Archive for January, 2013

The Oscar for Cinematography is not a beauty contest, it isn’t about how pretty a film looks, it is about how well it is lit and photographed, in the same vein, the best director Oscar doesn’t go to the best film, that’s what the best film category is for! While, the Best picture Oscar is really the sum total of all the awards, the acting, the music, the photograph, the script, the direction and all the other elements that make up a film, the best director Oscar, is based purely on the process of directing. It is worth remembering that although the winners are selected by the Academy membership as a whole, the nominations are made by the academy’s directing branch. In other words, the nominations come from the directors and their contemporaries.

Michael Haneke Benh Zeitlin Ang Lee Steven Spielberg David O Russell

This years nominations are: Michael Haneke – Amour, Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ang Lee -Life of Pi, Steven Spielberg – Lincoln David O. Russell -Silver Linings Playbook. I am yet to see Lincoln and Amour so will reserve judgment on the strength of the category but have selected five directors I would have liked to have seen nominated:

Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Wes Anderson – Moonrise Kingdom
Ben Affleck – Argo
Sam Mendes – Skyfall
Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight Rises

Each of them has crafted a fantastic movie that would have been run of the mill in lesser hands if they even existed. All would have been worthy winners.

Kathryn Bigelow Wes Anderson Ben Affleck Sam Mendes Christopher Nolan

Should Steven Spielberg win it will put him the elite company of : William Wyler and Frank Capra with three best director Oscars and just one behind John Ford with four. Ang Lee has picked up one win and one other nomination in the category previously (Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon respectively), David O. Russell has been nominated before (The Fighter), it is Michael Haneke’s first nomination. Not only is it Benh Zeitlin’s first nomination, it is his first feature.

Whoever loses, or indeed those who weren’t nominated, it is worth remembering they are in good company, despite thirteen nominations between them Alfred Hitchcock (5), Federico Fellini (4) and Stanley Kubrick (4) didn’t win a single best director Oscar.Alfred Hitchcock Federico Fellini Stanley Kubrick


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After a year of reading Ryan’s Blind Spot Series I have decided to join in for 2013. first up E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is over thirty years old and is much loved by a generation, my generation, however I have never seen it. Many people reading this will know the film better than I do. In this situation, reviewing a film that came out when I was six but didn’t see until I was thirty-six would somehow miss the point. So rather than reviewing the movie I am just going to share a few thoughts including my relationship with the movie.ET

It is not a movie I have avoided or not wanted to see, it is just something that has never happened. As I have mentioned previously on this site, I didn’t go to the cinema very often as a kid, I was a child of the home video generation. Unlike now when a big movie seems to find its way to DVD as soon as it has finished its cinema run things were different back in the 80’s and years passed without ET making it to VHS. It finally made it to VHS in the late 80’s. By this time I was in my early teens and watching movies like The Terminator and Aliens and wasn’t interested in a “Kids Film”. Some time during this period between the cinema and video release my dad borrowed a copy of the video from a friend that obviously turned out to be a pirate copy. The quality was so poor we couldn’t tell what was going on and gave up after ten minutes (possibly less). The film was re-released for the 20th anniversary in 2002. I went along to the one night only screening at my local multiplex to find it sold out and went to see something different.

I hadn’t actually given up on seeing the movie, but didn’t go out of my way to see it. Then two things happened, I signed up for the Blind Spot Series, knowing that ET would have to be on my list as I had previously discussed it with Ryan. And to celebrate the 30th anniversary the movie was shown on TV with a documentary about it. I promptly set my STB to record it and have just watched it, so what did I think of it?


You all know the plot. A group of alien explorers and botanists are collecting samples of plant life from earth when they are disturbed, by the US government. They flea leaving one of their number behind. He is found by a young boy who forms a strong emotional bond with the alien that becomes symbiotic causing great danger for both parties.

