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Monday, July 21, 2014

REVIEW: Begin Again

MOVIE
Begin Again

CAST
Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo

RATING
R

RELEASE
June 27, 2014 (LIMITED)
July 2, 2014 (WIDE)

DIRECTOR
John Carney

STUDIO
The Weinstein Company

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 44 minutes






STARS
***3/4








REVIEW:

I'm not going to lie: I had no idea what to feel about John Carney's "Begin Again" when it ended. I sort of sat there in a state of disbelief, pondering my thoughts on the 104 minute film that had just presented itself in front of me. I knew I enjoyed the movie, for starters, but I wasn't sure how much I enjoyed it. This wasn't a movie that particularly grabbed me until about 30 or 40 minutes into it, and from there I had a smile on my face and my feet were tapping to the songs. And then, the movie ended, and again I had the same feeling that was in my chest during the beginning of the movie. In a state of disbelief, I began to think about how the movie impacted me. And in short, it impacted me a lot more than I initially thought. While some out there immediately knew they loved this movie, I didn't. The reason why I didn't know what to think of it was because it touched more than my mind, it touched my soul in a way where it left me in disbelief. The performances, the music, and the story all left a lasting impression on me that even now I'm still digesting fully.

Keira Knightley is a radiant ball of life as Greta, a woman who only has a guitar and a singing voice to her name as her boyfriend dumped her due to the temptations of success in the music industry.  Not only does Knightley impress with an incredibly emotional and realistic performance, but she also possesses a raw singing talent last seen with Oscar Isaac in "Inside Llewyn Davis."  Mark Ruffalo impresses here as well as Dan, a man who has nothing and has practically given up on life.  His performance is as entertaining as it is realistic, enthusiastic, and really good overall.  Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld,  and James Cordon are among the actors who all deliver good performances here and fit their roles very well.  Cee Lo Green even shows up for a couple of scenes and manages to be awesome and very charismatic as an actor.  Knightley and Ruffalo might be the two most memorable performances here, but everyone in this film is solid in their own right in general.

In terms of original music, the soundtrack to "Begin Again" is possibly the best of the year thus far.  What I like so much about the songs in this movie is that they all capture different emotions effectively and are incredibly catchy to listen to.  Some tunes like "Coming Up Roses" are upbeat and very energetic, while others like "Lost Stars" capture a hauntingly beautiful side of the characters who sing it.  Since seeing the film, I have downloaded the soundtrack and have listened to it repeatedly, which is a rare thing for me actually.  If there's anything here that I can considered to be the "best thing" about this film, it's definitely the upbeat and magical soundtrack.

Director/screenwriter John Carney has effectively made a movie that is both touching and full of soul.  The story itself might be predictable, but the characters are relatable and fascinating.  The film's message about seeing the true potential in something instead of just selling out to the modern crap that's thrown out there can be applied to both films and music as well.  Movies like this and "Chef" show what films can really be like if people invest their time and money into a good story with good characters and a feel-good element to it instead of 3D explosions with hot girls wearing short shorts.  This film I could honestly see becoming something of a modern classic in the sense that, when looked back on, people will think highly of this gem.  "Begin Again" is something of a magical array of music, great acting, and a solid story that captures the soul of true artists at work.



PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Best of Me

Interstellar


This Is Where I Leave You


And So It Goes


Get on Up


St. Vincent





Monday, July 14, 2014

REVIEW: They Came Together

MOVIE
They Came Together

CAST
Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler

RATING
R

RELEASE
June 27, 2014 (VOD/LIMTIED)

DIRECTOR
David Wain

STUDIO
Lionsgate

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 23 minutes






STARS
***3/4







REVIEW:

In a world where the modern generation of kids only knows the term "parody" in films like "A Haunted House," "Scary Movie V," and "Vampires Suck," it's nice to know that someone like David Wain still understands what it takes to make a truly funny spoof movie.  Case in point, we have his latest directorial effort "They Came Together."  Wain, along with his fellow "Wet Hot American Summer" screenwriter Michael Showalter, have spoofed the romantic comedy genre thanks to the help of their friends Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, playing the film's two romantic leads.  Add in Cobie Smulders, Bill Hader, and Christopher Meloni into the supporting cast, and we have something pretty awesome here.  Not to mention, the film itself is silly, obscure, and just downright hilarious.

