Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Hateful Eight: A Reservoir Dogs Western

Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino... self-indulgent, a complete ass-hat, or one of this generation's most brilliant filmmakers... the dude loves movies.  And he loves giving his fans/viewers the ultimate movie experience just as he had when he was a lad. I remember back in 2007 I went and saw Grindhouse in theaters, twice, on the same day.  It was some of the most fun I'd ever had watching a couple of movies in theaters.  There were fake concession ads, fake trailers, two hilariously bloody movies separated by a few amazing fake trailers.  It's what I can imagine going to the movies to see a terrible horror double feature was like back in the 70s.  Since I wasn't alive to experience it, I was able to enjoy something entertaining and new. For The Hateful Eight I made it down to Hollywood to experience the Roadshow tour of the film shown in 70MM with a five minute overture and a twelve minute intermission.  Tarantino set it up this way so that viewers today could have the benefit of seeing the film like he viewed the inspirations for this one: John Carpenter's The Thing and Tarantino's own Reservoir Dogs.  It was also a blast, not just because of the nostalgia of seeing a movie via film roll instead of digital, but because it wasn't just watching a movie, it was experiencing one. The overture was set to a red silhouetted OVERTURE title card where the audience just sat back listening to western music conducted by genius Ennio Morricone.  This actually made the film feel a little bit more like a live stage performance than a movie.  Then came the first hour and forty minutes of the film until the intermission which gave fans the chance to discuss what they'd seen, take a bathroom break, and get a refill on their popcorn and soda without missing any of the actual film to do so.  The film itself, the score, the 70MM viewing, and the entire trip made The Hateful Eight that much more of a fantastic time.  Oh, and at the end we were even given a program.

So, how about the film itself? At a little bit over three hours, The Hateful Eight plays out like classic Tarantino.  I know many of us were a little bit surprised with Django Unchained that the narrative was told chronologically and didn't bounce around like most of his other films.  However, The Hateful Eight goes back to his roots.  We first meet Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) trapped in the snow and asking for a ride from a stagecoach with passengers John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They also pick up rascally and very racist Sheriff Chris Mannix (Justified's Walton Goggins).  A blizzard prevents the bunch from continuing their journey as they have to stop and seek shelter at a Haberdashery.  Inside, also done braving the storm is Bob (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).  From there the movie plays out like a western version of Reservoir Dogs.  They're all bastards with terrible motivations and they're not all who they say they are.  The mystery unfolds and so does the bloodshed in perfect Tarantino fashion.

Yes, the movie is a tad overlong and a bit self-indulgent with most of the first half containing that classic Tarantino dialogue and back-and-forths.  It winds up, in certain scenes, seeming a mite tedious, but by the end it's realized it was all for a purpose. The first half does kind of slog along slowly, but it's that slow burn and build that leads to an all too satisfying ending that we've come to know and love from a Tarantino film. We're essentially following the first wagon with Warren, Ruth, Domergue and Mannix for most of the film, but towards the end, after a lot of blood has been shed, we get insight into the characters that were already holed up in the Haberdashery to see their side of the story and, man is it rewarding. Finally, we come back to see the conclusion and it's some of Tarantino's best work.  While the film itself isn't Tarantino's best collectively, there are scenes in the film that show him at his finest as a director.

Above all, it's a very fun movie. Even when it's just a couple of characters talking about their past, it's enjoyable.  That's especially hard to do with just a handful of people and a very limited setting, but we know it's in Tarantino's blood to be able to handle a film like this.  It's funny, releasing a western film starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell wouldn't turn many heads.  They're not really bankable leading actors any longer (we know this because one of my favorite movies of the entire year, Bone Tomahawk, was a western with Kurt Russell, and it didn't even get widely released).  However, you slap on Quentin's name to the film and you've got yourself a hit.  And it's a shame they're not bankable leads any longer because they are all capable of leading a film, especially one like this.  Kurt Russell hams it up to western perfection.  Jackson is always stunning when involved in a Tarantino film.  Goggins gives a wonderful performance as well as the lovable, yet dumb/racist renegade sheriff who is too stupid to realize he's accidentally playing devil's advocate to, well... everyone. It's Jennifer Jason Leigh as the captured murderer Daisy Domergue who steals the show.  She's a maniac and certifiably insane, but she's captured the character with pizzazz.  There will probably be an Oscar nom headed her way for this.

The direction is perfect, the script is decently crisp, the soundtrack is remarkable, and the acting is top notch making for another Tarantino classic.  It's a film that immediately elicits conversation and talks of wanting to see another viewing of the film as soon as possible. If you're a Tarantino fan, you will love it.  If you're a movie fan in general, this is one to absolutely experience.  Yes, it's a niche film for true fans, and to be honest, even if you don't enjoy his work, there's something you'll take away from and enjoy in The Hateful Eight (if you can get past the slow pace of the beginning).  For all the rest of us who have thoroughly enjoyed and played out Tarantino's collection this is a welcome entry into a great director's legacy.


And just for good measure, a ranking of Tarantino's films from best to least best:
Pulp Fiction
Inglourious Basterds
Reservoir Dogs
Django Unchained
Kill Bill: Vol 1
The Hateful Eight
Jackie Brown
Kill Bill: Vol 2
Grindhouse: Death Proof

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Revenant: Just Give Leo The Damn Oscar, Please

Ho. Lee. Fuck. This is what was repeating over and over in my brain during and after watching The Revenant.  It isn't a movie.  It's an experience.  And my God, what a gut-wrenching, harrowing, stomach-churning, kick in the balls with a steel toed horse shoe experience it was.  After his Oscar winning film Birdman, soon to be household name Alejandro Inarritu took to the frontier to give us something further. It's a fantastic film.  It's an exhausting film.  And it's a worthwhile film that ABSOLUTELY needs to be watched on the big screen.

There isn't much in the way of a plot description that I can give beyond what the trailers have already shown.  Leonardo DiCaprio is frontiersman and navigator Hugh Glass who is attacked by a bear (that scene-- ho. lee. fuck.) He is rescued by his group, but abandoned when the winter's conditions begin to worsen.  Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy in a ho. lee. fuck. role) is left behind to care for Glass, but essentially winds up burying him alive, killing Glass's son and leaving Glass for dead. This is when Glass somehow (and this is actually true) survives it all and essentially crawls or hobbles 200 plus miles to exact his oh so sweet revenge.

Let's start with the bear attack.  I have not seen something that intense in a film... I'm going to say ever. I'm trying to think back to a moment when I have sat that stiffly in my theater chair in absolute terror and shock of what I was witnessing on screen.  And it's not over quickly.  It's beautiful how unbelievably horrifying it is. Then, there's Leo doing everything in his power to overcome the attack and seek out Tom Hardy to kill him for killing his son. Watching Leo struggle (or as my lovely girlfriend so eloquently put it-- getting 'put through the ringer') is something I wonder if his own mother had a difficult time watching. The dude, for sure, is going all in on his chips for the Oscar gold in this role.  There's no doubt about that.  But, the amazing thing is, it didn't hit me until after the movie.  There's no long, drawn out Oscar winning moment in the movie that Leo (and us) knew this is what would do it-- it's the entire performance.  The shit that he has to do (both fictionally and in real life) to get back to the town is unbelievable and pretty difficult to watch. And Leo does it without hardly ever speaking. He probably utters five lines in English and the other five in the Pawnee Indian language. Give this man the damn gold now!

However, and I feel like I'm repeating myself, because all year I've been talking about how amazing of an actor Tom Hardy is... but Jesus does he play a slimy villain. He's a cretin, but one you love to hate.  You keep waiting for the next awful thing to come out of his mouth or miserable idea he has that benefits only himself. He's probably going to get overlooked for his role in this film because Leo's performance was so exceptional, but Hardy, to me, might have been even better. Then, there's the direction.  Inarritu decided to shoot the entire film in the actual Canadian and Argentinean wilderness... in natural light. So, there was only limited amounts of shooting they could do during a day which led to an over-long production schedule.  This also meant that the cast and crew were put on edge and were essentially fighting against Hypothermia constantly.  I'm sure a lot of the people that worked on the film may not think it was worth it... I can tell you that it's one of the most gorgeously shot films I've ever seen.  It's shot in a way that's new and crisp and clear.  The opening shot of the movie, a shot of a crystal clear stream had me mouthing 'wow' and it only got more beautiful from there.

