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Allllmost awesome.
27 July 2019
"Shinobi" presents us with an epic tale of love, hate, political manipulation and the plight of the underdog against an overwhelming foe, be it a tangible foe or fate itself. The coolest part about this movie is the background and super power of each character, each one being original, fascinating and deeply layered as we learn in bits and pieces. The worst part about this movie is that it falls back on a few clichés that may annoy you in this otherwise unusual spin on the classic "love in the time of hate" story.

First the cool stuff. The plot centers around a fight to the death between 2 teams with 5 warriors on each team. Here's the thing: each warrior has a unique power which isn't spelled out for us. We need to piece it together what their power is and how they got it. These aren't just a bunch of sword swingers running through the forest; they each have a very specialized skill that they stick to (often not even involving weaponry).

For example, one character is a woman who was raised on poison, and so she has literally the kiss of death. But it goes deeper than that. Having the kiss of death means that she can never know true love because all her lovers would die, and so she leads a tragic life, existing only for the sake of killing though she years to know what love is. How cool is that!

Other characters possess similarly complex powers which lead to deep conflicts in life, and you realize that even the most ruthless ones have an unspoken human side.

The main story focuses on two lovers who, you guessed it, end up on opposite teams. Here is where the Shakespearean question of fate plays heavily. One of them believes that they can somehow beat their tragic fate while the other is resigned to a hopeless ending. What I loved about this movie (at first) is that it doesn't waste time with waffling sensibility: right off the bat, the lovers refuse to fight and they make their peaceful intentions known. But slowly they start getting dragged into the inevitable violence.

But unfortunately the film later falls back on a few clichés which we've seen dozens of times before in other tales of love and war, and that's where I dock Shinobi a few points. With its original setup, I was hoping it was going to stay in that vein and avoid what so many other films have done. It does stay unique, but one or two critical plot elements were pure cookie cutter. Making matters worse, these plot elements were not in line with the characters' personalities. It's like the clichés were thrown in just because the film had to have them.

It's not a fatal flaw, and you may not even notice unless like me you've watched dozens of epic love/war stories like this. Who knows, maybe the whole thing will be fresh and new for you. But I just wanted to temper your expectations a bit. Although Shinobi is a good movie, it's not quite awesome. Still worth your time, though.

Movies in this genre which I *do* consider awesome are the Yimou Zhang films "Hero" (2002) and "House of Flying Daggers" (2004). While "Shinobi" is a great effort, I think you should check out those others first to get a taste of cinematic perfection.
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One of the rare Hollywood blockbusters that's worth the hype
24 July 2019
I'm speaking to those of us who don't like superhero movies, who resent the cookie cutter, moneymaking Hollywood clichés that dominate the art, and who find themselves generally irritated at movies & tv shows that the guy in the cubicle next to you at work is constantly raving about while you're trying to meet a deadline. Check out "The Dark Knight". It deserves the hype.

Largely due to the gripping performance by Heath Ledger (who reportedly buried himself in the part so deep that it contributed to his tragic young demise), this is no ordinary superhero flick. Propelled by dark themes, profound questions about the ugliness of the human soul, and complex portrayals of madness in both good & bad people, this film finally offers the superhero genre something worth thinking (literally, *thinking*) about. The beauty is that it can also be enjoyed as a straightforward crowd pleasing action flick. It balances the line perfectly.

The power of this story lies in an unlikely trio of characters: of a hero with a dark side (Batman), a deranged & violent criminal who is so quirkily charming that we almost see him as a good guy (Ledger as The Joker), and a third character who straddles the balance (I won't ruin it). It all comes to a poignant statement, punctuated with a gripping climax involving a moral quandary that poses the question: does humanity suck so bad that it will kill itself?

Stick around and find out.

There are other great films in the superhero genre that take a different approach, like "Hancock" (a drunk, dysfunctional hero), "Special" (an incompetent dreamer who fancies himself a superhero), and on the disturbing side "Super" (a vigilante hero who goes too far). Here in The Dark Knight we explore the anti-hero angle more subtlely, and that's what allows it to seep in under your skin.

I haven't seen the other two Christopher Nolan installments of Batman (Batman Begins & The Dark Knight Rises), but even if you start here with the 2nd one The Dark Knight, it stands on its own as a classic.
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A surprisingly tame dark comedy/satire, not as powerful as "Heathers" but in the same league.
18 July 2019
If you skip the rest of my review, the 3 most important takeaways are: (1) It's not as sexy or gory as trailers and posters may lead you to expect (in fact I would've rated it PG-13, not R); (2) although it's a biting social satire, it's not as acidic & powerful as it could have been; and (3) it's still a great movie.

Regardless, "Jennifer's Body" is a fun flick, a cheeky dark comedy with good acting, good production values, an original story, some witty lines, and some nice eye candy (in the form of Megan Fox as well as gore) to keep your attention. This is NOT a horror flick. Although there are a few disembowelments and/or face-eating scenes, most of the carnage is handled off-camera, through artistic silhouette shots or with cutaways that leave most of it to the imagination. Similarly, although there is a ton of sexual innuendo, there's no real nudity or explicit sex. So even though this movie is consistently listed as one of the "sexiest horror movies" don't expect anything explicit. I believe that actually works to the film's advantage because, without the t&a, we realize that there is a deeper message.

The story is a standard teen horror story about a hot cheerleader chick (Megan Fox) who sorta becomes a demon and starts eating people. Its power lies in its satire of teen culture, and this point is subtly yet effectively made in a few scenes that talk about how quickly the high school "moves on" from despair to the next fashionable emotion du jour. In the same sense, the entire plot is a great allegory for the cult of popularity and the way our demonic villain literally eats her way through boys with no accountability, either moral or judicial. But I feel like the movie missed a great opportunity to drive this point home harder.

The music is pretty cool, with a punkpop/emo-ish vibe featuring songs by Panic At the Disco, Florence & The Machine, Dashboard Confessional, and some millennial remakes of classic tunes by Blondie ("In the Flesh") and Johnny Nash ("I Can See Clearly Now"). There's a great sub-plot about a indie boy band "Low Shoulder" that's willing to sell its soul to the devil for fame and fortune. Those are the scenes with the best satirical wit and sarcasm, really fun to watch.

In my title I referenced one of the classics, possibly the first if not the best of the sarcastic high school satires, "Heathers" about a bizarre fad of suicide and serial killing that sweeps the teen social scene. I feel like "Heather's Body" could have, and should have, followed suit. But it remained mostly shallow. So unfortunately, although it's a fun flick, I don't think it will be destined for cult fame the way "Heathers" or the Japanese flick "Battle Royale" have established because those flicks were powerful symbolic works. Here we straddle the line between artistic satire and slasher flick. And by strattling the line it remains too tame to distinguish itself as either. But one way or another, it's an entertaining movie worth your time.
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Get Smart (2008)
Entertaining stuff, a few good LOLs, hilarious cameos, great cast.
18 July 2019
Right off the bat, if you're the kind of person who hates all remakes then of course you'll hate this movie. But if that's you, then why even bother reading reviews?

Good, you're still here, so we'll assume that you're willing to give this flick a fair shake. "Get Smart" (2008) is a reboot of the iconic tv series, and by "reboot" I mean that it doesn't necessarily follow the original storyline except that the characters share the same names. In this version, Maxwell Smart is a lowly analyst who gets his big shot at being an agent. Other than being a general nerd, his schtick is that, being an obsessive intelligence analyst, he knows the enemy inside out. So even though he may not be a dashing superhero, his intelligence is his strength. When he's not being a total clueless dolt, that is. I thought this was a great new angle.

