Monday, April 28, 2014

Joss Whedon's In Your Eyes Tries Something A Little Different

Last week Joss Whedon's new writing endeavor, In Your Eyes, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. A day later, they put it online for anyone who had five bucks to watch at their leisure. I thought that was kind of a cool idea. So I watched this one at home.
While I'm curious to find out how the sales have done so far, at the moment my mind is more so on the contents of the actual film. It's sort of sci-fi, sort of fantasy, mostly just bizarre love story. And for a low budget concept, Brin Hill did manage to milk Joss' pages for everything they were worth. In Your Eyes is like watching a couple crazy people wander around for an hour forty in a world that doesn't accept them only to be justified by their own recognition that they are completely sane and everyone else is wrong. Really though, the whole thing is surprisingly simple at heart.
Sharing a bond with another person in the regular day to day can be tough as it is. So just imagine if you were connected by something deeper... if you could see through that other person's eyes and talk to them even though your miles away without need of a phone... if you were literally in their head any time you wanted to be, and so were they. Okay, so it's not the most explosive concept Joss has ever concocted. But his script still carries that classic wit and those dire stakes (not to be confused with Buffy stakes) that made me fall in love with his work so many years ago. I really do respect Joss Whedon's decisions these days, because he's finally put himself in a place to essentially put all of his work out there in some medium or another. Most writers would kill for that opportunity. And obviously, while the advent of The Avengers certainly helped his cause, he was already playing around with new media and the opportunity to be free with his work... just look at Dr. Horrible.

So, of course, I enjoyed sitting at home and watching Brin Hill interpret Joss's words. He did a solid job for a relatively new director. And the actors certainly bit for him. After experiencing the awkwardness of Much Ado About Nothing, I was quite reticent about taking on another low budget piece from this team, but this was something else.
The actors clearly cared... both Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David brought their game... and for a movie where the majority of the their time is spent talking to nothing, they certainly made it feel like something more (then again, perhaps that just comes with being on a movie set). The soundtrack was at times awkward, and occasionally I felt like certain relationships were oversimplified (okay, more than occasionally). But the concept may have required that second note in order to function at all. I mean, it is a weird thing to put on film.
At the end of the day, In Your Eyes is just a solid movie. Not perfect, but still worth your time. If you wanna check it out you can right here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

DisneyNature's Bears Is A Welcome Earth Day Treat

Almost every Earth Day, DisneyNature puts out a little family friendly documentary in hopes that we may better understand and care for our planet. This year's latest installment was Bears, as narrated by John C. Reilly.
While at times the film does manage to feel a little TOO kid friendly, it eventually manages to break free of its constraints with some rather epic bear fights... of course nothing too brutal. When African Cats came out several years ago, the biggest note I heard from parents was their kids were scared because (quite honestly) the violence was rather intense. And while I, being an adult without the constraints of children, enjoyed that aspect of the film, I do recognize that it's intended viewers are families. So it would seem with this most recent installment, DisneyNature has learned its lesson, bringing the intensity of violent behavior down to a minimum. Any parents who find themselves wary of bringing their kids should rest assured, this one is truly made for all ages.
That is not to say it is without drama. Some of the events this bear family has to deal with are quite harrowing. And at times I honestly thought things would take a turn for the worse. But at the end of the day, it is a family movie. I cannot emphasize that enough.
The choice to bring Mr. Reilly on board was, in my mind, a stroke of genius. After all, he's just another lovable bear in his right. And man was it fun to hear him joke around on screen. You could tell he was just having a blast.
Bears is a welcome big screen documentary for the whole family. Now I just can't wait for next year's Monkey Kingdom!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Transcendence Fails To Make A Real Statement... Or Any Kind Of Sense

