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Ant-Man (2015)
6/10
A dip in quality for Marvel, but still a damn good time
17 July 2015
For the next five years a Marvel Cinematic Universe film will never be more than 6 months away. The Disney owned studio is pumping these things out like the world is ending, for better or for worse. Some end up being dazzling action spectacles and some end up being uninspired disasters. Then there's Marvel's newest film, Ant-Man, which falls somewhere in between as a competently entertaining, yet intrinsically flawed film. It's nothing more than middle of the road superhero fare, and there's really nothing wrong with that.

Ant-Man marks the end of Marvel's Phase Two. If Avengers: Age of Ultron was Phase Two ending on a bang, Ant-Man is the quieter fizzle that follows. It also marks Marvel's first return to telling origin stories since Captain America: The First Avenger. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy was new territory but that's far from the origin story model that Ant-Man so closely adheres to. The film follows ex-con Scott Lang who is hired by Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, to carry out a heist to get Pym's shrinking technology out of the wrong hands. Scott, motivated by the love for his daughter who is in the custody of Scott's estranged wife, accepts the Ant-Man torch passed to him by Pym, and by the end of the film the newest member of The Avengers is born.

I'll admit, Ant-Man starts out rough. I went into this movie with skepticism, mostly fueled by how badly I wanted to see Edgar Wright's version of this film. After seeing what Ant-Man became after Wright's departure I'm not terribly disappointed but I want to believe Wright's insight could have saved some of the weakest parts of this film. Those parts in question surround the human relationships that the movie tries so hard to make us care about. You've got Scott's relationship with his daughter, as well as Pym's relationship with his driving the "emotion" of the film. It didn't take me long to realize how little I cared about either. This script tries incessantly to get us invested in the human element at the core of this story, but some of the most sentimental moments played so cheesy, and some pacing issues stuck scenes of important character development in oddly random places.

As the family drama bullshit continued to develop I really started to think Marvel had churned out a dud. Then about 20 minutes in Scott shrinks for the first time and my whole opinion of the film started to change. Despite everything else, I was reminded that this is a superhero story. Ant-Man takes a while to establish itself as what it actually is, which is a strange yet fun mish-mash of genres. At it's core Ant-Man is a by-the-books superhero origin film, but it also wants to be a comedy, which is something it succeeded at about 70% of the time. It's lucky enough to possess real comedic talent in it's lead, Paul Rudd, and Michael Pena who steals the show as the goofy fast talking friend/sidekick of Scott's. Then, in terms of the action, Ant-Man is also a heist film that utilizes all the beats and tropes of bank robbery flicks of the 60's and 70's. This amalgam of genres doesn't always work, but it gives you enough of reasons to enjoy Ant-Man.

I think what will save this film from being lost in the halls of Marvel is the uniqueness of its action. For years we've been so used to big action spectacle from these films. We expect buildings to blow up, cities to be destroyed, and larger than life figures to be punching each other as hard as they can. Ant-Man gives us something so fresh in its macro spectacle, turning the inside of a briefcase into a battle arena and a little girl's bedroom into the battlegrounds for a final act showdown. Marvel continues to work its visual genius here, making the ant sized world come to life and feel so authentic. There is some great use of macro photography that puts us right in the middle of the action making something as mundane as a bathtub an exciting venue for CGI fueled excitement.

In many ways Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air. However, there's a lot in the writing that makes this film feel like a story we've already seen hundreds of times before. All in all Marvel has delivered to us another entertaining use of two hours. This is by no means a bad film. It's a problematic film that saves itself with the familiar spectacle of Marvel given to us in an unfamiliar fashion. There are a lot of other Marvel films that I would recommend before this one, but Ant- Man has still succeeded in being a lot of innocent fun. It teaches us that, sometimes, that's all you can really ask for.
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Inside Out (I) (2015)
9/10
Pixar is back!
3 July 2015
In the past few years, I'm not gonna lie, Pixar Studios have had some duds. They became far too comfortable on the sequel train that didn't require boundary pushing creative storytelling to make millions. Monsters University was a sore disappointment and don't even get me started on Cars 2. Now, they've finally decided to get off that train and return to their roots in telling incredibly clever and beautifully original stories, and they're quickly being reminded that this train makes lots of money, too. Inside Out takes us back to the Pixar heyday of films like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and The Incredibles and reminds us why we fell in love with this studio, and why adults and children alike can enjoy the hell out of an animated movie made "for kids."

Pixar has always been playing with the idea of giving emotions to different creatures (toys, bugs, fish, etc.) and now they've gone Inception on us and given feelings to FEELINGS. Inside Out is the ultimate personification of what goes on in a person's head as they think and feel different things, having their decisions and actions fueled by the multitude of emotions swirling about in their brain. And by multitude I mean five because that's a workable amount of characters and voice actors to fill the core of your story.

Inside Out follows Riley, a girl from Minnesota who moves to San Francisco with her family. Inside her head lives Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. These five personified emotions work together to keep Riley's mind in check in an elaborate and infinitely clever world full of personality islands, thought trains, imaginary friends lost in long term memory, and so many other brilliant representations of abstract concepts that exist in the human brain. Pixar has always had a knack for high concept world building, and they've outdone themselves here.

If you want a totally immersive experience within a world that is abstractly absurd yet also feels so real, then go see this movie. Inside Out builds a world and a system that is full of all the fantastical elements you would expect from an animated experience like this, but it is executed so well and the way thoughts and feelings are represented hits so close to home that after the movie you'll find yourself imagining what your little feeling characters are like in your own head. You'll find yourself thinking about what your own core memories are and what islands of personality they power. Inside Out represents growing up in a way we've never seen done before. It is a perfect way of making sense of all the different emotions we experience as we grow up and learn more about the world. I promise that you've never seen a coming of age story like this. I honestly don't know if I've ever experienced an animated film of this caliber that, while so fantastical and so extravagant, also feels so real.

The human brain is nothing more than billions and trillions of electrical synapses, but sometimes those synapses can create something beautiful, like this incredible personification of the mind that is adorable, funny, sentimental, and powerfully touching. I'm so thankful for the synapses working in the minds of those geniuses over at Pixar, because it has given us one of the most heartwarming films in a long, long time that is so universally relate-able I don't know how anybody couldn't enjoy it. I suppose if your Joy emotion were trapped somewhere in the halls of Long Term Memory that might be one way you wouldn't enjoy Inside Out, but hopefully she can catch the next Thought Train back to emotion headquarters soon. Yes, I believe I will be explaining mine and all other emotions through personified characters voiced by Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, and Lewis Black for a while now. This movie had an impact on me, for sure, in the best way possible.
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8/10
Unexpected brilliance
10 June 2015
It's really amazing how such quality films can so quietly fly under the radar, seeming to be done and gone as soon as they arrive. Such is the case with the hidden gem The One I Love, starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. Moss and Duplass play a couple whose marriage is slowly crumbling apart as they attempt to salvage it with the help of a marriage counselor played by Ted Danson. The solution to their failing love life seems to come in the form of a weekend getaway to a beautiful house in the countryside. Things are nice at first, but then, well then they get weird. And weird is all I'm going to say.

The less you know about The One I Love the better. If you're planning on seeing this movie don't scope out any spoilers whatsoever. Rarely do movies benefit this much from going in blind, but The One I Love pretty much demands it. With little to no idea about what I was actually getting myself into, this movie quickly became a fascinating ride into a strange and mysterious plot with bizarre twists and turns each as unexpected as the last. It's hard to really praise what all is so awesome about this odd little flick without giving anything away, but just trust me that it's great.

The One I Love is a beautifully poised statement on relationships and identity told through fantastical mystery. It does an amazing job at being poignantly real and wildly unbelievable at the same time. The dryly funny script and two stellar performances by the leads (and the only two actors in the film apart from Danson) sell this as a completely believable story about an unbelievable situation. It captures with unapologetic realism the way such a weird scenario would play out in real life circumstances, with characters trying their best to make sense of the otherworldly situation they find themselves in. It employs Twilight Zone level mastery of making the unreal real and the impossible possible, allowing the audience to not have to question the legitimacy of the plot and rather just join in on the ride that the characters get taken on. It's hard to make high concept stories like this human and relateable, but The One I Love freaking nails it.

Like I said, it's hard to speak the volumes I want to speak about how good this movie is without giving anything away. I'm having to choose my words carefully, and there are a million other praises I want to give specific parts of this wacky little film, but alas I can't. It's simply just something that needs to be seen to be understood and fully appreciated. I can's say much more, because preserving the mysterious wow factor of the movie is what makes it worth the watch. Don't read anything else about The One I Love, just go see it for yourself.
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9/10
Everything it should have been and then some
16 May 2015
All other films that think they can call themselves "action blockbusters" please step aside to make way for the only true blockbuster this summer, and for many more summers to come I'm sure, Mad Max: Fury Road. Oh. My. God. This movie right here. This explosive, obscene, grotesque, beautiful movie right here was everything I ever wanted it to be and more. George Miller, after thirty years, has returned to his legendary Mad Max series, and he's returned with the some serious firepower at his disposal. Firepower in the form of 150 million dollars and the limitless wonders of modern technology. Miller fires off this ammunition at full force to create the impossibly vast and intimately gritty world of Max Rockatansky in the grandiose way I think he envisioned it from the start. Upon seeing the first trailer for this film I said it looked like the Mad Max film Miller always wanted to make but didn't have the tech or the money to accomplish. Seeing the movie in its glorious two hour entirety affirms that statement.

