Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"A Million Ways To Die in the West" (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie A Million Ways To Die in the West

1. This movie could have been called "A Million Jokes Die in this Movie".

2.  It's proof that having an all-star cast cannot save a bad script.

3. The plot is cobbled together from other old westerns; an awkward sheep herder named Albert is dumped by his girlfriend. Albert falls in love with a new girl who is secretly married to a gold bandit. They help each other out. The end.

4. This movie is mostly a succession of jokes, with a few serious scenes thrown in. Some of the jokes are funny, and some of the characters are funny. A lot of the jokes and characters are not.

5. Seth MacFarlane is mostly known for creating the TV show "Family Guy". This movie was written and produced by Seth MacFarlane, directed by Seth MacFarlane, and stars Seth MacFarlane. It's his first-ever on-screen acting role.

6. Seth MacFarlane is a terrible actor, especially in his scenes with Charlize Theron. There is nothing remotely believable about his character. He just wanders around being Seth MacFarlane, making jokes.

7. Casting Gilbert Gottfried as Abraham Lincoln was one of the worst cinematic decisions of the year.

8. The best joke was set up halfway through movie, but is pretty offensive without the punchline... which doesn't come until the credits start (with another small joke after the credits).

9.  This movie is a mess, full of non-sequiturs and random sex and poop jokes. It does have a few really good moments, but on the whole, I felt embarrassed for the actors who agreed to be in the movie.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Interview (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie The Interview

1. This movie was written and directed by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, and also stars James Franco. These three also made "This is the End" together in 2013.  If you've seen that movie, you already know this one is going to be kind of bizarre, and full of tasteless and weird humor.

2. Franco plays Dave Skylark, a dumbly charming host of a Hollywood trashy gossip show. Rogan  plays Aaron Rapoport, the show's producer. They discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un is a fan of the show and wants to be interviewed by them. The CIA intervenes and wants the pair to assassinate Kim Jung-Un while they are there.

3. Goldberg and Rogan knew their absurd plot was made more realistic after Dennis Rodman visited Kim Jung-Un and fell for the propaganda.

4. The movie was originally supposed to be released in October 2014, but North Korea threatened "merciless" action against the U.S. So the movie was pushed back to Christmas 2014 and supposedly edited to make it more acceptable to North Korea. I have no idea what editing they did, but there is absolutely no way that Kim Jung-Un would ever be OK with this movie. The ending isn't even the worst part - Kim is mercilessly mocked throughout the movie. Goldberg and Rogan had to know they were hitting a very sensitive nerve.

5. Randall Park (whose parents are South Korean) plays Kim Jung-Un. Hopefully he's in some sort of witness protection program, because I wouldn't be surprised if North Korea has taken a hit out on him.

6. There is a certain amount of political satire in the movie, but there's more dumb humor and butt jokes. It makes for a weird combination. There is also a surprising amount of bloody violence for what is essentially a buddy comedy.

7. Apparently, North Korean citizens really want to see this movie, even though being caught with it could cause them to be executed. So human rights organizations are actually balloon-dropping copies of the movie into the country.

8. This movie will probably be counted one of the most memorable moments of Katy Perry's career (even though the slow version of "Fireworks" played at the climax isn't really Katy Perry - it's a cover by a singer named Jenny Lane).

9. This isn't the best movie of the year, but it's certainly not the worst. It's dumber than it could be, but smarter than it looks. The humor will not be to everyone's taste, but it's one of the funniest movies I've seen this year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Unbroken (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Unbroken

1. This movie is based on the true story of Louis Zamperini, a troubled kid that became an Olympic runner, and then fought in World War II, spent 47 days on a life-raft, and over 2 years in a Japanese POW camp.

2.  If you've seen the trailer to this movie, you've basically seen the whole movie, except for the violence.

3.  I know it's supposed to be inspirational, but this movie is my pick for the most feel-bad movie of 2014.

4.  The best scene of the movie is the first one, when we get to see a crew of American bombers in a sky battle. After that, nothing really happens except a guy goes through hell and is still alive at the end.

5.  A pretty big chunk of the movie shows the guys just floating along in a life raft, slowly dying. The POW camp doesn't come along until somewhere in the last half of the movie.

6.  The movie gets more brutal and violent as it goes along. I don't know how it got released with a PG-13 rating.

7.  As a break from scenes of helplessness, humiliation, and torture, we are sometimes treated to inspirational quotes such as:
   "The light always follows the darkness."
   "If you can take it, you can make it."
   "A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory."
  I think those quotes were really for the audience, to encourage them to keep watching this movie.

8. The main Japanese character, Watanabe, was actually wanted for war crimes, so this movie runs with it and makes the Japanese look really evil. Some Japanese citizens are asking their government to not show the movie in Japan.

9. It's not a terrible movie, but it is so dramatic that it sometimes backfires.  And you should only go see it if you are interested in watching people survive a series of increasingly dehumanizing events. Otherwise, despite what the title of the movie is, you may finish the movie feeling kind of broken yourself.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Annie (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Annie (2014)

1. Growing up in the 1980's, "Annie" was a childhood touchstone for me. So when I heard it was being remade, I was ready to hate. But he filmmakers knew that this version would be compared to the original, so they brilliantly put a stop to that right away. The first 30 seconds of the movie make it obvious that they are not trying to replace the other version. Annie's teacher even calls her "Annie B".

2. This movie, produced by Will Smith and Jay-Z, is a thoroughly revised and updated version of the 1982 classic that is specifically targeted to a 2014 audience.  It is also a commentary on classism, and what it means to be poor, but told in a way that makes it accessible to kids.

