Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Foxcatcher: If Michael Scott Was Insane...

Director Bennett Miller has a magnificent talent.  I'm not talking his talent as a director or as a storyteller, even though those qualities are also quite phenomenal.  No, his talent is that he's able to take an actor or actors that may or may not have had some sort of stigma of not being a serious actor or even a great actor and turning them into something unseen in film before.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a character actor sure, but before Capote no one really knew just how GREAT the man actually was.  Moneyball showed us that Jonah Hill wasn't a total dipshit and could actually act.  However, Miller's greatest feat is Foxcatcher.  He is somehow able to transform (and not just through makeup) Steve Carell from one of the most likable comedic faces in Hollywood into an unsympathetic psycho creep.  The magic doesn't even stop there!  Guess what?  Channing Tatum... can act!  He's not just a "charming potato", but he's an actual actor with actual talent.  Go.  Figure.

So, I've learned that a lot of people don't actually know the true story that Foxcatcher tells and the unexpected ending that occurs if you're not already familiar, so I will not be spoiling anything.  However, Foxcatcher gives us the relationship between Olympic wrestling gold medalist Mark Schultz and billionaire John Du Pont.  Schultz had won the gold in wrestling in the 84 Olympics and was training for the 88.  His brother David was also a gold winner.  Mark is then contacted by John Du Pont and offers him money to come and stay at the Foxcatcher camp where he and his family reside.  He builds an entire training center and wants to be a coach and a mentor to Mark in order for him to get the gold once again.  The "funny" thing is... Du Pont doesn't know a thing about wrestling.  He's a psychotic billionaire narcissist with a mommy complex.  His mother's views on wrestling were that it was barbaric and a gentleman doesn't get involved with it.  Instead, a gentleman rides horses in competition.  He's a freaky mouth-breathing weirdo who's never been looked up to and never had a friend.  So, when he sees that he can not only use his esteem and his money to buy a trainee, he will also be able to become a mentor to someone, a friend to someone, and show his mommy he's not a total screw-up.

For those of you who've seen The Office John Du Pont is essentially the same person as Michael Scott.  His need to be liked is his sole purpose for living.  Whereas Michael Scott is a quirky and funny and harmless, Du Pont is crazy, dark, and dangerous.  His need for anyone's approval drives him and when he is disappointed his responses are overreactions and violence.  And because someone who doesn't know anything about Olympic wrestling can't be a proper coach, Du Pont recruits Mark's brother Dave to come and help.  This ends up driving a wedge between Mark and Dave because Dave is suspicious of Du Pont and Mark can't see it.  Then later drives a wedge between Dave and Du Pont because Dave only wants the best for his brother and Du Pont thinks Dave is trying to overshadow him.

Tatum is amazing as Mark.  He looks like a hulking man-ape with an overbite that never blinks.  He's always focused on his goal of winning.  If you look at him in the eyes, there's nothing going on upstairs other than wrestling and winning.  It's a commitment to character that we haven't seen from Channing on film yet and it's remarkable.  Mark Ruffalo as Dave is also a stellar performance, but this is what we've come to expect from Ruffalo.  But, it's Carell's performance of Du Pont that steals the show... that makes the film worth watching.  He is literally unrecognizable and dives so deeply into character that we can see Carell's inner dark side.  I compared Du Pont to Michael Scott, but the way the characters act couldn't be more different.  There is no light in Du Pont's eyes.  There is no child-like innocence.  There is a lonely man seeking a friend and approval that can never truly be satisfied that when the end of the movie comes, though it is shocking... it really isn't.

This has been a year for the actor.  So many actors have turned in beautiful performances and literally become other people that we as an audience can easily distinguish the actor from the character... which is what makes a great actor as well as a great film.  If the actor and the character aren't distinguishable... they've failed.  Steve Carell deserves at the very least a nomination, if not the win.  He's a villain played as great as any in the past decade.  Foxcatcher may move at a very slow pace at times, but it's carefully building it's story. It's carefully constructing it's characters.  It's carefully going into the minds of a troubled young man and a disturbed billionaire to inevitably lead up to the unbelievable (yet very true) climax of the film.


Unbroken: An Incredible Story, A Decent Movie

A lot of times, going into a movie I'm unable to distance myself from my own preconceived notions of what I think the film is going to be like and how I'm going to react to it.  Occasionally, I'll see a film that I'm expecting to hate and I'll force the movie to change my opinion.  Even more often I'll see a film that I'm expecting to be great and it won't live up to those expectations.  I honestly didn't know if I was going to love or hate Unbroken.  The first preview I saw of it I immediately thought that it was a film that was made solely to win all Oscar gold available for every category, especially with Angelina Jolie attached as director and the biggest selling point of the movie due to a bunch of relatively unknown actors starring in it.  But, then I read that the Coen Brothers wrote the script and my thoughts on the film changed.  It can't be bad at all if the Coens wrote it.  However, the reviews came out and a lot of them were unfavorable.  My guess is that a lot of critics had my first inclination that it was Oscar bait and it let a few of them down... so, my expectations were lowered quite a bit and my interest in the film ceased.  So, by the time my ass hit the theater seat I was expecting to be able to point out all of the points of failure and nitpick the movie down to a C grade... and I was doing that for a little while, but after most of the movie had gone by, it really did win my affection.

Louis Zamperini was an Olympic athlete, a bombardier in World War II, and a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp.  All three of these stories are told in Unbroken and really all three of these stories really could've been their own film.  The movie could've been a trilogy and, for once, it wouldn't have been out of greed but out of great storytelling.  However, the decision was to make one movie and tell how this one man overcame a great deal of adversity.  After Zamperini competed in the Olympics and did a very respectable job, he joined the military as a bombardier.  His plane is shot down during a rescue mission and him and two others are stranded on a raft at sea for well over two months.  Inches from death, with no hope in sight, they're finally rescued... by a Japanese freighter.  Instead of being thankful for finally winding up on solid ground, they're immediately thrown into an internment camp led by a malicious Sargent who tortures prisoners at will due to his own emotional predilections. Suffice it so say, Zamperini probably had a better experience dying on a raft in the middle of the ocean.  But, his will to survive is what makes him... yes... unbroken.

It's strange what we as a culture enjoy watching and consider "inspiring".  In this film, you take a man who is genuinely portrayed as a decent human being just get the ever-loving shit kicked out of him.  He's pushed past the brink of sanity and strength.  He's thrown every obstacle one could think of and he overcomes all of it.  Yes, it's inspiring to see what a single human being can deal with if they're strong enough, but the pain never lets up for a second.  We're watching a tortured soul, knowing full well he survives it all, but that's all we get.  Something bad happens, then something worse, then something worse, then something unbelievable (yet true), then something WORSE, and so on until the end when you realized he was able to survive.  It's a torture movie.  It's like watching Passion of the Christ.  Jesus is beaten and hung to death for two hours and then at the end comes back saving the souls of every living being on Earth.  The film is watching him get f#@&ed up, yet when everything is okay at the very end, we're able to say that it was inspiring.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but we as a society enjoy watching this type of film.  I was getting sick to my stomach watching Zamparini get handled the way he was, but I was even more impressed with the amount of physical abuse he could withstand without killing himself.  It's a strange dichotomy.

I do believe that a lot of the criticism of the film to be a bit accurate.  It's very evident that Jolie is a little bit too emotionally attached to her lead character to distance herself from him and give him a dramatic arc.  He begins the movie as a strong person, almost too perfect and great and ends him on the same pedestal he began on.  It's almost hard to paint the man in a bad light because of everything that happens to him, but he has no flaws during the entire film.  Not that he needs any, but the need to overcome inward adversity as well as outward adversity is what makes great films.  In any instance, I thought the film was very well done, especially for Jolie's second outing as a director.  It's not an easy film to watch, but it is a good film.  And while I don't expect it to win any of the awards I had assumed it was going to, there is a decent little film here about an amazing human being with an incredible story.


Wild: The Meaningful Thousand Mile Journey

Less than ten years ago we were treated with another "someone goes into the wilderness to find themselves" movie with Into The Wild.  It's a good movie, but instead of coming off as poignant and important, the main character kinda has a Holden Caufield effect where the audience loses interest because they don't have the same ideals as Alexander Supertramp.  He's a privileged white kid who is sick of the greed of his upper class family and wants to shed all of his material attachment to the world and live in the wild.  He goes so far as to burn his money and his identification.  While this may be considered a noble gesture by some... by others it's frowned upon.  Flash forward to the end of 2014 and we're given another movie in the same vein only with a female protagonist in Wild.  While the two films may share a few things in common, Wild is a vastly different, as well as far superior, film.

