The year is 2077 and Earth lies in ruins. Sixty years ago the planet was attacked by the Scavengers (also called Scavs), an alien race which destroyed Earth’s moon. As a result of this destruction the planet was racked by massive earthquakes and a series of other disasters, and then the Scavengers invaded. The humans won the ensuing war but the nuclear weapons they employed devastated what was left of the Earth. Now humanity has made an exodus to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. All that is left of humanity on Earth are a series of power plants and the Tet- a station built to manage the exodus to Titan. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a technician. He and his communications officer Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) live high above the Earth repairing drones which protect the power plants from the remnants of the Scav army. Jack is haunted by a life he shouldn’t remember, since his memory was wiped before he began repairing drones in order to protect the safety of the mission. Still, he and Victoria’s tour of duty is almost complete. Then, when the remnants of the Scav army send a message off planet, Jack is thrown into a desperate struggle for survival.
This is a stark film, constructed of harsh sweeping vistas of the devastated Earth and the clean lines and muted tones of Jack and Victoria’s living space. Many of the scenes of the film are told with only three characters- Jack, Victoria, and Sally (Melissa Leo), their liaison with the Tet. This tight focus allows acting and character to really shine and these three core actors deliver wonderful performances. There are of course other characters in the film (including appearances by Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko) and their performances, if not as top notch as the core three, are still quite good.
This film exists in the vein of classic sci-fi. The plot twists in (relatively) unexpected ways and the film explores some interesting questions. The main question posed by the film is that of self-hood. Who is Jack? He has a self, a life, and a home as a drone technician, but within him are the memories of another life. Can he ever know who he actually is, and should he want to? Also explored (although more briefly) are the nature of history, and the nature of god.
I am not a Tom Cruise fan personally and therefore I was ready to dislike this movie because of him. Instead I enjoyed it immensely. Cruise’s style of acting is perfectly suited to the character of Jack Harper and the best parts of the film are the raw character scenes between him and Victoria. Ultimately this is a great film and I would recommend it to anyone who likes sci-fi. Even if you don’t normally like Tom Cruise, you’ll like this movie.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a high quality piece of campy action. The movie never tries to take itself too seriously and still manages to have quality action and some touching moments.
Jeromy Renner and Gemma Arterton play a grown up Hansel and Gretel who have developed a reputation as witch hunters. As children they were left in the woods to die by their parents, and almost eaten by a witch who imprisoned them in her gingerbread house. After being force fed candy for a while, the children got fed up and killed the witch in the very oven in which she planned to cook them. Hansel has since then developed what is ostensibly diabetes from the candy he was made to eat and has to take injections from an oversized syringe. The siblings gain a penchant for slaying witches and have been on a (pun-intended) witch hunt ever since. The siblings are called to investigate the disappearances of eleven children in a village and are sucked into a large adventure.
One of my favorite things about this movie is the use of ridiculously out of place/advanced weapons and devices al la “Van Helsing”. I’m pretty sure at one point someone is using an oversized pirate cannon looking minigun. Another aspect I like is the character development. Both Hansel and Gretel are equally badass and have a great rapport with each other. The dialogue in this movie is at times over the top and funny, sometimes it’s short and amusingly to the point; a stand-out line is when Gretel says, “The Curse of Hunger for Crawling Things. I fucking hate that one.” Trolls, good witches, bad witches, and evil townsfolk round this movie out and make it one of my ridiculous top all-time 50 movies.
I heartily recommend this movie- what could go wrong with lots of attractive people, witty dialogue, and completely over the top action? Be warned: it's silly, but it's not kid-appropriate silly!
Children Of Men is a gritty, intense, and sometimes sweet film. Set in 2027, the basic premise is that humanity has become unable to reproduce for the past 18 years. Most of the world has fallen into a state of collapse and destruction and Britain is the only country to have some semblance of order. There are many refugees (derogatorily called “fugees” by the British) from the rest of the world trying to get asylum from the wars ravaging the outside world. Britain has become isolationist and enacts harsh anti-immigration laws while rounding up and ousting refugees.
Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a British citizen and former activist turned cynical civil servant. His ex-wife (Julianne Moore), who leads an activist group called the “Fishes,” enlists his help in getting immigration papers for a refugee named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). This in turn gets him wrapped up in a larger ordeal. Theo ends up accompanying Kee, who turns out to be the first woman in 18 years to be pregnant, and trying bring her to a group who is working on a cure for human infertility. Encountering trouble from both the paramilitary police and revolutionary activists on a journey through Britain, Theo and Kee meet many different aspects of humanity.