Mad Max: Fury Road stands alone from its three predecessors with the titular character and his post apocalyptic scenery being the only thread that combines them. Fury Road presents a wholly original story taking place in the wasteland where we meet a water hungry colony ruthlessly ruled by Immortan Joe, the film's badass big bad. Despite having plenty of water, Immortan Joe hordes it to keep control of his colony while he impregnates his forced marriage wives, called Breeders, with the hopes of them bearing future warlord sons. The story gets going when Imperator Furiosa, played by an ass kicking Charlize Theron, betrays Immortan Joe (sick names right?) and steals the Breeders to get them to a land referred to as the "Green Place." Max, previously captured by Joe's War Boys, ends up getting mixed up in Furiosa's campaign and finds himself aiding them on their long treacherous trek through the desert wasteland, all the while being pursued by Joe and his allied gangs from Gas Town and The Bullet Farm. Did I mention I love all the names of everything in this damn movie?

My memory of the original Mad Max films is somewhat limited, especially when it comes to more specific elements of the world, so I might be wrong in saying that Fury Road has some of the most ingenious and in depth world building I've seen Miller accomplish. Even if I'm wrong about that, the post apocalyptic society Miller has constructed in Fury Road makes for an incredibly poignant and gloriously over the top statement on what humanity might devolve into after the apocalypse. He does a fantastic job of bringing Max into the modern era as well. Where gas was the most precious of all resources in the original trilogy, it now takes a second seat to water, the resource most craved by society. Being in California, this element hits frighteningly close to home.

Everything Miller does in Fury Road affirms and expands on everything that was so great about this series before it's budget had nine digits. As was the case with the previous Mad Max films, Fury Road isn't a story primarily about Max himself. The story really focuses on Furiosa and her own hero's journey across the desert as she quite literally drives the plot forward. She fuels a plot that ultimately has an awesome feminist angle by the end, breaking down gender barriers and making the women of the film the most exceedingly capable and overly wicked characters. I've already mentioned how awesome Theron is, and her accompanying group of supermodels...er... Breeders quickly transition from damsels in distress to a resourceful band of hot chicks who also kick a lot of ass.

So, I want to just come out and say this. This movie is a visual MASTERPIECE. I'm not exaggerating either. Yes, I saw this movie less than 24 hours ago and my testosterone levels are probably still spiking, but I will stand by that statement as long as I live. Mad Max: Fury Road is gorgeous. It delivers some of the most wildly imaginative action set pieces every conceived and some of the most creatively constructed chase sequences I've ever had the pleasure of watching play out on screen. I said a lot of things about The Avengers: Age of Ultron action scenes that I would repeat here about being clearly displayed and easy to follow, but where Fury Road surpasses this is by showing just how beautifully shot these scenes can be and what happens when you accomplish the capturing of the impossibly huge scope of the Australian outback setting. This desert wasteland is MASSIVE and the film constantly reminds us of that in wide shots that would make Kurosawa require a change of underwear. Yeah I said it.

Also, this is one of those incredibly rare moments in my film reviews where I would actually highly recommend the 3-D. It is one of the many many things expertly utilized in Fury Road. Miller expertly uses it as a tool to immerse you in his world, rather than a gimmick for a few mediocre sight gags. Fury Road is a film that traps you in its insane world for two solid hours of entertainment, and you come out on the other end in a haze full of sand, blood, and nerd tears. It's a transcendental experience, guys. You need to experience it. Seriously, you are doing yourself a major disservice if you don't go see this film, so drop everything your doing and get to the theater to see Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Citizenfour (2014)
9/10
A film that needs to be seen
15 May 2015
2014 was a big year for important documentaries that define where we are as a modern society. A little while ago I reviewed The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, a film that dealt with the freedom of information and the power of the internet and media to universally share that information. Citizenfour serves as a great companion film. It details the Edward Snowden controversy that went down last summer when Snowden, a server administrator for the National Security Agency, left the country with thousands upon thousands of files exposing the NSA's tracking and logging of information about the American public shadily gained through phone and internet monitoring. The film begins before the events take place, as Snowden actually contacted the director about documenting this major information leak he was about to facilitate. Citizenfour unfolds in real time, sitting with Snowden in his Hong Kong hotel room as he dumps his information onto two journalists, who in turn expose the information to the masses. Real life drama unfolds right there on the screen as a drama that rivals most fictional political thrillers.

Unless you were living in a doomsday prepper underground bunker last June, you probably heard all about the Edward Snowden fiasco that completely shook up the state of our national security. In this time a lot of information was released, a lot of it getting muddled and skewed as new developments transpired every day for about a week. The media obviously had a difficult time handling so massive an information leak and the story behind it all that dealt with Mr. Snowden. Citizenfour fills any holes from the original story as it happened. These exact events unfold in real time and the gravity of the information and its effect on the American people, their government, and Snowden is all on display. It paints a clear as day picture of what exactly happened, but also serves as a harsh reminder of how quickly we all forgot about something so major, and how we continue to choose to forget about the countless ways in which our privacy is compromised by our own government. And that right there is what makes Citizenfour so important. It details events that everyone needs to know about, no one should forget about, and everyone should be very concerned about.

It's imperative that everybody knows the full Edward Snowden story, and this is what gives Citizenfour its significance. But beyond that it is also just an incredibly gripping film that turns these events into riveting political drama that bares the weight of a sledgehammer due to its importance to our modern political system. But what I love most about this film is that it is as much about the NSA and the information leak as it is about Snowden himself. Citizenfour is the alias that Snowden used while covertly corresponding with the film's director, and when you see this film that is an intimately introspective look into this courageous hero disguised as an American traitor you see the significance of calling the film Citizenfour. We get a look into the mind and attitude of a man who knows a terrifying amount of what goes on behind the closed doors of the NSA. His genuine paranoia says everything that needs to be said about the significance of what is going on with the NSA. Seeing how much concern and paranoia a hotel fire alarm test puts on Snowden should tell you exactly how serious this whole issue is.

I'm positive that there can't be a more visceral and hard-hitting documentary about the issue of government spying than Citizenfour. It of course has the advantage of Snowden in the flesh to make it as impactful as it is, but this is what sets it apart from any third- hand editorial on the topic. Citizenfour is a real time documentation of an event that should have so much more attention put on it than it actually has had. This is a documentary that needs to be seen by as many people as possible, as it is one of the few things that could raise awareness about something free Americans should be more than a little concerned about. It reminds us why we can't just accept that this spying takes place and then move on with our day. It emphasizes how much something needs to be done, and uses Snowden as a prime example of actions that should be taken. Citizenfour is as frustrating as it is compelling, and you're doing a disservice to you and your country if you don't watch it.
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8/10
The Quintessential Kurt Cobain Doc
7 May 2015
Some say that you're not a true rock and roll legend until you've had an extensive authorized documentary made about your legacy. Just kidding, nobody says that. Kurt Cobain was a legend as soon as Nevermind hit record stores, and his legacy continues today, immortalized by Nirvana and the massive impact his genius had on punk rock. But not only was he one of the best rockers who ever lived, Kurt Cobain was one of the most extraordinary and misunderstood minds of his generation, whose own brilliance caused his self destruction. He's a complex and intricate spider web of a person, and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck goes on the deepest and most intimate exploration of this enigmatic genius that has ever been done.

Montage of Heck chronicles Cobain's entire life, beginning with his parents meeting and Kurt's childhood, all the way up to his suicide in 1994 which is nothing more than a title card at an abrupt end of the film. Don't think that this is a Nirvana documentary, or a Courtney Love documentary, or any other kind of documentary other than a Kurt Cobain documentary. Montage of Heck examining his relationship with his family, his lovers, his band, and Nirvana's massive following which played on Kurt as a blessing and a maddening curse.

Montage of Heck is directed by Brett Morgen, the director of my personal favorite ESPN 30 for 30 episode, June 17th, 1994, a sports documentary that only uses news footage from one particular day in sports to tell its story. Morgen employs similar techniques here. The amount of home video footage that exists of Cobain from his adolescence all the way through his relationship with Courtney Love (which includes some pretty disturbing drug induced home video), is astounding. Montage of Heck is brilliantly pieced together through this home video footage, interviews with people close to Kurt, audio recordings of Kurt and friends, and Kurt's own journal writings and drawings, gloriously animated in what makes for the most fascinating look into the mind of this troubled genius.

