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A dip in quality for Marvel, but still a damn good time
For the next five years a Marvel Cinematic Universe film will never be more than 6 months away. The Disney owned studio is pumping these things out like the world is ending, for better or for worse. Some end up being dazzling action spectacles and some end up being uninspired disasters. Then there's Marvel's newest film, Ant-Man, which falls somewhere in between as a competently entertaining, yet intrinsically flawed film. It's nothing more than middle of the road superhero fare, and there's really nothing wrong with that.
Ant-Man marks the end of Marvel's Phase Two. If Avengers: Age of Ultron was Phase Two ending on a bang, Ant-Man is the quieter fizzle that follows. It also marks Marvel's first return to telling origin stories since Captain America: The First Avenger. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy was new territory but that's far from the origin story model that Ant-Man so closely adheres to. The film follows ex-con Scott Lang who is hired by Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, to carry out a heist to get Pym's shrinking technology out of the wrong hands. Scott, motivated by the love for his daughter who is in the custody of Scott's estranged wife, accepts the Ant-Man torch passed to him by Pym, and by the end of the film the newest member of The Avengers is born.
I'll admit, Ant-Man starts out rough. I went into this movie with skepticism, mostly fueled by how badly I wanted to see Edgar Wright's version of this film. After seeing what Ant-Man became after Wright's departure I'm not terribly disappointed but I want to believe Wright's insight could have saved some of the weakest parts of this film. Those parts in question surround the human relationships that the movie tries so hard to make us care about. You've got Scott's relationship with his daughter, as well as Pym's relationship with his driving the "emotion" of the film. It didn't take me long to realize how little I cared about either. This script tries incessantly to get us invested in the human element at the core of this story, but some of the most sentimental moments played so cheesy, and some pacing issues stuck scenes of important character development in oddly random places.
As the family drama bullshit continued to develop I really started to think Marvel had churned out a dud. Then about 20 minutes in Scott shrinks for the first time and my whole opinion of the film started to change. Despite everything else, I was reminded that this is a superhero story. Ant-Man takes a while to establish itself as what it actually is, which is a strange yet fun mish-mash of genres. At it's core Ant-Man is a by-the-books superhero origin film, but it also wants to be a comedy, which is something it succeeded at about 70% of the time. It's lucky enough to possess real comedic talent in it's lead, Paul Rudd, and Michael Pena who steals the show as the goofy fast talking friend/sidekick of Scott's. Then, in terms of the action, Ant-Man is also a heist film that utilizes all the beats and tropes of bank robbery flicks of the 60's and 70's. This amalgam of genres doesn't always work, but it gives you enough of reasons to enjoy Ant-Man.
I think what will save this film from being lost in the halls of Marvel is the uniqueness of its action. For years we've been so used to big action spectacle from these films. We expect buildings to blow up, cities to be destroyed, and larger than life figures to be punching each other as hard as they can. Ant-Man gives us something so fresh in its macro spectacle, turning the inside of a briefcase into a battle arena and a little girl's bedroom into the battlegrounds for a final act showdown. Marvel continues to work its visual genius here, making the ant sized world come to life and feel so authentic. There is some great use of macro photography that puts us right in the middle of the action making something as mundane as a bathtub an exciting venue for CGI fueled excitement.
In many ways Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air. However, there's a lot in the writing that makes this film feel like a story we've already seen hundreds of times before. All in all Marvel has delivered to us another entertaining use of two hours. This is by no means a bad film. It's a problematic film that saves itself with the familiar spectacle of Marvel given to us in an unfamiliar fashion. There are a lot of other Marvel films that I would recommend before this one, but Ant- Man has still succeeded in being a lot of innocent fun. It teaches us that, sometimes, that's all you can really ask for.
Inside Out (2015)
Pixar is back!
In the past few years, I'm not gonna lie, Pixar Studios have had some duds. They became far too comfortable on the sequel train that didn't require boundary pushing creative storytelling to make millions. Monsters University was a sore disappointment and don't even get me started on Cars 2. Now, they've finally decided to get off that train and return to their roots in telling incredibly clever and beautifully original stories, and they're quickly being reminded that this train makes lots of money, too. Inside Out takes us back to the Pixar heyday of films like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and The Incredibles and reminds us why we fell in love with this studio, and why adults and children alike can enjoy the hell out of an animated movie made "for kids."
