Monday, December 30, 2013

American Hustle (2013) Review

Director: David O. Russell
Writers: Eric Singer and David O. Russell
Producers: Bradley Cooper, Eric Singer, George Parra, and Matthew Budman
Editors: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, and Crispin Struthers
Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
Music: Danny Elfman
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence
Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes
Rating: R (language, sexual content, brief violence)
Genre: Crime, Drama
Release Date: December 20, 2013

Intro: It's Oscar season, one of the best seasons of the year behind baseball season. It's great because during this season, there are always movies premiering that will most likely receive Oscar nominations, which means there is often a plethora of good movies out to see. American Hustle is one of this year's batch, and after it got rave reviews, I got interested. American Hustle is a fun and enjoyable crime movie on the outside, but it's the supreme acting, subtle but great directing, the engaging script, and the interesting incorporation of the soundtrack on the inside that elevate the movie to an Oscar-worthy level.

Plot: Conman Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his British partner-in-crime and mistress Sydney Prosser (Adams) are forced to work with an FBI Agent (Cooper) to pull off a sting operation by using good guy New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Renner). It's based off the Abscam scandal in the 70s.

Things People May Find Objectionable: There's a lot of swearing in the form of f-bombs and a LOT of cleavage shots, especially with Amy Adams, which they push quite a bit. I'll let you decide whether this is a good or a bad thing. I'm just letting you know it's there. Also, there's really only one violent scene, and it it's over quickly and isn't that gory.

What was Good:
     -Acting: This is perhaps the best part of the movie and what makes it work so well. It features fantastic performances from whole cast, as everybody disappears into their roles. Often times, subtlety makes the performance, especially for Amy Adams, as she excels in her role, but does it less obviously than some of her cast members. Christian Bale gives the best performance in my opinion. He is absolutely dead-on with his role, as he portrays his character perfectly. Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are also great. I really can't talk enough about the acting here. It was superb. Without a doubt in my mind, at least one of the cast members is going to win an Oscar for their role in this movie.
     -Directing/Cinematography: Fantastic. It's not as grandiose, obvious, or flashy as some other directing, but it's very subtle and does a great job of showing the emotions and tension behind the characters. Showing the feelings of the characters and highlighting the acting is where it succeeds the most, in my opinion. It makes me want to see more of David O. Russell's movies.
     -Music/Score: Mostly 70s music was used for the soundtrack, and it really fit the movie well. They use some great stuff including Steely Dan, Elton John, Chicago, and Paul McCartney. Not only did the music give a sense of the era, but the soundtrack was incorporated into the action. The best instance of this is during a tense scene where the fates of the characters are uncertain. "Live and Let Die" plays and the action on screen is edited based off the lyrics and rhythm of the song. It's really cool to see a soundtrack incorporated so well into a movie, and it perfectly elevates the tension. 
Christian Bale's character was based off real life conman
Mel Weinberg who worked with the FBI
     -Script: The script was good. I thought it was very well-written. The dialogue definitely keeps the movie going. The voiceovers were really interesting, as they shift to different characters at points. It's kind of reminiscent of the same technique used in Goodfellas, where Henry's wife is characterized through her voiceover, as it tells how she felt about Henry and why she was attracted to him. I think this is a great way to establish characters and their relationships with one another.
     -Humor: The movie is very funny at times. There are some good comedic moments. You will laugh. Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale are especially funny, as they both absolutely nail their slightly insane characters. The movie almost floats into the comedy genre, though I'd hesitate to call it a conventional one.
     -Characters/Emotional Involvement: Pretty good. While you may not feel emotionally connected to every character in every situation, you do end up caring for them at the end. The characters are definitely not flat either. For most of the movie, the main characters are fleshed out and you understand their motives and positions, and sometimes you understand just how stuck the characters are in their situation and sympathize with them because of it.

Worth Noting:
     -Story: The story gets a little confusing at times and you can get a little lost, but in the end it all makes sense. Just go along with it, and you'll be able to understand everything at the end, even if it isn't immediately clear. Otherwise, the story is good and definitely interesting. It keeps you hooked, that's for sure. To be honest, I hadn't heard of Abscam before watching the movie, but now I understand how interesting the source material is. I'm glad somebody made a movie based off that story.
     -Intelligence: This is definitely a smart movie that requires you to think somewhat. Morality here is ambiguous and left up to interpretation. The movie also sticks with you, to be sure. It's not one you can go see and then forget about a couple hours later.