Instead of leaving her life behind in search of being a free person, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is on her own, hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in order to find out who she is as a woman.  If this sounds a little douchy, let me explain.  Cheryl was always the good girl.  She was in school, she had part time jobs in order to help her family make ends meet.  She lives with her mother, her best friend, after they've left her abusive father.  Her mother was the person inspiring her to reach her goals and be the best woman she could possibly be.  After an illness takes her mother at a very young age, Cheryl spirals into a world of promiscuous sex and drugs.  This leads to her marriage ending and her life hitting rock bottom.  Then, she discovers the Pacific Coast trail, a hiking trail that stretches from the border of Mexico in California to Canada.  There, she will learn how to grieve properly for her mother and find out what kind of woman she wants to be.  And while this doesn't sound like the harrowing journey Alexander Supertramp has, it is in no way less important.

It's a beautifully shot film, perfectly acted, and emotionally riveting.  Witherspoon plays Cheryl the way that I assume the real Cheryl would've behaved on the journey.  A woman who'd never hiked in her life, but had to finish the journey at any cost.  She's on her own in the great unknown at her most vulnerable searching for answers that may or may not be out there.  She travels from hundred degree desert heat to freezing cold snow-covered mountains, meeting many different types of hikers, hunters, people along the way.  It's also written very well.  Author/screenwriter Nick Hornby (About A Boy, High Fidelity) writes the character carefully.  We watch intercut scenes of Cheryl's past leading up to her journey, and not in sequential order either.  We get her divorce first.  Then he relationship with her mother and brother.  Then, her torrid childhood.  Then, her downward spiral until it all comes together to paint a cohesive picture of a troubled woman.  Her journey ends up making much sense and winds up being a much more important travel than anything else like this on film.

I was a huge fan of this film and it was one of those that had me thinking about it long after it was over.  It far exceeded my expectations and it's a great film to watch at the end of the year in order to inspire those worried about their future in the upcoming year.  Great movie.


The Imitation Game: This Is How You Do The Brilliant Scientist Biopic

Reviews like this one are difficult for me to do.  Here's why-- I don't exactly know that much about science.  I know science is a general term that can be applied to many regular things I do in my life, but we're talking about it in the sense of Alan Turing.  I don't know much and therefore can't explain or analyze much about it or the film.  The same can be said for The Theory of Everything, however it's easier to write a review about it if I didn't think the movie was great.  I can just list the reasons why it failed.  This time another brilliant Brit scientist (actually I'm pretty sure Turing preferred to be known as a mathematician) is given a biopic about the importance of his life in relation to, you know, the world.  And it's great. (Which sucks because I can't nitpick it.)

Alan Turing was a gay scientist/mathematician living through the days of World War II in England.  He is recruited, along with a few other local university geniuses to crack the enigma code-- a daily code used by the Germans to detail their attacks to each other that is reset every day and is said to be uncrackable.  Turing, a social pariah, doesn't go the math route of pen and paper and brain to try and crack the impossible code, but instead decides to design a machine to do the thinking for him.  Of the one hundred and fifty million million million possibilities and the code changing every night at midnight, these men stand zero chance of cracking it without Turing's machine.

And that's essentially it.  It sounds a little dry and a little stale and a little boring, but somehow it isn't.  It's like how Moneyball made a seriously intriguing movie about baseball stats.  It's not so much about waiting for Turing to break the code, but how he does it and the conflicts that stand in his way-- more notably about how homosexuality was illegal and he was a flagrant gay, but had to hide it.  How his homosexuality couldn't be overlooked even though his machine essentially won the war.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns in yet another stellar performance as the strange Turing.  He's suddenly become one of the most reliable actors in Hollywood.  You know exactly what you're getting if you're watching one of his movies-- a mesmerizing performance.

Kiera Knightley is also in the film as a  mathematician whose brain is similar to that of Turing, but unlike Alan, has a fully functioning personality.  The two love one another, though obviously not in the traditional sense, but have a wonderful chemistry.  What's great about this movie is it doesn't fall under the pattern of standard biopic.  There's no real structure to the plot that has become very familiar in the biopic genre as of late.  They allow us to see all of the good and bad that happens in Turing's life without seeming cliche.  It's an honest (I assume) depiction of a mathematical genius portrayed by an acting genius.  I wish I could be a little bit more articulate about why it is so good, but it's just one of those films where you don't really even need that much of a description.  It looks like it could be good, a few people tell you it is good, you assume it is.  Well... it is.


Top Five: Chris Rock FINALLY Delivers

For as long as I can remember, Chris Rock has always been, to me, one of the smartest, if not THE smartest comedian of my generation.  There have been others before him.  George Carlin may be the smartest of all time, but by the time I was able to understand and appreciate his humor, he was already very old.  There was also Richard Pryor-- still before my time.  And, I'll even give credit to 80s Eddie Murphy.  But, one of the first stand up comedy shows I ever watched was Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker.  I was familiar with Rock only in regards to In Living Color and Saturday Night Live.  On those shows he was... humorous.  With his stand up, he's genius.  

Next, came a series of WTF movies from the comedian I respected more than anyone.  Down To Earth came out where he actually played a comedian!  And his best joke on stage in the movie was "You've got so much armpit hair you look like you got buckwheat in a headlock."  Yeah. That's it.  He used his D material in the movie that was the antithesis of funny. Then Head of State which I still don't really understand how Chris Rock wrote that movie and the stand up material for Never Scared. With his stand-up Chris Rock was finally becoming the Carlin of my generation, but with his film choices, the next Eddie Murphy.  So, you can imagine how refreshing it is to see Top Five, a film that finally displays Rock's talent as a writer/director and comedian as well as showcases that genius we all knew he was capable of. 

Top Five takes place in a single day.  Rock plays Andre, a celebrity whose celeb life has started to go somewhat downhill.  He used to be the biggest comedian of his time and made the highest grossing comedy movies until he got sober and quit comedy.  He's now trying to promote his newest film "Uprize" about the Haitian uprising, but much to his chagrin, it's getting terrible reviews.  He's followed around all day by a reporter (Rosario Dawson) trying to get the real story from Andre about why he's quit being funny.  They stop at several places for his promotion of the film-- radio stations, press junkets, Andre's old friend's homes, etc.  What starts to develop is a relationship between comedian and reporter that transcends sex and love, but of mutual understanding and sympathy. 

It's a great love story and even more it's a great commentary of the film industry.  No one gives Andre's film a chance because it's not funny and he's supposed to be funny.  When he stops by a random theater to watch his fans waiting for the film, there's four people in the theater.  The rest of the crowd is lined out the door waiting for the new Madea movie where she spends the night in a haunted house.  It's also a commentary about how we need our comedians to be "on" at all times.  Sometimes, they're human.  They don't feel funny.  He satirizes reality television stars.  It's also a commentary on the roles black actors tend to get in Hollywood.  Nearly every supporting character in the film seems to be played by a stock black comedian.  They're either the crony, the hood friend, or the Haitian slaves uprising.  

Rock delicately weaves all of these storylines together through his day and is able to make a big statement about Hollywood as well as provide a very funny and poignant movie.  Watching what I'm sure is a partly autobiographical film, it's comforting to see Andre's vulnerabilities and be able to watch a celebrity work through problems that us everyday folk go through constantly as well.  But, down to it's very core, it's still mostly a love story.  It's a love story from two broken people trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and maybe fit well with each other.  The chemistry between Rock and Dawson is great.  It's such a pleasure to watch.  And, if nothing else, go for the cameos.  There are a few in the film that will leave you hurting.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Exodus Gods and Kings: A Live Action Prince of Egypt

Let me preface this review that is sure to have some rolling eyes-- I didn't really have a desire to see this movie.  I'm a big fan of Christian Bale and I recognize his ability to choose a role that comes with it, a good movie.  I'm also a big fan of director Ridley Scott (though is last few efforts, The Counselor, Prometheus, Robin Hood, Body of Lies, A Good Year, have been less than sufficient).  But, the over-abundance of biblical movies this year has pushed this movie into the backburner for me for what I wanted to spend my time and money watching.  I've already seen The Ten Commandments as well as The Prince of Egypt.  Was this a movie that I desperately needed to see... again?  Absolutely not.  It's not even a movie that needed to be made.  But it was.  And I saw it.  And I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of it.

It's the same story we've seen countless times before of the book of Exodus.  Ramses and Moses begin as brothers.  Once it is revealed that Moses (Bale) was born a Hebrew, he is exiled by his now Pharaoh brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton).  Moses is contacted by a burning bush (also known as God) to be the leader to free the Hebrews from the clutches of Ramses.  When Ramses refuses God unleashes a series of plagues such as the rivers running red with blood, locusts, the killing of the first born sons, etc.  Then, once he finally gives in, Moses leads his people through the desert, parts the Red Sea, and they're now "free".  There's nothing really new here.  It's the same story with better actors, better computer effects, and a great director.  Almost anyone who decides to watch the film... or is forced to watch the film... will find it quite enjoyable. Hey, it's better than Noah. 

