Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Call [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

This is definitely one of the first WWE Studios productions to ever really interest me in the slightest. Most WWE movies are just terrible straight to DVD releases with a superstar shoved down our throats. But things are a bit different with The Call and to a lesser extent, Dead Man Down. As far as theatrical releases go, it seems like WWE Studios may try to actually be a production company. The Call has a real story, with recognized actors in the lead role. Yes, David Otunga is in it, but this is the first time I've felt like a "WWE Movie" was actually a legitimate movie. Also it's not a terrible movie overall, so it seems as things may be trending upward a bit for WWE Studios.

The Call follows the story of Los Angeles Police Department 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry). She is one of the best operators, always professional and never panics, no matter the call. One night she receives a call from Leah Templeton (Evie Thompson), a teenage girl who fears her life as a man is breaking into her house. Jordan's instructions allow Leah to evade the intruder, but the call disconnects. Jordan calls the number back, allowing the intruder to hear the ring and get to Leah. The next day a Jordan comes in for work she finds out that Leah has been found dead. Jordan confides in her boyfriend, Officer Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut) that what happened has shaken her a bit and she can't take calls anymore. Six months later Jordan now works as a trainer for 911 operators. One day the same man who kidnapped and killed Leah, has now kidnapped Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin). Casey is taken as she is heading to her car in a mall parking garage. A rookie operator gets the frantic call by Casey who is freaking out in this man's trunk. She cannot handle it so Jordan takes over for her for the first time in six months. Because Casey is using a prepaid phone, they can't get an exact lock-on her position. Jordan has to coach Casey through an improbable situation and have her leave enough of a trail so that she can be found. The LAPD, with the aid of Officer Phillips, his partner Jake Devans (David Otunga) and Jordan aim to rescue Casey as quickly as possible and get her home safe and sound.

This movie suffers from the dreaded sports saying that goes, "It was a tale of two halves". The story is pretty original, and it's a shame that it takes such a dive in about the last third of the movie. It keeps you engaged, builds the suspense and has more than enough action. But then the third act, if you will, starts and it turns into a watered down version of Taken almost. I liked the story, up until this point, and it really beings down my overall liking of a film that I was kinda looking forward to. Don't let this discredit the performances by Halle Berry or Abigail Breslin. These two are a feminist's dream team in this movie. I don't know if it was the writes goal to make this a female empowered movie, of sorts, but to me that's how it turned out. I haven't liked Halle Berry before 2012 and Cloud Atlas, since 2003s Gothika, but this was a really good performance that I got into. You could feel the emotion she put into the character and she really felt like she embodied Jordan. Props out to Abigail Breslin as well, since I haven't liked anything she's done aside from the masterpiece Little Miss Sunshine, as well as Zombieland. She played the role as, like Halle, if she were Casey. The emotion came through, to a lesser extent, but was good enough to have the two leads actually lead the film. The rest of the cast, aside from the kidnapper, played by Michael Eklund, was wholly bland and completely forgettable. Nothing bad per se, just nothing really standout.

Here's where I have problems with this movie. The story is fine, till the end. The acting by the leads, more than good enough for a movie like this. But it's pretty short, and things almost feel rushed. I mean sure, they may want the feel of the police scrambling to get to the girl, but that doesn't mean you have to skimp on character development or rush a scene. Take 10 more minutes to show Jordan and Paul at home or on a date. Maybe something like Jake and Paul meeting for the first time too. Just something to get me into another character besides the main to. Plus it adds some back-story and a little bit extra time to a decent attempt at a thriller. The other big problem I have is the shift at the end of the movie. This may be a bit spoiler-ish, so be forewarned. It goes from "Get the girl home safe" to "I'm going to take the law into my own hands". The whole movie you have Jordan built up as the woman who follows the rules and gets stuff done. Then all of the sudden she's Liam Neeson trying to get his wife and daughter back. While I would understand if she was made as someone to break the rules, the sudden shift was so out of character it left me wondering why it was written the way it was. Out of place violence caught me off guard, and while it doesn't bother me, I was not expecting it going in to this. Quick and unnecessary camera cuts and even the lacking of good action in the action scenes all add up to more things wrong than right with this movie.

Even after all the harshness in the paragraph before The Call was still a very decent movie. The story is one, that while lacking, is original enough to keep you into it. With the performances of Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin being good enough to fill in for the so-so story line. There is problems with this, as you've read. The lack of character development and the downfall of the last part of the movie leaves a lot to be desired. But in the end, despite overall critical reception, that this is a decent movie and will do wonders in the progress of WWE Studios going forward. Just don't give me something like The Marine 16 or Knucklehead 4, please.

From Up On Poppy Hill [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

Every year it seems that we're getting an English version of a Studio Ghibli film released in America. In 2009 we got Ponyo, last year we got The Secret World of Arrietty and now this year we've gotten this, From Up On Poppy Hill. You may not think it, but I'm a pretty big "anime" fan, and Studio Ghibli is THE BEST when it comes to Japanese animation. From Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, to Kiki's Delivery Service and Howl's Moving Castle, their imagination knows no bounds. From Up On Poppy Hill is no exception, where Hayao and Gorō Miyazaki take us into the bright and colorful world of living in a port city in the 1960s.

