Sunday, December 27, 2015

More - Part 4

Ricki and the Flash

It's fun to see Meryl Streep play a rock star, but the movie surrounding her musical performances is so, so rote and overly-familiar. Of course her kids hate her. Of course there's awkward tension between her and the woman who took her place in the family. Of course there's a will they/won't they scenario between Ricki and her former husband. Of course there's a triumphant wedding at the end where everyone gets along. Still, there are movies where you can tell how it's going to play out and you manage to enjoy it anyway, Ricki and the Flash is just not fun enough to make you forget that you've seen some version of this story before.

Grade: C

Stanford Prison Experiment

It may feel repetitive after awhile, but I found Stanford Prison Experiment to be a very compelling, gripping watch.

Grade: B


While it often plays a lot of the same notes as the first "Rocky" film, "Creed" succeeds and goes beyond the legacy of the first film by being so drenched in heart and emotion. Sylvester Stallone gives the best performance of his career, but Michael B. Jordan is just as great as the young man determined to get out of the shadow of his old man: a man he never met, yet still feels connected to. And as for Ryan Coogler, well, he's the real fucking deal.

Grade: A-

The Good Dinosaur

It hits all the right emotional notes, but something's missing in Pixar's latest effort. Visually, it's quite spectacular, but the story and characters are too generic and that's ultimately what matters most to me. It winds up playing out like a uninspired mashup of The Lion King and Finding Nemo.

Grade: C-

Mississippi Grind

Basically a stealth remake of Altman's California Split, but I didn't mind at all. Something about the concept of two loners - one talkative, one unlucky - gambling together and getting themselves in trouble, something about that concept really appeals to me. I don't know why.
But you add Ben Mendelsohn, who's on top of his game here, and Ryan Reynolds, who finally puts his cocky, charismatic on-screen persona to good use here --- those performances and their chemistry together really makes Mississippi Grind a breeze to watch. A fun, good ol' fashioned, breezy character drama - that's what this is.

Grade: B+


Will Smith gives a solid performance, but focusing so much on Omalu kinda took away from the scope of the story. Watching how he discovers the CTE disease just doesn't make for very fascinating cinema and the movie basically has no ending. The real meaty drama is the way the NFL continually covers up, lies, and manipulates its way through their knowledge of the concussion issue. By being so intensely about Omalu, we miss out on the "concussion hearing" meeting that takes place between the NFL and Dr. Bailes - who's forced to give Omalu's speech to the league as the NFL refuses to listen to Omalu.
I watched the Frontline documentary that goes over these issues. I know how important Omalu's work is. Centering the movie around his work and findings is one thing, but centering around HIM was a mistake. As a result, "Concussion" winds up not nearly being as hard-hitting as it could've been.

Grade: C


In a James Bond film, I only really care about plot when it's in the moment. If the movie works just enough and the action set pieces are enjoyable and well-made, then I can generally get with it. "Spectre" pretty much delivers on those fronts for the first 2/3rds. Character-wise, nobody really stood out except maybe for Bond's go-to guys. M and Q and Penny, for instance. As for his love interests? The villain? Both those elements fell flat for me, despite my growing love for Lea Seydoux.

The action wowed me just enough to have an overall positive outlook on "Spectre," but man, they really tried to test me with its overabundance of "shocking" plot revelations. I didn't give a shit about the whole 'spectre organization' aspect, and I thought Mission Impossible Rogue Nation had very similar plot lines but they streamlined it enough that you didn't get too lost into the details. I mean, the bottom line is, there's never going to be a final Bond film. The stakes can only really get so high. So, to have all these "startling" revelations where you're tying together storylines for previous films, that kind of stuff really gets in the way of what otherwise could've been, AND should've been, a rollicking good time.

I really enjoyed "Skyfall" and I thought Mendes did a solid job in his second outing, but man, it'd be a shame if Daniel Craig ended his reign on this note. I'm really starting to enjoy Craig as Bond and wish he'd go out on a higher note than this.

Grade: C+

The Man From UNCLE

Underwhelming on the action front, but Cavill, Hammer, and Vikander were actually pretty fun to watch together. Not too sure about Hammer's Russian accent though. It was alright, though it kinda felt like "Cold War-era Sherlock Holmes"at times. Solo and Illya's constant bickering/simmering bro-mance made me think of Holmes/Watson in Ritchie's "Holmes" films. The problem - Cavill/Hammer are not Downey Jr./Law. So, yeah, in summation, it was ok.

Grade: C+

The Big Short

I liked a lot of aspects of The BIg Short and I loved Steve Carell. Thought Bale/Gosling/Pitt were solid too, but I also really enjoyed the lesser known actors like Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, and John Magaro. I was into the way Adam McKay played with the form and how he used direct-to-camera narration, but the camera work and editing style was a little too cumbersome to wade through. I know the style is purposeful, but when you're dealing with numbers and "sophisticated" Wall Street lingo, I'm not sure distancing the audience with the near montage style of editing is the best way to go. I get the choices McKay made, but I'm not sure about the execution. Also, despite the solid performances, because you're dealing with, basically, 4 separate story arcs that never externally intersect with each other, some storylines wind up feeling more involving than others. There's an imbalance there that keeps the film from really excelling on its own terms. But, did I like the film? Yes, yes I did.

Grade: B

I'm all caught up! Except for one more movie...

Brief reviews of all the 2015 movies I've seen in the last month or two - part 3

The Overnight

This movie is almost aggressively slight, which actually made me like it that much more. One married couple invites another married couple, who just moved into the area, to their house so their kids can have a playdate. But it turns out that first married couple may have an ulterior motive for this invitation. Wife swapping? A foursome? Some freaky sex thing? Well, "The Overnight" is more than just a series of cheap sex gags and awkward situations, it's also a mature examination of marriage and intimacy with a surprising amount of depth for just 80 minutes. Also, I love Adam Scott. I think I've said that before. Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, and Jason Schwartzman? A cast like that, it's hard not to love this movie.

Grade: B+

The Gift

Joel Edgerton deserves all the credit in the world for crafting this thriller, which isn't quite A-level, but is most certainly an engrossing viewing experience. This was Edgerton's first time behind the camera and he also stars as the villain (or is he the villain?). But this is more than just a vanity project. Edgerton also gets great performances from Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman. Bateman, in fact, is the biggest wow factor here, as his character is really nasty and Bateman never holds back. Ultimately, I think the film suffers a little bit trying to find the perfect conclusion, but I was mostly satisfied with the end product.

Grade: B


Powerful stuff. Heavily reminiscent of "All the President's Men," which isn't a complaint or a knock. It's hard to make a movie about investigative journalists without making it too didactic or sentimental, luckily Tom McCarthy keeps a remarkably firm grip on the tone and gets fine performances from a top notch supporting cast. Everyone puts forth a great performance here, especially Keaton, though Mark Ruffalo is the true standout of the bunch.

Grade: A-


Welcome to "Room," a harrowing film that's guaranteed to make you cry at least five times during its two-hour span. But those cries are well-earned. Brie stars as Joy, a woman who's been held prisoner inside a shed, that's been converted into a tiny one-room shack, and is forced into having sex with her captor every night. Over the seven years of being held hostage, Joy gave birth to Jack. For five-year-old Jack, living in this room is all he knows. "Room" is, at first, about this tight-knit mother/son relationship and the ways Joy tries to shield Jack from the awful sexual abuse she gets put through by her captor. But then, half-way through the film, Jack and Joy escape. And once they escape, they don't live happily ever after. No, Jack and Joy have to adjust to living a free life. For Jack, the freedom is simply overwhelming. For Joy, her freedom doesn't really feel like freedom. "Room" looks into the psychology of being trapped and held captive for several years and that's where it really shines. One of the best films of the year.

Grade: A


"National Lampoon's Vacation" was written by one of the great '80s filmmakers, John Hughes, and directed by a master comedy craftsman in Harold Ramis. They are the type of filmmakers that are, for some reason, very hard to come by these days. They knew how to make comedies. They knew how to give a movie the right balance of heart, mean-spiritedness, and sight gags. Why is that so hard to replicate these days? 2015's "Vacation," written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein brings the Griswolds into the 21st century and it's painful to watch. It's a mix of gags that try way too hard or are too lazy. Not in-between. And there are gags that callback to the original film while taking away the soul of those jokes. It's a movie so bad, it deserves this shittily-written review.

