Wednesday, June 25, 2014

30 For 30's Bad Boys Is The Best Thing I've Seen All Week

Maybe I'm a little late to the party on this one, but the new ESPN 30 for 30's Bad Boys is totally awesome.
It's the story of the Detroit Pistons back in the very late 80s and very early 90s... the golden age of basketball. And it goes in depth into the creation and journey of a most divisive team. Probably one of the greatest teams to ever play: Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Joe Dumars, John Salley, and Dennis Rodman. These guys became the bad guys in the era of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and a young Michael Jordan. But they learned to embrace the moniker and went down in history for it.
Zak Levitt does an exceptional job here pulling from new interviews and old tape to bring this classic team back to life. And for a brief moment, I felt myself wishing I could have been a fan of the game back then because it was just such an interesting time for a sport at its peak.
If you like basketball even a little bit you should check this one out.

Ugh, Jersey Boys

This just caps off a really bad week in film for me. Jersey Boys. Clint Eastwood's mediocre attempt at putting to film a Broadway hit musical. What a waste of time... two hours and fourteen minutes of just blahhhh. What went so horribly wrong?
Well let's start by recognizing that Clint Eastwood's only serious brush with the musical genre before this was... Paint Your Wagon...

Fun Fact: Did you know that Paint Your Wagon almost single handedly killed film musicals? True story. That movie was considered such a flop, that executives actually stopped making the genre altogether.
Jump forward forty five year, and somehow Clint Eastwood gets it in his head he's gonna make another musical... this time as director... with no prior experience directing the genre. What happens next? A massive collection of unnecessary dolly shots, bad lip synching, and some of the worst editing I've seen in the last ten years. Even the actors didn't seem to know what was going on and the bad aging makeup definitely didn't help their cause. Indeed, Clint Eastwood was not supposed to return to this genre. And anyone who thought this would be a good idea... the executives who gave the green light, should probably consider retiring.
Even if it's not considered a flop, Jersey Boys should go down as an epic failure in cinematic history. It's that bad a misstep.

Third Person Was Sort Of Kind Of Okay

I was iffy walking into the latest Paul Haggis film, Third Person. To be honest, I've never been a huge fan. I enjoyed the work he was doing on the Daniel Craig James Bond films, but that's really the only positive I've ever pulled from his career. Crash is legitimately one of the biggest jokes of the last fifty years and I will never get over the statement (or lack of one) the Academy made when they gave it best picture. But let's talk about this new movie. Third Person had a pretty bad title, but the cast still intrigued me, so I had to give it a chance.
The basic concept is, Liam Neeson's a writer at a point in his career where he's pretty much lost all of the joy in his life. He's practically a robot just droning on. So he sets out to write a bunch of weird stories that loosely come from his own recent experiences. And those stories are what we're forced to watch...
It's odd because I actually got into the "drama" for a little bit, there was something intriguing about trying to understand all of these different characters, but the extensive run time kept pulling me out (a hazard of these "ensemble" concepts). Somehow Third Person managed to go over the two hour mark. Why? There were so many unnecessary scenes. And, in fact, entirely unnecessary plots.
Adrien Brody's story (though the only "positive" one) probably could have been left out completely. But then I guess they had to keep it in to give us an example of just how petty a writer Liam Neeson had become. When I think about the overall concept... something that Liam Neeson states in the first fifteen minutes or so... I just don't understand why someone thought this was a movie. It certainly would never have made a book as the film tries to make us believe it would.
The performances, however, were pretty great. Liam Neeson carried this cold neediness that felt just perfect. Mila Kunis dropped a bomb with a similarly needy, rather crazed, overemotional character...
something I hadn't seen from her before. I appreciated the work she clearly put in. Likewise, Olivia Wilde nailed her own schizophrenic character. And I did think Adrien Brody was pretty good despite having the weakest... and awkwardly, most fleshed out story.
If you want to see a bunch of solid character performances, that's probably a good enough excuse to go see a weird, insecure, and rather petty movie like Third Person. Paul Haggis certainly doesn't get it right, but I think he got really lucky with such an entertaining cast. At least you won't be bored the whole time...

