Sunday, August 23, 2015

The End of the Tour (2015)

Here's another example of a movie I enjoyed despite not knowing anything about the it or the people involved. I didn't have anything better to do at 4:30 on a Saturday, so what the hell, right?

The End of the Tour is the adaptation of David Lipsky's book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which details a five day tour he took with David Foster Wallace while promoting his book Infinite Jest. I've only heard of Infinite Jest, but have never read it. The movie doesn't really go into the book though, so you don't really need to know anything about that. It's basically a road movie where Lipsky interviews Wallace and they talk about his feelings on life, women, fame and pop culture. I felt like a fly on the wall where I really wanted to join in on the conversation.

Despite no familiarity with Wallace or his work, ten minutes into the film I was sold. One of Lipsky and Wallace's first conversations hit me in a very close and personal way that actually made me think about how I'm living my life. It was that profound and in my head. It affected me so much that immediately after I got home from seeing the film I went on to Amazon and ordered a copy of Infinite Jest and Lipsky's book. I just liked the cut of their jib. I was then saddened to see that Wallace committed suicide back in 2008. The movie doesn't mention that, but it shouldn't have surprised me based on how much Wallace talked about his depression. Mentioning his suicide in the film would have taken away from what the film was really about.

Jason Segel nails it as David Foster Wallace, and it's easily his best performance as an actor. The physical resemblance is pretty spot on as well (check some side-by-sides of them on a Google image search). I've heard fans of DFW have been extremely critical of Segel's casting, but I hope they keep an open mind and still give the film a shot. I don't know anything about David Lipsky, but I enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg's performance. I like Eisenberg in roles like this. Their interaction feels very authentic and intimate.

The End of the Tour is a smart, funny, thought provoking and different movie. It's worth watching just for the performances, but it really made me think about my own life. This is a smaller release, so most will have to watch this once it hits video, but it's well worth the wait.

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

When I see a two and a half hour biopic released in mid-August about a group I didn't follow when they were active, I worry if there's any way I can enjoy it. I think that's the challenge of any biopic, can you still enjoy it when not familiar with the subject? When N.W.A. came out I wasn't really into rap. I was still in my hair metal phase and only just starting to accept bands like Pearl Jam. I think the only rap albums I owned at the time was Run-D.M.C.'s Tougher Than Leather and a Fresh Prince album. I can remember being annoyed with my friends that would listen to Straight Outta Compton, and saying they were trying too hard to be cool. I've since gotten into rap, but I was definitely behind the times when it first hit the scene.

Fortunately, Straight Outta Compton can not only be enjoyed by those not familiar, it's simply a good movie. Biopics can be a little melodramatic, so the lack of it in Straight Outta Compton is something I really enjoyed about it. When these guys had had beef with anyone or anything, they channeled it in their music, and if that didn't settle it, then they'd get in a fight. I prefer that to passive-aggressive, whiny shit. I was also worried that this film might pander a little too much based on what I saw in the trailers, but fortunately it's limited to just those few scenes and is not a theme of the film. It's one thing to acknowledge their influence (which is undeniable at this point), but its' another to just have a movie actively kissing these guys asses. With the exception of Suge Knight, most everyone comes away looking pretty good.

The cast is really great and it's impressive that they were able to get people that looked so much like their counterparts without sacrificing acting skill. They even nailed some of the cameos and smaller roles. With the exception of Paul Giamatti, they are all relative unknowns, but you wouldn't know it. There isn't a weak performance from anyone, and it's saying a lot when the best performance in the film doesn't come from Giamatti. For me, the biggest surprise was that Ice Cube was played by O'Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube's actual son. Jackson Jr. can come away from this knowing he's clearly the better actor in the family.

I mentioned the length of the film, and it is a little long, but this is a time where it didn't feel like it was needlessly stretched out. They cover a lot of stuff and don't rush through it, so it doesn't feel overwhelming. I was also pretty invested in what was going on, so I wasn't bored at all. I think it helps that guys like Dre and Ice Cube are still in the public eye. Most biopics come out well after the subject has passed on, or their work isn't current. I can't seem to go a day without seeing another commercial for Beats by Dre or a trailer for another bad Ice Cube comedy. Hell, before Straight Outta Compton played, they showed a trailer for Ride Along 2Ride Along 2? I don't know anyone that saw the first. Anyway, I found it more interesting watching where these guys came from when you know where they are currently in their careers.

Straight Outta Compton lives up to the hype. Even thought this would have done well if released in a better month, it was a smart move to release this in mid-August. It's pretty much the only thing worth seeing right now, so it's easy to recommend, even to people aren't fans or aren't overly familiar with N.W.A. or it's members.

Oh, I just thought I add that I can't drive without hearing "Boyz-n-the-Hood" in my head now.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

I joked in a tweet that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may have been a good movie, but I was too distracted by Alicia Vikander's legs to notice. Even though I kid, there did seem to be an unusual focus on them. That could just be me though.

