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Movie Breakdown: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

February 5, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies originally got underway in 2009 with David O. Russell as the writer and director and Natalie Portman as the star.  They left.  Then both Mike Newell (Prince Of Persia) and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) declined to direct.  Eventually Mike White (Year Of The Dog) took the job but then had to drop out.  He was replaced by Craig Gillespie (Lars And The Real Girl), who also ended up leaving the project.  This led to Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud) becoming the writer and director and actually getting the thing made (with Lily James of Downton Abbey-fame as Elizabeth Bennett).  Whew.  What a ride!  Let’s face it though, after six years of all that tumbling around, it’ll be a miracle if the film isn’t a mess.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Just so you know, I’ve never read Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, so I have no idea how the movie stands up to the book.  As for the film itself, it’s okay.  The main thing that keeps it from being more than that is the super wonky tone that stems from the way it’s split between being a somewhat crafty parody, a generic love story, and a jarringly-shot action flick.  Mishmash, I believe, is probably the best way to describe it.  Again, I don’t know if the book reads the same way or not, so I’m going to assume that the film’s unevenness is a direct result of it being in production hell for such a long time.  Either way, the point is that it’s a difficult movie to settle down with since it’s so all over the place and feels ticky-tacked together.  You should skip Pride And Prejudice And Zombies until it’s 3am and you’re drunk on your couch with nothing else to watch.  At that point its scatterbrained ways may work for you.

One Last Thought:

It seems unlikely that Game Of Thrones’ Lena Headey will get offered anything but “sneering asshole” roles for the rest of her career.  I feel kind of feel sorry for her.  Then again, she’s really good at it, and work is work, so maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.

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Movie Breakdown: Hail, Caesar (Noah)

February 4, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s a Coen brothers film starring just about every awesome actor in Hollywood. I would say excitement is a mild term for what I am right now.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There are very few Coen brothers movies that I don’t flat out enjoy. In my humble opinion, and many other folk’s less humble opinions, the filmmaking siblings are two of the great American masters still working today. And sometimes, well, sometimes even the greatest directors make minor films. Which is, very much what Hail, Caesar is – a thinly-plotted 50s Hollywood noir that though enjoyable, never finds its footing as well as it should. The film centers on one day in the life of Eddie Mannix, the studio-head-cum-bodyguard-cum-fix-it-guy, who has, on this one particular 24-hours, to deal with a kidnapped star (George Clooney in fine scenery chewing form), a Communist plot, a cowboy-action-star who’s trying to be a dramatic actor and, well, a whole lot more. There’s a light theme of religion in the film (or film as religion or religion on film or something about religion and film and the gods of cinema), or perhaps the nature of good and evil, or maybe even the importance of art above all else, but the film tries to do so much in such a short time that getting a bead on what the directors are actually trying to say is difficult. Instead, as Mannix searches for both Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, and his own soul, he jumps from soundstage to soundstage, each bearing another beautiful reproduced allusion to the Golden Years of Hollywood film. By the end, as everything comes together in a loosely held, slightly messy knot of narrative cohesion, you’re left wondering, did the Coen brothers just want to make sure that at some point in their lives they could direct a film that had Busby Berkeley-style dance scenes, a dinner drama, and a sub rising out of the water. Well, good work gentlemen, now you have.

One Last Thought:

You need to see a Coen brothers film twice. You just do. So maybe, just maybe this will end up being another Big Lebowski or something and this first scan-over just wasn’t enough.

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Movie Breakdown: Hail, Caesar

February 3, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

While I didn’t care much for Joel and Ethan Coen’s last film, 2013′s Inside Llewyn Davis, I’m still really looking forward to Hail, Caesar.  It looks fun.  Also, it’s the damn Coen brothers!  Even their bad films are tolerable.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Somewhere around the halfway mark of Hail, Caesar I finally realized what it reminded me of – The Hateful Eight.  Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but before you close out of this tab and get on with living your life, let me ramble for a moment to explain why my brain made such a seemingly strange connection.

