Quick Movie Review: Fading Gigolo (2014)

fading gigolo

I can’t say that there’s much to love in Fading Gigolo. Maybe it’s because I can’t relate. A quarter-life-crisis, sure, but not a midlife one. But to say that the movie is bad would be largely incorrect. The film, for the most part, is harmless. It’s a sex comedy for older men, but it doesn’t do much to offend. It even purposely keeps it classy by pervading lounge jazz in the background the entire time. In fact, there’s not a whole lot of silence in the film, now that I think of it.

Fading Gigolo stars John Turturro, who also writes and directs, as Fioravante, a florist who becomes strapped for cash and is counseled by his good friend, Murray (Woody Allen), into becoming a male prostitute while Murray manages him. Turturro plays his character as a man of few words, and Allen–well–plays a version of himself of course. This time, his normal insecure idiosyncrasies take on a slightly more sordid personality.

Narratively, it starts up quickly, but meanders a bit after the first 30 minutes or so. One of its biggest weaknesses is the dialogue, which is very stiff when any character besides Woody Allen is speaking. It’s not so much the verbiage, but the characters’ rote delivery of it. The banter between Turturro and anyone else (sans Allen) feels routine and phony. It’s actually painful at some points.

The highlight would have to be Woody, who provides us with the comic relief amongst otherwise arid characters. Not that they don’t have depth–they’re just all written as very laconic.

It takes some odd turns here and there, and doesn’t quite seem to know where it wants to end up. There are some brief touches of surrealism throughout which actually give the film much of its character.

But overall, it’s a movie that has a purpose. You have to commend it for trying to reach a certain audience–one that isn’t so often approached.

Twizard Rating: 72

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Quick Movie Review: Selma

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While watching Selma you forget that Martin Luther King Jr. is no longer with us. David Oyelowo absolutely comes alive in this role. Selma accurately helps us understand King’s impact and paints him as the larger-than-life man that he was. However, you feel his struggles–his fear that this may all be for nothing. But he convinces himself that it won’t happen–and it doesn’t.

While the director, Ava DuVernay, is superb in her ability to paint this fear along with the fear of the people, she fails to capture the grandiose of the turning points. She handles the buildups of emotions and tensions with great subtlety, but with this not being a story seen through to King’s assassination she must give us climactic intensity through other means. Not to say that this movie isn’t intense, but the build up keeps escalating to reach–not an explosion–but just a peak. And then the film ends. Oyelowo’s performance gives us chills, but nothing else does. LBJ’s speech leaves us wanting more, and the southern segregationists don’t seem as disappointed as we would like them to be.

But I applaud Selma for not taking the cliched easy route by depicting King’s assassination. Instead, it leaves you hoping and, just like me, allowing the image of the man living on.

Much like 2012’s Lincoln, it’s a film that helps us understand the politics behind the politics. However, unlike Lincoln, which gives a lot of detail without a lot of relatable intensity, Selma portrays events that happened right around the corner from where we are right now. We can still imagine that time. Not that that’s bad in Lincoln’s case, it just might make this movie more appealing to more of the younger demographic.

Now in a movie that’s as great of a watch as Selma, it’s hard to write a review that has criticisms. So note that my criticisms don’t mean that it’s still not a great film. It’s a really really great film and one that moves us. And it might be earth shattering for many, but a few of us will find it not outstanding from other civil rights films. I mean, it tells a terrific story, but just doesn’t exactly have that finishing oomph that we crave the whole time.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: Bad Johnson

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I’m never against a film that has a ridiculous and unique premise. That’s not what makes Bad Johnson somewhat unfavorable. There’s a lot more to it.

For one, you dislike the film’s antagonist too much. It gets to a point where his wronging exceeds what we would consider fair for the protagonist. We can’t laugh at it. Much similar to my feelings towards Neighbors.

There is hardly an established setting. I figured out that we were in Chicago after awhile, but the film doesn’t lend us a hand at all. The jokes are almost never reflexively funny and there’s too much use of narrative obstructions to keep us interested. It’s only employed as a cheap technique to keep the audience interested during slow-movie scenes.

The film is about Rich (Cam Gigandet) who finds himself ruining every relationship he’s in because of his sex addiction. He wishes that his genitals would leave him alone, so the next morning he wakes up without them. There is no reason behind this phenomenon. No fountain with a coin thrown into. No shooting star. No wishbone. It’s just accepted information that’s handed to us. And if that’s not ridiculous enough, Rich’s penis now takes on a human form, of who we ever-so-creatively refer to as “RP”.

Rich’s love interest, Lindsay (Katherine Cunningham), has a good head on her shoulders–that’s why Rich likes her so much. She’s sure of herself and sees past all the BS that life throws her way. But then why is she so easily tricked by RP’s so very transparent lies? There also seems to be no concern for the fact that Rich lied to her about his past, and in fact cheated on several of his ex-girlfriends. Instead, she just accepts that he will “be good” and waves off all hesitation. Because when you think about it, she doesn’t even really know him that well either. They went on like, 3 dates.

