Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Essentials- "Home Alone" (1990)

The Essentials-#85
Home Alone
"Home Alone" is hailed as a classic, depending on who you ask.

Personally, I can't imagine it not in my life.

"Home Alone" is a powerful creation. A perfect blending of a Christmas movie, a family movie, a slapstick comedy and an examination of why we need certain people in our lives in order to function. The movie may have spawned several poor sequels. The movie may have defined the career of an actor at a very young age, but there is no secret that "Home Alone" sticks the landing each time you watch it, and it is a holiday favorite of mine.

Something I think the film does very well is highlight the very real pressures and anxieties families can put on each other. I love my family, and we are a very close bunch. Not only did my parents adopt my older brother and I, but they saved my life which was threatened by a serious brain disease at a young age. I owe everything to my parents, but let's be real, sometimes they drive me nuts. Every family drives each other nuts, that is just a small part of being a family. Hopefully your family doesn't bother you to the point of despair, because mine certainly doesn't. But I think "Home Alone" taps into the craziness of being a family very well, particularly a family around the holidays. When we meet Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), we are meeting him at the end of a very bad night. When he goes to bed, the night before a flight with his family to Paris, he wishes he never had a family. Then the next day, they leave without it. It is one of those forbidden wishes some people say but never mean, and "Home Alone" really gets it right.

I also love the subplot about the home invaders. These two nitwits are brought to astounding life by Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci. I think their slapstick quality that they bring to their roles makes the experience quite fun. If they had become more serious and dramatic, the film definitely would have become a horror film. As a child, when my parents first began to allow me to stay home alone, I was a little freaked out at first. Sure, I loved the idea of having a whole house to myself, and I sure didn't jump at every noise I heard, but it was creepy at times. I think "Home Alone" taps into the fear of being alone for the first time well, and also showing us the extreme worse situation that can come from being by yourself. I love how the film handles it in a comedic way and I think it handles that material well. I also absolutely love the work done by Stern and Pesci.

I like Macaulay Culkin does good work in the film. I also regret that this performance pretty much summed up his career before it really began. I think had he played his cards better, this movie could have launched his career toward something better than what he got. Culkin really becomes Kevin and shows us how silly and goofy a kid would be to have a huge house to himself. He does a good job playing an innocent kid and also does great work displaying just how dangerous it is to be a child. That is something people overlook when it comes to this movie, and I think Culkin hit each emotional beat like an expert.

So it's safe to say that I think that "Home Alone" works better than just mindless, family fare. I think it was a movie that had more on its mind that just breaking box office records. This is why "Home Alone" reigns as one of the absolute best films about children, while also being a good holiday movie too.

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Jeff, Who Lives At Home" (2012)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #85
Jeff, Who Lives At Home
Sometimes, we need something to hang onto. We need something in our life that is going to give us meaning. Whether its religion, or a celebrity or (God forbid) a cult. Or, sometimes people look for their destiny, there reason for being birthed into this world in the first place. No matter what, people need answers, and we rarely ever get any. I have never been a horrifically religious person, but I often tie myself in knots, thinking about why we are all here.
In "Jeff, Who Lives At Home," Jason Siegel gives the best performance of his career as Jeff. Jeff is an unemployed stoner who spends his days hanging out in his mother's house. Jeff spends his days worshipping the movie "Signs," that's right, the last good M. Night Shymalan movie. He believes that his destiny in life is waiting for him, and he is waiting patiently for his own life sign. One day, the phone rings and its a wrong number for a person named Kevin. Jeff sees this as a sign, and he is determined to figure out the meaning behind the name, even though there may not be any.
Jeff's mother is named Sharon, and she is played by Susan Sarandon. Sharon is a nameless cubicle worker who is dissatisfied with her life and how well her sons have faired in life. She suddenly finds out that someone in the office is flirting with her. Desperate to feel emotions with another person, she joins in on the conversation. When it is revealed who has been sending Sharon the messages, it may seem odd at first, but Sarandon turns her subplot into one of the highlights of the movie. Sarandon has always been good in movies, and she proves once again just how effortless she can be.
These two stories may seem weird for a movie, and how they intersect is just as weird. But the performances in the movie elevate the ideas into new heights. Also, what I did not expect was to see such a gut-wrenching, sucker-punch of an ending. In a way, the ending is not melodramatic or forced, it all seems very natural, even thought it is sprung from a strange story. I was deeply surprised just how much "Jeff, Who Lives At Home" moved me.
Like I said, this is the best Jason Siegel performance so far in his career. Siegel has always been wildly funny and stunningly entertaining in the past, but he hits a potent crossroad in his career with this movie. While there are some funny parts, this movie is mostly a dramatic film, and I thought Siegel did an impeccably good job with the material. Along with Sarandon, they sell this material to a tee. I also liked the work done by Ed Helms, who plays Pat, Jeff's older brother. Again, Helms is a typically comedic actor, but he hits all the right dramatic notes perfectly.
You maybe surprised just by how charming and how absorbing this one is, I promise.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Penguins of Madagascar Review

Penguins of Madagascar Review
There seems to be a very distinct difference between DreamWorks and Pixar developing lately.

DreamWorks animation seems to be a studio disinterested in taking risks. It's films are silly and they don't care if you know it. They are all fluff, all designed to sell toys, clothes and lunch boxes. These are movies that are completely harmless, and I think they cater to one specific age group. I feel Pixar draws its audiences in with its emotional beats. There are moments in several Pixar films and themes in several Pixar films which I never thought I'd see in animated films. Pixar is a wildly ambitious studio, constantly taking chances, and they seem to payoff every time. Well, except before the studio went into sequel mode.

I don't want this to sound like a diss toward DreamWorks, because I have liked several of their movies. It's hard for me to argue against the likes of "Kung Fu Panda," "How to Train Your Dragon," "Megamind" and especially the first two "Shrek" movies. I even liked the first "Madagascar" movie quite a bit, and I think out of all of their films, "Shrek" and "Madagascar" came the closest to matching the Pixar anesthetic. Silly can be entertaining too, I will warn however, that silly is much harder to pull off.

"Penguins of Madagascar" is silly from the very beginning. I will give the movie credit for being a movie that is not afraid of its themes. It's not trying to be emotional, it's not trying to be ambitious, it's only trying to make you feel good with its lunacy. There are moments in which I feel it succeeds at its goals. Overall, "Penguins of Madagascar" is pure fluff, nothing I think parents will have a good time sitting through. This is the type of "family movie" where parents should just drop off their children, if that were even allowed.

As the film opens we meet Skipper (Tom McGrath), Rico (John DiMaggio) and Kowalski (Chris Miller) as baby penguins. We also witness their preposterous recovery of an egg that hatches to become Private (Christopher Knights). While this could have been a very touching scene, it ends up only to serve an unfunny punch line. In fact, there are several moments throughout the film which try to hit high emotional beats. But every time, for some reason, the film pulls back. This film seems to be afraid to get any sort of reaction from the audience. All this movie wants to be silly, and it plays the silly card each time. It seems like if the movie tries to be anything else, the world will rail against it.

