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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

Friday, November 1, 2013

Simplistic Reviews Presents: Simply Horrifying featuring Tales from the Crypt Ep. 13


Happy post-Halloween you creeps!  In this 13th episode of Simply Horrifying we have an episode that probably is the most memorable in my opinion.  Being a child of the late 1980s and early 1990s one of my favorite movies has "The Goonies" and this episode, entitled "Undertaking Parlor" has the finger prints of "The Goonies" all over it.

A group of friends stumble upon a town conspiracy to kill it's riches residents and profit off of their funerals.  Starring John Glover as the town mortician and Data from "The Goonies" as Josh, the aspiring film director of the group, can three four friends put a stop to this evil plot or murder for profit.

Click the link above for the full review and don't forget to subscribe, comment, or leave us hate mail, if you dare......

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