Inarritu also had Leo and co. do most of the things you watch on screen for real.  They were really out in the frozen wilderness.  When you see Leo swimming in a frozen lake... that's really a frozen fucking lake.  When you watch Leo eat the liver of a bison... yeah.  Now, who knows if he actually slept inside of a dead horse... probably not... but I like to think these are the lengths Leo would go to in order to either win the Oscar or prove they have something seriously against him. It's a great performance amid a gorgeous landscape and a difficult story to watch.  This movie isn't for everyone, but those who do seek it out will be rewarded for it. It's definitely an Academy movie and there isn't really a lot of dialogue, but it isn't slow.  It doesn't trudge along leisurely. It keeps you fascinated and terrified and disgusted and angry and emotional and excited. I loved every second of the film and can not wait to watch it again.


Spotlight: A True Story Without The Cliched Hollywood Frills

Hollywood has this bad tendency to tell us that the film we're watching is "based on a true story" when in actuality a lot of the story has been embellished, or the facts have been skewed to fit a Hollywood-style plot, or there's really nothing true about it at all.  Finally, we have a film that does away with all of the Hollywood embellishment bullshit and gets down to the nitty gritty.  It's a factual film and it's a great film, one that will hopefully gain some Oscar buzz and get a wider release to reach a wider audience.  The film, of course, is Spotlight.

Spotlight is the story of a group of journalists from The Boston Globe in 2001 discovering the long-occurring scandal of Catholic Priests molesting children and getting it covered up for too long. Among them is team leader Walter 'Robby' Robinson (Michael Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams), Brian James (Matt Carroll), and editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber).  What starts off as a story about a singular priest in Boston turns into the discovery of seven which leads to close to ninety priests just in Boston alone that have molested hundreds of kids with zero repercussions. This team is solely responsible for bringing the issue to the public and calling out thousands of priests across the world proving that this isn't just an issue, but an epidemic.

What's great about the film is it is just that-- the investigation leading to the story. It's a true story and it's actually more interesting than anything they could've done to improve it or Hollywood-ize it. Recently, there was a film, Concussion, that I truly enjoyed and I think was an important movie to both be made and be seen. However, there were very clear scenes of Hollywood exaggeration.  There's a love story surrounding the medical discovery and the doctor who made it.  Then, there's a scene where the girl is being followed by a car that may or may not have been a spook from the NFL (this sounds sillier than it actually was), but it was most certainly Hollywood-ized. The movie was good, but it was made to fulfill the standard Hollywood structural narrative.  Spotlight doesn't do that.  It also has a very important story to tell, but it does right by everyone involved.  We don't get a lot of the backstory of any of the journalists.  We don't see into the home life of Michael Keaton.  We don't get much in the way of severe character development.  Characters will come in and complain of being tired or not seeing their spouse as much, but that's as much backstory as we get... and as we need.  The movie revolves entirely around the investigation.  It's perfect because we don't need all the other fluff.  The story is compelling just as it played out in real life.

This isn't to say that there aren't great performances, characters, and emotionally acute moments because there are.  Keaton, once again, is fantastic and Mark Ruffalo, aside from looking just like Mark Ruffalo, is hardly recognizable.  They honor both the journalists and the victims with this film while continuously providing a hefty 'fuck you' to the catholic church. This movie was certainly one of the best films of the year and one I recommend to anyone who enjoys watching something as engaging and emotionally resonant as this film.  It has the ability to shock and awe solely by providing facts and not manipulating the story in order to serve a more entertaining purpose.  It's highly entertaining as it is.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Good Dinosaur: Pixar Gets Lion King Dark

So, first things first.  This has been a terrible year for movie timing.  Anything and everything surrounding Star Wars is going to get obliterated at the box office.  Sisters was released on the same day!  Like, what?? That's why all the wide release Christmas movies kinda didn't really stand out... it's because they knew they'd all still be in competition with Star WarsThe Good Dinosaur, however, came out three weeks before Star Wars, so it was smart in that aspect.  But, in even worse timing, this is the first time Pixar has put out two films in a single year and the other film happened to be Inside Out... one of the best Pixar movies ever made.  So, because of that... I surmise that The Good Dinosaur is probably going to be forgotten.  Seriously, Pixar, you couldn't have released this the same year as Cars 2?

So, we've already gotten a glimpse at the next few years of Pixar.  It's all sequels.  2016 is giving us Finding Dory, 2017 is giving us... ugh... Cars 3.  2018 is Toy Story 4 and 2019 is The Incredibles 2.  So, cramming in two Pixar films in 2015, both of which are original ideas, may have not been the best strategy.  And while it's a little sad to see Pixar doing away with original creative material, it was nice to go out on a mostly high note with The Good Dinosaur.

I will say this: The Good Dinosaur, while an original work of fiction, does borrow strongly from a lot of tropes we are familiar with.  But, even while re-using similar story devices, it's still a very original film.  What we've got is essentially a dinosaur fueled western that overlooks the story of a boy and his dog.  The boy, in this instance, is a dinosaur named Arlo and the dog is a little caveboy named Spot. After Arlo, who I'm guessing is around ten years old, is swept away by a storm, he and Spot, probably around three or four, must find Arlo's way home back to his family.  The only problem is, Arlo is a huge coward.  He's afraid of everything.  His one job back at home is to feed a coup of menacing looking chickens and he's chased out in fear every time.  However, this is a Pixar film so we know there is going to be some crazy emotional life lesson learned... and this one is how to be a 'man'.  Fear doesn't have to be overcome entirely, but it does need to be harnessed into strength.

What Pixar does this time, however, is it gets a little bit darker than usual.  We've been getting used to upbeat, fun, family comedies that deliver profound life lessons like Inside Out or Toy Story or Up or Wall-E.  What Pixar did this time was go back to the roots of Disney and give us a bit of a darker film like The Lion King where shit actually goes down.  Death occurs.  Life lessons are hammered into our heads based off real life shit.  Sometimes being sad as a child over moving away from home can have a strong emotional resonance with an audience, but sometimes life isn't about first world problems.  Sometimes you're swept away in a storm that has killed your father and destroyed your family's crops and you gotta man up, get home, and take care of shit.  So, while the story can be pieced back to other better movies before it, it's still very emotionally profound.  Those who think they're cried out after watching Inside Out may be a little surprised when The Good Dinosaur elicits nearly the same amount of tears.  Again, these aren't necessarily sad tears, they're very touching.  Something that Pixar is very good at.

The animation is stellar.  It's also unfortunate that we're getting Pixar sequels until the 2020s because the animation is just getting better and better.  With growing technology, Pixar is stepping up their game a little bit each time and this may be their most beautiful yet.  Yes, the characters have a little bit of a newspaper comic-strip feel to them, the water and the landscapes are immaculate. It gives movies like Goosebumps zero excuse for looking like late 90s CGI trash. So, The Good Dinosaur is a great family film to end the year on and another Pixar hit, even though a lot of it may seem a tad familiar.  The Arlo-Spot relationship is adorable and even more clever because they are unable to communicate with words (much like a boy and his dog), but it doesn't mean there isn't a visible amount of love and devotion there. There are a few scary moments that kids might be frightened by, but nothing too terrifying as to keep them away.  It's cute, it's funny, it's sad, it's scary and it's a bit of an emotional kick in the balls... something that Pixar is very close to trademarking because it's happening every time.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Joy: The Best Movie Ever Made About The Invention Of A Mop

Another choice you'll have on Christmas if you decide that Concussion doesn't encompass the Christmas spirit, or if Daddy's Home looks like a worthless pile of garbage, or if you're not lucky enough to hit LA for The Hateful Eight or The Revenant, is Joy. If you've seen the same trailers I've seen you're probably not sure what Joy is even about or if you even want to see it.  I mean, it's got a great cast and we've all grown to adore Jennifer Lawrence, especially paired with Bradley Cooper and director David O. Russell.  But, the trailers didn't do that stellar of a job explaining just what you'd be watching when dropping the good portion of a 20 dollar bill down, so you may have reservations.  But, as far as Christmas movies go-- uplifting, if not a bit vanilla, and harmless... Joy is exactly what you're looking for.

