Tag Archives: Drama

Review: By the Sea

by-the-sea-poster
via IMP Awards

By the Sea (2015)

R / 122 min.

Drama / Romance

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent

Director: Angelia Jolie


A French seaside resort sounds like the perfect locale for a romantic getaway weekend.  The fresh and salty breeze kisses your face as the sound of the waves crashing upon the beach fills your ears.  It is relaxing just thinking about it.  It sounds a lot better than this damp and foggy day I am currently experiencing.  Unfortunately, By the Sea, directed and written by actress-turned-director Angelina Jolie is anything but romantic…or a good movie for that matter.

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via The AV Club

The film, starring Angelina and her ex-real-life husband Brad Pitt, is a reflective piece on the subject of grief and love.  It is a deeply personal film about a couple, Vanessa and Roland (played by Jolie and Pitt), at a crossroads in the relationship who decide to go to a French seaside resort to perhaps sort things out in their marriage.  Instead, things seem to take a turn for the weird when they begin to meet some new friends around the town, two of which happen to be a newly-wed couple next door.

What brought me to this movie was the obvious draw of a voyeuristic look into the real-life relationship of Jolie and Pitt.  It was no secret that their marriage was hanging on a thread and that things were not all roses and dandelions between the two of them.  By the Sea was advertised as a personal art-house piece about a couple going through a rough patch.  It does not take a genius to connect the dots and theorize that perhaps the movie is a story about the director’s marriage.  Despite these theories, we get nothing of the sort.  Instead, we get a rather odd voyeuristic look into the sex life of the couple next door thanks to a hidden peep hole that offers Vanessa a view into their life.  Feelings of jealousy and lust begin to creep into her thoughts as she becomes addicted to the peep hole while Roland is off getting drunk at the resort’s bar.

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via Rolling Stone

This fascination with the couple next door is certainly something I was not expecting, but it is just too bad the overall plot is boring.  The film never managed to grab me like I thought it initially would.  It does not help that 75% of the movie is one big moan fest full of self-loathing and blank stares.  Everyone just lies around drinking and acting all mopey-dopey.  The performances feel lifeless, especially from Jolie and Pitt.  The dynamic and chemistry between their two characters is the backbone that the movie relies upon but the two never feel invested in their characters.  For a movie so personal it was surprising how detached the two felt from it.

There is one department of the movie that deserves praise and that is its cinematography.  Angelina Jolie is a great director who looks to have a future ahead of her that does not solely include acting.  She takes a simplistic angle on the film, with some great minimalist shots and a lot of silence.  It was at least pleasant to look at, despite the boring travesty that was taking place in the resort.  There was also a nice orchestrated musical score that added to the movie as well.

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via Collider

Things only get worse as the movie creeps towards its conclusion, but I never found it in myself to care.  By the Sea must have been tough to create given the circumstances of what Jolie and Pitt were going through at the time, so I have to commend them for attempting to put something like this out there in the wild.  If you came into this movie looking for an irresistible look into the two’s love life however, then you are going to be madly disappointed.  It is quite possible you might self-loath yourself just as much as the characters in the movie.

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Review: Luke Cage Season 1

luke-cage-s1-posterLuke Cage (Season 1) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Action / Crime / Drama

Starring: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi

Creator: Cheo Hodari Coker


He just wanted to be left alone, but the city needed a hero.  That’s one of the things I love about Netflix’s host of Marvel TV shows.  The featured superheroes, or vigilantes as some might say, never revel in the spotlight that is thrust on them.  They never bask in the glow of praise (or hate) that gets thrown their way.  They just do what they feel is necessary.  They get the job down because it’s the right thing to do.  Luke Cage, the star of Marvels’ Luke Cage, was just the neighborhood guy, hanging out at Pop’s barber shop in Harlem.  However, after his name gets tarnished he needs to fight to clear his name and save his neighborhood.

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via gamers.vg

Some superheroes wear capes; others wear hoodies full of bullet holes.  The one thing that Luke Cage absolutely nails, among other things, is its titular hero.  We got a taste of Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Netflix’s other series Jessica Jones, but this time around he’s front and center.  He’s an ex-con who literally just wants to be left alone.  He’s the neighborhood guy that everybody loves.  He also has superhuman strength and durability, which comes in handy more times than not.  The show doesn’t waste any time in showing you that Luke’s bulletproof.  I was going to count how many hoodies he lost because of bullet holes…but I quickly lost count.  Colter brings a toughness to the role that I really like.  He also does a good job at portraying a man who has a lot of demons, demons he wrestles with all season.  Luke’s a complex character, one that ever so relatable.  As a white male, I would be lying to you if I told you that I related to Luke Cage, but there is a massive demographic of young black males that will quickly identify with Luke’s character, especially in light of the events in current society.  This isn’t by accident either.

