Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fury: An (Assumedly) Apt Depiction of War

It's very easy to be able to watch a shit movie and open up my blog template and let all of my hate-filled emotions drive me to write one hell of a scathing review.  What's difficult, sometimes, is writing about how great a movie is.  It's difficult in some aspects because if it is so great a movie, most of the time it was expected to be a great movie and all of the reasons you wanted to watch it... is what makes it great.  So, persuading you by telling you that Brad Pitt is a fantastic actor and that watching him in this movies feels like what all actors should aspire to be like... is kind of pointless... as well as cliche.  It's easier, of course, to explain why a movie was great when everyone thought it would be awful.  Like Hercules or John Wick.  But, did anyone think that Fury was going to be a shit movie?  Did anyone think that Brad Pitt would phone in his role?  Is there anyone who is on the fence about his movie that would be persuaded to go see it just because I say that it's good?  I'm guessing not.

But Fury is a great film.  For many reasons.  The most important is yes, the acting.  These five men have more faults than redeeming qualities, yet you fall in love with them.  They're able to convey their characters through their emotions, through their actions, through their expressions without ever having to state them blatantly.  This is what makes good movies: good characters.  I feel as though I hammer this point rather frequently, but it happens so infrequently in movies that, perhaps, I emphasize it when I see it because it still surprises me.  Fury is the tale of the five men who man the tank, aptly named Fury, rolling through Germany in the heart of World War II.  They end up having a five vs. three-hundered man fight towards the end.  It's that simple.  There's no grandiose message of politics or war.  Yes, we gather that war is the utmost Hell a man can get into... but it's just a simple story of a few heroes in World War II who wound up facing a tough fight and not giving up.  For that, I applaud them.

However, as heroic as it sounds... and is... the movie is grim.  It is dark.  It is an unromanticized depiction of war.  There is nothing to lighten the mood.  There are hardly any happy conversations had throughout the movie.  These guys are seeing and doing the most heinous acts a human being can do and it's very waring.  I, as a privileged white male who has never even really seen an animal killed, can only imagine the horrors of seeing a person killed/killing said person can do to a man.  And, as a privileged white male who has never been in combat before, I cannot directly account for this statement, but I've heard it true elsewhere: that this depiction of war is one of the most accurate depictions ever filmed.  And I believe it.  It's awful.  Bullets fly like rain drops.  They sweep over you when you least expect it.  There's no time for grieving.  There's no energy for humor.  You're always on guard.  You're always looking for someone to kill you.  And, in the end... there's no mercy.

While it's not the most fun movie to watch and laugh at and genuinely have a good time at... it is amazing to witness.  Sure, you'll feel like shit walking out of it, but in a good way.  Not in a... you just watched Annabelle way.  The performances are outstanding, Pitt and LaBeouf especially.  And it's great to see David Ayer (who also wrote Fast and the Furious) able to mature into a great writer/director.  This is one of the best war movies in a decade.  It's gorgeous to watch, just a little difficult to stomach.  See it in theaters.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

John Wick: Keanu Does What Everyone Wants To Do To People Who Kill Dogs Onscreen

"I know kung-fu."
"Something from 'Speed'"

This is what we remember from Keanu Reeves.  The man has essentially become a walking joke of beach-bum valley-valley boy brainlessness.  He never really got much respect.  He started where he should've: Bill and Ted.  That is his acting range.  Then, was given a chance to show that he could be an action star in Speed and Point Break and actually kinda proved everyone wrong.  Then came The Matrix which should've showcased Keanu as one of the best action stars of the late 90s.  But, he had to do sequels.  And they had to get heavier and more philosophical and a lot shittier.  So, instead of being able to write action vehicles for Keanu in the early 2000s, he was committed to doing sequels to a movie that really should've been able to stand on its own.  After that, he faded into The Lake House obscurity.  Okay, why did I just have to give you an entire history of Keanu's rise and fall from stardom?  Because... this SHOULD'VE been the movie to bring him right back into mainstream Hollywood.  It SHOULD'VE been the movie that would allow him to not have to make another 47 Ronin.  It SHOULD'VE been his comeback film.  And it's definitely good enough to be so.  But, none of you are going to see it, are you?