So, without giving too much away, Joy is the true story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano and her rise from divorced, unemployed single mother to mop mogul. Joy lives at home with her mother (Virgina Madsen), a woman who shows serious signs of Agoraphobia and stays in bed all day watching bad Soap Operas, her two children, her ex-husband/still friend (Edgar Ramirez), grandmother (Diane Ladd) and crotchety, womanizing, yet still lovable father (Robert De Niro).  Joy, who has been told all her life by her grandmother that she's destined to do something special, in a moment of genius, invents a self-wringing mop.  She goes on the long journey to get it sold and try her hardest not to both fail at the one thing she's good at as well as lose every penny she's ever earned.  She finally meets up with Neil (Bradley Cooper) head of the QVC network to allow her to attempt to sell her mop on air.

The movie is essentially the story of Joy's rise to greatness amid a ton of forces working to kick her down. She's a fighter and it's nice to watch a story about a strong female character who defies the odds in favor of making herself great.  There's no intertwined love story.  There's just Joy working her ass off to achieve the American dream and Jeniffer Lawrence plays this to the utmost success. She's a dream to watch and I feel as though she grows as an actress with every role she finds herself playing. She's able to capture every word of the script and provide that spark that shows why she's been on the Oscar ballot for years. And even though there is not a shred of romance between the two of them in this film, her and Bradley Cooper have such an amazing chemistry is nice to be able to watch them work together once again.

The real problem with Joy is that director David O. Russell, who has worked with Lawrence several times (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) tries so hard to make a powerful female character role that it comes off as blatantly in your face. There have been films this year with strong female characters that face adversary that are  less subtle than Joy in plot, but way more sophisticated in execution (like Star Wars or Brooklyn or Mad Max).  Russell wants you to know that Joy is an independent woman who don't need no man by reminding us every scene.  As a child, Joy repeats the phrase "I don't need a prince".  Her grandmother tells he she doesn't need a man.  Her father, again I love De Niro, repeats over and over that he knew she could never make it in the business world and that she's nothing more than an unemployed housewife.  There's the strong woman cliche when the woman grows spiritually and metaphorically, they cut their hair in the mirror.  It's overwhelmingly in your face trying to say... yo, look... Joy... she a strong chick... aiiiiiight.... just look at everyone around her putting her down... they don't know nothin, dawg!  There was a much better way to showcase that Joy was a strong female character... by just telling her story. There was enough adversary outside of sexism that was keeping her down that she overcame just as easily as "you can't do it... you're a woman."

Other than that, I'll have to admit that I liked Joy more than I thought I would. Maybe it was because of the uninformative and strange trailer that kind of detracted me from the film, but it was highly enjoyable.  In fact, it was much more enjoyable than a movie about a woman who invented a super mop should've been.  It was so enjoyable that it felt kind of like a mini-mafia movie where Joy slowly built her empire and rose to power all because of a mop.  I wanted her to succeed and the mop ended up being something bigger than that thing we keep in a closet or the stick with some yarn on it that keeps falling behind the refrigerator. This was her entire livelihood... her entire purpose in life... symbolized by a standard household cleaning device. It became much bigger than just a mop and that portion of the story became the the most interesting.

The acting is great, the story is good, and the writing could've used a few female tweaks (or at the very least, some advice from George Miller) in order to portray the people in Joy's life (whether supporting her or hindering her) as actual characters and not dumb-male caricatures. It's a very inspiring and uplifting story and perfect for that Christmas day venture to the theater. If you can overlook the flaws in the writing of the supporting cast and focus all of your energy on Jennifer Lawrence's performance (especially the scenes with her and Bradley Cooper), then you will have a much more enjoyable film experience.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Concussion: The NFL Is Gon' Be Pissed

Concussion is not exactly your typical Christmas day movie fare. Christmas day is usually reserved for films that people go to that are typically more uplifting or family-friendly.  Past Christmases have given us Into the Woods, Unbroken, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Les Miserables, Little Fockers, Night at the Museum, Sherlock Holmes, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  These are films that take you from your Christmas splendor and spit you into a world of magic and fun.  Concussion does none of these things.  It will take your Christmas day and put you into the real world and the reality of how messed up things you actually love (like the NFL) really are. It is a very good movie, and one that people should see... but maybe not one to pick for Christmas day (though I know there aren't very many good choices this year).

If there's anyone who has ever deserved a movie made about their life it's Dr. Bennett Omalu (Will Smith), a pathologist from Pittsburgh who discovers that repetitive brain trauma in football players can and will lead to long-term effects, including death. After examining several ex-football players who have died or killed themselves at a young age, but appeared healthy, he found that each helmet-to-helmet contact or on-field concussion chokes the brain of the player and can lead to Alzheimers, depression, and death. Of course, being an immigrant from Nigeria and effectively proving that the NFL has hidden its findings, he's dismissed by everyone and even put under harsh scrutiny by fellow doctors and the league itself.  His life crumbles around him, and being someone who isn't a football fan himself with the understanding of the impact the game has on American life, he's unable to understand why his life is being ruined when all he's trying to do is help.

There is a great story within the film and a great actor leading the way, but it does seem to fall a little bit into the standard dramatic biopic film structure.  While we know exactly how everything is going to play out because we're familiar with the structure, I don't believe it hinders the film greatly.  If it does, then Will Smith's performance disguises it with ease. Smith shows us once again that he is one of the Hollywood greats who should be in everything.  It's a little bit frustrating that he's only choosing super serious, I-have-to-cry-in-every-scene roles, when we know he can have a lot of fun in movies, but it doesn't take away from the fact that Smith is a stellar actor. He brings a certain quiet charm to Omalu who does his best to hide his hurt from the world, but won't back down on his mission no matter the hardship he has to endure if it means saving lives. He's also very funny when he wants to be, but the film doesn't allow much humor to his character as there isn't a whole hell of a lot going on that's intended to be happy.

And while it is a very serious drama, it is also a very uplifting movie.  Watching Omalu's growth and goodwill is inspiring.  He's also surrounded by a fantastic cast including Dr. Wecht, played brilliantly by the always watchable Albert Brooks.  There's the doctor that helps aid Omalu in his work and has a personal connection with the league, Dr. Bailes, played very quietly, but superbly, by Alec Baldwin.  And then there's still semi-newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays another Nigerian immigrant and ends up becoming Omalu's love interest. Finally, there's Luke Wilson who very briefly, in just a few scenes, plays a younger Roger Goodell and reminds us what an actual, literal piece of shit Goodell is.

While it isn't much of a Christmas movie, Concussion is an important movie. As an avid listener of sports radio and television, I've heard rumblings of anchors and sportscasters speculating on whether or not this film will come with it football fan/viewer repercussions.  Will the league lose money because the truth is being spread through film with one of the most likable actors in Hollywood?  My guess is yes, but not enough to make an impact. People will quietly take a second to realize just how brutal, and even pointless, this game is... but good ole Americans like us are still not very likely to turn off the game if it's become our ritual in life.  I'm not a big football fan myself, however, had the film been about baseball, I know for a fact it wouldn't deter me from watching baseball any further or going to games and spending money on it. But, beyond the great story, the stellar acting, and the miracle of the actual scientific findings... this movie will have an impact on those that watch it.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sisters: A Funny Movie Overshadowed By The Fact It Was Released The Same Day As Star Wars

Sisters is funny. Let's begin with that.  It's a funny movie.  It may not be laugh out loud every scene funny, but there is something there for someone to laugh at throughout.  Sisters is also kinda dumb... but not the dumb that ruins a movie.  It's the dumb where you don't have to think for two hours.  You can sit back and watch two goofy characters get into goofy situations and hijinks ensue. It's the kinda dumb that we're not exactly used to with our female leads: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.  Fey we've seen in the smart kind of comedy both with her political satire in SNL and industry satire 30 Rock. Poehler we've also watched on SNL but have seen her on much smarter television with Parks and Recreation, a very funny and underrated show. No, Sisters is much like a female Superbad except take out the first two-thirds of them trying to get to the party and make the entire movie the party.

Simple plot to the film goes thusly: Fey and Poehler are sisters.  Their parents are deciding to sell the house that they grew up in.  So, whilst cleaning out their childhood bedrooms, they decide to throw one more epic party so that Poehler's character can finally let her freak flag fly and Fey can say goodbye to the house properly (and hopefully ruin the chances of selling it).  That's legitimately it. The rest of the movie is the party.  It begins slow with everyone acting as adults, sitting in chairs, sipping wine, awkwardly discussing their children.  Then, once the party livens up and everyone gets drunk off their asses... it becomes a teenage house party movie of the good ole days. There's several familiar cameos and SNL alums.  There's a lot of funny moments and it's just a good time had by all. 

