The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 Review

Let's talk about the Paranormal Activity series and what it has become. At this point most people will be quick to dismiss it as nothing more than a cash cow for Paramount who turns a huge profit off these things by making them for next to nothing and placing them in theaters every year around this time to see how many of us show up to see where the mythology of the films go next. I don't know that I have a problem with it, at least, not until the films themselves become obvious to the audience as to what they really are. For the time being though, the studio has been lucky enough to have New York filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish) who also made the third installment and writer Christopher Landon who co-wrote the second and penned the third and fourth all on his own. Each of these individuals have managed to inject a good amount of fun into the franchise while also investing enough in the movies that we can tell they are pretty excited about where the franchise could potentially take the story and that they want to be a part of that. I tend to forget how wrapped up in these movies I get. I have begun to even view seeing them as more of an obligation than a genuine thrill or excitement for scares. When it comes down to it though, and I sit down with the people so genuinely portrayed on screen and not your standard horror-heroine cliches I remember how invested I have become in these movies and how, despite this being the least scary in the series, it moves the story along and pushes the mythology surrounding Katie and her demon-tainted life.

CLOUD ATLAS Review

While I would certainly classify myself as a sci-fi nerd I don't think I would place Cloud Atlas fully in that category. It is one of those movies that is hard to describe. I can't imagine the pitch for it (which I guess is one reason it had to be financed by foreign investors) and to have such a grand idea condensed into a single cinema-going experience all seems to be a bit too much to feed in one serving. It is something that might have worked better, and would have likely benefited, from being a mini-series on HBO or something like that rather than having an audience sit through six elaborately detailed stories pushed together and feeling forced to connect what it attempts to deliver in theme. That being said, the themes this film does concern itself with mixed with several of the individual stories that are ambitious in their own way and are then layered with others combine to create an impact that will leaving you feeling as if you truly have witnessed something special, if not at least very stimulating. I cannot say that Cloud Atlas will be for everyone, in fact, I can certainly understand where many people would have issues with the film. Whether it be that it is simply too confusing without being compelling enough to hold their attention or that for all its big ideas, in the end, it feels rather simplistic. I would understand and to a certain degree, I would concur with those points. Still, this movie is far too ambitious, far too unique to be dismissed for not being exactly what you expected or wanted it to be. Cloud Atlas is a sprawling epic that not only delves into several subjects but wants to make us think and speculate as much as it wants to entertain. It is a rarity and for that, I appreciate every minute it gave me.

Favorite Scary Movies of the Millennium

Horror movies, in many ways have become jokes over the past few years. Especially for those of a generation that look to Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Leatherface as icons of the genre even if, when we look back at their movies their age is extremely evident. As many of these slasher movie villains have enjoyed plenty of continued box office success and reincarnations over the past decade there has also been the absence of a good amount of authentic, fear-inducing films hitting the megaplex. As a child of the 90's I didn't really become accustomed to the genre with a real grasp on what made up a good scary movie until after the new millennium and so, in celebration of Halloween being right around the corner I have compiled a list of my favorite scary movies over the past twelve years. I am not saying these are the best scary movies since 2000 as I can not say that I have seen nearly all of the supposed horror films that have come out since that time, but these have been my favorites or at least the ones that have provided the most genuine, fear inducing experiences in the theater. Some of these films on my list are remakes of the cult classics that are now considered the golden age of the genre I decided to put them on the lost because they came at the movie with a new perspective and in many ways made the film as if they had no predecessor. As if they were originals for this day and age. I appreciated that above everything while others have created new antagonist icons of their own while others were a one and done that have stuck with me.

SINISTER Review

It has become like a bad joke to get hooked into horror films rolled out by the studios no matter what time of year they come out, but the ones looking like nothing more than cash cows usually show up around this time of year. They never live up to much and if anything inspire more laughs and mocks at the bad acting than they do provide authentic fear or at least a few jump scares. I like scary movies though, and I love the atmosphere they can provide when done right. Thus, I get suckered into them more often than I probably should. In 2005, after becoming pretty well acquainted with the tricks of the trade it was a refreshing piece of contemporary horror mixed with the tired genre of the exorcism films that made me trust in modern horror movies. In The Exorcism of Emily Rose watching the scary stuff mixed with the courtroom drama inspired a new sense of investment in the material and I was surprised to find a first time director behind such well developed characters and a story that explored a very effective way of getting across a very scary situation. Needless to say, when I heard that same director, Scott Derrickson, was returning to the horror genre after a disappointing follow up in The Day the Earth Stood Still remake I was hoping for something that would again rejuvenate the failing genre. Though I will say 2012 has been pretty steady when it comes to its scary movie offerings (Woman In Black, Cabin in the Woods) I was looking forward to Sinister the most and it certainly didn't disappoint in being one of the best modern horror movies of the past few years.

COMPLIANCE Review

Compliance brings up an interesting question: can the quality of a film still be great despite the fact one might be repulsed by the story it tells. Does the story have a real purpose? Does it mean more than to simply entertain? Is it teaching a lesson or giving a warning? What are the intentions of the film if we are engrossed by it yet doubtful it could ever truly happen even if the one thing we know and you need to know before seeing a frame of the film, is that this actually happened and happened many times. It is a string of questions that not only challenge you as you watch the film unravel, but it allows Compliance to be a film where you don't say that you "liked" it in the common sense of the word, but that you took something from it, were fascinated by it or that maybe you were in fact disgusted by it, think every character in it is stupid and would never watch the film again. The crazy thing is, I feel I can see justification for any one of these opinions and not feel inclined to inject my interpretation of the film as to why that opinion might differ from my own in one way or another. The overall accomplishment of the film though is to see  how far people will go, how much we will trust in authority, and how obedient we can be when the commands are clearly violating some kind of ethical code. Would we still go against that inherent voice in our heads telling us no because of a slim promise that to do this will make it easier in the end? We don't know what we might have done in these characters situations. It is a complicated scenario to pull off on screen without each of the characters losing credibility and it is easy to say you might have done something different but in that moment, when your back's against the wall and you have someone who, by the pillars of our society, we believe we can trust and in turn are going to do as they ask. We trust them that they are having us do what is best for everyone and to abuse that power is to cause an avalanche of things, worlds falling apart.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER Review