Grade: D

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Brief reviews of every movie I've seen these last two months - part 2

The Final Girls

The Playlist Review

Grade: C+

Winter on Fire

The Playlist Review 

Grade: A-

The Tribe

An unsettling, unforgettable look into the lives of deaf Ukrainian teenagers who fight, turn tricks, and get into all kinds of nasty business. Not an easy film to swallow when it's all said and done, and claims that some content in the film is merely there for shock value is not completely unfounded. Still, you cannot deny that this film, which has no subtitles whatsoever, is a unique achievement.

Grade: B

The Leisure Class

Billed as a comedy, but far from it. Didn't laugh once. The humor was supposed to come from Tom Bell's performance, but man, it fell flat for me. Simply having a character ramble on awkwardly isn't funny, or maybe it can be with a better writing team. I can't quite give "The Leisure Class" a fully negative grade because there is some interesting stuff in here, you just have to really pry. But the characters are wildly inconsistent from scene to scene and the pacing is horrendous for what's meant to be an 85 minute half-farce/half-dark comedy. I also thought that "somebody defecated on the Bentley" line would have more play. Nope.    

Grade: D- 


A curious picture. The underwater scenes are pure eye candy. There's so much clarity in those images under the sea, and the crashing of the waves is a dominant, recurring motif throughout. I'm not quite sure I can piece together the film completely. It has body-horror elements combined with an overall otherworldly feel. Not thoroughly engaging, but I liked it for the most part.

Grade: B- 

James White

An intense character study that contains a couple of stellar performances. Manages to take on a story that, on the outside, may seem like a pretty familiar subject matter, but there's a specificity to these characters and their struggle that makes the drama in James White's life feel realistic and resonant.

Grade: B+


Exquisite, immersive, tender, heart-breaking, reassuring, life-affirming, wondrous, romantic, seductive, sexy, beautiful, lovely, charming, unforgettable, an absolute cinematic treasure.

Grade: A+

Son of Saul

What makes "Son of Saul" so powerful is both what it chooses to show and what it chooses NOT to show. It's masterful, thanks to the bold creative choices made by director Laszlo Nemes and his lead actor Geza Rohrig.

Grade: A


At first glance, a very simple story, but the way Kaufman and Duke Johnson play with form adds such a layer of complexity that becomes harder and harder to ignore the longer you think about the movie. There's a lot going on here than what initially meets the eye.

Grade: A

Magic Mike XXL

I think I actually prefer "XXL" over the first film BECAUSE this one is thinner on plot. It never really drags, despite being almost completely conflict-free. It's just a handful of beefcakes having a great time doing their thang on willing women. I can dig it.

Grade: B

more to come


Monday, December 7, 2015

Brief reviews of movies I've seen these last two months - part 1

Yeah, my updates have been very sparse. Grad school has kept me crazy busy. Like I said before, I do still update my letterboxd account on a regular basis, mainly because there's less pressure to write well-thought-out reviews on there.

So this rundown will be a mix of re-posted.slightly refined letterboxd reviews and original thoughts. Let's waste no more time.


Riveting from start to finish. Brolin and Blunt are solid, but halfway through, "Sicario" sneakily becomes the Benicio del Toro show, who gives his best performance in years. A haunting, pointed film that demonstrates to us why America's "war on drugs" will forever be unwinnable and makes it undeniably clear as to who the real victims of such a war are. Director Villenueve and DP Roger Deakins have teamed up once again (after 2013's "Prisoners") and the results are electrifying. The last 45 minutes, in particular, contains such a perfect combination of acting, cinematography, editing, etc... cementing Sicario's status as being one of the very best films of 2015.

Grade: A

Queen of Earth

A movie filled with ugly, mean-spirited, cruel, and hateful characters... and I couldn't look away. For 90 minutes, "Queen of Earth" plunges deep into the horrors of depression. This isn't merely a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, instead you watch Elisabeth Moss's character go through a slow, seemingly endless breakdown from beginning to end. It's some pretty chilling, unnerving stuff. A horror movie where the weapon of choice is barbed insults, insults that have the potential to do just as much as damage as a knife or a sickle. 

Grade: A-

Steve Jobs

That first segment, in 1984, crackles. It's Aaron Sorkin at his best. Danny Boyle doing his best to stay out of the way. The performances are top notch and on point. It's some great, talky drama. Unfortunately, each subsequent segment is a retread of that first 1984 segment. The same arguments play out in almost exact same way. The same characters keep popping up, even when it seems like a stretch that they'd be there. The arguments they have suddenly have less drama or tension attached to them. Steve Jobs having the most important conversation of his life EVERY time he's about to give his big speech feels so overly contrived. Overall, "Steve Jobs" was a big dud for me.

Grade: C

The Martian

We're starting to see a trend of big-time auteur-driven sci-fi films getting released in October/November every year. I, for one, am not complaining. I loved Gravity, thought Interstellar had a lot of great moments, and The Martian has proven to be Ridley Scott's best film in years. What stands out most about The Martian? It's not merely the visuals, it's the combination of humor, science, and close attention to character that really makes this movie work for me. Yes, it ends in a way that makes you wanna cheer. You'll go home with a smile on your face. It's popcorn entertainment through and through, but it's the type of popcorn entertainment that goes down smoothly and you don't feel all too sick afterwards. Watch this with family and you'll have a great time.

Grade: B+

Crimson Peak
Man, Guillermo del Toro really walked the tightrope on this one. There were so many times when I felt this could veer off into unsavory territory, but damnit, he pulled it off. Mostly. Once I accepted that the whole haunted mansion aspect was going to be more "spooky" than downright scary, the movie really started taking off for me. It's really hard to make a "gothic" movie these days, thanks to Tim Burton, but del Toro really demonstrated that he can put his own stamp on the "gothic, 1800s-era" subgenre of horror.

Grade: B

Bridge of Spies

A masterfully made historical drama with just enough thrills to keep you going from beginning to end. Tom Hanks may not be the most exciting actor of our time, but like with "Captain Phillips," he once again demonstrates why he's been such a revered actor for so long. Mark Rylance also gives a powerful performance.

Naturally, expectations were high for me, especially when you have a script co-written by the Coen Brothers with Spielberg (and DP Janusz Kaminski) behind the camera. I'm happy to say those expectations were met and then some. I wasn't surprised this turned out to be good, I was surprised by how politically relevant this story is to modern times and impressed that Spielberg acknowledged as much without turning Bridge of Spies into a "message movie." On the surface, it's just a good old-fashioned Hollywood drama, but as the story continues to unfold, you'll find that America's decades-long "war of information" with Soviet Russia isn't that much different than the "war on terror" that we fought for the past 15 years.

Grade: A

This takes us up to mid-October.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Brief Reviews of every new movie I've seen in the past month

These are pretty much pulled from my letterboxd account. I always had the intention of writing longer reviews here, but I just haven't had time. But, just for safe keeping, I'm re-posting them here.

Straight Outta Compton

At 150-minutes, the amount of ground this film attempts to cover is most certainly ambitious. Unfortunately, due to the film spanning over 9 years, the characters suffer greatly. You don't really see as much growth as you should, except with Eazy-E whose arc feels the most thorough among the bunch.

There's a lot of elements to "Compton" that goes through the standard biopic route, but it's still supremely enjoyable. The performance scenes are packed with energy and, considering what these characters go through during their youth and the raps Ice Cube writes, the movie feels just as relevant today as when the events took place.

Simply put, NWA's journey is fun to watch. From their rise to their breakup. More could've been explored during the downfall, instead of checking off random moments throughout Ice Cube and Dre's history. Still, it's hard not to get a little emotional when you realize Eazy-E died just as he was trying to get the group back together. Not even sure how true that is, though Cube and Dre were producers on the film so the script must've gotten their "ok" before it went into production. So, that adds even more weight and sorrow to his untimely passing.

It's a fun 2 1/2 hour ride. It has its problems. We may have seen Paul Giamatti in this type of role (as NWA's manager) a few too many times, but I really liked it a lot and wouldn't mind watching it again in the near future.

Grade: B

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Definitely one of my favorites of the year thus far. It's a story that could easily go in so many bad, cliche directions, but writer/director Marielle Heller does such a stellar job of giving Minnie such humanity. Even when she's at her worst, you can't help but feel invested in her. She's just a very curious, naive teenager wanting to explore her sexuality and it gets her into all kinds of trouble.

The movie's centered around Bel Powley and she's so expressive, her face just grabs your attention immediately. More than that, for a low budget indie, the movie successfully pulled me into this girl's world of mid-1970s San Francisco. I was captivated. And charmed. And at times, moved.

From my experience, growing up with an older sister, yes, this really is "the diary of a teenage girl" at least to me. For better or worse. In its naive charm and beauty and its raw ugliness. This is not your average coming-of-age story. It goes way beyond that. Just a lovely movie.

