I’m back… with a review of The Counselor

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Have you ever watched a trailer for a movie with an ensemble cast and thought, “Oh… this’ll be a great movie”, even if you don’t know or understand the plot from said two minute snippet? That’s what I did when I saw the preview for The Counselor. On paper, what’s not to like? Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, 12 Years a Slave), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt… the list of acting talent goes on and on. Rosie Perez and John Leguizamo even make brief appearances. It accounts for arguably the best cast in any movie this month. Throw in Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, American Gangster) as director and the expectation is set for what should be a great film… right?

Almost. Somewhere along the road, something was missed. And it took several minutes after the movie’s conclusion for me to pinpoint the problem. It isn’t the grim finale. There have been several movies with such an ending that are great films (The Korean film Oldboy comes to mind). It certainly isn’t the actors themselves. Fassbender is solid as the lead character, a lawyer who gets mixed up in drug trafficking to give his beloved wife the sweet life. Brad Pitt is his usual charismatic self as a Cowboy hat wearing, middle man. And perhaps the most captivating is Cameron Diaz, who is as sexy and sinister as I’ve ever seen her.

The problem is the story itself… which is an issue that would make any moviegoer scratch their head, because it’s perhaps the most important element of any film. No matter how many talented actors you jam into a movie, if there isn’t an interesting enough plot to drive the film, then it will almost always fall flat. I found myself unsure of the plot and direction of the film nearly forty-five minutes in.  That’s more than enough time to lose interest, especially in a film that trades action sequences for complex conversation.

There are some interesting anecdotes here and there, but several of the film’s themes seem a bit backwards and misguided. Many of the characters share “interesting” views on the opposite sex and I’m still not sure if the director was trying to make social commentary or create plot points with these and other exchanges. It all just seems to amount to a boring, un-relatable, lecture without a valid point. And no amount of casting can save that.

FINAL GRADE: C

   

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My thoughts on… Captain Phillips

Yes, the main antagonist in the film looks very much like Sean “Diddy” Combs. Go ahead, get your laughs out… done? Ok, now let’s get serious and review Captain Phillips.

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The film, based on real events, tells the story of Richard Phillips, the captain of an American cargo ship bound for Kenya that is hijacked by four young Somali pirates in the spring of 2009. If that sentence doesn’t sound promising enough, then this is not the film for you. There isn’t much humor, heart, or romance. There are no plot twists or jaw dropping action, just two hours of the intense tension that comes with watching any real life hostage situation.

Tom Hanks stars as the title character. He is as good as Tom Hanks always is. He portrays Phillips as a savvy veteran Captain. He is almost always careful, forward thinking, protective, and resourceful. His wit and resolve manage to constantly keep things from going from bad to worse… most of the time. It is his Somali adversary, Muse (played by Barkhad Abdi) that takes the film from intriguing to captivating though. Director Paul Greengrass does his best to make us sympathize with Muse and his impoverished fishermen brethren who turn to capturing ships and holding them for ransom as a plan to make millions. Some of Greengrass’ efforts don’t quite hit their mark. The scene that introduces the group of Somali men as members of a desperate village that choose pirates like a recess football team is somewhat rushed and a bit confusing. Regardless, it is the charismatic underdog demeanor in which Muse carries himself while also commanding respect from his crew, that makes him somewhat admirable. The cat and mouse game between him and Tom Hanks makes the movie.

The film isn’t mind blowing in any sense. In many ways it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. But the tense hostage scenario within a small lifeboat and the tactical way in which the U.S. Navy carries out Phillips’ rescue manage to effectively make up for the lack of surprises. There are a few other gripes: An occasional shaky camera that makes you a bit seasick while sitting in the theater and an opening scene that seems much more staged than any real life conversation between husband and wife. That being said, once things get moving and those two skiffs show up on Captain Phillips’ radar, the suspense doesn’t settle until the credits roll. And that’s good enough to pay for.

FINAL GRADE: B+

My TOP 15 Sci-Fi Movies!!

 I decided to do a Top 15 list of my favorite science fiction films. This originally proved to be impossible, so I narrowed it down to only those sci-fi movies that have come out since 1988 (Sheds tear for The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner). I also had to narrowly define what would be considered Sci-Fi for this list. I ended up excluding any movies with superheroes, any movie based on teen novels (No Harry Potter or Hunger Games here), and any movie about zombies… mainly because I recognize those as sub-genres. I also can’t rank movies I haven’t seen so no Donnie Darko. Again… Disclaimer… These are MY favorites. Enjoy and feel free to comment if you think I’m an idiot or if I left something off of the list.

15. Tron: Legacy (2010)

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One of the most underrated movies on this list. It got bashed by some critics, but I could care less. The cool factor for this movie is off the charts from the 3D visuals to the awesome soundtrack done by Daft Punk. Favorite Moment: Sam battles Rinzler in the Games.

