Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Tops of 2014 - November

THE BOXCAR CHILDREN wasn't as bad as I thought it would be but it still possessed some creepy animation.

JOHN WICK could have found some other way to get Keanu Reeves to kick ass other than dog killing but the movie is a rare action treat.

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE fudged some facts but it still spun a great overview of a a great movie that was never made.

BIG HERO 6 continued Disney's domination of animation.

THEY CAME TOGETHER is a very polarizing product but I was laughing my ass off.

ALAN PARTRIDGE will be confusing for those without any knowledge of the Steve Coogan's character but it's still very funny.

EDGE OF TOMORROW was a pretty cool mixture of video game logic and Groundhog Day.

GONE GIRL was an amazing adult movie in this day and age. Absolutely phenomenal.

NIGHTCRAWLER was a big disappointment for myself. Had a great lead and is overall good but I was not feeling its lame view of local television.

RAZE had brutal women fights. That's it.

As per usual, my on-going best and worst lists are now hidden from public view. They will pop back up and be fully completed in the first couple of days of 2015.

Raze - Review

Several women are forced by a secret society to fight each other to the death, for their own amusement and to bring glory to a female figure-head. RAZE is nothing more than 87 minutes of rampant female on female violence, possessing no unique spin or true purpose to its torturous exploitation. There are several things I did like about it: solid B-movie acting, bloody practical effects, cool opening credits, and an uncommon musical score. But again, I can't really bump up my grade with these factors because I had an overall miserable time sitting through the film. The script is high school stupid, never truly explaining how this bloodthirsty group gets away with the massive kidnappings, bumping off the human collateral if their fighters refuse to go for the jugular, or how they even implanted all of these security cameras inside all of those houses. And of course, the majority of the characters were victims before being sent to the bricked-up arena, suffering from mental ailments or were assaulted/punished by men in their previous lives. You are better off hitting the stop button right after the prologue, simply because it's the short film that helped funded the feature length version; it tells the story better and leaves out all of the further dumb ideas.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Trailer Review - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Forces Awakens aka Star Wars Episode VII
1st Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: John Boyega as a Stormtrooper stuck on Tatooine, Daisy Ridley as some frightened woman on a bloated space vehicle, Oscar Issac (I guess) as X-Wing pilot, and someone (Adam Driver?) as a Sith Lord.

Scene Pop: Don't have to pick one because every geek will be salivating over every frame.

Briggs Breakdown: The Millenium Falcon, two TIE fighters, a drop-ship of Stormtroopers, a robot ball, and a bizarre Sith lightsaber with mini sabers on the side.

Effective?: Yes but it's just a basic teaser with absolutely no context or story to inform us.

Check it Out?: Of course I'm checking it out. It's a new Star Wars movie! However, I need more info, J.J. Abrams, not another one of your mystery boxes. Maybe if I was a kid I would be bouncing off the walls with this teaser but I'm frankly just have minor excitement right now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nightcrawler - Review

Dirt-poor, psychotic buck Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds his calling in the profession of "nightcrawling": driving out to crime scenes (preferably the white suburbs of L.A.), capturing the bloody aftermaths on video and then rushing to sell it to the local TV stations before the 6 AM broadcast. As he advances in his dangerous career and establishes a deep connection with a ratings-starved news producer (Rene Russo), he begins to further heavily shape the crime scenes as he sees fit for public consumption. NIGHTCRAWLER has a killer premise but barely makes a dent with its plot or themes. The "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality of the script is so incredibly 90's and comes off more as a paltry fan sequel to NETWORK. Additionally, Bloom's descent into the muck of videotaping violence takes a long while to start itself up; once he has a $30-dollar-a-night intern (Riz Ahmed), a suped-up car, and engages in a mini-feud with the one who gave him the taste of life in 30 fps (Bill Paxton), the pic finally burns rubber. Another big compliant is the bizarre musical score, which tries to be ironic and/or underline writer-director Dan Gilory's supposedly satirical elements but is often just a pathetic bellow of horns. But again, the second half of the movie does save the overall product; it is far more juicy to bite into, with some chilling/humorous wordplay and two thrilling action set-pieces. I of course can not end this half-hearted approval for NIGHTCRAWLER without giving major applause to Gyllenhaal's unnerving lead performance. His bugged-out eyes, fast delivery, and constant display of sheer discontent of normal human interaction give the young actor an easier chance to grasp a Oscar.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Gone Girl - Review

Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a NYC-to-Missouri transplanted writer and the inspiration for a popular children's book character "Amazing Amy", goes missing one afternoon. Thanks to the 24-hour news media and many significant clues, the likely perpetrator is her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), who displays awkward behavior in front of the cameras, crowds, and the police and has the most to gain from Amy's disappearance. GONE GIRL had a lot of hype around it thanks to the mammoth popularity of the original novel and its film adaptation has passed the test with flying colors, preferably all in shades of crimson red. This is an amazing pulpy thriller that keeps you on your toes; each twist, turn and piece of narration piles up the suspense into a massive tower up to the very last chilling shot, with no chance of ever falling down thanks to original author Gillian Flynn's own script duties. Plus, in a noteworthy departure from director David Fincher's usual fingerprints, i.e. 15 years since FIGHT CLUB, this movie possesses a great brush of black comedy throughout it, allowing the audience to breath a little easier and letting the characters to be fresh and knowledgable of their current predicament.

