Thursday, January 14, 2016

Quick Movie Review: Sisters (2015)





Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have always had great chemistry. We know this. Put them in anything to make it work? They try this. It's usually hit or miss. I've always been on the fence about the two. And I was hesitant to see Sisters this soon out the gate, but I wanted to go to the movies tonight and it was the only thing playing.

The film follows two 40-something-year-old sisters (Fey and Poehler) on the brink of their parents selling their childhood home. With the sadness of losing all the memories they've compiled during their youth, the sisters plan to throw one last party at the house in spite of their parents. They invite all of their old high school classmates and the party turns into a wild rager as the two plan to get crazy.

I admit, however, it gets pretty funny. It's my type of humor. And after watching Daddy's Home, I needed a solid comedy. It doesn't pull any punches and takes plenty of risks. But it also feels like they display every single idea that was on the drawing board. Literally, this movie is jam packed with so many concepts. It has a very "trying stuff out" feel to it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just, at times it gets odd and tends to shift the tone around--another side effect from the full-drawing-board strategy. But in a nearly 2-hour comedy with a not-so-hefty premise, they have tons of room to trim the fat.

But perhaps the film's biggest pitfall is that Fey and Poehler always seem to keep almost laughing at themselves. Like they know the cameras are on. They're having too much fun just being together and joking around. Sure, comedy can be obviously unrealistic, but you still want the characters in the movie to believe what they're saying and doing. You want them to commit to their jokes as though THEY'RE being serious.

The premise is a little weak and the characters' motives are tenuous, but there's a certain '80s nostalgia that's underlying the whole deal. Not a whole lot happens, but it never loses momentum while keeping your attention throughout.

Twizard Rating: 73

Quick Movie Review: Joy (2015)





Regardless of what you feel about Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, or The Fighter, you have to applaud David O. Russell's auteurism. He really knows how to put his stamp on a film. Much like Woody Allen or Quentin Tarantino, there's something to be said of a filmmaker who does it his own way no matter what.

Joy is an uplifting tale of the lady who invented the Miracle Mop. It's about the true struggle of the American dream. Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy, a single mother from a dysfunctional family. But that family of hers all lives under her roof. This includes her ex-husband, her divorced parents, her two children, and her grandmother. Joy has a lot of ideas, but doesn't live in a world where doing anything about them makes any sense. Nobody around her is successful. Even though setting is never really established (we never get the year or location), we can tell that it's a town where everyone just lives to survive. Until one day, when Joy's father starts dating a rich widow, who's acquiescently convinced to fund one of Joy's inventions.

The first act of this film is spent establishing the craziness of Joy's life. She doesn't truly present her product until about 45 minutes in. Before that, we spend time trying to get accustomed to the oddness of this movie, with Russell perhaps borrowing, in a way, from Wes Anderson, taking pages right out of his book.

Then the film really starts getting good when Joy makes a deal to sell her product on QVC. This is also when Bradley Cooper enters the film as Neil Walker, an executive at QVC. We get a behind the scenes look at something we never thought we'd get--a home shopping television channel. It's probably something we never even realized we wanted to get. But when it's there, we love it. It's, by far, one of the best things about this movie.

It's hard to believe that there was once a time when QVC was revolutionary. "People can actually shop from the comfort of their own home?!" And Joy sprinkles this detail in there as well.

If Russell can keep one thing constant throughout his films, it's the chaos he creates. This chaos comes from overlapping dialogue, intrusive camera angles, and a lot of yelling. Whether you see it as a good thing (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter) or unnecessary (American Hustle), his style is established.

In Joy, it works as both good and bad. The good is used when Russell juxtaposes Joy's chaotic home life with the magic of television. The bad is during the beginning when it's all we see and we need desperately to escape from it.

The whole film is very surrealistic. Joy's mother is seen watching soap operas intermittently throughout. But we are let in on the story. Russell hires actual soap opera stars, including Susan Lucci, to play the fictional soap opera characters. We are also inside Joy's heads a few times as she dreams of different things, including starring in the soap opera herself.

As a character, it's hard for us to put Joy's personality in a box. She doesn't smile much. Her demeanor is sometimes reserved, but explosive at other times. She is both strong and vulnerable, depending on the circumstance. You might say that this is attributed to the complexity of us as humans. Or you can just say that it has to do with the director's uncertainty of his character. Nonetheless, it's fun watching Lawrence perform a vast array of moods.

But I really like this film. A lot, actually. Joy's hunger to make it in this capitalist society is inspiring. Her story isn't necessarily a unique one, but her situation is. So many of us have ideas, but the fear of failing hinders us. This film shows all of that. It also shows how one might overcome it.

Twizard Rating: 91

Quick Movie Review: Daddy's Home (2015)





We all know Will Ferrell's comedy. It's irreverent, self-deprecating, and raunchy. But none of these belong in a film that wants to be sentimental. And it doesn't even reach the point of cloying until about 10 minutes left.

This is nothing against Ferrell or Mark Wahlberg's comedic skills or their chemistry with one another. I just think the filmmakers got excited about all the talent on board that they forgot that they had to make an actual movie.

In Daddy's Home, Ferrell plays Brad, the nebbish new husband of Sarah (Linda Cardellini), who tries to vie for the affection of his new stepchildren. Then, all of a sudden, Sarah's deadbeat ex-husband, Dusty (Wahlberg), comes to town to see his children. Dusty has no knowledge of Brad--an issue that never gets resolved--and does everything in his power to bully him and make him feel inferior while trying to win Sarah and his kids back.

