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Movie Breakdown: Avengers: Age Of Ultron (Noah)

April 30, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I smoked some wacky tobacky (dictionary spelling) and sat down to watch the two-and-half-hour epic that is the first Avengers film, a film I remember loving in the theater. After 30 minutes of what felt like a pretty bad episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I fell into a hazy sleep, the high chance of Age of Ultron totally blowing, resting heavy on my mind.

The Reality:

When it comes to a film of this magnitude – in terms of star power, action sequences, general ideas – I don’t know if you need to beat around the bush to say how you feel about it. I loved this film. Unabashedly. I don’t know if it’s because Hollywood’s incessant need to batter my skull with famous people dodging explosions and beating up aliens has finally inured me to the overt flaws a film like this carries with it, or if The Avengers: Age of Ultron just pushed all of those geek buttons I’ve been quietly tending since my first pair of glasses got punched off my face, but this film WOWed me. Director Joss Whedon thrusts our erstwhile team of superheroes back into the fray when a sentient robo-device named Ultron (James Spader) decides that humanity, stupid stupid humanity, needs to be expunged. That’s all you really need to know. The Avengers fight a whole bunch of robots, have some touching character moments (domestic Hawkeye!) and in the end the Marvel machine has made another gazillion dollar film and continued the course of its astounding, unbelievable series of films. Do we even look at these films as individual items anymore? Or do we wait until the 20-film arc has come to a close and then watch it like a we’d read a graphic novel, each individual piece becoming a more intricate part of a larger whole? Whoever you choose to do so, Age of Ultron is a kick-in-the-pants a full-fledged nerd-film (the cool, rich kind of nerd) made by a full-fledged nerd (Mr. Whedon) to sate the expansive nerd-energy of a world slowly turning to nerds (nerds!). There are moments in this film – the reveal of The Vision, the bumper at the end, the first time Bruce Banner says “Wakanda” – that hit the nerd populace so perfectly, it’s almost unbelievable that we’ve reached this point where these things can happen on screen and it’s not entirely unbelievable. Sure, the film has problems – Ultron is all robo-chatter and not much conclusion, the sheer spectacle can be a little draining – but all-in-all this is the best big-screen blockbuster since … well, Jesus, I don’t even know. It’s a great film, the first truly fantastic summer movie we’ve had in years.

The Lesson:

Marvel Studio has developed what I like to call a “soft ending.” They blaze through their set-ups and their character development and their big reveals but the end of their films always feel a little diluted. It’s because Marvel Studio’s endings have to be not only the ending to an individual film, but the beginning of new threads as well as a bridge to whatever comes next. Take Ultron, he’s got kind of weak ending in this film, but it’s because he’s the mid-arc bad guy. We’re all waiting for Thanos and if he shows up and Ultron’s already done all the devastating, then who’s going to care about a 7-ton purple guy with Josh Brolin’s growl rumbling out of his mouth? Well, me, but I’m special. So, this film has a soft ending, but are you really going to care when Iron Man and Captain America are face-punching each other next summer? No.

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Movie Breakdown: Clouds Of Sils Maria

April 30, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Juliette Binoche stars in the rather dramatic looking Clouds of Sils Maria.

The Reality:

Every now and again I see something that I like but don’t actually get, like Clouds of Sils Maria.  The story itself isn’t hard to follow – an aging actress returns to the play that made her famous (but now in the role of the older woman, of course) and she isn’t exactly thrilled with her decision.  I just couldn’t quite figure out what director/writer Olivier Assayas wanted me to get out of all of it.  His film never goes where you think it might, one moment it’s about acting, then the next it switches to relationships, then it’s going after Hollywood, or there’s commentary on getting old, and so on.  As I mentioned though, it’s actually a good movie.  While it may be unfocused and dense, it features wonderful performances by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.  I found myself completely wrapped up in them whenever they were on the screen together, and I think it’s actually the two of them that make the film’s scattershot approach worth trying to piece together.  If you’re looking to avoid the flash of the blockbuster season, Clouds of Sils Maria is a solid place to start.

The Lesson:

What are you trying to say, Olivier?

