Archive | August, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 – Review

29 Aug

The first Kick-Ass can be used as anyone’s prime example for a surprisingly awesome movie that seems to have blasted through everyone’s expectations. It’s seamless blend of irreverent humor and graphic violence made audiences cheer for its heroes, and made parents cringe at the thought of their perfect little children being exposed to such devilry. Well, sorry parents, it’s all back in Kick-Ass 2, a worthy sequel to the original, even though it falls flat in a few important areas.

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Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has decided that enough is enough when it comes to his “superhero” alter ego, Kick-Ass. This bores him to no end, however, and he decides to strike up a partnership with fellow superhero Mindy Macready (Cholë Grace-Moretz), aka Hit Girl. Unfortunately, Mindy has decided that she has to start living a normal life, and does her best to become a normal high school freshman. This doesn’t stop Kick-Ass, though, as he goes to the streets and joins a team of superheroes, like himself, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), to fight crime together. On the villainous side, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), now calling himself The Motherfucker, begins building his own team comprised of super villains to take on Kick-Ass and his crew, with deeper wishes to get revenge on Kick-Ass, personally.

Something that Kick-Ass 2 does absolutely right is introduce more superheroes and an equal amount of super villains. Now you know the action is going to be stepped up, and stepped up it is. The climax of the movie is literally fantastic. It’s a bone crunching, face punching, blood splattering fiasco that is the perfect coda to the rest of the movie. The other instances of action can be described the same way, just on a smaller scale. One worry I had for this movie was that the violence was going to be toned down, which has happened to films in the past. Instead, it keeps up with the original Kick-Ass and delivers the goods, especially when it comes to Hit Girl.

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You can’t get much cooler than Hit Girl, and fans across the world would have to agree with me. Seriously though, what a great action character, and she gets her chance to shine in that department. When Hit Girl’s around, you know some baddies will be going home with a few less limbs. Interestingly enough, she spends more time as Mindy in this film, and the audience gets to see a more vulnerable side to her. Take her out of her violent element and put her in the normal life of a high school student, and all of a sudden she doesn’t seem that tough anymore. It was surprisingly entertaining to watch her try and fit in, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t all the more exciting to see her don the outfit at times and kick more ass than its title character.

Where the movie does fall flat is its comedy. Mindy has some hysterical one liners and Jim Carrey’s Stars and Stripes is just a funny character. Everyone else seems to miss the mark. Christopher Mintz-Plasse has a few scenes where he was funny, but I actually enjoyed his character during the more serious moments. The storyline of Kick-Ass 2 is a lot darker than its predecessor, but this is still supposed to be a comedy, and when it was obvious the comedy was trying to break through, it just didn’t work too well.

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As far as sequels go, Kick-Ass 2 was a lot better than you  might originally think. I still really enjoy all the characters and the action is still as brutally fun as ever, but I think it’s time to put an end to it. Let’s stop it here before the series totally runs out of juice and releases a third film that can’t hold up to the other two. This is a good way to end the series and that way we can look back and remember that there are two really good Kick-Ass movies.

 

Drive – Review

29 Aug

It’s nice to be out from under my rock and enjoying the fresh air and watching Drive. Seriously though, it seems like everyone and their mothers have seen Drive, and they all have their own differing opinions on it. Critics praised it, and audiences were torn apart like God parting the Red Sea. Some enjoy the aesthetics and plot of the film, while others condemn it as derogatory art house crap. Well yes, the film is highly artistic and stylized, but it comes nowhere close to crap.

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The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a man of many occupations and a lot less words. By day, he is a part time stunt driver for films and also works his close friend’s Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) garage, but by night he is a getaway driver for the criminal underworld. After helping his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos), the trio forms a bond that seems unbreakable. Trouble soon interrupts their little paradise when Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is let out of jail and the Driver helps him on a job that will pay off a debt that he owes someone during his time in prison. Of course, this job goes completely awry, which draws the attention of mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman), who will stop at nothing to silence everyone involved in the heist gone wrong.

