Whiplash (2014)

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Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Production Companies: Bold Films, Blumhouse Productions, Right of Way Films
Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Genre: Drama

What It’s About: A first-year student at a prestigious music school struggles to meet his full potential while under the guidance of an overly demanding mentor.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Andrew (Teller) is a drummer, but being any drummer just won’t do. He wants to be one of the greats–he wants to be the next Buddy Rich. He thinks that he’ll stop at nothing…and then he meets Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Fletcher has a unique way of pushing someone past their limits to help them achieve greatness. The question is: where do you draw the line?

Wow. Ya know…there’s really not a lot to this story if you think about it. A fresh-blooded freshman pushes himself to achieve the unreachable, and then a hard-ass mentor comes in and takes him to limits that he never knew existed before. That’s really the core of it. There’s lots of music, and the practicing of music, and some slight views of backstory…but holy fucking hell does this movie keep you glued to the screen. This isn’t someone trying to learn “Wipeout”, so hold on to your butts.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

The title of the film is attributed to a jazz piece played by the Studio Band in the film, but it references so much more than that. The way the film was directed and shot, makes you feel as though you’re being whip-lashed yourself. While sometimes, the camera work was actually jerking back and forth to create this feel, the performances are what really makes you feel it. J.K. Simmons’ constant state of being positive, and then negative, leave you in a constant state of disquiet. I think my neck may actually hurt a little bit, but in a good way.

Alright. Acting.
HOLY FUCKING J.K. SIMMONS. I know he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor, and that man deserved it and so much more. I’ve been a fan of J.K. for a while now, but he’s always sort of been a “that guy” in films…never really someone at the forefront. His performance was top-fucking-notch. I could honestly not read his character from one minute to the next. I felt as though I was being harassed just as much as Andrew while watching. On the surface, he plays uppity-music-know-it-all-asshole extremely well. He’s never satisfied and is always looking for more, and he demands that his students keep up or get left behind. But what really sold me on his portrayal of Fletcher was how well he walked the fine line of showing that he cared. He cares more about these kids and about the music than anyone else–he may be hesitant to show it–but it bleeds through every once in a while. The scene where he’s telling his band about the former student who had passed away almost killed me. Ugh. Ku-dos, Mr. Simmons.

I’ve had high hopes for Miles Teller ever since I saw him in the film adaptation of the David Lindsay-Abaire play Rabbit Hole. He’s a brilliant young actor, and I look forward to him taking on more dramatic roles like this one. I’m not sure how much actually drumming he had to learn for this role, but he managed to sell it even if he wasn’t actually doing all of the performing. And I don’t mean to judge, but he does have quite the “drummer face”, but that’s good–makes it seem more realistic. There were some scenes in this movie (which I’ll save for spoilers) that I just wanted to give this guy a hug. There was so much passion and determination in his performance, and I bought every second of it.

Let’s talk soundtrack for a minute. The title song “Whiplash” was composed by Hank Levy. I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of scholar when it comes to Jazz music, but there are some pretty great tunes on this soundtrack. A few of the tracks were classics gathered for the film, while others were composed by heavyweight Tim Simonec, who’s had his hands in several film scores. Justin Hurwitz contributed quite a bit as well, but he appears to be fairly new to the game…his only other credits are for writing some TV episodes including an episode for The Simpsons and several for The League. Hmm. Weird.

My Rating: Huzzah!!
Such a brilliantly acted and directed film. I think my brain hurts a bit from the whiplash-like motion of the story, but it was totally worth it.

Where Can I Watch It?: Rent it on Amazon or iTunes, or stop by a local rental store or library.

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Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

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Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Production Companies: Automatik Entertainment, Blumhouse Productions, Entertainment One, Sony Pictures International
Stars: Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Michael Reid MacKay
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: Long before the Lamberts are haunted, Elise reluctantly decides to help a teenage girl who is being targeted by a paranormal entity.

How I Watched It: In the theater with a friend.

Thoughts: Well, you guys…this movie is a PREQUEL.
NOT A PREQUEL!
I, for one, don’t think prequels are all that bad most of the time. Sure–they might not be the most consistent sort of sequel, but I think they open open a whole new realm of potential. Especially when it comes to this film franchise. Imagine all the possibilities of awesome movies staring Elise that they could give us! Let’s hope.

