The Night Before… Review

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     Traditions are important in our cultures around the world. Be it hanging out with your friends on an important date, or when a new James Bond movie comes out, it stands to reason that traditions define us. And we cling to those mother fuckers like air, or we’ll suffocate. That’s what the holidays are all about.
     Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) suffered an unspeakable tragedy around Christmas in 2001, and his friends Isaac (Seth Rogan) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) made it a promise and tradition to always be with Ethan on Christmas so he wouldn’t have to be alone. As the years went on, they discover an exclusive Christmas party that has always managed to elude them, like Moby Dick. This year, the final year of the tradition, they set out to crash this party like a high school kegger.
     Every year I look forward to a Seth Rogan movie. It’s become my tradition, but looking back at my choices of holiday entertainment, it’s always a bit cynical (Bad Santa is my preferred choice on Christmas). The Night Before might just become the new tradition. A lot of Christmas movies have so much sappy sentimentally you could have sworn that someone blew a tree. Here is a picture that finally celebrates the comradery among friends who become your family. And I was laughing my ass off, instead of rolling my eyes.
     Rogan, Mackie, and JGL have a chemistry that actually feels fucking genuine. Didn’t doubt for one second that they were friends for over a decade. I clearly don’t want to give away jokes, but the scene with Rogan in the church might be the hardest I’ve laughed in awhile. I’ve always been a sucker for a sub genre of films that I dubbed, “The Night Out”. It’s a film that takes place over one night, and it changes the lives of it’s protagonists. Examples include Hangin’ With the Homeboys, and Judgement Night. When done poorly, well it sucks. But when it’s done right, it’s a hell of a ride.
     A good Christmas movie brings a lot of joy, with a twinge of sadness. But here, the sadness comes from the end of a tradition, forgetting that there is a joy in starting something new. It just felt great to see a Christmas movie, that was fucking hilarious, that showed the respect and honor among friends during what could be the loneliest time of year. Family is amazing, but the family you build with your friends can be just as incredible as well.
    

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

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     This was a film that was never supposed to exist. The rumors and legends were played up for years, and then, well, it’s not only happened but it’s finally here. That was my thought process the entire time watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In many ways the hype for this installment, while not as bad as The Phantom Menace, still gave enough cause to be weary, even with its pedigree. After finally witnessing the events onscreen, the film carries a magic all its own.
     Since the trailers of the movie didn’t tell us jack shit about the plot, I do have to issue a spoiler warning to all who wish to go in cold.
    
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      Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished, Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han (Harrison Ford) have been searching furiously for him, while also fighting a new threat called The First Order lead by a mysterious Force user named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). A humble girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley) meets a man named Finn (John Boyega), along with Poe (Oscar Isaac) and are shocked to learn that the myths they grew up with, are all true.
     I did the best I could to not include spoilers, it reads like fucking mad libs. The joy of the film is discovering it’s secrets, and exactly what happened in the thirty years since Return of the Jedi. That’s why we all came, but why should we stay? Characters. Director JJ Abrams is a fan of characters. Just enough mystery, just enough fun. It was weird seeing the movie because while many things did look familiar, it just felt completely different. This is the first time in over thirty years that someone other than George Lucas has directed a Star Wars movie. That made it a very interesting ride. I’m not saying it looks like an Abrams movie; I’m saying it doesn’t look like Lucas, and yeah, that’s a real good thing.
     One thing I do need to touch on without having to go into specifics, are the criticisms that the movie rehashes earlier plot points. No shit. Did you know that the sky is blue?  Because it is. I was downright counting on certain elements rehashing. It’s the mythic nature of stories to repeat certain elements. Or the darker notion that history repeats itself; much like if you watch Phantom Menace, and A New Hope, you’ll notice more than a few passing similarities. The fun is figuring out how are things changing. Could they be changed?
     There’s way too much fun to be had here. The new characters are charming, but Kylo Ren is the villain that you always hoped for in a Star Wars movie; complex, arrogant, angry. Yeah, the movie had one or two scenes where the pacing was off, but that is just picking at straws. The only advice I can give on this picture is that this may not be the story you wanted, but it’s the experience that you needed to see. Bring on Episode VIII!!!