Another aspect that show creator Cheo Hodari Coker nails is the story, full of great supporting characters as well as villains.  Like all of Marvel’s Netflix shows, the story stays grounded in Harlem, a city full of gangbanging and corruption.  One of the neighborhoods’ biggest players is Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali) who goes by the name of ‘Cottonmouth.’  I absolutely adored Ali’s performance as the classy gangster hungry for power.  Nothing made me giddier than the show’s iconic scene that has Cottonmouth demonstrating his power in front of a portrait of late rapper Biggie Smalls.  It’s a great example of the show’s fantastic cinematography.  Cottonmouth’s not the only player in Harlem though.  There’s also councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Herman “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi).  Both give great performances, along with some other villains that I won’t mention in fear of spoilers.

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via News Times

But who’s on Luke Cage’s side?  At first, Luke’s relationship with Harlem detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is a rough, but the two slowly warm up to each other as the season moves on.  They both are in search of justice and want to make sure that it’s found, no matter the cost.  It’s also refreshing to see Rosario Dawson get substantial screen time as Claire Temple, a good friend of Luke’s.  We have seen Dawson in both Daredevil and Jessica Jones as Claire, but only in smaller, more supportive roles.  This time she’s a prime part of the story, helping Luke find answers and seek justice in any way that she can.  She has experience tending to heroes like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which makes her a qualified sidekick on Luke’s quest for vengeance.

The first couple of episodes chug along at a slower pace, but the story quickly picks up at a faster and more thrilling pace.  Although the main focus is Luke’s quest to avenge Pop’s (Frankie Faison) death, we also see bit and pieces of Luke’s past as an ex-con and how he became the superhuman that he is now.  I think these bits of backstory are neatly framed within the context of the story and they never feel too egregious.  They also play a big part in developing the characters and their motivations in the story.  Even though I enjoyed the show’s story a great deal, it was still lacking a thing that all good stories need: conflict, which might seem silly when you see Luke Cage fighting his way through gangsters and taking bullets like hunting target.  “Of course there’s conflict, what are you talking about!?”  Sure, there’s a surface level conflict, but I never felt like Luke was ever in real danger at any point during the course of the season.  There’s clever ways that the plot tries to build roadblocks in Luke’s mission, but I always knew in the back of my head that Luke was going to be just fine.  That’s the problem when you have a character that is, literally, bulletproof.  There were, of course, an abundance of thrills but these thrills were the byproduct of well-choreographed fight scenes and action moments…never the byproduct of conflict.

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via Digital Trends

Let’s circle back to a positive aspect of my time with Luke Cage and that is the show’s production and style.  Everything from the imagery to the show’s amazing soundtrack play a big role in putting you in the city streets of Harlem.  I already mentioned it previously, but the scene including Biggie’s portrait is a perfect example of the show really embracing Harlem’s culture.  There’s also the soundtrack, which is heavily influenced by old-school rap.  It even boils down to the show’s episode titles, all of which are references to the classic rap duo Gang Starr.  The show’s creators really understood the culture and setting that they were working with and hit a hole-in-one in terms of Harlem’s look and feel.  It did a great job at placing you in the beating heart of Harlem’s neighborhood.

If I had to rank Marvel’s Netflix shows as of right now, I would probably put Luke Cage above Jessica Jones but below Daredevil.  Regardless of its place among its sister shows, Luke Cage still excels on its own.  There’s a few blemishes, specifically with the conflict for a near-invincible vigilante, but the story delivers a wonderful cast of characters placed in the beautifully painted depiction of Harlem.  Ever since I saw Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Jessica Jones I knew I wanted a full-on show devoted to the character, and Luke Cage delivers and succeeds in its mission.  But seriously, Luke really needs to buy some higher-grade hoodies.  Don’t they sell bullet-proof hoodies?

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Review: BoJack Horseman Season 3

bojack s3 poster
via iMDB

BoJack Horseman (Season 3) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Animation / Comedy / Drama

Starring: Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie

Creator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg


I was already in love with Netflix’s BoJack Horseman after its first two seasons, but lo and behold, the show’s third season made me love the show even more.  I didn’t think it was possible.  The show manages to stay fresh while delivering its trademark dark and dry humor.  It’s a show that’s brutally honest and bend over backwards hilarious.  It also isn’t afraid to get real…super real.  (You already got a taste of this towards the latter half of season two) Show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has a true bona-fide hit on his hand and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon.