Obvious Child Ain't Worth It

Let me get this off my chest, I hate writing negative reviews. It's one of the most painful things I can do to sit down and relive the missteps of a bad movie over and over again. Because one of my favorite things to do in the whole world is to catch a wonderful movie and be completely surprised and astonished by how perfectly everything comes together. When that doesn't happen, I'd rather just forget the experience. But alas I can't.
Obvious Child is likely not the worst thing I've seen this year, but it's close. And it's a damn shame because I totally agree with its message. I just don't agree with the long, winding path the filmmakers took to get there. I particularly didn't find all of the poop and fart jokes funny. And every time a comic got on stage I wanted to hit my head on something really hard, because I couldn't imagine a single crowd that would actually laugh at those jokes.
I'm not saying that Jenny Slate was bad. But I have seen her do better work in much better roles. Similarly, Jake Lacy showed sparks of personality and presence. It's too bad I had to meet him in such a mess of a movie. Gaby Hoffmann's never really done anything for me and that trend didn't stop here. And Gabe Liedman was almost fun to watch... but the script just kept hitting me over the head with the wooden block that made up the entirety of his character. I laughed once in the entire film and that wasn't until David Cross showed up. The problem with that is, I wasn't actually laughing at the movie. I was just laughing at David Cross because he's made me laugh so many times before.

I bet Gillian Robespierre's a really cool person, but she certainly didn't earn my trust or continued viewership with this first feature of hers. It just felt like the wrong way to broach this material and it unfortunately doesn't humanize the subject of abortion enough to sway any on-the-fencers (assuming there are any left). Now this was a short first. And I wonder, if I watched that, would I manage to see the heart of the film? The expansion into a feature likely killed the good qualities of the original short as has happened so many times in the past. It's worth considering, that a short film usually exists in that format because that is all it calls for. I know there's no money to be gained there... but as a creative person sometimes it's worth proving yourself one way and then saying I have this other thing I'd like to make on a bigger scale. The unfortunate truth of that is, the industry continues to request "known" materials. So young filmmakers get coaxed into making less than great expansions to earlier passion projects. I don't blame the young filmmakers, because they just want to start making movies. I blame the industry for creating this upside-down purgatory that young filmmakers are expected to occupy. I'll see Gillian Robespierre's next work just because I assume there is something going on in her head worth telling. It just didn't show in this first feature.
But enough of that. Obvious Child is gross most of the time and only barely broaches the subject it initially sets out to tackle. It is neither a well designed film nor a funny film and for that I'd say it's unfortunately not worth your time or money.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Rover Mostly Just Confused Me

David Michôd made an excellent film... back in 2010. It was called Animal Kingdom. It was even nominated for an Oscar. So naturally I was excited to catch his most recent attempt, The Rover. But the elements that held Animal Kingdom so firmly together, failed to keep The Rover in check.
This is a movie without a purpose. For the first half, you're wondering where it's going and maybe even actually want to know... but by the time the credits roll, everything that's happened becomes quickly forgettable. Like a bad midseason basketball game where it's clear the guys are just going through the motions. Of course, the inclusion of Robert Pattinson just further cements my knowledge that he doesn't have what it takes as an actor... but that's not the real problem here. In fact, for the majority of the movie I was able to just ignore his piss poor delivery and awkward/unbelievable accent. But once the final frames played... and I'm not gonna tell you the ending here... so highlight below if you wanna know...

Basically all of this happens so Guy Pearce can finally bury his dog... which was in the back of the car that was stolen from him... and the sole reason why he wanders off and kills all sorts of innocent people...

...I just started laughing. Because not only did they not stick the ending, but there wasn't even a real ending to stick. You know?
I still think Michôd can be an excellent filmmaker and I did truly enjoy Guy Pearce's performance even if it was a tad one note. But The Rover is essentially a pointless movie. At moments it seems as if it is going to shine brightly, and it has its fair share of brutally honest moments. But my final overall analysis is, I could have done something or watched something far more interesting with those (practically) two hours. Oh well, you can't win em all.

