Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Anomalisa Review

Anomalisa Review
Charlie Kaufman has quite the imagination. That is pretty clear in his movies "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." He has quite the imagination as a filmmaker. But at the same time, he clearly has resound feelings when it comes to emotions, love, hate, and loss. I found "Being John Malkovich" and "Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" to be some of the best cinema of their respected years. Kaufman has profound control when has an idea and when he displays that control its quite bracing.

In "Anomalisa," Kaufman has completely outdone himself. Its a crowning achievement as far as stop-motion animation. But Kaufman's little treasure is more than just clever stop-motion. There is a powerful metaphor that smiles at the audience all movie long, and it wears its theme's on its sleeve. But that doesn't really mean there is nothing else to the movie. That doesn't mean that there is nothing else to feel. But as far as the animation goes, I can only imagine that it will give some other animated films this year a run for its money come awards season.

The movie is about Michael (voiced by David Thewlis), a man who travels across the country to give speeches about proper customer service. He has written many successful books about this subject. Michael also has a wife and son. But despite his family and his success, Michael is lonely. He is very, very lonely. He seems to find the whole world mundane, and sees the same face and hears the same voice by every person he sees. I mean that quite literally. Every supporting character and every background character in the movie has the same face design and they are all voiced by Tom Noonan. Sometimes that can kind of make the movie confusing as to who Michael is speaking to, but it is a wildly unique gimmick. Its also quite funny hearing Noonan's voice shift from man to woman to child. He keeps his same monotone, but the language he uses is superb and actually kind of charming.

Michael is drifting through life, on another one of countless trips, all seemingly identical to each other. Then he hears a voice, a voice that isn't Noonan. A voice that stands out from everybody else in Michael's orbit. This person's name is Lisa, and she is voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She's the only other character not voiced by Noonan, and that's  the point. Michael doesn't feel anything from his marriage anymore, he can't really connect with people in his life because everybody feels the same to Michael. Then he meets Lisa and she completely changes his life, because she proves that not everything is the same, and that Michael is allowed to feel.

Yes, Michael is a bit of a low life. Its okay to think that. But even though the audience can't respect Michael, I bet just about anybody can at least identify with him. I have had moments in my life where I felt like nobody understood me, and that I was the only one in this world who would understand me. Sometimes, that can happen to people and these feelings are clearly crippling Michael. That changes with Lisa, and she is his anomaly. Hence the name of the movie.

"Anomalisa" is a beautiful movie, in both ideas and imagery. The voice talent by Thewlis, Noonan and especially Leigh is spot on. Yes, people complain when voice actors aren't providing their talents for movies like this, but I think these three actors have particular voices and they each knew how to pinpoint that talent here. Their voice work elevates the material here, and it is all overly engaging. I felt very revitalized by this movie. I was taken aback by its energy and color. My love for cinema was once again realized for me. Like many have already said, despite no humans in this movie, this is the most human movie all year. That in itself is something of an achievement.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Doctor Strange Stills!

This may surprise lots of people. But out of the two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies coming out in 2016, I am the most excited for "Doctor Strange." I didn't think I'd say that, but it is true. While I am sure I am going to love the Cap vs. Stark showdown this spring, I love the idea of expanding the universe. "Doctor Strange" is bound to get weird, showing us the cosmic and mystical corners of the Marvel Universe, and that I am absolutely ecstatic about. The MCU is been grounded in reality for the most part since its inception, and I am more than prepared to indulge in the more comic-booky parts of the Marvel Universe.

Today, Entertainment Weekly posted some stills for the upcoming movie, and boy does Benedict Cumberbatch look awesome!

Awww...the feels!

I am super excited for this one, and if you are a little unfamiliar with this property. Think of it this way, Doctor Strange is kind of like an American Harry Potter, but his magic capabilities would leave the Chosen One in the dust. Sorry Potter fans, but its true. Stephen Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme, and he can do all sorts of stuff with his mystic capabilities. I love that they really gave Cumberbatch the true look, and I know for sure he'll hit a homerun in the role. Can't wait for the first trailer!


Spotlight Review

Spotlight Review
It was just last night that I was reviewing "Room," a great movie about a woman who was abducted by a predator. Then on Saturday night, I review a documentary called "Call Me Lucky," about a comedian who was raped many times as a child and became a anti-molestation advocate because of it. I didn't mean to spring so much of the same awful subject into one week, specifically a holiday-oriented week. But when you are trying to cram as many movies as possible into one last week before the new year chimes in, sometimes it happens. I guess I had to keep the streak alive with "Spotlight."

"Spotlight" tells the true story of a 2001 a team of journalists for the Boston Globe are assigned to investigate the allegations against a priest named John Geoghan. Apparently, the priest molested more than 80 boys and plenty of people around the priest did nothing to stop him. The movie details the year-long investigative work of the journalist team, and the ups and downs they faced bringing this story to the surface.

That's the story in a nutshell, and what you see is what you get. We get a solid cast including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Brian d'Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Billy Cudrup and Jamey Sheridan. That's a rock solid cast, one of  the best casts of the year. Its the only cast of the year that I feel could easily rival "The Martian." I don't have to tell you how stellar of a cast that is, and you can bet that each actor brings their A-game to this movie. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams jump out in front of the pack, and both deliver the high watermarks of the movie. 

The cast is great, the story is engaging, but there is just something about it that is making me not rave about it, I am not jumping up and down for this one. Its not a bad movie or even a mediocre movie. I just think the movie lacks some forward momentum. If you don't like overly-talky movies, then I'd say skip this one altogether, because you may find yourself getting bored. Even though the movie is packed with livid drama. I just feel out every procedural in recent memory, this one lacks most of its excitement. I can't tell if its a screenplay issue or a pacing issue, but something is just a little off. I think "Zodiac" in 2007 covered somewhat similar territory, was a much longer movie and was a drama-filled, talky movie. I think "Zodiac" delivered on the task a bit better than "Spotlight" did. I read that critics are falling over themselves for this one, and while the movie is very good, I am not doing the same as the rest of them.

But hey, if you like seeing good actors engage in a story worth telling, then "Spotlight" is worth seeing. If you like investigative procedurals then "Spotlight" is definitely for you. Who knows, you just might like it better than I did.


The Big Short Review

The Big Short Review
I was in my first year of college in the 2008 financial crisis happened. But when I was a freshman in college, I didn't pay much attention to the news, nor did I really understand what was going on. I am not a numbers guy, I have never been a numbers guy and I don't think I will ever be a numbers guy. People have tried to explain what happened and alot of the jargon goes right over my head. I have watched the documentary "Inside Job," and still explanation goes over my head. I don't have a mind built to understand the stock market or the big terms used in that everyday charade. I just know that the stock market crashed in 2008, bankers were involved, it mainly had to do with the mortgage and housing markets in our country. 

Then I saw "The Big Short."

