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A pleasantly manic, adult comedy, 28 July 2015

Peter Bogdanovich's She's Funny That Way is exactly the kind of film that isn't made any more; a manic, silly comedy helmed by an ensemble cast made for adults. The film adheres to the wry comedic style of Woody Allen, who rigorously churned out films like these in the 1970's and 1980's, and a style that Allen continues to play with in the modern day. With a breezy eighty minute runtime and a comedic cast that, for once, looks like they're actually having a great time with one another, this is a film that can skate by and leave you with a goofy grin on your face before cynicism even has time summon.

The film revolves around a hooker named Isabella Beatty (Imogen Poots), who became a Broadway thespian following a gracious break from Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), a Broadway director who frequents escorts despite being married to Delta (Kathryn Hahn), a Broadway star herself. Arnold is filthy rich, for that matter, and upon paying escorts for their services, he'll also gift them with $30,000 to get their life moving in the right direction, all under Delta's nose. Meanwhile, a playwright named Joshua (Will Forte) begins to fall in love with Isabella, despite dating Jane Claremont (Jennifer Aniston), a bitter and hot-tempered therapist. Finally, there's also Seth (Rhys Ifans), an actor of Arnold's who also frequents escort services whilst trying to balance his exploding level of popularity.

This conglomeration of characters make She's Funny That Way a film that consistently moves and never slows down. The persistent weaving and fluid profiling of each and every character in the film is what largely makes the film such a good time. While the characters may often be contemptible, the situational humor mimics the sort of awkwardness and indecisive etiquette occurrences examined in your average episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, although with decidedly more theatricalities and far-fetched circumstances.

The cast here feels right at home. We have low-key performers that go under the radar far too often (Poots, Ifans, and Forte) and we have seasoned veterans trying their hand at the personalities they accentuate the best (Aniston and Wilson). Moreover, though, everyone feels like they're enjoying themselves. This isn't a film to take very seriously, nor is it a film that gets hung up on vulgarities and stupidity. It's the rare adult comedy with the energy of a kids film but the brazen personality that can accompany any night filled with wine, good friends - even a date - and a fulfilling dinner.

One of the biggest problems I've seen with American cinema is, despite R-rated comedies, few comedies are really designed for adults. Paradoxically, R-rated films like Get Hard and The Hangover sequels have jokes that would make teenagers laugh out loud, but many adults turn the other cheek, though they are the audience that will be allowed in the film at the local multiplex. She's Funny That Way is a film that bears a crass sense but in a way that isn't over-the-top or in love with the idea of making the viewer uncomfortable based on situations involving bodily fluids or intercourse. Co-writer (along with Louis Stratten) Bogdanovich works to make the film a more humble comedy, where the awkward situations are made funny by the characters and not the inanity of the situations themselves.

This is a smartly written film, one that really is elevated by the performers, though they, for once, aren't ostensibly trying to mask the low-level quality of the writing. She's Funny That Way packs a lot of manic energy in its eighty minutes, including great displays of character acting and plenty of nods to film lovers. Nuts to the squirrels indeed.

Starring: Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, and Rhys Ifans. Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich.

The Masseuse (2004) (V)
A well-oiled, pornographic gem, 26 July 2015

The sadness that lingers over the leading male character like a dark cloud in Paul Thomas's The Masseuse is what sets apart most contemporary pornographic films from being plastic (figuratively and literally) products of a large industry. A remake of the low-key 1990 film of the same name (also directed by Thomas), this remake concerns Barbara (Jenna Jameson), a gorgeous blonde masseuse who strikes up a sexual relationship with Jim (Justin Sterling), a middle-aged virgin who begins frequenting the massage parlor. Jim immediately takes a liking to Barbara's soft touch, relaxing voice, and radiant beauty, requesting sexual favors that result in hefty monetary compensation.

Eventually, their relationship spices up a bit, with Barbara coming over to Jim's house to indulge in his shed of sex toys, whips, paddles, chains, and trinkets. Contrary to romantic (and perhaps pornographic) convention, love isn't in the air on Barbara's end. Whenever Jim tries to further the relationship past casual, compensated sex, Barbara pushes away, claiming things will get "too complicated" and reaffirming her love for keeping things simple and easy to manage.

