Ex Machina (2015)

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There’s little I enjoy more than some quality sci-fi. Even though many of the themes have been redone over and over again, it’s the way these themes are presented that separate a good sci-fi from all the rest. If you’ve seen the trailer for Ex Machina, you can probably guess that the film is about a man’s creation of an A.I, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Alex Garland, who penned the scripts for acclaimed movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd, makes his directorial film debut here. It’s a beautiful, confident and smart first shot at directing, as well as a completely enjoyable and thought-provoking experience that just might be the best of the year so far.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is an intelligent programmer who works at an internet company named Bluebook. He wins a company lottery for a one week visit to meet the CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his remote home somewhere in the mountains. When he gets there, he learns that Nathan wants him to perform a Turing test on his humanoid A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander) to try to distinguish whether or not she is a conscious machine.

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Nathan’s home is beautiful and sleek, but it’s also claustrophobic, empty and uninviting. All doors are sealed off and can only be opened by a special key pass, of which Caleb’s access is limited. Yet somehow, it seems the perfect reclusive dwelling for a genius billionaire.

Nathan, played impressively well by Oscar Isaac, whose career seems to be really taking off ever since Inside Llewyn Davis (and rightfully so), is an unpredictable character. When Caleb first meets him, he is quick to skip the formalities, acting not like the typical genius billionaire you’d expect him to be, but rather like more of a “dude bro.” You’d think this would make him more likable, but on the contrary, it makes him more suspicious. You know right away there’s something off about him, but you don’t know exactly what it is.

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Caleb is exactly what you’d expect him to be. Polite, smart, and excited to take part in an important event of scientific discovery, even if it means he has to sign off his freedom to tell anybody anything that transpires during his visit. His sessions with Ava are meant to be nothing more than a simple conversation between the two of them in a room that is separate by reinforced glass. Ava is a remarkable looking robot, with a human face and a translucent body. Alicia Vikander brings a human elegance to the character, but even when she hides her robotic parts under feminine clothing, you never forget exactly what she is.

Although Ex Machina does feature some impressive special effects and some beautiful cinematography, it thrives on its story and small number of characters. It doesn’t have to resort to inconsequential action scenes to be involving, and that’s what I like about it. It’s slow paced, but that doesn’t mean it comes anywhere close to being boring. It slowly builds up tension as the relationships between all the characters continue to change.

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Ava and Caleb’s sessions together are mildly uncomfortable, since it’s clear there’s some sexual tension building between the two. All the while you have Nathan watching everything that transpires through camera and audio. None of these characters are black and white and the story is mostly unpredictable. I thought I knew exactly what direction it was going in right off the bat, but then it turned. That’s really all I can say without giving the plot away, and I already feel like I’ve said too much. For anyone who hasn’t seen this yet, avoid as many spoilers as you can because you don’t want to deprive yourself of the wonderfully oblivious experience.

It’s not all technical, serious and tense, though. There’s some genuine comedic relief spread purposely throughout, including an unexpected scene with one of the characters that I don’t even want to give away in this review because it’s so random and perfect that I refuse to take the “wtf” factor away from anyone.

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Filmmakers have been interested in the idea of artificial intelligence for years. Everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to The Terminator, to this year’s Chappie. Perhaps the most interesting idea about artificial intelligence is that it isn’t completely fictional. The very questions these characters bring up in this film about consciousness, humanity and sexuality are no doubt some of the same questions we’ll be asking ourselves one day in the near future. If a robot can achieve consciousness, then what will continue to separate humans from machine? There’s so much more presented here, though, which I can’t get into due to spoilers, but you can see for yourself if you watch it. It’s a really incredible film.

Ex Machina is a wonderful sci-fi, full of amazing visuals, a great script, and complex characters who are played by some very talented actors. Alex Garland has shown that he can do much more than write the hell out of a script, this is an impressive directorial debut. It’s a smart, tense film that stuck with me and left me thinking after I exited the theater. I know it’s only April, but in my opinion, this is the best theaters have had to offer so far this year. It’s an absolute must-see for 2015.

4.5/5

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Furious 7 (2015)

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It’s absurd, heartfelt, action-packed, hilariously corny, physics defying, balls-to-the-wall, zero to sixty in three seconds, turn off your brain kind of fun. Furious 7 is everything I expected in a 14-year-long running franchise that’s only getting better with age. While not perfect, even according to my “dumb fun” popcorn movie standards, it still delivers the kind of entertainment one hopes to experience at least a few times a year at the theater. “This time it ain’t just about being fast,” so don’t overthink it, embrace your guilty pleasures, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

After the events of Fast & Furious 6, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), and friends are now being hunted by Owen Shaw’s (Luke Evans) big bad brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Meanwhile, a government official who calls himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) recruits Dom and his team to save a computer hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who has been kidnapped by a terrorist named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). He wants to get his hands on a program she created called “God’s Eye,” which will allow him to tap into any device with a lens and track anyone anywhere on the planet in a matter of seconds. Mr. Nobody promises Dom that if he saves her and retrieves this chip, he can use it to track down Shaw and kill him before he does anymore damage to their family.

