Archive | February, 2014

Captain Phillips – Review

27 Feb

In the film Gravity, the suspense and feelings of terror come from the thought of not only being isolated in space, but also dealing with disaster while trapped in that world of quiet isolation. Captain Phillips is much like Gravity in that sense. The film deals with isolation on the open seas, and the disaster is a bunch of Somali pirates taking over the ship with hostages. The isolation and human drama is where this movie shines the most, unfortunately in the middle of Act II, Captain Phillips turns into a formulaic thriller film that is only saved with an intense and titillating final half hour.

20130903024218!Captain_Phillips_Poster

 

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is a family man who now has the job of being captain of MV Maersk Alabama. After being informed of Somali pirate attacks that have been occurring in that area, Phillips takes the necessary precautions to make sure his ship is safe. Unfortunately, his precautions are not enough and a band of pirates, led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi), get on the boat and hold the crew hostage. As the events progress, the pirates get on a life boat with Phillips as a hostage, with the Navy making close chase. As the rest of the night progresses, and Phillips keeps trying to negotiate for his life, the Navy make their own preparations to get Phillips out of there alive.

Captain Phillips is a Hot Pocket. What does that mean? Let me elaborate. Did you ever cook a Hot Pocket, but you just didn’t heat it up enough? It makes for a pretty nasty treat. Both ends are hot and delicious, but that large, meaty middle part is cold and disgusting. That, in essence, is Captain Phillips. I was so into the beginning of this movie. The way Phillips is shown with his wife and his crew is a perfect contrast to the Somalians, especially with the focus on Muse. It sets up something that I wasn’t expecting. Screenwriter Billy Ray and director Paul Greengrass choose to show both sides of the equation, which is very interesting and makes the whole story even more interesting.

captain-phillips01

Then Act II starts, and everything seems to be going well. Not with the characters, of course, but just how the movie feels. Greengrass’ style works great with the story and Hanks and Abdi are performing very well. I was on the edge of my seat only to be pushed back and made drowsy by the middle of this act. Compared to the tour de force sequences of the pirates getting on the barge and the whole feeling of being trapped on there with the characters was great. Then Phillips is put in the life boat with the pirates, and the Navy gets involved, and it all starts feeling like a typical thriller film. I rewatched the second act the next day, thinking I may have missed something, but I didn’t. It’s a really slow and boring sequence that really drags the film down from what it could have been.

Act III finally comes along, and all is forgiven. The last half hour of this movie is what really kills me and what makes me really want to like this movie more than I did. The suspense is back full force, to the point where I was almost thrown out of my seat. This is also where Tom Hanks goes from a good performance to one of the best of his career. It is arguably the best onscreen moment he has ever had in his entire career. If it wasn’t for this amazing ending, I would have completely disregarded the movie altogether, so it’s getting a lucky pass.

Captain Phillips is a perfect example of a movie that I wanted to like a lot more than I did. The second act drags the movie way, way down farther than I ever wanted it to go. Luckily the beginning and ending are both great, but that doesn’t excuse the movie as a whole. Tom Hanks gives one of the best performances of his career, and Barkhad Abdi gives an amazing debut performance. Greengrass was really the obvious choice as director, but I can’t help but be baffled by how uneven the pacing of the movie is. It’s hard to get by how awkward it is, and that’s what really is the most disappointing thing about Captain Phillips.

Since this is the last movie I had to see of all the Best Picture nominations, here’s my list of favorites, from the best picture to my least favorite.

  1. Gravity
  2. Dallas Buyers Club
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Her
  5. Philomena
  6. 12 Years a Slave
  7. Captain Phillips
  8. American Hustle
  9. Nebraska

 

Agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think.

Advertisements

The LEGO Movie – Review

24 Feb

Ever since 1949, it is safe to say that a majority percentage of children have had the wonderful opportunity to get their hands on some LEGOs and build something. LEGOs stimulated the imaginations and allowed people, sometimes not even children, to look at something they built and be proud. When I heard of The LEGO Movie, I automatically assumed this was going to be a LEGO commercial in movie form, and it certainly had advertising in it and LEGO sales will skyrocket after this, but it’s more than that. The LEGO Movie is a hilarious and kinetic ride that made me laugh harder than I expected I ever would.

legomovie-onesheet-8758875

 

Emmett (Chris Pratt) is a nobody and blends into society without even needing to really try. He falls into step with everyone else, listens to the same song on the radio, and watches the most popular television show without fail. Life is easy for Emmett until he finds a mystical LEGO piece called the Piece of Resistance. Finding this Piece, according to Emmett’s new and rambunctious partner Wyldestyle (Elizabeth Banks), makes Emmett the “Special,” who is someone destined to be a “Master Builder” and stop the evil Mister Business (Will Ferrell) from unleashing his super weapon, the Kragle, on the entire world. Soon, the duo meets Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the person who proclaimed the prophecy and now they are on a quest to Mister Business’ headquarters to stop him once and for all.