From Up On Poppy Hill follows the story of 16-year old Umi (Masami Nagasawa / Sarah Bolger) who lives and goes to school in the Japanese port city of Yokohama. Her mother Ryoko (Jun Fubuki / Jamie Lee Curtis) is studying medicine in America. Which leaves her to care of a boarding house, Coquelicot Manor, and her younger siblings, Sora and Riku (Haruka Shiraishi and Tsubasa Kobayashi / Isabelle Fuhrman and Alex Wolff), grandmother, Hana (Keiko Takeshita / Gillian Anderson), a college student and doctor in training, Sachiko and Miki (Rumi Hiiragi and Yuriko Ishida / Aubrey Plaza and Christina Hendricks), who are living with them too. Each morning Umi raises flags that reads the message, "I pray for safe voyages". One day a poem about the flags is written by Shun (Junichi Okada / Anton Yelchin), a member of the schools journalism club, as he sees them riding in a tug boat one day. Umi first meets Shun when he dives off the roof into a pool of water as a stunt, she is not pleased. They meet again when Umi takes Sora to the Quartier Latin, an old building that houses the school's clubs. Umi finds out that Shun is actually a lead publisher for the paper. Shun convinces Umi to help the paper out, to which she agrees. It is suggested that the Quartier Latin be demolished. Shun and Umi convince their respective sides, the boys and girls of the school, to help renovate the building. One night back at Coquelicot Manor, Umi shows Shun a picture of three younger naval men. One of them being Yūichirō Sawamura, her father who died in the Korean War. Shun has a duplicate of the picture and fears that they may be related by blood, causing him to cut Umi off. Turbulent times may be ahead for Shun, Umi and the school. Relationships are forged as a united school tries to save a now treasured building.

Let me start this by clarifying that I watched the original Japanese version, with subtitles, and have not seen the English dubbed version as of yet. So I'm basing some this more off the voice acting of the Japanese actors. Though I'm sure the English ones did fine as well, the story is more than good enough to not be ruined by a lacking dubbing. The voice acting this seems like a good place to start as I thought everyone did pretty good. Sometimes, at least for me, there's always this one character that just sounds overly annoying. I didn't feel that about anyone in this. Masami Nagasawa, as Umi, was really the centerpiece and carried the movie well. When Junichi Okada comes in as Shun, it really helps ease off Masami as well. Both are the pillars of this film and they sounded nice. I never really got into anyone else, and almost everyone else is a secondary character compared to them. But, the story, and backstory, for Umi and Shun, is written so well, alongside the subplot of the Quartier Latin, that you almost forget that there could be others in a given scene. Speaking of the story it was alright. Not mind bending like some of Hayao and Ghibli's previous work, but this drama was pretty good. Once it kicks in, as in the photo is revealed and the renovations begin, everything picks up and bit and it becomes and interesting watch. You would think a "love story" of sorts set in a port town wouldn't keep your interest, but if you give this a shot I think you'll be hooked like I was. Writing and voice acting was pretty good in this and made for a good watch.

But no no, this isn't all. The characters are pretty damn cool. I already mentioned the crafting of Umi and Shun, but they are done so well. The fact that they led completely different lives and possibly being closer than they ever imagined, it's just cool to watch unfold. The rest of the characters are fun as well, as the school as a whole takes on a life of it's own too. You don't think of the girls and boys of the school as individuals, but as a singular piece of a supporting story. The same can also be said of all the people living in Coquelicot Manor with Umi. While a lot don't get a ton of time of screen, when Umi is home you start to expect at some point someone will get their due. Finally we'll get to the animation, which may be the best part of From Up On Poppy Hill. It's amazing! Set in a port town you get the vibrant sea life mixed with a thriving city. The colors are bright and vivid and the animation style is great. Never over the top or in your face. You'll be entrenched by the hustle and the bustle, and if you're like me, left longing for the dishes made by Umi. Everything Studio Ghibli is top notch, so you should almost have no reservations about that going into watching this. A few other points, as for me, it kinda feels long. While I love a ton about this, it feels long. With a run time of only 91 minutes it really shouldn't. I think part of it maybe the lack of character depth, but some of the scenes do drag. The music is this is pretty good too, but I was kinda caught off guard by the opening song. "Sunrise -The Breakfast Song" sung by Aoi Teshima is cute alongside the animation  but felt odd to me. Other than that I enjoyed the highly rich score.

From Up On Poppy Hill is another good Studio Ghibli release. Though it does kinda surprise me they decided to release this in America so soon. I guess after the "wateriness" of Ponyo they figured that they'd try their hand at a more adult story on the coast. If that makes any sense. This is a pretty deep movie and I think adults will like the story while kids will enjoy the "fun" parts sprinkled in. The story is great, the voice acting is good, the character development is a bit lacking, but the animation more than makes up for it. If you can see this in it original language, I'd highly suggest it for Masami Nagasawa and Junichi Okada's performances. Otherwise, I'm sure most people would be just fine with the English dub. This is a movie that is Studio Ghibli to its core and a fun little watch.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

21 & Over [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

Every year now we're lucky enough to have theaters graced with a party movie where everything goes completely wrong. I'm a fan of the original The Hangover, but it's spurred one of the worst, I guess you could call it sub-genres, ever thought up. Now almost on a yearly basis we get a completely awful teen party movie pinned as "the most wild night you'll ever see" or something along those lines. A few years ago we got the awful follow up to The Hangover, last year we got Project X and this year they've given us 21 & Over. Guess what? It also stars one of the actors from last years Project X. Great recipe there right? Wrong. As 21 & Over may be the least funny "party" movie yet.

21 & Over follows the story of three guys who have been friends since high school, Jeff Chang, Casey and Miller (Justin Chon, Skylar Austin and Miles Teller). They have all since gone to different colleges and are meeting up for Jeff Chang's 21st birthday party. What they didn't realize is that Jeff Chang's overbearing father has a med school interview set up for him the next morning. Miller threats to blare an air horn all night if Jeff doesn't come with them, and finally Jeff Chang agrees to go out. At the first bar they go to, everything is fairly civil. Trouble was brewing as Miller accidentally hits a guy in the face with a dart. Meanwhile Casey meets a nice girl named Nicole (Sarah Wright) and has a nice conversation with her. Midway through it's stopped as the trio has to bolt cause of what Miller did. Jeff Chang starts to get excited that he can just go into any bar now. After hitting a bunch of bars and drinking a ton, Jeff Chang passes out and can't be awakened. Miller and Casey are forced to try and get "passed out" Jeff Chang home. Traversing a campus they don't know trying to find Jeff's house they break into a sorority. They are then forced to place in a huge frat party to find the address, get kidnapped by an angry group of co-eds and even find out things about Jeff that they never thought they would. Jeff Chang has just turned 21 and he's had a crazy night he will never remember.

