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Set in a small town that could be anywhere, The Judge revolves around the relationship between a father named Joseph Palmer and his family but mostly his son Hank in particular. The relationship between father and son(s) has always been strained as the father (played by the excellent Robert Duvall) is a bit of a rigid, strict kind of person and isn’t an easy guy to get along with. Joseph also happens to be a judge of the town the story takes place in and has been the town judge for something like 41 years. The conflict of the story comes from Joseph getting into a car accident right after his wife’s death. The accident involves him hitting someone on a bike and killing them that just so happens to be a person that the judge put away in prison for awhile. His son Hank (portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.) also happens to be a lawyer and ends up representing his father during the trial deciding the judge’s fate…
The story might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world but there’s some great drama here. The writing overall is solid although I did think the movie was a tad bit long (almost 2 and half hours, which could’ve been trimmed down to 2 hours) so there are times it drags a bit in terms of pacing. Overall the story sheds light on the characters through some backstory exposition and of course keeps things moving along when it gets to the trial of the judge. The moments leading up the trial deal with the death of the family’s mother and the dysfunctional unit that’s left behind to cope. Some tension shows up during the family interacting with each other (like most families experience) and things get ramped up a bit as the details of the trial shed light on other elements related to the family’s tension. The conclusion I thought was both satisfying and fair along with being a bit bittersweet and hopeful at the same time, very well written overall.
In terms of performance, the acting is one of the main reasons to see this film. The actors all turn in passionate, tight performances. Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. are particularly compelling to watch, especially in the scenes with each other. There’s some masterful acting going on here, lots of great subtle moments as well as big passionate points as well. Other performers turn in engaging performances as well, I thought that Vera Farmiga (as Hank’s high school girlfriend) was fun, flirtatious and intriguing and Billy Bob Thornton as the prosecuting attorney was slick and interesting as a protagonist. The cast is well rounded and includes the talents of Vincent D’Onofrio, Dax Shepard, Jeremy Strong, Leighton Meester and Ken Howard.
Generally speaking, The Judge is a well-crafted (and acted) drama. If you like drama and enjoy good dialog along with a multi-layered storyline, you’ll probably enjoy this one, I did.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
The Imitation Game is based on the real-life story of Alan Turing (played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch), who invented one of the earliest versions of the computer to break the code the Nazis were using during WWII. The computer, which came to be known as a Turing Machine at the time, was created to not only decipher secret codes but to explore the concept of artificial intelligence which Turing had a fascination with. Turing’s machine became pivotal during WWII as a means of providing intelligence, some say the invention helped to shorten the war by at least 2 years and saved millions of lives in the process.
Part of the twist to Turing’s story is that he was gay. These days being gay doesn’t quite carry the stigma it carried in the 1940’s when it was considered illegal. Unfortunately Turing’s secret was exposed and he was sentenced to hormone therapy as a form of “rehabilitation” for his gay “condition”.
From what I’ve read, most of the story in this film is fairly close to the events being portrayed. The writing is compelling although the dialog at times is a bit dry and intellectual. Ultimately the story kept my interest as I was interested in Turing before I saw the film and found the dialog and presentation of the details really entertaining. I don’t see many intellectual films that keep my interest this much, many of them get lost in their own pretense but The Imitation Game keeps things moving albeit at a gradual pace.
The acting and directing are both superb. The film has an authentic style that recreates the 40’s in an all immersive visual presentation taking the viewer through a convincing portrayal of the time period. Morten Tyldum directs and puts together a detailed, emotional film that should become a classic. Cumberbatch is powerful, subtle, cocky, and vulnerable all within the same space of the character he plays. His performance is one of the reasons to see this film. The rest of the cast is tight too and includes Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong. All-in-all the cast is passionate in the deliveries of their characters.
