Monday, December 30, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. 2 Guns - I watched this directly after The World's End and I laughed more in the first 20 minutes of this movie than I did for the entire length of that whole movie.  Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington have amazing chemistry together.  The scene with the chickens had me in a fit of tears ("They are torturing chickens!!" "What are you eating?" "Chicken."). The movie moves really quickly, has some surprising twists and turns, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. There's really nothing more to say.  I'm surprised that it didn't do better in the theater, but I think the title is off-putting.

2. Lovelace - I wasn't expecting to like this movie at all.  I thought it would be cheesy and over-dramatic.  The story of Linda Lovelace is hard to tell, especially since no one really knows the truth (aside from the people involved). Lovelace's version of the events are tragic and my instinct is to believe her, but some of the things that she claimed have been proven lies. No matter what the "truth" is, it's clear that this woman was abused in some way and that she was taken advantage of. I also think a lot of drugs were involved.  The movie did a fantastic job in the structure of the story - showing the glitzy, glamorous life of a porn star; then it reverts back to tell Lovelace's version, which is harrowing. In her version, watching any of her movies, is akin to watching her being raped. It really makes you think about the porn industry as a whole. I've never been a big fan of Amanda Seyfried, but she is excellent here; Really strong, memorable performance. Sharon Stone is unrecognizable as her mother. If I didn't know she was in the movie, I wouldn't have known that was her. And ADAM BRODY! What the hell?! I really didn't want to see Seth Cohen doing porn. So disturbing. 

3. Prince Avalanche - I saw this movie on a few "Best of 2013" lists, which surprised me because I never even heard of it. It seemed to come out of nowhere.  Obviously, I was intrigued.  I have to say....I don't get it. It's not a bad movie at all, but out of all of the amazing films that were released this year - this wouldn't even make my top 50.  Paul Rudd does a fine job (as always), but Emile Hirsch is absolutely awful. I used to hate him, but he won me over with Into the Wild and Milk.  He's just one of those actors who is either really good, or really awful depending on the role (like Matthew Goode).  His crying scene in this movie is laugh out loud funny. The movie is about as boring as their job, which is to paint the yellow stripes on a deserted road.  Male bonding is boring. Sorry, guys. Actually, I take that back. It can be a lot of fun if it's done well (see: 2 Guns).

4. Sightseers - Loved everything about this movie.  Ben Wheatley has an amazing way of structuring a movie. The way he puts scenes together is breathtaking. My favorite is *spoiler* the part where Chris kills the other camper. It's juxtaposed with a cult-like ritual and the campers wife cutting her foot on a piece of a broken plate that Chris purposely broke. It's sublime. *end spoiler*  The movie can easily be described as a UK version of God Bless America. He kills obnoxious people or as he says "he's not a person, he's a Daily Mail reader".  This is exactly the kind of movie that sticks in my brain. Dark, funny, subversive.  It's a great character study on gender and relationships.  It's definitely an insight into the male brain - once he finds someone who loves and supports him for who he is (knowing that he is a murderer), he begins to resent her and pushes her away. The ending is awesome. I laughed so hard.  I think I'm including this as a 2013 release, even though it is listed as 2012. Technically it wasn't released in the states until this year. It will be on my top 10 list (which is now a top 20 list).  

5. The Guilt Trip - I had some extra time on my hands because I called out of work due to a nasty cold. I wanted to watch something mindless; something I didn't have to pay attention to because my brain was cold-medicine fuzzy.  I don't know if this is the reason I found this movie to be really cute. It's not a good movie and I would never watch it again, but I was never bored and I even laughed a few times. Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand play a very realistic mother and son. I knew how it was going to end because I spotted Adam Scott in the credits and he didn't appear in the entire movie until the end. That "twist" could have been easily avoided if he just checked date of birth when he was doing his research. Anyway, cute movie. My mom would have loved it.  On a side note, the purse holder thing that she uses is sold at my work and it is a ridiculously popular item.  

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. The Hunt - Absolutely stunning movie. It's going to be so tough to make a Top 10 list this year because I've stated "this movie is definitely going to be in my Top 10 list" at least 20 times this year!  I'm going to say it for The Hunt as well, and heck, if need be, I might just make a Top 20 list instead!  The Hunt is like the movie Doubt (which is a terrific movie), just minus the doubt.  A teacher is accused of sexually inappropriate behavior based on a child's malicious lie - a lie she tells because she is upset and confused.  The teacher that she "confesses" this lie to obviously has to take this accusation seriously. This person is villainous from an audiences point of view, simply because we know the truth.  From her point of view, though, it's a tough spot to be in.  It's hard to believe that children would make up a story like that, but they do (especially children who are neglected and seek adult attention).  To watch a mans entire life fall apart from this "innocent" lie, is horrifying. Mads Mikkelsen is perfection in the role, as his life is unraveling before his eyes. The whole movie can be summed up with the look that he gives the father at church (this is the look on the poster). Then, the end is so amazing that it gave me chills. This mans life will forever be altered. He will always be looking over his shoulder.

2. Violet & Daisy - Not nearly as fun as it should be. I read the description about two teenage female assassins and I assumed a fun, action flick with two bad-ass females. I was also expecting Vamp like campiness. It's campy, for sure, but it's just not fun at all. It's rather boring.  The leads are strong young actresses (Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel), but they do not sell this film at all. Plus, this is one of James Gandolfini's last movie roles, and it was disappointing (still the best part of the movie, obviously), but I feel like he played the same role as he did in Welcome to the Riley's. The movie is absolutely forgettable and that is the worst thing I can say about any movie.

3. Red 2 - The first one was ok for an action movie, but I felt like it should have been a much stronger movie with the cast involved.  I was expecting more of the same, so I wasn't left as disappointed with this sequel.  I really like the characters and the actors, so it makes it fun to watch.  The plot struggled a bit, mostly with too many obvious twists. I think we were supposed to be surprised at each "reveal" but I just stared blankly at the screen, shrugging my shoulders. I assume that the first one had the graphic novel image interludes too, but honestly I don't remember the movie at all.  I really liked the artwork in this one, maybe it was more prominent or maybe I was paying more attention (no idea).  I also love Helen Mirren and John Malkovich in their roles. I wish the movie was just them because they are hilarious. I've been disappointed with Mary-Louise Parker's movie roles. She's one of my favorite actresses (her performance in Fried Green Tomatoes is still one of my favorite female performances ever).  Maybe she will find another great television role soon (like Weeds).  Catherine Zeta-Jones ruins every movie she is in. I'm not even exaggerating; I honestly think she is one of the worst working actresses working today. The only exception that I *might* consider is Chicago. Adding such a terrible actress to such a strong cast just accentuates her awfulness.  