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James Wan, who is known for directing horror movies like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring, takes over Justin Lin’s seat in the director’s chair. Wan has a knack for elements like tension and suspense, and you can feel it here more than in the previous films. Not to mention, Statham’s character is like a Furious version of a Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, a near invincible human being popping up out of nowhere without explanation of how he got there, and wreaking havoc on anyone he can. Unfortunately, Wan doesn’t quite have the same eye for action, resorting to the old shaky cam, close-up shots, and quick cuts, making for quite a few nauseating fight sequences. But there are plenty of insane set pieces rivaling anything that has come before to make up for some of that. You’ve got cars parachuting out of an airplane, Paul Walker running on top of a bus teetering off the edge of a cliff, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson jumping out of tall buildings, and cars flying through skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. A lot of great, crazy fun is packed into this movie, and if you ask me, it blows the sixth film right out of the water.

Now let’s look at a few of the things I had issues with. First off, I have to inform everyone that I’m a huge supporter of “The Rock” and that I believe he’s the best thing to ever happen to this franchise. I’m serious. Sure, the fifth film was good because it had united all these characters together and it was a cool heist movie that was wildly entertaining, but don’t even tell me the addition of The Rock had nothing to do with the turning point of this series. They threw him in Fast Five and he totally owned the screen. His character, Hobbs, is the most ridiculous character in the entire franchise, he’s got gigantic muscles and the cheesiest one-liners you could imagine, but best of all, he’s a badass–he’s got everything you would want in a character for this type of movie. It was a sin he was so under utilized, and whoever’s idea it was to reduce his role to a mere cameo needs a good old slap across the face. But I’ll admit he still owned the little screen time he had, which included scenes walking the streets of L.A. with a giant machine gun, busting out of an arm cast like the Hulk, and getting to say awesome lines like, “Woman, I am the calvary.” Long live Dwayne Johnson.

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Still on the topic of under utilization: Tony Jaa. I’m really not surprised, because with the exception of Gina Carano in the sixth film, the awesome fighters they cast in these movies usually get reduced to a small henchman role with little screen time. It sucks. He shined brightly with the small time he was given, though, but Hollywood really doesn’t know what to do with martial artists. Oh, and Ronda Rousey really needs to take some acting lessons if she’s going to be doing movies on a regular basis now. She’s a badass and I love her, but her facial expressions are ridiculous and she really gives Vin Diesel a run for his money on the bad acting front.

They also made Jason Statham’s character a bit of a side story, which I wasn’t expecting to happen. He doesn’t have as much screen time as you’d think, and I wish we could’ve had more of him. He was great and he makes a genuinely threatening villain, he can also throw a punch or two, or fifty, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

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I also found it hilarious in the scene that’s supposed to take place on the same day Tokyo Drift ends, Lucas Black, who is supposed to be a high school student, looks like a 40-year-old dude now. He’s only 32, but man, it is obvious as hell this film is taking place nine years after that one, and it takes you right out of the movie for a bit. On the same kind of subject, the CGI’d Paul Walker face in the some of the scenes is a little noticeably distracting. I’m not going to complain, though, because what kind of a person would I be, right? I’m just saying, you’ll probably notice.

I’d be lying if I said that the sadness related to Paul’s death didn’t overshadow this movie a little bit. Dying young and so sudden like that is an awful thing, and seeing him in this is a bit like watching a ghost. There’s a few sentimental moments in the movie involving his character, Brian, and Mia (Jordana Brewster) as he struggles to adapt to the fatherly life, but the last few minutes of the film are a full blown tribute to him, allowing his co-stars and us as an audience to say good-bye to both Paul and Brian. Yes, I got choked up, really choked up, it’s hard not to when you’ve spent so many years of your life watching him. All I can say is that it was done in a tasteful way, and I’m pretty sure Paul would’ve been pleased.

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Furious 7 is totally over-the-top absurdity, but it’s some honestly good popcorn entertainment for sure. I really enjoyed seeing the characters again, I think that the theme of “family” that seemed so forced in the previous movies actually holds some real sentiment now, and I’m sure that Paul’s real life tragedy has something to do with that. I liked the addition of Kurt Russell and Jason Statham to the cast, there were some underused actors like Dwayne Johnson, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou, and Statham to an extent, but the action makes up for some of what’s lacking in character.

In the end, it does a decent job delivering on what you’d expect, if you’re a fan of the franchise, you most likely won’t be disappointed. It’s good, dumb fun with a real emotional element, and includes a lovely send off to the late Paul Walker.

4/5

It Follows (2015)

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For those looking for a mainstream horror film where the story and characters are sacrificed to provide a gamut of cliché and conventional scares, you’ll probably be disappointed in what It Follows has to offer. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has created what some critics are calling “the best horror film in years.” That’s a little too much of a superlative statement for me, but I can agree that it is smart, unique, stylish, and a breath of fresh air to the horror genre, much like The Babadook was last year. If you liked that film, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It’s a slow burn horror in that it takes its time building up tension and suspense in a very effective way through the use of setting, a wide-angle lens camera, and an awesome synth score. You may go home afterwards and have no trouble sleeping, but you might be looking over your shoulder on your way back to the car.

The movie opens with a young girl running out of her house in high heels (serious props to her, I couldn’t run in those things), looking past the camera in fear of something we can’t see. She runs in a half circle, back into the house, grabs her purse and keys, and then we see her on the beach, talking to her father on the phone and apologizing for ever being a pain in the ass. Later we see her with her body mangled in an awkward position, thus setting the tone for the horror that will ensue. Focus shifts to Jay (Maika Monroe), a 19-year-old college student living in suburban Detroit, who contracts what can only be described as a sexually transmitted monster after a night of consensual sex with a guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). Hugh does the gentlemanly thing by tying Jay to a wheelchair and forcing her to feast her eyes upon the monster that will now be relentlessly following her until she decides to pass the curse to someone else. It’s slow, but not dumb. It can take the form of a stranger or someone you know, but don’t let it reach you, because if it does, it will kill you and then it will make its way back down the line of people who contracted it. That’s pretty much the gist of “It.”

