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:


Edge of Tomorrow

How to Train Your Dragon 2

22 Jump Street


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A Most Wanted Man

Guardians of the Galaxy


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



Love is Strange

The One I Love


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.

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.

The Hundred-Foot Journey Was Good, But Could've Used A Bit More Food

I had practically no expectations walking into The Hundred-Foot Journey. It looked like a fluffy studio attempt at food porn cinema. Well, in some ways that's exactly what made it to the screen. But Steven Knight is a very interesting writer... and I believe his script was good enough to elevate a so-so film to the next level...
That's not to say the direction wasn't on point. Lasse Hallström delivered a solid picture about family, feud, food, and love. But if this film makes any splash come Oscar season, I kind of think it'll have to be in the Adapted Screenplay category. The actors were mostly serviceable, but while I know this was based on a true story, I found the individual choices for each character surprisingly more compelling than the actors themselves. The love story is not a straight forward love story. The restaurant rivalry is not a straightforward rivalry.
Basically, a family of Indians are forced from their home and eventually decide to settle into a small town in France. Upon arriving they take up residence in an abandoned restaurant and start a new one of their own... directly across from a Michelin star restaurant.
Helen Mirren is, as always, quite excellent. And I rather liked Om Puri's performance as Manish Dayal's father. But Manish's performance does occasionally hold the film back. He's the lead after all, and it feels like he was mostly cast for his looks... awkward. Though I really liked Charlotte Le Bon. Her character was at times confusing, but in a very honest and realistic way. And I dug everything about that.
I guess when you see how many smart people wanted to have their names on the final picture (Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey) it's not much of a surprise that the film turned out as solid as it did. It's a good time. And while I wish there was a little more cooking involved on screen, I'd still recommend it as a better than average picture.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Just Don't Go See Ninja Turtles...

If you really wanna watch a Ninja Turtles movie so bad, go home and rewatch the one from 1990. I promise you'll have a better time.
No seriously, I just watched the new Jonathan Liebesman helmed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember when I first found out this guy was gonna be directing... and I couldn't place the name... so I went on IMDB and looked through his resume... and wanted to belch. Wrath of the Titans? Battle Los Angeles?? Darkness Falls??? And this guy gets to make a Ninja Turtles movie? I can't believe he still gets to make movies at all. But what confuses me more is, the studio didn't think this franchise worthy of a quality director. I bet if you asked around Hollywood, you'd find a glut of legitimately good directors who would be happy to take on the property. But they go and get this guy.
So what's actually wrong with the movie? Simply put, it's a formulaic shell for any random action film that doesn't want to actually take the time to have a plot... finger paint Turtles delicately onto that shell just because... and you've got a movie... sort of. Really, it comes down to this: the studio. producers, writers, and filmmaker don't get it. They don't understand the property and seem to care even less about getting it right for the fans. I could force a very few positive comments in here or there about how they managed to make Donatello important again... but really all of the characters were pretty awful caricatures of themselves. None worse than Splinter who didn't even remotely resemble the rat we've come to know and love for so many years.
It just eats at me to see properties like this get so completely mishandled just because they are "known properties" with existing audiences. The fact that this movie is going to make any money back at all, despite a critical consensus just proves how hungry audiences are to see movies like this done right. They show up in droves because when that one good one comes along it feels worth it. But studios should be taking their time and making sure they have the right team on hand. Seriously, they'd make even more money if the movies were good. It's a simple formula for success. I know it isn't easy to make a good movie... but come on, you could at least give the movie a fighting chance by hiring talented people. There's just no excuse for this level of laziness.
Yeah, I'm ranting. But this movie just outright sucks. There's literally not a moment that I was interested in the "story"... not a moment that I wasn't just plain bored out of my mind. Please, if you've got any rational sense or self control at all, don't give these people your time and money. They don't deserve it. I promise you they don't.

