Now You See Me (2013)

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Directed By: Louis Leterrier

Written By: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt 

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman

Now you don’t…

Four of the nation’s greatest magicians (Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, Fisher) are brought together by an unknown person, and instructed to do 3 grand shows. They get financial backing from a multi-millionaire insurance company owner (Caine), and before the film is 20 minutes in, they are doing their first sold-out  show in Las Vegas. In this first show, they, “rob,” a bank using their magician skills. Don’t worry: This movie does not actually believe in magic, well not really at least. The film then goes on a roller coaster ride through the story of the 4 magicians, the FBI crew (Ruffalo, Laurent) that tries to stop them, and one magic debunker (the one and only Morgan Freeman).

Louis Leterrier direction brings a fresh, new feeling to this story that shares those qualities. His visual crafting is part of what draws viewers in for the 115 minute ride. Right from the beginning, Leterrier knows what direction he wants to take the film. Having a vision as a director is imperative to critical success of a film. Of course director’s need far more than vision, but that is one aspect that Louis Leterrier thrives in capturing. His flaws lie in the action sequences, but fortunately, we don’t see too much of those.

The trio of writers, find success in the basic plot line, but as the plot begins to develop, viewers will see their flaws. The attempt to be too witty and tricky is found far too often, especially in the mystery/thriller genre. While Now You See Me is no exemption, it’s strengths out weigh its weaknesses in writing department. The film struggles with knowing when to stop, and ends up making far too many twists for its own plot. The script, however; can be very witty, and at times the motor behind the film.

Highly talented actor, Jesse Eisenberg, in Now You See Me

Highly talented actor, Jesse Eisenberg, in Now You See Me

The cast, not surprisingly, is the strongest aspect of the film. The film is flowing with some of my personal favorite actors including Eisenberg, Harrelson, Freeman, and Caine. The entire cast fulfills their roles perfectly. Without this entire cast, driven by Jesse Eisenberg, the film would inevitably drown in its own flaws. The cast turns a mediocre film into a good film, and that is how it always should be. In this modern day, there is no excuse for poor acting. Casting directors have enough people to choose from. Oh, and more quality roles for Jesse Eisenberg, anyone? When Jesse is on, he might be my favorite young actor in the business.

Overall, Now You See Me will thoroughly entertain its viewers, and will leave them feeling as if it was $12 well spent. That is given that these viewers recognize that it is May, and entertainment is simply all you can ask for. The film’s pros ultimately outweigh its cons, and eh, who doesn’t love a little bit of magic?

IMDb: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 47%

Metacritic: 50/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 73/100

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Iron Man 3 (2013)

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Directed By: Shane Black

Written By: Drew Pearce and Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle

He’s back.. and with a heart (pun intended).

The third installment in the Iron Man series does not provide much variation from the other two. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is all over the place in this one. At one point he is the same, cocky, arrogant, lovable guy that we’ve seen in the previous films (especially the first), but in the very next scene he is breaking into full on anxiety attacks. Stark and Pepper Potts (Paltrow) are now in a committed relationship, which takes away from any random Tony Stark one-night-stands (unless there’s a flashback..). Who’s the villan? Well, there’s a new terrorist in town that fans of the comic book will know that goes by The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), and viewers will be shocked when they get to meet him. There’s also an unappreciated villainous mastermind in Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) that comes in to shake things up. Iron Man 3 has one of the better superhero plots, but its lack of execution is where the problem lies.

Would you really trust a relatively unknown director with your $200 million? Marvel did, and it did not pay off. There are moments in Iron Man 3 that had great written potential (i.e. plane rescue scene), but the execution was flawed. The only fault that can attribute to this is the director. My only advice to Marvel can be to get some more experienced people working on their projects. Or is it possible that no acclaimed director wants to take up a film with so much hype surrounding it? Is that why The Dark Knight trilogy was so successful? This is the only reason this reviewer can provide for Marvel’s decision.

With that being said, the writing was far from perfect. Can someone please explain to me why for two movies in a row, the Iron Man movies have not featured very much Iron Man? Until viewers meet The Mandarin, he is a fascinating character, but his comical entrance is ultimately disappointing. Writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black rely too heavily on cheesy one-liners. At the end (or during) every “exciting” scene there is an unnecessary one-liner given by Tony Stark or sometimes Pepper Potts.

