Hail, Caesar!

Our first review post-Oscars is the Coen Brother’s newest feature film, Hail, Caeser! Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, and Alden Ehrenreich, it is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking.

From IMDB: Hail, Caesar! follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Pictures in the 1950s, who cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry. But when studio star Baird Whitlock  (Clooney) disappears, Mannix has to deal with more than just the fix.

6 out of 10

I knew something was up when this movie was set for release in February. We all knows what happens when movies are released in February. They either suck or are rom-coms. Or Deadpool (more on that next week!). Unfortunately for Hail, Caesar!, it fell into the first category. Suck may be a rather strong word, so for a Coen Brothers film with a slew of stars— Brolin, Clooney, Fiennes, Johansson, Tatum, Hill, Swinton, McDormand, to go through pretty much the entire cast— disappointing might be the most appropriate adjective. 

I will say, there are plenty of really funny moments, largely due to the commitment from the cast to the period. The period style is maintained throughout, buoyed by great costumes and production design but solidified by some really solid performances all around.The entire cast does a very good job; there is no true weak point. Everyone does a fantastic job of staying in the era and dramatizing the time period. Clooney and Fiennes were both hilarious, poking fun of the 1950s Hollywood with perfection. Tatum’s musical number was a sight to behold. Even newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, playing young movie star Hobie Doyle, holds his ground and is pretty funny in what ends up being a sizable role.

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But the acting can only get it so far; the screenplay was relatively weak, incorporating many characters who ended up being useless (namely Johansson and Hill). I kept expecting them to have something to do with the conclusion of the film, but they literally just disappeared. The plot was very scattered; there were a lot of characters without a purpose and a climax that made absolutely no sense and was uninteresting. What was the deal with communism? I still don’t understand. Hail, Caeser!’s primary issue was its failure to amount to anything as a film; the ending was not satisfying nor did it make any sense. A movie with a great cast and so much potential was ruined by its failed storyline, a shame because the Coen Brother’s are usually so good with that.

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The Coen Brothers style is prevalent, from the quirky dialogue to the signature Roger Deakins cinematography. And I personally am a huge fan of them, so the eccentric nature of the film was not unexpected. In fact, I think without that signature style, the film would have lacked any charm at all. Hail, Ceaser! is a Coen Brother’s film that is funny and decent entertainment for six dollar movie Tuesday, but not a movie that I’ll remember years from now.

8 out of 10

The Coen Brothers are some of my favorite directors making movies today. With films like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, they make some of the most wonderfully strange and critically­ acclaimed movies in the last thirty years. Now there latest film is Hail, Caesar!, takes place in 1950s Hollywood, focusing on Josh Brolin’s character, who is the head of the fictional Capitol Pictures and his adventures. The trailers focused on the production of the film “Hail, Caesar” and their troubles as their leading man, played by George Clooney, is kidnapped by a odd group of people.

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But the film is more about a day in the life of Brolin’s character in its craziness, and moreover, the Coen Brothers’ love letter to this interesting period of cinema. Brolin links us in between incredible set pieces like Scarlett Johansson in a fantastical swimming dance and Channing Tatum in a sailor’s’ musical number. And it is quite interesting to watch. The film has been getting some mixed reviews from fans who are confused about what the movie is and its unsatisfying ending. And I did walk out wanting closure, with a few plot elements that are picked up and put down before being fully explored, but it made me thinking about the film in a way that I wouldn’t have before.

I also found myself laughing consistently throughout the film. It isn’t like normal comedy with big over the top gags, but is more understated and happens in the really quick dialogue. Many well known actors, like Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton, come in for little scenes and are hilarious in the simplicity of these characters in the overall world of the film. It also appears like really famous actors, like Brolin and Clooney, are genuinely having a really great time acting in this film.

The film is lensed by great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who once again knocks it out of the park by putting real vibrancy in the world and making the set pieces actually feel like you are watching a film in the 1950s, which is truly incredible.

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Overall, the film is definitely not the Coen Brothers best in its meandering through 1950s Hollywood, but I found myself incredibly engaged until the abrupt ending. It is another strangely structured and plotted Coen Brothers film that may have some audiences feeling sour when they leave, but is definitely not one to fully dismiss in its ambition. And being a huge fan of their offbeat style, I fully enjoyed it.


The Wannabe

This week, we take a look at a film Will and Vig checked out a the Tribeca Film Festival called The Wannabe. Directed by Nick Sandow and starring Patricia Arquette and Vincent Piazza, The Wannabe is rated R for strong language, drug use, and some graphic violence.

Based on a true story, The Wannabe follows Thomas (Piazza), a young man obsessed with mob culture. Desperate to fit in, Thomas sets out to fix the 1992 trial of John Gotti. But his plot is foiled, setting off a chain of events that leads to chaos and tragedy for Thomas and his lover and accomplice, Rose (Arquette).

*No trailer available for this film*

4.0 out of 10

I’m going to do my best here to separate the film review from the whole Tribeca experience. The latter, which was much better than the former, involves Will and my getting lost in the city, eating pizza and delicious gelato with the movie mixed in there somewhere, forgotten because of how mediocre it was. Warning: It will be tough to find much on the Internet about The Wannabe. There are no trailers  that I’ve been able to find, very few reviews and only a handful of articles about it. But skip all that and let me tell you something: this movie is a waste of your time.

