Did you ever see the movie The Deer Hunter? If you didn't, you still probably saw some reference to the classic and horrific Russian Roulette scene. It's a movie that came out in 1978 with Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. It's a powerful film that shows the effects of the Vietnam War on guys from Western Pennsylvania after they come home. It's widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made which is why director Scott Cooper tried to unofficially remake it with Out of the Furnace. It's not a cheap ripoff but it's certainly a ripoff.
There are differences between the two and they are certainly obvious. For starters, the film is not from the perspective of the veteran, who's played by Casey Affleck. Out of the Furnace if from the perspective of his older brother, who's played by Christian Bale. The relationship that these two have is powerful, emotional and performed beautifully by the two. In fact, it's Bale most sublte and controlled performance and Affleck's most explosive and tragic in his career. Everything about these two is believable and sad. Upon returning from tour after tour in Iraq, Affleck submits himself to brutal illegal fights while Bale tries to get him to blue collar-it-up at the steel mill he works at.
The acting from the rest of the stellar cast is also flawless. Woody Harrleson is the most sadistic and evil he's been since Natural Born Killers. He plays a backwoods crime boss, well, as much of a crime boss as you can be when you're a redneck meth head. As horrible as his character is, there's still moments where you find yourself liking him and that makes you feel as rotted as his teeth. Through no fault of Harrleson's though, the performance is cliche and predictable at times which leads to the bigger problem with the film.
It's too soon to tell if Scott Cooper is a great director. You can tell he's someone who comes from an acting background since both this and his only other movie, Crazy Heart, feature Oscar-worthy performances. But this film is nowhere near as good as his last mostly because it features all images and themes that we've seen before. In fact, we've seen them so much so that it seems like a parody at times although there is absolutely nothing funny about this. I don't mind when movies are self important. I don't mind when movies borrow from previous films that influenced it. I do mind it when they're both. Out of the Furnace finds itself to be very important and it is, however its imagery is too been-there-done-that to take as seriously as the movie deserves.
I know, I know; so far it's nothing like The Deer Hunter. But you have to consider that everything besides small changes to the story is. They both take place in Western Pennsylvania. They show the effects of war on veterans. They both feature the same symbolism of rusted out steel factories, sunsets, wardrobe, sets, etc. Trust me that if you go see Out of the Furnace you'll get a feeling like you've seen this before. Some might say that Out of the Furance is better than The Deer Hunter, but it suffered the fate of coming out in 2013 and not 1977 therefore it is not.
br /> When talking about Disney films, I can understand why it's easy to hate on them. They're as formulaic as films can be and they're cheesie as hell for anyone who views cinema as something that should only produce important art that challenges. I, thankfully, am not one of those people because those people are the worst. Granted, it's difficult for me to review Disney films objectively because I'm such a fan and they hit one of the last tender parts of my soul. That being said, Frozen looked in the advertising to be one of the worst finished products I've seen. Maybe it was aided in its debacle by coming out on the heels of Planes which, from what I've heard by the unfortunates who saw it, THE worst Disney film to come out in a generation. Not only am I thrilled to say that Frozen was not a debacle but it may be one of the best.
Frozen is based on The Ice Queen by Hans Christian Anderson and features the voices of the amazingly adorable Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Safety Not Guarenteed) and Idina Menzel (Enchanted, Rent). These two were hired because Frozen is every bit a musical as the classic Disney films are and it features the most catchy songs since The Lion King. Yes, I know that Tangled was shockingly great and so was Princess and the Frog but there is something about the songs in Frozen that make you hum them for days. Bell and Menzel singing them makes them better but they would've been great regardless.
There must be a reason for Disney not to classically animate films anymore. When Tangled came out and we all saw that it was computer animated, I think all our hearts sunk after we were treated to the nostalgia of Princess and the Frog. There's something about seeing hand-drawn animation that hit all us adults in our childhood and made us feel 7-years-old again. Perhaps it was that Princess was a box office bomb (for some reason) or maybe it's cheaper and fastter to do it on the computer but Tangled proved that you can still make the classic Disney "princess" musicals in computers and not lose the soul of what they are. Frozen is not only no exception but it's proof that they can even be, dare I say, better.
