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Movie Breakdown: San Andreas (Noah)

May 28, 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:

Disaster-style action flicks have taken a real nose-dive since the heyday of Roland Emmerich’s enviro-madness. That said, the way Warner Brothers has been pushing the film like the dramatic, explosion-porn crown jewel makes me wonder if there’s actually something there, lurking amongst the shattered buildings.

The Reality:

You could hang the massive faults of Brad Peyton’s San Andreas on the two-by-four straight line of Dwayne Johnson’s shoulders. The massive ex-wrestler, though now almost fully reimagined as a Hollywood type actor, doesn’t seem to be able to shed the glorified camp of the wrestling ring. His Ray Gaines, a former military man-turned rescue pilot has all the makings of an early 90s protagonist: the aforementioned physique, a family broken by tragedy, the skills and potential to do, well, just about anything, and a stunning lack of personality. The burrs and barbs – flaws, even – of the average personality, worn down in favor of a Captain America like superhero, driven by duty and grief (sort of) to save his family in the wake of a coast-shattering earthquake. Oh yeah, this film has an earthquake, several earthquakes in it, and much like The Rock’s steely visage and empty, benevolent soul, the quakes are there to look good and kick ass without actually mustering any sort of real emotion. The film is an homage to the mid-90s disaster spectacles like Dantes’s Peak and Volcano that defined blockbusters for a stretch of years, and this isn’t for the best. All the cheap ploys – swelling strings, Dwayne Johnson grimly staring out over a broken (landscape), a cheeky British kid, massive, unheralded destruction – are here in force. Twenty years ago, when the American public was still happy to slosh around in shitty story lines and bad acting for the sake of some nicely put together destruction, this crap would’ve worked, but now it almost feels like Peyton is constructing an art piece, one that pushes the concepts of films like 2012 and Independence Day to their most extreme point (every quake a city destroyer, every line a potential tearjerker) to highlight just how far we’ve come. A nicer reviewer might walk away thinking this absurd thought, but I am not that, and as the earthquakes rumbled and The Rock defied vehicular gravity and characters disappeared (not into the carnage, just out of the story) I did not find myself yearning for the days of Pierce Brosnan racing a volcano, or Bill Paxton chasing a tornado. You could write down the major plot points of any action film made in the last 20 years and set a timer, and you better believe Brad Peyton is going to tick them off one by one. Maybe, possibly, you’ll find some nostalgic solace in the sight of the West Coast’s most famous landmarks crumbling into nothing, or maybe you’ll enjoy the paper thin love story between Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino (squandered here as helpless, but sexy, ex-wife), but it won’t be your enjoyment of this film that resonates, it’ll be the memories of an era films that have thankfully, hopefully, passed on.

The Lesson:

I will say this, watching the city you live in crushed by earthquakes, tsunamis, and looters is strangely, deeply scary. The level of fear in the audience (of hard-nosed critics) was much higher than I would have expected, and I can only imagine most of this stems from a sort of cinematic PTSD for those who’ve lived through San Francisco’s worst shakers and those who’ve come to grips with the idea that someday they probably will.

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Movie Breakdown: San Andreas

May 28, 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:

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saves people from an earthquake.

The Reality:

I’m fairly certain that San Andreas is the beginning of the end for me in regards to disaster movies.  The film is as big, loud and dumb as I expected it would be, but story-wise it’s very run of the mill.  There’s a broken family, the father of said busted family is an expert in some conveniently relevant field, a cataclysmic event happens, the torn family survives and then becomes one again.  The end.  That’s San Andreas.  And pretty much every other disaster movie ever.  Oh how tiresome that’s become.  This issue is also not helped by the fact that it takes a lot these days for CG-heavy movies to truly impress, and the action in San Andreas mostly just consists of buildings crumbling and the ground shaking.  I honestly can’t recall a single breath-taking shot, and that’s just a shame considering it’s the kind of movie that is supposed to dazzle visually.

So, I know it somewhat sounds like it, but I didn’t hate San Andreas.  For a disaster flick, it’s alright.  It just doesn’t bother trying to do anything new, and I think that’s reason enough to not make an effort to see it until it’s on the small screen in the comfort of your own home.

The Lesson:

The disaster movie formula needs a refresher.

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Movie Breakdown: Poltergeist

May 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:

Another horror remake that no one asked for has arrived.  This time it’s Poltergeist.