Firstly, it isn’t the movie I expected. The subplot of Elliot’s parents separation looms large in the background and with it the subtext of the broken society that was creeping into 70’s and 80’s cinema after the optimism and hope of the 60’s. This dark tone is mirrored by the darkness of the film visually, with a lot of nigh time scenes. But it is in the harsh light of day and of florescent lighting that the movie is thematically at its darkest. In that way, it makes a good companion peace with Jaws that may (or may not depending on which film critic you ask) be about infidelity. The relationship between boy and alien is always doomed, by giving the ET what he wants, what he needs, to return him home, will result in their separation. But all this can be countered by the idea of making the aliens, the monsters, the creatures who are different, good, honest and benevolent. In the time before glasnost, Steven Spielberg was preaching acceptance and friendship. How ever you look at it, it is clearly a very personal film to its director, but I often get the feeling all his films are very personal to him.E-T-The-Extra-Terrestrial drew barrymore

Although it has its moments it is a lot less fun than I expected. The sentimentality is ramped up to eleven with the aid of John Williams’ score, but this isn’t a criticism, the movie achieves what it sets out in this regard. My only real criticism of the movie is that it doesn’t have that one moment you expect from Spielberg to grab hold of you like: Quint’s story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in Jaws, the “snowing” ash in Schindler’s List, the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan or even the T-Rex footsteps in Jurassic Park. There are memorable moments in the movie but they just didn’t grab me.

Never held back by the schmaltz that is clearly present, as it is always balanced with great story telling and darker themes. A supremely well made movie that I enjoyed watching but saw far too late in life to fall in love with the way many people before me have.

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As I drove home today I heard that Michael Winner sadly passed away earlier today at the age of 77. A successful movie director and restaurant critic he has more recently become better know as for a series of television commercials. A man never short of an opinion and a man who everybody seems to have an opinion about. It is easy to forget he actually made some decent movies.

Michael Winner 1935–2013

Michael Winner 1935–2013

Starting out with the BBC before moving into movies, initially British crime thrillers, social satires and sex comedies before moving to Hollywood. His most famous, Death Wish (1974) was nothing short of a phenomenon in the 70’s and 80’s spawning four sequels and countless imitators. Looking back with modern eyes even the superior original hasn’t aged that well but it was very much of its time and does offer a visceral thriller the like of which we don’t see anymore in the this era of slick PG13/12A multiplex fillers. Well worth another look if you haven’t seen it for a long time. Hannibal Brooks (1969) sees Oliver Reed as a World War II POW trying to escape to the Swiss border with an Elephant that he had been looking after. The movie has a good blend of action, adventure and comedy and is perfect Sunday afternoon movie. For his first American movie, Lawman (1971) Winner chose the most American of genres, the Western. Staring Burt Lancaster and Robert Duvall it is a morality tale that asks more questions than it answers. The Mechanic (1972) starred Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent as a hitman and his apprentice. Well acted with some great action and a great ending it is well worth seeing (it was remade in 2011 with Jason Statham and Ben Foster). The Stone Killer (1973) is a solid action crime thriller also starring Charles Bronson. Moving out of his comfort zone with ease, The Sentinel (1977) is a creepy satanic horror with a fantastic cast (including: Ava Gardner, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, Jerry Orbach) that is sadly under seen.Death Wish Lawman The Sentinel

So next time a Michael Winner movie is on TV or you are looking for something to stream give it a go.

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As 2012 got underway I was looking forward to some well publicised movies like Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers and The Hunger Games. I had heard good reports from across the Atlantic about The Artist, Young Adult and The Descendents. But, I had never heard of what turned out to be some of the best movies of the year: Moonrise Kingdom, Argo, Haywire, Rust and Bone, Café de Flore, End of Watch and Killer Joe. Hopefully there will be some pleasant surprises this year too, if not there is still a lot to look forward to:

Django Unchained
When Quentin Tarantino decides to make a western, he doesn’t just make a Weston, he makes a Blaxploitation Spaghetti Western. The cast includes Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio as well as a cameo from the original Django, Franco Nero. And did I mention Quentin Tarantino.Django Unchained

Zero Dark Thirty
I saw Near Dark when I was about 13, I have seen every other Kathryn Bigelow since (yes I am the person who saw The Weight of Water ) and would now watch anything she makes . It also stars Jessica Chastain who I had never heard of before The Tree of Life but is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses.Zero Dark Thirty

The Counselor
A Ridley Scott crime thriller based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy starring: Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz. Any one of these would be a reason to watch it.The Counselor

The Wolf Of Wall Street
Its Martin Scorsese what more do I need to say.The Wolf Of Wall Street

Cloud Atlas
Most readers probably know more about this than me as it was released three months ago in some countries. The story looks bonkers but Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s were responsible for two of my favourite movies of all time (Run Lola Run and The Matrix).Cloud Atlas

Star Trek Into Darkness
There have been a couple of great Star Trek movies, but the franchise had really run out of steam until the J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot that was far better than I ever expected it to be. Lets hope he can do it again.Star Trek Into Darkness

