Monday, December 8, 2014

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses 2

Nobody will argue that Horrible Bosses 2 is an original or poignant film. In fact most people are probably wondering why they even bothered with a sequel. Not I however. I love me some dumb lolz and Horrible Bosses 2 brings the lowbrow humor in spades.

Last time, our heroes Nick, Kurt and Dale [Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day] hatched a zany scheme to kill their tyrannical employers that didn't work out so well but brought lots of cheap laughs and crazy hijinks to the big screen. It's pretty much the same deal here, only instead of plotting a series of murders, they've decided to go the kidnapping route. It's like the running gag from this years 22 Jump Street where they keep referring to the plot of the last movie, "Just like last time." Nick is still the only guy with common sense, Kurt is still a raging horn dog and Dale is the totally loveable but oh so wild miscreant. In fact the villain in this one is less twisted than any of the three 'horrible bosses' from the first film. Sure he's a douche-y cut throat business man, but there are millions of those dudes out in the world. This sort of makes the gang's plot to kidnap his son a feel a little contrived...but who cares? Shit is funny!

From the opening scene it's clear that this movie gives no fucks whatsoever. I don't know if they even had a script because the whole thing feels like a gloriously long improve session between the cast. Yes it's so super raunchy, crude and repetitive but, as a former twelve year old boy I can appreciate the lost art of juvenile, potty humor. The past decade of smart ass yet sanitized, Judd Apatow branded comedies has left a void in my heart. It's refreshing to see stupid comedy excel at being both.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie Review: The Hunger Games- Mockingjay (Part 1)

The latest installment of The Hunger Games movie franchise is easily the darkest film of the year. I'm not talking about the film's content either [although it's pretty grim itself]. No, I mean the picture quality is literally black as midnight. Lots of scenes take place in secret underground bunkers or inside abandoned buildings and it makes for one of the muddiest pictures I've ever seen. Be prepared to squint and grimace slightly while watching this one. Of course the film's ridiculously forced love triangle and sheer lazy directing/camera work might have you doing that anyways.

What's my beef with The Hunger Games you ask? In case you missed my evisceration of the last film, I'll summarize by saying they're just way too bland for my liking. Mockingjay 1.0 falls victim to the same troubles that plagued Catching Fire, and suffers from some new mistakes as well. The script is still a big bag of "meh" [as most films adapted from 'Young Adult' fiction tend to be] but Mockingjay lacks the dazzling set pieces that propelled the first two films. Jennifer, Katniss, is no longer a wee young lass trapped inside the games. That means no more crazy fight sequences or wacky costumes from the Capitol. Now Katniss is transitioning into the role of freedom fighter and hanging out with the resistance in their less than glamorous subterranean headquarters. Because Mockingjay was divided into two films to maximize profits, that means all the "cool" stuff is being saved for the series finally, which leaves nothing but exposition and Jennifer Lawrence making "OMG" faces every five minutes in this one.

The lame script and, you know...lack of any real climax, could have been countered by some crafty camera work or truly standout performances. Mockingjay 1.0 has none of that. John Wick might be the most cliched movie ever made; yet the directors counter the banality of it's plot with awesome camera tricks and direction that keeps the audience engaged. Mockingjay is by comparison...a snoozefest. The fact that Julianne Moore and Philp Seymour Hoffman share multiple scenes together, which constitutes an Amber Waves & Scotty J. Boogie Nights reunion, is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1's only saving grace.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Review: Dumb and Dumber To

Dumb and Dumber To is a real thing. Sure it’s fifteen years too late and an obvious nostalgia cash grab…but it exists. The how’s and whys aren’t important, to fans of the original, who grew up under the sage tutelage of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunn, there’s only one thing they care about regarding this ill-timed sequel: does it suck? Will the pristine legacy of the original be sullied by this…you get the picture.

So what’s the verdict? Dumb and Dumber To isn’t a total abomination. It’s not as hilarious as it’s predecessor, but it does provide few big laughs of its own and stays true to the spirit of the original. Or in other words: “WE LANDED ON THE MOON!”

The movie takes place twenty years after the fiasco in Aspen, where that little filly Mary Swanson broke ol’ Lloyd’s heart. He’s been recovering in a convalescent hospital for the past two decades in a state of catatonia. Harry stops by every week to check on his pal and help take care of him until…nevermind. Nobody cares about Dumb and Dumber To’s plot. The only thing that matters is that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels still have amazing chemistry together. The movie really struggles in the first act because we, and Lloyd, have twenty years’ worth of catching up to do and exposition has never been the Farrelly Brothers’ strong point, but once our heroes get into their groove, it starts to feel like old times again which is really all anyone wants to see.

Dumb and Dumber To isn’t a complete travesty and with beer/nostalgia goggles on it might actually be hilarious. I’m not quite sure but, it brought a smile to this overtly cynical ol’ bastard’s face.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal is a fucking mad man. His outstanding, tour de force performance in Nightcrawler will be talked about for ages and will further reinforce this point. We’ve seen traces of brilliance throughout his career [Brokeback Mountain, End of Watch, Prisoners], and we all know Gyllenhaal is at his best playing weirdoes [Donnie Darko, Zodiac, Enemy] and not the pretty boy leading man stuff he’s dabbled with in the past [Prince of Persia…get outta here]. Now we’ve finally been blessed with Jake going full on uber creep/psycho with Nightcrawler, in what is easily the most startling and mesmerizing performance of his career.

Gyllenhaal stars as Louis Bloom, a reclusive conman who roams the streets of Los Angeles trying to scrape out a living, applying for odd jobs here and there, stealing and occasionally assaulting/robbing people. You know, the usual. After witnessing a fiery accident on the freeway one evening and seeing a pair of opportunistic freelance news videographers record the scene, Bloom finally finds his niche in life. Gyllenhaal’s character is a sociopath who lives alone, despises people and but simultaneously yearns for success and validation. Imagine the Grinch with Asperger’s and a violent streak and you’ll start to see the picture. Nightcrawler does two things and does them both rather well, it showcases the seedy seed of the cutthroat local news scene, and is a fascinating character study unlike anything we’ve seen since Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Ruthless, greedy, conniving misanthropes who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, Louis Bloom and Daniel Plainview are veritable peas in a pod, just as Gyllenhaal’s all-encompassing performance is reminiscent of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar winning role.

First time director Dan Gilroy has crafted a wicked character piece about an utterly wicked individual, up there with Taxi Driver and American Psycho. He’s also put together one hell of an ode to Los Angeles. Yes, we’ve got Hollywood in our backyards and all, but very few films seem to capture the LA vibe the way Nightcrawler does [see: Collateral, Training Day, etc]. Gilroy is a longtime screenwriter who also wrote Nightcrawler’s script, and he maneuvers the camera in such way that proves he knows the ins and outs of this story like the back of his hand. There are dozens of knuckle gripping moments in this film, along with a wild chase scene at the end that blows all that overdone Fast And The Furious stuff away, which makes Nightcrawler one of the weirdest and most exciting films of the year. Gyllenhaal’s performance is worth the admission price alone, good thing the rest of the movie is pretty rad itself.