Everything about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is subtle. As it should be. From its beautifully subdued soundtrack to its washed out color palette. Even in the most flashy of performances and moments that creep towards the melodramatic this lovely film is limited to its inherent honesty. I have never read the book by Stephen Chbosky on which this is based, but I will be sure to pick up a copy to really understand the culmination of our main character. I found myself, throughout the entire film, wanting to really get a grasp on the writing of our main character in order to get to know him all the better. The film does more than a fine job at this, don't get me wrong. It is more a justification of how well this film draws you into each and every character we are presented with that we want to continue on their journey with them, that we never want it to end. I can only imagine the  kind of emotionality that goes into re-creating ones experience at such a delicate time in their lives but Chbosky, who not only is the author of the novel but also adapted it to a screenplay and then directed the film has done so in award-winning fashion. He shows the natural intuition of a seasoned director as he manages each of his characters and their equally important journeys with such care that we truly feel the effects of that first love, those traumatic experiences that come with every high school experience, the loss of innocence and how what we feel in being carefree will always exist as shadows of those moments will forever stay with us; meaning so much more than anyone who recalls them around you will ever know. They will never know the individual, personal experience of what memories your mind drifts to, but this movie provides a universally identifiable yet uniquely individual story of one boys account that will not only move you, but help you to understand life a little bit better.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) have two
different interpretations of their shop project.
The story we see unfold is one that is essentially touching on growing up. Something that we are all forced to do, even if we regret rushing it once we get there. I don't know that there has ever been a person wise enough to not be envious of the attractive aspects of adulthood that it doesn't cause them to want to hurry through adolescence. Naturally, there are no real exceptions to that rule here, but instead young human beings who understand the moment they are at in life is pretty damn great and they are going to take advantage of it. We are first introduced to Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he enters his freshman year of high school with the humble goal of trying to make a friend on the first day. Friends are a big deal to Charlie, his older sister is a senior and his even older brother has just left for college at Penn State on a football scholarship. Charlie's parents are nothing if not typical. They aren't overbearing, but their children seem to know what they expect. His father (played at just the right temperature by Dylan McDermott) probably drinks a little too much and his mother (Kate Walsh) could probably show a little more interest, but then again Chbosky might have felt their influence wasn't necessary as it's clear parent issues are not what Charlie is worried about. Charlie is simply trying to find where he fits in. He seems very sure of who he is, despite what he has been through (which I won't divulge here, the way it unfolds in the film and to such perfect effect is much too good to spoil) but clearly finds it hard to carve out a place with others who seem to share his sensibilities. So, it is nothing more than a blessing when misfit seniors like Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson) take in Charlie to their exclusive group where he feels, for the first time, he can truly be himself.

Charlie, Patrick, and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson)
become friends with a unique bond.
While Chbosky has created a film that will live on for generations as those John Hughes films of the 80's do, The Perks of Being a Wallflower will be referenced by teenagers of the time period it represents as well as teenagers of today. It could really be set in any time period and the dynamics, the relationships and the conflicts that these teenagers go through will be the same they just might have a different set of stipulations. This is the closest thing we will likely ever have that touches the magic of those Hughes produced movies and, as in the cases of those films, what will really live on and stick with you long after the movie has come to a close are the characters. I was surprised to hear Lerman would be playing the socially awkward Charlie, the angst-ridden teen who also needed to convey the necessary amount of charm to be appealing. Lerman can certainly be appealing as he has proved in big budget bombs like The Three Musketeers and Percy Jackson, but being given those type of leading man roles made this seem a bit out of character. The actor surprises at every turn, making Charlie the most genuine kind of wallflower. He is smart, he knows and understands things, but he doesn't flaunt his superiority to his peers because his humble ways don't allow him to be too self-assured. It is a complex personality to set forth but Lerman delivers this even in his vocals that narrate our story.

Our protagonist owes a good amount to his co-stars for helping make his personality shine though, there is no doubt there. Ezra Miller plays Patrick with a drama queen attitude and flair for the abusive honesty his classmates would like to sweep under the rug. Miller is clearly a force to be reckoned with (especially if you saw him in last years We Need to Talk About Kevin) and he brings a certain weight to every second he is on screen whether it be to comedic or dramatic effect. Then, there is of course Emma Watson who nails an American accent, but more importantly turns in a better, more mature performance than she was ever able to give in the Harry Potter films. As Sam, Watson breathes an intelligence that could only come with understanding where her character is in life. Lerman is our anchor, but Miller nearly steals the film and Watson simply makes this whole affair feel less of something that could have come from the mind of any screenwriter. She seems to have a real connection, a personal need with and from the story that is taking place. That coming-of-age tale that includes every emotion that comes along with real life. The whole movie could be described in the same way. The performances only make these facts even more true.

It is clear from the beginning Sam and Charlie share
something more, though we never know if it
will work out. 
There is no other way to put it other than to flat out say I loved this movie. It is so good and I enjoyed every minute of it. Never have I felt so often moved by a picture and at the same time so invigorated to go out and live by the virtues its preaching. It doesn't talk down to its audience. It isn't trying to teach us a lesson and it isn't judging us through the way it treats its characters. It doesn't throw moral guidelines at us, more it is simply providing an earnest interpretation of what being a teenager feels like and showing how everyone can find something to relate to in that stage of life. No matter if it were the ways in which these kids interact with one another or the moments in which they realize and come to that epiphany that expands their minds past  not just who they are but into what else is out there and who they (or we) could be in this bigger landscape our confined mind could have ever hoped to imagine. There is a real sense of ephemeral bliss to everything that happens in the movie and that relates to the crowd even more. You can relate so much that you can feel the similarities between what you did, might, or are going through and it seriously takes you back and puts you in that moment. It gets to you. If you don't feel anything from it, if you don't get a sense of nostalgia at the very least I don't know that you even understand the point of film. Spending two hours with these folks makes anyone who has ever felt lost know that there is something or someone out there who completely understands them and as cliched or pretentious as that might come off it, as the movie is able to effortlessly convey, is only meant in the most genuine and heartfelt of ways. This film is a true experience, a flash of memories and a rush of excitement. Above all, it is timeless and I expect it will stay with me more than any other film this year.

     

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER Review

Everything about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is subtle. As it should be. From its beautifully subdued soundtrack to its washed out color palette. Even in the most flashy of performances and moments that creep towards the melodramatic this lovely film is limited to its inherent honesty. I have never read the book by Stephen Chbosky on which this is based, but I will be sure to pick up a copy to really understand the culmination of our main character. I found myself, throughout the entire film, wanting to really get a grasp on the writing of our main character in order to get to know him all the better. The film does more than a fine job at this, don't get me wrong. It is more a justification of how well this film draws you into each and every character we are presented with that we want to continue on their journey with them, that we never want it to end. I can only imagine the  kind of emotionality that goes into re-creating ones experience at such a delicate time in their lives but Chbosky, who not only is the author of the novel but also adapted it to a screenplay and then directed the film has done so in award-winning fashion. He shows the natural intuition of a seasoned director as he manages each of his characters and their equally important journeys with such care that we truly feel the effects of that first love, those traumatic experiences that come with every high school experience, the loss of innocence and how what we feel in being carefree will always exist as shadows of those moments will forever stay with us; meaning so much more than anyone who recalls them around you will ever know. They will never know the individual, personal experience of what memories your mind drifts to, but this movie provides a universally identifiable yet uniquely individual story of one boys account that will not only move you, but help you to understand life a little bit better.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS Review

Seven Psychopaths is a specific type of film. It is a special kind of movie yet it is one those outside the realm of devoted cinephiles might not fully comprehend. For this reason, and many many others I absolutely loved the movie. What is fascinating, yes fascinating, about the film is how despite the idea that an audience member who doesn't see many movies would still get everything out of this film they likely interpreted as being promised in the trailer (guns, sex, violence, humor) there is also a completely different layer provided for those expecting a little more from the outstanding cast and if you know a little more, the brilliant writer and fine director Martin McDonagh who was behind one of my favorite films of 2008, In Bruges. What this separate layer provides is a very self-aware, meta-style story within a story that provides all the cliches and archetypes of a Hollywood production while at the same time deconstructing and analyzing each of them. Telling us why they are needed in order for us to feel fulfilled when walking out of the theater and why some of it seems so ridiculous when put through McDonagh's unique looking glass. On another level, what is even more satisfying about the film is its ability to be the film that its main character is writing, and be the best version of what he could likely imagine. We are easily taken in by the tricks of the hilarity and the profane violence, but despite all of that it is a really nice, peaceful film about love and friendship. There is a lot to go through, but these inherent features are what shine through after we allow the film to really settle in.

