Monday, December 29, 2014

Pwaters' Top Ten of 2014!

2014: what a wackadoodle year for movies! I mean, we almost went to war over a Seth Rogen comedy! And speaking of comedy, we lost too many comedy giants this year: Harold Ramis, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Mike Nichols, Sid Caesar, god damn...the world just got a lot less funny. There were a lot of great movies this year though, even with the world of television and streaming services pretty much taking over in terms of exciting new storytelling possibilities (True Detective, Orange is the New Black, Fargo, Hannibal, Louie, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Walking Dead....and those are just the shows I've managed to catch up with!). I had a tough time picking my list this go-round, and I've swapped out the order and picks about 12 times over, but these 10 flicks have for whatever reason really stuck with me. So without further ado: here's my annual Top 10!

10. Chef
Dir. Jon Favreau

No other movie this year will make you hungrier than Chef, Jon Favreau's wonderful little indie flick that acts as his sort of break from giant blockbusters like Iron Man and the upcoming Jungle Book.  It's a little predictable and cheesy (both figuratively and literally), but still a wholly enjoyable father-son movie that works as both a quirky, fun family film and unadulterated food porn. Now I want a cuban sandwich.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Pwaters' 2014 Movie Superlatives!

2014 is almost over! You know what that means...New Years resolutions that you quit on day 5, and also, BEST OF LISTS! Woo. Here are my movie superlatives for this crazy year of 2014, hope you enjoy!

BEST ACTOR - Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal has starred in some of my favorite underrated movies recently (Source CodeEnd of WatchPrisoners), and in Nightcrawler he adds to that list another under seen flick, with my now favorite performance of his.  Here he plays just-starting freelance videographer Lou Bloom, who captures graphic breaking crime stories on camera and sells the footage to a news outlet. The character is a thief and a complete sociopath and eventually starts to force his way into a position of power within the station. His manipulative, clinical, "straight" performance, even in front of truly horrific situations, was mesmerizing and disturbing. He's evil and personifies the worst of capitalism, but Gyllenhaal is fantastic and somehow makes it so you find yourself reluctantly comparing yourself to him. He's living out the American Dream through the eyes of a sociopath.

The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, Big Eyes, Unbroken Reviews

The Imitation Game
Dir. Morten Tyldum

Whether you knew it or not, WWII might have been won by a bunch of math nerds. The Imitation Game tells the true story of mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant savant tasked with cracking a Nazi encryption machine called Enigma. Though his efforts are noble, his personality gets in the way of his work, alienating his co-workers, one-upping his boss, and gaining the suspicion of local law enforcement as being a Soviet spy, complicating matters in this race-against-the-clock thriller. Adding to the mix Turing's closeted homosexuality and Joan Clarke's (Keira Knightley) woman-in-a-man's-world position in Turing's team, the film is wrapped in multiple layers of meaning, and with a script as tightly woven and entertaining as this, The Imitation Game will definitely land in my Top Ten this year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mockingjay Part I, The Theory of Everything, Top Five, Wild Reviews

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I
Dir. Francis Lawrence
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The revolution has started. And its "mockingjay" is Katniss Everdeen. The penultimate film in the Hunger Games franchise begins with Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) suffering from PTSD after the recent events from the last film, Catching Fire, with her friend from the Games, Finnick (Sam Claflin) touting that he wishes everyone he loved was dead. Yeah, Mockingjay is a particularly dark film for a PG-13 "young adult" adaptation. Still a reluctant hero, Katniss has become a symbol of rebellion within the 12 Districts and is hiding out with the rebels organized by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Coin (Julianne Moore) while the outside world is heading towards an all-out war against the Capitol. The cast here is fantastic, and the tone is bleak - which pretty much falls in line with the other films. Although it has a stigma for being "YA," Mockingjay Part I, along with its predecessors, are rich sci-fi stories that deal with class warfare, murder, politics, and brings it together with memorable and likable characters. This is a solid first part of the finale and I look forward to seeing the ending!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Birdman, The Babadook, Citizenfour, Rosewater Reviews

Dir. Alejandro González Iñarritu
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I always leave impressed when I see a movie shot (or seemingly shot) in one take. There's something about it that takes so much skill and dedication to pull off both behind and in front of the camera, it's almost like watching a ballerina dance around a stage, perfectly hitting every twirl and kick or whatever the heck they do, I don't know jack about the ballet. Alejandro González Iñarritu's latest film, Birdman, takes the "single shot" approach made popular from such films as Rope and Russian Ark and crafts a dark comedy/backstage drama/Hollywood satire around it, all while bringing Michael Keaton out of wherever he's been hiding all these years, giving him a solid role to chew on. The film is about washed up superhero actor Riggan Thompson (Keaton), who hopes a new, ambitious Broadway production will be the spark to revitalize his career. But when one of his lead actors is injured by a falling light, he hires the unpredictable, eccentric Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) to take his place, whose behavior could ruin the entire production, all while he has to deal with his resentful daughter (Emma Stone), a crazy girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), an ex-wife (Amy Ryan), and his personal existential crisis of forever being associated with "Birdman."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To, Big Hero 6, Whiplash Reviews

Dumb and Dumber To
Dir. Bobby & Peter Farrelly

In second grade, I got in trouble for proclaiming at room volume: “who’s got the wiener schnitzel?” Some girl told the teacher thinking I meant something else, but my young mind only absorbed that line from the funniest movie ever made, Dumb and Dumber. It’s a film I return to over and over again, and remains my all-time favorite movie. When I was but a wee boy, my mom received a VHS double-pack of The Mask and Dumb and Dumber for her birthday. After coercing her to let me watch a PG-13 movie, I would play them so often the video became unwatchably degraded. To this day, I can still recite large chunks of the movie word-for-word, and it no doubt shaped my sense of humor growing up (which inevitably led me on the path to trying stand-up in my undergrad years). It’s a film that means a lot to me, but through the years, it seems like the powers that be in Hollywood want to take that magic away.

First was the god awful prequel Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, starring two younger actors doing their best Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels impressions, which was the comedy equivalent of watching a close family member succumb to a deadly skin disease. Then came the “unrated” DVD and Blu-Ray re-release. Unless you scour the internet, the only version you can currently buy is this shitty, re-cut version which literally takes out some of the best scenes and ruins some of the funniest moments by adding unnecessary comic beats. So when it was announced just over a year ago that Jim and Jeff would be returning, a full 20 years later, to film Dumb and Dumber To, it seemed like such a cynical cash grab from the Farrelly Brothers.

