Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.
The Good: There’s nothing in A Walk Among the Tombstones that you haven’t seen dozens of times before, but let’s face it when it comes to a movie like this it’s hard to really expect it. Murder mystery about a washed-up former cop-turned-private-investigator who quickly gets in over his head but knows enough of the ropes to show he’s a badass. For a movie like this, you have to look beyond that and look at the execution of the story and the strength of the lead. Well this one succeeds on both of those fronts despite the often monotony of its genre trappings.
It’s a taught thriller, despite some third act fumbling, that is nicely polished from writer and director Scott Frank, who’s 2007’s The Lookout was, also, one of the best thrillers you can ask for. It’s smart. It doesn’t try to be anything beyond just a smart movie. It’s not concerned about twists and turns as much as it is atmosphere, tone and pacing. In this era of filmmaking, some plot twist or reveal can make or break a movie, but if you just focus on making a good story with a distinct voice and solid acting, then you can come out on top.
The solid acting here is done by Liam Neeson. It’s easy to write it off as “Liam Neeson being awesome” but it’s a lot more than that. Something like Taken or Non-Stop seems to have typecast him a bit, but here it’s an actual character with a past and regrets and things he’s trying to overcome while falling down a rabbit-hole of a mystery to be solved and people to be (hopefully) saved. It’s one of his strongest performances in a while and helps put A Walk Among the Tombstones on a level higher than your typical thriller.
The Bad: As mentioned there are a few trappings here. One, the third act is sloppy. Real sloppy. Second, the supporting cast never quite gets to Neeson’s level. They detract from everything it seems. It’s not the actors fault, necessarily (though some certainly ham it up a bit) but it’s more what’s there on paper. A kid is only a plot device, a gangster is just a caricature of a gangster and so on.
However, a messy third act and shallow characters you can set aside and not be too concerned about. What really harms A Walk Among the Tombstones is it shows its hand far earlier than it should. The movie has a reveal just before half-way through that feels as though it’s a reveal that needed to come much later. The build up to this reveal is fantastic - you get a severe sense of dread as we begin to pull back the covers and see all the nastiness that only a couple of monsters can do.
But then it shows the monsters. Then, all of a sudden, we’re hanging out with the monsters and seeing their side. Then we realize that we don’t like the monsters, we like the “possibility” of the monsters and the entire movie becomes far less interesting once this occurs. The atmosphere and sense of dread and tension is gone, the idea of a cat-and-mouse game completely set aside and it doesn’t have enough happening in its final half, and especially in its last 20 minutes, to carry it to the finish line. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a fantastic set up, a too-soon reveal and a slow decline to a credits roll.
The Ugly: Imagine Se7en showing us John Doe a half hour in and we’re suddenly seeing things from his perspective. Imagine how much that movie would lose as a result. Well, you don’t really need to imagine it, because A Walk Among the Tombstones will show you: don’t show your monster(s) too early. At least it stays interesting, but man…it’s really a “what could have been” with this movie.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
In the distant future, a small waste collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.
The Good: Going above the call of duty, taking lessons from past films and further refining it, Pete Doctor and Andrew Stenton found a fantastic blend of classic animation accessibility, moving emotional depth and simple approaches to plot and character. “Simple” is not a bad term, mind you. Why some think that I never understand, because “simple,” for some, seems to indicate there’s a lack of depth or not enough ingredients in the proverbial pot. That’s not true. “Simple” indicates clarity and lack of convolution and focusing on refining the elements that ARE there rather than throwing in a ton of things that don’t need to be there in the first place. It’s the basic, stripped down story but that basic story has a multitude of layers and heart, focus and determination implemented. Plot twists, excess characters and multitudes of sub-plots in a film often come at the cost of depth, not add to it. People often get depth and convolution confused.
So, yes, Wall=E is “simple” in that regards. It’s not out to spin the most epic story or have you trying to figure it out and hope every single aspect is dealt with on equal levels. You have just two main stories: Wall-E’s’/Eva’s and the humans. Along the way you have characters, but it’s still pretty much Wall-E’s and Eva’s story. Wall-E is, and this might shock some of you, a romance movie-Pixar’s only one in terms of the straight-laced definition of “romance.” Yet, it balances the romance aspect against the bigger picture perfectly because you don’t have a ton of other things muddying it up along the way. It spends its time developing the characters and progresses grander and grander at a perfect pace to a fitting and fully satisfactory climax – both stories are resolved and in equal measure. It also has a good thematic message, not least of which is the fact that humans learn to love thanks to robots, which is kind of cool and a neat antithesis to the usual stories of us feeble humans being enslaved by them.
Of course, I wonder how they’ve been able to procreate for all these years if that’s the case...but I digress. Probably not something a family film would go into anyways. I’m sure if involved tubes and the like.
There’s also something to be said about a main character who doesn’t say a word yet you know him completely. Wall-E is probably Pixar’s best achievement in animation based on the fact few characters in the film actually speak. It’s visual storytelling at its purest form, and for Wall-E himself, a shining example of exposition and dialogue not equating to a quality character. Action speak louder than words, and smart subtleties in body language and expressions (on a non-human face here, mind you) can tell the story entirely on its own. Wall-E is a little robot with a childlike naivety about him who is in love and wants to always do the right thing – and not once does he have to actually tell us any of that.
The Bad: I suppose I like Wall-E more in how it presents its characters and story, that simple touch as I said alongside the subtleties, than I do the story itself. It tries to shoe-horn in the treacherous HAL-9000-esque artificial intelligence, but that really seems to never get enough time. The human story works, as humans find their connections which coincides beautifully with the romance plot, but the “evil villain” side of things is a bit too-little too late and never feels relevant until everyone, as in every human and Wall-E himself, are put in dire straights to overcome it. I suppose, from a structure standpoint, they needed to have that for a third act, but it feels shamelessly tacked-on, especially the fight scene and Pixar falling back on the “we’re running out of time” device they sometimes plug in at moments like this, probably the low-point of the entire film when it felt like it was movie well-beyond those tired clichés.
The Ugly: The live action sequences are a bit off putting. They’re not bad, and I get what Pixar was going for in putting them in, but they feel completely out of place.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A young and impatient stockbroker is willing to do anything to get to the top, including trading on illegal inside information taken through a ruthless and greedy corporate raider whom takes the youth under his wing.
The Good: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good," says Michael Douglas as the seminal greedy yuppie Gordon Gekko. "Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
For a moment listening to his spiel, the actor absolutely embodying a character so ruthlessly you simply cannot distinguish the two, you begin to believe his point or, at the very least, understand them. Now you probably could have gotten a number of actors to play Gordon Gekko in 1987. Some might even be able to match the presence and sincerity that Michael Douglas brings on camera. But none could deliver that dialogue as well as Douglas. Not by a long shot. On paper, it’s contrived, sometimes stilted ramblings by a director wanting to make a point than actually have a conversation. Douglas allows it to work, though, and the combined presence and the sense that he truly believes every bullshit word he says not only makes Gordon Gekko a fantastic character, but pretty much the primary reason that Wall Street is considered a classic.
Yet, he’s not even the main character. He’s just the snake with the apple. He’s not even the real story here either as our character of Bud seems to follow a white rabbit down a rabbit hole. It’s a story where you know how it will probably end, but it makes it enticing along the way with some solid scenes, a strong presence by Douglas and a very nice one-two punch of supporting actors Martin Sheen (who is wonderfully subtle) and Terrence Stamp (who is wonderfully evil, at least we assume him to be). Wall Street doesn’t so much tell a story as capture a time, and a time that is relevant still to this day and helps it not seem nearly as dated as it probably should be
The Bad: Charlie Sheen is passable as Bud, but what harms him the most is that the guy we’re supposed to route for is still rather unlikable and when put up against Douglas, he’s just out of his element even in moments when he’s supposed to appear powerful and a presence over Gekko. More is put into Gekko’s persona from the moment we meet him, or imply that he even exists as we don’t see him for some time. Gekko himself is not exactly a “character” either but more a physical manifestation of an ideology. Then you have Darryl Hannah who, I’m sorry, is a throwaway and worthless character and she herself far from fitting into the picture for any reason other than to have a female presence. It’s Bud’s story, and we want to route for him, but even the film makes no bones about the fact that the only way to get anywhere is to outfox the fox. Yet, did that really achieve anything in the grand scheme? No. As a character, Bud has an arc, but no personality to drive it. As a story, he has an end but achieves very little once the credits role other than to bring home the words of Gekko...Greed is, for lack of a better word, good.
It’s still an Oliver Stone film, so keep that in mind. If you know his approach to films, you’ll probably know what to expect. He’s about concepts and ideas going against each other – believable characters and dialogue not so much. His political principles always take center stage first.
The Ugly: Hal Holbrook was pretty old even in 1987. How old is he now? Let’s check...
....wow. Well, if it was twenty years ago....I suppose there isn’t THAT much of a difference between “old” and “really old.” By the way, he’s fantastic here too.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
To take down a merciless finance executive, a young trader agrees to a disgraced Wall street legend's proposal in exchange for the man to be reunited with his daughter, the trader's fiancée.
The Good: One thing you can always say about an Oliver Stone film, it always has a certain amount of energy that feels like a rush. Visually, the man knows how to move things along. His edits are fast, the music (here by David Byrne and Brian Eno, strangely recalling the 80s) accompanying us on a journey and, at its core, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps can tell a compelling story. Though, rather than being poignant or a commentary on its world of finance, here it is all about one character. You know, the one reason you're going to see it: Gordon Gekko.
Douglas absolutely re-embodies the man. He's not as sharp or spiteful, but his dialogue and attitude is every bit Stone and is delivered as though Douglas had been rehearsing the character on a daily basis for the past twenty years. While the supporting cast isn't quite up to snuff, especially in comparison to the original film, they manage to hold their own against a legendary character and actor 100% on his game. They accompany him well, even though he should be the one accompanying them. Like the first film, Douglas commands everything...and that's certainly not a bad thing.
The Bad: What Wall Street 2 lacks that the original was able to capture is a little thing called relevance. Wall Street was an insight, or window, into the 1980s financial world. It used great characters as a method to its madness making for a great, if not cynical, observation of Wall Street itself. Wall Street 2 doesn't have this. In a time when the financial world is as on the tips of everyone's tongues as it was during the 80s, it simply doesn't seem to have a lot to say about it. The characters are forgettable, even Gekko himself far less a presence, and the film's message is a re-tread of the first only saying far far less. The panache is gone, as is the edge and dynamics that a decades-later sequel needs to not only be consistent to the first, but as memorable and poignant as it also.
Directors change, Stone certainly has, but you can't help but ask "is this film needed?" It answers this with a whimpering "no."
The Ugly: I would say cameos are good, and they usually are, this one would have been good if it somehow acknowledged there was a film before it.
Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Wallace and his dog, Gromit has built up a very respectable business which prevents any pests from destructing the vegetables of the village, but when a creature, only described as the were-rabbit, rampages through the village, all eyes are on Wallace. After hearing his plan, the villagers are on his side, expect one man. Victor Quartermaine feels threatened by Wallace's relationship with his fiancée Lady Campanula Tottington and aims to take out the bunny himself.
The Good: It's a known fact that anything Wallace and Gromit is automatically good. It's written somewhere in the tomes of animation many centuries ago, because it is most certainly never changed or compromised its principles in the years the duo and animator/creator Nick Park have been around (and even to that, only a handful of actual material on top of it all – quality not quantity, as they say). The charm of Wallace and Gromit simply won't allow them to ever be "bad." They’re always irreverent but always wonderful in the process as two archetypal comedic personalities involved in a series of silly misadventures. It’s universally appealing because the “personality” factor is what allows the charm to work so well. Wallace is beautifully innocent in his dreams and certainly his inventive ideas whereas Gromit, ever the faithful, does more without saying a word than any so-called sharp-witted talking character in a lot higher-budgeted animated features. The plot isn’t nearly as important in anything Wallace and Gromit related as the characters themselves and their relationship. The Curse of the Were Rabbit is a film that has them, and of course the the animation itself, in absolute top-form and finely polished.
The Bad: With only a few features to their name, you can see a bit why the comedic duo might work better as shorts. A lot of it has to do with Wallace himself. After a while, though you do love the guy, he begins to wear thin on you. His sense of ignorance and complete dependence on Gromit can only carry a story so far, sometimes hitting a wall entirely as the characters do a great deal but progress and evolve very little. Thirty minute shorts can allow that to flourish, but a feature-length film simply begins to stack up smaller elements that amount into very little where the characters’ plot influence or development are concerned.
The Ugly: If you’ve ever doubted stop-motion animation, this movie will prove you wrong. It’s so finely tuned, detailed and gorgeous to look at you’d easily mistake it for computer generated.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
A young man finds out his long lost father is an assassin. When his father is murdered, the son is recruited into his father's old organization and trained by a man named Sloan to follow in his dad's footsteps.
The Good: You have to love summer movies. Sure, it might be easy to toss them aside I the long-grand-scheme of cinema, but the movies are there to just be fun entertainment and nothing more. Sadly, only a handful really fully grasp this and run with it (in other words, make an entertaining film and still a good entertaining film). Wanted hits all the marks it really needs to hit – good action, fun effects and set pieces, solid directing and a lead we can get behind. It’s both impossible and implausible, and that’s what makes it fun. What’s better, is it knows it wants to be fun. It knows how to pull those right strings and get your blood pumping. The story may be paper-thin and only the lead a character we really can believe in, but that’s enough for a solid and enjoyable action flick with a great sense of wit and dark humor threaded through it.
But What I think is best about it, though, is this: this baby is rated R. And it’s a solid R, too, with sex, blood and excessive violence that would find a comfortable place circa 1987 with Predator and Robocop shooting the screens up. This is one of the best, visceral escapist fantasies you could ask to see (I’m willing to bet many dreamt of such stories when they were teens). That aspect alone, the willingness to not take a comic book and downplay it to get a bigger audience, is why I applaud Wanted and can look over its faults as a whole.
The Bad: Yet, this is a review, and even if my score is good I still need to fairly look at the problems the film has. It has two: predictability and characterizations. If you haven’t figured out the “twist” (if you even want to call it that) in about ten seconds, then you’re pretty unobservant. It’s an obvious turn and seeing as how the film really, really plays on that twist, relying on it for a major character arc, it tends to be a little too obvious and uninspired. That doesn’t take away from McAvoy, though. McAvoy’s Wes is a fantastic lead character. His arc is solid and personality fantastic as he begins to evolve into his “hero” persona. Everyone else, though, are either clichéd characterizations or completely blank and absent thanks to bland performances – including Jolie whom we never really feel as a legitimate person and even Morgan Freeman who sleepwalks through scenes like someone wanting to hurry and get done for the day. Then again, the script doesn’t focus much on any of them to begin. The thing is, though, is you want it to. They might work with what little they’re really given, but in some cases the script could have just been a little better in the first place.
The Ugly: I cannot wait for Wanted 2, especially with director Bekmambetov back on board. Hopefully it will get off the ground soon, because this could be one of the better action franchises if it can get the backing for it.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert's hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.
The Good: War Horse is a beautifully shot, well crafted film that manages to tug on your heartstrings - especially if you're an animal lover. Spielberg constructs each scene with meticulous effort and the cinematography by Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski is gorgeous. The countryside, the first world war, a humble village or small farm, all shot on location, could easily be mistaken for paintings. Of course, War Horse also tells a wonderful story. Innocence lost. Cruelty of man. Hope. All those classic themes are present, themes Spielberg knows particularly well.
A solid cast, though given very little to work with, drives the core of the story as our wayward horse tries to find its way back home. Each is a small story as they encounter the colt. Though some are more interesting than others, they all carry the sincere themes throughout making for a consistent, and sometimes depressing, commentary on war.
The Bad: War Horse is a well done film that can't quite decide what kind of film it wishes to be. It wants to be dramatic, funny, serious, light, showcase war and large-scale stories as well as smaller, character-driven stories alongside it. It wants to be everything and do everything and we end up with a disorienting effect where we don't know what we should be feeling, if the film is being serious and, especially, what it's trying to tell us.
You can sense the "play" aspect here. It's adapted from a successful Broadway show, which was adapted from a novel, and, it seems, carried over the elements of "theatrical acting" along with it. Dialogue feels stilted and the actors feel as though they are "acting" - not losing us in reality , making for a jarring effect throughout - a gorgeous looking movie that plays out like its Broadway counterpart that can't decide what it wants to be.
The Ugly: Did you know that War Horse was, initially, a children's book? That's another aspect that it seems it wants to be, but the seriousness of the story won't allow it to have that type of tone no matter how much Spielberg tries to make it work.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Ray Ferrier is a working class man living in New Jersey. He's estranged from his family, his life isn't in order, and he's too caught up with himself. But the unthinkable and, ultimately, the unexpected happens to him in an extraordinary sense. His small town life is shaken violently by the arrival of destructive intruders: Aliens which have come en masse to destroy Earth. As they plow through the country in a wave of mass destruction and violence, Ray must come to the defense of his children. As the world must fend for itself by a new and very advanced enemy not of this world, its inhabitants must save humanity from a far greater force that threatens to destroy it.
The Good: “Special effects” and “Steven Spielberg” are synonymous with each. When you’re discussing one, more often the other is brought up. War of the Worlds is probably the auteur’s most extravagant and largest in terms of that. It defines “epic” and “awe” as we see everything blow up, large alien robots towering over the pathetic humans and then those pathetic humans turning into vapor. It’s a spectacle that, luckily, has a decent enough story to pull us through it. The story is secondary, and the characters even moreso, to the sheer entertainment value of seeing large things blow up. The plot is nothing special, nor does it need to be. Alien come and blow stuff up. War of the Worlds is a tad more polished, and far less cheesy, than most movies with that element.