His counterbalance is Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), an experienced field operative who has to put up with Max's quirky arrogance. She may possibly have some anger issues. Again, a really fun character to watch.

The plot? Not important. Like the original tv show, the plot is rather superficial with the real entertainment being carried by the gags. There were some nice nods to the original show, such as the ridiculous "cone of silence", the absurd gadgets crammed into common household objects, and of course some of the original trademark catchphrases ("Missed it by that much"). A few of the zingers were really funny and got some full belly laugh out of me. But they were sparsely placed, and that's my only criticism. Perhaps in an attempt to keep the plot moving, there were not enough bizarre wisecracks as I would have liked. One of my favorites was when Agent 99 somberly tells Max that if he gets caught, there's a pill in his belt buckle that causes death in 9 seconds. To which Max replies: "But how will I get them to take it?" This is the kind of humor that made the original so fun and makes this version a worthy homage.

The cameos are awesome with fleeting appearances by Kevin Nealon (from SNL), Patrick Warburton (Elaine's weird boyfriend "Putty" on Seinfeld), James Caan as "the president" (who can't pronounce "nuclear" - I wonder who that is), and none other than Bill Murray as Agent 13.

Dwayne Johnson practically steals the show as Agent 23, a caricature of every action hero he's ever played.

A final note worth noting: the technical consultant mentioned in the credits is THE Mel Brooks. It didn't surprise me because at times this has a somewhat Brooksian flair, especially in the hilarious ballroom dance number, oddly reminiscent of "the czardas" dance in Dracula: Dead & Loving It. Bottom line, if you are ready for a good time you'll have a good time.
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Discovery Atlas: Australia Revealed (2007)
Season 1, Episode 4
Decent production but be ready with your fast-forward remote
17 July 2019
I'll keep it short. If you're expecting 101 minutes of gorgeous majestic landscapes, fascinating wildlife and cultural history, you'll be disappointed for at least half your time. Yes there is some of that, but there are equal amounts of inexplicably mundane chapters, such as guys driving trucks (as if we can't see that anywhere in the world) or guys navigating oil tankers (as if we can't see that anywhere on the high seas) or guys wrestling cattle for sport (as if we can't see that anywhere in Texas). If I haven't been clear enough, I'll spell it out: they spend way too much time documenting things that are not particularly Australian other than the accents. After a while it becomes an annoying diversion from the otherwise well-done segments about the outback, the distinctly Aussie wildlife and the stunning red landscape that you can't see anywhere else on the planet.

Oops, let's get back to a guy driving a truck. Or a guy fixing a fence. Or a guy talking about oil tankers.

There were ample segments about the indigenous aborigine people, but at times it felt contrived because of the ultra stylish camera work and perfect lighting--definitely not convincing as a documentary as much as a staged production. And you may find yourself furiously annoyed at the "Matrix" camera clichés; you'll know it when you see it, when the camera is gracefully floating and then BAM suddenly it goes fast motion and then BAM back to slow. I lost count how many times they did this. Around once every 3 minutes.

Also the music is annoyingly loud which plays poorly against Russel Crowe's whispery mumbling as the narrator. His subdued monotone is fine during scenes with no background music, but when they juxtapose some annoying "Dateline" jumpy music score, it's really hard to follow what he's saying.

Despite my overall negative reaction to these flaws, there is some fabulous photography of the landscape, if you skip through the people segments. Not much wildlife unfortunately. But lots of overhead helicopter/drone shots of the terrain give us what we came for.
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A Case of You (2013)
Paint-by-the-numbers Manic Pixie Romcom
16 July 2019
I'll admit right up front I quit watching after an hour, not because it was bad but because it was nothing new. If you're unfamiliar with the "manic pixie" story, think of Natalie Portman in "Garden State" or Zooey Deschanel in everything she's ever done. Or if you want to get right down to it, there's the original and greatest manic pixie that ever was: Audrey Hepburn. The formula is you take 1 lovable loser guy, usually stiff, awkward or outright lame, and you pair him with a girl who is hazardously spontaneous and carefree as if she's still suffering the effects of novacaine from the dentist an hour earlier. Personally I love these kinds of films, but I love them because it's interesting to see the unique angle each one offers. But here in "A Case of You" there is no angle.

So what we get are endless scenes of the guy making a fool out of himself and the girl pirouetting through the scenes not noticing. There's a very weak, contrived "conflict" (the guy is facebook stalking her), but I don't have to watch the last 20 minutes to guess exactly how it ends. I'm guessing: revelation, confrontation, reconciliation. It's the standard formula just like the rest of the story was up to the point I turned it off.

You might enjoy this movie if you're not familiar with the manic pixie formula, but if you are, then watching this flick is sort of like reading a teen vampire book. You know exactly how it's going to go but you read it anyway because War & Peace gives you a headache.

Where this movie fails, beyond simply being a lukewarm copy of all the others, is that there is nothing quirky about the manic pixie (Evan Rachel Wood). There is no depth, no bizarre secret past, no soul. For example, in the excellent "Garden State" we get Natalie Portman who is a manic pixie on the surface but we soon learn that she suffers from a spectrum of problematic mental issues like pathological lying. It gives her character complexity and makes her interesting to us. Similarly if we look at Audrey Hepburn's manic pixie (take "Breakfast at Tiffany's") we get the same superficial happy-go-lucky exterior but we are fully aware that she is more or less a prostitute. Again, tremendous complexity to an otherwise predictable character.

But here in "A Case for You" there is absolutely no complexity. There is nothing out of the ordinary about either of the two, except that he's an awkward loser and she's a social butterfly.

I do give it points for some excellent (yet all too brief) cameos by Sam Rockwell as a hilariously egotistical guitar teacher, Peter Dinklage as a riotously funny coffee shop barista, and Vince Vaughn as a fast talking corporate suit who ought to have a Bluetooth headset surgically attached to his head. These scenes absolutely carried the film, but ultimately the story itself gives us nothing new.

Instead of this I would recommend any of the others I mentioned, as well as an unknown Japanese gem "Shiki-Jitsu" (Ritual) written by, and starring, Ayako Fujitani who is Steven Seagal's daughter (NO RESEMBLANCE!).
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$5 a Day (2008)
Get your Crepes on Route 66
15 July 2019
The lame pun in my title is a reference to the menu at IHOP where you get a free meal on your birthday, or, as we learn in the movie, where you get a free meal if you show them a convincing fake ID that says it's your birthday.

"$5 a Day" is a cute road movie about a father & son pair of small time con artists who live on $5 a day by committing various harmless scams on their way from Atlantic City, NJ to New Mexico. Their goal is get the father (Walken) to an alternative treatment center because he says he's dying.

It's a standard road movie but with some interesting twists. The big gimmick, of course, is the fun way they scam their way across the USA, much to the straight-laced son's irritation. But his pop is Christopher Walken, and hey who can argue with that. It's definitely Walken's characteristic charm that carries this flick, but there's also a certain sensitivity that gives it a unique flavor which you might not expect from a bro road movie. In the DVD bonus interviews, director Nigel Cole says he really wanted to explore the unspoken emotional side in men, especially an estranged father-son pair who have a barrier of resentment between them. It's the gradual breaking of that barrier that becomes the focus of the story.

