Friday, August 30, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: August 30, 2013

We recommended Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby while it was in theaters and the well-acted The Reluctant Fundamentalist is spoiled by an odd romance, so we suggest another DVD.

In Theaters: Short Term 12
Short Term 12 is one of our favorite 2013 movies (and it very well might be David's favorite). There's much joy and pain in getting to know a group home's troubled kids and their equally troubled lead staffer. Watching them naturally interact with one another and confront their issues is a treat. Seriously, it's one of the best movies of the year and an indie gem that is equal parts heart wrenching and heartwarming. 

On DVD: Pain & Gain
This is one of Michael Bay's more ambitious efforts. He took a brief break from action blockbusters to make this true crime dark comedy that pokes fun at the bumbling criminal escapades of three dimwitted bodybuilders. The humor is sometimes inspired but often juvenile, an inappropriate fit for such a grim true story. The leads (Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and especially Dwayne Johnson) play their roles well.

Streaming (Netflix): Dredd
The makers of Dredd put their modest $45 million budget to good use, making a cult classic action film with surprisingly effective special effects and style. It also didn't offend comic fans like the neutered 1995 adaptation. The simple plot follows Dredd and a new recruit fighting to escape a criminal-packed high-rise after getting sealed in by a powerful drug lord. Its premise is eerily similar to that of The Raid: Redemption (differentiated by its language and a reliance on guns and explosives rather than martial arts), but Dredd began filming months earlier so that may just be a coincidence.

Streaming (HBO GO): Life of Pi
2012's biggest Oscar winner received much of its acclaim for its technical artistry, which some may feel is best experienced on the big screen. It's an unusual story focused on a teenage shipwreck survivor struggling to keep himself and a few unexpected animal castaways alive. He may have a hard time convincing the Bengal tiger to cooperate with the other survivors. It's based on a novel that some believed was "unfilmable", likely referring to a few clunky moments during the third act. The highlights are the characters' lost at sea struggle and the visuals.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Getaway

Release date: August 30, 2013
Running time: 94 minutes
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight
Who to see it with: Someone who enjoys car crash stunts


Getaway opens in Sofia, Bulgaria with former racer Brent Magna (Hawke) coming home and discovering his wife's been kidnapped. His only lead on her whereabouts is a mysterious caller (Voight) who tells Magna that his wife will remain safe only if he and a reluctant passenger (Gomez) perform a series of dangerous tasks using an armored, high-performance car. These tasks initially don't seem to make much sense and seem like an elaborate game. When his plan is fully revealed, the idea seems overly complicated and ill-advised.

The caller's crazy plan serves its purpose of allowing half of Getaway to focus on car chases. A series of car chases revolving around an insane plot could make for a solid B-movie. Unfortunately, the chase scenes are broken by constant, rapid cuts away from the action. I appreciate that it all looks real--the director says no CG was used--and there are lots of loud car crashes, but the choppy feel hurts their flow. The two heroes are the standard bickering team that bonds during their ordeal, but their relationship lacks much of the humor and charm shown by the leads of recent films like The Heat and White House Down. Hawke's character doesn't show much emotion outside of anger and frustration, and Gomez is fine as his tough-talking teen partner. Getaway has the elements of a fun action movie and an admirable lack of CG, but is trapped by its silly plot and heavily edited chase sequences.

Don't see it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Short Term 12

Release date: August 23, 2013 (August 30 in DC area)
Running time: 96 minutes
Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek
Who to see it with: Anyone who cares about children


Short Term 12 is one of the best movies to come out this year.  It is set in a foster care group home inhabited by a diverse group of kids, each with their own issues. Abandoned by their parents for various reasons, the kids are part of their own family even though none of them really feel like they belong. Watching over these children and young adults is a wonderful group of caretakers who all have different reasons for wanting this intense and rarely rewarding job. The best part of this movie is seeing the variety of personalities in the film interact. They are all drastically different and show their depth and complexity as the film progresses. It's a group that shouldn't work but end up doing so because of the situation they're placed in. Those characters also work because they are brought to life by some spectacular acting. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. stand out as the two main group home staffers. They each bring a different perspective and style to their interactions with the kids and both are effective for different reasons. The children are also amazingly cast and give performances that are convincing and natural--a feat given some of the issues they have to deal with. Finally, their personalities all work because of the genuinely amazing writing that brings their characters to life.  