The Bad: It’s hard to be too critical, now, after Michael Bay showed us how not to do it with his spectacle films...it makes War of the Worlds seem like a perfect balance. It’s not, though, and where it ultimately fails is in its characters. It tells us we need to care about them, maybe once in a while we do, but often we don’t. We just want to see them move on to the next spectacle. There are a few times of sincerity but, overall, the group is far from convincing as a family. The casting of Tom Cruise is probably the biggest fault here. So great he was in Minority Report that this film puts what he can and can’t do into perspective. Playing a scruffy, down-and-out, divorced dock worker with kids who hate him just doesn’t seem convincing. He’s a likable enough guy, just not a convincing as someone that we need to relate to in order to reach that ‘next’ level of getting us more invested. We know Spielberg can do it, we’ve seen it countless times, just not here. The other element is the plot itself, which is slightly at fault in the source material. It’s simply full of unanswered questions, plot holes and simple contrivances that feel we’re just being doused with information without any real exposition on the whole thing. As a result, despite a great buildup, we’re left with a sense of unfulfillment outside of the enjoyment of special effects. Special effects can’t carry a movie…Spielberg learned that long ago yet he falls victim to it here.
The Ugly: Tom’s teenage son needs to be punched. Sorry, but the kid is just not a good character nor his he convincing as someone who suddenly wishes to fight the aliens (he’s so disinterested in everything else).
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
After R (a highly unusual zombie) saves Julie from an attack, the two form a relationship that sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.
The Good: She's a woman looking for Love. He's a zombie. You know, that's the start of one awful tagline in the wrong hands - it sounds like a horrible 70s sitcom. But when you come to realize that Warm Bodies is much more than boy-meets-girl-and-does-eat-her-brains, you come to realize just how good of a satire it is. That doesn't do it justice, though, because not only is Warm Bodies a satire, it's a smart satire of those boy-meets-girl romance movies that saturate the market. In other words, that tagline is fitting, and now it's in the right hands. I mean, the opening credits and "song moment" reflects that of an 80s John Hughes movie, which if Hughes were alive today and made a zombie movie, he'd probably go down this type of road (maybe with a little pickup of Cameron Crowe along the way). Good lord, it even has a “getting to know each other” montage fit with a Springsteen 80s pop hit.
Though it is sometimes very much on the nose in that regard ("they're zombies, but so are we" type of approach ala a Romero movie) it has so many clever and witty moments that you kind of come to expect with Jonathan Levine, who's take on "drama" with 50/50 and "coming of age? with The Wackness showed a panache for taking old tropes and doing just a little spin on it and making it something new. Here he's taking two, and like his previous films, it's never a moment without some damn brilliant writing and character moments. I'd even go so far to say it's as every bit as touching and even moving as either of those as well, only now with a lot more blood and gore (though still PG-13 blood and gore, it does test that Rating limit).
With great use of voiceover and internal monologue, drawing parallels to high school situational comedies and romantic dramas only looking through completely new perspectives, we not only get a smart and clever little indie comedy, but an incredibly relatable one as well. Plus, it's a surprisingly emotional and occasionally moving little piece, because maybe we see a little bit of ourselves in the walking dead and just don't want to admit it.
The Bad: Logic. I know, it's odd to think of logic in a zombie movie, but there's just things that feel more "written" than "natural" - which shows a film (and book, it seems) that has a great end concept idea but isn't quite sure how to get there all the time. As a result, the setup more or less has to be contrived entirely because there's no "natural" way that a young girl would just go off with a zombie for the Hell it, nor is there really a natural way to explain why our hero, R, is the way he is and is able to put thoughts together, understand concepts like time and stealth.
You have to take much of it with a grain of salt, a suspension of disbelief as only the movies can do. It's worth it to say "ok, I'll buy it for now" just to get to the brilliant and often sweet payoffs, but those brilliant payoffs only bring those contrived aspect to light even more. Once you get past it, though, it’s hard to just not fall in love with this warm, but not necessarily light, comedy.
The Ugly: A zombie learning to drive. Come on, that's brilliant. Love it or hate it, this at least takes the zombie movie and does things we haven't seen before and probably never will again (much like Shaun of the Dead, though this film isn't as clever as that one) Plus, it's meant to show a teenager learning to drive (again, rekindling those old 80s teen movie tropes) and he's every bit as awful as you'd expect him to be. There's a lot of homages to teen movies from the 80s with scenes like that, or standing outside the girl's window, or trying to prove yourself and your friends to the community that doesn't like you. A serious "Revenge of the Nerds" vibe on that last one.
On another note, though, this movie really, really, really wants to be R-rated. It practically screams it. It’s violent, but not graphic, and there’s character moments that really want to use more language than what a PG-13 rating will allow. Malkovich is practically biting off his tongue to stay reserved.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
The youngest son (Hardy) of an alcoholic former boxer (Nolte) returns home, where he's trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament -- a path that puts the fighter on a collision corner with his older brother (Edgerton).
The Good: Mixed Martial Arts is all the rage these days. It's spectacle and furious violence at its finest. Despite that, it's also a bit goofy, full of characters and personalities that can give professional wrestling a run for its money. It would, I would have to think, be difficult to write a film without it becoming campy and potentially silly along the way.
Much of Warrior could have gone just that, especially seeing as how it falls to many cliches films like this rely on. But along the way you realize it's not just about some fighting tournament but a story of two brothers' pasts finally coming to meet them. The fighting is good, sure, but the acting and characters are what drive the entire thing and are the much needed heart for an otherwise trite film. They humanize it, achingly emotional at the right moments, and the performances by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are impressive as they not only have to have a good amount of range but look like they know what they're doing in a ring.
Director Gavin O'Connor works well with old troupes. Warrior won't offer up a lot of originality, but like O'Connor's previous sports film, Miracle, it hits the right beats and understands the boundaries of the genre it lays a claim to. His action sequences are nicely crafted and fittingly brutal and the emotional angle reaches to a beautiful climax at just the right moments.
The Bad: It's often a cliche for fighting movies to have television or radio announcers to explain what's happening and to move those sequences along. It really comes with the territory and are just to be expected. What's not expected is for them to try and be characters themselves, and the ringside announcers in Warrior are some of the most obnoxious and annoying I think I've seen in a sports movie. Here's the thing: we know what's happening. We know the fighters. We know the stakes. We don't need two schmucks pointing out the obvious and throwing in stupid puns and excruciating dialogue while doing it.
What's worse is the second half of the film is dominated by the big fight tournament and you're going to be hearing these guys a lot. You also have to consider that they tend to constantly repeat the same lines over and over again. Then you get to the final fight and you know what? They shut up. Barely a word, which makes their over-exhausted banter for most of the second half stick out that much more. Even worse is that with them shut up…it turns out these fights and everything that happens in them didn't really need them in the first place as the final bout is every bit as intense and well-choreographed as all the others. Maybe on DVD there will be a "turn off obnoxious announcers" option.
The Ugly: Nick Nolte offers a fantastic performance here, but unfortunately his character hits a wall and doesn't go anywhere by the end.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
A gang called The Warriors are framed for killing a gang leader trying to unite all the gangs in the area. With other gangs gunning for them they must get back to the home turf of Coney Island... Alive.
The Good: The Warriors is intent on one thing: painting a picture of a world that's dirty, gritty, violent and often scary. It's the near future by way of 1979 interpretation and manages to be both nicely violent yet fun and goofy at the same time. Afterall, you have a gang of mimes and another that dresses like th Yankees...yeah, we're in for a good time.
Thick in atmosphere and perfect in style, The Warriors is one of the classic b-movie flicks of its era that has become more and more appreciated as time has gone on. For a film that is very much a product of its time, it's aged well. That's because it does another thing right while forming its world: always be entertaining. Sure, we might laugh now at moments that reflect the early 1980s a bit too much, styles and music and hair, but you can't help but get lost in it.
The Warriors is pure pulp. It loves the fact it is. Even the original intent of the film was to be a "gritty comic book" but the budget ended up with the writers, producers and directors having to do work with what they could. It may not have the comic book look, but it has that atmosphere. It's a very straightforward, linear plot with great action beats and an amazing sense of style.
As intense as it is stylish, The Warriors may lay the melodrama on a bit thick, but you still can't help but love it. It's an ambitious concept its working with. A film with no budget and a lot of non-actors might have ended up a complete mess, but the legendary Walter Hill is behind the camera here and he handles it all with tautness and poignancy. Not a second feels wasted, even when it might drag, and Hill's handling of action and mood makes The Warriors one of the biggest and most-deserving-of-praise cult films in cinema history.
The Bad: The Warriors is a movie with little purpose and even littler to say other than "gangs will rule." It's a very apparent as a style-over-substance film that is solely there for simple entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's an ambitious little b-movie that does exactly what it's intending to do, so it's hard to be too critical of its content.
In execution, though, there are moments of sluggishness that stall the pace, the acting is sometimes hard to take too seriously if not outright stiff and most of the characters are forgettable and not fully realized. It showcases violence, but little in terms of thrills or suspense and gets caught in a cycle of "go here, fight, go here, fight" until it's over. It's difficult to take its melodrama as seriously as it seems to want you to as well with dialogue that, when spouted, only reminds you how much better the idea and style is and how you wouldn't mind most of the characters simply shutting up. The Warrios is a film that's more conceptual than purposeful and its concept is why it's as popular as it is, even if it's a bit sloppy while doing so.
The Ugly: I sometimes love films that so encapsulate their time. The Warriors could never be made today and from a purely nostalgic perspective, and don't worry it doesn't effect my review here, I utterly love it. The clothes. The music. The style. The slang. The sense of cheesy-love that runs wild through its New York-weathered cracked streets. It exudes the early 1980s/late 70s movie vision of "gangs" in a manner where it becomes the first thing you envision when someone mentions 1980s gangs. The rating is reflective of its time, and even for a film made in 1979, it's very simple and shallow, but very enjoyable, entertainment.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (4 out of 5 with my nostalgia glasses on as this is one of those movies that, when I watch, I feel as though I'm in its decade again)
A fact-based story centered on soldiers who escaped from a Siberian gulag in 1940.
The Good: After seven years, director Peter Weir, always the visionary and ambitious sort, tackles a very basic story and plot. Far less concerned with a narrative as much as it is presentation, mind you. While the story is basic, the execution is exactly what you expect from Weir in a film that matches the scope and expectations set by his previous film, Master and Commander. The story isn't as important as the sense of place and time and the characters therein. Once again, Weir's vision and superb cast makes The Way Back a testament to classic, large-scale epic moviemaking.
The Way Back is strickly old-school. It relies entirely on location shooting and character, bringing up thoughts of classic David Lean or John Sturges epics in many respects. We take these types of movies for granted these days. Now with computer wizardry you can make any place in the world (or other worlds) with just a guy at a monitor and strokes of a magic wand. The feeling and sense of actually being there, though, is lost in the process. Here we see real people in real places. It's cold, we can see that. It's scorching heat, and we can see that too. It's mountains and lakes and rivers and forests, blizzards with only a few bits of computer effects thrown in (such as a beautiful looking sandstorm). As we endure alongside these characters and the very real places they trek, we become attached making for a natural human element that 'writing' might have simply ruined. That's an element Weir is an absolute master at, and The Way Back is another film of his that you simply must see and, like the characters (and I'm sure the cast) endure entirely to appreciate.
The Bad: A majority of the film is either set in Serbia or in the desert, the other legs of the journey seem oddly rushed and simply ran through. If it weren't amazing feats such as crossing the Himalayas and finding Tibet before getting to India, then it wouldn't be a big deal. But it is, both within the story and externally as a feat of survival, and it feels sadly washed over. The character development halts here as well, almost giving up and settling for a montage sequence of hiking and climbing.
The Ugly: You've seen this film before, but they are a rare breed. You simply must applaud it on that alone. A solid film from a master. His best? Not at all...but even a middle-of-road Weir film (such as Fearless or The Mosquito's Coast) is remarkable.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend's daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.
The Good: It's sometimes too easy to write-off a "coming of age" film these days. It's a familiar theme that's really not changed much over the many decades of cinema. I think most people do, anyway. Sometimes being too familiar can make people cynical or apathetic towards "yet another one."
Well, The Way Way Back is "yet another one" but I'm on the side of the fence where I simply want to enjoy the nicely trimmed yard, not care whether it looks like every other yard. The Way Way Back is familiar, yes, but at the same time I ask "who cares?" If it's good, if it's funny, if the characters are interesting, story charming and it has a point to make, then why worry if it's derivative of other movies? I just want a good movie.
The Way Way Back does just that, a bit of summer-vacation nostalgia that might have echoes of Meatballs, National Lampoon or Adventureland but retains a dose of human drama about family. No, not "this is my mod and dad and sister and we're on vacation" but "this isn't a family at all, but it'll have to do." It's more about a broken home trying to be rebuilt than your typical "family vacation" plot which hasn't changed much since Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.
Affairs, divorce, adults trying to recapture youth yet not realizing they have children of their own, children who just want to connect with their parents who can't see who they really are, and vice versa...The Way Way Back is a solid, slim and refined script brought to life by it's fantastic cast and directing. It's a summer film about summer's of youth, and despite being lost amongst all the big-budget flicks of the summer of 2013, it might just be the best of them.
The Bad: While the film makes it clear that the mother, played wonderfully by Toni Collette, is simply trying to find someone, you can't help but wonder "why him?" More importantly, though, is that it's never really made clear why she and her son have such a wall between them, or why she never spoke to him before about his father (yet to this new guy, she's apparently told him everything).
I really like the character, but she's integral to a lot of what happens in the movie, including what happens with her son, Duncan, and why he does what he does. Yet, something just doesn't quite fit in the scenario she's more forced to happen than seems to naturally happen. Thankfully, all this is still Duncan's story, even if the reasoning behind the mother isn't made entirely clear.
The Ugly: Steve Carrell plays an asshole pretty well. Almost scarily well. You loathe him, and for good reason. His ability to just be a "dick" without seemingly realizing he is a "dick" is a great line he walks, and he really gives one of his best performances despite being mostly a plot device.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
"Watchmen" is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the "Doomsday Clock" - which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union - is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion - a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity... but who is watching the Watchmen?"
The Good: Sometimes I’m grateful. A majority of films are adaptations from other material, most of that other material being stuff I haven’t read. Some of the greatest films ever made are adaptations. When it comes to comic books, though, it seems the reaction is regarding faithfulness, although many film adaptations are far from faithful and change things. I can’t judge Watchmen based on an adaptation. One being I haven’t read it, the other being I really don’t care. It seems every negative review addressed the adaptation and the changes, most of which I really don’t care about. I judge a movie, its story, presentation and characters and the value as a film, how accurate it is to something else I really couldn’t care less on. Sometimes being literally faithful is just as bad as being loosely adapted, and it’s lose-lose either way if that’s all you judge a film on. So when Watchmen finally dropped into my lap, I had no preconceived notions or expectations on what it would offer, just hoping it offered some entertainment. Well, it does. It brings credibility and intellect to the superhero genre while still retaining the genre’s sense of fantasy and spectacle. It’s dark, perhaps too dark, and intensely gratifying as an epic superhero film that isn’t so much about heroes as it is the idea that, let’s be honest, there’s probably something wrong with you if you wake up one day and decide to put on a mask. They’re people first, masked vigilantes second, and this idea of moral ambiguity is something rarely touched upon for a comic book film. Only until recently did we get a taste of it with Ironman’s Tony Stark and the philosophical ramblings of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Watchmen, though, builds it all to a climax. It has every element you would want in a film. Suspense, mystery, conspiracy, romance, action, character and story given just enough to get us invested. The lack of star power is a shining quality, otherwise it would be merely a vehicle for an actor and that distraction would hinder more than help the film.
The Bad: It’s a bloated film, no doubt. Through all the intertwining stories, flashbacks and subplots, it’s a film that often stumbles to the finish line rather than sprints to it and brings those flashes of emotion and character development to a halt. It’s far from subtle and subversive, it wears its themes and issues on its sleeve and ensures it beats you over the head in overblown fashion that wasn’t as noticeable in Snyder’s 300, but a larger scope and more complex (and convoluted) story makes it sometimes come across as merely pretentious than something that might be provocative and intellectually stimulating. A bit too long, noticeably so in the final act of the film where it drags the limping bodies of the previous two acts along (almost episodic in nature) to conclude itself. It, like the viewer, feels tired and the energy and wind of interest gone from its sails.
The Ugly: It’s by no coincidence that two of my favorite reviewers, Peter Travers (who I often disagree with) and Roger Ebert (who I rarely disagree with) do not note anything regarding the adaptation in their reviews...they considered it a pretty darn good movie, and that’s how it should be approached. As Travers notes “Viewers who worry about the Giant Squid, the Black Freighter and other Watchmen elements missing from the movie are missing the point.”
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
In the cold, wintery fields of New England, a lonely old house wakes up every thirty years - and demands a sacrifice.
The Good: It’s an old trope - some people go to a weird old house and bad stuff starts to happen. It’s a trope I happen to like. Horror, at this stage, can’t really event anything new so what fans like myself prefer is just something that’s well done. We are Still Here, despite some problems on a character level, is wonderfully done. It’s tense, mysterious, well shot and has the scares where it counts - ranging from violently gruesome to hauntingly subtle.