4. Fun Size - I was in the mood for something cute and harmless and this movie is exactly that. It's Josh Schwartz's first time behind the camera (he's the writer behind The O.C., Chuck, Gossip Girl etc.), so I expected some serious sarcastic wit, but it was lacking in that department (it's obvious that he had no part in the writing).  I've never seen Victoria Justice in anything before. She's super cute, but forgettable. Chelsea Handler as her mom, though?? Really? Mind-blown. She actually did a very good job. I LOVE Jane Levy (can't wait for Suburgatory to come back!) and I LOVE that she played the "sex kitten" role. The whole story takes place on Halloween, which is apparently a very popular holiday in whatever town they are supposed to be in. Seriously, the town is PACKED with trick-or-treaters. I've never seen a suburban street that busy.  I liked the family stuff in the movie, I think it's a cute movie for the "tween" age group - not too crude but still has a little edge. 

5. Red Dawn - I've never seen the original.  It's been on my list for ages, but I think it's coming soon to Netflix Instant, so now I may FINALLY watch it.  The remake was interesting. I really like the plot, but I felt like they left out any and all character development.  There are some decent actors in this movie; but none are used to full potential. Josh Hutcherson is my favorite among the cast - I wish he was featured more. Instead, the story focused on the two brothers (played by Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck), who were pretty dull. The other actors who I don't recognize (everyone who is not featured on the poster), I assumed they would die quickly so I didn't really pay much attention to them.  I got severely bored after an hour.  Again, I really like the plot, so I'm interested to see if it was explored better in the original.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Scenic Route - There are parts of this movie that I really, really like. The brutality, suspense and the commentary on masculinity and male friendships are all really well done. For a low-budget, character driven movie featuring two actors and one set (for most of it), it is very satisfying. It felt like a modernized version of Waiting for Godot. It's also probably the only time where I feel like Josh Duhamel attempts actual acting and he's pretty good.  However, I am not fully convinced of the plot. *slight spoilers* I can't imagine that anyone would purposely strand themselves in the California desert or that anyone who would stop to help them, would then leave them there (without calling the police).  Also, Duhamel's character has a wife and kids, so she would definitely be looking for him. *end of spoilers*  On a side note, I have huge anxiety and terrible childhood memories about California deserts, so this was actually really hard for me to watch.  This probably helped the "suspense" factor for me.

2. Shadow Dancer - My crush on Andrea Riseborough continues to grow. This is probably her best performance yet (she was a stand-out in both mediocre movies, Oblivion and Welcome to the Punch). In this movie she plays a woman who is forced to spy on her own brothers - all of whom are heavily involved in the IRA.  The story is really tense, complicated and dense.  I'm not even going to pretend like I completely understand the politics behind it, but the story is focused on this woman's struggle to protect her son, hide her "informant" status and stay out of prison.  The ending is definitely a "wow moment" that I wasn't expecting. Clive Owen is a little dull; I feel like he's played this role before and it was dry and repetitive.  He's been excellent before (my favorite performance of his is from Trust. Superb.), but I think it's time for him to step out of the box.

3. The Canyons - To my surprise, there is actually a worse movie released this year than Movie 43!! I never expected that. For some reason, I thought I would actually like The Canyons.  I heard plenty of bad things, but I also heard a few really positive things. I will never understand how anyone can say anything positive about this movie. I can't think of one thing. Acting, characters, writing, editing, cinematography - all of it is truly terrible.  Lindsey Lohan received a lot of flack for her acting here, and I can see why, but I don't blame her one bit. The entire cast is terrible and the dialogue is horrendous, so she blends in just fine.  The main guy, an established porn actor, who shamelessly calls himself "James Deen". is the worst actor in the movie and I'm pretty sure we are supposed to think he's hot.  The part that really bothered me though is the sound design.  There is actually a part where you could hear the character say "Hi Christian" twice because of the sound editing. Plus, some of the dialogue sounds muffled and echoed.  It seems like such amateur filmmaking; I am actually surprised I didn't catch a shot of a misplaced boom mic. Honestly, this is not only the worst of the year; it's one of the worst I've ever seen.

4. The Conjuring - Even though I didn't really enjoy this movie, I can understand why other people did; especially those who love the horror genre.  It's a very well-constructed horror film.  There are some stunning shots (my favorite is the scene with "something" under the girls bed - the way the camera flips around is AMAZING).  The cast is fantastic- Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lily Taylor and Joey King (does anyone else see her resemblance to Elizabeth Moss? They could be sisters).  There are some very creepy scenes, but I'm just honestly never scared by ghost or exorcism stuff.  A lot of people seem to think the whole "doll" thing is super scary, but IT'S A DOLL! How is that scary?  I tend to think that people who are scared of stuff like that must live a very good life - they must have no concept of actual scary stuff that exists in real life.  I'm generalizing, of course, but it's just beyond my understanding. Also, is "Hide and Clap" an actual game? I've never heard of that before.  That scene was, again, really well executed. If I wasn't expected to be scared; I would probably be more impressed with the movie as a whole.

5. The World's End - This was such a disappointment for me. I love Edgar Wright. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs the World are all AWESOME.  Despite the fact that the trailer for this movie was really stupid, I was still expecting to enjoy it.  I didn't. It's not a bad movie, but it's just blah. The characters are boring, the plot is repetitive and I didn't really laugh at all. Then the last third of the movie is just plain stupid and over-the-top ridiculous. When Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan are in a movie together, I expect to be entertained. The only thing that interested me is the actual pub crawl. I would love to do that - there is no way I could drink 12 pints in one night, but it would be fun to try.  I have a high tolerance (Irish blood), but I have high tolerance for a female who weighs less than a hundred pounds - 12 pints would kill me. Do people still do this crawl? Or is it just a bunch of annoying American tourists?

3 Thoughts on Dallas Buyers Club

1. The performances - While the movie won't make my Top 10 list for the year (maybe top 20), the performances are outstanding. Matthew McConaughey should be a double Oscar nominee this year for Best Actor (for this movie) and Best Supporting Actor (for Mud and possibly The Wolf of Wall Street at the rate he's going). The best part of the movie, though, is that the supporting actor is just as strong. I hold Jared Leto up on a pedestal after his performance in Requiem For a Dream, which 13 years later is still one of my favorite performances ever (and one of my favorite movies ever, even though I've only seen it once. I don't need to see it again. Its images are burned in my memory forever.).  The two of them are astonishing in this movie, as the pair form an unlikely bond.  Both of their performances can be described as bold, vulnerable, raw and complex - but in completely different ways. Their relationship is the foundation of the story and it is what held my interest. Also, I'm happy to see Jennifer Garner in a role like this, instead of the crap she's been doing (like that other movie she was in with McConaughey, the one with the ghosts. Horrific.).

2. The AIDS epidemic - This is the kind of subject matter that is very hard to give justice to. There is a fine line of "look how far we've come" and "we still have such a long way to go".  With the film taking place just as the AIDS epidemic began to burst at the seams, it's an unapologetic and depressing insight into how society dealt with the disease. It's based on a true story about an actual "buyers club" that was formed as a response to the FDA and pharmaceutical companies controlling patient care.  The problem is that this is still happening! I'm going to go along with the conspiracy theorists on this one and declare that I fully believe a cure for AIDS exists, but there is just too much money to be made off of the disease. The only way we can stop this disease is through education, because the health care system is never going to give us a cure. Then, the problem is that many religious/conservative people still try to fight against sex education in schools. It's a never-ending cycle of fighting with people who don't care about humanity (only themselves and their personal beliefs).  I think this is the kind of story-telling that is jarring enough to open some closed minds, but unfortunately, I don't think that the close-minded will actually watch a movie like this.

