King of the Snoots's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

"Anything but what I just witnessed." Those were the words my friend conveyed after watching "The Amazing Spider-Man 2". His sentiments were not hyperbolic, they were antagonistic; what he felt like he had just seen was a film that tried too hard be something, to be anything...only to find itself amazingly forgettable.
I share my friend's sentiments unabashedly. Director Marc Webb has the best cast of actors ever assembled in a Marvel motion picture. He has a budget that rivals most other tent pole features, and he has the Marvel groundswell that instantly makes anything associated with the red M instantly cool. What Marc Webb doesn't have is any inclination of how to entertain an audience with a film that offers a mutated-superhuman spider-man, a super villain that is literally energy incarnate, a Russian Mafioso who rides a rhinoceros-shaped tank-thingy, and a billionaire brat flying around on a smoldering glider whipping bombs at people. inexplicably, the CGI failed to bring us closer to a world we were really eager to be apart of. Instead, it kept us at arms length while a storyline so full of minutia saddled our enthusiasm.

Out of the Furnace

"Out of the Furnace" can best be described as an elegy - it's a bleak, maudlin story about the burnished souls who spend their entire lives clawing to get somewhere akin to the middle. Whether it be serving four tenuous tours in Iraq, whether it be caring for your terminally ill father. Or whether it's working extra hours at the local steel mill to pay off your brothers' debts, which is the predicament Christian Bale's character - Russell Baze - finds himself doing. His brother, played by the criminally underrated Casey Affleck, is the aforementioned army vet who spends what little money he's borrowed at the OTB and is driven to a life of illegal underground street fighting.
So it begins. In the opening scene we're introduced to Harlan DeGroat, a rivaling town's crime lord played by the ubiquitous Woody Harrelson. Old Woody must have picked up a trick or three while taping "True Detective" for his DeGroat is of the see-it-to-believe-it variety. In the first scene, DeGroat (how can you not love that name?) and what we can only assume to be his girlfriend are parked in a drive-in movie theatre. The woman is caught laughing at some cosmic injustice befallen DeGroat, so in retaliation, Harlan shoves a whole hotdog down her throat before viciously slamming her head into the dashboard. But really, what else could have DeGroat done? The man was scoffed at in his vary own automobile. So, the driver if the neighboring car - unsurreptitiously insisting on upholding his neighborly duties, confront Harlan. Several devastating right jabs to the face later and DeGraot's would-be attacker is nothing more than a pulpy mess on the dry grass and Harlan is off - sans girlfriend. This isn't the sort of film where you leave feeling as though you've just had your faith in humanity re-affirmed.

Veronica Mars

Editor's Note: I am not a "Marshmallow." What I am, it should be stated, is an overzealous and overprotective Kristen Bell fan who has sat through countless episodes of the eponymous "Veronica Mars" television series to know just how much better of a movie the diehard fans - known as Marshmallows - deserved.
For those unfamiliar with how this little passion project of a movie came to be, look no further than Kickstarter, a platform where fans of varying artistic endeavors can pool their money and hope to resurrect or hope to launch a project. In this case, fans of the television series raised nearly 6 million dollars to coax Rob Thomas (writer, director) and friends in to making a full-length feature film; not that Rob Thomas and friends needed much coaxing mind you. The only series regular who declined to reprise her role was Leighton Meester; who was unceremoniously recasted and her character murdered within the first few seconds of the film. On a personal level, my girlfriend has always been a faithful "Veronica Mars" fan and was one of the early investors to the movie. She and I would routinely check the escalating figures as to how much the kickstarter campaign was earning. During the exclusive AMC premier, my girlfriend proudly donned her "I Saved Veronica Mars" T-shirt she earned as a contributor to the campaign. But enough about Kickstarter and my girlfriend's fashion trends, there's a movie to review!
The first thing one should know before seeing this film is that a review of the source material is highly recommended. It's almost a necessity to know who's who in the Veronica Mars paradigm. Second, if you are not familiar with the show and decide to watch it with someone who is, be prepared to be left in the dark while your partner is squealing with delight while something you find completely innocuous is happening onscreen. Third, be prepared to be underwhelmed... by, well, all of it. Most specifically - by the acting, by the story, by the scale, by the ending, by...just about every aspect a film can underwhelm in. Even my muse, the heavenly Kristen Bell looked slightly, well, how should I put this - un-Kristen Bell-like. She looked almost puffy, like she had just been stung by a bee and there wasn't an epi-pen around.
The premise of the movie is that Bell's characters, Veronica Mars, formerly high school super sleuth now turned hotshot lawyer-in-the-making is beckoned home once her ex-boyfriend Logan (played by the ridiculously shrunken Jason Dohring) is presumed guilty of murdering his girlfriend. Oh, by the way, this so happens to also be the weekend of Veronica Mars' ten year high school reunion (how convenient) and as you can imagine, the entire "Veronica Mars" rolodex is summoned from their ten year hiatus and thrown unceremoniously into the mix, and into the list of possible murder suspects.
Fine, killing two birds with one camera lense - keeping the fan base happy and setting up countless opportunities for that classic Veronica Mars witty repertoire. Only what we were treated to was instead a lazy love triangle, a murder mystery that was solved in the blink-of-an-eye - creating absolutely no tension, and a serious lack of anything resembling Veronica Mars of old. Sure she had her camera, her Taser, her tape recorder and enough snappy comebacks to make George Carlin blush, but she was missing the most vital ingredient, vulnerability. The danger she ultimately found herself in seemed poorly cobbled together and almost done as a curtsey to the viewer, not because it made any sense to the plot.
But in all, save from the random and much needed comedic cameos of Justin Long, Dax Shepard and James Franco - playing himself, everything that made the show fresh and rewarding was lost in a film that tried to have its cake and it too. A film made for one very faithful and specific audience meanwhile trying desperately to emphasize just how much fresh content there potentially could be did a poor job with reiterating just why we needed this film in the first place. I'm overjoyed that Kickstarter gave this show a second chance, I just with that the film hadn't spent much of its time auditioning for a third.

