Saturday, August 30, 2014

The End Of Summer 2014

Alright guys. This summer is officially over for the movie industry.

It's been a long and trying one with a very few bright spots.

Since I can't honestly consider The Winter Soldier a summer movie (it came out in April) here's a list of the flicks that really stood out to me:

Godzilla

Edge of Tomorrow

How to Train Your Dragon 2

22 Jump Street

Snowpiercer

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A Most Wanted Man

Guardians of the Galaxy

and

The Trip to Italy

Given the way the successful weekends were broken up, I'm actually surprised that I found nine really solid movies to talk about. But the reality is, this summer has probably been no slower than in the past. However, the anticipation of what's coming up in the next couple of years makes this slate look kind of puny. The way too big blockbusters are coming, and we're hyping ourselves up... because everything we've wanted to see since we were little kids watching saturday morning cartoons is about to come smack us in the face in the form of overstuffed, big-budget monstrosities of film. Who wouldn't want to see that? Avengers 2? Batman/Superman? and Justice League? Jurassic World? Star Wars sequels? and I can't remember what else? Ugh, we're not gonna know what to do cause our pockets are gonna be empty from all the movie theatre visits.

Anyway, I'm gonna be MIA for the next couple weeks. When I get back I'm gonna have to play some serious catchup. But in the immortal words of Rebecca Pidgeon, "That's life, That's Hollywood."

So here are a few of the flicks I'll hopefully be getting around to watching when I return:

Get On Up

Coherence

Frank

Love is Strange

The One I Love

and

The Notebook

Hope y'all have a great end of summer!!

The November Man Is Nothing Like Bond...

...Still that won't stop the ad department from repeatedly trying to hit you over the head with the connections. But at the end of the day, Pierce Brosnan (with a gun) and Olga Kurylenko are the only real connections back to the biggest spy franchise of all time. This is not a bad thing, just something you should take note of before going to see the movie.
Essentially, Brosnan takes off his MI6 hat and dons a much bleaker CIA persona. He plays a retired secret agent who is all too suddenly called back into the fray to deal with some unfinished business from his past. The script's actually pretty interesting however as the focus quickly turns away from many of the usual tropes of such a story and attempts to be much more about existing in the world after having become a killer. Once you make enough concessions can you actually ever return to society? Can you still claim to be human?
This is nothing compared to his performance in The Matador, but it's still quite fun to watch Brosnan return to the genre that most made him famous. Olga Kurylenko is really cool to watch as well, and it's weird to try and draw comparisons between her role in this film and that of Quantum of Solace. She's very beautiful and not a bad actress to boot.
Luke Bracey was pretty solid too as Brosnan's one time apprentice. Though for some reason I couldn't stop thinking about how much he looks like a young Sean Bean...
There are some very serious weaknesses to this film however. Some of the fight sequences are waaay too oversold to the point that I honestly stopped caring that there was even action going on on screen... actually I really couldn't even tell. What I mean by that is, when a film jumps into slow-motion for things that are less than amazing, it's difficult to respect the filmmaker's decision making. And that may be just the very point... Roger Donaldson's direction kind of bored me. I really like the work he did on The World's Fastest Indian, and The Bank Job was shockingly watchable. But most of the other flicks on his filmography fall into the category of "don't need to watch again" ... or rather the "I get it already" sub genre of features.
Now I'm not trying to turn you away, in fact I think it would be kind of cool if more people came out to watch this one. But frankly, I'd be lying if I called The November Man "a must see."