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via Webthieunhi

This season we have the post-Secretariat aftermath that BoJack (Will Arnett) has to maneuver himself through.  If you’ve been keeping track, the show has pretty much taken us through the gauntlet of what it’s like to be an actor in Hollywood.  The show’s first season portrayed the trials and tribulations of being an old washed-up actor while season two dove head first into the world of filming a movie.  This season, we get to watch as BoJack deals with press junkets, award shows, and the brunt of execs who want to throw script after script at him because he’s made it big with Secretariat.  In true BoJack fashion, he seems to be handling everything well (relatively, of course) but then things take a turn for the worse as friendships get tested and tried.  Remember when I said this show isn’t afraid to get real?  Yeah…this show gets pretty sobering in the later episodes.  BoJack might have approached his lowest point yet.  That says something, especially considering the fact that last season he was caught in a yacht with a teenage girl on prom night.  Just watch season two to see for yourself…

All your favorite characters, both big and small, make it back for season three.  BoJack’s feline agent, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), is facing some hard times with her new agency and she starts to question herself as well as others.  She even finds new love.  Diane (Alison Brie), one of BoJack’s best friends, is helping him with his social media outlets, among other things.  Her and Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins) relationship is tested once again as they continue to work out the kinks in their estranged marriage.  Finally, everyone’s favorite lazy roommate Todd (Aaron Paul) is…well, not so lazy this season.  He still has his fair share of wacky off-the-walls adventures, but the main portion of the season focuses on his new tech start-up, which focuses on giving woman a “safe place” in the cab industry.  Although it soon starts to evolve into some crazy directions.

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There aren’t too many new characters introduced this season, besides BoJack’s publicist Ana Spanikopita, voiced by Angela Bassett.  Bassett does a great job with the character, who has to put up with BoJack’s crazy shenanigans and bloated persona.  Instead, this season mainly focuses on the character we already know and love and develops them even deeper, giving us some much appreciated backstory in the way of flashbacks.  It felt like I knew the characters even more by the end.  There’s a whole episode that’s totally devoted to each character’s backstory, which happens to be one of the best episodes of the season.

I was constantly amazed by the fresh ideas that were brought to the table over and over again this season.  The same familiar humor is still abundant and healthy, but we get some cleverly written episodes that demonstrate the show’s prowess.  There’s an episode that rewinds time back to the year 2007.  Not only do we get to see all the characters and where they were at during this time, but it’s also chock full of 2007 references.  Everything from the music to the billboards.  I was laughing out loud for the entire episode.  On the other hand, we got an episode in similar vein to the silent films of the Golden Era of Hollywood.  BoJack takes a trip under the sea for an underwater film festival, but things go south as he has to care for a newborn seahorse.  He’s unable to speak (because he’s underwater), which makes for an episode devoid of conversation but full of heart and hilarity.  Despite the lack of words, it might have been the most well-written episode of the season.

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It’s not often that we get TV shows that consistently nail it out of the park every single episode.  With its third season, BoJack Horseman truly makes the mark.  It’s brilliant up and down the board.  There’s lighthearted episodes mixed with some sobering episodes, all with a heavy dose of clever and relevant humor.  The writing this season is top-notch and almost all the characters elevate in terms of development.  This season’s finale is both sad and optimistic for BoJack, who goes through a whole arsenal of emotions of the course of the season.  It only got me hopeful for what is next in the already confirmed fourth season.  You know your killing it when your fourth season gets green-lit before the premiere even airs.

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Review: Stranger Things

stranger things poster
via Following the Nerd

Stranger Things (2016)

Netflix / TV14

Drama / Horror / Mystery

Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard

Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer


Netflix’s Stranger Things just screams 80’s nostalgia.  Literally every single corner of the show is just dripping with love for the era.  The show merges psychological thrills with horror, something that would fit perfectly in the 80s.  There’s even influence from guy like John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King…in more ways than one.  In its concise eight-episode season, Stranger Things manages to layer on depth with every episode, delivering one of the most intriguing and mysterious stories of the year.

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via Dread Central

Mystery begins upon the disappearance of a boy named Will (Noah Schnapp) after a night of Dungeon and Dragons with his friends.  His friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are a group of AV-club misfits that gave me strong Goonies vibes.  After the disappearance of her son Will, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) starts to go mad, calling upon the help of town sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to help investigate the strange disappearance.  It’s only a matter of time before shady government agencies and supernatural events start to make an appearance, cementing the fact that something deeper and more nefarious is taking ahold of the peaceful town.

Making matters more interesting, the boys stumble upon a peculiar girl, simply named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who seems to be the answer to everything that has been occurring.  She’s scared and keeps to herself, but her powers go beyond all understanding.  Her background is something of an enigma.  Over the course of the show we get flashbacks to her past which involves a lot of lab experiments and a dark past.

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via IGN

The best part about Stranger Things is the layered story that it piles on every step of the way.  The premiere episode is crazy by itself, but things take a plunge with each episode, whether it’s a new reveal or element key to the events taking place.  The show goes places, for better or worse.  Overall, the show does a good job at delivering a thrilling story but some of the supernatural elements are left out to dry with little explanation.  The various characters give some convoluted clarifications towards the latter half of the story, but they don’t always feel satisfying.  When I say the show goes places, it goes places.  Sometimes you just have to suspend disbelief in order to fully enjoy the story.  Despite this, the events wrap up brilliantly, yielding a satisfying conclusion, albeit a little predictable.