This film is set several years before the haunting of the Lambert family from the first two chapters. A teenage girl named Quinn (Scott) makes a special trip to visit the psychic she’s heard so much about from friends. When she arrives, Elise (Shaye) is more than reluctant to speak to her. This isn’t the strong and powerful Elise that we’re familiar with from the first two films–something’s different. She’s seems scared. She refuses to help her, but when she realizes that she’s traveled so far…she invites Quinn in for a quick chat. Quinn wants to contact her mother who recently passed away. When Elise attempts to contact her mother, she senses something else entirely…and she knows that Quinn may be in danger.

So…there you have it. It’s a similar setup to the first two films. Some sort of malevolent spirit has its eyes on Quinn, and it’s not willing to back down without a fight. I don’t want to continue with a synopsis and ruin this one for you. Can’t ruin the surprises!  😉

Let’s talk about performances.
~Stephanie Scott as Quinn Brenner: I wasn’t familiar with her work prior to this film–which is always nice. I love seeing some fresh blood up on the screen, because you don’t really have any expectations based on the rest of their work. I thought she did an all-around solid performance. She had quite a few impediments in this role. Without spoiling too much, she gets injured and is bedridden for a bulk of the film. It takes some chops to make some things interested when you’re confined to one spot. I look forward to seeing more from her.

~Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier: Lin Shaye kicks so much ass. It’s always a pleasure to see her doing new things–and let me tell you, she gets more of a starring role in this film than any of the others in the franchise. As I mentioned earlier, we get to see some different sides to Elise’s character–lots of great development there. I just…I…gah. She’s my favorite. I will watch every single prequel/sequel/reboot that they come up with if she’s a part of it.

~Dermot Mulroney as Sean Brenner: I didn’t realize that Dermot Mulroney was starring in this film. To be honest, I kind of chuckled to myself because I had just recently watched this SNL skit. But I digress. I was sort of concerned at first. I mean, he’s got the whole handsome thing going for him, and that’s great…but his first few scenes were sort of bad. I don’t know if he was just having trouble connecting to his “movie children” or what, but it seemed very scripted and dull. To his credit, he did improve as the film went along. As tensions and emotions are on the rise, he managed to save his performance. So “meh”.

If you wanna talk about an awesome performance–let’s talk about Leigh Whannell. Not only has he been the writer on all three films in this franchise, but he also stars as Specs.
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He takes on an EVEN BIGGER role in this film as the Director! I didn’t realize that this was the case until the credits were rolling at the end…but holy moly. Oh, and let’s point out that this is his directorial debut. Talk about a big introduction…and what a great introduction it was. Major kudos to him.

Lots of great special effects and really cool makeup designs for the ghosts in this one. Creeeeeeeepy.

My Rating: Huzzah!!!
I’m gonna go ahead and throw it out there–I think this one may be the scariest one in the franchise so far. I lost count of the number of times that I jumped in my seat. We’re not talking cheap jump scares either. So creepy and so well done. A fresh addition to the franchise, and I only hope that they keep these coming.

Where Can I Watch It?: This one’s still on the theater circuit. Catch it if you can.

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

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Director: Peter Chelsom
Writers: Maria von Heland, Peter Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay, Francois Lelord
Production Companies: Egoli Tossell Film, Film Afrika Worldwide, Construction Film, Erfttal Film, Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology, Screen Siren Pictures, Wild Bunch
Stars: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike
Genre: Drama/ Comedy/ Adventure

What It’s About: A psychiatrist travels the globe in search of what makes people happy.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Hector (Pegg) lives a somewhat formulaic life. He goes to work, he comes home to his beautiful girlfriend Clara (Pike), rinse and repeat. Hector’s a psychiatrist and as he continues to grow more and more irritated with listening to his patients’ incessant ramblings about how unhappy they are, he takes it upon himself to discover exactly what “happiness” is. Hector packs up in a hurry and embarks on an adventure around the globe, hoping that he can find the key. All the while, he hopes that maybe he’ll discover what happiness means to him.

I love Simon Pegg. He was my main draw to this film. While I enjoy nerdy, overly-cheesy Pegg (as he’s often portrayed), I really do enjoy him taking on these more serious roles. Don’t get me wrong–this isn’t just a big ol’ sappy drama the entire time. Pegg’s comedy still shines through, and it’s heartwarmingly sincere. I really enjoy Hector’s transformation throughout the film–he goes through quite a roller coaster of emotions. Pegg does an outstanding job of staying on for the ride.

Rosamund Pike is so incredibly beautiful and so freakin’ talented. You go girl. This is definitely a slightly more light-hearted film than the last one I saw her starring in (Gone Girl–yikes). She’s not the main focus of the film, but her melodramatic reactions to Hector via Skype are fairly memorable. I sort of found myself not liking her for most of the film–but in the end, I couldn’t help but love her character. Kudos for the emotional rollercoaster, Ms. Pike.

