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222 reviews in total 
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No Escape (2015/I)
4 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Thoroughly in one ear and out the other., 22 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Directed by John Erick Dowdle, whose previous credits include the likes of Devil and As Above, So Below (Now there's a track record that gives faith), this film seemed to come virtually out of nowhere with little advertising even a week before its release, perhaps making one fear that its distributor, The Weinstein Company, don't have much confidence in it. So it's with a heavy heart that I can say that there's a reason for that.

Admittedly, there's quite a bit of the film that has potential. With social outburst and riots at escalating tensions, the relevance of the topic does open it up to interesting commentary. I think I like the ideas of the film more than I do the execution, which doesn't give them the necessary expansion that they deserve. Overly simplifying its topics and barely even scratching the surface with them, such as its nondescript setting and the hardly touched upon backhanded business practices that generate much of the film's events, the film for the most part eschews more interesting material in favor of more direct focus on the lead family, struggling to survive a conflict that they barely understand. That also affects the crowds of locals, most of which are painted as easy villains with completely one note characterizations, rather than the film convincingly humanize them like a superior film like Captain Phillips would.

However, even as a simple survival thriller, the film is still not a success. Given Dowdle's roots in suspense and horror, I can absolutely see why he would be drawn to a project like this, and he does make some admittedly creative decisions, even if they make no sense upon reflection. An opening scene shot mostly in one continuous take gives the film roots reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, complete with a 60's style title card, but barely registers or fits in with the rest of the film that follows. Other choices that hinder his movie are a reliance on numerous slow-motion shots that often contribute unintentional hilarity to the experience. The overall ambiance and attention to detail can sometimes be impressive, in some instances not so subtly reminding me of The Last of Us, but without much substance to it, it all appears as flash without real meat.

The more family centric elements are where most of Dowdle's attention is devoted, but they fail to generate much suspense given that, over the course of the film, we come to learn very little things about them. Most of their "development" is dedicated to throwaway lines that, once again, the film barely expands upon, saddling a talented cast with weak material. Back story aside, developments later in the story, in which they become more animalistic and deadly in their means of survival, hardly get much exposure or reflection, though to give some of them away would spoil a bit. There's also an attempt to liven the mood around them with brief comic relief, with some of it being effective, but others can become more ridiculous than alleviating, including one bit character obsessed with Kenny Rogers, as well as the rooftop scene in the trailers with Owen Wilson chattering about getting his daughter a dog before hurling her to the adjacent rooftop mid-sentence. Some decisions don't even need comedic roots to be utterly stupid, including one scene where that same daughter is forced to urinate in her own pants while the family hides in some rubble. I'm not kidding.

With the sloppy material at their hands, the actors are then forced to somehow make it work, with some being successful enough. Owen Wilson wouldn't seem like the ideal man to play a role like this, but I find him likable and engaging enough for much of the film. He puts a lot more effort into this paper thin character than it perhaps deserves, and does have his emotions and heart in the right place. It makes me curious to see him in more dramatic fare. Lake Bell is less impressive as his wife, but still contributes some serviceable work. That's more than I can say for Pierce Brosnan. At first, this does seem like a refreshing change of pace from the Bond-Lite style performance he's specialized in since Die Another Day, but his alcoholic CIA operative is a mostly phoned in performance, appearing obnoxiously comical in the first act and completely disappearing until being shoehorned into the film's final stretches.

Mostly, the film is just plain boring. It's thoroughly in one ear and out the other the moment you step out of the theater. It's shocking just how little the film ultimately impacts you. With all that said, do I think it's a bad film? Yes. Is it among the worst of the year? Not even close. It's more stale and forgettable than outright offensive as some of the worst movies I've watched this year. There are at least some decent things about it, and things I want to like about it, but a project like this needed more capable hands.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A misfire in every sense of the word., 24 June 2015

There really are no directors like The Wachowski's, and ever since their surprise smash hit with The Matrix, the good will towards their names never seem to stop. It's actually surprising considering how the two are always able to secure elaborate mega-budgets, and yet a lot of their movies, original in concept but out of control and utterly strange in execution, feel like wastes of those budgets. That said, even when their movies are terrible, they don't strike out as much as they create fascinating misfires that can be enjoyed in their own right. Their track record is flimsy, but I'd say their only total failure is The Matrix Revolutions.

