Keanu – Review

24 May

Back in 2012 when Key & Peele premiered, I didn’t think the show was going to go anywhere or last long because of Comedy Central’s track record at the time. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have cleverly weaved their way into a high status of pop culture thanks their subversive sketch comedy that is both funny and often smart. It was disappointing to see that their show was ending, but it seems that they have no intention of slowing down. Instead of a show, we now have a feature length comedy called Keanu. Much like their show, Keanu is a very subversive comedy that’s only made funnier by how over the top and silly it is willing to get.

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After his girlfriend abruptly dumps him, Rell (Jordan Peele) feels like his life is over. No longer does he have any drive or motivation to make something of himself, which worries his cousin/best friend, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key). Unlike Rell, Clarence is a well adjusted adult with a wife and kids, who finds it a little bit silly when Rell regains his livelihood when a kitten shows up at his door and is named Keanu. All seems right with the world until Keanu is taken from right under Rell’s nose. Rell and Clarence find out the the man who took Keanu is a notorious drug lord named Cheddar (Method Man), a man who loves violence just as much as he loves cute kittens. The only way Rell and Clarence can get their cat back is to go undercover and assume the identities of two mysterious hitmen, earn Cheddar’s trust, and save Keanu.

The plot of this movie is absolutely absurd and that’s where a lot of the joy came from. There’s so much off the walls things that happen in this movie that you really don’t know what kind of joke they’re going to throw at you next. To me, that’s real comedy. Movies that rely on just sex jokes and being loud just aren’t my kind of thing. Keanu has a lot of really ridiculous jokes and situations while also working to turn certain stereotypes on their heads. You also gotta love the slow motion scenes of the little kitten running through gun battles and dodging all sorts of things. What’s also great is that they don’t just rely on the kitten as a funny little distraction. Keanu isn’t really in it all that much, so when he is it’s great, but there’s plenty of original, non-kitten related humor as well.

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One of the main reasons to even see this movie is just to see Key and Peele play off each other so well. One of the reasons their show was so funny was because of the crazy natural chemistry that they have. They also are great at playing the goofy characters. Peele’s Rell is a slacker with a good heart who really just can’t seem to do anything right, and Key’s Clarence is the polar opposite of what a gangster should be, which makes his scenes trying to fit into the gang world all the more hilarious. The way Key and Peele interact and talk with each other feels so natural, and there were a lot of times where it felt like a lot of what they were saying was unscripted. You really can’t have comedy without good chemistry, and the chemistry between these two comedians is off the charts.

While this movie is a comedy, it has plenty of action in it to. The most similar example of a movie like Keanu would have to be Pineapple Express, because of all the comedy mixed with the very well shot and choreographed action. Surprisingly, the action in Keanu is pretty badass. The climactic shoot out at the end is intense but still hilarious. There’s a lot of use of slow motion, but the slow motion is very well shot and framed uniquely. The film’s director, Peter Atencio, who worked on the duo’s show quite a bit, obviously has a skilled eye, and I’d like to see more from him.

It takes a lot for comedies to impress me and Keanu is one that made me laugh to the point of tears…multiple times. I honestly can’t say I’m too surprised by that. I’ve been fan of their comedy for a while now, but seeing it in as grand a spectacle as this was right on the money. Their satire is razor sharp and their delivery is fast and furious, which I think makes them two of the funniest people working in the business. If you like to laugh even a little bit, you have to make Keanu required viewing.

Money Monster – Review

24 May

Last year, Adam McKay’s The Big Short took the financial crisis of 2007 & 2008 and made it into something that is both easy to understand, yet close to impossible to comprehend how something like that could’ve happened. It was a very smart movie that was also sharp with its comedy. We now live in a time where movies based around unfair economic system in America are a great and accessible way to get other people involved and talking. Most recently, we’ve gotten Jodie Foster’s Money Monster. This film isn’t quite as sharp or intelligent as other movies concerning this topic, but it’s still a relevant and entertaining thriller that kept me engaged for most of its run time.

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Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of an off the walls finance show called Money Monster where Gates gives investors all the advice they need to know when it comes to buying and selling stocks. On a day like any other, the show begins and for a while seems to be going just fine, up until a disgruntled investor named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) storms the studio and holds Lee at gunpoint while also strapping a vest armed with a bomb to the terrified host. After the show’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), evacuates all the staff not needed to continue the broadcast, Patty and Lee do whatever they can to keep the gunman at bay and also hopefully find the answers he’s looking for before the police decide to enter the studio.