Pixar has always been playing with the idea of giving emotions to different creatures (toys, bugs, fish, etc.) and now they've gone Inception on us and given feelings to FEELINGS. Inside Out is the ultimate personification of what goes on in a person's head as they think and feel different things, having their decisions and actions fueled by the multitude of emotions swirling about in their brain. And by multitude I mean five because that's a workable amount of characters and voice actors to fill the core of your story.
Inside Out follows Riley, a girl from Minnesota who moves to San Francisco with her family. Inside her head lives Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. These five personified emotions work together to keep Riley's mind in check in an elaborate and infinitely clever world full of personality islands, thought trains, imaginary friends lost in long term memory, and so many other brilliant representations of abstract concepts that exist in the human brain. Pixar has always had a knack for high concept world building, and they've outdone themselves here.
If you want a totally immersive experience within a world that is abstractly absurd yet also feels so real, then go see this movie. Inside Out builds a world and a system that is full of all the fantastical elements you would expect from an animated experience like this, but it is executed so well and the way thoughts and feelings are represented hits so close to home that after the movie you'll find yourself imagining what your little feeling characters are like in your own head. You'll find yourself thinking about what your own core memories are and what islands of personality they power. Inside Out represents growing up in a way we've never seen done before. It is a perfect way of making sense of all the different emotions we experience as we grow up and learn more about the world. I promise that you've never seen a coming of age story like this. I honestly don't know if I've ever experienced an animated film of this caliber that, while so fantastical and so extravagant, also feels so real.
The human brain is nothing more than billions and trillions of electrical synapses, but sometimes those synapses can create something beautiful, like this incredible personification of the mind that is adorable, funny, sentimental, and powerfully touching. I'm so thankful for the synapses working in the minds of those geniuses over at Pixar, because it has given us one of the most heartwarming films in a long, long time that is so universally relate-able I don't know how anybody couldn't enjoy it. I suppose if your Joy emotion were trapped somewhere in the halls of Long Term Memory that might be one way you wouldn't enjoy Inside Out, but hopefully she can catch the next Thought Train back to emotion headquarters soon. Yes, I believe I will be explaining mine and all other emotions through personified characters voiced by Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, and Lewis Black for a while now. This movie had an impact on me, for sure, in the best way possible.
The One I Love (2014)
It's really amazing how such quality films can so quietly fly under the radar, seeming to be done and gone as soon as they arrive. Such is the case with the hidden gem The One I Love, starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. Moss and Duplass play a couple whose marriage is slowly crumbling apart as they attempt to salvage it with the help of a marriage counselor played by Ted Danson. The solution to their failing love life seems to come in the form of a weekend getaway to a beautiful house in the countryside. Things are nice at first, but then, well then they get weird. And weird is all I'm going to say.
The less you know about The One I Love the better. If you're planning on seeing this movie don't scope out any spoilers whatsoever. Rarely do movies benefit this much from going in blind, but The One I Love pretty much demands it. With little to no idea about what I was actually getting myself into, this movie quickly became a fascinating ride into a strange and mysterious plot with bizarre twists and turns each as unexpected as the last. It's hard to really praise what all is so awesome about this odd little flick without giving anything away, but just trust me that it's great.
The One I Love is a beautifully poised statement on relationships and identity told through fantastical mystery. It does an amazing job at being poignantly real and wildly unbelievable at the same time. The dryly funny script and two stellar performances by the leads (and the only two actors in the film apart from Danson) sell this as a completely believable story about an unbelievable situation. It captures with unapologetic realism the way such a weird scenario would play out in real life circumstances, with characters trying their best to make sense of the otherworldly situation they find themselves in. It employs Twilight Zone level mastery of making the unreal real and the impossible possible, allowing the audience to not have to question the legitimacy of the plot and rather just join in on the ride that the characters get taken on. It's hard to make high concept stories like this human and relateable, but The One I Love freaking nails it.
