The World’s End Review: The Wright Stuff

MV5BMjEwNDA2ODE0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjgxMTQ2OA@@._V1_SX214_This evening I had the pleasure to attend an advanced screening of Edgar Wright’s apocalyptic follow-up to the incredible Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead; The World’s End.  The event began with a mandatory marathon of what is now known as the Cornetto Trilogy after the drumstick-like ice cream cone seen in each film, and ended with a personal Q&A session with Director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.  As an enormous fan of the trio’s first three films, I can’t even begin to tell you excited I was for the evening and it did not disappoint in any way.  The fact that I’ve now shaken hands with two of my favorite modern directors within the past two months aside, the film itself managed to exceed all of my forcibly tempered expectations and as a result it has set a new bar for me in the race for Best Film of 2013.  The World’s End takes a little while to get going, but once it does it not only meets the sterling standard of excellence set by the previous two films but also reaches a new level of emotional depth for the entire trilogy. 

The Plot: 9/10

Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

When it comes to originality and unpredictability, Hot Fuzz set the bar pretty damn high.    There are a lot of reasons why the film remains one of my favorite comedies of all time, but one of the most significant of those reasons is the even as a comedy (a genre which usually worlds-end-1makes no effort whatsoever to create a remotely interesting or original plot) and as a pseudo-parody (typically the laziest sub-set of comedy there is), Fuzz threw convention to the wind and gave us one of the most delightfully unexpected and darkly hilarious plot twists I’ve ever seen.  While there’s no one central twist in The World’s End to match it’s predecessor, it continuously makes use of every ounce of its unique premise.  The story takes central themes of debilitating nostalgia and human fallibility and weaves in bits of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Stepford Wives and several other science fiction classics which are referred to in spirit but never by name.  For more details you’ll just have to wait and see it yourselves when it comes out next month.

The Writing: 10/10

The team of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have yielded amazing results over the two’s past few collaborations, and it was great to see The World’s End make use of so many of the little touches to the writing that made the first two films stand out.  I’ll speak to the header-first-footage-from-edgar-wrights-the-worlds-endcomedic side of the writing below, but before I do that I’d like to touch on the continuously surprising emotional side of the script.  The nice thing about this set of films is that each actor involved is given a vastly different role from one film to the next.  Pegg as transitioned from unambitious burn-out to rule-obsessed super-cop to trenchcoat-sporting ex rabble-rouser, while Frost has transitioned from foul-mouthed deadbeat to an bright-eyed goofball to suit-wearing voice of reason.  With each new set of characters comes a new frame the writing is able to create for the actors to fill, and the frame given here is arguably the most complex and the most mature of all three films.  This depth is hinted at several times in the second act before it explodes onto the screen in the third with a very emotional confrontation between Pegg and Frost that made the hair on my arm stand up ever so slightly.

The Acting: 10/10

Of course, without a talented cast, even the best screenplay can be fore naught as well.  Luckily, The Worlds End has the benefit of its star and director sharing the writings credits (an arrangement that tends to avoid a lot of the conflicting vision issues that face most film’s with different writers and directors), and as such the cast is backed up by a script that allows all of them plenty of opportunities to use their occasionally surprising comedic gifts.  I’d like to give a special shout-out to Eddie Marsden who, despite not being a known comedic actor, stole a lot of scenes with his futile attempts at maintaining composure in the face of imminent inebriation.  Tack on some amusing banter from Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine and an amazing late-game cameo by a certain series regular (who’s name I’ll leave you to find out) and the supporting cast easily hold up their end of the deal.

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As for Pegg and Frost, their chemistry doesn’t drive the film quite like it did in Shaun or Fuzz but when it does shift to center stage their chemistry feels just as solid as ever.  I’ve the-worlds-end-trailer-breakdown-21already mentioned the turn for the heartfelt the two’s relationship takes near the end of the film, but I’d like to re-emphasize just how effective that set of scenes was for me.  Nothing will beat the pair’s buddy-cop routine in Fuzz but the shared vulnerability we see developing between the two feels as real as you’d expect from any well-made drama.  I sincerely hope that we don’t stop seeing these two together on camera, though I’d like to think the two’s real life friendship would suggest that will not be the case.

The Comedy: 8/10

One of the most beautiful things about Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz was how much replay value each had.  So many little easter eggs and subtle bits of comedy are peppered into nearly every scene, and every time you catch a new one of those things it’s like discovering a five dollar bill in a jacket you haven’t warn in years.  With this knowledge, I The_Worlds_End_trailer_pic_15.jpgam fully aware that a lot of the humor in this film went over my head the first time around, and I look forward to returning once it’s been officially released to find what I’d missed.  From a first time viewing I can say that the movie really is hilarious on a lot of different levels, even if those levels have to wait for a somewhat lengthy exposition to pave the way forward before they can really shine.  Think if you were to take a bit of The Hangover, a bit of Shaun of the Dead, and a bit of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on first” shtick, sprinkle on a heavy dusting of dry, quirky British wit and there you have it.  If I would leave you all with anything regarding the movie’s comedic side, it’s that The World’s End may not have anything quite as individually amazing as the “Don’t Stop Me Now” scene in Shaun or the final shootout in Fuzz but as the sum of it’s parts, it’s still on par with the laugh quotients of those two films.

The Verdict: 9.0/10 – Incredible

+ Amazing premise that mixes the perfect level of weirdness to keep things interesting

+ Pegg/Frost prove their acting adaptability & deliver some surprising heart near the end

+ The laughs are less concentrated but just as intelligently entertaining as ever

- The circumstances around my viewing of the film may have made me overlook the occasional flaw here or there.  We should all have take-home Simon Peggs to watch these movies with us and make us all feel like we have interesting friends.