Now I must hamper any further plot discussion, in order to keep those still in the dark away from spoiler talk or figuring out the puzzle before their screening begins. So let's run through the workers who brought their A-game: Fincher's direction is of course stellar; Jeff Cronenweth once again operates Fincher's camera in order to craft ominous frames of terror and deliberately ugly lighting schemes; The entire cast is worthy of praise, with Affleck and especially Pike delivering some impeccable performances; and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross write out a familiar sounding but still bitterly cold score that knows when to lay low and then firmly stand itself out. My only small issue with the final product was with Kirk Baxter's editing. Third time wasn't the charm completely for him, as all of the off-putting fades as well as the Sonic-the-Hedgehog-fast opening credits detract a bit from the criminal proceedings. That being said, he does cut together and showcase some great moments of tension and short laughs, to further help make GONE GIRL a true must-see of 2014.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alan Partridge - Review

Realizing that he may be fired from his midday disc jockey position by the new owners of his radio station, the titled character (Steve Coogan) persuades them to instead can the other old DJ, his good buddy Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). When Pat returns to the building with a shotgun and takes his co-workers hostage, it's up to the pompous dullard to save the day. American viewers who are not aware of the cult British comedy character Alan Partridge at all will have a hard time fully engaging with the film and/or be able to stand the selfish boob for 90 minutes; I personally have only seen bits and pieces of Coogan's creation before embarking but I able to push aside my lack of knowing the full canon of the character. As for ALAN PARTRIDGE itself, it's a sloppy yet rip-roaring action-comedy, thanks to Coogan and Meaney's performances, a wry script, and a pretty killer soundtrack of radio favorites. It has some problems with its overall tone, going from a DIE HARD scenario to a watered down ACE IN THE HOLE, but it's able to right itself with some black humor and chaotically comical confusion. Perfect for the BBC America crowd.


Monday, November 10, 2014

They Came Together - Review

Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) recount to a fellow couple how they and the city of New York (which is like a character in itself, when you think about it) were all caught up in a love affair that sounds like it came straight out of a romantic comedy. Similar to how they thoroughly ripped apart the conventions of 80s camp flicks with WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, while also alluding to their previous rom-com parody THE BAXTER, creators David Wain and Michael Showalter wanted to mock the shallow foundations of the "chick flick" that we have sadly subjected ourself to again and again by Hollywood. For the most part, THEY CAME TOGETHER is a very humorous spoof, expertly throwing tomatoes at genre favorites like YOU'VE GOT MAIL and ridiculing the standard tropes utilized, such as banal sharing of interests ("You like fiction books?!") and the break-up/make-up plot structure. Wain and Showalter also wanted to throw in, amid all of the weird and great cameos that pop up, their beloved use of black comedy, with the best examples being when Joel visits Molly's parents and his own grandmother. These moments, plus the consistent self-awareness, will drive many viewers absolutely nuts and make them quit the film within the first 15 minutes. While I do agree that the meta didn't always work, I was still laughing all the way through it. Rudd and Poehler are both fantastic, the talented supporting players all deliver, and it's endlessly quotable. Thank you Wain and Showalter, for making me laugh about Hollywood love... again.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune - Review

Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky (EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN) and several other figures recount the two-year journey they all came together on during the 70's, in order to craft and pitch a trippy adaptation of the Frank Hebert sci-fi classic. The biggest issue I have with this film is that despite the amazing premise, director Frank Pavich largely filmed and edited the film to be more like a DVD special feature. There are ill-fitting fade-ins and outs and cuts amid interviews that just severely injure the flow. However, I still found this nerd-friendly doc to be both a delectable exploration of a nearly-green-lit movie project and a fun yet dark look at an 85 year old auteur who's still brimming with creative and outlandish energy. I don't know what was better, Jodorowsky's extravagant, Baron Münchhausen-like stories of how he found his dream cast and crew (Orson Welles, H.R. Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dalí, etc.) or the long animatics developed from the thousands of storyboards generated by the director and Mœbius. The film also educates to the uninitiated that even though the film was never made, its ingredients would later be sprinkled into other works and help craft and/or inspire some of the best movies ever made. And yes, they do briefly discuss the infamous David Lynch adaptation. It fudges and forgets some crucial facts, such as how Dalí was asked to leave after making some pro-Franco remarks, and it does feel like a 90-minute commercial for an amazing pre-production book that no one can get their hands on but JODOROWSKY'S DUNE is a worthy mind-trip and a cold lesson on how some dreams die.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

