FlixChatter Review: The Judge (2014)

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It’s a film featuring Robert vs Robert. One is a hugely popular actor hitting a stratospheric rise in his Phase 2 (pardon the Marvel pun) of his career if you will, and the other a veteran actor known for his dramatic intensity. As with the case of Robert Downey Jr, I feel that ever since I saw him playTony Stark, I notice that essentially he plays a similar personality as that character in a lot of his other films. In this one, he plays a top notch defense attorney who’s got a reputation for representing guilty people with money. Hank Palmer is smart, wealthy, snarky, irreverent and a bit of a womanizer. Sounds familiar? 

The story pretty much starts after his mother dies suddenly and he has to return home to a small Midwestern town for her funeral. It’s apparent Hank hasn’t been home in a while and thus made him sort of an outsider with his own family, especially his dad, Judge Joseph Palmer, played by Robert Duvall. It doesn’t take long before the two butt heads, both stubbornly harboring old grudges and neither can reign their ego to concede. I feel that the film takes too slow to get to the heart of the story, which is when the town’s judge became a murder suspect of a man he sent to prison who was later paroled. You could see where the story’s going from a mile away, so there’s hardly any surprises when they all materialized. Even the fact that Joseph is terminally ill, which he vehemently tried to hide from everyone including his own family, is hardly surprising.

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The Judge is part courtroom/dysfunctional-family drama has its moments, but often times it’s way too clichéd and too over sentimental for me to truly enjoy. I’m a big cryer, I mean I cry watching even animated movies like Toy Story & How To Train Your Dragon, but I barely shed a tear in this one. Now I know that alone isn’t a measure of a movie’s quality, but I felt that the lack of emotional involvement makes this one pretty forgettable. The father-son storyline feels very familiar, you’ve seen it done many times over in both films and TV. Regardless of its A-list cast, this courtroom drama type story seems more suitable for a TV movie. 

Now speaking of that cast, I think Downey has dramatic chops, that’s been proven before, but here he doesn’t quite hit a new note. He’s Downey being Downey, and he seems to be playing another Tony Stark-type persona. Duvall is good but again, I think his acting cred is what makes his role interesting, not necessarily how he’s written. Even the scenes between two acting juggernaut RDJ and Duvall didn’t quite ignite the screen as you expect it to. Some of the shots of the courthouse seems to [attempt to] evoke To Kill A Mockingbird, which was Duvall’s big-screen debut. Alas, I must say that his small, non-speaking role there makes a bigger impression to me than he was in this entire film. The two supporting cast that did make an impression to me are Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga, as Joseph’s prosecutor and Hank’s high school sweetheart respectively. However, despite my admiration for Farmiga’s talent, the tertiary storyline between her and RDJ’s character gets more screen time than it needs to be. Dax Shepard lends some comic relief but his performance seems too goofy that it feels out of place. 

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It turns out that this was directed by David Dobkin, the director of R-rated comedies The Wedding Crashers & The Change-Up, which could explain the uneven tone of drama/comedy here. I think this film would’ve been a bit more digestible if it weren’t so repetitive and overlong. At 2 hour, 22 min, it’s 3 minute shorter than Gone Girl but not nearly half as intriguing. Now overall I think it’s a decent film but given the quibbles I’ve listed above, I’d probably save this one as a rental.

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Has anyone seen The Judge? Well, what did you think?

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New Releases Double Reviews: Jack Reacher & Django Unchained

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Thanks to Ted for these reviews as I was on vacation when the screenings took place.

Jack Reacher

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Tom Cruise continues his “comeback” on the big screen with another action thriller after the success of last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this time he’s playing another super-spy type in Jack Reacher. It’s based on one of Lee Child’s popular series of novels, One Shot. The film starts out with a mysterious person who randomly shot and killed five people in a public place with a sniper rifle. With the recent tragedies in real life, this opening sequence was a bit eerie, so just a warning if you’re still too upset about what happened in Connecticut, I don’t recommend you go see this movie. Now the scene was well shot and staged and to me it didn’t glamorize the violence but I can definitely understand if someone can get upset when they see it. Later an ex-marine sniper named Barr (Joseph Sikora) was arrested for the crime and during an interrogation he asked the detective on the case Emerson (David Oyelowo) and district attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) to get him Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise).