Like I said, it's hard to speak the volumes I want to speak about how good this movie is without giving anything away. I'm having to choose my words carefully, and there are a million other praises I want to give specific parts of this wacky little film, but alas I can't. It's simply just something that needs to be seen to be understood and fully appreciated. I can's say much more, because preserving the mysterious wow factor of the movie is what makes it worth the watch. Don't read anything else about The One I Love, just go see it for yourself.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Everything it should have been and then some
All other films that think they can call themselves "action blockbusters" please step aside to make way for the only true blockbuster this summer, and for many more summers to come I'm sure, Mad Max: Fury Road. Oh. My. God. This movie right here. This explosive, obscene, grotesque, beautiful movie right here was everything I ever wanted it to be and more. George Miller, after thirty years, has returned to his legendary Mad Max series, and he's returned with the some serious firepower at his disposal. Firepower in the form of 150 million dollars and the limitless wonders of modern technology. Miller fires off this ammunition at full force to create the impossibly vast and intimately gritty world of Max Rockatansky in the grandiose way I think he envisioned it from the start. Upon seeing the first trailer for this film I said it looked like the Mad Max film Miller always wanted to make but didn't have the tech or the money to accomplish. Seeing the movie in its glorious two hour entirety affirms that statement.
Mad Max: Fury Road stands alone from its three predecessors with the titular character and his post apocalyptic scenery being the only thread that combines them. Fury Road presents a wholly original story taking place in the wasteland where we meet a water hungry colony ruthlessly ruled by Immortan Joe, the film's badass big bad. Despite having plenty of water, Immortan Joe hordes it to keep control of his colony while he impregnates his forced marriage wives, called Breeders, with the hopes of them bearing future warlord sons. The story gets going when Imperator Furiosa, played by an ass kicking Charlize Theron, betrays Immortan Joe (sick names right?) and steals the Breeders to get them to a land referred to as the "Green Place." Max, previously captured by Joe's War Boys, ends up getting mixed up in Furiosa's campaign and finds himself aiding them on their long treacherous trek through the desert wasteland, all the while being pursued by Joe and his allied gangs from Gas Town and The Bullet Farm. Did I mention I love all the names of everything in this damn movie?
My memory of the original Mad Max films is somewhat limited, especially when it comes to more specific elements of the world, so I might be wrong in saying that Fury Road has some of the most ingenious and in depth world building I've seen Miller accomplish. Even if I'm wrong about that, the post apocalyptic society Miller has constructed in Fury Road makes for an incredibly poignant and gloriously over the top statement on what humanity might devolve into after the apocalypse. He does a fantastic job of bringing Max into the modern era as well. Where gas was the most precious of all resources in the original trilogy, it now takes a second seat to water, the resource most craved by society. Being in California, this element hits frighteningly close to home.
Everything Miller does in Fury Road affirms and expands on everything that was so great about this series before it's budget had nine digits. As was the case with the previous Mad Max films, Fury Road isn't a story primarily about Max himself. The story really focuses on Furiosa and her own hero's journey across the desert as she quite literally drives the plot forward. She fuels a plot that ultimately has an awesome feminist angle by the end, breaking down gender barriers and making the women of the film the most exceedingly capable and overly wicked characters. I've already mentioned how awesome Theron is, and her accompanying group of supermodels...er... Breeders quickly transition from damsels in distress to a resourceful band of hot chicks who also kick a lot of ass.
So, I want to just come out and say this. This movie is a visual MASTERPIECE. I'm not exaggerating either. Yes, I saw this movie less than 24 hours ago and my testosterone levels are probably still spiking, but I will stand by that statement as long as I live. Mad Max: Fury Road is gorgeous. It delivers some of the most wildly imaginative action set pieces every conceived and some of the most creatively constructed chase sequences I've ever had the pleasure of watching play out on screen. I said a lot of things about The Avengers: Age of Ultron action scenes that I would repeat here about being clearly displayed and easy to follow, but where Fury Road surpasses this is by showing just how beautifully shot these scenes can be and what happens when you accomplish the capturing of the impossibly huge scope of the Australian outback setting. This desert wasteland is MASSIVE and the film constantly reminds us of that in wide shots that would make Kurosawa require a change of underwear. Yeah I said it.
Also, this is one of those incredibly rare moments in my film reviews where I would actually highly recommend the 3-D. It is one of the many many things expertly utilized in Fury Road. Miller expertly uses it as a tool to immerse you in his world, rather than a gimmick for a few mediocre sight gags. Fury Road is a film that traps you in its insane world for two solid hours of entertainment, and you come out on the other end in a haze full of sand, blood, and nerd tears. It's a transcendental experience, guys. You need to experience it. Seriously, you are doing yourself a major disservice if you don't go see this film, so drop everything your doing and get to the theater to see Mad Max: Fury Road.
