Thursday, October 31, 2013

What to Watch: Halloween 2013 Edition

Here are some movies that may help you have a scary Halloween.

Streaming (Netflix): V/H/S and V/H/S/2
These indie, found-footage horror anthologies are uneven but fun. They both consist of frame stories where someone finds and watches video recordings made by people who unwittingly found themselves within horrific situations. There are monsters, aliens, cults and other horror standbys. They feel very low budget but polished, and the effects and creatures are effectively presented. The sequel received better reviews but both have great moments joined with less successful ones. Some of the stars and makers reunited for recent indie slasher You're Next

Streaming (Netflix): Silent House
Elizabeth Olsen stars in this indie remake of Uraguayan horror film La Cusa Muda. She plays a girl terrorized by something mysterious in her family's vacation home. Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, the directors designed the film to appear as a single, very long take (they actually edited together several, still impressive 12-15 minutes takes). SH received mediocre reviews due to a sense of tedium and an unsatisfying third act, but may be worth a look for its great atmosphere and Olsen's performance.

Streaming (Amazon Instant, Netflix): Paranormal Activity 3 and 4
This is the first year since 2009 that audiences can't go to theaters for PA's found-footage scares. To get your fix, you can take a look back the series' attempt to change up the formula (3) and the tired entry that many consider the series' low point (4). Lucky for fans, there are two PA films expected in 2014. The demon leaves the suburbs for a Hispanic community in PA: The Marked Ones, which was delayed to January. PA5 will likely return to the original, increasingly complicated storyline.

Streaming (Amazon Instant, Netflix): Scream 1, 2 and 3
Except for the recent fourth installment, Wes Craven's classic, self-aware slasher series is available for streaming. The first two are clever, fairly thrilling, and often credited with revitalizing Hollywood's once-declining interest in horror. The third reminded many of the routine slashers that the series mocks.

On DVD: The Conjuring
This story of paranormal investigators assisting a tormented family was a surprise hit. The marketing and hype really exaggerated its scares, but the creepy mood and suspenseful pacing made it a refreshing alternative to the bloody and gory slashers that have recently dominated the genre.

In Theaters: Carrie
Like the sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 and the 2002 made-for-tv film, the latest adaptation of the popular Stephen King novel is largely considered inferior and unnecessary when compared to the Brian De Palma's 1976 attempt. That being said, it sounds like Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore give decent performances as the tormented telepathic teen and her terrible mother. It's the month's only horror release due to the delay of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Ender's Game

Release date: November 1, 2013
Running time: 114 minutes
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Stanfield, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis
Who to see it with: Political science fiction fans


Book adaptation Ender's Game is set in a future where smart children and teens are trained to fill the ranks of the military in preparation for a war with an alien race called the Formics. For some odd reason, Colonel Graff (Ford) is looking to find the fleet's next commander among the youth, and strategic and clever "Ender" Wiggin (Butterfield) seems especially promising.

Ender's unusually cold character is much more interesting than the others, who basically are around enough only to serve as partners or foils in his battle school trials. Some of his later character developments seem fairly sudden. The explanation of a particularly important event makes little sense. (I haven't read the book, but it feels like a necessary plot point was told in a different, less satisfying way.) EG feels like a lengthy prelude to a second film until very late in the story, like a military story that almost entirely takes place at boot camp. Nothing's wrong with that when boot camp is the meat of the story, but EG's battle school offers little more than an interesting protagonist, some cool visuals and a decent story about a rebellious teen clashing with peers and authority. The ending makes past events more complex, in retrospect, but it doesn't change the way that EG's plot mostly plays like a rough boarding school in a cool setting. It's much more intriguing than the rest of the film, which is fine with its pretty good special effects and fun, but standard school conflicts. From what I know of the book's ending, it seems to be simplified in a way that more easily leads into a film sequel, arriving at a similar destination while losing some of its impact. Ender's Game is a decent, sci-fi twist on military school drama with a few complex themes and an unusually complex teen protagonist.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Release date: November 1, 2013 (limited)
Running time: 117 minutes
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare, Kevin Rankin
Who to see it with: Fans of McConaughey's recent dramatic roles


In Dallas Buyers Club, homophobic, hard-partying cowboy Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is shocked upon receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis in 1986, a time when the virus was nearly universally associated with homosexual men. Told he has very little time left, Woodroof's research into alternative treatments reveals a lucrative business opportunity of questionable legality, an opportunity that brings him closer to sassy transsexual patient Rayon (Leto) and a concerned doctor (Garner)McConaughey and Leto transformed themselves for their roles. McConaughey dropped over thirty pounds to attain his frail look. Typically lean Leto became even leaner and convincingly employs feminine mannerisms as in his cross dressing role.

