Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pwaters' Top Ten of 2015!

It's just about time to rip that old calendar off the wall, because 2015 is packing its bags and closing up shop! That means we'll be up to our eyeballs in "Top Ten [insert whatever] of the Year" lists. And here, in my little corner of the Internet, to contribute to the fervor of year-end lists, are my Top Ten movies of 2015! Enjoy!

10. Creed
Dir. Ryan Coogler

Creed might be my favorite Rocky movie. In a strange year where we saw 3 uber-successful seventh films in a franchise (Furious 7The Force Awakens, and this), Ryan Coogler rose to the challenge of his rivals and gave new life to the Rocky series. The immersive fight scenes, shot in one continuous take, feel like you're in the ring with the boxers. And Stallone, who I've never really liked as an actor, was at his best here; the way Rocky's "fight" with old age and losing relevance intersects with Adonis Creed's journey of literal fighting in the ring and overcoming the shadow of his father was a graceful and logical way to extend the series. While the story still follows the basic Rocky template, it felt authentic in a way none of the previous films have for me. I knew Coogler was a good director after Fruitvale Station, especially in terms of getting honest performances out of actors, but Creed solidified him as one of the top-notch guys I'll be watching out for. I hope to see this same team back for Creed II!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pwaters' 2015 Movie Superlatives!

Before I bestow upon you all my Top Ten of the year, I've made it a tradition around this time of year to unload my superlatives. In the movie-watching yearbook of 2015, it was particularly difficult to pick some of these, as it happened to be a wonderful year for film. In general. I mean, we did have to suffer through a lot of crap, but overall it was good. And here I am to sift through the bullshit for you. Enjoy!

BEST ACTOR - Matt Damon, The Martian

A successful adaptation of The Martian almost entirely depends on who you cast in the lead, because the piece is pretty much a one-man-show. Matt Damon, playing botanist Mark Watney, trapped on Mars, brings the character to life not simply by making the character a depressed sad sack, as you might imagine a man alone on a planet would be, but by infusing him with a refreshing dose of personality and humor (enough so that the Hollywood Foreign Press nominated the film for Best Comedy at the Golden Globes). Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, whenever an actor can carry a film almost entirely by themselves, it's impressive, and few can do so in as entertaining and likable a way as Matt Damon.

The Hateful Eight, Concussion, The Big Short, Joy Reviews

The Hateful Eight
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
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Before I get into the film, I just want to clear up its unique theatrical release. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino's eighth feature, appropriately enough) is being released everywhere at the end of the month in regular ol' digital projection at all the chain multiplexes. At select venues, however, there is a special "roadshow" version, projected in 70mm film (not digital), complete with an overture, intermission, program booklet, and 20 minutes of extra footage. I was lucky enough to catch the roadshow version, so that may or may not have affected my ultimate opinion on the film.

The Hateful Eight is Tarantino's first Western proper (Django Unchained was more of a "Southern"), and is by far his most restrained picture. Playing out like an ultra-violent version of the game Clue, the film primarily takes place in Minnie's Haberdashery, an isolated mountainside stagecoach lodge. It's post-Civil War Wyoming and racial tensions are high. John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), on their way to the town of Red Rock, are joined in their travels by another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a man who claims to be Red Rock's sheriff (Walton Goggins). Due to an oncoming blizzard, they all take shelter at Minnie's, where they meet the other half of the "eight": a posh british hangman (Tim Roth), a mysterious gunslinger (Michael Madsen), a Mexican running the haberdashery in Minnie's absence (Demi├ín Bechir), and a quiet old war general (Bruce Dern). But, like the aforementioned Parkers Brothers game, not everyone is who they say they are, and as tensions slowly rise, you can safely guess that it doesn't go down without some bloodshed.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brooklyn, The Danish Girl, Hitchcock/Truffaut Reviews

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Dir. J.J. Abrams
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SPOILER WARNING: Usually I make an effort to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but considering everyone and their mother saw this film, I've decided to write this review only for people who have seen The Force Awakens. If you have not, you've been warned - I will be going over major plot points!

