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.