Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Her: Isn't She Lovely?


Romantic comedies are supposed to represent all the aspects of love in a light-hearted way.  There's a definite story structure to every romcom you've ever seen: Boy meets girl, boy courts girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy loses girl, boy learns life lesson, boy gets girl back.  Boom.  Done.  The end.  Happy new year.  They're escapes from the drudges of real life, but there are hardly any romcoms that accurately depict what it's like to be in a REAL LIFE relationship.  Some kind of get there, but substitute the ultimate realism for humor and sticking to the structure.  Films like Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Love Actually.  These are top of the class for the romcom genre, but their ability to show real life relationships are a little bit skewed.  Two films come to mind, and strangely enough they would be dubbed indie films, that have come the closest I have ever seen to being the most realistic depiction of love and what it means to go through a relationship with another person: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer.  Both of these films were so well-written, so well acted, the characters had such chemistry that it felt like anyone watching it was able to put themselves in the shoes of the actors and see the same situations playing out before their own lives.  Well, the indie world has done it again with Her.  A movie about a weirdo and a robot voice has joined the ranks of the aforementioned romcoms as being one of the most real depiction of love ever on film.

So, after the spiel about realism, here's the plot of the film:  In the distant future technology has advanced... again.  Now available are artificial intelligence operating systems in order to help people keep their lives organized as well as provide company to those who are lonely.  Enter Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) an awkward, semi-creepy divorcee who works at a fascinating futuristic company called beautifulhandwrittenletters.com where he writes the most amazing love letters to people pretending to be them.  He surrounds himself with love everyday, though he's experiencing sorrow from his recent, and surprising divorce.  This is when he meets his new operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johannson).  She's sweet, she's inquisitive, she wants to get to know everything about Theodore and he's unable to anything but fall in love with her.

Okay, wait, dude, I thought you said this was realistic??  It is.  In a way.  The way that Theodore's and Samantha's relationship blossoms is identical to the way any one of us connects to another human.  There's the awkward meeting period, then once you become comfortable with that person there's the cheesy jokes and fake laughter and real laughter and flirting and butterflies and wanting to talk to that person 24/7.  Then, there's the moment where you have sex for the first time and even though it's a little awkward (even more so if you're doing it with a computer voice) it's still an exhilarating moment.  There's the honeymoon phase, the first fight, the romance, the realization the honeymoon phase is over, the misunderstandings, the jealousy, the beautiful moments, and sometimes a happily ever after, sometimes a bitter end.  Even though Spike Jonze deals with love between a human and an artificially intelligent voice, there is nothing fake about Theo and Sam's relationship.  It's brutal, it's honest, and anyone who's ever been in love will be able to recognize this in the film.  It's sweet, it's touching, and it's very funny, but at times it can even be a bit heartbreaking.

It's wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in a role so tame and honest like Theodore.  He has to carry the movie with his face and his voice.  95% of the film he is reacting to someone who isn't even on screen.  But, for some strange reason, we care about his relationship.  We long, like Theodore longs, for Samantha to become real and for them to ride off into the sunset together.  On the other hand, we feel pity for Theodore as the only person he's able to make a romantic connection with is a computer, while he's missing someone right under his nose (Amy Adams).  His acting is fantastic and real.  Theodore is a real person with parts of himself missing or ripped away from a devastating break up.  His connection with Samantha is about learning to love again and picking up the pieces and putting himself back together again.

The strangest thing about the movie though is the "acting" from Scarlett Johannson.  It is her voice that steals the show.  She knows just the right way to say everything, the right way to giggle, the right way to moan, the right inflection when trying to be cute or when trying to be firm.  You will fall in love with her just as Theodore does.  I doubt it, but this could quite possibly be the first time someone receives an Oscar nomination for an acting category while never actually being seen on screen, and it wouldn't be unjustified at all.

Her was a beautiful and funny film.  One of the best of 2013 and a great movie for anyone who's ever had someone special in their lives, whether lost or kept.  It transcends the romcom genre, with a little sci-fi mixed in, and it's refreshing to see how any one of us could be a Theodore falling madly in love with a Samantha.  This is a highly recommended film.

A

Monday, December 30, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis: Fare Thee Well My Honey


There's a certain expectation one has when viewing a Coen Brothers film.  One, it's going to be very unconventional.  It will follow no Hollywood structure in the slightest.  Two, it will be stranger than most films average movie goers are used to seeing.  And three, it's going to be a great movie.  There are only a handful of writer/directors active in the industry right now that we can put our faith in that their films will be great no matter what and the Coens are among that list.  They haven't really made a bad film yet.  They've made less-great films, even one mediocre film, but a bad film... no.  Hasn't happened, and at this point, I see no way that it will happen. Their newest feat Inside Llewyn Davis follows suit to their not-following-suitness of their lengthy careers.  It's a darkly funny, meditative, musically brilliant, highly enjoyable film.

One thing I've gotten a little tired of as of late as far as the Coens are concerned are the character studies without any sort of character change or life altering.  I understand that there is a certain realism to that where you understand that some people never change and sometimes bad things happen to good people and life goes on and whatnot.  But, they've employed this tactic to their last few films: No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man, True Grit, and now this one.  And it's only the Coens who can have such a melancholy outlook on life and film that can get away with it and it still referred to as brilliance.  Because it is.  The title character Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer, is a dick.  He got a small taste of fame, a record, and a shot at the big time with his partner "back in the day".  But, since his partner jumped of the George Washington bridge, he's constantly wandering New York looking for that one shot of fame once more.  Doing this he crashes on couches, he borrows money, he ostracizes nearly everyone he knows, and it's all for one outcome-- that his life will always be this way.  It's a downer thought that maybe sometimes life is just going to take it out on you no matter how hard you try.

To make matters even more complicated, Llewyn has found out that Jean, a former lover of his, who is now presently one of his least favorite fans, is pregnant and needs money for her abortion.  Llewyn, of course, has none.  He decides to take one last shot at a gig by traveling to Chicago to audition for a large venue.  He travels with an ex jazz musician and curmudgeon played by John Goodman (who is fantastic in every single Coen brother film).  Llewyn is given a glimpse into his future if he continues on the path that he's on, and it's not a pretty one.  Yet, all of these situations that arise, all of the obstacles that come into play in Llewyn's life... they seem to have no affect on him other than beat him down further.  He doesn't stop to contemplate his life or how he treats those around him or what he needs to do in order to bring balance to the force.  He's going to continue to be a dick and hope for the best possible outcome.

What the Coens do that no other director would have the ability to do is make Llewyn a likable guy.  With the way they defy convention in their writing and directing, we watch Llewyn treat others badly, but when it's reciprocated upon him, we feel bad for the guy.  We want him to succeed.  Why?  Who the hell knows.  It's because the Coen Brothers decided that's the way we would feel.  "Newcomer" Oscar Isaac is fantastic as Llewyn too, playing him with such dark subtlety and angst.  He's what I think of as the epitome of 60s folk-- the look, the sound, everything.  And, the magic of the brothers comes to light as they actually made me not completely hate Carey Mulligan in a film.  She's actually very good in it, and gets some of the biggest laughs.

This film is a definite Oscar contender for sure.  And, it's soundtrack is as good as their last musical feat O Brother Where Art Thou.  In the caliber of Coen Brothers films, I would say it ranks near the top of the middle.  Right around Burn After Reading, Barton Fink, and A Serious Man.  But in the realm of 2013 films this is definitely among the top of the class.

A-

The Wolf of Wall Street: A Wonderful Clusterf*ck Of Insanity


First, let me start by saying that The Wolf of Wall Street is batshit insane!  It's a movie that people watching on drugs even go "whoa!"  Keanu Reeves wouldn't even be able to believe it.  It's perfect Scorsese.  It's an unapologetic look at the life of Jordan Belfort - self made douchebag.  This dude just wanted to be a stock broker and ended up doing... well... a lot of illegal shit, making more money than I can fathom, and becoming one of the most awesome anti-heroes in film.  You know, like every Scorsese film.

The film is three hours on the dot of pure madness.  What's great is that the film could've been played as a drama all the way and it would've been some seriously mental shit on screen that was very difficult for the audience to watch.  However, instead of wagging their judgmental fingers at the lives of these characters, DiCaprio and Scorsese decided to go the comedy route.  Granted, it's an incredibly dark comedy, it is still probably the funniest movie I've seen all year.  These are despicable people doing debaucherous things.  And, for some reason, we love every minute of it.  It was a bold move for the filmmakers to go the route that they went, but because they did, we've ended up with probably the best movie of 2013.