Both Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels just weren’t the same people anymore. Jeff was off doing respectable work like The Newsroom, and Jim Carrey’s stardom had taken a major toll on him – he was depressed, on meds, writing existential children’s books, and going on whacked out “spiritual journeys.” Like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it just seemed their youthful energy would be channeled into forced “old guy” humor to justify this desperate money-making scheme. And looking at the output of the Farrelly Brothers recently - The Three Stooges, Hall Pass, and The Heartbreak Kid - was hardly promising. But here we are anyway, and out of obligation, I lined up and bought my ticket to promised disappointment. After seeing the film however, I have to say, it was a blindsidingly fun (but still unnecessary) swan song to put an end to things.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Interstellar, Nightcrawler, John Wick, Rich Hill Reviews

Dir. Christopher Nolan

Usually the central argument against space travel and funding programs like NASA is that we have "enough problems on Earth to deal with." Unless we have some sort of cataclysm, we tend to stay grounded, with excuses like world hunger stopping us from exploring the stars.  In Interstellar, Chris Nolan provides a glimpse at a similarly disillusioned near-future, where space travel has taken a back seat while the planet is suffering and turning crops into dustbowls.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is an ex-NASA pilot and father of two, who joins an expedition to leave Earth in a last ditch effort to find another habitable planet for humanity.  What's framed as a simple family drama, with McConaughey going to save the world for his kids, is told in a hard sci-fi/poetic fashion not dissimilar to Kubrick's 2001 (a moniker many films aspire to but rarely earn).  Interstellar is a challenging film to grasp from a scientific perspective and even on a thematic level, but at the heart of it lies a very simple story of a determined father. It features gorgeous depictions of space, and its ambition is huge, but I think when it comes down to it, the emotion was a little too heavy-handed and its endless amount of philosophical and scientific ideas may have overly complicated the film against its favor.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tusk, Kill the Messenger, St. Vincent, Fed Up Reviews

Dir. Kevin Smith
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#WalrusYes. That phrase may mark the first time a twitter hashtag inspired the creation of a film.  Kevin Smith, the writer-director most known for his hit-or-miss catalogue of comedy flicks like Clerks (hit) and Cop Out (a giant miss), is more or less now self-identified as a Podcaster, having created a number of widely successful shows under the banner of his SModco. production company. During a recording of his SModcast with Scott Mosier, Smith became fascinated with an ad he came across where a homeowner offered free housing if the lodger dressed up as a walrus. Inspired by this kooky idea, the two spent an hour spitballing back and forth ideas for a film, and took to Twitter asking fans to post #WalrusYes if they wanted to see this walrus-themed horror film or #WalrusNo if they didn't. And in just over a year's time, the film is released. It's kind of inspirational to me that this film was even made being a huge fan of Smith and his numerous Podcasts, but Tusk just sucks.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fury, The Boxtrolls, The Skeleton Twins, The Zero Theorem Reviews

Dir. David Ayer

Tanks. Giant tanks blowing shit up. That's pretty much what the advertising has been for Fury, the latest film from David Ayer, best known for having written Training Day.  The film is about a "rag tag" group of American soldiers towards the end of WWII, pushing forward into Nazi Germany with their comparatively tiny American tanks.  Among the macho-men riding the dirt and blood-spattered 'fury' is Brad Pitt, who's basically playing his same exact character from Inglourious Basterds, Shia LeBeouf as a moustached bible thumper, Jon Bernthal as a brutish hardball (not far off from Shane in Walking Dead), Michael Peña as the token Mexican, and Logan Lerman  as the wide-eyed "new guy."  The dynamic of this crew is reminiscent of an old school war movie, but the story is ultimately a boring 2.5 hours of mindless shooting and none of the characters go beyond well-acted stereotypes.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Gone Girl, This is Where I Leave You, The Trip to Italy Reviews

Gone Girl
Dir. David Fincher

Amy is gone.  Her husband, Nick, may or may not be responsible.  That's the basic premise of Gillian Flynn's neo-noir thriller Gone Girl, which became a sensation at airport bookstands everywhere since its 2012 debut.  The book was a biting (literally) and darkly funny take on relationships, and its cold, detached characters seemed like they'd be right at home in a David Fincher movie.  Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, co-owner of the bar aptly titled The Bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon).  When his wife (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, both the police and the media start to suspect he may be involved (not good considering Missouri's stance on the death penalty), and as the mystery spins deeper and more gets revealed, Nick's reputation goes from up, down, side-to-side, and everywhere in between - even within the audience in the theater.  Though I will be "that guy" and say that the book was better in many aspects, as far as I'm concerned, this was a fantastic adaptation of an amazing book.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones, Frank, The One I Love, Life After Beth Reviews

A Walk Among the Tombstones
Dir. Scott Frank

Liam Neeson's career is the reverse of every other big movie star: He starts out starring in mostly serious dramas like Schindler's List and Michael Collins, then as he gets ripe with age, cements himself as an action hero in films like Taken and Unknown.  A Walk Among the Tombstones, based on a crime novel by Lawrence Block, continues Neeson's line of tough guy flicks in a neo-noir about a private detective hired to find out what happened to a man's wife, murdered despite her husband paying the ransom.  An ex-alcoholic turned clean, Neeson eventually decides to take the case, enlisting the help of a random homeless kid he meets in the library.  Yeah, I don't understand it myself, but the kid (played by "Astro" Bradley, a young rapper from the first season of The X-Factor) did a pretty good job bouncing off Neeson, filling him in on all the "street lingo" he needs to know; if only the script was better, it could've been a K and J-type relationship a la Men in Black, but it just ends up feeling pointless. The character solely exists for us to care about him.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

RESULTS: Summer 2014 Box Office Predictions

Yay! As a long-time fan of James Gunn, I'm so happy that Guardians was not only awesome in every way, but kicked the box office's ass despite being a "new" property (the 'Marvel' brand alone is apparently as strong as Pixar's used to be). It almost makes up for Transformers making over a billion dollars worldwide...almost.  The biggest surprise this year was just how mediocre How to Train Your Dragon 2 did, especially with no animated competition whatsoever; the "kids" movie to beat this summer was Disney's Maleficent, which smartly chose to hop on the Frozen-train of female-led fairy tale flicks.

Overall I think I did pretty well on my predictions, but if you kids have been keeping score at home, let me know how you fared against me!  I had fun keeping track throughout the season, and I'm looking forward to next year - though it will certainly be tough to predict with a slate including Jurassic World, the new Pixar film Inside Out (my personal most-anticipated), the Fantastic Four reboot, a Wright-less Ant-Man, Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, and a little ditty called The Avengers 2!

