January 2015 Quick Reviews

It’s January, so suffice to say any movie out is either up for an award of just flat out lousy. I’ve already reviewed some of the more critically acclaimed films of the month. Here are some quick thoughts on the rest of the pack.

TheWeddingRingerPosterTHE WEDDING RINGER By now you should be accustomed to Kevin Hart’s antics. And if you are a fan than you’ll undoubtedly enjoy him in this role as a businessman who lends himself out to desperate grooms to be their impromptu best man. But as Ride Along so eloquently taught me last January, Kevin Hart antics are not enough to make for an enjoyable comedy.

Luckily, this time around, there is more to like than just Kevin Hart. Co-Star Josh Gad (you might recognize him as the voice of Olaf in Frozen) is actually pretty funny and loveable himself as the groom who hires Hart in hopes of impressing his attractive, but shallow fiancé (Kaley Cuoco of Big Bang Theory). Like with many comedies nowadays, some parts of the movie go for the raunchy factor instead of just attempting to have good comedic timing, but overall this generic comedy packs enough genuine heart and laughter to make for a worthy couple of hours spent. FINAL GRADE: B-

Mortdecai_posterMORTDECAI Johnny Depp stars as eccentric art collector Charlie Mortdecai in a comedic caper apparently based on a 1970’s book series. Supporting roles include Gwenyth Paltrow as his witty wife who struggles to get passed his newly grown mustache, Paul Bettany as his loyal best friend and bodyguard, and Ewan McGregor as a police detective who enlists him to help solve a murder and find a missing painting worth a fortune.

The movie certainly is zany, sometimes to a fault and sometimes perfectly enough to squeeze out some strong laughs. And if you can get past the scattered pacing and the classic-Brit vernacular, the story isn’t all too bad. Or, you could just skip it all together and watch the much more solidly staged The Grand Budapest Hotel. The latter is probably the wisest. FINAL GRADE: C

The_Boy_Next_Door_posterTHE BOY NEXT DOOR Jennifer Lopez is still incredibly attractive into her mid 40’s. But we all know that already. So ogling her shouldn’t be that big of an incentive to see this movie about an affair between a divorced mother/teacher and a barely legal psychopath. We’ve seen this all before. In fact, movies like this seem to come out every January and each seems to grow more forgettable than the last.

If the acting were good, or even if there was a hint of a twist thrown in, I could possibly understand the intrigue with seeing this movie. But, there is nothing memorable here. There is nothing that you can’t find in dozens of other thrillers. So don’t bother. Even if watching Jennifer Lopez in a steamy love scene is your sole mission, you can save yourself some time (and some brain cells) by getting up and walking out a third of the way through. FINAL GRADE: F (YES… my first “official” F)

January 2015 Quick Reviews

American Sniper (Full Review)

The art of war is a very delicate subject. Why soldiers fight, and how they fight, will probably always be a subject that is taboo. But, no matter how you feel about war, there is no denying that it takes someone with a special constitution to voluntarily thrust themselves into the filth of it. American Sniper gives us a fascinating glimpse inside the life of the noblest of the sort.

American_Sniper_posterFilms by Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys, J.Edgar, Gran Torino) can be an acquired taste. They often flutter around with no clear intent or perspective or they give off a certain sense of gloom that saps the energy out of everyone watching. Luckily, here he has a subject that would be difficult to mismanage. The film follows the memoirs of U.S. Navy Seal, Chris Kyle. A man documented as the greatest sniper in our country’s history.

At the start, the film seems too much like a movie and not enough like the recount of an actual person’s life. We begin with shots of Kyle’s childhood where he beats up a bully for hurting his younger brother then receives a seemingly made-for-movie speech from his father about sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. These scenes are relevant, but so hurried and overblown that they feel like the intro to a superhero movie. Luckily, things pick up when Kyle (Bradley Cooper) decides to quit his life as a cowboy and join the navy in his mid-30s.

Bradley Cooper has come a long way since his days of playing comedic tools in films like Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. Here, he takes his game to new heights. I’d never heard of Chris Kyle a.k.a. “The Legend” as he was known in the military circuit, and odds are you haven’t either. So, a poor performance could’ve easily made this man seem like a naive, robotic, jarhead brainwashed by the American ideal of patriotism. But instead, Cooper is utter perfection. He portrays Kyle with fierce passion and nobility that makes him feel like a true, flawed hero.

