Movie Review: The Arrival

thearrival The Arrival is the intelligent person’s alien invasion film. Light on explosions but heavy in emotion and exposition, it’s a movie I enjoyed, that I expect to win awards, but have a hard time recommending.

Directed by Sicario helmer Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, The Arrival opens with a montage of scenes that slowly reveal Amy Adam’s linguist professor character Dr. Banks recently lost her daughter to a terminal illness. As she’s apparently coming to grips with that, aliens make first contact. Landing on Earth with 12 ships in 12 countries around the globe, she’s selected by the American government to attempt to learn the alien’s language and make intelligent contact with them, to determine the all-important answer to the question “Why are you here?”

Hawkeye co-stars as Ian Connelly the theoretical physicist, and Ghost Dog plays the usual military mid-level manager tasked with keeping the civvies on-track. Of course, not all the world’s governments want to share information about the visitors or even play along at all. And naturally, everyone is worried about what might happen if this extraterrestrial visit turns out to have a sinister motive.

And that’s really all I can say. The film has some interesting twists and turns in the third act, as Banks figures out why the aliens are here and how to stop the conflict that arises from that revelation. To talk about this movie’s particular Deus Ex Machina would be to ruin it. Yet, it’s that unique plot device that brought me down at the end. It’s sort of the same problem I had with the recent Marvel film House: Magical Doctor; once you let a character eclipse a certain level of power their choices stop mattering and all danger and consequence drops away. The Arrival attempts to combat that by making one particular choice matter most of all, and it’s here that it falters for me. Yet, this is the same polarizing decision that’s going to bring the awards. Bank’s final choice wants to come off as profound, and I understand that, but it just didn’t work for me.

For an intimate movie mostly about the intricate nature of language, The Arrival is smart and captivating through most of its run time. Yet for a movie so smart, it loses its brain after a particular sci-fi trope is introduced, and for me, it was downhill from there. Still entertaining, yet doesn’t quite reach the heights it attempts. [easyreview title= "Review of The Arrival" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]

Review: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

mission-impossible-rogue-nation-final-trailer-1107129-TwoByOne Hello, Agent.

We are currently living in a new age of action/adventure films. James Bond, Fast and Furious and many comic book movies have reached a new level. However there is one series spanning just short of two decades that has proven to be more and more entertaining with each new release. This series stars one of Hollywood's biggest names. An actor whose career has had many ups and downs yet continues to push the envelope by performing his own stunts and learning new tactics for this very series.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to watch the latest and great chapter of the Mission Impossible series. You must go to the theater and see amazing action pieces, creative cinematography, smart dialogue and many twists and turns that will keep you guessing and manage to still surprise you.

Now I know I tend to be rather extreme with my opinions on films. I either bash the hell out of it or praise the hell out of it. That's not my fault, I swear! It's the movies that are given to me! Now with Mission Impossible it won't be much different... and I'm not going to bash it at all!

This is the fifth entry in the franchise. 19 years of these films, guys. Last time we got Ghost Protocol which brought in some new actors like Paula Patton and Simon Pegg. It was fun, exciting and the major action piece, Tom Cruise hanging from the tallest building in the world, was breathtaking when you realize it's filmed on location with no stunt men. It was a great ride that had its faults yet still entertained. As far as I'm concerned Rogue Nation has no faults. The script is very well polished and we get multiple large action pieces. hell, the one they've been advertising is simply the opening of the movie. Ya know, where Tom Cruise hangs onto the outside of a plane during take off FOR REAL. yeah, that's nothing compared to later scenes. Mostly a car/motorcycle chase and an under water sequence that has set a new bar for underwater sequences.

Let's get to the plot before we explore those action bits. From the start we see the IMF (Impossible Mission Force... I know, just roll with it, ok?) in action. Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Luther Stickell (Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Pegg) working a mission with there usual flair and banter. It's fun and funny and gets you into the mood for the rest of this film. However the next scene involves William Brandt of the IMF (Jeremy Renner of Avengers fame) in a congressional hearing where Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) the head of the CIA is trying to get the IMF shut down. It works and they are folded into the CIA with Hunley now out to bring Hunt back in. However Hunt is busy. He's tracking his nemesis, an organization known only as The Syndicate. Few believe it's real however Hunt is trying to prove it to everyone.