The Verdict: American Hustle is one of those movies that is as entertaining as it is well-made. The acting is phenomenal, the directing is subtle, but fantastic, and the script is entertaining and well-written. I would imagine the movie will be up for numerous Oscars this year, and I'm pretty sure it will win at least a couple. I'd highly recommend seeing this one. You get two for the price of one: an entertaining movie and a well-made piece of cinema. If you want a quality movie to see this Oscar season, I highly suggest checking out American Hustle.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) Review

Directors: Steve Binder and David Acomba
Writers: Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps, Bruce Vilanch, Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch
Producers: Dwight Hemion, Gary Smith, Joe Layton, Jeff Starsh, Ken Welch, and Mitzie Welch
Editors: Jerry Bixman and Vince Humphrey
Cinematography: John Field
Music: Ian Fraser
Starring: Mickey Morton, Paul Gale, Patty Maloney, Jack Rader, Art Carney, and Peter Mayhew (and the cast of Star Wars)
Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes
Rating: Not Rated (Comparable to milder PG)
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi, (Attempted) Comedy
Release Date: November 17, 1978 (TV)

Before Watching the Movie: Brace yourself and know what you're getting into. These are important life choices you're making here.

Intro: This movie is kind of legendary and not in a good way. Called by some as "the worst two hours of television ever" and shunned both by George Lucas and all the major Star Wars actors, this movie has quite the reputation. George Lucas famously said of the special, "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy and smash it." So, as a Star Wars fan and a b-movie fan, I thought I'd witness the horror first hand. I had tried watching it some a couple years ago and couldn't make it through 30 minutes. Since that was a few years ago, I wanted to review a b-movie, and I didn't remember it much, I decided to watch the whole bloody thing. Oh. My. God. The Star Wars Holiday Special is as awful as everybody says it is. With a paper-thin plot strung together by random and meaningless cameos, stiff and phoned-in acting from the cast, cringeworthy and unfunny humor, and a script that could have been written better by a preschooler, the special is nothing but an hour and 37 minutes of sheer pain.

Plot: Chewbacca (Mayhew) needs to get back to his family on his home planet of Kashyyyk for the annual celebration of Life Day (It's Christmas, ok? It's just the lame, Star Wars-esque version of it). His family, consisting of his wife Malla (Morton), his son Lumpy (Maloney), and his father Itchy (Gale) waits anxiously for him to come back, as the Empire begins to interfere.

Things People May Find Objectionable: Really nothing. I mean, it was 70s prime time TV, so they really couldn't show much anyway. Just a fair warning that you may want to curl up in a hole and die after suffering through the awfulness of this piece of crap. Suicidal people should not watch this. I guarantee it will only make them worse.

What was Bad:
Yeah, so this happens. That's Lumpy, Chewy's son.
    -Wookies: There is nothing but Wookie noises for 9 minutes of the movie towards the beginning. JUST Wookie noises. That’s all there is. You can’t tell a story based only on Wookie noises!!! Wookies are fine as side characters like Chewbacca or warriors like in Episode 3, but they, under no circumstance, should be protagonists, especially if the filmmaker's aren't going to provide subtitles to tell us what the hell is going on.
     -Music/Score: Random musical and performance acts just jump out of nowhere. Everything suddenly shifts to the characters watching some random performer doing their thing. The have literally no relevance to the plot at all. They also have a musical number with Bea Arthur in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Not only does it go on way to long, but it's unfunny and seems just thrown in there just for the hell of it. The actual score is bland and generic and it just gets repetitive. Oh, and Princess Leia has a musical number. Yes, you heard me right. Princess Leia sings. It's as bad as you'd expect. 
Doesn't Mark Hamill look thrilled to be acting here??