But what about those who are unfamiliar with the story?  What about those who haven't seen The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt?  This is one of the few problems I had with the film.  It's a writing and/or directorial choice, but hardly anything is explained to the viewer.  It's Scott's style not to baby his audience, but those unfamiliar with the source material will find a lot of the film very confusing.  Those who know the story know that the slaughtering of a lamb and the smearing of its blood on the posts of the houses shows the Holy Spirit that a Hebrew lives there and to stay out of the house.  Those who don't bloody up their houses will have their first born sons killed.  This is in response to the previous pharaoh taking the Hebrew first born sons and dumping them maliciously into the River Thames. However, none of this is explained.  It just... happens.  Someone who didn't already know the story would be very lost.  They just assume that everyone watching is familiar with the story, which then begs the question-- if we already know the story, why tell it again?

Another small problem I had with the film was that Ridley Scott decided to go semi-realistic in his portrayal of the "miracles" that happen in the film.  The burning bush sits in the background as the voice of God is personified in a little snarky child that talks to Moses.  Moses doesn't part the Red Sea with his staff... the water just kind of recedes.  While it isn't that big of a deal, the visual of the burning bush speaking to Moses and the visual of Moses physically parting the sea are very powerful and iconic moments in both the Bible and on film.  Moses is acting as a vessel for God and when he doesn't actively part the sea... and it just happens... it takes away some of the power of the story.  But, this was just a directorial choice that some won't mind, but I happened to disagree with.

Other than that, I didn't have any problems with the film.  It was very well acted and extremely entertaining.  Yes, there was a bit of racial insensitivity by casting white Brits as middle easterns, but get over it.  Stop being so sensitive, America.  We've done it for years.  Charlton Heston was Moses.  Freaking Val Kilmer was moses (I know he was drawn brown, but he was voiced by a definite whitey).  Look past that it's not skin-correct and look at it more as an entertaining retelling of a story that is still a very fascinating story from the Bible.  My expectations were exceeded greatly.


The Babadook: Smart Horror Done Right

"If it's in a word, or in a book... you can't get rid of The Babadook."

So, there's not much that I can talk about here without giving away the best moments of The Babadook, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet.  I'd heard about The Babadook through word of mouth only.  I researched only it's creation... not the plot.  I'd read that it was a movie funded from a kickstarter campaign.  It's a modest $30,000 budget and it comes from Australia.  That's all I knew.  Other than that, it was what I'd read about it-- that it was damn scary.  The director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, had watched it on an iPad and said it was one of the scariest movies he'd ever seen.  And while it may not be the scariest movie EVER... it is still an effective horror film.

The best thing I can say about The Babadook is that it's unlike any horror movie to be released in the last five years.  While there have been some classic, even well made horror films (like The Conjuring and Insidious) this is horror in a different vein.  It doesn't have the jump-scares that seem to pervade horror movies these days.  While you're in terrifying suspense waiting for something to pop out and make you jump out of your seat... you will be disappointed.  What does happen is that terror you're experiencing ceases to leave your body.  It never really lets up.  While the story does take its time to build up the fable and the mystery of The Babadook, once it's established it grabs ahold of you and never lets up.

My suggestion is to not look any further into the plot of the movie.  Don't watch the trailer, don't look into the synopsis.  Just go into it blindly expecting a well crafted and perfectly paced terrifying movie that appeals to any horror fan.  Yes, it was made for cheap, but that propels the terror in even more creative ways.  It's a wonderful film that anyone should see if you're willing to give up a night's sleep.


Friday, December 26, 2014

The Interview: The Most Important and Subversive Movie Of Our Time... I Think Not

For as long as I can remember I've spent Christmas with family and friends, eaten a large meal consisting of some sort of glazed meat with the best mashed potatoes I'll ever eat, and then, after everything is over, I see a movie.  Some years it's with family.  Some with friends.  Some with significant others.  Whatever the case, the movie theater is a big part of my Christmas (that, and watching A Christmas Story on TBS on loop for nearly 24 hours).  This year there were slim pickins.  Into The Woods never really drew my interest as I'm not overtly fond of musicals and I'm quite unfamiliar with the source material.  Unbroken looked like a movie trying too hard to win our Christmas hearts and Academy votes.  Big Eyes looked interesting enough, but not enough for Christmas night. And The Gambler just didn't feel right.  So, it was always going to be The Interview.  Here's why: because I knew it was going to make me laugh.

Surrounded in (unnecessary and certainly unwarranted) controversy, The Interview has been the topic of discussion for several weeks now.  Almost entirely thanks to social media this movie has gotten so much press that half the people who were semi-interested lost all care in the film due to it's overexposure and the people who weren't interested in it are now gung-ho to see it due to the fact that it was going to be pulled from theaters and our artistic freedoms were to be taken away. ('Merica!) Now, it's about giving a large middle finger to North Korea that most people chose this film to be the one they watched on Christmas.  After all of the bullshit surrounding the film, there's almost no way to accurately critique the film for what it is-- a mindless comedy.  All of the reviews are going to be surrounded with the inevitable discussion of what the big deal was for North Korea to be offended by the film-- or whether or not they had a reason to almost entirely erase the film.  It's going to be difficult for the average viewer to take the film for what it actually set out to be in the first place-- a funny movie with nothing substantial to say.

Let's take a quick look back at the film history of Seth Rogen shall we?  Let's see, there's The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Funny People, The Green Hornet, The Guilt Trip, This Is The End and Neighbors are the most notable.  What do you notice about this list of films?  Could it possibly be that none of them have any social or cultural agenda whatsoever?  Could it be that most of them are a collection of the same dick jokes over and over again wrapped around a different plot and cast?  Could it be that Seth Rogen has literally no other intention with his film choices than to make this viewers laugh???  That's the one.  Nothing here has any other motive than to be funny.  There wasn't recently this idea that Rogen had to make a statement or commentary of the culture of North Korea.  He didn't set out to make an "important" film that would change anyone's views on the country or paint it in a different light (my kind, yet slightly racist grandmother watching a TV trailer of Annie and asking "does anyone understand what the little black girl is saying?" has more cultural relevance than The Interview does).  He set out to make a film of dick jokes with a new premise.  Take it for what it is, please.

The film revolves around Dave Skylark (James Franco), a celebrity talk show host and his producer Aaron (Rogen) getting the interview of a lifetime-- North Korean President Kim Jong-Un.  The CIA then recruits the two idiots to kill Un during the interview.  In between all of this is a cavalcade of dick jokes (which somehow still manage to be funny when coming from Franco and Rogen, shockingly).  That's it.  There's nothing more to it.  Before all of the controversy, when I watched the preview it didn't look outstanding, but I knew the track record of the two stars and knew that even if it wasn't their best outing, it was still going to make me laugh.  And it did.

What's so strange here is that Rogen is actually the most reserved here.  He did have writing and directing credits to go with the film, so he might've just decided to step back and let others take the comedic reigns for a change.  But, it's Franco that really surprised me.  I've got a love/hate thing going on with Franco.  Do I believe he thinks he's God's gift to film even though he isn't?  Yes.  Do I think he's funny when he's not working with a script?  No.  I mean, anyone who needs convincing that the dude isn't that funny only needs to watch his roast.  When he goes last, firing back at everyone else, it's borderline sad.  However, when he's in a film with all of his friends, he couldn't be funnier.  He was brilliant in Pineapple Express and hilarious in This Is The End.  And, he's on point nearly the entire film of The Interview.  He's almost a parody of himself.  It's great.  But, it's Randall Park as the Korean dictator that really steals the show.  He's onscreen a good quantity of the film and he's so funny.  It's beautiful to think of the real Kim Jong-Un playing basketball and drinking margaritas and jamming out to Katy Perry.  Is it a big cultural and social observation of Un as a dictator?  Hell no!  It's just a funny juxtaposition.  It'd be like watching Hitler play left tackle for the Raiders or Fidel Castro having a tea party in a dress.  It doesn't mean anything, it's just a funny image.  They've essentially taken someone "important" and feared and humanized them to a point that goes beyond farce. Like Kim Jong-Il singing "I'm So Ronery" (but even that movie had something to say.)

