Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Star 4

Gone Girl was assuredly made for the entertainment of adult audiences everywhere. At its very core is that Hitcockcian spirit that seems to throw logic out the window and speed right past plot holes for pure movie-going pleasure. This type of film making only excels when in the hands of an expert though, and Gone Girl just happens to be made by one of the best auteurs working today – David Fincher. Fincher brings Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel about marital bliss gone awry to the big screen and wisely hired the author to adapt her own book into a script. The combination of the writing, directing, acting, and score come out to be a huge home run. But one thing is for certain, Gone Girl is a trip.

Gone Girl has so many twists and turns that it would be an exercise in futility for me to go past just scratching the surface of plot without spoiling something for you. When Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappears from her home under mysterious circumstances, it’s her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), who is suspected of being involved once it appears to be foul play. As we pull back the curtain on their 5 years of marriage, we learn that Nick isn’t such a good guy and that it seems very possible, but why? Was Amy such an angel either? Your empathy dizzily swings back and forth countless times over two and half hours between Nick and Amy. Its polarizing in the sense that some people will be turned off about its ideas/views on the institution of marriage and some people will feel embarrassed, amused, or floored by some elements that seem to hit a little bit too close to home about their own relationship’s ups and downs. It has a lot to say about marriage and gender relations. Sometimes it is wickedly funny as it floats just below parody in regards to relationships. It also has a heavy undercurrent of class hierarchy in our country. East coast high society types looking down on Midwestern middle-class they are “slumming” with, everyone gravitating to pointing the finger at the homeless first when a crime is committed, etc. But in the end it gives us a look into the way Fincher sees the world. He’s either disgusted by today’s society in general or just gets a kick out of watching people squirm to try and claw their way to the American Dream or at least the status quo of being viewed as normal, successful, and happy in the eyes of family, neighbors, and peers.

There is much to applaud about the two leads and their performances. Affleck was born to play Nick. In what is most certainly his career best, his turn as public husband number one might finally help shake his bad actor stigma. Much of which is undeserved if you ask me. Ben Affleck isn’t a bad actor, he’s just been a victim of a long line of miscasting. But not here, he nails the nuance of the not so bright, pile of shit husband. It’s pretty exceptional that even with all his borderline sociopathic behavior that somehow we find ourselves pulling for his character, which is a high compliment of Affleck’s performance. Rosamund Pike will more than likely win The Oscar for her portrayal of Amy. She goes from nice to naughty to off-the-charts bonkers with the greatest of ease. Not only does she nail Amy’s emotional roller coaster, Pike seems to physically shape shift to suit each particular scene in an uncanny way. She’s great. Great. Great. Crazy Great. But don’t be fooled, the supporting players stealthily elevate this thriller. Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as the two doubting local detectives and Carrie Coon as Nick’s smart ass twin sister get overshadowed, but really help stir the plot at a high level. And David Fincher did something unexpected. He made me like Tyler Perry. Perry’s super lawyer Tanner Bolt is part Johnny Cochran, part Billy Dee Williams, and all comic relief. Smooth, calculated, and surprisingly naturally delivered, Perry gets a huge thumbs up from me and was one of best parts of this movie crowded with terrific performances. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ excellent score quietly creeps in and subtly provides the perfect background noise for a not-so-subtle film. Fincher has crafted a date movie of the darkest kind. Black and pulpy, completely enthralling, interesting, and entertaining, Gone Girl will no doubt bring repeat viewings and provide plenty of fodder for the water cooler and dinner parties for some time to come.

-JB

The Equalizer

The Equalizer

Star 3

Denzel Washington can be quite the badass. He can leave a dark past as an expertly-trained killing machine and trade it for a life of solace as an everyday working man and blend in like an average guy with the greatest of ease. He can predict the time it will take him to dismantle five Russian hoods by himself to within seconds of the actual outcome. He can battle a group of gangsters armed with machine guns with no gun to defend himself, just random home improvement tools. At least Washington can do all this as Robert McCall, his new character in Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer. The film is based on the 1980’s TV show by the same name where an ex-intelligence agent helps commoners even the odds with bad guys.