What makes this so different than the other Disney films is two things; one, there is no bad guy and two, the main female character doesn't need a man to save her life. Those are two pieces of the Disney formula that are left out and you don't miss them at all. That's not to say that it still isn't EXACTLY the same everywhere else. There's a comedic creature, which is a talking snowman named Olaf played by Josh Gad (Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Broadway's The Book of Mormon) who is one of the funniest voice talents since Eddie Murphy played Donkey, there's a cute non-talking animal, an adorable Prince, a non-Prince guy who's really better than the Prince, and of course a scene featuring side characters that help and are meant to break up the story with a little fun.
Frozen isn't a perfect film because I don't think Disney movies are meant to be so. What it is, however, is one of the best films from that studio to come out in a generation. I've seen it twice and I can't wait to see it again. My 1-year-old son has a Disney mix he jams out to filled with all kinds of songs from classics to films of the '80s and '90s and even stuff from the parks. I bought the Frozen soundtrack the second it came out and loaded it on his iPod so he can learn these songs so when he sees it for the first time in a few years, he'll know them and enjoy the movie, hopefully, as much as me.
From now on, I'm going to see movies that are based on books far removed from finishing the book. That seemed to aid in my enjoyment of this considerably. When the first Hunger Games movie came out last year, I had just finished reading the book a few months prior. I liked it but didn't love it and thought it fell drastically short of where the book had taken me. So either I was thrown off because all the details from Suzanne Collins' book was still fresh in my mind or the film itself just wasn't that good. Judging by the reaction of critics and fans alike, it was that the film wasn't up to snuff because changes were made to the team and thank God they were.
Director Gary Ross created the first film and this sequel was done by Francis Lawrence. Ross directed films like Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. Lawrence directed films like Constantine and I Am Legend. Neither are stellar directors but more like adequate ones but when you consider their past work, which do you think is more suited for a film about a post-apocalyptic America where children battle each other to the death for the entertainment of adults? Exactly.
In every single way that the first one fell short, Cathing Fire wins. Lawrence has made a world that feels as gritty and evil as it should. His use of FX is far superior than what showed up in the first one; the script is better, the music resonates but it's the raw emotion that makes this the success it is. Granted, this story is full of heartbreak and tragedy but no more than the first book had. There are scenes in this film that made me tear up and they were scenes that did not have that affect when I read it. That impresses me as an audience member more than almost anything else in the film.
That's not to say that there isn't loads of action in Catching Fire though. The danger involved in the games feels so much more real this time around. The arena is 100% scarier and more creative and all of that is actualized almost perfectly in the film. Most of that terror is hightened by fantastic performances from Jennifer Lawerence, who's really starting to prove that she deserved that Oscar last year. She carries the film firmly on her shoulders even with new heavy hitters joining the cast like Phillip Seymore Hoffman (Doubt, Boogie Nights) and Jeffrey Wright (Source Code, Ides of March).
The production company responsible for making this franchise has made the decision that not only was Gary Ross wrong for the series and Francis Lawrence is right but that Lawrence is THE guy. They've named him the director of the next two (yes, they're splitting the last book for no other reason than greed) films. Seeing Catching Fire gives me the confidence that this series I enjoyed so much is in good hands, will continue to be and is making me hungry for more.
Sometimes, it's hard to remember that Matthew McConaughey is a great actor. It's not just that he went through a phase where he did nothing but strut around the beach with no shirt on 24 hours-a-day playing the bongos and wearing crystals. It's that he did a string of really bad movies there for a while. Movies like Failure to Launch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Wedding Planner, Sahara, Fool's Gold; these films are enough to write off someone as Hollywood blather and described as anything BUT an actor. But under that pile of silliness is the same guy who kicked ass in Contact, Amistad, A Time to Kill, Frailty. And lately, he's been on a tear with great performances in Mud, Magic Mike and Killer Joe. But would Dallas Buyers Club continue the winning streak? It does...in spades!