Winona Ryder is by far the stand out performance here.  She plays a distressed mom that is crazy about finding her lost son.  She starts off just like any other worried mom but as time goes on she plunges down a dark road of hysteria that involves talking to Christmas lights and putting holes through walls.  It’s not a good look, but Ryder does a fantastic job at portraying all of these emotions.  There’s also David Harbour’s performance as Sheriff Hopper.  At first I wasn’t sold as he seemed like he didn’t really want to apart of what was happening, but when we discover his backstory, things start to fall into place his performance gets better with time.  Even the child actors did a good job with their roles.  With child actors, their performances can be hit or miss, but Bobby Brown, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, McLaughlin, and even Schnapp did really well.  It’s also worth mentioning that Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), and Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) all did fine jobs as well.

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via Dread Central

The presentation elements of the show are what make Stranger Things so appealing.  As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of nostalgia elements that give the show 80’s flair.  The title screen is an obvious callback to Steven King’s novels, mimicking the same font and look of any of his titles.  Jaws movie posters adorn the walls and songs like Toto’s “Africa” play in the background.  Speaking of music, the show’s soundtrack is on point, all the time.  The music is super synthy and the unnerving audio cues amp up the thrills.  Stranger Things is an example of perfect sound design.  Even the visual effects feel like they’re fresh out of the 80’s, which is good and bad.  The monster animations are cheesy and strobe lights apparently mask some of the effects-heavy scenes.  Perhaps it adds to the show’s character, but the effects feel out of place and kind of lazy in 2016.

What we have with Stranger Things is a love letter to shows of its ilk.  The 80’s influence is real and ever present.  The Duffer Brothers, directors of the show, have a great piece of television on their hands.  There’s already been a lot of talk surrounding the show, which makes a second season a good possibility.  I’m all for another trip back into Stranger Things but I don’t want the show to carry on past three seasons at most.  There’s value to shorter and more concise TV shows that tell one-off stories.  Stranger Things, which might be my favorite show of the year so far, has me dying to see more.

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Review: The Aviator

the aviator poster
via IMP Awards

The Aviator (2004)

PG-13 / 170 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale

Director: Martin Scorsese


Let’s talk about Howard Hughes, one of the most financially successful individuals in American History.  He was a business tycoon first, but his interests reached much farther than the business realm.  He was an aviation genius as well as a film aficionado.  He practically did everything from creating big Hollywood pictures to designing military-grade planes for the US.  He’s a fascinating figure that has been explored multiple times in pop culture.  Maybe the most prominent look into his life was Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, a biographical drama that takes a glimpse into Hughes’ younger years and his rise to prominence.

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via Film Reviews n’ Such

The film begins in the 1920s with Hughes’ filming of his big war epic Hell’s Angels.  The multi-faceted tycoon is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who does an amazing job at capturing the businessmen’s keen attention to detail, as well as his other peculiar quirks.  His accent might be a little grating at times, but it’s undeniable that DiCaprio takes the role by the throat and destroys it, in a good way of course.  Over the course of the movie, we discover the type of person Hughes is and how he does things.  The film spans twenty years and shows us his personal life as well as his dabbles in the film and aviation industries.  Some of the stuff might be dry, but it’s really captivating stuff.  I was constantly questioning whether the movie’s events were true, but Scorsese did a pretty good job at staying true to the story of Hughes.  He’s a really unique man whose instincts lead him to greatness, as well as some dark places as well.

Scorsese has assembled himself an ensemble cast that really complements DiCaprio’s performance.  Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale play Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner respectively, Hughes’ two love interests.  They both give great performances, especially Blanchett who went on to win an Oscar for her performance.  There’s also Noah Dietrich and Juan Trippe, Hughes’ business associates, played by John C. Reilly and Alec Baldwin respectively.  These are the recurring characters that we see over the course of the movie’s story, but there’s a bunch of other important players that serve important roles as well.  I don’t think there was one bad performance in the movie.  Everyone was strong and really sold their characters.

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via Miramax

I’m always a big sucker for period pieces taking place in the 20s, and The Aviator did a bang-up job at recreating the period.  The movie looks great, with eye-popping visuals and rich colors.  The film just feels like an epic, in both scale and appearance.  It’s full of glitz, glamor, and spectacle, present around every turn in the movie.  I got to give some credit to Scorsese and the filmmaking that went into the look of this movie, because it sure was a treat to watch.

The only misstep The Aviator makes on its journey through Hughes’ life is in its pacing.  And when I say journey, I mean it’s a long one.  The movie almost cracks the three-hour mark, which is more of a detriment than an advantage.  Most of the film’s material is captivating and intriguing stuff but there are some lulls, especially during the film’s middle ground.  The first and third acts are really engaging, but the journey in between these acts is where the film slows down.  Trimming some of the fat would have kept the film a lot more compelling through and through.

