Tag Archives: jk simmons

Contraband – Review

14 Feb

In 2008, an Icelandic film was released titled Reykjavik-Rotterdam and it became something of an international hit in some circles. It was one of the most expensive Icelandic films when it was made and received plenty of awards in its home country. As America likes to do with foreign hits, we made a version of our own in 2012 and called it Contraband. What made this remake unique was that it was directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in the original 2008 film. While this is an interesting directing choice and the cast has a couple of my favorite actors, the end result is nothing too memorable at all, or at least memorable for the wrong reasons.

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Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) was one of the most brilliant smugglers to ever work in the business, but has long since left his life of crime to settle down with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two kids. While Farrady is content with living a quiet life, her brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is not, and soon gets mixed up with a dangerous criminal named Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Briggs is after Andy for $700,000 after he screwed up a job, and is even going so far as to threaten Chris and the rest of his family. This forces Chris to go back to his old ways for one last job to pay back Briggs. With a little help from his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), Farraday heads to Panama to bring back $10 million in fake bills, but what Farraday fails to realize is that there is a higher power than Briggs pulling the strings.

So the first thing I have to say about this movie is that it isn’t very original, and that’s ok. I didn’t really go into Contraband expecting it to break new ground or anything. All I wanted was to be entertained for a couple of hours. That being said, this is a pretty entertaining movie with a great deal of suspense and some cool action sequences. But honestly, it isn’t really enough to keep it all afloat. One of my more minor complaints is part of the cast. Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster completely own their roles and reminded me why they are two of my favorite actors. Unfortunately, Wahlberg doesn’t really have much of a personality and all and delivers a lot of his lines with the same awkward enthusiasm that he did in The Happening. As for the rest of the cast like Kate Beckinsale, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, and even J.K. Simmons, well, they just didn’t really have too much to do.

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I’m not sure if the intended goal of Contraband was for it to be an action movie or a heist movie, because it sort of does both, but not entirely too well. There’s not enough action for this to be called an action movie and there isn’t enough planning or fake outs for this to be a heist movie. Instead it’s this weird mash up of cliches from both genres. There’s one real all out action scene and it hardly even fits into the movie. In fact, the whole middle part where Farraday gets mixed up with some random Panamanian gangster really didn’t need to be in the movie at all, which brings me to my main beef with this mess of a movie.

This movie goes all sorts of places that it has no business going to. For a while the plot goes on pretty normally, and I was into it, but then it redefined the term “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” There are far too many plot twists and contrivances that get in the way of a narrative that had all the opportunity in the world to go smoothly and painlessly for close to two hours. Instead I ended up watching a movie that is packed to the brim with stupid twists all for the sake of shocking the audience, instead of being put in to try and tell a good story. The major twist was pretty cool, but all of the other minor ones just frustrated me and made the movie feel completely broken into pieces.

Contraband tries really hard to be a highly intelligent, complex heist thriller that turns out to be nothing more than convoluted and overdone. The only real redeeming qualities this movie has are the performances given by Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster. They can really do a lot with shoddy material. Contraband is an unoriginal mess that isn’t really an awful movie, but it’s hardly one I can recommend to anybody.

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Whiplash – Review

13 Feb

Have you ever been watching a movie and thought that in the same situation you would have just given up? That’s pretty much how I felt all through out Whiplash. Going into this movie, I knew it was going to be great, but I didn’t really know what it was going to be about, and after watching it I’m still trying to figure out what it all means. The bottom line, however, is that it’s giving Birdman a run for its money as my favorite movie of 2014.

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Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a nineteen year old jazz drummer studying at the Shaffer Conservatory in New York. His entire life is built around drumming and what he can do to perfect his skill and be remembered as one of the greats. This dream seems to be underway when he is accepted to join a prestigious school band led by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a teacher who will do whatever it takes to push his students to perform at the best of their abilities. What Neiman soon learns is that Fletcher’s motivations takes the form of physical, verbal, and psychological abuse and punishment, which leaves Neiman wondering how far is too far and if this dream is even worth the punishment.

Writing a summary for Whiplash is very hard because there is so much happening beneath the surface of the story that’s really important and made me want to include, but I could really go on all day about how great and deep this movie is. It would be easy to have made a movie about a kid following his dreams to be an excellent jazz drummer, but writer/director Damien Chazelle went for a much more complicated approach. This is a movie about jazz and dreams, but it’s also a movie the explores complex human emotions and psychological warfare. If that wasn’t enough, Chazelle also created one of the greatest onscreen character relationships of all time between Neiman and Fletcher. Love/hate isn’t really what I’d call it. In fact, I’m still trying to completely wrap my head around it.

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This movie is being recognized in many ways as one of the best movies of 2014, garnering 5 Oscar nominations, but I just want to briefly mention the editing and Simmons’ performance. The editing in this movie can be so rapid fire and rhythmic, I really just wanted to look at the timeline the editor was using. As Neiman’s drums roar and saxophones burst with melodies, the editing matches it all, capturing Chazelle’s beautiful camerawork at the same time, but also capturing Fletcher’s rage. Simmons has always been known to be a good actor, but now it’s established that he’s fantastic. His performance as Fletcher is one of, if not the best performance of the entire year. One minute you hate him, and the next you begin to understand him. He’s such a complex character and Simmons managed to pull it off so perfectly.

What’s incredible about Whiplash is how intense it is. I never thought that a movie that takes place in a music school could be so insane. A lot of people have been comparing this movie to the beginning of Full Metal Jacket, and I do see where they’re coming from, but Whiplash managed to sustain that level of intensity without ever firing a shot and taking place not in the military, but a music school. Everything comes together so well that it creates a story unlike anything you or I have seen before.

Whiplash is plain and simply one of my favorite movies of the year. I knew that I was in for something great but this was just awesome. The music, the performances, the editing, and the nail biting, gut wrenching, butt clenching intensity were all note perfect, pun intended. It kind of shares the same themes as Black Swan, in the sense that you have to wonder how far people can go with what they love before it completely destroys them. It’s an interesting look at the fragility of the human psyche and also one of the best film of 2014.