Monday, December 30, 2013

American Hustle – review

American Hustle is the dark comedy crime movie about the FBI ABSCAM operation in the late 1970s.  The actors do a great job playing colorful characters.  With an astounding soundtrack, the movie really does a fun job keeping the look of the 70s and 80s.  The story is fun and entertaining with its mix of narrators and compelling characters. 

Con-artists Irving and Sydney, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, have a great scam going until FBI agent Richard DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper, catches them in the act.  They need to help Richard catch corrupt politicians with their con-skills to avoid prison time.  Eventually they are weaving lies and making enemies.  Meanwhile, the relationship between Irving and his unstable wife Rosalyn, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is causing problems. 

The acting is really good and displays the skills of all the actors involved. It is a character piece and everyone is very memorable in his or her look, dialogue, and outfits. American Hustle keeps a grip on the generation it is trying to portray without being too over-the-top.  Christian Bale is hilarious and wildly fun and Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic at being crazy and yet brining vulnerability to the role. 

American Hustle is a very entertaining movie. With a kicking 70s soundtrack, great acting, and a story that is very charming, I recommend seeing it. If you enjoy movies like The Silver Linings Playbook where the humor is somewhat dark and the subject material is some times a bit cerebral, this movie will be right up your alley.  There is a lot of charm and fun to this movie and it is certainly worth the time.  Give it a watch it you have a chance.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is better than the movie that preceded it, but it still pales in comparison to the Lord of the Rings movies.  While visually interesting and having good acting, there are loads of scenes and side plots to this story that are really obvious filler material.  The movie force-feeds fan service to the audience in the hopes that their familiarity with the Lord of the Rings will make them enjoy it more.  It sadly reminds me of Star Wars trilogy in that respect.

Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, travels with his 13 dwarf companions and Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, toward the Lonely Mountain and Smaug the dragon. They must enter the Mirkwood forest and face many dangers.  Gandalf must also address an issue with a Necromancer bringing evil to Middle Earth. They need to show courage and ingenuity in order to get to the Lonely Mountain and face the terrible dragon.

The acting is pretty decent for this chapter.  Martin Freeman is good at bringing heart to Bilbo Baggins.  The One Ring is taking its toll on him and it shows. For the most part everyone else just seems to be going through the motions.  The effects and the action scenes are at least pretty fun to watch.  The amount of CGI is a bit crazy at times, making it almost as if you are watching a cartoon.

This movie makes it painfully obvious that The Hobbit did not need to be broken into a trilogy.  They add a pointless romance between a female elf that was not in the book, with one of the dwarves.  They also put in a scene with Beorn, the skin-changer, which adds nothing to the story. Adding Legolas and talking about Gimli is just fan-service that also is not needed.  As if that isn’t enough, giving the character of the Necromancer multiple scenes was certainly unnecessary.

There are plenty of versions of this story that have been told that don’t require splitting the book into multiple stories.  The fact that Peter Jackson had to add so much filler makes the “cash grab” painfully obvious.  At the very least, some elements of this movie are entertaining.  It is worth seeing if you are a fan of the last movie-as it a lot more entertaining.  I would just recommend catching it as a matinee or waiting until the entire trilogy comes out and getting to see it altogether.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the follow up to The Hunger Games. Based on the book of the same name, the story is about rebellion and the effect the media has on people.  The acting is very good with a story that is pretty gripping.  For a sequel it well written with likable characters.

After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is told to go on tour with Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, to the other districts.  There they find that their actions from the previous hunger games are causing revolutions to spring up.  In order to make an example of the victors the President decides that the 75th annual Hunger Games should be between the winners of the past years. Katniss and Peeta must once again fight in the Hunger Games, this time against other victors.

The acting in this movie is pretty good. Jennifer Lawrence is very good and always seems to try to make a character that is believable and likable.  Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks seem to be having a great time with their roles as well; both are over the top in a good way.  The cameos are great and seeing Jeffrey Wright in a role like this after his work in Boardwalk Empire is a fun change of pace. 

