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Sunday, December 6, 2015

REVIEW: Brooklyn

MOVIE
Brooklyn

CAST
Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
November 4, 2015 (NY/LA)

DIRECTOR
John Crowley

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 52 minutes







STARS
***1/2









REVIEW:

One of the hottest titles to come out of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was John Crowley's "Brooklyn."  The movie stars Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish girl named Ellis who decides to immigrate to America and start up a new and hopefully more successful life.  Ellis initially feels homesick as most people would.  However, her sickness is immediately cured when an Italian man from Brooklyn named Tony, played by Emory Cohen, enters her life and becomes the center of her romantic infatuations.  From that brief plot description, it's easy to brush this off as yet another romantic film that caters to the hormone-injected teen girls of today.  Despite the film having typical romantic cliches that have been done time and time again, "Brooklyn" manages to stand out amongst other romantic tales coming out these days.  It does so by being an emotionally moving, fantastically acted, gorgeous looking, and overall downright charming drama that, while it's not perfect, is very much something that audiences everywhere can and will enjoy together.

Saoirse Ronan is an actress I've always enjoyed seeing in movies.  Whether it's playing a supporting role in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" or the title character in "Hanna," Ronan always gives it her all in her performances.  As Ellis, she not only gives a great performance, but she also shows off a rawer and more emotional side that was quite refreshing to watch.  Granted I haven't seen her Oscar-nominated work in "Atonement," so I can't judge off of that film.  Considering this is pretty much Ronan's film, though, I think it's safe to say that she held her own and gave a commanding and investing performance.

The first 30 minutes or so of the film show Ellis' struggle not only in America but her journey coming to America itself.  These scenes were all very good, but they didn't quite grab me as much as I would have preferred.  It wasn't until Emory Cohen's Tony came into the picture that the quality of the movie not only raised, but leaped high up in quality.  Not only does Cohen give an exceptionally likable and charismatic performance, but the chemistry that he has with Ronan is unbelievably charming.  Every time these two were on screen together, even if a scene was more dramatic than others, I had a big smile on my face because of how well these two got along.  Their romance never felt artificial or written, but rather as if we were watching a documentary about the sweetest couple around in 1950s New York City.  Their romance to me is the glue that kept the film as a whole together.

About halfway through the film, a tragedy occurs which causes Ellis to go back to Ireland.  Back in her native home, she meets another young man named Jim, played by Domnhall Gleeson.  The reason this film fell short for me from being fantastic is because of Gleeson's character.  Don't get me wrong, the performance is strong, and it's nice to see Gleeson in so many movies right now.  My problem with his character is that, frankly, he didn't feel integral to the plot whatsoever.  It seemed like his only purpose was to create a romantic conflict between Ellis and Tony, thus creating a love triangle.  I never once felt invested in him as a love interest, and I just felt that he was kind of unnecessary to the movie as a whole.  If the filmmakers wanted to create a conflict that would persuade Ellis into moving back to Ireland, they could have made up a better than excuse instead of relying on another romantic partner to seduce her.  Gleeson gave a solid performance, but his character didn't feel needed in my eyes.

"Brooklyn" isn't anything we haven't seen before regarding storytelling.  Not just because this type of story has been done countless times before, but also because this film is based on a book of the same name by author Colm Tóibín.  However, screenwriter/fellow author Nick Hornby gives the story more substance and creates likable and relatable characters that we as an audience care about and enjoy watching.  John Crowley animates the screenplay to life by helping his actors deliver great performances and showing a visually beautiful look at 1950s New York.  The second half felt too much like an artificially created conflict for Ellis, and Domnhall Gleeson's presence felt unneeded, but at the end of the day Brooklyn is a charming, well-acted, beautifully shot, and well-made film that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser to everyone who sees it.



REVIEW: Youth

MOVIE
Youth

CAST
Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel

RATING
R

RELEASE
December 4, 2015 (NY/LA)

DIRECTOR
Paolo Sorrentino

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 58 minutes






STARS
****










REVIEW:

Films like Paolo Sorrentino's "Youth" are something of a reminder of living life to the fullest and accepting the inevitable truth: we are all going to grow up and die as time goes on.  Michael Caine's Fred Ballinger and Harvey Keitel's Mick Boyle are two longtime friends who decide to retreat to the Swiss Alps for some much-needed relaxation.  Ballinger's daughter/personal assistant Lena, played by Rachel Weisz, tags along with the two as well.  Fred is an acclaimed composer/conductor with no intention of getting back into the game due to "personal reasons," despite the Queen of England's request of having him perform for her.  Mick is a renowned filmmaker who brings his team of writers along with him to finish the screenplay for what he thinks will be his "last important film."  Lena is married to Mick's son though the relationship is on the fritz.  She resents her father and has a lot of emotions bottled up within in regards to the way he took care of her.  Actor Jimmy Tree, played by Paul Dano, is also staying at the hotel while he tries to prepare for his latest acting job.  Everyone at the hotel ends up reflecting on their lives in some way, shape or form, and it's in these reflections that the movie hits heights that I didn't expect it to hit.

It's easy to pass this off as nothing more than an "old people" movie due to its two leading men.  The film itself is so much more than that.  Sure the prime focuses are Caine and Keitel's characters, but the movie features many other characters, both old and young, who are in the Alps to relax and have some fun.  It isn't just about two older men looking to vacate and admire the life they've lived.  The movie, rather, is about how a group of people staying at a beautiful hotel in a beautiful part of the world find their ways of reclaiming their youthful spirits and feel, well, young.  Sorrentino captures this essence powerfully and delivers a superb film chock-full of laughs, drama, and well-crafted characters with precision and grace.

Veteran actors Caine and Keitel give two of the best performances of their decade-spanning career in this movie.  Not only do the two share some incredibly funny and very poignant scenes together, but their character arcs separately are very fleshed and have a lot more substance than one would expect.  One scene that stands out, in particular, involves a heated discussion between Caine's Henry Ballinger and a representative for the Queen of England.  On paper, it could seem that the emotions coming from the characters aren't very authentic, but the way Caine pulls off his performance in this scene allows the scene to work wonders and adds quite the amount of depth to his character.  Keitel's final scene in the movie is also quite poignant to encounter.  Without spoiling anything, both of these scenes are incredibly emotional and somewhat subtle, making the overall outcome of what happens in them stronger and more effective.  Another veteran actor, Jane Fonda, has a small role in the movie, and she too is very good in her bit part.  Having said that, the performance Fonda gives feels like nothing compared to the incredible work Caine and Keitel give here.

Two performances that aren't quite as great as the former two but still deserve mentioning are the ones given by Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano.  Weisz's portrayal of Ballinger's daughter Lena is raw and relatable.  In a sense, anyone could see themselves in her shoes because of her life getting washed down the drain.  Everybody knows what it feels like when it seems everything that could go wrong is going wrong, and yet the main source of all of this is unknown.  Paul Dano's Jimmy Tree is in a very similar spot actually, as he wants to venture off and become a more versatile actor but is only recognized by fans for playing a robot on a TV show.  Both characters on the outside may seem self-centered and unlikable, but as the movie goes on it's shown that they're complex characters with a lot more realism than the surface may show.