McConaughey makes Woodroof into a fairly charming asshole who believably changes without abandoning the core of his personality. He doesn't suddenly become a saint, but he gains sympathy as his prejudice softens. He cleverly uses his stubbornness and slick charms when his business attracts attention from the FDA. Woodroof and Rayon's witty personalities and banter provide more laughs than you'd expect from an AIDS drama, often hiding their sadness outside of their most defeated moments. The FDA conflict is used to criticize the limitations and business side of the pharmaceutical industry, but does so without fully endorsing Woodroof's potentially dangerous denouncement of conventional doctor wisdom. Matthew McConaughey's brash but sympathetic performance and Jared Leto's troubled sidekick are the highlights of Dallas Buyers Club.

Rent it.

Trailer: X-Men: Days of Future Past

The trailer for the new Bryan Singer-directed X-Men movie has finally dropped and it looks amazing.  The movie appears to be an attempt to bridge the two X-Men film threads: the original X-Men and the surprisingly good X-Men: First Class. The trailer hints at a few story points: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is asked by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) to travel back in time and prevent a catastrophe that leads to a future war. Because he's going back in time, he starts in the older X-Men universe but ends up in the X-Men: First Class time. Because of this, he meets many of the characters from both films. The star-studded cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past includes Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Evan Peters, Ellen Page, Hugh Jackman, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy, Anna Paquin, Peter Dinklage, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart. I personally loved X-Men: First Class and think this movie looks like a great way to incorporate my favorites from both films. Also, the trailer looks freaking amazing! Make sure to check the movie out on May 23, 2014. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: October 25, 2013

You can check out The Conjuring on DVD if you're in the Halloween spirit, but we have some other suggestions.

This is a minimalist story about an unnamed sailor (Robert Redford) who becomes lost at sea after an unexpected collision. AIL provides little background into the sailor aside from brief, early voice-over, instead focusing on his increasingly desperate struggle to keep his damaged yacht afloat in an unpredictable ocean. There's even less dialogue than the limited amount found in other survival films like Castaway and GravitySome say it's one of 77-year-old Redford's strongest, most physically demanding roles.

This coming-of-age story is about an awkward teen who spends much of his summer avoiding his family by going to a beach town's local water park. The occasional dramatic portions of the story often feel familiar, but the relatable protagonist and often hilarious writing make much of the story a fun reminder of the awkwardness of being a teenager. Sam Rockwell is great as the playful water park manager who takes the boy under his wing.

Judi Dench plays an unusually nasty role as lonely, obsessive spinster Barbara in this twisty drama. Barbara is a teacher who finds herself drawn to new, much younger teacher Sheba (Cate Blanchett). When she learns a secret that would ruin Sheba's life if revealed, she slyly uses that information to bring them closer together. Watching Barbara manipulate Sheba into this "friendship" is unsettling, uncomfortable and absorbing. It gets a bit melodramatic towards the end but I appreciate that Barbara, despite her disturbing actions, is portrayed as a complex, troubled character rather than a mere villain. Both actresses received Oscar nominations.

If The Fifth Estate left you wanting more insight into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, you can check out this documentary. It coldly explores Assange's rise from ambitious hacker to notorious whistleblower and his unusual behavior, assisted by interviews with disillusioned former colleagues. It's more sympathetic when looking into the motivation and fate of the source of WikiLeaks' biggest scoop, Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Release date: October 25, 2013
Running time: 92 minutes
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll
Who to see it with: Candid Camera fans who get the appeal of Sacha Baron Cohen and Jackass but think they're sometimes too shocking


Bad Grandpa is a departure from the formula of the last three Jackass films. Instead of simply stringing together a series of disconnected pranks and stunts, BG connects its jokes with a plot about a disorderly grandfather and grandson's road trip. A heavily made-up Johnny Knoxville does most of the comedic work, but Nicoll is charming as his rude, less over-the-top sidekick. The plot is thin but actually develops a convincing bond between the initially distant relatives.