Critical Consensus:

IMDb:  7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 90 %

Metacritic: 77/100

Other Reviews:

The Code is Zeek: 4.5/5

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 8.5/10

My Reel POV: 7.5/10

Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop: 3.5/5

Tim’s Film Reviews: 65%

Average: 7.9/10 – Pretty Damn Great

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The Fine Line Between Determination and Stubbornness

images (4)Seeing as I’ve been complaining about it for the past six months or so, many of you are probably aware that I made a pledge earlier this year to see every nationwide release of 2013 in theaters.  The reasons for that pledge included a desire to expose myself to new films I wouldn’t have otherwise seen as well as a general desire to prove that I could.  It’s been a very long and somewhat expensive six months for Rorschach at the movies since then, and it hasn’t been without its benefits.  I wound up liking a lot of movies this year that I would never have ended up seeing if it weren’t for that pledge (Snitch, The Last Stand, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).  For that reason I retain at least a small amount of what I’m about to say.  As of today, I am officially calling off my pledge to see every nationwide release in 2013 and returning to a case-by-case basis of new release reviewing.

There are a variety of reasons for this decision, and I’d be lying if I said that starting a full-time job wasn’t a major factor.  Less free time means more valuable free time, and over the past month it’s been hard to maintain ordinary life activities let alone blogging-related ones.  That being said, there is another reason why I’m making this choice now and not a month ago when I started at Amazon.com.

I always thought that it would be the worst movies of the year that would finally make me break my promise, but in the end it wound up being a great one that finally pushed me over the edge.  That movie is The Way, Way Back, an imagesabsolutely fantastic limited release that I would have never had time to see if I had instead had to subject myself to R.I.P.D. or Grown Ups 2 this weekend.  I’ll be posting a review soon, but the main point I want to make is that as I walked out of that movie, I thought to myself “Movies like that are what makes me interested in movies in the first place”.  Having already missed films this year that are widely considered to be the best (Mud, Before Midnight, Sound City), I realized last night just how much I missed movies that actually left an impact on me after leaving the theater.  Not just movies that entertained me or movies that I got to have fun bashing on in the review afterwards, but movies that make you unflappably happy or unquestionably moved.

If this decision upsets you, I apologize, but I’m fully aware that the only thing I’ll be depriving most readers of is the occasional entertaining beat down of the unintentionally laughable sh*t that 2013 has excreted to nationwide audiences.  Then again, as I’ll still be watching the movies I miss when they come out on DVD, those beat downs will always be three or four months down the road if you’re still interested.  For now, thank you all again for staying with me so far and I hope to keep mildly interesting you all with a better selection of movies from here on out.

 

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Movies I Should Have Seen By Now: Weekly Wrap-Up 7

It’s time again to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the Box Office and return to the movies that really matter in a little segment I call Movies I Should Have Seen By Now.  Every couple weeks or so I take five films as selected by you, my readers, to see for the first time.  These films consist of the following; Two AFI Top 100 entries, Two IMDb Top 250 entries, and one culturally relevant film.  This round held another surprising round of choices from a variety of different genres and time periods, and I am happy to say that your choices led to some great discoveries on my end.  Without further ado, here are the latest five films you voted in.

Network:  9.0/10 – Incredible

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Before my last entry in this series, I had never seen a single Sidney Lumet movie.  Having now watched 12 Angry Men and Network, I’m beginning to think the man may be becoming one of my favorite directors of all time.  In 12 Angry Men, I was amazed by how much he was able to do with such a limited setting and such a focused premise.  In Network, the setting and the premise are greatly expanded but the amount of depth in each character and the level of social analysis is just as sharp and effective as ever.  Having now seen the movie, I finally understand why the most common comment on the film is that it has grown even more and more relevant over the years.  I can only imagine how much frustration a well-intentioned reporter must go through in attempt to inform a public that would rather be entertained than informed.  Whether you watch Fox News, MSNBC or have lost the remote with the channel turned to CNN, it’s hard not to see the similarities between the emotionally driven, fact-averse showmanship of modern news and the fire and brimstone preaching of Howard Beale.  It makes me want to jump up along with him and say “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

12 Monkeys:  8.0/10 – Pretty Damn Great

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Because I know the way my readers work, I know that nobody will look at that score and hear me saying “12 Monkeys is a great movie!”.  Instead, what you’ll hear is “12 Monkeys is the worst movie of all five!”.  As such, I’d like to skip over the fantastic performances and intriguing premise get to my main issue with the film; the difficulty of first time viewing. I am fully aware of the probability that I would enjoy 12 Monkeys a lot more if I were to watch it a second time.  The same has been true with many similarly complicated story lines in my experience.  I had to watch Memento three times before it really grew into one of my favorite movies of all time.  I completely understand why so many people love this movie as much as they do; after all, if you love it you’ve probably seen it at least two or three times and are able to fully appreciate every element without being bogged down by figuring out the plot.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of movies out there and most first time viewers will not be able or willing to make time for repeat viewings of anything, and for that reason I would be hesitate to recommend it to a lot of people who might ask.  Bottom line, some movies are made to have a big impact on a small amount of people, and 12 Monkeys is one of those movies.

