Her (2013)

After a long break, I’ve acquired some free time and am happy to be back to writing reviews. Due to the appropriateness of the season, the next reviews will be on the nominees for Best Picture. Starting with Her…

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Her

Written and Directed by: Spike Jonze

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy AdamsScarlett Johansson

All the greatest filmmakers are those that craft their films as though the film is their child. Spike Jonze has the potential to go down as one of the top filmmakers of his generation, and Her was a step in that direction. The concept of love is something that is explored far too often in movies and television, which makes the basic concept of Her appear to be a drag on paper. It just took one look at the trailer to make me see the concept in a whole new light. Jonze showed a stunning ability to work with his actors, and got performances that fit the tone of the film. He showed his true leadership by making the decision to cut the original voice of Samantha (recorded by Samantha Morton) and replace it with Scarlett Johanson’s voice. Also, cutting a big name actor like Chirs Cooper shows that he will not allow anyone to get in the way of his vision (IMDb trivia)

MV5BMTYxMTEwODk5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDkwNjM3MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Joaquin Phoenix, coming off of his game-changing performance in The Master, proves once again how lucky the film industry was to get him back as an actor. This performance, one of the best of his career, came with an extra level of difficulty due to the fact that half of the films scenes were filmed with him talking to someone that does not actually exist. The film would not have worked without an incredible performance out of Joaquin. The other actors feed off of the tone that Joaquin sets, which leads to stunning performances from everyone involved.

Her is the best love story to hit the screens in a long time. I dare anyone that is put off by the premise to go see the film and tell me that you still don’t understand how a man can fall in love with an operating system.

Best Picture Reviews: 87/100

White House Down (2013)

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Directed By: Roland Emmerich

Written By: James Vanderbilt

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal,  Joey King, James Woods, Jason Clarke, and Richard Jenkins

The White House is under attack. And no… It’s not Arabs, which the movie takes a couple pokes at. Readers might be thinking: Didn’t this movie come out in March? Well, yes it kind of did. The March release was Olympus Has Fallen, but the differences between the two do not outweigh the overwhelming similarities. Regardless of the remarkable similarities between the two, they are two of the action movies that Hollywood has thrown at us during the first half of this year. The premise does not need to stretch much beyond that; however, as the simple storyline is that a bunch of  (white) American haters have attacked the White House seeking revenge on the entire nation.

Writer James Vanderbilt (writer of The Amazing Spiderman) did one thing very right with White House Down, he did not allow the story to take itself too seriously. With a very touchy subject such as terrorism, it is very difficult to find a balance between what is acceptable and what is not. Many would argue that a movie that involves a terrorist attack on the president should never be made. This reviewer’s argument would be that it can be made, but only as long as it takes itself with a punch in the should now and again. The film is full of cheesy one-liners and unrealistic scenarios, which would be a flaw for most films, but it actually adds to the entertainment value of White House Down. The script even takes pokes at some classic White House legends, which is highly comical in and of itself. The unrealistic action scenes and the remarkably convenient timing also adds to the fun of the film. My hat goes off to Mr. Vanderbilt for taking a nearly impossible topic, and making it immensely entertaining.

Let's see how much fun the CGI guys over at Sony can have with this bad boy...

Let’s see how much fun the CGI guys over at Sony can have with this bad boy…

The key thing that viewers need to see with White House Down was that it was never trying to get your vote for best action story or most realistic action thriller. It knew its place, which was what I seemed to struggle with when I reviewed Fast & Furious 6 on Tuesday. I think some action movies try too hard to please everyone. White House Down knew what it was going for, and it achieved its goal quite well.

Director, Ronald Emmerich, does a great job of continuing James Vanderbilt’s vision. He crafts the action scenes, and leaves it to his visual effects buddies to make the magic happen. He takes a liberty in showing viewers the inside of the White House, while not allowing the artifacts to conflict with his vision.

White House Down might be the movie that officially establishes Channing Tatum as an A-Lister. His name is quickly going around worldwide, and I have to be honest in saying that he’s not half bad. Jamie Foxx is completely unconvincing as the leader of a nation, but he manages to have fun with his role. The villan’s are pretty spot on with their performances, and present a hatable very well.