Angela (Olga Kurylenko) and Bill (Sam Rockwell) find
themselves in a bit of a pickle...
Within the first few minutes it is easy to tell how much of a good time this movie intends to be. And as typical as it might sound, I don't know that I've had a more flat-out fun or a more strictly entertaining experience at the movies this year. It all begins with a seemingly unrelated couple of murders (that feature the great talent of Michael Stuhlbarg nonetheless) introducing us to our first psychopath which then rollicks into our introduction to Marty (Colin Farrell) who is a screenwriter looking for inspiration for his new script aptly titled "Seven Psychopaths". Marty just happens to have a best friend that possesses a good amount of applicable qualities himself to the screenplay in Bill (Sam Rockwell). Bill is kind of a bum, the guy doesn't have a steady job, is a wannabe actor and is always a bit on the uneasy side. Lacking in confidence would be a fair way to describe our early impressions of Bill. To make a little money Bill teams up with Hans (Christopher Walken) who is an older gentleman with a dying wife who suffers from cancer. To make this money though involves the scam that is the central focus of the trailer but is simply a way to set up all of the cross-overs and complications that the movie actually entails. Hans and Bill kidnap dogs only to return them once their has been a reward placed on the canines for their return. It is a fun, quirky little set-up that goes awry when Bill kidnaps the shih tzu of a psychotic gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). This is clearly more than enough for Marty to draw on as Hans has an interestingly violent past for such a religious man as well as McDonagh also throwing in a character for Tom Waits and a metaphor of a Vietnamese man that brings a certain weight to the violent slapstick that presides over most of the film.

The experience of watching the film lies both within the script where McDonagh is both adept at pacing and weaving several storylines so intricately while keeping up with what were no doubt countless thoughts and intentions about making specific statements. The writer/director has so many things going on here it is a wonder how he kept it all straight, but he does so good at making his point clear about the predictability of B-movies and the way in which they are mass produced to include as big a demographic as possible. It is one thing to sort out such statements and characters to represent these points of view but it is another to also have the right actors in place to convey that material correctly, with just the right timing so that subtle sarcasm may be easily picked up on by those who are completely engrossed by the term paper that McDonagh is writing on the state of Hollywood action films.

Marty (Colin Farrell), Hans (Christopher Walken), and Bill decide to escape their issues by taking to the desert


While it is nice to see Farrell re-teaming with his In Bruges director, and he certainly does fine as the leading man, he is also playing the most sensible person in the film which immediately makes him the least interesting. While the throughline story contains his character Marty it is also fully focused in on Rockwell and Walken's characters and in them lies the real magic of the movie. Rockwell has always played unhinged well (be sure and checkout Moon and Choke if you've never seen them) and here he applies it to such a degree that we know we are in for a treat every time he appears on the screen. His scenes with Walken and Farrell in the desert are some of the smartest written and best delivered scenes I've seen on film this year. His characters description of a final shootout around the campfire will likely become a point of cult reference in the near future. Walken has not been this good in a while. He has, as of late, resigned to bit parts that have made more a caricature than an actual person, but leave it to McDonagh's wonderful characterization to pull something out of the actor that feels truly genuine in a way that anchors the entire movie with more gravitas than it would have possessed otherwise.

Marty is at the mercy of Charles (Woody Harrelson)
because of Bill's actions. 
I walked into Seven Psychopaths expecting a lot, but not necessarily something great. Whether it was the level of expectation or the low profile way in which the film had dropped itself into theaters this past weekend I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much I came out loving the film. It turned out to be one of those movies you could immediately turn around and watch again and receive just as much enjoyment out of it the second time, probably even more. There is such a fine line for me between a film that is better than most of what we see and something great. I understand that some people will very much disagree with me about this film when I say I absolutely loved it and can't think of a bad thing to say about it. To a certain point, I like to think I could understand where they are coming from, but that would contradict my previous statement about my thinking. I loved it, no way around it, and I certainly hope McDonagh is allowed the opportunity to keep rolling out these bleak, black comedies that feature not only intelligent dialogue and razor sharp, very funny jabs at anyone and everyone. He has a knack for it and seems to know very well how to tell the story he so desires and more importantly get it across in the way he so intended.

It would be a crime not to mention Woody Harrelson in my review as well. The guy isn't in the film so much as you may expect with him being who he is, but he has proved himself again and again over the past few years with countless great performances that this almost feels like the cherry on the top of the icing as he could have seriously uttered not a single word throughout and he would have been just as entertaining as he is when he is allowed to let his psycho-side fly. Let's be serious though, we could gather this core group of actors in a room and have them read the telephone book and they would no doubt find a way to make it funnier and more original than half of the things we've seen at the movies this year. The fact they have a script providing such great material and the director who wrote it and understands that material well enough to weld every element together makes us lucky enough to witness such a brilliant product.

 

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS Review

Seven Psychopaths is a specific type of film. It is a special kind of movie yet it is one those outside the realm of devoted cinephiles might not fully comprehend. For this reason, and many many others I absolutely loved the movie. What is fascinating, yes fascinating, about the film is how despite the idea that an audience member who doesn't see many movies would still get everything out of this film they likely interpreted as being promised in the trailer (guns, sex, violence, humor) there is also a completely different layer provided for those expecting a little more from the outstanding cast and if you know a little more, the brilliant writer and fine director Martin McDonagh who was behind one of my favorite films of 2008, In Bruges. What this separate layer provides is a very self-aware, meta-style story within a story that provides all the cliches and archetypes of a Hollywood production while at the same time deconstructing and analyzing each of them. Telling us why they are needed in order for us to feel fulfilled when walking out of the theater and why some of it seems so ridiculous when put through McDonagh's unique looking glass. On another level, what is even more satisfying about the film is its ability to be the film that its main character is writing, and be the best version of what he could likely imagine. We are easily taken in by the tricks of the hilarity and the profane violence, but despite all of that it is a really nice, peaceful film about love and friendship. There is a lot to go through, but these inherent features are what shine through after we allow the film to really settle in.

