Friday, January 31, 2014

Her [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

"Her" is one of those movies that clicks on every level. When I first heard about this Spike Jonze film, I was intrigued. A love story in which one character was on screen and one was off is a concept that is highly original. This cast is also loaded. Joaquin Phoenix leads a crew that includes Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde. "Her" is easily my favorite movie of the year and Spike Jonze has made a film that tells quite a story, while hitting you right in your emotional gut.

"Her" follows the story of Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), an introverted man who writes personal love letters for people unable to express it for themselves. He's become very lonely, as he about to become divorced from his childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara). One day, Theodore purchases a OS (operating system) with artificial intelligence designed to evolve like a human. Theodore decides to have his OS be a female and not long after he meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). They begin to bond through her going through his emails and learning about his personality. Beyond that they begin to bond through talking about life and love. One day, to get over Catherine, Samantha convinces Theodore to go out on a blind date with a woman (Olivia Wilde). The woman is a friend of Theodore's longtime friend, Amy (Amy Adams). The date goes well, but things don't quite mesh between the two when Theodore is faced with commitment. After the date, Theodore and Samantha begin to talk relationships and Theodore brings up how he briefly dated Amy in college. Each day Theodore and Samantha become more and more intimate. Amy mentions to Theodore that she is divorcing her overbearing husband, Charles (Matt Letscher). Then Theodore mentions that he is in fact dating his OS, Samantha. Theodore is finally in a place to get past his ex and Samantha is just the thing to give him hope in life.

"Her" is a movie that had me hook line and sinker from beginning to end. The direction and writing from Spike Jonze has garnered him a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but it also put his movie in the mix for Best Picture. I'm glad that this film made the top nominations of the year. Not just because it was my favorite film of 2013, but because it's one of the few that truly deserved it. Every aspect of this film was great. You name it, it was fantastic. The writing and directing that I already mentioned, the acting, cinematography and the story. It's almost hard to pinpoint things because everything was so good. I guess that makes my job easy, but here are a few things that jumped out to me about this film. The story and writing are great. This is a love story yes, but one done is such an original way that you don't groan when you hear what the movie is about. A man, from the not so distant future, falls for an almost real being that happens to be his operating system. It does sound kind-of wonky, but it's done it such an intimate and emotional way, the wariness will leave you quickly. The writing is fantastic, especially considering a bulk of the dialogue is for a person, Samantha, you never see physically on-screen. Everything feels real, from the letters Theodore writes, you partially hear about, to the relationships between characters and then obviously the relationship between Theodore and Samantha. Being organic is a good way to get attention and add good to a film. It lets the audience connect, live and laugh over the course of the film. The characters make it easy to invest in them and you begin to empathize, and almost root for them, in way.

Let's not stop here, because this movie looks and sounds great. One of the things that hit me when I watched this, was that everything was futuristic, but didn't feel out of place. What I mean by that, is that it's obviously set in the future, but everything felt like it could happen. It's not going out of its way to throw flying cars and impossible inventions in just because it's set ahead of now. It feel like this is what the world could look like in 20 years, with things our grand kids could be using in everyday life. Speaking of, the few shots we do get to see as backdrops, of LA and Shanghai, are beautiful and really let you appreciate the visuals of this film. The score and soundtrack is great as well. It really immerses you in everything going on. Also, in case you hadn't heard, the signature song, "The Moon Song," was nominated for an Oscar as well. We'll finally get to the acting, as everyone was exceptional, and really brought this film to life. Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore was the anchor of this film. He embodies the Theodore and really does bring the character to life. The other big name that really makes this movie is Scarlett Johansson as Samantha. You never see her on-screen, but you can argue that without her vocal performance, this film wouldn't be as good.  Obviously this isn't an animated film, so you never actually see Samantha outside of a cell phone-like device or a computer. It's a wonder that Scarlett was able to give such a wonderful performance and I'm glad she got the role. Phoenix and Johansson are a great pairing and everything goes so smoothly. You get to see the friendship, the emotion, the awkwardness, the relationship and the hard times. At a lot of points in this film, you lose track that Samantha isn't real. You're so sucked in by the interactions between Phoenix and Adams, or Wilde or Mara. Even Chris Pratt , who only had a handful of lines, was able to bring his role to life and become memorable. Maybe it was the writing, maybe it was the actors themselves. I'm glad that everyone was completely on with Spike Jonze making "Her."

