Sunday, May 24, 2015

Winning Formula Review

It's been nearly four years that I've been reviewing movies -- three and a half years on this blog and a few additional months on a friend's blog. After all that time and all those reviews I have now been a very unique opportunity for me. One that I've not been given before. That opportunity is to review a movie that has not yet been released into theaters. The director of the movie Winning Formula came to me asking me to watch and review his latest movie that has recently been finished and selected to premier at the Temecula Independent Film Festival this June. This director is named Tyler Farr and he is actually a good friend of mine who is a fairly recent graduate of the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, California. Winning Formula is his second feature length film that he has directed, the first being The Good, The Bad, and The Coyote.

In addition to this being a great opportunity for me, it's also a challenging one. It's one thing to write a review for a movie where you don't know anyone involved in the making of the film and you're pretty sure that none of them are going to actually be reading your review. It's another to write a review for a movie where you know and respect the director of the film and you know that he will be reading every word you write. There's a lot more pressure with that because what if you are asked by a friend to review a movie and you absolutely hate it? What do you say? That's why it would be really easy to just a write a positive review praising everything that was done in the film, that way everyone would be happy. But is that the right thing to do? If you praise something that's not deserving of praise, that helps no one. It's much better to be honest and say what you didn't like. That way there's room for improvement and progression. This is why I'll never sugar coat things. I like being honest. In this situation, before I watched the movie I thought to myself that if I ended up hating the movie, I would have the unique opportunity of giving my advice to a young director and thus I could be an instrument in actually helping this director improve in the future. Thus I became excited regardless of my experience with the movie.

After this introduction, Tyler is probably really nervous. "Oh no! I spent all this time and effort making this movie and Adam didn't even like it." Not the case actually. I've learned to really like independent films. Oftentimes there's a lot more heart and raw emotion that is put into them because the people who make them have no guarantee that it'll be recognized by anyone. They also often don't have large budgets with access to huge special effects or fancy CGI, so they have to rely a lot more on acting and story-telling, which is something that I wish large blockbusters would spend a little more time on with their movies. That said, when an independent film misses the mark, it has the potential to be unwatchably bad and unfortunately I've ran across a few of those in my days and it's not my favorite experience. Luckily, in terms of independent films, Winning Formula is actually pretty decent. I did have my issues with it that I will get into, but I honestly think it's a fun little film that is worth watching.

For those of you who haven't seen this film, which at this point is pretty much everyone that wasn't involved in making it, Winning Formula is a comedy that follows a couple of Australian sisters that are on a vacation touring around the United States. While in Vegas, or near Vegas anyways, they find themselves in quite a predicament. Being that they're not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed, they make a string of bad decisions, one of which is betting on a turtle race which causes them to be $10,000 in debt to a notorious gangster. They have three weeks to pay off the debt or else they may actually get killed by this guy. No pressure. Being that I was one of the first to watch this movie and probably the first to right a review on it, I had absolutely no expectations. No trailer. No other opinions on the movie. Nothing. Just a brief description of the movie on their facebook and IMDb page. This makes for a fun experience. I don't often get the experience of going in knowing nothing about the movie given how closely I follow movie news, trailers, etc. So I enjoyed the opportunity. In this situation, however, it did take me a bit to get used to the movie. For the first 20 or 30 minutes of the movie, I wasn't enjoying myself at all. Things felt more annoying and confusing instead of being funny and clever. But once I got used to the style and the characters, they slowly grew on me and by the end I was enjoying myself.

I will be honest, though, there are a lot of elements to this story that don't necessarily make a lot of sense. I think there are a lot of parts that probably sounded a lot better and funnier on paper but didn't quite work out as well when they were executed on film. The definite goal here was to be a comedy and I think a there were certain elements that were sacrificed in the name of comedy that almost worked, but could've been better had things made a bit more sense. First off, the idea of betting on a turtle race is a clever one, but at the same time who would ever bet on a turtle race? And what type of gangster would would use turtle racing as a lure? Speaking of the gangsters, they didn't feel menacing enough. These two girls were essentially given three weeks to live if they didn't get $10,000, but I never felt like they were in real danger. In fact, I don't remember them giving this gangster their names, numbers, or any information, so I was thinking to myself, what if they just left town? How would this guy catch them? The whole situation didn't feel like it was explained well enough or developed well enough. Then the girls are walking in their shiny clothes and get attacked by a hawk, so they take off all their clothes (no R-rated content, don't worry), leave their clothes behind on the road, and get a ride from a random girl and end up naked for like a day. I this this was supposed to be comedic, but it just didn't make logical sense. They're on a road trip and they didn't bring extra clothes? Would a hawk really attack two girls with shiny clothes like that? Why didn't they grab their outfits and just put them on later when the hawk is gone?

Those instances were just a few examples, but throughout the movie there's a lot of sequences like that that don't make a lot of sense. They're supposed to be funny, but I wasn't laughing. I was just confused. I feel like the story could've been polished up quite a bit and it would've been really good. Also, there were a lot of characters in this movie. Many of them were great. But a few of them were just really annoying. I didn't like the two police officers. I didn't like the angry Asian lady. I didn't like the owner of the restaurant that they kept going to despite the fact that they obviously hated it. Once again, the writing with these characters could've been polished up a bit. A lot of great ideas that for whatever reason didn't translate well on camera.

