A The Master is a divisive film, and oddly enough not so much so for its content (or lack thereof depending on whom you’re speaking to), but rather for the way the content is presented. It’s one of those films that seems to leave little middle ground for people: they either want to see it again or wish they’d never spent time on it to begin with. Much like writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s last film, There Will Be Blood, The Master is a character driven piece, but The Master moves at a much more languid pace and has a less defined and dramatic conclusion for its two male leads than Blood. Nevertheless, I found The Master an equally compelling film.
The Master takes on big subjects like religion/cult, truth, love, acceptance, purpose, and reincarnation. The audience experiences these subjects via the post-WWII relationship between two very interesting, very angry men: Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Dodd is a middle-aged author and leader of a growing organization known as The Cause, and Quell is an alcoholic ex-sailor, drifting through his life after the war. The performances are gripping, and Anderson does a wonderful job of showing the audience these two men rather than telling us about them. Of course, this isn’t a documentary, so Anderson isn’t obligated to be unbiased as to what or how he shows the audience. This makes for gripping, thought provoking cinema.
There has been no shortage of action films lately where the plot revolves around characters surviving an urban high-rise apartment building full of obstacles: zombies in The Horde, aliens in Attack the Block, and drug lords in The Raid: Redemption. Dredd has the same conceit (except this one is set in a post-apocalyptic future) yet never feels like it is trite or clichéd. The action sequences looked spectacular in 3D. Lena Hedey is under used as the evil drug lord, but Karl Urban plays the titular Dredd with muted badassness throughout. And it’s Olivia Thirlby, as the rookie cop with an edge, that undergoes “the heroes journey” in the film and gave perhaps the best performance. Dredd is a quality, solid action film that won’t disappoint fans of the genre.
This is the film I expected the first Sly Stallone led action ensemble to be, and it’s one of the rare sequels that outdoes the original film. The plot is paper thin, the acting questionable, and the dialogue meh; however the ‘splosions are big, the asskickery is set at near maximum, and the body counts are in the triple digits. If you loved the action films of the 80s then Expendables 2 is your kind of movie.
A surprisingly engrossing thriller based on real events between the USA & Iran from 1979-1980 involving hostages from a US embassy and how the CIA tried to extract them from Iran. The film has great performances and direction, and it also has a pleasant side effect as a wonderful modern history lesson on the hostile Iranian/US relationship, which is unfortunately all too relevant in 2012.
The film was a technical winner with editing and cinematography (make-up was hit or miss for me though) and it masterfully blended most of the major genres of cinema (comedy, drama/romance, mystery, and sci-fi/action) into one film. However, for me Cloud Atlas’ epically scaled story lost some of its grandeur because the TV show Battlestar Gallactica did something very similar over the course of four wonderful seasons. I'm glad I saw it in the theater as it's a film shot with great scope and despite the many characters and interconnected stories, the message is quite simple: we are all connected and what we do and feel transcends time.
Disney finally put out its first great non-Pixar film in a long time. This film has a sugary sweet center surrounded by lots of edgy humor, and it does for video games what Toy Story did for toys. It’s a great film for gamers and non-gamers alike. Also, if you weren’t a Sarah Silverman fan before this film, you likely will be one after.
The true(?) story of Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession with actress Tippi Hedren. It’s an odd tale of sexual harassment that attempts to turn the making of Tippi’s two Hitchcock films (The Birds & Marnie) in to a Hitchcock film in real life. Tobey Jones gives the only memorable performance as a tortured, insecure, and at times wickedly cruel Hitchcock that let’s his obsession with Tippi overtake and nearly ruin his life.
Safety Not Guaranteed
It’s a quirky, sweet indie rom-com with mediocre direction, an okay script, and a great cast. Aubrey Plaza plays a caustic, sad loner intern at a hip Seattle magazine that takes on an assignment to investigate a man who put out a newspaper ad looking for a partner to time travel with.
The "I tore up Netflix over winter break" edition...
Life of Pi [3D]
Ang Lee’s film maintains all the important elements and themes from the original novel—spirituality/religion, discovery of self, and survival. Director Ang Lee makes the most of the 3D medium and creates an enjoyable big screen experience.
One of the most entertaining history lessons I’ve ever had.
