World War Z (PG-13)

10 Stars

Are they ever going to explain what happened during World Wars ‘A’ through ‘Y’?

Typically, I don’t watch movies more than once.

Probably because I’m anti-contrarian.

It’s why people think I’m a hero.

I’m kidding, but I generally avoid repeated viewings.

You might think this strange, but there are still plenty of winners waiting in my unseen ether.

This inventive new take on the zombie apocalypse grips you within the first ten minutes, and never relents.

Wawazee is one of my top five films of 2013.

I’m nearly positive the opening shot is in homage to Dawn of the Dead, but apparently am the only one who’s noticed.

Sure, the CGI’s not immaculate, but that’s nitpickery.

The pacing may slow down at moments, but even the dreamy Brad Pitt (as Gerry Lane) needs the occasional breather. But it doesn’t slow for me; I care throughout the snappy action and all the space between.

Besides. With such a well-rounded narrative unfolding around Mr. Pitt’s international adventures, the audience needs reminding that these great action scenes, take place within a well-thought-out story.

Anyhow. This film has the second best rating: PG-13.

It’s rare to find a movie that veils this deficiency so adequately.

The supporting cast is excellent. There are several characters you grow to love by the end of the film. Although none from Gerry’s immediate family, come to think of it.

Don’t be a square and turn your nose up at WWZ.

It’s not ‘just another zombie movie.’

It’s a wonderful film.

But spoilers follow; so if you haven’t seen it yet, tear your gaze from this wildly compelling review!

World War Z takes place in several settings across the Earth. Bradley’s pit stops begin after fleeing with his family from Philadelphia to Newark, NJ. Then he journeys alone onto Jerusalem, Wales and finally reunites with his family back in Nova Scotia.

The only real criticism I have is that even after two viewings, I’m not 100% certain why the Jurgen Warmbrunn (played by Ludi Boeken) character’s necessary to the plot.

More specifically, I’m confused about how his position as the ’12th’ man (or the one who must always disagree) on the Israeli council relates to the greater conflict. But honestly, I really don’t care; I’m sure there’s a reason I’m just not seeing.

I won’t go too in depth about the cast, but I think Daniella Kertesz’s performance as Segen, is spectacular.

Not to get too abstract here, but the scene where Gerry severs Segen’s hand, is one of those ‘magical cinematic moments.’ My best description of this emotional swell is ‘breathtaking,’ cliché as it is. But watching that scene I feel extreme tension, elation and a deep appreciation for the writing; all within a short moment.

James Badge Dale as Captain Speke delivers an exceptional performance as well. It gets a little dusty in the theater when his character says goodbye.

The scenes in the apartment complex, the two separate calamities on different runways, the chase through the streets of Jerusalem, the plane crash, the World Health Organization; all are so, so good.

By the way, I hear there’s going to be a sequel?

If so, you can count me in.

But we better find out about the other twenty-five World Wars.

Ender’s Game (PG-13)

7 Stars

You know the Johnny-Come-Lately that snorts at cringeworthy moments, or criticizes plot points he deems unsound?

That’s me during the first half of Lender’s Flame; being a total douche, and not resisting the urge to speak. My buddy deserves an apology.

Perhaps it was the lack of coffee lending me susceptible to the hypocritical fit. But to be fair, there are some seriously weak cogs in this mechanism.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they reused the set from Xenon: Girl of the Twenty First Century.

And I feel bad for Harrison Ford.

I don’t like bandwagons. No matter who’s piloting the rig, I try to avoid jumping on. But Harry’s left me no choice.

He doesn’t record the lines for Lego Han Solo, and now this? To call his performance unconvincing would be generous.

My opinion’s never changed so dramatically halfway through a film.

The first portion deserves a little less than three stars, but the second half is almost a fiver. Thereby positing this film just short of greatness.

My main problem with Blender’s Shame is the acting. The performances are almost all underwhelming.

Some are bad. Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin doesn’t deliver a poor performance, but it’s nothing to shake a stick at. He’s okay I guess. Perhaps that’s a function of how his character is written. Fun the actor’s name matches the greatness of his character’s, though.

The two best parts of this film (besides a certain reveal) are Nonso Anozie and Ben Kingsley. Both turn in solid performances as inventive compelling characters.

What the film lacks in thespianism it makes up for in smart, original storytelling.

During even the clunkiest of moments, the shining rays of intelligent narrative peek through the cringeworthy canopy.

Finally, the CGI is exceptional. See this film if you’re into this kind of thing, and can swallow some scoffs.

Now onto some spoilers.