Something that really was great about The LEGO Movie is that all of the funny parts weren’t shown in the trailer, which I really thought was going to be the case. I also was just expecting to see a mediocre animated movie whose sole purpose it to make us all buy more LEGOs. Well, like I said, I was wrong on both accounts. This movie works really well as a superbly animated comedy with a lot of heart and jokes that come so fast a frequent that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. That was the first thing I noticed in the movie.

lego_a

 

When the movie first started, I found myself laughing, but I wasn’t really sure at what. It took me a few seconds to realize that everything going on was a joke. Everything. That’s how it was in the beginning and it was really strange at first because there was just a constant flow of laughter that I wasn’t expecting and wasn’t really sure what it was directed at. As the movie goes on, the amount of jokes per second slows down, but not by much. The LEGO Movie is a very funny movie that never stops, so by the end you may need to take a break from laughter for your own health. Too bad that’s going to be really hard with all of the thinking back you’re going to do. A lot of this has to do with screenwriters Phil Lord and Chris Miller (both Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs movies, 21 Jump Street) and the rest of the cast who give excellent and funny performances. My personal favorite was Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, who sounded like he was having more fun than he has ever had in his entire career.

With a movie that moves as fast as this, you wouldn’t really expect it to be too long. Unfortunately, this is really the movies only drawback: it’s runtime. I’ve complained about runtimes of some movies before, because it’s really a factor that has the potential to ruin an entire movie. In The LEGO Movie, there are scenes that shouldn’t go on for nearly as long as they do. One LEGO world in particular was completely out of place and ran pretty dry in terms of jokes. Once that part was over, the movie picked right up again, but it was an awkward slow down and one that added an extra fifteen minutes onto the movie that didn’t need to be there.

The LEGO Movie was a fun, often exciting, and kinetic movie that just went on a little to long. It’s written wonderfully by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and the voice acting really brought the movie to life. I was really surprised by this movie and when it was over had a hard time stopping my talking about it. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to get it when it comes out! It’s an unexpectedly great time at the movies.

Philomena – Review

20 Feb

I didn’t know too much about Philomena before going into it. I read a bare bones summary before watching it, but based on the poster, I was assuming that this was going to be some quirky indie movie with a touch of drama. I was not excited to see this. Then the movie started, and I realized that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Philomena is a dramatic powerhouse of a movie that completely took me by surprise and has not left my thoughts since I finished watching it.

Philomena_poster

British journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is now unemployed after losing his job as a Labour government adviser. Finding himself with nothing to work on, he starts planning on writing a book about Russian history. That is until he meets a woman named Philomena (Judi Dench). Philomena lost her son when the convent she was put in gives the baby away without her knowledge, and for 50 years she has not stopped thinking about him and where he is. Sixsmith decides to use this story for a human interest story and helps Philomena with her search. It eventually brings them both to America where the mystery of her son’s life is revealed to be both tragic and wonderful.

If you just look at the poster above the summary, you may get a general sense of how this movie is. Well, that sense would be completely wrong, because just by looking at this poster I thought it was going to be a cute little piece of quirk. But, no. Philomena has this rare ability to rip out your soul and step on it, even though you may still be laughing at something that happened not five minutes before. While I was watching this movie, I kept saying “This is amazing. This movie is really amazing.”

Judi Dench Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench are part of what really makes this movie work. Their chemistry together is pretty dead on, and I feel that has a lot to do with Coogan’s natural way of acting and Judi Dench’s ability to transform herself completely into the character of Philomena. This being a sort of road trip movie, it’s pretty crucial that the characters are believable, but also show a little bit of tension. Normally, in an odd couple movie like this, one character is totally kooky and the other is the straight and narrow one. In Philomena, they never abuse this cliche, even though it is there. No cliches are ever actually abused, even when it comes to Coogan’s character as a journalist, who would seem to only really want to be involved for his own benefit. I never got the feeling that Sixsmith was trying to use this story primarily for his own gain.