Had none of the instances surrounding The Interview ever occurred, it would be viewed like any other Seth Rogen/James Franco film.  No one would have any expectations of it other than getting a few good laughs.  That's all it provides.  If you think it's a necessity to see the film simply to exercise your right as an American, then don't expect much.  Don't expect the film to mirror the controversy surrounding it.  Don't expect to watch some subliminally implanted anti-North Korean propaganda film.  See it plainly to watch a funny movie and get some laughs and entertainment.  This is what Seth Rogen and James Franco are best at.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Theory of Everything: Or, The Stephen Hawking Story Written By Rob Reiner

The Theory of Everything for me was... unexpected.  What I expected was a biopic of the life of Stephen Hawking.  His genius at the beginning, his deterioration through the years as he succumbs to ALS, his meeting of his wife, Jane, his inspirations for his life's work including his book.  This is what I expected.  However, while all of this information was... sorta... provided, it was mostly glossed over.  What I got was more of a romantic drama about a smart guy with a stressed girl who try to keep their family and situation "normal".

It's a difficult task to make a film about someone as exceptional and important as Stephen Hawking.  There's trying to portray accuracy, as well as entertain, as well as please the man who is still alive and watching it.  The film hits a few of these right on the head, but misses more.  It's ironic... Hawking's work is all about time and time in this movie is the most glossed over aspect of the film.  We don't really get to see the slow and agonizing deterioration of Stephen Hawking's body.  We see him in stage one.  Then a couple years goes by and he's in stage two.  Then a couple years go by and he's in stage three.  And so on.  I don't actually know how to articulate just what is missing in these scenes, but it doesn't feel like it should have.  It feels as though there was just too much to do, so instead of montages we're left with assumptions.  We're just supposed to accept that this is the next logical stage of their marriage, of his disease.  And while it isn't overtly bad... it's jarring to say the least.

What's perfect, however, is the casting.  Eddie Redmayne has give a performance worthy of gold.  Real life Stephen Hawking himself even said that the performance was remarkable and even made him cry.  That's how great he is.  He transcends great in this movie.  He's perfect.  Unfortunately, he's given the performance of his life during a year where a lot of actors have done the same and I feel he will be at a loss to someone like Gyllenhaal or Carell.  Redmayne, as Hawking, holds nothing back.  If you ever want to see how unbelievable horrific a disease ALS is, you need look no further than here.  Felicity Jones, an actress I wasn't familiar with prior to this film, is actually very good as well.  She gives Jane a tough exterior while she is clearly in just as much emotional pain inside as Hawking is outside.  It's subtle, but wonderful.

The film isn't bad enough to be considered a Lifetime biopic.  I just don't think it was handled by capable enough hands as it should have been.  It's a decent depiction of the life of these two, but their relationship isn't exactly the most tantalizing story of Hawking's life.  His struggling relationship with his wife and children are kind of the B story to the overall A story inside the mind of a genius that wasn't hardly able to articulate any of it.  Instead, the romance is the A story and everything else is on the back burners.  There is beauty to the film in the way that it's shot and the performances are unbelievable.  It is for these reasons alone that I would suggest viewing this film, however there will still be a little bit left after the movie ends that will leave you feeling strangely unsatisfied.  You won't exactly be able to pinpoint all of the reasons, but there will be just something missing.  What's missing are the gaps in time and the character changes we wanted to see but are instead passed over as unimportant and accepted as such.  The movie deserves to be just as fascinating as the person it is about, yet it doesn't quite reach that level.  Hell, maybe that's the point.  The level of Hawking is unreachable.  The rest of us can just do our best.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2: Yet Again, Another Sequel That's Just A Bastardized Version Of The Original

There's something inherently wrong about making sequels to comedies and something inherently right about it too.  It's wrong because most comedies become beloved because the humor is fresh, the story is new, the characters are fun, and everything seems to work succinctly into making a genuinely funny movie.  Then comes the sequel which tries its best to recreate the magic of the first movie by trying too hard or rehashing old jokes that were funny before but tired now (see any: The Hangover II, Legally Blonde II, Caddyshack II, Evan Almighty, Son of the Mask, Major League II, Airplane II, The Whole Ten Yards, Miss Congeniality).  And it hardly ever works save for a few lucky gems (see: Hot Shots Part Deux, Christmas Vacation, Home Alone 2).  It's nearly impossible to find a good comedy sequel and aside from Christmas Vacation, I challenge you to find one that's better than the original.  However, there is something good that comes out of a comedy sequel that doesn't out of films in a different genre: and that's laughter.  Whether the movie is on par with its predecessor or a complete waste of time, it doesn't matter in a comedy sequel because there will almost always be at least one scene that makes you laugh.  I knew Horrible Bosses wasn't going to live up to the original, but I also knew that even if it was a pile of piss, there would still be scenes and moments to make me laugh.  And I was right.

Horrible Bosses 2 tells essentially the same story as the first one with a slight twist (think: The Hangover 2 is exactly the same as the first movie, but the twist is that they're in Thailand).  This time around our three "heroes" (can they really be considered heroes?) have invented the Shower Buddy, an all inclusive shower experience that saves time and money.  A big business mogul (Christoph Waltz) invests in their company and orders 500,000 units of the buddy.  However, once they've produced the product, Waltz backs out of the deal, steals the idea, and screws over our "heroes" royally.  So, like most sane human beings they decide to kidnap his son (Chris Pine) for the ransom of $500,000.  Some twists and turns occur along the way (like the son being in on the plan wanting to screw over his father as much as our three do, as well as old characters showing up, ie-- Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx).  That's pretty much the brunt of it.  The fun is watching these three idiots muff up every plan they come up with and getting themselves out of it.  The movie offers little more than this.

Let's start with the good-- Charlie Day (at his most Charlie Day-est) is on point with the laughs.  He is the central laugh provider of the film.  Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is comedy gold.  Also, the plans that they come up with are enough out there that it keeps you wondering exactly how things are going to go wrong, and when they do, how in the hell they're going to get out of a jam.  Like most comedy sequels, it still does provide a lot of laughs.  Most of them may come cheaply, but there's enough here to provide any movie goer enough laughs worth the price of admission.

Now the bad-- Everything else.  I want to first question the entire reason of casting Christoph Waltz!  Why in the hell was he in this?  He doesn't add anything funny to the film and he's not badass enough to want to be in it.  Also, he's only in it probably a good six or seven minutes of screen time, if that.  I have no clue, other than a sizable paycheck, why he'd agree to be in the film in the first place.  Second, the humor in it is very weak.  I don't mean from the characters because they do the best they can, but from the "outlandish" situations they find themselves in.  There's a scene where silhouettes look like they're jerking off Jason Sudekis when really everything is innocent (hello Austin Powers), a scene where Bateman is in a Sexaholics Anonymous meeting, yet he thinks he's in an AA meeting and everything that comes out of his mouth could be taken a different way under different circumstances.  The guys hide in a closet but accidentally release laughing gas and wind up getting the giggles and passing out.  It's as if the writers watched every comedy made in the 90s and decided to replicate the humor for a new generation.  As if the "getting high accidentally" joke had been dormant for so long, everyone forgot about it until it's newfound awakening in Horrible Bosses 2.

Most of the returning characters didn't really add much to the movie.  Kevin Spacey gives advice from jail and screams profanity, however, there wasn't much funny to it.  Jennifer Aniston returns to say horrendously vulgar things to everyone, yet we've already seen it.  The beauty about the first movie is we got to see actors in roles we'd never seen them play before.  Kevin Spacey as a douchebag boss, sure, but in a comedy?  Never.  Jennifer Aniston... and the things that came out of her mouth... it was so outlandish and unexpected that it was hilarious!  Colin Farrell as a fat, balding coke head made the movie!  Yet, here, there's nothing added to the characters to continue that feeling of surprise.  When Aniston does the same old thing... we've heard it.  It's not unexpected for her to be raunchy.  We expect it.  What more can you give her character? Which, again, leads me back to my question as to why Waltz decided to take on the role?  He plays the character very straight and there's nothing strange or quirky about him other than that he has a faint german accent.  Chris Pine is fine as the spoiled, vengeful son, but there's nothing extra to the character to lend to the comedy.  Even Jason Bateman, who I'm a fan of played it a little to straight-man for this movie.  Charlie Day was able to scream and wild-card his way through the film and give us plenty of laughs, but bouncing off Bateman gave Day the laughs.  And Sudekis... I don't even know what to say.  I like him a lot.  He's incredibly funny.  But he's got a very unique comedic style that is overt, yet dry.  And I don't think it works in a movie like this.