McCall (Denzel Washington) leads a quiet life now. A dependable hand at the local Home-Mart, he’s well respected and liked. He clocks out and heads to his single bedroom apartment that is cleaned and organized as if it is to be inspected right after the military latrine is checked. But wait for it, he has a dark past. A dark past where he has obtained “certain skills”. He seems to keep to himself until a chance encounter at a local diner where he befriends a young prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). When McCall witnesses her Russian pimp getting rough with her and then learns that she’s been beaten so badly she’s been put in the hospital, he takes some time for reflection and after a calculated decision we find McCall coming out of retirement to settle the score with the men responsible for what happened. Little did he know that he is messing with one of the most dangerous factions of the Russian Mafia. The Russian Mob Boss sends in his cleaner, Teddy (Martin Csokas), to investigate and serves as a worthy adversary to McCall as they play cat-and-mouse through the whole second act leading up to two big confrontations in the final act including a battle royale that is essentially Home Alone in Home Depot which I surprisingly enjoyed.

The Equalizer keeps the excitement high throughout with solid storytelling and quality climatic encounters between McCall and various baddies. It plays a little smarter than it actually is, which can be credited to the director, Fuqua, who has major talent but his body of work seems to be primarily hit or miss. He’s a very stylistic filmmaker who seems to always be preoccupied with forcing gratuitous violence. He shows flashes of becoming the next Tony Scott, although the jury is still out. Fuqua has a Scott-like tendency to over-produce and shares the penchant to make Washington his vigilante harbinger of fate. The Equalizer felt a lot like the majority of action genre movies feel. Plot holes, a story where nobody seems to care about finger prints or DNA, and your stereotypical support players and their sub-plots. This one is the overweight co-worker McCall is trying to help make weight for the big security guard test and of course eventually becoming a security guard at the sight of our big climax comes in handy and convenient to help fill pages in the script. But The Equalizer overcomes these things by just being entertaining pretty much throughout its entire run time. I can tell you that although Fuqua is an established filmmaker with a big upside, this vehicle in the hands of a lesser actor would’ve fell flat. Washington elevates the material several notches. This character in the hands of a lesser actor wouldn’t have shown as much care for the McCall’s physical details. The way he opens and closes the door to the diner. His mannerisms and subtle eye movements. McCall’s quiet rage is the antithesis of Washington’s last collaboration with Fuqua. King Kong ain’t got nothing on me he is not, but like I said – Denzel’s McCall is still quite the badass. He manages to help carry the film, raising it from Just above 2 Guns, but just shy of Man on Fire. I don’t see it as being overly memorable for me, but Denzel, Fuqua, and company have put together a fun movie that goes well with popcorn.

-JB

Alright alright alright, Lincoln

Matthew McConaughey is spinning Rust Cohleian musings again, but this time he is doing so behind the driver seat of the new Lincoln MKC. These commercials are actually pretty good, and I think a lot can be attributed to the added bonus of being directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. I had to share. We will probably be talking about these spots again once Lincoln does their product tie-in with the digitally remastered blu ray of The Lincoln Lawyer.

