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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: The 2013 End of the Year Blowout Spectacular Jimmy - Jam


In the blink of an eye, 2013 is over and we look towards 2014 here on The Simplistic Reviews Podcast.  In this special edition of The Podcast, DJ, Justin, Matt, and Neal give their two-cents on the best and worst of the year in film and TV, and I'm sure a lot more.

Will "Grown Ups 2" stand alone as a worse mistake than Greedo shooting first, or will "White House Down" prove that Barack Obama is funnier than Jamie Foxx?

All of this and so much more on The Simplistic Reviews Podcast.  Happy New Year and see all you clowns in 2014.

Show Notes:
Best Films of 2013
Worst Films of 2013
Best TV of 2013

Music Notes:
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" By Chicago
"Your The Best" By Joe Esposito
"Background Music" By Seeburg
"Auld Lang Syne" By Kenny G

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Let's Get Real: Blackfish

Blackfish - Sickening
SICKENING

Let me get the comedy out of the way before I get to what "Blackfish" is really about; Good God killer whales have giant wieners!  That's it folks, I'll be here all night.

However, if you take away manually masturbating killer whales in the documentary "Blackfish" you will still be shocked by the exploitation of not only the majestic orca, but also the exploitation of their trainers; humans.  Of course, human and/or animal exploitation is nothing new.  Look at slavery, mineral mining, and pornography, and you can see that humans love exploiting other human beings for their own gain, add in giant six-ton wild animals, and you really have a sickening wonder to behold.

"Blackfish" tells the story of numerous sea-focused amusement parks, namely the now closed, Sealand of the Pacific, and SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida and one whale in particular, Tikikum, who has been responsible for the death of three separate trainers.  There are several questions raised in "Blackfish."  One, should we keep animals, namely gigantic mammals like killer whales, in captivity?  This is the central debate in the film.  As long as there has been man, and as long as man has been able to capture animals and put them on display, and as long as man can make money doing this, the capture and exploitation of animals will never go away.  I go back to the whale's penis; that thing is worth a fortune!  You know why?  Because that penis will continue to make orca whales, and whales are worth millions of dollars, and tourists will continue to pay $75 to enter a park, pay $10 for a plush toy, and pay another $5 for the Popsicle that is shaped like that new orca whale that came from Tilikum's......cum.  Sorry to be graphic, but I couldn't pass up that winning wordplay.

The other question "Blackfish" ponders is whether trainers are properly trained and/or made aware of the risk of their jobs?  Being told from the perspective of the trainers, "Blackfish" is told through a rather biased perspective.  I understand that representatives from Seaworld wouldn't want to be a part of a documentary that is essentially demonizing the way that they've done business for over 40 years.  But as a trainer of killer whales, you have to be aware of the risk of working with "wild" animals.  However, if a company is withholding information from you about how dangerous one of these killer whales really is, that is another story all together.

Will "Blackfish" keep people away from the gates of Seaworld, or any other zoo/aquarium that exhibits giant animals that sell tickets and can turn on someone at any given moment?  Of course not, but you can rest assured that wild animals will continue to act out when they are threatened, scared, or angry.  Just like humans can have bad days, animals can have them as well, I'm sure Tilikum's victims would second that opinion.

Fun Fact:  SeaWorld Orlando, FL was opened on December 15th, 1973.

The Wolf Of Wall Street

DEBAUCHERY
 I have previously joked about how I'd watch the trailer to Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street in the morning because visually it was like doing a line of cocaine.  Little did I know that the feature length film would be the best example of truth in advertising since Pacific Rim.  The Wolf Of Wall Street is literally a three hour high, filled with every form of despicable DEBAUCHERY, decadence and self-destructive devilishness you could possibly think of.  This film was easily one of the most anticipated films of the year on our site, and I can confidently say that it lived up to every expectation.  Is it a perfect film?  Not necessarily.  But it is unquestionably a must see film.  Hell, I could end the review right there.  For the skeptics still unconvinced, allow me to talk about some of the aspects of The Wolf Of Wall Street that surely make it great.

The story?  Based on the autobiographical novel, The Wolf Of Wall Street tells the tumultuous life story of stock broker slimeball Jordan Belfort.  This film and Michael Bay's film Pain & Gain tell two stories that will shock you with their hilariously absurd events.  Then shock you even further when you discover that so many of those events were absolutely true.  It is closer to being a modern day remake of Caligula than a story about the stock market.  I give the real Jordan Belfort credit for still allowing the darker parts of his life to remain in the film and not be played up for laughs.  Although, you never really hate the guy even after you see them.

The structure?  The film has been shorthanded into the familiar Scorsese format, leading people to quickly describe it as the Goodfellas version of Wall Street.  And...well...it is.  Writer Terence Winter practically admitted as much.  For as herky jerky of a style it is, this format always seems to work for Scorsese and be entertaining enough for the audience to forgive it.  Much in the way audiences did for The Departed.  I bring up the structure because it may be the only criticism I can find in this film.  When it is all said and done, The Wolf Of Wall Street may only be remembered as just a collection of jaw droppingly great scenes instead of a well crafted story.  The Lemmon Quaalude scene, the goldfish scene, the midget parameters scene, the yacht chop scene, and every scene where Leo delivers a stump speech to his troops.  After seeing the film, however, I can't imagine the story being told any other way.  The structure sets the fast pace and humorous tone this film needed.

The performances?  Are you kidding?  Even if you are one of those inexplicably strange Leo detractors, you'll still be in love with the job he does as the wolf Jordan Belfort.  The enthusiastic vulnerability DiCaprio consistently displays in his roles continues to make me appreciate him as an actor.  His co-star Jonah Hill steals literally EVERY scene he's in, which is a tough task for a film like this.  His performance is something deserving of an award, but will probably fall short of acclaim like his stellar one in Moneyball.  Virtual newcomer Margot Robbie holds her own with both of them.  She is the Lorraine Bracco of this film and is no less brilliant.  Honestly, every actor in this film knocks it out of the park, no matter the amount of screentime they get.  Matthew McConaughey is amazing again.  Jean Dujardin, who I didn't even know was in this film, is terrific.  Kyle Chandler shines in the first role I've seen him have fun in.  Jon Bernthal is thankfully a long ways away from his Shane days.  Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Joanne Lumley, P.J. Byrne and countless others hit every note they need to perfectly.  

The Wolf Of Wall Street is a fiery car accident you can't look away from.  No, it's a seedy fling with your ex girlfriend after you both came to the agreement that you're bad for one another.  No, it's an insane night on the town with your more irresponsible high school buddies that ends in the police drunk tank.  Who am I kidding?  It's a cinematic drug high.  The rush of the hit and the crushing darkness of the side effects.  And with all these metaphors aside, it is a truly excellent film that is well worth your time.  Sell me this pen...go downstairs and get the 'ludes...remember your safe word...watch it...exhale and wipe your brow afterwards...then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Forgotten Gems: 50/50

SEEDS
50/50 - Seeds

Can a film about cancer be funny?  Normally, it's one of those topics that Hollywood tends to stay away from when it comes to comedy.  Sure, you have "Terms of Endearment" which is thought of as one of the best films in the last 30 years, but cancer doesn't always equal comedy.  While I won't consider "50/50" in the same class of "Terms" it's still a film that takes the subject of cancer, and disease in general, and combines it with humor, though sometimes crass, and hope.  It also plants the seeds for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, where you really get to see him act in a big time way.