Cumberbatch was nominated for an Oscar and the film won for Best Writing from an Adapted Screenplay. If you like intellectual dramas and have an interest in some of the stories you don’t get to hear so much about WWII, check out The Imitation Game.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Presented by District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, CHAPPiE both entertains and raises a lot of questions about the future of AI (artificial intelligence). Set in the not-to-distant future (2016-ish), CHAPPiE centers around robots that act as our future police force. The robots are set up to be self-sacrificing, fierce and efficient in terms of how they handle policing Capetown, South Africa (also where District 9 was set). One robot in particular is damaged and on his way to the scrap heap when his creator (played by Dev Patel) saves him from destruction so he can experiment with a new AI software program he’s developed. With the new upgrade installed, CHAPPiE becomes self-aware after falling into the hands of some bad people who want to use him for bad things…
The story explores this theme of self-awareness through CHAPPiE’s interaction with the people around him such as his creator and his new-found gangster family who eventually find themselves attached to the robot as his “personality” emerges. The film builds to some conflict as one of the competing engineers at the company that built CHAPPiE wants him out of the way so he can have his own human-piloted robot take over police duties from the robot force currently in place.
The writing is well crafted (Blomkamp is also one of the writers) and compelling. The 2-hour film flies by quickly as there are plenty of emotional moments as well as engaging action sequences. The dialog and interaction between the characters kept my interest throughout the film. The ending (as well as some other spots here and there) takes a cool left turn and had me somewhat surprised as to the direction things were going. Very satisfying by the way, I love films that include moments you don’t see coming which isn’t easy to do these days.
The acting is well done for the most part. The only weak links here are the gangster antagonists that act as CHAPPiE’s “parents” played by Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not terrible but they’re not great either and at times come off a bit forced in their performances. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Die Antwoord (they sound un-original and dated, Ninja’s rapping is sloppy and incoherent and Yo-Landi’s voice makes me want to punch something) so I’m not judging based on that, but I don’t know that I would’ve cast them either. Meh, they do anger and frustration fairly well emotionally but not much beyond that although both of them have some decent acting moments occasionally.
The standout acting-wise is Sharlto Copley who portrays CHAPPiE himself. Ironically, the way Copley portrayed CHAPPiE actually made him seem more human than his actual human counterparts at times and the robot was the only one I consistently rooted for. The rest of the human characters were all assholes basically (even the creator at times was kind of an ass) so I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for CHAPPiE but very rarely for anyone else.
The effects (courtesy of WETA) were all top notch and blended in seemlessly. Copley’s motion capture performance is a testimonial to just how good of an actor he is in addition to his emotionally charged and variant dialog. Kudos to Blomkamp and his cast and crew for putting together such a tight and exciting film. The cast includes the talents of Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman.
If you liked District 9 and enjoy good sci-fi drama, I highly encourage you to see CHAPPiE!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
The Croods is a family-friendly 3D animated film. Set around a caveman family, The Croods have been living in a cave (naturally) their whole lives following the rules of the cave drawing that have kept them alive through fear of what happens when you leave the cave. Their world gets turned upside down when the continental shift hits and the ground is ripped asunder revealing rivers of lava, swallowing their old home.
Forced out into the open, The Croods end up following along with a new friend they meet during their journey named Guy. Guy has “ideas”, something the crude Croods aren’t used to. Against their better judgement, the family joins Guy on a quest to find a new home and perhaps to gain some of their own ideas along the way…
This is a cute film, entertaining for both kids and adults. Kids will laugh and marvel at the sights and sounds the movie offers while adults can enjoy the same while enjoying the storyline. Nothing out of the ordinary with the movie overall, it’s pretty much by the numbers. It has exciting moments as well as the occasional tear-jerker, and awwwww highlights in addition to some cartoony goofiness. The uplifting ending is in there too along with a number of stunning visual moments; it’s a cool looking film.
The film has some recognizable names including Nic Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, and Clark Duke. Interestingly, John Cleese from Monty Python fame is one of the writers of the film. Presented by Dreamworks Animation.
If you and your family like animated films, you’ll probably have fun watching The Croods.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
When I saw the trailer, I have to admit I got kind of excited. I’m a big fan of the original and thought it was ahead of it’s time in some ways. It was also a film that pulled off a lot without having an immensely gigantic budget like this new version did ($100M, yes, 100 million dollars).