Friday, June 13, 2014

22 Jump Street Cracked Me Up!

Man, what a good weekend for movies! And sequels at that. 22 Jump Street is more than just a worthy successor to 21 Jump... it's SO MUCH BETTER.
Part of this is because of Channing Tatum. In the first movie, his character kind of fell apart late into the story and stopped mattering. This time it's a little different. And the funniest version of Channing Tatum it turns out is a happy Channing Tatum. It's also a whole lot easier to watch Jonah Hill be sad and depressed for some reason. But I'm jumping to conclusions. This movie was probably the most I've laughed in at least five years. Somehow it felt like every single cast member brought their A-game. Ice Cube has what I'd call his best performance period. And it comes naturally... fluidly out of the story being told... The fun being had. This set must have been amazing to work on because all of these actors are doing everything perfectly.
The self referential nature of it all only manages to heighten the laughs which is honestly a bit of a shock to me... because usually that kind of thing can feel feeble at best. But somehow the metaphor for "breaking through their ceiling" was exactly what the film managed to do. I'm really amazed and a little gaga for this thing that could so easily have been a train wreck.
Phil Lord and Chrisopher Miller... The Lego Movie guys... have really outdone themselves once again. And I can't believe how much they've accomplished in just the last five years... Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (the good one, not the sequel), 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street... to me this is the absolute definition of "killing it."
So without ruining anything (and believe me, it's a difficult task at this point) I'm telling you to go out and watch this raunchy comedy because you're gonna have a blast. Just make sure you're in a crowded theatre and everyone's there to have a good time. Believe me, it's worth your time.

If How To Train Your Dragon Had An Empire Strikes Back...

How To Train Your Dragon 2 would be it.
I can't rightly express my excitement as I got revved up to see this DreamWorks sequel. The first How To Train Your Dragon is the movie that changed my mind about the studio and made me begin to look at them as legitimate competitors with the likes of Pixar after so many years. And since that release in 2010 Dreamworks has almost completely won me over. This of course also comes on the heels of Pixar's collapse into sequel/prequel land. So what is there to say about this new trip into the world of How To Train Your Dragon?
Well, it's surprisingly darker. Definitely darker. That Empire comparison is the most accurate statement I can make as to the shift into darkness this franchise just took. But it somehow didn't compromise the family element. I was worried for a moment that parents wouldn't be able to bring their kids. Rest assured, the movie changed my mind quickly enough. Yet I tend to be on the side of applauding that bravery. The studio knows how big this movie is for them. These producers had to have some balls to let it move into this territory.
You should get excited about this movie. It expands the How To Train Your Dragon world to an impressive degree and lets you really understand the characters and what they are dealing with... past, present, and future. It also just looks so much better which is amazing because the animation of the first one was excellent. This is the kind of movie that makes me want another one right away because it was such an interesting successor to the original. I just want to know what the filmmakers have in store for us next.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Belle Makes PG Look Good

Whenever I go into a theatre and find the movie I'm about to see has a PG tag on it, I tighten up a bit. I don't know exactly why, but unless it's an animated concept usually PG means the filmmakers are gonna dance around the issues to please the ratings board. Yet as I watched Belle unfold on the big screen I really found myself feeling the opposite of my expectations. Amma Asante made Belle feel like a thorough and complete idea without forcing any unnecessarily adult sequences on its audience. She wasn't worried about selling people with sex and language. She knew what she had in this rather amazing story. And she told it concisely and with the ease of a master of her craft. Gotta say, I was impressed.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw brought her A-game and proved to me she'll be worth looking out for in future pictures. She's also incredibly gorgeous, and it's not at all difficult to believe so many people would be willing to break the rules of society to try to be with her. Tom Wilkinson was really interesting to watch here as well. He's one of those actors you can trust to at least wear the part, even if that part doesn't quite fit who he is. I only say this because I've seen him stretch a few times in the past... but not here. In Belle he is a crucial piece to the puzzle. Sarah Gadon was very charming in her own way. Her role is a complex one and required a deeper understanding from the actress. Well she got it and delivered. Between Sam Reid, James Norton, Emily Watson, Tom Felton (whom I don't always love), and a "goode" cameo by Matthew Goode I felt the casting was absolutely sound and I think it's worth noting what a fine job Toby Whale did in bringing together such a solid group of actors.
While at times, the cinematography pulled me out, I think the story was so compelling that I was able to power through those moments... particularly (and this may not be a cinematography note at all) during the courtroom scene when the extras were just far too in focus and wouldn't stop having the most bizarre reactions. That's petty I know. It's hard to control everyone in a room of sixty people. So I'll just give them a pass on this.
What Belle accomplishes is really exciting to me. Amma Asante, it seems, really understood what Misan Sagay had to say in her writing. And there's a very important metaphor that pushes through in this material. We really can't look at the race issues of the past and present from just the kaleidoscopic view of race. In reality, the issues stem more from classism which is something I think we see a lot of today. If we can break from old conformities and recognize that geniuses and great men and women can come from any background I think we would be a much more civilized community. Belle sharply hits that note and manages to prove its point while connecting it all back to a real life historical event... one that seems little known by audiences today, but is absolutely worthy of our attention.
In short, Belle is a fine film. I walked out with a skip in my step, and I think you will too. So bring a good friend and try and get some butts into that theatre before it's gone!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Breaking Through The Edge Of Tomorrow