I sense a disturbance in the Force... I'm just going to say right off the bat, before you start reading and getting upset: I didn't much care for The Force Awakens. I'm most likely in the minority here, as everyone seems to be lapping it up. But, as a movie reviewer, I must express my own opinion, and not just cater to my audience, only writing what they want to hear. Kind of like J.J. Abrams. The Force Awakens - for better or worse - is exactly what I thought a J.J. Abrams Star Wars would look like: Non-stop, slickly-produced but not memorable action, an overload of nostalgic references and fan-service moments, and an overall experience that is left intentionally hollow with the promise of sequels to fulfill any holes in the plot. The Force Awakens, unlike a similar space franchise picture Guardians of the Galaxy, feels like a product to me.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Krampus, Trumbo, Macbeth, Victor Frankenstein

Dir. Michael Dougherty
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When today's kids are "naughty" before Christmas, all they're afraid of is getting coal in their stocking instead of a Nintendo 3DS. But in some European countries, children are afraid that a horned demon will visit their home and punish them accordingly. Krampus is an old folkloric beast from Austria that is sort of Santa's evil twin, and surprisingly, it's taken this long for a movie to exploit this concept. Taking a cue from other holiday horror movies like Gremlins, Michael Dougherty (Trick r Treat) has crafted a tongue-in-cheek, Tales from the Crypt-like story set around a family under siege by Krampus and his evil minions, in the form of demonic toys. The movie is surprisingly well made; the creatures are legitimately terrifying (using mostly practical special effects, hallelujah), the sound design is creepy, and its comedy/horror tone is pretty spot on. However, when it came to the story of the family, and the cliched ending, Krampus was a bit disappointing. It's a fun, alternative Christmas movie if you're sick of seeing It's a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time, but it doesn't have the same staying power as Gremlins for sure.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mockingjay Part 2, The Good Dinosaur, Creed, The 33 Reviews

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
Dir. Francis Lawrence
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You'd think, with Lionsgate having split the final Hunger Games book into two films, that this final chapter would be a non-stop action thrill ride. You'd think. Unfortunately, Mockingjay Part 2 features almost just as much sitting around and doing nothing as Part 1, only with far less interesting tension brewing under the surface. While the entire cast is great (it's refreshing to see the female characters given most of the spotlight over their male counterparts), the set and costume design are top notch, and director Francis Lawrence definitely knows how to stage a CGI-filled action scene to make it feel grounded and real, I just can't get past the laboriously slow pacing of the film and the somewhat confused, contradictory plot.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Night Before, Spotlight, Room, Victoria Reviews

The Night Before
Dir. Jonathan Levine
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Who better to hit off the Christmas season than Seth Rogen and his writing/producing partner Evan Goldberg - a couple of Jewish stoners? Though Rogen didn't have a hand in writing or directing this time, The Night Before marks a reunion for 50/50 stars Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and director Jonathan Levine, and it still has that distinctive "Rogen" stamp on it. The story is like Superbad with sleigh bells; buddies Isaac (Rogen), Chris (Anthony Mackie), and Ethan (Levitt) go out every Christmas Eve for a night of drunken karaoke and misadventures on the anniversary of the death of Ethan's parents. But this year, now in their 30's, they want to make it their last hurrah, and they're going to go out with a bang at the mysterious annual Nutcracker Ball. The Night Before is more or less a series of semi-linked sketches with this overarching theme of maturing into adulthood and making the effort to hold onto friendships as one gets older. Rogen has returned to this coming-of-age theme again and again in his films, often times with much funnier results (Neighbors, This is the End, etc), but The Night Before should still satisfy his fans, such as myself, looking for cheap dick jokes and potty humor.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Spectre, The Peanuts Movie, Experimenter Reviews

Dir. Sam Mendes
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Warning: This review contains some character-related spoilers - ye be warned!

