Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tag: Review

Steve Jobs Review – 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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From the minute it begins to the minute it ends, Steve Jobs is alive. The world it creates is a sloppy, beautiful machine constantly on the verge of collapse, kept breathing by the arguments, confessions, jokes and triumphs of a variety of flawed yet fascinating people. With an outstanding cast, riveting dialogue and sharp filmmaking, Steve Jobs is not just a complex look into the life of its title character, it’s also an endlessly entertaining symbol for the way we view our own lives.

At this point, most people should at least be familiar with Apple founder Steve Jobs. He’s a modern icon and multiple documentaries and films have already been made about his life. Instead of repeating the by the book synopsis most of us already know, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle show Jobs through three different yet similar moments in his career.

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Every part of the movie takes place before Jobs is about to do a speech announcing one of his products. In the first act set in 1984, Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is preparing with the help of his friend and confidant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) for a big speech to announce the Apple Macintosh. 40 minutes or so from going on stage, he faces difficulties including a glitch in his computer, requests from frustrated Apple co-creator Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), financial troubles involving his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and a young girl named Lisa who may or may not be his daughter. In the second act in 1988, Jobs is about to make a speech announcing his eventually disastrous NeXT computer. During this time, he deals with continuous fights with Wozniak and Chrisann as well as anger from being fired from Apple by his friend John Scully (Jeff Daniels). In the third and final act in 1998, a much older Jobs has returned to Apple and become the CEO. He confronts friends and foes one final time before his announcement of the game changing iMac computer.

Because of how the story is told, there isn’t a single moment of the movie that’s slow or giving you time to rest. From the first few seconds, people are talking and from then on there isn’t a scene that goes by where characters aren’t having conversations over a variety of subjects. Jobs and Hoffman will start talking in one room and then they’ll continue the conversation in the elevator and then by the time the conversation is over, they’ll be in a completely different room than when they started and then Jobs will begin talking to someone different. The movie is three streams of consciousness taking place from the point of view of the main character at these different points in his life.

This method could be obnoxious or unsatisfying in the hands of lesser writers, directors and actors but in the hands of such a talented crew, the way they set this up becomes rather brilliant. As I said at the start of the review, every moment in this world feels like it’s constantly on the verge of collapse. Each moment of the film is leading up to something that could significantly change the lives of the characters on screen. Steve Jobs and everyone around him are working down to the wire and they all seem like they’re on functioning on the edge. Watching these people unravel and fight under pressure can be chaotic and overwhelming, but it’s from its madness where the beauty of the movie comes from.

In the third act, Steve Jobs tells Hoffman that it seems like everyone waits until the last second to express their true feelings. This is a truthful line because to Sorkin, the chaos of this situation is us at our most human. Life can sometimes feel like we’re constantly waiting behind the scenes before a big show happens. It’s sloppy, unfiltered and its bits and pieces of anger, rage and arrogance mixed in with bits and pieces of love, humor and forgiveness. It’s never perfectly designed and oftentimes it can be hard to follow along with. One minute Jobs will be threatening to destroy Scully and the next second he’ll be wishing that they had kept their friendship alive. In one scene Jobs is the apple of his daughter’s eye and in the next she’s grown up to resent him. Everything in Steve Job’s life is temporary and there’s nothing around him that remains a certainty in the three points where we’re seeing him. There’s birth and death, and the in-between are these jumbled, imperfect cries for intimacy in a world that’s an unstoppable flood of data and information for you to pick up on and analyze. In Steve Jobs, the 40 minutes before the big event takes the absurdity and the uncertainty of life and shows it at its most bare and grandiose. The slow parts are cut out and what were left with is a pure rush of only the most horrifying and tragic and inspiring things that make us alive.

This storytelling also makes for an amazing interpretation of the type of person Steve Jobs was. At the end of the story, you’re not supposed to love or hate the guy. There are some times in this movie where you can make the argument that he was a terrible person. The relationship he had with Steve Wozniak is especially difficult to watch as Jobs refuses to respect and give credit to the person who arguably built most of the things that made him famous. Elements of the relationship he has with his ex-girlfriend and his daughter are disgusting as again, he has trouble treating them like they’re human beings. Still, there are also plenty of times where he tries to show sympathy and generosity with these very people. What makes this movie different from all the other biopics about flawed historical figures is that it doesn’t attempt to show Steve Job’s character arc as being some perfect, straightforward line that went up or down. The presentation of his life here is less like a summary and more like a series of photographs that aren’t in any real order.

You get to see moments of him being awful but you also get to see moments of him where he was trying to love and show respect to the people around him even when he couldn’t show it in the same way others did. It doesn’t try to make you judge him in any way; it only tries to show him as sincerely as possible. Amidst the tension of the events, we see a glimpse of a man who lived for that edge and never seemed to be able to understand a simple life. In the quest for immortality, he couldn’t become a good person on the inside and he could never live up to the hopes of the people around him for long periods of time. In the loud yells and arguments he built himself from, we see a lost soul who knows what he has become and tries at times to act like a good person even though knows he can’t sustain that behavior forever. He shares a hug with his daughter at the end of the 2nd act but you can tell in his eyes that he knows that the peace he feels in that moment won’t be around for long. The film version of Steve Jobs is a passionate, lively mess that was as successful as he was a failure.