While some of the jokes aren't as funny as others, almost every little bit of humor in this movie to me was a slam dunk.  As stupid and juvenile as the jokes could be, they always managed to get at least a chuckle out.  Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are in their comfort zones here, as are most of the cast members.  Christopher Meloni, a man known for being in stuff like "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," manages to be hilarious in his delivery and timing.  David Wain's script and direction show that he understands what it takes to make a legitimately good parody film, unlike the team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who has given us such "memorable" films like "Vampires Suck" and "The Starving Games."  This movie may not appeal to quite everyone because of its sheer stupidity, but this gave me a lot to laugh hard about, so for that reason alone I recommend you to check out "They Came Together" whether it's on VOD or in theaters.




Sunday, July 13, 2014

REVIEW: The Congress

MOVIE
The Congress

CAST
Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel

RATING
NR

RELEASE
July 14, 2014 (VOD)
August 29, 2014 (LIMITED)

DIRECTOR
Ari Folman

STUDIO
Drafthouse Films

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 3 minutes






STARS
****




ORIGINALLY POSTED ON OCTOBER 31, 2013 AS A PART OF COVERAGE FOR THE 2013 PHILADELPHIA FILM FESTIVAL



REVIEW:

Some may remember back in 2008/2009 when an Israeli animated film called "Waltz With Bashir" was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.  While it didn't win the coveted award that night, the film, from then first time director Ari Folman, received massive acclaim and was at the top of many top 10 lists for critics back in 2008.  Now after five years, Folman has returned with his sophomore effort, "The Congress."  Unlike "Waltz," this film is not based on true events, rather it takes a real movie star (Robin Wright playing herself) and puts her into a surreal and gorgeous animated world that looks like a combination of a good Don Bluth cartoon and the Toon Town sequence from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."  The film delves into strange territories once the animated sequences start, so the film as a whole won't appeal to everyone.  If you're a fan of absurd, trippy, but stylish and compelling stories, then "The Congress" is the film for you.

In an alternate/futuristic universe, Robin Wright is on the rocks in terms of her acting careers.  Her stubbornness and pickiness has cost her any job offer she could have potentially gotten.  So when Miramount Studios comes to her to propose to her an offer, how could she not refuse?  Well, she is highly tempted to after hearing exactly what this offer persists of.  The offer is to scan all of Robin Wright, meaning her body, emotions, tears, etc. and place them in a computer so they can make movies with this digital version of her.  The catch to this deal is that she could never perform anywhere for any reason whatsoever for the remainder of her life.  What happens after that goes beyond imagination into a world of hallucinogens, animation, and some of the most surreal imagery you may see in any modern film that has come out in the past 10 years.

If there's any problem that is present in this movie, it's that it gets really confusing in the final act of the movie in ways where I can't explain it without spoiling certain plot points in the film.  The basis of the  majority of the film is living your wildest fantasies to the fullest.  The final 25 minutes or so deal with Robin and her son, and let's just say that they lose touch after something happens.  While thrilling and beautiful to watch, it does feel a bit like a mind bender, but that actually kind of adds to the movie.  I was talking with a critic friend of mine after about our theories on what happened at the end, and frankly I love when a movie is so fascinating and philosophical that it gets you and your buddies to talk about it when it's over.  If you're not a fan of that, well, there are other generic movies playing at this moment.

To be perfectly honest, I believe that this is the best performance of Robin Wright's career.  Even though I loved her free-spirited yet tormented portrayal in "Forrest Gump," Wright gives us some raw emotion that could be expected with a movie star not working much anymore.  There is one scene in particular, part of the animated portion of the film in fact, where the lights in her hotel room go out and she just loses herself in fear and anxiety.  There's also a scene where Wright is being digitally scanned into the computers of Miramount Pictures, and she gives off almost every emotion in it, with her crying state being incredibly powerful.  Both scenes truly show how underrated and how talented she really is in the sense that we don't see her in a lot of movies these days.  Everyone else in the film is really good, including Harvey Keitel in a small but vital role as Wright's manager, and Jon Hamm as a mysterious man Wright encounters in her animated state, but this is Wright's movie, first and foremost, and hopefully she takes on more ambitious and stunning projects like this one some time soon.

As someone who is a big fan of animation in general, I must say that the animation in this movie is superb.  As a friend of mine described it to me when he saw it, and he's very right about it, the animation is like a mixed breed of a good Don Bluth movie and the hallucination scene from "Beavis and Butthead Do America," but in all of the best ways possible.  Every character has their own distinct animated look, and the locations and the scope of this movie are grand and utterly gorgeous.  Plus, there are some hilarious "cameos" that pop up throughout the movie that will most likely make you laugh if you get who the animated figure is supposed to be.