Honestly, I am a little scared to go on with describing the movie. Because I feel the story gets so off-the-rails that it just comes off as odd. The films story could have fit better into an "Incredibles" sequel instead of a "Penguins" spin-off. All throughout the "Madagascar" films, we have been familiar with talking animals. Talking animals is one thing, animals wearing jetpacks, turning into humans, and using rays in order to create monsters is something else. Yes, it is a very odd story, even for a children's movie. The movie feels so radically different compared to the rest of the franchise in which it is connected to that it feels like a different franchise all together. I love that John Malkovich turns up as Dave, an octopus out to get revenge against the Penguins. I also love that Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice for Classified, a wolf who is also a secret agent out to protect outdoor animals. I'm sure children will completely embrace the silliness of this movie, but parents, you'll remain incredibly bored and might be shocked by just how weird this movie really is.

I know what your thinking, "it's just a kids movie." I get it. That is the exact same thing my dad said as I tried to explain this to him. But when you've watched an entire franchise of movies about talking animals, and those animals can only talk, not create machinery, or become secret agents, that means something. "Penguins of Madagascar" takes its characters and their world in a completely different direction, and it just rang strange, and most of all, it rang false. Add that to a story that pulls the reins on any emotional beats, and you've got a weird mess of a movie.

But hey, its DreamWorks. I don't think they had quality in mind, just quantity of profits.


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I Review
The games, as we know them, are over. There is a war on the horizon of Panem. The sides are revving their engines, ready for what comes. The districts of Panem have suffered from The Capitol long enough, and make no mistake about it, bloodshed is coming.
Anybody thinking that "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I" is going to be anything like the previous movies, should let that idea go right now. This is a very different entry into the series. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is still fighting for her life and for her people, make no mistake. But its a different kind of fight. The games are over right now, and Katniss is becoming a spearhead for a widespread rebellion, across all the districts of Panem. At first, she could care less about this responsibility, but once she discovers that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has mentally rewired Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to use as a pawn for The Capitol, all bets are off. Katniss, along with her long-time friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) go district to district, spreading propaganda for a rebellion.
We also meet several new characters this time out. It seems District 13, believed to be decimated, has its own leader in President Coin (Julianne Moore). She's the person who is really pushing Katniss to spread rebellion. I will be honest and tell you that I have not read the books, so I really don't have a good idea of how this will end. But I have a sneaking suspicion that President Coin will be bad news, and I absolutely love how Julianne Moore tiptoes the line between being good and bad, I hope that is an arc that pays off big time in the last half. We also meet District 13's security enforcer Boggs, who is brought to tremendous life by Mahershala Ali. Natalie Dormer plays Cressida, who helps Katniss spread awareness on the rebellion, and she does really good work here. Fans of The Mighty Ducks should also like the fact that Elden Hensen appears as an ally to Katniss and Cressida and creates a great character by never talking. (Apparently, he got his tongue ripped out at The Capitol, ewww.)
Everybody does great work in this chapter. It is safe to say that Jennifer Lawrence has become Katniss, even more so than she has become Mystique for Fox. I love that she is willing to be so de-glamorized for this role, I love that everything she does onscreen levels me emotionally. Most of all, I love that Lawrence makes the audience feel everything she is feeling, as there were several times during this movie where I was ready to cry. Liam Hemsworth is not an actor I have always liked, but he is done really good work on this franchise so far, and especially in this movie, he should be proud of what he's done. We only see Josh Hutcherson a few times in this chapter, and this is a much different Peeta we see. I think Hutcherson transitions well, and he's becoming the most exciting talent of his generation. As for Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks? Oh yeah, magic, just magic.
I also have to say that this is the most evil President Snow we have seen so far, and Donald Sutherland nails it. Each and every time.
The big problem I have is a problem I think will either make or break these massive, ongoing franchises which feel the need to split their finale's in half. While "Mockingjay Part I" is a very good movie, a very emotional movie, all the movie does is set up for the second half. There is not one arc in this entire movie that gets resolved in this half, and I didn't think the movie really ended on a cliff-hanger, so what's the point of splitting it in half? Too many decisions in Hollywood are being motivated by money-making, and I think some of these decisions are going to become phony-looking to the audiences. "Mockingjay Part I" essentially feels like a two-hour television show, with a year-long wait to the finale.
When David Yates did this with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," not only did he find a good place to end the film, leaving the audience with a massive cliffhanger, he also brought resolution to some big emotional points. So it made thematic sense to split the film in two, even though it was also a big cash-grab. Peter Jackson was a mad bastard to split the three hundred page "The Hobbit" into not two, but three movies. But even though "The Hobbit" is such a short book, three big events take place. Bilbo finds the Ring of Power, Bilbo meets Smaug the Dragon, and elves, dwarves, men and goblins throw down for all the treasure. Each film is punctuated by each of those special events, so even though its annoying to sit through three Hobbit movies, Jackson is at least paying each film off with a sound resolution and nail-biting cliffhanger. I don't think "Mockingjay Part I" did that, I think the film is all set-up and no payoff and it made lessened the experience for me.
So even though "Mockingjay Part I" is a strategy to make Lionsgate tons of money, its still an emotional rollercoaster. All the performances are top-notch, the cinematography is lush and beautiful and the scenes of violence are striking. There is a moment between Peeta and Katniss where everything changes, and if you haven't read the books, you will know it when you see it. I was shocked just by how brutal the scene played out. I give director Francis Lawrence credit for never backing down on the big emotional beats in the movie, no matter how painful the outcome. I think fans of this series will be satisfied with this entry, but they maybe anxious to graduate from the series next year.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

This is indeed happening.

When I was growing up, even though it wasn't in the years of 1977 or 1980 or 1983, I have always felt the power of the Star Wars franchise. When I was growing up, it may not have been in the time of first experiencing these characters and the main story. But I got the special edition original trilogy, and I grew up with prequels as well. From the mid-90's until I was a freshman in high school, "Star Wars" was something that took up a lot of my time. "Star Wars" always felt like an event, something mightier and higher than any other art form. I really can't believe I will witness a whole new adventure.

I will admit, I was timid at first. When it was announced that Disney had bought LucasFilm, and that episodes VII, VIII and IX were a definite matter, I was timid. I didn't see a need to revisit this story. I knew authors and other artists had been expanding the universe of "Star Wars," for years, but honestly what else did anybody have to say. It seemed Disney just wanted to make money, not bring this brand back with a purpose. And in a post-prequel world, that was a risk more than a reward. (Remember, while I am one of the very few people who actually like the prequels, I know they don't hold a candle to the original trilogy, and I know we are all not united in celebration over the prequels like we are the original trilogy.)

I think that a new creative avenue is what Disney needed in order to make this new frontier special. It seems, much like with their Marvel property, that Disney is getting people together who care. I don't think the actors and directors would come together to make something half-hearted. I don't think Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Ken Baker and Peter Mayhew wouldn't return if they didn't believe what J.J. Abrams was doing wasn't worth it. Say what you will about what Abrams did with "Star Trek," but the guy is good. He's real good. I know for a fact he wants to treat this story with care.