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The film’s premise reflects its success, in my eyes. About an amateur mobster attempting to work his way into the depths of the mafia, The Wannabe is just that; a wannabe imitation of Goodfellas mixed with Bonnie and Clyde. Since I reckon you won’t be seeing this movie, here’s a spoiler: they die violently being shot in a car. Doesn’t that sound like one of the most famous scenes in cinema history? Doesn’t a man falling for a woman, running away with her, becoming outlaws, and robbing places sound like a certain classic crime film? Never heard of it before!

I was probably the only person in the world who didn’t like Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, and I didn’t like her here either. She was awfully cast, so I can’t completely blame it on her. She actually did fairly well considering how bad a character this was for her. I could go further, but to keep it short and scathing, Rose was as uninteresting as an outlaw, accessory-to-murder/robbery love interest can possibly get. She had no spark or interesting characteristic whatsoever.

Admittedly, Vincent Piazza’s performance as Thomas was probably the best thing about the film. He was young, immature, and brash, fitting the character pretty well. My biggest problem with him was that I felt like there was no development. He didn’t change at all. He was stubborn and brash to start and finished stubborn and brash. And I absolutely hated his mustache too. No excuse for something that vile. 

The storytelling was atrocious, if there was any. There are films that are hard to follow– Inception, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Donnie Darko— but still brilliant, as the confusion contributes to the mastery of the film. The confusion of The Wannabe does nothing but make it painful to watch. I figure that making it hard to follow was done purposefully to show off their turbulent life style… but that is a lord of horse sh*t. I had zero interest in continuing to watch this film.

Contributing to that is some of the worst cinematography I have ever seen. Throughout the film it is one of two things: shaky cam or obnoxious close ups of Thomas’ disgusting mustache. Again, I guess the justification for this is that it’s an artistic choice done in order to show how hectic their lives have become. But again, that is a lord of horse crap. I guess the production team forgot that it’s important to make a film aesthetically appealing so that their audience isn’t completely turned off. Oh well.

On the bright side, the experience was pretty great. Tribeca’s theater is absolutely beautiful and being able to see the actors on the red carpet was pretty great. There was also a talk-back after the showing, during which the actors and director talked about the process of making the film, which was a pretty cool experience. But in the end, the movie itself was not very good. It had potential, but a combination of poor directing decisions and performances that are over-acted ultimately makes this film look like a pathetic attempt to recreate the classic mob movies of the 70s and 80s. Simply put, 600 words cannot do justice to how much I dislike this movie.

5.0 out of 10

The day was great. The movie was OK.

Let me elaborate. Vig and I saw The Wannabe at its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, alongside acting greats like Steve Buscemi, personal TV idols like David Zayas, and pretty much the entire cast of “Orange is the New Black”. We walked the red carpet (well, we got to walk on a red carpet and Vig took a picture of me), sat within view of numerous celebrities, and participated in a question and answer session with The Wannabe’s director, Nick Sandow, and much of his cast. Afterwards, Vig and I enjoyed some nice pizza and gelato and an overall great (dare I say romantic?) night in New York City.

Up to that point, my most exquisite movie theater experience was when I splurged on $5.00 Sour Patch Kids and was lucky enough to be seated far away from all the smokers, talkers, and texters one often encounters in a typical movie going experience. It was, in short, awesome.

Unfortunately, the movie did not meet the night’s lofty standards. On paper, The Wannabe looked prime to join The Departed and Goodfellas as the elite entries in the mob film circle. It had the cast – including Patricia Arquette fresh off her Oscar win—, the plot, and the historical backdrop necessary to propel it to rarified air. And in truth The Wannabe did have so much potential. It chronicled the slow descent into madness of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde desperately trying to prove themselves to John Gotti and his coterie of mobsters.

Where the movie failed was in its execution. For probably an hour and a half, I had only the faintest idea of what was happening. I thought maybe I just missed a crucial piece of dialogue or something, but Vig said the same thing after the movie. The plot of the movie got lost in all of Sandow’s artistry and style, which, while certainly great assets to a movie, should not and cannot obstruct the communication of the central story. Now, maybe someone with a more refined (pompous) taste in movies was exactly keyed in, but for me The Wannabe might as well have been in Arabic.

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And maybe I would have been more okay with Sandow’s excessive artistry and its muddling of the plot if it had been effective. Way too much of the movie was spent zommed in way too tight. Sure, it was an interesting choice and we could see the physical toll drug use was taking on both characters extremely well and we could see the attention to detail the stylists had paid on giving Arquette the quintessential 90s New York City Italian look, but after 20 minutes I felt suffocated. I felt an extreme need to step back and take a breather, but Sandow wouldn’t let us up for air. I actually found myself waiting and longing for the end of the movie.

There were also a number of random plot threads that seemed to be abandoned with out a thought numerous times throughout the film. There was one plot thread with a fake brother that somehow (?) connected, a father and a café that also somehow (??) connected. In a movie with an already complicated plot, needless plot elements only serve to irritate already confused viewers.

