Aloha Review

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     This is the hardest review I’m ever going to have to write, but the one that is the most important. Anybody who has talked to me for five minutes know that I’m a huge Cameron Crowe fan. I grew up watching Say Anything…, Jerry Maguire, and Singles, and I’ve made it a point to never miss one of his movies since they can be beautiful and sweet films. But Aloha… It’s one of the worst films I have ever seen, and I’ve spent the past couple of days wrapping my head around that.
     Brian (Bradley Cooper) has returned to his old stomping ground of Hawaii to facilitate a deal that allows the US military to build a new space station on the island. He’s assigned a liaison in the form of Allison (Emma Stone) while running into his ex Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who’s now married to the stoic Woody (John Krasinski). That’s pretty much the story, there’s politics and shit, but let’s not kid ourselves here, you’re not going to see this movie.
     Damn, where do I start with this? The movie is a mess, no doubt there. The incredible thing about Aloha is that there’s a wonderful, sweet, poignant movie trapped in a cynical, confounding, worthless horrible movie. Do you know that feeling? I mean, truly know the feeling of seeing sheer brilliance in utter stupidity? Bill Murray is in the movie (yes he really is) and gives a beautiful speech about life, while playing a heartless character with no redeeming value whatsoever. It’s fucking hallow. The whole thing just fucking meanders.
     My heart truly sank though in the last act of the movie. Earlier in the movie Woody has been established as a guy who doesn’t communicate, but Brian (as a guy) can tell everything he says through body language. Well, there’s a scene where without saying a word to each other have an entire life altering conversation. It was touching, lovely, and fucking hilarious. Why couldn’t the whole movie be this??? Instead what do we fucking get?? Some bullshit about a space satellite and nuclear weapons that I could not give a shit about. It spends so much time on this horseshit plot that it takes away from the beautiful stuff, the genius stuff; the Hawaiian culture and traditions that we get for one scene, yet I’ll watch that scene for two hours straight then sit through the whole movie again.
     Cameron Crowe is better than this. He really is, and I expect better. Not greatness mind you; just better than this. I won’t give up on him as a fan, I owe him too much as a moviegoer and film buff. Every director has, and ever will live, at least one bad movie in them; I swear to God, please let this be Cameron Crowe’s bad movie. I can defend Elizabethtown, and We Bought A Zoo, but not Aloha. When a movie is so bad that it makes you cry, you know you’ve fucked up. I’ll hold out hope that he can find his confidence again, and that he can produce the great movies that I know he can make.
    

James Bond Reviews: #11: Dr. No.

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     You never forget your first time. So, here it is; the very first cinematic James Bond film. You can see the movie now, and take note of its crudeness, even though there is still a shit load of charm to the whole thing. It most certainly is a low key affair, and its fair to even find yourself unimpressed; there is still a lot of joy to be had. Aren’t you just a little curious to see how it all began?
     007 (Sean Connery) has hit a bit of a dry patch. After almost fumbling his last mission, Bond is sent by M (Bernard Lee) to investigate transmissions being sent from Jamaica. There Bond meets Felix Lieter (Jack Lord) and a local girl named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). There he meets the man behind it all Dr. No, and his first encounter with a nefarious organization.
     Oh, how far this series has come. Dr. No has such humble beginnings; the scope of the story is kept to one location, the action is ample but low key, and it feels like a trial run for what’s to surely follow. Connery doesn’t have full grasp of the character, but there is a lot of foundation for what the character will become known for (The suave nature, the infamous one liners, the cold blooded killings). Even Bond’s introduction has that smooth kind of editing that makes you feel like you just watched history. The formula started off here, and its a joy to behold.
     You can’t go wrong with this installment as your first Bond movie, since it is the first Bond movie. The series has evolved beyond these humble beginnings so do keep that in mind. My favorite element of the movie is that it even feels like a detective hard boiled crime drama, something that the franchise has strayed from. It’s fun to see the seeds of the whole thing being planted, and see what elements work and don’t work. Highly recommended.