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Mitchell does a great job of bringing us into this almost dreamlike world. The time period is irrelevant, although it’ll be sure to confuse and maybe even frustrate some. The characters watch black and white movies on old television sets that look like they’re from the ’70s or possibly even earlier. On the other hand, you have the girl in the beginning scene using a modern day cell phone, and another character reads books on what looks like a kindle in the shape of a clamshell. The ambiguity of the setting is supposed to make us feel like this isn’t our world, this is like some alternate universe where sexually transmitted monsters might exist, a world I wouldn’t want to live in. Most of the film takes place in suburban areas of Detroit, where poverty hasn’t yet spread to their turf. But you would never know it was Detroit unless one of the girls didn’t mention how her mother warned her never to go past 8 Mile (I can thank Eminem for even knowing what that is).

The cinematography plays a big part in the suspense of the film. The 360 degree panning shots are wonderfully effective, as well the wide-angle lens that always leaves more than enough background in view just in case “It” decides to creep into the frame at any point. No matter what’s going on in the foreground, you’re sure to always be looking behind the characters, because you know it’s coming, but you don’t know when. Along with this, the music is a complete mood setter. It’s composed of a John Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack that works so well in helping create and maintain the tension throughout the film.

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The most obvious connections you can make with the plot is that “It” is an allegory for an STD, and Jay is a symbol for “innocence lost.” Yeah, that works on some level. There’s a lot more than that you can take from it, though. For example, if you look past the surface you can find themes of morality, mortality, trust, love, and fear of entering adulthood. After Jay sleeps with Hugh, she lets him in on a little fantasy she used to have about being an adult and having the freedom to go on dates, but when she reaches adulthood and obtains this freedom, it’s not what she expected. Freedom isn’t really freedom at all when there’s responsibility and consequences that come with any action. Ultimately, she and the other characters, like Paul (Keir Gilchrist)–the childhood friend who clearly has a thing for her–end up reminiscing of the days when they were young kids without a care in the world.

When you reach adulthood, that’s usually the time when you become most aware of your own mortality as you shed the naïve image of yourself as being almost invincible. For Jay, this mortality is as real and fearful as ever, because, well…there’s a horrifying monster following her now. One of Jay’s friends, Yara (Olivia Luccardi) spends a lot of the time in the film reading Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot, of which she quotes at one point, speaking about the inevitability of death. Death is an obvious symbol in a lot of horror films, but It Follows has a distinct way of showing how our main character figures out how cope with it.

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There are a few ways you can watch this movie. You can try and pick out whatever deeper meaning or symbolism you can possibly find in the plot, and I’m sure any one person can find quite a few if they tried, or, you can just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. It’s a stylish Halloween meets Final Destination meets whatever throwback to ’80s horror you can think of. Or you can choose to dismiss it as a “not scary at all” arthouse piece of crap. I’ve seen plenty of mixed audience reviews regardless of the mostly positive critics’ opinions, and when it comes down to it, this type of movie isn’t going to work for everyone. If you want a lot of gore and a lot of jump scares (and it’s okay if you do), you aren’t going to find that here.

For me, personally, I loved it. It’s visually stunning, I loved the soundtrack, I thought the acting was definitely above average, and the story is a refreshing and unique take on horror. I like how Mitchell created this very unsettling, creepy atmosphere without having to rely solely on gore and jump scares. Is it the most terrifying movie in recent years? I don’t think so. Does it get a little weird towards the end? Yes. But I’ll stand by my initial response to it, I liked it, it stuck with me when I left the theater, and I think that it’s a very well-made film in general. And admit it, being followed is scary, if you were being followed by even a non-paranormal being–especially if you’re a girl or maybe a drug dealer who screwed over your boss recently–you’d be scared, am I right?

4.5/5

Chappie (2015)

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Neill Blomkamp’s latest sci-fi is a bit more intelligent than people are giving it credit for. It’s a flawed film, for sure, but it hits a lot of the right notes. Chappie touches upon the surface of themes like morality, humanity, consciousness and religion, but sometimes fails to really peel back the layers to expose something deeper and more meaningful inside. Where it does really succeed is in humanizing the titular character and allowing us to see him like we would a child, a pure soul that is molded by his environment. Chappie might not present a whole lot of new ideas, but it has a lot of heart, and it isn’t afraid to be silly, and that’s what I liked most about it.

Among one of the many resemblances to District 9, Chappie starts with talking heads giving exposition about what’s going on in the world. Thanks to people like Anderson Cooper, we find out that the police force has been replaced by robots called Scouts, and Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is the creator. Thanks to Deon’s Scouts, crime in Johannesburg has decreased dramatically.

One robot, Scout 22, suffers a big blow in the field, causing his battery to become fused inside him, so he’s due to be crushed. Deon, who has recently figured out a formula to give the robots a mind of their own, steals 22 to test it. Before he can, he is kidnapped by Yolandi and Ninja (of “Die Antwoord” fame), and their partner Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo). They want Deon to turn off the robots so they can carry out a successful heist. When he assures them this isn’t possible, they force him to reprogram 22 so that they can train it to work for them. When he wakes up, Yolandi gives him the name “Chappie” and he eventually becomes a part of their gangster family.