Grade: A-

Mistress America

First of all, take this review with a grain of salt. I saw this early in the afternoon today and there was an old couple who were incredibly distracting during half the movie. That might've stopped me from fully enjoying the movie and I really want to give it a second look in the next few months.

Coming from someone who loves Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, I just couldn't fully get into "Mistress America." I dug the soundtrack, I liked Lola Kirke, and it's hard not to admire Baumbach's attempt at making a manically paced screwball-ish comedy.

But the speedy delivery of the one-liners felt too choppy at times, instead of there being a natural flow. And Gerwig, I hate to say this, her character was a bit too grating from the beginning. She never charmed me and while I was mostly jiving with the film during the first half, the screwy back-and-forth that takes place during that whole rich Connecticut house sequence --- it really didn't work for me.

Again, maybe I was in a bad mood because I even like Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding. I love Frances Ha. There's much to like about MIstress America, I just found the execution to be a bit off.

I'll visit you again, Mistress America. But the first go-around was not as fun of a ride as I'd hoped.

Grade: C+

Sleeping with Other People

Consistently engaging, often very funny. What takes it down a peg is a third act that's rife with odd tonal shifts all leading to a conclusion you know is inevitable from the start. I appreciate Headland not going the overly obvious route to get to that inevitable ending - but don't think it was executed as well as it could've been. Still a well-made romcom. I think I even liked it a little more than Trainwreck to be honest.

Grade: B

Black Mass

Johnny Depp is fine. Edgerton is great. Most of the performances are great and are the reason why I ultimately found the movie to be decent. But this was a potentially interesting story told in a very dry, by-the-numbers manner. There's a certain point where the movie realizes that it cares more about John Conolly's arc (played by Edgerton) than giving Bulger any sort of arc at all. As a result, Bulger is a bit of a dull character and despite Depp having a tight grasp on the role, he doesn't really do anything with the character that feels different than Jack Nicholson in "The Departed."

He may have gotten the look down, but I'm not sure he really put his own stamp on the character. Maybe Bulger isn't that interesting of a guy? Cooper, and the film's screenwriters, don't give Depp much to do beyond making him look and sound really intimidating. By contrast, Edgerton brings a lot of nuance and depth to his character, FBI Agent Conolly. His struggle to remain loyal to his childhood friend ultimately winds up being his undoing, and it's that story that kept me hooked through to the end.

But being "hooked" doesn't necessarily mean "emotionally involved" or "deeply invested." I simply felt nothing for this movie despite the positives. It merely feels like a "series of events that happened" as opposed to a gripping rise-and-fall, classic gangster film.

Grade: C+

Monday, August 24, 2015

I got busy

I'm gonna be honest with you. It's going to be really hard to keep up with this when I start grad school, which is next week. As it is, as I prepare for this semester, I'm finding very little time to write about the movies I recently saw. They are "Diary of a Teenage Girl" and "Straight Outta Compton."

It sucks because I was finally starting to get a solid amount of traffic to this site, but I'm afraid I'll be updating this more sporadically in the future.

I did write a review for The Playlist last week for a Dutch movie called "Prince":

So there's that.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The End of the Tour REVIEW

 Sometimes, you sit down in the theater and a movie you see just works for you.  Whoever you are at whatever moment in time, that can make all the difference. Maybe 10, 15 years from now, it won't strike that same chord, but in that specific period of your life? When the right movie comes? It can be a very satisfying experience. That was what "The End of the Tour" was for me. I'm a writer, I'm 27. The main characters in this film are in their early 30s and what they're going through, what they talk about, are things that I can very much identify and empathize with. 

So I loved "End of the Tour." I think it's a good movie any way you slice it, but I just want to be honest about where I'm coming from with my evaluation. Definitely see the film as I think it's incredibly perceptive and wonderfully, almost delicately crafted. There have been quite a few movies set in the '90s before, but this was the first time I've ever actually felt transported into that time period. Most important though are these characters, who simply feel lived-in and naturalistic in this world.

Jesse Eisenberg plays David Lipsky and Jason Segel plays David Foster Wallace. The story takes place in 1996 when Lipsky was 30 and DFW was 34. Lipsky just had a book of his published, but the talk of the literature world is this David Foster Wallace fellow, who's in the midst of a book tour for his 1,097-page novel Infinite Jest. It's not just that it's good, it's intimidatingly good. As a result of all the hooplah, Lipsky becomes fascinated and wants to do a piece on the writer for Rolling Stone.

When he visits Wallace in his snowy, modest Midwest home, he's struck by how normal and guarded DFW is. As a matter of fact, David Foster Wallace is not all that thrilled about having this journalist following him around, asking questions. Wallace may be a brilliant writer and Lipsky may be in awe of his talents, but DFW wants none of that. To paraphrase the movie (and Wallace), the more people think you're great, the more you end up feeling like a fraud. Wallace wants, more than anything else, to just live a normal life. He "cherishes his regular guy-ness," which he even says at one point.

Lipsky doesn't know what to make of all this. On one hand, Wallace is generally approachable. But because Lipsky's a journalist, there's an unwillingness inside Wallace to want to open up to him. You get the feeling that Lipsky just wants to be his friend, wants to feel connected to him. Maybe he wants some of that "brilliance" to rub off on him. But Lipsky has issues of his own and when DFW calls him out during one particular scene, an embarrassed Lipsky lashes out against him, taking issue with Wallace and his entire worldview.

Their genial conversations are interesting and their differences are even more fascinating. I was hooked by this movie from beginning to end, and like Lipsky, once I was in DFW's world, I didn't want to leave. And yet, there's a shame in feeling such a way because that invasion of space and privacy is something that goes against everything Wallace stands for. He was a fascinating guy, and what the movie does so well is how it captures him just in that specific moment in time back in 1996. He's got his own worries, yet despite the movie being bookended with news of his tragic suicide in 2008, the middle chunk of the film never feels like some bad omen. There's just enough careful attention paid to these characters; they feel multi-dimensional. Both his life and death are treated with equal amounts of respect.

Some fans, friends, and family members of David Foster Wallace have been vocal about their objections to this movie being made. Wallace probably would've (or, definitely would've) despised any movie getting made about him. It has only been 7 years since he died and perhaps it feels a bit rash to make a movie about him in such a quick amount of time, especially when he would've been so vehemently opposed to it. It's hard to reconcile that as a moviegoer, even moreso when you wind up liking the film. I've spent the last week trying to find the right words to say about the movie because this was an aspect I really did have difficulty with.

I guess what gives me a little bit of peace, and director James Ponsoldt says just as much in this AV Club interview, is that this is really David Lipsky's story. And this movie is David Lipsky's POV of who DFW really is. Is that enough to justify the making of this movie? Maybe not. But what can I say? I really, thoroughly enjoyed this film and felt connected to it on several levels. Those types of inherent contradictions illuminates the themes of the film. The movie shouldn't exist, but it does. It's a great film, but it can't help but view DFW as a larger-than-life person. Yes, those contradictions exist and you can't exit the movie with a clean conscience... and that just makes me enjoy it even more.

Grade: A

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I rent, I watch, I review: RUN ALL NIGHT

I was a bit surprised when I caught "Non-Stop" a year and a half ago. I didn't think it was a great movie, but I find myself enjoying it more than I expected. Liam Neeson is one of those actors who's just always fun to watch even when he's in lesser material. There's a gravitas about him. His voice just has that perfectly dramatic cadence. You can see why he's become such a bankable action star the past few years, but you kinda wish the movies he stars in could at least try to live up to his talents.

"Non-Stop," though, kinda did in a way. It had a great hook for a premise: a man threatening Liam Neeson in a plane, plans to kill all the passengers if he doesn't get a specified amount of money. "Run All Night," which is another collaboration between Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra (who also directed Neeson in "Unknown"), just doesn't have the same immediacy and clarity of plot attached to it. While nothing in "Non-Stop" was particularly original or mind-blowing, it still managed to have fun with its premise. It delivered the goods, basically. Collet-Serra found a lot of interesting ways to make use of such limited space in that airplane. "Run All Night" is just way too standard of an action/drama by comparison. While the performances by Neeson, Ed Harris, and Joel Kinnanman are actually pretty solid, the plot here has just been played way too much and is so blandly executed. Collet-Serra doesn't really do anything unique with this material.

Still, I did like Neeson's approach to his character. Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a former stone cold killer and right-hand man for gang boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now that he's approaching his 60s, Conlon is filled with a lot of regret thanks to his violent past. He turns to alcohol to cope with his pain and is generally a bit of a nuisance for his boss and the overly boss's son who's an overly entitled, spoiled, little piece of shit to be quite frank.