Unfortunately the reboot turned out to be a huge flop when it hit theaters and even with the budget, the effects, and yet another role for Samuel L. Jackson, it doesn’t hold up against the original. The story is the same pretty much – Alex Murphy is cop who’s betrayed and ends up at death’s door and the new cyborg / robot / cop program is his only hope. Problem is, there isn’t much of him left to work with as he’s been brutalized by his attack. Here’s one of the areas where the remake goes in a not-so-great direction…
In the new version, the only think left to Alex Murphy is his brain (mostly), his head, his lungs, and part of a hand. At one point, this is revealed when his armor is removed. The scene this visual includes is weird and uncomfortable. It made it hard to root for him, you just kind of wish they let him die. In other words, they took the body decimation thing too far. The rest of him is a robot and yet his wife wants him back without question and just “wants their old life back, just like before”. Really? Is she supposed to be that delusional?
Another problem here is that the villain in the film is not greatly defined as it gets kind of wrapped up in politics and deludes who the bad guys are. The film centers more around Murphy and the struggle with his identity and less so on a villain everyone can latch onto. The first version of the film had Kurtwood Smith who made a great nemesis along with his gang. He made you root for Murphy where here it gets distracting by just how bad off this new version of Murphy is.
The action sequences are pretty good and the effects are beautifully crafted. I would’ve like to have seen more action along with some more subtle things that went with his gadgets as well. Overall though, there’s plenty of eye candy that’s fun to watch. You can see where a lot of the budget went.
The rest of it went to the talent probably, in addition to Jackson, the lineup includes Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, along with the lead Joel Kinnaman. All the actors were strong, although I don’t think Kinnaman had the same charisma that Peter Weller brought to the original. Weller managed to make a robotic man personable and interesting. Kinnaman seems to be missing the same spark but was decent.
I’d say make up your own mind on this one and at least check it out once but don’t go out of your way to do it.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
It’s not often I like a reboot better than the original but I’m afraid that’s the case this time. I’m sure some purists reading this will be exploding with rage over that sentiment but phhhhhbbbttttt, I’m entitled to my opinion too…
A quick summary – Oldboy is a twisted tale of revenge, incest and psychological manipulation. Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, a bastard who had bad stuff coming to him if there ever was one. And that’s just what happens, his past actions catch up to him with him held prisoner in what looks like a really tacky hotel room that gets one channel and the same things on the menu for each meal. Which doesn’t sound terrible until you realize he’s held there for 20 years and there’s absolutely no human contact with anyone else, ever. His television choices aren’t great either and consist of cheesy exercise videos and a news show that happens to be covering the story of him being a murderer of his own family and where his daughter is now. Joe eventually gets released and embarks on a quest to find his captor of the last two decades.
The story goes down some roads that you may not see coming. As the tale unravels, so does Joe, becoming crazier and crazier as he learns the truth and what’s really happening to him. There are some great unexpected moments that make this story feel original and at times, shocking. For those of you who have seen the original, what I like better about the Spike Lee version is that it doesn’t get nearly wrapped up in the torture porn aspects of the original. There are some brutal moments and we never find out why Joe is suddenly a fighting expert, but hey, gratuitous moments are going to be expected with a film like this.
Lee does an excellent job with the directing tasks. I especially enjoyed the fight sequences which pay homage to the original in terms of style. There is some really interesting camera work being used to create tension as well as sadness and drunkenness to great effect. The interpretation from the original was more dynamic and compelling to follow as well. The first version was more flash where this version feels more about the emotion without the cartoony and extreme exaggerations of the original.
The actors are top notch. Josh Brolin is engaging as usual and has no trouble carrying most of the film. Elizabeth Olsen and Michael Imperioli (from Sopranos fame) are both convincing and passionate. Samuel L. Jackson is tight as a bad guy although his performance is pretty formulaic for him here. Sharlto Copley continues to prove himself a chameleon and plays his character with a style that dominates the screen, even alongside Brolin which isn’t easy to do.
Not for the timid of heart, this movie has some intensely violent and emotionally jarring moments. If you like challenging films that don’t necessarily offer the typical happy ending, you might like this one.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Based on the novella called The Body by Stephen King, Stand By Me tells the story of four boys at the age of 12 who hear the location of a dead body and go to investigate. The heart of the film lies in the journey of the boys getting to the body and less-so about the body itself. Among the things that are great about this film is that it conveys such a sense of the classic adventure that boys that age have, albeit in the context of the 50’s, but still, I had my version of these experiences when I was that age and can relate…
Each boy is a very distinct character and exemplifies the kinds of friends many people have while growing up. King does a masterful job at putting this story together through the boys and their adventure while managing to keep a mystery to it with the allure of the body and what’s going to happen when it’s discovered. On the way to their goal, the boys experience everything from train dodging, a legendary junk yard dog, and some bullies who elevate the tension to finding out more about their own emotional demons. Their backstories is part of how the characters are developed and frames their responses as the storyline progresses.