Like I said before, DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who winds up getting so astonishingly rich that he's able to use his money for nearly any heinous feat of his choosing.  Yes, he's the decay of society in a nutshell, but he could've wound up more evil than he was.  In a Scorsese film, you're expecting him to wind up being a drug kingpin, whacking guys in the knees with baseball bats and murdering a bunch of people before going off to witness protection for the rest of his life or getting killed.  He was a white collar criminal.  He was able to employ hundreds of people and make them stinking rich as well.  On the other side, he's a drug addict, a sex addict, a white collar criminal, and a pretty terrible husband.  His best friend is Donnie, a jew'd out Jonah Hill, joins in on the "fun" with Belfort only to wind up on the wrong side of the law just as much.  I can't help but think if this movie had been made in the 90s that the role of Donny would've gone to Joe Pesci.  Watching Belfort's rise to power, his enjoyment in power, and his downfall is some of the most entertaining filmmaking this year.

Scorsese is also very unapologitic in his depiction of Belfort's unabashed hedonism.  This is truly a no-holds-barred film.  There's more nudity in the film than a late night skinemax show, there's more drugs than a documentary about Colombia.  There are more uses of the word 'fuck' in this film than any other film in the history of film!  It's a total clusterfuck of sheer madness, yet it's so enjoyable watching these rich douchebags taking the American dream and dropping a fat deuce right on it.

Yes, at times the film can be a bit masturbatory in it's hedonistic tendencies, yet every bit seems to be as important as the next.  It's important to see that Belfort isn't an awful human being (even though he is).  He's not a bad guy (even though he is).  And his lifestyle choices and circumstances he could've easily avoided, led to his fall from power.  It's a great character study of one of the most interesting people I've ever come across.

The acting is superb as well.  I've always loved DiCaprio as an actor and there will be a time that he finally nails that Oscar.  I don't think this is the time (I think the film will just be too much for Academy voters), but again he gives a fantastic performance.  Watching the man on a bad Quaalude trip try to role himself out of a building and into his car for a solid five minutes of film, is both impressive and hilarious.   Hearing the vulgar things coming out of his mouth, watching him do unspeakable acts like snorting cocaine out of the ass of a hooker... is so un-DiCaprio that it appears as though he's really amped up his game -- a game that needed no amping whatsoever.

The biggest surprise here, however, is Jonah Hill.  As much as I want to believe that he's a one-note actor and probably a dick in person, the kid can act.  And showing your acting skills next to an acting God like DiCaprio is no easy feat.  He could've easily hammed it up with the Jew act and made his character into a caricature of the real guy, but he's actually a believable person.  You like him, even though you hate him.  He's funny, even though he's deplorable.  And he steals nearly every single scene he's in.

I loved this movie and I will watch it many more times in my life.  It's certainly not for everyone.  It could quite possibly be the most R rated film I've ever seen and some of the things Scorsese gets away with was a little astonishing.  However, it all works.  It all fits.  It's a story about a hateful person, yet you love watching this guy every second of the way.  What a perfect way to end 2013.

A

Friday, December 27, 2013

12 Years A Slave: Here Oscar, Oscar, Oscar!!!


Hey, I like a slave movie just like the next guy, but do they have to be so emotional???  Okay, yes, I understand that dealing with slavery is a lot like dealing with... well, anything slave-related and there is a significant amount of baggage that comes along with it, but it just feels that every time a movie like this is released it's more about how much of a lock for that Oscar it can be rather than telling a great story.  The story of Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped from his family and sold into slavery for the next 12 years is a heart-wrenching and harrowing tale, but the whole time I couldn't help but feel as though each scene was shot with a picture of a gold statue in front of the director's eyes.

There are moments of prolonged camera shots that are overt and unnecessary.  The dialogue is strangely written as if it were for a play, not a movie.  Even the most uneducated slaves still speak better and more educated than most people today.  But, the performances are fantastic.  Mostly Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender.  Ejiofor plays Solomon, an innocent man who only wants to rejoin society as a free man and get back to his family.  Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, Solomon's malevolent slave owner.  He's a disgusting and horrid human being with a chip on his shoulder and an eye on Solomon.  Solomon's journey is a miraculous one, but one that just seems a little bit too dramatic and searching for that Best Picture announcement.  I know it's ridiculous to call a movie like this overly dramatic, but come on... it ain't no Amistad.

B

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Find Yourself... In The Himalayas


Ben Stiller has done something truly incredible.  He's able to show his range as a director as well as an actor and produce a very good film.  The film has gotten a lot of flack from critics, but it's undeserved.  Sure, some of the moments are forced and a bit emotionally manipulative, but it all works.  It's a beautiful film to look at with some great cinematography and a great cast.

Stiller plays Walter, a dreamer, who hasn't actually accomplished anything in his life.  He loves Cheryl played by Kristin Wiig, but is too inside his own head to even approach her.  Through some circumstances involving his job, he's off on an adventure to Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan, the Himalayas.  During his travels, he discovers himself and realizes his life can be just as great as his dreams.  Sounds hokey?  Yeah, it does sound hokey.  But it doesn't play out that way.  This is a quaint little film that I thoroughly enjoyed and can't wait to watch again.

B+

American Hustle: Somebody's Getting Played By Everybody


Play close attention because everyone plays everyone in this film.  If you turn away for a second, you're gonna miss it.  The movie plays off like a magic trick.  Except it's not hokey.  It's not juvenile.  It's not forgotten soon after.  It plays off like real magic, with real misdirection, and real brainpower. 

American Hustle is one of the best films of the year.  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner are all fantastic and at the top of their games.  Bale is a scumbag, but a very likable scumbag you actually feel sorry for (a role I've never seen him play before).  Cooper is a scumbag, but a scumbag trying to do good that you actually kinda hate.  Adams is a scumbag, but a hot scumbag that you secretly want to be with Bale.  Lawrence is a scumbag, the most vile disgusting piece of trash in the film (and she's excellent at it).  Renner is the only one in the film who I wouldn't deem a scumbag, but he's the one that gets the most screwed over.  It's a beautiful film, with sharp dialogue and a great story.

A

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: By The Hymen Of Olivia Newton-John!


Let's face it.  It was going to be exceptionally difficult to replicate the magic that the first Anchorman had.  Ten years later, these aren't characters anymore, they're caracatures.  So, writing them into a cohesive movie without it seeming like they were acting like the characters they used to be was going to be troubling from the start.  I had a few concerns going into it: re-used gags were going to fall short, they were going to over-use the Brick schtick, and Burgundy was going to come off as too pompous and annoying for any of us to like him anymore.

Thankfully, only one of my concerns came true.  They did re-use gags, but they amped up the comedy and weirdness that it was okay.  They did have Burgundy come off as pompous and annoying, but somehow it still made us like him.  However, they did over-use Brick and he was the least funny character in the film.  Him and his love interest were nothing short of terrible.  It was unfortunate because used sparingly could've generated way more laughs.  It's a funny film, it just doesn't have the magic of the first one.

B

Saving Mr. Banks: Heavy, Heart-warming, Film


Advertised, not necessarily as a kids movie, but with Walt Disney at it's center, this movie is a lot more heavy than you'd expect.  It's not entirely about the struggle Walt Disney had in getting the rights to Mary Poppins from it's author P.L. Travers, but more about why Travers' background leads to her not wanting to sell the rights to Disney.  There are flashbacks to her childhood when her hero of a father's alcoholism leads to his own personal downfall.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are extraordinary in their respective roles.  The acting is fantastic and watching what happened behind the scenes between these two is a lot of fun.  But, the emotional weight is almost too much to carry, especially families taking small children.  The tone of the film often shifts too abruptly as well.  It was marvelous to watch two iconic actors play two iconic people, but the film was just a little bit too much for one sitting.  Especially a film starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

C+

Oldboy: A Korean Spike Lee Joint


This is another instance where I watched the foreign version before the American remake.  Sometimes us Americans have the ability to clean up a foreign film, take out all the fluff, and put in that great American film making sentimentality that makes our films so "great".  I personally think that there was an improvement in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo film.  However, an improvement in Oldboy there was not.

It's a strange film.  And it translates well in Korean.  It's weirdness flows steadily and smoothly throughout and, oddly enough, it makes sense.  Here, in our newest version, it feels forced.  If I hadn't seen the original, I'd have to be wondering how a guy who'd been locked away for 20 years can suddenly take on a hundred dudes all at once with only a hammer and win.  In the original, the thought never crossed my mind.  It wasn't a complete failure of a remake, it just didn't have the "it factor" that the original Korean version had.

C

Homefront: Statham In The South Still Beats Bitches Like Statham... Anywhere


I love Jason Statham movies.  They're never going to win any awards.  The acting is not particularly stellar.  The story is not particularly great.  But watching a badass like Jason Statham beat people to death with his bare hands is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  And when I saw that there were actual decent actors in his latest feat, Homefront, well then I knew I had to get over and see it.

