Scott Frank

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A Walk Among the Tombstones Review


Although the plot isn't particularly original, a darkly internalised tone makes this low-key thriller oddly compelling. It may be the usual serial killer nastiness, but it also pays attention to earthier themes like morality and the futility of revenge. Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is able to combine his more recent action-hero persona with his serious acting chops this time. And writer-director Scott Frank infuses the film with moody grit, quietly subverting each cliche of the genre.

The action picks up eight years after Matt (Neeson) stopped drinking and quit the police force, following a shootout that went horribly wrong. It's now 1999, and New York is in the grip of Y2K paranoia. Matt is working as an unlicensed private detective who uses word-of-mouth to find clients. So Matt is intrigued when one of his 12-step friends (Boyd Holbrook) introduces his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens), a wealthy drug trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and then murdered even though he paid the ransom. As Matt digs into the case, he realises that the two killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) have a left a string of similar victims in their wake, and that the murders are connected. Meanwhile, Matt takes in homeless teen TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley), an observant kid who helps him work piece together the clues. And together they try to figure out where the killers will strike next.

This story unfolds with a remarkably gloomy tone, combining horrific violence with introspective drama. This mixture can feel rather jarring, especially as it wallows in the nastier side of human existence. Every character is tortured in more ways than one, with lost loves, physical afflictions and internal demons. Even the smaller side roles are packed with detail, including Olafur Darri Olafsson's creepy cemetery worker and Sebastian Roche's frazzled Russian mobster. All of this adds texture to the film, a welcome distraction from the grisly central plot, which is never played as a mystery, but rather as an inevitability.

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The Wolverine Review


It's only been four years since 2009's X-men Origins: Wolverine, and it's hard to see how this film does anything to correct that film's messy plot, harsh editing and uninteresting action. This one has a much more interesting Japanese setting and some great characters, but its focus on action over depth leaves it feeling gratuitous and empty. We may be entertained by the whizzy chaos of it all, but we never feel much suspense.

It begins in Alaska, where Logan (Jackman) is still licking his wounds after the death of his lover Jean Grey (Janssen), who appears regularly to him in sexy, soft-focus dreams. Then a young woman (Fukushima) turns up, insisting that he return to Japan to see Yashida (Yamanouchi), whose life Logan saved in the A-bombing of Nagasaki. But in Tokyo, Logan finds that the near-dead Yashida wants to relieve him of his healing immortality with the help of a sinister blonde doctor named Viper (Khodchenkova). Meanwhile, Yashida's son Shingen (Sanada) is miffed that his daughter Mariko (Okamoto) is the heir to his father's fortune. And there are armies of tattooed goons and arrow-shooting ninjas chasing Logan wherever he goes.

The film has a brisk pace, barely pausing to regain its breath before plunging into another massive action set-piece. But none of these sequences stands up to even the slightest scrutiny: laws of logic and physics are abandoned as the hugely muscled Logan battles everything in sight. Even after Viper steals his powers, he still has those retractable adamantium claws, which come in handy when you're fighting tenacious thugs on top of a speeding bullet train.

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Marley & Me Review

Animal films are critical landmines. Step wrong, opinion-wise, and readers will accuse you of being everything from heartless and insensitive to PETA's public enemy number one. Clearly, Old Yeller and other four-footed tearjerkers have made canines the noblest of our beloved domesticated friends. After topping the bestseller's list with his autobiographical memoir Marley and Me, journalist John Grogan is seeing his tale of the world's worst pooch finally make it to the big screen -- and it's time to get out the tar and feathers. Instead of being uplifting and heartwarming, this excruciating effort is 90 minutes of mediocrity followed by 10 minutes of the most manipulative, mean-spirited pap ever put into a movie made for families.