In the film, McConaughey plays a real person named Ron Woodruff, who was a straight, homophobic, good ol' rodeo boy from Texas who got AIDS in 1986 when it was widely believed that only gay men could get it. Instead of accepting his short life expectancy given to him, he seeks to medicate himself with non-FDA approved drugs from international sources and circumvents the government by then selling them to other people with AIDS. Through his self-preservation he learns to love the community he once hated and mocked and helps them fight for their right to choose whatever path they want to get better.
This is one of the best performances of McConaughey's career although he, once again, kinda plays himself. He manages to create a wonderful anti-hero who we learn to love as his transformation from bigot to man of the people takes place. The other stellar performance is from Jared Leto (Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream) who plays his transgender partner, Rayon. Their friendship is humorous and heartbreaking and is the soul of the film. It's devastating when you discover that Rayon was a character created by Hollywood to make the film more fun. Regardless, Leto knocks it out of the park and is even better than McConaughey; both deserve Oscar nominations. It makes you wish that Leto would stop pretending to be a rock star for 30 seconds (get the joke?) so we can remember that he's actually a really gifted actor.
Great performances are not the only reason you see this movie. Director Jean-Marc Vallee blew me away with his ability to step so far out of his comfort zone and capture what it was like to be a s**tkicker in Texas in the '80s. This is light years away from his period romances and adorable French films. The script is another reason to buy a ticket. A film about AIDS already feels too heavy for most people to swallow and knowing that McConaughey and Leto both lost so much weight that they look like walking skeletons makes it even worse but, I assure you, this film is fun. It has all the funny quips and show-stopping tearjerkers that Academy members love. It's a film that's handled with respect to the gay community (for the most part), tackles the difficult topic of AIDS in the '80s and does it all with a light approach. That's no easy task.
Dallas Buyers Club isn't for everyone and that might be one area that holds the film back come Oscar time. Academy members like films that are serious but still fun, touching yet don't depress us but they also like all that done in a PG-13 arena. Dallas Buyers Club is not that. They do the story justice with an R-rating and I'm glad that they did. Aside from some stereotypes and fictionalized characters to make the film more marketable, it's a story that needed to be told and one that sheds light on a moment in our history that is shameful and important.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a favorite Avenger. Even if they know nothing outside of who is in the super group, they have their favorites. When I was a kid, my favorite was Wolverine (but we all know he'll never make it into an Avengers movie because he's now owned by FOX) but my close back up was The Incredible Hulk and I think it still might be. All my friends seemed to like Iron Man and we all agreed that Captain America was pretty cool because he fought Nazis. As far as I knew in my social circle of nerds, no one liked Thor. He was the one character that didn't fit into their world because, well, he was from a different one and that seemed weird. But Liam Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods, Rush) has done such a good job with the character that he's won me over. But this sequel seemed to have placed him back towards the bottom again.
This sequel picks up some time after the events in The Avengers just like Iron Man III did. I like that they show how the events in that film have impacted these characters. Tony Stark seems to have had a hard time shaking it off and has pumped doubt into him for the first time in his life. However, Thor seems totally unfazed and I don't like that. I get that he's a god and doesn't even really care about what happened but at the very least, his brother was the one who caused all that. The fall out of that relationship is dealt with in this but not nearly to the level of depth that it could have been.
Director Alan Taylor (HBO's Game of Thrones, The Sopranos) made choices that I'm not sure were smart. Actually, I assume that none of the directors that Marvel chooses for their Avengers franchise films get 100% say in what direction or look or tone the film ends up in, but I have to assume they have some. Taylor's choices have taken everything that was enjoyable about the first Thor and removed it. Action aside, I really enjoyed Hemsworth ability to craft humor out of the story that was heavy with "fish out of water" scenes. Taking a god from Asgard and placing him in dusty nowhere, New Mexico was funny. But this film takes place almost entirely on Asgard where he feels right at home.
