Rob’s Quick Review: Nerve

Nerve has gotten much more realistic since I walked out of the theater a few weeks ago. It seems scarily prescient in the wake of Pokemon Go’s release.  Millions of people walking

Rob’s Quick Review: John Wick

John Wick is a stylish, fast-paced take on the revenge action genre. It’s very well written, interlacing funny moments into the action sequences, reminding me of the best of Shane Black’s writing.

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April Movie Preview: Part 1

Now that we’re post awards season, we’re in that weird in between before the summer movie explosion.  That being said, there are several movies of note trying to get the jump on

 

Reviews

Movie Reviews

Rob’s Quick Review: Nerve

Nerve on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

B
The Good:

Franco and Roberts have good chemistry
Dave is, by far, my favorite Franco


The Bad:

Loses its way when it tries to get too serious
Juliette Lewis' mother character

Cast & Crew:

Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Written by: Jessica Sharzer
Staring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Colson Baker, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jefferies, Brian Marc, Samira Wiley and Juliette Lewis

Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity-all involving teens

Nerve has gotten much more realistic since I walked out of the theater a few weeks ago. It seems scarily prescient in the wake of Pokemon Go’s release.  Millions of people walking around, staring at their phones, doing stupid things because a game told them to? Yup. That’s real life now…

Franco and Roberts are good together, and Nerve has good energy when it’s engaged in its game of truth or dare, but every once in a while it tries to tap the brakes and look at the consequences, and that’s where it stumbles. It’s confident with the thrills but doesn’t really know what to do when it gets away from that, especially with the ham-handed way they try to cram Juliette Lewis in as the mother.








Rob’s Quick Review: John Wick

John Wick on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

A-
The Good:

Stylish
Fast-paced
Shane Black-like writing


The Bad:

They try to get a little too cute with the subtitles.
Doesn't quite understand the physics of the timing of lightning and thunder.

Cast & Crew:

Director: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Stars:Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki

John Wick is a stylish, fast-paced take on the revenge action genre. It’s very well written, interlacing funny moments into the action sequences, reminding me of the best of Shane Black’s writing. I don’t quite understand the decision to go and seemingly randomly bold and colorize certain words in the subtitles.








Jennie’s Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Letter Grade:
(?)

B+
The Good:

All of the Artistic Aspects
Great Cast


The Bad:

The R Rating Limits It

Cast & Crew:

Directed By: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, and more

Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence

The story opens with an author (Tom Wilkinson) revisiting how his younger self (Jude Law) came about the story of The Grand Budapest Hotel and its current owner (F. Murray Abraham)/ former lobby boy (Tony Revolori) Zero Moustafa.  It is sort of a story within a story within a story.  Luckily the main focus of the film resides with the early 1930’s storyline.  The main story is set in a fictionalized European styled location called Republic of Zubrowka.  In an also fictionalized history that somewhat mimics the years leading up to World War II.  So much so, that there is an occupation of the hotel towards the end of the movie by the ZZ (seemingly replacing the Nazi SS).  This movie, like all Wes Anderson movies, is quirky and strange throughout.  This one however is not so far over the edge that is distractingly so.  With many of his films, about 1/3 of the way through you’re thinking “No one is actually like this” and start just focusing on the absurdities. Not that this one isn’t absurd in many ways, but something about it already being set in a fictional place in an alternate history makes this OK. (more…)








Rob’s Mini Review: Robocop

Robocop on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

A
The Good:

Action sequences are slick and very well-paced.
Social commentary of the original is taken seriously and updated to fit the times.
ED-209 doesn't try to navigate a stairwell.


The Bad:

Still not a fan of the black armor, but even that can be explained away as social commentary.

Cast & Crew:

Director: José Padilha
Writer: Joshua Zetumer
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Samuel L. Jackson

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material

I… wasn’t expecting that out of the reboot of Robocop… I expected a dumbed down version ofRobocop, caring more about the action than the satire and social commentary of the original, but I think this new version might actually be the better version. Where the original tended toward campy satire and over-the-top gore, this version takes both the action and the social commentary a little more seriously.

Implications and motivations seem much better thought out this time around, and are much more thoroughly explored. We spend a lot more time now seeing Robocop’s development, and we see that to the extent that Omnicorp is “evil”, it’s not about some megalomaniac desire to take over the world or to just be evil for evil’ sake. It’s about the banality of deadlines and performance targets and marketing research and stock prices. Each step in the wrong direction leads then further down the rabbit hole.