Spot 1

Spot 2

Spot 3

-JB

Hercules

HERCULES
1

Hercules is one of the most tone-def summer blockbusters to come down the pipe in quite a while. It’s nothing new to American audiences. It’s one of many adaptations of the fabled legend including one earlier this year, The Legend of Hercules by director Renny Harlin. But even though there are a few different spins that the filmmakers try to re-energize the Hercules story with, it still falls flat, and those new twists and turns even add insult to injury by actually making the story worse off. Limping out of the gate with a tired formula, the back and forth game that director Brett Ratner plays with the mood and feel of the movie has it dead on arrival. Where Ratner starts to toy with B-Movie fun, he quickly retreats, roughly segwaying into what appears to be a scene ripped straight from Gladiator or 300 that we are supposed to take seriously. Then we get thrown into not so seamless CGI battles and crowded one-liner dialogue that even has Dwayne Johnson seemingly taking a back seat at times. Where battle scenes seem to be heading toward a climax they end with a dull thud and we never get to let loose and have fun with Hercules and his crew of mercenaries. Hercules could’ve benefited from a Machete meets Sinbad approach, but the movie’s main drawback is that the opening credits read “A Brett Ratner Film”. It’s pretty astonishing that a filmmaker with such experience and resources puts out a big summer movie this bad. Not even Ian McShane could give it an ounce of oxygen and that should put it in perspective, as I am about as big an Ian McShane fan as they get. The hardest pill to swallow is that even a movie that should be so light-hearted in tone insults the audience by not even trying to suspend disbelief or to have some semblance of logic. The role of reality in fantasy can sometimes be a key ingredient and Ratner and company obviously don’t care here. I almost felt like I was part of a new episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I should’ve been commenting on scene after scene that had me laughing (for the wrong reason) at every turn.

With no great special effects, lively performances, or great moments to speak of, Hercules is truly one of the worst movies of the year and with all the talent that was involved that is truly a shame. Being that it is I obviously cannot recommend this flick in any way, if you truly need a fix of The Rock wielding a sword action, revisit 2002’s Scorpion King. At least that movie knew to not try and take it self too seriously. It’ll be time much better spent, trust me.

*I did take note that Dewayne Johnson appears to have added even more muscle for the movie and appears to be in amazing shape, so that is some kind of accomplishment.

-JB

Noah

Noah
3

Darren Aronofksy’s curious choice to adapt one of the most retold parables from the book of Genesis is something unexpected to me. But haven’t most of Aronofsky’s choices been fairly curious within his body of work? From Requiem for a Dream to Black Swan he’s continued to evolve and reinvent himself. I think that is what has continued to set him apart with a handful of other auteurs on the shortlist of the best storytellers currently working in cinema. Noah, his latest story to hit the big screen is an epic to say the least, and it’s an interesting one nonetheless. It is also important to know going in that this adaptation is more of Aronofksy’s interpretation versus an accurate re-telling of the biblical story. It’s entertaining, with many flaws, but still entertaining. It’s a movie, and popcorn seemed to go well with it.

A lot of the things you’d expect from the story in the bible, we get. Noah (Russell Crowe) has a vision from God that he must save all of the animals from a great flood. So he starts to construct a giant arc to house the animals, but we also get a little bit of a bizarre twist for cinematic purposes…Noah can seriously kick your ass. On top of that we get a showdown between Noah and Tubal-Cain (Ray Winestone), a group of Tolkienesque giant rock creatures referred to as The Watchers (voiced by Nick Nolte and Frank Langella), and a third act that involves our new Noah anti-hero wrestling with whether or not God wants him to murder his oldest son’s newborn baby in order to punish all mankind for treating the land as their toilet. All a part of Aronofksy’s artistic liberties taken with the story from the bible to make this a bizzare, yet enjoyable ride. Jennifer Connelly brings balance as Noah’s affable wife Naameh and Sir Anthony Hopkins is on point as always playing Noah’s spiritual guide and grandfather Methuselah. Crowe turns in a performance that gives us ancient blue-collar grit that was surprisingly more reminiscent of his Richie Roberts than his Maximus. The visual effects in Noah are bold and breathtaking, and some of the best I’ve seen on screen this year.

The most fascinating thing about Aronofksy’s telling was that he seems to draw a parallel with the story of Noah and modern day faith in general. He doesn’t try to provide any answers, he just poses questions. And in the world today the faithful interpret the silence of the creator in different ways too. It was intriguing the way Noah’s story was framed here and how it relates to the present. I just hope people of faith can take Aronofksy’s Noah for what it is; a blockbuster action movie built to entertain.

