Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – an EXTREMELY underappreciated gem of a movie that no one saw – directed by Lorene Scafaria

This movie should have made a hundred million dollars. The sheer travesty, the injustice of the fact that it was only in theaters for about two weeks TOPS and therefore no one at all got to see it really pisses me off. I’ve already ranted about movies that make it and get over hyped in Hollywood enough in my last review, so I’ll try to keep my whining to a minimum this time, but, MAN, just, this movie should still be being talked about, and should be all over your TV set being advertised. You should be sick of hearing about it already, and should have said “OK! F*** I’ll go rent it, LEAVE ME ALONE TV GODS!” Instead we get more 3D movies like Silent Hill (which I’m pretty sure I”d like, but I still doubt its a great movie) and Paranormal Activity 5….THOUSAND crammed down our pieholes and this movie gets left behind – I couldn’t even find this movie to buy at a couple places for Gods sake!

But enough ranting – I think its obvious WHY I’m ranting, and it’s because, this movie is incredible. Here is a movie that set out to do something different, a different take on the end of the world genre of films (for one, there aren’t any zombies – SURPRISE! right?!), and yet, a story that we are all pretty familiar with and can relate to. It takes a special talent to bring a subject as dark as the end of the world and somehow blend it together with a nice little romance that doesn’t feel trite or forced. And Lorene Scafaria, aside from having a pretty cool name, has done just that. Apparently, and sadly, she wrote the god awful Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist back in 2008, a movie so bad that I don’t even need to link it because you are better off not knowing it exists, but she has learned from quite a few of the mistakes she made in that movie – not quite all of them, because this movie DOES have it’s cliches and sometimes it falls back on some of the same crap we see in nearly any romantic comedy, BUT, you probably won’t care simply because of the strength of the actors – and while this movie is most assuredly a post apocalyptic one, sometimes you almost forget that because the main focus is on two characters, a boy and a girl, I guess – though the age difference is somewhat jarring, I’ll admit.

The uh…”boy” I guess, is played by the pretty much always great Steve Carell. You usually can’t go wrong casting this guy in your movie – yes, he’s well known for the “funny man” due to his years on The Office, but he is also more than capable of playing the depressed loner (Little Miss Sunshine) or the goofy guy you probably would want to be friends with that still has marriage and love issues just like the rest of us, no matter how fun he appears on the outside (Crazy Stupid Love). He’s even made mostly bad movies quite a bit better than they probably had any right to be just by being in them (Dinner For Schmucks, Date Night, Dan in Real Life) – so basically the argument is, guy is a special talent. Chances are I’ll probably check a movie out if he’s in it. And this movie has him playing a bit of a cross between the sad, suicidal lonely man from Little Miss Sunshine and the goofy, loveable guy from Crazy Stupid Love/The Office. I wouldn’t say this role is anything like a big stretch for him, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic. He plays the depressed man whose wife has just left him three weeks before the world is set to be hit by a giant freaking meteor incredibly well, you might not feel for him at first, but by the end rest assured you will.

Then there is his equal, the also pretty much always great Keira Knightley who we haven’t seen in too many movies lately. Usually known for making those period piece dealies, she steps out of her comfort zone a bit for this one, but absolutely knocks it out of the park here. My friend even made a comment while she was on the phone in the movie, really just talking to no one on the other end if you actually take yourself out of the movie for a minute and think about how they work, and you buy everything she says. Her tears are real when you see her cry in this movie (and you will, a few times – I mentioned that this IS about the end of the world, right?!), and you will feel for her. I also want to go on record that I think she has the best laugh in the movies today…something infectious about it that has you smiling too. I’ve thought this all the way back since Love Actually (another wonderful movie, by the way), actually, hey cool I just used the word actually twice in a row and it makes sense – Masters Degree on full display tonight people! But anyways – she is spot on in this role, and sure, her quirkiness and overall optimism about life is maybe a little TOO much of a perfect antithesis to Carell’s character, but hey c’mon, we ARE watching a movie after all, you gotta suspend your disbelief a bit to enjoy what we are seeing – and you gladly and willingly will, especially at about the halfway point of this movie, which sees them both in the slammer for a bit (you know, jail, to you people who don’t readily embrace terms said by old men in the 40’s for a couple of years – the clink, the can, the hole, what have you) – don’t worry I’m not spoiling anything for you, just know that this is a special scene and one that showcases the acting chops of BOTH of these great actors.

There are also some excellent cameos at the beginning of the movie as well, which features an absolutely insane and hey, fitting, end of the world party held by some of Carell’s friends – Rob Corddry, a master scene stealer (well…’cept for in Hot Tub Time Machine…), Patton Oswalt in what is arguably the funniest two minutes of the movie, Martin Sheen, and a few other interesting cameos show up here – but the movie rather quickly switches its focus to tell the story of these two. And these two fit so well, like I said almost TOO well – but their journey is a great one. Carell’s character receives a letter from his high school sweetheart, the one who got away, and since his wife has left him, he decides why the hell not, let’s road trip it up and Penny (Knightley) ends up with him because after she essentially barges into his apartment a ball of emotion (and shes pretty), he has no choice but to be her friend and wants to save her when the true rioting begins about two weeks before the world is set to end. Yes, the letter is a maguffin. No, we don’t care. The journey is one that has the two of them question their lives, of course – what the hell else are you going to do when you know the world is ending? It will also make YOU think – about what you would want to do if you knew it was all over in two weeks, who you would want to spend it with, what exactly you would do. Of course it can be argued that any movie about the end of the world does that, sure. But this one is a different fig entirely, and really just a shining example of how yes, we see a lot of post apocalyptic things these days, its a common, generalized fear anymore and movies, video games, books, they all take advantage of that. But this one does it entirely different than the others before it have.

