If there is anything I took away from the latest adaption of “The Great Gatsby”, it is that people in the 1920’s really liked Jay-Z’s rap music. Like a lot. And that soundtrack choice is just one of the many creative choices writer/director Baz Luhrmann takes in the adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the titular role of Gatsby, a millionaire who throws incredible parties but never attends. When a small time broker (Tobey Maguire) moves in next door, Gatsby’s secrets begin to be revealed.
Past attempts at bringing the classic novel to life on the big screen have failed and usually horrifically. And while this latest attempt is the best revision yet, it still does not fully capture the brilliance and wonderment of the book. Luhrmann uses so much CGI (on things as simplistic as rain on a dock or cars) and features such a heavy soundtrack that you quickly get distracted and taken out of the story. Featuring Jay-Z music (you know, a guy who won’t be born until 47 years after the movie takes place) and over-the-top dancing, Gatsby’s grand parties feel more like a “Project X” frat party rather than some the elaborate festivities Fitzgerald imagined them to be. I just never felt like I was in 1920’s America, and putting the viewer in the setting is one of the most crucial aspects of any period piece.
No actor in the film does a bad job, but no one stands out, either. DiCaprio played a fine Gatsby but he came off as a bit too selfish and almost unlikeable at points. His love interest Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan) is too conservative and by the end she has become the stereotypical stuck up girl caught in the middle, unsure what and who she wants. The person who did the best job was Joel Edgerton who plays the rich and arrogant Tom Buchanan. He is normally playing likeable underdogs, so that he could portray a character that you really dislike shows his range as an actor.
The biggest thing “Gatsby” does extremely well is the set pieces. Every location, whether it is the mechanic shop across from the all-seeing eyes or Caraway’s little shack, is exactly what I imagined while reading the book so if nothing else, the film is loyal in that respect.
I am honestly perplexed by “The Great Gatsby”. As with the actual man to the people who attend his parties, I am not sure what to make of it. I did not hate the movie by any means; however I did not like it very much, either. It was just…there. I honestly nothing this movie. Without running the risk of sounding cliché or giving a copout (which means prepare for a clichéd copout), I have to give “Gatsby” a middle of the road rating. Sorry, old sport, but there was just nothing special or great about “The Great Gatsby”.
Critics Rating: 5/10
It is going to be a tough task when you’re the movie succeeding one of the greatest superhero movies of all-time (“The Avengers”). But thanks to writer-director Shane Black, “Iron Man 3” not only meets but exceeds any expectations. Robert Downey Jr. returns in top form as billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark, who also is the superhero Iron Man (spoiler alert). When a new terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) tears Stark’s world apart, he must go on a redemption mission to make everything right.
Downey has never been better in the role than he is in “Iron Man 3”. A large portion of the film he is out of the Iron Man suit and in the elements, having to find scraps of technology to try and stay alive. It beckoned back to the first film of the series, and I liked that. New series writer Black has created the funniest of the Marvel movies, filled with too many borderline hilarious one liners to count. At times the comedy came at very dark and dramatic moments which may take the audience off guard, but I never found myself thinking it was taking away from the experience. Michael Bay should be taking notes on how to insert humor into a dramatic scene and not have it be awkward, racist or forced.
The action in this movie is top notch, and we have come to expect nothing less from an Iron Man film. This is certainly the grandest scale of the series, and Black does not hold back and enters Michael Bay territory with the number of explosions (but, once again, he actually uses them well whereas Bay, you know…doesn’t).
The problem I have with the film, the thing that is keeping it from exceeding the levels of “The Avengers” and the first “Iron Man”, is what I think many people are going to be griping about: the villains. For the first half of the movie everything is being set up for a great final battle and all the enemies of Stark look intense and formidable. Then something happens. I’m obviously not going to spoil anything but when it happens (and you will know what I mean when it does), you are either going to roll with it or wipe your hands clean of the film right there and then. I also wasn’t a fan of how much supernatural liberties the film took. The first two “Iron Man” films were grounded in the sense the bad guys are men in war machines. Here they have super powers and impossible abilities and it seemed the film was just almost parodying the fact that it was a comic book film. They never fully explain the rules of the powers and some villain’s motivations are skeptical at best.
Villain gripes aside, this is an almost great superhero movie. It has witty and sarcastic humor thanks to a great script from Shane Black, who also does a great job directing I should add, and a fantastic performance from Robert Downey Jr. “Iron Man 3” is a great way to start off Summer 2013 and I cannot wait to see where they take the character next.
Critics Rating: 8/10
Michael Bay has claimed that he makes movies for teenage boys. Apparently teenage boys do not enjoy good movies because Bay’s newest directorial project, “Pain and Gain” is the farthest thing from a solid film. Based on a true story, the movie follows three Miami body builders (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Anthony Mackie) who kidnap, torture and kill rich members of the gym they work at.
I am not a Michael Bay hater. I think he has his own style and takes on certain projects just because he can, which is fine. He is like the Nicolas Cage of directors. However after “Pain and Gain”, I sympathize with the masses of people who do loath him. He is almost self-indulging in his own style, overusing slo-mo shots (which really get annoying fast) and close-up facials. I found these shots distracting and really took away from what little energy “Pain” had going for it. Also, like in the “Transformers” saga, Bay will take any chance he gets to shove American propaganda and attractive women in the audience’s face. Oh, and like he also has proven, especially in “Revenge of the Fallen”, he does not do comedy well. He thinks he does comedy well but it turns out just awkward and offensive and above all else not funny.