-JB

Enemy

Enemy
3.5

A college history professor whose not really into movies, gets bored and decides to watch a movie and gets bored halfway through and turns it off and then decides to revisit said movie later to finish only to notice his doppelganger has a small part in the film and in turn becomes obsessed with learning more about his apparent double only to find out that their relationship will come boiling to a climactic finish as they play mind games and try to bed each others lovers. Sound like something you want to watch? Well, you should. As odd as Enemy sounds and actually is, it turns out to be surprisingly stimulating. French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve intricately adapts Jose Saramago’s novel Double for the screen with a mindful tact that other filmmakers might never have thought to approach it with, as they would’ve probably gone tumbling down the rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Like he showed audiences with his Sundance darling Incendies and one of last year’s best, Prisoners, Villeneuve has a knack for dark storytelling.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a professor that leads a dry and dreary life. He schlubs around the brown of inner city Toronto, meandering back and forth between his work life at the college and his lackluster home life with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). When he stumbles upon his doppelganger playing an extra in a movie he rents, his interest in learning more about starts to drive him away from his drab life and his overwhelming curiosity lifts his spirits. He starts watching the actor Anthony Claire (Gyllenhaal) from afar and even poses as him to gain entry to his apartment building to get a closer look. Of course Anthony is the antithesis of Adam. He’s strong and confident. We see him coming in from a long jog instead of spending his time with laying around in self loathing like Adam. We see all the differences, albeit most of them subtle. Adam wears sloppy boring suits and Anthony is has more of style about him, he is after all, an actor. But then we see the running theme of both of their parallel lives intersecting; they are bored and unsatisfied personally and professionally. It’s probably why Anthony is struggling in his relationship too. His pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) starts to get suspicious when Adam starts calling the house, and only fuels her uncertainty about where they are headed in life. But when both of their interests about the others life peaks, the film takes a sexual turn, and the thrilling study of a man’s subconscious slithers, twists, and turns into a gratifying climax. Is the grass really greener on the other side, and if so is it worth exploring? What seems so great about another person’s life, might not be so great once you walk in their shoes.

Enemy is a psychological slow burn that borders on comedic absurdity at times, but builds to a payoff that I found worth the wait. Your brain gets a nice workout as your left to interpret what this story means to you metaphorically, but we also get to revel in Gyllenhaal’s subdued, yet powerful performance as the two leads. (Sorry haters, it looks like he can really act. IE Zodiac, Prisoners) I won’t even get into Enemy’s wild, mother of all indie-endings. I’ll let you chew on that tasty bit of madness yourself. This little mind trip won’t be for everyone, but it is definitely worth a watch if you’re in the mood for something different. It’s just too bad the title The Two Jakes was already taken.

-JB

A Critic’s Dozen: Best Films of 2013

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

1 – The Wolf of Wall Street

Only Scorsese could’ve made this film as exhilarating to watch as it is. Epic spectacles of excess that take you on a roller coaster ride with despicable, conscienceless men who dupe average Joe’s out of millions and build an empire out of it. A three-hour film about the rise and fall of real life sleaze Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the greed and drug-addicted lifestyle that eventually led to his company’s demise. It’s one zany story after another that Scorsese wisely keeps on rapid fire throughout to not let you realize this movie you are enjoying so much is about horrible, immoral people. Tragic, yet undeniably funny, The Wolf of Wall Street ranks up there as one of Scorsese’s finest works. Not only is it a harsh truth about the world we live in and the darkness shrouding our financial system, it’s a cautionary tale with great relevance to headlines ripped from the front page of our modern society. DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s balls out bravado, Terrence Winter’s biting script, and Scorsese’s best directing effort in years make The Wolf of Wall Street the best movie of the year. The pure chaos and comedic brilliance of scenes like the “Popeye Quaaludes” scene were quickly etched into my cinematic memory as some of the most memorable scenes in years. I was in awe of how this story was put together for the screen. I can hardly wait for repeat viewings. Just make sure and put the kids to bed first.

o-PLACE-BEYOND-THE-PINES-TRAILER-facebook

2 – The Place Beyond the Pines

Criminally underrated and unrecognized, Derek Cianfrance’s epic tale of cops and robbers and fathers and sons moved me in more ways than one. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper own the screen exploring the tricky relationship between fathers and sons. No matter how bad a young man’s father is, he always wants to try and emulate him to a certain extent. A boy’s hero worship for his father is generally unstoppable and the film takes the subject on with such layered storytelling, disguising the human drama of the flawed as a genre movie. The end result is a mesmerizing film full of gut-punching twists that I can’t wait to revisit again.