Aside from a couple of things not being explained well, mostly involving the final scene of the movie, as well as a rather horrible green screen effect used towards the end, there isn't anything else negative to say about Youth.  There are people out there who won't enjoy the film as much as I did, as there were people who booed the movie at its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival.  Some may even complain that it drags and it feels like something catered towards the 55+ crowd.  To me, this wasn't made solely for a specific age group: this is a movie for people who want to know how to "live" again.  Being cooped up in a room doing nothing but eating food and watching Netflix shows can get boring, and "Youth" is something of a reminder to get off your ass and live life to the fullest.  Another movie that came out this year, Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young," had this identical effect.  Although, I do feel like this film emulated this better.

Paolo Sorrentino has crafted one hell of a moving movie.  The acting is incredible, and the chemistry between Caine and Keitel makes a lot of the scenes they share work wonders.  The cinematography is stellar and so damn gorgeous to look at, especially when the camera focuses on these long shots of the mountains and scenery of the Alps.  Sorrentino's script is chock full of sharp humor and incredibly heartbreaking/poignant moments that make this hit closer to home than one may expect.  His direction as well gets the best performances out of his actors and gives him the ability to tell this great story with ease.  Fox Searchlight may be campaigning this for Awards Season this year, but it seems like their main focus is on John Crowley's "Brooklyn."  While "Brooklyn" is more digestible and is a very well made film on its own merits, "Youth" has more of a subtle and raw quality to it.  That, to me, makes it a much stronger and more impactful piece of work  It might not appeal to everyone, but to me, "Youth" is a wonderful look at people regaining their youthfulness while dealing with the fact that death and growing up is inevitable.



Sunday, November 29, 2015

REVIEW: The Walk: The IMAX 3D Experience

MOVIE
The Walk

CAST
Joseph Gordon-Levitt,
Charlotte Le Bon

RATING
PG

RELEASE
September 30, 2015 (IMAX 3D)
October 9, 2015 (WIDE)

DIRECTOR
Robert Zemeckis

STUDIO
Tristar Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 3 minutes









STARS
****










REVIEW:

Back when movies were first invented, they were considered to be something of a novelty and was meant to be an experience.  Nowadays, films are made to tell stories and show off performances, visual designs, a great script, or anything else you can imagine.  It's rare when somebody says that going to the movies is an "experience" rather than something more common.  In the case of Robert Zemeckis' latest film "The Walk," an "experience" is the best way to describe it.  The movie tells the true story of Philippe Petit, an eccentric and larger-than-life French performer who, in 1974, assembled a crew and successfully performed a high-wire act between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  A documentary about his grand (and illegal) act called "Man on Wire" came out in 2007, but this tells the story in a more narrative fashion.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, and without sugar-coating anything, it's the best performance of his career thus far.

Once you get past the French accent which, personally speaking, I didn't mind as much as others, this is Gordon-Levitt as his highest form. The character of Petit is a likable and extraordinary man who wakes up every day with a passion burning deep in his heart, and JGL captures that attitude with precision. I would bet he would have gotten a nomination for Best Actor for his performance if the competition wasn't as fierce as it is this year. Yes, he is THAT good. Ben Kingsley has a great little supporting role as Petit's mentor, and the rest of the cast works very well as an ensemble. Charlotte Le Bon, in particular, stands out from he other supporting actors, as she is simply delightful and engaging on screen. Her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt is very enjoyable to watch, even when they're not exactly seeing eye to eye with one another. All in all, there isn't a single bad performance featured in this movie.

Probably the most attention given to this movie was for the visual effects and the use of 3D. There is a reason for that, though: both are out of this world. It's pretty easy to tell that the majority of the film was shot on green screens and soundstages, I will admit.  Take that away, though, and it still feels like the characters are in New York looking at the Twin Towers, and when Petit is walking between the towers, you feel like you're right there with him. The 3D increases this feeling strongly, and that alone makes me believe that it is necessary to pay the surcharge and see this in 3D. There are several "pop-out" moments featured during the movie, but the 3D is necessary because of the added feeling of immersion given.

Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne have together written a well-paced, funny, intense, and overall engaging little caper that never dragged or made me bored.  Regarding the actual directing done, this is Zemeckis at his finest.  Everything felt so tightly knit, and everything felt necessary to what was presented in my eyes.  Nothing felt out of place or had the need to be cut out in my eyes.  The last time I felt this type of love for a Zemeckis film was "Forrest Gump."  That might sound hard to believe, but you just have to see this film to see maybe what I'm talking about. It's a true shame that this didn't do as well as other 3D movies that came out around the same time, as this is 2015's definition of the term "movie magic" to me.

I never expected this to be a surefire awards contender, but the fact that barely anyone gave this movie a chance makes me upset inside.  Maybe one-day people will see this masterful piece of work and realize that this was meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible.  Speaking of which, seeing this in IMAX 3D was such a surreal experience.  Everything about this movie is perfection, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I saw it.  "The Walk" is a work of art in my eyes and is a beautifully crafted love letter to film fans, high-wire enthusiasts, the grand city of New York, and the Twin Towers of World Trade Center.  In fact, I'd say that this is as close to a perfect tribute to the buildings and those the world lost on September 11, 2001, as we're ever going to get.





ME WITH "THE WALK" DIRECTOR, ROBERT ZEMECKIS, AND STAR OF THE FILM, CHARLOTTE LE BON, AFTER A SPECIAL NYFF PRESS SCREENING/FAN EVENT FOR THE FILM ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2015!!!!!!





Thursday, November 26, 2015

REVIEW: Bang Bang Baby

MOVIE
Bang Bang Baby

CAST
Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin

RATING
NR

RELEASE
September 19, 2015 (NYC)
November 10, 2015 (VOD)

DIRECTOR
Jeffery St. Jules

STUDIO
Random Media

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 29 minutes









STARS
**









REVIEW:

Well, I'll give "Bang Bang Baby" credit for something: it's extremely original.  At the same time, though, it's also extremely weird and absurd throughout.  This is a sci-fi musical dramedy that takes place in Canada circa early 1960s.  The movie stars Jane Levy from the "Evil Dead" remake along with Justin Chatwin from Showtime's "Shameless" and character actor Peter Stormare.  Levy plays a lonely teenager named Stepphy, who dreams of becoming a singer, as many girls do.  She ends up winning a singing competition that would require her to go to New York City, but her alcoholic dad refuses to let her go.  Stepphy's fate changes though when a musical idol of hers just happens to cross paths with her when his car breaks down just near her home.  As if things couldn't get stranger, a mysterious chemical leak happens that begins to give the townsfolk a series of bizarre mutations.