I seriously entered the theater expecting to, at best, not hate this new version and it wound up wildly exceeding my expectations at every step. The action sequences are slickly produced and the entire film was very well paced. Robocop is really worth seeing.

*Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment








Dave’s Review: Her

Letter Grade:
(?)

A+
The Good:

Beautifully shot
A lot of time was spent on creating a believable world
Realistic portrayal of love and relationships
Amazing acting by Phoenix and Johansson
Surprisingly funny


The Bad:

Some may find it too...shall we say...quirky
Some will find it slow
Just vulgar enough to not be for everyone

Cast & Crew:

Directed By: Spike Jonze
Written By: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt

Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity

I watch a lot of movies over the course of a film year (Oscar Season-Oscar Season) and I’m going to go ahead and say it, “Her” is the best film I’ve seen all year…hands down.

Set in Los Angeles in the not-so-distant future, “Her” begins by showing a seemingly average day in the life of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). In the midst of a painful (as they often are) divorce, Theodore spends his working hours being paid to write love letters to other people and his non-working hours in a HERdepression fueled haze. He absent-mindedly sorts through emails, plays video games, and frequents online chat rooms all while clearly yearning for real, meaningful human interaction. This all changes when Theodore sees an advertisement for a new computer operating system that touts an artificial intelligence that learns and evolves on it’s own. His new operating system names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As Theodore and Samantha get to know each other they fall in love and begin an unlikely, yet beautiful, romantic relationship.

With a summary like that it’s easy to understand why some people think this movie may be just a little too off-the-wall for them. This isn’t however, the story of a weird loner/nerd that creepily falls in love with his computer. It’s far more complex than that. It’s a love story, between two equally fleshed out characters that are both growing and evolving in their own ways.

This is not at all your typical feel-good romantic movie…and that’s great news. It’s complex and not just a fluff movie about how wonderful love is. It’s strange to say about a movie where half of the main characters are not “real” people, but this is the most “real” romantic film I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not nice and neat and tidy. We see the euphoric highs and depressing lows in love just as we have all experienced them in our own lives.

(more…)








Dave’s Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Letter Grade:
(?)

A-
The Good:

Dicaprio is Great
Great Ensemble Acting
Very Martin Scorsese-y
There's a Monkey in People Clothes


The Bad:

3 Hours Long
Lots of Sex and Nudity
Lots of Drug Use

Cast & Crew:

Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin

Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence

As a general disclaimer before you read this review: Martin Scorsese is hands down my favorite director of all time. I am of the opinion that he’s the most talented and knowledgeable director working today and is pretty high up there on the list of best filmmakers of all time. I literally can’t get enough of Martin Scorsese. I am consistently enthralled by anything he’s involved with; features films, documentaries, discussions about film history and preservation, television commercials…anything. This year for Christmas I received not ONE but TWO signed photos of Martin Scorsese. One of my life-long dreams is to meet him and get to call him “Marty” instead of Martin. I even know which of my friends share a birthday with Thelma Schoonmaker, his longtime editing companion. To say that I enjoy Scorsese films would be an understatement, so factor that into your reading of this review. End Disclaimer.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a dark comedy that tells the real life tale of stockbroker/con-man/sleazy egomaniac Jordan Belfort who builds a dicaprio-wolf-of-wall-street-trailer-2Wall Street empire from the ground up based on debauchery, misleading clients, and scamming the system through unethical and often illegal tactics only to eventually become the focus of SEC and FBI investigations that will eventually be his downfall. Thematically the film, as is the style of these hard times, shines an accusatory light on the excess, materialism, and all-around low ethical standards that seemingly rule Wall Street culture. Belfort, while certainly the focal point of the movie, is not at all portrayed as the protagonist or “good guy” of the film. In contrast to Goodfellas (a similar Scorsese film) where mob-member Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) is portrayed in a more favorable (almost heroic) light, I’m not sure you are ever really supposed to “like” Belfort. If he is the “bad guy” in this film, the “good guy” counterpart is the hard-working public that he so nonchalantly abuses and leaves in financial shambles without a second thought.