While Pegg and Pike are really the only two characters that get much screen time, there is an entire ensemble of motley cast members. Hector meets lots of different people along his journey for happiness that include the likes of Stellan Skarsgård, Jean Reno, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer. Really, the entire ensemble of cast members was fantastic–they give you a realistic world-travel feel as you’re watching the film, and they all come across quite genuinely. 

What this movie has successfully done is to peak my wanderlust–gee thanks. I think that speaks to its impact, though. This movie is brimming with adventure, and it makes you want to go have some of your own. I enjoy movies like that–sort of a silent call to action. Aside from feelings of wanderlust, this is just a great feel-good movie…at least by the end. There were some pretty bittersweet moments in there.

My Rating: Huzzah!

Great feel-good movie, with a wonderful ensemble cast. P.S. Simon Pegg, you can be my psychiatrist any day. 😉

Where Can I Watch It?: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, or for rent elsewhere.

The Imitation Game (2014)

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Director: Morten Tyldum
Writers: Graham Moore, Andrew Hodges
Production Companies: Black Bear Pictures, Bristol Automotive
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech
Genre: Biography/ Historical Drama

What It’s About: Mathematician Alan Turing works with a team to crack the Enigma code during WWII.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Prodigy mathematician Alan Turing faces off against naysayers and sets out to create what will eventually be realized as a primitive computer in hopes of breaking Enigma–the German encryption device.

My main interest in watching this film was that it starred Benedict Cumberbatch–I won’t lie. I’m a big fan of his work. Right off the bat, we get to experience him  in his interpretation of famed mathematician Alan Turing. The scenes at the beginning between him and Denniston (Dance) are so well done. The back and forth is not only humorous, but it gives us great insight as to who Turing is and what he’s like.  There are several other scenes where Turing’s personality quirks make for some funny scenes–although maybe not intentionally. Cumberbatch sells the idiosyncrasies and makes them quite charming.

Eventually we meet Joan Clarke (Knightley). I loved this character immediately. When we’re introduced to Joan, she’s basically being told off by a misogynist asshole. She stands up for herself, and Turing steps in and assists her–you can see that they instantly bond in that moment. When she cracks the puzzle set before her in less time than Turing himself could do it, the look of astonishment on his face is priceless. The relationship that she forms with Alan is unconventional, yet absorbing. Knightley and Cumberbatch had great chemistry.

As a whole, this was really a great ensemble cast. I can’t think of any weak links off the top of my head.

This story lends itself to becoming a fantastic film–there really wasn’t any surprise there. How they played it, however, is what made me fall in love the movie. This movie–at its core–is a celebration of being different. Turing is strange and brilliant and we see the strife that he’s experienced throughout his life in the film. Alan was also a homosexual, and the trials that he faced in a society that was not only intolerant of that–but one that considered it illegal–they’re just unthinkable. Abhorrent. It’s so sad that after all he had done, and all the millions of lives that he saved, that he fell victim to an ignorant and intolerant government. He spent his life trying to program a machine that could think and act like a human–and in the end, it was almost as though they were trying to “re-program” him with hormone therapies that eventually made him take his own life.

There’s a line that is repeated several times in the film. I’m not sure if it was a creation by the screenwriter, or if it was a direct quote from those in Turing’s life:

Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

What a fantastic quote. That stuck with me throughout the film, and I found myself nearly in tears every time it was uttered. Just to imagine how unappreciated he lived his life because he didn’t have a choice–everything was confidential. No one could know what he did–all the millions of lives he saved. Unfathomable.

The set design, the costumes, the cinematography, the score–everything really helped to build the story. The only criticism I could even think of was that sometimes the jumps in time between Bletchley during the war and Manchester after the war got a little confusing in the beginning. That’s it. I can’t think of anything else.

My Rating: Huzzah!!
I laughed. I cried. I gasped. I sat on the edge of my seat. A truly beautiful film.

Where Can I Watch It?: Amazon, iTunes, or rent it at your local video store or library.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Production Companies: Kennedy Miller Productions, Village Roadshow Pictures
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi

What It’s About: The road warrior Max teams up with a War Boys soldier named Furiosa, and they embark on an escape from the Tyranny of Immortan Joe.

How I Watched It: Alone in the theater. Small crowd…consisting of a bunch of dudes all wearing baseball caps. Weird.

