Saturday, January 18, 2014

Top Ten Films I Watched In 2013

2013 has been the most productive year of movie watching that I can remember. While I didn’t watch as many films as I would have liked to, I have now begun to write and share my thoughts and feelings on every new movie that I watch. Whether it is one that just hit theaters and everyone is seeing for the first time, or something has been out for decades, I watched more than enough new material.

So much so that I am compiling a list of the top ten best films I watched in 2013. The only stipulation for this list is the film must be one I watched for the first time in 2013. Whether it came out eighty years ago or yesterday is inconsequential. Most of these will also be films I have reviewed perviously, so for more a detailed and thorough analysis, be sure to check out my older reviews. 

These are the films that consistently impressed me. Ones that left the biggest impact on me and were in my thoughts long after the film was over. The ones that moved me, whether through making me laugh, cry, frightened, excited or somewhere in between. The films which showed the creative power of cinema and just how diverse of an art form it can be. These are the top ten films I watched in 2013. 

10. “Perfect Blue” (1997)

Imagine if Hayao Miyazaki animated and drew inspiration from one of Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers, and your results will undoubtedly be similar to Satoshi Kon’s “Perfect Blue.” The story follows a Japanese teen pop idol who has grown tired of sharing the spotlight and singing, so she decides to branch out and try acting. This causes much backlash amongst her adoring fans, some of whom verbal threaten her to go back to singing or else terrible things will happen. This, along with some brutal scenes she must perform to be on a television show, causes her to start questioning if she’s an actress, a pop idol or a nobody. 

This is not a movie for everyone, as it contains quite a bit of violent acts that will turn off many people. But, if you’re willing to look past that, like I am, then you get an extremely effective psychological thriller with beautiful animation and great sense of atmosphere. The film never lets up from the beginning, always making it seem like our main character is being watched and that she has a reason to be scared. I also cannot imagine this movie being live-action, as it would remove some of the charm and mystery of whether these events are in the mind of the protagonist or not. 

“Perfect Blue” shows the depth and strength of Japanese animation and how to tell an effective thriller with a likable yet simple character. Mood is everything in this film, and there are some scenes which still haunt me. It’s a little dated due to it coming out at beginning of the internet era, but once you get past that, “Perfect Blue” is a terrifying look at the conflict in the mind of a teenage girl.

9. “Kung Fu Panda 2” (2011)

I know, I’m as surprised as you guys. A film called “Kung Fu Panda 2” starring Jack Black is in my top ten favorite films of the year. Go figure. 

There are many reasons why this makes the list. Not the least of which being the emotional core of the film, and Po’s conflict with the antagonist and within himself. Not only do these characters’ colors contrast each other nicely, but they both represent moral and ethical values that each have their goods and bads. 

Po is kind, comforting, selfless and optimistic, never giving up in the face of danger, but is also doesn’t look back to learn where he came from. Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) is smart, prideful and feels that he rightfully deserves to rule China like his father, but is blinded by his own arrogance and believes in nothing but himself. 

Combine that with animation that has a wide range of colors and scope, great supporting characters and fight sequences that never feel stale or repetitive and you have a winning recipe for a film that outdoes even its predecessor. 

8. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” (2013)

Walking out of this one, I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I thought this was going to be a film about the corrupt people of Wall Street and how they’re always being hunted by the government.

Imagine the look on my face when the film opens up with Leonardo DiCaprio literally telling the narrator to change the color of his car, throwing people into a blowup dart board and crashing a helicopter in his own backyard. 

As much as I said the film tries to be “Goodfellas” with stockbrokers, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” still attempts to tell a different kind of story. Where “Goodfellas” was a gangster film through and through, this one is much more of a parody of real life events. It takes every opportunity to mention that these are insanely rich douche-bags who can do whatever they want. And they use their money like its drinking water. 

“The Wolf Of Wall Street” is funny, clever and satisfying to see these terrible people be themselves, only to get what was coming to them by the end. 

