Category Archives: Review

FILM REVIEW: The Words

There’s more than one way to make a boring movie poster.

From the two-man writer-director team of Brian Klugman and Lee Sterntha, The Words has Bradley Cooper returning to the role of the young, flawed, struggling writer he played so well in Limitless – a writer who is desperate to succeed and who will do anything to achieve his goal. In Limitless he of course turns to the powerful performance-enhancing drug that is the centerpiece of the film’s story, and in The Words, Cooper’s character, Rory Jansen, comes across an old, unpublished manuscript and passes it off as his own. The book goes on to achieve unanimous critical acclaim and massive commercial success and all is well and good until its true author seeks out Jansen and confronts him about his theft.

“Unanimous critical acclaim” sound a little far-fetched for a novel by a no-name writer? Well, keep in mind that Jansen is actually a character within a book written by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), an apparently well-known writer who starts The Words with a public reading of his latest work. Jansen’s book, by the way, is a story about a struggling writer set in post-WII France.

Yes, The Words is a three-tiered assault of writers writing about writers in an attempt to screw with your head and impress you with its detailed level of complexity.

Except the film isn’t all that complex, and the precise lack of detail is what makes the plot feel so cheap. For example, if we’re supposed to believe the Jansen is a struggling writer in the modern age, where is the modern technology and business practices that now drive the publishing industry? Cooper’s character has written books, and publishers like them. They just don’t know how to sell them. This once was a huge obstacle for aspiring novelists. That was before e-readers, the Amazon.com bookstore, and the ability to self-publish anything you write. Yes, we can assume that the story is set in the past and that Jansen doesn’t have that option, but there’s nothing that hints that The Words is a look back at simpler times, and it’s that lack of attention to detail that makes the film feel like a pseudo-cerebral half-baked potato at most points.

It’s not all bad though. Cooper does put on a great performance, and Jeremy Irons steals the show for the brief time he’s in the movie (he could likely net a Grammy by narrating the back of a Doritos bag if he wanted). The core plot of the film – Jansen’s moral struggle of knowing his success is all due to stolen work, coupled with the anguish of knowing that he could likely never match it’s quality with his own writing – is really an interesting story, but it gets lost among all that forced complexity and is ultimately overshadowed by Hammond’s far less interesting tale which involves Olivia Wilde playing a sexy book-loving femme fatale for no reason whatsoever.

It’s really a shame. Part of the film really does hit a kind of tragic beauty, but it’s only one tier of the three-pronged story and can’t hold the whole movie up on its own. Especially when Dennis Quaid is narrating it (waterboarding, eat your heart out).

It seems The Words wants you to leave the theater with the question “What is real? What is fiction? What is the difference?” echoing through your simplistic mind, but the only thing you’ll be asking yourself is why the you just spent two hours of your life watching it and if there’s anyway to get that time back.

Spoiler: there isn’t.

VERDICT:

2.5/5

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FILM REVIEW: Trouble with the Curve

I had the same thought everyone else did when I first saw the trailer for the Robert Lorenz-directed, Trouble with the Curve: “oh boy, Gran Torino with baseball”. And to some degree, that’s still true, but Curve brings the charm, laughs, and performance that Torino lacked with a stellar cast, great story, and tons of heart.

Eastwood’s character in Curve is noticeably similar to his role in Torino: an emotionally detached old man who pushes those closest to him away while battling the pangs of old age. Only this time instead of a war veteran, he’s a veteran baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, Gus Lobel, and happens to be losing his sight. Gus’s daughter, Micky (Amy Adams) is an associate at a prominent law firm in Atlanta and although she sees her father often, the two don’t really connect as a family and it’s apparent from the beginning that the mending of this relationship is going to take center stage in the film.

Things get started quickly when Gus’s long-time friend and business partner Pete Klein (John Goodman) informs him that his job is in jeopardy. Computers have become a big part of the business and the ball club is considering getting rid of old-fashioned guys like Gus in favor of picking players strictly by statistics and numbers. The top prospect this year is Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), a cocky, stocky jerk with a hell of a swing who plays for a North Carolina minor league team, and the scout assignment is Gus’s last shot to prove his usefulness to the Braves’ management. He couldn’t be less interested. Gus just loves baseball and loves what he does. If the Braves decide they’d rather trust a bunch of numbers on the confound interwebs, screw ’em.