I don’t think I need to tell you that I loved this movie, I think I’ve established that. It has a lot, I mean MANY subtle little nuances about it too, some truly nice touches, so many I noticed that I’m absolutely positive I didn’t see them all in one viewing – and might not in five viewings. Some of these nuances are very touching – one in particular made me tear up almost right away. It’s brilliant stuff. It also has a lot of wonderful lines – usually delivered by Carell, who I think I could just relate to more because I myself am a huge cynic just as he is in this, but that doesn’t mean Knightley doesn’t shine in some of her scenes, especially the ones where the director focuses on her face (she has such an expressive face, it’s a big part of her charm as an actress), she absolutely does. This is a wonderful movie. As might be realized by now, an ending can make or break a movie for me, I was texting with a friend and said “this could very well be the best movie of the year depending on what they do with the ending” and I’m not ruining anything in saying that it ends like it should, this IS about the end of the world after all people. Not everything is happy, nor should it be. The ending is near perfect, and the only thing keeping this from me saying that it IS the best movie of 2012 so far for me is some of those damnable cliches that kept popping up in my head after I watched it, little jarring things that took me out of the movie. But that isn’t to say that this movie isn’t incredible, it absolutely is. Go BUY this movie, do not rent it, don’t spend $56 to rent it for two hours on demand, go BUY it. It didn’t make the money nor get the recognition it deserved, not by a long shot. Support this writer/director so that we can see what she will dream up for us next, though uh, spoiler alert, I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to be Seeking a Friend for the End of the World 2.

 

The verdict –

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(500) Days of Summer – another of my favorite movies of all time – directed by Marc Webb

I went with an unorthodox picture instead of the usual movie poster here, because for one, I certainly HOPE that nearly any of you reading this review have already seen this amazing movie, and two, it represents pretty well one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie, and, well, almost my favorite scene in any movie ever. So, here goes, this is probably another pretty biased movie review, but we’ve already established pretty much any review is biased anyways, so suck on dat. This review is going to be part of a weekly series, my favorite movies of all time, and this movie would probably fall at about a solid #7 on a top ten list were I to make one (and I have, many a time…I have too much time on my hands, just like that awesome Styx song). Once I figure out what the hell I am doing with this blog I’ll even put these reviews in a different category, because I assume that most people have seen these movies already – and if you haven’t, then shame on you.

But on to this brilliant, wonderful, genius little hour and a half of a movie. This is not a traditional romantic movie at all, you aren’t going to have Katherine Heigl in some zany situation where she ends up having to care for her dead aunts kid or something and shes paired with the dreamy Josh Duhamel or something – yes, that’s a real plot for a movie. But hey, if DEATH BED: THE BED THAT EATS can get made, well then of course we can get a couple of nonsensical garbage Katherine Heigl vehicles, right? But in between all that tripe and sex in the city sequels, we have this gem of a “romantic comedy”. I use the quotes there because, if it absolutely HAD to be classified, that’s probably where we’d put it. But it wouldn’t like being there. This movie warns you right from the start that “it is not a love story”, and of course, like any good tale, it secretly really is, but it wants to turn all of those cutesy boy meets girl stereotypical movie ideas, you know, the ones that usually piss off jaded cynics such as myself, right on its head. And it succeeds mightily, even if we DO have a couple of those cliche’s peppered here and there in the movie…but hey, can’t have an omelette without breakin some eggs, right? Mmm, I could go for an omelette.

So this movie stars the always lovely and incredibly talented Zooey Deschanel, who was actually mostly just an indie darling before this movie – although this movie could still be considered “indie”, I think it’s distributor knew it had a hit on its hand and so it was advertised pretty heavily for months leading up to its release – a far cry from other (also great) movies she had starred in previously, ones you’ve probably never heard of like All The Real Girls, Flakes,  or Yes Man…..oh s*** she was in that pile of garbage with Jim “I’m far past my prime but keep doing these stupid movies that have the same plot as Liar Liar” Carrey, wasn’t she? Well, I forgive her because of this movie. Which is a tall order because good god in heaven, did that movie stink. So we have Zooey, who is just wonderful in this as she often is, and she plays Summer, the cynical, jaded girl who doesn’t believe in love. And we have my boy Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is becoming pretty much a regular for the movies I review I’m noticing, in the movie that kinda skyrocketed him to fame in the mooovies. Well, I mean, he WAS Cobra Commander after this and was the annoying kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun before this, but wasn’t everyone on that show annoying anyways? Yes, yes they were. But this was the movie where he really shined. He plays the antithesis of Summer – the hopeless romantic, sappy, believes-in-love-at-first-sight type we usually see in these movies. For gods sake, he even works at a greeting card company and writes sappy things for people who can’t just say it themselves.

The movie jumps around a lot ala Pulp Fiction, giving you a number for one of the 500 Days of Summer – OH! He said it! and this makes the movie all the more interesting and able to mess with your perceptions even more. One scene will have them madly in love, the next he is devastated and lying in bed alone. It’s these different takes on a romance that make this movie work so well, and why it is still so memorable even after you watch it for the tenth time (like I just did last night). Another trope of writing, specifically poetry, makes this movie succeed as well – and you know that if I am breaking out the big guns and comparing a movie to poetry, well then, me obviously likey this movie a lot. But the trope I speak of here is repetition – a GOOD sort of repetition, like a chorus to a song you can’t get out of your freakin’ head (A GOOD song, not like, “Who Let the Dogs Out” or anything by stupid Katy Perry) – this movie repeats some of it scenes, often played in Tom (Levitt’s) head. Except where first this scene might be something great he remembered about Summer, why he fell in love in the first place, the next time we see the scene it is in a completely opposite light – much like human nature views being in love and falling out of love. Yes of course this is a movie, and you need to suspend your disbelief just like you always do – particularly in a song and dance number that occurs right after they sleep together for the first time, or when he sees her face in every person on the street – but some of the truly real human emotions this movie explores are another thing that make it anything but your traditional romantic comedy.