Frankly, a 5 is probably somewhat generous for The Wannabe. The whole experience was so much fun that I don’t doubt my 5 is inflated by a point or two. If you’re really into the mob genre or incoherent and artsy movies, then feel free to check out The Wannabe when and if it hits theaters near you. But if you’re just a casual moviegoer more enticed by explosions and real drama then stylistic lens flare and pretentious bullcrap, take the advice of someone like you and give this movie a hard pass.

Inherent Vice

Up next is a look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s next feature film, Inherent Vice. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice is rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

In 1970, drugged up Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) investigates the dissappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, only to stumble into more trouble than he originally thought he would encounter.

4.0 out of 10
I have dedicated 18 hours of my life to the movie Inherent Vice. 6 hours waiting in line to see it at New York Film Festival, 2 and a half hours seeing it, 2 hours reading the beginning of the book, 4 hours watching movies that were used for inspiration (The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep), 2 and a half hours seeing the movie when it was released in theaters, and an hour skimming the screenplay afterwards. Why? Because I love Paul Thomas Anderson and I really wanted to love Inherent Vice (Spoiler alert: I didn’t).

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The first night that I saw Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson (man, myth, and legend) introduced the movie himself, along with the entire cast. He introduced his film as a “Saturday night movie” and told us to “kick back and relax”. That is the worst advice he could have given. This movie requires a a pencil, a notepad, and NO bathroom breaks if you want to know what is going on. If I am being totally honest I still only have a broad understanding of the plot. I do, however, understand where PTA is coming from. In the movies that inspired Inherent, The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, there are so many characters mentioned and so many events happening so fast that the audience only really keeps up with the basic plot of the movie instead of the case itself because of the rock that was the protagonist (in both cases, also a wise-cracking PI). The reason these movies succeeded and Inherent did not is because there was no anchor. Doc is emotional, drug abusing, and has a friend that disappears (???). His character is the looking glass the viewer sees the movie through, making us feel vulnerable and confused. The protagonists of the movies PTA was trying to emulate were very solid, making the movies solid.

Starting from the first scene I had no idea what was going on. There was a narration and then Katherine Waterston’s character mumbled through the set-up of the entire movie and left. After that there are Nazis, mental hospitals, and disappearing friends (???) for two and a half hours. In every single scene a new motive or character is introduced which gets hard to keep track of from the get-go. PTA has called this the kind of movie you might need to see twice, which I think is complete bullshit because that is not a kind of movie, it’s just bad filmmaking.

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Inherent Vice isn’t all bad though! The giant cast is without a bad performance, especially Josh Brolin who was absolutely brilliant as a “civil rights violating” cop whose partner’s death left him bitter. Most importantly though, it’s, of course, beautifully shot by Robert Elswit on 35mm. I could genuinely watch it on mute just for the visuals. There is a 470 foot dolly shot following doc and chasta (Katherine Waterson) running through the rain that gave me goosebumps both times I saw it in theaters and all of the times I’ve watched the scene on youtube.

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Every director has a dud. This is PTA’s dud. But being the actual genius he is, he will dust himself off and dazzle us all with his next movie. That is to say, Inherent Vice has not turned me off of Paul Thomas Anderson and agreeing with me shouldn’t turn you off of his work either.

PS: After writing this review I’ve now spent 19 hours of my life on Inherent Vice.

6.0 out of 10

There are some movies that just kind of chug along as though there’s no audience to please: they’re usually inhabited by some wacky characters that fit the pace as well and the plot takes several detours on its way to a (maybe) unsatisfying destination. These types of films truly never fail to earn my begrudging respect as you almost kind of have to like it when the creators of a movie just kind of…went without one care in the entire, whole wide, increasingly critical world. Usually though, there’s but one factor that can make these slower endeavors at least somewhat enjoyable to me: style.

Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice.

And Inherent Vice has got itself some style. Definitely a weird style but it’s the quantity of style plenty of movies sorely lack nonetheless so I guess the question of this review is largely whether it scraped enough style together to create an enjoyable experience. Before we dive in, I’ll go over the plot as best as I possibly can:

Private Investigator Doc Sportello has to deal with a series of odd cases that are tied together through one mysterious criminal organization called the Golden Fang. He is eventually forced to navigate himself through the seedier underbellies of Los Angeles to get to the bottom of all these issues. Doc encounters a slew of oddball characters in an onslaught of resulting strange events and additionally starts to revamp his relationship with his ex-wife Shasta along the way.

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That’s kind of the best I can do. I’m not even trying to shield you from spoilers too too much, it’s just a film that dips into a lot of events and characters with differing levels of success. In all honesty, I’d probably need to give this all a second go-around to give you a more detail-rich synopsis which I am honestly unwilling to do because this whole two hour and twenty eight minute crime-comedy-mystery-drama-romance-amalgam was just so incredibly taxing.

So, let’s keep this complex movie simple, shall we? Was it good? Like many people who saw it, I’m not too crazy about it but I didn’t think it was bad either. Like I said before, the only thing that can save a movie that simply does not care is style and this film had quite a distinct taste and modus operandi that (as far as I’ve heard) fit its eponymous source material accurately. Its strange characters are pretty memorable and well-portrayed as well and I’d rather have notable characters in a winding plotline than a series of bland ones in a tight plotline.