Thanks to Cooper, this Chris Kyle feels as real as if we knew him. Cooper guides us through every emotional moment, from each conflicting kill, ranging from maniacal butchers to women and children in the name of protecting his fellow soldiers, to Kyle’s bouts with post traumatic stress disorder after returning home to his wife (an equally brilliant Sienna Miller) and kids. The film also succeeds through several solid supporting roles (Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman) and also manages to address the controversial perspectives of the “War on terror” through the eyes of the men engulfed in it.

There is nothing enjoyable about war. War is always horrific and grim, and movies on the subject share the same sentiments. In that sense, American Sniper is just like any other war film. Luckily, we have stellar performances to help an otherwise dull film transcend into something incredibly compelling.

FINAL GRADE: B+

American Sniper (Full Review)

Taken 3 (Full Review)

Taken_3_posterIn the first Taken, some really dirty people kidnapped Liam Neeson’s daughter. He found them, and killed them. In Taken 2, the father of one of Neeson’s victims attempted to seek revenge by kidnapping Neeson and his family. They failed miserably. Neeson killed them. In Taken 3, Neeson is framed for murder. Can you guess what happens?

The funny thing is, the film opens up with Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills having a conversation with his daughter (Maggie Grace) about how he doesn’t want to be predictable anymore. It is incredibly ironic, because the film itself doesn’t try to be predictable… but it is. It means to change things up by framing Mills for the murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and sending him on the run from a wily detective (Forrest Whitaker).

For a while, the film moderately succeeds. There is a solid mystery element that makes the movie much more intriguing than in part 2, when the entire plot seemed too easy for the uber skilled hero. Forest Whitaker’s LAPD detective provides a somewhat comical little foil to his incompetent branch of officers who repeatedly fail to bring Mills in. But as the story unravels, it falls into the same cliché doldrums that plague every B-movie; A bland adversary, a predictable “twist”, and action sequences with more noise and nauseating camera work than actual thrills.

The first Taken was a classic, but only because it came first. It never lent itself to being a series, because none of the characters have any real substance. Thus, it isn’t surprising in any way to see the follow up films feel like a mindless exercise in futility. And sadly enough, it leaves things open for a possible fourth installment. But, if you’re going to bother sitting through another one, there’s at least some solace in knowing it’s better than the last soulless, simplistic romp.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Taken 3 (Full Review)

Selma (Full Review)

Selma_posterEvery year we are given on-screen history lessons. These lessons can often be dreary and redundant, because they rarely teach us anything new, and instead are meant to be reminders. They are meant to slap us with truth so that we never forget what, and where, we once were. So we always sit through them, even though we know what will happen. Even though they make us uncomfortable or stir up our deepest regrets and resentments. But… every so often, a history lecture can hit us at just the right time to invoke something more. And striking the right chord is how a history lesson becomes a beautiful sermon. Selma is a beautiful sermon.

The film tells the story of the marches from the rural Alabama town of Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery in 1965 as blacks fight the harsh, non-violent fight to gain voting equality, led by Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo). They are continuously met with violence fueled by racial hatred along their journey, but you can learn this in any 20th century American History course. Where Director, Ava DuVerney’s film shines is in its ability to understand its own relevance. Instead of just hitting us with facts and powerful imagery, we are given perspectives. We are shown why a simple protest was so important. We are given the step by step political and intellectual steps taken to cross this historical hurdle. And in doing so, we leave not just reminiscing on a dark time in American history, but instead thinking about what we can do to further our progress as a people.

Masterful performances help push DuVerney’s ambitious narrative. Tom Wilkinson is wonderfully shifty as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Tim Roth is brilliant as snake-like, Alabama Governor George Wallace. Oyelowo conjures up the necessary skills to make a convincing MLK and Carmen Ejogo is the spitting image of his wife, Coretta. This film pleasantly humanizes the civil rights legend the way no other film ever has. And because of that, we are able to further appreciate the works of his pivotal and equally valiant entourage (Wendell Pierce, Common, Oprah Winfrey, Keith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Stephan James) while also rooting for a very vulnerable Dr. King.