So much of The Masseuse is heartbreaking as it is arousing. Consider the scene when Jim and Barbara are trying to negotiate a price for the night's escapades. Barbara starts at $200. "That doesn't leave me much for the week," Jim feebly replies, "how about $150?," he counters, to which she accepts. This is a sad scene, even if it doesn't come off like that, and not in a pathetic way. The fact that Jim is about ready to give up his weekly income on a woman who (a) doesn't love him and (b) doesn't really care about his personal life shows his desperation for some level of human companionship and compassion. Jim's entire life has ostensibly been about playing safe and anticipating results over process. Barbara is the first thing in his life that adds unpredictability and attention to interrupt the banal doings of his every day busy work.

The loneliness writers Dean Nash and Mark Haggard profile in The Masseuse is one even the most independent films have a hard time adequately portraying, and they do it with great pacing and situational drama. Jameson and Sterling also spark terrific chemistry, sexual and conversational, especially Sterling as an actor, who's stammer and weak voice comes through to say more about his character than he could ever effectively say himself.

The Masseuse, however, works just fine as a pornographic film; its sex scenes are erotic and methodical, taking their time to build to a rewarding and satisfying climax. Jameson's beauty and energy compliments many of the scenes, and the way both her and Sterling exercise mannered patience with the escalation of their sex makes the film that much more charming and worthy of recognition. Nothing is rushed, nothing is unclear, and the videography is pristine.

Not since the original Taboo did I find myself anticipating the actual dialog scenes more than the sex scenes in a pornographic film but The Masseuse is a film with brain and a personality to add to its explicit sex. It also features one of the first lesbian scenes I actually found myself enjoying on a sexual level, rather than just being bored and disinterested throughout the entire time. Much like Taboo in a narrative sense, if one truly mustered the motivation and maturity to watch the film, they could enjoy it as a film in addition to an arousing piece of art.

Starring: Jenna Jameson and Justin Sterling. Directed by: Paul Thomas.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Makes a conversation whilst standing in line appear more substantial and impacting, 26 July 2015

MTV's controversial and heavily hyped documentary White People is the most insubstantial and unfounded documentary of the year, and its facile structure and lack of substance bleeds through it like it's an episode of your average reality Television show. Shot with the evidence of heavy editing, little coherency, and pamphlet-level examinations into race relations, the documentary attempts to examine what it means to be white in America, the idea of "white privilege," and how certain races are perceived by certain cultures.

All of this information could've, and should've, made for a compelling documentary that would've more fittingly suited documentarian Jose Antonio Vargas's idea of making the viewer and interviewee uncomfortable in order to consider race relations in America. However, thanks to MTV editing and a forty-one minute runtime, the surface of these ideas is barely scratched, and the audience is left with nothing to consider, no meat to a conversation they are repeatedly demanded to have, and little to remember from such a flimsy documentary.

The first immediate problem is the presentation of this documentary; the production levels mirror a reality Television show, which wouldn't be such a glaring issue if MTV wasn't ostensibly playing White People like it was your average episode of throwaway TV trash. Rather than focusing on the conversation, Vargas and the editors of the documentary seem much more concerned with the drama, like characters dramatically running out of rooms in tears or breaking down mid-conversation to embellish the level of discomfort they have in discussing these issues. This, in turn, makes these subjects look like feeble and inept souls that cannot bring themselves to have a conversation about something that matters; if they grew up on present day MTV, however, perhaps this is only a predictable reaction.

With that, the film explores a variety of subjects, such as a white college student who chose to attend a historically black college, experiencing a surreal culture shock, white teachers who teach at exclusively Native American schools, and an Italian neighborhood in New York that is experiencing a wave of Asian immigrants. These would make for compelling subjects, but instead, they each make up relatively five to eight minutes of an almost entirely worthless documentary.

One white teacher at a Native American school brings up the intriguing point that she never had to internalize what white people did when examining history, but in a Native American school, each and every day you have to look at your race and even introspectively to examine certain issues. This great point is completely glossed over so the editors can furiously scurry over to the next subject so this documentary can meet the forty-one minute runtime. Almost necessary ideas - like whitewashed history, the dilution of "white culture" and white heritage, the significance of the word "ghetto," and the worthlessness of privilege-checking when the institution that encourages it goes unscathed - get entirely glossed over, only discrediting this documentary moreso.

The final big point of White People is the idea of scholarships and how white people feel "discriminated against" because, anecdotally speaking, most scholarships are offered to minority students and white people are immediately pushed to the side when applying for said scholarships or even financial aid. Vargas speaks to a college-age girl, who didn't receive a scholarship and feels such a way and he decides to look into this idea. Vargas notices that white students are forty percent more likely to get a scholarship than a person of color, completely disproving this point. When Vargas tells the girl in front of a few other souls, she immediately states she feels as if she's being attacked by others in the room; due to the film's lackluster and empty editing, this comes out of left field since none of the other people in the room said anything that would remotely be considered hateful or attacking.

