Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year In Movies: 2013 "The Preamble"

So 2013 is officially over.

Now its that time of year when anybody whose anybody grabs the soapbox and declares what the best and worst things of the year were. We will be bombarded with a horrendous horde of lists that will offer up a look back the year gone by.

So who am I to be any different?

Before I even started a movie blog, I used to write my picks for my favorite films of each year. Sometimes I would post them on Facebook, other times it was for my own personal records. Laugh if you want to, but that was my way of processing the ending year, and it also geared me up for what's ahead. I am very happy to share my thoughts more publicly than ever before. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I love writing it. Many critics are already saying that 2013 was one of the best years for movies in recent memory. For me, I am a little hard-pressed to argue against that statement. It really has been a great year for movies and I think my lists will highlight that.

What I am going to do on this blog is write three end-of-the-year lists. One list will address my favorite films of the year, another will address my runner-ups list; ten films that almost made my Top list and were essential to me overall in 2013. Finally, I'll end everything with my Bottom 10 of 2013; ten films I think we as an audience could have been without. I want you all to understand upfront that this is a very subjective point-of-view. This will not be a list of the most important films of 2013, or the ten films that most effected film as an art or a language or the best films of the year. These lists I am offering are based upon my opinion and nobody else's. My Top list as well as my runner-ups list are the films that resonated the most with me this year, they are the experiences I'll be returning to the most as my life moves forward. Nothing more or nothing less. Even after my list making is done, there will still be plenty of end-of-the year fun to be had on this blog, so be sure to check in regularly over the next few days.

I will post my Top films of 2013 sometime tomorrow. The rest of my lists will follow that one. It's been a really great year at the movies and I hope you all indulged as much as I did.

To get the fun started early, I posted below several images from movies that will be appearing in my Top films of 2013 list tomorrow. Can you name them all? (No Cheating Allowed!)

Anchorman: The Legend Continues Review

Anchorman: The Legend Continues Review
Sequels in general, are a huge gamble. Sure, it gives audiences something familiar that they really enjoyed, but most sequels merely tread water. They usually don't do anything new or re-inventive with its characters or its themes. That is why so few sequels have been very good. "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" was a movie I really loved from 2004. It was so good, that I always thought a sequel could not do the film justice. Especially a sequel that did not get made until almost ten years later. Could an idea be on the shelf for too long? Could something so good eventually fade away?

I have seen "Anchorman: The Legend Continues" and I enjoyed pretty much the whole way through. I feel Will Ferrell has essentially become Ron Burgundy. I feel he could do the character in his sleep at this point, and bringing back the original Chanel Four News Team was a success. I loved that Brick (Steve Carrell) got his own romance this time out. (Kristen Wiig as Brick's love interest is equally stellar.) I love that it feels like nothing has changed really with these characters. I like the addition of James Marsden, Megan Good and Dylan Baker. They added some much needed flair to the overall canvass. Christina Applegate does very good with her big moments in the film too.

What I was both shocked and pleased to see is how far Adam McKay was going to go with his sequel. First of all, the film takes a daring look at the world of modern media. The film picks up after a bad break-up between Ron and Veronica, when she gets to be lead anchor in New York. This leads to Ron loosing his job.  Later is San Diego, he is approached by Freddie Shapp (Baker) and is offered a spot on the first ever 24-hour news show. Burgundy gets the old band back together and it all seems like a new start. The film may layer its point with jokes, but its hard not to see parallels to our world today, and why so many people in our nation are wary of media. Its not something I'd ever expect to see in a slapstick comedy, and I give McKay big credit for taking such a big stand on a valid point, and still getting his audience to laugh. 

Second of all, this is the weirdest comedy to come out in 2013, bar none. When you have a comedy that includes a Minotaur, a ghost of Stonewall Jackson, an angel, some kind of werewolf monster and a super-powered spirit Panther, its hard to take it all seriously. At surface view, "Anchorman: The Legend Continues" is one wacky movie. Its so wacky that I am surprised that it got green-lit. At the same time though, I am glad that it did. I want more comedies that are ambitious enough to break barriers and show us something we haven't seen yet.

The only thing that holds this sequel back from being on par with its predecessor is something that always nags me about sequels. "Anchorman: The Legend Continues" feels like a sequel. There are so many callbacks to the first film that it seriously became exhausting. There is one scene in particular near the end of the film that feels so intrusive, and almost brings the story to a stop. I feel it was added just so the film crew could say "Hey, remember that part!" all the while shoehorning in as many cameos as possible.  Not to mention that the sequel already worked from the same template as the first film, and I think if you lined first and second Anchorman movies together, they would look identical. That's the tough thing with sequels, balancing the new with the familiar. This time around, it was a lot more annoying. 

No matter what though, I have to say I laughed a lot. I also think McKay is very daring with his jokes and I could not believe what he got away with in his script. I also have to given him props for taking a stab at a real issue in a big comedy. I don't know if this cast and crew will ever return to this property, but I would kind of love to see them try.


American Hustle Review

American Hustle Review
I know I have mentioned this before and I know I'll mention it again, but star charisma has lots of power. One or two great performances can carry a film the whole way, I have seen done before, on many occasions. The right combination of stars, or the right direction of a particular star can push a film from good to great. Yet, for me, sometimes that just is not enough. I need to know what these actors are doing has some sort of meaning, I don't want them to just go with the motions. There are also times when an actor's performance elevates material and makes it more noticeable. That is always a good thing too.

Director David O. Russell has proven over the years how good he is with his actors. He got Christian Bale and Amy Adams to do wonderful things in 2010's "The Fighter," and he got Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to do wonderful things in last years "The Silver Linings Playbook." Now in 2013, he has combined Bale, Adams, Cooper and Lawrence, and he's added Jeremy Renner in "American Hustle." The story of an FBI Agent (Cooper) recruiting two con artists (Bale, Adams) to expose the corruption of a New Jersey mayor (Renner). It feels like territory we have been in before, so what did Russell do differently?