Money Monster is a very topical movie that fits in very well with the world we live in today, especially concerning finances and all the different forms of media from journalism to viral videos. I compared certain elements of this movie with The Big Short, but this movie is very far from being The Big Short. This is a popcorn movie through and through, even though it does have some brain power backing it up. You won’t see any new argument in this movie and it still shows how corrupt Wall Street is, but doesn’t really break new ground. For what Money Monster is, however, that’s completely fine. It’s much more fun looking at this movie as a real time hostage movie that reminded me of something between Dog Day Afternoon and The Negotiator.

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The cast in this movie are perfectly casted, and I really wouldn’t have had it any other way. Clooney still seems to be playing a version of Clooney, but he still is a very believable character and plays all of his scenes with precision acting. Julia Roberts, who I normally really don’t care for, was great here, and a lot of that was due to the way the character was written. Dominic West, who is known for The Wire but is known to me as the hilariously over the top Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone, doesn’t have much screen time but makes the best of what he has. I recently saw Jack O’Connell in ’71, so I was excited to see him in Money Monster. Needless to say, he did not disappoint. O’Connell is the strongest part of this movie and gives a devastatingly real performance that I could never forget.

There’s a lot of really intense stuff in Money Monster and some of the most shocking and well written things all happen in the confines of the studio. Movies that have stories stuck in one location make things feel really closed in and immediate. Save for a pretty cool third act, there’s a lot of stuff in between that is important to the story, but didn’t really make me feel anything. All of these scenes revolve around a character named Diane Lester, who was the chief of communications for the main antagonist. As she works to learn more of the truth that has been covered up and her scenes get longer and more frequent, I felt more compelled to just speed the movie up just so I could get back to the scenes with Clooney, Roberts, and O’Connell.

Money Monster certainly isn’t here to change anyone’s lives, but there’s a chance that it may come across as acting smarter than it really is. What this movie works at being is a very topical hostage thriller that fits in very well with different problems going on in the world today. It’s a movie that we’ll be able to look back on and compare with worldly events that will better help the viewer analyze the film. Money Monster is full of tension, excitement, and great performances with some weak scenes thrown into the mix just to mess with the audience. It isn’t the best movie you’ll see about Wall Street or corruption, but it’s still a good deal of fun.

Breaking the Waves – Review

19 May

Every time I watch a movie by Lars von Trier, I begin to hope that maybe it will help me understand him more. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one ever truly will. Enough about that, however. Today I’m going to be looking at a very important movie in von Trier’s career, his 1996 film Breaking the Waves. If it wasn’t for this movie, Lars von Trier would not be the internationally acclaimed film maker that he is today and it also allowed him to explore with techniques that he never worked with before. All that aside, while Dogville is my favorite of his movie, Breaking the Waves might be his masterpiece.

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In a small town in rural Scotland, Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a mentally ill woman dedicated to her strict church, meets and falls in love with Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), an oilman who works on a rig off the coast. The two quickly get married and spend their first days together in a state of marital bliss. Eventually, Jan has to go back to the oil rig which leaves Bess devastated. She prays that God will send Jan back to her, and her prayers seem to be answered with the news that he’s coming home. What Bess didn’t know was the accident Jan was in the middle of the left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bess feels an overwhelming amount of guilt for this, thinking this is God’s way of punishing her, and will do anything to help Jan feel better. When Jan makes the request that she go out and find a man to sleep with so he can feel that connection again, Bess takes the request to the extreme which has extreme consequences with the people of the village.

It’s interesting to note that a year before this movie was made, Lars von Trier and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” What this was was a set of rules created by von Trier and Vinterberg that they believed would create the purest and most authentic film possible. There are strange rules like the film has to be in color, shot on a hand held camera, and the banning of using any type of filters. In my opinion, it’s all a bit much. Breaking the Waves can’t technically be called a Dogme 95 film because it does break rules about sound and the director being credited, but the movie is shot on a hand held camera with what seems to be mostly natural lighting. This was a huge stylistic change for von Trier, especially since his earlier movies like Element of Crime and Europa are so heavily stylized. This is more really the only way a story like Breaking the Waves can be told, so it was a bold shift in style that should be respected.

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When it comes to love stories in film, it’s very easy to mess it up. If you look at most romantic comedies, there’s really nothing to the love that you see in the movies. It’s the most superficial type of romance you can see. What I love about film makers like Lars von Trier, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers is that they all seem very confused by love while also still being a part of it. That is what keeps the love story in Breaking the Waves feel so authentic and ultimately tragic. This film is absolutely devastating, but the relationship between Bess and Jan is very powerful and beautiful in a weird kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very unique movie with characters and situations and relationships that feel very fresh and real, sometimes disturbingly so.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dedicating a chunk of this review to Emily Watson. Lars von Trier’s movies aren’t known for their stellar performances, sometimes due to his awkward writing, but Emily Watson kills it in this movie. Bess is probably the most fully realized of all his characters and Watson taps into something deep here. I haven’t really seen Emily Watson in too much stuff so I never really had an opinion on her. After seeing her in Breaking the Waves, however, I now see just how powerful an actor she really is. Bess is a wonderful character and Watson plays her absolutely perfect.