The result is better than your typical Statham vehicle.  There's less violence in favor of story, but the story actually holds your interest.  It's fun to see Statham battle deep south rednecks and square off against James Franco's Gator character.  I did wholeheartedly enjoy this film, even though I probably shouldn't have.  Had it been another actor, I'm not sure I would've given it a chance, but seeing as how it was Statham, I may be a little bit on the biased side.

B

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Viva La Revolucion!


I liked the first movie... but I felt it was a little disappointing.  I read the first book and the movie just didn't hold up as well.  It was missing just a few key elements that could've made it gone from good to great.  So, I decided not to read the other two books in favor of enjoying the films.  This is some backwards-ass thinking, but whatever, I like movies.

So, this second installment of the Hunger Games franchise was exceptional.  I thought it was fantastic and much more matured than it's predecessor.  The acting was better, the CGI was better, the story was better, and it actually didn't suffer too much from "middle-movie-syndrome".  Other than its ambiguous ending, this film could stand alone.  The actors have really made it their own, the direction has stepped up the game, and I'm extremely excited for the third film.

A

Last Vegas: The Hangover XXXVIII


I know.  I know.  There's no reason for this review to even be on here.  It looked terrible from the trailers and I shouldn't have seen it.  But, I'm sorry, I have a fondness for every actor in here, in particular Kevin Kline.  I've been waiting for the dude to do another comedy for a long while and if this is the one he chose, then he gets my "I wonder" money.  And the result is... better than you'd expect.

From the trailer, it looked as though the writers went for the easy jokes, the old people humor and didn't channel any of what made The Hangover such an success.  And to an extent, this is true.  But, it also has a lot more funny in it than I expected.  Kline and especially Morgan Freeman will make it hard to keep that scowl on your face.  It's not a great movie by any stretch, and it's not a movie I will probably ever see again, but it was a fun time and I actually enjoyed myself.

B-

Bad Grandpa: Jackass Lite


Why do we, as Americans, in a somewhat civilized society love watching the Jackass films so much?  Does it have anything to do with our inner child wanting to perform such ridiculous and body-harming acts that we see these idiots perform on television?  Is it that we're too afraid to do it ourselves so we have our surrogate jackasses do it for us?  Of course it is.

Bad Grandpa was actually quite hilarious.  There were moments where I was laughing so hard, it made it difficult to breathe.  However, it just didn't retain that same level of laughter the other Jackass films were able to stronghold.  There were too many luls in-between laughs.  Don't get me wrong, there were still plenty of laughs to be had.  It just wasn't as balls out as I expected it to be.

B

Friday, October 18, 2013

Escape Plan: Escape This!


Schindler's List.  The Hurt Locker.  The Shawshank Redemption.  Forrest Gump.  These are great movies.  These are Academy Award winning/nominated films.  They have great writing, great acting, great directing and the works.  They also have an agenda.  Sure, part of it is to entertain, but a lot of it has to do with grabbing that gold.  A lot of the people involved with those movies would probably say they did it because it "needed to be told" or that they were doing something "important".  And don't get me wrong.  A few of those are some of my favorite movies of all time.  You know what else joins that list, though?  Commando.  Kindergarten Cop.  True Lies.  Cliffhanger.  Crank.  Death Race.  Films that by an Academy standard or a critical standpoint are more frowned upon than anything.  I love film.   I love all film.  Yes, there are terrible movies out there.  There are probably more bad movies than good ones, but certain films know what the goal is to achieve.  Sometimes that's the Oscar.  And sometimes it's about giving an audience one hell of a fun ride.  That's what Escape Plan does and succeeds mightily in doing.

I can not believe that it took THIS long to get the two biggest action stars of the 80s and 90s in a movie together.  And, no, The Expendables doesn't count.  These guys are the reason that these skinny, ripped, pretty boys today are failing in reviving the action genre.  There's a reason we'd rather watch 60-year-old Arnie, or Sly, or even Liam Neeson nut-punch someone to death than watching Alex Pettyfer, Taylor Kitsch, or Jason Momoa types Justin-Beiber their way around an action film.  I like Sylvester Stallone, he's entertaining, but I've always been more of a Schwarzenegger fan.  Stallone's movies kick ass, but he doesn't have the personality of Ah-nuld.  He doesn't have that sweet German wit.  But, putting these two in a film together... come on.  Genius.

Like most Stallone and/or Schwarzenegger films, the plot isn't all that important.  Sly is an expert prison breaker-outer.  He can break out of any prison.  Until... he's thrown into this new high-tech prison and set up by someone on the outside so that it's impossible for him to break out.  Enter: Schwarzenegger with a badass goatee.  The two team up to take down the whole prison and escape back to sweet, sweet freedom.  Now, I gotta hand it to whoever took the reigns on this movie.  This could've very easily been a straight-to-DVD junk film with no brains and no fun.  Though, at times, it does lack the brains, the fun is always present.  And even the brains don't disappear to far.  The escape plan that they come up with... it's a good escape plan.  It's easy to follow and actually a bit creative.  There's even a slight twist at the end that, I'll admit, I probably should've seen coming, but I didn't.  It hooked me from the beginning and I stayed hooked right up until the end.  Sure, everyone knows how it's going to end, but getting there is the fun part.

What's also strange is that there are some good actors in the movie too.  They're all severely underused, but in a movie with these two hulking bad-guy-nightmares, I don't actually care to watch anyone else.  Amy Ryan, Vincent D'Onofrio, Sam Neill, Jim Caviezel... all underutilized.  But it doesn't matter.  It's flattering to know that they liked the script so much that they were willing to lend a brief hand in giving it a shred of credibility.  The best part is that these guys look like they're having fun.  Sly treads a little more on the serious side, but Schwarzzy is hamming it up, making it look like the most fun he's ever had on a film set.  The man is still at the top of his game.

Yes, it's a half-mindless popcorn flick that will only become a classic to the select few cult Arnold or Sly followers, but damn if it isn't two hours of fun.  Ten years from now no one is going to even remember this movie was made, but for now, relish in the fact that these guys can still do this.  I'll admit that watching these classical dinosaurs still try and whomp young ass does give me a bit of a tingly feeling in my pants, but it may, MAY, I say, border on embarrassing.  So, while they're still *cough* young... go out and enjoy a film that will make you forget the drudges of life and remind you a simpler time when action movies reigned supreme.  The 80s.

Ah shit.

B

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity: Houston, We Have A Great Film


Advances in CGI technology have come a long way in the past decade.  I mean, go back now and look at the first Lord of the Rings film compared with The Hobbit and there's an exceptional difference.  And LotR looked GOOD.  It was impressive and noteworthy.  Then came Avatar, the game-changer that almost no one will admit that they actually liked, because it's kind of, well... gay.  But, it does make you wonder how after the improvement of CGI that Avatar gave us we still get shitty CGI in movies?  Why do most movies still use archaic CGI that looks like you're playing a video game instead of watching real life?  Well, as much of a game changer that Avatar was a few years ago... Gravity has stepped it up even further.  It is literally the most beautiful movie that I've ever experienced.  Not watched.  Experienced.

Alfonso Cuaron, along with his son, has written a movie that will literally keep you on the edge of your seat.  This film is the reason movie review cliches were invented.  Because they exist to report on films as gripping and explosive and tense as Gravity.  It's not a movie.  It's a 90 minute thrill ride that you don't have to stand in line to ride for four hours.  It's as simple a plot as you can get, too.  Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts that have to survive the vastness of space after their space station is ambushed by satellite debris.  The problems only build upon themselves and get worse and worse, though I didn't think it possible to be in a worse situation than spinning uncontrollably while floating towards the abyss of space.  That's all it is.  Two characters trying to make it home with no real solution in sight.  And it's perfect.

Those with heart problems, back problems and pregnant women should be advised that Gravity is an intense roller coaster and should take a good hard look at themselves and decide if it is worth it.  Holy God is Gravity intense.  I think people who watch the trailer gravely underestimate how truly terrifying being detached from anything in the middle of space actually is.  I got mild bouts of vertigo just watching the film and there's nowhere to actually fall where they're at.  Visually, it may be the best CGI I've ever seen in a film.  But, it's Curon's camerawork and direction that enhances the experience.  The opening of the film is a single shot that lasts upwards of twenty minutes.  He'll hold steady as one of the characters is blasted off the ship with no control over personal movement, then slowly catch up to the actor and come inside the suit for us to see exactly what is happening from that point of view only to escape it once more and give the audience that deep-seated uncomfortable feeling of helplessness.  Sometimes the camera will act as a dock and sometimes it'll float in zero gravity with the actors, but it doesn't get annoying or provide nausea feelings, it actually feels like you're floating in your seat.