3. The 80's - Oh the 80's. Wasn't it just fantastic? Haha...I'm kidding. The problem that I have about modern movies that take place in the 80's, is that I find myself laughing at the ridiculous outfits, the gigantic technological devices (phones, tv's, etc).  It always ends up a distraction for me. However, this movie did it very well. It felt genuine and natural.  Nothing felt out of place, allowing the characters to really capture your full attention. I'm not sure what this movie did differently, but whatever it is, it worked.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. What Maisie Knew - This movie broke my heart on so many levels.  The story is about a little girl, Maisie, who is forced into the middle of a custody battle amid her parents divorce.  I was expecting courtroom drama etc., but instead it's really about Maisie and the information that she absorbs around her.  I can relate to all of it.  Not necessarily the divorce aspect (I think a lot of people can relate to that), but the need to understand something that is incomprehensible for someone so young. I think adults forget how much information children retain, and how even the littlest moment can shape their life.  The movie has a somewhat happy ending, which is slightly disappointing because it's not really true to life.  However, even with this ending, it is clear that the psychological damage is already done - this girl will grow up with deep abandonment issues and I think that's the part that really gets under my skin.  The aftermath of this movie is soul crushing.  The little girl who plays Maisie (her name is Onata Aprile) is stunning.  Julianne Moore is also fantastic; probably the best I've ever seen from her.  This movie makes me really want to read the novel that it is based on, by Henry James.  Several of his novels have been made into movies (The American, The Wings of the Dove, The Portrait of a Lady), and none of them have made me want to refer to the original source.  I think that says a lot.

2. The Internship - Mediocre and dull, with very little laugh-out-loud moments which is pretty much what I expected with the reviews that it received.  I think the only time I laughed is in the beginning when they are loudly singing along to Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" in the car. I love Rose Byrne and I didn't realize she was even in this, so that was a nice surprise (plus she gets to keep her Australian accent - double win!).  The character of Lyle was entertaining; his rhymes made me smile.  Other than that, everything else was kind of annoying. It seemed really outdated and repetitive. There is a whole scene with the Harry Potter broomstick game, so there was a whole scene in which I had no idea what was happening. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have great chemistry together, but I don't think they took full advantage of that.

3. The To Do List - If you are seeking some 90's nostalgia, then this movie will please you. That's the only positive thing I can say about it. There are references to Marky Mark, Phish, "Free Tibet", Hypercolor T-shirts, plus the music included "Let's Talk About Sex" and "Fade Into You" and the absolute best part of the movie is Rachel Bilson doing the Roger Rabbit! The movie, however, is really terrible. I'll be really surprised if it doesn't win a spot on my worst movies of 2013 list.  I adore Aubrey Plaza on Parks and Recreation, but her acting in this movie was one of the worst performances ever. It makes me question her acting ability, as a whole, because she is perfect on Parks and Recreation, but she seems to play a characterized version of herself (and she played the same character in Safety Not Guaranteed). This was something different, and she really failed.  It doesn't help that her character is super annoying and stupid (especially for someone who is supposed to be smart).  She doesn't really pass for a teenager, either. Actually, none of them did.  I appreciate that the story is about young women exploring their sexuality, especially among the hordes of movies with the same topic featuring young guys. I was just expecting something funnier and wittier.

4. The Way Way Back - I love this movie! The more I think about it,  the more I love it.  I think it's one of the few movies from this year that I actually want to own and watch over, and over again.  It's such a simple story, but it's just written so well that I instantly fell in love with the characters.  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash prove to be a fantastic writing team (they also wrote The Descendants, which won the Oscar for adapted screenplay. I wasn't a huge fan of that movie.  I liked it; but I wasn't in love with it like I am with this one. However, I can't argue the fact that it was written extremely well).  I was a Production Intern on a movie that co-starred Nat Faxon (waaaay back when), he was a very sweet guy (and I felt really bad for him because 90% of his part was cut from the movie).  It's nice to see decent people "make it" in such a cutthroat industry.  Aside from the writing, the cast is the best part of the movie.  Toni Collette is one of my favorite actresses; she plays the grounded character here, while everyone else is more intense.  Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell are the real standout performances.  Janney nails the boozy, loud-mouthed, gossipy neighbor ("They called me a c-u-next Thursday to my face!" - hilarious).  Sam Rockwell plays one of my favorite type of people - the kind that do whatever it takes to make other people smile and instantly gives someone a boost of confidence.  Rockwell is consistently good; but here he excels (he was also the best part of my favorite movie of last year, Seven Psychopaths).  I would love to see a Supporting Actor nomination come Oscar time.  Steve Carell is also really good as a complete insecure asshole.  Again, the writing is brilliant because the audience will instantly hate him ("I think you're a 3." I wanted to punch him in the face).  The whole movie is just charming, funny and downright irresistible.

5. R.I.P.D - I was prepared for the worst and that is pretty much what I got.  As you can tell from the trailer, it is a direct copy of Men in Black (and as my friend pointed out, a little bit of the brilliant show Dead Like Me), but the plot was actually identical to the movie Ghost.  It's disgusting that this passes as an "original" tale, while blatantly ripping other movies.  I get that most stories are inspired by other stories, etc., but there is a point when it is just too much and this movie goes beyond that point.  It's a shame that they got decent actors to be a part of such trash. Mary-Louise Parker, Kevin Bacon, Jeff could any of them willingly participate in this movie? I would be embarrassed. Even the special effects and makeup were horribly bad.  It's definitely at the bottom of the barrel of worst movies this year (although I don't think it's as bad as After Earth or Movie 43).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Frances Ha - Beautifully written movie about becoming an adult, figuring out where you belong and being surrounded by people who seem to have things figured out.  There is a lovely performance from Greta Gerwig, even though I have issues with the character, the audience will relate to her loneliness and uncertainty. The issues that I have are highlighted throughout the film, so it's clear to me that these were intentional traits (narcissistic, self-absorbed, clueless, needy etc), however, it doesn't make her any less annoying - like how she acts like she's poor (another thing that was intentional - as one character calls it "an insult to poor people").  It sort of reminds me of the same style that Lena Dunham has - this "please feel bad for me because I have so many problems, even though I'm white, upper-class, educated and I have a family that loves me" - sorry, just because you don't have your dream job or your dream relationship, doesn't mean your life sucks. Get over yourself. Sorry for the rant, but it's just so frustrating. And now my rant is making it seem like I didn't like this movie, but I actually really did! Her problems are real, and I do have sympathy for her, I just feel the need to put things in perspective. I loved her relationship with her best friend; it reminded me of my best friend (and once roommate).  Their conversations were so familiar ("we're like a lesbian couple who don't have sex anymore", "don't pick your face"). When we "separated" it was like the END OF AN ERA! (Friends references are hard to avoid).  I loved the black & white shots of NYC and the lightness of the story. I just wish there was more substance, something real to grasp, something memorable.

