Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice (R) - Runtime: 85 minutes
Starring: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writer: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling

This movie was kind of a surprise. I had wanted to at least check it out when I saw the trailer - I do like movies that offer up mysterious, cult-like figures and it just looked really interesting. And despite it's low-budget aesthetic and somewhat slow-pace, I nonetheless really dug this movie. In fact, the movie kind of sets up a sequel of which the writer/director Zal Batmanglij has talked about doing - which would be fantastic.

The movie follows a couple, Peter and Lorna who want to investigate what they think is a cult. They want to document what they think is going to eventually turn into a Heaven's Gate fiasco with all the member's either being killed or committing suicide. Behind all these shenanigans? It's a frail, beautiful woman named Maggie who claims to be from the future. She doesn't know how or why she's back in our present day, but she plans on teaching people about really living, instead of the bullshit lives us commonfolk live nowadays.

Peter is inexplicably drawn to Maggie and falls under her spell. At first he wants to expose Maggie as a fraud, but can't help fall under her spell. It's not exactly sexual, either. The movie doesn't try to persuade you that he's in love, but he most definitely wants Maggie to like him.Meanwhile, Lorna gets more and more concerned that the cult is taking over their lives, especially when one of the other members takes her out in the wilderness to shoot a gun.

The film does move at a slow pace, but I never really felt bored - things don't escalate quickly - it's a gradual climb to the climax when everything comes to a head. I won't spoil the ending, save that it's really good and will leave you wondering whether you believe Maggie is for real or not. It actually makes you want to go back and watch with a closer eye to see if things seem legit - Maggie's story, her constant need to be fed organic stuff (she's allergic to most food from our time), etc.

The performances are great - Brit Marling has been popping up in some movies that I've seen recently or have heard about and I'm quickly falling for her, too. You completely buy into her role as the reluctant leader of this cult. And Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius are wonderful too - especially Denham who has some brilliant moments with Marling.

The film is a great study on how we let people into our lives and sometimes the closest people to us may never really know your true feelings or past. Peter seems to have a lot of demons from his past, but he's never once told Lorna anything but he opens up instead to Maggie. The film also does a great job of never letting the tension go - there's moments when you don't know if someone is going to live or die and it's quite scary.

I highly recommend this movie - it's worth checking out if you don't mind a slower pace. The movie is less than an hour and a half long, so it's over with quickly. But that doesn't diminish the impact I had after seeing the ending. I wanted more. Hopefully that will happen!

Rating: Rent It!


Dredd (R) - Runtime: 95 minutes
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Heady
Director: Pete Travis
Writer: Alex Garland

Here's a movie I was on the fence about when it came out. I just thought this movie looked more like a really bad B-movie than anything worth watching. But it had really strong reviews and for the most part has been overlooked in this superhero-crazy age of Hollywood. While Dredd may not be a straight-up superhero movie, it certainly has all the trappings. But instead of some boring origin plot or providing us with a ton of backstory to the universe Dredd dwells in, writer Alex Garland chooses instead to drop us in the middle of a typical (at least for Dredd) day as Mega City One's only law-enforcement agency, the Judges. And it's absolutely fantastic.

Judge Dredd is the law. He is all black and white and there is no room for anything else. It just so happens that today he gets stuck with a rookie named Anderson - a tiny woman with psychic abilities who may not be qualified to be a good Judge, but her power gives her a leg up on everyone else. Meanwhile, in Peach Trees, a 200-story slum tower, Ma-Ma is in control. She is a ruthless prostitute-turned-gangster who is peddling a new drug called slo-mo. When you inhale, your brain processes everything as slow motion. When Dredd and rookie Anderson decide to investigate a brutal triple homicide, they get trapped inside the tower with thousands of people trying to kill them.

It's an oh-shit moment when the doors get locked and there's no way out. I just kept thinking how the hell are they going to get out? That's the beauty of this film - it's a complete rush and no moment is wasted. The action is superb - it's highly stylized and the slo-mo drug makes for some amazing visuals as Dredd pops caps in people's skulls, torsos and limbs. Blood and guts fly everywhere and it is a glorious site to behold. It really is quite mesmerizing, but that's just part of the greatness of this movie.