"50/50" is the story of Adam, a twentysomething working at a NPR-like radio station in Seattle. Cutting to the chase, after visiting a doctor for some unexplained aches and pains he learns that he has a rare type of cancer (isn't it always a rare type of cancer in any film?)  With the help of his friend Kyle, Adam tries to look on the bright side of life even with his personal life crumbling around him as well as his well-intentioned mother's constantly harassment, and father dealing with Alzheimer's Disease.  When it rains it pours, I guess?

The film also stars Anna Kendrick as Adam's psychologist, Katherine, who I think does a fine job and adds something special to "50/50."  What I will add is that I'm a little confused about all the hate that Kendrick gets for the roles she takes.  I mean she's no Jennifer Lawrence, but she's just as awkward as J-Law, but people take her as a bitch for some reason.  She only has a handful of roles to her credit, including an Academy Award nominated performance for her first *real* role in "Up In the Air" but I'm not sure why so many people complain about her acting.  She has her own style, and despite the fact that several of the characters that she plays are moody or quirky-outsider types in the early 20's, I think she does the best she does with the writing that is provided for her.  As for her performance in "50/50" Kendrick continues to show that when given material she can really shine, see "End of Watch" for further evidence that she has a bright future as a new type of "the girl next door."

Moving away from my Anna Kendrick rant and back to "50/50,"  the other thing that struck me with the film is the honesty in which cancer is dealt with.  While at heart the film is a "comedy" there are some real human elements to the film, namely unexpected loss, coming to grips with situations you have no control over, and re-establishing old relationships, and building new ones.  Gordon-Levitt conveys an honest performance and is still able to pull a few decent laughs from a situation that rarely leaves room for humor.  Seth Rogen, usually the funniest guy in the room, manages to still be the comic relief of the film, but he shows some of his acting chops as a friend who is trying to turn his friend's tragedy into his own gain, but still show some compassion as a best friend.

Overall, "50/50" is a fine film that shines a light on a disease that most people try to stray away from.  To be honest, I think there are more films about the plight of people suffering from AIDS then people suffering from cancer, a far more relatable disease to be honest with you.  I'm sure in our lives we have met someone, been friends with, or have had a family member that has fought cancer.  Of course I'm not taking anything away from people who suffer from HIV/AIDS, but Hollywood seems to make have a "mythic" obsession with the AIDS virus, while cancer is almost a dirty word to most people.  So, if you've yet to see "50/50" it's certainly worth a watch just to see some young actors dealing with, and executing some of the heaviest acting that most of them had to deal with up to that point.

*I don't consider anything "Twilight" related a real role by an actor or actress that wants to be taken serious.

Fun Fact:  Actors Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall have both played cancer patients in previous films Watchmen and Magnolia, respectively.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: December Holiday Edition


'Tis the season to talk movies and TV...and R.Kelly...and...um... Jolene Blalock's disappearance...and Lara Flynn Boyle?  I'm pretty sure that's not how the song goes.

An oddly optimistic Justin Polizzi makes his triumphant return and unveils his latest character impression.  Neal DaSouza joins us again to talk some anime and take dictation.  DJ is confused over the midseason finale of The Walking Dead and discovers he has some sort of Die Hard Tourette's Syndrome.  Matt starts an all out war between people of the Jewish faith and jolly ol' Saint Nick in a new segment called Dear Santa.  And a crippled little boy is able to walk again at the end.  It's a Christmas Miracle!  Sorry, that last bit I made up or partially stole from Charles Dickens.  But I swear, the rest of that stuff does happen on the holiday edition of the Simplistic Reviews Podcast.

Show Notes:
Ellis From Die Hard
Police Academy
R.Kelly Cookie Song
Detective Quentin Lance
Akira
Jolene Blalock
Lara Flynn Boyle Is Melting

Music:
"Holiday Road" By Lindsey Buckingham
"Christmas In Hollis" By Run D.M.C.
"Christmas Time Is Here" By Vince Guaraldi
"The Best" By Tina Turner
"Let It Snow" By Vaughn Monroe

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Out Of The Furnace

PERFORMANCES
Perhaps it is because I'm a black man born and raised in a city environment that the world of the country gangster interests me so much.  Their world is an entirely different world than the one I'm used to, and it's just a short ways up the highway.  I watched The Dukes Of Hazzard religiously as a kid...before I realized that them Duke boys were driving 'round with a big "Go F%*k Yourself Black People" flag on their car.  It is no secret that Justified is my favorite show on television. (SCREW YOU GOLDEN GLOBE COMMITTEE)  Even Roadhouse tickles the hell out of me.  Especially the absurdity of that final scene.  So, Out Of The Furnace seemed like a film set directly in my entertainment wheelhouse.  Unfortunately, the film has an overly simple and predictable plot that merely serves as a platform for its real asset.  The thoroughly stellar PERFORMANCES.

Out Of The Furnace comes from Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper.  Crazy Heart also ended up being a film with an unremarkable plot but extremely remarkable and Oscar winning PERFORMANCES.  Furnace is about the chaos that happens after two brothers get mixed up with a psychotic mountain man gangster.  That's it.  Okay, there are some other secondary facets to the story.  This includes a regretable accident, an awkward love triangle, and a combat veteran's hardship.  However, hardly anything happens that you will not see coming or have not seen before.  Because the premise is this simple and familiar, the moments that connect the important plot elements feels like overly long and extraneous padding.  You could easily cut forty minutes from this barely two hour film and still not miss a thing.  A very unfortunate problem, seeing as those padded moments have some of the film's better acted scenes.  This makes me think they were kept in, not because the story needed it, but because of how good the actors were in it.  You never want to have a film where great PERFORMANCES are playing defense with your story.

Scott Cooper and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi are real artists when it comes to framing and light.  I think Cooper could make a terrific western if he wanted to.  The western genre is centered on confrontation, tension and the anticipation of violence.  That is maybe what he was trying to do here.  A modern day western.  If that is the case then the pacing of the film makes sense.  However, there are still some elements that don't serve the build up of confrontation.  Though, Cooper should be credited for once again getting what he got from his actors in this film.

People still forget how great of an actor Christian Bale is.  Even after his recent Oscar win for The Fighter.  In The Fighter, Bale played a larger than life character that required his usual body transformation.  It was a character that gave him many things to do and many things to play with.  His character Russell Baze is precisely the opposite of Dicky Ward.  Russell is more subdued and still.  Most of Bale's PERFORMANCE is internalized.  And yet, the PERFORMANCE is tremendous.  A scene with him and Zoe Saldana on a bridge is probably some of the finest acting you'll see this year.  Yeah, Zoe Saldana is in this.  She isn't in it for a long time, but long enough to give a strong PERFORMANCE.  Bale's brother Rodney is played by the Affleck brother who can act.   (You're an awesome director Ben, but Casey can act circles around you)  Again, the dynamic between the two brothers is nothing new.  However, Casey and Bale elevate the relationship in every scene they share.  You would never think Casey could display an intensity that rivals the always intense Bale, but he does.  And speaking of intense, the real standout of this movie is Woody Harrelson.  From the first scene, you know that Harrelson is going to steal this film.  He is tough, funny, and scary as hell.  He is such a great character, I wish there was a little more time dedicated to him.  His inevitable showdown with Bale struck me as a bit anticlimactic.   Cooper might have meant to keep his character Harlan Degroat (What a great name) simple and vague.  However, I would have appreciated a little more time with the character and see the behind the scenes of how he ran his organization.