Gravity

3 – Gravity

Cast Away in space is a very crude way to describe a film like Gravity. But that’s the basic premise. But, Gravity is much more than a survival movie. It’s much more than a space movie. A giant, heartfelt movie about the power of the human spirit. Alfonso Cuarón’s direction and the spellbinding, breathtaking special effects are an amazing achievement on their own, but combined that with two actors at the top of their game, and an earnestly triumphant story, Gravity is one of my favorite cinematic experiences of recent memory. My generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Pacific Rim

4 – Pacific Rim

I don’t find it difficult to get excited about a blockbuster directed by Guillermo Del Toro about a battle between giant robots and monsters, but to see the way Del Toro’s vision of Pacific Rim came out as a cinematic finished project is astonishing. Rarely is blockbuster this fun and technically sound all at the same time. Beautifully realized and equally entertaining throughout Pacific Rim is easily Del Toro’s best work to date. Filed under the same category as The Lone Ranger as the other big studio tent pole that went misunderstood and underachieved domestically, Pacific Rim deserves to be watched and watched again. Monsters vs. Robots people!

Christian Bale;Amy Adams;Bradley Cooper

5 – American Hustle

Fun. Fun. Fun. With its pitch-perfect ensemble performances and fast-talking story American Hustle dazzles from start to finish. Russell triumphs by borrowing from the greats. His Scorsese zoom pans almost are used ad nauseam, but I was having too much damn fun to really care to knock him for it. The key to making this Russell’s most confident film to date was realizing who to borrow from and he shows true inspiration with his choices. Whatever small negatives I could find quickly faded into the background of this con-artist caper. Russell’s first two features Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster showed promise. I rather enjoyed Three Kings too, but I felt like he had slight misses with I Heart Huckabee’s and The Fighter after that. Then came last year’s wonderfully insane love story Silver Linings Playbook. Russell builds on that momentum and finally hones his penchant for dysfunctional characters with good hearts. American Hustle is Goodfellas meets Silver Linings Playbook and the combination is one hell of a good time.

Inside Llewyn Davis

6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coens deadpan storytelling reaches new heights with somehow making audiences empathetic to a protagonist that is pretty damn unlikeable. A film about the path to stardom and the fact that it never leads to anywhere for most who travel down its weary, winding roads. Oscar Isaac’s showcases his supreme talent as we follow Llewyn on his self-centered trek seeking folk stardom. It features all the caveats that we are used to with a Coen Brother’s film: Amazing music, funny and sharp dialogue, and amazing supporting performances. But, the main thing that stood out about this one for me was that it was the Coens most succinct film to date. Tightly woven and expertly directed, Inside Llewyn Davis had me grinning and chuckling for all 104 minutes of cold weather without a winter coat that Llewyn had to endure.

12 Years a Slave

7 – 12 Years a Slave

Director Steve McQueen takes a page out of one of our country’s darkest historical periods. Based on the book of the same name, the film follows the harrowing journey of Solomon Northup, who was born a free man, but was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s turn as the mistaken slave pours out with emotion and not only has you feeling his frustration as a free man trapped, but also keeps you rooting out loud all along the way. McQueen triumphantly brings Northup’s story to the screen with his usual straightforwardness and gives one of the clearest pictures of what it was probably like to see slavery as it was. Nudity and blood are no strangers in McQueen’s films and here you get an uncomfortable amount. Fassbender’s heartless plantation owner Epps is ferociously evil yet represents the moral justification that existed from the white majority at the time. As visually punishing as some of the graphic violence in Northup’s story is, it’s worth enduring through for a gratifying ending that is sure to move all that make it through the gut-wrenching story that is 12 Years a Slave.