The biggest problem with the film is not Bay, but the script. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make the plot (and tone) jump all over the place, and have no idea what kind of film they’re trying to make. There are parts that are drama about trying to live the American dream, but then jumps to “comedy” with people more concerned about working out than escaping the cops. The film drags and despite its all-star cast (Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub and Rob Corddry join the other three stars); no one in this film is likable except Johnson. Everyone is self-centered, incompetent and just mean. You aren’t rooting or sympathizing for anyone, which is never good for a movie.
There isn’t much “Pain and Gain” gets right, although Johnson does have a few funny one liners and the plot is entertaining and original for a brief time. Like I said, this was based on a true story and from what I have gathered it does a pretty good job at keeping to the facts. I think this would have made a much better documentary or Dateline special than full length film, or maybe in better hands than Bay it would have been elevated. I don’t hate the film, but I am having trouble remembering anything about it because it is just that kind of movie. Every person involved in “Pain and Gain” has been in something better, and I would say your time would be more well spent reliving one of those films. Why start a new workout if what you’re doing works? (I needed to squeeze one gym reference in this).
Critics Rating: 4/10
It goes without saying that Jackie Robinson was an extraordinary man. The new film about his life with the Brooklyn Dodgers is not quite as extraordinary. But it is pretty darn good. Chadwick Boseman portrays Robinson, a member of the Negro League who catches the eye of Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). And, well, you know the rest of the story. Brian Helgeland wrote and directed the film.
When making a movie about a real life person, the most important aspect of the film will be the performance by the actor in the title role. Boseman does what I imagine is a very accurate portrayal of the legendary baseball player. Calm when in the spotlight but unleashing his boiling anger once in the locker room, Boseman gives a collected performance. He did a better job with the heavy drama parts of the film when off the field with his wife than he did when in the dugout, but when I was watching him I really believed I was watching the real number 42.
Harrison Ford is the real scene stealer, though. Despite walking a thin line between cartoon and over-the-top, Ford plays the man who not only gave Jackie Robinson a chance to show his skill, but changed history. Whether he is giving a speech to Robinson about not stooping down to his enemies’ level or giving a sarcastic response to a prejudice player, Ford controls every frame he is in and never wears out his welcome.
There is not much wrong with the film, and the parts that are may just be based off your individual movie preferences. The movie is just over two hours long, and it drags towards the middle when trying to find ways to kill time until Jackie gets called up to the majors. It also has one of the most abrupt endings I’ve seen in a while. Another thing I noticed about the movie was the incredible abundance of sports movie clichés. From the praying kid in the stands to the rematch between rivals on the field, the movie makes sure to let you know what emotion you should be feeling. Oh, and the tension is almost non-existent. Every scene that involves racism (including one where the N-word is said around 30 times) feels “Disney-fied” (that’s a word, right?) and is resolved within seconds. It is like the film didn’t want to offend any viewers and get real gritty. It was one of the few times in the film I felt the movie took creative liberties with Robinson’s story.
Overall, “42” is a pretty good movie about a great man and player. The performances are all spot on and the set pieces put you in 1945 America. Aside from the sports movie clichés and lack of real tension, the film is very enjoyable and very, very well made. The filmmakers knew their stuff and made sure to honor the legacy of a man who not only changed a sport, but changed a nation.
Critics Rating: 8/10
There are smart action films like “The Matrix”. There are dumb action films, such as “A Good Day to Die Hard”. And then there is “Oblivion”; a film that is so much in the center of it all it is almost inconceivable. Tom Cruise stars as Jack, a drone repair man in the future. After aliens attacked Earth and left in uninhabitable, the only people remaining are repair teams who are retrieving the remainder of the planet’s resources (see: “Wall-E”). When Jack makes a discovery that leads him to believe he has lived a previous life (see: “Total Recall”), he soon begins to question his mission’s real objective. The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who directed “TRON: Legacy”.
“Oblivion” tries so very hard to make you think it is smarter than it actually is. It has more curveballs than a pitcher who specializes in…well, curveballs and a plot that is so unnecessarily convoluted that you are actually angered when the film reaches climax. The writing is spotty at parts, just downright confusing in others. It strives to be give you kind of epiphany about your life but it just doesn’t. I’m aware I am probably not making much sense but I can’t tell you why the film doesn’t make any sense without spoiling anything.
As for the performances, Cruise is fine. He doesn’t quite phone in his performance but he has done this role a million times before (confused military man). It is the other actors, including Freeman, who overplay and overstay their welcome. From delivering corny lines of dialogue to being in the film just to advance the plot, there come several points in the film you just don’t care that they’re even there, and have given up trying to guess why.
The one thing the film has going for it is the scenery. It is so well shot and the graphics are so beautiful that at times you forgive and forget about the script.
I can best summarize “Oblivion” like this: it is like a very beautiful woman whom you can stare at all day long. But when you approach her, you realize she has nothing to say that is worth listening to. For every thing the movie did that I liked, it countered it with two things I did not. The ending frustrated me not only because it doesn’t make sense, but the movie thought it did. And in the case of “Oblivion”, ignorance is not bliss.
Critics Rating: 5/10
“Evil Dead” is a remake/retelling of the 1981 Sam Rami classic, “The Evil Dead”. Written and directed by first timer Fede Alvarez, the new telling follows five friends who head out to a cabin in the woods only to fall victim to a demon upon reading a possessed book (gee, doesn’t that sound familiar?). It doesn’t matter who stars in the movie because they’re all young actors with pretty faces that have been hired for one purpose: to die.