James Bond Reviews: #12: The Living Daylights

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     After 12 long years of Roger Moore being Bond, it was time for a change. We got that in Timothy Dalton for this his first outing. Note that this actor is not the most beloved by some fans of the series, but sometimes you need to shake things up in order to keep it all fresh.
     Bond is ordered by MI6 to help a Soviet defector (Jeroen Krabbé) transition to the west easily, when he spots a beautiful assassin (Maryam d’Abo) about to take her shot. This spirals into a web of intrigue involving an American arms dealer (Joe Don Baker) and the start of another civil war for the Russians.
     The story has some twists and turns to the whole thing, which is fun. The biggest stand out is Dalton as 007. Remember how I mentioned that he’s not that well liked? Well… He portrayed Bond as he was in the books: A cold blooded assassin. The quips are horrifically scarce, but there’s something so refreshing in seeing a different take on the character, and Dalton will always have my respect for that.
     The story is a bit lacking though, and some things can be unmemorable (How many fans even remember that Felix Lieter is even in this movie?). The crazy thing for me is that when I watch it, I enjoy the hell out of it. One stand out moment is the ice sledding in a cello case, and the main final act action set piece on a cargo plane is about as exciting as it gets for a Bond film of this era. If it seems like I’m knocking this flick, far from it. Yeah, of course there are moments that don’t stand up to scrutiny, but the one thing it does have above all others is Timothy Dalton as James Bond 007.

James Bond Reviews: #13: You Only Live Twice

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     I always have had a nostalgic soft spot for You Only Live Twice. That tends to happen when it’s one of the first Bond films you’ve ever seen. I would go so far as to say that it’s almost an ideal first Bond flick. The exotic locals, the megalomaniac villain, the volcanic lair, killer fish, femme fatales, shit, I can keep going. They know what’s up when making the movie, and yes, it’s really fucking entertaining.
     After 007 (Sean Connery) has apparently met his demise, he is sent to Japan to intercept a transmission signal that is being used to coerce the US and USSR into starting World War III. With the help of Tanaka (Tetsurô Tanba) and Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), Bond must infiltrate the true organization behind it all lead by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance): SPECTRE.
     This installment was the one that truly cemented the Bond franchise as one of true spectacle. Many give the full credit to Thunderball, but this one really went overboard with its lavishness. For fucks sake, Bond is shooting people down in a little helicopter. I’m not making this up, watch the movie, it’s there. Remember the Austin Powers flicks? They’re really parodying this movie over the rest, and is the foundation of what came after.
     You Only Live Twice notable in that this was the last Bond flick where Connery actually gave a shit in his performance. The man defined suaveness, and tough shit while making it look easy. And while Blofeld has been so far played by three different actors, Pleasance’s portrayal is by far the most definitive. He oozes that menace and ruthlessness that makes it entirely believable that this man is agent 007’s archenemy. For these reasons alone, this is not only an entertaining Bond films, but also one that is required viewing, especially with the newest one coming out…

Ant Man Review

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     Marvel really is a powerhouse in film. Never did I think in the days of Batman, Superman, and Steel, that we would have a film about fucking Ant Man. Yeah, I read the comics and know that he was a founding member of the Avengers, but his own movie? I try to be a realist as much as I can be, and I never thought that this character would get his own movie. But here it is, and the results are what you would expect from a Marvel movie.
     Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has been in a self imposed exile for many years. He has developed the Pym Particles that can shrink a person to the size of an ant and can keep their full sized strength. Shield wants to turn it into a weapon, because of course they do, and has kept it hidden. But when Pym’s old protegee Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) manages to get close to replicating the particles, Pym enlists ex con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to use his old suit and steal back the sample.
     The one thing I’m liking about Marvel movies lately is that they’re dabbling in different genres besides action. Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a conspiracy thriller, and Ant Man is a heist film. It’s still has the heroics, but there’s a distinct flavor to it that keeps it from being old hat. And truth be told, I’m a sucker for a good heist film, especially one with a good amount of humor.
     The humor succeeds primarily because of the fun chemistry of the cast, in particular Michael Peña as Scott Lang’s former cell buddy. Paul Rudd just has this natural charm to him that makes the sheer lunacy of the plot come off as believable. They have the motivation of him wanting to do right by his daughter (which is a Marvel cliché) but it’s these small moments that Rudd excels at. Michael Douglas kills it as Pym. The more I thought about it, both Rudd and Douglas hold the entire movie together. Douglas plays the role as seriously and respectfully as the movie allows, while Rudd defuses any heavy handed moments with humor. That is a tricky thing to pull off, but they managed to find the right balance.
     There are some flaws to the whole thing, and sadly it comes in Evangeline Lilly’s role as Hope, Pym’s daughter. She does fine in part, it’s just a little one note and underwritten. She does have a great scene with Scott concerning legacy, but she’s always with mad or sad. Here’s hoping she gets to do more in follow up films. Corey Stoll is one of my favorite actors working right now, but here he’s just a waste. How did anyone like this guy? Marvel has always been good at writing compelling, sympathetic villains. The second I saw Cross I thought, “Yep, here’s the villain”. They can, and should do better. Since the antagonist is so underwhelming, the climax of the film, while fun and silly, comes off as meh. There isn’t a resonance to that fight at all. But what really pissed me the fuck off is when an Avenger suddenly shows up for a fight. I get it, this is a shared universe, but it came off as so out of place for the movie as a whole, that I was right to suspect it was added as a precursor to Captain America: Civil War.
     This is by far not the best Marvel movie (it’s a hell of a lot better than Thor: The Dark World), there is a lot of fun, silly elements to keep you entertained. Sometimes we can lose sight that these types of movies are meant to be fun, escapist fare. I don’t mind if the movie is just fluff if I had a good time, Ant Man though does manage to sneak in the theme of legacy, and how our children view us. Sometimes a marshmallow can have some substance.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation Review

