Neighbors – A Movie Review

There’s no way to avoid the obvious – this movie is hilarious.  Truthfully, I don’t ask much from my comedies, and Neighbors delivered.  The thing just spouted off one joke after another, one visual gag after another, and it kept me laughing throughout.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, a couple sink every penny they have into a new home in a nice, quiet neighborhood in order to give their baby daughter a proper upbringing.  Yeah, the parents have a wild side, and the “grown up” lifestyle is difficult for them, but it isn’t until a frat inexplicably buys the home next to them that they realize just how “old” they really are.  After initially trying to win over the frat guys, they call the cops when the noise doesn’t stop, and from that moment on, it’s war.

Sure, it’s Seth Rogen basically playing the same guy he always plays, but that guy is typically pretty funny.  Rose Byrne absolutely holds her own in the film and is even more funny than Rogen much of the time.  The two guys who really surprised me, though, were Zac Efron and Dave Franco.  They play the frat’s president and vice-president, and they were ridiculously funny.

This is not high-brow stuff, but who cares?  I love to laugh, and this one had me laughing nonstop.  Make sure the kids are in bed, though. You probably know this if you’re familiar with Rogen’s work, but there is major profanity throughout, lots of drug use and references, and plenty of explicit material.

But man, it’s funny.

Edge of Tomorrow – A Movie Review

There’s been a lot of hype concerning Edge of Tomorrow, and let me tell you, it’s all well deserved.

The premise is familiar, to be sure.  Tom Cruise plays “Cage,” an unwilling, inept soldier who is better suited as the military’s brilliant public relations man.  Cage pisses off the wrong superior and finds himself on the front line of an alien war.  He dies, and then he wakes up at a set point before leaving for the battle.  He goes to the front line again, dies, wakes up again at that set point, and this goes on for a bit.

After a while, he meets up with Emily Blunt’s “Rita,” humanity’s greatest soldier.  The two team up for reasons I won’t divulge, and Cage slowly but surely begins to learn from his mistakes with the help of Rita.  The bad news is, if they don’t destroy the alien leader, mankind is doomed.

If you’ve seen Groundhog Day or Starship Troopers, this movie does not, at first, seem terribly original.  Yet Edge of Tomorrow inexplicably feels fresh, even unique.  I think it has to do with the editing in large part.  Though many of the scenes are similar by design, they always feel new, we always see Cage develop, and we always are awarded with new information, a killer action scene, or true gallows humor.

I haven’t seen Cruise this charismatic in quite some time, and I’m glad to have him back.  He was wise to pick a character who starts off as a real jerk, a guy you delight in seeing get killed time after time.  Emily Blunt is always great, and this movie is no different.  She’s tough, smart, and an action hero through and through.  Best of all, she and Cruise actually have chemistry.

I took issue with only one aspect of the film, and that was its very end.  I didn’t care for it.  It didn’t turn me off of the film as a whole, but I felt it pandered to the masses which disappointed because it previously blazed a trail all its own.  Otherwise, the movie delighted me from start to (almost) finish.

With lots of action, awesome special effects, a dark sense of humor, incredible editing, and a plot that manages to surprise despite its familiarity, Edge of Tomorrow really is a must-see.

Snowpiercer – A Movie Review

Primal, captivating, and unique, Snowpiercer is honestly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The premise is simple.  Mankind, in an effort to reverse global warming, succeeded all too well – it sent the world into a deep freeze.  Snowpiercer is an incredibly long train that shelters the last of humanity.  The tail of the train houses the less fortunate, and as one progresses along the train, life gets more and more advantageous.

 

Chris Evans plays a character named Curtis who reluctantly leads his fellow impoverished in revolt through the length of the train.  No uprising has ever succeeded, but his mentor called Gilliam played by John Hurt assures him that they will experience success this time.  Curtis and his crew must first get past Mason, played by Tilda Swinton.  Mason easily steals the movie because she is one of the oddest characters I’ve ever seen.

I won’t give away the ending, but there is lots of bloodshed, plenty of action, some unexpected twists, and even some pretty good acting.  In fact, this is probably Evans’ best role to date.  I love him as Captain America, don’t get me wrong, but Curtis is no Captain America, and Evans brought depth and validity to this character who is by no means a hero in the traditional sense.