Chappie is essentially a child. When Deon gives him a mind of his own, it’s like a baby being born, not knowing how to speak or being able to recognize the world around him. Deon, as the creator, is a God-like figure if you’re looking at this in terms of religion. Chappie actually learns morality from him. Before Deon leaves him with Yolandi and Ninja, he makes Chappie promise that he won’t hurt other people. It’s like God giving Moses the Commandments, you know…”Thou shalt not kill,” that sort of thing. The funny thing is that it sticks with him. Throughout the film, he remains adamant about not using guns on people, despite Ninja successfully molding him into the gangster lifestyle in other ways.

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Yolandi is the compassionate mother figure who comes to really love and care about Chappie. She teaches him about mortality and “the beyond.” Ninja, aside from being a selfish jerk who tries to manipulate him, is the father who tries to teach Chappie that the world isn’t a nice place, and that he has to be tough if he wants to survive in it.

Chappie’s consciousness is brought into existence by humans and shaped by humans, and so he logically becomes a human in a robot body. He feels fear, sadness, love, and like all humans, becomes fearful of his own mortality. As his irreplaceable battery begins to run out, he questions why a creator would bring him into the world just so that he could die, a question I’m sure plenty of us have asked before: what is the purpose of life if we are only meant to die? Now this is what I mean when I say this film touches upon the surface of interesting themes. Unfortunately, it eventually does get bogged down by action, violence, and a couple insignificant and ridiculous characters.

I haven’t yet mentioned the role Hugh Jackman plays in this, and that’s mainly because I hated his character. No, not because he was evil (yes, he’s evil), but because he was mainly dull and annoying, and I got tired of him really fast with his stupid mullet and cargo shorts. Hating Hugh Jackman? Yeah, that’s a first for me. He plays Vincent, who is a bastard former soldier and an engineer obsessed with wrecking Deon’s robots and promoting his own human-controlled, giant robots who are decked out with all the weapons you’d need for destroying an entire city, let alone fighting urban street crime. For most of the movie, he seemed like nothing more than an insignificant side story, and his character was like an annoying fly buzzing about that you couldn’t swat down. I’d like to just pretend he didn’t exist. Sigourney Weaver can join him in the void of wishful nonexistence because she was equally as stupid and even more insignificant.

Let’s talk about the purpose of having “Die Antwoord” as main characters in this film. I mean, why? I have to assume it’s for the same reason Blomkamp wanted Eminem to play Matt Damon’s role in Elysium. What that reason is, I’m not sure, weird fascination with rappers I guess? I went into this fully expecting to be annoyed by them, but truth be told, the scenes with them teaching Chappie how to live the gangster lifestyle was hilarious and very entertaining. Yes, it’s a little annoying that they wore their own merch and that the soundtrack was basically all Die Antwoord, making this film kind of seem like a 2 hour music video at times, but I still enjoyed most of their scenes, and I thought they had an interesting and dynamic relationship with the main character.

The CGI and mo-cap in this film is excellent. Along with these things, Sharlto Copley, who plays Chappie, does a great job with making him feel human. For example, in scenes like when Chappie was getting abused by thugs I felt like I was watching an innocent child being abused, I was actually upset and disgusted by it. He’s a piece of metal, but you care about him like you would any other human in any other story. It’s the same way I felt watching the aliens being oppressed in District 9. Blomkamp may miss the mark sometimes, but he knows how to present those human elements and make them feel real, and of course, having the right actor to portray them is a plus.

The only other issues I had with this film is the ending. I can’t get into it without giving too much away, but I felt like it was rushed. I wanted the film to spend more time with the idea, and for those who have seen this already, you know what I’m talking about. Instead, what we got was a long scene involving a shoot-out and Ninja making ridiculous facial expressions. I didn’t like how some of the truly interesting sci-fi elements took the backseat to the ultra violent action. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an action fanatic, but I know when it is and isn’t appropriate. Blomkamp does know how to handle action scenes well, I’ll admit, but I just wanted…more, more than just that.

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In the end, I feel like most critics were overly harsh on Chappie. It wasn’t perfect, but I think it’s far from the derivative piece of crap some are making it out to be. Chappie is an extremely likable character who is easy to sympathize with and care about. The film does touch on interesting themes, focusing more on an A.I. discovering consciousness and mortality, as opposed to focusing on clichèd plot devices like the A.I. threatening humanity. Unfortunately, the action does drag the plot down a bit, and there are a couple of characters who I wish were never written into the script, but Blomkamp does a mostly good job presenting plenty of silly and humorous elements to remind you this is a sci-fi film involving a child-like robot being raised by rappers. Let yourself have fun with it, and you may come out with a more positive view.

3/5

’71 (2015)

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’71 places Jack O’Connell in yet another impressive role as a British soldier who is left behind by his unit in a hostile territory in Belfast during “the Troubles” in–you guessed it–1971. This is director Yann Demange’s feature film debut, and it safely borders the line between action movie and political thriller.

What was the Troubles, you ask? As someone born and raised in the U.S. and never taught a single thing about Irish history in my 19 years of schooling aside from maybe where St. Patty’s Day comes from, I asked myself the same question. As the movie quickly describes it, there was a conflict going on between the Protestants and the Catholics. From a British point of view, the Protestants were the “friendlies” and the Catholics were the “hostiles.” To be more specific, it was a political conflict between Protestant loyalists and Catholic nationalists or republicans. There were quite a few issues going on between the two groups, one of them involving whether or not Northern Ireland should stay within the UK. Without giving a history lesson or sounding stupid to those who were better educated than I was, let’s just say militant groups on both sides, like the IRA for example, were rioting and killing each other. The British army was involved, the government and police force was corrupt, and so on and so forth.