Well, for starters, he got all of his actors to let loose and chew up the scenery. This is some of the very best acting from any of these actors. Amy Adams in particular is on fire in this movie, and if she gets nominated for an Oscar for the millionth time next year, she better win. She's never been this fearless, this controlled, this calculated ever in her career. Oh, and she manages to create a British accent that is beyond believable. Bale shows us once again how he puts "method" in "method acting." He completely disappears into his role as sports a unique hairdo and gains 40 pounds. Lawrence has been a huge hot streak lately, and I can only hope that remains through 2014 as well. Cooper and Renner are also both very good in this film, and deserve credit for their work.

Not only are our leads in complete control, but Russell hires a wonderful cast of supporting actors to compliment the leads. Shea Whigam, who is continually becoming one of my favorite supporting actors, disappears in his role quite like Bale does and delivers every second he's on screen. Louis C.K. as Cooper's boss has many funny scenes, yet offers a sincere performance. I would also keep a look out for a great cameo by Robert De Niro. Yes, De Niro is in this movie. Yes, he plays a Mafia Don and yes, he kills it. It's really good work from everybody all around.

Another thing David O. Russell does is just tell a fun story well. There are plenty of funny moments, as well as moments that you'll find clever. You can tell by the trailers that "American Hustle" is sleek and slick, but there is also a good story at the center of all the coolness. At first, it comes off like just another con-man movie, then we see a sentimental path the film takes that I found surprising. Everything leads to an ending I did not see coming. I love how Russell was able to play with the genre without ever sacrificing story and development in the process.

"American Hustle" is a movie to check out, no doubt about it. Every actor is on-top of their game in this movie. But the great performances are just icing on the cake, and the cake underneath the icing in this case is quite great too. I think audiences will find something to love and something to identify with as they leave the theater on this one. Just like any great movie should.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Weekly Top Ten- My Ten Favorite "New Years" movies

Weekly Top Ten- #36

My Ten Favorite "New Years" Movies
New Years Eve is right around the corner, and depending how you celebrate, you might take some time out to watch a movie with family and close friends. I certainly don't blame you, I enjoy a good film on New Years. But if you don't want to watch the likes of "New Year's Eve," and you have watched "The Waterboy" a time too many, you can start here to find some new New Years-themed films to enjoy.

With this list of ten films, you get a wide array of experiences, barely any alike. With a list that includes, comedy, nudity, romance, action, and profound mystery all have a spot on a list like this, its bracing. Anybody whose anybody could find something they can identify with, and I think you all will find something you will like. 

10. Boogie Nights
A movie for when you want to party like a porn star.

9. When Harry Met Sally
8. Sleepless In Seattle 

Movies for when you want to cuddle up to your loved ones. 

7. Assault On Precinct 13
How would you like to spend the New Year protecting criminals from criminals??

6. The Hudsucker Proxy
A movie for when you want your New Years to be shrouded in mystery.

5. Trading Places 
Because its all about the greed.

4. Sunset Boulevard
If New Years teaches us anything, its that time matters, no matter what.

3. Entrapment
The coolest movie about what happened on a New Years Eve, ever!

2. The Godfather Part II
Because even when your partying, betrayal still hurts. Especially when its family.

1. Strange Days
The ultimate New Years movie, because much like any good celebration, it turns out to be a blur tomorrow.

These are my favorite New Years movies, what are yours?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Traffic" (2000)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#37

A type of movie I really love is a movie that can engage me on several levels. That usually means movies that feature several storylines. Treating every story in a multi-layered film can be very tricky. Filmmakers have tried and failed many times with bringing a big movie with lots of stories to life. But, one filmmaker who has mastered it is Steven Soderbergh. Never heard of him? He's been making great movies nearly his entire career, and no two are alike. I mean, let's think about it. How did a guy who made experimental sci/fi like "Solaris" make something as balls-to-the-wall, action-packed as "Haywire?" How could one guy make something has fun as "Ocean's Eleven," or make something as silly as "Magic Mike" or as germ-o-phobic as "Contagion" or as informative as "Che?" Soderbergh has a wide scope of talent, and when he projects that talent at a particular target, he's destined for success.

In 2000, Steven Soderbergh tackled the War on Drugs, and through that he created "Traffic." A huge, sprawling story about how the war for drug control has or has not spiraled out of control. We see the war through the eyes of American government workers, teenagers, mothers, drug kingpins, DEA Agents, Mexican detectives, deadly assassins and corrupt military. Yet, through meeting so many people connected to these addictive supplements, we never feel like we never got to know anybody. Everyone's story (and I DO mean EVERYONE'S story) is handled with enough care, enough confidence, enough enough flair to be believable. The script by Steven Gaghan gives Soderbergh the tools necessary to bring a great, textured story to life.  

It also helps that Soderbergh invited some big talent to come and play with him. When you've got a main cast that includes Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quad and Don Cheadle, how do you go wrong? Add a supporting cast that includes Albert Finney, Luiz Guzman, Miguel Ferrer, James Brolin, Salma Hayek, Steven Bauer, Benjamin Bratt and Topher Grace, well, you're set for a great story that point. Each character, no matter how big or small, impacts not only their individual story but the other stories as well. Everything comes to a huge conclusion, and its clever and crazy how well Soderbergh was able to pull it off.

Another crazy thing about "Traffic" is that any one story in this movie could have been a great one by itself. The story of Robert Wakefield (Douglas) the Ohio judge who becomes the nations drug czar begins a crusade of a lifetime, but how far will he go in the War on Drugs when his high-school daughter gets in with the wrong people and becomes an addict? Or the story about Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez (Del Toro) who gets hired by a decorated Mexican general to arrest drug dealers, but the general isn't who he seems. Then we have two DEA Agents ( Cheadle and Guzman) making the biggest arrest of a lifetime, but will it be enough, if a kigpin's wife (Zeta-Jones) wants everyone connected to their case killed? Through this paragraph alone, it seems like there is enough story for one movie, but Soderbergh keeps everything going smoothly, and it never feels like a jumbled mess.