Breaking the Waves is a truly magnificent movie that is both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Lars von Trier has become one of my favorite film makers for a reason, and the reason is that he isn’t afraid to tackle new or taboo subjects using a variety of techniques. This is one of his more down to earth movies, but it still has that other worldly von Trierian quality that we’ve all come to expect with his movies. Simply put, Breaking the Waves is his masterpiece.

Green Room – Review

17 May

I’m not saying that the horror genre is completely saved, but what I will say is that there has been a major step up in the genre thanks to indie film makers. Within the past year we’ve had some excellent independent horror films like It Follows and The Witch grace theaters with the intelligence and originality that I love seeing movies like this. Now we have Jeremy Saulnier’s newest film, Green Room, which can be added to this new echelon of horror. This is a bloody, suspenseful, and exhausting movie that puts new faith in no holds barred horror film making and made me jealous that I didn’t make this movie myself.

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Pat (Anton Yelchin), who is in a punk band with his friends called The Ain’t Rights, is in the middle of a pretty unsuccessful west coast tour. After a show in Seaside, Oregon that is a complete bust, they are hired to do a gig in the backwoods of Portland in a club that is owned by a group of neo-Nazis. While the show itself goes fine, things take a turn for the worst when Pat stumbles upon a murder that took place in the green room backstage. Now Pat and his friends are being held by the skin heads and their leader, Darcy (Patrick Stewart). Darcy and his crew have no desire to let the band leave alive, which means the group of inept punks have to band together, strategize, and fight their way to freedom.

I love movies that take place in one location because I feel like it adds something more immediate to the story. While there are a couple places the band goes to in Green Room, the central story focuses on Anton Yelchin and his friends just trying to get out of the small skinhead club. This makes for plenty of claustrophobic scenes laced with paranoia and close quarters fighting. That being said, this is a very intense, gritty, and gruesome movie and Jeremy Saulnier really makes it a point not to shy away from any of the brutality. If you get sick looking at blood or absolutely abhor violence, this is certainly not the movie for you. If you’re looking for that grindhouse thrill, Green Room certainly has your back.

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This isn’t to say that Green Room is just some cheap grind house movie, because it’s so far from that. This is a very well executed, shot, and acted movie that has the balls to the wall attitude of ’70s exploitation and shock cinema. The true horror behind this movie that allows it to really stand tall and be more than just a shocking movie is the almost unbearable suspense and the down to earth characters that you’re almost certain to run into the likes of at some point. The scenes when it’s the punks against the skinheads during an escape attempt, it gets a little hard to breathe. There was a point in the movie where I realized that anything could happen to these characters and it was best to stop thinking like I knew what was going to happen next. This isn’t fleeting fear. This is fear that gets under your skin and makes you feel like you need a power shower.

One of the main reasons I was so interested in this movie was to see the great Patrick Stewart not only play a villain, but a villainous backwater neo-Nazi. Captain Picard as a Nazi. How does that not make anyone interested? It came as no surprise to see Stewart completely own his role and not go the over the top route that could have been gone. Like I said, the characters are pretty grounded in reality and that include Darcy. When Stewart first read the script, he said he really wanted the role because of how scary he found Darcy, and he does a great job with the character.

Green Room can join the ranking os one of my favorite movies of 2016 so far. There’s still a lot of movies ahead, so anything can happen, but right now I just can’t get it out of my head. This film is a brutal reminder that the world is full of heinous people, but never does it forget to be entertaining. It’s filled with an almost unbearable amount of suspense, an excellent performance by Patrick Stewart, and plenty of terrifying scenes that you can not unsee. Thank you Jeremy Saulnier and Green Room for helping breathe new life in a stale genre.

The Thin Red Line – Review

12 May

Terrence Malick is a very strange Hollywood entity that’s made not that many films over the course of over 40 years. His first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven, were met with huge success. After these two achievements, Malick disappeared off the face of the earth until 1998 when he released his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. This is around the same time that Spielberg released what I consider to be the best war movie ever made, Saving Private Ryan, but there are people who believe that Malick’s film is right up there with it. While I will say that it is one of the most memorable and well made war films to come out of Hollywood, it may also be one of the weirdest.