Beyond the greatness of its story, the movie also has an ensemble for the books. Michael Fassbender kills it as Steve Jobs, he performs his accent perfectly and he does an astounding job delivering Sorkin’s dialogue at an energetic pace. It’s wasn’t so much a great Steve Jobs impersonation as it was an excellent portrayal of a conflicted person. After multiple failed projects, it’s also good to see Kate Winslet in another good movie giving an excellent performance. In the film, she has to carry a Polish accent and she manages to deliver the part with authenticity even though a lesser actor would’ve made it seem goofy or awkward. After Labor Day, Insurgent and Movie 43, Winslet was owed a movie of this level of quality. Though many adored her for her role in Inherent Vice (don’t get me wrong, I love that movie to death), I think it’s this movie that has finally made me realize what a talented actress Katherine Waterston is. In the first two acts, she is wonderful as the almost equally damaged mother of Jobs’ daughter. It’s usually a thankless role but she gives the part a lot of weight.

Lastly, I want to mention the two equally impressive supporting actor performances from Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen. Both parts are great but for different reasons, one of them is playing the best version of a performance that they usually give and the other is doing something completely different than the other performances that they usually give. Seth Rogen is a man usually known for being the loud stoner but as Wozniak he plays against character and becomes the outspoken, humble “Ringo” to Jobs’ “John” as the movie puts it. He seems like one of the few people in the movie who is decent so when he finally erupts and fights Jobs about who really created Apple, it feels heavy and it gives Rogen room to deliver the best performance he has given in his career so far.

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Jeff Daniels is beginning to get type casted into playing the tough but fair boss in many of the shows and movie he’s in. Unlike Rogen, he plays the same part in Steve Jobs that he usually does but I think this part gives him much more to work with even though it’s not a part that’s seemingly unique for him. The fight scene he shares with Fassbender is topnotch acting from the both of them and a conversation he shares with Jobs at the end of the film was a pretty tragic testament to the inability to change the mistakes that were made in the past. When Daniels says something along the lines of “god I wish we worked together”, I’ll admit my eyes got a little bit misty.

Finally, I think Boyle and Sorkin deserve some credit for making something incredible even though there careers have been mostly hit and miss for me. I think both of them can make a good movie when they’re given good material to work off of. But when you leave both of them just to their own devices, you end up with something like The Newsroom or Trance. In the case of Steve Jobs, both of them seem to be balancing each other out so that their styles are present but never grating. Though it is very witty, Sorkin’s dialogue feels much less flashy than it has looked in the past. Boyle’s direction is still larger than life but it’s also a lot more restrained here than it was for his clearly manipulative work for Slumdog Millionaire. I thought one of them would screw this whole movie up for me but luckily it turned out to be a near close to perfect match.

In a rooftop scene near the end with Jobs and Lisa, he has a heartbreaking line where he tells his daughter that he was poorly made. This candid moment brings together the true message behind the entire film. Through all the eccentricities, Steve Jobs was just one of billions of people looking for purpose in a world without any.

Though it isn’t the all-time masterpiece The Social Network was, Steve Jobs is still spectacular. There is so much about the movie to love and from start to finish it’s this emotional ride that at times even took me away from the fact that I was in a crowded theater. In three briefs glimpses into another world, Sorkin and Boyle take us into the heart of a flawed yet beautiful individual.

Rating:(4.5/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 10/23/2015

Rating: R

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston , and Perla Haney-Jardine

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Screenplay by: Aaron Sorkin

Based on the Book by: Walter Isaacson

Ex Machina Review – 5 out of 5 Stars

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I would love to see someone watch a double feature of Ex Machina and Her. If Her was a person telling us to come and embrace the strange and beautiful places where technology is taking us, then Ex Machina is the person screaming at us to run away while we can from the complex, questionable artificial intelligence which we are creating.

This is one of those incredible films where the moment it ended I wanted to dive back into the mysterious, absorbing world writer/director Alex Garland had created. I wanted to talk to someone in great detail for hours about what they got out of the questions and theories that the film brings up. There’s no way not to have a fascinating discussion after seeing something like this. Ex Machina is more than just your average Frankenstein style take on the artificial intelligence. It’s an absorbing look into the inevitability of technology transforming into a more evolved version of ourselves. We get to experience the first step in the evolution of the next great species, something that we ourselves built.

I’ll try to keep the synopsis to the bare minimum but I should warn you that it’s probably better to read what follows having actually watched the flick. What you need to know is this; Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young programmer working at one of the biggest companies in the world. He ends up winning a contest to come and visit the giant, near underground home of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the reclusive CEO of the company. When he gets to Nathan’s home, Caleb discovers that he will be the first to experience the artificially intelligent robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) that Nathan has created.

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The movie distinguishes itself firstly by taking place mostly inside the house of Nathan. If Apple were to make a house, this would probably be what it would look like. You’re stuck inside this minimalist, underground home with countless hallways and a slick, metal design for most of the movie. Garland was clearly inspired by Kubrick’s The Shining as the production design seems built to make you feel a sense of imprisonment throughout. He wants to make you feel the trap we are making for ourselves in the developments we’re making. The cold, distant architecture of Nathan’s home at least sets up the mysterious tone the director is trying to get across. A lot of period pieces get credit for the production design but the realistic yet surreal sets that were built for Ex Machina are equally if not more fascinating to explore.

