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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

3 Days to Kill 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

3 Days to KillDirector: McG
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Hailee Steinfeld

There's a scene in 3 Days to Kill, where hitman Ethan Runner's (Kevin Costner) car rams into the villain's car sending said villain and his three cohorts over a bridge (to what I thought was certain death). But wait, everyone gets out of the wreckage pretty much unharmed. If you saw this flick in theaters, you probably shook your head in disbelief and said well, "it's only a movie". If you haven't seen "Days" yet, then you gotta believe me when I tell you that there is no way these four guys could survive this crash, no freaking way! There is also a scene where Costner, who's character has five months left before he dies, gets injected with some sort of serum (by way of a customized syringe) to prolong his life span and maybe drive his cancer away. When he experiences side effects like dizziness, he's told to drink multiple shots of vodka as a subsiding anecdote, uh huh.

Anyway, this is just a preview of things to come with another round of messy, incoherent, glossy schlock courtesy of director Joseph McGinty Nichol (otherwise known as McG). I liked his earlier stuff as a guilty pleasure. His re-imagining of a TV show with Charlie Angels was a film I dug and many other critics loathed. It reminded me of a female Matrix and of course, it had Bill Murray (he played their boss, John Bosley). I gotta admit, McG is not too shabby with staging action sequences. And there are times when he's sort of a whiz with the camera. But when it comes to formulating a movie with structure and coherency, he hasn't quite mastered that yet. His films are usually all over the place and 3 Days to Kill is no exception. It's a little comedic, laughably dramatic, exceedingly violent (even for PG-13), and overloaded with too many little subplots. There are actors/actresses who are miscast, characters who fade in and out of the proceedings multiple times (and who are contradictory in their actions), situations that are not plausible, and the presence of a purple bike as a weak metaphor (please don't ask). Now in defense of "Days," there are a couple of nifty fight scenes (especially one that takes place in a supermarket bakery) and a cool mini car chase. But what's on screen is something that doesn't know what it wants to be. Does that mean that I'm leaning toward a mixed review? Oh you betcha.

Produced by the notable Luc Besson (along with four other people as well) and filmed in Paris and Serbia, 3 Days to Kill examines the final job of CIA agent Ethan Runner (Costner). He wants to retire, knows that he has to get his affairs in order because of a terminal illness, and yearns to spend the remaining time with his daughter (Zoey played by Hailee Steinfeld) and I guess his wife who he's estranged from (Connie Nielsen). When he arrives in Paris to see them, he is then coaxed back into a life of killing by a fellow agent named Vivi Delay (Amber "I just got engage to Johnny Depp" Heard). She's persuades Runner by offering him a ton of money and an unknown substance (mentioned earlier) guaranteed to keep him alive longer. Costner's Ethan agrees to this and now has to split his time between offing the intended targets and being a doting husband/father. There are some other elements to the story but to explain more would just be a couple of paragraphs of hot air.

Now as I wrote earlier, pretty much everybody is miscast in this thing. Costner is gruff, grizzled, and reliable so I'll give him a pass. He almost saves the movie because he kicks some serious butt in the fight scenes (Liam Neeson style a la Taken). That leaves me with Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, and Hailee Steinfeld. Heard playing Costner's colleague and I guess boss, looks like a goth teenager. At the beginning of "Days" she comes off as a goody-goody when initially meeting with some CIA executives. With almost no explanation, she's in the next scene chain-smoking, driving like a maniac in some expensive car, talking completely different, and giving Cosnter's Runner orders. Added to that, as I left the theater I thought to myself, does she really need him to carry out her dirty work? I mean she has a gun, works for the same organization, and probably could have done all of the killing by herself. Oh well at least she emotes better than Connie Nielsen who phones it in as Runner's wife. Nielsen has the silliest dialogue out of everyone so maybe it's not her fault. One minute she's mad at her estranged hubby and the next minute she's laughing with him. That then brings me to Costner's character's daughter who acts the same way. Hailee Steinfeld, who was so brilliant in 2010's True Grit, gives a one note performance here consisting of short line readings and multiple mood swings. I know she plays a teenager but gimme a break. Watching her in this flick made me wonder if her "Grit" Academy Award nom was really just a one hit wonder. As for the bad guys in 3 Days to Kill, you never really see them and they barely speak. One of them has a shaved head and looks creepy (character's name is The Albino and he's played by Tomas Lemarquis). The other one (Richard Sammel as "The Wolf") just looks creepy. They don't get a lot of screen time due to the side plot involving Costner's father/daughter relationship. Plus, they're are not really that menacing. They're just you know, there.