Short Term 12 is just a phenomenal movie.  It's an emotional rollercoaster that grabs you from the start and leads you on an interesting, entertaining, and intense ride. Throughout this journey you experience plenty of highs and lows. The only flaw in this movie are the flawed characters, and seeing them interact throughout the film is an absolute treat. It is rare to watch a movie and just love every minute of it. This is easily one of the best movies I've seen this year and it will be tough to find one with more emotional and engaging characters. 

See it.


The story's insight into the past and home life of Brie Larson's lead staffer gave her depth beyond that of the typical inspirational adult you see in many stories involving troubled youth. The group home's depiction felt realistic with a mood that shifts between quiet sadness, joy (when the staff manages to coax positive reactions out of the reluctant kids), and dull but pleasant boredom. There are a few moments toward the end when this emotional rollercoaster seems like it's going to fly off its rails, but it manages to remain an honest look at a tough subject without becoming a depressing melodrama.

See it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Weekend box office for August 23 - 25, 2013: The Mortal Instruments is not the next hit teen franchise

Three new major releases couldn't beat The Butler or We're the Millers. Mortal Instruments: City of Bones came closest, taking third with $9.3 million and accumulating $14 million since its Wednesday opening. It will do slightly better than fellow underperforming 2013 teen fantasy adaptation Heavenly Creatures, which took in $10.1 million in its first four days and finished with just under $20 million. The World's End only grossed $8.9 million, but that's the best opening of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's comedy trilogy. With its somewhat limited number of theaters, it also had the highest per-theater average of the weekend's major releases (though its $5,700 average is less than Hot Fuzz's $7,000). 70% of Hot Fuzz's $80 worldwide total came from overseas, where TWE already has $16 million. You're Next was not the next home invasion sensation, taking seventh. I've heard its budget is less than a million, so it may make a minor profit, but Lionsgate probably hoped for a minor hit along the lines of similar films The Purge or 2008's The Strangers.

Blue Jasmine added over 1,000 screens and jumped into the top ten. The Butler and We're the Millers performances suffered minor losses, and will likely do well next weekend against GetawayOne Direction may open big, but I doubt their audiences overlap much. Kick-Ass 2 nearly fell out of the top ten and won't meet the minor $48 million success of the first. In America, Planes is holding out better than Elysium and may overtake it, in time. Despicable Me 2's $805 million worldwide total has beaten Fast 6's $780 million, though Iron Man 3's $1.2 billion appears untouchable by anything but The Hobbit sequel. The Grandmaster and Short Term 12 both performed well in less than 10 theaters. To see how other movies performed, click here.

Weekend box office estimates for August 23 - 25, 2013:

1. Lee Daniels' The Butler; $17,018,000; $52,275,000 total; -30.9%; 2nd weekend

2. We're the Millers; $13,500,000; $91,740,000 total; -24.9%; 3rd weekend

3. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones; $9,300,000; $14,051,000 total; opening weekend

4. The World's End; $8,942,000; opening weekend

5. Planes; $8,567,000; $59,591,000 total; -36.0%; 3rd weekend

6. Elysium; $7,100,000; $69,054,000 total; -48.1%; 3rd weekend

7. You're Next; $7,050,000; opening weekend

8. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters; $5,200,000; $48,346,000 total; -40.6%; 3rd weekend

9. Blue Jasmine; $4,300,000; $14,799,000 total; +87.7%; 5th weekend

10. Kick-Ass 2; $4,270,000; $22,423,000 total; -68.0%; 2nd weekend

Friday, August 23, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: August 23, 2013

You may wonder why critics panned John Travolta and Robert De Niro's Killing Season, or be interested in how a group of Ukrainian Jews fled Nazis by living in caves in docudrama No Place on Earth, but we recommend one of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees for the week's DVD.

