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Thursday, April 16, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: Lost River

MOVIE
Lost River

CAST
Christina Hendricks,
Iain De Caestecker

RATING
R

RELEASE
April 10, 2015 (VOD/LIMITED)

DIRECTOR
Ryan Gosling

STUDIO
Warner Bros. Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 35 minutes








STARS
**








REVIEW:

On the surface, everything about "Lost River" should have been great.  Acclaimed actor and sex-symbol Ryan Gosling makes his written and directorial debut with this film, and along for the ride he brings the likes of Christina Hendricks from "Drive" and "Mad Men," Matt Smith from "Doctor Who," and his wife Eva Mendes to star in this fantasy neo-noir.  Not to mention, Oscar heavyweight studio Warner Bros. picked this bad boy up for distribution.  Unfortunately, despite having all of the ingredients to make a great movie, Gosling stirred them up and made a less than great movie.  What's even more disappointing is that "Lost River" is just a straight up bad film overall.

Sure the cinematography is gorgeous, the visuals are surprisingly stellar, the acting is fine, and even Gosling has a good eye for directing, but the writing is so piss-poor and so vague that it takes any type of enjoyment out of it for the majority of filmmakers.  If you're a fan of films like "Only God Forgives" and "The Counselor" which have, for lack of a better term, more style than substance, then I think you may find more enjoyment out of this than most.  Unfortunately for yours truly, I found it to bee too artsy, vague, and pretentious for its own good.  Gosling has a strong career in the director's chair if more people are willing to give him a chance.  As for his writing, well, his chances in that department are very slim.





Friday, April 3, 2015

REVIEW: Furious 7: The IMAX Experience

MOVIE
Furious 7

CAST
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
April 3, 2015

DIRECTOR
James Wan

STUDIO
Universal Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 17 minutes






STARS
****









REVIEW:

Vin Diesel has stated that the latest installment in the "Fast and Furious" franchise "Furious 7," or as director James Wan wants it to be spelled, "Furious Seven," was the hardest film he ever had to make due to the passing of Paul Walker.  Behind all of the puns, jokes, and ridiculousness of the stunts performed on screen, the effort really shows.  This franchise has always been about the "family" element present between each character, and this film celebrates that with grace.  Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw is coming after Diesel's Dominic Toretto and his family after what they did to Statham's brother Owen, played by Luke Evans, in the previous film.  From this feud comes explosions, racing, and heisting all in the span of 137 minutes.  Yet with all of the mayhem going on, the theme of family still shines above it all, which is what makes this movie, as well as this franchise, as great as it is.  This film doesn't just continue a story that audiences all over the world have connected with; it embraces the nostalgia of the previous films and, in a way, brings everything full circle.

It seemed unusual to hire a director like James Wan, who specializes in horror films such as "Saw" and "The Conjuring," for something like this, but the movie as a whole is incredibly well directed and shows how much potential he has as an action director.  Wan showcases everything you'd want to see in a film from this series and amps everything up to new levels.  The action sequences, despite being absolutely crazy, are really well-shot and well-executed, making them all the more fun.  He gets the best performances he can out of each actor in the film, and overall helped to tell a fun and touching story.  Same goes for screenwriter Chris Morgan, who seems to have known exactly how ridiculous some of the stuff he wrote was and embraced the craziness of what his mind came up with.  The dialogue might have been cheesy and the action pieces he wrote might have been over the top, but that's to be expected from a movie where cars skydive out of a plane.  Despite the zaniness of that amazing sequence, somehow that isn't even the most ridiculous thing in the film!

If these films didn't have the chemistry that these actors bring with the characters they play, then it's doubtful that this series would have been as successful as it's been.  Vin Diesel is great as Dom, as he's always been.  He's big, he's tough, and most importantly, he's a great brother to his friends and family in the movie.  Beneath all of the muscle and hair on his head is a vulnerable man who will do whatever means necessary to protect his family.  Every stunt Dom and his crew perform in this movie is all for the sake of protecting su familia, as crazy as that may sound.  Diesel may not be one of the greatest actors out there, but he's sure as hell believable as a man who cares about the people he loves.  Speaking of which, the chemistry that Dom has with Paul Walker's Brian is especially powerful not just because of the real life tragedy of Paul Walker's death, but also because of how the filmmakers decided to send Walker's character off.