Technically this is a very well-done film that seemingly “stars” Martin Scorsese and his unique style just as much as any of the actors. There is no doubt that this is a Scorsese film. Many of the hallmarks of s Scorsese film can be seen in this meticulously crafted film. Characters talking directly to the camera, long tracking shots, exaggerated overhead lighting, beautiful slow motion shots, and even a few seemingly archaic screen wipes as a nod to the films of the past that he loves so much.

All that being said, this movie is not Scorsese’s best. It’s not bad by any means, in fact I would say I liked it quite a bit, it’s just not his best. In all fairness, saying this is not wenn5920366Scorsese’s best movie is a bit of misleading statement. It would be like saying that the “Last Supper” is not Leonardo Da Vinci’s best painting because the “Mona Lisa” is clearly better. The “Last Supper” is still a very good painting, just not his best. (Another Disclaimer: Most of my knowledge of Renaissance painters comes from Dan Brown books and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons. I only have a cursory knowledge of Da Vinci paintings and in no way actually know that either of these are his best paintings. If you happen to be reading this review and are a Renaissance expert, please don’t go yelling at me about my clear lack of knowledge…it’s just an illustration.) It’s perhaps too early to tell where The Wolf of Wall Street falls in the long list of Scorsese movies. Certainly below Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Departed, and Gangs of New York but almost certainly above Shutter Island, The Aviator, Cape Fear, The King of Comedy and probably several others.

(more…)








Jennie’s Review: Out of the Furnace

Letter Grade:
(?)

A
The Good:

Acting
Cinematography
Realism


The Bad:

If I have to pick, I'd say that it isn't exactly uplifting.

Cast & Crew:

Directed By: Scott Cooper
Written By: Scott Cooper and Brad Ingelsby
Starring: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, and Sam Shepard

Rated R for strong violence, language and drug content

Out of the Furnace opens with Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) at a drive in theater.  He is on a date and the woman with him says something that upsets him.  He proceeds to throw her food out the window, jam a cigar down her throat, slam her head against the dash board, and then beats a good samaratatin checking on his date so savagely that onlookers are calling 911 by the end of the scene.  In case you missed the subtlety of this scene, he’s an awful person and the most OUT OF THE FURNACEobvious bad guy of the movie… unless of course you include post traumatic stress disorder and crippling depression as bad guys as well.

We then meet Russell Baze (Christian Bale) a worker at the local Steel Mill and his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), a Veteran who has done a few tours in the Middle East and is heading out for another due to being stop-lossed.  Rodney has a gambling problem (and a Bare-knuckle boxing to pay off his debts problem), Russell works hard and tries to bail him out as much as he can but it’s not enough.  Their father, who also spent his life working at the Steel Mill, is dying and hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment in his own living room.  Russell’s girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) wants more of a commitment, specifically a baby, but he does not believe he is financially ready for that sort of step.OUT OF THE FURNACE

Then Russell makes a terrible decision that changes his life and the lives of his loved ones forever.

This is the second endeavor for Director Scott Cooper.  His directorial debut was the critically acclaimed, award winning, and box office success Crazy Heart.  While this movie did not garner as much hype as the first one did, and it will not surpass its success, I believe it to be a wonderful piece that Cooper should be proud of. (more…)








Rob’s Review: Ender’s Game

Ender's Game on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

A-
The Good:

Good acting from the teen leads.
Ending well-paced.
Top notch visual effects.


The Bad:

Tries to cram a lot of story into 2 hours of movie. Feels rushed.

Cast & Crew:

Directed by: Gavin Hood
Written by: Gavin Hood
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis

Rated PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.

“I didn’t want to see you.”
“They told me.”
“I was afraid that I’d still love you.” ― Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

I need to start this review off with a disclaimer. Ender’s Game is my favorite book of all time, and that puts me in a tricky spot here. The desire to see it on the big screen has fought mightily with the fear that they’d just screw it up. They didn’t screw it up, but they didn’t quite hit it out of the park either.

Ender's Game on Cinedraft.comAndrew “Ender” Wiggen is a child who has been drafted into the International Fleet, who are training child soldiers to lead their space fleets against the Formics, aliens who invaded Earth 50 years previously. Asa Butterfield plays Ender,  Abigail Breslin is Ender’s sister who is left behind on Earth as Ender is taken to the orbiting Battle School where students/soldiers train in armies and fight wargames in Zero-G. Hailee Steinfeld is one of Ender’s fellow child soldiers, and Harrison FordBen Kingsley, and Viola Davis are in charge of the training program. The performances are quite good throughout, which is especially impressive given the young age of most of the cast.