I actually did enjoy The Man from U.N.C.L.E. though. It's pretty straight forward and run-of-the-mill as far as spy films go. There's no twist or turn that you don't see coming from a mile away, and there's nothing special about any of the action. This is probably sounding more like reasons I didn't like it, but what made me enjoy it was a likable, charismatic cast and above average humor. It's not funny to the point where it's a spoof of the genre, but we've already had a few of those this year, so that's probably a good thing.

It's kind of ironic that this stars Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill when just a few years ago I remarked in another review (not The Lone Ranger) that Hammer would be an interesting choice for Superman, only to have Cavill announced as Superman shortly after. Now that I see them acting against each other, I still stand by my statement, and it's not just because Hammer is clearly taller. It did seem unusual to me to cast an American to play a Russian and a Brit to play an American. What's the real motivation behind casting people and them forcing them to do strained accents? Like Jared Harris. What the hell kind of accent was he trying to do?

As far as the rest of the cast goes, I could have used a lot more of the ladies. Alicia Vikander was cute and charming, but it would have been nice to see her fleshed out a bit. There's hints here and there, but they don't follow through. Elizabeth Debicki was one of the few things I liked in The Great Gatsby and I've been waiting to see what she was doing to do next, so I was disappointed to see her underused here. She tries to do her best and has this evil sexiness quality, but there's not much more to her than the cold villain with a generic motivation and undeveloped character. It's not her fault, it's simply an underwritten role.

A friend asked me after I mentioned seeing this if it felt like a Guy Ritchie movie. Unfortunately, it doesn't, and it's not even worth comparing this to things like Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. While there are a few moments in the film that I really enjoyed that did feel like authentic Guy Ritchie moments, this feels more like his Sherlock Holmes movies than his earlier films.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is enjoyable enough for a lazy Sunday matinee. It's slick looking and reasonably fun, but you'll forget you saw it an hour later. You won't miss anything if were to wait for rental. I've seen much worse this summer though, so you could do a lot worse during Dump Season.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Gift (2015)

I say this every year, if you know how movies are scheduled, then you know you shouldn't expect much out of movies released later in the Summer. I've affectionately called August and September "Dump Months", but I think I prefer the term "Dump Season". However, and this seems to be a growing trend, there's always a few surprises each year. The Gift is the first surprise of Dump Season.

I love a thriller that can surprise me without resorting to a real gimmick or twist. Unless the 'twist' in The Gift is that it plays out smarter and more realistically than most thrillers. I think the real message you'll come away with from The Gift is, "Who's the real bad guy?" That's about all I can say though without spoiling anything.

This is one of Jason Bateman's more nuanced performances. You'll watch him and go, oh he's just doing another version of his Arrested Development character, but you start noticing subtle things about his behavior. I can't objectively say anything about Rebecca Hall's performance since I'm in love with her.

The real winner here is Joel Edgerton. In addition to his creepy, yet sympathetic performance, he also wrote and directed the film. I've always enjoyed his acting, especially his perfect performances in Episode II and III, but if this is the kind of stuff we can look forward to from him, then he's gonna move to my short list of favorite actors.

There are a few slightly cheap jump scares, but they work here because the film does such a good job of building tension. With each jump scare, it would be followed by a wave of relieved laughter from the audience. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap when they can get you like that.

The Gift is one of the Summer's pleasant surprises and a satisfying suspense definitely worth seeing in the theater. It also makes for a good date movie if you want to see them jump and then keep getting closer to you whenever it gets tense. You're welcome.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Irrational Man (2015)

I was joking with a friend over the weekend that people won't realize when Woody Allen has passed on until we go more than a year or two without a new film. He just keeps going and going, like the Energizer Bunny of film. Allen seems to be on a streak similar to the San Francisco Giants though. He's only good every other year (or so). Unfortunately, Irrational Man keeps up that trend.

It's not that Irrational Man is bad in any significant way, it's just so meh. This is especially unfortunate since it wastes a pretty good performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who totally carries the movie. Emma Stone is also very charming, but outside of their two performances, there's just not much there.

The plot actually goes in a different direction that isn't spoiled by the trailers, so I appreciated that. Once that direction was revealed, I was extremely excited to see how it played out. It's probably the only joy I got out of the film. Only that it takes forever to actually get there. Irrational Man doesn't seem to be in any hurry to get on with it. At least it seems that way, since it's so slowly paced. At just 95 minutes, it felt at least 30 minutes longer. It doesn't help that it's not particularly funny or romantic.

That's really all I have to say about it. Irrational Man is very middle of the road as far as Woody Allen films go. Not his worst, but far from his best. Maybe if another director had been behind this I wouldn't have expected so much. Save it for rental, and even then I'd only recommend this to Woody Allen fans, or people that need to see all of his movies.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, August 7, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)

Three strikes and you're out. Hang it up, Fox, and give it back to Marvel. You clearly don't know how to make a good Fantastic Four movie. This might be one of the most disappointing superhero films ever. Even with lowered expectations, this reboot of Fantastic Four still managed to come up short. It's so bad that even Stan Lee didn't do a cameo. It makes the first two Fantastic Four films look halfway decent in comparison.