The film also establishes itself by only featuring three big characters throughout, four if you’re counting Nathan’s quiet and secretive assistant Kyoko. That not only helps with the isolation of the production design but it also allows for truly brilliant conversations to sprout between Caleb, Nathan and Ava. The movie hits its peak when you’re watching these well developed, richly crafted characters discuss their vastly different outlooks on this strange, groundbreaking situation. The revolution doesn’t come through violence or fights but rather through a series of enrichingly written discussions.

I admire the film for not taking the easy route when it came to the main character of Caleb. They could’ve made him just your average schmuck who gets sucked into this wacky situation that’s beyond him. Instead, Caleb is made to be this brilliant, intellectual who can hold his ground against a genius inventor and an enigmatic robot. There are points where I was trying to figure out the ways in which the other two characters could be putting him into a trap and I was surprised how many times Caleb was able to confront and address these theories that I had. This movie easily could’ve made him an ordinary guy with clear intentions but the movie adds a layer of mystery even to him. You begin to question if he’s working for someone or if he has ulterior motives for the things that he’s doing. Though Gleeson’s subtle performance is often overshadowed by the more loud and inventive performances of Isaac and Vikander, it’s still great work from him and it’s another film he can add to the quickly increasing resume he has built for himself over the past year with this and Frank, Unbroken and Calvary.

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Nathan on the other hand is certainly eccentric but you often find yourself wondering to what degree his madness is. You can see him as having gone crazy but you also get a lot of moments where he comes off as a normal guy with a habit of heavy drinking. One moment he’ll be comparing himself to a god and the next he’ll be making a reference to Ghostbusters. What are the areas this character is willing to go to in the accuracy of his invention? What is his moral code when it comes to the treatment of his creation? A lot of people may know and praise him from Inside Llewyn Davis or A Most Violent Year but I think this might be the first time I’ve been deeply impressed by a performance from Oscar Isaac. Of the three performances in the film I think I might enjoy Isaac’s the most because there’s a wide range that he gets to show with the character whether it be humor, terror or arrogance among other things. The conversations him and Caleb have are riveting to watch because you’re getting some insight into this sarcastic, cynical genius who you can’t take your eyes off of because you’re trying to find the full intent of his character.

Mark my words, Alicia Vikander’s performance as Ava will go down as one of the best debut performances of the year. Ava is interesting as a robot because her character takes into consideration something that many artificial intelligence films don’t notice, attraction. It becomes clear quickly on that Caleb is becoming attracted to Ava but the big question ends up being how much of her attraction to Caleb is real. Unlike in Her where you can almost immediately tell that there is something at least sympathetic about Samantha, Ava appears human at times but also at times has errors and you have to wonder if it’s in fact real. Does she have any sympathy for other human beings? Would her release into the world cause further chaos or peace? What will be her reaction when she meets her creator? You are juggling this endless collection of questions that haunt you about Ava long after the final shot comes and goes.

The big end theme isn’t what truly makes the film original so much as the way it is delivered. In the conclusion of the film, Ava is shown to be the clear dominant one of the three. This robot that has been built to satisfy the desires of Caleb is like a smarter, stronger version of him and the robot has the same amount if not more power than Nathan but lacks the laziness and human faults. The film ends with the only certainty being that the AI will live another day in a larger world and what her next move will be is beyond us. Ava to me symbolizes the start of the next great species and what will lead to the fall of mankind. We have built this machine that can imitate emotions without the flaws of actual human beings. The only possible step after that is that these machines will be able to outthink us and corner and entrap us into extinction. The people who invented them will be destroyed and the men they were supposed to service will be forgotten and made unnecessary.

It sounds like something you’ve seen before but never in the way Garland presents it. The movie often looks like it’s being shot from the eyes of a security camera that’s being hidden within the walls, following our main character. The more I thought about it, that camera is Ava stocking and observing the battles of the two main characters. The movie plays out like this mental game of dominance being played in dimly lit halls between the human and the machine. Caleb and Nathan spend a lot of the time lying to each other in trying to prove that they are better than the other. This movie is about people tricking each other and ultimately it’s about why the robots would probably win this game. Even the smartest of humans are capable of failure and Ava can use a single weakness to get rid of all your other pieces in this metaphorical game of chess.

Years from now, students will be writing long thesis papers of the meaning of this film. Everything here from the score to the characters feels damn near perfect. Ex Machina has amazing performances, ambiguous characters and themes that will make you think twice before buying that next big piece of tech. From the first minute I was mesmerized by the simple yet unique way in which Alex Garland presented the bleak, cold future we might have to look forward to. This year can’t be so bad if I’m already giving my best possible rating for a film so early on in the year.

Rating:(5/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: April 10, 2015

Rating: R

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Corey Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno

Directed by: Alex Garland

Written by: Alex Garland

The Gunman Review – 2 out of 5 Stars

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Before I get started, I should probably warn you that this wasn’t the strongest weekend for mainstream releases in movies so if you wanted to watch something then I recommend you try staying home. That is, unless you are living next to a smaller theater that will be playing Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter. I saw this gem a little under a year ago at the Seattle International Film Festival and just recently it got a release in a few select cinemas. The film is a heartbreaking and intense psychological thriller that contains some of the best music and cinematography I’ve seen for a movie in years. It’s so good that it even got a nomination for best director and best actress at The Independent Spirit Awards months before its release date. If you haven’t already seen it, I deeply urge you to check this film out.