This wouldn't be such a jarring, consistent issue if White People were the least bit consistent in its editing, or for that matter, encompassing of more than just passing ideas of race. Had this been a longer, better-edited documentary (preferably not for MTV, where it would be treated as a marketing gimmick) or miniseries with forty-one minute episodes examining each of these subjects, White People could've been a truly significant cinematic achievement for race. Yet, the documentary at hand is less a conversation on race and more casual small talk that would make your average conversation whilst waiting in line appear more substantial and impacting.

Directed by: Jose Antonio Vargas.

Pixels (2015)
12 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Caters to its respective season and nostalgia quite effectively, 26 July 2015

The immense hate for "Pixels" has me asking a serious question for those who hate the film, did you hate the concept or did you simply find yourself refusing any inkling of positivity or humor whilst watching the film upon seeing Adam Sandler as the top-billed actor? I ask this question as somebody who finds myself at odds with Sandler on most of his projects, but also somebody willing to admit his achievements and provide him with credit when he deserves it.

I ask this because it seems the good majority of the public, and critics for that matter, have given up on Adam Sandler, ostensibly just waiting to hate the next project he's working on before it's even released. The negative buzz around "Pixels," similar to "Blended," Sandler's last feature, started early and never let up. While Sandler has given himself plenty of reasons (and films, for that matter) to dislike him and his work, I feel under the work of any other actor besides Sandler and his production company, "Pixels" would've at least garnered a handful of defenders.

"Pixels" is a brazenly silly sound and lights show, one that works predominately because of its willingness to exhaust its premise and use many actors with differing personalities to carry the entire show. That, right there, is about all I can say for the film: it's cheeky, it's relentlessly goofy, but it's also just funny enough and adventurous enough to recommend to anyone searching for that piece of entertainment in the cool multiplexes during this hot summer.

The film opens with Sam Brenner and Will Cooper, two best friends who spend their days at the arcade, where Sam discovers his incredible skill for video games. Will encourages him to compete in the first video game championship of 1982, which will be recorded and sent into space by NASA, along with other artifacts. At the tournament, however, Sam winds up losing to Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), a cocky, professional video gamer.

Decades later, Sam (Adam Sandler) works as an installer of software and his pal Will (Kevin James) goes on to be The President of the United States, still both very close friends despite their difference in power. One day, Will calls Sam into the office to observe an attack on a military base in Guam by what looks to be the video game pixels and characters from the arcade game Galaga. Baffled by the insanity of this possibility, Sam reconnects with Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), a pudgy conspiracy theorist whom he met at at the video game tournament back in the 1980's. Ludlow shows Sam a video claiming to be sent from aliens that the video tape of the tournament was seen as a declaration of war, prompting the aliens to send the video game characters from classic arcade games to attack the world. The world gets "three lives," so to speak, which are lost if one particular battle (video game) is lost. Three lost battles and the Earth is terminated.

Desperate and out of options, Will orders Sam, Ludlow, Eddie, and his unique weapons specialist Lieutenant Colonel Violent van Patten (Michell Monaghan) to fight the pixelated monsters, which come in the form of Centipede, Pac-Man, and eventually Donkey Kong.

It shouldn't take more than a minute of watching the trailer for "Pixels" to decide if you'd want to see something like this. Those who do, if they view the film as the basic summer entertainment that the film is trying to be, will find a perfectly acceptable and balanced dose of fun. "Pixels" also works as a showcase for a divisive array of talent. We have Sandler, who is surprisingly very relaxed and nonchalant throughout the whole film, James, who is toned down several notches from his usual self as well, Gad, who bears the same kind of energy Sandler did in his heyday, only with much more personality, and Dinklage, who's narcissism and brazen attitude effectively make his character.

Finally, "Pixels" works because it doesn't take itself too seriously; it knows exactly what it needs to do to succeed and that is to be a nonstop display of action with a great visual scheme and characters that are at least somewhat fun to be around. This may not be a showstopper of a film, but it's something that definitely caters to a season of films where numerous other, lesser films find themselves being defended while "Pixels" sits and suffers in a "guilt by association" manner.

