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22 Jump Street

As most every critic has already stated, 22 Jump Street is undoubtedly a "self-aware" sequel. It understands that it only came into existence as a cash-grab by sequel-hungry studios looking to capitalize on established properties, just as its predecessor understood that it was a reboot of a mediocre TV serial mostly (if at all) remembered for boosting the career of a little-known actor by the name of Jonny Depp. Both films work against audience expectations and elevate themselves beyond their genre trappings, all the while conforming to them. It's a tight rope act, but one that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have nearly perfected. While it's not as "fresh" and doesn't soar quite as high as its predecessor, 22 Jump Street is the rare comedy sequel that works, mostly due to its self-awareness and the chemistry between its two stars.
I watched an interview recently in which Jonah Hill described his first day on the set of 21 Jump Street with Channing Tatum. He said that Tatum came to him and said something like, "Jonah I don't know if I can do this, I don't have the same experience you do in comedies." Jonah gave him some simple advice, and since then has admitted that he thinks Channing is funnier than him in the movie. And it's true. Both actors have followed unconventional and wholly surprising career paths, Tatum progressing from Step Up to this year's (supposedly brilliant) Foxcatcher, and Hill starting off with Apatowian comedies (Superbad) before going on to receive two Academy Award nominations (Moneyball, Wolf of Wall Street). If these trajectories mean anything, they indicate that we should come to expect the unexpected from both stars. Their banter is the best part of these films, even if their character arcs are identical across both movies.
That last point brings me to the film's primary weakness: self-awareness can't entirely save the movie from feeling been-there-done-that or predictable. Lord and Miller certainly did it better than the Hangover 2 crew, but I knew exactly what I was going to get (plot-wise) going in, which never serves a film well.
That being said, Lord and Miller remain surprisingly in-touch with pop culture, hitting on hugely relevant topics and perfectly parodying the college experience (Hill's repeated Walks of Shame are spot-on). Their technical mastery clearly stems from their animation background, and they execute split-screen sequences effectively, an ode to the 80s action films that spawned the original series. The action setpieces are also masterful, relying on physical comedy to stay entertaining but also some hilariously meta banter about "budget" whenever something gets destroyed.
Random Notes:
The subplot with the captain's daughter dating Schmidt was an absurd plot device, but it was worth it just to see Tatum's reaction when he finds out.
Queen Latifah should've been given more to do! Though I loved her NWA reference.
Lord and Miller clearly have good taste in film, as they directly mimicked the lobster scene from Annie Hall.

