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Get Out (2017)
GET OUT of your house and go watch this now!
This is Jordan Peele's feature directorial debut, and what's interesting here is that GET OUT is uncharted territory for him as he comes from a comedic background. But, watching this movie, it felt like he's been directing horror his whole life. To put it simply, the guy knocks it out of the park.
It's an artfully crafted and remarkably accomplished debut. He exploits an atmosphere impregnated with tension and skillfully choreographs an escalation of unrelenting suspense and crowd-pleasing thrills. The camera-work was absolutely ingenious; there's a scene involving hypnosis, in particular that had my jaw hitting the floor. I loved how they visually achieved that heightened state of suggestibility on a visual level.
GET OUT is as much satire as it is horror though. And its most impressive feat is how masterfully it blends the two together. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that so seamlessly shifts from sequences of jubilant laughter to instances of insidious horror in a matter of minutes.
Writing satire is tough, writing good satire is even tougher, and writing good horror-satire is as rare of a commodity as you get in the film industry these days. To achieve this a film must have exquisite timing and near-prefect pacing, which is exactly what GET OUT has. The run-time is 103 minutes, yet it felt more like an hour. I guess I got so invested in this engaging story that I lost all sense of time, which is what you ultimately want in any movie, really.
Daniel Kaluuya showcases his acting chops with an impressive range of emotions; it's not necessarily what he says but what he doesn't say that has the biggest impact. Other standouts include Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention comic Lil Rel Howery, who plays TSA agent Rod, aka the protagonist's best friend. He's definitely a scene-steal-er, breaking the film's uncanny tension with a number of gut-busting interludes.
While GET OUT sets out to mainly entertain and shock, it's also accompanied with some poignant social commentary. It shines light on the aspect of ourselves that we'd rather not acknowledge. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that we're above implicit stereotyping or forming preconceptions, we aren't. Peele uses this unavoidable, unflattering truth to draw out anxiety, and then he uses that anxiety as fuel for the film itself.
GET OUT is one of the best movies to come out of 2017 thus far. I can't recommend it enough.
Rogue One (2016)
Rogue One: A "Star Wars" Story
This was my most anticipated film for 2016. I was more excited for this film than most people were, which is why this is so heartbreaking. I know I'm in the minority for this; a lot of people are enjoying this movie and I hate to rain on someone's parade, but I've got to be honest; I didn't think this was that good of a movie.
The first trailer they released back in April (the one with the chill-inducing Empire sirens), before the re shoots, include like 50% of footage that didn't even make it into the film. Where are they? I get it though, re shoots are common; most big-budget movies do them. However, re watching that trailer again and remembering how f'in excited I got from the possibility of seeing a hard-hitting, war-central Star Wars movie with a dark, ominous tone just made me even more disappointed with the film we actually got.
I loved 'The Force Awakens'. Yes, it borrowed excessively from 'A New Hope', but at least it felt like a Star Wars movie. ROGUE ONE on the other hand feels like a number of different things all thrown together; at times it was a gritty war film, other times it was a lighthearted comedy, and then we also got a space opera in there as well. This inconsistent and, honestly, incongruous mesh of tones ultimately brought the film down, which is frustrating given that when it focused entirely on one of the three aspects, it worked to a tee.
Without giving away any spoilers, there was a certain CG character that, when you first see, is really quite shocking and uncanny. But my issues with it are more than just how it was done; it's why it was done. Personally, and this is just me, I thought what Disney/Lucasfilm did was unethical and wrong.
If I were to rank the strengths of this film, Ben Mendelsohn would end up quite high on that list. He was such a different, yet remarkable Star Wars antagonist; if there was one character I wanted to learn more about, coming out of the theatre, it was without a doubt Orson Krennic. Other standouts included Donnie Yen, who has more than a few character-defining moments, and Diego Luna, who added a lot more depth to an otherwise underdeveloped character. In fact, I found most of the characters here underdeveloped and rather two-dimensional. I guess it's my fault I didn't take the time to read 'Catalyst', which is a novel in the Star Wars canon that apparently leads straight into ROGUE ONE. But then again, a movie should stand up as a movie and not rely on additional material. Do I really need to spend an extra 20 bucks and invest in hours of homework to 'get' this film and care about the characters?
Apart from a couple scenes where she's actually quite good in, Felicity Jones just didn't do it for me; she consistently felt too one-note and passive in critical moments where I wanted her to step up and just blow the roof off the place. Someone else that was disappointing was Forest Whitaker. I love the guy as an actor, but what on God's green earth was he doing with his voice? It was so cringe and off-putting that I was pulled out of the film a number of times.
Death Vader isn't featured much in the movie, but his looming presence is certainly felt. It's just; I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed by his minimal involvement. But I understand why he was used as sparingly as he was.
One thing I thought ROGUE ONE did better than 'The Force Awakens', and absolutely deserves credit for, is expanding on the universe and enriching it rather than playing off it and making it feel smaller whether it be with characters that are not the obligatory Skywalkers or Solos, gorgeously imagined worlds, and novel thematic explorations.