It’s a movie that loves to play with twists and turns. There’s no “big reveal” per se, but it loves to just go down a path to see what’s down it that is much, much different than the path it was on before. It starts small, left turn into a monster movie, right turn into a ghost movie, turn back around and you’re in Twin Peak. I like being toyed with, and though the movie can’t quite wrangle all those turns in with character and story to make it all completely work, I certainly enjoyed the road trip with it.
The Bad: We Are Still Here, though ambitious and doing quite a bit right for a straightforward haunted house tale, feels amateurish at times. Well, it is done by an amateur so that’s expected, it’s his first movie as far as I can tell, but it ends up rough around the edges. The family story and characters are underdeveloped, the townspeople element undercooked and the acting stiff. The scares help cover some of that stuff, I think, as the constant sense of dread never leaves, at least.
And that acting. Boy. I don’t know what to say. Sometimes it’s ok, Barbara Crampton is quite good, but a lot of the rest just doesn’t sit right, as though some weren’t entirely sure what movie they were making. Sometimes the tone is one way, others times it’s another as though the movie and actors weren’t sure if it should be played straight or not. I don’t know what to think or how to feel, and in a movie where you really need to know those things it seems like an oversight or maybe just not something given enough time and attention.
The Ugly: A simple truth of horror movies: All you have to have a character say is “What was that?” You have to have a pay off from that question work, and We Are Still Here says “Oh…we’re paying it off ten-fold, you just have to slog through the other stuff to get to it."
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Set in Southern California, a father moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo.
The Good: I would be lying if I said We Bought a Zoo is a good movie. It's not necessarily a bad movie, but it's not a great one either. Much of what makes it not-bad isn't thanks to writer/director Cameron Crowe who, at one time, was one of the hottest filmmakers in Hollywood. His style lends itself well to certain types of films, just not this one. It's a film that you don't wish to pan, you can sense that it wants to do something good and make you feel good while watching it, but you can't help but think it's aiming at a different target when it should be focusing itself on one to help guide its points home.
What makes the film work, allowing you to actually buy the sappiness and overzelous melodrama, is the acting. Matt Damon plays our lead and he's spectacular, balancing the tired rediculous nature of the plot with a grounded character dealing with a lot on his plate. His supported by a solid cast too, making for fantastic characters, solid scenes that overcomes the stilted dialogue and gives a sense of a man building relationships - really the central purpose of the film. We Bought a Zoo may be misguided, however it is well-intended. It hits the emotional beats well, plays to your heartstrings effectively and though it never fully succeeds, works well with what it has going for it.
The Bad: Nothing in We Bought a Zoo feels authentic. From the characters to the relationships to the dialogue to the consistently "throw another roadblock" plot line, everything feels far too easily planned, easily resolved and uninterestedly presented. It's a "what next?" scenario after scenario of bad events and everyone working together to resolve them. The working together part is fine. Hell, it's absolutely expected in a melodrama like this. But the one-trick-pony of bad-event after bad-event, forced conflict after forced conflict and unrealistic human drama all thrown into the mix makes We Bought a Zoo a film that spends itself after about 45 minutes then drags it out even further for another hour or so.
Yes, length is another issue: not that it's long but that it feels long because it doesn't do anything interesting along the way. Director Cameron Crowe pads the film with music montage moments and off-stares to imply deep character thoughts and internal conflict, but like the "what next" scenarios these are spent far too early and then dragged on for another hour to the point where their effectiveness is utterly gone. In fact, they're so gone by the sixth or seventh "let's play a song and have people doing stuff" you actually begin to sit and compare the montage and "deep thoughts" moments and find one you liked. That's simply a technique that's drawing way too much attention to itself and film suffers as a whole as a result.
There are moments of sincerity that work, and the acting in the entire movie is terrific (especially by Damon who does a lot for what little his character has going for him), but those moments are diminished by the padding and uninspired sub-plots.
The Ugly: You know, there's a scene at the very end that almost makes it all worthwhile. Almost.
Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5
The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief - and feelings of responsibility for her child's actions.
The Good: We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of the most anguishing and painful movies I've seen in a long time. It is constantly tense, methodical even, as it expresses the severe emotions of a mother whose child has done an unspeakable act. There's a scene early on where she stops in front of a jackhammer and seems to find solace in it - a pretty good metaphor for how this movie plays out. She just doesn't know how she should feel, or even if she should. People hate her for her son's actions, and she hates herself ten times more. The pain she puts herself through is more than what any person on the street yelling at her, stares in the grocery store or paint thrown on her car could ever do.
The film juxtaposes her plight with flashbacks to her raising her son. These flashbacks, you would think, might give some insight as to how Kevin became the person he is, but they don't. We Need to Talk About Kevin certainly takes the nature side over the nature over nurture debate, but seeing him grow and the things he does as a child alongside the fact his mother can seem to do nothing to change who he is is saddening. She's frightened of him, helpless. She can't control him. Watching this develop, and knowing how it all ends, is agonizing.
Tilda Swinton is amazing, as always, but the stars here are the kids and teenager that plays Kevin, Ezra Miller as the unsettling Kevin as a high school student and Jasper Newell as Kevin at age 8 especially. It's consistently uncomfortable when he is on the screen and even moreso with scenes with Swinton. They all loathe each other and you can feel that sensation without them even having to say a word.
The Bad: Though it's easy to see how Eva (Swinton) became stuck unable to do anything, I find it strange the father, Franklin played by John C. Reilly, is conveniently oblivious to everything going on with Kevin. He doesn't listen to his wife, he protect him if anything, and it makes me wonder just what kind of marriage the two have in the first place. They rarely talk or interact, and even though Eva blames herself, I feel the movie purposely makes Franklin more of the scapegoat. We don't understand his motivations, he's just thrown out to be blamed to pour on more sympathy for Eva, as if she needed it. Everyone is to blame, but Franklin feels like too-convenient and too-shallow of a character to understand and he ends up feeling as a plot device more than a human being.
The Ugly: This is one of those movies that is absolutely fantastic, but you never ever want to watch again.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
Robbie Hart is singing the hits of the 1980s at weddings and other celebrations. He also can keep the party going in good spirit, he knows what to say and when to say it. Julia is a waitress at the events where Robbie performs. When both of them find someone to marry and prepare for their weddings, it becomes clear that they've chosen wrong partners.
The Good: A sweet and charming romantic comedy that may not have a lot of originality or depth to it, but certainly knows how to play off the nostalgic tendencies of the generation that grew up during the 1980s. Even then, though, for those that didn’t grow up during that decade, there’s still the “mythological 1980s” they’ve probably heard about. (Chances are it involves lots of coke). The term “The ‘80s” will paint a picture for anyone and images of early MTV, sounds of New Wave Music and neon leg warmers permeate through everyone’s heads. That’s The Wedding Singer: a celebration of the 1980s as we assume it to be, not how it actually was, and is nicely carried by a charming Adam Sandler, bubbly Drew Barrymore and a drunken Steve Buscemi.
The Wedding Singer relies on hindsight humor. A reference to Van Halen breaking up or Michael Jackson being a good looking fella are funny now because we know the outcome. This is how The Wedding Singer is able to make itself work better and it plays to this strength well – setting it during the overly extravagant and hedonistic 1980s was an absolute brilliant move. It more is a love letter to an entire decade, more specifically particular elements of the decade such as styles and trends, than necessarily a period romance story.
The Bad: Look, if you don’t know what’s going to happen during the course of the film in the first ten minutes, or even looking at the box art and poster, you probably have either a) been living under a rock and have never seen a romantic comedy or b) have no sense of story. The Wedding Singer, structurally and character-wise, is completely derivative of countless romantic comedies. It’s the poster child for the romantic comedy, the exact same formula that has been used for decades. The Wedding Singer, though, doesn’t really change it up enough. At least most romcoms will have a few alterations here and there despite being formulaic. The Wedding Singer prefers to be completely by the books and rely on the setting and nostalgia for the 1980s to carry it. It’s still well-done in that respect, capably directed and acted by all parties, but we’ve seen this exact story so many times.
The Ugly: In defense of The Wedding Singer, one might say it knows it’s completely derivative and predictable and just rolls with it. Relying on the nostalgia was probably the point to begin with – and it really, really hits that mark well. It’s a celebration of the 1980s, from the music to the fashion. Sure, it’s the glossed-over, superficial approach to it all, but the 80s was pretty glossy and superficial to begin with.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Ex-criminal Jacob Sternwood is forced to return to London when his son is involved in a heist gone wrong. This gives his nemesis, detective Max Lewinsky, one last chance to catch the man he's always been after.
The Good: A taught thriller that doesn't always pull big surprises, Welcome to the Punch is a slim and trim bit of a crime flick that brings back memories of older Michael Mann or Neil Jordan in style, even though it might lack the substance. It manages to plug in some absolutely brilliant set pieces for action alongside its British crime thriller plot, easily the most memorable moments in the film.
Though there's little depth here, both James McAvoy and Mark Strong do a fantastic job with what's given to them. Their character arcs are solid, if not predictable, but they sell it well, especially Strong who has always been underrated as a character actor and even more underrated as a man who can deal out a dynamic villain at the drop of a hat (see Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass or the often unseen The Guard as case examples). Though it may be thin, it is nevertheless entertaining and engaging because everyone seems to be doing their best to make it work. On paper, there's not a ton of wow factors here - the plot and characters are what you expect. In execution, it works thanks to the talent involved. For the most part, it does, even if it might be ultimately forgettable in the long run.
The Bad: Welcome to the Punch is a film that delivers a lot, yet still doesn't manage to fully deliver. It's not as violent as it seems it wants to be, it never has a major twist, it never has that "punch" that is totes in its title. It kind of just meanders though its plot, from Point A to Point B, with little to really stake a claim to so it can have an identity.
Perhaps that it - despite all the things that Welcome to the Punch can do right, it doesn't do it in a new or interesting way. It's fine in that regard, doing something well doesn't mean it's necessary to be original in the process, but that's the characteristic that can distinguish a film and give it a name you remember. It's also what differentiates a good or decent film from a great and memorable one.
The Ugly: I think even fans of this British-crime genre will be finding themselves saying "get on with it!" But the "it" never really happens.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
A amusement park for rich vacationers. The park provides its customers a way to live out their fantasies through the use of robots that provide anything they want. Two of the vacationers choose a wild west adventure. However, after a computer breakdown, they find that they are now being stalked by a rogue robot gun-slinger.
The Good: As I've said numerous times in reviews and on the various articles I've written, something has to be said when a film, even though not great, is immensely entertaining. By that I mean "entertainment" is the primary reason we watch movies. If it's intelligent, smart, moving educational on a subject or revealing of ourselves then that's all well and good, but in the end a film needs to be compelling in some form. Westworld is just that. It's pure entertainment that just happens to be really smart beneath the b-movie grade facade. Yul Brenner plays a malfunctioning robot in a theme park of the future where all the rich elite go to live out their fantasies. They're completely dependent on the hopes that the park and all the robotic "characters" work as they are. You know what is about to happen...the things start 'not' working correctly...and many killings and accidents occur. It's fun to see the varied scene where things go awry, it's fun to watch Yul Brenner stalk his prey as the black-clad cowboy robot and it's fun to see the thematic elements that the likes of Aldous Huxley or George Orwell would get a kick out of: just because man think they're in the control doesn't mean they are.
The Bad: Westworld spends itself rather quickly. Considering the film is barely an hour and a half long, I would have to consider the fact it feels "slow" about two-thirds in a fault. There's still the fun and strange sense of charm, but the pace comes to a halt rather abruptly and the film really tries to force itself to conclude. Westworld was the product of a very young, eager and inexperienced Michael Crichton. As is the case with most of his work, it's a great concept, but Crichton wouldn't really reach his stride as director until his next film Coma and subsequently his best film, The Great Train Robbery. Crichton also wouldn't perfect his "theme park gone bad" until much later with the novel "Jurassic Park" nearly 30 years later.
The Ugly: The film is from 1973 and is low budget. You need to expect what is probably something you're already assuming. Cheesy special effects, however far from primitive at the time. In fact, Westworld if the first film to use Computer Rendered special effects.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane - like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts.
The Good: Clever and funny dialogue drives What We Do in the Shadows. It’s one of those movies that, like Spinal Tap or any of the Christopher Guest fake-documentary movies, is full of witty banter, memorable lines and something that is insanely rewatchable. Here you have the twist of making fun of vampires. A lesser group of creatives would probably try to make it a broad comedy, but this is a smart, fun, hits the right tone of dry and satirical comedy it ends up just wonderful little movie that I feel will be getting a cult following in no time.
It can be easy to assume that What We Do in the Shadows might play out its one joke quickly. Thankfully, it keeps it moving forward and tosses in enough things to change it up and have enough of that clever dialogue to never feel boring or dull. Having such charismatic actors and comedians fully immersed in their characters helps a lot to. The truth is, there’s not a ton to really say about What We Do in the Shadows. It’s a fake documentary about four undead flatmates. In lesser hands, that’s a sitcom. In the hands of these guys, who have Flight of the Conchords and Eagle vs. Shark under their belts, it’s pretty damn brilliant.
The Bad: Look, either you’re on board with this or you aren’t. There’s really no story, necessarily, just a series of gags and horror comedy. The characters are likable and we get plenty for them to do and that’s what matters. It’s relatively short at about 80 minutes and never really slows. It’s not really a movie that you can fault in a lot of ways, if you don’t like the concept then you won’t like the movie. I love it because I love these types of movies when they’re done well, and this is done extremely well.
If I had to find one problem it’s the Familiar character who is just kind of dull, but she’s also human and up against four irreverent vampires, and the film does struggle in its final 20 or 15 minutes as it attempt to bring some sort of “arc” into play that never feels satisfying in that sense yet offers some some very funny moments along the way. I mean, you have werewolves coming over and hanging out with vampires and they all get drunk. I love that.
The Ugly: I am honestly shocked more aren’t talking about this flick. It’s on VOD now and has been for a couple of weeks, it came out in New Zealand and Australia last year…give this one a go, folks. If you like Spinal Tap or Best in Show or like horror movies this is right up your alley, and if you’re like me and like all that stuff you’ll love it damn near instantly. I knew after ten minutes I had a favorite comedy of 2015 already.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
An adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's story, where Max, a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world--a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler
The Good: "It's a movie about childhood." I couldn't have said it better any other way. Honest and direct, many will find the appeal in how much they can relate to Max's own childhood and child personality. It's not film for kids, although the book very much is, and is as mature, dark, emotional and unique as any of Spike Jonze's work. It will, on a number of occasions, bring nostalgic tendencies to a viewer which shows the universal wonder that is childhood - the good, the bad, and the always confusing. Childhood is a funny thing to base a story on, and this unique take by using The Wild Things, not as an adaptation but more as a vehicle, is utterly astounding to this reviewer. It is a film some will watch and not expect to find themselves watching an artistic, richly emotional piece of cinema; perhaps expecting the typical family-friendly predictability of large lovable Barney-esque animals and a kid who rallies them against the big-bad villain. The villain here, though, is themselves and their own personal problems, agendas, confusion, anger and frustration...as every child would come to understand in this utterly one-of-a-kind, simple coming of age fable that is more complex than most will probably realize.
The Bad: Probably the only "bad" aspect is how many of the Wild Things are pretty difficult to like and feel connected to. While all distinct, and personalities brought out well, they seem fickle and spiteful of each other and this never really feels resolved other than couple of brief glimpses of kindness and friendship. I didn't expect a happy Hollywood ending, this is Spike Jonze afterall and he's as non-conventional as you can get, but I think many will find it utterly depressing in its conclusion.
The Ugly: Some reviewers absolutely do not get this film, and I'm not surprised because Jonze is sometimes a director that's hard to get. The biggest crime is holding the "it won't appeal to kids" aspect against it - these people are utterly missing the point and probably missed the boat that goes to film intellect island where they would learn to know better.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
A middle-aged couple's career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives.
The Good: Getting old, or realizing how much time is passing you by and maybe how little you’ve experienced, is something I think every person confronts at some point. Just the other day I was talking with a friend about that. “Oh, you realize we’ve known each other for a decade now, right?”
“What? Shit. It all kind of blends together after a while.” There’s no visual timeline, I suppose. Sometimes you forget to try new things or even meet new people because you like your life. While We’re Young is a movie that takes a lot of points: One is that you should most certainly go out and try new things. The other is that you shouldn’t forget the good things you have. Yes, take risks…but come home at the end of the night to your life.
Here we have Josh and Cornelia as they observe life passing them by and suddenly get fearful of the realization that they’re not all that young anymore. Enter a younger couple and the two are looking to rekindle their youth with them. You kind of know where this story is going to go. There’s moments of learning, epiphanies and come-to-Jesus moments for all, and I don’t know if there’s a filmmaker out there other than Noah Baumbach that I would want to handle this in such a subtle and straightforward manner. The movie is funny, but it’s mostly aware of its own message as we watch Josh and Cornelia learn and grow and come to see that they’re just fish out of water and the couple they attach themselves to, mainly one of them, is maybe not all he seems to be.
While We’re Young is a clever generational movie about generations. The disparity between the years. The differences between a man of Generation X with a Millennial, or a woman of Generation X who’s friends seem to be moving on as she stagnates. It’s fear from all parties, one afraid of the uncertain future, another afraid of the lost past and time, but it never bashes you over the head with it. It’s a fun movie with a lot of poignant observations of these people and how sometimes letting go and realizing you’re moving on is the best way to address it.