At first, I thumbed my nose at the video of Mazer Rackham attacking the alien’s mothership. Thought it was just a jet fighter versus organic extraterrestrial millennium falcons in a storm cloud.

But boy was I wrong. And that’s only one of two fantastic reveals.

One thing I really liked was the humanistic nature of the future. So often in science fiction, the world is dystopian, or at least ‘the man’ is just as brutal as ever. The idea that Ender is able to go back to Earth to visit his sister, Valentine, feels right to me. When Petra asks if she can stay with Ender while he’s unconscious, I appreciate Colonel Graff’s response.

(Perhaps that’s why ol’ Harry Ford doesn’t work; maybe some menace would’ve done the trick.)

There are painful moments in Ender’s Game. Almost every greatness is ruined by the following odd character interaction, an off-putting acting performance or cliché.

The Islamic reference is a complete non-sequitur; painful whether it was shoved into the film’s plot or not.

I find everything inside the zero-gravity playground dull, and never feel like there’s anything at stake. I’m getting furious thinking about how poorly these scenes are executed. You have no concept of who is winning or losing, or the reasons why, at any point during the freeze pistol games.

So nobody’s tried that rope trick in the entire history of the floaty cube olympics? The last five seconds are good, but jarringly odd, and then that plot element is gone.

For most of the movie, Ender actually sits by himself at lunch.

When Ben Kingsley shows up, everything gets way better. And I love the time spent interacting with the ‘mind game.’

I would have loved if it ended, and everyone still shunned him at lunchtime.

But in all seriousness, how about that ending? Duped into genocide? Good stuff!

At that moment, I’m shackled to purchasing a ticket to the sequel.

Pretty soon old men will lament the loss of sound content in narrative.

“That another one of those conflabbed Hunger Endgames?”

You crazy kids and your space gladiators.

Side Effects (R)

10 Stars

The word you’re looking for is ‘Captivation.’

It’s the concept everyone forgets when trying to articulate their reaction to a film.

But it’s the sole unifying factor for the viewing masses. It may be the single collective pursuit, the only aspect of movie-going everyone can agree upon.

We all seek captivation.

And Steven Soderbergh delivers it on a pallet-jack.

Side Effects is #3 on my ‘Best Films of 2013’ list.

It doesn’t get any better than this all-star cast. Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones are two of my favorite actresses, and they both pull off stellar performances.

I know it’s been said before, but CZJ ages like wine.

And Rooney Mara, sheesh, that little firecracker can act.

Need it even be mentioned Channing Tatum and Jude Law were great as always?

The plot is not only timely, intricate and moving, it’s exhilarating. The characters are compelling, and the central conflicts are rather complex. It’s tough to say who makes the right or wrong decisions, and the ending pays off all the mystery and suspense in a satisfying manner.

It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. And also raises questions about the evils of psychology, especially when intertwined with the business world.

This is a fantastic movie, and didn’t get its due last award season.

See this film! But if you haven’t, watch out, I’m going to spoil some things below.

I watched G.I. Joe: Retaliation a day before Side Effects, and this turned out to be a good thing. I was definitely not expecting the twist about a third the way thru.

To be honest, I think I was sadder to see him go the second time. Give me CT in a big starring role one of these days.

But speaking of sadness: I must be honest. When I’m watching a movie with a buddy and it gets the waterworks running, I can do a pretty good job of containing the outbreak.

Twice I was gotten by Miss Mara. When Roon-Dawg almost steps on the train tracks, and when she can’t contain herself at the party because her depression is so severe – I draw some sharp breaths.

Those two moments were so moving, and then to have her character do a complete turn around by the end; that’s some masterful filmmaking.

And how about that ending, huh?

What it should not do is detract from Mara’s portrayal of someone who is clinically depressed. She delivers a moving performance that deserves particular respect because our perception of her character undergoes several transformations.

All in all, the spectacular ending ties off what already was a spectacular movie, with a shiny new ribbon.

Can’t wait to see what Soderbergh takes on next!

Up in the Air (R)

9 Stars

What can I say about Up in the Air that hasn’t already been said?

Had I done some research perhaps I could answer that question.

In lieu I’ll provide my unbiased thoughts, unencumbered by popular opinion.

I think Up in the A is exceptional. The narrative is not too long, never boring and smart.

It’s shot and edited well, combining some humor with sharp dialogue and a level of honesty bordering on brutal.

Every few months or so, I see a great movie starring George Clooney. And it’s always a knockout performance. I refuse to check his filmography in hopes I never stop stumbling across fantastic flicks staring G.C.