"The Big Short" is more than just a bunch of great actors getting together to have some fun. If they wanted to rename the movie, they could have called it "2008 Financial Crisis For Dummies." Because the movie literally takes you by the hand and explains exactly what happened and why. Don't fret though, the movie isn't interested in feeling superior or making you feel dumb. The movie does a good job of showing the audience just how something like this happened and who saw it coming. Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett and he is also our narrator into this world of Wall Street and money. There is a fun style the movie uses, there are several definitions pointed out in the movie which would make Quentin Tarantino smile. Need help understanding something? There are some key cameos by Selena Gomez and even Anthony Bourdain who explain certain things in the movie in a humorous manner. The film also features some of the best montages in any movie I have ever seen. Yes, montages are clever here, and enjoyed it very much.

The movie focuses on three key groups of people. One of those groups involves Vennett, who catches wind of somebody betting against the housing market in 2005. Vennett digs deeper and realizes that the housing market was completely unstable. Vennett realizes that by creating credit default swaps, he can profit when the market crashes. Vennett gets trader Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) onboard to jump into the market. Another focus is on Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the man who did predict the financial crisis in 2005 and began setting up credit default swaps in banks all over New York, and is the one Vennett learned about. And the last group focuses on young investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) who find out about Vennett's realization and plan to profit of the swaps as well. They enlist the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) for help. The movie follows these three stories, and they rarely interlock. But it tells the story of the guys who something awful coming, and how right they are ultimately haunted them.

Everybody is great in this, which is no surprise. Was there honestly any doubt that Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Christan Bale and Steve Carrell wouldn't be good? The thing is, there are several wonderful performances in this. Melissa Leo shows up in crucial moment in the movie, and she's stellar. Marissa Tomei is brilliant in the limited screen time she has. Wittrock and Magaro are big discoveries here. I also particularly liked the actors in Baum's crew, which consists of Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong and Hamish Linklater. They stand out in a big way here, and should credited for their work.

So, "The Big Short," is big fun. If what I wrote isn't incentive enough to see it, boys. Well, let me just say that Margot Robbie shows up in a bubble bath. Incentive enough?


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Room Review

Room Review
Whether you want to believe it or not, we are constantly living in a state of fear. So much so that it has changed our culture for the worse. When I listen to my dad talk about his childhood, he used to reminisce about summers where he'd be outside from the moment the sun came up and he wouldn't go back in his house until the sun went down. The idea of kidnapping and predators seemingly never entered into the equation. In fact, for most of my own childhood, it didn't either. I remember having the freedom of riding my bike as a teenager, just as long as I stayed in the subdivision I lived in. I felt like it was enough, so much to explore within the confines of my neighborhood. I feel like when I eventually have children, the thought of allowing my teenager to go for a leisurely bike-ride will have authorities and social workers up my ass. Predators are everywhere; in big cities, in rural cities, on the interstate, on the internet...we have databases and databases packed with predators. And it seems that our culture will never go back to the times when apart of a child's development was aided by non-supervision.

I bring this up, because the basis for the movie "Room" sparks relevance to this case. "Room" is about a girl named Joy (Brie Larson) who was abducted by a man known as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) when she was 17 years old. When the film begins, it has been seven years since her abduction, and Joy lives in a cramped room with only a bed, a kitchen, a bathtub and a TV. Oh, and she only goes by Ma now, as she has a son named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) whom she loves and cares for. It is never really expressed if Jack and Ma are biologically related, but there is doubt how much Ma cares for her son. Every night, Old Nick visits Ma and Jack and provides for things they need to live. What else does he do on his visits? Well...just use your imagination.

For the first forty minutes or so of "Room," we just focus on Ma and Jack and their day-to-day lives in the room. We see a character piece unfold as a young woman raises a young boy in a such a small enclosure. Jack only believes the world is as big as the room he lives in, and trying to explain that the world is so much more is quite the task for Ma. Plus, living at the will of Old Nick is a challenge onto itself, and staying strong for her child is equally hard. Ma and Jack's good and bad days, their conversations and the things they react to are the profound charm of most of "Room." The movie is driven by these two characters, and both Larson and Tremblay create a poised, grounded relationship. A bond that we as the audience can buy into completely, we can identify with it. While Tremblay is a very good, young actor, I knew Larson would be incredible. I have kept a close eye on Larson since "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." She hasn't disappointed since in movies like "21 Jump Street," "Short Term 12," "The Gambler," "Don Jon," or "The Spectacular Now." She is, without a doubt, one of the great talents of her generation and I can't wait to see where her career leads her. Oh, and Sean Bridgers is the slimy, snarky villain you thought he would be. He certainly gives me the creeps.

I am a little hesitant to travel further in this review, because I don't want to give too much away. "Room" doesn't have a twist ending. There are no big surprises or big jolts throughout the film. It just doesn't quite unfold as you would think it does. There is a whole new factor in the last hour or so of run time that the movie presents. It digs deeper into our characters and sets up new challenges for them, and through it all Larson and Tremblay deliver. There is also some profound work done by Joan Allen and William H. Macy, both of whom show up within the last half of the film. Both of whom are as great as always.

On the other side of the movie, I am amazed by how hard "Room" hit me. But it just goes to show that a movie doesn't need a massive budget to be great. It doesn't need the most popular A-List star who is hot at the time. It doesn't need cutting-edge special effects or to be adapted from some other massive wonder. All a movie needs is a couple people the audience can relate to pitted in a story worth telling. "Room" succeeds in this, thousandfold.


The Revenant Review

The Revenant Review
It was just last year when director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directed "Birdman." A movie I feel desperately in love with at first sight. It has been less than a year since Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu got up on stage at the Oscar ceremony to take home the award for Best Picture. He obviously gained that honor for his work on "Birdman." After that honor, I decided that Inarritu is somebody I planned to keep an eye out for, and thankfully I didn't have to wait long, because a year later "The Revenant" was released. I was a little scared of this news, because when any director releases two movies right in a row, only one year between them, there can be some noticeable flaws in the first or second outing. Some people maybe disappointed that there is such a huge gap in years when somebody like Quentin Tarantino releases a movie, but the quality of those movies is undeniable. I will always take quality over quantity every day of the week, and its part of the reason why it never surprises me when directors like Woody Allen or Clint Eastwood make bad movies, they barely give themselves time to breathe in a new idea when they release a new movie each year.

Sometimes, success can be hot and that seems to be the case for Inarritu and his new movie "The Revenant." "The Revenant" isn't anything like "Birdman." "Birdman" was a cerebral comedy with a fun little gimmick within its camerawork. "The Revenant" is an epic, ugly road through survival and revenge. Inarritu uses some of that clever camerawork in "The Revenant," as in the opening scene where a fur trapping outpost is attacked by a group of Native Americans. There are never any cutaways or pullbacks on the camera, you experience the attack as if you are a fur trapper fighting for your life. The opening is a completely breathtaking experience, and it quickly draws you into this dangerous world. As only a handful of fur trappers survive the attack, a small group of them escape with their catchings.

One of those trappers is a man named Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a quiet and loyal man who had a son with a Native American woman. He maybe looked down upon by some of his peers, but there is doubt how dangerous they all think him to be. Once Glass reaches the shore with his peers, they plan to return to their town. While hunting for food, Glass gets separated from the rest of the group and gets mauled by a bear. When I say mauled, I mean MAULED. Easily the most vivid and most grounded scene of an animal attacking a human that I can name. It is most definitely not rape as it has been called in certain circles. It is a full on bar attack, and the most realistic attack that I have ever seen. Glass barely escapes with his himself, and when his peers discover him afterward, Glass is clinging to his life.

