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The Talented Mr. Ripley
You're Next (2011)
Glee and death make a gruesome pairing ... that works!!
Note: This would get a 6.5 from me ... but that score isn't an option here and rounding-up makes the score appear too high (it is a most perplexing first world problem). Out of something-like 4000 scores here on IMDb, I've given out a scant 57 10's. I'm just very particular. Now for the review:
One most-likely would not expect there to be as much dark humor in such a gruesome film like You're Next; but that is just one of the ways this film differs from others in the home-invasion sub-genre (The Purge, Trespass, The Strangers, Kidnapped) of slasher films. There is an abundance of death and dying -- with blood -- on display here as a rather large and argumentative family gathers at their (rural) vacation home before they are picked-off one-by-one by masked individuals for no apparent reason whatsoever other than they have the abilities to do so.
Phones are cut off and cell phones are blocked and trying to escape leads to certain death (or so in the one tried attempt) leaving the family with few options other than their own survival skills; but as the family is a bickering one they don't work overly well together and the intruders appear to have the upper hand ... until one unlikely family member proves to be a real survivor with a strange knack for killing (blender to the head anyone?).
You're Next does give the audience the oft-seen on screen death and carnage from such a massacre; but it does so in some unexpected ways (as mentioned -- "death by blender" is one of the most creative film deaths I have seen in years). The cast are mostly little known character actors from indie film (Joe Swanberg, Sharni Vinson, Amy Seimetz, Ti West) who all do a respectable job here ... you don't laugh at any of them un-intentionally at least. The dialogue might not be the best but it is all acceptable as horror films aren't generally renowned for their characters' conversations as thinking about "what one says" is usually trumped by thinking about "how to survive". You're Next also relies heavily on the dialogue providing some laughs that might feel out of place but deliver exactly what the filmmakers had intended. The film is briskly paced once the killing begins and once the dying starts it doesn't stop ... and the film never lets up. There is dread and tension for those hoping to survive while some believably appear to be disconnected from what is going on around them.
I realize this would not be a film for everybody; but those who like this type of film and the genre (and all of its subsequent sub-genres ... which I admit can get rather tiring) should find this one to be a grand good time. You should laugh ... glee and death may be a gruesome pairing ... but it works here and frequent horror-film director, Adam Wingard, has made his best film yet with this one.
(AND this Missouri boy will point out to his Missouri friends that it was filmed in Columbia, Missouri!! Check it out!)
Grab yourself some popcorn and enjoy!
This is another one for the British humor enthusiasts as its offbeat style of humor might not go down as smoothly as some of the pints served up in the movie to general American audiences who don't always appreciate the wit behind British comedy.
On idyllic Erin Island off the coast of Ireland, strange things are afoot as dead whales begin washing ashore and entire fishing boat crews go missing. Unbeknownst to the town's denizens, a strange light that fell from the sky a few nights before brought with it an alien species that was going to wreck havoc on the peaceful island and its heavy-drinking citizenry (luckily the drinking thing plays into their favor!). Newly arrived to-the-isle police officer Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley - Flyboys) finds herself in the midst of a crises she tries to solve with often-tipsy local officer Ciaran O'Shea (Richard Coyle - Prince of Persia) and local scientist Smith (Russell Tovey - The History Boys).
When Paddy, a local elder and yet another town drunk, survives an attack, it leads the trio come to the realization that the "grabbers" -- as the mysterious tentacled species are being called for their penchant of grabbing its victims before beheading them -- have an aversion to alcohol and they advise the town's citizens to get VERY sauced in the local pub (!!) to stay out of harm's way. While the party of the century (or at least their lifetimes) is being held at the pub ran by married couple Brian and Una (David Pearse - The Guard / Bronagh Gallagher - Albert Nobbs) some things go as planned ... while others do not as the three try to figure out how to rid themselves of these alien beasts that range from cute, little tentacled hatchlings to ginormous and hungry monstrous mother-creature.
The film does conclude a bit too easily in my opinion and I could have done without the inserted moments of (very forced) romance it thought it needed; but drinking to one's health brings on new meaning in Grabbers, a small monster-comedy with plenty of laughs that is worth a watch.
A Decent Doc about the Father of Shock-Talk
Before reality television allowed just about anybody to say just about anything in front of just about any audience AND before polarizing radio/television personalities such as Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill Maher and Sean Hannity proved there is an audience that craves shock-talk when it involves putting-down and insulting others, the world had one person who did this on a regular basis and who was actually different than all who followed as he was an honest, equal-opportunity offender who spoke his mind and was not earning tens of millions of dollars from corporate sponsors by manipulating those dumber than himself to believe everything he said. Yes, sorry, but if the shoe fits one's left OR right foot ... wear it.