Dog Day Afternoon

August 22, 1972-Two young men hold up Brooklyn's Chase Manhattan Bank at closing time. What begins smoothly quickly goes awry, leading partners-in-crime Sonny Wortzik and Salvatore "Sal" Naturale to inadvertently take the bank's employees hostage in a desperate attempt to escape the 200 policemen surrounding the building. The media immediately gets involved, allowing locals to immerse themselves in the melodrama and use it as a distraction from the late summer heat wave. A crowd of intrigued onlookers swarms the bank, observing the ongoing events and loudly expressing their reactions in equal parts cheers and jeers. Sonny finds himself in a position of celebrity, a would-be spokesman for the workingman, fed up with union wages and discontent with what his country has to offer him. His initial popularity vanishes when his supporters instantly turn on him after a local news station exposes his homosexuality and reveals that the motivating factor behind his criminal behavior is to fund his partner's sex change.
This dramatization of real-life events comprises the narrative of Sidney Lumet's 1975 film, Dog Day Afternoon, a "naturalistic" work that sits firmly within the pantheon of 70s cinema (Hollywood's "Golden Age"), a genre of films made between 1967-1976 that is defined by omnipresent themes of isolation, hopelessness and disbelief in the American Dream. In an era when "movies mattered," filmmakers chose projects that responded to and commented upon the defining cultural and political aspects of the time. Elements of these films included French New Wave stylism and neo-Western narratives, typically following morally ambiguous (often male) protagonists to an ambivalent conclusion and conveying nihilistic themes along the way. Late 60s counterculture had an obvious impact on the genre, as many 70s films carry overt anti-authority messaging, Dog Day Afternoon included.
A perfect storm of changes within the studio system and America's cultural climate allowed for this renaissance of filmmaking to occur. As a self-censoring industry, Hollywood once had a strict Production Code, which subsequently fell apart in 1966, allowing for more grown-up films to make it into the multiplexes. Simultaneously, Hollywood began to alter the ways it financed its movies and allowed directors more creative control over projects. The Production Code and studio system provided little room for "auteurs" (Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock stand as notable exceptions), so Hollywood directors with distinctive styles did not emerge until the late 60s. Around the same time, the audience for films began to gear toward the younger "rock n' roll" generation, so morally ambiguous screenplays covering subject matter such as pot-smoking drifters (e.g. Easy Rider) suddenly looked much more lucrative to producers.
By the time Dog Day Afternoon came around, Americans had survived a decade of social division in response to the Vietnam War, perpetual loss of trust in American politicians (and authorities) due to Nixon and-of most relevance to this particular film-crippling economic recession. The first two of these trends could not have unfolded the way they did without the sensationalism of modern media (notable moments include the Tet Offensive and the live broadcast of Nixon's Watergate testimony), a development that forever changed American culture. The instant celebrityhood attained by news coverage even managed to incentivize criminal behavior, leading fame-hungry individuals to commit acts of violence in exchange for notoriety.
Based upon a 1972 LIFE article entitled "The Boys in the Bank," Dog Day Afternoon contrasts the media's portrayal of events with the deeper realities that actually comprise them. Within the film, the media presents to the public a bizarre tale of a homosexual gone mad. Lumet's camera instead exposes a deeply human portrayal of a desperate man trying to support his loved ones, and for the first time in his life, be somebody. This instantly accessible humanity goes on full display to reveal the media's corruptive ability to alter events and sway public opinion. As Roger Ebert wrote in his original review of the film, "The presence of reporters and live TV cameras changed the nature of those events, helped to dictate them, made them into happenings with their own internal logic" (Chicago Sun-Times). Lumet attempts to capture all of this and more with Dog Day Afternoon.
Born in Philadelphia but raised in New York City, Sidney Lumet began acting at five years old, appearing in Yiddish theatre productions that his father produced and directed. He would later study acting at Columbia University and direct Off-Broadway plays for a few years before moving onto television in 1950 during the dawn of the so-called "Golden Age of Television," a breeding ground for many of the key players in 70s cinema. "Lumet has suggested that the key to his talent as a director may well be his origins as an actor," Joanna E. Rapf writes in her compilation book, Sidney Lumet: Interviews. This background likely contributed to his reputation as an "actor's director," or someone who could "deliver powerhouse performances from lead actors, and fine work from character actors" (Thomson). This skillset, and his working relationship with New York City (an omnipresent character in 70s film) catapulted Lumet into the top tier of directors with the help of a string of successful films, including 12 Angry Men, The Pawnbroker and Serpico. Lumet's varied choices in directorial projects quickly established his fierce "anti-auteurship," with which he denounced the idea that "good" directors need to have their own recognizable style. Perhaps fittingly, several critics have pointed to Lumet's lack of noticeable aesthetic as a weakness in his skillset.
When Lumet initially chose to take on Frank Pierson's screenplay in 1974, he had reached the point in his career where he not only had great freedom in choosing his projects, but he also held the coveted right of "final cut," the privilege of deciding-without studio interference-which cut of a film got released to theatres. "I'm pretty sure that if I want a new writer on the script, the studio or producer would let me pick one," Lumet writes in his autobiography. "Final cut is a tremendous source of security" (Lumet 48). To give a sense of Lumet's clout at the time, fewer than a dozen people working in Hollywood held this privilege. His critical and commercial success up to this point secured studio funding for Dog Day Afternoon with relative ease-no small accomplishment, and this at a time when producer Robert Evans had to fight bullishly to get Chinatown made.
In the original LIFE magazine article, journalist P.F. Kluge describes John Wojitowicz (Sonny) as "a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman" (Kluge). By 1974, each of these actors had already contributed heavily to the mythos of 70s cinema, Hoffman with The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy and Pacino with the first two Godfather films. Having worked with him on Serpico in 1973, Lumet cast Pacino in the part of Sonny. "It was a remarkable group. Pacino led them with a mad courage I've seen only two other times," Lumet writes (Lumet 33). One of the earliest Hollywood stars to subscribe to the "Method" school of acting, Pacino had shown time and time again his ability to embody characters right down to their smallest tendencies, from Frank Serpico's pervasive paranoia and androgynous swagger to Sonny nervously toying with his pocket watch. By juxtaposing his vastly different performances in Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon, released within a year of one another, one can begin to comprehend the dedication young Pacino had to his craft. He and Hoffman, among others, made way for a new type of leading man in an industry that had historically only hired those who fit the bill of "Hollywood Handsome" (e.g. James Dean, Cary Grant).
After securing the role of Sonny, Pacino insisted on the casting of his friend John Cazale as Sal despite the actor's twenty-year age difference with his real-life counterpart. As a character actor, Cazale had already turned in a remarkably consistent body of work, having played habitual screw-up Fredo Corleone in the first two Godfather films and Harry Caul's (Gene Hackman) starry-eyed coworker in The Conversation. Lumet then chose relative newcomer Chris Sarandon to portray Leon, a gamble that clearly paid off, as he received an Academy Award nomination for his performance. To contribute to the film's naturalistic feel, Lumet cast untrained actors as bystanders and even as minor supporting characters, including the pizza delivery boy who famously proclaims, "I'm a star!"
Lumet continued to round out the important positions in his crew with formidable 70s figures, including editor Dede Allen, who had established her tendencies for innovative, New Wave-style cuts in films such as Bonnie and Clyde and Serpico. Lumet had developed a close relationship with the renowned editor on the latter film, as the two worked closely to edit it concurrently with production to meet time constraints set by the studio (Lumet). Finally, Lumet chose Victor Kemper (The Friends of Eddie Coyle) as his Director of Photography to "reinforce the film's documentary feel" (Lumet 89). Despite complaints from the studio, Lumet chose not to commission a score for the film, as he felt he could not "justify music weaving in and out" of a project designed to imitate real life (Rapf). As a result, the film's only music comes in the form of Elton John's "Amoreena" during the opening credits.
Lumet's significant amount of creative control led to some tensions with studio executives and screenwriter Frank Pierson. "You have euchred us!" an anonymous production manager yelled at Lumet through the telephone (Lumet 35). He expressed anger over a scene the director had chosen to cut from the script, which included footage of Sonny and Leon's real-life counterparts' wedding. Lumet thought it would inspire too much sensationalism and render audiences incapable of relating to Sonny, while the studio saw it as a marketing opportunity to build up the film's notoriety (A common tactic; just a few years earlier Midnight Cowboy sold tickets using the tagline, "Whatever you've heard about Midnight Cowboy is true."). Final cut allowed Lumet to have his way, and he replaced the footage with a picture of Leon in his wedding dress.
"The first obligation was to let the audience know that this event actually happened," Lumet said of Dog Day Afternoon's distinct visual style, though he may as well have been talking about Pierson's screenplay (Lumet 88). Lumet and the cast improvised upwards of 60 percent of the film's dialogue during table reads, a staggering amount, but a decision that led to naturalistic characterizations by each of the key players. It also provided for much of the film's trademark humor. Legend has it that Cazale improvised his "Wyoming" line, which acts both as a recurring joke and an effective bit of character development. Lumet even left a few scenes (including Pacino's infamous "Attica" speech) for improvisation on the day of shooting. Of course, all of these improvisations resulted in an almost complete rewrite of Pierson's original dialogue. People commonly joke about writers getting slapped around in Hollywood, but Lumet insists that "[Pierson] was selfless and devoted to the subject matter. The actors may not have said exactly what he wrote, but they spoke with his intention" (Lumet 34). Lumet calling the shots on set may have allowed for a more holistic take on the material, but the other players' contributions should not be underestimated. Pierson won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay and, according to Lumet, "he deserved it" (Lumet 34).
Upon its September 1975 release, Dog Day Afternoon received almost universal acclaim from the major critics, with much of the praise falling upon the film's darkly hilarious dialogue and Pacino's moving performance as Sonny. "The interactions between Pacino and other key characters are magnificently written, acted and directed," writes the staff of Variety. Pacino had established himself as something of a critic's delight by this point, having earned their allegiance early on with his performance as a heroin addict in 1971's The Panic in Needle Park. "[Sonny] becomes one of the most interesting modern movie characters, ranking with Gene Hackman's eavesdropper in The Conversation and Jack Nicholson's Bobby Dupea in Five Easy Pieces," writes Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times). The film went on to earn five Academy Award nominations, including one for Pacino, though its only win was for Pierson's screenplay. The film found box office success as well, capitalizing on its broad and timely cultural appeal to earn $50 million off of a $1.8 million budget (Lumet became notorious for finishing productions under budget, having picked up a tendency for thrift during his time spent working in television.). The movie holds up to this day, and stands tall as some of Sidney Lumet's finest and most culturally impactful work, providing poignant commentary on the modern era's exploitative media and the humanness behind seemingly absurd behavior.
"The televised image certifies the reality of events and, at the same time, removes them by equating their meaning to that of the commercials-the cheerful haiku-that frames them."-Vincent Canby; New York Times
Canby included the above piece of wisdom in his 1969 review of Medium Cool, an extraordinarily meta film about the media's role in inciting politically-charged events. I would argue that it applies more accurately to Dog Day Afternoon, in which a man finds both a voice and an audience by lashing out at the world, only to realize that his actions represent little more than a distracting freak show on the periphery of a hot summer afternoon. The public values him and Sal based upon their entertainment value and little else. The local media feeds this furnace of exploitation to feverish heights for the sake of its own ratings, simultaneously piquing the public's interest in the story and preventing them from seeing the relatable truths behind it. The public sees a man madly screaming "Attica!" and hurling money at riotous crowds. They see a man crazy enough to have a drag marriage presided by a defrocked priest. What they do not see is Sonny Wortzik, a loving husband and father who grew disenchanted with life and wanted one last shot at changing things for himself and for others.
Lumet wastes no time in setting the tone for this humanization, opening the film with a montage of everyday events in order to achieve the opposite effect of the media's sensationalism. The five-minute opening credit sequence (featuring the aforementioned "Amoreena," a moseying tune with lyrics about everyday life) serves to set the film's overall feeling of normalcy. Instead of building up tension toward the bank robbery, we barely even notice when it has started. As city noises begin to drown out the music, Lumet transitions seamlessly from hidden-camera footage of New York City to a shot of Sonny, Sal and Stevie sitting in a car outside the bank. "They seemed like just one more shot of a group of people on that oppressive summer day in New York," writes Lumet (Lumet 57). This visual aesthetic provides the viewer with no choice but to acknowledge that these are normal people, not unlike the ones shown immediately beforehand.
While much debate amongst film academics goes into the definitions of Realism and Expressionism, Lumet has said that Dog Day Afternoon's aesthetic falls more along the lines of "naturalism," or "as close to documentary filmmaking as one can get in a scripted movie" (Lumet 54). In some ways, this approach provides for fewer esoteric conversations regarding shot composition and imagery. It makes Dog Day Afternoon entirely different from a more expressionist work like Citizen Kane, in which nearly every freeze frame tells a subliminal story. Lumet and Kemper craft a visual narrative that observes the characters and events without necessarily commenting on them; the camera draws as little attention to itself as possible. This commitment to naturalism demanded that Lumet and Kemper use no artificial lighting (the only lights used to shoot inside the bank were the ceiling fluorescents), shoot exclusively on location and-for many of the indoor sequences-use handheld cameras. They could have easily shot the film in a more conventional manner complete with neorealist imagery and archetypes, but Lumet believes that style stems from "organic connection to the material" (Lumet 51). Of course, for him, this meant a visual story that matched the narrative one, which itself shows the humanity behind a so-called freak. He could not further sensationalize Sonny's actions. On the contrary, he attempted to reverse the damage the media had already done.
As the credit sequence comes to its conclusion, we find ourselves observing what quickly establishes itself as a bank robbery. Stevie (Gary Springer) walks casually, hands-in-pockets back to a beat-up car in which Sonny and Sal sit. He says something inaudible to Sonny, who proceeds to shut off the radio (implying the characters could hear "Amoreena," yet another example of Lumet's dedication to naturalism), prompting Sal to walk up to the bank, take one more look back at the car for self-assurance, and enter the building. Exterior shots of the bank show its guard (John Marriott) lowering the flag and locking the doors behind customers, implying that the bank will soon close for the day. Sonny-with a suspiciously long package under his arm-and Stevie enter the bank, putting in motion history's most prolonged failure of a heist.
These early moments with our protagonists prove instrumental both in terms of characterization and in making obvious their impending doom. As Lumet writes, "Inevitability is the key... The script must keep you off balance, keep you surprised, entertained, involved, and yet, when the denouement is reached, still give you the sense that the story had to turn out that way" (Lumet 31). Sonny and Sal hurdle toward their self-made ruin, which makes itself obvious as soon as the former fumbles around when withdrawing his rifle from its packaging. Sal projects a stoic intensity that seems to suggest barbarism akin to that of Hannibal Lecter, but will later reveal itself as something else entirely. Stevie then gets cold feet and-in a move surely designed to establish the film's comedic tone-rushes out without even thinking to leave the keys to the getaway car with Sonny. All of hope of a successful robbery seems lost, but wait! Sonny quickly goes about reestablishing a cool professionalism that matches his two-piece suit. He makes a series of quick-witted moves, suggesting an intelligence that seems contradictory to his already long list of screw-ups. "We'll just move it right along," Sonny says repeatedly, presumably to reassure Sal and himself that they are still in control of the situation. Pacino runs back and forth across the bank floor with a bug-eyed intensity, drawing the blinds then blacking out the cameras to prevent video transmission. When the bank manager goes to open the vault, Sonny barks at him not to trip the alarm using the "spot key." A spot key? How many people know what that is, let alone how to differentiate it from the real key? He similarly rejects the head teller's (Penelope Allen) attempt at giving him decoy money. Sonny soon reveals that he used to work in a bank and that he is a "Catholic so [he] doesn't want to hurt anybody," thus flipping the audience's initial assumptions about him and quickly turning him into a puzzle that the viewer is asked to dissect. "Sonny is many things and wants to be all things," Ebert writes (Chicago Sun-Times). Sonny seems to think this of himself as well; he at one point declares, "I know a lot about a lot of things." Lumet and Co. proceed to reveal those "things" to the viewer in a manner befitting of the film's quasi-documentary trappings.
As previously stated, the film makes obvious the bank robbery's failure to the viewers, even if they are not aware of the events it is based upon. After burning the registry in another example of his recurring foolishness, Sonny gets a phone call from a group of policemen in the building across the street. "We've got you right by the balls," says Sergeant Eugene Moretti (Charles Durning). "You don't believe me? I'm looking at you right now. Right now I can see you." An immediate look of panic in his eyes, Sonny glances through the window and sees a stereotypically fattened cop pointing at him. While the screenplay does not reveal how the cops came to know of the robbery, Kluge's original story details a conversation in which Mulvaney (Sully Boyar) sends a coded SOS while on the phone with a client. As Moretti and Sonny converse, the camera does not immediately opt for the standard reverse-angle shots that filmmakers usually use to dramatize conversations, but instead stays with Sonny to keep the faux-documentary's focus consistent. "Look, I told you to get out of here while you could, but you just had to hang around," barks Mulvaney. Sonny and Sal drop to the ground in despair, but their story has hardly begun, and is yet to become media frenzy.
As the narrative progresses, Sonny and Sal's character development occurs in two arcs that seem to contradict one another: via their exchanges with the other characters and the local media's (as well as the authorities') attempts to uncover their backstories. Lumet's viewers get to know the complex man that Sonny is simply by observing his uneven behavior. He first tells the police that he will "start throwing bodies out the front door" if they approach the bank and uses his status as a Vietnam War veteran (supposedly, though this is likely untrue of Sal since he admits to never having flown in an airplane) to validate this threat, but he then allows the bank's employees to take phone calls with their loved ones and even use the bathroom. "He's the kind of man who would take care of you," Pierson once said of Sonny (Rapf). Sonny verifies this statement repeatedly, as he makes sure to cater to his "hostages," even going as far as to order them pizza and teach them rifle twirling. Sal's seemingly ice-cold demeanor similarly fails to hold up under scrutiny once he reveals his silence to simply be isolation when he suggests that he and Sonny shoot themselves. The accessibility of these two becomes even more apparent once Sonny calls into question his own opinion about whether or not the authorities are the good guys. "They'll shoot you, you know? The see what they did in Attica? 42 people they killed, the innocent with the guilty" he says to Mulvaney. The film seems to affirm this point when, just a few minutes later, incompetent police officers nearly shoot an asthmatic security guard as he exits the bank.
At this moment, the turning point occurs in which the media makes Sonny into a local celebrity, giving him the power to captivate the attention of nearly everyone in New York City. Meaningful high-angle shots show both police and media helicopters alike flying overhead, symbolically linking the two. The camera cuts to Pacino, who barks back and forth with Moretti in one of the most intense improvised confrontations ever set to film. In the meantime, buses full of armed policemen arrive, adding to the purposefully absurd number of them already on the scene. Realizing he can call the shots for perhaps the first time in his life, Sonny runs back and forth like a Shakespearean protagonist delivering his soliloquy. "Get back there!" he yells, pointing at a cop. "He wants to kill me so bad he can taste it! Attica! Attica! Tell them to put their guns down! Put your guns down!" The newly formed mob cheers, screaming "Attica" in call and response. Then, in an oft-overlooked but powerful moment, Sonny proclaims, "If it wasn't for the TV guys they'd kill us all!" In a perfect example of intentional sequencing, the film then cuts to Sonny's parents watching the news coverage on television, affirming that the media does in fact alter the course of events for everyone involved. Sonny's mother was watching live coverage of her son's tragic downfall from the comfort of her own living room. This serves to reveal to the film's viewers an essential component of Sonny's character (his Freudian mother issues) while contrasting this inside knowledge with what the news anchor tells the public. This type of juxtaposition occurs again after Pacino's second outdoor demonstration. Lumet chooses to cut to Sonny's wife Angie Wortzik at home with her two kids, ranting about how crazy her husband has been acting lately. The pieces of his character start to come together for the film's viewers, but the public still sees only a charismatic bank robber. Sonny has become an instant celebrity, impregnable because of the public's irrational obsession with him. He feels the power this gives him and capitalizes upon it as much as possible, needlessly yelling slander at the policemen to draw a response from the crowd. Even the bank's head teller panders to the audience when Moretti tries to keep her outside. "They're my girls, I'm going back in there!" she says, with a smile and a wave to the laughing crowd. She excitedly runs back into the bank to brag to her "girls" about her live television interview. If this wholesome, maternal character is controlled by a desire for any small amount of fame, then surely all of us are.
Sonny soon recognizes that he does not possess a real voice to speak to the people, as evidenced by his declaration to a newscaster: "I'm here with my partner and nine other people, and we're dying, man. You're going to see our brains on the sidewalk. They're going to spill our guts out, and you're going to show that on television, have all your housewives watch it instead of As the World Turns?" Sonny knows that he and Sal represent a freak show to the public and little else.
Small bits of character development continue to occur within the bank, including Sal's insistence that cigarettes "taint the temple of the Lord," but the true shock to the film's viewers as well as to the onlookers within the film comes when Leon arrives. It's important that Lumet and Co. choose to deliver this information to both audiences at once. The film's viewers find themselves shocked at first, just like the mob of onlookers, but we then get the joy of peeling back the layers of Sonny's complexity. We see the media's coverage of the revelation and the aforementioned photo of Leon in his wedding dress. The newscaster then cuts to a commercial break and says, "We'll be right back with coverage of two homosexuals robbing a bank." In a particularly funny reaction, Sal whines to Sonny about the false reporting. The news station has no basis to assume Sal was also gay, and yet they say it anyway to stoke the public's interest in the event. As Bob Dylan famously said in an interview with Time magazine, "They've got too much to lose by printing the know that!"
In Dog Day Afternoon's tragic last act, Lumet allows the viewer to more fully comprehend Sonny's motivations, imbuing the character with nearly universal accessibility in order to critique the media's dangerous tendency to distort the reality behind events. The camera follows Sonny through a sequence of two phone calls: one to Leon, and the second to his wife Angie. The first is a desperate plea for forgiveness, an apology for failure and a sorrowful goodbye, while the second is resentfully done out of a sense of obligation ("the kind of man who would take care of you"). With Leon, we feel Sonny's love come through in an honest and affecting way, as the back-and-forth close-ups of Sarandon and Pacino tell a powerful narrative simply via facial expressions. Lumet filmed this scene twice in back-to-back unbroken takes to build up Pacino's level of emotion as much as possible. "By the end of the second take, Al didn't know where he was anymore," Lumet writes. "His eyes locked into mine and he burst into tears, then slumped over the desk he had been sitting at" (Lumet 122). This level of raw emotion provokes a visceral reaction in the viewer, creating an instant sense of connectedness to Sonny that is more deeply personal than anything the media could ever convey, as if it would ever want to. The similarly affecting Last Will speech that Pacino delivers serves the same function of providing insight to the film's viewers that the mob outside the bank could not hope to comprehend. At this point, their sole relationship to the event is still just the initial shock of learning about Sonny's homosexuality. Visually, we see this when-after the phone call scene-the camera cuts to the street, where gay rights activists chant "Out of the closets and into the streets!" Viewers of the film can see the depths of Sonny's complexity, but the public remains fixated on his sexuality because of the media's sensationalist coverage.
Many people would argue that the film's most important message lies in its anti-establishment ideals, which make themselves apparent in the portrayal of the police force as inept public servants who oppress the people. The cops' stupidity shines through on multiple occasions, including when they let an angry bystander through the barricade to tackle Sonny, or when the tactical unit behind the bank fails to communicate to the ones out front that they are going to try to sneak through the back window. This messaging culminates with the film's denouement, when a lieutenant brutally shoots Sal-with whom the audience sympathizes-in the face (A conscious decision on Lumet's part to alter what happened in real life, in which they shot him in the chest). I do not argue against this reading of the film, as I think it works alongside my critique of modern media to comprise effective social commentary. However, I do believe that Dog Day Afternoon functions best as a critique of the media's sensationalism and man's obsession with fame. It is a deeply human portrayal of someone whom the public may mistakenly label an outcast, or as Lumet puts it, "Freaks are not the freaks we think they are. We are much more connected to the most outrageous behavior than we know or admit" (Lumet 14).