Stark and Potts (Downey Jr. and Paltrow) at the Paris premiere of Iron Man 3.

Stark and Potts (Downey Jr. and Paltrow) at the Paris premiere of Iron Man 3.

Stark is not the same cocky piece of shit that we’re used to, and I miss that. I have no problem with character advancement, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss the old Stark. The Stark from this scene is what I crave, and while you get glimpses of him, I wonder if he will ever return. Robert Downey Jr. delivers another steller performance as always, but he fits the repetitive feel of the movie. He does not add anything new to Stark, and simply delivers his lines in the way he always had. The performances in this action flick are all up to par, but one new man must be noted. Guy Pearce adds so much to Iron Man 3. Perhaps I like him because he is the only taste of variation found in Iron Man 3. Whatever the reason, his performance in Iron Man 3 is the highlight of the film, and it is good to see Guy Pearce back in a leading role.

I might just be overly harsh on Iron Man 3. It was light years better than the second film, so maybe I’m just sick of it. Not just Tony Stark. Maybe I’m sick of Marvel. The Avengers (great film) might have just been the end for me. Whether it is Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America infront of the camera, every scene begins to feel the same. Is it overkill? At the end of the day, every movie will entertain viewers and everyone will keep seeing them. And if we all keep seeing them… they’ll just keep throwing them out there. Whether or not that is a bad thing depends on the viewer.

Overall, I’m not dying to see Stark or his suit(s) anytime soon. Iron Man 3 does not hurt the marvel series in any way, but it does not add anything new to it either.

IMDb: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 77/100

Metacritic: 62/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 71/100 (Expectation: 75/100)

Series Roundup: With every new addition, I like to rank every film in the series from Best to Worst:

1. Iron Man

2. Iron Man 3

3. Iron Man 2

Jackie Brown (1997)

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Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, and Robert De Niro

Nominated for 1 Academy Award (Supporting Actor)

The unquestionably strange follow-up to one of the greatest films of all time, Pulp Fiction, is Jackie Brown. A heist thriller that features 6 people all competing for a $500,000 sum. The rightful owner of the cash is Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson), an illegal arms dealer that has his money kept in a deposit box in Mexico. Brining money back from Mexico is difficult for a criminal, which is where a flight attendant at a Mexican airline, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), comes in. After she is stopped by a noble police officer (Michael Keaton), she agrees to help the police catch Ordell in return for keeping her job as a flight attendant. After her release from prison, she meets a bail bondsman on the verge of retirement (Robert Forster), who immediately falls into the arms of Jackie’s plan. A secretly intelligent beach bunny that lives with Ordell in Harmossa Beach (Bridget Fonda) makes her attempts at the cash. The most ambiguous character in the film, is Louis, a fresh-out-the-joint bank robber, who agrees to help Ordell get his cash back.

Maybe it was the reviews that called the film “slow paced” and “a disappointment”, or maybe I was afraid of this film changing my view on Quentin Tarantino as one of my favorite directors of all time. Whatever the reason was, Jackie Brown was one of the two Tarantino movies that I had not seen (the other being Death Proof). My expectations were still relatively high, but I was not expecting it to be up to the standards that I have grown to expect when I see a Quentin Tarantino film.

While Jackie Brown does have its issues, its slow-paced nature is not one of them. If its slow-paced nature showed viewers anything, it was that Quentin Tarantino has the potential to craft a sophisticated film. Instead of Tarantino pounding every scene with more action, he crafts every scene, which leads to a thrilling conclusion. There are signs of sophistication in all of Quentin’s films that took place before and after the release of Jackie Brown, but his ability to craft the story of Jackie Brown makes his film making intelligence shine.

The biggest flaw that I found with Jackie Brown was its lack of ambition. Tarantino runs on ambition.. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1/2, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained are some of the most ambitious films of the modern era. I don’t know what happend with Jackie Brown, but the film struggles to mean anything. It’s hard to get into a film when it doesn’t have the audacity to believe the story that was written for it. It’s difficult to put a finger on who to blame for this flaw. Naturally, viewers would like to blame the writer/director for a less ambitious film; however, this is not always the case. A lack of ambition falls upon the shoulders of every person involved.