     -Acting: Dreadful. Yes, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fischer are in this and they are all legitimate actors, but there are two problems with them. First of all, they all seem to be totally phoning in the dialogue throughout the whole movie, so the performances are rather flat. Second, the "big 3" play very minor roles. The movie focuses on those who cannot act: the imperial officers, the Wookies, and other random characters. Frankly, I'm not exactly sure how well one can act when one is playing a Wookie, but if this movie is any indication, it's pretty hard. That or the actors involved have no talent. Or maybe a fantastic combination of the two that make things so painful. Also, everybody playing Imperial guards has no acting talent whatsoever.
     -Story: The plot is as predictable as it is almost nonexistent. It's padded to the point where it barely exists or moves. It's intercut with random and pointless cameos and musical numbers that have no relation to anything. The musical numbers are not even explained or introduced or anything, they just sorta happen and you're forced to go along with it. The plot just barely exists. At the end, Luke, Leia, Han, the droids, and like everyone meets in space for no apparent reason other than the writers needed a conclusion and this was a good and lazy way to do so.
     -Script: OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH MY FREAKING GOD. Of all the painfulness of the rest of the movie, this is the one that metaphorically stabbed my senses and twisted the dagger until they bled to death. It's just so cheesy and terrible. The Christmasy syrupy cheese dialogue they throw in for the Life Day celebrations is awful. Every line is just so bad it hurts so much.
Wookie intimacy, folks. Wookie intimacy
     -Characters/Emotional Involvement: The intimate moments are just painful. They are so terrible and cheesy. The writing is especially painful here. The ending is the worst because everyone becomes overly sentimental about the Christmas spirit and so forth. Also, the main characters are totally flat. Granted, there's not much character development you can do with characters that only make Wookie noises, but it looks like they didn't even try. 
     -Action/Suspense: None. There's like no action in the whole thing. It just meanders from one meaningless scene to another. Basically, they took out the best part of Star Wars.
     -Humor: Hardcore pain here. They try to throw in lots of funny bits, but all of them are horridly unfunny. There isn't a single good joke in the whole thing. It's so so painful and not even remotely funny. It’s just excruciating.
     -Cameos: The movie just throws random cameos in just for the hell of it. For example, they include a space cooking show with, I guess, someone famous that Malla watches. It's terribly unfunny and it lasts for so long it becomes even worse. All the cameo bits have no place in the story and are just used for padding the nonexistent plot. Yeah, it's great the filmmakers got people like Bea Arthur and Jefferson Starship, and whoever does that stupid space cooking show to do these cameos, but are they really relevant and do they belong in the plot and in the Star Wars universe? No.

The Only Saving Grace of the Whole Thing:
Oh yeah, and in his first appearance, Boba Fett rides
a dinosaur
     -The Animation: About halfway through, the movie just randomly shifts to an animated segment about the characters who are not Chewbacca's family. Han, Luke, Leia, Chewy, and the droids are all there. This segment contains the first appearance of Boba Fett. It's actually, like, the only cool part of the entire movie. However, it's way too short and predictable and like everything else, is very shoddily written. Honestly, I'm not even sure where it's supposed to fit in to the story; whether this actually happens to everyone while trying to get Chewie home or it's just some cartoon Lumpy, Chewy's son, watches. Still, this is the only cool part of the entire movie. Having said that, don't torture yourself just to see this.

The Verdict: Based on my review, you're probably wondering if this is the worst movie I've ever seen. The answer is no. It definitely isn't the worst I've seen, but it's definitely one of the most painful. Here's the notes I took while watching that capture my pain in a pure, unadulterated form. They are funny, but just a warning that they include a lot of swearing (And I don't normally swear excessively. See what this thing's done to me?). I'm not sure if I've seen too many movies that have made me cringe harder than The Star Wars Holiday Special. Everything awfully misfires, and not in the good, Plan 9 from Outer Space way. I see why George Lucas wants to deny it so badly now. If you thought Episode 1 was bad, just multiply its very worst parts by infinity and you may begin to grasp the awfulness of this pile of crap. Just do yourself a favor and steer clear of this one. Don't suffer the way I did. Now somebody hold me. I've been through an ordeal. I need a hug.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Star Wars Holiday Special Notes