Glass's boss Andrew Henry (Domhall Gleeson) assigns three men to watch over Glass as he moves forward to get help from their town. The three men to stay behind to bring Glass back are Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass's own son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Fitzgerald believes Glass won't last, and he's afraid that the Native Americans are close on their tale. So he fakes Glass's death, murders his son, and persuades Bridger to go back to town with him to report Glass's death. Glass is still very much alive though, and he plans to get back to town to settle the score with Fitzgerald.

"The Revenant" is a fever dream, brought to life by a cohort of wonderful actors who bring this story to life on a massive scale. Leonardo DiCaprio owns this movie, yes he does. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he gets several nominations across several ceremonies within the next few weeks. I'd love to see him get the recognition, because this astonishing work that he puts on display. Tom Hardy creates the perfect foil for DiCaprio's character and I love the tension and the build-up as they silently square-off in the final moments of the film. Most of the film though focuses on DiCaprio and he pits himself in the most authentic survival mode that I have seen in a movie in a very long time and boy does he nail it. Domhall Gleeson, who clearly had the time of his life playing General Hux in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," is much more heroic here, and he's just as believable. Will Poulter does wounded work here as the seemingly the only man with a real conscience, he doesn't like putting up with Fitzgerald, but he seems to have no other choice.

While the actors are all magnificent here, I can't help but notice that wildlife and nature play just as an important role in the movie as the actors do. Not only is the infamous bear attack a surreal pleasure, but there is an equally beautiful moment when Glass happens upon a pack of wolves bringing a buffalo down. There is also a great scene where Glass experiences an avalanche. These scenes feel like dreams come to life, and I give Emmanuel Lubezki credit for his unbelievable cinematography, he brings this movie to an all new height. The make-up and hair are also top-notch here, and I love how little things as make-up and hair play such a huge role in this movie. These actors look really rough throughout their journey in this movie, and you feel it in the audience.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has completely outdid himself these last two years. If he has enough gas left in his creative tank, I hope he can crank another winner out next year. But if he needs to take his time on his next project, I hope he does. Its amazing he has such a profound voice that he can make something as deliriously funny as "Birdman" and also make something as deliriously mundane as "The Revenant." He once again found actors who give it their all, and the crew he brought together to make this come to life created a living, moving, dream of a movie.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Call Me Lucky Review

Call Me Lucky Review
I have only recently been bitten by the stand-up bug. I like laughing more than anything in the world, and I like a great comedy to watch, whether its a movie or a TV show or a what-have-you. But stand-up isn't something I obsessed over. Not because I found it tedium or because I found it boring. It was just something that I never gravitated towards until recently, and even now, I don't bend over backwards for it. Earlier this year, my girlfriend and I went to our very first stand-up comedy presentation, and we both loved the experience dearly. It was a wonderful experience and I have been itching to go back to that place in my near future. There is something atmospheric about stand-up comedy that you can't find in a movie or a TV show. There is a no-holds-barred quality to stand-up, there is a dangerous feeling that nothing is off limits. That's exciting and reckless and shameless all rolled into one. So before I sat down to watch "Call Me Lucky," I had no idea who Barry Crimmins was, and now on the other side of the documentary, I hope one day everybody learns who Barry Crimmins is.

When I began watching this documentary on Barry Crimmins, I thought I would just be watching a documentary of a stand-up comedian. Maybe it would be about how he rose to stardom in that particular field. Maybe it would be comment on the world of stand-up as a whole. There was certainly a little bit of each of those, and both were supremely fascinating. But it wasn't the whole movie. I thought, okay, this guy is still alive and what I thought was the focus of the movie wasn't the true focus. What could this movie possibly be about? I noticed that Crimmins was a boisterous and bombastic comedian. He had incredibly outspoken views on the Catholic Church and the politics of America. He went all around the talk to people and denounce the country he hailed from. He clearly smoked and drank too much, but that was part of what made him so funny, what made him so memorable. He would rant and rant and rant about whatever would get brought up at his gigs and still be able to fire off a joke during the act. While I was amazed by my experience of learning about Crimmins, I thought to myself, he isn't the first person to ever have strong anti-politics and anti-religion views. He isn't the first person to ever have wild acts at his stand-up. What made Crimmins so special as a person?

Then the movie drops a bomb. If you know your stand-up and you know Crimmins' background, then you know full well what I am about to discuss. Its the entire explanation of why Crimmins acts the way he does. There is a reason why Crimmins is so cynical. There is a reason why his stand-up is so blisteringly angry. When Barry Crimmins was a boy, he was raped by a friend of his babysitter who would come over sometimes. We never really find out how many times this happened, but it was indeed more than once. He never really talked about it to anyone, until one comedic act where he hit a wall and bore his heart about his pain. Soon after telling that story, Crimmins became an advocate for spreading child pornography and child molestation awareness after he saw how dangerous the internet could be for those crimes in the late 1990's. I was shocked, and if you don't know Crimmins' life, the film sets it up as surprise. We see this in movies all the time, the big twist in the movie. But ever since "The Impostor" in 2012 have I ever been so blindsided by the direction of a documentary.

What is it about sad people that draws them to comedy? If you look at the lives of Mark Twain or Mike Myers or Macauley Caulkin...each of them had very sorrowful upbringings. Yet, they possessed the power to keep the rest of us laughing? How does that work? What is it about the horrors and trauma of growing up that leads some of us to let loose and get goofy? I find myself amazed by Crimmins for that very reason. He was a comedian and a powerful rights activist that gave AOL a run for its money in the 1990's. What happened to Crimmins was monstrous and it makes you think about what drives these people to comedy.

There is a quote near the end of the movie which went along the lines of "the most anti-religious people are the ones that act the most religious." and its that quote that really hit me dead center. Crimmins' views on religion aren't misguided. As there was a priest in his hometown that came onto him at a young age and also was known to rape other boys. Instead of just doing comedy, Crimmins chose to spread awareness of these appalling crimes. He was a pioneer of making people take a closer look at the internet before letting their kids hop on it for the first time. Now I know, the internet is still a somewhat ugly place, but it could have possibly been way worse. What started out as a study of a crazy comedic ended up being so much more than I could have thought and that alone makes me want everybody to check this out as soon as possible.


Deadpool | Red Band Trailer 2 [HD] | 20th Century FOX

I can already tell that I am going to love the shit out of this movie.

I don't think I need anymore incentive to see this movie, this is Deadpool, through and through. If this last month has taught me anything, its that I am incredibly excited for next year. I will be writing a full list of 2016 films I am looking forward too, and I can assure you that this isn't the last time I will be talking about "Deadpool."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review
I've seen "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" twice now, I have seen it twice in one day. I won't be going into spoiler territory at all, because I am probably just about the last person to see it at this point, and I don't want to spoil anything for the few stranglers out there who have not had the chance to see it yet. But I did see the movie twice, all the events of the movie are pretty fresh in my head. 