2. White House Down - The big question seems to be - which is better, this or the "Gerard Butler saves the White House" movie? I would say that they are pretty much equals, but White House Down is a slightly better made movie.  The effects are better, the dialogue isn't as cheesy, and the story is more interesting.  However, both of these movies make it seem way to easy to take over the White House, rely on one man to save the day, and have scarily predictable villains.  I like Channing Tatum, but got tired of the endless shots of him jumping over furniture trying to avoid gunfire.  Overall, it's one of those movies that is just meant to entertain and it did just that.

3. The Hangover Part 3 - I was expecting so much worse. The second installment was widely criticized for re-hashing the first one, so this one threw out the formula (that worked fine, in my opinion), and was still universally criticized.  I'm not going to pretend this movie is good, but it's certainly not as bad as people claim.  I laughed a few times, the plot was much darker but it moved rather quickly, and Bradley Cooper is fucking sexy. That's enough for me to be entertained.  Ken Jeong is funny in very small doses, so his increased involvement in the story became grating (I feel the same way about his character on Community, the episodes that feature him more are the worst episodes).  There are some parts that are groan-worthy (like the after credits scene) and unnecessary plot holes, but not enough to make me hate the movie.  I'm not sure why John Goodman is dressed like my great-aunt Wendy, or why his character is so boring.  Also, I'm pretty sure that the person who writes the Netflix descriptions didn't actually watch the movie, as she/he describes the plot as "the gang will have to rescue Alan from a mental institution". Actually, thinking about that makes me laugh harder than anything in the movie.

4. People Like Us - I watched this movie because of the cast - Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer and Olivia Wilde.  Plus, it was written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (writers behind Alias and Fringe).  I was interested in seeing something that wasn't science-fiction based from them.  Surprisingly, as sappy and melodramatic as it is, I really enjoyed it.  Sure, if you throw in a Christmas tree, it could have easily been a Holiday TV movie on Lifetime, but there is just something so likable about it.  As expected with the talent, it is written and acted extremely well.  I've never liked Chris Pine in anything...until now. He's fantastic in this, as is the little wise-ass boy.  I appreciate that it is a story about finding family; instead of a traditional "love" story.

5. Girl Most Likely - This could have been a good movie, if it weren't so damn boring.  The beginning starts out as a bit of cliche about another self-centered woman who is dumped by her boyfriend and has her world suddenly fall apart (blah, blah, blah), but it is much darker than your average chick-flick.  She isn't quite convinced that her boyfriend isn't in love with her.  To convince herself that she is right, she writes a poignant suicide letter, scatters some pills around her and calls him to "threaten" taking her own life - completely expecting him to show up and "save" her. Things don't turn out the way she plans, instead she ends up in the care of her "crazy" mother back in her hometown of Ocean City, NJ.  Sounds interesting...right? It has the whole "confronting your demons" themes, but it just doesn't explore any of these demons for any meaningful purpose. The only thing it really proves is that everyone has a "talent"; everyone deserves to be appreciated or "famous" for their talent, but, in most cases, everyone ends up a "nobody"(deeeepressing). Also, it's clear that the writer has a hatred for New Jersey.  From the way the movie is written, it felt like a really personal hatred, but she's from California, so I really don't understand where her anger is coming from. While the movie is really long and really dull, at least the cast is excellent - Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon and the highlight, Blaine from Glee. I say he's a highlight because I've never seen him outside of Glee and he was unexpectedly great. His Backstreet Boys performance is the best part of the entire movie.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

3 Thoughts on 12 Years a Slave

1. It's brutal, difficult, heartbreaking... - As you would expect, a film about slavery is very difficult to watch.  I can't say that I've seen many (aside from Django Unchained, the last one I remember is Amistad).  12 Years a Slave is a story based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film does not shy away from the horrors of slavery and the existence of true evilness. I didn't cry while watching the movie, probably because I was expecting the brutality, but I did have to look away from the screen a few times.

2. It's stunning, beautiful, inspiring... - This movie will be in my top 10 of the year (possibly top 5).  Steve McQueen made an absolutely stunning film.  The story tells itself, I think it would be hard to make a bad movie out of it.  McQueen, however, did something that is uniquely "him".  He juxtaposed some of the most horrific images you will every see, with some of the most beautiful images of America.  He inserts his style into the film and gives film geeks something to smile about  Just like he did with his 12 minute single take shot in Hunger, and his breathtaking tracking shot of Brandon running in Shame, 12 Years a Slave has several moments where I inhaled deeply and went "wow". Most notably were the awkwardly long moments focused on Solomon that forced the audience to absorb his situation. During one focused shot, someone in the audience yelled out "really, come on". While some audience members sat watching a historical drama, I was watching the new Steve McQueen movie and I was in awe.

3. Why is Brad Pitt in this movie? - I have one complaint. Ok...maybe two, but they are related.  Brad Pitt is the worst casting decision ever.  I say this as a HUGE Brad Pitt fan.  First, by the time he shows up, the audience has forgotten that he is in it, so it breaks the attention span of the audience.  Seriously, he appeared and suddenly I heard whispers all around me "that's Brad Pitt!".  Second, he was awful.  My friend argued that he felt out of place because he is "supposed to be Canadian" (haha), but I argued that he felt out of place because he was out of place.  My second (minor) complaint  is Michael Fassbender.  I'm not as crazy about him as most girls are (gasp!! I know). He's excellent in previous McQueen movies, but he wasn't the highlight here.  The southern accent is hard to do (especially to make it sound natural and not a caricature), and he struggled with it.  I could hear his Irish accent peaking through almost every word and it was really distracting.  The rest of the cast is flawless.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible. He is definitely the front-runner for best performance of the year.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Midnight's Children - I don't think I can express into words my love for this book. In college, I took a course on South Asian literature, simply because it fit into my schedule. I heard that it was a tough class and that the professor was intense, but I didn't really believe it (I went to a state college because that's all I could afford, and no offense, but none of the classes were particularly "tough") The first book we read, The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy had my interest because it was so different than anything I've read before. Coming from a public high school in Upstate NY, I can't say that I had much exposure to South Asian literature.  We had to write a paper at the end of each book, and on my first paper, I received a C. I admit that I hadn't put much effort into the paper, but I was still baffled by the C.  I asked the professor why the grade was so low and she said "I looked into your background, the paper is an A if I compare it to other students, but it's a C if I compare it to what I think you're capable of ". I was super pissed at this answer - it's not fair to hold someone to a higher standard and I gave many excuses (I worked a full-time job and a part-time job to afford school, rent, food etc.  I didn't have time to give my best effort). Then, we started reading Midnight's Children and I was absolutely blown away.  It helped that my professor was so passionate about Salman Rushdie and the history of India.  She would explain the significance of every word, the structure of every sentence, and how every inch of the story related to historical events.  I suddenly realized how lucky I was to have a professor who actually cared about what she was teaching, and invested time in her students.  I owed it to her (and myself) to give my best.  I've never put so much effort into anything as I did with my paper for Midnight's Children (and I only got a B+, with the comment "now I need you to start participating in class". Although, I received an A as my overall score.). This experience changed the way that I read books. Now, when I read something that I'm not familiar with, instead of glossing it over, I engage with it. I do background research, I look up cultural significance, etc.  I was happy to hear that they decided to make a film version, and that Rushdie was involved with the screenplay.  I thought seeing the story, visually, would be a moving experience.  It's an epic story about a man inherently linked to his nation, but for some reason it just doesn't work on-screen.  The pace was a little slow, the characters weren't fully developed and it doesn't feel as personal and as magical as the book did.

