Screened Out – Philomena

By : Stephen Miller
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Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Mare Winningham

Philomena is a beautiful film, but it’s also a very tough sell. Obviously Steve Coogan believes in it. He is cowriter, producer, and lead actor. He has faith that audiences will connect with a story of simplicity and beauty in the face of repression, guilt, and self-righteous evil.

It’s all inspired by a true story, one that might shock some people. For almost two centuries, pregnant Irish teens were indentured to nuns who abused them, making them work long, hard hours in laundries, home factories, and gardens. The girls’ children were often adopted out; the nuns collected a fee for placing the babies with new parents. All of this was done to make the “loose” teenagers pay for their wanton lusts.

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Screened Out – Delivery Man

By : Stephen Miller
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Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders

The French Canadian comedy Starbuck, the far superior film this is based on, had a charming, bumbling hero we could both disparage and love. Vince Vaughn just never finds that humorous magic. He and the filmmakers are trying too hard to be what they’re not.

So, do you want to see a soggy comedy where Vaughn slowly sneaks into becoming Dad of the Year? Do we even think this is feasible?

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Screened Out – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

By : Stephen Miller
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Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Toby Jones

What started as Brave New World novels for teenagers has morphed into action-packed filmmaking worthy of attention and intellectual comment. This second film is simply a better offering than the first one. Catching Fire takes a good franchise and clears the way for the possibility of a great one.

There are a lot of reasons this works. Everyone now knows what a good actor Jennifer Lawrence is (after her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook), so she’s given the chance to shine. The budget is noticeably bigger, so it doesn’t feel like studio Lionsgate attempted to make an opulent blockbuster with green screens, like the last time. The action and pace are tighter. Finally, more time is spent living within the world instead of trying to explain the backstory. More time is also given to the theme of how fascist leaders might attempt to entertain us to death.

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Screened Out – Dallas Buyers Club

By : Stephen Miller
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Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

For those of us who lived through our friends and family dying of AIDS, especially early in the crisis, when loved ones seemed to go so quickly, Dallas Buyers Club is a particularly painful and inspiring movie. Unapologetically gritty and unadorned, it may be difficult to sit through. However, gut-wrenching performances make this a vital piece of filmmaking.

It reminds us all what we were fighting for and what we still are fighting for.

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Screened Out – About Time

By : Stephen Miller
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Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Lydia Wilson

The instant do-over: it’s one of the great fantasies of anyone who’s lost a huge opportunity, screwed up a vital life decision, or stumbled through a serious social gaffe.

About Time shows us an English father and son who have this remarkable power, they can keep going back in time until they get the right girl, until they remember to tell the people around them they love them, and until they have the perfect day. With fun characters and intelligent writing, it’s an experience that’s not only fascinating, it’s also sweet, lively, and quite emotionally overwhelming.

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Screened Out – Ender’s Game

By : Stephen Miller
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Asa Butterfield, Hailie Steinfeld, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin

Should you see Ender’s Game? It offers some spectacular visuals; that alone wins over many moviegoers. The 1980 novel is well written enough (despite Orson Scott Card’s nasty comments about LGBT rights, and I’ll delve into that later).

However, this film is only average. So much emotional punch depends on teenaged actors who fail to deliver. The filmmakers never strike a balance between entertainment and exploration of difficult themes. The impressive effects have to carry this film, because the more dramatic, troubling moments are left seriously wanting.

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Screened Out – Last Vegas

By : Stephen Miller
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Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen

Last Vegas is being pitched as The Hangover for the AARP set. I’d sure like to say this film is better than that reductive description. It’s chock full of great actors, but the story they’re trapped in swings wildly between being emotionally engaging and embarrassingly infantile.

I imagine the Hollywood conversation went something like this:

“Hey, I have an idea! Let’s make a film with five Oscar-winning older actors. We’ll set it in someplace fun,  like Vegas! And have the characters say and do lots of entertaining, sexist and slightly humiliating things! Audiences will love it!”

“OK, but to attract that kind of talent, you realize we’ll also have to write one or two scenes with real emotion and complexity.”

“Yeah, yeah, but just one or two moments, don’t kill the fun!”

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Screened Out – Free Birds

By : Stephen Miller
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Voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, George Takei, Amy Poehler

Ready to talk turkey? There are very few successful animated flicks about Thanksgiving, ones that can find their way to be played ad nauseum on some basement DVD while the adults upstairs watch the parade and football. Free Birds attempts to change all that with a light, breezy, time-travel ‘toon that actually works for the entire family.

That’s not to say this dish is very deep. It’s fun, airy, and “in the vein of many newer cartoons” stuffed full of pop culture references and absurdity. This tale warns us right at the beginning that this isn’t historically accurate; except for the talking turkeys.

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Screened Out – The Counselor

By : Stephen Miller
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Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz

Cormac McCarthy, the brilliant 80-year-old novelist of No Country for Old Men and The Road, writes great books. What he cannot seem to do in this, his first movie script, (despite all the talent helping him) is create a film that isn’t overly verbose, punctuated by extreme violence and cruelty just to give the illusion of movement.

Great novelists, like Mario Puzo (the Godfather trilogy) and William Goldman (The Princess Bride, All the President’s Men), have also been successful as screenwriters. Most, though, including McCarthy, haven’t successfully made the transition.

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Screened Out – The Fifth Estate

By : Stephen Miller
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Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, David Thewlis

WikiLeaks and its leader Julian Assange changed the modern world. It is said that his website released more world-shattering, confidential information in six months than the Washington Post did in the previous 30 years. We’re still trying to figure out what it all means.

The Fifth Estate, a movie based on two autobiographies, is way too cluttered to give us any insight.

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Screened Out – A.C.O.D.

By : Stephen Miller
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Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Jane Lynch, Clark Duke

You can almost feel the film straining, straining to be funnier, to be more meaningful, to be meaner, and to be quirkier. Instead, it’s merely pleasant and a little dull, boring in that way a date turns dreary if someone starts talking about a horrible childhood.

A.C.O.D. stands for Adult Child of Divorce. Many, many people in my generation, Generation X, and the generations that followed are A.C.O.D. This flick says that mine is the first generation where divorce is a predominant reality. However, this film fails to convince us whether that fact has somehow psychologically shaped us, or whether this is just an invented problem.

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Screened Out – Romeo and Juliet

By : Stephen Miller
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Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Ed Westwick, Paul Giamatti, Stellan Skarsgård

I’m tempted to load this review with spoilers, just to taunt those readers who didn’t graduate eighth grade.

This actually brings up a good point; if you’re going to do something that everyone knows so well, you had better do it in a new way. Think of how Baz Luhrman rendered Shakespeare’s immortal tale in 1996, or even reflect on 1961’s West Side Story. Unfortunately, this new version of Romeo and Juliet offers nothing compelling.

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