As for Jupiter Ascending, I feel genuinely terrible for criticizing it, as I respect the vision here. This is an ode to every epic space opera the filmmakers have ever loved, and it's clear a lot of painstaking detail has gone into it. There's some admitted creativity with how the two are always trying to pull the rug out from the viewer, but it does so at the cost of coherence. The film feels like a two hour compilation of a full season TV show, dropping numerous plot threads and characters just as quickly as they're established, and serve little to no actual purpose to the main narrative. It also seems designed as an alternative to the string of Young Adult novel adaptations, but ironically ends up becoming exactly like one of those movies, simplifying the characters, skimping out on necessary exposition, and leaving this entire universe to operate on whatever logic it feels like at the time.

On top of that, it's burdened with some of the worst acting I've seen this year. As Channing Tatum is forced to play straight faced and charmless and Eddie Redmayne consistently mumbles in monotone whispers, they're both forced to pick up the slack for Mila Kunis' passive and needy damsel in distress. By the time a major action set piece between enemy ships finally takes place 25 minutes through, this film has genuinely given me no reason to care.

That said, it's a film whose craft can be admired where the story can't be. The visual effects are beautiful, the sound is creative (even if that random dog barking gun effect is annoying), and Michael Giacchino pays glorious tribute to every classic Sci-Fi score he's ever loved. Outside of those bright spots, though, this is another interesting misfire from the directing duo, but a bad movie by any other name is still a bad movie.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A masterful swan song for Philip Seymour Hoffman., 9 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One thing I love about John Le Carre adaptations is how they manage to take such deceptively mundane situations, and manage to wring so much suspense out of them. The movie goes through so many unexpected twists, and creates such a wonderful slow-burn of events that will keep you locked to the screen.

If there's any one complaint I have, it's that the acting ranges from fantastic, to Rachel McAdams. I'm sorry, but she is just awful in this film. Her accent frequently slips (German, American, German, British, American, etc.), she doesn't command much presence, and she is just miscast and out of place altogether. I could see someone like Diane Kruger in this role, but not Rachel frigging McAdams. She feels especially out of place when placed alongside a titan like Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Speaking of which, Hoffman is just as controlled and chameleon-like as he has ever been. One thing I especially love about his performance is how subtle, yet commanding it's played. He rarely raises his voice, he has no "Oscar clip" moments, he plays it quietly, and yet you still believe that this one man possess incredible authority, and never lets his composure break unless by design. In many ways, it's a classic example of an internal struggle. The very last scene of the film where you see his expression, defeated and guilt- ridden, is one of the most powerful scenes I've seen this year. It's a shame Hoffman never got to continue giving more performances of this caliber, and he surely showed no signs of slowing down up to his tragic passing. If nothing else, we can still be glad that he left us with one of his finest works.

9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Quite the disappointment., 9 December 2014

On the one hand, I love the film's concepts fine. Video games are an incredible medium (one that outshines even cinema) with such fascinating history behind them, and the evolution of the gaming business and community on screen is quite wonderful. It says something about what a great artform it is that it brings so many people from different walks of life together, and even goes so far as to create lasting friendships and marriages. We may not realize, but sometimes, those seemingly insignificant connections we have create all the difference in the world.

However, that's the extant of the film's great qualities, and the overall film is not as interesting, or too engaging to the uninitiated. The film is built firmly on nostalgia and fond recognizability, especially during frequent and awkward montages, and something like that can't sustain an entire film. It wants to show us a comprehensive history of video gaming culture, but suffers from disjointed time jumps, and the fact that the film constantly throws interesting facts at us, yet seldom does it ever expand on them. It practically rushes through the crash of 1983 in maybe three minutes, and glosses over evolutions like the early rise of third-party developers and the indie gaming scene (Although, Indie Game: The Movie provides a much more expansive detailing of that very subject). There's so much potential in this film that it sadly never realizes. I realize there has to be a point where you have to make tough choices of what to show, but it really does just fall into an "Aren't video games great" showcase.

If you're looking for a nostalgic kickback, you should enjoy yourself fine, but if you want a much more comprehensive rundown of video gaming history, you'd be better suited reading various books, or watching Machinima's "All Your History Are Belong To Us" series of YouTube videos.

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
What the hell?, 9 December 2014

You ever wonder what it would be like if Terrence Malick vacationed in Walt Disney World, drank moonshine and had an acid flashback while on It's A Small World, and then immediately afterwards stared at Spaceship Earth while a bunch of kids ran by? That's pretty much this film.