Hercules: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Did you know, The Rock is in a Hercules movie? That alone makes this an interesting idea... who would be better casting right now for that role? But Brett Ratner is also the director, which quickly makes me wonder...
The saddest fact about Hercules is that we still aren't getting a legitimate adaptation of his story... the twelve labors and the monolithic son-of-god hero quality. Regardless, there's a fun concept buried in this film. Hercules is a traveling mercenary for hire. He has a team of warriors that trust him completely. And he's about to get A LOT of money doing a job for the king of Thrace. But under all of his battle-worn rough soldier exterior, he's still got a conscience. And it's telling him something's not right in his new boss' kingdom.
The cast is actually quite excellent. Obviously Dwayne Johnson got beefed up even more than usual for the part. And he does a solid job with a lackluster script. And John Hurt is (as always) a joy to watch as the king. He seems to just be having such a good time these days. Every film I've seen him in of late, I could sense that he's just glad to be out there doing his job. Then there's Ian McShane, who makes a pretty ridiculous character role still feel entertaining enough not to get too old too fast. Rufus Sewell has been better, but he's just here to be a clean voice of reason... sort of. I was still happy to see him show up. And I really liked Ingrid Bolsø Berdal. I hope I get to see more from her in the future.
But the positives pretty much end there. The final film is irrationally squeaky clean, leading me back to my original expectation, that Brett Ratner doesn't really know or care how to put any amount of edge or style into his movies. I liked Red Dragon back in 2002, but since then... and even before really (yeah I'm including the Rush Hours)... it's been a steady stream of unimpactful, formulaic, boring movies. I think everybody already realized this long ago, but he's not the guy Spielberg thought he would be when he gave him a chance all those years ago.
Hercules could've been a really entertaining, bigger-than-life, sword and sandal, action flick. But in the end, a poor script and even poorer direction left it sprawling in a pool of mediocrity. While I'd like to say, "we deserve better," I'm sadly aware they can't all be winners. Oh well.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Marvel's The Astonishing Guardians Of The Galaxy

I caught a midnight screening of Guardians of the Galaxy last night, and I've gotta admit, I'm still flabbergasted.
This is the lesser known story of a team of superheroes that no one ever really thought of as major players. They're the misfits... the B team with A team powers. And they're a strange kind of comic relief in the Marvel Universe... because they actually can fight and win and their quirk is just a part of what makes them lovable. But the idea of putting these guys on screen in their own major motion picture event... well that would have seemed unbelievable only two years ago. Yet Marvel dug deep and decided, at some point they'd have to start using their lesser known characters. Well they had already established that Thanos was gonna be a major part of the Avengers story line... come the third Avengers movie. So at some point they would have to start dealing with areas beyond Earth... and Asgard. So logically, Guardians of the Galaxy was that next step.
What James Gunn (Super, Slither) has accomplished here is nothing short of a miracle. He's taken a team that no one had ever heard of and turned them into a legitimate franchise in their own right. Even greater, he's given people an almost new property (this current Guardians lineup is only six years old in the comics) to sink their teeth into and get invested in. Suddenly the Marvel Universe feels so much bigger... and anything and everything is possible. Because this film has proven that they CAN introduce fifty new characters and twelve new worlds without the audience ever having to skip a beat. Like I said, I'm flabbergasted.
Chris Pratt is so likable as Star Lord. He's quirky and charming and just plain gets the job done. It's so exciting to watch this guy succeed because that's all he's been doing for the last fifteen years is proving he's the guy... and finally here he is leading a superhero squad on a most amazing adventure. Zoe Saldana likewise fits her role, Gamora, perfectly and has been building on a young but impressive career. To include Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon is just perfect casting and I'd venture so far as to say I think I'd rather see Vin Diesel as Groot than any other Marvel superhero. Dave Batista's Drax is sadistic and wonderful... and that's the whole team. They all rock.
Then you get the other guys, Lee Pace is just entertaining as Ronan and Michael Rooker's Yondu feels like exactly what that character should always be. Karen Gillan does a great job as Nebula, and while Djimon Hounsou didn't get nearly enough screen time as Korath, he was still damn cool. John C. Reilly is fun and down to Earth here as well. He fully understands what this movie is supposed to be. And let's not forget about Glen Close, Benicio Del Toro, and Peter Serafinowicz all of whom admirably fill their roles with quality. It's impressive to see the lengths Marvel was willing to go to in casting this film. Every other character is played by a star. And that's gotta be a piece of their formula for success here... or maybe it's just that everybody wanted to be involved because they all believe in what Marvel's doing.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but Guardians of the Galaxy is the biggest movie Marvel's ever made. Yes. It's bigger than The Avengers. It spans a galaxy and the stakes are high. The cast is so massive and well rounded that it almost makes the Avengers team look small... almost. Just saying, I can't wait to see these guys show up again both in their own movies and likely in Avengers 3.