Karl Urban's performance is the best thing about this movie. Neither playing it tongue-in-cheek, nor being too robotic, Urban manages to present Dredd as a logical, best-solution at-hand kind of person. He has no sympathy for people violating the law and even though we never see his whole face, we continue to root for this guy. What could have been a bad prop design for comic effect (that oversized helmet!) is actually seen as pretty badass. It's all because of Urban's performance and the way the film's tone is set. Kudos to everyone involved because this film could have been just as bad as the original Judge Dredd with Stallone.

As for the rest of the cast, Heady is simply maniacal as Ma-Ma. She's simply sadistic and the perfect foil to Dredd's no-bullshit attitude. Olivia Thirlby is actually quite good, too. She looks a little ridiculous in her outfit, but you stop caring after the first 15 minutes when you're seeing people's bellies and heads explode. She doesn't wear a helmet (it would affect her psychic abilities), but that gives a little bit more emotional heft to her story as you can see more emotion on her face.

This is one quick thrill ride that I'm going to have to go back to - it's a tightly-scripted and well-executed action movie. There's plenty of violence and awesome action to satisfy anyone and there's enough of a story to bring some emotional weight to the plot. It's simply an addicting film - the visuals are enough to give it a look. But there's so much to this film and I couldn't recommend this more!

Rating: Own It!

2013's Most Anticipated: Elysium

2. Elysium (R) - Runtime: 109 minutes
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp

I think I may have built this movie up a bit too much. I was really, really excited to see this movie. Everything screamed "COLIN WILL LOVE THIS!" and I felt pretty stoked about it despite some bad reviews it was getting. Despite all the hype that I've built up for myself and despite all the bad reviews, this movie kind of lands with a thud. I won't say that Elysium was great, nor will I say it was bad, it just kind of falls in the middle. And maybe part of me died a little inside because I expected way too much of this movie.

The story is easy to follow - 140 odd years in the future, poor people live in the slum cities on Earth while the rich and privileged get to live forever (literally!) on Elysium - a giant orbiting space station with the nicest amenities - no war, poverty or disease. And no one is allowed to come and join the party up there. Matt Damon plays Max, a carjacker who finds himself in a predicament when he's given a high-level dose of radiation due to an accident at his factory job. He has five days to live and most of the movie is spent showing Max trying to get to Elysium. Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, a tough security administrator who wants to control Elysium and is starting to organize a coup. It all ends in a big climactic action scene when Max finally arrives on Elysium.

It all sounds so wonderful - there's a good amount of action and you actually do care what happens to Max and his friends. He's on a mission to change the hierarchy of Elysium and Earth, but the way the plot evolves and what happens was just too much for me to take in. What I mean is that basically all Max has to do is upload a new software upgrade into Elysium's main computer so that all Earth citizens are given Elysium-level status. Thus apparently ending any sort of class struggle with just the touch of a button.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD: Aside from the really horrible cliches (seriously, why in the future do so many corporations, governments, etc. rely on ONE MAIN COMPUTER to control everything??), the resulting end game doesn't make much sense. Yeah, sure if Max gets to the computer to upload the new software, sure every Earth citizen will be granted every right (including automatic robot healthcare), but there is a government running Elysium and I can't imagine they would just stand by and let this happen. The movie ends happily, but in reality I think the victory is short-lived and in a couple of months things would go back to the way they were. END SPOILERS.

Most of the time I could forgive a movie for not being thorough or having some tiny logical issues, but I could not really let this one go. It just bugged me to no end that the whole of Elysium is run by computers and how simple it all seemed. The movie collapses under it's own heavy-handed messaging, too. Delacourt and her malicious cohort, Kruger (played by Sharlto Copley) are so evil and cliched that it's just too silly to take seriously. Not to mention that Foster and Copley really ham it up on screen to the point where I was laughing more than anything.