Writer/director Rian Johnson is not in any new territory with the film’s gritty, futuristic city, anti-hero protagonist, and concepts of time travel. The first 2/3 of the film is almost like a modern day Blade Runner. However, none of it felt clichéd or repetitive. The performances and direction are great throughout the film, but it unraveled for me a bit at the end when the third act of the film became less sci-fi-noir and more of a heavy handed treatise on what makes a person a villain versus a hero. It’s not Rian Johnson’s fault the film Chronicle took on the same concept in a very similar way less than a year earlier. So the ending third wasn’t as satisfying as the rest of the film for me, but it was still a really great addition to the genre.
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
Very interesting restaurant and the chefs have a very unique take on food and “avant garde” dining. Too bad the film makers chose to present their techniques and philosophy’s with so little context that only those foodies “in the know,” knew what was really going on. This often made the first hour of the documentary a tedious watch.
Salmon Fishing In the Yemen
This is a sweet love story about making the impossible possible through faith (and a boat load of money), yet it doesn’t come off as preachy or overly saccharine. Ewan Macgregor and Emily Blunt give good performances and pull off the humor and depth of their characters beautifully.
Liam Neeson is killing more Albanian gangsters, but this time in Istanbul and with the help of his daughter. It is well paced, but the plot isn’t as good as the original and the sense of urgency and energy just wasn’t here like it was in the first film. Faults aside, there were a few great scenes with Neeson being a total badass, and that make sit worth watching for me.
After Porn Ends
This unevenly shot documentary delves in to life for various “retired” porn stars. It tries to take a well rounded look at the industry and how it affected many people in different ways. However, even though several of the subjects interviewed do discuss their past addictions, the film never shows anyone living or struggling to break free of the “darker side” of porn (addiction to drugs/alcohol and crime). Everyone interviewed drives an SUV and has a house in the burbs throughout the film; however, at the end they throw in blurbs about each person interviewed, and practically every female interviewed has either returned to porn or succumbed to their addictions.
I watched this to try and balance out the porn doc. The plot is flimsy yet ultimately heartwarming. And the songs and dance numbers are plentiful yet not all that memorable save for the titular number and one about sisters.
I came for the comedy and not the music; unfortunately, both were meh. The plot and protagonist were excruciating at times. It’s hard to feel empathy for a privileged, young, attractive, white girl who is moody for no other reason than her daddy wants to pay for her college.
Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project
John Landis directs this hilarious documentary following the career of insult comic Don Rickles with a heavy focus on his celebrity friends, especially his relationship with Bob Newhart and Johnny Carson, as well as Rickles’ time in Las Vegas.
Zero Dark Thirty
After two seasons of Homeland, this stab at dramatizing actual events did fall kind of flat. The last act of the film, the planning and execution of the actual raid in Abbottobad, was extremely compelling though. Team America—fuck yeah!
A darkly humorous yet unflinching look at alcoholism set against the backdrop of a plane crash. Denzel Washington gives a great, well rounded performance as the pilot of the plane in question.
The well cut trailers and inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the star and Michael Shannon as the heavy had me convinced they could make a decent chase movie using bicycles. I was wrong. Some of the stunts were great, but most dwelled somewhere between meh and lame. The end gag was also so cheesy as to elicit douche chills.
Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is still my favorite Spidey film, but I felt this was a really decent Spidey franchise reboot. Emma Stone is ridiculously stunning in the film, and her Gwen Stacey blows Kirsten Dunst’s MJ out of the water. Garfield played a more twitchy, more dickish version of Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire, but I didn’t feel as if it betrayed the essence of the comic book. And the credit sequence epilogue has me very excited about where this franchise reboot is going.
This film got such rave reviews, especially from Roger Ebert, that I was disappointed in how mediocre it was. A rich guy commits a crime and gets to cover it up, barely, because he’s rich. There’s nothing new at all here and very little that’s thrilling.
The Dark Knight Rises
Nolan both disappoints and astounds on several levels w/ this film. He shoots for the moon in terms of story and scale yet he never leaves the atmosphere due to plot holes and some very un-Nolan like technical faults. Nolan’s handling of Batman falls short of what he did in The Dark Knight, and his journey to the end of the film was unexpectedly flawed, yet the ending itself (as in the last 20-30 seconds) left this fanboy fairly satisfied.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
This is not only an in depth look at the methods and techniques of what many refer to as the world’s greatest sushi chef, but it’s also a well crafted narrative about the man, Jiro, and his life. Even if you don’t find sushi appetizing, you should still enjoy this look at a man whose painstaking attention to detail and pursuit of perfection has helped carve out a unique place in history for him and his family.