This is a Star Wars movie I believe kids won't enjoy as much; this is definitely more tailored to adults. And while that may have originally been a good idea, now having seen the movie I realize that was the wrong move. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a different change of pace. But Disney, if you're going to put the "War" in Star Wars (I hate myself for using that phrase) then don't half- ass it. Don't get cold feet halfway through and re shoot the movie in order to lighten up the tone because then we end up with a film that doesn't know what it's trying to be.
With all that being said, I have to admit that as many faults as this movie had, the final act is pretty incredible. They made some bold choices I didn't think they'd make but that felt right for the story, and I applaud director Gareth Edwards and Lucasfilm for that. In fact, the last few minutes are some of the greatest minutes in any Star Wars movie, leading into and tying very nicely with 'A New Hope'.
Overall, this is a movie I don't feel inclined to rush back and watch on the big screen. The only reason I ended up investing (kinda) in the characters is because of the actors playing them; the writing under services everyone except for a select few like Krennic and K-2SO. I appreciated the tone they went for with the 'war' aspect, but the constant tonal clashes pulled me out and the action, while some of the best we've ever seen in a Star Wars movie, got repetitive pretty quickly. If for nothing else, the last thirty minutes of ROGUE ONE is something to cherish. Now that's a movie I'd watch over and over again.
Identity Takes Time to Discover
To solely categorize this film as an examination of Chiron, a young African American who has to deal with being gay is accurate but inadequate. It wouldn't be inadequate to also categorize it as a movie about drug abuse, school bullying, and isolation. However, if someone were to ask me what MOONLIGHT is truly about I would say that, at it's core, it's a film about teaching a child how to swim, feeling the sand on your skin, and cooking a meal for an old friend. Director Berry Jenkins is not afraid to be poetic, to guide his film away from conventional storytelling and offer his audience something to connect to in their own way. The way his camera roams around is sensually magnificent; he knows when to cut to the next shot and when to linger a few seconds longer. But above all else, his ability to add an extra texture to each scene is awe-inspiring; it's more than just style for the sake of style; it's essential to the movie's argument. From the very first shot to the very last, MOONLIGHT is about as beautiful a movie as you're likely to see this year. The colours are rich and luminous; James Laxton's cinematography is visually immersive leaving you stranded inside the story of the film. It moves at a smooth, welcoming pace. The music, whether it be the classical or hip-hop selections as well as Nicholas Britell's subtle score, is perfect. And the performance are, well
they're the cherry on top. It's uncanny how similar the 3 actors, who played the kid, teenage, and adult versions of Chiron behaved and acted; you'd almost think it was the same actor who played all three roles. Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are more deserving of Oscar nominations than just about anyone I've seen this year. They may be the standouts, but all the performances, ranging from the children to the adults, are so raw and powerful; a standing ovation for the casting director is in order. But perhaps the thing about this movie that deserves the most acclaim is its open-endedness; it's fight against straightforward categorization and recap. MOONLIGHT so much more than a movie about growing up gay; it's about overcoming your adversities and, despite being a product of your environment, figuring out who you want to become. Identity takes time to discover, and that's something anyone can relate to.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
and the Oscar for Best Actor goes to...
After the sudden death of his older brother, Lee, played by Casey Affleck, is made legal guardian of his son Patrick. He then returns to his hometown and is forced to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community he was born and raised in.
Kenneth Lonergan is such an extraordinary and talented writer; his beautifully, and richly, textured drama draws upon the timeless themes of recovery, redemption, and the persistence of guilt in such a way that feels fresh. The emotion is never overbearing for the sake of being overbearing, rather it feels all too real, which is a credit to the writing as much as it is to the fantastic performances.
This is the 'Casey Affleck show' from beginning to end; you can just give him the 'Best Actor' Oscar right now and save everyone a whole lot of trouble. He radiates this aura of subtle magnetism so brilliantly and effortlessly; there's not a single emotion on the spectrum that goes unexploited.
As much as the film is about Lee and his internal journey from tragedy to something a lot more hopeful, it's also about his nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, who has a very bright future, and his personal struggle to cope with his father's death. Despite having a small yet significant part in the film, Michelle Williams' performance is a treasure to behold. There's one scene, in particular, where she got everyone in attendance wishing they brought a tissue.
Unlike many big-budget studio movies, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is not afraid to make the audience work and test the viewer's patience with its constant, and unannounced, cutting between past and present, as well as its unwavering unravelling of character background and motivation. In fact, one of its best aspects is the lack of close-ups. Almost everything is filmed from afar, which reflects Lee's emotional distancing. And it's not until later where you finally find out why this guy has detached himself from the rest of the world. Then, from that point on, you're in his head; you watch the film unfold from a point-of-view almost entirely foreign to how you viewed it at first.
Regardless of the second half's slackening pace and film's familiar DNA, this is without a doubt the most personal and heart wrenching film of 2016 thus far. Maybe even the best.
Suicide Squad (2016)
The Actors Save A Very Flawed, Yet Fun Movie
If I had to describe 'Man of Steel' and 'Batman v Superman' with one word only, it would be "divisive." SUICIDE SQUAD falls into the same category. Even though I liked both MoS and BvS, one could say that those 2 films tried too hard to please critics. The admirable thing about SUICIDE SQUAD is that it disregards the critics altogether, and makes it an entirely fan experience, for better or worse depending on who you ask.