7. “(500) Days Of Summer” (2009)

“(500) Days Of Summer” impressed me with its ability to capture the randomness and unpredictability of life. The most of what life has to offer doesn’t always unfold in a story book fashion, but with some events just occurring as often as a thunderstorm. Many films attempt to tell this kind of story, like in “The Big Chill,” but it is never done to its full effect.

The reason it works for this film and not for others is for a few reasons. One are the characters, Tom and Summer, who ride this relationship out as it goes. They have their up moments and down moments, but they don’t let that change who they are until they realize much later on that the break up was their own fault. Inside of cramming change down our throats, it happens naturally and for good reason. 

The second reason is that the story is told in a nonlinear fashion. With the handy number guide to tell you which days come in order, the audience can’t get lost and can still experience how unexpected and unforgiving life can be sometimes. 

“(500) Days of Summer” works because it doesn’t try to hide behind being a love story, but does embrace how much love can change ones life, for better or worse.

6. “Tangled” (2010)

If there’s one thing I enjoy the most about animated movies, it is their ability to have so much freedom and creativity and show how powerful filmmaking can be. 

The story of Rapunzel is one that we’ve all heard about, but “Tangled” adds to this with a mythical background, a story of greed, reclaiming that which was lost, exploration and redemption. The characters are uniquely designed and each feels like an individual. In fact, some characters get this across without ever saying a word, such as the valiant and obsessed horse to the king and queen whose emotions can be described with just one facial expression. 

“Tangled” is fun, clever, exciting, hilarious and a reminder that animation can please both adults and kids.

5. “Peeping Tom” (1960)

What are the limits of film? Where should a movie go and what shouldn’t it attempt to do? More importantly, how does this affect the filmmaker?

These are just some of the psychological questions raised during “Peeping Tom” as Mark attempts to make a film that he feels he’s been working on his entire life. Mark freely admits that he is a madman for making such a film, but then again, maybe he wasn’t the one that started it. Much like Norman Bates in “Psycho,” there is a strong connection to the parent and how their actions were passed onto their children. 

Part of the reason Mark is doing this might be because film has never seen anything like this before. After all, film is something that anyone in the world can understand, and to see what Mark has to offer would touch so many lives for generations to come. Does that make what he does right? In his mind, it just might. 

4. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988)

Okay, last animated film on this list. I swear.

This is the film that always brings out our inner child. I can safely say that I always imagined a movie like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one. A movie where Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse could finally coexist. Where Daffy Duck and Donald Duck could do a piano duel and see who is the better duck. Where toons and humans can live together and appreciate what we both have to offer. 

Beyond that, this film takes full advantage of humans and toons together through Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) and his attempts to keep the toons under control. He sees toons as a minority that need to kept under control or else we would be in danger. The dip, which he creates, is one of the scariest and innovative ways to die that I can imagine. To see that in a supposed kids movie is wonderful. 

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is a perfect love letter to the cartoons which we all grew up with. It doesn’t try to change who these characters are for the sake of modernization, but just lets them be the cartoons that we all remember. There is much passion and joy behind this film and that is what makes it so enjoyable. 

3. “The Best Years Of Our Lives” (1946)

War is so often brought to life in cinema, but it is immensely difficult to pull off effectively. Especially the psychological and emotional side. 

Yet that is entirely what “The Best Years Of Our Lives” is about. The lingering effects of war on three soldiers returning home from WWII. How it distances themselves from their family and loved ones, makes them live a society that doesn’t wish to discuss war and being handicapped and scared by the tragedies that they witnessed. 

Each of these three stories is compelling, heartbreaking and ageless, with the story of the solider losing both of his hands being the most memorable, due to Homer Russell’s heartfelt and emotional performance. Combine this with stunning cinematography from the man who gave us “Citizen Kane” and you have a war film that will live on as long as we fight one another in this brutal and vicious act.

2. “her” (2013)

Boy, I’ve been talking about this film a lot lately, haven’t I?

Considering how “her” was able to be so touching and yet so imaginative, the film does deserve to be mentioned. It doesn’t try always try to play up that one of the romantic leads is an artificial intelligence, because it always treats her as an equal character, with strengths, flaws, personality and desires. If anything, Samantha is an even more fleshed out character than Joaquin Phoenix, which is quite impressive. 