For all its faults, Horrible Bosses 2 isn't that bad of a movie.  There will be at least one scene that will make you laugh.  But as for watching it again... probably once is enough.  I assume until it stops making money that there will be more and more of them, which I'm actually okay with.  Only if they decide to bring in big actors (it's funnier if they don't usually partake in comedy) with quirks so different from what we've seen from them and put them in outlandish situations that are relevant to today's humor.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I: An Overtly MIDDLE Movie

I have a problem with Mockingjay Part I.  I have a pretty significant problem with it that may or not impede my ability to judge this film unbiased. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the first movie franchise in history to split its final book into two films.  They didn't do it out of greed, but the book was simply just too long and too epic to contain into one movie.  That being said, it actually could've been one five hour movie, but once you hear that you'll be spending five hours of your day inside of a movie theater, most patrons are turned off and the film loses money.  So, it was still monetarily beneficial, but that wasn't the only actual reason it did it.  It split the movies into two in order to fit as much source material onto the screen as they could in order to stay true to the book and please the fans.  It was a lovely gesture that has turned into something awful.  While Harry Potter 7 was almost necessary because of it's epicness, detail, and length... the same could not be said for TwilightTwilight went and took it upon itself to consider it in the same league as Harry Potter and decided it was too epic to make the last one in just one movie.  Wrong.  This is where the trend of splitting up the last movie started to unravel into something festeringly greedy.  Shit, go read The Hobbit.  It's not that long of a book!  Yet, we're on the THIRD MOVIE.  Yes, movie fans, Hollywood has greedily, and successfully turned a 276 page book into three two and a half hour movies.  So, this is the problem I have with Mockingjay.  It's a clearly incredibly greedy film in that it could've been told as one film and been fine... and it's obvious.

So, what about the story?  A lot of times I like to read the book before the movie or vice versa depending on the film.  I, indeed, read the first Hunger Games book before seeing the movie, but I then became one of those snooty little boners who was all pissy because they left shit out and didn't go into detail in other shit.  I'm the guy defending the Harry Potter movies because they only inserted what was necessary to the plot. Sure, a lot of sub-plots were missed out on, but none of the important stuff.  They put in literally as much as they could.  But, I'm sitting there during the first one nitpicking every little thing they changed or got wrong or that was just different in my own head and I enjoyed it less than I probably should've.  So, I decided not to read the second book before the movie, just to see how it compared.  The second one was great.  Even better than the first one.  I heard a couple of boners behind me talking about how it was missing all these things from the book and there I was smiling, blissfully ignorant. So, I implored the same judgement with Mockingjay, decided to skip the book until after.  Maybe this was a mistake.

Katniss has been rescued from the games and sent to District 13 (a previously assumed destroyed district with no survivors left).  They live underground in a sort-of military compound with the rebels ready to strike a hard hitting rebellion against The Capitol.  Down there is Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who, thankfully, turned out to be a good guy.  He is working with the President of District 13 (Julianne Moore) on convincing Katniss to be the face of the rebellion and make propaganda films in order to get the other districts behind her and rebel in order to have a chance at winning the war.  Of course while she is the face of the rebellion, Peeta is now the face of The Capitol telling the rebels to cease attack or they will all die.  And that's pretty much the movie.  Katniss goes out, makes these films, the Capitol retaliates, then the rebels retaliate, then The Captiol and so on and so forth.  It builds up to a full-scale rebellion that doesn't actually happen and we're going to have to wait another year in order to see.

The movie is enjoyable.  It's actually pretty clever how they managed to take what appears to be about an hour's worth of material and double it in length.  But, it's easy to see behind that Katnilabra.  Jennifer Lawrence, of course, is great again.  She's actually less whiny in this film than she's been in the previous two, which is nice.  When she gets all screechy and whiny, it tends to turn me off to her as an actress.  But, since American Hustle, she's matured a lot as an actress and it shows here.  Sadly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is incredible.  As always.  He's always, to me, been one of the most watchable actors in Hollywood.  It was hard to watch him in this, smirking the entire time, and thinking about how this is one of the last times I'll ever get to be amazed for the first time by one of his performances.  Liam Hemsworth as Gale.  Whewwww.  What can I say about Gale?  Well, I haven't read the final book yet (you better damn well believe I'm not waiting a year to find out what happens in this bitch, I'm reading it NOW!),  however, I do have one firm belief about Gale-- this fool needs to DIE.  Now.  Seriously couldn't be more of an annoying character.  I love Katniss.  Oh good she loves me.  Oh, she loves Peeta.  Oh she's pretending I'm still in my sad face.  Oh now she really loves Peeta.  Real sad face.  Now she loves me but only because I'm hurting.  Katniss has a hurting fetish.  Sad face.  I'm sad face all day now....  I hate Gale.  I don't know if it's the writing of the character or the acting by the Hemsworth, but I can not stand Gale and am anxiously awaiting his demise.  Don't let me down!

While I didn't hate the movie (in fact, it REALLY made me want to watch the second one and now read the whole book), I hate the fact that they split it into two movies simply for the money.  Artistic integrity was clearly thrown out the window in lieu of profit.  That's fine.  Hollywood is a business, but when it interferes with the quality of a story, I feel like that's stepping all over what movies were initially intended for in the first place.  The whole movie could've been two and a half to three hours long and people would've still lined up for it.  Hell, look at the last Transformers movie.  Until this film, it was the highest grossing film of 2014.  Michael Bay don't give no shits about movie length, he'll do what he wants and make billions.  But, the collective narrative time that Mockingjay Part I really has is about an hour.  I know the rebellion is going to be massive in scale, but make it two hours, slap the first hour to it and have one epically amazing final movie that people are going to remember forever.  Truly, I enjoyed Part one, but it's never going to be anyone's favorite.  It's never going to stand out as the Empire Strikes Back of The Hunger Games series.  It's a middle movie that does a lot of middle things in order to get to the end, which is what we're all waiting for anyway.

It's necessary to see, and it's pretty enjoyable.  You're just going to be able to see exactly what was stretched in order to make 60 minutes into 123.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To: Just When You Thought They Couldn't Make A Sequel, They Go And Do Something Like This... And Totally Redeem Themselves!

How does one even begin to review a sequel to one of the greatest comedies in American cinema?  Anyone born in the mid to late 80s and on grew up on Dumb and Dumber.  Quotes from the movie are used as common discourse among fans even to this day.  Had a sequel been made a year or two years after the original came out it probably would've tried its best to recreate the magic of the original and failed miserably putting an end to Harry and Lloyd.  Instead, a prequel was released and will go down in history as one of the worst movies ever made.  But, give it twenty years... and it's a crapshoot whether or not history will be made again.

While Dumb and Dumber To pales in comparison to the original (because let's face it, it's solid comedy gold that will never be touched again), I didn't hate this movie.  Let's jump back a second.  The original film was such an important movie to me.  Growing up I knew I wanted to be like Jim Carrey, but Dumb and Dumber solidified that for me.  It was a movie that I liked for the silliness as a child, a movie I liked for the sight gags as a teenager, and I movie I love for its cleverness as an adult.  It's one of the rare films of my life that can still make me laugh to this day.  Much like Shawshank Redemption, Dumb and Dumber never fails at being on cable.  And even though I've seen it more than probably any movie in existence, I'll still turn it on... and crack up.  I'll notice new jokes.  Remember old favorites.  Relish in the delight of a new clever one-liner I never got as a younger man.  ("I desperately want to make love to a school boy!")  Creating a sequel is as bold a feat as creating three more Star Wars movies.  There is a VERY high expectation and a lot of room for failure.  I can say confidently that Dumb and Dumber To did not fail.

This time around it's twenty years later and Harry and Lloyd are back on the road again.  One of Harry's kidneys are failing and he's in desperate need of a transplant.  He learns from an old postcard that his long lost beau, Fraida Felcher birthed a daughter of Harry's.  So, Lloyd and Harry hit the old road again in search of his daughter in order to ask her for one of her kidneys.  It's good that the Farrelly brothers knew that the best place to keep the two idiots is on the road.  If they stick around in one spot too long the joke wears off.  Keep giving them rich new places to go and they'll find ways of screwing everything up in hilarious ways.  So, putting them back on a road trip was the right step.

But, here's the difference... Harry and Lloyd are NOT the same characters as the original.  I was able to tell this immediately from the trailer, which was one of the main reasons I was worried about the movie being good in the first place.  What the first film did that was so ingenious was they made their characters-- and this is going to sound very contradictory--  subtly as well as obviously dumb.  What I mean by this is that Harry and Lloyd, on the outside, from a bystander's perspective, are normal dudes.  Their idiocy is subtle most of the time- like Lloyd misunderstanding an Austrian accent for someone from New Jersey and then following it up with a bad impersonation of someone from Australia.  Or when Lloyd tries to convince Harry to go to Aspen and his reaction is "I don't know, Lloyd, the French are assholes", it's said with conviction.  Like these guys GENUINELY don't know these facts.  They're not over-the-top with their numbskullery, it's done with subtlety.  However, when it does get obvious-- like Harry licking the ski lift bar, or Lloyd falling off the jetway (again)-- it's very obvious.  But the characters aren't complete morons.  They're the type of guys that use phrases like "beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano" but have no idea what it means.  Jeff Daniels especially plays Harry with the most conviction.  It was a brilliant and unfamiliar line they walked with these characters and it's something we haven't seen since.