A series of events go down. Suddenly, the boss's son has a gun pointed at Jimmy Conlon's son Michael (Joel Kinnaman) and Jimmy has to make a choice that could turn everything upside down. He either protects his son by killing the guy, which will undoubtedly get his own boss to turn against him. Or, let his son die, which would simply be too much to have on his conscience, especially since he and his son haven't talked in five years up to this point.

Again, this is all pretty basic stuff. You probably even know how the rest plays out just by me describing the plot to you. There is a car chase, a set piece that takes place inside a Marcy Projects building that was actually pretty well done, and a final showdown in the woods that pits Neeson against a character you thought was dead.

It was generally enjoyable, but in the end, pretty bland and forgettable. Neeson is solid as the remorseful, violent drunk. And how could I ever say anything negative about Ed Harris? It's just a shame he doesn't get very many good roles his way. Vincent D'onofrio and Nick Nolte also have small roles, but they don't really get to do much with them.

If you're a fan of action, specifically Liam Neeson's brand of action, then this is definitely worth the rental. Just don't expect much of it to stick with you when it's over.

Grade: C+

I rent, I watch, I review: GET HARD

More often than not, Oscars are given out to dramas that have historical significance. They're given out to "serious" movies. And over the past few years, we've had our fair share of decent-to-great dramas which crowds the Oscar field. However, it's hard not to notice the near-complete dearth of great comedies in the last decade. You can name the really good-to-great ones on one hand, probably. This is especially true when it comes to studio-made comedies. Why is it so difficult to make something legitimately funny these days? Why are the majority of them just bland and forgettable?

Take "Get Hard" for example. Here, you have two bankable, talented comedic actors: Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. They've made their fair share of funny movies before, and in this movie, they managed to have some good chemistry together. Yet, it's wasted on such a lazy script that's based on this broad idea of a rich white wealthy hedge fund manager getting prison tips from someone who's never been to prison before but pretends he has as the hedge fund guy promises to pay him a lot of money. The hedge fund manager, played by Will Ferrell, is being hauled off to prison in 30 days. Kevin Hart plays the other guy, who runs a car wash operation in the same parking garage of this hedge fund company, he's the man who's elected to be the "prison trainer."

Within "Get Hard" are different elements that suggest this could've gone several satirical routes. The writers chose none of those routes. For example, there's a wealth of material for the taking when it comes to skewering those who run hedge funds, especially ones who are caught embezzling and are convicted of fraud. "Get Hard" barely touches upon any of this.

And when the movie shows hints of poking fun at a wealthy hedge fund's ignorance towards other, particularly ethnic, cultures, the writers take the easiest, broadest route possible. Rather than trying to mine laughs that offers the least bit of hindsight, they go for the dumbest, most tired joke possible. Like, Will Ferrell getting dressed up like a gangster, listening to rap for the first time. Despite Ferrell and Hart doing their best to make the material work, due to an unimaginative script, they're dead in the water.

Bottom line: "Get Hard" just doesn't have very many laughs. And if there are some laughs, it's because these actors did their best to sell the jokes. No effort was made to turn this premise into something interesting. For the first 75 minutes or so, we're stuck watching Hart bark orders at Ferrell. For the last half hour, they finally decide to figure out whether Ferrell's character is actually guilty of the crimes he's accused of. It's just lazy writing all around, so much so that you're surprised when the movie actually decides to have a real plot. Surprised, and quite frankly, disappointed because... who gives a shit about any of this? The writers don't, they're just making an overly-formulaic by-the-numbers comedy to get a paycheck. So why should we care what happens to these characters? What a waste of talent.

Grade: C-

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What will Ken be watching in August?

I don't know if you can tell from my increased activity these past few months, but I'm sort of in a groove. I'm in the right mindset. KenonCinema is halfway towards its sixth year of existence and I feel rejuvenated.

I do have grad school starting at the end of the month, but that shouldn't prevent me from watching movies and writing about them. After nearly six year, my natural inclination is to write about the newly released movies I've seen.

But with that in mind, with this being my last completely free month before I get bogged down with grad school obligations, here's what I plan to watch/review for August...

Theatrical releases:
End of the Tour
Ricki and the Flash
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Man from UNCLE
Straight Outta Compton
Mistress America
American Ultra (eh, maybe)
Digging for Fire (may not get to this til September)
She's Funny That Way (may not get to until September)

Run All Night
Jupiter Ascending
What We Do in the Shadows
Get Hard

I live in Orange County so some of these are dependent on when some of those limited releases will reach my area. But that's what my slate looks like. Skipping Fantastic Four, The Gift, Cop Car, and Hitman. Z for Zachariah too. Some of those I might catch when they're available to rent. Then, of course, there are the movies I might get assigned from The Playlist. So, hope to have an even busier month, writing-wise, than the last two. That's the goal. Because I'm not sure how it'll be for me once grad school starts. I'll still watch/review the major September movies I want to see, but I'll have to split up my time more for other things.

I bring all this up because I officially started KenonCinema in January 2010, four months after I graduated Penn State. I was 22, living in State College, PA. I worked at a library, I was just about to get engaged. So much has happened to me since then but this site has been the constant, despite me taking hiatuses here and there. Now I'm sorta entering a new phase of my life. Don't know what'll come of it, but I expect this site to still remain a constant. Thanks for reading me and I hope to bring you more content as the year goes by.

I do shorter reviews of both old/new movies on my letterboxd page. My star ratings roughly translate to my graded reviews here, but it's not an exact science. But anyway, if you haven't heard from me on here, check my letterboxd page.

And that's all. Adios!

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Late-period Woody Allen always comes with a degree of measured expectations. Sometimes he can still legitimately surprise and delight, other times he can flat out miss. Lately though, at least since "Midnight in Paris," I'd say his movies have ranged from "pretty damn good" to "slight, but still mostly enjoyable." "Magic in the Moonlight" tested my patience at times, but I was cool with it. "To Rome With Love" is the same deal. Now Woody's back with "Irrational Man" where he's twisting the themes of morality once again. This is something he first explored with "Crimes and Misdemeanors" as well as "Match Point."

"Irrational Man" essentially amounts to being a crude interpretation of the famous Dostoevsky novel Crime and Punishment and it's an influence Allen wears on his sleeve. We, in fact, find his lead character Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) with an opened copy of the book, having highlighted certain passages. So, yeah, Woody Allen is pretty straight-forward about his inspirations here and what he conjures up is mostly entertaining, even if a little undercooked. But a resoundingly strong performance from Joaquin Phoenix as well as a great supporting cast that includes Emma Stone and Parker Posey---they bring Allen's material up a notch.

Especially when it comes to Joaquin. Like Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris," Joaquin Phoenix has such a strong personality and different way of delivering lines that he really brings something new and different to the typical Woody Allen protagonist. Phoenix does away with the neuroses entirely, but there's always something off-kilter about the character he plays, Phoenix sells Abe Lucas's budding descent into insanity (or irrationality, really) in a way that feels effortless. This helps move forward a plot that really could've fallen on its face or completely changed the tone for the worst. But because Abe Lucas always comes across as a bit odd, the movie never really feels different tonally.

Basically, Abe Lucas is a famous writer of philosophy who agrees to teach for a semester at a New England liberal arts-type college. He immediately gets the attention of Rita (Parker Posey), a fellow professor and Jill (Emma Stone), who's a student of his. Both are gunning for his affection, but Abe is more than a bit standoffish and quite depressed. He's got writer's block, he's impotent, and when he's not teaching, he's in his apartment sulking.

And then of course, he has an epiphany. Suddenly, he comes across an idea that gives his life purpose. And if you've read Crime and Punishment, you probably know where this is going. Let's just say "Irrational Man" takes a dark turn halfway through, but Joaquin Phoenix's smugness about his epiphany and superiority actually makes this "dark turn" into something fairly humorous. I gotta say it's been awhile since I laughed this much at a Woody Allen film, but the way Phoenix underplays certain lines just slayed me. I'm a fan of the man, what do you want from me?

Really, that'll be the factor as far as whether you personally gain enjoyment from this film. But much of it is actually pretty sharp and witty. I only take issue with the way the story evolves in the last third where Abe Lucas makes a leap in logic that just doesn't quite work with what's been established.

As with most Allen films of late, it seems he's so intent on churning out the next script and getting into production, there simply appears to be little/no regard for making sure all the pieces of his story fits. What it all comes down to are the performances (great), the cinematography (another superb outing from Darius Khondji), and whether the story is clever enough to wanna follow from beginning to end (it is). It doesn't quite add up to another late-period gem from the filmmaker, but it's still pretty solid.