"Her" really is the complete film. I don't really know how much more I can say. This is the type of movie you watch, and fall in love with. Spike Jonze and anything and everything nominated from this film truly does deserve it. The acting, original writing, directing, look, sounds, characters are all great. "Her" is a movie that blends realism with emotion so well. If you haven't seen this yet, I highly recommend it. Even if you only look to watch the best films of the year, you must include "Her" in your viewership. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gravity [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

"Gravity" is a movie that blew up quickly. No pun intended. From the rave reviews it was getting before release, to the commercial success it amassed one it was fully released. This is a movie more about experience, eye-popping visuals and emotion, than telling an actual story. Alfonso Cuaron, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were apart of one of the best movies to be set in space with this. It deserves the praise it gets, but this isn't quite a movie that is Best Picture worthy.

"Gravity" follows the story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer, while she is on Shuttle Explorer's STS-157 for her first mission. She is accompanied by astronaut Matthew Kowalski (George Clooney), who is commanding his final mission. During a spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, they are warned of a Russian missile strike to destroy a defunct satellite. It would cause a chain reaction and send a debris cloud hurdling their way. Shortly after being told, they lose communication, but keep the lines open in case that they can still hear. Disaster strikes as said debris cloud strikes the Explorer and Hubble. Stone is detached from the shuttle and begins hurdling through space, until she is saved by Kowalski. They begin to head towards the International Space Station using Kowalski's thruster pack. He estimates that they have 90 minutes before the same debris cloud completes an orbit and hits them again. Thus begins a journey through space, in which Kowalski and Stone will encounter trials that are absolute worst case scenarios for anyone up in space.

I get the praise for this film, I really do, but is it really one of the top echelon movies of 2013? I don't think that it quite is. Problems abound once you get past the great performance by Bullock and the eye-popping visuals from Cuaron. There are just plain questions about everything going on. How are there so many abandoned ships and shuttles just floating around up there? I mean I can understand finding a ship, from maybe another country close by. But, it seemed that Stone at one point was really just hopping from ship, to ship, to ship. If she didn't find a working one, she would've gotten to one eventually. I get that this is fantasy, and I don't know about our orbit and atmosphere, or what really goes on up there. But, even with me turning my brain off, I can't wrap my head around Stone being able to just find all of the ships just there exactly when needed. Another thing, while the writing for characters is great, somehow they forgot to really make this a story. Sure, you have Stone eventually getting from point A to point B. If this was the case then I could make a movie based on me going from my house to Best Buy and hope it makes me millions. I'm oversimplifying things, I know. I like visual effects and I love great characters, but put a story with them. Finally, I thought this was far too short, if you're gonna leave me with little story and least give me another 10-20 minutes of  visual effects or Bullock and Clooney shooting the breeze. This is a movie, with a bare bones plot, that felt short to me. Give me some more, make it worth my while, make me really want to come back to this.

On the flip side of all this, when this movie was good it was great. As I mentioned above there are two huge areas that really appealed to me with "Gravity." The first was the obvious visual effects. This movie started with a 15-minute shot, consisting of introductions to characters, beautiful shots of space and the setting up of what would be happening the rest of the film. Everything looks fantastic, it's really surreal to see shots of stuff that's all there if you just look up. The shots of earth at a given time, the space shuttles or of space itself are awesome. It doesn't end there as everything felt real, felt dire. The score for this really did a great job of setting atmosphere too. Okay that was a pun, I'm sorry. The debris cloud treating everything to smithereens and then the wandering, I use that lightly, from ship to ship, feels real. This is all partly due to the efforts of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. These two are great in their roles and as the movie wears on Bullock gets better. They work off of each other so well in the early part of the film. Conversations are witty, the emotion is real and there are even a few laughs sprinkled in throughout. As things become more intense so does Bullock. She ends up carrying the bulk of this film on her own. I really am glad she got the nomination for best actress, cause while this isn't the best film, she delivered a helluva performance in it. Despite the lack of much happening, it takes a lot for a actor or actress to keep me into something. Bullock really does deliver in this.