Some of the best parts of the film take us through his journals where his mad scientist scribbles and macabre H.R. Giger-esque drawings show us his reactions and feelings towards the band, their rising popularity, Courtney Love, etc. all to paint a fascinatingly intricate portrait of this man. To call Montage of Heck an examination of Kurt Cobain would be doing a disservice to this great doc. Montage of Heck is less of an examination and more of a journey, a violent yet graceful boat ride into the seas of one of rock and roll's most dynamic minds. It's a film that is as beautiful as it is brutal, and as sentimental as it is visceral.

This is the most honest and in depth insight into a man who seemed to have everything, yet battled demons all his life to find what really could make him happy. Sadly, those demons won, but not before Kurt Cobain could be immortalized as a rock and roll icon. And now we're lucky enough to have this film which celebrates all that he left behind. A film that shows us not only who Kurt Cobain was on stage, but who he was as a passionately flawed human being who wanted nothing more than to love, be loved, and rock the f out.
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Frank (II) (2014)
8/10
As weird as it gets
7 February 2015
Ah, Frank. What an odd, quirky, charming little film, and what an odd, quirky little journey it took me on. With its wildly weird for the sake of weird style and and careless indie pop bravado, it's a movie that any misunderstood avant garde hipster musician will tell you actually "gets it." If none of this is making sense so far, Frank is a movie about an experimental rock group whose front man, the titular Frank, wears a giant plaster head at all times. It's a film whose premise promises the oddest of antics, and then subsequently delivers on that promise.

Frank is freaking weird and it loves the fact that its freaking weird. It embraces the weird and dances around frivolously with its offbeat sense of humor and colorful cast of caricatured characters. It's a film that has its own sense of style and isn't trying to be like anything that has come before it, which is something that makes Frank a hell of a lot of fun. It definitely has its own sense of humor, one that is so weird that it works beautifully. The plot, which involves chronicling this band as they lock themselves in a cabin in the woods to make the greatest album ever, is pretty straightforward. But everything about the film's humor, style, and energy is everything but straightforward. It's a totally original kind of experience.

The main character of Frank that isn't Frank is Domhnall Gleeson's Jon, a musician who finds himself playing keyboard for Frank's band, a band where he stands out as quite possibly the only sane one out of all of them. Taking the film from his perspective grounds us in the real world that is inhabited by Frank and company's frenetic and unpredictable energy. He's an outsider looking into one of the strangest experiences of his life, just as the audience is outside looking in to this weird world of Frank. Without him this whole film would just be following this eccentric group of weirdos, which would admittedly be fun, but wouldn't allow the story to have as much substance, which Frank certainly has.

But taking Gleeson's straightman character and putting him with the rest of this wacky cast makes for a great time. Michael Fassbender's performance as Frank is one of the strangest and most hilariously unique performances I've ever seen. I can only imagine the difficulties of acting without the use of your face, but Fassbender nails it. He gives the emotionless plaster head so much personality that is way too much fun to watch.

The one thing about Frank that threw me for a loop was its third act which changed drastically in tone. It was a fairly sudden jump from wacky comedy to heartfelt drama, one that breaks down the beautiful enigma that was Frank for the first two acts. It caught me off guard, but with Frank's great ending note I think it actually worked.

All in all, Frank is almost too damn quirky for its own good, but its just so much fun. For entertainment value Frank is an A+. It's a movie where you're never completely sure what you're watching and you're not sure what the point of any of the film's strangeness really is, but you're having too much fun to really care. Frank is a blast and you will be hard pressed to find anything quite like it. It's its own brand. The enigmatic Frank brand.
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Still Alice (2014)
9/10
Julianne Moore is perfect
5 February 2015
I honestly cannot remember the last time a movie made me more terrified of a disease. In 101 minutes Still Alice makes Alzheimer's look like an absolute hell. This is credited to some superb directing, painfully captivating writing, and a jaw-dropping performance by Julianne Moore. Moore plays Alice Howland, a professor at Columbia University known for her sharp mind and quick wit. She has an ideal life with a loving husband and three beautifully happy adult children. This seemingly perfect life takes a sharp left turn when Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. Needless to say the movie doesn't get any happier from this point on. We get to watch a slow, painful decline as Alice's mind deteriorates over time, with absolutely nothing she can do about it. It's undeniably one of the most depressingly powerful films I've seen in a long time.

Still Alice doesn't try to play any tricks or go off the rails with its narrative. It presents the story in as straightforward a way as possible, which completely works towards the film's advantage. In the beginning we're introduced to Alice and her family, getting a clear sense of where her life begins, while also providing small subtle hints that something is amiss. Then of course we move on to the diagnosis and it's all downhill from there. It's a beautifully paced film that pulls us deeper down this hole along with Alice. The severity of her disease is portrayed in a multitude of depressingly ingenious ways both visually and via dialogue. It's all so painfully real and cripplingly believable as we watch this poor soul wither away.

As this is a character piece one would expect great performances and man oh man does Still Alice deliver on that front. There's only so much to say about the great Julianne Moore. I've always been a big fan of hers and Still Alice only lifts my already shining opinion. Alec Baldwin plays Alice's husband while Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart play Alice's daughters. Watching as these relationships deteriorate along with Alice's mind is devastating, but its one of the most endearing aspects of the whole film. Stewart's performance is a significant weak point acting wise, but the intentions behind her character are great and she doesn't take away from the impact of the film.

I think what's so impressive about this film is how well it executes such a touchy subject matter. It could have easily slipped into the dreaded realm of tacky melodrama, playing out like Lifetime's Movie of the Week. But the genius of Still Alice comes from it's subtleties in performances and the way Alice tries desperately to downplay her disease. Her attempts to maintain identity and keep the relationships she has with her family is absolutely heartbreaking.

The nuances here are what make Still Alice so amazing and so heartfelt. I really felt like I was watching this tragic story as a tragic reality, never being pulled out of the experience. I was captivated from start to finish during this beautiful tearjerker that gives us one of the best performances of the entire year. I got so much more than I could have asked for out of Still Alice, and I will be thinking about this heartbreaking film for a long, long while.
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Boyhood (I) (2014)
7/10
Good but not great
5 February 2015
Growing up is tough, especially when there are cameras in your face from age 6 to 18. But that's what Richard Linklater decided to do with poor Ellar Coltrane, the star of Boyhood who grows up before your eyes in this three hour coming of age epic. Boyhood chronicles the life of Mason, his sister Samantha, and their two estranged parents played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. It's a scrapbook style series of events, some significant, others less so, that show a boy growing up and learning about the life, love, and the world at large. It takes us on a twelve year journey through adolescence, one that's captivating, compelling, boring, and dry, all at the same time.

Now, as I'm sure everyone and their mother is aware, Boyhood has been getting a lot of praise. Like, A LOT of praise. I mean its got a straight up 100/100 on Metacritic. I went into this movie with a lot of hype on my shoulders, and coming out of it I find myself wondering if these reviews are praising the film itself or rather just the concept. Yes, Boyhood deserves all of its praise for what Linklater accomplished, telling his 12 year story over a 12 year shooting period. Getting these actors to commit for so long, and to be able to put it all together in a clean and polished feature film is obviously impressive. Yet, I find myself wanting there to be more to the meat of this film. The execution of this ambitious concept is astounding, but the story told here is underwhelming as a whole.

Boyhood is definitely a good film, but for something that is telling a story in a whole new never-been-done-before way it should have been a great film. It should have been an amazing film. Instead I walked away from this pretty neutral. On the whole it's a well told, well put together story, and watching this kid grow up is a fascinating experience, but Boyhood lacks any blow you away moments or profound tearjerking. I found the trick is to not be waiting for anything. Instead you just take it piece by piece, giving every moment the same significance because it is all coming together for the sole purpose of completing this 12 year epic. This, of course, is fine. Movies are allowed to tell their stories like this, but with the lack of any compelling excitement I found it hard to become really attached.

One of the biggest things that detached me from this film was, sadly, Ellar Coltrane's performance as he grew older. He starts the movie at 6 and I was really into the film at the start. There were a lot of things in young Mason's life that I found myself connecting to, whether it was his typical sibling rivalry relationship with his sister, or growing up in a time of political turmoil overseas, since I grew up during this same time, also in Texas. But as Mason grows up the performance becomes much more about just reading lines, and when Mason's character is supposed to be all profound I just couldn't take him seriously and it really pulled me out of the experience. A lot of the younger performers in this flick leave a lot to be desired and it's the adults, mainly Ethan Hawke, who carry the latter half of Boyhood.

