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Movie Breakdown: Zoolander 2 (Noah)

February 12, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The original Zoolander was a rare film for me that on repeated viewings became something I sort of half-heartedly cherished, quoted, and ostensibly enjoyed. It says a lot about my growth as a human that the sudden presence of a second Zoolander film hasn’t exactly stirred my hype machine.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Generic Hollywood sequel rules state that the second film in a series has to both expand the world we’ve previously seen our characters exist in and, especially in the modern film era, add a certain percentage of new, exotic locales and bigger, potentially less thought through explosions. How though, when faced with creating a follow-up to a film like Zoolander (teetering on the border of bat-shit to begin with) do you up the ante? How do you add another layer to the cake without creating something completely unapproachable by new viewers or old fans? Zoolander 2, furthering the adventures of male-model-turned-world-hero Derek Zoolander and his coterie of dimwitted model friends, chooses to expand, well everything. If Zoolander the First was a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at the world of fashion, Zoolander 2 is a hit the ground running immersion into the unexplored Fashion World of Derek Zoolander. Seemingly, the runway isn’t the only battlefield in the world of Derek Zoolander, the whole world is some sort of fashion-obsessed alternate universe. Interpol (always with the Interpol people) has a Fashion Division (headed up by Penelope Cruz, who in both looks and talent, still has it), there’s a prison for Fashion Criminals (get it?) and even a fashion Illuminati working behind the scenes to alter the face of … yup, fashion. So, sure, Zoolander 2 pulls away from the tropes of sequels and posits interesting ideas, but, again, sequels nowadays can’t just be riffs on what came before, they have to be bigger, more international, possibly stupider, because we, the film-going public seemingly need our second dip to take these known characters and toss them into situations that supposedly, somebody wants to see. Which brings us to Derek Zoolander, 10 years after the fact, a widow, a dead-beat dad and hermit living the wilds of New Jersey, but something or someone wants him and orgy-aficionado Hansel (Owen Wilson) back in the fashion spotlight. Thus, the film twists the original, downplays its stars, and gives us what amounts to a fish-out-of-water story, albeit one tinged with spiritualism and daddy issues. Ben Stiller isn’t a bad director, at times he’s a great director, but the film, with its need to highlight how aware it is of current culture and how aware it is that this film is funny because, hey, these guys don’t fit into that culture, flounders under the excess every sequel demands. There is no scene in this film that doesn’t feature a cameo or a stab at technology or some one-off appearance of a character that never appears again or some bigger/better/weirder allusion to the original film. And after a while, the excess of everything just gets to be that, excess, and even within the borders of this fairly detailed world Stiller and company have created, it feels sodden, the potential of ideas once again bogged down by a need to satisfy some invisible focus group. Zoolander was a fluke success if there ever was one, a slight film given gravity because of the bong rips and beer bongs of a certain generation still toeing the water-line of internet humor. To see it again, now trying to keep afloat in the murky puddle it helped to create, seems all too connected to the plight of its has-been fashion superstars. But, where they sashay off into the sunset, this 75 minute kick to the serotonin centers of the brain may be too heavy to make it down the runway.

One Last Thought:

When does this endless parade of sequels and remakes finally sputter out?

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Movie Breakdown: Deadpool (Noah)