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Director Werner Herzog as the Russian mobster known as ‘The Zec’

Emerson and Rodin decided to look up Reacher but couldn’t find anything on him. A few moments later Reacher showed up at their office and asked to see Barr. But Barr is in a coma because he got beat up badly by some other inmates while in custody. So Reacher met with Barr’s lawyer Helen (the gorgeous ex-Bond girl Rosamund Pike). Reacher told her that he’s there just to make sure Barr is behind bars because he believed Barr did the shooting, he and Barr had a history together back when they were in the army. But Helen convinced Reacher to help her investigate what really happened and as both of them dig deeper into the case, they got in trouble with some local thugs, Charlie (Jai Courtney aka John McClane Jr.) and his mysterious boss known as The Zec (the great director Werner Herzog).

Performance wise, I thought everyone did a good job. Especially Cruise who was in the command of the role. I’ve never read any of the books but I know some fans weren’t too thrilled that he was cast as Reacher. But I think many of them will find out that Cruise did well here.

The film is a straightforward procedural thriller; there aren’t any major surprises that will wow you. The humors are well-placed and they didn’t feel forced into each scene. The action sequences were pretty great, I’m so glad that the filmmakers decided to shoot action scenes where we can actually see them. Some directors tends to forget that when we go see action films, we want to SEE the action, not trying to figure what’s going on during a scene or get dizzy from it. Christopher McQuarrie who wrote and directed this film, did a tremendous job with his sharp dialogues and action sequences.

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The climatic shoot out was probably one of the most meticulous action scenes I’ve ever seen. The way he laid out each sequence and edited were quite astonishing to me. Then the mano-a-mano showdown between Reacher and Charlie was well staged and looked like a “real” fight between two grown men. Of course this being an action film, it needs a car chase scene and it was well done too. It reminded me of the chase scene from Bullit but I kind of wish it ended similar to that film, if you saw the trailer then you know how the chase ended. I thought it’s too cheesy and didn’t really make sense.

In the end I thought it was a well made action thriller that didn’t take itself too seriously and I like the fact it has that old school 70s thriller feel to it. I would definitely love to see more of Jack Reacher films in the future.

4 out of 5 reels

Django Unchained

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Having read the script last year and loved it, I was very excited to see this film. (Read my script review here.) Surprisingly the film is very close to the script, only a few scenes didn’t make it to the screen. Quentin Tarantino is obsessed with spaghetti westerns and he tends to pay homage to that genre in some of his films, particularly Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. Well now he’s finally made a film that truly pays homage the genre but he also mix in another genre, blax-ploitation, mostly the slave related subject that were popular back in the 70s, the most popular film from the genre was called Mandingo. Anyone who likes 70s films as much as I do will probably have seen some of these films; even though they were considered “trashy” by most critics, I somehow enjoyed them. It also burrowed a lot of elements from Sergio Corbucci’s films, especially Django and The Great Silence; if you’ve seen either of those films, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The film opens with a “dentist” named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) looking for a slave who can identify three fugitives for him. We then meet Django (Jamie Foxx) who said he knows these three fugitives, so Schultz decided to buy Django from his owners but they refused. Well, Schultz being an educated man tried to reason with these clowns but they still won’t budge. So he used his skills with a pistol to convince them. Django is freed and both of them set out to find the three fugitives. After they hunt down the fugitives, Schultz was quite impressed with Django skills so he asked if Django would like to be a bounty hunter like him and join him in the hunt. In return Shultz will help Django with anything he wants. Django agreed and said he wants to find his wife who’s been taken away from him. The first half of the films was about Schultz teaching Django how to become a good bounty hunter and sharp with a pistol.

A few months later, Schultz found out where Django’s wife is being kept. She’s at a plantation known as Candieland which owns by Calvin Candie (Leo DiCaprio). So in order to rescue her, Schultz came up with a plan by pretending to be a rich German who’s interested in purchasing a Mandingo fighter and Django is his Mandingo expert. The rest of film took place at Calvin’s Candieland plantation.