You could say that "Gravity" is a mixed bag. The plot and questions it brings up about a lot of the things actually going on in the film, is enough to leave you scratching your head. The acting by George Clooney, and more so Sandra Bullock, combined with the visual direction of Alfonso Cuaron, are exceptional. This is one of those movies I enjoyed, but wanted more out of. People can easily appreciate the same things I did if they view this. The visuals and acting is more than enough to make this a worthwhile film. But, "Gravity" at its peak was a good film, that got way over-hyped.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

When I was watching the Golden Globes a couple of weeks ago, I didn't know much about "Dallas Buyers Club." As the night went on Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey won awards for best supporting actor and best lead actor. After the show, I did a little research into this film and then the next day I watched it. It caught me so off guard, mostly due to the fact I wasn't really expecting this to be as good as it turned out to be. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto were apart of a movie that may be the biggest surprise of 2013. 

"Dallas Buyers Club" follows the story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a man living in Dallas, Texas in 1985. He is an electrician and homophobic cowboy, who contracts HIV through unprotected relations and drug use. Ron is given 30 days to live by doctors, due to no real advances to treat HIV yet, but refuses to accept his fate. Once words gets out, he is alienated by his friends and family. Ron is treated by Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) who prescribes AZT, the only FDA approved HIV treatment. As it turns out the treatments aren't working. One day he meets Rayon (Jared Leto), a HIV positive transgender woman. As Ron gets worse, he travels to Mexico to meet with Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), who informs him that AZT is essentially poison to the body. Instead, he prescribes ddC and the protein peptide T, and within three months, Rons health has dramatically improved. Wanting to help all he can, he smuggles the natural drugs across the border. Ron enlists Rayon to help him with distribution of the good drugs, and even makes some cash whilst doing so. The Dallas Buyers Club, as it comes to be known, is hounded by the FDA, but this won't stop Ron from getting the word out on treatments that will actually help people.

All I can say is wow. Of course I'll say more, but this film was so good. The massive social commentary  towards gay rights going on right now aside, this is a story of survival. It's a story of tolerance and acceptance. "Dallas Buyers Club" is a movie that follows the life of a man who is forever changed by by what he has gotten. Rough spots galore as Ron (played brilliantly by McConaughey) struggles with the fact he does have HIV. The anger that comes from what he's not used to, being alienated, his homophobia and the fact the FDA is pushing poison. The decision to fight, not only fight for himself, but risking his freedom to bring natural treatments to the forefront. Even if the FDA doesn't approve, or understand or wants to change. We've come a long way since the 80s, both medically and emotionally, and this a movie that shows this so well. The disgusted looks and actions of his friends, when they found out about the HIV. The way the people he worked treated him, along with completely hostile. Ron had to go through things no person, gay or straight, should have to endure. Sure it's hard at times when people don't understand what is going on, but the way Ron persevered onward, was simply played beautifully. Matthew McConaughey embodied the role of Ron so well. Then with the supporting cast of Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto, especially Leto, you have a crew that brought this wonderfully written movie to life.

Speaking of the writing, this is one of the better written movies of 2013. Everything feels real and organic almost. As if I'm watching home movies form someone's life. A lot of this has to do with the spectacular job the actors did in this, but usually everything starts with the writing. If you have a bad script, you can have the best cast ever and the movie will still turn out awful. That is not the case with this film. The situations, emotions, dialogue and concept are written so well. It's easy to get sucked into this story, and usually with a biopic, that's hard for me to do. This movie looks good too, it's not just a movie set in the 1980s, it's a movie that really did capture the essence of Dallas. Being a guy that grew up in DFW for 19 years, it was nice to see familiarity in the cinematography. Each scene looks great, and everything down to the costume and set design looks great. The amazing acting that Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey put forth is also what makes this movie so strong. I've never been a fan of McConaughey, but 2013 was been a year here he exploded as a great actor. The movies "Mud", "The Wolf of Wall Street" and this, were all good. Alongside the great role he's begun playing in HBO's "True Detective." This movie is McConaughey at his finest and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him in the future. His role as Ron may be the breakout role he's always been looking for. It was a joy to watch him in this. Jared Leto deserves a ton of praise as well as Rayon. It's a performance you can hear about all day, but not quite be ready for. The emotion he brings to a given scene is really what makes what he did so good. These two, combined with everything just seeming right, makes this movie simply beautiful.