Morton Downey Jr. was a foul-mouthed, bug-eyed, chain-smoking hothead who had hoped to follow in his father's footsteps as a crooner; but as the intelligent man's talent wasn't in music he found a place for himself on television as a host of a short-lived yet notorious and controversial talk show that bore his name -- The Morton Downey, Jr. Show -- that aired in syndication from 1987 to 1989.
It was called "3-D television" by some because of the numerous quasi-violent outbursts -- flinging chairs! fistfights! shouting matches! -- that occurred on the show between the verbally volatile frequent and not-so-frequent guests such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Gloria Allred, Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul, Curtis Sliwa, Allen Dershowitz and some (ignorant) random klansmen. His show was also described as "rock and roll without the music" because of its attitude, pacing and aggressive format. Downey Jr. was "in your face" and rarely apologized and always had an opinion which turned off plenty of viewers although it revolutionized the television format/genre. It could be compared to Jerry Springer; but Downey Jr. emphasized politics and race and hot-button issues and did not openly embrace trashy topics like promiscuous married bed-hoppers or naughty male nurses or stripper mothers. He believed his show was important.
Downey Jr. had a very quick rise to his infamous fame but also had a very fast fall as a stunt of his backfired and he lost much support. Evocateur is at its best when it showcases the man's career rise and fall but also provides a bit of touching, human reality by including the man's late health scare and battle with lung cancer (he claimed to have smoked upwards of 3 packs a day at the height of his career and he openly chronicled much of his early cancer battle with various television audiences). The doc falters a bit when it mentions his late-life love story with his third wife that wasn't necessary for the film but perhaps the filmmakers wanted to show he had a heart and was capable of loving another.
His show aired in the late 80's and I remember it being on and hearing some of his more shocking claims ... that probably are not as shocking to an audience today as they once were. Evocatuer is an adequate tribute to a man who did revolutionize television even if the man never knew to what extent.
Without doubt, he did take things too far but he did speak his mind openly and honestly which is more than can be said about so many that have followed him and are doing so for larger paychecks (as it has become ALL about the $).
Dirty Wars (2013)
War is Dirty ... but is honor dead?
Dirty Wars is a startling documentary that would most likely have (most) Americans up in arms in disgust over the senseless victims depicted in the film weren't they Muslims half a world away.
The Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill dives into the murky waters of American counter-terrorism efforts after 9/11 and discovers that drone attacks and targeted kills might actually be turning the tide in a war we believe ourselves to be winning ... as each new death creates tens to hundreds of new anti-American citizens in the world who view us as the new axis of evil as most of the deaths are collateral damage of innocent women and children. Scahill doesn't highlight the fact that we have enemies in the world that have caused us to increase these attacks; but he is simply making note/drawing attention to how "dirty" this "war" has become (war in nations we have never declared war upon). In places that once embraced Americans and our way of life, our continued use of drones and brutal attacks makes the survivors question who we are and wonder what our goals have become.
Some Americans and former military question this same thing -- what are we doing?!? When answers no longer make sense and lack logic, it is time to step back and re-evaluate what we are doing ... but the powers-that-be don't and won't. Began under President George W. Bush and continued heavily under our current President Obama, Dirty Wars exposes the acts of a super-secret branch of the military (JSOC - Joint Special Operations Command) who answers solely to our president. Their covert villainy (not always bad and villainous I must point out) can be easily re-written and members can become heroes at the drop of a hat -- or the execution of a major power player in the world of terror (Osama).
The doc is eye-opening and it actually made my eyes tear up a time or two over the deaths of innocent people (it isn't for the faint of heart as we see many graphic photos of the dead -- many of whom are children)... who happened to be Muslim. Oh ... the horror of THAT (my tears)! No ... oh the horror, period.
Like Dean himself ... promising but unfulfilled.
For James Dean fans -- who only made three feature films in his lifetime (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant) -- this will lamentably NOT be the biopic many would be hoping for. The title actually gives this away by calling itself a "portrait" of Dean by highlighting a brief portion of his life in Joshua Tree, California in 1951. Dean didn't make "it big" in film until 1955 (the year of his death) and his two consecutive Oscar nominations were posthumous in 56 and 57. This small film highlights a small phase of Dean's life as he struggles with acting and his drive to become famous.
