Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) finally found the perfect story for his shaky camera! Let’s go get seasick together at the movies! Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, the real life hero who was taken hostage at sea by Somali pirates. It’s an amazing story, and to see how it all played out is pretty incredible.
Greengrass’ approach of casting virtually unknown actors to play real people works again here, but it really helps to have Hanks’ star power, even though he’s more everyman than ever. We see Phillips get dropped off at the airport by his wife (Catherine Keener), then we see him board the cargo ship and go through his normal preparation. But we know what’s coming. A slow build up leads to a nice big rescue mission payoff, although it drags a bit on its way there. The climatic third act will more than likely leave you shook and exhausted. The final sequence is effective to the point of the audience taking on some of the physical toll Captain Phillips is enduring. Trust me, you’ll leave the theater still tense and drained which is a testament to the power of the climax. It’s fairly mind-boggling to see how the military was able to intervene and plan Phillips’ rescue from a small lifeboat that had him flanked by three pirates. Just thank our lucky stars the Navy SEALs are on our side.
Captain Phillips is taut with suspense and intricately re-enacted moments from the real life story. If it weren’t for a brief bout with boredom at its midpoint, I would’ve called it masterful film making, but Captain Phillips ends up being a half hour too long. Greengrass does a nice job of evoking Captain Phillips’ workman-like mentality with a nice stripped down blue collar approach. All in all it is solid entertainment value for a docudrama, and is a very interesting and gripping true story of what this man did to save his crew. This Tom Hanks guy is a pretty, pretty, pretty good actor too.
I will preface my review of Machete Kills by saying that I generally enjoy Danny Trejo, the works of Robert Rodriguez, and the character Machete.
When the first Machete film came out in 2010 a lot of audiences felt it was better suited to stay as it was originally spawned; a faux-trailer in the intermission of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double-feature Grindhouse. I loved Machete as a fake preview and I rather enjoyed it as a feature length movie. As a fan of exploitation films of the 70’s and the badass action vehicles of the 80’s I understood the nostalgic nods to those movies, albeit mostly corny jokes. Machete was a fun flick that worked as a “so bad it’s actually pretty good” premise better than most that had tried before it. Now comes the sequel that we probably didn’t need. The first Machete almost ran out of gas in the final act, but didn’t go on long enough to grow tired. Machete Kills takes that sputtering spirit and uses it in every frame of screen time. Repetitive, uninspired, and just plain dull Machete Kills wears out the fun, badass spirit of the Machete character early in the first act. This follow-up finds Machete (Danny Trejo) hired by the President (Charlie Sheen billed as Carlos Estevez) to track down a madman heading up the Mexican drug cartel. Come to find out the devious plot goes deeper and leads Machete to go head to head with a Maniacal industrialist named Voz. In what could have been an ingenious piece of casting to let Gibson channel Martin Riggs and pave the way for a comeback, instead finds Gibson out-of-practice and sweaty. What could’ve been a daffy supporting role setup perfectly for Gibson to chew the scenery with just ends up boring and flat. The only mildly bright spot is Sheen’s semi-funny turn as the commander in chief. Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez reprise their roles, but neither are memorable or even necessary. Cuba Gooding, Jr., Sofia Vergara, Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas also have bit parts, but even after seeing the movie I’m still not even sure why. Not that you’d expect much from the writing in a Machete movie, but to say there’s no character development would be an understatement. No matter how this debacle of a comedy-action flick came to be this bland, audiences need to at least feel like there was somebody out there that cared enough to make an effort to make the best movie possible. That’s not what I took from it. Even Frank Drebin had a decent back story, and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, the weakest of that Trilogy towers over this waste of an hour and forty-seven minutes.
The problem is that there is nothing new or fresh that Rodriguez brings to the table. “Machete don’t text,” has been lazily replaced with “Machete don’t tweet,” and so forth and so on. The question I kept asking myself walking away from this one was, “How did the person that directed Sin City make this?” Onward and upward to Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo, but unfortunately we might be able to finally put a fork in Mel Gibson’s movie career. I hope I’m wrong.