Where Did The Angriest Man In Brooklyn Go So Wrong?

As a kid growing up, I used to love watching Robin Williams movies. He really is a great actor. And he's always had my support. But for the last decade or so, it's been really difficult to stay on his side. Because the majority of films he puts out are just plain awful. Then came World's Greatest Dad. It was a surprise light in a dark tunnel of never ending bad films. It was just creative and different. Then came the announcement of The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. On the surface, it felt like an attempt by Williams' team to recapture that strange magic. Unfortunately, it did not succeed. So what went wrong?
From the very start, things seemed to be going down hill fast. Poorly placed narration against what honestly looked like pathetic home video footage left my tongue completely dry. Then things somehow got worse. Mila Kunis may have given the crappiest performance of her career... and as the instigator of the story and the female lead, this was really difficult to swallow (especially since, I usually like Mila Kunis). Robin was trying to do his stuff, but it wasn't enough. Even Peter Dinklage seemed to be struggling to figure out what to do, because his character really didn't have a character and only popped in here and there in an attempt to "advance the plot"... something that never happened. And Richard Kind's hopeful cameo scene was ruined by an outrageously bad fat suit.
So let me break it down as simply as I can. This movie felt rushed. It felt underbudgeted. And I don't think Phil Alden Robinson cared much about the property... to me it feels like he just took a pay check and went along his merry way. That may sound harsh. I mean, he directed Field of Dreams... twenty five years ago! And his last movie was the colossal failure The Sum of All Fears back in 2002. At this point I think its safe to say, Field of Dreams was a surprise positive for a director without much to offer. Sorry, that really was mean. But I can't ignore history.
Ignore the poster, Melissa Leo wasn't in this movie.
Still, the writing could have been better, as could the editing, as could the acting, as could the cinematography, so at the end of the day, it isn't JUST Phil Alden Robinson's fault... though as director, one can still argue that he should have been able to fix at least one of those problems. Basically, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is just a complete and utter mess. I can keep hoping for more good Robin Williams movies, but as the years pass, that's looking more and more like a forgotten dream. C'est la vie.

Lucy Surprised Me

From the trailers, I couldn't tell what kind of movie Lucy was gonna be. It looked like an awkward attempt at a superhero flick, trying too desperately to take advantage of Scarlett Johansson's current popularity. So I gotta admit, I was wrong. The initial movie I imagined from the trailer and the movie I saw on Wednesday were two completely different animals.
Lucy is everything Transcendence failed to be. It's the story of a ditzy girl who gets abducted and used as a mule by a pretty ridiculous drug cartel. But when something goes wrong and the experimental drug being hidden in her intestines begins leaking into her system, she develops abilities and begins to fight back. Now the science is clearly not sound... or even really based on science, which is fine. Because the idea itself is so well structured that the old statement "we only use 10% of our brain" (as false as it may be) simply works as a way of helping the audience to understand a much bigger concept. I actually think the insertion of percentages throughout the movie kept everyone in check. It was just enough of a guide map without being too annoying.

So why did I enjoy Lucy so much? It went for it! The big picture. The idea that we cannot comprehend the world around us so we oversimplify... we bring it down to our own level with simple math... it's very meta with the format of the movie as stated above. But somehow Luc Besson managed to lace this very big concept in with a bunch of really entertaining action sequences. He did so much in only an hour and a half. And by the end I really did wish the movie was longer. Which is a good thing... to want more.
Scarlett Johansson is just entertaining to watch. And she keeps picking such interesting projects. I'm really impressed with her choices over the last few years. Morgan Freeman was serviceable, but this is not one of his better performances. Still at this point he does everything you'd expect him to do in a film of this nature. I really liked Amr Waked.
There was something so fun about his reaction to the situation he was dropped into. Min-sik Choi was overbearing and ridiculous, but I have to assume that this had a lot to do with how broad stroked his character was written. He was really more just an instigator in a much dumber film that stuck around as the movie gained quality and intellect (1% to 100%). I also really dug Analeigh Tipton's very little film time. She was super perky and just the perfect energy to bring the audience back to earth... to help them remember where Lucy herself had started out.
This movie is so much fun. It breaks so many rules and goes for the big picture... and it really takes advantage of what CG can do. I gotta admit I was surprised. And I really like being surprised.