3.  This Annie is no starry-eyed, cheerful orphan. She is a street-wise foster child always on the hustle. Quvenzhane Wallis plays Annie; after her blistering, preternatural performance in "Beasts of the Southern Wild", I was afraid she would turn into one of those child actors that would never star in anything again. I'm glad to see her in this role - she turns Annie into a real person.

4. Let me just get this out of the way. As far as bitter, alcoholic orphanage supervisors go, Carol Burnett is the only Agatha Hannigan.
As far as bitter, alcoholic foster moms go, Cameron Diaz does great as Colleen Hannigan. Diaz doesn't even attempt to fill Burnett's shoes (even Hannigan's first name is different). Diaz takes what's in the script and makes her own character with it.

5. Jamie Foxx does well with the Daddy Warbucks character - but here his name is William Stacks (Get it? Bill Stacks?). He's a cell phone mogul running for mayor that wants to use Annie to win the sympathy vote. Besides being the rich guy, Stacks is also the symbol of corporate America. As one of his employees says, "Most people are afraid of the government watching them. They should be worried about cell phone companies instead."

6. Many of the original songs are in this movie, but they have also been revised and updated. "Tomorrow" is no longer a bursting, irrepressible ode to optimism, but a bittersweet attempt by a defeated girl to keep herself going. Similarly, "Little Girls" is no longer a booze-addled, comedic complaint, but a cynical rock anthem about missed opportunities.

7. While this is a family movie, there is an adult, sarcastic, self-mocking vibe to it that goes completely over kids' heads and is aimed squarely at the generation of adults who grew up with the original version. There are inside cultural jokes and cameos that would make the adults in the theater laugh, while the kids seemed kind of puzzled. And there are a few hidden references to the original movie scattered in here, for the hardcore fans.

8. It is very rare to have a wide-release family movie where the main character is a black girl, and where the most powerful man in New York City is also black (of course, the casual racism of the 1982 version is gone, too). But the movie seems content with letting that speak for itself - race isn't really a thing here. It's a quietly integrated, fully interracial movie, that doesn't call attention to that fact.

9. This is still "Annie", so it has sentimental moments and messages that don't quite mesh with the underlying social commentary. But all in all, this is a surprisingly sharp, relevant, cool musical with some brilliant and wicked moments. It's trying to attract a new generation of fans without dismissing the original. The two versions of "Annie" are not competing, but complementary. It's OK to like both.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

1. This is the third movie in the series of one children's book.

2. Being the sixth movie about Middle-Earth, it's not really worth describing the plot. You know what's going on, or you don't. But for those that don't know the story, and think this movie is really all about the dragon, you will be disappointed. If you notice, Smaug isn't even in the title of this film.

3. Being the last movie, everything is bigger in this one. The epic-ness is more epic. The melodrama is more melodramatic, and the corny humor is even cornier.

4. Orlando Bloom has either become almost completely computer generated, or has had way too much plastic surgery done. He doesn't look real. He actually looks like a plastic action figure.

5. Some of the battle scenes (and there are quite a few of them) are great, and almost awe-inspiring. Some of them look like amateur rip-offs of "300". And speaking of battle scenes, the orcs like to proclaim that "the fields will run with blood". But the only blood in the movie come from a few light scratches on cheeks. Nobody bleeds on the battlefield, even if their heads are cut off.

6. I thought I was on acid when I was watching Galadriel banish Sauron.

7. Note to self: If I want to win a war, I need to have the giant bear ride the giant eagles at the beginning of the battle, not the end.

8. For better or worse, Peter Jackson has re-invented Middle Earth, and strayed pretty far from the original book. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but people will forever think this was Tolkien's vision, when it was more Jackson's.

9. There's enough fan service in this movie that Middle-Earth addicts will probably proclaim this is the Best Movie Of The Year. But there are enough problems with it that haters will be justified in hating it even more. Most of the rest of us will just shrug our shoulders and say, "Meh. It was fine."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Under the Skin (United Kingdom, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Under the Skin

1. This is surely the strangest, most beautifully baffling film of 2014. It's visually poetic, existentially stunning, and impossible to describe.  I think it's brilliant and scary, though I don't know why. This is art that cuts below conscious thought and messes around inside you on the human level. It either speaks to you, or it doesn't; it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

2. It kind of has a plot. Scarlett Johansson plays a woman with the personality of an insect who wanders around Scotland, picking up solo men, and... makes things happen to them.

3. The movie is so abstract that it can be interpreted in multiple ways. I think it's supposed to be about some kind of inter-dimensional vampire alien thing. But this is not an action science fiction movie.

4. The movie could also be about a primitive force of nature that both distracts and consumes humanity.

5. Or it could be about the predatory nature of humans, and how men differ from women in what they're after.

6. There's relatively little dialogue in the movie - most of it is visual.  None of the characters even have names. Most of the characters were played by non-actors, and when they do talk, it was mostly unscripted.

7. The scene with Adam Pearson, the guy with neurofibromatosis in real life, stops you cold with its depiction of the unutterable, lonely intimacy of human relations.

8. This is a complete, perfect package of a film. From the surreal acting to the entrancing visuals, and the hauntingly unnerving soundtrack, you either take the whole thing or reject the whole thing.

9. I'm still not sure if the ending is happy or sad. Or if it even matters.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Into the Storm (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Into the Storm

1. This movie has some pretty spectacular storm effects. It's probably the best disaster porn I've ever seen.

2. The rest of the movie is one of the worst films of 2014.
    And if you combine these two things together, you get absolute magic.

3. For some reason, they decided to make this a "found footage" film. All the characters run around filming everything. It's kind of like "Paranormal Activity", but they see tornadoes instead of ghosts.

