Focus (2015): In the midst of veteran con man Nicky's latest scheme, a woman from his past - now an accomplished femme fatale - shows up and throws his plans for a loop.
Ahhhhh the first big third act implosion of 2015. You know it's a real shame too, because this film set up such an awesome premise. The first two acts of this film are awesome. And then it just totally and completely falls apart in the third act. Here's the problem with this film. It's a con film, yes, but by the end there are so many subplots setup that when you get the final AHA moment(s) you'll just be sitting there saying no.....no....stop it. There's no tension at then end. None. Because they are throwing in twist after twist after twist so you just come to know that hey there's gonna be another twist! Thus removing all the tension. Sigh....
And, you know, there's a lot of good in this film. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are great. Their own chemistry is not the best, but individually they were great. This is definitely the best performance Will Smith has had in years. And, if The Wolf of Wall Street didn't make Margot Robbie a superstar....this sure will. And the music! The music was phenomenal. Music supervisor Jason Ruder did an incredible job layering in the best soundtrack I've heard in a film since Guardians of the Galaxy. The entire New Orleans segment of this film was EASILY the best part of it, to the point that I really wish the film had just ended when everyone left N'awlins. 45 minutes in. Those scenes were fun to watch, and then they suddenly became super tense, and I was loving every second of it. But they just had to leave the city and have the whole second half of the film that was quite the drag....
My number: 5.5/10 Slightly Above Average
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015): A spy organization recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency's ultra-competitive training program, just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.
Man. This one is a doozie. I'm not going to just come out and say I love this film. Because I don't. However, I will say I had a blast watching it.There's just a lot of flaws and flat-out uncomfortable (and very insensitive) scenes involved with it. So. Where to begin? How about with what I loved. The action was fun to watch. It was choreographed nicely, and Matthew Vaughn did a nice job filming the scenes so you know where everything is and don't become super discombobulated while watching them. Colin Firth is amazing and easily worth the price of admission alone, and Taron Egerton certainly holds his own as the lead. He's very charming and very charismatic for sure, and likely has a bright future ahead of him in this industry. It's refreshing to see Mark Hamill and Jack Davenport on screen again as well. Mark Hamill is championing one of his amazing voices here, so if you miss him I wouldn't blame you. But then there's everyone else. For starters, Mark Strong and Michael Caine should've been playing each other's characters. Why they weren't is beyond me. Both women in this film are little more than eye candy, as they are offered very little to do, and then there's Samuel L. Jackson. Dear Samuel L. Jackson: I went into this expecting to get the charismatic, hilarious, yet insanely evil Samuel L. Jackson that we've gotten in so many films. Instead, we got an incredibly restrained Samuel L. Jackson featuring a very awkward lisp that was more distracting than anything else with one joke that you played over and over. Why? WHY? WHY YOU DO THIS MAN? I had such high hopes for you to be awesome! And instead, you were just meh. I'm crying myself to sleep because of you tonight, Samuel L. Jackson.
And then there's the insensitive stuff. You know what? I can't do this without spoiling anything, so SPOILER ALERT. THIS PARAGRAPH HAS SPOILERS IN IT. So couple things with this film that really upset me. So Jackson has this device that makes everyone really evil and want to kill each other. He first activates it in a church, and what we then get is a well choreographed but incredibly uncomfortable scene of mass murder in a church in Kentucky. While this made me uncomfortable, I recovered quickly. However, then there's the whole third act of the film. Look. I get that this is a big stupid action movie at the end of the day, but if you're going to be ridiculous, you have to be smart about it. You cannot kill almost every world leader, and have the bad guy briefly succeed in his plan enough so that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people around the world kill each other before the good guys win, and then have the good guys be like YAY! We saved the world! NO. No you did not! 90% of the world leaders are dead, and now there are millions more dead across the world. I was very upset that the film did not acknowledge these facts, and then have the next shot after leaving the bad guy's base be back in London where everything's fine! Nothing to see here! I get that you were basically at 2 hours and needed to end the film, but to me this was done in incredibly poor taste.
So there you have it. While Kingsman was a fun ride, it was also a very insensitive one. The final act really upset me, and as a result I'm probably not seeing this film again anytime soon.
My Number: 5/10 Average
50 Shades of Grey (2015): Literature student Anastasia Steele's life changes forever when she meets handsome, yet tormented, billionaire Christian Grey.
