2013's Most Anticipated: The Bling Ring

24. The Bling Ring (R) - Runtime: 90 minutes
Starring: Emma Watson, Katie Chang, Israel Broussard
Director: Sophia Coppola
Writer: Sophia Coppola

Before this movie, I could not decide whether I'm with Sophia Coppola or not. I really enjoyed Marie Antionette and The Virgin Suicides, but thought her most celebrated work, Lost in Translation, was just too pretentious and up its own butt. This was probably Maggie's most anticipated movie this year (by far) and almost broke down and cried (not really, I exaggerate for comedic effect) because of the limited release in New York and LA last week. Thankfully, it expanded and the first chance we got - we watched with glee. I'm officially a Sophia Coppola fan.

Based on a true story, the film mainly follows Marc, a transfer student who quickly finds himself a new juvenile delinquent friend named Rebecca. Their first night together, they jack some cars on a street by just checking to see which ones were unlocked. But Rebecca is unsatisfied, quickly coming up with the brilliant idea of robbing Paris Hilton while she's away from home. They find her address online and luckily enough, they find the key to the place under that mat and no alarm! It wouldn't be so absurd if it wasn't true! Obviously things escalate and more kids get involved and inevitably their casual attitude towards breaking and entering rears its ugly head and gets them caught.

It's quite a tale - these are all privileged rich kids who practically worship the celebrities that live around them. The film shows how shallow and care free they are about everything - they even post most of their stolen evidence on Facebook for everyone to see! Even if you know what happens to all the characters in real life it's still astonishing to see it happen on screen. It wasn't about the money or the clothes and accessories they stole - it's that they could live like these celebrities without actually doing anything but opening up a side door. And the film isn't shy about showing how none of the kids have learned any lessons. If anything - they've only become a bigger part of the problem - they all seem to think The Bling Ring has made them famous in the most flattering way.

Coppola portrays the story with an ironic detachment most hipsters would admire. The music seems authentic while also being simultaneously hilarious. I can clearly picture these young white girls rapping along with the thug music while in their cars all the time. Everything about the movie will have you shaking your head but also quietly bobbing it too! It's a really well-edited movie that knows when to shock (the car accident) and when to play it cool (the group shot of all the kids walking down the sidewalk).

The cast is phenomenal, too. But Emma Watson is the brightest spot - I can't explain it fully, but her affectation when she speaks makes you immediately click your tongue in disgust. "I just wahnt to RAWB." she says with deadpan delivery. I hope she gets some consideration for an Oscar because she's simply fascinating to watch. Katie Chang and Israel Broussard are excellent standouts as well - Chang with her cool, girl next door vibe as the ring leader, Rebecca and Broussard with his starry-eyed, puppy dog affection for Rebecca as Marc.

This movie can please mainstream audiences and hipsters alike. It's that good! You'll find yourself drawn to these characters for all the wrong reasons and maybe even feel a bit of sympathy? I don't know, but I think multiple viewings are in order to uncover the deeper layers to this story and the characters. Seriously, this movie is dope.

Rating: See It!


2013's Most Anticipated: Stoker

33. Stoker (R) - Runtime: 99 minutes
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writer: Wentworth Miller

I had fairly high expectations with this Hitchcock-inspired thriller. Chan-wook Park is best known for Oldboy, one of my favorite foreign movies. He's also completely in love with demented and twisted characters and here he's got an intriguing cast that manages to be a really good homage to Hitchcock's own Shadow of a Doubt. It may not offer too many thrills, but there's a disturbing layer underneath this drama.

India Stoker's dad has just died in a car accident and now she must face living with her detached and sometimes overbearing mother (Kidman). But along comes Charlie, India's uncle and charms the pants off (quite literally it seems in some cases!) everyone. And while Charlie maintains he's only there to help, he's more trouble for everyone than they know.