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I thought the performances by the lead actors were great, especially Waltz and DiCaprio. Jamie Foxx surprised me, I was skeptical when he was cast in the title role but he did a good job. Apparently QT wrote the part specially for Will Smith but Smith turned him down, I was hoping QT would cast someone like Anthony Mackie or Idris Elba. Also, the cinematography by Robert Richardson was excellent, from the snowy landscape of Montana to the muddy streets of Mississippi, every shots looked spectacular. The action sequences were great, there’s a shootout scene that’s similar to the carnage scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 where the Bride took down the Crazy 88s.

Now I’m going to talk about why I was very disappointed with this film. As mentioned earlier, I read the script (which I reviewed here) and loved it, but somehow the actual film just didn’t deliver in my opinion. It’s clear that QT really needed his long time editor the late Sally Menke to work on this film with him. I thought the first half of the film was sloppily-edited and just wasn’t coherent. The music selection was kind of odd too. I always love the music QT used in his films but when you hear a Tupac song during a shootout scene in this one, it sort of take you out of the film. Now I understand why QT cast a not so well known actress in the role of Broomhilda, Django’s wife, she hardly spoke in the film. She either screams, cries or look scare in each scene she appeared in.

This was one of the films I most looking forward to see this year and unfortunately it was a major disappointment to me. Now I plan to see it again soon since I saw it almost a month ago, so I might change my mind when I see it again. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, it just didn’t lived up to my expectations. I know that I might be in the minority since after the private screening, many people in the theater thought it was great. If you’re a huge QT fan, you might enjoy it. Just a warning though, the film is violent and very bloody. The N-word were uttered constantly by pretty much everyone in the film, so if you’re easily offended, I don’t recommend you go see this film.

In an interview, QT mentioned that he might release a longer extended cut of the film down the road. At one point his producer Harvey Weinstein tried to convince him to split the film into two parts like they did with Kill Bill but QT vetoed that idea. I assume he shot many scenes that were in the script but decided cut them out. I don’t know if a longer version will improve the movie, I mean most of the scenes left in the cutting room floor were probably just violent and rape scenes. I’m assuming here of course because those sequences were in the script.

2.5 out of 5 reels

– reviews by Ted S.


What are your thoughts on these films? Did they live up to your expectations?

The Ten Best Actors of All Time: Relay Race

My friend Nostra at My Filmviews started this back in mid March, as if he needed to prove to anyone that he lives up to the title ‘King of all Blog Series’ that I gave him :D What’s this relay race all about? I’ll let Nostra himself explain:

“So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one actor (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actor. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors”

Since then the baton has been passed on to Terrence @ The Focused Filmographer, Scott @ Front Room Cinema, then off to Pete @ I Love That Film who then passed it on to yours truly!


All right, so here we go:

Robert De Niro

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Although he may not have had any roles that stood out in the last couple of years, he has proven what an amazing actor he is. Just think of his roles in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Godfather: Part II, Goodfellas, The Untouchables, Heat and Cape Fear.

Daniel Day Lewis

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Although he might not have appeared in as many movies as some of the other actors in this list he makes up for it in the amazing performances he gives. He really disappears in his roles. Some of his best work includes My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, In the Name of the Father and Last of the Mohicans.

Charlie Chaplin

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Now this might not be someone you’d immediately think of, but when it comes to comedy and silent movies he was perfect, funny and knew exactly how to make his audience care about the character he played. Some of his best work can be enjoyed in The Kid, City Lights, The Great Dictator and Modern Times.

Gary Oldman

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He has proven that he is a true chameleon, with a very distinct look in every movie he appears in. His acting is always a joy to watch. Some of his best known work is that in the Harry Potter series, Leon, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the latest Batman movies and Dracula.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

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He started acting in 1991 and really has had a very versatile career appearing in movies that are loved in art houses, but in mainstream movies as well. His movies include The Ides of March, Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Wilson’s War, Capote and Magnolia.