The other problem that that causes is detachment to the film from an audience. If I see Thor in New York City or the American desert, I can wrap my brain around that and relate to what's going on. The sets seem real even if most of them are still CGI. But placing almost the entire sequel in space on other planets in what we know is a world created entirely in computers makes me not feel for anything that's happening. My friend Hank pointed out that it was the same fate that the Star Wars prequels fell too. You need real sets with real props for me to like it and this has very little of that.
It's not to say that Thor: The Dark World isn't worth watching; of course it is. Marvel hasn't made a bad film yet in the Avengers universe. But this might be one of the worst and it actually gets boring for long stretches of the film. I wonder if we liked the other films because we were excited knowing that it was building toward a mega-superhero film. This time around, we have no idea where it's going and that couldn't be more evident by the hidden scene at the end of the film featuring Benecio Del Toro as The Collector, a character that becomes heavily important with the mega villain Thanos for the next two Avengers movies. These hidden scenes are always fun but until we all know more, it's hard to really dig it.
Gavin's Giveaway this week is Grown Ups 2 on DVD! CLICK HERE to enter to win!
Going to see a movie based on a book is always risky because it's almost never as good. It becomes even riskier when that book is a world famous classic and regarded as one of best (if not the best) in its genre. However, there is no risk higher than seeing such a film with rabid fans of that book and have been looking forward to seeing it for 20 years. That's what I did when I brought my friend Matt and his friend Shane with me to see it on the Esquire IMAX screen. As we walked into the theater I said a small prayer in my head that the film would be, not just good, but excellent; otherwise those two would burn that place to the ground. As you may have noticed, the Esquire IMAX is still standing because my prayer was answered.
Ender's Game is book written by Orson Scott Card in 1985 and is widely accepted as one of the best science-fiction novels ever written and one of the only of that genre taught in high schools and heavily suggested reading for Marines. You can see its influence in teen fiction still such as the Harry Potter series. It's about how a young boy has such a natural gift for military tactics that he's put through training to command the entire International Fleet against an alien foe. The story is easily applied to any era and is way before its time in technology.
The film version was written and directed by Gavin Hood. That's a huge gamble because after he made the disaster X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I would have considered him one of the most overrated directors in Hollywood. However, the South African made this his passion project and it shows. The film is executed wonderfully. Everything from the casting to spectacular FX to a goosebump-inducing score is well conceived and inspired. The casting of Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas) was as true find considering the depth and pain the character Ender must go through and Butterfield knocks it out of the park. Unfortunately the rest of his child cast, including Oscar-nominee Hailey Steinfeld (True Grit) is subpar.
As far as the adults go, Harrison Ford leads them in one of the best performances he's had in years (sadly). His "friend or foe" persona is well performed and is one of the many components to making the real point of the film stand out...empathy. The film opens with a popular quote from the book that states "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that moment I also love him" and it's in that line that the soul of the story exists. I won't spoil anything for you but what becomes a gut-wrenching turn for Ender is executed extremely well.
For its entire 28 years of existence, Ender's Game was considered unfilmable. Many have tried and failed and the story seemed to be sentenced to die in Hollywood "Development Hel"l but somehow Hood pulled it off. The movie isn't perfect but it's far greater than those of us who knew nothing about it expected and, more importantly, quenched the thirst of those like Matt and Shane who waited decades to see the battles in the pages come to life. I hope it inspires more people to read the book but it's good enough to make those who consider a movie an adequite substitute for the text walk away with a sense of what the real story is about and why it's important to take in; now, more than ever.
Gavin's Giveaway this week is Shrek The Musical on Blu-Ray & DVD - CLICK HERE to enter to win!