Right from the opening sequence of “Evil Dead” you can tell what you are in for. Filled with emotion, scares and even a bit of dark humor, the scene grabs you and doesn’t let go. Director/writer Alvarez shows that he has skill both behind the camera and as a writer, as the movie flows at an even pace and the camera work is some of the better I’ve seen in horror films (aside from a few shaky close-ups).
This movie had the most forced character introductions and descriptions I have ever seen in film. It’s not really a flaw, just an observation. People literally greet each other by saying “hey, my childhood friend, Mr. Schoolteacher. This is my girlfriend”. And yes, the characters in this movie have the same dumbed down, if not lower, IQ’s as any normal scary movie person. They go into dark basements and say the infamous four words, “I’ll be right back”.
The scares in “Evil Dead” are mainly jump scares, although the demon design is quite frightening and I give major props to the makeup department. I am actually still seeing the creature every time I close my eyes, so that is a major testament to the film. But this film isn’t really meant to “scare” the audience, more frighten and unease them. There is gore aplenty and may be too much for some viewers (I feel like I’ve been typing that a lot lately).
There isn’t too much “Evil Dead” gets wrong. Aside from the cliché jump scares (e.g. moving mirror or close-up grabbing of the ankle) and dumb characters, the film manages to be pretty original, which is odd and a big compliment since it is a remake. Fans of the franchise can sleep easy knowing their beloved movie is safe and did not fall victim to the horrible Hollywood remake craze. “Evil Dead” is a bloody good time and only confirms my belief that even though reading a book never killed anyone, there’s no point in taking a chance.
Critics Rating: 8/10
"Movie 43" is a “comedy” (take note of quotations) which features a series of short sketches with big name Hollywood stars including Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Richard Gere and Chris Pratt. It was conceived by the Farley Brothers but each sketch was directed by a different person.
I feel like this movie was made as an inside joke between the big film executives who constantly receive awful movie ideas and thought making an actual movie filled with awful movie ideas would be hilarious. Well they got the movie part down, just missed horrifically on the comedy aspect.
I can’t really review this movie without giving anything away but in all honestly you wouldn’t care and shouldn’t care if I did ruin the film. I can’t even begin to try and ruin the movie, however, because it has no real plot; no real purpose. There are just a bunch of painfully unfunny skits thrown together in an 80 minute movie. They aren’t connected so the flow is all off and none of the sketches come to any sort of resolution, so there is no payoff upon completion of the viewing experience.
I am dying to know what made all these big name actors agree to be part of this movie, especially ones who had great 2012’s (Hugh Jackman was nominated for an Oscar!). Filmed over the course of four years, numerous actors (such as George Clooney) rejected opportunities to be in the film while others (Gere) tried on numerous occasions to get out. Some of the sketches had the potential to be funny, like parents homeschooling their son and doing what bullies do or kidnapping a leprechaun. However they are executed with so much laziness and distastefulness that you don’t even want to give the “filmmakers” props for trying.
It is a shame that this movie got made when there are talented people (whether it be aspiring directors, actors or screenwriters) who go unnoticed. This movie is an insult to cinema and all those who enjoy it. I almost want to recommend it to you only so the world can have a mutual “worst film ever made” (I said almost. Please, please, from the bottom of my heart, do not see this movie).
In summary, “Movie 43” is not only unfunny, it is insulting to both human decency and the wonderful world of cinema. There are movies so bad they are good, such as “The Room” and there are movies that are so bad they’re just bad, like “Devil Inside”. Then there is “Movie 43”. A movie that is so stupid, so self-indulgent that it is the epitome of awful. Do not see this movie. Do literally anything else instead. Read a book. Get yourself up to date on current events. Join a gym. Just please do not give your time, or worse your money, to this film. [exhale]
Critics Rating: 1/10
“Olympus Has Fallen” is an action film directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) and stars Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, an ex-Secret Service member who was removed from the President’s (Aaron Eckhart) detail following an accident. When terrorists take over the White House, Banning is the last man standing and must free the President.
If the plot seems similar to “Die Hard” that is because it is. This movie is “Die Hard in the White House”. Thing is, this movie is everything “A Good Day to Die Hard” was not but should have been. It has major action, a sarcastic but likable lead and a villain we actually want to see beat (and one the audience can tell is actually evil, not just because the film says he is). Butler is very solid in the lead role. After his breakout role in “300”, he has been doing rom-coms, including last year’s atrocity, “Playing for Keeps”. He needs to be doing more action films like “Olympus” because this guy was just plain awesome. We’re given enough backstory on him to make us care about his fate, and much like John McClane, he engages in sarcastic banter with the leader of the terrorists about how he is going to take out all his men and then come for him personally. Butler also managed to hide his Scottish accent through most of the film, even if he did slip up a few times while yelling.
Eckhart is fine as the President (he’s tied to a pole for 75% of the movie). Picture if Eckhart’s Harvey Dent survived “The Dark Knight” and became President (whoops. I mean spoiler, but… if you haven’t seen “Dark Knight” by now I doubt you have any intentions to ever). That is more or less how Eckhart portrays him.
The action in this film is nonstop and plentiful. Like I said above, it is everything “Die Hard 5” was not. The fist fight scenes are captured very well thanks to the steady hand of Fuqua and the special effects (when needed) are believable. While it was undeniably entertaining, it really did not hold anything back. Especially with the tragedies in the previous year, some viewers may be uncomfortable watching a plane with machine guns shoot at civilians and just demolish secret service agents. I love violence in movies as much as the next guy, but just giving a heads up. It really is all out war.
