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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Upstream Color (2013), 20 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ready your preparatory standard procedures for filmmaking pretentiousness. Also, maybe just a couple small spoilers which are revealed early on anyway.

"Upstream Color" is an independent film, written, directed, and acted by second-timer Shane Carruth (Primer). One of my professors in college spent the better half of a class session raging about it when he saw it's premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January. His general impressions were that of intrigue, wonder, and a higher form of confusion. Practically anyone who has had the chance to see "Upstream Color" would agree I'm sure.

I mentioned pretentiousness earlier because many films that are edited in a timeline jumping, non-linear fashion are usually credited as such, or worse. Within the first five minutes of this film, you quickly realize it will not be something you can easily digest. I once heard a quote about Hitchcock's "Vertigo", where the reviewer (possibly Roger Ebert) said something to the effect of, "this is a film that is to be enjoyed for it's complex story during your first viewing. It is only after you have made sense of its plot that you can return for a second visit, this time attempting to recognize the thematic message the film works to convey." While I agree with Ebert, this is a movie that probably needs more explanation after your first watch, or perhaps a second time through to understand things more deeply.

I'll try not to spoil anything, which isn't saying much, considering even if I explained the plot, it would still seem non-sensical to you. We start off with some grub worms of some sort, living around some kind of plant with a curiously blue tint to it. We soon realize that tint is being scraped off and through some foreign process, with the help of our little worm friend, is made into a pill. Enter Kris (Amy Seimetz). She works for a film agency or something, and is eventually tazed and force-fed this pill. We soon gather that the pill allows the pill curator, or the Thief (Thiago Martins) to control Kris. As long as she doesn't sleep or eat, the Thief keeps her busy with mind numbingly tedious tasks, including reading and writing from Henry David Thoreau's, "Walden". This is all a senseless ploy, and only exists to keep her busy long enough for him to get Kris to transfer funds and basically sell off everything she owns. This money is then given to the Thief, and he leaves her, stuffing her face, never to be seen again. The cycle continues to some extent, but eventually Kris meets a guy named Jeff. I'll stop there.

"Upstream Color" is something to be seen, and maybe not so much for the fact that I can't really describe it on paper. It is a rare occurrence that something so marvelous would grace the screen in our current generation of filmmaking. Carruth has used one of the most interesting and effective filmmaking techniques of montage, and has essentially edited together a 90 minute one here. "Upstream Color" is a strange animal which exists in a constant state of flux. As soon as we believe we have become familiar and comfortable, it suddenly warps and twists into something new and mysterious, yet possibly dangerous.

I discovered a few extra tidbits whilst scouring the internet for a solution to the 90-minute puzzle I had just uncovered. First off, there are explanations for "Upstream Color" and Carruth has gladly helped to explain them. Second, lo and behold, Netflix does carry some gems from time to time and I was able to watch "Upstream Color" through it. Quickly, run with haste to watch it before they take it away!

Finally, and this may be a moot point to some, but I read that director Shane Carruth claims to be a believer in Jesus Christ. Obviously it is impossible to assume he is legit based off some posts on IMDb, and an article in Christianity Today, but nevertheless. There is something absolutely fascinating in knowing a Christian was mostly responsible for the writing and creation of a creature like "Upstream Color". Folks, this clearly is not a movie about Christianity per say, but it can indeed link heavily into spirituality and faith. For me, this is a prime example of filmmaking by a believer that doesn't follow the cheesy and frustrating pattern as films like "Fireproof" or "Courageous" or even the upcoming "God's Not Dead" (which I can only presume will be a flop at Christian theaters nationwide--oh, wait). "Upstream Color" is also not a massively successful film that follows the footsteps of "Les Miserables", a motion picture that does present faith as an obvious and major theme.

Carruth has quite the talent, and with something like this under his belt, I feel confident in believing there are only more great achievements in filmmaking in his future. My fellow Christian filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers, this is not only a call to strive for excellence in our field, but it is also encouragement that there are extremely talented believers out there who are already breathing life into stories that didn't even exist before.

My rant being over, and my viewing of "Upstream Color" finally coming to a close, I can do nothing but recommend this movie. It may be a bit much for some, but for those who are willing to work a little harder than the average moviegoer, this is indeed a treat. And a tasty piggy- stream blue one at that… Maybe that joke will make sense after you've seen it… Eh, that joke kind of sucked. Sorry… Not sorry.

Riddick (2013)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Riddick... A Wasted Opportunity, 23 September 2013

"Riddick" is a prime example of a movie you just don't spend money on Unless of course you fulfill a few different criteria. One being that you are a die-hard fan of the Riddick franchise/have an enormous man crush on Richard B. Riddick, which is completely reasonable by the way. The other being that money is simply not an obstacle to you, so spending it to excess or waste isn't a hindrance.