I've focused on the main stars, which really short changes the fine work done by the supporting cast.  From Forest Whitaker, to Willam Dafoe, to Sam Shepard.  Every actor brought their A game.  Sadly, the story surrounding them is simply just a B-.  Grab your rifle...and your boxing tape...don't let Woody Harrelson serve you a hotdog...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Simply Foreign: Blue Is the Warmest Color

HONEST
I had heard a lot about Blue Is The Warmest Color a few months back.  It made some history at the Cannes Film Festival by being the first to win the Palme d'Or for both lead actresses and director. (Palme d'Or is a very fancy French award in case our "Freedom Fries" audience was confused)  The critics who got to see the film early were raving that it was a must watch.  With that being said, I was a little worried that the film would not live up to all the hype.  I'm not an avid watcher of foreign language films to begin with, short of a Run Lola Run or an Irreversible here or there. (Still squirming after that one Gasper)  So, forgive my vastly limited knowledge or absent mindedness when I say that Blue Is The Warmest Color is perhaps one of the most well acted, well shot, emotionally gut wrenching foreign films I have ever seen.  This is not because of the lesbian subject matter.  This is not because it breaks new ground in terms of a love story.  This is because of how HONEST and real of a film experience it is.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is the film adaptation of the 2010 Julie Maroh graphic novel of the same name.  It spans the adolescent to adult life of a young girl named Adèle.  During this time, Adèle struggles to find her sexual identity, discovers her first true love, and rides the rollercoaster of her first real relationship.  As I watched the film, I almost began to feel a little uncomfortable.  And that's not because of the much ballyhooed love scenes throughout.  With the film's almost nonexistent score, alarmingly close closeups and frequent steadicam shots, I felt as though I was more of a voyeur than an audience member.  The super subjective, documentary style way the film is presented brings you so deep into Adèle's world that you begin adopting a more knowledge based need from scene to scene, as opposed to an entertainment based one.  A smart thematic choice that amplifies the story's HONESTY.  Nothing you see feels as though it were scripted.  It feels like a telescopic look at the most important years of a girl's life.

The graphic novel is mostly structured as if you were thumbing through the main character's diary.  Not to say I have a lot of experience reading through someone's diary(I swear sis), but director Abdellatif Kechiche captures this feeling brilliantly.  It doesn't have the cliched narration or overbearing on screen captioning of other journal/diary structured films.  Instead, the film's scenes are put together with a stark, yet, similar feel to the way diary entries would read.  You might be watching Adèle in a scene where she is having an uneventful day at school, then suddenly thrust into an emotionally relevant scene with her and a boy in the park.  There are missing events and missing days that reinforce this.  You don't write well structured stories in a diary.  You write down moments of your life that struck you as relevant at the time, no matter how irrelevant they might be to someone else.  When Adèle sees the blue haired Emma for the first time, a stereotypical romantic film score doesn't come in and highlight the moment.  It's clumsy and not beautifully shot.  However, it feels real.  The same with their first kiss.  It feels like we're stealing a moment between two people, not watching a 'Harlequin' romance come to life.

I also loved how the lesbian aspect of Adèle and Emma's relationship did not completely define the film.  I mean, it is there, and the common trope of one partner hiding their sexual preference from their friends and family while the other is open and HONEST about it does happen.  However, it does not define the story for me.  Perhaps I missed the point, but I saw the most important part of the film being a story about a girl growing up.  A girl discovering who to love and how to love and struggling to maintain that love.  Adèle's sexual proclivities weren't as important to me as her love and dynamic with Emma.  And while we're on the subject, I did not see the big deal made by critics in regards to the love scenes in this film.  Yes, they might border on gratuitous.  However, I attribute this again to the way the film is presented.  We are experiencing these moments the way Adèle experienced them.  The way she remembered them.  Most teenagers don't have perfectly paced sex in a perfectly lit room set up by a perfectly chosen Hollywood cinematographer with a perfectly appropriate musical score.  Well...maybe Angelina Jolie did.  Adèle would more than likely remember every sensual, exciting and awkward moment of her first sexual encounter with Emma.  Their passion in these scenes also establishes the almost carnal chemistry the two share.  After being apart for a long time, the two are almost unable to keep their hands off each other in a public restaurant.  Not because of promiscuity, but because of that chemistry.

The best compliment I can give an actor's performance is that it did not feel like a performance.  This film is a great example of a cast doing that.  Everyone felt genuine and nothing felt forced.  The two lead actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux both are well deserving of their awards and acclaim.  However, it is Adèle that really stands out here.  She has, what I like to call, the 'Anti-Richard Gere Effect'.  Where as you almost can't read anything on Richard Gere's face during a performance, Adèle is the exact opposite.  Every emotion she is having, every emotion she is hiding, and every decision she is contemplating is expressed on her face before she ever utters a word.  A selfishly helpful thing for me, seeing as this is a subtitled film.   Adèle's face as she watches Emma from afar during their house party tells you everything you need to know about her feelings, and it is played without dialogue.  Even the transition in the way Adèle carries herself from her adolescent years to her adult years is totally convincing.   Now don't get me wrong.  Léa's portrayal of Emma is terrific.  Adèle's character doesn't work without a strong enough, spirited enough, and HONEST enough character like Emma for her to fall in love with.  Léa certainly breathes that kind of life into the character.  It is as powerful of a cinematic relationship you hope for as any you've ever seen.

Even though it comes in at just under three hours, Blue Is The Warmest Color is still worthy of your time.  The film's conclusion is a bit different than the darker one in the graphic novel.  Some might say that this was done to achieve a happier ending.  Though, it may be a little less dramatic than graphic novel, I believe it is equally as sad.  The scenario only plays out in a more realistic and HONEST way.  Read the graphic novel...watch the film...compare them...contemplate your desire to try oysters...then tell me I'm wrong.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Hobbit Countdown: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

BALLS
The Fellowship of the Ring - Balls

One of the biggest no-no's of pop culture is not messing up anything that beloved by a group of nerds.  And before I get nailed to a cross, I myself am a nerd and I use that as a term of extreme affection, I mean I married a Harry Potter nerd so I'm entitled to use the term nerd as often as I want.  As I digress, directors, writers, and actors have to tread carefully when trying to replicate a favorite fictional character because one bad line utter, one extra action acted upon, or one minor detail too much or too little can lead to the Internet banding together to destroy said director, writer, or actor.  It's a tough gig to replicate things that are held in such high regard.  Now, back in 2001, a director from New Zealand, more famous for horror and gross-out fare such as "Meet the Feebles" and "Dead Alive" decided he was going to recreate something that everyone said could never be done; that tiny Kiwi, Peter Jackson, was going to recreate Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal series "The Lord of the Rings."  People thought, "The balls on this guy.  The closest he'll ever get to a Hobbit would be to look in the mirror!"  Well......Jackson did have balls, and with a little help from the Brothers Weinstein, he has able to create Middle Earth, in grand spectacle I might add, in the first of three fantasy epics, starting with "The Fellowship of the Ring," a film that not only changed the way film was made, but the way people thought about fantasy films as a whole.

I keep going back to the word balls.  As is in selling real estate, you have to have brass balls to sell an epic three-part series of films to Hollywood executives.  If you've ever seen or heard anything about either Bob or Harvey Weinstein, I would be crapping myself before my pitch.  Especially if I'm a short New Zealander with only a few films to my name and having never helmed a big-budget film before.  Balls......

