Her (2013)

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like it?  no...i LOVE your creepy mustache.

like it? no…i LOVE your creepy mustache.

If you’re like me, and there was ever a time that you had strong feelings for somebody you only knew through your computer, then you’ll probably relate to this movie.  Especially if it was back in the earlier days of the internet when all you had were a couple pictures, text via instant messenger, and, if you’re lucky, a voice on the telephone.  It was the voice on the phone that made it all the more real.  And in Her, a voice is all Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) needs to fall in love.

Can you really know somebody with just a voice?  Is being in someone’s physical presence necessary for a relationship?  Do you ever really know them, or are you just filling in the missing gaps with everything it takes to make them perfect?

I really enjoyed this movie.  It’s not perfect, but it seems very real…very possible.  We already live in a world where people walk in groups but don’t speak to each other.  All focused on their phones instead.  There’s a scene in Her where Theodore is walking through a crowd of people, all the while talking to his new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) via a small earpiece.  You’d think he’d stand out as a crazy person, seemingly talking to nobody, but he doesn’t because just about every other person is doing the same thing.  A cacophony of conversations, none of which are directed at each other.  This movie is set in the near future, but that future might turn into the present sooner than we think.

Is that a bad thing?  Sure, Theodore has problems with relationships, but so have people for a lot longer time than computer technology has been around.  Overall, he’s a nice, reasonably normal guy, despite being called creepy by a blind date in the one scene in the movie that didn’t work so well to me.  But later, he and his new artificially intelligent operating system girlfriend go on a double date with a human-human couple, and they don’t think it’s weird at all.  In fact, most people don’t seem to have a problem with it.  Are we destined for a world where we reach a sort of pinnacle of self-centeredness, where we are in relationships with people who don’t actually exist, thus we’re essentially dating ourselves?  I mean, that’s certainly what’s going on in the awkward sex scene…

I thought Spike Jonze came up a bit short in the emotional department when he made Where the Wild Things Are.  Not the case here.  Maybe it’s due to my aforementioned experience in the internet romance world from many years ago, but I felt much more of a connection to the characters and their emotions in Her.  Phoenix does a great job, as does Amy Adams as Theodore’s mousy friend who is having her own relationship problems.  I wasn’t crazy about Johansson’s voice as Samantha, the operating system, but I got used to it.  The music is good, the cinematography is lovely, and Jonze does a nice job of creating a world that seems overly clean/sterile/pristine perhaps due to the lack of human interaction.

At first the plot about the operating systems getting so smart that they feel the need to move on to more important things than serving humans seemed unnecessary, but eventually I saw that as brilliant too.  I mean, if we’ve become so bored with actually talking to each other, there’s no reason to think the super-intelligent computers won’t get bored with us too.

8.3/10

Godzilla (2014)

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Drink me in, folks...

Drink me in, folks…

Liked it a lot, didn’t love it.  That’s the short version.

Of course, just liking it means it was so much better than the 1998 Godzilla.  I mean…SO much better.  The best parts definitely deliver the goods.

The positives:

  • Good story setup –  Ancient monsters are disturbed and go looking for radiation to feed on.  They grow big and destroy stuff.  Godzilla, in an almost mythological, Godly role, emerges to kill monsters and bring balance to the world.
  • The effects – Not too shabby.  Awesome at times.  Plus, you can actually see what’s going on in the monster battles.  It’s not a bunch of fast cutting to crazy angles that just confuses the audience and gives them a headache.
  • Serious tone – There aren’t many (or any, really) silly nods to the audience, inside jokes, childish stabs at humor, etc.  This isn’t like most blockbuster movies.  It actually takes the destruction of cities and rising death toll seriously, even if it involves giant monsters.
  • Some genuine emotional content at times, particularly the opening sequence.  Nice job, Bryan Cranston.

The negatives:

  • The best character isn’t in the movie very much.  The other characters are pretty dull.
  • Takes too long to get to Godzilla and the monster fighting. I don’t mind character development and a slower pacing, but only if it’s worth it.  In this case, as noted above, the characters don’t really build much.  I don’t even remember anybody’s name.  Pacific Rim was idiotic, but at least it knew what the audience came to see and had a robot/monster fight in the first 5 minutes.
  • Too many typical scenes of the military planning offensives, characters hoping to be reunited, then characters being reunited.  Very predictable stuff for the most part.

