Fifty Shades of Grey (Full Review by popular demand for some reason)

rs_634x1005-141112122939-634-50-shades-of-grey.ls.111214Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Both very true statements. It’s not quite fair to bash something that you haven’t at least tried to watch, read, or hear. This is why I had to experience the Fifty Shades of Grey pandemonium for myself. And now that I’ve seen it… honestly… it actually isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But it is bad… really, really, really bad.

Let’s start with the plot. A virgin college student begins a relationship with a billionaire sadist who doesn’t want to commit. They spend two hours haplessly trying to change each other. If you’re looking for something more, you won’t find it. As far as stories go, this one is as droll as they come. Every good story is supposed to have a certain arc: A setup, a conflict, and a resolution. But here, there is no resolution and there is also barely any conflict. In obviously attempting to set up its sequel, it forgets to actually provide something worth making this whole film seem like it could’ve lasted about half an hour. In fact, take out the bondage sex scenes that have been watered down to fit within the constraints of an ‘R’ rating, and you probably just have half of an episode of As The World Turns.

The movie actually starts off promising. Dakota Johnson pulls off the humble ditz enough to make her likable. And perhaps the film’s most saving grace is its soundtrack and production value. However, billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan doing his best to make Robert Pattinson seem like an Academy Award winner) is one of the most unlikable characters I’ve seen on screen: exhibiting every symptom of a psychopath. And I’m not talking about his love for BDSM, I’m talking about his knack for stalking and breaking an entering. He’s a level ten creep, but I guess we’re supposed to let it slide because he’s supposedly passionate, rich, and attractive. Their entire relationship is a classic example of guy likes girl because she tells him no/girl likes guy because he is the first to make her feel significant. But they have no actual chemistry.

As expected, the writing doesn’t help move things along. Dialogue is basic and shallow as if copied and pasted from the cheesiest lines in romance films. None of this should be surprising considering author E.L. James started off writing Twilight fan fiction. The lack of good writing is even more evident in the complete absence of any decent secondary characters, none of which are worth mentioning because they hardly matter to the “plot”.

With this movie, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. It starts as a romantic comedy, quickly transitions to softcore porn, before finishing off as a rehash of Twilight. I can understand how those who engulf themselves in the fantasy world of romance novels might get a kick out of this. But anyone else, who requires characterization and actual story, should be prepared to be bored out of their mind and have eye rolls on stand-by.

FINAL GRADE: D+

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (Full Review)

Remember the old James Bond movies? Not the gritty, intricate Daniel Craig ones that are all fantastic, but the colorful unrealistic ones with Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, and Sean Connery. Those were the films where villains threw razor blade hates and had metal teeth. Those movies in comparison were completely outlandish (Like contrasting Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever). But, they sure were a lot of fun. Kingsman: The Secret Service harkens back to the old days when action movies didn’t have to be straight laced to be entertaining.

Kingsman_The_Secret_Service_posterDirector Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) knows what he has here, and treats it like those quirky action movies of old. Like Men in Black with no aliens, Kingsman tells the story of a secret organization of spies. Colin Firth (in his first ever role as a badass) takes on the role of the wily veteran agent who recruits the troubled son of a former member (Taron Egerton). Together with other members of the agency (Jon Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson), they must stop a megalomaniac’s (Samuel L. Jackson) global plot to create mass level extinction. Sound enough like a throwback Bond movie?

While a proper homage to the classic spy genre, at times Kingsman follows every cliché imaginable. But what it lacks in plot and story, it makes up for in its characters. Taron Egerton is suave and stylish as the young lead, Eggsy, even if the rest of the young cast is forgettable. The real showstoppers are the villains. Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious as the eccentric, billionaire psychopath with a heavy lisp and a poor stomach for violence. He carries the charisma that all good spy movie villains must have. His henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), an amputee with blade legs, helps create some jawdropping action sequences. And there are plenty of those to go around, especially in the exhilarating final act.

If ludicrous plots, excessive violence, and use of the F-word in every other sentence are not your forte, then you should run as far away from Kingsman as possible. But if you’re looking for some swift action and a bit of self-referential humor (and if you don’t want to sit through Fifty Shades of Grey) then Kingsman is a great time. It is violent, gratuitous, excessively loud, and it’s the most fun film to hit theaters in 2015.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Jupiter Ascending… aka CGI nonsense (Full Review)

'Jupiter_Ascending'_Theatrical_PosterI was a fan of the Wachowski siblings. They are the bright minds responsible for The Matrix. They also produced the screen adaption of V for Vendetta. I found 2013’s Cloud Atlas to be an absolute masterpiece, though many others thought differently. So, I knew how good the Wachowski’s can be. Then I saw Jupiter Ascending.Unfortunately, I now know how terrible they can be.

Let’s start with the interminable plot. Mila Kunis stars as lonely, boring Jupiter Jones, who cleans houses along with her Russian family of idiots. After being saved by an exiled animal hybrid, super soldier from outer space (Channing Tatum), she discovers that she is the reincarnated mother of the Universe’s royal family and that the Earth is hers to inherit. The three heirs of the royal family (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth) compete to abduct her and gain control of the planet even though the movie establishes early on that there are several other planets just like Earth. In a nut shell… it is the story of a petty, space sibling rivalry with Mila Kunis caught in the middle because she looks like their mom.

