Category Archives: Review

2014 – Best Movie Bracket

As I have been looking at my top films for a given year, I needed a method for looking at a large number of films for the year so that I could compare them. In my search, I came across Letterboxd. I tried Letterboxd a few years back before it had the number of users that it does today. They have made significant improvements and the user community is phenomenal. I would encourage any movie lover to keep their film diary at Letterboxd.

The site has also let me look at a number of films from any given year and sort them in a multitude of ways. Letterboxd has 12,585 films listed with a release date of 2014. This is also where the featured image comes from and where I will pull the featured image from all of my annual entries. This is to give you a chance to see some of the other films that I had to pass over to get my favorites. According to the site, I have seen 63 of those films. So with that, let’s look at my top 3 films of 2014.

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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) Review

With Independence Day: Resurgence, Roland Emmerich is giving Michael Bay a run for his money and solidifying his status as the Director you call if you are looking for global catastrophe.

I try to watch a movie for what it is. This is not an artful indie flick with snappy dialogue. This 20 year old cluttered sequel to the 1996 smash Independence Day is a summer popcorn movie. That usually means destruction in between bursts of vapid or humorous dialogue, Resurgence delivers according to those expectations. But for some reason, Emmerich feels the need to continually remind us that this is an Independence Day sequel instead of just making an Independence Day sequel. It seems like we can’t go more than 5 minutes without some visual or auditory clue that we are watching the child of his most accomplished work.

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Not New Review: Equilibrium (2002)

Poster for the movie "Equilibrium"

Equilibrium (2002)

Director
Kurt Wimmer
Genres
Drama, Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Actors
Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson, Angus Macfadyen, Sean Bean, Dominic Purcell
Overview
In a facist future where all forms of feeling are illegal, a man in charge of enforcing the law rises to overthrow the system.

If you are like me and are a fan of such books as Brave New World, 1984, and The Giver or movies like The MatrixLogan’s Run, and Gattaca Equilibrium is just the movie for you. In addition to a terrifying plot set in our very own future, the movie has beautifully choreographed action sequences and spectacular acting on the part of Christian Bale. I hate predictable movies and this one could have been predictable because it has a lot of things in common with other films of its time. This explains its dismal performance at the box office and even its negative critical reception, but I think Equilibrium is a worthy addition to the genre and presents a unique story that will keep you riveted in suspense the majority of the time.

The action takes place in Libria, a generic futuristic metropolis where peace reigns supreme after a ruler known as “the Father” has eradicated war, hatred, rage and jealousy by requiring all citizens to be dosed with regular injections of Prozium, a soul-deadening designer drug that erases all emotion.

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Unfortunately, this also removed all joy, love and compassion from the world, but “to make an omelet,” right? Those who dare to feel are branded as “sense offenders,” sniffed out by “intuitive” government operatives, then snuffed out by special police forces.

Anyone who has read dystopian fiction will have images galore of which to feed off. Remember the book burnings in Fahrenheit 451? Here, all works of art and literature are incinerated, including the original Mona Lisa. I’m sure that some would say that this kind of sci-fi escapism makes them think, but thinking is allowed in this world. Feeling is what makes us human, and this drama begs us to feel.

The enforcers of this branch of the government are called “clerics,” clearly meant to be an anti-church sentiment. Christian Bale plays the highest-ranking enforcement official. His brooding demeanor suits his role as an enforcer turned rebel. He is able to smite dozens of armed men with his bare hands. Initially, you question the physics of such fights, but by the end of the film, I understood that Christopher Nolan must have seen this film. Have you ever seen the things that Batman does? Most of them are completely impossible, and many are implausible. But they are entertaining and we suspend our disbelief because the story is good. It is the same thing here.

This is definitely not a masterpiece. There are giant plot holes and parts which are laughable and don’t feel like they fit, but at the end of the day it was a good story about Batman saving a puppy. Pick it up from the $2 bin at Walmart and add it to your collection. It is worth the lesson that life is not worth living without emotion. So watch this film. Let it wash over you until you feel as grey as its stark landscape. Then take it as a reminder and go watch a real movie with exquisite beauty that will actually make you feel something. Because what are we if we don’t feel?