Take this review with a grain of salt as this is only my opinion, and please don't spend as much time as I have mulling over the story and plot of this inadvertent remake of the first film in the Riddick franchise, "Pitch Black". Fanboys should remember the failure of 2004′s "Chronicles of Riddick", yet despite its toned down PG-13 rating, director David Twohy brings "Riddick" back to the gory and more explicit formula that made "Pitch Black" seem to work so much better. I might add I was a fan of Riddick in both previous entries.

"Riddick" starts out Book of Eli-style as Riddick chokeholds an alien on some planet he's been stranded on. There's a little bit of back story, narrated of course by the low tonal voice of Diesel himself. You are guaranteed to be lost if you aren't at all familiar with Riddick's back story (as told in the other films) but even those who know their way around will soon realize the storyline clearly never really mattered to Twohy anyway.

It's not so much the environment. In fact, the opening 30 minutes of "Riddick" is quite entertaining. Riddick learns to survive in the harsh conditions of this new planet and he even trains up a wolf-alien-beast-dog. Audiences may grow just a little attached to their on-screen friendship. However, just as soon as we start thinking we are in for a treat, the "Pitch Black" formula is suddenly executed. Unfortunately, you can't teach an old dog new tricks Or in this case a wolf alien dog or something.

Riddick finds some distress beacon or something and before you know it, there are bounty hunters crawling all over Riddick's territory. Clearly he just needs a ride off the planet, but the 'mercs' that land are here to kill. This is where "Riddick" starts to fall apart. Suddenly we don't see Riddick for a while, and Twohy forces us to hang out with two groups of mindless killers. We miss him, and we don't like them, and by the time he's finally getting screen time, Twohy has lost us completely.

Jordi Mollá plays Santana, the boss mercenary of the first group, alongside Diaz, also known as wrestler Dave Bautista, who for some reason decided to pursue an acting career. If you have seen the third installment in the "Scorpion King" franchise, or "Man with the Iron Fists" you might be skeptical as well. Diaz is so-so, and Santana is a mess. He's somehow landed the respect of a group of cutthroat killers yet he flinches at the sight of a fellow mercenary being cut into thirds. He's a revolting rapist who we feel no sympathy for. Perhaps we wish he wasn't even in our story.

Within time, a second group lands on this undisclosed planet. I guess the leader of this group, Boss Johns (Matt Nable) is the father of some character from "Chronicles of Riddick" or something, but who knows at this point. He brings some forgettable gun-slingers with him, and also the butch Dahl (Katee Sackhoff). You may know her from "Battlestar Galactica" but all we know is Dahl finds every opportunity to counter an argument with whatever string of curses come to her mind first. She's quite bland, and besides the completely endless and pointless 30- second shot of some naked women caressing Riddick earlier on, she stands in the nude, taking a shower. This is a wonderful example of a director who seems to have lost his vision of what makes a movie work and resorts to including absurd and fruitless scenes that do nothing to push the story forward. It almost feels borderline offensive, especially if Twohy had to stand in front of a room full of women and explain why he believed these were thoughtful and meaningful inclusions to "Riddick" But I digress.

The script plays not only off of "Pitch Black" constantly (mercenaries here to kill Riddick realize that nightfall will kill them first, then realizing they need Riddick in order to survive) but relies on well-known sci-fi references or clichés to move forward. Aliens try to break in through every crevice of a building filled with guys with tons of firepower "Aliens" anyone? Or how about when the 'mercs' hop on their Harley Davidson inspired hover bikes? It screams swoop bikes from "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi". Sometimes elements like these work as homage to the old greats in filmmaking history, but here they feel lazy, and devoid of imagination.

The banter back and forth between characters is sometimes painful, or usually painful. It's the kind of dialog you are writing in your head as the movie progresses. Imagine two four-year-old children bickering back and forth. Now pretend they are twenty years older and are dropping "f" bombs every other word.

I've been harsh here, but it's only because I believe Twohy could do much better. This is practically a give-up effort, and it's sad to see the franchise has fallen this low.

In order to prevent the two ships from leaving the planet without him, Riddick steals some sort of power core from the groups. In effect, he holds the entire situation in his hands, without anyone able to leave. Riddick holds collateral over the mercs, not allowing them to leave the planet, and in the same way, the only thing holding us in our theater seating is the fact that we paid $9 for a movie ticket.

Oblivion (2013/I)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Oblivion, 17 September 2013

Tom Cruise really isn't my favorite. Although he does do some things right from time to time.

Welcome to Earth: 2077. I'm not spoiling much, because we find out Earth was ravaged by nuclear attack, leaving behind nothing but an unrecognizable, desolate wasteland. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) works as a security repairman of sorts, living with Vika (Andrea Riseborough) his wife, girlfriend, roommate, I'm not really sure. Essentially, they are tasked with the duty of repairing and performing maintenance on defense drones within the safe radiation zone. These drones defend several giant rig machines that harvest water or something to help store fuel for the future of mankind, which has all apparently moved off to Saturn's moon, Titan.