So today, as I watched the less-than-two-minute long trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," all I was happy about, was feeling like a kid again. If this entire movie can make me feel this nostalgic, while also telling an engaging story. I will be a happy boy indeed. For right now, get ready for a year of marketing!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Long Way Down Review

A Long Way Down Review
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was a second-year Varsity letterman on my cross country team. On another sad note, a member of my cross country team committed suicide that year. I may not have spoken to this person as much as I would have liked, but I saw her as my teammate, and I made an appearance at her visitation. It was sad that not more could have been done in order to counter this decision and I think it made me sad that someone I kind of knew had committed suicide, that had never happened to me before.
"A Long Way Down" is a drama (sort of) and a comedy (sort of) about four people who decided to commit suicide on ironically the same night. This is a decision that leads them to make a suicide pact that they will honor later. The movie is split into four parts, each labeled after one of the four people attempting suicide, and we get a "perspective" of their lives. The film stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul, Sam Neill and Rosamund Pike, a cast that should be able to make any sort of story sparkle.
The problem I have with "A Long Way Down" is that I could not have been more bored. First of all, the way this foursome decides to become friends is both bizarre and weird, and it makes absolutely no logical sense why these four people brought together by fate would all of a sudden become buddies. I am not sure what draws people to each other, and I quite understand that people with common interests will collide, but the movie paints this friendship in the most unbelievable of terms that I have to call it a wash.
Another problem I had with the movie is once the foursome create a pact with each other...then what? It's like the film ran out of steam within the first twenty minutes. I feel this idea could have worked better as a short movie, or (and this is really pushing it) a television mini-series. There was not much to do with this premise, and the movie showed it. It doesn't help that each character is an obvious cliché. Brosnan plays an ex-famous person down on their luck, Paul plays a person with cancer, Poots plays the young, rebellious girl who gets emo, and Collette feels a forbidden sense of loneliness that life has handed to her. Are these not the types of people we always see in movies trying to kill themselves?
Pierce Brosnan is an actor I usually like, and you can really tell he's trying hard here, but the script lets him down in the most fundamental of ways. As it does for Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette and the rest of the remarkable cast. They all try to do good work, but the script is so basic that it doesn't feel like they are playing characters at all. The only person who brings real energy to the movie is Rosamund Pike, and no, I don't think that this is the bias talking. The sad part is she is only in the movie for roughly fifteen minutes. Shameless.
"A Long Way Down" is currently on Netflix, and I personally believe you can find a thousand things better than this. This is a movie not trying to be funny, or thought-provoking or even inspirational. Its a movie that is just...there, and sometimes that is the worst kind of movie.

Jurassic World trailer

Jurassic World Trailer
Yep, I really don't get it.

On Sunday, I gave a rundown of what I was expecting from this sequel/reboot/thing. I wrote it in promise that we would see a first trailer on Thanksgiving. Well, I suppose Universal has decided to showcase the trailer early. We finally have laid eyes on the trailer for "Jurassic World."

I'll say that I think its kind of cool that the new park looks more like an amusement park, and I think that could be fun way to approach this new movie. I also like the idea of a hybrid being a main stable of the storyline for this movie. However, much of the trailer pointed to this being another "dinosaurs go bad" movie, which has been every single movie in the entire franchise. Please don't tell me Universal took all this time just to make the same movie they have made three times before. Universal and Spielberg can throw the acting chops of Chris Pratt, Judy Greer, and Bryce Dallas Howard at me all they want, but if its the same formula a fourth time, I'm going to loose interest quick.

I will say one thing, Pratt going into hunting mode with a band of raptors looked pretty cool. What did you think?


Monday, November 24, 2014

Has "X-Men: Apocaylpse" found its villain?

Oscar Isaac is an actor I have loved watching transform. He's a name I wish more people knew, because he's been tearing it up onscreen since the 2010's began. While I didn't care for Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" or Zak Snyder's "Sucker Punch," the characters Isaac played were memorable simply because of him. He really bounced back after "Drive," "10 Years," and even "The Bourne Legacy." He finally got some critical buzz after his stellar performance as Llewyn Davis from "Inside Llewyn Davis," a movie I liked quite a bit, and a movie I appreciated since it finally brought Isaac's talents to the forefront.

It seems he impressed a number of other people too. Because not only will Oscar Isaac appear in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," in 2015. Tonight, it was announced that Oscar Isaac will play the central villain in "X-Men: Apocalypse" in 2016. Oscar Isaac is not at all the person I envisioned for Apocalypse, but perhaps that is why he is so perfect. It was recently announced that Tom Hardy was circling the role, but Isaac is a much different choice, and it should be interesting.

Oscar Isaac is already joining a stellar cast. It has already been announced that Channing Tatum is joining the film as Gambit, a very popular X-man from the comics, and also a move that will reunite Tatum and Isaac from "10 Years." It has also been announced that Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence will be pushed more to the forefront, and a love story between Mystique and Magneto will occur, which should also be interesting. I already know that casting for young Jean Grey and young Cyclops is underway as well, and I hope those choices end up being as perfect as this.

Bryan Singer seems to be learning from his first two movies from 2000 and 2003, discovering what worked and didn't work, then making a better movie that way. I think "Days of Future Past" shocked a lot of people, but it reminded me why Singer was so perfect for these characters in the first place. After a great "First Class" and a great "Days of Future Past," all I can say is bring on the Apocalypse!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jurassic World Trailer for Trailer Premiere!

There was a time when there were plans for a particular movie, a movie which never got to see the light of day. A movie that opens with dinosaurs attacking a little league softball game in broad daylight. Then the audience would learn that these attacks were happening all over North and South America, and that the UN was coming up with plans to combat these attacks. We would then follow a mercenary, who gets hired to go to a mysterious island to locate and detain a mysterious item, only to be captured by a shadowy business in competition with whomever hired this mercenary. Instead of torturing the soldier of fortune, this shadowy business would re-hire him for a job. A job in which this mercenary would train five specially modified humanoid dinosaurs to go around the world, hunting down drug-dealers and saving kidnapped children. These dinosaur-humans would don machine guns and grenades. This film was an early idea for "Jurassic Park 4" and no, I am not lying.

I have always been interested in returning to that special island of dinosaurs. So you can bet I was excited to see my very first glimpse of "Jurassic World." Telling from the glimpse I saw today, it looks like we won't be seeing any dinosaurs with machine guns, and that's a shame. No doubt, if that movie got made, it would split fans right down the line. But all we get from this quick glimpse is just scenes from the island, and our leads looking grim. While I will wait to see the full trailer this holiday week, all I have to say is that's it?

While I am huge fan of the original from 1993, I didn't really care for the sequels. Each sequel was naturally an excuse to get people back on the island, which seemed like such a waste of time and resources. This was a franchise of clones, and when I read this idea for a fourth film it was balls-to-the-wall nuts. But hey, I felt it would have breathed new life into the franchise. Now, I have no idea where "Jurassic World" is leading, but I want more than just another excuse to get high-profile actors on an island with dinosaurs. I want a story I can get behind, and I don't want to see the same thing the first three films already delivered. There has to be a special reason why Universal decided to open this franchise up again, right? There has to be a reason why they passed on such a close call, crazy idea to do something else entirely right? After three films of the same, I want a new story and a new direction to follow. "Jurassic World" can have all the wonder of the first film, it can have its funny moments, its tender moments, and its scary moments. It can have all the things that made this franchise iconic. But for the love of God, take us in a new direction please.

The full trailer will hit on Thanksgiving, what does everybody else think?