No doubt though, the crowning jewel of "Traffic" is that it actually has something very specific to say on the War on Drugs. It never takes one political foothold, it never jams its message down your throat, it simply states the facts. Those facts are actually quite scary. This is the genius of "Traffic," and one of the many reasons to why its one of the very best movies from the 2000's.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks Review

Saving Mr. Banks Review
When we go to the theater, and we see that priceless Disney logo appear before one of their brand new films, everything always feels so positive. There seems to be a positive attitude toward everything Walt Disney touches, and as for the man himself, that wasn't quite the case. Just like so many historic figures, Walt Disney had controversies, rumors and everything else that made him human. There are a great number of stories that could be told about his life, and they all would be enjoyable. (In the right hands, of course.) The story of how Walt Disney got P.L. Travers' "Mary Poppins" story to the big screen is a fascinating one. A story that could be well-told in the right hands. 

If I had to describe Tom Hanks' performance as Walt Disney, it would be "charming." Hanks lets the charm loose in a way that I have never seen before, and that's shocking. The performance feels exactly like how Disney might be like in real life. Hanks captures the magic, the naivety, and the genuine sweetness of the man. It may not have been the man he really was, but its what we are used to and Hanks does it well. Hanks' onscreen chemistry with Emma Thompson is done on a grand scale. Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers is a stiff-upper-lipped, stern performance. Its the kind of acting Thompson could do in her sleep. However, when its time to turn on the sincerity, she nails it. The film's heart and soul belongs to Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak and Jesse Bradford. They play the team of writers behind the Mary Poppins film adaptation and they butt heads with P.L. Travers all movie long. Its incredibly comic work and its a great example of the right group of actors being directed to do the right combination of actions. 

With all of that said, with all the intrigue this story could have brought, I was shocked to learn just how pedestrian it felt. The film feels like it goes through the motions of what a biographical film should look like. P.L. Travers has tons of flashbacks to her childhood, those flashbacks represent a certain part of the Mary Poppins movie, Travers gets a learning experience about herself through the adaptation process, the filmmakers made it feel like a story I've heard a million times before. I thought with the great script for the actors, the story would move in an equally clever way, but that is simply not the case. "Saving Mr. Banks" feels like every other biographical movie ever made and that tends to be frustrating at times.

Not only that, but the actual "true" story itself is heavily tampered with in order to have a typical "Disney" ending. The true story about the making of "Mary Poppins," especially the relationship Disney had with Travers is nearly nonidentical to the movie. "Saving Mr. Banks" is a film owned by Disney, so of course they plan to show Disney in a "golden boy-style" light rather than tell the straight story. Had the film been made by a completely different studio, not associated to anything Disney owns, I wonder if it would have been a clearer, truer story. Instead, we get something that is suppose to make us feel good, even though the real story of bringing Mary Poppins to the big screen didn't quite end up like this. The Disney engine is pretty predictable, and it seems unable to take any risks at all.

Hanks and Thompson carry "Saving Mr. Banks" to great heights, and certainly the rest of the cast that includes Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Ruth Wilson, and Dendrie Taylor make this film more than worth seeing. I just wish the story itself was a little more daring. There isn't a single person in history or popular culture that is a complete perfect creature, and usually studios are not afraid to showcase that. But Disney is determined to fit literally EVERY SINGLE MOVIE in their conglomerate the same. Instead of anything resembling the true story, we get a shadow of it. Even though many movies have been made that are not close to historical accuracy, I feel this one purposefully stretched the tale in order to fit a template Disney has used for years. (Especially for a film about the Disney man himself.) While there is still much to enjoy about "Saving Mr. Banks," I feel it will surprisingly leave you cold.


The Essentials- Akira (1988)

The Essentials-#37

Movie geeks everywhere have heard of "Akira." Its been that influential over the years. Even if you have never watch one minute of a Japanese anime, the average movie geek has heard of "Akira." This was the movie that has been inspiring various filmmakers for years, it inspired The Wachowski Brothers to make "The Matrix" movies. Now, having watched the movie for the first time in a long time, I can definitely see the faint parallels that lead to that classic trilogy. When a movie garners a certain degree of hype, the popularity falls to the individual viewer and their expectations. Hype can put a great movie on a bigger level of great, or it can shatter expectations completely. 

I can firmly conclude that it is okay to believe the hype of "Akira." The movie is as great as you have heard it is. The film is not just a masterpiece of Japanese anime, but a masterpiece of modern film art. The animation in high definition is absolutely spectacular, like watercolors from your craziest dream. Within the first five to ten minutes of film, its pretty clear how before-its-time "Akira" really was. Sometimes, it feels awkward to call an animated film a beautiful film, but "Akira" is indeed beautiful. Its the experience much more intoxicating to sit through.

The film features multiple storylines that play into each other fantastically. When recalling the film, it seems odd that a story about a dictatorial Japan after a third World War could fit into a story about futuristic biker gangs. Those stories also revolve around some creepy-looking super-powered children as well as an old Japanese spirit being harnessed by the military. Not every filmmaker can juggle multiple storylines and have them all count, have them possess meaning, have them overlap with each other easily. In the case of "Akira," I'll admit that it took me a little bit to settle into the rythyms of the film, I was totally unsure in which direction the film would go and that was exciting. Director Katsuhiro Otomo definitely has the talent of juggling many stories in one film and he has mastered the art of storytelling. I'm not going to get to much further into the story, because I want you all to be completely drawn into the craft "Akira" has to offer.