ARGO Review

There is a scene in the The Town where Ben Affleck's Doug MacRay is attempting to cover a certain clue on Jeremy Renner's James Coughlin that could give away both of their identities to an unsuspecting Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). In this single scene Ben Affleck, the director, is able to put his audience in the most vulnerable of states as we feel as exposed to the possibility of this guys entire world shattering around him as he does. We are set in this moment and the tension is palpable. Affleck clearly has a gift for creating these types of moments on film that all have to do with pacing as he creates moment after moment of such suspense in his third directorial effort Argo. After exploring the cinematic landscape of his hometown of Boston in his first two films Affleck now seems to have the confidence to venture outside of this comfort zone and take on a story that deals with issues in the bigger scope of the world. What Affleck has now gone on to accomplish is to create what feels like a very authentic period piece that pulses with intrigue and keeps its audience first informed, second engaged, and third on the edge of their seat. It was clear from the vintage opening credits to the storyboard history lesson we receive in the first moments of the film that set the stage for the relationship between the United States and Iran at the time that everything here was meticulously planned out in order to elicit and implement the specific kinds of reactions and thoughts it wanted. This, for me, only exemplifies the kind of director Affleck is and shows us the care in which he takes on each project even if his craft does receive more attention because of his name. The point is the craft deserves the attention.

John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) put together a fake picture that will effect more
people than an actual movie ever could.
While much about Argo will dwell on the fact its directors former status in Hollywood was something of a poster boy for celebrity, a type-cast doofus who starred in more bad films than he could leverage with his early successes. Though Argo will get a lot of attention for this fact, that Affleck has solidified his status as a credible director having made a third above average film will forever change his reputation and how he is remembered and looked at in the cinematic landscape. What is more interesting obviously is to see how he has actually done this. He has done it with all three of his films, but he never allows it to be an outright, up-front obvious characteristic. He takes a type of film, one that clearly fits into a genre and has been defined by certain structures before and churns his movie on these archetypes that he doesn't necessarily imitate but allows for them to unspool in a more natural manner that makes whatever his film is documenting all the more real, all the more genuine. It is especially stunning that Affleck can provide such a piece of Hollywood cinema while telling the story of historical events that most audiences would initially find more daunting that entertaining to sit through. This is not your standard film about a historical event though, it is the truly unbelievable story of when the Islamic people, in reaction to the United States taking in Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi after the Iranian people revolutionized and wanted his dynasty replaced with an Islamic republic. As these revolutions reached their boiling points the Iran militants stormed the U.S. embassy and took 52 hostages. Six Americans were able to escape and find refuge with the Canadian ambassadors. Enter Tony Mendez (Affleck) an "exfiltration" specialist who is assigned the task of conjuring up a plan to get these escapees out of the country.

With such a description, as I said before, it may sound like your typical actioner in which a hero protagonist is required to go through the motions in order to save the day and deliver a climax filled with excitement and explosions. When I say Affleck is able to churn these archetypes on their heels I mean that these very uniform script tools are still in place, but they are used in such a distinct, unexpected way. As if taking the ideals of an indie film and altering them to fit in this world of gripping, powerful, and generally uplifting tale that Hollywood likes to make so much. Allowing to further proclaim itself as a historical drama with entertainment roots Affleck gives a generally fine performance if not the main thing that stands out about the film. In fact, as much as you can applaud the guy for crafting such a fine film it is almost as if he left the thoughts about his own characterization on the back burner. Lucky for him, he has a lovely group of supporting actors here that take much of the focus from him. Whether it be bit roles such as Chris Messina and Kyle Chandler who show up in a few scenes (and who each deserve better exposure) to a nicely even Bryan Cranston as Jack O'Donnell who serves as the face of the CIA to Affleck's Mendez while he is in Iran trying to make the mission a successful one. Cranston brings an honesty to the role that is usually lost in these types of characters who are a culmination of what was likely several people in real life. The guys that really steal the show here though are the ones who make Mendez's idea for the mission all the more authentic and in return all he more successful indeed. As Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers and legendary producer Lester Siegel John Goodman and Alan Arkin are in one sense the comic relief, but in another they are the heart if Mendez is the brain. Turning a folly of a Star Wars knock-off into the legitimate reason that saves the lives of these hostages proves to be something neither of these men were required to do and something they really had no need to put their business in at all. It makes you realize there are always those sterling people still existing even in a city full of imperfect beings.

The six refugees of the American embassy in Iran find safety at the Canadian ambassadors headquarters.
In the end it comes down to the hostages though. Affleck has been smart enough to cast the majority of these roles with unknown actors (though an older Tate Donovan takes on the ringleader role) as to allow the audience to sympathize with them better, being able to see them for real people in a life-threatening situation rather than actors portraying how these people might have felt. That is also, the essential catch of Argo. It places you dead center in the middle of the conflict and hardly allows you to breathe. As if you were under water, against your will and only allowed to come every so often for a breath of air. It is a conventional thriller, but it rises above that word with all its negative connotations by being expertly acted and crafted. Each performance speaks to the bigger picture it is contributing to while the care taken by its director to convey a sense of authentication is enjoyable to take in. It is a movie that doesn't necessarily feel designed or manipulated in any way so that it will gain awards show attention or even as the kind of film that is likely to be recognized by the Academy simply based on the way in which it decides to tell its story and the aforementioned reputation of the director who has now proved himself again and again. It is nice to see these things being disproved as Argo seems to be generating plenty of awards buzz, but none of that matters when you are glued to your seat with your nails literally up to your teeth and your eyelids ready to clinch as those six desperate hostages and the man who came up with a ludicrous idea about making a fake movie that would set them free walk through that airport or drive through that crowd or narrowly escape insults and accusations. All that matters in those moments are how sucked into the film you realize you've become. That isn't the sign of a filmmaker who is out to validate himself by obtaining a statue; that is a filmmaker who truly enjoys the art of film and knows himself as well as any audience member what is required to have an experience rather than an excuse to escape.

                      

ARGO Review

There is a scene in the The Town where Ben Affleck's Doug MacRay is attempting to cover a certain clue on Jeremy Renner's James Coughlin that could give away both of their identities to an unsuspecting Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). In this single scene Ben Affleck, the director, is able to put his audience in the most vulnerable of states as we feel as exposed to the possibility of this guys entire world shattering around him as he does. We are set in this moment and the tension is palpable. Affleck clearly has a gift for creating these types of moments on film that all have to do with pacing as he creates moment after moment of such suspense in his third directorial effort Argo. After exploring the cinematic landscape of his hometown of Boston in his first two films Affleck now seems to have the confidence to venture outside of this comfort zone and take on a story that deals with issues in the bigger scope of the world. What Affleck has now gone on to accomplish is to create what feels like a very authentic period piece that pulses with intrigue and keeps its audience first informed, second engaged, and third on the edge of their seat. It was clear from the vintage opening credits to the storyboard history lesson we receive in the first moments of the film that set the stage for the relationship between the United States and Iran at the time that everything here was meticulously planned out in order to elicit and implement the specific kinds of reactions and thoughts it wanted. This, for me, only exemplifies the kind of director Affleck is and shows us the care in which he takes on each project even if his craft does receive more attention because of his name. The point is the craft deserves the attention.

