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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SPACE ODDITIES (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 3, 2014 (San Diego) – Guardians of the Galaxy leaves no time to rest and little time to breathe.  I didn’t know what was happening half the time, but I didn’t care.  Guardians of the Galaxy sacrifices much of its plot development for relentless cacophonic action.  However, unlike most films directed by Michael Bay, it respects its audience.   

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SIMIAN KIND OF WONDERFUL (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES)

 

 

By Brian Lafferty

July 12, 2014 – I highly doubt the makers of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes read my less-than-enthusiastic review of the first film three years ago.  Although the screenplay was chillingly effective as a cautionary tale, Rise of the Planet if the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) could have used a lot more polished effects work considering the high human-to-ape ratio. 

Nevertheless, I looked forward to this sequel.  The director is Matt Reeves, who is best known for making Cloverfield (2008) and Let Me In (2010).  Of his small directorial output, I’ve only seen the latter, but this must be said: any director who can remake a seemingly "untouchable" film like Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008), retain the key ingredients that made the original successful - namely the haunting performances of the child actors, the icy dark photography, and unnerving violence – and at the same time make it his own, is one I will watch with little hesitation.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: GREED - FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD - IS CRUDE (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET)

 

By Brian Lafferty

December 25, 2013 (San Diego) – Marin Scorsese’s few forays into comedy thus far have been The King of Comedy (1983) and After Hours (1985).  Both are delightful dark comedies.  The former starred Robert De Niro as a delusional fan and stalker of a TV talk show host (Jerry Lewis).  The latter was written by then-Columbia University student Joseph Minion for his thesis.  It was a simple, yet uncommonly clever, a word processor’s (Griffin Dunne) crazy night.

Neither film, however, is as pitch black as The Wolf of Wall Street, not only the funniest film of the year, but the best period.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: A SPOONFUL OF TREACLE (SAVING MR. BANKS)

 

By Brian Lafferty

December 20, 2013 (San Diego) – What in the world were screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith thinking as they wrote Saving Mr. Banks, a colossal misfire in tone?  And director John Lee Hanchock (The Blind Side), who thought the script was good enough to film?  The upbeat, sunshiny trailers constitute fraud as far as I’m concerned.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO NOWHERE (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS)

 

By Brian Lafferty

December 20, 2013 (San Diego) – The year is 1961, and the setting is Greenwich Village in New York City.  Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is an aspiring folk singer – and a darn good one – just trying to earn a living.  As gifted as he is, it’s too bad nobody wants to hire him.  The film takes place during one week in which he finds his career – and himself – going nowhere at every turn.

SAN DIEGO FILM CRITICS NOMINATE TOP FILMS FOR 2013

 

December 10, 2013 (San Diego) – It’s that time of the year, where critics groups from all around the world honor the year’s best movies.  The New York Film Critics Circle kicked off awards season last week by voting David O. Russell’s upcoming film, American Hustle, their pick for 2013’s top film. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DUELING AVENGERS (OLDBOY)

 

November 27, 2013 (San Diego) – Justice is relative in Oldboy.  The latest film from director Spike Lee is complex in many areas.  Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) and Adrian Pryce (Sharlto Copley) would feel right at home in an Anthony Mann western; Joe is a good guy who is hard to root for while Adrian is a villain who is hard to root against.  Writer Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend, Thor), adapting from both the manga and the 2003 Park Chan-wook film starring Choi Min-sik (I Saw the Devil), puts together a maddeningly tantalizing script that protects its secrets to the last few minutes the same way Cerberus guards the gates of Hades.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE LYING GAME (THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 22, 2013 (San Diego) – A few months ago I watched for the first time the infamous episode of the 1950s quiz show Twenty-One in which contestant Charles Van Doren “defeated” Herb Stempel.  A few years later it was revealed that many of the prime time network quiz shows were rigged at the behest of the sponsors.  What millions of viewers thought was actual suspenseful game playing was really a series of scripted performances for the sake of “good television” and high ratings.  (If you watch that episode of Twenty-One, it’s so obvious Van Doren is acting, and doing a bad job of it.)