The film has very few laughs, despite its talent, and feels obviously reliant on its credentialed leads. There is no real meat to the plot and never builds momentum. It just muddles along until about the last 15 minutes, when it actually attempts to go somewhere with its empty premise. It's literally an hour and a half of Dusty bullying Brad and everyone in the film laughing about it. It's relentless. And there's no back and forth either. All of the humility is on Ferrell's character.

Brad can't have children because of radiation exposure to his genitals, so Dusty belittles him by convincing him that Sarah wants more children and that he won't be able to provide for her. But it turns out that Sarah is the one with no scrotum, as she does nothing to stop Dusty's harassment, and even sides with him a few times. What an appealing movie.

We feel bad for Ferrell's character the whole time (or at least we should) that it makes none of this funny. But with Ferrell comes insensitivity. He almost begs us to be okay with him being put down. And although he provides almost all of the laughs in this film, it would have almost been better if he wasn't in it. Maybe then the writers would have been okay with giving the movie some real meaning.

The biggest problem is that Ferrell doesn't fit in this type of role. He's at his true best when he's the one playing the douchey guy (Anchorman, Talladega Nights). Then his foibles are exposed and it's pure ironic genius. Personally, I don't like seeing him in these types of roles.

I just couldn't help feeling the entire time that this was just a lazily put together product. In fact, at one point in the movie I believe the camera actually shakes as if it was bumped slightly.

The only saving grace is Thomas Hayden Church's character. He plays Brad's coworker at the smooth jazz radio station. He provides us with a few off-kilter quips of insight which are better bottled up and served separately from the rest of the film.

Unless you enjoy an entire movie where everyone worships the antagonist to the delight of the audience, you won't be pandered by this. The epicaricacy borders on sadistic. And when the redemption finally comes in the end, it doesn't make up for anything. The people who like this film must get their psyche fully evaluated.

Twizard Rating: 42


Quick Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)





Don't go into this Quentin Tarantino film and expect it not to be over-the-top bloody. In fact, after the first hour and a half, you think maybe it's not going to be. Guess again. Perhaps Tarantino does this to create suspense during a time in the movie where tension comes merely from his captivating dialogue.

Like a Steinbeck novel, taking several pages to paint the scene and get to know the situation in order to make it live in our heads, The Hateful Eight doesn't rush anything. Some may not like this approach, but it's done in order for us to live in the world that has been created.

The pacing starts off slower than usual, but builds at a consistent pace. Every word that is spoken is positioned very carefully. This is what Tarantino shines at. He doesn't make boring dialogue and he doesn't waste pages. If he makes a three hour movie, it's going to be for a reason.

The Hateful Eight is a western mystery in the style of Reservoir Dogs. Kurt Russell plays a bounty hunter who is bringing his prisoner, Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the town of Red Rock for her to be hanged. Along the way, he picks up Marquis (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter who soon becomes the main protagonist of the film.

Jackson is always at his very best when teamed up with Tarantino--a fact that has been proven time and time again. His tumult matches up perfectly with the director's exploitation style of filmmaking.

Leigh's performance might be this year's best. She does an incredible job, and without saying much, controls the tone of the entire film with her insanely believable machination. You stop and ask yourself if they picked up the actress from the looney bin before filming.

Everything is perfect, from the camerawork to the set pieces to the enthralling musical score. I attended the 70mm Roadshow screening, which is a unique experience in itself, fully equipped with a large program and a 10-minute intermission.

If you like Tarantino, you will surely like this movie, but if you're not a fan of his gruesome flair, then be warned that this one is probably his most violent.

It doesn't have quite the same impact as, say, Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained, but it's refreshing to see a neo-Western done so simply, yet not by-the-numbers. It might not be the story you were hoping for following his previous two, but as far as filmmaking goes, The Hateful Eight may be the year's most solid selection.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Concussion (2015)





Will Smith can carry a movie as well as anyone in Hollywood, and he's been doing it for about the last 20 years. In Concussion he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian pathologist working in Pittsburgh, who notices something he's never seen before when conducting an autopsy on former NFL player Mike Webster. It turns out that it's a new brain condition that causes its victim to enter a deep depression. He names it chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Smith does an amazing job as Omalu. He doesn't use his lilt robotically, but commits to every inflection along the way, providing a very natural delivery that makes us believe he is Nigerian.

The filmmakers may not take a lot of risks with Smith's character, pinning him as the interminable hero--which he undeniably is. But I think many people would have wanted to visit his weaknesses a little bit more, other than the first 15 minutes when it is merely stated that he has no human relationships. This gets taken care of fairly quickly with the introduction of Prema, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a Kenyan nurse who needs a place to live and develops a relationship with Omalu.

Even though Smith's character doesn't face a whole lot of moral dilemma, he is so earnest that he becomes honorable--a personage to cherish in cinema. Smith brings his own personality to the film, and although he's fully committed, you are comforted knowing that it's him donning those grey sideburns.

There are a plethora of self-aware dialogue that may rub people the wrong way, but it's paced very very well so as to not discount the script. With all the science that the story surrounds, it never makes itself confusing or convoluted by over-explaining the details.

Not that I was already fond of the NFL organization, but watching this movie makes me dislike them even more. I know the film tries to be unbiased at times, but the facts are all there pointing the other way.

But Concussion is about more than just football. It's about the misconception of the American dream. The realization that that dream is rooted in monetary gain by any means necessary. And as Omalu discovers it, we do too. An organization that our society is loyally infatuated with isn't all that we romanticize it to be.

Driven by Peter Landesman's honest direction and a score composed by James Newton Howard, which helps drive the intensity of the film, Concussion is one of my favorite films of the year. It isn't perfect, but it's very good. And more than anything, it's powerful--which, in this case, may be the most important factor of all.



Twizard Rating: 94