Snowpiercer (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: July 11, 2014
Director: Joon-ho Bong

It is 2031 and life as we know it has come to an end. For 17 years, a small amount of survivors have eked out an existence on a technological marvel of a train called Snowpiercer that runs around the globe, never stopping, while the world outside is an icy wasteland. Inside Snowpiercer, a class system has arisen and one of the head figures in the lower class cars, Curtis (Chris Evans), has emerged to lead a rebellion against the higher class and move to the front of the train – following the cues of mysterious one-word messages that have been sent his way.

I guess I’ve been on a science fiction kick lately, because I watched this film, Edge of Tomorrow, and Interstellar all around the same time. I’d heard and seen previews for the other films, but for whatever reason I never really heard much about Snowpiercer aside from a couple of comments friends made about it. I decided to pick it up from Redbox.

First off, it was much better than I thought it’d be after the first few minutes. My initial reaction was “A train? Really? Oh, this is about climate change. How subtle.” As far as science fiction action flicks go, I liked this one a little better than Edge of Tomorrow. Not by a lot, but I liked the theme much better. Evans was decent as Curtis, the brooding and desperate leader of the lower class compartments, but I didn’t see much in the way of innovation with his character. He was basically just playing his role as Captain America, which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to action flicks but in terms of complexity we don’t see much with his depiction of Curtis.

One of the real joys of the film, though, was Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of the haughty and justified Mason. She was equal parts creepy, disassociated, and unlikable, with just the right amount of humor so she was more misguided and cowardly than downright evil. I am constantly impressed by not only the roles she takes on, but how well she plays them.

The action was really neat, with lots of little surprises in each new section of train the beleaguered rebels found themselves in. One particular scene has the rebels fighting against heavily-armored soldiers in one compartment of the train in a medieval style battle, which is really intense and fun to watch.

This was not a special effects-laden film, which I’m thankful for and probably part of the reason it felt more “real” to me than Edge of Tomorrow, aside from the obvious references to issues in the world we’re facing today. Some of the turns in the story were a bit predictable, and that aside from maybe some dull moments mid-film are what kept this movie from being even better than it is now. Still, it’s a very entertaining ride (seriously, no pun intended) and if you’re looking for some sci-fi action, this is a good choice. Check it out.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Snowpiercer

Godzilla (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: May 16, 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards

A Japanese power plant is destroyed by an unknown force in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) narrowly avoids death, but his wife is not so lucky. Years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Joe’s son,  has mostly severed contact with his obsessed father, who searches for answers to the disaster in Japan. When Joe is arrested, Ford reluctantly travels to Japan to bail him out and the two of them find themselves witness to the awakening of a creature who lurks in the ocean’s waters underneath the radioactive ruins of the Janjira nuclear plant. To battle this new menace, Godzilla rises from the deep once more.

There are a couple of weird things about this movie.

1. It’s more of a disaster movie than anything else.
2. Godzilla, for whom the movie was named, is barely in it.

With that said – this movie was very enjoyable, at least to me. It was by no means perfect, but considering all the Godzilla and Godzilla-inspired garbage we’ve had to collectively endure since the big lizard made his debut back in the day, I’ll take that as a solid win.

Gareth Edwards and the screenwriters made the right decision by including more of the human side to get us, as the audience, invested in what’s happening. Sure, it could’ve been all “Hey, it’s Godzilla – lets have him pound on an irradiated unicorn to Nikki Minaj’s Anaconda as the backdrop for 45 minutes”, and maybe that still would’ve been fun…but when we know the humans who are about to take a dirt nap, we care a bit more. Still, I think they could’ve brought in Godzilla a bit earlier, or at least stretched out Bryan Cranston’s part a bit more. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was pretty vanilla in his depiction of a son with a dead mother and an insanely obsessed father, which made Cranston’s small screen time seem like the entire focus of the film for the first hour or so.

When Godzilla finally does emerge from the sea and start kicking kaiju ass, it’s handled very well. There are casualties that one would expect from big monsters duking it out in the city. They also managed to give Godzilla a decent look and the special effects were pretty nice as well, despite being CGI. They integrated that aspect much better than some other films out there.