Throughout the movie we see some harsh aspects of humans “othering” people, as well as some of the most heartwarming acts of support and perseverance in the face of adversity. The film has references to political, theological, and pop events of the past as well as art by the graffiti artist “Banksy”. I find some movies that try to integrate pop culture references and politics end of feeling cheaper and dated because of it but this movie still feels very relevant. It uses these elements in a way that makes you more connected to the world it portrays.
This movie is one of my all time favorites and has some very memorable moments. After seeing one of the more emotional scenes in this movie you may have a completely different idea of the joke “pull my finger”.
Peeta Mellark, Thor, and the chubby kid from "Drake & Josh" walk into a bar...but seriously. Red Dawn (dir. Dan Bradley, 2012) is a remake of the relatively famous war movie from 1984 in which Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen fight off invading Russians and Cubans. In the remake, the year is 2012 and the United States' primary enemy is North Korea*. After a cheesy high school football game and unexplained power outage, brothers Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt (Josh Peck) are forced to band together with their ragtag group of high school friends to save their small Washington town from a land, sea, and sky invasion by the North Korean* army. Jed- older brother and former Marine- must teach his kid sibling and friends how to fight and survive if they are to make it back to normalcy again.
I love this film probably more than I should. I've seen it about five times already. There's humor, action, and a smidge of romance (that I don't really care about but other people seem to enjoy). It's a lot more fun than the original Red Dawn which I think was intended to be a more serious type of film. Alternatively, the portrayal of women in the original is far more feminist than the women in the new flick. Thankfully, I didn't go into this expecting anything other than mindless action, so it didn't bother me much this time. Either way, I'd highly recommend this movie to anyone who loves simple action flicks.
*Originally the film was slated to portray China as the invaders but after some real-life tensions between the US and China, the studio thought it would be a better idea if they didn't aggravate the Asian superpower. If you look closely, you can tell the actors' voices have been dubbed over.
I know what you're thinking. "Why is Ashlyn watching a movie about love? I thought she only liked movies where stuff blows up and/or the world is ending?" Well, this little slice of life story based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen is so refreshing, mature, and playful all at once that I couldn't stop watching (or reading). Reiner does as much justice to the source material as he did with Princess Bride (which I still say was better than the book), and the young actors are all fantastic in their roles.
Flipped is the story of Juli Baker and Bryce Loski- two children who meet when Bryce moves in next door to Juli right before second grade begins. Juli is immediately smitten, and Bryce is just as quickly made uncomfortable and annoyed by her attention. Bryce isn't particularly nice to Juli, and eventually, in junior high, she realizes that maybe he's just not the guy she first thought he was...just as Bryce starts looking at Juli in an entirely new light, and wondering what exactly his problem was all those previous years. The narrative also flips back and forth between Juli and Bryce, so we get to see many of their interactions from both perspectives. This is also one of the best uses of voice overs I have ever experienced, and I'm thinking some film students should be required to watch.
Somehow, this love story between a couple of kids, set against a backdrop of 1960s nostalgia (although the book seems to be set in the 2000s), class and family issues, peer pressure, and youthful idealism, is more realistic and full of genuine emotion than just about any big budget releases in the last decade.
This film is appropriate for all ages, and there's something to connect with for everybody. This one's a winner!
Brendan Gleeson tends to pick great scripts, and he sure found a winner in this film written and directed by up-and-comer John Michael McDonagh.
The Guard is about Sergeant Gerry Boyle, an Irish police officer, and FBI Agent Wendell Everett, as they team up to bring down a huge drug smuggling operation. Or at least...Agent Everett is trying. Sergeant Boyle is really much more interested in milkshakes and prostitutes, and hanging out with his equally irreverent mother.
This film is in turns hilarious and bittersweet. There is pervasive adult language (although, if you don't have a good ear for Irish accents, you won't catch half of it), a few dead bodies in cold storage, and some other really funny, really inappropriate chatter. There is also one of the most realistic fire fights I have ever seen on film in here, proving that McDonagh has a real grasp of how to make a realistic film without sacrificing plot or pacing.
I loved it! It reminded me of In Bruges, although it has not nearly that level of violence. I give it an A, and a reminder not to watch this one with the kiddies (lest you have to explain some words to them)!
Total Recall is a film about inequality and resistance, and about how who you are now is much more important than who you were in the past. Set in post apocalyptic Great Britain and Australia (known now as “The Colony”), the story focuses on Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker who is displeased with his life as a citizen of the disenfranchised Colony. He goes to Rekall, a place where one can be given any memory one desires. Just as he is about to get the memories of a spy, the operator of the Rekall machine discovers that Douglas has real memories of being a spy. Things go terribly wrong from there and soon Douglas is on the run from the police as he realizes that he isn’t the man he thought he was.
Unfortunately, as interesting as this premise is, the film falls depressingly flat. As you watch you seem to see scenes from other, better films (“The Bourne Identity” springs to mind). Colin Farrell’s acting is adequate but never excellent. The same can be said for the rest of the performances (by actors such as Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy, to name a few)- they are serviceable but never exceptional.