The November Man, As Above So Below, What If Reviews

The November Man
Dir. Roger Donaldson

I always really liked Pierce Brosnan's James Bond; even if the films weren't the greatest, I think he just nailed that suave super-spy attitude better than most of the other Bonds.  So I pretty much saw The November Man purely because I was feeling nostalgic for seeing Pierce Brosnan do spy stuff, as I'm sure most people seeing this are.  Though the film isn't a complete disaster, I have to say, this was just a total mediocre destined-for-the-5-dollar-bin cliche-fest.  There aren't any unique action scenes, all the bad guys are generic Russian dudes, and apparently every woman in a spy film has to look like America's Next Top Model.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Giver, Magic in the Moonlight Reviews

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Dir. Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Just under a decade ago Robert Rodriguez changed comic book movies.  With Sin City, he literally translated the art and style of Frank Miller's graphic novels onto the big screen, with a ton of beautifully crafted shots that felt peeled right from the pages.  The neo-noir brought us a world of hard boiled detectives, hulk-sized thugs, leather-and-lace prostitutes, and one weird ugly yellow guy in a way that felt totally fresh and original.  But that was a decade ago.  Since then we've had a trove of previously "unfilmable" mature comic books brought to life like Zack Snyder's Watchmen, the 300 films, and countless others, and the novelty has worn off.  The sequel, A Dame to Kill For, released way past its expiration date, feels like an outdated exercise in pointless pulp.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Into the Storm, Calvary, Monty Python Live! (mostly) Reviews

Into the Storm
Dir. Steven Quale
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Even though it's been done to death, I personally enjoy the concept of found-footage movies.  Whether it's a small-scale horror flick like The Blair Witch Project or a giant monster movie like Cloverfield, I just find that personal, on-the-ground perspective of events to be a really fun change of pace.  So the idea of taking that concept and applying it to Twister seemed cool.  Into the Storm seemed to promote itself solely on its effects, but I still wasn't sure how Steven Quale (2nd unit director for Titanic, Avatar) would be able to make a movie like this using the format.  The answer? Throw the found-footage concept away whenever it's most convenient for you.  It's a shame this didn't attempt to really show a mega-storm from a first-person perspective, because this film, though it lacks any decent story or characters, does have some great special effects and set pieces.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, A Most Wanted Man Reviews

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Dir. Jonathan Liebesman

Through its initial life as a cult-hit comic book series, to the beloved TV cartoon, to the original 90's movies and beyond, for better or worse the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are part of the cultural zeitgeist (enough to even land a reference in last week's Guardians of the Galaxy).  It's no surprise that in 2014 we're seeing a re-imagining of the brand, because the cross-generational appeal is at that sweet spot where nostalgic twenty/thirty-somethings from the 80's and 90's and the current swath of children being brought up on the new Turtles cartoons have converged to make the box office green in more ways than one.  Taking the Batman Begins formula, this is an unnecessarily dark take on the Turtles, featuring large, hulking creatures with gravely voices in place of the more kid-friendly, round faced, "Cowabunga" characters fans are used to.  While there are a few fun moments here and there, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a juvenile, tonally imbalanced, poorly-written cash grab.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Guardians of the Galaxy
Dir. James Gunn
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Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel's big gamble.  Even though this is the tenth film in the successful "Marvel Cinematic Universe," it's by far the most offbeat; it doesn't have any iconic hero like an "Iron Man" or "Captain America" to sell the movie, it's set almost entirely in space, and it's directed by cult-favorite personality James Gunn, writer and/or director of such violent, R-Rated films as Slither, Super, and a smattering of Troma movies - it's amazing that this film even exists.  Guardians, based off of the 2008 comic series (there's little in common to the original 1969 comic), follows a band of interstellar outlaws, including the man-child leader, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), the green-skinned femme fatale/daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the muscle-headed, unaware-of-sarcasm Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and finally Rocket Raccoon and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel), the Han/Chewie of the movie, a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree, respectively.  Every character in this movie is a ton of fun, and the world that Gunn created made me feel like a kid again.  Every inch of the film is littered with detail, and I'm currently thanking a God I don't believe in that Gunn's personality wasn't lost in translation.  Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely one of the best Marvel films yet.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Boyhood, Lucy, Wish I Was Here Reviews

Dir. Richard Linklater
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For most of his career, Richard Linklater has tried to find the profound in the mundane - whether through the aimless conversations in his debut feature Slacker or the ponderous romance in his 'Before Sunrise' trilogy.  Boyhood, a 12-years-in-the-making coming-of-age story, is by far his most ambitious effort yet (and perhaps one of the most ambitious ever in cinema), and though it's a 3-hour "epic" that literally encapsulates a dozen years of a boy's life, still captures that quiet, shiftless quality that's been a cornerstone of Linklater's best works.  Having access to his actors for a year at a time (taking a break between each shooting period), it's fascinating to watch not only the boy grow up (Ellar Coltrane), along with his parents and sibling (played by Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater, respectively), but to see a slight shift in Linklater's own direction as the years go on.  On a technical level Boyhood is mesmerizing, and the fact that the film not only works as a movie, but is actually able to elicit emotions, is somewhat of a miracle.  It's undoubtedly a groundbreaking achievement, but I do think if it weren't for its "gimmick," critics wouldn't necessarily be foaming at the mouth for this one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy, Begin Again Reviews

The Purge: Anarchy
Dir. James DeMonaco

If you go back and read my review of the first Purge film, I mention that the world DeMonaco and Co. built had potential to work in a sequel if they expanded the universe beyond just one house.  The sequel to last year's surprise summer hit does just that: we actually get to see what it's like on the street during the 12-hour period of modern American lawlessness, where all crime (mostly murder) is legalized to keep people from breaking the law the other 364 days of the year.  With a large city as the filmmakers' playground this time around, this "open-world" film could have been amazing given the right script, and couldn't have come at a better time of release - our actual world is unfortunately reflecting this movie right now - but alas, the lazily-titled Purge: Anarchy is a bland, if ambitious, horror b-movie.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Tammy, Obvious Child Reviews