When they get married, reporters John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his new bride Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) picture themselves setting the Fourth Estate on fire. Eventually, they end up in South Florida where she handles hot button political and social stories. He, on the other hand, is relegated to writing about building fires and lame local oddities. When his sourpuss editor (Alan Arkin) offers him a column, John is unsure what to do. Taking inspiration from the new dog named Marley he just adopted, our scribe is soon scribbling stories about how this cute-as-a-button Labrador retriever is evil incarnate. Labeled "the world's worst dog," Marley lives up to the title. Even as the Grogans grow older and raise a family, they still don't know what to do with their destructive hound from Hell.

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The Lookout Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a soft baby face and a lanky frame, so it's easy to see why, Eight years after Third Rock from the Sun and 10 Things I Hate About You, he can still play teenagers. The surprise is that he can play them so differently. In The Lookout he's Chris Pratt, who starts off the movie as a cocky high school hockey player. After a car accident, though, Chris sustains brain damage that leaves him hollowed and frail, struggling, even more than most, through a mundane life.

Chris's condition isn't as neatly symbolic as Guy Pearce's inability to make new memories in Memento. Moments of clarity brush up against considerable fuzziness; Chris can remember people and places while forgetting how to heat up pasta sauce. Gordon-Levitt specializes in plain-sight, makeup-free transformations, and here he nails the wounded body language and muted frustration of a fallen jock idol, creating someone far removed from the equally vivid young people he played in Brick and Mysterious Skin.

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Out of Sight Review

Soderbergh knows how to take the everyday crime thriller and make it sing. Jennifer Lopez, in her best role to date as a sassy U.S. Marshal, makes a stunning impression on escaped convict George Clooney, and boy do the sparks -- emotional and physical -- fly. Hardly Oscar bait, but tons of fun. And look at how young Lopez and Clooney look if you watch it again today -- Lopez actually still has baby fat on her face and Clooney has nary a gray hair to be seen.

The Caveman's Valentine Review

After working as an actor for some time, Kasi Lemmons (The Silence of the Lambs) wrote and directed her first feature, Eve's Bayou, in 1997. She has since spent the past 4 years putting together The Caveman's Valentine, which took 10-plus producers to come to fruition. Instead of directing original material, Lemmons directs from the book by Georges Dawes Green, who adapted it for the screen.

Samuel L. Jackson (Unbreakable, Shaft) teams up with Lemmons again (he played the philandering husband in Eve's Bayou) to star as the disturbed and homeless Romulus. Thankfully, no easy explanation is ever uttered as to the nature of his psychosis. He lives partially obsessed with a fantasy world in which exotic dancers inspire his hands on the piano, and his ultimate nemesis resides in the Chrysler building.

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Get Shorty Review

The cryptic title of Get Shorty should forewarn you of the confusion to come when the film actually starts. To be honest, I >still< don't really know what it's supposed to mean. Initially, I was pretty excited about the prospects for Get Shorty: it's John Travolta's much-anticipated follow-up to Pulp Fiction; great actors Gene Hackman and Rene Russo both star; the well-regarded Elmore Leonard penned the novel that the movie is based on. What a disappointment!

The story goes: Travolta is Chili Palmer, a small time Miami hood, a "shylock" whose job is essentially coercing money out of people. His boss sends Chili on a chase for some questionably-raised funds; in Vegas, another contact sends him to L.A. to track down an entirely unrelated debtor, Harry Zimm (Hackman). And there are a few drug dealers who have their payoff stuck in a locker at LAX.

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The Interpreter Review

Astute moviegoers will recall that this isn't the first time Nicole Kidman has saved the world -- and especially the United Nations -- from destruction. And while 1997's The Peacemaker was a guilty pleasure of high intrigue and adventure, the flaccid The Interpreter doesn't generate half the excitement, kitschy or no.

The contrived setup gives us Nic as one Silvia Broome, a long-time resident of Africa who now makes a living as an interpreter at the UN. The headlines have a hated president from her homeland by the name of Zuwanie who's accused of genocide coming to give a speech to the General Assembly; most observers assume that the speech will save him from being tried for crimes against humanity as he pledges democratic reforms, and so his enemies are -- possibly -- planning to murder him at the podium. Or at least that's what Silvia says, as she overhears a potential plot late one night in her talkin' booth when she returns to the UN to get her "flutes and stuff."

