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Thursday, October 2, 2014

REVIEW: Tusk

MOVIE
Tusk

CAST
Justin Long, Michael Parks

RATING
R

RELEASE
September 19, 2014

DIRECTOR
Kevin Smith

STUDIO
A24

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 42 minutes






STARS
***1/2









REVIEW:

Being a man who has willingly said that he’s against the Hollywood system, writer/director/podcaster Kevin Smith uses his talents and fan base to tell some intriguing, funny, and sometimes extremely bizarre stories. It was only three years ago when Smith went to the Sundance Film Festival to showcase his film “Red State” and to announce at the industry meeting for it to all of the studio representatives that he was going to self-distribute the movie. That’s the type of guy he is: someone who is willing to flip off the Hollywood studios of the world and preserve his artistic vision, regardless of the backlash and critical responses. Teaming up the notorious filmmaker with the up and coming distribution studio A24 is something of a match made in indie heaven, if you ask me. Alas, that’s what we have here with Smith’s latest writing and directorial effort “Tusk.”

 Less like “Chasing Amy” and more like a breed of “Red State” and “The Human Centipede,” “Tusk” tells the tale of how a self-centered podcaster travels to Canada so he can interview a man who claims to have many “amazing stories” to tell. What the podcaster, Wallace, gets from this mysterious man, is something he never would have bargained for, and something that changes his life in the most gruesome and horrific ways possibly ever put on screen.  Combining shocking horror elements and his typical brand of comedy, Smith has created a movie that not only is his most twisted project to date, but also a film that will stick with you long after walking out of the movie theater.  Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends on the person watching.  For me at least, that is most definitely a good thing.

What really elevated this film, for me at least, was how messed up and insanely original the script was.  Smith puts his podcasting job into the life of our protagonist, and takes a story that he told on his podcast one time and just went all out with it.  Just when you think the film is at its highest level of craziness, he surprises you again with something even more absurd and downright messed up.  In fact, I didn't know what to think of this movie when I walked out of it originally because of that.  It took me a couple of days to realize that, as grotesque and creepy this movie is, I actually had the desire to see it again.  If the film had be categorized in one sole genre, then I don't think it would have had the same impact on me as it did here.  In a way, the horror and the comedy in Smith's script, and even in his direction, nearly perfectly mesh together to make this crazy crazy film.  I applaud him for actually going out of the box and making something that is just so weird that most mainstream audiences would walk out about halfway through when the big reveal of Justin Long's character happens.  Not to mention, the film doesn't rely on jump scares to creep people out, plus the design of the creature was made with no CGI and was all a giant practical effect, which is something rare to come by in this day and age.

It's nice to see Justin Long as something that isn't a straightforward comedic role, but ultimately it's actually his character that brought the film down for me.  I don't mind characters who are unlikable, but when we have to sympathize with them for nearly an entire movie, then that combination has to be well blended and make sense.  Here, we as an audience aren't exactly given the ability to sympathize with him, and that's mainly due to the fact that we're shown a series of flashbacks during the film that show how much of a jerk he is as a person.  Putting that next to scenes of a mad man torturing him physically and mentally gives off a sense of confusion, as if Smith was trying to make us sympathize with him but didn't give us the extra couple of scenes that might have allowed us to do just that.  Justin Long is really good in the role, it's just that the character was written as an unlikable jerk for the sake of being an unlikable jerk.

While Justin Long was quite good in the film, as were Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment, the true standouts of the film came from Michael Parks and the "surprise" A-list star in the film.  In case you don't know who that is and don't want to know who he is, then don't read the paragraph following this one.  Michael Parks is an absolute maniac in this movie.  He is funny at parts, haunting at others, and overall is just downright mesmerizing.  There are many layers to his character, which add to how mysterious and insane he really is.  I won't go spoiling anything else about him, as this is one of those performances that you just have to let sink in once your in the theater.

*SPOILERS*
Well, I'll just let this right out: Johnny Depp is the best character in "Tusk." Yep, Captain Jack Sparrow himself is in this low-budget Kevin Smith flick, and he hides under some makeup, a mustache, and a heavy Canadian accent. Depp plays a detective from Quebec named Guy Lapointe who has been tracking Michael Parks' character for a very long time.  Not only is this character hilarious, but he's also just captivating to watch.  I will say that the flashback scene with him was pretty long for a movie like this, but it sort of added for me to how absurd and strange this character was, if that makes any sense.  Overall, I am happy that Depp can step out of the big-budgeted Hollywood flicks to star in unique and clever films like this and simply have fun and lose himself in this role.  And the fact that Depp as this character is going to be in Smith's next film "Yoga Hosers" makes me so much more excited to see what else can be done with this crazy detective.
*END OF SPOILERS*

