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Month: November 2013

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.


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.

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.

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.

November 19, 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.

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

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