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Best. Trilogy. Ever?

23 Jul

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Synopsis: “After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 20 minutes)
The Planet of the Apes trilogy that just concluded was one of the absolute BEST trilogies I’ve EVER seen…and in case it’s not evident, I’ve seen quite a few movies.
Beginning, middle and end, it was just so damn powerful. Yes, for anyone who assumes a big budget movie about simians has to be stupid, don’t judge it by its poster, nor the cheesy fun Charlton Heston films, nor the really mediocre remake by Tim Burton (who I generally love).
No, this trilogy by Matt Reeves is fantastic. The heartbreaking first one Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a tragically wonderful performance by John lithgow (whom I get to meet in a few months thanks to Adi!!!), the great second one Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which shows a hell of an internal conflict among the apes, and now the final chapter War for the Planet of the Apes, which has Woody Harrelson doing a hell of a Martin Sheen circa Apocalypse Now impression.
Throughout the trilogy, the perennially Oscar-snubbed Andy Serkis is PERFECTION as the Caesar. The visuals are flawless, the drama is taut, and other than Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, I honestly can’t think of another trilogy that goes so wonderfully together. (Sorry, I love all of Back to the Future but the third is a huge loss in quality, the drop-off between the first two Godfather movies and the third is astounding, and many others including Harry Potter and James Bond have more than three great movies but they aren’t actually 3-story arcs, they simply have good and weaker chapters.)
Most people I know get annoyed when sequels are made to good movies, and I get that; they don’t want to see something great degrade in quality, so leave well enough alone. And I get that mentality, I do, I just happen to be a movie-LOVER and not a movie-SNOB (as evidenced by this blog), so I’m ALWAYS excited by the prospect of sequels (if I like the original), continuing stories and characters that I have loved and am excited to see continue. Sure, more often than not it disappoints (Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, and countless other examples) but sometimes it exceeds expectations (each subsequent Captain America movie, Terminator 2) and sometimes it’s just bonkers and insanely different from the first one (Gremlins 2 was basically a Looney Tunes cartoon!), but I’m Boaz, and I proudly enjoy seeing what they do with it, and in most examples I enjoy the experience of seeing it play out. A disappointing sequel does not detract from my opinion of a great original. But this Apes trilogy was a different animal. It’s not just an excuse for a sequel, it was designed to have a start, middle and end. Not one part of any of it felt like an excuse to find more material to work with. And man oh man did it fire on all cylinders.
Anyway, see them. In order. Preferably on a big screen with good sound.
Oh, and the way this latest one started with a recap was so simple in design that it amazed me it’s never been done before. Sometimes it’s the little things that go unnoticed…

It was much better than any previous Planet of the Apes incarnation, and just as good as the previous two in the trilogy, which is a high bar.

Quality Rating: A+ (What did you expect from a post about putting it up there with Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings as the best trilogy I’ve ever seen?)

Boaz Rating: A+ (I was gripped from the first to the last minute, it had me laughing the few rare times of humor, and crying at the somber moments.)

Pain & Gain

11 Apr

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Synopsis: “A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.” (Rated R; 2 hours, 9 minutes)

Extremely entertaining, funny, and “based on a true story”. Why the quotation marks? I’ll get to that later… It’s somewhat shocking that the movie is by Michael Bay, the same director who loves to make bloated mega-movies like Transformers and Pearl Harbor. To be fair I generally love his movies, but that’s because I have the ability to enjoy big, loud, brainless garbage. Give me Armageddon any day and I’ll leave the movie theater super happy. And let’s not forget this is the same director who recently went viral after doing this at a major CES convention.

At the end of the day, he managed to make a movie that was small (by his standards), and caused some controversy by turning the bad guys into the likable protagonists, and making the real life victim into a character you dislike and root against. Read more about that right here. But I’m not here to pass judgment on the choice of the writers and filmmakers on portraying the story authentically, because purely as a movie THIS. WAS. FUN.