Besides the unsympathetic and hollow defense drones, Jack and Vika are alone on Earth, or are they? The nuclear holocaust took place because a species of alien attacked Earth, called scavengers (or scavs). Sally (Melissa Leo) guides Jack and Vika through a holo-device, directing them on how to go about protecting the rigs on a day to day basis. Sally supposedly lives on an orbiting space-cube of sorts, called the Tet. Therein lives most of humanity that hasn't already left for Titan.

I'm sure you are already lost reading my synopsis, and rightfully so, as it's a maze of a plot. Being a science fiction film, the maze only develops more twists and turns as we progress, until everything that we once knew as fact is no longer such.

I haven't seen director Joseph Kosinski's "Tron: Legacy" so I'm not exactly sure if he intentionally likes to provide social commentary in his films without resolution on purpose. It's hard to not give away much by saying so, but there is a certain level of subtle (or maybe blatant) discussion here about our environment, and the rate at which the filmmakers believe we are destroying it. At another point, we are in a pristine, well-kept futuristic building, where Jack stands, covered in soot and dirt, a man who used to believe lies, now knowing the truth. A clean, spotless woman stands before him. The juxtaposition is clear, but at some point we are left wondering what it means. And it's not a moment where we actually want to know what it means either.

The casting of Morgan Freeman as Beech seems to have been a wasted opportunity. Freeman doesn't have hardly any screen time, and the film's trailer gives him much more credit than is due; can I legally say such a thing about Morgan Freeman?

Also, despite a few somewhat painful monologues with Jack raging about some ancient football game, or some classic literature, Cruise is truly in great form here.

The highlight of "Oblivion" is in the soundtrack. If you are at all familiar with the electronic band M83, then "Oblivion" is sure to be a treat. The recurring theme from the film follows the aptly titled single, "Oblivion".

"Oblivion" is a fun science fiction thriller, with plenty of excitement and a fantastic soundtrack. Hollywood is falling deeply in love with post-apocalyptia these days, and being fan of it myself, I can't complain.

Jobs (2013)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Jobs, 17 September 2013

A critic from "Globe and Mail" wrote about "Jobs", saying, "If Jobs had been a producer on Jobs, he would have sent it back to the lab for a redesign." Well congratulations, Mr. Lacey. Screenplays aren't written in labs, so jokes on you.

I don't truly fancy myself as a film critic, only that I wish to either be making films or professionally critiquing them one day. I write this to say that I find myself at odds with the majority of critics again. This is taking me back to "The Lone Ranger" days, friends.

I first heard of "Jobs" it was from friends who were going to be attending Sundance Film Festival this past January. Why would a film that was selected for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and subsequently purchased for national distribution fare so poorly with critics? A whopping 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. Again, I found myself fighting for Ashton Kutcher, playing the public beloved Steve Jobs.

Now, I didn't know Steve Jobs. I can only assume 99% of the viewing audience of "Jobs" was in the same boat I'm in. I was completely unaware of his perfectionism–which makes total sense now–and I also didn't know he was this temperamental. That being said, Kutcher is very strong here. In fact, I haven't seen him at this level since 2004′s "The Butterfly Effect" a depressing film about the impact of cause and effect. Kutcher plays an extremely convincing Steve Jobs; the highlight for me was simply watching him walk about the workplace, hunched over shoulders and all.

After viewing 'true story' films like this, I am immediately forced to the internet to read the real life account of the situation. In this case, writer Matt Whiteley seems to have done quite reasonably here. I read stories of Whiteley reading through countless transcripts and interviews with Jobs, as well as conducting plenty of interviews himself. Rookie as he may be, without another script to his name on IMDb, Whiteley does his darndest to portray Jobs as well as possible.

"Jobs" follow Steve through his early days in college and up until his reinstatement as CEO of Apple. The film opens with the original unveiling of the first generation iPod. Sure it looks like metal brick that could bludgeon a skull open, but the audience has never seen anything like it. More than that, the audience is mostly inspired simply by Steve's presence at the press conference. This is a man who demands respect from his peers and employees without even asking for it. This is a man who has never given a single rip about what anyone thinks and is absolutely determined to get an idea formulated in his head onto paper and then physically created and defined. Kutcher is truly awe-inspiring to watch on-screen. Sure he's an ass, but for some reason, we really enjoy him, and to another extent, we feel as if we might know the real Steve Jobs at some basic level, and as a result of that, we really start to miss him.

Kutcher is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast including Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak, Dermot Mulroney as Mike Markkula, and plenty of other wonderful actors. Granted, "Jobs" doesn't quite make the mark at some areas, and we are left wondering what happened over the five-year time period we missed out on. We want to know more about his family life. We want to know how he dealt with having a child.

Overall, "Jobs" is incredibly inspiring. Even though Steve seems more like a tool factory than only a tool, his constant hard work is thrilling to watch. I could only hope that audiences feel a slight nudge to pursue their dreams after viewing "Jobs." If the quality of the film deters your inspiration, the least "Jobs" can do is to remind you that Steve was a man who stopped at nothing to complete his goals. Steve was a real man, not just a movie character, and despite his unfortunate passing, he has left a huge impact both the world of technology, but also in marketing and business as well.