You can tell that the Wachowski’s put a lot of thought into all of this because there is loads of terminology, fancy technology, and weird alien worlds involved. But it is simply too much. So much information is crammed into the movie that it feels as if it is trying harder to establish its universe more than it is to actually produce a worthwhile story. Dull/annoying characters don’t help either. Jupiter is inconceivably naïve, and Mila Kunis can do nothing to save a character that spews dialogue like she’s Bella in Twilight. Eddie Redmayne (somehow the same guy who has been nominated for two Academy Awards) is downright insufferable as the film’s primary antagonist, who flamboyantly whispers every line for some reason. I’m guessing they wanted him to feel intimidating, and yet Mila Kunis physically beats him on more than one occasion.

When the movie isn’t shoving random aspects of its overly vast universe down your throat, it’s bombarding you with one loud, soulless CGI-laden action sequence after another. One scene, a chase through downtown Chicago, seems to go on forever. And even the action scenes provided by Channing Tatum’s Caine Wise, are ruined by an overkill slow motion effect. The character also seems to be a thorn in everyone’s side other than Jupiter’s, and yet everyone seems to do as little as possible to dispose of him (Why eject a person out of an airlock to kill him when you’re holding a gun?)

Make no mistake, this is no Star Wars or Fifth Element. It is CGI nonsense filled with B-movie characters and the most cliché action you can find. It’s 2015… at this point, any movie with a decent budget will have beautiful special effects, so here it hardly seems like a saving grace. It almost feels like going on a date with someone gorgeous, but who can’t spell their own name. Eventually you get tired of looking at them, and you just want to go home.

FINAL GRADE: Don’t waste time or money on this one…. F

January 2015 Reviews (Pt. 2)

Project_Almanac_posterPROJECT ALMANAC Another found footage movie exploring the nature of a science fiction component told through the eyes of “average” American teens. The story follows a high school genius as he, his two best friends, his sister, and his crush, develop the world’s first known time machine. Like many time travel movies before it, it explores the nature of the butterfly effect: the idea that even the smallest change in a timeline can drastically affect the future.

This film wants to be Chronicle so bad; from its characters, to its cinematography, to its tone. Like in Chronicle, the characters spend a large portion of the movie just doing the things that any kid would probably do with something supernatural: Getting rich, winning over the opposite sex, getting back at bullies. But after a while, we keep waiting for the conflict/sense of suspense to set in. By the time it actually does hit, it focuses on a sophomoric love story while also managing to scramble its own loose set of criterion. There’s so much potential here. Some of the performances are decent and the movie keeps your interest for a while. But overall, this movie is nothing special. FINAL GRADE: C+

The_Loft_film_posterTHE LOFT Everyone loves a good murder mystery. In this one, five men decide to take turns using a loft to escape from their families and mainly cheat on their wives. After a dead woman is found in the loft one morning, the men begin unraveling past events to try and figure out which one of them, if any, is the culprit. But where this movie falls short, is not in its premise or script.

As mysteries go, it is fairly interesting and has the necessary twists and turns to keep you guessing, albeit it does drag on about 15 minutes too long. The faults are mainly in its crumby production value. The movie is shot like an episode of Law and Order (which would be fine if this weren’t a major motion picture) and the acting seems fresh out of a soap opera. The characters themselves are also the most unlikable you’ll ever find. The men are mostly creepy, chauvinistic, violent, liars and the woman are mostly gossipy, bitchy, or over emotional. If you can get past the bland stereotyped cast and just focus on the mystery itself, you’ll find that there are far worse things you could’ve sat through (*cough* Boy Next Door). FINAL GRADE: C+

Inherent_Vice_film_posterINHERENT VICE Joaquin Phoenix stars in this cartoonish comedy/crime drama about a stoner/Private Investigator trying to prevent the kidnapping of his ex-girlfriend’s new lover. Set in 1970’s California, the movie features an All-Star cast including Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, and Reese Witherspoon. The movie is based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon and probably never should’ve been made into a movie.

That is not to say that Inherent Vice is a bad movie. But some stories just work better as books. This film, while filled with several hilarious moments (many stemming from Phoenix’s strong, comedic performance), is just so scatter brained that it makes it hard to keep up with its already convoluted plot. And although the overall tone clicks with a seudo-60’s hippy vibe, only Phoenix’s performance comes off as memorable. FINAL GRADE: C+

 

'A_Most_Violent_Year'_Theatrical_PosterA MOST VIOLENT YEAR It’s truly amazing what tone and strong performances can do for a film. Some premises, like the story of a hardworking fuel mogul looking to grow his company, shouldn’t be as interesting as a mob film. And yet, despite the lack of actual violence in A Most Violent Year, the film is as compelling as any mob classic.

The credit should undoubtedly go to the two remarkably imposing leads. Oscar Isaac is smart, suave, and magnificently tactical as Abel Morales, the owner of a 1981 Standard Oil company falling victim to a stream of violent truckjacking in New York city. His character is mob boss methodical, but has no dreams of violence unlike his volatile, mob-daughter wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain). Chastain’s brutal wit and fervor provide a dynamic between the two characters that manages to push the film past it’s mostly uneventful plot and make for a surprisingly fascinating two hours. FINAL GRADE: A-