The problem with the film, as with most action movies, is the writing for everyone who is not the main character. Some characters say things, that given their current situation (being held hostage by terrorists and having seen their friends killed), they would simply not say. Other people’s incentives never are made clear. The plot is fine and actually the terrorist’s motivation and overall goal is quite creative, but I just wish the dialogue popped as much for the supporting cast as it did for Butler.
I’m a bit surprised the film was not released on the 4th of July (they only mention the holiday a half dozen times) because this film has enough American patriotism to make Michael Bay shake his head. There are moments in the film you want to stand and cheer or give a heroic character thumbs up. It is great springtime fun for any fan of action movies. Or America.
Critics Rating: 7/10
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is a comedy that stars Steve Carell as Las Vegas magician Burt Wonderstone, who is no longer relevant thanks to a street performer who performs life risking tricks (Jim Carrey). In order to save their act, Burt and his lifelong partner Anton (Steve Buscemi) must think of a grand illusion for themselves. Don Scardino directs.
The best way I could describe the character of Burt Wonderstone is like if Michael Scott (Carell’s famous “Office” character) fulfilled his dream of becoming a magician. He’s sarcastic, snarky and will change the inflections of his voice for no good reason in the middle of a conversation. And while that is all fun and games, you never really feel any sort of attachment to him, or any character in the film for that matter. Every person in this movie is either self-centered or just plain cruel for no good reason. We do not really care if the people reconnect or succeed because we know nothing about them beside the fact that some have an unhealthy addiction to magic.
The fault of the lack of characterization is due to the script (I mean that’s obvious, but read on). While reworked by the writers of the comic gem “Horrible Bosses”, the original script was penned by a first timer and it shows. Parts of the film drag and others are rushed. I wouldn’t say it “ruins” the film but it does keep it from reaching higher levels. The whole time the movie had a dark, mean spirited feel, which is fine; however if you’re going with that tone you need to be willing to go all the way. “Wonderstone” holds back and plays it safe because it doesn’t want to offend the audience.
Now some good news: the movie is pretty funny. Carell, despite playing a selfish and borderline unlikable protagonist, is still entertaining as the title character and Steve Buscemi takes a break from selling bootleg liquor (“Boardwalk Empire” reference!) to provide some chuckles as well be as the obligatory forgotten best friend. And of course there is Jim Carrey. In his first real comedy since 2008’s “Yes Man”, Carrey shows glimpses of what made him a star back in the 90’s. However I couldn’t help but think that his character was meant for a younger actor. Carrey just seemed too old to play the tattoo covered, long haired hippie street magician. Oh, and he’s only in five scenes.
When the smoke clears (magic show pun), “Wonderstone” is solid entertainment. It is the best comedy of 2013, although that is not saying much when it is competing against such films as “Identity Thief”. There aren’t any jokes or bits that stand out, and I doubt the film will be remembered by the end of the year, but it is a very enjoyable in-the-moment movie. Just realize that when you walk out, the movie will be out of your mind, as if almost…by magic (I’m on a roll with these today!)
Critics Rating: 6/10
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a prequel to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” and it shows how Oz became so great and powerful (gasp, the title!) and how the Wicked Witch and Glinda also came to be. James Franco plays Oz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams play some witches and Sam Rami directs.
There are numerous things that “Oz” does well. Because the film has been made over 70 years after the original “Wizard”, CGI and special effects have improved drastically. The Land of Oz is now even brighter and filled with more color, and some of the creatures and characters look very realistic. That being said, since technology has advanced so much, the filmmakers felt the need to make everything CGI, including the flying monkeys. In the original they were people in costumes so they felt real and genuine. In “Oz” they are CGI and look essentially like the monkeys from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, only, you know, with wings. I’m not saying that they look bad but of all the creations in the Oz the flying monkeys are the only ones you stop and think to yourself “OK, those are fake.”
James Franco plays Oz, who starts off as a con-artist in 1905 Kansas. A performer of cheap magic, he is then whisked away by a tornado (sound familiar?) and lands in Oz. Oz is not a great man or even a good man, although he has to learn to be and in order to save the citizens from the evil witches. I really bought Franco as the charismatic scammer, even if he hammed it up a little too much at times. Williams is sweet as the early version of Glinda, as she helps Oz realize his true calling. The only real complaint I have about the acting is Mila Kunis. For reasons I cannot state, I just thought she took her role too seriously and was too corny to fit the tone of the film.
Now the film does have some pacing issues and scenes where it is clear they made the scene simply to say “hey look at what we can do with a computer!”, but it never took away from the film as a whole. It’s just that in a film aimed at families, a running time just over two hours may be a bit much. Also there were some real corny and campy lines of dialogue, one of which actually made me cringe it was delivered so awkwardly.
Campiness aside, “Oz” is great family fun even if it does not come close to the level of the classic film it is succeeding…or proceeding, since this is a prequel. There are a few nods to the books and old movie which will make adults smile (although nothing too obvious such as ruby slippers, as Warner Brothers owns the rights to the film). Colorful, good-hearted and actually pretty clever, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is powerful fun for all ages (yeah, that was pretty corny, but the film still has worse lines).
Critics Rating: 7/10
“Identity Thief” is a comedy starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. When his identity is stolen, Sandy Patterson (Bateman) has to travel from Denver to Miami in order to confront the woman who has been living life up at his expense (McCarthy). Seth Gordon directs.
Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy are two of Hollywood’s top comedy stars. Both are very unique talents and had recent well received vehicles (“Horrible Bosses” and “Bridesmaids”, respectively). So the pairing of the duo in a road trip film should be great. Instead it results in a jumbled, recycled and above all else unfunny movie.
The main problem with “Identity” is the script. Comedies are one of the genres of film where it is crucial to have a strong script. The writer of this film, Craig Mazin, wrote “Scary Movie 4” and “The Hangover Part II”. Not exactly a strong resume and this film won’t add anything to it. Even Bateman and McCarthy, masters of improve and deadpan, are trapped by the weak writing and stupid situations. The pacing is just all over the place and there are two random side plots with a bounty hunter and some hit men that add nothing but minutes to the movie (I don’t even think they attempted to add humor to the film, it’s not even like I didn’t laugh at their being there).
The only bright spot of the film is McCarthy, who still manages to be charming and make us sympathetic towards her character despite the fact that she is a thief. She has one emotional scene that she completely nails however it was telegraphed about a dozen times from the opening credits and really adds nothing to the tone of the film.
“Identity Thief” tries to be relevant in an age where we see Life Lock commercials on TV every day but it just comes off as a wannabe copy of more successful buddy road trip movies. It’s just not funny, which is unfortunate because on paper a film with this cast should thrive. Here’s hoping writer Mazin was saving his actual jokes for “Hangover Part III” this summer, because there sure weren’t any in this film.
Critics Rating: 4/10
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is a fantasy adventure based off the classic fairytale. When Jack (Nicolas Hoult) accidently gets some magic beans a monk gave him wet, a huge beanstalk grows all the way up through the sky (I’m telling you this in case you have somehow never heard the story). Only this time the daughter of the king is trapped up on top of the beanstalk and Jack must save her with the help of the king’s top knight (played by a sarcastic Ewan McGregor). Bryan Singer directs.
When I saw the trailer for the film two things came to my head, both of which led me to believe the film would be awful. One: the dialogue. When Stanley Tucci says “excuse me, I’m talking to giants at the moment”, I almost cringed. That is just horribly corny writing. The second worry I had was that the giants looked very fake and the CGI was not too good. I’m thankfully able to report that, while I would like to believe it doesn’t happen often, I was misled by the trailer. For a majority of the film the lines of dialogue flow very well and every bit that is spoken by McGregor is light hearted and funny. The giants look very “real” in the sense that you believe they’re there. That is except when they’re interacting with humans, in which case you can clearly tell that they’re fake.
Besides a few exceptions (“The Dark Knight”, “Taken”) most PG-13 action films are toned down and the violence isn’t too entertaining. But “Jack” manages to be very well shot and well directed, and whether the giants are hurling burning trees or two humans are dueling it out, it was enjoyable and not too innocent.
Aside from some pacing issues (including one that almost feels like the film is about to wrap up then something big happens), “Jack” is a well shot, well written and well-acted piece of filmmaking. Oh, except this one character who plays Stanley Tucci’s henchman. He is that stereotypical, over the top sleazy guy who snickers at everything and I just found him annoying but more importantly unneeded. Anything he did Tucci could have done himself. The brand of “humor” the sidekick added to the film didn’t match the rest of the tone.
So like I was going to say with before I had the misfortune of remembering that that sidekick was in the movie, you could do a lot worse than “Jack”. It is a nice family film if the kids are over 8 or so because the children will enjoy the colors and costumes and the dads won’t be too tempted to fall asleep. “Jack” is a great example of how movies let us escape. And it is just the type of movie you would like to escape with if you want some adventure.
Critics Rating: 7/10
“Seven Psychopaths” is a crime comedy about a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who gets tangled up with a crime boss (Woody Harrelson) after his two friends (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) steal the boss’ dog. Martin McDonagh writes and directs the film.
I’ll just come out and say it: this is one of the most enjoyable movie watching experiences I’ve had in a long time. It is a movie that knows it’s a movie, and it plays off of that. The script is nothing short of wonderful, with characters having real conversations with eachother, not matter what the situation (very Pulp Fiction-esk, if you will). While at times clever, it is often hilarious. The actor who takes most advantage of the script is Sam Rockwell. He plays the sarcastic, fun loving and possibly insane Billy. His character takes so many turns you’re not sure where it will lead him or his friends.
This is technically a mob movie so there has to be some good mob dialogue and mob hits. And the film delivers on both accounts big time. The first five minutes into “Psychopaths” you are already being reminded of films such as “Pulp Fiction” but in a good way, not that it is trying to copy it and failing. Woody Harrelson’s character is obviously unstable but he plays this to his advantage (I mean, the man is willing to get his men killed simply to rescue his Shih Tzu).
There is not much I can say negatively about “Psychopaths”. You can’t take it too seriously, that’s all. Like I said it’s a movie that is fully aware that it is a movie, so it will intentionally come off as thinking it is smarter than it actually is. My advice is to just sit back, relax and watch the bullets fly. You’d have to be crazy not to enjoy yourself.
Critics Rating: 9/10
The 2013 Oscars are this weekend and they feature some of the tightest races in recent memory as well as some of the most lopsided affairs ever. I have not seen every film from 2012 but I have seen clips and know enough about each nominee that I feel I can make some educated guesses about who will win the “Big Six” categories. Those categories being Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Let’s go.