But around the third plot pit-stop, I started to get, for lack of a better word, pissed. Yes, I said it can be admirable when a movie just kind of goes but there is an audience and they have shelled out an $11.50 to watch your film so, please, put a bottleneck on the amount of stories you intertwine with your protagonist’s! Seriously, every time I started to like a well-crafted character during this, another one popped up to take his place. The story (ies?) got ridiculously crowded and any coherence sought out suffocated under the film about one fourth of the way through.

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If you’re incredibly (incredibly) tolerant to a writer or director’s whim and you’re willing to afford a movie a lot of wandering because of how well-done it can be, Inherent Vice is the one for you. But if you want a story that beelines to an exact conclusion with calculated characters, don’t dig through the case files of Mr. Doc Sportello.


Hey viewers! This week we’ll be taking a look at Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Bill Paxton, Nightcrawler is rated R for graphic images and explicit language.

In Nightcrawler, a thriller set in contemporary Los Angeles, Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a calculated sociopath who is desperate for work. Bloom delves into the world of crime journalism, muscling into the dangerous, sketchy realm of nightcrawling. Striving to be the best at his work, every victim of a cold crime becomes nothing more than money to him. Caught up in the moment, Lou transcends the line between right and wrong, foregoing all morals to be the best in his business.

8.5 out of 10

At first glance, I thought this movie was about the X-Men character and my initial reaction was something along the lines of “Oh s**t, another superhero movie I have to see?”. But then I watched the trailer. And I was excited. And then I saw the movie. And I really enjoyed it.

First, let me establish something; everything great about this movie comes from Jake Gyllenhaal. He is the rock of this film. If he had delivered a weak performance, then this movie would have flopped. There were no other big name actors, so it was up to Gyllenhaal to deliver. Without him, Nightcrawler would have failed critically and in the box office. God Bless him.

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Gyllenhaal plays a man named Louis Bloom, a hard working yet cold, calculated man desperate for a job. Everything about Gyllenhaal’s performance is stunning; his desperation, his utter lack of humanity, and even his figure– he lost 30 pounds for this role and it definitely helped with giving his character the sliminess that made him so sketchy.

There is no development of his character. There is no substantial transformation where Bloom realizes that he’s been doing everything wrong and changes his ways, and this is what makes the film so great. I guess I’m spoiling a bit, but there are no repercussions for his actions. Not only does he cross the line between right and wrong, but he completely demolishes it. At the end of the film, I was convinced that there are real people like Bloom. A plot that could have felt surreal came off as incredibly realistic thanks to imperfections of Gyllenhaal’s character. He wasn’t empathetic or even sympathetic for that matter, he was just evil. Gyllenhaal produced a character who was truly insane.

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Dan Gilroy did a very good job in his directorial debut as well, utilizing various techniques that enhanced his film. One thing that stood out to me was his use of light, which subtly provided the movie with its tone. The opening sequence of the film established the city of Los Angeles; the nice parts were lit up by natural light and the bad parts were lit up artificially, by streetlights. The complete lack of light was relevant too, since most of the movie took place at night (hence the title, Nightcrawler). On other occasions, the only light is coming from the his camera, something I thought was really cool. In that situation, the only things you could see were his face or what he was filming, providing the impression that his train of thought circulated around the image he was filming rather than the situation he was in.

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All of this equates to an exciting, intense story that hardly relents. The movie is intriguing from the opening scene, in which Louis essentially beats a man for money to the closing scene, where he drives off into the Los Angeles night, glowing with chaos and terror. While there are points that drag and the pacing does get off at points, almost every scene is meaningful for one thing or another, whether it furthers the plot or gives us another glimpse of Bloom’s insanity.

I do think that the movie could have taken itself a little less seriously at points. While the grittiness and grotesqueness kept it interesting, I felt like moments of humor were left to be desired There is a bit of comedy in Louis’ character himself, simply due to the utter bizarreness of his character, but it’s never intentional and the moment never lasts. Nightcrawler doesn’t have the same feel as a straight-up drama, where two hours of seriousness can play. Instead, it trends towards being very one-sided, saturated with darkness and grit. The incorporation of a comedic flair would have given it a dimension that would have made the film even greater. A bit of black comedy would have been really cool.

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Ultimately, in the big picture, Nightcrawler is a pretty good movie in a year of really good movies, sadly enough. Though I hope it gets nominated for Best Picture, I doubt it will. Gyllenhaal has a shot at a Best Actor nomination, but again, there are quite a few stellar performances this year. Overall, Nightcrawler is interesting and compelling, but lacks the necessary diversity in tone and flair that would have put it over the top.

9.0 out of 10

Jake Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar. Not an Oscar nomination and not a little gold star that he can post on his fridge. He deserves the Oscar for best actor in a leading role.

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But knowing the Academy he isn’t going to get it.

This is the same Academy that denied Saving Private Ryan a best picture prize in favor of Shakespeare in Love, nominated Adam Sandler’s Click for an Oscar but not Casino Royale, and for some mysterious reason thought Argo was better than Silver Linings Playbook. Oh, and Leonardo DiCaprio still doesn’t have an Oscar (but Nicholas Cage and Whoopi Goldberg do).

In other words, Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar, but Nightcrawler isn’t artsy or pompous enough for the Academy to actually give him one.