The audience I saw it with was electrifying; it's, without a doubt, the most fun I've had all year since 'Deadpool' back in February. In my humble opinion, SUICIDE SQUAD is exactly what this lacklustre summer movie season needed to spice things up.
Director David Ayer has his mark all over this; it's unlike any superhero movie I've ever seen. Sure, you have some of your typical superhero tropes, mostly in the 3rd act. But then you have the antithesis of what the genre entails, breaking just about every single rule and convention. This ain't good versus bad; this, my friends, is bad versus evil.
This movie is the living personification of its own characters: absolute, bat sh*t insanity! It's uneven, character motivations get a little wonky, and the story is a hot, sexy, mess. Word of advice? Double down on the absurdity of it all; it gets pretty weird. But within all the madness, I couldn't help myself guys... I kind of loved this movie. It's by no means perfect, but I also feel like critics are over exaggerating the film's faults.
I was never bored, not once. The film moves at a killer pace. There's quite a bit of exposition near the beginning, but after that the film kicks into high gear. Steven Prince's score, which was reminiscent of 'Pacific Rim' and the first 'Iron Man,' infused such infectious energy into the movie. The use of hit song after hit song got a bit overwhelming however, making the movie feel more like a music video at times.
Filmed mostly in my home of Toronto, this was quite the surreal experience; I have walked through those streets before, and I have stood in those subway stations before. I was even an extra in the film. Did I make the cut? Well, that's a whole other story... but I ain't mad.
I was genuinely shocked by how incredible Will Smith was in the role of Deadshot. Going in, I thought he'd be adequate but not too memorable. I was wrong; he is the best thing this movie has going for it. Scratch that. He comes real close to taking that title, but it's Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn that this movie will be long remembered for. She nails it. Absolutely nails it. Robbie is to Harley Quinn what RDJ is to Tony Stark: perfection.
Joel Kinnaman was another standout for me. While the writing for his character felt the most forced out of everyone, his actual performance sells it well and makes me feel for a character I could, otherwise, care less for.
The film is juggling a lot of characters, and that's never an easy task. Characters such as Killer Croc, Katana, and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney was great?!) aren't given much backstory at all, but they were all given at least one great character moment: just one scene to make you fall in love with them. But if there's one obscure character that'll emerge as a fan favourite, it's definitely El Diablo. He's given a thoughtful backstory, an emotional character arc, and some kick ass action sequences. In fact, most of the action in the film was executed well. But there wasn't that one moment, like the 'warehouse scene' we got in BvS, that made me go "holy sh*t".
if you ask me, Jared Leto had the toughest job of them all; he had to follow Heath Ledger's timeless performance as The Joker, which is an impossible feat. So, the best thing Leto could've done is something completely different; he should make it his own. Which is exactly what he did. Whenever he's on screen you can't help but be captivated by him. He's not in the movie all that much, but just enough to wet our appetites for this whole new incarnation of 'The Clown Prince of Crime,' while still honouring the name of the film. This is a Suicide Squad movie after all, not a Joker movie.
It's ironic that in a movie about bad guys the worst part turned out to be the villain itself. The 'evil' in bad versus evil, if you will. I would've preferred a different antagonist altogether as the one we got here was pretty forgettable. Without giving any spoilers, the whole 'brother' angle was by far the worst thing in this movie. That's all I will say.
People comparing this movie to last year's catastrophe 'Fantastic Four' need to drop whatever it is they're smoking. SUICIDE SQUAD has something that film didn't: personality. It has soul. There's a great deal of heart. The characters are dynamic. The team chemistry between all the actors was fantastic; even if you don't like the movie they're in, you'll still end up liking the Suicide Squad themselves. Am I saying you're gonna love this film? No. Am I saying you're wrong for having a different opinion than me? No. Am I saying that I had a great time at the theatre watching Suicide Squad? You're damn right I am. Go check it out.
The Martian (2015)
I'm going to have to review the sh*t out of this
THE MARTIAN follows botanist Mark Watney who, during a manned mission to Mars, is hit by a fierce storm and left behind by his crew who presume that he's dead. But little did they know that he's still very much alive, stranded on the hostile planet. With limited resources at hand, Watney must draw upon his ingenuity in order to survive.
Having only seen the trailers, I went into this film unaware of how much humor there would actually be. In that regard, it's quite faithful to the source material; Drew Goddard was able to inherit author Andy Weir's snarky dialogue and translate it from the pages of a novel onto the pages of a screenplay, while Sir Ridley Scott brought it all to life.
Speaking of Ridley Scott, it looked as if the legendary director's best days were behind him, entering a career slump of sorts with The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings, both of which were dull and uninspired chapters of his otherwise impressive filmography. THE MARTIAN, however, marks Ridley Scott 's return to form. It's captivating from beginning to end, enjoyable from beginning to end, and is full of personality from, you guessed it, beginning to end.
A lot of that personality, if not all of it, is due to the incredible group of actors that have been rounded up here, most notably Matt Damon. If not for him and the way he charismatically delivers his lines the sarcastic dialogue, which is really just Damon talking to a video recorder, would 've just ended up being really awkward. Chewitel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain both make strong impressions as well, along with the rest of the cast who have small, yet potent moments of their own.