I wanna preface this by saying, while terrible, some of the elements and parts of the story are alright-ish. Now I'm not excusing the awfulness of this. I mean come on, stoners gluing a teddy bear to man's penis is just painfully unfunny. But some of the story elements had good ideas going for as well as some of the back story for Jeff Chang. It won't be excused that 99% of this movie is still just plain awful. It starts with the casting and acting. Sarah Wright and Justin Chon have had some good roles in their careers and so has Skylar Austin. Television roles that are pretty solid, such as Parks and Recreation, House, How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men. Skyalr Austin was in the mega hit Pitch Perfect too. I just don't understand how you could think that this was anywhere near a good idea. While good actors, I failed to take them seriously. The people I didn't like I had no care in the world for either. So when something "bad" happened I failed to give any reaction to it. Also, I have no earthly idea after the complete bomb of Project X that you could think that Miles Teller was in anyway gonna make this stand out from the pack. The casting and characters are a complete mess and this partly equates to such its badness. While I understand actors have the, "Do one for them, do one for me" mentality. I don't understand how anyone would want to sign onto something like this.

The bad doesn't end with the characters either. Like I said, some of the parts of the story had good ideas, but it was still abysmal overall. Once you get past the initial scenes where you meet the guys and they go out and get drunk, you start to realize that they're complete morons. No one would ever have this much trouble finding a house on a college campus. Then the first thing they do is break into a sorority house. I mean, I get they're drunk, to an extent, but their first thought is to break in a house? Come on now. Then once inside, its almost a complete 180 as they sober up at an unnatural rate. Contradicting yourself is the sign of bad writing, but making it so blatant is just plain horrible. This is a comedy by the way. I don't know if I've mentioned it yet. But it is, and I remember only laughing at one joke near the end of the movie. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but a comedy is supposed to make me laugh. If it doesn't do that then that's just another aspect where this movie fails. I love comedies, I love laughing and it's pretty easy to please me when it does come to comedy. When I go a full hour and a half barely cracking a smile, something is either wrong with my brain or with the movie. The music was wholly annoying throughout as well. Just another thing this movie does wrong in my opinion and you can add it to the list of bad 21 & Over has accrued. If there's one thing this did do right, it was not be overly long. It didn't have any dragging scenes. Though it may have been full of them, I guess. Some points in bad movies you just stop caring.

I'm tempted to close this by just saying "21 & Over is awful, please don't see it." But, I'll summarize everything I've said above. In short, this movie fails to be a comedy at any points. Some could argue it fails at being a movie at all. The bad writing takes any credibility from actors or the performances they give as well. If you're a fan of something like Project X, then 21 & Over is right up your alley. Though I will say if you truly did enjoy either of these movies, you should go get your head checked out. You may have some type of concussion.

Watching Movies In Suits [Fast Times At Ridgemont High]

Suits is a show on the USA Network that one of my good friends had been trying to get me to watch for the longest time. Long story short, I finally bit the bullet. I fell in love almost instantly with the drama, humor and story being top notch. Also the sly movie references was the icing on the cake for me. They are littered in every episode and gave me this idea for a weekly blog series. Suits in short follows the story of a successful law firm in New York. Their top lawyer hires a kid who is basically a genius, but never went to law school. The kid must learn the ins and outs of working at a law firm, alongside higher ups and with arguably the best paralegal in the city. The longer this charade goes the harder it seems that his dirty little secret will stay one. We're continuing this series with one of the 80s defining teen dramas in, Fast Times At Ridgemont High!

Suits Fast Times At Ridgemont High Reference

Like my previous review for Top Gun I remember watching Fast Times At Ridgemont High on TV when I was younger. I don't remember liking it then, but it's probably cause I didn't really understand what was going on. It was a different era, with different humor tastes and references. I watched this again to jog my memory on what I had lazily watched as a kid. I kinda enjoyed myself. This is definitely not your typical teen movie you'd see nowadays. A lot of the humor is more grounded and "real" as well a dry, the story is pretty good as well. If you're looking for a Not Another Teen Movie or Mean Girls type movie this could be for you in a sense. There's a lot of similarities between one of the more ground breaking teen-high dramas and current ones. But it may be painfully easy to group this in with some of the garbage we see in current films.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High follows the story of a group of high school students at Ridgemont High over the course of a semester. Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) is a senior who appears to have it all together. His job at the local burger joint gives him popularity. He has a longtime girlfriend, Lisa (Amanda Wyss). Finally, his 1960 LeSaber, aka The Cruising Vessel, has finally been paid off. Life is good for Brad, for the moment. We also follow the story of Brad's younger sister, Stacey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a sophomore. She is worried that she isn't pretty or experienced enough to have an engaging relationship with a guy. Her best friend, a popular senior Linda (Phoebe Cates), has a long term boyfriend. Assures her she is pretty enough, etc, and one day the right guy will come. Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) makes money scalping tickets and working as a bookie for the high-school  He thinks he's the ultimate ladies man. Mike notices his younger brother, "Rat" (Brian Backer), has a crush on Stacey and sets them up. Finally we come to Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) the school's widely renowned stoner. Always being high, he often arrives late to American History, taught by strict teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). The two seem to have an eternal rivalry of sorts going on as the semesters roll along. With Jeff always trying to break Mr. Hand's gruff attitude. The lead football player Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) goes off in a rival football game, relationships are formed and broken and it seems that drama is around every corner this year Ridgemont High.