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: A FINE SHADE (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 14, 2013 (San Diego) – Every time a stream of adjectives flows into my mind when describing Blue Is the Warmest Color, “unique” invariably pops up.  That assessment, however, is wrong.  It’s unique only in the sense that the lovers are of the same sex.  Nobody would say so if the characters were a boy and a girl.  Adèle and Emma love each other, make love to each other, live with each other, and eventually break up with each other.  Just as a normal heterosexual couple would.  In that sense, and as a result of over a century of movie conditioning, it would be viewed as a “normal” relationship.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THUNDERSTRUCK (THOR: THE DARK WORLD)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 8, 2013 (San Diego) – For all the gripes I hear about Hollywood’s glut of sequels – particularly about its apparent unwilling to try something new – there exists an upside that frequently gets lost in all the grousing: whereas the first film acts the set-up, the second can just get right down to business.  Such is the case with Thor: The Dark World.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SOUTHERN INHOSPITALITY (12 YEARS A SLAVE)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 1, 2013 (San Diego) -- If there are any contemporary filmmakers more daring than Steve McQueen, I'm hard pressed to name one.  His first film, Hunger (2008), starred Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army Volunteer who led a hunger strike in a British prison and died in 1981.  He followed it up with Shame (2011), which also starred Fassbender, this time as a yuppie with a grossly unhealthy sex addiction.  The MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating for its frank and explicit depiction of sexual acts, and rightfully so, but Fox Searchlight left it as is.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: AFTER COMMAND SCHOOL SPECIAL (ENDER'S GAME)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 1, 2013 (San Diego) – Ender’s Game views warfare, military training, and combat from a unique perspective: a child’s.  The air is filled with an aura of childhood innocence.  The very real threat of humanity’s annihilation is hard for these young recruits to completely comprehend because they haven’t experienced life and the world as much as grown-ups have.

"THE ROOM" CELEBRATES TEN YEARS AT THE KEN CINEMA AT MIDNIGHT OCT. 11 AND 12

 

 

October 10, 2013 (Kensington) – The Ken Cinema in Kensington, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is one of only two regularly operating single-screen theaters in San Diego (the other being the new Digital Gym Cinema in North Park, which opened up in April this year).  The Ken is known for two things, the first being San Diego’s home to unique, niche films (as I’ve written about before). 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DRUNKS VS. ROBOTS (THE WORLD'S END)

 

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 23, 2013 (San Diego) – Up until The World’s End, Edgar Wright had only three feature films to his directorial credit:  Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).  However small his output, those films – Shaun of the Dead in particular – have spawned a huge cult following like few I’ve encountered in recent years.  To those outside this circle, he’s an acquired taste.  Shaun of the Dead, for example, was a dry take on the zombie apocalypse in fine British fashion.  It’s laugh out loud funny if you get the sophisticated humor.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SERVE AND REFLECT (LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 15, 2013 (San Diego) – Like Forrest Gump, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) views American history from a distance, a bystander swept up in a relentless flurry of major historical events that came to dominate and define the latter 20th century.  Like Forrest Gump, Danny Strong's screenplay - based on the Washington Post article by Wil Haywood - mystifies the civil rights movement, the Kennedy assassination, and the Vietnam War.  As major political figures appear, and landmark events transpire or are referenced, the joy of discovery and realization kicks in at full stop.  And like Forrest Gump, it's full of "easter eggs" masterfully hidden that become uncovered with repeat viewings. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: TECHNOBABBLE (JOBS)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 16, 2013 (San Diego) – After Steve Jobs passed away in October 2011, Steve Breen - whose political cartoons are always as funny as they are spot-on - paid a more respectful and touching tribute to him.  It showed him, presumably having arrived in Heaven, being welcomed by Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE LEAGUE OF ORDINARY SUPERMEN (KICK-ASS 2)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 16, 2013 (San Diego) – Scattered throughout Kick-Ass 2 are the same high-caliber flashes of genius of its predecessor.  Only thing is Kick-Ass had a rich, fully developed screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn from which to hang them.  Jeff Wadlow's screenplay is otherwise a messy concoction of underdeveloped subplots and gratuitous nasty violence. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT (THE SPECTACULAR NOW)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 15, 2013 (San Diego) – Sutter (Miles Teller) is like that friend who has certain annoying tendencies, but you nonetheless love hanging out with.  He's a boisterous young man with an extreme fondness for beer...even though he hasn't yet graduated high school.  He knows how to have a good time, too.  A really good time.  One night he'll be at a party, and then the next morning he'll find himself passed out on a random neighbor's lawn.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: PLANET OF THE 99% (ELYSIUM)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 9, 2013 (San Diego) – Last August, I declared on Facebook that you will never see me post about politics and religion on social media.  That’s an easy rule for me to follow on Facebook and Twitter.  Not so much when reviewing movies (Gerrymandering, Client 9).  Writer and director Neill Blomkamp packs so many socio-political issues into his latest film, Elysium, that it demands discussion.  

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: I THINK IT'S GOING TO BE A LONG, LONG TIME (EUROPA REPORT)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 8, 2013 (San Diego) – Every time I think about Europa Report, I can’t help but think of Elton John’s hit song, Rocket Man.  It tells about an astronaut who leaves his family for a lengthy and lonely trip to Mars.  The lyrics beautifully describe the feelings of isolation ("It's lonely out in space"), longing ("I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife"), and career crossroads ("All this science, I don't understand, it's just my job five days a week.") 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: ROCK THE BOAT (A HIJACKING)

 

By Brian Lafferty

July 12, 2013 (San Diego) – A Hijacking is a straightforward hostage movie that is as simply constructed and acted as its title.  Somali pirates take over a Danish cargo ship.  The captors demand millions of dollars in exchange.  No one-liners, no fancy style, no John McClane heroics or Hans Gruber villainy.  Not even a note of music to underscore the tension.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: MONSTERS BRAWL (PACIFIC RIM)