The Monuments Men

"The Monuments Men" is that rare film that continuously tries to have it both ways, and ultimately ends up being more than the sum of its parts.
The first caveat: this is a George Clooney film. I have nothing but respect for the man, but, with the silver fox writing, directing and starring it isn't much of stretch to say that frivolity and whimsy are more important than weight and scale. Clooney's "Monuments Men" men opens with George himself, playing art historian Frank Stokes giving a slide show championing the merits of snatching back priceless works of art from the vile clutches of the Fuhrer. Several prominent works of art are carefully focused on and Frank Stokes does an acceptable job in stressing just how important art is as a legacy to the human condition. How preserving these various paintings, statures and imprssions is also preserving a peoples culture. Fair enough, then the march into having your cake and eating it too begins. Cut to a montage of some of the most iconic comedic actors attempting to pass a stripped-down military boot camp and the whimsy begins.
John Goodman, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban are clearly brought in to provide levity to the film - the problem is, at what cost? There's nothing cheery about fighting fascism. There's nothing inherently jovial about returning stolen pieces of art to the homes of those who will never be able to return home to see them. There's nothing downright funny about Nazism period; but there is a certain conviviality about risking your life for an idea that will no doubt outlive you and everyone you care about. It's a difficult line to walk when dealing with the horrors of war: war films need to be mordant due to their weight and films patting themselves on their back need to be able to not take themselves too seriously. "The Monuments Men," despite a few lapses into rote Hollywood convection, ultimately shows us the horrors of war while at the same time showing us the beauty in humanity. Fraternity is far more endearing then wanton pelf, and George Clooney and company are just the bonhomies to remind us that real war affects real people. While it may not be as heavy to some as it could have been, or as much fun at times as some wanted it to be, it did leave us with the sense that ideas are worth fighting for; that people are worth fighting for.

The Bling Ring
½

At what point does an idea become redundant? Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" is about as nuanced as an episode as "Duck Dynasty," and about as vapid. There's a certain multi-layered irony that eventually mollifies the message; an apathetic tableau of millennials, completely remiss of social mores in a film showcasing our love affair with the superficiality of popular culture. So in essence, a film about style over substance which is cripplingly plagued by, wait for it, a heavy-handed amount of style over substance.
Sofia Coppola has made a name her herself (before her father made it for her) by showcasing characters with a profound degree of social detachment. Such is the case in "The Bling Ring." While the true tale of the 2008 robberies differs by which random member of the ring you decide to ask, the film takes a different stand; they do it because they can. There is no motive, there is no foresight, there is no remorse; there is only the wanton impulse to live vicariously through inanimate objects which they pilfer from vainglorious "Celebrities."
What Sofia excels at is showcasing substance; every flashy palace, every opulent closet comprised of rows of designer dresses and shoes is shot in a style that makes the decadence almost infertile. There is no love for the flash here, there isn't even a hint of jealously from either character nor camera. It's more of a "Can you believe people really live like this?" Sofia's focus isn't the fact that we're obsessed with these people whose only claim to fame is being someone who is relatively adjacent to talent; it's the question - what is there to actually fawn over in the first place?
The problem isn't the style of the film, it really isn't even the substance, it's the fact that no matter how apropos the chord being struck is for an hour and a half, it's a chord that's been blunted after the first few robberies. How many times can a person listen to their favorite song repeatedly? After awhile, isn't it just white noise? "The Bling Ring" also has the misfortune of being not quite as gritty, gripping, or...well, good frankly as the other film to completely satire our love affair with superficiality: "Spring Breakers."
sadly, in this turn there is no James Franco's "Alien" to break up the monotony. Instead, we're treated to the oft pixie-in-this-case-debutante-in-training Emma Watson. The only form of true satire which resonates is Emma Watson's impassioned plea while she has scores of microphones shoved in her face that basically all this little exercise in law-breaking is simply a learning experience, and, oh yeah, an opportunity to plug her very own reality show.
"The Bling Ring" makes the fatal flaw of choosing stubbornness over complexity. There isn't anything here that we having seen before, despite how beautiful it was to watch it.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
½