So now that I've spent the last two paragraphs getting my gripes out, let me talk about the good aspects of this movie. First and foremost, the best part of the movie in my opinion was the cinematography and the editing. Even when a lot of other parts of the movie felt like they needed to be polished up a bit, these two aspects felt consistently professional throughout, so I'm going to name drop and give a round of applause to the director of photography, Colby Oliver, and the editor, Tim O'Neill. Great job guys. Due to a few classes I've taken in school recently, these are elements of film that I've been paying very close attention to of late and I was super impressed. It was a well shot film with a lot of great camera angles, perfect lighting, and smooth cuts. It definitely gave the movie a very profession feel which is a huge plus for an indie like this.

I also liked the acting in this movie, especially by our two main girls played by Claudia Pickering and Prudence Vindin. They had great chemistry throughout and both did a great acting job, which was especially impressive when the movie went away from comedy and became serious. There were some heartfelt and emotional moments that worked really well and I give credit to these two for their performances. Also, I noticed when the credits showed that Claudia had a lot more influence on the movie than just starring in it. She was writer, producer, and art director in addition to star. That's a lot to balance. Props. Speaking of drama, perhaps Tyler should consider doing a serious drama with his next film because I did like the movie a lot more in the serious moments as opposed to the comedy. Don't get wrong, there were several moments that were really funny that were even better when I watched it the second time (which I did, by the way). The Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings musical performance was one of them -- I could see that scene being a YouTube hit if they were to single out that performance and upload it. But the movie was better when it was serious. At least for me. I could potentially see others laughing a lot in some scenes that I didn't laugh, so I'm going to be really curious as to the reaction that others have to this film. I'll be closely monitoring that.

Now that I have talked your ear off, or rather burned your eyes out for having to read this whole review, I'll conclude by saying that I did in fact have a positive feeling towards this movie in the end. They have their first film festival coming up and I really hope there is a good reaction to that so that they can carry that momentum into whatever their eventual plans are with the movie. That said, I hope everyone involved in this project can look at this and realize that this isn't a perfect movie. There's a lot of things that could've been polished up to make this better, so I hope that Tyler Farr and his crew can look at this project, learn from it and come back with an even better film next time around. Anywho, I would recommend checking this film out. How can you do that? I have no idea. I suggest liking their facebook page, facebook.com/winningformulamovie, and closely following that because they are sure to post updates as opportunities to view the film become available. I'll be sure to keep you updated, too, when I find out so you make sure you like my facebook page for this blog as well, facebook.com/drogemiester. My grade for Winning Formula is a 7/10.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria Review

Here's a movie that I've been waiting a long time to see. This was released in various film festivals last year and was received fairly well. Being that I've learned to like smaller arthouse and indie movies that get released in festivals. The only problem is that often it takes them a while to make it to the normal theaters, so I have to exercise this thing called patience. Clouds of Sils Maria finally arrived in theaters back in April on a limited release basis, but didn't expand as fast as I wanted to, so I had to wait longer. Finally I found a theater close to me where it showed up in and went to see it. Just by looking online, I've noticed that this is a movie that critics have loved, but general audiences have less than thrilled by, so I didn't know quite what to expect. As it turns out, I totally understand how some could find this uninteresting, but I personally was fascinated by it as I feel it is a very subtle and smart movie worth seeing multiple times to pick up on all the small details that may have been missed the first time around.

Being that this is not a very widely-known film at the moment, let me take a minute to tell you what this movie is about. Juliette Binoche plays a successful actress who is given the opportunity to star in a revival of the play that made her famous 20 years earlier. The challenging thing for her is she's asked to play the opposite role this time around, so she goes to a quiet place in the Alps called Sils Maria with her personal assistant, played by Kristen Stewart, to practice her lines. Sound interesting? No? I'm going to be honest here, this is a slow-moving movie with a premise that doesn't sound too interesting. But since it had great reviews from a lot of people, I was waiting for something big or crazy to happen. Halfway through the movie and... nothing. But as we continued to move forward, suddenly it hit me. Is this...? Are they...? Is she...? Is the play...? I began to see a whole lot of layers and the more layers I saw, the more questions I had. The more questions I had, the more brilliant the movie became.

In describing that plot, it may seem really simple and boring, but admittedly that's because I left a lot of the details of the movie and the play inside out because I want you to have the same experience that I had as I was watching this movie. Then when you're done the watching this movie, you should come talk to me because I need someone to discuss this movie with. The best word to use when describing this movie is "subtle." This movie is very subtle. So subtle that I can totally understand if you go the whole movie without even catching on to what is happening. But if you walk out of the movie and say that it is dumb because nothing interesting happened, then I'd challenge you to go back and watch it again, paying more attention this time. There's also a whole lot of interesting themes throughout this whole movie that can be discussed. I'm not going to say what those themes are, but the more you think about everything that happened in the movie, the more things you can pick up and discuss and thus the more interesting the movie becomes.