John Wick is good. Like, really good. It actually provides everything that someone looking for a straight up balls to the wall action movie is looking for.  What most of these movies are missing is either a decent plot or good character development.  Most action films don't want to get bogged down in character, opting instead to get right down to the action.  What John Wick does so great is that it gives us perfect character development and it only wastes about thirty seconds of the movie to do so.  Keanu plays the title character John Wick.  He's just lost his wife to an illness.  He's clearly downtrodden until he receives a package late a night later containing a puppy his wife has left to him so that he may grieve with someone.  Keanu, with the tough exterior, bonds with the puppy and winds up looking like he finds some semblance of happiness.  However, some Russian thugs break into his house to steal his car and wind up... yeah sorry... killing the puppy along the way.  This pisses him off something fierce.  This is when we find out that John Wick is no average dude.  He used to be a hired killer.  An unstoppable force.  No one fucks with this guy.  No one.  He kills the people that hire him to kill people.  He's a killing machine.  And someone killed his dog.  Not good.  So, yes... he spends the rest of the movie killing his way to reconciling his wife's death.

And that's it.  Seriously.  It's Keanu with a shit load of guns killing a shit load of people.  There's a lot more fun to it, but I don't want to spoil anything.  Keanu is actually really good in it too.  His Wick character never really strings together more than three words in a sentence... and doesn't talk all that often, but the scene in which he finally explodes outward all that he's been holding inside... this is where we want our Keanu back.  Sure, there's an acting line that Keanu can't really cross... the line outside his talent zone.  He's never going to be an Academy Award winner.  Ever.  He's never going to be a DiCaprio or do the things Hanks can do or become the characters Daniel Day-Lewis becomes.  But... inside that zone that Keanu is capable of becoming... he's at his best in John Wick.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Walk Among The Tombstones: Like A Dirty Harry Film Noir

Man, this movie was cool.  Liam Neeson has an edge about him where he can make crappy movies good and good movies exceptional.  Non-Stop is an example of a crappy movie that by his sheer presence alone, he was able to improve.  A Walk Among The Tombstones is a movie that was good that he made fantastic.  While Neeson still plays the gritty cop with a torrid past, he doesn't feel like any of his other characters.  No, he's not Bryan Mills from the Taken franchise here.  He's a completely new and exciting character with an equally horrific past.

It's also not an action movie.  Though it opens with a fantastic shoot-out that sets the tone immediately for the film... it is a detective noir for the most part.  It's solving a crime and putting together pieces of a very sadistic and intricate puzzle.  Someone has kidnapped a dude's wife.  They ask for ransom.  He pays the ransom.  He doesn't get his wife back.  Instead, she is killed and sent to him in pieces.  So, he goes to Neeson to find the guys who did it so he can kill the shit out of them.  Neeson reluctantly takes the job finding out that the two men responsible for this have been doing this for awhile and are about to do it again unless he can stop them.  In less capable hands this movie could've been a Nic Cage pile of cheese.  But, because someone who has actually studied scripts and has a decent track record tackled the project, what we're left with is a fun, albiet depressing, thrill ride of seeing how Neeson is going to stop these guys.

What's great about Neeson is that he becomes the character he portrays.  And while they all look and, typically, sound the same... they don't always act the same.  Yes, the characters in Taken and Non-Stop are essentially carbon copies of one another... he's able to separate most roles.  He was perfect as Hannibal in The A-Team, in which he was able to accomplish impossible physical feats.  He was dark and troubled in The Grey in which his survival instincts were top notch, but in no way was he sub-human.   Yeah, that movie ends with him rushing towards a herd of wolves with broken bottles taped to his fingers... but if you think he made it out of there alive... you've watched too many Liam Neeson movies.  It's like part of us want him to be super human.  I know I did here.  He's fought and beaten and hurt several times in the movie.  He isn't able to overpower his attackers with sheer force alone.  He isn't able to tap into some past knowledge of snapping a man's neck with his mind.  When he's hit with a baseball bat... he goes down.  I liked that they kept it realistic, but there was an action movie fan in me that wished he would just own people and no one could even bruise him.