Overall, the once reclusive Kevin Costner is now bent on appearing in everything these days (three movies released in the last seven months with a fourth one on the way). His latest effort is not entirely a bad film, but it's not necessarily a good one either. If you have "3 days to kill" (ha ha), then there is no harm in checking it out. Just know that after you take in a viewing, you'll probably forget about what you saw in less than "3" hours.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Turbo 2013 * * * Stars

TurboDirector: David Soren
Year: 2013
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars  (Click on rating link to see Cole's on site review)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson

Written by Cole Pollyea

“No dream is too big.” You hear that Dreamworks? That means that you can indeed make a film about a snail entering the Indy 500. Turbo is a movie that plays by its own rules, and doesn’t take any risks. However, the film boasts characteristics of originality; and that’s partly why it’s a movie I recommend. It is relatively expendable because anything could happen on its own terms; however, it doesn’t have too many recycled ideas (I won’t discuss the ending). Overall, this animated film is an entertaining under-dog story that will leave you and your family with a smile on your face, despite the fact that there isn’t much to think about after the credits roll.

Turbo is about Turbo, a race-car-driving-wannabe snail whose life is in the dumps at his home in the tomato plants. That’s basically all we get to know about the dreamer (unfortunately), so when he gets “transformed” into a super-speedy snail, he only focuses on being fast; and exercising his ability. He meets some friends along the way (including humans and snails), and they are voiced pretty well for the movie’s comedic and overall benefit. 

If you’re wondering if you should go see this, my answer is sure! It’s pure entertainment. It’s not as good as Monsters University, but as my younger brother and I strolled out of the theater, he proclaimed “four stars!”, as he is aware of my rating system. It always elates me to see a smile on his face after a movie, so if you’re looking to see a movie, the only thing I can say for sure is this: Enjoy Turbo for what it can do for your family at any time of the day, and let your kids bathe in the glorious animation. And remember, “That snail is fast!”.

Written by Cole Pollyea

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Monuments Men 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

The Monuments MenDirector: George Clooney
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray

If you combined elements from cinematic fare like MASH (1970), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Ocean's Eleven (2001), you'd get The Monuments Men. And despite these elements, this film as a whole, still manages to border on the edge of tedium. Shot capably and lushly by integrity-minded George Clooney, "Men" was supposed to have been released for Oscar season in December of 2013. So much for that. Its now February and here we have something that has such a calm, somber, almost mute feel to it. There are some nice images and some effective, individual moments. But in the big picture, it feels unfinished not to mention half-baked. It seems like scenes were left out. As a result, for almost two hours, a sense of intrigue or suspense is sorely lacking. Also, I couldn't decide whether The Monuments Men was a comedy, a drama, or in fact even a war film (almost no combat at all).

Clooney, looking like your typical matinee idol and resembling Clark Gable from Gone With the Wind, does double duty as star and director here. He spins a web about a true story depicting seven important people. It's WWII and Clooney's Lt. Frank Stokes decides to recruit these seven men consisting of museum curators, architects, and art historians. They are obviously too old to fight in a war yet they go through basic training, wear uniforms, carry firearms, and basically pose as soldiers trying to retrieve stolen art. This is art that could be lost in battle or even taken by the Nazis. Stokes gets the OK for this action by way of a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And from that moment on, the recapturing of sculptures, paintings, etc.., is seen as way more important than the gauge of human life. Speaking of human life, in "Men" there is very little character buildup and it's hard to feel anything for anyone involved. In fact, a couple of members from the Monuments group actually die. No one even makes a fuss about it as evident from the choppy editing by Stephen Mirrione (he edited 2000's Traffic).

The cast or for a better word contributors, consist of an assortment of great actors. Matt Damon plays Lt. James Granger, Bill Murray plays Sgt. Richard Campbell, and John Goodman plays Sgt. Walter Garfield to name three. Clooney, riffing off his character Danny Ocean from Ocean's Eleven mentioned earlier, uses everyone sparingly as a director. He gives them almost no room to breathe. By the time the closing credits come up, their images are plastered on screen (along with their names). This seemed kind of laughable as I sat in the theater because it felt like these guys were barely in the film to begin with. I mean Bill Murray was completely held back. Featured in "Men" as the chief architect, he doesn't have anything or anyone to bounce off of. I've seen Murray underplay roles before but this was really hard to watch. It's not his fault but along with the rest of the cast, he seemed to be slumming it. Heck, the whole film seemed to be slumming it.

Overall, The Monuments Men is a vehicle in which not much happens. And it's really not a whole lot of movie to begin with. Now I no doubt think of George Clooney as a fine director. With "Men" though, he doesn't make an awful film, just a "monumentally" misguided one.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 20, 2014

RoboCop 2014 * * * Stars


Director: Jose Padilha
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars     Cole's Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Jackie Earle Haley

With so many remakes coming out these days, it's kind of reassuring to know that at least one of them isn't a stinker. RoboCop (2014) is the re-imagining of a much beloved classic from the Reagan era days (1987's original with the same title). Brazilian director Jose Padilha, a first timer shooting something in the states, confidently fashions a slick, well paced, intelligent, and thought provoking crime picture that boasts a terrific cast. Now I will say that this RoboCop of 2014 is anything but perfect. It is at times emotionless, it has some glaring plot holes when it comes to the actions of the Detroit Police Department, and it bypasses some key plot points by whisking from one scene to the next. However, what looms for roughly two hours, still manages to be ultra cool with cynically cool characters. Most of them possess a hammering amount of dry wit and narcissistic overload. Therefore, I can't say that I wasn't surprised or for a better word, royally entertained.