The Reality:

The strangest thing about the current (and perhaps never ending) string of horror remakes/reboots/re-imaginings is that they seem more inclined to play it safe instead of taking the established property and spinning it in a crazy way that warrants a do-over.  Poltergeist is no different.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film – the cast is fine (especially Sam Rockwell), there’s a solid creepy moment or two and the movie doesn’t feel cheap – but overall it doesn’t do anything but try to avoid offending anyone.  How can any horror film with an agenda like that actually be scary at all?  It can’t.  So, while it pains me to say this, the unfortunate truth is that the new Poltergeist is just another entry in a long line of remakes that can’t justify their existence.  You should just stay home and watch the original.  At least that film had the balls to attempt to make you want to turn on all of the lights in your house and/or only watch romantic comedies for a month.

The Lesson:

Go big or go home.

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Movie Breakdown: Tomorrowland

May 21, 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:

Brad Bird doesn’t make bad movies, so everyone is down for Tomorrowland because they should be.  The trailers have made the film seem like it will be a wondrous adventure.

The Reality:

Tomorrowland is a tricky film.  I think that if you look at it as something that’s only for kids, it mostly works well.  The story itself is kind of all over the place and not consistently entertaining, but the visuals are stunning and the main message that the film carries, which is to dream big and know that you can make the world a better place, is as positive as can be.  How inspiring, right?  The kids that are able to navigate the clunky narrative of Tomorrowland will get all excited, then they’ll slap on their imagination hats and make everything better.  I dig it.

However, what I refuse to dig is the shame that gets tossed at adults by Brad Bird (and co-writers Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen) in Tomorrowland.  In particular, there’s a poorly written monologue that essentially blames the world’s problems on those who engage in things like playing video games and/or watching violent movies.  No thanks.  That’s just silly and insulting.  Also, I think I’ll pass on the contradicting idea that we should all live and dream without boundaries, but only as long as we do so in a certain way.

Overall, Tomorrowland is shiny film with a heavy handed (and misguided, depending on what side of age 12 you’re standing on) message.  If you have kids, you could let them watch much worse.  If you don’t have kids, I say give Bird the bird and go see Mad Max: Fury Road again.

The Lesson:

Can’t win ‘em all.

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Movie Breakdown: Mad Max: Fury Road (Noah)

May 14, 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 don’t know if any movie has me more excited than Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything up to this point involving Mad Max has been done to perfection – casting, trailers (all of them were like mini-movies), the descriptions of what it took to bring this to life – and my hype level is so high I’m almost worried.

The Reality:

Big John Laird doesn’t like it when I get overly excited, or when start hacking up hyperbole, but after spending two hours in the new world of Mad Max, I can’t do anything but that. Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute blast. The kind of blockbuster that hasn’t been made since the 80s. This is not a film beholden to the tropes of the big budget action movie. This is a film that feels like the work of a brand new director saying “fuck you” to the stereotypes of action – how it’s filmed, how the sound works, how the camera moves – and doing exactly what they want. George Miller is clearly a genius who’s been sitting the dark room of his mind for ten years sussing out the craziest things he could do with people on cars. I don’t want to say a single thing about what this movie is about or what happens, but just know that Miller mixes the concept of car-chases, post-apocalyptic society, and the hierarchical structure of how things work (in a world that doesn’t exist) and creates a world that could, in some sick, sad way, fully function. It’s, to say the least, visually amazing – every detail fleshed out to operate, pragmatically, in this universe. No character doesn’t fit into the world he’s built, but each of them, based on class and context, is given room to shine. Tom Hardy’s Max is a more literal version of “Mad”, a man consumed by his past, just trying to survive in a world gone completely fucked up. His pairing with a group of seemingly helpless baby-brides and a brutal, but sensitive, captain, slowly brings him back from the edge, and the full-tilt, full-throttle ride it takes to get there is something to behold. At some point in the middle of the film I felt a tinge of “oh, maybe I don’t like that” but as walked out of the theater, my head spinning with images of flame-throwing guitars, desert moto-women, and exploding lances, I couldn’t (and can’t) remember what it was. See this film. See it twice. And then see it again.

The Lesson:

George Miller very subtly makes this a film about female empowerment. The moment where Max passes his rifle (“one shot left”) into the hands of Charlize Theron and she BALANCES it on his shoulder to make a perfect shot is a beautiful, fun, moment that showcases Miller’s ease at creating strong female characters without having to spray paint it in enormous letters on the wall.

