And, Just Like That – I’m Back

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Hey, all – if anyone is still reading this blog, you know it’s now 2018 and I haven’t really posted on this one in about four years. This is mostly due to having another blog which I enjoy writing on very much called Away With Words here on WordPress. However, that blog is a very different sort of blog with various personal stories, book reviews, and short fiction along with writing prompts and travel and opinion pieces.

Here’s the thing – I miss doing reviews. Aside from the books, my other blog isn’t really a space for that. So, I am dipping my toes in once again, and I plan to start slow and catch up on some reviews of games and movies and anything else I’ve seen/played since 2014 (sounds like a lot already). We’ll see how it goes. If people like the new reviews, maybe I’ll stick with it. Who knows.

In any case, thank you for the continued interest in this blog to all of you who’ve popped in over the past four years, off and on. I hope the new ones live up to the old.

-Joe

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Brick (2005)

brick-movie-wallpaper-5

 

Original Theatrical Release Date: January 1, 2005
Director: Rian Johnson

A teenage loner, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), seeks the whereabouts of his girlfriend, Emily (Emilie De Ravin). When it turns out that she was a victim of apparent foul play, Brendan finds himself in the seedy underbelly of a high school crime syndicate run by the notorious and mysterious Pin (Lukas Haas). Brendan must sort through his own morals and reserves of courage if he is to get any answers for Emily’s disappearance.

Brick is one of those films that was always sort of on my radar but never a film I purposely sought out. To understand why, you must understand that as a rule – I hardly ever watch gritty, ultra-realistic crime films. I see enough of that stuff on the news, so I don’t feel much particular need to seek it out in films I enjoy watching. I use films as an escapist sort of entertainment. The image on the movie jacket did little to inspire any ideas I had about the film being anything other than a movie where a girl is murdered.

With that said, I recently watched this at a friend’s house in Vermont. He and his wife suggested a few of us all watch it for a “movie night” of sorts, and I’m glad he did. First off – this is not ultra-realistic at all. This is a blend of Noir and a sort of high-school/teen drama film. You wouldn’t think such a combination would be satisfying or poignant, but you’d be just as wrong as I was. The ultra-stylistic dialogue and the snappy cinematography  and the quirky characters had me intently watching the screen for the duration of the film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a great performance as Brendan. Lukas Haas is very hilarious and on point as The Pin while Noah Fleiss’ portrayal of a henchman named Tugger had me laughing at several points. This is a dark comedy, for sure – as it still deals with drug trafficking and death – but it’s all set against the backdrop of High School, something most of us can relate to. The noir world that the characters inhabit is very believable within its own context and pretty much everything about the film is enjoyable. If you haven’t seen this film yet, give it a shot. It’s really worth taking the time to watch. (Especially if you like films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Brick

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – (2014)

the amazing spider man 2 (5)

Original Theatrical Release: May 02, 2014
Director: Marc Webb

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) enjoys the freedoms of being Spider-Man – slinging webs through the city and showing off for the crowds. He tries to balance his two lives, with some success, as he forges a stronger relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and a childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). However, when the villain known as Electro (Jamie Foxx) appears – someone so powerful that he’s made out of energy – Spidey realizes that he may not be able to protect everyone and that even when you have superpowers, it might not be enough.

Being a Spidey fan is a roller coaster ride in this day and age. Marvel is making cinematic gold with films like Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy – with more on the way. Spider-Man is pretty much the mascot of Marvel Comics. Well, at least he is to me, so I’d like to see him represented better in his film incarnations.

Sam Raimi had a decent run with his own trilogy back in the early 2000’s, starting with Spider-Man back in 2002, which was decent. Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was even better. Spider-Man 3 was pretty terrible. Webb’s first film in this new reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, was actually pretty good – although I had problems with it being a reboot so soon after the original trilogy. I wish they’d gone in a different direction rather than re-hash the origin story yet again. Still, the dark qualities of the film drew me in and Andrew Garfield was the only thing I really didn’t like about it (because Peter Parker isn’t supposed to be a “hot” semi-popular hipster/skater kid. He’s supposed to be awkward and picked on). I was willing to give Fox (the studio which owns the film rights for Spider-Man) a chance on the second film.

That being said – The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a huge disappointment.

First off, the script was a chaotic mess. There were some redeeming qualities but ultimately the story felt fractured and disjointed and by the time the movie actually ended I felt nothing and I just wanted it to be over with, I wanted the movie to have ended an hour before it did – which is never a good thing. The movie felt like part rom-com, part action flick and part advertisement for Oscorp Industries. Peter’s relationship with Harry seemed solid enough at first, but it wasn’t focused on long enough to make much sense later in the film, with how their dynamics changed. Some of the character motivations were just flat-out unbelievable, especially Foxx’s nervous and emotionally unstable Max Dillon/Electro.

Andrew Garfield did a better job at being Spider-Man this time around, but did an even worse job of being Peter Parker. Emma Stone was decent as Gwen Stacy in the first film, but became an annoying, nagging foil to Spider-Man’s every move in this sequel. Dane DeHaan did a great job as Harry, at first, but the manic side of him just wasn’t believable in the film itself (though this wasn’t necessarily the actor’s fault). Jamie Foxx can act but he basically played one of his bumbling characters from the old comedy sketch show he used to be in called In Living Color – which isn’t a good thing for the character of Electro. And Paul Giamatti makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as the villain Rhino. I have no idea how that casting choice happened. I love Paul but he basically just screams into the camera for a half hour and spouts Slavic-sounding gibberish.