The pair's unusual behavior gets funny reactions from unsuspecting witnesses in ways like Sacha Baron Cohen's characters, but their actions are generally more lighthearted and slapstick rather than provocative. They leave unsuspecting witnesses hysterically laughing and humorously confused almost as often as they make them uncomfortable. BG is better described as a semi-scripted, loosely connected series of fairly bawdy hidden camera jokes rather than a Borat-like mockumentary. Jackass fans who wouldn't have minded more of the same immature horseplay and outrageous behavior will be most disappointed. The Jackass crew is absent except for Knoxville and the most extreme actions here pale in comparison to the other films' shameless heights. Some pranks have great setups and hilariously reactive audiences. Others feel uninspired, too stupid or underutilized for comedic purposes, especially a lengthy one near the end that seems designed for the narrative's conclusion rather than for laughs. The film's final big prank is funny but feels a bit too similar to the climax of another comedy (naming it would be a spoiler). Bad Grandpa's discomforting, hidden comedy antics and thin plot should broaden its appeal beyond the typical Jackass audience but disappoint longtime fans.

Rent it.

PS - Scenes play during the credits that show unseen footage and shed some light on the production process. You'll probably won't expect a few of the names in the short cast list.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: About Time

Release date: November 8, 2013
Running time: 123 minutes
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan
Who to see it with: A fan of romantic dramedies, especially British ones.


About Time tells the story of a boy named Tim (Gleeson) whose male family members have the ability to travel back in time. He finds out about this amazing talent on his 21st birthday and decides to use it to find love. He quickly meets Mary (McAdams) and begins an unusual courtship where he attempts to make every moment perfect. Tim quickly learns, however, that you can't change everything about the past, and sometimes the best parts of life are the ones that are outside of your control. 

I knew I would love this movie because of it's pedigree; I'm a huge fan of romantic dramedies in general and British ones in particular. About Time is infused with British charm and a dry wit that you quickly fall in love with. The cast is relatively small, mostly consisting of Tim's family and Mary, which allows you to spend a lot of time with the interesting and quirky main characters and get a fairly deep understanding of them. They're fleshed out and kept entertaining by some clever writing. This writing also allows the scenes to stay interesting even though you might have already seen the event once before. What I liked most about this movie is that the length of the film allows it to explore many aspects of life. By dealing with some of life's sadder events, it becomes more than just a simple story of a man falling in love with a woman. As Tim experiences life, he begins to appreciate more of what life is about, and starts to understand what should be changed and what should simply be accepted and enjoyed. My favorite moments were ones when Tim asks Mary what she would change about a certain event and she says she would change absolutely nothing. About Time tells a wonderfully original story that explores how much of life is simply beyond your control. It has a great British charm, clever writing, and an endearing story. 

Watch it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: October 18, 2013

DVDs bring the funny this week with Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain's stand-up routines and The Heat's fun pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. If you liked Captain Phillips, aptly titled Danish film A Hijacking provides another acclaimed depiction of a Somali pirate encounter.

In Theaters: 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen's 12 Years is a brutally honest portrayal of one of American history's darkest times. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of his most challenging performances as a free man kidnapped and forced into slavery. Numerous well-known supporting stars—including Benedict Cumberbatch, McQueen-regular Michael Fassbender and Paul Giamatti—bring their characters to life without feeling like empty cameos. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o stands alongside them in her role as a slave trapped within a complicated relationship dynamic with her owners. Lovely cinematography starkly contrasts with the disturbing events and Hans Zimmer's slightly overwhelming score intensifies a constant sense of foreboding.

On DVD: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
This offbeat film centers on a young New York artist's anticipation of an evening with a love interest and the disappointment that follows its nonoccurrence  That event is the foundation of his obsessively introspective examination of the many emotions that accompany attraction. It feels like a too ambitious, rambling art project; it's busy and somewhat disjointed with its merger of a documentary-like short film and original footage, the layering of nearly constant narration, the story's nonlinear ordering and the frequent use of several animation styles. However, the soothing narrators, low-key Flying Lotus soundtrack, attractive visuals and emotional exploration may provide a pleasant, poetic experience that may remind you of your own relationships. (PS - Try using the Redbox code 9MXW2LPC at the kiosk for a free one night rental).