Chinatown – 9.0/10 – Incredible

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For someone in my generation, it’s easy to think of Jack Nicholson as the crazed, sweaty, formless blob of a man he has become over the past decade or so.  Once you skip past The Bucket List and Anger Management and get back to Nicholson’s earlier career, however, you finally start to see what an amazing, talented actor the man really is.  Among Nicholson’s body of work, I would rate Chinatown next to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as the finest performances of his career.  At its core, Chinatown is a fairly straightforward “Private detective stumbles upon big conspiracy” that has been replicated by countless inferior movies since.  What makes it truly great is the winning combination of Nicholson’s trademark sarcastic, angry charisma and an unflinching brutality that took me completely off guard on more than one occasion.  With movies like this featuring a wise-cracking, smug lead character like J. J. Gittes, it’s really to get into the mindset of “Good guy cracks joke, thwarts bad guys” and assume that he and many of those close to him are invincible.  Chinatown does a great job of breaking that concept apart, making it abundantly clear time and time again that Gittes is truly in danger of losing everything he loves (though primarily his own life).  I highly recommend giving this one a watch if you haven’t seen it already, especially if you have Netflix (it’s on instant streaming at the moment).

Amelie:  9.0/10 – Impressive

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There are a lot of things about me that make me an American.   For example, I frequently waste electricity, I own several guns, and I believe that the fourth of July is the second best holiday of the year (for purely pyrotechnical reasons, admittedly).  Unfortunately, my ‘Merican side also makes it difficult to enjoy foreign language films on the same level as English language films.  There have definitely been exceptions to that rule, and I’m very happy to say that Amelie now stands alongside Pan’s Labyrinth as one of my favorite foreign films I’ve ever seen.  There just aren’t enough adjectives to describe the movie adequately, but if I had to settle on the three words to sum it all up, those words would be “Full Of Life”.  Between imaginative art direction, delightfully quirky narration and Audrey Tautou’s absolutely charming performance, it’s amazing how Amelie manages to allow you to see the world through the title character’s eyes.  Seeing the absolute joy and wonder she is able to see in every facet of the world around her is intoxicating, and coming from someone as cynical as I often can be that’s no small feat for the film to achieve.  As long as you’re okay with dealing with subtitles, I highly recommend you give Amelie a chance.

Boogie Nights: 8.5/10 – Impressive

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I was completely surprised when this one ended up taking the top spot for the “Culturally Significant” category.  Then again, most of my readers are fellow movie buffs so it makes sense why Pretty Woman hasn’t made the cut yet.  Previous to Boogie Nights, my only experience with Paul Thomas Anderson had been with last year’s The Master.  Based on the two films of his I have now seen though, I’m starting to see a common theme emerging; I completely respect and appreciate the superb acting, the non-traditional story arcs and the head-on approach the writing takes to difficult subject matter, but to be completely honest I have no desire to repeat the experience.  I was lucky enough to have decided to see Boogie Nights alone, because I don’t think I would have been able to get through the first half-hour if I had been watching with any other person.  All sexual explicitness aside, the fact remains that the movie centers around people in the Adult Entertainment Industry, a business which has a natural tendency to attract emotionally damaged people who are fundamentally difficult to connect with for most audiences.  Movies tend to resonate with me on an emotional level when I can sympathize with at least some of the characters on screen, but because of the disconnect above I found it very hard to connect with anything on a personal level.  Once again, this is an issue of personal preference and the movie is still well worth your time if you’re in the mood to challenge yourself (and nobody else is in the room)

Now it’s time again for all of you to decide what films will make up the next set of Movies I Should Have Seen By Now.  Please take ten seconds or so to pick your favorite films from the polls below (you can pick as many as three choices for each)

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Pacific Rim Review: Salvation Through Jaeger-Bombs

Pacific_Rim_FilmPoster.jpegOh anticipation, thou art a heartless bitch at times.  You fill our hearts with hope and our minds with thoughts of endless possibility, building our excitement to the levels which make disappointment all but inevitable.  From a philosophical angle, this is just another version of the desire paradox;  If you can only want what you don’t have, you will never truly have what you want.  From a movie fanatic’s angle, all it means is that most of the movies you can’t wait for in any given year will end up letting you down.  The trap of skillfully marketed movies has claimed a lot of otherwise good movies over the past year, from last year’s Prometheus to last month’s Man of Steel, and I’ve had an uneasy feeling for months that the same fate might befall the greatest Nergasm of 2013; Pacific Rim.  Unfortunately, while it’s I may not have been very far off.  It has all the Monsters Vs. Robots action that you’d expect from the trailers, but a weak script leads the pack of flaws that collectively make Pacific Rim yet another addition to the list of very good movies that should have been great in 2013. 

The Plot: 8/10

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

Setting aside how obviously amazing the premise is, the plot is still well above par for action movies like this.  The main plot element of “Kill the Kaiju” is pretty straightforward, but it’s also refreshingly direct and makes it easy to focus on what really matters; watching 999491_534053723327596_982599501_nmonsters and giant robots beat the crap out of each other.  What surprised me was how little of the plot was given away by the trailers, as nearly all the exposition given by Charlie Hunnan’s voice overs in the marketing material is covered within the first five minutes or so.  Instead of watching the first wave of attacks and the subsequent development of the Jaeger program, we instead enter in about twelve years afterwards as the giant robots are about to be defunded and replaced by massive sea walls (which, by the way, is absolutely idiotic and never fully explained).  This fast forward prevents the plot from getting bogged down by exposition and lets it get on with the fun bits.

The Writing: 5/10

I’ve always been a stickler for bad writing, and I don’t believe that any movie should be held to a lower standard in this area even when that movie has a premise as ridiculous(ly awesome) as this.  Unfortunately, Pacific Rim had the misfortune to have Travis Beacham, tumblr_inline_mpzridZTD31qz4rgpaka the writer of Clash of the Titans, and it shows in a lot of the dialogue.  The worst by far in this area is the relationship dynamic between Raleigh and Mako.  It seemed like Del Toro and Beacham couldn’t decide whether or not to make them romantic or platonic, and they tried for an awkward mix of both.  The same confused characterization applies to Mako, who ranges from shyness to vengeful determination to horny schoolgirl with no transition whatsoever.  I’m not saying that all female leads in action movies have to be badasses, but whatever they were going for here instead just wasn’t working for me here.