Elysium had a grand ambition. But it falls short in terms of being a great sci-fi movie. It has too much faulty logic and bad cliches for the sci-fi genre. And the acting is simply kooky. While the action scenes and the story of Max's character trying to find redemption are really well done, the rest of the movie is either blah or just plain bad. I loved how the movie looked - Blomkamp has a knack for making things look spectacular, even the ruins of Los Angeles. But it's not enough to save this movie from itself.

Rating: Rent It!

2013's Most Anticipated: The Wolverine

16. The Wolverine (PG-13) - Runtime: 126 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank

Apparently the much-maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn't deter the studio from going ahead and making another movie about one of the most-loved superheros. I was skeptical - but the setting and cast intrigued me. There were no other big-name Hollywood actors beside Hugh Jackman and Japan seemed ripe with interesting story possibilities. And mostly this movie washes away all the sins from the past Wolverine movie and surprisingly, is probably the most refreshingly unique superhero movie to come out in a while.

What I mean by interesting is that Wolverine isn't out to save the world from nuclear catastrophe, nor is their some maniacal villain hell-bent on taking over the world, either. This film is more intimate and personal - and thankfully this more character-focused story still manages to be thrilling and emotionally satisfying. The movie starts off with Logan living in the woods, being a complete loner (and possibly nutballs) until he gets an invitation to Japan. Once he finally arrives an old man, whom he saved during World War II, asks him to give up his immortality to the old man so that Logan can live a life that finally has a conclusion and so that the dying old man can be immortal himself.

Obviously, there's a lot of secrets being hidden from Logan and once the action starts, it never lets up, really. It's actually quite thrilling and although the surprise at the end isn't all that surprising, it still was satisfying. Aside from the action, Logan himself is confronted with his own death and is still struggling with his past (basically his whole shitty romance with Jean Grey from the first trilogy). And although things end nicely, there's a vague sense that Logan still hasn't figured out his life and partly that his life will never get figured out as long as he's immortal.

I'm going to have a hard time explaining this part, but the movie had this visceral, surreal kind of tone and pace. I really can't explain it beyond that, but it just felt so different from other superhero movies. In a good way, of course! Maybe it was the way it was shot and the acting (which was superb!) but everything came together to just feel different. I can't explain it beyond that, but I bought what the movie was selling. Like I've said, the performances were great and it's pretty remarkable that 90% of the cast is all non-Hollywood folks - which just lends more credibility to this flick.

The Wolverine isn't your typical superhero movie - it doesn't tell an origin story, it's not fixated on a villain, nor is it trying to save the world. But what it lacks in cliches, it makes up for in story and character and it delivers. The action is awesome (especially that giant samurai robot at the end!). This superhero movie seems to have been lost in the shuffle this summer, but it will most definitely stand the test of time.

Rating: See It!


The Conjuring

The Conjuring (R) - Runtime: 112 minutes
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor
Director: James Wan
Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes

I had my trepidations about this movie - but the reviews have been super stellar and my friends wanted to go see it, so I obliged. The reason I was wary is that I am really not a fan of horror movies. At least, modern horror movies. Luckily the movie was amazing and I think is destined to be considered a classic among the genre.

2013's Most Anticipated: The Host

The Host (PG-13) - Runtime: 125 minutes
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, Max Irons
Director: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol

I think I've officially written off Andrew Niccol as a one-hit wonder. Gattaca was his brilliant writing and directing debut, but since then he's had some promising movies that just didn't seem to fully realize their potential (Lord of War, In Time). With The Host, the trailer made me hope that I was going to be wrong - it had an intriguing premise and I really love the cast (at least, Ronan and Kruger - I have no idea who those douchey guys are on the poster). But you know what? Stephanie Meyer wrote the book the movie is based on and that should have been fair warning for me. So Niccol isn't entirely at fault here, because you can only do so much to a film with such a flimsy foundation.