"By the Hymen of Olivia Newton-John," Oh, what could have been.
Will Ferrell has the uncanny ability to be funny just by looking into the camera. Chris Farley had that ability too, to say absolutely nothing yet instantly hit you in the gut with a punch of hilarity. They ooze comedic charm, they perspire with tear-inducing mirth. Yet "Anchorman 2," a film buoyed by not only the reliable Will Ferrell at the helm, but also with equally bonafide comedic heavyweights such as Steve Carell and Paul Rudd couldn't seem to escape the indelible shadow the first film seemed to have cast. What made "Anchorman" so successful in my opinion was its earnestness; each cast-member seemed to wear their heart on their sleeve and work best when they all seemed to be motivated by the same pursuits. "Anchorman 2" gave us the same actors, yet failed to give us the same characters. The jokes weren't nearly as organic as the first; where the former had an effortless series of witty-banter, the latter had puns and prop-gags. Where the former had songs and playfulness the latter had opaque innuendos and stiff storylines. Where the former had a freshness the latter had a staleness that never should have happened with such a talented cast and writing team. Steve Carell's Brick Tamland was wasted in a series of awkward sight-gags and a stuck in a love-arc that produced barely a chuckle. Champ Kind had roughly five minutes of screen time and was reduced to a deflated whiny-hillbilly. Paul Rudd's Brian Fantana, easily the right-hand-man to Will Ferrell's titular Ron Burgundy, was reduced to a neutered voice of reason character hardly resembling the degenerate womanizer we grew to love from the first installment. That leaves Ron Burgundy, that patriarch of San Diego's top rated news-team; the style was back, the form was back, Hell, even the mustache was back, yet the larger-than-life persona was severely reduced to a man searching for a niche. Ron Burgundy was delegated to mere reactor, and not used as the force-of-nature that he was in the first Anchorman. Ron Burgundy dressed the same, spoke the same, even developed a few new catchy one-liners, yet his bite was far less memorable this time around.

Dallas Buyers Club

Sunflowers and rodeo clowns -- such are the manifestations in which Matthew McConaughey's (who lost 50lbs for the role) protean Ron Woodroof defiantly combat the horrors which are the AIDS virus.
"Dallas Buyers Club" is yet another showcase for the range McConaughey is only beginning to chisel away at. Arguably his most cocksure character to date, Ron Woodroof is an electrician by day, rodeo bookie-by-night, and all around philanderer in his free time. When an electrical shock sends him to the local hospital his T-Cell count reveals that he has been living with HIV for prolonged period of time and that he has roughly one month to live. Ron is forced to quit his bad habits and hustle his way into possession of a new anti-AIDS drug known as AZT. Several subsequent hospital visits and one quick trip across the Mexican border later, Ron is making strides towards normality, living longer than the doctors had foretold and living healthier than anyone would have thought possible.
The first half of the film is essentially a kaleidoscope of emotion which turns a fast-living Texan whose only concerns seem to be living life without restraint to grappling with the immediate reality of one's own inevitable oblivion. Ron goes from Dallas man-child to a man whose will do anything to stay healthy, which ultimately leads him to the company of Rayon (Ray), played by the uber protean Jared Leto. It's the relationship between Ron and Rayon that gives "Dallas Buyers Club" its heart, and its their friendship that cements a downward spiral into a fighting chance. Their partnership helps hundreds of men and women stricken with AIDS get the necessary vitamin cocktails the FDA hasn't approved and give a modicum of hope to those who have only seen despair.
And that's just it, it's a microcosm of how quickly Americans turned stigma into action. Ron Woodroof turned from angry homophobe to martyr in just under two hours; not unlike America's own misunderstanding of the virus to its current steadfast support and worldwide mission to find a cure. Yes the film loses momentum about three-quarters thru, and perhaps "Dallas Buyers Club" ignores the culture most frequently associated with the virus, yet it's the gravity of the content and the tour-de-force performances that make this film such a triumph.

Take Me Home Tonight
½

Some films have the ability to take you to other worlds. Some have the power to curse the stars and light the coldest of hearts. Some, simply are mirrors. "Take Me Home Tonight" is formulaic, it's one-noted, and it relies much too heavily on soundtrack that can't help but instill in its listener a smile, that while superficial, never loses its curvature. Yet despite its flaws, despite the fact that you've seen it all before and maybe you even seen it done better in countless other films, I dare you to not have fun watching Topher Grace and gang wade through the mire that has become their lives and decide to lay it all out on the line for one night of 80's immortality.
Okay, so you caught me; yes, I have a sweet-spot the size of the milky way for Theresa Palmer. Damn my friends and girlfriend for calling her a poor man's Kristen Stewart. She's an angel sent to us from Perth, or is it Melbourne? Or maybe she's from some remote part of Australia where instead of cultivating dingoes and wallabies, gorgeous blondes such as Palmer, Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, Yvonne Strahovski and the temptress from "Hall Pass" are manufactured to make American males weak in the knees. The point is, Theresa Palmer is in this movie and I dare you to not be smitten with her, but not too smitten; she's mine, I called dibs back in 2011!
Reading other reviews for"Take Me Home Tonight" felt like the kid on your baseball team who never got a hit, played outfield only when the score was out-of-reach and spent the entire game waving to their mother in the bleachers; basically, critics gave this film the equivalent of the spirit award. Okay, so maybe it doesn't define an era in the likes of the "Breakfast Club" or "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Perhaps it is too formulaic to create an indelible impression that'll sustain itself for decades. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps we should take it at face value and lose ourselves in a film that's only asking us to live life in the moment and not to fear the unknown. To take chances, to escape our shadows and be prepared to scrape our knees when we fall but to have to courage to pick ourselves back up and to do it again. It's a simple movie, it's an amiable movie with a cast we can't help rooting for and laughing with. It's a movie that accepts it's limitations and doesn't try to break the mold. All it asks is for us to have fun. Well, I for one did. Ohh, and Theresa Palmer is in it.