The film itself is a bit older and would be considered a classic now and served as the launchpad to some prominent actors including: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell and Kiefer Sutherland as the bully Ace. It’s interesting to watch these actors again knowing what they’re like as adult actors. Feldman’s really good in this, ironically he seems better here than I’ve ever seen him as an adult where he’s usually a cartoon version of himself. All the actors are really good in fact, especially considering their age. They’d have to be good for a film like this to be carried on the weight of their shoulders the whole time. Check out Jerry O’Connell during the bridge crossing scene, he and Wheaton put in convincing, intense performances trying to escape a train.
Rob Reiner directs (this is during Reiner’s heyday as a director). He inserts Richard Dreyfus as the grown up version of Wheaton’s character who serves admirably as the narrator and storyteller. Reiner’s direction is spot-on as he inspired tight deliveries from the actors, some beautiful shots of the landscapes, funny and gross 12 year old boy moments, and a emotional, entertaining and bittersweet interpretation of King’s original work.
If you’ve never seen it, you should, Stand By Me is a classic.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
This documentary, created by comedian Bonnie McFarlane examines the idea that there are people that consider women comedians to genuinely not be funny, at all. Ironically, most of the people that feel this way are the male comedians that work in the same circles. I’ve actually heard of this mentality before seeing this film so it was interesting to see the interviews with the guys that feel this way…
Rich Vos, another well known stand-up (and Bonnie’s husband) serves as a writer, executive producer and guest of the doc. At times he’s very supportive of Bonnie during the process and then at other times, he’s kind of a dick. He sticks himself in the background of some of the interviews she conducts, disrupting the interview in the process, and at some points acts like a negative ass towards his wife and her methods. I’m always surprised to see this mentality in that I can’t believe it still exists. Men can still be idiotic cavemen and unfortunately Vos embodies that sentiment at various points throughout. The bottom line, Vos becomes an annoyance when he’s trying to do whatever he’s trying to do in terms of trying to be funny or charming or maybe he’s just a camera-hog. Whatever his motivations, he’s proving men to not be so damn funny.
Speaking of the men behaving like jackasses – some of the interviews show just that. Adam Corolla’s interview is an example of a guy who thinks he’s hysterical and that women just are not funny at all. When confronted with comments he’s made along those lines, he back-peddles and claims the interview he was part of was taken out of context, which is not true. There are other males who share the same ridiculous ideal who are interviewed. Some try to dance around the subject and others admit to it but can never give a solid reason why they feel that way. Chris Rock is featured having a moment here as well when he freezes a bit at the idea of women being funny. Hmmm, jealous much fellas?
The industry is examined as well as interviews are conducted with club owners too. The complaint is that there aren’t many female comedians getting booked into clubs so it makes it appear that there aren’t any funny women. The fact is, that there aren’t as many female comedians compared to the number of males which is why there aren’t as many women getting booked. But how this translates into “women aren’t funny” is beyond me. You have to give Bonnie credit for tackling such an absurd mentality in what I’m sure is a very frustrating world dominated by dumb-ass males.
To counter the stupidity of the males that say that there are no funny women, I’m listing SOME of my favorite female comedians, most of which are interviewed, featured or mentioned in Women Aren’t Funny: Aisha Tyler, Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers, Ellen Degeneres, Lisa Lampanelli, Maria Bamford, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Tammy Pescatelli, Chelsea Handler, Rita Rudner, Sarah Silverman, Whitney Cummings, Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Lucille Ball, Lily Tomlin, Kristen Schaal, Gilda Radner, Maya Rudolph, Sasheer Zamata, Amy Poehler, and Margaret Cho to name just a few for the morons who think that women aren’t funny.
Overall, while the doc suffers at times from some lame moments here and there (mostly due to the males I might add), it’s a film worth seeing for the moments that are funny and for exposing a mentality that really needs to change…
reviewed by Sean McKnight