Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Release Date:  May 10, 2013
Running Time: 130 minutes
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber
Who to see it with: Anyone who loves good stories and mystery


The Reluctant Fundamentalist is based on a novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid from 2007.  Although the movie and the book differ in several respects, they both revolve around a conversation that takes place in a cafe in Pakistan.  In the movie, the main character (Riz Ahmed) is being interviewed by an American journalist (Liev Schreiber).  This interview relatively calm interview takes place as a growing crisis envelopes the surrounding area.  The story explores Ahmed's American experience and how, as a Pakistani man living in America, he was treated after 9/11.  You really experience everything that happened to him because of Ahmed's phenomenal performance.  He does an amazing job portraying a complicated character who is torn by his love for America and the injustices he experiences because of the climate after 9/11.  He also deals with reconciling his past and culture with the American dream.  The story jumps back and forth between the current interview and the events of the past.  This could have been a jarring and confusing experience but it's actually an enjoyable way to tell this complicated story.  

And speaking of the story, although it does an admirable job of exploring Ahmed's character and starts off strong, it begins to slow down in the middle.  There is an unnecessary romance that takes up a large part of the movie and, although it is supposed to be an important part of the plot, just  feels strange and unbelievable.  The film does lay some groundwork with Ahmed's changing character, but his eventual turn feels rushed and too convenient.  However, don't let these story problems prevent you from eventually seeing this movie.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist paints a picture of 9/11 America from a completely different perspective, one that is fascinating and valuable to explore.  And although it has its flaws, it's still something that should be seen.  It is one of those movies that stays with you after you leave the theater and keeps occupying your thoughts hours later.

Rent it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Release date: April 26, 2013
Running Time: 130 minutes
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris
Who to see it with: Gym buddies into dark comedies and stranger than fiction crime stories


Pain & Gain is a dark comedy of errors revolving around personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) who, after listening to motivational speaker Johnny Wu (The Hangover’s Ken Jeong), decides that he can realize his dreams by extorting a wealthy client with the help of two fellow bodybuilders (Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie). It quickly becomes clear that these three are not cut out for this type of work, as their numerous mistakes attract unwanted attention.

The story is very dark and interesting, especially for a Michael Bay film. It seems so absurd that it’s hard to believe that it’s based on a true story. Though funny and fairly clever, it suffers due to inconsistent writing and tonal shifts. The satire feels inspired, mocking the guys’ dimwitted personalities and humorously showing how more money really does come along with more problems. However, much of the humor reminds me of the goofy humans of Transformers, with silly, random jokes that come out of nowhere. Occasionally, these jokes provide some of the movies' best laughs and cleverly toy with the actors' personas, but sometimes they just feel
clunky and out of place. At times, the tone seems to abruptly alternate between mocking and celebrating the protagonists, which feels weird considering the terrible nature of the true events.

This strange story has all the elements of a great true crime tale, but what could have been a sharp, dark comedy (or, perhaps more appropriately, dramedy) too often feels like an R-rated showcase for Transformers-like characters and humor. Despite the story’s faults, the characters are always entertaining, my favorite being Dwayne Johnson’s eccentric, religious ex-convict who is slowly corrupted by his partners and sudden wealth. Rebel Wilson briefly appears and exchanges a few funny one-liners with Anthony Mackie, but her role is minor. The characters and twisted plot make this one of Bay's more memorable films, but the unfocused story and tone hold it back from greatness.

Rent it.

PS - They're pretty long, but you may want to check out the Miami New Times articles that detailed the strange and complicated true story: Part 1Part 2Part 3

Trailer: Fast & Furious 6

It's finally here!  The trailer for the sixth movie in the tremendous Fast and Furious series finally dropped today.  In case you didn't know, I love these movies.  The series has just the right combination of fast driving, crazy action, overstated acting, and cheese to make for an enjoyable experience.  The sixth movie looks like another winner.  The Rock, Vin Diesel, and Paul Walker are all back as the team takes on some sort of international crisis--oh who cares, fast cars and sweet action!  What I loved about Fast Five was that it brought back all my favorite characters from the previous movies to compile a best of from the Fast & Furious series.  This movie looks to continue that tradition but I'm a little worried because the trailer starts with a little "A Good Day to Die Hard" flavor (and you all know how I felt about that movie).  But, after introducing the bare minimum of international drama--in order to establish some excuse for acquiring fast cars--you're back to the over-the-top action sequences and ridiculous stunts that the series is known for.  

