Archive for February, 2015

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Lucy (2014)

February 20, 2015

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Director: Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional)

Bottom Line: Strange fact: someone – maybe even multiple people – recommended this movie to me. Whoever you are: damn you… DAMN YOU! I probably would have watched this on my own accord on account of Miss Johansson, but I heard enough positive word of mouth that I decided to make it a priority. Don’t make the same mistake. I honestly don’t know what the heck was going on here. For the first 45 minutes or so I was thinking it was a slightly better version of Limitless with nice eye candy and some cool Neo moments, but the last 20 minutes ranks amongst the worst climaxes I’ve ever seen. My girlfriend and I were looking at each other from across the couch like: “What the f*** are we watching?” And, just to cement my conclusion, after it was over, I stated with sincerity that it was the best 2014 movie I’ve seen so far just to see her incredulous reaction.

I really don’t think there’s anything to like here. The characters are absurdly undeveloped. You don’t care about or get to know any of them. That’s normally not a huge problem in an action movie, but unfortunately the action here is mildly entertaining at best. Scarlett Johansson’s interpretation of accessing the higher brain powers is essentially walking around looking like a confused robot. Lucy is such a dominating presence that the bad guys never pose any real threat; there’s no tension. What starts out as a somewhat intriguing concept quickly delves into weird territory and then dive bombs into the totally absurd – and unwatchable. After Lucy reaches about 40% of her brain’s capability, you’ll start viewing the numeric updates of her brain usage as a countdown to the end of the film – and release from this brutal movie.

Replay Value: No thank you.
Sequel Potential: LMFAO!
Oscar Potential: If Scarlett got nominated for a Razzie I don’t think it would have been too undeserving.

Grade: 3/10 (Just Skip It)

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Gone Girl (2014)

February 17, 2015

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network, Zodiac)

“Am I supposed to know my wife’s blood type?”

Bottom Line: Gone Girl is a pretty faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel – a biting depiction of married life that will scare the crap out of you long before things get crazy. I always prefer reading the book first when a blockbuster novel is being adapted into a film, but in this case, I feel my enjoyment of the film may have suffered a bit since I knew everything that was going to happen – and this is a movie where the surprises probably add to one’s enjoyment. I know there were numerous what moments in the book that didn’t have the same affect on me when I saw it on screen. That being said, the film is perfectly cast and David Fincher continues to be one of the best filmmakers working today. Rosamund Pike in particular is brilliant in this movie – and the fact that she’s Oscar nominated for her role almost feels like a spoiler in itself. Gone Girl is definitely must see cinema – fans of the novel will like it and those that haven’t read the novel might even be blown away. It’s good stuff.

Note (Spoiler Alert!): Amy Elliot Dunne is the definition of an unreliable narrator, but her recollection of discovering her husband’s affair strikes me as genuine. In this memory, Amy sees her husband walking out of his bar with a college student he’s having an affair with and sees them kissing in a similar fashion to their first kiss. Rewind: I said his bar… that he (well, Amy) owns… where his sister tends bar… where everyone presumably knows him… where everyone likely knows Amy. Elsewhere in the movie, after it’s discovered that his sister’s woodshed is one of the spots where Nick and his secret lover did their business, Nick states helplessly: “we had limited options.” I’m guessing their own bar probably wasn’t one of them. This seems like a pretty big oversight by Fincher and Flynn, but perhaps it’s just Amy being Amy. Not a big deal either way, but something I couldn’t help but notice.

Replay Value: Knowing the twists made it less enjoyable for me. Take away the wow factor and it’s still a good movie, but not mind-blowing.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscar Potential: Best Actress nomination for Pike. Kind of surprised to see the lack of nominations as I enjoyed it considerably more than some of the Best Picture nominees.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)

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John Wick (2014)

February 15, 2015

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Director: Chad Stahelski

“What did he say?”

“Enough.”