Both are immensely self-indulgent films made by directors with the clout to do whatever they want.  The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino playing in a world/genre that he loves, and while he made something entertaining, there’s no real story to be found.  It’s just thick dialogue, great cinematography, heavy violence and enough tip of the hat bits to circle the globe.  As for Hail, Caesar, it’s the Coen brothers straight up playing off of their wonderment for old Hollywood.  The film is full of wordy dialogue, beautiful cinematography, an enormous amount of references and – in place of the violence and vulgarity in The Hateful Eight – a screwball-ish sense of humor.  I enjoyed Hail, Caesar, but I can’t say that I loved it.  There’s no real plot or anything substantial to grab onto in the film – it really is just the Coen brothers playing around.  If that sounds like a good time to you, then run out and see Hail, Caesar.  If you’re hoping for something that has more weight to it though, then you may want to save a few bucks and wait until the film is available for home consumption.

One Last Thought:

Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine, Stoker) as Hobie Doyle easily wins out as my favorite part of Hail, Caesar – he’s so charming and endearing as the very Southern character.  Here’s hoping the performance opens some doors for him.

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Movie Breakdown: 45 Years

January 29, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

45 Years looks like one of those films that just rips you apart and then leaves you in a dark corner somewhere, all disassembled and feeling like maybe you don’t really know anything about anything.  Sign me up!  Also, go ahead and pour me a glass of whiskey.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Just as I suspected it might be, 45 Years is a fantastic but tough film.  Geoff (played very earnestly by Tom Courtenay) is all set to celebrate 45 years of marriage with Kate (played passionately and brilliantly by Charlotte Rampling), but a few days before the momentous occasion is set to occur he receives a letter notifying him that the body of his first love has been found (she fell down a crevasse while they were hiking).  This causes an immediate shift in the couple’s relationship, and the rest of the film follows Kate as she battles her husband’s rekindled infatuation with a woman long gone.

45 Years is only about 90 minutes long, but even with its swift runtime director Andrew Haigh delivers a lot via Kate’s unraveling.  Don’t expect any big dramatic moments set to sweeping music or anything like that though.  No, Haigh quietly and patiently unfolds the film in a way where Rampling is allowed to show you everything via her face (her eyes are something else) and little reactions to things (there’s a great moment where a certain lyric causes her to quickly turn the radio off).  So, every time she finds something out or becomes more aware of her situation, you see it on her face and in her body language before a single word is spoken.  It truly is masterful work by Rampling.  Props to Haigh for providing the right sort of space in the film for her performance to exist.

If you want to take a punch to the stomach and/or you just like great movies, then go see 45 Years.

One Last Thought:

I never watch movies with headphones on, but I strapped on a pair for 45 Years and really enjoyed the experience.  Admittedly, I don’t know if I loved it because the film was mixed really well or if it was just nice to blot out the world, but either way I think I’m going to start wearing headphones as often as possible when watching movies at home.  You can hear everything!

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Movie Breakdown: Kung Fu Panda 3

January 28, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Personally, I think the first two Kung Fu Panda films are pretty good.  While they’re both fairly silly, they pack a positive message and feature great visuals.  I have moderately high hopes for the third entry.

Post-Screening Ramble:

On the outside, Kung Fu Panda 3 isn’t all that different than the first two entries in the series.  Po (voiced by Jack Black) thinks he has his whole life figured out, but a particularly tough challenge comes along and forces him to push himself so that he can be who he needs to be to save the world.  Also, the film – just like its predecessors – features some really great looking action scenes, a nice message (believe in yourself, you can do anything) and a slew of goofy jokes.  It is, without a doubt, what it’s supposed to be.  Unfortunately though, even if you just lightly poke at the film’s shiny exterior, you’ll open a hole big enough to see inside to its hollow core.  While watching it I felt like it had been completely auto-created via some weird Kung Fu Panda formula, and then the computer running the numbers proceeded to generate a full film and prep it for distribution.  There’s not much heart or originality on display, just a lot of celebrity voices and various things that co-directors (I’m assuming they’re not computers) Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni lifted from the other two films.  Sure, Kung Fu Panda 3 is an overall harmless, mostly enjoyable movie, but it’s legit lacking anything that’s memorable.  If you ask me, that’s disappointing.

You won’t hate yourself for dropping your hard-earned dollars on Kung Fu Panda 3, but you might later wonder what the point was when you can’t remember anything about it.

One Last Thought:

It’s pretty clear that Dreamworks will be churning out Kung Fu Panda films long after we’re all dead and gone.