Screenwriters Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan have crafted an excellent screenplay full of witty dialogue and humanity, while Stephen Frears directs it all with ease. While Coogan and Pope did write an excellent screenplay, you can’t forget that this is based off a true story. It’s startling to think that what happens here is even allowed to happen and it really makes you think what goes on behind the closed doors of some organizations amongst other major themes. This movie has a lot to say, and some of it is anything but positive, but Philomena is not a movie that tries to jam an opinion down your throat. It treats the viewers as intelligent human beings who are quite capable of deciding what they think for themselves.

Philomena was the most surprising movie of the year for me. I really had no interest in seeing it, and that just goes to show how wrong my movie radar can be. This is a funny, sad, and strangely hopeful movie based off an incredible true story that will shake you to your very core. It’s an interesting combination of characters and beliefs, and if you have an humanity in you at all you will be moved by this incredible piece of storytelling.

Nebraska – Review

17 Feb

At this point in my life I’m focused on looking towards the rest of my life sprawled out in front of me. For the other group of people in the twilight of their lives, it’s a matter of looking back, but also keeping your eyes on the rest of the time you have left. I can’t really imagine what that must be like, but it is part of what Nebraska is about. Another thing I need to say about Nebraska is that I have never been so torn on a movie. There is plenty that I really love in this movie, but than there’s a lot that I really couldn’t stand.

Nebraska poster

 

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an aging alcoholic who has received a letter saying he has won a one million dollar sweepstakes prize and that he is to collect it in Lincoln, Nebraska. David (Will Forte), his youngest son, recognizes the prize to be a scam to subscribe to the magazine, but in order to spend time with his father before the inevitable happens, he decides to drive him to Lincoln. Along the way, they stop in his old hometown of Hawthorne and stay with his brother Ray (Rance Howard) while his other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and wife Kate (June Squibb) comes down for an impromptu family reunion with the rest of the family. As rumors spread about Woody’s newfound wealth, family members and, more importantly, his old friend Ed (Stacy Keach), begin asking for him to return their monetary favors, but as David knows, Woody has no riches to speak.

Now, this movie really doesn’t have a sweeping storyline. In fact, it’s pretty minimal when you really think about it. And aging man becomes part of a family reunion while he’s on his way to collect sweepstakes money. This is actually something I love about the movie. It’s an excellent story, and it’s impressive that someone was able to weave a full length movie around it. What’s more important than the story is what’s going on beneath the immediate surface. It’s a quiet movie about a dysfunctional family trying to get by, and also a cynical look at getting old and the years of memory loss that people must endure. While director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson give a little bit of hope, it’s not really enough to satisfy or ease you in any way.

still-of-bruce-dern-and-will-forte-in-nebraska-(2013)-large-picture

While I was at first not pleased with the black and white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael, it has really grown on me, much like this movie in general. IT says a lot about the character of Woody and the time period he is in in his life, but it also beautifully accentuates the bleaker and plainer parts of the American Midwest. While these images may seem sparse and a little depressing, it is beautiful to look at. Unfortunately, Nebraska suffers from the same problem 12 Years a Slave suffered from. It spends too much time looking at the surrounds in some scenes and occasionally loses track of the plot altogether just to focus on landscapes. It’s beautiful, but doesn’t need to go on for quite so long.

In a sense, Bob Nelson’s screenplay is really great. The story is there, but a lot of his dialogue is really, and I mean really, terrible. He hits all the notes for the character of Woody, but when it comes to the supporting cast, it really left me with an awkward feeling. Will Forte really seems to be trying here, but he sounds like he’s reading his lines right off the paper, and I feel like some of that has to be attributed to Nelson. When it comes to Squibb’s and Keach’s characters, they come off as so over the top sometimes, and don’t really fit into the movie when they get so crazy, especially since Nebraska is such a toned down movie. Bruce Dern, however, was incredible and deserves his Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Nebraska was something else. I can’t quite pinpoint my feelings towards it because of how split I am between how great the story is and how well Dern plays his part, between how crummy a lot of the dialogue is and how awkward the supporting cast can be. I love the themes of this movie, and I can’t say that it’s bad because I know, deep down, that it’s a really good movie. Still, I’m completely split and I really can’t give you an exact feeling because I honesty don’t know. I may have to watch it again to get a more precise idea, but I don’t know if I really want to.