In Theaters: The World's End
We really enjoyed the latest entry in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright's comedy "trilogy" (preceded by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). On the surface, it looks like it's about old friends doing a long bar crawl, but unexpected events make their bar-hopping much more exciting and complicated. It's as funny as the aforementioned but features darker, more complex themes. The crazy story is held together by the cast's great chemistry.

On DVD: Amour
Michael Haneke's Amour focuses on an elderly couple whose relationship becomes incredibly challenging when the wife Anne suffers complications from a stroke and a subsequent surgery. Many felt that actress Emmanuelle Riva's Oscar-nominated performance as the sick wife was the standout of this year's Best Actress nominees. It sounds like a realistic look at the lives and troubles of the elderly and a beautiful, somewhat sad, depiction of a loving, but difficult, relationship.

Streaming (Netflix): Greenberg
Ben Stiller plays an unusually complex role as the title character of Greenberg, a dramedy about a troubled misanthrope who moves in with his more successful brother while trying to get his life back together. Popular indie actress Greta Gerwig plays the brother's assistant who connects with him during his stay. She must have made a good impression because she plays the title role in director Noah Baumbach's acclaimed follow-up Frances Ha.

Streaming (Netflix): Memento
Memento is a relic of director Christopher Nolan's early years before he became best known as the man behind The Dark Knight trilogy. The cult hit is a psychological thriller about a widower (Guy Pearce) who lost the ability to store new memories following an attack, a trait that leaves him vulnerable to manipulation and complicates his investigation of his wife's death. The scenes of the main plot are uniquely shown in reverse order, making the film an intriguing puzzle.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: The Grandmaster

Release date: August 23, 2013
Running time: 123 minutes
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ziyi Zhang, Jin Zhang 
Who to see it with: Someone who wants a little more drama in their kung fu movies


The Grandmaster purportedly tells the story of Bruce Lee's martial arts teacher, Ip Man. The movie details events of his life during the 1930s through 50s and the changes that happen to both him and China during that period. Although this movie will likely appeal to martial arts movie buffs, a large portion (probably the majority) of the film consists of drama. Although there are plenty of fights throughout the film, there is a lot of overly dramatic non-fist conflict as well: young vs. old, men vs. women, old China vs. new China, and northern China vs. southern China are all in tension. A lot of times, this focus causes the plot to drastically slow down and leads to a good deal of exposition to fill the viewer in on what's going on. Having a detailed plot is not a bad thing, and including greater tension than simply two individuals fighting is a nice idea, but it gets burdensome later in the movie. Honestly, the movie could have been 30 minutes shorter and dealt with fewer issues and it would have been much more enjoyable. (I know Lee, I feel bad for saying specifically when I complained before seeing the movie that they had cut about 20 minutes of the film for the American release).

This aspect is a shame because so much of the movie is done well. The cinematography is gorgeous, with great sets and lighting throughout the fights and the dramatic scenes. There are some fairly imaginative and intricate fight scenes that will keep you mostly entertained between the less physical conflicts. However, sometimes the fights can be overly complex, with distracting weather effects or constant cuts that make the actual fighting hard to follow, a shame given the complexity of the actual fighting. Additionally, there can be an excessive use of slow motion, which is a nice way to follow the fights but sacrifices some of the excitement. If there's one thing the film does right, it's the great music. The score is plenty powerful and helps to evoke the drama of both kinds of conflicts. Additionally, the acting is great, especially the immensely likable Tony Leung. It's a shame that these bright spots are dragged down by a plot that plods a little too much and an overly complex story.

Rent it.

PS - There is a stinger part way through the credits.  Make sure to stay for it.

It's funny that you say the length could be even shorter since the international versions are already a bit shorter than the original. The dialogue is deliberately slow-paced and drawn out, especially effective during some of Ziyi Zhang's heated confrontations but somewhat tiring when featured throughout the entire running time. And the frequent cuts away from the fighters produce great imagery, but makes the battles feel slightly disjointed. Though I was occasionally bored, I appreciate the uniquely low-key tension resulting from the slow pacing and artsy battles. I felt the weather effects (and darkness) were used well in creating some really stylish shots. Americans expecting excitement along the lines of the action-packed U.S. trailers will be surprised when they realize that the fights make up a relatively small portion of an arthouse drama. Hopefully the Blu-ray will allow international audiences to experiences The Grandmaster's other versions.