Needless to say, the series was greenlit, and under the guidance of Jackson, it propelled him to instant fame.  Jackson was able to create a lived in world that included The Shire, the Mines of Moria, Rivendale, and the White Tower of Isengard.  "Fellowship" is the first part of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films that tells the story of a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins, who embarks on an epic adventure to destroy a ring of pure evil.  With three other Hobbits in tow, Frodo must avoid evil Ring Wraiths hunting for The Ring, and at the same time trying to avoid the temptation of The Ring itself.  Deciding that Frodo will need more than his fellow Hobbits to complete his task, a Fellowship is formed that includes a bow-weilding Elf, a stout axe-swinging dwarf, Gandalf the Grey Wizard, and two men, including one who might be the long-lost King of Gondor.

At heart, "Fellowship" is the obligatory opening film from a trilogy that grows in size and scope with every film.  You can see Jackson's typical dream-like style plays heavily in the first film that reminded me a lot of "Dead Alive" minus a lawnmower used to plow down dozens of zombies.  His action scenes are a little wonky and sometimes the action gets lost in the details, but you can still see the makings of a director still finding his bearings.

The gritty battle scenes of "Fellowship" are a stark contrast to another fantasy series that was also getting underway in 2001; the "Harry Potter" series.  While "Potter" was written with a younger demographic in mind, the allegories and vision of Tolkien captured the imagination of a more mature, and older, audience.  I'm not here to knock "Potter" heads, but "LotR" has to be considered the more intellectual of the two series', and that's all I'll say before I'm ripped apart by "Potter" fans.  But if they want to bring it, I'm here to answer the Horn of Gondor.

What made "Fellowship" such a success was the fact that Jackson made the impossible, possible.  He actually created Middle Earth by using New Zealand as the fictitious backdrop of a world of Elves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Trolls.  I mean, people travel to New Zealand to visit sets that still stand to this day.  The amount of detail still amazes to this day, and Jackson's reliance on practical effects (for the most part) is something that Hollywood is sorely missing in this day and age.

Needless to say, the gamble had paid off for the Weinstein's and New Line Cinema after "Fellowship."  Of course there are some nit-picky things I can point out about the film, but it's a fantasy film, and not all things make logical sense in a world filled with non-existent creatures and items.  What needs to be concentrated on is how a dream can come try and how one guy, with balls the size of the small island nation he hails from, was able to a film that still dazzles to this day.  That film is "The Fellowship of the Rings," a not long required fantasy film to watch, but a necessary FILM to watch.

Fun Fact:  1800 Hobbit feet were made for the production of "The Fellowship of the Ring."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Early Returns: American Hustle

SILKY
American Hustle - Silky

The name David O. Russell can evoke a lot of emotions, especially if you talk to either George Clooney or Lily Tomlin.  The man has the special talent to bring both the best, and worst, out in people.  While there is no doubt Russell can be called a total prick, there is also no doubt that the guy has been putting out quality films since "Spanking the Monkey" all the way back in 1994.  Almost 20 years later, Russell has released his most refined, and silky, film to date in "American Hustle," starring the likes of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Russell's newest muse, Jennifer Lawrence.

"Hustle" is the tale of two con artists (Bale and Adams) who are forced to join forces with an FBI Agent (Bradley Cooper) who has entirely too much to prove. The unlikely trio set out to uncover corruption that involves a fake sheik, members of Congress, the Mafia, and a local mayor of Camden, New Jersey, played by Jeremy Renner.  Throw in a nagging wife, played wonderfully by Lawrence, and those are the basics of "Hustle."

While I might have just simplified the plot for spoiler's-sake above, the film is much more than your standard grifters-on-the-run-from-the-law story.  I'd liken "Hustle" very much to "Goodfellas" in it's storytelling and use of the 1970s as the backdrop.  I also mention "Goodfellas" in it's use of a very interesting cameo that I won't mention, again, for spoiler's-sake.

While I will commend Russell for his direction and vision, the acting really shines in "Hustle."  I have no doubt in my mind that all four main actors, Adams, Bale, Cooper, and Lawrence, will be up for Oscars come February.  I'll even go as far as saying that this will be Adams' Oscar year.  Her turn as Sydney Prosser is magical, and proves that Adams is one of the best actresses in the business that still seems to be overlooked.  Lawrence steals the show in the scenes she's in, and the same goes for Cooper.  Bale is the rock of the film however, and provides a calming cool to the insanity that seems to swirl around him.  Renner is fine in his role as Mayor Carmine Polito, but one of the best unsung performances will go to Louis C.K, who plays the brow-beaten boss of Cooper's unhinged FBI Agent.

Like I mentioned before, this is Russell's "Goodfellas."  Loosely based on actual events, Russell weaves a story that has you guessing until the very end, and much like Martin Scorsese does in most of his films, music plays a major part.  Russell picks some of the best music from 70's, and makes Duke Ellington, and his music, one of the points of attraction between Bale and Adams' characters, and it makes sense in the scheme, no pun intended, of things.  Jazz artists like Ellington had to improve all the time, it's the heartbeat of jazz, improvisation, and you can say the same thing for people running cons; constant improvisation.  The allegory is fantastic, if you catch it, but it's not entirely relevant to the overall plot, just a cute little thing that Russell throws into his film.

At it's core, "Hustle" is a caper film in the spirit of "Jackie Brown" and "Catch Me If You Can."  It has spunk, heart, and like I said before, is silky smooth, with plenty of style to spare.  Best film of the year?  Let's not quite go there yet, but if "Hustle" is any inclination of the films to come the rest of 2013, we should be in store for plenty of treats the rest of the month of December.  Christmas comes early with "American Hustle."

Fun Fact:  The story of "American Hustle" is loosely based on the events of ABSCAM, in the late 1970s and 1980s.    

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: November Edition


As Turkey Day draws to a close, the boys recap the month of November with Anime and Asian Cinema aficionado Neal DaSouza.  They talk about black films, black Kermit The Frog, and Blacklist.  Not necessarily in that order.

The boys also introduce an old game with a new twist.  A game titled with the infamous anagram K.F.M. (Look it up on the interwebs kiddies).  Remakes, Wolves of Wall Street, and Roadhouse throat rips.  Gobble up all that and more, pilgrim, on the Thanksgiving edition of the Simplistic Reviews Podcast.  Yes, that was a pretty bad use of word play.  So what?  Sue me.  Wait, don't sue me.  I'm so incredibly poor.

Show Notes:

Kermit The Frog
Roadhouse
K.F.M. Game
The Blacklist
Sleepy Hollow
The Wolf Of Wall Street


FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Family


The Family: Fluff

2013/Crime/111Mins

Well was it entertaining?

Yeah a little bit but most was just...

Fluff

I've said this before, if your looking down at your phone more then the movie your watching, then the movie isn't doing its job. So whats this film about...

The Manzoni family, a notorious mafia clan, is relocated to Normandy, France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard.

Sure it was fun to watch the "Mafia" De Niro back on the screen. But that's not enough to save a whole movie. I think this film could of been more. It just felt like there wasn't much to do with this film and so some Fluff got thrown in. I like Michelle Pfeiffer and her children played by Dianna Agron and John D'Leo. They were good, acting and side stories where fun. Tommy Lee Jones is Tommy Lee Jones. The story isn't bad, I liked it but it could of been better. Luc Besson directed this and it kinda doesn't show.  Compared to his masterpiece Léon: The Professional and the extremely entertaining The Fifth Element. The Family is missing the fun he brings to his films and I think that's what really killed it for me. I was expecting more from Besson.

So, it's a bit entertaining but mostly boring fluff added in to what could've been a fun film.

And that's it...Oh wait yeah Goodfellas.

This might be spoiler like, so I'm warning you.