I like the direction Gareth Edwards had this movie going in.  It is definitely not stupid and obnoxious.  That’s a welcome switch.  I just wish he would have (or maybe could have – it’s only his first major movie after all, i’m not sure how much control he really had) made it even a bit darker and less predictable, especially at the character level.  Speaking of characters, I’ll say again, Bryan Cranston is great, and boy would I have liked to see more of him in this.  I guess Aaron Taylor-Johnson is convincing in the physical aspects of the lead role (I mean, he was Kick-Ass after all), but he’s not given much to do beyond that.

So yeah, cool fights, but not enough of them, and not early enough in the movie.  Still, worth watching, especially if you’re still trying to get the bad taste of Godzilla 1998 out of your mouth.

7.6/10

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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I am happy...may cat and I are happy...so happy...

I am happy…my cat and I are happy…so happy…

Well, when I last experienced the Coen brothers, it was with 2009’s A Serious Man.  I did not enjoy that movie very much.  It was depressing, hard to follow, and not particularly funny.  At least, not to me.

So, this movie was bound to at least be better than that one, and it was.  But, it still suffered from some of the same issues I had with A Serious Man.  I guess the groove the brothers are in right just isn’t my groove. There’s no real plot or story line to follow.  It’s just the miserable life and circumstances of one man.  I like to think that the very end offers up some hope for Llewyn’s music to gain some popularity, but I’m really not sure.

What I am sure of is that the performance from Oscar Isaac is good, as is that of pretty much everybody in the movie, particularly Carey Mulligan.  Oh, and seeing Justin Timberlake as a 60s folk singer is pretty much worth the price of admission.  I also laughed a lot more during this movie than A Serious Man, so it earns some points in that department too.

I just wish there was a bit more of a story to follow.  I don’t always need a concrete story, but in this case, I wanted some sort of motivation to cling to.

At least, I THINK that was my main problem with it.  Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just not that great.  Maybe dismal doesn’t make for a great movie.  It makes for some good music on the soundtrack, but when it’s the main theme in a movie, it just kind of wears me down.

I guess I liked the light-hearted Coens better.  Though, I did enjoy Barton Fink, so…I’m confused by my tastes.  Oh well…

6.4/10

Pacific Rim (2013)

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okay, this new iron man suit is pretty frickin' sweet...

okay, this new iron man suit is pretty frickin’ sweet…

Well, at least it’s better than Transformers.

This movie isn’t hateful.  It doesn’t make me mad watching it like some other big budget explosion-fests, but it does frustrate me.  Why?  Because it’s the kind of movie that could be so much more.  I watch it and realize that, with a few changes, it could satisfy the inner child in me that wants to see people in giant robot suits fighting huge alien monsters, as well as the adult part of me that would enjoy an interesting story. Something with well-developed characters, a plot with a few unexpected twists, and maybe even a story line that challenges me in some way.  The only challenge in this movie is trying to name all of the movies that it reminds you of.  There were many for me – Independence Day, Transformers, the 1998 Godzilla movie, and of course, Robot Jox.

That is not an impressive list of movies to borrow from, and while Pacific Rim thankfully isn’t overloaded with as many comedy relief attempts as most other big budget blockbusters, it still falls into the same bad habits as most of those movies.  Seriously, is it too much to ask to do something unpredictable?  Not one single thing happened in this movie that was unexpected.  And I do mean not ONE THING.  It is movie-making autopilot of the worst kind.  But hey, as long as it looks cool, right?

Well, about that…

While admittedly these robot/monster fights are less muddled and headache-inducing than the fight sequences in Transformers, they still occur almost exclusively either at night, in the ocean, in the rain, or all of the above.  A few daylight fights would have been nice.

I could go on a long rant about logic problems and various other issues, but CinemaSins and Screen Junkies already did a nice job with that.  (Big time spoilers in both those videos!)

In the end, this is actually an okay movie if you’re looking for totally mindless entertainment.  Like I said, it doesn’t make me angry watching it like Transformers and some other movies.  It’s stupid and could have been SO much better, but it is what it is.