In case you haven't guessed yet or you haven't seen how poorly this has been doing at the box office, "Tusk" is not a movie for everyone.  It's too strange and bizarre for horror fans, and it's too dark and absurd for comedy fans.  Basically, this is a movie for those who like either A.) weird and original films, B.) Kevin Smith's film catalog, or C.) all of the above.  Me personally, I'm in category C on this one, and this movie all around was a blast for me.  The acting is solid, the story is unique and inventive, and the design of the creature is absolutely incredible.  If this movie is still playing around you, and you have the time to see it, I'd highly recommend checking it out on the big screen.  And if you can't make it to the theater to see this, then it's definitely work checking out on DVD/Blu-Ray when it comes out.  The film would most likely elevate especially if friends were with you to experience this 102 minute ride into Kevin Smith's whacked-out/brilliant mind.  Despite my problems with this film in the writing department, "Tusk" is a horror comedy that I enjoyed a whole lot and cannot wait to revisit in the future.






PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Kill The Messenger

The Skeleton Twins

The Judge

Pride

Jimi: All Is By My Side

A Most Violent Year





Thursday, September 25, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: The Drop

MOVIE
The Drop

CAST
Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace

RATING
R

RELEASE
September 12, 2014

DIRECTOR
Michaƫl R. Roskam

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 46 minutes





STARS
***1/2








REVIEW:

It's hard to talk about this movie without mentioning the fact that this was the last movie actor James Gandolfini would ever be a part of before his untimely death last June.  The 51 year old actor gave a lot of great performances, most known for his work as Tony Sorprano on the beloved HBO show "The Sorpranos."  After his death, Gandolfini had two films left in the can: "Enough Said" and "The Drop."  "Enough Said" went on to obtain a lot of critical praise last year, as well as some awards buzz for Gandolfini and his co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, while "The Drop" has come to theaters a year later.  "The Drop," along with the late actor, stars Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, and tells the story of how one robbery can change the lives of many people in more ways than one.

Not only are the performances, particularly from Hardy and Gandolfini, great, but the film as a whole is an engaging mob thriller that had me personally engaged and somewhat mesmerized at the same time.  While I did think that the villain was a little too over the top and the film dragged a couple of times, "The Drop" as a whole is a film that I personally would strongly recommend seeing.  Even if you're just seeing this to see Gandolfini's last movie, I have a feeling that you'll come out of it feeling overall satisfied that you got an entertaining thriller overall.  Not to mention, this movie does manage to give Gandolfini some grace and allows his film career to end on a high note.  If this film is playing near you, or if it's at a local Redbox sometime in the future, I would say to definitely check it out.





PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Tusk

The Imitation Game

Rosewater

Into The Woods

Unbroken

Birdman

Wild






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Monday, September 22, 2014

REWIND REVIEW: Blended

MOVIE
Blended

CAST
Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
May 23, 2014

DIRECTOR
Frank Coraci

STUDIO
Warner Bros. Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 57 minutes





STARS
***








REVIEW:

Gotta love Adam Sandler and his annual 2 hour montages of fart jokes, family messages, and PG-13 low-brow humor, right?  Well, most critics certainly don't, but audiences usually do, as Sandler keeps churning these types of flicks out year after year.  The last time the majority of people believe he made a good comedy was with Drew Barrymore in the 2004 flick "50 First Dates."  I guess it only fits that he eventually teams up with his "Wedding Singer" co-star for a third go-around, so here we are now with the new PG-13 family comedy "Blended."  Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore are single parents who have a bad first date and end up booking a trip together with their children to Africa.  Of course, with this being a Sandler movie, shenanigans ensue.  However, where other movies from the comedian's catalog go for the most juvenile and dumbest humor out there, this one has some heart thrown into the mix too.  Not even forced emotions, but rather sequences that are genuinely interesting and believable overall.

Don't get me wrong, this film has a lot of bad jokes and stupid sequences that just make you look in disgust, but for what it's worth, "Blended" isn't that bad a film.  I could be saying this just because I happen to enjoy Sandler's other movies, but for me, this was a pleasant enough film for me that I can actually recommend.  I can recommend it especially now since it's out on DVD waiting to be rented or bought for a family movie night.  Kids will enjoy it for the physical humor, parents will most likely laugh and relate to the situations Sandler and Barrymore have, and the whole family overall will feel satisfied at the end of the day.  Plus, this movie has Terry Crews using his physique appropriately and sporting a mediocre African accent.  How can you possibly go wrong with that?




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.