‘The Counselor’ — A Full Review

20131025-103515.jpgWhen you eliminate the back-story behind your characters, you also eliminate my investment in their journey. The lines between the good guys and the bad guys become blurred, and the performances suddenly become irrelevant. It’s a shame too, because this film was certainly saturated with powerful performances.

Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men), The Counselor follows a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who, in a bid for big bucks, engages in a drug deal with the very shady Reiner (Javier Barden) and Westray (Brad Pitt). Things predictably go awry, and some very dark drama ensues.

Though I’d call this a visually artistic masterpiece, that’s not enough to rescue it. In film school, there’s a cardinal rule that every scene in a movie should propel the plot forward. I thought of that while watching The Counselor, and then quickly realized that there’s no plot to propel. There’s no indication about why Fassbender’s character chose to engage in this drug deal, and because his cronies are also vapid villains, there’s also no suspense associated with their safety. Do I care about the life of a seemingly evil group of people who I know nothing about? Does it matter if their lives are destroyed? The only saving grace is Penelope Cruz’s character, but much like the others, I found myself judging a woman who would be with such a creepy guy without any suspicion.


‘We’re the Millers’ — Movie Review

WE'RE THE MILLERSA gratuitous stripper scene is always welcome, and Jennifer Aniston does the job well. Unfortunately, that might be the only shocking moment in this Rated R flick, which is a shame considering the rating only serves to unnecessarily lock out a huge part of the public.

The film follows David Burke, a small-time pot dealer who agrees to smuggle drugs across the Mexican border after his entire stash was stolen. He commissions a local stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston) to play his wife, in hopes that a faux family might help avert border patrol from any suspicion. He also convinces two troubled teens to act as his children, and the usual antics ensue when just about everything goes wrong.

There’s not much to say about this film other than it’s mildly entertaining with mediocre jokes and an enjoyable cast. But it could have been funnier. That being said, I’d still recommend it. It’s a good enough distraction from your Sunday stroll.


Movie Review: Turbo


turboTurbo is the story about overcoming the impossible. Dreaming of winning the Indy 500 is a dream most would find impossible. Dreaming of winning it when you’re a snail? Not a chance! This incredible underdog story reminds viewers that luck is far surpassed by hard work and persistence, and no matter what one’s obstacle, dreams can come true. Turbo is an inspiration to all.

Turbo’s story is told through the framework of two brothers—Turbo and Chet. Turbo, like his name, desires speed and thrill, and is perfectly cast by a cheerful and effervescent Ryan Reynolds. Chet, intent on keeping his brother safe—at times to a stifling and overbearing degree—is cast by the stuffy sounding yet insanely likable Paul Giamatti. The two actors face off perfectly—one, fun loving and the other, overprotective, but nevertheless ultimately embrace brotherly love. The perfect foil to this pair is the two brothers Angelo and Tito who own Dos Bros Tacos. Tito’s real passion is racing, just like Turbo,  while Angelo just wants Tito to toe the line and sell tacos. The parallel story adds additional humor and heart to the film.

The other key defining relationship in this movie is that of Turbo’s with his collective known as The Racing Snails. These snails, unlike Turbo, cannot physically move fast. However, what they lack in speed they make up for with ingenious and crafty methods of winning races. The Racing Snails’ imaginations also embody Turbo’s ideas of not allowing your physical limitations to hold back your dreams. The leader of the crew, Whiplash, both wise and tough, is adeptly portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. Once Turbo has earned his respect, he and his familial crew help him fulfill his destiny. The other unforgettable members are the super cool low ride Smoove Move, portrayed by none other than smooth rapping Snoop Dogg, and sly and sassy Burn, played by a witty Maya Rudolph. They end up serving as Turbo’s pit crew in the Indy 500, and it is their heart and humor that serve as a glue for the film.

Set in Los Angeles, specifically in the San Fernando Valley, the film takes on an authentic feel, even amidst a storyline of racing snails. The backdrop’s legitimacy paints a vivid picture: what may seem impossible may not be so.