Streaming (Netflix): Dressed to Kill
Brian De Palma's 1980 thriller revolves around a prostitute who witnesses a gruesome murder. It stars Michael Caine and De Palma's frequent collaborator and former wife Nancy Allen. A few erotic moments may be off-putting and some have derided it as a macabre Hitchcock knockoff, but Dressed should please with its stylish direction and heightened sense of tension. (Perhaps like my enjoyment of Femme Fatale's stylish opening scene heist despite a lack of interest in the rest of the film.) The score plays a large part, often keeping the mood calm before hitting you with loud, jarring sounds. I believe this is the unrated version which features about thirty seconds of footage that was cut following the MPAA's initial X rating.

Streaming (Netflix): Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Long before Michael Rooker became known for playing The Walking Dead's unlikable redneck Merle, he made his film debut as the title character of this controversial 1986 film (which wasn't widely released until 1990 due to MPAA disputes and marketing concerns). Loosely based on real killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry follows the man and a companion as they chillingly select and murder unsuspecting Chicago residents. This low-budget indie was acclaimed for its chilling realism, especially in contrast to the increasingly silly slashers that flourished in the eighties. I hear it's one of several films that pushed the MPAA to create the NC-17 rating in order to separate mature films from X-rated pornographic ones.

*In Theaters: Mother of George*
Haven't seen this, but DC-area moviegoers might like to know that this acclaimed film begins a one-week engagement at Landmark E Street today. A newly married African woman living in Brooklyn faces enormous pressure from her traditional husband and mother-in-law to become pregnant. The clash between her difficulties and their cultural expectations is emotionally complex.

Review: Escape Plan

Release date: October 18, 2013
Running time: 116 minutes
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson
Who to see it with: Nostalgic action fans


Escape Plan is the latest attempt to capitalize on nostalgia for aging action stars. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, owner of a firm that tests prison security by sending himself in and breaking out. The story starts slowly and seems to set up a mediocre thriller, an impression not helped by 50 Cent's introduction as the firm's computer expert (accompanied by an out of place Amy Ryan). Fortunately, things heat up when the firm's next case places Ray within a high-tech, seemingly inescapable, facility where he encounters inmate Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and slimy warden Hobbs (Caviezel).

Once the story arrives at its primary setting, EP becomes the type of fun, corny action flick that its leads once regularly made. Stallone and Schwarzenegger trade silly banter, their fellow inmates are sometimes over-the-top, and Caviezel really plays up the warden's sleaziness. Sam Neill shows up as the prison's seemingly normal doctor. The prison is kind of cool, looking oppressively high-tech but realistically mundane. Stallone basically plays a standard know-it-all hero, and his character mostly bores until he becomes the straight man to Schwarzenegger's joker. They're fun to watch, but the movie really rides on nostalgia and its leads' reputations. Without Schwarzenegger, it would be a lame thriller with little to recommend. He plays his role perfectly and knowingly, especially when Rottmayer tries to distract guards with his incredibly hammy acting. Fans of Schwarzenegger and eighties' action should rent Escape Plan and will likely find it a fun reminder of his past work, but those with little interest in either should pass.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Last Vegas

Release date: October 18, 2013
Running time: 105 minutes
Starring: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Who to see it with: A hangover fan that wants a little more age in their jokes


Last Vegas follows four old friends as they attempt to throw an epic bachelor party for the last single member of the group. What follows is a series of antics as the friends try to be young again while dealing with their advanced age. This is complicated by a rift that has formed between two of them, which leads to some awkward situations as they work out their differences. The movie has a powerhouse cast with the friends being played by Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro . . . and Kevin Kline. Surprisingly, Kline is the funniest of the group and although he has a kind of annoying story line, he seems to be the most natural and likable of the four. Douglas, De Niro, and Freeman are great as usual, if a bit stiff at times, and the entire cast feels like a bunch of old friends enjoying the town.

I went into Last Vegas expecting a Hangover with more geriatric jokes, and although there are plenty of those, they are pretty clever and mixed in with some non-age related funnies. I thought the entire movie would revolve around age, but thankfully that's not the only act in this Vegas show. Yes, age is definitely a big part of the film's humor, but the crew also deals with issues related to their friendship, relationships, and difficult events that have happened in their lives. And, most importantly, the movie has some genuinely funny moments and some interesting cameos to keep you entertained. If you are looking for a Vegas movie with a lot less raunchiness than the Hangover, this would be something to check out. 