His portrayal of Louis Bloom was more convincing and more absorbing than anything I’ve seen for a while. He managed to be cunning and deranged while simultaneously spewing out business ethics and strategies to anyone who would or wouldn’t listen.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Rick, Louis’s protégé / mule panics about the morality of their actions as they are leaving a crime scene at which Louis has crossed many lines, both moral and legal. Louis, for his part, ignores Rick’s cries and gives a rehearsed tirade about how Rick needs to make himself indispensible for the company and about his long-term views for the arc of his business. The contrast between Louis’s calm, controlled speech and Rick’s panicked cries brilliantly highlights just how deranged and sociopathic Louis is. It’s awesome.

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And by the time we get to the finale, Louis’s disregard of human life and his single-minded pursuit of success and domination seem almost sensible, almost human. It’s both chilling and fascinating.

Aside from Gyllenhaal, the plot of Nightcrawler is also exceptional. It’s inventive, dangerous, and darkly comical, three things that jive together very well in this film. It manages to critique the culture of journalism and self-help while not losing its crackling intensity. As always, though, the plot has its drawbacks. Some points seem underdeveloped, like Louis’s manipulation of Nina and his clashes with police, while others seem unnecessary, like some of the plethora of crime scenes that Louis and Rick visit.

Had Gyllenhaal and the story been supported by other complimentary pieces, this movie may very well have been a 10 out of 10, my first as a distinguished ScreenWars reviewer. But, unfortunately, there really wasn’t much else there. Rene Russo had a solid role as Nina, a station manager that Louis continually manipulates, but her relationship with Louis seemed undercooked and cold. As I said, the police looked into Louis for only about 10 minutes, but I feel like that could have and even should have been blown into a larger element of the story.

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Riz Ahmed had a nice first mainstream performance as Rick, Louis’s sidekick, but he too felt underused. The relationship between him and Louis should have, in my opinion, been played up more because it offered insight into the latter’s mind and personality which, as I said, was the main force driving the movie.

And that’s basically it with Nightcrawler. It doesn’t boast any artsy significance like other Oscar winners (The Artist), but what it does do is offer chilling reflections of our society. We unknowingly ingest everyday on the news everything that Louis goes out there to film. We crave the violence and the gore just as much as he does, even if we mask it better than he does. And, at the end of the day, we all have a desire to be successful and be dominant over others that is eerily reminiscent of Louis’s willingness to exploit other people.

So no, Nightcrawler might not win an Oscar and it might not even be nominated. Movies have been snubbed with as much substance as Nightcrawler and sometimes even more (Reservoir Dogs wasn’t nominated for anything) but they’ve sure as hell won with quite a bit less too (Forrest Gump). Nevertheless, Nightcrawler might just be a sleeper in the race for the Oscars. Maybe the Academy will wake up this year.

Like Nightcrawler? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!

Gone Girl

Hey guys! We’re back this week with David Fincher’s highly anticipated adaption of Gillian Flynn’s best selling mystery novel Gone Girl, featuring new guest writer Will. Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Neil Patrick Harris is rated R for bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.

Gone Girl follows the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Pike), loving wife of Nick Dunne (Affleck), on their fifth anniversary. What starts out as a seemingly routine missing persons case slowly evolves into a magnified media frenzy capitalizing on Nick’s every move. Crumbling under heavy media scrutiny and intense police pressure, Nick is pushed to his limit. With his lies exposed and his apathetic behavior criticized, everyone becomes to ask the wonder the same thing: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

9.5 out of 10

First off, shout out to my good friend Will for joining us on the blog. You don’t know what you signed up for, but I’m still glad to have you on board.

Second of all, disclaimer: Gone Girl is extremely hard to review without completely spoiling, so I’m gonna do my best, but when I have to spoil, I will warn you.

And now for the movie. If I got anything out of Gone Girl, it would be 1) Don’t marry a psychopath and 2) If you are going to marry a psychopath, make sure she’s hot (that way it’s worth it). 

gone girl head down

All jokes aside, I thought that Gone Girl was a fantastically constructed film. David Fincher has already established himself as a fantastic, consistent director, putting up masterpieces in Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, and even a few episodes of House of Cards. He is a dark, brooding mastermind who puts together nothing less than thrilling films that will blow your mind (Sometimes, in the case of Edward Norton in Fight Club, almost literally). He is a smart, technical genius and shows us nothing less with Gone Girl.

The way  Fincher manipulates perspective is the work of an absolute genius. Whether it’s through angles, lights or music, everything was used to give each audience member his or her own, individual understanding of the plot. The best example of this is the development of Nick through the use of flashbacks. Half of us believe he’s a liar and a killer, solely because of the flashbacks narrated by Rosamund Pike’s supposedly honest character, Amy Dunne. The eeriness, and later on, the caustic nature of the flashbacks try to turn us on Nick. Yet, the other half of us somehow refuse to believe that he’s completely guilty. Nick is our anti-hero here; we think we know everything there is to know about him. Through the present day timeline, we see that he is struggling under all the pressure and that many of the statements he makes are actually genuine. As inhumane as he’s perceived in the fictionalized media, we see him as human. Thanks to Affleck’s A-List performance, in addition to Fincher’s stellar direction, our view of the film allows us to make conjectures, keeping us invested, while keeping us ignorant enough to be shocked at every twist and turn that comes after. Simply put, the storytelling is absolutely fantastic.