It's nice to see a role reversal here for both ladies.  In most films and shows, Tina Fey is always the clean-cut, anal retentive, goody goody, while Amy Poehler is the loud, dirty, disgusting, crass, funny one.  This time, it's Poehler who turns in the role of neurotic and proper and Fey is the Jonah Hill of the two. It's also a very vulgar film in terms of sexual humor.  They've clearly shown that even though they're a couple of little ladies, they can stand and play with the big boys of the Apatow crew. In fact, an integration of the two, I think, would make a stellar combination. Then, finally, there's Bobby Moynihan.  He's the poor man's Horatio Sanz currently still a cast member of  SNL.  Him and, once again, John Cena (as a tattooed drug dealer) steal most of the scenes they're in, especially Moynihan.  He had me laughing in almost every appearance throughout the party that he made. And Cena is strangely showing America that he's got some serious comedy chops with his work in this and summer's Trainwreck.

There's a strange thing about Fey and Poehler.  Clearly, they're good friends in real life and thoroughly enjoy working together.  They've hosted awards shows together, they've acted together, they've cameo'd in the same film together.  I do have to wonder why the two haven't sat down and written something together for them both to star in.  Their first starring roles together was the abysmal Baby Mama and now this. And while Sisters is far superior to Baby Mama, it still doesn't feel like it lives up to the full potential of its leads.  I'd like for them to sit down and write something for themselves because, while I'm sure there is a good amount of improvisation on set, there is just that magic Fey/Poehler touch that's missing from the films.

The movie isn't life-changing, and unfortunately due to some terrible planning on the studio's part, probably isn't going to make a lot of money.  If you're a female-driven R-rated comedy going up against the seventh Star Wars film, chances are you're going to unintentionally forgotten.  However, I believe that this will be a Redbox success (too bad there aren't video stores anymore... that's another thing that'll take away from the film).  So, if you're looking for something to see that's kinda dirty, pretty funny, and after the sixth time you've watched Star Wars... Sisters isn't exactly a bad choice.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Brooklyn: The Best Little Film That Should

Brooklyn is a film I'm sure not many have heard of.  I, myself, hadn't even seen a trailer or an announcement for the film.  I heard the critical watercooler buzz surrounding it, I saw Saoirse Ronan's Golden Globe nomination and it got me curious.  When I saw that it was written by one of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy), that's when I knew I had to watch it.  And it's an adorable little tale.  There's nothing showy or flashy about the film.  There's no huge Hollywood hook to it.  There's no mystery to any of the characters.  It's just a charming little film that honestly makes you feel like you're reading a quaint little book by the fire whilst watching it.

Based off the book of the same name, Brooklyn tells the tale of an Irish girl, Eilis, in the early 1950s and her desire to find herself in America.  After her sister uses a connection to get Eilis into a boarding house in Brooklyn, New York, Eilis sets sale for the good ol' U.S. of A. After a rocky sail, she arrives.  Teary eyed, homesick, and overwhelmed, Eilis sets up in the boarding house, finds a job, and connects with the priest that arranged for her travel.  She's quiet at first, unable to cope with the grief of leaving her entire life behind.  It's when she meets a charismatic Italian boy named Tony is when she begins to come out of her shell. She starts to understand that she can still enjoy life and live it to the fullest because there are people that care about her in America as much the people back home did.  Eilis and Tony begin a quick romance until a tragedy in the family leads Eilis back to Ireland.  Once back home, her mother and fellow townsfolk do everything in their power to convince Eilis to stay.  She meets Jim (Domnhall Gleeson) and the two hit it off just as she and Tony did.  Now, she's faced with the question-- stay home and be with Jim... or return to New York, leaving everything behind again, and be with Tony.

That's the film.  Like I said, it's nothing fancy.  It's a light-hearted story about a simple Irish girl and her journey from Ireland to America and back again.  But, it's far from mundane.  There is a rich character journey along the way. Saoirse Ronan is magnificent as Eilis.  We're able to watch her grow right in front of our eyes in obvious, yet still extremely subtle ways.  A glance.  A look.  A hint of a smile or the trace of a tear. Ronan can do so much with just a look that director John Crowley set up individual lights around her head just to accentuate her eyes. What's great about Eilis, aside from Ronan's impressive performance, is the growth of the character.  Yes, it's when Eilis meets Tony that she finally discovers her happiness in a foreign country.  But, it's not because of her need of a man that makes her identify herself, it's that she figures out she can love again.  She only had her sister and her mother at home and without them she was beginning to doubt her decision to leave and doubt herself.  But, thanks to the love of Tony, she knows she's got what it takes to make it in America, man or no man. She's a strong female character portrayed by a strong actress.

The direction is stellar as well.  The shading of the film changes with each new step of Eilis's life. It's dark and opaque in the beginning, but begins to brighten after each new moment of her journey.  All of the supporting characters lend a hand, which is easy to do when Hornby has written a solid script with rich, and funny, characters. Brooklyn is not a film that's going to turn a lot of heads and make big numbers at the box office.  But, I'm willing to bet that it'll be difficult to find someone that doesn't enjoy the movie immensely.  I did.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Creed: Resurrecting The Champ

Be honest.  Tell me that when you heard they were making another Rocky movie, or spinoff, or you saw the trailer... that you didn't just laugh, shake your head and immediately dismiss it. I did.  I was like all of you.  I saw Rocky I-III when I was a kid. I liked them.  I appreciated what they were as far as setting the stage and tone of boxing movies to come.  I didn't see Rocky IV-V, but I did, however, see when they made Rocky Balboa about ten years too late.  It was a neat little concept, but essentially just a re-telling of the original movie with an old man.  And he freaking lost.  I don't know what it is about the Rocky franchise... they just don't like anyone to win. So, after the sixth film, I figured they'd be done.  But we are in the golden age, folks, of Hollywood being too damn afraid of original works.  That's why we're getting sequels and spinoffs and prequels and origin stories of shit we've seen a thousand times because everyone in Hollywood apparently doesn't have the balls to put out an original work (God, how nice it would've been to be a screenwriter in the 90s).  However, if we're going to be subjected to dying and dead franchises being resurrected like this... I hope they're all as great as Creed.

I probably wouldn't have seen the film if it hadn't been for the critical buzz surrounding the film. Almost everything I heard/read was high praise and I couldn't figure out why.  I knew Michael B. Jordan was a great actor because I'd already seen Fruitvale Station, which means I knew Creed writer/director Ryan Coogler could handle the film.  I just wasn't expecting something this good.  Jordan plays Adonis Creed, love-child of the woman the late Apollo Creed had an affair with (I stopped watching the late Rocky movies... I had no idea Apollo Creed was killed by some Ken-doll-looking Russian in the ring). He's raised by Apollo's widow.  He's raised to be respectful, he's raised educated, and he's raised in a good home by a good woman.  But, he's still got the fighting itch and needs to take care of it. So, he hops over to Philly to seek training from, none other than Rocky Balboa (Sly Stallone). Rocky trains the young scamp... not just about boxing, but about life. There are classic Rocky training montages.  There are quirky training methods.  There are sentimental moments between Rocky and Adonis, just like all the rest of the films.  Yet, it doesn't feel like a rerun.  There's a certain aura surrounding the film as well as the characters where we know exactly what's going to go down... and it does... but it doesn't feel like we predicted it. It's a very good script and a very good story.

While Michael B. Jordan can hold his own and live up to the Creed legacy, it's the surprisingly fantastic performance by Stallone, once again, as the classic character.  It's a strange dichotomy that Stallone, when he wants to, is a stellar actor.  Yet, he spent most of his career doing shitty action films (of which I personally thank him for).  He's kind of synonymous with being a joke right along with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal, and Arnold (you bastards!).  Yet, we forget that the dude was Rocky... the movie that won best picture... that Sly wrote himself.  We forget that the dude can act.  And he turns in a hell of a performance here.  There's an emotional resonance he brings to the character of Rocky that we forget about, or we're still just not used to.  It's the father/son-esque relationship between him and Adonis that carries the film.  Forget all the boxing (which is mesmerizing), I could watch the two of them together without even getting to the fight and it still would've been a fantastic movie.  I haven't seen everything that 2015 has to offer, but so far I have yet to see a better supporting actor performance in a film this year and Sly is definitely the frontrunner in my book for the Oscar (at the very least, a nomination).