The Acting: 7/10

The movie’s serious tone would have only worked if the acting behind it was up to par, and for the most part it is.  I’ve already mentioned my issues with Rinko Kikuchi’s odd, slightly unstable performance as Mako, but the other weak spot of the acting for me was Charlie images (3)Hunnam.  Hunnam just doesn’t have the kind of charisma or dramatic presence to carry the movie’s human side, and while he wasn’t anywhere near Taylor Kitsch levels of acting he still left no real lasting impression on me whatsoever.  Luckily, the supporting cast is present in nearly every scene to save the day.  As a huge Luther fan, I’ll pretty much watch anything Idris Elba’s in without much coercion, and as a result it’s not entirely surprising that he ended up being my favorite part of the cast.  I for one would be 100% on board with a prequel devoted to his character’s origins, though the film’s disappointing take at the Box Office this weekend may prevent that or any other sequel material from becoming a reality.

The Action: 9/10

I always respect movies that follow through with the promises made by their trailers, and in that area Pacific Rim deserves nothing but the highest praise.  The visual effects are images (1)spectacular and the fight scenes, while occasionally a little Transformers-ish and somewhat repetitive, rival Man of Steel for the best of the year so far.  The Kaiju are some of the coolest movie monsters I’ve ever seen, and are completely up to Guillermo Del Toro’s standard of brilliant weirdness.  It’s incredibly refreshing to see the monster movie genre become cool again after it was nearly destroyed by Roland Emmerich’s colossal turd of a Godzilla remake in 2003.  I can only hope that Gareth Edwards’ upcoming remake of that franchise will keep the ball rolling on this front.

My only reason for not giving the movie a 10/10 here is that there were a few too many minor issues I had along the course of the movie to be brushed off as nothing.  A few are pretty inconsequential, like the fact that we barely get to see the full squad of Jaegers in action together before Gipsy Danger takes the center stage.  Some are less inconsequential, images (2)like the complete lack of explanation for why the united governments of the world would de-fund their most effective weapon against the Kaiju in favor of an obviously flawed alternative.  My biggest complaint on the action side is that nearly all the fight sequences take the form of bare/brass-knuckle brawls in which Kaiju and Jaeger each try to bludgeon each other to death.  Each fight starts out this way, but the killing blow is almost always truck with either the Jaeger’s plasma cannon or its massive sword-arm  This leads to the question; why the hell are you risking your life and mechanical limb getting in a fist-fight when you could instead just start out with the strategy that actually works?  Come on people, this stuff is important…

The Verdict: 7.5/10 – Superior

+ A much needed return to form for the mainstream monster movie genre

+ Incredibly entertaining (if slightly repetitive and illogical) fight sequences

+ Idris Elba is a Boss, and Charlie Day is solid comic relief

- The writing often dips into the cheesy and awkward, i.e. Mako and Raleigh

Critical Consensus:

IMDb:  8.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 72 %

Metacritic: 65/100

Other Reviews: 

Tim’s Film Reviews: 100%

The Filmster: 5/5

The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 9.6/10

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: A-

The Focused Filmographer: 4.5/5

The Code is Zeek: 4/5

Black Sheep Reviews: 4/5

Keith and the Movies: 4/5

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7/10

Amonymous Reviews: 3.5/5

Fast Film Reviews: 3.5/5

KCG Movie Reviews: 3.5/5

Committed to Celluloid: 3/5

Cinematic Corner: 51/100

Average: 7.9/10 – Pretty Damn Great

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Two Cents Worth: Best/Worst of 2013

Well, we’ve officially reached the halfway point for 2013 so I thought I might mold today’s Two Cents Worth to that theme.  I’d love to hear from all of you as to what is your favorite and least favorite film from 2013 so far.  Not necessarily the best and worst films of the past six months, but your personal most beloved and most hated.

For my most hated, there are a lot to choose from.  Between Scary Movie 5, Movie 43, A Haunted House, and oh so much more, it’s been a great year for awful movies.  Still, for imagesme nothing can top the massive reeking pile of garbage that was The Big Wedding.  You can follow that link to my review if you want to read my full synopsis, but at some point this movie’s repulsiveness defies words.  At the end of the day, though, it’s not the awkwardly sexual and painfully unfunny script that earns the film it’s place as the worst film of the year so far; it’s the fact that there are so many people I love that get dragged along with it.  DeNiro, Keaton, Surandon, Williams, they’re all sucked into the blackhole of this terrible, terrible film.

Now that all that’s out of my system, I can go into my favorite movie of the year.  As a disclaimer here, I haven’t had enough time to see the vast majority of this year’s limited releases.  As such, titles like Mud, Before Midnight and Sound City aren’t counted in this Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_32category.  Picking from the year’s nationwide releases, however, there are a few that rise above the pack.  Out of everything that’s come out this year, though, I’ve got to say that the one I enjoyed the most in every respect was Star Trek: Into Darkness.  As a devoted albeit late-blooming Trekkie, Into Darkness was one of my most anticipated movies of the year and when I walked out of the theater I was not even remotely disappointed.  I won’t deny that it has a lot of flaws and I can understand how certain call-backs to the original films might not connect with  some people, but I absolutely loved how Abrams made use of the alternate timeline mechanic to produce a Star Trek film that manages to strike a balance between entertaining modern audiences and respecting the legacy of the original films.

Now it’s time for you to give me your Two Cents Worth: What have been your favorite and least favorite films of the year thus far?

P.S. Click Here for my full ranking of every film that’s come out this year

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June Wrap-Up: Whoooaaa We’re Halfway There!