Aside from his crazy speech at the Oscars, Sean Penn hasn’t been up to much lately. He’s clearly a talented actor but it seems as though he’s had other things on his plate recently with his heavy humanitarian work in different parts of the world. But for the first time in a couple of years, Sean Penn is back playing the lead in a big budget studio film that also happens to have been partially written by him. It’s a shame that his big return is The Gunman, a well-acted misfire dragged down by a terrible script.

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In The Gunman, Sean Penn plays Jim, an ex-soldier that fought in The Democratic Republic of the Congo who made a mistake in carrying out a specific assassination. To keep the mission a secret, he had to leave his girlfriend Annie as well as his home behind. Eight years later, a group of henchmen find and try to kill him. After killing all of them, he goes on a journey to find out who sent these people after him. Along the way, he meets up with his old military friends Stanley (Ray Winstone) and Cox (Mark Rylance), along with Annie and her fiancé Felix (Javier Bardem).

Before I get into what I thought was so bad about this, I will mention there are a few things about this movie that I did respect. For example, I thought it was ambitious of them to try to center the story around such a complex and difficult subject as the violent conflicts in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a topic that I (along with most people I assume) know very little about and with this, the writers and directors had a chance to bring this to light in an eye opening way. The movie doesn’t end up doing that at all but it still deserves a little credit for being a better set up than telling the same story with yet another retired bank robber or member of the mob. This at least had the chance of being an informative political thriller.

I still don’t think I buy Sean Penn as a badass action star after this, but when he has to act in this he gives it his all. His performance here kind of reminds me of Bryan Cranston in Godzilla in that Penn is trying to give his heavy and genuine performance in this very standard, cut-rate action thriller. There’s this one very simple scene where Jim is thanking a man for saving his life. With a lesser actor this would’ve been a quick line that was thrown into the script but here he makes the scene surprisingly heartfelt. Penn is doing such a great job that you wish he was giving this kind of performance in a movie that actually deserved it. For as hard as he tried, Penn’s fantastic work here didn’t save the movie. But to his credit, he tried as hard as he could.

Javier Bardem was also really entertaining in the couple of scenes that he’s in. I think he’s become one of those actors where he can make a weak movie entertaining when he’s on screen and he can make a great movie incredible when he’s on screen. He’s got one of the most poorly written characters in the movie but whenever he’s on screen he’s a lot of fun to watch. He and Sean Penn are going to be in a movie later this year called The Last Face and I hope that that movie is more up to the type of movie they both deserve.

The film aims to be an action thriller and while the film fails at the thriller part, the action scenes in this movie are pretty good. The fights are never over edited and there wasn’t any shaky cam. The director of this film was Pierre Morel and since he directed the first Taken film, you probably know what type of action you’re going to get in this movie. If you’re into that raw and brutal action style that’s known in Taken or The Raid, then you’ll probably find at least a little entertainment in this film. I will give The Gunman that it is one of the bloodiest mainstream action movies I’ve seen recently. These are the moments where it feels like Morel got to shine and its clear he put the most effort into action instead of the substance, which unfortunately is supposed to take up a larger part of the movie.

So yes, there were plenty of things that could’ve made this film at least decent and I can even see how at one time such a talented cast would’ve looked at the concept and thought this was a good idea. Unfortunately, the film stumbles hard in the area that perhaps matters the most when you’re making a geopolitical thriller, the script.

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The movie takes its interesting concept and weighs it down to the most cliché, phony story you can think of. As I mentioned earlier, Jim being an ex-soldier in The Democratic Republic of The Congo is the only thing separating this from every other story about a man who has to return to dark, violent past. When the movie tries to throw in its possibly interesting political storyline, it comes off less as a coherent part of the story and more as lazily thrown in bit of exposition that’s too hard to follow and ultimately unnecessary to follow by the end of the film. The basic story ends up being the equivalent of a totally predictable, direct to DVD action thriller combined with the charm and emotion of reading a Wikipedia article. When the film ends, you’re given all of these different poorly told bits of information that lead you to nowhere. You could’ve just as easily understood the story half-watching this at home while trying to work on your computer or play a game on your mobile device. For the overly complicated story line they went with, I still know very little about the conflict they were trying to present here.

And when the movie isn’t being a sloppy political thriller, it’s making sure to check off every single action cliché. Is there an old mentor to the main character who ends up dying heroically near the end? Check. Is there an unrealistic and underwritten happy ending? Check. Is the villain an old friend of the main character from his dark past? Check. Does some of the dialogue come off as laughable in how pretentious it is? Check. The main character even has a poorly thrown in illness that only matters to the story when it’s convenient for it.

