has the feel of a staged documentary about a fictional character. It’s lively and boisterous and very entertaining to watch, because stuff keeps happening, but the film also rolls forward in an almost Zen manner, so that everything that occurs — an angry family dinner, a camping trip, a haircut, an afternoon of videogames — carries the same wide-eyed, you are here significance. The film has that deadpan Linklater tone of slacker haphazardness, but you could also say that it’s almost Joycean in its appreciation of the scruffy magic of everyday life. READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are fantastic in 'The Skeleton Twins'

Going in to the first Sundance showing of The Skeleton Twins, in which Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play a troubled sister and brother coping with the legacy of their screwed-up family, I knew nothing about the film except that it was being billed as the movie that reunited the two former SNL teammates but wasn’t a comedy. Glancing at that photo above, I thought to myself: Hmmmmm, I hope it’s not one of those glum dysfunctional-family indie specials in which gifted comedians blank themselves out for the sake of art. I needn’t have worried. The Skeletons Twins is very much a drama, but it has lots of laughs, too — the kind of good, soul-ticking laughs that emerge, organically, from dramatic situations. Its tone is comparable to that of The Kids Are All Right or Alexander Payne’s films. The Golden Globes would have no problem nominating The Skeleton Twins in the Best Comedy or Musical category. Yet as directed and co-written by Craig Johnson, this is a tenderly sincere, and smart, and beguiling, and penetrating movie about the way that ordinary messed-up people can wind up stumbling through their lives. And let me say right up front: The two actors are fantastic together, every bit as powerful as Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo were as the woundedly bound siblings of You Can Count on Me. But then, we already know from Bridesmaids what a knockout of a leading lady Kristen Wiig can be. It’s Bill Hader who’s the revelation. I think he could become a major screen actor. READ FULL STORY

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