Selma may be a history lesson, but along the way, it ceases being history and begins to feel like modern social commentary. And it should be, because we haven’t come as long as we may think and there is still work to be done. Other films may remind us of this, but few manage to break down the intricacies of revolution the way this up-and-coming director has. This lesson gives us each indelible perspective coupled with the harsh truth to create something reminiscent and poignant. And there is so much more power in poignancy.

FINAL GRADE: A

Selma (Full Review)

My Least Favorite Movies of 2014

Not going to call this a ‘Worst’ list. These are simply the 10 movies I had the most displeasure viewing. Plus, there are several supposedly bad movies (Ouija) that I never got a chance to see. So here are my 10 Least Favorite viewing experiences of 2014. Click on each one to read the full review and feel free to comment below with your thoughts.

  1. MALEFICENT Yes, Angelina Jolie did a fine job and the intentions were noble enough, but the script was dull and they turned a Disney classic villain into a prankster with a sappy, happy ending, essentially giving the Sleeping Beauty story no need for a revamp.
  1. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS Ridley Scott continued his cold streak with this soulless excuse for a biblical epic that includes ludicrous action sequences and disconnected characters.
  1. RIDE ALONG A generic buddy cop movie that relied on the same Kevin Hart antics over and over again until they became stale.
  1. LUCY The script never managed to live up to the weight of the titular character, leaving us with a movie void of intrigue that could’ve been over after 20 minutes.
  1. TAMMY A comedy that wasn’t funny. At least now we know that Melissa McCarthy being Melissa McCarthy isn’t enough to drive a movie.
  1. SEX TAPE The only funny thing about this raunchy comedy wannabe was the Jack Black cameo at the end.
  1. POMPEII Hilariously bad acting and a story seemingly written by a 4th grader.
  1. A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST Seth McFarland should stick to doing voice overs. I only remember one funny part in the entire movie.
  1. INTO THE STORM Stuffed full of disaster movie clichés and flat out stupidity, yet they didn’t even bother to give us disaster movie scope until the last 15 minutes.
  1. ANNIE Some say cute, I say corniest film of the year. I expected style and all I got was something made for Disney Channel.

HONORABLE MENTION: Rio 2, Dracula Untold, Transcendence, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Think Like a Man Too, Let’s Be Cops

My Least Favorite Movies of 2014

MY TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2014

As promised, here are my Top 10 favorite movies of 2014. Click on each one to read the full review. And remember, these are MY favorites, but feel free to comment below with your Top 10.

  1. JOHN WICK Keanu Reaves was cooler than he’s ever been. This B movie was as smooth and stylish as any action movie this year and it made me feel like I was watching a comic book. I wouldn’t mind a sequel.
  1. INTERSTELLAR Not exactly Christopher Nolan’s best work… and yet, he still provided a strong story filled with emotion while managing to maintain his trademark, spectacular scope.
  1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY There may not have been a more fun film in 2014. Filled with unforgettable characters and some awesome action sequences, Guardians was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
  1. THE RAID 2 The sequel to one of the greatest action films ever made certainly lived up to the hype. The plot may have been a little too convoluted, but once again it delivered the same jaw dropping action scenes I’ve come to expect.
  1. TOP FIVE Ironically, Top Five just misses the Top Five. Still, Chris Rock gave us the best comedy of the year along with some thought provoking anecdotes about the nature of fame.
  1. GONE GIRL An intense thriller that left me on the edge of my seat. No other movie this year felt more unpredictable.
  1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL Beautifully crafted and hilarious. Ralph Fiennes was at his very best in this murder mystery/ dark comedy that included the perfect dash of heart and soul.
  1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER A comic book movie that redefined the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie felt more like a spy-thriller than a superhero flick and was the best film in the MCU since the first Iron Man.
  1. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Bryan Singer made his triumphant return to the series by ingeniously crafting a story that united old and new. Well acted and well paced, this is arguably the best X-Men movie ever and one of my all time favorite superhero films.

  1. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Caesar will go down as one of the best characters of the decade. This movie had intense action, emotion, humor, and poignant political and social commentary. It also provided, to me, the best villain of the year in Koba. Simply put, the only flaw I could find was that the movie had no need to be in 3D.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Birdman, Dear White People, Into the Woods, The Maze Runner, The Equalizer

MY TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2014