Sharon Stone, though featured prominently on the posters and DVD cover, only has a few scenes. But her time on screen is fantastic as she plays a very memorable character, a con artist herself.

Like any good road movie, the story is episodic, with characters entering and exiting never to be seen again. At the same time, secrets from the past reveal themselves and what had initially seemed like a random adventure starts to take shape as an interesting goal-oriented plan.

"$5 a Day" is an entertaining film with a lot of fun moments and of course great acting all around. My only criticism is that it mostly plays it safe (perhaps deliberately) so it's not as edgy as it could be, given the subject matter. But maybe that's what you're looking for: a charming little flick about penny-ante criminals making their way across the country.

I would compare the feel of this movie to "The Open Road" (with Jeff Bridges & Justin Timberlake playing the reluctant father-son travel buddies) or mabye "About Schmidt" (with Jack Nicholson as the retiree going cross country to find his estranged daughter). These are all well-made, sentimental stories that focus on reconnecting with our past and putting demons to rest.
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Mud (2012)
So good I hate to call it a "coming of age" story.
15 July 2019
If you're like me, you greet the phrase "coming of age story" with something between a polite nod and an gaping, open mouthed yawn. While "Mud" falls into that category, it's easily one of the best, if not the best, in its class. This is because nothing about it is predictable; there's no sappy cliché message, and although it's mostly tame regarding violence, some parts are extremely tense, menacing and disturbing. Ultimately, yes, it's a coming of age story, but it's a slightly dark version which is aimed more at adults than kids.

The plot in a sentence: Two 14-year-old boys discover a mysterious loner living on an island on the Mississippi River, and as secrets unravel they realize they've gotten into something much deeper than they had bargained for.

Although our protagonist is a 14-year-old boy "Ellis" (excellently, and I mean EXCELLENTLY, played by Tye Sheridan), this isn't just a 14-year-old's story. In the DVD interviews, director/writer Jeff Nichols said he chose a young teen as the protagonist because he felt that our early teens are when we feel emotions the strongest. Everything is amplified, and later in life we rarely feel that surge the same. And so, through the eyes of Ellis, we see a story unfold in a grippingly powerful way.

Themes touch on loyalty, responsibility & fighting for what you believe in. But the central theme is love in its many definitions. We learn that our mysterious stranger (Matthew McConoughy) is driven solely and obsessively by thought of his lost love, and in a parallel fashion, Ellis is falling in love with his first crush. In both cases, he sees love as a storybook ideal. What he gets may not be what he had imagined, and this creates a powerful, driving conflict in the story.

There is action, suspense, artistry and some beautifully shot, poetic moments brought to life through the camera as well as McConoughy's fantastic performance. Even more so, the setting of rural Arkansas along the Mississippi is something you can't miss. In almost a Werner Herzog type vein ("Aguirre the Wrath of God", "Fitzcarraldo") where the ominous natural setting becomes a silent character in the film, director Nichols really knew how to immerse us in an all-encompassing, dense alternate reality, set apart from the real world as if time were frozen since the days of Huck Finn. That alone is worth the price of admission. Definitely if you're a fan of Herzog you must see this film.

Other directors and films I'd compare this to include Wim Wenders ("Until the End of the World" with its vast Australian desolation), Lasse Hallström ("Safe Haven" set in Southport, NC or even "Chocolat" set in a timeless French village on a river) and of course the Rob Reiner masterpiece "Stand By Me". If you liked any of those flicks, you won't be disappointed here.
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Some gimmicks work
7 July 2019
Birdman's cinematic gimmick is that the entire movie is seemingly shot in one continuous camera take, no cuts, no edits. In the tradition of the masterpieces "Russian Ark", "PVC-1" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" (which actually had 9 or 10 necessary cuts, due to the limitations of film cameras), likewise here we watch a story seemingly in real-time as if we were invisible observers orbiting the drama. The art of the "long take" is a risky gamble because it involves a lot of extra choreography, production, lighting and attention to detail, and most viewers hardly notice. But it's one of the most impressive things that can be done with a camera.

Note: the entire film wasn't actually done in 1 take like the aforementioned movies, but through the use of tasteful cgi edits it's close enough.

If that little introductory factoid bored you, then you'll probably be bored by the flick. Yes, this is an "artsy" film, but it doesn't lose itself in artsiness like, say, one of those movies that force you to read subtitles (/sarcasm). Through the use of quirky humor, an interesting story, and of course Michael Keaton's excellent portrayal of a complex lovable loser, there's enough to keep your attention as long as you're not expecting an action flick.

"Birdman" is about an aging moviestar named Riggan who once played an iconic superhero named Birdman, but now having matured, he is intent on leaving the world a legacy of more than pop culture in tights. He self-produces a stage play, investing his entire fortune, as well as the greater part of his sanity, in it, hoping that the insane actors he hired don't destroy his entire vision.

Oh by the way, Riggan may have a few super powers.

The plot itself is a mouthful, but the power of this film lies not in the plot but in the tense human drama that unfolds as we explore themes of dysfunctional family relationships (particularly with his Meh-lennial daughter, excellently played by Emma Stone), arrogance in the art world, and of course the tragedy of not being taken seriously just because you wore blue tights for half your career.

The gimmick of the continuous camera as well as excellent overall cinematography and staging, is the icing on the cake. I can see how Birdman easily swooped up the Academy Award for cinematography in 2017 (along with Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay).

I can also understand why some people hated this movie. It's not an easily digestible entertainment flick, and it is NOT a superhero movie despite it featuring ex-Batman himself in the role of "Birdman", so don't expect fight scenes and flying (well not too much flying. And the fight scene was a riot). If you enjoy heavy dramatic works where not a lot happens, yet we are given a peek into the deepest recesses of the human soul (Streetcar Named Desire, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, or any classic stage-to-film adaptation), then this will be right up your alley.

I would compare Birdman to films like "De-Lovely" (a stylish biopic of Cole Porter), "Klimt" (featuring John Malkovich as the famous Austrian painter), or on the lighter side, a great dysfunctional-superhero gem called "Special" with Michael Rapaport playing the role of a lonely metermaid who suddenly develops super powers but still can't get his life together.

"Birdman" definitely soars above the flock of common Hollywood flicks. If you're not sure, I think you should go ahead and wing it. Just be aware that Birdman isn't exactly a crowd pleaser. Er... crow pleaser? Either way I think you'll beak content with time well spent. Ok, I'll stop now.
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Every character is a predictable caricature. But maybe that's the point?
3 July 2019
"Chronically Metropolitan" is, as its title may seem to imply, a cascade of clichés from the land of NYC hipsters. Our hero "Fenton" (Shiloh Fernandez sporting Johnny Depp lookalike glasses and facial growth, but with a stupid find-Waldo tuque on his head that sorta kills the vibe) is the prodigal son of a famous NYC author. He returns home after a bizarre disappearance, only to learn that his family and friends are more screwed up than he could ever be.

What follows is mostly predictable with each person being a textbook caricature of the urban elite, as if they stepped straight out of an Edward Albee play ("Who's Afraid of Virginial Woolf", "Breakfast at Tiffany's"). And at first I found myself hating the story for being so hackneyed. But then I thought about the title of the movie and realized that maybe that's the point. Whether you find it interesting or irritating is up to you.

