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Monday, September 15, 2014

REVIEW: This Is Where I Leave You

MOVIE
This Is Where I Leave You

CAST
Jason Bateman, Tina Fey

RATING
R

RELEASE
September 19, 2014

DIRECTOR
Shawn Levy

STUDIO
Warner Bros. Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 43 minutes





STARS
***1/2







REVIEW:

In death, there is always a silver lining.  In the case of "This Is Where I Leave You," the death is of a loving husband and father, and the silver lining is a reunion of somewhat estranged siblings who are granting their father's dying wish of performing a week-long Jewish mourning ceremony called a "shivah."  The family isn't Jewish, but this was the father's last request, so his kids are honoring the request.  The kids are played by notoriously comedic actors Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Corey Stoll, and the father's widow is played by Jane Fonda.  Add "Real Steal," "Night at the Museum," and "Date Night" director Shawn Levy into the mix, and what's expected is a hilarious comedy with a nice heart, right? Well, I'd think again if I were you.  This film is more of a drama that has comedic characters and elements sprinkled into it.  Luckily, the movie itself works on many levels, making "This Is Where I Leave You" a film that I happily give a strong recommendation to.

The main focus of the film is mostly on Jason Bateman's character Judd, who's just caught his wife sleeping with his boss.   In terms of performances, Bateman here shows off a more dramatic side to his acting talents, ala his role in last year's overlooked gem "Disconnect." While he is funny during the film's many comedic moments, Bateman excels during the film's more emotional moments.  There's a scene towards the end of the movie where he simply breaks down and lets his emotions run free, and to me that helped to show how hard it can be to cope with the death of a loved one.  I have a feeling that people may be surprised at how deep he can be in terms of playing a man who is trying to deal with so much tragedy in his current state of life.

Tina Fey is fine as Judd's sister Wendy, simple as that.  Struggling with two kids and a constantly working husband, Wendy has her own demons that she's facing during this week-long trip down memory lane.  While I didn't think her acting or her story were as strong as Bateman's, I still felt Fey did a fine job in the drama department, though she'll need to work on her dramatic side a bit more if she wants to pursue more films like this.  Another actress who has both funny and emotional elements in the film is Jane Fonda, who portrays the mourning widow Hilary.  The family hates her because of the books she's written featuring explicit details about the family, with the irony being that she has her own unrevealed secrets hiding in the closet.  For the most part, Fonda plays her role well, effectively capturing what it may be like for someone to lose someone as dear to them as their husband.  As solid as these three actors were, they didn't even come close to the scene-stealers that this film had.

The two best actors in the movie, without a doubt, were Adam Driver and Rose Byrne.  From the moment Driver, well, literally drives in to the movie blasting loud rap music, we as an audience know that we're going to love this guy.  And as hilarious as he is, Driver also knows when to capture a softer and more heartfelt side in the scenes that require him to do so.  There's one particular scene involving him and his brothers in a synagogue (Jewish place of praying) that is both funny, sweet, and even a bit relatable.  Driver is quickly becoming, to me at least, one of the most interesting and best young comedians to be in films, with other projects like "What If," "Inside Llewyn Davis," and, most famously, his role on the HBO show "Girls" backing his talents up.

As for Byrne, she shows that she's really good at playing the "girl next door" type of person.  Having already proven her acting skills in movies like "Bridesmaids" and most recently "Neighbors," Byrne shines here as the spunky, eccentric girl who actually had a crush on Bateman's character as a child.  She shares some delightful scenes with Bateman, and overall just captures the type of vibe that makes you want to be best friends with her.  And while there isn't much drama to her character, Byrne still manages to suck the audience in and work with the script to give an overall great performance.  The rest of the cast, including the likes of Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, and Connie Britton, didn't particularly stand out for me as much as the ones already mentioned, but to be perfectly honest, there weren't any bad performances present here for me.