I don't want to spoil things too much - suffice to say things get weird (as they always do in Park's movies), but nothing ever seemed illogical. Just that all of the characters are living very twisted lives. There's a lot of hints and insinuations at what's boiling underneath and it all comes to a head when India has a chance encounter with an attractive young boy. In that moment and afterwards, we get a small glimpse at what's happening to India. Uncle Charlie seems to have been the spark to snap her out of her dull life.

I really enjoyed the characters in this film - Kidman does a good job at playing the widow who's basically moved on from her married life much earlier than when her husband died. And Wasikowska is brooding enough. But the man who steals every scene with his devilish grin is Matthew Goode. He's at times equally charming but completely intimidating. I really loved his performance. And when you find out what's really going on with this family, Wasikowska gives Goode a run for his money.

The movie is slow - there's not some thrilling chase scene or campy horror murders, just good old fashioned creepy camera work and a fantastic build up to the climax. And the film does look amazing - there's a lot of great shots and angles. There may be a bit too much with the visual metaphors but I enjoyed every bit of it.

If you're a fan of old school dramas and horror this is a great homage to Hitchcock. The film looks beautiful and the acting is amazing. There's a great reveal at the end and I couldn't help but smile when the credits started rolling.

Rating: Rent It!


Review: 21 & Over

21 & Over (R) - Runtime: 93 minutes
Starring: Miles Teller, Skylar Astin
Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Writer: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

What a turd of a movie. I really didn't expect much out of this - the trailer reminded me a lot of Project X - a hollow, not-funny movie that tried too hard to be this generation's Animal House or hell, even Superbad. Here we get a lot of the same bad jokes and a lot of material that can be seen as racist and sexist. It's just a disappointing movie that takes itself too seriously at times when it shouldn't and makes fun of the more serious issues underlying these characters.

Miller and Casey are on their way to pick up their best friend from high school, Jeff Chang and make him party hard on his 21st birthday, even though he has a crucial job interview the next day. Of course they get shitfaced and end up living out an outrageous "adventure" that I guess I was supposed to envy or find funny but it did neither. The whole premise is piss poor - there's no way in hell a med student is going to just throw away a job opportunity to get bombed with some high school friends he barely talks with now (especially in this economy is what my mother would say!). And the other problem is that the whole movie hinges on them trying to find Jeff Chang's house after he passes out from too much alcohol even though they gave the cab directions to Chang's house! I'm sorry it was just too stupid for me to forgive in this movie.

And so the rest of the evening is spent mulling about campus trying to find his house. It's awful and the movie acts like smart phones don't exist (they couldn't scroll through emails or contacts to find something or someone that would have his address??). Maybe I'm old, but the film glorifies this party hard attitude - it's cool to get super drunk and puke on people and be complete assholes to women. And then when the movie does try to sober up and deliver actual serious issues (suicide, best friends falling apart, daddy issues) it rings hollow because the next scene involves them walking around campus with socks on their penises or something just as ridiculous.

21 & Over tries really hard to get your attention (it even starts out like The Hangover - did I mention this movie was written by the guys who wrote all three Hangover movies?). It's a bloated, shallow mess of a movie that wants to be Animal House or Superbad, but fails to even achieve a Sorority Boys level of hilarity.

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!


2013's Most Anticipated: Man of Steel

12. Man of Steel (PG-13) - Runtime: 143 minutes
Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: David S. Goyer

I had a pretty good feeling going into this movie I was going to enjoy it. Previous Superman movies always have felt stale and rather dull to me. Part of that is the character himself: who can stop Superman? He's deathproof and that to me, kills any sense of suspense or drama from his story. But here Snyder and Goyer hit the reset button and create an all-new, more grounded and gritty take on the iconic superhero. Don't believe the haters out there - this is a great way to start a new comic book franchise.