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dir. Matt Reeves

To even my surprise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my #2 movie of 2011. Despite being the prequel/second remake of the classic 1968 Heston film, it managed to live on its own terms and create this great new universe.  The story that interweaved the beginning of Caesar's "rise" with a very human-centric alzheimers plot with John Lithgow and James Franco, along with Franco's heartfelt connection with Caesar, was brilliant, and the final setpiece on the Golden Gate Bridge, even after my fourth recent re-watch, gave me chills.  And much of what makes it so good is Andy Serkis, whose motion-captured performance stole the show - and started a mini-campaign to get him an Oscar-nom.  So with Dawn focusing more on Caesar and his ape comrades, I was eagerly anticipating this film, and Matt Reeves is not one to disappoint (I thought Cloverfield actually lived up to the hype).  But, lo and behold, much like a handful of other sequels that have come out this year (namely How to Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street), I'm just at a disconnect from most other critics: I found this to be a surprisingly uninspired, "simple" film more fitting with the likes of Avatar than the original Rise.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Snowpiercer, Life Itself Reviews

Dir. Bong Joon-ho
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Snowpiercer, the American debut of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother) is a literal thrill ride.  Based off of a French graphic novel, this not-too-distant-future claustrophobic sci-fi picture takes place entirely on a large, non-stop train.  After humanity dies off from freezing Earth in an effort to stop global warming, the only human survivors are aboard this train led by a rich and mysterious man called Wilford.  The front of the train contains the engine room, where Wilford is, along with the members of "rich" society, and in the back are the poor, "working class," dirty, grimy, forced to eat black gelatinous bricks, and "put in their place" by Wilford's guards and right-hand woman, Mason, played to scumbag perfection by Tilda Swinton.  But in the words of 80's hair metal band Twisted Sister, these people aren't gonna take it anymore, and an uprising begins (led by Chris Evans).  The film is pretty much their journey from the back to the front of the train in an effort to get answers and begin a revolution.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Transformers 4, The Immigrant, Deliver Us From Evil Reviews

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dir. Michael Bay

Right now Transformers: Age of Extinction has already made over $400 million worldwide, and is likely to become the highest-grossing movie of the year.  Despite an abysmal 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 2.5 hour-long runtime, and a mostly incomprehensible story, people around the world will still fork over their money to watch these giant robots bludgeon and blast missiles at identical giant robots over and over again.  The problem is that this just fuels Bay's worst tendencies; female objectification and racial stereotypes run amok, characters come and go with no meaning or satisfying arcs, plot literally doesn't matter over the spectacle, and audiences don't seem to care.  There comes a moment in Age of Extinction where Optimus Prime, fighting a giant robot T-Rex, hops on its back and starts riding it.  Within the context of the movie, this makes no sense, but sense doesn't matter in a Bay film.  What matters are what he considers a series of "cool" shots, where literally every frame of the movie has to be filled with unrelenting grandiosity, which in effect makes me, at least, numb to everything on screen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jersey Boys, The Signal, The Rover Reviews

Jersey Boys
Dir. Clint Eastwood

I was lucky enough this past May to see Jersey Boys on Broadway, the 2006 Tony Award-winning musical encapsulating the career of pop icons Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  The show was fantastic, and impressed me not only in its music, set design, and talented cast, but strangely the pacing of the biographical tale was almost the best part, weaving in the major points of the story with music and asides from the members of the group seamlessly, keeping things moving with an upbeat energy.  This fun, vibrant stage show seems like it could make for a great movie adaptation in the right hands - but Clint Eastwood is not it.  Known mostly for hard-edged Westerns and crime flicks, why the powers-that-be chose Eastwood to direct this is beyond me, and the result is a bland, pointless, limp-dick version of the beloved Broadway production.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

22 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2 Reviews

22 Jump Street
Dir. Phil Lord & Chris Miller
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21 Jump Street was one of the biggest comedy surprises to come out of 2012.  Loosely based off of an 80's TV show with marginal marquee value, starring Step Up and Dear John actor Channing Tatum and a skinny Jonah Hill - it was completely blindsiding when that film was actually one of the better comedies of the year.  Since then co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have become a hot commodity in Hollywood, especially after the box office darling The LEGO Movie, leaving 22 Jump Street with high expectations (a polar opposite circumstance from the first).  The sequel, though not as egregiously cookie-cutter as The Hangover Part II, does tread similar ground as the first film, but is decidedly much more "meta," constantly self-referencing that we're watching a sequel, to both the film's benefit and detriment.  The laughs come fairly regularly in 22 Jump Street, but its perpetually winking eye can get tiresome.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, Edge of Tomorrow Reviews

The Fault in Our Stars
Dir. Josh Boone

Based on the best-selling novel by John Green and with a screenplay from (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Fault in Our Stars is this summer's seemingly big "chick" movie (last year it was The Heat, before that Magic Mike).  Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort star as two teens with cancer, who end up falling deeply in love despite their respective conditions (Woodley needs a breathing apparatus and Elgort has an amputated leg).  Playing to the "Notebook crowd," the film is often sickeningly sentimental, but the strong leads and supporting cast - including Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, and Mike Birbiglia - along with a witty (but hokey) script, make this a solid movie that is likely to bring overly emotional audience members to tears.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Maleficent, A Million Ways to Die in the West Reviews

Dir. Robert Stromberg
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Angelina Jolie stars in her horniest role yet in Maleficent, her first live action movie in 4 years (during which time she was probably recovering from The Tourist).  Taking a cue from/ripping off the stage show Wicked, Maleficent tells the Sleepying Beauty tale from the perspective of the villain, in this case one of Disney's most beloved villains, Maleficent - although most of this film does not fall within the continuity of the original animated classic.  First-time director Robert Stromberg knows how to make a magical CGI world come to life really darn well (he earned two Academy Awards for Production Design for Avatar and Alice in Wonderland), and he sure did make Maleficent into a creature and glow-y things-filled journey... if only he cared as much about the story as the eye candy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past, Blended Reviews

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Dir. Bryan Singer
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The first X-Men film changed comic book movies; it's kind of what started this whole "Dark Knight" thing of taking these superheroes seriously.  But after six feature films and dwindling box office returns for the last few entries in the franchise, Fox decided the best tactic for the seventh X-Men movie would be to combine both the "prequel" First Class cast with the original trilogy cast in a complicated time-travel storyline taken straight out of the comics.  Personally, I've been pretty fatigued from these movies (X-Men and superheroes in general), but the "all-out" approach of keeping the franchise alive made Days of Future Past enticing.  Bryan Singer is back in the director's chair, with an "I'm sorry" script from Simon Kinberg, who has since publicly apologized for The Last Stand.  It felt right to give the reigns back to the guy who made this all work in the first place, and I'm happy to say - the move worked out beautifully.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla, Chef Reviews