While the film itself takes place in the 60s, the vibe, look, and sound of the soundtrack feel as if they're more so from the 50s.  The sets, for example, are very nice visual treats for the eyes.  However, they give off a feel as if they're confused about what period they're trying to represent.  It got annoying at times to keep reminding myself that this was supposed to take place around the same time as something like movie/musical "Hairspray" was set.  Speaking of the soundtrack, it's overall pretty mediocre.  There are some songs, particularly the film's opening number "Juniper Lane," that are quite catchy and very well done.  Others, though, are not as good and didn't have quite as much of a flowing rhythm as others did.

The casting choices in the movie are all over the place.  On one hand, you have Jane Levy and Peter Stormare giving pretty solid and believable performances as their respected characters.  On the other hand, you have Justin Chatwin and David Reale giving mediocre to awful performances.  Chatwin seems to be trying too hard to channel his inner Elvis and in trying to do so becomes a very hollow, irritating, and one-dimensional character.  Granted it seemed like that was the filmmaker's intentions with this character, but the way he was executed was rather poor.  As for Reale, I guess you can say he's the film's main antagonist.  It's one thing for a character to be menacing and unlikable, but if you have your villain be so irritatingly annoying that you're not given the chance to be genuinely afraid of him or even have him be something of an interesting character, then there's a problem.  Every time Reale was on screen my insides twisted and I had a couple of minor headaches merely because of his presence in the movie.  Chatwin is a talented actor, and I'm sure Reale is too, but here they do not deliver enjoyable performances whatsoever.

As an aspiring filmmaker, it hurts to bash on a film from a first-time feature director/writer.  It hurts even more because I could see so much passion that went into making this movie.  It's very clear from watching this movie that writer/director Jeffrey St. Jules loved what he was making and created this from a place of true energy and imagination.  In fact, it was because of this passion I saw that I even gave "Bang Bang Baby" a second watch, something I rarely do for newer-released films.  That second viewing only made me dislike what I saw even more, sadly.

If this was supposed to be a comedy at parts, I never laughed.  If this was supposed to be a drama where the audience is meant to sympathize with the characters, I never felt so much as a twinkle of that until the film's third act.  The ideas and concepts featured are interesting ones, but, unfortunately, they all just felt like an odd mixture of things that never fully meshed together to make something good or great.  "Bang Bang Baby" may appeal to a select few people out there.  After all, it did win the "Best Canadian First Feature Film" award at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  Unfortunately for this writer here, the movie didn't connect or become something more than a bunch of cool ideas/concepts.  If you're a fan of fresh and original material, I'd honestly say give this a watch merely because of how much creativity went into it.  As a movie-lover, though, I can't say that this is a good movie worth your time, unfortunately.






Sunday, November 22, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: Sicario

MOVIE
Sicario

CAST
Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro

RATING
R

RELEASE
Setpember 18, 2015 (NY/LA)
October 2, 2015 (WIDE)

DIRECTOR
Denis Villevenue

STUDIO
Lionsgate

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 1 minute








STARS
***1/2










REVIEW:

Director Denis Villevenue has tackled some fascinating and haunting subjects in his films, with his two most recent works "Prisoners" and "Enemy" receiving mass acclaim.  With the movie "Sicario," Villevenue tackles yet another fascinating and haunting subject: the drug cartel.  Emily Blunt is the main focus of the movie, playing an FBI agent recruited by a small sector of the Department of Defense to help maintain control and possibly end the war on drugs between the US and Mexico.  This is a movie that is grand in scope, yet the story and characters make it all feel enclosed and more intimate.  Cinematographer Roger Deakins shot this movie beautifully, with some of the imagery featured on screen being more haunting than any horror movie to have come out this year.  Composer Johann Johannson creates a looming and beautiful score that helps give the movie one hell of a depressing vibe to it.  Taylor Sheridan, a writer best known for his TV credits including "Sons of Anarchy," created a gloomy and sad world along with fascinating characters, some more flawed than others.  Villevenue brings his directorial flare to this story, and though this is my least favorite of his films, his style is clearly present and he brings his A-game to the film.

The performances, particularly from the three leads, are all quite stellar.  Everyone brings everything they have to their roles and altogether make up an incredible ensemble cast.  As much as I'm praising this movie, there were some problems I had with it.  When the movie drags, to me it really dragged.  Sometimes it was effective, yet other times it wasn't.  There were some points where the movie as a whole got a tad confusing and hard to follow.  Luckily I was never fully lost from the general story.  The biggest problem I have with the movie is a subplot involving a corrupt Mexican cop and his family.  In my eyes, it didn't need to be in the movie at all.  Had it been omitted entirely, I don't think the movie would have been as slow, nor do I think the quality of the film itself would have been affected negatively.  If anything, I might have enjoyed the movie more had this subplot not been in there.  Despite the gripes I had with it, it's hard to deny how intense and gripping of a film "Sicario" is overall.  It's an intense, well-acted, and well-made movie that is never happy in the slightest.  Although movies are usually supposed to be an escape from our worries and make us feel good, it's important for filmmakers to challenge us and make us feel gloomy and upset over something that's actually happening somewhere else in the world.  For that alone, I would highly recommend checking this one out.






PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Revenant

Spectre

Steve Jobs

Bridge of Spies

Our Brand Is Crisis

The Last Witch Hunter

Freeheld





MINI-REVIEW: Everest: The IMAX 3D Experience

MOVIE
Everest

CAST
Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
September 18, 2015 (IMAX 3D)
September 25, 2015 (WIDE)

DIRECTOR
Baltasar Kormákur

STUDIO
Universal Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 1 minute






STARS
***










REVIEW:

Climbing Mount Everest takes courage, strength, and lots of equipment.  Even with all of the necessary requirements, though, things can still go awry on the world's tallest mountain.  "Everest," from director Baltasar Kormákur, tells the true story of one such event.  In 1996, a group of climbers on an expedition to the top of the mountain ended up facing a severe snow storm that tests them all in more ways than one.  The beginning was slow, having the film itself take a bit before becoming investing.  The ending of the movie, ironically enough, is very rushed and wraps things up too quickly for the audience to fully process what just happened.  Having said that, I would still recommend checking out "Everest."  The acting work is strong all around though Jake Gyllenhaal is severely underused in the movie, the visuals are stunning, and the 3D is very good.  It's not necessarily worth paying extra for "The IMAX 3D Experience," but the 3D is a lot better than most post-converted movies to come out these days.  I can't say this is something one should rush out to see, but if it's still playing in theaters around you, or if you're just looking for a beautiful 3D movie to watch just for kicks, then this is one that I'd say is worth seeing.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Martian

Crimson Peak

The Walk

The Jungle Book

In The Heart Of The Sea






REVIEW: Black Mass

MOVIE
Black Mass

CAST
Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton

RATING
R

RELEASE
September 18, 2015

DIRECTOR
Scott Cooper

STUDIO
Warner Bros. Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 3 minutes





STARS
***1/2











REVIEW:

The main inspiration for Jack Nicholson's character in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," Frank Costello, was famed Boston Irish-American gangster Whitey Bulger.  In the time since that film was released, there have been two films about the life of Bulger that have come to the silver screen.  The first was a documentary entitled "Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger," and the second one was a narrative feature from director Scott Cooper called "Black Mass."  The latter is what I'm here to talk about today.  "Black Mass" stars Johnny Depp as Bulger, and the film depicts how he became an informant for the FBI and soon began to use them to get to the top of the Italian Mafia.