Movie Review: John Wick

John Wick is as close to a perfect action film as we’re gonna get in 21st Hollywood. Embrace it. As the fine folks at Ruthless Reviews have already illustrated in their official Guide to 80’s Action, the glory days of the mindless action romp peaked during the Reagan years. When story arcs and even special effects took a backseat to the glory of mindless [borderline homoerotic] carnage; when buff dudes named Arnold, Sly and Jean-Claude could frolic shirtless onscreen and punch/mud wrestle/murder tons of random faceless enemies. The Soviets, the drug cartels, even ninjas, whoever messed with our grizzled protagonists where going to get their asses handed to them for the next ninety minutes of brainless, but oh so awesome, super violent fun.

John Wick is an unabashed genre flick that harkens back to the glory days of 80’s style overindulgence. Keanu Reeves stars in the film’s titular role, playing a retired hitman who is thrust back into the murder scene, after some random thugs with mafia connections steal his car and worse, kill his dog. That’s it. That’s the whole plot right there. In typical 80’s action form, John Wick is a widow morning the loss of his dead wife. Like the Reagan administration itself, the women of 80’s action movies didn’t really do much, other than get in the way of Hulkamania inspired alpha male mayhem. The ladies are either dead, kidnapped or somewhere just off camera screaming for rescue [or pleasure], and only serve as a catalyst for unadulterated vengeance. Reeves [aka Neo, aka Johnny Utah, aka Johnny Mnemonic and whatever his name was in Speed] is no stranger to the action genre and he plays his character to perfection. Arnold said “I’ll be back” in 1984 and changed the world forever. Keanu says “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!” thirty years later and 80's action fiends piss themselves with joy.

Stuntmen turned directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are the true heroes of John Wick. Their years as stunt doubles to the stars [Stahelski was Reeve’s double on The Matrix] and master fight choreographers made them beyond qualified to handle directing duties this time around. The fight scenes and gun battles are fluid and mesmerizing. No shaky cam or ADD editing to mask what’s going on, we see Keanu kick ass and sprout one-liners like the gods of 80’s action films before him. If you like popcorn, headshots, and listening to Keanu Reeve’s world weary voice in THX surround, go see John Wick ASAP.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

Christopher Nolan is back folks. The acclaimed director’s new sci-fi, space exploration epic, Interstellar, is finally upon us. The hype behind this film has been ginormous to say the least. Shot in IMAX 70mm…on actual film! Features minimal CGI! Uses man made sets and practical effects! Academy award winning cast! Etc. etc. Does the film actually deliver? Kind of.

Matthew Mcconaughey stars as “Cooper,” a former NASA test pilot marooned on a slowly decaying American farmstead. In the not too distant future, Earth has had enough of mankind’s shit and ravaged the environment with a deadly wave of blight and dust storms, causing massive crop failures and respiratory problems up the wazoo. Our time on Earth is running low, and humans toil about their increasingly miserable lives trying to get by. Cooper begrudgingly raises his two children on his dying farm, mourning his dead wife, and extinguished dreams of exploring the stars. But thankfully, his genius daughter’s pet ghost tasks them on a crazy errand that reunites Cooper with the remnants of what used to be NASA, who’ve been literally hiding in his back yard the entire time, hatching a plan to save the human race: move to a new galaxy. Yes, you read that correctly.


could have been a great film, instead of just a good one. Unfortunately, it’s beyond convoluted plot and insistence on ham-fisted melodrama takes the film down several pegs. The ‘wow, I can’t believe what I’m seeing!’ sense of awe that Nolan’s visuals instill throughout the film, gives way to a ‘wow…I can’t believe this is what I’m seeing,’ lament, stemming from the mediocre script. The film is long and ambitious but surprisingly, despite the ‘lol wut?’ problems with the plot, doesn’t feel like an eternity while watching. Maybe that’s because the film crams what should have been twelve hours of screen content into a mere three [we got off easy if you think about that way].

Interstellar’s ensemble cast turns out to be film’s saving grace. With so much trippy NASA jargon and space talk thrown around and tons of eye rolling exposition being spoon fed to the audience, it’s the actor’s stellar [eh eh?] performances that keeps the movie from collapsing in on itself. Matthew Mcconaughey’s character Cooper might be written as the dumbest astronaut ever [he needs diagrams to explain how wormholes work], but his performance is unyielding throughout. He spouts that dialogue, no matter how painful, like it was the word of God [or Nolan]. In fact, the scene where he watches messages from his family on Earth is some truly powerful stuff and one of the highlights of the entire film. Anne Hathaway is billed as Interstellar’s other big star, but Jessica Chastain is the movie's real leading lady. Hathaway isn’t bad per se…even though her character is written so, but Chastain’s performance is just miles beyond hers.

the real MVP

is three hours of bizarre entertainment. If you can ignore the bloated plot and relish some solid acting and cool visuals you’ll probably have fun. It was refreshing to watch a sci-fi film with real people and not a massive CGI cartoon, just as it was cool to see Nolan finally play with a new cinematographer for a change [hello Hoyte van Hoytema, nice work dude]. There’s some really gripping, suspenseful scenes that almost make up for the bang your head against the wall stupid ones. This movie would have been a sweet ass summer time blockbuster, but since it came out in fall and is surrounded but tons of, you know, good movies; it just doesn’t hold up as well in comparison.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Movie Review: Birdman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the wildest, most dazzling piece of cinema you'll see all year. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu's film about a washed-up Hollywood star trying to forge a comeback on Broadway is equal parts hilarious, gripping, and for movie nerds, flat out exhilarating.

Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a has-been celebrity who once ruled the box office as Birdman, the first true super hero blockbuster of the modern era. He's spent the past two decades living in the shadow of his past glories and is ready to kick start the next phase of his career, only this time he pines for validation and legitimacy as a serious stage actor. Of course things go awry shortly before Riggan's play is set to open and the madness that is Birdman starts to unfold. 

Inarritu's choice of casting is the first, obvious stroke of genius with his new film. Michael Keaton of Batman acclaim, starring as the once mighty Birdman? Check. Edward "Marvel's arch nemesis" Norton playing a notoriously eccentric and difficult actor? Check. Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts, they're all brilliant. The film's commentary on modern society's notions of fame, viral internet culture and critique of what truly constitutes "art" are done masterfully. Riggan may be a delusional old narcissistic hack, but as the film's extended title hints, there's something strangely likeable about that. Writing, directing and starring in his first Broadway show, the man is either overtly ambitious, or insane. When he's levitating and having existential shouting matches with his repressed Birdman alter ego, you assume it's the latter, but in Inarritu's dazzling cinematic magic carpet ride, you never can tell.