The story has a lot of action and is fairly well paced.  The groups of victors form allegiances that make a really interesting friendship dynamic that was missing in the last film. The thing that I found a bit annoying was that Peeta was in constant need of rescue. It gets a little silly how many times he needs to get helped by other people.  It also seems strange that if the President has no problem wiping out an entire district as a metaphoric middle finger to Katniss, you’d think the people would have run him out of town a long time ago.

As a whole, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a good movie.  I would certainly recommend seeing the first movie before this one though.  It’s got a decent story, fun setting, and likable characters.  If you are in the mood for something different in the sci-fi department I recommend seeing this movie.

Old Boy – review

Old Boy is the 2013 remake of the 2003 South Korean film of the same name. While some of the acting is decent from the main cast, and some of the action scenes are fun to watch, the movie still is not up to par with the original.  The plot changes leave more holes than are necessary. In some instances this can be overlooked, but as many as there are in this version of Old Boy it becomes too distracting.

Joe Doucett, played by Josh Brolin, is an advertising executive that is kidnapped one night and held in a room for 20 years.  While locked away, he becomes physically fit and plans to find what became of his daughter.  Finally, he wakes up in the middle of a field and finds he is free.  Someone has given him a wallet full of cash and a cell phone. He is motivated to find out who imprisoned him and why.

Josh Brolin does a decent job as Joe. He manages to walk the fine line between broken soul and hardened man with nothing to lose.  Elizabeth Olsen is all right, but considering we’ve seen her play characters with a lot more depth it is a shame to see her not bring her A game to a role like Marie.  Sharlto Copley plays a villain that is cartoonish, which is funny to watch but would be more appropriate in a Bond movie than Old Boy.

One of the biggest changes to the remake is the reasoning for imprisoning Joe Doucette. The remake turns a tale of an incestuous romance that leads to suicide, into a complicated, international, incest-driven family murder/suicide. This version of Old Boy takes the cathartic nature of revenge and makes it into something very creepy.  The ending then becomes something laughable rather than beautifully woven and tragically pieced together. All the pieces of this remake come together by pure luck, and luck alone is why the villain is able to go through with his plot.  

If you have not seen the original you may enjoy this movie.  However, if you only see this remake you are missing out. The original is far superior. If you have seen the original movie this will likely disappoint you. This movie is tolerable but is not worth seeing in theaters.  If you are curious about this movie and do not want to watch the foreign version, I recommend a rental.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

10 Foreign Films You Don’t Have to be Artsy to Enjoy.

When it comes to foreign movies many people are apprehensive.  It could be the culture differences or even the subtitles that scare people away.  Foreign films have come up with some of the most original and clever material around.  Still, many feel that only artsy types watch foreign movies.  Here are a few great movies from around the world that you can watch to broaden your horizons. 

10. Haute Tension – France
Haute Tension, or High Tension as it was called in the United States, tells the story of two girls on a trip to visit their family.  A killer arrives and brutally murders the entire family; it becomes a game of survival for the two remaining girls.  It is a strange and dark story that does not skimp on violence and gore. While it is not the most critically acclaimed movie, it has a certain sense of style that should not be overlooked and certainly is underrated.  The twist is wildly outlandish but probably not the worst you’ll see. If goofy twists were banned then 90% of the movies in Hollywood would never get made.

9.  Kung Fu Hustle – Hong Kong
Take a Kung Fu movie and mix it with Looney Tunes style humor and that is what you will get out of Kung Fu Hustle.  In the 1930’s a Shanghai gang called the Axe Gang are terrorizing a tenement building.  A local low-life finds himself entangled in the gang and eventually must figure out a way to fight them off.  It is a fun, action filled movie that is very enjoyable. The characters are wild and cartoonish and steal every moment they are on screen. 