Even so, the fact that she is a piece of hardware is always in the back of the audiences’ mind. It lingers there, to remind us that even if Samantha laughs alongside Theodore, she’s not normal. Which makes the futuristic setting all the more fitting and appropriate. If this were set in modern day Los Angeles, this story would fall apart. But in a future where celebrity pregnant photos can be seen by everyone in the blink of an eye, maybe this is normal. 

That is one of the more alluring factors to “her.” For all of its realistic and uplifting romance, the world of the film is just as appealing. 

1. “Amadeus” (1984)

There is a reason I gave “Amadeus” my first A+. This just might be a perfect movie. 

It portrays both Salieri and Mozart as two flawed individuals, both with their respective sins, and in the end they both suffer due to their own folly. It is very much a tragedy of regrets, sacrifice and forgiveness. 

Every action and line of dialogue has a reason to exist and paints an even better picture of these people. The performances from F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce are touching, funny and hit right at the core of both anguish and triumph. 

While I don’t know much about opera, I do know when a story has moved me through performances of self-destructive characters. “Amadeus” impressed me on every level and is the best film that I watched in 2013. 

Honorable Mentions: 

- "Ip Man" (2008) - A movie with the most basic of premises, but packs in as much character and heart as it possibly can. Combine this with wonderful Kung-Fu action sequences that never go over the top, and you get one of the best Kung-Fu movies I've ever seen. 

- "When Harry Met Sally..." (1989) - I love how this film uses its New York backdrop to have these characters change over the course of twelve years. These two change so much that they find others they once found repulsive as trusted companions and eventually fall in love. 

- "Prisoners" (2013) - A wonderful mystery whose characters are all essentially a shade of gray, unsure of where they lie or what they'll do next in order to get their loved ones back. 

- "Big Trouble In Little China" (1986) - The first movie I ever reviewed for my blog will now always hold a special place in my heart. It also helps that this was an incredibly fun ride that is always entertaining in, one way or another. Whether that is through Kurt Russell's likable attitude, quirky dialogue or zany action sequences, this one never lets up. 

- "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2006) - While people may look at this film now as one starring Robert Downey Jr., I see it as a smart and creative crime parody with an interesting framing device as Downey Jr. plays a narrator that keeps changing the story. It is due to his charisma and chemistry with Val Kilmer that makes this film stand out. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Best Of 2013

2013 has come and gone, but will never be forgotten. This year was host to many wonderful movies that have stuck with me long after I saw them. Some of these movies were technologically impressive, while others wowed me with their characters and story and some were just plain awesome all around. While there were some disappointing or downright bad ones, every year is going to have their share of crap. 

Overall, I felt this was a good year for film and one of the best in recent memory. Certainly the best of the 2010s so far. This year meant a lot to me because it was the year I finally began to review every movie I saw and I was able to share my thoughts and feelings with everyone who reads them. For that, I am eternally grateful to both my readers and filmmakers who bring us these works of art. 

Now is the time for reflection and choosing which of the many films I saw this year stood out above all the others. Whether they stood out for being good, bad, funny, heartwarming or somewhere in between, these are the films that left a lasting impression on me. 

This is the best (and worst) of 2013!

Most Technologically Impressive: “Gravity”

This was a beautiful film for many reasons. The main one being how the film made you feel like you were in space alongside Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The camera moves as if it is floating alongside them and, in typical Alfonso Cuaron fashion, it rarely cuts from a dramatic shot. I want to say that “Gravity” does this so effortlessly, but I know that it took hundreds of hours just to make a few frames look stunning. For that reason, “Gravity” is one of the most impressive movies in years. 

Funniest Movie Of 2013: “The Wolf Of Wall Street”

If there was one thing wrong with 2013, it was the shortage of good comedies. “This Is The End,” “Anchorman 2” were both unfunny and brainless and even “The World’s End” to a lesser extent wasn’t all that noteworthy compared to Edgar Wright’s other work. Hell, for a while the film that made me laugh consistently was “Iron Man 3.” You know its bad when superhero movies are funnier than most comedies. 