As I’m already rambling about this movie (jesus it sure is easy to do with the ones I really love), I’ll skip ahead to what is, arguably, my favorite scene in any movie I have ever seen – yes, EVER – and it is represented in that picture there. There is about a five minute segment in this movie that has two views – the expectations of what he expects to happen at a party she invites him to after they randomly end up together at a wedding long after they are broken up, versus the reality of what happens. I have no other word to describe this scene but to say it is brilliant. Maybe magnificent? Yeah, I don’t use that word enough anyways. It represents all of our human-ness in it – how we always expect the best, particularly with someone we are completely in love with, and how the reality is often far, far from what we expect. Yet we keep these expectations anyways. This scene left me shaking my head at the end of it – not because I didn’t buy it, because I did, wholeheartedly – but because man…that’s just LIFE man! Life will let you down, it often does for anyone, and this movie just NAILS it in five minutes. It’s brilliance is reminiscent of how the movie Up told a better love story in five minutes with no words at all, than 95% of any other movie you see today can do – particularly those ones involving sparkly vampires or a stuck up prissy spoiled bitch looking for “Mr. Right” with all her slutty, inane friends.  The ending of this scene gets a little artsy on you and sort of colors his world to black and white…and then rubs out all of the surroundings around him…just fantastic. It represents that nothing else matters sometimes, our world and surroundings, no matter how beautiful they are (because he is most assuredly walking into a beautiful scene here), do not matter one bit if we can’t share them with the person we truly love.

Alright, it was part of my job when I set about writing this review that I had to talk about that part, and I’ve done it. This is just an incredible movie. For those of you who haven’t seen it, and I really hope there aren’t many anymore, but if you haven’t, I won’t spoil the absolutely spot on ending. It is what needs to happen, given the characters in this movie – Levitt needs to play it this way and Deschanel needs to do what she does at the end. It is perfect, it is fitting for both of them. Yes, in the middle we see a few romantic cliche’s, we have a few annoying supporting characters like Levitt’s guy friends who are essentially pointless, but for every misstep (and again, there are few), we are redeemed with something great – like his whimsical, down-to-earth little sister, played by the adorable Chloe Grace Moretz here – although she plays anything BUT adorable roles after this one, but thats ok, keep your eye on her, she was excellent from the start. This is a fantastic movie, have I said that enough already. Go buy it immediately and watch it every six months to put a great big smile on your face, and know that while hollywood keeps pumping out mostly garbage, rehashes, unnecessary sequels (I even reviewed one a while ago, neat!) and stupid pointless 3D movies to take your money, something magical like this can still get made every once in a while and truly surprise you.

 

The verdict –

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – probably the best movie I’ve seen all year so far – directed by Stephen Chbosky

Alright, I’m just going to come right out and say this right off the bat, so that you know that yes, this review is going to be a little biased (well, aren’t all of mine anyways?) – this is probably my favorite movie I’ve seen this year so far. It faces a few more contendas – specifically SkyFall (don’t need to link that one, you’ve seen a commercial for that newfangled James Bond movie every other commercial break on tv, or on yahoo, or wherever you fancy – hell I’d advertise for it on here if I could), Cloud Atlas, Lincoln, and Django Unchained coming out in the next two months…but this movie was just brilliant. It dethroned the previous champ, Cabin in the Woods, which held it’s place for quite a long time, but while that movie was great in its own right, this movie affected me much more deeply than that movie ever could (it WAS just a horror movie, after all – ever had any profound life revelations after watching a scary movie? Didn’t think so). This was a fantastic, wonderful, nearly magical movie, that was an obvious labor of love by its director – who also wrote the book AND the screenplay – Steven Chbosky. This could very well be the 18-21 year old kids today’s Breakfast Club. Yep, I went there. It’s just that freaking good.

So our main character here, who definitely gives his best performance to date, is a relatively unknown actor (well, he was Percy Jackson, but that movie didn’t make THAT much money – did it?) who plays a fairly troubled, reclusive kid. He plays this part with reservations however, so much so that we aren’t even really sure why there is anything wrong with him until about 1/3rd of the way through the movie, and we don’t know why there’s something REALLY wrong with him until nearly the end of the movie. He could have fallen into cliches with this character, he could have just been your typical kid-with-no-friends-who-suddenly-is-on-top-of-the-world-because-he-meets-a-girl in a movie that we’ve seen a thousand times (like maybe, this movie, or this one, or maybe even this one, which reaaaaally sucked – and these are all just from the past few years!), but he makes his performance so much more than that. So much so that you actually buy into what has happened to him, these terrible things, and you feel for the guy, you don’t scoff and say “yeah, cuz THAT would really happen, cmon now!” at the end, when you easily could have had a lesser actor played this role. It’s great work from this kid, and I expect big things in the future – make your paychecks with Percy Jackson, and keep doing great things like this, Logan Lerman – jesus, and maybe change your name too.

And then there is this girl, the beautiful, the lovely Hermione – I mean! Emma Watson. This is essentially her first real role stepping out of the shoes of Hermione (aside from a bit part in My Week With Marilyn – another movie you should see), and I’ll admit I was unsure what to expect. Sure she was great as Hermione, but c’mon, she did it eight times, anyone could have caught on by then I hope, like riding a bike n such. It was going to be interesting to see her play a potential love interest to someone other than ol’ Ron Weasley. Well, good news everyone – she nails it. She is by far and away the best part of the movie, so much so that when I first texted some of my friends about what I thought about this masterpiece of cinema I said “SO good – but! Needs more Emma Watson!” because it really does, plain and simple. She disappears for a while in the latter half of the movie and that essentially left me scratching my head, because sure, this movie is mainly about Charlie’s (Lerman) journey through high school and life, but c’mon, she is the one who defines his high school experience. Well, her and her QUITE gay (and VERY entertaining) stepbrother, played by Ezra Miller, who has already proven to us that he is someone to watch in the incredibly troubling (and great) movie from last year, We Need To Talk About Kevin. Check that one out for something completely different, just uh, don’t expect to be leaving with a smile on your face – which is something you WILL do when you walk out of THIS particular movie. And in no small part due to Watson’s portrayal of Sam – I have no doubt that her innocence to new roles aside from Hermione only added to how great she was in this – she plays Sam with all the wonder, ignorance, charm and grace of any beautiful, misunderstood teenage girl in high school – even to the point of pissing you off in some parts. She is someone you would have wanted to know in high school, and she plays this role so well that you know that she will only be more interesting later in life. Alright alright, I’m getting carried way. She’s just tops in this movie, she made the movie for me, and she splits most of the memorable lines from this movie (and there are many) right in half with Charlie (Lerman), let us move on.