Since the series was "rebooted" in 2006 with Casino Royale, James Bond has perpetually gotten more and more serious. Gone are the days of the campy, fun Bond of yesteryear; I'm pretty sure Daniel Craig is the most joyless version of the character yet, as all of his films seem to ask the question: why is Bond still relevant? Spectre is Sam Mendes' follow-up to Skyfall, which is undoubtedly one of the best-looking Bond films and among the best in the series overall. But it too at times fell victim to the "I'm still here!" idea of James Bond trying to keep up in a world dominated by cyber attacks and anonymous hackers; a quick fistfight or a car chase seems irrelevant when the worst baddies can control the world behind a keyboard. But whereas Skyfall managed to weave in an intriguing relationship between Bond and M (Judi Dench) and presented a chilling villain in Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), Spectre pretty much lacks any human-feeling qualities, and its villain(s) are terribly disappointing. Add to that an infuriatingly overused plot of a mysterious crime ring that controls everything (we literally just saw this in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), a few slick, yet uninteresting action setpieces, and a really drawn out run time, Spectre is a pretty big disappointment.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Steve Jobs, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse Reviews

Steve Jobs
Dir. Danny Boyle

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's specialty seems to be writing troubled geniuses (The Social Network, Moneyball), so Steve Jobs snugly fits right in his wheelhouse. Instead of taking the traditional biopic format of an A-to-B, life-to-death timeline, Sorkin centers the film around three of the former Apple CEO's major product launches, essentially turning what could have been a traditional tech-bio into a Birdman-like backstage drama. This fascinating approach sounds like it would have made Steve Jobs perfect for the stage, but director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) gives this movie, which entirely boils down to people sitting and talking, a huge boost of kinetic energy (as he did in 127 Hours). Every scene feels visually inventive and unique; each timeframe is shot in a completely different format which emphasizes the jump in time, and get ready for some lovely compositions of crowds in awe. While the film may take some liberties with reality (with major life moments conveniently converging at the same time before these launches), and some of the "human" moments feel a little too constructed (especially the terrible ending), Steve Jobs is still a satisfying, close-up look at a fascinating guy who was also pretty much a complete prick.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Crimson Peak, Bridge of Spies, Goodnight Mommy Reviews

Crimson Peak
Dir. Guillermo del Toro
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If the quality of a film was solely measured by its production design, costuming, and cinematography, Crimson Peak would be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, Guillermo del Toro's throwback to victorian-era haunted house movies a la The Innocents covers up its generic story and lack of suspense by throwing as much visual flair and style at you as possible. While his Spanish-language features like Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone employ this excessive style alongside dark and complex stories, his recent American productions like Pacific Rim, del Toro's ode to Japanese monster movies, and now Crimson Peak feel more like straightforward, "fanboy" love letters to genres he grew up with, without realizing their full potential beyond their aesthetic qualities.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Goosebumps, The Walk, 99 Homes Reviews

Dir. Rob Letterman

R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books and the TV series that spawned from them basically initiated my love affair with the horror genre at a young age. I have fond memories of reading the books late at night and watching episodes of the show over and over again on good ol' VHS (my all-time favorite is Stay Out of the Basement!). I have a deep-rooted nostalgia for the property, so when I heard that Sony had casted Jack Black as R.L. in an all new Goosebumps film where in a Jumanji-like family adventure his characters come to life and cause mayhem...I started getting nervous. All signs pointed to this movie - which I imagine was meant to re-introduce Goosebumps to a whole new generation of kids - being a soulless cash-grab. And after seeing the film: my fears came true. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Martian, The Green Inferno, Sicario Reviews

The Martian
Dir. Ridley Scott

It's MacGyver in space! The Martian began as a serialized novel in 2011, released chapter-by-chapter online for free by Andy Weir, a computer-scientist with a passion for writing science fiction. Eventually it was sold in bookstores and the Kindle and became a huge hit: the story of a lone, presumed-dead astronaut trapped on Mars, using his botanist wit trying to stay alive and get home. It was written to be as scientifically-accurate as possible, which seems a perfect fit for Ridley Scott to direct. While we've seen quite a few of these kind of survivalist-space movies recently (Gravity, Interstellar), The Martian is considerably more fun. Watching Mark Watney's reaction to each setback isn't quite as harrowing as the aforementioned space films, but Matt Damon brings a level of charm and affability needed for what is essentially a one man show. So if you're tired of all these Earth-based movies littering the cineplexes - you can't go wrong with this one.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Black Mass, The Visit, The End of the Tour Reviews

Black Mass
Dir. Scott Cooper

Yet again, Johnny Depp is keeping the make-up department busy with his latest role - not as a pirate, or a vampire, or a Native American with a dead bird on his head, but as Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger, whose ties with the FBI made him nearly untouchable for decades (until he was eventually age 81). The story of such a notorious figure in US crime is ripe ground for a quality gangster flick, but unfortunately, Black Mass is a black hole of entertainment. It treads the same exact ground as dozens of other "banality of evil" movies and TV shows, including The Departed which was loosely based on Bulger (it's a losing competition to pit Depp and Cooper against Nicholson and Scorsese). Black Mass drones on and on until it's over, employing cliches and cringeworthy Boston accents along the way. Despite its solid central performance, I'd say you could ship this movie straight to Alcatraz.