Paying homage to 1987's original by way of its opening theme music and written by the guy who was brought in to fix the script for 007's Quantum of Solace, RoboCop examines the life of crime fighter and doting father, Mr. Alex Murphy (played by Swedish actor Joel Kinnamen). While off duty from his job as a detective for the Detroit P.D., Murphy goes out to his driveway to check his car. As he opens the door, his vehicle explodes and he becomes not only paralyzed but also disfigured. As a sort of salvation tactic, Murphy is given a second chance by a corporation called OmniCorp. Their solution: make him into the ultimate law enforcement cyborg by adding a robotic body frame to what he already has left. As things move along and Murphy becomes Motor City's go-to crime fighting machine, he also begins to come off as less than human all the while being alienated from his family and most of the outside world. This happens throughout until he gets back his conscience and starts to try to solve his own attempted murder.

Now in a recent interview, Padilha said that he was bent on being faithful to the origins of the popular 1987 release. He also stated that he was a fan of said vehicle which sounded awfully refreshing. As it stands, I haven't seen the first RoboCop in ages. I do remember liking it but not loving it. I became a fan of its director (Paul Verhoeven) only years later with the emergence of 1990's Total Recall. What I vaguely recollect is that the special effects weren't as advanced back then as they are in this reboot. Also, there is a deeper level of storytelling featured here along with a more modernized dose of computer gimmickry (oh and the 2014 version has RoboCop featured in black armour as opposed to silver). In fact, I love how this remake has something more beneath its surface than just action. At almost two hours, things consists of mostly build up and/or set up. The characters are well established, the rules are in play, and the blueprint for what is about to unfold is done in a ominously effective manner.

But lets focus on why people buy tickets to see films like this. They do it hoping that what's on screen is a promise to deliver visceral, action packed shootouts/fistfights. To a degree, RoboCop is pretty violent despite its deceptive PG-13 rating. Probably the only reason why it didn't garner an R is because this violence is penetrating yet bloodless. The action scenes staged by Padilha, project a sort of a small scale version of the Transformer movies (pick any one of them). And he also internally channels the vapor from the Terminator flicks by showcasing the way Kinnamen's character fires his weapon and burns rubber on his sleek motorcycle.

Speaking of Kinnamen, there are some critics that have noted that he seems wooden and stiff in the lead. I think he does an adequate job (he plays a darn robot for much of the proceedings so why would he bother to emote at all). He meets the physical demands of the role, he's tall (almost 6 foot 3), and looks almost similar to Peter Weller from the original. Basically, he does what's required being nothing more, nothing less. To be honest, the movie doesn't necessarily have to succeed because of him. It glides by on its seasoned cast which for the most part, is as strong as any that I've witnessed in a full blown action extravaganza (the only weak link being Jay Baruchel who seems out of place providing the so-called comic relief). Michael Keaton is at his smarmy best portraying the shallow CEO of OmniCorp. Then there's Gary Oldman who plays it straight and sympathetic as RoboCop's doctor and ultimate creator. Samuel L. Jackson, getting to act like well Samuel L. Jackson, is a modern day TV evangelist. He only seems interested in spouting off about the crime world and he's a hoot doing it with a series of  public service announcements. In a smaller supporting role, we have Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox) as an arrogant, smug weapons specialist who with utmost resistance, trains RoboCop. He really has a lot fun hamming it up throughout. Finally, we get Abbie Cornish playing RoboCop's wife. Her character wasn't featured in the late 80's installment. Back then, Weller's Alex Murphy befriends a fellow cop in Nancy Allen and that was the closest thing we had to a love interest. Anyways, Cornish again dons her Australian accent for an American one and turns in an effectively rote performance even for your typical remake.

Overall, whether or not you think of this as a remake, the new RoboCop succeeds almost primarily as its own movie. And as expected, the bulk of the narrative projects signs of an inevitable sequel. Now I've heard stories about how bad RoboCop 2 was back in 1990 so let's just hope that history doesn't repeat itself. Bottom line: this is undoubtedly the best film to be released so far in 2014. And as a lean, mean, slam-bang actioner, RoboCop truly does not "cop" out.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nebraska 2013 * * * 1/2 Stars

NebraskaDirector: Alexander Payne
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars     Cole's Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb

Alexander Payne is a director who never forgot where he came from. I mean, why else would he shoot most of his movies in the state of Nebraska. He likes to make flicks about real people. He also likes to make flicks about people who look like real people, act like real people, and live in boring, realistic places. He does all of this while being totally beloved by the Academy. He's been nominated three times for best director (a list that includes the film I'm reviewing) and doesn't go for the jugular. He doesn't need special effects, shock value, gaudy camerawork, or beautiful Hollywood types to get his point across. No Payne is a good ol' fashioned filmmaker and with Nebraska, he provides another good ol' fashioned film going experience. With this November of 2013 release, he shoots everything in black and white. I'm not exactly sure why he does it nor do I wanna know the reason (I want it to be a mystery). But it doesn't matter though because frankly, it just works.