But this movie isn’t completely terrible. It has some decent dialogue and isn’t at a “so bad it’s good” level. The quality of the film isn’t what we’re used to, but that can’t affect our overall enjoyment. For a sex comedy, it’s never grotesque. And it’s actually so ludicrous that we can’t look away.

A lot of times films of this nature have trouble giving us characters to like. In this case, there are a couple. The only problem is that I grew not to like Lindsay anymore. So why would I want Rich to end up with her? It doesn’t make sense why he would want to either!

Oh well. He’ll probably end up cheating on her anyway.

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: A Most Violent Year

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While “A Most Violent Year” is a really well done, entertaining movie, and I liked it a lot, it’s just not necessarily my style. Which isn’t a bad thing, just a matter of taste. But with that in mind, there are still pretty much only positives to talk about.

I enjoyed the tension between the anti-gun husband and his gang-raised wife. It’s a portrayal of marriage as being a partnership, even to a fault–that even the biggest differences can be worked through and superseded.

It’s slow, but never boring. It keeps you in the moment while letting you anticipate Abel’s (Oscar Isaac) next move. You love this character and admire his strength and integrity. So then when we see him finally at his most vulnerable, we feel close to him. We feel privileged that he shared with us a moment of weakness, much similar to how we feel the first time we watch our dad cry. Jessica Chastain, as his wife Anna, is a magnificent juxtaposition to her husband. She sells the role so well. You don’t want to like her, but you do anyway out of respect for Abel.

It’s one of those movies that is really well done, but will probably be overlooked for all the awards. It’s good but it just doesn’t sweep you off your feet like you’re hoping it does.

Twizard Rating: 92

Quick Movie Review: Hercules (2014)

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How many times can we see the same story? Probably not as many times as we will see it in the future. But we still watch it for different, and hopefully unique takes on the classic story.

This version, directed by Brett Ratner, is a typical summer blockbuster. It’s action-packed, there are big effects, grand set pieces, and mindless entertainment. The details aren’t what’s important–just that you’re entertained. And it’s never more evident than in 2014’s Hercules.

But what works is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s fun rather than overly self-important.

Ratner’s techniques may be cliche and predictable (everyone always shows up perfectly on time to save the day), but it may work to his advantage as the characters aren’t as dry as many ancient action-dramas. He keeps the tone surprisingly consistent and seems to bring great charisma out of his actors. Ian McShane, who plays one of Hercules’ men, is a highlight here as he gives us great comic relief without it sounding too forced, and Dwayne Johnson (Hercules) provides much depth to a character who is somewhat thought of as a mega stoic. The rest of the ensemble have distinct personalities and refrain from becoming lost in the crowd as most secondary characters do in films of this nature.

The fodder is immensely modernized and you tend to forget that you’re in ancient Greece, but there are hardly any holes in the smarter-than-it-looks script. The humor is very natural and it doesn’t ever risk becoming too light when it’s not supposed to be. Instead of bringing us more Clash of the Titans, it gives us more The Mummy.

Going into this I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I enjoyed every last bit of this film as this unique take on Hercules has incredible charisma of its own.

Twizard Rating: 85

Quick Movie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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My thing is, you can’t bash a movie that’s original and experimental in nature. Especially one that provides such deep commentary as this one does. Look past narrative and character depth and acting–which are all on point here anyway–and realize that you will rarely watch anything like this in your lifetime. There’s nothing commercial about this. Much could be said about the equally innovative Boyhood.

But in Birdman’s case, the long takes adds to the complexity of the story and the palpability of it. You know there’s no BS because you’re seeing everything–and it all makes sense. And while the film seems to mostly be one single shot, it still has so many stories intertwined that all relate to one another as though the characters are apart of the same plain–and they can’t avoid each other.

It’s a commentary of show business, but it isn’t preachy, and it doesn’t blatantly take sides. It shows things for what they are.

To me it’s impossible to criticize something that’s as honest as this. You watch this film an then you go and watch the next Nicholas Sparks film and compare their integrities. One of those you feel like you’re a customer at somebody’s business, and the other you feel like you’re staring at a masterpiece at an art gallery. A masterpiece of film is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Birdman doesn’t fall apart at the seams if something is out of line. It isn’t dependent on one aspect of the film. Even with mediocre acting this film would be incredible.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: The Imitation Game

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I was really looking forward to watching this movie. How bad can a film about decrypting a Nazi war tool be? I failed to realize that it was more of a film about Alan Turing, himself.

It’s a dual story, explaining how England government is secretly trying to decrypt the Nazi’s Enigma code, while also acting as a character study of Alan Turing himself. My biggest issue with The Imitation Game is the filmmakers ‘decision to put Turing’s personal struggles and stopping Nazi Germany on the same importance level.

Throughout the film there are many chronological lapses back and forth in time. Although jumping around in the timeline may serve a grander purpose, we almost always prefer remaining at the time during the war when Enigma is being cracked. Maybe this is because the flashing back and forth is only there as testament to Turing as a person–not to parallel the issue with the Nazis.