Grade: B

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation REVIEW

By now, you've seen the ads with Tom Cruise hanging from an airplane. No CGI! He's 53 and still doing his own stunts! They really hammered home this particular scene and you can't blame the marketing team behind this movie, after all, it worked on me. You can sell me on "Tom Cruise is a death-defying psycho" and I will see that movie every time. That's the allure of Tom Cruise. He's impossibly handsome, he still acts like he's 30, he has a highly questionable personal life, yadda yadda Scientology, and he's one of our greatest movie stars. And why is he still doing these "Mission: Impossible" movies, twenty years after making the first one? Because they are the perfect vehicle for him. And five movies in, it honestly feels like this is one of the best movie franchises we have going right now. No bullshit.

What's fun about that "Tom Cruise hanging on the side of an airplane" ad is how it barely touches upon just how entertaining "Rouge Nation" is. That trailer/teaser does exactly what it's supposed to do, it gives you a taste. It's not the money shot of the film, by any means. In fact, that scene takes place in the first five minutes! "Rogue Nation" actually has two (really 2 1/2) more sequences later on in the movie that easily surpass the opening sequence.

The fifth Mission: Impossible really kind of gets to the basics of what this franchise is all about. It's about a team of IMF agents getting themselves into over-the-top situations yet somehow coming out on top. Up until the last half hour, "Rogue Nation" is just that. After the opening, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) finds out that there is a secret, anti-IMF organization that's been wreaking havoc all over the world. The Syndicate. That's the rogue nation the movie's title alludes to.

Lead by former British intelligence agent Solomon Lane, uncovering The Syndicate and tracking down Lane becomes an obsession of Hunt's. This is to the detriment of his crew. The CIA, headed by Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), eventually decides to shut down the IMF as Hunley feels their behavior has lead to too much destruction around the world. Shutting down the IMF may have forced his friends to work more banal jobs (and cause Luther [Ving Rhames] to "retire"), but Ethan Hunt decides to take on The Syndicate anyway, a covert organization the CIA doesn't even believes exists.

So, Hunley orders agents to track down and take in Ethan Hunt, who's now a man without a country. Meanwhile, Hunt's IMF buds decide they need to track him down first before he gets killed, which of course, means they wind up getting involved in Hunt's operation.

Really, all the plot threads don't really matter for the review's sake. But I will give the film credit for being fairly lucid and simple about the plot mechanics of this movie. There's nothing unnecessarily complicated here, in spite the exposition-laden dialogue (which never drags the movie down). The movie unfolds and leads us to a Hitchcockian-action sequence that takes place at an opera. And then later, a more Bond-ian sequence which can only be described as an underwater heist (and it's fucking awesome). That underwater heist leads to a pretty spectacular motorcycle/car chase sequence. And director Christopher McQuarrie does an excellent job of mining something fresh out of this particular chase.

And while the finale fails to live up to such brilliant sequences, the presence of Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust is so welcome that it hardly matters that the finale is kind of a let down. I say "kind of" because the movie's finale does happen to include a knife fight between Faust and an evil Syndicate agent. Yes, a knife fight, people! That's what I'm talking about! I just wish it lasted longer because who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned knife fight?

Everyone seems to legitimately enjoy themselves in this movie. Even the villain, played by Sean Harris, has an ounce of mystery and intrigue about him. For Cruise and Rhames, this is their fifth go-around. Cruise can still find a great balance between being an effective actor during the dramatic dialogue scenes and he shows off some incredible moves during the action scenes (how he lifts himself up that pole while being handcuffed - I just know that's something I'll never be able to do). For Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner this is their third and second (respectively) entries into the franchise. But no, unlike Johnny Depp in the fourth "Pirates" movie, nobody appears to be phoning it in. Everyone's having a blast. And in turn, we the audience wind up having a blast as well. Seriously, "Rogue Nation" rocked. If this is the last great summer blockbuster of the year, I'd be satisfied with that.

Grade: B+

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ranking the Films of Judd Apatow

 (image courtesy of

Ranking movies can often be a pointless exercise, but I decided to approach Judd Apatow's movies in this manner anyway. Especially since "Trainwreck" just came out and I recently reviewed it, ranking Judd's movies gave me the opportunity to talk about his latest film in the context of his other films. So, without further ado, here's how I rank them...

5. This is 40 (2012)

All great comedies need some sort of rhythm in order to really work. Since "Virgin," Apatow has been threatening to make longer movies that are more and more lighter on plot, in favor of improv-heavy scenes of dialogue. His tendency to let scenes last longer than required really took its toll on "This is 40," whose premise as well as its cast of characters simply aren't interesting enough to warrant a 130+ minute runtime. As a result, "40" ends up feeling like an overindulgent mess. A rhythm-less, aimless trifle of a film that features little insight on the perils of middle age. Apatow's exploration of the marriage between Pete and Debbie (characters previously featured in "Knocked Up") feels too shallow and directionless to gain any real traction.

Pete secretly eats cupcakes when he thinks no one's looking. He uses Viagra to have sex with his wife. He gives too much money to his father and is kinda going broke. Despite turning 40, Debbie wants another baby and she's depressed about how old she's getting. Some of these issues may be interesting on a dramatic level, but Apatow's observations are just too slight. It never seems as if he's prying beyond the surface level of these familial issues and there just aren't enough funny moments to keep the movie from feeling so inert.

Judd, at the time, was around 44/45 when he made this movie. Considering he casts his wife and actual kids to co-star with Paul Rudd, it's clear the film is meant to take a page out of his life. But man, Judd, your personal life just isn't that interesting. Or if it is, you're not showing us the interesting parts. Too often, it feels like he's holding something back.

"This is 40" is just wrongheaded on about every level. Are there a few funny scenes? Sure but I have a hard time remembering any of them. Ultimately this is a movie without much purpose or even a reason to exist. It's just 130 minutes of complaining. It's as if Apatow took all the elements of "Knocked Up" that didn't work and simply expounded on them. If not for the charms of Paul Rudd or the memorable, small performance from Melissa McCarthy, this film would be flat-out unbearable.

Grade: C-

4.  Knocked Up (2007)

"Knocked Up" contains several moments of genuine hilarity and it proved that Seth Rogen can carry a movie. And it turned him into a bankable star. Unfortunately, "Knocked Up" does not live up to its initial positive reputation on subsequent viewings, and I honestly wasn't all that overwhelmed with laughter when I watched it the first time.

Yes, Judd Apatow's most successful and critically acclaimed movie is one that I've never been fully enamored with. It's a fine enough film, particularly when we're with Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and his loser, stoner friends. But this is a premise that really stretches out beyond its limits. "Knocked Up" was the first example of Judd Apatow not really knowing how to edit himself. It's not that there were too many scenes that dragged, it's just the fighting between Ben Stone and Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) lingered on for way too long, which wound up souring the film's funnier moments.

Simply put, Katherine Heigl's never allowed to have any fun in this movie. People kept remarking about how they paired the gorgeous Katherine Heigl with ugly Seth Rogen, and how ridiculous the pairing is. But in the movie, when you find out just how unlikable and cold Alison is, it's really not surprising she has such difficulty getting into a serious relationship with anyone.

The complaints against this movie - that the women are portrayed as hateful and shrill - may have been a bit overstated at the time, but there's definitely some validity those claims. And with subsequent viewings, it becomes harder to watch Leslie Mann and Katherine Heigl suck all the fun and life out of this movie. I don't think Heigl gets to make a single joke the entire time. And Leslie Mann's character, Debbie, is so unjustifiably mean to Pete (Paul Rudd) that it's hard to garner any empathy for either of these sisters.

You have to hand it to Judd Apatow for taking this thin, tired premise and bringing a fresh perspective to it. And the supporting cast is impressive no matter how you slice it (Jonah Hil, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Jay Baruchel, Charlyne Yi, the late Harold Ramis, etc.). But if I had to choose between re-watching this or "The 40 Year Old Virgin," I'd go with "Virgin" every time. No question.

Grade: B-

3.  Trainwreck (2015)

I don't want to spend too much time on this since I just wrote a review on it, but as I said in the review, "Trainwreck" really is something of a return to form for the director. Thanks to Amy Schumer penning the script, it allowed Apatow to get out of his own head and do what he does best: wring hilarious performances out of people. As a result, we get to see Colin Quinn make a rare appearance on the big screen - and he nails it. Mike Birbiglia once again showcases what a valuable supporting actor he can be, as he also did in season 3 of "Orange is the New Black."