"The Congress" is not the usual type of movie-going fare that's put out these days, but that's what makes it all the worth seeing.  The acting is superb, particularly from Miss Robin Wright; the story is pretty original and really fascinating, and the animation is a feast to the eyes.  Writer/Director Ari Folman effectively captures a not too distant future that in a way is a metaphor on how everything is going digital these days.  It's fitting that this movie is getting a Video On Demand release next year since this is all about the modern digital era, so if you see this on iTunes or something, it's definitely worth checking out.  "The Congress" is a spectacular trip into a world of drugs, animation, and digital actors, and as a whole is a wonderful little movie that is highly worth two hours of your time when it comes out next year.





Saturday, July 12, 2014

REVIEW: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3D

MOVIE
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

CAST
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
July 11, 2014

DIRECTOR
Matt Reeves

STUDIO
20th Century Fox

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 10 minutes








STARS
***1/4







REVIEW:

As someone who was disappointed from the quality of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" after all of the lavish praise it received, I will say that "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" improves in quality from the first film within the first half hour alone.  The opening minutes of the movie establish how much the virus mentioned in the first film has spread over the course of ten years.  While the human race was being wiped out by the plague, aside from those immune to the effects of the disease, the Ape population has grown more intelligent thanks to the genetic mutations of the virus.  Caeser, the ape from the first film, leads the colony of apes as they maintain a nice living style away from the surviving humans in the green, plant-like, and abandoned parts of San Francisco.  The humans eventually make contact with the Apes, conflicts ensue, and we have our 130 minute summer blockbuster for you.  Despite this movie improving in quality from "Rise," "Dawn" still has flaws that prevent me from giving it a really high score.

My biggest problem with the movie is that it's incredibly predictable and formulaic.  The main antagonist of the film, Koba, is played well by Toby Kebbell, but the way the character is written takes away overall and just puts him into a class along the lines of any other cliched movie villain you can think of.  This led to a pivotal plot point in the movie that, while important to the story, basically lines up the rest of the movie on the screen before it even happens, thus taking away the mystery and unpredictability that this could have had.  It also makes Koba the villain really formulaic and kind of stupid, aside from a few scenes that are executed incredibly well.  This type of stuff really takes me out of films like this, even if everything else in the film is done great.

The performances from Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, and Toby Kebbell all make the film worthwhile.  Why Serkis hasn't been nominated for an Oscar thus far in his career is baffling to me and just makes me wonder when the Academy will give him the title "Academy Award Nominee" that he ever so deserves.  Jason Clarke has a great presence as the human protagonist, and his scenes with the Apes are really great to watch.  Toby Kebbell has recently been tapped to play Doctor Doom in the upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot, and after his menacing and charismatic performance here as Koba, I can definitely see him bringing that role to a whole new level.  Gary Oldman also manages to have some solid and emotional moments here as well.  Nobody is necessarily bad in this movie, it's just these four are the most memorable to me personally.

Technically speaking, this movie looks absolutely incredible.  The design on the Apes look so authentically real that it's almost hard to tell that they're just actors in motion capture suits.  Not to mention, the design of this post-apocalyptic San Francisco is brooding, grim, and really mesmerizing.  However, the visual effects in this movie don't warrant an extra few bucks to be spent on seeing this in 3D.  The 3D isn't necessarily bad, rather it's just pointless and unnecessary, so do yourself a favor and just see it in regular 2D if you're planning on seeing this.  Also, and I may be in a minority when I say this, but the score for this movie felt a little out of place.  Michael Giacchino's score, while good, just felt too whimsical and as if he took it right out of an episode of "Land of the Lost."  That's just my personal opinion, though, as many will see it as a tribute to the old "Planet of the Apes" movies.

Don't get me wrong, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a good film, I just think it could have been a great film.  I feel that, had the film gone to a more unpredictable route and had the humans succumb to their naivety, thus causing the apes to go to war with them and eventually win and showing the full  "Planet of the Apes" go into full swing, I think the film would have elevated in quality and given it a solid tie-in to the original film.  That might just be me talking, as it seems that a lot of people are calling this the summer's best blockbuster.  Personally, I believe that films like "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" succeeded at being more entertaining and much smarter films that came out earlier this summer.  But still, this is a solid blockbuster that is fun, very enjoyable, and improves in quality from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."