Elysium (2013/I)
This is Not District 9, but it sure is Fun, 17 September 2013

Since my first viewing of "District 9" from 2009, I have anxiously awaited director Neill Blomkamp's science fiction follow-up. "Elysium" was announced at some point last year or so, and I was practically leaping for joy with anticipation. As the release date grew ever closer, more information came pouring out on "Elysium" and it soon became evident that this was indeed not a sequel to the very successful "District 9″. Let me assure you now that if you expect this to be any kind of successor to "District 9″, you will be disappointed.

That being said, "Elysium" is not a terrible movie by any means. It stars not only Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, but also the lead role from "District 9″, Sharlto Copley.

In this dystopian tale however, we are dropped into a very gritty post-apocalyptia, as most futuristic visions are and should be. It's a brutal life for those left on earth. Overpopulation and disease has spread rampantly, leaving many living in favelas, or at least we can only assume. We don't see much of earth outside of the village of sorts that Max (Matt Damon) lives in. As our poor as dirt (literally) humans scrap for food and work, there does indeed exist a space station hovering in space called Elysium. This of course is where the wealthy live. A huge plus to inhabiting Elysium is the ability to lay down in an updated version of a tanning bed, and with an ID printed on your wrist, you can instantly become healed of injury, anything from diabetes to having half your head blown off. I think it's a nifty invention, and so do those on earth who pack together on a space shuttle and attempt to crash-land on Elysium to get a chance at a new life.

The two societies clash with the wealthy employing absolutely brutal robot police on earth, ready to strike down anyone who does not comply with their orders. Max is a lowly factory worker who runs his mouth a bit much. Within time, his arm is broke, and while I won't spoil too much more here, suffice to say it becomes necessary for him to visit Elysium. This isn't much more information than you are given by the film's trailers of course.

Alice Braga plays Max's love interest, and we are told they actually used to be quite close as children through flash backs. Apparently Max used to be catholic or something, and now he's an exceptionally hardened man, dependent on survival, no matter the cost.

Damon is quite good here, and seems to pull off a bald head quite well. While we may not be completely in the know on why he acts the way he does, we are convinced that he is determined to finish his goals. Foster plays a very android-like defense coordinator of Elysium, named Delacourt. She has some kind of ridiculous plot to take control of the space station, but her purpose seems to lose its way and reason within time. She's ice-cold, and Jodie Foster is quite good at that.

The point where "Elysium" loses its metallic luster is when we realize that Blomkamp is practically spoon-feeding us. "District 9″ was obvious in many ways, but as we pulled for Copley's character, we may not be entirely sure what Max actually stands for. It's very clear that there is a lot of social commentary here about the rate at which our real world economies are being flushed down the toilet. The rich only get more wealthy, and the poor are forced to immeasurably more desperate means of survival. However, as we wonder about the future implications of a U.S. president that many claim is a socialist in disguise, Blomkamp's discussion on the economy begins turning astray. If he's not talking about that, then what is he talking about anyway? Maybe he never really was spoon-feeding us after all.

I hate to continue comparing "Elysium" to "District 9″, but where the grittiness and brutality worked in the latter, it seems not to push the thematic as well here. There is a scene involving some surgery, and while it's no brain operation from the "Saw" franchise, it feels unnecessary. A woman is slapped hard across the face, and evil mercenaries are exploded into countless pieces. We sit on the edge of our seats, not so much for the adrenaline we are given, but perhaps only for the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomachs, hoping to God that the next death may not be so brutal. That being said, Sharlto Copley plays an absolutely ruthless villain, named Kruger. It's really something to see. His dialogue is pretty weak, but every time he's on-screen, we cringe.

I felt as if I have been a bit harsh towards "Elysium" but as I have encouraged in previous reviews I have written, please do not take my word for it. I hope only that what I write helps you to discover details in films and entertainment that perhaps you may have missed on your first viewing. I am not a film critic by any means, but "Elysium" unfortunately misses the mark in some areas, and those are the areas that I think matter most. I want to care for Max, but the filmmaker's don't truly give us the capacity to do so. This being said, take time to digest the films that you watch, and take the time to discuss them. Ingesting entertainment without discretion will not only brutalize your discernment, but will destroy your ability to willfully comprehend whatever you just watched.

3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Lee Daniels' The Butler, 17 September 2013

If there is anything to be learned about "based on a true story" Hollywood adaptations of real life through Lee Daniels' "The Butler", it is this: they are hardly ever true stories.

I've mentioned this in previous reviews I've written (i.e. "Jobs", "A Beautiful Mind") but reality is seldom as pretty as fiction, or perhaps not as glamorous. I took the liberty of looking into the factual account of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), or should I say Eugene Allen, who was the real man who served on White House staff for many years. This paragraph is a bit of a spoiler, but Eugene was a man who's father wasn't actually shot as a boy. His mother wasn't brutally raped and left insane. His son was not a political activist, nor his wife a raging adulterous alcoholic, or Oprah Winfrey for that matter.