If you haven't guess already, I loathed The Host. It was boring, cliched and completely stupid. I laughed a lot during all the serious scenes (well, I guess I enjoyed it from that perspective!). A brief synopsis - the world has been taken over by aliens who wander from planet to planet, taking over the bodies of the native species. Pretty much everyone is a host to these creatures and there is a few packets of human resistance. Melanie is one of these survivors who ends up getting caught and becoming a host to an alien named Wanderer. Which is a dumb name in and of itself, but the movie decides that Wanderer doesn't really roll of the tongue well, so everyone starts to call her Wanda. And all I could think of is Jamie Foxx's character from In Living Color:

And this wasn't the worst thing in the movie. NO. The worst part about this movie was the inner dialogue Wanda and Melanie have. A lot of the time Melanie's voice is talking while Wanda just stares blankly around. It's about as dumb as it sounds. And for the most part, Melanie is just shouting "No! Don't do that!" or "Stop talking to that boy!" It becomes grating to the point where Maggie asked if we could stop the movie and not finish it. I told her no, because A) I am the man in this relationship and she'll have to just do whatever I say and B) I didn't realize we still had AN HOUR AND A HALF TO GO BECAUSE I AM AN IDIOT. Frankly, she should have just slapped me across the face which would have been a better ending to the movie than what followed.

So the movie just meanders about, moving so slow that the tumbleweeds in the movie become literal metaphors for the pacing. And then when Wanda/Melanie end up finding the human outpost in the middle of nowhere, dumbass Wanda has to fall in love (apparently us humans are feisty creatures and all of these aliens haven't felt love before? I don't know, it's all kind of a blur). And as soon as you realize what's happening it all becomes such a big joke. Seriously, only Stephanie Meyer could come up with this bullshit - a weird love quadrangle where the alien Wanda loves a boy from the human resistance while Melanie still is in love with her boyfriend from before her capture.

It's all really pointless - there's no real emotional core to the story. The characters are all fairly flat and the dialogue is comical. I pretty much hated this movie. I would best avoid this one at all costs.

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!


Documentaries: The House I Live In & West of Memphis

The House I Live In (R) - Runtime:  108 minutes
Director: Eugene Jarecki

The House I Live In is a hard-hitting look into the criminal justice system and what the real war on drugs is about. You'll be completely depressed the whole time you watch this movie, but I swear, it's a must-see because it asks hard questions that no one wants to ask or answer. And with Jarecki's direction and narration, the movie is nearly flawless in execution.

The movie covers all aspects of the war on drugs - from the actual criminals to the arresting officers and the judges, lawyers and prison guards involved in these cases. And it's astonishing because everyone is in agreement - the system is broken. Jarecki makes an informative case that the so-called war on drugs that got beefed up during the Reagan years has only made things worse for minorities.

There's a lot of characters and interviews but Jarecki's narration keeps it all in perspective and the inter-stitching monologues with The Wire creator David Simon help to keep the film in focus on the varying perspectives without wandering off topic. The documentary doesn't offer any answers to the questions and issues it proposes, but does an effective job at creating a sense of urgency with these issues

I highly recommend this one simply for the amount of information and though-provoking questions it asks. Some of the interviews will shock you simply because you have a per-conceived notion of who these people are. The prison guard being interviewed surprised me at his honesty about the justice system of which he's a part of. It will make you think twice about the drug culture and the criminals we lock away.

Rating: Rent It!

West of Memphis (R) - Runtime: 147 minutes
Director: Amy Berg

I was too young to remember any of the West Memphis killings. But they've always been in the headlines every now and then the past decade because of how notoriously these three poor kids got the shaft while the real killer was still walking around. I think even if you know the story fairly well, West of Memphis takes a very in-depth look at the whole case and the subsequent 18 years afterwards that will leave you stunned and shocked at times. This was a deeply moving and completely thorough documentary that everyone should see.

The movie starts right from the beginning and is pretty much told through interviews of the families involved, the cops and investigators and eventually the grassroots campaign to end the life sentences of the three convicted kids. When I say thorough, I'm not joking - the movie chronologically follows the case and soon becomes deeply invested into not only showing the movement to free the three kids (who are no longer kids at this point!), but also to launch a real investigation into what really happened that day and who is the most likely to have killed these three little boys.