It's not just the acting and the writing that makes Creed great, it's the directing. America, apparently has this undying love for boxing movies.  There is at least one boxing themed movie released every single year.  I mean, hell, it's only been like three months since Southpaw came out.  But, there's really only a handful of ways to tell and shoot a boxing film without it seeming like deja vu. And, once again, Coogler and co. step up to the plate and knock one out of the park (that's a baseball reference in a boxing movie review... that's like sports movie inception).  The angles he shoots at, the long takes of boxing choreography, the sound editing of every punch, the realism in front of the camera takes you completely out of the theater and puts you right next to the ring.  You stop realizing you're watching a work of fiction and everything that happens, happens in jaw-dropping fashion.  It's even difficult to explain why the direction, and more specifically, the boxing scenes are so well-done, but it's almost as if Coogler has reinvented the wheel with this one.  It's like you've never seen a boxing scene in a movie before this one.

Creed, to me, is probably the surprise of the year.  Actually, I'll give surprise of the year to Jurassic World for being so shockingly awful that my childhood is effectively forever ruined. However, Creed is the most welcome surprise.  Yes, it's not an entirely brand new and creatively original film.  Yes, it's a reversal of the Rocky/Mick dynamic (fun fact: Sly, in this film, is actually older than Mick was in the first film... holy shit, right?), but it's done with pizzazz.  It's done so effective and cleverly, that it's like you're watching a brand new film and not the seventh entry in a franchise that probably should've fizzled out two decades ago.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Ridiculous 6: As Funny As A Donkey With Exploding Shits

Before telling you what you already know... how awful The Ridiculous 6 is... I want to take an intimate look at Adam Sandler's career and just where it started to devolve, go backwards, and become a household name synonymous with that brush you keep behind your toilet for the hard to reach messes.  He began on Saturday Night Live and while he was an acquired taste and his humor was a bit juvenile, you had to admit there was something uniquely funny about him.  Others didn't seem to latch on (Phil Hartman actually left the show because he thought Sandler would bring about the downfall of SNL).  His first big starring role was Billy Madison.  While it's never going to be remembered as one of the comedy greats, those of us that grew up in the 90s know it to have some pretty funny parts.  Then came Happy Gilmore, arguably Sandler's best movie he's ever (and will ever) made.  In it was a perfect fish-out-of-water story that was equal parts smart and hilarious. Next came The Wedding Singer and it appeared our little immature (yet hilarious) idiot was starting to grow up and mature.  There was no shit jokes, no fart jokes, hell, I don't even know if there was even a dick joke.  It was a great romantic comedy and the humor holds up today. After that was The Waterboy, an extension of one of Sandler's SNL characters 'Canteen Boy', which should not have worked as a full-length movie, but somehow it did.  It combined Sandler's slapstick humor with odd characters that just worked.

Following that was one of his other greats-- Big Daddy.  This was definitely the sign that Sandler was a huge box office star, here to stay, and was certainly maturing as a comedic actor.  Hell, the message of that damn movie was that you have to grow up sometime. Moving on, Little Nicky was a bit of a miss, but there's still more funny scenes than not funny scenes in the movie.  After that, there was a bit of a lull with Mr. Deeds.  It wasn't a good movie... not because it was so stupid and imbecilic and childish that no human could stomach it... but because it just wasn't funny.  It was a little bit more serious (shocking, I know, but re-watch it and you'll see).  But, then came two back-to-back hits (that were both very funny) with Anger Management and 50 First Dates.  This is what we all assumed Sandler movies would become.  He's grown up... he's doing adult films with more mature humor, but with those weird characters that would pop up as cameos or bit parts and say weird things but wouldn't detract from the overall comedy of the film.  From there... well... it's a de-evolution... as big as one I've ever seen.

Spanglish was decent, but forgettable.  The Longest Yard was a very funny film, but it was universally disliked by most people. Click was tonally off and missed the mark. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was funny to Sandler fans, but was definitely not a mainstream comedy.  And this is where I think Sandler really took steps backward. Up until Chuck and Larry, bodily humor wasn't really part of the Sandler shtick. But, it's almost as though Sandler realized his movies were getting a little too serious, he had to act more like a gross five year old, instead of an aging man.  So, after that came Bedtime Stories (you can't hate on... it was for kids... but it was horrible).  You Don't Mess With The Zohan, I personally thought was funny (probably because it was co-written by Judd Apatow), but there is still a scene where Adam Sandler catches a tossed fish with his bare ass. Funny People was a nice break, but doesn't count as a Sandler film because it was all Apatow. Until finally, Sandler just said fuck it with anything resembling comedy with his latest string of comedies such as Jack and Jill, That's My Boy, Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, Blended, Pixels, and finally The Ridiculous 6.  It's as if Sandler took the quirky weird homeless guy who bathed in the lake in Happy Gilmore, hit him a few times in the head with a hammer, and made every movie about that guy in different situations. And it's sad, because Sandler hasn't grown up, he's devolving further and further with each film.

Now, that isn't to say that he still hasn't come out with a few good films in the past few years.  He has.  But, these aren't Sandler-crew films.  These are films by directors who have cast Sandler in their movies to which he's given great performances.  Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, Men Women & Children, and The Cobbler were all very enjoyable movies, but not really comedies any of them. When someone outside of the Sandler crew directs Sandler in a movie, it's decent.  But, when it's him and his buddies sitting around a campfire farting and laughing hysterically because that's what amounts to a joke to them these days... it's difficult to stomach.

So, it's no surprise that The Ridiculous 6 is a shitbox of a film.  I watched it for free on Netflix and I still feel like I was robbed of money.  I walked into my bathroom and dropped a 20 in the toilet because that's what I deserve for watching it.  Only Adam Sandler could waste a movie that has in it (I shit you not): Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Nick Nolte, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Vanilla Ice, John Turturro, Chris Parnell, Norm MacDonald, Chris Kattan, and Steve Buscemi. Literally every single one of these people are in this movie and not one of them made me laugh. The movie was legitimately as funny as a donkey with exploding shits-- which is actually in the movie.  A donkey explodes shit everywhere... inexplicably... more than once.  Sincerely, when was the last time shit humor was actually funny?  When???

Here's the thing, though... I still really like Adam Sandler.  I have no idea why.  It might be the 12 year old in me watching Happy Gilmore for the 85th time that wants the guy to succeed. He's supposedly the nicest human being in Hollywood, and he loves doing movies with his friends.  I mean, the dude keeps Rob Schneider employed... that's kinder than what most charities do.  And, yes, each movie he does looks like everyone in it is having a blast and it's probably the most fun you can have on a set.  I'm sure they make each other laugh so hard their sides hurt.  But, it doesn't translate to the viewer.  With each fleeting film, Sandler is ostracizing another group of audience that dies a little inside seeing each failure after another.

I watched three Adam Sandler movies this year: The Cobbler, Pixels and The Ridiculous 6The Cobbler was a quiet little film that's pretty adorable, good for a chuckle or two and completely harmless.  Pixels was like finding a ball of wet, hair mold in behind the sink in your kitchen, grabbing it, and having sex with it for hours.  The Ridiculous 6 was pretty bad... but honestly not as bad as Pixels. Ridiculous 6 was just a misfire on all cylinders.  Sometimes a movie will fail just because it doesn't live up to expectations.  But when your expectations are at the lowest it could possibly be, and a film is still below that... that's when it's time to reevaluate your humor and start making movies for people today... not just yourself.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Force Is Strong With This One