Upon my first mental review of "The Butler" I could not help but wonder what the purpose of it all was. Daniels has successfully blown an already powerful story way out of proportion. Well, that's Hollywood for you, folks! Why fix something that isn't broken?

I'm sure there were some kind of legal liabilities in using the name Eugene Allen as our main character in a film based of off the real-life Eugene Allen. It isn't to my knowledge, but I don't believe that's why Daniels, or screenwriter Danny Strong chose the optional name Cecil Gaines. Daniels is after something bigger here.

"The Butler" exists at some extent to bring to life the story of White House butler for eight presidents, Cecil Gaines, however, at a different level, "The Butler" remains to shed light on the history of African American injustice in the United States over the last hundred years or so. It is by no means a black propaganda or blaxpoitation film, yet the last ten minutes of "The Butler" may give you the former of those impressions.

Cecil Gaines grew up working on a cotton field and from a young age grew to have an appreciation for service to others. Cecil carries this pre-civil rights understanding of humility with him, even through and past the 1960s. He eventually runs far from the cotton fields and lands a few jobs until he is selected as staff at none other than the White House. The nation's capital seems a beacon of light and hope for the future of the civil rights movement. Cecil, while a servant, receives the chance to spend many meaningful conversations with America's past presidential leaders, all appropriately cast in my opinion, ranging from Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, to John Cusack as the all-is-lost Richard Nixon.

Daniels cast includes many prominent African Americans, from rapper David Banner as Cecil's father, to Cuba Gooding Jr. as a fellow White House employee and head butler, Carter Wilson. Lenny Kravitz plays close friend and butler James Holloway, and Terrence Howard is a scummy neighbor with an inappropriately crooked smile.

It's an ensemble cast of sorts, but Whitaker truly shines here. He is a man who has seen the deep dark hate of racism, and believes in his heart that the times truly cannot change, despite everything happening around him. Even in the 1970s, his mental state was still living with a mindset of slavery and servitude.

Oprah Winfrey plays Gloria, Cecil's wife. She is a bit trampy, but due only to Cecil's long, arduous work hours. She is a broken woman in some regards, but does what she can to be a house mom. Her house always has a bit of a washed out, yet warm color palette to it. It's something you don't see anywhere else in the film. It feels homely, but it never changes until within the last fifteen minutes of "The Butler" and by that point, we know racial prejudice has changed in North America. We can only wonder if that old color palette reflects how Cecil's household has changed too.

Daniels spends time showing us the depravity of whites hellbent on pursuing racist arrogance. We see its direct physical and mental effect on the innocent African Americans who are plagued by it, and at the same time, Daniels cuts back to Cecil and fellow butlers, serving those in the White House, who are also, indeed white. It's a fascinating juxtaposition, and it works extremely well, albeit sometimes painful to watch. It's a throwback to Tony Kaye's "American History X".

In the end, "The Butler" is some kind of triumph, not necessarily in filmmaking as a whole, but perhaps more of a congratulatory note on how far the United States has come with racial prejudice. However, "The Butler" reminds us that not so long ago, our grandparents and beyond were in full recognition that this people group was the dirt and scum of the earth. All because of the color of their skin. Is this not sobering to you at all?

Even as an old man, Cecil walks through the all-too-familiar halls of the White House. The building looks identical as it was many years ago when he first arrived, yet now he has changed, and now the times have changed as well.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy Strikes Again!, 17 September 2013

And with one final "Hurrah!" Edgar Wright's Blood and Ice Cream (or Three Flavours Cornetto) Trilogy finally and sadly comes to a close. Be assured however; fans of both 2004′s "Shaun of the Dead" and 2007′s "Hot Fuzz" can breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that "The World's End" not only lives up to expectations, but succeeds in setting a new standard for any potential follow-up for the combination of Wright and lead-duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Early trailers for "The World's End" likely left most viewers a bit skeptical upon seeing Pegg's character, Gary King, for the first time. Please for a brief moment and only a brief moment, let us revisit our high school years. King was the high school burnout/dropout. He was the guy who would pat the back of a substitute teacher, only to leave behind a sign, reading, "PLEASE KICK ME." He is despicable and quite revolting. Fast forward fifteen to twenty years or so. King is still the exact same man, if I could even call him a man, because he is in fact still a juvenile boy at heart and mind. He is the kind of guy who probably still hangs out in the high school parking lot and sees nothing wrong with that.

Enter our plot. "The World's End" opens with King narrating the ultimate 12 pub, pub crawl, nicknamed "The Golden Mile." This was a dangerous voyage that King and four other friends had attempted when they were but wee high school students. They had nearly completed the trek, when suddenly something went wrong, and the details are left a little fuzzy; after 11 pints, I could only imagine it so.

