Posts Tagged ‘movie’

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Non-Stop is misleading, just like its characters. Upon looking at the poster and blurb, my first assumption was that it was an action movie in the vein of the Taken movies. I saw a version of the poster where a blurb mentioned something about everything being taken from him (just to make sure everyone would watch it on the basis of it being exactly the same as Taken, I bet), but it’s not a non-stop action movie. It’s a smart, suspenseful thriller. I was kept guessing throughout the entire film, which is something a lot of modern thrillers can’t claim. 

Let’s start with the plot. The movie begins with Liam Neeson mixing a mug of bourbon and draining it entirely after an angry phone call to his supervisor. He whizzes past airport security, and in this scenes, you can see the majority of the main cast in the background. You can even hear Julianne Moore talking about getting a window seat. 

It was a shaky beginning, literally. The camera shook while Liam Neeson walked, and considering the way it uses extreme close ups and how it leaves most of the background out of focus, I was starting to think this was going to be another Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

However, my fears were completely uncalled for. It began to redeem itself during the takeoff of the plane. The camera, of course, shook. But, it shook in a controlled way so you could still keep track of everything. The sound was realistically loud, but you could still hear Liam Neeson talking about his daughter giving him a ribbon for good luck while Julianne Moore sits beside him and attempts to calm this huge action star that gets nervous during takeoffs.

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It was shaping up to be a good film. I was already wondering what’s going to happen, and looking forward to the rest of the film. (I didn’t read a summary before going to the movie, so I was going in blind.)

With the lights turned off so that everyone can sleep, Liam Neeson suddenly gets a text. I realize I keep referring to the actor, but that’s because the actor completely encompasses the movie. He’s playing essentially the same character he’s always played, but it’s all right. Because it’s always interesting.

Anyways, the text is from an unknown number, and after the usual round of questioning, the mysterious figure reveals that he’s going to kill someone every twenty minutes unless 150 million dollars gets wired into his account.

Interesting premise. Liam Neeson notifies the pilots, and they report it to their superiors. I’m afraid I can’t go into anymore detail about the movie from this point because I’d risk giving you enough time to figure out the killer(s). This is as suspenseful as they come. It’s similar to Air Force One in the sense that it’s on a plane, but that’s where the similarities end really. 

It takes a really unexpected path with how it doesn’t rely on Liam Neeson killing a hundred people with only a scratch on his face. He actually has to try to figure out the killer for a change, and you’ll find your stomach in a knot trying to figure the mystery out for yourself. So, let’s talk about the characters. The principal characters include Julianne Moore as a smart woman that has to have the window seat (you’ll see why), and because she was asleep beside Liam Neeson when he got a text, she’s one of the few people he can actually trust. Their dynamic is pretty good, and Julianne Moore delivers a great performance. (As expected.)

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Liam Neeson looking very somber.

Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) plays a stewardess that’s had relations with the co-pilot, and she’s on the very short list of people Liam Neeson can trust. 

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Another point goes to the film for the fact that it acknowledges racial profiling. A Middle Eastern passenger is on the plane, and in his first appearance, everyone looks at him suspiciously. One of the other passengers, Corey Stoll (House of Cards) even makes a remark about it later in the film. Is it groundbreaking? No, but it doesn’t avoid it, either. 

It’s true. It’s been awhile since 9/11, and it seems like movies and shows have been given the green light to talk about it (The Golden Boy, Blue Bloods, Homeland are but a few examples of this), but it’s still a sore subject. So, the fact that the film acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect is really refreshing.

I’ve praised this film. Now it’s time for the flaws. Here’s a slight warning. The following isn’t really a spoiler, but it can be construed as spoiler-ish, so it’s just a heads up. I don’t pick on plot points or anything, so feel free to skip this section. 

POSSIBLE SPOILER ZONE

The fight scenes are really well done, but like most action movies, it suffers from the Invincibility Syndrome. Die Hard 5 is the pinnacle of this example. John and his son kill hundreds of enemies, but oh no, their clothes are a bit blackened from all the explosions and they have a few cuts! Poor guys. Let’s drag ‘em to the emergency room! The Taken movies are also fine examples of this. Oh, yeah, I’ve absolutely decimated the entire population of Bulgaria, but I’m fine. See you in the next movie!

In this movie, Liam Neeson gets into some pretty unbelievable fights that end with him having a tiny little bruise at the corner of his forehead. Meanwhile, his enemies are… well, let’s just say they didn’t get off with a bruise. So, that doesn’t really damage the film as a whole, but I would’ve enjoyed it much more if he was, I don’t know, limping or bleeding a lot more at the end? 

I understand that action movies can’t end with the main character in a coma, but I’m sure I’m not the only one that wishes they looked like they went through the ringer a bit more. 

END OF POSSIBLE SPOILER ZONE

The final verdict is that this is a great movie. I had maybe twenty possible suspects, and I still didn’t expect the ending. That makes it a really well planned film, if you ask me. Are there flaws? Yup. Liam Neeson makes some decisions that really don’t make me think he’s the sharpest tool in the shed, but it’s very entertaining. For me, it’s definitely better than the Taken movies. He doesn’t have as good of a hook as in Taken (“I don’t know who you are…), but my interest was definitely held for a lot longer here. 