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. It’s a giant, heartfelt movie about the power of the human spirit. Writer/Director Alfonso Cuarón’s spellbinding, breathtaking special effects are an amazing achievement on their own, but combined with two actors at the top of their game, and an earnestly triumphant story, Gravity is one of my favorite cinematic experiences in years.
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission. She’s joined by the calm and cool veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). The team’s task, in astronaut terms, is simple; repair the Hubble telescope. Things go dangerously awry when space debris crashes the telescope and the team’s shuttle to pieces sending Ryan into a panic and Kowalski into crisis management mode. Kowalski had already half-jokingly told Houston several times, “I have a bad feeling about this mission,” and Houston just happens to be a familiar voice in space movies. Ed Harris completes his space trifecta following his turns in two other classics The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. Ryan still having radio contact with Kowalski starts to take mental notes from the more knowledgeable Kowalksi as he instructs her on how to make her way to a nearby space station. Then when contact is finally lost, Bullock has to turn on her best Tom Hanks and go it alone. Where Clooney gives the story a nice touch of levity, Bullock embodies the spirit of Gravity and gives the performance of her career. Delivering both physically and emotionally Bullock’s Ryan gracefully glides through zero gravity and even gives one of the more memorable cinematic milestones – a 3-D teardrop.* Ryan, pushed to the brink of desperation has to decide is there a miracle that can save her or should she just close her eyes, forget about all the pain, and let the quiet void take her away.
There is no doubt in my mind that Cuarón will go on to do more great things. With Children of Men and now Gravity he has made two major movie going achievements that rank in the top fifty films of the last quarter century. Technically precise and emotionally glorious Gravity is art as entertainment at its highest form. I can only imagine the work that went into the film visually, yet coupled with the direct approach and presentation of the story, Gravity’s simplicity is what ends up being its greatest strength. Even when there were little things that temporarily irked me with Gravity, I found that they quickly passed. Was it a flaw in the story that even after all of the Ryan character’s NASA training she still at times seemed inept and helpless as an astronaut? No, it’s just something for us movie fans to discuss over a nice piece of pie. Looking for flaws with a film like Gravity is going to be tough. Cuarón, Bullock, and company take us for one hell of a roller coaster ride. They makes us feel like we’re out there alone with Ryan amongst the stars pondering on all the big things in our life that look so tiny from space, but will mean even more to us when we get back home.
*Go see Gravity in IMAX 3-D. This movie is what the IMAX experience was made for.
Don Jon is a film that will likely be watched again and again years from now for two reasons; to take a look back at the directorial debut of one of future Hollywood’s biggest stars and to see how people consumed sex through something called a “laptop” back in the day. So even now, years before Generation Z struggles with flying porn and one night stand Loopers there have been thousands of years of change with sex, and sexual relationships. Sex will always continue to evolve and take on new quirks and shifts to the user manual for our bodies. Things are quite a bit different since Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, but I could totally see a young Mike Nichols born into a different generation, taking on Don Jon’s story today. That’s a compliment to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who serves as writer, director, and star of Don Jon. He takes on a subject matter that even to this day remains taboo in many circles. He bravely approaches it in a very honest and direct way, but wisely presents it with a lot of humor.
Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is twenty something guy that could be easily mistaken for a cast member of MTV’s Jersey Shore. He’s buff, with slicked back hair, and cusses like a sailor. We find out right away that Jon struggles with an addiction to sex. Not violently like Fassbender in Shame, but in the general sense that a lot of Jon’s life passes by because he’s preoccupied with spending all his time having one night flings with girls he brings home from the club or masturbating to internet porn. Jon is also either dedicated or compulsively obsessed with keeping his apartment clean and regularly attending mass to confess all of his sexual appetites. So Jon is too busy to have a “meaningful life” because he spends all of his days working out while belting out Hail Mary’s or whatever other penance the father has doled out this week, vacuuming and windexing his pad, and masturbating to porn. We get a peek into his dysfunctional family that may or may not have aided Jon’s choice of lifestyle. His father (Tony Danza) fanatically watches TV, while his little sister (Brie Larson) never looks up from texting, and his mother (Glenne Headly) repeatedly asks Jon when he’s going to settle down and have babies. Then comes along Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), Jon’s prototypical idea of a dream girl. Sure she’s a dime, but when Jon finds out what kind of hoops he’s going to have to jump through to get in her pants (Take a class? Give up porn?) he starts to ponder if sharing his life with somebody is even worth it. Where Jon’s fetish lies in porn, Barbara’s is with romantic comedies. Which makes for an interesting comparison if you really think about it. Mix in more sexual confusion for Jon when Esther (Julianne Moore) a forty something classmate, starts to spark up a conversation by letting him borrow one of her classic porn DVD’s. JGL and Johansson have surprising chemistry and both turn in very believable characters. Although Gordon-Levitt’s direction seems at times a bit forced and over-produced, he shows great potential to be a great storyteller. He even pulls out a bit of a surprise ending that appropriately starts the next chapter for Jon.
This is a great change of pace for a date movie. It might be cringe-inducing for some prude audiences, but if anything, Don Jon is a wake up call for all people actively participating in relationships today. If you can’t be honest and open about sex and sexual habits then what else are you hiding from? Have some laughs, enjoy a movie, and get some couples therapy. Don Jon’s story of an unhealthy obsession just might be a good conversation starter for you and yours. It’s an entertaining study on modern day culture and I’m glad to see JGL taking big chances instead of taking big paychecks.
Trying to piece together the puzzle before the closing credits roll is the fun with a good whodunnit picture. Prisoners would fall into that category, but not the fun part. A dark and twisted story of kidnapping, torture, and desperation, it explores the depths of human frailty and comes crashing to an end with a twist you may never see coming. Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) does a great job capturing the potential out of a screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski that has a tendency to be a bit melodramatic at times. He also found a way to harness stellar performances out of a slew of talented actor and actresses. But the thing I found most impressive about Villenueve’s direction was the consistent atmosphere and tone he sets here. Dark and ominous throughout, this is about as far away from a feel good movie as you can get, and that’s a compliment in this case.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a recovering alcoholic that moonlights as a doomsday prepper. But these days he’s a father first and foremost. In the first act we see a kind and almost gentle man taking his son deer hunting for the first time and playing with his young daughter on the way to Thanksgiving Dinner. But it doesn’t take long for darkness to set in over this storybook Pennsylvania town. Two girls, including Dover’s daughter are kidnapped and the frantic search begins. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who according to the police captain, “Has never lost a case,” is assigned to head up the investigation. Loki, with his slicked back hair, hand and neck tattoos, and nervous eye tick is almost too much to buy as a no-nonsense cop, but Gyllenhaal seems to knows the guy well enough to make us believe all his baggage has led him to become an obsessive do-gooder. The first person of interest is the mentally challenged boy named Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Loki brings him in for some tough interrogation, but after he has nothing that will stick Alex is released. This doesn’t satisfy the headstrong Dover. Deciding to take the law into his own hands he secretly captures Alex and chains him up inside an abandoned apartment building to do some interrogating of his own. With Loki following other leads and Dover’s wife (Maria Bello) at home in a self-medicated daze, Dover spends his nights physically punishing Alex trying to get information on the missing girls. This is where Dover’s real struggles start. He’s in pain and he’s pushed to do whatever it takes to find his daughter all while wrestling with his past transgressions and now discarding his new found moral high ground to torture a boy to near death. Jackman makes his Wolverine look almost happy in comparison with the permanent scowl he wears with Dover. He reaches deep down for anger, screams and yells, and teeters between bombastic and A Few Good Men–like overacting. The exact opposite goes for Gyllenhaal’s restrained turn as the antihero Loki. A subdued and expertly nuanced performance shows his range and star quality like never before.