When character studies are concluded we’re meant to understand the character on a level that we thought not to be possible. But at the end of this film, we are still left at a cold distance away from him. And this is a trend, as there are no characters in this movie that we actually like–an issue that plagues many a potentially great film. While The Imitation Game is a great war drama, the character study is lacking that warmth, and ultimately this film, at times, becomes as hard to connect with as its main protagonist.

The script, although filled with superb dialogue, features confusing plot points, which aren’t helped by the time-lapse narrative.

But this film does do many things right. Benedict Cumberbatch is terrific as Turing, and the supporting cast does a great job too. On the technical side, the set pieces and design are great to look at, and the score has heightened awareness. This film does everything correctly in those minute aspects. My biggest issues just come from within the script. However, overall, it isn’t a bad movie by any means. It just isn’t a great one.

Twizard Rating: 83

Quick Movie Review: The Interview

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Amidst the controversy of a film that was more famous prior to its release than Star Wars VII, you sort of have a fear in anticipation of seeing this movie. Will they find me and kill me for purchasing a ticket? Am I contributing to an act of war? Maybe I’m just paranoid. Nonetheless I’m glad I decided to take the risk.

Seth Rogen sure knows how to stay relevant. Part of that reason is the fact that he still refuses to sit back and become complacent. No. He still takes risks with comedy and with his career. And it’s never been more evident than with his current piece of work. He, partnered with Evan Goldberg, loves asking “what if?” while answering it just as eloquently.

Besides it’s edgy nature–as we all know the general plot–this film eventually moves beyond predictable, down a rabbit hole where anything could be at the bottom.

It’s not so much of a political commentary because they’re telling us everything we already know, but it’s the smartest film they have written to date. Their maturity level goes up another notch. They tone down the potty humor in favor of a much smarter straight-man/banana-man schtick.

And it’s the most consistently funny comedy that I’ve seen in awhile–along the lines of Jonah Hill’s 21 Jump Street adaptation. What’s typical with films of this genre is that the 1st act usually fills itself with rapid fire jokes, while the rest of the film focuses more on story and less on humor (e.g. Dumb and Dumber or Caddyshack). But The Interview manages to keep you laughing AND equally engaged in the unpredictable story at the same time.

There’s not a lot that doesn’t work. Maybe we could see some better character growth, but when it comes down to it we don’t feel robbed of anything as the credits roll.

Rogen and Goldberg definitely have a knack for good ideas, and it’s clear through their direction of this film. They take chances with the action and they’re never afraid to ask each other, “What if we [blank]?” They outdid themselves, as this is their best piece of work yet.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: The Gambler (2014)

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I can always use a good gambling movie. Unfortunately, this isn’t a gambling movie. The title may throw you off, but Mark Wahlberg’s character, Jim, even says so himself; “I’m not a gambler.” As disappointing as that is, I have to look past it. I have to take this movie for what it is–a story about a cynical realist who has a gloomy outlook on humanity and is struggling to rediscover his purpose. But he’s not actively looking for a reason to live, until a couple of them fall into his lap. He didn’t think he wanted a reason, but realized that sometimes you don’t have a choice. You can try to control every aspect of life, but you have no control over your heart.

And while the messages of The Gambler may be well intended, the execution is a different story. The dialogue, although smart and often funny, just sounds like every character is speaking directly from the writer’s mouth so that all of them are having the same supercilious conversation with themselves. Each character seems like an arrogant, vulgar Woody Allen.

Under the direction of Rupert Wyatt, the drama and suspense work outside of the actual gambling itself is impressive. But together with the DP, Wyatt seems to not understand the world of blackjack or basketball enough as a spectator. I typically become resilient when watching basketball movies because I understand the game too much that the slightest error annoys me. It’s laughable, but I let it slide a little here. But the movie is about gambling–blackjack to be specific–and the filmmakers continue to show us 1st person perspective while NOT giving us enough glimpses of the dealer’s hands. How can we adequately feel the suspense if we can’t see what Jim is seeing–or the rest of the table for that matter?

What works is Wahlberg’s interpretation of Jim. You can see in his eyes that he understands him, and that he and Jim are one in the same. You’re convinced.

The rest of the cast is great as well. Brie Larson, who always delivers her lines with such fluidity, and John Goodman, who is as intimidating as ever, are joys to watch on screen.

But regardless of how entertained you are, you might be disappointed, like me, that The Gambler isn’t really about gambling at all.

I heard the 1974 original is better anyway.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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As probably the best installment in the series–slightly passing up the first film–Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb gives us much of what we desired from its predecessors–a long awaited clarification of the tablets “rules”. It’s as though the filmmakers listened to and abided by the critics’ recommendations. And while having its fair share of minor plot holes also, this new movie clears up a lot of gaping ones from the first two films.

While not perfect, it’s even funnier than the first and even makes you tear up. They also give Larry a new obstacle to face–growing tensions with his dependence-seeking son.

This film includes much of what we were lacking in the mediocre 2nd movie–an element of surprise and wonder, a good twist, less characters, and an acceptable inner-conflict for the main protagonist.

But unless I’m misunderstand something, I’m still wondering why some of the characters weren’t affected by the corroding tablet during the battle of the nine-headed snake.

Twizard Rating: 91