Helping the movie quite a bit is a trio of fantastic actresses, two of which may come as a surprise to some. Juliette Binoche is the rock of this trio. She's been acting for quite some time and been doing a really amazing job in most everything she's done. She even picked up an Oscar win for her performance in 1996's The English Patient and received another nomination in 2000 with Chocolat. So it shouldn't be a surprise to say that she was great in this. The second actress, though, is an actress that I've been raving about for some time now and that is the commonly mocked Kristen Stewart. I've said it once and I'll say it again. Kristen Stewart can act and if you don't believe me, you should really forget about the Twilight mess for a moment and watch some of her recent stuff because she's been impressive. She even became the first American actress EVER to win a César Award earlier this year for her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria. The César Awards are essentially the French version of the Oscars, so that's a pretty big deal. Could that translate into an Oscar nomination for Kristen early next year? We'll see. The final actress in this trio of actresses was a revelation for me personally and that was Chlöe Grace Moretz. Now I've seen Chlöe in a lot of things recently and been impressed with the young 18-year-old actress, but this is the first time I've been blown away by her acting skills. Best performance of her career in my opinion that I think will lead to many more big roles for her.

Overall I think Clouds of Sils Maria is a very subtle movie that deserves to be seen. As it never really expanded very far and is almost gone at this point, you may have to wait till it shows up on DVD or in Redbox before you see it, but when you do get that chance, you should take it. Yes it's a slow moving movie, but there are a lot of layers to this movie and a lot of themes hidden throughout the movie that make it one of the more fascinating movies so far this year. And of course it is led by a great trio of actresses in Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chlöe Grace Moretz that all do a fantastic job of making their respective characters very interesting. I know it's the summer movie season which means big blockbusters and huge special effects, but if you need a quick break from that type of movie and want to watch a slower character piece that makes you think, then you should find and watch Clouds of Sils Maria. My grade for the movie is a 9/10.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tomorrowland Review

Today we live in a day of sequels, remakes, and adaptations. Constantly it feels like Hollywood has lost all of its imagination because everything that shows up on the big screen came from somewhere else. No originality. My retort to that is that there are plenty of original ideas out there. People just don't care about them when they do come out. So who's fault is it really that the number of sequels, remakes, and adaptations is at an all time high? That aside, it is refreshing when the weekend's biggest new release is actually an original idea that people are excited about enough to pay money for. And by original, I mean a movie that's not a sequel, remake, or adaptation because you could play devil's advocate here and say that there really is no original story that has never been told in some way. That's beside the point, though. We're here to talk about Tomorrowland, an original movie by Disney.

In addition to being an original idea, the other thing that really makes me happy is the fact that the trailers and advertising for this movie was done right. So many movies these days feel the need to spoil the movie in the trailers to get people interested. It's frustrating. I don't want to watch a trailer and feel like I don't need to see the movie because I now know the whole storyline after watching the trailer. Yes I'm looking at you recent trailers for Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys. Disney definitely did things right with Tomorrowland because the trailers didn't give anything away, yet they made the movie look intriguing. Going into the movie, I literally knew nothing about the movie other than Britt Robertson's character finds this pin that shows her this magical place and tries to get George Clooney's character to take her to this place. Because of this excellent advertising, I am going to try extra hard in this review to not tell you anything about the plot, which makes this hard because there is a lot of things that could be said that I want to say that I'm just not going to. So I will leave it at that. There is this place called Tomorrowland. Britt Robertson wants to go there. She tries to get George Clooney to take her there. Done.

Now it's time to be super vague about everything that happens while giving you my experience with it. First and foremost is that this movie is a lot of fun. I really had a blast with it. I won't tell you why I had a blast. You're just going to have to trust me on that. But it's not just me that had a blast with this. Given the fact that this is a PG-rated family friendly movie made by Disney, there were a lot of kids in the theater with their parents. Based on my observations, the kids were having a lot of fun with this as well, so this is a movie that both kids and adults can go to and have a fun time with. With it being Memorial Day weekend, if you need a good time with the family, this is definitely an excellent choice. In addition to being a fun movie, this is also a very pretty movie. I did this weird thing where I saw the movie in IMAX (long story - I don't usually fork out the big bucks for IMAX) and that made it even prettier watching it on a huge screen. But if you aren't feeling rich, a normal screen is just fine.

Another thing I really liked about the movie was all the characters. Our main characters were very well written and thus I like the character progression that they all went through. It made for an even better experience. Helping with this of course was great acting. Britt Robertson was playing a teenage girl. Britt Robertson is 25. Yet she did a great job of acting as a teenage girl both in looks and in mannerisms. And of course George Clooney did a great job as he... uhhh... almost always does. Just as long as you pretend that Batman and Robin movie didn't exist. We're all over that, right? Now there are a few more actors that I really need to mention. First I'll mention in passing that Hugh Laurie and Tim McGraw were both in the movie. McGraw was a minor character, but the scenes he was in he did great. Hugh Laurie was a major character of whom I'm going to say nothing about other than I liked him. But there is another person that I really need to give a whole lot of praise as she was probably my favorite character in the whole movie and that is the adorable 13-year-old actress named Raffey Cassidy. I'm also not going to say what she did in the movie, but she had just as much screen time as Britt and Clooney did, if not more. Putting so much trust in her was a bold move, but it worked out fantastically. I hope we see a lot more of her in the future.