If you like the notion of things always working out in the end of a movie, this is right up your alley. This movie is written pretty well. Full of humor and drama to keep you occupied until the end. From relationships starting and stopping, to rival school shenanigans and even to family problems, this movie gives you a ton to keep up with. This ties in with the characters cause they were done pretty well. Jeff Spicoli was the token stoner and thrown in for a laugh, and it worked. Some of the stuff, such as ordering a pizza to eat in class, is so absurd you have to smile. To a lesser extent Brad Hamilton, falling from grace so to speak is pretty entertaining as well. Stacey and Linda are the last of the standouts. Despite the age difference mentioned they have a best friend dynamic that really does work from beginning to end. To a lesser extent it was pretty cool to see Forest Whitaker as a young actor in Charles and Mr. Hand was a pretty decent supporting character as well. I'll also point out the performances of these actors as well, since that's the other big plus in this movie. This may be Sean Penn's greatest comedy role of all time and he played it perfectly. His and Ray Walston's on-screen chemistry was great. Judge Rienhold commanded the screen whenever he was on and he's probably my personal favorite performance in the movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates carry the scenes they're in and make quite a great on-screen "BFF" couple. As a side note here, Ididn't like Mike or "Rat" Damoe's characters, or performances by their acting counterparts Robert Romanus and Brian Backer. They came off as entitled and pretty annoying in my opinion.

I'm going actually cut this review short a paragraph. That's because in a few sentences, without going into huge detail, my reasons for disliking this can be made clear. First off, for a teen comedy of sorts, it feels really long. It's run time is fine, but unnecessary and draggy scenes make this feel way longer than it actually is. The other big deal for me was the mashing together of all these stories. I'm fine with a movie with more than one story going on. But a lot of times it was pretty sporadic with jumping from one point to another or jumping forward in time. You don't want to confuse your audience by just jumping from place to place in a story. Other than this was just an okay movie for me. The music was good and the story was too. The acting was decent and the humor, especially with Spicoli, was pretty good. This is one of those movies you'll either get really into and like or only think it's a okay movie. Unfortunately I'm in the latter half of that statement and that's kinda sad cause I was really looking forward to re-watching this.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Last Exorcism Part II [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

I'm a fan to an extent of supernatural typed movies and I think I have an unnatural tolerance for even the bad ones. I mean I liked Paranormal Activity 4, nobody liked that movie. But there comes a point where every human hits a wall. The Last Exorcism Part II is probably that wall for me. I like the first one, till the end of it at least. The Last Exorcism gave me hope that it's sequel could be decent. It was humorous, fresh, engaging and a tad creepy. But somehow, they managed to ruin all of the charm from the first movie. They turned The Last Exorcism Part II into a shell of its former self. If you watch this, you'll see a promising duo of "exorcism" movies dissolve into lame cookie cutter horror.

The Last Exorcism Part II takes place after the events of the first movie. A couple finds Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) next to a fridge, looking like a demon. They take her to a hospital who then transfers her to Frank's Home For Girls. Nell also begins working as a maid at a hotel. Her "bad dreams" have seemingly gone away as she begins to make friends and live a normal life. One day Nell and her friends go to a parade and she beings to notice a lot of strange things, most notably a masked man watching her. After that day Nell begins to regress and thinks that the demon, Abalam, is returning. A man dies of a seizure and a kid, Chris (Spencer Clarke), who also works at the hotel, likes Nell slits his throat in front of her. He did this because of sadness, rejection, and viewing a video has leaked onto the internet on how Nell really got pregnant. This sets into motion the drastic need for an exorcism, but it may be too late. The demon is close to forever taking over Nell's body and that may not even be something an exorcism can stop.

The problems with The Last Exorcism Part II is, well, everything to be quite honest. We'll start with the acting, cause quite frankly, Ashley Bell's portrayal of Nell is the only bright spot in this abysmal movie. It might be that she was the only one we go to know. Cause she's also really the only character given any time at all on screen. But, Ashley has a knack for playing a horror role I think and if she signs onto do another, hopefully better movie, she could play a decent part in it. This ties in directly with the writing  cause it was awful. The story of a formerly possessed girl trying to live a normal life isn't a bad one. But when she's the only person essentially in the movie, then it gets boring. Each scene feels long and you're wondering if anyone else is gonna step-up character-wise, and it just never happens. The writing is setting up for the "crazy" end of a lack-luster movie, but by the time it gets there all you want the movie to end. I don't know why these big producers, this time Eli Roth, who have made great movies in the past, attach themselves to work (if you can call it that) that is just plain awful. But, oh no, the bad doesn't end with just the writing, story and acting.

The filming style is wholly average at best. When the scares do happen the cut camera cuts are annoying. While this could work more with a movie with more gore, there is almost none in this so it falls flat. Speaking of stuff that's supposed be scary, like gore perhaps, there is nothing scary in this. The jump scares are lame, even sometimes more funny than scary. When people start dying it,s not a shock thing. It's more a "oh look, someone died" thing. Even the big exorcism at the end, the one you've been waiting for this whole movie, falls completely flat. I'm not a huge fan of nothing for one hour and fifteen minutes and then BAM! the last ten are the meat of the movie. Stuff like Paranormal Activity has decent story lines and even character development. This movie has neither and it doesn't do it any favors in the slightest. The music is lame, and most of the time ill-timed. While the cinematography is boring and bland throughout to boot. This is just starting to trail off into beating a dead horse, so I'm going to end this here.

I'm quite sick of berating this awful movie. In short, see this if you must. The Last Exorcism Part II is one of the most uninspired sequels I think I've ever seen. Ashley Bell is the lone bright spot in this and even a good performance, hell even a Academy Award worth performance, would not have come close to saving this trash. This is truly awful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Clerks II [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

You all know that I love Kevin Smith and the majority of his movies. I've written a full review on Clerks earlier in the year and I'm more than excited that Kevin Smith has started up on the Clerks III script in recent weeks. But this is about Clerks II, Smith's follow up to his career making debut. A lot of people hail it as better than the first, with others thinking it's a lackluster squeal to his best film. I personally think it's one of the best follow-ups of all time. The inner 16 year old in me loves the raunchiness, while the 22 year old in me loves the emotion and storytelling. Randall, Dante and Jay and Silent Bob are back for the best movie about working in food service of all time.