People have been saying that this is Johnny Depp's "comeback" to good roles though I'd honestly disagree.  While his recent choices have either involved acting in Disney adaptations, playing absurd characters in either micro-budgeted indies or Tim Burton movies, and starring in some critically panned films, I don't think he necessarily "left."  Having said that, this is hands down the best work Depp has delivered since his portrayal of "Sweeney Todd."  His green contacts get distracting at times, but other than that Depp loses himself as Bulger and plays this sadistic gangster madman with grace and menace.  The rest of the cast as a whole is very good though one performance I'm going to address is Joel Edgerton's as FBI agent John Connolly.

Edgerton is a great actor, and maybe an even better writer/director, as shown in his work on "The Gift."  Looking back on this movie and the performance he gives in it, though, there are problems present.  His performance overall is not bad, and I don't blame what I'm going to be criticizing entirely on him.  First off, the Boston accent Edgerton uses throughout the movie felt forced and exaggerated.   The second big problem I have with Edgerton, and this I'm mostly going to be blaming on the writing, is that his dialogue gets repetitive.  In fact, his dialogue gets so repetitive to the point where you can make a drinking game out of every time he references how he and the Bulger brothers grew up together and are from "Southie."  The third problem I had with him, and this could be blamed more on the director, is that his character became too much of an annoying and whiny baby when it came to talking to other characters about seeing the current predicaments happening his way.  Joel Edgerton gives a fine performance, but the material and direction given to him made it hard to take him seriously 100% of the time.

Other than what I had to say about Edgerton's character, I honestly have nothing else negative to say about "Black Mass."  Johnny Depp gives one hell of an amazing performance and makes the movie his playground.  Everyone else does a fine job, and the story that they're in is very interesting to watch.  There are some bits of dialogue that don't hit as hard as others, but the screenplay as a whole it pretty top notch.  I haven't seen any of Scott Cooper's other films, but I could tell here that he understood how to make a striking and flowing gangster biopic.  I doubt this will go down as one of the best gangster films of the modern era, but "Black Mass" is undeniably a strong and engaging movie that flows smoothly and never bores.





PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Our Brand Is Crisis

Creed




MINI-REVIEW: Cooties

MOVIE
Cooties

CAST
Elijah Wood, Alison Pill

RATING
R

RELEASE
September 18, 2015
(LIMITED/VOD)

DIRECTOR(S)
Jonathan Milott,
Cary Murnion

STUDIO
Lionsgate Premiere

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 36 minutes







STARS
***








REVIEW:

The concept for the horror-comedy "Cooties" is a strong one: a zombie epidemic occurs when a poisoned chicken nugget starts turning children who haven't gone through puberty yet into ravenous, cannibalistic monsters.  The staff at a local elementary school get wrapped up in the middle of all of this, and together they must fend for their lives and possibly stop the virus from spreading anywhere else.  As I was watching this movie, I found myself digging and enjoying everything happening on screen.   Reflecting on it afterward, though, I started to notice the flaws that I didn't initially notice.  There are characters and certain jokes here that are set up and shown but ultimately have no purpose to the story whatsoever.  For example, a character will be shown doing something, yet they won't serve any point of being in the movie until the very end.  The middle of the film drags at times, making it feel more like 105-120 minutes than 87 minutes.  That reminds me; the movie should have been a lot longer than it was.  The ending of the movie comes so abruptly and feels incredibly rushed.   Plus it seemed only to have one purpose: to set up for a sequel that may never even get made.

It might sound like I have a lot more cons to say than pros, but as a whole I do see this as a solid little movie.  The blood and gore featured were incredibly well done, there are plenty moments of humor that are hilarious, and the cast is pretty damn great here.  Everyone seemed to be having a fun time making this, allowing the audience and myself to have a fun time with them.  There's one pretty meta joke at the beginning the film that got a pretty big laugh out of myself and the other members of my audience.  I can see "Cooties" having the potential to become something of a cult classic down the road.  Unfortunately, it's hard for me not to notice the flaws that took this down from being a great movie to just a plain old good movie.  "Cooties" had more good elements than bad, but at the end of the day it's hard not to notice that this could have been something a lot better than it ultimately ended up being.



Tuesday, November 10, 2015

REVIEW: Queen of Earth

MOVIE
Queen of Earth

CAST
Elisabeth Moss,
Katherine Waterston

RATING
NR

RELEASE
August 26, 2015 (NY/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Alex Ross Perry

STUDIO
IFC Films

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 30 minutes








STARS
*1/2











REVIEW:

Every once in a while, there is a movie that comes out that I simply can't understand why other people enjoy it.  "Queen of Earth" has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and has received constant praise from fellow colleagues of mine.  I wish I could see what they see in this indie drama-thriller.  The movie comes to us from writer/director Alex Ross Perry, who made a movie last year called "Listen Up Phillip" that I never got around to seeing.  Elisabeth Moss from "Mad Men" plays Catherine, a damaged woman who is dealing with her boyfriend breaking up with her and, soon after, the death of her father.  She ends up staying with her best friend Virginia, played by Katherine Waterston from "Inherent Vice," at her lake house for some much-needed relaxation.  From there shenanigans ensue, and the realization that they've been drifting apart for so long slowly comes crawling upon them.

I'll give the movie some credit and say the acting was fine, and the cinematography is solid.  Having said that, every single character in this movie is so unlikeable, and not in a fascinating or entertaining way.  Every single character in this movie, and the cast is very small mind you, are absolute swine.  The things they say were so vile and irritating that I could believe that the dialogue came straight out of their asses.  Not to mention, at times it seemed like the characters had bipolar disorder in which their moods and attitudes change so abruptly.  To be fair, a portion of the movie is told through flashbacks, but even when it's in the modern day setting everyone's emotions were all over the place.

It's fine when movies try to have flawed and unlikable characters in a psychological storyline.  Llewyn Davis in "Inside Llewyn Davis," for example, was a flawed individual who clearly wasn't a great guy, yet was constantly captivating to watch thanks to great writing and a great performance to go with it.  The way this movie showcased its characters felt very pompous and melodramatic in my eyes.  There are also points where it's hard to get a grasp on what's real and what's happening inside someone's head.  Again, movies can make wonders doing this, but here it felt like a desperate attempt to show off the "talents" of the writer/director and be super artsy.

The editing is very odd at times, particularly with its absurd fetish to cut to black.  Random and awkward scene cuts also seem to be this movie's best friend.  Alex Ross Perry can direct a movie fine,  and I'm sure his other movies are good (hopefully), but this film's screenplay felt so grim and so full-of-it that I kept getting more and more frustrated as the movie went along.  Not to mention, it seemed like there were moments that were supposed to be funny, but rather these parts came off as awkward and bizarre.  I got sent a screener for this movie a while back and watched the movie via my laptop.  Despite the movie being only 90 minutes long, it took me 2 and a half hours to sit through this.  That was mainly since I kept pausing it in order to process what the hell I was watching and control the slow-rising rage boiling inside me from this.