I have to throw this out there that I was never a Star Wars original trilogy kid. I was eleven years old when Episode One came out. It was my first experience seeing a Star Wars film in a theater.  I'd seen the originals once or twice on VHS at home, but Phantom Menace was my first theater experience.  I loved it.  I loved Liam Neeson.  I loved Darth Maul.  I even loved the pod racing.  And, as a child, I couldn't understand why everyone thought Jar Jar Binks was annoying.  However, as I've gotten older I've come to realize the folly of the prequels and why they are regarded as such awful films.  I used to solely blame Hayden Christensen, but now he shares the blame with several others.  I re-watched the original trilogy a couple weeks back and was clearly able to see the differences.  The original trilogy is fun.  It's the reason there are so many fans of the series.  It's the reason we love going to the movies. They're fun.  They're well-written, (semi)well acted, and one of the greatest film trilogies of all time.  So, naturally JJ Abrams had a bit of pressure on those nerdy little shoulders that he didn't necessarily have to make a perfect Star Wars film, he just had to make sure to make it better than the prequels.  And, ladies and gentlemen, according to a newly acquired Star Wars fan, Abrams does not disappoint.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens encompasses every aspect fans love about the original trilogy without even coming close to appearing like the prequels. The original trilogy was about a great story of the hero's journey and the fight against good and evil.  That's all the original three boil down to, but they're made that much more complex with the addition of some of the best characters in film history.  It would be difficult to replicate or even top that.  It didn't get bogged down in action sequences or CGI, it found a way to make the action organic based off the natural decisions the characters made.  The prequels, however, were so focused on using the new technology of the twenty-first century that it favored action, and computer-animated Yoda doing flips, and intricate light saber fights that it forfeited not only story, but (mostly) good characters. And while I understand that any movie set in a fictional galactic universe is going to need some CGI, The Force Awakens doesn't succumb to using it as a spectacle, nor as a crutch. In fact, other than one of the main villains of the film, Abrams goes back to using animatronics and puppets to give each creature or set piece an intimate feel... a realistic feel and it honestly looks better than any CGI could've provided.

In The Force Awakens there is a perfect balance of familiar faces among new, fresh ones. On the side of good: we've got X-wing pilot Poe Dameron, played brilliantly by the always amazing Oscar Isaac.  We've got scrap junker turned Resistance ally, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Storm Trooper turned dude with an actual conscience, Finn (John Boyega), and volleyball droid BB-8.  On the side of evil: there's the as-close-to-a-Nazi-as-you-could-possibly-be General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), the I-want-to-be-Darth-Vader-so-bad Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and the I'm-probably-more-evil-than-you-think Supreme Leader Snoke (the fantastic Andy Serkis). We also get the return of the original cast with varying levels of screen time.  You've probably already been able to tell from the trailers, but its Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewie that get the most.

Everyone in the film brings their own 'oomph' to the screen. Oscar Isaac is always a joy to watch and it just looks like he's having a great time.  John Boyega's Finn steals the show.  Most of the group that I saw the film with had no idea that's he's like SUPER British.  Like one of those British people that you need subtitles to understand what they're saying.  He's wonderful as a man looking to escape his dark side family and get away from senseless murder, yet he's never been on his own before.    Domnhall Gleeson, other than not looking at all like anything resembling evil, does bring a very overpowering presence to the dark side.  Adam Driver, as long as he's not showing his stupid face is actually a very good villain.  He's flawed to the perfect amount, even to the point of throwing temper tantrums when things don't go his way.  Yet, the tantrums don't feel forced like they did EVERY SINGLE TIME with Anakin Skywalker.  Harrison Ford is Han Solo all over again.  Nothing has changed but his hair.  Him and Chewie are the perfect duo and he's still his quippy, near sleazy self.  It was wonderfully refreshing watching Ford do his thing almost forty years later. Finally, Abrams did something quite brave with the new droid BB-8.  He made another character cute.  This was done to some success with the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, but some still found them to be annoying.  And this was attempted to be done with Jar Jar Binks and we all know how that experiment turned out.  However, BB-8 is cute enough to be endearing and funny, before hitting that bridge of becoming hokey and annoying.

The only two characters that I have a little bit of beef with is Serkis's Snoke and Ridley's Rey. My problem with Snoke is that I mentioned earlier that for most of the film, Abrams opted for practical effects, especially when it came to building the alien world and filling it with colorful characters. Snoke sticks out like a sore thumb because he's entirely computer animated.  I know this is exactly what every role Andy Serkis has ever taken has become, but because he's surrounded by such beautiful practical effects, he looks that much more fake.  Rey, on the other hand, is a strange one for me.  The character is fantastic.  Abrams and writing co., like always, have written a strong, independent, female character that can certainly hold her own when it comes to, well, anything. Like, her and Furiosa from Mad Max would totally be besties. She's a welcome character in the Star Wars world, but I'm not sure if I really liked the way Daisy Ridley portrayed her.  Her acting, at first seemed a bit frenetic and forced.  It felt like she was rapidly speeding through her lines because she'd been instructed to, not because that was the character.  By the end, she won me over and there are some moments in the final act where Ridley certainly became Rey and the two were indistinguishable, but for a good two-thirds of the film, she was really getting on my nerves.  Though, this may be a first-watch gripe and upon second viewing, she'll be consistent.

There's really nothing too specific, however, to complain about the film.  It may be a bit confusing in the beginning because Abrams doesn't sit you down and say "this is this character, his name is this, his background is this..."  It's something you have to figure out as you go along.  There are a few brief moments of awkward dialogue like something has just happened and ten seconds later a character will shout out that it happened.  There are a couple of awkward stare-downs of characters that lasted just an awkward smidge too long.  And, then there's the slightly bigger complaint that the film kinda, sorta feels like a re-imagining of A New Hope.  And while I'd say there are definite similarities, I'd have to argue that instead of it rehashing an already told story, it builds upon it and uses it more as an homage. Abrams knows what made the prequels terrible and knows what made the originals so much fun.  So, he harnesses that fun from the originals (almost to a fault) and gives us what we yearn for.  And while this one may have more allusions and connections to A New Hope than we expected, the series is now set to go wherever it pleases while still maintaining the original vision once filmed back in the late 70s.

Abrams does a stellar job of living up to the hype.  While I'm not a superfan myself, I was with a few of them and can tell just by watching it that there is something here that everyone will like. The movie is also wildly funny. There are moments of pure humor and joy spilling out from almost every character. It's also very dark in certain places. Abrams didn't come here to mess around.  He came to bring us the Star Wars we've been looking for since Return.  I believe that handing off the reigns for Episode VIII to director Rian Johnson (one of my favorite directors) will work out quite nicely as he's also one who is more in favor of practical effects and character than CGI and fitting in as much action as possible. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a great film, one that was promised to capture the vision of the originals and one that certainly didn't disappoint in that aspect.  I'm not even that big of a Star Wars fan, but I know I'll be seeing it in theaters at the very least a couple more times.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

In The Heart Of The Sea: Towards Thee I Roll, Thou All-Destroying But Unconquering Whale

They made it pretty clear in the trailers that this ISN'T the story of Moby Dick.  This is the story of the story that inspired that story.  So... there's that.  Anyone staying away from the film because you feel like it's going to be a boring and arduous story of Ahab and his metaphorical/all too real white whale... it's not. What it is, though, is a story that we've never heard, but we've seen a few times before.  It's like a combination of last year's Unbroken, The Perfect Storm, Apollo 13, and Jaws.  Which, if you were to pitch that to me alone I'd be in.  And while In the Heart of the Sea isn't a perfect film, it's a gorgeously shot, well-acted, beautifully crafted film that almost succeeds in its journey.  It just falls a tad short.

Beginning the film I thought it was going to be mostly like The Perfect Storm.  A bunch of fishermen on a large boat set sails to go and collect 2,000 barrels of drum oil.  Along for the ride is newly appointed Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who is only helming the ship due to some serous nepotism. His first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and childhood friend Matthew (Cillian Murphy) run the ship and are the real sea dogs.  Everything the Cappy does is wrong, but our hero Owen is always there to save the day.  Things go well for the crew.  They spot whales early, capturing one that fills nearly 50 barrels alone.  With this kind of luck, they'll be home inside a year. Then, things go to shit.  There's no whales.  There's no oil.  There's nothing.  So, they stop somewhere in South America where they're told that near the equator there's whales, but it's so far out from land that it's too dangerous to travel.  Our steadfast Captain, and a first mate itching to get home to his wife, decide it's worth the risk.  So, they embark.  (Still sounding like The Perfect Storm, no?) They do find whales where they thought, but they also encounter a mammoth beast of a whale, bigger than any in history, twice the size of their boat who seems to have a personal vendetta against the crew. It tears through their ship like tissue paper, leaving half of the crew dead and the other half stranded in three lifeboats 900 miles away from civilization.  That's when the story becomes a survival story.  How do our heroes survive?  Amid this... the pesky whale returns a few more times to mess some more stuff up.