Her

8 – Her

What more can I say about Joaquin Phoenix. Easily one of the top actors working today, he continues to slither in and out of his characters like a reptile’s skin. He has also been very good about choosing who he collaborates with. This time out he and Spike Jonze along coupled with the voice-over of Scarlett Johansson create a futuristic world that explores where our relationship with technology may be heading. Fresh and original, Her works simultaneously as entertainment and a think piece. A dark social commentary with a lot of big laughs and poignant moments, the script penned by Jonze, should be the chalk come Oscar night. I feel like Her will be even more profound years from now when our reality creeps closer to Spike’s vision. Jonze and Phoenix continue to march to their own drumbeat and I hope neither one of them ever take a different route.

1170481 - This Is The End

9 – This is the End

If you want to pee your pants, you should see This Is the End. I laughed so hard throughout its entirety I thought I might soil myself at any moment. Luckily, I made it through with zero accidents. In a hilarious send up of their Hollywood celebrity personas, This Is the End worked in every way for my funny bone. Generally when you get this many talents in one vehicle it tends to be bloated and extremely watered down. But not here…This Is the End is funniest movie of the year. It finds fresh and original ways to make the all-star cast stay in sync with each other and keep the story moving along one hilarious bit after another. Rogen and Goldberg were smart enough to give us a nice story that finds a way to show a little heart shine through amongst the dick-jokes and graphic post-apocalyptic FX. That’s the sign of a good comedy – when the characters are so loveable and funny that there is no amount of crudeness that would turn you off. That’s what This Is the End does, it makes you laugh a lot more than most comedies, but it also is written and directed in a way that both the story and the horror scenes keep you entertained when you have a few moments in between laughs. In the old school tradition of Cannonball Run, Rogen and Goldberg steer an all-star cast through heaven and hell to swim through a sea of cameos in one of the year’s best movies.

Prisoners

10- Prisoners

So many comparisons have been drawn to Prisoners. Films like Mystic River, Seven, and even Zero Dark Thirty seem to keep coming up. But for me, I drew parallels with another film Gyllenhaal excelled in, David Fincher’s Zodiac. It’s similarly paced, with solid performances, and Fincher never lets you count any suspect out until the very end of that jigsaw thriller. Director Denis Villeneuve lays out the web of damaged characters by subtly revealing their back stories with little, yet precise details. Couple the ensemble cast’s strong effort with the super talent of cinematographer Roger Deakins beautifully framing the murky details through rainy grey windows and pitch black night exteriors and you have a winner here. I quickly figured out that critics and fans alike were divided into love and hate camps with this film and even though I correctly identified the who in the whodunnit halfway through, there were more than enough great qualities about Prisoners to keep me well entertained until the two and a half hour running time expired. This movie does not take you to a happy place by any means, but it is high-grade entertainment for all of us grown-ups.

Mud

11 – Mud

Mud is a film that harkens back to legendary literature classics of yesteryear. It oozes Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and even though set in modern times, it could’ve just as easily been 100 years ago. The story takes place mostly on the river banks of the Mississippi and involves two boys happening on a mysterious and potentially dangerous loaner hiding out on the river. Although McConaughey and Witherspoon share virtually no screen time the casting is just right. McConaughey continues his hot streak with another spot on performance and Witherspoon, hides years of pain behind those eyes. Both actors turn in stellar character portrayals with a striking subtlety that’s quite refreshing. Tye Sheridan’s turn as Ellis evokes just the right amount of innocence, so that we can really recognize it being stripped away in the third act. Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, and Paul Sparks complete a solid cast. Writer/director Jeff Nichols, who’s been somewhat of an indie darling, has turned out one intellectually stimulating film after another with great storytelling in both Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter. He follows suit with Mud, his best film to date. Nichols realizes that a great story doesn’t just happen; you have to read and turn the next page to get the full effect. There is no instant gratification with Nichols’ films. Some may even call his pace slow, but Nichols knows the value of classic storytelling of the past…and it’s good to know they actually still do make em’ like they used to. Mark Twain would’ve been proud.