Up to this point I hope I've shown you that I do think this is a really fun movie worth watching. Reading and watching reviews before I went in, there was one huge major gripe that it seemed everyone was mentioning. I told myself that I wasn't going to be the person that just said the same thing as everyone else just to go with the flow. But alas that gripe ended up bothering me as well. This is the third act of the movie. I told you I that I had a lot of fun with the movie and that's true. But there did come a point where the fun died down quite a bit and it was a bit frustrating because what happened at the end didn't seem to fit in with the movie that well. I mean, the whole thing was shrouded in mystery as far as what is going on and I don't know what my solution would be to fix it, but there was just certain aspects that didn't please me that much. I'd elaborate, but that would require spoiling the movie and I'm not going to do that. However, I will say that a lot of critics are being a bit harsh when it comes to this. This slightly uninteresting part doesn't ruin the movie. It's still fun and worth seeing.

So in the end, I really did enjoy Tomorrowland. If you are looking to go out to the theaters over Memorial Day weekend with your family, this is definitely a great option especially since family audiences haven't been treated to much worth seeing lately, so this is definitely a refresher. It's a beautiful movie. Well shot. Well directed by Brad Bird. I hope he continues to do more with live action as well as animation. The acting is good. The story is fun. Since it is kinda loosely based off a a ride at Disneyland, I deem it appropriate to say that the movie is quite a fun ride throughout. Yes, the ending leaves a bit to be desired and it's not the most epic piece of cinema that you'll see this year, but if you skip this movie you'll definitely be missing out. This is a win for Disney. My grade for Tomorrowland a 7.5/10.

Far from the Madding Crowd Review

This past weekend I was searching for a movie to see because I needed a quick escape and in looking at showtimes I stumbled on a few theaters that were playing Far from the Madding Crowd, which wasn't really even on my radar at that point. However, upon doing some quick research as to what the movie was about, I realized that it was a based on a really popular book written by a man named Thomas Hardy in the late 1800's and there was at least one movie adaption that had already been made many years back. For some reason I had never really heard of the book or the old movie, so even though I knew going in that it probably wasn't my cup of tea, I decided it was time for me to be educated. So there I was, a single male going to a romance drama all by himself. Yeah. That happened. Now that it's done, the big thing that I took out of it was that my personal opinion on what I saw was not going to matter much. What matters is that this is the type of movie that I know that a lot of people will love, but yet since it hasn't expanded very wide yet and thus hasn't made much money, I don't know how high the awareness on this actually is. So here I am doing my best to raise awareness because I do like it when I recommend a movie to someone that they end up enjoying, even if I myself didn't enjoy it that much. And of course I will give my opinion. But like I said, that's less important in this case.

Like I said, Far from the Madding Crowd is a romantic drama. But it's not just a romantic drama. Being that the book was written in 1874, this is a period piece romantic drama. Can you think of another period piece romantic drama that a lot of people really love, specifically females? If you answered Pride and Prejudice, then you are absolutely correct. I'm going to go ahead and take the chance by making the comparison because as I was watching, I felt like I was watching Pride and Prejudice, just with different character names and different actors. Now if you are reading this and you absolutely love both of these classic novels and their respective film adaptions and there is a huge difference that makes it a really bad comparison, then I honestly apologize. It's just that my simple male mind has now watched both of them and they both felt very similar. If you are wondering, I have actually watched the five-hour long version of Pride and Prejudice because I told myself it needed to happen at least once. Not my favorite five hours, gotta be honest there. But I do understand why it is so beloved and I think those who love that should also love Far from the Madding Crowd. Although it's only two hours, so perhaps it's closer in comparison to the shorter version of Pride and Prejudice. However, since I haven't actually seen that version, I can't officially make that comparison. Sorry.

Anywho, I digress. The point of all that is to tell you that I have seen Pride and Prejudice and I don't really like it all that much. Sorry. Don't hurt me. Just not my style of movie. Since this is my review, I will give my opinion and say that I wasn't a huge fan of Far from the Madding Crowd either. I really struggled hard to keep focused and awake because I can't review a movie if I fell asleep and missed most of it. That wouldn't be fair. That said, when compared to other romantic dramas, this actually compares well. Even if you haven't read the book or seen another adaptation, five minutes into the movie you will know exactly what is going to happen at the end. But that's not the point with this movie. You're not there to try and guess which of the three guys is going to end up getting the girl. You know exactly which guy is going to win out. What makes it interesting is the journey and I must say that it's a pretty dramatic journey. Especially when it comes to the sheep! Holy cow was I on the edge of my seat when the dog escapes from house and tries to lead the sheep off the cliff. That was intense cinema!! Ok, the drama between the girl and the guys trying to get the girl was good as well. It's a well written story with very fleshed-out characters that you actually care about. Even if I wasn't fully invested it it, I will admit that.

The other thing that I will admit is that this is a very beautifully shot movie. The landscapes and the scenery were very pleasing for the eye to look upon, especially since the lighting was perfect. I also really liked the costumes and set designs. It was a very well-done period piece in those aspects. Another thing that I really liked is all the acting. Carey Mulligan was the lead in the movie and she's the one that actually was a pretty big determining factor in me seeing this movie because I like her as an actress. I most recently saw her in two 2013 movies, The Great Gatsby and Inside Llewyn Davis, and she was great in both of those, especially Gatsby. She captured the character of Daisy Buchanan very well in that movie. In Far from the Madding Crowd, I felt she played a very strong female role, which is always in high demand these days, and did a great job of it. I wasn't extremely familiar with the male actors in this movie, so I won't sit here and just throw names out at you, but there was a very interesting dynamic between all of them and there was great chemistry between Carey Mulligan and the guy that you know she's going to end up with, so that was good. I don't know if proposing to a girl the very second time you see her is the best option to go. I would usually recommend a first date instead, but you know. Different times. Different cultures.