All the buzz behind Birdman stems from the film's manic energy. Inarritu and cinematographer/magician Emmanuel Lubezki [Gravity, Tree of Life, Children of Men] shot Birdman so that the entire film resembles one gargantuan extended take. This creates an unwavering sense of urgency that, coupled with the film's amazing jazz percussion score, gives the impression that the movie will fly off the rails at any moment...then of course, you know, it actually does. The way the camera maneuvers through the tight hallways and huge expanses of the theater's stage and captures the cast's unbroken diatribes in real time, it's like Christmas for film geeks, bored to death of the CGI crap fests we're subjected too every summer. Keaton's performance is so visceral and frenetic, while Inarritu's grip on the reigns is lax enough to feel both entertaining, and unnerving. When Riggan's dark alter ego starts to rear his head, when the percussive back beat transforms into a ticking time bomb, when the camera spins and reveals explosions littering the sky, I half expected Beetljuice to leap onscreen and shout, "C'mon!" like it was 1988 allover again. That's how wildly surreal and intense things get.

Go see Birdman if you're a fan of movies. Period. They'll be talking about and dissecting this one for years to come.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Movie Review: Fury

America's last "just" war, the most important and destructive event of the twentieth century, however you want to classify the Second World War, there's no denying that it was kind of a big deal. In the decades following  VJ Day, due in part to Soviet paranoia and atomic guilt, American culture has lionized the exploits of our "Greatest Generation" to mythic proportions. You can thank Hollywood for that one. The studios cranked out glowing propaganda films during the war, and dozens of heroic action flicks in the seventy years that followed. With that being said, it figures that a brazen filmmaker like David Ayer would craft a WWII film unlike any other.

Fury is the story of a grizzled American tank crew during the final days of the war in Europe. Brad Pitt stars as "Wardaddy," the unit's stoic leader who has led his men through bloody campaigns in Africa, France and now, Nazi Germany itself. With Berlin in their sights and the war's end imminent, both sides become desperate to accomplish their objectives. Atrocities are committed, morality is thrown out the window and save for the bonds of loyalty and brotherhood established within the cold world of their tank, humanity is a foreign concept to the boys fighting alongside Wardaddy. "Wait until you see it," Shia LaBeouf's Bible toting character warns, "What a man can do to another man."

And the shit they do in this film is gruesome.

Since bolting onto the scene with his script for Training Day, David Ayer has made a name for himself delivering poignant action thrillers. His movies are more than just dudes shooting guns and mindless violence. Fury is hands down, Ayer's best film yet. The emotionally charged chemistry between the cast, the film's hefty "War is Hell" narrative and the mind boggling levels of carnage depicted on camera delivers maximum, jaw dropping intensity. A woman sitting next to me in the theater literally jumped out of her seat during an unexpected sniper attack, and audible gasps where heard when flashes of mangled body parts and immolated soldiers appeared onscreen. This film doesn't mince words or images. There are no champions of virtue or bigger picture heroics in Fury, instead Ayer's film displays a jarring immediacy and gritty realism that highlights the genuine horrors of combat, and the frustrating futility of war itself. We won the battle? Great...too bad all my buddies are dead. What did they die for? A bridge? A road? Great. We're abandoning this spot and moving out in fifteen minutes. Mount up.

Imagine a film as unyiedlingly visceral as the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, but without the eye glistening sentimentality attached to Spielberg's much acclaim epic. Instead, you're given a candid, almost intrusive, fly on the wall perspective that refrains from glorifying, or whitewashing the exploits of American soldiers during the brutal end days of the European theatre. Ayer's film is loaded with extraordinary performances, blazing action set pieces, and successfully hammers it's point across in spades. War is hell, no matter the era or circumstance. 


Facebook intellectuals
If you live in West Africa, Ebola is a real and terrifying threat. If you live in the United States, you're more likely to get struck by lightning, eaten by a shark or nail Jennifer Lawrence than catch the dreaded virus. Stop freaking out, stop propelling the heinous culture of fear and ignorance that is destroying our society, but most importantly...stop spamming my social media feeds with your asinine bullshit. The sanctity of our Facebook walls is meant for important things [like links to my blog].

Here is some helpful reading material for you Homer Simpson types, ready to barricade yourselves indoors due to your irrational fear of some Ebola toting boogeyman (or boogeymen).

link 1
link 2
link 3

Ebola is spread through bodily fluids. It's most contagious when victims show signs of infection aka; are projectile vomiting and shooting explosive diarrhea. Fetishes aside, if you refrain from drinking piss or maybe hold off on your regularly scheduled satanic blood sacrifice for the next month or should be just fine.

Africa is scary. They have lions and pirates and AIDS [oh my] and they even tried to kill Tom Hanks! Now they've got the Ebola and they're gonna spread their apocalyptic cooties to the Heartland via airplanes. Quarantine the continent! Block all travel to and from and just close your eyes really hard until the danger passes. Sounds great...until you discover that would only make things WORSE.

Finally, you Conspiracy Nuts:
Governments do a lot of shady things [hai Iraq!], but unleashing biological nightmares like Ebola is probably not one of them. It goes back to the MAD doctrine. The idea of Mutually Assured Destruction is why no one actually uses nuclear weapons, because you fuck around with those things and everyone loses. Imperialistic wars w/ American canon fodder = good for business. Biological pandemic that kills humanity = bad.

Ebola is a serious and horrifying thing going on in Africa. This outbreak has more to do with the lack of healthcare infrastructure and education levels [washing the contaminated corpses cuz 'muh social/religious traditions'] in these Third World countries than the virus itself. More people will die from the flu in the USA then Ebola. Chill out. Educate yourselves and stop spamming my feeds!

I'll leave you with some words of wisdom from Fox News of all places. Fox "WAR ON EVERYTHING" News. Think about that one.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is the latest in director David Fincher's long line of grim, who done it, procedural flicks and as of now, stands tall as one of the best films of the year. Adapted from Gillian Flynn's uber popular novel of the same name, Gone Girl is a dark and thoroughly engrossing nail bitter, loaded with stellar performances, gorgeous cinematography and tons of jaw dropping moments, stemming from both the film's roller coaster plot, and the sheer technical brilliance displayed by it's director.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as Nick and Amy, the most fucked up cinematic couple of recent memory. Things start off great for the pair; two young, hip urban professionals, gallivanting around New York City without a care in the world. They're kind of smarmy faux intellectuals, who seem to spend more time having sex in public than actually working for a living. The good times come to a screeching halt however when a series of Great Recession sized problems derails their sexy, yuppie dream life. They both lose their slick writing jobs, Amy's trust fund runs dry and Nick's mother comes down with stage four cancer back home in Missouri. The couple leave the city defeated and move down to the sticks to care for Nicks dying mother...and that's when the fun begins. By the time we catch up with them on their five year anniversary, the loving spark in their relationship has transformed into a five alarm blaze of spite and resentment. Amy suddenly goes missing and ol' Nick becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance.