Rent it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Release date: August 21, 2013
Running time: 130 minutes
Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West
Who to see it with: Teens who like supernatural adventure and romance


The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is another adaptation of a popular young adult book series. It's set in a world where "mundanes"--a term for humans like Harry Potter's "muggles"--are joined by a hidden group of special, demon-hunting humans called Shadowhunters. Like other recent adaptations, there's a love triangle. In fact, there are multiple relationships complicated by unfriendly desires. I'll give credit to CoB's romance subplots for their progressive treatment of sexuality and a few unexpected turns, but the frequent laughing heard during some twists indicates that they may be a bit hard to swallow, especially for those who have not read the books. This isn't helped by the often overly familiar setup and music of the romantic scenes.
CoB's urban fantasy, hidden underworld setting is darker and grittier than those of most recent teen-targeted franchises, seemingly targeted toward stereotypically brooding teens. Once again, there are vampires and werewolves, but they are often secondary to other unique monsters and demons. The CG is mostly effective at rendering the secret world and its beasts. Shadowhunters have a curiously gothic wardrobe and the ladies wear very impractical footwear; fortunately, the characters are humorously self-aware and comment on these and other peculiarities. It's hard to take the story seriously when nearly everyone is dressed like bikers, and the central romance too rapidly escalates from a reluctant partnership to making out to melodramatic arguments. The villain's goal and plan are a bit vague and unclear. I think something was lost in translation, that certain plot points and character interactions are rushed. Viewers unfamiliar with the source material may find The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones unsatisfying and unintentionally funny despite its inspired setting and a fun sense of self-awareness.

Don't see it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Weekend box office for August 16 - 18, 2013; Competition gets served by The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler cleaned up with a $25 million opening. Some have compared this to 2011's The Help which opened with $26 million, but less buzz makes The Butler unlikely to replicate that film's unusually lengthy box office success that ended with over $160 million. Kick-Ass 2, Jobs and Paranoia got their butts kicked, in comparison. KA2 opened in fourth with $13.5 million, about 31% lower than the original. Jobs was seventh with $6.7 million. Paranoia's thirteenth-place, $3.5 million opening is one of the worst major release debuts for everyone involved. Four new major releases did little harm to We're the Millers, which took second and dropped only 32.7%. Elysium took third but is falling fairly rapidly. Blue Jasmine will more than double its theater count next week, but will it continue its indie success? See how other movies performed here.

Weekend box office estimates for August 16 - 18, 2013:

1. Lee Daniels' The Butler; $25,010,000; opening weekend

2. We're the Millers; $17,780,000; $69,513,000 total; -32.7%; 2nd weekend

3. Elysium; $13,600,000; $55,914,000 total; -54.4%;  2nd weekend

4. Kick-Ass 2; $13,568,000; opening weekend

5. Planes; $13,141,000; $45,090,000 total; -40.9%; 2nd weekend

6. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters; $8,375,000; $38,904,000 total; -41.8%; 2nd weekend

7. Jobs; $6,700,000; opening weekend

8. 2 Guns; $5,572,000; $59,221,000 total; -50.5%; 3rd weekend

9. The Smurfs 2; $4,600,000; $56,912,000 total; -50.7%; 3rd weekend

10. The Wolverine; $4,425,000; $120,258,000 total; -44.9%; 4th weekend

13. Paranoia; $3,500,000; opening weekend

Friday, August 16, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: August 16, 2013

There are a lot of okay DVDs this week that you may want to check out if you really want to see a historical drama, romantic comedy, or action movie set at the White House (Emperor, The Big Wedding, and Olympus Has Fallen), but we have a lesser-known recommendation for you.