Overall, if I'm being honest, I don't think this is a movie that I would ever want to watch again. It's just not my style of movie and I had a hard enough time focusing the first time through. But I do realize that there are a lot of great things about this movie, which is why I feel that there are a lot of people who would watch this and absolutely love it because of the well-written story, great characters, great acting, beautiful visuals, etc. So if you are the type of person who loves romantic dramas and/or period pieces, then you should really seek this movie out because I think you will love it, especially if you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice. They felt like similar movies to me and thus I feel fans of one will be fans of both. If I'm wrong on that, feel free to correct me because I would be interested in hearing your point of view. As far as my grade for Far from the Madding Crowd, I will give it a very fair and generous 7/10. It's not my favorite. But it's not bad.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

I don't really know how I managed to live on this Earth for so long without really hearing much about the Mad Max movies, but for whatever reason that ended up being the case. Thus when the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road came out, while everyone else was ecstatic that we were getting another one after a 30 year absence, I was kinda confused because I hadn't heard much about these movies. So I set a goal for myself that before Fury Road came out, I would fix this by watching the whole trilogy. I am happy to report that I have now accomplished that goal and now I realize what I had been missing out on for such a long time. The Mad Max movies are a whole lot of fun. For the most part anyways. The third one didn't do it for me, but I had a lot of fun with the first two and thus after watching them, I became officially excited to see the fourth, especially with how high the reviews were. There's been a whole heck of a lot of strong praise for this and now after seeing it, I will add my voice to the crowd because this movie is one crazy fun ride!

Now if you are like me from a few weeks ago and you haven't seen the Mad Max movies, there might be one question on your mind right now. Do you need to see the first three before going to see this one being that it is a sequel and not a reboot? The answer to that is no. You can go in and catch on pretty easily to what is happening without getting lost. However, it definitely would enhance your experience if you at least watch the first one because that is where you learn the back story of Mad Max. You should also see the second one because it is a whole lot of fun and you see the aftermath of what Max is now like after the events of the first. Skip the third. It's boring and useless. The other question that I have gotten a lot in the last few days is what is the plot of this movie? Well that's simple. We are in a crazy post-apocalyptic wasteland with a lot of crazy people, if you want to call them people. A group of somewhat normal people manage to escape and are out to find a better place to live. When all the crazy people figure their plan out, they don't quite approve and thus we find ourselves with a movie that is essentially a two-hour chase scene loaded with crazy action.

A lot of reviews have called this the best action movie of the decade so far. Some have called it one of the best action movies of all time. At least one critic deemed it the best action movie ever because that line was used in a lot of the commercials in the day or two before. Personally I don't know if I'm ready to go to that level with this movie, but I'm also not going to sit here and disagree with that because right now I can't think of a time where I've had this much fun in a theater. It's definitely the most fun I've had at the theater this year, which is saying a lot because I had a blast with Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7, and Kingsman. Simply put, this is the perfect action movie. Sure, you can find movies that are deeper, more profound, more emotional, more moving, etc. So don't misinterpret my statement because I'm not calling this a perfect movie or the best movie of all time, just the perfect action movie. Think for a second about all the qualities you want when you go see an action movie and this has them. It has a simple story that's not super complicated or confusing, but yet good enough to keep you interested. It has well written characters played by great actors. Most importantly, though, it has almost non-stop action throughout that is smart and well-done, thus fun to watch. And it gets better and better as the movie goes along.

One thing that I really appreciated about all the action in the movie was that it was focused and restrained as compared to other actions movies. What I mean by that is this isn't a bloody gore-fest. There's almost no language -- I can count the number of times it curses on one hand. The sexuality/nudity is almost non-existent - only one brief shot of an individual's bare backside from a distance. The action isn't done Michael Bay style where everything you see on screen explodes for no reason. This I liked because many action movies of this genre will go completely unleashed, which can often lose you. In this movie, the action was frequent, but because it was restrained in these aspects, each sequence of action, each crash, and each explosion felt very deliberate and purposeful, even when the scene was very fast-paced. But then there were times in the movie where they weren't afraid to slow it down and give us time to develop our characters. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult played our three main characters and you really feel for all three of them and thus you want them all to succeed in their goal, which makes things even more intense when suddenly the crazy enemy group catches up to them.

I don't feel like I've done this movie justice with this review. I've done my best, but I'm not sure what the correct words are in this instance that accurately describe my emotions and feelings as I was watching this movie, so if I haven't convinced you of the brilliance of this movie then you are just going to have to trust me on this and go see it. Its 98% on Rotten Tomatoes score out of 233 reviews is well deserved as is its 8.8 rating on IMDb out of 60,000+ votes thus far, placing it at #23 on IMDb's top 250. It really is a brilliant movie and easily the most fun I've had in the theaters this year. George Miller did an amazing job with the Mad Max movies back in the 80's, but I feel that those movies were made so that one day we could have Mad Max: Fury Road. It's been a few days now since I saw this movie and I've been going back and forth as to what grade I want to give this. I'm very particular with what I give my top score to. Out of all the movies I see each year, I usually only end up giving out two or three per year. I wasn't going to do this, but for giving me what I really feel is the perfect action movie, I will give Mad Max: Fury Road a 10/10. Like seriously, if someone were to write a textbook on how to make the perfect action movie, that person could use this movie as a road map for that book. It's that good. Go see it! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bates Motel Season 3 Review (SPOILERS)