Also, as with his other triumphant trysts in the world of cinema (Sideways and About Schmidt being my personal favorites next to this one), Nebraska is yet another road trip movie. And I believe that Payne thinks of this as his comfort zone when it comes to fortifying his vision. In truth, I'm 100% on board with said vision.

Penned by a first time screenwriter (Bob Nelson) and featuring characters who's lives are non-enriched, bleak, and not entirely promising (the black and white hue I feel, echos a lot of this), Nebraska tells the tale of Billings, Montana resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern). He's I guess a retired mechanic, an on-again, off- again alcoholic, and a distant father to his two sons (David Grant played by Will Forte and Ross Grant played by Bob Odenkirk). When he finds out that he might have won a million dollars (through a letter that might be a scam), he is then bent on going to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his so-called winnings. Since his wife (played by June Squibb) won't drive him to Lincoln, he aids the help of his youngest son to get him there (Woody is forbidden to drive and it would take forever to walk 700 plus miles). As a road trip ensues, the rest of the Grant family eventually meets up (the older brother and mother take a bus instead) and rekindles their family history with their other relatives who live in the small town of Hawthorne, Nebraska. When these other relatives (certain people who are not part of the immediate family) find out that Woody is about to become rich, they want a piece of his winnings because well, he owes them some sort of prolonged debt.

Now as much as I liked the middle American vibe I got from Nebraska, I couldn't quite render it a four star rating. The film's only oversight might be a few scenes that drag and a couple of other scenes that mainly just feel like filler. The scenes that drag almost bring the two hour running time to a screeching halt. The scenes that act as filler are examples like Woody and his brothers watching football games and hardly saying a word to each other. I could do without the irreverence of those tidbits. But honestly, this flick as a whole doesn't really suffer from what I just mentioned. The audience with a keen sense of patience, will embrace what's on screen anyway.

The cast of Nebraska, (which consists of knowns and unknowns), comes up aces all around. Bruce Dern plays Grant with a low key stubbornness. He does a lot of reacting and doesn't go over the top. His performance as a comatose senior citizen, is Oscar worthy because at 77 years old, it doesn't feel like he's even acting. His style is so unassuming and it is so in the moment. To be honest, I haven't seen much of Dern's work but I know that he's been in the AEA union since the early sixties. That's gotta say something. Will Forte, who usually goes for the funny and plays goofballs (like in the little seen McGruber and some SNL stuff), is something of a revelation here. His David Grant is sort of a long lost daddy's boy who sees this road trip as a way to spend more time with his dad, and get to know more about what makes him tick. Forte, who matches Dern scene for scene, plays it serious with a level of disciplined perception. I don't know much about him or the facets of his career, but I do know that he is almost perfect for the role (my only stipulation is that he might have looked too young to play Squibb and Dern's character's son). As for June Squibb, she gives the best performance out of everybody. She comes on like a firecracker as Woody's nagging wife who still has his best interests at heart. Every scene she is in is a stealer. Her two best moments are visiting the family's graveyard in Hawthorne and telling off other members of the family who go after Woody hoping to get a piece of him financially.  Squibb just recently got nominated for best supporting actress in this role. I don't know if she'll win but I'm definitely pulling for her.

Flawless acting stints aside, as you watch Nebraska, you figure out more and more that this is not a film about Woody getting his jackpot of a million dollars. What you see is the journey of the Grant clan sort of finding themselves. And the centralized part of that journey involves the vein of the father/son dynamic. The small town of Hawthorne, Nebraska provides the Grants with insight into their family roots, where they grew up, and their friends who seem to all know them from long ago. The character development safe to say, is exceptional here because we get a back story on pretty much everybody. Basically, all the players in Nebraska's setting look and act like your normal everyday Joes. No one and I mean no one who appears on screen, is underdeveloped or for a better word, unrealized. 