As I said before, I'm in the minority in regards to this movie.  If you're a fan of the films of Alex Ross Perry, then chances are you will like this.  If you like psychological studies of really unlikable characters, again you may like this.  "Queen of Earth" just wasn't my cup of tea, for lack of a better term.  Then again I did enjoy such critically panned films as "Pixels," "A Million Ways To Die In The West," and anything else that can come to mind, so my opinion may not be just on this.  If you want to see the movie, go ahead and see the movie.  You may enjoy it, and I would be really happy about that.  People shouldn't go into movies expecting them to suck.  That might explain why I enjoy so many movies and dislike so few of them.  Sadly, this is one of those few I dislike.  In my eyes, "Queen of Earth" is a self-absorbed, vile and overly-artsy indie that feels like it's saying and doing more than it is.


MINI-REVIEW: Turbo Kid

MOVIE
Turbo Kid

CAST
Munro Chambers,
Laurence Leboeuf

RATING
NR

RELEASE
August 28, 2015 (LIMTIED/VOD)

DIRECTOR(S)
Anouk Whissell,
François Simard,
Yoann-Karl Whissell

STUDIO
Epic Pictures Group

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 33 minutes







STARS
***3/4









REVIEW:

Films like "Turbo Kid" scream "cult status" simply by their existence.  This particular film, brought to us by French-Canadian filmmaking group RKSS, takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of the year 1997.  In this world, water is scarce, and survival is everything, a la "Mad Max: Fury Road."  Munro Chambers plays a loner kid who, while trying to survive, also happens to be a big fan of the comic book hero Turbo Rider.  After meeting up with the eccentric Apple, played by Laurence Lebeouf, "The Kid" ends up discovering equipment that will allow him to become just like the Turbo Rider.  Using these powers for justice, The Kid plans to stop the maniac running the town, played by Michael Ironside, before any more damage can be done to others.

Aside from obviously paying homage to "Mad Max" with its post-apocalyptic water-scarce desert setting, the filmmakers behind this also show a true love for 80s exploitation/Grindhouse movies and the use of practical effects.  In fact, this has some of the goriest and most inventive deaths in any movie to come out this year.  Even if Gore isn't your strong suit, most of, if not all of the blood and guts poured out of victims and onto the screen are played for laughs.  These three filmmakers clearly show a passion for what they're making, and it's obvious from every scene that they're having a blast every second of the way.  Aside from the pacing being off at times, this is an insanely fun homage to campy 80s movies.  Imagine if the apocalyptic setting of ‪"Mad Max‬," the quirkiness of ‪"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," a hypnotically synthetic 80s-esque soundtrack, and the ultraviolence of an exploitation film were all thrown into a blender; this is the protein shake that would come oozing out.  Grab a bunch of friends together along with a giant tub of popcorn and experience this retro indie as soon as you can.  "Turbo Kid" might not be for everyone, but it's hard to deny how inventive and ridiculous this movie is overall.







MINI-REVIEW: Straight Outta Compton

MOVIE
Straight Outta Compton

CAST
O'Shea Jackson Jr.,
Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 14, 2015

DIRECTOR
F. Gary Gray

STUDIO
Universal Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 27 minutes






STARS
***3/4












REVIEW:

Musical biopics are something of a common trend now.  There are memorable ones, like "Walk the Line," and more forgettable ones, like "Get on Up."  It seemed almost inevitable that a musical biopic about N.W.A. would come our way, especially since Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have been talking about making this for a while.  Well now, we have it, and it's appropriately given the title "Straight Outta Compton."  For those who don't know, the group N.W.A. was famously made up of the lyrics of Ice Cube, the production of Dr. Dre, and the rapping swagger of Eazy-E.  These three men made headlines throughout their careers together, causing much controversy in the government just as much as on the streets.  Their mission was to tell it as it was, and songs like "Straight Outta Compton" and "F*** The Police" surprisingly still hold up to this day, especially considering the recent events to have happened in this country.  While one might expect that the film would have ended the moment N.W.A. broke up, director F. Gary. Gray decided to keep the story going.  While that makes the film nearly 2 and a half hours long, it continues the story that manages to stay fascinating and bittersweet come the film's conclusion, depending on how you see it.

The three leads playing Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell are all pretty damn great in the movie.  Each one adds a sense of depth and reliability to their characters and make them all very engaging to watch.  The style of the movie itself is gritty and realistic, giving the audience a rough "slice of life" and showing that the late 80s and early 90s though the culture has changed, are shockingly similar to things that happen today.  F. Gary Gray was something of an ideal choice to direct this, as his visual flare and his previous experience with Ice Cube help him tell a great story altogether.  The film as a whole drags at times, and there are certain elements that could have been cut out, but as a whole "Straight Outta Compton" is a strong, gritty, and entertaining look into the cause, effect, and aftermath of one of the most controversial musical groups in history.






PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Green Inferno

The Hateful Eight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Creed

Crimson Peak

Ride Along 2

The Night Before (Red Band)

Hitman: Agent 47 (Red Band)





Sunday, November 8, 2015

REWIND REVIEW: Mistress America

MOVIE
Mistress America

CAST
Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 14, 2015 (NY/LA)

DIRECTOR
Noah Baumbach

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 25 minutes







STARS
****









REVIEW:

"Mistress America" re-teams Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig for their third time over the course of five years.  Regarding tone and characters, this is very similar to "Frances Ha," though this one is miles better in my eyes.  "Mistress" is about a young college freshman in New York, played by the adorable Lola Kirke, who ends up under the wing of her eccentric and outgoing soon-to-be stepsister, played by Gerwig.  Being a college freshman in Brooklyn myself, this story really connected with me on many levels.  In many ways, I could see myself in the shoes of Kirke's Tracy, being alone and unfamiliar to this world far bigger than she might have anticipated.  At the same time, I could see myself in Gerwig's Brooke, having the passion of pursuing large dreams and attempt to make the world around her, well, her bitch.

Not only is the movie relatable and poignant, but it's also extremely funny.  This film may have the most consistent amount of laugh-inducing jokes in a movie all year.  Baumbach and Gerwig go back to the roots of the old-school screwball comedies of the 1930s-1950s with its jokes.  In fact, there are so many jokes thrown in per minute that it's kind of hard to get them all on a first viewing.  That's how funny this movie is.  The second half of the movie alone, which mostly takes place in one setting, has more laughs than any other comedy to have come out this year, and maybe even last year too.  It might just be that I love this type of humor, but I was laughing hard consistently.  If you're not a fan of old-school humor and are more a fan of shock-humor or really raunchy jokes, then this might not be the film for you.  There are some raunchy jokes here, but they don't make up the movie's entire sense of humor.  Take that for what it's worth.

