Sunday, January 12, 2014

Post-Holiday Movie Wrapup

When I left work for the holidays, I made a plan to try and see an average of 1 movie for the 12 days I was off. It took 3 movies on NYE day and seeing one after a 2 day stint back at work (I count it because we went to see it while on holidays. but the machines at the theatre were broken), but I got it done. Can't remember the exact order I saw them, so I'm just going to go alphabetical.

American Hustle (2013)
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence

I went into this movie without knowing too much about it. In fact, now that I have no cable (and the commercials that come with that), that's mostly how I enter movies these days. If you're in the same boat I was heading in, here's the gist of it: an FBI agent uses two small-time con artists in an attempt trap some high-ranking government officials, but ends up having the tables turned on him.

Jeremy Renner is great as the New Jersey Governor (or young Joe Pesci?); Jennifer Lawrence is decent as the con-man's wife; Amy Adams is good as the con girl that plays a bunch of sides; Bradley Cooper holds his own as the FBI agent and Christian Bale is excellent as the con man. It all comes together into a pretty good movie. I'm sure it will be in the Oscar field, but I don't personally think it's the best in any field except maybe Bale for best actor. The movie came together in a fun way and Bale was great, so I'll give this a 7.75/10 (maybe 8)

Captain Phillips (2013)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

This is the story of Captain Richard Philips and his cargo ship that gets hijacked by Somali pirates. He and his crew put forth a heroic effort to stay alive, which results in the safety of the crew, but extreme peril for Captain Phillips. The coast guard and Navy SWAT get involved and there's a small B-story about trying to deal with the situation without violence. I think a few older actors are trying to make a push for an Oscar (McConaughey for sure, Hanks seems to want another one). Hanks did a lovely job in this one and Abdi was great as well. I didn't feel 100% emotionally drawn into the movie, but it was still good. I'll go 7.25/10

Fruitvale Station (2013)
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz

This one was a heart breaker. Based on a true story, this tells the story of a young man who has done jail time and doesn't seem to be all that changed when he gets out. The movie takes place from new years eve through new years day as he has flashbacks of his troubled life and decides to make a change. As he is en route to his new years plans, the subway stops and his past catches up with him, the police racially profile him and it ends badly.

This was an emotionally gripping piece with excellent acting from Jordan. It makes me sad to know that racial profiling is still a thing, but it's important to know about it as long as it does. I thought this one was great, though I don't think it will get serious Oscar consideration. 8.25/10

Heartbeats (2010)
Starring: Monia Chokki, Niels Schneider, Xavier Dolan

This is an interesting story of two friends (a straight lady and a homosexual man) that fall in love with the same easy-going guy. The original french title seems to make more sense (Les Amours Imaginaires). There were some great dynamics between the characters as they each tried to keep the guy for themselves. The love interest has no interest in being tied down and the result is every relationship becoming frayed, before the two friends eventually return to friendship in their hatred against the guy that spurned them.

An interesting, if not entirely original, forlorn love story told in the french language. I'll give it a 7/10

The History of Future Folk (2012)
Starring: Nils d'Aulaire, Jay Klaitz

This one was very interesting. Bill is a married man who plays solo folk music in a spacesuit under the name 'General Trius'. His marriage is troubled and his music isn't entirely successful. It turns out, though, that his pseudonym is not a stage persona, but that he is in fact a General from the planet Hondo that was sent to take over earth. When another Hondo inhabitant is sent to take over the mission, the two abandon it and play music together as Future Folk and also save the world from an impending meteor.

The movie is a mock history of a real alien-themed band. It was a lot of fun and I definitely recommend it for fans of Safety Not Guaranteed or Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. 8/10

 The Lifeguard (2013)
Starring: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer

A very disturbing story of a woman who can't handle the cruelty she sees in her job and moves back to her home town and takes up her old job of lifeguard at the local pool. However, as she takes that job, it's not the only thing that returns to old ways. She begins hanging out with teenagers and even starts a relationship with one of them. This tears a hole in already strained relationships between herself and her family and friends and many disasters happen along the way.

Bell was good, but the movie fell flat a bit for me. I think if the missing piece (whatever that may have been) was there, this could have been a career-defining role for her. Not sure if it was her not fully committing or the direction falling short or a combination of things, but it didn't work for me. I'll give it a 6/10 for its effort.