Mark Wahlberg continues to be shockingly hilarious in his recent roles (my favorite is still The Other Guys), he plays stupid SO well in this movie, and he’s INCREDIBLY built (far more than usual) for the role; his biceps were almost as big as The Rock’s… speaking of which The Rock is pretty darn funny himself as a super-sensitive thug. Don’t get me wrong, this may have cracked Adi and myself up, but it’s a comedy for the Tarantino crowd; it’s dark and violent, but nonetheless a surprisingly well-made Michael Bay movie I can easily recommend, even if it did insult the real people it was based on…

The movie was better than Bay’s The Island, an over-the-top sci-fi flop that I managed to enjoy in spite of its badness, and it still wasn’t as much fun as his classic action extravaganza The Rock – I miss Sean Connery!!!

Quality Rating: B+ (I almost gave it an A- but I suppose there should be SOME social responsibility to not only changing the true story, but doing it in a way that offends the still-living victims, right?)

Boaz Rating: A (Still, it was so much fun to watch play out!)

The Sapphires

10 Apr

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Synopsis: “It’s 1968, and four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertain the US troops in Vietnam.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 38 minutes)

This movie was a big hit back in Australia, but really flew under the radar in America – as most “foreign” films do. In this case there’s no excuse by people who don’t like to read subtitles, because unless you have an American brain that’s unable to process accents, there should be no problem. (On a side note, am I allowed to write that it sounds ignorant when people state that they “don’t like foreign films”? Is that supposed to be another way of saying “I don’t like to read”?)

This likable little movie is based on the true story about a white drunk man who sees the potential in a group of Aboriginal girls to turn them into a singing group, and take them to Vietnam to perform for the troops. This being the 1960’s the movie obviously involves strong elements of racism, but the movie focuses less on the external elements against them, and is more about their own internal dynamics. For American audiences, seeing Aboriginal actresses will be less familiar, and it was quite refreshing to my eyes; and of course Chris O’Dowd continues to be extremely likable and funny. (Two of his more well-known roles would be the Irish cop in Bridesmaids, and as Jessa’s husband in Girls.)

The movie was a cute little “rise to stardom” story which was made solidly and competently, and packaged this true story dramedy-musical into an enjoyable flick. If you’re curious to know more about these girls, here is a “where are they now” story for your reading pleasure. It wasn’t anything you needed to see in theaters, but is certainly a decent option for an iTunes download.

The movie was better than Joyful Noise, a completely boring flick that is also about a group of people trying to move from gospel to popular music. The movie wasn’t nearly as good as That Thing You Do! Admit it, the second I mentioned That Thing You Do! you were already humming this song in your head.

Quality Rating: B (Everything about it was competent, and interesting, but it was basically a really good TV movie.)

Boaz Rating: B+ (Put Chris O’Dowd into a movie and it gains a bit of an edge.)

Disconnect (My Favorite Movie You Haven’t Heard Of From 2013)

3 Apr

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Synopsis: “A drama centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 55 minutes)

Was the title of this latest blog entry a dead-giveaway? Yes I enjoyed the movie. A lot. Well, enjoyed may not quite be the right word for it… “affected” perhaps.

Do you remember how good everyone said Crash was, but how there was something inherently heavy-handed and manipulative about the movie that just kept it from actually BEING great? Well those were certainly my feelings from the 2004 Academy Award winner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a very easy movie-audience to please, and I loved watching Crash, with its intense multi-layered story-lines, and great actors playing against type all over the place. In fact it was thanks to Crash that the world started to see that Sandra Bullock really COULD act after all. But it was just a bit too schmaltzy to actually be great (in my humble opinion).

Disconnect is basically Crash without the schmaltz. It has a handful of different story-lines that come together in some bizarre way at the end, but more importantly it is deep, with compelling plots, great acting, and almost a year later I still think it was fantastic. It probably contains the best Jason Bateman performance to date, as well as a “Catfish” type subplot that absolutely broke my heart. I recall the lights going down and being so overwhelmed by what I had just seen that I couldn’t even get up right away. I will not give away more of the story, because I hope you’ll be renting/streaming it soon, and letting me know what you think.