John Wick - Review

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is overcome with grief at the loss of his cancer-stricken wife. Despite a modest turnout at her funeral and a brief chat with an old co-worker (Willem Dafoe), he remains in his own shattered existence. One night, he is gifted with a dog named Daisy, specifically picked for him by his departed soulmate. Unfortunately, this sense of hope for him is curb-stomped on to his floor the very next night, as a trio of Russian punks attack him at his home and kill the dog. Their sole goal was to steal his '69 Mustang, a car their leader (Alfie Allen) spotted at a gas station and wanted to be buy off his hands, only to spurned by a Russian insult by Wick. But because they are designed to be total worthy-to-die dicks, and the makers wanted to win emotional points through a grim animal death, these three needed to go further into unlikability. Unbeknownst to the young Russkie, who just so happens to be the son of a major mob boss (Michael Nyqvist), he and his two buddies pissed off John frickin' Wick, alias "The Boogeyman", a legendary hitman who's able to make the odds ever in his favor and will stop at nothing to take him and his father's protective empire down.

JOHN WICK is incredible in its action but a little stiff in the story department. It's a basic revenge tale, hitting the standard points of every theatric bloodbath that graced a VHS tape or luckily enough to be projected on the big screen. However, the film tries to change it up a bit by speeding up the proceedings and reach its proper conclusion at the end of Act Two. The makers then seem to realize that they ate their appetizers and dessert first and quickly attempt to craft an entree, only to not give it the proper ingredients. The conclusion features another "killing in the name of" motivation for Wick, solely for an action-packed finale but it's such a sloppy hail mary pass and it isn't helped by the lack of characterization given to the martyr. Adding to the finishing problems is a series of hastily bowed subplots, which prove to be pretty unsatisfactory.

Despite these grievances with Derek Kolstad's script, the story did contain an amazing world that help give the movie a vibrant sense of style, amid all of the blue-gray lighting schemes and the odd subtitling. Doing justice to the term "honor among thieves", a good section of the film has Wick staying at The Continental, a narrow-in-the-streets hotel where all of the professional hitmen and assassins hang out in peace (or else) and get to lay low during missions. Here, Reeves gets to share some quality screen time with a great collection of actors: Lance Reddick, Clark Peters, Ian McShane, and Adrianne Palicki to name a few. In order to do business with the hotel management and other services, such as making a "dinner reservation" i.e. body cleanup, the gun-toting contractors spend and exchange gold doubloons, which are far more valuable than paper money and are a noble display of humility and prowess. But again, we get just a taste because Kolstad and directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski know they have a goldmine with this material.

Other than this intriguing world-building, what makes JOHN WICK a good time in the theaters and a great time again and again later on video is its extravagant violence. With two stunt actors/directors at the helm, you know that there will be a lot of expert action choreography and some delightful gunplay, which Leitch and Stahelski have in spades. Their crown jewel is the long sequence at the Red Circle dance club, where Wick systemically takes out all of the goons from the basement to the second floor. Set to the EDM beats of Le Castle Vania, this stretch of film is absolutely breathtaking, overflowing with impressive takedowns, brutal deaths, and a few moments of black comedy. Some may be underwhelmed by the presence of CGI bloodshed but it's easy to forgive that slight when so much incredible feats are on display. Acting all around is fantastic, with Reeves getting some proper time to shine and allowing Nyqvist to portray a ruthless yet occasionally humble and humorous tyrant.

Will there be more JOHN WICKs to come in the future? Perhaps. Right before he leaves to embark on his revenge tour, attentive viewers will spot that Wick has several more rows of coin to go through. Should Reeves and his buddies continue on? It wouldn't hurt. I'm looking forward to further development of the world the makers have established here and the American public should be rewarded with more high caliber, superhero-less action movies. Plus, I can possibly see this potential series going the same way as my experience with THE RAID franchise: an entertaining, slightly above average first entry that then later spawns a magnificent opus. Good luck, gentlemen.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Boxcar Children - Review

Based on the popular, long-running children book series, a group of orphaned siblings (two boys, two girls) searching for a place to call home find it in the form of a derelict boxcar in the middle of the forest. THE BOXCAR CHILDREN is nearly conflict-free, slowly strolling along with its kid antics and offering little to no danger or suspense after a badly thought out opening chapter with an evil baker's wife. You would think that the children would suffer some suitable-for-kids-watching blights like minor starvation but the money is always plentiful and bland leader Henry keeps bringing new groceries to the others. The animation style is of course pretty old-fashioned and frankly creepy yet the plastic-like CGI eventually becomes acceptable to take in. That is, after you fully bring yourself to accepting the floating fabrics, the characters' inability to truly eat or drink, the syncing issues, and the sheer fact that the family dog is way too big. Despite not really enjoying the film, I obviously know that this wasn't created for my age demographic and mental prowess. It's perfectly suitable for kids, allowing them to imagine themselves into the worn-out shoes of the Alden crew, and it can easily pacify the twerps for 81 minutes.