The special effects are good as far as they go. One scene of a hover-car chase is particularly impressive. However, as good as some of the effects were there were definitely some places where the CGI was glaringly obvious, and the opening scene of the movie is hard to watch due to lights flickering and strobing seemingly at random.
The film deserves its PG-13 rating, as there is extensive violence but little gore, some language, and brief but eye catching nudity. The question must come: would I recommend this movie? The answer is no, but neither would I dissuade someone from watching it. The movie is watchable, and adequate for a mindless evening staring at a television set.
The original film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is better. I had hoped I wouldn't have to say that.
Killer Joe, based on the play by Tracy Letts, is the story of the lengths a certain kind of man will go to in order to get out of debt.
This movie was the best redneck, white trash thriller I have seen to date. Being so used to Matthew McConaughey playing the "good guy" in romantic comedies and such, it was great to see him in a different light. He plays a cop who moonlights as a sinister contract killer. This movie borders on the line of a Quentin Tarantino film with all the screwed up characters and the high violence content. The dysfunctional family McConaughey is working for is the epitome of trailer trash. The hole they keep digging themselves deeper into becomes impossible to climb out of. You definitely have to like this type of movie to enjoy the intense and twisted story line. It also has an unexpected ending which left me with my jaw dropped. I would recommend this movie to anyone who likes a little madness and would like to see McConaughey in a role outside of his normal genre.
The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is a classic film based on the classic novel by S. E. Hinton. It’s worth noting that I’ve never read this novel, and that my review will be based solely on the film as a standalone work.
The film follows the story of Ponyboy, a young greaser living with his two older greaser brothers. For the youth in Ponyboy’s town, class warfare is an everyday occurrence, as the impoverished greasers and the upper class “socs” constantly antagonize each other.
The plot is kicked off when Ponyboy and his friend Johnny are attacked by a gang of socs, resulting in the death of one of their attackers. This escalates the already unstable relations between the two factions, and Ponyboy and Johnny have to go into hiding.
It’s a coming of age story, and mainly deals with themes of learning to understand those who are different and finding a meaningful purpose in life. On the whole I’d say this was an enjoyable and sometimes touching flick, but not incredibly memorable. The story sometimes feels aimless, and the plot seems better suited for a novel than the big screen. Still, there are some memorable characters and performances in the film, though it’s also padded up with dozens of excess characters we barely learn anything about (who I’m sure are more fleshed out in the novel.) The drama can feel a little hammy and melodramatic at times by today’s standards, but it’s never truly obnoxious. Also, look out for tons of big stars in the background, though none of them really play characters pivotal to the plot.
Overall I’d give this film a 7/10, a good watch but not something I’d really go out of my way to recommend to anyone. However, if you’re a fan of 80’s coming of age flicks or greaser movies, this film is probably worth your time. Also, if you’re a fan of the novel, it’s probably worth checking out this adaptation to see if the story “stays gold.”
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, based on the novel of the same name, is a coming of age story set in no particular time, in no particular place, with no particular people- except that it's really, really tough to not relate to them. Stephen Chbosky, author of the novel, hits his directorial pay dirt this adaptation of his own work.
Charlie, a high school freshman struggling with depression and a distinct lack of friends, meets Patrick and Sam, a couple of step-siblings with whom he can finally be himself. They introduce Charlie to their extended group of upperclassmen friends, leading him to both begin to find love, experience independent life, and wrestle down his demons.
Logan Lerman of Percy Jackson fame does well here, managing to be both likable and seriously weird. Ezra Miller is outstanding as Patrick- oft-loud, flamboyant, and deeply committed to those he loves. I want him to be my best friend too. Emma Watson finally manages to shed the hair-weight of Hermione and shine as Sam. She is affecting, she is spirited, and by George, when she is sad, she is close to Kate Winslet Sad, which is, of course, on a level above normal human sadness. It seems as though filming this may have been its own coming of age story for the actors; Lerman, Miller, and Watson each seem to blossom before the eyes of the audience over the course of the movie, emerging as adult actors. Look out for Scott Pilgrim VS The World alums Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons as well, in well-played roles pivotal to the plot.
Overall, I really liked this movie. The music was great, the pacing was much more steady than I would expect from basically a first-time director (he did one other film in 1995 that nobody ever watched), and the casting was inspired. The school dance scene near the beginning of the film is absolutely magical. That said, BEWARE: there are plenty of things discussed in this movie that you may not be comfortable sharing with your child just yet, and there should be a "trigger alert" sticker on the box. Younger kids may be upset by the violence, intrigued by the drug usage, and/or confused by the implications of Charlie's familial relationships.
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