So for the rest of my review I'll just describe the 5 main characters, and you can figure out whether they're worth your time (I should add that within the limitations of each role, each actor did a great job).

1. THE FATHER - arrogant, self-absorbed, cynical. This is probably the most entertaining character of the bunch because he is the most extreme. Fenton's father is a man in his late 50s-60s, a famous, pseudo-intellectual author and university professor who's in the habit of seducing his students and acting like it's not his fault because, after all, who could resist him.

2. THE MOTHER - the rich martyr. Fenton's mother deals with the father's disturbing infidelities by playing the tortured martyr (perpetually with a class of Chardonnay in one hand). Think of every paper-mâché wife of every American politician embroiled in a sex scandal, the way she maintains appearances publicly but privately has nervous breakdowns on an hourly basis and smokes weed like it's Valium.

3. THE SISTER - the rebel. At first an interesting character, because she's the only one in the bunch who calls people out on their BS, this character loses her edge when she slips into a subplot about falling in love, and then she becomes like all the rest: self-absorbed and apathetic.

4. THE EX GIRLFRIEND - annoyingly confused. Fenton's ex-girlfriend rebounds from their breakup by getting herself engaged to some rich dude with an English accent. Her entire character arc can be described in one word: clueless. And I found myself not caring what happened to her, even though it was probably the central plot of the film (her relationship with Fenton).

which leads us to

5. FENTON - the ???. Three question marks because he had no personality. Again, maybe this was the point, that each character was such an extreme caricature that we needed a total wooden prop to serve as the observer. Heck, it worked in Citizen Kane. But here, since he is not merely an observer but the central figure in the plot, I couldn't help but feel let down. Fenton sort of sleepwalks through the entire story, only making one real conscious act of will toward the end, and it was handled so superficially that I was wholly unconvinced. The equivalent of the "running through the airport" scene in every romcoms, only it happens within 20 feet of sidewalk (lol), it just felt staged.

Plus points: the vibe of this entire production is very distinct and memorable. It feels cold, detached from reality and yet it's set in the heart of one of the most populous cities on Earth. Most of it seems colorless, but lighting is extreme and dynamic so it never seems bland. So even though my review may make this flick seem ho-hum at best, there's enough going on artistically to keep your attention going. It's too bad that the writing and character development didn't seem on par with the look and feel. Also I hated the music. It's like the rejected composer from all the Bank of America commercials got to play for 90 minutes.

I would recommend "Chronically Metropolitan" to watch on a lazy afternoon, or if you like movies about the problems of the New York bourgeoisie like "The Squid and the Whale" or "The Door in the Floor".
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Hancock (2008)
A superhero movie for people who hate superhero movies
27 June 2019
Browsing the most popular reviews for this flick, I see most of them criticize "Hancock" for not having enough action, not enough cgi, not having a super villain, or my favorite: getting too philosophical. See, this is why Hollywood keeps cranking out brainless superhero flicks; they know that the target audience doesn't want to be challenged with something completely different.

I suppose "2001: A Space Odyssey" would've gotten the same treatment by imdb reviewers if imdb existed back in 1968 when the core scifi market demanded laser beams, monster suits, buxom babes in distress and loud things in space.

"Hancock" does to the superhero genre what "2001" did to scifi. It made things real. Sure, Hancock zips through the sky like Superman on crack, but the point is that Hancock (played by Will Smith) is an ordinary schmuck like you or me, except that he happens to have super powers. Even worse, he has the world's worst case of idgaf, and this leads to a lot of stuff getting broken, bent and blown up unnecessarily. As a result, people hate him.

Right there is the all the plot you need. You don't need a contrived super villain just because that's the formula. You don't need nonstop action and dazzling cgi to tell this story. This is because Hancock's enemy is himself.

"Hancock" could easily have been a heavy, brooding drama like "Leaving Las Vegas" or anything dealing with self-hatred, addiction or depression. BUT, this is the movie's charm, instead it's done very light-heartedly, with lots of zingers, funny sight gags and a quirky dysfunctional romance angle. And of course superhero powers. And so, this heavy story ends up being fun and entertaining, even breezy. But the more you think about it, there's a lot under the surface.

So, as my title says, if you're not a fan of most superhero flicks, the kind with a clean good vs. evil template peppered with zippy action scenes and cgi, then give "Hancock" a look. There aren't a lot of movies like this, definitely not many mainstream ones, but I'd put it in the same category as "Special" with Michael Rappaport playing a total loser who develops bizarre super powers. On the more disturbing side there's "Super" with Rainn Wilson who takes his vigilante superhero efforts a bit too far. These are all deep films under the candy exterior of "superhero flick".
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Ghostbusters (2016)
If you can get over the fact that it's a remake, you might have fun
24 June 2019
Note: it's a shame that a bunch of sad haters are upvoting all the 1-star reviews that don't even talk about the film while burying the real reviews. Attention sad haters: I order you to click dislike. Minions.

Ok now that they're gone, let's have an adult review.

Right up front let me point out that this film was produced by original Ghostbusters star/writer Dan Aykroyd, it featured cameos from almost all of the original cast (Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and although unfortunately Harold Ramis had passed 2 years prior, his son Daniel had some screen time), and the credits dedicate it to Harold Ramis. In other words, to all you scowling 80s kids who think this is a travesty to the memory of the original, you might want to lighten up and have some fun with it like the original cast did.

If my opening paragraph didn't scare you off, then cool, let's talk about the actual movie. Ghostbusters 2016 is a fun ride starring some great talent. My biggest gripe is that the talent (namely Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones) weren't used to the fullest, not like in the great Wiig/McCarthy pairing in "Bridesmaids" nor even their wacky SNL styles, and at times it felt like these great actresses were beaten into safe roles for the sake of appealing to a wider audience.

Kristen Wiig was my favorite, reprising her awkward, neurotic, adorable loser role from many of her prior works, but without the full tilt acidic counterbalance of a domineering McCarthy, as they pulled off brilliantly in Bridesmaids, it felt almost like half a comedy duo.

That's a nitpick, and probably only diehard fans of Wiig/McCarthy will even notice. This film itself is full of fun gags, some good self-deprecating sarcasm, and a surprisingly entertaining show-stealer Chris Hemsworth who plays their beefcakey receptionist with the IQ of a mollusk.

The story itself is rather linear, somewhat predictable, but that's part of the film's charm. It's not supposed to be a Hitchcockian mind bender, it's just supposed to be fun. And if that's what you're after, it delivers.

I'm a fan of the original Ghostbusters (1984), having seen it half a dozen times when I was a kid, and I can happily say that this remake was enjoyable and respectful of the original. Lots of subtle references are made, as well as the aforementioned cameos by the original cast, so that itself can be a fun trip down memory lane for us old timers. As for the younger generation at which it is targeted, you'll have to ask them, but I imagine regardless of who you are, if you go into this film expecting to be entertained for 116 mins, you'll get what you expected. Also stick around after the credits for some funny gags and more of Chris Hemsworth disco dancing on a rooftop.
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After Life (2019– )
13 Reasons for grownups and without encouraging suicide (Netflix, are you listening?)
23 June 2019
"After Life" is an extremely heavy yet surprisingly humorous look at depression, rage, suicide, nihilism, sociopathy and all those things that'll probably get you locked up if you dare speak of them aloud. In that respect, as my title implies, it's a show in the genre of Netflix's controversial "13 Reasons", a show aimed at teenagers which is ostensibly supposed to "start a discussion on suicide" but, unfortunately as multiple studies have shown, it has encouraged, glorified and led to a rise in suicides amongst teenage girls. Whether or not those studies are accurate, the notion that even 1 child may have been coerced into suicide as a result should be enough for Netflix to pull it off the roster, but alas they are digging their heels in.