4. There are three separate mini-plots in the film, and the movie jumps from camera to camera, plot to plot. And sometimes it turns into a regular movie. But you can't tell really when that is, because all the cameras in the town are the same quality, whether they are high-end professional equipment, or cell phones.

5. I love the scene when the dad is standing in torrential winds and rain, looking in horror at something, but his hair and clothes are perfectly dry and still, like there was one spot of clear weather right above his head.

6. I also love the emotional, melodramatic scene where two teenagers are about to die so they film a goodbye to their parents. The girl tells her parents that she's dying next to a sweet boy that she hardly knows, "so it's kind of OK". And the boy tells his brother to stay awesome. And then the boy and girl hug each other, and I noticed that neither one of them is holding a camera.

7. But my favorite scene is about the amateur storm chaser. He's terrified of bad weather, and keeps wanting to go home. But when he sees a tornado made of fire, he grabs the camera and basically runs right into it.

8. Oh man, I can't even talk about the white-trash rednecks.

9. The script is clumsy, the dialogue is awkward and sometimes nonsensical. The "suspense" is built on laughable situations. And the only real purpose of the movie is to watch the destruction of a town that's so small it has one high school, but also has a big airport.
So what I'm saying is, this is a pretty great bad movie. I'm gonna be buying this one.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings (USA, United Kingdom, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Exodus: Gods and Kings

1. This is a 3-hour epic that is kind of based on the famous Bible story of Moses rescuing the Jews after 430 years of slavery in Egypt. It takes the broad plot outline from the Bible, but makes its own story. To put it another way, I heard two people complaining behind me that it wasn't "historically accurate".

2. Christian Bale plays Moses, adopted son of the Pharaoh. He is an atheist, and serves as a general in the Egyptian army with the Pharaoh's real son, Ramses (who was actually born 300 years after the events of the movie, but whatever). Moses helps to keep the Jewish slaves in line. But when he finds out he is actually Jewish, his mind is blown. He does some things that get him exiled, so he goes off and gets married and has a son.

3. About halfway through the movie, Moses gets hit on the head with a rock and then sees God. After that, the personality of Moses completely transforms; you could interpret this new Moses as either a man who has found faith, or a religious extremist with possible schizophrenia.

4. The movie rides a very thin line on the God topic. If you want to believe that the story is basically true, then you are free to believe that. But if you don't think the story is actual history, you are free to believe that, too. The movie provides a possible interpretation of the plagues as a chain-reaction of rare natural disasters that had nothing to do with God, but that fed Moses' religious mania.

5.  Most of the famous plagues appear in the movie, but they go by very quickly. However, we do get a bonus scene of gigantic cannibal crocodiles. And I must admit, the climax at the Red Sea was pretty epic.

6.  For a movie about God's wrath, there sure was a lot of politics, intrigue, and talking in it.

7. The God of this movie is very much the God of the Old Testament. He is inscrutable, sadistic, bloodthirsty, and vengeful. God is definitely not Love in this movie. Ramses even directly asks Moses the Big Question: if your god is real, is such a god worthy of worship?

8. The casting of the movie is just... confusing. It's about people in the Middle East, but all the main characters are white with a vague British/American accent. Sigourney Weaver is in the movie, but she has about six lines. And whoever thought of hiring John Turturro to play the pharaoh, well, there must be a special strain of weed for that.

9. This is a very conflicted movie. And I'm conflicted about it. Visually it's spectacular. There are some amazing set pieces, fascinating scenes, and some great acting. But it does too much. It's a look at society, revolution, and the difference between leadership and slave-driver. Religiously, it tries so hard to include all perspectives that it ends up feeling hollow.
The movie can't commit to anything, so it ends up meaning nothing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Theory of Everything (Britain, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie The Theory of Everything.

1. This piece of obvious Oscar-bait is about the life of famous physicist Stephen Hawking. And I feel really conflicted about it.

2. There are some great individual things about this movie - some terrific cinematic sequences and emotional moments. The soundtrack is lush and beautiful.

3. But it's mostly a love story. A fake one.

4.  The movie tries to give the audience a taste of what Hawking did to physics. But it ends up feeling very vague, and if you don't already know his theories, then you just end up with the idea that he was really smart. You don't understand how revolutionary he actually was.

5. It's also a "greatest moments" look at the development of his motor-neuron disease, and how he went from a healthy 21-year-old to the famously wheelbound man with a wrecked body and robotic voice.

6. The rest of the movie is a tired, by-the-numbers romance about a woman who stands by her man and together they overcome all odds. A lot of the relationship depicted in the movie never happened in real life, including how it began and ended. Not even close. The film just invents a new relationship for them.

7.  I admit, I couldn't help but spend part of the movie trying to figure out which actors played which characters in the "Harry Potter" movies. It was kind of distracting.

8.  Eddie Redmayne (who isn't very well known in America) plays Hawking. It's easily the best acting I've seen in 2014. The way he slowly contorts his body as the disease progresses is one of the best physical performances I've ever seen in my life. It should be illegal for him not to win some acting awards. He almost single-handedly makes the movie worth seeing.

9.  As a showcase for some cinematography and acting, the movie is great.
 As an inspirational love story, this movie is melodramatic and saccharine. You know, the usual.
As a scientific biography, this movie is terrible, and almost insulting.
If you watch this movie, make sure you know what you're getting.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Birdman (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Birdman

1. I admit I almost skipped this movie, because I couldn't figure out from the marketing what I was supposed to be going to see. So the biggest reason I went to see it is because of the director, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu. I've followed his career ever since Amores Perros.

2.  I'm very glad I took the chance with this movie. This is an acidic, melancholy comedy that takes on serious universal themes, while set almost entirely in a Broadway theater.

3. Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a has-been Hollywood actor who, in a kind of pathetic attempt to make himself relevant again, decides to create a Broadway show. As the show gets closer to opening night, his mental stability deteriorates, and everything starts coming unhinged. People around him are forced to face their own insecurities and fears.

4. The movie is very cleverly edited so that it seems like most of it is filmed in one long, continuous camera shot.

5. While the entire cast is great, this might be Michael Keaton's best performance ever. He plays Riggan with just the right mixture of exhaustion, hope, cynicism and defeat.

6. There is a dash of magical realism that pops up from time to time, which may confuse some audience members. And I'm still not sure what to do with the ending.

7.  One of the themes of the movie is coming to the realization that in the grand scheme of things, you don't matter very much, if at all. Even if you do achieve some fame in this world, it's temporary and pointless anyway.

8.  Another theme of the movie is the eternal battle about creativity. Specifically, it illustrates the way that the Hollywood movie culture and the New York theater culture resent each other for having differing ideas about art and importance and relevance.

9. This is a very quirky, dark-hearted comedy that takes stabs all kinds of people. celebrities, and situations. And it's exactly that sharpness, as it slices up the characters, that lets the audience see that inside, we're all pretty much the same.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Enemy (Canada, Spain, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Enemy

1. This is one of the only films in my life that actually gave me nightmares. And it's technically not even a horror movie.

2. It's about a neurotic, semi-depressed college professor, stuck in a routine life. When he sees a movie with an actor that looks just like him, he becomes obsessed with meeting his double.

3. From there the movie veers off into very surreal territory, and begins to fold over itself in unexpected and confusing ways.

4. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both the teacher and the actor. While they look identical, you can technically tell them apart because one of them wears a wedding ring. However, Gyllenhaal's two performances are so strong that he actually seems to be two actors. The two characters are so well delineated that you can tell just from Gyllenhall's body language and speech patterns which person he is.

5. There is a real, masterful sense of creeping dread and menace that builds relentlessly to the final scene.

6. Oh, and about that final scene. I don't care how good you are at predicting movies - you will not see this ending coming. And then either your soul will jump in frustrated horror, or you will start the movie over again. Or both.

7. There are a lot of really short scenes that last only a few seconds - or short segments of longer scenes - that provide some clues as to what's really going on. You won't realize their significance the first time you watch the movie.

8. The opening epigraph of the film is a quote from the novel on which the movie is based: "Chaos is order yet undefined". It not only sets the tone for the film, but provides the key for at least one of the film's possible meanings.

9. Part thriller, part allegory, part existential nightmare, this is perhaps the most brilliant and inscrutable movie of 2014.

Whiplash (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Whiplash

1. If I say this movie is about a kid who wants to be a famous drummer, it will probably make you think it's of those musical prodigy movies, about overcoming obstacles to achieve your dreams. But you would be wrong. This movie is actually more like a psychological battle in Thunderdome.

2. It's about a 19-year-old music conservatory student that named Andrew who desperately wants to become a member of a studio jazz orchestra conducted by the legendary and fearsome conductor Terence Fletcher. Fletcher sees some talent in Andrew, and gives him a shot as a drum alternate.

3. Once Andrew joins the band, however, he witnesses the cruel and demoralizing abuse that Fletcher hurls at his students when they don't do what he wants. Not wanting to lose his chance at greatness, Andrew practices to the limits of his endurance - and gets pushed to a breaking point.

4. Miles Teller plays Andrew and J.K. Simmons plays Fletcher. There are other people in the movie, but you hardly notice them. The performances of Teller and Simmons are fierce and mesmerizing - everybody else seems slightly out of focus

5. Jazz music plays almost constantly throughout the film. You don't have to like jazz to like the movie - but it helps.

6. The movie is refreshing in the way it illustrates the passion and sacrifice necessary to follow your dreams. It shows the emptiness of a culture where everybody is a winner. But it also makes you think about the line where you give up.

7. The movie is also about teaching, and how instructors push their students to achieve things they didn't think they could. But it also makes you think about the line where they push too hard.

8. "Whiplash" may seem like a weird title for a movie about student jazz musicians. But it's actually very fitting - the story slams your opinions and emotions around like a drumstick. By the end of the film, you may actually have psychological whiplash.

9. By setting an epic battle of wills in the normally stuffy reputation of a music conservatory, the movie turns a depiction of music lessons into a surprisingly intense and gripping character study.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Horns (USA, Canada, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Horns

1. The 2010 book on which the movie is based is an original surreal fantasy with commentary on topics such as psychology, love, and God. But this movie adaptation of the novel is one of the biggest disappointments of 2014.

2. Any story about a guy that turns into a demon after his girlfriend is raped and murdered needs to be handled delicately. And I think there needs to be a rule that if you don't understand a book, you can't make a movie about it. In which case, this movie would never have been made.

3. The screenplay is by the relatively unknown playwright and TV scriptwriter Keith Bunin. The movie was directed by Alexandre Aja, a horror director best known for "High Tension" and the 2006 remake of "The Hills Have Eyes". Oh, and, uh, "Piranha 3D".

4. Whatever subtlety exists in the novel was completely lost on Bunin and Aja. They changed a lot of the plot, and they misinterpreted key themes. In short, they turned this story into a silly mess. They simplified everything so much that the movie doesn't even really make sense.

5.  In order to keep the story moving forward, characters have to suddenly change motives with no justification, Random facts and events need to keep dropping into the script, usually for no apparent reason.

6. Daniel Radcliffe (who left Harry Potter behind a long time ago) stars as Ig Perrish, a guy that wakes up from a drunken bender to find horns growing out of his head. Any problems with the movie are not Radcliffe's fault. He does a great job, considering the terrible script he was handed.

