Saturday, December 7, 2013

Movie Review: Philomena

Movies based on books are often a crapshoot.  They can be either amazing or a gross misconstruction of the original story and the intent to it.  I haven’t read the book, but the content of it would be hard-pressed to be turned into something else and in that perfect union comes a self-enclosed story that tells the rather tragic tale of a woman, at the latter years of her life, realises that a mystery that she knew as a girl needed to be solved.

The true story of Philomena follows an elderly Irish woman who admits to her daughter that she had a son when she was a girl and he was taken from her while she stayed in a convent.  The other half of the story pairs her with recently sacked BBC journalist who decides to take on her story and try to discover the truth about her son.  The story twists and turns, but what makes the story come to life is the performances of Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. The two portray a pair of people that could not be any more different, yet it is in this dichotomy that makes the story pop in a way that it might not have with two lesser actors.  I have seen Coogan in a handful of things, but I felt like he brought his performance up greatly by playing across from the amazingly talented Dench.

The ending is almost expected when you get there, but that doesn’t lessen the journey.  This is one of those movies that will play at your emotions, doing so in a way that makes you feel better, not worse, at the end.  This movie is well worth seeing.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Book Thief

A friend asked if I was interested in going to see the above movie and not knowing much about it, but enjoying having someone to go to the movies with, I agreed.  I won’t say I regretted accepting the invitation, but I will say that any movies set in World War II should come with a disclaimer that it can’t end well for all the characters.  The idea and sadness that comes with that time period I respect and understand, but do sometimes feel like it is shoved down our throats by every story-teller and filmmaker out there.  I get it.  World War II was a terrible tragedy.  I believe the world, for the most part, understands and wants to learn from that.  To use that as a setting for so many movies, or stories, to me does it a disservice, just like using 9/11 as a backdrop for a romance story, like in the Robert Pattinson ‘Remember Me’ movie that came out some years ago.  At some point, I feel like it is overdone and is used in an irresponsible way.  Having said all that, this movie was enjoyable and pulled at all the right moments, though handling the Nazi occupation as a little less biting than most movies depict it.

The Book Thief follows the story of a girl who is adopted by a German family, she is lucky enough to also be German, and has to adjust to life in different surroundings at a great disadvantage.  The girl finds some friendship in a nearby boy of the same age and her adopted father, played by Geoffery Rush.  The mother is played by Emily Watson and is both rough and soft on her new daughter.  The story moves on pace with the war the Nazis declare upon the world, things at home growing more and more difficult.

The story ends as you might expect and while I felt moved by it at the time, I didn’t feel the staying power of it over time.  The performances are all well done and the story is touching.  Towards the end of the movie, I just wanted it to be over, and that says something, I think.  This felt like a movie made to win awards, not so much to reach people or encourage them.  The friend I’d mentioned said she was inspired to write after seeing it, but I wasn’t so motivated.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Movie Review: Old Boy

A trend that isn’t so new in Hollywood is to take popular movies from other parts of the world and Americanize them.  In this movie, Old Boy is a Korean movie that has been changed for an American audience.  I admit I haven’t seen the original, but the summary is available online and after having read it, I am stymied as to why the changes were made.

The story is told much through the trailer.  Josh Brolin is imprisoned for unknown reasons for twenty years.  Yes, you read that right, twenty years.  In all that time, he finds no way of escaping the single room nor overpowering his captors.  For unknown reasons, he is set free.  Instead of questioning why he was released, Brolin’s anti-hero is set on finding who put him in there and making them pay.  Needless to say, the lack of direction by the brutish Brolin makes for a good deal of misdirection which culminates into a plot twist that is more than cringe-worthy.

Brolin has always impressed me as an excellent character.  In this movie, once again, he takes centre stage and does so with great gusto.  With that same compliment comes the trouble with the story.  About half-way through I leaned over to my cousin and inadvertently spoiling the ending by guessing something that was well hidden in plain sight.  I fault the movie only in its over-use of violence and sex and underuse of a very able cast and strong story.  It always makes me wonder why gimmicks are used instead of leaning and revealing what was a great story, bringing that to the forefront.  This is an interesting movie, but the Korean version might be much better and worth your $7.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Movie Review: Hunger Games: Catching Fire

More than two years ago I saw the first trailer for the original movie and thought, this seems interesting.  While I never understood the hype around star Jennifer Lawrence, less so after seeing Silver Linings Playbook, the story had a great draw to it.  In a bleak world, Katniss lives in District 12, a place that is known for coal and little else.  The world had been ravaged after a failed attempt to overthrow the reigning powers and each year the Districts must offer up two kids to play in a last man standing battle, to the death.  As luck would have it, on Katniss’ little sisters first attempt, her name is chosen, with nothing else to do, Katniss volunteers to replace her.  Wackiness ensues.  Seriously though, the fight in the arena and on the way to are more stirring because of Lawrence’s prefect timing and annoying lead character.  Katniss thinks she is making all the right calls, and while she does the ‘right’ thing most of the time, it isn’t always the ‘smart’ thing.