The rest of the film hinges on Hunt's... hunt and the CIA hunting Hunt. So far there are a lot of dudes in this film so where are the women? Well we get only one main female character. Kinda stinks BUT WAIT! Ilsa Faust is her name played by the beautiful (hey, I'm a dude with eyes and I have to say this woman is gorgeous) played by Rebecca Ferguson. She's a spy much like Hunt and is therefore very skilled and badass. Never is she the damsel in distress. When she's in trouble she makes her own way out. Her presence is also 100% integral to the plot. Without her this movie wouldn't happen. Though it's still kinda ridiculous that she's the only woman...

Ok, the action. I'm only going to ding into one scene because I think it really shows Christopher McQuarrie's caliber as a director. There's an underwater scene which I won't spoil for you so no worries. Cruise taught himself how to hold his breath for six minutes in order to film this scene. That dude is 54 years old and is making all of us look bad with his Scientologist magic. McQuarrie takes advantage of this and films the most beautiful underwater action scene outside of Top Secret (hard to top an underwater western bar fight). In the constantly swirling water the camera is not in a fixed position, it moves and swirls along with the action and the actor. It's a very unique take on keeping us in the action and doesn't resort to shaky cam nonsense. It's easily my favorite scene in the movie and my favorite action scene all summer.

Speaking of the summer this is the best action film this year. I can't imagine anything beating it. I was entertained and engrossed throughout the entire thing. The acting was just right and the direction was outstanding. Even little touches during the famed motorcycle sequence help to extend the experience. Now I'm still bothered that there's only one female role in the movie. That's not something that makes any sense in this day and age. However even though I take major issue with that it doesn't change the fact that the film itself was beyond outstanding and shouldn't have any effect of critique of what we were presented with.

Go see this film, I can not recommend it enough. This review will self destruct with five stars.

[easyreview title= "Review of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" cat1title="Nerdpocalypse Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers-age-of-ultron-concept-computer-wallpaper-pictures-jpg Three years ago we got the culmination of so much with the release of The Avengers. Bringing together a group of unlikely characters from individual movies and slamming them together into one epic finale; and boy did it work. Fast forward to today and we are embarking on a similar path, but the stakes are a lot higher for many reasons. Can Avengers: Age of Ultron deliver on the promise of more teamwork, world building, and copious amounts of fun? The answer is a resounding yes and with plenty to spare. Avengers: Age of Ultron meets those challenges and creates some news and hurdles them as well. Director Joss Whedon leads an ensemble cast of superheroes through a film that pushes everyone to be better. Whedon, who cut his teeth in television, has come a long way from serialized vampire vs teen girl shows. However, leaning on his roots of juggling large casts has proven to be his greatest asset. Its nice to have the director of these films be the writer as well because we can compare them directly to one another. In this case, we can see Whedon’s writing and direction have gone from good to pretty damn great. Creating more cinematic shots of these inherently ultra-cinematic moments makes the film feel more grand and works for the spectacle that we have come to expect. Whedon has said that the making of this film almost killed him, but it seemed the stress was worth it. He has pushed his writing and direction to the limit and we benefit from that tremendously.

The film picks up pretty much from the bonus scene at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Relax, if you didn’t stay in your theater seats for the extra you will not be lost. We are immediately introduced to Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) as possible foils for The Avengers. They are “enhanced” and present a completely new set of challenges for our heroes. The entire team that we know from The Avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are all back in action from the onset of the film. We get an understanding that the team has been leading missions from Avengers Tower (formerly Stark Tower). The teamwork aspect of the film is a very real change. We see the crew play off of each other and are more assembled than ever before, well in most aspect. Due to his extreme hubris, Tony Stark decides that he will build an artificial intelligence named Ultron without consulting with the team. Tony sees this as a way to be a peace keeping force in the world to end the era of The Avengers. Things like this tend to go wrong, and so it is the same here. Ultron is “born” and immediately decids that he needs to destroy The Avengers for the sake of mankind.