Well, we’ve officially finished the first half of 2013 and so far I have stayed true to my pledge to see every nationwide release that comes out this year (well, xx% true… goddamn you Tyler Perry).  So far the year has produced a lot of good, a lot of bad, and a whole lot of ugly, and for better or for worse I’ve been through all of it.  Luckily, the worst is behind us as we pass into the heart of the summer movie season.  While nothing really soared in June, it was still by far the most solid month of the year in terms of overall quality.  Here’s a look at how the eight new releases this month stacked up in my opinion.

8.0/10 – Pretty Damn Great

Monsters University

World War Z

7.5/10 – Superior

This Is The End

The Heat

Man of Steel

6.5/10 – Perfectly Adequate

White House Down

6.0/10 – Passable

The Internship

 

2.0/10 – Symphony of Suck

The Purge

Here are some tidbits about June’s releases:

- The avg. Rotten Tomatoes Score from February was 59% (up from 51% in May)

- Four out of the Eight were “Fresh” (Same as May)

- The avg. Metacritic Score from February was 55/100 (down from 51/100 in May)

- Per Metacritic, 3 films were ranked positive, 5 were mixed and none were negative

- My average score was 6.6/10 (down from 5.6/10 in May)

- My picks for most underrated would go to The Heat

- My pick for most overrated go to The Purge

Well, as they say, it’s all downhill form here.  At this point, nine out of my ten most anticipated movies of the year have already been released to wildly different results, and between the mild disappointments of Oblivion and Now You See Me and the repeated slaps to the face of The Lone Ranger, A Good Day to Die Hard and After Earth it’s hard not to feel a little let down by the year so far.  On the bright side, with low expectations come inevitable pleasant surprises, and I look forward to seeing the diamonds in the rough emerge from the second half of the year.

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White House Down: All Hail President Django

whitehousedown-finalposter-tatum-foxx-fullIf you were to ask me who my least favorite director is (aside from Uwe Boll, who admittedly has some merits as a human pinata for in, I’d be torn between two people.  One of those people, for obvious reasons, is the all powerful hate-magnet Michael Bay.  The other, though is a man who often remains hidden in Bay’s shadow whenever talk of awfulness comes about, though I consider them to be on equal footing in this respect. That man is Roland Emmerich, aka the director of Independence Day, Godzilla, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and now the year’s second taken on the D.C. Under Fire premise, White House Down.  Now I won’t deny that a few of his films are pretty entertaining (Independence Day, The Patriot), but that doesn’t mean that they’re not terrible movies.  Emmerich’s productions aren’t so much films as they are vessels for CGI-driven Disaster Porn, which would almost be forgivable if it were for the fact that it’s so often underscored by the man’s god-awful writing.  In any case, as you can tell I wasn’t exactly eager to subject myself to Emmerich’s latest attempts to enact his unexplained vendetta against our nation’s capitol structures.  In the end though, it was probably that very prejudice that made me so surprised at how little I hated the film.  It’s filled to the brim with action cliches and features one of the worst endings of I’ve seen in some time, but between the chemistry of the two leads and the surprisingly decent script, White House Down is by far the least terrible movie Roland Emmerich has made in over a decade.

The Plot: 5/10

While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the president from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders.

I’m beginning to wonder if some memo went around to producers this year declaring that all action movies now have to be over two hours long.  Maybe producers 3136uitthink that with ticket prices rising, moviegoers expect more time in the theater per admission price. Then again, if that were the case, Cloud Atlas would have been a slam dunk at the Box Office.  When it comes to run time, less really is more in some cases, and White House Down is no exception.  The pace stays surprisingly strong for the majority of the movie but starts to get weighed down with every added layer of villainous plotting that gets added into the mix.  Cap that all off with a completely laughable climactic scene involving Tatum’s daughter and a Scooby-Doo worthy ending and it’s hard to come away with too much positive to say about the movie’s plot.

The Writing: 6/10

While a six might not seem like very high praise, it’s absolutely glowing compared to what I thought I’d be seeing from an Emmerich movie.  Looking at the IMDb images (9)page after the show, however, I realized that it wasn’t so surprising after all seeing as Emmerich himself didn’t write the script.  As a result, the usual lame comic relief the director usually throws into his movies are kept to a bearable minimum.  Instead of using idiotic characters for cheap laughs, the script relies on the talents of the cast to make the humor work.  There’s still a few lame lines here and there that remind us who’s in the director’s chair (“Get your hands off of my Jordans!”), the dialogue on a whole is nowhere near as annoying as I expected it to be.

When it comes to character development, things are still a bit shaky.  Action cliches are abound, from the father fighting to regain the affections of his child to the villain who managed to keep his high-ranking job despite images (10)having an obvious reason to betray his country, but that’s neither surprising nor damning in a movie like this.  The real issue comes in the film’s curious attempt to push an agenda that is neither clear nor effective.  A few of the points it brings up are fairly valid observations (The best way to counteract violence is to remove incentives for violence like poverty and hunger), but the majority of the themes the movie introduces are much more ambitious and ultimately much less compelling.  The bottom line is that nobody will go to this movie expecting to hear a political message, so they won’t really know what do with one when they’re presented with it.

The Acting: 6/10

Script and special effects aside, the reason this movie works is because of Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, with an emphasis on the former.  Tatum has come a 1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWNlong way in the past two years or so, and that he can carry a movie like this on his shoulders shows that he’s not going anywhere any time soon.  It’s refreshing to see someone who can pull off humor without playing it goofy or idiotic, and Tatum seems to have nailed it on the same level as Will Smith did in his hay day.  Opposite of Tatum, Jamie Foxx still more than holds his own despite the fact that it’s impossible to take him seriously as the President of the United States (which, by the way, Foxx is now 46 years old.  Mind Blown?).