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Movie Breakdown: Mad Max: Fury Road

May 13, 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:

George Miller and Mad Max are back together.  Fury Road looks big and fun.

The Reality:

Mad Max: Fury Road scrambled by brain.  I went in fully hoping (and suspecting) that it would be a wild time, and I still ended up caught off guard by just how bug nuts, batshit crazy it is from start to finish.  So what all happens?  Well, I think I mostly got it.  A mentally shaky Max (played by Tom Hardy, who turns in what could be his best or worst performance ever) gets caught, he then unwillingly ends up in the longest car chase ever, some unexpected alliances are formed, and then the movie is done.  Or, at least that’s how my first viewing felt.  I’m guessing there’s more to it, but when I think back on Fury Road the only bits my brain can serve up are crazy vehicles, crazy costumes, crazy stunts, crazy vehicles, crazy imagery, crazy performances, crazy vehicles, and my wife repeatedly looking over at me with a “this is some crazy shit” look on her face. It’s all so mad, man.  The whole damn thing.  I can’t wait to see it again so that I can maybe breathe and notice something other than the spectacle punch that the film repeatedly throws.  Also, in future viewings it’ll just be fun to glance over and see one of you sitting next to me with your mouth agape as you take in the spectacular insanity that is Mad Max: Fury Road.  See you at the theater.

The Lesson:

If only all directors had the crazy side that George Miller does.

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Movie Breakdown: Hot Pursuit (Noah)

May 8, 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:

If there was an apocalyptic event and every theater and film on Earth was caught up in a fiery windstorm and the only bit of celluloid remaining to be viewed by the denizens of this dark, hellish version of reality was Hot Pursuit, based on the previews, I’d still probably skip it.

The Reality:

Hot Pursuit is somehow both a generic, odd-couple-buddy-comedy as well as a total tonal mess that features almost good performances by actors way better than the script that someone wrote while in the bathroom. The film follows Officer Cooper (Reese Witherspoon), the daughter of a famed police officer, who’s followed in his path but after a shameful tazer incident has been relegated to the evidence room. She ends up, through a variety of totally unbelievable circumstances, on the run with Danielle Riva, a Cartel wife who’s state witness husband has been murdered. The rest of the film is pretty much just a modge-podge of “Reese Witherspoon is short” jokes, “Sofia Vergara is a sassy Mexican” jokes, and then the sort of half-ass pratfalls that now define modern comedy. It is, aside from the dynamic between Vergara and Witherspoon (which at times feels unforced – the best I can say about anything in this film), an awful movie, a shitty comedy to start but one that veers down a road of tonal muddling before crash landing on the runway of mediocrity. It’s a bad flick – badly filmed, lazily written, a pure squandering of its stars talents – and its a film that always sits precariously on the line of offensiveness. I think if any other actor aside from Vergara, who is surprisingly good in it, was given the role of the screechy, “Latina” wife, there’d be a big bag of “fuck you” letters coming from more than a few viewers. So, yeah, don’t watch this.

The Lesson:

Americans are really easily amused by bad sexual humor. At one point during the film, for less then ten seconds, an attractive woman talks like a man. My theater ate it up. Thanks pilgrims.

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Movie Breakdown: The D Train

May 7, 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:

Jack Black really wants James Marsden to come to his high school reunion.  The D Train looks somewhat cringe-worthy.

The Reality:

The D Train could have been one of two things.  1) An incredibly dark comedy about a man (Jack Black) whose life is so uninspired and sad that the only way he feels he can get a much needed win is to convince a former classmate now Hollywood star (James Marsden) to return to town for their high school reunion, so he jets out to LA and gets caught up in something twisted and unexpected.  2) A super over the top comedy about a man who does whatever must be done so that he can be the hero his high school reunion committee needs.

Instead, The D Train attempts to be both of those things, and to make things worse it does so in the safest, most uninspired way possible.  For every moment I laughed or felt sad for the characters on the screen, the film provided a generic, completely forgettable moment.  It’s as though writer/director combo Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul were worried about offending people, so they just completely shied away from committing to the “incident” at the center of The D Train and tried to ride the fence between funny and edgy.  It’s pretty unfortunate, really, as the duo took what could have been a hell of a movie and it turned into something that feels like it’s afraid of itself.

You can wait for The D Train to hit VOD.

The Lesson:

Either really go for it or don’t bother.

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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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