I do a lot of movie reviews on this blog. I don't do a whole lot of TV show reviews for several reasons. The most important of these is that I don't watch as many TV shows as I do movies. It's a much bigger time commitment to watch a whole season of a TV show, so I pick and choose the shows that I want to watch instead of watching as many as possible in order to get my thoughts out. That said, it's finale time right now which means there are several shows that I do want to get my thoughts out about the current seasons that just finished. In the past I have gone spoiler-free with my TV show reviews so that everyone can read the review, whether or not they have seen the show, and hopefully I can convince a person or two to watch it. This time around, my target audience for these reviews will be more specific as I will be writing towards the people that have already finished the current season. This gives me a lot more to write about and also gives us a lot more to discuss and talk about down in the comments. With that in mind, the first show that I am here to talk about is Bates Motel. If you have not seen season 3, I suggest you stop reading right now and go watch it because the seasons of Bates Motel are only 10 episodes long and the series as a whole is well worth your time!

If you don't know my history with the movie Psycho, I hadn't actually seen it until a few years ago, a year or so before Bates Motel started. However, I had a lot of recommendations to watch it from people who knew my taste in movies. So I finally did and I quickly learned why they suggested it because the movie completely blew my mind and is now one that I consider one of my all-time favorite movies. I love psychological movies and Psycho is definitely the best psychological movie I've seen. The reason I love Bates Motel is that it does a great job at paying homage to Psycho. It's not trying to redo Psycho in TV format. The creators of the show have stressed that frequently. However, the goal of the show has been to dive into how this young kid named Norman Bates became the iconic serial killer that we all know and they've done an amazing job with it.

That said, I think there's a very good reason as to why each season of Bates Motel is only 10 episodes long. There's not enough material here to do 23 episode long seasons. Even at 10 episodes you can sometimes see them pulling at straws to come up with enough material to make an entertaining season that's not just full of fluff. That was very much the case with a lot of the stuff happening in season 3. Granted, I'll give them credit for making everything happen feel really dark and suspenseful. I don't think there ever was a time when I was bored watching this season, but in hindsight I will admit that a lot of the story lines seemed to be there just because they needed a whole season full of stuff. I mean, a lot of the season we were following a mysterious flash drive with a whole lot of information that we never really learn too much about. A guy named Bob Paris wants the flash drive back and will do anything and kill anyone to get it. When Norma ends up with this flash drive, this makes life really complicated as she's trying to deal with this flash drive drama on top of everything else.

The other somewhat useless story lines come with Dylan, Caleb, and their crazy neighbor Chick Hogan. Once again, I really liked these stories. I especially enjoyed watching the relationship between Dylan and Caleb develop. Yes, Caleb is his dad and that should mean something, but Caleb is also his mom's brother, which makes things awkward for Dylan, especially knowing what Caleb did to Norma that caused Dylan to come into this world. Despite this, Caleb feels awful about everything that he's done and really just wants to mend things with Norma and Dylan and I really liked the good relationship that developed between him and Dylan as Dylan begins to realize that despite his past, he is his dad and is just wanting to be forgiven and change his life around. Then as Dylan and Caleb start developing this great father/son relationship, this mysterious Chick Hogan character shows up and spends the whole season trying to convince one or both of them to do this dangerous job for him. They finally do so in order to get some extra money so that Dylan can help Emma get her lung transplant and of course it goes terribly wrong as Dylan and Caleb almost get themselves killed. It was all interesting and suspenseful. But what was the point of it? To develop the relationship between Dylan and Emma.

What made this a great season, though, were the Norman moments. Holy freaking cow does Freddie Highmore pull off an excellent Norman Bates. Who would've thought that this innocent kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factor and August Rush could pull off such a creepy character. The great thing about it is that you spend a lot of the season really liking Norman. He's a good kid with good intentions. He has his moments where he gets really mad, but you expect that from a teenager. Early in the season, he has his relationship with Emma and you really want that to succeed because you feel that he really deserves this happiness in his life. Later in the season, Bradley shows up again and you want to see something working about between the two of them. But then he flips. These are the moments where you start to fear for everyone around Norman. We've spent a whole lot of time developing Norma, Dylan, and Emma as characters close to Norman and we've began to really care for them. Bradley was such an interesting character that we are rooting for something to work out for her when she shows up again. But knowing who Norman is and the worse his psychosis gets in the show, the more we fear for all the characters we love because we know what happens to them. When Norman flips, the show becomes very suspenseful. 