The Action: 8/10

In terms of destruction, Emmerich sort of jumped the shark with 2012.  After all, once you’ve basically destroyed the entire earth bit by bit, anything less than that is going to feel a little tame.  Despite the fact that Whitehouse Down Trailer 2Emmerich is limiting his demolition to one city this time around, it’s hard not to admit that it’s pretty impressive.  One of the biggest flaws in Olympus Has Fallen earlier this year was its god-awful special effects, and that’s one area that White House Down has a major advantage in.  Still, what makes the movie’s action actually entertaining isn’t the destruction of mortar and pestle but the pursuit our two heroes lead around the White House grounds.  Added to all of this is the fact that we periodically switch to the point of view of supporting characters, reminding us of how crazy it would be if were we to see these events taking place in front of us in real life.  Watching audiences watch the President firing a rocket launcher at the bad guys is almost more fun than watching the chase itself.

The Verdict: 6.5/10 – Perfectly Adequate

+ Tatum and Foxx have some really entertaining chemistry

+ The script stays out of the way and lets the action take the reins

- The ending is pretty spectacularly lame and drawn out

- Some of the films messages feel out of place in an action movie like this

Critical Consensus:

IMDb:  6.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 47 %

Metacritic: 52/100

Other Reviews: 

The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 7.7/10

PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews: 3/4

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: B

Rath’s Reviews: 6.5/10

The Code is Zeek: 3/5

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 6/10

The Filmster: 2/5

The Focused Filmographer: 2/5

Average: 6.2/10 – Passable

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The Lone Ranger Review: Disney’s $250 Million Identity Crisis

Before I start this review, I’d love to point out how deliciously ironic it is that so much of the marketing for this film featured a literal Train Wreck.  

images (3)Over the past five years or so, Disney has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into a string of efforts to establish a new big-budget live-action franchise to fill the void that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies left in its release slate.  The Lone Ranger is now the latest entry on that list, joining the likes of Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s  Apprentice, and John Carter (the three of which made a combined $226 million at the domestic box office compared to a combined production budget of $600 million).  On paper, The Lone Ranger seemed like it just might buck this trend; after all, the one-two-three punch of director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Johnny Depp struck gold before with Pirates, so why wouldn’t it work again when combined with one of the most iconic american heroes of all time?  Well, turns out there are a lot of reasons, and with the beating the film has taken from critics and audiences alike perhaps Disney is finally resigning itself to the likelihood that the Pirates franchise was the exception, not the rule.  The Lone Ranger’s bloated 150 minute run time is filled with impressive action set pieces and homages to its source material, but poor writing and a wildly inconsistent tone makes it completely understandable why the film is destined to become the biggest Box Office Bomb of 2013.  

The Plot: 5/10

Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

There really wasn’t any issue with the plot that was enough to ruin the movie for me.  It’s incredibly predictable but that’s befitting the source material, which, despite its vigilante justice themes, never really strayed from the black-and-white morality of the time.  images (5)What really bothered me about the plot is an issue that has been making me feel like a broken record lately; it’s just way too damn long.  I recognize that in movies like this, where you have to include an origin story with the main plot, it’s really hard to establish the main character effectively while establishing a main story line (i.e. Man of Steel).  The problem here is that the movie frames that origin story with a flat-out weird plot device in which an aged Tonto tells the Lone Ranger’s story to an annoying little kid about seventy years afterwards.  This device has been used before to far better results in movies like The Princess Bride, but I just found it incredibly annoying and gimmicky here.

The Writing: 2/10

I’ve noted before that I’m a bit of a stickler for writing, and as a result it’s hard for me to overlook a weak script even if every other aspect of the movie is up to par.  Again, I images (6)understand that the character cliches here are in line with the source material, but if you’re going to use character frames like that then you’d better at least give them some quirks or other defining features to make them at least a little interesting.  The odd thing is, for a movie that is trying so blatantly to cash in on Pirates of the Caribbean goodwill, The Lone Ranger has none of that film’s interesting peripheral characters (i.e. MacKenzie Cook, Kevin McNally).

Supporting cast aside, let’s not fool ourselves; Pirates of the Caribbean was Jack Sparrow’s game, considering the character dynamics in this film are so Armie-Hammer-and-Johnny-Depp-in-The-Lone-Ranger-2013-Movie-Imagesimilar (Johnny Depp helps a naïve, rule-abiding protagonist fight to save his sweetheart from an evil villain), a huge amount of the burden for the movie’s success depended on Tonto being just as effective a foil to John Reid as Jack Sparrow was to Will Turner.  Unfortunately, with Tonto the writers took Jack Sparrow’s trademark swagger and swapped it out for a comically overblown take on Native American stereotypes.  In hindsight, Tonto was such a borderline politically incorrect character in the first place that it would have been hard to avoid playing to this stereotype even without a white actor playing him.

The Acting: 3/10

While I’m on the topic of racial miscasting, I might as well start this category by talking a bit about Mr. Depp.  Depp doesn’t feel so much like he’s playing Tonto here as images (4)he feels like he’s playing Jack Sparrow doing his best impression of a Native American, and it’s not too difficult to imagine how that fact will prove incredibly offensive to that group.  I understand the business rationale behind casting Mr. Depp in this role, but the unavoidable associations the audience will make with Tonto’s character and Jack Sparrow (especially given the latter’s face-paint scenes in Dead Man’s Chest) make it an unnecessary and off-putting distraction.