I'll be keeping this one short, there is so much to be read about "Akira" that I don't want to sound like a broken record. My main point of tonight was believe in the hype. Sometimes, hype can be a good thing and in "Akira's" case, it is a good thing. "Akira" is a rare film that has the ability to change your life, I hope you all allow it to change yours.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Out of the Furnace Review

Out of the Furnace Review

Its been pretty clear over the years that the world is full of bad people. Amoral sons of bitches that don't abide by the usual social norms. Many films have been made about these individuals, some great, some not-so-great, but all interesting attempts as we as a species try to sort out the meaning of good and evil in the world. I have seen many films about amoral people, but its been awhile since I've seen a film like "Out of the Furnace." This movie is brutal to watch, in fact, it gives brutality a new name. This is a thriller that plunges your face in the mud, not letting you gasp for air. On the other hand, it treats its characters with respect, and the audience buys into that respect.

From the film's beginning, we are lured into brutality. As Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is on a date at a drive-in movie. The date is going less than well, she's concerned by all the drinking he's doing behind the wheel and he thinks she's annoying. This leads to a rough tussle that grabs other people's attention. When a man tries to call out DeGroat for roughing up his date, that man gets beaten badly by DeGroat. From this point, I knew I was in for a rough ride, and I was ready for anything.

After the fierce opening, we meet the Baze brothers, Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck). They are close, but their relationship is quite different than it used to be. Rodney has changed a lot since his four tours in Iraq, and this has lead him into contact with the wrong people. One thing I immediately loved about the movie is that it took its time to set up the relationship with the brothers. It did so in a promptly fashion, without over-stuffing the film needless filler. Bale and Affleck really mastered the dynamics of brotherhood for the movie, and if they didn't, this movie would have failed. 

Rodney knowing the wrong people eventually gets him to cross paths with DeGroat, which leads Rodney to get kidnapped. This prompts Russell into getting the police to help, once the police are not sufficient, he takes matters into his own hands. This may sound like many other movies from the past, but the build-up is so confident, and so well-handled that it feels original, there is a grungy realism to this blue-collar world the characters inhabit that is intoxicating. With so many great actors at the helm of this story, its hard to have a favorite character. I can say though that Harrelson easily steals the show. For being a funny man most of his career, it was unbelievable how scary Harrelson was as DeGroat. This is a performance I think Harrelson has been working toward for awhile now, and people are going to be blown away by his work.

"Out of the Furnace" is a movie that isn't for everyone, however its a great time at the theater. The cast is near-perfect, and they take a simple story and make it matter. Director Scott Cooper has crafted a shivering tale that will have you thinking about it for awhile afterward. This may not be a family-friendly affair for the holidays, but its a solid Christmas present.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Transcendence Trailer

How was I not ahead of the curb on this?

This could possibly be the best Johnny Depp movie in years, something that seems way out of his comfort zone that he'll probably nail it. No matter what he's done over the course of his career, he's still full of talent and charisma. I am glad he's doing something different with his career.

Depp is joined by a great cast, which includes Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, and Lukas Haas. And judging from the teasers and the full length trailer, this is going to be a great movie to see!

I think we will all be pleasantly surprised by this film!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Weekly Top Ten- Best Leonardo DiCaprio Roles

Weekly Top Ten- #35

The Ten Best Leonardo DiCaprio Roles
In a few days, "The Wolf of Wall Street" will be released. It will be the fifth collaboration DiCaprio does with director Martin Scorsese as well as the latest film with Leonardo DiCaprio himself. The upcoming release got me thinking, I have had interesting thoughts on DiCaprio's career. I can honestly say that I've pretty much hated every single movie in his early career (not including a couple titles from this list) but that changed after 2002. It seemed that something woke up deep inside of DiCaprio, either that or he fired his agent and hired a new one. I think he's had a good career since 2002, and I have liked a great number of his films since then. 

This list offers up what I think are his best performances, these are not the movies that I find to be the best, but his best performances. I think DiCaprio really let it loose in these ten performances. I feel he doesn't overact in these films, which I  feel DiCaprio is guilty of from time to time (note: some cases on this list, his overacting actually worked for his performance, rather than against it.). When DiCaprio gets old and retires, I bet these ten performances will be some of the highlights of his career, examples of acting people will go back to, just to see how its truly done.

10. Dominick Cobb, "Inception"
This performance maybe just another lead to a summer blockbuster, aka a role anybody could play. But as the film wears on, we learn that there is quite a bit to Dominick Cobb. We also learn that possibly only DiCaprio could put such a unique signature on the role. DiCaprio was able to turn a regular action hero into a tortured, textured man and it was great to watch.

9. Teddy Daniels, "Shutter Island"
I don't think DiCaprio has ever allowed himself to be this complex, this layered or this tormented. Teddy Daniels is an extraordinary creation and I was curious to see how well DiCaprio would pull it off. The answer is incredibly well and had the film been released at the end of 2009 rather than the beginning of 2010, I bet DiCaprio would have got an Oscar nomination for his work here, its that good.

8. Jim Carroll, "The Basketball Diaries"
I think out of everything in DiCaprio's early career, DiCaprio's work as Jim Carroll was foreshadowing for his work to come. Carroll was a darker role for a young actor who becoming a pretty boy movie star during this point in his career. DiCaprio's work was a early sign that he had range, and I think its very important toward understanding his overall filmography.

7. Calvin Candie, "Django Unchained"
Its not often that we see DiCaprio play such a soulless, eccentric, evil, amoral person. I could also never imagine DiCaprio pulling off such a character. However, leave to none other than Quentin Tarantino to bring the best out of the actor. Tarantino has a talent for making his actors do things the audience could never imagine them doing, and DiCaprio was his latest prey in "Django Unchained" and we are richer for it.