The movie was better than Crash – as I’ve made crystal clear – and it’s not as good as…my bachelor party in Las Vegas. What, I HAVE to pick a movie that I liked more that’s also multilinear? Sorry, it was better than Crash, Babel, Short Cuts and Syriana. I’ve never seen Nashville, so perhaps that was a greater movie of its genre.

Quality Rating: A+ (This isn’t a guilty pleasure type movie where I enjoyed it more than its worth, it actually was great.)

Boaz Rating: A+

42 (My First Attempt At A Short Review)

31 Mar

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Synopsis: “The life story of Jackie Robinson and his history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 8 minutes)

The first of MANY movies I am behind on reviewing since my blog-hiatus. Now to see if I’m actually capable of making good on my promise from a few days ago: keeping them SHORT. One thing going in my favor is that all of this time removed from actually seeing the movies makes me forget so many details, so I must have less to say, right?!

This movie – by now out on DVD – is an extremely well made, likable and earnest biopic about Jackie Robinson. I point out its earnestness because that is a trait that (with good reason) can take away from the quality of a movie. To give you examples of the spectrum of schmaltz versus rawness:

Schmaltz – Most Spielberg movies, as previously discussed in my review of (the very good film) The Impossible

Rawness – One of my favorite movies of the past few years, End Of Watch.

To best put a finger on one versus the other, an earnest movie with schmaltz will usually swell the music during key moments, and make sure that there are lines throughout the movie that really…put…a…lump…in…our…throat. The raw movies, on the other hand, usually rely on the story and images to speak for themselves, and when they are effective they can wow me like no other.

This isn’t to say I consider one to be “better” than another, they are simply very different techniques, and some people will argue that schmaltz is a lazy way to manipulate the audience, I would argue that one of the reasons I GO to the movie theater in the first place is to be manipulated by the filmmaker… within reason.

So what about 42, which contains impassioned speeches, swelling music, and earnest acting performances? I really enjoyed it, from start to finish. An interesting movie that allowed me to learn more about the man who “crossed the color barrier” in my favorite sport, all done with really solid acting. Far and away the most memorable performances came from Harrison Ford and Alan Tudyk. Harrison Ford is an actor I really miss. Two of my favorite all time roles are Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and I can’t even start to imagine anyone else with the charisma or machismo to fill those shoes as perfectly. But for the past 17 years or so he’s really done nothing memorable (yes, Air Force One was 17 years ago). Since then he grumbles his way through roles the same boring way he grumbles his way through real life interviews, and it’s frustrating for a fan like myself. (Here is a blurb that awesomely sums it up.) In 42 however he was funny and I actually found myself rooting for him to get his first nomination since 1985 (for Witness).

Alan Tudyk, on the other hand, is always amazing, and usually he’s amazingly FUNNY (if you haven’t yet seen the maddeningly short-lived Joss Whedon show Firefly, go rent/stream it now). In 42, he plays the horribly racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman, and in one particular scene it’s actually hard to believe just how far he took his words, and you can actually get a vicious TASTE of the power of hateful words. It’s a scene that probably leaves most audiences stunned, and Alan Tudyk really nailed it. Here is a blurb that describes the authenticity of that historic scene.

Overall I really enjoyed watching this inspiring movie with Adi and Cindy, and I believe we all left with relatively similar thoughts: it was schmaltzy, but still quite good.

The movie was better than For Love Of The Game, a really forgettable Kevin Costner baseball flick, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to Field Of Dreams, a Costner baseball movie that is INCREDIBLY schmaltzy, and will make most grown men cry.

Quality Rating: A- (I would give it a B+, but the Tudyk scene was too good to brush off.)