If you need any more reasons to watch it… it’s a Liam Neeson movie. There you have it. 

4 out of 6

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The Lego Movie is one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen in awhile, and it delivers on the promise of a lot of laughs. It’s a dystopian sci-fi movie, a Western extravaganza, a good old fashioned romance, and just plain funny. The ‘funny’ part cannot be understated.

The beginning starts off a bit awkward. It was focused on showing how completely all the citizens were being manipulated, and that even among all these blank slates, the main character is even blanker. 

Chris Pratt voices the main character, Emmet Brickowoski. He’s a regular construction worker whose favorite song is Everything Is Awesome, just like everybody else. 

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Chris Pratt manages a fine performance in the portrayal of the blank hero. He does a believable job of an Everyman, but manages to avoid sounding dull or fake throughout the entire film.

The beginning may not be funny, but it’s the setup for a lot of great lines. After five hours of singing his favorite song, Emmet hears a strange noise, and he goes in search for said noise. He finds a hooded individual, and consults a manual telling him that he should report any mysterious people. He’s about to sate his intentions when the hooded individual removes the hood, and exaggerated slow motion ensues as Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) shakes her hand to straighten her head. 

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Elizabeth Banks delivers a great performance in the “insecure” Master Builder with the name of a DJ.

She leaves, and when he tries to follow her, he falls into a ditch. He sees a strange object, and slowly moves to touch it. Below him, we can see the page in the manual specifically advising against such a thing, but completely entranced, he grabs unto it. 

Different images intercut together follow, and he’s woken up by a gruff Liam Neeson playing the Bad Cop who is in the middle of interrogating him, apparently.

Emmet points out that he is a real expert from watching cop shows, and notes the absence of a Good Cop. Bad Cop then swivels his head, and the “Aww-shucks” Good Cop appears. This is an example of the directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – the makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) using their subject matter to its utmost advantage. Sure, it’s not the most innovative thing in the movie, but it was a nice touch. It showed self awareness that these characters were all legos, and that unlike with a lot of toys, you can do plenty of different things with them.

The interrogation is interrupted when Wyldstyle rescues Emmet, and tells him about a prophesy naming him as the Greatest, Most Talented, Most Specialest Person Ever. Yeah. At least they aren’t simply using the Chosen One, I guess… There’s a really cool chase with Emmet and Wildstyle on a makeshift motorcycle while cars and helicopters tail them.

The action sequences in this film are really good. There are a few issues here and there, such as the fact that certain characters move too fast. You get used to it, but it’s initially difficult to track them across the wide screen. (Especially if their attire blends into the background.)

They escape through a tunnel, and enter The Wild West. Apparently, there are other realms in the Lego World, and it was a real treat to see images of the actual box sets of the different “realms”. Ah, childhood. They track down Vitruvius, the blind Master Builder as portrayed by Morgan Freeman. 

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Vitruvius feels like Morgan Freeman’s way of poking fun at his “wise, practically omnipotent” characters in the past. Shows that even someone with the perfect voice for narration can have a sense of humor.

They perform something similar to a Vulcan Mind Meld, and enter Emmet’s mind. Which is… completely blank. When asked to envision something he always thought was good, he conjures up an image of a Bunkbed Couch. Wyldstyle promptly tells him that it’s a bad idea, but Vitruvius interrupts her. 

Instead of saying that it’s just an abstract idea, he actually says much harsher words than her, calling it the worst idea ever. I’ll stop describing everything in detail here. I just felt it was necessary to describe the beginning because the potential for so much more is apparent from just these scenes. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the movie. (Unless you REALLY want to, because I’ll be happy to oblige.)

The villain is portrayed by Will Ferrel. I don’t how he does it, but he can mispronounce the most simple words, and make it seem completely unintentional and natural. He does it in such a convincing way that when he calls a Nail Polish a “Na-eel”, it seems completely normal. You begin to start asking yourself the question, “Why would I think he’d pronounce it that way?”

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As he’s shown in Megamind, Will Ferrel can play a really funny, great sympathetic villain.

He is President Business, and he wants to use the Kragle (a tube of Krazy Glue with the Z, Y, and U scratched off) to permanently keep everything in place. He wants to bring order into chaos. Honestly, it’s a rather good evil plot. To demonstrate this to Bad Cop, he uses the Kragle to glue the feet of Bad Cop’s parents. When prompted to glue them completely, the Good Cop refuses to do so, and that’s when his face is brutally erased. 

The Lego Movie, on the story and characters alone, would be considered imaginative and creative. However, it took it to a different level with their use of stop motion animation (probably thanks to their recruitment of Robot Chicken veteran, Chris McKay), and other cool stuff that I won’t spoil. 

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Considering the reception Ben Affleck received, Warner Bros. might want to consider Will Arnett as a replacement.

