Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reviews On The Run

Dudes and dudettes - long time no write! Every year (at least for me) once the 4th Of July hits - bam! - the rest of July fly's by, I lose track of time, and then summer feels like it's already over. Too soon!

This season, with its long days, always feels like possibility. When August rolls around it's a tad stressful, where I frantically wonder - did I accomplish everything I wanted? Some yes. Other plans? Not at all.

It's ludicrous, some of the leaves in the trees are already starting to change into their Fall outfits, ditching the freshness of green for the warmth of red tones. This extreme stretch of heat is causing nature to move ahead of schedule and, not to mention, making it a terrible year for growing certain vegetables that normally thrive in the temperance of the PNW ecosystem.

The consistently gorgeous weather though has made for a memorable summer of adventures galore.

Not to be outdone, movie watching has still taken up a lot of time. That more treasured activity can't be completely pushed aside by the draw of a swim in the lake.

These days, if it's not Pixar, movies meant for an audience filled with children often get a bad wrap. Not that the criticism isn't deserved, many of these flicks are over the top, filled with stiff/boring child actors, and lack a quality story. It would be a surprise then to discover a PG kids movie that turned out to be delightful and extremely well made.

Starting with a set of classic stories could be the first thing that Paddington did right. After that, the overall whimsical vision pulled this movie from the ranks of potential drivel and composed, from the first shot to the last, a lovely, witty film.

Most admirable is the strong, unique sense of humor in the script. There are quite a few laugh out loud jokes, which was something I was not expecting at all. It's also just really fun to watch actors like, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, and Peter Capaldi completely throw everything they've got into their roles, making us all cherish this world where a talking adorable bear really could fit in around London.  Plus, the satirical take on a villain, played by Nicole Kidman, is genius.

Even the sets and costumes are extraordinary. It has that vintage vibe - the perfect nod to the original books. Just imagine a family movie made with the same art director as a Wes Anderson flick. This combo intrigued some and just made others utterly sigh.

What a wonderful storybook brought to life. That 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is not an exaggeration.

Some jokes, a cute baby, hijinx galore, and Efron's smokin' bod - this is what is promised in the trailer for Neighbors and that is exactly what you get. It makes for a fun way to spend an evening, but could have been even better if there was more to the story.

There are some solid laughs, but they weren't as frequent as they should have been. The stars, Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and Zach Efron, are amusing together, but really what is more interesting about this movie is that it is packed with lesser known funny people in small roles. For my money, they got some of the biggest laughs. Specifically, a line delivered by Jason Mantzoukas, who shows up as a doctor for only one miniscule scene, left me doubled over in hysterics for 15 minutes. 

Really though, there is only so much story that can be created by a thirty-something couple battling the fraternity that lives next door. Plot points start repeating themselves, the jokes fall off, and questioning this movie's existence starts to be pondered.

Then more time passes and the movie draws you back in. Lisa Kudrow shows up to be great in a scene, and you realize you are enjoying Rose Byrne for once, since she seems to be more interesting when she is given the opportunity to sound like her Aussie self, instead of forcing an American accent.

Even with the ups and down, it's still worth checking out, especially for the end credits where the baby who plays the daughter of Rogen and Byrne is dressed to the nines as each of the characters. (See the photo collage at the top of the page.) I hope a raise was given to whoever thought of that idea - what a delight!

This movie has summer blockbuster written all over it, but no one could have predicted that after just a couple months, Jurassic World would be currently ranked with the third highest ticket sales of all time.  Still shocking. The summer isn't over yet either.

It was also surprising how much I ended up enjoying the movie. Beforehand, I tried to avoid reviews, because I wanted to just sit back and be absorbed in the world without any expectations. Although, it was hard to ignore some comments on the internet, so I went in knowing that people were annoyed with the Bryce Dallas Howard character and wished Chris Pratt could be more "Pratt-like" (as in Andy Dwyer). Both complaints that, after seeing it for myself, I did not agree with completely.

First of all, yes, all of the characters could have been written better. When it comes to Pratt though, he wasn't playing a completely straight faced, serious character, like some of the reviews I read were asserting. There were some jokes thrown in, but he needed to be a tad more authoritative, since a bumbling dude wouldn't have successfully taken control of the situation. Plus, the jokester role is where Jake Johnson steps in, wonderfully quipping back in the control room.

And sure, Howard's character was a stereotype (serious woman who is bad with children and works WAY too much), but there are numerous "winks" at that role throughout the movie, where I felt like they were instead playing with the cliche. They make numerous jokes about her clothes and high heels, but she toughs it out, never complains, and is still a bad-ass, unlike other "damsels in distress" who find themselves stuck in the wilderness in sophisticated clothes, as in during some parts of Romancing The Stone.

While I ended up enjoying both Pratt and Howard throughout the movie, really it's all about BD Wong. No spoilers, but several of his moments in the movie are a real highlight. When he walked out in that black turtleneck and raised an eyebrow...outstanding.

These actors alone made this reboot worthy of seeing and at least they did feature the iconic original score. It goes without saying though, but i'll say it anyway - the fourth installment is not as good as the original. Shocked? Of course not. There's no way to get back all of the magic of Jurassic Park! Only one time can a movie capture that one "awe-worthy" moment. You know the image - Laura Dern and Sam Neil's mouths dropping open (as well as ours in the audience) as, music swelling,  packs of dinosaurs cross that valley and come into view for the first time.

Once you've been dazzled by that, it's hard to duplicate. Even so, the premise of Jurassic World succeeds profoundly above the previous two sequels, because it is able to get very close to matching the story from the original. They smartly brought everything back to where it all started - the theme park.