The film goes the ways in which you might expect, sans one thing. The film takes an amazing tonal shift at one point and really gives the most character development we’ve seen in a comic book based film in quite some time. Drawing the audiences into a scenario of actually caring for and about something. While I am sure less mature viewers will deride this as the “boring parts.” What Whedon is able to create is a space for us to know the characters deeper. Its a wonderful bit of film making and makes the impact of events that much deeper.

The performances by all the principal actors is much the same as we’ve seen before. All very solid with Robert Downey Jr. leading the charge as the most seasoned actor. Chris Evans’s Captain America has really come into his own since his last solo film. He has truly embodied the character. The real stand out without a doubt is James Spader’s Ultron. While not a human character, the role of Ultron was motion captured from Spader himself. We get all the great mannerism of the man and it works so well. His voice gives a bit extra “superiority” complex to the character. Spader’s amazing performance shifts from the inquisitive to the mad in seconds, the emotional spectrum makes for a villain who is worth the team’s time and effort. Combined with Joss Whedon fantastic writing, Spader has a massive sandbox to play in and you won’t soon forget his impact in this ever expanding universe. Ultimately, Avengers: Age of Ultron is what we want in these films. Its a perfect balance between fun, action, and depth. A true step up from the first Avengers film in every single way.

[easyreview title= "Review of Avengers: Age of Ultron" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: American Hustle

american-hustle-posters-sony I love movies that run you through a series of emotions and aren't afraid to bring humor to thrilling drama. I love movies that seem like the roles were written for the people who ended up casted in them, a great combination of smart writing and stellar acting. I love movies who blur the lines between heroes and villains and have you completely invested in the story from start to finish. American Hustle does all of these things and does them in expert fashion. It's a terrific movie and is a wonderful coda for cinema in 2013. American Hustle is directed by David O. Russell of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook fame. It tells a tale (loosely based on a true story; as it says at the beginning of the film: "Some of this stuff actually happened.") of two low-level con artists loving life in New York in the late 1970's. Things are going great for Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) until they get pinched by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper): an ambitious FBI agent looking to make a name for himself. DiMaso's grand plan is to use the couple to help take down a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) desperately trying to revitalize Atlantic City. The three quickly find themselves over their heads and struggling to keep control of the unraveling events, the least of which isn't helped by Irving's estranged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who gets roped into the plot and becomes its biggest wild card.

The first thing that has to be said about American Hustle is that Russell and co-writer Eric Singer do a wonderful job at developing these characters. All of the principal characters are firmly anti-heroic, yet you find yourself feeling a great amount of sympathy for them throughout the film. A great example of this comes in the portrayal of Richie DiMaso: a guy that is meant to come off as an asshole, yet there is a scene in the movie that explains in about 2 minutes his motivations and immediately changes how you feel about him, even if just for a brief period of time. The dynamic between Rosenfeld, his mistress, and his wife, which doesn't even really get delved into until the latter half of the movie, is pulled off in such an impressive manner by the actors involved. It's quite ironic that the most noble character (relatively speaking) in the movie, Renner, is the one you end up feeling the least amount of desire to see succeed. Lawrence in particular deserves special mention for the job she did. Her ability as an actress has never been questioned, and it's a cliché to say something along the lines of "this role is like you've never seen Jennifer Lawrence before!", but there is truth to that sentiment here as she delivers in a role as complex as she has ever had to play (note: I do say this having not seen Silver Linings Playbook, which I have heard she is equally excellent in).

Much needs to be said also about the intangibles in the film, which is another area where Russell excels. The cinematography is dynamic and adds so much to the source material. Equally great is the soundtrack selection which seems perfectly tailored to the film. It felt very Tarantino-esque. I love when directors pay so much attention to the little things, and seeing American Hustle makes me want to run out immediately and watch Russell's other directorial endeavors. There are also a couple of really fun cameos here that I won't spoil, Richie DiMaso's boss at the bureau especially (don't cheat by looking on IMDb!), that were unexpected and actually added a lot to the movie. My only real criticism of the movie is the fact that is was a slow starter. It was a necessary evil to really give the exposition needed to understand the relationship between Bale and Adams' characters, but it drags on a bit especially when compared to the breakneck pace of the latter two-thirds of the film.