As for that friend of mine, we just sat around, drank wine and watched TV as we planned a trip we probably will never take…and that’s just how life is.
The Bad: When you get a movie from a filmmaker like Noah Baumbach, it’s expected that he’s going to have something to say - maybe it’s a bit preachy, but it’s a way to have “points” framed around a narrative device. Nothing new. Woody Allen’s been doing it for decades. Yet, there’s something about While We’re Young that comes across as judgmental. It’s essentially saying “See? This is how we should live our lives and if you don’t then your life isn’t worth living.”
Perhaps it wouldn’t feel that way if the movie was treading some new ground. Most of what it talks about and covers, such as us reaching for a cell phone or constantly googling something, is well-worn material. You can hop into any comedy club and hear the same comments on a Tuesday. While I like the fact the movie doesn’t make it all mean-spirited, everyone is pretty likable and the movie is funny overall, the final message is a near-condemnation of one generation (seen as phony and entitled) with another that worked hard and should love what they’ve achieved. As someone in-between these two generations, I suppose I’m on the outside looking in, I can’t help but see it as a filmmaker making judgements rather than having that discussion and offer revelations on the matter.
The Ugly: Easily one of Stiller’s best performances in a while. He and Baumbach, I think, just have something that works. Even in Greenberg, a movie I wasn’t all that fond of, he still came across as the best thing in it. This is much like that, only the movie overall is better.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
A promising young drummer enrolls at a cutthroat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student's potential.
The Good: You think you know the film, but you don't. You might see the trailer and movies like Mr. Holland's Opus or some other sentimental movie about an inspirational teacher getting the most out of his underdog student with the power of music will pop through your mind. Whiplash is not. In fact, it's a harrowing, intense drama about utterly breaking people to a point of self-despair.
Because Whiplash will nearly make you hate music. It will make you hate the arts. In fact, it might even make you hate JK Simmons, which I never thought possible, because he plays one of the single-most awful people ever depicted on film in Fletcher - an angry, awful man using every slur and insult imaginable, manipulating his students and playing mind games, all because they hit a wrong note or are slightly off beat.
There's no speech he gives. No "Let's talk about your dreams." No, he's an artist, and he has a particular vision and if you don't see it that way, you're out. His vision is interrupted and tested by Andrew, played by Miles Teller who's pain you empathize with ever single minute. Thanks to the writing and directing of Daminen Chazelle, you're intimate to this process, to the artist's agony and defeats. But you're also there for its beauty, even if an angry man is yelling in your ear.
The Bad: Whiplash has one mindset, one focus, and it doesn't quite feel entirely realistic. As great as this conservatory is that Andrew gets into, it's surely not the only one. There's one story point that just gives me pause regarding that and the eventual development between Andrew and Fletcher.
Then again, if it didn't have that mindset, we wouldn't have gotten the payoff at the end, so live and let live and enjoy one of the best movies of 2014. I suppose there's no better case for suspension of disbelief than the fact that our lead, apparently, only thinks there's one place to play drums.
The Ugly: Oscar for JK Simmons, please. He utterly transforms here.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the president from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders.
The Good: It’s may be a simple story told horribly, but one thing White House Down has is energy and fun. So much that you’ll suddenly find yourself “buying” the ludicrousness of everything it throws at you. I would give examples, but the entire film is an example, and that makes it a great way to kill a couple of hours.
While there’s nothing overly distinct about the characters, the one thing it has going for it is chemistry. Like him or hate him, Channing Tatum is a solid lead. He’s having fun. He’s in on the joke. So is Jamie Foxx as a not-so-obvious Barak Obama-esque President. They both play their characters with a sense of sincerity and dryness, making those little “winks” to the camera and one-liner jokes all the more fitting for this easily-digestible action pic.
The Bad: If you can stand the sense of attention deficit disorder, White House Down is incredibly entertaining. But like ADD, it’s focused on way too much, jumping here and there and not really putting effort in one thing over the other – good at many elements, a master of none. This is distracting. You’ll spend more time trying to recall which sub-plot thread and who’s against who and doing what than really sitting back and enjoying what should have been a straight-forward action picture.
It tries to be too smart. Too clever. That’s not what a ridiculous action movie should be. The mood of the film is energetic, outlandish, ridiculous, but it constantly tries to one-up itself with red herrings, twists and weaving threads that, quite honestly, anybody watching the movie probably wouldn’t care about. Give them a hero. Give them a location. Them them a bad guy. Make it happen. White House Down just wants to do that plus twenty other things that you probably won’t care about and the solid thread that might have made for a fun action movie (and it is fun despite it) can become lost in the gumbo-pot of excess.
The Ugly: The ugly is that the film isn’t bad but so damn forgettable. This is one of those movies that might come up on cable one day and you’ll probably watch and enjoy it, then quickly forget it until the next time you see it aired again and, again, you think “ok yeah, this was pretty good, I’ll watch it for the bit while I do some laundry.”
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.
The Good: Sometimes, I tend to throw the word "brilliant" out a lot in reviews. Usually it's just a catch-all term for me, describing a great performance or sharp screenplay, or a tightly told story and purposeful pacing. When I use it here, though, to describe Haneke's latest, it's for a completely different purpose. It's a brilliant film. Haunting, daring, beautiful yet cold and still as are most of his pictures. The framing, the set design, the acting, the beautiful black and white that looks ripped out of an Ansel Adams photograph. This is a film that should be nominated for Best Picture, but most likely will not. Like Cache, Heneke's thriller from a few years past, The White Ribbon is a "wait for it" type of film. Everything is a buildup, and then when it hits you, you finally understand and relish in how it manipulated you without you even realizing it. That's good filmmaking, and Heneke is one of the finest auteurs working today.
The Bad: Even I'll have to admit, you will feel a majority of the two and half hours this film brings. It's a slow moving film with little happening for most of it, other than small mysterious abound in a village and villagers dealing with their problems and toils. Once it crescendos into its climax, though, you come to appreciate it.
The Ugly: Every evil has its roots from somewhere. I, of course, will not spoil the message here. It's all cyclical, what we make of our future is dependent on how we treat future generations....someone in this village messed up big time and, as always with evil, there are no clear answers. Who knows what will be come of the people and the children? The parallels it draws to the events of Europe at the time are maybe a little heavy handed, but it's a message it makes clear.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko tracks a killer in Antarctica, as the sun is about to set for six months.
The Good: From the acclaimed director of Swordfish and Gone in Sixty Seconds (that's sarcasm, folks) comes a slow, meandering and bland film where the actors probably give more than the film really deserves. The cast carries it as best as they can, and everything, at least, has a great look to it (especially the exterior shots showing the frozen tundra in all its glory) but the solid effort of Beckinsale and Skerrit is thrown away because, simply put, they're better than this material which is the purest example of mediocrity.
The Bad: Underwhelming. Banal. Uninteresting. Whiteout is a film that, once done, you realize you probably just wasted your time - almost as much as the cast wastes themselves being in it. It's meant to be a mystery, a "who dun it" if anything, but the reveal is cliche as is the reason behind all the mysteries occurring. A good half-way in, the questions of "who cares?" will likely crop up. Half of that is because the story is so bland and drags you want it to be over, the other is, despite their best efforts as actors, none of the characters are people you get to know, like, or relate to. This type of hack-writing might have passed in the world of comics, of which Whiteout is based, but filmgoers are going to be much more discerning and have higher expectations. It's effortless, but not in the good way when someone says "it seems so effortless in how it presents itself, gives us its twist, showcases its characters..." Rather, it's effortless because no effort is really made at all to offer us something.
The Ugly: Garth Franklin, a reviewer at Dark Horizons, notes that you can pretty much make a list of mystery-movie cliches and check them off as you go. I made the list beforehand, such as the "hero with a hurt past" and the "false reveal" not to mention the "person we trust early but turns out to be the villain" and...yeah, he's pretty much right.
Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5
J.R. is a typical Italian-American on the streets of New York. When he gets involved with a local girl, he decides to get married and settle down, but when he learns that she was once raped, he cannot handle it. More explicitly linked with Catholic guilt that Scorsese's later work, we see what happens to J.R. when his religious guilt catches up with him.
The Good: Even in his debut film, Scorsese establishes his distinct shooting style, dialogue, editing and music usage. In fact, he does that in the first five minutes during the credit roll. It's rough around the edges (grainy and gritty and noticeably low-budget), but familiar and, oddly enough, fun. Of course, his debut film's plot and story are far from fun. In fact, it's arguably the most difficult subject matter to tell a story about: rape. It's about dialogue and character and feels exactly like a first student film feature would feel like; concentrating on long shots and conversation. What's intriguing, though, is the conversations which feel natural and are incredibly intersting although it may seem they aren't really saying anything interesting.
The Bad: J.R. comes from a different world, but it's hard to convince me that you wouldn't, at the very least, believe the woman he's falling in love with or take her side on a rather personal issue. That character flaw, or perhaps contrived trait, is a little hard to understand much less be convincing. It's a hard to film to watch at times, the quality ranges from superb black and white to home-video quality graininess, and it still has the "student" film feel when the extended music montages and quick edits begin to show up. Inconsistant but rather haunting. It's low budget and the production reflects that at times.
The Ugly: The awkward sex montage set to the Doors "The End" is actually the oddest and most difficult thing to watch in the entier film.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Sgt. Howie travels to Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He discovers that the locals are weird and unhelpful, and becomes determined to get to the bottom of the disappearance.
The Good: Some scripts can offer us a compelling film. Whether it’s comedy, drama or action, if they set out to tell their story and tell it well, then that’s all that we need as it eventually forms into a film and is thus entertaining. Other scripts do that, yet at the same time tells its telling a story, it’s also saying something and offers a completely new layer on top of it all. It’s called a narrative, which we see on screen and enjoy, and the core narrative which is what the story is actually about and wanting to tell us.
The Wicker Man isn’t just a story about a man investigating the disappearance of a little girl on an island full of pagans. Sure, that’s what it tells us, but what is what it really has to say is how the views of religion and life and right and wrong is entirely subjective and interpretative. To our resident Christian investigator, Sgt. Howie, the island of Summerisle is a regular place just with some very strange people. As it begins to expose itself, we start to see those underlying elements of the human condition and how the way we see our world and structure our society and have our own norms and morals isn’t a universal thing. So when Howie sees these things, he’s naturally disgusted and repulsed, confused and frightened and, eventually, absolutely preachy as he condemns everyone and everything. What Howie fails to realize, and as we slowly do, is that to the people there, it’s not weird, odd or disgusting. It’s just their way of life. To us, we get up every day, go to our job, in the case of Howie go to church on Sundays and love our significant others. So when Howie sees a mass orgy on a beach...yeah, he’s repulsed. I think any of us would, at the very least, be uncomfortable at the site. Of course, that’s just one small example, I wouldn’t dare mention the other unsettling things that happen on Summerisle. That’s a trip for you to take.
The Wicker Man is best noted for how it manages its reveals, outside of its brilliant acting and camera use. It’s a slow brew that build and build to its finale. It’s like making a stew as more ingredients are tossed into the pot, simmer, then let the flavor build until it’s ready to be served. And boy, does the Wicker Man ever serve it as its final entrée is now ingrained in horror and thriller film history. Of course, the way The Wicker Man serves it up is what’s so damned unique. You want it served piping hot and to fill your belly. Rather, it’s cold, calculated, and leaves you shaken.
The Bad: While the context of the music is certainly poignant (the rituals and history of these people are very music-oriented), they sometimes can be a bit overbearing as you watch the film and suddenly a musical number takes place. It feels out of place and sometimes a little forced into the story, yet they offer very little, save for the very last little tune sung.
The Ugly: I know Christopher Lee is best known for Dracula, as well as having a third nipple in The Man With The Golden Gun, but I still think The Wicker Man is his best performance. His character is unsettlingly complex. You see his smile and confident walk, how people love him and is a role that could have easily fallen into “just another crazy man” territory. Lee downplays all that. He plays it like the script plays the town and island: a different, uncomfortable and unsettling man that doesn’t feel he’s different or unsettling. It’s just another Tuesday for him.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.
The Good: Strong performances make Wild good. Wow, that’s a dumb way to start this review, but it’s really true. Not a ton happens story-wise in Wild, it’s all about character, relationships, past and present and personalities you can relate to. It’s hard not to because Wild, if anything, does a great job creating an intimate portrayal of a mother and daughter, and to a lesser extent a husband and a brother (they kind of get pushed aside) for a very personal story with very real people as Cheryl hikes for over a thousand miles.
Throughout the film we are treated to flashbacks of Cheryl’s past. They come randomly, often out of order, and are easily the most powerful scenes in the entire film. The hike itself, ambiguous and often uninteresting, really comes second. Cheryl’s reflection of the past, her dealings with her mother played wonderfully by Laura Dern, provide a story to the entire thing. It humanizes the entire experience and truly lifts the film above its simple premise of “lots of walking and thinking about stuff."
Now if only the hike was used more than a mere framing device to do flashbacks…actually have something interesting and worthwhile or self-revelatory to occur within it…might make for a more meaningful film overall. It’s too bad we get vignettes of a hike scattered throughout a flashback-driven story where the flashbacks are the best things the film provides. Despite Reece Witherspoon’s solid performance, Wild is one of those “ok” movies that has a really good movie clawing to get out. Well…at least it looks pretty.
The Bad: The “finding yourself” journey, whether it’s roughing it or using a open road as a metaphor for life, isn’t really anything new. I feel Wild does a great job framing itself around that idea, unfortunately it doesn’t give us a lot in terms of our main character. Perhaps it the omission of the internal monologue, the book was written as series of journal articles making it quite personal and introspective, and that’s really something the movie needed. The fact is, we really know nothing about her personal motivations, which is something that is critical to our understanding of her and the reasoning for the journey.
That’s not to say there aren’t powerful moments. The ability of the film to string together a story in what’s essentially a stream-of-consciousness thought experiment of self reflection is brilliant, but it also leaves us a bit cold is that we don’t know where Cheryl began versus where she ended up. It doesn’t expand on that, only that she wants to hike many miles. The film tries to put together the reasons, but they never quite land - not in the way a personal and introspective thought might be able to explain it.
I say that because, occasionally, the film does do that and it works fantastically, it just doesn’t quite do it in the right way and at moments it might have been needed better. We don’t get the sense she’s reaching a milestone or overcoming anything, which is the single biggest fault in the entire thing. We see the hike, we see the flashbacks, but the connection of the two never comes across as moving or the film earning its conclusion. It’s a film that says it is meaningful and spiritual but it never quite shows it and treats its themes as simple pieces in the pot rather than the strong elements they should be focus upon.
The Ugly: You need an epiphany in a movie like this. Something that says “This is what this movie is about. Period.” Into the Wild had a rather cynical epiphany, and it really landed it hard on a very human level. Thelma and Louise had a powerful self-empowerment theme that it made no compromises for (which is why it’s so awesome). Eat, Pray, Love, a film with similar flaws to Wild though its central character far worse, also had the self-discovery theme that Wild desperately wants to use but doesn’t quite stick that landing either. It at least managed to make it the central driving force whereas Wild gets sidetracked. Here, we never get one of any of these things which is odd considering the book is full of them - it wants to say a lot of things but can’t fully say one thing clearly.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
A struggling lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach's chicanery comes back to haunt him when the teenage grandson of the client he's double-crossed comes into his life.
The Good: "Quirky" is not a word that should really be used when reviewing something. You can use the word, but at the same time it doesn't really detail or describe what something is because "quirky" is a word that needs describing itself. It's like using the word "twangy" when describing country music - something I remember a music criticism class professor in college saying we could never word or "you'll be dropped from the class."
Yeah, he was a quirky guy.
Yet, I'm at a loss for any other word that can accurately describe what Win-Win is. It's very quirky. It's a quirky story with quirky characters doing quirky things. I suppose I should dig more into my creative writing roots and sound more "professional" by saying it's a fun, unconventional narrative with wonderfully eccentric characters realized impeccably by a talented cast of actors and actresses....but that sounds cold, doesn't it? There's no "flavor" to that.
Win-Win is quirky.
There. Simple. Effective. It kind of says it all because the uniqueness of Win-Win is really its defining trait. Well, that and a really good story being told with very likeable characters. My feelings by using such idioms is that it's perfectly fine because the reader and audience isn't stupid. My professor approached things from the "everyone is an idiot and you have to explain things to them" school of criticism. In other words: he was a pretentious asshole. You might have your own definition of what quirky entails, but at the same time it's a general and universal definition that things are just "a little off." I think any movie that has Bobby Cannavale forcing Paul Giamatti to the ground in the middle of a run path in the middle of the day, lay on top of him and rub his body against him to get him warm because he might be having a heart attack is, by definition "a little off."
Win-Win is a little off. In fact it's absolutely indescribable in many cases. It's about a lot of things yet I can't actually write exactly what it's about. This is just a film where you just know if you like or don't like it, in the same way the director's previous films (The Station Agent and The Visitor), and that's fine by me. You need a little quirkiness in your movie watching, even if that means it's hard to exactly explain why it might be so good.
The Bad: In a rather humble, if not honest film, much of what we end up with is a little too neat for its own good. The story and characters are wonderful, but the resolution feels like a finely wrapped present with a perfect bow rather than the rough, brown-paper box that the rest of the film seems to be working with. I can see the characters coming to their ultimate resolution, those feel complete, but all too perfect in a story that is more or less about the imperfections of life and people dealing with the consequences of their actions.