The problems that I have with this movie were actually with some things in the script.  Jonathan Tropper's adaptation of his novel for the most part is well written, funny, and incredibly heartfelt.  However, that doesn't mean that there weren't things here that sort of irked me.  For example, Kathryn Hahn's character really wants to have a kid with her husband, played by Corey Stoll.  After a bit of news involving Jason Bateman's character is revealed, she suddenly has a thing for Bateman, wanting him to get her pregnant once and for all.  This not only was out of place, but also wasn't fully developed enough in order to make this situation plausible or believable.  If there had been a little more focus on Hahn's struggle with reproduction, then maybe this wouldn't have been such a problem for me.  Another thing that irked me was that, while the ending sort of wrapped things up nicely with every character, the ending with Bateman and his decisions for the rest of his life were a bit ambiguous and kind of confusing personally.  When you see the movie, this complaint might make a little more sense with you.  But honestly, these problems were pretty small, as the script as a whole is pretty damn great if I must say so myself.

"This Is Where I Leave You" is a movie that I'm happy was as good as it had looked.  The cast wasn't wasted in the slightest, and the script helped to make a funny, dramatic, and all-around heartwarming tale that I'm sure will connect with many older families.  Shawn Levy truly shows here that he's capable of making a funny and serious comedy without the use of special effects or big budgets, as shown with his other projects.  I would definitely like to see more from him in this field of filmmaking, and hopefully he does do more of these types of indie-esque ensemble comedies.  If you have ever had a big death in your family, I have a feeling that you'll relate to the things that the Aldman family here goes through during their week-long period of mourning, especially if you're Jewish.  So at the end of the day, I found "This Is Where I Leave You" to be funny, well-acted, well-written, and an overall touching ensemble film that I really believe will manage to connect with audiences everywhere.





Thursday, September 11, 2014

REVIEW: Dolphin Tale 2

MOVIE
Dolphin Tale 2

CAST
Nathan Gamble,
Harry Connick Jr.

RATING
PG

RELEASE
September 12, 2014

DIRECTOR
Charles Martin Smith

STUDIO
Warner Bros. Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 47 minutes






STARS
***







REVIEW:

Let's face it: did anyone actually ask for a sequel to "Dolphin Tale?"  I mean, a lot of people including myself enjoyed the first movie, as it had a sweet story with good characters and a better than average script.  Even I didn't think that the film needed a sequel, as it wrapped things up well and gave people much more notice on Winter the Dolphin than before.  Even though Hope the Dolphin is a real creature who was actually rescued and resides with Winter, I still don't think there was any reason for this film to be made.  Alas, though, Warner Bros. saw an easy way to get kids into the seats, and thus we are here today.  However, for as generic, predictable, and manipulative this film is, I still found some of the elements of the first movie that worked to still be here, which actually surprised me.  "Dolphin Tale 2" is not as good as the original, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't actual effort put into this that made me appreciate and enjoy the film more than I did before.

The story takes place several years after Winter has been rescued and given her prosthetic tail, allowing her to continue living on.  The boy that gained an "E.T." like relationship with Winter, Sawyer, now works at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to be closer to the action and to be closer with his aquatic friend.  Things start to turn sour again as Winter's surrogate mother Panama passes away due to old age, who also happened to be the only other poolmate she ever had.  Distraught and traumatized, Winter won't eat, play, or even put on the special tail that allows her to swim correctly.  And according to USDA regulations, Winter must be paired up with another dolphin soon as it's in their social behavior to be acquainted with another one of their species.  If the team at Clearwater can't find another companion for Winter, then they'll lose her and be forced to give her to another aquarium,

Just like in the first movie, the performances here are actually pretty good.  Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, and the rest of the adult actors present are all fine and solid, however that's expected with a movie that features this amount of talent.  The kid actors in the movie, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, continue to show their improving talents in the acting department.  I mean, their performances aren't the most incredible things I've seen, but compared to other child actors, they did a pretty solid job overall.  And Bethany Hamilton, the surfer whose survival story inspired the movie "Soul Surfer," is in this as well, though her role is more of a cameo than anything despite being featured on the poster.  Nothing really bad I can say here, so let's move along.