Saving Mr. Banks

Call me a cynic, call me a mirthless misanthrope who can't even find joy in humming along to some of the happiest songs in the Disney canon, but by-all-means, don't serve me a platter of heavy-handed sugar and expect me to sing its praises all the while it's rotting me from the inside-out. "Saving Mr. Banks" has the charm of a Disney picture, it has the soothing simpleness that we've come to expect from the Mickey Mouse brand, yet it comes with at us with such a heavy-hand that we're unable to enjoy the journey and the infrequent charms that Emma Thompson and crew offer.
There's also a innate irony about "Saving Mr. Banks," a film focusing on the inspiration behind the Disney classic "Mary Poppins" and the relationship between the esoteric author and the man-behind-the-mouse: "How much better would this movie be if we were instead watching Mary Poppins?" It's as simple as that. "Mary Poppins" is such an iconic piece of filmmaking, why do we need this movie to remind us of that? For all of their accolades and talent, the fact of the matter is is that Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson can no longer light up a moviescreen in the same fashion that Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke had in the seminal Poppins. That is not a slight on either Hanks or Thompson, "Saving Mr. Banks" is its own entity, yet it constantly left me wishing for an animated penguin to jump onscreen or a chimney-sweeper with a poor cockney accent tell me how much life has to offer. "Saving Mr. Banks" is so enmeshed in the shadow of cinematic giant that I frankly felt it benign; who needs a movie about the making of "Star Wars?" Just give me Luke, Han, Chewy, and Darth and I'm all set.
On a lighter not, the always-makes-a-movie-better Jason Schwartzman delivers with whimsical fancy and Paul Giamatti adds a nuanced level of warmth whenever he's on screen. Colin Ferrell, through no fault of his own, gets lost in the shuffle with incessant flashbacks that add a layer of gloom to an otherwise upbeat, family picture.
In truth, I enjoyed the cast (Emma Thompson was terrific), the musical numbers brought a smile on my face each time a childhood classic began and who didn't get a chuckle as the credits rolled and we were introduced the actual P.L Travers unemotionally and somewhat robotically run-through the original screenplay for "Mary Poppins?"
The problem is that I just didn't believe the character Tom Hanks was portraying was that empathetic, the incessant flashbacks got to be a bore after a awhile, and the film I was watching was in no way as much fun as the film it was honoring. Sorry Disney, your saccharine charms didn't get me this time!.

The Way Way Back
½

"The Way Way Back," the paint-by-numbers dramedy that is so content on not breaking the confines of the genre that this barely memorable half-gem skates by as if it were taking an hour-and-forty-three-minute jaunt on the lazy river from Wizz World. The lead character, laconic-to-a-fault Duncan (played by new-comer Liam James) has about the emotional range of a sea cucumber initially, which is to be expected when his mother is dating arguably the biggest on-screen-douche since Judge Smails from "Caddyshack" in Trent, played by the randomly toned Steve Carell.
The premise sets-up as Duncan and his mother are spending the summer with Trent and his bleach-blonde daughter at their beach house. Duncan, understandably, would rather be anyplace else on the face of the Earth. The good news for our ennui-stricken hero is that he finds himself an ally; a gregarious thirty-something manchild played the incomparable Sam Rockwell. Duncan finds not only a friend, but the elusive father-figure he didn't expect to have again. Now, I realize that I can sling around hyperbole from time to time; I've called more performances "The Best!" or "Needs to be Stored in a Time Capsule for Future Generations to Marvel At!" than I'm proud of...and I know I'm about to straddle that fine-line again by gushing over my boy Sammy Rocks, but without his performance, this film would have been about as memorable as clear Pepsi. He kills it. He's the guy every dissatisfied youth wants in their corner. He's the guy who managers to squeeze the hidden moments out from those mundane experiences you think aren't worth a dam. He's the guy you want building your son up to his full potential. And alas, he does.
It's the relationship between Duncan and Sam Rockwell's Owen that drive the film; sure there are scenes of teenage angst, of not being heard by our parents, of feeling ignored by our peers, but it's also about how quickly a healthy relationship can turn our life around. "The Way Way Back" sadly offers nothing original, yet what it does offer is plenty of soft smiles and head nods to all of those people in our lives that have touched us for the better. It isn't a movie in-so-much as it's a postcard to the best friendships of our lives.