The Essentials- "Jurassic Park" (1993)

The Essentials-#84
Jurassic Park
I'll be chatting about the trailer for the upcoming "Jurassic World" trailer, which apparently we will be seeing on Thanksgiving. For now, let's talk about this little gem that started it all.
Science has given us many valuable things, from fire to the IPad. I remain constantly astonished by what we are able to do, and I look on with a sense of wonder to the possibilities that lay before us. I would never think that scientist would ever want to begin harvesting and breeding animals, let alone prehistoric animals, let alone dinosaurs. But hey, that is why we have movie magic, so we don't have to do this in real life.
I was a young boy when "Jurassic Park" came out. But you can bet that I remember hearing people talk about it. You can also bet that the VHS ended up in my family's collection as soon as the opportunity resented itself. Besides maybe "Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park" was the movie of the year, which was 1993. No other movie generated more buzz and discussion that year than "Jurassic Park." You can bet some movies tried ("Last Action Hero") but all paled in comparison to this movie. What was it about this film that made it stand-out in year that has was hailed as one of the 1990's best years?
Each October, I like to watch "Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments," simply because it gets me in the groove of that very special month. When "Jurassic Park" found a place on the list, I remember creature-creator Stan Winston saying that he did not want to make scary dinosaurs, but he wanted to make real dinosaurs. That is the hidden magic of this film, there is a certain spectacle that you expect when sitting down to watch "Jurassic Park" and that is the promise that you will witness dinosaurs, but not just any dinosaurs, realistic dinosaurs. This movie is not a case of putting great special effects into creepy situations, even though it definitely looks that way. This movie was about creating something that felt and looked real, then going from there. Drew McWeeny, a famous movie critic on the blogosphere, has stated that he remembers his early screening of "Jurassic Park" at Universal Studios. He tells us that when the T-Rex first shows itself onscreen, the temperature in the auditorium went up ten degrees. This was due to the fact that everyone was up front, glued to the screen, having an otherworldly reaction to what they were seeing. This movie was groundbreaking for its time, and that still holds up today.
Then there is that score by John Williams. If there is one thing that director Steven Spielberg constantly gets correct in all of his movies, good or bad, its matching a perfect song to a scene. This was an epic movie, and it needed an epic score. The wonderfully and beautifully written music by Williams is one of the things that draws the audience into the film. It's not just the dinosaurs that bring us back for more. The music Williams creates only heightens the rest of the emotions that the audience experiences, and it makes for an even better experience.
There are great performances by Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum, who we follow through this cool story. There is also a nice, snarky, villainous performance by none other than Wayne Knight, who is there to graciously annoy our heroes. The children, played by Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello, who further prove that Spielberg was and remains the best director of children. (Just imagine what the Harry Potter franchise would have been like if Spielberg actually directed them.) And, let's not forget, a movie just isn't movie unless Samuel L. Jackson shows up to deliver an outstanding one-liner.
More than anything, "Jurassic Park" is great to watch because it is a mixed bag of emotions. Its a movie that will have you clinch up in fear in several moments. It is a movie that will force your jaw to drop in awe of the spectacle. Its a movie that will make you laugh and maybe even make you weep a little. This is a prime definition of the adventure movie, and here's to hoping that "Jurassic World" can follow in this film's big footsteps.

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Jack Reacher" (2012)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #84
Jack Reacher

Boy, it's amazing how things change.
In the early months of this blog, I wrote a piece about how the "movie star vehicle" could be dead now. We are living in a much different world than when I was a young boy. Back when I was five-years-old, I would get excited about a movie due to who was in it. It didn't matter if the movie was based on a book, because I was just learning to read and I had not delved into many novels by then. It didn't matter if a movie was based on a comic, because that's not what was going on at the time. Multiple movie deals, shared universes, massive franchises...none of those excited in the 90's and that type of filmmaking didn't emerge until recently. Before the days we know now, movies were at the fates of the stars were cast.
Tom Cruise is one of our last remaining movie stars. He is reliable time and time again, I think. But in the new world of filmmaking we are experiencing, its tough for movies to coast on movie stars and still make the big bucks. That is not to say that what Cruise is doing isn't good, its just not particularly profitable anymore. Last month, my girlfriends mom was telling me a story about a guy she knew wanted to be Tom Cruise' character from "Top Gun," and the guy's kids asked who Tom Cruise was. Is this the world we live in now?
Like I said, that doesn't mean what Cruise is doing these days isn't good. I am still amazed that Cruise is able to release a new movie each year. In 2012, I missed "Jack Reacher," it was easy to miss. A tough-as-nails cop movie isn't exactly on the draw during the holiday season, so it was a tough time to sell that kind of movie. I recently watched this one for the first time last week thanks to Netflix, and it is a typical Cruise movie. It didn't blow me away, like so many of his movies do. But there is no doubt that it was an entertaining couple hours. For a guy that never really dug into the Jack Reacher books, I still managed to have a good time with this one.
Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher is an ex-military member who helps the police with a different kind of murder. In the beginning of the film, five people are murdered seemingly at random, miles away by a very talented sniper. (played by the ever embracing Jai Courtney.). Jack Reacher's expertise is brought into play by the District Attourney (Rosamund Pike) as authorities soon find out that the sniper had ties to the military. But what seems like a random murder soon exposes deeper business corruption and maybe the five random deaths were carefully planned.
What makes "Jack Reacher" entertaining is yet another great performance by Tom Cruise. We have seen Tom Cruise do solid action time and time again. But, he's never done anything quite like what he does in "Jack Reacher." This movie is an ode to the close-quarters, MMA-style fighting that is now taking hold in action movies. I love it and I thought Cruise handled it all well. This is a much different type of badass we are not normally used Cruise playing. Jack Reacher stumbles into every scene like a Ronin warrior, a cowboy with no friends. Its an interesting turn for Cruise and sells every minute of it.
The rest of the cast is solid. Its a movie that features great performances by Jai Courtney, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo. I have been instantly amazed by Pike ever since she turned my life upside down in last month's "Gone Girl." She was so good in that performance that I couldn't get over that she was once a Bond girl in 2002. Here, she does even more great work. I still love that Jai Courtney is making a big splash after "Spartacus" and he once again delivers another pulse-pounding performance.
So ever though the movie star vehicle may be straining, I don't think Tom Cruise is going anywhere anytime soon. That is something to get happy about.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Warner Brothers "The Stand" plan

It's really no secret that I am a huge Stephen King fan. What may surprise people is I started reading books by Stephen King when I was around second grade. I drawn into this wild and weird world by my father. I have had a ball ever since. I think he is an incredibly talented writer of suspense. I am always in constant awe of the man in the fact that he has written so much, and the ideas just keep coming and coming. Sure, some of those ideas are bizarre and wacky, but if I had enough creativity to write a story about a fat lawnmower man who may or may not work for a Greek god who eats grass and kills people with a lawnmower, I certainly would.

One of my favorite books King ever wrote was The Stand. In a nutshell, its basically King's ode to Lord of the Rings, an epic, fantasy which takes place in post-apocalyptic America. Its a story that I have held very dear to my heart, and so has my dad. When I was younger, I was introduced to the mini-series that came out in the 1990's. While I liked it as a child, simply because I thought it was cool that somebody acted out The Stand, I find it hard to sit through now. Most of Stephen King's great work never gets adapted properly, so it has always been a chore to see his work get translated to the big or small screen. Not everybody makes a "Misery" or a "Green Mile," or a "Shawshank Redemption" or a "Stand By Me" and that's a shame. King's work deserves to be great, but it seldom ever is great.