HERE COMES THE BOOM Review

Here Comes the Boom is an easy movie to hate on. It is a film that is centered around a school teacher played by Kevin James who becomes an MMA fighter to save his schools music program. It features many a constant players from Adam Sandler's group of friends and it plays out as predictably as you know it will after seeing the trailer. It isn't a surprise at all to see most critics bashing the film for its lack of creativity but what it lacks in that department it makes up for with pure virtue. At the very least I can applaud Mr. James and company for not having to resort to making R-rated comedies in order to please a demographic they clearly have no interest in making money from. James seems to know his place (even if I, personally, was hoping for more from him) in the Hollywood landscape and in taking on this role he has delivered a live action family film that no matter how absurd the story is delivers in entertainment value and teaches many a well worn lessons. Yes, it is surely very easy to dismiss a film that so competently makes use of a P.O.D record but give it the benefit of acknowledging that they didn't use it in the trailer and didn't overdue it within the actual film. No matter how much the movie feels like an hour and forty-five minute ad for VH1's Save the Music program I simply can't see how one could come out hating the film because the people putting it on are just so likable. It is a crowd-pleaser that is as calculated as it is predictable, but it pleases nonetheless and for that I will more than likely watch the film again at some point in my life. That's much more than I could ever say about Zookeeper.

Scott (Kevin James) and Marty (Henry Winkler) discuss
a plan to save the music program.
Besides addressing issues of how much music enriches our lives and how it is vital to the learning process of kids Here Comes the Boom also likes to touch on issues such as the failing school system, immigration, accomplishing your dreams, and of course, standing up for what you believe in. These are all fine and dandy and the movie is able to present them in a world that isn't as far removed from reality as one would imagine it would be when the plot concerns a 42 year-old biology teacher becoming an mixed martial arts fighter. We meet Mr. Scott Voss (James) on an average school morning where he has fallen far from the graces of his "Teacher of the Year" days. Voss is later to class than his students and when he does arrive he stays hidden behind his desk having his students do little more than  continue reading their text books which only the one student who knows how lucky she has to have a chance at an education actually takes advantage of. When the school decides it has to make cuts though the first thing to go is the music program, led by what seems to be the only passionate teacher left in the place, Marty. As Marty, Henry Winkler does some terrific work here. It is not only fun to watch the Fonz really accept and act his age but Winkler still exudes such a charisma and a charm that is undeniable. he has become a staple in these Sandler productions of small bit roles that really never amount to anything but here he gets the opportunity to truly develop a character and he runs with it while delivering what is undeniably the most genuine and heartfelt part of the entire film.

That plan turns into Scott becoming a successful MMA
fighter. Highly unlikely, but very entertaining.
That is not to berate James though, the guy displayed through nine seasons of King of Queens that he had a knack for comedy and a natural presence of the everyman that has turned him into a figure on the screen that despite his lack of quality projects has made him someone who everyone likes regardless. He has so far escaped that kind of stigma his friend Sandler has acquired over the past few years and with Here Comes the Boom he at least looks towards a future that has him carving out his own niche rather than pandering to the demands of what others think he should be doing. James is a talented guy and someone I would certainly like to see do something a bit more mature, but his venture into that with Vince Vaughn and Ron Howard didn't turn out to well. One can almost not blame him for retreating to the safe zone of Sandler produced comedies, and I say that as someone who still likes to give the sand man the benefit of the doubt. The good news is that while this movie is as formulaic as it could possibly be it takes these standard elements and infuses life into them with a spirit that can be seen in each and every person on screen. Whether it be James himself, who is a ringleader of fun, Salma Hayek who drops her self serious facade and lets herself have a little fun with a role that has her and James hooking up (yes, the love story is as outlandish as the main plotline) is played as a cute through line of a joke across the film. Joe Rogen shows up in a few scenes as himself and Gary Valentine who most will recognize from King of Queens as well has several nice moments as Scott's brother. Another scene-stealer goes to Bas Rutten as Niko, a former UFC fighter who has moved the U.S. and is taking part in Scott's citizenship classes. Niko is of course picked up to help him train and Marty is there for moral support and when Rutten and Winkler share the screen you will know what I mean when I say it's hard to dislike the film due to its pleasing personality.

Scott also has a lot on his plate when trying to impress
the school nurse Bella (Salma Hayek). 
I was surprised to find that director Frank Coraci was the same guy behind the aforementioned stinker that James starred in last year and has before directed Sandler's Click (another that had real heart despite its worn premise). Coraci shows real control here documenting what were surely challenging fight scenes and makes the distinct choice to have a kind of darker lighting situation to the whole thing. It gives the movie a better sense of grit and realness that usually escapes a film intended for the audience I imagine this will attract. It is an attractive choice and I personally very much enjoyed the way that the movie was able to use its stock structure and fill it with moments that while predictable reminded us of why it felt good to feel the way they made you feel. In last years Warrior we saw a film that took what could have been a cheesy triumph of a sports tale and turned it into something that was truly moving. While I am in no way comparing these two films (Warrior is vastly superior in every way) but the care that was put into the story each of these movies were telling is evident. That care is what helped both of them to overcome the standards that audiences assumed they would be seeing when the trailer appeared for each. The fact they both deal with MMA fighting is just a case of it being a highlight of pop culture in this day and age. As there are and will always be sports films it is nice to see a children's sports movie back on the scene (even if it isn't technically kids playing the sport, but how would they do that with this sport?) and I imagine that anyone who has a desire to go out and see this film will get exactly what they bargained for if not a little more. It's hard to be a cynic when a heart is so pure and honest. Here Comes the Boom relays that feeling; it would have been a worn out VHS had this come out when I was a kid.


HERE COMES THE BOOM Review

Here Comes the Boom is an easy movie to hate on. It is a film that is centered around a school teacher played by Kevin James who becomes an MMA fighter to save his schools music program. It features many a constant players from Adam Sandler's group of friends and it plays out as predictably as you know it will after seeing the trailer. It isn't a surprise at all to see most critics bashing the film for its lack of creativity but what it lacks in that department it makes up for with pure virtue. At the very least I can applaud Mr. James and company for not having to resort to making R-rated comedies in order to please a demographic they clearly have no interest in making money from. James seems to know his place (even if I, personally, was hoping for more from him) in the Hollywood landscape and in taking on this role he has delivered a live action family film that no matter how absurd the story is delivers in entertainment value and teaches many a well worn lessons. Yes, it is surely very easy to dismiss a film that so competently makes use of a P.O.D record but give it the benefit of acknowledging that they didn't use it in the trailer and didn't overdue it within the actual film. No matter how much the movie feels like an hour and forty-five minute ad for VH1's Save the Music program I simply can't see how one could come out hating the film because the people putting it on are just so likable. It is a crowd-pleaser that is as calculated as it is predictable, but it pleases nonetheless and for that I will more than likely watch the film again at some point in my life. That's much more than I could ever say about Zookeeper.