Besides one irksome piece of acting, this is a solid film all around.

If you like movies and can stand to watch one that may not offer satisfaction across the board, I highly recommend Upin Thair.

The rest of this review contains spoilers, so get out while you still can!

One of the best parts about this Best Picture nominee is the chance it takes with the ending.

Is it depressing? Wildly.

Is our protagonist enviable? Probably not.

Is it realistic? Regrettably, yes.

In a sea of motion pictures that end with a sigh of relief, we need the occasional boat to get lost in a storm.

The credit card scene is spectacular.

How about Vera Farmiga, huh? What an outstanding performance as Georgie’s wandering love interest.

And how about Anna Kendrick with some equally unexceptional acting? The moment she cries is the worst in the entire movie. Luckily a solid scene follows.

I also like how, ultimately, Kendrick’s character does something outside of the narrative norm. Cloondog avoids his feelings for a justifiable reason. Kendrick, the catalyst, causes him to change, but this is (in the end) not a good thing.

Do they ever pay off the implication that Clooney’s lying when Jason Bateman asks him about the woman who kills herself?

I don’t love the scene where Clooney reassures Danny McBride, the groom with cold feet.

My final criticism is I think the process of firing people doesn’t entail as much direct animosity toward the individual hired to do the job. Throughout the sequences in which the film illustrates a string of employees being let go, I just thought the “How do you sleep at night?” type of reaction is shown too many times.

All that being said: Man, I enjoy Up in the Air.

Singin’ In The Rain (G)

9 Stars

This is the first in a trilogy of movies I’ll be watching with my Dad over the next few days.

The other two are Defending Your Life and Annie Hall.

Unfortunately he’s had a long week, and passed out about halfway through the film.

It does get a bit slow about halfway thru but that’s where this criticism ends.

Because Singin’ is a fantastic film that I’ll revisit someday.

Gaggery and dancing abound in this sixty two year old film.

The good news: It still holds up.

The great news: It’s entertaining and brilliant!

If you’re the stuffy type with no taste for dance numbers, singing or stage show antics of any sort; this probably isn’t the flick for you.

If that’s the case, I feel bad for you because there’s some good stuff in Singin’ in the Rain.

It’s my least favorite rating: G.

But that doesn’t detract from the plot. I forget right away.

There are a lot of pop culture references to this movie.

In The Lion King, Timon and Pumba do a hula dance that is reminiscent of the raincoat scene during the song, “Good Morning,” in Singin’.

I’m pretty certain The Artist is an homage in its entirety. The plotlines are very similar.

Both films are about a silent movie star, an annoying actress on her way out, and a cute young up-and-comer with a lot of potential. Both are set in Hollywood during the transition between silent movies and talkies.

SITR specifically is set in 1927, and Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, Donald O’Connor co-stars as his best friend Cosmo Brown and Debbie Reynolds plays Kathy Selden.

If you haven’t seen it, check it out! But beware the spoilers below.

First of all, this movie is primarily a satire. A very well-made one.

The different scenes moving through partially built film sets, are spectacular and fascinating. From the very beginning, with the violin performance between Don and Cosmo, the various duets and dances they perform are exceptional.

Cosmo is easily my favorite part of the film. Every once in awhile, it’s nice to have a reliable and unconflicted deuteragonist (the side kick or best friend character) behind the protagonist. Donald O’Connor turns in a remarkable performance, with several solo dances.

The film is so self-referential that the fourth wall is sort of perpetually broken throughout. I’m not certain if they ever actually commit to it.

But when Cosmo (who fills in as a screenwriter, audio recording jockey, etc. throughout) takes over for the conductor at the end of the film, it’s a pretty direct nod to the audience that everything is off the rails.

He cracks some of the best jokes, and is the source of the majority of the humor.

At one point Don and Cosmo are speaking with the studio head. The man says to Cosmo, “Remind me to make you a screenwriter.” Cosmo hands him one of his own cigars and later on the man says, “Remind me to give you a raise.”

Towards the end of the film, when the studio head becomes an antagonist, Cosmo says, “I once gave you a cigar. Can I have it back?”

It wasn’t his cigar to begin with! Hilarious, right?

To conclude this glowing review, I’ll end with a quote from Don while he courts Kathy. He’s positioning the purple artificial lighting on Debbie Reynolds, who’s seated on a ladder within a partially constructed set.

“You sure look lovely in the moonlight, Kathy.”
– Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood

Silver Linings Playbook (R)

4 Stars

Everybody apparently loves this movie.

I do not.