Despite having convincing performances, the film didn't do as good of a job trying to get me to naturally invest in these characters. Sure, you care for Mark Watney's life but that's only because of the situations that the story places him in and forces him to face; there was no real emotional through line for me to grab hold of.
But the thing that stops me from calling THE MARTIAN "great" is that it's a very safe, by the numbers, sci-fi film. It doesn't have the technical drive of Gravity or the emotional punch of Interstellar; it's very good, but it could've been so much more.
American Ultra (2015)
Original, not Memorable
American ULTRA is an action-packed comedy that doesn't deserve the bad rep it's been getting. The writing was really strong; Max Landis injected clever and quirky dialogue into a pretty simple story, giving it its own definitive personality. There's a ton of pot smoking, there's a whole lot of killing, and Jesse Eisenberg plays a badass action hero. Yea. If you're not down with any of that, don't watch this movie.
The chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, who've worked together before, is one of the best things American ULTRA has going for it. You completely believe them as this young couple; the 'tree and car' metaphor in the film, despite being top-tier pot talk, was quite touching. I can't really say the same thing about Topher Grace though; almost everything he said was outright cringe-worthy and over-the-top. It's strange though because, on paper, his character is a perfect match for the kind of tone this film was going for. Unfortunately, he just ended up feeling out of place.
Many people are describing this movie as a cross between Pineapple Express and Bourne Identity, and it's difficult to argue against that. I know what you're thinking; it's a bizarre marriage indeed. But when you watch this, the amalgamation actually works. The jokes don't always hit, but the action hits hard. And while it's engaging and well choreographed, the film never takes itself too seriously; the balance between stoner comedy and crazy, bloody violent action is handled well, not as seamless as one would hope though. And through all the insanity that transpires, American ULTRA still manages to maintain a heart.
I can positively say that I enjoyed watching American ULTRA. Is it a great movie? Hell no! I wouldn't even call it good, but it's funny when it needs to be, the violence, while excessive at times, always fit the story, and it's original. If you're someone who wants Hollywood to simmer down with all the reboots and sequels, then go see American ULTRA in theatres. You'll have fun and, at the same time, be supporting originality in cinema.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
An Unapologetic Biopic That's As Powerful As The Group It Follows
In the 80s, a revolutionary new group enters the limelight, changing music and pop culture forever. Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A's first ever album, proves controversial with its brutal, yet honest, depiction of life in Southern LA . With guidance from their manager, band members Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren trail-blaze their way through the industry, scoring fame, fortune and a place in history.
Cleverly devised and rhythmically paced, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is one of the most powerful biopics in recent memory. The cast is fantastic. Watching these guys perform really makes you believe they went through all this; you lose yourself in the story, and find yourself transported back in time.
O'Shea Jackson portrays his own father, Ice Cube, and while there's an uncanny resemblance in his appearance, it's ultimately more than how he looks; it's how he acts. One could say the only reason his performance is as good as it is here is because he knew his father better than most, perfectly channeling that and delivering something genuine. But I, for one, would like to see more of him in other roles.
Visually, the film is beautiful to look at; which comes as no surprise once you realize who the cinematographer is. Matthew Libatique, who's worked on Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, as well as Iron Man, shoots this brilliantly; giving each scene it's own unique voice. There's a noticeable haze during the earlier moments, when they're on the streets of LA, that gives these scenes a nostalgic tinge. And then there's the electrifying use of vibrant colors during the larger- than-life concert scenes that completely immerses you, making you wish you were there to experience it all.
If I had one gripe, it'd be that the film loses some steam towards the end. That's about it. I don't care if it sugarcoats things that happened with the real N.W.A; I judge movies on what they show, not on what they don't. This is an important, educational, and, at the same time, great movie that unapologetically touches a sensitive nerve that's, sadly, still relevant to this very day.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
It's Style Over Substance...But The Style Is Pretty Substantial
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. takes place at the height of the Cold War, where a mysterious criminal organization plans to upset the fragile balance of power between the US and USSR. CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin are forced to put aside their differences and work together to stop the evildoers in their tracks.
With movies such as Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, as well as Spectre coming out in November, one could say that 2015 is the year of the spy movies. Joining this list is THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which doesn't have the uncompromising charm of Kingsman, the riotous fun of Spy, or the thrilling action of Mission Impossible, but it does have something neither of the other three have: Guy Ritchie.
This is a really cool and stylized film that confidently captures the era without ever going overboard. The main problem I had is that it's a bit too confident; the movie isn't as clever or funny as it thinks it is. There are moments where the jokes hit and then are moments where they miss. The plot is forgettable and, at times, boring, leaving you with charismatic stars, winking dialogue, and implausibly dazzling set pieces.
Despite questionable accents at times, the two leads share some great on-screen chemistry. Known for his role as Superman, Cavill plays a different kind of superman here; he's that relaxed, fly by the seat of your pants American secret agent. Conversely, Armie Hammer plays an uptight, badass Russian spy; it's that contrast between the two protagonists, which serves as the film's source of comedy. In that regard, they're entertaining characters to watch, albeit one- dimensional characters, but entertaining nonetheless.
Alicia Vikander, from Ex Machina, impresses me every time I see her, and that's certainly the case again as she plays the fiery and sensual link between the two agents to perfection.