I had a lot of fun watching Edge of Tomorrow.
It brought back memories of Groundhog's Day but with a flare of very entertaining sci-fi. I was worried, after seeing Oblivion, that this would once again be a mishmash concept that didn't actually deliver on its solid premise. Fortunately I was wrong.
The first fifteen minutes went by in a haze until finally we got back to the first day again... and then again... and then again. There was a wonderful moment where I could hear the entire audience breath a sigh of relief because we all knew we were gonna have a good time. It's the kind of "Thank Jeebus" feeling you get when you avert a train wreck. Like suddenly the world looks newer... sharper. Not that I've ever almost been in a train wreck or anything, but still... Edge of Tomorrow is that kind of experience. And I'm so glad I was able to be entertained by an obscure sci-fi movie not directly based on or connected to any other movies in the year 2014.
That being said, apparently this was based on a book... albeit not a very well known one, and certainly not as popular as The Fault in Our Stars. But still, it is not completely original as I had earlier believed.
Anyway, back to the movie... Tom Cruise brings it like he always does. You can pretty much expect him to rock a performance like this no matter how bad the movie. But then there's Emily Blunt who just shouldn't exist on this world. But I'm so glad she does because she's awesome and very fun to watch... granted that scar was super weird. Bill Paxton got in on the fun here and really gave a great performance as well.

What probably worked the best about this film is, Doug Liman knew when to take the material seriously and when to just have fun with it. I was incredibly surprised at how many laugh out loud moments there were in what I assumed from the ads would be a very serious/gritty sci-fi thriller. Well I'd go so far as to say it's at least an eighth comedy... but that's a genre conversation and probably too convoluted for an entry here.
Honestly the best comparison I can think of is Groundhog's Day meets Starship Troopers. And would you believe it? That combo really works! So check it out if you've got some free time. It may be the most fun you'll have in a theatre all summer.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Literal Cancer In Our Stars

I honestly don't have a lot of dislike for The Fault in Our Stars. But it was a cheesy movie that practically opened up with a blatant lie. A lie that continued to gnaw at me throughout the two hour and five minute runtime... which was really way too long for this movie anyway.
When the narrator first begins speaking, she goes out of her way to tell us this is going to be an honest account of the events. That would be cool and all... but the world of characters never developed into real people. While I can understand Hazel's (Shailene Woodley, who is great by the way) family acting overly nice toward their cancer-riddled daughter, they never really seemed to wake up from that heightened level of "we're the good guys and we're in this till the end"... not even when the script specifically called for it unfortunately. It's not that Laura Dern and Sam Trammell did a bad job, it just seemed as if their characters were setup to flatline from the outset of filming. They just didn't have enough to do given the circumstances. Oppositely, Gus (Ansel Elgort) simply did not perform. He became the perfect definition of wooden as if his character had been pulled directly out of the text and was never given a chance to actually breath in the real world... which, if you ask me, is quite simply an actor's entire job.
The over-sentimentality of The Fault in Our Stars, unfortunately, pulled me out at every turn. But I assume the reality of this, as has certainly happened in the past, is just that this film was not made for me. It's not intended for men and it's not intended for anyone over the age of twenty-five... well specifically not men I guess.
What is bad... and this is not the film's fault... is what the studios are going to pull from the success this film has seen over the last weekend. Simply put, this is a known property. It was a book. And it had a built in audience. The misfortune of its release time during a slow week in what may be a very slow summer is its competition... Edge of Tomorrow. An original property (something Hollywood desperately needs to take more chances on) that is supposed to far exceed expectations. I can't speak on that yet, I'll be seeing it later today. But if the studios do pull the message I think they will from this weekend (and I know it's an ongoing problem and this is not by any means the first time) we're just gonna keep getting more and more adaptations while originality just continues to get boxed farther and farther into the indie corner. This is nerve-racking because we need original material as a filmgoing community. And it's not The Fault in Our Stars' fault. But rather aptly, this new cancer movie is helping to perpetuate a cancer that has been harassing the film industry for some time now. And it may be making people dumber.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Million Ways To Die In The West

I had a much better time watching A Million Ways To Die In The West than I expected. Sure it was mostly potty humor, but it had a proper and interesting plot and well defined characters. The cast was almost completely on their game and the pacing and humor seemed to match the concept as well as I could have hoped.
After all, that's what got me into the theatre... the concept. People with modern sensibilities born in the wrong time... the hardened old west. COOL. I'm on board. Sure, I've had my misgivings about Seth MacFarlane, and to be totally honest I didn't enjoy Ted all that much. But this idea was enough for me. It made a complete movie and I appreciate that, because it seems relatively rare these days.