In the film, Dean is taking an acting class to learn the ropes and establish his footing in southern California while he lives with a nice classmate who apparently has some deeper feelings for him -- the film is based upon the writing of this roommate. Much has been said about Dean living a bisexual lifestyle and this film "goes there" -- some won't want to see how much skin is on display here (there isn't even that much but it might upset some is all) -- although the film never really goes into any of the particulars with any of Dean's relationships so the audience never knows if Dean felt anything for anybody else or if all of his moves were calculated and methodical ... hoping something would come from this fling or that encounter.
The film feels rather pretentious at times (it is about James Dean!) but its stylish elements save it from being loathsome and detestable while the acting feels amateurish yet adequate. The landscape and views of Joshua Tree are breathtakingly beautiful and these simple moments in the film are gorgeously shot. There are parts of this that are not great but just when a moment is becoming almost unbearable the film offers up something commendable that makes one take notice.
There is a lot of promise here (like its subject matter) and it is disappointing that the film couldn't be more (again ... like its subject matter). This is probably a hard film to find and track-down and it won't be for everybody; but those fans of Dean's work probably won't mind seeing this small tribute to the star trying to make it in 1951 while not catching any breaks. It isn't much and is rather lite.
Joshua Tree, 1951 is more "art" than anything else ... it is a what if (as most of it is merely alleged; but what isn't?). James himself is a what if ... if only. There was something there with Dean ... and there is something here too. It just comes up short and never lives up to its potential. Again ... truly fitting and the disappointment one feels as the credits role is the exact disappointment that should be felt for this life that was cut short.
If this were the filmmaker's intent, I'd say "genius"; but I'm not certain of that. As is, though, ... it is quite good.
Jack Reacher (2012)
Tom Cruise's BEST in at least a decade
Those who know me well know that I am not the biggest fan of Tom Cruise and I can actually do without most of his movies. It seems as if Tom Cruise has at one time signed up somewhere to play a character that has been used interchangeably ever since in a variety of movies as he is oftentimes a tough-talking alpha-male with a chip-on-his-shoulder.
Jack Reacher is a perfect Cruise character as he is the SMOOTHEST toughest-talking, most alpha-male movie character to be on screen in months (he is also the film's title character and that could possibly be all that Cruise needed as motivation). Jack Reacher doesn't really have a chip on his shoulder, though ... his "chip" is more like a state the size of Texas.
Reacher is called to Pittsburgh to help investigate a multiple murder in which five random people were killed from a hail of six shots along the urban riverfront. A military officer is accused of the murders but Reacher knows the suspect is just a patsy which means he'll have to dig a little deeper to get to the truth and find what has been hidden and/or destroyed.
Not getting much help from the law (who actually believe Jack could be behind the deaths or at least knows something else about them), Jack teams up with the officer's lawyer, Helen (Rosamund Pike - Pride & Prejudice), and the pair follow evidence trails that lead to her father's corrupt office at the DA (Richard Jenkins - Killing Them Softly) and to other less-than-desirable individuals such as a sociopathic hit-man (Jai Courtney - A Good Day to Die Hard) and a secretive Russian mob boss (Warner Herzog - What Dreams May Come).
Jack always has something to say no matter the situation or surroundings (this kind of won me over) and he must always stay a step of others and his surroundings as his life and Helen's life are quickly put into danger. Figuring out why these five people were killed and what their unlikely link was might get Jack into trouble or killed ... Can Jack figure it all out before it is too late?! Jack Reacher has some good dialogue and it was my favorite thing about the film. Cruise oftentimes comes across as arrogant but here his character's talk backed-up his stance. Pike has little to actually do but I still like her as an actress and using Herzog in such a small role garners attention as he rarely acts on screen anymore. Jack Reacher plays its hand wisely and most of it works.
Director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) has wisely crafted a film that makes one wonder and suspect and anticipate what'll come next. As much as I hate to admit to liking a Cruise vehicle ... I did like Jack Reacher and I could actually watch it again!
Go ahead and fly away with this Fairy!
A hit at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Crystal Fairy stars Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as an uptight American drug-partaking lout backpacking parts of Chile with three friends (whom are native Chileans) in search of a rare cactus -- the San Pedro -- in hopes of experiencing its hallucinogenic effects on a northern beach.