Despite the tentative pacing here and there, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is still an, overall, entertaining watch. Style over substance is acceptable, as long as the style is substantial.
The Gift (2015)
Great Directorial Debut For Joel Edgerton
THE GIFT is a dramatic thriller written and directed by Joel Edgerton, starring Edgerton, Jason Bateman, and Rebecca Hall. It centers on married couple Simon and Robyn who unexpectedly run into someone from Simon's past. After a troubling series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts, a horrifying secret emerges; one that will cause Robyn to question how well she actually knows her husband.
Edgerton is able to brilliantly build suspense with the passing of each scene. The way this film is shot and put together will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of its runtime; just as the characters became paranoid you become paranoid. And just when you think you know where the film is going BOOM, it goes the complete opposite direction.
As incredible of a job he did directing and penning the script, Edgerton delivered on the performance side of things as well. With a character such as his, it's really easy to come off as over-the-top. But, thankfully, he didn't fall into that trap. In fact, he went above and beyond of what was expected; perfectly depicting a creepy, yet subdued guy who keeps you guessing the whole time. Honestly, it's all in his eyes; you see him as this intrusive and invading character, however you can also sense a whole world of pain just by watching his eyes. He keeps you fully engaged, but if that was, somehow, not enough you have Jason Bateman.
Bateman has always been an actor who's never fully disappeared into a role. When I see him in a movie, I see Jason Bateman; I don't see the character. That couldn't be further from the truth here; I saw a side of him I've never seen before. Rebecca Hall was great as well; she served as the keyhole through which we saw the film. In terms of not knowing the history between Edgerton and Bateman's characters, the audience and her were on the same page.
Is Edgerton on the same path of a guy like actor-turned-director Ben Affleck? It's too soon to know for sure, all I know is THE GIFT is a great start.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Fantastic? Not Even Close
This movie ain't good.
What I'll say is the first half was pretty decent; the characters setups were well written. There were definitely glimmers of hope. However, there was no action, and no real conflicts which made it quite boring. But it was still watchable. And then it all went to hell.
This isn't a spoiler, but there's this abrupt time jump near the halfway point of the movie. And it's at this very moment where everything began to fall apart. First of all, not only did this time jump completely skip the best part of origin tales, discovering and testing out your superpowers, but it killed everything good that was set up in the first half. Characters were inconsistent, direction was messy, dialogue became cringe-worthy, and CGI was outright dreadful.
The second half honestly felt like a whole other movie; you could sense a whole lot of studio intervention going on. There were scenes in the trailer that that didn't end up in the final product, which tells me that Fox had no faith in their film; basically, they sent this to the editing room to die.
My biggest problem with FANATSIC FOUR is that it has no personality whatsoever. There's no fun to be had here, in fact there's nothing to be had since nothing really happens in the movie. I'm shocked by how much this disappointed me, mostly because they got Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell; that's a damn good cast right there, and yet none of them added much of anything to their roles. In fact, by the end most of the cast seemed to tune out.
Speaking of the end, my God was that third act atrocious. Doom comes out of nowhere and we're suddenly thrown into the finale. Not only was his character design laughable, the guy didn't even feel like a character; his motivation felt like it was written by a 5-year-old. There was no weight to this battle at all, from the forced speeches to the noticeable green screen.
If there's anything redeemable in this film it's The Thing's look; apart from that, FANTASTIC FOUR is the farthest thing from fantastic.
Black Mass (2015)
The Mob Film We've All Been Waiting For
In 1970s Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly persuades Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. BLACK MASS tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to become one of the most ruthless gangsters in U.S. history.
Directing can be thought of like this: give a person various ammunition and gunpowder, and see how big of a bang he or she can make. And there's no doubt that the greatest weapon in director Scott Cooper's arsenal is Johnny Depp. His performance as infamous Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger is mesmerizingly haunting. With piercing blue eyes and an apt demonic appearance, the make-up team's magnificent work allowed for Depp to walk in and completely knock it out of the park.
To those who're charging down the streets at 15 miles an hour, screaming, "Johnny Depp is back!" at the top of their lungs, I would ask: did he ever really leave? Or has he been here all along, tainted by the less-than-decent films he's appeared in? I'd put my money on the latter because, even with his most atrocious movies, he always loses himself in his characters. And that's what acting is all about.
If there's anyone that can rival Depp's work here it would have to be Joel Edgerton, who actually ends up stealing the spotlight more than a few times and downright nailing it throughout. His character, placed at the center of the plot, is about as sympathetic as a corrupt FBI agent could possibly be, in a movie filled with unlikable characters.
However, Depp and Edgerton aren't the only selling points here; Cooper is a filmmaker who's capable of working exceptionally well with ensembles. And with a cast as impressive as this: Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Corey Stoll just to name a few, it's hard to pinpoint a single weak link.
This is the mob movie that fans of the genre have been waiting forever for; it is brutal, refreshing, and impossible to look away from. The story, however, is quite dense, and the occasional pacing issues didn't help. But the performances are what make it digestible, and what, ultimately, makes BLACK MASS one of the year's best.
Tom Hardy Shines In An Otherwise Dull Film
LEGEND tells the true story of identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, as they build their organized crime empire and terrorize London during the 1950s and 60s.