Oz The Great & Powerful B
The first act is solid (shot in b&w in Kansas as was the original film) and even though the plot weakened in the second act, it was a fairly decent family flick through out. (Well, as much as you can call putting Mila Kunis in tight black leather a "family film.") Director Sam Raimi followed the Tim Burton 3D playbook as far as cramming in as many bright colors and 3D gags as possible, but it didn't seem to bother me as much here. Possibly b/c as a long-time Raimi fan I know that's his goofy, slapsticky sense of humor. If you can take it for what it’s intended (Disney & Raimi’s attempt to make a new, family friendly franchise) I’d recommend seeing this one on the big screen in 3D.
Based on a series of novels by Lee Child, the action in this Tom Cruise thriller isn’t as over the top as it is in his Mission:Impossible franchise nor is the mystery particularly great, but the action and characters are engaging, the performances well done, and the pacing is super tight.
A Good Day to Die Hard
I love the Die Hard franchise, but this film managed to disappoint on nearly every level. Bruce Willis seems to be simply going through the motions, which wouldn’t have really mattered had the script and pacing been even half as good as his last Die Hard film, but unfortunately it wasn’t.
The Last Stand
Arnold’s return to starring man status sees him give a meh performance, but the supporting cast was stellar and entertained me enough to elevate my score slightly from a “C+”. The main thing that held this action flick back was pacing and the script. There was a lot of wasted opportunity here.
An all too short documentary on Polio ravaged poet, journalist and paraplegic Mark O’Brien—whom the Oscar nominated film The Sessions is based upon. His honesty is heartbreaking and inspiring all at once. I think he may have replaced Batman as my hero.
The performances are fantastic. A half hour in to the film I was screaming because John Hawkes had delivered probably the best performance of the year thus far and wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. I think the screenplay is what really hurt Hawkes and the film in general, as it drifts off course in the second act and kind of unravels in the third only to end a bit all too bluntly.
A traditional romance plot set up with a slight David O. Russel twist, as the couple in question both have personality disorders that are triggered by tragic life-events and result in them living back with their parents as adults. Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence (who won the Oscar for her pants, I mean performance) star, but the supporting cast, including Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker, and Robert DeNiro, all contributed great character touches that helped elevate this film above a standard romance flick.
I’m unfamiliar with the popular novel this Oliver Stone film was based on, so I can’t comment on any of the changes or omissions the film made to the novel. However, I do know Benicio Del Toro portrays another memorable screen villain, and unfortunately that’s about all that’s noteworthy in this unevenly paced and performed film that tries to be a crime caper/double-double cross film on par with Elmore Leonard, but ends up doing such a terrible job making me care about any of the characters on screen that I didn’t even care about the “twist ending.” I was just glad it ended.
Last edited by Crispy; 03-10-2013 at 09:55 PM.
I almost gave this film a score of C+ because for a thriller film the writing is weak, but the cinematography and editing were so clever and beautiful I had to bump up my score. The performances given by the three leads are also pretty great, and despite the films languid pace I never felt bored. If you’re a fan of director Chan-wook Park and his “Vengeance Trilogy” you may also be disappointed by the tone-downed violence; yet despite it’s shortcomings, it’s still an admirable if not exceptional addition to his filmography.
I was never one for enjoying, let alone watching, films that were intentionally bad. However, the concept of a tornado filled with sharks that rain down on unsuspecting Los Angelinos was just too strong for me to deny. The ridiculous plot (Yes, shit gets even crazier than the titular sharknado), wooden acting by the C-List cast, and horribly cheesy music all contributed to an enjoyable MST3K type experience.
I found it surprisingly enjoyable and clever in the way it presented standard rom-com tropes as seen through the lens of a zombie movie.
It’s a solid underdog sports comedy based on a real guy who couldn’t skate that well or slap a puck worth a damn yet made a hockey career out of fighting guys on the ice.
I found this documentary on Netflix, and it centers around interviews with the children and grandchildren of top ranking Nazi officials and how they deal with that legacy. Some of it is a little unsettling, like hearing them discuss the idyllic childhood they experienced in the officers’ quarters in some of the concentration camps.
As a Star Trek and William Shatner fan, I was looking forward to this interview documentary where William Shatner interviews the other five captains from the Star Trek franchise. However, early in to the film I realized no one is as big a fan of William Shatner as William Shatner and found myself growing bored and fast forwarding through sections. The encounters with Patrick Stewart and Chris Pine were entertaining though.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first film’s blend of violence and humor as well as its comic book source material. Unfortunately, this sequel falls short of its predecessor. The film’s main problems come in the form of script (mediocre plot, surprisingly repetitive dialogue) and direction (uneven pacing and editing). What saved the film from a “C” grade for me was how fun the (mostly) new characters were. Jim Carrey as Col. Stars & Stripes, Mother Russia, and the real star of the film—Hit Girl. Also, stick around for the post credit scene, which one can only assume is an homage to the underrated(?) film Dare Devil.