Nothing about Boyhood is actually bad though, except maybe for Coltrane's performance. If I had to assign one adjective to the whole of the film it would have to be "underwhelming." When I found myself starting to be compelled, the moment slipped away. When I found myself captivated by a performance, that character moved on to another part of their life. There was just not enough to grasp onto. Most of the performances are great and the writing is absolutely fantastic, but with so much hype surrounding Boyhood, I was expecting something with a little more life.
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Tusk (2014)
8/10
Tusk is everything I love about Kevin Smith
30 January 2015
I am so incredibly happy that this world has a human being like Kevin freaking Smith. In a cinematic age polluted with writers telling uninspired stories and directors taking no risks in their filmmaking it's always so refreshing to see what old Kevin is up to. He's always been that filmmaker who makes the movies HE wants to make, so now that he's earned millions to put into ridiculous films that are part art and part excuse to hang out with your friends making a crazy ass movie, we get the traumatizing horror/comedy Tusk.

Tusk stars Justin Long as Wallace Bryton, a podcaster who goes to Canada to interview an old fisherman named Howard Howe who claims to have incredible seafaring stories to tell. However, Wallace gets more than he bargained for when he's abducted by Howe who reveals himself to be a fisherman with what must be a pretty great background in surgeon practice when he turns Wallace the human into Wallace the walrus. Yes, you read that right. A walrus. Tusk is a movie about Justin Long getting turned into a walrus by a crazy old Canadian man. It's at this point that you should know whether or not you want to see this movie, and if you share my taste for the twisted and deranged then you REALLY want to see this movie.

Tusk is essentially Kevin Smith's 102 minute long trolling of the film community. It's a big F-U to high brow comedy and "sophisticated" horror, and a slap in the face to typical B-movie fare, because of it's B-movie concept packed with great actors and excellent production value. But really Smith doesn't give a damn what you think of his film because he's busy laughing it up with his buddies who I'm positive had an incredible time making such an absurd film.

If you're at the level of success enjoyed by Smith then making this kind of a film is a win in every way. He's not trying to impress anyone here and obviously isn't trying to be taken seriously. And that approach to filmmaking definitely rubs off on the film itself because Tusk is an absolute blast. It's got all of the comedic brilliance that one expects from Kevin Smith dialogue, and it also brings you the joy of being able to watch such an impossibly bizarre concept actually play out on screen.

The blend of funny and disturbing works so well here, which is in part due to Smith's writing, and also because of the killer performance by Michael Parks who is one of the creepiest old men to ever grace the silver screen. Not only is Parks great but Justin Long surprisingly kills it as well. He's convincingly terrified for most of the movie and his walrus performance is...well... that's something you have to see for yourself. Tusk also has one of the most unexpectedly brilliant cameos I've seen in ages. So brilliant in fact I'm not going to tell you who it is. I will tell you that that performance is far better than Haley Joel Osment or Genesis Rodriguez who are good, but forgettable.

The great thing about Tusk is that there's so much twisted entertainment value and it's so disturbingly unique that all of its shortcomings become so forgivable. Tusk is certainly a movie wrought with issues, but it's nothing major enough to detract from how much fun it is. Smith's writing is mostly fantastic, but there are some scenes considerably weaker than others. It's also got some weird pacing issues going on, with some scenes playing out way too long, probably because Smith was just having too much fun watching his actors do what they do. I would have liked certain things to be cut down to allow more time for other more walrusy things to happen, but honestly I'm fairly certain there will never be another movie about a man turned into a walrus, so I am pretty damn satisfied with what I got to see in Tusk.

There's no two ways about it. I really did love this movie. The vomit-inducing terror that unfolds on screen has you laughing and cringing all at the same time. My stomach churns as my brain smiles, and honestly I wasn't asking for anything more. Admittedly I have some Kevin Smith bias as I'm a big fan of the fat-man's work, but even putting all bias aside I honestly believe that Tusk is a stroke of horrible, disgusting, hilarious genius.
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Lucy (I) (2014)
7/10
Pseudoscience has never been so much fun!
27 January 2015
Let me start out this review by saying that I freaking love The Fifth Element and The Professional. Luc Besson was killing it in the 90's, and while he may have lost some steam in the 21st century I still couldn't help but get excited over his newest explosive action exploit, Lucy. Scarlett Johansson stars as the titular character, a girl who inadvertently gets mixed up in a drug smuggling ring that isn't smuggling any old drugs. She is forced to smuggle a new drug that heightens a person's "cerebral capacity" and when she is exposed to the drug she starts gaining all sorts of crazy abilities that she rightfully uses to kick ass and take names. Honestly I don't really know what her actual goal was, but plenty of people get to die in cool fashions along the way, and that makes for an action packed 90 minutes of super powered ScarJo, so how can I complain?

Now, this movie centers around the idea that humans only use about 10% of their brain and it speculates what a person would be capable of if they could unlock all 100%. There had always been controversy over this theory and shortly after the movie came out, hell it might have even been before its release, this whole theory was disproved and smashed into fictional conjecture oblivion. Thus, it's really hard, nigh impossible, to take Lucy seriously. It takes a lot of scientific liberties and its attempts to explain things for the sake of the plot are mostly laughable. There is some seriously nutty pseudoscience being bounced around here, and at times it seems like they're making it up as they go along. But once you separate yourself from the silliness of the plot and just accept the absurd foundation on which this film is built, you'll start to have a lot more fun.

It only takes Lucy about seven minutes to kick off the action so if you like explosions, gunfire, or martial arts then Lucy will have your attention pretty quickly. Besson might be a bit older and a bit less on point, but I can't deny the sonofabitch still knows how to put together a badass action sequence. Lucy gives us the smart, tension filled action set-pieces reminiscent of The Professional. It reminds us that we go to the movies to enjoy ourselves and not everything has to be so serious all the time. And for that I have the utmost respect for Lucy.

A film based around such flimsy science is bound to have a swathe of issues, and Lucy is no exception. But the issues here you can really just chalk up to the conceit of movies. Sure, the dialogue is cheesy, transparent, and comically expository at times. The performances are good, but you have to take them with a block of cheese. Johansson is fun as the super powered ass kicking femme fatale, and Morgan Freeman is pretty entertaining too, even if his character's only purpose in the film is to explain the plot and give us back story. But these issues are passable things that don't stop Lucy from being a riotously good time, and it's wacky story actually plays out in a really satisfying way. I was prepared for a really stupid ending, but what I got was actually pretty awesome and something connections that I didn't see coming were drawn out by the end.

As far as action movies go Lucy is great. Its loaded with ass kicking and jam packed with wicked special effects. The film is a nonstop roller coaster and the ending certainly goes off the rails, but in an age where action movies draw out for far too long, what with our superhero and fighting robot movies clocking in at almost three hours half the time, Lucy with it's cool 90 minute run time is short sweet and to the point. It doesn't dwell and it doesn't over complicate things. If this movie's one goal is to entertain while not taking up too much of your time or too much of your cerebral capacity (hehe) then I would say it's a huge success.
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7/10
A story necessary to tell
26 January 2015
Normally sappy love stories aren't my cup of tea, but once you introduce one of the greatest and most profound scientists of the 20th century into the mix, then you've caught my attention. That plus the healthy dose of awards hype made The Theory of Everything a must see.

That great and profound scientist I mentioned is none other than Stephen Hawking, and this film tells the story of his search for the beginning of time and the answers to the universe, chronicling how as his mind grew his body deteriorated due to Lou Gherig's disease or ALS. The film is actually based on the novel that Jane Hawking, Stephen Hawking's wife, wrote and it details her struggles in caring for such an incredible mind whose body had become hardly self- sufficient. It's a timeless love story that celebrates the triumphs of such a brilliant mind, and how Hawking learned to live with the disease, never letting it stop him from answering the questions he wanted answered.

The Theory of Everything tells a powerful and captivating story, albeit the execution is a bit dull. Stephen Hawking's story is obviously an insurmountably important one, and one that deserves to be immortalized in film, thus this film is doing a great service to the artistic and scientific communities. The extent of his triumphs are captured very well in this film, while also capturing the very human story at the center of all the scientific jargon. And so, despite any shortcomings of this film, it is still a very important one, and one that absolutely needed to be made.

My main issue with The Theory of Everything were its reservations. This film plays every conflict so close to the chest, never really capturing the struggle until the third act. Obviously the central conflict here is Hawking's battle with ALS and his trying to cope with the disease as it breaks down his body bit by bit. But this central conflict doesn't feel like much of a conflict because when one thing becomes an issue it seems to be resolved in the very next scene. It's a film that doesn't take any risks, and there is a severe lack of tension throughout, and it's honestly pretty boring for the majority of its two hour runtime. Not painfully boring, but dull.

The film definitely does get better as it goes along, though, and by the end I was left satisfied and a little more well informed about one of the most important scientific minds who ever lived. It transitions from sappy love story to compelling human drama, even if it takes a while to get there. From start to finish, though, this is a beautiful film with gorgeous cinematography and stellar performances. Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Hawking is shockingly accurate and the resemblance is uncanny. Felicity Jones gives it her all in her portrayal of Jane Hawking, and the two form an unbelievably adorable couple.