Bullock and Clooney are fantastic and perfectly cast as well.  Bullock has always had good instincts as the heroine of a film.  She's never entirely sure of herself, but always has the will to survive.  Clooney is perfect as well because he's able to stay suave and confident even in the most sincere case of mortal danger, and we believe him.  He's able to look death in the face and make a joke.  It's a testament not only to the acting of the film, but to the writing as well that we can follow only two characters for an entire movie and still feel as attached as we do.  Like I said earlier, it's not just a movie.  It's a ride.  So, even though there's only two of them, you're part of it as well.  You're floating right next to them looking for the next answer that is sure to have it's own set of problems.  It's a gorgeously terrifying film.

One thing, though, that I have to stress is to see it in 3D.  3D has become a gimmicky novelty as of late and one that's [thankfully] dying out quickly.  But, there are those very few films, much like Avatar, that are ONLY meant to be viewed in 3D.  They were shot in 3D, with the purpose of being in 3D from the beginning, intentionally to add to the story.  And it does add to the story.  The experience seeing it in a regular theater would be vastly different than the 3D one I saw last night.  If you can spring for the few extra bucks, I'd also recommend IMAX as well.  What better to see a movie about the infinite expanse of space than watching it on the biggest screen you can possibly sit in front of?

Alfonso Curon has literally made one of the best films of the year.  This is one that no one should wait to go see because while it will always be a good movie, you need to get on the ride.  It has to be viewed in a theater, with stupid yellow 3D glasses, and a bucket of popcorn.  It's a marvel to see and much like any defining piece of art, Gravity has pushed new boundaries.  It should have much staying power, because until the next bit of computer technology is discovered or invented, this is the cream of the crop right here.

A

Don Jon: Good Vibrations


Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut is stunning.  He's done something little thought possible.  He broke the boundaries of the rom-com formula.  You know which formula I'm talking about: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy and girl are happy, something happens that starts to break boy and girl or girl discovers what boy has been hiding, boy and girl break up, boy makes up some elaborate plan to get girl back and prove himself, boy and girl live happily ever after.  We like it because it's not real life.  We like to have the comfort that maybe, just maybe, people are actually meant to be together and there's some document written by the cosmos that declares these two people as such.  But real life isn't like that.  If two people split up, sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you love or how much you care or what sort of grandiose plan you make to win her back... sometimes they just stay gone.  So, we take comfort in watching two movie-star lovers find their way back to each other because it's what everyone wants to happen in life.  Now, I'm not saying that Levitt flipped the formula the bird and decided to go with the anti-ending just to be different.  He has taken the formula, contorted it around, restructured it, and completely changed the last few beats.  It's more like real life than I've seen in a movie in a while.

Levitt plays 'Don' Jon, a New Jersey man obsessed with bringing as many girls home from the club each night as he can, and let's just say he's been on a hot streak.  He beds these women night after night and feels little to no satisfaction whatsoever.  So, he turns to his other addiction: internet porn.  The nameless women he brings home every night have no emotional connection with him that he's distanced himself so much from the physical act of sex, that he rarely experiences release. Porn, on the other hand, he can lose himself, imagine himself in the situations these porn stars get into, find that connection he needs, and... release.  It's much like what Levitt is doing with the rom-com genre, is what Jon does with porn.  He likes porn because it's not real life.  The sexual acts of a porn star rarely, if ever, reflect the sexual acts of most humans.  A random hook up with a girl you just met at the bar is never going to be the crazy porn sex that he wants it to be, so he loses himself in the fiction of it all, because it's not real life.

Jon then meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), tries to play the same game with her and take her home for the night.  When she fervently denies his charms, he's enamored more than he's ever been.  After a bit of Facebook stalking, he finds her and asks her to lunch.  The two hit it off, but she's looking for a man to spend the rest of her life with, so she withholds even further.  She even goes as far as to need to meet his friends and family before she'll open herself up to him in that nature.  It's the whole opposites attract thing happening here.  Jon never experienced a connection with any of the randoms because they were so easy to bed.  Here, a girl who is truly interested in things about Jon beyond the sex, is intriguing and Jon finds that he can actually lose himself... sorta.  Unfortunately, he still needs the porn... something Barbara is adamantly opposed to... I'm talking deal-breaker opposed.

I don't want to spoil anything else, but this is a movie that you should see.  I would avoid seeing it with a parent of any kind because it is incredibly raunchy and even graphic in some scenes.  There are many quick clips of actual porn throughout the film to perfectly encapsulate Jon's addiction.  Levitt has done a fine job behind the camera as well as in front of it.  Jon is actually kind of a douchebag, but he's a likable douchebag.  Barbara is a gorgeous and sweet Jersey girl, but you kind of hate her too.  It's different from the romantic comedies anyone is used to.  It takes risks, but the reward is great.  Levitt, much like Affleck before him, has proven with his first directorial vehicle that he may actually be an asset to Hollywood and might actually know what he's doing.  I mean, hell, the guy's been acting since he was a little kid.  I'm assuming he may have picked up a thing or two about making a great film.

B+

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The World's End: A Slice Of Fried Gold


British people are better than us.  Let's just face it.  They're more polite, their accents are cooler, they go to pubs instead of bars, and they are much, much more funny than we are.  American humor is pretty crass and crude and out there.  Just look at the most successful comedy of this year: This Is The End.  It was hilarious!  But, it wasn't exactly the most clever movie of all time.  It was dumb, it was crude, and we all loved it.  British humor, on the other hand, is a lot more subtle.  It's a lot... well... smarter.  It's about clever wordplay rather and subtle callbacks rather than sight gags and shit jokes.  I'm not saying that any of the Apatow clan are unfunny... they're just the less intelligent version of their British counterparts.  I'm guilty of this too.  I wish I was able to write something as clever as The World's End.  But, alas, I was born in America.

When Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg wrote their first entry into the "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy", Shaun of the Dead, I didn't think much of it.  I thought it was a kinda funny spoof of the zombie movies that were getting a resurgence in popularity.  But, then I watched it again.  And it made me laugh more.  Because I understood more.  Then, I saw it again, and it was even funnier than the previous two viewings.  How was this happening? How was I able to see more funny, new jokes, new laughs in a movie I'd seen twice before?  It was genius and slowly becoming one of the best comedies I'd ever seen.  Then came Hot Fuzz.  I saw this movie six times in theaters when it came out.  Now, I thought it was funnier than Shaun after the first viewing, but I had a feeling it would have the same effect if I saw it a few more times.  Sure enough, after each viewing there were new jokes, new call backs, new subtle pick ups that I wouldn't have been able to spot after the first, even second, viewing.  Saying I like one of them more than the other is like a mother picking between her two children.  It all depends on the last one I watched.  I'll claim Hot Fuzz is funnier and more clever, but then I'll catch Shaun of the Dead on Comedy Central and remember how unbelievably hilarious it is, and that soon becomes funnier.  This is when I knew that nothing short of brilliance would come from their third entry to the trilogy, The World's End.

I saw the film over a week ago and was waiting to write the review hoping that I'd be able to see it a second time.  Unfortunately, I was not.  So, I'm certain there are numerous instances of missed jokes, call-backs that I was unaware of upon first viewing.  Nuances that I didn't catch because I wasn't looking.  But, after viewing The World's End for the first time, I'd say my reaction is in-between my initial reactions of the first two.  After Shaun I felt indifferent and after Fuzz I immediately wanted to see it again.  This was a combination of the two.  I did want to see it again, but it's because I'm privy to Edgar Wright's style of filmmaking and understand that I'm certainly not going to catch everything after one showing.  But, I also wasn't entirely won over by it, either.  It was different than what I was expecting, yet it was everything I wanted as well.  It's a strange viewing experience because you want to be able to laugh out loud every moment, but the humor is almost so subtle that it requires multiple viewings.

Simon Pegg plays troubled Gary King, a man who, with his five friends attempted an epic pub crawl of twelve pubs in a single night, twenty years prior.  Now, in present day, everyone has grown up and grown apart, except Gary.  He's still the obnoxious, a little disturbed, man with a twenty-year-old mentality.  He coaxes his five friends into trying the pub crawl again, this time not giving in until they reach the last bar: The World's End.  However, everything doesn't go as planned as their old town seems to be a little bit too quaint and perfect.  The people there act strange-- because they've been replaced by "robots" a la Stepford Wives  and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The only way for the five to survive the night is to act like they've noticed nothing and continue on their pub crawl and reach The World's End and avoid arousing suspicion.