Ender's Game on Cinedraft.comI was torn when I heard Gavin Hood would be writing and directing. On the one hand, he wrote and directed Tsotsi, which is good. On the other hand he also directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is not good. Especially when you consider that the worst part of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (except for maybe the unwieldy title) were the special effects, which seemed about half finished.  With so much of Ender’s Game being Zero-G battles of one kind or another, it was always going to be a special effects-heavy film and I had serious doubts about whether Hood could handle that. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by how the effects turned out, they’re really exceptional throughout.

Ender's Game on Cinedraft.comTo the extent that the movie does falter, it’s in the writing. I don’t think Hood ever really figured out how to fit 350 pages of story into 120 pages of script. He hits on all the high points of the original story, but there’s not enough time to spend on any of them to really build the tension and emotional connection that are needed. As a result, the first 3/4 of the movie feels very rushed.  What the first 3/4 lacks in heart, though, the last 1/4 makes up for in soaring music. As a fan of the books I could criticize it about all kinds of niggling details like the location of Command School, or colonial governorships, but I won’t. Within the context of the movie the end works very well. It’s well paced and hits the right notes, and you leave the theater on a high note.

Ender’s Game has good acting, great visuals, and is generally a faithful adaptation of the book. I felt it could have used another half hour or so to reinforce the perils of Battle School, but if they did that most people would probably be complaining that it was too slow…








Jennie’s Review: Don Jon

Letter Grade:
(?)

B+
The Good:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Writer, Director, and Star
It’s brutally honest and unapologetic
Julianne Moore


The Bad:

The graphic and vulgar subject matter will be too much for some people

Cast & Crew:

Written by, Directed by, and Starring - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Also Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza

Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use

DON JONIn a modern interpretation of the 17th century legendary character (and womanizer) Don Juan, Don Jon opens with a fast cut montage of a lot of scantily clad women in many different forms from pop culture, commercials, music videos, professional cheerleaders, actresses on the red carpet, and of course, porn.  We meet the title character Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he sits at his computer, with his voiceover rationalizing his preference to porn over real women.  He is not rationalizing it to himself, but to us the viewers.  He knows he’s right.  He has no trouble hooking up with women (as is graphically displayed) but it’s just not the same and he is incapable of truly loosing himself with anyone but his online ladies.  He then meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and everything changes, but not in the ways you would expect.

(more…)








Rob’s Review: Getaway

Getaway on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

C
The Good:

Good, brainless action
Some interesting shots


The Bad:

Ridiculous premise
Some action shots don't match

Cast & Crew:

Writer: Sean Finegan, Gregg Maxwell Parker
Director: Courtney Solomon
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake

Rated PG-13 for intense action, violence and mayhem throughout, some rude gestures, and language.

Getaway gives you pretty much exactly what you expect out of it. The premise itself is utterly ridiculous, but if you turn your brain off it delivers a satisfactory amount of excitement.

 Getaway on Cinedraft.com

Ethan Hawke’s wife is kidnapped, and a mysterious stranger informs him that if he wants to see her again he needs to steal a car that has been specially set up with cameras to watch him and do whatever the mysterious voice tells him for the rest of the night. He picks up a passenger during the night when Selena Gomez tries to steal her car back from Hawke and we find “the voice” has planned this all along.

As I said, the premise is just ridiculous. It depends on “the voice” being pretty much omnipotent, seeing all, knowing all, predicting everything, and being able to magically change anything he wants. It makes no sense logically, but it serves to propel the action. Likewise, Gomez’s character is the stereotypical magical hacker who just happens to be able to tap into video feeds from her iPad and do anything else the writer needs them to do.

Getaway on Cinedraft.comThe film is basically one big chase scene, and the cinematographer’s default choice for chase scenes seems to be “well, let’s throw a GoPro on the hood and use that”. It provides some interesting angles (and one really nice, really long continuous shot from the Shelby’s hood as it veers through traffic), but it also gives us shots that don’t quite seem to match the rest of the shots, pulling you out of the movie a bit.

Getaway is kind of half Speed, and half The Net (without the Sandra Bullock in both cases). It’s mindless entertainment that you don’t need to rush out to see but that you’ll end up stopping to watch when you flip by it on TV in the future.