It's always awkward to walk out of a movie theatre and realize the last two hours were only put in your way to help you waste time. Usually I don't have that kind of sensation (or lack there of). Usually I can understand, at least from a concept basis, why the filmmaker thought their movie would be worth our time. Any kind of movie can affect our lives. Unfortunately, Transcendence neither seems to care or want to.
I really am not one for spoilers, but the only way I feel I can accurately assess this movie is by walking through the awkwardness that was the final moments... if you really intend to go see this movie and think there is any chance you might enjoy it, stop reading now.
At first glance, the concept could be really fun. The singularity is a huge conversation piece these days, so why not try to imagine such an event? But the biggest question I glean from "singularity" is... yes it is consciousness... but is it the same consciousness? The biggest issue with this film is, it doesn't actively make a decision one way or the other on the matter. The military is attacking Johnny Depp's compound with everything they've got (which is apparently a bunch of small cannons that don't seem to do a whole lot of damage)... oh, and by the way, they've recently joined forces with the terrorist sect that started this whole mess because... I don't know... people are evil or something. But Johnny Depp's symbiotic (whatever) zombie people don't fight back. They just walk towards the other humans and stand there. So the military keeps using force for pretty much no reason. As Rebecca Hall's character is dying in the newly formed arms of reanimated Johnny Depp (yeah, this is what happens), she decides that it is actually him after all. But there is no legitimate proof one way or the other. She decides this because she is half-assedly being uploaded into his system so he can intentionally download a virus (this is your big climax??) and sees that he was doing everything for her. So yes, he cares about his creator, he loves the woman he loved when he was alive, but there's no legitimacy or attempt at such to the claim that it is actually the same guy who died in the first thirty or so minutes of the movie.
Also I'm pretty sure I saw most of this ending in Independence Day back in 1996... and the consensus always seemed to be that nothing about that made any sense.

Then Paul Bettany rambles into a very confusing and poorly written monologue about the garden the two of them made together... and would (I guess) live in forever (??). A drop of water falls... cleans up the mucky water... and the movie just... ends. It's one of those endings that leaves you slack jawed because it literally gives you nothing... not even something to consider as you walk out in silence and drive home... in silence. Because honestly there's nothing to pull from this movie for future conversations except the old, "Remember that movie Transcendence?" To which I would reply, "No."
I'm all for first time directors getting a shot at making something cool. But Wally Pfister (who clearly knows how to compose a great shot) didn't pick a particularly quality film to start a new career with. Then again, I don't blame him much. Sometimes the only excuse needed to make a first movie is just to make a first movie. Bringing it all together takes a lot of practice. Though I will say, from an acting perspective, I think he missed the boat. Johnny Depp was frequently difficult to understand... and while I do like the cast I found them to be a little too beautiful for a team of the world's smartest scientists. That and, everyone just seemed to be smiling all the time... even after all of their friends had just been poisoned, shot, or blown up in a terrorist attack. I don't know if Morgan Freeman would really be acting so smug in a situation like that... just saying.
Transcendence is a big concept as told by people who just aren't as smart as it. Almost, quite awkwardly, like how the FBI/military/terrorist sect is not as smart as Johnny Depp's super computer. It's funny how accidentally meta this whole thing is.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jim Jarmusch Doldrums On With Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive opened with a series of spinning shots that, between the motion and the sound mixing, made me ridiculously dizzy. And my filmgoing experience never recovered.
It's not to say that I was dizzy or uncomfortable the whole time, rather it felt to me as though Jim Jarmusch was simply trying to annoy everyone he managed to get into the theatre. In pulling together such an excellent cast (Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, and Jeffrey Wright) he legitimately got me excited for what could only be a very interesting take on Vampires... only to thoroughly disappoint me with a two hour script that could have been condensed into twenty minutes. There is practically no plot to be spoken of. And while an attempt was made to build an incredibly dense history of this vampire world, it quickly became evident the film was simply on repeat. By the time something "important" (and I use the word lightly) did happen, I was completely beyond caring. And while the music element was consistently being hyped up throughout the film, there was never any legitimate payoff for that idea.
At this point I'm willing to come out and say this... I don't like Jim Jarmsuch's films. I've only ever seen one that I enjoyed (Broken Flowers), and even that one sticks in my memory mostly for having one of the worst endings I've ever seen. I'm a cinephile, but I don't know that I have it in me to give the man any more chances.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a sloppy, boring film that wastes its exceptional cast in meandering anti-plot. It left me with a feeling that I had just been watching a boring couple spend an entire evening complaining and not going anywhere or having any fun with each other. And that does not a good film make.