It's a terrifically written and acted film.  Every one of the five brings to the table something different.  But, it's the (tarnished) friendship between Nick Frost and Pegg that drives the film.  In Shaun, we love watching the two best-friend fuck ups try to survive the zombie apocalypse.  In Fuzz we delighted in watching goofy oddball Frost teach uptight Pegg how to love and what friendship really means.  In this film, however, we await these moments to come because for a majority of the film the two are at each other's throats due to a past experience we're not made aware of until later.  It's a little unnerving watching the two best friends not get along, but their reunion near the end is much more satisfying than it would've been if they were besties from the beginning.

Be prepared, however, because the film isn't all laughs and fun.  There are some dark moments in the film, almost uncomfortably dark, but they're done with a significant purpose.  The film is about being caught in time and trying to hang on to lost youth.  Pegg refuses to grow up.  His entire life happiness is based on the pub crawl attempted with his best friends twenty years prior.  He's never been able to top that moment.  His life as an adult has been hard, rough, and nothing what he expected it to be, so he clings to the memory so tightly that it consumes him and he's unable to grow and mature from it.  While the others remember it as a fun experience, it's Pegg who's entire life motivation is to re-live that greatest moment ever.  The "robots" are frozen in time.  They don't age, they don't have to go through painful life experiences that most humans are exposed to.  They represent everything Pegg wants, which acts as a perfect foil to him and the friends.  It's an incredibly smart film, like most British comedies are, but there are also definite elements of saddness in reality.

Going into The World's End, understand that you're not going to be falling out of your chair, clutching your chest, laughing so hard you can't breathe, because it's not that type of comedy (though there are moments throughout that are damn hilarious).  It's a smart film that requires some brain activity and thinking.  It also, certainly, requires a follow-up viewing.  But, what I can say, is in the grand scheme of comedy in 2013, it is a stand-out film.  While This Is The End definitely got more laughs in the theater than The World's End, I can safely guarantee that down the line The World's End will have a lot better re-watch value.  It's the weakest of the three films, but that's in no way saying it is a weak film.  It's the perfect ending to the "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy", but I'm hoping, and I'm sure everyone else is hoping, that this isn't the last collaboration between three of England's funniest people: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

A-

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kick-Ass 2: Made To Have Fun, Otherwise What's The Point?


Here's why the first Kick-Ass worked in the grand scheme of the overpopulated superhero genre.  It took everything that was annoying about superhero tropes, spun them around and kicked them right in the... well... ass.  It's what everyone who watched the third Spider-man movie wanted to see: some people get killed.  It wanted to see a real dude, with no real powers, get into real life situations and fuck some people up.  We loved watching bad guys actually get killed... like really, really killed.  We liked seeing crazy Nicolas Cage in a Batman-esque suit, beat the living piss out of some cronies, then sit down with a smile and share some hot cocoa with this 12-year-old daughter.  We died laughing from watching said 12-year-old slice and dice baddies while speaking some of the most vile lines in cinema history.  Everything worked because it took a genre that, let's face it, is tired and basically said, hey, let's stop with the comic book adaptations already and just have some fun.

So, naturally, like the superhero movies they're satirizing, a sequel was bound to happen.  And it's not a bad sequel by any means, it's just not as satirical as you'd hope from a Kick-Ass film.  I wanted to see some real references to some real movies that have already pissed a lot of people off. This time around Dave (or Kick-Ass) has given up his life of vigilantism in favor of enjoying his senior year in high school.  Mindy (or Hit-Girl) has, however, not chosen high school life as she is the butt of cruel high school girl jokes.  She'd rather be punishing fools and dismembering them while spewing a semi-funny, entirely-dirty remark.  Evil son Chris D'Amico, formerly Red Mist, decides that being a super villain and exacting revenge on Kick-Ass is his life mission, so he sheds his Red Mist persona in favor of an S&M clad villain named The Motherfucker.  Once the shit hits the fan, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl's priorities change and Hit-Girl decides to give up a life of justice and just try to figure out how to fit in.  Kick-Ass, on the other hand, joins a group of superheros led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) as they seek out baddies on the street (or, ya know, perform simple acts of community service).  Of course, as the supergroup forms, The Motherfucker forms his own group of bad asses.  One by one, super-group members are picked off and it's up to Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl to join forces once more to destroy the forces of evil.

And it works.  You know, for what it's trying to accomplish, it is very entertaining.  Jim Carrey is nearly unrecognizable, yet the most fun character of the movie to watch.  Everyone new to the show has their own neat and funny little persona.  Even John Lequizamo as The Motherfucker's personal driver is comical.  But, and I can't believe me of all people is saying this, the film is too violent.  Now, let me explain.  When it's superheroes attacking supervillains... it's okay for the violence to be okay.  Even when it's unnamed cronies whacking unnamed passerbys... it's still a little okay.  But, something about an eight-foot-tall Russian woman murdering ten police officers in front of your eyes in the middle of a suburban street is just a little too unsettling and you're very aware of the violence you're watching.  It was a little too extreme.  There are other moments of extreme violence in the film that are certainly grotesque to watch, but fun in nature.  When Hit-Girl throws a bad guy out of a moving van on the freeway and his skull is crushed under the tire of another car is a wonderful moment.  But watching two innocent police officers get sliced up by a lawn mower is another thing altogether.

The cast is great, though.  Aaron Johnson, now ripped as F*%K!, is still very likable as the "nerdy" Kick-Ass.  Chloe Grace Moretz is fantastic as always.  The more and more I see of this girl, the more I know she's not going to fade into child-actor obscurity, but much like Joseph Gordon Levitt, escape with actual acting chops.  I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of her in the future.  And we should.  She actually shows the best range in the film.  She can be this tough little 15-year-old who can rip the throat from anyone she chooses, but she can also be a vulnerable little girl, one who's never kissed a boy and never really had a friend.  She displays this mix of toughness and vulnerability perfectly.  We can tell just by looking into her eyes that she's furious, yet sad all at the same time.

Would I recommend this film over, say, The Wolverine or Man of Steel? Yes I would.  Not because it's better... that I actually don't know as I haven't seen the aforementioned films and have no comparison.  But, the difference here is that I don't actually care if I see the other two.  I really wanted to see Kick-Ass 2.  If you liked the first one, you'll like this one.  Plain and simple.  It knows its audience and its audience knows whether or not they're down for some ultra-violence or not.  If anything, you should see it just to watch Jim Carrey go crazy on some guys with a wooden stick.  Now, that's entertainment!

B-

The Butler: I'm Definitely Too White To Review This Movie.


Let's see here... white guy doing a movie review about Civil Rights... okay... treading lightly... treading lightly... beginning now... As a white male born of privilege... nope... bad start... there really is no way around this... God, I wish I was black... yeah, don't think I can say that either... um.... how about the story?

The Butler or because Warner Bros. are a bunch of douchenozzles, Lee Daniels' The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a boy born a slave who witnesses the murder of his father, rising up out from the fields, into the house, out of the house into a hotel, out of the hotel and into the White House where he served as Butler to eight different presidents during his stay.  Of course, during this time, rights for (blacks? coloreds? African-Americans?  Shit, I'm screwed) were in the midst of a fray for equal rights.  Cecil's son, once old enough to leave for college, joins the civil rights movement and participates in numerous non-violent protests and ends up in jail over thirty times.  It's difficult to watch a man as respected and kind as Cecil have to endure the actions and the consequences of his idealistic son.  While both men butt heads throughout the film, neither one is truly wrong.  Cecil is just trying to put on his happy-face for the white man, be a fly on the wall until he is needed, work his ass off every single day to provide for his family (something most, um, black, families weren't able to do back then) and keep his head high.  His son wants persecution to end.  He wants to fight for the rights of all black people, no matter what the cost, even going so far as to join the Black Panther movement, where it becomes evident that sometimes you have to pick your battles.

From what I've gathered in my very minimal amount of research, most of the story is accurate.  It was refreshing to see such well-respected actors taking on the role of some of America's most important Presidents.  John Cusack, James Marsden, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, and Robin Williams all portraying Presidents that had some hand in Civil Rights.  Marsden and Schreiber take the cake, though.  As JFK and LBJ respectively.  Both were political bad asses.  But, let's not forget that Oprah is in this movie, folks.  Yes, the richest woman in the galaxy.  And she's quite good, too.  It's almost a pity that she only chooses the same role, because if she's this good of an actress I'd like to see her in something a little more outside her chosen wheelhouse.

The movie isn't an entire success, however.  While I do feel that this is a very important movie for people to see (much like last year's The Help and the previous year's The Blind Side) tonally the film is a little awkward.  We want to empathize with Cecil and like him and understand the importance of his role as The Butler in the White House for over thirty years.  However, he's a difficult man to like at home as he's constantly butting heads with this son.  We also want to like his son because we agree with his ideals and us, now in 2013, can see the hatred that drove those times, but it's frustrating to know that by doing this he's putting his father's career in jeopardy.  We want to fall in love with Oprah, but the first half of the film she's a mean, drunk, almost reclusive housewife bored with her life, but too afraid to venture elsewhere.  We await the scenes in the White House with the Presidents and their own personal bonding moments with Cecil, but we're never really sure which face Cecil has on.

