Haute Cuisine (Les saveurs du Palais)

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Haute Cuisine_
Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), trying a dish that turns out to be less bland than the film in which it appears.

2Star

by Ken B.

There’s a scene in Haute Cuisine that sees Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), French President François Mitterand’s head private chef, and a few other cooks trying a prospective dessert cooked in the chaotic main kitchen. They conclude that while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the dish, it has no personality and looks like it could have been made by anyone. This sequence unknowingly describes the whole movie – there’s nothing awful about it, and there are things to admire, but it leaves no impression.

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Labor Day

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Labor Day_

25Star

by Ken B.

I wasn’t particularly interested in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day when it was released. It looked uniformly dismissible, and the positive reviews didn’t leave much of an impact on me. However, when I interviewed Mike McGranaghan, he offered a very impassioned defense of the film. It was strong enough that my curiosity was sparked, and after I got some more high profile films to get out of the way, I circled back and checked this one out.

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The Lego Movie

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legomovie2

3-5Star

by Ken B.

There are, of course, different types of very good movies. However, sometimes it feels that the majority of notable films often occupy the drama category. These can be excellent, although often depressing and draining affairs. I have indeed recently seen more than one entry to that category which are recommendable (whether I’ve reviewed them or not), but we often forget about the other side of the spectrum – great movies that are happy, funny, and energetic. The Lego Movie is a shining example. It’s a real treat of a motion picture in just about every way, and joins the group of kid-based animated films that really do resonate for everyone else that watches it, both in execution and message (in that way, I was reminded of Toy Story, although I suspect I’ll always have a preference for those films).

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The Ghost Writer

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The rumble begins.
The rumble begins.

3Star

by Ken B.

Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer is a good movie, and although it may not be the most thrilling of thrillers, it still has a mostly credible script, great direction, and solid acting. It is about a writer (Ewan McGregor) who is tapped to ghostwrite the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), after the previous author drowned under mysterious circumstances. Soon, after accusations of war crimes stemming from Lang’s former foreign secretary (Robert Pugh), his public perception plummets, and he is charged by the International Criminal Court. Our protagonist, the unnamed writer, attempts to find out what happened to his now dead predecessor, and in the process, unravels a web of conspiracies that answer questions that he may have been more safe not knowing about.

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Amour

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Amour_

4Star

by Ken B.

Amour is incredibly powerful. It is by no means an easy film to watch, both in its subject matter and deliberately slowed down pace, but is a testament to the raw power of filmmaking, even when presented in such a minimalist way. Michael Haneke, long considered a giant of cinema, enlists Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both legends of French acting, in his film. The result is a heavy look at health, life, death, and love, with experienced talent both behind and in front of the camera. But be forewarned: It is emotionally demanding and quite draining. If you choose to watch it, know what you are getting into before viewing this film.

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An Interview With Mike McGranaghan (aisleseat.com)

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by Ken B.

In what will hopefully be a recurring segment, I interview an online film critic about movies, their views, and the direction of online movie reviewing. My work as in interviewer might be a little rough here, as it’s the first one. Today’s guest:

aisle seat

You can see (or hear) Mike McGranaghan in a lot of places. His main website is http://www.aisleseat.com. He’s a contributor for Film Racket (www.filmracket.com). If you live in Central Pennsylvania, you can hear him regularly on WKOK-AM. (These jobs have earned him membership in both the Online Film Critics Society and the Broadcast Film Critics Association). He’s also written two books: My Year of Chevy: One Guy’s Journey Through the Filmography of Chevy Chase and Straight-up Blatant: Musings from the Aisle Seat. Mike recently agreed to an interview with the site. Here it is:

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Halftime Report 2014 – Part 2

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(Read Part 1 here)

by Ken B.

Today’s list is more fun than yesterday’s. Now, we’ll look at the five best films I’ve reviewed so far in 2014. Once again, these aren’t necessarily 2014 films, just reviews published from January 1 to July 1, 2014.

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Halftime Report 2014 – Part 1

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(read part 2 here)

by Ken B.

We’re halfway through 2014 now, and so it’s time to look back a bit at the five best and worst movies I’ve reviewed so far this year. As a general reminder, as we review a wide variety of films year, new or not, these are not the five best and worst 2014 releases, but  the ones whose reviews have been posted in 2014.

We may as well get the pain over with the bottom five. This will be divided into two sections – two are going under the title of “most disappointing”, and the other three are the most, at least in my view, insufferable.

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Instructions Not Included (No se aceptan devoluciones)

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Julie (Jessica Lindsey) drops by with a surprise for Valentín (Eugenio Derbez).
Julie (Jessica Lindsey) drops by with a surprise for Valentín (Eugenio Derbez).

3Star

by Ken B.

The great British director Stephen Daldry once said something I didn’t quite like when I first heard it. He noted that when showing one of his films to test audiences, he observed how they would go along with it, enraptured by the plot and characters at every plot point. Then critics would see it, and write about how foreseeable and pointless a lot of those same elements were. He concluded that “regular” people were a far more accurate reading over the success of that film than critical impressions. At first, I dismissed this as another filmmaker slighting critics because they weren’t all writing the raves he thought he deserved. However, after watching more movies like Instructions Not Included, I sort of understand where’s he’s coming from. This is certainly a movie that works better if you haven’t seen too many movies. If you have, it may come off as overcooked, mawkish, and manipulative, and the heart and soul hidden behind the storytelling problems will be lost. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief_

25Star

by Ken B.

The Book Thief suffers from two distinct problems – in the first two thirds, it is a bit disconnected with its details, but has its share of professional and efficient moments. In the last act, everything comes together and has much more clarity, but it becomes very emotional, and sometimes overdoes it. Brian Percival’s film is an undoubtedly mixed product, ultimately a grab bag of achievements and could-have-beens. The acting is usually good, the visuals atmospheric, and John Williams delivers with his iconic orchestra-based music, but the actual script is a bit of a mess, and hurts the movie’s impact as a whole, no matter how good the other elements may be.

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