We are, for better or for worse, living in pop culture period that relies heavily on nostalgia. Nostalgia has been creeping into the corners of everything in our popular culture and has affected it one way or the other. Some find that to be good and some find that to be bad. The limits of nostalgia have been tested in a mighty way throughout the year. Sometimes its exciting to see something nostalgic in a original way ("Creed") and sometimes its hard to sit through something that is just nostalgia for its own sake. I think J.J. Abrams really indulges in the idea of nostalgia, and that can be good or bad. I think the worst parts of his two "Star Trek" movies are those that deal in Trekkie nostalgia, and if he just trusted himself to make a good movie, but especially when it comes to the sequel, it seems Abrams relies a little too heavily on Trekkie nostalgia to keep the movie going. Where it feels too much like a retread and not a remake. To a minimal degree, the same thing can be said about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Where the film fails is when Abrams delves a little too far into nostalgia. Some will argue that its for the whole movie, and I get it. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" feels like a remake of "A New Hope" with greater special effects. Yes, a droid gets something important at the very beginning of the movie. Yes, he's sent to a desert planet. Yes, there is family drama surrounding the characters. Yes, there is a Death Star type weapon that the bad guys have, and our heroes fly into a whole to save the world. There is even a  bar scene. "The Force Awakens" is full of nostalgia.

If you can get passed all the callbacks to the other movies, I think you will enjoy the movie more. While I see where people are coming from when they say "The Force Awakens" is a retread of "A New Hope." But the new characters and the new stakes feel so original that it feels like a different experience completely. Yes, Harrison Ford shows up as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher shows up as Leia, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Mark Hamill makes a brief appearance as Luke Skywalker, whose whereabouts are a total mystery all movie long. But our beloved heroes from the original trilogy are supporting characters this time out, and the story pushes its new characters to the forefront. We have Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is a dark Force user working for The First Order, a group who rose from the remnants of the Empire. The First Order wants to destroy the Republic, and they know one of the keys to that plan is killing Luke Skywalker. Luke has gone into hiding after a catastrophe involving the formation of a new Jedi Order, which failed. 

There is a map which leads to Skywalker, and that map belongs to the Resistance, a force from the Republic trying to combat the reign of The First Order. There is a Resistance pilot named Poe (Oscar Isaac), who gives the map to a driod called B-88, who runs away with the map after Poe is attacked by First Order stormtroopers. B-88 runs into Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger whose just trying to get by, dreaming of the day her family comes back for her. Rey takes B-88 into town on her planet, and there they meet Finn (John Boyega), an ex-storm trooper who had a crisis of conscience after a particularly brutal mission which starts the movie. Finn and Rey decide to bring B-88 back to the Resistance so that they have the map which leads to Skywalker.

Kylo Ren is will go down in history as one of the coolest bad guys in "Star Wars" history. He's got wicked voice, an equally wicked demeanor and his control of the Force is unlike anything we have ever seen in the movies before. Adam Driver brings him to life splendidly. But I have seen Driver in movies before, and I figured he'd be great. Boyega is wonderful as Finn. He has great scenes with everyone, with Han Solo, with Rey, with Chewbacca, with Poe. Everyone. And Boyega nails each scene perfectly. But Boyega was spectacular in 2011's "Attack The Block," I knew he'd be great here. Daisy Ridley was the big discovery for me in this movie. You could argue that she's the main character here, and Ridley does absolutely captivating work as Rey. I love that she isn't a damsel in distress, at anytime in the movie. There is a moment in the movie where two thieves try to take B-88 away from her, and Finn watches from afar. He wants to help her, but he doesn't have to, Rey successfully beats the crap out of the thieves, and he's absolutely impressed by it. The women in this movie are strong and independent and that is still sorely missed in big blockbusters these days. 

As cool as Kylo Ren is, all of the bad guys are worthy of a good "Star Wars" movie. The First Order is a thousand times more evil than The Empire was, without question. Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux, in charge of the Stormtroopers, and Andy Serkis plays Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke is, with no surprise given he's played by Andy Serkis, a CGI alien. Even though Snoke only has a couple scenes, he's a powerful presence. Gleeson gets a little hammy with his portrayal of Hux, but works for the movie, not against it. I love that this group of bad guys is an uneasy alliance, and it seems the trio is using each other to further their own agendas rather than those of the First Order. They are some of the most interesting bad guys we have ever seen in "Star Wars" movies, and these actors really step up to make them matter.

I have to say that I feel very invested in these characters simply because they are written so well. George Lucas, God love him, he's supremely creative, but he can't write a screenplay worth a damn. That was true for both the prequels and the original trilogy. Lucas just couldn't find the words to make his characters translate onto screen, and it didn't matter that he had actors like Harrison Ford, Alec Guinnes, Ewan McGregor, or Samuel L. Jackson playing them. Here, with a screenplay written by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt, these character feel much more believable. The stakes feel higher in this movie simply because we identify with the characters better than ever before. These characters feel like people, not just wooden figures Lucas cobbled together. Its amazing just what a difference a well-written script makes.

I could write this review all day. I could discuss every perimeter of each scene of this movie. I could discuss the character Lupita Nyong'o gives voice too and how she helps our heroes at a crucial moment. I could discuss how Rey and Finn meet Han and Chewbacca, and how that sets up one of the film's funnest moments. I could discuss how excited I got when I saw that Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian made an appearance in this movie. Or how I loved seeing Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb from "Return of the Jedi" show up in this movie. I could talk about Captain Phasma, and how one scene involving her, Finn and Han made me laugh out loud. I could talk about how Rey and Finn happen upon the Millennium Falcon and all the jokes made about it by Rey and Finn to Han. I could even push into spoiler territory and reveal a lot of the big secrets the movie possesses. But I'd be writing all night. This movie is so rich in detail, each corner of the screen so full of life that it was hard for me not to love it. I am the guy who adores the original trilogy, I loved both versions of the "Clone Wars" cartoon, I loved the video games, I loved the books and comics, and I am even one of those weirdos who liked the prequels. I figured I would like the movie, and anything more would be a bonus. While, J.J. Abrams can be his own worst enemy when it comes to movies, he crafted a wonderful, wonderful "Star Wars" movie. Now I need episodes VIII and IX. I want the anthology movies, and I think obsessive need for what's ahead is the biggest compliment I could give this movie. 

I am still in love with this story from long ago and from a galaxy far, far away. I think Abrams reminded me why I fell so deeply in love with it in the first place.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Ghostbusters Remake Character Posters

Here's the first character posters for the remake of "Ghostbusters," the one with all the females. Even though this little experiment that hasn't been released yet has already unleashed a whirlwind of All-Female films on the way, I am excited for this. I can't wait to see the first trailer.