Most importantly, for her first big role in a movie, Amy Schumer looks very comfortable and right at home here. And what some people don't realize is that this isn't just a re-hashing of her stand-up material or her show "Inside Amy Schumer." Instead, this is Schumer's honest attempt at making a screwball romantic comedy - the only way she knows how. Which means, lots of sex or references to sex. But she adds so much humor, insight, and honesty towards her raunchy take on sex, that you can't help but be won over.

Yes, Apatow still refuses to back down on improv scenes that last way too long. Plus, the story almost doesn't recover after going down very dramatic territory once Amy's father dies. But, with a spirited, fun final sequence, "Trainwreck" more than redeems itself. It's hilarious, it's almost always enjoyable, and it's an incredible showcase for the tremendously talented Amy Schumer.

Grade: B

2.  Funny People (2009)

Whereas the abundance of praise for "Knocked Up" may have been somewhat unfounded, I personally feel that "Funny People" is a movie that doesn't get enough praise. The prospect of watching a 150-minute dramedy can be daunting at first. Judd Apatow's affinity for James L. Brooks movies really came in full force here and it shows in the extended runtime. But that's really one of the only issues with "Funny People," which otherwise contains many funny moments and showcases a real insight into the world of stand-up comedy.

"Funny People" is ambitious in its honest attempt to peel back the curtain behind this world where up-and-comers struggle to make a name for themselves and highly successful comedians struggle to stay hip and relevant. What's also notable is the casting of Adam Sandler as the lead and it's hard not to see through the "meta" aspects of this story.

Of course, Adam Sandler was never diagnosed with cancer in real life, but there are definitely parallels between himself and his character George Simmons's career. Simmons is often taken to task for making lousy comedy films and squandering his talent. Does that ring a bell?

When Simmons gets diagnosed with cancer, it forces him to re-evaluate his life. He decides to get back into stand-up comedy and after bombing at one of his first comeback gigs, he encounters Ira Wright (Seth Rogen). Ira mercilessly makes fun of Simmons for bombing, but instead of the movie star kicking Ira's ass, he asks him (at the parking lot after the show) to help him write jokes. Ira, still very much trying to make a name for himself, says yes without much hesitation.

Ira's sudden success in his career draws the ire of his jealous, but supporting friends (played by Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzmann, and Aziz Ansari). What really worries him, however, is George Simmons's grouchy attitude. And when Ira finds out Simmons has cancer, it makes him realize this situation is much more adult than he was initially hoping it'd be.

The story kinda hinges on this cancer diagnoses and makes the tone a lot darker than we're used to seeing from Apatow. But I really admired Judd Apatow's attempts to make something this ambitious, and honestly? It mostly works. Where it starts to fall apart slightly is during the overlong, poorly paced middle section of the film which finds George trying to rekindle a romance with a now-married former flame (Leslie Mann). While there are moments of genuine heartfelt drama there, it starts to lose its way when Simmons refuses to leave her life. The balance between drama and comedy just tips the scales too far into one direction. By the time the movie gets close to wrapping things up, as an audience member, it's hard not to feel exhausted.

But aside from the slightly faltering middle section, I can't help but feel that Judd Apatow was really onto something substantial here. It may be a tad too long, but the movie at least contains characters interesting enough to warrant such an excessive runtime. It may not be Apatow's funniest film, but it definitely showcase a lot of artistic growth for the filmmaker. Unfortunately, due to the film somewhat bombing in the box office, we may not get to see this thoughtful, somewhat dark side of Apatow anytime soon.

Grade: B+ 

1.  The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Judd Apatow's debut feature still remains his best. Bottom line: it's funny. It's almost always funny. Sometimes it's unrelentingly funny. Apatow may never become an interesting visual director, but with "Virgin," he crafted a near pitch-perfect debut. It was lightning in a bottle, really. What more could you ask for? A stellar star-making lead performance from Steve Carell, and breakout supporting performances from Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Jane Lynch. Jane Lynch! How many careers were solidified after this movie came out? The cast is perfect.

That's excluding Catherine Keener, who was already an established talent. But then you have Kat Dennings, who's had a hit CBS sitcom for the last couple of years. Future two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill is a glorified extra in the film. Seriously, this movie dripped with acting talent and what I loved so much is watching them all interact with each other. What Judd Apatow got so right here - and what he's failed to recapture since - is to have these great comedians/actors improvise with each other while retaining focus on the overall story. The excess dialogue/conversations between characters here brings an added sense of realism to the story and what they talk about is so funny, it hardly matters whether or not the conversation has drifted away from the point (the Mexican donkey show story, for example). Apatow's tendency towards improv may not always work in his subsequent films, but there's hardly a wasted line of dialogue in "Virgin."

This movie has such a wealth of character development, we find out at one point that Seth Rogen's character secretly dreams of being a novelist. It's a detail that's barely even there. It's mentioned in two scenes and they feel like throwaway moments, and yet it adds another layer to his character. Apatow has moments like that throughout. Little character moments that don't seem like much at first, but upon further viewings, it enriches the movie.

Furthermore - and this is a staple of all subsequent Apatow films - this movie has an abundance of heart. It starts off with this silly premise - a 40 year old man deals with being a virgin - and it tries its damndest to take the story and its character seriously. His co-workers, upon learning his situation, want to help him. Everyone is genuinely supportive of helping Andy overcome his loneliness. The movie's not trying to say he should be embarrassed for still being a virgin - as some critics tried to suss out of the film - no, what's more important is Andy's fear of women, romance, and sex. That's what he's trying to overcome.

You watch the movie because it has a no-brainer premise that you can't ignore. But writers Steve Carell and Judd Apatow surprised audiences by giving them something that has a lot more heart and sweetness than they may have expected. And when it's funny, it's really goddamn funny. It makes you wish Carell and Apatow would collaborate again in the future. Honestly, ten years later, why the hell haven't they?

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ANT-MAN review

Let me preface this review by saying this: I am a huge fan of the works of Edgar Wright. I love all four of his movies and was very excited about "Ant-Man" when he was attached to the project. That excitement fell through almost completely when he dropped out, and for good reason. At the time, there had already been rumors of Joss Whedon having difficulties with the 2nd "Avengers" film and it just became increasingly clear that Marvel does not have the best relationship with strong-willed visionary directors. And ultimately, it's Marvel who wins these arguments as these directors either begrudgingly finish the movie vowing never to work with Marvel again, or they walk out before filming starts, leaving their movie in the hands of the studio.

This was also the case with Jon Favreau five years ago during "Iron Man 2" and it's the reason why someone like Ava Duvernay has a tough time saying "yes" to making a Black Panther movie. A degree of compromise must be made in order to successfully helm an MCU film. It all has to fit into the overall, larger Marvel Universe. Edgar Wright and Marvel producer Kevin Feige just could not see eye-to-eye on those types of issues.

Plus, consider how close to production Wright was at before he dropped out. They had a little over a year to make this film and now they needed a new director, a new DP. They found their guy, Peyton Reed, just in time. But then, you had to wonder... Peyton Reed? Could he really pick up where Wright left off? Can he save this from being a disaster?

So yes, there were quite a few barriers for me here, coming into "Ant-Man." With all that in mind, I find great pleasure in admitting that I actually had a wonderful time watching this movie. I thought "Ant-Man" was kind of a blast in its own way. It didn't have big ambitions and it didn't have the highs and overwhelming thrills of, let's say "Iron Man" and "The Avengers," but what it sets out to do - it does well. And as far as the usual "villain" and "third act" problem Marvel's been having for awhile now? Well, this movie is about 50/50 on that. Third act? Actually kinda cool, humorous, enjoyable. The villain? Eh, not as much.

For the most part though, this cast is aces. Paul Rudd fits in like a glove playing Scott Lang. Rudd just has a winning on-screen presence. He may not be your first choice when it comes to an actor playing a superhero, but watching "Ant-Man," it makes perfect sense why he was chosen. He brings a grounded, human, sardonic element to the character that makes him immediately relatable. And if he's really about to join The Avengers, he would easily be the most down-to-earthof all the superheroes.

And Scott Lang probably has the most inauspicious background of all the MCU superheroes yet. Except for maybe Star-Lord in "GOTG." Lang is a criminal, a cat burglar. He gets released from prison at the opening only to find himself back in the world of crime thanks to his friends Luis (Michael Pena) and Dave (T.I.). He winds up breaking through the safe of billionaire Hank Pym, who has secretly been behind this burglary plan all along as he sees Scott Lang as a potential fit for his project.

I don't want to get bogged down in plot here, but basically Pym invented a suit that allows someone to shrink/enlarge almost at will. He took this invention with him when he retired from his own company and now his protege (Corey Stoll) is spending all the resources he can to re-create that invention.

