Sunday, January 25, 2015

MOVIEN REVIEW - Cake

There has been a bunch of buzz about this new Jennifer Aniston flick called Cake.  Many were calling for her to get an Oscar nomination for this, which she did not. More on that in a minute.

Cake is a heavy duty drama about a California woman named Claire (Aniston).  She is in chronic back and leg pain from an accident. She is also physically scarred on her face and body, and as we learn, her mind too.  She is horribly addicted to pain killers and goes to great lengths to get the drugs she wants, when she wants them. 

She is battling about every kind of terrible demon that one can.  She in short is a total mess, and not really any of it, at it's root, is her fault.  How she is dealing with them though does become her fault. She is insanely self-destructive and seems mired in self pity and self loathing. There are people that are in her life that want better for her, but they are unsuccessful. So, can she fined it in herself to make it on her own?   And what really happened in the first place?  That is Cake.

There was a loud shout when Aniston was not given a Oscar nomination.  But they are wrong. True, this is a nice performance, but that's it.  Yes, this is very, very different than anything she has ever done before and this is a gritty, dramatic performance.  But simply because it is very different, doesn't make it award worthy.  The Academy got this one right.  She is very good, but not one of five best performances of the year in her category.

As for Cake, this is a hard as nails movie that is not easy movie going.  But this movie will really speak to many who have someone in their life who is battling things larger than themselves. It dares to take you inside the mind of those who are addicted, broken, and suicidal. This is in limited release, and you may have to drive to find it. And this is clearly not for everyone. 

Cake.   Very tough stuff.

MOVIE REVIEW - Paddington

It has taken a long time, but Paddington Bear has finally come to the movies for the family.  And he's right on time!

Paddington Bear is from a series of books written for kids starting in the late 1950's.  Plus, there were tons of toys, and about everything Paddington you could by, and now here he is at the movies.  Paddington the movie, is a wonderful little family movie that is simply a story about finding a home, going home, and family.

Quickly in our story, little Paddington has to leave the forests of Peru, and travels to London as he was instructed by his own family.  There he hopes to find the explorer that discovered the bears Peru 40 years earlier and live with him.   But instead, Paddington finds a very nice young family named the Browns.  Turns out they need the clumsy, and trouble-finding Paddington as much as he needs them.  All the while, Paddington is being chased by the local taxidermist (Nicole Kidman), so she can add him to her collection.

Paddington is simply the kind of family movie that I wish Hollywood would make more of.  Of course Paddington himself is computer generated, and inserted into a live action movie with real sets and actors.  This is not animated with huge production numbers and dancing and the rest of the classic formula that is old and tired. Paddington is fresh, and fun.  They have created a wonderfully fun little character that is voiced amazingly by Ben Whishaw.  Paddington is a very polite and gentle soul who is fun to root for, and easy to forgive when he causes havoc with the Browns.

Paddington.  About the perfect modern family movie.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - Mortdecai

Is the shine finally coming off the Johnny Depp weird character bandwagon?   It would seem so after the new Mortdecai this weekend.

Depp has made a great living out of playing strange, and way-out-there characters over a number of years. And many of them memorable, fun and some really, really well done. This is not among them. And it could be that we've just seen him do this stuff a few too may times.  To some, this is a cheap Peter Sellers imitation of this signature Inspector Clouseau character of the 1960's and 70's, and they would be right.  Just not anywhere near as original.

Mortdecai is a comedy about a quirky art dealer/detective named Charlie Mortdecai (Depp).   He is from London, and after swindling countless people is bad art deals, he is commissioned at virtually no pay by the British Government to recover a priceless painting that had been stolen.  It is somewhere out there on the world black market, and he has to track it down, or face the consequences of an 8 million dollar tax debt.  This takes way too may tosses and turns to explain effectively here. But in short, this overall story is a mess.

This has a seemingly great cast, with Gwenyth Paltrow as his wife, and Ewan Mcgregor as the British agent who makes him take the case.  The supporting cast is fine, and all seems to be in order, except for one thing.  This is just not written very well.  This is intended as a British parody of sorts, and strives for the charm of a quirky independent flick.  Everyone doing their best British accents, and mannerisms, but in the end this is just not very funny.

There are though some really funny physical comedy sight gags that did have the theater laughing from time to time. Problem is, you have to wade through endless dialogue that at times is so tedious you are looking at your watch to see how far we have yet to go.  Depp is stretching here and he just can't pull this off effectively.  A few moments of real fun, draped in between long stretches of nothing, is simply not a great night at the movies.

Mortdecai.  There's a reason that a Johnny Depp movie has been buried this deep in the middle of mid January movie purgatory. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - The Boy Next Door

For some reason Jennifer Lopez decided to produce, and star in this horrible derailment of a movie, The Boy Next Door.

There is a rumored interesting back story on this movie. Word is, it was filmed in only 25 days and came in at about 4 million to make. Unheard of today, where the average budget is about 40 million or so. This movies story was inspired too by some high profile cases nationally where female teachers have affairs with their students in high school.

