PROJECT 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 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 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 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-