I did this for you. I want you to know that from the beginning. I watched this movie for you. I put myself out there for 125 minutes for you. I stepped well out of my comfort zone to see this film. For you. Now, it is so easy to bash this movie. It does, after all, glorify abuse. But, my job is not to judge a movie based on its morality. My job is to judge it as a movie. And, I'm here to tell you that 50 Shades of Grey, while not good, is not bad, either. It is merely below average. And yes, I can't believe I just said that. But this movie has great direction from female director (keep that in mind, by the way) Sam Taylor-Johnson. This movie also, upon further investigation of how loyal the film is to the book, has a BRILLIANT adoption to the cinema by screenwriter Kelly Marcel. Marcel is a relatively new writer in Hollywood, but so far has three great credits to her name: the wildly underrated show Terra Nova, Saving Mr. Banks, and now 50 Shades of Grey. It's hard, no, damn near impossible, to adopt a screenplay such as this and have the fans of the novel like the movie more than the source material. Think about it: almost everyone who watched The Hunger Games movies, the Harry Potter movies, the Twilight movies, and even Divergent all say that the books those films are based on are better than the actual film. (Assuming they read the book first.) Well, maybe there's some exceptions in the Twilight movies, but that's irrelevant. My point is that the vibe from those who have read the books is that not only is this movie better than the books, it's better than the books by a mile. Almost incomparably better. That said, there are still a huge amount of flaws to discuss with this movie. And it all starts with Jamie Dornan.
So, as you might remember, Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy and Pacific Rim was originally slated to play Christian Grey. He dropped out of the project, and likely saved his potential career by avoiding the hate he would've inevitably received for playing the character. However, I wish he would have played the character, because Jamie Dornan was TERRIBLE as Grey. Oh my God I might make a worst performances list at the end of the year just so that he could be at the top, because HOLY CRAP was he bad. I think it's tough for one person to completely torpedo a movie with their performance, but this is performance is down there with Shelley Duvall's in The Shining. It's that bad. He's stiff, has no chemistry with Dakota Johnson, and honestly looked scared in the role. Scared! The intimidation that you were obviously supposed to feel whenever Christian Grey was on screen was not there AT ALL because all we got was this stiff and shy underwear model who only looked somewhat good when his shirt was off. Dakota Johnson tried to make up for it with an excellent performance of her own, but it was all in vein. When it comes to a romance flick your movie is only as good as your leads are. And when one of the leads is awful, the entire movie suffers as a result. There isn't a lot to mention in terms of a supporting cast. Most of this film is just Dornan and Johnson. Which is why it's such a killer for the film that Dornan is awful.
However, the rest of the movie is kind of good. And again, this is the result of great direction and great writing. The movie looks beautiful under Sam Taylor-Johnson's guidance, and the film's production value is also outstanding. Because of this, I almost wish we could've gotten a movie starring Hunnam instead. I wish he would've just powered through and torpedoed his career, because the movie would've been SIGNIFICANTLY better with him at the helm. (Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds) But look, here's the other thing: for all the controversy surrounding the book, this movie played it about as safe as it possibly could when it came to the sex. And that's the other major problem with the movie. The "steamy, sexy" part of the film was not this at all. Yes, it was awkward cause Dornan was terrible, but it was also awkward because Taylor-Johnson just did everything she could to make the sex PG-13 quality, despite the fact that the movie was going to be a hard R (lol) no matter what. Why couldn't you just own the sex like Martin Scorsese did in Wolf of Wall Street? Don't shy away from it, embrace it! Look, here's an example that isn't really much of a spoiler. So, Dakota Johnson is trying to connect with Grey. That's basically the whole purpose of the film. One night in the film, she tells him to do his worst to her. He goes into his "arsenal" of whips and everything, and we get this huge display of these really elaborate whips and such, and instead of pulling out one of the super elaborate and crazy whips, he pulls out the most plain whip you will ever see. I mean seriously? This is 50 Shades of Grey, man! Own your stereotype! Grab the biggest, baddest thing you can find and go at it! And yes, I do feel terrible for saying that. I'm avoiding talking about the controversy because yes, I was very uncomfortable as a human being while watching this film glorify sexual abuse. However, it's times like these that I have to keep my human being side and my film critic side separate, because obviously a HUGE number of people are going out and seeing this film. When a movie is coming into a stereotype, it is important that the film does not shy away from that stereotype and instead embraces it. Take John Wick, for example. That movie was an action flick starring Keanu Reaves. There is clearly a stereotype created when "action flick" and "Keanu Reaves" are put in the same sentence. And the movie embraced it by letting Reaves play his stereotype while taking down the entire Russian mafia. Because of this, it was one of my favorite films in 2014 and definitely was a ridiculously fun ride But, it's also important to remember that 50 Shades of Grey, like other controversial films like Selma and American Sniper, is just a movie. It's nothing more than that. Nothing more. As a movie, there was clearly effort put into creating this film, and it does deliver a fairly decent ride for what it is. However, the terribleness of Dornan basically single-handily torpedoed this film. Universal obviously wanted to release this film on Valentine's Day in an effort to increase sales, but I think in the long run the film would've done better had they waited a few months in order to find a better actor to play Grey once Charlie Hunnam backed out. But that's just me. Now, we have at least two more films based on the same stories starring an actor who can't act to save his life. Can't wait for those.