Dom Hemingway: A Mad Crazy Film

I've just been shocked into serious joy.
After witnessing the madcap Dom Hemingway verbally splash his brains all over the screen throughout the films brief 93 minute runtime, I came to discover that Richard Shepard truly ran this show. Richard Shepard is the same Writer/Director behind the similarly eccentric The Matador from 2005... another film I just couldn't get out of my mind.
What Dom Hemingway brings to the table is his legitimate insanity. He's so misguided that you can't help but just allow your mind to go blank and accept every ridiculous word that flings out of his mouth. Because, while he may not know how to shut up, it would seem he also doesn't know how to lie. Every word spewed forth rings true to the point that, by the end of the film I really just wanted to hear more.
This is a really fun role for Jude Law to pick up at this stage in his career. It's been a while since I've seen him really push himself as an actor. And, while I don't necessarily believe this is the hardest thing he's ever attempted, he does manage to bring a very obscure kind of charm to his performance. He just kind of plows into a room and doesn't fear the consequences until they're already on him... then he can't believe his bad luck... even though he's legitimately responsible for every bad thing that happens to him... minus one.
Richard E. Grant was also just a pleasure to watch in this film. His Dickie was the opposite of Dom in almost every way, but for some reason they were still good friends because one needed the other in order to exist and function. I love Emilia Clarke, and while her part felt rather minuscule she still managed to surprise me. She really is nothing like her character on Game of Thrones and it's cool to see her prove that so effortlessly. Demian Bichir also brought a bit of welcome flair to the life of this picture. I honestly can't think of a bad casting choice here and I'm so glad of that.
I suppose, without giving anything away, the strangest thing for me was how abruptly the movie seemed to end. I could have stayed on this journey another hour and a half, but Richard Shepard is a smart man. He found the core of the film and effortlessly let it shine without forcing it to drag on unnecessarily. Rest assured, by the time the credits start rolling you'll have been on a journey, seen some things you never thought you'd see, and probably will be out in time for afternoon tea... or, you know, a beer... what ever kind of thing you're into.

Despite Some Obvious Shortcomings, Rio 2 Is Much Better Than It's Predecessor

When I think of Rio, I think of an incredible art and animation department foolishly paired with a lackluster writing team. So it certainly works to Rio 2's favor knowing that not a single "screenplay credit" was given to that original Rio writing crew.
Rio 2 is just a better movie. More to laugh at. More to care about. Even the songs are better... something I recall many people sighting as a strong point of the original (something I seriously disagreed with at the time). So let's get down to it... what worked so much better this time around?