A film that needs to be seen
2014 was a big year for important documentaries that define where we are as a modern society. A little while ago I reviewed The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, a film that dealt with the freedom of information and the power of the internet and media to universally share that information. Citizenfour serves as a great companion film. It details the Edward Snowden controversy that went down last summer when Snowden, a server administrator for the National Security Agency, left the country with thousands upon thousands of files exposing the NSA's tracking and logging of information about the American public shadily gained through phone and internet monitoring. The film begins before the events take place, as Snowden actually contacted the director about documenting this major information leak he was about to facilitate. Citizenfour unfolds in real time, sitting with Snowden in his Hong Kong hotel room as he dumps his information onto two journalists, who in turn expose the information to the masses. Real life drama unfolds right there on the screen as a drama that rivals most fictional political thrillers.
Unless you were living in a doomsday prepper underground bunker last June, you probably heard all about the Edward Snowden fiasco that completely shook up the state of our national security. In this time a lot of information was released, a lot of it getting muddled and skewed as new developments transpired every day for about a week. The media obviously had a difficult time handling so massive an information leak and the story behind it all that dealt with Mr. Snowden. Citizenfour fills any holes from the original story as it happened. These exact events unfold in real time and the gravity of the information and its effect on the American people, their government, and Snowden is all on display. It paints a clear as day picture of what exactly happened, but also serves as a harsh reminder of how quickly we all forgot about something so major, and how we continue to choose to forget about the countless ways in which our privacy is compromised by our own government. And that right there is what makes Citizenfour so important. It details events that everyone needs to know about, no one should forget about, and everyone should be very concerned about.
It's imperative that everybody knows the full Edward Snowden story, and this is what gives Citizenfour its significance. But beyond that it is also just an incredibly gripping film that turns these events into riveting political drama that bares the weight of a sledgehammer due to its importance to our modern political system. But what I love most about this film is that it is as much about the NSA and the information leak as it is about Snowden himself. Citizenfour is the alias that Snowden used while covertly corresponding with the film's director, and when you see this film that is an intimately introspective look into this courageous hero disguised as an American traitor you see the significance of calling the film Citizenfour. We get a look into the mind and attitude of a man who knows a terrifying amount of what goes on behind the closed doors of the NSA. His genuine paranoia says everything that needs to be said about the significance of what is going on with the NSA. Seeing how much concern and paranoia a hotel fire alarm test puts on Snowden should tell you exactly how serious this whole issue is.
I'm positive that there can't be a more visceral and hard-hitting documentary about the issue of government spying than Citizenfour. It of course has the advantage of Snowden in the flesh to make it as impactful as it is, but this is what sets it apart from any third- hand editorial on the topic. Citizenfour is a real time documentation of an event that should have so much more attention put on it than it actually has had. This is a documentary that needs to be seen by as many people as possible, as it is one of the few things that could raise awareness about something free Americans should be more than a little concerned about. It reminds us why we can't just accept that this spying takes place and then move on with our day. It emphasizes how much something needs to be done, and uses Snowden as a prime example of actions that should be taken. Citizenfour is as frustrating as it is compelling, and you're doing a disservice to you and your country if you don't watch it.
Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)
The Quintessential Kurt Cobain Doc
Some say that you're not a true rock and roll legend until you've had an extensive authorized documentary made about your legacy. Just kidding, nobody says that. Kurt Cobain was a legend as soon as Nevermind hit record stores, and his legacy continues today, immortalized by Nirvana and the massive impact his genius had on punk rock. But not only was he one of the best rockers who ever lived, Kurt Cobain was one of the most extraordinary and misunderstood minds of his generation, whose own brilliance caused his self destruction. He's a complex and intricate spider web of a person, and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck goes on the deepest and most intimate exploration of this enigmatic genius that has ever been done.
Montage of Heck chronicles Cobain's entire life, beginning with his parents meeting and Kurt's childhood, all the way up to his suicide in 1994 which is nothing more than a title card at an abrupt end of the film. Don't think that this is a Nirvana documentary, or a Courtney Love documentary, or any other kind of documentary other than a Kurt Cobain documentary. Montage of Heck examining his relationship with his family, his lovers, his band, and Nirvana's massive following which played on Kurt as a blessing and a maddening curse.