Yes Goodfellas pops up in this film. The first part is the outdoor barbecue scene shot and block just like Goodfellas was. I noticed this off the start, I figured okay that's a cool little egg. Was that it? Nope. In fact De Niro brings Tommy Lee Jones to a showing of a movie.

And that movie was?

Yep Goodfellas.  So De Niro in a film is watching a movie De Niro was in.  And then talks about how close movies and real life are on the subject of The Mafia.  Ugh!  This is just a bit odd for me.  Maybe walking past a poster or something, but no, he does watch it, it's in the movie.  So is this needed?

To me again it felt like more Fluff.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Parkland

Parkland: Messy

Drama/93mins/2013

Parkland is one of those films you hear about then count till the day it comes out. It peak my interest mostly due to the event this film takes place on. I'm talking about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The assassination has always been an interest of mine for awhile now because I'm the history type of guy and not a conspiracy type. Every 22nd of November I sit in front of my TV and binge watch.

So how does this film work covering the events that took place on that day? Well it's kind of...

Messy  

Let me try and explain. If you wanna watch a good movie about this part of history watch Oliver Stone's JFK. Parkland is really, well suppose to be about the events at the Hospital Kennedy and Oswald where taken too. Yes in the beginning we get that, but then it begins to explore Zapruder, we shift to Robert Oswald and his mother, The Secret Services agents, The Reporters and then back to the hospital. Now maybe the writers thought this was a good idea to do a film about the hospital and not the same old format. But that's not really how it played out. Did they say, "Shit we don't have enough material to do just the ER."

The synopsis to this film is  "A recounting of the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated." But most of the film is about Zapruder and the Oswald family. Yes that was very well done and in fact both of those parts are the best in the film, but I was expecting a whole ER film with a few drop outs in setting but not a bookended film with no care toward the only parts this film was made about.

Abraham Zapruder was played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti. He is my favorite thing of this whole film. Ron Livingstion who is always great and James Badge Dale who really stands out in this film as one of the only actors seemingly entertaining to watch. Marcia Gay Harden, David Harbour, Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Welling, Mark Duplass, Colin Hanks, Jackie Earle Haley and Jacki Weaver all are included in this mass of who can we fit in here for a kinda cameo. That's what it really felt like. Was it bad? No just a bit too much I think.


Then we have the top billing of Zac Efron. I've never watched that much of his work but ouch he seems to try way to hard to not be that Zac Efron. He just plays a guy we as a viewer should care about but instead we go hey you look like, right your that Zac guy. Hey he might be a nice guy, I really don't know or care but you need to tone it down a bit. For the charactor we should care about I honestly could care less about.

This film isn't what I was told it would be. It was good at a few things including a nice looking production, with a real time period look to them. Solid acting, here and there. And a film that even though a ton of information is missing, including that of not including John Connally who was at the same ER and in the same car as JFK. So yes the film is weak, worse in some areas but overall a messy mess.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (DJ's Take)

STEADY
See what I did there?  I made a joke about the shaky cam used in the first Hunger Games movie in comparison to its usage in this film.  A cheap shot, I know.  However, STEADY can also be a word attributed to several things about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the franchise in general.

 My biggest takeaway from the first Hunger Games was that everything up to the games was surprisingly new and interesting.  But when the games started, the film became a missed opportunity.  Whether that be from the...(ahem)...nauseating shaky cam...or the violence getting scaled back for the rating...or the rushed narrative.  The film only scratched the surface of what it meant to kill someone innocent, someone you know, or someone you love in order to survive.  A subject I don't think we'll ever properly explore in a film from this series.  The sequel Catching Fire left me feeling the same way I felt after watching the 2003 film The Matrix Reloaded.  It was a sequel that gave me more of what I loved in the first film, less of what I didn't, threw in a direction altering twist, and ended so abruptly that I was sickenly desperate for more.  Unlike The Matrix films, The Hunger Games franchise has always had an established blueprint.  It also has expectations nowhere near as unachievable as the ones the Wachowskis were faced with.  So, my hopes for this franchise's conclusion don't feel as futile.

I'm typically skeptical of any Young Adult novel film adaptation.  Mainly, because their stories are usually formulaic, shallow, and just not made for me.  From Twilight, to The Mortal Instruments, to the upcoming Divergent, to even Harry Potter.  The subject matter of those films never struck me as having anything deep about them.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a Y.A. idea that actually has interesting material.  War, oppression, rebellion, gladiatorial combat, political appeasement of the masses, questions on morality, self sacrifice.  I could go on.  Material like this is probably why the films have attracted arguably the best ensemble cast of any Y.A. adaptation.  And why its main character is played by inarguably the best actor.

I hate Jennifer Lawrence.  No, not in the way you think.  I hate her for the fact that she is such a rare, real, STEADY, good actor, that she can convince me of literally anything.  I try and stay objective when I see her work, but I'm captivated by her characters the instant she starts doing her thing.  Every time there is a moment in Catching Fire where I'm sure the material will be too ridiculous or ponderous for me to stand, Lawrence comes in and totally blows me away with her honesty.  There is a scene where she is speaking about the fallen tribute Rue, and god help me, I found my eyes welling up with tears.  It is a scene meant to tug at your heartstrings with all the subtlety of a semi-truck.  And yet, I was astonished at how perfectly personal Lawrence plays it.  Katniss' grief for Rue was played out mostly in silence in the first film.  Here, you finally get to listen to her describe her sadness and guilt and rage for what happened to Rue in one brief speech.  And Lawrence delivers it with not one false beat.  There are several instances like that in the film where I should groan and roll my eyes.  But the performances of Lawrence and Sutherland and Harrelson and Hoffman and even Hutcherson and Hemsworth are strong enough to sell this world.

I understand that previous director Gary Ross was using shaky cam in an attempt to hide the bloodshed and capture the primal nature of the games.  However, there is a distinct difference between being visceral and being incomprehensible.  Francis Lawrence has a much STEADIER(It's almost too easy) hand when it comes to the camera.  I don't just mean the action scenes, though, they are much better.  I mean with everything.  He just seems to have a better grasp on when to hold on an emotional beat, pull back on an enormous set piece, and shake up the visuals during a pulse pounding fight scene.  At least, in a way that I'm used to.  I think Ross, who has done some great work on his earlier films, just had a style that was too distracting for this content.

The one flaw that really gets in the way of Catching Fire's potential is probably the most integral reason for its drawing power.  And that is the film's love triangle.  No, I'm not some cynical douche that detests any time a film is inundated with mushy teen romance.  I'm a cynical douche that detests being browbeaten over the head by plot threads, whatever they may be.  I appreciate nuance, timeliness, and skillful integration.  The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale still lacks these things and acts as an obstacle to the story.  Katniss switches back and forth between her love interests to an almost comical extent in this film.  I seriously began to lose track from scene to scene as to where her love currently lied.  The much richer lead up to the games and increased political intrigue gives the story some really strong momentum.  Momentum that is stopped dead whenever the characters are forced to deal with their romantic issues.  I know me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the love triangle plotline is in The Hunger Games is the equivalent of me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the huge red spoiler is on a sports car.  I know why it's there and I know it appeases the teenage girl demographic.  Yet, it could be scaled back significantly and the ride would be all the better for it.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a strong sequel for any franchise, and continues to easily be one of the more interesting Young Adult novel film adaptations going today.  I hear they are going all Hobbit with the next book by splitting it in two.  Let us hope they can remain on their STEADY pace upward.  Grab your bow...and your pin...and your superconductive metal coil...watch it...tick tock...then tell me I'm wrong.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

True Story: 12 Years a Slave

HARROWING
12 Years a Slave - Harrowing

It's been nearly a year since the release, and our review, of "Django Unchained," the Quentin Tarantino blood-soaked revenge story where white slavers finally got their comeuppance.  It was a thing of beauty to see history re-written, once again by Tarantino, and evil punished as it should be.  A year later, another high-profile film using the topic of slavery as it's narrative is released in the form of "12 Years a Slave."  Directed by Steve McQueen, who you probably know from "Shame," starring Michael Fassbender's wiener, is a harrowing story that I'll define as the "anti-Django."