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver(1976)

"I have learned more about America from riding in taxi cabs than from all the limos in all the country," declares presidential candidate Sen. Charles Palantine, eschewing sincerity for an ironically condescending tone he uses to convince low-income voters of his populist, every-man platform. In the conversation that follows, Palantine attempts to empathize with Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), the eponymous anti-hero of Martin Scorsese's 1976 film, Taxi Driver. He asks Bickle what he thinks is the biggest problem with America, to which he responds, "The filth... The president should just flush this whole mess right down the fucking toilet." Palantine, in a falsified gesture befitting of a politician, politely ends the conversation before turning to his associates to laugh about Bickle's nonsensical response. Cut to the next scene, and a twelve-year-old prostitute hops into the very same seat in which Palantine sat, and she screams at Bickle to drive off immediately to help her escape her pimp.
The juxtaposition of these two scenes underscores a political message that frequently recurs throughout the film's two-hour duration: the idealism of politics and mainstream culture versus America's darker actualities, embodied by the streets which Bickle observes nightly through the tint of his taxi's windows. Palantine remains convinced that he understands the state of America and its "normal" people (the wage-earners, the laborers, the cab drivers, etc.), while an entirely darker reality exists under the one he conjures. The American people presented in the film cling to the hopeful rhetoric of false prophets such as Palantine, choosing to believe that the worst issues facing America lie in poor foreign policy and unfair income distribution. They turn a blind eye to the individuals deeply affected by systematic flaws, thus choosing to ignore the disturbed nature of men such as Travis Bickle. The negative effects of the public's forcible disillusionment are compounded by their fetishizing of violence, shown by the ultimate tabloid glorification of Travis's massacre. These dangerous misconceptions about the American Dream and about what is important in society result in Travis's circular character arc.
The audience's perception of Palantine proves itself largely underdeveloped, as Scorsese never gives us an overt opinion on him. As the narrator and the viewers' only real frame of reference, Travis Bickle proves useless in forming a stance on Palantine. Travis repeatedly says, "Well, you know I don't follow political issues that closely," leaving the audience to assume that he formed his initially supportive view of Palantine merely to get closer to the woman of his dreams, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). That being said, Palantine clearly works hard to maintain the façade of the average Joe's politician, a unifying figure who can re-instill hope in the American Dream and service people of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds (not unlike Bobby Kennedy). His main conceit, of course, is that he himself leads a privileged life and cannot possibly count himself among those included in his campaign slogan, "We Are the People." Even the volunteers working in his office clearly come from privileged backgrounds, judging by their appearances and by the fact that they can afford to work full-time without pay. And yet, Charles Palantine claims to be a part of the people's "struggle," and ensures widespread reform across issues involving the military, poverty and race relations.
Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader never let us forget how absurd it is that this amount of idealism exists within a film narrated by a neurotic war veteran who likely suffers from PTSD. This contradiction never really lets the audience find ay truth in Palantine's inspiring rhetoric. For example, a tracking shot through the audience at the Columbus Circle rally focuses on the torsos of individual supporters, finally settling on the instantly recognizable Army surplus jacket of one Travis Bickle. From this angle, he looks like just another body in the crowd, until he pops open his pill bottle and knocks another couple back as the camera tilts upward to show his face, an act that immediately sets him apart from the crowd, but is further emphasized by his radically altered appearance. De Niro sports a devilish grin and a Mohican-style Mohawk, a hairstyle change that he and Scorsese decided upon after learning that the Special Forces in Vietnam adopted it for dangerous missions. His freakish appearance and casual pill-popping distinguish Bickle as one who does not fit within Palantine's vision of the American people. Scorsese could have opted to portray Travis as just another face in the crowd, but instead he chooses to visually set him apart from the rest. It is a stark juxtaposition between the candidate's self-assured speech and the would-be assassin's psychotic mannerisms, but one that Scorsese repeatedly emphasizes to show the disconnect between mainstream America's political idealism and the uglier realities of life.
The public's self-imposed ignorance to the existence of men such as Bickle proves dangerous on its own, but it immediately becomes a ticking time bomb when coupled with their fetishizing of violence. The Americans presented in the film believe in the heroism of John Wayne and of other lone wolf gunslingers (as evidenced by the hero worship Bickle receives after the massacre), yet they have no conception of how this reverence impacts a man like Travis. Taxi Driver's sultry, jazzy score at times echoes the backing music of the porn films Travis sits through, and at times invokes horror film-esque insanity, but it also obscures the Western narrative intrinsic to Bickle's character arc. Travis is undoubtedly a loner, a man incapable of human connection and one perceived as a complete freak by "normal" people. While he establishes some sort of relationship with Iris (Jodie Foster), he completely sabotages his chances with Betsy by taking her to a dirty movie on their first date. I would argue that Travis's subconscious drives Betsy away on purpose, because he wants to believe in his vision of the world, that he alone stands above the mess (In an interview, Scorsese said Travis envisions himself as an "avenging angel."). "I see now that she is just like the others," he narrates.
His failure with Betsy-intentional or otherwise¬-allows Travis to condemn the world in its entirety and assign himself the deadly purpose of killing off the "scum" in one final, Western shootout-style scene. The film's tagline reads, "On every street in every city, there's a nobody who dreams of being a somebody." The concept of the American Dream and the public's negative perception of outsiders force Travis to find his own means of becoming "somebody," and he does so by capitalizing on the public's violent fetishes. First, though, he convinces himself that he must transform himself into the killing machine that will most captivate the public's eye. He begins this process by purchasing guns.
"You should see what a .44 Magnum can do to a woman's pussy," declares a deranged taxi passenger (portrayed by Martin Scorsese himself) early on in the film. From that point on, Bickle comes to associate the weapon with the masculine hero he intends to embody. When he meets with the sleazy gun salesman, he immediately asks, "You have a .44 Magnum?". At this point in time, the gun itself had already made its way into pop culture and taken its position as the weapon of choice for the Western hero. In the original Dirty Harry film, Clint Eastwood (a man whose masculinity has, on multiple occasions, been the subject of academic literature) calls the .44 Magnum, "The most powerful gun in the world, and it will blow your head clean off." Again, it is no accident that Travis chooses this particular gun out of all the possibilities. To him, the .44 Magnum is a vital ingredient in his recipe for creating a violent persona that will make him somebody by captivating the public's deranged sense of heroics. On a visual level, this obsession with the gun presents itself almost immediately following the interaction with the gun salesman, as the audience finds themselves alone with Travis in his run-down apartment. With his newly muscled body on full display, De Niro stands facing the mirror, which happens also to be where the camera rests. He repeatedly draws and pretends to fire the .44 out of an ancient leather holster right out of a Sergio Leone film. Add in the Bowie knife he eventually uses to stab the timekeeper's hand, and not a single person could doubt Bickle's intense, heroic masculinity. Imagery of the .44 Magnum also pops up in the tracking shot of the massacre's aftermath (one rests at Travis' feet, and a bloodied one lies in Sport's hand), further likening the scene to a Western shootout via visual contextualization.
An alternate reading of the film explains Travis' need for violent behavior as his form of release, something he finds himself unable to attain through sexual means. At one point, the Wizard (Peter Boyle) suggests Travis let out some of his anxiety by "getting laid or getting drunk," a suggestion that Travis barely seems to register. Soon after the audience meets Travis, we find him in a porn theatre, half-heartedly hitting on the lady working the concessions stand and then disinterestedly viewing the action onscreen, as the voiceover narration rambles on about his insomnia. Travis only seems to find arousal in the porn theatre once he has purchased his guns, when Scorsese interjects a shot of De Niro pretending to shoot at the actors onscreen. This theory of Travis finding some sort of orgasmic release through violence provides an interesting insight into the narrative of the film. It leaves open the possibility that, if he could let off anxiety through sexual means, perhaps he would have ended up just "making it" with Iris instead of feeling the need to violently save the damsel in distress by killing her captors.
However, the possibility remains that the idea of Travis utilizing violence to capture the public's attention and make himself "somebody" can work hand-in-hand with the theory of him using it for release. If Travis ultimately wanted to find identity or meaning through attention and notoriety, then he achieved his goal. The public, as one could have expected, glorified Travis's actions. The tabloid headlines on his apartment wall read, "Taxi Driver Battles Gangsters" and "Taxi Driver Hero to Recover," instead of "Psychotic Loner Murders Three People." However, if he wanted release, then that means his character arc is caught in a cycle (repression, anxiety, then release) implying that he will have a violent outburst again. Paul Schrader once said that he thinks if you attached the end of the film to its beginning, it would still make sense in terms of character arc. "Travis is not going to be a hero next time," Schrader said. Visually, this is supported by the film's first and last shots of Travis Bickle. In each of them, the audience sees only his eyes as framed by the rearview mirror of his taxi, a slight red hue imbuing the image with a sense of doom.
Whether Travis wants release or glorification almost does not matter, as it does not change the film's underlying political messages. The public forcibly disillusions itself into believing the false of idealism of insincere politicians, effectively ignoring both the darker realities of street life and the twisted minds of social outcasts. This blindness coupled with the American people's obsession with violent, masculine heroics creates a pressure cooker in the minds of men like Travis Bickle, and on a broader level reflects the inequities inherent in American society.

12 Years a Slave

As the credits began to roll and the lights came up, my sister turned to me and-with tears pouring down her face-said, "How can we talk about anything apart from how awful people must have to be to let that kind of thing happen?" Her point is a good one, in that history classes often brush over the gory details of the atrocities America has committed throughout its seemingly glorious existence. From internment camps to atomic bombs, Vietnam to Iraq, our country has time and time again allowed or directly caused actions in violation with the Liberal rights we hold so near and dear. Slavery, in the institutionalized form that the South implemented, stands at the forefront of that list as an example of pure injustice; a system that attempted to strip human beings of both their personhood and dignity in a manner that is hard to fathom-that is, without a film like 12 Years a Slave. The piece bears the heavy burden of providing a stark portrayal of an important (but rarely spoken of) period in American history. It succeeds on all counts, and its weight and importance almost allow it to transcend criticism, except that praise should be given where praise is due.

Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) directs the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man-and excellent violinist--living in 19th century New York with his wife and two children. Two con artists trick Northup into playing with a band of travelling performers in Washington, D.C.; but before he gets the opportunity to do so, they drug, kidnap and enslave him, delivering him to Georgia by way of a reverse-Underground Railroad. Once there, he is bought by a relatively compassionate slave owner (Benedict Cumberbatch) before being relocated to a harsher owner (Michael Fassbender) after a scuffle with one of his overseers (Paul Dano).

The narrative contributes greatly to the film's impact, as McQueen tells the story through the eyes of a man who has not grown up around the atrocities of slavery; and thus he views the events after having been stripped of his rights and freedoms and thrown into systematic abuse. The fact that Solomon once knew freedom gives his story a more visceral effect upon the audience than if he had been born into slavery. As he says in the film, "I don't want to survive; I want to live." A born-slave could not comprehend the difference.

The cast and crew here are in top form. McQueen directs with a heavy hand, but knows when to step back and let actors do the work, frequently relying on long, steady shots of powerful imagery that will burn themselves into the minds of the audience. He also chooses to make every movement physically felt by viewers, as every sound effect of a chain hitting the ground, a man choking to death or a woman being whipped, is accompanied only by silence. There is no sound mixing or underscoring involved in these moments, and the viewer is transported into them.

Ejiofor, as most every critic has noted, gives a powerhouse performance that proves vital in relaying to the audience the fear, isolation and pain inflicted upon slaves. He does a lot of work with his eyes, and this proves a valuable asset for the innumerable extended close-ups that McQueen implements.
The supporting cast, as is to be expected when reading the names of the talent involved, is nearly flawless. Cumberbatch plays a half-decent person for once, and gives a nuanced portrayal of the ultimate dichotomy: a slave-owner of good character and integrity. It's a complex portrait, as it really does raise the question of, "Can he be a good man if he is also a slave-owner? Can we blame the time period for that?". Dano-with his infinitely punchable face--once again proves his ability to play slimy, disgusting creatures. Fassbender turns in a frighteningly intense performance as a vicious slave owner who abuses his slaves in unspeakable ways ("There is no sin; man does as he pleases with his property"). I did notice the Irish actor's accent leak through a few times, but it did not detract from the power of his performance.

Alas, we have reached my one complaint of the film. Brad Pitt. Oh Brad, what to do with you. I realize his production of the film helped it come to fruition, but his presence onscreen does little else besides distract from the film's potency. I actually used his name as a selling point to convince my sister to come see the movie with me, but afterward she said, "Well, Brad Pitt came in on a white horse just to save the day." That about sums it up. Toward the end of the film, Pitt comes on to play a wannabe abolitionist who aids in (SPOILER) Solomon's freeing. Pitt can't hold his own against Fassbender or Ejiofor, and his casting detracts from the viewer's immersion. I suppose his casting will have been worth it if his name convinces people to go out and see this film.

Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o turns in a moving performance as Patsey, the sexually abused "Queen Slave" who loses her will to live. She's not featured at all in the ads campaign, but I hope Nyong'o receieves credit where it's due come awards season.

I can hardly think of a film more powerful and affecting than 12 Years a Slave, and that makes it worth viewing, although it is not always fun to watch. My advice would be to take a friend or loved one and have a long discussion about it afterward, as it is a masterwork that you will not be able to get out of your head for a long time.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

It's probably too crass to take your grandmother to, but Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a hell of a good time for everyone else. While it gets lost a few times trying to find an effective narrative, the ingenious idea of pulling Jackass stunts without letting bystanders know what's going on is a brilliant one. Knoxville and Co. definitely deliver on the poop and sex jokes, though if you're looking for a higher level of humor, then you've come to the wrong place. Jackson Nicoll, who plays Billy in the film, basically asserts himself as the coolest kid ever and shows a real talent for improvisational comedy. While it sometimes thinks it's funnier than it is and many of its jokes fall flat, Bad Grandpa is a lot of fun and is fucking hysterical when it hits the mark.