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Movie Breakdown: The Finest Hours

January 28, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

All I know about The Finest Hours is that there’s a part in the trailer where Chris Pine yells “NOT ON MY WATCH!” and it makes me laugh out loud every single time I see it.  I sincerely hope the line carries the same level of comedic impact in the actual movie.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Finest Hours is not a good film.  It’s based on a neat true story – back in 1952 a small Coast Guard team embarked on a suicide mission to rescue sailors stranded on a busted oil tanker – but “based on” is about all there is to it.  There’s an unnecessary love component and you get to briefly see what the SS Pendleton’s crew went through while waiting to be saved, but mostly it’s just Chris Pine driving a boat over and under waves and lots of people endlessly talking about how they don’t expect the Coast-Guard-crew-that-could to live, much less save even a single sailor.  Then guess what happens?  You know what happens, and therein lies the main problem with The Finest Hours – it’s too much of a bore to allows its obvious ending to be something great.  What a shame.

Aside from a lackluster presentation of its “incredible” true story, the film also features some bizarre performances.  Chris Pine plays his guy, Bernie, as a light version of Forrest Gump, and I’m still not sure if he was supposed to be kind of special or just shy.  I believe Casey Affleck may have been going for a poor man’s “rebel without a cause” kind of thing for his character, Ray, but who knows.  There’s also a chunky Ben Foster who mostly grins and makes weird eyes at people.  The worse though is Eric Bana, who has some kind of half Texas, half Boston accent that’s one of the worst things of all-time.  Oof.

Skip The Finest Hours.  Duh.

One Last Thought:

My screening of The Finest Hours was in 3D, but I don’t actually remember seeing anything that was 3D.  Am I just used to the effect now?  Or was the film not actually in 3D?  I’ll never know, I suppose.

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Movie Breakdown: Finders Keepers (Noah)

January 19, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Documentaries are at the point of over-saturation right now, but hey, there’s a lot of weird shit in the world and if someone wants to turn a camera on it, I’m okay with that. This one’s about a guy who finds a foot in a storage unit and tries to get famous off it … but, the guy who’s foot it is isn’t exactly cool with it.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There should be a new genre of documentary called micro-anthropology which would focus on the new wave of documentaries that focus on the singular relationships between two people and how that relationship affects their minuscule circle of friends/family. Finders Keepers could be the defining film of this genre. The film centers on two men, Shannon Whisnant and John Wood – self-described as polar opposites – who are drawn together when Whisnant finds Wood’s amputated foot in a recently purchased storage unit. Ostensibly, this is what the film is about – the struggle between two men to see whom has actual possession of a former body part – but, as all of these micro-anthropology films do, it’s more about the story of these two men and how this very strange event occurs and affects them. It’s a thin premise for the story, as the vaunted “foot in the grill” disappears for much of the film, but the directors, Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel, use the absurd set-up as an entry point into what becomes a dissection of these men, their families, and the lives they’ve lived. I think, if you look close, you can see that Carberry and Tweel are trying to make the point that everything leads to something, good or bad, and that these two men, and the foot that brought them together are just a small example of that, but it’s such a subtle, almost assumed concept, that the overarching story sort of blocks it out. Leaving the audience with a sort of sideshow attraction view of small-town North Carolina and the people who populate it. It’s a well made bit of fluff (aside from a music selection that borders on maudlin) but at the end of the day, it’s just that – an attractive, sometimes interesting film, that never digs deep enough to matter all that much.

One Last Thought:

At some point this dearth of good documentaries is going to have to end right? Finders Keepers isn’t even that good of a documentary and it’s still pretty good. When will the badness return?

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Top 10 Films Of 2015

January 15, 2016

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Noah and I saw a bunch of terrible movies last year.  You probably don’t care about any of those, so below you’ll find the ones that we liked a lot.  Enjoy.

John’s Top 10 Films Of 2015

10)  Bone Tomahawk

Most people think that The Hateful Eight was the best western to come out in 2015, and they’re wrong.  It was definitely Bone Tomahawk.  Oddly enough, Kurt Russell is in both of them, and the characters aren’t all that different.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why Tarantino’s flick overshadowed the engaging slice of western horror that was crafted by newcomer S. Craig Zahler.  Oh well.  In any case, Bone Tomahawk is a fantastic film that’s brutal but also funny and charming.  See it if you missed it.

09)  Spotlight

Of all of the movies I saw in 2015, Spotlight is the only one that truly screamed “best picture” to me.  Its story is tightly presented and shocking, and there isn’t a bad performance to be found anywhere in the film.