The Critique: A horrible performance by lead Jamie Dornan torpedoes an otherwise decent film, making it below average at best.
The Recommendation: Well, I think by this point those who wanted to see the film have already seen it, and those who don't want to see it haven't seen it. Well, I'm here to tell you that your time is definitely better spent elsewhere, particularly on Valentine's Day. Go watch When Harry Met Sally or something for a real rom-com. You absolutely cannot go wrong with When Harry Met Sally.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Daisies (1966): The life of two girls, Marie I and Marie II, who try to understand the meaning of the world and of their life.
Daisies. The Czech New Wave is a very interesting genre of cinema. However, I most certainly can say that it is impossible to deny the art behind making a film like Daisies. While the film was crazy and incoherent from a storytelling perspective, the movie was oddly beautiful from a technical perspective. I couldn’t help but admire the unpredictable lens-changes, and the scenes were so quick and unpredictable it was impossible to figure out what was going to happen next at any point in the film. In fact, the only thing that was predictable with the film was that it was completely unpredictable. However, I still couldn’t help but admire it throughout its 74-minute runtime.
I would like to take a moment to talk about the acting. Ivana Karbanova and Jitka Cerhova were great as the co-leads. Their child-like demeanor, combined with undeniable chemistry made the movie significantly more enjoyable from start to finish, despite a nonexistent story. I look at some of the big budget films now that bank everything on a good story and look technically boring, and now laugh at them. If only Angelina Jolie watched this movie before filming Unbroken. While you don’t need to go as out there as director Vera Chytilova does while filming Daisies, a bit of variability from a technical standpoint goes a long way. Just look at what Birdman just did. That movie’s story made very little sense, and yet it's a phenomenal movie because of the one take sensation it creates. As for Daisies, I thought it was a good film. I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought I was going to, and I would definitely recommend this movie to my cinema-loving friends
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
Hello Wes Anderson. How are you? That's fantastic. Hey man, can I tell you something? You're freaking awesome. Look, I should preface this review by saying if you hate Wes Anderson this movie will not change your mind. I mean, just look at that picture at the bottom. Everything about this movie is meticulous and symmetrical. How do you get around the Invisible Wall rule of filmmaking? By filming your entire movie from shots directly in front of all the characters? Yes, that's how. And I love you for it, Wes Anderson. If you haven't figured it out yet, I love Wes Anderson, and if you have no idea who he is, this is the perfect place to start.
Screw acting. Let's talk about the freaking set design. This movie should be an easy win for best production design, because every single item in this film is placed in very specific positions from start to finish. The attention to detail in this film is insane, and something that a secretly (and not clinically) OCD person such as myself adores when I see it in a movie. But every single shot was coordinated and planned by Wes Anderson and company. You could even go as far as to make a legitimate argument that set was created before the story and the story conformed to the individual shots. While this was obviously not the case, I'd be just as happy watching this film again with no sound whatsoever and just marveling at it as anything else. And the colors! The colors were vibrant and absolutely everywhere. There were even some visual jokes, with some blatantly obvious models popping up from time to time.
That's the other thing: this movie is freaking funny. Many of the jokes, however, are very subtle. You really have to be paying attention to spot the humor in GBH. This is not a Horrible Bosses comedy where you can turn off the brain and still have a good time. No. You have to engage with this movie to enjoy it, but when you do....you're gonna have a hell of a time. So. Acting. Here in lies my single biggest complaint about the film. One is that there really isn't a lead in this film. Well, I'm not complaining about this, as you had no problem keeping track of who is who, but my biggest problem is the hugely wasted supporting cast short of co-leads Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori. There are soooooo many A-list stars in this film, but not a single one of them is given a chance to develop their character. Some of their roles are so limited they'd be classified as basically a cameo appearance. This film is 99 minutes long, but with the cast they bring in, combined with how interesting the story is, they could've just as easily made the film 199 minutes (that's right) and I would've been happy. Obviously I exaggerate, but this film is criminally short, especially when you realize that someone like (just one of the about 17 examples) Edward Norton has about 3 scenes. And he is close to the most featured supporting actor in the entire film.