6. Howard Hughes, "The Aviator"
Hughes' journey in "The Aviator" is both heartbreaking and uplifting throughout the film's entire running time. It was amazing to watch as DiCaprio made the audience feel every bit of Hughes' success as well as every bit of Hughes' deterioration. Real life figures have to be tricky to play, and I think DiCaprio did very well here.

5. Amsterdam Vallon, "Gangs of New York"
Prior to 2002, I could not imagine Leonardo DiCaprio resembling anything close to being a badass. So you have to understand how surprised I was when I saw "Gangs of New York" for the first time. DiCaprio really stripped away his typecast persona and became something new. Not only that but he can create crazy accents that are uncannily believable. I believed that DiCaprio's one-two punch of this and "Catch Me If You Can" were the signs that DiCaprio was becoming a star.

4. Jack Dawson, "Titanic"
Now, I am absolutely no fan of "Titanic" but there is no doubt that this film made DiCaprio a star in the 1990's. DiCaprio does very well as Dawson, a guy who gets his dreams to come true by a whim, only to get much more than he bargained for. DiCaprio really turns on the charm here, and he makes the entire experience almost watchable.

3. Frank William Abagnale Jr. "Catch Me If You Can"
I have to say, I bet DiCaprio has never had more fun playing a character in his career. But not only that, he's never shown so much range. DiCaprio was quirky, lovable, serious, crazy, cunning, charming and very funny all the way through this film. And yes, this performance actually got me to start paying attention to him as an actor.

2. Billy Costigan, "The Departed"

If I had to come up with my favorite anti-hero in modern film, it would possibly be Billy Costigan. DiCaprio gave another multi-layered and multi-textured performance, and he really nailed it. There are so many ticks to Costigan that any actor would be intimidated by, but DiCaprio seemed to throw himself right into it. DiCaprio proved he was fearless with his performance in "The Departed."

1. Gilbert, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"
"What's Eating Gilbert Grape" was not just a one-trick pony by DiCaprio, it was a promise of greatness to come. Even though we did not see that greatness until way later, but it was still a promise of greatness to come. To call DiCaprio incredible seems to be a disservice to the role. That is all.

So tell me, what are your favorite Leonardo DiCaprio roles?

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Man on Fire" (2004)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #36

Man on Fire

The action genre is both overrated and underrated at times. Its a tricky genre to nail, especially sense everything under the sun pertaining to it has been used. There are have many recycled plot threads and story lines throughout the life of the genre, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When people go to the movies, overall I think they just want to be entertained. I don't see how you can argue against that. 

"Man on Fire" is a movie that has familiar story threads. We have kidnappers, we have a burned-out hero, we have sweet girl from a rich family, we see the girl and hero's relationship change for the better, and we see a rough kidnapping. Everything is familiar, everything is routine. However, "Man on Fire" tells its story overly-well. With a cast that includes Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Rita Mitchell, Mickey Rourke and Marc Anthony, its tough to go wrong. With that said, there is so much care and confidence building the character and the overall story that the film feels original. There is a style that wickedly perfect throughout the film and everything else is kicked up a notch. 

Denzel Washington plays John Creasy a former CIA assassin who is suffering from alcoholism and depression from his years of service. Through his old partner Rayburn (Walken), he is hired by Samuel Ramos (Anthony) to guard his daughter Pita (Fanning) in Mexico City, Mexico. The country is being haunted by several, accelerated kidnappings in the country. At first, Creasy doesn't want to get close with Pita, he feels he can't have a personal relationship with everyone. But Pita is persistent to get to her bodyguard, and eventually Creasy gives in. They go from general friends to extended family fairly quickly, Creasy begins to view Pita as his reason for living again.

Then she gets kidnapped and everything changes, Pita's family tries to get her back and pay the ransom money. But it goes wrong and Pita looses her life. This puts Creasy in a rage, and the rest of the film is Creasy making the kidnappers pay. This is when the movie earns its R-rating, Creasy's methods of vigilantism are enough to make anybody cringe. But I was no doubt drawn to the films action scenes. Like I said before, director Tony Scott doesn't do anything by half-measures. The relationship built between Creasy and Pita is well-nurtured. The action sequences are just as important to Scott and they are handled appropriately. The genius of "Man on Fire" is that Scott made every bit of the movie's story matter. That is so refreshing to see in the action genre.

Denzel Washington lays himself bare in this movie, and the result is one of the highlights of his career. He is absolutely amazing as Creasy, as is Dakota Fanning as Pita. The relationship between Pita and Creasy is the linchpin of the entire movie, and the actors make us believe in their relationship. The film's real heart comes from Christopher Walken's Rayburn, his dialogue punches me in the heart every time I watch it. The other supporting work done by Rita Mitchell, Mark Anthony and Mickey Rourke is all excessively good.

I never thought I'd say an action film offered so much before. But that's exactly how I'd describe "Man on Fire," a movie that offers everything. It has great performances, big action, and a tender story at its core. I never expected a movie like this to be made by Tony Scott, but I am glad that he did. We are richer for it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Drinking Buddies Review

Drinking Buddies Review
If you look at the title "Drinking Buddies" and you see that it stars Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston and Jason Sudeikis, you definitely think slapstick comedy. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that "Drinking Buddies" had a lot more on its mind that humor.

Don't get me wrong, "Drinking Buddies" is very funny. There are many moments where I chuckled, many moments where I smiled and many moments where I giggled until my stomach hurt. But the humor wasn't the factor that drew into the film, it was the drama. Writer and director Joe Swanberg has created a delightful little gem that will affect viewers in more ways than one. Swanberg has big things to say about relationship dynamics, friendships, and when people may or may not be crossing a line when it comes to both of those. Its intelligent, slick filmmaking. Something that touched me deeply.