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Movie Breakdown: Avengers: Age Of Ultron

April 29, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Joss Whedon and the Avengers have re-assembled to take on a maniacal AI named Ultron.  The film looks like a superhero lover’s wet dream.

The Reality:

Once the credits hit the screen I strolled out and happily marked Avengers: Age of Ultron as “very good” on the press comment card that had been handed to me.  I mean, what other grade could I possibly give it?  Joss Whedon’s latest dip into the Marvel Cinematic Universe had just wowed me with its plethora of superheroes and villains, snappy dialogue and immense action sequences, and I was feeling great about it. However, once I got home and had some time to let the film bounce around in my head, I liked it less and less.  Yes, it certainly delivers the necessary flashiness to be 2015′s first revered blockbuster, but when you compare it to other MCU movies, I think it’s at best a B-.

I have a long list of things (mostly minor) that I didn’t quite care for in Age of Ultron, but for the sake of your time I’ll just break it down to three key items.

My first main issue is with Ultron, who isn’t quite the menacing, monologuing villain from the trailers and is instead Whedon in robot form making wisecracks and generally coming off as too goofy to ever make you think he’s a real threat for the Avengers.  When we all know Thanos is coming, shouldn’t the current villain be scary enough to make us dread his arrival?  I think so.

Secondly, the film is too big.  When it comes to blockbusters and comic book flicks, I know that people want to see the screen explode with craziness, but Age of Ultron is a bit much.  There are so many characters (for instance, my superhero count was at 11 by the end of the movie), subplots and items from previous films that need to be remembered that it’s almost at the point where Marvel’s future efforts may need to come with a guide.

Contrarily, the film isn’t big enough.  Once I had some time to really digest Age of Ultron, I couldn’t help but notice how much of it either felt abbreviated or just didn’t make a lot of sense.  Thor takes a weird trip to a cave, there’s not a lot to be known about Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, Baron Strucker is in it for about 30 seconds, and on and on.  Why not put out a healthy three-hour adventure (as opposed to two hours and 22 minutes)?  Audiences would have eaten it up just the same and a more well rounded film would have come out of it.

As I said, there are some other minor things, but those are the issues that really stuck out.  Regardless of it all though, you should still most definitely see Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend.  Just be sure to manage your expectations.

The Lesson:

Even a Marvel misstep can still make a billion dollars.  They’re unstoppable.

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Movie Breakdown: The Water Diviner

April 22, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut with a film about a man searching for his dead (or possibly alive) sons.

The Reality:

Remember that scene in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers where Aragorn, in an attempt to locate Merry and Pippin, crawls around on the ground and is able to visually recreate exactly what happened before the duo disappeared into Fangorn Forest?  Well, Russell Crowe does some of that in The Water Diviner, and it’s sort of laughable.  The film also features a wonderfully cheesy mix of gentle piano music, slow motion and soft transitions throughout every single one of its many dramatic moments, and those too are often chuckle-worthy.  In other words, Crowe’s directorial debut is a heavy handed film that is difficult to fully take seriously.  However, I didn’t hate it.  Despite the movie being too glossy and bland, Crowe does do a nice job of delivering a heartfelt story that moves well and doesn’t drag.  He also turns in a good performance as Joshua, a man who has lost everything and is desperately seeking closure.

If you’re a big fan of Crowe or you would just like to see something wholesome, you could do worse than The Water Diviner.

The Lesson:

Keep at it, Crowe.

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Movie Breakdown: Ex Machina (Noah)

April 17, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I can sit here and write out every reason why this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year, but I won’t. I’ll just say, this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year.