2. Iron Man 3 - I actually got really excited about this movie once the great reviews started pouring in - some claiming that Shane Black revived the Iron Man movies (after the super boring second one), but I'm going to have to disagree with the critics on this one.  It's only slightly better than the second one, and miles away from the awesomeness of the first one.  I hardly see Black's influence at all.  I found most of the movie annoying - Tony Stark having anxiety attacks, the Mandarin "twist", the stupid ending.  There were some bright spots - some of the action sequences, James Badge Dale (love him!) and of course, Downey Jr. is perfection.  Overall, I can't say that I'll remember any of it in a few weeks time (and I honestly, barely remember anything about the second one either).

3. Maniac - Movies about serial killers are scary enough, but when you add the adorable Elijah Wood as a creepy psycho it's bound to cause me nightmares.  The movie is a remake of the 1980 movie Maniac!, which is a super creepy horror movie about a guy who kills women, scalps them and then uses their hair for his creepy mannequin dolls. The remake stays true to some of the original in plot, but it updates the story by shooting the film using only POV shots from the serial killer, still creating that personal insight into a killers mind (the original uses dialogue to do this; the killer has conversations with himself as well as mannequins).  Because of the shooting style, you only see the killer through the use of reflections and mirrors.  I both like and dislike this concept.  It's a cool idea, but it gets repetitive.  Plus, you need to fully commit to the idea and this movie falters a few times.  Elijah did a fantastic job, but he is a much different version than the original version (younger, more attractive - I fully admit, if Elijah Wood approached me, I probably wouldn't be scared. The original guy, however, I would ignore him and walk as fast as I could away from him).  Also, the girl in the beginning drove me insane. First, she was way too old for the teenager outfit combined with the baby talk, I could not wait for her to die a painful and gory death.  Not sexy at all. The movie is obviously misogynistic, as most movies about serial killers are (you know, he kills women because his mom was a whore), but it was a little too obvious.

4. The Woman in Black - I am a bit surprised that I enjoyed this movie.  Actually, I really only enjoyed the last half of it.  The first half is booooooring.  It's atmospheric and creepy, but it's not scary at all.  The second half, however, is really great.  It starts with the haunted house sequence and then continues the quick pace until the end.  Then, the ending was the best (which is rare for horror movies; I'm usually severely disappointed in the ending - most recently with Mama).  I'm really not a fan of Daniel Radcliffe.  I've only seen him as Harry Potter (I don't know which one that I watched) and he was absolutely terrible.  Watching it was one of the most upsetting experiences I've ever had watching a movie in the cinema.  I know the series has a massive fan base, but I really don't get it.  Most of my issues had to do with the acting, however Daniel did a much better job in this movie (he didn't really have that much to do, though).  I wish the beginning was better, so I could call this movie "great", but I have to downgrade it to "decent". 

5. The Purge - Fantastic idea, not fully executed.  The concept is interesting - there is one day a year that "laws" don't exist, so humans can "purge", therefore allowing an outlet for anger.  The problems with the movie are simple ones that could have easily been fixed - first, the filmmakers needed to decide what message they were trying to convey; they went back and forth between saying that violence was "American", but it is also "human nature".  There is a lot to be said about violence in America, but if they were going with the "human nature" element, then they needed to reference the world and the human race.  Second, if the story took place with a family that wasn't part of the "one percent", then the audience would be able to relate to them better. Instead, we are forced to root for spoiled, wealthy people who, in reality, could have easily used their wealth to create a panic room to survive in for 12 hours. I would rather see this story from someone who couldn't afford protection.  Third, the story could have used some subtlety - it was incredibly obvious that the neighbors would be actively involved in the story.  I heard they might make a sequel, if these things are fixed in it, then it could very well be a terrific thriller.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Holiday Movie Preview: 7 Films That I Am Excited About

1. Inside Llewyn Davis (12/6) - The Coen brothers have created movies that I love (No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading), movies that I loathe (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers) and some movies that I simply like (Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy).  I still haven't seen The Big Lebowski (I know!).  I've already heard some good things about Inside Llewyn Davis, plus the trailer is just perfection.  The Bob Dylan song, the clips of insanely good dialogue, the cat, the supporting cast.  I'm hoping it's on the "movies that I love" list.

2. American Hustle (12/13) - Holy fuck....this looks amazing.  I was trying to avoid the trailer, but it showed before 12 Years a Slave and I couldn't look away.  David O. Russell movies usually end up in my top 10 of the year lists, and this seems to be the case for this movie as well.  I can already picture the entire cast up for Oscars - especially Christian Bale, who once again, becomes unrecognizable for a role.

3. Her (12/18) - I already listed this in my "Fall Movie Preview", but the release date was pushed back. You can read about my excitement here:

4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (12/20) - I'm not as excited as a lot of people are about this sequel to Anchorman and I have to admit I'm a little surprised at the support that it is receiving.  However, Anchorman is probably the last time I've laughed at a Will Ferrell movie (although I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Guys, but more because of Mark Wahlberg), so I am hoping this is a return to form for Ferrell.

5. Labor Day (12/25) - Is it weird that when I first heard about this movie, I assumed it was a Valentine's Day/New Year's Eve type movie? Fortunately, it's not. Instead, it seems like an intense drama featuring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. The part that has me most excited, though, is that it is Jason Reitman's new film!

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (12/25) - Again, this movie was featured in my "Fall Movie Preview", the gist was "HOLY SHIT, THE TRAILER IS FANTASTIC".  I've never been to the movies on Christmas Day, but this is pretty enticing.

7. August: Osage County (12/25) - I really wanted to see this on Broadway, but my laziness knows no bounds.  It's much easier to wait for a movie version.  Of course, the big draw is Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, but the supporting cast is incredible: Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper. The trailer and the poster make it seem like a dysfunctional family comedy, but I've heard that it's supposed to be very serious and depressing.  So now I am completely unsure of what to expect (which I like).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on 11 New TV Shows

1. Dads - I don't really find this show as offensive as most people criticized it for. It's no more offensive than Family Guy. However, it's really not that funny. Seth Green fits the role perfectly, but Giovanni Ribisi is a misfire. Ribisi is superb at the awkward, geeky, loner roles (like Frank Buffay Jr. on Friends) which is what I was expecting, but instead he plays the more serious, married, business guy who is really boring.  It just doesn't fit him at all.  Also, when did Vanessa Lachey begin an acting career? She is terrible. I watched a few episodes, thinking it may find its groove and become decent, but no such luck. My DVR stopped recording the show, so I took that as a sign to stop watching it. I expected the show to get cancelled rather quickly, as did most people, but it was renewed for a second season! That's just crazy! It shows how desperate the networks are for comedy.