7.  Most of the rest of the acting in the movie is not good. But again, that's not because they are bad actors, but because they were forced to turn a relatively sophisticated dark fantasy into a zany horror-comedy-romance-superhero-psycho-thriller.

8.  Some of the make-up and special effects were nicely done. Some were TV-movie quality.

9.  If you haven't read the novel, you might consider this to be a screwy supernatural comedy-drama that doesn't quite go where it needs to. But if you have read the book, you will know that the movie doesn't have a clue as to what it's supposed to be doing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (Britain, Germany, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Only Lovers Left Alive

1. This movie was written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. When you see Jarmusch's name on a film, you know right away that nothing will ever happen in it.

2. This movie is about two vampires that wander around, drive around, stare at things, talk, and do nothing. Random things slowly happen. And then the movie ends.

3. It's almost worth watching just to see the performances of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, the two ancient emo hipster vampires that are trying not to get bored with life. Or death, whatever.

4. Hiddleston plays Adam, a semi-suicidal musician who hates humans, so he lives in Detroit and releases music anonymously. Swinton plays Eve, who lives in Tangier, and finds joy in reading books and dancing. Together, they apparently knew every famous artistic person in Western history.

5. There is a weird little subplot about the Christopher Marlowe/William Shakespeare conspiracy.

6. There's also a weird recurring conversation about quantum theory, as well as Nikola Tesla. This just shows how embarrassingly little Jarmusch knows about science.

7. Visually, the movie is lush and sumptuous; it showcases the beauty of decay and the decay of beauty. Sonically, the movie is also luxuriously grungy. The soundtrack is a perfect match for the visual style.

8. Jarmusch almost seems to be making a point about humanity's self-destructive nature, or maybe the inevitable disintegration of everything. But Jarmusch fans don't need to worry; he stops himself from actually saying anything deep.

9. Jarmusch movies always have a tone that is more important than things like plot or character development. If you can get into that groove, then his movies are enjoyable. But you can't appreciate his vibe, then his movies swing from boring to annoying. This is possibly Jarmusch's best film - or his least annoying one, depending on your perspective.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Hero 6 (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Big Hero 6

1. This is the most pleasant surprise I've seen at the movies in 2014. From the cutesy trailer and the stupid title, it's like Disney doesn't want anybody to know what the movie really is.

2. It's about a 14-year-old genius named Hiro Hamada who lives in the city of San Fransokyo. He's out of high school, bored, and thinks college is for nerds. He spends his time in the city's battle robot underground. Hiro's older brother, Tadashi, is a robotics engineering student who has invented a new kind of robot named Baymax that specializes in health care.

3. After some bad things happen, Hiro reluctantly teams up with Baymax and Tadashi's friends to stop someone from stealing Hiro's own invention of swarming microbots. But that quest opens up bigger problems.

4. There are themes of death and loneliness in the film that aren't obvious from the way the movie is marketed. I was more emotionally invested in the movie than I expected to be.

5. The filmmakers consulted about six universities and robotics research labs for help on this movie. I'm pretty sure this is the only animated film I've ever seen that uses the term "tungsten carbide".

6. The character of Baymax was inspired by actual research in a new field called "soft robotics". And the swarming microbots in the film are also based on real research and inventions. Of course, the movie takes those ideas and then leaves reality behind.

7. The animation in this film is so incredibly detailed that some scenes look almost like real life. The 3D is also worth the extra price, if you like that sort of thing.

8.  The movie unabashedly promotes science, technology, engineering, and education. It makes the point that some problems are too tough to solve through brute force; sometimes you have to think your way to a solution.

9. If you are expecting an "aww, that's cute and funny" superhero movie, then you will be disappointed. Don't get me wrong, this is a fun movie for the family, but it's also a real movie with real issues, emotions, and problems. It's the most thoughtfully fun animated film I've seen in a long time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Shivers [aka "They Came From Within"] (Canada, 1975)

Nine Things About the Movie Shivers [aka They Came From Within]

1. Made in 1975, this was David Cronenberg's first film. As one of the godfathers of the "body horror" film genre, this film shows his first attempt at the topic of the human body as a frightening, strange, and grotesque process of destruction.

2. It's a strange little movie about rich, bland people living in an exclusive apartment complex on an island. A crazy doctor wants to get people to stop acting so boring and rationally. So he puts a creature in a girl that is designed to make her want to have sex, and then reproduce and spread to others like an STD. The parasite spreads to people in the apartment complex, and they all start trying to have sex with other people - willingly or not.

3. Now that I think about it, I think this is the only movie I've ever seen about sex zombies.

4. On one hand, this movie is a pretty bad exploitation film. The acting is amateur, and the script is clunky. The concept is ludicrously impossible. It made me laugh a few times when it wasn't supposed to. The special effects are... not very special.

5. On the other hand, this is a surprisingly original idea, especially for 1975. If you can get past the story, and pay attention to what Cronenberg is actually trying to say, it packs a nice little punch. Cronenberg said that the movie should be viewed "from the point of view of the disease".

6. All sexual contact is treated the same in this movie. Straight or gay, through incest or pedophilia, it's all depicted as grotesque and threatening.

7. The movie was pretty controversial for its time. Mixing sex and violence and monsters was not something that the general public was ready for.

8. The movie is also worth seeing just for the groovy 1970's fashion and style.

9. While not Cronenberg's best film, it's still very valuable for its ideas and as a way to see the evolution of his style and topics in later films.

The Rover (Australia, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie The Rover

1. This bleak, beautiful, existential meditation proves once again that nobody does post-apocalyptic dystopias like the Australians.

2. At first glance, this seems to be like a Mad Max movie. But it definitely isn't. This is a more thoughtful and realistic vision of life after what they call "the collapse".