PREVIEWS YOU WILL SEE:

Gone Girl

Exodus: Gods and Kings



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

REVIEW: Boyhood

MOVIE
Boyhood

CAST
Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane

RATING
R

RELEASE
July 11, 2014 (NY/LA)
July 18, 2014 (Expands)

DIRECTOR
Richard Linklater

STUDIO
IFC Films

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 46 minutes





STARS
****








REVIEW:

I want you to close your eyes for a second.  Think back to when you were about 6 years old.  Think about your voice, your height, your parents and siblings, think about the clothes, music, trends, anything you can remember from that year.  My guess is that not a lot will come back to you since it was so long ago.  If you grew up in the early 2000s, like myself, then chances are a lot's going to come back to you when you go see "Boyhood."  Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater back in 2002 cast Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette to play the divorced parents of two young children having to cope with the harsh realities that life gives them.  As for the two children, Linklater cast his daughter Lorelei to play the older child Samantha, and he cast a 7 year old newcomer named Ellar Coltrane to play the youngest of the kids, and the main subject of the film, Mason.  For the next 12 years, this group of actors, as well as another select group of people, would get together to film a "short movie" in order to show the kids and the parents aging as the world changes around them.

I think the biggest highlight of the film has to go to Richard Linklater himself, who has truly made something remarkable here.  It's one thing to write a script and have actors do what the director tells them to do, but it's another thing to bring a group of actors back together, year after year, to make something very different from the usual film.  Linklater could have written one long script and have all of the actors say what he originally wrote in 2002.  What he did here instead was just let time, in a way, write the script for him.  He let the actors age for a year before continuing to write the movie, which really adds something to my opinion personally since he didn't know what was going to happen within the next year.  Luckily nothing tragic like a cast member dying happened, but many things did happen in the history between 2002 and 2013, and it does affect the characters in some way, shape, or matter.  I applaud Linklater for thinking of this idea, and I applaud the cast just as much for being able to take on the responsibility of shooting this movie for a good portion of their lives.

For the first couple of "years" that the film takes place in, the scene-stealer is unquestionably Lorelei Linklater.  She is able to bring the annoying older sibling part out without being annoying, and rather being funny and even quite relatable, personally speaking.  Coltrane was also quite good in those earlier bits, but it's not until he's going into middle school when we get to see his true acting chops come into play.  For an actor who never really had such a big role before in his career, Coltrane shines here and shows us true talent 12 years in the making.  He's incredibly believable as Mason, this everyday kid growing up in Texas, and we get to know him and care for him throughout this 166 minute film.  Patricia Arquette is also great here as Mason and Samantha's struggling mom, and Ethan Hawke has some great moments here as their father Mason Sr.  Director Linklater knows how to get the best performances out of his actors, and it's easily shown here.

Some people might look at the run time and say to themselves "Does this movie really need to be 3 hours long?" to which I answer with a simple "Yes."  Look at this movie next to something that doesn't warrant a 2 hours 46 minute run time, like "Transformers: Age of Extinction."  All that movie does with its run time is drag things along and bore its audience with its excessive footage that doesn't serve the story whatsoever.  In the case of this movie, the run time is warranted because we spend a little bit of time in each of Mason's growing years, and through that we get to know and care for this guy as he goes from a na├»ve 6 year old boy to a college-bound 18 year old man.  Not to mention, this movie really never drags one bit.  It might be a bit slow at times, but it doesn't drag in the slightest, unlike "Transformers."  If you're worried about the 166 minutes this movie lasts, I suggest that you don't worry;  It's 3 hours well spent, I guarantee it.

I'm not sure how many people are going to mention this, but I have to say, the music selections in this movie are absolutely genius.  The music, to me, helped to advance the story along and set the tone for the year we're in.  For example, you could have Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up The Sun" playing in one area to represent 2002, and then in another part of the film you could have Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" to showcase the year 2011.  The music not only makes the audience feel nostalgic about the past, but they also help to show how much music has changed over the years, and how much certain music could have defined us during those years.  In my eyes, or in this case ears, this music elevated the film and was one of the best things about it overall.

Movies these days aren't that original in the case that we're bombarded with adaptations, remakes, and sequels to big-budgeted blockbusters.  Films lack originality currently, with the exception of indie films and some blockbusters from filmmakers like Christopher Nolan.  "Boyhood" not only is original in its story and characters, but it's also special and unique in the way the film is structured.  Films like this not only come around once in a lifetime, but they can also serve as a theatrical time capsule of the generations of many, including myself.  Richard Linklater has outdone himself here, and for that deserves any accolade he receives for this masterpiece of a movie. "Boyhood" can be called a great or superb movie, but I see it as something more than that: it's a celebration of life itself and the moments that make us who we are.  If that doesn't sell you on seeing this, then I honestly don't know what else I can say to convince you otherwise.