Monday, August 31, 2015

RESULTS: Summer 2015 Box Office Predictions

Back in April I predicted which summer flicks would reign supreme at the box office, but as per usual, the numbers proved to be just as unpredictable as ever (I swear I'll do better next year!). Here are some of my observations, in convenient bullet-point form:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

American Ultra, Sinister 2, Ricki and the Flash, Irrational Man

American Ultra
Dir. Nima Nourizadeh
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All of the marketing material for American Ultra seems centered around the magical pull-quote "It's like a mix between Pineapple Express and Jason Bourne!" It's a simple hook that could very well be a great jumping-off point for 21 Jump Street-style action-comedy. What had me most excited going into this though was the writer, Max Landis, who I'm a big fan of (writer of Chronicle and the amazing Youtube short The Death and Return of Superman). Landis is generally a master at taking an established concept and tweaking it in fun and interesting ways, so to see his take on the spy/stoner comedy genre I would guess would be a fun time. Unfortunately, like his fellow Chronicle writer/director Josh Trank (who similarly belly-flopped this year with Fantastic Four), Landis' story kind of falls apart in a laughless, unenjoyable mess.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Straight Outta Compton, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Shaun the Sheep, Dark Places Reviews

Straight Outta Compton
Dir. F. Gary Gray
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The time just seems right for a biopic based on the artists responsible for the gangsta rap anthem "Fuck tha Police." N.W.A. (an acronym for "Niggaz with Attitude") was a groundbreaking musical outfit from the late 80's to the early '90s commonly referred to as the "World's Most Dangerous Group." They were among the first artists to rap about the reality around them, dealing with explicit lyrics that some viewed as glorifying drugs, disrespecting women, and encouraging the gangster lifestyle.  Although their material is rough, and it's right to question some of it, N.W.A. remains an important piece of hip-hop history, and in a world where it seems like every day we hear of police officers shooting unarmed black youths, their raw "reality rap" seems more relevant than ever. It's very strange for such a hardcore group to get the traditional music biopic treatment, but Straight Outta Compton is an absorbing re-telling of the group's story with some great performances and (obviously) a kick-ass soundtrack.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fantastic Four, Vacation, The Gift, The Look of Silence Reviews

Fantastic Four
Dir. Josh Trank
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Fantastic Four is really one of the saddest movies of the year - for what it could have been. Josh Trank, the relatively young director who directed the surprise success Chronicle in his late twenties, seemed like the perfect choice to revitalize this franchise from the dopey first two Tim Story films into something much richer. Chronicle took the superhero genre and spun it on its head; using the "found footage" format, it was a much more realistic take on what a group of teenagers would actually do if given telekinetic powers (which turns from pranks at the supermarket to unchecked destruction - it's a great film if you've yet to check it out). But after many stories of Trank's backstage problems with Fox Studios and the actors not getting along on set, things weren't looking bright. Fantastic Four (2015) shows some promise in its first act, but by the end, everything derails. You can pretty much see the studio's meddling on-screen, and it's a shame, because it will likely ruin the "Fantastic Four" brand for years to come, and also Trank's chances with another big project like this.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mission Impossible 5, Mr Holmes, Tangerine, The Stanford Prison Experiment Reviews