8. Dead Snow - Norway
A group of youths are enjoying some time vacationing in a cabin when they awaken Nazi Zombies that are after their gold.  Yes, it’s as silly as it seems.  The action is over the top and the movie is very aware of how ridiculous it is. The music continually plays along with the humor of film.  For example, In the Hall of the Mountain King is played during a chase scene.  As outrageous as this movie is, there are a lot of great moments that make it a very worthwhile movie experience.  

7. Suspiria - Italy
A dance school is the scene of some grisly murders. It turns out that the school houses a secret coven of witches.  It’s an eerie tale that is colorful and almost nightmarish in it’s content.  The effects are good and there are plenty of shocking and wince worthy moments. For example, a girl crawls into a window and falls directly into a huge pile of barbed wire and becomes stuck in it. Grit your teeth and give it a watch.

6. District 9 – South Africa
A group of aliens that landed in Johannesburg in 1982 are living in slums called District 9.  A man comes to relocate them and is sprayed by a mysterious chemical that makes him start turning into one of the aliens.  Now a weapons manufacturer and groups of gangs are all out to get a piece of him.  The acting, the effects, and the story for this movie are fantastic.  Anyone who is a fan of sci-fi should give this a watch. It is a great movie that will impress any that see it.  It will certainly lead to some interesting conversations once the credits start to roll.

5. Ginger Snaps - Canada
Two teenage sisters are moping about their suburban lives when a werewolf attacks.  Slowly, she becomes more promiscuous and more of a wild child while the other tries to find a way to stop the transformation.  It’s a unique take on a girl’s coming of age story.  The effects make the film a really fun movie to watch.  The girls are both decent actors and they have a real chemistry that makes them seem related.  It had two sequels as well in case you wanted to further the story after this movie.

4. [REC] - Spain
[REC] is the story about the host of a late night reality show following firefighters for the evening.  The movie is shot from the point of view from the cameraman.  The firefighters go into an apartment building and become trapped there as it becomes quarantined.  Rage zombies attack them and the survivors must do what they can to survive.  The movie has decent acting, likable characters, and an interesting story. You really grow to care for the character of Angela and you want her to live through this ordeal. It ended up getting two sequels with a third on the way. It was also the original of an American remake called Quarantine and an unrelated Quarantine 2.

3. Battle Royale - Japan
Classes of school children are picked at random to be taken to a small island.  They are given random weapons and then told to kill each other within a certain amount of time or they will be killed.  The kids must fight for survival, make amends with one another, try to fight the system and in some cases kill themselves.  It is a very interesting character story as well as wildly entertaining to think about what you would do in this Lord of the Flies style situation.  The film is violent and actually pretty emotional at times. The kids are interesting and all have unique plans to survive the truly awful experience.

2. Let the Right One In - Sweden
A young boy befriends a young girl in his apartment building.  She helps him deal with being bullied and he discovers that she is a vampire.  Can their friendship last? It’s beautiful movie that is really one of the best vampire stories I’ve ever seen.  It has great acting, amazing atmosphere, and is dark in all the ways that you expect a vampire movie to be.  It has an ending that is both incredibly lovely and incredibly bittersweet.  It was remade in the United States starring Chloe Grace Moretz.

1. Old Boy - South Korea
A man is kidnapped and trapped in a room for fifteen years.  There he has nothing to do but exercise and plan out his revenge- should he ever get out.  One day he wakes up and he is free. Naturally, he goes out on a violent vengeance streak.  The movie is brutal and wonderfully filmed.  It has the brilliance of a plot put together by the Count of Monte Cristo.  With every action it shows raw emotion ad great intensity.  The finale is so raw and well done.  There is an American remake that will be coming out soon starring Josh Brolin. 

There are millions of movies all over the world. If you are willing to give some a try you might find a true diamond in the rough.  No matter what the genre you can find something new and impressive. Let go of your sheltered sensibilities and use your passport to the world in films. You might just like what you find in your travels. If you don’t enjoy the film, the worst you have done is waste a couple hours of your life; you have nothing to lose.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Standards of Living – review

If you take one part Twilight Zone and one part David Lynch movie and filmed the results with an iPad2, you might come up with something similar to Standards of Living.  Written and directed by Aaron Mento, Standards of Living is a strange tale that explores the topics of healing and reparation in a very bizarre manner. This movie will leave its audience perplexed. Is it a sci-fi story that with an ambiguous ending?  Is it a hellish nightmare?  Could it be both?