It's a good thriller, but don't expect standard Neeson fare.  It's watched more like a good book.  It unfolds slowly revealing it's plot little by little, keeping you interested, keeping you watching more, keeping you realizing why you fell in love with Neeson in the first place.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You: Serious White People Problems

I think I'm going to have to stop predicting what movies that are coming out in the future are going to be good.  Because there seems to be an influx of GREAT movie trailers for movies that are... not so much.  I thought This Is Where I Leave You looked like the funny, serious, poignant dysfunctional family film that we've been waiting for.  Yet, instead of being any sort of resemblance of a movie with any coherence of its characters, story, or message... it winds up being a slightly better regurgitation of Dan In Real Life.  That's not a compliment.

I had a lot of issues with the movie.  The first being the characters themselves.  Yes, Jason Bateman IS Jason Bateman.  He's the same character in everything he's in.  He's inherently likable and very dry witted.  This is what makes him great.  He's got his character down... and it's not for everybody... but those who like the character will probably never tire of the character (unlike that of Michael Cera or Zach Galifinakis or Melissa McCarthy whose characters have all but run themselves into the ground).  So, Bateman is the star of the movie and he's very likable, very watchable.  It's everyone else around him.  Tina Fey.  She's so smart.  She's so funny.  She's shown us her vulnerable side a number of times both on 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live, and to an extent, Admission.  But here... it's like she was asked to do a favor for someone.  She never has more than one expression on her face the entire time... and when she's asked to sob... um... I know you have it in you, girl.  Must've just been an off day.

I'm not too familiar with Adam Driver.  I've never watched Girls, but I figured since he'd been cast as the lead villain in the newest Star Wars trilogy, he's got to have some acting chops.  From this performance alone, I can say that I'm not the biggest Adam Driver fan.  It may have just been the writing, but he tried so hard to convince you that he was the family fuck-up that he irritated everyone.  I was given no moment of clarity with his character where I saw why anyone gave two shits about him, much less why in any universe he'd ever have a fiance.  His comedic timing was also a bit off.  There'd be an attempt at a funny moment, that the viewer could recognize was going to be a funny moment, but somehow his timing would skew it just enough that it wouldn't illicit a laugh.

Actually, the funniest person in the movie was Jane Fonda.  Her character was great as the mourning dirty old mom with a few hidden agendas up her sleeve.  It was hilarious hearing her spout dirty things while her kids, mostly Bateman, cringed.  Yet, she's scarcely used.  Her character should be the second biggest focus of the film, yet we lose her for half hours at a time.  She comes in randomly to say something a little off-colour and then be gone again.  She was amazing, yet the most under-utilized.

Another problem with the movie is that A. there were too many characters in the movie trying to solve too many (a little bit outrageous) problems all at once, but the biggest kick in the dick is that B. THEY'RE ALL HAVING THE SAME EXACT PROBLEM!  Bateman's wife cheats on him with his boss so he's going through a divorce.  Tina Fey's husband is a workaholic asshole who she doesn't love, but loves the guy across the street instead, someone she sleeps with while she's married and will now probably go through a divorce.  Bateman's other brother is married to Bateman's ex and they're trying to get pregnant, but can't, so she opts to try and cheat on her husband with Bateman so she can get a baby.  Adam Driver is a womanizer who has brought home a much older woman... who he cheats on, but can't figure out why she's so uptight and wants to leave her.  Fonda... well, let's just all say that there is SOOOOOOOOO much going on that it's hard to give a shit about any of them.  We're given crazy, yet similar life problems in favor of any real characterization here.  We don't know any of them except by their outer layer.  Bateman is uptight and predictable.  Solid.  Tina Fey is the stressed mother.  Other brother is the hard ass.  Driver is the screw up (and boy do they hammer that point hard).