By just reading the synopsis, I kept thinking that this is The Transporter‘s new wave younger brother. Much like Statham’s character in The Transporter movies, the Driver has a very strict set of rules that he applies to his more illegal means of income. He can also take care of himself, which provides some of the best parts of the entire movie. Unlike The Transporter and its sequels, the Driver is much more conservative with his time taking down his enemies, but he doesn’t spare on the brutality. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this movie is brutal as all hell, and it was so entertaining. As brutal and unforgiving as the violence is, the scenes are pretty few and far between. This is not an action movie after all.

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I can’t really talk about Drive without talking about the soundtrack. What kind of music would you put to a brutal art house heist film? Electronic synth-pop, of course. Cliff Martinez composed a fantastic, and at times ironic, soundtrack that lingers in your mind along with the rest of the movie. While the synth-pop is blaring at full volume, and excellent story begins panning out. It’s subtle, yet strangely overt. There’s little dialogue, but actions speak louder than words. But, apply enough pressure even to the most comfortable of situations, things are bound to burst. The second half of this film is the exact opposite of the first. The pacing is strange, but this movie is pretty strange. Not in the David Lynch type of strange, but it’s not your average, everyday heist film. I really can’t stress that enough.

There’s been a lot of jokes and complaints about Gosling’s character. He is definitely a man a very few words, but the Driver is as strong a protagonist as the most obnoxious action hero. Hell, he’s a much stronger character than the most obnoxious action hero. The chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan are great, and the relationship of their characters is pretty unique. Literally nothing can tear them apart, as the Driver completely dedicates himself to protecting them. Bryan Cranston is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to acting, and this film just goes to show how great his range is. The man of the hour, though, is Albert Brooks, who plays a menacing villain that just makes your skin crawl.

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The fact of the matter is, you may not like Drive right away, or you may be pretty unsure about it. Give it time to really sink in, and really start to think about all the characters and aesthetic choices that make Drive what it is. After all this time, I’m still not really sure what it is. It’s a film that seems to bend the rules of a genre to make a movie that is unique and a complete thrill to watch.

J. Edgar – Review

26 Aug

J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most famous, important, mysterious, and occasionally hated men in American history. With a very distinct personality and set of regulations, he seemed to single handedly establish the FBI and make it into a law enforcement agency to reckon with. Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black attempt to bring to light some of the mystery behind Hoover in a biopic that may be well filmed, but hardly memorable.

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The story is told by J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), himself, for a memoir that he wants to tell his side of the story. As he dictates his words to agency ghost writers, flash backs begin to show the audience important moments of his life. At a young age, and early in his career, he meets Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who became his longtime secretary and closest associate. He also meets Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover’s second in command and personal confidante, whom Hoover may or may not had a secret sexual relationship with. On the business side, we see the founding of the FBI, Hoover’s push for the deportation of Communist supporters and potential terrorists, his involvement with the Lindbergh kidnapping, and many other events that formed the tapestry of Hoover’s life.

As a biopic, J. Edgar is expected to cover a lot of ground. Dustin Lance Black has proven that he has the ability to write films like this with his previous work as the screenwriter of Milk, which I consider to be one of the most successful biopics ever to be made. J. Edgar isn’t difficult to understand, but it seemed very scattered. This isn’t too much of a problem since the outcome is being able to see a complete arc in Hoover’s life. One thing that was more problematic was that there wasn’t really a stance on Hoover’s activities. There was a clear opinion that the movie had. By the end of J. Edgar, I don’t feel like I know enough to form my own opinion. In that way, the movie fails.

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I remember when this movie was first released, there was a lot of talk about the make up. Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts all play older versions of their respective characters, so they all had to undergo many hours in the make up chair. There are a lot of jokes that I’ve heard about the make up and people saying it looked terrible, but in my opinion, it looked pretty damn good. There were scenes, especially with DiCaprio, that the make up did seem to become more noticeable, but most scenes he looked just fine. Naomi Watt’s make up, however, looked outstanding and was completely believable.  All of the costumes really worked, and Clint Eastwood’s apparent love for desaturating his movies beyond what seems reasonable works very well to get the old time vibe across.