Fast forward many years later and King is getting the old band back together. It seems that everyone has moved on with their lives, pursuing careers, marriage, whatever it may be, King doesn't have it. It is here where we meet the ol' gang, including Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan). After a bit of convincing and their return to Newton Haven to attempt the pub crawl, we are introduced briefly to Oliver's sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike).

Everything leading up to the eventual discovery that there is indeed something awry in old Newtown Haven is very fun. The cast takes the script to its limit and continues to push it. This is a fantastic group of actors together, and at many times we feel as if they all had actually truly grown up with one another. From the drive in King's ancient car, to conversations in The First Post (Bar #1 on the Golden Mile) "The World's End" is quite a bit of fun.

I wish I could expound more on the events in the second half of the film, but it's so much more fun to experience it yourself. I've kept this review solely to the first half, and to the overall message of the movie.

Director Edgar Wright uses snap zooms and close-ups like a veteran. Fast cuts have been a staple of the Cornetto Trilogy, and if you are at all familiar with the other two before mentioned films, then jumping over garden fences should be yet another throwback you will enjoy. Have no fear though. While Wright is not afraid to revisit his past work, "The World's End" is filled with new and original comedic ideas. Almost everything seems to work well here.

Wright has developed a wonderful science fiction story for us here, reminiscent of a classic sci-fi like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" albeit, much more of a spoof than anything else. He takes time to poke fun at many of today's science fiction movies that perhaps take themselves a pint too seriously (if I may use such an expression). *SPOILER* Wright also takes the chance to have a little fun with the post-apocalyptic genre as well, which has become quite popular with science fiction these days. *SPOILER*

There are many visual treats throughout "The World's End" including: wall or street signs behind our characters that are written to cleverly juxtapose whatever the character is saying, plenty of explosions, and positively fantastic fight choreography that would make Jackie Chan proud.

The overall message here is friendship, and while you're trying to rekindle and hold fast to it, try to have yourself a little fun too. This is a movie where there is plenty of room for the ridiculous and absurd, but only because it works so well. The more impossible the situation, the better and more unrealistic and unlikely the solution will be to fix it. This is the close to the Cornetto, and this is "The World's End."


The Family (2013/I)
6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
The Family, 16 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Family" is a film that tries to be a laugh out loud gangster flick with a deep story and lots of character development. It only succeeds in a few of these areas, but it is in those areas that "The Family" works very well.

Luc Besson of "Léon: The Professional" and "La Femme Nikita" fame takes the lead role of director, and along with the help of the legendary Martin Scorsese, we have "The Family". This is the story of Fred Blake (Robert De Niro), or Giovanni Manzoni, or whatever his name is this week. He is forced to change his name and where he lives pretty constantly because his family is in the witness protection program. This week in the lives of the "Blake" family, they find themselves in Normandy, France. What exactly Giovanni did to upset his mob ties is never explicitly said, and we work under the assumption that he ratted out some of the higher-ups in the mob hierarchy. This is all good and well, but some audience members might feel left out never knowing exactly why the Manzoni family lives in a never-changing state of flux.

Giovanni shows murderous traits throughout "The Family" and we firmly believe he is capable of a lot of bad stuff. While his family likely didn't participate in mob activities back in the day, they all seem to have learned violent tendencies. Giovanni's wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) has interest in traveling and sight-seeing to get her mind off of her unpredictable lifestyle, and despite her attempts to return to the Catholic church (the only familiar thing that she sees can bring her family to safety), has a short temper that can burn down a grocery store within a few moments; a fun joke, unfortunately ruined by the movie's trailer. Giovanni's daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a righteous fox, searching for her future soul mate. She is the kind of girl you have to worry about getting hit on by the wrong crowd, but she is also the kind of girl you don't have to worry about the safety of. In other words: she can take care of herself. Finally, John D'Leo plays Gio's son. Imagine a snarky, too intelligent for his age 16-year-old drug kingpin who recognizes, and then runs a high school's black market within the period of a week, and you have Warren Blake. This is the "Blake" family, and we feel like we know them pretty well by the end of "The Family".

Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is Giovanni's parole officer of sorts and tries to keep him out of trouble. They bicker back and forth and never did you think you would see two greats like Jones and De Niro get so old and complain about one another with such comedic contempt. It's really quite funny, and I might add that you would never expect the "F" bomb to have so many uses and become such a versatile word in the mouth of De Niro.

Of course the family tries to adjust to life in France, and while it's all good fun, "The Family" is haunted by an emotional roller coaster that the audience may never have even bought tickets for. In one moment, a character is head over heels for a french boy who breaks her heart, and the next moment Giovanni is breaking a wooden bat over the kneecap of a greedy plumber, and then deeply contemplating a future career in writing. Again, with comedy, "The Family" delivers. With keeping us engaged, and following and tracking with the characters, perhaps not so much. One might argue that these extreme moments are used only to push the comedy along, and I would tend to agree with that viewpoint.