Montage of Heck is directed by Brett Morgen, the director of my personal favorite ESPN 30 for 30 episode, June 17th, 1994, a sports documentary that only uses news footage from one particular day in sports to tell its story. Morgen employs similar techniques here. The amount of home video footage that exists of Cobain from his adolescence all the way through his relationship with Courtney Love (which includes some pretty disturbing drug induced home video), is astounding. Montage of Heck is brilliantly pieced together through this home video footage, interviews with people close to Kurt, audio recordings of Kurt and friends, and Kurt's own journal writings and drawings, gloriously animated in what makes for the most fascinating look into the mind of this troubled genius.
Some of the best parts of the film take us through his journals where his mad scientist scribbles and macabre H.R. Giger-esque drawings show us his reactions and feelings towards the band, their rising popularity, Courtney Love, etc. all to paint a fascinatingly intricate portrait of this man. To call Montage of Heck an examination of Kurt Cobain would be doing a disservice to this great doc. Montage of Heck is less of an examination and more of a journey, a violent yet graceful boat ride into the seas of one of rock and roll's most dynamic minds. It's a film that is as beautiful as it is brutal, and as sentimental as it is visceral.
This is the most honest and in depth insight into a man who seemed to have everything, yet battled demons all his life to find what really could make him happy. Sadly, those demons won, but not before Kurt Cobain could be immortalized as a rock and roll icon. And now we're lucky enough to have this film which celebrates all that he left behind. A film that shows us not only who Kurt Cobain was on stage, but who he was as a passionately flawed human being who wanted nothing more than to love, be loved, and rock the f out.
As weird as it gets
Ah, Frank. What an odd, quirky, charming little film, and what an odd, quirky little journey it took me on. With its wildly weird for the sake of weird style and and careless indie pop bravado, it's a movie that any misunderstood avant garde hipster musician will tell you actually "gets it." If none of this is making sense so far, Frank is a movie about an experimental rock group whose front man, the titular Frank, wears a giant plaster head at all times. It's a film whose premise promises the oddest of antics, and then subsequently delivers on that promise.
Frank is freaking weird and it loves the fact that its freaking weird. It embraces the weird and dances around frivolously with its offbeat sense of humor and colorful cast of caricatured characters. It's a film that has its own sense of style and isn't trying to be like anything that has come before it, which is something that makes Frank a hell of a lot of fun. It definitely has its own sense of humor, one that is so weird that it works beautifully. The plot, which involves chronicling this band as they lock themselves in a cabin in the woods to make the greatest album ever, is pretty straightforward. But everything about the film's humor, style, and energy is everything but straightforward. It's a totally original kind of experience.
The main character of Frank that isn't Frank is Domhnall Gleeson's Jon, a musician who finds himself playing keyboard for Frank's band, a band where he stands out as quite possibly the only sane one out of all of them. Taking the film from his perspective grounds us in the real world that is inhabited by Frank and company's frenetic and unpredictable energy. He's an outsider looking into one of the strangest experiences of his life, just as the audience is outside looking in to this weird world of Frank. Without him this whole film would just be following this eccentric group of weirdos, which would admittedly be fun, but wouldn't allow the story to have as much substance, which Frank certainly has.
But taking Gleeson's straightman character and putting him with the rest of this wacky cast makes for a great time. Michael Fassbender's performance as Frank is one of the strangest and most hilariously unique performances I've ever seen. I can only imagine the difficulties of acting without the use of your face, but Fassbender nails it. He gives the emotionless plaster head so much personality that is way too much fun to watch.
The one thing about Frank that threw me for a loop was its third act which changed drastically in tone. It was a fairly sudden jump from wacky comedy to heartfelt drama, one that breaks down the beautiful enigma that was Frank for the first two acts. It caught me off guard, but with Frank's great ending note I think it actually worked.
All in all, Frank is almost too damn quirky for its own good, but its just so much fun. For entertainment value Frank is an A+. It's a movie where you're never completely sure what you're watching and you're not sure what the point of any of the film's strangeness really is, but you're having too much fun to really care. Frank is a blast and you will be hard pressed to find anything quite like it. It's its own brand. The enigmatic Frank brand.