Between Flynn's screenplay and Fincher's uncanny eye, Gone Girl is a veritable stimulation overload. Affleck and Pike bring their characters to life with intense passion, but Pike as "the Amazing Amy" walks away with the MVP trophy on this one. She rattles through Flynn's rapid fire dialogue with ease while giving off that patented, tortured Fincher-esque vibe that is utterly entrancing. Kim Dickens shines as the small town detective assigned the case, equal parts skeptic and hardass, while even Tyler Perry excels as Nick's celebrity defense attorney. Who'd have seen that one coming huh? Fincher's posse from The Social Network returns to help spruce Gone Girl up to Oscar frontrunner levels. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score is as unnerving as the film's characters just as Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography is stunning as usual. Really, I don't think you'll see a more beautiful murder scene than in Gone Girl. That's Fincher for you though. The man who brought strap-on knife dildos, orange juice laced napalm and frosty Swedish sodomy to the big screen has just done it again, with semen releasing box cutters.

Sound weird? Cause it is! This movie is literally one giant head trip. The film opens with a shot of Nick caressing the back of Amy's skull, wondering just what the hell is going on inside. Gone Girl's first act does sort of drag a bit, feeling like a lethargic version of last year's Prisoners and actually had me worried for a second, then the second act takes a hard left turn and launches the film into high gear. Forget everything you think you know about Amy and Nick, about traditional crime and noir flicks, even about Fincher because when Gone Girl goes off the rails there's no stopping this twisted psychological train wreck.  This is some of Fincher's spryest directing in years, it's wild, terrifying and in a weird way, channels the spirit of Tyler Durden with some of the most unreliable narration since the Project Mayhem days, guaranteed to leave you squirming on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Gone Girl, it's David Fincher doing what he does best...thoroughly fucking with his audience.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Fall 2014 Moive Guide

FALL 2014 Movie Guide
Hey Bloggers. It's been a while huh? This two month lapse in posting has been my longest absence...ever. I've been kinda busy this year, trying my hand at legit music journalism, writing for New Noise Magazine and recently, joining up with Metal Injection as well.

I've also added a link to my not so fancy tumblr profile, where ya'll can keep tabs on the concert photography (and other random stuff) I've been shooting lately.

This blog will still be my primary outlet for digesting films and ranting about entertainment, political and lolz-y stuff.  Things have been quiet around here mostly because there hasn't been any decent movies out lately. Of course it's Fall now, which means all the "good" movies are about to flood the theaters just in time for Oscar season. Here's a rundown on the flicks I'm the most hyped about for the end 2014. Some Oscar bait melodramas, some lowbrow action/comedies, and the usual weird stuff I love so much. Enjoy.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
is easily Marvel Studios' riskiest venture to date. Everyone says the company took a chance on the first Iron Man film, which featured a non-mutant/wall crawling protagonist and whose star was best remembered for stints in jail at the time, but Guardians was a gamble of gargantuan proportions. Say what you will about the popularity of Iron Man (or Thor or Cap) pre-MCU, there's no denying that the Avengers' roster is far more recognizable to the average person than the C-tier characters in Guardians. The fact that Marvel transformed this, The Bad News Bears/Little Giants of super hero squads into such an awesome sci-fi film is astounding.

This is technically a super hero, "comic book," movie, but Guardians of the Galaxy feels akin to a light hearted Star Wars, more western/space opera than sermonizing caped crusaders. The film follows a bunch of scruffy looking thieves, bounty hunters, assassins ( nerf herders?) and a giant tree /Wookie, who reluctantly band together in order to stop an intergalactic zealot called Ronan The Accuser, from acquiring an infinity stone and using it to ethnic cleanse an entire planet. At first, Lonestar is only in it for the space bucks but overtime, he slowly starts to care for Princess Vespa and the rest of the gang. By the time they join forces with Star Command and engage Zurg's TIE fighters in an epic aerial dog fight on Naboo, they've become a fully functional and kick ass team.

Yes, it's all a hodgepodge of older sci-fi themes and plot devices Frankenstein-ed together...who cares. From the moment the movie's insane 1970's pop rock soundtrack kicks in, you know you're in for one wild, and thoroughly entertaining ride. Guardians of the Galaxy has so much irreverent humor and face peeling action sequences it will leave even the most ardent popcorn junkie in awe. Aside from the infinity stone connection and an appearance from a certain mega evil villain, Guardians has nothing to do with the rest of the MCU films. What it does have however, is a talking raccoon brandishing a machine gun and a shit ton of laughs. Honestly, I feel like this is the best action-comedy since Rush Hour. There's explosions and CGI critters doing all sorts of fantastical stuff, but there's also copious amounts of lolz and yuk yuk moments that had me rolling in my seat. Most of the laughs are shared by Chris Pratt's dopey Star Lord and Bradley Cooper's rambunctious Rocket Raccoon. They're like Abott & Costello in space. WWE superstar turned actor, Batista, and current Na'vi & USS Enterprise crew member Zoe Saldana both deliver some unexpected laughs ["pelvic wizardry" has now entered the pop culture lexicon] while Vin Diesel's Swamp-Thing with a heart of gold character Groot turns in one of the most touching performances of the entire movie....and he's a talking CGI tree that says about three words.

Sound ridiculous? It is...but it's damn entertaining. The sweeping score (plus 70's pop rock), Rocket's lifelike CGI, the costumes and wide array of bright, trippy colors onscreen, the entire cast's great performances and superb dialogue, not to mention all the geeky Marvel Comics references thrown in for fanboys [NOTE: never in a million years did I think anyone other than fellow dorks would learn about The Kree Empire, the Nova Corps. or fucking Celestials...but here they are in the number one movie in the country. Excuse me while my brain explodes], director James Gunn has crafted one of Marvel's best films and puts on a veritable masterclass in summer action/blockbuster filmmaking. I simply can't recommend Guardians of the Galaxy enough.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is easily the most unique and entertaining sci-fi action flick since Pacific Rim. Comparing the two movies would be pretty pointless however, Pacific Rim was a blockbuster homage to B-rated kaiju films of old and was purposely campy. Although adapted from a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer feels fresh and excitingly original. While watching the film's many action spectacles and curve ball plot twists, I couldn't help but remember my first viewing of The Matrix. Snowpiercer is nowhere near as complex or self serious as Neo's Simulacra and Simulation inspired computer madness, it's just a damn thrilling movie that found me sitting on the edge of my seat and smiling ear to ear throughout its duration.

do not fuck w/ Captain America: EVER
The film takes place in the not too distant future, where a failed global warming experiment backfires and ends up freezing the entire planet, killing all life in the process. The last remnants of humanity live on a globe crossing train called, the Snowpiercer. For the survivors, Earth and the outside world no longer exist, their only reality is the train. Like in our current times however, life on the Snowpiercer sucks if you ain't in the top 1%. The huddled masses in the back of the bus/train are living all the worst post apocalyptic dystopian cliches, while the fat cats in the front stroke their beards and sniff hallucinogenic toxic waste til their hearts' content. Chris Evans leads a rag tag rebellion on board who try to overtake the engine and end their life of squalor and misery.