Clerks II follows the story of Dante Hicks and Randal Graves (Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson) as they now work at a Mooby's restaurant. They aren't working at Quick Stop and RST Video because one morning Dante finds the store on fire because Randall left the coffee pot on. One year later Dante is planning on leaving his job to move to Florida to run a car-wash with his fiancee Emma Bunting (Jennifer Schwalbach). Randall doesn't like the idea of being left alone once Dante moves. Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) follow the duo and begin hanging out outside of the Mooby's now. Throughout the day, mishaps and misadventures occur between the four and their boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson), and younger employee Elias (Trevor Fehrman). They argue about Lord of the Rings with customers, accidentally say a racial slur in front of customers and get berated by an old friend from high school. It soon becomes clear that, like at Quick Stop, not a lot of works happens during work hours. The day before Dante leaves for Florida is filled with drama, dance numbers and even a Tijuana show that no one is soon to forget. This is truly a day that rivals any they ever had and these clerks never know how to handle things.

Kevin Smith movies, especially the View Askew ones, have a special place in my heart. They're really the first sort-of film series I ever got into. While I have gone back and still think the original is better, as a 16 year old seeing Clerks II for the first time, then going back to watch the other movies, it was a real treat. I recognize that Clerks is a better movie, but that doesn't mean that Clerks II doesn't hold that number two spot in my heart. Gooey gooey, mushy mushy, I know. Deal with it. The story telling and writing in this rival that of Dogma for me. While the characters and situations are fully reminiscent of other favorites such as Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It's an odd blend of all the movies I like from Kevin Smith, poured into one giant glass of a movie. The story is written pretty well. Someone who has never seen a Kevin Smith movie before, wouldn't be lost watching Clerks II. The dialogue is believable, yet crazy enough to keep you grounded to the fact you're watching a movie. This is a comedy with emotional tendencies after all. Clerks II is full of what a middle aged men who never really "grew up" would say for a laugh. No matter how inappropriate or off color it may be. It appeals with the teenagers watching because they like to be rebellious, while the adults can actually appreciate the references being made. The story is a decent one to boot. Some of the best movies follow the story of something that happens in a day or night. Throw in the fact the characters are a bunch of easy going, carefree, humorous people. You're in for a story you can get into, cause you know how the characters are wound.

Speaking of the characters, they're who you remember them to be after the first movie. Dante is the kinda tightly wound guy that stuff just doesn't tend to go right for. Randal is the say anything guy, who just wants to make a living with is best friend. While Jay and Silent Bob are still the lovable stoner duo that will say and do anything for a laugh or to entertain themselves. Throw in the religious kid who has a lot of trouble with things outside of his religion and the new boss who may have inadvertently changed the course of of Dante and Randal's lives going forward.  The casting was great as well. The original four are exactly as you remember them. The new additions in Jennifer Schwalbach, Rosario Dawson and Trevor Fehrman all add another dimension to the daily interactions. While cameos from people like Ben Affleck, Wanda Sykes, Ethan Suplee and Jason Lee are welcome bits parts for some of the slower parts of the movie. The filming style is alright. The high points being driving along the suburban highways, autumn leaf covered roads and the pull out shot of Mooby's during the giants cast scene. But with the bulk of the movie happening in Mooby's itself it doesn't often lend  fantastic cinematic filming. I just love the music all around, not much more to say than that. The humor is very raunchy, but if you like any, or are even familiar of Smith's other work this should come as no surprise. I've always thought of Kevin Smith as a lite version of Quentin Tarantino. This movie is no different. Dialogue riddled with philosophy-esque questions, debates on topics of morality, drama, movies, and pop culture among other topics. They will not only have you laughing, but thinking and forming your own thoughts on what's being said.

Clerks II is my favorite Kevin Smith movie from the 2000s. Clerks is my favorite Kevin Smith movie from the 1990s. This bodes well for Clerks III presumably coming out in the 2010s. This movie completely updates the production value of the first film. It keeps the charm while adding new characters and keeping the charm of the ones returning. I never get tired of watching the Clerks franchise and Clerks II is just as good as the first. Kevin Smith has cemented himself as one of my favorite directors of all time and Clerks II is up there as one of my favorites of all time to boot.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Oz The Great And Powerful [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

Oz The Great And Powerful has all the makings to become a very good movie. Two great leads in James Franco and Mila Kunis. Along side three great supporting roles played by Zach Braff, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. It uses source material from one of the greatest book and movie combinations of all time. Combine that with getting distributed by Disney and being directed by Sam Raimi, this movie should be a powerhouse. Right? Well let's just say that it didn't quite fill the britches of the all time classic. What it does do is deliver a great story and some good acting. Along with some interesting concepts and parallels drawn between itself and The Wizard of Oz as well.

Oz The Great And Powerful follows the story of small time magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) who performs with a traveling circus. One day after a show, as a storm approaches, the circus strong man finds out that Oscar was flirting with his wife. Oscar escapes in a hot air balloon only to be sucked into a devastating tornado and taken to the Land of Oz. Upon landing in a lake he stumbles upon Theodora (Mila Kunis). She believes that Oscar is the one able to kill the Wicked Witch who killed the king of Oz. On their way to the Emerald City, Theodroa falls in love with Oscar because of his flirtatious ways. They also meet a flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff), who pledges his life to Oscar after he saves him from an attacking lion.
When they reach Emerald City they meet Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Theodora's sister, who is skeptical of Oscars powers. She informs Oscar that to defeat the Wicked Witch, he must destroy her wand. Oscar and Finley set off on a journey to the Dark Forest to find and destroy said wand. Along the way they meet and help China Girl (Joey King), who joins them after they save her from being attacked by the Wicked Witch. They reach the Dark Forest and find the witch they were told about. But before Oscar breaks the wand, the woman reveals herself as Glenda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams). This sets forth a series of magical events in which Oscar must truly step up and save the Land of Oz. Before it is taken over for good by the real Wicked Witch.