The film is about friends Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) who both work at Revolution Brewery in Chicago. They spend their days working, drinking and flirting. For a stretch of the opening, one could mistake them being in a relationship together, except their not. Luke is dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) who wants to get serious about a marriage conversation, while Kate dates a socially awkward Chris (Ron Livingston). The couples eventually go on a cottage trip together, and everything changes. Jill and Chris end up secretly kissing, while Kate and Luke hang out most of the trip. Nothing out-of-order happens between the two, but something seems odd when they can't seem to stop hanging out together. 

Like I said, after the trip everything changes, and this leads to Luke being extra protective and needy around Kate. The rest of the film is about the friendship between Luke and Kate and how it tiptoes between becoming something more or not. The film is driven by its actors and its incredible how well this cast does. This is completely unlike anything we have seen from any of these actors. I am particularly amazed by Olivia Wilde in this movie, because this is absolutely nothing like anybody she's played before. Wilde proven right away that she has range, that she's more than a pretty face. Given time, if she gets more roles like this, she'll be a star awaiting to become supernova. Everybody does unsuspecting, gracious work in this movie and makes the film very strong. 

I think Swanberg is a voice to look forward to in the future, and I think everybody should check out "Drinking Buddies."


The Grandmaster Review

The Grandmaster Review
Does the name Ip Man ring a bell?

If your a kung-fu movie buff or just in love with kung-fu history in general, you should know who Ip Man is. Ip Man was a Chinese martial artist who used his unique techniques to honor his people and inspire them. He taught martial arts for many years, and his most famous student was Bruce Lee. Yes, THE Bruce Lee, so Ip Man is a pretty big deal. Already, there have been many movies made about him. I think the most popular one was the Donnie Yen movie(s) which came out in 2005 and 2008. 

After already several films, yet another film about Ip Man was released in 2013, called "The Grandmaster." Instead of Donnie Yen portraying the legendary figure, we have Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Ip Man. The other most recognizable actor in this film is Zhang Ziyi, whom you will remember from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Rush Hour 2." "The Grandmaster" chronicles the life and times of Master Ip. Whereas the Donnie Yen films of the 2000's focused on specific points in the master's life, "The Grandmaster" covers all of the major points of Ip Man's life, spanning from the Chinese Republican era, the final Chinese dynasty collapse and Japan's invasion. How Ip Man fit into all of these major events is essentially what this movie is about.

"The Grandmaster" is tremendous fun, something I think all kung-fu fans should see at least once. While the fight scenes in Yen's "Ip Man" were realistic and brutal, "The Grandmaster" fight scenes are more stylish, but just as brutal. Tony Leung Chiu Wai really bring the essence of Ip Man alive, and does a very good job with the character. The whole time I watched this film, I didn't think of Donnie Yen's portrayal, and I think that is a good thing. Zhang Ziyi plays Gong Er, the daughter of an owner of a rival martial arts school who may have had a thing for Master Ip. Their slight romance is well-balanced and never comes off shoehorned into the movie. "The Grandmaster" in general covers a lot of bases, and it never once feels off-balance. The entire movie is given the care needed in order to be coherent.

There is only one big thing that took me out of the movie several times. There is a lot of information given to the audience through title cards. Instead of showing the audience the action in many parts of the movie, we are told the action. That definitely bothered me a bit, especially with an action movie like "The Grandmaster." We should be seeing everything and be told very little. The script by Wong Kar-wai is written beautifully, and this could have really been something, had we not stopped  to read what was happening in several parts of the movie. Sometimes something as small as lots of title cards can weigh a movie down, but I couldn't help but be puzzled by the massive amount of information we had to read.

All in all, "The Grandmaster" is worth a look. Kung-fu buffs will love the action, women will like the tender love story, and I think everyone else will enjoy an interesting story at the heart of all the commotion. The actors bring the story to life. The direction and writing by Wong Kar-wai is very good. I only wish we saw more, instead of reading a paragraph behind a black screen.


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Heat Review

The Heat Review
Usually, with buddy cop movies, you know what your getting into. It has seemed since the 1980's, nobody had anything new to say when it came to the buddy cop movie. No matter what the gender of cops the film focuses on, it's pretty much a carbon copy of a carbon copy of something else. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a boring one. Sandra Bullock may have an Oscar on her shelf at home, but when it comes to her comedies, he usually comes up short. There was a lot about "The Heat" that rose red flags and I honestly didn't know if I'd like this or not.

I mean, looking at the synopsis, everything feels pretty familiar. Sandra Bullock plays a stern, stiff-upper-lip FBI agent who is conservative and seemingly sheltered. She is sent on an assignment in Boston and works with and butts heads with a wild, outspoken, potty-mouthed Boston detective (Melissa McCarthy). At first, they both despise each other, but eventually overcome first impressions and crack down on a group of drug dealers. Yes, Sandra's character shows off her wild side in order to stop the bad guys. Yes, McCarthy's character has a family member who is immersed in drugs. All the regular cliches are there, with all that said what did I think?

I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it. The main reason "The Heat" works is because of the chemistry between Bullock and McCarthy. When you have an Academy-Award winning actress with one of the best female comic geniuses working in comedy today, you can barely go wrong. Melissa McCarthy crazy, bombastic style works very well in this movie. I also think how she is able to go from zany-funny to sincerely dramatic is well-balanced. Even though there was nothing really wrong with Bullock's performances in the "Miss Congeniality" movies or "Forces of Nature," those weren't particularly good movies. But Bullock also has a very good balance over the serious and the silly. These actresses are anchored by a great supporting cast which includes Michael Rapaport, Damon Wayans, Demian Bichir and Jane Curtin. All of whom do great work.

There are not too many action bits in the movie, but they do work. Both McCarthy and Bullock have great action timing. The script also makes great use of adding jokes in with the action. The film's action and comedy is well done, and one piece of the equation never outdoes the other. There is also a perfect blend of dry humor and slapstick humor.