Boaz Rating: A-

Review Rating: F (I failed at my task to actually write a SHORT review – better luck next time!)

The Place Beyond The Pines

9 May

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Synopsis: “A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.” (Rated R; 2 hours, 20 minutes)

I knew this was supposed to be a good movie, but I still prepared myself to see something that I’d find slow and boring. Why? Because it’s an indie, it’s a drama, and it’s 2 hours and 20 minutes. I added that up in my mind and assumed it would be a major drag, but knew I had to see it anyway. This took place last week, as a part of my celebratory three-movie day for passing the nursing boards. (Some people have fancy dinner celebrations, my fiancée knows me well enough to award me a triple-movie feature!) The Place Beyond The Pines had the unfortunate timing of following Jurassic Park; anything would feel slow after that exciting one.

I’m happy to report that in spite of the many reasons it could have been a solid, but boring experience, I thought it was fantastic, and anything BUT boring. It’s honestly such a well made movie, that it’s hard for me to find any flaws. Let me analyze it piece by piece:

The Acting

Everyone was great in it. Ryan Gosling may truly be one of the best working actors today. He was so believable as a suave lady’s man in Crazy, Stupid, Love. He was utterly convincing as a sweet person with mental illness in Lars And The Real Girl. And in The Place Beyond The Pines he fits the part of a white trash guy desperate to win back his baby mama like a glove. Is there any role he can’t do well? The movie was broken up into three sequential stories. The first starred Gosling, the second was led by a fantastic Bradley Cooper, and the third followed an intriguing Dane DeHaan. Cooper previously surprised people when he was great in Limitless and especially Silver Linings Playbook. The difference here was that he got to play the part of a normal person, without relying on the eccentricities of an offbeat character. Not that it’s easy to act eccentrically, but it can be even tougher to give a powerful performance when you’re acting somewhat…normal. Dane DeHaan was most notably in the sci-fi flick Chronicle, a movie I highly recommend for its inventiveness. He had a quiet intensity that made you feel for him, while at the same time you were nervous that he could explode at any moment. Last year Ben Mendelsohn played a scummy low-level criminal so well in Killing Them Softly, I was thrilled to see him here in a variation of that role that was kind and sweet, but still a lowlife. Eva Mendes played one of her least glamorous roles I’ve seen, and was totally believable in spite of her obvious beauty. Rose Byrne was good as Cooper’s wife, but didn’t have very long to make a mark. But anyone who’s seen her in the excellent show Damages knows she’s more than proven her acting worth. And Emory Cohen is quite new to the acting scene (he is on the show Smash which I’ve never seen) but he was so believable as a self-entitled rich punk that I wanted to wring his neck. All of the actors truly felt raw, realistic and gritty, without an ounce of schmaltz in their performances.

The Direction

Derek Cianfrance wrote and directed this epic drama, and seems to create characters on screen that feel so realistic, that it takes you a few minutes to walk out when the lights turn on. His previous movie was Blue Valentine, an extremely depressing look at the love-life of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. That movie was such a downer to sit through, that when we later watched Amour, Adi compared her gut-wrenching feeling to how she felt with Blue Valentine. Once again in The Place Beyond The Pines, Cianfrance did such a fantastic job that it was hard to get up afterwards. The movie Cianfrance created hits you emotionally like a ton of bricks, and when you’re finished you want to just go home and decompress. It’s not even a downer like those other two movies I described, but it makes you feel like you’ve been watching the dramatic lives of real people, spanning many years, and it’s just a lot to take in when all’s said and done. What an amazing thing to accomplish two movies in a row. Clearly Cianfrance has a gift for creating reality on the screen, and so far he’s left me unsettled…twice. Well done.