Overall I think I just wanted more from The Theory of Everything. The film centers around a lot of things, and it never devotes quite enough time to any one aspect. Major parts of Hawking's scientific advancements are glossed over. The conflict between Hawking and his wife never really picks up either. It's constantly a factor driving the story but the film shy's away from delving too deep into the conflict, and there seemed to be a resolution just when I thought things were really about to get going. But between the beautiful shots, fantastic performances, and incredibly significant subject matter I would say that The Theory of Everything is a great little work of art about one of science's most inspiring figures.
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Side by Side (2012)
8/10
Fascinating interviews for days
25 January 2015
If you aren't familiar with the debate of film versus digital when it comes to shooting movies, then this little documentary, Side by Side, is a great place to start. It's a documentary that chronicles the rise of digital video and how the technology started as something raw, dirty, and very poor quality, but quickly became a true contender against film, and is now beginning to surpass film as the gold standard medium to shoot movies on. The film details the workflow of movie making from getting the shot on set, to processing, to editing, to color correcting, and finally to distribution to theaters, most of which now project digitally as opposed to film projectors which dominated the industry until about ten years ago. This is a fantastic little doc, and it's even executive produced and narrated by the great enigma that is Keanu Reeves. Seriously, it's the most compelling you'll ever see Neo.

Keanu jokes aside, this really is a fascinating documentary that gives us candid discussions and genuine insight from some of the greatest minds working in the industry today. Reeves interviews everyone from Martin Scorsese, to Lena Dunham, with Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, Wally Pfister, and Lars von Trier in between. Plus a swathe of other big names that it would be absurd of me to list completely here. The bottom line is, Side by Side has some of the most significant and valued opinions of the film industry within its runtime.

Side by Side tells a story of digital's rise and film's descent that is a fascinating one if you aren't already familiar with it. Living in Los Angeles and working within this field this whole conflict is nothing new to me so I'm not necessarily getting any new information by watching Side by Side but with so many great interviews that's not what I enjoy this movie for. I watch it for the insight of listening to an admirable director talk so openly and candidly about their work.

I've gained new perspective on some of my favorite filmmakers from this doc, and I walked away being able to fill an entire trivia book with things divulged in these interviews. Things I never knew before, like how Danny Boyle's masterpieces 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire were shot by Anthony Dod Mantle, the cinematographer who shot the very first Dogma '95 film, an incredibly experimental film movement that I now want to spend some time familiarizing myself with.

The great thing about this doc is that it never picks a side. Rather it just puts the two alternatives... side by side (aha!) and lets the audience draw conclusions. The film certainly has more digital advocates than film ones, but when the figurehead of the film camp is Christopher Nolan you've already got a hell of an argument. I do think that the death of film is inevitable and imminent, and I think most of the industry, including the makers of this documentary, know that as well. Thus there was never a better time to make this film, now that both mediums can be compared side by side and we can have a serious discussion about the pros and cons of each. In ten or fifteen years when celluloid is a thing of the past we will always have this fantastic documentary to remind us of the immaculate run that film had, and the beginnings of a digital technology that would fully surpass the medium of film.
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The Interview (II) (2014)
7/10
Stupidly hilarious
24 January 2015
Never has a movie in recent years gained so much unexpected publicity from outside events or caused this much of a stir because of its subject matter. If you were living under a rock in December of 2014 and missed it, basically there was a period of time where The Interview was never going to see the light of day because of the hack that crippled Sony, and the threats made by the hackers to attack theaters which showed the movie. It was a long, confusing, and kind of absurd saga that made one question if we weren't living in the contrived world of this comedy. It eventually led to Sony releasing the movie on all the on-demand platforms, and even releasing it into a smaller batch of theaters, an act that somehow became America's greatest triumph over North Korea ever. Weird. But anyways, despite the strangely twisted backstory surrounding this film, I'm going to ignore all of it and just review The Interview at face value.

The Interview stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as a TV talk show host and producer, respectively, who get the opportunity to do an exclusive one on one interview with the dear leader of North Korea, Kim-Jong Un. When the CIA gets wind of this they enlist Franco's Dave Skylark to secretly assassinate Un with a ricin strip (Heisenberg anyone?) during their interview. And so begins the most delicate assassination plot to be carried out by the most incompetent assassin ever.

There is a certain level of hilarity that also comes with a certain level of stupidity when it comes to James Franco/Seth Rogen collaborations that we're all familiar with. You can expect both in The Interview, but you also get to see what the zany collaborators do with almost 50 million dollars at their disposal. I don't know how much money was spent on that tank, but I do know that every dollar was totally worth it.

It could really only be Franco, Rogen, and co-director Evan Goldberg who could pull off a ridiculous comedy event of this magnitude. I'm not saying they got everything right, but it takes a group of unapologetic assholes like these to tackle North Korea like this. Sure the South Park guys did it back in 2004, but that was with puppets which makes it different I guess. It takes a group of guys who take themselves just seriously enough to get the right kind of studio and financial backing in order to intentionally make asses out of themselves for the sake of comedy. That's what happens in The Interview, but as long as I'm laughing I really don't have a problem with it.

The Interview is a flick that had me laughing from start to finish. It's so over-the-top and so mercilessly silly that you just have to accept it for what it is and enjoy the ride. Don't be expecting any sophisticated dry humor, and don't wait around for that clever wit. Just sit back and embrace the poop, butt, and dick jokes that fly in from every direction. Instead of swatting them away just bathe in the stupidity. Bathe in the absurdity and before you get angry at the lack of sophistication here, just remember how much you laughed when that Asian woman said "butthole."

As is to be expected, the James Franco and Seth Rogen bromance is the glue that holds this film together. Rogen actually shows some comedic acting chops here, with impeccable comedic timing and some of the film's most memorable moments and one liners. Franco, however, is in top form as the obnoxious "how-can-he-be-this-stupid" manchild. I really wanted to hate his WAY over-the-top persona that is the farthest thing from believable, but the bastard kept making me giggle throughout the whole damn movie. As stupid as everything that came out of his mouth was, my reactionary laughter made me realize that this kind of humor is above no one.

I could spend a lot of time here breaking down the plot and character issues that surround The Interview. There are plot holes here big enough to drive a semi through, but to dissect The Interview in those terms would be missing the overall point. This is nonsensical and unabashed comedy that, oddly enough, has a strand of surprisingly poignant satire running through it. It satirizes Western media as much as it does the North Korean government but, at the end of the day its main goal is to make you laugh via dick jokes, and cheer via tank explosions. I did both, so I guess The Interview wins.
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The Host (2006)
8/10
Monster movie madness
21 January 2015
It's been years since the first time I watched this brilliantly badass monster movie, but last night I watched it for a second time and it's just as wickedly fun as I remember. The Host is a film that proves why Korean cinema owns the monster genre. Taking place in Seoul, South Korea, it is a film about a giant man eating fish monster that emerges from the Han River and proceeds to wreak havoc on the inhabitants of Seoul. It follows a family whose daughter is taken by the creature, and their desperate attempts to get her back.

Going into The Host, it's not what you would expect. It's a surprisingly fitting blend of creature feature horror, compelling family drama, and quirky comedy satire, three elements that work charmingly well together in some weird way. It's a movie that breaks a lot of horror/monster film conventions which surprisingly does the movie a lot of good. For one, we see our scaly green friend in the full glory of midday sunlight about 20 minutes into the film. Nothing is left to the imagination as The Host gets right to the point.

The opening exposition scene of the film shows a scientist being ordered to dump countless bottles of formaldehyde down the drain which runs off into the river, so any mystery element surrounding our creature is removed, which frees up the filmmakers to just go nuts and have fun with the baddie as he viciously terrorizes Koreans in broad daylight. Some people might hate this. I love it.

Some of the best movies of this genre often have some sort of undertone, and The Host definitely fulfills this aspect. The eco- friendly message of this flick is comically overt, but the over-the- top nature of the opening scene sets the tone for a heavy handed message brought to you in the most abrasive and bloody way possible. Come for the monster madness, stay for the poignant ecological subtext (subtext being a term used lightly here). There is no hiding the fact that this movie can be silly and extreme, but it doesn't make a point to hide this either. It embraces its wild nature in a perfect way, making it a very easy film to just enjoy the hell out of.

And to top it all off it's a beautifully shot film as well! There are some expertly crafted compositions set within the ominous beauty of Seoul's sewers or its immaculate bridges. We've got a great blend of intense close-ups and Kurosawa-esque wides. It handles action scenes incredibly well, while the dialogue heavy scenes carry just as much weight. There is no doubt that these filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing from start to finish, and this is reflected in virtually every aspect of the film. For all of its whack you over the head satire, over-the-top comedy, and multitude of characters that we bounce around from in a slightly disjointed fashion, at the end of the day there's a damn fine monster movie in The Host, and it's just a damn good movie overall.
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Selma (2014)
8/10
Far more important than entertaining
20 January 2015
Some of the darkest and saddest pieces of our history often make for the most compelling and powerful films of the year. Such is the case with Selma which takes us back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, showing us the tragic strife that the African American community was put through. Selma focuses specifically on the voting rights movement where Dr. King and his followers led an historical march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to peacefully protest Alabama's segregated voting rights in order to obtain equality across the voting board. It's a startlingly relevant film that explores a time in US history many would prefer to forget, and one that challenges us to look at our modern day society and draw some disturbing connections.