Greta Gerwig as always shines and gives a lively and energetic performances, making herself out to be the next big indie "it" girl of the modern era.  Lola Kirke, whose most known role prior to this film was a small role in David Fincher's "Gone Girl," is also quite terrific in this movie.  She has this lovable "girl next door" look and attitude to her performance, which is enhanced by an adorable little lisp she has.  However when she brings on her sex appeal in certain scenes in the movie, my god does she bring it.  I can honestly see Kirke becoming something like the next Shailene Woodley or Jennifer Lawrence if the right cards are handed her way.  These two have terrific chemistry together, which work even better when they're in scenes with their fellow cast mates.  The second half, in particular, is where every single joke hits hard, every performance is great, and every bit of dialogue entertains.  I'm not going to spoil exactly what goes down during this section of the movie, but when you see it, you'll know what I'm talking about.

In case you couldn't tell, I love this movie.  Every note in this movie hit with grace to me, and for 84 minutes I was under complete control of Baumbach, Gerwig, and co.  Not only is this a great comedy and a relatable story about adjusting to a new life in a new place, but it's also a rather beautiful story of two strangers whose bond becomes bigger than the one that their parents are about to share together.  We have all had that special friend who not only shares common interests but just simply "gets" you.  They understand how your mind works and want to follow every move you make or help you on the path of righteousness.  This bond is what Brooke and Tracy share in this movie, and in my eyes, it's the best love story of 2015.

Because of school, and laziness, to be honest, this review has been in the draft stage for the past few months, so sadly this can't be experienced in the theater at this time.  However, it did just come out on Digital HD and should be on DVD very soon.  Do yourself a favor and just see this movie.  It can be with friends, family members, people you don't know, or even just yourself.  Either way, this is a movie that deserves to be seen before the year runs out.  "Mistress America" is a sharply written, expertly crafted, and perfectly paced comedy that has the funniest and possibly most relatable dialogue and story this year has seen.










ME WITH THE CO-WRITER/DIRECTOR OF 
"MISTRESS AMERICA," NOAH BAUMBACH, AFTER A SPECIAL SHOWING OF THE FILM ON 
AUGUST 21, 2015!!!!



REWIND REVIEW: While We're Young

MOVIE
While We're Young

CAST
Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts

RATING
R

RELEASE
March 27, 2015

DIRECTOR
Noah Baumbach

STUDIO
A24

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 37 minutes






STARS
***3/4










REVIEW:

In between working with his co-writer/female lead/muse Greta Gerwig, filmmaker Noah Baumbach made a little film called "While We're Young."  This is the story of a married couple in their 40s, played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, who begin to feel full of life and youthful again after befriending a younger and more free-spirited couple played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.  It's easy to pass this off as yet another movie that has people reminiscing about the "good ol' days," but Baumbach takes this concept and adds in a surprisingly relatable story-arc about people striving to make it to the top no matter the cost.  The script is well-written, Baumbach's direction is on point, and every actor delivers a strong performance.  Adam Driver in particular steals the show in every scene he's in.  If you haven't seen "While We're Young" yet, then definitely seek it out and give it a watch.  It is slow and weak at times, but everything great about this movie makes up for that.





Tuesday, October 27, 2015

REVIEW: People, Places, Things

MOVIE
People, Places, Things

CAST
Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 14, 2015 (LIMITED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Jim Strouse

STUDIO(S)
The Film Arcade,
Alchemy

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 26 minutes







STARS
****









REVIEW:

Jemaine Clement is one of those guys who can just charm the pants off of you once he enters the room and lets his New-Zealand accent flow out of his mouth.  His presence in the indie "People, Places, Things" is a welcoming one, and his character overall is someone who is engaging to watch throughout.  This film, coming to us from writer/director Jim Strouse, tells the story of a newly single father of twins.  After finding his wife cheating on him, he tries to juggle his life between raising twin girls, teaching college students how to become artists while he himself aspires to be a great graphic novelist, and keeping his romantic life in order.  This is a movie where nothing gigantic is featured in terms of telling the story, and yet every single thing put on screen feels necessary and vital to the film itself.

Aside from Clement giving hands down the best performance of his career, his chemistry with both Regina Hall and his younger co-stars bring an overall likability to the story and the cast.  Strouse manages to take realistic and harsh situations in life and give them an extremely authentic and sweet feel to it, making this 86 minute indie comedy incredibly joyous to watch.  It may be predictable, and it may have characters you might have seen before, but that doesn't take away from how charming, hilarious, and lovable this movie is as a whole.  It may just be the sympathetic hopeless romantic inside me saying this, but I really loved watching this movie.  Even when this light-hearted romp gets serious and dramatic, the emotions feel light and never too forced or over-bearing.  "People, Places, Things" is a simple, yet effective indie comedy that I'd highly recommend checking out before the year is up.  I have nothing bad to say about this, and I cannot wait to watch it again when time permits.






MINI-REVIEW: Pay The Ghost

MOVIE
Pay The Ghost

CAST
Nicolas Cage,
Sarah Wayne Callies

RATING
NR

RELEASE
September 25, 2015 (LIMTIED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Uli Edel

STUDIO
RLJ Entertainment

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 34 minutes









STARS
***









REVIEW:

Let's get something straight: I don't hate Nicolas Cage as an actor.  Sure he doesn't often choose roles that allow him to show off his chops, but he's always entertaining to watch on screen.  Earlier this year the Cage-meister released a mediocre film called "The Runner" that, unsurprisingly, barely anyone saw or heard of.  Now it's around the time of Halloween and yet another film featuring the star of "The Wicker Man" remake is making its way out there in a similar fashion to how "The Runner" got out there.  This film is titled "Pay The Ghost," and the basic storyline involves Cage's son being abducted by a supernatural entity.  Like any parent in a supernatural thriller, Cage's Mike Cole tries any means necessary to get his son back from this pissed off spirit.

Going into movies, I like to judge them for their positive and negative aspects as well as my overall enjoyment of it.  That may explain why I enjoy so many movies, even if they're poorly received.  "Pay The Ghost," unsurprisingly, was poorly received by the vast majority of critics who saw it.  Rotten Tomatoes has it currently listed at a 6% with only one positive review to the film's name.  It may just be my positive attitude or the fact that I'm not often harsh on movies, but I didn't think this was THAT bad of a film.  There may be problems present in the film, such as the mediocre acting from child actor Jack Fulton, the cheap as hell jump scares, and the overly predictable nature of the story itself, but honestly they didn't make the movie itself horrible.  The performances from Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies are solid, the story is engaging, the directing fine, and the movie as a whole is enjoyable entertainment that is worth a watch at home.  It may not be up there with some of Cage's best movies, but it's much better than a lot of his other recent VOD-released movies.