That said, this is a great film. I loved it from start to finish, but I wanted more. That's arguably the best complaint you can have about a film, but it's still a complaint nonetheless. And while the supporting cast is massively underused, this gave Fiennes a chance to really shine as the closest thing this movie has to a lead. Go see it. You'll thank me later.
The Critique: Wes Anderson at his finest. Phenomenal set design, great visuals, and an interesting story.
The Recommendation: A must-watch for any Wes Anderson fan or anyone not sure if they like him or not. You will be converted afterwards.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Jupiter Ascending (2015): In a bright and colorful future, a young destitute caretaker gets targeted by a ruthless son of a powerful family that live on a planet in need of a new heir, so she travels with a genetically engineered warrior to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign.
EDDIE REDMAYNE ANGRY. EDDIE REDMAYNE SCREAM. Can that just be my review of this movie? I think that photo captures the best part of the movie. Eddie Redmayne embodying Nicholas Cage by either whispering every bit of dialogue or YELLLLLLLING IT AHHHHHH. I AM EDDIE REDMAYNE AND I WANT TO DESTROY THE WORLD. Seriously, laugh at me guys, for I just made a more entertaining moment for you than this ENTIRE movie does. Yup. Jupiter Ascending is the Wachowski's latest attempt at following up The Matrix. And it's their worst film yet. Easily. With their three follow-up films in Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowskis basically throw everything against the wall. Particularly Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending. While Cloud Atlas you can really get behind their attempt to do so, and kind of admire it, here it's just.....no. This movie sucks, guys. So let's jump into it, yes?
I WANT TO YELL NOW FOR NO REASON. And now I shall whisper. About acting. Ok do you realize that I don't really want to talk about this movie yet? No? Oh. Well.....Can we go into why the hell Mila Kunis would give up doing Ted 2 in order to do this? Cause she did. Look, I'm not saying Ted 2 is going to be some masterpiece. I mean Seth MacFarlane's recent track record is not exactly stellar. But in Jupiter Ascending you can tell with these actors that they don't want to be on set. Channing Tatum looks absolutely MISERABLE for most of this movie, and Sean Bean is just begging the movie to kill him from the moment you first see him. (See what I did there?) The only one who is having any semblance of fun is Eddie Redmayne. The (slightly undeserving) favorite to win Best Actor at the Oscars this year has followed up his performance in The Theory of Everything with a Nicholas Cage-inspired villain in Jupiter Ascending. His character was about the only thing that was entertaining throughout this 127 minute catastrophe. There are a few other actors that show up in this movie, but I could hardly keep track of any of them. Just a very confused Mila Kunis, a miserable Channing Tatum, an awkward Sean Bean, and a screen-chewing Eddie Redmayne. That's it.
I don't even really know what to talk about with this film or why it's just bad. Ok. I guess I can try by starting with the fact that the budget for this film was $175 million. Yup. $175 million. What do we get for that much money? Well, we do get a relatively good-looking film. The sets are pretty nice. And.....that's about it. The cinematography sucks. The makeup is laughable (Channing Tatum looks ridiculous, and the giant lizards look worse than The Amazing Spider-Man 1's horrible-looking lizard) and the score is virtually non-existent. All of this is in stark contrast to Cloud Atlas. I mean say what you want about that story, but the film looked gorgeous, and the Wachowski way of filming things was present and very welcome. Cloud Atlas even offered one of my favorite scores in a film of that year, with its Cloud Atlas sextet leading the way. I still listen to that song regularly. But none of that is here in Jupiter Ascending. And, because the film is nowhere near as grounded as Cloud Atlas, we get a lot of exposition to try to help us understand what's going on. And the exposition makes no sense. In other words, the whole backstory to Jupiter Ascending was totally illogical and sill. This is the biggest fault you can possibly have with a sci-fi film. If you are going to create a new universe, this universe must be explained and understood. Jupiter Ascending utterly fails on this level. Totally and utterly fails.