Let's recap this nonsense.  Claire (Lopez) is a high school classic literature teacher.  She is married to Garrett (John Corbett), but they are separated because of his lying, cheating ways.  They have a son named Kevin who is a nice kid, but is bullied at the same school where Claire teaches. There's this new kid that moves in next door to Claire named Noah (Ryan Guzman).  He seems like a nice kid, but he's not.

Noah is almost 20,  has not finished high school so he's back in Claire's school to finish up after the death of his parents.   He's a handsome kid, who has his sights on the jilted Claire.  Then one rainy, stormy night, after Claire has a few glasses of wine, they end up sleeping together in Noah's uncles house.  Of course, this is a huge problem on so many levels, not the least of which is that Noah is a nut job who becomes this horrible stalker goof as Claire comes to her senses when the sun comes up and she tells him it all was a mistake.

So the stalking is on. Noah starts causing all kind of serious trouble from the small to the amazingly illegal.  He even tries to kill all of the rivals involved, and goes completely off the deep end, because he can't have Claire.  And much of this is laughable, and most of this is predictable and all of this is terrible.  With all this, no one thinks to call the cops- not even once.  Also, we are supposed to believe that Lopez is a jilted, low self-esteemed, lonely wife.  On film, this just doesn't work.

This is so bad, it can't even qualify as "so bad it's good."  Sometimes bad is just bad.  The writing on this is amateurish at best and the acting has no chance.  This all looks like it was filmed in 1 or 2 takes.  This is supposed to be similar to Fatal Attraction, or Enough, but this is light years away from those.  Being honest there is not one element of this that is good. This is a great example of a mid-January thriller movie. This is the frozen bastion of movie releases, and they stick junk like this out there when people have nothing else to to.

But, interestingly enough, this will more than likely be very profitable. With it's microscopic budget and Jennifer Lopez in her underwear,  and a young hunk shirtless for much of this, it won't take long to get all of its cash back. And long before it even goes to streaming, DVD and eventually cable.  But please take some advice from a friend, don't pay for this. Don't stream this in 90 days.  If you must, wait a couple years and some night you'll see this edited on TNT, right after Law And Order.

The Boy Next Door.  There's bad, then there's this.  Could be the final nail in J-Lo's movie starring career.

Monday, January 19, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - Blackhat

Oh boy!  The new "thriller" Blackhat is out this week, and we are not better for it.

Blackhat is an ill- advised computer hacker movie that in the end, is a huge waste of money, effort, and time. When will Hollywood figure it out that movies that are made about computers and anything related to them are just not very interesting to watch on screen?  They try here to make this exciting by sprinkling in some action, but it doesn't work.

Blackhat is the story of a computer hacker who is very skilled, and his first act of terrorism is setting off an attack on a nuclear power plant in China.  He is successful.  Then his next target are Soy Futures on the stock market. What??  Yes, that's true, and he makes a ton of money by hacking into Wall Street and causing a Soy panic.  So the American government is very nervous and they decide to work with the Chinese to try to find this guy.  And they need to hire the best hacker they know. I guy in jail named Hathaway (Liam Hemsworth) to try to break this guys code and bring him in.

But who is our villain?  What does he want?  And why is he doing all of this?  Who is his beef with?  Well, we never really find out. And that is the main and horrible flaw in this piece of junk.  In fact, we really don't even see him till almost 2 hours into this 2 plus hour bore rest.  How is it possible that someone decides to make a movie about international disasters with this super hacker, and they can't even be bothered to invent a villain that we can hate? James Bond has made a half century legacy on that very premise. But these clowns can't be bothered with such things.  There is no one to hate or be afraid of and that just kills this.

Instead, they show Hathaway and his team chasing their tails for 2 hours. And we get to watch Hathaway start sleeping with his Chinese counterpart, and the sister of his college roommate who is also working on the case.  What??  All the while the U.S. Government working with them are over-matched and non cooperative for the most part.

This is so full of holes, and absolute ridiculousness that a few words here can't do it justice.  This is also a movie that gets worse every minute the projector is running.  And at the 2 hour mark you realize that you still have some distance to go, it's tough not to walk out.   This is boring, and just downright bad. 

Blackhat. What was anyone connected with this thinking?  Awful!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - The Wedding Ringer

Funny men Kevin Hart and Josh Gad star in the new comedy, The Wedding Ringer new this week.

This is a great example of a really good idea that could have, and should have been a whole lot better. Don't get me wrong, there are some good laughs here and actually some really fun and heartfelt moments too. But a few key sell-out moments, and ill-advised scenes take this from really pretty good, to simply OK.

This is the story of Doug (Gad).  He is a goofy, 30 something awkward rich young professional that has inherited his fathers business after his death.  He falls in love with Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) and they are going to get married.  Problem is, Doug does not have any friends, and needs a best man, and 7 groomsmen for this huge wedding that is being planned. And Gretchen does not know this fact.