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So how does O’Connell fit into all of this? He plays a British soldier named Gary Hook, who, upon being caught in the middle of a riot, is accidentally left behind by his unit and has to try to survive on the deadly streets on his own. He is hunted and helped by people from both sides, and he is never really sure about who is a friend or a foe.

Last year was a break out year for O’Connell, after having starred in the critically acclaimed drama Starred Up and the not-so-acclaimed Unbroken, as well as the really terrible 300: Rise of an Empire. Regardless of how good or bad the movie was, his performances never failed to impress. It’s the same deal here, although thankfully, this movie does not suck.

’71 is seemingly a simple story about a young man who has to try and survive the night in a foreign land, but there’s actually a lot more going on in the plot than just that. You’re dealing with corruption, double agents on both sides, civilians who are coerced into acting out violently due to blind loyalty, children suffering the consequences, and many people living in fear. Hook is at the center of all of it, never knowing where to turn, having people shoot at him and bombs going off around him, you can sense his confusion and desperation to get to safety.

O’Connell is mostly silent throughout this film, but still affecting. You don’t get to know much about his character aside from the fact that he has a younger brother who is in some kind of state care facility, yet you still care about what happens to him. I will admit that the most thrilling scenes in this movie are the ones that are focused on him. His attempts at survival are, if nothing else, suspenseful. There’s an intensity I felt while watching him running down alleys and ducking into the shadows. It’s mostly well balanced, though, with O’Connell’s scenes being something closer to an action movie, and the secondary characters setting up for what would seem like more of a political thriller. Captain Browning (Sean Harris), for example, is playing both sides of the field throughout the film, but his true intentions are clear to the viewer, he is not a good guy. The suspense in these scenes come from whether or not the other characters will figure this out before it’s too late, and if there will even be consequences when they do.

Demange depicts a world where corruption goes far up the ranks, where young people get caught up fighting for causes they probably don’t fully understand, struggling between what they know is right and what they’re being told is right, and where innocent people are shot at and blown to bits. I’m not sure how true this depiction is, there are some people out there who have actually lived through these conflicts and witnessed them first hand and maybe think this plot is too simplified or not political enough, whereas others will think the opposite. I like the balance, but then again, what do I know?

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Aside from the sometimes excessive shaky cam, the cinematography successfully captures the essence of a war torn city, there’s fires in the streets, people running about and shouting, and a general dark and grittiness to the film. Jack O’Connell, as usual, excels in the lead role and so do a lot of the supporting characters, especially Sean Harris, as well as a young, foul-mouthed boy O’Connell meets at one point in the film. Good people die, bad people live, and justice isn’t always served, ’71 is an emotional and thrilling film that illustrates these sad but true elements that often accompany violent, political conflicts. I really enjoyed it and I believe it’s one of the better movies released in the U.S. this year.

4/5

What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

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Who knew that a mockumentary about four vampires living together in a flat in New Zealand could be so genuinely entertaining? Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi co-wrote, directed and starred in this gem of a comedy that has sadly seen very limited release in the U.S. despite positive response. What We Do in the Shadows is a fresh twist on the vampire genre and it delivers consistent laughs while never straying far from old vampire clichés, and that’s not a bad thing.

So many vampire movies are either focused on horror elements or romantic elements. This movie throws both of those out the window, and what we’re left with is a lot of deadpan humor involving legitimate problems you could imagine would arise in a household of centuries-old vampires. Tension over someone not doing their chores, accidentally hitting main arteries while feeding on humans and spraying blood all over the place, not being able to enjoy a night on the town without being invited into nightclubs, and the difficulties getting dressed while not having a reflection to judge yourself in. The mundane issues that follow a group of immortal creatures who are out of touch with the modern world actually provide a lot more laughs than you would think.

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Viago (Taika Waititi) is a 379-year-old vampire who is a bit of compulsive character. He calls flatmate meetings so that he can discuss who is and who isn’t doing their chores, and why it’s necessary to put down newspaper when one of them decides to sink their teeth into their victims while sitting on the living room sofa. He still dresses like a 18th century European aristocrat with the puffy-sleeved shirts, and he tries to maintain a semblance of civility, but in the end, he’s still a vampire who needs to feed on people. The difference is he tries to give his victims a good time in the last moments of their lives, like a true vampire gentleman.

Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is an 862-year-old vampire whose appearance is reminiscent of the Gary Oldman type in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When we first see him, he’s in a red silk sheeted bed with three women, hissing at the camera. We learn later that he has his own torture room, although he rarely uses it anymore. He also used to have a skill for mind control, but has never been the same since an encounter with a creature only referred to as “The Beast.”

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Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the “cool, young vampire” at a ripe 183-years-old, looking like he stepped right out of a slightly older version of The Lost Boys, with his leather pants and stereotypical “vampires are sexy” attitude. He gets scolded for letting the dishes pile up for five years, and he has a “familiar” named Jackie (Jackie van Beek), who he orders to do daytime errands for him with the false promise that one day he might turn her. One of these errands involves finding two virgins to bring to the house for dinner. The fact that virgins are hard to come by is just one of the many problems these vampires face on a daily basis. While there’s no real need to have virgin blood, Vladislav explains the preference, saying, “I think of it like this. If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.” Fair enough.