Admittedly it is a little bit sad that a film about civil rights can still have so much relevance in 2015, but such is the way of prejudice and bigotry in all of its ever changing forms. Selma does a fantastic job at making this fight as real and accessible as possible, highlighting this struggle on a personal level for King and his associates. These events were well before my time, but as far as I know this film paints a very realistic picture of the time, from the look of the sets, the costumes, and the emotions and tensions filling the air.

At the end of the day, though, it's the portrayal of Dr. King that drives this film home. David Oyelowo is a powerhouse that carries this film with a startlingly accurate representation of the reverend; one that is filled to the brim with passion and poise, while also breaking down the larger than life illusion that surrounds the man, and bringing him down to earth as the very real and very flawed human being he actually was. His controversial decisions are touched upon in the film, as well as his infidelities which truly bring him to the human level.

It's a damn good thing that Oyelowo can carry this film, too, as the emotional prowess of the story relies solely on him. Selma is packed with a great supporting cast with everyone from Tom Wilkinson to Tim Roth to rapper Common, but there is no denying that all these supporting players play second fiddle to Oyelowo. If Oyelowo is at a 10 as the lead of the film the rest of the cast sits at an 8 across the board with no one character getting a lot of attention as the focus consistently remains on King. I would have liked to see some more attention turned towards the supporting cast, but with a biopic on one of the most influential names in American history you almost have to expect this.

Selma highlights a grim portion of our history, one so grim that it needs to be immortalized in film so that we don't forget the troubled history we came from. This is an incredibly important film about an incredibly important man. It's not something you watch for entertainment value and not something you watch over and over again, but it is something you need to watch to gain some highly accurate perception of a crucial time in history it is imperative we never forget.
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7/10
A fitting end
19 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Oh, Middle Earth. You and your orcs, elves, magic rings, and dragons that sound an awful lot like a certain detective I know from the BBC. It's sad to see you go but, after witnessing a decline in quality from your predecessor trilogy, maybe it was time. Yes, this is where the epic saga that has been Middle Earth, from its first epic fantasy masterpieces that were The Lord of the Rings, to the slightly less epic and slightly less masterpiecey Hobbit trilogy, ends. It also wraps up the greatest display of "how to turn a 300 page book into 9 hours worth of film" ever conceived.

It's been a long journey to get here, one that dragged on perhaps a little too long, but still delivered us quite the fantasy adventure. This is why The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies had a big duty to fulfill, and the trailers certainly made it their duty to promise us the most epicy of epic finales to the most epicy epic saga of epicness ever made. And you better bring the tissues too, 'cuz this one's gonna' bust out all the feels. Take THAT Tolkienites!

OK, all jokes aside, The Battle of the Five Armies is too much fun not to enjoy. Is it over-the-top? Yes. Do the epic dramatic moments sometimes come off way cheesier than intended? Yes. Does the CGI make you snicker every once in a while? Yes. But dammit if it's not the three hour long battle that you didn't know you needed but totally did need. You have a three hour movie here that is literally probably 80% killing stuff and 20% talking about what stuff is getting killed next.

The film opens with the Laketown battle against Smaug, which is then followed by the title card. Yeah, I hope you got your dragon fix in the second film because our scaly friend is offed within about ten minutes (sorry to spoil it for all twelve of you who thought the dragon would actually survive). What follows is the battle for the dwarven halls that Thorin and friends did all the work to reclaim just so everybody could then pop out of the woodwork claiming they deserve a piece of that pie. It's a battle that pits dwarfs, elves, and humans against a massive army of Mordor orcs and goblins who are bred for the sole purpose of killing stuff, but can also be killed by a bunch of farmers. I don't have enough fingers to plug all of this film's plot holes, but I don't want to spend time doing that either. I just want to see more heads chopped off.

A lot of people have criticized Peter Jackson for this Hobbit trilogy. Sure he turned a simple little fantasy adventure novel into a three picture cash cow, but in the 70+ years since this book was written Jackson has certainly brought it to life in the most exciting, spectacular, and accessible way ever. The grand scale of these novels and the world that Tolkien built is one of the greatest feats of literature of all time, and it deserved to be brought to celluloid in the biggest and flashiest way possible.

Yes there are a lot of liberties taken here, but that's why it's called an adaptation. Yes, some liberties are more sinful than others; the Kili/Tauriel love story is one of the dumbest things I can think of in this whole trilogy, and putting Legolas in was silly and unnecessary, and creating the character of Tauriel just because Evangeline Lily looks smokin' as a redhead also warrants a roll of the eyes. But at the end of the day I can only crap on this movie so much before I admit that I had a hell of a great time watching The Battle of the Five Armies.
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Whiplash (2014)
8/10
This is why I quit band
19 January 2015
If you ever thought you had a mean and abrasive teacher, please allow Whiplash to make that teacher look like Mother Teresa. You don't know angry instructor until you've seen J.K. Simmons furiously shout his head off as Terrence Fletcher, the biggest hard ass of a band teacher to ever grace cinema screens. He's a teacher whose methods include spewing a creatively brutal string of insults with the intention of pushing a student to their full potential. You'll never hear him say the words "good job" because they are, "the two most dangerous words you can ever say to a musician."

Whiplash is a movie carried by its two main characters, Miles Teller as Andrew Nieman, a college aged drummer, and his teacher, Fletcher, played by Simmons. Nieman wants to be the best, and Fletcher is determined to get him there, no matter how many times he has to spit the f-word at his face, or how many chairs he has to throw at his head. The film is no more than a character piece between the two forces, but it is a compelling, intense, and in-your-face piece that defines the student-teacher relationship when it comes to music.

My band experience in high school was very short lived, but I have heard enough stories from band geek friends to affirm that the intensity of Simmon's character isn't too far-fetched. I have a feeling that Whiplash is a film that will resonate with any musician whose gone through professional training, and will strike a chord with any instructor whose mean shouty ways have always been misunderstood as sheer assholery. Sometimes it takes an asshole to make a maestro, and this is the feeling that you walk away from Whiplash with.

This is a movie that takes a big risk, as it relies solely on the performances of its two leads to make this film compelling in any way. Luckily its got a great script delivered by a competent Miles Teller and a wildly entertaining and nerve wracking to watch J.K. Simmons. The scenes where Simmons attempts to keep Teller from dragging or rushing make my anxiety flare up and it makes me so glad I ditched band in high school and left it to the safety of film to make me understand the fury an instructor is truly capable of.

When it comes to writing, Whiplash is excellent. When it comes to performances, it's impeccable. When it comes to pacing, it's jumpy and rocky at points, but when it comes to overall quality Whiplash tells an excellent and believable story. It's not something I'd watch again, but definitely something I'd recommend.
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8/10
Surprisingly brilliant
8 January 2015
As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, there will always be at least a couple historical dramas to wade through during Oscar season, especially ones set in the pivotal World War II era. With so many of these period dramas coming and going throughout the years you really have to stand out to be remembered and taken seriously. The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch is one of those films that I feel has a good fighters chance at being one of the remembered ones.

The always stellar Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, one of history's greatest mathematicians and the man who, in his mission to unlock the key to encrypted German messages being sent between Nazi forces during the war, accidentally created what we know today as the computer. The Imitation Game tells his story which, it turns out, is one of great strife, tragedy, and deserves to be recognized and memorialized forever in our history. If nothing else this film is an incredibly important one, that tells a story that was sadly lost and unrecognized for over 50 years due to controversy surrounding Turing's life, and a dark ages political system that failed to recognize the staggeringly vital impact Turing was imprinting on history.

The Imitation Game's greatest contribution is absolutely its immortalizing of such an important historical figure. It highlights one of the most beautiful things about the art form of filmmaking, which is its ability to preserve these key moments in history in an accessibly dramatized way. The Imitation Game is fascinating, gripping, and powerfully motivating, revealing new sides and new perspectives on a war we thought we already knew everything about. In some ways its the great plot twist of one of history's most notable, significant, and discussed periods. If you thought you were an expert on the Second World War, watch The Imitation Game and find out for yourself what other secrets are still yet to be discovered.

Obviously this film is a huge success on the side of historical importance, but what makes it even better is that its a success on the side of filmmaking as well. It boasts some great performances, especially from the magnificent Cumberbatch, but also from the slew of fantastic supporting players like Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, and plenty others. It gives us a mostly great script, with only a handful of moments where character motivation feels scripted and forced. It also gives us a compelling structure that starts out slow, but really becomes enthralling once the gap between the story taking place during the war and after the war is bridged and the ultimate purpose of this film starts to glean.