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     Has it been four years already? Like a great comfort food, the IMF return like clockwork to save the world. As my currently running James Bond reviews prove, I sure love me some spy movies, and this year has given me a treasure trove to emerse myself in. This series always plays around with the impossible, and this installment, sure as hell doesn’t disappoint.
     The IMF has finally been shut down by the CIA, convinced that Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) assertion that the Syndicate is real, is nothing more than a deep seeded delusion. Now on the run, Hunt puts together his old reliable team (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner) to work remotely and covertly in order to prove the organization’s existence. Things get complicated when a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) appears to either want to help Ethan, or destroy him.
     Tom Cruise still manages to kick ass as an action star. Yes, that really was him hanging off the plane in all the TV spots and trailers, but there’s more to him than that. Even after 19 years and 5 movies, the man clearly still loves playing Hunt, and being in these movies. That is always a welcome relief when it comes to a franchise, to actually see the actors have fun and inhabit their roles. What I love this time around is that there’s an actual acknowledged continuity now, helped by the return of previous characters (it’s just as much Luther’s franchise as it is Ethan’s). With all the throwbacks to the others in the series, it just adds a layer to the fun.
     The best thing about the last few films is that this is finally about the team instead of the Ethan Hunt Power Hour. The show (yes, this was once a show) was always about the team dynamics and the particular skills that they all brought to the mission. The films finally caught on to that, and clearly there has been an uptick in quality once it stopped trying to be the new century’s James Bond. At the beginning of the movie, I was worried that it was going to be a one man show again, but quickly gets others in on the action, and it picks up the fun.
     Christopher McQuarrie is the next in line, in a string of distinct directors that each add their own flavor and style to the franchise. The best thing here, is that the man knows how to direct action. I can actually see, and make sense about what the hell is going on in the movie. McQuarrie doesn’t forget that an actual story is needed to give the action it’s weight, and here you’ll notice that the plot resembles the first Mission: Impossible, down to the meeting in a station. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a retread, just that again Hunt finds his history repeating itself and gives him a subtle motivation to avoid the disaster that came before.
     The flaw of this part, just as many of the others in the past, is that the villain  Lane (Sean Harris) is pretty fucking lackluster. Aside from the third, and maybe first, Mission: Impossible films is that the villains kinda suck. Who was the bad guy in Ghost Protocol? It’s hard for even me to come up with. What the series needs now is a Heath Ledger or Javier Bardem to add some wicked malice. Until that day comes, we’ll just settle in for the reliable fun that has yet to let us down. 
    
    