This is a well shot sci-fi film with a great cast and beautiful CGI worthy of a trip to the cinema to see the titular space station and dystopian Los Angeles on the big screen. However, being a fan of director Neil Blomkamp’s innovative District 9, I was surprised this sophomore effort lagged in character development and had an overall “by the numbers” feel to the plot.
Man of Steel [IMAX 3D]
I found this to be a fantastic, gritty, intense sci-fi/action film. Seriously intense. Like, you’ll need a spa day after this film is over kind of intense. Unfortunately, this film was not a very good Superman movie. The character of Superman has had a relationship with the American audience for 75 years, and Americans have come to expect a certain overall tone from a Superman film. Marvel Studios managed to capture that tone very well in their “Superman” movie, Thor. A great Superman story on the big screen needs a blend of humor and youthful adventure that this film lacked. And again, lacking those elements and that tone in Man of Steel doesn’t make for a bad film, just a bad Superman film.
Pacific Rim [IMAX 3D]
If giant robots fighting giant, Godzilla-esque monsters all over the world doesn’t pique your interest, then this is not the film for you. The visuals and pacing in the fights were all thrilling. However, I couldn’t really justify giving it an “A” grade as I found myself judging the film on aspects (like logic gaps in the plot and wooden acting) other than the fantastic fights. Also, I saw this in IMAX 3D and I’m not sure how much of excitement of those great fights will be lost on my insanely smaller 2D TV screen.
At first I thought I was not going make it the whole way through this film as the first act was all about a depressed, self-involved rich girl who plays the prescription anti-depressant game when she loses her fairy tale life after her husband is sent away for insider trading. However, the film takes a twist in the second act and becomes an engrossing, tight paced mystery.
It’s A Disaster
A group of thirty-somethings gets together for a monthly Sunday couples’ brunch in a suburban home. Then dirty bombs go off in a nearby city and they’re all faced with the fallout and their own mortality. Attempts at humor and insight in to love and marriage ensue. It's a great premise, great cast, but really misses some great opportunities. Kudos to the screenwriter for name dropping Alpha Flight in the first ten minutes though.
The film is basically a bunch of unrelated, raunchy sketch humor with A-list celebrities tied together by a very thin premise plot, which you can easily skip. The skits Superhero Speed Dating, Emma Stone at the checkout line, deranged home school parents, and diner with Ballneck were winners. The rest of the skits ranged from meh (poop on me skit, leprechaun kidnapping, girl’s first period) to awful (iBabe, cartoon cat, basketball, and truth or dare).
Fast & Furious 6
“Fast 6” did not live up to its previous franchise installment for me. I went in expecting a fun, dumb, action flick and got an often boring, soap-opera-esque, semi-action film. However, despite the idiotic way her character did return, it was fun seeing Michelle Rodriguez kick ass on screen again. Hopefully they’ll use her better in the inevitable “Fast 7.”
As a fan of the novel I found this film a mixed bag and another example of how the movie just wasn’t as good as the book. Sci-fi fans have been clamoring for this to be a movie for years, but I think the success of Hunger Games finally got some studio-exec to ask, “Hey, we got any other scripts with kids doing war stuff lying around?” and thus green-lighted this film. The skeleton of the book is there but almost all of the heart and soul is missing. The film still does make for an interesting story with some good action sequences and is worthy of a trip to the local cinema.
[A Spoiler-ish, not so mini-review]
As a big fan of the novel, I had mixed feelings about the film. On the plus side, the major plot points from the novel were all there and it made for some exciting action sequences. On the minus side, the casting was a little off and the moral “heart” of the novel was missing. The film focused on Ender as mainly a great tactician, possibly the greatest ever. However, the growth Ender underwent through his experiences from the physical and mental anguish in the military schools he attended in the novel were missing from the film almost completely. Some of these moments were thrown in as simple exposition or re-adjusted and given as dialogue to other characters.
In the novel, the author created a very specific and fleshed out vision of the future world Ender inhabits and this was barely even touched on in the film. Certain aspects were mentioned but never explained, and I found myself more than once explaining a bit of dialogue or actions in a scene to friends that hadn’t read the novel. What was done surprisingly well, despite some “bumpy” bits of wire acting and CGI, were the Zero-Gravity (0-G) battles. Fans of the novel know this was a big part in Ender’s development in the novel and it is given attention in the film, but unfortunately not nearly enough.