I went into this movie with expectations that leaned neither high or low, and was pleasantly surprised by the end. Given its slow pace and non-risk taking atmosphere where subject matter is played close to the chest I thought I would come out of this movie with a satisfied yet unenthused attitude, but by the end and after giving it some thought I found myself so thankful that this movie exists, and only found myself thinking back on it fondly and proudly. It is a solidly compelling film, but moreso, and vitally important one.
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Inherent Vice (2014)
7/10
Expected more, got less
8 January 2015
After such masterpieces like Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood, it's hard not to expect A LOT from every film coming from the mind of Paul Thomas Anderson. So obviously the standards were pretty damn high going into his newest film Inherent Vice, an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name about a stoner private investigator who is investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, as well as a slew of other mysteries and disappearances that coincide with one another amid a cavalcade of characters whose names, careers, and orientations get a little bit tough to keep up with. And by a little bit, I mean there is so damn much going on in this film that keeping up can be a bitch and if you fall behind, well, best of luck to you.

I won't say that Inherent Vice is a bad film. I don't know if I could ever say that a film of PTA's was a truly bad film. The dude knows how to direct actors and he is a bonified expert when it comes to the art of visual storytelling. What I got out of Inherent Vice, however, was that it was likely a book Anderson has read countless times and absolutely loves, and he was surely chomping at the bit to do an adaptation. The problem is, you're working with some seriously convoluted subject matter here and it might be possible that Anderson forgot how well he knew the book compared to the millions that would be seeing his film who were in no way familiar with it, myself included. This film feels like it was made for the director before anyone else.

That being said, this might be the best possible adaptation for this kind of novel at all. There is a whole lot going on in this flick and the question in the back of my mind was always, "Where is any of this heading?" By the end of the film this question was underwhelmingly not answered for me at least. But the one saving grace of Inherent Vice is most definitely the performances, which is where PTA often shines as a director anyways. Joaquin Phoenix is great as always, even though this character can't even compare to the complex troubled souls he played in The Master or Her. Josh Brolin is in peak form as far as entertainment value goes, delivering some of the most absurdly funny moments and lines of the film. We've all seen his "Moto panakeku (spelling?)" moment from the trailer, and it does get better than that.

Then you've got a whole bunch of great supporting players like Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, and Martin Short, as well as a great lineup of strong female performances from Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, and Jena Malone. Actors seem to be at the top of their game when working with Anderson and this fact is what keeps the confusing and convoluted Inherent Vice at least somewhat entertaining.

I'm certainly going to give this film a second chance, and I'll do my best to pay better attention the second time around. Maybe after wading through the onslaught of characters and events and putting things in their right place I'll be able to make some sense of the film and realize its hidden brilliance. For now, though, Inherent Vice certainly does not live up to the caliber of quality I've come to expect from one of my all time favorite directors.
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9/10
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
20 November 2014
Sweet baby Jesus where do I even begin my appraisal and admonition of this masterpiece of cinema? Should I start with the masterfully crafted totally original story? Or maybe the brilliant screen writing that perfectly blends existential drama with pop culture savvy? Or perhaps the cavalcade of stellar performances coming from every direction? Or maybe even the groundbreaking cinematography that presents possibly the best use of a steadi-cam ever conceived? No, you know what? I'll make it simple. I'll start out by saying that Birdman is good. Really. REALLY. Good. In 1989 Michael Keaton quickly jumpstarted his way to fame in Tim Burton's revered Batman film, which he followed up with Batman Returns. Ever since, Keaton's career has gone through it's ups and downs, his name slowly slipping away from household notoriety. And now he stars in Birdman as Riggan Thompson, an actor whose life suspiciously follows a very similar path to Keaton's. Riggan is an actor who garnered his fame by playing the fictional superhero Birdman. Years after the success of this franchise dwindles Riggan finds himself a wash-up, trying to validate himself by producing, writing, directing, and starring in his own stage play which he hopes can make it to Broadway. Meanwhile Riggan's friends, ex-wife, daughter, colleagues, bitter rivals, and the voices in his head all stand to help or hurt him in reaching this goal.

Rarely do I walk out of a film as excited as I was after leaving Birdman. I don't remember the last time I had such an immediately positive reaction to a film where I was able to so quickly come to the conclusion that what I had just watched was an absolute masterpiece for the ages. Birdman left me with a sense of joy, excitement, and an overall feeling of inspiration and true genuine wonderment. Birdman is genius. Birdman is astounding. Birdman is brilliant. Birdman is, dare I say it, perfect. OK, maybe not perfect, but pretty damn close. Birdman exemplifies some of the most incredible original storytelling in one of the most inventive and revolutionary ways I've had the pleasure of witnessing in years. It brilliantly takes such a simple story and adds so many ingenious plot devices and visual elements that make this one of the most unique films I've ever seen. It's a story that introduces us to many eccentric characters, some lovable, others hateable on such an entertaining level. It then takes these characters and weaves them into a wacky and weird tale of love, life, jealousy, and ambition that has an offbeat unconventional atmosphere that perfectly matches the strangeness of the characters, all backed by the smooth flow of the visual style that strings us along through this wild fantastic ride.

No words I can write on this site give Birdman the justice it deserves. This is simply just something that has to be experienced. Birdman takes you on such a magnificent journey through drama, comedy, existential crisis, and even a bit of fantasy to add yet another incredible visual element. Birdman is a photorealistic painting that, the longer you stare at it, starts to become this bizarre surreal art piece in a league of its own. I don't even want to explain what the hell that means. I just want you to experience it

Seeing Birdman might be the biggest favor you can do yourself this year. It exceeds expectations on every level, and honestly provides you with one of the most unique cinematic experiences you've ever had. I believe Birdman has the power to change the way we think about film and entertainment. It's going to make waves, and for a damn good reason.
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Snowpiercer (2013)
8/10
One for the ages
20 November 2014
In an age where the science fiction film market is suffocated by sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots, nothing is more refreshing than an original high concept science fiction action flick that is actually executed well. This makes Korean director Bong Joon-ho's American directorial debut Snowpiercer an exhilarating breath of fresh air in this stagnating genre.

Snowpiercer takes us to a post-apocalyptic world where the entirety of humanity lives on a train that constantly circles the globe after the world has frozen over due to a failed climate change experiment. The unstoppable train essentially acts as a metaphor for social class warfare with the "peasants" stuffed into the train's tail section, while rich elites enjoy the luxuries further up the train. With everyone in their correct preordained place the train runs smoothly. That is until Curtis, played by Captain America, leads a revolution of tail-sectioners up the train to end the oppression and kill the elusive Wilford, the inventor of the "sacred engine" which runs the train who, although no tail-sectioners have ever met him, lives at the front of the train. Curtis and his revolutionary members fight their way from the back of the train, learning a lot of harrowing things about humans and society along the way.

As an avid lover of science fiction few things make me happier than seeing the triumph and success of an original science fiction film, especially in 2014. Snowpiercer is based on a comic book series that I haven't read, but as far as I know the only similarities between the comic and the film are the train and the frozen Earth it circles. Other than that everything about Snowpiercer is an original tale, brilliantly crafted and intelligently presented. Snowpiercer isn't a handholding exercise that over explains every little thing. It's a film that forces you to pay attention as you get to piece together the world and the backstory as you ride along. It makes for a story that unfolds at an exciting pace, always keeping you guessing right up to the end where events take place that you never could have seen coming.

Snowpiercer is one of the smartest action packed thrill rides I've seen in a long time. There's a pleasing amount of depth to this story that draws a lot of sympathy and keeps you wanting more. That is paired with great visuals and some of the most exciting fight sequences to sink your eyeballs into in a while. There's a particular scene involving axes and fish that gets me worked up every time no matter how much I watch it. The great thing about Snowpiercer is even if the story does nothing for you and you lose interest in all the characters and plot, you're still left with a wickedly fun action film.

Of course, Snowpiercer doesn't come without its flaws, but fortunately they are flaws that don't impede any enjoyment of the film, and they by no means hold this otherwise fantastic flick back. Problems mainly stem from the writing and acting, here. The script is a little expository at times (but it's high concept; it almost has to be), and some of the dialogue is pretty on the nose and comes out with a tasteful side of cheese. Some moments don't come across very genuine, and others are just melodramatic.

The acting pulls me to both sides. On one hand you have stellar performances by Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris as villains. Then you have the film's two main Korean actors, Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-Sung who make compellingly entertaining junkies, and then smaller roles by great actors like John Hurt and Allison Pill. But, and I'm probably not the first to say this, Chris Evans is not the best actor. He's got enough good looks and charm to carry a franchise like Captain America, but when it comes to darker more serious roles he isn't quite as convincing. He doesn't quite have the acting chops to be taken seriously, but he, like the other flaws of the film, don't stop me from enjoying Snowpiercer.