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Dir. Christopher McQarrie
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I'm pretty sure Tom Cruise has a death wish. At 53 years old, he's still trying to top himself with death-defying stunts, and Rogue Nation, the fifth movie in the Mission: Impossible franchise, is filled with ridiculously dangerous situations that Cruise chose to do himself, without the aid of a stunt double. What results are some of the most exciting action set pieces you'll likely see all year, including Tom hanging onto an airplane taking off, Tom holding his breath underwater for minutes at a time, and Tom riding a motorcycle at really high speeds without a helmet - all the while being more in shape than I will likely ever be in my entire life. Even though Rogue Nation has a bland and generic spy plot, and doesn't quite have the same level of humor and camaraderie between the characters as Ghost Protocol (the best in the series), the action is so well handled that it will certainly whet the appetite of any action junkie or Cruise-ophile.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pixels, Paper Towns, Southpaw, Amy Reviews

Dir. Chris Columbus

Pixels, based on the French animated short film of the same name, seemed like it had the potential to pull Adam Sandler out of the box office quicksand he's currently in. With Sandler vehicles That's My Boy, Jack and Jill, and Blended all bombing both critically and financially, a lot seemed to be riding on this ode to 80's-era arcade games. But at this point, I think audiences are catching onto Sandler's laziness, and Pixels was yet another stinker. With no new films on the horizon (only his controversial new Netflix projects), who knows, maybe this marks the end of Sandler's big-budget Hollywood comedy career. Perhaps that's just wishful thinking though, because Pixels, like those aforementioned Happy Madison productions, is just abysmal.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ant-Man, Trainwreck, The Gallows, Self/Less Reviews

Dir. Peyton Reed

It seems like superhero movies can only get so big. After a while saving/destroying an entire city just doesn't do it anymore. That's one of the reasons Ant-Man, the final "Phase Two" Marvel movie before Civil War next year, is so refreshing: it literally scales everything back. Ant-Man's power is shrinking down to the size of an ant and the film is kind of the superhero version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. The way director Peyton Reed (a self-professed hardcore Ant-Man fan) and his cinematographer Russell Carpenter captured the small scale "epic" action was unlike anything I've seen before, and it's fun and hilarious to boot!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Terminator Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, Love and Mercy, The Overnight Reviews

Terminator Genisys
Dir. Alan Taylor
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Terminator Genisys feels like the backbreaking result of dozens of board meetings demanding the next Terminator film include Arnold Schwarzenegger. After the Arnie-less critical and financial disappointment of Terminator Salvation (aka, the Christian Bale-freakout movie you forgot existed), it seems to me that writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier manipulated the time travel aspect of the series to its absolute "jumping the shark" point in order to bring the once-box office king back to the franchise. Like Jurassic World, Genisys seems to exist only as a product of pure nostalgia pandering.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Max, Heaven Knows What, When Marnie Was There Reviews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Drama at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, which is no surprise seeing as it's such a "Sundance-y" movie. You've got an energetic young director doing crazy camera stuff, a sickeningly quirky sense of humor balanced with teen drama, you've got a girl dying of cancer, you've got snobby references to "Criterion" movies and Werner Herzog, and throw in an angsty white kid at the center and you've got a standing ovation in Colorado. Although it's been getting a lot of buzz, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. It's twee to a fault.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Inside Out, Ted 2, Dope, The Wolfpack Reviews

Inside Out
Dir. Pete Docter
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Time and time again Pixar loves to play with audience's emotions, and with Inside Out, studio "brain trust" member Pete Docter literalizes the feelings we all go through both during the best Pixar flicks, and as we grow up and mature into who we are. The film follows an 11-year old girl named Riley who's making a big transition by moving from the Midwest to San Francisco. Cutting between the real world and inside Riley's mind, we see how the anthropomorphized emotions of Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black) attempt to guide her through this stressful event via a central control room. Because Inside Out is dealing mostly with an everyday, mundane subject like the stress of moving to a new city, at times it feels as though the stakes are considerably lower than other Pixar adventures, but the way the film cleverly takes abstract psychological concepts that are universal to the human experience and makes them palatable for audiences of all ages, while making it both funny and heartwarming in typical Pixar fashion, makes Inside Out stand strongly alongside any other masterpiece from the studio.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jurassic World, Spy, Insidious 3, Slow West Reviews