Rent it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: 12 Years a Slave

Release date: October 18, 2013
Running time: 133 minutes
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch
Who to see it with: Anyone and everyone who can handle the brutality portrayed in this movie.


12 Years a Slave tells the terrible, amazing, and disturbing story of a free black man in New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. For the next twelve years, Soloman Northup (Ejiofor) was the property of plantation owners in Georgia, afraid to tell anyone who he really was for fear of being punished--or worse--for being an educated black man. The story is unimaginably horrible because it is based on a true event. 

Movies about slavery have been told before, but I can't imagine one has been as brutally honest as 12 Years a Slave. The treatment of the black slaves by their white owners (and those involved in their sale and transportation) is a horrible thing to see, made doubly so because it is likely historically accurate. This treatment is brought to life by some amazing performances, first and foremost by Chiwetel Ejiofor. He has to play a range of emotions while being placed in some intense and disturbing situations, and each time he rises to the occasion. The rest of the cast is a veritable who's who of Hollywood's up and coming talent, and their performances go a long way towards making 12 Years a Slave one of the most memorable and emotionally intense movies to come out in a long time. Additionally, the cinematography is perfect, with a nice contrast of beautiful shots of the Georgia landscape with the brutal treatment of those who are inhabiting that area. 

But, the highlight of the film has to be the sound and music. The crack of a whip, the cry of a human being, the thump of a beating, every aspect of the brutal world that these poor men and women occupy is painstakingly recreated for the big screen. And those sounds are complemented by a Hans Zimmer score that will give you a sense of foreboding every time something is about to happen. Mark my words, 12 Years a Slave will win best picture and Chiwetel Ejiofor will win best actor. The movie is a masterpiece that is a brutal recreation of one of the darkest periods in American history. It is something that should be seen by everyone.

Watch it.

I pretty much agree with David, though his Oscar predictions may be premature. Ejiofor effectively portrays a wide range of emotions as a man suddenly placed in an unimaginable ordeal. The other actors are great, but their characters fit into more traditional archetypes and don't have to hit so many notes. Solomon's start as a free man gives this slavery story a unique angle; similar stories often focus on those who've never experienced freedom and have no happier life to miss. The cinematography does create a great contrast between the lovely scenery and slavery's brutality. The score seems to serve a similar purpose. It's loud, foreboding and occasionally overwhelming, but its noticeable silence during many of the darkest scenes heightens their impact. Some of the most effective shots are the lengthy ones that show plantation life continuing as usual while someone's being brutalized in the background. Solomon's unusual perspective and the director's beautiful and brutal vision make 12 Years a Slave one of film's more effective portrayals of slavery.

Watch it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete

Release date: October 11, 2013
Running time: 108 minutes
Starring: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agdaje, Jordin Sparks
Who to see it with: Someone looking for real, but not overly dark, urban drama 


Mister and Pete are the thirteen and nine-year-old boys at the center of this urban drama. The neighbors struggle with life in the New York projects, especially once they have to fend for themselves after Mister's mother (Hudson) gets into trouble. (Pete's mom can't assist them for various reasons.) Pete is Korean, a surprise because impoverished Asians are rarely represented in American media. Brooks and Dizon carry the movie, both looking and acting like real troubled kids. Mister has been hardened by his community and his mother's illicit work. He initially rebuffs Pete, but a need for companionship and Pete's innocence eventually make them friends. The two find that they can only rely on one another; others are reluctant to help, and the police will just take them to the local children's home that isn't much better than the streets.

Urban dramas are sometimes overwhelmingly depressing. Mister & Pete explores a number of sad realities of poverty, but generally maintains a sense of hope. As implied by the Inevitable portion of the title, there's a common sense of feeling trapped and wishing for escape. Many won't achieve their loftiest goals, but they find other reasons to go on. Mister's use of street smarts and Pete's childish attitude provide occasional moments of levity even while they're searching for money and food. Supporting characters make big impressions with limited time, especially the boys' addict mothers and local drug dealer Kris (Anthony Mackie). The direction occasionally feels a bit heavyhanded but the story avoids being preachy. The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is a bleak, but hopeful look at poverty's effect on urban youth, lead by an interesting pairing of black and Asian kids.

See it.

What to Watch This Weekend: October 11, 2013

There are some great options this week including some really wonderful streaming movies.  At this point, if you haven't seen Starbuck, make some time for it this weekend!