Don Jon
Don Jon(2013)

There's a fair to mid chance that I'll never know the feeling of being able to write a screenplay, being asked to direct said screenplay and to star along with a slue of my Hollywood friends in that very same screenplay. The reason being is simple, I'm not named Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or James Franco for that matter, but Joseph Gordon Levitt is on such a hot streak as of late, I feel like only he could've been trusted to wear all three hats with his quirky, yet ultimately safe "Don Jon."
Now, mini-spoiler-alert, there is a lot of pornographic material seen in this film. At times it was quite awkward for me to sit through all of it while sitting next to my girlfriend all-the-while waiting out the inevitable question of "Well how often do you watch porn?" Thankfully, that one-sided question never came to fruition, and really, it wasn't due to luck or lack-of-eye contact; it's because I'm dating an adult, and I'd like to think that she is as well. That's what I find to be the frustrating thing with "Don Jon," aside from Brie Larson (of Scott Pilgrim fame may I remind you) and the timeless Julianne Moore, none of the characters seemed to have matured past early adolescence. "Don Jon" wasn't about a manchild needing porn to make himself feel like a man, it was about a selfish loner who had never opened up to anyone intimately. There are quite a few comparisons out there (wrongly) between "Don Jon" and "Shame." Now, I'm not downplaying the very real and very socially debilitating compulsions of both porn addiction and sex addiction, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt is addicted to porn in the same way a five-year-old is addicted to sugar; they're going to grow out of it eventually. Michael Fassbender couldn't tie his shoelace without first rubbing-one out. Necessity over convenience/preference.
The second clichéd truism regarding Don Jon's porn habbits are that they are incredibly gender biased. When Scarlett Johansen ultimately does Joseph Gordon-Levitt a favor by ending their relationship and JGL's friend asks "what caused the break-up," and the answer was that he had been sneaking peaks at pornography was uttered, both guys seemed to think nothing more of the ad hominem as, to quote the sagacious Don Jon here if I may, "She's a dumb Bitch." Translation: really??
So there you have it, a film starring a Jersey Shore wannabe, more obsessed with his car, his pad, his body, his boys and his porn than with growing-up. Ohh yeah, it was also a clever film showing us how over-sexed, over-hormonal and over-stimulated we all are and if we're not careful, we could ultimately live our life without making any life-altering connections with another human being of the opposite sex. Maybe Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on to something here.

The Kings of Summer

It's inevitable. That feeling you get when you're watching a movie that you feel was written precisely for you. "The Kings of Summer" has firmly re-established my faith in the notion that there are people writing movies who are interested in people; that just because a theme isn't fresh doesn't mean that it can't offer anything refreshing.
The cast was expertly chosen, the dialogue was uniquely crafted yet not esoteric enough to feel pretentious, and the cinematography used the minimal resources in such a beautiful way that we immediately identified with the grandeur of being willingly "lost" in an arboreal paradise.
"The Kings of Summer" drew many comparisons (rightly so) to Wes Anderson's seminal "Moonrise Kingdom," yet unlike Moonrise, "The Kings Of Summer" is that proverbial punch-in-the-gut which young love ultimately delivers as opposed to Moonrise's first-love-butterfly-euphoria. Where Moonrise builds-up characters buoyed by puppy-love, Kings gives us the sobering reality of love's many false-starts and heartaches.
For as many a similarity of Kings has with Moonrise, ultimately it's what the superb cast does to turn a could-be-clichéd-trope into this year's most effective coming-to-age yarn. Relative newcomer Nick Robinson, playing lead as the angsty-yet-likable Joe who eventually leaves the confines of his brooding father's house of sullen to shack-up (literally and figuratively) with best-friend and also but not-quite as angsty Patrick, played affably by Gabriel Basso.
The true scene-stealers though are Megan Mullaly (Nick Offerman's real-life wife) playing Patrick's almost cultishly deranged mother and the eventual third "King" of summer, Biaggo, played by young Mr. Peepers look-a-like Moises Arias.