Thor: The Dark World

A serviceable entry into the Marvel cannon, Thor: The Dark world improves upon the original but falls short of some of the other Avengers' solo films (the first Iron Man, namely, and potentially Winter Soldier, though we'll have to wait and see for that one). Hemsworth has really come into his own this year, with a remarkable turn in Rush and an extremely self-assured third performance as the titular God of Thunder.

The narrative, like everything else in the film, is merely serviceable, as it's a clear ploy to bring Loki to the forefront whenever possible. Thankfully, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as Hiddleston gives yet another deliciously evil portrayal of the charismatic prankster. The dynamic between him and Thor is, as always, the highlight of the film. Sadly, this skewed focus pushes Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), playing the film's villain Malekith, out of the picture too often. Eccleston is an actor on par with Hiddleston, and yet the filmmakers hardly give him anything significant to chew on. Although it goes without mentioning, Natalie Portman (Black Swan) once again looks as if she's mentally cashing in her paycheck every time she's onscreen, effectively dampening an otherwise solid cast, rounded out by the hilarious team of Stellan Skarsgard (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist). And thank God for Idris Elba (Pacific Rim), who's an absolutely magnetic screen presence even in mediocre films.

Overall, the fast-paced script and popcorn thrills make Thor 2 a solid viewing experience, and the screenwriters even manage to throw in a few clever plot twists. Make sure to--as always with Marvel films--hang around until after the credits.

Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks acts as the driving force behind this powerhouse thriller, which manages to get to the heart of terrifying real life events.

Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy; Bourne Ultimatum) directs with his signature "documentary" style cinematography (fitting, considering he began his film career making actual documentaries). The style contributes well to the tone of the film, as it hurls the audience directly into the middle of the action, giving the relatively trivial events a sense of both gravity and immediacy. In some of his other films (I'm thinking, in particular, of The Green Zone), the technique has alienated the audience from some of the emotional impact of the narrative, but somehow Greengrass avoids that shortcoming on this go-round. While the screenplay fumbles a bit at the beginning trying to establish a backstory for our protagonist (Tom Hanks literally says something along the lines of, "I love my two kids and wife," just to introduce the fact that he has a family to the audience), once the action picks up, be prepared for your heart to operate at twice its normal speed for the next hour and a half.

While the direction and tangibility of the events certainly contribute to the film's effectiveness, the affect of the performances cannot be understated. The Somali actors (Barkhad Abdi, in particular) bring real heart to their performances, breaking through to the psyche of their real life counterparts. And lastly, Tom Hanks makes a triumphant return to dramatic fare with a powerhouse performance as the film's titular hero. The camera almost never leaves him, and he keeps us riveted and utterly invested for the entire ride. While I don't want to spoil any plot turns for those who have yet to see the film (or aren't aware of the events it was based on), I will say that his performance during the last ten minutes is some of the best acting he's done in years.

Ender's Game
Ender's Game(2013)

While it lacks the emotional punch that it repeatedly tries to hit, Ender's Game is a high-concept sci-fi thriller with a brain behind it. The editing keeps the movie fast-paced while the writers manage to incorporate more than enough witty quips to keep things light. Where the movie falters, though, is when its writers try to forcibly interject emotional appeal via cheesy dialog. These scenes add nothing to the impact or the narrative, and they bring down otherwise powerful performances from the young cast, who for the most part manage to elevate a mediocre script into something special.

I could also complain that the film thinks it's smarter than it actually is, as it repeatedly tries to hammer in some commentary on colonialism/terraforming/the cost of war, but I didn't mind that much as it didn't get in the way of the narrative or the performances.

While Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld and Moises Arias all deserve praise for their performances, I found Abigail Breslin's presence distracting. Similarly, while Harrison Ford and Viola Davis round out an impressive ensemble of adult actors, Ben Kingsley was clearly on auto-pilot. While he was acting, I could almost see his thoughts through the expression on his face: "What am I going to buy with my paycheck?".

Overall, Ender's Game is a solidly acted sci-fi thriller with well-directed set pieces and a compelling narrative.

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine(2013)

This truly is a new Renaissance for Woody Allen. After more than a few mediocre entries into his filmography over the last decade, he finally seems to have hit his stride again. In Blue Jasmine, Woody takes a bleaker outlook on life than his fans may be accustomed to, but the film has a powerful voice and is held in focus by a superb performance from Cate Blanchett, who plays possibly the most hatable/annoying character Allen has ever written. While the film has a lot to say about love and marriage, its thematic elements also have a strong undercurrent of "life doesn't alway turn out how you want it to." Which is certainly more relatable to someone such as myself.
While the script gets bogged down and distracted by some silly side characters (Allen somehow manages to misuse Louis C.K.), it mostly retains its focus and is buoyed by Allen-brand dialog and strong performances by its cast (particularly Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard).

Intolerable Cruelty

Frustratingly tame for a Coen brothers film, Intolerable Cruelty foregoes the brothers' trademark zaniness (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading, Raising Arizona, etc.) for a more predictable brand of humor. While Clooney and Zeta-Jones both give strong performances (was this where the Clooney Renaissance began?), they're stuck in a movie that plays it safe and only rarely makes the leap from "good" to "great".
To be fair, the "tameness" may be the result of the Coens sharing screenplay credits with two other writers. Nonetheless, I found myself having a difficult time enjoying the film knowing that the talent involved is capable of so much more. Especially frustrating is catching glimpses of "Coenisms" (quirky supporting characters/bizarre character deaths), and then watching the script retreat into safer territory.
While it's worth watching for its witty banter and top-notch acting, (Geoffrey Rush and Richard Jenkins both make delightful turns) Intolerable Cruelty is ultimately a disappointing entry into the Coen filmography.


Woody Allen's love letter to New York City is as beautiful as its namesake. Focusing on day-to-day interactions, Manhattan plays more as a series of interesting conversations with relatable characters than as a narrative, very much in the vein of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Like Hemingway, Allen has the most remarkable gift for writing dialog. With Manhattan he crafts such organic conversations that one would think they were improvised rather than scripted. While the film embraces the corny side of romantics to mixed degrees of success, it also strikes at the heart of everyday life and resonates deeply on an emotional level. Allen crafted an unforgettable, nearly flawless film that will never be outdated.

2 Guns
2 Guns(2013)

While 2 Guns' plot is formulaic (and somehow simultaneously confusing), Washington and Wahlberg have brilliant chemistry, providing for witty banter and plenty of laughs. 2 Guns is old school escapist fare, and the Washington/Wahlberg duo leads the audience through the film's stupid ass plot with ease, making the script's weaknesses forgivable. Director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband) has yet to prove to me that he can direct unique or even exciting set pieces, as 2 Guns features some extraordinarily bland and predictable action scenes. Nonetheless, Washington has once again proven that he can singlehandedly elevate an awful film into a pretty good one.

Fruitvale Station

Managing to both paint an honest portrait of its protagonist and condemn the injustice that allowed his death, Fruitvale Station is that rare dramatic film that hits every note right. It's engaging as a narrative and powerful as propaganda, but writer-director Ryan Coogler takes it one step deeper. He portrays Oscar as an extremely flawed man with a darker past than most people. A man who's good at heart, but whose flaws contribute to his downfall. A man who loves and protects his family, but also fools around with other women. A man who wants an honest job, but smokes weed in his car and shows up late to work. A man who doesn't truly grasp the harshness of his own reality. His only certainty is his love for his daughter. Coogler packs this all into an engaging, well-paced script that maintains momentum despite its lack of narrative structure. And at the center of this masterwork is a powerhouse performance by Michael B. Jordan, an actor who shines even in comparison to the much more experienced Octavia Spencer, who plays Oscar's mother. While his performance--like the rest of the film--is not overly complicated, it is honest and brutal. Even though the audience anticipates the ending, it still hits with a visceral impact that won't leave a dry eye in the house. It's certainly a film that requires time to digest. Fruitvale Station is a powerful film that demands thought but also provides entertainment and opportunity for conversation.

The Way Way Back

Buoyed by its strong cast, The Way, Way Back succeeds as light entertainment despite its generic coming-of-age-indie trappings. At its surface level, the film has some well-written--though archetypal--characters memorably portrayed by strong actors (Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney seem to be having a particularly good time in their roles as a deadbeat and a middle-aged alcoholic, respectively). At this depth, the film doesn't miss a beat. The script is light and never slows up on the dialog, something writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are particularly adept at writing. Rockwell delivers monologue after monologue of some of the funniest material ever to grace the silver screen. Unfortunately, the film's contrived dramatic elements are laughable. Newcomer Liam James can't hold his ground in the dramatic scenes opposite his co-stars, and Faxon and Rash seem to not have even the slightest clue as to how to write/direct any powerful drama. It's this weakness that prevents the film from being a more memorable viewing experience, though it's definitely still worth a viewing if only for Rockwell and Janney.

The Wolverine

"Ronin." A samurai with no master. A soldier without a purpose. These labels are thrown at Logan (Hugh Jackman) as he spends the entirety of The Wolverine's first two acts wandering around Japan. Wolverine has long been an intriguing character, but until now, the X-Men films had almost stopped exploring his psyche after X2. He's a lone wolf who's only fear is harming those around him with his animalistic rage. And yet he cares deeply for other people, leading him to have an over-developed sense of justice that drives him throughout his eternity. It's a unique dichotomy that goes deeper than its Jekyll/Hyde roots. Every fanboy wants to know more about Wolverine and his epic backstory, but few understand the heart of the character as well as Bryan Singer. Which is why it comes as a pleasant surprise that director James Mangold manages to paint a complex portrait of Logan in The Wolverine.
The first two acts of the film find a broken Logan hiding himself away from the rest of the world. He killed the love of his life (Jean Grey-Famke Jansen) to save the world in X-Men 3, and he can no longer with the guilt. This haunting memory drives the narrative for the entire film via the much-criticized dream sequences in which Logan lies in bed with Jean, begging her to come back to him. While her lack of clothing in these scenes is certainly an odd directorial choice, these sequences really do work well in allowing the audience to understand Logan's thoughts and the weakness behind his bravado. As Wolverine faces a threat to his immortality, he struggles to find a reason to live, and this contemplativeness allows for a complex character study with an even more complex performance by Jackman. Hugh owns this character, and for good reason. He manages to both draw he audience in and keep them at a distance. The script smartly allows for many quieter moments that solidify Wolverine as the most interesting superhero in the genre.
While a character study is interesting for film fans and comic book geeks alike, this being a Hollywood blockbuster, it has to end in a drawn out, cartoonish 30-minute fight scene that absolutely contributes nothing to the story. This film completely collapses in its third act, falling prey to genre stereotypes of freakish, larger-than-life villains and stupid, foreseeable plot twists. The film avoids the usual narrative pitfalls of the Hollywood blockbuster for so long that it's an absolute shame that the last portion is so generic and plain idiotic. This film would have earned at least an 80% from Yours Truly were it not for the utter disgrace that is its Third Act. Bring Singer back. He knows how to direct a comic book fight sequence. Just check out X2 for the proof.

World War Z
World War Z(2013)

For the entirety of its opening act, World War Z doesn't miss a beat. It's taut, tense, gritty and atmospheric, creating the perfect backdrop for the rest of the film. Muse's pulsating, creepy-guitar-riffing score only adds to the realism that Forster quickly establishes.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the film does not live up to the precedent established by that first act. It slowly begins to come apart at the seams as one plot device after another forces our protagonist (Brad Pitt) into the role of "the only man who can save the universe from certain destruction but his motivation is keeping his family safe." It's a tired, rote plot structure that detracts from the immersive atmosphere that Forster & Co. so brilliantly craft. The final half hour is particularly painful, with redundant scenarios and a stupid-ass revelation by Pitt's character that allows him to save the world, but "only temporarily" (clear set-up for a sequel).
Weak plot structure aside, World War Z is fast-paced all the way through, never stopping to catch its breath, and never allowing the audience to catch theirs. Forster has a gift for crafting breathtaking set pieces; a skill he particularly shows off when wreaking havoc on the city of Jerusalem. Even when the movie start to lose its realistic/gritty feel, Pitt keeps it grounded with the familiarity of his bravado. He certainly turns in a remarkable performance in a film that he could have phoned in, but his effort makes all of the difference. He keeps the audience invested in the goings-on and made me interested enough in his character to want a sequel. If Forster can smooth out the bumps, World War Z 2 (hopefully it has a better title than that) could be one hell of a ride.

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)

I recently read an interesting column on "what makes a 'del Toro movie' a 'del Toro movie' ( The writer of the piece seems to think that the critics have it wrong: del Toro's style isn't solely dependent on crafting Spanish-language, allegorical fantasies in the vein of Pan's Labyrinth or The Devil's Backbone; it's about crafting immersive alternate universes that require more creativity to design than one human mind can possibly possess. And THAT, is the "wow" factor of his films, the underlying thread that elevates a story about a girl in the Spanish Civil War into a masterpiece of childhood wonderment. The same thread allows Hellboy to escape his comic book entrapments and burst onto the screen into a fully fleshed-out universe of colorful characters. This thread exists in Pacific Rim, but it's hidden by the lack of immersion the film requires.
With PR, del Toro keeps his audience at a distance. The characters have few relatable attributes and every actor (apart from Charlie Day and Idris Elba, who were both fantastic. Ron Perlman was fine in his twenty seconds of screen time) delivers a cringeworthy, corny performance. The strange thing is, the cast should have been up to the challenge. Del Toro casts his films well, and PR is no exception. Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) has leading man chops, but Del Toro undermines his every possible chance at bringing to life an interesting character by burying him with soapy dialog and an unrelatable melodrama of a backstory. And Jesus Christ, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) is the most goddamn annoying character ever to "grace" the silver screen. She's an archetypal Asian anime character, who frequently makes annoying sounds and is occasionally incomprehensible. Boy did del Toro miss the mark with her. She clogs the gears of an otherwise well-oiled film with her dumbass backstory and perpetual whining. Awful character, and awful casting.
The plot itself is about what you'd expect of del Toro. It's reasonably complex for a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters, but it also manages to stay out of the way and let the spectacle unfold. And boy is it worth it. The fight scenes--while repetitive, overlong and slightly exhausting--are visual marvels with a visceral impact. The score perfectly undertones the fights. They're works of art, plain and simple. They are del Toro at his best.