3. Guy Pearce stars as Eric, a mysterious guy that really only cares about his car. When it gets stolen, Eric goes on a quest to get it back.

4. Robert Pattinson (yes, Edward from "Twilight") stars as Rey, the wounded brother of one the car thieves. He's slow in the head, and very needy. He half-willingly joins up with Eric to track down the car and his brother.

5. This is one of those movies that really doesn't have any good guys. Everyone is desperate and trying just to survive.

6. Pattinson continues to leave his days as a sparkly vampire pedophile behind him. He gives one of the best acting performances I've seen all year. He is almost unrecognizable in his portrayal of the pathetic, simple man that can't quite put all the pieces together.

7.  This isn't really an action film, although it does have some action scenes.

8. There is a strong theme running through the movie about the meaninglessness of everything. People can do what they want, and it doesn't really matter to anybody except themselves.

9. This is not a feel-good movie. It's an absorbing, stylish drama about the human condition in extreme circumstances.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nightcrawler (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Nightcrawler 

1. This darkly beautiful film is hard to categorize.

2. It's a character study of an... intense young man.

3. It's also a scathing critique of ratings-hungry news media.

4. And it's a midnight-black satire on the "fight to accomplish your dreams" concept.

5. Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely owns this film as Lou, an intense but aimless man who discovers he can make money by filming crime and accident scenes and then selling the footage to a news station. As the news station demands more graphic footage, Lou decides to step his game up, which leads to unpleasant consequences.

6. Some people are upset with the ending of the movie, but I thought it was well-played and consistent with the rest of the film.

7. The beauty (and terror) of Gyllenhaal's performance is that he never shows exactly what's going on inside Lou's head. Lou is a smooth, awkwardly friendly young man. But every now and then his mask slips, giving us a glimpse of what he's really like. And it's not friendly. Gyllenhaal rides this razor thin line brilliantly.

8.  The cinematography is gorgeous, showing nocturnal Los Angeles in a shiny darkness, reflecting the personality of Lou.

9.  From the unusual opening scene to the unconventional ending, "Nightcrawler" is dark drama with elements of a thriller and a crime film. This one will stay under your skin for awhile.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Interstellar (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Interstellar

  1. One of the best movies of 2014 (maybe THE best), this movie brings a sense of wonderment and awe that I haven’t felt in a long time.

  1. It was directed by Christopher Nolan, who most people know from “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy. But this movie is not like those.

  1. It’s best not to know too much about the film before you see it, but the main plot is set in the near future, when Earth is not able to sustain the human population anymore, and a desperate attempt is made to find another planet for humans to move to.

  1. The script took four years to write, because they wanted to make it as scientifically accurate as possible (it’s rare to see a movie that actually shows that nothing in space makes a sound). One of the writers studied physics and relativity while he was writing the script, so there is a lot of math and hard science in the film. This may make it kind of hard for some people to really appreciate what’s going on.  

  1. A key part of the film is a gigantic black hole. The way the black hole looks and works in the movie is based on real mathematics. Well-known physicist Kip Thorne gave pages of theoretical equations to the special effects people, who used powerful computers to solve them and make the black hole. It was so accurate that new things were learned about black holes just from making the film.

  1. The movie is three hours long, but doesn’t feel like it. There is a lot going on, and many themes are interwoven. It’s not just about science. Most brilliant is the way Nolan juxtaposes the survival of a single family with the survival of the human race. It’s a study of human nature on both the smallest scale and the biggest. The whole thing feels immediate and real.

  1. There are a lot of plot twists and story turns in the movie, so that it never gets boring or predictable.

  1. The movie gets really speculative and strange by the end, and I don’t think it really explains everything it wants to. But it sure looks cool.

  1. Besides a few moments of sentimentality, and a weird climax that stretches believability to the breaking point, this is a smart, engrossing, beautiful, sophisticated science-fiction film that is just as thought-provoking as it is adventurous.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

ABC's of Death 2 (2014)

Nine Things About the Movie “ABC’s of Death 2” (2014)

  1. This is the sequel to the almost instant cult classic “ABC’s of Death” in 2013..

  1. But it’s not really a sequel, it’s a continuation. Using the exact same setup as the first film, 26 directors from around the world were given a letter of the alphabet. They picked a word starting with that letter, and then made a short film about that word that incorporates death. They were given complete artistic freedom to make whatever they wanted.

  1. Like the first one, this movie presents a wide variety of topics, settings and techniques. We go from Europe to Israel to Africa to secluded beaches in the middle of nowhere. Since the films last about 4 minutes each, if you don’t like one, just wait.

  1. On the whole, the films are more solid than the first one, and the quality is more consistent. There aren’t as many dumb films in this installment. Then again, there aren’t as many jaw-dropping, confrontational WTF moments, either.

  1. Some of the films are jokes, some are serious. Some are just plain strange. Like the first film, there is kind of a meta-game in the movie: you can try to guess what the word the director picked.

  1. I'm pretty sure there was only one giant penis in this movie. There was a large penis on the end of a tentacle in the film about torture porn, but I don't think it counts as 'giant'.

  1. There were a lot of head wounds and decapitations in this movie.

  1. There are a few that make some strong social statements about society, religion, and culture. Oh, and the award for weirdest movie goes to Japan. Again. Of course.

  1. Like the first film this is a rapid-fire, global investigation of the ways people encounter their ends. There are some definite minor masterpieces here. It is a worthy successor to the first, and is worth watching for those that have... adventurous tastes.

Warning: the trailer is NSFW

John Wick (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "John Wick" (USA, 2014)

1. This is probably the best action movie of 2014. It's certainly the movie with the highest body count of 2014.

2. It's directed by two guys who, before they made this movie together, were mostly stunt coordinators and stunt doubles for people like Brad Pitt, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Keanu Reeves.