This movie, much like any great and memorable movie, also has an excellent supporting cast – Dylan McDermott has some great lines as Charlies father, Nina Dobrev, Bella #2 from the Vampire Diaries herself, is great as Charlie’s sister, Paul Rudd is out of character and excellent as a very supportive teacher of Charlie’s writing, and the always excellent (and another one to watch, particularly in the tv show Parenthood, which you should be watching) Mae Whitman as a short-lived but long suffering girlfriend/other love interest to Charlie. She is essentially channeling the exact same character she plays in Parenthood (and I’m starting to think, maybe in real life too), but she is a great addition to this little group of outcasts.

I don’t need to spoil a lot of the plot for you in this, because you need to see it, especially if you were like me, and didn’t really “get” the high school experience or what exactly you were supposed to do there – but you had a couple awesome friends to get you through it anyways. If you have a nerdy bone in your body, if you have ever thought of yourself as eccentric or as someone that, if people could actually hear your thoughts, they would all think you are completely insane (that’s actually similar to a line in the movie, by the way), then you need to see this movie. I might be being cheesy and gushing about this movie, but I feel like I’m not the only one who felt this way about this excellent movie (it’s currently rocking an 86% on rotten tomatoes, for instance, so suck on THAT). I WILL say however, that the movie was lucky that it has such strong characters, because it ALMOST lost me toward the end – ALMOST. HOWEVER – I think this was just something personal to me, because I wanted this movie to stay firmly grounded in the “magical high school experience centered around an amazing girl” realm, and it did something that yanks you RIGHT out of that toward the end. But don’t worry! It’s fine, and this IS based on a book after all, so that’s how it has to happen – I just didn’t really it want to. I think that Lerman and Hermione and the gang do such a great job of helping you forget that Charlie was troubled to begin with due to some certain issues that are brought up early that you are like, “oh s*** yeah this guy WAS messed up, wasn’t he?” at the end when some stuff hits the fan. But don’t worry, it works, and the more I thought about it, it fits.

One last thing before I give you another four star verdict (like that will surprise anyone – “I’m giving this movie my lowest rating ever! SIX thumbs up!”) – this movie has some just excellent, truly memorable lines. Yes, Breakfast Club/Say Anything caliber memorable quotes – but actually, and this is weird, but, some of the lines really affected me in a way like the movie…now bear with me here, because the movie I’m about to mention is COMPLETELY left field from this magical little movie here, but….the movie Ordinary People. Donald Sutherland has a line toward the end of that movie that I still think about to this day, I still remember the first time I heard it, and it floored me. Charlie says a few things that ALMOST reach those heights for me, and that right there is well nigh unprecedented in a movie nowadays. I think its obvious I can’t say enough nice things about this wonderful little movie, I want to go see it again tomorrow. Go see it as soon as you can if you can find it anywhere near you, and thank me later.

 

The verdict (obviously) –

Pitch Perfect – And now for something completely different! – Directed by Jason Moore

Alright, I’ll start with saying that I don’t really know why I wanted to go see this movie, I just did. I think that Anna Kendrick being in it (who I love) had a lot to do with it, and to any male with a pulse, that part would probably be obvious. She’s gorgeous, and shes pretty damn talented too – my references for saying that would be Up in The Air, End of Watch (not linking it, just read my review of it, and love it), 50/50…etc. Her portrayal of a mousey (mousey girls are my favorite) little upstart that is essentially taking over the Cloon-dog’s job in Up in the Air is…oh I’m just gonna go ahead and say it now, Pitch Perfect. Ohhh! He said it! And by the way, if you haven’t seen Up in the Air yet…shame on you. Turn off my silly little review of a silly little movie like this one, and go watch that one, which could very well give you a new perspective on life. No, I’m not kidding, and yes, that movie is fantastic. You usually can’t wrong with the Cloon-dog in anything, hell he was even good in ER. Anyone remember that show? Also, Cloon-dog is my name, I’m pretty sure one that I just cooked up in my insane little head, one day, and that’s what I call him. I’d even call him that to his face if I ever met him (after I shook his hand for dating Stacy Keibler, nice pull there, buddy). But I just SERIOUSLY digressed, we have a movie to talk about here.

And what a fine little surprise of a movie it was. This movie reminded me MUCH of the first season of Glee, which, and I will argue this with anyone who hates the show now (and don’t worry, I do too), the first season of Glee was one of the best things ever produced and put on television EVER. In the history of TV, like, since JFK was shot on national television. The first season of that show blew me away, something that had never been done before, and a brilliant mesh of drama, a cliched high school show we had seen a million times before and (by far most importantly), music. It blew the doors off of having shows/movies based around music (see: Nashville, Wedding Band, Memphis Beat, Treme, etc.), and that was a very, very good thing. Music and movies have always went hand-in-hand, Glee took the next logical step that frankly I’m surprised no show had tried before. It has most assuredly jumped the shark, it did soon after season 1 was over, and it’s complete garbage now, but damn if it wasn’t wonderful at first. And Pitch Perfect has the same feeling, the same freshman innocence, the feeling that something new can truly impress you and make you have a damn good laugh at the same time. This was a fantastic movie, and deserves all of the critical acclaim that it’s getting.

And an awfully big part of the laughs in this movie, and why it works so well, come from this lady right here, played by the mostly played-in-only-weirdly-named-tv-shows Rebel Wilson. You also might remember her as “girl in alley” in that epic masterpiece known as Ghost Rider. Of course you don’t. No one remembers that movie, or Nicolas Cage after Con Air (oh man remember that movie? He fought so many dudes, and his hair was SO, SO bad). But you will remember her, and you will remember her characters name even if you don’t remember anyone else’s name, because she is Fat Amy. And she lives up to the name 100%. She hates cardio, invents horizontal running (that means laying down), and basically does all of the stereotypical things you would expect from a fat actress/comedian. But man, does she ever nail it. She also plays this role with a certain sweetness as well, never once does she want us to feel sorry for her, and hell, we shouldn’t, she gets more action that most any of the other skinny, “beautiful” girls in the movie do (well, except for that one slutty one…but hey, I forgot her name). She is great, hilarious, and steals nearly every scene she is in, her only other equal is Anna Kendrick, which should be obvious since Kendrick already held her own with the Cloon-dog and my boy Joseph Gordon-Levitt in previous movies (you SHOULD know who he is, but if not, go read my long-winded review of Looper), and she nearly makes the movie.