James Bond Reviews: #14: For Your Eyes Only

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     This seems to happen once in awhile when it comes to the Bond series; they take shit way too far, and then they have to ground it back to reality. Once you take Bond into space, seriously, where the fuck do you go from there? A small part of me is waiting to see how outlandish Bond is going to get with the current slate of films before they need to “ground” it back to reality.
     In Roger Moore’s fifth outing as Bond, he has to find the ATAC decoder that went down with a British ship, but the Russians are after it as well. Along the way he meets Melina (Carole Bouquet) who wants to avenge the death of her parents. Bond though finds himself caught in the middle of two feuding former friends (Topol, Julian Glover) and he doesn’t know who to trust.
     As far as Roger Moore outings go, this is one of his best ones. By now, Moore has got this Bond thing down. He even manages to get a little cold blooded by pushing a guy’s car down a cliff. That is a welcomed surprise. To be fair to my earlier statement, the producers really did make this a more grounded Bond film. It’s not really all that spectacular, but that’s a good thing. Out of the many (and I do mean many) times that Moore played Bond, this is one of the few that actually feels like a spy film. At its core, the movie is about protecting government secrets, and you can’t get any more spy than that.
     This installment does contain some of my favorite elements in the franchise; the beginning sees Bond visiting Tracy, which if you know your Bond, is the most important character in his history. Anytime she’s acknowledged, my attention stands up, knowing that she’s still lingers over him. The theme of the consequences of revenge play out pretty well, and this late in the series, it makes for a slightly more thought provoking film than what’s common during this era. Oh and there is a twist; nothing earth shattering, but again it was a welcomed surprise. With all these unexpected elements, you’ll find yourself having a better time, even if the movie drags at various points. Either way, worth checking out.

Trainwreck Review

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     Full disclosure: I’m a Judd Apatow whore. I love every film that he has done as both a writer and director, so I had pretty high expectations going into this picture. I was worried that I would end up hating this movie, but almost immediately, I fell in love with it, and its one of the best movies of the year.
     Amy (Amy Schumer) doesn’t believe at all in monogamy thanks to her father’s (Colin Quinn) rant when he left her mother. Amy loves her career, but also likes to booze it up, and hook up with guys at the club even though she is seeing Steven (John Cena). But then it all goes to shit when she meets sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader) and actually starts to, gasp, fall in love with him. Yes, it’s your standard romantic comedy, and yes, it’s fucking excellent.
     The key to the success of any romantic comedy is the fact whether you give a fuck about the couple at the center of it all. Schumer gives a nuanced, real performance (not surprising since she also wrote the script), that doesn’t devolve into shrillness, or artificiality. Basically, she feels like a real person. Believe me, in the realm of the romcom, that is high praise. The chemistry she has with Hader just carries you away into the story. I didn’t even pay much attention to it, since it just felt real. The icing on this cake comes in the form of LeBron James playing Aaron’s best friend and the voice of reason when it comes to relationships. Then there’s John Cena. Jesus Christ, John Cena. This guy almost stole the whole fucking movie with the fucked up shit he was saying, and to repeat them here would rob you of its brilliance.
      The honest genius of this movie is that by societal standards the gender roles are reversed. In many a films of this type, it’s the guy who loves his career and fucks around until a good woman comes along to make him settle down. Not here though. This isn’t a new idea, films like Boys and Girls, and That Awkward Moment also attempt to switch up the norms to varying degrees of success, or lack thereof. But with Schumer’s writing, and Apatow’s directing, they have managed to craft something very real, emotionally raw that many of us can learn from.
         

James Bond Review: #15: Moonraker

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     A choice sure to cause some disapproval, not for being low on the list, but rather for being so high up. But it’s my list, so fuck it. Our snobbishness aside, for a certain generation this combined two of the most amazing things ever: James Bond and Star Wars. Doesn’t that sound so cool? Yeah, it does. The 70s truly were a wacky time for cinema.
     The space shuttle Moonraker, built by industrial millionaire Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), has been highjacked mid flight, and there’s no traces of it anywhere. 007 (Roger Moore) is sent to investigate and it sends him to the Amazon where he discovers a plot for global genocide. With returning henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) on his trail, he enlists the help of Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) to put a stop to Drax and save the world.
     Yeah, the plot of this installment is pretty fucking crazy, and if you look at it like that, it’s quite a bit of fun. Moore at this point is settled quite well into the role, and there’s even confidence as to how he inhabits the role. What made this film move up in my listings is that 2/3 of the movie is very good, and even engaging. When Bond goes into space, well, that’s when lunacy hits with its laser battles. Laser battles. In a Bond movie.
     The biggest thing I can criticize about the movie without a bit of snark is that Moonraker has the exact same plot, beat by beat, as the previous movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Just replace the world’s oceans with space and you get the same thing. Jaws is even in the fucking movie, it’s almost like the filmmakers weren’t even fucking trying. I guess that Star Wars money was way too tempting to pass up (this was the highest grossing Bond until GoldenEye). By all accounts, Bond has no business being up in space, her Majesty has no jurisdiction in space I don’t care how British she is. Regardless, it’s a lot better than I remembered it being, even if I didn’t think much of it to begin with.