I like the idea of the film fine, and it's cool to see all the little areas in Walt Disney World that I know so well (I may have been in this film and not even known it), but the film gets lost in its own thematic context. Is it's message that our instabilities will follow us even in so-called safe havens? Is it a pandemic allegory? Is it a sexuality parable? Not that it can't be all of those, but I don't think even the movie knows what it's talking about.

Beyond that, the film is positively horrendous, with laughable attempts at psychological terror and ambiguity, unbearable dialogue and acting, groan inducing imagery (Don't make me mention the Siemens "semen"), amateurish photography and editing (which I do still understand given the film's shooting circumstances), appalling special effects, ear grating music choices, and structuring so incompetent, it can't even keep its own locations straight. If the movie is taking place in Disney World, WHY ARE YOU ALSO JUMPING TO DISNEYLAND FOOTAGE?! I could spend hours picking apart the geographical errors alone, but that's secondary at this point. Escape From Tomorrow is a classic example that it doesn't matter how original your story is if the actual execution (which should matter above all else) is awful.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Another blunder for Ridley Scott., 11 September 2014

I admire Ridley Scott as much as the next guy. He's great with actors and he's a great visual artist, but if there's one vice he suffers from, it's this. Scott has a penchant for picking bad scripts to film. He's *always* been wildly inconsistent with that, not merely in his last ten years, and in plenty of non-negligible cases, has had to go so far as to use his direction to mask the flaws of the writing. This was especially the case for films like Hannibal, 1492, Legend, A Good Year, and the notorious plot holes of Prometheus. I respect him for always trying to stretch his versatility, but his scripts don't do his strengths justice, and his last decade alone has been even patchier than Tim Burton's.

The reason I say that is because The Counselor is yet another example of this. I know Cormac McCarthy is a great author (in fact, he wrote my favorite book, No Country for Old Men), but what makes him great in literature doesn't make him so in cinema. His script feels like it was originally meant for a book but trimmed for the screen, and it shows. The film expects us to immediately accept the reality of the situation, shorting us on crucial details behind the relationships of characters, something that even the awkward exposition can't fix. These characters are so middlingly established that I simply can't care about them. Another indication that it was meant for the page is that the script is incredibly busy and needlessly convoluted. It feels like several different movies are going on at once with nothing tying them together, and full of elements that go absolutely nowhere. As a book, this could be easily expanded upon and you could get away with this kind of busy structure, but in film, it's talky, dull, and loaded with redundancy (We get it, Cormac, actions have consequences). That even extends into the visuals with repeated imagery of cheetahs, no doubt to foreshadow the hungry predators about to descend upon the unwary prey of main characters... SYMBOLISM!

Ridley Scott is trying his best to wrangle it all together, but no matter how hard he tries, he just can't generate any suspense from this film, and one of the only good scenes is setting up the wire on the road, because it's one of the few moments with no unneeded dialogue. There's too few of those tense moments present in the film, and despite the best efforts of the cast members, great actors can only elevate bad material so much (none dumber and more horrendous than Cameron Diaz screwing a car), and it makes for yet another blunder for Scott.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Led by David O. Russell's strong writing and direction, Silver Linings Playbook is a powerfully acted, meaningful little movie., 12 April 2013

In 2010, director David O. Russell ended his six year absence, and returned to the big screen with his knock-out hit (No pun intended) The Fighter, which managed a grand total of seven Oscar nominations, including wins for actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Flash forward two years later, and his next movie is up for a whopping eight nominations, also setting a record as one of the only movies to ever have nominations in all four acting categories. That movie is Silver Linings Playbook. I've been anticipating this one for months, ever since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Let me just say it didn't disappoint.

Inspired by Matthew Quick's book, Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a man released from a stay in a mental institution after catching his wife cheating on him, and beating her lover to near death. He's staying with his caring and worrisome mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver), and his obsessive compulsive Eagles fan father (Robert De Niro). Pat is hopeful, despite a restraining order, that he'll be able to reconcile his marriage, and that's only one of the problems that are running around in his mind.

As bad as Pat's problems are, he's got nothing on Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recently widowed woman with whom Pat finds a kindred spirit. Tiffany strikes up a deal. If pat will compete in a dance competition alongside Tiffany, she'll deliver a letter to his wife explaining about his current situation.

Much like our central character, the movie is understandably prone to certain mood swings, balancing out between personal drama and laces of dark humor. This is a very personal movie for Russell, known for his own history of off screen controversy. The ease with the dramatic pace of this movie, the issues of familial turmoil, our main character's quest to reconstruct his life, the well timed wit, and a whole slew of fascinating characters is only part of what's done excellently by Russell, who drew upon his own experiences and that of his own son in writing the script. The mental issues are met properly, but through Russell's eyes, we also get to witness the vices of many of the other characters here, which ensure that the movie never gets boring.