Thoughts: After being abducted by these weird fellas known as the War Boys, Max(Hardy) ends up making an unlikely team with a rogue War Boy officer named Furiosa (Theron). They, along with several of Immortan Joe’s (Keays-Byrne) prime mating ladies, depart for Furiosa’s maiden land–“The Green Place”.

I was pretty excited going into this, being a fan of the original trilogy. Knowing that George Miller was once again taking the reigns made me hold even more hope. Surely if anyone could carry on the Mad Max legacy on the big screen, and do it well, it would be him. He did not disappoint.

Take your vision for what the original Mad Max films could have looked like with 30 more years of technology available….and multiply it times ten. Holy. Hell. All of the elements of the original films that we loved–the costumes, the crazy characters, the INSANE high speed chases–they’re all still here. Not only are they here, but they are far improved.

One of my only complaints about this film was, surprisingly, Tom Hardy. He is one attractive male specimen. However, there were several times that I just found him taking me out of the film. Maybe if I revisit the old films, I’ll see more correlations between his acting choices and Mel Gibson’s…but I dunno. I always appreciate actors giving their own spins and using their own inspirations for old characters being revamped, but that doesn’t mean I always like their interpretations. Something about him wasn’t working for me most of the time.

Now, this may be a Mad Max film, but this one belongs to Charlize Theron. Furiosa is by far a more integral character to this story, and she is such a frickin’ badass. Even with grease covering half of her face, she’s still incredibly beautiful (Lucky!). She is such an empowering female presence. This may well be my favorite performance from Theron.

Another favorite character of mine was Nux (Hoult). These War Boys are crazy mo-fos who are destined to live short, intense lives. They want nothing more than to die in the heat of battle and to be “witnessed” into the gates of Valhalla. Nux is initially just a War Boy using Max as a blood bank, but he ends up being an unlikely team member on the trek to “The Green Place”. Hoult’s performance was spot-on.

I can’t write a review of this movie without a shoutout to Hugh Keays-Byrne. If you’re not aware, he played the role of Toecutter in Mad Max (1979). It was cool having at least one actor come back to the series in a new capacity.

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My Rating: Huzzah!
This movie is a fun ride from start to finish, and is easily my favorite film that I’ve seen in the theater so far this year. I truly hope that this spawns even more films in the Mad Max franchise–*wink wink* George Miller *wink wink*. Go see it while you still can!

Where Can I Watch It?: THE THEATER! Right now! Go!  🙂

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014)

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Can we all take a second to appreciate that tagline? “The sequel you did Nazi coming.” Come on! Awesome.

 

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writers: Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel, Tommy Wirkola
Production Companies: Tappeluft Pictures, Saga Film, XYZ Films
Stars: Vegar Hoel, Ørjan Gamst, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas, Stig Frode Henriksen, Hallvard Holmen
Genre: Horror / Comedy

What It’s About: We pick up right after Dead Snow. Martin escapes the mountain only to be under persecution for his friends’ deaths. The battle isn’t over yet, however. The Nazi zombie army isn’t done yet…but neither is Martin.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Well, if you haven’t seen Dead Snow, you’ll probably be alright watching this. To catch you up, here’s a non-spoiler plot summary. If you want a more detailed run-through, here’s the full plot synopsis with all spoilers included.

In order to review this movie, I’m gonna have to SPOIL the fact that Martin (Hoel) is the only survivor from the first film. Sorry, dudes. Had to be done.

I’ll only spoil details for the general setup of the story. **SPOILER ALERT**
We come back in the story with the Nazi zombies going after Martin. A high-speed zombie/car chase happens. The Nazi leader, Herzog (Gamst) loses his arm in said chase. If you remember, in the first film, Martin loses his arm. Well…Martin wrecks his car and ends up in the hospital…armless….with the severed arm of the Nazi general in his car. So…the doctors just assumed that the arm belonged to him…and decided to re-attach it.  With Herzog’s arm, Martin also gains all of his zombie abilities–super strength, zombie-raising powers, and super jerk….ummm…..no I won’t go there. Hahaaaa.

Police thing that Martin is to blame for his friends’ deaths in the mountains, and they don’t believe his whole “army of Nazi zombies” story for one second. So, with the help of a new acquaintance, Martin finds out about the Zombie Squad and calls for their assistance. Martin sets out against Herzog and his rotting army with vengeance as his only goal.

It had been a while since I’d seen the first Dead Snow movie, but from what I remember, this sequel is soooo much funnier than the first one…and I liked the first one. This is just a fun ride from beginning to end. The first film was more of a “cabin in the woods” sort of movie, whereas this one is all over the map.