I realize it may seem funny comparing his movies to Amour, but what they have in common is the feeling that you’re watching absolutely real characters, and then getting to know them a little bit too well. As a result, when horrible things gradually occur, it becomes tougher and tougher to watch. Again, this is no easy task for a film-maker to accomplish. And I’m GLAD most directors don’t know how to pull this off, because I prefer to let loose and relax most of the times I’m watching a movie. I want to enjoy my silly popcorn flicks! He creates a story on the screen that’s like a bucket of ice water on your face; it wakes you up and keeps you captivated, but I can only handle it once in a while.

In spite of this being a 2 hour and 20 minute indie, I was riveted from start to finish. Whether it was a fast-paced scene with Gosling robbing a bank, or a quiet moment with Bradley Cooper talking to his wife in bed, it was electrifying. The movie was done with such a sense of taut suspense that each and every word and moment created a sense of vital importance. I would love to see what the director would do with a comedy, because at this point there can be no doubts left as to his ability to make a hell of a drama. My wonderful fiancée had already sat through the marvelous Jurassic Park, and now the heavy movie that was The Place Beyond The Pines. She loved both films, but was ready to go home. Yet a third one was still in store…

The movie was better than Drive, the critically-acclaimed Ryan Gosling drama that was interesting, but never had the heart that affected me throughout The Place Beyond The Pines. It was however on par with Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance’s other major release with Ryan Gosling. The two movies may have been equally well-made, but this one was certainly more interesting and less depressing to sit through.

Quality Rating: A+

Boaz Rating: A+ (This was the rare movie I expected to think was good but also slow and boring, and thus give it a lower Boaz Rating…it wasn’t so, it may have been very slow-paced, but I wasn’t bored for a second)

Oblivion (“My Comic Book Origin Story”)

8 May

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Synopsis: “A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 5 minutes)

Why on God’s green-earth isn’t this smart science-fiction movie getting more love? This time I not only refer to the critics, but also the people I personally know who have seen and disliked it. I went to see Oblivion with the knowledge that a group of 3 of my friends (Ephraim, Mike and Jared) had gone to see it, and reported being really bored by it. Ephraim, who admits he gets impatient watching movies, said he was intrigued by the first half but then it lost him. They predicted that I’d like it, seemingly because I enjoy most movies, but were ready to mock me for doing so. Well, I’m sorry guys, but not only did I think it was good, I REALLY really liked it.

The movie was like a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey, I Am Legend and WALL-E. First of all, let me address the slow-pacing of the movie. This made me feel like I was watching the classic Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most people to see that movie know it wasn’t exactly an exciting, fast-paced movie, but the brilliant build-up of tension as man realized more and more that he needed to battle machine…wow. And no, I’m not suggesting this movie had the extremely slow pacing of Kubrick, but each scene was certainly deliberate, thoughtful and highly suspenseful. Considering the movie was set on a desolate planet Earth, you should be able to visualize that there were long portions with very little dialogue, and it became more about man versus beast…or machine. Personally I find this technique amazing when it works, such as with Cast Away, or even the aforementioned WALL-E or I Am Legend. A film-maker who is able to create a world where you are watching a one-man play for long chunks of the time, and keep you glued to your seats…I absolutely love and admire that.

Without spoiling anything, the basic premise in Oblivion involves Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough as a two people who have their memories wiped, and are assigned to monitor Earth to help protect it from creatures who have been sabotaging it. All of this takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, where the two of them have a home-base that looks like a scaled-back version of The Jetsons apartment in the sky, while the rest of the world remains bare and desolate.

The visuals were simply awesome. This applied to both the fantastic set design, and also the absurdly great visual effects. My goodness half of this movie involves rocket ships and robots flying around, and it looked amazing. I was swept away in a world where menacing, flying drone robots existed, and Tom Cruise was like Maverick from Top Gun if he’d gotten amnesia and was flying around aimlessly trying to find his purpose in life. In fact, I didn’t know anything about the movie other than the previews, and it made perfect sense to find out that it was based on a graphic novel.