At first this looked like it was anyone’s game. However films like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Les Misérables” have lost steam as well as received some controversy so those two are out of the running. While “Silver Linings Playbook”, “Django Unchained” and “Life of Pi” would be nice to see win, odds are the award will come down to “Lincoln” or “Argo”. While “Lincoln” may be the safest bet here for the Academy, I have a feeling “Argo” may just squeak by. It is a very likeable film and the voters may feel bad for neglecting Ben Affleck as a best director nominee (more on that in a second). So when the final award card is read, I believe it will be Argo taking home the gold (both figuratively and literally).
There will be lots of "job well done" toasts for Argo on Sunday
The early talks were it would be a race between Ben Affleck, Katherine Bigelow and Quentin Tarantino for this award. Then none of them were nominated. So it will come down to Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”) and Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”), both of which have won before. I think Spielberg wins not only because he had more actors to lead (many, many more) but because he had to recreate an entire time period and, according to the producers, he got it down to the same style rug Abraham Lincoln owned in his office.
Daniel Day-Lewis won this thing the moment the poster for “Lincoln” was released. Due to his method acting and pure emersion into every character he portrays, he became the 16th president and that will win him the Oscar. It’s a shame, too, because all the other nominees could have won in any other year. Here’s a tip for actors: if you want to win an Oscar, don’t release your film the same year as Daniel Day-Lewis.
"It's not even close..."
Best Supporting Actor
This is one of the tightest races in Oscar history. All five nominees have won an Oscar before, and all five could win it again. However while Alan Arkin (“Argo”) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”) did great work, they did not receive enough screen time to compete with the other three. And despite winning the Golden Globe for his performance in “Django”, I don’t see Christoph Waltz winning another Oscar this year. So it comes down to Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”) and Robert De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook”). Jones has an incredibly moving speech in “Lincoln” (jut the five second clip of it from the trailer is enough to give you chills) but I think because he was so crabby, voters will sway over to De Niro, and he will win his first Oscar since 1981.
This lamp won't be the only gold in De Niro's presence come Sunday
This is another tight race. While Naomi Watts and Quvenzhane Wallis (big name, not so big age; she’s nine years old, the youngest nominee ever) did fine work, they are not on the same level as Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain and Emmanuelle Riva (she’s 85, the oldest nominee ever).And while it would be nice to see Riva win because odds are she will never be in the spotlight again, it will come down to Lawrence and Chastain. Chastain was really convincing in “Zero Dark Thirty”, however much like the film I think her chances of winning are in the dark (it’s a pun) due to the controversial waterboarding scenes. So I think Jennifer Lawrence wins her first Oscar, probably of many more yet to come.
Best Supporting Actress
While on the talent spectrum this race should be close, it’s pretty much Anne Hathaway’s (my future wife) race to lose. Amy Adams and Helen Hunt both did fine work in their films but weren’t anything too special, and I know Jackie Weaver was in “Silver Linings” but I’ll be honest I think she was only nominated so the Academy and film could brag that they had a nomination in all six categories. Sally Field is really the only one who stands a chance against Hathaway but seeing as she plays one of the most annoying, nagging and borderline crazy people in history (like real life history, not just in cinema), partnered with the fact that Field has won twice before and didn’t have a long singing solo, I believe Hathaway will win the award and give me the perfect ice-breaker for when we first meet (“So, Anne, I predicted you would win for ‘Le Miz’ before it even happened. Crazy right?”)
Believe it or not, this is as well-kept as Anne is for the whole film
“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a dramedy starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson. After seeing an ad in the paper from a man who claims he can travel back in time, a group of journalists head out to see if he is serious or just plain crazy. Colin Trevorrow directs.
This really is a unique film. Yes there are a lot of films about time travel (most recently “Looper”) however not very many of them focus on the planning and training for the mission. And “Safety” really isn’t even about that. It mainly focuses on us following Darius (Plaza) as she gains the trust of Kenneth (Duplass). We then spend the entire movie unsure if this guy is insane and possibly not who he says he is, or does he seriously believe he can travel through time and space.
The film has various subplots, some more important than others (the side ones were obviously included to get the running time to feature film length; it’s only 85 minutes with them), however the main one involving Kenneth and Darius never loses our attention. Through every misstep and misadventure that the two experience, we feel like we, too, hit a wall. That is a compliment to the script, as it is full of a perfect mixture of heart and humor. The large majority of the humor comes from the egocentric, sarcastic Jeff, played by Johnson (great in the show “New Girl”). He manages to keep a smile on our face even when there is not one to be found on the characters.
Some of the flaws of the film are those randomly inserted scenes. Whether they are unexplained why they are even in the film to begin with or we are left wondering what happened to certain characters, needless to say the film does not wrap up in a perfect bow. Also while watching this I realized how easy (at least in the movie’s universe) it is to buy alcohol for underage teenagers who are standing right outside the liquor store; obviously not a gripe towards the film, just an observation by me.
“Safety Not Guaranteed” is without a doubt a very unique movie. However if you can find the 90 minutes to look it up on Netflix (it’s on Instant) then I don’t think you will be disappointed. I don’t want to even imply the ending of the film and give anything away but I will just say the movie will make you think; about not only your past, but your current relationships and stance on life.
Critics rating: 7/10
“A Good Day to Die Hard” is the fifth film in the “Die Hard” franchise, which is turning 25 this year. Bruce Willis reprises the role of the sarcastic cop John McClane (kind of; I’ll explain why later). McClane still runs into foreign terrorists (what would a “Die Hard” film be without them?), however this time it is on their own turf in Russia after a rescue mission for McClane’s son Jack (Jai Courtney) goes wrong. John Moore directs.