It's pretty amazing how, with just a little bit of work and investigating done by outside investigators, you can see how that the three boys who were convicted - Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. -  were clearly not the ones involved. It was literally a witch hunt - Echols was involved with witchcraft at the time and that became the lynchpin to put all three in jail. It's completely awful and you'll feel a sense of sickness as you see how easily our justice system can be corrupted.

At times the movie will test your patience - it's just really long and you want to get to the end to see the happy ending. And if that's a spoiler, then you probably need to start paying attention to news headlines. It's really a must see movie for anyone interested in the case and it's really well done. From the editing to the piecing together of details and interviews - I can only imagine how much work was put into this film.

Rating: Rent It!

Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies (R) - Runtime: 90 minutes
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg

People think I drink a lot. They also think I drink a lot of beer. I have no idea where this notion came from, maybe it was because I was in a fraternity in college or maybe it's because I'm from a small, rural town in Ohio and there's nothing else to do but get drunk. Whatever, I just don't really enjoy alcohol that much. But I tell you what - I love movies whose main focus is beer or alcohol - Beerfest is amazing, Superbad is great and Young Einstein was completely underrated in my opinion. So here comes a movie that pretty much sums up the story in its title: Drinking Buddies. If you are not a fan of "talkie" movies that focus on characters with little to no action, then you should probably avoid this one. Otherwise, this is a fantastic comedy/drama about an awkward friendship and will they/won't they suspension.

Olivia Wilde plays Kate, a manager at a local brewing company who feels a strong connection with her friend, Luke (played by the always delightful Jake Johnson - you might know him as the curmudgeon on Fox's The New Girl). But they are in separate, somewhat shaky relationships that inevitably gets tested when the two couples spend a weekend at the lake together. The movie is mainly from Kate's perspective - she wants to be with Luke and thinks that he feels the same way, but it's...complicated.

And that's why the movie is really good - it's a pretty honest and genuine portrayal of unrequited love. The characters are well-written - there's a deep well of resentment underlying Kate's character and Luke seems on the surface to be unaware of the attraction but all of their feelings get laid out in the open when he helps her to move out of her apartment. I really dug the ending - it doesn't seem to force itself into romantic comedy cliche or try to be some pretentious look at modern love. It's just...is and the movie seems like we're checking in on these character's lives in the moment.

And the acting is phenomenal. Olivia Wilde isn't just a pretty face - she can really act and she carries this movie. When she breaks down after her bike gets stolen, it's heartbreaking and she makes you feel that emotion - she's that good! The supporting cast is good as well - the aforementioned Jake Johnson is awesome and Anna Kendrick does a good job at playing the out-of-her-sorts girlfriend and Ron Livingston plays a sad sack who just seems to have bad luck with women - you really feel bad for the dude.

There's also this great underlying theme of drinking and camaraderie (duh). You could delve a little deeper into the meaning of these happy hour meet-ups and hook-ups and what they say about our relationships, romantic or not. Is it genuine friendship or is the attraction out of this desire to not be alone? Is it the beer feeling the emotions? Am I drunk right now? I don't know, maybe I'm reading a bit too deeply into this character-focused movie, but that's how good this movie is!

I will SPOIL a little bit of the ending here - if you're not a fan of ambiguous endings, then stay away from Drinking Buddies! The movie will not make up your mind for you as to whether these characters finally get together. And I love the movie for that - like I said earlier, the movie doesn't become a terrible cliched romance story but it leaves it up to you as to where you think these two buddies will end up. End of SPOILERS!

Drinking Buddies is a funny and sincere look at a relationship that seems inevitable - the tension is great as to whether they'll hook up or not. Plus these characters are just fun to hang out with for an hour and a half. It's an emotional movie too and I highly recommend checking this one out! It's available On Demand right now and totally worth it!

Rating: See It!