Snowpiercer is not perfect.  There are several plot holes that still irk me, and you will definitely feel like you’re missing at least half of the overall story.  Yet, the film mesmerizes.  It has a quality that forces the audience to pay attention, to stay riveted, and to occupy the edge of the seat.  It forced me to ignore its flaws and instead appreciate the raw vitality displayed throughout.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – A Movie Review

So I’ll be honest – I never had much interest in the Spider-Man reboot.  I liked the original two by Sam Raimi, not so much the third, and I didn’t see much point in starting over with a new set of actors and a new director.

When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man came out with Andrew Garfield as our favorite web-head, I didn’t rush to the theater, though I found myself intrigued by the inclusion of Gwen Stacy over Mary Jane Watson.

I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man more than I thought I would, and I really think Emma Stone made that film work.  Garfield is a good Spider-Man – funny, lanky, athletic.  However, it’s Stone’s Stacy that stole the show.  Much of the movie felt like a retread, but the Lizard and Gwen Stacy gave it a much-needed dose of originality.

Yet again, when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 arrived in theaters, I felt no urge to see it.  The reappearance of Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin really turned me off, and Electro never appealed to me much when I read the comics.

And, honestly, there was another reason I didn’t particularly want to go see it.  I’m thirty-seven and I’ve read comic books since the age of three, so I know Gwen Stacy’s story.  I know the circumstances of the character’s fate.  I truly did not want to see it happen, especially with Emma Stone making her the soul of the franchise.

But, when it recently came out on DVD, I couldn’t resist.  Guess what?  I loved it.  Putting Garfield in the classic Spider-Man costume made him seem more authentic, and Emma Stone delivered yet another magnetic performance.  Jamie Foxx was okay as Electro, but the special effects surrounding the character really and truly blew me away. The stuff they did with Electro looked amazing.  Dane DeHaan defied my bitterness concerning the overuse of Harry Osborn.  In fact, up until the moment he became the Green Goblin I found him extremely charismatic and I actually rooted for Osborn a little.  But then he became the Green Goblin and I stopped caring – I found him way too similar to what Raimi did.

I’ll be truthful – this was a great looking movie.  I loved the special effects, the costumes, the cinematography, the sheer scale – almost everything!  This is a big movie.  I really felt like I was in New York when Spider-Man hit the streets to battle the bad guys.  Webb got almost all of it right.  I’m not going to pretend the story riveted me, but it certainly kept my attention.  But the thing looked beautiful.  With Elector’s electricity and Spider-Man swinging through the city streets – it looked like a comic book come to life.

I think what they got particularly right from a character standpoint is Peter and Gwen’s relationship.  These two have real chemistry together, and they were a lot of fun to watch.  I won’t get into Gwen’s fate, but I am so glad they didn’t just make her a damsel in distress.  She played every bit as much the role of hero as did Peter Parker.  If they ever introduce Mary Jane Watson, they will have a hard time making the fans forget Gwen Stacy.  There were rumors Watson would make an appearance in this movie, and I’m so glad they decided against it.  It would have been undignified.

Webb also made a hopeful movie. Spider-Man has gone through some serious shit since 1962.  Life constantly beats him up, yet he keeps putting on the costume and trying to do the right thing.  Webb captured the essence of that optimism.  Like in the comics, every good thing Peter tries to do usually backfires on him, yet he knows people count on him to be the hero, and he lives up to that responsibility.  In a world where Batman is dark as night and Superman would rather punch a villain in the face than save a crumbling city, it’s nice to see Spider-Man still saving the innocent while making quips.

Finally, I think they nailed Spider-Man’s relationship with New Yorkers.  He’s about as New York as they come, and he’s their hero, through and through.  In fact, Webb made a genius move by having Spider-Man interact with New York children, and it could not have been more heartwarming.  I won’t give it away, but there’s a final scene with a little boy that about had me in tears (the happy kind).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had far more heart and originality than I expected, especially when compared to its previous installment.  There are rumors that they are going to make a Sinister Six movie, and if the groundwork they laid in this movie is any indication, it actually might be pretty good!  Paul Giamatti is in this film for about eight minutes, but his Rhino character looked awesome.  If they get actors of his caliber to work alongside DeHaan’s Green Goblin, they might have something inexplicably interesting.

So, if you’re like me and sort of ambivalent about the Spider-Man reboot, I do recommend you check out The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  It’s exciting, looks beautiful, has some seriously emotional moments (both happy and sad), and for Spidey fans, it does not disappoint in that it felt pretty true to the source material.