Tom Hardy is the reason you see this movie. His double performance was captivating, and the special effects that made this binary show possible were just as impressive. Within mere minutes of this film you completely forget that one man plays these two characters. Hardy is able to convincingly disappear into each, playing the sane Reggie Kray with charming subtlety and the insane Ronnie with unnerving humor.
And while Hardy is excellent, the rest of the film is sadly not. As an overall film, it's not that compelling to watch. Historically speaking, it's intriguing for sure; it's just not something that'll keep you on the edge of your seat for over 2 hours. This has a lot to do with the tonally incoherent nature of LEGEND; it doesn't know what it wants to be, juggling drama and comedy quite unevenly.
The voice-over narration by Emily Browning, who played Frances, was good and all, but it's implausibility kept taking me out of the movie. What I mean by that is, as a framing device for the story, it was incongruous; more than half the events that she narrated didn't even involve her whatsoever. Also, her character felt more like a means to an end than she did an end in itself, serving the characters around her better than she ultimately served herself.
The best way to describe the kind of vibe that director Brian Helgeland was attempting here is "British Martin Scorsese" film. Not in terms of quality per se, but definitely with regards to feel. The injection of pop music throughout, along with a glossy sheen, gives LEGEND plenty of charismatic, larger-than-life, personality. Unfortunately, the film's messy structure hinders it from ever taking shape. But you know what they say: a messy house is a sign of character, and that may be the highest praise I can give to a movie I desperately wanted to love, but, at the end of the day, have trouble calling good.
The Visit (2015)
What Was Previously An Inescapable Nightmare Has Now Become An Underdog Tale
Here it is, the film we've all been waiting for; the moment of truth, if you will. M. Night Shyamalan's recent endeavours have left me in complete and utter confusion. What happened to the man who made Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense? Does that man still exist? Or has all traces of him been extinguished? Well, having seen THE VISIT, I can confidently say that M. Night Shyamalan is plotting a career comeback.
This is, very much, an intimate, stripped-down, director-driven project. It's not a great movie, but it's miles ahead of his last few. I would put this on par with Signs, and just below Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense. This film is being marketed as a horror, and, while it's certainly creepy, there's a lot of great humor as well. The acting perfectly fits the kind of tone Shyamalan was going for, most notably with the grandmother played by Deanna Dunagan. The very natural and believable brother-sister relationship between the two lead actors is not only a testament to the co-leads themselves but also to Shyamalan for bringing those performances out of them. When you compare this to the stilted and wooden performances in his last few films, you can't help but give credit where credit is due.
With his reputation on the line, M. Night had to go out and use a style with just as little reputation: found-footage. If I wasn't cautious already, this definitely sealed the deal. But I must say, M. Night does an admirable job. Even with a filming style as stale as this, Shyamalan makes it feel refreshing and new.
And while you can expect the famous Shyamalan twist at the end of the movie, the most shocking twist, for me anyway, is that it's a good movie.
I hope what this movie does is put an end to all the Shyamalan hate. Sure, he's made stinkers here and there, and should not be excused for them. But his decision of skewing away from blockbusters and coming back to smaller-budget horror and suspense films, the very thing that made him who he is today, is telling. What was previously an inescapable nightmare has now become an underdog tale.
Inside Out (2015)
Welcome Back, Pixar
INSIDE OUT (2015) centers on an eleven year-old girl named Riley and the emotions that run around inside her head.
The thing with Hollywood these days is that a lot of the same ideas are recycled over and over again; the overwhelming number of sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots all leave very little room for originality. And when something original comes by, not many people go see it. If only there was a studio that specialized in innovative storytelling and was capable of pulling in a large audience. If only.
Monsters University and Brave weren't bad, they just weren't at the level we expect from Pixar. And with Cars 2 being a real stinker, the studio seemed like it was starting to lose steam. Does INSIDE OUT end the cold streak or does Pixar, the king of animation, finally get dethroned? Sit tight everyone; the king ain't going anywhere anytime soon.
INSIDE OUT is colorfully vibrant, wonderfully voice-acted, thought provoking and emotionally resonant; it's a film kids will love for the world created, but one that adults will appreciate even more for a surprisingly mature and fascinating look at growing up.
But what impressed me the most about INSIDE OUT is how it gets into the psyche of not only what it's like going growing up, but tackling the fear of what could happen, the disgust at what you don't understand, the anger when things don't go as planned, the sadness when you're in the worst situation, and the joy when you realize that what happens ultimately happens for a reason, and life continues to go on despite it.
If I had one gripe, though, it would be that the film focuses a little too much on the journey inside her head, rather than show a little more of Riley from the outside. The scenes where we travel inside her head and back out were some of the best in the movie, and I would've liked to see more of that inside and outside contrast.
All I can say is thank you Pixar, thank you for staying original and, yet again, capturing the hearts of all of those who dare to dream, all those who fight to preserve what little imagination is left inside.
Guaranteed To Make You Laugh
SPY (2015) follows a desk-bound CIA analyst, the unsung hero behind some of the agency's most important missions, who volunteers to go undercover in order to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer and, in doing so, prevent a global disaster.