Warner Brothers has been trying to adapt this book into a feature film for awhile now. People like George Romero, David Yates and even Ben Affleck have taken a stab at adapting this epic story into a movie. The results have always been painfully slim, which is sad, trying to imagine a Yates or Affleck version of this story would really be something. A few months ago, it was announced that Warner Brothers would give The Stand a two film treatment. While I liked that we would get any movie at all, I feel two films would never do the story justice. New Line and Peter Jackson did a solid job of adapting Lord of the Rings and I think a lot of that success came from giving each book a movie. Trying to tell all of Lord of the Rings in one or even two movies seems like a worthless endeavor. The Stand is over 1100 pages, it needs more than two movies to communicate why its such a great work in the first place.

Today, it was finally announced that Warner Brothers would adapt The Stand into four movies. Makes sense, King split the story himself into four books, and perhaps the movies would be based off of that template. But while I finally began to get excited for this again that halted. The mini-series is so bad that it pains me to think of it. I am just wondering how a four-part movie can expand on that mini-series and make something unto its own. And in a world where we are constantly being attacked by post-apocalyptic, survival stories, how can Warner Brothers make The Stand feel fresh?

The multiple picture format is no stranger in this world and it seems people have become comfortably accustomed to it. My question is, how much longer will these multiple movie deals last? If they are here to stay, how can we distinguish if these are just money deals for the studio or if they are real stories with something to say. If Warner Brothers plans to turn one of the best Stephen King books into a corporate tool, then I am not interested. I want this to be adapted because Warner Brothers has something cool and creative to say with it, I want them to adapt it because they care about the story and the characters and they want to pay respect to them. I will even say that not everything in The Stand works across the board. If Warner Brothers translates out the ending, page by page from the book, it will easily divide viewers. I don't want to give anything away, but its kind of a "weird" ending, and while I am a little curious to see what the general movie-going public would say about it, I think it would ultimately be a risk for the studio NOT to change it. I am equally curious to see how Warner Brothers reacts to the stuff that doesn't fully work in the book, and how they plan to confront that.

Right now, living in a world of multiple movies and cinematic universes may seem cool. But I am kind of afraid that I will eventually become overwhelmed and drained by it. But I still have hope, and I want to be surprised. What do my other movie-lovers think of this type of storytelling. What do my Stephen King fans feel about a four-movie adaptation of The Stand? Let me know!


A Most Wanted Man Review

A Most Wanted Man Review
Out of all the most recent deaths in Hollywood, I think it was Philip Seymour Hoffman's passing that hit me hardest. I wrote one of the longer eulogies for his passing back February.  Still, all these months later, I still mean every word I wrote and I think we are very much missing one of our greatest modern talents. That is why it was so important for me personally, to check out "A Most Wanted Man" as soon as I possibly could. I needed to see the final summation of this man's legacy. I needed one more reason to miss this guy. Sure, I still have the first part of "Mockingjay" to look forward too, and I bet he will be great. Having said this all, I watched "A Most Wanted Man" last Friday, and I gave myself a week to sit on it, thinking about it as a whole.
There are two different types of spy film that have risen to popularity in recent years. There are the action vehicles. The James Bond's, The Jason Bourne's and the Mission Impossibles of the world. Those films are big, goofy, and completely awesome in their own rights. They may not completely stand for the confusing, disorienting, gritty world of espionage, but they are a ton of fun, and that is what they are made for. Then there are the spy films that put a mirror to that gritty world. Movies like "3 Days of Condor," or "The Parallax View," or "The Conversation," or more recently, "Body of Lies," "Syriana," and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" that are more reality-based, but still cool. I don't think I prefer one type of spy film over the other, as I think I can enjoy both sides of the coin for what they are. "A Most Wanted Man" falls under the latter and not the former. This is a movie completely driven by its characters and its drama. That's okay, if you ask me. Not every spy movie has to have the cool gadgets, crazy chases and massive explosions. Sometimes, the story is what pulls us in and never lets its hooks out.
I am happy that Philip Seymour Hoffman dabbled in both sides. I loved "A Most Wanted Man," and even though I hated "Mission: Impossible 3," Hoffman's villain is so juicy that its worth at least a look.
A Chechen Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) makes his way to Hamburg, Germany. German intelligence, lead by Bachmann (Hoffman) quickly learn that Issa has ties to Islamic terrorist organizations, but they don't quite know how much. They don't see Issa as harmful, just whomever has summoned him to Hamburg, and that is who they plan to find. This situation quickly becomes a secret, international crisis as other intelligence agencies begin to get involved in the plot to get Issa. Bachmann wants his accomplice and he creates a pretty absorbing plot to figure out who that person is. Will Bachmann and his team find the problem in time? The film let's us know in the beginning title cards that partially the reason for 9/11 and countless other terrorist plots was due to competition between intelligence agencies. If our country and our allies have the same enemy in al-Queda, why are we not working together?
That is the very question "A Most Wanted Man," asks and it does so in an intense yet entertaining thriller. I have said many times that I hate it when there is an over-abundance of politics in my movies, and "A Most Wanted Man" does a great job of treading that line carefully. There are several wonderful performances in this movie, lead by Hoffman himself. Like so many characters before Bachmann, Hoffman creates a human being we as the audience can relate to. He also creates someone driven and ambitious, which he handles expertly.
The rest of the cast is solid as well. Robin Wright shows up as a representative of American intelligence and she does strong work here. Fans of "House of Cards" will be able to relate how good Wright is at being bad. Willem Dafoe plays a German banker who becomes pivotal in catching Issa's liaison, and once again Dafoe is plain awesome on screen. Then there is Rachel McAdams. Yes McAdams is in the movie, she plays a lawyer looking out for Issa, who is always in his corner. McAdams has always been an actress I have never truly cared for, but I have say, she does good work in this movie. People jaded by her normal M.O. may just be surprised. Also, I always love discovering a new actor, and I think Grigority Dobrygin will become someone to look out for.
I have never been a fan of movies that cast high-profile American actors just to draw attention. I have seen American actors try to form a wide array of accents. Some have failed, while others have flourished. I was amazed just how authentically German Hoffman, Dafoe and yes, even McAdams sounded. Had I been brand new to those actors movies and careers, I would have bet good money that they were German, and I would have lost, terribly. Great actors become their characters by completely becoming those characters. This cast really did that.
I will say that I feel the film is a little rushed at the end, especially sense it takes its time really setting up its characters and its story. I also think the ending is a little too ham-handed to really be taken seriously. But hey, this is a fun and unique spy thriller. Sometimes, that is all you really need.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who Played It Best? Magneto

Who Played It Best? Magneto
We all know of a little movie called "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and most of us remember hating it. But during this mysterious time, Fox had not one, but several Origin movies ready to go. One of those X-Men Origin movies was going to revolve around Magneto. We all can agree that Wolverine is quite popular in the movies. That is due to the fact that they found the perfect actor to play him, all Hugh Jackman had to do was step in and not fuck up. The character was already popular in the comics, and now Jackman had to bring him to life. He surely did, and now I feel the current X-Men franchise maybe a little too dependent on that popularity. I still believe that a stand-alone Magneto movie would have worked and it probably would have brought in money. I am still a little surprised that we have already had two different actors portray the villain/anti-hero on the big screen. Even though it is the same character, it hard not to argue that this is two wildy different takes on the same character. So who did it better?
My Two Cents
I guess this will have to do if you prefer young and vibrant Magneto or matured and ambitious Magneto. As much as I dug the scene in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" when young Professor Xavier had a seen with old Professor Xavier, I would have killed to see Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender shared a scene in that movie. Just to see these two guys spit chemistry off of each other. For me, its really a hard contest. For the longest time, I always thought Sir Ian McKellen was Magneto, and I always thought he hit all of the right notes from the comics, while also creating something that felt as his own. On the contrary, I thought Fassbender had a much different character to work from, and I think he did a really good job of always steering Magneto in character, even though he was working with much different emotions. For me, I am not sure it is a contest, I am seriously torn. I like them both a lot, and I think for this session, I would have to flip a coin.
Agree? Disagree? Do you need a coin like me, or is the winner clear cut? Let me know in the comment section below or email me ( You all have until next Wednesday to vote for your favorite Magneto.
Last Week: Who Played It Best? Conan The Barbarian
Last week, we took a look at a character the former governor of California made popular, which was given the remake treatment a few years ago. For the battle of the Barbarian, the results are in and here is how they shook out.
Its me Arnold Schwarzenegger!