Dir. Gareth Edwards
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Godzilla is probably one of, if not the most, iconic monsters in pop culture.  From his dark and gritty beginning in the masterpiece Gojira to his many rubber-suited, "dubbed" monster brawls, to the American remake that may as well not have been labelled "Godzilla" at all, the giant lizard has certainly not had a consistent level of quality throughout his 60-year stint destroying buildings and kicking the shit out of other giant creatures.  But as soon as I heard Gareth Edwards was brought on board, I was sold.  His low-budget giant monster flick Monsters was an astonishing first feature that balanced human relationships with the grand monster scale in a beautiful way.  He was a perfect choice to direct this, and with a cast including Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen (who impressed me in Martha Marcy May Marlene), and a couple of fantastic, haunting trailers, my nerd boner went through the roof.  And then the hype machine starting turning.  Facebook, film blogs, people on the damn street - the buzz was that Godzilla was great.  So I bolted to the first screening I could attend, and as I walked out of the theater it sunk in - this was just another mediocre summer movie.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Unsung Hero of “Barf-Bag” Cinema

Hey guys!  I just turned in my LAST paper for my undergrad degree, and funny enough it was for my Film Genre: Horror class (a subject I am particularly fond of).  Anyway, I put a lot of effort into this report and I enjoyed working on it so much, I thought it would be fun to share with more people than just my professor!  So here it is, in all its glory - my final paper for my horror class, written about "The Godfather of Gore," Herschell Gordon Lewis... Now with BONUS PICTURES!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Neighbors, Locke, Blue Ruin, Only Lovers Left Alive

Dir. Nicholas Stoller

Seth Rogen, known for playing the lovable "shlub" type in every single film he's in, totally doesn't break character again and plays lovable shlub Mac Radner in the latest from Forgetting Sarah Marshall director/Muppets co-writer Nicholas Stoller (although it's clear that co-producers Rogen and Evan Goldberg had their paws all over the story).  The plot couldn't be simpler - Rogen, his wife (Rose Byrne), and his baby girl just put all their funds into their new home when, wouldn't you know it, a frat house moves in next door (headed by Zac Efron and Dave Franco).  And comedy ensues.  Although the story is pretty self-explanatory, I have to say, Neighbors was an incredibly well-handled comedy.  If you can handle the raunchiness, the script smartly deals with the fear of growing up within both generations (without making the "frat" side simply a joke) while still bringing on laughs at a regular interval.  Although at times the raunchiness goes a little too far, it was still a funny damn movie, with one of the best fight scenes - if you can believe it - I've seen this year (not counting The Raid 2).  Also, I have to give a shout-out to Ike Barinholtz (MadTV), who plays one of Rogen's friends/co-workers in the film, and is absolutely hilarious (and holds a striking resemblance to Mark Wahlberg, so much so that I almost thought I was watching a long lost Wahlberg brother).  If you're a fan of these type of comedies (ie Hangover, Ted), Neighbors is totally worth your time, and if you're a woman, you get to ogle at Zac Effron's sexy abs.

Rating: B

Dir. Steven Knight

Much like Ryan Reynolds in Buried or James Franco in 127 Hours, Locke is a one-man show set all in one claustrophobic location - this time with Tom Hardy behind the wheel of a car.  The entire hour and a half runtime is spent on a neon-lit, seemingly infinite patch of highway with only Hardy's face and his bluetooth hands-free telephone to keep us company.  What the film amounts to is more or less a standard family drama plot boiled down to its bare essentials, almost like listening to a well-crafted radio play.  Watching this one man try to keep his work, home, and personal life from completely spiraling out of control, just through phone conversations and the expressions and emotions he was feeling was unlike any cinematic experience I've had before.  The only problem for me was that the actual story was somewhat unoriginal - the type of thing you'd see in a soap opera, just given a fancier treatment.  Although I wanted to like the movie more for its sheer ambition, ultimately for me the story left more to be desired.  Still I'd say the fantastic performance by Hardy and its singular experience is worth checking it out.

Rating: B-

Only Lovers Left Alive
Dir. Jim Jarmusch

Only Lovers Left Alive is Jim Jarmusch's take on the vampire myth - and of course it's unlike any vampire movie that's ever been made.  These are washed-out, directionless rocker vamps with a taste for blood and cool tunes.  Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play centuries-old vampires, who've seen and learned everything the world has to offer and are jaded to a fault.  I love how vampires in this movie are basically hipsters, and having them live in the Detroit underground rock scene was brilliant.  The vibe of the film feels like a slowly spinning record (the film literally opens spinning around the central characters), and it feels more like you're "hanging out" with these characters than watching a thickly-plotted, laid-out story.  Hiddleston and Swinton are perfect casting for this offbeat world that Jarmusch created, and they work really well together.  However, like Locke, I found that I appreciated it more than I actually enjoyed watching it; after I while I was wishing the "record" would start spinning faster.

Rating: C+

Blue Ruin
Dir. Jeremy Saulnier

Blue Ruin is a film that made headlines recently for being completely funded through kickstarter and ended up winning some awards at Cannes.  It's basically about this homeless drifter, who we know little about at first, who is notified that one Wade Cleland Jr. is being released from prison.  The two have a history (Wade killed his parents - kind of a big deal), and unlike other movies in the genre, the act of revenge is taken fairly early on in the picture.  What Blue Ruin does is show the consequences of said revenge, in a violent, at times black humor-filled manner. This slow-burn, violent, Southern revenge tale has hints of No Country for Old Men and Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories (especially concerning the "family" quarrels), and coming from cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier, the movie looks great.  The central performance in the film by Macon Blair was fantastic (and frankly all of the performances), especially at the beginning of the film, as we see him go about his wordless day as a vagrant.  The violence in the film is graphic and comes at unexpected moments, and although I think critics are blowing out of proportion how good the movie is, I think it's a solidly made Coen/Nichols-esque thriller.