Like many buddy cop movies these days, "The Heat" doesn't reinvent the genre. It doesn't bring anything particularly new or daring with the genre, but the film is still a lot of fun. You may be able to guess exactly what happens from start to finish, but that doesn't mean the movie isn't entertaining. There is a lot to like about "The Heat," a pleasant surprise indeed.

The Expendables 3 trailer

The Expendables 3 trailer
If you couldn't tell with this blog, I am a huge Expendables fan. The movies do not reinvent the action genre, but I'd be lying if I didn't think they weren't a lot of fun. Sly Stallone is essentially making a series of homage movies with veteran and novice action stars in them. It seems like this third offering will be the biggest one yet.

Because of that, I figured we'd have a great first trailer.

We don't see any footage, we see a big crew of men walking and whistling. Then it turns out to be a list of names followed by the whole cast turning around. I do not understand Stallone's obsession with showing a list of last names and having everybody stand in a line, but oh well. Its still fun to see everybody together and I can't wait to see some actual footage.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Essentials- "The Petrified Forest" (1936)

The Essentials-#36

The Petrified Forest
"The Petrified Forest" is not an average gangster movie. In fact, to call it a gangster movie seems wildly off-base. Its a movie with a gangster in it, not a gangster film. "The Petrified Forest" is a thriller more than anything. Not an ordinary thriller, its a movie that makes you think about your life. Its a movie that makes you think what you would do with your life if it were threatened. Would you do something selfless or selfish with your final moments? That is essentially what the movie asks, what would you do if you were looking death right in the eye?

The movie revolves around Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a man who was once a prominent British intellectual and writer. Sadly, Squier has fallen on hard times and now spends his days drinking lots of booze. He wanders into a diner in the Petrified Forest of Arizona. A long stretch of the film is about Squier telling old stories about his successes to the diner owner's daughter Gabrielle (Bette Davis). At first you may think that the movie may materialize into a romance of sorts. But that's not at all what happens, things change drastically when known gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his crew take over the diner after being on the run from the cops.

As the cops close in on Duke, Alan remembers that he doesn't have much to live for, and he makes a huge decision that changes everything for his new acquaintances. I would not dare reveal what that decision is, but its what the film is all about. When your facing danger head-on, and you only have moments to live, how would you make those moments matter? This is what makes the film so great to watch. Well, that and Humphrey Bogart of course!

Its interesting to see Bogart go bad. I mean, sure, Bogart has always had some kind of "bad boy" persona in a great number of his films. Yet throughout his career, he has only rarely been a flat out, ruthless villain. Bogart makes Duke come alive though, and Bogart is the highlight of the film. I don't want that to be a slam on the rest of the cast though. The chemistry by Davis and Howard is the glue to the movie, and we have to buy into that chemistry in order to believe that Howard cares for Davis. Because when Howard finally makes his big decision at the end, he has to mean in order for it to work, and Howard allows the audience to believe it.

Definitely check "The Petrified Forest" soon!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Trailer!

In 2011, I don't think too many people were expecting "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" to be close to great, or good or even mediocre. I sure didn't have a lot of faith in the prequel, and I know for a fact I wasn't particularly alone. But as the early reviews came pouring in that summer, people's opinions took a step backward. I remember being incredibly impressed by the prequel. It just goes to show that no matter what the subject matter, anything is possible in the movies. Anything is possible.

Today, I am wildly excited for the prequel's sequel (ha ha!), entitled "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and judging by the first trailer, this newly formed franchise could end up being The Little Franchise That Could. 

Gary Oldman as the villain? Awesome!

Jason Clarke onboard? Cool!

The return of Andy Serkis? Killer! That last bit at the end where it looks as if the apes are getting ready for war is superb!

It's relentlessly impressive trailer and I hope this movie is just as good as the trailer is!

The Spectacular Now Review

The Spectacular Now Review
I think why some people gravitate toward the romance genre is because we get a glimpse into two individuals who need each other. The feeling of belonging is a feeling I think everyone strives for, whether they realize it or not. With that sense of belonging, you can open yourself up to half a dozen creative venues that make a great film. For some reason, most filmmakers who tackle the romance genre seem to confine themselves in the cliches, and because of that, we are sentenced to bad movie after bad movie each year. Only movies that are very special ever make a dent in the genre.

I would not call "The Spectacular Now" a romance movie, far from it. I know that is probably what it looks like at first glance, but this is not a romance movie. Oh sure, it revolves around two teenagers in love with one another, but that doesn't mean anything. "The Spectacular Now" is a drama about two people who need each other, two people that open up the positive sides of each other and allowed them to flourish. This couple challenges one another, comforts one another and the result is a piercing story that hit me deeper than I expected it to.

Sutter (Miles Teller) is what one would refer to as a "bad boy." He doesn't pay much attention in school, he lives to party, and he seems to block any piece of emotion out of his everyday life. His parents are divorced and his mother is always working, so that lives Sutter to be a total free spirit. Sutter is very much about living for the day, and not taking a great deal of thought into any sort of future. Sutter used to date a girl named Cassidy (Brie Larson) but that fell through as many teen romances do, and Sutter is drifting through life until he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley).

Aimee is a nice girl, even somewhat of a sheltered girl, but not a prude. She does well in school, so well she's pretty much guaranteed a bright future. However, she's always been tied down by the satisfaction of others. Her family runs her life with an iron hand and she does everything her friends expect her to do. She is immiediately judged by her friends for merely going to lunch with Sutter, however she is still drawn to his carefree persona. In turn, Sutter doesn't take her connection seriously with Aimee at first, but he gradually gives into her sweet, innocent demeanor. Sutter is so afraid of commitment that he pushes her away, just like he does to everyone who wants a positive connection with him. He only realizes in time that Aimee and Sutter were alike in many ways, and they allowed each other to heal.