Thank god for Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio for bringing the funny back in “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” The difference between what Scorsese did and what other filmmakers missed out on was having a certain charm to the characters. To either make us love the characters or hate them so much that we want to see everything go bad for them. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” creates the biggest assholes imaginable who feel they’re in their own little world and everyone else is lame and pathetic. That alone makes me want to laugh but the film takes it even further than that and shows every disgusting detail of their nasty lives. Throw in some great performances from Leo and Jonah Hill and you’ve got a recipe for one outstanding comedy.

Sleep Inducer: “Man Of Steel”

It seems like most people are split right down the middle on this movie. Some hate it, some love it. I still find it to be boring and bland. Acting that leaves a lot to be desired, a barebones story and writing that acts more like it wants Superman to be a dark, misunderstood hero when we already have Batman to do that for us. Very little to keep the audience interested, other than action sequences filmed in confuse-o-vision. 

Most fun at the theater: “Pacific Rim”

On the opposite end of “Man Of Steel,” we have a film that is consistently fun with some of the best action sequences between two giant creatures. Not only was the world of “Pacific Rim” familiar and refreshing, but how the film used its antagonists (the kaiju) made them more than just brainless bodies to beat up. The weight of each punch could be felt just through camera movements. For a film about giant robots beating up giant monsters, that is an impressive feat. 

Film that needs to be watched again: “American Hustle” 

This film really does need at least two viewings to understand everything that happens. Preferably at least once with subtitles. Whether because of plot points traveling at super sonic speeds or Christian Bale’s mumbling, much of the film could go over peoples’ heads. But, there is still enough charm present to keep the audience interested, particularly in the performances of Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams. Even if you’re not interested in the plot, they’re always fun to watch. “American Hustle” deserves a second viewing just for Lawrence seducing Bale again. 

So close, but not quite there: “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

I haven’t had a chance to discuss this one yet, but “Star Trek: Into Darkness” was so very close to being a masterpiece that its kind of sad. It’s like watching a baseball game, and your team completely dominates for the first eight innings...only for them to completely screw it up in the ninth inning and lose the game. There was a moment where I felt that this one might top the best Star Trek film, “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan,” because the writing was excellent. Keeping up the mystery of who the villain is, making Kirk question his role as captain, an intriguing political scandal that is competent and well thought out and addressing the age-old question of whether Starfleet should be a military organization or a group of explorers. Then the last fifteen minutes of the film happen and the writing gets extremely lazy, ripping off lines from other Star Trek films, forced moments of conflict and deus-ex machina as an alien furball. It was inches away from being so good, which is why I’m so upset about it. 

Most Forgettable: “Don Jon”

Wait, I watched this movie? I completely forgot about it. This is due in large part to the predictable and by the books story. It is the plot of every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen and only rarely tries to say anything new. If it had been more about the parallels between watching porn and watching movies, then this could have a more noteworthy movie, yet the film barely touches on this and leaves much of the discussion untouched.  Other than that, I feel like I could predict every line of dialogue before it even happens.

Most Overrated Film Of 2013: “Inside Llewyn Davis” 

The Coen Brothers are often at their best when there is an air of optimism and hope for the future in their films. “Fargo” and “No Country For Old Men” stick out because of their main characters and their struggle throughout the film not affecting how they see the world and their joy within it. This is not the case with “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It is sad and pessimistic from the beginning and never lets go. The characters are assholes, the plot goes no where and does practically nothing and it doesn’t seem to understand the essence of folk singing. It just lacks the Coen Brothers charm that I’ve come to know and love, which is very disappointing. 

Most Underrated Film Of 2013: “Prisoners”

Most people seem to have forgotten about this film, which is upsetting. For quite a while, this was my favorite film of the year. It gives us a mystery that stands up to repeated viewings, has characters whose moral center is blurred and has a good pace that never feels too slow or too fast. If “Prisoners” isn’t intriguing for its mystery, then the characters who have to make tough choice will be there to keep you going.