This time around there is zero subtlety.  Like I said earlier, they're not the same characters.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, either.  Just different.  They don't play the characters as straight men doing dumb things.  They play them as dumb men doing dumb things.  Jim Carrey has reverted back to his In Living Color days of being a human ball of rubber bouncing off the walls excessively like a little kid with ADHD who just did a line of coke, but most of it actually works in the film.  It's actually refreshing watching Carrey back to his old ways here of being able to let loose, considering he hasn't had a good comedic film released since 2000.  Jeff Daniels here has almost entirely forgotten what the character of Harry was actually like and pretty much gone full retard.  But, somehow, it also works.  In fact, Daniels might even be funnier than Carrey this time.  They've kinda Benjamin Button-ed themselves-- de-aged and regressed into drooling, selfish, lovable, idiot three year olds.  But, somehow, and I can't even begin to explain how, it  works.  It's like they couldn't figure out how to match the brilliance of the first movie and based a new film entirely around "do you want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?"  It's one of the most iconic scenes of the original, but not exactly the most elegant or profound of scenes.

Most of the gags land.  Some don't.  The ones that don't will illicit eye rolling, but it's not long before the laughter resumes.  After having gone back and surveyed all of the movies I've seen this year, I can confidently say that Dumb and Dumber To is, by far, the funniest movie of 2014.  There are moments where I was laughing so hard I didn't hear the next five things said that followed the joke.  There were moments where I was physically aware that my cheeks were hurting from laughing.  Yes, it's 99% low brow humor, but instead of playing out a bunch of tired old jokes way past their prime, the movie plays out more like the style of The Naked Gun trading in subtlety for parody.  Harry and Lloyd are a lot less "His head fell off... yeah, he was pretty old" and more about so-bad-they're-actually-funny word puns ("Come on, Harry, she's the fruit of your loom").  They've become caricatures of their former selves to the ninth degree.  And it's not a bad thing.

The characteristics are more inconsistent than they were in the first film.  Lloyd was an illiterate and Harry wasn't.  Lloyd was always coming up with different schemes and Harry would be the voice of reason.  This time it's a free for all of debauchery and both don't seem to have that inner voice telling them that what they're doing is wrong.  Half of what they do and say kind of seem like the Harry and Lloyd of old, but the rest of what they do, you might have to forget about the first movie altogether.  There's a scene in film that is in the trailer where Harry goes to call his daughter and Lloyd answers the phone next to him and they don't realize they're talking to each other.  Not only is it an old re-used gag, but the Harry and Lloyd of '94 would know they were talking to each other.  They were dumb.  But not that dumb.  There's moments like that (see also: the nursing home scene with the old lady) that are very few and far between that remind the viewer that this isn't the original movie.  Also, in the original their stupidity was always inadvertently leading people to assume they were geniuses or criminal masterminds and much more cunning than they actually were.  This one essentially throws that notion out the window.  But, like I've said many times before... it works.

If we hadn't had twenty years to know and love these characters, it probably would've been a throwaway movie.  But since it doesn't have to take the time to convince us that these human cartoons are actually real, we're able to forget all logic and just enjoy the dumb ride.  The humor won't be for everyone and there will probably be a few disappointed people out there expecting more, but the general consensus that I overheard at least a half a dozen times from filmgoers around my theater was that "it was a lot funnier than I expected." And it definitely was.  I didn't hate Anchorman 2, but Dumb and Dumber To succeeds far more after the long wait than Anchorman did.  As a sequel, this movie wouldn't even be able to stand in the same room as the original.  But, as a separate entity entirely with characters and actors we love... it's pretty damn funny and pretty damn good.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Big Hero 6: Impactfully Forgettable

Big Hero 6 reminds me a LOT of The Incredibles by Pixar.  It's actually a funny comparison because this new offshoot animation company for Disney which has been releasing excellent films each year is a lot like Pixar too.  Pixar has essentially been dormant what with missing a few years and releasing average (Monsters University) to below average (Cars 2) sequels to past films.  This new offshoot stepped up to be the new Pixar with fantastic films like Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen which have a Pixar-esque quality to them as if they'd been released by Pixar themselves.  (Have I said Pixar too much yet?)  While Big Hero 6 packs the emotional punch the aforementioned films do as well, it unfortunately suffers from being a mostly forgettable film the moment it's over.

The story follows Hiro, a young robot-building super-genius conning underground robot fighters out of their money with his robot that is far superior.  His older brother Tadashi studies robotics and engineering at the leading school of robotics in San Fransisokyo.  Tadashi, fearing for his young brother's safety, brings him along to the "nerd school" to show him how cool conventional robotics and inventing actually is.  Once Hiro is hooked, now all he needs is an idea.  After some convoluted, yet still not entirely unbelievable plot scenarios, Hiro's invention is stolen and Tadashi is killed.  The only remnant Hiro has of Tadashi is Tadashi's own invention: Baymax, an inflatable robot doctor.  The two form a bond and end up gathering together a super team of high-tech heroes in order to stop the man who killed Tadashi and threatens their great city.

So, what separates Big Hero 6 from the slew of all the other superhero movies out right now?  Well, other than the fact that it's animated... essentially nothing.  Big Hero 6 actually spawns from its own Marvel comics, though it doesn't connect to any of the other movies.  But, yeah, it's another superhero movie.  Granted, the one thing it has going for it is that Disney charm.  You know how in Up you cried like a baby during the first four minutes of the movie over characters you hadn't even gotten to know yet?  Yeah, Disney has that way about them.  Tadashi's death not only weighs heavily upon Hiro, but upon all of us viewers as well.  We want Hiro to avenge his death just as much as he does.  Disney knows how to tug hard at your emotional heartstrings.  This film is no different.  In fact, it may tug just a little bit harder.  (Though not as hard as Up.  Dear God that was rough.  Nothing has ever been that sad in the history of the world.)

It's also very high tech.  Yes, it's an animated movie so it gets away with a lot of physical impossibilities that normal live action movies just wouldn't be able to.  However, it still pushes the boundaries of believability.  It doesn't come out of nowhere.  They properly set up the "power" of each member of the team, Tadashi's old classmates who each have their own specialty.  Then, there's Fred, voiced perfectly by T.J. Miller, who has no skill, no brain, and no power whatsoever other than giving each classmate a hilarious nickname.  He just has the drive.  So, it makes sense when Hiro has to design a power specifically for Fred, who is arguable the best comic relief of the movie, even over Baymax.  I read that Miller even improvised most of his lines, which I can only assume was a good thing.

But, it's the relationship between Baymax and Hiro that really steals the show.  Baymax is caring and thoughtful and a physical representation of the memory of Tadashi.  Plus, when his battery is almost entirely out, he acts like someone whose had one two many shots of Jaeger.  Yeah, white girl wasted.

The movie itself is solid, and I really had no complaints about it.  But, it's been three days since I've seen it and I'm having a hard time remembering the specifics of the movie.  I think back and go, "yeah, that was a great film", but it's hard to remember what exactly I thought was so great about it.  It's one of those movies you're going to sit and thoroughly enjoy and recommend to others, but probably never see again.  This is how I felt about The Incredibles.  I understand that this is a favorite Pixar film of a lot of people, but to me it was just an entertaining movie while I saw it and nothing more.  It was nothing that I felt I had to see again like I did with some of the other Pixar greats like Toy Story and Wall-E.  It feels like a weaker movie than it's two predecessors, Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen which had a TON of buzz surrounding both.  But, Big Hero 6 just kind of sits in theaters where people walk out talking how good it was and then forget the whole movie by the next morning.

It's a great film, don't get me wrong... it's just not a long-lasting film.  But, it's definitely worth a look.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): The Unexpected Return Of Michael Keaton

Birdman is a very unexpected movie (as the title would suggest) in this year's catalog of half-assery in the box office.  I've been very unimpressed in this year as a whole when it comes to film.  There have been some decent films and some surprise gems, but overall there are only a handful of movies that are going to hang around and stand the test of time.  I truly believe Birdman will be one of those films.