The Nice Guys (2016) Review

The Nice Guys is to LA crime stories what Deadpool is to superhero flicks: at once a celebration and a send-up. That’s just the kind of storytelling moviegoers have come to expect from Shane Black, who directed the film and co-wrote it. Black has a history of blending irreverence and violence going all the way back to his legendary script for Lethal Weapon (1987). However, Black didn’t become a name until the release of Iron Man 3, which saw a lukewarm reaction from fans.

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Several years before that Marvel film, Black made his directorial debut, with the black comedy/noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is great. In many ways, The Nice Guys feels like a spiritual successor to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. With twisty detective plots, style to spare, comedy as black as night, and a plethora of interesting characters, the films would make for a great double feature, and they showcase exactly where Black’s directorial strengths lie. Is this a family film? No way. Does it include scenes that some may find painful to watch? You bet. Will you be entertained? Thoroughly.

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If You Liked… Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Who doesn’t like Shawshank Redemption? This is always my go to answer when someone asks me for my favorite movie. I love it because it blends a gritty realism with an ethereal storytelling and a epic twist ending. If you have not seen it, shame on you. It used to be on TBS at least twice a week, but you need to buy it because once you watch it, you will have a new favorite as well. Just in case you haven’t seen it, I will try not to spoil the ending, but here is a quick summary. Click here if you’ve already seen the film and just want to see my recommendations.

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The Shawshank Redemption (directed by Frank Darabont of The Walking Dead fame) is one of those movies whose estimation has only grown with time. It wasn’t a box office hit in 1994, but it was a critical success and received 7 Academy Award nominations but LOST in every category, being beat out for best picture by Forrest Gump. However, in 2008 (14 years after its original release) it took over the #1 slot as greatest film on the IMDb’s Top 250 from The Godfather and it still holds that place to this day.

Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) is our co-pilot and narrator for our long stay in Shawshank State Penitentiary. He admits that he belongs there for murder, calling himself the only guilty man in Shawshank. The year is 1947 and our central character is banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who has been convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. We see him entering Shawshank to begin serving his two consecutive life sentences. The movie is based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Through the story, we experience a 20 year friendship between these two men.

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You’d be hard pressed to find a more genuine ode to male bonding than this drama spanning two decades from 1946 to 1967. When Andy arrives, he is subject to beatings, humiliation and all manner of horrors within the prison system. He endures the harassment seemingly unfazed. Slowly he learns to adapt, utilizing his talents as an auditor to garner favor from the powers that be. In time he inspires his fellow inmates, making friends with them, in particular Red who originally bet that Andy would be the first new inmate to crack.

The film is highlighted by several amazing performances. Morgan Freeman embodies his character with reverence, heart, and warmth. Tim Robbins is every bit his equal in a role that is more difficult to warm up to. If the actor appears a bit of an enigma, that is only because the character is meant to be that way. There is a quiet way about him that makes the other inmates uneasy and tells us and them that he does not belong there. Actor Bob Gunton is a villain for the ages as Warden Samuel Norton. A stern man that exploits the prison for his own gain as low-cost labor. He presents himself as a god-fearing man, although his true nature is gradually disclosed. The depth of his evil seems to know no bounds.

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Like a flower growing up through a crack in the sidewalk, the narrative is uplifting even though we are presented with the most oppressive of surroundings. My personal favorite scene features Andy locking himself in the warden’s office and using the central microphone to blast an opera record through the grounds. As Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro echoes through the penitentiary, Roger Deakins cinematography captures the emotion as the inmates look upwards, embracing the audible gift. It is hard to describe the feeling, but the scene always brings me to tears. Shawshank is brimming with moments like this where the hope of the human soul triumphs over adversity in the most inspiring way.

So, assuming you love Shawshank like I do then you may be struggling to find movies that give you a similar sense of awe and inspiration. I hope to help with that by giving you a handful of recommendations based upon different aspects of Shawshank Redemption.