The story itself isn't anything remarkably original, and the script has its cliches, but I was still entertained by everything overall.  The movie has its schmaltzy and dumb moments, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find myself entertained.  It was nice to be back in this world with these characters, and the fact that this actually was based on a true story (I checked, it's legit) actually impresses me more.  While it's not a sequel that's remarkably memorable, I still found "Dolphin Tale 2" to be a pleasant family movie with some sweet moments, decent acting, and is overall a nice film to see on a Saturday morning in September.  In a month where nothing incredibly special is out, as movies are currently recovering (both in a good and bad way) from the summer, this is a nice movie to have as a sort of breather before the holiday/awards movies come in full force.





Sunday, August 31, 2014

REVIEW: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For 3D

MOVIE
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

CAST
Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 22, 2014

DIRECTOR(S)
Robert Rodriguez,
Frank Miller

STUDIO(S)
Dimension Films (TWC),
Troublemaker Studios

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 42 minutes






STARS
**1/2







REVIEW:

About 10 years ago, a film called "Sin City" came along and entertained many people everywhere.  The film was based on a series of celebrated graphic novels by Frank Miller, and was brought to the screen by Miller himself, along with the likes of Robert Rodriguez and (special guest director) Quentin Tarantino.  It's almost interesting how long this movie has been in the works, considering how much of a delay there was to get this bad boy into production.  But alas, here we are, and now this movie is here, this time with most of the same cast and crew, but also with new additions, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green.  While I enjoyed the first "Sin City" for what it was, the style of a neo-noir film isn't really for me, as I've learned recently.  This new sequel, "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For," tries to be goofier and more over the top while trying to recapture the grittiness of the original.  Unfortunately, the movie suffers because of this.  While there were many things to enjoy about this movie, "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" fails to recapture the epic and all-around enjoyment factor that the first one greatly had.

Just like with the first "Sin City," this film has separate storylines all told throughout the duration of the film.  To get this out of the way, the best one was easily Joseph Gordon-Levitt's one.  The reason for this is because it's slick, gritty, and felt the most engaging and the most authentic in terms of being compared to the original movie.  Not to mention, the acting from Gordon-Levitt and Powers Boothe really elevated the tension and the grittiness of each scene they were in.  This was the type of story and structure that I expected the other few stories in the film to have.  Unfortunately, to say the least, they don't.

Before I get into the stories that heavily involve characters from the original movie, I'm going to talk about the story that involves the characters played by Josh Brolin and Eva Green.  On paper, the idea of a man troubled by his old girlfriend and his old girlfriend coming back into his life to wreck havoc sounds like it would have lots of potential.  In the case of what's going on here, nothing about these scenes felt tense or engaging in the slightest.  Eva Green gives possibly the single most over-the-top performance I've seen all year, and Josh Brolin didn't seem to engaged with the story in all honesty.  Not to mention, we have ANOTHER storyline involving Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven that is so dumb and predictable, I'm still debating whether or not their scenes were supposed to be comedic.  If that couldn't get bad enough, then we have the stories with Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba's characters.

As you might know, these guys were very big parts in the original "Sin City," so for them to come back is no particular surprise.  In looking up this movie, I saw that it was described as being both a sequel and a prequel to the original, sort of adding on and tying up loose knots from the original.  That's all fine and dandy, if they didn't create plot holes within themselves.  Characters that died in the first one are spontaneously alive now, and are somehow moving along in the storyline.  There are other characters featured in scenes that imply it to be taking place before the original film, but there are also these scenes where characters that died are interacting with other characters after their story lines have ended in the original.

Not only is that confusing, but it's just seemed like an excuse to have old actors come back for the sake of having them come back.  Not to mention, these stories weren't even that strong in the first place.  They just kind of felt a little goofy and just, well, there.  Some might find enjoyment in these stories, but for me, I preferred just having these characters in the first one.  Had they gotten an entirely new cast, with the exception of maybe a few surprise cameos, then maybe the film could have succeeded far more than it did here.