2. The Blacklist - I really wish they would start this show over with a different female lead. The rest of the show could use some improvement, but I think it will get there eventually. Unfortunately, Megan Boone, as Elizabeth Keen, is a big part of the series and she just gets worse with every episode. She has a sort of "dead behind the eyes" look to her; no personality, no wit, nothing. I appreciate that they were going for a "strong female" character (modeled after some of my favorites - Olivia Dunham, Sydney Bristow) but there is just no comparison. Olivia and Sydney were never boring; and they certainly never relied so much on being rescued. Elizabeth has been in way too many dangerous scenarios and never seems to know what to do. James Spader is excellent as Red Reddington, one of the FBI's most wanted, who has surrendered and is now giving intel about other criminals. However, most of his dialogue feels forced, like everything he says is just a quote to use for the commercials. There is a mystery about how these two people are related, but instead of being intriguing, it's just annoying. JUST TELL US ALREADY! It's like watching a really boring, dragged out episode of Alias. To be fair, I gave up on Alias, when it first aired. I think I only watched 3 or 4 episodes, but this was back in the day (you know, before DVR's and online streaming - HOW DID I SURVIVE??!), so something had to be amazing for me to stick with it. My cousin convinced me to give me another chance, so I did and I loved it. It's in my top 10 favorite shows of all time. I would love for something to be that good, but I don't think The Blacklist is going to ever come close.

3. Hostages - I think this is my favorite of all the new shows this season, which is sad because I don't love it. It's ridiculous, but like other ridiculous shows (ahem...The Following), it's incredibly entertaining.  The cast is a big part of my enjoyment. I adore Toni Collette - she is fantastic in everything she's ever done, Dylan McDermott is really strong as a bad (?) guy, and I'll always love Jimmy Cooper (The O.C. fan for life!!).  I didn't know how they would extend the plot for an entire series, but they are doing a great job at keeping me intrigued.  I figure the season finale will reveal that killing the president is actually a good thing (not sure how, but it seems like it relates to healthcare reform), which will be predictable, but an incredible twist.  I'm not sure I would have made the same choices as Ellen - if it's a choice between saving your kids and saving your husband, there shouldn't be any hesitation. Also, Brian hates chocolate? Um...PLOT HOLE! Nobody hates chocolate. I do really hate his whole "affair" plot-line. Hilary Burton is better in the role than I expected her to be, but the character is just pathetic.  If you date a married man, don't expect to be a priority; if you're not ok with that, then don't date married men. Easy peasy.

4. Mom - I hated the first episode, but have grown to enjoy it.  It reminds me of 2 Broke Girls, but not as vulgar. I also hated 2 Broke Girls for the first few episodes, and now I like it (although there are still some things that are overdone and stupid).  Mom reminds me of that show with Reba McEntire (Reba?), even though I've never seen an episode, for some reason I feel like it is about a dysfunctional family and a teenage mother? Anyway, I like the dysfunctionality of it - it's a more modern look at families.  I thought it would be easy for me to relate to it (since my mom was a teen mom), but I still find it vastly different from reality (her house is ginormous - for a single mom, working as a waitress and raising two kids. At one point, my mom worked three jobs - one as a waitress, and we still lived in a very tiny, rundown apartment).  I like that I can't relate to it though, because instead of it bringing up bad memories, I can laugh and enjoy it as the cute comedy that it is.  Anna Faris is perfection. Allison Janney is a bit over the top in her role, but I can already feel them dialing back her character.

5. Lucky 7  - Canceled already for good reason.  Nothing about it was worth watching.

6. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -  High expectations were not met. It's an average show, for now, with major potential to get better.  The first two episodes were downright terrible, but the third was a slight improvement and I actively enjoyed the next two - so that is a really good sign for a new show.  It seems that I am not alone in my opinion either, because most people that were excited about this show have been disappointed, while the best support for it seems to be that it "has potential".  The biggest problem (for now) is the characters - I really don't care about any of them. There was a lot of excitement about Agent Coulson being on the show, and I never really understood it. He's a fairly boring character (in The Avengers and on this show).  They are trying to create the mystery of "who" he is (robot, human, alien...), but I don't care. A lot of critics comment on the show filled with "pretty people", but I don't find any of them particularly attractive (probably because I'm attracted to personality and none of these characters have any).  I'm still glad it's improving with each episode and that I haven't given up on it yet.

7. Betrayal - This is another show that is having problems creating interesting characters.  The show is about an affair that is supposed to be raw and passionate, but so far it's just another boring affair. It's predictable, dull and melodramatic. What really aggravated me, though, was that they advertised one of the latest episodes as "the episode you've been waiting for" claiming it will shock and awe - and they flat-out lied to me!!  The beginning is a trick! That's a terrible thing to do to your audience.  I actually thought something interesting was going to happen, but it was probably the dullest episode to date. I really like most of the actors on the show but there doesn't seem to be any chemistry between them - especially the couple who are having the affair.  Their very first conversation was super-duper boring; I find it hard to believe they had an instant connection from that lifeless dialogue. Stuart Townsend reminds me of Colin Farrell for some reason. He's not nearly as hot, but he has that "mysterious" thing working for him.  Hannah Ware is really gorgeous, but I want to brush her hair. I'm a fan of the "just got out of bed hair", but it only works with certain hair types (not hers). That's just me being petty and harsh, but it can't be helped.

8. The Originals - The bad news: this show sucks. The good news: The Vampire Diaries is a thousand times better without the whole "originals" plot fucking it up! I can't really figure out why I'm not totally on board with this show. I really like the characters; I enjoy juicy vampire drama and I like the New Orleans setting.  I guess the biggest problem is the pace of the show because I find myself bored.  I'm not giving up on it because I think it could get epic - just hoping for it to happen soon!

9. The Millers - Really cheesy sitcom. I probably would have stopped watching it, if I didn't love all of the actors involved so much.  It's a cross between Everybody Loves Raymond and....I don't know what else, because I don't really watch those types of shows (my mother LOVES Everybody Loves Raymond, which I find super weird). I just wish they took this cast and created a different show. A funny one. I was unsure if I would continue watching but the "Time of My Life" dance scene really hooked me and then Eliza Coupe showed up as the ex-wife! I LOVE her.  I'm also glad Jayma Mays found something else to do aside from Glee (she deserves much more that what Glee is giving her).  I will keep watching this show, but I will hate myself while I do it.