There was just too much going on all at once that it was difficult to stop and care about anyone at any one time.  These white-people dysfunctional family movies like Dan In Real Life or like The Family Stone all try to do too much and don't focus on the heart of the problem.  The one movie that did everything right, because it used subtlety and actual characters instead of these stock characters we see all the time is Little Miss Sunshine.  That movie showed family dysfunction at its finest and gave equal time to each character.  No one character had a problem that was similar to other and no one problem outweighed the other.  Each character was likable and you knew that though they were dysfucntional... they really couldn't function without each other at all.  None of this could be said for This Is Where I Leave You.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gone Girl: More Twists Than A Bill Paxton Helen Hunt Movie

I saw this movie about a week ago and I've been trying to come up with a good explanation of the movie for my dear four readers out there because it is a pressing issue and you truly NEED to know.  First of all, Gone Girl is brilliant.  Yes.  It is brilliant.  I don't care that it's based off a popular book... it's not fucking Twilight so those of you hesitant to see the movie because you think it's another popular book adaptation like vampires going all crappy Shakespeare or a bunch of kids put together on an island where they have to kill each other in a maze or only one can come out a winner crowned by Donald Sutherland... lock that up now.  This movie is brilliant.  I haven't read the book, but in speaking with a few that have say that it's probably the most faithful adaptation one could ask for.

Ben Affleck... is brilliant.  Take all of those preconceived Reindeer Games and Jersey Girl and Daredevil and Bounce and Changing Lanes Affleck notions out of your head.  They're gone.  This is Good Will Hunting affleck.  This is the Affleck that shows us how he actually became a star to begin with.  He's able to do more in this movie with one look than he did in the entirety of Pearl Harbor, so take that shit out of your brain and shove it up Matt Damon right now.  He's brilliant.

Rosamund Pike... is brilliant.  Is my adjective use of brilliant getting a little too overused?  I don't care.  She was great.  She's one of those actors that you've seen sporadically around for the last fifteen or so years.  She was randomly in a Pierce Brosnan Bond movie a long time ago.  She was just in the wonderful World's End with Simon Pegg last year.  She's an actress who has never really been given that one shot to shine.  Until now.  And I don't want to give anything away... spoiler free I promise... but she plays the character with uncompromising beauty.  I don't mean that in a physical way, either.  Her performance of a very emotionally complex woman is outstanding.  It's bone-chilling really.

David Fincher is... yeah, I know, brilliant.  Whatever.  He's always great.  He picks and chooses his movies perfectly now.  And while most of his movies are all filmed with those dark blues and grey hues, no one movie is the same.  While Gone Girl may have the look of The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Panic Room and The Game and Fight Club... it has an entirely different feel, just as each of the aforementioned movies do.  Fincher is at the top of his game now.  He was able to take a source material, an unpleasantly dark source material, and make something exhilarating to watch.  He's able to make a movie that feels like we're reading a novel.  One of the biggest ploys of the book is that of the unreliable narrator.  It switches perspectives throughout the film so that you're not getting only one side of the story.  This is a little more difficult to do in film.  But Fincher is able to do it smoothly and with ease.  He's able to give one perspective on a character who we begin to like, then hate.  Then another character will come in and we love this person.  Then hate this person.  Then we like the other person again.  Then we hate the other person again.  The flip-flopping of the narrator's perspective lends to so many twists and turns that it's almost hard to keep track.  And they're not done for the sake of fooling the audience.  They're done very organically in order to produce a very compelling story told in a new way.

Gone Girl is a movie that has stuck with me for a good while.  It has a strange cast.  Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry are in the movie.  Perry is used for a bit of comic relief, but not in the Madearrr way we're all used to.  Harris, on the other hand, isn't used for his comedic chops at all.  He's a sinister little prick who everyone will despise and he does it with the acting prowess that this has been his M.O. as an actor forever.  Even Affleck and Pike are strange in this movie.  In the beginning when we're shown how they first met and got together... the acting felt almost fake.  It definitely felt forced and scripted and I didn't believe most of it.  I was immediately unsure of how I would feel about these two in the movie because I already thought they were over-acting.  However, this was the point.  Once the movie dives into the guts of its story and its twists, the acting... changes.  True colors come out.  We see the facade that was easily detectable in the two actors.  They acted like bad actors in order to portray the falseness of their relationship.  That, I believe, is true acting.  It has blown me away.

So, far this is probably the best movie I've seen this year.  There are a few others that I thoroughly enjoyed, but none has stuck with me this much and this long.  As soon as it was over I wanted to see it again.  Shit, I kind of even want to read the book now.  Now, I can't tell you that it's going to be your specific cup of tea because the story truly is, for lack of a better phrase, fucked up.  It's a wildly depressing sight watching this unfold, but it's the intrigue and the mystery that holds your attention.  It is dark and gruesome and an absolute blast to watch.