"Slave," based on the memoir by Solomon Northup, tells of the story of Northup's journey from a free black man in upstate New York, to his kidnapping and eventual sale into slavery in the American South.  The tale is brutal, gritty, and all together horrifying.  Northup sees things that no human being should ever see and his will is constantly tested by not only his masters, but his fellow slaves, namely a woman named Patsey, while the two are indentured by Edwin Epps, a slaver that would make Calvin Candie blush.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup, and sells the pain and anguish of a man struggling with protecting his pre-slavery life, while trying to survive the mental and physical abuse of his new masters.  Not to sell the film short by any means, but "Slave" is a classic fish out of water story.  However, if you're waiting for any comic beats or scenes that will lighten the mood, you'll be sadly mistaken.  Ejiofor is a marvel and creates something that is tragic, and beautiful.  He brings to life a character that was far too common in antebellum America, and where only a few were actually saved from their predicament.

The other surprising bit about "Slave" is its star power.  A who's who of Hollywood shows up in every corner of the film.  From Benedict Cumberbatch to Paul Dano (who nearly steals the show as a deranged junior overseer) it was a little shocking to see so many stars in one film about a subject as touchy as slavery.  While I mention this fact, I still have a hard time not comparing "Slave" to "Django Unchained."  The two have many similarities.  One being the grim subject of slavery and their harsh depictions of the white oppressors, but I find it so odd that so many Hollywood A-Listers want to be a part of a film that depicts such harsh subject matter.  Sure, it shows that they are empathetic to the fact that slavery was wrong and appalling, but to me it seems so odd.  I can't quite put my finger on it.

On the subject of comparing "Slave" to "Django," while I felt beats of "Django" had moments of levity to take you out of it's grim subject matter, "Slave" is relentless in it's overall message.  Near the end I had a pit in my stomach like I had while watching "The Passion of the Christ."  It felt like a hopeless situation that would never give in, and while you know the endgame for "Christ" you still felt some hope for Northup and his situation, but near the end, you felt just as hopeless as Northup.  To be honest, the last 30 minutes of "Slave" is an emotional rollercoster that I haven't felt in a long time. It's the most emotional film that you might see the entire year.

McQueen's direction, and especially what he gets out of Fassbender, is a wonder to behold.  Like I said before, if you thought Leonardo DiCaprio was Academy Award-worthy in "Django," wait until you see Fassbender.  It's one of the best performances in a film filled with haunting and memorable performances, and Fassbender's is one of the best you'll see all year.  His portrayal of Edwin Epps is utterly evil and depicts everything that was horrible about the act of slavery.  Getting back to McQueen, his depictions of the horrors of slavery are visceral and drawn out, and add to the tension of Northup's plight and hopelessness.

The only thing that really rubs me the wrong way about "Slave" is the attention, or the attention it's not getting.  Yes, the film is great, and I say that from purely a narrative and filmmaking perspective, but what "Django" was ripped apart by certain directors, the fact that "Slave" was directed by an African American director, nobody says anything about it.  It's just something that I notice and it kind of bugs me.  Within the past 15 years three major films have been released on the subject of slavery; "Amistad," "Django Unchained," and now "12 Years a Slave." Two of the films were directed by white directors and the latest directed by an African American.  Just something to think about in the way that the media covers certain films.

In conclusion, "Slave" is a film that will stay with you long after the credits role and will hopefully encourage people to seek out the truth about this story and so many stories like it, not only from antebellum America, but what likely still goes on all over the world everyday.  While Tarantino put a spin on slavery with "Django" that was horrible, but still added some humor, "Slave" is an earnest tale of finding hope when all is lost and is going to be a major contender when Oscar nominations are announced.

"Fun" Fact:  This is Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender's third collaboration together, starting with "Hunger" in 2008.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Simplistic TV: Almost Human: Premiere Episodes 1 & 2

FLASHY
I've been a fan of Karl Urban since The Bourne Supremacy.  His portrayal of Dr. McCoy in the new Star Trek franchise is practically perfect, he made Judge Dredd a bad ass again, and he was my pick for Batman before the character eventually got Afflecked.  So, my expectations were perhaps a bit too high for his new FOX television show that is essentially an I-Robot spin-off/rip-off/remake/re-imagining.  I'm sorry, that jibe was a little unfair.  The similarities between I-Robot and Almost Human are numerous, but they aren't exactly the same.  I-Robot was murder mystery, while Almost Human is a cop drama.  The major similarity they do share is that both are FLASHY while lacking a whole lot of substance.

Almost Human comes from JJ Abrams and Fringe collaborator J.H. Wyman.  The show follows a tough as nails, cybernetically enhanced cop in the not-to-distant future solving crimes alongside an android partner.   The aesthetic of the show is FLASHY, almost unsustainably expensive looking, and imaginative.  However, all the pretty distractions and visual spectacle thrown at us may just be a smokescreen hiding the fact that the show is nothing more than another police procedural.  Almost Human seems set up to examine the relationship between androids and humans and whether programmed emotions constitute an actual soul.  An interesting subject that has been explored hundreds of times before, but always leaving room for more inventive analysis.  Urban's character has an ongoing mystery involving his past that will sometimes get in the way of that.  A little part of me wishes the show would have went with a more Blade Runner feel instead of the colder Minority Report vibe.  Though, audiences now a days are more captivated with shows driven by cool CGI effects than ones with creative cinematography and atmosphere.

On paper, Karl Urban is a great choice to play a hard nosed grumpy cop.  Urban does good grumpy.  His Dr. McCoy is funny grumpy, his Judge Dredd is intimidating grumpy, but his Almost Human character John Kennex is kind of just boring grumpy.  From episode one to episode two, the writers seemed to remember Urban's comedic chops and gave him some humorous material to play.  I only hope they can round out his character a little more and give us something else compelling about him other than the stereotypical "closed off emotionally cop" schtick.  Michael Ealy does just fine as Dorian, the android with feelings.  (Little strange that the older model android seems newer than the newer model androids...but whatever.)  His chemistry with Urban is very good at times and he knows just how much emotion to display.  However, the rather heavy-handed allegory the show wants to make about race relations gave me a bit of pause in regards to his casting.  Choosing a black actor to play an android who will make statements about mistreatment that draws comparisons to racial prejudice...a little on the nose.  My thought is that if they are going to go there, go all the way with it.  Although, it seems Almost Human is a bit too fluffy of a series to delve any deeper into that sort of subject matter.  

Urban and Ealy's clearly apparent chemistry is a relief because their supporting cast is marginal at best.  The best being quirky forensics specialist Rudy Lom, played by Mackenzie Crook.  Crook, better known for his character Ragetti in the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, has the only interactions with the two leads that has any real life or resonance.  Everyone else appears to just be cardboard exposition outlets that get the main characters from point A to point B.  The worst being the forced romantic love interest Detective Stahl, played by Minka Kelly.  Don't get me wrong.  Minka Kelly is a beautiful lady, but she is about as believable as a police detective as Denise Richards was as a rocket scientist.  Unless there is some "big bad" on the horizon that'll be played by someone who isn't half asleep, Almost Human will be carried solely by Karl Urban and Michael Ealy's relationship.