Southpaw (2015)
As destined to please as it is destined to exhaust, 26 July 2015

Boxing is a barbaric sport that simply makes the possibility of obtaining life-threatening and/or debilitating injuries to someone's life at a young age more prevalent, but yet, it's one of the most popular international sports. Boxing is so popular because of the fact that it's simple and fulfills animalistic aggression inside its spectators and its participators. It takes the frustration and anger emotions and exemplifies them through the universally understood action of punching and beating the everloving hell out of somebody. It fills an audience with excitement and adrenaline, as it does its the actual pugilists, but the common-ground achieved between the audience and the fighters is in the gratification. Through every punch, a strong human chord is struck in everyone who witnesses it and some reaction, internal or external, is prompted.

Fighting seems to be embedded in New York City boxer Billy Hope's (Jake Gyllenhaal) life. Raised in foster care throughout much of his young life and making a name for himself thanks to his ability to throw a crushing, Earth-shattering blow to his opponents, Billy has had to fight for something his entire life, be it a meal, a family, or the next belt in the ranks. Right by his side throughout the entire time of his fighting career are his loving wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and their young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). After his most recent fight sees him stumble and hesitate a bit more than normal, Maureen tells Billy that he should consider hanging up his gloves for a while, despite intense pressure by his manager (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) to ink a deal with HBO.

During a ceremony where Billy is set to announce his future plans, an altercation between Billy and rival boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) occurs in the lobby. This simple scuffle results in an all-out brawl, which leaves Maureen shot and killed by Miguel's brother Hector. Billy is beyond distraught; his voice of reason, true love, and his tender touch after all the brutal blows has been robbed from him in the blink of an eye. Billy begins to fall prey to crippling grief, alcoholism, and drug dependency, with the coffin-sealing nail being a disastrous fight that results in him headbutting a referee.

When Billy is scraping the bottom of the barrel, constantly in a sorrowful state in addition to being physically and emotionally exhausted following Leila's placement in foster care, he looks towards Titus Wills (Forest Whitaker), a boxing trainer at a local-area gym, for assistance. Titus's mannered, methodical steps are what Billy needs to try and not only revitalize his career but rebuild his life anew.

Antoine Fuqua's "Southpaw" is a brutal picture; similar to "American Sniper" last year, anyone who isn't used to seeing dramas with a plethora of heartwrenching events an excessive brutality may find themselves really amazed and even startled to see how far this picture goes in painting crippling depression and grief. At the center of all the sadness is Gyllenhaal, who has proved to be one of the most awe-inspiring leading men Hollywood has to offer. Following numerous strong, creepy performances in films like "Prisoners" and "Nightcrawler," "Southpaw" adds to Gyllenhaal's increasingly polished filmography in terms of showcasing rich, often frightening performances.

Gyllenhaal's ability to be completely believable whilst cycling through numerous emotions proves him to be an actor with many impeccable talents. Consider his calculated movements in "Nightcrawler," where he held blank stares for much of the film, beared a thin figure, and forced himself not to blink very frequently. Now consider "Southpaw," a film where he has to go from one emotion to the next, often within the same scenes, throughout the film's entirety. Certain scenes, particularly with his character's daughter, start with Gyllenhaal holding a drowsy, dazed demeanor and escalate into groveling and crying within two or three minutes.

"Southpaw" is almost guaranteed to take the viewer on an emotion roller-coaster, again, especially those not well-acquainted with this territory. For the most part, the film doesn't manipulate audience's emotions, but every now and then, we get the predictable attack lines from Leila to Billy, where the subsequent scenes are set to orchestration. These scenes are clearly meant to prompt reaction and do so in a manner that's less than subtle.

It's also worth noting that "Southpaw" is greatly levied by capable supporting performances by, not only Whitaker, but 50 Cent as well, who is all but guaranteed to get shafted due to his limited scenes in the film. His cut-throat, business-minded character that places personal value on Billy depending on his present monetary value and relevance throughout the film makes for a soul who is consistently interesting on screen, predominately because of how real this character not only feels, but is. This melting pot of varying actors and characters, in turn, makes "Southpaw"'s occasional bouts of sentimentality and narrative predictabilities less apparent than if the acting was subpar.

Nonetheless, this is the kind of picture that is destined to please the crowd, similar to "American Sniper" and "The Judge," where even the more negative reviews will fail to keep the populous from enjoying a simple, well-told story about a very human character. Even for a mainstream film, however, "Southpaw" is a gritty and brutal picture, with well-choreographed action and blows that punctuate an immersive story for those who want the full admission price to feel worth it.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Exactly what it shouldn't be - a paper film with paper characters and paper themes, 24 July 2015

"Paper Towns" is that kid in the lunchroom who acts different and seems cool but it isn't until you talk to him that you realize he adheres to all the social conventions and routines of life that you thought he was rebelling against. It's the kind of film that feels like it was written by an adolescent girl cherrypicking reblogged Tumblr quotes from her wall to suffice as the theme for the film. It's the kind of film you'll love if you find the idea of "getting lost to find yourself" a profound concept.