At the end of the day, this movie is funny, charming, and something that the whole family will enjoy. Sure, the parents will have to deal with being pestered to buy more legos, but that’s a risk they’ll have to take for some really good entertainment. Frozen deservedly received a lot of fans and critical acclaim, and the Lego Movie feels like a fitting followup to that great animated movie. 

I think that children should have more movies like the Lego Movie and Frozen, and that’ll only happen if we make the effort to tell people to watch them. (Although, at this point, Lego Movie and Frozen are huge successes. And Lego Movie isn’t even out of the theatres yet…)

Watch this for the quirky characters (Unikitty. All I’m saying), the hilarious superheroes (the love/hate relationship between Superman and Green Lantern, the brooding artist that is Batman), and legos. Watch it for those reasons, and you won’t regret it.

4.5 out of 6

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My problem with Leonardo DiCaprio is that every time I watch his latest movie, I immediately think it’s his best performance to date. And the Wolf of Wall Street is no exception. 

The Wolf of Wall Street is the true story about Jordan Belfort (based on his book), with a script written by Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, the Sopranos), and directed by Martin Scorsese (think of a gangster movie besides Godfather, it was probably made by him.)

The movie begins with Leonardo DiCaprio telling us that he made 49 million in a year, and he was really pissed off because it was three million shy of a million a week. He has a white ferrari, a huge yacht, an amazing house, and an equally amazing wife. 

He’s living the dream, really, and then he recounts how he got there. Earlier this year, I reviewed American Hustle, written and directed by David O. Russell. I mentioned how much he channelled (truth is, he copied) Martin Scorsese, and this movie proves why directors like David O. Russell can’t replace Martin Scorsese yet. I feel like Martin Scorsese saw American Hustle, and decided to make a movie to show David O. Russell how it’s done.

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I’m not even the biggest Scorsese fan. I liked Goodfellas and the Departed, but I’m definitely not a huge fan by any means. Wolf of Wall Street has made me want to watch more of his movies.

All right. Let me explain a little bit about the plot. Jordan Belfort is an ambitious young guy looking to make money quick, and he sees Wall Street as the way to do that. On his first day at work, he’s already hooked on the adrenaline in the room. I have to interject with a warning. If you find cursing uncomfortable, it’s safe to stay away from any Martin Scorsese movie. The first fifteen minutes of the movie feels like it’s warning you about what’s to come, so I just thought I should mention that to anyone that’s squeamish about that sort of thing. Moving on… He’s taken as a protege by Mark Hanna (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey), and he quickly learns the ropes. Matthew McConaughey’s performance really is more of a cameo, but man, it’s a great cameo.

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He teaches Jordan an anthem that comes up throughout the movie, and I have to say, it is really catchy. You can hear it in the trailer, I think. 

Right after Jordan’s promotion, he’s loses his job (because of Black Monday), and he’s forced to look for a new job. His wife suggests that they sell her engagement ring, but his pride does not allow such a thing. From this scene alone, you could probably guess that his pride will come back later to bite him in the ass. He finds a job at a small business dealing in penny stocks. Penny stocks belong to the companies that aren’t big enough to qualify trading at Wall Street, and because of this, the traders get a 50% commission. Belfort picks up the phone, calls a random client, and the room quiets. Another stockbroker takes out a notepad and begins writing down what he’s saying, and by the time the phone call is over, he’d made over a thousand dollars. 

He gets a new car, and while eating at a diner, meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). With phosphorescent teeth, a voice that sounds like gravel being poured through a garbage disposal, he provides much of the movie’s comic relief.

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He becomes Jordan’s selfish, crack addicted sidekick after he quits his job when Jordan shows him proof that he makes over 70k a month. 

Jordan starts a new company called Straton Oakmont, and pretty soon, he has a huge office and too much money to spend. (It’s a different kind of money problem…)

DiCaprio addresses the audience directly, saying: “The question is… was any of this legal?”

He smiles, and says: “Absolutely not!”

It isn’t long before his private investigator learns that he’s being investigated by a straight arrow FBI Agent, and Jordan stupidly invites him to his yacht to bribe him. Thankfully, he was at least smart enough not to mention an exact figure, but not smart enough to listen to his PI. 

It reminded me of another Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can. He played a gifted young con artist being hunted by a dedicated law enforcement agent (played by Tom Hanks). It isn’t much of a spoiler to tell you not to expect the same amount of… playfulness between Belfort and the FBI Agent. 

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Sure, they fake politeness in their initial meeting, but there’s no interesting banter here. There’s just plain animosity between the two of them, and it was refreshing to see this done after watching so many movies doing the Catch Me If You Can formula. (I loved that movie, by the way.)

DiCaprio is my favorite actor. I think he’s the best actor of my generation (well… technically it’s my sister’s generation), and I love all of his movies. However, I’ve come to expect a little something from his roles. His movies are generally serious, and while his acting for each character varies greatly, they all have the same feel about them. They all had the sense that the entire world was on their shoulders.

In this movie, he shows that it was all intentional. When Jordan Belfort parties, he parties. He’s superficial monster that doesn’t care about the people he steals from. It’s also DiCaprio’s funniest performance to date, and one of his most dramatic.