Hardest Film To Watch: “This Is The End”

While I didn’t feel like walking out of “This Is The End,” there were times where I turned around and wondered why the audience was laughing at most of the jokes. Ones that revolved around James Franco and Danny McBride arguing over a Playboy and a demon that has nothing to hide. The humor was forced, disrespectful, unbelievably crude and worst of all not funny. Just an all around bad time.

Biggest Disappointment: “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”

This is what I get for putting my hopes up, that this would turn out to be a simple yet effective movie. What could have been something insightful and touching turned into a film with way too many plot points and characters in it. The film lost track of what it wanted to be and instead told a story that we’ve all seen before and will see many more times. And that’s sad. 

Best Performance Of 2013: TIE Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” and Sam Rockwell as Owen in “The Way, Way Back”

I wanted to widdle this down to just one performance, but I couldn’t bring myself to decide which performance I loved more. They’re both amazing jobs by Hanks and Rockwell and for very much the same reason: The two disappear when performing. When I see both of these actors in their respective movies, I don’t see Tom Hanks or Sam Rockwell, I see Walt Disney and Owen. 

Hanks captures the charm, wit and childlike wonder of Disney that all you need to do is look his smile and you believe that you’re watching the creator of Mickey Mouse. Owen, on the other hand, takes every opportunity to have fun with everything in life. He doesn’t let many things get him down, because he feels life is too short for that. Rockwell has enough unmatched charisma to pull something like that off. Both roles are different, yet have quite a bit in common. For that, they’re both the best. 

Biggest “WTF” Moment Of 2013: The torture scenes in “Kick Ass 2” 

Sometimes there are points in movies where you just want to yell at the screen and question what the filmmakers were thinking when they put that in. The scene that made me want to do that more than any other comes from “Kick Ass 2,” where we see one of the main characters be brutally and vividly tortured and killed. The worst part of it was that the scene entirely unnecessary. The audience could have easily gotten the idea of what was happening by the other characters reacting to the news rather than showing every little detail. In the first “Kick Ass,” violence was used to show how brutal and disgusting this world was. In the sequel, violence is overdone and over stays its welcome. 

Best Rediscovery of 2013: “The Lady Eve” (1941)

Occasionally there seems to be a film or two which I re-watch for the first time in years, catch something that I missed the first time and end up falling in love with the movie. In 2013, that movie was “The Lady Eve,” starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda and directed by the wonderfully funny Preston Sturges. A romance that develops naturally, characters who change due to this charm but not so much so that they’re a whole new person. The comedy is always funny, whether verbal or slapstick and comes off without feeling forced. There is a logical train of thought and progression, yet at the same time logic is beyond this film because of how outrageous things can get. It just works on so many levels that it is now one of my favorite films. 

Most Anticipated Movie Of 2014: “Godzilla”

Does this really come as a surprise to anyone? While I was initially hesitant to say anything good about the new Godzilla film, due to the director who has only ever worked on one independent film, the newest trailer has convinced me otherwise. Portraying Godzilla with more power and size than he has most other incarnations is a good way to go. Starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Tyler-Johnson, Ken Watanabe and Elizabeth Olson has me convinced that I’ll at least be excited to see the film. Will it turn to be an excellent rebirth to the classic king of the monsters? Or will it turn out just like the terrible 1998 film? We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Worst Film Of 2013: “Elysium”

This one was a toss-up between “Elysium” and “Anchorman 2” but I ultimately felt that the former was far more painful to watch. “Anchorman 2” was just bad, from start to finish. “Elysium” on the other hand was not just bad, but insulting. It failed because it felt that anyone who has enough money is a selfish douche-bag who doesn’t deserve what life has to offer. On top of that, the film is ugly. Much brown and unpleasant caricatures that they call “characters” and far too much shakey-cam to know what’s going on in any fight sequence. Not even Matt Damon’s performance could redeem the movie. None of this film seems to work. 

And the Best Film Of 2013 is...


This is the film which had the most real characters I’ve seen in a long time, with a relationship that blossoms so naturally that it is beautiful in its simplicity. The world in which “her” is set is stunning to observe with all the little touches, like their uses of video games and social media. Most importantly, even with all the heartbreak that occurs, the film ends a more somber and pleasing note: That no matter how advanced and sophisticated our technology may become, life is still ours for the taking. It is how we use the time we have on this earth that matters, and we all deserve to have joy in lifetime, even those with artificial intelligence. 