We begin with Riggan hovering a foot or so in the air meditating while his darker, deeper-voiced altar ego narrates his dissatisfaction of the current situation he's in.  Soon, Riggan stands and begins his play rehearsal as the camera follows him around without a single cut.  He joins fellow actors on the stage and a hanging stage light falls hitting his co-star in the head and knocking him out cold.  Riggan believes he caused this with his mind, but that may or may not be the case.  It's only a few days until the curtain opens on his new play that he adapted, directed and is starring in based off a short story by Raymond Carver.  This is to be Riggan's comeback into the acting world.  He's a has-been.  The washed up remains of a late 80s star of the superhero flick "Birdman" and its sequels.  This is not unlike Keaton's own story of being a big star in the 80s and 90s, starring in Batman, and then fading into obscurity for a decade or so.  This play is to be Riggan's comeback.  This movie is to be Keaton's.

Riggan, in desperate need of an acting replacement and someone who will put asses into seats, hires Mike (Edward Norton), a theater veteran with a serious temper and control problem.  He wreaks havoc on the set with his attitude, yet still manages to be the best part of the entire play.  Riggan struggles with his daughter (Emma Stone), recently released from rehab, his ex-wife (Amy Ryan), his fellow actors (Naomi Watts) and his lawyer (Zach Galifinakis) all the while trying to piece together and perfect his comeback performance. The problem with Riggan is that he's very unsure about his place in the world.  He used to be a big star and the only part of his past that is left is the voice in his head... himself as Birdman.

What's great about the film is that it's not about an actor trying to find his place in the arts again, but it's about the integrity of art as a whole.  Riggan and Mike clash because Mike doesn't have respect for Riggan as an actor, since he comes from film.  Mike is a prima donna and a control freak who Riggan clashes with because he feels he's trying to take away the righteousness of the play.  There's even a Broadway renowned critic who decides she's going to write a scathing review of the play before she's even seen it in order to keep Hollywood actors from corrupting the beauty that is the stage.  What everyone except Riggan fail to realize is that he's put just as much heart and soul into his play as anyone possibly could.  He's ostracized his family, gone completely broke, and almost corrupts his sanity in order to put on a play that he is most passionate about; an homage to the person that inspired him to be an actor in the first place. 

What the film is explaining (in most bizarre and hilarious ways) is that it doesn't matter who the artist is or where the art comes from-- it's still art and there's no reason to belittle it based on a past history.  The film has many bizarre moments with Riggan thinking he is able to superhuman stuff and it maintains the "single shot" gimmick throughout its entirety.  However, unlike he last movie to pull it off, Silent House, the whole movie being a single shot isn't just a gimmick here.  It isn't distracting.  You don't find yourself trying to figure out where the director could've possibly faked a continuous shot, but had to cut instead.  It fits in with the theme of the film.  Not only does it represent everything that a stage play is-- one continuous take with no do-overs-- but it's also another form of filmmaking art.

Keaton is amazing in this movie.  If there was ever a movie made for a return to the big time it's this (think also John Travolta in Pulp Fiction or Robert Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).  He plays Riggan with a weird sense of honesty.  He knows that everything going on in his mind is false and doesn't play up that he's anything other than a desperate washed up actor doing whatever he can to make it back.  Had gay little Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler not turned in such a phenomenal performance, the gold would be Keaton's in a second.  Not unlike Keaton's previous superhero franchises, the man can truly play two-faced.  And we appreciate both of them.

I loved this movie.


Interstellar: 78% Great

Personally, I believe Christopher Nolan is the Spielberg of the modern era.  He's one of the few directors that not only makes great films, but is also highly regarded in Hollywood.  He's one of the few that fans recognize by face and name and will get lines out the door waiting to see the first midnight showing of any movie he releases.  He was able to completely reinvent the superhero genre that no one has been able to (or even tried to) recreate.  I know that Inception gets somewhat of a bad rap these days, for God knows why, but you know that when you first saw it you were blown away.  He showed us that he was able to think on a large IMAX-y scale and still provide movies that would challenge viewers and entertain them at the same time.  They're considered popcorn flicks, but the beauty of Christopher Nolan is that when you're watching the film, you forget entirely that you even have popcorn.  There's really only one problem now: he knows this.

Interstellar as of right now has a 78% fresh rating on  The film is 78% beautiful, fun, fantastic, glorious, magical, wonderful, and great.  It's also 22% shit.  What Nolan has done is upped the ante to the highest degree by giving us a space movie that ultimately has a reach beyond its grasp.  The plot is intriguing enough to get even the lackluster sci-fi fan into a seat.  Essentially the Earth is dying.  There is a "dust bowl" on a global scale.  The dust storms are causing all of the food and crops to die and by the team we begin the film the only vegetable on Earth that still grows is corn.  There is no real military anymore and definitely no NASA.  We meet Coop (McConaughey) a farmer and widower living with his two kids and father-in-law (John Lithgow).  Through a couple of esoteric plot elements Coop and his daughter, Murph, stumble upon NORAD and the hidden space station that's been preparing for a launch for the past ten years.  Everything is led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his ideas that there is a wormhole near Saturn that will take a space ship into a different galaxy and hopefully find a new habitable planet to save mankind.  Coop is recruited to pilot the ship along with Brand's daughter (Anne Hathaway).  From there, they travel into space and this is where the fun really begins.

Everything post-Earth in the film is a magnificent sight to see.  Nolan has created entirely new galaxies and worlds, but he does so in the most theoretically realistic way possible, unlike say a Star Wars or Star Trek new world.  It also becomes a lot more entertaining and exciting for the audience to watch.  There is conflict and danger and edge-of-your-seat action involving characters that you genuinely care about.  However, everything leading up to it felt... I don't know... arrogant?  It's clear that Nolan and his writer brother did extensive research on scientific space and quantum theory in order to make the most realistic depiction of space possible, but it's given to the audience like he's almost showing off.  One of the best things about Nolan's films is that he doesn't baby his audience.  He treats them like intelligent beings, but sometimes it's a little bit too pretentious.  The first forty five minutes of the movie, or so, seems like Nolan stroking himself to his own intellectual abilities and knowledge that a lot is not explained to the audience unfamiliar with any of it.  It's almost as if Nolan is saying, "oh, you're not familiar with this?  That's okay... you'll still get most of it."

Then, there's the third act.  I'm not going to spoil a thing, but it's very 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque.  There needs to be a massive suspension of disbelief and probably two or three more viewings in order to appreciate and understand what goes on in the last twenty minutes of the film.  But, even with multiple viewings there are still two huge questions, or problems solved, that are unanswered.  They just kind of happen.  Like Nolan is saying "oh, you don't get it?  That's okay.  I get it, so it's all good."  These are the 22% that I'm talking about where Nolan is stroking the penis of his intellectuality no the behalf of us filmgoers.

Other than that though, I was totally immersed in the film.  There are some terribly corny lines of dialogue peppered throughout the film, but it kinda felt like it was meant to be.  When a brilliant actor like McConaughey delivers an obviously out-of-place cornball line, it never seems as bad as someone with less skill.  I've always kind of had a problem with Anne Hathaway.  I just think she is cast in roles where she's asked to perform just out of her range and it irks me a little more than it probably should, or that it probably does to any of you.  Jessica Chastain, Michael Cain, Casey Affleck are all wonderful in it.  There's even a surprise cameo that I'm SHOCKED hasn't been leaked by now.  I'm thankful that it hadn't because it was a delightful surprise.

Now, the final problem I'm having here is the grade.  If a term paper is 78% effective, then it earns a C+.  However, the 78% of Interstellar that I liked, was actually genius.  I mean, the dude deserves an Oscar for directing hands down.  It was some of the best 78% of filmmaking I've seen.  It deserves far better than a high C, which means just average.  This shit was beyond average.  However, the 22% that I wasn't fond of kinda took me out of the movie a bit.  I was aware that I was watching a film, I was aware that I wasn't enjoying it... So, I don't know.  In this rare case, I'd have to say that the good far outweighed the bad.  I want to see it again.  Even a few more times because I know I'll be able to catch a few things that I missed, but there are still going to be elements of Nolan's masturbatory space theory that will go unexplained to me and audiences everywhere that will always bug me.

Go see it.  For over three-fourths of the movie you will lose yourself in the majesty of beautiful filmmaking.  Also, don't see it in any other format than IMAX.  I promise you.