The Great Gatsby
As proved by previous adaptations The Great Gatsby (like all F. Scott Fitzgerald stories) is better on the page than the screen, however I am intrigued by what Baz Luhrmann will do with it.The Great Gatsby

The Last Voyage of Demeter
The Demeter was the Russian ship that carried Dracula from Transylvania to England in Bram Stoker’s novel. By the time it reached Whitby all the crew had disappeared presumed dead. Neil Marshall’s movie tells their story. One thing you can guarantee about Neil Marshall movies is that they are fun. (they don’t appear to have started shooting yet so I  Neil Marshall

Chan-wook Park, the director of my favourite movie of the 00’s (Oldboy) finally makes an English language movie. It looks bonkers; and that’s a good think if you were wondering!Stoker

Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro’s giant robots v alien invaders movie. Enough said.Pacific Rim

And the next ten:
World War Z
A Field In England
The Paperboy
Machete Kills
Kick-Ass 2
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Wolverine

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Is the Best Foreign Language Oscar outdated in this era of multinational productions? The current setup is certainly a mess and needs redefining or revamping. As it stands for a film to be eligible it has to be predominately not in the English language, so far so good, but then it gets complicated. Rather than the academy picking the best five films of the year not in the English language, each country nominates one film as their selection. This is the broken down into a long list, then a shortlist before five nominations are selected. Unlike other categories, to be eligible a movie does not have to be screened in America during the prescribed dates. Instead it has to be screened in its own country. The downside to this is that if the film is subsequently screened in America it will not be eligible for Oscar contention (if it meets the criteria it is eligible in all categories in the year it is submitted as a foreign film). There is also a difference in the voting process. “Screeners” are not used, instead the four nominated films are screened in a cinema (with English subtitles, never dubbed) and any academy member wishing to vote must attend. This reduces the chances of the people voting without seeing the films as most likely happens in other categories.

Last years winner: Asghar FarhadI for A Separation

Last years winner: Asghar FarhadI for A Separation

As of 2006 the films no longer have to be in the official language of the submitting country. This is goods thing in one respect as under the old system for example a Welsh film in the Welsh language or and Australian film in Aboriginal language would have been ineligible as they are both from countries where the official language is English. It does however create a loophole that became evident in 2010. The was a certain amount of disagreement and unrest as to if Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon would be submitted as a German or and Austrian film. It was eventually decided it was German and received a nomination as the German entry. A look at the academy website would suggest this has been outlawed: Rule Thirteen (Special Rules for the Foreign Language Film Award), section II (eligibility), subsection E states: “The submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country”. I’m not convinced all this years nominations are that clearly rooted in the submitting nations:

The Canadian movie (War Witch) is set is Sub-Saharan Africa and is in a mixture of French and Lingala.

The Austrian entry (Amour) is made by a German director (Michael Haneke again!) with French, German and Austrian money and has a French cast speaking French and English.

The Danish film (A Royal Affair) is a Danish, Swedish, Czech co production.

The Chilean (No) entry is a co production between Chile, France and the USA.

And the Norwegian entry (Kon-Tiki) is a British, Norwegian and Danish co production.Best Foreign Language Oscar 2013

All this United nations of filmmaking doesn’t have any impact on if the film is any good and doesn’t detract from the fact that the movie is (mostly) not in the English language, but it seems a little silly that a film set in France, in the French language and with a German director is deemed to be Austrian.

There are a few ways around it including replacing the category with one simply for films not in the English language and taking the national ownership away from it. This in itself creates a different problem, without the support of the foreign comities (often the countries own Academy’s) will the Oscars get a suitably diverse spread of movies? There is also the possibility of dropping the category completely, there are films strong enough to make the crossover to the main categories such as Three Colours: Red, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Pan’s Labyrinth, Amelie and this years Amour. There is an argument that without the Best Foreign Language Oscar, more foreign language movies could break through and even win in the major categories.