After having seen Tammy, I was done with Melissa McCarthy's comedy. She was great in Bridesmaids, good in The Heat, and an absolute train wreck in Tammy. There seemed to be this negative linear relationship where, as time passed the quality of her comedy decreased. Then along came SPY, and I'm right back in her camp. For me this movie didn't necessarily rejuvenate her comedy career, rather it changed my perception of her as a comedy actor for the better. She's quite funny in this, and while there's the expected fat joke sprinkled here and there, SPY doesn't rely on them to be funny. In fact, it's better off without them; it depends more on the talented cast, which includes Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, and Jude Law, as well as on how director Paul Feig uses them.
Not only does Feig show us he can do comedy but that he can do action as well, which makes me very excited for his upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. The fine balance between the two genres make SPY one of the year's must see.
Jason Statham plays the character you'd expect Jason Statham to play. You know he's badass, but did you know that he's funny? Because he is! This guy is flat out hysterical, easily the highlight of the film. OK, maybe not 'easily' but I'm telling you, this guy steals every scene he's in. There's this monologue, for instance, that he goes off on that had me literally gasping for air; I laughed so hard that tears were actually forming around my eyes.
This movie certainly lives up to its R rating; it's violent, there're a ton of f-bombs, and there's brief male frontal nudity. The actual story is pretty clichéd; you've seen it before many times, and while the second half felt quite saturated with one-note characters and explicit language, SPY is a movie that's guaranteed to make you laugh.
Made For Fans of the Show
ENTOURAGE (2015) is based on the popular TV show of the same name, picking up right where the show left off. While some of their ambitions may have changed, the bond between movie star Vincent Chase and his pals E, Turtle, and Drama remain as strong as ever. And that's all you really need to know about the story. You don't go into a movie like this for the beautifully crafted plot and character development; you go into it to see these guys hangout again.
The most enjoyment will be had by those who've seen the television show. It's that simple; if you liked the show, you'll like the movie. And if you've never seen the show then you'll still have fun watching it, but it just wouldn't be the same.
Everything that made the show so great is back; the characters, the shenanigans among them, the infectious chemistry and, of course, the cameos. Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, and Jerry Ferrara all play off each other so damn well, but it's Jeremy Piven who steals the show, as he usually does. His portrayal of the neurotic yet hilarious Ari Gold is some of the best comedy I've ever seen. Kevin Dillon as Drama was no slouch though, serving up some of the film's funniest moments with a lot more screen time than I expected.
ENTOURAGE never pretends to be something it's not. The movie knows what it is and doesn't shy away from its roots; it's an extended episode (or a shortened season, which ever sounds better) that showcases the fame, fortune, and friendship that come with the cutthroat world of Hollywood. But it's not everyone's cup of tea; if you didn't like the show then there's no reason to believe that you'd like the movie.
Doug Ellin, creator of the show, directed and wrote this movie; this guy knows these characters better than anyone, which, surprisingly, leads to the only real negative I had with the film: it didn't feel cinematic whatsoever. Doug Ellin couldn't let go of that episodic rhythm, making the movie feel a tad trivial.
That being said, ENTOURAGE is a film that was made for fans of the show and, while it's far from perfect, it feels like home.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Rewatchable Pixar classic.
I fell in love with Monster,Inc. the first time I saw it as a kid. It was the movie I got most excited for to watch, fast forward eleven years and I still get excited for it. This monster world is so different from what we know yet so interesting and fun. Their source of power comes from the screams of children which seems so very strange but in the context of this film, makes perfect sense. I am never forced to accept anything the film throws at me, I choose to accept them because they make sense.
Another important reason for why I love Monsters, Inc. is the characters. James P. Sullivan is our protagonist. He is very good at his job, known to many as the top Scarer in Monstropolis. Throughout this film, Sullivan's perspective on everything changes while his caring and comforting character grows stronger. His best friend and roommate, Mike Wazowski, is a funny and smart character who sometimes fails to see the obvious. He is full of energy and charisma, making it impossible for me to dislike him.
Apart from the characters and the beautiful chemistry they share, the story is very well written and enjoyable. It had some hilarious laugh out loud moments, but also some very sad ones. The 3-D is okay, but seems non-existent at times. Anyone who hasn't seen this movie yet must do so, and those who have should go back and revisit it. It's the well written story, the colorful characters and the heart this film carries that makes it such a timeless classic.
The Wolverine (2013)
The Wolverine had the task of rejuvenating the Wolverine franchise after the failed attempt of X- Men Origins. Did it succeed? Did it fail? I think it did pretty alright. This was mostly a character driven film with very little plot. It starts off strong with a very emotional and intense scene, but from there the film starts to lose path. The viper chick was a useless character that felt forced into the script in order to have more than two mutants. The Wolverine lacked a villain with strong presence, a plot, and an impactful score especially for a superhero movie. Hugh Jackman is at his best, and at this point it feels as if nobody else can play the legendary comic book character but him. The fight scenes had very good choreography, but the shaky camera made it hard to focus in what was going on. I especially like the train fight scene, even if it did make the eyebrows of every physicist rise. I appreciate this movie because they are at least on the right path to making wolverine movies, which origins failed to accomplish, but I cannot excuse The Wolverine of its empty plot driven solely on the development of one character surrounded by many seemingly empty characters.