The whole reason people love the “Die Hard” movies is because John McClane is a regular man who takes down terrorists. We can relate to him. Even in the most recent installment back in 2007, “Live Free or Die Hard”, McClane was human for about 75% of the movie, until the last thirty minutes where the filmmakers looked at the laws of physics and said “screw it”. In “Good Day”, McClane is no longer a regular man. You could make a case he’s a terminator. There’s a scene in the movie where his truck flips over literally a dozen cars and he rolls out the door, says ouch, and starts running. No cuts, no blood. He still has his dry, sarcastic lines that make us love the character so much, but they are so far, few, and in between that it almost feels like we’re watching Willis’ character from “The Expendables” instead of the iconic McClane.
Speaking of the laws of physics, this movie never once even contemplated taking them into account. People fall fifty stories, crashing through beams and plywood among other sharp items and then walk away past a crowd of shocked people (ok even if physics aren’t in this movie, surely police exist, right?).
Now people complained about the last “Die Hard” being PG-13 for two reasons. One: the violence. “Die Hard” is known for its bloody, almost over-the-top gunfights, and while “Live Free” had those, they were a bit toned down. I’ll be honest, aside from two headshots, “Good Day” is less violent, and less action packed, than “Live Free”. The second reason the PG-13 rating drew complaints was John McClane could not say his iconic “yippee ki yay” line. It trailed off in the movie when it got to the naughty part. In “Good Day”, the line is used in a pointless time. “Live Free” isn’t looking so bad now, is it people?
The final thing all four previous “Die Hard” films had were great villains. Not only are the characters actually fleshed out and entertaining in their own way, but they’re played by very talented men (Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Timothy Olyphant). In “Good Day”, there are multiple villains, and none of them are given enough time to become a main bad guy. And the one that shows flashes of being interesting turns out to be a lackey. That is just one of the many, many things “Good Day” does wrong, both as a “Die Hard” film and stand-alone movie.
Actually, I lied. “Good Day” has two of the greatest villains in the franchise’s history: director John Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods. When the man leading your project directed “Max Payne” and the guy who wrote your script also wrote “Wolverine”, the alarm should be sounding. The camera shots range from vomit inducing shaky cam to generic. The script ranges from awful to “that makes literally no sense”. No, but seriously the plot of this film is simple but somehow convoluted beyond measure.
There is more I could rant about but I feel like I’ve depressed you enough (and possibly brought a tear to your eye for ruining the film series you grew up with). The movie does have a few good action scenes and car chases, but they drag out over such long periods of time you start to lose interest. And it is always a red flag when you think an action movie has too much action. The film is not completely awful, but it is 100% forgettable. If this is the best the studio can do with Mr. McClane, then I think it is time for the franchise to DIE, as HARD as that is for me to say (pause for your laughter).
Critics Rating: 5/10
“A Haunted House” is a parody of the “found footage” horror films. It was written by and stars Marlon Wayans (the first two “Scary Movie” films), Essence Atkins and David Koechner. It is directed by first timer Michael Tiddes.
Going into a film like this you know exactly what to expect. It’s going to be racist, homophobic and feature potty humor. And usually movies like that, especially all the parody films, will be offensive and, above all else, not funny. However Marlon Wayans has proven that he can walk the line between funny and offensive, even if he does miss some jokes here and there.
Going into the movie I was expecting to hate it and was hoping to burn it. And when the first big joke of the film is (I mean this is a minor spoiler but let’s be honest, you don’t care) a dog getting hit by a car followed by an extended fart joke, I was licking my chops that this would be complete trash. However then the film then made me chuckle a few times in a row and by the end of it I walked out thinking “hey, that wasn’t a complete waste of my time after all”.
“Haunted House” is essentially playing off of the original “Paranormal Activity” film; however it also manages to mock “Devil Inside” and “The Exorcist”. It is not a satire so none of the joke are actually making fun of the films, they’re just involving them in its SNL style plot (as in every scene is basically one big joke followed by another scene that has no connection to the past).
I cannot necessarily recommend “Haunted House” because its comedy and pure stupidity will not be for everyone, but if you enjoy potty humor or like to be offended (because this movie offends every demographic in one way or another) then I can say you could find a worse way to spend 85 minutes of your life.
Critics Rating: 5/10
“The Guilt Trip” is a comedy starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand (in her first starring role since 1996). Rogen plays Andy, the inventor of an organic cleaner. When he has an upcoming road trip to pitch the cleaner to businesses, he asks his single mother to come along. Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”) directs and Dan Fogelman (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) wrote the script.
What works in “Guilt Trip” is what doesn’t work in other road trip films, such as “Due Date”. While the duo inevitably gets sidetracked off their route, they quickly get back on track. The movie never tries to continuously up the ante and make wild and crazy things happen. Walking into the movie you know exactly where it is going to go. You just don’t know how it’s going to get from point A to B (no road trip puns intended).
What else works in “Guilt Trip” is the chemistry between Rogen and Streisand. There are a few times where they don’t seem like mother and son but for most of the film their relationship feels genuine and real.