My notes I made while watching The Star Wars Holiday Special. I thought they deserved a place of their own.
  • Chewy’s son is Lumpy and his dad is Itchy. The names already hint at this thing’s terribleness
  • Wookies with MAKEUP. Dad looks like sasquatch
  • All Wookie noises from 3:30 to 12:30; motherfucking minutes of only Wookie noises Not even any subtitles. JUST Wookie noises. Can’t tell what’s going on because of all Wookie noises. That’s all there fucking is!! Nothing else whatsoever. No more wookie noises!!!! Ok Wookies are fine as like Wookies, warriors and so forth in like episode 3. Not in family terms. They shouldn’t be interacting with each other
  • Music is kinda cheesy. Pseudo-John Williams, but not quite. Bad. It’s all the damn same
  • Random musical and performance acts just jump out of nowhere. Everything suddenly shifts to the characters watching some random performer doing their thing. Had no relevance to plot and makes no sense in context. No goddamn point. Chewy’s son applauds and watches them and it is painful acting. Oh God. Ouch.
  • Costumes don’t even look like they’re from the same universe at all. Just randomly out of nowhere. Pseudo-alien and sci-fi, but don’t look like anything seen before or after in the Star Wears Universe. Just look like late 70s interpretation
  • Nothing is at all explained in the wookie scenes. Shit just fucking happens without any explanation.
  • Mark Hamill. Why…. Bad acting. Bad haircut. Looks like he’s wearing a lot of makeup. Looks like he’s in a boy band. Even voice acting seems really flat
  • ARGH SO PAINFUL SO BAD. SO CHEESY OH MY FUCKING GOD. It’s so bad. The writing is so bad oh god. 
  • They try to be clever, but it just fails so fucking hard. NOOOO
  • All the humor is so badly done. None of it’s funny. It’s just painful. Comic relief is awful
  • “Let’s see a little smile Malla” NOOOOOO DON”T NO OH FUCK NO NO NO NO NO!!!!
  • Acting is bad. Imperial guy is bad. Harrison Ford acts like he doesn’t give a shit. Imperial guys are all bad. Wookie acting… Just kill me now
  • Random cameos. Just why. There’s no point
  • Random cooking act in the middle where Chewy’s mom watches a cooking show. No relevance to the plot at all. Star Wars universe cooking. Just no. Fails at funny. Goes on waaaaayyyy to long
  • Ok special effects. Not as good as the movie, but not terrible for the time
  • Random psychedelic dance thing that, again, has no relevance to the plot. Jefferson Starship. Is it a Wookie hallucinating, or what? I don’t know what the fuck this is whatsoever. Weird 70s trippy music video. Just why. The song isn’t horrible, it just seems like it shouldn’t belong in a fucking Star Wars movie. So much Jefferson Starship. Why. There’s no relevance. Ugh just shameless padding
  • Wookie-ookies. Just kill me now
  • Plot is almost nonexistent as it’s so padded. It just kind of happens.
  • Just randomly shifts to animation about halfway through. Luke and Leia look really lame. Also, random animated dinosaur. Even so, first appearance and words of Boba Fett. Actually, like, only cool part. Bit about Boba Fett was way too short and predictable though, Just shoddily written plot wise. Clapping, cheering Wookies. No
  • Space ads. Just stop. So painful. Just stop the comedy. It’s not even remotely funny. It’s just excruciating
  • Cantina band sounds worse than in the original. Slower and seems off-key
  • Cantina conversation. Apparently that’s Bea Arthur. It seems completely just thrown in just for the hell of it. Has no relevance and there’s like no reason for it to be there. Cantina scene has no fucking point
  • Cheering aliens in the cantina. Oh God. There’s a giant fucking rat on tatooine and it’s cuddling the bartender during a song? Why???? No song and dance numbers. Please for the love of God no
  • Intimate moments are just so painful. Oh my God. So awful and cheesy. 3PO being sentimental, everyone, Luke, Leia, Han, the droids, like everyone meets in space. What the fuck?
  • Fucking Wookie noises. You can’t tell a story based solely on Wookie noises!!!
  • Wookie life day rituals. Just what the actual fuck???? They’re processing through stars wearing red robes. WHAT THE MOTHERFUCKING FUCK IS THIS YOU LITTLE FUCKS WHAT THE FUCK. AND THEN 3PO & R2 SHOW UP HOW WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS
  • Such cheesy Christmas dialogue for Life Day. Christmasy syrupy cheese. Oh just please let me die, if there is a merciful God up there
  • And Princess Leia sings. Oh fuck no. Oh Jesus Christ end this nightmare!!! Why would you do this Carrie Fischer? How much money did they pay you? WHY…. 
  • Sobbing from immense pain
  • Aaaand now we’re just going to recycle movie footage. Alrighty then. Way to cop out on a cop out you stupid sons of fucking bitches.
  • Oh God thank God this piece of crap is over