The original score here feels a bit forced, and overall, pretty cheesy. It maybe doesn't work so well. You can tell Besson worked under Scorsese's tutelage to some extent when exploring popular music themes throughout "The Family". The Rolling Stones have a way of making music that never seems to perform poorly in film.

I saw "The Family" with two girls, who haven't been introduced to great gangster classics like "Goodfellas" or "The Godfather". Despite the black comedy, and sometimes randomly violent bits of "The Family", I realized that this movie actually could work quite well as an introduction to crime films for those who haven't seen them. We see some of the violence, and we hear the lingo and accents, and while it's sometimes over the top, it never feels like too much. "The Family" is almost a more family friendly "The Untouchables" in some very strange way. Eh, but don't have a family screening of "The Godfather" with your five-year-olds after reading this review.

"The Family" is a good watch for some crime-based black comedy laughs, but may be more widely accessible once it hits DVD and Blu-Ray.

*SPOILER* In closing, I might add that De Niro's character ends up sharing his life story at a film critique of "Goodfellas" in France. It hits you the hardest when the opening notes of Tony Bennet's "Rags to Riches" sounds out loud on-screen, and it's possibly one of the biggest laugh out loud moments I've seen in quite a while. I never really thought about pop culture inside of pop culture… Pop-cultureception, if you will. *SPOILER*

"Monsters" Delivers, and then some, 25 June 2013

The ingenuity of devising a misfit character who doesn't quite fit in, within a species of creatures that, at first glance, seem entirely unrelatable, is wholly brilliant. Pixar, a studio known for originality across the board, did this extremely well in 2001 with "Monsters, Inc." 'Well, that was over ten years ago,' some of you might say; then perhaps you haven't heard of "Toy Story 3". They did it once with a franchise based upon reanimated children's toys, but can they breathe life into another aged film, this time with the premise of a prequel?

The summer of 2013 rolls around, and Pixar presents us with "Monsters University." If you ever had questions about how our green and blue monster friends got into the scaring game, or if they belonged to the most stereotypically lame fraternity house, then look no further. There are plenty of college clichés to enjoy, from the dirt bag jocks, to the over-eager orientation leaders.

Billy Crystal reprises his role of Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed, not very scary, little green man. By his side, the hunk of a blue, polka-dotted, man-bear-yeti, James P. Sullivan, or Sulley (John Goodman). "Monsters University" shows us how the two became friends, and they didn't start out as roommates, I can promise you that. As any Pixar sequel (or prequel, for that matter) goes, we meet up with some familiar faces along the way. The dastardly Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) rears his ugly, camouflaged face, but the most fun the audience will have is through a cameo later on in the film (I won't spoil it, don't worry).

Our story begins by showing us just exactly how Mike Wazowski became obsessed with the human-scaring industry. Despite being picked on by classmates as a tiny, albeit adorable, monster, Mike developed a love and admiration for upper-division scare legends as a little tyke. In this world, they swap trading cards of the elite scarers, very similar to baseball legends of yore. Ironically, Mike is given the baseball cap of his favorite and most-respected scare legend. This drives Mike to attend Monsters University so he can major in scaring and, ideally, become a legend himself one day. Over time, he meets the before-mentioned Randall and Sulley. Turns out Sulley is actually quite the bag of tools at this point in their friendship, and through an unfortunate turn of events, the two of them are kicked from the scare program, and left to major in less interesting things.

The terrifying Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) is in control of the program, and gave them the boot. Mike, being the resourceful eyeball he is, thinks up a brilliant plot: join the upcoming Scare Games competition, and if he can prove he's scary enough, Hardscrabble must let him back into the program. Sulley and Mike are actually quite at odds by this point, and are forced to work together to make the plan work. They need at least six on their team, thus enters four new monsters, who together, play off of each other quite well, and actually inspires most of the humor in the film. They are clearly inept and unable to win the competition, but over time, and with lots of training, heart-searching, and a few montages, they may be able to win the coveted trophy, and the title of "Scariest Monsters."

This is the set-up. It is a Pixar movie after all, but being older than the vast majority of children in the audience, I may have giggled at some of the slapstick at play here, but Pixar has a way of telling deep and involving stories within the animated context. With "Up" we were presented with commentary on true love, and the theme of aging and loss. Here, Pixar toys around with a coming of age, or stepping into a new phase of life; change, if you will.

There are multiple times in "Monsters University" where Mike faces a step in front of him, quite literally actually. He can either choose to turn around and ignore it, or to step forward, make a solid choice, and walk into a new phase of life. Mike is presented with this option at least four times throughout his visual journey. We see the joys of Mike wholeheartedly accepting the new trials before him, but we also see the consequences of his actions. There is indeed a time to grow up, but there is also a time to take a moment to think about what kinds of challenges the future may hold. Luckily, our hero is ready for anything in his path, despite everyone telling him that he just isn't good enough.