TAKEN 2 Review

Liam Neeson instantly brings credibility to anything he does, but even his presence in this money-grabbing sequel can hardly raise the quality of the overall film. I was optimistic despite the rush of negative reviews on this one. I wanted to believe that there was something everyone seemed to be missing. That maybe in the case of Taken critics and audiences alike were so in love or at least caught off guard by the rush of excitement the first film delivered that they were looking for more of the same that wasn't readily available here. What if the makers of this unnecessary film had taken the road less traveled by greedy studios and decided to change up the formula. Maybe Mr. Neeson used his pull and demanded that he'd only appear in the film if they came up with a story that truly justified a second film. Sadly, the only thing that rings true about any of this is that, for some reason, is that there is less action and more talking in Taken 2 than could be found within a mile of the original. Clearly the success of the first film was based around seeing  someone such as Neeson, an actor who seems so far removed from the campy action genre pick up his fists and firearms and take a shot at any idiot who stepped in his path. It was a non-stop rush of adrenaline that was as absurd as it was entertaining. It would be accurate to describe it as catching lightning in a bottle and not to mention, it propelled Neeson to a whole new phase in his career where he could take any pick of action protagonists he'd like and has continued taking advantage of the opportunities it has afforded him. The sequel, though it doesn't feel like a rehash of the original (I would have preferred that to what we've been given) instead feels like what was left on the cutting room floor the first time around.

Does anyone else find it odd that 29 year-old Maggie Grace
is just now getting her driver's license?
At what feels like a very brief hour and a half Taken 2 zips by and this is a good thing. At the end of the first film there was really nowhere for the story to go and that is never more evident than in the opening sequence that ruins a perfectly good opportunity to set the opening title sequence up much more dramatically than it does. Now, I can understand the amount of people and damage that Neeson's Bryan Mills did in the first movie will likely have elicited some kind of response from someone, but they have us witnessing as a man whose son was tortured by Mills and the "peaceful " families of all the others that were offed by the American as humble people seeking revenge. Now, I may be completely off on this one but it seems that this was an insider type business that was going on in the first film seeing as it was human trafficking and that the families of these guys would 1) be in the same business or 2) find what their kin were doing equally revolting and understand where this man was coming from. If not either of these they might at least have the sense to avoid a guy who so easily stormed through half of their family tree. No, instead they bring the other half in for the slaughter. If one has seen the trailer then you know what happens, you know where all this is heading and you will wish that there would have been more ass-kicking along the way. There is hardly a coherent story here at all. There is the set-up and from there we just watch as Neeson's character talks on the phone, gets into car chases and kills people by palming their faces. It would be worse if you didn't get the sense they know how ridiculous this is, but sometimes you don't get that sense at all and it worries you. There is a point were Taken 2 ventures past absurd and we can only hope the series is allowed to go no further.

Smothering someone with nothing more than his palm
becomes somewhat of a specialty for Bryan Mills in Taken 2.
Inevitably, this franchise will continue until it's more of a joke than a one off success that was considered awesome. I can't help but think of the saying "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me." The first Taken was a surprise, a refreshing air of all-out action entertainment before things like The Expendables began. It was nice to see a father played by a man with such gravitas just throw his inhibitions to the wind and do whatever it took to save his daughter. With the sequel he does this again, and this time doing it for his ex-wife as much for his daughter. It is nice to see Neeson play these cheesy moments that feel obligatory rather than natural simply to see his charismatic presence ooze through the cracks of bad writing, but it isn't hard to tell what he's working with. We can see that it's hard, even for him, to sell. Audiences will see Taken 2 in hopes that it does deliver more of the same from the first, hoping to see Neeson in another leading man role that has him kicking ass and taking names, but they will feel underwhelmed when the credits start to role. They may even feel cheated despite the film providing a few exciting moments in the car chases but being so messily shot that we never know who's dying and who is who is going where. We are seriously led to believe that Mills takes out every Albanian on the planet in this film and sometimes all he has to do is shove them down by their face and they appear dead. I meant it when I used the word absurd. What makes it worse is not that the final showdown is between Neeson and a man half his size but still his same weight; no, the issue is that there is no point in any of this. If someone really wanted him dead they wouldn't have left him alone for half an hour tied up with nothing more than a piece of cloth. There is no way around it, this is unnecessary.

Hmm...I wonder where Taken 3 will take us....
My initial feeling is that folks flocked out the first weekend only to be disappointed and will not return for a third go around. They know what to expect (or what not to) and audiences know well enough that the series has nowhere else to go. Who could they possibly kidnap the next time around? Now, if they were to instead go the route of making a Bryan Mills centered film in the vein of Jack Ryan or Alex Cross rather than involving his family we might get to see where this guys particular set of skills came from in the first place, but uber-producer and writer Luc Besson would likely object in that this would take the personal investment out of Mills adventures. It would at least provide something fresh which this uninspired sequel has no a trace of. It hurts, really, because I did so shamelessly enjoy the first movie. Just that speech Neeson conveyed with such intimidating force that it became an instant iconic moment. The second film doesn't even capitalize on this moment. It doesn't care enough to genuinely want to be more than it is. It is just fine being tiresome and uninventive. There is nothing that can be done now though, movies like this will be made, people like me will complain, and they will still somehow make their money. The sooner audiences stop being taken by the studios with pure junk cinema like this the less of it they would hopefully make. I know it will never stop and that there is an entire audience out there of high schoolers who require something universally appealing to go see on a Friday night, but the least we could is trick them into seeing something that might stimulate their imaginations rather than displaying how easy it is to make a lot of money without having any imagination at all.

          

TAKEN 2 Review

Liam Neeson instantly brings credibility to anything he does, but even his presence in this money-grabbing sequel can hardly raise the quality of the overall film. I was optimistic despite the rush of negative reviews on this one. I wanted to believe that there was something everyone seemed to be missing. That maybe in the case of Taken critics and audiences alike were so in love or at least caught off guard by the rush of excitement the first film delivered that they were looking for more of the same that wasn't readily available here. What if the makers of this unnecessary film had taken the road less traveled by greedy studios and decided to change up the formula. Maybe Mr. Neeson used his pull and demanded that he'd only appear in the film if they came up with a story that truly justified a second film. Sadly, the only thing that rings true about any of this is that, for some reason, is that there is less action and more talking in Taken 2 than could be found within a mile of the original. Clearly the success of the first film was based around seeing  someone such as Neeson, an actor who seems so far removed from the campy action genre pick up his fists and firearms and take a shot at any idiot who stepped in his path. It was a non-stop rush of adrenaline that was as absurd as it was entertaining. It would be accurate to describe it as catching lightning in a bottle and not to mention, it propelled Neeson to a whole new phase in his career where he could take any pick of action protagonists he'd like and has continued taking advantage of the opportunities it has afforded him. The sequel, though it doesn't feel like a rehash of the original (I would have preferred that to what we've been given) instead feels like what was left on the cutting room floor the first time around.