If you’re looking for some decent kaiju action or if you are a Godzilla fan or even a disaster movie junkie – give this one a try. It’s just enough to satisfy and well-done enough to not leaving you feeling empty like some of its predecessors managed to do.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Godzilla

The Tall Man (2012)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: August 1, 2012
Director: Pascal Laugier

In the town of Cold Rock, the children are going missing and locals are blaming it on an entity from an urban legend, known as The Tall Man. A local nurse named Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) has a child of her own, which is taken in the night. As Julia searches for her child, the truth about the disappearances begins to surface and the townsfolk have a lot to say about it.

I’d never even heard of this film but my girlfriend and I picked it up at a local video store called Bull Moose here in Maine. Jessica Biel has never been on my short list of favorite actresses, but it seemed like it could be good so we bought it.

During the opening of the movie and probably through about half of it, it had me hooked. It had great atmosphere, an intriguing villain in the form of The Tall Man – and a cool-sounding, creepy town. I mean, Cold Rock – how much cooler can you get than that? However, the director and/or story aims to trick the viewer and basically lie to them in order to achieve its hidden message/twist ending. This could have been a decent horror flick but instead it turns out to be a benign sort of social commentary about bad parents.

Jessica Biel was just okay as Julia Denning, and unfortunately she was basically the only character we should’ve cared much about but she even failed to make me do that. If I were you, I’d avoid this confusing and misleading film but maybe it’s worth a single watch on a night when you have nothing else on your plate.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For The Tall Man

Gone Girl (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: October 3, 2014
Director: David Fincher

Author Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home on the eve of his 5th wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing under mysterious circumstances. After calling the police, Nick finds himself in the middle of an intense media circus as the search for Amy goes underway. Soon, the clues begin to pile up and fingers begin to point Nick’s way.

I went to see this film with a couple of friends last night as I’d been hearing good things about it. I’ve never read the novel it’s based on by Gillian Flynn (who also penned the screenplay) but according to online sources, the movie differs only slightly in some ways from the book version. Movies always differ from their book counterparts, though, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone.

It’s rare for me to want to watch a hyper-realistic crime movie – they aren’t my thing. Still, all the good things I heard about the various performances given by the actors made me want to check it out, so that’s what I did. Every single one of the actors in this movie, even Ben Affleck, really turned it up a notch. Affleck kept his cool just enough during the film to make me waffle on whether or not he had anything to do with Amy’s disappearance. Rosamund Pike, however, carried this movie with her role (in my opinion). She is not only accessible and sexy – but also terrifying. Another surprise was Neil Patrick Harris in his short role which added a lot of subtext to the film, regardless of how small a part his character played in the overall story.

The direction was great – Fincher hardly ever fails at that (except maybe with Mulholland Drive). The music was low-key enough to not interfere but still added just enough mood for a thriller. The length was a bit too long, however, clocking in at a whopping 149 minutes. The only real reason I’m giving this film four stars instead of five is the ending – which I felt was maybe a little rushed. I dunno if it was due to time, or due to something else – but the entire movie built up the characters to be solid and absolutely believable within the context of the story, except for the last half hour or so, which was unbelievable and completely took me out of the movie. I’d love to see a director’s cut in the future to see if maybe the motivations of the characters were a little more clear before some of the film hit the cutting room floor.

All in all this is one worth watching at least a couple times so you can catch all the little “easter eggs” (like the Scott Peterson novel one of the characters are reading at one point) and nuances in background scenes and in the subtleties of the characters and their actions. Good job again, Fincher – you do great work.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Gone Girl

Red State (2011)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 01, 2011
Director: Kevin Smith

In middle-America, all is not as sleepy and peaceful as it would seem. A fundamentalist church called The Five Points Church, led by pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), preaches anti-gay and almost anti-everything hate gospel. Unfortunately, their bite is worse than their bark and when three teenage boys; Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) – find an older woman soliciting sex on an internet site similar to Craigslist – they agree to meeting up with her for a foursome, which lands them squarely in the hungry religious jaws of the Cooper clan.

This movie blew me away. If you’re a Kevin Smith/View Askew fan like myself, you’ve come to expect a certain quality and tone of movie from the man and the studio behind him which produced films such as Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy. Red State is NOTHING like those other films. This is intense, this is gritty. As Smith himself points out – the Jay and Silent Bob films are like a smooth milkshake while Red State is like drinking straight whiskey. This is a film that none other than Quentin Tarantino strongly endorses, if that gives you any sort of idea as to what the tone is.