This leads me to the actual story. The plot is admittedly complicated, but its intensity more than makes up for its relatively convoluted nature. There are so many twists and turns and each one of these is supported by fantastic build up that makes the moment all the better. ***Major spoiler alert*** For example, Rosamund Pike’s character sets up a treasure hunt for her and Nick’s anniversary, and the final clue leads Nick to a woodshed in which Amy has stored a bunch of video games and toys in her attempt to frame Nick for her murder. The build up to the reveal of the woodshed—creepy music overlooking Nick’s desperate attempts to solve her riddle with a bit of solemn Rosamund Pike narration throw in there—built up a lot of suspense. We could feel the tension rising and sensed something was coming but we were never prepared for what would happen next: Amy being alive and well. ***Spoiler alert over***

ben affleck gone girl

I can tell you now that the ending will be very divisive among viewers. Some will love it, some will not. On my right, Will will point to a surplus of unanswered questions, but I will tell you that this isn’t necessarily a problem. Not every movie should give you all the answers: that would be no fun! ***Spoiler*** The fact that Amy is still alive does make it even more difficult for us, as the flashbacks are revealed to be fabricated, but I think this is intentional. What happened and what didn’t is something that’s left to the viewer to interpret. ***End spoiler***  On the other hand, I do agree that Fincher leaves us on a bit of a cliffhanger, without a proper understanding of what happens next with the Dunne’s. However, I find this to be the right decision. We don’t really need to know more beyond this point. The story is about the disappearance of Amy Dunne, and once that part is over, Fincher makes the bold, but correct decision to cut us off. The implications are startling, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way. The disturbing nature of the film, which is what makes it so enthralling, is furthered by the abrupt ending, one that leaves us scared of the horrifying potential for the situation to unravel. This film does not have a happy ending and that is just fine with me. There is nothing wrong with a movie with an exciting plot and a fantastic story-line, featuring a fantastic (Oscar deserving???) Rosamund Pike portrayal of a calculated, psychopathic killer, capped by an ambiguous ending that left me engaged in fan theories. That my friends, is a great movie.

6.5 out of 10

What a day this is! The movie gods have smiled down upon me and finally allowed me to write for Screenwars (no, I don’t take offense to the fact that I am one of the last of Vig and Zach’s friends to be granted a guest write, and no, I didn’t have to bug Vig extensively to get this to happen). I am truly tickled.

But, enough of me: let’s get to Gone Girl

The hype on this movie was deafening: Ben Affleck, two time Best Picture winner and newly designated Batman, stars, alongside a fantastic cast, in an adaptation of a New York Times bestselling thriller, all helmed by the ineffable David Fincher. My friends (read: Vig) touted this movie as a potential Oscar winner in multiple categories. Rotten tomatoes rated it at 87% fresh (by comparison, Forrest Gump sits at a meager 71%) and review conglomerate Metacritic gave the film a healthy 79 (Oscar winner Black Swan sits at the same mark).

Despite these high praises, Gone Girl was as disappointing as not having enough milk left in your glass to dip the last Milano. That is to say it simply doesn’t deserve the hype.

I must first admit that I’m not an experienced movie reviewer as is my friend writing on the left here. Still, I’ve been to quite a few films over the years and can separate the good from the bad, the Dark Knights from the Spiderman 3s.

gone girl

I can therefore write with certainty that Gone Girl was neither good nor bad, but decidedly mediocre.

It dragged noticeably at points throughout its inexcusable 2 hour and 25 minute running time, and it never really reached the peaks of intensity that it was going for. It featured Dark Knight –esque ringing sounds (first few seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3-ClsRE9Yk) that rise to a climaxing at a pitch at its tensest times, but I never felt my heartbeat quicken and a pit form in my stomach like I should at those moments. Instead it seemed like the movie thought it was more thrilling than it actually was.

amy dunne missing

Vig over on my left will also try to convince you how constantly surprising the story was. And, to a certain extent, his point has merit. However is a certain moment in some thrillers where the story becomes so complicated, so convoluted that you need a graphic organizer just to keep everything straight. Gone Girl reached that point and blew right through it. There are so many loose ends, so many questions left unanswered (many of them crucial plot elements) and so many story lines that were half developed and then seemingly abandoned, that feel like the tape I watched must have been missing about 30 minutes. Fincher tried to pull the rug out from under us so often that eventually we just expected to be surprised.

tyler perry gone girl

***Major spoilers follow. Reader beware.***Perhaps the most disappointing element of the film was the development of the plotline. After Nick finds the woodshed with all of the goods Amy had purchased to create an economic motive for Nick to kill her, we learn that Amy had faked her abduction and is actually still alive and carrying out her plot to destroy Nick. This was one of the twists where I was enthralled: she faked a crime scene with just enough mistakes to suggest a hastily done cleanup by Nick, and has created a diary that chronicles an increasingly violent and abusive marriage. Had the film continued on this path I would likely have given it an 8.5, but instead it called upon a wholly uninteresting filler character to provide plot structure and a completely implausible way to work Amy back into Nick’s life. The result was fantastic and really showed just how psychopathic Amy was, but the process of getting there seemed contrived and ruined the moment.