3. Speaking of Keanu Reeves, he's great in this. You see, there is a very specific type of movie in which Keanu excels - action flicks where he moves around a lot and hardly talks. This had to be his dream role.

4. Reeves plays John Wick, a depressed nobody dealing with the loss of his wife. When a few things go wrong, we find out that John isn't exactly a nobody. In fact, he has quite a reputation as an assassin for the Russian mafia.

5. What's fascinating about this film is that this is no street-level gang war stuff. These are all super rich, civilized professionals that move in their own exclusive circles. There are codes to be honored, and rules to be followed.

6. There are some truly great action sequences in the movie. These scenes were clearly inspired by John Woo's Chinese gun-fu classics like "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled".

7. The movie has a sleazy, industrial rock soundtrack which is a great counterpoint to the opulent, cultured environment that the characters live in.

8. Of course, being firmly in the action genre, it also follows those conventions, like bad guys that line up to take on the good guy one by one. And villains that like to tie the good guy up in a chair and give a speech, instead of just killing him. But people do run out of bullets sometimes, so that's a refreshing change.

9. The movie has a wry sense of humor, letting us know that it knows what it is. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and doesn't try to be anything other than a revenge flick that kicks ass. If that's what you're looking for, then you just found it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ouija (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Ouija" (USA, 2014)

1. This is basically just another lazy, uninspired jump flick. In fact, I finished seeing it 30 minutes ago, but I have to hurry up and write these Nine Things because I’m already starting to forget it.

2. It’s painfully obvious how this movie was made: The producers got together and said, “We need to get some Halloween dollars from the kids. Let’s make a movie about that game, the Ouija board. It hasn’t been the subject of a major Hollywood movie since ‘Witchboard’ back in ‘86, so kids today will think it’s fresh. Who has the rights to the Ouija board now? Hasbro? The ‘Transformers’ people? Ok, somebody call them.”

3. So that’s what we have: a generically random script with generically attractive actors who wander around getting scared (and sometimes killed). When the “plot” needs to move along, a prop or character will suddenly appear and provide enough information for everyone to move to the next period of wandering around and getting scared.

4. If you really need to know the plot, it’s about a girl that kills herself after playing with the Ouija board. Her best friends think it’s a good idea to find out what happened - by using the same Ouija board.

5. This is the first horror movie I’ve seen where the evil spirit tries to be scary by writing “Hi friend” everywhere.

6. I know characters in horror movies are supposed to make stupid decisions. That’s part of the genre. But the characters in this movie make so many stupid decisions that I started laughing in the theater.

7. News flash, Hollywood: making people jump doesn’t mean you made a horror movie. I can suddenly scream ‘Boo!’ in front of a friend to make him jump. That doesn’t mean I just made a horror movie. Even if I charge him for it.

8. What’s funny is that a small scene actually explains how the Ouija board works - the ideomotor effect. The movie debunks itself, and then goes on to pretend it’s real anyway.

9.There are a few individually interesting scenes that prevent it from being the worst movie of the year, but it’s definitely not good. If you’re desperate to throw your money at a horror movie, then I’m not going to stop you. Otherwise, go buy your own Ouija board from the toy store, get stoned, and scare yourself instead.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dear White People

Nine Things About the Movie "Dear White People" (USA, 2014)

1. This brave, thoughtful firecracker of a movie sits right on the nexus of racism, classism, and homophobia. It opens a Pandora’s Box of issues and identities in contemporary society.

2. It is set in a mostly white, success-obsessed Ivy League college, and follows four black students as they try to figure out what they want from life - and what life wants from them.

3. Each of the four main characters are well-played and embody various perspectives of young black culture: Samantha is a hell-raising protester. Troy is the guy that has it all made - as long as he can be a trophy. Coco is the one that wants to be famous. But I think the best performance of the movie comes from Tyler James Williams, who plays Lionel, the black gay guy that can’t seem to find his place anywhere.

4. The movie is kind of a hodgepodge of scenes at the beginning, as if the film doesn’t know quite what it wants to be. But as it moves along, it begins to sort itself out.

5. The movie is really funny, both in a satirical way, and in a “oh-no-they-didn’t” way. But it’s humor with a point, and the movie bites you while you’re laughing.

6. While the movie is told mostly from the black perspective, it doesn’t let anybody off the hook. First-time writer/director Justin Simeon knows his stuff, and is perfectly willing to aim some jabs squarely at the black community.

7. The movie as a whole isn’t quite as coherent as perhaps it could have been, but that can be forgiven when you consider what Simeon is trying to do. And there are some amazing individual scenes that have both the guts and sensitivity to push the topic way past the level of polite conversation.

8. The movie raises more questions than it can possibly answer. It actually doesn’t answer any of them, but that’s ok. It’s function is not to solve the problems, but to make sure we can all admit they’re there. The real brilliance of the movie is not just in its ability to illustrate the frustrating, vague tensions between the races, but in its ability to show the frustrating, vague, symbiosis of the races.

9. This is a rare movie that I like more and more each time I think about it. It’s not perfect, but it’s important, and necessary. When it comes to the culture wars, this movie is going to leave a mark.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fury (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Fury" (USA, 2014)

1. One of the best movies of the year, this is a film that lives up to it’s name. It is a bitter, gorgeous, violent, post-patriotic, post-moral examination of war.

2. Set in Germany during the last month of WWII, it’s about a group of five men and their Sherman tank. A rookie typist is randomly selected to join the crew when one of the five is killed. He is a gentle and religious man, and the movie follows him as the war warps and destroys everything he has believed about the world and about himself.