It’s pretty obvious that this movie was intended to be Oscar bait, although that didn’t really happen as well as everyone expected. Before I saw the movie, I was sure that DiCaprio would get an Oscar nomination, but after seeing it, I understand why not. His performance was very heavy handed, verbally. His actions and expressions were all great, but I just couldn’t buy whatever accent he was doing. It just sounded odd. As for everyone else, there isn’t really anything special to say. They all did fine without really giving any incredibly memorable performances.

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J. Edgar is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t quite achieve the expectations that it put forth. It’s not too difficult to follow, as I expected it would be, but everything just doesn’t feel as great as it could have been. It can’t be easy making a biopic about a man as secretive as J. Edgar Hoover, but by the end of the movie, I don’t really feel like I learned too much about the man, but more about his more public actions. It was interesting to see the history of the FBI, but as for the subject of Hoover, I’m still as much in the dark as everyone else.

Haywire – Review

23 Aug

There’s a lot of things about Haywire that made me really excited. For one thing, Steven Soderbergh is one of my favorite directors and seeing him tackle an espionage action/thriller film would be awesome. Secondly, the cast looked out of this world awesome, with the lead  character being an MMA fighter. And finally, I heard nothing but great things about the action sequences. I felt concerned right before the film started that I would be disappointed with it, and disappointment with this movie would be a big letdown.

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Mallory (Gina Carano) is the top employee of a company, led by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), which gets hired out by different corporations to get certain jobs done. This time, the contractor is American government official Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and his Spanish contact, Rodrigo (Antonio Bandaras).  The mission goes well but she is soon betrayed by another agent, Paul (Michael Fassbender), which starts her on a mission of vengeance that will rope in her father (Bill Paxton) and a close employee (Channing Tatum).

It’s difficult to summarize this movie because there are so many twists and turns packed into a 90 minute movie. What I gave is pretty skeletal, but I certainly don’t want to ruin the movie, especially one that is as entertaining as this! Steven Soderbergh does it again, and this time he takes the spy genre and throws his own unique vision over it all. The only thing that really wears the film down is its plot. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it seemed to just take a back seat to everything else. It’s a simple story with a lot of complex twists and characters. In that sense it became more about the action and the characters more than the story, which is fine, but it’s sort of weird for this genre of film.

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This cast is way too big to ignore. Gina Carano, who is known for being an MMA fighter, does fine but can come off as a little flat sometimes. More on her later though. Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Antonio Bandaras are adequately sleazy and easy to distrust right off the bat. I really liked Michael Douglas’ performance as the government official who is working for himself, pretty much. I still don’t know what he’s all about and Douglas played it perfectly. Bill Paxton was fine, nothing too special, but fine nonetheless. Now we come to Channing Tatum. Ok, I see why people don’t like him, but I stand by a statement I previously made in another review. If you put him with the right director and/or give him the right role, he acts very well. This is one of those times, and Soderbergh also seems to agree, casting him in Magic Mike and Side Effects as well.

Now this is the part I really want to talk about. The action sequences. You know how cool the fight sequences are in The Bourne Identity and its sequels? Well, picture those scenes, with a camera that is far from the action, and completely still. Those are the fight scenes in Haywire. This is where Carano shines the most. Using her skills as an MMA fighter, the interesting camera placement by Soderbergh, and the lack of any music, these fight scenes are really something to behold. You can see every punch, kick, or defensive maneuver that a character does, and the sounds of grunts, hits, and broken bones only help to immerse you in what is happening.

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Haywire is definitely a great way to spend 90 minutes of your time. With Soderbergh’s attention to style, the action sequences, and the all star cast, Haywire is a surprisingly memorable movie. There are plenty of ways to mess up an espionage film, but this one borrows from the ’60s and reinvents itself into something new. I recommend Haywire to everyone. It’s awesome.

Horrible Bosses – Review

21 Aug

Everyone has to work. It’s a sad fact of life, but it’s something that every adult has to face on a  daily basis. Some jobs are better than others, but most jobs have that one boss, manager, or supervisor that really gets under your skin. In that way, Horrible Bosses is one of the most relatable comedies out there. With an all star cast and an excellent premise, you’d think that you really couldn’t go wrong… and you’d be right.