In Theaters: Kick-Ass 2
Kick-Ass 2 kicks the extreme violence and language of the original up a notch, possibly too much because it can be over-the-top. Its focus on superhero teams introduces a lot of fun personalities. Critics preferred the first film, but David loved KA2's comic book style and the addition of Jim Carrey.

On DVD: What Maisie Knew
This story of a 5-year-old girl stuck in the middle of her parents' messy divorce is unique because it's often told from the child's perspective. There's great acting done by everyone, especially Alexander Skarsgard and the cute Onata Aprile. The story has some preposterous moments, but those are accompanied by many genuinely emotional ones.

Streaming (Netflix): It's a Disaster
We haven't seen this indie black comedy starring David Cross, Julia Stiles and America Ferrera, but its "four couples stuck in a house" story sounds dark and witty. An event traps eight friends within the house where they met for brunch, and their ordeal causes secrets and true personalities to be revealed. I've seen positive comparisons to Polanski's Carnage.

Streaming (Amazon Instant) / VH1 on Saturday @ 10 pm: Sound City
Dave Grohl directed this music documentary about the little-known Sound City recording studios, a place visited by many legendary acts including Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and Rick Springfield. The film discusses the art of making music and the analog recording process, and features interviews with over twenty artists who fondly remember the studio. It is much recommended, with a 4.8/5 star rating based on 460+ Amazon reviews and 100% at Rotten Tomatoes.

*Got basic cable but not Amazon Prime? Watch or DVR it on Saturday night @ 10 on VH1 or VH1 Classic, or look for reruns on VH1 Classic and Palladia next week.

Review: Don Jon

Release date: September 27, 2013
Running time: 90 minutes
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza
Who to see it with: A fan of the Jersey Shore


Don Jon is Joseph Grodon-Levitt's writing and directorial debut, and what a great debut it is. Don Jon tells the story of Jon (JGL), a man with a few things in his life he loves, such as his body, his pad, his car, his boys, etc. All this changes when he meets Barbara (Johansson) and he starts to reevaluate his priorities. If it sounds like a typical romantic dramady, it's because it is. Don Jon cleverly makes fun of Hollywood movie relationships while also following the framework closely. It's a delicate line that the movie follows excellently, with some adaptations for more modern issues and less committed relationships. There are clever little touches throughout the movie that help remind you of the subject matter it's mocking, such as a romance movie-style (or Disney-style) musical cue when Jon first sees Barbara.

The main draw of this movie is Gordon-Levitt's great performance. Although initially, he appears to be playing just a Jersey Shore clone, his portrayal is far more complex than that. He plays a man who has everything in his life in order--great body, spotless apartment, good friends--but doesn't really know what is important. Jon is so put together, yet doesn't understand much about his emotions and motivations. The rest of the cast is also spectacular. Johansson is sexy and very Jersey as Barbara, though some of her twist lines seem out of place or out of context. Moore is amazing as always and Danza is a nice surprise as Jon's father. 

This movie is JGL's writing debut, and I was pleasantly surprised that the writing is sharp and funny. The conversations and jokes are especially enjoyable in the family situations and in the church scenes. Also, JGL shows his writing chops by writing both hilarious moments with the guys along with more introspective, touching moments as Jon's character progresses throughout the film. Don Jon is an over-the-top relationship movie that both taunts typical, manufactured Hollywood romances while managing to provide it's own surprisingly deep relationship advice. If Dr. Pepper was marketing it, it would be the guy's romantic comedy. It's an excellent debut and hopefully the first of many films from Gordon-Levitt.

See it.

It definitely is the guy's romantic comedy. Viewers may be surprised by the frequent pornography clips and masturbation discussions. They were apparently too much for one couple that left our screening after ten minutes. If you're willing to accept these glimpses into the dirtier side of Jon's life that is often kept behind closed doors, you'll be rewarded with a smart romantic comedy that both mocks and embraces the genre. Expected events happen, but in ways that don't feel artificial. Like David said, there's a time when Barbara's lines seem to come out of nowhere but, this being a guy's romantic comedy, it could reflect the ways in which actual significant others suddenly reveal their unexpected, unflattering aspects. If the movie were told from Barbara's perspective, there's a turning point with Jon that would seem just as sudden to someone with her mindset. Some may be put off by the in-your-face sexuality of the first act, but even they will be pleasantly surprised by the time Don Jon reaches its climax.