"Paper Towns," finally, is the kind of film where the love interest is named Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), whose vacuous personality is mistaken for mystery and enigma. She is defined by her absent gazes into the world, her love for "random capitalization" in her writing because "the rules are so unfair to the letters in the middle of words," and her statements about her town, Orlando, Florida, being a paper town with "paper houses and paper people."

She also happens to be the apple of Quentin's (the former "Naked Brothers Band" lead singer Nat Wolff) eye since she moved in his subdivision when they were young; he considers living next to her his sole miracle in life. However, the two have significantly drifted since their youthful days of innocence, until one night when Margo climbs into his window and says that she has nine things to do that night and needs a getaway driver. Stunned that the love of his life has waltzed through his window for the first time in years, Quentin takes Margo and peels off in his minivan to exact revenge on Margo's cheating boyfriend and her friends who didn't help her in her time of need.

Upon having the greatest night of his life, Quentin wakes up the next morning and sees Margo isn't at school that day, and eventually, notices she's missing the entire week. Her parents aren't concerned, for Margo does this a lot, but Quentin and his friends - the incessant Ben (Austin Abrams) and the geeky "Radar" (Justice Smith) - begin to uncover clues as to why Margo may have disappeared and where to. With that, the three teens, including Margo's best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) and Radar's girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), try to track down her whereabouts.

"Paper Towns"'s immediate problem is it's nowhere as intelligent or witty as it thinks it is. Its themes are all rehashed to the point of breeding contempt and its characters, particularly Margo, are so broadly drawn that they work against the film, which is clearly trying to breathe that fabled freshness into the teen film genre (it always feels like Quentin's going to stop the film with his narration saying the dreaded "this isn't your average teen movie" line).

Strangely, though, the most contemptible character throughout this whole film is Margo for more reasons than her empty personality. She's the kind of person who thinks it's okay to drop her friends and family without giving them any inkling as to what's wrong with her because she's trying to find herself. Finally, when somebody does something for her, particularly Quentin, she takes it with a grain of salt and goes about selfishly trying to advance herself rather than consider what she means to others. She's on the verge of growing up and being Amy Schumer's Amy character from "Trainwreck," a contemptible, lost soul who takes advantage of people she meets.

Furthermore, the humor of "Paper Towns" is another thing that's frustrating. One moment, the film is trying to wow you with a "deep" dialogue about what lies beneath the surface of people, and the next, a character accidentally spills a can in which he urinated into all over himself and his friends. Once more, this is a film that's trying to be one thing but can't escape what it ultimately is: trite, frequently immature, and mostly empty exercise that has nothing revolutionary to say despite thinking it does.

However, don't fault the cast here, for they clearly give it their best shot. Their energy and charisma bring to life more than writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who wrote "The Spectacular Now," a film you should see instead of this one) do. Nat Wolff, an actor I've consistently admired for his good-natured, everyboy appearance and personality, does strong work here in that realm and is assisted by capable performers like Smith and Sage (Delevingne would likely be better if she had a character to play).

"Paper Towns" is cut from the same cloth as "The Fault in Our Stars" (author John Green, who wrote the book on which this film is based, also wrote that one and Neustadter and Weber also penned that screenplay) in that it tries to take a different direction for its adolescent characters but crumbles under the lackluster deviations from reality it so often takes. On top of that, unlike "The Fault in Our Stars," which was burdened by sentimentality and cringeworthy attempts at a perceived coolness, "Paper Towns" winds up being precisely what it didn't want to be - a paper film.

6 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
More nonsense brought to you by those who can't keep a straight face, Twitter, and Pizza Hut, 23 July 2015

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! is a film made by people that evidently crave more and more attention for a project that, with each and every installment, gets less and less entertaining. Between the incessant promotion for the film on Twitter, resorting to plastering tweets and feedback from the common people during the film's commercial breaks, and the repeated emphasis on product placement and promotional tie-ins, Sharknado 3 is a sorry excuse for a film that, for now the third time, fails instantly for trying to pander to the dumb crowd and continue to harp on a concept that's been dead in the water since the first film.