Enough of that; I just needed to mention it as context for my review of "After Life". Ricky Gervais plays a 40-something man named "Tony" who has just suffered the most soul-crushing tragedy anyone could endure. Understandably he becomes suicidal, misanthropic, angry and bitter. Yet, brilliantly, these topics are handled with a sort of sarcastic humor that keeps the audience's head above water without candy coating the depths of the abyss below. I don't know HOW they managed this, but they did.

The premise of the plot is this: Tony concludes that his deathwish is a sort of super power because he can do anything he wants, and the worst thing that can happen is that he'll die--which is what he wants anyway. In other words, all filters are off; he says what he wants to whomever he pleases, he never backs down from a confrontation for the sake of propriety, and even physically he is as fearless as Batman on crack. All of this is wrapped up in a funny, cynical, distinctly British exterior, you know... keep calm and just kill yourself, that sort of thing.

What gives this show a unique power--and what DISTINCTLY separates it from the aforementioned "13 Reasons" which martyrizes depression and suicide, is that nobody treats Tony with kid gloves. Nobody really gives him a free pass just because he's screwed up. And in fact, several characters essentially tell him that maybe he should go ahead and top himself if he has the guts. It's this non-pitying approach to depression that makes Tony start to question his "super power" - is he truly in control of his destiny? Or is he just a loser who's using depression to justifiy his continued failure at life?

And that, if anything, is the most powerful message any show could offer regarding the subject. Without itself becoming depressing, "After Life" forces the issues in our faces and says "ok let's cut the BS. Is depression truly your fate, or are you just hiding behind the label of being "messed up"?

I picked up the DVD of the 1st season, thinking I'd watch it in my spare time, but I ended up binge watching all 6 episodes, stopping only to feed my dogs after episode 3. Side note: if you're a dog/animal lover, definitely check this out because Tony has an adorable dog who figures into the discussion in a very material way.

I can't rate this show high enough, so I'll just give it a 10. And I hope to high hell that Netflix wakes up and realizes that THIS is what responsible programming is about.
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Hell (2011)
No-nonsense apocalypse
22 June 2019
"HELL" (German for "bright") features no zombies. It features no monster trucks of Mad Maxian propoprtions. It features no contrived, melodramatic dialogues and monologues set to the soundtrack of swelling orchestras. In fact, there's not a whole lot of dialogue at all. (All the same, please do NOT watch the English dubbed version which I accidentally watched for the first 10 minutes... and nearly threw the DVD in the trash)

And possibly most difficult for audiences to grasp, HELL does not feature 19 plot twists and a perfect ending tied up in a neat bundle, set to some bouncy exit music. If you're going to watch this movie, be prepared for what my title implies: a no-nonsense apocalypse.

That's about all you need to know about the plot, and in fact we are thrown into the action right away without any clear backstory explaining the apocalypse or the characters we are following. I loved this approach. It forces us to use our imagination, and that's the charm of this well-made "disaster flick". We figure out very quickly that this is the unflattering story of human survival. Very few references are made to these people's lives prior to the storyline, with just a vague reference to a mother who "didn't make it" and an awesome bit about a found CD which plays Nena's "99 Luftballons". The rest is a standalone nightmare in an unfamiliar world.

Acting is really good, meaning there's no ridiculous Hollywood fluff. Our heroine is a tough, intelligent protagonist who doesn't fall to pieces crying at the sight of blood; her repressed reactions are realistic and powerful. Her character is interesting because despite her toughness, she still lacks what it takes to survive on her own. This is a subtle theme to watch for.

Shot on a modest budget of 5 million Euros (around 6 million dollars), this film stands up to any big budget Hollywood production with 25x the price tag ("I Am Legend" had a budget of $160 million). It forsakes fancy special effects and cgi in lieu of tight, suspenseful camera work and meticulously arranged sets that instantly spell out the desolation. Lighting is downright artistic in the indoor scenes of barns & churches as well as the cramped claustrophobic shots inside a car fleeing a faceless menace. This is definitely one of those flicks that blends action and art.

Other minimalistic disaster films I would compare this to include "Look, Stranger" (2010) a Serbian film following postwar refugees fighting to survive, and "The Divide" (2011) a rather disturbing portrayal of how people survive in an underground bunker following a nuclear catastrophe. If you liked either of those films be sure to check out "Hell", and likewise, if you enjoy this movie you should give the other two a whirl.
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Spinal Tap with all the funny parts removed
22 June 2019
If you want to save the eye strain of reading this review, just hop over to YouTube and watch the first minute of this movie where the interviewer asks, "So tell me, Amy, what do you really want to get out of life?"

What follows is a pointless, meandering ramble of Nigel Tufnellian proportions, where she asserts that she just wants to sing, then apparently confusing herself she says that she just wants to live her life, then asserts that she just wants to be Amy Winehouse, ultimately punctuating her monologue with "you know, I just want to be loved and love unconditionally."

All that was missing was "and these go to eleven."

I'm being completely serious, I was so intrigued by that atrocious, unflattering opening that I actually bought the DVD (on ebay for a buck forty nine) and couldn't wait to watch what promised to be, at best, a disrespectful but funny mockumentary, or at worst, one of those movies that's "so bad it's good."

What followed was the worst of all possibilities. Although the Tap-ish "mockumentary" style continued, adding scores of interviews with random people who are never identified, occasionally spicing things up with cutaways to dramatic recreations of events (dear lord I feel sorry for the poor young actress who played teenage Amy and spent half her screen time with her head in a toilet), ultimately there were no joke payoffs, and the production wasn't quite horrendous enough to tip the needle from "bad" to "so bad it's good".

I ended up getting bored and skipping ahead to the death scene. And, omg, words cannot describe my reaction. Let's just say, imagine if someone made a film about the Hindenburg disaster, and in the climactic scene they just showed everyone laying down and going to sleep.

Pros: The actress playing Amy was actually quite good. I don't know how authentic her portrayal was, but she was fun to watch. I'm being completely serious: if someone were to hand her a comedy script along the lines of Spinal Tap, I would go see it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, "Amy Winehouse: Fallen Star" never quite made it to eleven. A bit like an 18 inch replica of Stonehenge, it didn't quite measure up.

PS I imagine someone could make a fun drinking game of this movie where every time someone says "Oimy!" everyone has to take a slug.
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A romcom for effed up people
17 June 2019
I wanted to hate this movie sooo much. This is because a bunch of people told me to watch it, and not in a "hey this is a great flick" way but in a derogatory, judgmental "you NEED to watch this movie (lingering stare)" way. I get it. It's about people with some serious mental issues. Sure, I'll watch it just to say I did.

But instead of hating it, this movie won me over. Yes, it's about people with mental issues, but a subtle point of the film (which my judgmental friends didn't seem to get) is that EVERYONE is messed up, whether or not they admit to their disorders. It may take a while for this message to sink in, especially for those who tend to view the mental spectrum in black & white, but once you get it, this movie becomes a great experience in understanding the human psyche from all angles.