Hands down the worst character in the film is Jim’s ex-girlfriend Alice. She has got to be made up of every single, terrible, misogynistic stereotype you can put into a female in an action movie. Let’s pretend that you had a girlfriend or boyfriend who disappeared without telling you anything. Eight years later you’re married to someone new and this person shows up out of the blue to say they’re sorry. What would you do? Perhaps you would get angry at them, tell them to leave or at least slowly rebuild your relationship with this person over time. What does Alice do? One scene after finding out he’s alive, she goes to his hotel and has sex with him. There’s no conversation between them or anything, she sees him again at a restaurant with her husband and then cut to them making out. It’s extremely unrealistic and it’s one of the ways her character is disposable to this film. She only shows up in the film when they need something for the villains to point a gun at to motivate Sean Penn’s character.

Lastly, I want to mention this movies ridiculous waste of actor Idris Elba. Every bit of marketing for this movie had him highlighted as the second most important actor to Sean Penn. He shows up when the movie is almost over and he is on screen for maybe four minutes tops. He plays this detective character that could’ve easily been played by anyone. The only thing he offers to the movie is a conversation with Penn that features a hilariously, forced usage of treehouse metaphors. Here’s just one of the incredible pieces of dialogue that you can hear in this scene.

“You don’t want to climb this tree house Jim. There’s some termites in it and they aren’t just going to bite your hands.”

I’m paraphrasing a tad but that’s basically it. They hired one of the most acclaimed actors in Hollywood for an absolutely useless part. Idris Elba is in The Gunman in the same way Liam Neeson is in Battleship. At least this part probably paid for his vacation before his part in Beasts of No Nation.

For much as I hated the screenplay, The Gunman wasn’t a movie I left the theater hating. There are some impressive action scenes and Sean Penn does a great job. This is one of those cases where a film isn’t a bad as it could’ve been but it also isn’t as good as it could’ve been. The compelling concept is wasted on endless clichés, forgettable characters and some pretty horrendous dialogue throughout. The only people who I would recommend this to are maybe fans of Taken as they might be able to get some minor thrills out of the brief action scenes. Maybe if you had a filmmaker like Kathryn Bigelow or Paul Greengrass handling the story then you could’ve ended up with a great thriller but bits and pieces of potential aren’t able to keep the movie from falling flat on its back.

Rating:(2/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 3/20/2015

Rating: R

Cast: Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance

Directed by: Pierre Morel

Screenplay by: Don MacPherson, Sean Penn and Pete Travis

Based on the novel by: Jean-Patrick Manchette

Focus Review – 1.5 out of 5 Stars

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After I left the theater for the film Focus, the first question I asked myself was who was this movie made for? This is an impressive fact considering the countless questions I could’ve asked afterwards that would’ve torn this movie’s plot to shreds. With many bad movies I can at least give them the credit of being for a niche audience, I can at least place it within a genre. Focus is so flavorless and forgettable that I can’t even point out a group of people who could go see this. I’ve seen worse films but the somewhat serviceable soundtrack and directing is being used for a project that I think is even too underwhelming for most mainstream audiences.

FocusReviewStill1Nicky Spurgeon (wow I just realized how stupid that name sounds) is a talented con-artist working all around the world. He starts to mentor an inexperienced con-artist named Jess (Margot Robbie) and they eventually fall in love. After some time, Nicky finds himself in an eventual con that could be potentially worth millions of dollars.

The heist genre can be extremely charming and clever if done right. To do this right it often requires energy, wit and a generally smart writer. Grading Focus on achieving this, the only people who are cheated are the audience. The movie covers itself in one of my all-time personal pet peeves in cinema. You set up this big mystery involving a crime or a magic trick and then the explanation you give for how it happened is unbelievably over the top and preposterous because you can’t think of anything that is actually intelligent. Doing this is kind of like sawing a woman in half, putting her back together and then explaining that that happened because the woman cut in half was in fact an indestructible alien. You can certainly make that the explanation but it makes you look a moron. There’s nothing to be earned for trying to solve or follow the films mystery because everything is going to be explained in the cheapest way possible.

Every trick that goes on in Focus is explained in that ludicrous manner. There’s no wit to anything that’s going on, it’s all lazy, plot hole ridden excuses that are supposed to compensate for the lack of wit in its screenwriters. Just because of a plot involving con artists, don’t believe for a second that this is a smart movie. This is more like the version of smart defined by the lowest common denominator. So much crazy, loopy twists happen in the last 15 minutes that it’s impossible to takes its characters seriously. Why should I care about any of the story if it’s all leading up to very obvious gotcha moments? It doesn’t help that none of the characters are that sympathetic or likable in the first place. The villains, the heroes, the comedic relief and the henchman are all set to average.

The character of Nicky is basically Will Smith playing himself. There are no layers to the character beside the charisma of Smith. As far as Will Smith’s acting, it’s okay but he’s nowhere near good enough to make the movie rise above its laziness and ridiculousness. It doesn’t even look like he cared during this as much as he has for other movies in his past. The only time this performance looks impressive is when compared to his performance in his previous big movie After Earth.

I hate to say this because she does seem like a talented actress but Margot Robbie is basically playing a died down, less impressive version of the character she already played in The Wolf of Wall Street. She’s there to look pretty and provide the most minimal chemistry possible with Will Smith’s character. I thought she was great in The Wolf of Wall Street and I’d like to see her not fall into bland roles like this one.