American Ultra Review

American Ultra Review
There have been performers that I like and performers I don't like. There is something to the talent of an actor that draws me to them, that gets me excited when I hear their names. Even if I don't love everything they do, I usually don't hold it against them. I find it really easy to get drawn back into whatever made them great in the first place. For performers I don't much care for, that is a lot harder to do. If I watch an actor fail time and time again, it gets much harder for me to care about them in the future. I try really hard to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but when you do nothing but crap, that gets much harder to do. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are two actors I couldn't care less about. Sure, Eisenberg was something else in "The Social Network,"and I liked "Zombieland" and "Rio." But nothing much else of his has ever sparked my interest, I still don't buy him as Lex Luthor and he's going to have to do some heavy lifting for me to buy him in that role. Kristen Stewart was good in...well...grrr...I can't really think of anything.

Surprisingly enough, I was kind of drawn to "American Ultra," and I decided to rent it tonight and give it a try. I thought some parts of the trailers looked funny, I think its been a stellar year for everything spy, I like Connie Britton, Topher Grace and Walton Groggins, and I like comedy with a little action thrown in. This looked like it could have been good fun. For the most part, "American Ultra" is good fun. Kristen Stewart actually gives a heartfelt, sincere performance. That is a sentence I never thought I would ever write. I also found Eisenberg mildly interesting in this movie, and he handles himself well as half killer/half pothead. Britton, Grace and Groggins are all excellent and so is Bill Pullman and John Leguizamo, two actors I had no idea were even in this. The action is all handled well, in a fun kind of way. There was a lot of good in "American Ultra," some of it I even found surprisingly satisfying.

Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a drug store clerk who smokes lots of pot. He has a strong connection to his girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) so much so that he's ready to propose. The problem is, he's having trouble finding the right moment to take the plunge. What is also weird is that he tries to make the proposal special by doing it out of town, but every time they try to leave their home state, Howell starts getting panic attacks. One random day, he starts getting attacked by CIA operatives, and he suddenly begins to find out that he can think himself out of dangerous situations and kill people with just about anything he can get his hands on. Somehow, these two events are linked together, but how?

The explanation to me is a little silly. See, there are two rival CIA agents, Lasseter (Britton) and Yates (Grace). Lasseter tried to create an army of perfect operatives, part of what was called the Ultra program. A program which failed. Yates revamps the program and titles it Tough Guys, and his programs thrives. The CIA decides, under Yates, to terminate the remaining members of Ultra located at various points in the world, but Lasseter doesn't want that to happen. Why is she so attached to them even though they failed? No compelling answer is ever dealt. If Howell is still unique and powerful, why terminate him at all? The movie raises lots more questions than answers. While "American Ultra" is certainly not the first movie to ever do this, the execution of the whole thing makes it hard to ignore.

Plus, there are moments where I can really figure out what "American Ultra" is. I thought it would be an action-comedy, but not much of it is funny. I specifically can't remember laughing once. The action I will say is very good, and it certainly tries for the laugh, but it fails for me. There are also way too many adorable moments between Stewart and Eisenberg that its almost distracting, as if this is a Nicholas Sparks version of a pothead spy movie. (That's something I think I'd actually see!) But those moments and the over-abundance of those moments makes the movie very puzzling. 

Still, any movie that can have me interested in Kirsten Stewart should be given a look just for that. "American Ultra" is mostly a crazy, wild ride. A ride I mostly enjoyed. Sadly, it never adds up to the sum of its parts.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quick Thoughts: "A Very Murray Christmas," "Mr. Holmes" & "Tokyo Tribe"

Quick Thoughts

Here's three more mini-reviews for you tonight.

A Very Murray Christmas
Okay, so its not much of a movie per se. But, there are a lot of great Hollywood actors involved in this one hour special you can watch right now on Netflix. Of course, the man of that hour is Bill Murray. Murray plays a version of himself trying get a Christmas special broadcast from New York City. The problem is that everyone he wanted for the show is having trouble making it due to the horrendous blizzard gripping the city. Running into famous actors playing themselves and famous actors playing characters, Murray still gets his Christmas special off the ground.

That Christmas special is mostly just famous people singing some very well-known Christmas tunes. Its a mini-musical, a special you might have seen growing up in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's. Its absolutely harmless, but Murray really carries the thing, like he does with so many of his roles, he brings a wit and charm that is undeniable. I have to say that the "Santa Claus Wants some Lovin" number by Murray and George Clooney was particularly funny. I can't say that the thing as a whole blew my socks off, but its a fun watch for this time of year. Again, Miley Cyrus is in it, but not for very long.


Mr. Holmes
Sir Ian McKellen, you are a master of the craft.

McKellen plays a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes suffering from dementia. We learn that his old colleague Dr. Watson has taken on the role of Arthur Flynn Boyle and wrote various stories of Sherlock's adventures. There was one case that Watson wrote horribly, one that Holmes that haunted Holmes for fifty years. He is having trouble remembering the case because of his illness. Holmes travels to Japan to get royal jelly in an effort to help his failing memory and he tries to write the true story of the case he sadly forgetting.

This may not feel like the typical Sherlock Holmes adventure, but it is a quieter and still elegant story. Its more about the story of how a man tries to set a record straight late in his life, but there is a small mystery that closes the film out that made me smile. Ian McKellen is just terrific, and I'd possibly be willing to throw an Oscar nod his way, but let's see the last few key performances this year has to offer before we get into that. For right now, "Mr. Holmes" is very much worth it, and a great little story.


Tokyo Tribe
A movie about rival gangs in Tokyo, Japan...which also happens to be a rap musical. Yes, you read that right. This is the first rap musical I have ever seen in my life. And you what? It was actually kind of awesome. Something that is beyond words that you need to see to believe. Trust me, just go!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Marvel's Doctor Strange" gets a Cool Writer

Does the name C. Robert Cargill mean anything to you?

If you haven't read endless websites pertaining to the world of movies for many years like I have, it probably doesn't. C. Robert Cargill is actually a budding screenwriter in the world of Hollywood. If you are a horror fan, then you are probably familiar with the "Sinister" movies at this point. The first "Sinister" movie came out in 2012, and that movie was written by C. Robert Cargill. It also happens to be one of the best horror films in recent memory.

Before Cargill began to become a film scribe, he was a film reviewer for a website called He wrote several reviews under the pseudonym Massawyrm. What that is supposed to say, I am not entirely sure. But I can tell you that he was one of the most gifted and most insightful film critics that came out of the AintItCool gang. So it is absolutely no surprise that he became a screenwriter in his own right. He's also written a few urban fantasy novels that I am thinking about picking up and reading at some point. But I have some pretty big news pertaining to this beloved film critic, author and screenwriter.

Scott Derrickson is directing "Doctor Strange" for Marvel. Scott Derrickson also happened to be the director of "Sinister" in 2012. Cargill and Derrickson met at a bar in Las Vegas, where Cargill pitched the idea for "Sinister," which led the two new friends to capitalize on the idea. With Derrickson directing "Doctor Strange," I shouldn't be surprised that he put a good word in for his friend C. Robert Cargill and it was recently released in Austin, Texas that C. Robert Cargill will be co-writing "Doctor Strange" for Marvel.

My interest in this movie just went up. And I was already primed for the movie.