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Pam Grier as Jackie Brown

The performances in Jackie Brown are decent at best. Pam Grier is passionate and convincing in the lead role as Jackie Brown. Despite being one of the greatest actors of all time, Robert De Niro’s character is oddly acted, which makes the viewer question the purpose of his character until the very end. Yeah he’s an asshole and by far one of the most unlikable actors in the business, but Samuel L. Jackson’s acting abilities are nothing short of fantastic. With that being said, Ordell (Jackson’s character) is poorly written making it difficult to see Jackson’s strong performance. Mark Dargus (Michael Keaton’s character) is awfully written, and poorly acted. The scenes that feature Officer Dargus are by far the weakest in the film. “Bridget Fonda, your entire job is to get high and look hot,” said Quentin Tarantino, “Oh, and do you have a problem going doggy style in the kitchen with Robert De Niro?”

“As long as this will give me a career for the next 15 years,” replied Bridget. We all know that never happened. Melanie (Fonda’s character) lacks interest and development. Her character is meant to be unpredictable, but she only ends up being uninteresting. As a reviewer, I chose to save the best for last.. hats off to Robert Forster. He does wonders for this film that struggles in the acting performance. Unlike the awful scenes with Keaton, the scenes with Forrester are the highlights of the film.

Overall, Jackie Brown is one of the worst efforts that Quentin Tarantino has ever brought forth, but it’s still pretty damn good. It’s a fun crime thriller, but I think viewers expect more from Quentin Tarantino than just, “fun”.

IMDb: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 86/100

Metacritic: 64/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 79/100

42 (2013)

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Written and Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, and Nicole Beharie

I got the privilege of going to an advanced screening of 42, and boy was it a blast. There is nothing greater than a room full of American cinema lovers watching a film about an American hero. I have been to quite a few screenings, and if you ever get the opportunity to go to one, I would highly recommend it. The people you are with and the environment that surrounds you make the entire viewing experience more enjoyable.

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Writer/Director Brian Helgeland working with actor Chadwick Boseman

There is not much need for a prologue as this film is simply the story of Jackie Robinson. The good news is that the film does not vary away from it being “the Jackie Robinson story”. With movies that are based upon well-known true stories, filmmakers often choose to write a substory of the main event instead of just showing the main event itself. Fortunately, the filmmakers chose not to do so, and 42 gives the viewer what it promises.

Writer/Director Brian Helgeland is a veteran in the writing world with some of his credits including Mystic River, Man on Fire, Green Zone, Robin Hood, and L.A. Confidential for which he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. As for his directing, he is relatively unknown. The only two semi-major directing titles that he has had are Payback (1999) and A Knight’s Tale (2001). With those films being 14 and 12 years ago,he felt that it was his time to go back to sitting in the director’s chair. With his experience in writing and lack of experience in directing viewers would assume that the writing would outweigh the directing.. they would be wrong. His directing is solid and at times beautiful, but his writing is often has a great lack of depth. It’s a movie you could watch while on Facebook or texting your girlfriend due to there being no complexity behind the script. The writing is at times very black and white (no pun intended) and lacks the thought that great films have.

Jackie Robinson with his wife (Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie)

Jackie and Rachel Robinson (Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie)

The performances by the immediate cast are brilliant. I do not always think Harrison Ford’s acting is worthy of all the hype that it gets; however, his performance in 42 is breathtaking. The filmmakers took a bold risk choosing to cast Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, and it did pay off. The casting director clearly chose the person that was best fitted for the job instead of going for a more well-known actor, and kudos to them for that. Nicole Beharie was the greatest surprise of this film. She was emotionally moving as well as lighthearted when necessary. The three leading roles that are previously mentioned are all beautiful performances; however, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. The supporting cast (excluding Andre Holland) are all weak, and are even hard to watch at times. It is clear that these supporting actors are “pretending” to be characters instead of actually becoming characters.

It’s always great to get a reminder of the hell that African Americans went through only 60 years ago, and 42 does a great job of displaying that reminder. They stuck to the basics, and did not allow things to get too complicated. The key flaw with 42, was the cheesiness. It falls victim too a few too many sports movie stereotypes. The kid with the dream, the villainous naysayer, and just about every other sports cliche is visible in the film. As usual the acting begins to suck when the script turns into a cliche. There are scenes that are supposed to be heart-warming, but they end up being hard to watch.