Being the man who directed "From Dusk Till Dawn," "Spy Kids" and "Desperado," I must say that Robert Rodriguez really has lost his touch based on his most recent movies.  I feel like he is trying so hard to be innovative and keep up with the times in terms of technology and special effects that he's losing the essence that makes a good movie: a well-thought out story.  Part of the blame can also go to Frank Miller, who actually wrote the screenplay based on his novels.  Both of these men seem to be focusing too much in the special effects and the 3D (which by the way isn't particularly that great) that they forgot how to tell a good story and get the best performances out of their actors.  Not to mention, it feels like Rodriguez and Miller are trying to make this as ridiculous and over-the-top as possible, when in the end that's not necessary in the slightest.  Word of advice to these guys: when trying to make a gritty neo-noir comic book movie, try to make it more like "Watchmen" and less like a sequel to "Machete."  This might be just personal taste, but that's how I felt about the structure and direction that these two made here.

"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" had potentially a lot going for it.  Unfortunately, it doesn't give that many things that are considered "good" in return.  Despite the visuals looking as great as they did in 2005, and the story arc with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character being riveting and engaging, the film suffers from being too cheesy, relying too much on special effects, and having a couple plot holes that really drive the movie into its own whirl pool of confusion and absurdity.  There was honestly honestly potential for this to have been a good, if not, great sequel to "Sin City."  Unfortunately, that wasn't delivered here, and instead we got a movie that's half good, and half mediocre.

So in the end, "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" is not the worst movie of the summer.  It's really just an average movie that's kind of stuck in between the really good films and the really bad films.   Considering though a lot of the other movies we've gotten, including the comic book films "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "X-Men: Days of Future Past," and most recently "Guardians of the Galaxy," this could have and should have been a lot better in quality.  This movie didn't make enough money opening weekend to warrant the idea of a "Sin City 3" to be considered.  Frankly, though, I don't even think I want another chance to go into this world again after seeing this movie.



PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Addicted

Annabelle

Dracula Untold

The Interview

Amityville: The Awakening

The Hateful Eight

Exodus: Gods and Kings





REVIEW: Frank

MOVIE
Frank

CAST
Domhnall Gleeson,
Michael Fassbender

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 15, 2014
(VOD/LIMITED)

DIRECTOR
Lenny Abrahamson

STUDIO
Magnolia Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 33 minutes






STARS
****








REVIEW:

Who would have ever thought that Michael Fassbender, arguably one of the most talented and best looking men working in Hollywood today, would sign on to a role that requires him to wear a giant papier-mâché head throughout mostly the entire duration of the film?  Well I sure as hell didn't, but thank goodness he did, as we probably wouldn't have gotten as hilarious and fantastic of a performance that he delivered here as "Frank."  Loosely based on the British character Frank Sidebottom, Fassbender is the perfectionist leader of a bizarre band who finds inspiration in literally everything he comes across.  The band members, including one played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, all follow this man and consider him to be an underground genius.  Pretty soon, Domhnall Gleeson's character, an aspiring musician on his own, spontaneously joins Frank's band, and his presence begins to change the way they're all exposed to the world that they live in.

If you can't get past the fact that the titular character wears a giant head throughout most of the movie, then this most likely is not something you would probably get in to.  I'm not gonna lie, this is one insanely weird movie.  It's kind of like a strange breeding of the off-beat humor that "Napoleon Dynamite" possessed and a lot of noises and sounds that this group of misfits and weirdos call "music."  At the center of it all is a quirky character who, past the giant head, is a lot more complex and fascinating than one may expect.  From the moment we're introduced to Gleeson's character Jon as he's walking around his hometown trying to find inspiration for a song, immediately I was grabbed by the line and yanked into the abyss that is this movie.  "Frank" is not a movie for the faint of heart, but if you're able to get sucked in by its absolute weirdness, then I have a feeling you're really going to enjoy this flick.