See it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Paranoia

Release date: August 16, 2013
Running time: 115 minutes
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Amber Heard, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Lucas Till
Who to see it with: Oldman and Ford fans; those who think Liam is the hotter Hemsworth brother


Paranoia is an alright, sometimes illogical thriller. Low-level tech company employee Adam (Hemsworth) is fired. When he reacts by going wild with a company credit card, former boss Nick Wyatt (Oldman) is strangely convinced that he's the right man to assist with a mission involving Eikon, the corporation of rival and former partner Jock Goddard (Ford). Hemsworth is effective as a guy whose ambition exceeds his opportunities and strives to surpass his unambitious, comical dad (Dreyfuss). I can see him following in his brother's footsteps with the right roles. Heard is fine as his smart, prickly coworker Emma, a role that develops in expected ways. Till's nerdy best friend reminded me of Rachael Leigh Cook in She's All That, his appearance dulled with glasses and a bad hairstyle. Sleazy Oldman and grumpy Ford are fun to watch, especially during the rare times when they're together onscreen.
Similar to Wyatt's view of Adam's reckless behavior as a sign of potential, the plot twists often seem to rely on questionable decision making or lack of foresight. Occasionally, characters seem to be steps ahead of the others, only for it to be later revealed that mistakes were made that don't fit their overly calculating ways. The story doesn't stand out from that of the average twisty thriller, but its focus on shady corporations and omnipresent surveillance make it timely and fairly engaging. Paranoia is a predictable thriller enhanced by Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford's corporate duel.

Rent it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2

Release date: August 16, 2013
Running time: 103 minutes
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Morris Chestnut, Jim Carrey, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Who to see it with: A huge comic book fan


Kick-Ass was a surprisingly charming movie, one that seemingly came out of nowhere with a good, every man super hero story. Kick-Ass 2 tries to continue the story with both Kick-Ass (Taylor-Johnson) and Hit Girl (Moretz) now in High School and dealing with balancing their desire to do what is right with their desire to be normal. Initially, Kick-Ass asks Hit Girl to train him and eventually to partner up to fight crime, but circumstances cause both of these heroes to hang up their costumes for different reasons. The first thing you'll notice about Kick-Ass 2 is that the score from Kick-Ass is back and just as enjoyable as the first. I love the clear, blaring trumpets at the start of the film, and it started the movie off on the right note. Other familiar pieces of the soundtrack appear throughout the film, but the most important one is front and center right from the start.

The cast receives a definite boost in the second movie. Whereas the first movie was more about Kick-Ass trying to become a super hero and be taken seriously, this movie deals with teams of super heroes. Jim Carrey is the stand out from this group, but all the added heroes are fun to watch and add an interesting dynamic to the cast. Kick-Ass 2 is a comic book movie, through and through. There are little comic book-style speech and information bubbles that pop up throughout the film. And, just like a lot of comic books, everything about it is extreme: the story, the humor, the violence, the language, all of it is extreme. Most of the time, this infuses the movie with an over-the-top enjoyment. But other times this doesn't work, particularly with Kick-Ass's new slightly annoying arch-nemesis, the Mother F*%ker. Just like in comic books, there is gratuitous violence and language. And, parts of the story also feel forced, like when Hit Girl decides to give up her costume. However, Kick-Ass 2 is a true to form comic book movie, with all the highs and flaws that come with it. I think this movie will be polarizing, with many people thinking that the violence, language, or plot are too much. But I for one loved the movie despite its flaws. If seeing a film-realized comic book interests you, then

See it.
PS - There IS a stinger after the credits end. Make sure to stay for it.