This movie really should’ve been two films. Ender’s Game: Battle School and Ender’s Game: Command School. The climax of this film currently in theaters really should’ve been the defeat of two “armies” at once in the 0-G battle arena and subsequent post-battle confrontation with Bonzo Madrid. The perfect ending for this film was Ender and Gen. Graff shooting up in the rocket on the way to Command School.
However, that’s not what happened, and the Command School sequences in this film were hurried and the ultimate “twist” for Ender’s final test was really lost because the audience didn’t get to really know the person Ender along the way. In the film Ender’s Game, we only get to see a brilliant young tactician win and win and win. Film audiences never really get to know Ender the student, the person almost anyone can relate to. Ender’s fatigue, moral struggles, and drive to excel is mentioned in the film but never really shown to audiences.
This film does have the pivotal scene with Ender and Valentine on the lake, but the subtext from the novel and the struggle and compromise of Valentine is lost on film. All of these missing little character moments do add up. And when that final ending does come in the film the moral impact of annihilating an entire species is really lost on film audiences as is the subsequent significance of Ender finding the Formic Queen egg sac and trying to re-populate a species he destroyed.
For me, the novel Ender’s Game is ultimately a “coming of age” tale but it deals with so much more: education, social structures, government control, cultural impacts, and morality. The film was more so about a really smart kid who was trained to kill aliens and felt bad about it for some reason in the end when he did kill them. And because I love the book so much, I found myself disappointed in the film yet still liking it despite it’s many faults because through the book I had already connected with so many of those characters that were up there on the screen.
After seeing the trailers and not being a huge fan of Monster’s Inc., I was reluctant to see this prequel even though I am a big Pixar Studios fan. My hesitancy was misplaced as Pixar once again brought their A-game and delivers a solid film with comedy, heart, and relevance for both kids and adults.
A suburban, Christian, American family serves as the backdrop for this taut, suspenseful, and unflinching look at the compromises and brutality people will go to in order to protect their loved ones.
Thirteen minutes in to this film I knew it was going to be terrible. So I started multitasking on my iPhone while I finished it. According to this film, Steve Jobs’ life was about innovation and originality. It’s too bad this film had little of either. It did make me more interested in Jobs as a person and I’m looking forward to seeing what a talented writer like Aaron Sorkin can do with this material.
Now You See Me
Magic and magicians on screen rarely work for me, especially when audiences are meant to believe or be amazed by the actual “magic tricks” on screen, which movie audiences automatically are not easily impressed by simply because they know it’s a movie. Now You See Me tries to get around this problem by adding in the element of con-men and a layered, Oceans 11 type plot. In some ways it does work, with the help of an absolutely great cast that deliver some good performances, but mostly it doesn’t work and the big reveal at the end comes off a bit flat.
Only God Forgives
If you were a fan of Drive, this film might not be your cup of tea as it’s more like director Refn’s earlier film Valhalla Rising in that it deals more in archetypes than characterization and has little to no dialogue. Some people will definitely not care for Refn’s deliberate pacing, Euro-synth inspired soundtrack, and stylized, brutal displays of violence in this film. I, however, found it kind of mesmerizing.
Lewis & Clark: Corps of Discovery [Pt 1 & 2]
This summer I read the book The Revenant, which is historical fiction based on real people and events in the American wilderness of the early-mid 1800s. The book was griping and got me hooked on learning more about this time in American history; so one of the first things I came across was this 1997 Ken Burns documentary. It’s in two parts, roughly four hours long in total, and completely engaging. It paints a full picture of both the explorers before, during, and after their legendary expedition with help from narration by several actors including the late Hal Holbrook, re-enactments, and commentary from historians such as the late, great Stephen Ambrose.
Great script & good performances made for a surprisingly enjoyable remake, but the mediocre directing was one of the things that held this film back from being as good as the 18987 original.
Now, if you’ll indulge a longer take on this film...
...let me begin by saying I love the original film. It’s a very satisfying, sci-fi action film ripe with satire, archetypes, and action all balanced wonderfully. So, with lowered expectations, I saw the remake and was very surprised at how well done it was. I actually think it helped that I watched the original the night before we saw the remake because it was obvious the guys who wrote this had affection for the original. Now, is 2014 Robocop as good or did I enjoy it as much as the 1987 original? No.
