January 31, 2014

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

I like movies, but I think we can all agree I am not an "artsy" movie-type. I do not watch movies to determine their inherent value to the art world or discuss the cinematography in any conversation that doesn't involve filling out an Oscar ballot at a party. And I certainly do not watch movies that make attractive people ugly for no good reason other than to try and make a movie more serious.

Yet, here I was, watching this movie that felt it necessary to give Ryan Gosling the world's worst tattoos to make it believable that he was a motorcycle stunt rider and all-around loser-type guy. Personally, I think the horrible blonde hair could have achieved that on its own, but I guess they didn't want to take any chances that a single person in the audience could remember that he's a hot guy...

So, back to Million Dollar Baby. Whoops, I mean The Place Beyond the Pines. It's easy enough to mix them up. In addition to the whole ugly-person thing (Sorry Hilary Swank, but honestly!), both movies combine a number of plots that don't need to be in the same movie and only tangentially make any sense together. Yes, I understand Million Dollar Baby won the Oscar for Best Picture, but then again, so did No Country for Old Men and Forrest Gump.

So with the multiple plots running and the story constantly changing, it just felt like The Place Beyond the Pines was more focused on plot twists than real character development. It was a bit like listening to a story from that crazy friend who tends to give too much detail and wanders off onto side tangents, but manages to somehow wrap it up in the end. Or at least... ends the story, anyway. Perhaps not in the most satisfactory way.

Final word: Drink a cup of coffee and jot in your journal about this afterward and you'll be a certified hipster for having watched it.

End Note: Again with having Ray Liotta pop up in a movie?? Is someone out there trying to send me a message? Do I owe someone money or something?

January 27, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and the annoying blonde girl from the ill-fated TV show Pan Am

Jesus, where do I begin. Between this and the last movie I watched, I feel like I need a long shower and some eye drops...

This movie is drawing frequent comparisons to Goodfellas in the media. To me, this is like how every year some movie is "this year's Juno" or "this generation's Love Story." Basically, a movie critic is too lazy to write an original review and sees a couple of similarities and calls it the same as a "quirky" movie from the previous summer or whatever.

I don't want to delve into the similarities of both movies. If you're really interested to know what Goodfellas and Wolf have in common, Google it - there are plenty of people out there mulling over that exact topic. I want to focus on what made Wolf noticeably different from a cinematic classic like Goodfellas.

To be clear, it's not the acting. Leo, as always, is spectacular. It will never be clear to me why he still doesn't own an Oscar. I'd say maybe the Academy voters are hating on him being a modelizer, but that then that wouldn't explain why George Clooney has 2 Oscars. (No seriously, why does George Clooney have 2 Oscars?) One can't help but think that years from now he'll win for some crappy movie because the Academy knows it screwed up and owes him and it'll be awkward because it'll be screwing someone more deserving that particular year, who will then need to be compensated somewhere down the line (and the cycle continues...)

I'm going to need to take a drink before admitting this, but *gulp* Jonah Hill does an excellent job in this movie as well. *gulp* Seriously. *gulp* I thought we were all being Punk'd by the Academy when he was nominated for Moneyball, but this nomination was *gulp* well deserved. He's so f*ucking dirty in this movie I wanted to crawl into the screen and strangle him to death with my own hands. And this is my cooled down reaction a few days after watching the movie. I mean, I still question whether the giant white teeth were really necessary for his role, but hey, "based on a true story," right?

So we've got Leo, we've got Jonah Hill not detracting from the movie, and we've got the great Martin Scorsese at the helm. What could go wrong? As it turns out, letting Martin Scorsese run the show.

I realize I'm basically risking going straight to movie review hell for even thinking this, let alone telling others, but Scorsese does not walk on water. Not everything he touches turns to gold. His movies do not turn water into wine. Ok, I'm out of metaphors. But seriously, not every movie he makes is guaranteed to be an instant classic and while this movie had a lot of good in it, it had one large, irredeemable flaw that is common to a lot of Scorsese films:

It was too f*cking long.

Now, I'm not one of those annoying people who can't go 15 seconds without checking their smartphone because I'm ADHD or lack an attention span for movies without something exploding every ten minutes. The Sound of Music (the real one, not the hideous Carrie Underwood remake, whatever that was) was one of my favorite movies as a kid. Can you imagine a kid sitting through that thing now?

It takes a solid hour before you even care about Jordan Belfort, the main character, and quite a bit in the middle could be edited out. The movie is like a model who gets told she would be better looking if she lost 10-15 lbs.

Don't get me wrong - this movie is important. It is important to our current time of financial crisis like watching Amour is important to anyone thinking about getting married. I guarantee if this movie had come out a year earlier the Occupy Wall Street movement would still be going strong and wouldn't be left to the crazy stragglers who just enjoy camping out in urban areas. But that still doesn't make the movie go by any faster.
Final word: So excessive it becomes uncomfortable to watch.

Side note: Ray Liotta scares the bejesus out of me. This has nothing to do with the movie, I just want to know if he scares anyone else out there.

January 21, 2014

Don Jon (2013)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson

True story: I once had a [much, much] older co-worker pull me into a conference room to tell me he thought I looked like Scarlett Johansson. He then followed it up, "Don't worry, I think she's really attractive." Because of course, that makes it much less awkward and not at all sexual harassment. 