2013's Most Anticipated: The Way Way Back

14. The Way Way Back (PG-13) - Runtime: 103 minutes
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Sam Rockwell
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

I'm sure most of you know, but I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories - Perks of Being a Wallflower was essential viewing for the best of 2012. And now Nat Faxon's and Jim Rash's honest portrayal of growing up deserves to be lauded as one of the best films this year. From it's genuine take on divorce and single parenthood to the feel-good vibe of the waterpark atmosphere, they've created a near instant classic in my mind.

The movie opens up with Trent (Carell) badgering Duncan, letting him know that his opinion of him is a 3 out of 10. Immediately you know the kind of man Trent is and also where Duncan seems to be socially. One day Duncan finds himself at the Water Wizz, a water park run by a charming and somewhat dysfunctional manager, Owen (Rockwell). He finds employment and Water Wizz soon becomes his escape and also his spark to finding out who he is and learning to have fun. It sounds really, really corny, doesn't it?

But it isn't I swear! There's a real honest and heartfelt openness about Duncan's family life and you can see why he's been shy and introverted. And all of the other characters seem that way too - no one's too crazy (yeah, yeah Allison Janney is a bit kooky, but who doesn't have an Aunt or a family friends who likes to booze it up and be stupid?). Plus the movie is really funny and charming.

It's mainly the cast - Rockwell is perfect as Owen. He's enough of an outcast to make you want to get to know him more but also he's just so funny and inviting. He's the mentor to Duncan - and he embraces is with all his weird zaniness. Nat Faxon, Toni Collette, Rob Corddry, AnnaSophia Robb, Steve Carell, Amanda Peet and Maya Rudolph all are just as good in their respective roles.

It's a feel good movie that doesn't seem to condescend or make light of teenage emotions and that sometimes can be a tricky movie. But the movie and characters are wonderfully written - Rash and Faxon are the duo who wrote 2011's Best Adapted Screenplay, The Descendants and it's clear here that they're on a winning streak.

Rating: See It! Twice!

Most Anticipated Addendum: Don Jon

I've been meaning to do this for a while, but it seems that Sin City, number 27 on my list, has been pushed back to next year. Luckily, there's one movie that caught my attention, especially after all the buzz it received at the SXSW film festival.


Trance (R) - Runtime: 101 minutes
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge

Danny Boyle can, in my mind, do no wrong. He's a very versatile director - he can do horror, sci-fi, drama and everything else in between to near perfection. I love Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting and while Trance may seem a bit of a departure from his more high-profile releases, it's still a fun, trippy movie that will leave you wanting to see it all over again.

McAvoy plays Simon, a security guard at an auction house who steals a painting for Franck (damn you and your British spelling!), played by Vincent Cassel. Simon plans on double crossing Franck, but he gets bumped on the noggin' and loses all his memory as to what he did with the painting. Franck wants his painting back and enlists the help of a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) to drudge up his lost memory. It's all very twisted and sometimes feels hard to follow - honestly there are scenes that are not real and you're left guessing as to what really happened. Which is cool because it makes for a good thrill and it never felt too frustrating that your throwing your hands up in the air saying Eff this, man!

Boyle lately has been bringing a very interesting tone and editing to his latest films and Trance is no different. There's lots of interesting angles and cuts in this movie and the hypnosis scenes are entirely hypnotic in and of themselves. This is a very well-shot film and the cinematography is highly stylized and sleek. There's a layer of sheen to the film and I really dug that aspect.

As for the acting - McAvoy is awesome - he hasn't let me down in any movie yet! Cassel has always been creepy to me, but he pulls off this low-level crime boss well - just menacing enough. But Rosario Dawson is simply breathtaking in this picture. And yes, she does get naked, but her performance was spot-on. I won't go into too many details, but she has a loaded history and watching her performance was magnificent.

This was a really trippy, weird and fun movie to watch. You'll never really guess what's going to happen (or maybe I'm really dumb!) and the movie just looks amazing. The cast is excellent and the ending is close to sublime.

Rating: Rent It!