At a random party before their trek is set to begin, a coked-out Jamie (Cera) spontaneously invites another American party-er to partake with them. She (Gaby Hoffman - remember the little girl from Field of Dreams and Sleepless in Seattle?) is a hairy (uh ... yep) free-spirit who channels the vibes of nature and goes by the name Crystal Fairy.
After their trip begins (it is a few hundred miles of a drive from the city to the beach), Jamie and Crystal discover that they have conflicting personalities and they clash many times before their group even comes across the cactus to imbibe as he is boorish and insensitive and she is unique and a deep-thinker. Jamie becomes increasingly annoyed with Crystal while his three Chilean friends tolerate her much better and actually respect her point of view and sensibility. Jamie is oftentimes unaware of his rude-ness but he is written well and believably portrays an American tourist expecting concessions and advantages. When they actually find a cactus (one she has spotted), Jamie and Crystal Fairy even disagree as to how to obtain it because Jamie likes things being his way and he is a stressful worry-wart.
While this portion of the journey is complicated, the real "adventure" begins on the beach when they make their drinkable concoction. The film becomes one about personal and inner understanding, acceptance and compassion. The first half comes across as rather annoying as Jamie's character is very self-centered and not too-likable and while I believed the drug-induced portion of the film would be the hardest part to endure ... I was wrong as this is when the true characters of each are actually revealed.
As for the film's acting: Cera fans know what to expect from him and he plays another slight variation of manic that he's shown audiences before. His character is high-strung and abrasive and some might want to reach through their screens and punch him a time or two; but this is a testament to Cera's acting talent. He plays his character very well. Hoffman hasn't been on many movie screens lately and it is nice seeing her play the titular (ahem) character. She bares more than just her soul in a few scenes ... and her final admission around a late-night campfire is moving and emotional. Welcome back to the big screen Gaby! This is a good little, independent film ... but it isn't one for everybody. It takes some patience and those who dislike grainy picture and plot-lite story lines won't appreciate or enjoy this. It is only those patient enough to make it to the end of this film and willing to take the entire trip who will be rewarded with the film's high.
The Big Wedding (2013)
Decline the invite to The Big Wedding.
If you get this invite in the mail, reject it. Reject it immediately! The Big Wedding is a big cast disappointment filled with off color jokes, juvenile sexual pratfalls, perplexing situations and relationships, ridiculous dialogue, dated material and off-putting or offensive moments. The one thing it has going for itself is its respectable cast but they are so horribly misused and abused I have no idea why a single one of them signed up for this travesty.
Robert De Niro (Cape Fear) and Diane Keaton (Father of the Bride) play divorced parents who are reuniting at a beautiful lake house for the wedding of their "brown-skinned" adoptive son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes - Dorian Gray), to a lovely blonde (Amanda Seyfried - Dear John). It is said by several characters that he is Italian because his future mother-in-law (Christine Ebersole - Black Sheep) fears brown-skinned Hispanic babies although he is supposed to be Colombian (but Barnes is actually a British actor who apparently hit the tanning beds a few times before filming the role ... not offensive at all, no?). Susan Sarandon (The Client) is the father's new girlfriend although she was at one time also their mother's best friend. The entire situation could be very awkward but the trio makes the best of it ... even as one of them walks in on the other two going at it on the kitchen counter. Yes, really.
So many of the moments in The Big Wedding had me question whether or not I was actually seeing what my eyes were (sadly) ACTUALLY seeing because the content and situations were so dreadfully bad (not to mention embarrassing to some of the actors).
Topher Grace (Take Me Home Tonight) and Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth) play Alejandro's two adoptive siblings -- him as a sexually-challenged doctor who is relentlessly pursued by Alejandro's "real" sister (uh -- gross but played by Ana Ayora - Marley & Me) who comes to the wedding and her as a cold who-knows-what. Her purpose is to act sour and frustrated throughout the entire movie (perhaps she was the only one who read the script and couldn't help but act this way after being contractually obligated to appearing in it).
The Big Wedding is another "wedding shocker" (think 'Game of Thrones') but for a different reason ... this one is unbelievably SHOCKINGLY bad. There isn't even a word for how bad this is. Four Oscar WINNERS in this cast (the fourth is Robin Williams playing a manic and bumbling priest) and we get this tripe?
There is honestly very little good to be said about this movie. The lake house is gorgeous. The couple chose some nice wedding colors. And ... that is just about it.
If you can, RSVP with something nice to say!
Safe Haven (2013)
Nicholas Sparks at his best ... er, uh, I mean same.