 

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel – A Movie Review

I don’t know much about the technical aspects of movies.  I don’t completely understand how movies are even made.  I do know this, though: I like weird, I like original, I like passion, I like real characters, I like visual stimuli, and I like unpredictable plots.  Because of this, I like Wes Anderson.  A lot.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has all of the above qualities.  It’s a story within a story within a story, but the third “within a story” is really the core of the film.

I won’t bother trying to explain it other than by saying it’s about a charismatic concierge who finds himself in the mix of a murder mystery.  But it’s actually about so much more than just that.  Seriously.

Though the movie is pretty typical Wes Anderson, that fact makes it no less lovable.  Nobody does Wes Anderson better than Wes Anderson, so I don’t fault him for maintaining a certain status quo.  His status quo, by the way, is much more innovative and novel than anyone else in the industry.  I think that may be why almost every new Wes Anderson movie becomes my new favorite Wes Anderson movie.

Anderson does dive into some slightly darker material with this film.  I think I’ve seen most of his work, and while I wouldn’t describe the movie as violent by any stretch of the imagination, it has a little more edge when it comes to the grotesque than is standard for him.

Also, The Grand Budapest Hotel utilizes far more star power than any of his previous films.  Look for appearances by Jude Law, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, and Owen Wilson.

Four people, though stole the show.  Ralph Fiennes delivered my favorite performance of all time by the man.  His concierge is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from Fiennes, and I’m frankly shocked he could pull of such unique comedy.  His character is notorious, tough, flamboyant, dainty, verbose, and charismatic beyond belief.  It’s his greatest stretch, and his best work.  Totally serious, by the way.

Adriene Brody played sleaze like I’ve never seen from him, either.  His part was pretty small, but he owned every scene in which he appeared.

Much like Brody, William Dafoe rocked.  I bet Dafoe didn’t have fifty total words in the movie, but he brought an extraordinary level of creepiness to his character through sheer body language and facial expressions.

Of course, I should say that Dafoe and Brody were hilarious nonetheless.  Creepy, deplorable, but hilarious.

Finally, Tony Revolori’s “Zero” cannot be resisted.  As a young man who takes his role as “lobby boy” deadly serious, I dare anyone to dislike his character.  Like Fiennes, Revolori brings an aspect of toughness to his part, but also infuses a magnetic innocence as well.

While the dialogue and visuals are in tune with Anderson techniques, I’d say The Grand Budapest Hotel is unlike his other movies due to a deeply layered plot, lots of movie stars, and probably more action than we’ve seen before.  Anderson should not be underestimated as a director (and I don’t think he is).  Beyond all the humorous pranks and visual oddities, this man can draw out fantastic performances from his actors.

This is a delightfully weird movie, and that’s why I love it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Poster

In Defense of The Lone Ranger – A Movie Review

I watched The Lone Ranger the other night on DVD.  I didn’t start it until about 9:30, and I fully expected to watch about an hour before turning in for the night and finishing it later.  This broke my heart, because I adored The Lone Ranger as a child.  But, it seemed every critic in the world hated it, I didn’t hear any good buzz amongst friends, so I prepared myself for the worst and considered it a labor of love.

Well, I’m a tired guy today because I stayed up past midnight watching The Lone Ranger – I couldn’t turn it off!  I loved it.  I didn’t just like it, I loved it. Loved it.  I really and truly have no idea why people hate this movie so much.

Is it silly?  Yes, at times.  Tonto and The Lone Ranger are funny, and it has some great laughs in it.  But it’s also full of adventure, nonstop action, amazing effects, and a thorough story comprised of an interesting structure that gives each character his due.  In fact, they stuck pretty closely to the initial origins of The Lone Ranger when he first arrived on the radio waves in 1933.

The costumes were beautiful, the locations were magnificent, and the general filmography took my breath away.  Depp and Hammer, the actors playing Tonto and The Lone Ranger, seemed to have genuine charisma with each other, and I especially appreciated that they did not rush the characters’ relationship.  It took two and a half hours, but they eventually formed a bond that can’t just happen in a few scenes.