One of the humans she brings to dinner is Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer). When he figures out he’s just been lured into a pit of vampires, he tries to escape, leading to a hilarious chase down dark hallways, with some funny wire work and use of CGI. Fortunately, he’s caught by Petyr (Ben Fransham), the fourth flatmate who has a habit of turning people instead of killing them. He doesn’t speak and he lives in the basement and sleeps in a cement tomb. He’s the Nosferatu of the four vampires, and he’s relieved of household duties and flatmate meetings due to the fact that he’s 8,000-years-old.

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With the addition of Nick, the vampires lives become a little less mundane. Now they are dealing with a very young vampire who can’t keep his mouth shut about who and what he is. His struggle to adapt is hilarious. He has trouble flying in through windows, but has an incessant need to do so just because he can. He doesn’t know that eating chips leads to projectile vomiting of blood. He also comes out to his best friend, Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who accepts him as a vampire. Stu is quickly accepted as a friend by them all for being a genuinely likable guy who works at an IT company. He helps the old vampires get reconnected with the modern world through technology. It’s funny how they take to him like a new pet.

Oh, and if the vampires weren’t enough, there are werewolves, too. The vampires run into a pack led by Anton (Rhys Darby), who insists that his pack maintain their tempers, reminding them, “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves.” Yes, there’s a lot that this film offers in terms of fantastical details, and they’re all presented humorously.

Is this one of those corny, cheap parody type films? No. It’s so much better. It’s witty and the actors have a great sense of comedic timing. I laughed the whole way through. The mockumentary style of filming is so fitting, it’s never distracting, and it contributes to the bizarreness of what goes on in the movie. What We Do in the Shadows is more on the level of films like This is Spinal Tap than anything else. There isn’t too much beneath the surface here, it’s a simple plot, but it’s a worthwhile comedy and at a brisk 84 minutes, it’s a very easy watch. It didn’t get the wide release it deserved, but if it happens to come to a theater near you, you should drop what you’re doing and go see this.

4/5

Meathead March – Stand By Me (1986) – Justine’s Movie Blog

Thanks again, Rob, for letting me participate in another of your wonderful blogathons! My choice for a Rob Reiner directed flick is Stand by Me. I bet you couldn’t guess that I love coming-of-age films.

meathead march blogathonFor today’s first review of Stand By Me (1986) for the Meathead March Blogathon, here’s a review by Justine of Justine’s Movie Blog.

Thanks Justine!

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Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is probably one of the most successful classic examples of a coming-of-age film that has touched many people’s hearts. There’s plenty of things in this film that just work, there’s no other way to put it really. The cast, the music, the story, and the overall themes of childhood friendship and loss of innocence are elements that work towards this creation of the first successful adaptation from a Stephen King short story, “The Body.”

The story begins with an older Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss), who, upon looking at an article in the newspaper about one of his friends, reminisces of the days when he was a young boy. Flashback to Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and…

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Genre Grandeur February Finale- The Perks of A Wallflower (2012) – Justine’s Movie Blog

My entry for Genre Grandeur at Movierob’s blog is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I fell in love with this coming-of-age film when I saw it three years ago, and even though there’s so many to choose from, I had to choose this one to write about. Seriously, I cry every time, not even sure why.

Thanks, Rob for letting me choose this month! I hope everyone else who participated enjoyed revisiting their favorite films in the genre. I know I enjoyed reading the reviews.

Be sure to check out Movierob’s blog if you haven’t already, and as well as the other bloggers who participated 🙂

For this month’s final entry for Genre Grandeur February – Coming of Age movie’s, here’s a review of The Perks of A Wallflower (2012) by Justine of Justine’s Movie Blog who chose this month’s genre for us all.

If you missed any of them, here’s a recap:

This month we had 12 review for GG:

  1. The Kings of Summer (2013) – Digital Shortbread
  2. Starter for 10 (2006) – EmmaKWall
  3. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005) – Tranquil Dreams
  4. An Education (2009) – Film Grimoire
  5. An Education (2009) – The Girl Who Loved to Review
  6. Mean Girls (2004) – Life of this City Girl
  7. Frances Ha (2012) – Sidekick Reviews
  8. Taps (1981) – MovieRob
  9. American Graffiti (1973) – MovieRob
  10. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) – MovieRob
  11. Footloose (1984) – MovieRob
  12. Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Justine’s Movie Blog

Thanks to everyone who participated this month!

In addition, I…

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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

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Usually I try to keep my reviews on here somewhat professional and devoid of ranting and vulgarity. But for this movie, I’m going to say fuck it.

WARNING: Vulgarity and rants ahead! (I probably should’ve put the warning before I said “fuck it”). Fuck it.

I guess I’ll get right into it and say that this film is garbage. Is that too bold a statement? I don’t even care. I read part of the Fifty Shades of Grey book written by E.L. James. She’s a master with words, really, I think after about the 30th phrase involving this thing called an “inner goddess,” I wanted to off myself. Bravo to those who can actually get through this juvenile insult to literature. Why was this woman published, again? Oh right, because confused women love reading stories about abusive rich men (or vampires) who only show their softer side to one woman, and that’s apparently called “love” or something. So if I hated the book then why’d I see it? Well, I was fucking curious.