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After flying a helicopter drunk on alcohol and pills, he wakes up to his wife (played by Margot Robbie) tossing a glass of water in his face. His reaction here is just brilliant. I have two other favorite scenes, but I won’t even hint about them. You should just watch the movie and see it for yourself. They’re too good to spoil. (Even for a huge spoiler like me.)

In these types of movies with a criminal protagonist, it’s always the same. It shows the rise, the peak of all their achievements, and inevitably, the fall. It’s unavoidable. *coughs Like A Certain Scorsese movie coughs*

People need to see the bad get their comeuppance, and I always thought that this was the most enduring formula of movies. So, it isn’t a big spoiler to tell you that things do start to go awry for Jordan Belfort. He has to make a deal with the SCC, and still face criminal charges from the FBI. His relationship with his wife starts to go downhill. 

I don’t believe in karma, but even I have to admit that karma finally caught up to him. He left his loving wife for Naomi, and you can see that he really loves her. He cheats on her… but he really does love her. And maybe it’s karma that his wife doesn’t love him as much, if at all. 

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The ending, though, is really good. I won’t describe it to you, but it’s one of my favorite endings of all time. (Coincidentally, my other favorite ending is the ending of the Departed.) Now, I hope Leonardo DiCaprio gets an oscar for this, but considering the hype of the other performances, it’s not likely. I think this is the best Martin Scorsese movie I’ve seen, and having watched a few of the other nominees for Best Actor and Best Picture, I really do think this movie deserves to win. (Don’t let me get started on Gravity…)

I just hope that Christian Bale doesn’t beat DiCaprio for Best Actor. Yes, he gained a lot of weight, but come on. I guess I’m biased when I say that DiCaprio’s acting in this movie beats almost everything Bale did in American Hustle. Just saying. That’s what I think.

In conclusion (do you like how I suddenly became very professional?), this is an amazing movie. My favorite of 2013, and probably going to be one of my favorites for 2014. It’s already earned a place in my Top 15 Favorite Movies, and it might even rise in my list after viewing it a few more times. If you like great black comedy, great performances, great writing and directing, you’ll like Wolf of Wall Street.

If you hate watching an evil man get a lot of money, a huge amount of cursing, drug abuse… You probably won’t like this movie. It is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind any of that, then this is worth a watch. 

 

6 out of 6

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~Jian

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I had high hopes for this movie. I’ve always liked Chris Pine’s movies (even his role in Princess Diaries 2), and Keira Knightley was brilliant in Pride and Prejudice. Not to mention I have read a few pages from a Jack Ryan book, and the story and action seemed competent enough. Even the trailer for the movie was good. But, every expectation I had was dashed, and I regret watching it instead of any other movie. 

Okay, let me start by pasting the summary of the movie.

Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

 

 I don’t recall the plot well enough, but I can tell you about the beginning. 

 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starts off with Chris Pine at the London School of Economics. He notices a lot of his classmates are rushing off somewhere, and he follows them to see that they’re all transfixed on a television. Scenes of 9/11 play on the screen. I think it was when Homeland was released around 2010-2011 that a signal was released to everyone that it’s okay to talk about 9/11 in movies. I think that’s fine enough, but I don’t particularly like it when movies actually show real footage. Or evoke imagery from the tragic incident. Chris Pine’s previous movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, evoked some of those same images, and another example would be Ender’s Game. (Starting to see a pattern with science fiction movies…)

It cuts to 18 months later, and Jack Ryan is now a lieutenant in the marines. He’s on a helicopter, and it’s at this time that I began to worry. The camera shakes all over, it’s unfocused for several seconds, and it’s put in such close proximity of the characters’ faces that I could actually count the number of pores they had on their face. (If I had a notepad, I would’ve listed the number, but I’ve since forgotten the exact amount.)

However, I cut it some slack. After all, they were on a helicopter. It was realistic, I guess, and I had some experience with that type of style being done well. (Hurt Locker. I don’t love the movie, but even I have to admit that the director used that style perfectly.)

Jack Ryan unbuckles his seatbelt to help a newbie with his, and it’s at that moment that an RPG hits the helicopter. It’s here that my hopes started to dim. The helicopter is crashing, and the camera starts to move all over the place. It was dizzying, but once again, I cut it some slack. I just told myself that the director really wanted this scene to be authentic.

Chris Pine is rushed to a field hospital, and we find out that he’s lost feeling in his legs. He screams in pain, and in the next scene, he’s attempting to walk with crutches. It’s here that we’re introduced to Keira Knightley who plays Cathy Muller. She’s a third year med student tasked with helping him recover. The camera isn’t as jerky in these scenes as it was on the helicopter, but it’s still put within inches of each actor’s face. Keira Knightley and Chris Pine are attractive people, but I don’t think anyone can look good that way. (Especially when you’re watching them on a thirty foot screen. If I didn’t already know the plot, I’d think it was a horror movie.)

That's the farthest you can expect to see their faces. The director probably regrets filming them from so far away.