There is a lot of good in this movie, but I can see disagreements to all of these points I'm about to make. First off, I loved the filming and directing style. Sam Raimi is probably one of my favorite directors of all time. So if you can get him a good movie, he will translate it to the screen well. The opening part of the movie in 4:3 and black and white transitioning into the 2.35:1 widescreen and full color was great touch. An easy homage to the first movie and I could point them out all day, but lets just say continuity wasn't a huge problem in this prequel of sorts. The acting was very good as well. James Franco and Mila Kunis had a good on-screen chemistry throughout. The combo of Franco, Zach Braff and Joey King held up great too. There's a lot of pairing groups up in this movie and none of them didn't work. All the main actors involved do a great job and got me into their characters well. When a character is played well it's not something that's a pain to watch in my eyes. A lot of the time, especially in the majority of movies nowadays, it feels like people either overact or don't try at all. There isn't much of that going on in this. The story is great as well. Mitchell Kapner, who wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay, did a fantastic job of making an engaging story with well written characters. From drama to romance and action to emotion, all the bases are covered in this one. So far this year it's definitely one of the better written films.

Finally we come to the magic and wonder of Oz. I love CGI when it's done well and this movie has it in spades. From the moment Oscar floats into Oz you get that same yellow brick road feeling when Dorothy gets there. Creatures and plants never before discovered and cities and people not thought to even exist, Oz is a cornucopia of people and places made in your imagination. There is one huge gripe for me with Oz The Great And Powerful is that the CGI can look really over used at times. Now I know I just praised the CGI, but it's a double edged sword. While at times it looked really innovative and good, there's countless times you can tell there's a green screen behind the actors. You see this at an annoyingly alarming rate. I would like to not notice every time an actor is in front of said green screen. But with Oz being a completely fictional place it's a feat I'll have to get use to if I ever go back to this in the future. The length of the movie is a tad long as well. It's over two hours and there's a lot of scenes that are long and draggy. Especially the first thirty minutes or so. It evens out a bit when Oscar finally does get to OZ, but "long" scenes are still littered throughout this visual spectacle. There's not a lot to get annoyed at about this movie, but it's the little things that piled up throughout that really brought down my liking of this.

This movie is easily one of those movies you'll either like or you'll hate. Oz The Great And Powerful has strengths all over with it's incredible cast, good action, great story and imaginative CGI. It's severely weighed down by overuse of said CGI and overdrawn scenes in a movie that's a bit too long. All in all I really enjoyed myself watching this movie. Franco did a great job in the lead role and when the CGI is good, it's great. If you liked The Wizard of Oz I think you'll be surprised by this one. If you somehow haven't seen that yet, you should probably go watch that as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Watching Movies In Suits [Top Gun]

Suits is a show on the USA Network that one of my good friends had been trying to get me to watch for the longest time. Long story short, I finally bit the bullet. I fell in love almost instantly with the drama, humor and story being top notch. Also the sly movie references was the icing on the cake for me. They are littered in every episode and gave me this idea for a weekly blog series. Suits in short follows the story of a successful law firm in New York. Their top lawyer hires a kid who is basically a genius, but never went to law school. The kid must learn the ins and outs of working at a law firm, higher ups and with arguably the best paralegal in the city. The longer this charade goes the harder it seems that his dirty little secret will stay one. We're starting off this series with aforementioned friend's pick of movies in, Top Gun!

Suits Top Gun Reference #1

Suits Top Gun Reference #2

I kinda remember watching Top Gun growing up, probably on cable on something. The pure adrenaline and one liners stuck with me. Including the famous "I've feel the need, the need for speed" line. But I don't remember the emotion that this kinda well written action movie can deliver. A lot of the the 1980s movies really started a bit of a trend that even macho-action flicks could have that underlying sadness to them. Tom Cruise was just starting out and this could already be considered as one of his defining movies. But this is a movie that was kinda hard to back to for me, as most 1980s and early 1990s are as well. I don't have that connection to growing up with these movies, so I want to make that connection. If that makes any sense at all. Top Gun is about that infamous fighter pilot with one of the biggest egos in all movie history.

Top Gun follows the story of  US Navy Aviator Lieutenant Pete Mitchell aka "Maverick' (Tom Cruise) and his co-pilot Radar Intercept Officer [RIO] Lieutenant Nick Bradshaw aka "Goose" (Anthony Edwards). One day over the Indian Ocean, Cougar and his co-pilot Merlin (John Stockton and Tim Robbins) are engaged by two MiG-28s. At one point one of the MiGs locks onto Cougar before being chased off by Maverick. Upon landing Cougar retires, and despite his reckless flying, Maverick and Goose are sent to Top Gun school at NAS Miramar. We find out Maverick is reckless because of his father, who died in a crash in 1965 surrounding complicated circumstances. Goose is the exact opposite, due to him having a wife, Carole (Meg Ryan), and a daughter. Nevertheless the two are still best friends. The night before the program starts Maverick hits on a woman at a bar, Charlotte Blackwood aka "Charlie" (Kelly McGillis). It turns out she is one of the instructors for the course and has a PhD in Astrophysics. The next day at class they also meet Lieutenant Tom Kasansky aka "Iceman" (Val Kilmer) who thinks Maverick's flying is unsafe. The Top Gun class becomes more than just graduating and becoming the best student. Romances blossom, rivalries form, and things happen that will change the rest of Maverick's life. Both inside the cockpit and out.