14. Looper (2012)

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I couldn’t include Back to the Future on this list, so it’s only fitting that I give time travel some love elsewhere. This movie was the perfect blend of mob-noir and science fiction. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great as a young Bruce Willis, but the real showstopper was Chris Gagnon as the young telepath Cid. Favorite Moment: An assassin enters his home in the middle of a farm and Cid proceeds to lose his telepathic s**t.

 

13. Equilibrium (2002)

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Before Christian Bale was Batman, he was cleric John Preston. This Matrix-esque noir film about a world void of emotion and the rebels trying to free it somehow flew under the Box Office radar. Not sure how. Bale is in top form as the antagonist turned protagonist lead and Taye Diggs is just as good as his rival. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Favorite Moment: John Preston uses gun kata, a fighting style using pistols, to take out a horde of police.

 

12. Minority Report (2002)

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Tom Cruise has been in some great movies, but this film about a police force that uses psychics to stop crimes before they even happen, is without a doubt my favorite. Not only does it feature awesome futuristic imagery and a great story reminiscent of The Fugitive, but it also manages to raise tons of philosophical questions along the way. Favorite Moment: Cruise’s  John Anderton first sees his name come up as a future murderer which leads to an epic police chase through futuristic Washington D.C.

 

11. Star Trek (2009)

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I’m far from being a Trekky, but this film made me want to be one. An amazing cast and a story that effectively gives each character their moment to shine is what makes this movie memorable. Kudos to director J.J. Abrams for also managing to make a series reboot and sequel at the same time. Favorite Moment: Kirk, Sulu, and a doomed red shirt free fall down to a drill that’s in the process of destroying Spock’s homeworld.

 

10. Akira (1988)

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I was so ecstatic that this movie made the cutoff date, because it is the best anime film ever made. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a story that involves human experimentation, children with telekinesis, and a boy going through hell and high water to save his already doomed best friend. The animation looks ten years ahead of its time and the imagery of 2019 Tokyo feels futuristic, but still realistic. A live-action adaption has been in development-hell for nearly a decade. Here’s hoping that if they do it, they get it right. Favorite Moment: Kaneda’s bike is still the coolest motorcycle ever.

 

9. Independence Day (1996)

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This may be the most realistic depiction of an alien invasion out there. It’s as much of a disaster film as it is an alien invasion drama. But it’s the characters that make it stand out; A drunken father of three who claims he was previously abducted, the scientist who no one will listen to, a President who’s willing to jump into a cockpit and fight after the death of his wife (Probably the most unbelievable element of the movie) and of course Will Smith’s witty, fearless, gung ho pilot. Favorite Moment: Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore gives an epic speech before the climactic battle.

 

8. Chronicle (2012)

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A beautiful, innovative, and thrilling film. It successfully molds comic book heroism with the new found footage revolution. Incredible performances from up-incomers Dane DeHann and Michael B. Jordan help make for a great watch and an in-depth character study into the mind of a very realistic super villain. Favorite Moment: The three teenage friends use their new found telekinetic powers to play pranks ranging from moving someone’s car into a different parking spot to scaring a little girl with a floating teddy bear.

 

7. Jurassic Park (1993)

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In the early 90’s, there was nothing cooler than dinosaurs. Combined with The Land Before Time and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, this movie actually made me want to be a paleontologist. It’s ground-breaking special effects, a family adventure, and a horror film all wrapped into one epic blend. Favorite Moment:  The two youngest characters must hide from velociraptors… in a kitchen.

 

6. The Fifth Element (1997)

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Somewhere in 1992, someone was watching Die Hard and thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to put John McClaine in space.” Five years later they made The Fifth Element. This movie personifies the sci-fi genre, from flying cars to luxury cruises in space, while also giving us the mesmerizing sequences of the over-the-top action genre that Bruce Willis is famous for. Chris Tucker’s turn as flamboyant radio host Ruby Rhod and Milla Jovovich’s breakout role as Leeloo are also notable. Favorite Moment: Bruce Willis’ Korbin Dallas comes in to “negotiate” with The Mangalores.

 

5. Star Trek into Darkness (2013)

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The sequel to the #11 movie on this list, STID was the best movie of summer 2013 and my #1 movie of the year. It continued the fantastic character development from its predecessor, managed to give us a more badass villain, paid homage to old school Trek films, and successfully presented a more compelling story than the first. Here’s hoping J.J. Abrams can resurrect the Star Wars franchise next. Favorite Moment: (Spoiler alert) Spock cries for the first time and then angrily chases after Khan following the death of Captain Kirk.