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Despite some of its pacing issues, DiCaprio and the rest of his adjoining cast keep the movie going.  It’s a riveting, and at times sobering, tale of triumph and failure.  It’s no secret that Hughes, despite his massive successes, was a troubled man, especially during his later years.  Numerous flying accidents did a number on him and drove him deeper into a state of physical and mental instability.  Scorsese does a fantastic job at taking us through a vertical slice of Hughes’ life with The Aviator.  It not only captures his good side, but his more unfortunate side as well. It’s dynamic and engaging, and well worth your time, despite its intimidating runtime.

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Review: American Beauty

american beauty poster
via IMP Awards

American Beauty (1999)

R / 122 min

Drama

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch

Director: Sam Mendes


Mid-life crises hit people hard.  They’re usually drastic and come completely from left field.  They have the potential to make you do weird things…things you’ll regret after it’s all over.  American Beauty, the academy award winning drama from director Sam Mendes, gives us a peek into the life of Lester Burnham, a suburban father who finds himself smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis.  A really weird one as well.  What takes place during the movie is fascinating piece of work.

american beauty 1
via attheback.blogspot.com

Kevin Spacey plays the sexually-frustrated Lester, which might be one of his best roles to date.  As he narrates the movie, we get introduced to the many annoyances that plague his life.  Lester’s wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is a stressed out real estate agent who needs to take a chill pill.  Bening give a great performance, it’s just a shame that her character gets no redeeming moments at all throughout the course of the movie, but that was most likely Mendes’ goal.  On the other hand, we have Lester’s daughter Jane, played by Thora Birch, whose bad tempered and generally unfriendly.  American Beauty is family dysfunction to a T.  It’s no surprise that Lester is bored with life, because he certainly isn’t getting any pleasures from his family.

Things quickly start to take a weird turn when Lester is introduced to Jane’s cheerleading friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari).  She puts him into a state of trance, giving him feelings he hasn’t experienced in a long while.  She essentially drives him to quit his job, work out, and smoke weed.  He even buys a new car.  Topping it all off, he begins to have fantasies about Angela where she’s always covered in roses.  The symptoms of a mid-life crisis.  Not perverted enough for you yet?  Well, we’re also introduced to Rick (Wes Bentley), the kid from next door who has a drug problem and a knack for filming people from his window.  There’s a scene where he is filming Lester work out in his garage naked from his bedroom.  Like I said, the movie isn’t afraid to get weird.

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via Toutle Cine

At first I didn’t know where this movie was going.  I knew that the outcome was heading for the worse, but I didn’t know how it was going to get there.  Then the third act came into play and it all started to come together and make sense.  I started to learn things about characters that we previously didn’t know and the pieces started putting themselves together.  It was enthralling to watch it all play out.  It was a depressing ending, but it made a lot of sense.  It came together brilliantly, which is the product of good screenwriting.

Perhaps the most enticing storyline of them all was the relationship between Rick and his family.  His mother doesn’t really speak much and his father, played by Peter Gallagher, is an ex-military prim-and-proper type.  Rick is a mentally estranged kid who has had problems with drugs in the past.  As the movie goes on, things get more tense in the family as Rick develops a relationship with Jane.  On the outset it might not seem like a big deal but Rick’s father gets the wrong idea, which is where things start to get interesting.

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via Masculinity Movies

Everything about American Beauty works really well.  Everything from the imagery to the performances make the film a stand-out.  It’s no surprise that the movie got well received by the Academy.  Every character is chasing their own version of the American dream, but they all fall short in their own ways.  It’s a smart movie that comes together in an illustrious way, which is a surprise given the fact that this was Mendes’ directorial debut.  American Beauty is an example of films done right.  Also, nothing ever good comes from having an infatuation with your daughter’s friend.  Just don’t do it.

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Review: Emily Is Away

emily is away cover

Emily Is Away (2015)

PC / Not Rated

Adventure

Publisher: Kyle Seeley

Developer: Kyle Seeley


Most people this day and age at some point have probably found themselves in front of a computer with an instant messenger client open.  Before the age of texting and social media, there was a time where AOL Instant Messaging was one of the few ways to get in touch with high school friends or distant relatives savvy enough to use a computer.  Another familiar experience, one that most of us have probably been through, is the complicated high school crush relationship.  With a high school crush, you’re always teetering on the line between a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship or the friend zone, where anything you say could tip it all off-balance.

When you pair instant messaging of the early 2000s with conversations with a high school crush, you probably get a relatable experience, which is where Emily Is Away succeeds in its mission.  Emily Is Away is a small PC indie game designed by Kyle Seeley.  The game encapsulates the complicated and sometimes nerve-wracking nature of talking with a crush perfectly, using a deeply nostalgic Windows XP aesthetic as a wrapper.  It immediately transported me back to a time were punk-pop bands were the norm and Harry Potter movies were new and all the rage.