Director Bong Joon-ho has created the perfect storm of drama, action and over the top absurdity in this flick. The film's all-star cast (John Hurt, Korean star Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, Ed Harris and fucking Captain America himself) serve up amazing performances which anchor this film's otherwise flimsy premise to some much needed reality. The violence depicted onscreen is both jarring and titillating. People drop like flies in this movie and it seems like each death is gnarlier than the last. Finally, the set design and costumes of each train car makes the protagonists journey feel like something out of Alice and Wonderland. The film shifts gears from scenes with awesomely done stylized violence, to somber depressing ass drama, to laughably over the top zaniness and it somehow all works. If you're looking for an intelligent alternative to the Transformers type drivel we're spoon fed every summer, you cannot go wrong with Snowpiercer.

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

If you enjoyed 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you're going to friggin love this new installment of the Apes franchise. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare sequels that just annihilates the original in every possible way, like Empire Strikes Back or The Winter Soldier from earlier this year. The first film had a lot of ground to cover and although it was thoroughly entertaining, felt a tad rushed overall. You see the apes being experimented on, watched James Franco (because he always plays James Franco) raise Caesar, yadda yadda yadda, ape revolt in the streets and a civilization ending virus begins spreading. That's a lot of ground they had to cover. Part two doesn't suffer from this, Dawn of the Apes takes place ten years after the events of the first film and is an entirely self contained, world building phenomenon of a film. That, and there's talking apes with machine guns on horseback.

So the simian flu virus has wiped out most of humanity. Caesar and his gang of genetically enhanced apes live in the forests outside San Fransisco, hunting, learning and generally building a pretty chill primate civilization. That is until, they encounter some desperate humans in the woods one day, pitting the wants, needs and personalities of each species at odds with one another. This leads to both external and internal conflicts between apes and human alike. I don't want to spoil the plot because the less you know about the film the better, just hold on for the most surprising film of the summer.

I jokingly implied that Andy Serkis should have received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Caesar in the first film. Now, I'm dead serious...Andy Serkis deserves a best actor nod. Caesar is by far, the most complex, charismatic and down right coolest protagonist I've seen in a big budget Hollywood tentpole film in ages...and he's a CGI chimpanzee for Christ's sake! He's not the only badass this time around either. Advances in motion capture technology, and the plot device where pretty much all the humans are dead, allows for Dawn of the Apes to focus on, you guessed, even more apes! Caesar has a family and a (kind of a wussy) son, they have a little ape school led by Maurice the giant/genius orangutan from the first film and then, there's Koba. He's the freaky looking ape from Rise, with visible scars from years of being abused and experimented on by humans. Well homeboy is back with a vengeance in Dawn of the Apes. He goes from victim of circumstance to full on super villain rather remarkably. Again, I'm trying to keep the plot under wraps as much as possible here, but there is some serious philosophical pondering and straight up historical allusions going on in this film [Reichstag fire anyone?], plus it also has talking apes with machine guns on horseback. It literally has everything.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Movie Review: Boyhood of the year or best of the decade? I don't know but Richard Linklater's newest film is unlike anything I've ever seen before. A true marvel of filmmaking.

Boyhood is Linklater's decade plus passion project about coming of age in modern America. Filmed intermittently over a period of twelve years, the movie follows the life of a Texas boy named Mason Jr. from age six to eighteen. You watch him grow before your eyes in a stunning display of time lapse cinema. Linklater captures the subtle joys and debilitating hardships of life, as Mason, his family and the entire county changes throughout the 2000's. Watching this defenseless tike clad in Dragon Ball Z pajamas suddenly transform into a functioning adult before your eyes is simply mind blowing.

The plot is irreverent. It's just life. Boyhood avoids all the milestone/hallmark moments we've seen in other movies. The awkward first kiss, learning to drive, graduating high school, that's all been done before. Boyhood focuses on the in-between; those fleeting, ephemeral moments that make up most of our real lives. While the plot might not be compelling in a "traditional" sense, the cast deserves some serious accolades. They all invested such huge portions of their lives into this project, as the film's runtime winds down and the years pile up, their attachment to their characters and their legit vulnerability onscreen is uncanny. Patricia Arquette delivers the performance of her career, playing Mason's continually struggling mother. Ethan Hawke and Linklater are just peas and carrots at this point. Watching Hawke slowly transform from the hip weekend dad to full blown middle aged family man was like getting smacked by all three incarnations of Jesse from the Before Sunrise films at once. Of course you can't forget the boy of Boyhood himself, Ellar Coltrane. Although his body [and hairstyles] changes throughout, his remarkably consistent performance never waivers. Somewhere along the way this wide eyed boy obsessed with elves and sorcery becomes an introspective photographer, bent on capturing the magic of everyday life with his camera. Good luck trying to pinpoint when this transformation takes place. Things just happen and time just flies by.

Also, for anyone under 30, Boyhood should prove to be quite the nostalgia trip to the wonderfully strange world of the early millennium. The movie's rockin' zeitgeist soundtrack serves as the film's main demarcation points and really anchors the characters to a specific time. Except for the McCain scene. No music needed there.

In short, this movie is phenomenal and Richard Linklater is unstoppable. Go see it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise finally makes a rad movie again...and no one seems to care. Bummer.

Yes, I've chastised some of Tom's most recent films, like the uber repetitive Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the sci-fi clusterfuck that was Oblivion, but that doesn't mean I'm rooting for the man to fail. In fact, there was a time when I was a huge Tom Cruise fan. His output between 1988 and 1999 is pretty much unfuckwithable. Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Interview with the Vampire, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia to name a few. That's the Tom Cruise I grew up watching. The cunning, fast talking everyman who charmed the shit out of audiences. I'd say he hit his stride in 2004's Collateral, playing the cold as ice hitman Vincent. This role combined all the best elements of Tom Cruise's cinematic repertoire, the Type A personality rambler and his impressive physical work from years as a Hollywood "action star." He should have gone out on top in 2004 and hung up his holster after that film. Instead, Cruise seemed determined to cement himself as a legit action icon with botched/bloated sci-fi attempts and action/thriller type flicks  (War of the Worlds, Knight and Day, two more Mission Impossible sequels, etc etc). You had a good run Tom, but you're 5'7 and 51 years old now buddy, nobody buys the rugged action hero schtick anymore.

That being said, Edge of Tomorrow is a rollicking, special effects driven extravaganza and one of the most entertaining "action" films I've seen in forever, easily Tom Cruise's best film in years. You know why he's so good here? Because he's not the aging try hard hero character we've seen him recycling through for the past decade. Instead, Cruise is back to his quirky, quasi-sleazy 90's self again. He plays a military public relations/media officer who gets thrown into the middle of a raging war zone and does what any normal person would do: he panics, he tries to talk his way out of it, and he dies. He dies a lot actually. Edge of Tomorrow turns the usual Tom Cruise sci-fi action premise on it's head, his amazingly gorgeous co-star Emily Blunt is battle hardened soldier while ol' Tom is the bumbling Wile E. Coyote figure who dies more than a dozen or so gruesomely hilarious deaths.