White House Down

Miles better than its doppelgänger--Olympus Has Fallen--White House Down stands tall amongst Roland Emmerich's filmography as an entry that's not just digestible, but damn entertaining. It's not as in-your-face-absurd as 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, and it doesn't have the same pacing issues as The Patriot. Emmerich nails the action-comedy vibe, as the film's tone seamlessly switches between intensity and hilarity. Foxx and Tatum have some great chemistry in their banter, and while the former's performance is less than presidential, the latter proves that his shoulders are more than broad enough to carry a movie of this size and scale. He definitely asserted himself as one to watch in 21 Jump Street, and his recent work with Soderbergh in conjunction with WHD has established him as an adept, charismatic leading man.
The movie smothers itself in cheese and clichés, but it manages to push past them--for the most part. Tatum's character--John Cale--has about as cliché of an action hero complex as possible. He's a maverick, he's non-commital and he consistently tries and fails to reconnect with his daughter and ex-wife. His exchanges with his daughter are painful and frankly unengaging. They weigh the film down with melodrama in search of depth, which is a mistake Hollywood studios seem to make over and over again. Nonetheless, thrilling set pieces and well-cast lead actors elevate an otherwise lousy film into a solid summer blockbuster.

The Heat
The Heat(2013)

Its weak, contrived storyline prevents The Heat from reaching classic-comedy-stature, but in other ways it also benefits the film. In search of depth, Hollywood comedies often get bogged down with depressing montages and self-deprecating characters (Bridesmaids). The Heat will have none of that, and instead lets Bullock's uptightness and McCarthy's bravado do the work. The result is a fast-paced, consistently hilarious, but ultimately forgettable comedic romp that borrows more than a few pages from older (and better) "buddy cop" movies like Die Hard 3, Midnight Run and--more recently--21 Jump Street. The movie only ever drags on the few occasions when it pauses to add melodrama-disguised-as-character-development, such as the revelation that Bullock's character is a foster child. And while we're mentioning negatives, Taren Killam (of SNL fame) is a complete failure in the movie, as the (SPOILER) plot twist that ultimately reveals him as the film's villain is foreseeable and distractingly contrived. And, not that he's given much to work with, but his performance is lacking as well.
Overall, a solid contribution to the genre in a year pretty devoid of comedies. It annoys me that Hollywood marketed this as "the female buddy cop movie," just as it marketed Bridesmaids as "the female Hangover." A feminist statement doesn't need to be made and then promoted. The movies speak for themselves.

Monsters University

Monsters University is hands down the best animated film of the year. From its stellar voicecast to its multifaceted characters to its witty script to its game-changing animation style, it seemingly has it all. Somehow, though, it still felt a little bland. Allow me to explain.
Pixar, as most of the world knows, was unstoppable for a long time. A streak of 11 incredible films, each finding its place in the pantheon of classics. Each one captures a sense of imaginative wonder and adventure, but no two are the same. Each one is immediately accessible through its brilliantly rendered universe and relatable themes, but NO TWO are the same. What made Pixar unique and seemingly unstoppable was not the immediate quality of its films; Monsters University has that in spades. Pixar was special because each film introduced a new universe for its audience to marvel at and long to be a part of. A world where toys secretly live and breathe. A world where bugs struggle to find their place in society. A world where superheroes live in hiding amidst us Muggles. These worlds were the childhood dreams that I never even had. It was as if Pixar could visually render the parts of our imaginations that we can't even access ourselves. Each one of those 11 films truly is an original masterpiece. Toy Story 2 and 3 did not merely capitalize upon the success of their predecessors. Each one of those films introduced us to new environments but made them accessible through the familiarity of old characters.
The issue with Monsters University is that it isn't a new world. It's not a brilliant allegory for the formative years of people's lives. It's a direct copy of those years. The Pixar team clearly has fun in this film taking stereotypes of the college experience (fraternity life, dorm living, etc.) and "monsterfying" them to make them fit into the world they so brilliantly rendered in 2001's Monsters Inc. While this provides for some good laughs and is a thematic element I can certainly relate to as a rising college freshman, it does not create a new world for the viewers. It capitalizes on the familiarity of the real world. It's a gimmick that is below Pixar.
That being said, if anyone can come close to pulling off such a gimmick, it's Pixar. The studio fills the world of MU with hilarious characters and spot-on Monsterfications of real-life college archetypes. What's more, the studio gets to an incredibly resonate theme that is deeper than it initially seems. As children, and especially as Americans, we're embedded with this idyllic belief that we can attain anything or be anyone if we work hard enough at it. Monsters University explores the reality of that misnomer: sometimes we're just not cut out for it and life will throw insurmountable roadblocks at us. That message really stuck with me and has cemented Mike Wazowski's status as one of my favorite Pixar characters. A truly brilliant theme that I can't applaud Pixar for enough.
If it had utilized the "New World" element, Monsters University would have been an outstanding return to form for Pixar. That being said, it's certainly a gigantic step in the right direction from Brave and Cars 2. Powerful themes and witty dialog abound, making MU one of the best animated films in recent memory.

Despicable Me 2

Depicable Me was a bit of a breath of fresh air for the animation industry, whichfor a long time seemed to consist of two types of films: the "we-take-animation-seriously-and-have-emotional-depth" Pixar offerings, and the rehashed vile every other studio brought to the table (with the occasional exception from Dreamworks, who made one of my favorite animated films of all time, How To Train Your Dragon). The original Despicable Me bridged the gap between those two categories. Sure, it had emotional depth and character development, but it also added comedic flare with witty dialog, juvenile humor and sight gags. In short, it is a film that is both relatable but also consistently fun to watch, unlike say, Pixar's Up, which insists on making its audience cry within the first ten minutes.
Despicable Me 2 fails to walk that same line and delivers a merely passable animated romp that scrapes by on its juvenile wit and strong voice cast. The character development and depth from the first film are gone, and few viewers will find anything to relate to in this film, which some may not have a problem with. After all, cinema is often more enjoyable as a form of escapism than as a reminder of one's everyday life. However, the absence of these elements ensures the film's monotonous tone. The film stays in Goofy Fast-Paced Overdrive for its entire runtime instead of ever pausing for a moment to reflect upon any meaning. This is most notable in the increased presence of the Minions (Gru's, well, minions), who seem to be overeager to take centerstage in their spinoff film next year. The Minions are funny and consistently hit the comedic mark, but frankly they get annoying and distract from the actual characters.
In spite of its lack of depth and tonal variance, Despicable Me 2 is hilarious escapist fare with yet another brilliant turn by Steve Carrell (Gru), who may prove himself to be the finest voice actor since Robin Williams.

Django Unchained

Packing a visceral punch with both its explosive (and occasionally disturbing, though rightfully so) action sequences and abrasive social commentary, Django Unchained represents an incendiary addition to Quentin's filmography.
The strong points of the film come in the form of the characters, from a witty German bounty hunter with moral depth (Christoph Waltz, in possibly the best character Tarantino has ever written) to a depraved house slave who turns his back on his own people (Samuel L. Jackson) to the titular freed slave (Jamie Foxx in top form) with a passion for his woman (Kerry Washington) and a hatred for slaveowners. Tarantino takes the characters past the archetypal and delves into not only their psyches but their motives, allowing for some brilliant standoffs.
Ordinarily, Tarantino movies succeed almost solely on their visual flair and abundant, witty dialog. While the former is there in spades (Blood spraying cotton? Brilliant.), the latter is in short supply in Django. From the Mexican standoff in Basterds to the diner scene in Pulp Fiction to the training sessions in Kill Bill, Tarantino's dialog has always been my favorite part of his movies. Granted, it may have been out of place in this so-called "Spaghetti Southern," but I would have appreciated a little more of the Quentin I know and love. Furthermore, that narrative of the film wanders and loses direction and purpose, especially toward the end. However, powerhouse performances, a kickass soundtrack, aesthetic vitality and overabundant commentary makes Django one hell of a ride for Tarantino fans and slavery haters alike (hopefully there's some overlap between those two).


Uniquely funny in an era of pop culture dominated by SNL-brand humor, Ted is a refreshing take on the stoner-bromance theme previously explored in Pineapple Express, I Love You, Man, etc. Bolstered by witty (and often grotesque) writing and direction from none other than Seth MacFarlane, Ted turns conventional storytelling on its head by injecting it with fiercely offensive humor. While the critics consensus is accurate in describing the film's screenplay as uneven, it fails to mention that this is because most of its humor derives from the bear himself, a flaw that is an unavoidable asymmetry. As Family Guy continues to run strong, one can only hope that MacFarlane and Co. find the time (and money) to make more films like Ted.


Savagely entertaining and surprisingly thought provoking, Oliver Stone's latest fable features effective commentary on human nature as well as some kick-ass performances from its delightfully eclectic cast. The script, while uneven, provides its actors with plenty of characterization and forceful dialog to boot. Whether it be Taylor Kitsch's war-hardened, morally reprehensible anti-hero, or John Travolta's slimy, status-obsessed DEA agent, Stone and Co. manage to create intriguing characters that perfectly bounce off of one another, allowing for some well-written banter. While Travolta once again pops up to remind us he can take on more serious roles with ease, the real surprises come in the form of Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson. While Kitsch's once promising career has been sidetracked this year with such flops as John Carter and Battleship, he comes roaring onto screen in Savages and chews up every line he's given, imbuing his extremist character with both humanity and charisma. Johnson, on the other hand, has already proven himself on the indie circuit (Nowhere Boy) and to some extent in the mainstream (Kick Ass), but Savages gives him the chance to play a more grownup character with a filled out physique. Throughout the film, circumstances involving the Mexican drug cartel and his kidnapped girlfriend force his character Ben to alter his once idealistic moral compass and adopt the more Malcolm X/Steve Biko approach of "whatever means necessary," and Kitsch's Chon is there to guide him down every step of the journey. This dynamic between the two characters (Chon with his ideal of "you let people think you're weak, you're going to have to kill them" and Ben's "violence can't be used to solve problems") allows for the aforementioned social commentary on the true nature of power and to what extent humans will go to obtain the upper hand. Del Toro and Hayek also chew up some well-crafted banter, and Stone employs some surprisingly effective camera work, despite his need to interject closeups with black and white nature shots, amidst other gimmick-y, pseudo-avant garde strategies.
While it does have a range of strong points, Savages also has more than a few weaknesses, most notably the poorly written and executed voiceovers (done by Blake Lively), as well as every other part of Lively's performance. The film also drives off a cliff (in the stupid, non-Thelma and Louise manner) at the end with a weak ending that thematically does an injustice to the rest of the film. Emile Hirsch is also employed ineffectively as a pot-smoking biker with a penchant for laundering money. However, Stone must be commended for turning the commentary down from 11 from his previous efforts (see: Wall Street; Platoon) and trying a more subtle, nuanced approach that allows the viewer to derive his own conclusions. Overall, shoddy voice over writing and a weak ending fail to bog down an otherwise entertaining, thought-provoking film that represents a welcome return to form for the conversation-inducing Oliver Stone.

The Amazing Spider-Man

While the film succeeds in creating a charming rapport between its leads (Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield), it also suffers from a contrived screenplay that draws just a little too much inspiration from Sam Raimi's original Spiderman. The saddening story of poor Peter Parker may have more than enough redeeming qualities, but it still does not deserve to be told twice, no matter what cast is portraying it. In this rendition, corny one-liners run rampant amidst slapstick humor and "grittier" (less inspired) action scenes. While the gritty, make-it-realistic approach works for some of the more believable superheroes (see: Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Iron Man), Spiderman is simply too implausible of a character. However, the film succeeds in finding a relatable psyche for its villain: everyone in the world should be genetically equal to one another, in effect creating the perfect conditions for utopian communism.
While the script and directorial approach may have their issues, I must commend the talented cast for making the most of it. Garfield puts in an effortless performance as the geeky, stuttering Parker, while Martin Sheen proves himself a superior Uncle Ben to the one in Sam Raimi's film. Emma Stone failed to give off much charisma, but Garfield more than made up for her. Ifans looked bored as the aforementioned Lizard, despite the comparative wealth of material the script gave him.

Natural Born Killers

Though the film has a lot to say about the perils of mass media and its apparent control over public mindset, that message frequently gets lost amidst the frenetic pacing and dodgy camerawork that Oliver Stone has never learned to successfully implement. That being said, the story's appeal to Stone is apparent: it gives him plenty of leeway to criticize the media's distortion of American values. Stone has made a career of making blunt, propaganda-esque films (see: Platoon, JFK, Wall Street, Wall Street 2, W.) and this is no exception. However, uneven pacing and a muddled script often conceal the powerful narrative underneath. Stone stylizes the film in a manner made to criticize the audience. The people in the film obsess over and find entertainment in the twisted Bonnie and Clyde-esque story of Mickey and Mallory, while simultaneously the viewers of the film commit the same indecency. This caveat in Stone's filmmaking makes it impossible for Natural Born Killers to be a "good" movie, so potentially the joke is on me for not appreciating it enough. Stone's message hits as softly as a jackhammer, but in the process he sacrifices the entertainment value of the film. Harrelson, Lewis, Downey and Jones all give typically strong performances.

Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages(2012)

I have to start out by commending Shankman and team for not making the mistake of taking themselves too seriously in making this film. However, while this strategy normally works for films such as this (ex. both Hairsprays; Mamma Mia!), it completely fails for Rock of Ages. The screenwriters knowingly wrote corny dialog in the hope of making a lighthearted, fun film, but in doing so they shot themselves in the feet. The film gets caught up in so many cliches that it can't keep itself straight, and the plot gets muddled amidst bad jokes about hair and rock and roll. In place of character development are showy, poorly lip synced 80s "rock" ballads. This wouldn't be a bad thing if the numbers were well done, but instead, they're performed mediocrely with uninventive choreography and bland cinematography. The film has a few redeeming moments, notably when Tom Cruise busts into "Wanted Dead or Alive" or when the hippies chant "We Built this City". Shankman and crew had a talented cast to work with, but failed to produce even an ounce of good material for them to work with.

The Artist
The Artist(2011)

Skillfully accomplishing the extraordinary feat of creating an entertaining, albeit silent/black and white film, The Artist is truly a delight to watch. It focuses on the drastic downfall of fictitious silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who faces bankruptcy and poverty as the era of the "talkie" begins. This is where the film actually benefits from being told in the silent/B&W format: it allows the audience to despair along with Valentin as his world comes crashing down around him. The aesthetics of the world the audience sees him in directly parallel those belonging to the era of his life that he sees coming to an end. The silent non-gimmick also allows the actors to fully express their emotions and participate in sight gags (most of which involve ggie, the Jack Russell Terrier that often steals the spotlight) that would otherwise come off as childish slapstick.
The music in the film perfectly compliments the onscreen emotions and strangely enough, it actually helps develop the characters by effectively setting the mood. Ultimately, The Artist proves that stories can be told even more effectively through emotions, expressions and music than through words or computer-generated visuals.

Young Adult
Young Adult(2011)

Another typically thought-provoking piece from writer-director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air), Young Adult is a darkly funny, relatable, but also depressing coming-of-age tale of a middle-aged woman named Mavis (Charlize Theron) who refuses to give up the past. Reitman wisely hands over the writing credits to his Juno collaborator Diablo Cody for this one. Not that he can't write, (in fact, of all his films, I prefer the ones he actually writes) but the film and its central character stand to gain from Cody's biting humor, which forces the audience to laugh at subject matter that by any respectable standards should not be funny. However, the nuances in Cody's dialogue channel that laughter into forceful acceptance, as if the audience must accept the goings-on and secede that the onscreen events are an undeniable part of life, just as Mavis must secede that her past cannot be regained and that she must live with an eye towards the future. Theron gives a kick-ass performance as Mavis, a boozy, loose 37-year-old author of a failing young adult book series who wants to rekindle with an old flame, the dim-witted yet eternally sweet Buddy Slade (effectively played by Patrick Wilson). Arguably, however, the true star of the film is Patton Oswalt, who plays an unexpected mentor and friend to Mavis. He's a fat, middle-aged cripple with a small brain and a big heart, and he and Theron have incredible chemistry together.
All in all, Young Adult is a small, personal film: the kind Reitman and Cody excel in. It's a beautifully crafted character study wit witty dialogue and excellent acting.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Substituting continued character development for a more complex mystery with bigger thrills, A Game of Shadows hits the ground running and never stops. The mystery behind the events in this film is more obvious than in its predecessor, but the excessive plot twists add brains and complexity to this stylish action-adventure. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have perfected the foil concept and taken it to new heights, allowing for even more witty banter from two constantly improving actors. Adding to this is Holmes' brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who shines in the few scenes he's given. Guy Ritchie adds his typical visual flair to the film, with well-orchestrated action scnes consisting of plenty of special effects and slow motion. While this flair can sometimes be distracting and make the action scenes hard to follow, most of the time it works in creating aesthetic appeal. Hans Zimmer returns with yet another incredible score, which adds greatly to the tone of the film and compliments the onscreen emotions nicely. While purists might complain that this sequel merely extrapolates the false,gun-toting image of the famous detective, I would go as far to say that I prefer my Holmes to be the lean, intelligent and sassy character that RDJ plays so well.

The Adventures of Tintin

Thrilling and imaginative, Tintin is a daring return to form for director Steven Spielberg, who hasn't directed an action film that was this much fun since Raiders of the Lost Ark. Don't get me wrong, I love the serious Spielberg: Oscar-winning director of introspective WWII films and inspired literary adaptations. However, Tintin allows Spielberg to put to work his uncanny ability to entertain broad audiences with imaginative thrills and inspiring protagonists. The titular Tintin is a daring, hilarious teenage boy with a fluffy dog and an insatiable appetite for adventure. He provides the thrills, while supporting characters Haddock, Thompson and Thompson provide the laughs. The film has just about everything going for it, with impressive motion capture animation that allows the events to have cartoonish plausibility but also a surprising sense of realism. While the film may lack some character development, the thrills and imaginative sense of adventure more than make up for it.

The Descendants

The Descendants is an extremely well-acted film with thought-provoking and relatable characters. Director Alexander Payne excels at using the settings of his films to his advantage, and The Descendants is no exception. the film juxtaposes the gorgeous and relaxed Hawaiian landscape with the heartbreaking trials of Matt King (George Clooney) and his family. Without giving away too many details, the family must overcome an absurdly large amount of obstacles in order to move on with their lives and hopefully form more cohesive bonds with one another. Th film wisely chooses to avoid the pitfalls of conventional plot structures but instead chooses to simply provide the audience with a traumatic situation and believable characters. This makes room for some incredible acting from George Clooney, who plays a seemingly strong-willed man with the gravitas and fortitude to hold a family together, but who actually is damaged both emotionally and psychologically by the events that have unfurled in his life. Clooney exudes that strength, but the underlying brokenness in his character never leaves during his performance, which is pretty remarkable considering he's onscreen the entire film. Incredibly strong supporting performances by Beau Bridges and Shailene Woodley elevate this film to a new level, as does the perfectly composed score. The Descendants manages to create believable characters in palpable situations, and the coping each one of the characters must undergo is easily relatable, creating a magnificent film worth several viewings.

Happy Feet Two

Although it's not the breath of fresh, insightful air that the first one was, Happy Feet Two still succeeds in providing some decent laughs, solid musical numbers, and the occasional popcorn thrill. Its central messages won't win it any Oscars, but that hardly matters because the sight of baby penguins break-dancing to Queen songs never gets old.


A rare, introspective look into the trials of heroin addiction, Trainspotting succeeds in creating a bleakly funny yet horrifying portrait of a group of "junkies." The film takes an interesting approach to the scene by creating extremely complex and terrifyingly relatable characters whom are never dehumanized, and are even portrayed as having sophisticated views of the world that even the most sober doctor or lawyer would have trouble comprehending. The group is led by Renton, (a fearless Ewan McGregor)a Scottish junkie born of a junkie mother. He wanders through life, stealing and conning in order to get money for his much-needed drugs. In a risky move by director Danny Boyle, the film portrays heroin addiction as fun and practically harmless up until the terrifying climax, in which the baby of two junkies dies of neglect while his parents are intoxicated out of their minds. At this point, the characters' lives spin out of control in a terrifying downward spiral in which they try to escape the existential grasp of sobriety and nearly destroy themselves. Boyle effectively portrays the whirlwind effect of drug addiction and its ability to ensnare countless victims, many of whom are normal people. While Trainspottig is not for the faint of heart, its worth watching for its complex portrayal of a neglected sect of people and for the expertise with which then-up-and-comer Danny Boyle created it with.

In Time
In Time(2011)

A unique amalgamation of popcorn action thrills and profound allegories,In Time manages to overcome its anti-Social Darwinism foundations and provide an entertaining thrill ride with complex characterizations. Normally, in order for that sentence to be considered positive it would have to be stated in reverse: the film overcomes its action-oriented mindset and delves deeper into the societal issues at hand. However, what makes In Time so unique is that it manages to present a huge metaphor for the evils of concentrated wealth (fairly "timely," considering Occupy Wall Street formed soon before the film's release)and to provide a thrilling "Bonnie and Clyde"-esque story of romance, heists, and bringing down those damn rich people.
The allegory at hand is a simple but ingenious one: people stop aging at 25, at which point their clocks (literal clocks on their arms indicating years, months, weeks, etc.) start counting down from one year, and if they don't get more time, they die. This allows the rich to live indefinitely and causes the poor to die young, thus heightening the stakes of capitalism. The rich concentrate the "currency" into their "time zone" (something of a district that also has its own stock market index) and control prices across all zones in order to maintain the division of wealth.
This paints a pretty unpleasant image of the mega-rich, and director Andrew Niccol's biases shine through clearly. In fact, his random interjections of social commentary prove fairly annoying and condescending, as if the audience is too dumb to be able to figure out that the time-based economy is in fact a blatant metaphor for the evils of capitalism, and that we would somehow need lines such as "No one should be immortal, if even one person has to die" to understand his ingenuity. However, for the most part, Niccol creates a convincing universe with fairly realistic characters, and his only shortcomings in the directorial regard are the cars: In the future, do all the cops really drive 70s Chargers and are all the sports cars designed for midgets? If so, that's definitely not a future I would want to live in.
All this sci-fi baloney means nothing without characterizations, and this is where the film excels. Timberlake stars as Will Salas, an ethical man who steals time from the rich and gives it to the poor in an effort to upset the whole system. He's extremely charismatic, albeit slightly dull. However, to his Valjean, Cillian Murphy provides an excellent Javert in the form of a weary cop trying to find justice within a corrupt system by any means possible. His determination and will to stop Salas from messing with the system feel palpable, and he provides many of the film's best moments.
Although the action scenes could have benefited from a bit more pizazz, for the most part In Time succeeds in providing popcorn thrills as well as thought-provoking allegories.

The Town
The Town(2010)

Taut, tense, and thrilling, The Town is a well-acted thriller that succeeds on multiple levels: as a suspenseful heist film and as an analysis of a poorly understood and too often condemned area of Boston: Charlestown. Charlestown, of course, is "The Town" that the title references and is drawn here as a close-knit community composed of criminals that treat each other not unlike the Corleone family of Godfather fame. The concept that one never "turns his back on the family" is thoroughly explored here to great success and is the highlight of the film. The cast and writers explore this dynamic well, which works best between the belligerent Coughlin (Jeremy Renner, in his best performance to date) and the seemingly self-righteous Dougie (Ben Affleck).
Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down by a fairly unnecessary romance between Dougie and the manager of one of the banks he robs (Rebecca Hall). The romance seems to draw out some sort of revelation from Dougie about the immorality of his career of thievery, but this connection is left too vague to feel tangible or effective. However, a solid supporting cast consisting of none less than John Hamm as a ruthless FBI agent and a surprisingly talented Blake Lively as a junkie prostitute more than make up for the film's emotional inconsistencies. Some perfectly orchestrated heist scenes help too, of course.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Despite having too many "of the"s in its title, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a rare summer blockbuster with both heart and brains. The filmmakers create a palpable universe out of a completely implausible concept. Even though the film has some great actors, including the always-stoned James Franco, the incredibly underused Freida Pinto, and the incredible John Lithgow, all of them take second chair next to the apes, who are the true stars of the film. Andy Serkis does indeed provide a fine performance as Caesar, the ape with drug-induced intelligence that torments him by trapping him somewhere in the middle of the ape world and the human world. However, I don't think he deserves the Oscar many critics say should be his. The paternal relationship between James Franco's character and Caesar is touching, even though it's really just a cleverly devised plot device. The film cleverly keeps its viewers on the apes' side for the duration of the film, and it'll be interesting to see the shift in power as well as the audience's allegiance in the sequels I am desperately hoping will  come into existence soon. Once the apes take over, it's clear that the humans will be the ones deserving of sympathy, but they're just too damn boring next to those awesome looking apes.

30 Minutes or Less

30 Minutes or Less is a surprisingly well-made film. Usually, key items to any good movie such as pacing and set-up are largely left out of comedies in exchange for cheap laughs. Thus is not the case for 30 Minutes or Less, which features slick direction and spot on performances from a few key players. Jesse Eisenberg is clearly having the time of his life being reunited with his Zombieland director and he delivers the best acting in the film. Danny McBride succeeds once again at playing the loser that likes to blow stuff up (see: Tropic Thunder) but he still hasn't proven he can handle an even slightly dramatic scene. Aziz Ansari is still annoying, but at least a little toned down, and the same can be said for Nick Swardson. What the film lacks is crowd-pleasing reoccurring jokes and a surplus of laugh-out-loud scenes. While I found myself chuckling frequently, I hardly got the ab workout any good comedy should give it's viewers. Spot on performances and direction save an otherwise mediocre script in what I would call the best R-rated comedy of the summer next to Horrible Bosses.