By the way, I’d love to see the story that Spotlight is based on expanded and done in the form of an HBO/Netflix mini-series (think The Jinx or Making A Murderer).  I’m sure it would be super interesting.

08)  Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’m all about The Force Awakens.  Yes, I know it’s practically a carbon copy of A New Hope, and I don’t really care.  The nostalgia is strong with me.

07)  Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

The Mission Impossible series has largely been good, but my main reason for steadily coming back to it is Tom Cruise.  The guy goes all out on everything, and it’s his enthusiasm that allows Rogue Nation to be the best MI entry yet.

06)  Inside Out

My faith in Pixar was starting to waiver, but then Inside Out arrived and cleared away my doubt.  They’re obviously still a company that’s capable of developing new ideas and turning them into meaningful films that are great for all ages.

05)  Room

While I think that Spotlight is probably more worthy of the “best picture” award, I’m totally pulling for Room.  Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are both amazing in it, and director Lenny Abrahamson couldn’t have done a better job of constantly making me like feel an emotional wreck.

04)  The Martian

Ridley Scott hit a total home run with his adaptation of The Martian.  It’s such an easily accessible film (even with all sorts of science being thrown around), and I’m not sure Matt Damon has ever been more charming or likeable.

03)  Ex Machina

Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a mesmerizing piece of sci-fi  I especially love the way its paced.  The damn thing just patiently strolls along while steadily daring you to guess where it’s going.

02)  Creed

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from Creed.  I love the Rocky films, but a spin-off all of these years later kept registering as unnecessary to me.  I was wrong.  I think Creed ranks just under the original Rocky as the best film in the series.  Sylvester Stallone deserves an Oscar, and I really hope that Michael B. Jordan continues on with his character and stars in a whole slew of sequels.

01)  Mad Max: Fury Road

Surprise!  Not really.  Just like the rest of the world, I love Max Max: Fury Road.  At this point (because it’s on HBO now) I think I’ve seen it 10 times, and I grow more and more fond of it with every viewing.  What a big, crazy, weird flick it is.

Here are entries 11-35.  Just for fun.

35)  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
34)  Ant-Man
33)  The Gift
32)  Southpaw
31)  Love And Mercy
30)  Goosebumps
29)  Straight Outta Compton
28)  Carol
27)  Trainwreck
26)  The Witch
25)  Jurassic World
24)  Kingsman: The Secret Service
23)  The End Of The Tour
22)  April And The Extraordinary World
21)  Bridge of Spies
20)  Sicario
19)  Furious 7
18)  The Big Short
17)  Jobs
16)  The Hateful Eight
15)  The Revenant
14)  The Lobster
13)  Magic Mike XXL
12)  Brand New Testament
11)  Green Room

Here are my biggest disappointments of 2015.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Tomorrowland
Spectre

Here are six films I missed that I’d still like to see.

Brooklyn
Beasts of No Nation
The Night Before
Joy
Cop Car
Crimson Peak

Noah’s Top 10 Films Of 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t a perfect movie by any means. And if I wasn’t dropping it on the top of my Top 10 for 2015, I’d be happy to regale you with my issues with the film. But at the end of the day (year), I’ve seen the film twice (with a third screening on the way) and though it may have its flaws, it takes the world of Star Wars – a messy, nerd-controlled, dystopian landscape – and gives it back to the public in a near perfect distillation of everything that made the original trilogy such instant classics. I haven’t felt more overwhelmed with emotion – nostalgic or otherwise – with any other film in the last ten years. I stepped out of the press screening happy, sad, glowing with the energy a good film leaves with you, but most of all, I stepped out excited to see universe I’ve loved since before I could speak, finally returned in all its glory.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t just look like the work of some 22-year old film prodigy fresh from movie school, it crackles with the energy you would only expect someone who’s yet to be exposed to the soul-crushing nature of Hollywood. Thus, it blows my mind that 72-year old George Miller was able to bring this singular vision of a world at its breaking point to the screen. Any other year this would have stood at the top of the pile, glowering down on any competitors. It’s a beautiful piece of world-building (they fix the cars WHILE they drive) paired with some of the most dynamic, original action pieces, well, ever. But more than that, it’s a statement, a call to arms for the future action blockbusters of the world to eschew the boring tropes of generic stories and cardboard characters. All hail George Miller.