Jurassic World
Dir. Colin Trevorrow

It's strange to think, but after three movies in the Jurassic Park franchise, we've never really seen what the park would've looked like had it been open to the public. Not until Jurassic World that is. Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow gives the park the "Disney World" treatment, showing the island up-and-running, filled with awestruck families from around the world in what looks like John Hammond's wet dream. But, it wouldn't be a "Jurassic" movie without the idea of controlling nature literally biting the characters in the ass. Jurassic World is a very stupid, CGI-heavy mess of a B-movie, hammed up to the nth degree. Nearly every human character is completely insufferable, and it pretty much retreads the same ground as Jurassic Park, without any of the intelligence or mastery of tension that Spielberg brought to the original. But, similar to San Andreas, this is so-bad-it's-good territory, and if you manage your disappointment levels (or if you flat out don't care about logic or character development), it's not a complete waste of a summer matinee.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

San Andreas, Poltergeist, Aloha, Welcome to Me Reviews

San Andreas
Dir. Brad Peyton

It's kind of funny that San Andreas, a big-budget, massive-destruction disaster flick, is released the week after Tomorrowland, a film that explicitly preaches against this kind of tragedy-turned-entertainment. While it's true that turning something like a city-leveling earthquake, an event that could actually happen, into a popcorn thrill ride may be a little distasteful to victims of real natural disasters, I was able to shut my brain off just enough to brush all that off. You can call it the desensitization of modern society, I just call it a "blockbuster." All that stuff aside, San Andreas is your standard disaster movie fare - it has literally every cliche you could possibly think of - but its cast and over-the-top campiness somehow made it work for me.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tomorrowland, White God, Tangerines, and Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! Reviews

Dir. Brad Bird

Tomorrowland, like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion before it, is based on a Disney World theme park attraction. However, unlike those films, "Tomorrowland" isn't a ride with some semblance of a "story," it's just the name of a section of the park with lots of shiny futuristic space ship paraphernalia. So how the heck did Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ghost Protocol) and writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) even go about this? Well, besides borrowing the "Disneyland" aesthetic, their ambitions were certainly lofty: Tomorrowland is no less than a call-to-arms to end cynicism and make the future a better, brighter, the-opposite-of-Mad Max wheat field of joy. But while I appreciate the message, and the retro-futuristic design of the effects, Tomorrowland is a complete mess story-wise. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Wild Tales Reviews

Mad Max: Fury Road
Dir. George Miller

In 1979 George Miller created Mad Max, introducing us to a fresh-faced Mel Gibson and creating a new kind of post-apocalyptic world on a shoestring budget. In 1981 Miller upped the ante with its sequel The Road Warrior and crafted some of the best car-based action scenes ever. But in 1985, Miller dropped the ball and made Beyond Thunderdome. Tina Turner, a dumb prophecy plot, and a bunch of children following Max effectively turning the film into Hook-in-the-desert: the movie was a major disappointment. So much so that it took 30 years to get to Mad Max Fury Road. But holy mother of GOD was it worth the wait. Fury Road feels like Miller, possibly regretful about how Thunderdome turned out and having done a number of family films like Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet, just let every bit of repressed fuel-soaked rip-roaring sun-drenched wasteland fantasy pour out of his head and onto the screen. This movie is everything a gritty action movie should be: almost entirely shot with practical effects (with limited CGI), actors who do their own stunts, a world that feels believably fleshed out, characters that have a purpose to the story and bring a layer of depth through mostly physical performances, and probably some of the best road rage action I've ever seen.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron, Unfriended, Ex Machina, Timbuktu Reviews

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Dir. Joss Whedon

The first Avengers film grossed over $1.5 billion dollars worldwide, becoming the third-highest grossing film ever (behind Titanic and Avatar) and had the single highest opening weekend in North America. It was huge. So naturally, the industry went haywire trying to figure out how to repeat this success, and here we are now drowning in superhero movies. It was bad before, but at this point it's reached critical mass, with Marvel and DC planning films out to nearly a decade in advance! Although I consider myself a fan of the genre, I'm growing extremely weary of it at this point, and after watching Age of Ultron, I've never felt closer to the superhero bubble bursting.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Summer 2015 Box Office Predictions

Hulk...want...your money...