I've been singing the praises of Miles Teller for as long as I can remember, and he breaks out in a big way here. If you look at "Rabbit Hole," "Project X," "21 and Over" and the "Footloose" remake, no two performances are alike. He is constantly proving with every movie that he has range and he is going to be an incredible talent to look for as his career grows. The only thing I dreaded the most about "The Spectacular Now" was Shailene Woodley. I can't stand her or almost anything she's been involved in. I have to say though that she really nails it in "The Spectacular Now." Both Teller and Woodley create a realistic portrayal of young love. The awkwardness, the glow, the ticks, the mannerisms, they are a very believable couple. 

I think many people will resonate with "The Spectacular Now" as they will see reflections of themselves in the movie. I think many people will also be drawn to the well-crafted story the film has to offer. I was certainly surprised tonight and I love a good surprise.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wolverine's New Costume!

Much like his comic book counterpart, it looks like Wolverine in the movie world will have many a costume! I have to admit though, he looks pretty awesome in the new duds. 

Based on the trailer, in the future of the film, everyone has new costumes. The look of the costumes is much more military, armor-like than ever before. Obviously, that has to do with the enemies of the movie, but you haven't gotten into the comics yet, I won't spoil anything for you! I wonder if we will learn anything new about the costumes!

Here's another cool new picture of young X and Magneto playing chess!

I am still very much looking forward to this!


22 Jump Street Trailer

I don't know about all of you, but I got a huge kick out of "21 Jump Street" in 2012. I thought it was some of the best comedic work of Jonah Hill's career, and I find him to be a particularly funny guy in general. It was a movie that officially put Channing Tatum on my radar, because I wasn't such a big fan of his until "21 Jump Street." On all fronts, I felt the first film was funny, and a great ride!

It looks as if the sequel will be the same way, because I was cracking up nearly the entire trailer. Tatum and Hill were once again, very funny in the trailer. I also liked that Nick Offerman will have some good material in the sequel, as well as Ice Cube. I think some of the jokes on college culture will fit nicely into their movie and honestly I can't wait to see it.

"22 Jump Street" will be "jumping in our asses" June 2014.

 Here's The Trailer.

Monday, December 16, 2013

RIP Peter O'Toole

RIP Peter O'Toole
To say that Peter O'Toole was a legend feels like a disservice to the man and the word. Peter O'Toole was what legends were made out of, Peter O'Toole was a living embodiment of cinematic magic. His roles truly speak for themselves, they are a vast array of different ideas and different beliefs. He was an actor who truly had a gifted range. Not only did he have a fulfilling career in the movies, but at the age of 81, he had to have had a fulfilling life.

Its hard to discuss Peter O'Toole and not mention "Lawrence of Arabia," a true cinematic classic that lived up to its own hype. An experience that really doesn't feel like anything made ever. Every time I sit down to watch "Lawrence of Arabia," it floors me. "Lawrence of Arabia" is one of those classic films that is truly and utterly transcendent, an epic exploration of the soul. The film is driven by O'Toole and much (if not all) of the responsibility for the film's fate rests on his shoulders. Peter O'Toole became T.E. Lawrence, and there are very few times in film history were actors truly became the characters they appeared to be.

Peter O'Toole always felt like he was becoming the characters he portrayed. With "The Stunt Man," "The Lion In Winter," "Lord Jim," "Ratatouille," and "Troy," O'Toole created an entire population of memorable characters, memorable moments and memorable dialogue. His lengthy, unique career made him into a man of the ages. He's a man that will truly be missed greatly.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Overlooked Film of the Week- "The Wackness" (2008)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #35

The Wackness

"The Wackness" is one of those movies I really wished people saw. Its a movie with a lot to offer, something that I feel any person could learn from, you can take nearly anything away from it. I've said recently that I love a good coming-of-age story, and I think "The Wackness" is best that sub-genre has to offer from the last 10 years. It's a very simple story. Luke (Josh Peck) is a recent high school graduate having his last summer before he starts college, and he's also down on his luck. He sells marijuana to help support his poor family, and he trades marijuana for therapy with a psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley). He also happens to fall for the psychartrist's stepdaughter and his former classmate Stephanie (Olivia Therby). The whole movie is this one last summer before college, how he handles his romance with Stephanie and how he quickly learns his psychiatrist needs Luke just as much as Luke needs him.

"The Wackness" hit me on a very personal level because this movie came out the summer before I went off to college. While I was very excited about the prospect of going to college, I was also a bit nervous. Lots of things change for a person as the go off to college and that can cause anxiety, and I thought the film showcased that very well. Not only that, but I personally was in a committed relationship with a girl from high school at the time, and I was very nervous about where our relationship would go. I was going off to college and she was going through her senior year at our high school and the idea of being far away was nerve-wracking. I personally identified with Luke right away, and his need to find a way to make it work with Stephanie as the summer months closed down. The film does a good job of highlighting the anxieties as well as excitement of going to college and I loved that about the film.

I also loved that it was a movie full of people I usually don't care for, but they all did a good job. I never thought Josh Peck had much range, and I found it ironic that he was playing a drug-dealer because (no offense) he looks like a pothead. But he plays that up with an effect that was so perfect that it made the film. Mary-Kate Olsen makes an appearance, but she does well with her limited screen time. Ben Kingsley is always great and he was great here. I also found Therby to be a very good fit for Peck's Luke. I also loved Method Man's brief time onscreen and his totally believable Jamaican accent. Movies like this are driven by their acting, and the acting was top-notch. 

So if you are going to college soon, and if your feeling nervous about it. I think it would pay off to check out "The Wackness." I hope more people notice this movie and I hope it touches audiences the way it has touched me. It has a lot to say on life, happiness and romance and it handles it all very well. In a world where sequels, remakes, CGI, and "brands" rule supreme, I take comfort that the little movies can still have a deeper, more personal affect on me and I hope they do for you too.