Creed

I’m the guy who says Rocky IV is his favorite of the Rocky films. Yup, that’s me. Sad truths aside, when Stallone announced that they’d be making a new Rocky film centered on the son of Apollo Creed, I balked. Did we really need another Rocky film? The answer, empirically, is yes. Director Ryan Coogler has managed to translate the first Rocky film for a new generation. Instead of Rocky Balboa, we’re given Adonis Creed, a rich kid from L.A. who decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a boxer. It’s not a complicated film, but Coogler takes the energy and nostalgia for the first film and infuse it with a modern, hip-hop, underdog mentality that elevates above and beyond its predecessors. Bring on the sequels!

Sicario

As long as Denis Villeneuve is making films, I think they’ll end up on my Top 10 lists. I read somewhere that Sicario was the Apocalypse Now of drug movies, and I whole-heartedly agree. Emily Blunt plays a border police officer who’s pulled into a covert drug unit to battle drug czars in Mexico. What follows is a harrowing, dark dissection of our modern war on drugs. Though it’s intense, riveting, and full of nail-biting action moments (and one of the best Benecio del Toro performances in years), it feels like nothing that’s come before.

The Martian

I hated Andy Weir’s book The Martian, so when I heard that they were making a movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, I was skeptical. Yet The Martian is one of the best sci-fi films in a recent memory. Matt Damon proves his pure, unadulterated stardom by infusing the character of Mark Watney with humor, sadness, and an almost unbearable sense of loneliness. It’s somehow both realistic and fun, filled with memorable performances, and shot through with a sense of technological hope you don’t see much these days. Take your kids to this, they’ll grow up wanting to be astronauts.

Ex Machina

I sort of hate Alex Garland. He’s one of the best screenwriters of the last twenty years, and now, well, he’s an amazing first-time director. Ex Machina, the story of two men and an ultra life-like fembot is not only a great think piece about sentient robotics, but a deeply scary look at the dangers of technology. The film is gorgeously shot, beautifully scored, and features truly brilliant performances from its three leads. If the last shot of the film doesn’t make your stomach clench with anguish, well hell, you’ve got a constitution made of iron. Another notch in the revitalization of the modern science-fiction film.

The Hateful Eight

Oh Quentin, you crazy crazy man. I don’t know how to recommend this film. It’s slow and steady, shot like a play, and rests just a few inches outside of boring for most of its running time. How about this – do you like Tarantino dialogue? Do you like pop-laden discussions of racism in America? Do you like Samuel L. Jackson giving a performance only Tarantino would allow? Well, then you’ll like, probably love this film. I certainly did.

The End of the Tour

Hollywood, take note: this is how you make a bio-pic. You don’t fritter away your credibility by trying to immerse audiences in the full-scale retelling of a life. Oh no, you pick a moment – a day, a week, an hour – that identifies the major themes that ran through your subjects life, and you fully expose the entirety of it. In this case, James Ponsoldt (batting 1.000 at this point) takes a week long interview between David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace and uses it to highlight just how DFW was, while exploring the triumphs and tribulations of becoming a famous writer. Jason Segal has reinvented himself with this film and it’s always nice when someone puts Jessie Eisenberg’s inherent creepiness to good use.

Beasts of No Nation

Cary Fukanaga can do anything. I’m assured of this. He crafted one of the best ten hours of television, well, ever with True Detective. He made me give a shit about English Period dramas with Jane Eyre. And now he’s used his immense skill to artfully portray the horrors of African civil war through the eyes of a child-turned-soldier. Idris Elba turns in another star-worthy performance as The Commandant, a violent rebel leader grasping for power. But the true star of the film, aside from Fukanaga’s visuals, is newcomer Abraham Attah as Agu, a local village boy who is thrust into the armed services of The Commandant. This is a brutal, brutal film that somehow manages to be both poignant, poetic and absolutely mesmerizing. If the last shot of the movie doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, you might be broken on the inside.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

The best entry yet in this impossibly good action series.

Honorable Mentions:

True Story
Crimson Peak
The Visit
Inside Out

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Movie Breakdown: Anomalisa

January 15, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I missed Anomalisa at Fantastic Fest back in September, and I’ve been impatiently waiting to see it ever since.  Mostly because it looks neat and I really dig Charlie Kaufman (he wrote the film and co-directed it with Duke Johnson).