Perhaps I’m being overly generous to White House Down because I walked into it, and expected the worst. I was genuinely entertained by an action movie with a decent length running time (131 min), and did not check my watch once.

Overall, viewers need to enter White House Down with one goal: to be entertained. If viewers begin to attempt to think through all the illogical plot point in the story, they will not have a good time. Take it for the fun ride that it is, and accept it for what it is. White House Down did all that I could have expected for a mid-summer release, but nothing more.

Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

Metacritic: 52/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 65/100

Mud (2013)

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Directed and Written By: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon

Well that was a hell of a lot more than just a coming of age story…

Taking place just off the Mississippi river in Arkansas, Mud is a story told through the eyes of two 14-year-old boys (Sheridan and Lofland). One day when they are exploring an island that is conveniently only inhabited by one man that is oddly known by everybody as Mud (McConaughey). Even the man that raised him (Shepard) only knows him as Mud.. strange. Well then again one of the main characters is named Neckbone, so I guess that’s just what they do in Arkansas. Mud is a wanted murderer that is being hunted by both the police and a group of bounty hunters. Mud follows his plans of pursuing his love, Juniper (Witherspoon), and sends the boys to deliver messages for him. I’ll stop myself there to prevent from giving away too much of the film, but Mud is one hell of an Indie.

Coming from the director of Take Shelter, I was anticipating quite a lot out of Mud. The story sounded great, it was accepted into Cannes, and it starred one of todays’ biggest actors: Mud had everything going for it. Jeff Nichols wrote a powerful script. From what I’ve heard, there was hardly any modifications from the rough draft to the script used during filming. This shows a director with a vision, which is something that viewers should always appreciate. A writer/director with his confidence is a beautiful thing. While there are plot holes that can be found inside Mud, the writing is fantastic for it being only his 3rd directoral effort. We saw it with Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild last year, and we are seeing with Jeff Nichols’ Mud this year. Sundance has gotten two of the best young filmmakers the last two years, and if this is things are going then we have a bright future for cinema. Nichols’ writing/directing shows confidence, but whether or not it pays off is a matter of opinion. Personally I loved the way he went with Mud.

The Brains Behind 'Mud' in order from left to right: Jacob Lofland, Jeff Nichols, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, and Tye Sheridan

The Brains Behind ‘Mud’ in order from left to right: Jacob Lofland, Jeff Nichols, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, and Tye Sheridan

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have jumped on the McConaughey bandwagon. His acting is great, and I appreciate that he now takes roles that speak to him instead of roles that will make him money. He has identified that his Rom-Com days are over, and he will now do the dramatic acting that he always wanted to do. After all, he’s pretty damn good at it. His performance in Mud makes me appreciate him even more. After seeing the film, I would not want anyone else to play Mud.

Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are both performances worthy of sharing screen time with McConaughey. Similar to Nichols and Zeilin in directing: Quvenzhane Wallis and these two boys show tremendous potential in front of the camera.

When I got word of Reese Witherspoon’s involvement, I was skeptical to say the least. I don’t like her as a person after reading about her arrest last month, and I think her acting is mediocre at best. She does not have enough screen time to have much effect on the movie, but for her minor role she gives an above average performance. It’s also a flaw in the script that such a major part of the story receives not attention at all. The viewer struggles to care about Juniper, and the girl that is being fought for just comes across as a hot mess.

The writing had a few too many loose ends for my taste, and the ending felt rushed and ultimately underwhelming. I commend Jeff Nichols for his ambition, but his writing could have been a bit better. The script is incredible for almost all of the film, but the ending does get scrappy. The good thing is that the movie fails to give you the Hollywood treatment, and leaves the viewer with a satisfying, but believable conclusion.

Overall, Mud is the best 2013 release so far, and it will not waste viewers time. Mud is a beautifully crafted film, and it is the first movie this year that sparks any Oscar hopes. While an April release is unlikely to receive recognition, I would not be surprised to see something for McConaughey and maybe, just maybe, a Best Picture nod. It’s a long shot, but expect to hear Mud’s name thrown around come January 2014. It’s a coming of age film that goes far beyond what the genre suggests. Mud has something for everyone, and should be seen by everyone.

IMDb: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 98/100 😀

Metactic: 76/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 82/100

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)