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

Advertisements

Quick Movie Review: Starred Up (2014)

starred up

Superbly acted and brilliantly directed, Starred Up presents us with one of the most realistic prison films we’ve ever seen. You forget you’re watching a movie and immediately get brought into this world of brutality and subversiveness.

We have Eric (Jack O’Connell) who gets starred up–or prematurely moved from a juvenile detention to an adult prison–and finds that his father (Ben Mendelsohn) is there too.

The script brilliantly draws contemplative parallels between the hierarchies within the prison system, as well as the circular despondency that it creates. It also portrays a father-son relationship in a way that I don’t think has really ever been done in cinema.

Everything works how you would want it to in a film of this nature. It’s just never clear as to why Eric or his dad are in prison to begin with.

Starred Up leaves a couple of questions unanswered, but never strays from the realistic atmosphere it sets for itself. It’s definitely hard to watch and the characters’ banter might be just as difficult to understand–so you might want to use subtitles.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Selma (2014)

selma

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 (2014)

badjohnson

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 (2014)

most violent

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)

hercules

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) (2014)

birdman

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 (2014)

imitation game

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: American Sniper (2014)

american sniper

If you want a film about a guy who you can relate to, this film might not be for you. American Sniper prides itself on finding complexities from such a simple person. It proves that even the most unvarnished soul can have the most intricate internal conflicts.

And if you’re looking for a film that’s going to be inspirational and moving, this film is not for you. This isn’t Saving Private Ryan. It’s going to leave you slightly speechless and feeling funny. It’s a film that is built to teach you about a life that has lived–a complicated life to say the very least. It’s a peek inside the life of the most lethal sniper in U.S. history and how he grew as a person throughout his life, and how the military changed him.

Bradley Cooper is fantastic as U.S. Navy Seal, Chris Kyle. He gets the character and commits fully, which serves the purpose of this film tremendously.

What we have is a movie that doesn’t waste time with very many subplots. Instead, it uses the few elements that it has and intertwines all of them so that it becomes one big tangible object. The character arc is so dynamic that you almost become Chris. You feel his conflicts and you don’t blame him for being detached and aloof. You’ve seen what he’s seen. The thing with war films is that they’re hardly ever predictable. You might know what’s going to happen, but you never know how. So this helps you move along the journey with Chris even better. Except finally, when Chris is at home, yet feels like he has to go back to the war, you realize that after all you had been through you would never want to go back there. You realize where you and Chris differ. And at that point you slip back into reality for a moment and remember that it’s just a movie. But this clarity is necessary in order for you to further understand his character. How messed up must he have been in order to feel the need to go back? He’s hearing his dad’s wolf speech in his head still. American Sniper does the best thing possible to make you understand a character. It makes you the character and then pulls you away in order to see the contrast. It’s brilliant!

When I grade a film I look at the intentions of the director. And it’s a joy to see the exact film that the filmmakers wanted to make. It came out entirely how they wanted it. You can’t knock it for that.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

interview

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