But Klein is more concerned about Gus’s well-being. Without his work to keep him busy and happy, he worries that Gus’s health will deteriorate rapidly. He enlists Micky to go along with Gus on the assignment to keep an eye on him. She declines at first, worried that she’ll lose her chance at a partner position at her firm and not convinced that her father even wants her around, but eventually concedes after learning about his deteriorating sight.

Thankfully between all that plot set-up we do get a chance to appreciate the characters as well. Goodman and Adams are great in their supporting roles, Justin Timberlake brings the laughs and the romance as a scout for the Boston Red Sox named Flannigan (just so you know he’s from Boston), but none even come close to stealing Eastwood’s ample supply of thunder.

Watching him growl, mutter, and insult his way through Curve is the best part of it, keeping the audience laughing whether they’re supposed to or not. Sometimes its as subtle as nonchalantly grabbing a beer out of the fridge for a 9AM pizza breakfast, sometimes it’s at the expense of a would-be touching moment – whoever thought letting Eastwood sing melancholy to a gravestone without a hint of humor is out of their mind. There are also plenty of great one-liners to rival the classic “Get off my lawn!” (“Someone give me the goddamn check!”), and each one of them sounds like it came straight off the top of Eastwood’s head, unscripted as his infamous RNC “speech”.

The story is sometimes slow, sometimes predictable, but always touching and peppered throughout with humor brewed from great chemistry between the core cast, and if you like baseball, there’s that too.

The film does have a bit of a problem shifting gears when it comes to tone. The main antagonists hit a bit too close to “cartoon villainy” in a few scenes. There’s a complicated, dark backstory involving Gus, his daughter, and a horse that is revealed little by little, but never is anything but ridiculous. And then there’s the aforementioned gravestone scene, but these moments are few and far between and don’t detract much from the overall quality of the movie.

Trouble with the Curve is better than the sappy dramedy it sounds like on paper, and a successful directorial debut for Lorenz. With a great cast, it manages to tell a heartwarming story about love, family, and America’s greatest pastime without ever feeling cheesy or contrived. The laughs outweigh the cries, and although towards the end the plausibility of certain events seems to head close to “no effing way that would happen” status, it also manages to stay grounded most of the time and truly is an enjoyable film. If you’re a fan of Eastwood, his costars, or baseball, you’ll probably love it. If you don’t like any of those things, Curve won’t make you a fan and, well, what do you like exactly?

VERDICT:

3.5/5

Trouble with the Curve hits theaters September 21st.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Jane’s Addiction @ The Foxwoods MGM, Mashantucket, CT – Theatre of the Escapists Tour

Before August 18th, 2012 I couldn’t name you three Jane’s Addiction songs if my life depended on it. I know the band best from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack.

After August 18th, 2012, I’ve realized I can only name one Jane’s Addiction song, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy their one hell of a weird show at Foxwoods Resort and Casino.

The theater is swanky chic with modern-looking light fixtures and vested ushers at every staircase to make sure you don’t trip down all five steps after pounding four or five $6 Coors Lights. It all clashes against the centerpiece of Addiction’s stage dressing: two giant female statues, breasts bare and puffed out. To the right there’s a ladder leading up to some kind of platform on which a good amount of crazy will occur later in the evening.

The lights go down, the crowd comes alive and cheers, Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” comes over the theater speakers…and nothing happens. About six minutes later you might get the feeling Jane’s Addiction precedes all their performances by playing Wish You Were Here in its entirety. Just when all seems lost and another $20 beer is in order, the band enters the stage a couple minutes into “Welcome to the Machine”. The song unceremoniously fades out and Addiction breaks into their first few songs without a word to the crowd. Two scantily-clad ladies are lowered from the ceiling on swings and move in rhythm to the songs. A man in an odd looking costume roams the stage, seemingly entrusted with the role of “being way creepy”. Jane’s Addiction has arrived.