Rating: B-

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Dir. Marc Webb
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The summer season is officially upon us, and you know what that means: copious amounts of super-powered men in tights.  And kicking things off is your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, slinging his way into his fifth big screen adventure in only 12 years.  This sequel to Marc Webb's reboot of the franchise also happens to be the worst-rated Spider-Man film on Rotten Tomatoes, and currently looking at a slightly lower box office intake than all the other films - even with the added 3D and IMAX surcharges factored in.  But I like to keep an open mind about stuff, and I'm a big fan of Spidey (he's my favorite superhero right under Batman), so I really was hoping this movie could pull its shit together and fix the problems of the first one.  In the end though, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is about as "amazing" as a meal at Buffalo Wild Wings.  It's good enough to not starve, but it will still leave you feeling empty and disappointed by the end of it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Summer 2014 Box Office Predictions

(Pretend the fish is money and Toothless is a Hollywood producer)

It almost feels like summer's already started with Captain America: The Winter if May 2nd wasn't early enough. This summer is a little tough to predict because of all the sequels and superheroes - there's not one "original" movie on my list (not based off of another property).  I'm not sure how tired audiences will get of these action flicks, so maybe there will be a few surprises here and there.  But I've placed my bets and here they are.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Oculus, Transcendence, Jodorowsky's Dune

Hey guys -- sorry if these reviews sound rushed...that's because they were.  I'm finishing up my last undergrad year, so I have to sneak these movies in whenever I can! I plan on writing up my Summer 2014 box office predictions soon, so look forward to that (and maybe you could play along, if you're cool).  Anyway, thanks for reading, and Happy Easter!

Dir. Wally Pfister
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Wally Pfister, the go-to cinematographer for Christopher Nolan, marks his directorial debut with this sci-fi story written by first-time screenwriter Jack Paglen.  The film had been on the Hollywood 'black list' for a number of years before finally being picked up; the movie is about an artificial intelligence researcher, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), who is shot by a radical anti-technology group with a radioactive bullet.  To save his life, his partner (Paul Bettany) and his wife (Rebecca Hall), plug all the information in his brain into a computer.  However, once in there, Dr. Caster kind of turns into HAL from 2001 and you can imagine that things don't go too well.

While the philosophical ideas in the movie are interesting, the film ultimately has the same emotional heft as a computer program.  All the actors, while not "bad," are clearly phoning it in here, the plot borders on total implausibility, and most surprising, the visual aspects weren't even that great.  If anything, I would have expected this film to have a certain amount of visual flair, coming from a cinematographer, but it really looks dull and generic.  The film just jumps ahead in time when it's convenient, and at times the film was somewhat confusing. The whole idea that a human consciousness can be uploaded into a computer is really interesting, but the rest of the film just didn't do anything with it, pretty much devolving into a really crappy love story.

Rating: C-

Dir. Mike Flanagan
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Recently, the horror genre hasn't exactly been doing so great - especially in America.  Mostly we just see remakes, sequels, prequels, or just plain rip-offs, but every once in a while someone comes around and surprises with a little gem (like Mama from last year).  I think Oculus is one of those films; while it isn't the most original horror flick out there, I think it does handle the psychological/supernatural horror angle really well, and despite a very weak beginning and predictable ending, I found the middle of this movie to be really interesting stuff.  The movie is basically about this brother and sister, who as kids make a pact to destroy this mirror, which supposedly causes people to kill themselves/others (aka it's haunted).

The film pulls a "Godfather II" and flashes back between the siblings' past and present to explain what's happening, and the way the film toys with perceptions of reality is really well done.  The acting from the two leads leaves something to be desired (it looks as if the producers just wanted to hire some young hot models to sell tickets), but the kids, especially the girl played by Annalise Basso, were great and the parents in the flashbacks (Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff) gave me a Duvall/Nicholson Shining vibe.  All in all, I think Oculus is a solidly put together supernatural horror movie.  It does fall to some of the bad cliches of the genre (like the pointless 'jump scares'), but its positives outweigh the negatives in my opinion.  And one scene involving an apple is one of the cringiest things I've seen in a horror film in a while.

Rating: B

Jodorowsky's Dune
Dir. Frank Pavich
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Alejandro Jodorowsky is a cult filmmaker most widely known for having created the first "midnight movie," El Topo (1970), and went on to direct the equally influential and trippy The Holy Mountain (1973).  But after those projects, his next plan was to adapt the epic 1965 sci-fi novel Dune - a huge visionary undertaking that would require a huge budget and lots of talent.  This documentary from Frank Pavich recounts the history of Jodorowsky's unproduced film, which very well may be one of the "most important films never made."

Having influenced such films as Star Wars and Alien, it was really fascinating to see this film's undeniable impact without even having ever been produced.  Guiding us through the history is Jodorowsky himself, who at the age of 85 still has so much life left in him.  The movie also brings many of his original storyboards to life, giving a taste as to what the project may have looked like (if anything it would've likely been better than David Lynch's Dune, which was such a huge bomb critically and commercially that Lynch erased his name off of some of the prints).  Jodorowsky's Dune is about a man who would literally die for his movie, and the strength it takes to be ambitious and be able to fail on such a large level.  I really enjoyed this movie, and you don't have to be familiar with Jodorowsky's work or Dune to enjoy it (though it may enhance your viewing).

Rating: B+

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Raid 2, Under the Skin, Joe

The Raid 2
Dir. Gareth Evans

The Raid, a spellbindingly violent martial-arts action movie from Indonesia, blew the back of my head off when I first saw it.  The film, although extremely simple in the plot department (a SWAT team clears out a building floor by floor), made up for its basic story with some of the best hand-to-hand action scenes I've ever seen.  So Gareth Evans had a lot to live up to with his sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal - and in some ways it completely tops the first, and in others it made me wish for the more streamlined approach of its predecessor.  The Raid 2 is decidedly a much bigger film with a larger scope than the first, throwing away the simple "take out these guys floor by floor" formula.  The film picks up where the last left off, and the hero, Rama, is sent undercover into a crime syndicate to reveal police corruption.  

I thought the story was somewhat interesting, but it was pretty unbelievable at points (just to earn the criminal's trust, Rama has to spend TWO YEARS in prison, with no contact with his family) and it ended up being too complicated for its own good, going off on pointless side-plots.  Even though the ensuing action scenes were amazing, there was one random machete-wielding homeless character introduced halfway through the film for no apparent reason, and I was pretty lost throughout the film, losing track of the character relationships.  I hadn't seen the first Raid film since it came out three years ago, so without a refresher I was pretty dumbfounded as to what exactly was going on at first.  The movie is also way too long, clocking in at almost 2.5 hours.  

I think more time in the editing room would've helped this film along, but in the long run, the action scenes are worth the wait.  If you in any way like crazy, violent, Tarantino-esque action, you simply must see this film.  Every single fight is breathtaking, and if you get the chance to see it in a theater or with a crowd, do so because you can't help but wince at the sheer brutality of the fights (what these actors go through for the sake of entertainment is astonishing).  I don't want to spoil the fight scenes, but they are all different from one another so they don't grow stale and Evans isn't afraid to show the consequences.  While I wouldn't recommend this to anyone not really into the genre, fans of action movies need to stick through this film: it pays off!