Fast & Furious 6 is speeding your way on May 24, 2013.  I'll hopefully have a review up in the week before that.  Now, here's hoping for a Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift sequel!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Preview": Steven Spielberg's Obama

At the recent White House Correspondents' Association dinner, Steven Spielberg unveiled his latest presidential biopic, Obama.  It looks like Daniel Day Lewis is slotted to play the main man and as usual, he does a flawless job.  Looks like another Oscar-worthy performance for him!  

The White House Correspondents' Association dinner is usually held on the last Saturday of April and has been going since 1920.  The dinner is typically a chance for the President and the comedic host to lighten up and crack jokes about the current political climate.  The dinner typically includes a skit involving the President in which he mocks himself for the amusement of the press corps.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Release Date:  January 11, 2012
Running Time: 157 minutes
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
Who to see it with: Anyone that liked the Hurt Locker.


This movie was a tough one to review.  It's another movie by the wonderful, two time Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow.  She has a great, gritty directorial style that can't help but inject tension into the movie.  The story of Zero Dark Thirty follows (some say, inaccurately) the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  I don't know about the accuracy of the movie, but what is there is very well done.  The tense scenes are suspenseful, the combat scenes are gritty, and the enhanced interrogation scenes are no holds barred.  The movie builds to the climactic assault on the Abottabad compound which is the most suspenseful scene in the movie.  There is no fanfare here, the assault is an attempt to accurately portray what it would be like to undertake this mission.  I was literally on the edge of my seat during the whole scene.  I think the triumph of this movie is my reaction at the end.  There was no surge of pride or fist pump; at the end of the movie I couldn't tell how I felt, if I was happy, proud, or sad, but I know that I was exhausted from everything that it took to get there.  

See it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: The Kings of Summer

Release Date:  May 31, 2013
Running Time: 93 minutes
Starring: Nick Offerman, Moises Arias, Nick Robinson
Who to see it with: Everyone (especially anyone who's been camping or tried to rebel when they were kids)


I generally prefer seeing independent movies. I feel like they have better writing, more genuine acting, refreshing stories, and give some lesser known actors a chance to shine. That's exactly what you get with The Kings of Summer--an amazing coming of age story about three kids who try to get away from their families and live on their own. The acting is phenomenal--especially the stellar Nick Robinson and Moises Arias. The writing is sharp and very funny. There are so many good laugh out loud moments it's tough to single any individual one out. Moises Arias's random lines are so well-timed and so out there that you just have to smile. There is a really good chemistry between all the main characters--the two childhood friends and their new, slightly strange friend. And this chemistry helps to tell a very touching, relatable story. This movie just grabs you from the start and leads  you on an interesting and entertaining journey. It really has it all: good acting, great writing, and a story that has just the right balance of serious and funny to keep you entertained. This is an absolute gem that you have to see.  

See it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: This is the End

Release Date:  June 12, 2013
Running Time: About 105 minutes
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill
Who to see it with: A fan of any of the above actors


This is the End is really two movies rolled into one.  The start is an amazingly funny party movie where all the actors play over the top versions of themselves at a party at James Franco's house.  Seeing all the actors acting as crazy versions of themselves is really enjoyable and laugh out loud funny.  From James Franco trying to be best friends with Seth Rogen, super nice Jonah Hill, and ultra crazy Michael Cera, this is the most enjoyable part of the movie.  Throughout the party, random celebrities make cameos and you never know who you will see next. 