Spring Breakers

12 – Spring Breakers

I can’t remember a film that I was so bored with in the first act that made such a surprising comeback in the second and third acts. Harmony Korine’s film could’ve been labeled as a pure fetish film if you just watched the first 30 minutes, but as this weird little flick got off the ground it was one of the most refreshingly unique and entertaining works I saw all year. A lot of it can be attributed to James Franco’s powerhouse performance as a wannabe gangster Alien, and surprisingly effective turns from Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson as the bikini-clad gunners. Whether or not you want to read into how much of this film was a social commentary on meat-head millennials or just a neon-laced heist movie, Spring Breakers stood out as 100% weird, and that ends up being a good thing.

The Lone Ranger

13 – The Lone Ranger

Why this was one of the most widely panned movies of the year still is a bit mind boggling to me. Goofy and fun, but extremely well crafted, The Lone Ranger was one of the most entertaining blockbusters of the summer. Sure this was a new take, a re-imagining of the classic TV series. Tonto (Johnny Depp) is now pretty much the lead and he’s not taking any of The Lone Ranger’s (Armie Hammer) shit. But even though it was a new spin director Gore Verbinski took up where he left off with Rango, his other magnificent collaboration with Depp. With nods to the classic Westerns and silent films galore, The Lone Ranger was funny, action-packed, and has a story that had more to say than most probably cared to realize.

Honorable Mention:

Frances Ha, The Act of Killing, We’re the Millers, Behind the Candelabra, Nebraska, Out of the Furnace

-JB

A Critic’s Dozen: Best Albums of 2013

I think 2013 was a stellar year for music and really produced some great full-length albums. So it was tough for me to come up with my best of list. Kanye going off the charts with Yeezus and Drake giving us his best effort to-date. Haim kept me wrapped up in high quality sister-pop. Vampires of the City was amazing from start to finish. Hell even a band I worshiped in my adolescence made a turned in their strongest in years (NIN). The one I kept coming back to though was Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork. It sounds as good listening to it in its entirety now as it did back in May, and I feel like it won’t lose much in the years to come. That’s how I evaluate a great album. Start to finish, with staying power, and I think that is just what Josh Homme and company gave us with …Like clockwork. Long live Rock.

1 – Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

QOTSA

2 – Kanye West, Yeezus

Kanye West

3 – Haim, Days Are Gone

Haim

4 – Drake, Nothing Was the Same

Drake

5 – Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend

6 – Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

Daft Punk

7 – Palma Violets, 180

Palma Violets

8 – Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

NIN

9 – The National, Trouble Will Find Me

The National

10 – Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe

Chvrches

11 – A$AP Rocky, LongLiveA$AP

asap-rocky-long-live-asap-cover-400x400

12 – Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold

PARQUET COURTS

13 – Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

EARL SWEATSHIRT

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman 2
2.5

Great Odin’s Raven! Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his entire news team are back for more comedy hijinks in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The movie opens with some pretty decent comedic momentum, but loses steam about half way through as the story goes all over the place. It has a bright spots, but lacks the energy and hilarious back-and-fourths of the original.

After Ron goes through a hard breakup with his wife and co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) he’s hired by a new 24-hour news channel and Fox News – ahem…GNN is born. He seeks out all of his old running buddies to assemble the news team that once was, finding all of our favorite characters from the first installment doing their own thing. Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) has struck it rich becoming a famous cat photographer, Champ Kind (David Koechner) is running a fast food fried chicken chain, and Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) is well…I’ll let you see that one for yourself. There are good solid jokes setting all these up including a pretty funny sequence where the news team is in a super slow-motion car crash involving scorpions and bowling balls. But when the new characters are introduced they don’t have a real place within the story and don’t really serve much of a comedic purpose. Jack Lime (James Marsden) is Ron’s new rival news anchor who quickly disappears somewhere in the second act. Then you also have Ron’s sassy new boss Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) who just happens to be African-American to set up some jokes involving Ron’s political incorrectness and 80’s racism that for me fell super flat. But, don’t get me wrong, there are still some big laughs in Anchorman 2, just not enough for me to recommend the movie.