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 the jigsaw thriller. 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.
Elysium is refreshing, but not necessarily for it’s originality. It serves as a nice change of pace this summer. A sci-fi story about class warfare is something we’ve definitely seen before, but I have to admit it was nice to sit down and take this film in as opposed to another Hangover sequel. This is a continuation from the social metaphor we saw in Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 back in 2010. It doesn’t quite add up to its predecessor, but despite goofy dialogue, plot holes, and illogical occurrences galore, Elysium has its moments of summer fun.
The year is 2154 and we open up our story deep in the Barrio of Los Angeles. Max (Matt Damon) is a former car thief trying to go straight amongst civil unrest. He works as an assembly line worker in a factory that produces the very droids that police the new world order. Sickness is all around and the broken healthcare system is not allowing anyone to get the care they need. Meanwhile on a manufactured space station habitat called Elysium the wealthy live in the lap of luxury with technology that keeps their bodies free of disease. Many of the common people of earth try to crash land and sneak on to Elysium, but if they are lucky enough to set feet on the hollowed ground they are quickly disposed of at the direction of evil defense secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Then there is violent rogue agent Krueger (Sharlto Copley) who serves as a Delacourt’s foot soldier down on earth. Copley pulls a complete 180 from his turn as the lead in District 9. He trades the by the book Wikus in for the brooding cave man Krueger. Copley’s unhinged animal was the highlight of the film for me. It was apparent which cast member was having the most fun with their role. Foster’s talents, on the other hand, go to a complete waste for the first time in her career. Her Delacourt falls flat with no juicy showdown scenes to speak of, and an extremely vague back story, her character is limited and Foster dialogue and presence in the film grow boring.
Max is involved in an accident while working at the factory where he is exposed to a high dose of radiation. He has days to live and his only chance to survive is to somehow make it to Elysium to be healed by their technology. He turns to his old thug friends for help and makes a deal with his old boss Spider (Wagner Moura) to hi-jack his former CEO (William Fichtner) to recover and download a data card in turn for a ride to Elysium. This scene where Max flanked by a couple of his old car-thief cohorts have a shootout with security droids to get to the CEO is the best action of the film. Unfortunately the other big set pieces and action sequences following that never really get too exciting. There’s a good story here and Blomkamp’s attempt to capture the themes of immigration reform and a broken healthcare system from today’s headlines and make us see what could be our future is admirable, but didn’t tap into the real heart of those themes for me. Elysium didn’t feel engaging enough throughout for me to go out of my way to recommend it. It definitely looks good. Although it was a visually stimulating piece of filmmaking, Elysium just had something missing that seemed to keep it from clicking on all cylinders. Maybe its bigger budget worked against it. The studio claws may have been tightly squeezed around Blomkamp’s creative ambition. Maybe it was casting that through it just few clicks off to me. Even though Damon is without question an exciting movie star to watch, Blomkamp’s first inclination of going to 8 mile for his Max might have been the one misstep that ultimately holds Elysium back. Damon is a shoe-in for any All-American or heroic lead. I could even buy him earlier in his career as the devious prep school kid or in more recent years a dirty cop. But Matt Damon as a tattooed street-tough thug who used to jack cars for a living? It feels strange to say it, but Eminem may have provided the spark that Elysium ended up missing.
We’re the Millers is not only the most surprisingly good movie of the summer, but it’s a rare thing: a modern day comedy that I will voluntarily and assuredly watch again. I try and not make a habit of casually labeling movies as classics, but I feel like this movie has all the right elements to very quickly take its place on the cult popularity shelf right next to Office Space. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but I was pleasantly blind-sided by how much this movie had working for it.