But we can’t rule out Kendrick here either. Kendrick could have easily mailed in this performance. She is the stereotypical “rebel” girl who wants to make her own music, doesn’t have a lot of friends, is essentially an outcast. Of course she is going to fit in with this acapella group that needs new blood because they are already full of outcasts who haven’t quite realized that thats what they are (played with an almost scary amount of enthusiasm by two other “twig bitches”, Anna Camp and Brittany Snow – arguably her best role to date because she usually just…uh…just isn’t very good – she WAS in John Tucker Must Die, after all, BLECH, YUCK!) But she has all the pitfalls of a cliched character – no mother figure (is it sad that I giggle a little bit every time I type that cuz its so close to a swear? Yeah…yeah it is, moving on), a Dad who wasn’t really there and that she has issues with, who promises her (strangely) that if she actually makes an attempt at college for a year and makes herself some friends, well then she’ll pay for her to move out to LA to fulfill her dreams. Yes, thats a maguffin. No, I didn’t really care. Because while the beginning story isn’t going to win any awards for originality, it doesn’t matter, because you will have a blast watching what happens to her.

Of course I have to mention the singing performances, because, like Glee, they are some of the main focuses of the movie. Well, every one of them is brilliant. Yes, they are probably a little bit over-produced, no acapella group is going to blow your freakin’ mind like some of their competition does in the movie, and there really is something as awesome as the little sing-off that all the groups at this fictional (also a maguffin) college has, well then sign me up for an acapella group right away, I can’t even sing (but damn if I can’t rap, just like Anna can in this movie – gosh, she sure is swell) but who cares that scene was incredible. But again, you won’t care. It’s just a great ride all the way through, and I hate to compare this to a movie like Bring It On, but, it kinda…kinda IS like that. This movie could do for acapella groups what Glee and that…movie *shudder* did for Glee and cheerleading groups. It’s just great, fun stuff. It also has another similarity with that movie in that Anna Camp’s character often throws the words -aca into a sentence, like “aca-WHAT?!” similar to Jamie Pressly’s character in Bring It On yelling “this is NOT a cheertatorship!” or whatever the hell she yelled. God, Jamie Pressly is just terrible. Remember her in My Name is Earl? God. How come no one ever clotheslined her on that show? She was just god awful. But! Back to this great movie!

Ok, I think that I’ve established that, this movie isn’t going to change your life. It isn’t going to be up for any Oscars. But it does another great thing with music that we honestly just haven’t seen since the first season of Glee (well…maybe Treme does it too, but not enough people watch that show, and they SHOULD, but hey, HBO is expensive), and movies need music, it’s just essential to any movie being epic. What the hell would Star Wars be without its epic beginning jams? Could you imagine Indiana Jones being silent during its awesome action scenes? What’s a bond movie without a great opening song (well, besides ones from Tina Turner or something…Yikes….)? Yeah, that’s sort of a different argument, but not really when we boil it down, music is essential to a great movie. And this movie has it in spades, and some great performances too. It, much like Taken 2, isn’t something you necessarily HAVE to see. But it is a damn fun ride, you will laugh your ass off at Fat Amy (who I really wish was my friend), you will be impressed by some of the talented people that do their own singing (mostly Anna), and you will be surprised at some of the great cameos and commentary from Elizabeth Banks (who was a producer, neat) and John Michael Higgins during the acapella performances. Go check it out for something different and bring some friends, particularly if you love music and it affects your life as much as it does mine, and bring the popcorn, because this is a popcorn flick at its very finest. And for gods sake, if you haven’t already, go watch Up in the Air.

The Verdict –

Sinister – a fairly disappointing movie to open this Halloween season – directed by Scott Derrickson

That is one creepy ass poster, right? I will say this about this movie right off – man, did it’s creators sure know how to make one HELL of a trailer for a movie. I mean wow. The first time I saw the trailer in a dark theater where it was only me and a few others in there, I was genuinely scared. This movie was going to be something special, and who better to bring it to us than one of the producers of what was arguably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen to this day, Insidious. That movie was brilliant, and frankly, still far superior to this one. Save your $7-10, and go rent that one for $1 instead, for a truly scary experience during this fine fall month. But don’t worry, I’m going to tell you just why Sinister didn’t work for me, which was really a myriad of reasons.

First off, and I hate to say this because I usually really like this guy, but, Ethan Hawke just didn’t do it for me in this movie. He felt out of place, and he pretty much mailed in his performance here (but hey, how good was he in Gattaca, right? Oh man, what about Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead? The Before Sunrise/Sunset movies?! Cmon now!), which is really strange, because normally, he plays the damaged everyman role pretty well (that’s exactly what he does in three of those movies I listed a second ago). But this one, it’s almost like he’s trying to hard, particularly when he yells during some of the what are SUPPOSED to be tense scenes in the movie showing family strife. I didn’t buy them, I just…didn’t like him in this. It was almost like he tried too hard to say “hey everyone, remember me?! I was relevant a few years ago and everyone liked me but I sorta fell off the map, and now I’m in a scaaaaary movie, don’t you like scaaaary movies?! Love me again!” and it fell flat. He plays the main character, pretty much a glory hog who wrote a great book once ten years ago and now is trying everything in his power, family safety be damned, to get that power again. It just isn’t happening for him, so what the hell, might as well move into a house where four people hung themselves in the back yard and one of the family members was never found, right? Nbd, ADVENTURE! MYSTERY! People will love him again (hmm…theres a parallel here…but I got a C+ in geometry so I’m not sure where)! Well naturally, things don’t go according to plan.