It’s alright. Not okay, not good, not even close to great.

SLP is alright.

And I find this extremely disappointing. The plot holes, the oddly dull characters, and the plodding narrative add up to a unsatisfying movie.

It gets nominated for Best Picture, I read about how touching and spectacular it is. Yet it’s neither smart, nor enjoyable enough to be a nominee.

First of all, Bradley Cooper is terrific, and J-Law is even better…but that is where the goodness ends.

De Niro’s acting isn’t bad, but it’s by no means exceptional.

It’s a Dromantic Quirkedy (dramatic and romantic quirky comedy); not a recipe for success for this writer’s tastes.

There are quite a few moments that are written to be cringe-worthy: dark comedic scenes that ask a lot of the viewer in exchange for a half-hearted chuckle. That being said, on to a more in depth look at the film.

Now if you haven’t seen SLP, beware the spoilers, and long-winded complaints below. But if you also haven’t seen American Hustle, I’d suggest you watch that instead.

Here’s my big thing: The reference to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is inaccurate. B. Cooper’s character talks about how he likes the part in which the characters are dancing but doesn’t like the ending.

There is zero dancing between Henry and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms. I know because I read the novel immediately after seeing the film.

Perhaps Cooper’s incorrect use of the word dancing or his false reading of the story is intentional. In fact, it better be intentional.

If we are to accept the reality we’re being shown on screen, Bradley Cooper’s character misinterprets the book, or he’s lying about reading it. Either way, this seems wildly incongruent with the rest of the film.

If it’s not that, we can only assume it’s a mistake in the screenplay, yes?

It upsets me that a movie gets nominated for Best Motion Picture with such a glaring error in the writing.

A lot of strange stuff is going on when Jennifer Lawrence’s character is introduced to Cooper’s family near the end of the film. She helps herself to a beer from the fridge, when she’s never been to his house, nor met his family. This scene seems crazed, hazy and diluted, like we’re interpreting some sort of illusion through the veil of BC’s consciousness.

During that same scene, his father’s best friend invests in a nonsensical parley with De Niro. Why would he force such a thing on an old friend? Seems astonishingly cruel. Why would the bookie just go on her word about the scoring system for the dance competition? They haven’t been introduced, yet he’s already disrespecting and adding pressure on the romantic interest of his best friend’s son? (BC was never any concern to the bookie in the first place!)

Do these people have nothing more important in their lives than to invest all of their time and energy into this semi-serious attempt to place in a professional dance competition?

Why would the ex-wife show up? If anybody in this movie were in their right mind, they’d recognize the lingering potential for problems between BC and his ex-wife. This would not be the appropriate time for him to approach her.

Another major issue is with the psychiatrist. Even if I saw my psychiatrist at a football game, I wouldn’t go bother him for more than a hello and a handshake. And I would expect the same from him.

There would be no tailgating and hanging out for the game. And he would most certainly not walk into my living room (where he is familiar with nobody) without a shirt on, and sit down on the couch. My best friends who walk into the house without knocking wouldn’t dream of sitting shirtless on the sofa. (Even if they were in the highly unlikely situation to walk in the house without one on.) This is one of the dumbest fucking scenes I have ever seen in a movie that’s supposed to be taken seriously.

Best Picture? Really?

Also, the shrink would never play the song to purposely upset Cooper. In retrospect, it’s rather cruel (and dangerous apparently, to the other people in the waiting room.) A psychiatrist doesn’t play mind games with their patient. And getting such a strong reaction, I truly doubt Bradley’s actions would be taken lightly.

I don’t appreciate the letter; it’s a misleading central plot element. It’s dissatisfying to build mystery around what’s going to be inside the envelope, when the answer is nothing. J-Law wrote it, as we expect all along.

There is some strange stuff going on with Chris Tucker’s character. The mother doesn’t acknowledge his presence in a way. She never looks at him, or engages him in a conversational manner. This recurs with Tucker’s character throughout the movie. He is never really acknowledged by another individual, except J-Law. Even then, their interaction is odd. It’s incredibly misleading. I thought Tucker was potentially an extension of BC’s personality, a figment of his character’s imagination.

But this doesn’t jive with certain portions of the plot. So all I’m left with is a confusing mess.

Finally, the ending is painfully nonsensical. The last judge is portrayed as tough beforehand. You expect a harsh rating from him. Yet, he’s the one who equalizes the score to just barely win it. If he is passionate about his job as a critical judge, he’d be consistent. He would not have much patience for such a terribly executed final move.