So, ultimately Lang becomes Ant-Man and he helps Pym hatch a scheme to prevent the protege, Darren Cross, from re-creating this invention (which involves dismantling a similar Ant-Man-like suit), as it could lead to mass chaos. Creating an entire army of ant-like soldiers has several implications - none of them good. So it's up to Lang, Pym, and Pym's daughter Hope van Dyne to stop Cross.

Rudd's great. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym is solid as usual. When does Douglas ever turn in a bad performance? Evangeline Lily really shines as Hope and her arc is very interesting. She resents Scott Lang's involvement in this heist-like scheme, wanting very much to become the "ant-man" herself. And in a sense, her frustration mirrors that of many fans who wonder why there are so few (really, only two at this point) female superheroes in this universe.

A key aspect towards making this film work are the effects involved with shrinking/enlarging the suit. The initial scene where Scott Lang finds himself shrunk inside a bathtub is quite the mind-bender. His friend Luis turns on the faucet in the bathtub (not knowing Scott is in there) and watching Lang outran the giant, running bathwater was very interesting to see unfold. I really dug all the "shrunken" scenes. That technology/CGI has been around for awhile, but I was still impressed to see how seamless the entire thing was here.

And they especially used that effect in an enjoyable manner during the last third of the film when Lang/Ant-Man has a big fight with the villain, Darren Cross. Without giving too much away, let's just say the movie has a lot of fun mixing in "big" and "explosive" moments that turn out to have very minimally damaging consequences. Really, the big fight scene at the end was one big laugh riot for me, it really subverted all the big climactic finales of other Marvel films and put its own humorous spin on the whole thing. It's been awhile since I've said it, so here goes: Marvel (and director Peyton Reed) really nailed the final act. They actually pulled it off. Kudos.

Unfortunately, Corey Stoll hammed it up a bit too much as the villain and, once again in the MCU, he just wasn't very fun to watch nor was he that threatening. Darren Cross is completely one-note as a character. His only goal is to perfect Hank Pym's invention and  he seems to have nothing else interesting going on with him besides that. And since there are several scenes in the movie that consist of Darren Cross spouting his evil "villain" nonsense, it really started to become a drag. It all leads to a slick heist sequence and a great fight scene between him and Ant-Man, but I'm just tired of one-note villains populating the MCU. Why can't we have a villain that really, legitimately kicks ass and is a real threat in the movie?

Still, that's really the only aspect of the film that keeps it from being a total blast from beginning to end. We're talking about a movie that was in danger of not getting made, or at least, being heavily delayed. Considering the circumstances, you gotta hand it to Peyton Reed, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd (who re-wrote the script), and the cast for keeping this thing from falling apart. But I guess you also have to give some credit to Edgar Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish for putting the pieces together to make this the entertaining heist/superhero film that it promised to be. They definitely laid down a solid foundation, but I'm even more impressed that it wound up being as well-executed as it was.

"Ant-Man" is definitely one of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After the bloatedness of "Age of Ultron" (a movie I still enjoyed, mind you), and before the superhero epic of "Captain America: Civil War" that's to come, you have to appreciate "Ant-Man" for being such an entertaining diversion. And it gives me hope that Marvel can introduce yet another "new" character to its established universe and it's a character (or characters, as I enjoyed both Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne) that I would not mind revisiting down the road. Seriously, just when I start to doubt and maybe turn my back on the MCU franchise, they pull off two largely entertaining films this summer. How long can they keep this up and continue to make things interesting? That will be the key question moving forward.

Grade: B/B+ (somewhere between those grades)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


When you title your movie "Trainwreck," you're opening yourself up to a lot of easy jokes. Luckily, Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow prove to be a mostly winning combo here, with Schumer writing the script and Apatow directing. It centers on a woman, named Amy (and played by Amy), who grows up with a rather skewed perception when it comes to monogamy, dating men, sex, etc. In that, she doesn't believe in monogamy and likes to have sex with lots of different men. During the day, she works as a journalist for a men's magazine and gets assigned to write a piece about a sports doctor named Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Amy finds herself unusually drawn to the doctor and gets to the point where she finds herself reconsidering her long held beliefs against monogamy.

The movie's setup is like the inverse of "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" in many ways. Steve Carell can't get laid to save his life in Apatow's debut feature where as Amy's having sex left and right in "Trainwreck." Both films take a humorous look at the sexual and romantic lives of their lead characters, and while the setups are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they both sort-of come together in similar ways. Steve Carell's Andy finds his soulmate and marries her, Amy hasn't necessarily found her soulmate but she's willing to take a chance on love with the doctor.

So I guess it's not a surprise when I say that "Trainwreck" is Apatow's funniest movie since "Virgin." Both films are extremely perceptive when it comes to sex, love, and romance. "Trainwreck" has an even more personal viewpoint as it features voiceover narration from the main character. "Trainwreck" is often a purely laugh-out-loud comedy, thanks to spirited performances from wrestler Jon Cena, basketball player Lebron James, as well as comedians Colin Quinn and Mike Birbiglia. Brie Larson, who plays Amy's sister, is also strong though she doesn't get to have quite as much fun as the rest. And the movie has a surprising turn from Tilda Swinton who plays Amy's overly-tanned mean boss.

It's nice to see a more focused outing from Apatow after his last two films kind of meandered for well over two hours. That said, and this is just something we'll probably have to live with, "Trainwreck" could've been tightened up considerably. There are a few too many scenes that go on much longer than they need to, long after the central joke stops being funny. In fact, there are a handful of moments that kinda fall flat on their face, and every once in awhile a character will make a side comment/joke/aside at the end of a scene that you wish they'd just cut out. Like in the beginning of a sad funeral scene, a character played by Vanessa Bayer hits on a man sitting in front of her. Moments like that just landed with a thud. Five movies in though, maybe this is just who Judd Apatow is. "The 40 Year Old Virgin" contains several scenes that go on longer than they needed to. Luckily then, the script was so damn good that it hardly mattered. But since then, it seems to be a recurring problem in his work, especially his last three movies. Ah well, what can you do? It's just a shame as I don't think he realizes just how much better these movies could be if he were a little harder on himself.

"Trainwreck" goes down your usual rom-com path with your characters falling in love, then having a fight, then making up. But it takes forever to finally get to those moments. It takes a long while before you finally meet Bill Hader's character, and so much goes by before the leads kiss and make up that the movie really struggles to recapture a momentum that allows the final sequence to really shine. Granted, there are a lot of great and funny moments peppered throughout the film. There's never a moment where it feels like it has lagged to the point where the whole film's completely derailed. Never goes that far.

I've seen and read some people come away from "Trainwreck" not so enthused with how it turns out. Some wanted Amy Schumer's crazy sexual flag to run wild and free for all two hours. But, the way I look at it, this is merely Schumer's take on the modern-day romantic comedy and if Apatow had just tightened a few screws, this could've honestly have been one of the few rom-com classics of our era. Instead, it settles between "pretty good" and "almost great." I'll take it.

Grade: B

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I rent, I watch, I review: IT FOLLOWS

This may not ring true to horror movie buffs, but there really hasn't been much to get excited about when it comes to horror films. There was "The Babadook" last year, which I still haven't seen, but other than that there really doesn't seem to be any serious buzz around the genre lately. As a result, I realized while watching "It Follows" that this is probably the first horror movie I've watched in a couple of years. And it's a movie that's subsequently reaffirmed my faith in how effective a great horror film can be.

The premise is simple enough: a young woman has sex with her boyfriend and some creepy, supernatural thing slowly follows her wherever she goes. If this supernatural monster thing catches her, she's dead. You can stop this "person" from following you, but you can prevent it from killing you by having sex with someone else. In lesser hands, this is a premise that could easily fall flat on its face. But director David Robert Mitchell really crafted something special here. It's taken seriously enough to garner palpable tension, but the characters have a lot of funny asides and quirks. This is going to be one of those movies where the more you watch, the more you find other things about the movie's world that you enjoy.

"It Follows" is so tense and clever that towards the end of the movie you keep looking in the background of the frame, wondering if there's someone slowly walking towards the screen. It's really hard to explain how effective this is if you haven't seen the movie, but the point is, it always keeps you on your toes. It keeps you engaged with the screen even if you want to look away.

The movie filled me with never-ending dread from the beginning. That's way more effective to me than just scares, though the movie didn't disappoint there either. It was visually compelling, and goddamnit, it was fun. My favorite types of horror films are the ones where I feel like I'm in good hands. That was definitely the case here.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 17, 2015

I rent, I watch, I review: SLOW WEST

"Slow West" is a fine enough debut from Scottish writer/director John Maclean. It centers on a teenage Scottish boy named Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who, in the late 1800s, travels across the Western United States to search for a girl he loves. Michael Fassbender plays Silas Selleck, a bounty hunter who bumps into Jay and joins him on his quest. Little does Jay know, his girlfriend and her father are both wanted from police and there's a $2,000 bounty on their head. Jay might think he's made a partner, but it's for the wrong reasons.