Armie Hammer tries his hardest to pull off a character that truly belongs to a bygone era of American entertainment, and he almost succeeds.  Sadly, while Hammer does a good job of communicating his character’s internal struggle between the priciples he believes in and the unfulfilled rage he feels after the death of this brother, he doesn’t handle the article-2273065-1754A269000005DC-515_634x286comic elements written for his character quite as well.  On the villain side, William Fichter serves as an effective if not entirely original villain, which Tom Wilkinson seems to be on a completely understandable autopilot setting as the corrupt Railroad Baron, Mr. Cole.  My biggest disappointment, however, was just how incredibly underused Ruth Wilson was as John’s damsel in distress, Rebecca.  Having seen how amazing Wilson can be in the right role (if you haven’t already, watch Season One of Luther right now), I can’t begin to describe how painful it was to see her given such a meek and impotent role as she is here.

The Action: 7/10

Considering the content of the trailers and the film’s enormous budget, it’s not surprising that the film’s action is by far its strongest point.  If this is the only reason you came to see this movie, you’ll probably be pretty happy with it in the end.  There are loneranger_3several major set pieces involving trains which are very creatively executed, and once these scenes get going it’s much easier to enjoy the film.  If I were to have any issue with the film’s action though, it’s that it often makes an abrupt switch into the intentionally cheesy, almost cartoonist action of the original series complete with William Tell Overture background music.  If the entire movie were geared more towards that sort of nostalgic tone, I’d completely understand.  However, when you’re having those scenes take place after you’ve seen a main character get his heart cut out and possibly eaten, it’s a whole different story.  The Lone Ranger rapidly switches from scenes that are clearly made for children (I counted at least four eye-rolling uses of scatological humor), those scenes are followed up by situations or images that I wouldn’t want any child of mine to see.

As a final note, it blows my mind how a movie with budget issues like this still managed to fit in several completely needless and unexplained scenes involving vampiric rabbits.

The Verdict: 4.0/10 – Not Worth It

+ The action is pretty spectacular at times, making full use of the enormous budget

+ Armie Hammer makes a pretty good Lone Ranger, all things considered

- Tonto is a weird combination of Jack Sparrow and Native American clichés

- The “story telling” plot device is incredibly annoying and unnecessary

Critical Consensus:

IMDb:  6.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 24 %

Metacritic: 37/100

Other Reviews: 

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: A-

Rath’s Reviews: 7/10

The Code is Zeek: 2.5/5

Keith and the Movies: 2/5

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 3.5/10

The Focused Filmographer: 1/5

The Average: 5.1/10 – Mediocre

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Rorschach on DVD: Stoker

Earlier this year I announced my goal of seeing every new release to come out this year in 1,200 theaters or more.  Well, the year is now officially half over I’ve basically stayed true to that (Damn you, The Peeples!), but one unfortunate consequence of that fact is I’ve had to miss a lot of non-major releases that I would have really liked to see.  Well, we’ve finally reached the point where those smaller movies are starting to come out on DVD, and as a result I’m starting up a new segment to catch myself up on some of those humbler films I’ve missed out on this year.  In consideration of the reduction of my free time courtesy of my new full time internship, I’ll be writing these reviews in a much more abbreviated and less structured manner than my usual reviews.  Now it’s time to kick things off with the very atypical dysfunctional family drama, Stoker.  

MV5BMjI3MTM5ODI5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE1Mzc4OA@@._V1_SX214_Stoker had always been a bit of a mystery to me based the promotional material.  At times, it seemed like a Carrie-esque mother/daughter power struggle.  At other times, it seemed like a darker version of Leon: The Professional.  In the end, it’s a bit of both with a hefty injection of the sudden violence of Drive and the visual artistry of The Tree of Life.  I was very impressed with the performances here by Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska, the former of which I had never even heard of before this movie.  I also thought the story was as compelling as it was unpredictable, even if it takes a little while to get off the ground.  There were a couple elements that I thought would develop into clichés, but one by one each of those clichés was broken in an increasingly brutal fashion.  The movie really does make you feel like you’re watching something you truly haven’t seen before; something which it seems like fewer and fewer movies are able to accomplish nowadays.

I’ve never made an effort to hide the fact that I don’t really care for heavily symbolic art house film making.  As a movie critic, I recognize that admitting this fact opens me up to all sorts of comments regarding how I didn’t understand a director’s message, or how it went way over my head.  When I cited this reason to explain my intense dislike for the ending scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that’s exactly what happened.  In spite of that, I’m going to continue to be honest here.  Any time someone describes a movie as “beautifully shot”, I picture an abundance of cryptic voice overs paired with random evocative imagery.  Stoker is filled with this kind of device, and occasionally it works very well.  More often than not, however, it feels like director Chan-Woo Park is breaking into a sort of cinematic slam poetry.  I’m not saying it’s not interesting or well done, I just typically enjoy anything that tries this hard to prove how artistic it is.  Then again, what other response would you expect from a left-brained movie reviewer?

Even with my issues regarding the Avant Garde filming style, I wouldn’t consider Stoker a “bad” movie.  In fact, I’d say that between the artistic depth and the predictability-defying plot, Stoker is an impressive film; it’s just an impressive film that will not connect with most audiences.  If you’re a fan of highly symbolic, abstract film making and okay with an extremely dark tone, this is one you won’t want to miss.  If not, then you’ll probably end up being frustrated by the movie’s initially deliberate pacing and conspicuous stylization.