All in all, American Hustle was just fantastic. Whether or not you are a fan of Russell's other films, it's just such a well-done movie that you owe it to yourself not to miss it.

[easyreview title= "Review of American Hustle" cat1title="Brad's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: The Avengers

The Avengers

In 2008, Marvel Studios released Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr. That movie had the now infamous after credits scene that started it all. When Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) made his surprising announcement the comic book movie genre was forever catapulted to a different level. No longer were these movies going to be one offs, but rather they would build to a large event that may be the most ambitious movie idea in years. Under the directorial control of Joss Whedon, fanboys/girls and everyone in between got to see something truly special. When a familiar Asgardian foe, Loki, steals a mysterious weapon from Nick Fury and his S.H.I.E.L.D. organization it sparks a global crisis. No longer being able to handle this level of a threat, Fury calls upon a ragtag group of super powered misfits to come together to save the planet. The premise of the movie is simple and easy to understand. I do believe that if you never saw the previous solo films you would be fine. Every character's powers/abilities are explained in a smoothly done reintroduction.

The Avengers is an action movie, with a brain. I specify that because this is so commonly not the case in American cinema. Director Joss Whedon’s stylistic dialogue can be seen throughout. Robert Downey Jr. benefits the most from this. At times it seems the RDJ was born and bred to be Whedon’s microphone. The first half of the movie is used as nostalgia for the characters from their solo outings and brings you up to speed on their lives. When the Avengers do come together Whedon is able to show you why they shouldn’t, in a good way. There are real conflicts in personalities that come to the forefront rather quickly. The level of balance that is needed to keep these scenes from being too much is handled masterfully by Whedon. Largely, in my opinion, this is the reason why he was brought on to the project. Balancing multiple complex characters is essential to this movie doing well with critics and fans, alike. Interspersed throughout the movie is well paced fun action. Unlike a Transformers we do not get the movie split in half - first half buildup, second half mindless action. I was glad to see there was a decent mixture of the two until the last 40 minutes.

The Avengers is more character driven than you would think for a summer blockbuster that looks to break a series of opening weekend records. One of the largest fears I had going in was that this would somehow become IronMan 3. Being that IronMan was the most popular Avenger its hard not to give him a good amount of screen time. However, at no point did I feel like any of the team was being slighted, including the ones with no super powers. Everybody had their moment in the sun. Whether your favorite Avenger is the Hulk or Black Widow you got to see them on screen plenty of times and more importantly do something spectacular.

As much hype as this movie is getting in this review and I’m sure many others it does possess some faults. The first 20 minutes seems very rough to me. Disjointed at times and character line deliveries seemed to fall flat. I was worried because it didn’t seem like the Whedon writing I was use to. Now we know the movie had major rewrites so I’m not sure if Whedon ever edited the beginning of the movie’s writing. The pacing felt nothing like the rest of the movie. When the Avengers begin to meet one another the movie makes the ultimate pivot towards heroic greatness. Sometimes the dialogue can get a little too heavy in parts and should be a tad trimmer. This is hardly a big deficit as you enjoy the banter back in forth anyway.

Overall The Avengers is something to see on the big screen. I think this movie would look and sound amazing on a quality home setup, but there is nothing like seeing in theaters. I saw it in 3D and felt that it did nothing to add or take away from the movie. If you want to save a few dollars, skip the 3D. Lastly, I saw this movie with my 11 nephew and glancing over at him was my favorite part of the experience. I realized very quickly that the new Star Wars trilogy isn’t his generation's Star Wars, the Avengers is and I’m very ok with that.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Avengers" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

We will of course talk in depth on this week's upcoming podcast episode. Stay tuned.