At this point the movie may seem more warranting of a 5 or so. The 6.5 is wholly due to Rosamund Pike’s absorbing portrayal of Amy Elliot Dunne. Her turn as a jovial Harvard graduate turned psychopathic and delusional killer is, if not Oscar deserving, Oscar nominee deserving. Her voice-over diary entries are chill inducing, (watch out, Morgan Freeman) and her cold stare is prickling. Props to her.

But alas, Pike cannot save this movie. It is too long, too contrived, too over-hyped, and too unpredictable. Vig, don’t take offense, but in my opinion as a casual movie goer, you’re mistaking Oscar wannabe for Oscar deserving, Velveeta for real cheese.

Did you like Gone Girl? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!

22 Jump Street

All hail the return of Korean Jesus! Up next is the highly anticipated 22 Jump Street, sequel to the popular 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, it features Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube. It is rated R for strong language, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence.

After the events of the first film, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) take on their next task when they go deep undercover at a local college. However, the two begin to question their partnership after Jenko befriends a kid on the football team, and Schmidt invades the Bohemian art major scene. Now, before solving the case, they have to figure out whether they can even have a mature relationship.

6 out of 10

I came to this movie having just sat through, or perhaps more appropriately, suffered through the James McAvoy film Filth and was thus in serious need of an amusing experience to lift my spirits. Fortunately, that is exactly what I found in 22 Jump Street, a movie that although it does not hit the same heights as the original, is a very suitable follow-up full of gags. 22 Jump Street is a movie made completely for the viewer. You may reasonably question what I mean by this: aren’t all films made to be watched? Yes, but sometimes, especially during my viewing of Filth, I question whether the director is really doing this for the viewer or is simply indulging his or her own artistic fancies. There is no question of this in 22 Jump Street. It delivers exactly what you want, comedy, while filling in the rest with serviceable plot and character development and some bold action sequences. Whereas in the first film the best comedic moments came from the parody of modern high school culture, here I found the biggest laughs in the jokes parodying the original and the film itself. This gave the film a refreshing lighthearted mood. The director seemed to be saying that yes the premise is ridiculous and everyone knows it, so let’s just enjoy the ride.

22 jump

That said this was not a classic movie. Sure you could argue it wasn’t ever trying to be, but even within the realm of lighthearted comedies this is not a standout entry. It does everything fine, but it doesn’t do anything amazingly or even particularly cleverly. To be fair, I was chuckling throughout but no single joke took longer than a split-second for me to fully grasp. This is just standard fare for Hill and though the setting and characters may be different, this is effectively the same humor he has been dealing in since Superbad 7 years ago. Honestly, Hill. Rogen and co. could probably have written the script for this movie in a single afternoon.

Another grievance I have with the film is that it doesn’t really say anything important. One trend that I really admire in modern cinema is seemingly simple movies with some moral message. Pixar has done this for decades but now every studio seems to be getting in on the moral action. But beyond the obvious truth that modern sequels tend to be derivative of the original, this movie lacked a basic message.

But I do not want to disparage this movie too much. It is a fun ride and if you enjoyed the first entry you will find more than enough to entertain you. And arguably more importantly, it didn’t ruin the legacy of the great first entry even if it could not reach its heady heights.

8 out of 10
Here’s the short version:
I like 21 Jump Street. 22 Jump Street is 21 Jump Street. Therefore, I like 22 Jump Street.Ah, damn! I still have to write a whole review though so here’s the four to five hundred word version:The very best part of 22 Jump Street is that its shining moments are not exact, carbon-copies of 21 Jump Street. There’s definitely a bit of originality there. But the worst part (And its not exactly awful) is that a lot of its jokes use the same blueprints as 21 Jump Street.21 Jump Street (The drama) was about two narcs solving crimes at schools (After agitating them, of course). 21 Jump Street (The movie) was about making fun of the old T.V. show and then some. It expanded its horizons into the movie industry in general.22 Jump Street is about…making fun of the old T.V. show and then some. Its (Right down to some hilarious cameos and satisfying meta-humor) the same concept. Same plotline. Mainly the same characters and some of those “Have I seen that before?” jokes that comedy sequels are unusually good at churning out.

But I still laughed. And, by God, that is what I’m measuring this by. It may have the same designs but it has just enough variety in its execution that comedies like The Hangover 2 don’t have. It’s also self-aware. Self-awareness really carries this one: this movie knows exactly what it is versus what it’s expected to be. The very best example of this comes right before the end credits when we get hit with a barrage of potential sequel clips; each plagued with the usual cliches that we’ve forgotten we’ve all (Regrettably) paid to see before.

Yet another thing that carries this movie is the relationship between our two stars: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. If I’m not mistaken, these two are actually friends in real life which doesn’t surprise me very much. I’m just as invested in our leads as ever and you oddly continue to care about their friendship (But not too much that it oversteps its bounds).

And because you’re so invested, there’s another thing that (Again, surprisingly) works: the action. I swear to God that I care more about the action that happens in 21 and 22 Jump Street than 90% of the blockbuster action films I have seen in between the two. The action is actually good. It’s not the whole movie but it’s entertaining enough so that you don’t stop caring.

In conclusion, 22 Jump Street is worth it. If you’re willing to cope with the deja vu and the same structure as before then you’ll certainly enjoy the bits of original execution it has to offer. Would I like to see a sequel or two? I know better than to trust Hollywood with such a daunting task as making a good comedy three-quel but why not?