Saturday, September 19, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

MOVIE
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

CAST
Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
August 14, 2015

DIRECTOR
Guy Ritchie

STUDIO
Warner Bros. Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 56 minutes








STARS
***1/2










REVIEW:

Back in 2010, director Guy Ritchie helped Robert Downey Jr. class up the 1800s in the reboot of the "Sherlock Holmes" franchise.  Five years later, Ritchie is back with a new lead actor, a new period setting, and a new franchise to reboot.  If you haven't heard of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" before, then you're probably not alone.  This film is an adaptation of a TV series from the 1960s of the same name about a CIA agent who must team up with a KGB agent to stop crime and other world problems during the Cold War.  Henry Cavill, best known as Superman in "Man of Steel," plays CIA agent in Napoleon Solo, while "The Social Network's" Armie Hammer plays KGB agent Illya Kuryakin.  Add in the likes of "Ex Machina's" Alicia Vikander and the irresistible Hugh Grant, and the formula for this reboot is in place.  But the question that remains is whether or not the formula works.  To answer that blatantly, yes it does.

There are moments where the movie gets a little full of itself, as well as a bit confusing at times.  However, once the action and comedy kick in, the film becomes a non-stop montage of crazy fun.  Alicia Vikander and Armie Hammer deliver some solid performances though the scene-stealer comes in the form of Henry Cavill.  Cavill brings this level of class to his performance that makes him so charming to watch as the story goes along.  As an action movie, it features some of the fastest action put into a recent movie.   It also manages to be a comedy as it has some of the funnier moments to come out of a summer blockbuster.  I never expected this movie to do well at the box office, but I do feel like this is still something that should be checked out.  "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is an energetic, self-aware, and entertaining spy caper that may be one of the most fun surprises 2015 has had to offer.





Thursday, September 17, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: The Gift

MOVIE
The Gift

CAST
Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 7, 2015

DIRECTOR
Joel Edgerton

STUDIO
STX Entertainment

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 48 minutes






STARS
***3/4










REVIEW:

Unlike the majority of trailers to come out these days for horror-thrillers, the one created for "The Gift" surprisingly gives just the right amount of the film away.  Instead of showing the creepiest stuff, the trailer gave the audience a feel of the suspense to come.  It even leads the audience to believe that the story was going to go in a different direction than the film itself ended up doing.   This movie comes from the mind of actor Joel Edgerton, who makes his directorial debut and stars in the film with Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall along with writing the film's screenplay.  The basic plot of the film has Bateman and Hall's married couple moving into a new home.   Bateman's Simon ends up being confronted by a strange guy he knew in school named Gordo, played by Edgerton, and let's just say that Gordo does some unusual stuff that leads to borderline horror-film material.

What could have been just a standard home-invasion thriller ends up being something a lot creepier and more intelligent than expected.  As with most horror films, there are a couple of jump scares that feel very cheap.  Having said that, the real tension this movie has relies on how the characters react to the actions of others, along with the fact that we don't know a whole lot about Gordo's past with Simon.   Not to mention, this movie keeps the audience guessing until the very end, which in today's world of film is pretty hard to accomplish.  Overall, "The Gift" is a gift that keeps on giving, pun intended.  Along with being a thrilling film, it also features solid writing, great acting, and a lot of promise from Edgerton as a director.  Check out this one if it's still playing near you, and hopefully with at least one person at your side in the theater.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Visit

Zoolander 2

Sicario

Hitman: Agent 47 (Red Band)

The Transporter Refueled

Sinister 2

Secret in Their Eyes






MINI-REVIEW: Shaun The Sheep: The Movie

MOVIE
Shaun The Sheep: The Movie

CAST
Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes

RATING
PG

RELEASE
August 5, 2015

DIRECTOR(S)
Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

STUDIO
Lionsgate

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 25 minutes








STARS
***1/4










REVIEW:

Aardman Animation is a studio I admire very much.  While their films aren't the best of the best compared to the work from other studios, they manage to make genuine comedy thanks to visual and audio gags from the characters.   They do this rather than resorting to pop-culture or bathroom references as seen in many other kids films these days.  The film adaptation of their series of shorts entitled "Shaun the Sheep" manages to continue their tradition of pure visual and audio gags while also keeping in touch with the show's dialogue-less ways.  In a way, that makes this film accessible and enjoyable for just about anyone.  Sure the villain gets annoying, and the movie itself drags at times, but at the end of the day this is a delightful and innocent film that the whole family can watch together and enjoy.  It may not be as strong as other films Aardman has made in the past, but "Shaun the Sheep: The Movie" is still a solid product from their department.




Saturday, September 5, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: The Runner

MOVIE
The Runner

CAST
Nicolas Cage, Sarah Paulson

RATING
R

RELEASE
August 7, 2015 (LIMTED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Austin Stark

STUDIO
Alchemy

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 30 minutes







STARS
**










REVIEW:

With every year comes a Nicolas Cage movie to talk about, and for 2015 we have "The Runner."  The film has the Cage-meister playing a New Orleans congressman during the aftermath of the BP oil spill.   He ends up in a scandal of his own after surveillance footage of him having an affair with another woman pops up on the internet.  For those wondering if Cage gives an over-the-top performance, he doesn't.   Despite the lack of Cage's typical craziness, his performance overall is fine.   Not the best performance of his career, but it's better than usual.  Unfortunately, his performance can't save the movie as a whole.  "The Runner" is a cliched, occasionally unintentionally hilarious, slow-paced, and forgetful 90-minute film that feels like it's just trying too hard to be more grabbing and impactful than it is.  Connie Nielson is pretty awful here, as is Peter Fonda.  If you're looking for a good Nic Cage film, this isn't it, unfortunately.   If this wasn't on your radar before, there's no real reason to put it on there now.  Not much else to say about this one.





REVIEW: The End of the Tour

MOVIE
The End of the Tour

CAST
Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel

RATING
R

RELEASE
July 31, 2015

DIRECTOR
James Ponsoldt

STUDIO
A24

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 46 minutes







STARS
***1/2









REVIEW:

In today's day and age, people seem only to talk through the use of digital devices.  Texting, Skyping, and calling are just some of the examples on how people communicate these days.  That's pretty sad to think about in all fairness. Movies like "The End of the Tour" show just how reliable our generation has become to modern technology.  This film tells the true story about a road trip between two strangers.  David Lipsky, a writer for the New York Times, gets the opportunity to interview and join author David Foster Wallace on the last run of the book tour for "Infinite Jest."  Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky, and comedian Jason Segel steps out of his comfort zone to play David Foster Wallace.

Segel has done dramatic work before, most recently in the overlooked "Jeff, Who Lives At Home," but this is the first time he has truly stepped out of his comfort zone.  As Wallace, Segel loses himself both in his look and in the way he acts.   It's the first time where he becomes another character, so much so that it's as if the audience is watching the real David Foster Wallace on screen.  Jesse Eisenberg also delivers some great work as David Lipsky.   Although it's still easy to see Eisenberg playing a character, this felt like his most genuine and human performance to date.  The scenes with Eisenberg and Segel, whether they're arguing or getting along, are the glue that holds everything about this movie together.   The supporting actors are good and all as well, but it's these two that will stay in the mind long after the credits role.