However, much of these complains only arise in the final ten minutes of the movie. Perhaps Tom McCarthy wrote himself into a corner and didn't want to treat these wonderful characters badly for all they've been through and conflicts they've overcome. A blemish? Yeah, probably, but a small blotch at most.
The Ugly: Have I ever seen Paul Giamatti in a bad role? Bad movies? Sure. Hangover 2 shows that. But a bad role? Nope. Even in material that is beneath him, he still seems to just deliver time and time again. This little gem of a movie is his best performance since Sideways and American Splendor.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.
The Good: It's interesting that the legendary Hayao Miyazaki would choose a biopic to be his final film. What's not interesting is that it's a film about a man witnessing history as it unfolds around him, yet he still carries on thanks to work. He's obsessive, a perfectionist, and dreams of greatness. So while it's certainly interesting Miyazaki would choose a biopic, it's not surprising it's about a work-obsessed man dreaming of perfection. That's what he's known for.
What is most interesting is, in a way, The Wind Rises isn't so much a biopic of Horikoshi as much as it is a look in to the history of Japan, and in a way the world, at the beginnings of the 20th century and how it shaped the future. Technology, natural disasters, fascism, plagues, the dawn of aviation, wars, European relations, China...there's a ton that's touched upon with the through-line being Horikoshi's life as he witness most of it.
While never "powerful" or with a lot to comment about it, it paints a portrait that allows the audience to see how things connect. The idea is that one thing will lead and fall in to another. Some might call it fate, or acts of God or just the way the human condition is, but at the heart we're all just living our lives, bearing witness to history at any given moment, and only upon reflection does it all begin to come together. All we can do is carry on and try to live it to the fullest, and if that's how the great Hayao Miyazaki wishes to go out, this being his final film, I'm pretty ok with that.
The Bad: The emotional core of the film never quite reaches its climax. Some wonderful things happen, but also some tragic, but it never quite hits that beat of heartwarming or heartbreaking that Miyazaki is often known for.
Perhaps the grounded nature of the film kept him from wanting to wander in to melodrama, but I almost think it would have benefited, especially in the final act of the film where we really could have used something...just that "something" that made us carry on for over two hours still thinking it's building up to the crescendo but that crescendo just never happens.
I feel what it ended up lacking were full three-dimensional characters. Even our lead we know so little of, mainly because he interacts so little with a lot of people as he's often in his own world. That's where elements of his life needed to shine, and for that crescendo to be fully hit, but even when other characters are emotional, it's hard to understand why. I suppose we have to presume all the development happened off-screen...or on a cell that wasn't put in.
The Ugly: Dare I say I feel From Up on Poppy Hill, another Studio Ghibli film from this year, hit its emotional beats far more profoundly?
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
Eyeore has lost his tail, and Winnie the Pooh and his friends hold a contest to get him a new one.
The Good: There's an aura of calmness and beauty in Winnie the Pooh, a fitting tribute of a movie to everything Pooh that came before and every bit as endearing. There's nothing flashy here, the animation is as traditional as they come, there's no 3D and things flying at you with lots of in-jokes and innuendos or, God forbid, a single pop-culture reference. Winnie the Pooh has never had to sink to that level, it would be well below its nature to pander and demean itself by simply trying to get an audience's attention. Instead, it tries true and steady not necessarily with laughter but in sincerity and gentleness.
Like anything Pooh, it's about imagination and wonder from the perspective of a child. The story if very much akin to something a six year old would come up with...and that's absolutely not a bad thing. Imagine walking into a room with a young child playing with his or her stuffed animals. You sit down with them, share their smile and listen to them explain the story they're weaving - so complex to them but pleasiing and beautiful to you in its innocence and simplicity.
That feeling and sensation, afterall, is what inspired A.A. Milne to write Winnie the Pooh nearly 100 years ago. This film, so far removed from that time and era, surely lives up to the long history that Winnie the Pooh has endured. It's aged gracefully, as this film makes little compromises in its ideologies and is even smart enough to be a complete self-referencing understanding of what Winnie the Pooh is with page turns and our characters leaping across words and sentences to reach their next scene or the narrator getting into an argument with Pooh himself.
Films like this are rare. It's a wonder it was given the go-ahead with the caveat that it not change anything that makes Winnie the Pooh what it is. It's animation is beautiful, voicework classic and story as timeless as Pooh himself.
The Bad: For the life of me, I can't think of anything wrong with this film. This review had sat on my computer for a good month as I tried to ponder the various aspects of it, and every time I went to think back (and even re-watch) there was nary a bad thing to complain about. The length? Yes, it's rather short but for what it is, a simple children's story, it's the perfect runtime. Tries a little too hard to be "whimsical" and "sweet?" Yeah, but how many movies these days even bother at all? A retread? Yes, perhaps. But if you say that, then I have to ask "when was the last time you saw an animated film like this?"
The answer is probably never. However, it is legitimate to say we have seen much of this before, but it's also very true and right in what it's doing. The entire point of it is to recall back to the older films and, more importantly, be as different from today's saturated animated market as much as possible. It's the same reason why JJ Abrams's Super 8 works so well: we simply haven't seen a movie like this in a while. Is it right to say something is "new and different" when all it's doing is calling back to the past? Probably not. But is there anything inherently bad about Winnie the Pooh? Absolutely not.
The Ugly: Well, the voicework is classic save for one. It's such a nitpick thing that I'm putting it in this category rather than the "bad" category, as this category isn't meant to be taken entirely seriously. Think of it as afterthoughts, if you will.
Anyways, Tigger sounds so incredibly wrong. Jim Cummings is a great actor, his Pooh is spot-on, but his Tigger and replacing of Paul Winchell is incredibly noticeable. Cummings had done Tigger before, but it was sparingly. Here it's all him, and it just sticks out as an obvious change. Tigger's voice is pretty damn classic, as classic as Pooh's himself, so the Sylvester-the-Cat like quality of his voice here is odd...but it's also only noticeable to those that frequented the older film and series.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
With an absent father and a withdrawn and depressed mother, 17 year-old Ree Dolly keeps her family together in a dirt poor rural area. She's taken aback however when the local Sheriff tells her that her father put up their house as collateral for his bail and unless he shows up for his trial in a week's time, they will lose it all. She knows her father is involved in the local drug trade and manufactures crystal meth but anywhere she goes the message is the same: stay out of it and stop poking your nose in other people's business. She refuses to listen, even after her father's brother, Teardrop, tells her he's probably been killed. She pushes on, putting her own life in danger, for the sake of her family until the truth, or enough of it, is revealed.
The Good: Atmosphere is one of the most important aspects of a film. The combination of sets, costumes, lighting and photography has to draw you in and, especially in the case of a film so far removed from our own environment, offers a sense of realism. Whether it’s a far away planet, or the back country of the Ozarks, it needs to feel as though it could actually exist. For Winter’s Bone, it not only feels like it could merely exist, it feels so real, bleak and authentic it might as well have been a documentary. This world painted from writer/director Debra Granik is an insight given to us with an unsaid understanding that the people involved in making it know this world and not only want to base a story there, but wish to show how this way of life is in the first place. The result: many generations of ignorance, poverty, drugs and crime. Off the grid and rarely in the headlines.
Winter’s Bone is an actor’s piece, and Jennifer Lawrence’s very bare and seemingly honest depiction of a teen looking for answers and trying to find her way in such a backwards and frightening environment is easily one of the best performances of the year. Around her are fine supporting and character actors, but Lawrence is in every scene, in every shot and carries it with bravado and assurance of a young actress very much coming into her own. Her and the cast and director downplay everything, never attempting to overly romanticize or become melodramatic, to keep with such an authentic world feel. It’s about insight into a world through our lead, and honestly if it wasn’t for that strong lead and such a sympathetic and determined character, I think that’s a world I wouldn’t want to have as much insight into as we end up getting with Winter’s Bone.
The Bad: Winter’s Bone is one of those movies that is so damned hard to write a review for. It’s well made, well acted, it’s story is simple and effective, but it’s not one that’s overly profound or enlightening or tries to set itself apart from the crowd. It’s one of those movies that is perfectly being content on what it is: just a well made character drama with a mystery twist. It’s very much a minimalist film, with little dialogue except for what’s needed (and delivered well) and only bits and pieces of music with the sound of the woods, trees and people heightened. At the same time, because so little is explained and everything is done with a very “matter-of-fact” way without desiring exposition, it’s difficult to know what exactly is occurring, who is who and why. I guess that’s the thing about this world. Even when there’s a movie about it, all the quiet bleakness that resides around it, we still don’t quite “get it” or the people there.
The Ugly: Even though I praise it, I still can’t help but be saddened by the authenticity of it all. As mentioned, it’s a bleak film, but it’s bleak mainly because it feels so genuine in atmosphere. These people do exist, they live like this, and considering the entire message of the film is that it’s a never-ending cycle with people stuck in such a place, it’s that much more depressing. This is not a “feel good” movie. It’s not gross, disgusting, perverted or violent .... It’s just real and an insight into a group of people that are more typical than we probably realize.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
Upon the death of his brother, Larry Talbot returns from America to his ancestral home in Wales. He visits a gypsy camp with village girl Jenny Williams, who is attacked by Bela, a gypsy who has turned into a werewolf. Larry kills the werewolf but is bitten during the fight. Bela's mother tells him that this will cause him to become a werewolf at each full moon. Larry confesses his plight to his unbelieving father, Sir John, who then joins the villagers in a hunt for the wolf. Larry, transformed by the full moon, heads for the forest and a fateful meeting with both Sir John and Gwen.
The Good: Dark and full of atmosphere, the Wolf Man was one of the later Universal Monsters to make it big. Aesthetically, it's one of the better ones from the era with lots of shadows, fog and overall nice and moody. The characters are all solid and the directing solid and, overall, it's a solid classic horror film, although not particularly frightening despite the great cinematography and the fact there's a wolf man running around killing people (the film goes more into the lore and curse than anything explicitly violent, it's more a thematic piece than anything).
The Bad: Sadly, the biggest problem with this Universal horror classic is in its lead, Lon Chaney Jr. He is simply outacted by nearly every other cast member and he feels out of place in many scenes - especially scenes with Claude Rains, who gives a great performance as Talbot's father, which is odd considering that Rains is distinctly British and Chaney obviously American and that the look like complete opposites, Rains the Laurel and Chaney the Hardy, and far from relatives. Because of this obvious distance in appearance and voice, there's really no way to believe their relationship on screen which is definitely forced in. It's a small film, not quite as grand as other Universal horror films, and by that comparison if feels underwhelming.
The Ugly: Chaney never amounted to much as an actor outside of Wolf Man yet always worked in all his pudgy glory. He's like an older version of Joe Don Baker. His dad was Chaney Sr. and one of the greatest actors to ever live, goes to show your name can only take you so far.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman, is lured back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Reunited with his estranged father, Talbot sets out to find his brother... and discovers a horrifying destiny for himself. Talbot's childhood ended the night his mother died. After he left the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor, he spent decades recovering and trying to forget. But when his brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe, tracks him down to help find her missing love, Talbot returns home to join the search. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers, and that a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline has come to investigate.
The Good: If there's one thing that nobody can deny on The Wolfman, it is one gorgeous looking film. The images of London, the classic foggy forest, the art design and costumes and everything looks polished. Even when it's coated in layers upon layers of blood and gore, which, thankfully, The Wolfman does not shy away from. Nor does is shy from strong performances. Hopkins is at his grizzled, crazy best. Del Toro is subtle yet commanding when need be and Blunt and Weaving, although very archetypal and predictable characters, work well with what's given to them. Joe Johnston's directing is actually quite sharp here, the film failing on the script and editing level if anything. Scenes are well shot, well acted and impeccably gothic as the film is meant to be.
The Bad: There's no denying that if you have problems during production, and on every level at that, you're going to end up with something unfocused, insincere and without direction. This is how The Wolfman ultimately ends up. It's not exactly a horror film because it's rarely scary or frightening (thankfully, it's at least moody). It's not a romance film because that element is never quite developed well enough, it's attempt at dark humor simply isn't used enough causing for inconsistency when it does show up and it's certainly not a film about a father and son because, while that would have made for rich thematic entertainment and maybe something meaningful, it boils down to a cheap confrontation that undermined all of it not to mention feels completely forced as though it had nothing better to do at the moment. Much of the film plods along as its story attempts to find itself, not reaching any vision of coherence or interest until about two-thirds into it. While Johnson aesthetically gives us what the film needs and uses the actors well, the tone changes from the scene that is surely more on him than anything, although film is a collaboration and blaming the utter mess on a director that wasn't the first, second, fifth or sixth choice is a little unfair.
The Ugly: After a half-dozen directors on and off the project, two (credited) passes on the script and the movie still in the editing bay only a month prior to release, this is obviously not the film Del Toro really wanted (Del Toro being the spearhead of doing this remake as he's a fan of the original). It makes me wonder if it was ever needed to begin with, but I am still surprised it didn't end up worse than it already is.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
The Good: Martin Scorsese traces a few decades of a man's fall...or his rise depending on if you ask that man himself. To Jordan, he doesn't really see it as anything more than a continuing move forward to greater things. Even the worst moments are the best because he has done everything that one man wants to do. Jordan, though, wants more. Yearns for more. It's the entire point of his life, he's a man that is never satisfied, and with Scorsese's energetic camera and Leonardo DiCaprio's enigmatic performance, you're there right along with him whether you like it or not.
Let me take just a moment and say that Leonardo DiCaprio is a damn good actor. Scorsese knows this, and here we have him without inhibitions because Jordan is a man without inhibitions. He's also an awful human being, but he's so delusional that he doesn't realize it. The film may be entrancing by Scorsese's directing and the palette and the use of music, but it's carried by DiCaprio.
Make no mistake, this is a comedy, a pretty brilliant satire through and through of our broken financial instituion. The absurd nature of the beast of irreverence empowers it to shocking results as it goes places you don't think it would, yet it ultimately does. Its audacity is a thing of beauty. While that may come at the cost of caring about any single awful person layered through the film, there's no denying that all the sex, drugs, fast cars, boats, beautiful women and crude affection of absolutely not giving a shit is present in both form and function, and a hell of a (long) ride to take. Wolf is good, really good, yet it comes up short in finding a purpose and core to its own self worth other than that audaciousness.
The Bad: Have you ever heard the term "too much of a bad thing?" The badness of The Wolf of Wall Street is its good: the immoral tenacity of one man and his horrible friends. But the film is soaking in it like a towel dropped in a full bathtub that you can never full wring out. It goes over board, which is fine, but at three hours of nothing but showcasing depravity, it more than wears out its welcome. Yes, we get your jokes, your humor, your drug affection, but it's through the prism of caricature
This is most telling by looking at the energy at the beginning of the film, which draws you in and you love, and then after an hour you realize that it will never ever take its foot of that pedal. It is always moving, or stumbling, down the rabbit hole that it doesn't care if it climbs out of. The cost? A story we care about. After a while, you just want it to be over and don't care whether or not anyone gets anywhere. You've seen too much. You liked that imagery and energy that compiled you, but at three hours long it never takes a moment to make you have an insight or feel an emotion about a single moment and while you might recall a bit here or a scene there, it never amounted to a worthwhile and memorable whole.
The Ugly: Jonah Hill has become one of the best character actors in the business. Yes, he can play "Jonah Hill" in movies, usually comedies, but between this, Moneyball and Cyrus, he's going to become that go-to guy for levity in movies. Yet nobody will care, he'll still just be "Jonah Hill" to most, and that's a shame. Less "The Sitter" and more "Wolf of Wall Street" might help.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
When Wolverine is summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, he is embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.
The Good: After a misfire of a first Wolverine-solo picture, I don't think many were sure what to expect with another. Well, expect the unexpected, because The Wolverine is a film that gives you everything you ask for and more. Action, inventive action, fighting action...lots of action. Good, tense action that James Mangold, when "on," can really deliver as we'd seen in Cop Land and 3:10 to Yuma.
But, what's great is the depth that The Wolverine strives for. It doesn't always achieve it, it's still working in the limitations of its own genre, but it at least attempts to explore issues from redemption to morality to what is or is not "honorable." It even manages to take moments to explore cultural difference as our hero is very much out of his element and learns to understand people he's unfamiliar with.
It also makes for a nice break and add in some comedy when need be. Comedy that, mind you, never detracts from the rather dark and serious tone the film otherwise is. Just a few lines here and there - that allows your story to "breath" and not weigh itself down, and the script by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank completely gets that. In fact, I'd say the script is the best element of the film, despite its flaws, and that's saying a lot considering Hugh Jackman brings his A-game as a haunted hero and James Mangold reminds us how good of a director he can really be with the right material.
The Bad: The Wolverine is an oddly paced little superhero film, in a good way in that it doesn't try to conform to what we expect of superhero films making for an entirely unique experience that is mostly good, but in a bad way because when it does finally reach that "time to be ridiculously comic-booky" moment that's put heavily on the back end of the film, it feels like a completely different movie and rushed. It's like when in Return of the Jedi when you're having yourself a really good Star Wars movies, but then at the end we have these scenes of teddy bears fighting stormtroopers that's light and fun yet feels completely out of place considering the serious nature of everything else that's happened (and is happening).
The Wolverine never quite has its seriousness taken from it, thankfully, but it never quite settles on a satisfying way to end it all. When you spend most of your film as a character study, then try to turn it in to a crazy over-the-top multi-part fight finale, it can feel like the rug was pulled from under you. It can also feel very obtuse in that it never settles on a story either. It has a plot, but it has far too many cogs in that plot-machine to really make sense or to give us an understanding of why things should matter. Context is absent and you're left scratching your head on why someone did something or was going to do something. The Wolverine doesn't want you thinking too much on that, it's certainly a film that leaves you with more nagging questions than satisfactory answers.