So, at the end of the day, you have a disaster of a film, with very little to offer other than Eddie Redmayne. And trust me, I was sad when Eddie Redmayne disappeared from the screen for about 45 minutes halfway through the film for no reason. Don't go see this movie, guys. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but let it bomb. Hopefully this'll make Warner Brothers think twice before handing the Wachowskis a blank check again. I believe these guys can follow up The Matrix, but they need to be humble again like they were before The Matrix. Take a step back, guys. Think of an idea. Let that idea grow. And figure out how you can turn that idea into a worthy follow-up to one of the most innovative ideas for a film in the past quarter-century.
The Critique: Hi. My name is Eddie Redmayne. I am whispering into your ear. Sounds good, right? Well....WHAT HAPPENS IF I YELL INTO IT? ISN'T THAT A DICK MOVE? Well, that's basically what the Wachowskis have created here. See that? I brought my Eddie Redmayne joke full circle. Ten points to Gryffindor.
The Recommendation: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE. Ah. The world can run so much smoother now that I've gotten to use that line again.
Rewatchability: Uh-huh. Nope.
The Verdict: 2/10 Total garbage. And it's a 2 simply for Eddie Redmayne and some nice sets. That's it. Back to the drawing board, Wachowskis.
Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014): A washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play.
Wow. Hm. So....Birdman. This movie is FREAKING awesome. You know what's crazy? On paper, this movie should suck. It should suck a lot. A movie about a theatrical play involving a guy who was once a superhero known as the Birdman? A ridiculous premise. But Birdman works better than most anything else I've seen all year. Why? Well, it starts with the director/writer, Alejandro G. Inarritu. The way this story is executed is indescribable. However, what really makes Birdman as great as it is, is its cinematography. This is easily some of the best cinematography I have EVER seen from a movie. Period. And, when you throw on top of it some of the best acting I've seen all year, and you make it a comedy that is basically being a parody of itself, and you have a crazy 119 minute adventure known as Birdman.
So, there aren't a whole lot of things this movie does wrong. Um....the movie is not perfect, though it is close, as a few of the shots fall into the realm of gimmick-ey, The story was also very out there, and I had trouble following it at some points. Sometimes it was impossible to tell what was real and what wasn't. I know that was the point of the movie, but still...there were a few times where the movie got too out there even for me. However the movie did quickly recover from all of these moments and continue with its crazy and unpredictable pace.
And then there's the cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki. Emmanuel. Lubezki. This man is one of the all-time greats in terms of cinematography. His work with Alfonso Cuaron and Terrance Malick is virtually unparalleled. Following up his great work in Gravity, which included one of the best opening scenes I have ever seen, Lubezki took that idea and multiplied it by....the entire freaking movie. The entire movie is shot as if it is one long take. This premise is an indescribable risk, but it works....perfectly. Remember that whole thing I talked about in Unbroken and The Imitation Game and Theory of Everything where the crew played things very safely from a technical standpoint and it was really annoying? Ya. I can't even begin to imagine how bad this film would've been had they not shot it the way that they did. This movie will easily win Best Cinematography this year, as it is the best I know I have seen in a looooong time.
And it doesn't stop there. We must also compliment the actors involved in this film. Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, and Emma Stone all put in some of the best performances I've seen from a film this year. The believability, improvisation, and simultaneous ridiculousness of these performances also led this to being a damn near perfect film. At the end of the day, Birdman is worth every second of your time. It is definitely one of the most unique viewing experiences I've seen in a loooooong time. Is it worth Best Picture? Over Boyhood? I don't know. I have to let this movie simmer before I decide that. But we'll see! In the meantime, find a theater and go see this marvel of cinema. You'll thank me later.
The Critique: Millions of ideas all thrown against the wall simultaneously and yet....virtually everything sticks. Combine that with the some of the best cinematography I have seen in a loooong time, and you have one of the best films of 2014.
The Recommendation: A must-see for anyone who is a fan of the movies. Or Michael Keaton. Or Edward Norton. Or Emma Stone. Or fun.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
John Wick (2014): An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.