That’s the farthest you can expect to see their faces. The director probably regrets filming them from so far away.

 

Let’s fast forward, shall we? Jack Ryan is recruited by an enigmatic C.I.A. Operative portrayed by Kevin Costner to become an analyst for them. He goes undercover in Wall Street, and they meet in movie theaters that show old movies. Kind of like how in the Departed, Damon and Nicholson meet at a porn theater. It’s here that the movie shows its cheekiness. The director seems to like the contrast of the old, classical style of movies with his own style. Aside from this scene, Keira Knightley is seen watching an old movie on the television. (A shot which is mimicked later on in the movie.) I thought this was a nice touch, and my hopes began to swell again. They were once again dashed when the writer portrayed Cathy Muller so terribly. In the movie, Cathy Muller confronts Jack Ryan about hiding things from her, and she demands to know if he’s having an affair. She stomps away, and Jack Ryan says: “Let’s go to Paris.”

Then all is well. 

I mean, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really paint her in the best light. She knows he’s lying, and she forgives him just like that for a trip to Paris? Admittedly, it’s understandable, but she could’ve looked a little conflicted about it, at least. Oh, and let’s talk about Keira Knightley’s performance. Cathy Muller is American, and Keira Knightley is British. So, her accent for this movie was crucial. And… It’s all right. It does waver here and there when she raises her voice, but it’s passable. The accent is believable enough, but it does have an unfortunate side effect of lowering her acting ability. She was great in Pride and Prejudice, and even though I didn’t like her character in the Pirates and the Caribbean movies, she was good there as well. Forced to do a foreign accent, however, it’s obvious that she’s struggling. 

It’s perfectly reasonable why she can’t act to the full extent of her ability. It’s a lot of hard work! I couldn’t help but think that her average acting in this movie is the fault of the movie. I feel like she noticed, halfway into the movie, that it wasn’t good. And she just didn’t feel like working that hard for a below average movie. I can understand Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell, I guess, working on their accents for months for Saving Mr. Banks, but I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard for a movie like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Let’s talk about the fight scenes. I hate shaky cam. Yes, it’s realistic. Real life fights are shaky, unfocused, and messy. But movies aren’t about being realistic. Sure, I like the plots and characters to be realistic. But movies are about elevating reality. Here’s a good example. In Oldboy, there’s a scene where the main character goes down a corridor, and fights over a dozen assailants. The camera only shows it from one angle, and it moves slowly down the corridor while he disposes of the nuisances. It’s calm and precise and rather elegant. It made the fight all the more brutal because you could see everything clearly. It was horrific and brilliant. 

In the fight scenes in this movie, the camera actually isn’t pointed at the characters for certain seconds! I’m not kidding. In the last fight scene of the movie, the camera is focused on the background, leaving the characters in the foreground unfocused. And when they moved, it took a few seconds for the camera to follow them.

It’s ridiculous. It’s hard to take a movie seriously that looks like a home movie I made when I was thirteen and was too lazy to stop recording when walking. (At least with that, the ground and footage of my feet walking was in focus.) 

The villain… Oh, I need to talk about the villain. Kenneth Branagh portrays Viktor Cherevin. I could tell you his occupation, but to be honest, his occupation is to be a villain. That’s what the movie shows you, and don’t expect anything more from him than that.

Ooh, he's looking very villainous here.

Ooh, he’s looking very villainous here.

 

In the first scene we see him, the camera is looking at him from behind. We see an elegant European room while classical music plays loudly in the background. A large bodyguard stands at the other end of the room, and a man is poking a syringe into the arm of the villain. He obviously misses the vein or something like that, and the villain beats him for it. The sounds they used for his punches and kicks sound like something you’d expect if you kicked a pillowcase with a basketball in it. It’s completely fake, and boring. 

In another scene, he’s at a Church lighting a candle while a choir sings, and it is so cheesy that I actually laughed. At the end of the day, the plot isn’t important. In my previous reviews, I told you a little bit about the plot, but to be honest, I can’t even remember the plot of this movie. It’s about Russia being the bad guys. Again. It’s about Chris Pine saving the day, and about the director trying to give you a headache. (He succeeded!)

The one thing I thought was interesting is that they managed to sneak in an F-word. It’s PG-13, I believe, and I think it’s because when the guys in charge of censorship looked at the movie, they realized that you can’t see any of the violence. “Okay, since you can’t see any of the fight scenes, you can have one F-word. Use it well.”

I wish so badly that I just watched Wolf of Wall Street. But unfortunately the showing wasn’t till the day after, and like I said, I did think that this was going to be a good movie. If this movie gets a sequel, which I hope it doesn’t, I will not watch it.

On the bright side, I was on a Lazy Boy at the theater where I watched the movie. That’s the high note of the entire film for me.

 

2 out of 6.

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~Jian

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American Hustle is David O. Russell’s newest movie, and stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner. It is a movie about two con artists (Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser) who are forced by Detective Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help him catch other criminals in the act of bribery. The plot is actually a lot more complicated than that, made all the more complicated by the eccentric characters which populate the movie. 