Everything in the first two-thirds of the movie is fantastic.  Writer Charles Leavett created some remarkable characters that we actually cared about and some terrifically weasely ones we hoped would get swallowed alive.  The dynamic and relationships between the two groups is fun to watch.  There's also the acting which is top notch if you're able to get over the strange British/Bostonian hybrid accents a lot of the cast have. But, the winner of this film is Ron Howard.  The cinematography and direction is some of the most beautiful I've ever seen.  It's what Gravity did for space or what Avatar did for weird blue-people-having-orgies-world.  The film could've gone silent without a single line of dialogue uttered and I would've had the same amazing time. It's Oscar worthy (though with the lack of box office revenue, and somewhat poor reviews I imagine it will be overlooked). What Howard has been able to do is take a difficultly shot film and turn it into art.  There's CGI storms that feel real.  There's a CGI whale that looks real and instills true terror into your heart.  There's a bluish-green hue throughout the film that makes it feel fresh and real and like nothing you've ever seen before.  And it's perfect.

Where the film begins to falter is after the ship has been destroyed.  There's a good half hour or more of life boats and starvation that slows a quickly paced film down to a halt.  And where the survival sequences of Apollo 13 were similar, the pace remained the same because they were in imminent danger.  They weren't slowly starving to death over a period of days.  It's amazing to see what the survivors actually went through and how they actually had to survive, but it's jarring to a film that has kept a constant pace for its entirety.  It also feels like half of it could've been cut out and re-capped to us.  I mean, the entire set up for the film is that Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) has come to hear the true story told by its last living survivor (Brendan Gleeson).  So, a lot of it could've just been recapped quickly, much like the ending is once the select few survivors actually make it back.

Though it does slow down towards the last third of the film, it's still a great watch.  Even if it's just for the beauty of the art design and camera work. Old timey ship movies like this and like Master and Commander will never have a place among the hearts of movie goers. There just aren't enough people interested in them to allow them to make their money back.  This is a shame because both films are good in their own right, but In the Heart of the Sea feels like a piece of art that must be watched and shared.  Ron Howard certainly has an eye for direction, but had the ending of this film been a bit more cleaned up, it could've been his magnum opus. Whether you're a fan of this type of film, or you're just a fan of watching Chris Hemsworth (the superior Hemsworth if we're being honest), this is one you should absolutely see on the big screen.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Legend: Two Hardys Are (Theoretically) Better Than One

The mobster/gangster film genre is a tough nut to crack if your name isn't Martin Scorsese or you don't belong to The Godfather trilogy.  Many have tried and come close (Road to Perdition, The Untouchables, Donnie Brasco, American Gangster, Black Mass), while others have tried and failed miserably (We Own The Night, Alpha Dog, Gangster Squad, Running Scared).  It's such a tough genre to nail when you have to live up to the likes of Goodfellas, Scarface, Gangs of New York, and my favorite, The Departed.  However, a good start on the way to becoming one of the greats is to immediately cast Tom Hardy to play the gangster and then cast Tom Hardy once again to play the gangster's twin gangster brother.  That, right there, is hard to mess up.  And while Legend didn't mess up and fail as a gangster/mobster/crime film... it's going to fade right into that middling ground.

The film begins strong and sort of sludges through the rest.  We begin with a female voiceover telling us about Ronald and Reggie Kray (Hardy), identical twin bruvas in East London who run the crime racket.  Ronald is suave, sophisticated, well-spoken (even for a cockney), and a brute. Reggie, on the other hand, is certifiably insane, an assumed paranoid schizophrenic, a brute with no remorse whatsoever, and a proud homosexual (one who gives, but does not receive-- also made very clearly).  Their rise to power is the tale of Legend.  Taking out rival crime syndicates, avoiding the police, keeping Reggie in check, and Ronn falling in love with his wife Frances (Emily Browning).  The first half hour or so of the film where we are getting to know the brothers is some of the best parts of the film.  They both have their own distinct personalities and they're both funny in their own way.  But, it's somewhere around the marriage of Ronn and Frances that the movie just kind of slows way down and borders around boring. There isn't a whole lot of gangster violence happening and it's all just kind of murky.  There's nothing I can pin down that really hurts the film in the middle, it just felt like it was lacking.

Something it wasn't lacking, however, was a spectacular double performance by Tom Hardy.  He's as good in this film as he's ever been.  There seems to be this weird thing with Hardy where he's either the suave, outspoken, semi-quirky character and, lately, the quiet, brooding, strong silent type character who everyone fears.  The beauty of Legend is that he's both.  Ronn is the Hardy from Inception while Regg is the psychotic, violent Hardy from Lawless/Mad Max/Warrior.  No matter what is taking place in any given scene there is always the tension that one of the Hardys is going to snap and kill the fuck out of someone.  Maybe it's the looming doom that isn't acted upon much that leads to film's mediocrity.  Maybe it was just my messed up brain wanting more violence than what actually happened.  Maybe Regg was set up to be so psychotic that I wanted it all the time.  Maybe it was just an okay film.  Either way, Tom Hardy amps the film up three levels higher with his performances alone.  It actually reminded me of the already forgotten film Black Mass where the film itself was just okay, but the performance of Johnny Depp as gangster Whitey Bulger elevated the film higher than it deserved.  Either way, Tom Hardy is GOD.

There were a bunch of little details that kind of got on my nerves.  There was the constant, and mostly unnecessary narration via Frances (which makes little sense after seeing the film).  There were set ups that didn't pay off and just little nitpicky things.  Essentially when walking out of the film it was one of those things where all I could do was talk about how great Tom Hardy was in it and that ONE MEGA ULTRA VIOLENT SCENE THAT WAS AWESOME, but that's about it.  I couldn't really think back to a particular sequence of moments or act that really did it for me.  Like I said, it started strong, but it fizzles pretty quickly never really catching the steam it had in the beginning.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Best of Enemies: Left Hot American Summer

-Written by guest reviewer Nick Hartman

An endless stream of pundits belching invective and outrage from the left and the right is how most Americans get their “news.” But it wasn’t always that way.   

“Best of Enemies,” the 2015 documentary recently released on Netflix, serves as an origin story for how political commentary supplanted news, and most intriguingly, the toxic relationship between the two men ultimately responsible.  

The 88-minute documentary chronicles 10 debates between liberal author and socialite Gore Vidal and National Review founder and conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. during the 1968 presidential conventions in Miami Beach and Chicago. Desperate for ratings and unable to outspend rival networks, ABC needed a different angle for its election coverage. It simply wasn’t going to out-network NBC and CBS.

The ‘68 conventions were far from political pep rallies; they were crucibles. The very idea of what it meant to be an American was being called into question. The widening fissures could be seen and heard on the evening news: the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, race riots, anti-war demonstrations. The conventions served as a platform for each party to articulate its vision. Enter Vidal and Buckley.  

But were Vidal and Buckley battling for control of America’s soul on live television, as some commentators have suggested. Or were they just two assholes who hated to lose an argument?

Fortunately, “Best of Enemies doesn’t traffic in either/or propositions. Peppered with obvious homages to Errol Morris, most notably Jonathan Kirkscey’s music, “Best of Enemies” provides a riveting character study of both men - their lifestyles, their philosophies, their fear of what America might become if the other won.

Where directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville deserve the most credit, however, is for showing the increasingly mouth-clenching enmity between Vidal and Buckley with each passing debate. During one exchange, Vidal blithely poked at Buckley, “As far as I’m concerned, the only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” A visibly seething Buckley leaned over his chair toward Vidal and hissed, “Now listen, you queer! Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” What began as a joust between two blue-blooded polemicists hurling Gatsby-esque insults at one another, ultimately yielded something far darker and wholly personal, not only about Buckley and Vidal, but also about the American public. What began as a legitimate and heartfelt attempt to save the soul of America ultimately became a money-making scheme that still taints they way America gets its “news.”

Live television had never seen anything like it. Once the convention floors were torn up and the flags stopped waving, one thing became clear: the debates were a ratings coup. ABC unwittingly generated a template for the 24-hour news cycle that remains not only intact, but arguably more virulent and even less informative.

Thirty-eight years later, many are inured to the yelling. Perhaps more depressing is the thought that while the production values have improved, the topics of conversation that Vidal and Buckley debated on those makeshift stages in the summer of 1968 remain largely the same.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Krampus: Christmas Horror Comedy Only Hindered By Its Rating

Christmas movies are great.  Scary movies are great.  You'd think combining the two would make way for an awesome cross-over genre (hey, it worked for Christmas and action movies).  Unfortunately, there's never really been a good Christmas horror film (I mean, I'm pretty partial to Silent Night, Deadly Night myself, but others don't seem to share the same sentiment). But, after his sneaky little hit a few years back, Michael Dougherty has followed up Trick r' Treat with Krampus, a Christmas horror comedy that was a fun little PG-13 film, that could've been a great R rated film.