I freaking love this movie. Keanu Reeves shines in what is easily his best performance since The Matrix. Is the premise ridiculous and unbelievable? Yes. But here's why I love this movie: it knows it. This movie knows it's ridiculous, and as a result has an absolute blast with itself. Everyone involved with this movie didn't go into it trying to be anything more than it actually is. It doesn't try to make some political statement. It doesn't try to throw in a heavy dose of morality. It's just. Plain. Fun. This is easily the best mindless popcorn flick I've seen since 2010's A-Team reboot. Not only was it mindless fun, but it was also spectacular to look at, as the movie offered us great visuals and choreographed fight scenes that Reeves navigated like a born natural. Even the subtitles, as of course the incredibly cliched plot had to have Russian mob bosses speaking in Russian, were pretty creative and fun to read. Despite predictability, there was still enough intrigue to keep me very entertained throughout the 101 minute (and frantically paced-those 101 minutes FLEW by) movie. Director Chad Stahelski even took the time to give Wick a backstory so his motivations into doing what he did were understandable. And the one-liners! There were several great one-liners in this movie. Overall, it was a great film to watch, and one which I had an immense amount of fun viewing. Just....don't expect anything more than mindless, well-shot action.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
Cake (2014): Claire becomes fascinated by the suicide of a woman in her chronic pain support group while grappling with her own, very raw personal tragedy.
This is an excellent film. You know something is good when you make Jennifer Aniston cry. But seriously. She is phenomenal in the movie Cake, singlehandedly bringing the movie from the realm of mediocrity into the realm of greatness. Sure, it's a good story, but it's Aniston's phenomenal portrayal of the character that makes the movie as a whole great. I would honestly recommend this movie to you based on Aniston's performance alone. But I digress. I loved the cinematography and the score as well, and I particularly enjoyed the decision made by director Daniel Barnz to use a handheld camera for most of the 102 minute film. Using a handheld definitely made the movie more intimate and raw, which is exactly what Barnz and Aniston were going for. Seriously. It takes a damn good performance for an actress as recognizable as Jennifer Aniston to be absorbed into a character, but she does it here EASILY. She was absolutely snubbed at the Oscars this year, guys. I mean Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything? Really? Sigh....she's good, but Jennifer Aniston was great. Damn shame. While there were a few moments of imperfection throughout the movie, these imperfections were not enough to prevent this movie from being almost awesome. Go see this one, guys. Actually, this would make for a great adult date movie. Sure you'll be crying by the end of it, but isn't that the point?
The Verdict: 8.5/10 Almost Awesome.
The Judge (2014): Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town's judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.
Ya....So this movie kind of sucks. It tries to be good. It really does. But it just doesn't get there, and as a result we get a movie that is 141 minutes long that's overlong by about 40 minutes. This movie is wildly inconsistent from start to finish, offering poorly-shot court scenes, (which is kind of a rather large misstep in a movie called The Judge) very poor direction from David Dobkin, and mostly phone-it-in acting performances from RDJ, (who's basically just playing himself) Vera Farminga, and Robert Duvall. Ya. I get depressed just thinking about Duvall's very lackluster performance in this movie. Now I do love me some Robert Duvall. This much is certain, but no way does he deserve an Oscar nomination for his performance. After watching this movie, I can confirm to you that he received this nomination on name alone, and is probably just as surprised as we are that he was put on the list. Oh, and did I mention the horribly done "emotional payoff" at the end of the movie? Ya, one of the worst scenes I've seen in a film all year. Unless if you loooooove RDJ and have to see everything he does, your time is better spent elsewhere.
The Verdict: 3.5/10 Almost Bad.
Two Days, One Night (2014): Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.
Well. That's a really long description courtesy of IMDB. Anyway, Two Days, One Night was a very pleasant surprise. Backed by a great and incredibly human performance from Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night's very relatable and human story is its calling card. Its plot is simple, but it's also incredibly real and powerful. While there were a few misses with the story, for the most part I was sucked in, and was always pulling for Cotillard, despite significant adversity she receives from some of her coworkers as they, and understandably so, don't want to lose their bonuses so she can keep her job. Cotillard is also dealing with depression and anxiety, which comes up at several points in very dramatic and gripping fashion. However, there were several misses with the story, as I said, and combined with a very average film from a technical standpoint, this movie fails to reach the level of great. Better than good, but not great. Definitely worth a watch for those who are fans of foreign films, and with it's short 91 minute runtime, I'd even say anyone who wants a very feel-good story can't go wrong here. While Cotillard is not going to win Best Actress, her performance is definitely worth a nomination. Definitely better than that death scene in The Dark Knight Rises...
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Almost Great
Wild (2014): A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.