The Ugly: 2013 has seen some interesting departures for the "Superhero" film. Iron Man 3 took more of a James Bond style film with very little typical Iron-Man type of plot and structure and The Wolverine veers more towards a character study about regret and redemption and letting things go. These are great signs so that the entire genre doesn't get stale, I'd like to think that these people actually know what they're doing.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.
The Good: The Woman in Black is everything you expect it to be and simultaneously everything you want it to be. It's moody, Gothic, relies on classic "ghost story" scares to raise the tension and delivers them with polish and a sense of refinement. There's no real tricks, no gimmicks. It's spooky shadows, odd bumps in the night and whispers in the dark. For this very old-school tale, an old-school approach was absolutely necessary and the film delivers in style.
Atmosphere is in full force in the film. When you see "Hammer" in the opening titles, you kind of expect it to have a certain style and look. It gives us that and more with a fantastic setting and a great mood that sends chills all around.
The Bad: A mediocre story leaves The Woman in Black to just fly short of being an absolute gem of a horror movie. Its pacing is all over the place and subsequent mystery lacking coherence and impact. It's a puzzle that wants to be a big picture, but is more like a sketch that barely comes together. And when it does, it lacks the satisfactory "punch" that it seemed it might have been building to.
Though Radcliffe and the rest of the cast are serviceable, that's all they really end up being. It tries to dive into their characters, show their pasts, their conflicts, their emotions, but those too never drive it home or show a layer of conviction so that we might truly care about their personal lives. That, combined with a lack of plot, makes you wish a little more effort was given to really make The Woman in Black a standout horror movie. Considering Jane Goldman has a damn good track record to her name as a screenwriter, perhaps the fault lies in the source novel than anything.
The Ugly: Subplots are abound, and few (if any) really feel complete. Why dip your toes if you aren't going to take the time to show us drying them off?
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival.
The Good: Either you're on board with Edgar Wright's cinematic vision or you aren't. It's not an "acquired taste" necessarily as much as it is a distinct voice that people tend to not realize is so distinct until you've seen his films. Far from a household name, the man has his fans and unlike other "names" that get acclaim, Wright is one that deserves it…and he's still waiting to really deserve it. He's yet to make a bad film, yet to not get his vision out there in full force, yet still his films never open particular well despite the critical acclaim.
That's what's unique…he makes masterful comedies, yet none are your a-typical broad comedies that saturate the market. As mentioned, he's distinct, and maybe the lack of "sameness" that so many comedies out there have is why he's never fully broken through. His films have always had a polish, a heart and smart, wry comedic writing. The World's End is no different - visual gags that you can easily miss, call backs and foreshadows that make moments that much more funny, actors who become lost in their characters. Yes, that's Simon Pegg, but I don't recognize him in such a megalomaniacal way, and yes that's Nick Frost as his friend again, yet I don't recognize him because of the resentment he carries in a surprising turn in a "straight" role.
The World's End is clever and smart, though not as a complete package as his other films, at least Wright is attempting to not fall in to the sameness. Even in his own "Cornetto trilogy" as these have been dubbed, they're all unique, memorable, insanely re-watchable, clever and are distinct with his voice yet a voice that loves to re-invent itself with style and substance, similar to those actors we've seen in two films already yet here they are, yet again, completely distinct and separated from their previous roles; in the case of Pegg a role that is probably the best he's ever been. How someone manages to balance a very serious, dramatic and dark character with comedy is stunning, but he wrote it, Wright directed it, and magic happened yet again.
There's a lot of heart in The World's End. Well, all of Edgar Wright's films have shown that, perhaps "maturity" is more an accurate description as the film is less trying to be a satire, as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead were, and more just a regular film that humorously, humbly and perhaps wonderfully self-effacing, deals with old age, memories of youth, alcoholism, the tests that friendships go through and a number of other elements that really don't fully come to light until the films final moments. It never once comes at the cost of its comedy, though. If you're expecting something goofy and silly about drunks fighting robots, well you'll get that but you might end up seeing a more dramatic side of scarred characters and not realizing it's a lot more than just robots and pints.
The Bad: A third act ending that, sadly, doesn't quite bring home the sense of satisfaction and conclusiveness we're looking for. "Fuck it" is said, and what could have been an amazing finale to an amazing films ends up undercutting that sense of escalation that it was doing so damn well. I suppose it's hard to know exactly how best to end a film like this, but Pegg and Wright have been known to be exceptionally creative to bring home the themes and ideas they were working with, and instead of doing it as cinematically as they seemed to have been building to, and have done in their past two films, it's "explained" rather than "shown."
The path there, though, was masterful. Perhaps that makes the lack of appeal on the ending stick out a little more, and why they had to put in a very surprising epilogue to it all because they weren't sure how to quite give that fist-pump and "Yeah, nailed it!' as clearly as they've been so well off to do across all their work, going back to Spaced. There's too much good going on in the rest of the film to really hold an overwritten ending against it, and the film is too fun to not at least be a little disappointed in that the final 15 minutes wasn't as fun.
The Ugly: Apparently people in the US still have no idea who Simon Pegg is, who Nick Frost is and who Edgar Wright is. Hopefully word of mouth will give this movie some legs, but apparently more people wanted to see Jennifer Aniston try again in her movie on opening weekend.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.
The Good: There something great at work in World War Z, even if it never quite achieves greatness. It's that, out of the decades of zombie movies, we've never seen a full-on "grand" zombie apocalypse. It's not for lack of trying, there's a practical reason for that: horror movies have limited budgets and showing the world infested by zombies isn't really feasible. Usually it's small-scale, a few locations at most, with a small cast, a bunch of extras playing zombies and so on. Thousands on screen and traveling the globe just wasn't going to happen. Enter a studio, a star (and producer) who wants to show that and you end up with a zombie movie meets a disaster flick, and that's a great recipe even if the final touches of World War Z get burnt in the process.
While it loses certain conventions, it's a nice change of pace for a the genre. Sure, this is a less bloody and less-gory (and less-human) movie, but it's a big-giant-huge-zombie movie that nobody else managed to pull off and despise the sacrifices made, it becomes incredibly entertaining. Perhaps it's that large-scale difference, but it's also because World War Z is always pushing ahead, always moving forward and never really lets you take a break. The only time it "breaks" from this is when it heads to a third-act, far more old-school, classic zombie scenario that, as a fan of horror and zombie flicks, I thoroughly enjoyed. While director Marc Forster and star Brad Pitt far from "nailed" a great, epic zombie flick, they at least gave it a go and we end up having some fun int he process.
The Bad: World War Z is a film with a lot of promise but very little delivery of that promise. Well, if you look at the trailer you'll get what you want: a spectacle of apocalyptic zombie proportions. But there's a disconnect. Here we have a film about the end of the world and infested by zombies, yet we never once have a human connection to it all. We see everything unravel through the eyes of Brad Pitt, witness what he witnesses, but never really connect to anything or anyone. He's more tour guide, showing us events and things that occur, than he is character and the sense of caring about anything is pushed aside in to us more caring what the next disaster is going to be (see films like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow…only with zombies).
Those events are exciting, there's no doubt about that, but we never see it beyond just "living" people and "not quite living" people and places being overrun with the undead. There's no names. Little discussion of family or fiends or loss. Just "those people are alive" and "those people want to eat those other ones" and that's it. No connection on a level of care or a sense of risk other than the log line of the world ending that you can read on the poster.
As spectacle, World War Z is great in that classic cheap disaster-movie kind of way. As something that you to see as a human factor regarding the end of the world, all that is lost in the zombie and human body count. Then again, even the mediocre disaster movies managed to make you care at least a little bit. Perhaps that's where the ending comes in to play where we kind of peter out of the entire story…because we had no connection or anything really at risk, the writers knew this and just decided to end with whimper than a bang.
The Ugly: A "safe" zombie movie, lovely PG-13 all the way. It's for people who want to see a zombie movie but don't like gore. Or blood. Or zombies. At least the third act fits more for genre fans which was the highlight for me even though it wraps it up with a piss-poor finale newsreel/voiceover montage.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Perseus braves the treacherous underworld to rescue his father, Zeus, captured by his son, Ares, and brother Hades who unleash the ancient Titans upon the world.
The Good: The spirit of those classic and ridiculous sword and sandal epics are alive and well in Wrath of the Titans - all the troupes, pros and cons are still very much utilized without missing a step. An eclectic group of heroes band together to journey through mythological tales. The characters are fun and memorable, action sequences imaginative and often grandiose and even though there's little for our villains to do, they leap off the screen as enigmatic personalities. Best of all is there's a nicer dose of humor going along with it, thanks to some better supporting characters thrown into our hero-stew to counteract the detachment we get from our main hero. This small attribute is noticeable from the moment it comes on screen and lifts the entire film, and also notes how noticeably absent any sense of "fun" and "humor" was in the first.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this film actually exceeds the previous one. That goes against the consensus where everyone was quick to jump on the bandwagon of disposing this unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary remake (no argument there), but here we have something that's not restrained and knows how to have fun with its concept. The first was stiff, trying to both be its own film while being simultaneously a remake and came off as this soulless, vapid film that wasted its spectacle for something with no sense of purpose. Wrath has that sense. It's still a mindless film, but inventive and enjoyable enough to easily exceed the low-bar the first film set.
The Bad: Despite that it has a better sense of self-enjoyment and fun to it all, not to mention a nicer dose of originality in terms of just being a spectacle, the problems with the first are still apparent here. Great actors are wasted, notably Liam Neeson, again, with little impact on the story and Ralph Fiennes showing as much care and dedication to the fact he's playing Hades as a white politician does speaking to minorities. Again, scowling Sam Worthington is utterly empty as Perseus, but again Perseus isn't written particularly well in the first place. At least he looks convincing with a sword. The rest of the cast is forgettable, mainly because they aren't the point of the film: the action is.
But despite the imagination and special-effects effort, that action varies from fantastic to "what the hell is happening?" We can look to Jonathan Liebesman's uneven and inconsistent directing technique to thank for that. When his intimate-handheld style is at its best is when we're looking up and around astounding, larger-than-life things that look wonderfully fantastic. When it's at its worse is in nearly every action sequence, notably fighting sequences which are an incoherent mess of flashing metal, arm swings and loud clanging. The moments of patience and a wider stance, showing us action develop rather than just be a buzz saw of imagery and noise, are few and far between. A few show some things thought out, but those are exceptions that prove the rule.
The Ugly: Do you know what I love? That the film doesn't slow-down things simply because they're bigger. It's an old movie-making trick to kind of show the size and enormity of something immense, but in reality the creature/monster/thing wouldn't move any faster or slower than we would. I find the fact we have a gigantic cyclops that's swift and fast as he should be far more intimidating and a bigger threat. I can even buy the fact he has horrible aim (one eye and all).
Of course, the finale completely negates me saying that. Not only excessively slow moving, but incredibly cheesy, ridiculous and obviously made with 3D in mind. Such a disappointing climax. But hey, you know….whatever. Cyclops.
Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5
A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.
The Good: A lot of charm and originality in a movie that you might be surprised hadn't been attempted until now. "Video game worlds" seems like something that will write itself, thankful Wreck-It Ralph doesn't neglect character along the way. It plays it smart: keep the story very basic and straightforward and let the world and characters shine. It does this nicely as it blends conventional animated plots and tropes with atmosphere and atypical character arcs with solid, grounded characterization. Wreck-It Ralph is able to blend familiar approaches to an animated film, certainly one geared towards a younger audience this time around, with the non-familiar.
That non-familiar is the world that Wreck-It Ralph sets up for itself. Video-game world jumping might cause most writers to try and do too much, but Wreck-It Ralph settles in thanks to the incredibly likable title character, Ralph, voice spot-on by John C. Reilly. It's a gorgeous looking movie, full of subtle and not-so-subtle humor and nods to the video game industry that has become every-bit the money-making powerhouse that its big-screen movie competition is (if not surpassed it by this point). It's a great blend of comedy and action, but Wreck-It Ralph never neglect a clear storytelling approach and character you'll have a hell of hard time not liking.
The Bad: Wreck-It Ralph becomes a victim of its own vices as half-way through it completely throws out everything it was building towards and begins to "settle." This "settling" turns the entire film into a pretty stock animated story about underdogs and overcoming impossible odds. Fair enough, that was probably going to be the story to begin with. But here it's "how" it does it more than the fact it does it. Half way through all that world-creating and originality stops as the story plants itself entirely in one location and more or less restarts its entire plot. It becomes slower, even a little blander as everything we were introduced to in the beginning of the movie is supplanted for a generic, candyland-like world that we know little to nothing about and isn't as interesting as the world that was just set up for us (games and lands that one could visit).
I feel this isn't so-much "bad," because the film is still entertaining for the most part, as much as it is a "missed opportunity" to really create something fantastical and original. In a way, "settling" isn't just pointing at the film slowing down and planting some feet as it restarts itself, but it "settles" for something lesser than what it was building towards. It's like conducting a great symphony, then by the third movement you change it to a marching band because you just want to get it over with.
The Ugly: This would be a great foundation for a potential franchise. With Ralph so likable, there's a huge opportunity for him to go on more video game-world-hopping adventures, and potentially done a lot better.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
In a world where both Mutants and Humans fear each other, Marie D'Ancanto, better known as Rogue, runs away from home and hitches a ride with another mutant, known as Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine. Charles Xavier, who owns a school for young mutants, sends Storm and Cyclops to bring them back before it is too late. Magneto, who believes a war is approaching, has an evil plan in mind, and needs young Rogue to help him.
The Good: By staying in the “real” world, rather than a comic world of Metropolis or Gotham, and by keeping everything grounded, rather than over the top and merely spectacle, X-Men finds itself a unique tone in terms of how it approaches the entire concept of "superpowers." Sure the characters are paper-thin and dialogue, but they still feel like real people thanks to well-defined personalities and a smart way to introduce this to the world via the eyes of newcomers Wolverine and Rogue. It's a solid set up with capable directing and special effects that makes for an overall an entertaining film despite the flaws.
The Bad: While it’s interesting to see these characters, their interactions and surely their powers, what is lacking is any sense of a story. It’s Wolverine-centric, which is no surprise, but the mish-mash of other plots, supporting characters and action sequences is never threaded together well with a consistent narrative. Rather, it’s a bit of “look here, this happened” moving on to a “now look at this, neat isn’t it?” with the only tie to anything being a rather single-note Hugh Jackman performance (as are all the performances, actually). Call it merely groundwork if you will, but the utter bland and uninspired story does nothing to compel you and in the end all you really ever want to see is Wolverine because that’s about the only part of the plot that doesn’t wade in mediocrity. Throw in corny and stilted dialogue, thankfully covered for the most part by some decent delivery by most of the cast but noticeable when the acting isn't up to par, and you end up with something that’s choppy, aimless in tone and plot and ultimately completely anticlimactic in how it mismanages its sense of fulfillment and completion (in other words you feel as though it could and should do more). Thankfully, almost all these issues would be rectified in the far superior sequel.
The Ugly: While this is a movie many attribute to really kicking off the new era of superhero movies, in all truth it's merely a slightly above-average action film with some fun characters and an awful script. It benefits from not treating itself campy, staying more real which helps the source material, but isn't particularly astounding in terms of action and story. It's surprising how popular it became despite being, well, so bland in nearly everything. It goes to show how a fresh "take" can really go a long way because had it not kept its feet on the ground, allow us to actually "believe" these people could exist, the film would have been a disaster.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Several months had passed since The X-Men defeated Magneto and imprisoned him in a plastic chamber. One day, a mutant going by the name of "Nightcrawler" infiltrates The White House and attempts to assassinate The President. Meanwhile, Logan is trying to discover his past, and wonder why he became a mutant. However, the friction between the humans and mutants is grinding much harder. As a scientist named William Stryker is assigned to discover about Professor X's secret school and his chamber called "Cerebro". Meanwhile, Magneto's partner, Mystique, is planning to break her leader out of prison. Then, Professor X's school is attacked by Stryker's forces. Logan, Rouge, Iceman and others escaped. The rest of The X-Men meet in Boston along with Magneto, who escaped from prison. They must work together to stop Stryker and rescue Professor X.
The Good: A bigger budget, a better, more tightly written script and an experienced cast and crew bring X2 to a better level than its predecessor in every conceivable way. More focus is given to the characters once more, rather than just the flash and sizzle of it all in the realm of superhero showiness. While it deals with powers and has a larger budget to showcase them, like the first film it keeps everything relatively grounded in the real world and knows exactly when it needs to take itself seriously and exactly when it needs to be a little campy and fun to remain light and not overly melodramatic (this is odd, considering Singer would throw that idea completely out the window with the superhero opus, Superman Returns). Like the original, the take of “people first, heroes second” is a great approach to have to this type of film – something missing in many comic book adaptations. While it’s not as “Meaningful” or “poignant” as it’s sometimes-pretentious tone might let on, the fact that it tries to be is already ahead of the curve. What is far superior to the original, and what really sells this sequel, is the acting. The dialogue isn’t that much improved, but it is improved and so are the actors delivering it – a group that feels settled into their characters far better than before. The best of these, of course, are Jackman, Stewart and McKellen, all of whom feel completely in tune with their characters. The supporting cast is enjoyable as well as Paquin, Cummings, Stanford, Ashmore and certainly Brian Cox all deliver. A solid and inspired ensemble and the film is simply that much better, enthralling, fun and entertaining because of it.