Jason Sudeikis stars as down on his luck pot-dealer David. He’s lost his stash of weed and cash to some punk kids after he tries to help his geeky neighbor Kenny (Will Rossmore) come to the rescue of young street girl Casey (Emma Roberts). Big time drug boss Brad (Ed Helms) forces David to smuggle a giant “smidge” of marijuana across the Mexican border. David decides that the only way he will be able to cross the border under the radar is to pose as a family of tourists. He grabs Kenny and Casey to pose as his son and daughter, then snags his stripper neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston). Of course hi-jinx ensues, but what makes the movie work so effortlessly is the fact that it doesn’t try to break away from the normal road trip comedy formula. It embraces that formula and follows it with a jovial spirit of debauchery. There are a plethora of dirty jokes, gross-out gags, and fairly sophomoric moments, but they are all undeniably hilarious. Sudeikis shows once again that he’s the go-to smart ass everyman. His David feels right at home with a Venkman or Griswold. Aniston continues to carve out her niche in comedy, she’s not afraid of a little self-deprecation or getting down and dirty in risky scenes that pay off huge dividends in the laugh department. After her over the top nympho in Horrible Bosses and now this I hope to see juicier comedy roles come her way. Then we get fantastic support from Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as tee-totaling couple Don and Edie, whom for me, almost make the movie. Without giving too much away, their Joe Morgan reference and their bit about Edie’s shallow private area are worth the price of admission.
Where the movie excels is tapping into the unadulterated fun that we used to see in the 80’s. Vacation, Stripes, and Caddyshack come to mind as R-rated comedies that We’re the Millers is indicative of. The bottom line is that, whether the jokes are in poor taste or at times low-brow, the movie gets laughs over and over. It never hits you over the head with gaudy vulgarity like so many recent asinine R-rated comedies have done. It’s a movie that is clever enough to mix in some subliminal messages about family values inbetween penis jokes and scenes smothered with sexual innuendo. Guilty pleasure or not, We’re the Millers is just plain funny. For once it is truly appropriate for me to type LOL.
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 own Hollywood celebrity persona’s, 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.
The winning writing combo from Superbad of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg team up again. This time they try their hands at writing and directing. The story takes place on a random night in Los Angeles, the apocalypse is upon us and everybody’s partying at James Franco’s house once everything goes to hell. It’s a who’s who of stand-up comedians and Adaptow alumni. All of sudden mysterious beams are picking people up, sucking them into the void of the sky, and the ground is breaking up sending people falling thousands of feet to a fiery death. Everybody panics, many perish, except the group of survivors that are left to contemplate the end and prepare for survival in Franco’s post-modernistic mansion. Left to fight for their lives are Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, James Franco, and Danny McBride. Everything that happens, every little argument the dudes get into, seems like they were loosely based upon or ripped right from real situations these friends and co-cast members may have been through in real life. That’s the key to This Is the End. We definitely can buy each of the send ups back stories. I can definitely picture Jonah and Jay clashing and having to skirt around each other at social gatherings because they basically can’t stand one another. Franco plays good sport to his own exaggerated ego and bromance towards Rogen. And Danny McBride manages to piss everyone off by worrying more about himself and his weed more than anybody’s else or the repercussions of his selfish actions. All these little things translate into a nice flowing barrage of hilarity. Whether the guys are bickering on who will get the last Milky Way or bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or trying to exorcise the demons from Jonah Hill once a monster takes control of his body, the laughs are bigger and better than the run-of-the-mill formulaic comedies we get on consistent basis. There are a lot of fun surprises that I won’t spoil for you, but I can tell you that if you’ve ever liked stoner-comedy, you’re almost guaranteed to love this flick.
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 Seth Rogen steers an all-star cast through heaven and hell to swim through a sea of cameos in one of the years best movies.
…and that reminds me…since Hollywood has such a thirst for reboots why doesn’t this same group get together and remake Cannonball Run? Seriously you guys – MAKE THAT MOVIE!