Peter, played by Scott Yarborough, is a failing comedian.  Out of the blue he gets a call from Mr. Randall, played by Bill Ferris, for a private show.  When he arrives he finds out that Mr. Randall is not interested in Peter’s comedy.  Mr. Randall has a unique power that allows him to make objects vanish, and then reappear “improved” ten minutes later.  He wants to try his powers on Peter; what will happen if Peter is to vanish?

Considering the fact that this is a feature length movie filmed on an iPad2, it really shows a lot quality.   The sound has an odd echo every now and again which is sometimes distracting.  The use of minimal sets is very much like other “bottle movies” which leave audiences feeling uncomfortable and claustrophobic.  In this case it works very well to the movie’s advantage.  In terms of showing and not telling it does a decent job- but in a perfect world there would be multiple angles.

The story itself is very intriguing.  The concept is bold and original but the ending seems to go into a bizarre direction. Still, it takes chances were it needs to and attempts to be a decent conversation starter at the same time. The odd aspects to the movie do give it a great deal of charm.  While it might not be an Oscar contender, it is certainly one of the better low budget films I’ve seen in a long time. 

Standards of Living does a lot more than just go for a quick gimmick.  It shows a lot of skill and will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll. It is a fun movie worth checking out.  If you have a spare moment to watch something different you will likely enjoy the bizarre story and twisted concepts.  It can be streamed at this website:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thor The Dark World-review

After being such a fan of the first Thor movie and The Avengers it was hard not to have very high expectations for this movie. While visually interesting and action packed, it seems to be fairly unoriginal and struggles to be humorous- which is not appropriate.  It is at least entertaining for the most part. It comes off like an obvious attempt at a cash grab from Marvel instead of anything necessary to bridge the gap before the next Avenger’s film.

In Asgard, Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is imprisoned for his crimes from the events from The Avengers. Thor, played by Christ Hemsworth, is fighting off enemies in the Nine Realms.  Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, has been trying to find Thor for the past two years.  Jane becomes infected with a powerful primordial force called Aether that Dark Elves are attempting to get back for a world conquest plan.

Thor The Dark World feels familiar in a lot of ways.  The actors feel like they are going through motions and don’t seem to try anything new.  The villains look like space-faring versions of Hellboy II: The Golden Army’s Elves. There are scenes that seem to be taken right out of the Animatrix.   Kat Dennings’ character, Darcy, is painfully unfunny. Every time she was on screen I felt like yelling. “Who invited you?” The brotherly back-and-forth between Loki and Thor is welcome to see again but is sadly few and far between.

The movie is fairly predictable and adds nothing to the Marvel universe; it’s just a colorful filler-movie.  Though the action is somewhat fun, the story between those scenes isn’t enough to drive this film forward. They try to create tension between Jane and Sif but it doesn’t go anywhere. Plus, there is never an explanation as to how exactly Loki takes the throne of Asgard.  It seems like he’d have to contend with Odin and pretty much the entire army of Asgard that knows he is a criminal.  Why didn’t we see that?

It also makes very little sense that these movies should even exist after the making of The Avengers.  For example, why do these heroes not have the assistance from other heroes on their team? If a group of alien Dark Elves attacked earth I am sure S.H.E.I.L.D would be first to show up with some help for Thor.  These solo movies just become more obvious as an attempt to milk the series for more money.

As a whole, Thor The Dark World is not terrible.  It is visually appealing and a fun action film that is worth a rental at the very least.  However, seeing it in theaters is not necessary.  Thor The Dark World will not be winning any awards or be deeply connected to the next Avenger’s film.  If anything it is more connected to Guardians of the Galaxy.  It is a fine movie but pales in comparison to the first film, which was such a smarter hero story.