10. Ravenswood - For some reason, my DVR recorded the pilot episode for this, then the Halloween episode of Pretty Little Liars, so that's the order in which I watched them. This explains why I was super confused as to what was happening (The PLL episode introduces Miranda and the reason for Caleb staying in Ravenswood).  I obviously had a hard time getting into the first episode, but then it ended in the best possible way.  I just had to watch the next episode to see who lived and who died. I like that it took the supernatural element from Pretty Little Liars (especially since we are getting non-supernatural answers on PLL ).  I was never a huge fan of Caleb, so I don't know how long his character will hold my interest.  I do like Miranda, but I'm not sure why she dresses like Madonna from the 80's.

11. Dracula - I only watched the first episode so far, but it's solid.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers is excellent, as predicted. He's so dramatic and flamboyant - perfect for Dracula. I'm not really sure about the actual "plot" of the show, yet, but they are setting up the characters nicely. Also, I wasn't expecting the fight at the end, but it was really poorly executed  - it looked like cheap video game effects. Hopefully, that doesn't happen again.

*Almost Human hasn't aired yet, but I'm super excited about it!* 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. The East - Brit Marling is just divine. As writer, producer and star of two fantastic movies from 2011, Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, I wondered if it was just a fluke.  While I don't think The East is as strong as these previous movies, it definitely proves that Brit Marling is a force to be reckoned with.  She is so young and so confident in her talent; I think she is going to be one of the few female filmmakers to break into the major league's.  She partners again with Zal Batmanglij, as she did with Sound of My Voice, creating the same hauntingly creepy atmosphere that excelled Sound of My Voice. The East has similar themes of cults, personal identity, and religion, but focuses on a group of "anti-corporation terrorists", who call themselves "The East".  This group of people truly believe that what they are doing is "right", and embody an "eye for an eye" manifesto.  Marling is a former FBI agent, hired by a big corporation, to infiltrate this group and find out their plans.  Predictably, she connects with them in ways she doesn't expect and begins to question her own actions, the actions of "The East", and the actions of her employer.  There are parts of the movie that I found problematic; the convenient storytelling is my biggest issue, but I also have problems with the maturity level of the group (they play "spin the bottle"...) and something as tiny as the dying of her hair, causes my brain to hurt (does she have any idea how difficult it is to dye dark brown hair to blonde? It would take at least 4 processes).  Overall though, the movie has quite a few strong images, fantastic acting and the music is perfectly creepy. The story presents ideas that are thrilling and challenging, but need to be explored. I could see the idea expanded into a television or min-series idea.  Right now, the movie sits in my Top 10 list of the year, but it is towards the bottom, so I doubt it will still be there at the end of the year.

2. Antiviral - I was not expecting this to be as good as it is.  David Cronenberg is a genius when it comes to science-fiction filmmaking; I thought holding his son, Brandon, to such a high standard on his first film, would prove to be a disappointment, but I was wrong.  He sticks to his fathers roots and creates a really brilliant movie. And the main actor, Caleb Landry Jones, is absolutely mesmerizing (I can't believe that's the dorky kid from Friday Night Lights!). The stark white background of the movie made it feel clinical and impersonal but it's effective imagery.It's smart, simple and memorable. The plot is a really crazy sci-fi story about celebrity obsession that has gone too far. It actually makes a a strong, compelling statement (as opposed to The Bling Ring).  This obsession blows my mind.  I've never understood it. I mean, I am occasionally guilty of reading celebrity gossip, but I think it's more of a way to keep up with "pop-culture"; to be "in the know" about what everyone is talking about, which is pretty sad to think about. However, there are very few "celebrities" that I would actually care about meeting. Living where I live, and previously working in the music industry in NYC and the film industry in Hollywood, I've met plenty of famous people.  The most popular question I get asked "did you get their autograph?", always disappoints people. Why the fuck would I ask someone to sign a piece of paper for me? What am I going to do with that? It's all so weird to me. There was recently a D-list celebrity in my place of work and my employees FREAKED OUT. Anyway, I think as a society we've already gone too far with our celebrity obsession, but this movie goes to new heights. It's horrific to think about because there are probably some crazy "fans" who get inspired by the plot. Yikes!!

3. American Mary - The "twisted twins" are pretty popular among horror fans, but I've never watched a movie from them.  This definitely made me want to seek out more.  It's amateur filmmaking; but, like, really good amateur filmmaking.  I really love the main character and her background story.  The actress, Katherine Isabelle, has a strangely familiar voice.  She's been in a ton of stuff, but her face doesn't look familiar at all - just her voice.  I closed my eyes for a few minutes to see if I could figure it out, but to no avail.  Some of the body modification stuff featured in the movie, is really creepy - to each their own and all that, but some of it gave me chills.  It reminded me of the crazy plastic surgery cases on Nip/Tuck (Love!!).The plot, however, is a little lacking and predictable - classic rape revenge story. It's also an unsubtle story about how far a girl will go to afford to go to college.

4. The Numbers Station - No idea why I watched this movie. It was just sitting there on Netflix Instant and I pressed play.  I thought it would be a mindless action thriller, which is exactly what it was. It just wasn't very good or coherent or interesting.  I'm not a fan of John Cusack or Malin Akerman.  Cusack has been very good in a few roles, but when he's bad....he's really bad.  I haven't seen Akerman good in anything since The Comeback (such a great show!). They were both terrible in this movie - no chemistry, robotic dialogue, and bland personalities.  I got a little lost with the plot because it didn't really make a whole lot of sense, but then I realized that it purposely doesn't make sense to set up the twist ending. So, essentially, it's not supposed to make sense until the end, which makes it extremely hard to pay attention to. I wasn't involved enough to care.

5. Before Midnight - I was really nervous about a third installment of this story, but after reading so many amazing reviews (it's at an astonishing 98% on Rotten Tomatoes), I set my expectations high. Almost impossibly high.  It's perfect. I wouldn't change a thing.  I've never rooted for a couple to survive like I have with Jesse and Celine.  There is a nice balance of optimism and pessimism in their relationship that makes it all incredibly heartfelt and real.  The conversations that they have are just riddled with fascinating theories about love, gender roles, sex, communication, responsibility, lust and the idea of "soulmates". In the third installment, Jesse and Celine are now married with twins, balancing between her career, his need to be a part of his son's life (from his previous marriage) and keeping the romance alive. We can feel the inevitable resentment between them - the only way to maintain a relationship is to constantly compromise. They each feel like they've given more to the relationship than the other, which leads to the EPIC argument at the end.  As usual, I agree with the male perspective of the argument (is that weird?), and completely agree with Jesse that Celine is "the fucking mayor of crazy town". If he wants to move back to the states to be with his son, then that's what should happen (sorry, her career is not more important. I don't really have a family, but even I understand that family is more important than anything else.). Her turning it into an argument about feminism is absolutely ridiculous - he doesn't seem to have any intentions of turning her into a "submissive housewife" as she suggests.  Also, as a feminist, I have to admit that this type of demeaning "housewife" talk is offensive. Some feminists forget that there are some women that WANT to be a stay-at-home mom and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Either way, both have valid arguments that everyone can relate to. It's hard to comprehend that Jesse and Celine are fictional characters, which is obviously a compliment to the writing, but also to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Just perfect.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Lay the Favorite - So. Much. Awfulness. I don't even know where to begin.  With a respected director and a strong cast, I wasn't expecting it to be anywhere close to this bad.  I'll start with Rebecca Hall, since she is the "star" of the movie.  I first noticed Rebecca Hall in the movie, Starter For 10 (yes, I only watched that movie for James McAvoy).  A few years later, she stood out in Vicky Cristina Barcelona - which is hard to do considering her co-stars were Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson.  Then, she was absolutely amazing in The Town.  So, you can say that I am definitely a fan of hers. However, this is one of the worst performances I've ever seen.  Her accent was so awkward, mixed with the very unsexy baby voice and incessant hair twirling, she became one of the most annoying characters of all time (I read that this movie is based on a true story and that these are characteristics of the actual woman it is based on. If that's true, then I guess, Rebecca did a great job at being the most annoying woman of all time).  She wasn't the only failed (?) performance, though - Laura Pepron made a fool out of herself with that Texas twang.  The plot of the movie mostly revolves around high stakes gambling, and could have been interesting if the focus weren't on this idiotic girl who "dreams" of being a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas.  No-one dreams of being a cocktail waitress in Vegas.  I'm not knocking the profession (and some of them make bank), I just think that's really a stepping stone for other things or some end up in it out of chance/coincidence and end up enjoying it. Her "dream" lands her as an assistant to a sports gambler, and she ends up finding something she's good at - even thought the film fails at convincing me that she is actually ever good at it.  Bruce Willis and Vince Vaughn are sort of interesting characters (that is, if your brain hasn't exploded from listening to the most annoying girl in the entire world. Ever.). But the only truly good thing about the movie is Pacey. He always makes me smile.