I should also give some credit to the villain henchman Bucky Owens for being the winner of worst character in the film. He is throughout the most stereotypical racist old man character you can think of and Gerald McRaney delivers the lines with zero subtlety. And without spoiling it, the twist involving him in the end takes the cake for awful explanations for deep mysteries. It’s so impossible and far fetched that I openly laughed in the theater at how terrible it was.

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The only real credit I can give this movie is that technically the movie is fine and I actually dug the soundtrack they made. There are even glimpses throughout where you think the movie is going to try to be realistic and witty in the first act but once it goes off the rails, it goes off the rails. I mildly enjoyed a scene done from the perspective of another henchman but it has been done better in the past.

I return to my original question, who was this made for? It’s not particularly exciting or funny. There’s no real genre that this either belongs to or succeeds at. The characters are instantly forgettable along with the performances of its two leads. The supposed mental game you’re supposed to be playing here is obvious, BS and trickery on the part of its writers. This is a movie so watered down in what it’s trying to be that it doesn’t feel like anything. There are way worse movies I’ve seen in the past but this is a movie so lame that I think even most audiences will walk away uninspired. Focus is a movie I can’t recommend anyone to go see. If you want a movie like this, stay home and watch Ocean’s Eleven. Which version of the movie you may ask? It doesn’t really matter; they’re both smarter and more entertaining movies than this one.

Rating:(1.5/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 2/27/2015

Rating: R

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro and Gerald McRaney

Directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Screenplay by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa



The Judge Review – 2 out of 5 Stars

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Robert Downey Jr. said in an interview that he was a lock for a nomination for The Judge. Frankly, I can kind of see why. I won’t go as far as to say that it’s one of my favorite performances of the year but in a better movie I can see him and Robert Duvall getting nominations for their excellent work in this movie. Sadly, this is one of those movies where if you take away all of the great cast, you are left with a flat, bland melodrama that feels like 2 and a ½ hours of watching a Hallmark movie with a group of relatives, it’s long, uncomfortable and emotionless.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is an intelligent yet arrogant lawyer who only cares about money. After he finds out his mother dies, Hank returns to his hometown to catch up with his two brothers and his bitter, stern father (Robert Duvall) who he resents. When it turns out that his father may or may not have killed somebody, Hank must become his lawyer and keep him from going to jail.

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Picture in your mind the kind of movie that would play on Bravo in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. Everything you have in your mind comes close to the experience of watching The Judge. There is not a single thing about this movie screenplay or directing wise that comes off as an inspired or original idea. When you first hear the premise, you may think to yourself that it sounds like at least a half way decent movie. There is enough room for you to show a complex character driven, courtroom drama that drives into the relationship between these two very different people, one a respectable authority figure and the other a cynical, self-centered worker. There are moments throughout where you can almost see glimpses of an original concept that could be accomplished if the writer had the nerve to go out of the boundaries. These brief times don’t make up for how the movie never escapes what it so clearly is from the first second.

There’s nothing three dimensional about any of the characters and most of them are as well written as the definitions of the tropes they come off as at first glance. There’s the smug, evil lawyer prosecuting Hank’s dad, there’s the whimsical, possibly autistic brother who records everything, you have the assistant to Hank who is a wacky, small-town guy and then there’s the oldest brother who’s into sports. Every character in this movie has been done a thousand times and the screenplay doesn’t go out of its way to make them more than just clichés you would expect in this type of lifeless, small town, family drama.

There was never a place where this movie went that surprised me and I feel I was able to predict at least 75% of everything that happened, the other 25% of stuff being stuff so horrifically sentimental, vomit inducing and cheesy that I gave the movie at least enough respect to believe that it wouldn’t go there. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, a big city lawyer has to go to a quirky, small town. First he doesn’t like being there but then he begins to find a delightful, charm in it, rinse and repeat. Concept and performances can only take you too far when you’re dealing with something as forgettable as this. The Judge also should be proud of its terrible sense of humor. Whereas Tusk was juvenile and stupid comedy, the humor here is so shockingly, obvious that it doesn’t make any sense. This movie is dry humor at its worst; the jokes are so flat and witless that they make those campy, fun dad jokes on the internet look like Louis C.K. It’s the kind of jokes your grandmother would get a slight chuckle out of while knitting a sweater. The food equivalent of this screenplay is refrigerated, 1 week old, chicken soup, every joke, every character, every story arc can be seen from a mile away and the writers absorb every stereotype, every trope, and every overused plot device rather than try to move themselves away from that stuff.

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The directing doesn’t help either, David Dobkin directs with this very heavy, overly serious style that makes it even more energy-less and lacking in originality. The music by Thomas Newman is awful; it’s every late 90’s, melodrama score fathomable. You play this music usually for stern, health insurance ads that are trying to sell you something that is safe. It’s not often where we get back to back movies that bring out how much better a score can make a movie (Gone Girl) and how much worse it can make it (this one). Again, Dobkin embraces exactly the kind of movie that this looks like, a stale, forgettable family drama, and he does it without a single drop of passion. I will give this movie one credit; this movie was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be to sit through. Don’t get me wrong, this movie feels long but I think the editor did the best that he could with the garbage he was given. The story for as bad as it was did kept the ball rolling at least and I never wanted to choke to death on popcorn because of how boring it was which is definitely better than what can be said for snooze fest of The Monuments Men.