All of the lead actors are great, but my favorite addition to the cast would have to be Martin Starr and his zombie squad. Martin Starr has always been a favorite, and it’s exciting to get to see him in more of a leading role capacity.

This movie just takes it to the next level on both comedy and on gore. Man…the effects in this movie are AWESOME. Really well done on all accounts. The Nazi zombies are always a favorite, but we get a look at some different variations in this film, and they’re a lot of fun. There’s one zombie in particular who becomes a bit of a “pet” in the movie–this poor guy gets taken down over and over again. It’s great, because not only is it hilarious that he keeps coming back, but he keeps coming back looking worse every time. They do a really great job of showing what this poor fella has been through.

My Rating: Huzzah!!

This one’s a fun ride from beginning to end. One of my favorite horror films of the year. Enough said.

Where Can I Watch It?: Available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and also available for rent on Youtube.

 

Tusk (2014)

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Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Production Companies: Demarest Films, Phase 4 Films, SModcast Pictures
Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment
Genre: Horror / Comedy

What It’s About: A podcaster goes missing while out on an interview with an eccentric seafarer. His girlfriend and best friend team up with an ex-cop to search for him.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: First of all, let me just say that I have been anticipating this movie for some time. I’m a big fan of Kevin Smith, and after seeing Red State, I was especially excited to see another Kevin Smith movie starring Michael Parks. I was pretty amped to finally see it.

The general story (WITHOUT SPOILERS!):
Wallace (Long) is a podcaster, and a rude and crude one at that. He teams up with his co-host Teddy (Osment) to create The Not-See Party podcast. What a name. Anyway, Wallace takes it upon himself to go out into the world and collect stories from weird and eccentric people, and then broadcasts them on the show. His newest adventure is to go see a viral-video star in Canada, so he goes on his way.

The story with the viral-video kid doesn’t pan out, so Wallace quickly seeks a backup plan so that his trip wouldn’t be in vain. While in a bar restroom, he spots an ad from someone offering up free lodging for someone willing to do some household chores. The man claims to be an invalid in need of help, but he also apparently has tons of amazing stories to share–which would be another perk of the arrangement.

Wallace sees the opportunity and seizes it. He phones the fellow, Howard Howe (Parks), and plans to make the trip to his house. He gets there, and begins to hear the tales of so many of his adventures. Wallace is truly intrigued. But then…something starts to seem off…and before he knows it, he begins an adventure that he could never have imagined.

Wow. I knew some spoilers going into this film (it was nearly impossible to avoid them), but I still found it so shocking….and just….crazy. The special effects used in this movie looked SO GREAT. So real and visceral….while being completely out of the ordinary. But I’ll refrain from going further into that as to avoid spoilers. If you’d like to learn about the origin of this ridiculous plot line (some spoilers included), CLICK HERE.

Let’s talk about how hilarious this movie is. Anything from crude dude-humor to really subtle humor…to what I always think Kevin Smith does best–the situational humor. Some of the situations in this movie are so ridiculous…sure, they’re terrifying and weird…but they’re also fucking hilarious. Half the time, I didn’t know whether to cringe or laugh. That’s a difficult effect to achieve.

As far as acting goes, everyone nailed it on the head. Justin Long walks that line of being that guy you hate, and being that guy that you feel sorry for. I can’t even imagine how difficult of a role this was for him to play…for….**COUGH**…various reasons.  😉

Michael. Fucking. Parks. First of all, if you haven’t seen Red State, go watch it right fucking now.  I love that movie so much. I had seen Parks in several roles before that film…Kill Bill, Grindhouse, From Dusk Til Dawn, Twin Peaks…but man.  That role is the fucking tits.  This role is right up there with that one in my mind. Parks is one creepy mo-fo. Holy hell. Just the performance he delivers….incredible.

Later in the movie, Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Rodriguez) team up with an ex-cop named Guy Lapointe…and well…this might be a spoiler, because it was somewhat hidden from audiences….so SPOILER ALERT! Lapointe is played by none other than Johnny Depp. It’s fairly easy to tell that it’s him, even through his well-done makeup effects….so, you’d probably figure it out.  What a hilarious performance…drunken Quebec investigator. There’s a scene between him and Parks that is just hilarious, and is a testament to both of their acting abilities.

My Rating: Huzzah!
This movie is totally out there, but I love it. Definitely nothing else out there like this one, folks.

Where Can I Watch It?: This title is available digitally across several formats (Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, etc). The film will be released to DVD and Blu-Ray on December 30th.