Wild Target
Wild Target(2010)

A delightfully quirky film that revels in its own incomprehensibly British sense of humor, Wild Target serves up some uniquely orchestrated action scenes tinged with enticing musical scores and out-there comedy. Bill Nighy stars as a middle-aged but renowned hitman who inadvertently becomes infatuated with a target (Emily blunt) and winds up defending  her from other hitmen. Along the way, the two run into a 20 something loser (Harry Potter's Rupert Grint) and the three form a dysfunctional family of sorts. They have great chemistry together, but the only thing stopping Wild Target from being the stupendous film it should be is the sloppy, inconsistent script. The writers get caught up in their own quirkiness in spots, eventually overdeveloping the 2dimensional character they've provided nighy with to his breaking point: an awkwardly unfunny scene in which he thinks he might be gay for Grints character. The film mostly recovers with a cool apprenticeship montage between nighy and Grint, and the three leads help keep the implausible plot down at the ground level.

Captain America: The First Avenger

A movie that is certainly better than it has any right to be, Captain America: The First Avenger succeeds on so many levels. It is briskly paced but still allows for some quality character development amidst the action. The filmmakers managed to create a complex character out of Steve Rogers (a character Chris Evans brings a lot of gravitas to) and his feelings towards the gorgeous Haley Atwell (who delivers some o the best lines in the film) feel sincere. The movie never lags, but it does at times get over-the-top cliche, such as when those awkward facial expressions are shown of Hugo Weaving when Stanley Tucci is telling his backstory. Other than a few corny moments, Cap has proven himself to be the second best movie of the pre-Avengers world next to the original Iron Man. The action scenes aren't bad either, and the ones depicting war wouldn't feel out of place in Flags of Our Fathers. With a solid supporting cast led by a never better Tommy Lee Jones as a war-hardened General, Stanley Tucci as a German scientist, and Hugo Weaving as the villainous Red Skull, Cap is a film you won't want to miss. However, I must point out that the Red Skull is an awfully lame villain, and it seems that the only reason he was chosen is because his backstory parallels that of the captain himself. Finally, the movie provides just the right amount of Avengers set-up, unlike Iron Man 2, which is ridiculously overburdened with it.

Cowboys & Aliens

Taking itself seriously in a sort of tongue-in-cheek manner, Cowboys and Aliens thrives off Jon Favreau's lively, vibrant direction and a solid performance from Daniel Craig as the serious, "man without a name" character Jake Lonergan. The plot is everything you could expect from a movie titled Cowboys and Aliens, but unfortunately it does feature some useless plot devices that come of as overwrought and outlandish. However, Harrison Ford as the iron fisted Dollarhyde was a stroke of casting genius, not only because he puts in a solid performance, but because it provides the cherry on top to this genre mash-up of having Indiana Jones team up with James Bond to fight aliens. Aside from an out-of-place Olivia Wilde, the supporting cast features some spot-on performances, particularly from Sam Rockwell, who seems to steal the spotlight in almost everything he's in nowadays. For a fun fanboy time at the movies, I would definitely recommend cowboys and aliens.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is a star-studded film, and therefore the filmmakers' choice to propel its plot solely on acting is a wise one. Carrell has never been better, Ryan Gosling has never had more swagger, and Emma Stone has never been more adorable. The plot loses itself at times amidst depressing songs and montages, but the film does have some pretty profound statements about love and relationships that it almost manages to pull off. Unfortunately, those statements get somewhat lost in the film's self-righteous condescension towards cliched romantic comedies, despite its ironically being one. The balance between comedy and drama is skewed slightly towards the latter, but the actors handle it with ease and manage to make a decent film out of a mediocre script.

The Usual Suspects

Taut, tense, and thrilling, The Usual Suspects thrives off of its stellar cast and ingenious plot twists. The film combines the best elements of Tarantino films (nonlinear plot, large but well developed cast of characters) and Nolan films (cerebral; plot twists). It's almost a better version of Reservoir Dogs, minus the excessive gore and obscene language. The cast here is superb, led by a quasi-sensitive Kevin Spacey in probably his best role next to Se7en. The script is fast, witty, and to-the-point, constantly keeping the audience on their toes. 

The Thomas Crown Affair

In essence, Thomas Crown Affair is nothing but a beautifully filmed romance piece with even more beautiful stars. Its only redeeming factor is its heist scenes, which are beautifully orchestrated from the pulse-pounding score to the slick tricks pulled off by none other than Thomas Crown himself: Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan's suave swagger really works here and makes Rene Russo's almost immediate love for him feel somewhat natural. Unfortunately the movie drags a ton except in the opening and ending scenes, spoiling what should have been a fun heist movie.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

This is the culmination of Michael Bay's film career, his 5th symphony if you will, composed of pulsepounding scores, dazzling special effects, and a plot that almost manages to justify the extensive usage of explosions and mind numbing action sequence. Now let's not get ahead of ourselves, this is still a Bay film, so character development is pretty weak in areas where it really shouldn't be (particularly with the introductions of Five new characters, played by none less than Ken Jeong, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, and Megan Fox-replacer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). With the exception of McDormand and Dempsey, all of these actors are underused, particularly Malkovich, who'se eccentricity is a delight in the few scenes he's given. Yes the script is also uneven, and sometimes seems to be more of a means to justify action and bringing back actors from the previous films than to actually create tension, which is left up to the magnificent score. Sam's mom also makes a welcome sober return to form. Overall, this is first class entertainment.
All ratings out of ten:
Special effects: 10
Cast: 6
Screen play: 6
Entertainment Value: 7
Cliche Factor: 6

X-Men: First Class

Utterly profound while simultaneously an entertaining summer globetrotter, X-Men: First Class is the X-Men movie we've all been waiting for since the release of X2. The backstories of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr gain the perfect amount of tension against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the movie really gives the audience that high stakes feeling of suspense we all long for when we watch a movie.
However, to be honest, this is the James Mccavoy/Michael Fassbender/Kevin Bacon show. Mcavoy perfectly portrays the charming and wise Charles while still giving off the vibe of his ignorance of the evils of human nature in a similar, if not better, manner than Sir Patrick Stewart. Fassbender really shines in this film, and he perfectly balances the inhuman rage and almost humane reasoning behind his evil actions. He also has the best backstory, and the segments about him were the best in the film. Alas, Kevin Bacon gives his best performance since The River Wild as a deranged, maniacal ex-Nazi bent on causing nuclear Armageddon.
Unfortunately, the film did have its weak spots, particularly in the backstories of mystique and Beast, which came off as derivative and corny. Theyre given such lines as "you have no idea what I'd give to feel, normal" and other similarly cliched schmaltz. Also, the opening scenes came off as surprisingly stupid, once again proving that child actors can not handle a dramatic scene in a comic book movie (see: X-Men Origins:Wolverine). January Jones was also pretty horrific, and I have yet to see a role outside of Mad Men that she can really shine in. Overall, the film struggles to balance the seriousness it strives for and the general camp that comes along with being a comic book adaptation.
All ratings out of 10:
Cliche Factor: 4
Artistic Factor: 7
Entertainment Value: 9
Casting: 9
Screenplay: 8

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

The ingenious premise for Source Code provides for a smooth, visceral ride that still manages to keep in touch with the morality and emotions of the characters. The film raises questions about how much one can damage another's life to save others and still remain as humane as their intent. Gyllenhal and Monaghan have great chemistry and their emotions seem real, but unfortunately the script is not as smart as it thinks it is and does not work as cohesively as a Nolan script. Its ending, as well, is too fairy tale-esque to be believable. That being said, Source Code is a solid film with great supporting performances from Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga that does not quite reach its full potential.

Midnight Run
Midnight Run(1988)

A clever buddy road trip comedy with pitch perfect performances from De Niro and Grodin, Midnight Run deserves more attention than its given. It perfected the foil chemistry that any good comedy needs between its leads and serves up some great laughs from intensely funny moments all throughout the film.


Constantly rambunctious but not always hilarious, Stripes only somewhat lives up to its title as a "classic comedy." However, it benefits from funny-men Bill Murray and particularly Harold Ramis, who were at the top of their comedic form at the time. John Candy also stars in a few hilarious scenes, particularly the infamous mud wrestling scene. Overall, Stripes was too inconsistent to transcend "good comedy" to "great comedy."

Nowhere Boy
Nowhere Boy(2010)

A quiet, stirring film about the heartbreak and loss that fueled John Lennon's music, Nowhere boy does not focus on music as much as it does on John's relationships with the two parental figures in his life: his mother and his aunt Mimi. His mother abandoned him as a young child and it was not until his teenage years that he developed an unbalanced, flirtatious relationship with her that taught him to love rock and roll. His strong-willed aunt Mimi raised him during his years of helpless abandonment and the feud between these two women nearly tears John apart. The quietly emotional scenes are where Nowhere Boy works best, and Aaron Johnson truly holds his own at the center of the film. Although unlikely, a sequel that covers John's rise to fame would be more than welcome.

Manon of the Spring (Manon des Sources)

Just as epic and sweeping as its predecessor, Manon des Sources focuses on the destructiveness of greed and the torture of heartbreak, which can in fact change a man's life for the worse, as can be seen with one of the main characters. These two films truly have set a high standard for all other films, and the eerie, lilting score perfectly compliments the tone of the film.

Jean De Florette

A slow-paced, beautiful film with epic sweep, Jean de Florette breaks down man's most inherent attribute: greed, and centers it around what he needs most: water. This simple subtlety provides insight into the true intentions of humans and leaves room for some terrific performances.

The Sting
The Sting(1973)

A classic that truly lives up to its hype, The Sting reunites the incredibly dynamic duo of Robert Redford and Paul Newman (in fact, probably the best acting duo in film history) for a story of deception and often hilarious situations. The main goal of conning a corrupt corporate schmuck provides for plenty of mind boggling twists that'll keep you entertained even for its excessive 135 minute running time.


Flashy and occasionally witty, Limitless amounts up to a better than average sci-fi action film. Neil Burger's smooth visceral style of directing perfectly compliments scenes of paranoia and empowerment. Although the premise could have been played to a darker and more meaningful tone, Limitless proves several things: Bradley Cooper is a badass and a charismatic actor, and Robert De Niro can still act.


Wild and wacky, strange but relevant, Rango is a mixed bag of witty humor and morality, centering on greed fit for Gordon Gekko himself. The drought ravaged town of dirt is full of amusing and even cute characters, but much of the humor as well as the morals displayed in this beautifully rendered work of animation will be lost on children. However, anyone looking for a smart twist on Western action and an ode to Clint Eastwood himself will not be disappointed.


Skillfully infusing elements of film noir with a clever storyline that weaves its intricate web in reverse in order to disorient the viewers in the same way the main character is, Memento precedes an epic decade of mind-boggling Christopher Nolan films. In this film, Nolan trademarked his twist ending that makes the viewer reconsider everything they've just seen that he would go on to use in such films as Inception and The Prestige. The script is fast and witty, cleverly hiding hints of foreshadowing and also a good laugh or two. A tour de force performance from Guy Pearce is the icing on the cake in this masterpiece.

The Last Picture Show

A coming of age saga set in a small town, rural environment that has rightfully earned its title as an American classic. The story tells of three friends growing up in a small Texas town who all fear the monotony of adulthood and an eternally boring life in a dull, windswept town.The story emphasizes the unnecessary changes that occur as we grow into adulthood, and the titular picture show's closing is a prime example of that. Overall, a quality film that is not talked about as much as it should be. Bridges, Bottoms, Leachman, and Shepherd all give impeccable performances. Last Picture Show is a must-see for people of all ages.

The Tourist
The Tourist(2010)

A prime example of squandered potential, The Tourist is a letdown in almost every possible way. From the total lack of chemistry between its stars to the annoying background music to the muddled, almost nonexistent plot to the completely misguided direction of Florian Henkel von Donnersmark, the Tourist's only saving grace is its ingenius twist ending and Jolie's beauty. Even if you're a fan of these two spectacular actors, stay away. Far away.

The King's Speech

From start to finish, Colin Firth gives the best performance of his career as the stammering King George "Berty" VI, effectively carrying one of the best historical dramas in the last decade, if not in history. The film tells of the story of the Duke of York, who, at the beginning of World War II, is tasked with becoming king and uniting his country in a dire hour after his arrogant, cruel brother shirks his responsibilities as king and runs off with an American divorcee. Berty fears the position as king because of its requirement to make speeches, something his impediment largely prevents from happening. Firth is absolutely brilliant as the King, putting on the outside an aura of strength and bravery, and yet also concealing inner fear and disgust at the sound of his own voice. In one of the films most powerful scenes, Berty tells his children a story at their request, and rushes through it as their expecting, eager eyes stare back at him. He does not wish to let them down, but wishes also not to embarrass them with his frequent stammer.
After seeing a number of doctors about his impediment, Berty's tender, loving, and endearing wife-an exceptional Helena Bonham Carter in her best, least freaky role to date-eventually resorts to an unconventional doctor with little to no credentials who's unorthodox methods and quirky personality eventually aid Berty in building the persona and speech fit for a king. Geoffrey Rush plays the unconventional doctor and often steals the scene from the equally brilliant Firth. The two are a joy to watch together, and form one of the most dynamic acting duos ever to grace the silver screen.
Other awe-inspiring performances in the film include Guy Pearce as the irresponsible brother, Michael Gambon as Firth's father, and Timothy Spall (in a stroke of casting genius) as Winston Churchill.
Overall, King's Speech is a must-see and a surefire Oscar winner. firth is a shoe-in for best actor as he was also nominated last year, and both Carter and Rush are guaranteed supporting nominations. In fact, this spectacular film may even steal the top prize from the Social Network.

Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy(2010)

Viscerally mind blowing and yet devoid of substance, Tron Legacy squanders its impressive production design on a weak plot and paper thin characters. Despite a Dude-ish performance from Jeff Bridges, the story never comes down to earth or develops the realistic feel that made movies such as the Matrix classics. However, Disney left no dollar unspent on the production budget, and the revolutionary visuals and powerful score from Daft Punk more than compensate for Tron Legacy's weak plot and provide a thoroughly entertaining flick.