In the original film, (1) it felt as though the setup was far too cumbersome. The trapping of Blue... and  (2) his underwhelming nature as a leading character. (3) The unrecognizable villains (Nigel aside). (4) And the overwhelming supporting cast. I honestly still can't remember all of their names after two films. (5) The music had no real clarity, it felt as though a bunch of pop songs were being transplanted into the movie without any real connection to the story they were trying to tell. (6) And at the core, it basically felt like an empty money grab with no overall point to be found (no I don't think the poacher/smuggler thing actually had any purpose but to make the story move).
So piece by piece... this time around... (1) Blue's family situation is well established rather quickly allowing us audience members time to breath and take in other elements that needed more time to explain. (2) Blue, while still not the most interesting of leading characters, actually did feel like the bird for this particular job... he may not have any specific talents, but when the going got tough he was the only bird who knew how the world actually was... in that way he reminded me of a scientist trying to explain to the rest of the world he wasn't a heathen... something I can certainly tag my emotions onto. (3) Nigel is, quite astonishingly, back even after he was pretty well taken care of in the first film. But this is a good thing, because he provides for half of the worthwhile laughs in this sequel. This time, his character did not carry the heavy burden of being the main bad guy, and at no point did I as an audience member actually worry about his feeble plot for revenge which also managed to work to his favor. I was allowed to like him. And I appreciated that, because at the end of the day, he's another one of the animals not deserving of any less affection than the newly incorporated parrots. (4) The supporting cast was not asked to carry the movie as much this time around (something they clearly failed to do when called on in the first film). Fortunately, this time they felt more like extended cameos that were there more as background noise allowing us to feel like part of the same beautifully designed world of the first one. (5) And the new music actually connected back to the plot! I couldn't believe it. This was almost (almost... key word) a musical this time by nature of the songs and their legitimate purpose to the characters emotional arcs. (6) Lastly, there was a legitimate message wrapped up in this movie. The main villain here was in charge of an illegal deforesting ring and he was out for blood trying to destroy a precious habitat. I do think making a message like this a factor in films like these is important to the growth of children. After all, my generation is certainly better for having had FernGully in our lives.
Overall, Rio 2 really managed to shore up the majority of issues I despised about the first film. And I appreciate seeing these guys come back and inject a level of quality into their project. Something I initially did not think would be possible. Check it out or don't, but at the end of the day it's worth noting that this sequel is superior in almost every way to the original.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Draft Day Is A Major Bust

With an aging comedy director at the helm, two newbie writers, and an old celebrity trying to prove he can still helm a movie, Draft Day seemed like it should have vied for more legitimacy than what I witnessed on screen the other day.
Even the poster's lame.
Let's start with the pros. Um... uh... Denis Leary's in it...
um... and... uh... Frank Langella.
Okay cool. I like those two guys...

So if those are the pros, what else is there?
Well in a movie about an incredibly intellectual event, one would expect the guys running the show (the GMs) to muster up a little intelligence. But somehow that is not the case. From the very first moment, the movie goes rogue and starts basing this in a world where none of these men seem to deserve their jobs even remotely. While following Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr., we're meant to care about him and his terrible horrible no good decision making as if he's the good guy and has somehow earned his status. But then the whole movie is about how he never has earned his job. In reality his entire fight is with the fact that he is legitimately incompetent. The Seattle GM wasn't joking at the beginning when he asked for "the most desperate guy" they know. And it's very meta when you think about just how desperate Costner's performance was. The guy so badly wants a career again, but every time he's allowed even a little bit of control over a project, he muffs it up.
Costner smiling... I don't remember that ever happening in this movie.
You don't have to look far for the next question. When was this movie originally written? And why wasn't it in some way fixed to fit the current NFL situation? If you're basing your football history on reality (as they were, sighting Andrew Luck as a great draft prospect of the past), it feels ill timed to be giving the Seattle Seahawks the number one over all pick the year after they won the Super Bowl. Especially when there was clear knowledge from the year before that they would at least be in the running for it. This screams laziness to me. And as a football fan makes me want to stop other fans from buying tickets.
Now I need to comment on the initial setup for this film. Costner gets himself into trouble right off the bat by trading his number seven pick for the number one over all. Okay... now what else does he have to give up? Two more first round picks. That's three first round picks in all... THREE FIRST ROUND PICKS?!?! Are you kidding me? This is the setup to your entire film and immediately you want us to believe that a GM would be this stupid? For a player he didn't want in the first place? Forget about the owner pressuring him, forget about the fans. The whole time Costner won't shut up about wanting to create his own team. But then, every step of the way, he folds to one person's opinion or another. He's not his own man no matter what the film may try to tell you.
I'm not one to give away spoilers. But the climax of the movie is somehow even worse than the initial trade. I sat there watching in disbelief as the writers made a complete mockery of the draft process and sharted up in my face what they somehow seemed to hope was a legitimate ending. If you, as a filmgoer, care a single iota about realism or earning your emotional moments... well just forget this movie ever existed. Because these guys certainly don't think any of that stuff matters.