However, if this remake was allowed to have an R rating like the original, and if it had a different director, then quite possibly it could've been almost as good as the 1987 film directed by Paul Verhoeven. I loved how they spent more time on the science and technology aspect of what makes Robocop unique apart form his fully robot brethren in the remake. The issues of free will and what makes a man a human don't make for necessarily the best action sequences, but it did make for some interesting plot deviations from the original.
I hate to use the term boilerplate in reference to a Liam Neeson action/suspense film, but much like Taken 2, this film wasn’t anything special or terribly original yet I found it to still be an enjoyable enough experience. It’s worth seeing especially if you’re a fan of Neeson or the kind of popcorn action-thrillers where you don’t have to think much and just sit back and enjoy the close quarters combat.
I was surprised at how much I laughed during this film. Knoxville manages to deftly blend his typical Jackass stunts in to a surprisingly emotional story about a grandson and his more often misguided than “bad” grandfather.
This film has very little in the way of plot, character development, or suspense yet it still managed to keep me mostly interested. Award wining novelist (and first time screenwriter) Cormac McCarthy’s dialogue about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life, sex, love, religion, etc. ranges from interesting and thought provoking to self important and unintentionally silly. Ridley Scott films it all in a glossy way and manages to squeeze in a few memorable visual scenes--one involving Cameron Diaz (or her body double) and a car windshield.
Dallas Buyers Club
I couldn’t really give this film an “A” because the direction was sadly mediocre, and the ending of the film falls apart a bit structurally. However, this is a must see film in my book. The subject matter--the US FDA’s ludicrous sluggishness and outright resistance to approving treatment for victims of HIV/AIDS—was a revelation and shock to me as I’m sure it will be for many Americans. The performances by Matthew McConaghey and Jared Leto are Oscar winning and deserving of their accolades.
It's mostly a typical Disney fairy tale musical with a moderate twist on some of the usual tropes; it’s not at all the wholesale “re-invention of a genre” as some reviews led me to believe.
Utterly deserving of its Best Original Screenplay Oscar for writer/director Spike Jonze, Her is set in the not too distant future, and the plot revolves around a recently and reluctantly divorced man (played by Joaquin Phoenix who gives an incredible, subtle, and touching performance) falling in love with the iPhone Siri-esque Artificial Intelligence on his operating system. But what resonated with me most about the film was not the gimmicky plot device of “man loves machine,” but how the film is ultimately about falling in and out of love gracefully.
Inside Llewyn Davis
For a person who doesn’t particularly care for folk music, I found myself liking this film about a broke and broken, misunderstood folk singer (circa 1961) who literally goes nowhere; he does take a journey, but it only leads him back to where he started.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 [3D]
This is an almost perfect film with stunning animation, fun action, and surprisingly complex themes and main characters. It gets a bit muddled in the third act and cheats itself and the audience by “Disneyfying” the true ugliness and horror of war. But, that misstep aside, I still highly recommend seeing this one in the theaters and in 3D. If Gravity was the “must see 3D” film of 2013, How to Train Your Dragon 2 holds that title for 2014.
Edge of Tomorrow
Loosely based on the Japanese manga All You Need Is Kill (which would’ve been a much better title for this film than the forgettable one it ended up with), this movie looked to be nothing more than a mash up of Harold Ramis & Bill Murray’s classic Groundhog Day and Tom Cruise’s last sci-fi film, Oblivion. And that’s not an entirely inaccurate description of the film’s conceit, but the film as a whole is so much more than a mash up or a movie metaphor of a video game. Edge of Tomorrow mixes in great action with memorable supporting characters and fantastic protagonists played by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, who has added her name to the short list of memorable, bad ass female protagonists.
A Million Ways to Die In the West
I love Blazing Saddles and I really liked Seth MacFarlane’s debut film, TED; so I was really rooting for this film to work as a western comedy. Unfortunately, MacFarlane suffered from the sophomore slump and made an overly long film that was poorly paced and missed one too many opportunities for comedy. The punchlines the film does have are often hilarious, but ultimately there are just too few of them.
I also knocked some documentary films off my Netflix queue this week, and luckily they were all great!
Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
A heartfelt and hilarious one man comedy show about a man’s struggle with being right versus being happy.
Dear Mr. Watterson
A slick and well crafted documentary about Calvin & Hobbes, it's reclusive creator Bill Watterson, and the state of newspaper comic strips and the art of cartooning in general. It starts of a bit rocky with the director/writer's biography and chronicling of his love for Calvin & Hobbes, but about 20minutes in it kicks in with magnificent and insightful interviews with Watterson's publishers, peers, and cartoonists his work has influenced. The film also has history on Watterson and discusses his controversial decision to not license merchandise and his infamous avoidance of interviews and need for privacy.