The story of Sharknado is a rather interesting turn of fate. I recall reading an article months before its SyFy premiere was even a foreseeable option of various films at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival that were up for sale. I was particularly scoping out the ones that looked rather lackluster and, sure enough, Sharknado's poster was featured in the article, boasting its trademark image with the tagline "ENOUGH SAID!." I rolled my eyes and thought little of it until I began seeing a great deal of social media buzz for it upon the announcement that the film would have its North American premiere on the SyFy network. Sure enough, thanks to brazen advertising and an emphasis on the stupid, the film became a runaway hit and a pop culture footprint was made.

The original film was somewhat tolerable, for it was a fresh idea, but was irritating because you could tell from the very beginning that nobody involved in this film wanted to make a film that was the least bit serious or competent. They wanted to create a self-aware film that was well aware of its stupidity, drape it in purposefully poor special effects, and top it off with a plethora of cameos to become a film that was doing nothing trying to garner unworthy attention. The fact is, however, many of us paid it what it didn't deserve and now we have a second sequel and a third one in the works.

This particular film revolves around Fin and April (Ian Ziering and Tara Reid), this time, fighting off a sharknado that is pulverizing the east coast, particularly Washington D.C.. Fin, upon being awarded the Medal of Honor from the President of the United States (Mark Cuban), winds up trying to protect the president during the deadly twister. Finally, Fin heads to Universal Studios in Orlando, where a very pregnant April is vacationing, to try and fight off another sharknado that is destroying the city at the same time yet another sharknado is terrorizing Daytona during the Daytona 500. These storms eventually mold together to create a large, ostensibly unstoppable sharknado that can only be taken down by Fin, April, and Fin's old friend Nova (Cassie Scerbo), as they decide the only way to potentially stop it would be to go into space.

The chaos in Sharknado 3 starts early and rarely lets up, and at about ninety minutes, like its predecessors, the film becomes dreary and repetitive quickly. We get the momentary smirk when we see familiar faces like David Hasselhoff, Penn Jillette, Robert Klein, Jerry Springer, Anthony Weiner, Ann Coulter, Frankie Muniz, and even Michele Bachmann upon many others get their brief moment of fame, but these inclusions are just another ploy for the film to continue to garner unworthy attention. The monotony sets in faster than the skies can darken for an imminent sharknado, and the result is a redundant film that still is more or less giggling at itself and its concept while we should be sitting with a headache from all the eye-rolling we've done.

Sharknado has become less a film franchise and more of a marketing-rich opportunity for corporations, but mostly social media, and that fact is glaring when the film doesn't even end on a complete note and leaves a character's fate (and, to be honest, the future of an actor or actress's career) up to social media. If we had to get a Sharknado 3, could we at least have gotten one that wasn't so insistent on beating a one-note joke into the ground and one backed by a director and writer that wanted to create a decent film instead of a desperately unfunny and pathetic marketing trope?

Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo, Frankie Muniz, Bo Derek, Mark Cuban, Ann Coulter, and David Hasselhoff. Directed by: Anthony C. Ferrante.

The Score (2001)
Three generations of terrific method actors in a tried and true heist film, 21 July 2015

It's so rare to see heavily hyped or fabled "dream teams" of actors or actresses in films be successful, let alone play out, but the pairing of three generations of incredible method actors Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Marlon Brando in Frank Oz's The Score is something truly noteworthy. For one, you got two different faces of Don Vito Corleone coming together for the first and only time on screen in the same motion picture to deliver roles in which they nestle themselves so comfortably. Then there's Edward Norton, easily the underdog or the unassuming soul up against two indisputable acting greats who still manages to hold his own ground and, in some ways, echo the sentiments of these two veterans in their early days.

The Score's relative obscurity in the modern day is baffling because this is a film that is precisely the kind of film that isn't made anymore, and if it is, it's made to further along an actor's career or ubiquity, meaning the exterior quality of the picture generally suffers or the budget is so pathetically low that any hope to witness a shred of realism is a lost cause. This is a tried and true heist film, taking a liberal two hours to really formulate its story, the motivations of its characters, their personalities, and their plans before plunging them into a mission that is essentially a field of landmines waiting to be tripped by the wrong move. Have fun and good luck.