The world of Doctor Strange takes us to different dimensions and deals in the world of the cosmos. Doctor Strange's abilities come from the cosmic realms. This is going to be a darker and weirder Marvel film than we are probably used to, which is why Derrickson was such a good fit for the movie. I already know that Cargill is going to do some great penmanship on the film.

"Doctor Strange" will star Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tilda Swinton, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen and Amy Landecker. It will be released in November 2016 and will take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Quick Thoughts: "Ridiculous 6," "The Stanford Prison Experiment" "Tangerine"

Quick Thoughts
 Its the holidays, and this is the time of year where I am frantically getting all the gifts I need for people and wrapping it before the big day starts.

This is also the time of year where I start to cram as many movies as I can into the year. I have seen some good movies within the past few days, and I wanted to share some quick thoughts on those movies. These are going to be some mini-reviews. Short, sweet and to the point. I am going to cramming as movies as I can in the next two and a half weeks, so these Quick Thoughts maybe common place as I do all the other stuff I got going on for the holidays.

Ridiculous 6
The Netflix brand is once again flexing its muscle over the weekend with the release of "The Ridiculous 6" a comedy-western from the mind of Adam Sandler. This doesn't feel like the usual Adam Sandler movie, because he never goes  this high-concept. For that reason, I found "The Ridiculous 6" to be at least intriguing. While there is a sappy sweetness to most of Sandler's work these days, this just felt like a straight-up comedy. Now, I am not going to pretend I know anything about Native American culture, but I don't. So I can't comment on the controversy this movie made prior to release. But I can say that I don't think Sandler ever went overboard with his humor, especially when it pertained to Native Americans. I don't know if the explicit content got edited out, but there weren't really any jokes at all involving Native Americans, so anybody expecting something along the lines of "Borat" can breathe easy. The movie tries to be an ode to westerns as six individuals who all have the same father unite together to help him pay off some bandits.

Its a fun idea and feels very fresh from the usual Sandler fair, the only problem is that Sandler forgot to make the movie funny. There are some usual poop-jokes that I snickered at. Believe it or not, Taylor Lautner is actually a really good dimwit (My girlfriend and I deduced that he should NEVER try anything dramatic ever again.). The biggest problem the movie had is that it wasn't funny. I chuckled here, and I smiled there. But overall, I didn't bust my gut laughing like I do at "Big Daddy," "Billy Madison" or "Happy Gilmore." While Sandler's heart is in the right place, I wouldn't call "The Ridiculous 6" a return to form. For a film that features Vanilla Ice as a rapping Mark Twain and Blake Shelton as Wyatt Earp, that's a bit disappointing.


The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford Prison experiment was an exercise which took place at the college in August 1971. Twenty-four young men were chosen from a tight pool and half were told to be guards and the other half prisoners in a simulated prison experiment conducted at the college. The experiment was to be a study of conflicts that rise between prison guards and prisoners. While Dr. Philip Zimbardo had complete control over the experiment, it quickly spiraled out of control as the men involved got carried away in their roles. An experiment that was supposed to last two weeks was cut down to six days. Prior to the experiments cancellation two "prisoners" left early due to overbearing emotional abuse.

The Stanford Prison experiment of 1971 is a fascinating story, that has been loosely adapted into two movies, one hailing from Germany and the other from the U.S. Those movies are so cranked with typical Hollywood cliche that they come off absurd. "The Stanford Prison Experiment" is a straight-up adaptation of the true story. It uses real exerts recorded from the experiment and the real Philip Zimbardo was involved in the movie. For the first time ever, this story is told right, and it is still unflinching and even horrifying. Billy Cudrup plays Zimbardo, and it shows how he slowly lost control over his own study, and the decisions he made that helped him lose control. Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Michael Angarando, Logan Miller, Johnny Simmons, Nicholas Braun and Thomas Mann are just some of the great actors playing the prisoners and guards. If you didn't notice that is a fine list of the greatest actors of their particular generation, and they make you believe in the fascination and horrors of such an experiment. "The Stanford Prison Experiment" is a grand showcase of how we passion can lead to loss of control. And how certain authoritative roles can change us as people.


"Tangerine" is a movie about two friends, who are transgendered prostitutes. One friend Sin-Dee is dating her pimp. On a typical Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, Sin-Dee finds out that her pimp is cheating on her. The two friends venture throughout the city trying to find her pimp and confront him about his unfaithful behavior. Yes, that's the entire movie. Yes, it does sound rather odd, but there is a sense of wonder in the story that I found hard to deny. It wasn't a movie I was expecting to like. I'll even admit that it kind of takes a little bit to finally get going, and I was ready to write the movie off completely. But as it went on, I found myself enjoying myself. Laughing at the funny parts and totally engulfed in the story being told.

Part of the charm of the movie is the wonderful talent by the two leads. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez plays Sin-Dee and Mya Taylor plays Sin-Dee's friend Alexandria. These are two brilliant, transgender actresses and they really indulged in the films story line. They are both incredible and they help you buy into the absurdities of the movie. There is also another story around a taxi driver named Razmik (played by Karren Karagulian) who is fascinated by one of the prostitutes, but is also a devout family man. How these two stories collide is actually pretty incredible and I can honestly say I had a decent time with this one. It is definitely full of surprises.


This probably won't be the final edition of this before the year is out, so keep an eye out for more soon.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Star Trek Beyond - Trailer (2016) - Paramount Pictures

Star Trek Beyond Trailer
Well, just when we couldn't be more excited for space operas this week, Paramount unleashed their first look at "Star Trek Beyond." The third movie in this reboot series of "Star Trek."

One thing that is instantly recognizable in this trailer is that the tone of the show seems to be there. While I did enjoy "Star Trek Into Darkness," making it a gritty tale I think hurt it more than helped it. Not everything has to have the "Dark Knight" treatment just because it worked for Batman. When I think of "Star Trek," I think of deep space adventure. I think of swashbuckling fables. I think of fun and flair. I don't think of the military and people dying or darkness. Sure, there is action in the show, and the old movies. There was also violence from time to time. But this always felt like a feel-good story and it seems that atmosphere is finally back.

There is also hope that Bones will have more to do in this movie and I am hoping that turns into a guarantee.

I love that Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" is the theme song for this trailer.

We have been so rich with peaks at 2016 for the last month that I am pumped and primed for it to get here. I hope its a year that lives up to its ever expanding potential.




Some of you who have seen both seasons of "Fargo" so far, but I just realized something tonight. Lou Solverson was in the first season. I didn't realize it until tonight, when Solverson's wife is talking about the dream she had, and how she looked into the future and saw Lou's children and grandchildren. Then we see Alison Tolman and Colin Hanks, the two stars from the first season. Two of the few people who actually made it out of the first season alive. It finally clicked, Lou Solverson in his youth is played by Patrick Wilson, while the older Solverson was played by Keith Carradine. Yes, I didn't make that jump until this season. But it was a fun revelation. 