42 can be put on the same level as films with similar stories (Coach Carter, Remember the Titans, The Express, etc.). This is not awful news, but viewers were hoping for more. Take 42 with the cheese that comes on it, don’t expect to think a lot, and appreciate it’s ability to tell a classic story.

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 72/100

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

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Directed By: Derek Cianfrance 

Written By: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ryan Gosling, Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan, and Ray Liotta

My hopes were very high when I went to see The Place Beyond the Pines. In fact, I was so excited about this film that I went to a matinee showing just hours after returning to Los Angeles from vacation. Let’s just say that I was disappointed…

Do not be fooled by the trailer.. it is very misleading. The film is divided into 3 acts. The trailer gives the viewer the premise for the first act and part of the second act; however, there is no hint of the third act seen in the trailer. There is no problem with a trailer not wanting to give away too much of the plot, but there needs to be some evidence of what you will get when you watch the whole movie (not just the first half). The movies starts out just as the trailer suggests with Luke (Ryan Gosling) as a motorcycle stunt driver that finds out he has a son with a woman that he previously had a fling with (Eva Mendes). In order to provide for his newly discovered son, Luke begins robbing banks, which ultimately leads him to a rookie police officer named Avery (Bradley Cooper). That’s the prologue for the first two acts.  The third and final act takes place fifteen years later. This act is basically about Luke and Avery’s sons when they go to high school, and how their paths intertwine.

The first problem I encountered with The Place Beyond the Pines was the lack of character development. There is no climax in the film because every character is seen in their climax, but characters are not shown at any other time. While this can be entertaining, it also leaves you sitting there watching the action without caring about any of the characters.  This happens with the first character, Luke, and continues as a pattern throughout the whole film.

The key issue that arises is the amount of content.. there is way too much. The story is actually very strong, but with this amount of quality content, filmmakers should not try to cram it into a 2 hour and 30 minute film. It would have been much better suited as a 6-8 episode miniseries. This would have allowed for character development as well as more detail and better dialogue in each scene. Instead the film feels rushed and overly rich with content. The story is so all over the place that by the time you get to the third act, you begin to check your watch to see when the madness will end.

Don’t take the negativity too harshly as ‘Pines’ definitely has its strengths. The performances are strong by everyone with Ryan Gosling being especially strong just as he was in Drive. Ray Liotta is convincingly intimidating in his role as a corrupt high-powered police official. Bradley Cooper is not at his strongest, but still manages to prove that he is a legitimate actor both dramatically and comedically. Eva Mendes is surprisingly convincing in her role, and does a great job as the only leading female. Dane DeHaan is full of talent, and expect to start seeing him more and more.

Overall, the story is highly entertaining and starts out very strong, but ultimately ends up way too off track for its own good. Don’t allow the deceptive trailer to fool you. For those of us that thought we were getting a Best Picture caliber film at the beginning of April were wrong, but if you rent this on a Wednesday night, I’m sure that you won’t be disappointed. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not the masterpiece that it was expected to be.

IMDb: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 75/100

Metacritic: 64/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 75/100 (expectation 90/100)

District 9 (2009)

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Directed By: Neil Blomkamp 

Written By: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell 

Starring: Sharlto Copley 

Nominated for 4 (won 0) Academy Awards (Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, and Visual Effects)

As I was going through the list of every Best Picture nominee, I stumbled upon a film that has been towards the top of my watch list for a long time.. District 9.

20 years ago, an alien ship came to a stop over the city of Johannesburg. Different from most alien related films, District 9 does not take place during the invasion. For a change, the humans are actually in control of the aliens. Just those two points previously mentioned already set District 9 far apart from just about every other alien movie, but just because they like being different, part of the film is done as a mockumentary. I will not go into farther detail about the film because the best thing about District 9 is the constant twists and turns throughout the film.