Spring Breakers
½

"Spring Breakers" expertly combines all of the excitement, pageantry and debauchery of what the ideal spring break should be with a poignantly bleak social criticism on today's youth-obsession with "want" and "excess." "Spring Breakers" also expertly left me wanting to pop several Excedrin after the first hour only to make me want to sob uncontrollably into my pillow after the credits rolled.
Simple premise: four nubile women living in a small-city college campus are itching to break up the monotony of their lives and make a break for the beach during their spring break. The only thing holding them back is that in the past several months of saving up for the trip, the foursome have only accumulated three-hundred and fifty dollars. What are four would-be-spring-breakers to do? Rob the local Chicken Shack and hop a bus to the Florida coast, that's what!
Like any vacation, the first half of "Spring Breakers" is rife with moments that you'll never forget and moments that you sincerely wish that you could take back. These four ladies immediately immerse themselves in the spring break festivities: beach parties, house parties, drug-fueled orgiastic brouhahas which ultimately result in the arrest of the fearsome foursome and other local spring break deviants. It's at this point where the film turns from being liken to a redundant EDM music video to a Nicholas Winding Refn movie; beautifully colorful cinematography mixed with terse/dramatic action sequences. It's the point in time when we're introduced to the often stiff-as-a-board James Franco. Now, I'll be the first one to admit that I've been rather hard on Mr. Franco; I've harangued him and his acting for a decade and I've felt justified in saying that he was the weakest part in every film that he's been in. Well my friends, In the weeks to months that James Franco had wrapped up "Oz" to his starting "Spring breakers," the dude must have taken an acting book from one of the many NYU courses he was attending because his performance was electric. I mean it. His character delivered and impromptu Britney Spears rendition on his ivory piano, he performed several hip-hop numbers, bulked-up and delivered an intense hood-rat-meets-just-another-dreamer performance that made me wonder if maybe James Franco does know how to loosen up on camera.
His character made the second half of the movie for me; the ladies at that point were just pink-hooded window dressing. "Spring Breakers" morphed into a rallying call for the 99% to a shock-and-awe deconstruction of the American Dream.
If you can make it through the first hour without giving yourself a migraine, the rest of the movie is too rewarding and too haunting to miss.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Batman mythos had been chiseled and woven for nearly one-hundred years. Every author, artist and auteur who has had the pleasure of working on the Caped Crusader has also indelibly changed the lore of Batman in one way or another. With that being said, there have been several ultimate truths, certain unshakable verisimilitudes if you will that are un-alterable; Batman doesn't use guns/kill, Batman knows no fear, Batman can not be bought, Batman can never be psychologically broken. It is this last trait that has forever cemented by lifelong Batman fanboy-dom. Countless heroes swear an oath against capital punishment. Even more heroes hold the moniker of being fearless. I can count on my left finger the number of heroes that have never forsaken their ideology at least once.
"The Dark Knight Rises" does a beautiful job in constructing a Batman movie without utilizing Batman. What's worse, the few scenes in which we're treated to him we're having to suffer through watching him blunder his way into Bane's lair only by making double-secret swear-I-won't-tell-if-you-swear-you-won't-tell promises with a person he barely has a first-name to match with a set of rubber cat-ears.
This isn't "The Dark Knight" where Batman is trying desperately to piece together an entirely new set of rules arbitrarily being patched together by a sociopath; this is the newly and quite disappointingly recluse Batman that has completely blunted every single bat-a-rang edge that to watch him go toe-to-toe with Bane in the second act is like watching a child fight a...well, fight Bane I guess.
That's the second violation of the Batman mythos that David Goyer and the Nolan brothers failed to account for; every Batman villain fears Batman. What does the big baddie Bane fear in this installment? A 5'2" CEO. Granted, a 5'2" assassin CEO, but not the man with the savvy and where-with-all to take down several sadists like they were your regular perp.
Bane had every characteristic you'd normally want in a lead villain: strong, menacing, spites authority and easily walks the fine line between sane and full-blown bats&%!. The problem with Bane the villain is that as the series culminates into an ad hoc Braveheart-style street battle and the entire fate of Gotham is resting on the push of a button, the stoic herald known as Bane is really just a pawn, a pawn to a truly disappointing and lackluster character that added nothing to the series except a tie-in that really only pleases the Batman faithful.
Anne Hathaway fit instantly into the Gotham landscape, Joseph Gordon-Levitt added another fresh face to the series and the return of Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy added such positive weight to a film/series that already had so much going for it that it made it hard to find room for the Dark Knight himself. Sure the story was culturally relevant, sure it kept the tone of the first two films while advancing the genre, and sure at the end of the day Christopher Nolan didn't compromise art for general blockbuster tropes; but would it really have been too much to ask to have had more Batman in a movie titled "The dark Knight Rises?"

This Is the End

"This is the End" has the feel of one of those films that would have been a blast to be on set for every day; cracking random dick-jokes with your friends and being paid to basically act like a caricature of yourself. The problem with "This is the End" is that after the initial first act's party winded-down, I didn't find myself having much fun.
Comedies are generally regarded as the stand-alone genre where acting gets thrown out the window and the only way success is gauged is by how quotably funny the film is in ten years. I don't see the point in awarding acting merits to comedians playing archetypes of their on-and-off screen personas, so we'll skip the acting technique part of the review; the problem I had with "This is the End" is that the majority of the jokes (aside from Michael Cera absolutely killing it with his freshly-dark humor) were prop jokes. Everyone uses props for a laugh to an extent, and anytime the audience is laughing the goal is being accomplished. It's just that it felt as if every joke in the second and third act was based around either an aroused ghost-demon rapist, various graphic/non-graphic works of art and a decapitated head. The only real organic laughter I felt was when Danny McBride and James Franco got all haughty over when and where to masturbate.
"This is the End" has such a simple premise, such a loose script and zero chance for retention that towards the end I felt like these guys really had no idea how to finish this thing. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have done heart-felt, they've done raunchy and they've done awkward-coming-to-age; this felt like the worst of all three varieties. Jay Baruchel came off as winy, Jonah Hill was unlikable from the onset, James Franco was unmemorable, Craig Robinson didn't have any material to separate himself from his "Office" or "Hot-tube Time Machine" persona and Seth Rogen was the glue that held the unfunny together. Danny McBride was gold in every scene he was in, the problem was that he was only in a quarter of the movie. Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, Martin Starr and Christopher Mintz-Plasse offer excellent window-dressing, but between the four of them only Aziz had a line and I think it was of him yelling as he was falling into an abyss.
Long story short, kudos to the team for trying to make a Meta comedy, but next time it wouldn't hurt to like the characters we're watching and the comedy shouldn't feel derivative of each actor's other works.