 Runner Runner (2013)
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck

The whole first half of this movie, I kept thinking 'I must have seen this movie before'. I hadn't, it just was not at all original. In fact, it felt a little bit like that Kevin Spacey movie '21' about card counting. I admire Timberlake's effort in the acting world, but I think he should maybe do less drama and more comedy? His appearances on SNL are always amusing, but is movies considerably less so. I was also disappointed by Affleck, who I think has made excellent career choices in the past few years (especially in direction of film). Oh right, plot. It's a student who has payment due very shortly if he wants to stay in school and has been banned from promoting gambling at the school. He decides he will play online to win his money, but loses in a fixed room. When he takes that to the owner of the site, he gets drafted by that guy to work for him. When he gets roped in, he learns he will be the scapegoat and has to yet again find a way to bail himself out. Meh. 5/10 from me and that's probably generous.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott

An adaption of the 1939 short story of the same name (or a remake of the 1947 film, whichever way you look at it), the movie follows Walter Mitty, a daydreamer with a rather ordinary life. When the negative of the final cover of Life magazine goes missing, Mitty goes on an adventure that is even wilder than his dreams to try and recover it.

I thought the movie was a lot of fun. It was neat to see Wiig in a role that was funny without being over-the-top goofy. The movie wasn't spectacular, but it was a lot of fun and did make me want to go to everywhere he traveled on his journeys. Plus I went with my son, which always makes me view a movie in a more lighthearted way. 8.25/10 with a bonus .25 for using an Of Monsters and Men song during a scene where he was in Iceland.

 Side Effects (2013)
Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum continues to surprise me. I think 'he can't possibly be a good actor, right?' But he usually does a good job. Is he elite? No, I don't think so, but he is definitely not a total slouch. In this story, a man gets out of jail to return to his wife, who then gets depressed. As a side effect from a medication prescribed by her new psychiatrist (Law), she sleepwalks and kills her husband. When the trial opens up, secrets begin to get uncovered by the psychiatrist, both about the patient and her original doctor (Zeta-Jones).

This one kept popping up in 'suggestions for you' on Netflix, so I gave it a shot. Somewhat predictable, it still provided a good amount of entertainment. I'll go 6.75/10

The Spectacular Now (2013)
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson

A coming of age story with a dark undertone, The Spectacular Now follows Sutter during his final year of high school. He's a party guy who doesn't consider the future until his girlfriend Cassidy(Larson) breaks it off with him. He then meets Aimee(Woodley) who goes through the ringer with him as he figures out a lot about his life and himself.

Larson has her hands in some of my favourite films of the year (Short Term 12 was tops on my list) and although her role in this was not as large, her character drove the plot forward at important points. When I first saw the show Secret Life of the American Teenager, it was so stilted that I didn't think the actors could be any good. Woodley has proved me wrong over her last two movies and I see that continuing into the future. Teller did a great job as well. 8.25/10

 This is Martin Bonner (2013)
Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Demetrius Gross

This made me snicker a bit, because of the scene in Family Guy where Stewie says 'what's a Bonner?' (referring to boner), and that's become a running joke around the house.

This movie portrays a slice of the life of fictional character Martin Bonner. Bonner is a volunteer coordinator for a group that helps inmates transition into the world. Throughout the movie we learn he has left behind a life on the east coast to take this job in Nevada and he finds mutual support from a program member Travis.

Eenhoorn brings a great subtlety to this role and it works perfectly. The movie is a slow burn and quite effective. 8/10

 The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill

Excess. That is the name of the game in this adapted true story of a stock broker's rise to the top and subsequent crash (though the crash is minimal, all things considered). Excessive partying, excessive drugs, excessive nudity, excessive run-time. It has it all. DiCaprio does a good job as the up-and-comer that becomes the kingpin and Jonah Hill gives what is probably his funniest performance to date. The excess was a bit too much for me, though. Not the individual things, but the many scenes that could've been cut a little shorter. Case in point: what I consider to be the best scene in the movie. DiCaprio and Hill's characters take these qualudes called 'lemons' that are supposed to be the most intense version of the drug available, but they don't seem to work. After 15 minutes or so, the drugs aren't kicking in and they take more. The scene gets really funny when DiCaprio heads to a country club to find an un-tapped phone to call from and the drugs kick in. He is forced to slide, roll and crawl his way back to his car before attempting to drive it home. That scene has many points it could have made little trims and it was the best scene. The rest of the movie had several points that could've been trimmed back and not been 3 hours long. That being said, it was entertaining for many parts and had several recognizable actors doing small roles that brought the whole thing together. Look at that, the excessive movie brought on an excessive review. 7.5/10

 The Arm (2012)
Starring: Jessica Hecht, Miles Heizer

I'll keep this short, in fears of writing more than the script length. The Arm tells the story of a boy who, along with his friend, meet two girls in a shop. While the friend starts getting intimate with the one girl, he starts text messaging the other girl. When the girl dies while text messaging with him, the family of the girl turn to him, thinking he was more invested than he actually was. When he gets roped in to speaking at her funeral, he realizes he didn't actually know anything about her. 4/5 (felt fitting to rate a short out of a smaller scale)

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