Nick Wells (Robert De Niro) is our main character, an aging crook who has made a comfortable living for him and his lover Diane (Angela Bassett) by working for his boss Max (Marlon Brando). Of course, just as Nick's about to hang up his hat and enjoy retirement with Diane, Max contacts him for one last job because no shyster, hit-man, or CIA agent can rest easy without one more job that's impossible to carry out. Max informs Nick of a job that would result in a $4 million payoff for him if he were able to steal a sceptre, a priceless national treasure belonging to France. The sceptre is hidden inside the leg of an antique piano, which was smuggled through Canada into the United States. Eventually, it was discovered and now lies in the heavily secured basement of the Montréal Customs House.

Nick must work with Jack Teller (Edward Norton), a young, ambitious slickster who has managed to infiltrate the Customs House by pretending to be a mentally disabled janitor named Brian. Nick is furious to learn he is not only working with someone on the job, but someone he has never met prior to this job and someone he's unsure if he can trust. However, Max's increasing debt and forces Nick to continue to take on the job and work with Jack to obtain the beloved sceptre.

The Score's relatively basic plot is enough to hook virtually any fan of crime dramas in from the beginning, but the real treat is the narrative craft the trio of writers (Scott Marshall Smith, Daniel E. Taylor, and Kario Salem) have cooked up. Rather than relying on a series of banal subplots, worthless characters, or, worst of all, a convoluted plot that disconnects the viewer just as quickly as it could've grabbed them, the writers work to keep The Score rooted in being precisely what it should be - a heist film with shady characters with self-centered ideologies with the element of deception being so present it disappears quite frequently amidst what appears to be complete honesty amongst the characters.

Yet, despite this narrative simplicity, The Score wouldn't be a fraction of what it is without the immense amount of talent here. De Niro, during the time he was starting to exit the crime dramas and the loftier dramatic roles for roles that required a bit less effort and complexity, proves once again why he's hailed as an American great. The mannered sensibilities he conveys for Nick are nothing shy of believable, and just the way in which he speaks reflects a seasoned veteran of the crime field. Brando, in the limited scenes he's in, always finds ways to captive thanks to his soft-spoken aura and his character's ability to persuade. Seeing De Niro and Brando work off of one another, especially in one later scene that takes place in a pool, is a rousing good time.

Then there's Norton who, as stated, will inevitably get the short end of the praise-stick with the two veterans commanding the screen. However, Norton gets at least three times as much screen time as Brando here and achieves the greatest goal of all when bearing that kind of pressure; never did I once wish that Brando's character was De Niro's character's sidekick whilst watching the film. Norton stands his ground here, being a smug, dictating soul one minute and a charismatic charmer the next. This duality proves that, even at a young age, Norton knew the kind of character he could play, and the fact that he played alongside two great men without slipping up is something I'm sure even more seasoned actors would have a difficult time doing.

Finally, Rob Hahn's gloomy, industrial cinematography works wonders for the film as well, providing the picture with a refined sleekness that breeds corporate ugliness rather quickly. Any film that can work off that in addition to balancing the rich talents of three generations of performers and keep a straight-forward story deserves immense credit in my mind and The Score creates something from very little throughout the course of its runtime.

A delightful blend of science and entertainment, 21 July 2015

Crashing the Water Barrier follows the ambitions of Donald Campbell, an engineer who, in 1956, attempted to set a water speed record on Lake Mead in his water-jet known as "Bluebird." Campbell's father was Sir Malcolm Campbell, who held the record for land speed and water speed, previously. Campbell's ultimate goal was to reach at least 200 mph and survive, for reaching that level of speed could result in the disintegration of the jet itself. Such speeds on water make the water less an uneven surface and more like solid concrete in that speeds are so high, one can't even register that the surface beneath them isn't exactly a surface at all.

Director Konstantin Kalser, and narrator Jay Jackson, work to detail the exploits of Campbell, specifically showcasing the hardships he faced whilst trying to break this record. For one, his air intake system could potentially prevent him from reaching his desire speed, in addition to other uncontrollable, unpredictable features like the weather and the conditions of the water as a result being out of his control.

Crashing the Water Barrier does a nice job of balancing science and entertainment here; the jargon never gets too alienating nor does the entertaining elements become too clearly embellished. Jackson's engaging narration, combined with the attractive, super-colorized videography, create a pleasant aesthetic for a documentary that could've lacked it entirely. This is a solid short documentary, packing enough adventure to be a worthy illustration of its subject and bearing enough information to allow audiences to emerge with new knowledge.

Directed by: Konstantin Kalser.

Ant-Man (2015)
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A reminder to why we see superhero films in the first place, 21 July 2015

Marvel's "Ant-Man" is the most enjoyable Marvel film since "Guardians of the Galaxy" and that, in my mind, is no surprise. Marvel's second tier films have a great deal more to offer audiences, especially ones who are well into their superhero fatigue, than the first tier superhero films like "The Avengers," "Captain America," and "X-Men."