On paper it has a lot going for it. I was optimistic that Chronicle's Josh Trank was directing, but whether his vision was off (I heard he had limited knowledge of the source material) or the studio interfered, it's just so lifeless and dour. I heard they did massive reshoots due to all the backlash (like Dr. Doom being a blogger, not from Latervia, and named Domashev), but even with all the reshoots the tone is all wrong. It's not just the tone, but entire film lacks the color the Fantastic Four should have.

It also had a great cast. Unfortunately, they are all misused. While Miles Teller and Kate Mara are a step up from Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba as Reed and Sue, they have zero chemistry together. They barely flirt and give you nothing to see how they'll eventually be husband and wife. Jamie Bell and Michael B. Jordan, while fine actors, don't compare to the fun that Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans had playing the same roles. There's no sense of family, and none of the bickering you'd expect. Everyone plays their role mopey or detached. Was anyone having fun at all?

We get yet another origin story. I like that it was grounded in science, but two thirds of the film (it's barely 100 minutes) is dedicated to showing the team working on computers, building stuff, and then eventually get their powers as if an afterthought. Oh, and how they handle Sue Storm will drive fans nuts. Once they get their powers, the story immediately jumps ahead a full year. Have they mastered them and are a successful team saving the world at this point? No, the government has stepped in and is training them as weapons, as if that trope hasn't been beaten to death. We only get one scene of them at the end working together. Doom is reintroduced as the bad guy and then resolved in like ten minutes. There's no threat or stakes at all.

Outside of The Thing (his look was probably the lone improvement over the original), the effects weren't all that impressive. The Human Torch looked okay, I suppose, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. Where this movie really failed was the look of Dr. Doom. He looked like a cross of that stupid computer monster in Superman 3 and someone on their way to a rave. It looks homemade, but I've seen better cosplay than this. His powers, origin and motivation are all off.

There's nothing about Fantastic Four that warrants seeing on the big screen. Any film that casts Chet Hanks in a role does not deserve to be seen. It's not a complete disaster, but it's still an overall failure. Save it for rental if you want to punish yourself. I don't actively root for films to bomb, but I really hope people don't go out and see this. Please don't encourage Fox to attempt this again.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, August 3, 2015

Vacation (2015)

Saying that I was disappointed in Vacation is like saying I was disappointed in the Taco Bell I got at 2 AM on a Saturday. I wasn't expecting much. Even with lowered expectations and a beer before the movie (so, yes, I was in a good mood), I felt that Vacation was still a giant waste of time.

I guess I should start with the cast. I like Ed Helms a lot, but I don't think he was right for the role. He's too sincere when it would have been better to have someone a little darker or with more of a sarcastic edge. It also doesn't help that he looks nothing like an older Anthony Michael Hall. Yes, he's playing the same Rusty Griswold from the original Vacation. In fact, I don't know why they just didn't get Hall to play the role. I'm pretty sure he's available. Leslie Mann was better cast as the older Audrey, but she's only in one part of the movie. I didn't mind Chris Hemsworth's attempt at comedy, but I can't say the same for his attempt at a Texan accent. Lastly, it's a shame they didn't give Christina Applegate more to do as she seemed like the only person that was really into it.

Oh, there is a cameo by Chevy Chase, but it only served to show how little he has left in the tank. He as shaky and unfunny. Beverly D'Angelo still looked good though, but she has like two lines of dialog. Their entire scene felt added on just for nostalgia's sake.

The other big problem with Vacation is that it's just not that funny. There's a few chuckles, but nothing made me laugh out loud. The funniest part of the movie was the opening credits, which was just a montage of awkward, random family vacation photos. This isn't even something out of the script or story. I think most people will get the biggest kick out of the younger brother constantly bullying the older brother, but that's a one-note gag that plays out by about the halfway mark. Most of the other humor comes out of crude bodily humor, or awkward behavior or dialog.

Vacation features two of my biggest pet peeves in comedy, the guy that gets walked all over for most of the film (basically the same role Helms played in The Hangover), and jokes hinging around something that's impossible. Like, there's a scene where they hit a button on their fake car (which already has enough design flaws that there's no way it could possibly exist) that causes all of the windows to explode. Even the characters remark as to why that would happen, but just because you point out that fact in the movie doesn't make it funny. It's still stupid. They try to redo the famous Christie Brinkley scene where the punchline is that she's brutally killed in a head-on collision. Can someone explain to me how that's funny on any level?

There's really nothing more I can say about Vacation. It's definitely not worth seeing in the theater, and I'm having a hard time saying it's worth seeing at all. Just stick to the original and Christmas Vacation and forget that they even attempted another sequel.

1 (out of 5) Death Stars