If you like sci-fi there's honestly no reason you shouldn't see this. It is a shining example of great filmmaking on a technical and visual level, as well as incredible original storytelling. Snowpiercer isn't a film you enjoy along with your popcorn and then forget about instantly. It's a film that, yes, you enjoy the hell out of along with your popcorn, but you'll be left thinking about it long after its over, the tell-tale sign of a great movie.
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Nightcrawler (2014)
8/10
Gyllenhaal's crazy eyes steal the show
16 November 2014
Screw this movie! Nightcrawler wasn't blue, didn't have a tail, Professor Xavier didn't show up ONCE, and Jake Gyllenhaal never even teleported! What the hell is this? Worst X-Men movie of all time... period.

Just kidding. As awesome as a standalone Nightcrawler film would be, the actual film Nightcrawler starring Jake Gyllenhaal is a wickedly twisted social commentary that boasts, what I think, is the performance of Gyllenhaal's career. He plays Louis Bloom, the most polite sociopath you will ever meet. Hungry for work, Louis finds himself a lucrative career in what is known as nightcrawling. Nightcrawling, which has nothing to do with mutants or Charlie and Frank's nighttime shenanigans (for all you It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans), consists of driving around late at night looking for car crashes, robberies, murders, or anywhere blood is being spilled, and then capturing it on camera first hand as it happens. The candidly grotesque footage is then sold to news outlets for their broadcasts. Louis Bloom quickly finds out that there is a career to be made out of this strange and unorthodox activity, and he will stop at literally nothing to be the best nightcrawler out there. And, of course, stop at nothing means exactly what you think it means. It's been a while since I've seen a film that succeeds on so many levels. Everything about Nightcrawler is fantastic from the darkly compelling story line, to the expertly crafted dialogue performed by a slew of excellent actors, to Robert Elswitt's stunning cinematography that combines dark and brooding tones with beautiful color saturation that sucks us into Louis Bloom's comically twisted reality. From start to finish Nightcrawler is a brilliantly crafted film that snatches you up and menacingly drags you along through it's disturbing twists and turns, some of which are almost too devilish to handle in such a frighteningly realistic setting. When it's all said and done the person who probably deserves the most credit for Nightcrawler is the film's star, Mr. Jake Gyllenhaal. The character of Louis Bloom is one of the most well written characters I have had the pleasure of meeting on the big screen in a long time, but Gyllenhaal takes the character to a whole other level. On the physical side Gyllenhaal lost a significant amount of weight to give Bloom a lanky ghostly look that adds to the manic determination of his character. But it's the nuances in his character's eyes and face that are so telling of what this character is scheming or thinking. Yet at the same time it's never too much, always keeping the audience in the dark as to what exactly this unpredictable son of a bitch is going to do next. Then at the same time Bloom presents himself as this highly professional, highly determined young man with strong convictions and verbose explanation of his actions and goals that make it hard not to side with him or understand him, as much as you know you shouldn't. It's hard to put into words just how great of a performance this is, which is why I urge everyone to it see for themselves.

I really loved Nightcrawler right up until the end. The story was paced excellently, the characters grew in a believable and compelling way, and the climax was nothing short of awesome. But when the credits started to roll I immediately wanted more. Maybe it's just me being greedy, but I felt like where the credits came in should have been the start of the third act. We're left on such an open note that hardly feels like an ending, but perhaps that's the point? Needless to say, I'm ready to watch Nightcrawler again.
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Interstellar (2014)
8/10
Technically genius
14 November 2014
Oh boy. Christopher Nolan you magnificent, complicated, and deep pocketed sonofabitch, you've done it again. You've managed to astound, confuse, and inspire me once more with your boundary pushing, genre defining, works of art. And this time you've taken your wild imagination and jaw dropping spectacle into space, and all I have to say to that is... thank you.

I'm weary of going too deep in this review, partly because of the spoilery nature of this and all other Nolan films, and partly because I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I just spent three hours watching. I may do an Interstellar review 2.0 after a much warranted second viewing of the film, but for now what I will say is that this movie is fantastic. There are a very few people in the world who could pull something of this magnitude off, and I'm once again blown away at what Mr. Nolan is capable of accomplishing. Interstellar is one of the biggest technical achievements in post turn-of-the-century filmmaking and it's one of the most impressive visual spectacles I've ever witnessed on the big screen. It also helps when you view this achievement in the glory of 15 proof 70mm film, the format Nolan would have wanted me and all the rest of his millions and millions of viewers to see it in. And quite frankly, there's a reason for that. Interstellar takes place in the near future when the Earth's food supply has run out, and the world is plagued by famine and dust storms. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a pilot turned farmer who is enlisted by whats left of NASA to embark on a mission through a wormhole that could provide the key to saving the human race. Obviously, the stakes are pretty high and it's best that I don't say anything more than that, because the less you know going into this film the better, and that's a fact.

Interstellar sets out to accomplish what sci-fi masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner accomplished in pairing these themes of space and time with the human condition. I've yet to decide whether it pulls this off in the way the aforementioned films do, but that's something I'll decide after a second watch. What really is amazing is just how much Nolan is attempting to tackle here with Interstellar. It's not just a story about intergalactic travel, time travel, and quantum physics. It's a story about the willpower of the human race and what we can accomplish through love and perseverance. It sounds a little melodramatic, which Interstellar is, but in an age where the human race continues to deplete our planet of its resources, making Interstellar frighteningly relevant, its melodrama that hits home. Interstellar didn't make me cry. It didn't make me cheer. But it did make me feel. It instills inspiration and pride over what we as humans are capable of. From a meta standpoint it's already inspiring to see what the film itself pulls off on the technical scale, which I think makes the fictional accomplishments of the characters within the film feel all the more impeccable and amazing. Interstellar reminds us how much of a fight the human race is capable of putting up. It reminds us that we will "not go gentle into that good night." In years to come when real famine and real drought plague the real human race, it will be time to look back to Interstellar to remind ourselves that we don't have to lay down and surrender to mother nature's wrath that we brought upon ourselves. I don't know if Interstellar is a masterpiece, but what I do know is that in one weekend it has already earned a spot in history as one of filmmaking's biggest achievements.
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Big Hero 6 (2014)
7/10
Baymax will be your new favorite thing this year
13 November 2014
2014 continues Disney's animation streak with the Marvel comic adaptation Big Hero 6. Big Hero 6, set in the fictional metropolis of San Fransokyo, tells the story of Hiro Hamada, a prepubescent robotics inventor who teams up with a group of college grads who are blurring the line between science and magic to fight crime in their beautiful bustling city as the superhero team Big Hero 6. Hiro and his hipster friends comprise 5 of the 6 members of Big Hero 6, with the 6th member being one of the most lovable robots to grace the screen in years; Baymax. Baymax is a big plushy healthcare robot whose adorable naivety and soft squeaky appearance will make kids fall completely in love, and they'll be raving about him until their parents buy them that $80 Baymax action figure. Well played, Disney.

By no means is Big Hero 6 just a well marketed cash grab that will lead to countless toys, video games, and probably even TV shows. Yes, it most certainly is that because Disney has a job to do, but Big Hero 6 is first and foremost an exciting CGI adventure that never lets up on the action, the humor, or the spectacle, and even carries enough emotional weight to well up a tear or two. Just like its robot protagonist, this movie is just plain lovable. It's enjoyable from start to finish in almost every aspect.

The CGI is nothing short of astounding, as is to be expected from Disney. The design in everything from the art, architecture, and especially characters is fantastic. The city of San Fransokyo is one of the more beautiful cities ever rendered, but the beauty of the scenery doesn't even stop there as our characters visit mysterious islands and mile high worlds of air balloons, all providing unique and constantly changing visuals. The technical work of Big Hero 6 deserves an indefinite amount of credit for the world pulled off here.

And if you're not falling in love with the scenery you're hopefully falling in love with the characters instead. Each unique character comes with their own wildly entertaining personality fueled by a cast of fantastic voice actors including Ryan Potter, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, and Silicon Valley's always hysterical T.J. Miller. 30 Rock's Scott Adsit, with the help of some voice modulation, provides the voice of Baymax, whose voice has just enough robotic charm to be one of the most believable and adorable AI's in years.

My only issue with Big Hero 6 comes in its writing mainly, and in part from its story line. There were a number of times where I was reminded that I was watching a kids movie when characters would do things like reiterate points from before, just to make sure the audience hadn't forgotten. There were moments when things were over explained and over emphasized so that everyone was able to keep up. The fact that this is a kid's movie makes these little screenplay transparencies slightly more forgivable, but they still irk me. The story holds strong for the majority of the film, but the third act introduces some elements that seem to come out of nowhere and could have used more setup to allow them to carry more weight, All in all it works though, and the film ends on a great big happy note that sets the stage for endless franchise milking.

Big Hero 6 is worth the watch, no matter what issues it has. It is a solid 102 minutes of fun that will astound you visually, make you laugh genuinely, and might even draw up some tears at the beautifully sentimental moments between Hiro and Baymax. Disney continues to strike gold at their animation department, and I have a pretty damn good feeling this isn't the last we'll see of Baymax and the rest of the Big Hero 6 team.
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