Ok, if you made it past my opening 2 paragraphs, here's the fun part. "Silver Linings Playbook" is a quirky, mostly lighthearted flick about 2 people who are each labeled as "crazy" and their odd relationship. The humor is similar to something you'd see in a Wes Anderson flick (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic) or maybe even Jonze/Kaufmann (Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche NY). By that, I mean it's subtle without any big punchlines or slapstick gags. The sheer randomness and bizarreness of the characters' words, actions and reactions provide the comedy. So don't expect a lot of knee slappers, but at the same time there are a lot of funny lines that are very memorable.

Also, even though I described this as a "romcom", it's really not a romance or a comedy. It's more about the unique strangeness in all of us, set against the backdrop of romantic relationships. That's all you really need to know about the plot because it defies explanation. But I'll still attempt to sum it up in 1 sentence: A guy who has just been discharged from the nut house (Bradley Cooper) who is violently obsessed with winning back his ex-wife, befriends the "town slut" (Jennifer Lawrence), and they begrudgingly team up in an attempt to get both their lives together.

It's a great flick, probably best watched alone. Terrible first-date movie because it's not exactly your typical charming Hugh Grant type ice breaker. You probably won't want to watch it with your parents or kids either because there is a heavy, awkward sub-plot about dysfunctional family relationships. Definintely not a chick flick nor a bro flick (except that there's a lot about football, in a funny way). I would say watch it with your dog and have a great time.
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Ok I admit I laughed at one of the (many) fart jokes
14 June 2019
I counted 6 fart jokes (unless one squeaked by undetected), and as you'd expect they were mostly juvenile and awkward except one--the airport security gag--which was funny enough to warrant a hearty LOL out of me. And I think that sums the movie up pretty accurately: most of the humor is predictable and offensive, but hey, 1 out of 6 zingers might work for you.

The plot of "Witless Protection" isn't half bad. It's about a redneck ne'er-do-well, Larry, who makes a colossally stupid guess that he sees a crime in progress, and his misguided righteous redneck mentality prompts him to get tangled up in a big mess trying to protect a reluctant damsel in distress who doesn't want anything to do with him. Larry's bumbling stupidity is matched only by his surprisingly keen instincts, and as things unfold, you realize maybe Larry isn't as dumb as he looks.

A few farts later, you realize that yeah, he IS as dumb as he looks. But no matter, the story moves along keeping us interested enough, and as I said, you've got a 1 in 6 probability of being surprised with a really funny gag.

The comedy is straightforward redneck humor, meaning it's a mix of self-deprecating stupidity, gross-out pride, overhanging gut scenes and low key racist humor. By 'low key racist' I mean jokes sort of like Archie Bunker where we are supposed to laugh at how ignorant he is.

But let's take a paragraph to talk about that real quick. Ignorant/racist humor only works when there's an intelligent character in the mix to balance things out. An excellent example would be Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" which has so many racist characters you'd think the KKK were handing out free torches, BUT Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little put them in their place with superior intelligence so we, the audience, never feel awkward laughing at the gags.

But here in "Witless Protection" there's not really an intelligent character to deliver the punchline, so some of the self-deprecating racist jokes remain open ended. An example is when Larry goes to a motel that's operated by an Indian man (I'm guessing from the horribly contrived accent), and Larry proceeds to unleash a barrage of insults such as "diaper head" and whatnot. We, the audience, are waiting for the punchline... like maybe the Indian guy turns out to be a Harvard graduate who puts Larry in his place. But no, the scene just sort of ends. Big fail there, writers: you may want to brush up on your Mel Brooks before taking a crack at another script.

Another fail worth noting is that, despite the DVD cover, posters and promos heavily featuring Jenny McCarthy, she only appears in 3 or 4 scenes.

So overall, this flick wasn't horrible, but it certainly wasn't great. Lots of missed opportunities. But 1 in 6 farts hit the mark.
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If you can make it to Jack Black's scene, then you just might love this movie.
6 June 2019
If you read a few of the reviews that gave this movie 1/10 then you'll know how I felt for the first 10-15 mins. "Melvin Goes to Dinner" can be difficult at first, mainly because we are given no formal introduction to the characters, so if you aren't instinctively drawn to eavesdropping on tables full of seemingly self-important hipsters, you may find yourself flipping the channel. But stick with it, at least up to the Jack Black (uncredited) scene. After that, things loosen up and you may find yourself really liking these people whom you had initially hated.

What, you say? Jack Black doesn't do it for you? Even though it's one of the most bizarrely ridiculous roles he's ever played, like a deleted scene from Spinal Tap or something? Fine, well maybe you'll have fun star-spotting for appearances by Fred Armisen (Portlandia, SNL) or Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, SNL) and maybe a few others I didn't catch. They're fast.

Once you've settled in and invested some time getting to know these 4 characters and their distinct personalities, things start to get fun. Stories begin to mesh, consistent themes begin to emerge, and you're guaranteed at least 1 or 2 total "woah no way!" surprises that are worth the price of admission. By the end of the flick, what I had initially expected would be a dry, rambling, exhibition of nothing ended up being a cleverly written, well acted and ultimately rewarding experience. No, there aren't any shootouts, zombies or car chases (well... maybe 1 pseudo car chase), but in the tradition of the great plays "Who's Afraid of Virginial Woolf", "Long Day's Journey into Night" or any other classic play that focuses on a bunch of people talking for an evening, "Melvin Goes to Dinner" is a great experience.

It should be noted that the 4 main cast members are the same original cast from "Phyro-Giants" the play upon which this film is based. So they have great chemistry, and their lines flow effortlessly as if... well, as if they'd memorized every line, expression and gesture after a 100 performances or so.

The camera work is raw and unpretentious as it should be, consisting of hand held shots and frequent closeups just as you'd experience if you were sitting at the table with these people. Everything feels casual even though it was meticulously edited (by the star/writer Melvin himself on an archaic Mac computer). There are a few flashback scenes which use an interesting snapshot type presentation (which, when you think about it, is how we imagine stories that are being told to us without any reference).

If you get the DVD, be sure to watch the extras where they include some footage from the original play. The audience's reactions and laughter really add to the fun. If they ever revive the stage production of this, I'll definitely be in the front row.
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Flight (I) (2012)
Powerful, well-acted drama watered down by a Zemeckisy ending
24 May 2019
All the way until the ending I was eating this up. "Flight" is a tense, character-driven drama about a heroic pilot who averts an epic disaster only to be caught in the crosshairs of a long, ugly investigation of his life. It presents a highly complex story, weaving themes of heroism vs. arrogance, good intentions vs. bad results, and bad intentions vs. good results. For 80% of the film, "Flight" is on par with the greatest character studies since "12 Angry Men". However, be prepared for a less than fitting ending, or at best an ending that was rushed so quickly that it leaves you wondering "did we miss an entire scene where the ghosts of Christmas past, present & future showed up?"

That's the only negative I have, although it's a big one. For the rest of my review I'll focus on the positives. The biggest positive is, of course, Denzel Washington as pilot "Whip Whittaker". He certainly doesn't disappoint. The role is a challenging one: a man whose personal life is a disaster even though his professional life is spotless. His professional arrogance leads him to deny the failure of his personal life, and this is the conflict that makes the film riveting.