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Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are three friends who all have something in common. They each have good jobs that are made into a living hell by their bosses. David Harkin (Kevin Spacey) mentally abuses Nick to no end, Julia (Jennifer Aniston) sexually harasses the recently engaged Dale, and Bobby (Colin Farrell) is running Kurt’s place of employment into the dirt. Their drunken solution: to kill each other’s bosses. Knowing they can’t do this alone, the recruit “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx) to be their murder consultant, and soon enough a plan involving triple homicide is underway.

I first saw this a year ago and thought it was a riot, and I was worried that it would lose some of its luster during a second viewing, but I was mistaken. It takes a lot for a comedy to impress me. I’m sick of seeing formulaic rehashes involving the same jokes, characters, and situations. Make no mistake, Horrible Bosses is not the most original comedy to ever be made, but the premise is so great and the chemistry between all of the characters is what really gives this movie the kick that it needs.

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I can’t talk about Horrible Bosses and not rave about the cast. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day are all funny on their own, but their chemistry and banter is, to me, what really makes the movie. You can tell that these actors enjoy working with each other and this makes their friendships believable. Kevin Spacey takes his role very seriously, and is great to watch, while Aniston and Farrell are almost unrecognizable as the other two hellish bosses. When I say this is perfect casting, this is perfect casting.

Now, the story really teeters on the line of dark comedy, but never really reaches it. As it is, I enjoy the comedy and laughed consistently throughout the movie, but it would have been interesting to see a darker story play out and question your laughter at times. This is murder we’re talking about after all. That being said, the movie does take some crazy turns that I like, but I wish it went a little farther than it did instead of playing it safe. One deleted scene that I saw featured a very graphic scene that was still really funny and I wish that it made it into the movie.

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In short, Horrible Bosses is one of the funnier movies that has been released in the past five years. In a time where comedies have become so formulaic and have touched on a lot of the same themes, it was refreshing to see one that strayed off the beaten path and relished in its originality and absurdity. Not all of this movie is fresh, but that really doesn’t kill the entire movie. I laughed all the way through thanks to the chemistry of the actors, the really great dialogue, and just the insanity of it all. I just wish that it took the idea a little further.

5 Days of War – Review

14 Aug

I enjoy seeing movies that have conflicts or worldly events as their story lines because chances are that I remember them actually happening. In 5 Days of War, the worldly event that happens is the short war between Russia and Georgia, a conflict that wasn’t really covered in full because of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I still remember seeing some coverage, but not following the stories too well to know what was going on. After 5 Days of War, I still can’t say that I’m 100% about the incident because this is nothing more than lame propaganda.

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After being ambushed in Iraq and losing his friend, Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) isn’t anxious to get back in the field. His job is dangerous, being a war reporter, but necessary to get the truth out in times of global crisis. After being talked into a trip to Georiga by his friend the Dutchman (Val Kilmer), Anders and his cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle) head over just in time to see the start of the violence between Russia and Georgia. While they are there, they witness and record a war atrocity and make it their mission to get it on the air despite being ignored by major news networks, all while protecting Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a Georgian woman who lost most of her family in the conflict.

The director of this film is Renny Harlin, who is most known for directing Die Hard 2Cliffhanger, and Deep Blue Sea. Now look at these movies, and think about the severity of the Russian-Georgian conflict. Taking a guy who directs mainly goofy action films and putting him in the directors chair for a film that is supposed to show a real life war with serious themes is not the best idea. It feels like part of the movie is there, but there are so many action clichés that pop up, it pulls you right out of the movie. These clichés also can be attributed to the awful screenplay.

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The screenplay. Oh, the screenplay. It may be more of an atrocity than what is depicted in the film. Ok, definitely not, but good lord. When I say it treats it’s audience like they’re a bunch of thirteen year olds who’ll believe anything they hear about anything, I’m being dead serious. First of all, haven’t the screenwriters, Mikko Alanne and David Battle, heard that when it comes to writing, less is more? There is so much expository dialogue and over decried scenarios that the dialogue feels more like a lecture than natural. Also, the clichés, which I have mentioned are terrible and would NEVER happen in a situation like this. Finally, the film makes the Georgians out to be peaceful angels who are being slaughtered by the evil Russian titans, thirsty for blood and power. Atrocities were done on both sides during the different conflicts between Georgia and Russia over the years. The Georgian propaganda is overwhelming and stupid.