There is one thing keeping this from 1 and ½ stars: the cast. It still baffles me how they could get such a talented group of actors to do such a great job in such a huge waste of time. Surprisingly, none of the actors are sleepwalking their way through their roles. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are both at their best here and they both get to show off why they are believed to be such acclaimed and praised performers. Duvall gives one of his best performances in years here and Downey continues to be one of the most charismatic actors working in Hollywood today, in a weak supporting year, Duvall would probably get in regardless of the quality of the feature. The rest of the cast is good from Vera Farmiga to Billy Bob Thornton who fresh off of his incredible, career best turn in Fargo. All of this combined disappoints me how a director and a writer can be so bad and yet the cast is so good.

Without a doubt, The Judge is your average Hallmark movie with a budget and an admittedly amazing cast. Prepare for a journey of sheer blandness with every dumb, obnoxious, drama trope thrown in. Comparing it to other recent, dramas that weren’t good, it’s not as boring as The Monuments Men, not as annoying as August: Osage Country and not as offensive as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but it’s still pretty bad based on how much it sticks to the checklist with no attention to memorability. 80 years from now, The Judge will play once more on a classic movies channel at 3 am in the morning, only 50 people will be watching it with little to no focus and then when it ends the movie will never be heard from or watched ever again.

Rating:(2/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 10/10/2014

Rating: R

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton and Vincent D’Onofrio

Directed by: David Dobkin

Screenplay by: Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque

Story by: David Dobkin and Nick Schenk

The Drop Review – 4 out of 5 Stars

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I love crime dramas and I consider it to be one of my favorite genres, however, I think it’s now facing one huge issue. For every film like Killing them Softly or Drive, you’ll find a hollow, clichéd film that wallows in how horrible its characters are and bashes you over the head with the shallow and unoriginal messages that’s it’s trying to say. Everybody loves crime dramas, but in this we face a problem because that means that we will also have to endure a bunch of hack writers who are failing to capture the magic of the movies and shows they are inspired by and in so come up with movies that choose cynicism over wit and feel pretentious, lazy and insincere. Director Michaël R. Roskam’s film The Drop doesn’t go into territory that I would call groundbreaking or daring, but what the movie has going for it is that it always feels genuine. Nothing felt heavy handed or forced and it was all done with a highest level of competence from everyone.

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Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender at a bar that is often the drop box for the money of the mob. When he finds a brutally beaten pit bull puppy in a garbage can, he adopts and takes care of it with the help of one of his neighbors (Noomi Rapace) whom he begins to have a romantic relationship with. All while this is happening, Bob and his boss Marv (James Gandolfini) must figure how to come into good terms again with the mob after the bar gets robbed.

As I said above, the thing that works best about the movie is the attention it gives to making you care about its characters. I think this might be my 2nd favorite Tom Hardy performance to Bronson. Even though he is creating this accent for the part, Hardy feels very natural in the role. Because of him and the writing, Bob may be one of the most likable protagonists I’ve seen so far this year. You never get the feeling that Hardy is using this role for an Oscar or credibility. Due to facial expressions and his outstanding chemistry with Gandolfini and Rapace; we are given this touching portrayal of a truly nice, kind hearted person who also has to do some terrible things because of the line of work he has chosen. He does some pretty brutal things near the end but throughout he is so well written and Tom Hardy seems so relaxed into the character that you are still rooting for him to succeed even if he might be a bit of a psychopath at times.

Praising Tom’s performance first isn’t to give shame to the rest of its outstanding cast. James Gandolfini’s final role might not be delivering something new or groundbreaking in the actor but it still shows him at his best. Like Hardy, James gets you to sympathize with this man who is doing terrible things because he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. What makes Marv different from Bob is that Marv craves the excitement and intensity of the criminal underworld and won’t mind using it to his advantage while Bob will keep away from that place for as far as he can go. The chemistry between Bob and Marv plays as a sort of dysfunctional father/son relationship that feels honest and at times bleak and at times funny. Equally great is Noomi Rapace as Bob’s sort of girlfriend Nadia. Again, the chemistry she shares with Bob is rather strange but the dialogue that they share together is poignant and Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace do an incredible job playing off of each other. It’s all very grounded and despite all of this intense stuff that is going on the romance part felt oddly sweet. Also worth mentioning is Matthias Schoenaerts who played Eric, Nadia’s ex-boyfriend and the original owner of the pit bull. He does a good job playing someone you really would like to punch while still making him seem like a real person. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is one where it shows him breaking into Nadia’s house to speak to her. Usually they would just cut to Nadia going into the house and finding Eric there but the movie goes one step beyond and shows before that with him looking around her house and practicing what he will say to her. It’s a cliché that happens a lot in movies but that one extra step made Eric feel more human and moved the plot point away from the pack.

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All of the technical areas of the movie worked really well. I really enjoyed the music by Marco Beltrami; it gave the movie a subtle 70’s crime vibe without feeling too obvious that it was paying homage. The cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis captured the cold yet comforting nature of the story and the setting.