3. I’ve never seen a war movie focused on tank divisions before, so the battle scenes are not the typical “run up the hill and shoot the bad guy” scenarios we are used to. The fighting is chaotic, suspenseful, and yes, furious.

4. Between the war scenes are battles of a different sort, as each member of the crew tries to maintain their sanity, if not their humanity. They each have different defense mechanisms to deal with the horrors of what they experience. Shia LeBeouf is great as the religious one who tries to increase morale by convincing the crew that they are on God’s side.

5. Did I say this movie is violent? Well, it’s violent. Like, really violent. But it’s war, so it’s ok, right?

6. All five of the main actors totally inhabit their characters - there is not a weak performance anywhere. But Brad Pitt deserves to be nominated Best Actor of the Year for his role as leader of the group. He really straddles the line between hope and despair, and watches over his crew like a tired father who knows more than he can ever talk about.

7. The movie drives home the point that idealism is all well and good, but if those ideals are to be maintained, someone has to betray them. The movie deliberately moves past the discussion of good versus evil - such distinctions are for people sitting at home, safe. The soldiers are here simply to kill as many people as they can before they themselves are killed.

8. There is a smoldering, smoky rage that drifts through all the characters in the movie. Rage at the enemy, rage at the war, rage at the world… and rage at themselves.

9. I don’t think this is a movie for the patriotic “Team America” crowd. It’s a beautiful, merciless, tour of duty that makes you wonder whether war destroys our humanity, or if war destroys our carefully constructed polite exterior and lets humanity express its natural brutality.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gone Girl (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Gone Girl" (USA, 2014)

1. One of the best movies of 2014, this multi-layered, wickedly brilliant film is a great adaptation of the 2012 novel.

2. It was directed by David Fincher. He collaborated with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross again for the smoothly foreboding soundtrack. Fincher has developed a unique cinematic style, and this movie is a showcase of it.

3. The heart of the movie is a mystery - a wife disappears from her home on the morning of her anniversary. But not only do we not know who did it, we don’t even really know what happened.

4. The movie flips back and forth between the husband’s perspective and the wife’s, slowly unfolding its secrets like a black, poisonous flower.

5. Besides the core mystery, the movie is also a commentary on media hype, and trial by popularity. Nancy Grace probably wishes she could sue somebody for this movie.

6. Perhaps more chilling than the mystery is the depiction of what has to be the most dysfunctional marriage in cinematic history.

7. The movie is almost 3 hours long, but it doesn’t feel like it. The plot is tight - no scene is wasted. The dialogue is snappy and razor-sharp. The acting is awesome, from the main characters all the way down to minor roles.

8. Part of the reason the movie works so well is that the author of the book also wrote the screenplay. It’s set in Missouri and feels fairly authentic, probably because the author is from Kansas City.

9. A movie about passion, lies, obsession, the death of love, and living with sociopaths, this is a remarkable movie. It also reinforces my belief that I never ever want to get married.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dracula Untold (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Dracula Untold" (USA, 2014)

1. This is yet another version of Dracula, that gets yet another origin story. But it’s pretty decent, if you know what you’re getting.

2.This is not your regular blood-sucking movie. This Dracula takes the semi-historical Vlad the Impaler route. Vlad is a prince who grew up captured and fighting for his enemies, the Turks.

3. Now back at home and ruling Transylvania, Vlad is threatened once again by the Turks. In order to save his people, he finds an ancient master vampire living in a Transylvanian mountain.

4. Vlad accepts a deal from the vampire, and begins his descent into darkness.

5. Vlad/Dracula is not evil in this movie, though he is an antihero. He is a physically and mentally traumatized man that feels a sociopathic duty to protect his people.

6. If you look at it right, this version of Dracula can be seen as a metaphor for war veterans with PTSD, trying (and ultimately failing) to keep their inner demons at bay.

7. A few characters from the original story make appearances in this movie; Mina appears briefly, and Vlad’s gypsy servant Shkelgim is clearly the Renfield character.

8. The movie’s atmosphere and cinematography are great. There are a few scenes that are absolutely, gorgeously gothic.

9. The movie touches on some deeper issues, but never explores them. So in the end, there’s nothing about this movie that makes it particularly memorable. You watch it, then you go on with your life. But as an entertaining dark fantasy adventure, this is worth a look.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Annabelle (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Annabelle" (USA, 2014)

1. The doll that opened the 2013 film “The Conjuring” gets its own origin story here. This movie starts with the same opening scene as “The Conjuring”, but then goes back to a year before, so we see how Annabelle came to be so scary.

2. It was directed by John Leonetti, who is mostly a cinematographer and TV director. From what I can tell, the only other movies he’s directed are “The Butterfly Effect 2” in 2006 and “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” in 1997.

3. The movie doesn’t suck, but you need to know what it is. The movie would have been better if it was actually about Annabelle. But the doll is hardly in it. When it is on screen, we usually just see the doll sitting there, not doing anything, while creepy music plays in the background.

4. It’s really about how a nice couple get attacked by Satanists, and then move to a different town. The blood of a Satanist falls on the doll, and then weird things start to happen.

5. When the nice couple meets a used bookstore owner - who also appears to be the only black person in town - you know this lady is going to have some spiritual knowledge of the situation.

6. There are some good moments, and some legitimate jump scares.

7. In the end, it’s really just another generic haunted-house-demon story, with the doll thrown in as a hook. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I was really disappointed with what Annabelle turned out to be.

8. Similar to “The Conjuring”, when you actually try to make sense of this story, you realize how dumb it is. The ending just doesn’t work.

9. I love scary doll movies. But this isn’t one. Yeah, the doll looks scary, but it doesn’t act scary. If you want a good scary doll movie, then watch "Dead Silence".