Bottom Line: If you can look past the fact that an unstoppable, retired hitman – with Bruce Lee’s hand-to-hand combat skills, Houdini’s escaping abilities, and better aim than Legolas – is somehow infiltrated and overwhelmed by the hapless son of a mob boss and his two cronies, you have arguably the best action film of 2014. John Wick had me grinning the whole time – it’s the revenge movie The Equalizer wishes it was. Seriously, once you get past the fact that Keanu Reeves can’t act and Denzel Washington can… everything about John Wick makes it superior: the fight sequences, the music, the choreography, Michael Nyqvist as the mob boss was awesome, the headshots! Some how, some way, John Wick has flown under-the-radar as a must see action flick.

Replay Value: I certainly will see it again.
Sequel Potential: John Wick 2 already announced and this character is worth revisiting.
Oscar Potential: None.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 7/10 (Must See)

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Chef (2014)

February 9, 2015

Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf)

Bottom Line: Maybe the next time I have a horrible poker session, I’ll come home and watch Chef and then listen to Pharell Williams’ “Happy” on repeat for 30 minutes. If that doesn’t cheer me up, I don’t know what will. Chef was definitely the feel good movie of 2014 – a film so charming I think I had a permanent grin the whole time I was watching it. Jon Favreau plays an aging, former top chef that has grown stagnant and comfortable over the years and finds himself shaken out of his stasis by a scathing review from a food critic. After a hilarious blow up that includes the best use of social media in a film to date, our heroic chef hits the road in a food truck to rediscover his love of cooking and reconnect with his son.

Chef was about as enjoyable as any film I saw from 2014. It’s funny, charming, and entertaining throughout. Jon Favreau continues to establish himself as one of Hollywood’s most underrated directors – and he’s a pretty good actor too! Chef is a slam dunk recommendation and one of the most enjoyable films of 2014.

Replay Value: A feel good movie worth watching multiple times.
Sequel Potential: I’m not sure there is more story here, but the characters are strong enough to consider pursuing further adventures.
Oscar Potential: No nominations.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)

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The Raid: Redemption (2012) – CLASSIC ALERT!?

February 8, 2015

Starring: Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian
Director: Gareth Evans (Merantau)

Bottom Line: I’d have to think quite a while to come up with a pure action movie I liked more than this. The fight choreography in The Raid is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen – it’s mind-blowing. It’s so stunning it looks brutally, bone-crushing, blood-spilling real most of the time. Star Iko Uwais makes Jet Li look like Steve Oedekerk in Kung Pow: Enter The Fist. The story is nothing much: 20 S.W.A.T. police officers infiltrate an apartment building run by a crime lord and riddles with loyal residents. But seriously, we are talking unrelenting and amazing action sequences throughout the whole movie – with very little emotional bull getting in the way of the next fight. Bring it on.

I couldn’t figure out how to watch The Raid in it’s original language, so it was kind of weird to watch a movie that has been clearly dubbed over in English. Also, I was completely unfamiliar with all the actors in this, so I got kind of lost the first time I watched it as it was difficult to keep track of the characters. Having a solid grasp of that, I watched it again and enjoyed it much more.

Seriously, The Raid is must see film and will eventually go down as a classic action movie – if it hasn’t already.

Replay Value: Was better the second time I watched it and it feels like a movie I should own – even after I’ve recently decided to stop buying movies.
Sequel Potential: The Raid 2 came out in 2014 and is reportedly as good as the original. The Raid 3 has been announced but seems far away from development. Also, an American remake starring Taylor Kitsch and directed by Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) is rumored for 2018 (yawn).
Oscar Potential: No nominations.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 8.5/10 (Excellent/Potential Classic)

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What If (2014)

February 5, 2015

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver
Director: Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight)

Bottom Line: What If is a solid rom-com that showcases the comedic talents that Daniel Radcliffe occasionally flashed throughout the Harry Potter series. While not exactly genre-bending, What If is definitely one of the better romantic comedies of the past few years, mainly because Radcliffe and Kazan have such good chemistry together on screen. Funny and amusing, it’s not a must see, but it’s perfect for couples looking for a light movie to watch together. Also, I’m going to go ahead and make a bold prediction: Radcliffe picks up an Oscar nomination in the next ten years.