The Equalizer: Denzel Transcends Disbelief

Denzel Washington has to be the most watchable actor of our time.  Him and Tom Hanks are able to do whatever the hell they want whenever the hell they want.  What's great about those two is they could potentially do a film a year and receive Oscar nominations each year (and probably win a good number of them).  Yet, they still choose to do roles that make them happy.  Hanks, lately, has gone the more Oscar route, but Washington is still having fun.  He is a phenomenal actor who could do any role no matter the difficulty.  Denzel could've thrown on a dress, a fat suit, and a wig and been the entire cast of The Help and won everything.  Denzel could've been the slave in 12 Years A Slave as well as Michael Fassbender's role and won everything.  He could be doing period pieces or Oscar bait movies... yet even while pushing 60, he's still churning out action movies like 2 Guns, Safe House, Unstoppable, The Book of Eli, The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3, Deja Vu, Inside Man, Man on Fire, John Q, etc. only stopping briefly to churn out a rare Training Day or The Hurricane or Antoine Fisher or Flight.  He appears to be having a great time in each of these movies, so it makes sense that Denzel will only act in movies where he can tell by the script it is going to be a pleasant experience.

Now, let's break down The Equalizer a bit.  First off, it's based off a TV show from the 70s.  It has a bit of a superhero quality to it in that this guy essentially becomes a vigilante helping people simply because it's the "right thing to do."  As a normal human being, you or I would not see the any of the crimes that just happen to occur near Denzel.  Yet, he deals with a robbery, corrupt cops, the Russian mafia, a woman-beating and he feels it is his duty to reconcile these problems and set things right. Much like a superhero movie, the amount of crime witnessed here is an absurd amount.  It forces the viewer to majorly suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the film.  However, here is the difference between good writing and bad writing, good acting and bad acting: Denzel is a likable actor, a highly watchable actor and he embodies the roles he takes on.  We believe him as human being therefore we believe any situation he gets himself into.  But, the likability factor can only get him so far.  The writing has to be on par as well.  If the Russian mobsters where caricatures of themselves rather than scary sons o' bitches, then it would've been harder to believe the story.  If the characters Denzel befriends and helps throughout the story hadn't been written as real people it would've been harder to believe.  If the main bad guy had been written even a hair cartoon-ier... it would've been much more difficult to believe.  But, with good acting and good writing, comes good movies.  There is a Nicolas Cage movie that came out this year (that I'm sure you've never heard of) called Rage.  There were similar plot elements to The Equalizer, but it was a terribly written film.  It was lazily directed and half-acted.  I LOVE Nicolas Cage.  I get giddy whenever I see him come out with a new film (which has to be every other month), but this one was so bad it didn't even cross over into so-bad-it's-good territory.  It's the difference of writing and acting.  The same idea put into the hands of a qualified writer, an experienced director and a fantastic actor make the movie a lot more watchable.

Denzel plays Robert, an employee at a Home Depot-esque shop who everyone essentially likes because he's just "a good dude".  He's helping an overweight co-worker to get down in pounds in order to apply for a security job.  He's a good guy not because he wants to reap the rewards of tons of people owing him favors, but because he's genuinely a good guy.  He's also a bit of an insomniac.  Every night he makes his way down to a local diner in order to read his books.  There he meets a friendly prostitute, Teri (Chloe Grace-Moritz), whom he befriends.  All is well and good until she is beaten within an inch of her life by her Russian mob boss pimp.  Robert decides to take this into his own hands and kills the hell out of every Russian funk in the room.  What he doesn't know is that he's essentially taken out every member of the East coast Russian mob hub.  So, the Russian boss sends this badass dude to figure out who made the hit and to take him out so that the Russian mob business can stop losing money.  Robert is obviously against this idea and does everything in his power to make this plan fail.