Making a gormet apple pie isn't easy; we all know that. But if I gave you freshly picked apples, all the organic ingredients to make a stunning crust, instructions to make it and Chef Gordon Ramsey to keep you on track by calling you a "stupid donkey," you'd think it would be pretty hard to screw up, right? The Counselor is a movie starring Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Inglorious Basterds), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), Pennolpe Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt in a movie written by novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) and directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien), you'd think THAT would be an apple pie pretty hard to screw up, right? Somehow it happened.
The Counselor is a film about a very successful lawyer who gets involved with some shady ex-client friends who decide to fund a large drug shipment from Mexico to Chicago. Somewhere along the way things go horribly, horribly wrong...in both plot and execution of the plot. It's the kind of story that I usually really enjoy. It has violence, smart dialogue, interesting characters, sex and plot twists. From a very early point in the film, however, you can feel that something is off with this. The pieces aren't lining up and you find yourself straining to keep up with the story and figure out what everyone's basic motives are. I'm not one that lacks the skills to keep up with a complex plot but this was beyond complex; it was sloppy.
Some of that might be because this is McCarthy's first attempt at writing a screenplay and he's basing it off of his own novel. If No Country for Old Men taught us anything it's that an adaptation of his book by a skilled screenplay writer can create a great movie. That was one of the greatest movies of the decade. This will be remembered as almost the exact opposite. Of course there are worse films out there but this was like a juiced baseball player who always hits home runs stepping up the plate and striking out.
It's a real shame because there are moments of this that really shine. Fassbender conveys absolute dread and shamful anguish. Bardem is a wonderfully charismatic douchebag that provides much of the comedic relief. Even Cruz and Diaz are fun to watch as polar opposites of the cliche female character spectrum. There's just something about the movie as a whole that's a complete dud. Even as things are happening that make you feel like the film is getting back on track, there's a scene that's shoved into the story that doesn't make sense and it makes you spend the next fifteen minutes thinking, "what the hell was that about?"
It's true that I might being too hard on The Conselor. For it to share the same Gavin Grade as We're the Millers seems unfair because it's more noble than a shallow comedic snorefest. But it's the fact that it has as A-list a cast directed by as A-list a director as Hollywood allows that makes the missteps, bad choices, and sloppiness unforgivable. If you pay to see anything from any one of these people, you should expect quality at this point in their careers and instead, with this, you see some of the worst.
Gavin's Giveaway this week is "The Conjuring" on Blu-Ray & DVD: CLICK HERE to Enter to Win!
There aren't many horror movies about women, for women. It's true that most horror movies feature women as the star but virtually all of them are victims being followed and tormented by some hulking beast. Even the films where the women are the monster, such as The Exorcist, it's still an innocent little flower that is in need of help. Carrie is different. When Stephen King wrote it in 1974 and the movie came out two years later, it was something no one had seen before. It was a horror movie for women about women. That's the reason why this remake seemed like a good idea because as good as the original is, a female director could really tap into what makes this such a haunting tale for women and explode the horror on the screen in ways we've never seen. Sadly, that didn't happen.
I'm not a horror purist; I don't think that nothing can ever be remade. It's true, some horror movies are great for what they are but they're dated and could stand a dusting off. Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead was ballsy as hell to attempt a remake but they pulled it off in spades. Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes was one of the best remakes I think I've seen considering that the original of that feels hokey now. But if you're gonna remake a classic horror film you better have a damn good reason for doing it. This remake of Carrie did and it totally makes sense why it should have been remade.
Modernizing the story not only made sense but was insanely appropriate right now. Bullying is a huge buzz topic and the rise of the Internet has made it so much easier. All of that is covered in Carrie, such as the infamous "tampon scene" in this 2013 version is video taped on a cell phone and then uploaded to YouTube to make the humiliation so much bigger than it ever could have been in 1976. But simply remolding the story slightly to fit the times can't be all you do. You have to raise the stakes in the carnage, the horror, the performances; you should remake Carrie to be the disturbing statement of religious fanatacism as well as blind vengence that it was always meant to be. That was entirely missed in this failed recreation.
