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.