Movie Review — ‘The Internship’

20130610-124430.jpgThe naysayers know nothing! The Internship is a refreshing reunion of two comedy titans who I’ve longed for since Wedding Crashers. Despite those curmudgeon critics, I went in with an open mind, and I left with all the laughter I looked forward to.

The film follows two laid-off salesman (played by Owen Wilson & Vince Vaughn) who are on a desperate quest for a career change after their day jobs have become dated by the digital age. Their search lands them a lucky internship at Google, where their behind-the-ball antics amidst their much more experienced (and younger) peers result in hilarity.

The sweeping undertones of the film are inspiring, playing into an idea that everyone has something to offer, and no matter what our life trajectory, we can always jump off one train in favor of another. It also helps that the Vaughn/Wilson chemistry is comedically unmatched. I’m relatively certain I could watch a looped documentary of these guys having coffee together and still enjoy it. As for the idea that their digital ignorance is dated, or that the story is a gigantic Google ad, this simply doesn’t concern me. I loved every millisecond of this film — and that’s my only judging criteria.


Movie Review — Epic

Written By Devin Carbaugh, Guest Contributor

epic-movie-trailer-featThis film brought me back to my childhood. I spent the majority of my youth in a heavily wooded area of rural Texas, and my escape was 50 yards into the forest amidst the insects, birds, squirrels, snails, frogs, and occasional snake. The forest always seemed magical, and ‘Epic’ brought those memories to life once again. The 3D animated adventure comedy is brought to us from the creators of ‘Ice Age’ and ‘Rio,’ and the mythical forest takes center stage. Add in a dysfunctional father-daughter relationship and the classical nature vs. nurture paradox, and the story unfolds.

Professor Bomba obsessively studies the woods, insisting that there are magical creatures within. His strong-willed and stubborn daughter M.K. doesn’t relate to her father’s quest. However, once transported to the world in the woods, she meets her romantic match and counterpoint in Nod, who relates to her individualism and desire to rebel against her parents. Ultimately, both embrace their idiosyncratic qualities while helping to battle evil forces that try to take over the forest.

‘Epic’s’ title properly represents this larger-than-life film. The cast is replete with megawatt stars and platinum musicians, and yet still manages to match its grandeur with a relatable, coming-of-age story-line that brings out the childhood dreamer in us all.


Pain & Gain — Movie Review

20130515-173258.jpgThe irony of this film is it’s about a kidnapping, and I felt kidnapped while watching it. I scoped the exit doors, made excessive trips to the restroom, and solved the mystery about how long it takes for a rasinette to melt into a raisin.

The film is based on a true story about a group of pumped-up dolts who make a fast quest for cash by kidnapping a member of their gym (Tony Shalhoub) who naively disclosed his wealth to his trainer (Mark Wahlberg). The trainer commissions his friends (The Rock, Anthony Mackie), and their idiocy makes for “comedy” when they botch the job time and time again. Call me crazy — but murder doesn’t make me laugh. Sure it had its moments, but the one-note joke about their stupidity isn’t worth a 2 hour film.


Movie Review– ‘This is 40’

20130103-125854.jpgThis film felt like an extended episode of ‘Modern Family’ minus the laughs. And though I have no idea what forty feels like, this certainly shed light on all of its unwanted woes. The Judd Apatow directed flick stars his wife (Leslie Mann), which is concerning, especially considering all her unlikable traits. If I were her, I’d have long conversation with my husband after reading a script that may or may not be based on his personal life. As for her on-screen husband, played by Paul Rudd, he’s predictably more likable, and I’d venture to guess that has a thing or two to do with what I deem to be Apatow’s sexism, an observation I gained from ‘Knocked Up,’ which is now solidified. Apatow has a keen ability to turn his women into vile naggers with sweet husbands who are just trying to survive their wrath. There’s not much else to say other than — it’s probably a good idea to make movie characters likable — and funny.


Movie Review — ‘Jack Reacher’

Image Courtesy of Paramount

Prior to entering this film, there was a lot of social media speculation as to the plot. After exiting the film, my speculation remains. Though it is always enjoyable to see Tom Cruise on the big screen kicking ass, I’m still at a loss about Jack Reacher. From what I gather, he’s an ex-military guy who solves crimes, much like Sherlock Holmes, except he beats up the bad guys while he’s doing it.