Although this film is squarely about him, there were some peripheral characters who really added to the pot. British actress Kelly Reilley pulls of a convincing southern accent (though southern sticklers may spot it as more "Alabama" than "Georgia" haha) and more importantly gives us insight into the mind of a damaged person who is genuinely trying to better herself, unlike our hero who denies his faults. Another great character, though minimal, is John Goodman who shows up as a bizarre, surrealistic "fixer" and adds tremendous color and humor to the show. The attorney for Whip Whittaker is excellently played by Don Cheadle who balances slick legal professionalism with utter frustration at his client's self-sabotaging acts.

Even the action scenes were incredibly done, using a full sized commercial jet cut into sections and hoisted up on a weird contraption that made it flip around for the cameras. This is a first class production from start to finish.

It only falls shy of monumental because of its Zemeckisy ending, a trademark of many 80s directors like Spielberg and Ron Howard where everything has to be neatly tied up in a bundle with a moral ending, even if it seems out of left field considering the characters' personality. But that's just my opinion and the reason why I docked "Flight" a few points. You may find it perfect. Regardless I think everyone can agree that most of the film is phenomenal.
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Patti Cake$ (2017)
Thumbs way up from a not-a-rap-fan
24 May 2019
I don't hate rap, but let's just say the only rap song I know goes "Now this is a story all about how / My life got flipped turned upside down..."

Patti Cake$ is a quintessential underdog story, but I give it major points for being possibly the only true underdog story out there. This is because, rather than pulling the Hollywood stunt of using a glamorous moviestar in the lead and uglying her down for the first half only to enact a--surprise!--transformation to glamorous moviestar at the end, Patti Cake$ doesn't pander to that cheap device. It's the story of a very unglamorous girl who's trying to break into the rap scene even though she can't even afford the 'b' in 'bling', let alone wear it.

What makes this story particularly interesting is that it's not just a chronicle of her attempts at cracking the music biz, but it's equally about her struggles with a sinking life, stuck in one of those faceless Jersey towns within sight of NYC but feeling like a million miles away. She is the youngest in a tri-generational home where the grandmother is bedridden, the mother is an alcoholic, and she, Patti, seems to be the sole bread earner. And thus it's an interesting portrayal of a family life that got flipped turned upside down.

Just as much as I enjoyed the storyline about her musical aspirations, I loved the storyline about her family: the love-hate relationship with her alcoholic mother (herself a failed rockstar who released one album but got pregnant with Patti, thus ending her own career and harboring a lifetime of resentment) and the grandmother, EXPERTLY played by the legendary Cathy Moriarty (from "Raging Bull"), who is a tough old hag with a really soft heart who encourages Patti's dreams and keeps her sane.

The tri-generational cross section (tough but kind grandmother, utter failure of a mom, young kid growing up confused) reminded me a lot of the excellent film Chocolat. If you liked that one, you'll love Patti Cake$ even if you're not a rap fan.

Which leads me to the rap part. The songs are really catchy with sly lyrics and great delivery by Patti, played by Australian actress Danielle Macdonald who had to take a 2-month crash course for the role, essentially training how to rap in dirty Jersey style. The film actually gave me a newfound appreciation for rap, the unique style, rhythm & rhyme scheme of each rapper as well as the impressive production that goes into making good beats. It's not just about a bunch of juvenile delinquents loitering at the gas station making noise with their mouths (although that scene does happen), but it's an art form like any other. And the song that ties it all up at the end does a great job of bridging the generational/musical gap between rap fans and classic rock fans.

The last bit I'll mention is about a great theme that runs under the surface of this flick. And that is: chasing dreams (both positive and negative connotations). Throughout the film we see Patti slipping into alternate realities as she imagines her fantasy success. These scenes are done with a wonderful, vivid, surrealistic style of cinematography which contrasts well against the gritty Jersey reality that make up the rest of the story. The question being presented is whether it's better to keep it real or to chase potentially false prophets.

If you like a good underdog story that's more than the predictable Hollywood trope, then this is the flick for you. I... would... rate this flick around 7 or 8. And I yelled to the cabbie 'yo homes smell ya later'
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Imagine if Steven Segal wrote an Underworld movie
17 May 2019
Not meant as a diss to either this movie or to Steven Segal, but my title sums it up. Like a Steven Segal flick such as, um, you know the one where something bad happens and then Steven kills all the bad people, "Underworld Awakening" is cut from the same mold. That is: high on action, low on story. This might work depending on what mood, or level of inebriation, you're in. However, it's a noticeable departure from the prior 3 Underworld films.

In each of the prior films, sure there was a ton of action & flashy pyrotechnics, but they were carried by a pretty clever story usually featuring a big "aha gotcha" reveal at the end. What made them so interesting was seeing how Selene reacts to the gotcha, dealing with intense conflicts of loyalty and faith in her purpose.

"Underworld Awakening" doesn't really have any big character revelation like that. It's a linear story that's mostly predictable (in a good way). The strength of this film lies in the cool action scenes and, of course, the tense atmosphere that's pervasive in all the films.

When I say "cool action scenes" I'm referring to some interesting shots that go by so quickly that if you blink you might miss them, but if you catch them you're left thinking "woah. cool."

I'll give you just one example. There's a scene where a bad guy gets dropped from a high building, then the camera switches to a stationary shot at ground level where (you guessed it) SPLUK the bad guy smashes into a roof of a car, which is pretty cool in itself, but simultaneously Selene descends at the same moment like a badass, landing on the ground and walking away. woah. cool.

The entire film has some subtle yet clever shots like that--interesting camera angles (like Selene's opening, rotating scene)--which serve as excellent eye candy with a touch of artistry.

So really I'm not complaining, except that after the heart pounding spectacle is over, you realize that there wasn't really much of a clever story like the old ones. Still a fun ride which I recommend to all Underworld fans (and yes, you should see at least 1 & 2 before watching this, otherwise you may get very confused).
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Despite its (awesome) title, don't expect a mindless romp. Below the surface hides a masterpiece.
1 May 2019
Ya gotta love movies whose entire plots are summed up in the title. And as far as that goes, "Izzy Gets the Fk Across Town" ranks up there with the Coscarelli masterpiece "John Dies At The End".

As far as the story of "Izzy Gets the Fk Across Town" goes, that's all you really need to know. But just for the sake of discussion I'll describe it a bit more. "Izzy" is the quintessential "hot mess". She barely survives life crashing on someone's couch because her bank account is perpetually $35 overdrawn. Throughout the entire film she's wearing a white tuxedo jacket with wine (or is it blood?) stains all over it which is never really explained until the final act. She is an angsty musician who hasn't taken her guitar out of the box for 2 years. And yet, as all hot messes go, she deludes herself into thinking that she's in total control of her life. If you know the type, or if you ARE the type, you will love her to death from the opening scene where she's trying to sneak out of a guy's bedroom but desperately has to pee.

The plot reveals itself quickly. Izzy's lost love is about to get engaged, and in order to stop it Izzy must... you guessed it... get the f across town. But this is no easy task for a hot mess.

What unfolds is a quirky, at times random, at times deeply poetic, adventure across LA where she meets bizarre characters, sort of like Alice in Wonderland meets Planes Trains and Automobiles. Episodes are arranged in short little vignettes and introduced with teasing titles such as "2. Give me my [f**] car, dick" and this presentation works wonderfully.

Side note: I can think of 2 other films that used this episodic approach masterfully: the Japanese masterpiece "Summer of Kikujiro" and the 90s classic "Singles", both of which fit right in the groove with audiences who would enjoy "Izzy".