There's a fine line between the good and bad in this movie. Cause when it's good, like the high flying aerial shots, it's spectacular. But just on the flip side, when it's bad, like the first date between Maverick and Charlie, it's pretty abysmal. But that's what kinda makes this movie. If you can get through the bad, you're rewarded with phenomenal landscape shots and high flying action unlike any other in movie history. The bad is what we'll start with, cause a lot of the time, outside of action scenes, or follow ups to them, it's pretty bad. When you have Meg Ryan has a very small supporting role, instead of a bigger role, especially after a huge (in movie) event happens, you've written something wrong. Tom Cruise does fine throughout and is definitely the guy who holds this movie together. I feel that Charlie is a very bland character who isn't much more than a love interest, which makes Kelly McGillis' acting irrelevant. Same with Val Kilmer as Iceman, a character with potential, that just doesn't quite do it for me. While the dynamic between Maverick and Goose is probably the high points of the acting. The story is kind of a mess as well, due to the fact that I had to look up a decent summary of how they explained Maverick's dad dying in the movie. Maybe it's just me being my usual dumb dumb self, but you'd think a bigger back-story would be explained well. This goes hand in hand with the overall writing though, which was highly lackluster. The story in itself is fine, but as the movie wears on it becomes a chore to keep caring about anyone but Maverick. Finally the music is very 80s and earlier, which sometimes does not lend well, at least to me, to listening nowadays.

The great in this movie is far less than the bad, but it more than makes up for it all. There are two main things that will keep you drawn into this movie. The high flying action scenes and the the writing that accompanies them. Now I know I said the writing was pretty bad, but that was for the rest of the movie, not the scenes where people are in the air. Along with the people listening in throughout the camp. Maverick and Goose's scenes in the plane are some of the best written in the movie, and it's the true epitome of what we call a bromance today. It's never a disappointment when these two are in scenes, especially if they're in the sky and/or Maverick is being yelled at by a superior. I still don't know how they could do so poorly writing everywhere but here. But I'm glad they stepped it up for the parts of the movie everyone was clamoring to see. The other thing that will make you want to watch this is the action scenes themselves. It seems like when I was watching I would stop whatever else I was doing and really pay attention to all the airplane scenes. From the drama and suspense that each scene drew in, it was more than enough to land these as some of the best action scenes ever. But, throw in the fact you're 50,000 feet in the air and you get to see amazing landscapes, cloud formations and even the occasional explosion, you're in for a treat. I love when a movie can "Wow!" me with cinematography, and this action movie no less, delivers in spades.

Top Gun is truly a half and half movie. I can see some people getting into some of the emotional stuff they toyed around with, but that is hardly the point of this. But the writing wasn't strong at all in this movie. Neither is the acting itself which came across as over the top, even for an 80s action movie. You're gonna watch this for the high flying action scenes in the sky above and a few moments of emotion that really hit you. Tom Cruise landed on the map with this and it's one of his defining movies. It's one you can look back on and appreciate if you loved it growing up. But also realize that this isn't more than a mediocre movie in the end.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Snitch [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

Since I'm a huge fan of pro wrestling I'm obligated to see any and all movies involving Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock. I even saw The Tooth Fairy..and liked it. No not really, call this a day late April Fool's joke. But, over the years I feel that more often than not, a movie involving The Rock is bland and mediocre. This movie right here, Snitch, kinda changed my perception on his movies. I went into this thinking it would be just another boring crime, drama, action, etc flick with bad acting and a bland story. What I got out of it, was at least to me, quite a pleasant surprise.

Snitch follows the story of John Matthews, a man struggling to live in life having two first names. Just kidding, again April Fools. God I'm funny. This really follows the story of John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a man who owns a construction company. One morning his ex-wife, Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) calls him and tell him that his estranged son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is being charged for distribution of narcotics. Jason isn't actually a dealer, his friend set up a sting operation against him to reduce his own sentence. John feels responsible for not being there and fears his son's life in prison. Using his connections, he meets with US Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) who is running a huge anti-drug campaign. She informs John that she can drastically reduce Jason's sentence if he goes undercover and informs on a drug dealer. Said drug dealer is Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams) and he is one of the biggest, and high ranking, drug dealers in town. John searches through his employee database and finds Daniel James (Jon Bernthal). He's fellow man with two first names, who is trying to stay clean and out of the drug game for his family's sake. John offers him a lot of money to help him do the deal, and while at first he's resistant, he eventually decides to help John out. What incurs is a story driven thrill ride, in which John Matthews can (and will) do whatever it takes to save his son.

This movie has it highs and it has it's low points. The problem is, when it hits its low points, it really drags the movie down. We'll start with the bad, cause why not? The acting, aside from Jon Bernthal, Michael K. Williams and shockingly Dwanye Johnson, was pretty ho-hum to me. All the supporting roles, Sarandon, Kanakaredes, Gavron and anyone else I may have missed were just kinda there. Not saying that any of them were bad. But when you have characters in a movie, I want to get into them. I want to get to know them in a sense. I don't want them to just be a device to move the story along. While it's okay to have one or two in a movie, it doesn't need to be a recurring theme that overtakes a story or plot. The second half of the movie has its problems as well, most notably the fact they wrote the story kinda wonky. Without spoiling, basically the first half of the movie almost wraps up nicely, when an unnecessary plot twist of sorts keeping the movie going. The beginning is great, the middle is wholly unneeded and ends just fine. Like they wrote the beginning and end, but didn't quite have the middle down. Almost a great pace which really brought my liking of this down. It kinda felt long due to some draggy scenes, but the story was good enough that it's not a huge issue. For an action movie it is pretty long, it's close to two hours. Also the final action scene, which some look at as the only one, is arguably the best in the movie. But it doesn't turn out to be all that great, just another average addition to the film.