It is fun to see the park actually come to fruition, aside from the troubles that do happen...again.  Plus, it's still wild to imagine a world where seeing dinosaurs has become as second nature as checking out a lion at the zoo.

The area full of baby triceratops would be better than your average petting zoo experience. Sign me up for a visit ASAP! Just please, make sure the guy who is more obsessed with chowing down on a sandwich isn't the one watching the dino pens.

Admit it - sometimes you're just in the mood to settle in on the couch with a sentimental, romantic feeling movie. Anyone up with the times would associate this type of flick with one guy - Nicholas Sparks. I have no shame in rather enjoying the sweet/tragic romances in A Walk To Remember, The Notebook, and yes, even Dear John and The Last Song. Quite a lot of my interest in those has to do with the casting, which lead to me watching the most recent adaptation of one of Sparks' stories, The Best Of Me. I have two words - James Marsden.

The reviews placed it at the bottom of the cinema barrel, otherwise my hormones would have propelled me to the theater to check this one out.Turns out the critic response was accurate. If this so happens to be the only movie you've seen based on a Nicholas Sparks book, you probably think every positive thing I said before is crazy. This one really does give Sparks a bad name.

As expected, The Best Of Me follows along typical Sparks territory: two people from opposite sides of the tracks, fall in love, all while beating some sort of odds. In this story, the couple were in a relationship in high school and were pulled apart by reasons that are only revealed throughout the course of the movie - suspense! The movie is told as the couple, now 20 years later are brought back together to deal with the death of a friend.

Guys, I was really all in at first - Marsden was there, his character's back story was dark and perplexing, and the story really was intriguing. Then, during the last 30 minutes, I realized that something terrible was going to happen. Oh, it did and it was awful. The whole trajectory of the plot changed way too quickly and instantly killed any enjoyment that had been achieved from the previous parts of the movie. All of it was too much to handle, so much so, I was shaking my head and yelling "Nooooo" "NO!" at the TV off and on for around 15 minutes.

Maybe that shocking turn was what Sparks wanted from this story, but it was not executed well at all. Everything was rushed. The turn and final moments of the movie were on the level of insanity only seen before in Temptation: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor. Those who haven't seen that movie, trust me, it is not a good comparison. 

All of this doesn't even include the movies other fatal flaw - for one role in particular, it has the worst casting in history. That award goes to whoever hired the dude who played the younger version of Marsden. That kid could maybe fit in as a lost Hemsworth brother, but a young Marsden? Get outta here! They look absolutely nothing alike. Normally things like that can just be ignored, but this was so off course that it was a distraction.

Sparks fans may find some enjoyment from this movie, I did for awhile, but I'm not sure anyone else could possibly like it, except for those who love feeling upset once the credits of a movie start to roll.

For over a year there had been one question burning in my brain - why did Juliette Binoche (who is mostly known for artsy, intense dramas) take that TINY, itty-bitty, teenie-weenie role in the 2014 flick Godzilla? She doesn't seem to me as someone who is in it for that cash money. According to the trivia section of IMDB, there is an explanation - we have Clouds Of Sils Maria to thank for that.

Allegedly, if the lore is to be trusted, Binoche took that role just so she could convincingly play her character in Clouds Of Sils Maria - a movie star that has acted in a few blockbusters. That's what we like to call method acting people.

This movie was also getting buzz earlier in the year for Binoche's co-star, Kristen Stewart, because she...wait for it... won an award for her supporting performance. That's a shocking fact to hear on its own, but especially for people who only know that gal as Bella Swan. She didn't win just any old award either. Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar. It's like the French Oscar - très big deal.

While I don't think Stewart entirely stole the show, this is definitely the first movie where I really noticed her excelling at portraying many different emotions with complexity. She co-stars as Valentine, the personal assistant to an aging star, Maria Enders, played by Queen Binoche. The story follows Valentine as she supports (sometimes with frustration) the often fragile Enders, who is struggling with looking back on her career and her decision to take on a particular role.

Enders finds out that there is a revival in the works of the play that made her famous as a young woman. The new director would like Enders to star again in the play. This time though, not as her original role, but instead as the role that needs to be filled by an older woman. The role reversal brings to the surface many complex emotions for Enders, about her personal experience with the play in the past and her current life in general.

Much of the movie is conversations between those two gals - Valentine trying to explain social media/the internet to Enders, lots of talk about what it feels like to be an aging woman, as well as, a large chunk of time spent watching as Valentine intensely runs lines with Enders for the play.

Even though it seems like it could be, the movie is never boring or slow. It really is entirely engrossing and rather fascinating to watch a somewhat simple story about these women's lives. Both Binoche and Stewart definitely connect together, much of the time looking like they are breezily hanging out chatting and having a blast. Often, as Valentine noticeably leans in to listen to Enders talk, you can imagine that it is instead Stewart, not her character, taking notice of what an opportunity it is to sit and watch Binoche do her thing.

Other than being unlike anything I've ever seen before, the various meta elements in the story is what really makes this movie memorable. Binoche actually is an actress who is aging in the movie industry and Stewart, just like her character, could learn a lot from this older woman's experiences. Binoche, being the equivalent of a European Meryl Streep, is still cranking out interesting movies every year, so I doubt she is facing all of the same issues as Enders, but she could eventually.

I hope the roles never dry up for her, but if they do, we always know that in a small or large role, clad in a hazmat suit or (very often) her birthday suit, and no matter what type of movie, Binoche can deliver outstanding performances. Stewart might not have been known as that high caliber before, but it looks like if she keeps choosing roles off the beaten path, that she is on her way up.

These movies were all memorable for their own reasons. I already have another one that blew my mind, but a review of that will have to wait. Guys, I just watched Winter's Tale and my question to you is: do you think Will Smith can pull off playing Lucifer?

Until next time.

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