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The beginning of the game lets you pick a screen name, a name that you will use to talk and communicate with the game’s titular character Emily, who goes by “emerly35” online.  The short narrative journey takes place over five years, starting in your senior year of high school and ending with your senior year of college.  Over this time, you speak with Emily about a wide range of things ranging from music to parties, until you eventually get into some deeper topics like your relationship with her and other love interests in your life.  What you say directly affects your relationship with Emily in more ways than one.  Do you or do you not want to be with Emily?  Oh, she’s talking to another boy?  What’s his name?  Why would you want to be with him?  Do you really think he’s the right one for you?

High school crushes are complicated.  A lot of the times they are talking with other people and feeling of jealousy can rise from the dirt.  You don’t want to tell them what to do with their lives, but you desperately want to be with them as well.  The game captures these feelings perfectly.  It also hits home in a lot of different ways, thanks to the relatability of the scenario. Whether you like it or not, your relationship changes with Emily as you go through college and no matter what you say, the distance between you and her continues to grow.  The ending is pretty depressing, but it’s extremely powerful in execution.  It’s an outcome that you probably dread from the start, but it’s a part of life.  The game has different endings, but I’m unsure if you are able to get a “positive” outcome, no matter how hard you try, which is kind of unfortunate.  However, I think the negative endings work a lot better for the story and they give it more impact.

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All the other details surrounding your conversations with Emily are some of the best parts of the game.  Like I mentioned before, the game’s interface lovingly recreates the Window XP desktop. You have your messaging application that you use to talk with Emily as well as your “buddy list” that has all of your friends.  Before every conversation, I found myself reading through my friends’ user bios which usually consisted of song lyrics or other meaningful quotes.  Just like your relationship with Emily, your friends have changed too, and depending on the choices you make with Emily, you have the power to bring them closer or drive them away.  It’s a neat little aspect of the game that only garnishes the meat of the experience.  A part of me wishes that I could have talked with these other friends as well, but that would have only distracted me from the main conversation at hand.  It could have worked, but it would have been tougher to implement in a meaningful and enriching way.

Even details like your “buddy icon” that you select before every year (five years divide into five chapters or conversations) did a great job at putting you in the early 2000s.  The instant I saw the Harry Potter and Eminem logos that you could choose for your icon, I knew I was going to like this game.  There’s also plenty of hidden surprises that unlock different Easter eggs throughout the course of the game as well.  If you set your username to be “vaultdweller” for instance, you might get a special icon available for use.  Some usernames also trigger conversational cues that can add some variety to the conversations as well.  Setting your username to be the exact same as Brad’s (the boy Emily is talking to) can lead to a funny and confusing situation.  (Try it.)

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The short experience that Emily Is Away provides is extremely powerful and one of the most relatable games I have ever played.  Not only does it provide a deeply engrossing, and ultimately sad, story but it also hits all of the nostalgic beats of the early 2000s.  The game is essentially a friend zone simulator and it succeeds in every aspect of its execution.  I would have liked the game to be a bit longer so I could spend more time with the character of Emily, but I think the game is alright where it stands.  If you love sweating over what to say to your crush, then this game is most definitely for you.

emily is away score

Also available on Mac and Linux.

Review: The Shawshank Redemption

shawshank redemption poster
via Movie Poster

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

R / 142 min

Drama / Crime

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton

Director: Frank Darabont


The prison walls can do a lot of things to people.  The confines of such walls can drive some men into a dark pit of madness while others might look upon the walls with hope, hope that one day they can see the light again on the other side.  Some men are put inside these walls because of their own doing, while some have no choice.  Some prisoners have fear while others believe in hope and it’s their mindset that can keep them from seeking redemption.  This is the idea behind Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s directorial debut.

shawshank redemption 1
via IFC

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a well-to-do investment banker, is the last person you would expect to find behind the bars of prison.  After a series of unfortunate coincidences, Andy is convicted of murdering his wife and the man she was seeing behind his back.  He truly believed he was innocent, but the judge and jury saw otherwise.  Carrying the burden of two back-to-back life sentences, he is sent to the Shawshank prison, where he will spend the rest of his life for something he didn’t do.  The first couple of days are rough.  They’re rough for everyone, but Andy seems to walk with an air of confidence, one that surprises his fellow inmates, including a prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman), a “veteran” of Shawshank.  After some time has passed, Andy starts to make the best of the situation he was thrust into.

Days turn to months and the months to years as time starts to pass.  Andy has a rough tenure during his first couple of years but he starts to make a name for himself inside the prison walls.  He gets on good footing with Shawshank’s warden Norton (Bob Gunton), builds and organizes a prison library with the help from senate funding, does the taxes for almost every single guard within the walls, and most importantly, deepens his friendship with Red and some of his other fellow inmates.  This is not the kind of prison movie that you would expect.  Sure, there’s some violence here and there but this is a story of redemption and good will.  Perhaps the title didn’t make that clear.

shawshank redemption 2
via Fan Pop

What makes the film work so well is the deep bond between Robbin’s Andy and Freeman’s Red.  The duo’s friendship comes a long way since the day Andy rode into the prison in a white bus with Red and his cohorts taking bets on who would be the first to cry.  The two help each other, together coping with the situation they were given.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are the standouts by far, but the rest of the cast did an amazing job as well.  Every character was well written and they were all instrumental to the overall story.