To begin with, "Ant-Man" comes with far fewer expectations to live up to for no other reason than the titular character isn't popular amongst the masses. I'm willing to bet most of the people who are seeing "Ant-Man" over its theatrical run are curious parties that know they love Marvel products and are interested in a superhero of which they've never heard. Of course there are the legion of people who can recite Ant-Man's origins with the accuracy of a patriot's ability to recite "The Star-Spangled Banner," but the bulk of the mainstream, I feel, has only heard of Ant-Man from this specific product.

Because of this, Marvel doesn't have to stay firmly grounded in their origin conventions and can liberate the writers, directors, and actors in their respective positions. "Ant-Man," for instance, lacks the sort of candy-colored Marvel sleekness we've come to expect with the onslaught of these superhero films and, pleasantly so, avoids justifying numerous exploding builds and shattering skyscrapers as the climatic event of the film. Like seeing things from an ant's eye view, "Ant-Man" toys with perception, captures big action on a small scale (something very revolutionary for Marvel), and packs a wallop that returns to what superhero films should be - unpredictable and fresh.

We begin in 1989, where a scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D. when he realizes the organization is trying to duplicate his shrinking technology. Hank feels his invention was a dangerous accident and wants to keep the technology secret, even from his own organization. In the present day, however, Hank's estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) have elbowed their way into management, with Cross creating a shrinking suit he calls "Yellowjacket" for the purpose of inciting an army of microscopic vigilantes.

Meanwhile, upon being released from prison, an amiable thief named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) moves in with his old cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) and his old crew (made up of rapper T.I. and David Dastmalchian) in order to try and obtain some money to support his child and his ex-wife (Judy Greer), who is now married to a police officer (Bobby Cannavale). Reluctantly, desperate to scrap together quick cash, Lang and his comrades decide to pull off another heist, this one on Hank following a tip that he's away for a weekend.

When Lang manages to break through Hank's large safe, he finds what looks to be a motorcycle suit, but upon putting it on, he realizes he now possesses the ability to shrink down to the size of an insect. He is eventually recruited by Hank to stop Cross and his Yellowjacket alter-ego.

"Ant-Man" is a wickedly interesting superhero for many reasons, but one of which is the fact that his superpowers aren't the result of a cockamamie genetic mutation. Lang, whenever he doesn't have possession of the suit, is a regular guy, indifferent from you and I, and this relatability amongst heroes grounds the film on a considerably human level. Even after some of the more rigorous action scenes (which aren't nearly as long-winded or tiresome as the ones in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Lang still shows his human side whilst trying to be there for his daughter and do right in a world where it seems the only way to get ahead is to do wrong.

Furthermore, Marvel subverts its own action formula by decidedly taking its action sequences down several notches in size and scope. Consider the scene where Lang first puts on the Ant-Man suit and subsequently shrinks; he is sucked down the drain of a shower onto lower-level floors, one of which is a nightclub. In this one, blink-and-you-miss-it scene, we see much of the tension and possibilities of this character exhausted, yet we're not even close to seeing what else this character can do even after the credits roll. The beauty of a character like Ant-Man is how visceral he is; when I see Captain America take on villains in every film, or even Iron Man attack his enemies with one quip after another, I still feel like I've seen it all.

Much has been made about "Ant-Man"'s checkered production history, dating back to the 1980's, and the directorial shakeup that saw Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") eventually step down but still obtain a screenplay credit alongside the likes of Rudd, Joe Cornish, and Adam McKay. Peyton Reed's directorial vision is still as vibrant as ever, yet simultaneously not relying on a visual assault, but rather, a colorful palette of creativity, and Wright's influence is still very much felt in "Ant-Man"'s script, which is littered with zingers. I was worried that much of "Avengers: Age of Ultron"'s lackluster attempts at comedy that "Ant-Man' would wade in the water in terms of comedy. Like dozens of ants every year, my worries were squashed.

"Ant-Man" is one of the strongest films of Marvel's recent superhero batch, less predictable, more centered on the kind of free-wheeling, unpredictable fun from which superhero films should stem, and lacking the hardened expectations of the masses in favor of a looser approach. Like "Guardians of the Galaxy," there's a commendable level of respect for the titular hero, yet a certain irony that just questions, "how did we get this far?" in a way that doesn't end up insulting the respective hero(es).

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