Drew: The Man Behind the Posters
The cinematography and overall presentation wasn’t as well done as Dear Mr. Watterson, but this documentary about legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan had something else going for it—interviews with the man it is about and those closest to him, including famous fans like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Frank Darabont, and Guillermo del Torro. Also like Dear Mr. Watterson, this film does a great job of exploring not only the man behind the art, but the art form itself.
20 Feet From Stardom
This soulful, Oscar winning documentary about the background singers from some of the most well known Rock and R&B songs of the past 40 years, as well as a few up and coming artists, is completely griping. Even if you didn’t grow up listening to these songs (And shame on your parents if you didn’t!) you should find the stories of these men and women truly moving and this film and its music truly entertaining.
This is a gripping film loosely based on real events. It touches on issues of poverty, racism, and family loyalty, but it’s basically a detective story at its heart. It centers on a man returning from Chicago to his small village in Poland to see his estranged brother, and together they uncover a conspiracy the village has been keeping since WWII. The movie was quite controversial in Poland when released in 2012, but do yourself a favor and watch the film before you google the events the film is based on lest you spoil the film for yourself.
Mike Judge made a comedy with Mila Kunis, Jason Bateman, Kristin Wiig, & Ben Affleck. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, huh? That’s probably because it was poorly directed and not very funny.
If I hadn’t grown up in America and known of Noah’s story from a young age, I would’ve categorized this as a sci-fi fantasy film rather than a Biblical one. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is a conflicted man and Russel Crowe portrays him interestingly alongside a pretty solid supporting cast. The CGI is a bit uneven in spots, but over all it is a beautifully shot film amidst a bleak yet hopeful landscape.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
As another prequel to the original Charlton Heston classic Planet of the Apes, this has much more action yet comes off feeling more uneven than its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There are some great motion-capture performances rendered on screen, yet the longer I saw a chimpanzee wielding a machine gun on horse back the sillier it became. It also didn't help that most of the conflict in the film was fairly simple and felt like something a conversation or two could have prevented an all out war. But then again, maybe that’s the film’s point—violence is such a part of human nature that it doesn't take much to keep perpetuating our seemingly endless cycle of war.
Guardians of the Galaxy [IMAX 3D]
If you’ve seen the first trailer for this film, then let me assure you that it delivers exactly what it promises: a fun, sprawling sci-fi action film populated with likeable outlaws turned, ahem, guardians of the galaxy. It’s the most fun I’ve had at the theater in a long time and it ties The Avengers as my favorite Marvel film to date. Do yourself a favor and see it on the big screen.
I went in expecting a good summer, popcorn blockbuster and that’s almost what I got. Hercules is a unique take on the legend in that it presents him as a mortal man who travels with a band of mercenaries that help him perpetuate his “legend.” The action scenes weren’t dynamic enough to qualify it as a blockbuster, but Ian McShane and Dwayne Johnson lead a cast that does mostly great work with an uneven script.
This isn't necessarily a bad movie, it's just by no means the film I expected based on the trailer. I was mostly stoked to see Luc Besson get back to doing some kick-ass female driven action-drama, but that is not what this film is at all; what you saw in the trailer was basically what you get in the film as far as action. Morgan Freeman is wasted as "Mr. Exposition," and after a truly great set up for the film to be a great revenge flick on par with the original Oldboy, it turns in to a kind of hokey episode of COSMOS. And that's not a terrible thing as long as you're not getting my money under the guise of an action film.
This is more like what I, and I think most other filmgoers, expected from the first film. The conceit of a new America where all crime is legal for 12 hours on one day of the year is a very intriguing one, and the filmmakers do examine some interesting theories on what people would do in such a world on such a day. The final act attempts to be grand and revelatory, but it comes off as a bit hokey and uneven.
Transformers: Age of Extinction [IMAX 3D]
If you’ve seen the previous three Transformers films by Michael Bay, you should know what to expect by now—loose plot with pockets of humor, weak characterization, fast paced editing, and crazy amounts of often confusing action. But this fourth installment in the franchise takes on some baffling turns even by Bay standards—such as a plot point that diverts in to statutory rape laws in Texas and an almost identical beginning and ending to the Ridley Scott film Prometheus. WTF Michael Bay?