E-Team Review

E-Team Review
There is a group of people out in this world, who specialize in investigating war-torn places. These people come from all walks of life and they come from a variety of different nations. These people belong to the Emergencies Team of the Human Rights Watch, an organization based out of (who guessed it) Geneva. Across this documentary, we get an expert look at the lives of the people on the E-Team, and just what it is they do.
I was hooked from the beginning of "E-Team," and I thought it was particularly creative how director(s) Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman chose to create their opening titles. The opening title sequences looks as if it came from an episode of "Homeland," a title sequence that could make James Bond fans envious. It makes you feel as if you are going to watch something cool, but I think "E-Team" is cool not in an "oh my God, did you see that" kind of way, but more in an "these people are awesome in their own way" kind of way. "E-Team" plunges viewers into the very delicate, very calculated life of the Emergencies team. We follow four people who have all been involved in inhumane world hotspots. From Kosovo, to Libya and to Syria. These people try to get to the bottom of a dictator or other party wrongfully killing innocent civilians.
What makes "E-Team" standout is how it doesn't try to push some kind of political statement onto you. Sure, there are several people who are featured on this documentary who would argue otherwise, but it is the truth. The Human Rights Watch is completely unbiased in its actions. Instead it thoroughly investigates a problem area, using any means necessary. There is one scene in the documentary, which takes place after Gadhafi was overthrown in Syria. What I found fascinating was that the E-Team investigated to make sure that the old regime didn't wrongfully kill innocents, and they did the same investigation for the rebels. They are clearly a group that carries no political agenda, and I liked how that was translated out in the movie. There were many parts of this documentary that reminded me of a classic episode of "Mission: Impossible." And no, I am not thinking of the Tom Cruise action vehicle, I am talking about the old 1960's show in which a group of agents worked as a team and use a wide array of resources to complete a mission, usually never resorting to violence. But I love how this organization does not take a political stance anywhere they go, they just care about other people. So does this documentary.
Netflix has become widely popular on its original content. After "The Battered Bastards of Baseball," I really began to believe that Netflix could be a platform to reason with as far as their documentary features go. "E-Team" is a highly absorbing experience, certainly will draw you in. It is an amazing look into a group trying to change the world for the better. And it is very much thought provoking.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

St. Vincent Review

Each week, my family and I partake in a phone call we have dubbed "Family Twenty." It is a time when we all can get on the phone with each other and discuss how are lives have been going. With my parents living in Peoria, Illinois, my brother in Seattle, Washington and myself in Chicagoland, this time is quite vital every week. Its a good time to sit down and see how everyone is doing. During a family twenty phone call in October, my parents mentioned they saw "St. Vincent" with Bill Murray and where impressed by it. Me being a massive Murray fan, I had to see this movie as soon as I possibly could.
"St. Vincent" is not the typical Murray quirk-fest, most of it isn't really funny. That is not to say its a bad movie, its actually a very good movie. I just have to warn that those of you who are used to seeing a particular version of Murray won't be seeing that version. While there are some charming, funny parts in "St. Vincent," its not a movie I would categorize as funny. This is not Murray being his typical comic clown. "St. Vincent" sees Murray playing a very broken man, and that is not the type of character we usually see Murray billed as. As I sat and watched the movie, I was impressed by how engrossed by it I was. This may not be Murray's typical cup of tea, but he knocks a homerun out of the ballpark. More on his performance in just a minute though.
Murray plays a man named Vincent, a man who is down on his luck. Vincent is a war veteran, but he spends his time drinking, gambling and watching strippers. He doesn't seem particularly motivated by life, and he does not have a lot of money. His gambling endeavors never span out, he is overdrawn at the bank, he owes dangerous people money. Soon, he comes into querrel with his new neighbors Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie is also down on her luck, as she is a single mom who has to work a lot and doesn't get a lot of time with her son. Seeing as she has no choice, she allows Vincent to babysit Oliver until she gets off of work. Vincent desperately needs the money, so he reluctantly agrees to the deal and each party begins to mature because of the other.
The movie anchored by Bill Murray, and he comes off like a titan in this movie. He has an accent I can barely understand at times, he has a demeanor unlike anything I have ever seen from him. We sometimes match Murray with comedy, but he proved in "St. Vincent" that he has a massive range, something I hope he explores more. When I discussed this film with my parents, they heard a story about how Bill Murray was sitting next to the writer of this movie on a plane. Just for feedback, the writer dared to ask Murray for input. Apparently Murray liked the movie so much that he wanted to star in it, and he pulled some strings to help get the movie made. Not bad for a guy who is completely picky about a third "Ghostbusters" movie. In any case, I can really tell that Murray saw something special in this script, because he surely gives it his all.
Melissa McCarthy is also not one we normal tag as a dramatic actor. I mean just look at her work in stuff like "Bridesmaids," or "The Heat," or "Identity Thief,"or "The Hangover: Part III." She is, by no means, somebody you would peg as a dramatic actor. I will admit how surprised I was when I learned how good she is in this movie. Melissa McCarthy proves that she can be just as broken as Murray can be, and she can be just as convincing. They spark wonderful scenes in this movie and they create a chemistry that is unbearably good. I have to say that I was overwhelmingly impressed by what I saw from McCarthy, especially coming off the heels of the disappointing "Tammy."
The real discovery in this movie for me is Jaeden Lieberher. I have never seen him before, I was unfamiliar with the name until now. After the movie however, I think he is a bright young talent. In a world where it seems the same young actors are always up for all the title roles revolving young people, I think Hollywood overlooks rare talents like Lieberher. Lieberher is just as much an anchor as Murray is. Together, they set off fireworks onscreen. They are very good together, and that isn't bad for a young actor, standing front and center with Bill Murray of all people. To stand toe-to-toe with Murray and make it believable is a crowning achievement.
The other performances in the movie are good. I especially liked the appearances made by Chris O'Dowd, Naomi Watts and Terrance Howard. O'Dowd, who worked with McCarthy on "Bridesmaids" plays a priest and teacher at Oliver's school, and he is just as charming as usual. Naomi Watts plays a stripper who has a relationship with Vincent. We have seen Watts do sexy before, but this is a totally different kind and she nails it. I also like her maybe-Russian accent she sports throughout the film. Howard plays some kind of kingpin whom Vincent owes money too, and he's typical Howard, always on point.
The only glaring problem I have with "St. Vincent," is that I wanted more. Believe it or not, the "boy gets mentored by foul-mouthed asshole" is not a new idea. In fact, it is very quickly becoming a new Hollywood cliché. I mean, just this year we have already seen "Bad Words" and "Joe," two movies that dig into the exact same category. If you make a movie that we have seen before, you have to tell a good story or do something new with the material. "St. Vincent," doesn't do either of those things. Once Vincent and Oliver begin hanging out, and once they finally begin to trust each other, you can pretty much predict the rest of the movie. For Murray to be so openly interested in this movie, I expected a little bit more than what I got. It just seemed to me that this movie didn't really try to separate itself from the herd.
No matter what, this is a must see. Just to see how good Murray can be when he isn't making your stomach hurt from laughter every five minutes. I should say the same about McCarthy too, who does splendid work in the movie. Go to see another young actor throw down, an actor whose name doesn't end in Hutcherson or Hemsworth. There is a lot to like about "St. Vincent" and it will no doubt charm you.