In Theaters: Captain Phillips
Captain Phillips' dramatization of 2009's Maersk Alabama hijacking sails past other thrillers with its strong performances, interesting antagonists, and focused depiction of an intense, unusual crisis. 

On DVD: Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is a fresh take on this Shakespearean classic, keeping the heart of the play while updating the aesthetics to the modern era. 

Streaming (Netflix): Starbuck
Starbuck is one of David's favorite movies of the year and it's now possible to watch it for free on Netflix streaming. Watch it now to prepare yourself for the English remake coming out later this year.  Or just watch it because it's an amazing movie.

Streaming (Netflix): Salinger
Salinger was not well received.  We haven't seen it but it's rare that a movie that came out so recently is available on Netflix Instant so quickly.  The movie is an unprecedented look inside the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: Machete Kills

Release date: October 11, 2013
Running time: 107 minutes
Starring: Danny Trejo, Demi├ín Bichir, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Charlie Sheen
Who to see it with: B-movie lovers


Machete Kills is the third appearance of Danny Trejo's often silent, gratuitously violent character. This time, Machete is recruited by the foulmouthed U.S. President (Sheen) to stop a complicated plot involving a crazy revolutionary (Bichir). His quest is helped and hindered by a long lineup of attractive, often scantily clad ladies, and features encounters with strange characters often played by actors you wouldn't expect to see in an exploitation action film.

Like Machete's other appearances, MK intentionally resembles a B-movie and is filled with comically over-the-top blood and violence, low budget special effects and corny writing. I think the joke may have worked best in Grindhouse's brief fake trailer, but MK provides a fair amount of humorously silly action and dialogue. It feels a little long. I think Rodriguez could have amped up the madness while editing out the slower parts. This is coming from someone who hasn't seen the first film, so I wonder if those who have will feel that the franchise is starting to get old. It's fun to see the wide range of actors so gamely participate in a goofy, comic action film, but there are a lot of moments that just feel mediocre rather than like inspired nonsense. Machete Kills is not for everyonereally, probably not for mostand its comically lame writing is sometimes just bad, but B-movie fans will get some laughs from its most absurd, excessively violent moments.

Rent it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: The Summit

Release date: October 4, 2013 (very limited release)
Running time: 95 minutes
Starring: Cecilie Skog, J.J. McDonnell, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, Marco Confortola
Who to see it with: Thrill seekers


The Summit documents the 2008 K2 disaster that killed eleven mountaineers and seriously hurt three others. Archival footage and dramatic recreations give a glimpse of the mountain climbing experience and the harrowing events of the disaster. Interviews with the climbers and their loved ones complicate the mystery of what actually happened during unrecorded moments. This mystery explains why the director approaches the subject in an unusual, nonlinear way, repeatedly alternating between events before, during and after the climb. Families eager to learn what happened have been troubled by conflicting accounts of certain events. The film's final portion overly focuses on the confusion regarding the fate of a particular climber and a survivor's skeptical memories. The relatives' pain is felt, but the filmmakers' treatment of the subject feels a bit like an attempt to create a hero and villain.

The Summit often diverges from recent events to discuss the plight of an Italian climber whose part in an early expedition was unrecognized. The guy is an interesting personality and his tale occasionally relates to the main narrative, but it feels disconnected. The best parts of the movie focus on the mountain itself. The recreated events effectively show the frightening nature of the situation, and mountaineering discussion helps viewers understand why people so eagerly engage in such dangerous activities. The mountain is simultaneously beautiful and incredibly frightening. The Summit is a slightly unfocused, gripping depiction of the 2008 K2 disaster that gives insight into the minds of risk takers.

Rent it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

What to Watch This Weekend: October 4, 2013

Here are some movies you might have missed, plus one standout theater experience. If The Croods leaves you wanting more Nicolas Cage, you can check out new DVD release The Frozen Ground where he leads a manhunt for a serial killer (John Cusack). Cage and Cusack last worked together in 1997's Con Air.

In Theaters: Gravity
Gravity is literally out of this world. Its excellent special effects and outer space vistas make it an experience likely best had in theaters. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney keep you invested in their struggle for survival, but the effects are the real stars.

On DVD: The Croods
This animated tale was a surprise hit for Dreamworks. Nice animation and solid voice acting by Nic Cage, Emma Stone, and Ryan Reynolds turn a cave dwelling family's search for a new home into a fun, lighthearted adventure. Adults shouldn't be bored and kids will be more satisfied.