Draft Day is the kind of movie that keeps me from getting to sleep at night. I fear experiences like that worse than I fear getting into a car accident or accidentally swallowing glass. I'm gonna come out and say it, Draft Day is the first movie of 2014 to officially make my MOVIES I HATE list. Watch it at your own risk.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Under The Skin Got Into My Head

Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that Jonathan Glazer hasn't made a film in seven years. Beyond that, I haven't even seen his other two features Sexy Beast and Birth. None of that matters here. Under The Skin is unlike any movie I've seen in the last decade... perhaps ever.
It evokes memories of The Man Who Fell To Earth and Kubrick while connecting back to the hypnotic pacing of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Obviously a rare style in film these days (or ever). But what is so shocking and wonderful about Under The Skin is its ability to always keep its viewers on edge. That pacing only works to the film's advantage. And whenever something really big happens, it has been very well earned without the requirement of over explaining the situation.
I really don't want to give anything away, because it's well worth your time to go out and catch this piece of eerie sci-fi mastery. And yes, I do believe it's a modern sci-fi masterpiece if that helps you at all when choosing between this and Rio 2 this coming weekend (I'm just kidding, no one's going to see Rio 2 anyway).
Scarlett Johansson is just amazing to watch in this flick. She perfectly carries this personality... or lack-there-of... that evokes the concept of a hive mind. The attitude of a worker bee. And as her character unfolds in the second half of the film, it's like an awakening of something that doesn't know how to think or feel by itself. Somehow she managed to capture a level of depth that no human can actually understand or really feel. The lack of dialogue plays into her hands in the most peculiar of ways. And it was very interesting to discover almost every other actor she had to work with on screen was a local with no prior experience and just a natural demeanor. Makes you wonder what you would do if Scarlett Johansson drove by randomly and tried to pick you up. There in lies the brilliance of this film. In many ways it is completely believable.
The music is just perfectly eerie and all together mesmerizing. Mica Levi has done a superior job in a film that required her to bring her A game. And I'm not gonna lie, that tune stuck with me for two days after I saw the flick... you'll know which tune I'm talking about after you've seen it.

Under The Skin is already a frontrunner for my favorite sci-fi film of 2014... and I take that category very seriously. I wish you luck as you embark on this strange journey, but luck really has nothing to do with it... Under The Skin is just a fine film well worthy of your time.

Monday, April 7, 2014

I've Already Seen The Winter Soldier Twice...