After the party, the film becomes an apocalypse survival movie as the remaining characters try to survive in James Franco's house after the world is destroyed.  This makes up the bulk of the movie and although it starts out enjoyable, it begins to drag on as more and more ridiculousness ensues.  I wouldn't say this is bad by any means but it's not as good as the amazing first thirty minutes and feels like it goes on a little too long.  The movie picks up towards the end and has an absolutely fantastic end.  As previously mentioned, the actors are great as exaggerated versions of themselves and the writing is sharp and funny.  If you are a fan of any of these actor's movies, then you will enjoy this one.  There are some odd biblical references and a lot of the humor is crude, but This is the End is still an enjoyable journey with an absolutely fantastic ending!

See it.

PS - There is no stinger at the end of the credits.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: The Big Wedding

Release Date:  April 26, 2013
Running Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton
Who to see it with: Someone with a dysfunctional family


What happens when you take an all star cast and make them a funny but dysfunctional family for a hectic weekend?  You get the Big Wedding.  It stars some really great actors who are forced into a very uncomfortable situation in order to make the wedding of the youngest son a success.  The acting is solid and the characters are enjoyable.  The writers really explore all sorts of relationships between a diverse set of characters--all of whom have their own flaws.  Many of these relationships become exceedingly awkward and complex, but between the absurdity of what is developing, there are genuinely human moments of caring and understanding.  However, some of the conflicts that develop are resolved too quickly and conveniently in order to move the story along.  The movie spends so much time setting up these situations, then tries to resolve them all before the credits roll.  The humor is good if a little crude at times.  It reminds me of a more mature take on American Pie.  All in all, the Big Wedding is an enjoyable experience that comes together a little too quickly in the end.

Rent it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Monsters University

Release Date:  June 21, 2013
Running Time: About 110 minutes
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
Who to see it with: Any animation fan


Monsters U is Pixar’s prequel to the wonderful Monsters, Inc. This installment follows Mike Wazowski and Sully during their college years at Monsters University. The film is directed by Dan Scanlon and written by Robert L. Baird (who contributed content for Monsters, Inc). Being a prequel and coming twelve years after the original, I was worried that this film would not live up to the high expectations set by the original. And while it doesn't quite reach its predecessor’s level, Monsters U is a charming, entertaining, and worthy prequel that should not be missed.

The plot follows Sully and Mike’s antics during their college years. The story is well done with plenty of references to the first film while also capturing some of what is great (and not so great) about college. These college references can at times 
be cliche, but many of them are great and laugh out loud funny. The story also holds plenty of surprises. There were several moments when I thought the movie was becoming predictable only to have it take an unexpected and delightful turn. Along the way, you will meet a good cast of new characters and have plenty of cameos from your Monsters, Inc. favorites. 

This is a Pixar film so the animation is gorgeous. Every movie of theirs is more beautiful than the previous effort and Monsters U is no exception. Pixar does an amazing job of creating a believable university environment with a monsters twist. Speaking of monsters, the animators clearly put a great deal of effort into making the monsters more monstrous. The fur and slime effects are particularly beautiful as is movement for the various types of legs, tentacles, wings, and everything in between. They also managed to create some incredible depth of field and stellar lighting effects. This lighting is especially noticeable during “scare” scenes as it does a great job of setting the mood and building tension. 

As with the animation, sound and voice acting are excellent. Monsters University comes alive with the sounds of a typical college—well a typical monster’s college. The sounds of class, of the quad, of parties, and other aspects of college life help to bring you into this wonderfully created world.  The expected college stereotypes—jocks, nerds, frat guys, etc.—are here and their voice acting is funny and well delivered. Although you can recognize some of the voice actors, they are not distracting and never pull you out of the movie. 

Monsters U is a very good movie. It's not better than the original, but that’s expected when the source material is so good. However, Monsters U is a fun, charming prequel that achieves what so many other prequels fail to do: tell a meaningful, entertaining, and interesting tale while filling in the back-story of the characters and world that you love. 