Let’s talk about the characters, then. Christian Bale has always dedicated himself to his movies… to the point that it’s rather unhealthy. In the Machinist, he lost sixty pounds for the role, and then gained it all back within a year for Batman Begins. 

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Yeah, looks pretty drastic to me. In American Hustle, he’s taken to gaining a lot of weight. And unlike in Batman Begins, he did not use that weight to build muscle. That isn’t the only thing he does in this movie, of course, and his acting here is just amazing. Sure, it can feel a bit fake at certain points in the movie (mostly during the beginning), but you’ll forget all about that when you watch a scene of his with Jennifer Lawrence, who plays his crazy wife. 

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I know, people overuse that word nowadays. But she is crazy, and Jennifer Lawrence pulls it off magnificently. It’s so believable, which is why Christian Bale’s performance is enhanced whenever they’re in a scene together. It’s hard not to believe that this woman isn’t nuts, so his own reactions seem authentic and… rather comical with a dramatic overtone. 

You’ll know what I mean when you watch it. Let me talk about the plot again for a moment. The movie begins with Christian Bale making an elaborate combover, and immediately throws you into the middle of a sting operation. Oh, and Bradley Cooper messes up Christian Bale’s combover.

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David O. Russell is nothing, if not brave. It takes a lot of guts to just do that, and trust that whatever you’re watching is interesting enough that you don’t shrug and walk away. 

It’s here that you truly see Martin Scorsese’s influence on David O. Russell. The beginning reminds me of Goodfellas, although a lot funnier, and pop songs from the 70’s undercut a lot of emotional scenes. This can get a bit annoying, if I’m being honest. At times, it’s really awesome. Especially if you like the song, and think, “Exactly! That’s what I would’ve chosen!”

But, the soundtrack feels… impatient. There are plenty of scenes in the movie where you felt like an emotional punch was delivered to your gut, but the scene was disturbed by some obnoxious song. Why not let Amy Adams just act? The actors are too great to be dubbed over with music, and it brings me to my next point. American Hustle is entertaining, fast-paced, dramatic, and funny. 

And a little empty. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try to do my best. Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s previous directorial feature, was an amazing movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It was simple, really. It was about a guy that beat up his boss, who was having an affair with his wife. He gets out of a mental institution, and ends up training for a dance competition with a nymphomaniac. (In retrospect, it doesn’t sound that simple.) It also cost very little to make (especially in comparison to American Hustle’s budget), and garnered some awards. (Jennifer Lawrence got an Oscar for it.)

And it’s better than American Hustle. Yes, I normally like movies with some violence, some intrigue, and some con men. The Sting is one of my favorite movies of all time, but American Hustle just feels hollow in comparison to Silver Linings Playbook. I feel like David O. Russell was pressured to up the stakes, rightfully so. But the music, the unreliable narration, the elaborate outfits… They’re all supposed to be icing. They’re not supposed to make up the cake entirely. 

That isn’t to say that this isn’t incredibly entertaining. Like I said, the acting here is incredible. Bradley Cooper essentially plays the villain, and I’m not going to say: “But he makes you feel sorry for him.”

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Not at all. He wasn’t written to be sympathetic, or even realistic. Almost none of these characters are realistic, but he plays his role with such relish and unpredictability that I can’t help but hope that he was the protagonist. Louie C.K. plays his superior in the movie, and you’ll see in their scenes together why I think that.

When Bradley Cooper asks for 2 million dollars, his boss tries to tell him an ice fishing story from his youth. He interrupts him halfway through, and guesses what the ending is. Flustered, his boss tells him that he’s wrong, and he doesn’t deserve to hear the story. Later on in the movie, Cooper asks Louie about the ice fishing story, and again, interrupts him to make up his own ending for the story. It tells you everything you need to know about this character. He’s a control freak, and with his fast-talking personality, he gets away with it most of the time. He can’t stand it when someone else is talking, and he tries to show that he’s smarter than everyone. 

If you’re looking for a sympathetic character, you could look to Jeremy Renner. His character is one of the more realistic portraits of the movie. He plays Mayor Carmine Polito, and Christian Bale is tasked with the difficult job of piling evidence against him to put him and his colleagues behind bars. He’s a corrupt politician, but he does what he does for the city of New Jersey. It made me think of something Christian Bale’s character said to Bradley Cooper. 

I’ll paraphrase, since my memory isn’t good enough that I can remember it perfectly. But, it went something along the lines of:

“The world isn’t black and white. It’s extremely grey.”

Pretty much every antihero in movie and television shares the same view (I do, as well), but I think what makes this morality speech stand out from most is that it doesn’t really refer to Bale. Or Adams. Or Lawrence and all the others. It refers to Carmine Polito. He’s a good guy that does illegal things for good. He’s a big slap to the face of Bale, and I thought it’s one of the smarter things in the movie. All these characters are grey, but Polito’s character is the only one that seems realistically so. 

That’s probably the downfall of this movie, but don’t let this movie’s little faults scare you away. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and I was laughing throughout the movie. If Cooper, Bale, Adams, and Lawrence win awards for it – I won’t be surprised in the least. They acted their asses off, and they deserve them.