Shooting in Scotland and New Zealand gives "Slow West" a unique look compared to the Westerns of yore. At an incredibly lean 84-minutes, the film does its best to tell a full story in such a short timespan. But, despite the help of some voice-over narration, you don't really get a chance to soak yourself in this story to really care about Jay or feel any tension between him and Silas. There's just something a little too slight about the entire affair. By the time we reach the climactic ending, there's an overall lack of emotion that prevents total engagement from occurring. The ending features a pretty action-packed shootout, but the end result never felt important.

That said, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender give fine performances. They keep the ball rolling and you can sense there's chemistry and a bond between their characters, just wish there was more time for that bond to grow. It's not that a great Western can't be made in under 90 minutes, but for this particular story---a version of which has been done in dozens of Westerns in the past---it would've been nice to see it unfold and play out in a longer time frame. Allow these characters to grow a little more.

You can't begrudge "Slow West" too much. It's a decent enough film that's definitely worth a rental. It's just a little too slight to make much of a lasting impact. 

Grade: C+

Thursday, July 16, 2015

COURT review

Can be found here:

It's a courtroom drama made in India. Pretty good too, gave it a B+.

Since writing that "Court" review, I've watched "Slow West" and "It Follows" so expect an "I rent, I watch, I review" post for those movies soon.

This is a big weekend for movies. "Trainwreck", "Ant-Man", "Irrational Man"... I expect to see all of them by the middle of next week. Also, "Tangerine" is on my radar as well, I'll probably get to that one the following weekend.

 So, in summation, expect six more movie reviews from me by next weekend!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

LOVE & MERCY review

Here are some things about "Love & Mercy" that are essential to know: if you were a fan of the Beach Boys, you will most likely enjoy this movie. If you really, deeply loved the Beach Boys and are aware of Brian Wilson's story, you will love it. I very much enjoy the Beach Boys and had, at least, read about Brian Wilson being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic on Wikipedia. When "Love & Mercy" was announced, it just seemed to make perfect sense. Brian Wilson's story simply deserves to be told. Luckily, director Bill Pohlad has done Wilson's life story justice and has even managed to avoid making this your typical Hollywood biopic.

What makes "Love & Mercy" a satisfying watch is that it doesn't treat Brian Wilson too preciously. Pohlad takes us through two time periods: the mid-60s, starting right before Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano) wrote "Pet Sounds", and the mid/late-80s, when Wilson's (played by John Cusack) just starting to put his life back together. Here's a man who has gone his entire life never being in control. First, it was his father forcing his kids into becoming pop stars in the '60s. As Brian Wilson was the leader, he was ragged on the hardest.

The pressures of fame, stardom, writing new music, along with his father breathing down his neck ultimately leads to Brian Wilson having a psychotic breakdown. Fast forward a couple decades, Brian Wilson's on heavy medication and his life is still under heavy control. This time it's Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), a psychotherapist who also acts as Brian's manager, producer, etc. etc. He controls every aspect of Brian's life and Brian accepts it because it's essentially all he knows.

It's not until Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) comes around in his life that Brian is finally able to break free from the controlling doctor. But it's scary to think what could have become of the Beach Boy if his eventual 2nd wife never entered the picture. "Love & Mercy" separates itself from other biopics by being so intensely interested in Brian's psyche.

And the different time periods allows us to see the story from two perspectives: in the '60s, we are intensely viewing Brian's life from his own point of view. In the '80s, it's Melinda's point of view. In the '80s, we share Melinda's shock when we discover that Wilson's life and situation really hasn't improved as much as he claims it has. In the '60s, we come to discover just what made Brian become the person Melinda eventually sees him as. It's an interesting approach, really.

Though intercutting between the time periods kinda shortchanges both stories, director Pohlad and his screenwriters mostly fix this problem by having the time periods directly complement each other. Plus, it's simply wonderful albeit consternating to see young Brian Wilson carefully craft Pet Sounds, "Good Vibrations", and Smile... the latter album was never properly completed until nearly 40 years later. But for those records, we are in the studio with Brian watching him interact with the musicians and later his bandmates. And it's not just a simple recreation of these real-life moments, for each session, we see how Wilson's worsening mental condition begins to affect the way he records his music. It's really fascinating stuff.

At least, that's how I feel. "Love & Mercy" is probably destined to have merely a niche audience, which is a shame. It seems like the Beach Boys never really get the mass respect or acknowledgement that the Beatles or Rolling Stones receive. They had their popularity in the '60s, but there doesn't seem to be a lingering respect for them, at least with the average person. The Beach Boys's best work is right up there with all of their contemporaries and Pet Sounds is one of the greatest pop albums ever made. If not, the best. "Love & Mercy" shows just how painstakingly crafted their very best records are, but it also shows how badly damaging it can be when your whole life revolves around striving for perfection. It also shows just how awful some parents can be, and watching Brian Wilson, I found some eerie similarities between his breakdown and Michael Jackson's.

One last thing to note is the wonderful grainy, "you are there" cinematography that really helps make '60s aspect of the film feel so naturalistic. Doesn't surprise me the film's DP is none other than Bob Yeoman, who has also lensed every single Wes Anderson film up to this point. Furthermore, and this is maybe why I feel the film is ultimately a little too uneven despite me enjoying it overall, Paul Dano gives the performance of his career portraying young Brian Wilson. Dano has always been a weird-looking fella, but the combination of his hair and costuming along with his acting really made it feel as if his character has come to life. I like Paul Dano, but even in his previous great performances, he's never the main standout. In "Love & Mercy," though, he most definitely is, which is kinda to the detriment of the '80s scenes. John Cusack does just fine, but Dano is superb.

Grade: B+


I am not an overly cynical dude. Let's just get that straight. There seems to be this rush, among general movie audiences, to come to the defense of a movie like "Terminator Genisys" or "Jurassic World." Movies that come from franchises that are very much beloved and have been around for several decades. The problem with "Genisys" or "J World" is not the fact that they're the 5th and 4th movie of their respective franchise. The problem is that the well ran dry on these franchises 2-3 films ago. There's a reason why James Cameron put the "Terminator" franchise behind him after he made "Judgment Day." Same for Steven Spielberg with "The Lost World." There's simply not much more to do with these franchises.

Even if there was more to do, with "Jurassic World," and especially "Terminator Genisys," at no point are we given a reason why either of these films should exist. Neither of them exist on their own merit. I tried to find the good in "Jurassic World" and in the end, I was ambivalent on it. So maybe it's not fair that "Genisys" has come out less than a month after "J World." Maybe that affects my view of the fifth Terminator film since both movies attempt to do the same thing: attempt to recreate what originally made "Terminator" or "Jurassic Park" so great. Only problem, like when you make a sequel to a successful comedy, it's just not as fun, exciting, or entertaining the second time around. And with "T5" and "JP4," it's the fourth and fifth time around. Enough's enough at this point.

With "Genisys," we get Arnie back as the T-800. Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor, and John Connor are back though played by different actors this time around. Even the T-1000 is back, at least in the first half. John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor only for Reese to find out she's well aware of what's going to happen to her by the time Reese finds her. In fact, Sarah's already best buds with the T-800, who was sent back to 1973 to save Sarah Connor when she was just a kid. Skynet sent a T-1000 back to kill her, but in the end, he just wound up killing her parents leaving T-800 to essentially play the role of a surrogate father.

So when she meets up with Kyle Reese, the plan shifts to them going into the future to stop Skynet. from happening... something they already tried in "Terminator 2." And see, that's ultimately my problem with this movie. There's simply no reason for it to exist if it's just going to be a lifeless rehash of the same shit. And I mean this movie really is lifeless. Poor pacing, bad plotting, terrible acting from Jai Courtney, lack of chemistry between him and Emilia Clarke, Arnie completely phoning it in. He only really seems to enjoy repeating his famous lines from the first two films.

Alan Taylor directed the worst movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and with "Genisys," he's once again demonstrated his lack of cinematic touch. Both "Thor: The Dark World" and "Genisys" are simply too dull, lack a dramatic backbone, and the action feels perfunctory. I came away from "Genisys" completely hating what I just saw, but I've come to soften my stance just a little bit. Why? Because it's too easy to hate on this movie. I'd rather just pretend it never happened.

Grade: D