The Reality:

It’s been a strong few years for genre films. We’ve seen audiences start to embrace (re-embrace) the idea that science-fiction and big budget blockbusters don’t have to be two-hour orgies of explosions and muscles (though hey, in the right hands, we’re all okay with that as well). We’ve seen horror films slowly start to come back from the perilous edge of shit they tiptoed on for so long. Hell, we’ve seen comic books and their celluloid kin reach new heights of both popularity and creative savvy. It’s a fucking good time to be a genre nerd. And still, every once in a while you get a film that regardless of the sea of quality it’s floating in, manages to transcend the concept of genre, and help to rewrite the book on what interesting, science-fiction can be. Ex Machina is that film. Written and directed by superstar genre writer (and novelist to boot) Alex Garland, Ex Machina follows Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson, quickly becoming one of my favorite actors), a programmer for a Google like company that wins an office raffle to join the company’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaacs in a truly fantastic asshole performance) for a week at his estate. Upon arrival (the entire film takes place in the confines of Nathan’s ultra-modern, underground home) Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava (Alicia Vikander), an advance bit of AI that he needs to test in terms of how convincing it is. What follows is a wildly entertaining, if not somber, discourse on the evolution of artificial intelligence and what it means to create sentient life. Through Caleb’s blossoming relationship with Ava, and his tenuous interactions with Nathan, Garland is able to explore the concept of what humanity is, and how we impart it to the rest of the world. It’s the mark of a talented director to be able to express big, mind-boggling concepts (for me at least, I’m a Film Major) through the interactions of 3-4 people, and Garland does just that, extrapolating these impressive concepts by beautifully executed pairings of his tiny cast of characters. Each interaction plays off the one that comes before it, until the final act of the film, where everything that’s come to bear, well, really comes to bear. This is a benchmark for modern sci-fi, a film that every thing else should aspire to. You can call me hyperbolic all you want, this is a modern fucking classic.

The Lesson:

It was Danny Boyle who was making the end of Alex Garland’s scripts feel like off-kilter, fairly shitty action movies. Silly Boyle.

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Movie Breakdown: True Story (Noah)

April 17, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I might be a little exhausted in terms of James Franco. I respect that the man is a prolific “artist” who wants to make as much “art” as possible, but I could do without his smug good looks and particularly abstract take on acting. That said, watching Jonah Hill’s slow progression into serious acting is always fun.

The Reality:

If you ever spend anytime with anyone who’s ever written anything, you’ll probably at some point be told to “show, not tell.” This means that instead of broadcasting to your audience the intentions and reasoning of your characters, you allow their actions and words to “show” this for you. True Story is a good film, a solid film one might say, but one that dances so precariously on the line of “show, don’t tell” that you have to wonder if director, Rupert Goold, managed to make an enjoyable film that seems more weighty than it actually is. Which in a film like True Story, could most certainly be the case. Based on a, sigh, true story, the film follows the life of former New York Times writer Mike Finkle (Jonah Hill) in the wake of being disgraced, and canned, for lying in an article. Stripped of his professional credibility, Finkle sequesters himself in his home in Montana and waits for something to happen. In Mexico, Christopher Luongo (James Franco), is fleeing police in the wake of his family being discovered murdered. And he’s using the alias Mike Finkle, of The New York Times. Luongo is caught, Finkle becomes interested in the case, and after visiting Luongo, becomes a willing participant in sharing the story of his life and, presumed innocence. The meat of the story revolves around a series of conversations the two men have, where Luongo sort of seduces Finkle into the idea of writing a book about him. Though both actors do good work in the film, there’s something about the interaction between the two that doesn’t sit right, as if the well known real life friendship heightens the sense that these two are acting. Or maybe, just maybe, Goold wanted to make these moments in the jail cell seem vaguely unrealistic, as if he was hinting at this idea that the “true story” that Finkle was writing never, to anyone observing from the outside at least, seemed real at all. Yet Goold never overtly states any of this. Yes, we watch as Finkle becomes, to some degree, a pawn to Luongo’s small machinations, and we see how important the story and the friendship becomes to a man wallowing in creative limbo, but Goold, to the film’s detriment, never pulls the camera far enough back to really showcase why it matters. Instead, we get a well made film (and Goold has a keen aesthetic eye and fine hand with his actors) that tells a story about a story, well, about a story, but in the end, that’s it. Sure, you can argue that Goold has made a film that challenges the audience to come to their own conclusions, or, you can look at it and see a director who couldn’t figure out how to address the central themes of his narrative, so he just hung it all out to dry and hoped everyone else could figure it out.