This brings us to the end of what 2013 has to offer. While there were some low points, I still felt that the good outweighed the bad and gave us a year that I’ll look back at fondly. I hope that my reviews and thoughts also gave you a good perspective of 2013 and I am excited to do it again in 2014. 

Next Post: The Top 10 Films I Watched in 2013

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Hopper #8

“her” (2013)

I can honestly say that Spike Jonze is the strangest and most off-the-wall filmmaker I have ever seen. He has an uncanny ability to take the weirdest premises and make them seem mundane, but also to take an everyday-average premise and turn into something that will mess with your mind until you have no choice but to appreciate it. 

Sometimes this works to his advantage, such as “adaptation.” which is a one-of-a-kind movie with some well-crafted dialogue and wonderful performances by Nicholas “Cagerage” Cage and Meryl Streep. Other times, it leaves the audience unsure of what to make but still feeling entertained through many hilarious moments and ideas, like in “Being John Malkovich.”

This brings us to Jonze’s newest film, “her.” This one is certainly different from the previous work of Jonze, in that it exchanges his usual quirky and unearthly presentation and style for a more quiet and restrained piece. Oh, the film is still weird and unsettling at times, but it has an air of dignity and care for its characters. It lets events play out naturally without anything feeling forced, especially the dialogue and actions of our heroes. 

“her” feels more human than most other movies I can think of. 

Set in Los Angeles of the not-too-distant future (insert MST3K joke here), Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), whose job is to write love letters for those who can’t, tries to break out of his shell after recently breaking up with his wife (Rooney Mara). Things take a turn for the bizarre when the first artificial intelligent operating system (or OS) is released to the public. 

Theodore, of course, purchases an OS (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen) and the two quickly develop a friendship. The OS, naming herself “Samantha,” shows signs of a personality and quirks that any human would show and Theodore is attracted by her upbeat attitude to explore the world and know everything. So much so that he begins to fall in love with Samantha. 

If there’s one thing I hate about romantic movies, it is a forced romance between the two leads, who have little to not chemistry or compatibility, and this happens way more often than it should. Some of the best examples of romance in movies are the more offbeat ones, like Charlie Chaplin’s silent comedy “City Lights” or the animated sci-fi feature “WALL-E.”

The romance in these films rely, not on a physical attraction or love at first sight, but intrigue and wanting to learn more about this unique individual. Simple exchanges and gestures can turn into lasting images that stick with their opposite and the audience. 

This is what makes the relationship between Theodore and Samantha so lively and refreshing to see. 

Their love for each other progresses naturally, with the two learning about each other and both influencing one another. Theodore initially questions a piece of machinery that has instincts and takes a breath of air before speaking, while Samantha is enthralled by Theodore’s outgoing and quirky personality that she wants to know more about the world through his eyes. 

This aspect is enhanced further through the dialogue and banter between the two. Every line of dialogue flows without feeling forced or over-the-top. While often producing a laugh, that’s only because of their personalities and love for each other. 

Yet the two also have their flaws. Theodore is an introvert and has a difficult time letting any one in, because, as his wife says, he can’t deal with others emotions. Samantha is often nosey, sticking her proverbial nose where it doesn’t belong, and a constant attitude that begs to be more than just an OS, leaving her confused about her existence. Not to mention she gets jealous rather easily.  

Because of the charisma that leaps off the screen and their flaws as individuals, Theodore and Samantha feel like actual people. 

On top of that, the world in which “her” sets up is all-too familiar and yet so alluring. From the way in which artificial intelligence is used as tools and companions, to the letter writing company designed to help those who can’t fully express their emotions, down to the advancements in video games having characters that react to everything you say. It is so beautiful in its simplicity and innovative ideas. 

That is probably the best way to describe “her.” Simple, yet innovative. It understands the human condition and interaction of people, but also introduces just how much technology as changed and evolved over the years, and how it will continue to evolve. It doesn’t shove that in our faces, but presents as a comforting way that shows that we can change alongside our technology. 