In the first two seasons, we got a glimpse of Norman's psychosis. The show smartly decided to ease us into it because they wanted us to care about Norman and it worked. This season we really dove into Norman's problem and it was really interesting. In Psycho we know that Norman flips back and forth from being this nice, friendly man to what looks like him being possessed by his mother. In fact, the first time I watched Psycho it appears that his mother is the one doing the killing until of course we find that his mother is dead and that's when we realize what's been happening. Season 3 is where we dive into that. Earlier in the show, we just saw Norman blacking out and going crazy. This we learn what's really happening to him while he's going crazy and it develops due to this uncomfortable relationship that he has with his mother. Norma is a very touchy, feely mother who loves her son. But then Norman starts to have feelings for her and he realizes that this might be true when the psychologist bluntly screams it at him when Norman verbally attacks him. Pretty soon his mom is showing up everywhere and having these arguments with him. But it's not the real Norma. It's the weird, angry, jealous Norma that Norman's messed up mind has created and we see that Norma take control of him. It's especially interesting when Norman loses the ability to tell the difference between the real Norma and the Norma that his mind has created.

There's a lot of great scenes that I could give as an example of great Norman/fake Norma moments. In my opinion, the greatest and probably creepiest scene in the entire season is when real Norma runs away following the revelation that Dylan is living with Caleb. Real Norma running away like this completely ruins Norman and he goes into this crazy psychosis for a really long time. Then in the middle of the night, he gets up and starts to make breakfast. But it's not him making breakfast. It's Norma. But it's Freddie Highmore as Norma. He's even cross-dressed like Norma. It is amazing at how perfectly Freddie Highmore nails all of Vera Farmiga's mannerisms as Norma in this scene. I was blown away. And yet I was also creeped out. Dylan at this point walks in on this and the look he has on his face as he is digesting the scene, realizing what is actually going on, is priceless. This scene is the best scene in the series thus far.

Now about the ending of the season. I didn't think that Nicola Peltz would show up again on this show, but I was pleasantly surprised because I really loved her character in the first season. Going off on a quick tangent, I'm actually really sad that she was in Transformers: Age of Extinction because now the general population sees her as the slutty, hot girl from Transformers who can't act and is only there for her looks. This is sad because she's a really good, young actress and she shows it at the end of the season. Her moment to shine would definitely be the scene where she robs and destroys her mother's home. All she wanted to do is come back and be with her mother again, but then she sees how fast her mother has moved on after her father's death and her apparent suicide. Her mother doesn't even seem to care about her one bit and this brought out some very powerful, raw emotions that Nicola Peltz did a great job with. You really feel bad for her as you watch her destroy the house. This is the point where you want things to work out between her and Norman because you want happiness for both of them. She eventually convinces Norman to leave town with her and as this is unfolding, you really feel bad for her because you know the one person she trusts is a crazy psychopath and she doesn't even know it.

I wanted Nicola Peltz to survive. I liked her character and I would've loved to see her stick around for another season. I almost wanted to be mad at the show for bringing back one of my favorite characters just to have Norman bash her head into a rock a couple of episodes later. This was a sad scene. But at the same time, this showed the brilliance of this show. Not for the brutal violence. I'm not condoning that. But the whole sequence at the end of the season between Norman and Bradley is great. This is classic Psycho. In Psycho, Norman starts to develop relationships with his hotel guests. But before he can do anything about it, his mother takes over and kills the women out of jealousy. This is exactly what happens here with Norman and Bradley. He decides he's leaving town with her. But then fake Norma shows up and when Norman lets her in, she kills Bradley. I really love how the show portrays this as we see Norman turn into Norma. The fact that we see Vera Farmiga killing Bradley while Bradley is screaming for Norman to stop because that's what she sees was excellent as it portrays Norman's psychosis in full force. Then when Norman gets back to his senses, he blames Norma for what just happened. Holy cow! Then he puts Bradley in the trunk of her car and drowns the car in the swamp was another holy cow moment because that's exactly how Norman Bates disposes of the bodies in Psycho. Total win for this show.

Overall, while these season did have it's flaws, I still really enjoyed it. Yes, a lot of the different story lines in this felt useless. They were still intense enough to keep my interest in the show, but I was always wondering where they were going and in the end they didn't really go anywhere useful. But whatever the show lacked in those aspects, it totally made up for with all the Norman moments. Watching Norman's psychosis get worse and worse as the series went on was really interesting to watch for me and definitely blew my mind more than once. Some have knocked this season for being really predictable, especially with how it ended, but honestly I didn't feel this was an issue at all. We know the end game with this show. Being crazy and unpredictable is not what this show is going for. The point of this is to dive into the character of Norman Bates and show how we get from what seems like a nice, innocent kid at first to a psychotic serial killer and this show is doing a great job at that. I don't have a rating system for TV shows, but know that in the end, I still really enjoyed season 3 of Bates Motel and I'm crossing my fingers for A&E to bring this back for another two seasons because I'm excited to see how this show ends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Age of Adaline Review

Last weekend it was my pleasure to watch and review the highly anticipated Avengers sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Last night while everyone else in the theater was either catching up on Age of Ultron or seeing for a second or third time, I decided to go see another "Age of" movie, that of course being The Age of Adaline. Normally I don't really care for romantic dramas like this. The chick flick formula in a movie bores me. I realize there are a lot of people that love these movies and that is perfectly fine, they're just not my cup of tea. However, The Age of Adaline had me curious. Not excited. Curious. No, I don't like chick flicks, but not all romantic-themed movies follow the chick flick formula and thus when a romantic drama strays from the formula or does something else that makes me impressed, I have been known to enjoy them. The Age of Adaline had me curious because I thought maybe this movie wouldn't just follow a predictable formula or maybe there would be more to the movie that would make it enjoyable. So I gave it a shot. Um, yeah. Didn't quite work out in my favor.