5.5/10

Fin (2012)

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...and I feel fin...

…and I feel fin…

And by Fin, they mean THE END.

The end of what, you may ask.  Well, the end of everything it seems.  A group of old friends have reassembled at a mountain cabin that they spent a lot of time at in their younger days, and the first sign that something is amiss is that Felix (Daniel Grao) notices that the star Sirius, the brightest in the night sky, is missing.  Shortly after that, there’s a strange flash, accompanied by a loud rumble, then the sky takes on an eerie glow. Everything electronic is knocked out, including transportation.  The group is stranded, and when they wake up in the morning, one of them has vanished.

They work through personal issues, as well as the issue of what the heck is going on, as they trek across barren lands in search of any other humans.  Of course, there’s also the minor issue of which one is going to vanish next.

I think I need to just go ahead and accept that most low-budget sci-fi/supernatural movies are going to have ambiguous endings.  Closure is not a cornerstone of indie film-making.  Actually, I’m not even sure this is an Indie movie.  Maybe this is mainstream in Spain, where it is made, but it has that low-budget feel of American independent film.  It’s character driven, with minimal special effects.

I like the core mystery of it all, and how it’s sort of a picture of life sped up.  You never know when somebody is just going to…not be here anymore.  The characters are okay, but there was maybe a little too much anger and drama between all these folks who are supposed to have been so close for so long.  Maybe that was the point?  That they’ve grown apart so much that they just yell at each other now, but it didn’t make for an overly pleasant experience at times. Gotta say, though, the atmosphere and the impending doom of the inevitable end kept me interested until the foggy (literally) finale, and even though exactly what was going on wasn’t necessarily need-to-know information, I suppose it’s a sign of a fairly well made movie that I really wanted to know.

7.2/10

Ruby Sparks (2012)

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is somebody over there trying to be quirkier than me!!??

is somebody over there trying to be quirkier than me!!??

Ah, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  Whether it’s Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Kate Winslet, or…Zooey Deschanel, it’s a character that has become all too familiar in movies – particularly indie movies – in the past decade or so.  A quirky, unpredictable girl who brings the male protagonist to life and turns his life into a constant adventure.

In this case, it’s Zoe Kazan as Ruby Sparks, who is, quite literally, the dream girl of writer Calvin (Paul Dano).  He dreams about her, then begins writing a book about her.  Then, to his understandable surprise, one day Ruby materializes in Calvin’s kitchen, seemingly unaware that she had no existence before he dreamed her up.  At first all is wonderful and happy for the two (once Calvin comes to grips with this odd occurrence), but eventually Ruby gets bored existing for the sole purpose of making Calvin’s life better.  She’s unhappy.  So, Calvin writes more in his book, this time making her happy all the time.  Her constant joy grows tiresome, so he must write her differently.  Needless to say, these rewrites go on for a while as Calvin tries to achieve the perfect balance in Ruby.

This movie, written by star Zoe Kazan herself, takes the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and reveals why this male fantasy puts so much pressure on the girl in question.  At one point Ruby says something to Calvin about him not having any friends.  He says, “I have you. I don’t need anyone else.”  To which she responds, “that’s a lot of pressure.”  This MPDG concept puts all the onus on the girl to make a relationship exciting, with the guy just going along for the ride.  All he has to do is accept her for who she is.  “I love your mess,” Calvin says at one point.

This whole idea was explored to a similar extent in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  That’s another character, Joel, who simply wants to go along for the ride with Clementine, and she lets him tag along because he’s nice and accepts her manic ways.  Though, only for a while, until she gets bored with his lack of emotional intimacy.

The performances are all good enough, including smaller roles featuring Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas, and Elliott Gould.  Though, I feel like the concept/story succeeds more entirely than the execution of it.  It drags a little at times, and that ending wasn’t so hot…

7.8/10

Sound of My Voice (2011)

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hey, four-eyes, how's the film coming along?

hey, four-eyes, how’s the film coming along?

Well this was something sorta different.

This is a little movie about a documentary filmmaker, Peter (Christopher Denham), and his girlfriend, Lorna (Nicole Vicius), infiltrating a small cult in order to get the scoop on what’s going on there.  The group is led by Maggie (Brit Marling), a woman who claims she has traveled back in time, bringing with her tales of a horrible civil war.  Posing as members of the group causes a strain on Peter and Lorna’s relationship as one of them starts to wonder if Maggie could be on the level.