Marlon Brando

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Now I must admit that I haven’t seen many of his movies, but he was stunning in his most famous role in The Godfather, but also roles in Apocalypse Now, On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire he wowed audiences.

Robert Duvall

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Robert Duvall has had an amazing career as well. I don’t know much about his early work, but I always enjoy to see him on the screen. His characters always are injected with something that grounds them into reality. He appeared in movies like Get Low, The Godfather, Colors, Apocalypse Now and THX1138.

Christian Bale

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With quite the diverse range in roles, Oscar-winner Christian Bale goes to great lengths for many of his roles. From losing weight to almost unhealthy standards twice (The Machinist, The Fighter) to taking dance and martial arts lessons for 10 weeks for Newsies (a film which he dislikes), Bale consistently goes to incredible lengths to bring a role to life. Other examples of his great work include: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Empire of the Sun, Equilibrium, and 3:10 to Yuma.

Edward Norton

The star of one of the greatest films of all time; David Fincher’s Fight Club.  He has made a career out of playing characters with two sides to their personalities.  From an ‘innocent’ abused choirboy with a dark side in Primal Fear right up to his turn as The Incredible Hulk, Norton does Dr Jekyll and Mr Nutcase Hyde better than anybody!  American History X and Fight Club are the standout performances of his career and though he might not have a huge filmography, his casting with Brando and De Niro in The Score was a significant baton-passing to the best actor of a new generation.

My Choice: Gregory Peck

Yes I realize my pick is quite predictable to most of you, ahah. But hey, we are talking about the best actors of ALL TIME here and after seeing twenty eight of his feature films in the last six months, I can confidently say he wasn’t just a great and versatile actor, he’s an acting legend! I think even fellow AFI Lifetime Achievement Award recipient DeNiro (and his co-star in the Cape Fear remake) would vouch for him. Interestingly, Mr. Peck passed away the night DeNiro received the AFI honor, and he called Peck “elegant, distinguished and a film icon” (per People).

Most of you know he won an Oscar as the quiet hero Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, but few know that it was his fifth Oscar nomination. He nabbed the other four Best Actor nominations within the first five years of his career. Though he’s known for portraying serious roles and a lot of noble men, I think he’s as adept and convincing in his more comic roles such as in Arabesque, Designing Woman and Roman Holiday. He’s also fun to watch as an all-out bad guy, such as in Duel in the Sun and Boys of Brazil (based on what I read anyway as I haven’t seen it yet), though by his own admission he wasn’t as keen on playing. I really think Mr. Peck is the real deal, a quintessential movie star with enormous acting talent and strong screen presence to boot.

Who I Replaced: Paul Giamatti

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Oh man, I am in tears that I have to remove Giamatti from the list because I really like this guy!! I’m so sorry Scott, since you’re the one who added him to this list but if it’s any consolation, I do think he’s excellent, excellent actor but I guess out of all the nine other actors on this list, I feel like Giamatti is the one who’s perhaps more successful as a character or supporting actor, but doesn’t necessarily have that ‘star quality’ to get people to see a film simply because his name is on the marquee. I guess you could argue that about Philip Seymour Hoffman as well (which was my second choice to take out), but I do think Hoffman is the stronger and more compelling performer one of the two.



Ok, since it’s been mostly guys who’ve been picked to do the relay, I’m going to pick another girl for the next one. So I’m handing the baton over to… Kristin @ All Eyes on Screen. All right Kris, you’ve got a week to take part in the relay. Looking forward to see who you’d add and replace!
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So what do you think of my pick? Who would you replace if you were me? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Classic Flix Review: The Outfit (1973)

Greetings, all and sundry! Once again, I would like to take advantage of Ruth’s largesse and wax poetic about a film that cemented my belief that Robert Duvall is a solid talent to be reckoned with. In what many consider to be a ‘Criminal Revenge B-Movie’, but is so much more! Hence, I proffer.

Made on a well-and-frugally-spent budget that wouldn’t cover a day’s catering bill for a Spielberg or Cameron blockbuster. Director John Flynn gets maximum bang for the buck by also adapting and supplying the gritty screenplay in a no frills take on a novel by Donald E. Westtlake. Enriched by a soundtrack by Jerry Fielding and a tried and true cast of up and coming talent and an always reliable rogues gallery of stalwarts.