The Bad: While there’s no fault really in focusing on Wolverine once more, Jackman makes it worthwhile, many of the subplots are still a little shoehorned in behind the facade of the hairy, claw-wielder. Supposedly, there’s a relationship between Cyclops and Jean, which is barely shown yet so desperately tries to show how earnest the two are in the final moments. A “too little, too late” scenario. There’s another subplot involing the backstory of Charles Xavier and the son of William Stryker, again wasted potential as we never really know who Stryker is nor do we really comprehend the relationship he has with Xavier. A final is the story of Stryker himself, which is odd considering he is connected so directly to Wolverine. After all, the teens’ subplot is effective because it’s hand-in-hand with Wolverines so it’s fair to assume it would go for our lead villain as well. In the end, we know nothing of him or his brainwashed vixen. All in all, this surmounts to some good moments, but nothing with any substantial meat to the package or adding to a nicely woven narrative. It’s shallow despite good moments of action, heart and earnestness sprinkled in between, not to mention ham-fisting its thematic principles and character dialogue at any given moment.
The Ugly: While a better climax than the first film, the final moments of X2 feel pretty forced and certainly a little messy as it carries on past the big “release” and wallows in aimless direction on what it wants to do, then building to a second climax that doesn’t have nearly as much weight and meaning to it as it should have. It’s simply sloppy in the waning moments.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
When a private laboratory supported by the government finds the cure for the mutants, using the DNA of a powerful boy, the mutants have the option of giving up their powers and become human, but their society split. Magneto opposes and decides to join a force to fight against the government and kill the mutant boy. Meanwhile, Jean Grey resurrects uncontrolled by Xavier and with the personality of the powerful Dark Phoenix. She destroys Cyclops and Professor Charles Xavier, and allies to the evil forces of Magneto, making them almost invincible.
The Good: Have you ever had a great idea? Did it seem so good in your head as it emerged as something of merit, meaning and, perhaps, artistry? Did that idea form and once you had it out, everybody realized how magnificent it was, praise you and applaud? I think, somewhere in the head of Brett Ratner. X-Men: The Last Stand was going to do just that. There are moments and flashes it it wanting to do that. The big finale and mutant-on-mutant battle is something fans had been wanting to see. The special effects are spectacular. You have twist after twist and the always on-point Hugh Jackman whom everybody loves. So what went wrong?
The Bad: It all can be traced back to what is at fault for a lot of problematic movies: the script. X-Men: The Last Stand not only saw a new director in the chair, a man who can handle action well enough, even showed potential as a more dramatic director with Red Dragon, yet returns to mediocrity in storytelling here, but it also saw a new writer. This is where it failed. You can’t blame the producers for the new take entirely, writer Simon Kinberg was coming off of Mr. and Mrs. Smith which was a hit, but with the emergence of his script and Ratner’s take on it, you realize how much of the point both of them missed and how much of the point Singer and his slew of writers got and understood. It’s focused entirely on setting up and knocking down action beats and plot devices, seemingly despising itself with its awful and forceful pace, losing any sense of humanism that we had before because X-Men: The Last Stand treats its characters as mere items to me moved around (and killed off) than to feel like three-dimensional people we can relate to and understand. Now they are mere caricatures awash in a sea of blandness that is a pitiful excuse of a script, and thus the soul of whatever little the franchise had in terms of “heart” and “human condition” is obliterated.
The Ugly: Despite most of the characters just taking up background space, one standout is Kelsey Grammer who is perfectly cast as The Beast and given some of the better moments in the film that weren’t taken by Hugh Jackman.
Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Two mutant brothers, Logan and Victor, born 200 years ago, suffer childhood trauma and have only each other to depend on. Basically, they're fighters and killers, living from war to war through U.S. history. In modern times, a U.S. colonel, Stryker, recruits them and other mutants as commandos. Logan quits and becomes a logger, falling in love with a local teacher. When Logan refuses to rejoin Stryker's crew, the colonel sends the murderous Victor. Logan now wants revenge.
The Good: Jackman and Shrieber carry the weight of the movie with nearly every other aspect being complete filler with only a handful of decent action sequences to at least entertain you. While we may know a little more of what happens with Logan's past, we still really don't know him at all. Also, the opening credits are fantastic...it's all downhill from there. Shrieber arguably upstages Jackman here, both giving solid performances, and Jackson as charismatic a lead as you can ask.
The Bad: There's little in the film that will surprise anyone. It's completely by the book and on the nose - everything that happens you will expect to happen. No surprises, completely predictable, but the biggest issue is how utterly forced it all is. The movie simply tries too hard, even more hard than the third X-Men movie, to try and be entertaining. I may not be the biggest fan of Singer's X-Men movies (the first two, for those not aware) but at least it all moved well and had a great tone to it. Wolverine has little personality outside of going from plot point to plot point and forcing in the action sequences right when you think they will. It's a shallow effort with absolutely no character to draw you in outside the main two (and even that may be me feigning niceties), the movie apparently satisfied with shallow drive-by personalities that come and go, a villain that has no point other than to be a villain and a plot that simply makes no sense. There's no joy here, it's barely fun even as a popcorn flick and, especially put up against something that got the tone right (Iron Man or Spiderman, which is what the film tries to be) it shows how utterly mediocre it really is.
The Ugly: Having read the first draft of the script, I can still see a few areas where it is the same. The original script wasn't much better, so maybe this movie was doomed from the start. At least they have Wolverine posing every five seconds and pushing people against walls and sticking his claws in their face. That's character development there, folks.
Final Rating: 2 out of 5
In 1962, Charles Xavier starts up a school and later a team, for humans with superhuman abilities. Among them is Erik Lensherr, his best friend... and future archenemy.
The Good: I can't say I've been a huge fan of the X-Men films. I've always felt they were a bit cold and the characters lacked any interest despite them being, for the most part, well made. Of course I'm talking about the Singer-directed X-Men films, most would probably agree it's best to leave The Last Stand and Wolverine out of the equation. Still, the casting was usually good and the action fun with the scripts good, but not great.
X-Men First Class, really, isn't that much different, though it is better in a few regards (namely keeping a good dramatic angle but knowing when to make it "fun".) The cast is more inspired and the story of Charles and Erik (which is nearly the entirety of the film) is strong enough to overlook the weaknesses of the rest of the characters and plot. It's fresh and vibrant with solid action directing by Matthew Vaughn, who is living up to the expectations he showed with Kick-Ass's action sequences, and two incredible performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender who will no-doubt be a household name thanks to a stunningly tragic-hero that will become Magneto. Kevin Bacon also lends a sure hand to a fantastic villain, though he may be forgettable in the long run of things.
It's interesting to see a "superhero" movie really utilize action moments so sparingly. It never feels the need to shoehorn in a chase scene or big explosion for sake of having them. It's approach is far different as it takes a character-driven story with a lot of dialogue and leaving the spectacle for just the right moments. That's what really sets First Class apart from a lot of superhero films, in the same way Nolan's The Dark Knight was able to create a dark, gritty crime story that just happens to have Batman. While First Class isn't quite to that lofty height, it's a damn fine polished movie that compels you with characters, grasps the sensation and feelings of youth from the era that transcend to youth today in terms of being outcasts, wide-eyed to the world and sometimes confused, and certainly manages to balance it all with wit, humor, action and just a touch of darkness. It's not re-inventing the wheel, but it's a nicely made wheel that can go on for miles with (hopefully) future installments.
The Bad: Putting the whole focus on Charles and Erik may give us a great sense of their story, but they aren't the only characters in this story. The young X-Men they recruit play an integral part as well, but unfortunately they are all rather one-dimensional and more or less forgettable when it's all over, including the aforementioned Bacon villain who gives us a great performance but not a particularly great character on the page. He does well with what's given but he's not given much. As for the other "men," you could remove them and their sub-plots entirely and pretty much not miss a beat in the story.
In fact, there's much of X-Men First Class that isn't too much different than any other superhero movie you've seen. Yes, it's better made than a lot and this one of certainly well-crafted enough to be enjoyable, but it also doesn't have anything to truly define itself. It's a formula that may be on its last drop even when it's as entertaining as this one can be. I also find it odd to set the film in the 60s yet not exploit that a little more. There's rarely a "big shot" that really sets you in the time period and pretty much relies on period exposition and cold-war fears. You might see some cars and certain wardrobe, but honestly, you can't tell. I know in the timeline of the X-men universe and of the films it fits, but I think it underused an element that could have brought a lot more character to the film
The Ugly: All the previous X-Men films were rather cold in their execution. There was rarely a hint of humanity in any of them. Here, you see emotion, from happiness to anger, and it tells me one thing: the "comic book" movie has grown by leaps and bounds since the early years of the X-Men films. Seeing this makes those look absolutely archaic.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.
The Good: Sometimes, you can feel the certainty in a film. The confidence. The focus. Despite being incredibly ambitious, X-Men Days of Future Past manages to be one of the best paced, plotted and directed films of its kind and all because its director and cast have been through this rodeo before. They know how to do these scenes and tell this story. They own their roles. Directory Bryan Singer knows how to tackle the subject matter. The result? A damn fun and brisk film that you kind of wish would go on even longer.
Well, there’s always that extended cut for home release.
X-Men Days of Future Past may get a bit jumbled and convoluted plot-wise, but the action, the acting and the pacing is refined enough to where you really don’t care. Best of all, though, is this is a movie that has an incredible balance. The drama is balanced well with the humor. The action sits sublimely with a humanist edge making it all seem risky and dangerous. The ending actually has a point rather than feeling obligatory. Days of Future Past is just, simply put, an immensely satisfying film to sit and watch.
It doesn’t really shake things up or push the genre necessarily, unless you count “fixing” the franchise a shake up. In terms of plot and character and action, it’s not pushing a lot of envelopes, but it has a good time just being a good movie. It’s not trying too hard to be “cool” nor is it trying to prove anything to its audiences (or, if you’re Sony with the Spider-Man franchise, trying to prove things to shareholders). It’s a confident and certain dose of action movie filmmaking. There’s an energy and joy here that’s contagious, rarely dour or even heavy-handed despite the themes, but a film that treats its audience with respect and offers up a solid rendition of a franchise that’s getting long in the tooth.
The Bad: Unclear and sometimes completely undefined character motivations keep some of the best elements on the back shelf - those elements being one Michael Fassbender and one Jennifer Lawrence. These two are linchpins to the entire story yet they rarely have a good character moment to go on for us to know what is going on. I suppose “convoluted” might be the right word, though one might also argue they have a complicated and convoluted relationship to begin with.
A lot of that might just have to do with the structure of the movie: it’s a massive cast with two corresponding story lines all with different characters. You have to admit, it’s not a mess. Sure, there are a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense (smaller things usually and especially when put up against the other X-men movies) but it’s all pretty clear when it comes down to the plot and goals. It runs through most of them, though there are certainly some that stick thanks to the strong acting. The movie is brisk and fun, but to a fault as some of that powerful punch it strives for just falls a little flat. Maybe going for something that covers so many bases, from characters to timelines to fixing plots to trying to be funny to trying to be dramatic, some things are just going to be sacrificed as a result.
Perhaps it’s because of all those elements, despite being pretty contained and focused by Singer, we have a film that’s a jack-of-all trades yet a master of none and certain emotional beats and thematic punches just don’t quite land. There’s nothing the film necessarily is “bad” at other than that it’s not quite “great” in any particular element. Then again, one could say that for just about any X-Men movie. A few strange plot devices and throwaway characters aside, though, Days of Future Past is simply a really fun and entertaining movie despite the devil in the details making you scratch your head.
The Ugly: The trick to figuring out what we now consider “canon” in these X-men movies is to not try to figure it out. Like comics, it retconned itself and starts anew - putting right what was once wrong which basically makes Wolverine our Sam Beckett.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The incomparable Toshiro Mifune stars in Akira Kurosawa’s visually stunning and darkly comic Yojimbo. To rid a terror-stricken village of corruption, wily masterless samurai Sanjuro turns a range war between two evil clans to his own advantage. Remade twice, by Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars) and Walter Hill (Last Man Standing), this exhilarating genre-twister remains one of the most influential and entertaining films ever produced.
The Good: One of the great stories of cinema, as the summary above notes, and one of the most influential films ever made. Why? Easy...great themes, great storytelling and, above all, a great central character to base it all on. When people think of Toshiro Mifune or samurai, usually images of this movie pop into their head, even if they've never seen it. I think this is Kurosawa's most visually impressive film, with barren landscapes and wind blowing dust devils across a weathered samurai (you can really see the influence of Westerns on Kurosawa, who was a big John Ford fan. It's great to see the way Sanjuro manipulates everyone in the village to turn against each other, because only a handful of people in the place are likable to begin with and the satisfaction of seeing them fall is a great feeling. He's smart, witty and amazing with a sword - one of the great characters of film.
The Bad: A minor fault might be the sudden shift and fall of Mifune's character, which seems a little haphazard, and the passage of time isn't really shown effectively. A minor complaint, though.
The Ugly: A dog carrying a severed hand down a vacant village road gives us great forshadowing, that happens in the first few minutes of the film.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with kids.
The Good: I don't know if there's a director out there that has as good a track record as Jason Reitman. Sure, he's only four movies into his career, but all have been unique, interesting, well acted and backed up with phenomenal scripts. Young Adult continues that trend, and to go on about it in that light of presumed expectations would be treading water.
What makes it unique, though, are two elements: it stays on course of showcasing a very insecure, out-of-touch, egotistical, sometimes downright-evil woman. You think she'll have some revelation or a turn, but it's been made clear even before the film's release that she won't, and doesn't. Her name is Mavis Gary and she is a bitch. She knows she is and she doesn't care. She'll like just for the sake of lying. She'll drink because she can. She even admits she has a drinking problem to her parents but says it in this nonchalant kind of way to where they don't believe her. To Mavis, that's just a way of life and the sincerity of her admitting that is lost to her. Mavis is played by Charlize Theron in, what could be, her best role ever. She's gorgeous. Intelligent. But you hate every minute she's on screen.
Young Adult likes to dangle a carrot out there. You want to route for Mavis. You want to like her just as all the characters around her in the film what to like her. But like them, she pushes you away and makes you hate her even more. She's rude, spiteful, certainly bitter and one of the most compelling characters you'll see all year. Around Theron is a cast of characters distinct and unique, but comedian Patton Oswalt is the standout. Oswalt weaves stories. About him. Life. The town they come from and high school. Young Adult is a dialogue-driven film with actors that can deliver outstanding dialogue, Oswalt in particular being right in-line with Theron and the two sharing the best scenes in the film together. The scenes are simply them talking and you can't help be captivated by every word - whether it be Oswalt's stories or Theron saying some awful things.
The Bad: Perhaps it's an attempt to validate immature or bad behavior for a woman who hasn't grown up, but there's a scene at the end that makes Young Adult just fall short of greatness. It's fine to not have compromises, but I take issue with a character, more or less, talking directly to an audience to say "screw all you people if you don't like this." It feels cheap and contrived as the film suddenly attempts to validate who she is and what she's done. It's an odd balance with how the story attempts to make Mavis sympathetic and us feel sorry for her, as the other characters do, then say she was right all along and there's no fault.
For this, I both love and hate Young Adult. I'm fine with a character being who they are, understanding their place and not having any revelations, but I'm not nearly as fine with a film preaching to me that notion. In a scene obviously set up, the diatribe of Diablo Cody just spews out as though the Oscar-winning screenwriter needed to get something off her chest. So much of the film flows wonderfully, has a great sense of place and never feel out of place (a problem that Juno certainly had), but the sudden change at the end nearly brings down the entire point of the movie and we then realize that due to not making compromises, it ends up not having a central theme to work off of as a result. It's wayward, aimless, and characters simply don't grow or learn.
For comparison to this element, all of Reitman's past films tend to have a point to them. Characters play off of central themes, such as "finding a path in life" in Up in the Air or "finding morality" in Thank You For Smoking. Even Cody's past film with Reitman, Juno, was able to use the themes of family and "growing up" as a superb development pin for many of the characters in the film. A movie really needs that core to work off of for its characters and Young Adult doesn't have that, then it tries to justify it which only comes off as some last-ditch effort to convince us it's more important than it is. As much as I like certain aspects of the film, it just didn't kick that extra point after the touchdown.
The Ugly: I'll admit, I'm not the biggest Diablo Cody fan. Juno was a good film but lacked authenticity and Jennifer's Body was a unique idea told horribly. Young Adult is easily her best script, if anything because you do get the sensation she lets loose and, perhaps, the script a cathartic experience for her. Despite its flaws, the characters (and performances) are incredibly well-written and come across as actual people rather than teenagers merely being mouthpieces for adult-speak.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
When Prince Fabious's bride is kidnapped, he goes on a quest to rescue her... accompanied by his lazy useless brother Thadeous.
The Good: Your Highness is stupid. The thing is, it knows it's stupid. That's the whole point of the film. So it's a little hard to be critical of something that is relishing in its own stupidity. The jokes never seem forced, the characters are surprisingly endearing and the adventure they all go in rather engaging. It seems to do exactly what it wants. Is it high-society comedy and entertainment? No, obviously. But it's not supposed to be.