The Lesson:

Felicity Jones, who plays Finkle’s wife in the film, is going to be a massive star. She’s relegated to a sort of quiet, brooding-lay role in the film, but her one face-to-face interaction with James Franco is the highlight of the film. A twisty, brief conversation that exposes the truth at the heart of Luongo and gives the film that little oomph to really stick the landing.

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Movie Breakdown: While We’re Young

April 9, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Noah Baumbach’s latest stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as two forty-somethings siphoning energy and inspiration out of two twenty-somethings played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.  Looks like a charmer!

The Reality:

Being a kid is hard.  Growing up is hard.  Getting older is hard.  Being old is hard.  Life overall is just hard.  We all know it.  So why the hell do we need to be told this via a film that features well-off white people unable to “find” themselves?  We don’t.  At all.  However, I’m still recommending Noah Baumbach’s While We Young.  As it turns out, the film is less of a “woe is me, I’m too privileged to be happy” affair and more of a self aware look at the missteps that some people take in life.  It’s a film that’s funny, charming, slightly alarming and just grounded enough to keep from being unrelatable, and I liked it a lot.  See it when you can.

By the way, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts have great chemistry and are wonderful in While We’re Young.  Their characters ride a fine line between being relatable and goofy (in like a bad Ben Stiller-comedy kind of way), and they both do a nice job of never leaning too far to either side.  Also, big ups to Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried for perfectly portraying mega-trendy hipsters.

The Lesson:

Hey Baumbach, I forgive you for Frances Ha.

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Movie Breakdown: Get Hard (Noah)

March 26, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

It’s got Kevin Hart in it which automatically drops it down to the very bottom of the list after anything starring Ian Ziering and George W. Bush’s amateur sex tape.

The Reality:

At this point, with comedies of this mind-numbing stature, I don’t even know what to say anymore. Did I enjoy the story of a very rich man (Will Ferrell) who’s sentenced to maximum security prison for money reasons and so believes that he’s going to die in the joint that he enlists his car washer (Kevin Hart) to teach him to, ahem, “get hard”? Yeah, like I enjoy unsalted mash potatoes or, uh, lukewarm bubbly water. Did I think the film bordered on the edge of offensive, and used a paper thin veneer of “social commentary” to just actively endorse the ridiculing of stereotypes? Yeah, sure. At the end of the day would I tell you, the reader, to go out and see this movie in the theater because it’s a redefinition of comedy, a broad new step in the career of Will Ferrell, that it ends with Kevin Hart falling off a building? No, no I wouldn’t. Get Hard plays like a “greatest hits” reel of Will Ferrell’s very Will Ferrell-y comedy – he cries, he “sad dogs”, he acts like a gangster, he plays a sort of sad giant (an Elf with money instead of gifts) totally unknowing of the world around him. It’s enjoyable to watch Ferrell because he’s an enjoyable actor, but you could’ve cut out the ham-handed story, especially the relationship that builds between Hart and him, and just strung the leftover bits together and called it Saturday Night Will and it would’ve been just as enjoyable. Get Hard is the definition of a “vehicle” for two stars – it’s a loose story built around them just doing dumb shit – and though, yes, it will illicit some laughs, you have to sit through the rest of the crap to get to them.

The Lesson:

T.I. is a surprisingly funny actor. You learn something new every day.

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Movie Breakdown: Run All Night

March 12, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Taken 4: Run All Night sees Liam Neeson on a mission to save his son (played by Joel Kinnaman).  Ed Harris and Common are the bad guys.

The Reality:

Mob stories have been done to death, but every now again a little something slips out and refreshes the genre.  Run All Night is not that something.  Just like director Jaume Collet-Serra’s previous two Liam Neeson-led films – 2011′s Unknown and last year’s Non-Stop – it’s an okay action flick that’s so generic it becomes wholly forgettable the moment the credits hit the screen.  Hell, I’m roughly 98% sure I’m going to end up catching it on TV in a few years and watching it as though I haven’t already slogged my way through it before.  Then I’ll be treated to its paint-by-numbers experience all over again!  I can’t wait.  But seriously though, Run All Night is less bad of a bad film and more of a boring one, and if you were to get out this weekend and see it you’d probably be more inclined to simply shrug your shoulders than frown with disappointment, but does that mean it’s worth your time and money?  I say no.  And frankly, it might be better at this point to stop supporting Liam Neeson in roles like this.  The guy is on the verge of needing another career reboot.