Just as strong as he is a writer, Russell's direction is as fantastic as always. If there's one thing that can be said of the man, even in his weaker entries, he's always had a knack for extracting terrific performances out of all of his actors. The lead character on paper is only as good as his actor, and Bradley Cooper expresses every believable ache out of Pat Jr. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are typically strong as his parents, while Chris Tucker works with a nice little comic relief role.

But I know who you all really want to ask me about: Jennifer. Lawrence. I can say absolutely nothing about her that hasn't already been said. She steals this movie, serving as that perfect match for Cooper. The best parts of this movie are when we get to see the irresistible chemistry between these two, and Lawrence sells them all convincingly. This is such a peculiar, but very warm, sincere, and charming performance. One of her strengths is how well she conveys Tiffany's emotion, but at certain times, she'll even play it up to convey several at one time. She has one specific scene in a diner that left me unsure of how to feel towards her. Pitying, tickled, intimidated, uncomfortable? It's not common when I find a performance like that that makes me feel so many different things all at once. Lawrence is far and away one of the best performances of the year!

As such, Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best movies of the year, allowing O. Russell to stretch his legs with a challenge, and unqualified success. It's a sweet and meaningful little movie that should resonate deeply with many a member of its audience. Now if only Ernest Hemingway would stop triggering such negative reactions...

***** / *****

Bully (2011/I)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Very good examination. I just wish it were stronger., 12 April 2013

With Bully, director Lee Hirsch gets down to the uneasy topic of bullying in high schools. The movie follows several students, as well as the families of these students, who go through this routine of suffering from verbal and emotional abuse, physical contact, and even so far as bigotry because of same sex preferences. Those kids who don't have the strength to shake it off or stand up for themselves have simply accepted it as an everyday occurrence, bring weapons in defense of themselves, or have gone so far as to kill themselves, seeing no other way out.

Bullying is an important issue that a lot of people acknowledge, but few seem to genuinely take action against. While it doesn't get down to the issue of why bullying is around, there's no denying that the footage here is powerful, and that it bears a ring of truth. The movie points fingers at teachers and officials sweeping the issue under the rug, a lack of consistent ethics and guidelines, as well as intolerance for those with differences, and it doesn't shy away from these, at least not enough to criticize it for.

All in all, Bully is a film that should be mandatory viewing for all schools. I'm not saying it isn't an unpleasant issue, but it shouldn't be ignored. It should be talked about, strongly so in fact. And it shouldn't even stop there. Take action, start support groups, help a friend in need, and talk to that friend so that friend doesn't feel alone, because no child should have to feel like there's no way out.


**** / *****

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Strong, superbly acted, and actually quite smart drama., 12 April 2013

Denmark's recent nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film didn't really have me too eager to see it. Before watching it, I would have mistakenly written it off as just another stuffy and self-important costume drama, but after seeing it, that would have been a disservice. Granted, it is a bit stuffy, and they could have picked up the pace, but this is still quite the elegant, competently filmed and produced period piece set within 18th century Denmark, in which the queen is involved in a love triangle with the king and a doctor, while the king is fighting for new laws of liberation in the country. For these roles, there are a group of such strong performances, none more hard hitting than that of breakout star Alicia Vikander, who is far and away the movie's standout quality.

**** / *****

Life of Pi (2012)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A mess of a narrative, but a beauty of visual art., 12 April 2013

Often considered a book to be ultimately unfilmable, Ang Lee faced a struggle in adapting Life of Pi. Was he successful? Well, anyway, the movie follows young Pi Patel, the lone survivor of a ship sinking, trapped for a long time on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger as his companion. The film highlights some weighty and thought provoking issues of faith and religion, taking a bold road rarely seen in family films. It does sound like something that would work well in the script's favor, but then I have to back up and remind myself that the narrative is uneven, diminishing the emotional impact that should be felt, and the narration and present day sequences overstay their welcome.

To be fair, for a movie that spends half the time on a boat with only a young boy and tiger on screen, Life of Pi is still a decent movie to watch. No one can accuse Ang Lee of not knowing what he wanted this film to be, for his direction is the movie's strongest point. Lee is the proper example of a director fully confidant and in control of his own vision, so I do respect the film more than I actually liked it. If nothing else, we can all marvel at the visual aspects, which are quite enchanting, if at times a wee bit too obvious.

*** / *****

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