The film opens up with 20 minutes of exposition on Krypton, Superman's home planet. Some say it was too long, but I don't care - we're never going to get to see that world again on film, so why not indulge the fans? I thought it was a perfect set up to actually understand Supes origins. And then we're briskly taken to Earth where we see Clark Kent living his life as a nomad. Until Lois Lane (Amy Adams) ruins his life by exposing him as an alien. Even though her Pulitzer Prize-winning ass can't save her from ridicule - she gets validated by the invasion of General Zod - a man we've seen from the beginning hell-bent on seeing his version of Krypton thrive on planet Earth.

And Zod is hugely menacing - Michael Shannon shouts and glares his way through this role and it is believable (at least I enjoyed the over-the-top performance!). And after donning the iconic suit sans the outside underwear - Superman makes it clear he has decided to become the hero everyone needs. Much of the movie is all about the choices Superman has to make - does he reveal himself to be the Man of Steel? Or does he quietly live out the rest of his life incognito? And the choice is thrust upon him when Zod shows up.

Aside from all the Christ-like metaphors and heavy-handedness of his daddy issues, Man of Steel is a very visceral and thrilling action film. Zack Snyder was by far the best choice to breathe new life into the father of all superheroes. Much of the fight scenes have an extra umph to them - whenever there's two Kryptonians duking it out - the punches come fast and you could almost feel the speed and pow in their punch. It is such a great feeling to see these larger than life figures battle each other and Snyder has such a great way of showing it.

Besides Shannon, the rest of the cast is pretty good - Cavill dons the suit admirably and is in good shape to carry this franchise forward. Amy Adams was good as Lois Lane, but her character felt a little underdeveloped as did the romantic angle of her and Superman. But the standout? By far Antje Traue as Faora-Ul. As much as Zod likes to stomp around like a big baby, Faora is silently sinister and distressing. She seriously is amazing and I don't know how her character fits into the rest of the canon, but honestly she could be the main villain in a later movie and I'd be overjoyed - she's that good! Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a fantastic job of portraying the Kents and they have their moments in flashback scenes. Russel Crowe and Ayelet Zurer also do a great job of playing Superman's biological parents.

As much as I loved the direction of the movie and the visual punch Snyder brought to the film, there were some issues. First of all, there was way too much action at the end. It felt like it was never going to end! There's only so many times that they can show Zod/Superman crash into buildings and not even flinch. We get it - these guys are titans and anytime they battle, cities will be leveled. Speaking of which - Buzzfeed has a great article on how badly the destruction would reign down on NYC - and I kept thinking to myself during the movie "Who the hell is going to pay for all this???" So as much as Superman is the savior for humanity, he's also the financial doomsayer for Metropolis because he just cost the city billions of dollars in repairs. But that's kind of nitpicking in an otherwise great movie.

I'm not a huge comic book guy, nor do I particularly love Superman. But this movie hits all the right notes and finally makes Superman more modern (at least in film terms). It's a really good superhero movie that packs a punch (quite literally) and I highly recommend it to pretty much anyone who's looking for a good action flick.

Rating: See It!

2013's Most Anticipated: This is the End

36. This is the End (R) - Runtime: 107 minutes
Starring: James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson
Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

This is by far the biggest surprise this year. I had my trepidations when I previewed this movie when it had a different title and very little was known about the plot. But instead of dumbing down the comedy, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg manage to whip up a smart and satirical send up of the disaster movie while also lampooning Hollywood's narcissistic celebrity culture.

Everyone plays themselves in this disaster spoof and here we find each actor playing an exaggerated version of themselves - James Franco is every bit the pretentious douchebag we believe him to be, Seth Rogen is all about getting stoned, Jonah Hill is a complete phony after getting nominated for an Oscar, Craig Robinson is a stereotypically black actor and Danny McBride is possibly the biggest dick in Hollywood. And this all plays out in a bona fide, real end of the world Apocalypse as foretold in the Bible. This was probably the best way to approach this movie - the end of the world is played straight - people are being sucked into the core of the earth and others are getting blue-beamed up to heaven. And in the middle of it all is 6 actors trying to survive holed up in Franco's fortress of a house.