So that’s flaw #1 with the movie, this guy. The next flaw is that, this movie spends too much time in the dark. Of course of course, we all have an unnatural fear of the dark and any good scary movie needs to put you in the dark as often as it can to freak you out and put you on edge. But in this movie, it gets a little ridiculous. This guy is ALWAYS wandering around in the freakin’ dark man! Grab a flashlight! Where the HECK are the light switches?! It becomes more of a gimmick at about the midpoint of the movie, where a friend and I both yelled DUDE! HIT THE FREAKING LIGHT SWITCH! as he stumbled through the dark using only his cell phone flashlight. It’s not cool. This movie isn’t all bad however and it doesn’t provide too many cheap scares because of the dim witted main character’s aversion to light however, it actually provides some genuine scares, it’s just the sum of its parts, the feeling you are left with at the end, that ended up with me not being a huge fan.

So the general plot here is, Hawke and his family move into this house that obviously has a history, and he finds a box of home movies in the attics that feature home movies…with a disturbing twist. Each one ends up with someone off camera killing their family, in usually very creepy and sadistic ways. Not like, Saw sadistic (well, ‘cept for one maybe…) because this movie is MOST ASSUREDLY better than those piece of garbage films, but still, pretty, preeeeetty troubling. Well see, in each case a kid went missing after the family was murdered, which is the big mystery he wants to solve and will make him meeelions of dollars if he does. Problem is, it’s not all fun and games watching videos of people getting killed. Who knew, right? Hawke’s character gets to drinkin’ and starts thinking maybe he’s seeing things and this stuff is getting into his head. His marriage, which wasn’t too solid to begin with (at the beginning his wife even pretty much says “so yeah, if this book doesn’t pan out, I’m gonna go ahead and leave with the kids, so uh, good luck honey!”) starts falling further apart, which ends up in the mostly awkward screaming bouts from Hawke’s character. He discovers there is a link to each video, this weird symbol that is either painted on walls, cars, what have you, in the videos, during the murders. He also discovers a SUPER CREEPY face in one of them. Like, top notch creepy here folks, I’m not kidding. They nailed it with the demon/monster figure here, and if this demon in the movie (who goes by the friendly name of Baghul) had a better story around him, we’d have had something truly special. But turns out, this demon figure is apparently the one kidnapping the kids, he finds this out from one of the maguffins in the movies, a demonology/occult expert who has to really make everything tie together, otherwise the ending we get just wouldn’t make good sense.

The movie, as any good horror movie is prone to do, really cranks up the tension and scares during the last half hour, and I will admit there are some truly startling scenes and genuinely scary moments here, particularly when Hawke shambles around the house (in the f***in’ dark of course!) and these creepy kids are all there with him. You will jump, you will get a chill. Bring a date and she might even jump on you, BONUS. However, after this intensely scary scene, that was pretty much the climax of the movie, and the ending, much like Hawke’s performance, pretty much mails it in.

Of course horrible things happen to the main character and his family, what did you expect? This is a horror movie. But the way it’s done is just…I don’t know, too predictable really. He has two kids in his family. Of course one of them is going to be possessed by Baghul next, DUH. Of course his family’s deaths are probably going to be more interesting and violent than the others, wouldn’t have a movie if we didn’t, right? Problem is, I wish they would have tried harder. We (at least I, and my friends) knew this was coming. Insidious had a fairly unpredictable, if not original, ending, one that left you with a chill. This one just left me saying “well, I sure bet HIS face is red for moving into that haunted house, what’d he expect, I mean geez!” I know I compare this to Insidious a lot, and maybe I shouldn’t. But fact is, they have similar titles, some of the same producers, it’s obvious they were going for the same sort of feelings in this one. It just didn’t work this time.

I was hoping to put this one up with the classics like The Shinin’, The Grudge, The Ring (not the god awful second one where the scariest part was a bunch of freakin’ deer, the first, GOOD one), and Insidious. Instead, all I can really say about this one is damn, what a great trailer they had for it, brilliant even!

 

The Verdict –

Drive – possibly Ryan Gosling’s best movie? – directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

I’ll start by linking you to the director of this movie, cuz uh, you should know who he is. Aside from having a really awesome name, he’s probably the most revolutionary (popular) director in Hollywood, and frankly, I’m pretty surprised he made it this far, cuz he is OUT there man. The movie Bronson, which features probably my second favorite male actor, Tom Hardy, pretty much acting like a lunatic for an hour and a half on screen, is one of the most out there movies I’ve seen in my life, and let me tell you, I have SEEN some s*** my friend, I have SEEN some s***. Then he decided to push the envelope even further by making a movie about VIKINGS, which will ALWAYS end up AWESOME, right? I just pumped my fist as I typed that, thinking about Vikings. Except, Refn’s take on Vikings was pretty much completely insane, and more of a drug addled trip through the land for one Viking seeking revenge (at least that part was right, those zany Vikings are always seeking on revenge on some thing or another), which was admittedly slow-moving and NOT what I expected, but with Refn, you always get what you didn’t expect. The guy is pretty much a genius.

And this movie is probably his masterpiece, at least so far (this dude is still pretty young). It got completely hosed last year at the Oscars, where it probably should have swept them. My personal favorite movie from last year was Warrior, but that one didn’t need to win ALL THE AWARDS like this one did (well, ‘cept that best supporting actor Nick Nolte took home for it, he earned that one), it was just a fantastic movie. This movie is just a…just a different fig, man. If you had to classify it, I suppose it would be an action movie, but man, it’s so much more than that. Ryan Gosling, whom the ladies love and the dudes want to be, is in top form here. He’s arguably the best actor in Hollywood right now, and I first noticed him in a little movie no one saw, called The United States of Leland. If you’ve seen Drive and loved it, then go rent that next. Or Half Nelson. Or even Murder by Numbers, with stinko Sandra Bullock, where the show was stolen by a really young Gosling (no, not a little ducky, although, a cute little duck could probably still upstage the awful Sandra Bullock) even. He’s incredible, and what’s better is that he picks his roles carefully, which is why we don’t see him as much as we probably should (sorry ladies!) in movies, but that’s a good thing. That means we aren’t gonna see him in Garfield 3 or some crappy animated movie, or some sort of Rocky and Bullwinkle remake. Oh wait, that already happened, I was thinking it was just a nightmare. Shame on you Robert DeNiro, shaaaame!