Just keep Ice Cube involved somehow.

IMDB: 7.2
Metacritic: 71
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%


Hey everyone! Sorry about the long hiatus, but we’re back! This week, Sam and Nic will take a look at the Wolf of Wall Street-esque Filth, directed by Jon S. Baird. Rated R for  sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, language and some violence, it stars James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, and Jim Broadbent.

Bruce Robertson (McAvoy) is a corrupt cop and a bigot. He is also in line for a promotion, and will stop at nothing to get that spot. Bruce starts to turn his fellow cops against each other by stealing their wives and revealing their secrets. As he slowly starts to lose himself in the uncontrollable mess he has created, his drug habit, missing wife, and suspicious colleagues start to cripple his sanity.

3 out of 10

This film was heavily branded as being “from the creator of Trainspotting” and the trailer did everything it could to play up the British-dirty-crime-movie vibe. However, in trying so hard to fit into the Trainspotting, Guy Ritchie film category, Filth ended up simply copying cliches, creating a relatively plotless work quite utterly devoid of originality and (despite all of the sensationalism) one which barely kept my interest.

Filth quite literally had it all: corruption, drugs, alcohol, hallucinations, an overwhelming amount of penis discussion, parties, abuse, cross dressing, affairs, suicide, betrayal, violence—you name it. Every little thing you could possibly think of to make a movie more exciting was stuffed into an hour and a half time frame, as if the author or screenwriter took the most provocative part of every other movie in this genre and shoved all the pieces together.

In some movies, Wolf of Wall Street for example, the overwhelming sex, drugs, and partying works. The impact is striking and you feel absolutely awful watching, while at the same time being unable to take your eyes off the screen. In Filth, however, I didn’t feel anything. Maybe I’ve been exposed to too many films with extreme violence and sex and drugs, but this apathy is more likely linked to the fact that I didn’t care about James McAvoy’s character, Bruce.

The film makers tried too hard to make Bruce a bad boy who is really good at heart, and I believe that is what caused my lack of connection. Yes, he sneaks drugs into his only friend’s drink, yes he is having an affair with his colleague’s wife, yes, he threatens and abuses suspects, but honestly he’s a great guy. When a woman’s husband collapses on the street he helps out, and whenever he sees her again all of a sudden he is this sweet, sensitive man who is all alone in the world. At the end of the film he is coaching his “friend” and says “The truth is, people are just as scared of the world as you are. I’m scared of the world.” Wow. Deep stuff. Now, yes, I’d like to believe that even the hardest, most awful people out there are lonely and just want to be loved underneath it all, but having such forced depth of character just felt fake.

On top of it all, the film’s plot was incredibly weak. Nothing really happens besides Bruce fighting to get a promotion and occasionally having a terrifying hallucination of someone in an animal mask. All of the major plot points (spoiler alert) such as when we find out it was really him in Carol’s clothing, when we hear the story about him killing his brother, and when he commits suicide, felt calculated to make the movie more intense.

However, it would be unfair to totally disregard the limited redeeming factors. The colors of the film were really lovely, somehow saturated and muted at the same time, and it had an overall misty quality that was particularly appealing. Imogen Poots’ character had fabulous makeup, and James McAvoy’s nose crunching laugh made my heart melt. However, not even McAvoy’s sheer fabulousness could salvage a movie so sunk in the depth of banality.

2 out of 10

“Same rules apply”. James McAvoy repeats this line again and again in his role as Detective Bruce Robertson in this adaption of Irvine Welsh’s novel. Yet even at the very end of the movie, I had absolutely no clue exactly what he meant by it. In this way, it is the rule not the exception in this weird movie. The director Jon S Baird seems to be trying to say something profound, but it all gets hopelessly muddled and confused somewhere between the people turning into farm animals and a bald-headed Jim Broadbent screaming “aye, aye” at Bruce.

images1494 copySome people will be drawn to this movie because of the big name on the source material. But this is not Welsh on the form of his debut Trainspotting. Instead, it comes off as a lackadaisical attempt to transport the bacchanalian tragedy of his earlier success 17 years later to the present day. When Ewan McGregor’s Renton says, “Choose your future. Choose life…. But why would I want to do thing like that” at the start of Trainspotting it comes off as astute, in touch and just plain awesome. Filth seems to be trying for the entire movie to achieve a moment like that and yet it never comes.

James McAvoy has had some practice playing Scots involved in less than savory affairs, having starred in Danny Boyle’s Trance last year. But where McAvoy could rely on Boyle’s showmanship and directorial gift in Trance to carry his lackluster performance, here he has no such luxury and his sub-par performance is made painfully clear. None of the other performances are any better. All the actors play to their gift-wrapped stereotypes so much throughout the film that any deviation comes off as out of place.filthrev620372

The film is also needlessly and annoyingly scary at some points. If you want to scare me at least do it cleverly. Don’t just have some random freaky creature jump out at certain intervals. These moments completed the actors’ and plot’s job, making the film extremely difficult to watch near the end.

Honestly I think I’ve already put in more effort into developing this review than the director put into the movie so I shall leave it here.

IMDB: 7.1
Metacritic: 56
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%