Nightcrawler: Gyllenhaal Might Actually Kinda Rule

Um, wow.  I mean, wow.  Watching the film and as soon as it was over... I was speechless.  It's been a full 24 hours since I've seen it and I still can't get over how great this movie was.  It's great on so many levels too.  The direction, the writing, the acting, the story.  Everything about this movie is the reason that I love movies.  Movies like this is what we, as a society, should be excited about going to see all of the time.  Not sequels.  Not remakes.  Not prequels or spin-offs or adaptations or comic book movies.  I'm getting so tired of Hollywood and losing most of my faith in the film industry for the decisions that they're making about what deserves a wide theatrical release.  Then they hit me with Nightcrawler-- singlehandedly one of the most original movies I've ever seen in my life.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom a shitty little man who steals copper wiring for a living.  He's a sociopathic psycho with large hints of Aspbergers.  He thinks he's a smooth talker reciting bouts of information and self-help dribble he no doubt memorized off the internet.  He actually comes off as a smooth talker, too, but most people are able to see behind the voice and into the mind of a genuine creep.  While driving one night he witnesses a car crash on the freeway.  As he gets out to help, a couple of creep-ass news guys appear on the scene and film the cops saving the life of a bloodied up girl with no intention whatsoever to offer any help or intervene.  This is the perfect job for Bloom.  He steals a bike, pawns it for cash, purchases a camcorder and sets out to film hurt or dead people for the local news station.

What Gyllenhaal has done here that is so brilliant is invents a character that has no moral compass whatsoever.  He's a leach that, in the beginning of the film, is looking to take any sort of job that is thrown his way.  He's also a very violent and repressed individual.  His blank stare and emaciated features only lend to amplify the creepiness exhibited from this character.  He doesn't talk to humans as if they're on his level.  He's got an arrogance that stops people dead in their tracks and he's essentially a pathological sociopath (if there is such a thing) that it turns him into a wildcard and will keep you afraid of him because he could literally do anything.  If he doesn't win an Oscar for this film, I don't know what else he could do to win one.  It's the best performance I've seen in film this year and is hands-down the winner in my book.  Sorry, Michael Keaton.  You really did have a shot.

The movie is also incredibly original.  They say there's nothing new under the sun and every story now is based, even slightly, off something else.  If that's true, then you fooled me.  I've never seen anything like this movie.  I was so impressed with everything.  First time director Dan Gilroy takes an almost Michael Mann direction with the film, except he does it with style and succeeds where Michael Mann continues to fail miserably.  That's legitimately the closest comparison I could come up with for the film.  The main character is reprehensible, yet you can't turn away.  The side characters are actually human beings that react as if you or I was in the situation.  You're afraid of Lou, but also want to see what happens next.  He's able to manipulate even the strongest of characters in Rene Russo.  It's unbelievable filmmaking and one hell of a great movie.


St. Vincent: The Patron Saint Of White People Movies

It's funny, I was just talking about the common white people movie in my review for This Is Where I Leave You and how it's been kinda done to death and there's a million of these movies out why do we need more?  Okay, I still feel this way, but I'm willing to accept them if they're done well.  There's something about a coming-of-age movie that really just warms the cockles of your heart, right?  One of my favorite movies of all last year was The Way, Way Back.  Yeah, it was about a white kid who is looked after by an older white guy teaching him how to be a man because of all the white problems he has at home.  But, I loved it.  St. Vincent is no different.  It's The Karate Kid, it's About A Boy, it's a thousand other movies dealing with kids who have unusual mentors that teach them the way of the world.  They're all decent white films.  And so is St. Vincent.

Newcomer writer/director Theodore Melfi tells the story of Oliver (also newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) and his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moving to a new town escaping from her ex in order to start a new life for the two of them.  Maggie, unfortunately, is the sole breadwinner of the house and works long hours at a hospital.  Due to some bullying at the school, Oliver's keys and phone are stolen from him and he is left with no option than to seek help from his crotchety drunk neighbor Vinny (Bill Fuckin' Murray).  Vin is the focus of the film and generally wants nothing to do with anyone, much less a child.  However, due to his serious lack of funds, he sees a monetary opportunity with watching the child and making money for his time.  He's not a very sympathetic character, but he's not without his charm.  Like all the other white movies, he winds up bonding with the child and teaching him how to be a man.  Also like all the other white movies, Oliver ends up teaching Vinny a thing or two about himself as well. It's a story that's been told several times before, but as long as it's told well, it's not a story we mind watching again and again.

It's honestly just the Bill Murray show for most of the movie, but everyone else pulls their own weight.  It's refreshing to see Bill Murray come out from whatever hiding place he's been in and let loose with a character as crotchety and hilarious as Vin.  The kid, though, is so cute.  He's like a human puppy you want to watch succeed.  He's not written like most of the "weirdo" kids of this genre.  He's actually a very normal, incredibly polite child.  He's not socially awkward.  He's not a super geek.  He's just unfortunately too scrawny for his age and that, also unfortunately, is all kids need today in order to make someone's life hell.  Murray is the perfect person to teach this kid how to stand up for himself.  And the kid, for this being his first movie, does a fine job as well.  McCarthy isn't anything spectacular here because the role isn't that complicated, but she's able to, at least very briefly, showcase her acting range a little bit.  She didn't fall down once during the movie and that was nice.  Chris O'Dowd who plays Oliver's priest/teacher is FANTASTIC and clever and witty and... sadly, only in the movie for a few minutes.  He could give Murray a run for his money.  All of the characters are great except for Naomi Watts' character of a Russian prostitute that Vinny sorta hangs out with and kinda loves.  It was almost an unnecessary character and definitely an unnecessary accent.  There was really no reason to make her Russian.  It didn't detract from the movie, but it was a bit of a distraction.

It's nothing that needs to be seen immediately, but I'd recommend shoving St. Vincent into some sort of movie queue in the near future.  While it won't change your life or win any awards, it is something most decent human beings will enjoy.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Horns: Strange As Hell

Horns is a strange film to review.  I feel like everything I have to say about it I already said about the movie Tusk which also features long pointy bone-like things poking from human skin where it doesn't normally belong.  There will always be some sort of strangeness attached to the pitch of a psycho turning a human into a walrus, but Tusk upped that strange factor to a hundred.  The same can be said for Horns.  When you explain that you've got a film with Daniel Radcliffe sprouting Devil horns from his head... there's going to be an aura of strangeness attached to it.  Now, while I wasn't AS weirded out or uncomfortable watching Horns as I was watching Tusk... it was a strange damn film.

Horns, based off of a novel written by Stephen King's son, has been in a bit of distribution purgatory for the last year and a half.  It was finished awhile ago and hasn't been able to be released by a major distribution company until now.  And, even now, it was kind of just dropped into select theaters in time for Halloween without any sort of major advertising for the film.  I'm guessing half of you reading this didn't even know about the movie until now.  To me, it's a very marketable movie... but the outcome... isn't going to be for everyone.

Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe plays Ig, a young man whose girlfriend has just been murdered and the blame has been pinned solely on him.  One morning he wakes up with devil horns growing out of his forehead and the newfound ability of getting everyone around him to confess their deepest, darkest secrets.  He figures out that he can use this power to a. manipulate people into doing whatever he wants of them and b. finding out who actually killed his beloved. Oh, and Heather Graham has a minor role in the movie.  Seriously... what happened to Heather Graham?  I mean, I know she's not the best actress anyone has ever seen, but she's starting to seem desperate.

The problem here with this story, and I can't speak on behalf of the book seeing as how I haven't read it... is that there's a bit too much mixing of genres going on and not a smooth enough way to transition between all of them.  Horns can easily be marketed as a horror film, though it's not very scary (there is one unexpected jump scare that is great, though).  It could also be marketed as a dark comedy, though the actual comedic moments are a bit too few and far between.  It could be marketed as a fantasy or a drama or a mystery or a thriller.  It weaves through genres so quickly, it never really gets hold of its bearings.

I thought giving the film to horror director Alexandre Aja was a very ingenious idea.  He's actually quite a clever horror director.  He jumped onto the scene with the (mostly) great High Tension that will scare the bejesus out of you for 95% of the film and then completely blow it in the last 5%.  Then, he took the reigns of the Hills Have Eyes remake, which I also thought was very well done.  Finally, he took the reigns for the Piranha 3D remake that was unbelievably outstanding.  Successfully weaving comedy and horror together to make one hell of a film was exactly what I was expecting from Horns.  And while there were great Aja moments in the film, it wasn't as cohesive a movie as it could have been.  Though, I'm guessing the source material was a little harder to film than was expected.

So, to see Horns or to not see Horns?  Well, my first instinct would be for you to look up the trailer on youtube.  If it piques your interest... do it.  I'm not saying I recommend anyone to see it because it's so off-kilter I have no idea which of you will actually enjoy the strangeness that will befall upon you.  But, what I can say is to probably watch it at home.  There's honestly no need to rush out to the theater and pay $167 a ticket when it's already up on Amazon Prime for ten bucks.  If any of you do see it, however, let me know what you thought.  For what it's worth, it's a great conversation film.