With a litany of lackluster to god awful new television shows this season, Almost Human falls in the unremarkable, yet, harmless part of the spectrum.  My only hope is that its FLASH doesn't distract from its direction so much, that it prevents us from getting good stories.  Strap on your prosthetic super leg...make sure your android partner isn't scanning your testicles(Yes, they do that on this show)...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Simplistic Reviews presents: Indie Insider - Stuck, Interview with Director Angela Palladino


In our first in a series of interviews we will be conducting during the production of the film "Stuck," Simplistic Reviews is happy to have Writer, Producer, and Director, Angela Palladino, on this Simplistic Reviews Podcast special, "Indie Insider."  SR's own, Matthew Stewart, runs the gamut with Angela that stretches from her motivation to film "Stuck," who inspires her, and what it's like to film close to home.

Click HERE for the full interview with Angela Palladino, and check out the links below for more information on "Stuck" and how to get involved with the project.

Angela's Indiegogo Page
Main (Stuck) Website
(Stuck) on Indiegogo
(Stuck) on IMDB
(Stuck) on Facebook
(Stuck) Trailer

Thursday, November 14, 2013

White Men Can't Jump

White Men Can't Jump - Chemistry
CHEMISTRY


It seems fitting that we are a few weeks into the NBA season, as well as NCAA Basketball just getting underway, that we finally post a review about something basketball oriented.  While football gets most of the glory, cinema-wise, there are a handful of decent b-ball films.  Most people will automatically name "Hoosiers" as the best in the genre, if not one of the best and most inspiring sports films of all-time.  I tend to disagree.  While "Hoosiers" is all well and good, and features a drunk Dennis Hopper, it's the classic underdog story that has been done to death, so to me, it kind of looses it's shine after nearly 30 years.

When I think of a basketball film it always comes back to one of the first films I ever saw on HBO back in the early 1990's, and that would be "White Men Can't Jump."  It's the Ron Shelton-directed flick that made basketball fun and not some inspirational true story.  However, I'm sure a lot of white guys can relate to going to an outdoor basketball court, getting crap from a Wesley Snipes-like player, and eventually embarrassing them with a cross-over and a fade away jumper.  Unfortunately, I wasn't one of those players. Think of ME as Dennis Hopper in "Hoosiers."

Like most Shelton films, "Jump" deals with misfits who become endearing to the audience.  While he's gone outside of the sports realm with mixed results, see "Hollywood Homicide" as a prime example, his wheelhouse has always been how sports can be romantic and bring people to common ground.  "Jump" tells the story of two hustlers who constantly try to out hustle each other.  Woody Harrelson plays Billy Hoyle, a former college basketball player on the run with his Jeopardy-loving girlfriend, Gloria, played by Rosie Perez, still enjoying her 15-minutes of fame.  Hoyle meets Sidney Deane, Wesley Snipes' best role outside of "Blade," a braggadocious street ball player with aspirations of escaping the inner-city.  The irony of Deane is his love for the street, while still trying to escape it and do what he needs for his family, which is really at the heart of the film.  Despite the fact that Hoyle and Deane are always trying to one-up each other and hustle each other, there always seems to be a mutual respect between them.  What I like to pretend sometimes is that "Money Train" is a direct sequel to "Jump" and Jennifer Lopez takes over as Rosie Perez's character.

"Jump" is in the vein of Shelton's other sports films, namely "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup."  The characters feel lived in and the chemistry between Harrelson and Snipes is undeniable.  There are times when you think they hate each other, and the next minute you think they are the best of friends.  It feels like the same relationship "Nuke" LaLoosh and Crash Davis had in "Durham." Whether how much of the dialogue between Hoyle and Deane was ad-libbed, it feels authentic and something you would normally hear during any pick-up game, anywhere.

There are a few weak points to "Jump."  Rosie Perez, if you've seen her in any movie, can become quite grating after a while.  I don't know if it's the voice, the accent, or simply both, but after hearing "Beeeeleeeee!!" about 100 times you'll want to take a charge from Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer at the same time.  Does that sound a little too erotic?  There is also the subplot of Billy and Gloria being on the run from two gangsters looking for money.  It's a little weak, and doesn't add much to the story as a whole.

While some of the characters and story elements are lacking, as a whole, "Jump" is still great, and while the fashion has been left in the past, the film has aged incredibly well.  The jokes are still funny (I mean who doesn't appreciated a well crafted "Yo Mama" joke) and they took a sport that was lacking any real cinematic flare, and gave it some.  I know I'll hear crap about this from "Hoosiers" purists, but c'mon!  Oh, we can't forget that any self-respecting basketball player always goes to Sizzler after a game, just ask Dwyane Wayne.

Fun Fact:  Duane Martin, who played Willie in this film, was also a baller in 1994's "Above the Rim."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Phantom (2012)

*Special thanks to Ganko Films for providing Simplistic Reviews with a screener to watch the film "Phantom."*
STRUGGLE
Phantom (2012) - Struggle 

What is a phantom really?  Is it from the opera?  Is it something that Ben Affleck has to fight?  Or is it a superhero in a purple suit that punches criminals with a ring shaped like a skull?  I mean, you could be right if you guessed any of these, however, there is a deeper meaning behind the word phantom.  In the appropriately titled film "Phantom" from director Jonathan Soler, the question is asked;  "Are we all phantoms of this world, and do we simply go by living without a trace to others around us?"

"Phantom" is the story of a Japanese couple having a late night conversation about life.  Neither character has a name, which reinforces the "phantom" concept in the film.  None of their conversation happens in dialogue, but rather in narration which deals with everything from not having enough money to pay rent, to moving back in with a parent to, yes, farting.  Scenes seem to be played back in forms of flashbacks, done in a very art-house style.

There are numerous themes in "Phantom" namely loneliness, self-doubt, and the concept of relying on another person for support.  Both characters are comfortable around each other and share doubts and fears, the female character more so than the male character.  As their conversation escalates, more philosophical elements come into play.  

The female character references the work of Fumiko Hayashi, namely her work "Horoki" a female coming-of-age story which was later adapted into the anime "Wandering Days."  Would I call "Phantom" a feminist film, not really, but rather I think it deals with the theme that women have it harder in Japan, which is largely a society run by men with women acting in the subservient role.  The male character is a little more oblivious to this concept as he tries to tell her that she can do anything, which shows his nativity to a women's plight in Japanese culture.  Granted, it's much better for a women in Japan than it was 100 years ago, but it takes a while to break boundaries and taboos that women are equals in a male dominated society.  

Another reference is made to "Kanikosen," a book about the hardship of Japanese crabbers and their struggle against exploitation.  With young people these days taking any job, which might be well  below their education level, you can see how this book would have an affect on any young person who thinks they are being taken advantage of in hard economic times.

The other important element of "Phantom" is the conversation of being a ghost versus a phantom.  When you think of ghosts, you think of people that have died, but continue to inhabit a material world. A ghost leaves it's mark and continues to live, at times interacting with the living, depending on who you speak to.  A phantom, on the other hand, can be a spirit that still inhabits the living realm, but no one is aware of it's presence.  This is the plight of our two central characters; they feel like they are being ignored from a societal perspective and are invisible to the world, and aren't leaving a mark.  With a global economy still reeling, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle, and with more a more college graduates without jobs and burdened by debt, it's becoming harder to leave a mark.  Sure, you can take out more loans to do what you really want to do (the female character mentions that she wants to open a bar), but it's a scary proposition to someone who lacks the self-confidence, and more importantly, money, to make their hopes and dreams come true.