22 Jump Street
Maybe the monster box office and word of mouth from a few friends that saw it got my expectations too high, but there weren’t as many laughs as I expected. There were several truly hilarious moments that hadn't been spoiled by the trailers for me though, and end credit sequence was quite clever.
I saw this a week ago and I’m still trying to decide if this film is genius or just a neat gimmick pulled off really well. Director Richard Linklater films the same cast over the course of twelve years and you see the protagonist’s boyhood literally unfurl before your eyes onscreen. It’s quite amazing to see.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 
The silly and simplistic plot is clearly geared for a younger audience, which made it difficult to handle at certain times, but there were enough references and nods to the previous incarnations of TMNT to keep me mostly entertained.
Jonas lives in a futuristic community free of war, famine, prejudice, and almost all emotion. The film deviates in a few key ways (some good and some not so much) from the novel, but the overall spirit of Lois Lowry’s modern classic is there. It’s ultimately an uplifting story about being human and the good and bad that goes along with it.
In A World
Lake Bell writes and directs this indie comedy with a great cast about a female voice over actress looking for success and approval from her famous father. It’s a bit uneven in places but it made me laugh—a lot.
For the last 60 years or so Disney did a good job of programming kids, and little girls especially, that the term "fairytale" was synonymous with romantic love. With Frozen and now Maleficent they are at least offering up some alternatives to that interpretation of "fairytale." So even though this movie was littered with crazy plot holes, even by "kids movie" standards, I can get behind its overall message.
Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings
If you’re going to watch only one PBS documentary about a Japanese-Hawaiian ukulele phenom that rose to international acclaim via a YouTube video, then make it this one.
I saw this movie with an 8 year old and a fourteen year old and we all loved it! The film does an excellent job of combining humor, suspense, action, and teaching some great lessons in a surprisingly realistic way. The main themes about tolerance, being open to trying new things, and working hard to achieve your goals are not new ones, but they are messages sorely needed in these times of cultural and religious turbulence.
A semi-supehero film set in the X-Men film universe that was tailor made for geeky fanboys & fangirls. It’s filled with dirty jokes, in-jokes, self deprecating jokes, and lots of action, which often has physical humor. Well done, Ryan Reynolds. Well done.
10 Cloverfield Lane
This is a film where the less you know about it the better you’ll enjoy it—let the mystery unfold for you on screen. I will say it’s an interesting premise and the performances by the three actors were great. However, I was personally not in much suspense during this suspense film and felt like I knew where it was all headed. Even the surprise ending wasn’t that much of a shock to me, and this film ultimately left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
If I wasn’t raised Catholic and able to relate to the main protagonists so much right off the bat I’d probably give this more of a B/B+ grade. But I was raised Catholic, and this film had me seriously considering getting a Boston Globe tattoo for like 15 seconds. Seriously.
This movie's cast really stunned me with their performances. Seriously, if this film had better distribution and promotion Richard Jenkins would have a fistful of nominations for best supporting actor right now. The script is superb, but the screenwriter also directed and he is an adequate director at best. (And a fucking abominable song writer. Even if that end credit song was meant to be ironic, it was still painfully awful.) However, that script and this cast in the hands of a Scorsese caliber director may have been one of the classic westerns of all time. As it stands though, it is an extremely entertaining film and a must see for any fan of the genre.
Cameron Crowe tried to cram way too much into this one script with the crazily complicated characters and plot. The saving grace is Emma Stone. Without her, I would’ve easily graded this film a “D.”
Nick Hornby wrote a cuttingly sweet screenplay based on the book about a young Irish girl seeking love and independence in 1950s Brooklyn, and Saoirse Ronan plays the part of the protagonist to perfection.
Emily Blunt is an FBI agent caught in the middle of a CIA operation against a Juarez drug cartel. Benecio del Toro is quietly menacing as the titular sicario. Blunt also gave a good performance but she was surprisingly underused in the film’s action scenes, much unlike her role in Edge of Tomorrow. There were two great, really tense scenes but the majority of this “action crime drama” was weak on pacing and low on action and drama.
I think a lot of funny people wrote and starred in this film, but it really didn’t make me laugh all that much. The whole conflict between Fey & Poehler’s titular sisters seems contrived and more like “movie problems” or “#firstworldproblems.”
The Big Short
It’s not too often you get an A-list cast in a hilarious film that is actually well written and teaches you something important. How the housing crisis and big banks nearly collapsed the American economy in 2007 is all too relevant in this election year when a billionaire real estate tycoon is a front-runner for the Republican presidential nominee.