I haven’t even talked about the plot yet, have I? Well guess what, here’s another one where the plot takes a backseat to the actors. Granted, this movie is intense, incredibly violent – one of the more violent movies you are likely to see actually, another thing Refn is well known for, but it’s based on a very short story that Refn took a lot of liberties with. And they were some pretty awesome libeties too. But it’s essentially about a guy, Driver – yep, so cool that he doesn’t even NEED a name – who is pretty much the epitome, the stereotype, of the classic hero. Soft spoken, stoic, doesn’t have a whole lot to say. He pays the bills by being a mechanic, but he’s also a stunt driver on the side, usually managed by the never bad Bryan Cranston, whose also his boss at the car shop. He also takes occasional jobs from bad guys as a driver – but that is all, he doesn’t assist in robberies, isn’t gonna hurt anyone, etc. He just drives. This is portrayed by the excellent opening scenes that build the tension from the start, and are accompanied by incredibly strange, very PINK opening credits, while a fairly epic song called “Night Call” plays in the background. From the start, I knew I was in for something special with this movie. This was going to be a different bird altogether, and it certainly was. And a note about Driver’s profession – yes, I said that he is a stoic character, much like the old heroes of the past – I’m talking about John Wayne, Steve McQueen (mostly him, this movie is A LOT like Bullitt except it’s actually more well done, just doesn’t have as epic of a car chase), Alain Delon – oh wait, you don’t know him, do you? Well he was a french movie star, pretty huge, and starred in a movie that is near exactly like this movie – called Le Samourai, from 1967. Ok, if you are still with me after that run-on sentence, he is like those classic characters, yes – but different. Different in the fact that he lives 100% for the thrill of something – driving, violence, killing, I would imagine sex, but this movie isn’t rated NC-17. The look on Gosling’s face shows that a little bit, but rest assured that yeah, he’s the hero in this movie, but he isn’t a completely good character at all. He lives for this crap.

Here’s the poster for the main movie I compare Drive to, btw – sorta looks like the same kind of character, right? Stoic, reserved, also someone you might not want to piss off. I’m gonna try and not get TOO nerdy on this review (I realize it’s probably too late, I haven’t made you laugh in like two whole paragraphs have I?! Too many nerdy tangents, I know too much useless information, and I do apologize), but the title of that movie is obviously just “The Samurai” in French (I am so versatile with all the languages I know, its why they pay me the big bucks), and this movie, Drive, Bullitt, all have heroes that pretty much follow the old fashioned idea of the samurai code. Protect the ones they love no matter what cost, no regard for their own lives as long as honor is involved. It’s an outdated idea of course, it pretty much was even in the samurai days (check out the movie Harakiri to explore that idea), and usually a hero with these ideals probably isn’t gonna survive at the end, and hey thats ok.

I should probably talk about the girl in the movie, since she’s sort of essential to the plot. She’s played by the lovely and (I think) under rated Carrie Mulligan, which also represents Refn’s willingness to switch things up – in the short story version, this role is for a single African American female, not a pretty blonde girl with a kid. Refn tweaked a lot of things from the story, and since Carrie is such a talented actress, it works. If we’d have gotten some loser like Sarah Jessica Horseface or Blech Lively (who nearly ruined the decent movie Savages) or some other flavor the month, it would have fell flat. But Mulligan is great here, and we see why Gosling’s character wants to protect her. And protect her he does – QUITE violently, the body count in this movie is pretty high, which is fine, but in these violent scenes we see Gosling’s darkside as the “hero” character – he loves this stuff. He loves being the man who can save the day, and you know what? He likes killing just as much as the bad guys do, hell, even more. I looked for an image of his face after he stomps the hell out of a guy in an elevator, something almost…ecstatic, sexual, in his eyes (no homo, I’m just saying what I saw there) after he killed someone, showing that sure he’s a good guy and will protect who he loves…but he lives for this stuff. It even makes me question whether or not he would be able to settle down with this pretty girl forever, would that be enough? Probably not.

And that is why this movie is brilliant – because sure, the story is pretty much a basic one, so much so that I don’t even feel like I need to describe what happens – but the characters are anything but. Would Mulligan’s character have stuck around with this violent hero at the end? I’m not even sure if I care, it isn’t what this movie is about, and the hero doesn’t get the girl all the time anyways. It’s about Gosling’s descent into becoming what the bad guys he kills have become – and whether or not he escapes going over to the darkside at the end is pretty much in the air at the end. And that, my friends, is how you make a fantastic ending.

I can’t say enough good things about this movie, which is probably obvious since I’m verging on over 1500 words for this review. It kicks out a lot of ideas that Hollywood just doesn’t venture out with anymore, and naturally this would come from a visionary director. This was arguably the best movie from 2011, and if anything I hope that it makes everyone keep an eye on Refn. We (especially the ladies) already have our eye on Gosling and know he’s going to be legendary – his portrayal in this movie is definitely always going to be one of his high notes.

 

The verdict (duh) –

Trouble With The Curve – the first and only movie where Clint Eastwood is upstaged by a…by a GIRL! Directed by Robert Lorenz

I love Amy Adams. I just think, I think she is the bees knees. She’s just swell. I loved her in Sunshine Cleaning, I loved her in The Fighter, I loved her in Doubt (where she ALMOST upstaged another fantastic and venerable actress – Meryl Streep….ALMOST) , I loved her in Julia and Julia (where she gave another good attempt at upstaging Streep again, but shes just too good), hell she even managed to make the suck fest that was Leap Year not stink QUITE as much. I can’t speak for Enchanted, which sort of put her on the map, but she probably wasn’t half bad in that ridiculous movie either. She is just wonderful. I actually forgot that she was in this movie when I went to see it tonight however, because I went to this movie to see Eastwood’s show. He seemed to pretty much just be channeling his angry character from Gran Torino, like maybe if that guy hadn’t gotten shot the hell up at the end, he would have been a baseball scout instead. Oh I didn’t ruin anything for you there, shame on you if you haven’t seen that movie (arguably Eastwood’s best aside from the god awful singing he does at the end credits, but he is forgiven for that since he even directed that masterpiece) and I don’t feel bad if you didn’t know he died at the end, you already should have. And admittedly, that movie was the main reason I went to go see this one…well that and I love baseball. Like, reaaaally love baseball. So this movie had me hooked from the first preview – Eastwood AND baseball? Might as well have said “this movie is for JASON” before they ran it, I was THERE man.