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I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

American Pie by Don Mclean

This morning I heard the sad news that that music store HMV has appointed an administrator. If a buyer isn’t found for the struggling retailer, it could see the end of a British institution. Starting life out as a gramophone company in the 1890’s, their first store opened Oxford Street, London in 1921 by composer Edward Elgar. Following the demise of Virgin Megastores (renamed Zavvi after a management buyout then went into administration) and Tower Records, HMV are the last remaining large high street music and video retailer in the UK. With the onslaught of online retailers and music downloads, high street retailers have being fighting on two fronts for more than a decade and in recent years have been losing.His Master's Voice

This sadly isn’t the end of the demise of traditional media retailers. Booksellers could follow in the footsteps of music stores. With sales of ebook readers and tablet computers, book sales could go the same way as CD’s. Home video has been given a stay of execution in the form of the high picture and sound quality of DVD and Blu-ray, but how long will that last? More and more people are streaming and downloading movies and the quality is improving all the time.kindle

The real sad thing about the changing way we consume media is not just the tactile and physical pleasure of owning a book or record but the social aspect of it. Whether on your own or with friends, there is something special and magical about browsing book and record stores that you don’t get from downloading and online ordering. Looking a book covers and reading a the first page or looking at album artwork and sleeve notes are all part of the process. Talking to friends who are shopping with you or the staff in the shop about the product, and listening to recommendations of other artists or authors has always been a great way of discovering new things. Online retails try to replicate this, but it is far from the same thing.book_as_gift

Online ordering is a solitary experience, but it does however give the purchaser the same solid item to have and to hold that a virtual download does not offer. This may seem like a small point, but it does prompt the question, have you ever given or received a book, CD or DVD as a gift? I imagine most people reading this has probably done both. I would also suggest many people will have lent or borrowed a book, CD or DVD from a friend. I have introduced many people to movies, music and books that I love and have gratefully received the same from friends and family. I have never given nor received a virtual book, movie or record and wouldn’t know how to! I still own every CD or Vinyl record I have ever owned, I’m not convinced by the security of my backups and with it the security of my downloaded music. My parents have recently given me some of their old records some of them dating to the 60’s. Will people in 50 years time be sharing their old MP3’s?Francoise Hardy tous les garçons

I am not a total Luddite and appreciate many forms of technology, I’m just not impressed with the effect they seem to be having on retailers and consumers alike. The real threat to the music industry in the modern age may not be piracy, but apathy! It isn’t all bad news, there is a wealth of music and books in circulation. And I still have the last bastion of sanity in my hometown, Birmingham, The Diskery; A privately owned second-hand record store specialising in vinyl records that is still going strong after more than fifty years. 

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A few thoughts on the nominations. Firstly I am always a little disappointed when films are nominated before they have been released in the UK (Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained). I am surprised and disappointed that Sam Mendes/Skyfall isn’t nominated in the best film/best director categories. I didn’t expect it to get anything at the Oscars but held out hope the British Academy would recognise it. Fantastic to Marion Cotillard’s monumental performance in Rust and Bone nominated despite not being in an English language movie. Also pleased to see actor turned director Dexter Fletcher (director/writer) nominated for the debut British writer/director/producer category. A strong year for documentaries and foreign language movies. The rising star award has a heavy female bias with woman in four of the five places. Its also a strong category presenting a problem. It is awarded via a public vote, at least three of the five might get my vote.

Here is a Full list of nominees:

Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Zero Dark ThirtyZero Dark Thirty

Anna Karenina
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Miserables
Seven Psychopaths

Ben Affleck – Argo
Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix – The MasterJoaquin Phoenix  The Master

Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard – Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Dame Helen Mirren – Hitchcock
Emmanuelle Riva – AmourMarion Cotillard  Rust and Bone

Alan Arkin – Argo
Javier Bardem – Skyfall
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Christoph Waltz – Django UnchainedAlan Arkin Argo

Amy Adams – The Master
Dame Judi Dench – Skyfall
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Helen Hunt – The SessionsAnne Hathaway Les Miserables

Ben Affleck – Argo
Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Haneke – Amour
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained

Amour – Michael Haneke
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino
The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal

Argo – Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi – David Magee
Lincoln – Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook – David O Russell

James Bobin (director) – The Muppets
Dexter Fletcher (director/writer) and Danny King (writer) – Wild Bill
Tina Gharavi (director/writer) – I Am Nasrine
Bart Layton (director) and Dmitri Doganis (producer) – The Imposter
David Morris (director) and Jaqui Morris (director/producer) – McCullin

The Imposter
Searching for Sugarman
West of Memphis

The Hunt
Rust and Bone

Anna Karenina
Les Miserables
Life of Pi

Anna Karenina
Great Expectations
Les Miserables
Snow White and the Huntsman

Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables

Anna Karenina
Life of Pi

Anna Karenina
Les Miserables
Life of Pi

Django Unchained
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Life of Pi

The Dark Knight Rises
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel Avengers Assemble

Here to Fall
I’m Fine Thanks
The Making of Longbird

The Curse
Good Night
The Voorman Problem

RISING STAR (public vote)
Elizabeth Olsen
Andrea Riseborough
Suraj Sharma
Juno Temple
Alicia VikanderRISING STAR

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For the last few years I have ranked all the new movies I have seen at the cinema for the past year. I am doing something a little different this year. I’m struggling rank some of the films, how do you choose between the beautiful but flawed Life of Pie, the mesmerising but plotless The Master, or the brillient but repulsive Killer Joe? The simple answer is you don’t therefore I have grouped them not ranked them.