This is not a thrill-a-minute type of movie.  Most of it takes place in the small basement of an average American house.  There is a lot of dialogue, but it is also a very quiet movie.  That’s not to say there aren’t some tense and mysterious moments, as Peter and Lorna are at risk of being revealed as impostors at any moment.  The drama is a little Hitchcockian in that regard, which I like.

The performances are mostly good, especially Brit Marling as Maggie.  She has a little bit of a creepy, other-worldly vibe going, but she can also seem very down to earth, which is exactly what this kind of leader should exude.

This one seems just a couple steps away from being pretty great, but as is, I’d call it good for sure, and worth a watch if you like interesting indie movies.

7.5/10

Iron Man 3 (2013)

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c'mon, make it a true daily double!

c’mon, make it a true daily double!

In short – not as good as the first one, but definitely better than the second.

I liked the feel of this one better, and it certainly felt like there was a real threat from the villain (Guy Pearce), even if I was never quite sure of his master plan.  Maybe I just missed it, or maybe he’s like the Joker and just wants to watch the world burn.  Either way, he was an angry, bad dude who racks up quite a body count in this one.

Robert Downey Jr. is still good, Don Cheadle is still underused, Gwyneth Paltrow is still there to be put in harm’s way, Jon Favreau keeps getting larger, and Ben Kingsley teeters between show-stealing and show-grinding-to-a-halt.  I’m not quite sure how I feel about Sir Ben’s performance.  One actor I know I did like was this kid Ty Simpkins.  He was surprisingly un-annoying and had a lot of chemistry with RDJ.  I really enjoyed that portion of the film.

If you’re looking for a few thrills, some funny moments, yet another villain with a vague overall scheme, and several references to The Avengers, this is your movie.  If not, then may I suggest finding some other movie with much fewer Avengers references, like Casablanca, Jaws, or Return to the Blue Lagoon.

7.3/10

Prometheus (2012)

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He's got the whoooole world...

He’s got the whoooole world…

Well, it took me long enough to finally see this.  I guess all the hate scared me off, but I really didn’t think it was quite as bad as some were reporting.  Disappointing?  Sure, but not terrible.  Just…a bit too straightforward for this series.  Basically it’s just another story of people landing on a strange planet, encountering a life form, and then being turned into monsters by that life form.  It reminded me a lot of another movie I reviewed on here not too long ago called The Last Days on Mars, which I guess could just be a ripoff of Prometheus.

I like some aspects of this story, mainly the explanation of the black biological substance they encounter and what it was intended for, but other aspects were disappointing.  The alien race our human protagonists come to meet turn out to be just as uninteresting as most of the human characters in the movie.  Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are pretty good, but the rest of the cast (save for maybe Idris Elba) are fairly dull.  And what’s with Guy Pearce being buried in some of the most unconvincing makeup I’ve ever seen?

Basically there are some good moments, nice visuals, and a few good ideas, but it all seems so typical that it’s hard to muster much excitement about the movie.  And yes, I agree with anybody that was yelling, “just run to the side!”

6.3/10

Safe House (2012)

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go inside, this house is safe...i think...maybe...

go inside, this house is safe…i think…maybe…

On two separate occasions in this movie, the lead characters find themselves in a so called “safe house”.  In both instances, the houses prove far from being safe.  People keep getting killed in the safe houses.  I think they need to change the name.

Other than that, this is a fairly adequate thriller.  I mean, there’s intrigue…and spy stuff…and betrayals…and things like that.  It will have you guessing at who the real villain is…for about 2 minutes, but then you’ll figure it out pretty quickly because it’s really obvious.

Denzel is his usual Denzel-self, and Ryan Reynolds is okay.  The cast as a whole is fine.  But the movie itself is just…there.  Not much unexpected happens, but there are a couple of good fight scenes and chases and such, if you’re into that sort of thing.

“Run of the mill”…that’s a good descriptive term for this one.  I guess it has a touch more realism than some other movies in the genre, but it still feels like something I’ve seen before…many times.

6.1/10