TV REVIEW: "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (Episode 8, Season 2)

Lots of cool stuff happened on tonight's episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." At this point, I am not sure what I am more interested in, Ward's story, Skye background and her father, or this continued Ping-Pong game between HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. to discover the secrets of The Diviner. This may seem like a lot of story to tackle in one season, but ABC is doing an exquisite job of keeping everything connected and keeping moving at a comfortable pace. This is the type of storytelling I feel we got way too late in the first season, and this second season has benefited quite a bit from focusing on two or three stories a season, rather than a new story every episode.
Someone who stood out on tonight's episode was Reed Diamond. Diamond has been playing Daniel Whitehall, a brand new high representative of S.H.I.E.L.D. If we remember from the season premier, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), captured Whitehall as well as the Diviner. On tonight's episode, we learn that it was Carter who made sure Whitehall stayed behind bars, up until the 1980s when he was freed from undercover HYDRA agents. We also learn how Whitehall was able to stay young now in the 2010's. Over the course of this season, Reed Diamond has done a good job turning Whitehall into a snarky villain, someone I love to root against every week. I was glad that this season has taken the time to really get to know our villains, I love the little mini-origin story for Whitehall. I think Reed Diamond has been doing very good work so far this season, and I can't wait to see  how his character materializes. Diamond has had quite the relationship with Joss Whedon over the years, so it comes to no surprise that he would turn such an astounding performance.
I also think Kyle MacLachlan is really standing out as The Doctor. We haven't really seen much of The Doctor so far, and it seems that is going to change really quick. After this episode, much like Agent Ward, I am not quite sure which side The Doctor is truly on. Perhaps he isn't on any side, perhaps he will become a wild card, tormenting S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA with glee. I have always found MacLachlan to be supremely overrated, and I think "Blue Velvet" is one of the very best films of the 1980's. In fact, I have loved all of his work in which he collaborated with David Lynch. However, I don't think he has ever felt so comfortable in a role, never felt this loose before. Something feels different in the way he acts, and I really dig what he is doing so far.
Just as much as I am on the fence about MacLachlan's The Doctor being a wild card, I just don't know who Ward is really working for now. Last week, he gave up Whitehall's right-hand man to Director Coulson (Clark Gregg), and now he is sitting, front and center, with Whitehall. We saw Ward betray S.H.I.E.L.D. last season, but now he seems to still have feelings for Skye. Could Ward be playing both sides? Or is he still truly committed to HYDRA and he has plans to kill Skye? I feel it could go both ways. I love that Brett Dalton has finally turned this dimensional cliche into a full-fledged character. The scene with his older brother nearly flattened me, and for a second, I was convinced they were going to join up as some kind of  team, and I was shocked to see I was dead wrong.
We still know very little about the city Coulson found last week or the true power of The Diviner. I think The Diviner could be a bridge to The Inhumans. I really don't think Marvel would put something as big as an Infinity stone in the show. We shall see though, but like I said last week, I think some big Easter Eggs are on their way.
We will see you back here in two weeks for episode nine, what did everyone else think?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Essentials- "The Boondock Saints" (1999)

The Essentials- #83
The Boondock Saints
I remember, a long, long time ago, I was having a conversation with a guy just as in love with movies as I am. I remember both of us agreeing that "The Boondock Saints" was the best direct-to-DVD movie of all time. All these years later, I still find it hard to not put such a defining label on the film.
This is a world where direct-to-DVD films are a dime a dozen, and shoot-em-up films are a dime a dozen. We have seen a thousand times on film the same formula, movies about people disgusted by the world they live in, but too weak to do anything about it. Then something terrible happens to someone close to them and they snap, becoming vigilantes almost overnight. We have seen this time and time before, yet "The Boondock Saints" somehow made it feel fresh. "The Boondock Saints" was not just a popular movie, not just some mere cult favorite, it almost created its own counter-culture. There have been documentaries made about this movie, for crying out-loud. So what is all of this fuss over a movie about two stereotypical Irish brothers who go on a killing spree, only targeting the criminals and the corrupt of their fair city of Boston, Massachusetts?
I always love a good revenge thriller and I always love it when characters go above the law. In a world where it seems the corrupt are treating our government like its a Vegas slot machine, and criminals getting away with more blasphemies than I shake a stick at, who will rise to save us? I think this is why I identify with superhero films so much. The idea of an unknown stranger, taking up arms for the greater good really casts a spell over me. I love watching people pushed over the edge, then trying to do something about it, even if what they do is morally terrible as a result. What made "The Boondock Saints" so intriguing was its set-up. The McManus brothers (played by Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flannery) did not loose a relative, they did loose their homes, their girlfriends were not raped. The reason why The McManus brothers became vigilantes was because they were called upon God to do it. After a bar fight with some Russian gangsters, the brothers feel the hand of God upon them, demanding that they rip evil out of the world with their hands. That is a pretty hefty message from the Almighty, and it always affected me every time I watch this movie. The idea of God calling upon us to kill evil-doers, such a crazy cool concept for a movie.
The work by Reedus and Flannery is pretty much perfect. They have a wicked chemistry that keeps people coming back for more. They are badass, they are funny and they are quite charming. I love that they play stereotypical Irishman, but also create original personalities of their own. They anchor this movie, and it would not work without their strong performances guiding the entire thing. Director Troy Duffy found the perfect brothers in these two electrifying actors.
Then there is David Della Rocco, playing David Della Rocco. I know nothing about this guy other than his work on this franchise. I don't know if he has been a friend of Troy Duffy prior to the film. But Rocco playing Rocco has always been confusing and amazing to me at the same time. Is this guy suppose to be the real Rocco or is it a fictional version of himself? And if is not the real Rocco, how much of this character is based on this guy? Who knows and who cares, I just know that Rocco has me in tears of laughter every time I watch this. How this guy didn't end up in every comedy from 1999 to 2014 astonishes me. He has perfect comedic timing and he has all the funniest material in the movie. I have a feeling he knows that too, because he brings a certain energy to the film that is remarkable.
Oh and I absolutely can't forget Willem Dafoe, in a role that I think has helped define his entire career. Dafoe plays an FBI agent tasked with finding out who is killing all of these gangsters, only to learn of the McManus brother and ultimately allow what they are doing to happen. There is a funny and awesome scene when Dafoe shambles into a Catholic church, drunk as sailor, demanding that a priest tell him if he is right in not apprehending the brothers. It is one of the best moments in the movie simply because Dafoe is so zanily heartfelt in the sequences. I love that his character is a huge mystery throughout. Is his character gay, or bi or what? I couldn't figure it out, I just know that Dafoe was one of the highlights of the film.
There are moments of absolute hilarity and there are moments of shocking violence. I love how Troy Duffy is able to balance that material with an even hand. With all of this, I think its pretty clear why this little franchise has stood the test of time, still wow-ing us with its greatness. I hope if we do see a third film, it can match the awesome that was this first film.