Credit must be given to director James Ponsoldt for, like Segel, stepping out of his comfort zone.  His previous two films, "Smashed" and "The Spectacular Now," both involved struggling alcoholic protagonists and how they're trying to adapt to society and be with the ones they care about the most.   This film is just about these two individuals going on a trip together and bonding over their similarities and differences.  Nothing about it feels cinematic, but rather like a found-footage documentary involving these two on this escapade of theirs.  Donald Margulies, in his first theatrical screenplay, doesn't sugar coat anything shown on screen and allows the audience to see these characters as real people, nothing more and nothing less.   Considering other films to come out about people connecting, this is pretty rare to come across.

There's nothing that feels groundbreaking or monumental in "The End of the Tour," but that works to the movie's benefit.  The pacing is slow at times, and the ending didn't feel as impactful as it should have been, but, all in all, this is a great example of a "slice of life."  The main comparison that comes to mind is Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset."   That movie takes place over the course of 80 minutes in real time and is just a long conversation between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  Out of context, that sounds like a boring concept for a movie.  However, it's because of the written dialogue and the chemistry between the main leads that make a story like that, and like this, engaging and entertaining to watch.  "The End of the Tour" at the end of the day is a quiet, raw and powerful indie drama that manages to work without the use of unneeded melodrama or any significant kind of conflict affecting the outcome of the story.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Goodnight Mommy

Sleeping With Other People

Star Wars: The Force Awakens





Saturday, August 22, 2015

MINI-REVIEW: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: The IMAX Experience

MOVIE
Mission Impossible:
Rogue Nation

CAST
Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
July 31, 2015

DIRECTOR
Christopher McQuarrie

STUDIO
Paramount Pictures

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 11 minutes







STARS
***1/2











REVIEW:

As someone who didn't love "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" as much as the majority of people, I wasn't particularly pumped to see the latest film in the long-running franchise "Rogue Nation."  This film has Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt on the run to expose the syndicate and bring them down after the IMF is shut down by the CIA.  One has to wonder how the action compares to that from "Ghost Protocol" since the stories in all five films are almost identical.   Well, the opening scene of this movie, that being the sequence involving Cruise hanging off the side of a plane, is the least ridiculous thing to happen.   That should put into perspective how much more ridiculous this movie is compared to the previous one.

The entire cast is a lot of fun here and is clearly having a blast making this flick.  Cruise, in particular, shows that he loves this franchise and will risk his life to keep making these movies.  Christopher McQuarrie, whose last directorial effort was the 2012 film "Jack Reacher" also starring Cruise, does a solid job here as the movie's director/co-writer.  There were jokes and scenarios that fell flat, and the villain wasn't written to be as menacing as he should have been, but McQuarrie's work on the film overall was good.  The action sequences, particularly one involving Cruise going underwater, are spectacular to watch, especially in IMAX.  The movie isn't as fun and ridiculous a summer blockbuster compared to something like "Jurassic World."  Having said that, "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" is still a blast to watch and will be enjoyed by those looking for an action-packed, well-paced popcorn flick.




MINI-REVIEW: Unexpected

MOVIE
Unexpected

CAST
Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm

RATING
R

RELEASE
July 24, 2015 (LIMITED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Kris Swanberg

STUDIO
The Film Arcade

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 25 minutes








STARS
***1/2










REVIEW:

There were two films starring Cobie Smulders that premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The first one,"Results," is a pretty mediocre film overall. There were two films starring Cobie Smulders that premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The second one, "Unexpected," is the exact opposite of that. The story follows a teacher and her student who both become pregnant around the same time and end up bonding because of it. It's a simple narrative with very strong results. Cobie Smulders gives a grounded and incredibly wholesome performance as the lead protagonist, and her chemistry with newcomer Gail Bean is great to watch. The scenes she shares with Anders Holm, her husband in the film, are also really engaging. As a whole the film feels a bit rushed at times, but that doesn't take away from the overall impact this has. Writer/director Kris Swanberg has made a sweet, funny, and dramatic little indie flick that is worth seeking out, especially if you want to see Robin Scherbatsky show off her acting chops. "Unexpected" may be the second film in recent memory involving Smulders getting pregnant, the first one being "Delivery Man," but this is the better one of the two. without a doubt




MINI-REVIEW: Southpaw

MOVIE
Southpaw

CAST
Jake Gyllenhaal,
Forest Whitaker

RATING
R

RELEASE
July 24, 2015

DIRECTOR
Antoine Fuqua

STUDIO
The Weinstein Company

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 4 minutes








STARS
****









REVIEW:

It's amazing how far actors go to transform themselves into a character they're playing.  Actors like Christian Bale have lost significant weight for movies only to gain it back in muscle for other films soon after.  Jake Gyllenhaal has done something very similar in the case of his role in "Southpaw."  After losing a shocking amount of weight to play the hauntingly charismatic Lou Bloom in last year's "Nightcrawler," Gyllenhaal gained a lot of muscle and pounds to play Billy Hope in this film.  Hope is a boxer who has it all until a slew of tragic events cause him to lose it all.  This story has been told many times before, making the result pretty predictable.  Having said that, it still doesn't change how powerful this movie is in the long run.

Gyllenhaal gives it all as Hope, bringing the emotion and power into his performance.  Forest Whitaker also shines as a trainer who helps Billy try to get back on top.  The most impressive performance in the film comes from Oona Laurence as Billy's daughter.  In every scene she's in, Laurence brings buckets of emotion with her and pulls at the heartstrings a lot.  The story and script may not be the most original, but it's the performances, the direction from Antoine Fuqua, editing, and the rap-infused soundtrack that make "Southpaw" a movie worth seeing.  From the opening scene of the movie, the grittiness of the film have you engaged with what's on screen, and at 124 minutes it never feels slow.   "Southpaw" is a modern day, R-rated, boxing-themed version of "Rudy," and I loved every second of it.  If you're a fan of underdog stories, despite them being predictable, then this movie is worth checking out.





MINI-REVIEW: Paper Towns

MOVIE
Paper Towns

CAST
Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
July 24, 2015

DIRECTOR
Jake Schreier

STUDIO
20th Century Fox

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 49 minutes







STARS
***









REVIEW:

Last year, director Josh Boone helped author John Green bring his beloved teen novel "The Fault in Our Stars" to the big screen.  Teens, audiences, and critics alike all fell for the cancer-centered drama starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.  With Fox believing they have struck a gold mine, they decided to adapt another one of Green's novels as a film.  That novel comes in the form of "Paper Towns," a story of a boy traveling cross-country to find the girl he's in love with and profess his feelings to her.  Considering my love for "The Fault in Our Stars," I can say that I was pretty excited to see what John Green had in store for us next.  While the result wasn't as strong as "Fault," there are still a lot of things to like about this movie.  Nat Wolff is a solid lead, the film itself is relatable, and the story always had my attention despite some unexplained plot points and some annoying supporting characters.  At the end of the day, "Paper Towns" is a step down from Green's previous work, but it's still a good movie overall.





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