February 11, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Deadpool is one of Marvel’s most popular and most annoying characters. The fact that Ryan Reynolds has spent most of his career trying to absolve himself of his Green Lantern sins by bringing this character to the screen helps next to nothing.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It’s taken Marvel almost ten years to start making what any comic book fan exposed to world-ending events and giant-sized, grotesque super-villains for the entirety of their lives would consider to be superhero movies. Marvel was sensitive about the amount of spandex and super-deformity for good reason – people just weren’t ready for it. But now, it being 2016 and all, the slow burn Marvel lit with Iron Man has finally detonated as comic books, from the oddest to the grimmest, are now casual fodder for everyday non-nerds. Marvel knows this – look at the galaxy-spanning lineup they’ve got ready for Phase Three – but their cinematic universe still plays in the sandbox of genre-realism – yes, we live in a world where a man wears a robot suit and leads a team of magicians and insect dudes, but the world they play in still hews close to the one we know. Fox Studios though, Marvel’s red-headed step-brother, perhaps to delineate themselves from the comic book world they opened the doors for with the original X-Men, have, with some success, decided to throw caution to the wind and slap us fully in the face with Deadpool. Sure, to make Deadpool – the story of a wack-job-turned-cancer-patient-turned-super-assassin who dresses up in red spandex, cracks naughty jokes and kills people – you have to step over the line of reality as Deadpool’s entire comics oeuvre orbits around a character who embodies all of the adolescent fantasies 90s comic books brought to the screen – big breasted women and enormously phallic weapons to mention just a couple. And, to Fox’s credit, Deadpool succeeds in being a COMIC BOOK film. There’s no skirting the subject, or trying to downplay the existence of mutants or enormous power-sets, oh no, Deadpool simply jumps to the screen knowing full well that the world it’s entering is one that’s, finally, primed for non-stop, adult-oriented, superhero action. It doesn’t try and deviate from its comic book source, Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool is the equivalent of a 13 year old boy in terms of crude, sexual humor and a penchant for over-the-top violence, and to Reynold’s credit, he uses his own persona to somehow make the spandex clad assassin a living, breathing, feeling presence on the screen, wise-cracking and killing his way through a film that firmly plants a flag as the first in a new era of truly comic, comic book films. Though it is nice to see a studio going full comic book nerd, Fox only partially sticks the landing as the film will certainly play best to 13-year old boys and the oafish man-children they grow into. Reynold’s non-stop comedic patter is true to the character, and often times funny to boot, but it also drags the film down deep into the nerd world where nut-shots and dick-jokes are the spectrum by which we judge if a film is good, bad, or ugly. Deadpool toes the line adequately, at times the best you can say for a film introducing a character to a wider audience, but it’s also tiring in both its pace and its dedication to force any fan of four-color funny books to relive an era most have locked away in their long-boxes next to their Dad’s 80s Playboys. But hell, if Fox wants to differentiate themselves by hewing closer to what true nerds really want to see (and if trailers for the new X-Men: Apocalypse are any sign, they do), I say keep working, keep refining, let’s see some truly comic book action on the big screen. Deadpool is a perfectly decent start.

One Last Thought:

Sure, Deadpool isn’t mine, or anyone who’s pituitary gland has been functioning properly, favorite comic book character, but kudos to Fox for stopping their business bitching long enough to dedicate themselves to a vision and, with some success, bringing it to the screen.

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Movie Breakdown: How To Be Single

February 11, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Judging by the trailers, How To Be Single is about a variety of pretty ladies who love being, uh … single.  Or maybe it’s about them trying to not be single anymore?  Or perhaps it’s just Rebel Wilson making jokes?  I honestly don’t know.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There are a variety of story lines at play in How To Be Single.  Alice (Dakota Johnson) is a newly single lady, and she’s on a quest to “find” herself.  She’s also the only person in the film trying to figure out “how to be single.”  In addition to her, there’s Meg (Leslie Mann), a career-focused woman who decides she wants to have a baby, and Michelle, a girl obsessed with finding the perfect guy.  There’s also Rebel Wilson as Rebel Wilson, but she doesn’t really do anything but toss out one-liners, and there’s a few dudes around but all of them are forgettable.  In fact, the whole movie is forgettable.  It flip flops around between all of these characters and none of it makes any damn sense or has any real point.  I didn’t even learn how to be single!

You know what’s funny though?  If the movie wasn’t called How To Be Single and it solely focused on Leslie Mann’s character, I think it would have been pretty good.  Because of the litany of other characters she isn’t on the screen much, but I found her story line to be rather endearing.  I’ll just tell you what it is because I don’t expect you to ever see How To Be Single, so … BEGIN SPOILER – she’s a doctor who hasn’t ever wanted a relationship or kids or anything not related directly to her or her career.  Then she meets a guy after being artificially inseminated, and even though she does her best to ward him off, she falls for him anyway and they (seemingly) live happily ever after.  AW AS FUCK.  Sign me up for more of that, man.  END SPOILER.

Anyways, skip How To Be Single.

One Last Thought:

I just can’t get myself to fully like Rebel Wilson.  I keep trying, and I’ll admit that occasionally she does yell something that’s pulls a chuckle or two out of me, but mostly I just see a poor man’s version of Melissa McCarthy.  Sorry.