The dialogue is what really makes Your Highness unique and fun. It's setting allows for phrases and quotes you probably won't find in any other film. It is, essentially, a raunchy comedy set in medieval times but with contemporary speech. It's playful and it's more than obvious the characters love their speech as they ham it up, play it straight and dish out some deadpan that all seem to work thanks to the uniqueness of it all. Hell, even a musical number feels strangely in-place in this fantasy realm. Especially when it's revealed our leading hero can't carry a tune.
Your Highness is both a parody yet a smartly done raunchy comedy at the same time. It's a niche comedy at that, it will appeal more to those that love fantasy and want to see it get a low-brow treatment (if you were to consider, say, The Princess Bride the 'charming' version of such a film and Monty Python and the Holy Grail the 'high' version).
The Bad: Only one, and it sets in about thirty minutes in and is rather large (in that it dominates the rest of the movie). The story turns repetitive and I there's really not enough joke variety, or plot variety, or variety of anything, really. Thankfully, because you've seen this type of story before, the low-brow jokes are enough to keep you invested. Sure, you've seen this story and character archetypes before, but you haven't seen it poked fun so...crudely. Example: there's usually some wise old sage to guide our heroes in movies like this. Here...he needs a little "pleasure" to get the info out of him. Despite the take, everything else is a "been there/done that" riding on a single one-note joke that can get old after a while.
The Ugly: How 'bout them accents? Purposely awful and hilarious as a result.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Iris invites her friend Jack to stay at her family's island getaway after the death of his brother. At their remote cabin, Jack's drunken encounter with Hannah, Iris' sister, kicks off a revealing stretch of days.
The Good: Your Sister's Sister is a film that enjoys its own plausibility. Relationships are often confusing and complicated and situations never as convenient or easy-to-resolve as your standard star-driven romantic comedy says it is. Emotions here, through comedy of course, are all over the map. Sincere, sad, charming, goofy…just being awkward as most peoples' feelings tend to be. These are the types of movies that a lot of people will enjoy because nobody is ever undermined or under-written. The men feel like men. The women like women. Comedy grows organically from their interaction rather than some contrived plot. In the case of Your Sister's Sister, two people just out of relationships get together on a drunken night in a cabin and then have to deal with the consequences, often funny consequences as often people look back to situations like this with a smile, of not really using their brains while doing so.
Lynn Shelton, who is very much in the indie-dramedy-genre family that the Duplass brothers have cornered via acting, directing, writing and producing, just lets the actors be themselves. A strong sense of improvisation brings an even stronger sense of authenticity, as though the characters are having conversations or emotions that they might have felt in the past for some other love, mistake, regret or friend.
It succeeds best in not only not treating characters like tools, but just having really enjoyable and interesting people to spend an hour and a half with. Don't get me wrong, sometimes that hour and a half can seem long seeing as how it's a film that is dialogue-driven and takes place, more or less, in one location, but they're all three-dimensional and enjoyable, intriguing individuals. Hard to write, but even harder to pull of performance wise and Mark Duplass (a veteran of this), Emily Blunt (as charming as ever) and relative newcomer Rosemarie DeWitt, who burst on the scene with Rachel Getting Married and probably would have been more noticed if Anne Hathaway wasn't so damn good and overshadowed her, just own their respective characters.
The Bad: Your Sister's Sister is such a basic, straightforward film, the only criticism I can honestly give it is that it is very basic and straightforward. It does all that incredibly well, but you end up knowing the beats and what is going ot happen well before they start dishing it out. It has a base-semblence of a plot with a few sets and twists to it, but it's entirely reliant on dialogue and the conversations of these characters to drive it and, even when the thing shifts in to melodrama, it has just enough to achieve that.
The Ugly: Who is Jack (Duplass) exactly? It's strange, you feel like you know the guy, but I think it's more you feel you know a guy just like that in real life. If you sit and think about it on paper, you don't know anything about the character at all, yet feel comfortably familiar with him all the same.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.
The Good: I think, when it comes to horror genres that have been done to death, you have to stop looking for the twists or the originality and just hope for something well-made. I mean, a movie could have all the twists and reveals in the world, but if it's not well-shot or well-acted or keeping you entertained throughout, then what good is that going to do? Some of th mistakes a horror writer and director might do is concentrate on the linchpin of trying to "wow" an audience with a concept or twist, neglect the fundamentals of the genre and forget that the audience they're trying to reach really just wants to see something well-done in the first place.
Enter You're Next, far from original, but that doesn't matter when it's done as well as this is. The scenario is familiar. The location is familiar. The characters all-too familiar (though less about personalities and more about a grounded, broken family group which adds a bit of realism to the whole thing). And the killers and home-invaders pretty familiar as well. It's just immaculately made. The structure, the pacing, the turns and slow-brew moments that make those "gotcha" and "gory" moments all the more impactful. You're drawn in, you're right there in the house with these people and defending it right along with it. Sure, you might see the twists coming a mile away, but the path getting there is glorious, full of memorable kills and just a slight touch of dark-humor that doesn't feel shoehorned.
The Bad: I'm not sure if there's a single person in the film that I actually want to see live, or if our hero is well-developed enough for me to really connect with her. It starts to go from being entertaining to "please, just kill them." It's a broken family, the way it presents them feels damn-near authentic, but they're grating. There might have been someone there worth liking (or remembering) but they all kind of swirl in to the same drain of disdain.
There's a certain element about that "heroine" that, sadly, is a hard-sell. It feels all-too convenient and all too unnecessary at that, not to mention it turns her less in to a well-rounded character and more in to just another plot device that diminishes what she could have been and the ending right along with it. Oh, she's cool and awesome and does cool things, but there's no soul behind it.
The Ugly: Not sure what to think of this one part that I sadly can't go in to without utterly spoiling it. I think it was trying to be bold, but then it kind of squandered it.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
While his trailer trash parents teeter on the edge of divorce, Nick Twisp sets his sights on dream girl Sheeni Saunders, hoping that she'll be the one to take away his virginity.
The Good: I have no doubt that the intentions of Miguel Arteta's Youth in Revolt are inherently good. While he's been floating around Hollywood on various jobs, I a pretty decent fan of his last film The Good Girl from 2002, perhaps a more experienced director is needed. Not that screenwriter Gustin Nash is the most experienced either, but his previous script Charlie Bartlett had the same sensibilities that his take on Youth in Revolt did. It's a solid script, just a poor presentation. The casting is solid, with some interesting cameos that seem to be of more interest than anything, and Cera, although a tad one-note, handles his lead role well although a little more of a powerful punch might have done wonders for his alter-ego. It's serviceable. You'll like Cera, and most likely get some laughs, but I feel the movie wants to do more but fails to manage to.
The Bad: Youth in Revolt is a quirky indie film that seems to like to remind you it's a quirky indie film. It tries too hard, scenes seem awkward although, on paper, they sound better than they actually come across. There's no chemistry with any of the characters, even those that are presumed to be romantically interested, as everyone seems to act with dead-pan stone face and deliver what seems to be smart dialogue with the impact of a fly hitting a window. It can't quite strike the balance it badly needs - the sense of dark comedy it never grasps with the quirky story that gets lost with mismanaging its characters.
The Ugly: Cera plays the awkward teen better than anyone, even though he's 21. His alter-ego in the film, Francois, is certainly the highlight. While he's not "spreading his wings" per se, it is a change of pace for him albeit only slight.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.
The Good: If you're interested in the subject matter, then this is for you. Zero Dark Thirty isn't so much interested in storytelling as much as it is lining up facts, showing the tense situations involved and letting you fill in the blanks. It's smart in that, knowing there's no way we can possibly keep track of every person in every room over the years this film covers, we hold on to just one: Maya, played wonderfully by Jessica Chastain.
We get to know Maya, her drive, her determination and her faults. She makes this all personal. We need Maya in a movie like this, a movie where procedure is given first billing over just about everything else, and it works.
At its heart, Zero Dark Thirty is more a provocative reflection than anything. It lays it out, from moral ambiguity to human rights. What is the line? How far can we push if we're pushed first? It makes no qualms about setting it all up but not necessarily taking sides, and to find that balance had to have been difficult no matter the film. It leaves it up to the audience to determine what is right and what is wrong.
You feel this journey. You may not recall all the names, or even know exactly what's going on, but there's no denying that it's been a trek. Think of it as a very big party and Maya grabs your hand and just runs through it, that's all the guidance we need to get to the utterly spectacular and extremely well-done finale. It may not have the focus or even the polish of The Hurt Locker, but Bigelow is able to get this world and way of life in to your head better than any filmmaker working today.
The Bad: At over two and a half hours long, you absolutely become desensitized to it all. Names begin to blur, locations of offices and desert cities become indistinguishable, characters pop in and out we really aren't sure of how they fit in to the whole picture and we aren't entirely sure who they even are in the first place, and the story plods along until the climax.
This is a great story told poorly, and though it's interesting and compelling, we never really see the full picture even at the length given to us. It lacks context, it lacks explanation and it goes entirely on the assumption that you may know the background of it all and who all these people are in the first place. It's great to have a film assume its audience knows everything, it treats you with respect no doubt, but after a while you do need that clarity of who is who and what exactly is going on because up until the final third, you really aren't sure what is going on.
Then again neither are the people we are watching either. Then again…if that's the case then let's try to tell this story a little better in the process.
The film doesn't bother to really tell us. It just passes us along like a joint in a smoker's circle as we witness things we aren't entirely sure of how it's important or why. We move along, more things happen that we don't fully get a picture on in terms of its interconnecting plot, then move on to the next. Is it the script or the directing that makes it all a tad nonsensical? Thank goodness for the performances and over-arching themes of morality, obsession and bureaucracy play so strongly, because story-wise Zero Dark Thirty feels tired an hour in, then you're just waiting for the final 20 minutes.
The Ugly: The politicizing of this movie is atrocious.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
A computer hacker whose goal is to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; namely, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him.
The Good: The reason why people love stories of future dystopia as that, and this is always the case, the dystopia being represented is really a reflection of our present fears (just as utopia is a reflection of our present hopes, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Trek). But there’s something about Dystopias that really can make you realize our own societal trends and culture, and many share the same elements. Some of the best in film would be The Trial, Blade Runner, Idiocracy, Escape from New York and The Running Man. The movies often range from good to bad, but what they have to comment on regarding our present is what’s great about them.
Then you have one of the greatest if not the greatest: Brazil. Brazil is arguably Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece. So when he was to take on another movie about a workaholic dystopian future and have a great actor as the lead, hopes were high. Here’s a guy that gets the purpose of such a story and for the most part, The Zero Theorem, is a fantastic look into the mindset of obsession, dreams and passion. While it never quite becomes visually interesting world, it has elements within the world that is built that is interesting and never seem too far off to what we are now. I suppose it’s less a far future as more as it is an alternate present in a way.
Dry humor has always been Gilliam's forte and it's abundant here, making this odd and unsettling world not too far removed from our own far more digestible. None of it makes sense, but there's a familiarity there that allows us to see it as a future that could quite easily be our own - it’s not as absurd as an Idiocracy or fantastical as a Brazil or Blade Runner - it’s a grounded world that probably seems so more due to the budget than anything. While it can often stumble, the unique vision and the solid acting from Waltz allows for us to embark on this odd little trip that Terry Gilliam wants to send us on.
The Bad: Even for a Terry Gilliam film, The Zero Theorem is disappointingly unfocused. Gilliam's films have always played loose, but they always seemed to at least be going somewhere. It's his style…but here it's his style unhinged and without structure. All those ideas that Gilliam often succeeds in expressing, from theology to philosophy and everything in between, becomes a convoluted mess as there's no story to carry it along. There’s an idea, and you can solve it all in a matter of two sentences, but everything in between is just over-indulgence if not outright an overwritten plot that never finds its footing.
While Waltz and company, alongside Gilliam's visual flare, give us a precedent to want to keep watching, none of it seems reigned into something you can find yourself caring about. The ride is great, a surrealist satire as only Gilliam can present, but it's all that to an unfortunate fault. The world is too uninteresting, the idea of the Zero Theorem too vague, the villains never quite understandable with their motivations and why they take the path they want to take to find this solution to a thing that may or may not exist. The theme is wonderful - seeking the meaning of life by figuring out this theorem - but it’s all so messy and never finds that emotional core that Gilliam thrives with in every one of his other films.
The Ugly: Great actors all around, always something interesting for them to do…yet nothing story-wise to make them matter. Then again, if you’re into Gilliam’s world and style, then you’ll likely enjoy the hell out of this movie despite its flaws.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
A serial killer in the San Francisco Bay Area taunts police with his letters and cryptic messages. We follow the investigators and reporters in this lightly fictionalized account of the true 1970's case as they search for the murderer, becoming obsessed with the case. Based on Robert Graysmith's book, the movie's focus is the lives and careers of the detectives and newspaper people.
The Good: A departure for Fincher, this much is certain. While his sensibilities are still present (floating camera, special effects, angles etc...) it's all wrapped around subject matter that is delivered, not though action or suspense, but pure, infectiously natural dialogue that develops its story. Fincher shows his ability to give us tension by scenes set ups. Everything is more subdued from him, and that is what makes Zodiac such a fantastic picture. It brings in the feel of intelligent suspense films (such as Serpico, The French Connection or The Conversation) but retains Fincher's trademark look and scene presentation. One reviewer, if I recall so don't quote me, noted how Fincher finally learned Discipline, something lacking in Panic Room.
Absolutely true, I thought, as I sat and thoroughly enjoyed something that told its story so incredibly well, almost unfairly methodical and purposeful with everything, yet doesn't offer us any answers or sense of resolution at the end. How could I possibly say that it's a good film if there's no arc? Good performances sure, and the cast is spectacular, but surely there's a sense of direction? Well, there isn't and that's because the Zodiac himself doesn't have an arc. He's a myth, an obsession, something that was fodder for papers and public, and Fincher absolutely captures that in both the brilliant storytelling and the structure of the film itself. The plot is nothing on special, but it's the way this particular plot is told that makes Zodiac a brilliant piece of suspense.
The Bad: There is a sense of Zodiac, and this comes from Fincher I'm sure, to be a little over-ambitious. While he shows restraint that allows it to work, it seems determined to cover every element, every detail and every angle of all things Zodiac, eventually resulting in a three hour film that moves a bit slowly and gravitates to sluggishness at times. It's muted tone tends to cause this sensation, with occasional dullness, and probably wasn't intentional - it's just that Fincher demands we take a look at everything. It's methodical take on the overdone serial killer story is appreciated, no doubt, but it is almost too methodical for its own good.
The Ugly: Zodiac is quite the polarizing film, for the reasons mentioned above. I've met people who utterly love it, and some who absolutely loathe it. If you've read my reviews, you know I love suspense and mystery, so I'd like to think I know what I'm talking about: Zodiac is one of the best thrillers from this past decade.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
In the horror comedy Zombieland focuses on two men who have found a way to survive a world overrun by zombies. Columbus is a big wuss -- but when you're afraid of being eaten by zombies, fear can keep you alive. Tallahassee is an AK-toting, zombie-slaying' bad ass whose single determination is to get the last Twinkie on earth. As they join forces with Wichita and Little Rock, who have also found unique ways to survive the zombie mayhem, they will have to determine which is worse: relying on each other or succumbing to the zombies.
The Good: Zombieland could have been just dumb fun. Afterall, that's what the trailers tend to make it out to be: a bloody romp with wacky characters. I think most people would have loved it on that element alone and, in a sense, it is just that and it does fully achieve that "dumb fun" attribute. However what isn't noted is how witty and smart it really is underneath that frantic and fun surface. It handles its violence and blood the way you would expect, with whimsy and tongue firmly planted in cheek, but it also shows a delicate care with its characters that is rarely seen in horror movies, comedy movies and, well, a lot of movies, actually. In Zombieland, we get to know them and actually want to spend time with them. We understand and sympathize with them while we have fun rather than the humor overshadowing it all and the drama having to be heavy handed in some contrived notion of "development" that a lot horror and comedy films try and have. It feels natural here, as though these are real people in an absolute outlandish situation (Shaun of the Dead too a similar approach to its characters). Recurring motifs and back referencing as well a constant thematic presence for our main two guys, the shy and smart Columbus and the utterly strange and funny Tallahassee (perfectly cast with Harrelson, I might add), the craftsman ship can sometimes be undermined by the blazing gun barrels and blood splatter; but it's still there and perfectly done within a solid 81 minute runtime. Any longer than that, and the film probably would have strayed and strained itself. 81 Minutes for a movie like this is right on the money. Zombieland is a comedy first with great character drama when needed, the zombies and blood are merely secondary and are only a means rather than the end. In the hands of lesser talent, that appreciation and understanding would be lost. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Ruben Fleischer, all of whom are young in their carrers, are now on the map.
The Bad: Zombieland knows its limits and what it can and cant' do. It doesn't try to venture out of its elements, however the pace tends to slow a little past half way as they hang out in a large house (won't say more than that) and seem to just spend time not doing much other than rushing through some character development. This is only noticeable because 90% of the rest of the film is essentially a brisk road-movie in the vein of Nation Lampoon's Vacation. The sudden halt feels more like a drastic shift to neautral when it was doing just fine in first gear.
The Ugly: Often, horror movies are released in droves every year, and often they aren't that good. 2009, though, has been strangely kind to the horror genre with the likes of Orphan, Drag Me to Hell, Paranormal Activity and Zombieland and found solid entertainment in The Last House on the Left and My Bloody Valentine as well. It has its share of bad ones as well, but for once there's a solid crop which is great to see. I don't know if a year like this will occur again anytime soon, but I do hope some of these movies set a new standard for others to follow.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5