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After being picked up on an island in the South Pacific after going AWOL, Pvt. Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel) is chewed out by Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) and sent to Guadalcanal to be a part of a siege to secure Henderson Field from the Japanese. While on the island, the mass of soldiers have to secure Hill 210, which causes devastating casualties for the American forces. As the battle rages on and the days begin to pass by even slower, every soldier looks death in the eye through the sights of their guns and has to come to terms with the life that he’s led, the inevitable future that lays ahead,  and the possibility that they may never return home to the world that they know and have created for themselves.

The Thin Red Line is an outstanding example of a war movie, and I’m not sure how many people would deny that. While many war films deal with the European front, this movie deals with the battle that was raging on in the Pacific, specifically on Guadalcanal. This movie takes a really long time to get started, but when the battle finally gets going it doesn’t let up for a really long time. The original cut of this movie goes on for a little over 5 hours, and this is a rare time where I’d actually love to see the full 5 hour version because the 3 hour one that we have is so enthralling I feel like I need to see more. The combat is so intense and realistic that I began feeling anxious for the soldiers onscreen, even though I knew well enough that it was a movie. Not only is this a very intense movie, but the scenes of battle are shot in the most intricate and beautiful of ways. The camera sweeps over the battlefield in such a fashion that I can’t say I ever saw before. That is where Malick’s vision truly shines, and it’s almost blinding.

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So the battle scenes are all excellent and beautifully shot, but also the quieter scenes are shot in such a way that we see all of the beauty of nature that stands idly by as men wage their wars. It’s a pretty strong antiwar message done well, but things do tend to get a little weird. There are parts throughout the movie where the characters give these long winded soliloquies about the turmoil that they face everyday and the toll it’s taking on their lives and their beliefs. Seriously, this movie would gain a lot of points if those voice overs were taken out completely. It’s melodramatic and distracting because people simply don’t talk like that, especially when it’s already been established that it’s definitely not how that character talks normally. It’s just way too over the top, but that’s really my only complaint with this movie.

The Thin Red Line has a very odd story behind the making of it that makes it something of a Frankenstein monster masterpiece. Malick is known for taking an absurd amount of time to edit his movies, and this is a clear example of how far he’ll go to ensure he gets the picture he wants. Adrian Brody’s character went from being a lead to a secondary character who barely even speaks. The opposite goes for Caviezel, who’s character became the main focus of the story. The cast of actors in this movie is huge, but a lot of them end up being only cameos. Like I said, this movie was originally 5 hours long, so a  lot of their screen time got cut. Still, Malick knew what he wanted and the final product is great.

Plain and simply, The Thin Red Line is one of the best war movies ever made. There’s been countless, both old and new, but this movie has a certain beauty to it that Terrence Malick is known for capturing. That’s what really makes it stand out. Unfortunately, the film does lose points for the weird voice overs that more than border on the pretentious side. While that is a flaw, the rest of the movie is an epic masterwork of human drama and war.

Captain America: Civil War – Review

10 May

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned into one of the biggest franchises of all time, and it just keeps on growing with new shows and movies coming out all of the time. Some people are down right sick of it all, but I welcome any and all new comers as long as they’re made well and are still entertaining. The last film released in the MCU was Ant-Man, a relatively minor movie but still a whole lot of fun. Now with Captain America: Civil War, we’re back to the epic scale and cast of characters we haven’t seen the likes of since Avengers: Age of Ultron. To put it simply, Civil War might just be the best Marvel movie to date for the action, the story, and the character development.

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After the incident in Sokovia and a more recent incident in Lagos, both of which resulted in the deaths of innocent people, the governments of the world have decided that it’s time to put the Avengers in check. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) comes to Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) with a UN agreement that places the Avengers under the control of a government panel, which will be responsible for where and when the group of superhumans would be put into action. This doesn’t bode well with Steve, but after his long lost friend Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is seen assassinating a government official, Steve has to decide to become a fugitive to help his friend. This causes a great divide between the Avengers which leads to a showdown for the ages.

This is a pretty hard movie to summarize in just one paragraph because there is so much that happens, but it’s all told in a manner that flows nicely and never becomes boring. While the movie is a sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it also acts as a sequel for Age of Ultron while also setting up characters like Black Panther and Spider-Man, both of whom I will get to later. I don’t want to distract myself here, but I can’t help thinking that this is what Batman v Superman was supposed to be. This is a film that has a core premise that it never strays away from while also introducing new things to this constantly growing and changing universe. It makes me excited to talk more about Civil War, but also what’s to come.