After the  face-blasting introduction, things quiet down enough for Perry Ferrell to make quips about gambling, drinking, and other debauchery. He even plays the mad bartender, sharing the bottle of liquor he brought on stage with the front row, pouring drinks to anyone who will raise their glass.

The show goes on, never stopping for long and Jane’s Addiction pumps out their greatest hits and probably some new ones (I wouldn’t know the difference, admittedly) for the sparse amount of dedicated fans in the audience (for every person standing, three were sitting). Still, even guys like myself, who are only at the show presumably because they were offered free tickets, are into it, nodding their heads, pumping their rockfists, and pretending to know the lyrics. The theatrics continue with vintage erotica broadcasted on three giant screens, the scantily clad vixens return to dance on the raised platform, and Creepy Guy comes back in different costumes, at one point splashing himself with a liquid that hardens into a mask which he then peels off his face. All this behind Ferrell’s constant twirling and bending, practically bleeding charisma next to Dave Navarro’s mostly stoic shredding. Both are shirtless, Ferrel drinks from his bottle, Navarro smokes cigarettes that appear from nowhere, both hands busy burning up the fretboard – 90s rock n roll in full resurrection.

After about an hour’s worth of alternative bliss, the band plays one last song that I still can’t name and exit the stage. There is no encore.

I won’t say the night made a life-long fan out of me, but I will say it was one damn good show and that, delay aside, I have newfound respect for the band and do feel slightly ashamed for having a video game be responsible for most of my prior exposure to their music. The performance was tight, the spectacle was large, and the air thick with nostalgia. Jane’s Addiction may not have reinvented the rock n roll show at Foxwoods (surely a hard thing to do in a Connecticut casino), but they sure as hell proved that for anyone willing to forget about terrorism, recessions, and social networks, if even for just an hour, the 90s are still very much alive and that alt. rock will never, ever die.

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NETFLIX REVIEW: Chasing Amy (1997)

Netflix reviews are just what they sound like: short reviews of old movies and shows that happen to be on Netflix.

Want to know where the gems are with out wading through Netflix’s endless sea of garbage? Tired of having programs recommended to you that seemingly have nothing to do with your interests? Are you frustrated with the idiotic and often unintelligible user reviews on Netflix.com?

I am here for you, friend. Read on.

I’ve only ever seen two Kevin Smith films: Mallrats (which he claims is his worst picture) and Zack and Miri Make a PornoChasing Amy is the spiritual sequel to the former within the infamous “View Askewniverse” and what many consider to be Smith’s best work.

It’s a story you’ve heard before: boy likes girl, girl doesn’t like boy, he becomes solely devoted to wooing her at all costs – except this time the girl is a lesbian, and both the girl and the boy are indie comic book producers.

The story starts with Holden (Ben Affleck) and his best friend and cohort, Banky (Jason Lee) showcasing their comic book series “Bluntman and Chronic” at a small comic convention in NYC. Holden is introduced to fellow comic creator, Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) and falls for her almost immediately.

On their second “date” the shocker comes: Alyssa’s only into girls. Holden is dismayed, but determined. At least they can still be friends right?

He quickly finds out it’s not going to be that easy and must somehow control his feelings for Alyssa while continuing to work on his comic book, which a certain TV studio is trying to make an animated series out of.

Chasing Amy is classic Smith (literally; this movie is fifteen years old now): raunchy, vulgar, nerdy, and yes, hilarious. While it doesn’t make the grand statement about love, sex, and friendship that it seems to intend to, there’s plenty of humor perfectly balanced with just the right amount of drama, all seasoned by plenty of mid-90s pop-culture references. Perhaps the most charming aspect of it is Smith’s ability to challenge audience expectations just when things seem to get a bit too predictable. Or maybe it’s watching a story set in late-20th century subcultures challenge the rapidly evolving societal standards of that fine decade.

Gay and lesbian culture may not be the taboo it once was, and maybe Kevin Smith isn’t the indie sweetheart he used to be, but the film still never fails to shock at one turn, charm at the next, and keep you laughing in between.

If Mallrats is about the confusing period of post-high school love, lust, and growth, Chasing Amy is the crisis that comes when you realize everything you ever knew about love is bullshit. And it’s damn funny.

VERDICT:

3.5/5 – Add to queue!

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