In the sequel, the story picks up where we left off and Katniss and her companion victor Peeta are being sucked back into the intrigues of the world when they are forced to go to the Games a second time.  Unbeknownst to Katniss, as in the book, more is occurring than she is aware of and she does her best to sabotage her own best efforts without realizing it.

I want to steer clear of spoilers if I can.  I will say this, from what I recall, the movie seemed very true to what the book had written.  For me, this is when I want to get off of this ride, but I don’t.  I didn’t care for how Suzanne Collins wrote the second or third books and find myself wondering if Hollywood will change any of it given the tone.  I may be in the minority, but the books made me hate Katniss more and more, instead of less and less.  The acting was pretty spot on throughout and the story stayed true to the source, for good or for ill, you decide.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

I had the rare treat of leaving work early yesterday to attend the AMC event where the original Thor movie, the Avengers movie that came out last year and the new Thor movie were played back-to-back.  The effect of such a marathon, while tiring, helps keep the stories continuous and doesn’t overwork your brain to remember something from a movie you saw over two years ago.

In Thor: The Dark World, the movie picks up much as the original did, citing a hidden threat that is reignited by a cosmic alliance that happens once every five thousand years.  The story moves back through time to the present, showing our astrophysicist Jane Foster looking for Thor and finding something dark instead.  The entity becomes a part of her and only those seeking the power are the ones that can remove it from her.  Thor comes down to earth, seeing Jane in peril and takes her back to Asgard, which is then attacked by these same beings.

The story continues on at a rapid pace, introducing old characters, giving them more depth than seen in previous movies.  The relationship between Thor and Jane is the central piece of the story and while it is compelling at times by great acting from the two leads, it also felt inauthentic at times.  I didn’t believe that Thor would really sacrifice his life for Jane, nor the other way around.  I did enjoy the very unpredictable appearance of Chris Evans.  I do love that Marvel and Disney are going to great lengths to keep the continuity up in all the movies.  The trailer for the next Captain America movie also appeared before this one.

Overall, this was a fun action, adventure movie, but the staying power of the story didn’t hold and I had forgotten about it as soon as I went to bed.  It was well worth seeing in 3D, though.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Movie Review: Carrie

The 2013 remake of the 1976 cult classic did not disappoint, however, it also didn’t break any new ground.  After thirty-seven years, the creators, producers and general Hollywood could not come up with anything that stopped the movie and made the story something new.  If you haven’t seen the original, then this will be a wonderful telling of the Stephen King book, the trials of young Carrie as she tries to become part of a world she was denied all of her life is something we can all identify with.

The movie was low on scares, the inklings of what would transpire was impossible to ignore and the characters played perfect replicas of the originals.  Chloe Grace Moretz plays Carrie, the title character that is mentally hamstrung by her deranged mother, played by Julianne Moore.  Both come of as believable, however tired and clichéd the characters are.  The mother believes her child to be evil, but never has the gumption to do what she must, and instead torments the girl throughout her life, punishing her with prayer and to be fearful of God.  Carrie is not so naïve, but naïve enough to say yes to a good-natured boy to attend prom.  I cringed as the sequences got more and more unbearable.  The story has been told and retold and this iteration lacked the same kick the original did.

The story unfolds in an unfortunate sort of way and I was left with an empty feeling.  The movie was mildly entertaining, but it didn’t have a kick or hook that ever made it stand out.  This movie was no better than any other horror fare we see nowadays and for a classic to be remade with such a lacklustre execution is unfortunate and disappointing.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Movie Review: Metallica Through the Never

I’ve never been to a Metallica concert, I probably never will, but this is as close as you can get for a rather affordable $16.  The movie has a loose story, the focus being a show in Vancouver and a roadie that takes a recreational pharmaceutical and has a wild, wild night.  The movie is delivered in IMAX 3D and the effect is both subtle and effective.  Hetfield, Urlich and Hammett are all larger than life in this latest entry of blending film and movie for mega-metal band Metallica and they don’t disappoint.

The story begins with Dane DeHaan’s roadie coming to work and delivering something to a stage manager, asked later to pick something up after the concert gets going.  The movie is spliced between segments of a live concert in Vancouver and DeHaan’s roadie moving through the city towards the downed truck.  On the way there, DeHaan encounters a riot, though the viewer can’t be sure it is real given that DeHaan had taken a drug of some sort prior to leaving.  The music keeps up a fevered pitch as DeHaan encounters a masked rider bent on killing him.