Overall, "Phantom" is an interesting exercise.  It's shot in a dream-like way with plenty of sub-text about the living poor and a disenfranchised youth that isn't limited to Japan.  The two actors, Yuki Fujita and Masato Tsojioka, give convincing performances as two people who trust each other and are each other's support structure, but the acting looses something when all the dialogue is done as narration.  It's interesting and reinforces the concept of being lost, but it becomes distracting throughout the entirety of the film.

Soler has a good eye for finding something out of nothing.  His vision of Japan is interesting as it focuses on things that I'm sure many Japanese take for granted during their daily routine.  The mundane if you will, that we often overlook.  I'm not a Japanophile by any means, so I'm sure that many of the shots have more meaning, but at times it seems like art, for art's sake.  Will "Phantom" start a revolution?  Probably not, but looking at it from a Western perspective, I believe it captures universal angst for most young people who are trying to be heard in a world that has it's ears plugged.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (DJ's Take)

MIGHTY
The first Thor film was a charming and clever way to introduce the idea of gods and monsters to the relatively grounded Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Director Kenneth Branagh didn't shy away from the absurdity of gods/aliens from a magical kingdom visiting our planet/realm.  He dove headlong into it and used dry humor to take some of the edge off the skepticism. (Are you paying attention DC execs still trying to make a Wonder Woman film?)  After Thor's moderate box office success and a great deal of believability groundwork laid by Branagh and Joss Whedon in 2012's The Avengers, audiences were prepared to pull back their cynical blinders to see even more otherworldly spectacle.  Alan Taylor, an untouchable don from HBO's Game Of Thrones, grabbed the reigns for the sequel Thor: The Dark World.  And I am happy, and relieved to say that Taylor keeps the character and the series on an upward track.

Thor: The Dark World brings back The MIGHTY Avenger Thor and pits him and the people of Asgard up against a race of creatures called Dark Elves who intend on bringing back infinite darkness to the galaxy with the help of a mystical substance.  To put it more simply, Thor: The Dark World is a mcguffin film.  It is a mcguffin film much in the same way Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers was.  However, I appreciate that Alan Taylor and writer Christopher Yost used the trick of turning a character, who would be useless otherwise, into the mcguffin.  Jane Foster would typically serve the purpose of being the character who asks questions that trigger all of the expository explanations.  But here, her reasons for asking are vital to her character's immediate survival.  (I'm looking at you Man Of Steel)  The stakes are high, the action is intense, and the scope is much bigger than before.

Alan Taylor is right at home on a medieval battlefield, and it shows.  There is an invasion scene that began to remind me of the one in the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles Of Riddick.  However, the danger and destruction seemed to hold more weight.  The battle was more visceral and imaginative.  Taylor offers the same comforting feeling to the Asgardian material as Branagh did.  The only place where Taylor seemed a little out of his depth was in the scenes shot on modern day earth.  The scenes with normal people.  It was reported that Joss Whedon was flown in to help fix a few scenes in the film, and I wouldn't be surprised if they involved Dr. Selvig, Jane Foster, and Darcy Lewis mucking about.  Thankfully, these scenes are minor bridges in between the battles and bedlam of the story.  Taylor should also get credit, though I'm not sure how much, for the great performances in the film.  None more so than that of Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Tom Hiddleston's Loki.          

Here is a little peek behind the curtain.  I usually choose a picture for my reviews that best personifies what I hated or, in this case, loved about what I'm reviewing.  Those two Asgardian gentlemen up above, and the arc their relationship takes, serves as the main reason to go see this film.  Their chemistry was a bit clumsy in the first Thor film.  Something I attribute to the rush in explaining the origins of these strange characters.  Since then, Thor and Loki's scenes together have become better and better.  This film displays the apex of their relationship thematically and performance-wise.  There is so much subtext in every interaction and argument they have.  It is obvious that these two actors not only have a perfect rapport, but they actually enjoy working with one another.  Natalie Portman's character of Jane Foster is less ditsy and naive then she was before.  However, Portman's talents still feel a bit wasted with this character.  If we didn't live in the generation of impatience, another half hour could have allowed more time to focus on Jane Foster's hinted rivalry with Lady Sif for Thor's affections.  All the other supporting characters come to play and seem to revel in every moment of screen time.  

Now don't let my praise of the Thor: The Dark World lead you to believe it is perfect.  There are a few flaws the audience has to get through.  The story takes a minute to truly get going, some of the well delivered dramatic moments and gravitas are occasionally short circuited by an ill timed joke, and there are some minor plot holes to navigate.  But the biggest weakness of the film, and I never figured I'd say this, is its antagonists.  The villain of the first Thor film was primarily Loki.  An almost perfect morally gray character with varying complexities and nuances.  A villain so rich in character, most fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now cheer for him.  Hell, he all but dominated Comic-Con in a way usually reserved for people with the initials RDJ.  Malekith is a menacing and believable threat to Thor and even Odin.  However, he has about as much complexity and nuance as Inspector Gadget's nemesis Dr. Claw.  He's evil for evil's sake.  We learn little about him other than he and his people want the universe draped in darkness.  I may just be a bit bitter because with a character as deadly as Malekith, played by an actor the quality of a Christopher Eccleston, I expected more depth.

Thor: The Dark World is a rare sequel.  A sequel you'll love if you loved the original, and a sequel you might be more inclined to like even if you hated the original.  The characters are more focused and free to be who they are, the plot is more daring, and the scale is much larger.  Coming off of the mildly disappointing and geek enraging Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World is a terrific cleanser of your comic book movie pallet.  Prepare for battle...watch out for rock monsters...and nude scientists...behold it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Support Independent Film Dammit! (Stuck)



As any young person knows, more than ever, it's hard out there for a pimp.....wait, no......that's not how it goes.  Okay, got it, it's hard out there for a millennial.  While it might not have the same ring and pop as the hit Three 6 Mafia song, it's something that most post-college grads can relate to, unless you're pimp, and if that's the case, please see above comment.

"Stuck" is an indie film going into production in Spring 2014 with filming taking place in the greater Boston, MA-area.  Directed, written, and produced by Angela Palladino, "Stuck" tells the story about a group of millennial "stuck" in their small town after college.  I'm sure there are many of us that can relate to this.  There is nothing worse than leaving the safety of college only to thrust into the real world with little to no direction on what the next step should be.

With an experienced cast and crew, Ms. Palladino is trying to convey the frustrations and worries that all twenty-somethings have in this story that I might call "The Anti-Girls."  Sure, some of us might be able to relate to the antics that Lena Dunham and her friends get into on the hit HBO show "Girls" but "Stuck" shows the angst juxtaposed against the hopes and dreams that we all have, along with the relationships we have with friends and lovers.

Inspired by films such as "Tiny Furniture," "Drinking Buddies," and "Garden State," "Stuck" could very well be the millennial's "Reality Bites" or "Singles."

We at Simplistic Reviews fully support Independent Film and are happy to be working with Ms. Palladino in supporting "Stuck."  There are numerous ways to help this Indie feature, but checking "Stuck's" Indiegogo page is a great way to start.  During the production we will bring you exclusive production details of "Stuck" along with interviews from the director (Angela Palladino), cast, and crew.

Check out the links below to see how you can get "Stuck."

Main (Stuck) Website
(Stuck) on Indiegogo
(Stuck) on IMDB
(Stuck) on Facebook
(Stuck) Trailer

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