2. See Girl Run - Adam Scott and Robin Tunney?? I am in. I really miss Robin Tunney (I was a teenager in the 90's - The Craft, Empire Records, Niagara, Niagara...).  I realize that she's been in stuff, and apparently has been on the television show The Mentalist for years (I don't even know what that show is, but it's been on for at least 5 years. Weird.).  I saw this little indie movie listed on Netflix Instant, and I was immediately interested.  It seemed like something I would really like.  Unfortunately, it's really not that good. I enjoyed the beginning, the way it tricks you into making assumptions about each character.  It has a strong message about marriage and the loneliness that people suffer (even when they are in relationships).  The movie also has a strong message about exploring the "what ifs" in life, but then the ending is absolutely the worst.  I'm not sure I fully understood Adam Scott's character, other than he's obsessed with frogs.  It's weird and endearing.  There is something really off about their relationship; mostly because it seemed really immature.  I don't really get the "games" behind relationships. I'm really bad at playing them, because I'm too honest for my own good.  I don't understand what's wrong with just saying what you're thinking. Makes life so much easier for everyone. The whole plot wouldn't exist if everyone just communicated like mature adults. Also, on a side-note, Jeremy Strong reminds me of Giovanni Ribisi. I actually looked it up to see if they were related somehow.

3. Pain & Gain - Half of the reviews for this film fault it for its crassness and moral indecency in telling a story about true life criminals, while the other half praise it as Michael Bay's "best film", admiring it for the witty dialogue and black comedy storytelling (in fact, it's rated at exactly a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes).  I agree with both arguments.  It makes light of violent criminals, glorifies this violence on behalf of "the American Dream", and uses women as props.  It's also very funny and subversive in parts.  However, I don't watch Michael Bay films for the dialogue; I also don't expect a female character with even half of a brain.  The problem with Bay films are that he became so criticized for the things he does well (action scenes, explosions etc) that he became too much a of a parody of himself with his most recent movies.  However, you will never convince me that movies like Bad Boys, Transformers, and The Rock aren't pure entertainment.  I even enjoy both Armageddon and Pearl Harbor (to a very basic extent).  It's obvious from this movie that Bay is trying to convince us that he can do more, but I'd prefer if he just stuck to what he is good at (and the haters can fuck off.  I find the biggest Bay complainers are also the first ones in line to see his movies on opening day).  The cast did a good job in their roles - I love Anthony Mackie; He's sure to be a household name after his role as The Falcon in the next chapter of The Avengers.  I didn't hate The Rock, this is the first role I've seen him actually attempt "acting".  He didn't quite win me over, but I appreciate the effort.

4. Much Ado About Nothing - This is one of those movies in which, the more I think about it, the more I like it.  When it ended, I thought "that was a really sweet and cute adaption", but now I admire the simpleness of it and the strong directorial choices. Whedon kept the complicated Shakespearean dialogue, but everything else is stripped down. It's in black & white, the location is actually Whedon's house, and the cast speak the dialogue as if talking like that is second nature. Much Ado About Nothing is definitely one of Shakespeare's easiest plays, making it a perfect choice for a modern adaption - it's basically a bunch of people trying to trick two people into falling in love.  There is a "second" story as well, in which the "villain" tries to trick Claudio into thinking his fiance has cheated on him.  Both stories are intertwined and given equal weight within Whedon's version, keeping things interesting.  The cast are all from former Whedon movies  - Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathon Fillion, Fran Kranz, etc. and they have a very strong chemistry together. Everything about this movie, just works really well together.

5. After Earth - Not the worst movie of the year, but pretty damn close.  When you take into consideration how much money this movie cost to make, it's definitely the biggest "flop".  I can't defend it in any way.  There are two things that are horribly wrong with this movie. First, it felt very amateur.  If this were coming from a new director (who didn't have millions of dollars of technology in his hands), I wouldn't criticize it.  I'm not one to harp on camera angles, shots, etc but I did take many classes, as a film studies major, where I literally had to break down and analyze these things (over and over and over again).  Usually, when I am watching a movie, I focus on the story and the acting - and when there are beautiful shots, I take notice; otherwise, I overlook a lot of the technical stuff (making a movie is a ridiculously hard thing to do, I respect anyone who even tries).  However, when an established director uses drastic zoom in and out shots to create a sense of disorientation. it is distressingly bad (and no, I don't think that was an attempt at an ode to Hitchcock).  The second biggest problem is the star of the movie, Jaden Smith.  I've never seen him in anything, so I didn't realize how bad he is.  I don't know if that's his natural way of speaking, or if that was another bad directing choice - but his pronunciation of certain words drove me bonkers (the ones that stand out: effort was "effote", coward was "cowood" and sir was "suh" - if I didn't have the captions on, I don't think I would have understood half of what he said).  I feel bad, if that's the way he actually speaks, I would hate to criticize someone for a speech impediment, but I would argue that maybe acting isn't the best career choice (the pronunciation of words is kind of important).  There are a lot of other problematic elements of the movie - the plot doesn't make much sense (at night everything freezes, yet all of the animals are fine), aside from the "ursa", the kid never seems to be in that much danger - it has similar themes as The Happening (man vs nature), and I HATED The Happening.  Will Smith is stripped away of his natural charisma and given a robotic personality (why would anyone think that's a good idea?).  I was also sort of expecting a "Shyamalan twist", and I even thought of a few as I watched the movie (that would actually help the plot make sense), but instead we were given a very flat ending.  What a disaster.