So Doug learns of Jimmy (Hart), who runs a business called Best Man Inc. For a huge fee, he becomes your best man complete with a wedding party and no one is the wiser.  In short, it's all a big lie. So Doug hires Jimmy and the laughs are on. Can they pull this off, and is Gretchen really the one? And is it a good idea that Jimmy and Doug even met? 

This particular movie, is a far better idea than is executed here.  This could have been really funny from start to finish, but the temptation to be like all other modern comedies is just too great.  But yes, there are laugh out loud moments here. This movie will be loved by many of the patrons, and killed by the critics nationally.  But if you watch this closely, you can see the potential here, and feel a bit sad that in the end, it comes down to this product.

There are good moments in this, where Gad, and Hart have really good chemistry, and those are the movies best.  They seem an unlikely pair on screen and that adds to the fun. Gad is a pretty funny guy, and embraces this role as the privileged underdog.  And Hart is who he is.  Although here I did not find him as fatiguing as usual.   As funny as he is and can be, to me his act can get old quick. But here not so much - or I am getting desensitized to his act.

But, a ridiculous muddy football scene that comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere was a real bad idea. Also, a bachelor party scene that could have been funny, sells out to 7th grade humor, and as shocking as it is supposed to be, it doesn't really work.  And there are few other rough patches, that if this was thought out a bit longer, could have been a surprisingly good flick, with the new faces and original idea.

The Wedding Ringer.   A pretty good time, that could have been a really great time.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Five Best Movies of 2014

Another year has come and gone, and now it's time to give extreme props to the Five Best Movies of 2014.  Last year was another year where animation and superheroes dominated the box office and the actual theater space. Seems there were more IMAX, 3D and special screen movies than ever.  As a result some of the great movies waited for wide release till late in the year.  And others simply were lost in the hype of the blockbusters.

Again though, it was a year that was phenomenal for small movies. In fact like 2013, they were some of the best movies of the year.  I saw about 150 movies last year, and you'll notice that my list again this year is going to look far different than many national year end lists.  I think that gives credence the local critic, we can't all agree on all movies, and I don't believe that nationals do either.  So let's go.  There will also be some honorable mentions.

The Five Best Movies of 2014

1/  American Sniper  -  This movie is amazing.  Clint Eastwood directs, Bradley Cooper acts,
                                   and the story is compelling beyond belief.  Modern "war" movies have taken a
                                   hard turn to "real."  Characters that are well developed and ones you have not
                                   met before. This true story is one all should know.  Eastwood makes great
                                   movies and Cooper is Hollywood's best leading man right now.  Incredible.
                                   Both should win the Oscar. A story worth learning about.

2/  Chef  -  One of the more original and one of the more entertaining movies in a long time. What
               a great, and quirky little movie about a chef, and his crazy life on the job and off. One of the
               best scripts of the year, brought to life with an all-star cast. Funny, dramatic, real, relevant,
               and one of the real feel good movies of the past 20 years. Simply great. Stream this if you
               missed this.

3/  Begin Again  -  Another small movie that gets tons of originality points here.  Story of a down and
                           out music business guy who doesn't know the biz has passed him by.  But he gets
                           one last chance with a new female singer at recording greatness.  Mark Ruffalo,
                           Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld,  and Adam Levine star. The original music is
                           really great and the story is same. Knightley is amazing here. Stream this as well,
                           will not disappoint.

4/  The Drop  -  James Gandolfini, Tom Hardy and Noomi Repace star in another movie that got
                       little play. Gandolfini in his last role.  Movie about the dirty work of organized crime
                       in today's contemporary world, but brought down to a personal level.  This movie is
                       brilliantly acted, and the story is original and strong.  This movie also looks great in
                       every regard.  Stream this as well.  Great movie.

5/  St. Vincent  -  How great is this little movie? Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts
                         and a great supporting cast in a story that keeps you glued from start to finish. This
                         is relevant, and spot on in its topicality.  You never stop learning about our main
                         characters, and the acting and directing are amazing here.  This is funny, sad,
                         and moving all at the same time. Stream this. Terrific!

Honorable Mentions

Birdman -  The "continuous shot" movie technique is incredibly innovative and effective. Could win
                   a  Best Director Oscar.  This movie has 9 Oscar nominations.

Boyhood - Golden Globe winner. Filmed over 13 years with the same cast. Insanely original idea.
                  This too could win a number of Oscars, including Best Picture, as Hollywood loves this.

Foxcatcher - Great movie and Steve Carell would win the Oscar in any other year, but Bradley 
                   Cooper will win this year.  True story you don't know and all performances are great.

A Most Wanted Man - Philip Seymour Hoffman's final movie, and the best performance of his
                                    career.  If you like political thrillers, stream this intensely good movie.

The Imitation Game - This movie looks great and tells another true story from WWII you don't
                                    know. Benedict Cumberbatch is great.  Keira Knightley again is fantastic
                                    she should win the Oscar for this. What a year she had.

There they are, the Five Best Movies of 2014. Also check out my list of the Five Worst Movies, Five Most Surprising and Five Most Disappointing movies of the past year.

scott@wqmx.com