The reason to see this movie isn’t because the story will blow you away.  There is hardly a story at all.  To be able to see Metallica in IMAX 3D is really amazing.  Even in a smaller theatre in AMC, the walls shook with the sound and the band hasn’t lost a beat as they’ve aged.  Hetfield is quite the stage-master and Ulrich keeps the concert moving with efficiency.  If anything, the movie makes you relive the many wonderful classics you may remember and open you up to some newer music that isn’t quite like the old stuff.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Movie Review: Insidious Chapter 2

I had the good sense to go to a double feature of the both movies back-to-back.  This helped keep the story coherent when there were references to things that happened in the previous movie.  The story is somewhat stretched in this sequel, unravelling as the movie went on.  The performances from the cast were quite decent, but the movie never drew you in as the first one did.

If you haven’t seen the first Insidious movie, you need to stop reading this review.  If you have, then you know that main character Josh, played by Patrick Wilson, went into a place in his mind to find his son before he was taken by a demon in the first movie.  Josh didn’t quite make it back to his own body and that is where the second movie starts off.  The story then devolves into Josh’s past and his astral presence as the two try to get him back in his body.

Unlike the first movie, the mild scares are watered down by the somewhat convoluted plot.  At times, the story jumps from the past, to the present to what happened in the first movie, jumping at intervals that can be confusing.  Wilson tries to play both Josh and the ghost possessing him to a very convincing end.  Rose Byrne as the wife is little more than a shrieking woman, not a great use for such a talented actress.  The kids were kids and less of them in horror movies would be nice.

The double-feature helped set the stage, but this movie pales in comparison to the original and is hardly worth the full-price evening fare.  I won’t say pass on it, but paying more than $10 for it is too much.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Movie Review: You’re Next

Survival horror movies have a certain look and feel to them from the very beginning.  In this movie, a family meets up for their parent’s 35th anniversary dinner.  What happens turns the table on the happy family reunion with one well-aimed, well-timed arrow.  The story starts off following a couple who are being hunted by unknown assailants.  The scene turns to an older couple coming to an empty, old house, getting it ready for the kids that would be arriving that night and the following morning.

The celebratory dinner starts off with a few awkward introductions and the family quickly rekindles the feud between two of the three sons.  The argument is cut short when the only daughter’s boyfriend is shot in the forehead with an arrow.  After that, the survival instinct of only one member of the dinner kicks in and she engages the people attacking them, doing her best to keep everyone alive.

The gore is quite extensive in this movie, not to the level of some movies, but enough to make you look away at regular intervals.  What makes this movie somewhat memorable is that there is a real story under the mayhem.  In the footsteps of movies like The Purge, the modern horror movie is now combined with gore and story, to give you something to be engaged in besides being grossed out.  I can’t say it was an amazing movie, but it kept me guessing for a bit and when the reveal happened, how the movie ended was still surprising.  For $6, it was well worth seeing.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolverine

It feels like a lifetime ago when I saw the first Xmen movie.  Hugh Jackman got a huge break when Dougray Scott had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t make it.  What a difference timing makes, eh?  Now, years later, Jackman is the quintessential Wolverine now, there is no other nor any equal.  In this latest iteration, Logan is faced with the same complications he has been before.  Special effects are always a plus in this sort of movie, but it can’t carry it.

The story is not compelling, but Jackman makes every scene pop.  The only reason to see this movie is to see Hugh Jackman deliver yet another amazing performance.  The man becomes Wolverine/Logan in a way that I would never have expected.  The movies are great, but as a comic book fan, I feel like I see him like an old friend.  The Wolverine is like any other superhero character, a name that means more than the actual person is.  The Wolverine movie doesn’t add much, if anything to the lore of the character, but it is worth seeing.

The thing that stuck out for me the most were the short scenes between Hugh Jackman and Famke Janssen, who comes back as Jean Grey for dream sequences.  The scenes were bittersweet and captured the tortured attitude that Wolverine struggles with throughout his life.  This isn’t the big-budget blockbuster I expected, but it is one of the better movies I’ve seen this summer.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

Years ago, I had seen the first Despicable Me movie and thought, wow, while it wasn’t original.  It had a lot of elements that made me love it.  Sure you can’t understand the minions, but their antics are more than enough to keep you engaged, even as an adult.  Despicable Me 2 takes what started in the first one and builds on it.  At the very core of the story, it is about Gru finding a woman so that his kids can have a mom.  I think Universal missed an opportunity to prove that single parenting, while not easy, is the norm and kids can succeed in a family with only one parent, even if that isn’t optimal.  I realise, having no kids, how dare I say that, but it is what it is, as one of my co-workers likes to say.

The story starts off with Gru hosting a birthday party for Agnes, the youngest of his adopted daughters.  It becomes clear that he is no longer being ‘evil’ anymore, but going to sell legitimate wares, jellies and jams.  A large installation with radioactive chemicals gets stolen and a secret organisation calls on Gru to help them figure out which villain may have done it.   Gru is then paired up with a new agent and hilariousness ensues.