True Grit
True Grit(2010)

Beautifully filmed, impeccably scripted, and brought to life with outstanding performances from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit stands as a return to form for the Coen brothers, minus their typical interjections of dark, depressing themes coupled with strange, sporatic violence.
The movie tells the story of 14 year old Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), a whippersnapper of a teenage girl in 1800s Arkansas hellbent on avenging her father by seeing the man who killed him hanged. She ends up hiring two lawmen to do the job: U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) and Texas Ranger Labeouf (Damon). The two act as foils of each other, Bridges with his rugged, boozy, smart alecy, trigger happy persona and Damon with his conceited, overly taught mannerisms. Both provide some of the best work of their respective careers, and Bridges even manages to improve upon and bring more depth to the iconic John Wayne role.
Overall, the smart banter and hilarious dialog combined with the beautiful cinematography and enthralling story of retribution makes True Grit a must-see and a more than likely awards contender. The gravitas that Steinfeld brings to her performance is sure to garner her an Oscar nomination and possibly even a win. She carries the entire film, and occasionally even puts Bridges (in one of his best performances to date) to shame.
In the battle of Dude vs Duke, the Dude has won.


Tangled overcame its tendency to be far too formulaic with fantastic visuals, catchy songs, and the happy-go-lucky feeling that all good Disney movies bestow upon their viewers. Although the characters were rather bland, (Rapunzel was exactly like every other Disney princess and Flynn exactly like every male character in every Disney movie)they interacted with one another differently than in previous Disney films and the two leads shared love for one another that felt sincere instead of corny. Overall a solid film, but it feels like it has all been done before. Luckily Disney is halting production on princess movies because it's starting to feel like the best ones are already in the past.

Anger Management

It's certainly not the best work of any of the cast or crew involved, but anger management is still a cute romantic comedy with more than enough charm. Sandler and Nicholson prove perfect foils of eachother, creating a hilarious tension between the two throughout the film. Marisa tomei makes the best out of her bit part and funnyman John C. Reilly delivers in a small cameo as a Buddhist monk. Overall, a decent comedy that lacked enough funny moments to justify a 100 minute film.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

I have to say this is probably my favorite film in the franchise. As a fan of the series of books, I thoroughly enjoyed that this film took the time to include all of the subplots in the novel that Yates left out of the last two he has directed. As a result, the movie felt less rushed than it's predecessors and took time to develop it's characters and explore the fantastic universe Rowling created. However, the film did not take the time to define Some of rowling's terminology, and therefore my friends who had not read the books were very confused when the terms"splinched" and "snatchers" were used. So if you have t read the books, this may not be your favoritefilm in the series. But for diehard fans, this is david yates' best film yet.


Tony Scott's got all kind of pills that give you all kind of thrills in his new movie unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Star Trek alum Chris Pine. The film begins surprisingly slowly for a Scott film and enjoys the buildup before absolute mayhem explodes onto the screen. Washington and Pine play the typical grumudgeony old man and hot shot newbie, but throughout the film Scott provides new information that makes them both seem a little less one dimensional. But, this is a Tony Scott film, and one does not watch it for it's depth.
Unstoppable's got all the right elements for a popcorn flick, from the signature-Scott camera work to the evil corporate manager to the implausible scenario of the film itself. But the cast and crew pull it off, and the result is a taut and thrilling film that will make you jump out of your seat more than once. When I saw it, the entire theatre gasped and screamed throughout the film, adding to my own fear of what was about to unfold. Solid film. Good to have you back Tony.

Up in the Air

A charming dramedy filled with subtle symbolism and the delivery of necessarylife lessons, Up in the Air is a timely film about finding the purpose in life and in relationships. Jason Reitman clearly put plenty of effort into this film, and it shows. From the flawless performances from George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick to the powerful screenplay, up in the air will act as a much needed wake up call to many Americans struggling to make it in a floundering economy.


The thing that frustrates me about this movie is that it could have been so much better. From the charisma of Jamie Bell and Hayden Christensen to the awesome premise to the spectacular scenery, Jumper was primed and ready to be an excellent and refreshing spin on the typical Hollywood superhero shtick. However, it is plagued by a muddled script, a director badly in need of finesse, mono pacing, and an unappealing female lead played by Rachel Bilson. Hopefully, someday this film will be remade the right way.


Unique, witty, and relatable, Kick-Ass proved to be exactly the opposite of what I expected. Intrigued by its dark, gory, and comedic nature as seen in many Coen brothers and Tarantino films, I was immediately drawn in. While not as gory or chock full of profanity as many critics made it out to be, Kick-Ass nonetheless took a certain pleasure in portraying gore in unique and occasionally disturbing ways. Its dark elements, however, are often balanced out by the relatable themes portrayed by the movie's lead, Kick Ass himself (played solidly by Aaron Johnson). He is just an ordinary kid who, seeing his chance, reached out and grabbed greatness by the neck and held on tight. He just wanted to do something to impact the world and show people how to intervene and do good deeds. The film deals with the dark side of humanity and the lack of people willing to step in and help someone when their down. Examples of this in the movie are rather extreme, such as a man witnessing a mugging from his window and closing the blinds instead of helping and an arrogant old man who hits Kick Ass with his Mercedes and just keeps on driving.
One of the highlights of the movie were Hit Girl and Big Daddy, two born and bred vigilantes out for revenge. Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz) was foul mouthed and violent and represented the dangers of conformity in modern society. She was raised to be a killer by her father (Nicolas Cage in his most memorable recent role) and knew not of the joys of an ordinary childhood.
In the end, Kick Ass overcame evil and acted as an example for other people and made a mark in the world. He got the girl and lived an entirely improved upon life. Though near the end it became somewhat formulaic, Kick-Ass was a very original film both in style and story and was chock full of great performances. Plus Christopher Mintz-Plasse has a small role as the anti-hero, so what more could you ask for?

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Possibly the most formulaic kids movie ever made, Cats and Dogs 2 lacks even the slightest bit of originality. The plot is predictable and has been used in many other films and drew heavily from the formula of many James Bond films, which was occasionally funny but mostly annoyingly predictable. While the film recovers and redeems itself a few times, (mainly in a hysterical scene with the villainous cat from the first movie locked in Alcatraz and appearing strapped to a wall with a mouth guard in an ode to Hannibal Lecter) these moments are not often and far between. With the addition of the pointless 3D which was rarely utilized until the final "showdown" with Kitty Galore, Cats and Dogs 2 is a pointless sequel to a pointless movie and stands as a pathetic excuse for the studios to make a quick buck.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

So as not to perturb the geeks out there, let me start by first admitting that I have never read the acclaimed graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was based off of. However, I am a fan of the genre and have an undying love for Alan Moore's masterpiece Watchmen. That being said, I found this film to be oddly annoying. From the frenetic pacing to the strange video game-esque stylings of the rather redundant scenes in which Scott Pilgrim fights off his dreamgirl's (Ramona Flowers, portrayed perfectly by Mary Elizabeth winstead of Sky High and Grindhouse fame)seven evil exes. Although a few of the fights are enjoyable, including the one against Brandon Routh as a vegan with psychic powers, the movie as a whole quickly becomes repetitive and the stylistic video game add-ins quickly become annoying. However, the film is redeemed by outstanding performances from Winstead, Routh, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, and Kieran Culkin (yes, Macaulay's brother) as Pilgrim's gay roommate. Michael Cera, as the titular hero, once again prove that he can play a geeky good guy trying to fit in (see: Youth in Revolt, Superbad, Juno, Year One). However, he finally does prove worthy to be a hero when he kicks the legendary Gideon's butt (played maniacally by Jason Schwartzman) in the final act.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Walking into the theatre, I was expecting little more than just solid, kid-friendly entertainment.Once again, Harry Potter alum Chris Columbus proved me wrong,but this time only slightly. Having said that, comparisons to the Potter franchise are inevitable.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians captured my attention and managed to transport me to an alternate reality in which demi-gods (half-man; half-god)dwell amongst mortals and live in a special training camp called Camp Half-Blood, which sounds suspiciously similar to something out of the sixth Harry Potter. The camp, however, does not possess the same magical aura as Hogwarts does. In the same way, Percy and his two friends, a half-goat man and the daughter of Athena, do not share the same chemistry as Ron and Hermione. However, they do share some delightful banter that allowed the film to remain light-hearted throughout. Percy, himself, is an awkward teenager similar to Harry and the story is the same "birth of a hero" plot that every film has focused on since Star Wars.However, a few surprising plot twists manage to disguise the cliches hidden in the script.

Despite the washed up plot, the film is in essence a road trip story in which three friends learn to depend on eachother and discover that they all possess more power than they ever could have imagined. It is often even amusing, particularly when the three friends consume magical flowers that have similar effects as shrooms. In the end, Percy Jackson proved to be a well executed film with a solid cast (with the exception of the mis -cast Anthony Mackie as the goat-man) that left me eager for a sequel.

The Other Guys

Rare is the comedy that avoids the typical raunchiness that earns many of the genre an R rating and still manages to make its audience laugh until the point at which it becomes an ab workout. The Other Guys turned out to be just that.
Starring Will Ferrel and Mark Wahlberg as buddy cops, the film opens with none other than Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson as super cops engaged in a battle with marijuana dealers. Both Johnson and Jackson play egomaniacs who could care less about civil justice and instead showboat their Starsky and Hutch style of crime fighting. The two make a delightful pair and were surprisingly funny despite going against their typical characters. However, if Other Guys has one major flaw, it's that it kills off the two far too quickly and robbed the audience of even more sidesplitting scenes.
When desk jockeys Wahlberg and Ferrel come in, it becomes clear that they share the same relationship as many other great duos. Ferrel is an idiot who turns out to actually be useful as often as he is harmful and Wahlberg is a talented fighter with a temper who's career as a real cop ended when he accidentally shot Derek Jeter. Despite not being the most original characters, Wahlberg and Ferrel make the most out of it and prove to be perfect foils of eachother, going down in history as one of the great partnerships.
With comical gunfight scenes and unexpected character traits found in both Mark and Will, (including a hilarious back story of Ferrel being a pimp) and an awesome supporting cast (most notably Eva Mendes as Ferrel's smoking hot wife Shela), Other Guys proves to be laugh riot with heart, and succeeds where movies such as Cop Out and Starsky and Hutch failed.

The Hangover
The Hangover(2009)

The age old question amongst party regulars and alcoholics of 'What happened last night?' successfully carried the film The Hangover from start to finish. The movie begins its journey in typical comedic fashion while elegantly setting the tone for nothing less than the raunchiest, funniest comedy in the history of the genre. Its director, Todd Phillips, combines elements of the recent film I Love You, Man as well as some of the eccentric creativity used to make some of John Hughes' greatest works, most specifically Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
The story begins with something of a flash forward, in which the ladies' man of the film, Phil (Bradley Cooper), can be seen stranded in the desert talking on the phone with Tracy (Sasha Baresse), telling her that he-along with his buddies Stu (Ed Helms) and the increasingly strange Allen (played remarkably by Zach Galifianakis) - had lost her fiancé Doug (Justin Bartha) in the depths of Sin City, where they had thrown him bachelor party the night before. The story then reverts back to present time, in which the four friends' come together to set out on their ill-fated trip that they had hoped would be a bachelor party to remember.
The surprises first unroll after the four men make a toast to have the best night ever on the roof of Caesar's Palace. The next thing you know, the film has flash forwarded once again to the following morning, where the suite the guys had rented appears trashed. This scene alone provided countless laughs and left me on the edge of my seat, anxious for what might be discovered behind each door. By the end of the scene- at which time I had already started crying from laughter- they had already discovered a tiger in the bathroom, a chicken in the kitchen, and a baby in the closet. Several minutes pass before Stu, Phil, and Allen realize that Doug can be found nowhere. This moment starts the three men's epic journey through Las Vegas to find Doug and discover what they had done the previous night.
Unfortunately, the screenwriters could not have hoped to deliver the same amount of laughter in the next several scenes. The initial scene of discovery created so much laughter that it must have been impossible to keep it going. The next fifteen minutes or so passed with little more than a chuckle per minute. Fortunately, two messiahs appeared to save the film; one in the form of a naked Chinese mobster that jumps out of the protagonists' trunk and beats them with a crowbar, and one in the form of Mike Tyson. These two plot twists gave depth to the story and allowed it to transcend the norm for a comedy.
The main contributing factor to The Hangover's awesomeness can be found in the form of something that people have often overlooked: character compatibility. Every actor in the film played their part perfectly, with no exceptions. Nerdy Stu contrasted directly with Phil, who enjoyed living his life in the fast lane. Most hilariously portrayed, though, had to be Allen. He had a certain knack for saying the wrong things at the right time and failing to understand when his supposed pals were making fun of him. Not only did he say funny lines, but he was often utilized as the object of many jokes. For example, a scene in which he adopts a Rain Man-type persona and wins $80,000 had the audience literally falling out of their chairs from laughter.
Being a raunchy film almost guarantees that The Hangover would go overboard at some point, and this point came in the credits, in which nudity and sexuality came in large numbers. The credits consisted of photos of what actually happened the night of the bachelor party, and they are more disgusting and perverse than the typical mind could imagine. In spite of this, The Hangover's general consistency and mind-boggling plot twists provided a refreshing alternative to most modern comedies, which utilize recycled plots and attempt to toss in a few good jokes.