Not all of this movie is bad, however. I will admit that there are some intense scenes that are pretty memorable. These are the times where the movie that this was supposed to be stands out. These intense scenes were accomplished well thanks to the cinematographer, Checco Varese, who was a news cameraman who recorded global conflict for many different news networks. As a guy who has been there and done that, the look of this movie is great and is really the only good thing about this movie

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5 Days of War is a stupid film that takes itself way too seriously, and ends up falling flat on its face. The propaganda is heavy handed and full of it, the characters are nothing special, and the story is clichéd and predictable. I can’t even say to check it out for the cool cinematography. It just isn’t worth it. There are better movies with this theme out there. Skip this movie altogether. It’s two hours of, for lack of a better word, bullshit.

Inland Empire – Review

11 Aug

Recreating nightmares and mental decay is not an easy task, but David Lynch has always stepped up to the challenge. EraserheadLost Highway, and Mulholland Drive all have the same nightmarish feeling, as if you might fall asleep later that night and have a dream that plays out exactly like these movies. Of all of Lynch’s films, I feel like Inland Empire encompasses his career perfectly and really makes you feel like you are part of a nightmare. That being said, this isn’t his best film, but it certainly can be said that this might be the strangest movie I have ever seen.

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Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an actor whose time in the spotlight has ended, so when she lands a roll that might restart her career, she is ecstatic. The film is called On High in Blue Tomorrows and is being directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) and her costar is Devon Burke (Justin Theroux), a man with quite a conspicuous sex life. As she gets deeper and deeper into her character, and her relationship with her costar seems to be getting closer, Nikki starts losing track of what is happening first, now, and later. Soon she can’t even begin to tell her life from the character’s leading to a complete psychological breakdown.

I’ve been putting off this review for a little while because the thought of reviewing a David Lynch movie and really giving it justice is a little intimidating. Much like his other movies, Inland Empire has many different interpretations and themes to explore, and everyone’s view of the whole can be very different. The first time through, it may seem like this movie makes absolutely no sense, but in the days to come and you think about it more, or even watch it again, things in the movie start to piece together and an idea will begin to form. Like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, I found Inland Empire to be quite frustrating.

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All interpretation aside, I have to say that I have a newfound respect for Laura Dern as an actor. Her performance demands a lot, from screaming and crying to manic laughing and then to calmness, maybe all in one scene. I can imagine that David Lynch is not the easiest director to work with, being in his own head and all, and even Dern has said that she isn’t entirely sure what the movie is about. Justin Theroux has said the same thing. Imagine acting on a movie where you really don’t know what it is about. That’s a tricky thing to do but they both pull it off very well and pull you into the “story,” despite how difficult it is.

This is where the review might get a little spoiler-ish because I want to talk about things in the film. You have been warned. Ok. In my opinion, Inland Empire is the story of a woman who is struggling to find a character that she is unable to tap into. Much like in Black Swan, she gets so obsessed with finding the character, that she sees herself becoming the character. At first it starts with scenes where we don’t know it’s the movie within a movie until the end of the scene to the point where nothing is really decipherable. This leads to the nightmarish world of Nikki’s mind. There’s still a lot that I’m not sure about, like the woman watching the television and the rabbit sit-com that we keep seeing. This just means the I’m going to have to watch it again.

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I can’t really say if Inland Empire is good or bad. It’s sort of one of those movies that redefines your definition of a good or bad movie. I will say that Inland Empire is art, through and through, but saying it’s entertaining wouldn’t be doing it justice. This is a terribly uncomfortable experience that you can’t help but staying focused on it, no matter how difficult it is. Fans of David Lynch will love his deepest, darkest trip into the fractured human mind, but anyone looking for a narrative that makes perfect sense will find no happiness with Inland Empire.