If someone were to tell me that the latest Nicholas Sparks novel-to-a-movie adaptation would be one that starred two ridiculously attractive actors playing characters who almost fall in love when a secret from the past that can keep them apart is revealed nearly thirty minutes before the movie ends ... I would say "No $--t! Have you not been paying attention!?" Anybody who does not reside in a cave would know this.
Safe Haven is yet the latest of Sparks' novels to follow this same "winning" (they continue to be profitable!) formula/pattern and it rather saddens me this is director Lasse Hallstrom's SECOND Sparks film as the (thrice) Oscar-nominated director has made GREAT films in the past such as The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Salmon Fishing on the Yemen (I've also just realized his greatest films have an edible word in the title).
Safe Haven stars Julianne Hough (Rock of Ages) as Katie, a beautiful young woman on the run from her past. Safe Haven also stars Josh Duhamel (New Year's Eve) as Alex, a handsome widower and saintly father raising two young children in a small, coastal North Carolina town.
The two meet soon after her arrival in town and begin a friendship (rather reluctantly on her part) after she meets him at the small convenience store he runs -- his cute daughter runs the cash register! -- as he helps her with an odd assortment of items and he answers some even stranger movie-scripted questions. He even gets her a bicycle with a basket on the front (which she takes as an affront) and he orders her yellow paint. Wh-what? Exactly.
Their entire relationship is contrived in a connect-the-dots Nicholas Sparks pattern and the film's supporting players each have a single purpose for the movie -- her jerk of an ex looking for her (David Lyons - Eat Pray Love), his cop pal who can discover her secret in an instant (Ric Reitz - Flight), his children to either look cute or get into trouble, and her country neighbor giving her relationship advice on Alex (Cobie Smulders - The Avengers).
Hallstrom has made this better than most sappy melodramatic romances (and Hough and Duhamel are both likable-enough stars) but Sparks' over-the-top climatic children-in-peril moments have become eye-rolling. The film is standard Nicholas Sparks malarkey and anybody who has watched the movies based on his work knows they have much in common. This can be good or bad depending upon the person.
Beautiful actors? Check. Beautiful scenery? Check. Romance? Check. Melodrama? Check. More melodrama? Check. A scene in or near the water? Check. A young one in trouble? Check. Good story? ... uh, Bueller?
Welcome to the Punch (2013)
An adequate British crime drama ... but sadly not another In Bruges
Welcome to the Punch is yet another film about the seedy criminal gangster underworld of Britain, a crime sub-genre that was a rarity a decade or so back but is now highly prevalent as there are one or two of them being released every month anymore.
The critical success of other Brit films such as In Bruges, Layer Cake and Sexy Beast (all excellent) has inspired many copycat wannabe film-makers to attempt to make the next buzz-worthy feature that will have audiences talking. But for every Tyrannosaur the film world gets we get 8, 9 ... 12 or 14 Welcome to the Punches. It is most fortunate that Welcome to the Punch is actually one of the better of these "lesser" crime films as it is generic and rather formulaic but also watchable at the same time -- mostly because of its very decent cast.
Welcome to the Punch is the story of Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong - Kick-Ass), a reformed criminal who had been living in exile in Iceland, and his nemesis, detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy - X-Men: First Class), whose failure to capture Sternwood years before never set well with him. When Jacob returns to England to help his son (Elyes Gabel - World War Z) who had been involved in an ill-fated heist, Max sees it as his opportunity to bring in the one man who got away; but Max and his partner Sarah (Andrea Riseborough - Oblivion) quickly discover that Sternwood might be an unlikely ally as truths are uncovered and a larger conspiracy comes to light.
Those Max believed he could trust in the past may no longer be ones he can depend upon in the future as he learns Sternwood's story isn't exactly what he had believed it to be. As him and Sarah uncover some unflattering details involving those within their own department and on their side of the law, the safety of their lives is put in jeopardy. Daniel Mays (Atonement), David Morrissey (Red Riding: 1974), Jason Flemyng (Hanna) and Peter Mullan (War Horse) costar as friends, threats or both to Max as he gets closer to the truth and understanding his one-time rival's past motivations and actions.
Welcome to the Punch will not be the "best" movie you've ever seen but it is also far from being the worst. It keeps one's attention and unfolds at a brisk pace. While I would have liked to see more of Riseborough (whom I believe to be a phenomenal actress), the film isn't about her character. This is a story between the two rivals who begin to understand one another as the story progresses. They might not like what they discover and uncover but an audience should.