While this movie doesn’t have the same punch that the first one did, I still found it both funny and touching at times.  Gru’s character evolves and he does care about the girls and their lives.  There is a great sequence where Margo is trying to date a boy and Gru plays the perfect over-protective father.  Though the movie is probably going to be pulled soon, this one is well worth seeing.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Movie Review: The Conjuring

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might wonder why I didn’t see this last weekend.  Horror movies are my guilty pleasure.  I love watching them, love getting scared out of my gourd.  This movie, brought to you by the makers of Insidious, delivers several knock-out blows before leaving you with your eyes covered.

Based on a true story, the movie takes us into the lives of real-life paranormal experts, Ed and Lorraine Warren.  The story is set in 1970 when Ed and Lorraine had been working for some time, trying to legitimise their efforts by speaking all over the area.  The duelling story with theirs is a family that moves into a new house and the very first day, strange things begin to happen.  The house is old and the price was just right.  The father is a truck driver and isn’t home all the time and the mother stays out home when four out of five girls go to school on a daily basis.  The scares start small, a creaking door here, a strange new imaginary friend there, the action ramping up effortlessly.

If you’re familiar with any sort of haunting or horror movie, the story revolves around a problem and the solution to the problem.  Like clockwork, the action escalates, forcing those affected to change their behaviour or lose a loved one.  The slight twist to this story was seeing the inner workings of the Warren family.  It is presumed that they are experts, but few get to see more than the snippets given from haunting-type shows.

The movie does an excellent job of making small things terrifying and playing on the innate fears of the movie-goers.  Many of the scariest movies aren’t gory or have someone running at the camera, but use little elements to make you wonder what is going on.  There was a perfect scene early in the movie when the mother walks down the stairs first thing in the morning and finds the clock set to a time I didn’t see.  The scene moved so fast, but the action was subtle and when I saw the next clock, I knew what had happened.  Less is often more and this is the case with this movie.  The Conjuring was a fairly well-told scary movie and well worth seeing.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Movie Review: Monsters University

I had the rare opportunity to go to the movies on a Monday night.  The hope was that after over a month, there would be less annoying children in the theatre.  There were less than 10, but those 10 made their presence known.  Would it kill AMC to have a screening of kids movies that adults might like without kids in attendance?  I mean, I have to work too, you know?  I’m excited you brought your kids after work, but if little Johnny can’t shut it, he should go outside.  This isn’t an interactive movie…I digress.

Monsters University was a prequel to the rather popular Monsters Inc. that came out several years ago.  In this movie, we meet Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan as college students.  Mike is still small and wears a retainer, convinced he can be a fantastic scarer.  Sully is a lanky college kid that is trying to ride the coattails of his father and the rest of his family without doing much work.  Both are trying to do well on their exam in their first scarying class when an accident happens.  This forces them to work together and they do so with mixed results.

The story is very engaging and at times it makes you miss your college days or reminisce about how things were at your school.  The antics are spot on and can be over the top, but only to a degree.  What struck me was the ending.  If you haven’t seen it, you may want to stop reading here, because I’d like to discuss it, so to speak.

In most movies everything is tied up in neat little bows.  When Mike and Sully don’t stay in school, getting expelled, there is no tidy, perfect ending, not really.  Instead there is a montage of images of them working their way to what we see in the first movie.  To me, the lesson that Pixar hits squarely is that while you may have the best laid plans, if they don’t go your way, there are other ways.  I thought that message was well worth watching and turned the movie from regular Disney movie into something more.  It has been almost a month since this movie came out and while there are annoying kids still seeing it, it’s still worth seeing and I’ll probably grab it on DVD as well.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

There isn’t a lack of action-adventure movies these days.  Just this week I saw Red 2 and a few weeks later saw World War Z.  Action movies seem to be plentiful, but that doesn’t mean they are all equal.  In this monster movie, Guillermo del Toro does his best to make the genre feel fresh.  I saw this movie in IMAX 3D and it was worth the extra money.

Pacific Rim finds the world dozens of years in the future, where all the powers of the world must unite to create massive machines to combat what appears to be an alien invasion.  The science of the movie is paper-thin, but it doesn’t matter.  The characters are all very rich and yet somehow seem to fit into the usual Hollywood archetypes.  The movie starts off with two brothers manning this massive machine and one brother dying, leaving the other to lament the death.  The government decides to shut the project down, forcing the director to do something drastic to get his pilot back into the programme.  The failsafe that would have put the mechanical monster business out doesn’t hold and the director is able to continue working.