World War Z (2013)
This is a great thriller, filled with impressive visual effects and intense suspense. The set design of this film felt grandeur and spectacular, which I felt was great but it inhibited some much needed emotional human moments. Something this film had plenty of were jump scares, which can only be seen as effective in a zombie movie. I did like the realistic tone that was present throughout, making me believe that a zombie outbreak could really happen. Unlike I Am Legend, I thought the way World War Z solved this global catastrophe was believable and eye- opening. Of course the star of World War Z is Brad Pitt, and he does a great job in my opinion portraying the character. My real problem is with the actual character itself. It seems as if this guy is invincible and can overcome any obstacle that comes in his way. I didn't read the book so I'm not sure if that's how the character is written, but it did draw me out of the movie at times. The ending felt very rushed which did affect my grade of the movie; however this is a solid film with more style than substance.
Favorite movie of 2011.
This was my favourite movie of 2011. From the very beginning, I was emotionally invested and throughout the film I am kept invested with no instances of dissatisfaction or tedium. The movie started and before I knew it, the movie had finished. There are no moments that really slow down the plot, every scene is there for a purpose.
James Franco did a great job to humanize Caesar, making me feel sorry and sympathetic to the apes. This sympathy let me know that it was okay to side with the apes, even if they were against my own species. Freida Pinto played the role of Franco's wife, but more importantly as his mentor. She warns him about the way he is raising Caesar saying "You're trying to control things that aren't meant to be controlled," "Some things aren't meant to be changed -- you have to accept that!"
Despite all the good performances, the star of this movie is undoubtedly Caesar. I met him when he was a baby and got to know him more as he grew up under human teachings. It is both interesting and satisfying to see him explore this world that apes are unfamiliar with. When he meets other humans who are not as nice and accepting as Will is, his perspective on everything changes. He becomes much darker, letting go of his human ties and embracing his own kind. With much determination he leads all the apes to freedom. What's so great about Caesar is that he has lived with both the humans and apes. He loves Will, but he also knows that he belongs with his own family, and so he fights for them.
Their revolution was never intended to kill off the human race and take over the world; it was to send a message. They wanted to stand up for themselves and show the humans that they are more than just a pet or display. This movie has a masterful story, a beautifully written protagonist, great CGI, a powerful soundtrack and the ability to keep you coming back over and over again.
The Equalizer (2014)
Not your average action film.
Let me begin this review by saying that I've never seen the Equalizer TV show, so this review will be based on how I thought of the movie alone. This isn't the first time director Antoine Fuqua and actor Denzel Washington have worked together. Training Day was a film that produced a Best Actor for Denzel, so I was particularly excited for the two reuniting in an action film. However, this ain't your average action film. Fuqua really knows how to direct compelling action with an artistic framework. He's not like other directors who feel the need to unnecessarily shake the camera to hide the atrocious fight choreography and create cheap adrenaline, he actually uses the action to tell the character's story. You learn more about Washington's character through his fighting than you do through his dialogue. The film also had a strong antagonist, played by Marton Csokas, who had as much screen presence as the protagonist himself, which most action films lack, however, like I said before, this ain't your average action film. All that and a riveting action sequence that takes place in a hardware store should be enough to get your blood pumping for days on end.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Know what you're getting into.
No one should go into this movie expecting a flawless story with an Oscar-worthy script and character development because that's not what you will get from this movie. This movie is about MONSTERS versus ROBOTS, enough said. Apart from the breathe-taking CGI and action scenes, this movie does surprise with some great characters that actually have depth and a story, especially Mako and the commanding officer, Stacker. Idris Elba delivers a brilliant performance, making the viewing of Pacific Rim a better than expected movie. As long as you know what you're getting into, Pacific Rim should satisfy and even surprise.
One of the better "found footage" films out there.
This movie makes me excited for Josh Trank's future projects because his work is unique and surprisingly redeemable. Dane DeHaan delivered a stellar performance, which was much needed because of the distractingly poor CGI. I was not bothered by the "found footage" aspect at all, and believed that it helped me learn more about Andrew's character as I could see the world from his perspective. The filmaking style also enhanced the suspense/horror aspect of the movie. Apart from a rushed conclusion, Chronicle was a nice surprise that is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of sci-fi and superhero movies.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
If you have seen the first two X-Men movies, then you know that X-Men 3 feels different. Of course with a new director changes are to be expected, but how much can be different till we can't tolerate them anymore. The first half of this movie was very good, but I started to check my phone a lot after the midpoint. The film wasn't flowing uniformly, but in all types of directions mixed with questionable pacing. Another thing that kept distracting me was the awful CGI, which surprised me because of how well done the CGI was in this film predecessor. The last two X-Men films had really good and enthralling stories which to me felt absent in X3. The acting was still very good, especially from Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, but the chemistry between the characters was poor and made me feel, dare I say, quite bored. Also, the film's third act feels very rushed in wrapping up the character's journey and the film itself. Now let us move on to the good things about this film. As always the score is fantastic and is, in my opinion, one of the best superhero themes in film. As mentioned above, the individual acting is good but the collective chemistry is off. Overall I wouldn't recommend watching this movie unless you are a big X-Men fan, which is not a bright idea as you might feel even more disappointed than the rest of us.