Rating: B

Dir. David Gordon Green
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Nicolas Cage infamously has taken some questionable roles in the past...and by 'some' I mean 'mostly.'  Sure he managed to squeeze out an Academy Award win or nomination here and there, but I think Cage has mostly gone the route of M. Night Shyamalan and nobody takes him seriously anymore (if they ever did).  But, for whatever reason, David Gordon Green saw something fresh in the guy, and casted him in yet another Southern drama of his.  Joe feels very much like last year's Mud, which is no coincidence - they're both southern dramas that attempted to give a waning celebrity a career revival (Cage and McConaughey), they both have a lead character escaping from a criminal past, they both star Tye Sheridan playing a coming-of-age boy yearning for a father figure, Green was a co-producer on Mud, and they both have really terrible three-letter word titles.  Considering the timing of it, I couldn't help but compare the two films, and unfortunately, I think that negatively affected my view of the movie.

Joe is about a real rough-and-tumble guy, Joe (Nic Cage) who spends his blue-collar days chopping down trees, unflinchingly grabbing venomous snakes, and banging trailer trash women.  He hires a kid named Gary (Tye Sheridan) one day and the two form a bond - something he never got in his home life from his alcoholic, abusive father.  I don't want to give anything away, but basically Tye gets mixed up with some bad people, and the rest of the film may or may not spell tragedy for everyone involved. The world of this film was ultra-rundown and raw (I couldn't help but think of Chainsaw Massacre), and if it wasn't already clear from his past work, David Gordon Green knows how to bring this subculture to life. But I think critics are so excited that Cage is in a halfway decent role that they looked past all the problems with this movie.  I thought the script was pretty lackluster and nothing we haven't seen before; and Cage himself I didn't even think was that great - in my opinion his much younger co-star stole the show.  I just didn't get anything out of this movie other than 'life sucks.'  With Mud and even Beasts of the Southern Wild, I think there are much better films of this type lying around that you should watch instead.

Rating: C

Under the Skin
Dir. Jonathan Glazer
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Jonathan Glazer, director of Sexy Beast and a bunch of commercials and music videos, brings the sci-fi genre out of the exposition-heavy plots we're used to, and into the dark abyss of ambiguity in Under the Skin, based off a book by Michael Faber, which follows an alien in the form of Scarlett Johanssen who picks up guys, takes them back to her apartment (which is actually a trippy black metaphorical death room) and through context clues we figure she's harvesting their organs.  Although it sounds like a plot ripe for a blood-and-guts creature feature, the film is much more akin to a European art film, taking its sweet-ass time, letting each and every shot linger and speak for itself.  There's barely any dialogue throughout the movie, but for me it felt like pure "cinema" as the wonderful cinematography from Daniel Landin (another music video regular) and a very unsettling, bizarre score from Mica Levi wash over you as you try to piece together what these images actually mean.  It's a wholly original film, and by far the most unique I've seen this year, but if you're not in the right mindset you're going to find this a slog.

Johanssen is on a roll with her roles lately, and she's really showing off her range: she can go from this one character who barely speaks at all, to voicing the computer in Her, where she can only rely on the dialogue.  I think she was perfect casting as well because in the popular culture, she is more or less seen as an "object" for men to ogle at (most guys don't look forward to seeing her as Black Widow "for the plot"), and the film plays with the idea of this alien going from a blank-staring killing machine to an actual woman (or as film blogger Britt Hayes brilliantly put it: "from an 'it' to a 'she'").  Its very deliberately paced, but if you can get through it and don't mind when a film doesn't spell everything out for you (I literally didn't know what I was even looking at for the first 5 minutes), I think Under the Skin is a beautiful, weird, haunting movie that grew on me the more I thought about it.

Rating: B-

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Noah, Muppets: Most Wanted, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo

I am tired of these superhero movies.  This is the ninth entry in the "Marvel Studios" franchise of films in only 6 years, and that doesn't even count all the DC and Marvel characters still under contract at other studios (like X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man).  There's only so many of these things I can take before it gets monotonous - but I do like the idea behind Marvel's plan.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier was decidedly marketed as more of a "political thriller" than a typical "hero's journey" sort of movie.  Although Winter Soldier actually is that prototypical superhero film, I do admire the extra effort to give it a sort of "Bourne" sheen.

The movie has Captain America (Chris Evans) now in the present and working for SHIELD under Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).  Alexander Pierce (played by Robert Redford, who somehow got talked into doing this), a high-ranking SHIELD offical and long-time "friend" of Nick Fury, is spearheading Project Insight: three giant helicarriers loaded with artillery used to eliminate threats before they even are threats (kind of like a half-explained version of Minority Report).  Obviously the controversial connotations of this death machine aren't up Cap's alley, and kind of obvious SPOILER here, but Pierce is not exactly working for the same team, if you catch my drift.  

I thought Winter Soldier, though vastly superior to both the first Captain America and Thor: The Dark World, still felt kind of ho-hum.  After hearing so much about how this was taking a 'political thriller' angle, I was really hoping it would use more of that stuff, but the film is ultimately still a rock-em sock-em action movie with just a sprinkling of politics. But I do have to admit, the action aspects of Winter Soldier are amazing. As opposed to Thor, who has these all-powerful god-powers, Captain America is more or less just a super-powerful guy, so the movie featured some fantastic hand-to-hand (and fist-to-face) action. Though I do wish the camera wasn't so shaky in parts (and it doesn't come anywhere close to The Raid), this film is worth watching just for the fun action set pieces.  One complaint I had about the first Captain America film is that he didn't utilize his shield very much - in this one, that shield is the coolest thing ever. Black Widow also gets a lot more to work with in this film than ever before, and Anthony Mackie is pretty great as the Falcon.  I do think though, that while the villain (the winter solider) was a physically intimidating force, was a pretty boring villain (pretty much exists for action purposes and to possibly set up the story for Captain America 3).  Overall, I did have fun with this movie, and I think fans of the Marvel films will love it, but ultimately I'm just growing tired of this genre as a whole.  I mean, there were three Marvel trailers playing before this God.

Rating: B-

Dir. Darren Aronofsky
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One thing is for sure: when Darren Aronofsky makes a movie about Noah's Ark, it won't exactly be the "cute smiling animals with a rainbow" version taught in Sunday School.  With Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, Pi, The Wrestler, and The Fountain, in my mind Aronofsky has never disappointed, so I was very interested in this huge undertaking from a relatively "indie" director.  Now, I'm definitely no bible-buff, and I identify as an atheist so I don't have much opinion coming from a biblical standpoint, but I do think this was a fascinating film, and really did make an experience that shows how cruel "God" can be, and the decisions Noah has to make about saving animals over other people was thought-provoking and upsetting.