Post-Screening Ramble:

I’m admittedly pretty undecided in regards to exactly how I feel about Anomalisa.  I certainly adore the film’s charming and creative animation style, and I like its subtle sense of humor.  It also has a simple story that’s easy enough to engage in – a man named Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is in the midst of an existential crisis while on a business trip in Cincinnati.  The biggest part of the film though is its characters (naturally), and I’m split on what to think.  Michael has a lot of interesting things going on in his head, but he’s such a miserable person that I frequently found myself more annoyed than enamored with him.  I also felt the same way about Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), the girl he meets on the trip, who is equally tortured.  Both are being pulled down by a subject that’s universally relatable (life), but they’re each so self-involved that I found them both dull and agitating.  Or maybe that’s the point of it all?  Perhaps Charlie Kaufman’s take on life is that it wouldn’t be so hard if we could get out of our heads and try to live?  Or maybe I just can’t get behind such whiny people who choose to let their problems crush them instead of trying to make things better?  I don’t know.  Regardless, the point is that the film’s characters were an issue for me.

Anomalisa is definitely a Charlie Kaufman film, as it left me all mixed up.  See it because you could probably use a good challenge.

One Last Thought:

There’s full frontal nudity in Anomalisa, and for whatever reason I found it to be really odd.  This is what I thought while it was happening.

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Movie Breakdown: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi (Noah)

January 14, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I will say that I’m not opposed to Michael Bay expanding the spectrum of the types of films he chooses to direct. That said, the idea of Michael “Transformers” Bay taking on a real, historic tragedy like Benghazi seems a bit far-fetched.

Post-Screening Ramble:

To make a film about Benghazi correctly, you really have to make two different films. First, a historic military film, the type that uses the living truth, the facts as it may, to accurately tell a story about an event that has actually occurred. Second, you have to make a film that places an opinion of some kind on the situation at hand. This is difficult in the hands of even the most talented director, and few historical films manage to do either with any aplomb. Trouble is with 13 Hours is that by allowing Michael Bay to take the reins a third type of film is created – a Michael Bay film. The type of movie that has an obnoxious comic relief character (think Martin Lawrence in the Bad Boys films), that has clear good guys to root for and clear bad guys to shake your patriotic fist at, the type of film that isn’t mired in the confusion that our current war(s) in the Middle East are prone to. Which is why, ultimately, 13 Hours is a failure, another notch in the belt of Michael Bay’s blockbuster auteurism, but as a film that has anything to say about events in Benghazi in September of 2012, this film does not work. For those who haven’t read the news in the last five years, Benghazi was a small, classified outpost in Libya that in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s fall from power, became a microcosm of age-old conflicts, a tiny fissure of anger and hate that ended up killing a lot of people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Bay chooses to focus on six contract soldiers (lead by James Badge Dale’s Roan) who went against orders to protect those who were trapped in the Benghazi outpost as a mob of violent rebels overran it. A good film could be made about this subject as it illuminates many of the issues related to our near-constant military presence in the Middle East, but Bay hasn’t made that film. Instead, he’s chosen to make an action movie that uses the events to allow his six, burly soldiers (even John Krasinski is looking beefy in the film) to crack wise, be bad-ass, and talk, almost incessantly about their families at home. Though Bay manages to sidestep the film being offensive in its portrayal of the attack and counter-attack by blanketing the whole damn, lengthy affair (the film clocks in at almost two and half hours of military might) in a wash of patriotism and authentic military speak, showing an almost sycophantic respect for his six main characters and the arduous 13 hours they plodded through, guns blazing. But in the end it doesn’t matter because Michael Bay can’t stop being Michael Bay. He wants the credibility of a historical military film (no matter how recent that history might be) but he also wants his audience to have a good time, shed a few tears and walk away knee deep in love with the power of good old-fashioned American war. And so, instead of a powerful, poignant film like Zero Dark Thirty, we get an attractively shot action film (Bay still does violence real pretty) loosely garbed in the trappings of an actual event. We get wise-cracking interpreters, tough-but-sensitive soldiers, and a whole lot of shots of the American flag either waving poetically in the wind or drowning in the consequences of the horrible evening at Benghazi. It is, as much as it tries not to be, jingoistic fluff, rightly cannonballed into the doldrums of January.