The story is as predictable as it can be.  There was not one point where I felt surprised or moved by the story or the acting.  While Idris Elba is a Brit, the accent was distracting and felt inconsistent throughout.  Lead man Charlie Hunnam was easy on the eyes and also uninteresting.  The special effects made this movie worth seeing, the acting, not so much.  I can’t mention the movie without giving credit to Ron Perlman and Charlie Day, both playing the same characters I feel like I’ve seen them play before, but just as entertaining.  This isn’t a must see movie, but given the lack of good action movies right now, it might be worth watching.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Movie Review: Red 2

Once again I was lucky enough to get passes to see this movie in advance of release.  If you’re not a member of AMC Stubbs or the Regal Movie Club, you’re missing out on some nice freebies.  Last night I got to see Red 2 for free, over a week before the movie was being released.  When we arrived, they told us we couldn’t bring any phones or anything with a camera in, but then they didn’t actually check any of us, so it seemed kind of silly.  The theatre was packed, odd for a Wednesday, even in the summer.  The movie started without any previews, which I kind of missed.

The movie picks up where the first movie left off.  Based on a DC comic, Red follows a group of former CIA operatives who have retired.  Frank Moses is trying to be a home-maker of sorts, keeping his girl Sarah away from harm despite his friend Marvin’s best efforts.  Not long into the movie we discover that Frank and Marvin are accused of being involved with hiding a weapon of mass destruction.  Goon squads are sent out to kill them and the race begins.

The story is fast-paced and the characters jump off of the screen in the manner you would expect from a comic.  The characters are all extremes and the cast is balanced so well that none stand out more than the other.  The inclusion of Helen Mirren as a sniper-wielding killer is especially entertaining.  The cast expanded slightly in this new iteration, but the key is that the tone and story stayed true to the original.  It almost makes me want to read the comics, if I only had time.  This one is well worth seeing despite the glut of big-name/big-budget movies out right now.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Movie Review: Bling Ring

Celebs living up the high life is nothing new.  In this Sofia Coppala movie, the story of a group of young adults who follow celebrities and break into their homes taking any number of valuables is put to the side by a feeling of staleness and overbearing characters.  I’ve never seen a Sofia Coppala movie and thought this would be an interesting entry into what I expected to be an artsy piece of work.  I’m familiar with off-the-beaten track movies, but this one felt inauthentic from the very beginning.  The cast is made of mostly unknown young actors, save for Harry Potter’s Emma Watson and American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga.

The movie is based off of an article published in Vanity Fair, chronicling how a new kid to a school is convinced by one girl, who he isn’t interested in romantically, to break into celebrity houses and take whatever they like.  The concept of stealing from the rich and keeping for the poor seems to be the underlying concept the kids use, but it becomes clear by the placid, shallow performances that the audience is supposed to believe the kids are remorseless, soulless fiends, as I would expect a celebrity like Sofia Coppala to interpret such an event.  It is an inexcusable act, but to believe that the kids committing the crimes were oblivious to right and wrong is a level of humanity that was so played up, it made the entire movie feel fake.  Worse yet, the main character was the untested Israel Broussard who played the doe-eyed, possibly gay, Marc.  Marc is sucked in by the ring leader of the so-called Bling Ring, Rebecca played by Katie Chang.  Neither were all that believable and early on it wasn’t clear why Marc would be so enthralled with Rebecca.  It made sense that the girls wanted nice things and wouldn’t get them through any normal means.  The character of Marc, the central focus of the movie, was directionless and only slightly interesting.

The movie is worth seeing just to see the beautiful bags, clothes and things that get stolen, but the acting is less than sensational and at times seemed forced.  The characters were caricatures from beginning to end, and it was hard to ignore this.  For $7, this is worth seeing, but you aren’t missing much by passing on it.

Movie Review: World War Z

Zombie movies are a must-see for me.  I’ve seen the whole gamut, from Resident Evil to Dawn of the Dead to 28 Days Later.  The recipe is often the same.  An outbreak occurs, the entire world is compromised, only one person in all the world can save us.  Call me a feminist, but I often enjoyed Alice’s over-amped romps through Racoon City and the like.  After playing Resident Evil 6 and watching the latest RE movie, I think I’ve had my fill.  Enough history, though, I don’t want you to think I’m a complete nerd, too late, no?

In this movie, based off of a book, Jerry is taking his family on a trip and as they drive through Philadelphia, everything falls apart.  Jerry is a former operative with the UN and when this go south, he jumps into action, finding a way to get his family out of the city and into a vehicle after they total theirs.  The family manages to make it to an abandoned apartment complex that isn’t all that abandoned.  Another family is holed up there and takes them in, refusing to go with them once Jerry arranges to be picked up by his former boss.  Once in safety, Jerry is told he can either help them or his family will be sent back out into the world.  With no other choice, he’s asked to find out where the disease started and help find a cure.