I really just don’t know…

 

The Campaign – Review

16 Feb

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are a match made in comedy heaven. Add in screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell (Entourage and Eastbound and Down) and director Jay Roach (the Austin Powers movies and Borat amongst other things), and anything can be possible. That is exactly the combination for The Campaign, a farcical political comedy that had all of the ingredients to be a damn funny movie, but unfortunately it wastes a lot of its potential and it lands in the region of a forgettable, mediocre film.

The Campaign

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a Democratic congressman from the state of North Carolina who is running for his fifth term completely unopposed. It seems like he has the election in the bag until two corrupt businessmen, the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd) enter the picture. They need a sap that they can control to run for congressmen in order for them to profit off of a Chinese company that they want for production in America. They see that sap in Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), who is thrown into the race and immediately bashed by Brady. Brady underestimated Huggins and his campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), and what ensues is a mudslinging political showdown to end them all.

Did you ever have a friend come up to you all excited about a joke they just heard, and when they finally get through saying it, it isn’t even that funny. Still, you give a little chuckle but that’s nowhere near the reaction they actually wanted, so they keep hammering in the punchline again and again until you finally say, “OK I GET IT!” The tagline for this movie is “May the Best Loser Win.” In my opinion, the tagline should just be, “Ok. I get it.” Repeating a not so funny joke over and over again doesn’t make it any funnier. In fact, it just makes the joke worse.

THE CAMPAIGN

 

All of the ingredients for an excellent comedy are here. Well Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis both have shown their talents in many other films and shows, the same can be said for the writers and the directors. Plus, the cast of supporting actors are all really impressive. Well, for starters, the entire supporting cast is completely underused. How can you cast Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow and have them hardly in the movie. The most disappointing thing, though, is how annoying Will Ferrell is. His character is supposed to be a troublesome person, but his accent and the way he played the character was just surprising. Having tackled more difficult roles before, it’s a wonder how he could’ve been as bad in this as he is. Galifianakis carries his role very well and, like always, seems completely in character.

The Campaign did have a few funny scenes, but that doesn’t make up for the rest of the movie. The scene that had everyone talking is when Ferrell’s character punches a baby. That was really funny and pushed the boundaries a bit, and will be the scene that this movie will be remembered for years down the line. But this one scene and a few others don’t excuse the rest of the jokes falling flat. I like the ideas around the jokes and the points that they are trying to make, but the execution is just so poor.

So, as disappointing as it is to say, The Campaign did not hit most of the marks. With such an excellent cast, two talented writers, and a director who’s proved his skill with comedies before, you would think that this would be a surefire success. Unfortunately, The Campaign is a movie that thinks it’s funnier than it actually is and is such a waste of time for everyone involved, especially the viewer.

The Wild Bunch – Review

13 Feb

“Bloody” Sam is a nickname that I envy and Sam Peckinpah rightly deserves it. This controversial, but infinitely important American director is responsible for helping mold the film medium into what it is today and inspire famous film makers like Quentin Tarantino. A lot of Peckinpah’s work, even though he is long dead, can be seen in the technique of film makers now. Let’s look at what many call his masterpiece. The time period is around the Vietnam War and the Western genre is slowly dying. Peckinpah had the perfect way to close off the genre with his almost anti-Western (in the traditional sense), The Wild Bunch.

the-wild-bunch

In 1913, the wild West is beginning to be more modernized and civilized. For aging outlaw Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his gang, this is a sign for retirement. Before he can call it quits, Pike needs to find that last score that will guarantee his riches for the rest of his life. Along with his best friend Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) and the rest of the gang, Pike makes his way to Mexico where they encounter General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), a sadistic general who has his claws in small villages. Pike is hired by Mapache to rob an American military train of its weapons cargo and in return will pay the gang $10,000. The robbery goes just fine, but Pike’s worries are just beginning which will end in an inevitable bloodbath.

If you think about the time that Peckinpah made The Wild Bunch, it may seem kind of clear as to why he took such a violent approach. The year was 1969, and Bonnie and Clyde shocked audiences with its depiction of graphic violence, but what’s even more significant is that this was made during the heat of the Vietnam War. War violence was shown in the households of American families by the news media, and this made Peckinpah amongst other people feel very nihilistic. To show the desensitization to violence that Peckinpah feared was happening to Americans, he decided to make The Wild Bunch as violent and graphic as he could possibly make it. Unfortunately for him, audiences ate it up instead of being shocked by it.

wildbunch1

Another inspiration for “Bloody” Sam was to make The Wild Bunch sort of an anti-Western. Before this movie, Westerns were relatively bloodless and even had the outlaw characters portrayed as heroes. Just look at John Wayne’s character in Stagecoach. In this film, the characters are all flawed or downright awful. The outlaws aren’t meant to be heroes, nor are they meant to be villains. They are whoever you want them to be. As for the blood, there is plenty of it. Just enough to match the amount of bullets being fired. Here’s a fun fact. More blank rounds were fired for this movie than were actually fired during the Mexican Revolution. That says something, I’d say.