Bruno
Bruno(2009)

It's almost a disservice to Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno" that his "Borat" was such a success. It's a slightly larger disservice to "Bruno" that "Borat" came out three years earlier. "Bruno" isn't just shockingly funny, it isn't just culturally/socially relevant, it's also perhaps the bravest performance ever given by a comedic actor.
There is fine line between comedy that is reactionary and comedy that is scripted. "Bruno" walks the line of being both thereby being neither. The message is so so simple; sure Americans are okay with homosexuality, as long as we don't have to confront it or acknowledge that it exists.
My hope is that in twenty years when we revisit this gem we'll all laugh at how misanthropic we all were where sexual equality was concerned. This film was made several years before the majority of Americans approved of same-sex marriage. In 2009 the president was still rather ambivalent on the subject (publically that is). "Bruno" is essentially the hyperbolic-German speaking mirror held up to our collective subconscious. Sure, it's easy to say that his foils only represent the most extremely conservative populous in the country. That his actions were obnoxious, whether he be gay or straight. That he shoved his lifestyle into situations that didn't have the cognizance to assess the situation properly. All potentially true. He undoubtedly did however manage to get a presidential candidate to shout homophobic epithets on camera, get a major T.V. personality to sit on a minority while preaching about charity, and con a crowd frothing at the mouth to witness human carnage to cringe when two men embraced in a sexual manner. Our perspective needed to be re-adjusted, and while this may not have the omnipresence Sacha Baron Cohen thought it would, it still is an important film in-so-far as that it accomplished its two main goals: it made the viewer question their stance on civil rights...and it was brutally and savagely funny.

Gangster Squad
½

I've often wondered what would happen if "Sky Captain: and the world of tomorrow" and "Sin City" were fused into one movie. "Gangster Squad" is the proverbial bull-in-the-China-shop that has itself confused with a glossy period-piece. The result of months of re-edits and pushed-back release dates is a film that has absolutely nothing to say and manages to say it poorly. Granted, Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling got the memo on how to adapt their inflection to fit the times. Josh Brolin seemed like he was channeling his inner 1980's action hero and Emma Stone offered only the occasional distraction to a film that didn't seem to have any space for her.
I've said this about many films; I've even said this about many films that I've reviewed: this could have been a really great experience. The outcome however was loud, lazy and dull. There's a misconception out there that in order to make a well-crafted action movie, the higher the body count and the more frequent the explosions the better. Certain movie verisimilitudes end up painting pictures that have an opportunity to break the chains of conformity and making them lifeless. "Gangster Squad" had no-one to root for because we were too occupied with following the next shoot-out, the next act of arson, the next public explosion. What the movie was missing was a perspective. Mickey Cohen was repulsive, yet we knew nothing about him. The only member of the "Gangster's Squad" name that I knew was Ryan Gosling's character, and that was because he couldn't enter a scene without someone ballyhooing it.
Simply story with an even simpler cast of characters is what this films' legacy will ultimately be. Pulp or no pulp, it ultimately wasn't entertaining enough to excuse its lack of characterization. The attention to detail and the fire-fights couldn't overcome a script void of emotion and a cast that wasn't asked to do anything except look good in three-piece suits.

Now You See Me
½

"Now You See Me" has all the right elements in which a great illusion is created; it's slick, it's exciting, and it has the ability to keep you guessing. The problem with "Now You See Me" happens to be much of the same unfortunately; the slickness is overplayed early on, the interest is only so substantial with little-to-no investment in the characters, and the final act delivers more of a modest sigh than a contented huzzah.
No film is perfect, it goes without saying, yet once the credits role on "Now You See Me" the questions regarding plot-holes and a weak story are quickly forgotten or tabled due to ambivalence. Now don't get me wrong, the illusions are flashy and the modern take on some of the more seasoned magic tricks are welcome respite to fill in the gaps between watching the FBI be led down a rabbit hole and watching Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine engage in an ultimately fruitless series of verbal sparring.
The potential is never fully fleshed out in what constitutes as a plot, as it is mercifully layed at our feet the dry-ice has evaporated from the room and the audience is looking at one-another in hopes of discerning clarity. The "Mark" has been us the entire time, the shills have quietly slinked off never to be seen again and the illusionists have been all-but-forgotten. "Now You See Me" is a movie about "magic" but has nothing redeemably magical about it. Sure, the allegories referring to the Occupy movement and the vague/creepy inferences that a higher "unseen" power is always directing our actions aren't to dismissed; they are after all very real and current issues. The problem lies in the fact that these issues are discarded for a conclusion that prefers to besmirch its momentum for hokiness. "Now You See Me" uses sleight of hand so well that by the end of the movie, you're wondering how exactly you've ponied up the money to be entertained in the first place. Still, I won't deny I had fun. As much as I realized I was being played.