I liked it but didn't love it. KA2's most creative and meaningful scenes are those focused on getting to know the superhero teams and their origins. They're a fun mix of personalities. Outside of that, the plot often alternates between an amusingly absurd teen comedy and an okay action movie. While the first KA didn't feel too over-the-top until its final act, the more extreme action sequences and Christopher Mintz-Plasse's crazier behavior sometimes make this one feel a little too unreal. The finale feels more like that of your average action film with ordinary guys surviving impossible situations. KA mostly avoided that problem, with its vigilantes beating bad guys with weaponry and smart tactics. I agree that some will find some of the humor to be in bad taste, but those who would be most offended won't see it in the first place if they know what they're getting into. Kick-Ass 2's crude humor and diverse superhero teams are fun, but the crazier action feels out of place.

Rent it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: Lee Daniels' The Butler

Release date: August 16, 2013
Running time: 132 minutes
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Dayid Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz
Who to see it with: Civil rights advocates and grade school history students


Lee Daniels' The Butler lightly explores American history and civil rights through the eyes of conflicted butler Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) during his 1952–1986 White House career. While Cecil and his fellow employees largely enjoy their work and don't complain about racism, his wife Gloria (Winfrey) feels he spends too little time at home and his older son Louis (Oyelowo) is deeply troubled by racial inequality and his father's subservient profession. The movie is best when focused on Cecil's relationships with his family and coworkers. Cecil and Louis' relationship delves into their complex clash of ideals--accepting the status quo and quietly serving superiors versus fighting for a world where no race is considered superior. Cecil has a natural rapport with his wife, friends and coworkers that makes their scenes moving and funny.
The Butler is clumsier when directly addressing politics. It sometimes feels like civil rights Cliffnotes and, aside from Alan Rickman's Reagan, the Presidential casting is somewhat distracting with cameos from Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber and John Cusack. Whitaker effectively portrays Cecil's inner turmoil when interacting with the Presidents and First Ladies, but the story's lengthy time period makes its coverage of issues seem a bit shallow (despite omitting three Presidents) and its most pivotal moments can be melodramatic. I wouldn't suggest lengthening the already long movie to address this; in fact, it may have benefited by placing the Presidents further into the background and discussing their ideologies in subtler ways. The central conflict and relationships of Lee Daniels' The Butler are complicated and moving, but they're awkwardly paired with less successful political moments.

Rent it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: You're Next

Release date: August 28, 2013
Running time: 94 minutes
Starring: Sharni Vinsen, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg
Who to see it with: Someone who wishes horror protagonists were smarter


After its grim prologue, You're Next begins rather predictably. Parents arrive at their remote mansion and are soon joined by their four children and their significant others, ignorant of the violent masked men waiting in the woods. It looks like a family dramedy that will quickly become a standard home invasion slasher. Simply following the traditional horror outline would not have been that bad, in this case, because the dysfunctional family dynamic is funny and weightier than that of the typical group of foolish teenagers/twenty somethings. However, the plot takes an unexpected turn when a guest reveals that they are uniquely prepared for this kind of situation.

YN toys with clichés in a fun way. The dumbest decisions are filmed in a mocking manner, but the smart main protagonist will have the audience rooting for them rather than shaking their heads. At times, the characters' actions and dialogue seem hilariously, B-movie strange. Some of these moments are just campy, while others actually make sense in light of later events. The funny family dynamic is somewhat lost at the movie continues (obviously, due to the rising body count), but the numerous plot twists and shifting relationships keep things interesting. It's like a twistier, faster-paced The Purge, except it embraces the genre's absurdity rather than trying, and often failing, to be suspenseful; somewhat similar in mood to The Cabin in the Woods, though much less outrageous and ambitious. There are a few decent jump scares, but don't see this if you want to be scared. You're Next should be your next horror watch if you want an action-packed, tongue-in-cheek take on the home invasion horror formula.