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The directors of this film, Anthony and Joe Russo, were also the film makers behind The Winter Soldier, which finally gave ol’ Cap the treatment that he deserved. It was an excellent film and they were really the obvious choices to continue the story with Civil War. They bring a sense of reality to the superhero genre that people have tried to do and not succeeded. It isn’t as real world as something like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but the things that happen in this film are done in such a way that I could almost picture it happening in real life. I know that must sound absolutely absurd since this is a superhero film, and I agree it is absurd. Isn’t that the job of movies though? To take the viewer and make them believe what they’re seeing. The Russo brothers do an excellent job at making this film, for all of its bombastic set pieces, have a grounding in the real world where there are consequences for your actions and a large gray area between right and wrong.

Every hero in this movie gets their own time to shine, and that’s pretty important when the cast is this huge. Captain America, the Winter Soldier, and Iron Man are at the forefront and clash well both with words and violence. We all know that these actors were made for these parts, so I don’t even need to get into it. The real scene stealers were Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). These three heroes are the newest editions to this universe so it was important that they got time to show off what they can really do. Black Panther kicks an outrageous amount of ass, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is the best I’ve seen yet, and Ant-Man is just a ridiculous amount of fun.

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Captain America: Civil War is the most important of the Marvel films to date, in terms of the overall story, and it’s also one of, if not the most well made of all the movies. Anthony and Joe Russo are excellent blockbuster film makers, and the cast all help create characters we can stand behind. If super hero movies keep up this level of entertainment, then they can just keep on coming. This is not only my favorite Captain America movie, but also my favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Sheitan – Review

7 May

Some of my favorite horror movies come out of France. For example, there’s the more modern horror flick High Tension, but also a more classic example like Eyes Without a Face. That’s what brings us to the French horror/dark comedy Sheitan. I was first interested in this movie when I saw that Vincent Cassel was playing the psychotic villain, a role that I have yet to see him play to this degree. Developed by an underground group of French videographers, Sheitan is a movie that is made exactly how the developers wanted it to be made and without any major interference from studios. The end result is something disturbing, hilarious, and unique.

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While at a Parisian night club Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), Ladj (Ladj Ly), and Thaï (Nico Le Phat Tan) meet two girls, Eve (Roxane Mesquida) and Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti). After Bart gets kicked out of the club, Eve invites everyone back to her family’s mansion in the country where they can continue the party for as long as they want to. Upon their arrival, the group meets Joseph (Vincent Cassel), the groundskeeper that tends to the house for Eve’s family. As the day goes on, Joseph introduces the group to the people of the village who are all some sort of demented, but things get even weirder that night when they all go home for dinner and it becomes clear that Joseph has something sinister in mind for all of them.

This is one hell of a bizarre movie, and for that reason I give it a lot of credit. It’s a great blend of horror and comedy while still sustaining an ominous atmosphere throughout its entire run time. The story is told in a very weird way, which I will return to later, but I was compelled to stay with this movie until the end. Sheitan slowly but surely leads you on and drops a few clues here and there as to what Joseph has up his sleeve for the unsuspecting group of friends. That being said, this movie also works as a mystery of sorts because the whole time I was trying to figure out what the hell was actually going on. When I finally figured it out, it was so rewarding because I got to see my theory play out in front of me.

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Like I said, one of the main reasons I wanted to watch this movie was to see Vincent Cassel act like a lunatic, and he sure delivers a memorable performance. In fact, I might say it’s one of my favorite horror performances. There are times where I no longer saw Cassel, but was sure that the character of Joseph had completely taken over. The constant smile that is smeared across his face is made even more eerie by the face crooked teeth Cassel wore for filming. Much like the entirety of Sheitan, Cassel is both horrifying and hilarious. I also have to give credit to the rest of the cast for adding an extra layer of character. Each person felt different and important to the story.

Now, the way the story is told felt very odd. It seemed like for a very long time, nothing was really happening. In fact, the movie only starts getting really intense during the third act. This was both a good and a bad thing for me. It was good because it made me feel like I was being led along this dark, winding path to some conclusion that I couldn’t even imagine. On the other hand, I started to feel just a little bored towards the middle of the movie. I’m still pleased that the film makers decided to take their time telling the story. Even though there were some boring moments, they never bogged the movie down and I feel like they still helped create a feeling of suspense that made me have to know what happened next.

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Without knowing anything about it before watching it, I can say that Sheitan is a wonderfully underrated movie. It doesn’t even seem to have garnered a cult following, even though it definitely deserves one. It not only works as a grotesque piece of horror, but also a dark comedy full of complete lunacy. The art design and cinematography was even impressive. To all the horror fans out there who are looking for something off the beaten path, Sheitan may be just what you’re looking for.

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