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Being John Malkovich (1999) Review

Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Producers: Charlie Kaufman, Michael Kuhn, Steve Golin, Vincent Landay, Sandy Stern, and Michael Stipe
Editor: Eric Zumbrunnen
Cinematography: Lance Acord
Music: Carter Burwell
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, and Orson Bean
Best Credit: Mariah O'Brien as "Girl Creeped Out by Malkovich"
Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes
Rating: R (Language and Sexuality)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Comedy
Release Date: November 19, 1999

Before Watching the Movie: It might be a good idea to go into the movie blind or somewhat blind.

Intro: This is a movie I've been wanting to see for a little while. I remember hearing good things about it on IMDb and a friend recommended it to me. I heard it's very different and unique, so one night when I felt like seeing something that fit that description, I decided to give this one a shot. Being John Malkovich is unlike anything I've ever seen before. Yes it's extremely weird and completely mind-bending, but it has an original, interesting and well-told story along with good directing and acting.

Plot: A struggling but brilliant puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (Cusack) is encouraged by his wife, Lottie (Diaz), to get a real job. At his job, he meets a woman named Maxine (Keener), who he falls in love with. Later, he stumbles across a small door in his building that he crawls in and realizes it's a portal into the head of actor John Malkovich. Enchanted with the experience, Craig shows his wife, who becomes obsessed with being Malkovich and starts tearing apart her and Craig and Craig and Maxine.

Things People May Find Objectionable: There's some swearing, including some f-bombs, but there isn't much of it. Otherwise, there's sexual content including one brief sex scene, but nothing is explicitly shown.

What was Good:
     -Story: Extremely unique. Because the story is unique, you really don't know and original. The fact that the story is so original and you really don't know where it's going really makes the movie work. It's also really interesting and well-told.
     -Script: Well-written script. I was impressed with the writing in the movie. All of it seemed very good and it worked. I can see why the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.
     -Originality: As I mentioned earlier, the movie is extremely unique. I don't know of any movie that's remotely similar. To me, this makes the movie extra good. I like an original movie because I have no idea where it's going, and to me, unpredictability creates the ultimate suspense.
     -Acting: Good acting. While everyone gives a decent performance, Catherine Keener gives the best one. I've never seen her on anything else, but she does a really good job. She deserved the Oscar nomination she got for the role. I was also surprised to see Cameron Diaz was in this. She looks really different in the movie compared to now.
     -Directing/Cinematography: Good directing, but subtle. Not much stood out as, "Wow, what an amazing shot!" but the movie definitely had a look to it and the shots were set up well. Good directing. I'll have to check out more of Spike Jonze's work.
     -Characters/Emotional Involvement: The characters seem very subtly developed. I didn't really realize this until after watching the movie. I really didn't realize I cared about a characters until a bombshell of sorts is dropped, leaving the character in a difficult situation.
Just take another moment to admire the poster

Worth Noting:
     -Music/Score: The music was really interesting, as I think they use only classical music for the score. I thought it was a good choice, as it fits the theme of puppetry well and it helps draw you into the film's world a little better.
     -Humor: Though it's billed as a comedy, the movie is more of a drama or fantasy in my opinion There are some funny moments, usually created around the movie's weirdness, but I think the focus is on other aspects. In other words, I wouldn't go into the movie expecting to laugh all the way through l. It's less light-hearted than you'd expect.
     -Intelligence: This isn't a brainless movie by any standard. The concepts, though they're relatively easy to comprehend, are mind-bending and will twist your brain in many directions. You won't finish this movie with out having to think at least somewhat.
     -Weirdness: Just a fair warning that this movie is seriously weird and extremely quirky. I tend to like this sort of thing, but it may be off-putting to some. I'd give it a shot though, as it's worth it if you can stand its quirkiness. 

The Verdict: One word comes to mind when thinking about Being John Malkovich: unique. It's not like anything else I've ever seen, and for me that's a very good thing. If you buy into the film's crazy world (and the hell of beans there [brownie points if you get the reference there]), the movie will give you a one-of-a-kind experience. If you can stand a lot of weirdness, I would definitely give this movie a shot.

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