Wow. 2014 has definitely had its moments. It's really ironic that I go from watching Unbroken to watching Wild. Wild and Unbroken have basically the same theme: they are stories of the will and determination of the human spirit. And yet, they are told in entirely different ways. In Unbroken's case, it was told in an average way, and with a poor delivery from its lead. But in Wild's case, it is told in a damn near perfect way. Simply remarkable. I honestly recommend watching both of these movies consecutively like I did, watching Unbroken first and Wild second. Then you'll see firsthand how to ineffectively shoot a feel-good flick versus effectively shoot one. God I love this movie. Let's dive into it, shall we?
So, what did I say in Unbroken about acting? That a movie that is essentially a biopic is only as good as its lead, right? Ya I know I said it cause I just wrote the review. Well here, Reese Witherspoon is INCREDIBLE. She puts in what is, in my opinion, the best performance of the year by an actress. It's a close one between her and Julianne Moore from Still Alice, but I think Witherspoon has her beat. Her performance is incredibly grounded, emotional, and real as the lead, Cheryl, and she more than holds her own for the entire movie. And she is asked to do a lot here. Most of this movie, it's just her and her thoughts. Through a series of clever voiceovers and flashbacks, we discover a lot about this character, as well as her motivation behind why she, an incredibly unexperienced hiker, would decide to hike the 1,100 mile Pacific Coast Trail. But don't worry. Witherspoon is not to be outdone by another great performance in this movie. This one is from Laura Dern. She puts in a surprisingly great performance as Cheryl's mom, Bobbi. Some even say this performance is better than the performance of Witherspoon. However, I am not one of those people. But she is still fantastic in the limited scenes she has throughout the 115 minute movie.
The story is a simple one. We follow Witherspoon's character Cheryl and her fight with the Pacific Coast Trail. The movie wastes no time with this premise, throwing you straight into this journey while giving you this character's backstory through a series of very clever and rather unpredictable flashbacks. It doesn't take long for you to begin to sympathize and root for Cheryl. Despite the fact that her character did some pretty despicable things before hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, her reasoning for doing them is actually understandable. And you get to understand her motivations throughout the course of the movie. It is a simple yet elegant premise, and the movie could not execute the premise any better than it did. The editing was fantastic. Some of the best I've seen in 2014, the editing of Wild was great as we cut back and forth between flashbacks and present moment. The editing was entirely responsible for making the cuts very unpredictable. We even had a few scenes of Cheryl looking at adversity on her journey in the present and how it relates to her past life where we saw these two scenes occur simultaneously, and it worked thanks entirely to the editing. I have one problem with this movie. Usually if I have a single problem with a film I'll still give it a perfect score, but this problem does dock my score down half a point. The problem is this: sometimes, actually it occurred quite often, the scenes were so quick it was hard to register as the viewer what had just happened. Particularly in the second act. Now, I understand that the pace of this movie was meant to be quick, but I really wish there had been another 20 minutes of film to help the viewer truly appreciate the adversity Cheryl faced throughout her journey. That said, this is a damn good film, and one you should absolutely put on your list to see as soon as humanely possible.
The Critique: Reese Witherspoon shines in Wild. A gripping story and fantastic editing leads to a near-perfect film.
The Recommendation; A must-see for everyone, particularly those who like films associated with nature. But there is definitely something here for everyone.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect.
Oscar Talk: I want to say Witherspoon deserves an Oscar for her performance, but we'll see. I'll have my Oscar discussion in the coming weeks!
Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim: 1962): Decades of a love triangle concerning two friends and an impulsive woman.
Jules et Jim is a surprisingly good film. After witnessing the unpredictability of the French New Wave last week from Breathless, I think I was a bit more prepared for this movie, and as a result had a far better time while watching it. While the movie was nowhere near as innovated from a technical standpoint as Breathless was, this movie seemed to be more of a character study of these three people and their love triangle than anything else. As a result, I found myself caring a lot more about these people, particularly the character Jim and his struggle to rid himself of Catherine. I was very entertained and engrossed in his struggle to the point that I found myself almost yelling at the screen by some of his decisions in the third act. The movie did a good job making you root for both Jules and Jim, but particularly Jim, from start to finish.
Catherine also was an interesting character. I couldn’t help but see the similarities between her and the character Patricia from Breathless. Catherine’s unpredictability really made me think of this character. I would not be surprised to hear that director Francois Truffaut based Catherine off of Patricia. However, from a technical standpoint I found Jules et Jim to be somewhat lackluster. Perhaps this is because I have been slightly desensitized to the French New Wave style, but I didn’t see much of anything that separated Jules et Jim from the pack short of a few sporadic jump-cuts. To me, this film was much safer in its approach than Breathless was, but its story was also significantly more gripping than Breathless. Ultimately, this movie was good, but not great.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Project Almanac (2015): A group of teens discover secret plans of a time machine, and construct one. However, things start to get out of control.