Still Alice (2014)
Julianne Moore is perfect
I honestly cannot remember the last time a movie made me more terrified of a disease. In 101 minutes Still Alice makes Alzheimer's look like an absolute hell. This is credited to some superb directing, painfully captivating writing, and a jaw-dropping performance by Julianne Moore. Moore plays Alice Howland, a professor at Columbia University known for her sharp mind and quick wit. She has an ideal life with a loving husband and three beautifully happy adult children. This seemingly perfect life takes a sharp left turn when Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. Needless to say the movie doesn't get any happier from this point on. We get to watch a slow, painful decline as Alice's mind deteriorates over time, with absolutely nothing she can do about it. It's undeniably one of the most depressingly powerful films I've seen in a long time.
Still Alice doesn't try to play any tricks or go off the rails with its narrative. It presents the story in as straightforward a way as possible, which completely works towards the film's advantage. In the beginning we're introduced to Alice and her family, getting a clear sense of where her life begins, while also providing small subtle hints that something is amiss. Then of course we move on to the diagnosis and it's all downhill from there. It's a beautifully paced film that pulls us deeper down this hole along with Alice. The severity of her disease is portrayed in a multitude of depressingly ingenious ways both visually and via dialogue. It's all so painfully real and cripplingly believable as we watch this poor soul wither away.
As this is a character piece one would expect great performances and man oh man does Still Alice deliver on that front. There's only so much to say about the great Julianne Moore. I've always been a big fan of hers and Still Alice only lifts my already shining opinion. Alec Baldwin plays Alice's husband while Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart play Alice's daughters. Watching as these relationships deteriorate along with Alice's mind is devastating, but its one of the most endearing aspects of the whole film. Stewart's performance is a significant weak point acting wise, but the intentions behind her character are great and she doesn't take away from the impact of the film.
I think what's so impressive about this film is how well it executes such a touchy subject matter. It could have easily slipped into the dreaded realm of tacky melodrama, playing out like Lifetime's Movie of the Week. But the genius of Still Alice comes from it's subtleties in performances and the way Alice tries desperately to downplay her disease. Her attempts to maintain identity and keep the relationships she has with her family is absolutely heartbreaking.
The nuances here are what make Still Alice so amazing and so heartfelt. I really felt like I was watching this tragic story as a tragic reality, never being pulled out of the experience. I was captivated from start to finish during this beautiful tearjerker that gives us one of the best performances of the entire year. I got so much more than I could have asked for out of Still Alice, and I will be thinking about this heartbreaking film for a long, long while.
Good but not great
Growing up is tough, especially when there are cameras in your face from age 6 to 18. But that's what Richard Linklater decided to do with poor Ellar Coltrane, the star of Boyhood who grows up before your eyes in this three hour coming of age epic. Boyhood chronicles the life of Mason, his sister Samantha, and their two estranged parents played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. It's a scrapbook style series of events, some significant, others less so, that show a boy growing up and learning about the life, love, and the world at large. It takes us on a twelve year journey through adolescence, one that's captivating, compelling, boring, and dry, all at the same time.
Now, as I'm sure everyone and their mother is aware, Boyhood has been getting a lot of praise. Like, A LOT of praise. I mean its got a straight up 100/100 on Metacritic. I went into this movie with a lot of hype on my shoulders, and coming out of it I find myself wondering if these reviews are praising the film itself or rather just the concept. Yes, Boyhood deserves all of its praise for what Linklater accomplished, telling his 12 year story over a 12 year shooting period. Getting these actors to commit for so long, and to be able to put it all together in a clean and polished feature film is obviously impressive. Yet, I find myself wanting there to be more to the meat of this film. The execution of this ambitious concept is astounding, but the story told here is underwhelming as a whole.
Boyhood is definitely a good film, but for something that is telling a story in a whole new never-been-done-before way it should have been a great film. It should have been an amazing film. Instead I walked away from this pretty neutral. On the whole it's a well told, well put together story, and watching this kid grow up is a fascinating experience, but Boyhood lacks any blow you away moments or profound tearjerking. I found the trick is to not be waiting for anything. Instead you just take it piece by piece, giving every moment the same significance because it is all coming together for the sole purpose of completing this 12 year epic. This, of course, is fine. Movies are allowed to tell their stories like this, but with the lack of any compelling excitement I found it hard to become really attached.