In my opinion, the set design is also an improvement over the average American Western. The dirt and the grime all have a more realistic feel to it, and not like it was done specifically for the movie. It all looks appropriate for where the character’s are. This is also a testament to what Same Peckinpah was trying to do. He wanted to create a realistic Western to end the genre of what he thought to be unrealistic representations of the old West. Now, I wasn’t alive then, but I can imagine that this movie may have come pretty close.

The Wild Bunch is said to be the last of the great Westerns, and in the movie, it shows the last of the wild life that outlaws lived. With ties to the Vietnam War and Peckinpah’s own views of what the genre should be, this is truly and American masterpiece. I may stir up some controversy with this, but forget John Ford and forget John Wayne. If you want an exciting and brutally violent Western that will really leave you speechless, look no further than The Wild Bunch.

Videodrome – Review

7 Feb

David Cronenberg. What can I say about him? It’s pretty indisputable that he’s the master of body horror, and thinks of some crazy ways to creep us out with putting the physical body through some of the most bizarre situations a human being can ever think of. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Cronenberg. I was very excited than immediately disappointed with both Scanners and A History of Violence, but I was blown away by Eastern Promises. In 1983, Cronenberg released Videodrome, one of the strangest movies I think I have ever seen.

Videodromeposter

Max Renn (James Woods) is the sleazy president of a UHF television station called CIVIC-TV. Renn believes that it’s his job to give the people what they want, mostly concerning shows that feature violence and softcore pornography. Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), the operator of the station’s pirate satellite dish, discovers a strange show called Videodrome, a program that has no plot to speak of, but instead just seems like some sort of snuff film, which Max automatically thinks is fake and decides it’s perfect for CIVIC-TV. Max also begins a relationship with radio host Nikki (Deborah Harris), a sadomasochist who is turned on by Videodrome, and decides to audition for it. When she fails to return, Max begins inquiring about the show, but everything begins to spiral as he starts having the most horrific hallucinations imaginable and his body starts mutating out of control.

This only is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Videodrome. There’s a lot more I’d like to mention in that summary, but unfortunately it would go on for a while and I would also be ruining some of the experience. Trust me on that one, this movie is quite an experience. Like I said, I’m not always a fan of Cronenberg’s stuff, because despite every movie I’ve seen of his being incredibly strange, but the story and the plotting have to be set up nicely. So far, Videodrome is my favorite of Cronenberg’s work, because not only is it ridiculously strange, it was very much ahead of its time when it was made and the relevance of the movie may even seem more important in our present technological situation.

videodrome-1

By saying that the movie is more relevant now than it was in 1983 isn’t stretching it too much. A lot, if not all, of the technology in Videodrome is completely outdated, from VCRs, Betamax tapes, and cathode ray tube televisions. But what Cronenberg is saying about technology, the media, and the public’s desensitization to violence are now heated issues discussed heavily today.  All of these themes really come across very strongly and are very hard to miss, but I’m still not quite sure I follow everything Cronenberg is saying. All of the trippy insanity, that really makes the viewer question what they’re seeing, sometimes fogs the messages of the movie. I can at least say that about me because sometimes I really couldn’t believe what I was looking at.

Videodrome also reinforced my opinion that the animatronic effects used in the 1970s and the 1980s will always reign supreme because of how they look and the skill it takes to create them. While I really didn’t like Scanners and thought The Brood was passable at best, I have to admit that the effects in both of those movies are outstanding. The effects in Videodrome beat both of them out, and are only rivaled by Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. There are some totally disgusting scenes using crazy looking animatronics and awesome make up effects by Rick Baker, who worked on Star Wars before this.

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a movie that inspires me as someone who wants to make film his career. The story is and outlandish sci-fi horror with themes that not only still hold up, but have become more important. This is a sick and twisted kind of movie that will run your brain in circles as you try to keep up with what’s going on. It isn’t a puzzle film, but it’s so strange it’s almost too weird to fully comprehend until you really let it sink in. Videodrome is now one of my new favorite movies.