So I never even mentioned Amy Adams in all of that, did I? Which was why she surprised me in this one, came out of left field, you could even say. OH! See what I did there? I made a baseball reference in a review about a movie about baseball. That’s why they pay me the big bucks. She played Eastwood’s daughter in this perfectly, she nailed it. So much so, that she even upstaged Eastwood’s own performance, which, and this hurts me to say but, read other reviews and they’ll likely tell you the same thing….he sort of mailed this one in. He didn’t direct this one and he’s pretty much a master of directing himself, so maybe it was just the material he was given, but like I said, wasn’t quite convinced, didn’t buy what he was selling. He just played the same disgruntled old man he has in a couple of movies now, but I don’t know, his heart just didn’t seem in it. Now Adams on the other hand…wow. She played the stubborn, standoffish, not gonna-let-anyone-in-cuz-I-have-daddy-issues type absolutely perfectly. We first see her buried in her work, not ever having time for a social life or a boyfriend, much like her father had been when she was growing up, just not really there for anyone. And the first scenes with her and Eastwood establish all of this, why she is the way she is – she lost her mother at six and Eastwood just winged it on trying to raise her and uh, didn’t do a real bang up job, she survived anyways, just like most of us do.

Well, Eastwood, who is actually 82 in real life, crazy right? is starting to have some trouble, starting to get old. He’s losing his vision, he bangs into things, can’t drive so well, etc. Some of the standards of growing old, but him being the old bull he is, he just shrugs it off and doesn’t need any help. Adams’ feels a dysfunctional sort of responsibility for him, much like any woman probably would if she was raised mostly by her father. So the bulk of the movie is spent with her spending time with him to see if he can still do his job, because there are concerns from higher up, played by his longtime friend Pete, played by the always good John Goodman, and also a new young gun wanting his job, played almost entirely TOO well by Matthew Lillard (but I never liked him much anyways, so thats fine – I wanted to punch him in The Descendants too), with their boss being The Terminator. She grew up with the game anyways since she always went to work with her Dad, and loves the game just as he does. Another fairly decent supporting character here was played by Justin Timberlake, who I still have a bit of a hard time seeing on screen if he isn’t singing crappy pop songs, but I’ll admit I’ve mostly embraced him as an actor, he isn’t half bad, especially in these two movies. He plays the (naturally) potential love interest for Adam’s and also a previous prospect of Eastwood that couldn’t play anymore, so he became a scout himself. He does a pretty good job here of playing the charming guy that maybe Adams needs in her life if she opened up a bit.

So with mentioning the whole potential love interest dealie, I’ll get to my main problem with the movie, and why it didn’t quite knock it out of the park (oh my god, TWO baseball references already, I am KILLING it!) for me as I walked out of the theater – it is pretty much riddled, bullet-riddled even, with cliches. Eastwood’s character is the way he is because he lost his wife at such an early stage, ok, I can buy it, if he wants to convince me. He doesn’t. There is a downright cheesy, almost entirely BAD scene where he sings “You are my sunshine” to her grave, that just falls flat. The song comes up later too, but I don’t think it even needs to be there. Eastwood has the range and hell, just the FACE to show he can be a broken down old man, we don’t need this scene. We also don’t need the frat guy, almost creepy idiot that Adams considers marrying just because “it would look good on paper” – yeah, he actually says that – we already know she is pretty much a guarded mess because of the way her relationship is with her father, we see it enough in those scenes enough not to warrant some jackass lawyer pushing her to get married – you’d think he needed his green card or something, jeez. It has a few loose ends like that kinda bugged me.

But, and this shouldn’t surprise you judging by all the gushing I did about her right from the start – this is why the movie ultimately succeeds and why I can recommend it to you without any reservations. Adams is brilliant in this movie, hell maybe she even DID have an absentee single father growing up, cuz wow, does she nail this part. She easily steals the show entirely from Eastwood, no easy feat. Her character is believable, damaged, guarded, and I bought it completely. There are scenes where she tears up and tells her father honestly how she’s impacted his life, and where Eastwood again sort of strikes out (that would be three baseball references in three paragraphs now, for anyone counting) in these scenes too, just playing the “I don’t have time for this” card too often, Adams truly shines. She is a special talent in Hollywood and I really don’t think she is in enough movies even though she is in quite a few. This is a different sort of role for her too, and proves her versatility.

Given my new penchant for not just rehashing the plot to you in these reviews, I’m not going to say much more. This is, of course, mainly about a father-daughter relationship, but it’s also a pretty loving tribute to baseball, it’s no Moneyball in that it isn’t the central focus, but for someone who really loves the game like I do, there is enough passion here about the sport that even if you didn’t buy into the whole relationship thing (but you will, trust me), it’s worth seeing just to see the varying degree of love the people in the movie have about this great past time. For Lillard’s douchey character it is just a job, but for nearly everyone else, even The Terminator, they are doing what they love. And of course Adams’ character comes to one of many realizations about herself in the end, and one is that she truly loves the sport just as much as her Dad does.

The movie is wrapped up a little TOO nicely as well, and the third act felt a little rushed – but maybe that is just because we had a too long first act with all those loopholes no one cares about, because this is a fairly long movie – but aside from the warm and fuzzy feeling you are supposed to get with everything being wrapped up neatly, it still works pretty well. This movie isn’t going to win any Oscars and I’m not sure if it can go up there with the great baseball films like For The Love of The Game, The Natural, or Bull Durham – don’t really think I need to link that one…and yeah that’s right, I didn’t really like Field of Dreams much, DO SOMETHIN!, but it’s worth seeing just for Adams’ masterful portrayal of her character. And gosh, she sure is real pretty, too.

The Verdict –