Creed Review

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     This film shouldn’t have worked. Seriously. The odds were not stacked in its favor; that’s what makes it the ideal Rocky franchise movie. When I first heard of the movie my initial response was, “Ah, shit. They’re doing Rocky V again!” So no, I wasn’t sold on the movie as a whole. Concept? Yes, I was on board but with reservations. So, to say that I was surprised by the movie would be a gross understatement.
     Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) just wants to make a name for himself as a boxer, but it’s hard to escape the shadow of his legendary father, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Adonis sets out to Philadelphia to meet with the man who famously fought him, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), and ask him to train him for a bout that could give him the recognition that he has been fighting for.
     The Rocky series has had its ups and downs over the decades. As difficult as it is to end a franchise properly, 2006’s Rocky Balboa was the perfect way to end his story. I honestly thought there was nothing else to say, and nowhere else to go with the character. Creed just proves that what the hell do I know? The main over arching theme of the series has been to go the distance; if there was ever an underdog installment it was this one. This is the seventh film in a franchise that has been written off, and it somehow miraculously managed to craft it’s own identity.
      Enough about my astonishment that this movie exists and is actually good. Jordan displays this quiet subtlety that while miles away from his on-screen father, plays into the characteristics that made Rocky so relatable. You understand his situation, you relate to his need to be his own man. Quiet subtlety is hard as fuck to pull off, and Jordan pulls it off.
     I have to go into Stallone’s performance. This is the first time he’s played his character in a film that wasn’t written by him, but damn it, he actually gives an Oscar worthy performance. Rocky is an old man in this story; life is now taking things away from him. The man’s performance made me cry. I wouldn’t dream of going into spoilers, but know that you will cry, fan of the series or not. I wasn’t watching Stallone going back to well, up there in screen. I was seeing Rocky Balboa at a later stage in his life.
     Director Ryan Coogler has crafted something familiar, and yet entire unique. He manages to throw in stats of the fighters that Adonis may fight so you know he might not have a chance in hell of winning. The movie doesn’t even go into the cliché of his being a fish out of water (Adonis was raised in LA). Everything seems so familiar, yet completely fresh and new all at once. After the movie, I’ve of my best friends said, “This is how you reboot a franchise”. I couldn’t have agreed more.
    

An Appreciation of Great Trash

“Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.”– Pauline Kael

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    This quote has always stuck with me. In some way, it’s safe to say that it shaped me has a moviegoer, and as a critic. Five years ago, Elvira’s Movie Macabre was on public access every Saturday night, and it was the highlight of my week. These movies were bad, some even fucking grotesque ie Lady Frankenstein.
     Over the years I got a lot of shit from people over how I can enjoy such horrible movies; laugh at them, even be entertained by them. And then Kael’s quote always pops into my head. No matter how clearly I can explain it, people just can’t fathom the concept of a good-bad movie, or as she referred to it, “Great Trash”.
 

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     The prime example of great trash is The Room. This is a fucking masterpiece in shitty filmmaking. Think about everything that makes a movie great: the acting, directing, writing, editing, cinematography, etc, and imagine a movie failing on every fundamental level. That is The Room. I’m not even kidding. Yet, the sheer incompetence of the movie makes it fucking hilarious to watch. The fact that after every day of shooting the director went, “Yeah, that was really good”. Someone thought that. Think about it.
     Unintentional hilarity is the key to appreciating great trash, but it’s not a prerequisite. When I got around to seeing The Need for Speed, I was getting ready to dismiss it due to all the reviews that popped up. I was surprised that I found myself enjoying it despite the shoddy writing, contrived plotting, and cringe worthy dialogue. It’s really like any car movie, where the stars and focus are the cars. What struck me was the fact that this one was entertaining. Despite all my misgivings about the film, I was being entertained. Or to put it more succinctly: I wasn’t bored.
     Earlier this year, I saw Jupiter Ascending, a film that audiences enjoyed if they bothered seeing the fucking thing. At first I’m thinking, “Good Lord, what a piece of shit”, but then I started to notice some of the performances were so straight laced and serious, with such a convoluted plot that I thought we should have gotten cliff notes, that I started to smile and admire it’s tenacity to be the next great space opera. It was so entertainingly bad… Well, you’re getting the picture.

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     My interest in great trash came from two places: the film Ed Wood, and the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The first being a movie about the greatest worst director in the history of cinema, and the other the classic series about a man and two robots talking shit about the bad movies they’re watching. The former introduced me to the masterpiece that is Plan 9 from Outer Space, a marvel in the sheer incompetence of the basic rules in filmmaking. Continuity does not exist in this dojo, or proper set pieces for that matter. The latter introduced me to Manos: The Hands of Fate, a “film” that terrified me the first time I watched it because it looked like a snuff film. If you can get through it without killing yourself, then you’re stronger than you could ever realize.
     This brings to mind the time I watched the Friday the 13th film series with a friend of mine, and he told me he wouldn’t even come close to enjoying them if he saw them alone. And that right there is the key to the whole thing. Great trash is best enjoyed with your friends and loved ones. It’s the shared, social experience of enduring something awful that brings people together. So the next time you see Great Trash, appreciate who you’re with, the experience, and the joy of it. It’s better to see an entertaining bad movie, than a well made, boring one.