The Green Mile

Maybe you are looking for another film based on a Stephen King story, set in a prison, featuring a wrongly convicted protagonist, and directed by Frank Darabont. That is a lot of similarities. Add in the great acting of Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan and you have The Green Mile.
Maybe you are looking for another film based on a Stephen King story, set in a prison, featuring a wrongly convicted protagonist, and directed by Frank Darabont. That is a lot of similarities. Add in the great acting of Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan and you have The Green Mile.

Good Will Hunting

Perhaps you don't care about similar actors or settings. Maybe you just want to recreate some of those feelings of confliction and see a character make some amazing changes and eventually embrace hope. I think you will find few movies as uplifting and powerful as Good Will Hunting, the debut effort of now Hollywood superstars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Throw in the humor and heart of Robin Williams and this is a movie you shouldn't miss.
Perhaps you don’t care about similar actors or settings. Maybe you just want to recreate some of those feelings of confliction and see a character make some amazing changes and eventually embrace hope. I think you will find few movies as uplifting and powerful as Good Will Hunting, the debut effort of now Hollywood superstars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Throw in the humor and heart of Robin Williams and this is a movie you shouldn’t miss.

The Shining

Lets take that Stephen King influence and go even darker than the Shawshank penitentiary. The Shining catalogs the disturbing mental collapse of Jack Torrance as he works as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel which holds onto some of the tragedies from its past. Directed by legendary Stanley Kubrick this is the kind of suspense/horror film that nightmares are made of.
Lets take that Stephen King influence and go even darker than the Shawshank penitentiary. The Shining catalogs the disturbing mental collapse of Jack Torrance as he works as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel which holds onto some of the tragedies from its past. Directed by legendary Stanley Kubrick this is the kind of suspense/horror film that nightmares are made of.

Se7en

Shawshank is the best of Morgan Freeman's filmography. Which is saying a lot for a guy that has been nominated 8 times and won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby. But I would go to the gripping crime drama Se7en if I wanted to see a great Morgan Freeman performance along with a young Brad Pitt, a disturbing Kevin Spacey, and the deft directoral touch of David Fincher.
Shawshank is the best of Morgan Freeman’s filmography. Which is saying a lot for a guy that has been nominated 8 times and won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby. But I would go to the gripping crime drama Se7en if I wanted to see a great Morgan Freeman performance along with a young Brad Pitt, a disturbing Kevin Spacey, and the deft directorial touch of David Fincher.

I.Q.

Perhaps you are craving something of a lighter fare. A film that was also released in 1994 and stars our everyman Tim Robbins. I.Q. is an entertaining romantic comedy in which Walter Matthau plays legendary physicist Albert Einstein and helps a mechanic woo his niece played by Meg Ryan.
Perhaps you are craving something of a lighter fare. A film that was also released in 1994 and stars our everyman Tim Robbins. I.Q. is an entertaining romantic comedy in which Walter Matthau plays legendary physicist Albert Einstein and helps a mechanic woo his niece played by Meg Ryan.

I hope this gave you some ideas for your next movie night. Please let me know your thoughts below on Shawshank Redemption as well as any of my recommendations. This is a place for sharing.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Not New Review

Every Wednesday, I post a review of a movie which is not new (no less that 2 years since release). In general, these will be movies that I enjoyed watching and in some cases have seen multiple times. This is primarily because, unlike many critics, I don’t enjoy spewing invective. Instead, I like to think about and spend my time on movies that I liked. That being said, I tend to like a wide range of films and I hope that some of my tastes match your own. I will freely reveal major plot points and spoilers in these reviews, but I will do my best to warn you or to [su_spoiler title=”Spoiler Hidden”]hide the spoiler material behind a shield.[/su_spoiler] With that being said, let’s get to the review.