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Heaven's Prisoners Review

A promising movie about a troubled couple who witness a bad, digital-effect plane crash and adopt the sole survivor, a young Salvadoran girl, gets stupid after 35 minutes when it degenerates into a witch hunt after the wife gets killed. You know, for seeing something she wasn't supposed to. Whatever. Two long and convoluted hours make Heaven's Prisoners an exercise in tedium.

Flight of the Phoenix (2004) Review

Even if you're not familiar with the original 1965 version of this film, the title alone makes the outcome of this flight predictable. And while that may not suggest you should abort this journey completely, it just means Flight of the Phoenix must work harder to overcome its predictability. Be warned that it may not be worth the turbulent ride. Unlike the outcome of the fabled Phoenix, this story cannot resurrect itself.

This is surprising because this remake is considerably faithful to the plot of its predecessor. The story tells the plight of an eccentric group of underachieving oilrig workers who become stranded in Mongolia's Gobi Desert (the Sahara in the original) after their cargo plane crashes during a fierce sandstorm. There's very little water, and only a few cans of peaches to sustain their existence under the scorching desert summer sun. Despite their circumstances, the group decides to take their chances and, gulp, build a new plane in a desperate attempt to save themselves.

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Out of Sight Review

Soderbergh knows how to take the everyday crime thriller and make it sing. Jennifer Lopez, in her best role to date as a sassy U.S. Marshal, makes a stunning impression on escaped convict George Clooney, and boy do the sparks -- emotional and physical -- fly. Hardly Oscar bait, but tons of fun.

Dead Again Review

One of Kenneth Branagh's sole "mainstream" projects (the excreble Frankenstein notwithstanding), Dead Again is a truly enjoyable popcorn movie, even if it is ultimately total nonsense. Here we have Branagh and then-wife Emma Thompson cavorting through a psychological thriller as they both discover they have past lives that may or may not be coming back to haunt them. Silly fun, but well acted, lively, and featuring a number of clever cameos.

Little Man Tate Review

It's been ages since I've seen this film. I watched it on video when it first came out, circa 1992 and barely remembered all of it. I remembered the little kid getting hit on the head with a globe by Harry Connick Jr. I completely forgot about Dianne Weist, and I had a vague memory of Jodie Foster having something or other to do with it. But, it was Sunday and I was bored and it just so happened that The Movie Channel had it on so I decided to sit back and watch it. I had nothing better to do.

Although I am already going senile at a very young age and cannot trust much of any memories, I do remember thinking that Little Man Tate was a good film. I am glad to see that times have not changed that much.

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The Ring Review

There's something inherently creepy about children and the supernatural. Poltergeist knew it. The Sixth Sense knew it, too. Both movies make their presence known in The Ring, though I wouldn't necessarily use them - or anything else - to describe this remarkably original and terrifying ghost tale.

Following a number of false starts that establish the film's unbalanced mood, The Ring rehashes an urban legend about a videotape. Very few people know its contents, though it's believed that the images found on the tape recap one person's nightmare. Initially I thought that tape was Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach, but I was wrong. Once you watch the video, the phone rings and a child's voice on the other end of the line whispers, "Seven days." You now have one week to live.

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Minority Report Review

Per Minority Report, in only 52 years we'll have a new privacy nightmare on our hands: A police unit in Washington D.C. will genetically engineer three people, float them in a Jacuzzi, and hook wires up to their heads so the cops can see murders occurring in the future. And thus, they can arrest the perpetrators before they commit the crime. (I would say this is a nightmare of an idea... but then again, we are talking about Washington D.C....)

The premise is a mind-bending puzzle on the scale of Memento, courtesy of sci-fi legend Steven Spielberg and his first collaboration with a stellar Tom Cruise. It's also Spielberg's best work since 1993's Schindler's List and flirts with threatening Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange as the best paradoxical utopic/dystopic view of the future.

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