The film opens with a random shooting leaving five civilians dead, one of which was carrying a child. I mention this because of the very unfortunate timing, given the recent events in Newtown. This was obviously filmed well before the tragic massacre, but I found myself in tears during the beginning scene and quickly realized it was simply too soon to be watching it. Luckily, it was short and soon picked up in other places.

The story gets complicated when the man on trial for the murder calls upon Jack Reacher and then subsequently enters a coma so he can’t explain the reason for his request. Jack Reacher arrives, and the investigation begins. It’s still unclear why a man of Jack Reacher’s stature, intelligence, value, and crime-fighting ability took such an interest in this case, other than for sport. Sure he knew the guy in question, but did he know him well enough to risk his life?

My other issue with this film is the casting. Though I’m a massive Tom Cruise fan, I gained renewed respect for him while watching him with the other actors. In short, they weren’t good enough. Rosamund Pike couldn’t contend with Cruise and her performance was therefore distracting. My guess is Cruise’s high quote demanded less expensive actors — but if you’re going to be on screen next to Cruise, you better hold court.

Despite my aforementioned criticism, I’d still encourage my readers to see the film. It’s action packed, it’s suspenseful, and it’s Tom Cruise. It’s a standard popcorn flick, and it’s enjoyable enough to bring a group of friends for a fun time. Plus, there’s a great no-guns-allowed fight scene that’s worth seeing.


Movie Review: Flight

Robert Zemeckis called his film, “bold, audacious, complex, and morally ambiguous.” I’d call it a subtle study of alcoholism with a flawed superhero. The film centers around Captain Whip Whitaker, an inebriated pilot who lands a mechanically doomed plane under impossible circumstances. Though the media immediately celebrates him, his close personal circle warns him that the National Transportation Safety Board might discover his intoxication during their investigation, and even though his mental state did not cause the crash, the exposure will cause serious civil and criminal ramifications. The remainder of the film centers not only around whether he’ll get caught, but on the impact of his addiction on his personal life.

Though I enjoyed the film, I’m not on board with the Oscar buzz. The film doesn’t stand up to its sweeping themes. The protagonist isn’t enough of a hero or enough of a villain. We certainly see the effect of his addiction, but it felt more similar to a documentary than a movie. But perhaps I’m a spoiled viewer. Roger Ebert, for example, enjoyed the underplayed elements of the film, saying, “it’s effective here how [Denzel Washington’s] performance never goes over the top but instead is grounded on obsessive control . . . . A lesser actor might have wanted to act them out. Washington depends on his eyes, his manner and a gift for projecting inner emotion.” Though I understand Ebert’s point, I miss the movie-magic days of “You Can’t Handle the Truth.”


Movie Review: Argo

20121015-143026.jpgWritten by Dan O’Connell, Contributing Writer

In the early days of the Iran Hostage crisis, six Americans in the Iranian Embassy escape to the Canadian Ambassador’s house, and CIA Operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with the only feasible plan to get them out. He plans to enter the country under the pretense of being a Canadian filmmaker scouting locations for a Hollywood film, and he’ll have the hostages pose as his movie staff. Once there, he’ll take them out as a team. His stateside helpers include: members of the CIA (Cranston, most notably), a gruff veteran producer (Arkin, signing on as a fake producer to make the story more believable) and a cheerful makeup artist (Goodman, who also helps to sell the Hollywood ruse). Once Mendez enters Iran, the problems arise. It’s not nearly as easy as it seems, and the story unfolds in one of the most suspenseful films in history.

Affleck’s winning streak as a director continues, armed with great performances, terrific dialogue, outstanding music cues (Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away” for the win), and the best late 70s period design since “Boogie Nights” — right down to the Warner Bros. logo that opens the movie (a KILLER touch). Though I wasn’t thrilled with Affleck’s decision to underplay his role, by the third act it’s irrelevant. This film is an easy contender
for multiple Oscars.