All and all, the one thing I enjoyed most about this critical darling, is the ending. This ending, which puts a band aid on everything that happened before it, will leave you feeling lumpy and agog. In a sense, Nebraska has pitch perfect performances and direction that is careful and resounding. This to my liking, makes it a personable film with a giant heart. The movie poster which looks like Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits album cover, would persuade anyone to view this thing being that it has that old-world feel to it. And although the proceedings are slow at times giving the evocation of watching paint dry, it's a good kind of paint. Overall, Nebraska is another notch in the belt of Payne's heartfelt Nebraskan roots. Out of the 100 plus films that surfaced in 2013, this one is truly a keeper.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 14, 2014

About Last Night 2014 * * Stars

About Last NightDirector: Steve Pink
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall

Let me start this review off by saying that I still think Kevin Hart is a solid comedic actor. However, after the recently dismal Ride Along, he strikes out once again as the co-lead (along with Michael Ealy) in About Last Night. As Hart's third release in as many months, this is a fast paced, overly fast cutting, disjointed, rom com remake (if you can call it a remake or better yet, even categorize it as a romantic comedy) that I wouldn't even consider taking a date to. In fact, it's not really a movie but rather a series of hyper kinetic, forced scenes that seem spliced together.

Directed by the guy who brought you 2010's Hot Tub Time Machine and harboring a character that in real life, would have cirrhosis of the liver (I'm referring to Hart's Bernie Jackson who gets hammered in almost every frame), About Last Night follows two couples who begin their relationships with a one night stand only to sustain them almost a year later. One of the couples is Bernie Jackson (Hart) and Joan Derrickson (played with off-the-wall insanity by Regina Hall). The other couple is Danny Martin (Michael Ealy) and Debbie Sullivan (Joy Bryant). Hart and Hall's characters seem to be meant for each other. They are both crazy and offensive. Ealy and Bryant's characters are not meant for each other even though the audience is forced to accept this fact. And for the record, it was hard for me to believe that all four of these people were anything but total strangers. I couldn't even fathom why Danny and Bernie were friends. Maybe it's because in the movie, they work together making them buds by process of elimination. Then there's Debbie and Joan who also don't come off as believable in the same regard. They're roommates in "About" so I guess that means that they're besties (again by process of elimination). Joan as mentioned two sentences ago, may be a psychotic nut. But at least she has something of a personality. Debbie on the other hand, has about as much personality as a rock. In the beginning of the proceedings, they all sit down for drinks at a club. That scene sets everything in motion and as a critic, I already knew that a bad movie going experience lay ahead of me. Sad to say I was right.

Now as a given prerequisite, I haven't seen the original 1986 version of About Last Night. From what I heard though, it has gained a small cult following. Whereas the old original was set in Chicago, this new one takes place in glamorous L.A. The 2014 version even gives the original a subtle nod when it has it playing on cable TV (as Ealy's character and Bryant's character are sitting at home while having a date night). I can't say that both versions are completely different from each other because that would be pure speculation. However, I am certain that the only thing these two flicks have in common are the title and the vague, central theme. That's it (you know, the whole one-night stand thing).

Anyway, you can tell what's unfolding, but this new reboot doesn't have much continuity, shape, or flow. The trailer leads us to believe that we're in for a warm, funny, laughable treat. So much for the trailer. What's on screen is a downer with a razor thin plot and characters who are unlikable, not believable as friends or lovers, sappy, and downright dull. If this is a foretelling of movies that are to be released on Hallmark's most glorious holiday, then you can just count me out. When I go take in a flick, I'd rather not see people argue, scream at each other, complain about nothing, and drink their sorrows away. I want to be entertained. So what's left huh? Laughs? Well with About Last Night, they're mild at best. There is a crassness and a vulgarity in the humor that unfortunately doesn't come off as funny, but rather annoying and eye-rolling. The result after 1 hour and 40 minutes is disappointing and tirelessly repetitive to say the least.

Overall, I'd liked to forget about this thing and set my sights toward the much anticipated Think Like a Man Too (slated for a summer release). Ealy, Hart, and Hall will be reprising their roles in the sequel to a guilty pleasure of mine being 2012's original Think Like a Man. These talented actors/actresses just mentioned, could possibly find their way and put this convoluted, superficial mess behind them. I for one, am pulling for Hart. His early comedic work made me a fan. So by that token, let's hope that About Last Night, is his "last" mediocre installment as he moves up Hollywood's power list.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 10, 2014

Blue Jasmine 2013 * * * 1/2 Stars

Blue JasmineDirector: Woody Allen
Year: 2013
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars (Click the rating link to view Cole's on site review)
Cast: Cate Blanchett   

Written by Cole Pollyea

From scene one of Blue Jasmine, I got the notion that this movie was going to be a lot of talking. This dictated that I was going to have to conquer my viewing with a cup of coffee in hand; so I did. Here's the report: Blue Jasmine is a solid entry into this year's Academy Awards. It's an engrossing movie that harbors exceptional characters and an even better cast to bring these characters to life. With all this in mind, I also took note of the fact that it's probably the unhappiest film of the year.