"Dallas Buyers Club" is a powerful film about tolerance and the power of change. The story of Ron Woodroof is a vibrant one filled with rocky lows and great highs. Ron is played exceptionally by Matthew McConaughey and supported greatly by Jared Leto. This is a movie that will stick with you long after you're done watching. As I said before, this is one of the biggest surprises of 2013 for me, and it really does deserve all the praise it gets. "Dallas Buyers Club" is well worth anyone and everyone's time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Captain Phillips [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

This movie is fresh in my mind, because I put off actually watching it for awhile. I kept hearing it was great, and that Tom Hanks did a helluva job. Then it got nominated for quite a few awards and I was like, "Hey, I should probably watch this." "Captain Phillips" is one of those movies you're either gonna love it, or you're gonna hate it. I was one of those ones that would've be in the minority for much of the film, until, for me, it finally kicked in. Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, star in this "based on a true story" film that starts to hit you the deeper you get into the viewing. I'm glad it finally kicked in too, because I didn't want to have to completely write this film off.

"Captain Phillips" follows the story of Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) as he takes command of the MV Maersk Alabama, an unarmed container ship. It is set to sail through the Gulf of Aden around the Horn of Africa. The crew is wary of Somali pirates that were notorious for having a ton of activity in the area. During one of the ships drills, it is given chase by two Somali vessels. Phillips is able to lose both of them after bluffing calling for an airstrike. The next day, one of the vessels returns, is heavily armed and led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi).  Despite everyone's best efforts, the pirates board the Maersk Alabama and take control of it. Phillips tries to reason with Muse and offers him the money in the ship's safe. Muse is under orders from his boss to take the ship, and crew, hostage to exchange them for millions of dollars in insurance money. A crew member manages to cut the power, leading to the capture of Muse, while the other pirates still have Phillips. They arrange a trade, Phillips for Muse and a life boat. The pirates have other plans at they take both the ship and Phillips and escape. With the stolen life boat heading for the shore, Phillips life is in grave danger. He is now a bargaining chip between Somali pirates and the money they want.

This was a movie that was a complete tale of two halves for me. We'll start with the obvious, the first part of the film, as in everything that sets up the climactic final 30-40 minutes of the film. Quite frankly, despite all the hijacking, action and the like, the first half of this movie was way to slow paced. Sure the scenes where the Somali pirates take over the ship are good. It's those moments in between are what got me. Almost like a horror movie setting up tension, but then for only a few seconds of adrenaline to follow. I like a well paced film that doesn't feel as rushed as the next person. But, when it becomes boring that's when I have a problem. Attention to detail is great, but there's time where you just have to leave some things out and not include every moment of something. As great as Tom Hanks was, as great as Barkhad Abdi was, there were multiple scenes that felt really unneeded or just too long. To steal a quote from "Pineapple Express", "If there's one quality I hate in a person, it's lingering." This is a movie that would've benefited from a shorter theatrical cut, then a director's cut to be released later. Not saying that everything about the first half of this movie was bad. The story is adapted well, and it really does set up the second half of the movie to end strong. The acting was fine and the cinematography and set design were really good.