Ahhh January releases. You gotta love 'em. The latest installment in lovely January releases that I have time to take a look at is Project Almanac. Project Almanac is....is a wildly mixed bag of goods. Some good, and some bad. On the one hand, you have a relatively interesting story with time travel that only has a few holes in it sporadically. But, on the other hand, one of these holes is the ending. The ending and really the entire third act kind of sucks. I think at right around the 60 minute mark of the 106 minute film, director Dean Israelite realized that he and his crew had completely lost control of the story and as a result just said f*ck it, we'll do it live! On one hand, you have decent acting from all parties involved. But, on the other hand, you have a hooooooribly written and cringe-worthy love story. And then you have the "found footage" parameter. Look for a discussion on that in a bit. But, let's jump into it shall we?
First off, here's what the movie gets right. For the first two acts of the film, I was really following along and having a good time. Project Almanac initially created a somewhat interesting premise that had me going along with it for a time. The acting was pretty good, led by relative newcomers Jonny Weston and Sofia Black-D'Elia, but nothing to write home about. This is particularly true because of absolutely nonexistent chemistry between these two actors. God was this frustrating! The love story between these two characters was SO BAD. But I digress. Additionally, this was an MTV Productions film, and as a result the music selections were current and quite good. At one point the crew stumbles upon an Imagine Dragons concert at Lollapalooza and I found myself dancing along in my seat.
So everything from a technical standpoint is defined by the decision to make this a "found footage" film. For those that don't know what that means, a "found footage" film is a film that puts the viewer in a first person view for the entirety of the film. This first person view is as a result of the footage you're seeing being taken by the characters involved. This often leads to a significant amount of shaky-cam, which personally doesn't work for me more often than not, and is always a huge risk that is taken by the director. After all, "found footage" does greatly hinder the viewpoint of the audience, and more often than not this is a bad thing. With "found footage" films, these films often fluctuate between really good and really bad. Really good uses of "found footage" include the original of the genre, The Blair Witch Project, along with others like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity 1 and 2. (Just 1 and 2 mind you-With the freaking placing of the camera on a spinning fan one of the most creative uses of first person ever conceived within the "found footage" genre in Paranormal Activity 2. Seriously! That was indescribably scary and tense.) However poor uses of "found footage" include Project X, Chronicle, (though it did use it rather creatively in the third act, but the rest was very unnecessary) Sinister, (lol this movie) and now Project Almanac. There was absolutely no need for found footage in Project Almanac, as I honestly felt the director Israelite used it simply because he felt like experimenting with the genre. This film would've likely been a whole lot more intense and technically impressive had they shot it in the third person and not in the first person. Let this be a warning to any director who is considering using the "found footage" style: it is not a style to be taken lightly, and it will define your entire film whether you want it to or not. So if you're thinking about using it, chances are your film will be better if you don't. There you go. Free advice from Enter the Movies. Betchya didn't expect that when you started reading this did you? Also I'm about to graduate so if you're looking for someone to hire....
Anyway, I wanted to throw my thoughts of "found footage" films in this review because this might be the only time it's relevant for a while. Moving on....there really isn't anything else to talk about in this film. It is, like every other film in the genre, defined by its "found footage" style. Oh! Here's something! So this movie is really geared towards high school-aged (aka adolescent) boys more than anyone else who just discovered that girls are actually attractive and don't have cooties. Why do I say that? Well, there is a disgusting amount of child-like women objectification in this movie that kind of pissed me off. At the end of the day, it doesn't really define the film, but women absolutely have a right to get upset at the amount of times we find the holder of the camera zooming in on tits or ass or something. But that may also be a result of the fact that MTV produced the movie. You never know. But ya. That's all I got. At the end of the day, Project Almanac is an average film. Interesting premise, bold undertaking, and poor execution. Wait. Shouldn't that be my critique?
The Critique: Interesting premise, bold undertaking, and poor execution. Project Almanac delivers a few thrills smuggled between lots of cringe-worthy moments.
The Recommendation: find a friend, Redbox it with some alcohol, and have a good time. 'Nuff said.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average.
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