First of all, the film is especially poignant and is almost like a satire of the Westboro Baptist Church. We see it in the news every day, but in reality – the crazy religious zeal of some of these people is one incident away from an actual, real-life horror film. Red State is part horror film, part thriller and absolutely riveting.

With Michael Parks as Abin Cooper – the charismatic and terrifying patriarch of the Five Points Church – Smith hit gold. Everyone cast in this film not only does their jobs, but does them well. This movie is often overlooked because it goes beyond the fandoms of the Jay And Silent Bob/View Askew universe, which is understandable in some ways because Red State is so different from those others that it’s almost like another director is at the helm – though Smith can definitely be felt within the context of the film by the acerbic dialogue.

This film is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Do yourself a favor and go watch it. You’ll be uneasy for a long while and it’s perfect for a Halloween horror movie night.

JOE Rating:  ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Red State

Sin City (2005)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: April 1, 2005
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Basin City, AKA “Sin” City, is a vile place of corruption, sex, and murder. Marv (Mickey Rourke), Dwight (Clive Owen) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) are just three hard-boiled characters with intersecting paths who are rays of light standing against the dark. Part comic book, part noir and all thrill – this adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel is very faithful to the source material.

Since the sequel to this film just came out, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, I felt like I needed to bone up on this film franchise once more before seeing the new one.

The narrative layout of the film is interesting. Vignettes showing each “main” character and their interactions with the film’s secondary characters including villains and allies, makes the world of Sin City seem large and real. Most of the shots in the film are lifted right from Frank Miller’s pages of artwork and the casting was all done very wonderfully, particularly with Mickey Rourke as Marv. (Seriously, look at the guy). You also get to see Brittany Murphy in one of her last good roles before she died….and the same with Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute.

The special effects are all very stylized, very slick, but a couple of times they look wonky. Most of that was due to the artwork not translating well to film, because of how stylized Frank Miller’s artwork is. The black and white look of the film kept everything very visually appealing. The dialogue was great noir fare, if you’re into noir – but if you’re not into noir at all it may seem hokey and even terrible in spots.

If Robert Rodriguez and/or Quentin Tarantino were to direct a comic book film, Sin City was the perfect choice for them and you can tell that they had fun directing it, which means if you’re like me – you’ll have fun watching it.

If you’re looking for strong women characters, then this typical noir setting probably isn’t for you. The women of Old Town run their prostitution rings with cold efficiency, keeping the mob and corrupt police officers on the level, but that’s about it. Most of the other women in the film gasp and toss their hands against their foreheads while the men do the real work.

The one drawback to the film is that the three main characters – Marv, Dwight and Hartigan – are all fairly similar, making the story arcs seem pretty repetitive. Clive Owen was underwhelming as Dwight. Mickey Rourke nailed Marv (as I said before) and Bruce Willis was great as Hartigan. Rosario Dawson was kinetic as Gail, and Jessica Alba was decent as Nancy Callahan. Also, Elijah Wood was surprisingly creepy in his role as Kevin and Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy. They weren’t in the film for very long but they definitely added very interesting bits to the story.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Sin City

Road House (1989)

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Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is a legendary “Cooler” who directs and backs up bouncers in rough-and-tumble bars. When a man known as Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) offers to pay him whatever he wants to charge in order to clean up his own bar, the Double Deuce, Dalton accepts and when he moves there and begins cleaning up house, he finds that some folks are resistant to his changes – chief among them Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzarra), who is a lot more dangerous than he looks.

I put off watching the film for years, due to a love-hate relationship I had with Patrick Swayze. I finally found it on Netflix and decided to watch it.

I have to say right off the bat that I did enjoy the film, despite anything that was wrong with it. If anyone could pull off playing a philosopher/bouncer….it was Swayze. Of course, in Road House, he doesn’t really get to pull out all the stops with his lines or dialogue…but he does kick some serious ass, even while wearing mom jeans.

Sam Elliott also has a role in this film as Wade Garrett, although his screen time is far too short. It was great to see HIM kick some ass, too. Most of the fights are your run-of-the mill 80’s bar fights but there were also generous amounts of topless scenes and even a few explosions (I know, right?).

If anything, Road House is worth watching in honor of the now-deceased Patrick Swayze. Though his acting chops weren’t quite up to par like they were in Donnie Darko, you can definitely see why Swayze was all the rage back in the day.

Whether you appreciate Swayze or just need a good, cheesy flick to watch on a Friday night – this one’s for you.

JOE Rating: ★★★★