Lead actress Mackenzie Davis knocks it out of the park with a really endearing portrayal of a tough protagonist who's perpetually 1 cup of coffee away from a nervous breakdown. All the supporting roles are fantastic as well, each character being extremely memorable even though they float in & out of her life like existential scenery. They do leave their mark.

The dialogue is witty, fast paced and subtle. In other words, don't expect any slapstick pratfalls or fart jokes. The humor is situational, quirky and often unspoken, perhaps like "The Office" only more subtle. If you get it, you'll be entertained from start to finish.

Cinematography and editing is fantastic, artistic without hitting you over the head with artsiness. Some scenes are deliberately hyper and disorienting (split screen), while the powerful scenes are carefully shot with no interruptions.

Big bonus points for an awesome indie punk, riot grrrl soundtrack and a powerful scene in the middle where Mackenzie and Carrie Coon sing a duet of "Axemen", a classic Heavens to Betsy song.

And ok, here is the "masterpiece" part I promised in my title. Despite its breezy approach and almost self-mocking presentation, this film has some profound, poetic moments that make you stop and realize that there is a deeper message here. And if you're paying attention, even the somewhat cryptic ending (which appears to have enraged at least 1 fellow reviewer) makes complete sense and caps the film perfectly. This is one of those films which make me long for the old imdb days of discussion boards, because the right audience could really dissect this.

I won't spoil it, but the theme revolves around Izzy's seemingly conflicted attitude that Fate controls everything--but at the same she is in control of everything. Yes, that's the "hot mess" attitude I mentioned earlier, where it may seem like she has no clue what she's doing with her life, and yet... maybe she knows something we don't. It also focuses on the way we romanticize things that we don't have, or lost, in a really poetic way. Watch the flick and digest the ending, and you won't be disappointed.

I can't think of many mainstream movies to compare this to, other than the 2 aforementioned, because "Izzy" has such an original flavor. But if you liked "(500) Days of Summer" or maybe even "Juno" I think you'll love this flick.
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I saw this in the theater when it came out and thought meh. 25 years later I'm like OMG BRILLIANT
26 April 2019
This film may take a while to sink in (for me it took 25 years), so don't expect to be absolutely riveted, spellbound, rapturous, or blown away in a sea of brilliance like a lot of the superlative critics' reviews may lead you to believe. Instead, if you decide to watch this, take it for what it is and let it sink in.

That said, it is truly a well designed film. Based on the true events in 1954 New Zealand of a pair of 15 year old girls who hatch a diabolical scheme (which I won't spoil in case you have no idea of the backstory), this creative telling takes us through the off-kilter reality of the two teen girls Pauline & Juliet as they indulge their fantasy imaginations to the point that it becomes... well... watch the movie.

As the story progresses and the 2 girls dive deeper into their imagined world, the film becomes more surreal, frequently escaping into complete fantasy territory with castles, unicorns and homicidal princes made of clay. Special effects are basic but very effective. And the result is a story that's thoroughly engaging both with its writing as well as its visual presentation.

The acting is stellar featuring a debut performance by Kate Winslet, age 18, as "Juliet". Her counterpart "Pauline" was played by Melanie Lynskey who was 16 at the time and did a great job of bringing to life the rather amoral problem child who evolves from introversion into outright psychopathy.

But don't expect too many scares, jumps, action and exploding helicopters because like I said, this is a subtle film. And I give it huge points for the way it handled violence in a very disturbing, NON-glorifying way. Seriously, after seeing that scene you'll want to retire any violent criminal plans you may have and instead take up poetry or something. Its' quite upsetting (and rightfully so) which is something very few filmmakers can achieve.

I highly recommend this film to be watched twice. Let it sink in. The second time will really be the charm.
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Bitch Slap (2009)
Best satire since Robocop
17 April 2019
What, you say? You didn't know Robocop was a satire? Hmm, then you might want to skip Beyotch Slap (note: thanks, IMDb's profanity filter). Much in the tradition of the brilliant cinematic satirist Paul Veerhoven who did Robocop and Starship Troopers, Beyotch Slap is a cheeky, sarcastic jab at the hyper violence genre with a poignant message just below the surface.

The story unfolds in a teasing, non-linear way, beginning with an apocalyptic aftermath and then jumping back a few hours where most of the story takes place but frequent jumps to the weeks and months prior. That is, nothing is spelled out, and it's almost 3/4 through the movie before you realize why these 3 buxom babes are out in the middle of the desert with dead bodies piling up.

Beyond the twisty mystery, racy plot, witty dialogue ("Lick my love pump!"), cool action scenes, great cat fights (complete with a screeching cat sound effect or two when one of the ladies happens to get punched in the fun bun), what really makes this film is the fantastic dynamic between the 3 very different personalities of our protagonists and the excellent way each of the 3 leading ladies brings her character to life. There is the leader "Hel" who is the brains of the bunch, "Camaro" who is the muscle as well as sheer psycho element, and then there's "Trix" who is the ditzy tagalong who, despite being a sultry hot stripper, has the air of being someone who still believes in the Easter bunny.

Throw the 3 together along with a couple of awesome criminal characters, a few buckets of blood, a bunch of unapologetically gratuitous cleavage shots and a slow motion water fight, and of course the aforementioned biting satire of every chixploitation flick from the 70s, and you've got one bona fide cinematic work of art. I'm not even being sarcastic when I say that. If you grasp the tongue in cheek nature of this film, you'll find yourself very impressed and thoroughly satisfied at this gem of a movie.

I'm shocked that IMDb has rated this so low (4.5 as of the time I'm writing this), and my only guess is that the people rating this movie so low are the same people who think Spinal Tap is a real band.
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Echoes (I) (2014)
Great cinematography, promising story, excellent setting, irritating characters.
12 April 2019
After the movie ended, I struggled to reason why I hated it. I loved the first half (the slow mood-setting buildup and thick atmosphere), but once the action started happening, I started getting irritated. The action itself was well paced and unpredictable enough, but the characters' reactions (in particular the bizarre amoral yet judgmental attitude of the main character Anna) were what killed it for me, and I found myself not caring about her or anyone in the story.

For example, Anna commits a heinous act, possibly while under the influence of heavy medication and or supernatural forces. When she realizes what she has done, there's no hint of remorse but instead she immediately shifts into criminal mode, deftly covering her tracks like mob boss, even using sex as a manipulative tool, but then in the next scene she's hypocritically freaking out at her boyfriend for daring to show concern about her pill popping. Also in that scene she does the WORST cliché of a lover's quarrel: she smacks him out of nowhere, and HE apologizes. The film lost about 2 points right there.

The 2nd half of the film is rife with moments like that. She continues doing awful things while treating her boyfriend like he's the villain and she's the victim. Oh throw in a bizarre ghost who was also a horrible person in life but now on a righteous revenge mission, and we have a bona fide amorality tale where we're supposed to sympathize with characters who don't deserve a drop of sympathy.

It's a shame that the characters (mostly Anna) weren't developed more consistently, or at least in a likeable way, because as I said up front, the cinematography and mood setting was masterfully done. The setting was striking as well: set in the gorgeous vast, barren landscape of Joshua Tree in a remote glass house with no curtains. And the story had a ton of promise.

Instead this film is an unfortunate example of how everything can be working for a movie, but if you don't like the characters the whole thing will fall apart.
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