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Movie Breakdown: Where To Invade Next (Noah)

February 10, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Michael Moore is like that loveably annoying friend of yours that you dread seeing every few years, but once you’ve actually sat down and had a few beers, you remember why you liked them in the first place and you make a bunch of plans to hang out every week but then another few years go by and you start dreading seeing them again, so on and so forth.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Michael Moore has, with his typical mix of humor and well-curated “facts”, has slunk his way back into theaters with Where To Invade Next, a film ostensibly set to highlight Michael Moore’s strange new sense of optimism. But, because the United States, in Moore’s opinion, is a festering hot-bed of horribleness, to explore how a kernel of smiling got stuck in his craw, he has to venture around the globe, highlighting just what other countries are doing better. And, to be frank, a lot of countries are doing amazing things that America, for a variety of reasons, has failed to pick up on, and watching Moore interact with the world as a hapless American looking to “invade” and pilfer their most progressive attributes is a good time. Moore’s a fun personality – that old, crotchety uncle that smells a little like pee but fills your brain with good-old fashioned revolution – and his choices of destination – Sweden, Tunisia, etc. – will, quite handily, remind you just what our country is missing. People forget, in all the turmoil caused by Michael Moore having an opinion, that he’s actually a solid pop-umentary style filmmaker. The scenes in Sweden, at a maximum security prison where inmates have their own rooms, cooking utensils and free time, is interspersed with scenes of American police officers beating their captive prisoners. It’s not subtle, but man, if it isn’t effective. In the past, where Moore has focused primarily on one subject, here he’s taking a wider view of the world in general, and America’s quickly fading place in it, and though he still gets in some wow moments throughout the film, if you dig much deeper past the visuals, his point tends to lose focus. Because, sure, all of these countries Moore focuses on have specific items of interest that America could/should be considering, but Moore points an approving finger at these individual programs without showcasing how they fit into the context of the country in general. Yes, Sweden has a very liberal prison system that does great things for its ex-cons (wonderful things that are easily statistically captured) but Moore, in a movie where he’s talking about how lagging America is, shouldn’t focus on his subject’s flaws, because that would hamstring his point. So instead of getting a truly insightful film, we get a highlight reel of awesome things other people do in other places, and constant reminders that the U.S. of A isn’t there yet. If optimism is making Moore a less focused, more superficial director, I’m happy to take back the negative.

One Last Thought:

Maybe this film is what it looks like to have one of the founders of something (in this case pop-umentary style documentaries) return his kingdom after all the other kingdoms have grown bigger and stronger than his. Maybe Moore is trying to be a little more shallow, a little less focused, a little more “fun” in the face of all the competition he helped build. Or maybe the studio wanted a Michael Moore movie, but not the depressing type about guns and corrupt corporations.

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Movie Breakdown: Deadpool

February 9, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Ever since Ryan Reynolds showed off his abs in Blade: Trinity, the internet has been all in a huff trying to get someone out in Hollywood to let him star in a Deadpool movie.  Well, after 12 years of furious typing, the moment of truth for forum-dwellers everywhere has arrived.  Personally, I’m excited for the long-gestating film, but I’m also well aware that Fox is probably dumping it in February for a reason.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I’ll just jump out and say this right away, Deadpool is a great flick.  It’s exactly what the world was hoping it would be – a very self aware R-rated romp that’s centered around a violent, smart-ass, fourth wall breaking anti-hero – and I’m certain that everyone is going to dig it.  Bang.  The end.  No need to continue on unless you just want to read more of my ramblings about the film.

Oh you stayed?

Here’s what I especially liked about Deadpool – it’s loaded with enthusiasm.  As we all know, director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds have been trying to get this little dream project of theirs off the ground for a long time, and their high level of excitement from finally getting the chance to do so really comes across on the screen.  Even with an obviously tight budget, everything about Deadpool – the characters, the dialogue, the action, the way it all looks, whatever else – pops and crackles at every turn.  It’s truly an infectious film, one that sweeps in and effortlessly snatches you right up.  I can’t wait to see it again.

One Last Thought:

Ryan Reynolds should only star in Deadpool films from here on out.  That way we can all be spared from the crap he usually signs on for.  I mean, seriously, name me five good movies that he’s been the lead in.  Hell, name me three.

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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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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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