The movie works at is best due to its great set of characters. Writer Dennis Lehane builds such strong characters that you can sympathize with them even at their lowest points. Throughout, the movie tackles a question that has certainly been done before. Can Bob morally juggle a kind, gentle life with the terrible things he sometimes does? The movie isn’t so much about redemption as it is about a person dealing with something they have to do if they want to survive. There throughout is this switching between Bob doing bad things for a good life and doing good things for a bad life and by the end you get to see him be accepted for everything that he is and despite all of the gritty, dark things that have gone down, you leave the movie feeling that it was very heartwarming and inspiring. Anybody can make a trashy movie that shows how terrible the criminal underworld is but it takes a true artist to portray the true happiness and warmth in the people behind it all. This is the kind of movie that thrives on the nuances of the calm before the storm.

The Drop is not a perfect movie. Clichés happen in here that would annoy me in other films and if you wanted to, you could probably nitpick this movie to pieces, but because of charming performances and a sincere screenplay, the movie an undeniable success when it comes to its message. Dark things will always happen and nobody will ever be perfect, but the best that anyone can do is try to find kindness and compassion despite what is happening.

Rating:(4/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 9/12/2014

Rating: R

Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini and Matthias Schoenaerts

Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam

Screenplay by: Dennis Lehane

Based on the Short Story “Animal Rescue” by: Dennis Lehane

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – 3.5 out of 5 Stars

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is an example of decent disposable entertainment. The movie proves that forgettable popcorn fun doesn’t have to sacrifice effort. This long awaited sequel doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the first movie but its visually stunning, has a great cast and kept me entertained while I was watching it.

A Dame to Kill For has the same narrative structure as the first movie. We get to watch three barely connected stories play out in the corrupt, filthy Basin City. The first storyline takes place after the events of the first film as we see Nancy (Jessica Alba) failing to keep together after the suicide of detective Haritgan (Bruce Willis). She decides to seek vengeance against the corrupt Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe) who drove Haritgan to kill himself. The second storyline follows a gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the hell that follows after he goes up against Senator Roarke in a game of poker. The third segment taking place before the first film features a private detective (Josh Brolin) who finds himself going up against Ava Lord (Eva Green), a very seductive monster who has no problem destroying people to get what she wants.

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The biggest problem with the movie is that this time around they are embracing the gimmicks of its concept. With the last movie, the style and the noir homage was played against ambitious stories with a unique screenplay. Sin City 2 has the same type of writing and visuals without a lot of the originality and heart that made the first one so memorable. This time they take the beats and use them for simple action thriller purposes. It’s not that this is poorly written, it’s just that the characters are clichéd and the stories are predictable in the way that it is something you would expect to see in a cheap, low budget B movie of the 40’s and 50’s. The dialogue sounds pretty but lacks it a general passion that makes it come off as witty. The movie isn’t taking itself as serious this time around and if you want something that is just as epic you will be pretty disappointed but if you understand that this is a more laid back and pulpy take on the world they created, there are a couple of reasons why you may still enjoy it if you go along with the ride.

The visuals are just as brilliant and unfiltered as they were before. Sin City’s greatest asset is how well the world they create mixes explosive, modern effects with a grimy, 40’s, black and white charm. There are so many stunning shots thanks to director and cinematographer Robert Rodriguez. You could say that the pure, gigantic ambition of the dreamlike setting mixed with breath taking moments of action and energy is what keeps this movie feeling so alive. You can watch this movie and you can see the sheer passion that went into the look of every scene. This movie does have one thing that that is an improvement and that is Rodriguez’s choice to make the movie in 3D. Usually this can come off as an overused and sloppy gimmick but in this case the breathtaking effects fit with the extra layers of 3D like a glove. The movie is already incredible to watch but with this the originality and the undeniable effort leaps off the screen. If one of your problems with 3D is that it makes the screen look dark, have no fear, a lot of this movie is already in black and white already. This very much reminds me of the 3D for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. You’re taking an artist who has always been highly stylized and your letting their visions jump out at you.

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The energy and excitement of the cinematography is enough for me to give this a decent enough rating, but I also found myself really enjoying the performances. Mickey Rourke cherishes every moment he is on screen with his role as Marv, the violent criminal with a heart of gold. Josh Brolin is solid if not exactly doing something that places his character beyond other stock, brooding anti-heroes of recent memory. Eva Green also looks like she’s enjoying herself chewing humongous amounts of scenery while playing the villain part. Joseph Gordon-Levitt definitely gives the most emotional performance out of the cast and the calmness and subtle depth that he brings to Johnny makes it far and away the best segment of the three. I even thought Jessica Alba did ok with the part she was given even if she is a weaker actress. One of the great things that surprised me is that no one in the cast (even Bruce Willis in a small role) seems like they’re doing this as a paycheck, people in the movie are either giving decent performances or having a lot of fun camping up there ridiculous characters. Because of that, the storylines and characters feel less generic and more or less play to the idea of how delightfully entertaining the movie is supposed to be.

The movie fails to deliver on a product that is as powerful as the one that came before it. That being said, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For remains an endlessly stunning film to look at (especially in 3D) and the actors and the writers do a good job making the style and structure pulpier without it feeling lazy. Sin City 2 isn’t something I’m going to remember but it is something I had a shockingly big amount of fun with which is why it is a disappointment to see it failing so miserably at the box office.

Rating:(3.5/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 4/4/2014

Rating: R

Cast: Jessica Alba, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Josh Brolin

Directed by: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

Written by: Frank Miller

Based on the graphic novel by: Frank Miller

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