Michael Fassbender's performance as Frank is unlike anything he's done in his career thus far.  Usually being seen as an antagonist in films like "X-Men: Days of Future Past" or as dark, tortured characters in films like "Shame," one of the main things that makes this performance stand out from the others, aside from the head, is the fact that Fassbender is funny here.  In fact, I'd even say that he was hilarious in this movie.  Since you can never see his face for the most part, what drives this performance is the physicality of the character as well as the way his voice sounds.  However, as the third act comes rolling in, we as an audience get to see a dark and upsetting side of Frank that makes us care for him and actually cry with him.  In fact, the last scene of this movie, without giving anything away, actually made me feel like I was going to tear up.  Me tearing up in a movie is a very rare occurrence, so for a movie to move me like that really says something special at how well something can get to me.  And most of that was thanks to Fassbender's killer performance.

Domhnall Gleeson, probably best known for the overlooked film from last year "About Time," delivers a great performance here as well.  Gleeson's character Jon is like ourselves when we join a group of outsiders for the first time and fall in love with their absurd behaviors and tastes in things.  While I don't think his performance was as strong as his role in "About Time," I still found Gleeson's character and performance to be enjoyable and relatable all at the same time.  Everyone else here, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, are all really good as well.  Having said that, even they couldn't top how method and crazy-awesome of a performance Fassbender gave as Frank.

If you're not into absurd and strange comedies like "Frank," then I doubt that this will change your mind on them.  As someone who digs these types of films, as well as movies that successfully tell a strong three-act story with colorful characters, I personally loved the crap out of this movie.  There's some type of charm that this film possesses that made me happy to invest 90 minutes of my time in the presence of these characters.  The direction is actually well-done and the script is quirky and hilarious while also dark and saddening at the same time, which elevated the movie in quality for me.    Not to mention, the music is strangely enchanting and really catchy, especially the last song in the film called "I Love You All."  If "Frank" is at a local indie theater near you, then do yourself a favor and check it out.  If it's not, then luckily this movie is on all VOD platforms for your viewing pleasure.  If you enjoy absurd films along the lines of "Napoleon Dynamite" and don't mind the titular character wearing a giant papier-mâché for mostly the entirety of the film, then I have a feeling that you are really going to enjoy "Frank."


PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Notebook

Pride

A Letter To Momo

The Two Faces of January


White Bird In A Blizzard




Saturday, August 30, 2014

REWIND REVIEW: Locke

MOVIE
Locke

CAST
Tom Hardy, Olivia Coleman

RATING
R

RELEASE
April 25, 2014

DIRECTOR
Steven Knight

STUDIO
A24

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 25 minutes






STARS
****






REVIEW:

Ok, before you watch the trailer for this movie, (if you haven't already) I want you to look at the poster for this movie.  My guess is that the image of a man like Tom Hardy just sitting in his car with critic blurbs saying that the film is "suspenseful" and "compelling" made you think that this is some sort of action flick with violence, mobsters, and other things of that sort.  Hell, even that's what I thought this was about prior to watching it.  However, having seen the film in its 85 minute glory, I can happily say that "Locke" is compelling and suspenseful for all of the reasons you wouldn't expect just by looking at it from the poster, or even the trailer if you give that a watch.

Basically imagine a movie that takes place in one location that revolves around a man who receives a phone call that turns his life and flips it on his head.  That's the best plot description I can give you without giving too much of the story away.  All you really need to know about this movie, aside from that, is that this is a movie that is incredibly worthy of your attention and time.  In a year where indie films have flourished more than ever, "Locke" undeservedly slipped under the cracks of the people's attention, making it lost in the shuffle of all of the "Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Begin Again's" of 2014.  If you want to see arguably Tom Hardy's most raw and engaging performance to date, as well as a compelling story that relies solely on dialogue and a single performance from the sole actor in the film to keep your attention, then definitely look for "Locke" whether it's On Demand or at your local Redbox.  This is, in my opinion, one of the most well-structured, paced, and thrilling movies to have come out this year so far, and something that I would definitely watch again and again given the opportunity.