Like I said above, the acting by the trio I mentioned was quite a surprise to me. I really liked Jon Bernthal on The Walking Dead, and always thought he'd be fine if he ever branched out to other things. Michael K. Williams played one of the best characters in television history as "Omar" on The Wire, so I always like a role he does well in. But Dwayne has made a lot of stinkers over the years movie-wise, so I always err on the side of caution with his backlog. But in this he carries the movie so well. Maybe because of the company he is with, or maybe he is getting better as an actor. Dwayne brings the emotion and the toughness, with Jon and Micheal feeding off what he's doing with his character. There's a scene in the movie where all three of these guys are first meeting up together to set up the initial deal. It's the point where I knew I liked Snitch. Not as a masterpiece or anything, but I didn't quite know why I liked it yet. While I have complaints about the story and pacing, the overall story was actually very engaging. I can't think of many other movies off the top of my head where parents willingly go undercover to help their kids out of a complete mess. Me summing up the movie like that may belittle it in a way, but if you like a decent story with your action, you'll be pleasantly surprised. I also love the aspect of anyone going undercover for any reason. I love thriller and mystery and you could see the influence of those in this. To be able to follow essentially someone like me, going undercover for the first time, it's a cool concept.

Snitch is one of those one shot movies you watch and are surprised by, but that you'll probably never go back to it again. Well, maybe if your girlfriend or partner wants to watch Jon Bernthal and Dwayne Johnson do manly things. The action is pretty solid throughout (when there is action), but it does leave a lot to be desired. The three of the main actors are great and the story is a huge step above most other action movies. Pacing and story problems litter this movie and if you like getting to know the characters you're watching, throw 90% of them out the window in this one. This is one of the better action-esque movies of the past few years. If you want to turn your brain off, go watch Transformers. If you want a little drama with your action, give Snitch a try.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Halloween [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

Alright, here it is my triumphant return to reviews after taking a month to regather myself. No applause? Well that sounds about right. Please also excuse me if it looks like I'm a little rusty. It's 'cause I am. I come back though with one of the horror genre's all time staples. Halloween took the genre and turned it on its side. The suspense this movie brought was seldom seen in the big screen at the time. The kills were brutal and the story turned out to be a timeless classic. Halloween has spawned a full franchise and even a recent reboot by Rob Zombie. But this is the inaugural piece and John Carpenter crafted a movie that will stand the test of time as one of horror's best films.

Halloween follows the story of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), a high school student on Halloween night. In a flashback scene to start the movie we find out that Michael Myers, who is six at the time, kills his older sister and was committed to an insane asylum. This Halloween is the 15th Anniversary of the murder and Michael escapes the asylum to wreck havoc in the town where it all began. Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is sent to retrieve Michael before he tries to kill again. Laurie is stuck babysitting this fateful Halloween night and across the street her friend Annie (Nancy Kyes) is also stuck doing the same. Though friends have promised to come over and hang out later in the evening. Throughout the day Laurie sees Michael following them around town as they get ready. Annie writes off Laurie's paranoia, but as night falls things begin to go awry. Break-ins happen around town and friends don't arrive as they promised. These may be clues that Michael has already begun his rampage. With Laurie, this time around, unknowingly becoming his prized possession.

There is no doubt in my mind this is one of the best horror movies of all time. It doesn't have the flash, the crew, the effects or even the acting talent. What it does have is a simple, scary atmosphere lurking just in the background. You're not gonna see buckets of blood or overly brutal kills like in say a SAW or Friday the 13th film. You're gonna be put on the edge of your seat by that haunting score and the suspense of Myers eerily spying on his victims. You're not gonna get Academy Award winning acting. But Jamie Lee Curtis plays a high school student, admittedly not a hard task to do, who you would think was truly being terrorized. You're also not gonna get Academy Award winning writing either. What you will get is a story and lore that has spawned a generation of movies in a successful franchise. Halloween for me has always been one of those jumping off movies, at least in the horror genre, in the past 50 years. Along with Dawn of the Dead, which was released in the same year, a new era of modern horror was beginning.

To delve a little more deeply into things I'm going to go over three main points that make this movie worth going back to again and again. Despite how many times you may have watched it. My first point being the lore and story that this movie sets up for the audience. John Carpenter is one of the best horror writers and directors of all time. But this, still after all these years, could still be easily considered his crown jewel. Not only was it a highly original story at the time, but also it's still one that holds up really well today. Even with it being just a simple story of a less than sane kid wanting revenge on the town that put him away.

Moving on, my second point would be that the score alone and tone of the movie is one of the best ever. Horror movies nowadays rarely use a truly eerie score and atmosphere to put people on the edge of their seats. If they do it's usually done in a completely over-dramatic way that leaves you rolling your eyes. Limiting the jump scares in this movie and combining it with a now iconic score puts your mind in a different place. Now follow me here for a second. A place where even the slightest movements or sounds have you on high alert. So when the big kill or scare does happen it's not an, "Oh, I saw that coming from a mile away" moment, it's a, "Yell or gasp out loud with genuine sense of fright" moment. Finally we come to my final point which is, even low budget movies can be phenomenal. This movie was essentially made out of the back of a van, in a neighborhood, with the cast and crew's family and friends helping them out. This really hit me cause you don't need a huge budget to make a masterpiece. One of my favorite movies of all time, Clerks, was made on a limited budget as well. John Carpenter, Deborah Hill, Irwin Yablans and the rest of this people evolved in this movie created a lasting impact. They created big buzz and a big movie, without the big Hollywood budget.

Horror is a genre that a lot of people think is really stale and they usually write off a movie before it even comes out. At least that's what happens nowadays. But there is a reason why people call this a classic. Halloween helped change the direction of horror in the late 1970s. Not relying on jump scares, it had great writing, decent acting (at least on Jamie Lee Curtis' part) and a score for the ages. I could talk your ear off about how the acting (overall) was lacking or that it looks really dated. If you want to point out flaws I don't think you truly enjoy this movie. As even some of the things that make it bad help with the overall charm of things. This was and still is the pillar of a franchise and a genre. Halloween takes a simple word and the influence of a holiday, and turns it into terror creeping in the back of your mind.