The film's plot is kind of irrelevant, this movie is all about watching Cruise yuck it up on screen again. He's clever and does his best onscreen ranting since "show me the money." There's some big war between humans and vague alien invaders (who look like Transformers rip offs)  that can somehow manipulate time. Cruise's character dies in combat at the start of the film but somehow gains access to the aliens cosmic reset button that allows him to be reincarnated everyday and learn from his previous battlefield mistakes. It's best not to think about it really, just turn off your brain and watch old school Tom Cruise light up the screen like it's 1996 all over again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

under-covers: Suicidal Tendencies / Body Count

Back when I maintained this blog on a regular basis, I had a column called under-covers, that showcased…you guessed it, ridiculous cover songs. The weirder the better was my motto. Anyways, flash forward to present day and I stumble across a song that’s not necessarily a cover, but a modern day re-imagining of a classic 80’s hardcore/thrash anthem that made me pull the Under-cover’s tag out of retirement. Check it out.


Suicidal Tendencies were one of the seminal underground bands of the 1980’s. They were one of the few acts that skate punks and metal heads could agree upon without murdering each other. The band’s frenzied musical output helped foster the cross pollination [aka: crossover] of the genres extreme music weirdos like myself enjoy today. Their 1983 song “Institutionalized” is easily their biggest hit, ever. It’s a timeless jam about teenage alienation… and fiending for a cold Pepsi.

How cool was that? Spoken word styling mixed with circle pit goodness. My 10th grade English teacher played that in class when the dregs of the public school system failed to bring anything for “analyze song lyrics” day at school. Mind blowing stuff for a padawan metal kid.


Here’s the new version brought to you by the freshly resurrected rap-metal juggernaut, Body Count, led by the one and only: Ice-T. If you didn’t know about Ice-T’s stint as gangsta rap pioneer turned heavy metal frontman and one time adversary of George H.W. Bush, you need to watch the dude’s Behind The Music ASAP. You’ll never watch Law & Order: SVU the same way again.

Musically, “Institutionalized 2014” stays pretty true to the original. The beefed up production and Ernie C’s precision shredding pushes the track more toward the metal side than Suicidal’s crossover middle ground, but still keeps the manic vibe of the original. The major difference here is Ice-T’s post millennium lyrical overall.  Mike Muir’s diatribe against parental authority from the classic version is genius, but Ice M.F. T is no slouch either. His modernized take down of our increasingly politically correct, technologically dependent society is like everything else the man touches, pure gold. Goddamn vegans.

Ultimately, the original "Institutionalized" will always win out in the end. It's just such a rad song and partially why I love Pepsi so much. That being said, Body Count's 2014 adaptation is probably the perfect cover, will haunt me every time I get my Call of Duty on, and cements Ice-T's status as being all around awesome for a whole new generation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Movie Review: The Fault In Our Stars

I went into this movie with a quasi-open mind. I say "quasi" because if anything, my reverence for author/YouTube personality John Green [the dude who wrote the book the movie is based on ] made me partially biased toward liking the film regardless. Well, the verdict is in...The Fault In Our Stars isn't a horrible film, it's just jumbled mess.

Shailene Woodley stars as Hazel, a bright but cynical teenager dealing with the fallout of childhood cancer. She's on some experimental drug treatment that has saved her life thus far, but left her with some serious health problems and understandably, causes her to mope around the house all bummed out. One day at recovery group [note: ALL cinematic recovery groups need a Marla Singer type, least they turn to drivel], she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort...what a name), the dashing, recovering cancer patient/manic pixie dream guy she's been secretly longing for. The manic pixie dream girl trope is turned on it's head in this case, because in The Fault In Our Stars, it's a guy who appears outta nowhere with the sole purpose of whimsically teaching/entertaining the female protagonist to change her life and force a uber dramatic character arc upon them. Great job guys. Hadn't seen that one before.

"Thought's on my soliloquy? Do share them?!" said no teenager: EVER.
Anyways, the film follows these young starry eyed teens as they deal with the two most tear inducing topics in existence, love and death. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if this film received secret financing from Kleenex. It's so overtly sentimental that it kind of rides a weird wave between cheesy and offensive. The Twilight fans might kill me, but the romance portion of the film is what really holds The Fault In Our Stars back. It's so cheesy and preposterous, normal humans don't speak like these kids, that it breaks my heart to say this may be more of a knock against John Green's source material than the film itself. That being said, most of the cast is pretty weak sauce, save for Woodley, who was the saving grace in last year's teen shitfest The Spectacular Now, Willem Dafoe (who's good in everything) and my homie Nat Wolf from Palo Alto who steals every scene he's in. Everyone else is pure Lifetime Movie of the Week territory. Heartthrob Augustus included.

The Fault In Our Stars does put an interesting spin on these kid's health issues. The elephant in the room with most movies is addressed front and center here, making the cancer drama elements the strongest of the film. How these young characters deal with these weighty life and death issues, while battling hormones, is what salvages this movie from being a complete cheese fest. Even then, there's still cringe worthy elements thrown in that disrupt otherwise, touching moments [SPOILER: sick girl may or may not be able to jet set off to Europe and meet a reclusive international celebrity because of illness. Boo-fucking-hoo. You're alive and that shit should be the least of your worries. Real people who can't afford legit medical care might not give a care about yo bourgeois problems: end rant]. Like I said before, the movie isn't horrible, it's just a hit-and-miss, jumbled mess.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Movie Review: 22 Jump Street

It's no secret, most movie sequels suck. For every The Empire Strikes Back or Godfather II, there are thousands of uninspired, schlock fest flicks like Son of The Mask, The Hangover Part II & III, or the inevitable Transformers 6: War of the Hybrids. It's like Mel Brooks said in Space Balls, "we'll meet again in Space Balls 2: The Search For More Money." Anyways...with that in mind, it pleases me to announce that 22 Jump Street doesn't suck. In fact, the film is almost as side splittingly  funny as it's predecessor and because this sequel is perhaps, the most meta/self aware film since Wayne's World, it's even more ridiculously entertaining in it's own right.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back as the same Police Academy rejects we saw in 21 Jump Street, but this time they get sent to college. That's it. The plot is basically the same as the last film and everyone in the movie knows it [more on the film's hyper self awareness later]. The major difference this time around is the film's larger budget allows the 22 Jump Street cast to go full on 80's action, buddy cop parody, meaning much more chaos, destruction and lulz-y shenanigans.They also take the subtle homoerotic undertones of dude flicks (Predator, Lethal Weapon, etc etc)  to amazing new heights. Like before, Hill and Tatum's bromance is the heart of the film but now it's like a legit same sex civil union and it's hilarious. Jonah Hill may be the certified comic relief but seriously, Channing Tatum steals every scene he's in. He doesn't have as many great "AP chemistry bitch" lines like in the original, but he's still a one man wrecking crew when it comes to lulz and physical comedy. He and Ice Cube deliver the biggest laughs in the film. One scene in particular between the two of them that I dare not spoil, had me and just about everyone else in the theater ROFL. For real.