I grew up with an expensive hobby, and comic books be thy name. As with many addictions, it started quite innocently…It was the summer of 1994, I had just turned 15, and my best friend Seth asked me to join him for a comic book signing. Although it sounded like a boring day of nothing but waiting in line, we passed time on lazy Shabbos afternoons often enough that I didn’t mind doing it for the sake of spending time with my buddy. My immediate impressions were of amusement at the people surrounding us in the line. There was one memorable middle-aged man with a twitchy mustache who kept raving about a comic book named Shi, Seth and I joked about this for years to come. Hours passed by, and we finally got inside Golden Apple, the popular comic book store on Melrose Avenue. About 5 steps into the store an Asian man got my attention:

Asian man – Hey! You plan on signing anything?

Boaz – Oh, I’m just here to hang with my friend. Why, where do we finally do that?

Golden Apple Employee – Dude, that’s Jim Lee!

Boaz – Umm, who?

Asian man/Jim Lee – Bursts out laughing

Seth – Nice Boaz, way to embarrass me. He’s the head of Image Comics and the one everyone’s waiting to meet!

Boaz – Oh, sorry, I don’t collect comics, but I’ve been waiting in line long enough that I guess I’ll buy one and get your autograph, sure.

Entire Crowd – Laughs hysterically

When I saw there were about 3 issues released of his comic Wetworks, I bought all three, he signed them, and the next thing I knew I was shopping at Golden Apple once a week, getting about 20 comics at a time. This hobby lasted years, gathered me hundreds to thousands of comic books (I never counted) and all of my babysitting money. As with movies, some were fantastic, others were lousy, some were interesting but slow, and others were dumb fun action. (My favorites were anything written by Garth Ennis, the comic book equivalent of Quentin Tarantino.) The universes that some of these artists managed to create would bring fantasy worlds to life that were near-impossible to bring to the big screen. They were too grand and vast, technology simply couldn’t handle such a feat…yet. Cut ahead to the continued perfection of special effects and CGI, and more and more we got to see movies like Avatar and John Carter which actually transported us to different worlds. I’m happy to report that Oblivion joins the club, as it so effectively transported me to a dark, new world.

The graphic novel had been written by Joseph Kosinski, and I’m thrilled that he was also chosen to direct it, as he was given the chance to realize his original vision. Kosinski had only directed commercials before being given the chance to direct the long-awaited Tron: Legacy. While that movie was a bit of a let-down, it LOOKED fantastic, and most of its flaws were in the writing. Here he was given his second movie, it was based on his own material, and it just worked as a smart, twisty story.

As interesting as I found it from the start, the movie really became incredible about halfway through, after a huge reveal. I was incredibly relieved to have seen it with my friend Yoni, because unlike our other three friends who hated it, Yoni and I both loved the film and had a great experience watching it. Bear in mind that he is the same friend who watched Tyler Perry’s Temptation with me, and helped me make fun of that one from start to finish. For the two hours that Oblivion was playing, I don’t think we said a word, other than our mutual disappointment that our friends hated it.

I tell you, when a certain twist in the movie occurred, in spite of usually figuring things out I was totally caught off-guard, and was blown away from that point onward. I’m not saying every piece to the puzzle was shocking. There were elements to the story that I saw a mile away that were meant to be giant reveals, but that didn’t take away from the overall cool factor. And the love story that ensued was quite touching, giving this sci-fi movie more brains, heart and ominous tension than most ever achieve. Between the incredible visuals and the spectacular sound, this warranted being seen on a giant screen, in a great theater. Thankfully we caught it in the amazing (and overpriced) Arclight theater. I doubt it’ll actually happen, since I’m limited with my time, but I would even consider seeing it again. Trust me, that’s high praise for someone who tries to see 150 different movies each year.

The movie was better than I Am Legend, the enjoyably flawed Will Smith movie, where he scours the Earth on his own, trying to stay alive. Thought it wasn’t as perfect as Cast Away, which was truly a one-man feat performed by Tom Hanks.

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: A+ (The first half was fascinating, but from the second half onward I was absolutely mesmerized)