That we may not have a perfect existence or be able to read an entire book in 2/10 of a second, but we can appreciate the joy that life can bring. 

Final Grade: A

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (2013)

This legend should have stayed right where it was. 

I have a question for everyone, but let’s see if you can come up with an answer: Can you name one good movie that is a sequel to a comedy?

I ask this because, I honestly can’t think of any good comedic sequel. The problem is that they will always tread the same ground as their predecessor, and hardly do anything new or amusing. For example, “The Hangover: Part II” is the same movie as “The Hangover,” except they change the location and made the humor even more crude. 

If a film is going to do the same thing as another film, then what is the point of watching the copy at all? I can just watch my copy of “The Hangover” and get the same experience, if not better.

There are many things wrong with “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” but the main problem is that it does the same thing as any other comedic sequel: Telling the same jokes in the vain hope of recapturing the wit of the first film, or tells brainless jokes that are more cringeworthy than laughable. 

Just so we’re clear, I love “Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy.” I still feel that it is Will Ferrell’s best movie, set in a transitional time where the kind of humor towards women remains funny without going over the top. Full of surprises that still catch me off guard and wonderful performances from Paul Rudd, Steve Carrel and Christina Applegate. 

With “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” comes jokes that make you want to scream, terrible performances and a story that is either nonexistent or brain-dead. 

Set years after the events of the first film, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) has now divorced his wife, Veronica (Christina Applegate) and is too heartbroken to hold up a job. When he is approached by an agent from New York to be an anchor for a 24-hour news channel, Ron jumps at the chance. He tracks down his old team (played by Paul Rudd, Steve Carrel and David Koechner) as they move to New York to be apart of this new experience in news. 

An important thing to remember about joke-telling is context. Letting the audience know at least a little bit about where the joke is going, and not to just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. “Anchorman 2” seems to forget that, and makes every character act like Steve Carrel’s character by saying completely random nonsense.

Hell, at least Carrel had many memorable lines from the first film. Not so much in this one.

Ron has many moments in the movie where he falls into that trap, like when he meets the family of his new girlfriend and talks in nothing but jive. Or when Ron decides that, in the middle of a broadcast, to start smoking crack. Why? I don’t know, and I feel like the writers didn’t know either.

The plot seems to do whatever it feels like, so long as it gives them an excuse to get to the next reused joke. When it does try to be serious, there are so many holes that it falls apart. 

There’s a scene where Ron has to tell one of his friends that the network directors won’t air his story, and all of his friends blame him for only caring about the ratings. Wait, what? How is that Ron’s fault? Then Ron yells at Steve Carrel’s character for no good reason, causing his friends to storm out. 

There’s contrived plot points, and then there’s pulling unforced emotions and reactions out of nowhere. 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” turned out this bad. Will Ferrell has been trying to recapture the laughs he got in the first film for years, and rarely succeeds. This was still disappointing considering how bad it really was. Not once during the film did I laugh and I often found my head between my hands, groaning in frustration. 

It is disappointing because of the lack of thought and charm throughout the film. The film never tries to do anything new and many jokes overstay their welcome. It is childish, rude, insulting and disrespectful. 

If you wish to watch “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” just watch the first “Anchorman” and you’ll get the idea. Other than that, stay away from this movie.

Final Grade: F+

Next Post: The Best of 2013

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Movie Review: "Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013)

I’m hard-pressed to say that Joel and Ethan Coen are some of the best filmmakers currently in the industry. Not because they haven’t turned out great or outstanding work, but because they often find themselves falling into the same hole that makes it difficult to crawl out of. 

Their problem is that their characters are, more often than not, pathetic losers with little to no redeemable qualities to them or just assholes who only seem to exist to torment others. Sometimes both within the same character. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, pathetic losers can be sympathetic and relatable characters, but only if the filmmakers give you a reason to care about them. To latch on to them and want to see their journey. The Coen Brothers rarely seem to do this. 

Films such as “Blood Simple,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Burn After Reading” and, to a lesser extent, “Barton Fink” never beg for the audience’s attention as they mostly meander from scene to scene, with characters who just go with the flow, uncaring about anything that happens. 