Streaming (Amazon Instant, Netflix, and Redbox Instant): Lars and the Real Girl
Lars is one of Ryan Gosling's stranger roles. He's an odd but good-natured guy who alarms his friends and neighbors when introducing them to his newest female friend, a lifelike doll. It sounds absurd, but the acting and Oscar-nominated screenplay make it an unusual, sweet love story about a man dealing with his troubled past with the help of his loved ones.

Streaming (Amazon Instant): Third Star
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in this British dramedy about a terminally ill man and three friends embarking upon a final hiking trip. I hear the story isn't anything special, but the friends have great chemistry and create memorable moments both hilarious and bittersweet.

Review: Delivery Man

Release date: November 22, 2013
Running time: 103 minutes
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders
Who to see it with: Someone who hasn't seen Starbuck


Delivery Man is a tough movie for me to review. I've made no secret of my love of the original Canadian film, Starbuck, so it is tough to judge the English language remake of it. The story is exactly the same: constant screw-up David Wozniak (Vaughn) finds out that through some unfortunate hospital circumstances involving his previous sperm donations, he has fathered more than 500 children. To make matters worse, 133 of his previously unknown kids have filed a lawsuit attempting to uncover his identity. David decides to secretly begin meeting his children and entering their lives without them realizing who he is, and the deeper he gets, the tougher his desire to conceal his identity becomes.

The tough thing about watching Delivery Man is that I feel like I've seen the movie before, which is understandable because they share the same story, much of the same script, and the same writer / director.  The situations and characters are the same, and a lot of the jokes and dialog are verbatim from the English subtitles of the original movie (even some of the translations that weren't perfect). This is fine if you didn't see Starbuck--the theater was filled with laughs at a lot of the jokes and situations--but the original had so much more heart. Vaughn is fine in his role as Wozniak, but Patrick Huard did it so much better. Same with David's girlfriend, Emma; the Canadian film portrayed her as a more likable character. And I liked a lot of the kids from the first movie more than in this one. However, Delivery Man does make a few changes for the better. There are more scenes with David's friend's young children that are a welcome addition and provide some very cute moments. The courtroom scene is done better, some of the plot points have been tweaked, and the movie has been updated with references to Facebook, Twitter, and some other mainstream media sources that make it feel more America. There are also a few callbacks to the original that I noticed: a Canadian flag at a basketball game and one of the actors from Starbuck reprises his prominent role. But overall, I feel like the original movie is still the better overall experience. That being said, Delivery Man is still a very funny film, mostly because it had such a phenomenal original to build off of. If you must see it in English or love Vince Vaughn, then see this one. 

See it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: Runner Runner

Release date: October 4, 2013
Running time: 91 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie
Who to see it with: Someone who wanted a little more intrigue and sexy in their Rounders


Runner Runner follows a brilliant Princeton student named Richie (Timberlake), who loses all his money playing online poker in a failed attempt to pay for his tuition. He realizes that there was no way he could have lost those hands, so he (logically) heads down to Costa Rica to get his money back from the online casino. When he meets the head of the site, Ivan Block (Affleck), Ivan offers him a job to help out at the casino and mold him into Ivan's image. This slowly leads Richie deeper into the underworld of Ivan's empire and he meets some interesting characters and is forced to make questionable decisions along the way. 

I'm a big Justin Timberlake fan and he doesn't disappoint. He's fun to watch (as always) and plays a fairly convincing smooth financial genius. Affleck is also very good as Ivan; he is a cool mogul at times and a calculating underworld businessman when he has to be more ruthless. The two have a great rapport, especially early on in the film, and seeing them both on screen is probably the highlight of the movie. Some of the supporting characters are less convincing-- Anothony Mackie (who I generally really enjoy) is a little too over the top--but luckily the main characters are fun to see. The plot is surprisingly slow; Richie is introduced to Ivan's world carefully and deliberately. It's kind of admirable that the movie doesn't rise and fall like a roller coaster,  but the danger in the film seems to ratchet up slowly and doesn't really reach a noticeable climax. The ending is fine, with a few fun surprises, but it kind of stops abruptly after such a long build up. Overall, the movie is a fun adventure, with some good acting, but I wouldn't go all in to see it.

Rent it.