And the film is just sad.  I know that's probably the most obvious thing that I can say on here, but it's a depressing film.  Yes, we know how the Civil Rights movement turned out.  Yes we know that in [most of] America there isn't a Coloreds Only sign on water fountains or bathrooms or designated areas of Diners, but witnessing the hatred of this country of human beings is sickening to watch.  And, unfortunately for the viewer, every actor does a fine job in their role so it's even more heartbreaking.  I do understand that this film was made for essentially two reasons: the first, of course, is to tell Cecil's incredible journey, but it's also pretty clear that the second reason is to win awards.  There's no shame in that.  Some movies are just made to get that gold statue.  They're good movies, but they can be a little heavier (on purpose) to secure it.  That's kind of how The Butler felt for me.  It tries almost a little too hard to stick out in your mind, weigh heavily on your heart, and implant itself in your brain so you remember it when the Academy is ready to vote.  It is a very important film for most people to see, but just know, going into it, you're going to be taken for a very emotional ride... an emotional ride that isn't entirely genuine, but a little manipulating.

B-

We're The Millers: What Does A Drug Dealer, A Stripper, A Virgin, and a Runaway Have In Common? Pot, Obviously!


It's been nearly a decade since writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber first made a name for himself with Dodgeball: An Underdog Story.  Then, after his success, he disappeared.  He either pulled a Salinger and decided that Dodgeball was going to be his one and only masterpiece... but considering the source material, I'm doubting that was the case.  Or, he was carefully looking for his next project.  It isn't exactly a total comeback for Thurber, but it is a nice step in the right direction.

Jason Sudekis plays David Clarke, a small-time pot dealer who works for Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms).  After a group of street punks steal his money and his pot, David is in a bit of trouble.  Gurdlinger gives David the option of paying him back with a single job or death, so, obviously, he goes for the job.  The job includes taking an RV down to Mexico, picking up a "smidge" of pot, and bringing it back.  David has no idea how this will be accomplished without getting caught until he realizes that the perfect cover for an RV full of pot is a wholesome looking family.  So, he recruits his stripper neighbor, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), his goofy, virgin neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter) and a homeless street punk girl Casey (Emma Roberts) to pose as his wife, son and daughter respectively to get him safely back across the border.  But, obviously, things don't run as smoothly as anticipated.  They're chased by cops, cartel killers, and the like.  They also share a lot of time with fellow RV-ers, Don and Edie Fitzgerald (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn) who prove to be even more of a challenge when it comes out that Don is a DEA agent.

Had We're The Millers been a PG-13 comedy, I don't think it would've been very funny.  That isn't to say that it HAD to be dirty to get laughs, but in this case, it almost did.  It's got the premise of a safe family comedy to it and I think a PG-13 rating would've kept people away and would've been another RV until it was forgotten again.  Because of it's definitely hard-R rating, audiences are assured they're going to get a sick and twisted ride set against the background of a safe family romp.  But, it decided to stray away from the formula.  Yes, all of these characters have flaws and things they're going to have to learn and discover about themselves throughout the film, but it's none of the standard comedy movie road trip tropes we're used to.  David is selfish. Rose is sad. Kenny is a goober with no confidence. And Casey always pushes people away.  What these guys really needed all along is the one thing they've been missing... a family... awww.

The nuts and bolts of the movie really fit in nicely with one another.  Everything really works.  Each character's flaws coincide with another character's strengths.  Their quirks work on a deeper level than just the surface for the sake of comedy.  We genuinely feel for each character and root for them to succeed.  Especially little Kenny.  He's just so sweet and innocent and involved in one of the greatest make-out scenes in film history.  Lucky bastard.  But, it's the Fitzgeralds who really steal the show.  The [probably] Christian, [definitely] sexually repressed campers who latch on to our Millers from the get-go provide many of the numerous laughs of the film.  I'm not going to spoil anything for you, but there is a scene in what was probably dubbed: The Swingers Tent.

All in all the film is funny and does feel fresh.  Yes, you'll be able to see the ending coming a mile away, but it's the journey to the ending that is more fun than predictable.  I actually felt every actor was utilized to their potential except for Ed Helms.  His character, while a funny idea, wasn't exactly executed great.  Other than that though, I would still classify it as a winner and one of the funnier movies released this Summer.

B+

Grown Ups 2: There Is No God



Here's the thing... before I get into my "review" of Grown Ups 2, I have to do a bit of reminding.  Not just for you fellow readers out there.  But for myself, as well.  Everyone involved with Grown Ups 2 once did something magical before that captured our hearts and made us love them.  Adam Sandler used to be the face of comedy we all looked forward to.  One of my childhood memories was getting Happy Gilmore on VHS and watching so much that the tape wore out.  He gave us The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy, and even The Waterboy.  Adam Sandler was not only considered beloved by many, but also considered funny by most.  Kevin James... his film career has been a short one, but do we remember The King of Queens?  Sure, sitcoms and canned laughter aren't for everyone, but not many people can deny that this show was funny.  James along with Jerry Stiller and Patton Oswalt was comedy in a bottle.  There's a reason it lasted for ten seasons.  And should we also forget his very sweet/funny role in the film Hitch? Chris Rock... for those of you who haven't heard his stand up comedy, just know that the man is a genius.  He is genuinely one of the top five funniest comics... of all time!  He's the smartest, most intellectual comic to grace a stage since the late George Carlin.  David Spade... man, you were in one of my all-time favorite movies, Tommy Boy.  I have a poster of it in my room.  You complimented Farley so well as the weasely-little man with the snippy comebacks.  Every line that came out of your mouth in that movie was so funny and the perfect foil for Farley's craziness.  Yes, everyone in this film was once a very respected person...

...until...fucking...now.  Adam Sandler, I don't know what it is, but you have this spell you put on people.  You make such abysmal movies now, movies that no one on this planet should see.  But we do.  And we hate you for it.  And we say we're never going to see another movie again.  Then, like Alzheimer's patients, your newest movie trailer is released and suddenly we're like... "okay, that one might not be so bad."  But it is.  It's worse than the one before it.  Adam Sandler, you're literally like one of my favorite people in Hollywood... why do you refuse to adapt to the humor of today??  Why are you stuck in the 90s with jokes that are so bad even the 90s are like "whoa, dude... don't give us credit for that!"  This is your first sequel too!  You could've picked any other goddamn movie you've ever done and given us a better sequel!  No sequel to Big Daddy?  No sequel to Anger Management?  Hell, we would've watched a sequel to Zohan because at least that movie had a plot!  How is your dumbest and most irrelevant fucking film the one you decided to do a sequel to?  Was it because you didn't have to do any work?  Was it because you got to hang out with your friends for a few months, make jerk each other off with your old-person 90s puns (literally the best witty remark in the film is: "I haven't been around this many arrogant white kids since Eminem played at Duke").  Seriously?? Eminem jokes??  I have a homework assignment for you, Sandler... watch a fucking movie from this era!  Watch a comedy movie and tell me if ANY of the humor in BOTH of your Grown Ups films are anything like what people enjoy now?  You're not a comedy staple anymore, buddy, you're becoming a slowly fading away novelty that people (who are older than 9) are just getting tired of.  If you'd simply just adapt to the times of what's funny now (because I guarantee you dressing up like a woman is STILL HILARIOUS) you'd be able to re-generate some of the respect lost.