Rent it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Weekend box office for August 9 - 11, 2013: Elysium and Millers soar past Planes and Percy Jackson

Elysium was #1 with a $30.4 million opening, slightly lower than the $37 million opening of director Neill Blomkamp's sleeper hit District 9. D9's final gross more than tripled its $30 million budget; Elysium's higher budget, less positive reviews and increased competition will make profitability harder to achieve. We're the Millers may be the week's biggest success, taking in $26.5 million during the weekend and $38 million since its Wednesday release. It likely would have been first with a standard Friday release. Planes' $22 million is unremarkable. At least it had a modest $50 million budget and was smartly released after this year's family and blockbuster-stuffed June and July. The mediocre opening likely won't affect the July 2014 release of its sequel Planes: Fire and Rescue. Since Wednesday, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters has made $23.4 million, less than the previous PJ's $31 million 3-day opening ($40 million when including President's Day). Like those behind Red 2 and Smurfs 2, the studio may have wrongly assumed audience demand for a sequel.

In a World got a decent $71,000 with 3 screens. Lovelace had a much larger limited release and made $184,000 but had a mediocre per-screen average of about $1,500. The Spectacular Now and Blue Jasmine expanded and kept high screen averages of $14,000 and $21,000. 2 Guns had a big drop, but wasn't over-budgeted and should beat Wahlberg's Pain & Gain in a couple of days. In America, Wolverine is likely to fall short of First Class by over $10 million. Next weekend, I expect The Butler to lead Kick-Ass 2, Jobs and Paranoia in another weekend packed with major releases. See how other films performed here.

Weekend box office estimates for August 9 - 11, 2013:

1) Elysium; $30,400,000; opening weekend

2) We're the Millers; $26,555,000; $38,044,000 total; opening weekend

3) Planes; $22,525,000; opening weekend

4) Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters; $14,600,000; opening weekend

5) 2 Guns; $11,128,000; $48,517,000 total; -58.9%; 2nd weekend

6) The Smurfs 2; $9,500,000; $46,600,000 total; -45.9%; 2nd weekend

7) The Wolverine; $8,000,000; $111,986,000 total; -62.5%; 3rd weekend

8) The Conjuring; $6,700,000; $120,745,000 total; -48.6%; 4th weekend

9) Despicable Me 2; $5,748,000; $338,314,000 total; -43.3%; 6th weekend

10) Grown Ups 2; $3,700,000; $123,800,000 total; -53.4%; 5th weekend

Friday, August 9, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: August 9, 2013

There are a lot of great DVD releases this week, if you don't make it to the theaters, make sure to stop by a Red Box or your local DVD store / rental place and grab a few!

In Theaters: We're the Millers
We're the Millers is just a funny movie; it has great interactions between some very funny actors and sharp writing. Although it doesn't look like it from the trailers, it is definitely worth a watch. 

On DVD: Oblivion
Oblivion spends a lot of time setting up a beautiful, interesting sci-fi world. Although the final act is a little ridiculous, you'll forgive it because so much time is spent establishing this wonderful place. 

On DVD: The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines is a long movie that deals with some very complex issues. It has three distinct acts that will take the viewer through some involved plot, but if you're willing to stick it out, it is worth the time.

On DVD: Mud
Mud is one of those indie movies that had a very successful box office time. It's supposed to be phenomenal (especially Matthew McConaughey's performance). It's definitely a movie we'll be checking out this weekend, and you should too!

Streaming (Netflix): Arbitrage
Richard Gere made one of his most praised performances in last year's thriller Arbitrage, playing a corrupt hedge fund manager fighting to cover his tracks following an unexpected accident. Some reviewers note holes in the plot, but even they mostly agree that Gere's unsympathetic schemer and his suffering family make Arbitrage an absorbing character study.

Streaming (Netflix): Zodiac
David Fincher's Zodiac focuses on the hunt for California's elusive Zodiac Killer during the late 1960's and early 1970's. Though it is a mystery, it places greater emphasis on the investigation process and its effects upon those involved rather than the killer and their victims. Outside of a couple of brief scenes, the two-and-a-half hour film is driven by dialogue and suspenseful encounters rather than murders and confrontations. Maybe this is why Zodiac--possibly the director's second-most acclaimed film following The Social Network--is Fincher's lowest-grossing film, taking in much less than his more macabre Seven and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's good, but don't expect a standard serial killer plot.