I hope you don't take it as a spoiler when I tell you that this movie is nothing special and that it does follow the super boring, predictable chick flick formula. But even so, I feel comfortable saying so because if you decide to see this movie, I want you to know what you are getting into. If you are in the mood for a chick flick because you like those types of movies, then by all means go ahead. But if you are expecting something more than that, you are going to be disappointed. If you decide to see it anyways, don't say I didn't warn you. If you haven't heard of The Age of Adaline, then let me enlighten you. Adaline is a fictional character that is born in the early 1900's. She's living a fairly normal life as she is married with a little daughter when tragedy strikes. First off, her husband dies. Second she's driving home one night when it starts to snow for the first time in that area and she ends up driving her car off the cliff and into the freezing cold water where she dies. Kinda. After two minutes in the water when her body temperature is exactly 87 degrees, she gets struck by lightning. These things happening just like that causes a phenomenon that brings Adaline back to life, but stunts her aging. So she is stuck as this woman in her late 20's. Apparently the exact conditions that cause this phenomenon will be discovered by this certain scientist in the year 2034. Or so the narrator tells us. Yeah...

I tell you the premise in great detail like that to illustrate a point. The point is there is a whole ton of bad writing in this movie. Now the idea of getting powers after getting struck by lightning isn't a bad one in and of itself. That's the premise of my current favorite TV show, The Flash, which you should all watch. Also, if someone wanted to make a movie about a character that doesn't age or age, ages backwards, or something like that, then fine. There could be some sort of message taught there about the purpose of life or how the idea of staying young forever actually wouldn't be that good of an idea. But  if you're going to be that type of movie or show, then you should know what you are and run with it. The Age of Adaline takes itself so seriously and tries it's hardest to make this situation seem so realistic that instead of being this interesting drama, it becomes this ridiculously cheesy romance drama that is made worse by the fact that it is trying to be good. It's one of those movies where you wonder how in the heck this idea got past draft stage. Someone actually looked at this script and thought it would be a great idea. In fact, a lot of someones thought it would be an amazing movie and thus it became a movie. And somehow they convinced people like Blake Lively and Harrison Ford to star in their movie. That baffles me.

The other thing about the writing is that nothing that Adaline does in the movie makes much sense. They were trying to make everything in this movie feel super realistic, but if someone were actually caught in these odd circumstances, I don't think they would actually make the same decisions that Adaline makes. I don't even know where to begin with this because the more I think about it, the less this whole movie makes any sense. Every ten years she decides to change her identity and start living a new life. Why? Because she's afraid of the FBI. She's scared that someone will find out about her secret. But at the same time she hates that she can't age, so wouldn't she try to get help so she can start aging again? The bulk of this movie also takes place when she is like 100 years old or something like that. Up to this point, she has completely avoided romance for understandable reasons and is very cold when this random guy tries to force himself into her life. That was good. But then she gives in so easily and this romance begins. Why? Oh yeah, this is a chick flick. We have to have a romance. But is is so forced and practically shoe-horned in there. They created this character and situation where romance wouldn't happen. But they make it happen anyways. And yet, as I said before, they tried so hard in this movie to make it serious and realistic that the whole thing was just stupid. I'm not going to tell you what happens in the last half of the movie, but in terms of things not making sense, the events in the last half of the movie are the worst, the very worst being the huge grand finale.

I do have to be honest, though, despite all these complaints that I have, there were a lot of good things about this movie that did make it slightly more manageable than some of the other romance movies that I've seen. The first of this is the acting. Blake Lively plays the lead role of Adaline and she does a great job. Not only is she a gorgeous woman (that is a lot younger than I thought she was for some reason), but she is a great actress. No, I didn't like pretty much anything her character did, but she did the best with what she was given. None of the problems with this movie are her fault. Same situation with her guy thing in the movie. His name is Michiel Huisman and he was apparently in World War Z and Wild. He did fine. Their on-camera chemistry was good even if the romance made no sense at all. Then of course there is Harrison Ford. I really don't know why he took this role, but I really love him as an actor because he gives it his all in everything he does. No different here. He's not given much to work with, but he makes the most of it and makes his character the most interesting one in the movie. In addition to the acting, the movie was shot very well and had a decent score. A lot of the technical aspects of this movie were done just fine. Too bad the story was so bad that it really didn't matter.

Overall, I think the reaction from the group of people in the theater with me after the movie ended tells the story of this movie. I heard a lot of sniffles from the girls in the theater. Apparently they were all emotional and touched by the chick flick that they just watched that was definitely made for them and not for guys like me. But at the same time as I was listening to the sniffles of the girls, this group of guys that so generously accompanied some of these girls immediately started complaining about he stupid and cheesy this movie was. I agree with them. To be fair, the movie theater didn't feel like a prison to me while I was watching. That often happens when I force myself to watch a really stupid movie in order to get my review out. So kudos there. It was engaging enough to keep me semi-interested in what was happening, most of that because of the great acting by everyone. So it's not a complete waste. But if you decide to see this movie, just know what you are getting into. This is a by-the-numbers chick flick. If you love chick flicks, you might love this one. But if you need a movie to have an intelligent plot with characters that are well-written and you don't normally like chick flicks, then just do yourself a favor and skip this movie. My grade for The Age of Adaline is a 6/10.