Disappointed By The Giver

I've never read the book, but something felt off about Phillip Noyce's adaptation of The Giver.
The general design of the production seemed disjointed and out of place, the editing felt choppy and confused at times, and the attempts at adding and taking away colors didn't manage to work as well as I would have imagined. But those are only minor qualms, because there were far greater flaws. Most notably, the entire third act of this movie JUST DIDN'T WORK. This was not an action film by any stretch of the imagination (nor should it be), yet for some reason, in the last twenty minutes or so the audience was subjected to the most nonsensical of "chase sequences"... across thousands of miles... on foot... over the course of what was apparently a single day.
This is the kind of minor mistake that should be cleared up by the second draft, but if left unchanged can mortally wound a production. And I simply cannot believe the filmmakers allowed this project to reach theaters without finding a way to adjust the timeline at the very least.
As I stated above, I've never read the book. So my disappointment comes from a different place. I'm a big Jeff Bridges fan... after all, he is The Dude!! And knowing how important this project was to him... he took years and years as a producer trying to get this movie made... I'm just sad that the final product couldn't have been something more complete, compelling, and consistent. This is not to say anything against Jeff Bridges. He did an excellent job as an actor in the film, but in handing over control of the picture to Phillip Noyce and a couple of so-so writers (Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide), I feel he did not properly service a story that means a lot to him. It's unfortunate, because there is clearly a lot of heart here... it just gets muddled over by some unbelievable mistakes.
"Oh man, I really wish we'd given this script another read before we started production..."
The actors are fine, but the film just falls apart. It's not the end of the world, but if you're looking to actually enjoy your afternoon, this probably isn't the best way to do that.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Wish I Was Still Watching The Trip To Italy

I don't know how Michael Winterbottom figured this out... but apparently, if you take Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and just record them eating and shooting the shit with each other, it translates to cinematic gold.
The Trip To Italy is actually the third time these guys have in some way successfully used this formula... and it has worked every single time. Tristram Shandy and the first The Trip are both thoroughly interesting and entertaining movies. And now this film has joined a very bizarre kind of franchise. The lower-budget, more down to earth kind. What can I say? I love these guys.
The comedic chemistry that Coogan and Brydon have developed is unlike any other. It's sustainable over many years and always manages to leave me wanting more. There's really not a whole lot more to say about this because it's just two guys the majority of the time and they're really just existing in their own special kind of reality. What you see and want from the trailer is exactly what you get.

All I can do is give my stamp of approval. This flick hits the spot for me. It leaves me physically full, comedically sated, and completely introspective. Amazing that one film and two guys can accomplish all of that in one very short hour and forty-eight minutes. Bravo!

Returning To Sin City With A Dame To Kill For

Not gonna lie, I was waaay excited to return to the world of Sin City for another go around. The first movie was such a fun trip. Robert Rodriguez was back, Frank Miller was back... what could possibly go wrong?
Well, it's really not all that simple. I did essentially get a similar kind of joy out of this sequel. The original was such an interesting movie... completely shot in Rodriguez's studio, all covered in green screens and the entirety of the film was just CGed over to create this scoping world. And everything seemed to flow together even though it was a series of stories all taken from very different books in the opus of Sin City history. They made that initial movie work so well because they could choose whatever piece they wanted and tie it all up in a pretty little bow to the point that a revisit probably wasn't necessary.

And that's exactly where Sin City: A Dame To Kill For's fate gets murky. Since the creators had initially made the first film out of order, they left a lot of stories untold in varying spots in the timeline. So what this sequel becomes... is more like a bunch of pretty cool deleted scenes... both sequel and prequel and in fact... stuff that was going on at the same time as the other things from the first flick. In that regard, it becomes very confusing trying to realign your perspective in the overall arc of the film.

Regardless, the filmmakers did manage to tell a number of entertaining stories. But the end result feels like it could eventually be combined with the original to make a massive, all encompassing mega-movie.

Mickey Rourke still kills it with his performance as the utterly horrific, but somehow totally lovable Marv... OLD SPOILER one of the myriad of returning characters that actually died in the original. END OLD SPOILER He reminded me of all the things I really enjoyed from the first film. And that's pretty powerful for one actor to bring us back like that. Jessica Alba, however takes a very different position, showing a much darker side to the once peaceful Nancy. Her scenes are likely the most important in reference to the first film, but somehow feel like they cheapen those things that made me so completely enjoy her before.