And this new Captain America film is pretty much everything I desired from the character.
The First Avenger left me stumped because it couldn't find a balance between its action and its story, so when the action finally came it was shoved into a little 15 minute montage in the last quarter of the film. Not to mention the idea of Cap back in WWII is only made really cool by the advent of the same man doing that job in present day with his past keeping him from being grounded. At the start of The Winter Soldier, Cap has clearly buried himself in his work since the events of The Avengers. He hasn't made very many personal connections because he's been in shock since waking up from deep freeze. So imagine his surprise when something from his past comes back to haunt him... something from his old life. Of course, once he knows the truth he's gonna do everything in his power to find that connection and keep it.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely did an excellent job of just presenting us with the story of The Winter Soldier given the materials they had to work with from previous films. And almost every element worked. The Winter Soldier acts as a force of nature coming in and cleaning up his bosses' messes. And if you've ever been interested in the books, that character begins in almost that very same way.
However, I do wish those two screenwriters were allowed to make a second pass on this script. When the story broke several months ago that they had delivered a first draft and the studio had accepted it without need of revision I was both excited and... scratching my head. Now seeing the final product, I do see a first draft on screen... a very good first draft, but one that probably could have felt more fluid and concise with an additional pass for the writers to figure out their characters' voices.
The biggest complaint I've heard about this stream of super hero flicks of late is that no one ever dies, so there's never any fear for the characters no matter how insane the situation. And there is some truth to that... Even when the filmmakers managed to kill someone important off in The Avengers, that character was willed back to life so that Marvel could have a tv show... a subpar yet sometimes passable tv show (granted it has begun to pick up a little steam of late). So I agree with that sentiment... However, these are comic book movies... and just because Game of Thrones truly makes you fear for all of your favorite characters doesn't mean every series has to do that. I love Game of Thrones, but it is not the model for super heroes and it shouldn't be. Game of Thrones would not be as good as it is if everything did what it does all the time. Now the only really confusing thing to me is how crucial a part Joss Whedon has played in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When you consider how famous he got for ruthlessly killing off fan favorite characters in series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, it does make you scratch your head to see that he's been so open to so little death in these. But then he only controls The Avengers and can't be in charge of everything.
Chris Evans is doing an excellent job of selling this classic character. Where I was uncertain of the casting before (due to the Fantastic Four), I am now an adamant supporter of this choice. Thank god Scarlett Johansson was in this movie.
On more than one occasion she saved scenes for me because it was clear just how much fun she was having. I'm glad she's becoming such an important part of these films. Samuel L. Jackson had a lot more to do in this flick. And it's cool to see him play in the universe, but at the end of the day he really is just being Samuel L. Jackson.
One really nice surprise was the inclusion of Anthony Mackie as Falcon. This character was critical to the Winter Soldier book run and brought a new life to the film. He played his part with class and even though his "zingers" weren't all that funny, Mackie somehow managed to make them sound so sincere that I accepted them for wholly different reasons. I was also very glad to see Emily VanCamp make an appearance. She's been good for a while now and landed a part that could see a lot more screen time in the not too distant future. The last actor I'd like to mention goes back to the first film and really plays into the brilliance of the screenwriters... Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola. He may have only had one scene, but man was that a cool way to pay tribute to that character. If you haven't seen it yet (who hasn't seen it yet?) just keep an eye open.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier rips Steve Rogers out of the 1940s and gives us the action that we've been asking for. And while I wouldn't call it the best Marvel film in this current franchise, it is a very welcome addition to the MCU.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Raid 2... Holy Shit!!!

I LOVED the action of The Raid: Redemption. So imagine my excitement when it became clear a sequel was on its way. But I couldn't have anticipated what Gareth Evans (who wrote, directed, and edited both of these films) and his team were going to bring to the big screen this year.
The Raid 2 (I do wish the Berandal heading was still attached to the title) was so much more epic than its predecessor. I simply cannot believe the level of quality it's action held in literally every hit. You could tell every punch really really hurt and even better, you could understand where every character was coming from and how their position related to each scene. I also appreciate a film that is willing to let big moments happen in real time rather than forcing the frames to slow down so we can see "how cool" it's supposed to be. The Raid 2 never had to rely on such tricks because every moment was so damn cool... every hit exploded with awe.
The movie opens very shortly after the events of the first. The brothers have separated and each found their own next steps... of course I'm not gonna tell you what I mean by that. But as the plot unfolds, the action just makes sense. Every fight has a purpose and suddenly it is clear just what these guys are capable of even without the confines of that single building from the first one. Initially I thought of that building as a really cool crutch for them to use as an exercise in making the action seem better... but it turns out Evans and his team didn't need any crutches what-so-ever. The Raid 2 extrapolates on the original and then moves on to bigger and better things.
Iko Uwais brings his 'A' game. At no point does it feel like he isn't badass enough or motivated enough to be Rama... perhaps the craziest, coolest badass in film history. He did this in the first movie, but here we see him stripped down (once again no crutches required). Similarly, Yayan Ruhian builds further on his Mad Dog character, Prakoso and really solidifies himself as one of the best fight choreographers I've ever seen. He's only done these two flicks, but just consider how different every fight he put together really has been and I can't imagine any action director who wouldn't want to hire this guy in a second. Julie Estelle and Very Tri Yulisman also brought their own flare to the film allowing for two of the more fun sequences involving hammers and a baseball bat. And Alex Abbad, while not playing nearly as badass a character, brought another very twisted/fun element to the overall film.
Damn this movie was so entertaining. The prison fights, the car chase, the train fight, the kitchen scene... pretty much any action scene you may ever want to see exists in The Raid 2. And if you've ever even considered just sitting down one night and watching a good action film, you owe it to yourself to check out Gareth Evans' latest effort.