So back to all the meta/self aware stuff. Yes, perhaps the best part about 22 Jump Street is how often it takes shots at itself. It's a dumb sequel making fun of other dumb sequels. Hill cracks jokes about Tatum's own failed action hero attempt with White House Down, Ice Cube repeatedly alludes to the film's budget, no one in the movie believes Hill and Tatum are college age students and hammers them with old man jokes, and seemingly everyone enjoys pointing out  that this Jump Street's plot is "just like last time." It's all so zany and self aware, they do everything short of breaking the 4th wall onscreen. I half expected Ferris Bueller to pop and start talking to the camera at one point. Sure, the recycled plot and over the top self awareness could be considered a sign of lazy writing, but it's executed oh so well, it's exceptional delivery makes up for it. In fact, keeping tabs on all the film's in-jokes is almost as entertaining as the movie itself. 22 Jump Street is not the most original film in existence [a sequel of a reboot/adaptation] but in a weird way, it is sort of reinventing the wheel.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Movie Review: X-Men- Days of Future Past

Ok. Here it comes. I've decided to break this post into two parts. First, is my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the film. geek rant about the X-Men films troubled continuity. Read at your own risk.

The Review:

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a thoroughly entertaining summer action flick. This epic time travel extravaganza features gnarly battle sequences with members from both the original and First Class casts, in two different timelines. Director Bryan Singer finally introduces some large scale, CGI rendered carnage into the X-Men cinematic universe while maintaining his amazing knack for intense, character driven drama. Best of all, the Back To The Future-ish time travel paradoxes that take place in this film successfully undo all the godawful damage that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine did to the franchise which is really all the hardcore fans cared about in the first place.

Days of Future Past
doesn't take too long setting up the back story to catch any casual viewers up to speed. The film assumes you're already well versed in Singer's first two X-films and Matthew Vaughn's 2011 reboot, X-Men: First Class, and kind of ignores Bret Ratner's disastrous film and the last two solo Wolverine flicks (and rightfully so). Giant mutant hunting robots called Sentinels have turned on their human creators and all but taken over the world in a bleak Terminator-esqe dystopian future. A group of mutant rebels led by some former X-Men decide to send one of their team some 50 years back in time to stop a certain assassination from occurring that would erase their dismal reality and bloody war with Sentinels from existence. Of course Wolverine gets sent back because his healing factor...he already lived during that time...because he's Hugh Jackman and they need their best/most bankable star in the movie. Same deal with Mystique, Jennifer Lawrence becomes a huge Academy Award winning star and all of a sudden her character becomes the linchpin to the film's plot. It's okay though, Lawrence and Jackman are great in their roles, but the real draws are James McAvoy as young Professor X and my homie Michael Fassbender as young Magneto. The chemistry between these two is just insane and their performances are the film's biggest draw. The anguish in McAvoy's face in his strung out, Lt. Dan 1970's version of Xavier was an unexpected surprise but finally seeing Fassbender in full on Magneto regalia was the absolute highlight of the film.

Yeah, there are some odd plot holes that stick out like a sore thumb (Kitty Pryde's phasing powers relate to time traveling how? When did Wolverine get his adamantium claws back?) and the middle act sort of drags for a bit before the dual timeline Sentinel battle kicks off into overdrive in the end, but overall this is the best X-Men film since X-2 and the big pay off rests in the film's epilogue where all the damage from The Last Stand is wiped clean.

The Rant (warning- SPOILERS-):

Next to The Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past is considered the holy grail of classic X-Men comic book stories. Since Brett Ratner famously dropped the ball with Phoenix in *shudders* X-Men: The Last Stand, many felt like this Days of Future Past flick would be the last chance to get a legit X-Men story adapted to the big screen (before the original cast who've been doing these films since the Clinton Administration get too old and/or die). Well, sad news for you dudes because Days of Future Past is not a successful comic book adaptation ala  The Avengers or any one of Marvel Studios' recent films. No, X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn't have the luxury of telling it's own unique and vibrant story, instead this film had one job and one job only: to retcon the fucked beyond fucked continuity of the X-Men franchise. Thankfully Bryan Singer's new mutant fest sweeps up most of the mess us fans have been crying over for the past decade but even Days of Future Past and it's magical back from the grave epilogue (Cyclops and Jean are back, suck it Ratner) can't fix the myriad of problems with the X-Men films.

First, the series is just old. As much as we like fooling ourselves into thinking otherwise, time waits for no man. X-Men came out FOURTEEN YEARS AGO. That's pre- 9/11, back when Hollywood was still jocking The Matrix (black leather uniforms anyone?). Although Singer did a good job depicting the X-Men's Civil Right's like drama to the big screen (bigotry, discrimination, fear, etc), the man is simply not cut out for sprawling action set pieces. Now that he's taken the reigns of the X-universe once again, Days of Future Past still feels grounded in the same small framed early millennium shackles of the first film. Not that the action in this movie is bad, it's just that by now, after the barrage of Marvel Studio's films of recent memory, we've all seen better.

Also, as great as Singer is with character development and fleshing out great performances from his actors, he's still "meh" on respecting the comic book source material and thus, the very spirit of the X-Men characters. Take Quicksilver for example. Despite his asinine costume, the dude provides some great comic relief and steals the first half of the film. Too bad he's nothing like his comic counterpart and Singer's decision to throw Quicksilver into the fray now (as a teen in the 1970's) only further messes with the continuity he's tasked with restoring (he's shown with a younger sister who is clearly NOT his twin, The Scarlet Witch, and his dad Magneto must have had him when he was about 17 years old himself, before the events in First Class...wut?).

It's an endless cycle of WTF-ism that just boggle the mind (Apparently Beast develops a serum that blocks mutant powers making them human in the 1970's but he doesn't seem to remember this in the 2000's when that "mutant cure" drug is the focal point of Last Stand. Isn't Wolverine supposed to be in Vietnam with his bro Sabretooth during the early 70's? How is Trask's character played by Peter Dinklage when he's played by Bill Duke in the first trilogy?). Days of Future Past does an adequate job of straightening most of the mess up, but the damage is just too problematic and the film suffers as a result of it. Maybe X-Men: Apocalypse will be the film we've all been waiting for? Finally free to move beyond the Xavier/Magneto ideological battle we've seen since 2000.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Review: Palo Alto

Palo Alto
could have been a horrible, train wreck of a movie. If handled like a straightforward teenage melodrama, this might have ended up as nothing more than Lifetime movie of the week/soap opera posturing. Thankfully, first time director Gia Coppola has crafted an unconventionally brilliant coming of age film. Palo Alto doesn't circumvent the cliches of the "high school" film genre, instead it embraces and smothers them in a dreamy haze until they're almost unrecognizable.