If the plot and characters don’t care about what occurs, then why should we care?

The Coen’s movies that stick out are the ones which have optimistic, hard-working yet flawed characters, who show that even in a world full of greed, arrogance and stupidity, that there is a light of hope and kindness. 

Whether it is a loving and always smiling Margie from “Fargo,” the determined and clever Llewelyn Moss from “No Country For Old Men,” to the feisty and hard-spoken Mattie Ross from “True Grit,” or just the Dude from “The Big Lebowski” who wants his rug back, these characters amplify the film and its world and gives us a reason to watch. 

This is why I feel the Coen brothers newest film, “Inside Llewyn Davis” falters and becomes another film that wants to be taken seriously, but ends up being uncaring and cold. 

The film follows folk singer Llewyn Davids (Oscar Issac) in 1960’s Greenwich Village, as he tries to make a living off of his singing and performances. He often finds himself on the couch of friends, giving money to those whose lives he screwed up, and getting over the death of his folk singing partner. Try as he might, but Llewyn just can’t seem to catch a break, as more of life’s troubles just keep staking up around him, boxing him in until he can’t take it anymore.

The first question I often find myself asking about any movie is, “Why should I care? Why does this movie deserve my attention? Why should I keep watching it?” 

Usually, the movie has this question answered within the first few minutes. “Inside Llewyn Davis” never answered this question. 

There is a non-existent plot line in this movie. Events will occur, seemingly at random, with no connection to previous plot points, then move on and hardly ever be mentioned again. In fact, the film seems to go in a big circle, with very little changing. This would be fine if there was some substance to story, but each event is as dull and forgettable as the last. 

Well, a tedious plot line that goes no where can be forgiven if the characters are likable and make the journey worthwhile. Unfortunately, the characters of “Inside Llewyn Davis” lack all charm or wit and come off more as assholes, especially Llewyn.

By the end of the film, I hated Llewyn. The man does next to nothing over the course of the movie, other than stare blankly at most of what he witnesses. The only time it seems he breaks out of this is when he insults others, such as the professor and his wife who lend Llewyn their couch or John Goodman’s character who allows him to get to Chicago. 

To me, that is an unlikable and boring jerk of a character.

Part of the film seems to lie in the many folk songs that served as inspiration to make “Inside Llewyn Davis” in the first place. While the songs do fit with the tone and presentation of the film, they hardly make up for the lack of story and character. 

Not only that, but they’re completely at ends with how folk songs actually work and the people who created these inspiring melodies. 

For example, Suzanne Vega, a folk singer who has been playing her music since the 1970s and a huge fan of the Coen brothers, saw “Inside Llewyn Davis” and absolutely hated it, due to the films’ poor understanding of what made folk singers want to be folk singers.

Vega believed the film missed out on two important factors. One was the civil rights movement, which was the moment that caused folk singers to become so popular, yet is never mentioned in “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

The other is the films’ lack of optimism. 

“The possibility that something will happen,” said Vega. “Whether it’s that you’ll run into someone you know when you go in for a drink, or that you’ll fall in love, or someone will love your new song, or you’ll get the Wednesday-night opening slot, or the Saturday headlining gig: that keeps you going back for years. Those top notes are missing from this movie.”
Some might say that this was the film’s intention. That it is ironic to be about folk singing, an often upbeat and optimistic brand of music, and yet the film is such a downer. I say that doesn’t make the film anymore desirable. 

If I were to describe “Inside Llewyn Davis” in a few words, they would be “sad” and “ironic.” But considering the time period and material of this film, that is far from a good thing. In a film like “12 Years A Slave,” being sad or depressing can go a long way and help to amplify the horrifying imagery. But here, it is sad because of the lack of optimism and Coen brothers charm. It makes for an unpleasant experience. 
Vega added, “Without the unrelenting faith that something is going to happen — it’s a crazy belief — all the despair just drags along with nothing to contrast it to. If the scene had been as brown and sad as all that, why would anybody be drawn to it?”
Final Grade: D+