See it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Oblivion

Release Date:  April 19, 2013
Running Time: 126 minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough
Who to see it with: Any Sci-Fi or Tom Cruise fan


As I said in my Jack Reacher review, Tom Cruise is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine.  His personal quirks aside, he is such a great actor and does such a good job of drawing you into the movie that you can't help but enjoy the experience.  This is doubly true when the movie is as well done as Oblivion.  
The story follows Tom Cruise's character as he both tries to fulfill his mission while exploring and learning about what happened to Earth.  The world is created with some
pretty amazing special effects.  The sci fi aesthetic is great and the overall atmosphere of a war-torn, abandoned world is simply stunning.  The sound is engrossing and helps to complete the setting.  You can tell that the director really loved what he created because the movie spends a great deal of time establishing the setting.  I really appreciated this aspect and it helped contribute to my overall enjoyment of the film.  Partly because so much time is spent creating and establishing post apocalypse Earth, the plot twist and conclusion seem a little too quick and convenient.  But, by that time you're already fully engrossed in the setting and enjoying the ride so it doesn't detract from an overall good film.

See it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: Disconnect

Release Date:  April 12, 2013
Running Time: 115 minutes
Starring: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Jonah Bobo
Who to see it with: An online addict


Disconnect follows three separate story lines dealing with some of the darker aspects of the Internet.  One thread deals with social networking, another deals with online sex, and the last deals with identity theft.  The three seemingly unrelated stories end up interacting in interesting ways throughout the movie and ultimately come to a climactic conclusion.  If this sounds familiar, it's because the movie feels similar to Crash.  But, that was a good movie and this one is also.  Similar to Crash, there is some really great acting which causes you to empathize with the characters as the movie progresses (even some of the less likable ones).  The movie also has a great way of representing the online conversations by overlaying them in the scenes.  It shows a close up of one character with the online conversation next to them and lets you closely follow their reactions as it progresses.  This does a great job of showing how online conversations can be both unnerving because you can't see the other side, but for the same reason equalizing.  Some of the scenes were over the top and some of the characters made some stupid decisions.  But like Crash, this was a good movie that touches on a controversial modern subject.  

See it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: 42

Release Date:  April 12, 2013
Running Time: 128 minutes
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, T.R. Knight
Who to see it with: A sports movie or baseball fan.


I'm definitely a sucker for sports movies.  I don't know why I love them, I just do.  I love the sport, the competition, the drama.  So I was pretty sure I would love 42, and I definitely do.  It's a well done movie about probably the bravest player in baseball.  It touches on the torment he faced, the constant fear and threats, and the fact that he had to endure this without being able to physically fight back.  But he fought back with his game and with his actions, and that changed
both the sport and the country.  Sure, the movie has some hokey and contrived scenes meant to introduce additional inspirational moments.  But there are also some truly amazing scenes, like one where Jackie (Chadwick Boseman) is almost pushed over the edge by a racist manager.  This dichotomy makes this movie part gritty sports movie and part Disney inspirational film.  But you know what, I'm fine with that.  It's a great story about a great man; a well done but not perfect movie.  And overall, it's something that everyone should see.  

See it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: Trance

Release Date:  April 5, 2013
Running Time: 101 minutes
Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson
Who to see it with: Someone who liked Inception.


I really like Danny Boyle's other movies (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Sunshine) so went into this movie expecting to enjoy it.  Boyle's latest film follows a participant in an art heist whos has forgotten crucial details about it.  His life depends on learning these so he employs a hypno therapist to help him remember.  She begins the process to delve into his memories but encounters roadblocks along the way that must be overcome.  The premise of the movie is interesting and the plot advances assisted by some really great acting.  But, there are two many odd concessions made to ensure the film moves along.  Some of the plot turns seem too convenient and a few are simply laughable.  However, these are balanced by the aforementioned acting and some very tense moments as McAvoy struggles to remember what happened.  The effects and hypnosis scenes are very well done and the overall resolution is unusual, but somewhat unfulfilling.    I left this movie feeling like I'd seen a low special effects version of Inception and although I still think it's an interesting movie and enjoyed it, I think you should

Rent it.