It’s okay, I get it. I’m a girl and I sometimes get confused too. But let me tell you a little something I’ve learned from that confusion about “love.” As someone who has been on the receiving end of douchebag behavior plenty of times, this bullshit is not love, it’s not “romantic,” and it sure as shit is not erotic. I don’t know much about the world of BDSM, so I won’t even go there, but something tells me this is an insult to people who practice it.

The whole story is built on the fact that Christian (Jamie Dornan) is this screwed up soul, and for whatever reason, he can only feel intimacy through being a “dominant” with his “submissive.” Well if that’s the story, then why is the sex so tame? Where’s all the sex toys, and the whips, and the…oh right, Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) doesn’t like that stuff. She’s a virgin! A pretty, virginal college student who works at a hardware store, doesn’t have a computer, and uses a flip phone! Imagine that. So this deeply disturbed predator sniffs out this virgin and decides he wants her to be his new submissive. Because he’s good looking and rich, of course the virgin is going to consider it, I mean, why not? He buys her a computer, a new car, flies her in his helicopter (yup, he’s rich and he knows how to fly), who wouldn’t consider getting flogged by that, right? Right!? Um…guys…

When it comes down to it, this movie isn’t about BDSM at all, what it’s really about is this unhealthy, controlling relationship she gets sucked into with this head case of a man. The worst part about it is, that she realizes at multiple points in the film that she willingly allowed herself to fall so deep into this mess, and there’s just this sad hopelessness in her eyes when she knows the situation is unlikely to change. Now I have to get off topic for a second and give credit to Dakota Johnson, because she really was the best part of this film. She seemed like a real person and not this stupid caricature E.L. James wrote her as.

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Anyway, it’s really the fact that this story is trying to pass off an abusive relationship as romantic that bothers me. I’m not even talking physical abuse. There’s little of that here, believe it or not, plus the physical stuff that does happen is all stuff she seems to enjoy. It’s the mental abuse. The mind games and the control are what I find messed up. She makes it pretty clear she’s not into all this freaky stuff, and that she’s a romantic who would rather go out on dates and have the “flowers and hearts,” as he says it. He tells her “that’s not me.” Let’s not forget the award-winning line, “I don’t make love. I fuck, hard.”

So in a way, he does warn her of his unusual tastes. But then he’ll give her what she wants, little by little, whether it be holding hands, letting her meet his mother, referring to her as his “girlfriend,” yeah, mixed messages much? It’s like giving her slack on the leash and then reeling her back in. “Oh, but he’s falling in love with her, too.” No, no, no. Let me remind you that this man is eagerly trying to persuade this naive girl into something she has no experience in. I mean, aren’t there ways of connecting with people who are already into this BDSM stuff?

No, the bitter ex-girlfriend inside me would say, “It’s like those relationships where the man is a huge douchebag deep down, then suddenly he’s the best part of himself when he senses you’re about to leave him.” Anyone else been in that situation, or is it just me? Example: Christian demands that she abide by his ludicrous contract involving what he can do to her. She writes a joking e-mail saying, “Yeah, it was nice knowing you.” He thinks in his mind, “Oh fuck! Let me go to her place and let myself in with some wine and gentle sex. That’ll keep her hooked!” Another example: Christian throws a tantrum when he finds out Anastasia is going to visit her mother in Georgia, then while she’s there, he texts her and says he’s going to dinner with a friend. “Mrs. Robinson?” Anastasia asks. “Don’t worry about it,” replies Christian. Christian calls her, she doesn’t pick up (God, I love pulling that cold shoulder shit). Christian thinks, “Oh shit! Now I have to go all the way to Georgia and take her flying so she won’t leave me.” There’s a part in the film when Anastasia, confused and frustrated as any woman would be, boldly asks, “What do you want?” Mind games, I’m telling you, that’s all this is.

The story itself isn’t the only problem I have with this movie. It’s boring. I can only imagine what the women who hadn’t read the book were expecting when they knew this alleged kinky story was being made into a film, only to find out it’s hardly kinky at all, unless you count the awkward conversations about anal fisting and genital clamps as such. The two leads also didn’t seem to have much chemistry going on. Dornan is a dull boy, even when he’s at play.

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I’ve read plenty of reviews stating that this wasn’t as bad as expected. Well, that’s mainly because Johnson holds this film up on her shoulders by herself like a champ, plus there isn’t much for the film to live up to, with the horribly written source material and all. It’s not really much of a compliment, believe me.

I’ve also seen people complain about the end. Well, the end is the best part if you ask me. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, but let me just say I wish sequels didn’t exist because that’s where it should’ve ended for good. But now we get to watch Ana be an idiot later on, so that should be fun, or at least, rant-worthy on my part.

I really hate sounding like a crazed feminist (but I know I do), and I hate it when people try to find sexism in literally everything, but I’m sick of these terrible stories. I swear, they are ruining the psyche of women. I know for a fact there’s women out there who believe that behavior like Christian’s is acceptable because he’s “damaged,” and there are women out there who believe they can change someone, or that they’ll be the exception when it comes to a man who treats everyone badly. Come to your senses! Real men don’t act like this, this isn’t romantic, this is shit. Fuck this movie. I’d rather watch Colin Firth beat the living crap out of people while wearing a perfectly tailored suit than ever watch this trash again.

P.S. Sorry to anyone who actually read this whole thing. I’ll probably regret this review in the morning.