Replay Value: Not a keeper, but it’s a film I’d enjoy watching again I think.
Sequel Potential: I don’t think so.
Oscar Potential: None
Nudity: None.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Movie Reviews: American Sniper, Boyhood, How To Train Your Dragon 2

February 4, 2015

AMERICAN SNIPER

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Director: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven)

Bottom Line: I’ve heard that this story is quite embellished by Hollywood, but since I’m unfamiliar with Chris Kyle’s story, I can only judge the movie as a movie – and I liked it quite alright. Bradley Cooper gives another stellar and nuanced performance and, along with his awesome voice acting in last year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, has cemented himself as one of the industry’s top leading men. Clint Eastwood’s direction is as crisp and tense as it has ever been, even if this might not be his greatest film. I also found it interesting how underdeveloped Chris’ family is in the movie – perhaps a fitting scenario for active military during wartime. Overall, I enjoyed American Sniper, but it’s not the first movie I would think of for Best Picture and is probably a tad overrated in general.

Replay Value: I’m somewhat interested in reading Chris Kyle’s book and if that happens, I almost certainly will watch the movie again. Even so, it’s probably worth another watch.
Sequel Potential: It would be highly disrespectful, but Hollywood has done worse things.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for 6 Oscars: Best Picture and Best Actor, plus Editing, Sound Mixing, Adapted Screenplay, and Sound Editing.
Nudity: Can’t remember – I don’t think so.

Grade: 6.5/10 (Strongly Recommended)

BOYHOOD

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater (School Of Rock, Waking Life, Dazed And Confused)

Bottom Line: Highly praised by critics and blasted by many as being overly boring and too long, Boyhood falls somewhere in the middle. It’s hard not to appreciate director Richard Linklater’s ambitious decision to film his story over 12 years in real time and it’s interesting to watch the kids grow up on screen. The script tackled themes of broken homes, divorce, moving around a lot, alcoholism, peer pressure, bullying, teen angst, young love – and heartbreak – experimentation, and moving on (to college or elsewhere) – and the affect all of that has on growing up – quite well. Even if it doesn’t reflect one’s own childhood exactly, I can’t imagine not being able to relate to Mason’s story in a lot of ways. However, while Mason’s transition from a naive youngster to angst-filled and too-cool-for-school teen may reflect many of today’s youth, that doesn’t make it particularly interesting. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette give pretty good performances here, but at the end of the day, Boyhood is a merely good, not great film.

Replay Value: Definitely a weakness. Even the people that loved it probably weren’t lining up to see it again.
Sequel Potential: Unlikely, but… Richard Linklater has a history of putting out unlikely sequels with his Before Sunrise franchise.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for 6 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Linklater, acting noms for Arquette and Hawke, plus Editing. This is probably the favorite for Best Picture even though it’s far from my favorite 2014 film – particularly because I think the script is not all that awesome – but I do think Linklater has a good chance at Best Director and editing a 12 year epic seems like a good way to get a statue also.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 6.5/10 (Strongly Recommended)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014)

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Kit Harrington
Director: Dean Deblois (How To Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch)

Bottom Line: A mostly boring sequel to a pretty good original film that is overshadowed by a solid, feel-good ending that will leave most watchers thinking it was better than it really was.

Replay Value: Since I never watched the original again, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever see this again — until I have kids (and then I better damn well get used to it!).
Sequel Potential: #3 is due out in 2017 or 2018 and it sounds like this franchise could go deep.
Oscar Potential: Somehow got nominated for Best Animated Feature while The Lego Movie did not. What?
Nudity: None.

Grade: 5/10 (Watchable)