Jasmine—played by Cate Blanchett—is a total mess. She takes Xanax to prevent herself from having nervous breakdowns on a daily basis because she decided lithium wouldn't do the trick. She drinks vodka and martinis at two o'clock in the afternoon, she lies, and she takes advantage of everyone around her to support the image she builds for herself in her head. She comes to San Francisco to stay with her sister and her two kids for awhile until she "gets back on her feet", though she, nor her sister, are sure this will ever happen. But by the tone of the movie, it's clear that this is not all there is to the story, so, while the whole process of this is happening, the movie zooms in on her life years before, when she was married to Hal (played with exuberance by Alec Baldwin), a hotshot businessman whose credibility becomes a risk for his job and family.

This story parallel that the screenplay creates makes for an engaging, worthwhile moviegoing experience. The scenes that depict her relationship with her husband seamlessly flow into present day, which creates a sense of understanding for the main character whose flaws and shortcomings are all a result of her shipwreck of a marriage. There's a gap of time between these linear tellings that are, brilliantly, left to the viewer to depict. We aren't spoon fed the exact happenings and circumstances that made her so unstable, but we have a clue, and, to be sure, sympathy is had. It's not that we like Jasmine, or root for her, but we have an understanding for her that we feel no one else does. That's what makes this motion picture so moving.

On top of that, what comes with the well-crafted film is a cast of seemingly veteran actors that make this a believable, upsettingly realistic movie. Cate Blanchett isn't nominated for an Oscar because of her stand-out performance or ability to take control of the screen. She's nominated for Best Actress because of her mere ability to encompass the dynamic character that is Jasmine. To begin with, she looks the part. Moreover, she commits every small action with even the slightest detail to embrace this character for what she is. In part, this is what makes Blue Jasmine such a convincing movie.

The wonderful thing is, she's not the only one carrying weight; we have Alec Baldwin who gives a lively, incredible performance as Hal. The smooth, quick-to-think nature of his character is brought to life all too well. We start to, as audience members, fall subject to his charisma, well aware of his wrongdoings that Jasmine fell victim to. Then we have Sally Hawkins (who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress), Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K., and Bobby Canavale who contribute their best efforts to spice up this film; that's exactly what they did.

And throughout the proceedings there is a evocative, unique soundtrack that consists of songs like "Blue Moon" from 1934 and "Back O'Town Blues" from the same time. These vintage songs that play over what's happening benefit the screenplay greatly by helping make more vivid what we are feeling as we watch what happens to the characters on-screen. There were a lot of films that came out this Oscar season, and some used music notably well. Take, for example, The Wolf of Wall Street. Others, like Dallas Buyers Club, the opposite. I'm glad to report that this insightful, artistic film is in the former category.

Conclusively, I'd honestly say that Blue Jasmine is one of the best films of the year. However, it's elongated, talkative style of storytelling will most likely turn some viewers off, which is one of the reasons I think it wasn't nominated for Best Picture. With that being said, I'd like to point out that this movie has an admirable maturity about it. There isn't the slightest bit of sugarcoating, and, as a result, this movie isn't superficial in the least bit. 

Written by Cole Pollyea

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ride Along 2014 * 1/2 Stars

Ride Along

Director: Tim Story
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter

In 2012, Tim Story and Kevin Hart collaborated on the compulsively watchable, well casted Think Like A Man. Ride Along (the flick I'm reviewing) is their second stint so you'd think that said actor and director would successfully go two for two. Think again. This surprising, financially well off release, is an abomination of bad. You can tell just by the opening credits sequence, that "Ride" is an early front runner for worst film of 2014. Things open with a cheesy drug deal scene involving Ice Cube's character going undercover. Then what culminates is a shootout between the good guys and the bad guys coupled with slow motion shots/freeze frames to announce everyone who worked on the vehicle (a technique that paints the remaining running time as a joke right off the bat).

Filmed in a quick 35 day shoot, referencing the police drama Training Day (whatever), and containing very mediocre chemistry between the stars in a lame imitation from the buddy cop genre, Ride Along follows the challenged hyperbole Ben Barber (Kevin Hart). He wants to be a full fledged cop, wants to marry his girlfriend (Think Like a Man alum Tika Sumpter as Angela), and ultimately, yearns to be accepted into to the family by his girlfriend's brother (James Payton played defensively and arrogantly by tough guy Ice Cube). Cube's Payton, is a police detective and Barber's girlfriend's only other relative. In order for Barber to get Payton's blessing to marry his sister, Barber has to accompany Payton on you guessed it, a "rriiddee along." Without any character buildup and total disregard for the concept of logic (Cube's character lets Hart's character perform acts as though he were a real policeman when in fact he's not reached that pinnacle yet. His only job is to observe and in the law enforcement world, his participation should never happen), things are set in motion. Eventually, Barber gets in deep and helps Payton infiltrate a master criminal (the nameless yet faceless "Omar").