Now I will say, you've already seen the best jokes in the trailer. That's on the ad department. But it doesn't hurt the movie. It was just simple fun. A good time for adults who hopefully already understand how ridiculous the whole scenario is. There're plenty of cameos as well, but I don't wanna ruin those for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. The truth is, I don't have a whole lot to say about this one other than, I had a good time in the theatre. It's not a classic, but it did just enough to keep me onboard throughout. And the cast just looked like they were all having a blast on set. If your looking for a solid comedy this summer... you probably wanna check this out over, say, Blended...

Maleficent Is No Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty, for all intents and purposes, is a masterpiece. The idea of retelling it in Wicked fashion, while intriguing, is absolutely not necessary and requires legitimate care and understanding of what the source material really is.
Maleficent, to my mind, is a stunning failure of understanding and precision. Poor pacing, vanity project-like Angelina sequences (though she was quite good to be fair), and an absolute failure at retelling the original story... destroys this film. It breaches every sense of good filmmaking that I hold dear. And while there were shining moments of sincerity, I spent the majority of the film's run time wondering where Prince Phillip had gone to... considering he was the main character of the original film. But the filmmakers felt content making a mockery of his role particularly when you consider this... in the history of Disney fairytale movies, only one prince has actually stood up to the villain and shown true heroism. That prince was Phillip. To say that he has nothing to do with saving the princess and to say he never even actually fights the villain lays waste to generations of heroic expectations.
True, that may be my male expectations at play, but it's not even the most egregious oversight in Maleficent. On the opposite end of the coin, Maleficent is legitimately the greatest terror Disney has ever made. She's a dark, spiteful woman who turns into A DRAGON! One of the coolest dragons in film history to be honest. To jump into the ending of this movie and tell us, first, that she never was the dragon but it was someone else, and second, that it was a subpar and completely uncreative version of that dragon (similar to... forgive my comparison... Mortal Kombat Annihilation) just shattered my heart. A note to any future filmmakers, if your intention is to make a movie telling the "actual story" of one of the greatest villains in film history... please be prepared to give us that story in full before explaining to us why it's "okay" that they were doing such bad things.
Before you walk into Maleficent (assuming you haven't seen it yet), ask yourself a question: "How is a great villain not a villain?" You'll probably talk yourself in circles for the foreseeable future.
I wasn't planning to get into this here, but why the hell not? Maleficent is feminism at its most brutal. I do believe our younger generation of girls deserves to see women positively portrayed in film.. it's been harsh out there in the past. But I feel Disney was accomplishing that in films like Frozen and Tangled where the girls are the heroes. That to me is fine storytelling. They weren't telling us that the men were all evil. But Maleficent stuck to this point with brutal disregard for what affect it may have on young girls' perspectives on men in general.
I cannot believe how misused Sharlto Copley was here. It's kind of disgusting to watch another visual effects guy turned director completely misuse such a brilliant talent... but no one seems to understand his talent or care. He can cary movies on his shoulders (District 9 is plenty of proof of that). But I digress. It's not really Robert Stromberg's fault such a message came out so fiercely. Linda Woolverton has done a few incredible things in her career, but this script (and who's to say it's all her script and wasn't "touched up" by Disney execs) isn't one of them. I don't mind King Stefan being a dislikable character... a bad person even. That makes sense. But to turn the third act of the film into this absurd action thing without any final discussion between Maleficent and Stefan seems... well just once I would have liked to hear her say "You started this, I took it too far, but it doesn't have to be this way" or something to that effect. She didn't even attempt to talk. And he came across as a totally insane person to the point that even his men were just staring at him talking to himself in one scene.
Ugh, this movie just makes me upset on so many levels. To the filmmakers I say, "If you wanted to tell THIS story, you shouldn't have disguised it as an already existing and very much beloved tale. This is something else. It's an agenda, poorly defined and irresponsibly conceived. You should be ashamed of yourselves."