Summer is here, so you know what that means: tan lines and air conditioners. And also, of course, my predictions for this season's box office. This year was particularly difficult with a number of films that are teeter-tottering on the edge of being either complete bombs or surprise hits (Mad Max, Tomorrowland), and there's really just no telling what will happen!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Furious 7, It Follows, Maps to the Stars Reviews

Furious 7
Dir. James Wan

Above all, the Fast and Furious series focuses on the theme of family - I'd argue even over the cars. While the films are extremely stupid, totally illogical, badly acted, and shamelessly panders to its audience, its central cast somehow works well together, and the characters' loyalty to each other (and the hilariously bonkers physics of the car chases), is what holds them all together. When Paul Walker tragically died in 2013 midway through shooting Furious 7, it was unclear exactly how the series would proceed. Ultimately it was decided that instead of re-shooting and re-writing the story to exclude Walker, director James Wan (and Universal) made the difficult decision to keep his character in, splicing in a combination of CGI, unused footage from other films, Walker's brother as a body double, and some re-writes to finish the picture. With all the complications behind the scenes, and with Wan, both a newcomer to the franchise and new to big budget action movies, I was pretty worried this would be a complete disaster. Happily, I can report that Furious 7 doesn't suffer from any issues not already present with the series, and overall is just as loud, dumb, and shut-your-brain-down fun as the last few movies.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Chappie, Force Majeure, Leviathan, Mommy Reviews

Dir. Neill Blomkamp

Following his innovative, action-packed sci-fi apartheid-metaphor movie District 9, Neill Blomkamp disappointed many of us last summer with the lackluster Elysium, a film with an amazing premise, that the rich had fled the planet for a Halo-like spacecraft while the poor stayed on Earth, but was a mess on execution. Chappie marks yet another return to this kind of heavy sci-fi, "slum world" of Blomkamp's, and to be honest I was more expecting a repeat disappointment like Elysium. But despite its status among other critics, I actually ended up loving this movie. It's overloaded with themes (ideas about consciousness, the soul, survival, ego, business, etc), has a number of scenes that stretch believability, and some might be turned off by its close relation to other films (namely Robocop), but none of those things took away from the heart of story for me - the actual titular robot, Chappie.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kingsman, Still Alice, Song of the Sea, Mr. Turner Reviews

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Dir. Matthew Vaughn

In the classic action movie Men in Black, an older, experienced white professional man takes on a younger, hotheaded protege with a streetwise attitude, bringing him through secret training in an underground facility to test his defensive skills and class-up his wardrobe. This is almost the same exact plot structure of Kingsman, only it deals with spies instead of aliens - and Men in Black was actually well-made and entertaining. Kingsman is unfunny, cringeworthy, misogynistic, boring, and cliched. It wears its influences on its sleeve (James Bond is the obvious example), but doesn't cleverly deconstruct the genre in any way, it simply references better movies to sound smart and "meta" while being more or less a masturbatory, "dumb" action exercise for Matthew Vaughn.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Predicting the 87th Academy Awards (EVERY CATEGORY) [UPDATED]

It's almost here, guys! The Oscars! The one time of year "regular people" go out and decide to watch something at least in the ballpark of 'quality films.' I also love the Oscars because, as frustrating as they are when it comes to the nominees, it's so much fun to predict. As a movie fan, this is my Super Bowl. And this year is definitely tougher to predict than last (surprising myself I got 20/24 last time), especially in the screenwriting categories.  But here it is, for the fourth year in a row - here are my official, set-in-stone, no-turning-back predictions for the 87th Academy Awards! Enjoy!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Jupiter Ascending, Sponge Out of Water, A Most Violent Year, Two Days One Night Reviews

Jupiter Ascending
Dir. Andy & Lana Wachowski

Since The Matrix was released over 15 years ago, it seems like the Wachowski Siblings' entire career has been saved by the prestige of that single iconic sci-fi movie. After the major big-budget failures of Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, it's astonishing that Warner Brothers even dared to give them another chance, especially with something as bonkers as Jupiter Ascending. The movie stars Mila Kunis as "Jupiter Jones," a toilet-cleaner who has no idea she is, genetically speaking, the queen of Earth. Similarly to Sarah Connor in The Terminator, she finds herself surrounded by people from another world, either trying to save or kill her, telling little-old-her that she is important to the survival of the human race in the future. The "Kyle Reese" character here is Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) a half-man, half-wolf, Spock-eared badass on rocket skates, and the "Terminator" this time around is played by Eddie Redmayne, who wants to harvest Earth. The problem is that whereas James Cameron's film had a tight, well-written script, with developed characters, high-stakes action, and some kind of underlying logical structure, Jupiter Ascending has none of those things and may very well mark the end for big budget Wachowski features.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Sniper, Blackhat, Mortdecai, Paddington Reviews