Sherrybaby
Sherrybaby(2006)
½

Maggie Gyllenhall delivers one of the most fragile yet gritty performances I've ever seen. The entire film rests of her ability to be able to either endear her character to the audience or let the somewhat flimsy story weigh her down. What Maggie Gyllenhaal is able to do is run the emotional gamut in such a way that the audience can't take its eyes off from her. She deftly balances redemption with the ubiquitous gloom that has been her life up until the final scene.

Promised Land

What does one say about a movie that takes such an unapologetically, unambiguous stance against fracking in its first two acts then decides to gummy up the third act with butterflies and unicorns; because when facts and first-person testimony aren't enough, surely a paper-thin love story will carry the day.
Personally, I find it refreshing that a film is brining to light a fifty-plus-year environmental headache that has only recently been brought to the forefront. I also find it refreshing that a film chose to take a stance from the outset and let its views intensify for two well-crafted acts that pitched the agrarian David vs. the corporate Goliath. The final act is where the lights were turned on and the music stopped in our Green-Gaia Mother-Nature love-nest. Why match big corporate land-mongering with eco-friendly reason? Why pit greed versus science? Decadence versus nature? Why even ask the question in the first place when all you are going to do is just overlook the issues so that a whisp of a character can have a change-of-heart? One man's ego ultimately set the tone for the movie; not the possible desecration of our drinking water and the erosion our terra firma. Gus Van Sant sacrificed the humanity of the issue for the humanity of a character we were never going to remember the name of.
The issue at hand is too important to be brushed aside when the chips are down and Matt Damon really really wants to get laid.
I ultimately came away from the movie with less energy than I originally had on the issue of fracking; that's unfortunately a testament to writing and the directing. Political movies are always the best when both sides go for broke. Politics, like fracking, is an ugly process. "Promised Land" tried to wrap with a bow an issue that the majority of the population knows little to nothing about. The issue was raised, then quickly side-stepped, and ultimately made irrelevant.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Several times in the past few years I'm reminded of how adroit my instincts truly are. Every fiber in my being was begging me to not select this vapid, clumsy-snooze of a film and go with my gut to watch literally anything else. I decided on watching "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" for the capricious and newly realized anachronistic duty I felt to every cast member of my beloved "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" to follow each actors' careers as if they were my own. After the bilge that I sat through last night I've decided that why should I give the benefit of the doubt to their careers when clearly they aren't looking out for their best interests.
Okay, that was a little much. I realize that Jason Schwartzman has filial reasons to be in the film, whereas Aubrey Plaza and Mary Elizabeth Winstead had such non-descript parts as to not even acknowledge their performance, still this little slice of terrible will shake the foundation of where my allegiance lies...that is to storytelling first and to the actors second. For now.
"Charles Swan" is such a hyperbolically-infused exultation of one man's id that from the second the film starts, we're strapped in on an 84 minute carnival ride of base and depraved without any pit-stops or bathroom breaks. Who would have thought that a farce would be so intimate and so yet so insipid?
This film is Charlie Sheen's version of "I'm Still Here" yet without any of the empathy, humility or acting...it's a B movie of a documentary that couldn't quite figure out that tongue in cheek is subtle, not barbaric and sloppy in execution; to belabor a point...
Charlie Sheen is to subtlety as a burning school bus is to sexy...the two have never met.

Valhalla Rising

If "Valhalla Rising" were any more minimal than it would have consisted of an hour and thirty minutes of celluloid that had been shot in an abandoned missile silo without any form of lighting during a solar eclipse. Too much?
Nicholas Winding Refn, the auteur extraordinaire who allows his actors to wear more emotion on their faces during every painstakingly-taut dramatic pause than any director this side of the Atlantic Ocean has crafted the Nordic version of "Wendy and Lucy;" although in this case "Valhalla Rising" was a call to how base, how endemically perverse our mien is as the human race brutalizes one-another in the name of its arbitrary traditions.
Mads Mikkelsen, the one-eyed, tribally-tattooed mute killing machine isn't your fathers protagonist; He isn't John Wayne with a trusty six-shooter or Clint Eastwood with a Magnum and a catch-phrase, all Mads has at his disposal is his blood-stained hunting ax and a laconic disposition that never allows the viewer to empathize with his character. What the viewer is is a voyeur into a world that feels like a millennia removed from our collective conscience, yet is set roughly around the time of King Richard the Lionhearted. Mads, referred to as "One-Eye" by his young companion and fellow globe-trotter, spends much of the film staring: staring into a fog which happens to span all of the Atlantic ocean. Staring at the hillsides which are his home for half-a-decade while he is taken as a prisoner and forced to compete in Gladiatorial combat. But mostly he is staring into the blue horizon, into a sea of tranquility that is void of the barbarism that he is forced into (however willingly he seems to initiate it.)
The film, such like its protagonist, holds us at just the right arms-length to feel as though we're safe from the horrors of a culture we'll never have to live through, and from a man that we're all to lucky to have psychologically evolved.