Without giving away the real twist in the movie, World War Z is a suspenseful drama.  Brad Pitt plays the familiar role of concerned parent and overly competent operative, knowing what to do in any and all situations, willing to risk everything for the truth, the perfect stand-up kind of guy.  While the idea is so overdone, Pitt manages to make Jerry seem both human and super-human all at once.  The story sucks in you from the very beginning, painting the picture of a perfect life, watching as it is snatched away and then watching as someone fights unmatched odds to find a way out of a terrible situation.  What made this movie so compelling was Pitt’s pitch perfect performance throughout.  The supporting cast was just that, no one taking away from the central figure. In that, this movie goes from your garden variety movie to one that is actually worth seeing.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Movie Review: The Heat

I was lucky enough to catch a deal and see this one early courtesy of Gofobo.  At the Regal not far from my house, they were showing a special screening of the movie.  A friend and I knew we wanted to see it anyway, so jumped on the chance to see it both early and free.  I was not disappointed.

The story is pretty transparent from the trailers, but what you don’t see is how well Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy work together throughout the picture.  The story follows an FBI agent (Bullock) who is angling for a promotion and needs to work with a local Boston Detective (McCarthy).  The concept of good cop/bad cop gets tilted slightly as Bullock’s character is forced to work with McCarthy’s character to find a drug dealer.  There is more to the story, things that make both characters more sympathetic, but may ruin the surprise of it.

I’m not a huge fan of comedies.  I find them a tad hollow when you get to the end.  I can honestly say I spent the majority of the movie laughing and didn’t really pay more attention to the drama rather than the comedy.  This was one of those rare cases where I found myself enjoying both the serious and not so serious portions of the movie in equal measure and the deliveries between the two actresses was impressive, as expected.  Well worth seeing this movie, even at a full evening price, perhaps.  At less than two hours, it didn’t drag on either.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Movie Review: This is the End

I am not a huge fan of comedies, in general I find them not all that funny or overly funny with very little story.  This one reminded me somewhat of how much celebs think of themselves.  I do understand that the actors claim they were playing caricatures of themselves, but the entire movie just felt like a bunch of actors just having a good time.  There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it just seemed shallow.  I do know that this isn’t the kind of movie you go to for any kind of thought, and it is amusing to think of how celebs would react to being in a situation where the entire world was turning to ash.

The premise is simple enough. Seth Rogen is picking up pal Jay Baruchel.  They spend the day together and then decide to go to James Franco’s house for a party.  Tons of celebs are there and Jay has issues because he isn’t friends with Rogen’s friends.  This minor character discomfort serves as the framework for a thinly veiled story.  The two head out to get cigarettes and while out, everything goes crazy.  People are being sucked into the air, presumably to Heaven, others are fighting for their lives.  When they arrive  back at the party, nothing has happened there, but soon does and tons of celebs get killed in seconds.  What follows is a moderately entertaining and very crude version of six guys being trapped in a house.

The cameos were fun, the movie mildly entertaining.  This is a good movie to see at a matinee price, but more than that and you’re expecting something it won’t deliver, at least it didn’t for me.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t love it, not that I expected to.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Movie Review: The Purge

Horror movies have a certain draw to them.  In each movie, the story is basically the same: picture of normal life, something erupts to challenge this, people in story must band together (or against one another) to survive, the end.  It isn’t rocket science, but it has been done down to a science.  In this Ethan Hawke movie, this is my second Hawke movie in about a year (two more than any other year), he plays a family man who sells security systems to protect people from an annual activity called The Purge.  The US government has decided that people are violent and if they have one evening to expend that energy over one night, no repercussions.  When Hawke and his family go to bed that night, with the house safely locked up, a threat emerges from within and outside the house, both attributable to the children.  The dangers compound and run into one another and the family that would normally avoid participating.

Without revealing the hooks in the story, the execution comes off at such a wonderful pace that the passable acting can be overlooked.  Hawke plays an excellent father, but the story doesn’t give him great range.  The best performances come from Game of Thrones alum Lena Heady.  The conflict ramps up again and again and her reactions are both expected and yet still come off as a surprise.  At one point, when the house is being bombarded, she is asked to defend one side of the house, but as a woman who hasn’t wielded a weapon before, she predictably acts skittish and endangers herself and children.  While the scene is expected in a horror movie, it still came off with a good amount of tension.

The story was really unusual, something that could have been taken to great heights.  Instead, as seems to be usual with horror movies nowadays, the story backs off as it slows down.  The idea that the government would allow a no-holds-barred evening of killing opens up a variety of stories, and yet this horror movie did little with it.  I often wonder if there is something wrong with Hollywood, other than the obvious and this movie convinces me that original thought isn’t permitted.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Movie Review: Now You See Me

Movies about magic often take the fun out of magic, take the illusion and turn it into a spectacle of its own.  This movie is little different, but with less involving characters and a shoe-string plot, the thing that brings you to the theatre are the special effects and little more.  At the time, I found myself very entertained, but as the day wore on, I felt the movie had less and less staying power.

The story follows four magicians who have hit hard times, none able to deliver the tricks they had in the past, all of them suffering from a bad economy and a public that doesn’t believe in magic, or believes in paying for quality magic.  Each magician has his own skill, together putting together a trick that sees a bank being seemingly robbed and money materialise into bank accounts without their involvement.  The tricks are increasingly elaborate, none truly explained to a satisfactory manner, but enough to keep the audience sated.  The story uses a multitude of narrators, a washed-up magician who is working with the police as well as the magicians themselves.