Chances are that you do not recognize any of the names listed under the poster (neither did I); therefore, one of the key goals of the creator, Neill Blomkamp, was to get a “big name” on board with the project. That “big name” ended up being the one and only Peter Jackson. I am a big fan of just about anything that Mr. Peter Jackson touches, and District 9 is not an exception. Peter Jackson’s name on the poster is an instant money maker, but the person that made this film great was not Jackson himself. It was writer/director Neill Blomkamp. District 9 has apparently been his baby ever since he graduated from film school in 1998, and that reflects clearly in the film. Every detail in District 9 seems like it was clearly thought out. District 9 has established Neill Blomkamp, at least in my opinion, as one of the best new writer/directors.

The performances in District 9 are decent at best, but this is a film that does not require strong acting. After all, since when do we go see sci-fi movies for the performances? The effects were some of the most convincing that I’ve ever seen, and the beauty of those effects take your mind off of the acting. Sharlto Copley was solid in his role, but the supporting cast was extremely mediocre.

My main issue with District 9 was the dialogue. This is tricky because its writing is both its strength and weakness. The basic premise behind District 9 is fantastic; however, the dialogue is remarkably cliche. I found myself knowing what the character would say before he said it. With that being said, do we really go to see a sci-fi movie if we’re expecting extremely well-written dialogue? The Best Adapted Screenplay nomination must have been for the idea behind the movie, and not the dialogue itself.

The racism undertone that the movie has is a great touch to the film. Also, it was a welcoming change to cinema seeing a film set in Johannesburg and hearing a different accent than we’re used to. Blomkamp does a great job of paying homage to the city that he grew up in. The mockumentary style of filmmaking will be disliked by some viewers, but to me it was once again a pleasant change to the sci-fi genre.

Overall, District 9 is a modern science fiction classic that will not be soon forgotten.

IMDb: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91/100

Metacritic: 81/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 81/100

Later this year will be Elysium starring Matt Damon and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Mark your calendars for August 9th because this is a film that viewers should get very excited about.

United 93 (2006)

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Directed and Written by: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Many Various Actors

Nominated for 2 Academy Awards (Direction and Film Editing)

United 93

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked. The first two planes hit each of the World Trade Center’s. The next plane hit the Pentagon. United 93 tells the heroic story of the fourth plane, which crashed in a field 170 miles away from Washington DC. Passengers on this flight discovered their fate through phone calls to their families that told them details about the fate of the other 3 planes. United 93 does more than just tell the story of the fourth plane, but also takes you inside the control center’s and shows you how chaotic this day really was for everyone involved.

Of course with any film like this, there is a lot of hate surrounding the story. I took the time to find some negative reviews, and the points that these reviewers make are extremely insensible and moronic. The details that they point out are minor and do not present any evidence to disprove what the film discusses. 9/11 is a very difficult topic because no one really knows what happend inside the planes; therefore, forcing film makers to improvise on the events that occurred. United 93 does a great job of keeping the story understated and believable. The main negative comments that I see are, “too soon” and, “no one wants to watch heros die right after performing a life saving act”. Have we as humans become too caught up in the fiction that runs our world? Can we not face the bitter reality of the world that we live in?

Best Director nominee Paul Greengrass

Best Director nominee Paul Greengrass

Congratulations to Paul Greengrass for taking a VERY sensitive topic, and doing it in a way that was muted and, in a sense, relatable. The viewer finds it easy to put himself in the shoes of the passengers, which is very difficult seeming most of us have never been on a hijacked plane before. The academy did a great job of giving Greengrass his nomination, but not nominating the film itself (wasn’t deserving that year).

Greengrass’ use of unknown actors is done so that the film is not full of all the Hollywood crap that we see far too frequently. Just imagine if we had Brad Pitt rebelling against terrorists on United Airlines Flight 93, it simply would not seem right. The performances given by generally unknown actors are a highlight of the film. Every actor has a limited amount of screen time and the characters do a great job of making all 111 minutes count.

While the understatement of the film was necessary due to the time that this film was made (less than 5 years after 9/11), it is the flaw of the movie. You miss out on seeing the true tragedy of 9/11. 9/11 is simply too alive in peoples’ minds for a real film to be made about the subject.

Overall, United 93 was a very difficult film to make, and Paul Greengrass does a very good job of doing so.

IMDb: 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91/100

Metacritic: 90/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 77/100