The movie starts out well enough - there's a ton of great gags and jokes before the Apocalypse even hits - I could have watched another hour of just these guys hanging out at the party! And it continues as these guys survive where other non-worthy actors perished (funnily enough Aziz Ansari, who gets kicked into the abyss by Robinson and later Robinson recounts, looking for sympathy "I saw Aziz die!") All 6 egos in the room get larger and larger as the threat of imminent death looms and it results in a lot of hilarious scenes. I especially laughed at McBride and Franco's fight over a porno mag and masturbation - it had me in tears!

Everyone has their moment to shine - but Danny McBride clearly steals a lot of the scenes he's in simply because he's the driving force for all the misery everyone is in. Plus he's a dick and McBride plays that character very well. Jay Baruchel (whom I love and kind of wish he was a bigger deal) plays the least interesting character, but he's relatable because he's not in the inner circle of Hollywood actors - being Canadian can do that. But he has some great lines and his decision at the end of the movie involving late 90s teen heartthrobs was genuis.

Throw in an unexpected cameo by one of the hottest actors (both physically and metaphorically!) and you've got a winner. The movie went in a direction I didn't expect and it's all the better for it. I really, really loved this movie and I'm itching to see it again. There was one too many penis jokes in the movie, but besides that, this is by far the funniest film I've seen all year!

Rating: See It! Twice!

2013's Most Anticipated: Now You See Me

50. Now You See Me (PG-13) - Runtime: 115 minutes
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman
Director: Louis Leterrier

Well, this was a surprise! I wrote in my preview that this filmed screamed DOUCHEBAG and while I can't help but think that word every time Jesse Eisenberg smirks, this film was simply entertaining. I enjoy movies where the tricks (I mean, illusions) are part of the mystery and here the smoke and mirrors take center stage.

The film starts out simple enough - four talented, but under-appreciated illusionists are recruited by a shadowy figure to stage a very elaborate magic show that gets them in trouble with the Feds because they stole some money. Hot on their heels is Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) an FBI agent who is always three steps behind. He enlists the help of Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), an ex-magician who exposes other magicians as charlatans and grifters. The film mainly follows Rhodes as he tries to figure out how these four horsemen (as they call themselves) robbed a bank in France while in Vegas. It's a great set up and it's expertly paced and edited so that there's never a dull moment.

And the acting is fantastic - every horseman has a great introduction and each one has their own personality - they're all perfect including Isla Fisher and Dave Franco. Freeman and Caine bring a certain gravitas to the roles and the film is better off because of it. And Ruffalo - who seems to be hitting his stride lately - nails it as the lovable goof who can't quite seem to get a grasp of what's happening. Near the end, I said to myself, "Poor Mark Ruffalo, it's not your fault they got away!"

And the twist ending was satisfying! I'm so relieved because this movie lives and dies by its ending. The only problems I really had with the movie was some of the magic being performed was completely unrealistic - Isla Fisher jumps into a giant bubble and floats around, Eisenberg somehow manages to transport the handcuffs and chains from himself to Ruffalo. But the ending satisfies that logical itch of mine by explaining, frankly - it's all just magic! So I bought what they were selling and the movie is wholly satisfying.

Rating: See It!

2013's Most Anticipated: Fast & Furious 6

15. Fast & Furious 6 (PG-13) - Runtime: 130 minutes
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker
Director: Justin Lin

It's been fun to see this franchise evolve from a straight-up cop movie with fast cars to a straight-up heist movie with fast cars to an explosion-laden action fest movie with fast cars (and tanks!). I really thought the last movie hit all the right notes - you get everyone together to pull off an insane bank heist and then they throw in a bombshell after the credits (Letty's not dead!). And after watching the new movie, I honestly don't know how they're going to out-explode, out-run and out-tank this sixth part, because this one was epically spectacular (not enough radical adjectives could come even close to describing the mayhem put forth in the movie).