Hey guys! I saw a couple of these movies nearly two weeks ago - so sorry for the delay. Unfortunately my life outside of this silly blog had my schedule blocked up. Talking about Blackhat at this point kind of seems totally irrelevant, but my OCD prohibits me from not posting a review for every movie I see in theaters, regardless of how long it takes me. I can't help it, guys.

American Sniper
Dir. Clint Eastwood
Watch Trailer

American Sniper has given rise to some weird film-related controversies. Based on the memoir of Chris Kyle, who the tagline touts was the 'Deadliest Sniper in US History,' the movie, regardless of how it actually handles its subject matter, has been a bizarre platform from which celebrities and politicians have been voicing their political opinions. Two strange tweets posted immediately after the release of the film by Michael Moore and Seth Rogen, two guys I usually admire, had me scratching my head in puzzlement. Moore cryptically mentioned how his grandfather was killed by a German sniper and that 'snipers are cowards,' and Rogen, fresh off his already world-reknowned controversy with The Interview, posted another insensitive post comparing American Sniper to the Nazi Propaganda film in Inglourious Basterds. I have mixed feelings about the film, but in the end it portrays war as anything but glorious. It's a bit one-sided, but if American Sniper does anything well, it's showing the effect that war has on its soldiers via one man's singular experience.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Inherent Vice, Selma, The Homesman, The Gambler Reviews

Inherent Vice
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Watch Trailer

At this point, Paul Thomas Anderson has basically established himself as a master filmmaker. I consider Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, and Boogie Nights to be modern-day classics, and as far as I'm concerned, he can do no wrong...until now that is. Inherent Vice, faithfully adapted from a perplexing novel by Thomas Pynchon, makes no sense. That's just an objective fact - even critics who claim to love this movie will admit it. The story follows "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a pot-smoking (among other things) hippie detective from the early 70's - who's tasked by his former girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), to help her with a situation involving real estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), whose wife is plotting to send him to the looney bin. But soon both Shasta and Mickey go missing, and the rest of the movie is just a complete mess of barely coherent A-to-B "detective" work. I understand the whole point of the disjointed narrative is to emulate Doc's marijuana-laced mindset, but to spend over two hours watching a movie with no clear narrative through-line, even with some funny character moments along the way, was just not enjoyable to sit through.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

10 Biggest Oscar Snubs of 2015

Despite what some people have to say about awards season, I love it. Sure, it creates some sort of unnessary hierarchal structure with films that don't deserve to be "pitted" against each other, and sure, it's a totally unequal playing field in terms of the campaign money being thrown around, but it does get the "average" movie-goer out of the house to see something that doesn't feature some variation of a giant robot riding a giant dinosaur. But sure enough, every year some films and people are left out - here are the 10 biggest Oscar snubs of 2015 (according to me)!

10. Ava DuVernay for Selma

Before the nominee announcement, it seemed like DuVernay had a secure position on the list. Even though I agree with the snub, it would have been nice to have a female in one of the "big" categories, and she would've been the first black woman to be nominated for Best Director. Oh, well.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Interview, Into the Woods, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Reviews

The Interview
Dir. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Watch Trailer

Eclipsed by the news stories surrounding it, the public at large, finally able to see the seemingly "banned" The Interview in theaters and online, seems to have forgotten that this movie isn't some sort of ultra-dark, biting satire on a ruthless dictator - this is a Seth Rogen comedy. With fart jokes, dick jokes, and shoving-foreign-objects-up-your-butthole jokes. I really don't understand the strangely negative reactions towards this movie - I blame the unbelievable amount of hype. I seriously thought The Interview was sophomoric hilarity that pokes fun at, rather than digs heavily into, a truly fucked up dictator, which ends up fitting perfectly in line with the movie's tone.

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