The original Anchorman knew what it was. It was silly, raucous, and although most of the classic scenes in that movie were more than likely improvised the script had purpose and heart. This time around the script that director Adam McKay and Ferrell penned is so scattered that it feels almost like a different movie at different junctures in the story. As it neared its end I found myself asking, “Was Ron Burgundy just blind and bottle feeding a shark for the last 25 minutes?” That’s just the kind of sloppy subplots that really weighed this sequel down. I will watch Anchorman 2 again though. Probably while folding laundry on a Saturday afternoon with the tube lazily stuck on TNT or FX. That’s where this movie belongs and I think there is something good to be said for mediocre movies like that. Everything has its place.

-JB

American Hustle

Christian Bale;Amy Adams;Bradley Cooper
4

There are movies, and then there are films. Movies are predominantly built for mass audiences. When I think movie I think a theme park ride, a comic book, or a sequel designed to appeal to the more casual movie-goer. Films are geared towards a smaller section of the audience; made primarily to appeal to snarky cineastes who analyze for character development, technical aspects, and other cinematic elements. If you can achieve both a movie and film in one single work, then you have hit the entertainment jackpot. That is just what writer/director David O. Russell has accomplished with his latest flick, American Hustle. It’s sure to garner countless accolades and recognition from film critics, but I think it’s also something you could show your Uncle who hasn’t been to a movie in five years. Russell’s film goes big and over-the-top and scores big points for doing so. You’re in the theater hanging out with some of the zaniest, yet loveable characters in recent memory, and you’ll find yourself having an extraordinary amount of fun at the movies.

We open on a shot of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) placing stray hairs back in to place in his intricate comb-over. He’s paunchy and balding and dresses like a sleazy car salesman turned nightclub owner. Bale’s Irving leaves debonair Bruce Wayne light years away from his newest incarnation. He and his girlfriend and partner Sydney (Amy Adams) have been busted by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and in exchange for no jail time agree to go undercover and help the bureau take down politicians on the take. Along the way we learn that Irving also has a wife and son. Irving’s wife Rosalyn not only has a screw loose, but manipulates Irving into staying together with her in their dysfunctional marriage. As DiMaso’s plan unfolds and continues to get bigger and bigger, Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), members of congress, and the mafia become targets. Irving wants to make a run for it and take Sydney out of the country, but can’t bring himself to leave his son behind. But who’s got the angle on who? The script keeps you guessing until the end, but the real reason you want to stay put in your seat are the amazing performances, especially from Bale and Lawrence. Bale is masterful as a con-man with the heart of a lion. Lawrence has found her wheelhouse combination of Crazy and David O. Russell, turning in another great role as the bat shit crazy Rosalyn. Cooper playing the curly-haired, over-zealous agent is a lot of fun too. Even the supporting bit parts are stellar. Louis C.K. as the straight-laced square supervisor of DiMaso’s department had me in stitches and Boardwalk Empire alums Shea Whigham and Jack Huston do their normal thing of being really good onscreen. The acting combined with a really nice production design and cinematography really makes American Hustle well-rounded in every aspect. One of my biggest pet peeves is period pieces that lazily skimp on the details, but Russell along with production designer Judy Becker gives us some of the best looks at the glitz, glam, and bravado of the 70’s since Boogie Nights.

With its pitch-perfect ensemble performances and fast-talking story American Hustle dazzles from start to finish. Russell triumphs by borrowing from the greats. His Scorsese zoom pans almost are used ad nauseam, but I was having too much damn fun to really care to knock him for it. The key to making this Russell’s most confident film to date was realizing who to borrow from and he shows true inspiration with his choices. Whatever small negatives I could find quickly faded into the background of this con-artist caper. Russell’s first two features Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster showed promise. I rather enjoyed Three Kings too, but I felt like he had slight misses with I Heart Huckabee’s and The Fighter after that. Then came last year’s wonderfully insane love story Silver Linings Playbook. Russell has built on that momentum and finally honed his penchant for dysfunctional characters with good hearts. American Hustle is Goodfellas meets Silver Linings Playbook and the combination is one hell of a good time.

-JB