Now, I'd like to point out that I didn't see the entire film of Grown Ups 2.  I was movie-hopping and there was an hour gap between films that I actually wanted to see and stepped into this movie about fifteen minutes late and left about fifteen minutes early (don't worry, I guarantee I didn't miss anything).  But, here's what I got as far as a plot goes: Everyone has moved to that place they were in the first movie because it was so much fun in the first movie even though it didn't look like it was much fun in the first movie to us but that doesn't matter because anything Sandler says goes so there's like this dance recital they go to for the young daughters but the dance recital teacher is a hot russian chick who dances like a stripper and then all the guys stare at her and love her and want her and then she's dating Stone Cold Steve Austin who says he's going to kick Sandler's ass but then he doesn't but then Sandler pretends like he was going to kick Stone Cold's ass but then he doesn't then they all go out for ice cream where Colin Quinn works because everybody was waiting for that day when Colin fucking Quinn would make his triumphant return to the screen and because its kinda like a metaphor for washed up people telling washed up jokes in a washed up film but anyway he works at an ice cream shop and when he stands on the machine to fix it and chocolate spills out it looks like he's pooping and its so funny because chocolate ice cream and poop look alike and then Chris Rock hates his mother in law and makes her wait for cable all day and then when she gets up to poop he pretends he missed her and leaves and then they all go to this cliff where they were when they were younger and then frat guys come over and then the frat guys make the other guys jump off naked and then kevin james is fat and then he jumps and lands on david spade and then its so funny because he's fat that he's learned to do this thing where he can burp, sneeze and fart all at the same time and its funny because he's fat so every time he does it obviously everyone in the theater laughs and then everyone is so embarrassed for these guys because they're naked and then they find a giant tire and put Spade in the tire and it rolls all through town with Spade in it and then it stops and then he throws up and probably poops too because at this point there hadn't been a poop joke in almost five minutes and then Kevin James gets taken to a car wash with his wife and then male cheerleaders wash their car and then you might actually smile at this scene because what's funny is all of the current SNL actors who still have a sense of what is funny in 2013 and then Sandler tries to teach his kid how to be a football kicker and then his kid breaks his leg and then Sandler feels like a bad dad but it's actually Spade who is a bad dad because he finds out he has a son and then he's also dating a girl who is a huge body builder and then they all eat dinner and talk about their day and then Kevin James is funny because he's fat and then Steve Buscemi is in it and it's weird because he's Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire and he's also in this and it doesn't make any earthly sense because it's like being the best at having sex and then continually taking a hammer to your penis until it is warped and unusable and then they all decide to throw a huge 80s party and it all takes place in one day and they come up with the theme in that day and everyone already has a great costume and then you realize that the 80s were funnier than this movie and nobody liked the 80s and then Ellen Cleghorn and Cheri Oteri are in it and it just makes sense and then the J. Geils Band is in it and it just makes sense and then Kevin James burp, farts, sneezes one more time, my brain explodes inside my head, my eyes roll back, droll falls out of my mouth and I die in the theater.

I've seen National Geographic magazine covers funnier than Grown Ups 2.  I get more giggles walking down the Automotive Parts section of Target than I did with Grown Ups 2.  I've had more fun breaking my ankle and then still having to climb three miles down the Grand Canyon than I did in Grown Ups 2.  Take a good, long look at yourself, people.  This is now the idiot's litmus test.  If you meet someone who says that they liked either of these films, slowly back out of the room, while still remembering to blink, and get the hell out of there.  If you find yourself liking Grown Ups 2, there is a suicide hotline number that you can call.  They will help you.

F

(Review not proofread or given any attention to grammatical errors because if Adam Sandler doesn't care enough about me to write something good, then I don't care either).

Monday, August 5, 2013

2 Guns: Okay, Alright, Say Hello To Your Mother For Me.


Ah, the buddy cop movie.  It's got to be one of the best sub-genres of film ever invented.  And for some reason, it always works better when it's racially mixed.  Films like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 48 Hours, Men In Black, Die Hard: With a Vengeance are much better than racially equivalent Hollywood Homicide, Big Momma's House 2, Tango and Cash, and White Chicks.  Of course, there are a few that do defy both rules.  National Security, The Man, Double Team, Cop Out, I-Spy, Bulletproof, Showtime, and Miami Vice are all terrible movies.  But, we know that Bad Boys and Hot Fuzz are great. So, there are always exceptions.  Buddy cop movies are so awesome a sub-genre, they spawned their own sub-sub-genre.  The buddy cop-dog movie!  Movies like Turner and Hooch, K-9, and Top Dog.  Hell, there's even a buddy-cop-kid movie.  Remember Cop-And-A-Half?  So, pardon me if I gush for a moment over a genre that, when done right, can bring us a very pleasurable movie-going experience.

I know I harp a lot about plot and character and all of that nonsense when writing these reviews.  It's an important factor to me when I go to see a movie.  Even a movie such as Pacific Rim wasn't junky enough to warrant these factors escape from my mind when watching the film.  I need to like someone, don't I?  I can tell you one thing, though, when it comes to buddy-cop movies... you don't need it.  It's already there.  When you've got two dudes, who usually don't like each other in the beginning, are forced into a partnership, and end up becoming best friends... that's all the conflict and character you need, friend!  That's why the racial dynamic works so well.  Why do you think everyone and their mother loved the first Rush Hour?  It was a fast-talking black dude partnered up with a fast-kicking little Asian guy!  I mean, who the hell writes this stuff?  All you need is to put them into an unfamiliar situation, their cultures clash, add some bad guys trying to kill them... and the action-comedy ensues.  It's not rocket science, people!  And don't act like you're above the buddy cop movie, because you're not.  You like at least one of the movies I've mentioned (and chances are it's one of the dog ones.  Boo-ya!)

In 2 Guns, the buddy cop film is in fine fashion... mostly.  First, you've got Denzel Washington. Everyone loves Denzel.  Why?  I don't know how to even explain it.  He's got this charm that sucks you in, this voice that melts you, this smile/look that captures your attention and makes you fall in love with the man.  He's a great actor and he's quick witted.  He does whatever the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants because he doesn't have to make shit movies for a paycheck.  He gets to pick the movies that he wants to do whether or not he's decided he wants to win an Oscar this year or just have some fun blowing stuff up with a white dude.  That's why we love Denzel.  Then, you've got Mark Whalberg, who is slowly becoming just a charming as daddy D.  We already know Whalberg can act (*cough* The Departed), and we know he can make us laugh (The Other Guys, Ted), so he's won us over already.  Put these two together and you've got yourself a movie, fella!

So, what's 2 Guns about?  Well, to be honest, it doesn't even matter, but I'll try my best to relay what I gathered during the viewing.  Denzel and Marky are two criminals working for some Mexican douchebag who sells fake passports and cocaine.  They decide to rob his bank of three million dollars.  They do so.  They don't find three million dollars, they find forty three million and this gets them curious.  Marky shoots Denzel and takes off with the money.  Oh, yeah, and Denzel's not actually a criminal, he's an undercover DEA agent.  Oh, and I forgot, Marky's not a criminal either.  He was undercover working for the NAVY.  So, they both go back to say the other one is not a criminal and they're both double-crossed by their superiors.  Um... not sure why.  I think the NAVY is... um... nevermind, it hurts to think about.  Anyway, so money actually belonged to White douchebag who works for the CIA... I think.  Maybe they just said that.  Maybe I made it up.  So, Denzel and Marky have to work together to fight all the douchebags that are coming after them.

Where the movie fails in parts is when they separate the two in favor of [unimportant] exposition and an attempt at a plot.  Every time someone is trying to explain something new to one of the guys, you're sitting there just waiting for the scene to end so Marky and Denzel can get back together to making you laugh and kicking some ass.  The two have unbelievable chemistry together, and this might be one of the rare occasions that Mark Whalberg outshines Denzel in the movie.  Now, that's not to say daddy D doesn't hold his own, but Whalberg just looks like he's have such a blast, like a fat kid swimming in a chocolate pool.  Bill Paxton even does a good job as White Douchebag.  He's actually a little more menacing than you'd expect out of Paxton.  He's also not trying to be the guy that would get into a fistfight with either of these guys, because you know exactly whose ass would be pounded into the pavement.  He's just a guy that carries a gun, says horrible menacing shit, a few witty remarks, and then you're dead.  Simple as that.

Look, there's no point in arguing with me.  There's a little piece of you that wants to see this movie.  You're worried it's going to be stupid and lame and dumb and whatever.  But, I encourage you to listen to that little piece, because that piece... the part that has fun expectations... is correct.  You'll have a good time.  You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll shout, you'll be happy you went out to see it.  It's a decent movie - when the two are together.  Because, guess what, people... Denzel Washington doesn't make bad movies.  And you know you're looking for something to fill that buddy-cop void until Rush Hour 4 makes it to theaters in 20whatever.

B-

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Way Way Back: Emphatically The Best Movie This Year So Far


You're standing at the marquee.  You're unsure of what to see.  Someone has told you that you can only see one movie this entire summer and you're not sure what to pick.  You could go with something big-budget and action.  You could go with something you thought might be funny starring Sandra Bullock.  You could go with the horror movie that looks so scary.  No. You go see The Way Way Back.  It is without a doubt the best movie of the year thus far.  If you like any of what you saw in the trailer, it only gets better.  Nat Faxon (one of the German dudes from Beerfest) and Jim Rash (the Dean from Community) follow up their Oscar wins (for The Descendants) with one of the best, most charming, undoubtedly funny, coming of age stories I've seen in a long while.