The fight scenes are pretty much the only saving grace this film has, aside from a switch to a more classic-looking costume (thank you!). The rest of the film is really underwhelming. I honestly hope that Marvel can somehow get back the film rights to Spider-Man so they can do it some justice, because if not – Fox Studios is going to run this character into the ground, which stinks for those of us who have been longtime fans of the character and want to see him treated well.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For The Amazing Spider-Man 2

 

Still Alive

Still Alive

So, just so everyone is aware, I am – in fact – still alive. I haven’t posted much because I literally haven’t had time. I am supposed to get my MFA in July but I still have a lot of work to do and I have deadlines to do it by. So, while I do have a backlog of reviews to give on various things – I won’t be doing them until I make a little headway.

I did my taxes, got my car pretty much fixed and finally got a new laptop cord so that my laptop essentially functions like new again.

The reviews, they are-a-coming….but until then – here’s me in a steampunk eye patch.

12 O’Clock Boys (2013)

12 O'Clock Boys (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: January 31, 2014
Director: Lofty Nathan

Pug, a young man from a dangerous block in Baltimore, Maryland is enthralled by a band of people who partake in illegal street riding calling themselves the 12 O’Clock Boys. When his older brother, Tibba, dies – Pug looks to the Boys for guidance, much to the worry of his mother, Coco, and others in Pug’s family. Pug must weigh his obsession with bikes and this group against a rising police response to the riding and his inner desires to become a veterinarian.

To be clear – I kind of accidentally stumbled into this documentary. I went with my girlfriend to a place called the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine – and we were supposed to be going to a women’s writer group Q&A seminar. As we sat down and waited, we wondered why the audience was overwhelmingly male. We had our answer in a few minutes as the documentary started. We had come on the wrong day, and we already paid so we stayed – and I’m glad we did.

First off, the style was fresh and kinetic. Lofty Nathan, the director, filled the frame with choice morsels that assisted the narrative in telling the deep and complicated story that is Pug’s life and upbringing. Not once did he delve into stereotypical urban characters – but let each person identify themselves through their own ways. Some were gangsters, some were struggling parents, some were police officers, some were just kids.

Rather than glamorize the dangerous lifestyle led by the 12 O’Clock Boys, Nathan portrayed them as human beings in a tough situation relying on what they feel is their only release other than gang activity, drugs or other less-positive things. Through Pug and his own tough life, we understand that belonging to a group and being good at something (even if it’s just being able to wheelie really well) is what we all strive for. We all secretly want to be a 12 O’Clock Boy.

A good documentarian holds a mirror up to the rest of us and says “Look. This is you – this is your reality” and makes us reflect on it, think about it. I felt that way when watching this film. I do love documentaries but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. Lofty Nathan does not insert himself directly into the narrative as is sometimes the case with other documentarians, but we see through his eyes the disarray that this suburb, inner-city culture has become and all the problems that stem from it.

In Pug we have someone who is truly likable and easy to care about. We see his struggles and we want him to get on that bike. We see him training and we root for him as he gets better and better at riding and doing wheelies. We see the danger and we wish someone would stop him before he gets in over his head. It’s a really complicated emotional response evoked, at least in my case. Pug starts out somewhat innocent but then slowly evolves (or de-volves, possibly) once his world view perspective is changed over and over again.

On the other side of things, just visually it’s entertaining to watch. There are many dynamic shots and kinetic images on display for the visually-oriented folks out there like me. There are lots of slow-motion shots of the riding as well as fast-paced chase scenes and tension-ridden conflicts between police and the Boys.

12 O’Clock Boys is the total package. Go watch it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For 12 O’Clock Boys

The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine (2013)

A mentally-wounded Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes to the hermit life in a rugged, backwoods mountain town after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand. When he is approached by associates of an old friend from Japan to come to Tokyo, he reluctantly agrees to fulfill a dying man’s wish. Once there, he finds himself embroiled in a fight between ninja and Yakuza on which the fate of a young woman, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), rests.

I have to admit that I had a lot of apprehension going in to see this film. X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine had both really, REALLY let me down. In a big way. So, I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations.

With that said, the movie turned out to be actually good, and I was pleasantly surprised, especially since a lot of it was true to the Miller/Claremont miniseries from the 1980’s.

We get to see the badass Wolverine/Logan that we want to see, slicing up Yakuza and ninjas in all his adamantium glory. BUT – even though we get to see him slice up SOME ninjas, I really wanted to see more of a fight instead of having to see Logan turned into a parody of a porcupine. C’mon, man, where was your rage?

There were many nods to the comics, as I said before, , which was a nice touch and something that Fox has been lacking lately. This time, they did a lot of things correctly and they also made it accessible enough for casual viewers who just want to see a good action flick or want to see shirtless Hugh Jackman flex his muscles.

The characters were all really nice, and the movie being set in Japan gave the aesthetics a distinct quality that was very appealing to the eye.

All in all, this movie is decent. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Go see it if you liked the earlier X-Men films and wondered what happened to the once-mighty franchise. This installment definitely makes some amends.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Skateland (2010)

Skateland (2010)

It’s the early 1980’s in small-town Texas and Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) knows that things are changing. The skating rink he manages is going under, his friends are all on the verge of moving away and his parents are getting divorced. All of these events converge and force Ritchie to take new stock of his life and where he wants to be, but sometimes that’s hard to do.

I went into this expecting an Almost Famous vibe, but it didn’t really turn out that way. What I did find was a movie that I wanted to like, but ultimately found to fall flat in a lot of places.

The acting was all really well done. Shiloh Fernandez’s character, Ritchie, seems authentically from that time period. Ashley Greene and Heath Freeman are also really up to par for their roles as his friends.

However, there was a lot of meandering. At first, I couldn’t really tell what the message of the film was supposed to be. It felt sort of like a one-note, reminiscence-fest – which is fine, but it wasn’t really for me. There were some good scenes, but the tempo of the movie switched around too much for me to really sink my teeth into it.

JOE Rating: ★★