The Verdict: 7.0/10 – Good

+ Truly disturbing performances by Wasikowska and Goode

+ An absorbingly dark plot that defies predictability

- The heavy use of symbolism and overal art house feel didn’t connect with me at all

- There are a lot of things left unexplained, particularly the bizarre ending

Critical Consensus:

IMDb:  7.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 67 %

Metacritic: 58/100

Other Reviews: 

Filmhipster: 90%

Rhino’s Horror: 86/100

Cinematic Corner: 85/100

Keith and the Movies: 4/5

FlixChatter: 4/5

Black Sheep Reviews: 4/5

Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop: 4/5

Keith and the Movies: 4/5

Dan the Man Movies Reviews: 7/10

Fast Film Reviews: 2/5

Average: 7.7/10 – Superior

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The Heat Review: Bad Girls Do It Well

0ef6831166b01567_TheHeat_VerB_RatedPoster.previewIt’s no secret that women in comedy have always been a distinct minority.  If you take a look at the past four years, the number of comedies featuring male leads completely dwarfs the number of comedies featuring female leads.  Even when women score leading roles in comedies, most of the time those roles center around some sort of relationship with a leading man.  The number of female driven non-romantic comedies over the past few years can be counted on one hand.  When these movies work their way into the spotlight, they’re treated as a sort of novelty; i.e. “Wait, you’re saying that women can be funny too?  That’s crazy!”.  One of the biggest examples of this in recent years was Bridemaids, Paul Feig’s 2011 female ensemble comedy that reminded audiences of something that shouldn’t have even been forgotten in the first place; women are every bit as funny as men.  Three years later, Feig is back again with another sadly rare offering: a female buddy-cop comedy.  There’s nothing very new or exciting about its plot or the Odd Couple relationship dynamic that it revolves around, but the comedic talents of the cast alone make The Heat a serious contender for best comedy of 2013.

The Plot: 6/10

Uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn is paired with testy Boston cop Shannon Mullins in order to take down a ruthless drug lord. The hitch: neither woman has ever had a partner — or a friend for that matter.

Considering the fact that neither buddy cop movies nor comedies usually have very atypical plots, it probably won’t be too much of a surprise that the story here isn’t the-heat1anything you haven’t seen before.  Mismatched detectives are forced to work with each other and move from hating each other’s guts to becoming the best of friends all while trying to foil some greater evil.  Think The Other Guys, only the guys are girls.  I doubt anybody will disagree that the plot is anything but a genre cliche, but what people will disagree on is whether or not that really matters in terms of how enjoyable the movie is.  In my opinion, it doesn’t but as I said that’s mostly because I rarely expect anything but predictability from comedy plots.

The Writing: 8/10

At first glance, the character development here isn’t anything special.  Every character is some level of buddy cop stereotype, the two leads in particular.  The absolute worst offender is Sandra Bullock’s character, Ashburn, whose combination of arrogance TheHeat_PhotoLarge_12band Starsky-ish obsession with the rules makes her incredibly annoying during the first half of the movie.  Luckily, once the first act is out of the way and the movie transitions into the “friendship-building” second act, there’s a level of vulnerability and insecurity that’s added to her character which makes her much more endearing.  The same applies to Melissa McCarthy’s character, Mullens, who starts out as a pretty abrasive, foul-mouthed caricature but is given more and more layers as the movie goes along.  I really liked the level of devotion to her family the script developed in her character, it made her feel much more like a real person and less like the walking punchline she was in Identity Thief.

From a dialogue standpoint, the movie feels like a mix between scripted and unscripted.  You can tell that McCarthy and Bullock have a good amount of chemistry, and it would be easy to picture a lot of the exchanges here being improvised by the two.  The real imagesmeasure of a great script isn’t by how witty or funny it is on paper but by how well the words work with the actors on camera, and I give first time film writer Katie Dippold a lot of credit for making the script fit in with the actresses involved.  My only issue here would be that the writing occasionally struggles to find a balanced tone.  Things start to get surprisingly dark near the end of the movie, and there are a few transitions between emotional heavy scenes and comedic bits that are a bit jarring.  There are a few scenes that almost feel like they were going for more of a dark comedy vibe, but it just doesn’t fit in very well with the rest of the movie.

The Acting: 8/10

The real reason the movie works isn’t because of the script or the story; it’s the performances.  In my opinion, this stands as the best performance Melissa TheHeat_PhotoLarge_8bMcCarthy has given to date.  If she can keep scoring roles with the combined levels of toughness and tenderness that she’s able to convey here, she’ll soon be up next to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Julia Louis-Dreyfus on my list of favorite female comedians. Unfortunately, Sandra Bullock has never been and likely will never be on that list for me.    That being said, the combination of her character’s eventual development and her effectiveness as a foil for McCarthy made her more bearable here than I’ve found her in years.

The Comedy: 8/10

Along with the plot, the other issue that I’ve been surprised to see come up so often in reviews of this movie is that it doesn’t have the actual laughs to back up it’s formulaic images (1)makeup.  I absolutely disagree in this case, I laughed just as hard during The Heat as I did during This Is The End.  For audiences who aren’t completely on board with the unpolished raunchy humor of the latter, I believe The Heat will prove to be the most worthwhile comedy of the year.  Admittedly, not every joke lands and it really does take a while for the movie to find it’s tone.  Once it does, though, it hits far more often and far more effectively than it misses.

As a final note, there are going to be a lot of unavoidable comparisons drawn between this and 21 Jump Street, and I am the first to admit that the latter is ultimately the better film.  To clarify, I consider the two to be equally funny, but I thought that 21 Jump Street did a better job of shaking up its character’s stereotypes than The Heat did.

The Verdict: 7.5/10 – Superior

+ McCarthy and Bullock play incredibly well off of eachother

+ The script allows each lead to use their strengths to their fullest extents

+ It really is refreshing to see the buddy cop genre finally get a little estrogen in the mix

- The plot and character tropes are nothing you haven’t seen a million times before

Critical Consensus:

IMDb:  7.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 62 %

Metacritic: 60/100

Other Reviews: 

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: A

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.5/10

The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 6/10

The Code is Zeek: 2/5

Average: 7.1/10 – Good

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