Considering what the filmmakers had to do to "bring back" Paul Walker's character to finish the movie and give him the send off he deserved, this is an incredible use of visual effects.  If you pay close attention, you can tell when it's the real Paul Walker vs. when it's a CGI Paul Walker.  But honestly if you don't even think about it, it's pretty hard to tell the difference.  From the structure of the face to the placement of the character in certain scenes, it's as if Walker was still around to finish the film.  That's how good it looks.  Not to mention, the CGI used to do some of the film's most ridiculous of stunts look fantastic as well.  You may be able to tell that it was done on a computer, but that sure as hell doesn't take away from the fun and zaniness that the scenes deliver on.

It's easy to say that Paul Walker gave a great performance in his swan song of a film because it's true. From the scenes that Walker was able to shoot, it was obvious that he loved what he was doing and truly cared about his craft.  Thanks to the power of CGI, the support of Walker's family, and a couple of script changes, Walker was able to get the tribute and send off that he and his character rightfully deserve.  It's emotional to see him on screen at times, but in the end it's good to know that everyone involved with the movie knew better than to simply kill the character off.  Brian O'Conner is retired here, and in the best way imaginable.  Walker always had a likable charisma to him, not to mention being easy on the eyes platonically speaking, and he will surely be missed.  Definitely expect people to get teary eyed at the beautiful tribute the filmmakers gave him at the end of the movie, because it truly is a bittersweet and beautiful sequence for someone taken from us too soon.

As for the rest of the actors in the film, Michelle Rodriguez's character Letty is more fleshed out here than she has been before due to the events of the previous film.  This gives us, the audience, a chance to empathize with her situation more, as well as some great exchanges between her and Diesel.  Jordana Brewster has a much smaller role than she's had before, and overall she did a solid job in her time on screen.  Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Tyrese Gibson delivered as the comedic relief of the movie despite some jokes being stronger than others.  And then, there's Dwayne Johnson.  Not only is this man a badass, but in a way he is the quintessential action star of today.  Spewing ridiculous phrases almost every time he opens his mouth, as well as performing some of the most insane but hilariously awesome things in this series, Johnson shows that he loves what he's doing and embraces his larger-than-life physique in spectacular fashion.

As for the newest additions to the franchise, Jason Statham is a whole lot of fun as Deckard Shaw.  If you thought Owen Shaw was a wonderful villain in "Fast & Furious 6," then wait until you see Statham take on the Toretto crew.  This character seeks vengeance and demands it at all costs, so much so that he's pretty much everywhere the crew goes in amazing fashion.  Don't try to explain the logic about this; just strap in and go along for the ride.  Speaking of going along for the ride, 80s superstar Kurt Russell races in as a government agent who asks the crew to help them retrieve something in exchange for finding Shaw.  I personally felt Russell stole the film, bringing a sleek coolness to his performance and overall just being a magnificent presence on screen.  Both Statham and Russell deliver on being awesome characters in an action series where the characters are the glue that holds everything together.

"Furious Seven" is an example of what happens when the people behind a movie dedicate their blood, sweat, and time to deliver on making the best product imaginable with what they have to work with.  The action is impressive and fun, the story arcs are engaging, the comedy works, and the film as a whole is just a fun time at the movies.  If you try to base logic into anything that's presented on screen, then you're not going to have as much fun of a time as you may want.  This is the type of movie where the logical side of your brain has to be switched off in order to enjoy the glory of everything going on.  Seeing this in IMAX enhanced my viewing of the film personally due to the fact that everything felt more immersive and engaging.

The end of the film is very much a bittersweet moment being that it's a tribute to Walker's character, but in the end it was the absolute best send off the filmmakers could give him, and it was beautiful.  If Universal and Vin Diesel wanted to, they could end the series with this one based on how the movie ends.  However plans are already being made for an 8th installment in the series, and I'm totally ok with that.  "Furious Seven" has everything you could ask for in a "Fast and Furious" movie, and then some.  This isn't just a great and ridiculously awesome action movie; this is just a flat-out great movie with engaging characters, amazing action, and a wonderful theme of "family" that glues everything together.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Gift (non-IMAX)

Spy (non-IMAX)

Straight Outta Compton (non-IMAX)

Spectre

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Jurassic World






MINI-REVIEW: The Cobbler

MOVIE
The Cobbler

CAST
Adam Sandler,
Cliff "Method Man" Smith

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
March 13, 2015
(LIMITED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Tom McCarthy

STUDIO
Image Entertainment

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 38 minutes





STARS
***







REVIEW:

Two films starring comedy megastar Adam Sandler made their debut at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.  The first one was Jason Reitman's "Men, Women & Children," and well, it wasn't as good as it should have been.  The second one, on the other hand, seemed to have more of an impact on people, but not in a good way.  That film is "The Cobbler," brought to us from writer/director Tom McCarthy, who made the 2011 indie gem "Win Win."  The film takes the term "walk in another man's shoes" and puts it to a literal effect, as Sandler plays a New York cobbler who stumbles upon a magical machine that lets him become other people simply by putting on their shoes.  This film was slammed by critics upon its debut, and since then I have had several friends tell me it's among their least favorite films of 2015 thus far.  Obviously the temptation to see it grew, so I waited, and the opportunity presented itself.  But I have to ask, is it really as bad as many people have made it out to be?  Well I personally don't think so.