 

4. Men in Black (1997)

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Who would’ve thought Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones would make such a great tandem? Will’s wit. Tommy Lee’s dryness. It just works. And together they make this, aliens among us, action-comedy as iconic as any sci-fi movie ever. The sequels aren’t horrible, but neither remotely catches the magic of the first one. Favorite Moment: Will Smith, while competing for an MIB position with several other talented members of law enforcement, shoots a cardboard cutout of a little girl in the head while ignoring several snarling aliens. “I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some s**t, Zed.”

 

3. The Matrix (1999)

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I would call this film the ultimate mind f**k… but there’s another movie on this list that deserves that title. Nevertheless, The Matrix is the first movie to make us leave the theater with our minds completely blown due to its incredible special effects, intricate post-apocalyptic plot line, and sleek fight scene choreography. It’s also the only movie with Keanu Reeves in it where it doesn’t feel like he’s a terrible actor. Favorite Moment: So many to choose from, but I’ll go with Neo and Agent Smith facing off in the subway.

 

2. Cloud Atlas (2012)

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Shout out to the Wachowski siblings for being #3 and #2 on this list. This movie is six films with the same cast intermingled in one, and technically only two of those can be classified as science fiction; An Orison of Sonmi-451 which takes place in 2144 and Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After which takes place in 2321. Those two are good enough to make the Top 2. There are so many amazing features about this entire movie, which I ranked #1 of 2012, but the sci-fi segments, one a story about a clone starting a revolution and the other a post apocalyptic adventure, are my favorite. Great imagery, captivating characters and a beautiful narrative are what make them stand out above almost anything I’ve ever seen. Favorite Moment: Jim Sturgess’ Hae-Joo Chang and Donna Bae’s Sonmi-451 must flee from police through the window of his penthouse apartment in the middle of the night.

 

And coming in at #1…

Drum roll please…

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1. Inception (2010)

With respect to The Matrix… THIS movie was the ultimate Mind f**k. Saw this movie at its midnight premiere and couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it for a week. It’s unique, It’s visually captivating, It’s got a great score, and It’s got a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page. It also has the most fitting end to any movie of its genre. I’m still listening to theories of what the climax means. The great Christopher Nolan strikes again. Favorite Moment: Narrowing this down to one was really difficult, so I copped out and went with two;

1. While in the first level of dream sequences, JGL’s Arthur is shooting at snipers on a rooftop unsuccessfully when Hardy’s Eames pulls out a rocket launcher and quips “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger darling”. Then he blows each of their adversaries away.

2. The van in the first dream level (with each character inside it) goes spinning end over end, leading to a gravity defying fight scene in dream level two featuring Jospeh Gordon-Levitt. Extra points for this scene because it was filmed completely without the use of CGI.

 Honorable Mention: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Gravity, Elysium, Total Recall (1990), Galaxy Quest, I Robot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Runner Runner Review

What do the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles, the 2012 USC Trojans, and the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers have in common (Pauses for non sports fans to Google)? The answer: They were all teams with talented rosters and immense preseason hype. They are also teams that had a coach fired as a result. That’s because when a team has all of the pieces and everything seems fine on paper, the person who is supposed to put it together cohesively is always the first to take the bulk of the blame when expectations aren’t met. This, my good people, leads me into my review of Runner Runner.

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The film has nothing to do with sports, unless you’re like ESPN and consider Poker a sport. It’s actually about a Princeton graduate student (Justin Timberlake) who gets hustled while gambling for college tuition on an online Poker site. He then heads to Costa Rica to meet with the man who runs the internet gaming empire (Ben Affleck) in order to ask for his money back. Pretty sound plan right? Somehow we’re supposed to believe that not only is this plan feasible for a college student who just gambled away all of his money, but that it can happen in a matter of days. Anywho… a half hour of clunky dialogue and rushed character exposition later, Affleck’s Ivan Block offers to make Timberlake’s Richie Furst his new protégé because he had the cojones to take initiative in solving his problem (A word of advice to my strapped for cash college grads… If someone runs an American trade from another country and offers you a job one day after meeting you, you might want to do some company research instead of accepting on the spot… especially when his company just finished scamming you for 17K).

Ignoring thousands of red flags, Furst takes the job and, of course, ends up in a world of violence, racketeering and corruption. Along the way he woos the boss’ girl (because that’s never a bad idea) and gets recruited by a feisty FBI agent. They’re played by Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackey respectively. Both are fairly good at what they do on screen. She’s seductive. He’s loud, angry and funny. It works well enough.

The movie isn’t horrible… and neither were the aforementioned sports teams… but when a film with a loaded cast and a noble concept fails to hit its mark it just leaves a sour taste in your mouth or creates a void like the feeling you get when you got a small combo, but should’ve ordered a medium. Similar to when a Super Bowl contender goes 4-12, or when a preseason #1 college football team goes 7-6, or when a team with Kobe Bryant barely makes the playoffs… see what I did there.

Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) doesn’t seem to want to take his time to set things up. It’s as if there are several scenes missing that might’ve made everything gel more smoothly. Affleck is the film’s most saving grace. He provides the perfect amount of tongue and cheek wit, bravado with a dash of intimidation, and intelligence to pull off a solid mob boss-like character. It just goes to show you though… good actors plus good premise does not always equal memorable movie. Maybe it would’ve been better served as an HBO mini-series or something?

FINAL GRADE: C+

Gravity… Full Review

I already know what you’re thinking. It’s probably the same thing I thought when I saw the commercials and trailers for this film. That is; can a movie about a woman floating around space by her lonesome really be worth two hours of my time? The answer: Absolutely.

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First and foremost, you’ll be happy to know that the film is far more in-depth than what has been shown in the promos (If I had to estimate, I’d say the trailers are only about 25% of the actual movie). Sandra Bullock stars as scientist Ryan Stone, who is on her first space mission to help install some new technology onto a U.S. telescope. When a catastrophic event on the other side of the world causes their mission to go horribly wrong, she and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalksi (George Clooney) are the lone survivors left to somehow find their way back down to Earth.

Think of this film as space Cast Away, but with more perilous obstacles. In fact, the film gave me a newfound respect for anyone willing to go up there (If you still want to be an astronaut after watching this film… you’re either insane or have the testicular fortitude of Evel Kinevel). The minimal cast is solid. Bullock is perfect as the rookie who must fight her fears to stay alive when seemingly all hope is lost. Her journey is one that any person who has ever lost a loved one can learn from. Clooney’s Kowalski provides just enough heart and wit to keep the film from becoming too bland.

What stands out most about this film, however, is the visuals. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) is more than worthy of an Oscar nomination for his ability to make you feel every beautiful, vast, and terrifying moment that encompasses outer space.  For those who can afford it, it is a necessity to see it in 3D, preferably IMAX 3D where it is as if you can reach out and touch the objects floating towards the camera.

The start of the film may make it feel as though your worries are legit, but be patient. It doesn’t take long for it to pay off. With so few characters to focus on, it is easy for a film of this nature to drift and grow tiresome. But a strong lead can maintain your focus, especially when the action and suspense is as vibrant and well paced as it is here.

FINAL GRADE: A

DON JON… Full Review

Don Jon is a man’s movies. It is, for all intensive purposes, THE man’s movie. To women who have ever wondered how “manly men” talk, act, interact, rationalize, and think about everyday things when no woman is around… Don Jon is your window into that world. But don’t misinterpret that, for this film contains valuable lessons for both sexes. Brace yourselves ladies and gents for the quasi-romantic comedy that is Don Jon.

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The film follows the life of Jon Martello, played with facetious gusto by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper, 500 Days of Summer, The Dark Knight Rises) who also wrote and directed the film. Jon, nicknamed “the Don” by his two best friends for his ability to get any girl he wants, is your stereotypical Italian-bred macho man. He has slick black hair, he constantly hits the gym, has an egregious temper, and loves his “ride” and his “pad”… yet he is also an avid church goer and a devoted son and brother. He does however, have one not so little quirk; His excessive love of pornography. And when I say excessive, I mean EXCESSIVE.

From there we have our story. Jon affectively goes day to day, navigating through his addiction to live the seemingly normal bachelor life. That is until the vivaciously sexy Barbara Sugarman comes into the picture (Could there have been a better cast here than Scarlett Johansson? I think not). In Barbara, he finds his first challenge; a woman who won’t give it up on the first night and, more importantly, a woman who finds his favorite pastime to be revolting and unacceptable.

This movie hysterically deals with the awkward connection between men and pornography. But wedged within the hilarious moments is valuable commentary about the unrealistic and unhealthy nature with which our society approaches relationships. Jon’s relationship with Barbara is a prime example of how men can mistake overwhelming desire for genuine love. He changes for her, for better and worse, not because he has a genuine connection, but because she is more difficult to obtain than the rest. Julianne Moore is also magnificent as Jon’s troubled night classmate, who gets him to question whether his addiction might be distorting his views toward woman and real romantic interaction. Women should also be weary of becoming Johansson’s Barbara, a narrow minded “princess” (thanks to romantic comedies) who desires a man to manipulate into her own distorted vision of perfection. Her character also pokes holes in the common misconception that “holding out” is an effective way to ensure that men will fall for you or even respect you more in the long run.

Sure the film’s characters can seem over the top at times. But it’s a comedy. And In 2013, it’s almost unbelievable that there are movie concepts out there that have never really been touched in any medium. Low and behold, it is a film about men’s love of porn that brings us a story and perspective that we have seldom seen, but one that is without a doubt worth telling. Enjoy the laughs, but be sure to pay attention along the way.

FINAL GRADE: A-