Without giving away the ending, the movie keeps you engaged, but doesn’t give you anything that truly makes the story stand out.  I thought a lot about other movies about magic I’d seen and still Prestige is the best.  The actors were truly remarkable and the magic tricks were truly magical.  In this movie, the acting was passable, the story draining with its convoluted twists and turns. I respect Hollywood for trying to produce something new, but with no payoff at the end, the movie fell flat.  The current fare in the theatre isn’t great, making this movie worth seeing, but overall, it was mediocre at best.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Movie Review: Fast and Furious 6

I sometimes wonder why I go to these movies, and then I remember, it isn’t for the plot.  Fast and Furious is a series based on thieves that steal things and do so to maintain their high=speed life-styles.  The cars and men in the movies are really to die for.  The cars are enough to tune in for $7, but check any other expectations at the door.

In this latest instalment, Dom and co are roped into helping Hobbs (the Rock) into taking down an international thief.  Unsurprisingly, the crew is given a carte blanche to create mayhem and destruction in London as they discover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is alive and working with above thief.  Without fail, the crew manage to save the day though they lose two of their crew that no one really remembers doing so.

Fast and Furious is a fun movie.  The cars in the movie are one reason to go, but the men in it are easy on the eyes as well.  The story is derivative and predictable.  I never felt very involved in the story and the characters are hardly more than archetypes that have been so worn down there’s little left.  The ending set up perfectly for a sequel.  I can’t be excited about it, but I’ve no doubt I’ll be in the theatre for FF7.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Movie Review: Pain and Gain

Stories based on true events are often tough to swallow.  Hollywood loves to truss up a story, make it into something it never was, make things funny when they weren’t.  While I may not know the original story that this was based on, I did read the news report posted online and was unsurprised to read that the people who had been kidnapped in the actual story were disgusted with the changes made.  I can’t imagine anyone being happy with a Hollywood comedy about a tragic event in their lives, but it is unsurprising.

The story follows an anti-hero named Lugo played by Mark Walberg.  Lugo is a personal trainer, working hard, wanting more from life, like many of us, no doubt.  After attending a self-help seminar, he realises he can’t continue doing what he’s doing.  Instead he sees one of his clients, Victor, has more than he deserves.  Lugo convinces two friends to help him with a ‘simple’ kidnapping scheme that will make them rich.  As expected, things go off the rails from the beginning.  The kidnapping is never executed well and it takes three tries before they finally acquire the target in any capacity.

The acting was superb, Dwayne Johnson, the Rock, may seem like a meat-head, but he stole practically every scene he was in.  Guest appearances from Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong were perfect.  I feel like Mark Walberg has been playing the same two characters in every movie I’ve seen him in: the tortured, tough guy or the funny, buff guy.  While I have been impressed with his work, this one felt very forced.

The story ends as you might expect, but I found myself not feeling sympathetic for the tough guys, who were the main focus of the story, but the resiliency from the hateable victim Victor.  Tony Shaloub is absolutely detestable as Victor.  You hate him the moment you meet him, but truthfully, you should feel sorry for him.  This allusion may be poorly placed, but the movie reminded me of Cogan’s Way, the recent Brad Pitt movie Killing Them Softly.  The basis for that movie was about the American Way, getting what you want and working hard for it.

This movie cuts from the same cloth.  Lugo wants the American life, the one that is feasible in this country, but few others.  If you work hard, if you stay the course, you will be rewarded.  What Lugo forgets is that he isn’t working hard, he’s stealing.  Victor wins because he is dogged in his efforts, as he was on his way to success.  The crux of the story is if you cut corners, you won’t get to the finish line.  While we may not like it, despicable people are successful because they don’t give up, they don’t let someone beat them.  Victor was literally run over by a car, narrowly escaped being caught several times and managed to have his story taken seriously by one person, and that is all it takes.

Many reviewers felt this movie was vapid, but I found the moral hitting home.  I want to succeed, as we all do, and more like Victor than Lugo, I’m not cutting corners, putting in the time to be see the fruits of my labour.  If nothing else, the movie emboldened my focus, confirming that hard work does pay off.  Go forth and take that dream, no one will give it to you.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

The story of the wizard of Oz is only known, for most folks, from the viewpoint of Dorothy through the age old movie the Wizard of Oz and the many revivals it has seen.  In the new movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, the audience sees the story from the role of the wizard who becomes the Great Wizard of Oz.  The wizard is a less than savoury man, a con artist to the highest degree, wanting to be more, but not willing to put the time and effort in to be better.  Though this kind of character isn’t new, he still seemed compelling and interesting.  When he gets whisked off by a tornado, he lands in a new world, meeting a woman who helps him to the emerald city.  Her name is Theodora, and she believes he loves her.  As a con man, he loves himself the most.  Her sister, Evanora tells Oz he must kill the evil witch so that their world can be free of her evil.  When he finally meets her, she resembles a woman he loved back in Kansas.  He soon realises that one of the two of the witches are lying to him.  The story unfolds in somewhat predictable fashion, but this doesn’t detract from the story or experience in any way.