I remember the first season pretty well, and the chief things I remember about it was how the last episode of the season ended with a bang. Also, everything felt like it had closure, and it seemed the season finale of the first season had a nice bow wrapped around it when it was finished. I am not sure I would say the same about season two. This season's finale had a much quieter ending, and that part I didn't have much problem with. I mean, there was a HUGE shootout last week, how can you follow up with that? Well, one way they could have is if they put some decent closure on this season. Yes, Peggy Blumquist gets apprehended, and she stands trial for killing Rye. Yes, Hanzee doesn't end up killing her. While it was sad to see Ed die, at least Peggy didn't get a gun to the face by Hanzee.

But Hanzee himself? He's still out there. I kind of wish there was some sort of closure on his character, but he goes from targeting the Blumquists, to deciding to go back to targeting the Kansas City Mob. And for what purpose? He murdered his boss last week, he murdered his boss' son the week before that.  Why does he keep switching sides? What is Hanzee's thought process? There was a vague explanation for his behavior last week, but is that seriously all we get? For a show that is known for its bloodletting, let Hanzee walk away without much explanation for his thought process was a tad disappointing.

I also wish there was a more satsifying ending for Mike Miligan. Bokeem Woodbine just had the character of his career, and I wish he went out better than he did. Sure, he didn't die. But the best that could happen was that he got a freaking desk job in a more covert side of the Kansas City Mob? That's the best they could come up with? The most awesome and lethal badass in the entire season gets a desk job for all his hard work? Man, I wish he was given a little more.

Oh, and don't get me started on the UFO's. Where those just supposed to be some kind of joke?

It was definitely a chatty finale. Lots of discussing of themes with undertones of the characters feelings. Lots of reflection of what happened over the course of the season. Honestly, they could have ended the season last week and just made it two hours long last week. This finale felt like filler for nothing. It felt like a bunch of deleted scenes from last week's episode. Most of all, it felt like it lacked any sort of closure for the most part. That wouldn't be horrible if this show was designed like a regular show. But its not, its an anthology. It is going to have a different story next season. Unless FX decides to drop that platform and actually move ahead next season with Hanzee, Mike and whomever else. But that would just be odd. Still, this is a show that's hard to compete with compared to other shows out there.

What did everyone else think?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Independence Day: Resurgence Trailer

Independence Day: Resurgence Trailer
I saw "Independence Day" when I was about 5 years old. I remember being wildly obsessed with the movie before it was released, and well after I saw it. I got all the toys I could from the movie. I bought toys from the movie for friends for birthday parties even though I didn't know for sure if they'd seen it or not. When I got the movie on VHS, I watched on Saturday mornings instead of cartoons. I loved the movie growing up. I was completely fascinated by it. I already believed that aliens existed growing up, and I loved just about anything science fiction, but this movie did something to me. I loved every minute of it. As I have grown up, I still love the movie a lot. Yes, its kind of cheesy and the plot is kind of crazy, but I still enjoy it for what it was.

That doesn't mean I automatically want a sequel. In fact, it feels weird to make a sequel twenty years later. Why are they doing it now? The movie was a box office hit in 1996, why didn't they make a sequel then.

The movie brings Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, and Judd Hirsch back to the action. Newcomers include Liam Hemsworth, Charolette Gainsbourg, Sela Ward and William Fitchner. Brett Spiner, whose character died in the first movie returns for the sequel, so at least that will be interesting. New actors Jessie Usher will play Dylan from the first movie, and Maika Monroe will play Whitmore's daughter. Why couldn't the original actors portray those characters? Who knows. I wish they could have got Adam Baldwin to return for this. And even though I thought I'd like Will Smith out of the picture, it seems kind of weird without him.

But the trailer has got me feeling rather nostalgic, and that is what will drive me to the theater opening weekend: nostalgia. In fact, the movie itself seems to be driven by nostalgia, as the trailer leans heavy on the rallying speech Pullman's character made in the first movie. But while I am excited for nostalgic purposes, this looks like just a bigger version of  the first movie. I don't know how much hope I have in loving the movie, but I hope I can at least like the movie.

Also visit if you are a huge fan of the movie. It fills in the gaps between 1996 and today, and you'll even learn the whereabouts of Will Smith's Capt. Steven Hiller.

Friday, December 11, 2015

X-Men: Apocalypse Trailer

Ahhh, what a good month it has been. We got trailers for both "Captain America: Civil War" and "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice." These are two fantastic looking trailers and I am absolutely rabid for both movies. Now, we turn to another dimension of Marvel, one that uses the Fox label. Today we were blessed with the first trailer for "X-Men: Apocalypse."

2016 can get here and take my money any time now.

This movie has been met with lots of hostility ever since the first official images were released. While I agree that Apocalypse looks nothing like he did in the comics, is that REALLY a deal breaker? We have Oscar Issac playing the guy for crying out loud. It looks like Issac is really going to kill the role. This is a fascinating time for Issac as an actor, and I can't wait to see the doors that open for him in the next couple years. Now, that the trailer has finally hit, everybody bitches that there is no Wolverine. Even though Wolverine wasn't one of the first X-Men and "First Class" did just fine with Hugh Jackman in a cameo. If we refer to the "Captain America: Civil War" trailer, we didn't see Baron Zemo nor Martin Freeman nor Spider-Man. So are we just to assume they aren't going to show up? Wolverine could still be in the movie, we just haven't seen him yet. I also pity the fools who think X-Men can't operate without Wolverine, because they can. The team has shifted probably more times then The Avengers have. There are plenty of characters just as cool as Wolverine that they can tinker around and play with.

So relax and enjoy the ride. I have enjoyed "First Class" and "Days of Future Past" and being the huge X-Men fan that I am, I smell another winner coming our way.

You can check out the trailer right here.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

A Journey Through Holiday Hell: "The Night Before" & "Krampus" Reviewed!

A Journey Through Holiday Hell
Hanukkah has already started. Christmas is right around the corner. Heck, Kwanzaa is right around the corner. Whether your ready or not, the holidays are upon us. This may sound sappy or rehearsed, but I love this time of year. Its the time of year for getting together with family, friends and loved ones. Its a time to really reflect on comfort and joy your relationships bring you. Its a time for good food and drink. Then after the dust settles in January, you take a look in the mirror and you say "Wow, I gained that much weight?!?" Or you look at your bank account in horror and think "Wow, I spent that much money!?!" And depending on how your family dynamic works, you may even think "Wow, I spent that much money, on those people?!?" This is a time of year that brings both the angel and the demon out of all of us.

This is the time of year that gives us the togetherness we all crave, while also giving us the craziness we need to endure. I don't think there were two better movies playing at the theater right now that capture the total definition of that first sentence in this paragraph. If you are like me, and like your holidays with a little bit of a kick, then you owe it to yourself to see both "The Night Before" and "Krampus" as soon as possible. If you have not already. While I could say that both films cover the same ground, they couldn't have gone in further directions, but that's fine by me.

"The Night Before" starts with a funeral before Christmas. It is the funeral of the parents of Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and after the ceremony he goes home. He finds his two best friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) at his doorstep. They plan to be there for Ethan, and since he doesn't have any family anymore, the trio make a tradition to always hang out with each other on Christmas. This tradition lasts fourteen years. When we meet Ethan again, he's a 33-year-old floater. He isn't doing much with his life. He had a girlfriend, but she's out of the picture. He doesn't have anything resembling a career. Its almost as if he clings to this one holiday every year where he and his friends really go wild. But this year is different, this year the tradition ends. Issac is married and is going to have a kid soon. Chris is making headway in his professional football career and his fame is going to keep him out New York City for awhile. The trio sees this as their Christmas together and they all plan to make the most of it.