The few things against the film are some hit and miss jokes. Seth Rogen is an acquired taste (of which I have and thoroughly enjoy) so there are already some people who may be annoyed by him in this film. But Rogen is out of his normal role comfort zone here. While he normally plays a lazy stoner throwing constant f-bombs around, here he is an uptight and socially awkward nerd who is limited by the PG-13 rating. So while it is nice to see a lighter side to Rogen’s personality, some of the jokes feel like they end before a real punchline or if they had had a different delivery tone they would have been more effective. That being said there still were a handful of times I was laughing out loud. I just wish those times were more frequent.
I think I’m being honest when I say there isn’t that much to not like about the film. It is a feel good film that on numerous occasions had me thinking and relating to my relationship with my own mother. The script is really honest and light hearted and the ending is heartwarming (as cliché as that sounds). It is exactly the kind of movie you could and should see with your mother and, while forgettable, it is nice to see a comedy that isn’t so reliant on graphic sex jokes and dialogue.
Critics Rating: 6/10
“The Last Stand” is an action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker and Johnny Knoxville. Jee-woon Kim directs. In his return to film in a starring role, Arny plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a small town in Nevada. Normally quiet, things are about to get lively as the town is the final thing standing between a fleeing con and freedom across the Mexican border. Backed only by his three inexperienced deputies and weapons supplied by Knoxville’s Lewis (who let’s just say favors the second amendment), Owens must stop the felon and his crew.
Now if you saw “The Expendables 2” you know Schwarzenegger is rusty and not too good in the acting department. Actually let me rephrase that: if you’ve seen any of his films you know he’s not good in the acting department. However in “Last Stand”, almost like magic, Schwarzenegger gives an Oscar worthy performance. …I’m kidding of course; he is no better here than he’s been in any of his other films. However that is now his signature style (being an actor that can’t act) and he does it fine again here. He delivers lines that only Arnold can say without you asking yourself how this person is getting paid to be a professional actor. Lines of dialogue like: “you make us immigrants all look bah-d” (that’s “bad” with an Arnold accent; it’s impossible not to do a Schwarzenegger movie review without an impersonation and it is very difficult to do one over text). Especially when compared to Schwarzenegger all the supporting cast does fine work. Luis Guzman and Knoxville provide comic relief and the townsfolk all have the small town charm to them.
You obviously don’t see a movie like this for its acting or its script; you see it for its action. And thankfully “Last Stand” delivers. It is bloody and over the top (a man gets shot in the back with a flare gun and explodes; its cooler than it sounds and it sounds pretty cool to start with) and features a few cool car chases. The direction is very neat as well. There a few shots that you actually think to yourself “well, that was cool”. One sequence in particular where the camera follows four people zip line across the street and it the swoops down to the street to follow some cars I thought was creative.
I cannot tell you “Last Stand” is a good movie because I would be lying to you, and I may be many things but a liar is not one. But it is a solid movie that reflects those of the 80’s and is a nice return for Schwarzenegger (he’s bah-ck!...that’s it for the Schwarzenegger puns, I swear). Any Arnold fan won’t be disappointed or any action film fan for that matter. Even when guns aren’t being fired, the film never loses your attention and it is clear the actors are having a fun time making the movie and that fun really rubs off onto you.
Critics Rating: 6/10
“Gangster Squad” is an action movie based on true events (*cough* bologna!) Sorry, I had something in my throat. The story depicts a small group of 1949 Los Angeles cops who take off the badge and put on their big boy pants (breaking out the Will Ferrell references) in order to take down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Starring Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin as the lead cops, the film is headed by “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer.
The film was highly anticipated due to its intriguing premise and all-star cast ever since the first trailer was released in May of last year. However after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado the filmmakers had to reshoot the climax of the film as it originally depicted gangsters shooting through a movie screen in the Chinese Theater in LA. So the release date was pushed back from September to now. And it is without a doubt the best film of 2013 (granted the only one I’ve seen).
The performances in the film are all pretty good. Brolin plays the standard good guy cop who can’t be bought and wants what’s best for his growing family. Gosling is hesitant about joining at first but then something happens that makes him have a personal vendetta against Cohen. Sean Penn is the real star of the show, though. At times his portrayal of the real life gangster is, for the most part, intimidating and twisted. However there were times where he seemed more like a cartoon villain rather than a real character. And that brings me to my next point.
The tone, err rather the goal, of the film is split. Half the time it looks and feels like it is trying to strive for greatness and match the levels of previous gangster films like “Untouchables”. Other times it felt like it was almost a parody of the genre and era. This is the real thing holding “Gangster Squad” back from being more than just entertaining and I have to blame the script. The man who wrote it, Will Beall, is a first timer and it shows. Some of the dialogue (like Cohen yelling “here comes Santa Claus” before opening fire) is just silly and it goes back to the almost joking feel half the film gives off. He also tried to insert bits of humor that even when they worked (which was rare) they felt unnecessary.
Some people may question the choice of Fleischer as director but I thought he did a fine job. I enjoyed the way he chose to shoot the gun fight scenes, with a nice blend of slow-mo and sweeping camera angles. The set pieces are also brilliant and beautiful and I honestly felt like I was watching a documentary of 1940’s Los Angeles. From the cars to the neon lights to the perfectly selected soundtrack you become immersed into this world.
I’m not going to say that “Gangster Squad” is Oscar worthy art or that it will not be the epitome of gangster movies like “Goodfellas” but it is solid, turn-your-brain-off fun. I really enjoyed myself and liked the film, more than the film probably had any right to be liked. Maybe I just have a soft spot for gangster movies set in 1940’s Los Angeles (and when I say maybe, I mean I do).
Critics Rating: 7/10