Instant classics that will be enjoyed for years to come:
The Artist
The Dark Knight Rises
Moonrise Kingdom
ArgoMoonrise Kingdom

Great films that I look forward to seeing again:
Rust and Bone
Café de Flore
End of Watch
The Avengers
Killer Joe
Life of Pi
The Hunger Games
The Master
The Raid
Wild Bill
Young Adult
The Descendents
Killing Them SoftlyYoung Adult

Back when I gave star rankings, these would all probably got four stars, not up to the best I have seen this year but still really good: 
The Cabin in the Woods
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Woman in Black
Seven Psychopaths
Silver Linings Playbook
On the Road
Ruby Sparks
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Last Projectionist
The Impostor
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Shadow Dancer
The Sapphires
Storage 24
The Grey
In Darkness
Jack Reacher

A few that didn’t quite make the grade for the above list but are too good to be relegated to the also rans:
A Dangerous Method
Like Crazy
Premium Rush
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
The Expendables 2
2 Days in New York
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
21 Jump Street
Fast Girls
Total Recall
Pitch Perfect
All in Good Timehow i spent my summer vacation

Okay but not great. Worth seeing but wait for them to be available to stream or when they come on TV. I won’t be going out of my way to see them again but would probably watch them if they came on TV. Aka two star movies.
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2
Red Tails
The Raven
Hunky Dory
Snow White and the Huntsman
The Bourne Legacy
Underworld: Awakening
Resident Evil: Retribution
Safe House
Dark Shadows
J. Edgar
War Horse
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Rock Of Ages
The Man with the Iron FistsWoody Harrelson as Dave Brown in RAMPART

Blogging is a hobby not a profession, I see movies by choice not because I have to, therefore I don’t see that many terrible ones. However there are a few, I wouldn’t bother watching any of the following. I don’t intend to see them again.
Silent House
Cold Light of Day
Wrath of the Titans
Man on a Ledge
John Carter
Taken 2
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Mirror Mirror
The Iron Lady
The Darkest HourThe Iron Lady

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Last movie of the month for 2012 and it features Life of Pie, a movie that has already made my top ten of the year.  will it be my movie of the month?  

Sightseers: A comedy that about a caravanning couple on a killing spree. Not as fucked up as director Ben Wheatley’s previous film Kill List. The humour is dry and jet black, not for everyone but I loved it.Sightseers

Life of Pi: I was a little skeptical about seeing this movie, I had heard it was a bit preachy and how interesting can a film about a boy in a boat be? I also hate 3D. I shouldn’t have worried, as previous mentioned; the 3D is the best I have ever seen, the story is great as well as being stunning to look at.Life Of Pi

Seven Psychopaths: This film was always going to be compared to director Martin McDonagh’s previous film In Bruges, it isn’t as good but does have its moments and is worth watching for Sam Rockwell alone.Seven Psychopaths

The Man with the Iron Fists: Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA makes his directorial debut with this ‘Quentin Tarantino Presents’ martial arts pastiche. Taken on its own merits it isn’t terrible but I would rather watch an old Woo-ping Yuen or Toshiya Fujita movie. Russell Crowe is really wooden and should be banned from attempting English accents.The Man with the Iron Fists

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: I was sceptical about Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth, particularly turning 310 pages into nine hours of cinema. It is too long and it isn’t as good as The Fellowship of the Ring, but it is still really good and enjoyable. Martin Freeman is possibly the most perfectly cast hobbit to date.2012, THE HOBBIT -  UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Jack Reacher: Like so many successful book to film adaptations Jack Reacher takes the cliff notes of the book and finds its own way from A to B. It has its problems, but Tom Cruise’s height isn’t one of them.Tom Cruise Jack Reacher

Pitch Perfect: Collage drama about an a cappella singing group. It doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t been done before. Rebel Wilson is funny and deserves her own vehicle. Anna Kendrick is as great as ever but is better than the movie deserves.Pitch Perfect

Movie of the Month is:Life of Pi

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