I had hopes that director Kimberly Peirce was going to hit a homerun with this. She's no slouch and known for her gritty films like Stop-Loss and Boys Don't Cry. She's not afraid of making a film that shines a light on parts of our culture that are ugly and hard to swallow. So why didn't she with Carrie? Brian De Palma (Scarface, Mission: Impossible) is a great director and his 1976 version is intense and unflinching; but he's a dude. Surely, a woman would be able to tell this story about a mother and her daughter much better. Right? Or does having that expectation make me a bit of a sexist?
Regardless, Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In) are both wonderful actresses but neither come anywhere close to that eeriy magic that Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek had 37-years-ago. What is a horrific story about what happens when you push a girl with magic powers too far is reduced to really sad story about what happsn when you push a girl with magic powers too far. Yes, Carrie is a sad story but all that sadness is suppose to be washed away when the telekenisis hits the fan. I remember looking forward to those a-holes in Carrie's school getting what was coming to them but when it comes you feel sorry that her rage punishes everyone, even those that treated her kindly. Some of that is changed for this version and it takes away a large part of the terror. If you want to see this wonderful story done correctly, rent the original on Netflix and watch it with the lights off.
Every year movies come out and jockey for which will take home the coveted Best Picture category at the Oscars. Most years it comes down to a top two and it adds to the suspense of which will win. Other years it could be anyone's game and those are really exciting to watch for Oscar nerds like me. This year's Academy Awards will be one of the most boring on record. I not only feel sorry for every single movie that comes out trying to win Best Picture, but I feel bad for all movies that have that in common with each other for years to come. The reason why is that Gravity is so good that it will obviously win Best Picture (and yes, that's without seeing the other films yet) but it will also be what future films get compared to for quite a while.
The last time we saw Alfonso Cuaron behind the camera it was in 2006 with Children of Men, a movie that didn't get the respect it deserved at the time but has gone on to be one of the more respected films of that genre. Despite his limited filmography, he's a director that people anxiously await a project from because he is probably the best of the magicmakers of Hollywood. Sure, there are great directors out there that make amazing pictures but Cuaron does things with cameras that you have not seen before and makes you wonder how he did it. That has never been more true than it is for Gravity.
The movie is simple; George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are the victims of a horrible accident in space and try to save themselves after their space shuttle is destroyed. That's it. It's a cast of two people (unless you consider Ed Harris who is only the voice of Houston control). Even if you think that's boring you have to admit that you're interested to see how they make this a 90-minute-long feature film. Not only do they easily fill that time, but you're begging for it to be longer.
This is one of the very rare films that is made a million times better by seeing it in 3D, and I'd imagine IMAX will only increase the expierence further. You witness camera trickery that makes even the most jaded of film nerds say, "how the f**k did they do that?!" It starts with a 25-minute-long take that is not only jaw-dropping, but gorgeous as well. After it's over you think that it can't possibly get any better than that but it does...SO much better. If you can respect and appreciate any element of filmmaking it is impossible to not be in total astonishment at what is happening in front of you.
Can you still enjoy Gravity if you're not a film buff? Absolutely. Bullock, who I am not a fan of at all, gives the performance of her career in a script that seems emotionally detached for the first half but makes you so inspired by the end that you spend the last ten minutes with a tear that hangs out on your lower eyelid and doesn't fall until the final seconds all aided by a musical score that would give goosebumps to the dead. It's also the only film expierence I've had in recent memory that simulates a ride. By the time the film is over, your body will be sore from your muscles tensing and anxiety rushing through your nerves.
Usually when it comes to movies, if someone disagrees with me I'm fine with that. However, Gravity is a masterpiece that is so amazing on every level that I hate people who hate it. As I left the screening there were some yahoos telling the studio representative how much they disliked it. I don't know what the hell they wanted? Aliens? A love story? A bad guy? Whatever it was, they didn't get it and I'm fine with that because Gravity exists and it will forever. It's one of the few films that I wanted to watch again the second it was over. Perhaps this could be the ONLY reason someone should by a 3D TV just so you can continue to enjoy it when it comes out on blu-ray.