But I just don’t think the movie really deserves any more awards than Silver Linings Playbook received.

~Jian

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I remember watching Monsters Inc. when I was maybe five years old, and loving it. Over a decade later, I still remember most of the movie. So, when I heard that they were making a prequel movie… I was ridiculously happy.

So, let’s get to it. I’m going to start with a short summary, in case you’ve yet to hear about it. Monsters University is a prequel to the critically acclaimed, Monsters Inc., and it is the story of how the two main characters survived college to be who they are in the first movie. Mike Wazowski is voiced by Billy Crystal (as in the first movie), and for most of the movie, he’s the “main” character. At a school field trip to Monsters Incorporated, he’s saddened when no one chooses him as a buddy and he’s stuck with his teacher again.

Upon entering the facility, they get to see the Scare Floor. I spent a lot of time looking at each and every character to see if I recognized them from the original movie. (I recognized maybe seven characters from the original movie.) Mike sneaks off from his group and enters a child’s room, unbeknownst to the scarer he’s trailing.

And as he’s being scolded afterwards, the scarer takes note of the fact that he didn’t even notice Mike’s presence and gives him his Monsters University hat. Fast forward to when Mike is accepted to Monsters University.

I’ll take a break here to mention the high quality of Pixar’s animation for Monsters University. I can see why it took five years to make this movie. The attention to detail is enormous, and if you watched Monsters Inc. only recently, you’ll see how sophisticated the art has grown since then. (Mind you, the animation in Monsters Inc. is still top notch. The animation in Monsters University is just that good.)

There is a scene near the end of the movie where we can see every strand of grass, and they look real. I’ll be really mad if Monsters University doesn’t get an oscar for the animation. Let’s get back to the story. Each and every character feels fully realized. Mike wants to be a scarer more than anyone else, despite the fact that he is not at all scary. He is a scaring genius in the sense that he can recite all the textbooks, and he knows how to scare. James P. Sullivan a.k.a. Sully (voiced by John Goodman) comes from a long line of scarers. He’s a natural at scaring, so much so that he didn’t even come to the first day of college with a pencil. In reality, Sully is simply so afraid to fail that he doesn’t want to seem like he’s even trying. It’s better to fail when it appears like you don’t care, than to fail when it looks like you’ve worked your hardest. That’s the way I perceive his character.

A particularly funny scene is when Sully and Mike enter a fraternity called Oozma Kappa. (AKA O.K. ) One of the members, Don,  is older than most of the teachers, and he’s a former salesman. His specialty is being able to stick unto things. I can’t help but think that this is a nod to the fact that the worst salesmen are sometimes called leeches.

Their fraternity is so uncool that they weren’t even given a proper fraternity house. They’re just living in the house of one of its members and his mother. The whole movie is fast paced, hilarious, and if you were a fan of the first one, you’ll love this one. It was fun to notice all the winks toward the original movie.

Unto the things I didn’t like. The main thing I didn’t like – which wasn’t really the movie’s fault – was the 3D. I’m very nearsighted, so I normally have to wear my glasses whenever I watch a movie. So, I had to awkwardly put the 3D glasses over my normal glasses, and it was a real hassle keeping them in place the entire time.

I wouldn’t have minded if the 3D was as heavily used as movies like Avatar or Life of Pi, but the 3D here was barely noticeable. It was only noticeable whenever a flying monster was in front of the camera because its wings would come out of the screen.

The problem with 3D is that it darkens the screen considerably, and it made certain scenes look drab when they really were fine. (I checked by taking off my 3D glasses for a moment.)

All in all, there weren’t any obvious problems with the movie. A more eagle-eyed viewer could probably list them off, but I wager that if one were to mention them, they’d all be minor and hardly affect the grand scheme of things.

This is the animated movie to watch this year, and after looking at the trailers for most of the movies coming out for 2013, it is most likely going to be in the top 10 of best movies of 2013. It’s not a flawless film, but its pros are good enough that it’d make you forget about any of the cons.

I’m giving this an 8.7/10. I cannot say that this movie is better than the first one, because it’s you that should do the deciding. I personally think they compliment each other greatly, and they could be combined into a very long movie. Go watch this movie. It is awesome.

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~Jian

iron-man-3

 

 

At this point, a lot of you have already seen the movie, but I wanted to talk about it a little bit. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark is essentially brought down to the basics. This is a tactic we’ve all seen utilized in long-running franchises. Most notably there’s Rocky Balboa (2005) where Sylvester Stalone essentially becomes an underdog again. Here, however, I feel that this is Tony Stark’s first time truly becoming ill-equipped. Sure, in the first Iron Man, he has to build his first suit of armor under duress.

But the difference here is that he spends a very long time in this movie without any of his usual gadgets, fighting against people that are essentially invincible. The movie starts out with Robert Downey Jr. narrating, and we go back to his past as an uncaring playboy. He’s in Switzerland, on New Years Eve 1999, and he’s hooking up with yet another girl. A botanist. A scientist, with a really bad limp, tries to convince him to fund his research, and he blows him off by telling him he’ll meet the guy on the roof in ten minutes.