One Last Thought:

I was worried when I walked into this film that Bay would let his cardboard characters and linear plot lend themselves to aggressively racist portrayals of the Libyans who attacked the outpost at Benghazi. He doesn’t, exactly, but instead does something much worse – he creates a scenario where no Libyan is onscreen without the support of ominous music, sweaty brows and tension ratcheted to the nines. Instead of exposing himself and his beliefs (whatever they may be) he allows his stereotypical portrayal of Libyans, and Middle Easterners in general, slip by as background noise, further clouding a subject that always, forever, needs a much defter explanation.

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Movie Breakdown: Ride Along 2

January 13, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart are back together for another buddy cop romp.  This time though they’re in Miami!  Get wild.  On a related note, I’m not even exactly excited to see Ride Along 2.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I actually don’t hate the first Ride Along.  I caught it in its entirety once (and since then I’ve seen bits and pieces of it about a zillion other times) on HBO, and I thought it was okay.  The movie was clearly made so that Ice Cube could do his tough guy thing and Kevin Hart could do his silly little guy thing, and overall it’s a pretty harmless, somewhat funny buddy cop flick.  This, obviously, isn’t a ringing endorsement for Ride Along 2, but I will say I strolled into it expecting to chuckle a few times. Also, deep down I was hoping that maybe, just maybe there would be some sort of over the top crazy plot that would warrant the creation of the film.

Nope.

Ride Along 2 is a total bore.  I didn’t even slightly giggle once.  I mostly just sat there just being annoyed.  Ice Cube is too dickish at every turn, Kevin Hart is far too silly at every turn, Olivia Munn delivers all of her lines with a bizarre “am I saying this right?” face, and Ken Jeong is so unfunny that it made me question why I ever thought he was funny to begin with.  And the story?  I don’t even know.  Everything so conveniently falls into place that I’m not even sure what anyone was trying to do.  They all just shuffle from one place to another while talking way too much and I eventually just zoned out and started drooling.

Skip this one forever.

One Last Thought:

I’m roughly 93% sure that Ride Along 2 only exists because someone thought “brothers-in-law” was really clever.

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Movie Breakdown: The Revenant

January 8, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a brilliant filmmaker, and Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the best actors of all-time.  Plus there’s Tom Hardy!  Also, who doesn’t love a good revenge tale?  I’m all in for The Revenant.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Revenant is a visually stunning film.  You could easily watch it with no sound and you’d still be amazed.  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu clearly spared no expense on eye-pleasing imagery, and his tracking shots are as on point as ever throughout the film.  The Revenant is – to be super clear – a total treat to just look at.

As for the plot, which follows a man (Leonardo DiCaprio in Oscar-winning mode) crawling out of the wilderness in an attempt to seek revenge on the meanie head (Tom Hardy as mumbly and brilliant as ever) that left him for dead, is pretty straightforward and, to be honest, a little thin.  This is where The Revenant stumbles.  Sure, it features great performances, the film itself is intense and brutal, and there are more breathtaking shots on display than any of us deserve, but there is a point where the lack of a more compelling story makes the movie’s various artsy elements feel like a bit much.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed The Revenant, but it would be silly to ignore how it plays as though a message saying “look how serious we are about our art” might scroll across the screen at any moment.

See The Revenant because you should, but downshift your expectations a bit.  It feels more like a work of art than a movie, and that’s not exactly the point of it all, is it?

One Last Thought:

Unless the Academy just really takes issue with the fact that Leo didn’t fight a real bear in The Revenant, I think he’ll finally get his Oscar.

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Movie Breakdown: The Revenant (Noah)