One of the biggest things that detached me from this film was, sadly, Ellar Coltrane's performance as he grew older. He starts the movie at 6 and I was really into the film at the start. There were a lot of things in young Mason's life that I found myself connecting to, whether it was his typical sibling rivalry relationship with his sister, or growing up in a time of political turmoil overseas, since I grew up during this same time, also in Texas. But as Mason grows up the performance becomes much more about just reading lines, and when Mason's character is supposed to be all profound I just couldn't take him seriously and it really pulled me out of the experience. A lot of the younger performers in this flick leave a lot to be desired and it's the adults, mainly Ethan Hawke, who carry the latter half of Boyhood.
Nothing about Boyhood is actually bad though, except maybe for Coltrane's performance. If I had to assign one adjective to the whole of the film it would have to be "underwhelming." When I found myself starting to be compelled, the moment slipped away. When I found myself captivated by a performance, that character moved on to another part of their life. There was just not enough to grasp onto. Most of the performances are great and the writing is absolutely fantastic, but with so much hype surrounding Boyhood, I was expecting something with a little more life.
Tusk is everything I love about Kevin Smith
I am so incredibly happy that this world has a human being like Kevin freaking Smith. In a cinematic age polluted with writers telling uninspired stories and directors taking no risks in their filmmaking it's always so refreshing to see what old Kevin is up to. He's always been that filmmaker who makes the movies HE wants to make, so now that he's earned millions to put into ridiculous films that are part art and part excuse to hang out with your friends making a crazy ass movie, we get the traumatizing horror/comedy Tusk.
Tusk stars Justin Long as Wallace Bryton, a podcaster who goes to Canada to interview an old fisherman named Howard Howe who claims to have incredible seafaring stories to tell. However, Wallace gets more than he bargained for when he's abducted by Howe who reveals himself to be a fisherman with what must be a pretty great background in surgeon practice when he turns Wallace the human into Wallace the walrus. Yes, you read that right. A walrus. Tusk is a movie about Justin Long getting turned into a walrus by a crazy old Canadian man. It's at this point that you should know whether or not you want to see this movie, and if you share my taste for the twisted and deranged then you REALLY want to see this movie.
Tusk is essentially Kevin Smith's 102 minute long trolling of the film community. It's a big F-U to high brow comedy and "sophisticated" horror, and a slap in the face to typical B-movie fare, because of it's B-movie concept packed with great actors and excellent production value. But really Smith doesn't give a damn what you think of his film because he's busy laughing it up with his buddies who I'm positive had an incredible time making such an absurd film.
If you're at the level of success enjoyed by Smith then making this kind of a film is a win in every way. He's not trying to impress anyone here and obviously isn't trying to be taken seriously. And that approach to filmmaking definitely rubs off on the film itself because Tusk is an absolute blast. It's got all of the comedic brilliance that one expects from Kevin Smith dialogue, and it also brings you the joy of being able to watch such an impossibly bizarre concept actually play out on screen.
The blend of funny and disturbing works so well here, which is in part due to Smith's writing, and also because of the killer performance by Michael Parks who is one of the creepiest old men to ever grace the silver screen. Not only is Parks great but Justin Long surprisingly kills it as well. He's convincingly terrified for most of the movie and his walrus performance is...well... that's something you have to see for yourself. Tusk also has one of the most unexpectedly brilliant cameos I've seen in ages. So brilliant in fact I'm not going to tell you who it is. I will tell you that that performance is far better than Haley Joel Osment or Genesis Rodriguez who are good, but forgettable.
The great thing about Tusk is that there's so much twisted entertainment value and it's so disturbingly unique that all of its shortcomings become so forgivable. Tusk is certainly a movie wrought with issues, but it's nothing major enough to detract from how much fun it is. Smith's writing is mostly fantastic, but there are some scenes considerably weaker than others. It's also got some weird pacing issues going on, with some scenes playing out way too long, probably because Smith was just having too much fun watching his actors do what they do. I would have liked certain things to be cut down to allow more time for other more walrusy things to happen, but honestly I'm fairly certain there will never be another movie about a man turned into a walrus, so I am pretty damn satisfied with what I got to see in Tusk.
There's no two ways about it. I really did love this movie. The vomit-inducing terror that unfolds on screen has you laughing and cringing all at the same time. My stomach churns as my brain smiles, and honestly I wasn't asking for anything more. Admittedly I have some Kevin Smith bias as I'm a big fan of the fat-man's work, but even putting all bias aside I honestly believe that Tusk is a stroke of horrible, disgusting, hilarious genius.