FRANKENWEENIE Review

August, September, and now October have each offered us an animated "family" film dealing with the likes of classic movie monsters to drive home lessons about love and understanding. Each of them providing plenty enough subtle humor for the adults to enjoy while also provoking some kind of visual flair to entertain the kiddies. While my favorite of these, and the most magical for both age sets is the wonderful Paranorman, I expected its fellow stop motion production Frankenweenie to be something of a companion to it. Unfortunately, as I walked out of the film I couldn't feel anything but underwhelmed. It was pretty to behold with the lush black and white fitting to the tone and character design, it had its moments of genuine off-the-wall Burton moments that critics and audiences alike have claimed to be missing from his features of late. Perhaps it was the brisk running time of the film that gave me this feeling, but still something more was missing from it. Now, it would certainly be easy to make the cheap joke that with its story dealing in the undead it is likely the film itself has no heartbeat either, but this is untrue. The film has a clear heart. It tackles interesting issues for a children's movie. It discusses up front life and death and how tough these events can be on a young person who doesn't fully understand their repercussions. It touches on that universally tragic moment when we lose our first childhood pet, but this doesn't make the film an entertaining one. I was dazzled by the detail of the film, the magic of the animation and the ode's to horror films of old, but I never really found myself caring about what might happen or being enthralled with the unfolding events. In short, I was pretty bored.

Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine
O'Hara) join their son Victor (Charlie Tahan) and his
dog Sparky in viewing his new movie.
For those that don't know the history of Frankenweenie, it was originally a live action short film that Tim Burton made for Disney based on an original idea in 1984. Burton was subsequently fired from Disney after they claimed his film was too scary for young children. Now, whether it be for reasons that Burton himself is more a brand than an actual director or that the head honchos at Disney have moved around enough to see the opportunity this might afford them they have decided to let Burton back in and flesh out a full length feature of his beloved short. What this history does open up speculation for is what might have taken away from the viewing experience this time around. If the original was written and made to be a short film there was surely a reason for it and to try and expand that idea an extra hour can cause more damage than it likely will help. This seems to be the case as with the original Sparky (the cute canine at the center of the movies) was killed off in the first scene. Here, we get much more exposition, maybe even a layer of motivation for the dogs young owner Victor (Charlie Tahan), but that never goes anywhere. What the movie really cares about is making itself a kind of parody as well as a homage to the classic horror films and famous movie monsters that have come before it. While this is all well and fine, there needs to be more going on, there needed to be better character development instead of trusting the audience would know the multiple references being made (which isn't an issue) but also trusting that they know the inherent qualities of those characters. The story is not original, it is taking the tools used to tell Mary Shelly's Frankenstein and playing it out with school children. A fine idea, one that has great comedic opportunities that are taken advantage of most of the time, but misses one too many when it comes to providing the same kind of entertainment value.

Victor and his classmates Elsa (Winona Ryder) and Edgar
(Atticus Shaffer) are strangely engaged by the
science fair. 
In Frankenweenie, Victor loses his dog when Sparky chases his home run ball into oncoming traffic. Instead of coming to terms with the loss of what is essentially his best friend Victor decides to take matters into his own hands by taking a few notes from science class to heart. While nice perks pop up here and there such as Martin "Get Smart" Landau providing the voice for independent thinking science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, (there is a not so subtle segment aimed at parents who want to control the way their children think rather than allowing them to make their own choices) they come too few and far between to really up the fun the movie could really provide. Once Victor is able to resurrect Sparky with a few alterations here and there he of course tries to hide what he has done because he seems to know the moral questions it will provoke. Once again, these questions are not what we explore but instead they are passed off as being understood by the parents who take the Spielbergian route and know less than their children. Of course, such a secret cannot be contained for long (otherwise we would only have a set-up and nowhere else for the movie to go) and so when Victor's secret is let out of the bag his fellow students are determined to follow his lead and bring their long forgotten friends back from the dead for the sake of science (or is it personal desire? We don't really know. The classmates aren't all that well-developed either). It is all meant to give some type of message on not taking life for granted I'm sure, but instead what emotion can be pulled from these tender moments is mostly due to the wonderful animation and voice cast (Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, and Winona Ryder among returning Burton collaborators) rather than the storytelling techniques.

Victor succeeds in bringing Sparky back to life.
I have never truly jumped on the Burton bandwagon, but I have always been more than willing to see his movies. I am of the generation that had to catch up on his early work and didn't get the opportunity to experience first hand his success after Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Naturally though, films like BeetlejuiceEdward Scissorhands, and lest we not forget Burton was the man who originally brought the dark knight to the big screen; each of these have become ingrained in our pop culture landscape, but I still haven't managed to get around to what seems like the directors most personal film and most interesting collaboration with Johnny Depp, Ed Wood. At present, Burton is a brand that younger audiences look forward to seeing how he might put his own twist on classic fairy tales. Gone seem the days where we might get a Big Fish or Sleepy Hollow, but I still have enjoyed the humble feeling his work always carries and people forget he made a great musical a few short years ago in Sweeney Todd. I said this in my review for the overly hated Dark Shadows earlier this year. No matter how much one of his films might fail to meet the expectations an audience member might hold for it, the movie will undoubtedly still hold a sense of wonder. A sense of pure escapism that lingers with you through the remainder of your day. Frankenweenie may not be the best example of this and it is certainly not the better of the animated films I've seen this year (though the competition seems unnaturally stiff). Still, the dog has its moments and I walked away if not exactly satisfied with the movie I'd just watched I was at least happy I was able to take the trip back in time with the director. Back to when he could work in black and white, get as weird as he so desired while still remaining true to his naturally balanced self that employed as much care as it did scare.

        

FRANKENWEENIE Review

August, September, and now October have each offered us an animated "family" film dealing with the likes of classic movie monsters to drive home lessons about love and understanding. Each of them providing plenty enough subtle humor for the adults to enjoy while also provoking some kind of visual flair to entertain the kiddies. While my favorite of these, and the most magical for both age sets is the wonderful Paranorman, I expected its fellow stop motion production Frankenweenie to be something of a companion to it. Unfortunately, as I walked out of the film I couldn't feel anything but underwhelmed. It was pretty to behold with the lush black and white fitting to the tone and character design, it had its moments of genuine off-the-wall Burton moments that critics and audiences alike have claimed to be missing from his features of late. Perhaps it was the brisk running time of the film that gave me this feeling, but still something more was missing from it. Now, it would certainly be easy to make the cheap joke that with its story dealing in the undead it is likely the film itself has no heartbeat either, but this is untrue. The film has a clear heart. It tackles interesting issues for a children's movie. It discusses up front life and death and how tough these events can be on a young person who doesn't fully understand their repercussions. It touches on that universally tragic moment when we lose our first childhood pet, but this doesn't make the film an entertaining one. I was dazzled by the detail of the film, the magic of the animation and the ode's to horror films of old, but I never really found myself caring about what might happen or being enthralled with the unfolding events. In short, I was pretty bored.