The Lesson:

We have to figure out a way to steal Liam Neeson away from the clutches of Jaume Collet-Serra.  That guy is not a good director.

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Movie Breakdown: Cinderella (Noah)

March 12, 2015

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The Impression:

Kenneth Branaugh has made two of my least favorite movies of the last ten years. Match his heavy, uninspired hand with Disney’s recent need to “reinvent” their classic characters and I’d say this is the least excited I’ve been about a film since I’ve started writing for this blog.

The Reality:

I don’t need to ever see a traditional imagining of a classic story ever again. I never need to see one of our national written treasures – the Hamlets, the Red Riding Hoods, the Grapes of Wrath – portrayed as originally written. We’ve come so far in our abilities to make films and instead of pushing the envelopes of what our films can be, we’ve regressed into making slack-jawed word-for-word adaptations of our prized texts. Cinderella, as directed by Kenneth Branaugh, is the definition of a traditional text being treated as such. This is Cinderella (Lily James from Downton Abbey) as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, scarily skinny, white girl in a blue dress, who with the help of her fairy godmother (Helena Bohnam Carter) must win the heart of her Prince. A Prince (Richard Madden from Game of Thrones) with a granite-jaw, a cod-piece and the bright blue eyes of a serial killer. This is Cinderella where everything you’ve ever seen happen in any version of Cinderella ever happens. It is a moment-for-moment adaptation of the Disney cartoon of the 1940s, and it is both dull and near offensive in its lack of originality. If you want the story of Cinderella that you’ve grown up with, the one with the crystal slipper and the blue dress and the pumpkin cart and mice and so and so forth (which I really do imagine a lot of you do) then this is very much the film for you. If you want a film that looks at our fairy tales and tries to apply any sort of modern context to them, one that uses a term like “classic” to hide the word “boring”, a film that will continue to impress upon your children that the face of a prince and princess are always white – then this is the film for you. I’m not asking for steampunk Cinderella, I’m not asking for manga-Cinderella, or Quentin Tarantino’s take on the glass-slippered starlet – I just want whomever, inevitably, picks up this property next to think, “Maybe there’s a different angle here.” There might be an argument that in a time when irony and snark are so often beaten over our heads, that a film that earnestly approaches its subject is a good thing. I just don’t think that earnestness and interesting and original filmmaking are mutually exclusive subjects.

The Lesson:

I spent most of this film vacillating between a sort of forced hibernation and looking at the little girl next to me who was leaned forward in her chair, head perched on her hands, absolutely loving the shit out of this film. It’s not a film for me, but that little girl was truly enchanted.

The Lesson Pt. 2:

Cate Blanchett is fantastic in this film as the evil stepmother. She’s vicious, wily and seething with evil, and every moment she was on screen I could almost convince myself that I was enjoying the film.

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Movie Breakdown: The Hunting Ground (Noah)

March 11, 2015

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The Impression:

Kirby Dick and company take on college rape and higher education’s controversial methods of dealing with the pervasive problem. Sounds like I’m leaving this one with a stomach full of rage.

The Reality:

Kirby Dick has made a film aimed at exposing the severity of the rape issue on college campuses. More so, he’s made a film that calls bullshit on the absolutely horrifying way that university’s have chosen to deal with the subject. Simply put: rape is a big problem on college campuses, a bigger problem than you think, but the biggest problem is that colleges are protecting their own self-interests by shaming rape victims and purposefully neglecting to report or punish on-campus rapists. It’s a brutal subject and Dick manages to dig deep not only into the stories of a small handful of the women (which is still a pretty big handful) who’ve been victimized, but also the perpetrators of the acts as well as the culture of colleges that breeds what one woman refers to as a “hunting ground.” He points fingers at the universities, the fraternity system and college athletics, all the while showcasing the noxious entanglement of education and finance that promotes the horrifying atmosphere so many women (and men) are a part of. It’s a brutal subject and Dick manages to showcase that. Which is what makes this a good documentary, but Dick is a good director, not a great one, and the film never coalesces into the searing classic it could be. This may seem insensitive, but Dick is actually fairly heavy-handed with the material. You don’t need to play sweeping orchestral music or Lady Gaga’s It Get’s Better time and time again for the audience to know that the horrible, violent rape of our college-aged men and women is awful. Dick doesn’t trust his material though and at the times when you’re ready to throw a brick through the fucking screen because some rich, white man is telling a rape victim to go home and sleep it off, the music swells and all of a sudden it feels a little maudlin. Strangely, a few of the times when Dick isn’t beating you over the head with the topic, he’s gone in the other direction, contrasting terrifying data with upbeat music or almost chipper animation. The disparity between the subject, and the two tones casts the film into an aesthetic limbo. We live in an age of amazing documentaries about subjects broad and wide, inspirational and awful, that are near perfect examples of the melding of tone and subject. And though Dick is a seasoned documentarian (an Oscar-winning one at that) The Hunting Ground finds it subject, but isn’t able to find the film to match it.

The Lesson:

Higher education, you have a lot to atone for.

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Movie Breakdown: Chappie (Noah)

March 6, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I was ready to disown director Neill Blomkamp after the abysmal Elysium. After seeing the trailers for his new film Chappie, seemingly about a sensitive robot who learns to gang-bang, I’m ready to start weaning his name out of the human language.

The Reality:

You know, Chappie could’ve just been a film about a rogue, sentient robot named Chappie and the near-braindead gangsters who teach him how to act tough, shoot guns and tear doors off cars and it would’ve been pretty watchable. Instead, to my great surprise, Neill Blomkamp is able to inject the story of, you know, Chappie with a strong message, a beating heart, and some epic bits of robot-on-robot action and to erase my fears about his future output in the process. Chappie, if the setting was different, and the main character not a ebonics-spouting South African cop-robot, could be a film that shows the danger of our upbringings. Chappie, one more time, is a cop-robot set for destruction when his “Maker” (Dev Patel) imbues him with artificial intelligence, just prior to being robbed and kidnapped by two bad haircut sporting South African thugs (Yolandi and Ninja from Die Antwoord basically playing fantastical versions of themselves). The rest of the film bounces back and forth between the philosophical struggle of how to teach a robotic baby how to live, Hugh Jackman (with the fucking worst haircut of all time) trying to sabotage the robo-baby, and Chappie (a marvel of computer graphics) learning how to c-walk. It really could be an awful film but Blomkamp shows the chops that made District 9 so remarkable, and makes a film that’s ostensibly about just how horrible human beings can be. The strongest moments of the film are Chappie learning to be relatively human. His emotional output (as voiced by Sharlito Copley) grows realistically and by the time he’s got a gold necklaces and a gat and he’s robbing an armored truck, you can believe that he’s ended up there. You can believe that the selfish interests of others have forced this blob of moldable robot clay into a sort of thugged-out criminal. It doesn’t all work out. Dev Patel’s character seems overly tacked on, and his presence in every scene takes away from the gangster Chappie story. Sigourney Weaver is barely there and when she is she’s stiff and awkward. And again, Hugh Jackman (though I like his villainous role) has the worst hair of all time. That said, Chappie was a pleasant surprise, Short Circuit with a more skilled director behind the wheel.

The Lesson:

Putting Die Antwoord into your film requires that they just get to play themselves. And that they wear their own merchandise and the soundtrack only consists of their songs. Hell, with a few cuts, this just could be one long Die Antwoord video.

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Movie Breakdown: Unfinished Business

March 5, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Three guys go on a business trip.  The trailers have done well to make the movie not look funny at all.