 

 

By Brian Lafferty

July 12, 2013 (San Diego) – The scariest story I’ve ever read was Stephen King’s The Mist.  Made into a 2007 Frank Darabont film I’m too frightened to see, it told of a band of New England survivors trapped in a grocery story by a dense fog and a horde of horrific creatures from another dimension.  At the end, the remaining survivors encounter a monster so humongous, that it would make a blue whale – the largest animal in Earth’s existence – look like a trout.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: HIGH FIVE, SILVER! AWAY! (THE LONE RANGER)

 

By Brian Lafferty

July 3, 2013 (San Diego) – When I first learned of The Lone Ranger’s budget, I asked myself, “What studio in their right mind would spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a movie based on a property that originated as a long-running radio show, and later a low-budget 1950s kids TV show?”  In the 1930s and 1940s, Monogram Pictures and Republic Pictures rolled out hundreds of low-budget B-movies, a significant chunk of them westerns.  A cursory glance through the Internet Movie Database and a little arithmetic tells me The Lone Ranger cost a ton more than all these companies’ movies put together.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: BLOODLUST (BYZANTIUM)

 

By Brian Lafferty

June 28, 2013 (San Diego) – Neil Jordan’s Byzantium is cinema’s best answer to the Twilight series since Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire masterpiece Let the Right One In (not counting Matt Reeves’ equally crafted American remake Let Me In).  It takes the now all-too-familiar forbidden vampire-mortal love story and breathes into it an intoxicating mix of realism, atmosphere, and wicked sexiness.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE RUNNING DEAD (WORLD WAR Z)

 

 

By Brian Lafferty

June 21, 2013 (San Diego) – After a long and troubled production history going back to 2007 – none of which needs to be rehashed here – World War Z is finally here.  It’s a simple pulpy globetrotting zombie flick starring Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former member of the United Nations called into action to combat a worldwide zombie pandemic.  Such a simple plot, yet it serves a movie so confounding that I may never know if it’s good or bad.  If I were to look at it from every respect, it would be split right down the middle at 50%.  I can make strong arguments from both sides.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: BLAND EDUCATION (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY)

 

By Brian Lafferty

June 21, 2013 (San Diego) – There’s always a first for everything.  Monsters University is the first Pixar film I disapprove of (I should note that I still haven’t seen Cars 2).  Has Pixar gotten complacent since Toy Story 3?  It sure seems so.  Since 1995 they could be counted on to turn out a high-quality product.  Now they’re dangerously close to being indistinguishable from DreamWorks, Blue Sky Studios, and Sony Pictures Animation.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: HEAVY METAL (MAN OF STEEL)

 

By Brian Lafferty

June 14, 2013 (San Diego) – The original Superman was entertaining in the moment, but terribly flawed upon further reflection, especially the ending.  As much fun as I had watching it, the ending was one giant mass of plot holes.  I remember liking the somewhat turgid Superman Returns when I saw it in theaters seven years ago.  Today I can’t remember a single thing about it.  Other than that, I had limited exposure to the silly Superman II

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN (BEFORE MIDNIGHT)

 

 

Photo Credit:  Sony Pictures Classics

By Brian Lafferty

May 31, 2013 (San Diego) – January saw the release of 56 Up.  That film was the latest in a unique documentary series that began in 1964, in which Michael Apted interviewed a group of 7-year old kids from disparate backgrounds.  The project became literally a lifelong labor of love, as Apted has revisited these people every seven years. 

Five months later, San Diego screens are blessed with Before Midnight, the third film in a series that may or may not have been inspired by the Up documentaries, but feels very much like a fictional version of them.  To watch Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight is akin to imbibing a bottle of fine wine that has gotten better with each nine-year passage.

FREQUENCY FILM FESTIVAL 2013: MEMORY OF THE DEAD

Screens Friday, April 5 at 10:00 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Playhouse as part of the first Frequency Film Festival.

By Brian Lafferty

March 22, 2013 (San Diego) – Two weeks ago, Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful was released.  Memory of the Dead - which screens on Friday, April 5 as part of the new Frequency Film Festival - is a film that owes much to Raimi's not so family-friendly work.  It balances both camp and fright with scattered, but effective, jump scares and lots of blood.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: KIND HEARTS AND EXORCISTS (BEYOND THE HILLS)

By Brian Lafferty

March 19, 2013 (San Diego) – Despite the many perpetual controversies surrounding the Catholic Church, Islam, Scientology, and other religions, I am not opposed to organized religion.  In fact, religion as a whole fascinates me.  I have a lot of family and very good friends (some of them practically family) who have found peace, happiness, and spiritual and mental well-being from it.  Religion has been a major part of the human race, and it’s had an effect on world history, philosophy, literature, art, and everything else.  That’s why, as part of my overall plan to improve myself as a person through self-education about the aforementioned subjects and more, I’ve had a desire to learn about the various religions practiced in the world. 

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