While I do wish this aspect was played up a little more and the fantastical elements toned down (there are literally giant rock things that walk around like the ents in Lord of the Rings), I think Aronofsky knew how to ground this biblical epic on a human level.  Russell Crowe is a bit of predictable casting, but no one is better than Crowe at delivering these types of performances.  Jennifer Connolly, playing Noah's wife, and Emma Watson, playing his adopted daughter, are also major stand-outs, and the final third of this film, though at times melodramatic, to me was extremely intense and dramatic between the family members left on the boat.  Aronofsky doesn't have a problem bringing up the issues with Noah himself, and how radical one's belief must be to basically kill off most of humanity.  The movie looks beautiful (though the animal CG was a little iffy) and I thought it was still distinctly an "Aronofsky" film, even though it's a big studio movie.  It may be one of my least favorites of his, but a lesser Aronofsky movie is still better than most directors' best.

Rating: B

Muppets: Most Wanted
Dir. James Bobin
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James Bobin and co. had a tough act to follow with The Muppets, which was a true comeback for the talking puppet franchise in every sense - it had fantastic music that rivaled that in any of the other films, it was perfectly sweet and nostalgic, and it was genuinely hilarious.  It just felt so great to see my favorite childhood characters re-introduced in such a grand way.  The problem with doing a sequel, however, is figuring out which direction to head in after that initial nostalgia factor has worn off; the story of The Muppets is all about the original gang getting back together - now that they are together it's tough to keep the fire burning.  What initially concerned me was the writers came up with a ridiculously cliche and "safe" choice: an "international heist" movie.  Even the parodies of this genre are past their prime, so I was pretty nervous about this one - but seriously, this is still a fantastic Muppet film that retains all that sharp self-aware wit and sing-along music (again supervised by Bret McKenzie).

The plot is basically about a Russian doppelganger frog, Constantine, who pretends to be Kermit (getting him out of the way by putting him in prison) and uses the Muppets' new tour as an excuse to steal various jewels and paintings around the world.  While the plot itself is pretty lame, it's more or less an excuse to have a constant springboard for jokes.  Along with the Muppet gang, there are tons of funny human characters in here as well, including Ricky Gervais as Constantine's "number two" man, Tina Fey as a Russian prison guard with a passion for musical theater, and dozens of celebrity cameos that I wouldn't dare spoil for your virgin ears.  So basically, it's everything I sort of wanted out of a Muppet sequel.  It may lack that same energy as its predecessor, and strangely feels much lower budgeted - but there's a joke-a-minute, ranging from word play to hilariously specific pop culture references to plenty of self-depricating humor.  I didn't expect that much (especially after that AWFUL trailer), but Muppets: Most Wanted is a solid follow-up to The Muppets.

Rating: B+

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bad Words, Thor: The Dark World, Particle Fever

Bad Words
Dir. Jason Bateman
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After spending years on the infamous Hollywood "Black List" for the best unproduced screenplays, Jason Bateman finally took it upon himself to star in and direct for the first time Andrew Dodge's dark comedy script.  Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a foul-mouthed, immature, but brilliant asshole who loopholes his way into a national spelling bee for reasons we learn incrementally throughout the film.  Bateman proves with Bad Words that not only can he direct well, but turn in a solid dramatic performance.

This truly earns its title of 'black comedy,' with Bateman fearlessly playing what's pretty much a sociopathic character for laughs, and it totally works.  I'm also just a sucker for pissed-off older guy paired with young kid movies (like Bad Santa and Bad Grandpa...I guess any comedy that starts with the word 'bad').  It's just pure fun to hear Bateman spew off one snappy, outrageously offensive line after the other in front of the most innocent, wide-eyed kid (played by Rohan Chand, who you may recognize from Lone Survivor).  I don't want to give much away, but I really had a good time with this one.  Although sometimes it did go a little too far (exposing a young kid to prostitutes and alcohol was a bit much), and the overall "brown" look of the film wasn't especially pleasing to the eye, Bad Words was really funny and surprisingly touching.

Rating: B

Thor: The Dark World
Dir. Alan Taylor
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Thor is fucking boring. There's not a lot to him: he's this all-powerful god with a big hammer and he's trying to save the universe.  Thor: The Dark World, Marvel's post-Avengers sequel to the equally dunder-headed Thor, still doesn't add much dimension to the character.  With a plot right out of a (bad) video game, there's some race of pointy-eared alien dudes that really hate all the Gods in Asgard, but luckily they were destroyed a while ago.  But for no particular reason at all Thor's Earthling GF Jane (Natalie Portman) gets sucked into some vortex and some sort of red goo gets inside of her and that unleashes all the pointy-eared dudes...I really don't know.  The plot of this film is pointlessly confusing and uninteresting.

While the film does have some fun moments of comedic relief, mostly coming from Kat Dennings, they don't outweigh the unbearably self-serious and illogical plot.  The film is filled with great acting talent doing the best with their roles (I think Hemsworth and Hiddleston totally own their roles as Thor and Loki), there's just not much substance to this film.  It feels like one giant "Avengers" circle-jerk made for comic book fans to spend more of their money on a recognizable property.  Maybe some people like this kind of "turn your brain off" CG action film, but I thought Thor was a total bore.  Honestly reminded me of Attack of the Clones.

Rating: D

Particle Fever
Dir. Mark Levinson
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One of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in recent history has been the Large Hadron Collider.  It's been covered by every news outlet and physicists everywhere are claiming that the results of this massive experiment could explain everything in the universe - but still I have no idea what it actually is.  And although it still goes way over my head after watching the documentary Particle Fever, I do have a newfound appreciation for all the tireless work put in by thousands of people from many, even warring, countries.

Directed by an actual particle physicist, the film does a good job of getting us into the headspace of these brilliant minds, young and old.  I really liked how the film shared with us the genuine wonder of these people: to them a blip on a screen was like winning the lottery.  I also really like the juxtaposition of them working with the smallest particles in existence to answer the biggest questions imaginable. The film was edited by Walter Murch, probably one of the most famous film editors of all time (he literally wrote "the book" on editing), and it definitely has a great flow.  Even though I had no clue what was going on, just watching these experts' move their hands across a chalkboard and pour out these long equations was strangely spellbinding.  While Particle Fever may not have been that "for-dummies" explanation I was looking for, it was still an interesting story on the human side of things.

Rating: B

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