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Shutter Island" (2010)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#83
Shutter Island
I think one of my favorite genres of film is the psychological thriller. I love when a movie sets up an elaborate puzzle for me solve, I love when a movie gets in my head and plays  games with me. I know this is not a venture for everyone, but it certainly works for me time and again. One thing I loved about the 2000's era of film, that decade was rich with psychological thrillers. I particularly remember the year 2001 as a high watermark for the genre. I love films like "Mulholland Drive," "Memento" (which I still feel is the best film of that decade) and "Vanilla Sky." There were also many other films that worked well in the years that followed. Since 2010 however, it seems a good brain-teaser of a movie is harder to come by. I think that is why I find myself revisiting "Shutter Island" so much.
We all know at this point that Martin Scorsese is more than just a filmmaker, he is a man that brings poems to life. Nearly everything he touches seems to turn to gold, even though he is famous for gangster pictures. Although he has made so many remarkable films in his career, a few still slip away. Not every movie a director makes is a classic, at least the whole world may not be united in the front to declare each movie a classic. I still think that there are great films being made by great filmmakers all the time, and sometimes a few of those films get away from them. I don't understand why "Shutter Island" is not held on the same pedestal as "Goodfellas," or "Mean Streets," or "Raging Bull" or "Taxi Driver," or "The Departed," or "The Age of Innocence," or any other popular Scorsese movie. I find "Shutter Island" to be the best piece of art with Scorsese's name on it so far this decade, and yes that includes "Hugo" and "Boardwalk Empire." I think the film presented a new door for Scorsese and he easily walked right through it. He made psychological terror just as relevant as shocking gangland violence. So why are we not talking about this movie constantly still? How did "Hugo" get so much more exposure from the awards circuit than "Shutter Island" the year before?
I remember there were some scheduling conflicts that kept this movie out of 2009. The movie was originally going to be released Winter of 2009, just in time for the awards season. Then some scheduling problems occurred and the film was released February of 2010. The months of January and February are generally left for the early clunkers of each year. But "Shutter Island" became the best film of the winter quickly. This is due in large part to the work by Leonardo DiCaprio. This is an actor I find overacts quite a bit. I find it hard to really focus on him in some of his movies, and a truly great performance by him is hard to come by, even in "Gangs of New York." Here, DiCaprio hit all the right notes perfectly. I think if the film had come out in 2009, DiCaprio could have been nominated for a best Lead Actor for the Oscars. And, dare I say it, he could have won.
DiCaprio plays U.S. Marshall Edward "Teddy" Daniels. Daniels, along with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are going to Shutter Island, a psychiatric prison for the criminally insane. Apparently, a high-risk patient has fled her cell and is on the island somewhere and they are planning to help find her. Teddy Daniels is one flawed guy, and I love how "Shutter Island" plays almost like a film noir in the opening of the film. The U.S. Marshalls are introduced to Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carol Lynch), Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) all of whom run the prison. Something is immediately off about the entire place, from the way the doctors run things on the island, to the patients themselves. Teddy also has motives of his own and he is conducting his own independent investigation revolving around a particular inmate.
But that all happens before we learn that Shutter Island may or may not be experimenting on the patients for the government, leading to one of the most jaw-dropping endings in a movie in years. Brought to life by the searing cinematography by Robert Richardson and elevated by a score by Rhino Records, "Shutter Island" becomes an invading motion picture. As good as DiCaprio is, the entire cast does incredibly good work. The film also features two unforgettable performances by Michelle Williams and Emily Mortimer, Mortimer in particular ruling my nightmares after viewing this film for the first time. This is some of the best work Williams has ever done.
If you haven't had the pleasure of visiting "Shutter Island" yet, I prefer you do so quick.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Birdman Review

Birdman Review
The year 2014 may not be the best year of film ever, or maybe it is. I don't know what to think of the year as a whole quite yet and neither does anybody else. One thing is for certain though, the year 2014 will go down as one of the best years for performances. Each year, the awards circuit tends to be pretty competitive in the acting categories. This year though, I would hate to be a Academy member, because trying to narrow down a list of five nominees seems like a daunting task. This has been a year rich with performances and it seems actors I did not really care for in the past are making their roles count. No actor has surprised me more so far, than Michael Keaton.
"Birdman" is one of the strangest and oddly amazing experiences you will have all year. Something that is blisteringly funny, enticingly dramatic and puzzlingly addicting. I would not call "Birdman" a movie for everyone. I understand that there is only so much weird that some people can take. If you give it an honest go, you maybe surprised by how hard it hits you. There is a unique style that the film uses to tell its story, and it is wonderful to behold. A lot of what makes "Birdman" work though, is the impeccable work done by Michael Keaton. For the first time in his entire career, Keaton bears his soul on camera. I think Keaton has caught lightning in a bottle during his career before, but he just caught it again.
"Birdman" tells the story of Riggan Thompson (Keaton), an actor who was once famous for playing the lead in Birdman, a trilogy of superhero films that came out in the 1990's. Now, trying to get back into the game, Riggan is writing, directing and starring in a play on Broadway. Each day is a struggle to keep the show flowing, keeping all the actors in check, and especially Riggan keeping himself together. The birdman is always in his thoughts,  talking to him about his life. One of Riggan's assistants is his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who he was never really there for. This play is Riggan's big comeback, but can he pull it all together?
Just as much as this play is a comeback for Riggan, the movie itself is a comeback for Keaton. This is going to redefine him as an actor, mark my words. I think from this point forward, we are going to see a brand-new Michael Keaton, and that is an exciting thought. Performance-wise, he is just one of the many greats. Emma Stone does touching work as Sam, and she turns a character that could have been a cliche into someone to look for. Zack Galifanakis shows up as Riggan's lawyer, and he doesn't play one of the overbearing dimwits he usually plays. Edward Norton plays a highly respected stage actor with a big ego, and Edward does incredible work, playing off Keaton's character with glee. Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborogh do strong work in this film as well. I was actually amazed by just how strikingly funny Watts is. I have never really seen her do a role which was somewhat comedic, but she makes it look effortless. Riseborogh also plays off of Keaton in a very natural, fun way.
I love that this is a movie about an actor trying to get a play off the ground, and much of the movie plays like a play. The film takes place over the span of three, maybe four days. Yet, we never leave the Broadway block. The film feels like one, long continuous scene with no breaks or no fade-outs. Its as if our eye-lids are open wide from too much caffeine and we are watching this bizarre tale span out, with plenty of wild hallucinations. This maybe something that turns most people off, because the film feels disjointed at times because of it. I couldn't help but notice how well it paralleled the idea of the stage play and how it brought a unique spin on the idea.
I can say with utter importance and truth that there will not be another film coming out this year that is like "Birdman." Just as this movie reinvents what can be done onscreen, an actor completely reinvents himself as an artist. "Birdman" is a movie about artists who take a leap of faith, at a time where everything could not be darker. In a weird, warped way, "Birdman" shows why that tiny spark of light is so important for all individuals, and why we always must strike when the iron is hot. I could not have asked for a better message wrapped in a movie as original or as soulful as this.