PITCH PERFECT Review

Pitch Perfect is pure formula, but it is damn entertaining formula. Following in the footsteps of every great young adult comedy, this film that capitalizes on the success of Glee also succeeds in making singing competitions much cooler as the film realizes and understands that while a cappella groups can be some of the most fun and inspiring kinds of entertainment there is also an aspect to it that is slightly nerdy, but in the most endearing of ways. You can't blame the people behind this for capitalizing on the success of a show but you can applaud them for not attempting to make a knock-off of that show and instead spinning something completely new, with a fresh take that celebrates its well-established structure and wears its heart on its sleeve. With a great cast of seasoned Hollywood youths and some new faces that more than hold up their end of the bargain Pitch Perfect becomes one of those films that young girls will flock to and guys will hate to admit they enjoyed. It is one of those films that will integrate itself into sleepovers and dorm room all-nighters where every line will be a catch phrase and a part of the culture that makes up this generations youth. It likely didn't have such big aspirations going in, but with a consistent through line that references The Breakfast Club the film itself is well aware of what it is and the emotional (and musical) chords it needs to hit. Needless to say, it hits each of them perfectly delivering a fun, predictable romp through the adventures of being young and finding one's self while making great memories in the process.

Aubrey (Anna Camp) teaches Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson)
choreography for their latest number.
If you go into the film expecting something revolutionary then you should prepare yourself for a let down, but chances are if you end up going into Pitch Perfect at all you will get not exactly what you expect but more than likely exactly what you want. It would be easy to criticize the film for its lack of trying to re-invent the wheel when it comes to feeding the youth of America these types of pre-packaged comedies with a standard three-act script where you know the ending from the trailer. This feels especially true when dealing with this film. First off, it has Anna Kendrick as the lead. Kendrick has been everywhere and that's coming from a guy who doesn't watch the Twilight films. Kendrick has given herself a credible rep by starring in films like Up in the Air, 50/50, and even End of Watch from a few weeks ago. In all of these she is a small, but pleasant presence. In Pitch Perfect Kendrick takes center stage and proves herself more than capable of carrying a film on her own. She plays Beca, a college freshman at Barden University and an aspiring music producer. Beca doesn't necessarily want to be at school but she is going for free due to the fact her father (John Benjamin Hickey) is a professor there. She is persuaded to join The Bellas, the all girl singing group that is famous for their showing at nationals the previous year where now-senior Aubrey (Anna Camp) blew chunks all over the crowd. After such an incident Aubrey and fellow senior Chloe (Brittany Snow) find it harder to recruit members. Hence the reason an alternative chick like Beca decides to join. Along with fellow outcasts Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Cynthis Rose (Ester Dean), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and of course Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) the Bellas of this year begin to look drastically different. Their is naturally a rival with the all male group known as the Treblemakers that include Beca's soon-to-be boyfriend Jesse (Skylar Astin, who looks disturbingly like Dane Cook, does he not?). Another small touch that pays off big time is the pairing of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as the commentators at each of the competitions. It is back and forth charisma that feels like off the cuff improv.

The made-over Bellas are a far cry from the stiff, bland
group we meet at the beginning of the film.
This also embellishes further the main ingredient here in raising the film above anything you might see as a direct to video product (besides the production value). The quick whips of humor that are thrown in with consistent hilarity and hitting every topic and group of people you could imagine. The main enforcer of this is Rebel Wilson. You will likely recognize her most from her small role in Bridesmaids but if you've happened to come across Bachelorette or even What to Expect What You're Expecting you will know she is more than a clever comedian who can steal a scene or two. Though Kendrick is the heart and soul of a film about a generation who most would like to describe as no longer being able to communicate Wilson is what you will look forward to when you see her marching into a scene. She has dubbed herself "Fat Amy" so that "twig bitches won't call her that behind her back". She is unstoppably hilarious, giving every single line her all and delivering them with such great comedic timing she raises the bar on herself with each joke. It is a high precedent to set for one's self but Wilson seems to brush her shoulder off as if there is no pressure at all and she exudes confidence in herself; as if she knows she will always be able to turn a phrase or situation into an opportunity for comedy. The rest of the cast does a fine job of making the cliche's they are made to play as genuine as possible. Even with a smaller role than expected Brittany Snow, who knows a thing or two about movies with music, shines in what is likely one of her final roles where she will be able to pull off "the student". I hope the actress is given an opportunity to evolve as I've genuinely enjoyed her work while she has been able to play what are likely different versions of herself, but as she evolves I hope to see her range do the same.

Jesse (Skylar Astin) and Beca (Anna Kendrick) get a
little close despite the fact they are in rival
singing groups.
And then there is the music. It is probably the one aspect of the film I was most worried about given how appealing the trailer was and how so often major films tend to be out of touch with the musical landscape of a broad group of people such as the audience this movie was looking to tackle. Even with the characters included in this ensemble there is a range of diverse musical tastes that are going to clash, but in a pleasant surprise it pulls this off as well. Making those songs we hear on the radio over and over again, the ones everyone knows but no one wants to admit they like because they are so mainstream. It makes them cool, it makes you want to sing along with them, and it works because every single person knows the words whether they want to or not. It also knows what songs to call back on from the early-90's and captures perfectly the songs kids at their age would think of when presented with a challenge such as a riff-off. The mash-up's are professionally done and will have fans of the film looking them up on youtube while the integration of the multiple songs into the actual performances are seamless and relentlessly entertaining. This is the case with the film as well. It is a standard teen comedy, but it has the charms of a movie that will allow it to leave a greater mark than anyone above the age of twenty-five at this moment in time will probably ever realize. I am a guy, in his 20's, I enjoy all kinds of movies, I love music and despite the fact I am probably on the outer ring of the target audience here I still had a great time with Pitch Perfect. It accepts what it is with no inhibition and is all the better for it. Hell, the audience can even learn a few positive things here, and there's nothing better than something that is as hip as it is educational.

PITCH PERFECT Review

Pitch Perfect is pure formula, but it is damn entertaining formula. Following in the footsteps of every great young adult comedy, this film that capitalizes on the success of Glee also succeeds in making singing competitions much cooler as the film realizes and understands that while a cappella groups can be some of the most fun and inspiring kinds of entertainment there is also an aspect to it that is slightly nerdy, but in the most endearing of ways. You can't blame the people behind this for capitalizing on the success of a show but you can applaud them for not attempting to make a knock-off of that show and instead spinning something completely new, with a fresh take that celebrates its well-established structure and wears its heart on its sleeve. With a great cast of seasoned Hollywood youths and some new faces that more than hold up their end of the bargain Pitch Perfect becomes one of those films that young girls will flock to and guys will hate to admit they enjoyed. It is one of those films that will integrate itself into sleepovers and dorm room all-nighters where every line will be a catch phrase and a part of the culture that makes up this generations youth. It likely didn't have such big aspirations going in, but with a consistent through line that references The Breakfast Club the film itself is well aware of what it is and the emotional (and musical) chords it needs to hit. Needless to say, it hits each of them perfectly delivering a fun, predictable romp through the adventures of being young and finding one's self while making great memories in the process.