Josh Brolin does his best Clive Owen impression and gets away with it a few times, but ultimately Dwight's story loses some steam because of the prequel nature of this segment... that and he really doesn't get any help from Eva Green who apparently becomes a worse actress the more she drops trow. This is unfortunate because, after Casino Royal, I really did think she was going to prove to be a very solid actress. This has not seemed to pan out in her last several showings... 300: Rise of an Empire (ugh) and Dark Shadows included. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a very entertaining new element to this sequel, but his part felt waaay too short in the grand scheme of things. The same can be said for Juno Temple's wonderful cameo.
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is a welcome supplement to the original feature. If you liked that movie at all this is certainly worth a visit and it definitely looks good on the big screen, though I really felt the 3D was useless and unfortunately distracted me from the things I did like about the flick. In any event, I say give it a shot, though it may not have the same quality arc of the original, it's still got its moments.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Life After Beth Has No Pulse

Jeff Baena wrote i heart huckabees. I LOVE i heart huckabees. So I was excited to learn that he had penned and was going to direct a new "zombie" flick starring Aubrey Plaza... Life After Beth.
This is a story about a kid who recently lost his girlfriend Beth to a snakebite while she was out hiking by herself. But when her parents begin acting weird after the funeral, he gets suspicious and decides to break into their home only to discover that she is still alive... well not exactly alive... but living... you get the point.
The only problem is... well there turned out to be a lot of problems... For one, Aubrey Plaza (note that she was top billed) barely had anything to do in the movie... no real character... no arc... no screen time. The real lead of the film was Dane DeHaan who has failed to make any kind of an impression on me between the four movies I've seen him in... wait, that's not true... I know him as that whiny kid.

HE
NEVER
STOPS
WHINING.
Ugh. But then the film itself turned out to carry a plot that would've worked better in a short. I know this because my friends and I made said short four years ago. When your characters have to repeat the same conversation fifteen times over the course of the movie, you probably don't have a complete feature-length story.
The one truly shining moment for me came in the first couple of minutes... and it had nothing to do with the script... or really the film in general. It's an obvious ad-lib by John C. Reilly at the shiva. Just this tiny random moment that proves how much of a genius performer that man is. If (and I'm telling you, you shouldn't) you decide to go watch this film, I'm sure you'll know exactly what moment I'm referring to.
My final comment is to Jeff Baena. I know you can do better than this... I've witnessed it. Please write another screenplay with the same caliber of i heart huckabees! Don't make me beg here!

Calvary Is Self-referential BS

I'm really most impressed with my ability to sit through the entire hour and forty minute runtime of Calvary, cause that flick was naggingly annoying.
The setting was beautiful and Brendan Gleeson's performance was of great quality... but the positives pretty much end there. Essentially, Gleeson plays a priest (Father James) in a small town of sinners. Yet the members of his congregation seem to each be the worst of a specific kind of thing. Almost to the point that I felt like I was watching a walkthrough on how to create basic character archetypes. Anyway, One Sunday in confessional, a member of said congregation states that he is going to kill Father James within a week... Okay. That's weird. So the priest goes about his business... sort of trying to tie up loose ends, because he's decided it's beyond him to go to the authorities with this threat. I don't know... I guess you could call it a murder mystery without the initial murder.

There are a few other performances of note though. Chris O'Dowd gives his best attempt at making sense of an utterly confusing character, but ultimately fails to make much of an impression. Kelly Reilly is rather one-note, but that's all that is asked of her so I'll give her a pass on this one. But then Aidan Gillen shows up and in one fell swoop proves that he cannot play anything outside the box Game of Thrones has already given him. Maybe he's better than this, but his performance was bizarrely cheeky and unconvincing. So he'll get no positive grades here from me.

I don't know John Michael McDonagh's previous work. But having seen this, I'm instantly given a negative impression of his talents... or perhaps he'd better serve as director without writing the scripts himself. But that's just conjecture probably worth ignoring for now. In reference to potential Oscar noms, I do think it'd be pretty cool to see Gleeson get a nod... but that would most likely only yield results if the Academy cheated (as they did with Casey Affleck so many years ago) and dropped him into the Supporting Actor category. That seems pretty unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
Calvary... ENTER THEATRE AT OWN RISK.