Duncan is a 14-year-old, awkward and painfully shy kid on his way to his mom's boyfriend's beach house.  His mom's boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) is a huge dick.  But he's a subtle dick.  A very passive-aggressive dick who treats Duncan, and frankly, everyone else as though they were below him.  His mother (Toni Collette) is endearing, but has to sort of separate who she is with Duncan in order to fit the lifestyle of Trent.  At the beach house Duncan is ignored, mocked and left to himself while everyone else is able to have a good time.  In the midst of being the outcast, and viewed as the weird kid who awkwardly spews random thoughts at inappropriate times to the cute girl next door, he discovers Water Wizz, a local water park run by Owen (Sam Rockwell) and populated by workers Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), Roddy and Lewis (Faxon and Rash).  Owen takes Duncan under his wing, gives him a job and essentially teaches him about life outside his family and, more importantly, his shell.

Everything about this movie is on point.  The writing is fantastic, especially with Carell's character. He is able to say the most screwed up things to Duncan, but in such a backhanded way that only the person receiving the verbal abuse would truly understand how unbelievably mean it really is. It's strange seeing sweetheart Steve Carell let loose from his typecast goofball, to being an unlikable douchebag.  And he plays it well.  But, it's Sam Rockwell that steals the show.  He talks a mile a minute, every line that comes out of his mouth is one that is searching for a laugh, not just from us viewers, but from the characters around him too.  He's that comedian that doesn't know how to turn it off, but instead of it coming off annoying, it's endearing.  So, when it's time for him to get serious, we believe it.  I have to believe that there was just an outline of the dialogue Rockwell was to use in the script as a guide, and that directors Faxon and Rash just let him loose as soon as they turned on the camera because what comes out is comedy gold.

Sometimes coming of age movies are hard to get behind if we don't really like or connect with the kid.  Here Liam James as Duncan does the perfect job of showing that he isn't a bad kid, or even a particularly weird one, he's just awkward because he's been put off by so many people in his life.  He's literally the saddest kid in the world and all we want is for something good to happen to him.  There is a gradual and organic change to Duncan, as well.  It doesn't happen over night and the lessons the water park teaches him are ones he can carry with him throughout his life, not just applicable for that summer.

Along with Rockwell, the film is populated with fun and colorful characters. Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and especially Allison Janney as the kooky, but kind-hearted neighbor fill this movie with such fun and joy for its audience.  Once it gets going, it's one of those films that you never want to end.  You want to watch Duncan go back to the water park every single day of summer just to see what will happen or what craziness ensues, or what outrageous thing Owen is going to say or do next.  It's such a wonderful movie that I will be recommending to everyone.  It's one of those movies that I will eventually be able to tell people is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It's one of those movies I'll want to introduce to new people each time I meet someone.  It's one of those movies I'll watch every couple of months just to remind myself that great filmmaking isn't dead.  The movie is damn near perfect, and though it may seem as though the coming of age story is a little tired and predictable, The Way Way Back is anything but.  If you are only allowed to see one movie this summer, your choice has been made for you.

A

The To-Do List: If John Hughes Wrote About Handjobs


Losing your virginity movies were so 90s.  They became formulaic and, eventually, after American Pie, unable to recreate the magic.  So, aside from Steve Carell losing it as a 40 year old, the cherry popping comedy films of yore were rarely ever made/watched.  This is, however, until a new spin was put into the formula and a female lead was born.  How had this not been done before?  Girls want to lose their virginity too!  I guess it must've been the disbelief that a girl actually had to TRY to lose her virginity instead of just pick someone at random.  In The To-Do List Aubrey Plaza does a fine job of playing nerdy, uptight girl seeking her first D.

It's fitting that virginity movies were prominent in the 90s because The To-Do List takes place in 1993, I'm guessing as an in-joke commentary about the films themselves (as well as the fact that everyone in the movie playing 18 is well over the age of 25, something 90s movies tried to play up).  It is a little fun to see things not seen anymore like VHS tapes, landlines, and trapper keepers. Plaza plays Brandy, a straight-A, valedictorian, high school graduate virgin who deeply wants to lose her virginity to meat-head Rusty Waters.  So, in order to do so, she decides that she needs to amp up her sexual experience so that her first time isn't a train wreck.  She makes a list of everything people do sexually that will eventually lead up to her first romp in the sack.  What's great about the film is that it's filled with talented comedic actors that lend a hand to Brandy's quest. Clark Gregg plays Brandy's father, channeling his inner Stanley Tucci.  Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele play Brandy's more sexually experienced best friends willing to lend very uncensored advice.  Rachel Bilson, in a hilarious role, plays Brandy's sister who treats sex like it's as routine as changing a shirt.  Bill Hader plays Brandy's boss at the local pool, and is arguably the funniest person in the film.  If it wasn't for Bilson and Hader, the film probably would've fallen by the wayside, but it's because of them and an assortment of other relatively known comedic actors that the film actually works.

What's nice is that Aubrey Plaza is quite believable as nerd.  She looks like an average female.  She's not an outrageously gorgeous girl who dons a pair of glasses and is suddenly a social pariah.  There's no magical She's All That transformation in the film.  In fact, her look stays the same the entire time, it's her inner confidence that's transformed.  It's not riotously funny as it should be with some of the names attached, but there is a significant amount of comedy.  What was nice to see is that nothing was held back even though there was a female lead.  Brandy is inexperienced enough in sex that she can question literally what everything is from a handy to a pearl necklace and her discoveries of each individual act leads to great comedy.  What's also convenient is that because the film is set in 1993, there is no internet to find out what each of these mean.  There was no encyclopedia entry on what motorboating is.  There is a lot of juvenile bodily fluid humor, but that's to be expected from a film like this.

What's also really cool is to see the using people for sex dynamic turned around.  Usually it's the guy using women to try and boost his sexual prowess, however this time around it's the men that are treated as objects to Brandy.  Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samburg... all sexual objects whose background and character development mean nothing.  They're there to give us a couple of laughs, fulfill Brandy's needs, and be on their way never to be seen again.  While there is nothing particularly original about The To-Do List, and her motivation for making the list isn't exactly that compelling or even believable, it's still a fun little summer comedy that is going to provide plenty of laughs for its audience.  What I don't understand is how badly it's going to do in the box office.  People flock to see the newest big budget explosion movie that they know in their hearts is going to suck, yet when there's a small comedy released such as this full of actors everyone knows and likes, no one makes an effort to go see it.

I doubt that it's going to be in theaters much longer, anyway, but this film is worth a look.  It's extremely crude, it's disgusting in parts, but overall it's pretty funny.  You'll be able to guess what happens in almost every scene because this obviously isn't the first of its kind, but in-between, prepare to laugh pretty heartily.

B

Red 2: The Malkovich Show Returns


Does anybody remember the first Red?  I mean, honestly remember it?  I don't mean you remember that it was a decent little action flick that was certainly entertaining... I mean, do you remember specific plot points about the story, or funny lines, or even if Morgan Freeman isn't in the sequel because he died in the first one or not?  Because I don't!  Did Morgan Freeman die?  I don't remember.  Here's what I do remember: that I one time watched Red, that when it was over I remember going, "huh... that wasn't terrible", and then nothing else.  It was one of those fun, entertaining, and extremely forgettable films that I saw, conquered, and blanked from my mind.  That's exactly what's going to happen with Red 2.

Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is at it again.  He's trying to live the quaint suburban Costco-dwelling life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when his old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up and informs Frank that there's still people out to kill them.  He then receives a call from his old buddy Victoria (Helen Mirren) saying she's just been hired to kill him.  So, the crew get back together along with a couple of new faces (Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones) to stop a nuclear bomb from going off in Russia... or England... or America... actually I wasn't quite sure about that one (the plot jumps around a lot).  The whole way they're being chased and shot at by two separate baddies (a white dude and a chinese dude whose names you won't know).  There's car chases, and shoot-outs, and a lot of fun to be had.  And yet, once you leave your seat by the end credits, you'll have a hard time remembering specifics of what you just witnessed.

It's not that the Red movies are bad, because they're still a higher quality action movie that most of what gets released (I'm looking at you Taylor Kitsch).  It's just that they have nothing inherently special about them.  The only thing that really sets them apart from other action films are Malkovich playing a paranoid bomb-nut and Mirren kicking everyone's ass.  There are quippy lines, funny moments, absurd action, and plenty else to keep you happy and entertained for two hours, but it's nothing with staying power.  This is one of those cases of a film getting a sequel that absolutely no one asked for, but no one was really upset with, either.  I mean, how could you be?  All of the characters are so extremely likable you're rooting for everyone all at once, particularly newbie to the franchise Anthony Hopkins is a delight.  And, the writing isn't bad.  There are a couple of plot twists that I didn't see coming.  There are a few I did, but that's all part of the deal with sequels.

It's not going to be a waste of time seeing Red 2, and it won't kill too many brain cells, and if you can actually follow the plot (because it seems like there isn't one at some points and there is one but is too convoluted to follow in others), then you'll have a fun little two hours at the movies.  And, really, isn't that the point of going out to see a film, anyway?

B