David O. Russell, I know you devour all of my reviews, so I’m sorry for crapping on your film.

But American Hustle is much better.

Saving Private Ryan (R)

9 Stars

Steven Spielberg was the only director’s name I knew for a long portion of my life.

Mainly because I was a narcissistic young lad and due to his first name, I presumed he must be brilliant.

But he spells it incorrectly.

‘Stephen’ is spelled with a ‘ph’ not a ‘v’.

Anybody worth their salt knows that.

Saving Private Ryan is a lot like it’s director’s first name – it’s a near perfect film.

The only blemish on this entire movie is the opening and ending ten minutes, the two scenes featuring the old man revisiting the tombstones at Normandy. They are totally unnecessary to the plot of the film and hokey as all get out.

Otherwise all of the narrative which takes place during World War II is sensational.

Sure the scene where they storm the beaches on D-Day is a marvelous sight to behold, but don’t let that detract from the scenes that follow. It’s all good stuff.

Tom Hanks leads a cast of fantastic characters including Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Barry Pepper, Matt Damon, Dennis Farina, Ted Danson, Brian Cranston and Paul Giamatti.

All deliver exceptional performances throughout.

If you’ve been keeping SPR in the back pocket like me, let it out anytime.

You’ll enjoy this film.

But stop reading here, I’m going to spoil a few things.

Vin Diesel is very good in this movie, and it gets a little dusty when his character dies, but it seems like there is some ADR (additional dialogue recording) shoved into the scene directly preceding.

The only portion of the movie that may ruin the suspension of disbelief is here, when Vin takes the daughter. The scene is a bit unbelievable, it only lasts a second, but something is lost to the viewer. I think the ADR might be part of the reason.

Speaking of, when he’s laying there and takes out the note for his father, I’m almost certain there is ADR because his lines do not match up with his lips or body language.

Anyway, if I were to criticize that scene, I’d be nitpicking. It still gets dusty no matter what he’s saying.

To address my earlier criticism, you might argue that the ‘bookends’ (the scenes in which we see Matt Damon all grown up, having fathered at least two generations) are necessary to provide redemption to the deceased characters.

This is a fair point, but I don’t think we need this kind of handholding. I don’t believe anyone would have wondered whether or not he went on to father children. Almost all of the characters are heroic (especially Private Ryan) and we know that he’s alive at the end of their mission.

They are required to give him another chance, and that’s made apparent by his survival during the film’s climax. The viewer can presume he will make the best of the life they’ve sacrificed for.

But this is all semantics. Leave the scenes in, for all I care.

Saving Private Ryan is a fantastic movie.

Rush (R)

9 Stars

I’ve been avoiding this ‘critic darling’. Seems like the lower end of the nominee spectrum.

Be that as it may, this doesn’t mandate the dreaded slot on the back burner.

At just a nose past two hours, the pacing’s fast and smooth.

Gravity’s place in the Best Picture nominee list is nothing short of laughable. Captain Phillips and Her certainly deserve the accolade, but Rush is better than both of these films.

Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as the rat-faced Niki Lauda turn in exceptional performances.

I love Sir Chemsworth, I gotta be honest.

I’ll say that Bruhl in the hospital is the slowest portion of the movie. But it doesn’t last too long.

The only time it got dusty for me was because his wife (Alexandra Maria Lara) seemed to be having a tough time of it. And I felt for her. Boy oh boy did I feel for that fantastic character.

Go ahead, call me a ‘softy.’

Two of the major themes? Athleticism and assholes.

I’ll never tire of seeing movies with an R-rating. This is a fine example of nudity solely adding to the overall viewing experience.

(Censorship’s the bane of my existence in case you’re unaware.)

As usual, Olivia Wilde as Suzy Miller is a bit of all right in this film. She glazes over Hunt’s infidelity quite quickly, yes yes? I like her depiction of a strong woman in an unviolent yet strained relationship.

(This illustrates a well-executed, subtle and original character flaw for Hunt. James and Suzy have a magnificent argument midway through.)

Did I mention Hemsworth’s performance? It’s spectacular.

Olivia’s furiously ascending the ladder of this reviewer’s favorite thespians. She solely delights. And I first noticed her in Cowboys & Aliens, which was a hundred times better than anyone wants to give it credit for. Not since Sharon Stone has there been such a great Lady Gunslinger!

I’m not sure what else to say about this movie because it’s just so spectacularly shot, written and edited. Rush is a visual masterpiece with compelling characters and spectacular direction.

The tension’s high. The acting’s great. The story’s enjoyable, informative and fun. What more do you need?

See this film!