Much of the comedy arose from The Lone Ranger’s initial ineptitude at vigilantism.  He was an educated prosecutor returned to his hometown and found himself in a horrible situation, one that even his incredibly apt Texas Ranger brother couldn’t escape.  They played heavily on the fact that the wrong brother became The Lone Ranger, but by doing so, it made us appreciate the man under the mask all the more.  Tonto, depicted as both incredibly wise and half nuts by Depp, had some great lines, especially at the expense of The Lone Ranger.

Was it too silly?  Was there too much comedy?  I think if the action hadn’t been so big, the thrills so consistent, there may have been a danger of it being too slapstick.  But honestly, this is a well-conceived story with some exquisite scenes, as well as some very serious moments that added depth to the characterization.  I’m not saying it deserves an Academy Award, but as a lifelong Lone Ranger fan, I had zero issues with it.  Frankly, I’m okay with my childhood heroes having a little levity.  They’ve taken Batman to the extreme, and even Superman seemed to lack any joy in his latest outing.  I was actually kind of relieved that they gave us a Lone Ranger that didn’t seem like a genocidal/suicidal psychopath.

All in all, The Lone Ranger is far better than you’ve heard.  Maybe I don’t know anything about what makes a good movie, but for me, the two and a half hours flew by and I enjoyed myself immensely.

 

Pacific Rim – A Movie Review

I generally have a difficult time making it out to the movies, but I recently decided that for a small list of directors, that effort is well worthwhile.

Guillermo del Toro is one of those directors, and so I figured I’d better get to the theater for Pacific Rim before it left.

I’ll be honest: I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I paid the matinee price to see it, but it didn’t leave me as giddy as I hoped.

As for production value, spectacle, and general “coolness,” del Toro always gets it right.  I can’t think of a better director to helm a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.  The most impressive thing is that it all looked real.  The attention to detail in this film is staggering.  I don’t know how much was digital and how much was models, but the artists did a fantastic job.  The amazing robots actually looked like they’d battled giant monsters for a few years.  The monsters actually looked like they had weight behind them.  Every piece of machinery looked complicated and intricate.  It’s really a beautiful movie when looked at from that perspective.

I didn’t need much from the story.  After all, the film is about giant robots fighting giant monsters.  I’m good; I’m on board with that.  However, I was disappointed with the explanation for why the monsters were coming to Earth.  It was a tired reason, and it’s been done time and time again.  I really thought del Toro would shake it up a bit in that regard.  Also, some of the names were just awkward.  Hercules Hansen?  Really?  There were lots of overused phrases as well.  If I heard “neural handshake” one more time …

Some of the acting was top-notch, and some of it was, well, not.  Idris Elba blew me away.  I believed he was Stacker Pentecost.  That man owned the screen every time he appeared.  The rest of the acting … not so great.  But again, I don’t need too much, it’s a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.  I’m good with that.  Let’s do that.

But, there was one little thing that kept me from loving the movie … I didn’t care.  I just really didn’t feel emotionally invested in any of the characters.  I didn’t care which of them lived or died.  I didn’t feel like cheering for some or crying for others.  I just watched.  There are some movies that move you to clap, or tear up, or even yell in delight, but Pacific Rim is not one of those movies even though it probably should have been.  They tried.  Oh, man, did they try.  But, most of the actors trying to execute complex emotional scenes just didn’t have the oomph to get it done.  I’ll give del Toro this, though, the man knows funny.  Like with Hellboy, there were lots of really funny moments.

Do I think you should see it?  Absolutely!  After all, it’s del Toro doing a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters!  Nobody could do it better than him, but just don’t expect to high five the person next to you at any point.

Burn After Reading – A Movie Review

I have to be honest, as I watched Burn After Reading, I found it more than a little dull and plodding.  While touted as a “dark comedy,” I didn’t find much funny about it at all, and actually suffered more apathy in regards to the film than anything.

However, and here’s the sign of good moviemaking, once it ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

And then, as I kept thinking about it, I started connecting all these little nuanced dots that didn’t reveal themselves until the end of the film.  The movie kept creeping into my thoughts, and I suddenly found much of it very funny.  Then I realized what a complexly simple, well-written movie had been made, and I appreciated it all the more so.

Burn After Reading is a series of interrelated events of absolutely no relevance that have dastardly (and mercilessly funny) consequences.  Frances McDormand and George Clooney steal the show in this Coen Brothers project, but Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, and Tilda Swinton more than hold their own.  This is a fine cast of fairly likable actors who successfully made their characters unlikable yet charismatic at the same time-especially Tilda Swinton.