Now, I could tell you the entire plot, but where would be the fun in that? Odds are, you all could easily find out the plot of the first half of the movie, so I’m just going to tell you what I liked and what I did not like. As always, the acting is very good in this movie. Robert Downey Jr. was born for this role. I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that the actor playing the villain was born for the role, too, but I disagree. I think it could’ve been done a lot better by another actor. That isn’t to say that the actor playing the villain does a bad job, but it could definitely be better.

What I truly loved about this movie is that Tony Stark has no armor for a third of the movie. He has to rely on gadgets he makes up from a Home Depot, and he’s forced to fight some nasty individuals. Why is he without his usual suit of armor? Well, his former bodyguard, Happy, is injured severely in a suicide bombing by this terrorist, the Mandarin. In a fit of rage, Tony Stark challenges the Mandarin and tells him his home address. Yeah, I think we can figure out what happens next.

Long story short, his mansion is destroyed, and Tony Stark is stranded in Rose Hill, Tennessee with his armor no longer functioning properly. Tony Stark is suffering from anxiety attacks since the alien invasion in the Avengers. What I liked about this is that they don’t make watching the Avengers a necessity in order to watch Iron Man 3. I will say this, though. I enjoyed Iron Man 3 more than the Avengers.

The Avengers had a good enough story, a great cast, and amazing special effects. Iron Man 3 has a great story, a great cast, and amazing special effects. The Avengers and Iron Man 3 are about the same length, but I was more aware of time passing when I was watching the Avengers than when I was watching Iron Man 3. And I am pretty sure that The Avengers is a lot more action packed than Iron Man 3.

Another thing I liked was the use of side characters that really appear onscreen for about three minutes, but are utilized for their full comedic value. This movie made me laugh in a good way, and I like laughing. So, I give this movie a lot of props for consistently making its audience laugh in the theatre.

Something that a lot of reviewers have had a problem with is the excuse for the Avengers not being utilized to fight the Mandarin. Apparently, it’s not a superhero problem, it’s an American problem…

Yeah. Don’t buy it. The villain basically says that he’s been forced to do things a lot smarter because “that god fell from the sky”. He’s referring to Thor. Then, in the end, he basically says: “Once I take down Iron Man, the world will be mine!”

Looks like you forgot about the rest of the Avengers. It’s these little things that tick me off, but the rest of the movie is good enough to make me forget about it until after I finish watching it. To be completely honest, I find it odd that S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t get involved.

If we’re going by the comic books, they’re pretty nosy and pry into EVERYONE’S affairs. If we’re going by the movies… yeah, they’re pretty nosy and pry into everyone’s affairs. What makes the Mandarin so different?

Well, those are little nitpicks, really. That’s the thing about reviewing movies – I always feel obligated to nit pick about the little meh-ish things about it, and I really make it sound bad. But it’s not bad at all. Those little scenes that don’t really make sense? In all, they probably last for three minutes. Three minutes out of a two hour movie.

Think about it like that, and I guess you can say I’m drawing at straws here. Now, I know what you’re all dying to ask.

What about the final battle?

I mean. We all know there’s a final battle. This isn’t even a spoiler. Every superhero movie, or action movie, has a final battle. Unless it’s one of those movies that aim to literally set itself apart from the rest by defying convention. But yes, this movie has a final battle, and it is amazing. I cannot begin to describe it because the effects and the action are too great to spoil for you all.

Let’s just say that I found the final battle a bit more riveting than the Avengers. Now, I liked the Avengers. It’s not like I have something against Chris Evans or anything. However, it’s just in my opinion that Iron Man 3 is the better movie. Apparently, a lot of people agree. Iron Man 3 grossed more internationally than the Avengers. The overall box office receipts, however, lean more to the Avengers, but a lot more people internationally watched Iron Man 3.

It’s also been said that it is the best of the solo Avenger movies. Now, you could say that I’m just that much of a big fan of Robert Downey Jr. or Iron Man… and you would be correct. I am a big RDJ fan, and while Iron Man isn’t my favorite Marvel character, he certainly is part of the Top 20.

The thing is, though, I really think that if you like superhero movies, you will like Iron Man 3. If you don’t like superhero movies, then you’ll probably still like it if you like action movies.

The story is fast paced, the action is tense and riveting, the acting is superb, and the special effects are awesome. I suggest you watch it in 2D, though. The 3D visuals weren’t utilized for their maximum potential like in Avatar.

But like I said, I am nitpicking here. So, watch it. I suggest you watch it with a friend or a family member. It’s a lot more fun to discuss it with ’em afterwards.

This movie gets an 8/10 rating for me. This is an awesome movie. 

That’s all I have to say. Hope you enjoyed this review, I sure loved writing about this movie. If you liked it, remember to click the Like and Follow button. If you agree or disagree, please comment. I love to hear about other people’s opinion. And yeah. Thanks a lot.

~J.A. Romano