There are enough losers in this movie that anyone who has ever been rejected (all of us) will find someone, or some THING, to relate to. If you're fat, there is a monster for you. If you have a penchant for philosophy and deeper thinking, you are somewhat in luck. Finally, if you still live in your mother's basement and one of your best friends started dating your mother, "Monsters University" is here for you. Outside of the deep metaphors that are presented ever so subtly, there are plenty of surface level discussions to be had.

Pixar hits this one with flying colors, and it's one you are sure to be called a fool if you miss. "Monsters University" is just too much fun, and I'm confident you will agree with me.

A Beautiful Mind (2001), 12 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind," contains a visual treat that I won't soon forget. I'm talking about a scene a little over halfway into the film, where our protagonist John–played by Russell Crowe (of "Gladiator" fame)–sits in the kitchen with his wife Alicia, played by Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem for a Dream", "Blood Diamond"). He's beginning to fall back into his disorder, and sits at a table, playing with a strange suction cup unicorn toy. Alicia is starting to grow increasingly more frustrated with John, and steps over to the refrigerator.

There is a clear divide in their marriage, and even though it is portrayed so clearly on-screen, we are provided with a powerful, yet subtle reminder here. A wall literally separates the two of them, their backs are turned to one another, and although they are having a conversation, they are both concentrating on different things.

This is the kind of provoking imagery that Ron Howard has put together for his audience, along with ASC Roger Deakins ("No Country for Old Men", "Skyfall", "Shawshank Redemption").

"A Beautiful Mind" follows the true, yet flawed, story of a brilliant mathematician, named John Nash, who struggles to live with schizophrenia. We begin our excavation into his life starting first at his entry into Princeton, and our journey ends with Nash in old age. As grumpy and–for the most part, socially inept–an old fart as he was in his younger years. Regardless of his laughable social ability, he makes lifelong friends (and gets hitched) despite his strange behavior; even though he's kind of a jerk. He is quite lovable. Whether this is the beauty of Crowe's fantastic work as an actor, or the tediousness of a well-designed script, I will leave that decision up to you.

Even though we focus mostly on Nash, we do spend a good portion of time with Alicia. I must say that I truly appreciated her character's devotion to John. Unfortunately, many times in film, a love interest is thrown in as an afterthought to spice up the sex appeal, but here is not the case (although, Connelly looks somewhat stunning as an older woman). What I admired most about her screen time is her unrelenting sense of hope. Granted, she does grab their child and begins driving away at one point (but you would too if your husband nearly drowned the little tot.) Alicia inspires a true feeling of redemption for Nash's character, and she sees it through until the end. A marvelous picture of the difficulties of marriage and endless perseverance through it, I assure you.

Of course, Howard would never let his audience go without extra fun, and this comes in the form of actors: Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany, and Ed Harris, who play respectively: Nash's psychiatrist, Charles (one of Nash's friendly hallucinations), and Parcher (a government agent hallucination, hell-bent on pushing Nash to decipher non-existent Russian codes from various publications and magazines.)

Something that Howard does excruciatingly well here is not spoon-feeding the story to his audience. The plot isn't simple, even though the "Fight Club-esque" reveal of "multiple personalities" is somewhat predictable; if you know much about the film. It definitely isn't a tidy film presented in a gift-wrapped box. There are a few short scenes that make you just a bit queasy to help you understand more fully just how emotionally and physiologically painful Nash's condition was on himself and those around him. It is necessary in my opinion.

There is a bit of cheese, in the form of a special pen gifting scene directed towards Nash, representing the level of respect that he had gained over the years, again, despite his medical condition. To explain the symbolism of these "pens," one should simply watch the film to understand. Very shortly afterwards, Nash gives his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. As he gazes out into the audience, he says, "I have made the most important discovery of my career – the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found. I am only here tonight because of you…" His eyes fixate on Alicia, as he toys with a pocket square in his coat; a nod to an earlier moment in the film.

These moments are excusably cheesy, and serve to fully send home the idea that if it was not for the persistence of Nash to push through his disease in his fashion, and if it was not for Alicia's complete devotion to him as a wife, he likely would have driven himself mad and lived in an asylum for the remainder of his life. Fortunately, this is not the case, and in light of his random outbursts at home and on-campus at Princeton, he is able to live out a strange, yet somewhat regular life.

We feel only the utmost sympathy for John and Alicia, and by pushing against all odds, they find victory. We love these stories, don't we? The academy loved it enough to present it with four Oscars, including Best Picture. Isn't that nifty?

The only blotch I found on this wonderful tale is the true story of John Nash. In real life, he didn't actually begin experiencing hallucinations until after his marriage with Alicia. He also had a child with a previous girlfriend, and Alicia eventually divorced him and married someone else. They remained very close friends however, and she provided him a place to stay, and helped him through his disorder. A few Hollywood modifications, to be sure, but its always a little sad when the movies are prettier than real life, isn't it?

A humbling response is knowing that Nash was, and still is an astonishingly brilliant man. He still keeps office hours at Princeton, and he still walks to school everyday. An impossibly smart and beautiful mind.

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