Sounds like the Christmas version of "Superbad," doesn't it? Well, that's really not too far off. In every sense of the definition. Each of these men carries a secret, something the other two don't know. These secrets that each of these men have would and could change the entire dynamic of the their friendship. In fact, it kind of does. Each of these men is so caught up in their own baggage that they can't just stop and enjoy this last night of holiday mayhem together. At the climax of the movie, these friendships are tested and there comes a compromise; choose your baggage or choose your friends. This has happened lots in comedy before. In fact, they happen a lot in comedy revolving around Seth Rogen, so I really wasn't surprised by the direction the film was going. And we all know that everything is going to get tied up in a nice bow (pun totally intended) and finish with a happy ending.

But while "The Night Before" seems like a familiar ride, boy is it a fun ride.

Its true, I haven't laughed this hard in awhile. I enjoyed the characters that Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Mackie play. They come off as real people and I think the audience can totally buy into their thick bond. The situations these guys find themselves in seem pretty routine for a Seth Rogen movie, but the laughs come fast and relentless and they never disappoint. I was wearing a goofy smile for this movie's entire run-time and I love how zany things got throughout the film.

While Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Mackie are all good, the supporting cast is just as superb. Keep a special eye out for Micheal Shannon, who plays a drug-dealer...and an angel. Yes, its true but you have to see the movie to find out what that means. Its really funny to see Shannon in a goofier, less-serious role and I hope he considers more roles like this. There is also a great moment featuring James Franco, who maybe playing himself or somebody else named James. The film never specifies and one of those silly details that will keep you smiling. The movie also features great performances by Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Tracy Morgan, Mindy Kaling and Randall Park. And yes, Miley Cyrus shows up playing herself. Yes, she does. But its really not that bad, she's only in one small stretch of the film. I have to be honest, she's actually a tad bit charming here. Any movie that can make Miley Cyrus charming deserves a very big pat on the back.

This is typical Seth Rogen fair, and if that displeases you, I would warn you off of this one. I know there are several Rogen haters out there, and I happen to not be one of them. I like his style of comedy and I like how off-the-rails it gets. But I know its not for everyone. "The Night Before" is one crazy case of lunacy and it made me laugh a whole hell of a lot.

While "The Night Before" maybe a one spiked eggnog too many, "Krampus" is that huge swig of holiday whiskey all by yourself while your family fights in the other room. Its a movie that literally portrays the darker side of our holiday culture. That couldn't be anymore clearer than in the opening moments of the movie. We see a huge mob of people running into a shopping store, knocking employees down and stomping on them. This is everyone's worst Black Friday nightmare taken to the extreme, but that's the point. "Krampus" is all about how our holiday culture is slowly but surely swallowing us all whole. This is a movie  that shows us just how crazy it is when Black Friday deals start a week in advance. It almost feels like as a whole, we are loosing what makes Christmas so special as a holiday and also allowing families to loose the magic.

The magic feels like its been lost Max's (Emjay Anthony) family. His father Tom (Adam Scott) and mother Sarah (Toni Collette) don't seem very close anymore. Max doesn't feel the love from his older sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) anymore. The traditions this family once had has been replaced by strained relationships and going-through-the-motions. Lots of Max's friends don't even believe in Santa anymore, but Max still holds onto the magic. Max is a boy who is trying hard to cling to his childhood while it still exists. 

So leave it to his asshole relatives to muck it up for him. Three days before Christmas, Max's Uncle Howard (David Koechner), Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman) Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), and his evil he-she cousins visit for the holidays. Think of the worst possible relatives you have and then times that by a billion and you have these people. From the moment they walk into Max's home, they are causing lots of trouble. It made pretty clear that each family is just tolerating the other until Christmas is over, and then everything will go back to normal again.

That night, after Max's cousins belittle him for believing in Santa, Max does something. What seems like something small in a sudden fit of rage turns out to be a horrible mistake. This mistake will affect Max and his entire family. And nothing can prepare them for the blizzard (literally a blizzard) of shit that is about bombard their peaceful neighborhood. But Max is about to figure why the magic of Christmas is so important.

I have read lots about the Krampus legend before seeing this movie. The general gist is that Krampus was an old European legend, which featured Krampus as sort of an Anti-Santa. If you were good, you got presents from Santa Claus. If you were bad, you got a visit from Krampus and he punished you in horrifying ways. Knowing this backstory is what really led to one of my biggest problems with the movie. Nothing about Krampus is really explained. Sure, Max's grandmother tells a story, but the story she tells is very vague. We never get a clear sense of why Krampus is attacking this particular neighborhood, just half-explanations. The first stretch of the film feels like a slasher movie featuring Krampus instead of an adaptation of the legend. It almost feels like you have to do a little bit of homework before going to see this, where I feel the movie should have explained in greater detail.

But make no mistake, this is a different kind of horror-comedy. It feels refreshing that this isn't just a mere CGI fest. The creature work on this movie was just superb. You will get a real "Gremlins" feel from it, and I love it. Not only do we get Krampus, but we get dark elves, killer ginger-bread men, possessed toys and other evil minions. They all feel real. They all feel like they could jump out and get you. There is nothing that feels particularly artificial about the creatures, which is what this movie really needed. The film also benefits from a great cast. I liked Emjay Anthony since I saw him in "Chef" last year. Conchata Ferrell was good on "Two and 1/2 Men." Allison Tolman was good on "Fargo." Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner are good period. They look like they had a fun time making this. I wouldn't say the movie is particularly scary, for the first half of the movie, its just having fun playing with this mythology. Even though it isn't effectively explained.

But that's the first half. And that leads to my next big problem with the movie. The first hour and twenty minutes of movie feels like a playful horror-comedy. Then right at the end, it turns into something else entirely. The movie goes full horror mode, it goes so far to this point that is increasingly upsetting. This isn't "boo" horror or fun horror either. It gets grim, it gets dark and it doesn't look like it will let up. I was bewildered to learn that "Krampus" was ultimately tonally confused. I wished that the movie would have made up its mind on being a horror-comedy or something that was truly scary, because playing at both ends of the field doesn't work. Especially when the movie chickens out on its bleak and somber ending and turns out more cheerful. Or does it? The movie goes back and forth on the happy ending and it just plain made my eyes hurt.

"Krampus" is a fun movie, even a good movie. But sometimes it haunts me when I feel like I came close to really loving a movie, but then that love gets away from me. I think "Krampus" would have worked best as a horror-comedy, as that was the best material in the whole movie. Then it kind of falls apart when it tries to get serious and horrifying. The cast tries to sell as best as they can, and I give director Michael Dougherty mad credit for giving this movie an 1980's vibe. But I think that potential may have got lost near that end, and that kind of broke my heart.

But if you are in need of getting into the holiday spirit in a manical way, then both of these movies are worth a look.