Without giving away the end, the story ends with a perfect opening for Dorothy to arrive in the Land of Oz.  The acting was passable, at times, not as great as the breath-taking special effects.  James Franco and Mila Kunis were good, but not great.  I felt like I could hear ‘Meg’ every time Kunis got upset or agitated.  It is silly, I know, but it pulled me out of the story each time she did it.  Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams were absolutely amazing.  Both delivered what I’ve come to expect, knock-out performances.  I’m still amazed Williams didn’t win an Oscar nomination for her role in My Week with Marilyn, but such is life in Hollywood.  The story was quite good, the execution decent.  I can see why many critics felt it fell flat.  There were points where I felt like Franco was giving his trademark grin, phoning in the performance for our benefit.  Sometimes, I’m not sure I take him very seriously.  The 3D effect was incorporated well into the story, not making it seem overzealous as many kids movies tend to.  This is worth seeing, but I’m not sure I’d see it in the evening.  Many theatres have matinee specials, I’d go for that if I were you.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Movie Review: The Last Exorcism Part II

A fan of horror movies must often suffer through really bad movies to get really good ones.  The Last Exorcism was a ‘found footage’ style movie that placed viewers with a preacher who claimed that no one was ever really possessed and proved it by taking a film crew along.  As luck would have it, he stumbles upon a real possession and faces his own death as he tries to save the girl being taken by a demon.  In the sequel, we pick up where we left off, so to speak.  The possessed girl, Nell, has finally been found, doesn’t remember much of what happened and is trying to lead a normal life.  The demon who possessed her loves her and wants her back.

In what can only be typified by your garden variety low-class attempts, the story groans and sputters, leading from one predictable sequence to the next, never providing anything of interest or anything compelling save for the consistent innocence from Nell, performed quite ably by Ashley Bell.  She personifies confusion and panic in a way that makes the terrible story almost bearable for an hour and a half.  What is more disappointing with this sequel is not the heavy-handed writing, the mediocre acting or the banal acting from most of the cast, it departed so heavily from the original, save for Nell, the story almost lacked any cohesion.  The first movie was terrifying for the twists and turns, for the unpredictability.  The sequel was tired and underwhelming, the ending worthy of walking out.  Of all the bad horror movies I’ve seen, this is one of the worst.  I forgot it almost as soon as I got to my car.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Movie Digest: Academy Awards 2012

Like many of you, I watched the Oscars, which is to say I watched the first thirty minutes of it before my DVR changed the channel to Walking Dead and I went to bed.  In the morning, much to my dismay, did I see the expected winners win.  Daniel Day-Lewis I can’t argue with.  I have yet to hear how Lincoln spoke, but I suspect he became Lincoln for that movie.  Christoph Waltz was the same person from Inglorious Basterds, if you ask me, but I guess that’s how things shake out.  Anne Hathaway probably does deserve an award for just losing that much weight and being able to sing, but you’d have to pay me to watch Les Mis. 

The most confounding moment was Jennifer Lawrence.  I don’t even mean the falling on your face, though good on Hugh Jackman and Bradely Cooper for coming to her aid.  But really, since when has playing in a romantic comedy earned someone an academy award nomination, let alone a sweep through the Golden Globes and Oscars?  I mean, really?  I think I may have lost all respect for the reputable institution after this move.  Yes, JLaw was great in Winter’s Bone, but that doesn’t mean you need to give a ‘make-up’ award for a laughable performance in a mildly diverting rom-com.  I just can’t understand it.

After sitting through many of the best picture movies this past weekend, I found my mind unable to wrap around how anyone in that cast, let alone the writers and producers, getting any credit for writing a romantic comedy.  I do realise that ‘As Good As It Gets’ did this exact same thing years ago, but really, the Academy was just giving Nicholson an award, and his trip down mental illness seemed much more believable than either Lawrence or Cooper.  Jessica Chastain deserved that award and while I’m happy she’s happy, I’d be spitting nails if I were her.

And while I have your limited attention, despite what the Huffington Post tells me, I don’t think Seth McFarlane was that bad.  I thought his monologue could have been shorter, sure, but I think it was entertaining and didn’t steal from the show.  Yes, his jokes can be off-putting, but if you’ve never seen anything he’s done, then that might surprise you.  He isn’t Billy Crystal, no one is or ever will be.

If you want, here are links to all the movies I reviewed over the weekend: Beasts of theSouthern Wild, Dark Skies, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero DarkThirty.