Just like the characters, every single scene and detail played an important part in the progression of the story.  There were no filler scenes.  Everything was important, whether viewers know at the time or not.  The sequences documenting Shawshank’s librarian (James Whitmore) and his life outside of prison were super effective and some of the best parts of the movie.  They were depressing in a way, but they were important.  This is a movie where you want to pay attention to every single little detail because you know they will come into play later.  The Shawshank Redemption is an example of brilliant writing.

shawshank redemption 3
via Fan Pop

There’s a build-up that takes place from the very start.  The movie might seem slow at parts, especially during the second act, but this all leads to the grand finale.  Remember the part where I said every little detail in this movie has meaning?  Well, there’s a twist that comes in the movie’s third act, one tighter than a corkscrew.  It’s an impressive twist that will leave you in awe wondering how it all even happened.  However, after careful examination of the events and subtleties that led up to it, everything makes perfect sense.

It’s a battle between fear and hope.  People handle these emotions in different ways and The Shawshank Redemption encapsulates these emotions in fantastic ways.  Inside the walls of Shawshank there’s a story of hope, friendship, redemption, fear, and perseverance in the face of dire circumstances.  The Shawshank Redemption is a feel-good story that succeed tremendously in execution.  It also goes to show that it’s not always doom and gloom inside the walls of prison.  There’s always a shimmer of light inside the darkness.

shawshank redemption score

Review: Nightcrawler

nightcrawler poster
via Fat Movie Guy

Nightcrawler (2014)

R / 117 min

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Director: Dan Gilroy


There’s something slightly unsettling about Nightcrawler, director Dan Gilroy’s exploration into the world of L.A. crime journalism.  Until watching this movie, I didn’t even know this sort of industry even existed.  Essentially, the act of “nightcrawling” involves racing around the streets of L.A. during the twilight hours to capture b-roll footage of all the crimes that take place during the night.  This footage is then shopped around to news agencies, ripe and ready to be broadcasted during the morning news cycle.  It’s a ruthless business, one that requires you to stay ahead of the curve if you want to succeed.  Nightcrawler is the story of Louis Bloom, a rookie to the business who takes his entrepreneurial abilities a little too far.

nightcrawler 1
via Moustache Magazine

Jake Gyllenhaal takes the lead role of Louis Bloom, a grungy greased-up entrepreneur.  He’s a hustler, persistent to the point of annoyance and willing to do anything he has to in order to put his foot ahead of the rest.  His search for a job comes to an end when he drives past a car accident on his way home.  He gets out of his car and before he even has the chance to take a couple of steps, a van comes to a halting stop next the accident, with two video journalists hopping out to capture the footage.  Ideas start brewing in Louis’ head and before we know it, he is dipping his toes into this somewhat sleazy business.

Louis’ operation escalates pretty quickly as he starts to learn the ins and outs of the business.  He purchases his own equipment, learns the police radio codes, and even hires an assistant (played by Riz Ahmed).  Unlike the other video journalists, Louis takes his craft to the next level and begins to blur the lines of morality.  His first video package that he prepares for a local TV station gets a little nosey as he “breaks” into a house to get the “perfect shot” of a crime scene.  His primary contact at the TV station, TV veteran Nina Romina (Rene Russo), loves this up-close-and-personal footage and decides to air Louis’ work, despite some hesitation from her peers at the station.

nightcrawler 2
via Business Insider

Things only get more intense as Louis tests the waters of moral ambiguity.  Gyllenhaal does a perfect job at portraying the young entrepreneur.  He’s cut-throat in his doings and he’s a little bit insane.  Gyllenhaal takes you down the character’s rabbit hole that he gets himself into as he tries to get “the perfect shot.”  The film ramps up in intensity, especially during a murder scene at a suburban mansion.  It’s the film’s peak, the moment that begins Louis’ decent.  Rene Russo’s Nina also takes part in this decent, although to a lesser extent.  The performances are great all around, but I would have liked to see more from Riz Ahmed’s character.  His relationship with Louis was a toxic one, one that I thought could have been explored a little more than it was.

Nightcrawler shouldn’t really be looked at as an accurate representation of the business, but more as a satire.  However, the film does raise questions about the moral ramifications that stem from such a sordid, yet lucrative job.  Morality is one of the primary driving themes behind the story, one that is handled pretty well.  Like I said in the very beginning of this review, there is something deeply unsettling about the act of nightcrawling.  It’s not the most glamourous of occupations, and this film does a great job at portraying this.

nightcrawler 3
via Reel Brief

Events build up as the movie rolls along but the final scene felt a little bit anticlimactic, and almost unnecessary. Things came to a close in such a jarring way that I was not expecting.  The ending wasn’t really effective at all and didn’t really put the nicest cap on an otherwise very well-made film.  The movie could have been extended or shortened by a scene to wrap things up better.  It would have made a big difference.