I relay the story not to brag that I've been told I look like someone who is a perennial mainstay on Maxim's Hop 100 List, but precisely because I don't think she's hot. I find there to be something inherently trashy about her. Which brings me to this movie...

Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson are such naturals as trashy Jersey types in this movie I rather wonder if they're not secretly like this in real life: Scarlett Johansson wearing skintight mini dresses and snapping gum constantly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in skintight cutoff t-shirts, reciting prayers while doing bicep curls at the gym... Each scene in this movie brings into question new wardrobe, language, and dialogue choices that leave you wondering... WTF? I quickly discovered that the answer to each and every question that arose throughout the course of the movie could be answered with a simple one word explanation:

It explains everything. That leopard print dress Scarlett Johansson is wearing? Jersey. The fact that Tony Danza is in the movie? Jersey. Total dedication to the gym and an affinity for clean sheets? Jersey.

Jersey Shore is not dead, my friends. It has be reincarnated into a movie and that movie is called Don Jon.  Except that this movie is a genuine piece of work with professional actors in it and Jersey Shore is well, you know. And there's no Snookie in this movie.

Final word: Jaw-dropping. In so. many. ways.

January 16, 2014

Fast & Furious 6

Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, et al

You know what I love most about the Fast and Furious franchise? That no one else is really famous enough to do anything else, so every time there's a sequel, they all show up. The only exceptions this time were, oddly, the two Latino guys, who (according to their IMDB pages) aren't up to anything else. And, of course, Lucas Black and Bow Wow (aka the white and black guy fill-ins for the Tokyo Drift movie that were promptly dropped and forgotten about once Fast and Furious [4] came). I mean, they even got The Rock back! Oh sorry, I mean Dwayne Johnson. (How's that serious acting career working out for you, Dwayne, with your big Journey 3 movie coming up? Ahem. Ahem.)

So... everyone is the same, and so is the plot. Racing cars, Vin Diesel's gravelly voice, Michelle Rodriguez's tough girl frown, and of course, explosions. Nonsensical explosions of cars flipping over and blowing up while driving, but explosions nevertheless. So the plot is thin, the dialogue is as stiff as ever, and Vin Diesel still tries to pull off the line, "we ride, we die," which is more than a bit of a rip-off of Bad Boys.

BUT - this movie adds a nice new element - hand-to-hand combat. There are a lot of fight scenes, which are pretty decent. And after five movies of street Nascar, it's nice to see a little something else. Of course, they give a little flashback to the early movies with shots of girls in booty shorts and shiny bling, but hey, they're just keeping it classy.

Naturally, it would impossible to write an entire review without mentioning the recent passing of Paul Walker, which makes it seem inappropriate to then make jokes about Lucas Black cheering for his own return to the franchise in Fast 7. So until then...

Final word: The only real surprise in the entire movie happens in the ending credits.

January 10, 2014

Man of Steel (2013)

Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne

There's a saying: "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

So what if I continue to be fooled over and over again? And by this, I mean electing to watch movies against my better judgement because they have a quality ensemble cast. How have I made this mistake over and over and over and over again? 

Case in point: this movie. On it's face, I knew it wouldn't be a good movie. Of course it wouldn't be a good movie. I didn't even like the original movies with Christopher Reeve. Of all the male superheroes, Superman really only hovers above Spiderman and whoever Ben Affleck was supposed to be in Daredevil. I just don't find him to be very interesting.

And yet, I was swayed by the allure of 2 Oscar winners and 3 Oscar nominees (not to mention the Emmy nominees in the cast). In that 30 seconds I spent standing in front of the Redbox kiosk, I decided their judgement was better than my own gut feeling that this movie would be a complete throwaway. 

So shame on you, Amy Adams. I might expect less from your co-stars, many of whom have not been in a good movie in years (and yes, I am putting Les Mis in that category for Russell Crowe), but you are the top actress in Hollywood right now and I can't keep following you around to crappy movies.

That said, the movie had pretty decent *visual* effects. A sci-fi movie really lives and dies by its visual effects, so this one's disappointment stems from its plot. (Make that, lack of plot.) But due to the thirst for franchises in Hollywood and the utter lack of original screenwriting, a sequel is due out in 2015. Sigh.

Final word: I almost couldn't write a review because it was so forgettable.

*special thanks to +JustinG for continually reminding me the difference between special effects and visual effects.

January 4, 2014

The Internship (2013)

Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson

"You're so money baby. You're so money and you don't even know it."

Vince Vaughn might as well say that throughout every movie since he basically keeps playing Trent from Swingers - a fast-talking, smart-ass guy who initially seems funny, but whom you would probably hate being around for more than 30 seconds in real life.

Combine this with the fact that entire movie is about Google, Googlers, and being "Googly," and it's enough to make you want to go find someone wearing Google glass and punch them in the face.

I mean, kudos to the casting director for putting in some stereotyped diversity (a Chinese guy who was raised by a Tiger mom, a white guy addicted to his smartphone, and an Indian chick who might as well be named Mindy Kaling), but let's be honest - if it were a true representation of engineers at Google, there would be way less white people and more Chinese and Indians.

Part of my distaste for the movie could be due to the extremely long and uncomfortable stretch of time I spent avoiding eye contact with my mother as we watched the strip club scene, but even without her presence, it really could have used an editing eye. And some more writers.

Final word: Combine Old School without Will Ferrell and Monsters University without any surprise twists and you have this totally unoriginal, marginally funny movie.