Ride Along, as putrid as it is, touts itself as an action comedy. Well the action scenes are so incoherent and messy, you can't tell who is shooting at who. Story, known for mostly directing the funny, is a novice here. He sets up car chases and gunfights that come off as vaguely pedestrian. Then there is the aspect of comedy and Ride Along provides almost no earned laughs (I might have chuckled once, that was it). This might sound redundant, but every amusing (or almost amusing) scene in this thing was included in the trailer. If you've seen said trailer but haven't set foot in the theater, don't worry, you aren't missing much.

Oh and I forgot about the actors and director for which I only fault because they agreed to sign up. Why would an upcoming hint of star talent (Hart) and a pretty respectable filmmaker (Story) be okay with the final cut of this ho hum garbage? Furthermore, why would Laurence Fishburne (who looks a little rough here) and John Leguizamo who are decent actors, decide to collect paychecks for something as mind numbingly stupid as this (they play thankless villains who spew inane dialogue and fade in and out of the proceedings)? Then there's Bruce McGill. He has always been an effective supporting player in a countless amount of flicks. Unfortunately, he really phones it in as the token angry/mad police chief. As for Ice Cube, it's just another umpteenth January release for him (that's never a good thing). You know things are bad when he decides to appear in anything that begins the new year (would you consider Are We There Yet and Torque to be classics? Me neither.).

But let's get back to star Kevin Hart. He was so reliably funny and off the wall in Think Like A Man, but has nothing of relevance to say in Ride Along. This script is cliched with clunky, flimsy dialogue that renders him unfunny for pretty much the whole thing. There is only one scene where he gives us a glimpse of why we love him so much as a comedic voice. He saves Ice Cube's character by posing as a drug lord in order to help him escape. Everything else he does seems to be a letdown. I don't think it's all his fault because I know what he's capable of. However, in this movie it's hard to believe that his Ben Barber is able to have a job as a security guard at a high school, get into the police academy even though he can't even fire a gun properly, and actually date a sophisticated woman considering that his character comes off as such a goofball nincompoop. Sadly, Hart's misinterpreted persona and improvisational technique are painful to witness. He gets nothing juicy to bounce off of. He talks fast just like in any other movie. But here he just talks to be heard and you almost feel sorry for him (I put the blame on a combination of four screenwriters for this catastrophe).

Now I never give a movie zero stars because I've heard how hard it is to make one. So I'll give this thing a star and add a half star for effectively using the city of Atlanta as its go-to locale. I've lived in Atlanta and the urban landscape is pretty darn believable here. It doesn't look like anything was filmed in a Hollywood studio (posing as the ATL) or Canada (where production costs are extremely low). But back to my angered, languished criticism. With grating, inept dialogue, characters and situations that aren't believable or plausible, and good actors who play those characters and dent their reputations in the process, Ride Along is cinematic proof that Thanksgiving comes early in 2014. Translation: this movie is one big, giant turkey. It's a "ride" you would never want to get on.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fruitvale Station 2013 * * * 1/2 Stars

Fruitvale StationDirector: Ryan Coogler
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer

With confident, fearless direction by newcomer Ryan Coogler and a charismatic performance by Friday Night Lights alum Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station is a somewhat overlooked film that needs to be reckoned with. It is based on a true story told in 2008 of one Oscar Grant. He was an unemployed, drug dealing, doting father who on the last day of his life, decided to start from scratch and become a better person. Unfortunately and with great tragedy, he gets shot and killed by an Oakland police officer on New Year's Eve. This happening, which seemed accidental and overwrought, was committed on a subway stop carrying the same name as the aforementioned title of this harrowing, Cannes Festival vehicle (the one I'm reviewing).

"Station", taking place during a one day period, is short and to the point. At less than ninety minutes, things unfold and end in the most conventional way possible. As powerful and naturalistic as it is, I only wish that the proceedings lasted a little bit longer. I wanted the outcomes of the guilty police officers involved, to pan out. I wanted to get the family's point of view after a possibly accidental hate crime was committed, and I ultimately wanted more closure in general (as opposed to some ending credit titles explaining every one's eventual plight). Now don't get me wrong, I still think that Fruitvale Station is an excellent medium of non-fiction exploitation. I especially enjoyed the real life sequence at its conclusion showing the actual characters mourning the life of Grant (in a yearly ceremony and tribute).  But what kept me from giving this thing the highest accolade possible was the length. It would've helped if an extra 20-25 minutes of running time was tacked on. Then what you'd have would be a full blown masterpiece. What's on screen kinda echoes a sort of Rodney King-like foretelling where the actual events that occurred, triggered protests and insight from the community. Again, those images are not really shown during the film (there is only documentation of what happened in the closing credits). If a few extra scenes were added, "Station" as a movie, could have formed an even fiercer trajectory plan.