 Burn After Reading is a “slow burn” of a movie, but one that will demand your consideration even after you’ve finished watching it.

Rambo – A Movie Review

When I first heard they were making this movie, I laughed, and then I groaned.  I thought, “Okay, I’ll give them Rocky Balboa, but now Rambo?  That’s going to the well one too many times.”

Then I saw the ridiculous trailer.  It looked like it was homemade with insanity-inducing violence.  Seriously, Rambo rips a guy’s throat out?  With his hand?  (Sorry to spoil that one for you.)

I made fun of it relentlessly to my friends, but because I have a morbid curiosity, I had to rent it … you know, just to see.

By the way, I love First Blood.  I thought it resonated emotionally, the acting was good, and the story was both realistic and relevant.  I just wanted to get that out of the way so you all don’t think I’m some sort of John Rambo hater.  The sequels didn’t have the soul of First Blood, and after the third one I really thought it was time to give it a rest-thus, my mocking of the fourth installment.

That being said, my expectations were so low Pluto would need to look down to see them. 

And, I think because of that, I actually enjoyed Rambo.  I expected garbage and got … well, not treasure, but certainly not garbage.

You know the story: Naïve missionaries and innocent native citizens are unjustly taken prisoner by soldiers in Myanmar, which is a very real predicament in that country.  Rambo had told them not to go, and when he hears there will be no rescue effort but for a group of mercenaries hired by the families of the victims, he tags along as more than just the boat pilot.  Of course, it’s Rambo, so he rescues them, but not without a body count higher than Sly’s gross profit from earlier movies.

Sly Stallone directed Rambo himself, and he did so using shaky, terse shots that were both disturbing and mesmerizing.  The violence was nonstop and very realistic, so much so that even the most desensitized of viewers may be taken aback.  One thing is for sure: Rambo is fast-paced and action-packed and not quite like anything else I’ve seen.  While the trailer looked homemade, that quality worked for the feature-length film, making us associate what we saw with real footage.

The story was rather straightforward and simple, but I admire Stallone for going with a location for his character where horrible things really are happening every day.  It took guts for him to put himself out there like that, and, if nothing else, perhaps it helped raise awareness.

I don’t think Rambo said twenty words in the whole movie, but that was by design.  He is the definitive loner, after all.  I especially found the end of the movie poignant and a nice send-off for a character who has been in pop-culture’s psyche for three decades.

If you liked First Blood, you’ll find Rambo tolerable, but be ready for ultra-graphic violence.

Cinderella Man – A Movie Review

When this film initially came out I thought it looked good, but it didn’t look good enough to spend my hard earned cash on.  I think this may have been the underlying problem when it came to this film’s promotion.  I now wish I’d trusted my instincts and gone to see this film on the big screen. 

Let me tell you this: If you decide to rent a movie soon, make it Cinderella Man.  I was blown away at the excellence of this film.  It’s the story of real life boxer James J. Braddock, a Depression era boxer who got a rare second chance at reaching the top of his profession.  James was a promising boxer in the late twenties, but when a string of losses occurred and the depression hit, he found he and his family living in a tiny apartment with no food and barely enough electricity.  But, James never gave up.  He kept his heart and his morals, and when his second chance came, he realized he wasn’t fighting for glory anymore, he was literally fighting for the milk his children so desperately needed to survive.  In his words, he now knew what he was fighting for.

Russell Crowe usually resembles something of a jerk in real life, but there is no denying this man is one of our greatest contemporary actors.  His Braddock is realistic and an everyman, and I dare all of you to resist cheering for him as he fights his way back to the top. 

Ron Howard, a man desperately underrated in my book, directs this film, and while it may not be well known amongst the masses of moviegoers, this film certainly deserves a best picture nomination, if not a win.

Renee Zellweger play Braddock’s wife, and she does an admirable job of it.  I had trouble buying her in this role, however.  She didn’t annoy me, but she just didn’t feel right.

Certainly the unsung hero of this film is Paul Giamatti who played Joe Gould, Braddock’s manager.  Like Braddock, he plays a man, a real man, and because he plays a real man with real ethics and loyalties, we can’t help but admire his heroicness.

The boxing scenes are realistic, not the sensationalized fair of Rocky, the tone of the Depression is spot on, and the acting and directing is superb.  This film will not disappoint.