Is it a great movie?  No.  Is it a highly enjoyable movie?  Yes.  Very much so.  It doesn't set out to make an arthouse film with action in it.  It doesn't set out to preach any sort of half-assed message.  It sets out to be an enjoyable film that action fans alike can and will enjoy.  It's well written, with fully fleshed out characters, but it's aware that its goal is nothing more than to show Denzel Washington beating the piss out of everyone who does wrong.  It's almost like The Punisher but far less gay.  Denzel has never done a sequel, but if there ever was a movie that most people are going to hope for one, this is it.  It won't change your life, but you will have a very enjoyable two hours spent at the movies.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Annabelle: Like Paying $12 For A Nap

I'm seriously giving up on the horror genre this year.  There were some decent-looking entries that wound up flat and unscary and, ultimately, pointless.  Every time I see a new preview for an upcoming horror movie I suddenly get Alzheimer's and convince myself that it won't be helmed by talentless horror hacks trying to spew out something that ten other people have done better.  Last summer, one of the best horror movies of this decade came out: The Conjuring. It was a Hitchcock-esque film that relied on scares not of loud noises or gore... but based on careful filmmaking, great writing, and some seriously terrifying minds.  It was directed by James Wan who also helped to helm Insidious as well as the first Saw.  He knows horror.  He knows every facet of horror and not since the early career of Shyamalan has someone broken onto the horror scene so effectively as James Wan and writing partner Leigh Whannell.  The Conjuring made more than 300 million dollars so there was no doubt there was going to be some sort of prequel, sequel, spinoff, etc.  The most obvious choice was... the Annabelle doll from the beginning of the film.  Had James Wan been any important part of the film other than Producer, I'm guessing we would've gotten a semi-decent, effectively scary film.  Since he wasn't... what we were given was the lamest, most unscary, unsettleingly boring "horror" film this entire year.

I'm quite disappointed in writing this.  I was very excited to see Annabelle.  I was hoping this was the horror movie to break the streak of shite this year.  The first trailer released... which was essentially the beginning of the film... was a pretty frightening and effective trailer.  If the entire film had held that momentum, it would've turned out much differently.  But, what went wrong goes all the way back to the writing.  We meet Mia and John in the 1960s.  Mia is pregnant.  And white.  John is a handsome doctor.  And also white.  They go to church.  They smile.  They are the poster white people of the sixties.  And much like normal white people in the 60s they are the most stale characters concieved for a horror film.  I would've rather watched a virgin, a womanizer, a token druggie, a black guy, and a jock than these two.  They're human yogurt (minus the fruit on bottom).  They're kale.  Except kale looks exciting.  They're pieces of cardboard with lazy human recordings attached to jaws moving up and down.  Nothing either of these two do or converse about has any sort of importance attached to it and all it does is induce a nap.  This is why most people will hate this movie.  They have nothing to talk about that will relate to anyone watching the film.  They talk about white people problems and babies.  There's not even good conversation that leads up to terror.

Well, after some very unnecessary exposition, some shit goes down involving Mia getting stabbed in the stomach and John having to fight off two murderous hippies, the soul of one of the hippies attaches itself to Mia's new creepy murder doll.  From there on, it's following Mia and John in their new home with their new baby.  Mia is haunted by a black statue looking demon who provides the most laughs of the film.  John is... well... a bleached-teeth 60s douche who is never around.  Luckily for Mia, there's handy people around to help her out with her problems like a priest who totally knows everything she's going through.  Also, the older lady who runs the bookstore that leads her straight to the books she needs to read in order to figure out which demon is haunting her.  This all leads up to an annoying ending that involves Mia who may or may not have to sacrifice herself in order to save her child.  I won't say what happens, but normally when a good character is created and there's that life or death dilemma happening, you tend to hope everything works out okay.  Once I figured out exactly what was happening, I was HOPING everyone was dead.  I just wanted to movie to end.  In the first hour, the doll is shown maybe a total of three times.

Oh, and nothing is scary.  Nothing.  Beyond what was shown in the previews there is nothing added that provides any sort of terror to anything.  If you recall from The Conjuring the terror of the Annabelle doll is waiting for it to do something freaky.  Yet, it never does.  If you know this and remember this, then you'll know that it does nothing.  It just looks creepy and makes doors close on their own.  It's sooooooo boring.  I'd rather watch Anna Karenina every day than see this movie again... there's probably more scares too.  I really wanted to give Annabelle an F grade because it basically fails in every aspect it attempts to succeed in... but that would mean that I put it on the same level as Lucy this year.  And fuck Lucy.