The tone might have been inconsistent, there might have been one too many subplots present, and the ending might have been absolutely ridiculous, but I found it hard to not be taken in by the genuine sweetness and charm that the movie had.  Adam Sandler is giving it his all here, and the story as a whole was interesting enough to keep my attention. It's definitely not one of Sandler's best movies, but I don't believe it deserves to have been as panned as it has been.  There are far worse films from his library to bash on, so why not just do that?  "Jack and Jill" and "Zookeeper" havent't had a good bashing on in a few years after all.  I'm glad Sandler's stepping out of his usual schtick of films, and if he does more unique projects like "The Cobbler," even if they're just as poorly received as this has been, consider me on board for every single one of them.




Monday, March 30, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: Accidental Love

MOVIE
Accidental Love

CAST
Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
Febraury 10, 2015 (VOD)

DIRECTOR
David O. Russell
(as Stephen Greene)

STUDIO
Millennium Entertainment

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 41 minutes






STARS
**








REVIEW:

This right here may be the saddest movie of 2015 overall.  Not because it'll make you cry or anything, although you may depending on your feelings for it, but because there was so much potential that was just flushed down the toilet once director David O. Russell disowned the movie.  Yes, the director of "The Fighter," "Silver Linings Playbook," and "American Hustle" made this movie.  Originally "Accidental Love" went under the title "Nailed" and it was supposed to be a biting and hilarious political satire about the troubles people have to get what they want and how corrupt politics in general is.  Unfortunately, the film itself went through financial troubles which caused Russell to leave the project and have others finish it for him.  And now, seven years after going into production, we have the half-assed cut of a movie that, had it not been for the financial troubles, could have been pretty great.

Throughout the 101 minute duration, there are slivers of a great movie that leak out and show the potential this had.  I'm not gonna lie: I laughed a couple of times.  There were a few jokes and some sequences that kept me entertained and interested in where things were going.  The actors seemed committed, and the satirical elements of the film itself felt genuine and on point.  Unfortunately, what makes "Accidental Love" sad to watch is the fact that everyone's hard work put into this resulted in something mediocre and sloppy.  If you're a fan of David O. Russell, it might be best for you to stay away from this.  There honestly isn't any purpose or anything redeemable in seeing this.  Had it not been for the financial troubles, I could have honestly seen this becoming a modern comedy cult classic.  Thank goodness Russell and the actors involved went on to do bigger and better things, because this is just a sad bump in the road that I'm sure they all want to forget.  I at least want to forget it.  "Accidental Love" had potential, but in the end this is just a half-assed cut of what once could have been a hilarious political satire.




Thursday, March 26, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: Faults

MOVIE
Faults

CAST
Leland Orser,
Mary Elizabeth-Winstead

RATING
NR

RELEASE
March 6, 2015 (LIMITED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Riley Stearns

STUDIO
Screen Media Films

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 30 minutes





STARS
***1/2









REVIEW:

Cults are easy to be persuaded by, as shown in Riley Stearns' movie "Faults."  Starring Leland Orser from "The Guest" and Mary Elizabeth-Winstead from such films as "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" and "The Spectacular Now," "Faults" tells the story of the struggle two parents go through when dealing with their daughter, Claire, being taken into a mysterious cult called Faults.  As a last ditch effort to get her out, Claire's parents call upon one of the world's foremost experts in the field of mind control, Ansel Roth, in order to do the deed.  This film is one of the few times where I went into this knowing practically nothing about it, other than the cast and that it deals with cults.  90 minutes later, I emerged from the film with a strange awe pulsating through my eyes and mind.

This is one crazy and surreal movie, and it's one of those indie gems that I'd highly recommend seeking out.  The performances are great, the story is captivating, Riley Stearns' writing/direction was on point and very impressive, and overall this is a movie that I really enjoyed.  It drags a little bit and some performances are better than others, but honestly, this is something that really deserves to be seen and admired.  If you haven't heard of "Faults" before, hopefully now you have, and I recommend seeing it.  However, try to avoid the trailer if possible.  It sells a different movie than what is delivered and kind of spoils some of the twists, turns, and surreal things that go on during the 90 minute duration.