The film begins with small time crook, Earl Macklin. Superbly played by Robert Duvall, being released from prison after two years and change for a concealed gun charge. Macklin does his time well. A stand up guy who doesn’t say a word about ‘The Outfit’. A euphemism for organized crime out of Chicago that has branched out into the Midwest and West.

That is, until Macklin is informed by his girlfriend, Bett. Well played by a sultry Karen Black. That Macklin’s brother recently became a loose end and was murdered by The Outfit. Who subsequently have a contract out on Macklin. Who takes the news in stride and decides to get the band back together. And to get the $250,000 Macklin thinks he’s owed for his time behind bars.

Macklin’s first stop is his partner-in-crime, Cody. Played with ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ easiness masking a violent rage, by Joe Don Baker. Fresh from  his role of psychotic money collector, ‘Molly’ in the incredibly under rated, Charley Varrick. Cody hasn’t anything pressing or better to do. So the two crash an after hours, Outfit backed poker game.

Next stop. Some better, heavier hardware and a decent set of wheels. Enter always dependable, Richard Jaeckel’s Chemey. Who lives out in the middle of nowhere. Has a ramshackle house and even older garage where he tinkers away on automobiles and their engines. His pride and joy is a nondescript Volkswagen Beetle. Into which he’s planted a Porsche engine. A superb getaway car. That looks like a VW. Acts like a VW. But try as he might, Chemey cannot make it sound like a VW!

A different car is chosen as a greasily obnoxious Buck. Played with gusto by Bill McKinney watches his slutty wife,  played by Sheree North fail at using her attributes to get anything out of Macklin and Cody. Who travel to L.A. to take down another Outfit run bank with a small safe loaded with bundles of money. Well executed with odd camera angles and only a switchboard operator/receptionist being knocked out by Cody in the process.

This raises the ire and anger of  the local Godfather, Mailer. Exceptionally played by Robert Ryan in his last film role. As a man slowly losing his grip on his fiefdom while young Turks circle about. Aided by the always creepy Timothy Carey as his adviser and bodyguard, Menner. Who unwisely decide to go all Bunker Mentality as lackeys and minions are taken down.

Taken out or otherwise disabled as Macklin and Cody prepare for a final showdown at Mailer’s resplendent manse and stables!

What Makes This Film Good?

Watching Robert Duvall being given free rein to expand horizons set in supporting roles in The Godfather  and Joe Kidd. Playing a character who may not be very likeable at first, but grows on you. Letting his eyes and face do the acting while given the news of his brother’s murder. While understanding his desire for some well earned payback. Not just by confronting his nemesis, Mailer, but expanding his options to let Mailer bleed financially. Weakening the crime boss. Not just in the eyes of his gang that’s always looking for a weakness to exploit, but in the eyes of the bosses in Chicago. Who like things to run smoothly and are even quicker to fix ‘problems’. Watching what Macklin and Cody do from a distance is wonderfully intriguing to watch as a two front war opens up on Mailer.

Cinematography by Bruce Surtees is exceptional and has a distinct Noir influence as Macklin and Cody go about their business of robbing and pillaging. Often employing unique shots as our hero slides into and out of shadow slashed corridors that only heightens the suspense that Jerry Fielding’s eclectic, though effective soundtrack deftly tickles. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, because actions throughout speak louder than words.

What Makes This Film Great?

A well-executed and very straight line story completely bereft of sub plots and other distractions. Deftly handled by a director and crew that know their business. Guiding a cast of up and coming talent in Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker. Subtly backed up by a Who’s Who of venerable veterans.

From Robert Ryan, Joanna Cassidy, Timothy Carey and Elisha Cook Jr. To Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Bill McKinney, Jane Greer and Karen Black. No matter what the size or duration of their respective roles. All are made unique and memorable. In a near forgotten gem that is the definition of being more than the sum of its parts!


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


Thoughts on this film? Do share ‘em in the comments.