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The depiction of high school life in The Perks of Being a Wallflower really isn’t all that different than it was in 1985 when John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club highlighted how even though we are all dysfunctional, we all have worth. In fact, the immortal words of The Breakfast Club’s resident jock Andrew Clark could practically be Wallflower’s chief thesis: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

Writer/Director Stephen Chbosky, who also penned the best selling novel of the same name, captures the high school years in all their awkward glory. He definitely has his finger on the pulse of the joys, fears, and angst that most high schoolers deal with. Charlie (Logan Lerman) has already been through a lot outside the classroom. Ever since his best friend committed suicide and his favorite aunt died in a car crash, he’s simply been unable to cope. He can’t seem to shake a sinking feeling of utter hopelessness. Add to that, the bullying, hazing and cruel antics of high school and it’s no wonder then that Charlie already has a running countdown to graduation. Just 1,384 more days, and he’s free.

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Logan Lerman is great as the understated lead. I see Charlie as a Holden Caulfield for the MTV generation. He mostly keeps his thoughts to himself and blurts them out passionately and awkwardly when he does choose to express them. Lerman shows something special that was missing from his Percy Jackson portrayals in this nuanced performance. He refuses to make Charlie pitiful when he has every right to be. I could not help to get knots in my stomach as he takes each step forward with uncertainty. It just feels genuine like the rest of the film.

The movie takes place around 1991, before cellphones and social media monopolized teenage communication. This absence underscores the incredible generational divide that has opened up in so short an amount of time. Check out the clip below to get a sense of the emotional climate of the movie. There are definitely funny portions, but overall, this is a gut-wrenching film which wrestles with a very complicated time of life. Perhaps it just rings true to me because I was a misguided 90s teenager listening to 80s bands and looking for my place in the world.

Charlie embarks on his first days of high school as an old soul who has no friends apart from his English teacher Bill (Paul Rudd) who feeds him tons of great books to continues to feed his love of reading and writing and provide him some guidance along the way. Bill is one of my favorite characters and he gets to answers the ultimate question of a teenage boy, “Why do some girls settle for losers?” Profoundly, he states his answer in a way that I think guides the rest of the story, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Soon however, Charlie stumbles into a group of friends who are just as messed up as he is. None of them are particularly good influences, but they give him something that he’s been looking for… belonging. They include the wise-cracking, constantly philosophizing homosexual Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the angry punk-rocking Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). But the most influential is the girl. All of you guys know what I mean when I say the girl, she makes him forget some of his troubles and pushes him to be the best version of himself. Being a big fan of Harry Potter and especially Emma Watson, I was excited to see how she did on her first non-Hermione role and she was stunning. The camera loves her and she even nails the American accent.

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This girl named Sam takes an interest in Charlie’s well-being and welcomes him to the “island of misfit toys,” where they can all “be psychos together.” Charlie describes Sam as “the kind of pretty that deserves to make a big deal out of itself,” but Charlie is immediately drawn to the fact that she doesn’t see herself that way. She seems out of place with this group until we learn her background and realize that like some of The Breakfast Club, she just does a better job at hiding her dysfunction. Naturally, he falls for her, even though she’s three year his senior and is currently dating a jerk who is more than a few years older than her.

As the credits rolled I felt somewhat uplifted, even though it is a dark film. Its PG-13 rating comes from sexually suggestive scenes (mainly springing from the groups’ fascination with the Rocky Horror Picture Show), heavy themes (including sexual abuse), and drug use. It’s fair to say the film’s content is less than wholesome. But the content alone shouldn’t determine the value of a work of art. The important thing is the way the film interacts with, speaks to, and frames that content that really matters. It is from this perspective that I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent movie.

For the characters, salvation comes through love and the conscious decision to enjoy life in the moment. Though faced with the unbearable darkness that often finds us in life, these characters find healing as they cling to the love they share and find meaning in the moments in which they feel most alive. Some of the most memorable scenes involve Sam and eventually Charlie standing up in the back of a pickup, arms spread and head back, listening to just the right music, as they speed through a tunnel. They are embracing the meaning of life as it hits them in that moment, and this meaning carries them through the dark moments. Too often, we let life’s unbelievably rich moments pass us by as we focus on trivialities or get so caught up in finding a grand purpose that we miss the meaning and glory in the small things. Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those small things. Don’t let it pass you by, and keep the tissues close.