It's two days before Christmas and already the family is starting to lose it.  Max (Chef's Emjay Anthony) is starting to wonder if Christmas has lost all its magic.  He's constantly trying to get back to the good ole' days when everyone gave a shit about everyone and loved one another.  Instead, he and his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) are forced to spend the holidays with their hillbilly unruly family (among them David Koechner).  They're crass, they're crude, they're insensitive, and they're hated by everyone else.  The only person Max seems to care about is his Hungarian grandmother Omi who has convinced Max, even though he probably doesn't believe in Jesus Santa anymore, to write him a letter.  His cousins get ahold of it and embarrass Max out loud which leads him to tear the letter up and toss it out the window.  Little did he know that this would trigger the shadow of St. Nicholas-- Krampus and his minions to come and try to kill the shit out of his entire family.  Slowly, the town is covered by a huge blizzard.  Ominous snowmen start appearing on the front lawn.  Noises in the attic, shadows on the wall.  Krampus teases you before he strikes you down.

The film is fun.  Plain and simple.  It's not scary at all.  And it's not overtly funny, either.  It's kind of stuck in that middle ground where the jokes are dumb enough for the movie to be considered a comedy, but the film isn't scary enough to be a horror. It seems to me that the film was unwilling to commit to either side and I can only guess that's because it was obligated to retain a PG-13 rating. The crude family is only crude enough for PG-13 faire.  The horror violence mostly occurs offscreen. And while this certainly isn't a family movie, it's as if the filmmakers were afraid to go balls out, which would've made for a great film.  What we have now is good... not great.  It takes a little bit too long for the build up, to the point that you start to wonder if the fun is ever going to arrive.  However, when the attacks and creepiness begins... it's a lot of fun.  The family is taken down piece by piece by Krampus's minions which include a creepy doll/bird (something Sid from Toy Story might've put together), a grotesque teddy bear, a giant jack in the box that eats people, creepy little demonic Shakespearean elves, a robot toy that loves to stab people, and annoying little murderous gingerbread men.  

All of the creatures in the film are done by practical means and it makes them quite frightening to look at, but hilarious to watch.  The only CGI in the entire film were the gingerbread men (who, if you ask me, could've been left out because they were DUMB... but only in the film very briefly).  The fact that he used robotics or men in costume made the film that much better to watch.  Now if he'd been able to splatter some bitches on the walls... that would've amped the movie up to a 10.  Unfortunately, while there is some good horror (not scares), all of the violence mostly happens offscreen which is kind of a downer.  

The best part of the movie, though, is when you finally get to see Krampus.  It's not CGI and it's awesome as hell.  Most of the time when the monster is hidden for most of the film, the reveal is kind of a let down (note to horror filmmakers... when you can't make the reveal awesome, don't reveal at all) however, this time it paid off.  He's a terrifying hybrid of man and Santa beast. And while I was hoping that the film would lean a little bit more towards the horror side of the genre instead of the comedy (even though it doesn't actually nail either), it was all made right by the end of the film just by witnessing the Krampus they went with.

Crossing other genres and horror take finesse.  Drag Me To Hell is the best example I have because not only is it equal parts hilarious and terrifying, it also did it with a PG-13 rating. Sam Raimi is a genius and it's hard to duplicate that filmmaking, genre-crossing talent.  Krampus gets close.  But, where Drag Me To Hell didn't let the PG-13 rating get it down and was able to juggle both moments of absolute terror as well as laugh out loud hilarity... Krampus just didn't seem to be able to commit to either side and it was diluted with its rating.  Had it been able to go balls out on both sides instead of hindering itself in fear of censorship... it would've taken a good and highly entertaining movie, and elevated it to great.


Friday, December 4, 2015

Room: A Beautiful and Heartwarming Film About a Horrific Subject Matter

I'm a fan of the cinema, obviously, but you rarely see me get out to the indie theater to find a film that I hadn't seen a trailer for, didn't really know much about, and due to the description of the film felt like it wasn't a movie I would enjoy.  For movies like these, I generally wait until awards season and see what gets nominated that I absolutely have to see.  However, there has been an influx in Oscar buzz for a few films that all seem to be related to me in my mind.  The films are Brooklyn, Carol, and finally, Room.  All are films I probably wouldn't take time to seek out and spend money on first (especially when I know Krampus is coming out today!), but all have been generating some serious Academy water cooler talk and all of the have a 95% or higher on rottentomatoes.  So, Room showed up at the indie theater that is literally walking distance from my place and I decided I'd give it a look.  And I'm sure glad that I did.

I knew that Brie Larson was a fantastic actress.  This is no secret by now.  Even in comedic roles like 21 Jump Street or Trainwreck she's still a marvel to watch, but it's her work in more serious roles (especially Short Term 12) that really showcases her talent. Larson returns in Room as a woman kidnapped seven years prior, now with a five year old son, Jack, living in a what essentially amounts to a shed.  The room is tiny with a small bed, a bath tub, a toilet, and a sink. These are the only four walls that she has known for seven years and the only four walls Jack has ever known.  She tells him tales and lies about what's real (everything in room) and what's just television (everything beyond it).  It's when Jack's Ma starts to fear for the life of her son that she decides to tell him about the real world and help plan his escape.  I'd like to be able to describe more of the movie for you, and you may already know a little more about the plot, but this was essentially the information I had when going into it and it made the viewing experience that much more exceptional.

What Room does so spectacularly is have the ability to take an extraordinarily dark subject matter and not completely make us feel like shit when exiting the theater.  Even though what has happened and what is happening to our two main characters is, in all sense of the word, awful... that's not what the film decides to focus on.  It decides to focus on the resiliency of our characters and the love that ultimately saves one another. The movie is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack.  Throughout the film, we get his voice and point of view as the narrator, getting insight into the whole experience not just from a child, but a child who has never known the real world in his entire life.  He's seen trees, and leaves, and oceans, and other people only on a small fuzzy television.  These can't be real things because the kid, other than through a tiny skylight, has really never even seen the sky.

The movie could've taken a different path once the two get out of room and focused on getting revenge for time and life lost, focusing on the legal side of taking down the captor, it could focus on Ma getting back to a world she hasn't seen in the good part of a decade.  But, no... it focuses on two survivors (one who has never known a world as big as this) trying to find happiness again and only being able to thrive because of one another. Jack, in room, is this loud (sometimes obnoxiously) boisterous young kid who isn't afraid to speak his mind.  But, once in the real world, he's a scared little kid sometimes unable to even muster up a voice to speak what's on his mind or what he desires.  The world is infinitely larger than anything he could've ever imagined and watching him come to terms with what's real and the Earth's expanse is truly an exciting, yet heartbreaking, sight to see.

Jacob Tremblay, who plays Jack, in his first onscreen role, is tremendous.  He's a natural and nothing about his performance feels forced.  He's just a kid and because the first third of the film we've come to know him as loud and powerful Jack, once he's back in the world and becomes a silent scared five year old, we almost find him frustrating because we know he's capable of bigger things.  We know he's capable of communicating what it is he wants and needs.  Tremblay is able to play Jack as believably, childishly, rambunctious, but also restrained and subdued.  Brie Larson also turns in another dazzling performance as well.  She's all but dead inside and this is made clear in every look she gives, but it's her love for Jack that ultimately saves her and gives her the strength, not just to escape room, but to keep going once returned to the world.

I highly recommend this to anyone who can stomach the subject matter, because like I said, the film does a wonderful job not focusing on the dark aspects of the plot.  It's truly a story about the love a mother and son have for one another.  A love so strong that it transcends any other obstacle forced upon them.  And while it will almost certainly bring you to tears in certain scenes of the film, it's not manipulative in any way and it never lingers on a single moment long enough to elicit every tear and emotion from your body.  It's goal is to tell a story, not deceive you into fully losing your shit.  This movie will undoubtedly be up for some kind of Academy Award, but it's in theaters right now.  Unless you're headed out to see Krampus (which I most certainly am), the next movie on your must-see list before Star Wars should be Room.