The team gets assembled once again to thwart a special ops mercenary gone rogue. The only way Dom's crew takes the job is if they get full immunity. Of course, The Rock (or Hobbs as he's known in the movies) complies and the movie never really lets off the gas from there. I honestly can't remember too much of the movie because there was a lot of action - I think the movie is about 3/4 action and the rest is talking about family and how that's important. Which isn't a bad thing - but the whole point of this franchise is to go big or go home and here they deliver.

So if you're looking for some thought-provoking character development, you can skip this one. Fast 6 doesn't care about that crap - it's all about how ridiculous these set pieces can get. And it does get ludicrous (yes, pun intended!) but I was never not entertained by the whole thing. It's a big mess of a movie (girl fights! Double crosses! Planes exploding!) and the franchise is pretty much self-aware of all this. Which is what makes it great - it embraces the insanity.

And if you stay past the initial credits another amazing tease makes you want to see the next movie right now. It's incredible that the series has managed to get better as time goes by, but credit the writers and producers for shifting the focus of the franchise away from just cars to something much bigger. This was a solid action movie and the only complaint was that the action could have been edited down, especially near the end - seriously, that runway was probably 20 miles long! That's just nitpicking really and this movie will have you anxiously waiting for the next!

Rating: See It!


2013's Most Anticipated: The Hangover, Part III

17a. The Hangover, Part III (R) - Runtime: 100 minutes
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms
Director: Todd Phillips

Oh how the mighty have fallen, this once promising comedy franchise was everyone's favorite back in 2009, but the lukewarm reception from the sequel had many questioning if the jokes had dried up during the first outing. This third installment, quite frankly, does not breathe new life into the characters (or Las Vegas) and I would actually mark this movie as more of a drama with some dark comedic elements to it than an outright comedy. There wasn't a whole lot to laugh about in this second sequel, especially after the opening moments where a giraffe gets decapitated.

I will admit I was wholly invested in the narrative - the film ties back to the first movie in that John Goodman plays Marshall, a mob boss who's out to get Chow because he took money from him during the first movie (in fact, Marshall's name does get mentioned in the first movie, we're just never privy to any of his story). Phil, Stu and Alan are the only connection to Chow that Marshall knows, so he holds Doug hostage (of course!) and orders them to get Chow or else. If you've watched the first movie, you'll dig the story. However, unlike the first film's retracing of events and finding awesome surprises (Mike Tyson! What happened to Stu's tooth?), we're treated to a ho-hum drama with little or no surprises and barely any laughs.

The biggest hangup? Part III loves Chow. So much, in fact, that he's in 90% of the movie. And it is awful. Chow is a fun character when he's just got a bit part to play. But here, he hijacks the whole movie and it gets annoying real quick. None of the jokes are that funny and there is way too many animal killings that are supposed to be funny, but are just downright cruel. I actually don't remember laughing all that much during this movie - it's just so gritty and real. I'd compare this to more dark comedies like In Bruges or Death at a Funeral, but less funny!

One bright spot was John Goodman - he absolutely kills it in this movie. His portrayal of Marshall is quite menacing, but there's a slight cartoonish behavior to his evilness that makes his scenes all the more entertaining. As for the rest of the cast, Galifianakis has his moments, but the schtick he had during the first two movies is more annoying now than I remember. (Kind of like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, I could write a very drawn out article on how awful his character has become during the run of that show). Cooper and Helms are okay - the problem is that the movie is more focused on everyone else that they're just as caught up in the drama as the audience, so their characters never really have any good moments. Oh and the gag after the credits? Completely dumb and unnecessary and it invalidates the whole ending of the movie and Alan's character resolution. It wasn't funny at all.

As unappealing as the comedy was, I still enjoyed seeing the movie find a resolution to Alan's wackiness and possible insanity. He's grown up a bit after the movie is finished and hopefully we'll never have to see these characters in Vegas again!

Rating: Not Worth Paying For!