The Reality:

If you take a solid look at Unfinished Business, you’ll notice it does have the right pieces.  There’s an accomplished cast (Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, Nick Frost and others) and a solid premise that follows three guys as they work hard to try and save their business.  Also, the film has a big ole heart.  Vaughn’s Dan Trunkman is simply on a mission to do right by his employees and his family, Franco’s Mike Pancake is a loveable dolt and Wilkinson’s Timothy McWinters is an old man who just wants to find true love.  It’s all so sweet!  And, unfortunately, woefully unfunny.  I’m all for any comedy that wants to stray away from being mean-spirited, but it at least has to be chuckle-worthy, and Unfinished Business just isn’t packing in that department.  I barely laughed at all.  It was good to see a “nice” comedy, but the lack of laughs really made for a tedious time.

If you’re hoping to see something that will crack you up this weekend, your best bet is still Fifty Shades Of Grey.

The Lesson:

Always make sure “funny” is on the list of ingredients for your comedy.

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Movie Breakdown: My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn (Noah)

February 26, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Nicolas Winding Refn is a weird director. I mean sure, you can watch Drive and just say he’s another stylized action director, but then dig a little deeper, get your nose in Valhalla Rising or Bronson, and this guys got a whole other party raging in his head. That’s what this film is about, that other party.

The Breakdown:

My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn (which from this point forward will be referred to as My Life because I have fat fingers and I get sweaty easily) clocks in at a minute over an hour, and that was exactly the amount of time I could handle living inside of the domestic life of The Refns. I guess that’s what you get when you make the decision to film your famous-director husband in the throes of trying to film his poorly received, art-house, Thai, Gosling-starring action film. It isn’t that this is a bad movie, for what it is it’s actually a pretty incisive, revealing portrait of a director trying not to be defined by just one thing (Refn’s prior film Drive) and Refn (here being filmed by his wife, the director of the documentary) allows honest emotion to be captured for the screen. It’s just that Refn, mostly angry, sometimes sad, a lot of the time full-out depressed, is hard to watch. He comes across as petulant and self-obsessed and though you learn almost nothing about his wife (aside from the fact that she struggles with her professional life in the shadow of her husband) you do learn that living with Nicolas Winding Refn is the equivalent of living with a sad shark, who mopes around all day thinking about his hunger until somewhere someone does something and he lashes out, shiny teeth gleaming. You also learn that Ryan Gosling and Refn have a sort of bromance going on that involves a lot of hugging and talking about emotions. And even though Gosling (the star of Only God Forgives) is only in it for a few scenes, his natural warmth, his genuine sort-of goofy sweetness acts as a mirror to Refn, highlighting just how cold and emotionally withdrawn the director is. Again, it’s only an hour, and the length helps and mostly hurts it. We see Refn in his the thrall of his mood swings, over and over again, but we never get past the emotional pain to see why or what causes this. It ends up painting Refn as a whiny ponce (which maybe he is) but doesn’t give any reason that he’d be angry about his beautiful and lovely kids and big, crazy house in Bangkok. Instead you get just one hour to have one argument firmly slammed home – Nicolas Winding Refn is kind of an asshole.

The Lesson:

Don’t marry Nicolas Winding Refn.

My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn is due out on VOD and in select theaters on February 27.

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Movie Breakdown: Focus

February 26, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

The romantic crime drama-looking Focus is Will Smith’s first real attempt at apologizing for After Earth.  With him is the beautiful Margot Robbie.

The Reality:

When it came time to scribble down a post-film comment, “decidedly average” was the only way I could think of to describe Focus.  Will Smith and Margot Robbie have good chemistry and the film itself is fairly entertaining, but it’s all nearly buried by far too many twist and turns that aren’t remotely clever or surprising.  Also, the tone of the film is just all over the place.  Maybe it’s because of the litany of double crosses at play, but it constantly ping pongs between being funny, serious, sexy and dangerous like it’s desperately trying to keep you distracted so that you won’t guess what’s going to happen.  Except you’re going to, because Focus telegraphs every single one of its punches.

If you’re willing/able to switch off your brain for a bit, I think you’ll find Focus to be an alright time.  Just know going in that it’s a safe and predictable film that you’ll watch and probably instantly forget.

The Lesson:

Keep on truckin’, Will.

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