Minor flaws aside, Coogler who I mentioned earlier, has an extreme prowess for such a rookie embattled director. He carries you masterfully through scenes that involve Grant's fateful day. His storytelling technique involves the act of showing various cell phone calls and text messages in their exact wording on screen. There is even a "caught on camera" snippet of what really happened (it's at the beginning and was recorded by I guess, some one's iPhone). Also, there is one flashback sequence involving Oscar's past incarceration. And throughout, there are thoughtful, tender moments of him embracing his young daughter's needs and wants.

As an Audience Award winner at the 2013 Sundance film festival, "Station" might be too small scale to take over the Academy. However, there is never a false note involving the pacing, the acting, and the genuine authenticity of Oakland, California's locality (I've never been to Northern California but after viewing this film, I almost felt like I was actually inhabiting its surroundings).

Michael B. Jordan who takes on the title role, has an uncanny level of screen presence here. His actions project a sincere likability, a misunderstood mindset, and a twinkle in his eye (that of a future movie star). His character's most pivotal scene involves the discarding of a huge bag of pot (into the San Francisco Bay) that he was planning to sell to make ends meet. He wants to do things the right way, start fresh, and rise to an impressionable status. When he loses his life in "Station" (at a ripe 22 years old), the feeling stays with you (as the viewer) and haunts you long after you take it in.

Overall, I can't think of a release in 2013, that's more confident, more sure of itself, and more brilliant in its casting. Octavia Spencer is a powerhouse playing the part of Grant's mother and Melonie Diaz is sympathetic as his forgiving girlfriend. Yes it's true that Fruitvale Station may have been passed up at this year's Oscars. But it has been praised by almost every critic and filmmaker alike (Spike Lee hailed it as the best film of the year). So now that it's on DVD, check out this mature, masterful debut from a born auteur like Coogler. It's a true story adaptation that pretty much gets it right.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Her 2013 * * * 1/2 Stars

HerDirector: Spike Jonze
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars (Click on rating link to check out Cole's on site review)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara

Written by Cole Pollyea

It's important to have insightful, fearless, innovative, and intelligent filmmakers like Spike Jonze in today's cinematic industry. Many of our modernistic ways haven't yet been put into perspective on film, but director Jonze does just that and more in his 2014 Best Picture nominee, Her.

Her confidently throws us into the life of Theodore Twombly, a lonely man who works at a company that composes personal letters for people that can't or won't. He spends his nights restless and empty, and his days stuck in reality. This all changes when he becomes infatuated with the newest, highly futuristic OS1, a technology that communicates like a human, and starts to—theoretically—become one.

Theodore is flawlessly executed by Joaquin Phoenix, who fits the role like a glove. His facial expressions, gestures, and the way by which he delivers dialogue is quiet, genuine, heartfelt, and incredibly powerful. There are pivotal scenes in the movie that couldn't have been expressed through any other actor. It feels like Jonze is the painter and Phoenix is the brush; these two were meant to work together to bring this movie to life, and the result is something to marvel at.

Amy Adams, in her third movie of the year, has proven that any director who dare cast her is going to get his/her money's worth. She has the admirable ability to embody any given role in the wide spectrum that is film. Earlier this year, she played Lois Lane in Man of Steel with exuberance. Later on, she took on the job of American Hustle—which I believe she is going to receive an Academy Award for—and here, she plays Amy, a documentary filmmaker whose relationship with Theodore isn't really divulged and made important until the last half hour or so of the movie comes around. This last portion of the movie is perhaps the most tender; it's about then when the writing, performances, cinematography, and score all come together like members of an ensemble to bring home the point that the filmmaker was attempting to make. It's at this point in the film that Adams kicks into high gear, and creates a character whose self-realization is both touching and awing. In short, I know for certain that her role in Her didn't consume as much screen time as her role in American Hustle did. I can't say for certain, though, for which performance I'd applaud the talented Ms. Adams for more.

There's a level of appreciation that has to be had for a writer who incorporates fashion statements from the past to add a layer of intelligence to a futuristic tale. Part of the reason why this film works so well is because of what we, the audience, see on-screen. Considering that he wears high-waisted trousers and collarless shirts, Joaquin Phoenix looks as comfortable as can be on screen in front of the beautiful filming site of Los Angeles. Moreover, the gracefulness of the intimate camerawork benefits every other artistic characteristic of this movie (including the musical score). These aspects are a lot to take in at once. But as one will discover, this movie appeals to all senses, and it's obvious that Jonze has a good grasp on, and awareness of, all of this. It's an atmospheric movie, and I can honestly say that there were few times when the filmmaker didn't have the grip that he should have had on me.

With all of that being said, it's important to put on the table that I don't believe Her is going to win Best Picture. It's not the Academy's type of film; it's a precocious, sensitive satire that doesn't beg for attention. It's not the meaty, historically rich film that 12 Years A Slave is. However, this is something that I, as a film lover and maturing human being, am going to revisit as the years go by, as it is a movie of incredible wisdom that offers insight into human emotion and capability. It is the most exquisite, beautiful motion picture that has come along in a long time.

Written by Cole Pollyea