1/5

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

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Espionage transformed into a crazy, self-aware bloodfest? Yes, please. When I first started seeing previews for Kingsman: The Secret Service, before I knew it was a Matthew Vaughn film, I thought it was going to be a clichéd kids’ movie about a troubled teenager who is turned into an unlikely hero. But between the frequent F-bombs and blood flying across the screen, I realized this is no kids’ movie. This is my kind of movie. The kind for the action lovers who get a little too much enjoyment out of a fireworks display of people’s heads getting blown off their bodies. Beyond that, it’s a love letter from Matthew Vaughn to all spy movies, and what a wonderful letter it is.

Vaughn has done for spy movies what he did for superhero movies through Kick-Ass (both adapted from Mark Millar comics). He took an overdone genre that has been taking itself way too seriously, and he breathed new life into it. Kingsman is an ode to classic James Bond movies, with the fancy gadgets and nice suits, a crazy villain with an elaborate evil plan, and a femme fatale, among other things. He took these clichés and made them original and fun, and what we got here is a movie featuring Samuel L. Jackson as a villain with a lisp who can’t stand the sight of blood, proper British gentlemen knifing people in the eye, a femme fatale who cuts people in half with her bladed prosthetic legs, and at the center of it all, a young chav with a chip on his shoulder training to become a proper British gentleman who can knife people in the eye.

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Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton) is a troubled young man whose father died when he was little, and his mother has a penchant for dating abusive losers. When a run-in with a group of thugs lands him in jail, secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) answers his call for help. Harry, who was once the mentor of Eggsy’s father, feels responsible for his father’s death, and believes he owes Eggsy the opportunity to train for a spot in the Kingsmen that was left open after fellow agent “Lancelot” (Jack Davenport) was recently killed. Eggsy’s skills and ability to follow direction are tested as he competes with other hopefuls. Meanwhile, Harry is on a mission to find out what tech savvy billionaire, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is up to when he announces his plan to give away free SIM cards that will allow people to make calls and access the internet for free.

Taron Edgerton is a welcome new talent. He’s great at being a smart-ass, and somehow still remaining a likable character. He manages to keep the spotlight amongst a cast of people who could’ve easily out-shined him. He’s convincing in the action scenes, although he doesn’t have anything as crazy to pull off as Colin Firth does.

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Colin Firth, the man who most people have come to love in various rom-coms and British dramas and thrillers where he almost always portrays the proper, dapper gentleman will be surprised to see how well he does playing that same gentleman with an ultra violent twist. He’s 54-years-old and single-handedly beating the living piss out groups of people in this film. It’s insane, funny, and most of all, awesome. The church scene he’s in is probably my favorite in the movie, and not just because he turns to a homophobic, racist woman and says something along the lines of, “I’m a Catholic whore who needs to visit my black, Jewish boyfriend who works in an abortion clinic. Hail Satan.”

Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious as Valentine. It’s hard to take him seriously with that lisp. The fact that his character can’t stand the sight of blood really plays on the cliché that super villains never do their dirty work. He has Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) for that, the henchwoman with legs that make break dancing deadlier than walking into a giant blender.

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Let’s not forget the rest of the supporting cast, who aid in making this movie as awesome as it is. Michael Caine is Arthur, he’s somewhat of a leader in the Kingsmen, and Merlin (Mark Strong), is the man in charge of training new recruits. Sophie Cookson is Roxy, one of the other recruits competing with Eggsy for the spot, the best part about her is that she doesn’t become the typical “love interest,” although the story could’ve easily gone there. Mark Hamill, who I didn’t even recognize at first, is a professor who is kidnapped for one reason or another, but he disappears pretty quickly.

The action is balls to the wall sort of fun. Sometimes it’s more suspenseful than anything, like when Eggsy and the other recruits jump from a plane only to be told that one of them doesn’t have a parachute, but no one knows who, or when their bunks start filling up with water while they’re sleeping. Other times it’s just amusing, like when Eggsy steals a car and does a bunch of donuts in front of its owner, leading to a car chase between him and the police.

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But the violence in this movie is something else entirely. It’s incredibly over-the-top, almost cartoonish at times, like when Gazelle cuts a man clean in half and when the heads of rich men and politicians explode like fireworks. At times, it’s downright gratuitous, like in a scene where Harry massacres hate-spewing rednecks in a church while Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” plays in the background. Is any of this a bad thing? Some people who saw this and don’t take too well to Christians (even the horrible ones) being violently killed might think so. Me? I friggin’ loved it. It’s Colin Firth, for Christ’s sake! Was it necessary? No. Is it offensive? Most likely. But who cares! If you haven’t thought about how it might be sort of funny if those Westboro Baptist Church assholes got the punch in the face (not a hole in the head, I’m not that hateful, f**k) they deserve, then you must be Mother Teresa. It was hilarious, and going in to a movie like this expecting it to be serious and tasteful, especially if you’ve already seen Kick-Ass, is in the wrong state of mind. Sorry, but it’s true. A lot of people will say that Kingsman can only be enjoyed if you’re an immature teenage boy. Well, I’m neither a teenager nor a boy (but maybe a tad immature), and I enjoyed this immensely.

So to anyone wondering whether or not you should see Kingsman: The Secret Service, I would say, if you don’t mind gratuitous violence and you love Colin Firth enough to see him execute one of the craziest action sequences I’ve ever seen, if you loved Kick-Ass and you’d be interested to see a satirical twist on spy movies, and if you just simply love action movies, you should absolutely check this out. It’s not without flaws, but it’s the best time I’ve had at the theater so far this year.

4/5