Emma Roberts stars as April, the cute but frustrated anti-pixie dream girl, who floats adrift the halls of her suburban Palo Alto high school. She's smart, athletic and compared to her self involved friends and family, responsible. She's young but realizes something is missing from her mundane, privileged upper middle class life. Jack Kilmer plays Teddy, a brooding young artistic soul who secretly longs for her but is too shy and/or stoned to act. Teddy's best friend is a borderline psychotic named Fred (Nat Wolf) who drags him further down the path of drugs and debauchery. Judging by their personalities and how they gawk at one another, it's all but given that April and Teddy are perfect for each other. Palo Alto isn't a lovey-dovey teen romance though, instead the film follows the pair's missed connection and how they fill the void in their hearts with dangerous actions and unsavory people. Teddy has trouble with the law, April falls for her sleazy soccer coach (the always sleazy James Franco), its bad decisions 101 until the two can finally, hopefully, set each other straight.

Of course none of this is revolutionary. We've all seen dumb horny kids act like dumb horny kids in high school movies before (drinking, partying, rebelling, fucking pies, etc.) but the way Coppola shapes this otherwise, kind of generic story, is truly breathtaking. Palo Alto meanders and moseys along in a gloriously ethereal way. The film's gorgeous, portrait like cinematography and Devonte Hynes' brilliant dream pop soundtrack coaxes you further down the rabbit hole, while the rookie cast's passionate yet surprisingly low key performances (except for Fred, he's fucking nuts) seal the deal. Some might argue that Palo Alto doesn't go anywhere, that it's a case of all style and no substance. Well, that's kind of the point. I see the film as a reflection of a typical teenagers life. There are highs and lows but not everyone's high school experience is an exciting three act set piece with a convenient climax and resolution. Most teens do have crazy and memorable stories to tell but by and large they spend their days just existing in that awkward post-child/pre-adulthood limbo that is high school. Palo Alto isn't meant to dramatize another self important angsty story, instead it masterfully depicts the mood and atmosphere of said limbo that we all (supposedly) graduated from at one point or another in our lives.

I'm serious, this could have been the worst movie ever but thankfully Gia Coppola's genetics came through and gifted us with an awesome film (The Spectacular Now: abort yourself. please). Palo Alto isn't just an oddball ode to emo lust and weed binges, it's also an example of Hollywood nepotism done right.

Val Kilmer's son Jack stars with Julia Robert's niece Emma, in a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter, adapted from a story written by the eldest Franco brother (because there's two now...I guess). See how that could have totally sucked? Thank god none of the Smith's offspring were involved. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Movie Review: Neighbors

is a funny film. But barely. It's also mind numbingly unoriginal. And not barely...but astoundingly so. To the point where I wondered if the execs who approved the script had ever seen a rated R comedy in their entire lives? Compared to Seth Rogen's last film This Is The End, Neighbors felt like a rushed, half baked cash grab. I honestly chuckled at a few of the film's gags, and occasionally might have LOL'd once or twice, but spent most of the movie's run time laughing at how uninspired and repetitive Neighbors truly is.

Seth Rogen plays the same character he's been doing since 2007's Knocked Up and Zac Efron is cast against type as a uber masculine frat bro. You can already see where this is going right? The fat vs buff, old vs young, professional vs college lifestyle clashes are funny for all of five minutes. Maybe if we hadn't already seen a lifetime's worth of the same recycled dick/fart/weed jokes from previous Seth Rogen flicks they might have had a larger impact. Judd Apatow might not have had a hand in this film, but his disciples sure as hell did (from the director to the producers and movie's star) and as a result, Neighbor's reeks of his signature, sanitized, yuppified, Starbucks ready brand of comedy. Seth Rogen grumbles and complains, white dudes reference rap songs and get jiggy onscreen, everyone act's like 13 year old kids for a bit, everything works out hunky dory in the end. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There are a few bright spots in Neighbors, where the clouds part and the comedy gods grant us a few moments of levity. The always gorgeous Rose Byrne brings a few laughs and is actually kind of mesmerizing when she's on her Project Mayhem-ish mission to wreak havoc inside the frat house party. Comedian turned actor Jerrod Carmichael literally steals every scene he's in and young Craig Robets' epic portrayal of a sniveling fraternity pledge known only as "ass juice" provides some of the best laughs of the entire film. The rest of the movie is just outlandish buffoonery and empty pop culture references that I'm almost positive fly over the heads of the film's target audience. I mean seriously, how many of today's teens and swaggy college age viewers raised on twitter will even get those De Niro and Pacino references the members of Delta throw around, hell the whole joke is that the Delta's don't get them either.

no. NO.
Maybe the joke is on me because Neighbor's cleaned up at the box office recently. If you want cheap, easy laughs then Neighbors is a sure thing. Just don't expect anything the least bit original.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Movie Review: Under The Skin

Under The Skin did not live up to the title's namesake. Instead, this film just got on my nerves.

Under The Skin has been hyped as astounding, director Jonathan Glazer proclaimed a visionary and comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey  have even been tossed around for good measure, because who doesn't love Kubrick references? Well, after seeing the film I couldn't help but think of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen's epic, "You're no Jack Kennedy" line. Mr. Glazer, you're no Stanley Kubrick bro.

Don't get me wrong, Under The Skin does have flashes of genius sprinkled throughout it's (grueling) nearly two hour run time, but those moments are few and far between. Scarlett Johansson stars as a seductive alien who cruises the streets of Scotland looking for gullible/horny men to abduct. Johansson shines in her role as a sexy space Terminator who carefully studies and mimics her human victims.

Scarlett's performance is easily the highlight of the film and serves as the direct antithesis of her turn in last year's Her, where she played a sentient computer operating system who longed to feel apart of, and eventually surpassed, humanity. In Her, Johansson was a voice without a body while in Under The Skin, she plays a nameless, nearly silent, extraterrestrial who uses it's female-ish facade to communicate through intense stares and physical touch. Glazer uses his star's striking beauty to propel the film, a woman with Johansson's features truly does feel alien compared to the rest of the cast (comprised of first time, non actors) and the film's setting. The bizarre abduction/seduction scenes feature some of the gnarliest visuals I've ever seen before, and Glazer's penchant for fly on the wall, voyeuristic realism can be truly haunting.

That being said, a handful of cool visuals and even mesmerizing moments like the baby on the beach scene aren't enough to save this film. Under The Skin is simply too minimalist for it's own good. I'm talking bare bones storytelling to the point where there's literally no story. I could do without dialogue, I could do without fancy Hollywood trickery, I don't mind being challenged by a film but Glazer's latest movie is just too much...and by that I mean not enough. Under The Skin crumbles under it's own flimsy, haphazard narrative. Mystique and intriguing quickly devolves into pompous and boring. The dozen or so moments of visual brilliance are sandwiched between uneventful and downright lazy camera work. Even Scarlett Johansson going full on, full frontal couldn't resuscitate this film's pulse. What a shame. Congratulations to Mr. Glazer, he's successfully crafted the definitive fish out of water, alien flick...for aliens.