There’s a dose of grittiness and darkness that covers Nightcrawler, an unnerving look into the seedy world of crime journalism.  Gyllenhaal gives an outstanding performance of a man who takes things a little too far.  The film documents the steady decline of his character as he does some dirty things to get ahead of his peers.  It’s a fascinating film that’s full of great performances and thrills.  It’s just a shame it wasn’t brought to a conclusion in better fashion.

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Review: Lee Daniel’s The Butler

the butler poster
via Cinema Blend

Lee Daniel’s The Butler (2013)

PG-13 / 132 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo

Director: Lee Daniels


We’re smack dab in the middle of another election season which means one thing, more change is coming to the White House.  No matter how this election turns out, a new president is going to be elected and people will be moving in and out of the White House.  It’s a change that’s relatively constant every four (or eight) years.  I’m willing to bet that the White House is probably the one house in America that has had the most tenants over the course of history.  I’m probably wrong but I’m 80% confident that this is the truth.

The Butler (2013)Forest Whitaker
(Screengrab)
via EW

Change doesn’t affect everything in the White House though.  It’s the behind the scenes crew, the group of individuals that keep America’s oldest and safest house running at tip-top shape, that are the one constant amidst the change.  Perhaps the most notable staff member that the White House has ever had on its team was Eugene Allen, a butler who served under a multitude of presidents over a 34-year span until he retired as head butler in 1986.  He is also the source and inspiration behind Lee Daniel’s The Butler, a historical drama that takes a look at the wildly intriguing life of Cecil Gaines, butler at the White House.

Yes, that’s right, the name of the butler in the movie, played by Forest Whitaker, is named Cecil Gaines.  I’m not sure why they decided to go with that name over Eugene’s actual name, but there’s probably some legitimate reason that makes sense.  I’m sure Eugene or his family probably had something to do with it.  Forest Whitaker was pretty much perfect for this role.  He was stoic and constricted in his mannerisms as he slid right into the body of Cecil.  The man goes through a lot over the tenure of his work and watching the way he acted and reacted to things was one of the best parts of the movie.  There’s few actors I could have seen doing better in this role than Whitaker.

the butler 2
via The Atlantic

The rest of Cecil’s family are also just as delightful, although they don’t reach the same caliber as Whitaker’s performance.  Oprah Winfrey plays Cecil’s loud-mouthed wife Gloria.  Cecil also has two sons, Louis and Charlie, played by David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelly respectively.  Louis is the rebel in the family while Charlie is the good two-shoes of the bunch.  One of the primary spotlights of the movie is centered on Louis as he becomes a big proponent for the black civil rights movement and joins the Black Panthers.  We film switches back and forth between Cecil’s life in the White House and Louis’ life on the streets.  One is working for the power while the other is working against it.  They both ultimately want the same goal, social freedom, but watching the contrast between the two is really cool.

The reality of making a movie about the life of Cecil Gaines, as well as the civil rights movement, is perhaps a little tougher than it seems.  You could create a multi-season TV show about the two, but when you try to cram 30+ years of history into one movie, things get a little crowded.  The film’s pacing is light on its feet and it flies through the years, only stopping here and there for important plot moments.  Lee Daniels had a lot of ground to cover in terms of material and it would have been nice if he honed it down to a more concentrated and smaller portion of history.  The focus of the story moves a little too fast between different time periods making it hard to catch a breath.

Lee Daniels' The Butler

Another way in which the movie faults is with its A-list cast.  It’s funny that I say that.  A-list cast?  Why would that be a bad thing.  Your right, having a top-notch cast is usually something you strive for with a movie but in The Butler’s case, the cast is actually a little distracting.  Over the course of the movie we are introduced to the eight presidents, who range from lesser known actors to the more popular.  The bottom line, they were all gimmicky in their own ways.  Casting the late Robin Williams as president Eisenhower was one example of the questionable casting decisions.  He looked the part but didn’t necessarily fit into the part personality wise.  Instead of saying, “oh look, it’s president Eisenhower!” I said, “oh look, it’s Robin Williams…that’s weird.”  There’s also appearances from the people like Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz that just felt out of place in the movie.

Despite its missteps, Lee Daniel’s The Butler is a well-made period piece.  It tells not only a fascinating story, but an important one that needs to be told.  It also finds ways to be relevant to this day.  (It even has a couple of scenes dedicated to the Obama election) The movie might be a quick and fast crash course on the topic of the civil rights movement, but that only acts as a backdrop for the story at hand, which is the story of Cecil Gaines, a black White House butler during a time of unparalleled change in American history.

THE BUTLER