January 8, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Inarritu is one of the modern masters of cinema. I’d watch his take on a dog pooing in someone’s lawn.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Revenant is, technically, an outstanding achievement. By this point you’ve read the articles touting it’s intense shoot (below freezing weather, fights amongst actors and director, an unyielding request to have the film entirely shot in natural light) and the unbearable acts Inarritu demanded of his cast (Leo ate a liver!) and all of this comes across in the film. It is a staggeringly beautiful movie that is relentless in portraying the hardships of a) being a mountain man in the 19th century and b) fighting back from death in an icy landscape before chasing your almost-killer through hellish conditions. This is a brutally violent (in all aspects) film that never lets up for a moment. Leonardo DiCaprio is very good as a Hugh Glass (the mountain man who seeks vengeance) but he can’t compare to the muttering anger Tom Hardy, a scalping survivor, who nearly murders Glass, well, mostly because he’s bored. So, the film is beautiful, harrowing and well-acted – but why can’t I just come out and say I loved it? Because I didn’t. As much of a technical achievement as it is and as many times as my mouth dropped in astonishment from some artfully crafted battle scene, well, the film is a just a little bit boring. After nearly three hours of watching and waiting for Hugh Glass to get his, the film starts to feel a bit empty, a bit hollow beneath it’s gorgeous surface. More so, at times Inarritu’s obsession with making this a visually astounding film (hope you like tracking shots) becomes distracting. I spent so much time marveling at how he might’ve accomplished a certain ridiculous shot (Hugh Glass falling off the cliff is one that comes to mind) I stopped paying attention to what really drives what is essentially a two-person film – the characters. DiCaprio and Hardy do a shit-ton with what they have, unearthing motivations I don’t know if anyone believed actually lived in this script, but at the end of the day, it’s really just a revenge film, gussied up and drawn out to great lengths because, well, that’s what great films do. All of this film-bashing aside though, you should see The Revenant not only because of it’s achievements on a technical scale because nowadays it’s such a damn rarity to see a true master get the opportunity to make a good old-fashioned film.

One Last Thought:

Sometimes pretty isn’t everything.

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Movie Breakdown: The Forest (Noah)

January 8, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The very first film screening of any year is always a sad affair. The fact that mine will be a horror film starring Natalie Dormer about a Japanese suicide forest doesn’t bode especially well.

Post-Screening Ramble:

If The Forest had come out in 1983 and I was under the influence of some particularly strong strains of marijuana when I’d watched it, it might’ve just edged it’s way into that “so-bad-its-good” category people are always harping on about. But, it comes out this Friday and I was dead sober when I watched it (hey, I’m pretending to be a professional here) and it is handily, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Which is sad, because it starts out with some promise. Sarah (Natalie Dormer) is a twin, and her twin, Jess, has gone missing in Aokigahara Forest – a Japanese forest infamous for its attractive nature to those looking to off themselves. Sarah, strong-willed to begin with, rushes off to find her twin in the supposedly ghost-laden place. Early on in the film you can see that director Jason Zada seems to have had some idea of the film he wanted to make – a slow burning bit of tension, rife with gorgeous cinematography and allusions to the beauty and danger inherent in nature. And then, at about the thirty minute mark, as Sarah and her entourage of cardboard cutouts waltz into the death forest, you can almost feel the finger of the studio slowly crushing any spirit from the film. What could’ve been something at least watchable, slowly devolves into a miasma of shitty character decisions and unexplained story jumps written off as “mysterious.” Dormer’s character (who’s only defining character trait is that she has a twin and a husband) backpedals from possibly intelligent human being to screaming ninny driven only by the film’s need to keep up with its banal plotting. When the whole goddamn avalanche finally whimpers to a stop with one of the very worst endings you’ll see in film this year or any other, all you can do is shake your head and hope this bundle of poo-poo doesn’t bring any tidings for the rest of cinema in 2016.

One Last Thought:

It has to get better from here.

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Movie Breakdown: Concussion

December 24, 2015

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The Impression:

Will Smith stars in Concussion, the movie that the NFL doesn’t want you to see!  Well, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but the trailers have looked fairly Oscar-baity, and I’ll be surprised if the film doesn’t steadily try to come off as more important than it really is.

The Reality:

Concussion is one of those films that you’ll forget by the time you walk from the theater to your car.  That’s not to say you’ll be upset that you saw it.  Overall, it’s a well made, fairly compelling drama, and Will Smith turns in quality work as Dr. Bennet Omalu (he’s the guy who scientifically proved that repeatedly taking shots to the head is not good for you), but director/writer Peter Landesman doesn’t provide much of anything else to hold onto.  You merely get a glimpse at Omalu’s research and the way that the NFL chose to deal with it, and otherwise it’s just scene after scene with a serious-looking Mr. Smith earnestly shooting for an Oscar nod.  If that sounds like a solid time to you, then go for it.  Like I said, Concussion isn’t bad, it just doesn’t have as much to offer as it should.

The Lesson:

Don’t hit your head on stuff.

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