Then we get to the second half of the film and the climax. This is when the pacing and the story really start to click. The tension is cranked up to 11 and Tom Hanks really begins to shine. I was skeptical of Tom Hanks getting all these nominations. Then this film hit me like a train. Tom Hanks is the big name, Barkhad Abdi is the support. It's almost a two man show with a bunch of extras. Hanks carries the second half so well. The emotion, the immersion, and the realism of everything happening. This is one of those roles you can tell an actor really poured themselves into. Then we come to the counter balance to Hanks in Abdi. In his first major film role, he knocks it out of the park. He turns a character that could almost certainly considered "just a pirate", into one that actually has some remorse for actions, a thinking mind and a conscience. The two play off of each other so well, it was really awesome to watch them get entrenched in their roles. It helps the overall product as well. With a movie like this you need to feel a sense of urgency accompanied with massive tension. The first half you could tell, bad stuff was happening, obviously. When you get to the climax though, it's on a whole nother level. You feel for the characters, you almost get into each of their heads and begin to think what they're thinking in a given moment. It's really a cool thing to be able to do that with a film. Like I said in the previous paragraph, the writing was great. Then by this point, when you combine the writing with the acting and score, you really have a good one on your hands. I just really wish I hadn't found the first half so bothersome. Because the climax and ending of "Captain Phillips" is how you should end always action thriller.

"Captain Phillips" is a film that is a mixed bag, but not for the reasons you'd think. The acting between Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi are great, and you can clearly see why they got nominations. They really are well deserved. The climax and ending had me completely into it as well. The first half just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I can go back in the future for a re-watch and be able to get into it. "Captain Phillips" has two great performances for sure, but it's a film that's not going to stand a chance against others to win Best Picture.

Monday, January 27, 2014

American Hustle [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

It's that time of year again. The time of year when I get a huge itch to really dive into movies. Needless to say, I watch more movies than most. With The Oscars just around the corner, I've decided to once again review of all the movies nominated for Best Picture. These will be reviewed alongside some of the bigger movies of 2013 nominated for an award. Starting off this week, I will be reviewing one of the most talked about and nominated films "American Hustle." With an all-star cast consisting of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, David O. Russell made his bid for the Oscar Season. Even though the overall product could widely be considered safe and over-hyped.

"American Hustle" follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) as they meet, begin a relationship and subsequently begin to con people using a loan scam. Irving is reluctant to leave his wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), with her son, who he's adopted. FBI Agent Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) catches the couple red-handed, but offers to release them if they help him catch some additional criminals. The main guy they would be looking to arrest is Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Rinner). On the surface Carmine is greatly helping the community, but if you were to dig a little, you'd find that he isn't quite the savior he's thought of as. His newest plan is to revitalize the gambling in Atlantic City. Irving and Richie hatch a plan to entrap Carmine, despite Richie's boss, Stoddard Thorsen (Louie CK), objecting. Using one of Irving's friends, Paco Hernandez (Michael Pena), posing as an Arab Sheikh willing to invest, they set up a fake meeting and the ball beings rolling on the biggest con of Irving's life.

This was a movie I really liked when I was watching it. The look, the long con and the lead role Christian Bale played had my interest. I the overall look of the film was great. Though sometimes a bit over stylized, the characters never looked out of place in this late 1970s set movie. One of my favorite things about movies is getting caught up in the surroundings. When a movie doesn't do that well, it really does bring it down. The overall story was pretty fun as well. It's always fun to watch a plan unfold over the course of a movie, and this was a fun one to watch. Not original by any means, but it still was something that won't leave you disappointed after watching this. Crime and con movies more often than not, fall flat. This movie found a way to not be awful, while not getting overly complicated and turning into a mess. Finally the acting, at least by Christian Bale, was pretty good. This is his first role post-Batman, and while not his strongest performance, it was one that's very good. He really gets into the role and plays Irving Rosenfeld well. I think at this point I can look forward to more Christian Bale, as the roles he's been playing as of late suit him well. The supporting cast does him well in this too, and he really does shine as the best character and actor in this film.

This was also a movie that I really felt could've been much better. Dwelling on this after watching it, it all hit me. David O. Russell is not a writer and director I'm too keen on. Last year's "Silver Linings Playbook" was only okay for me. Partly due to the acting and partly due to it just flat out losing my interest. This movie doesn't do that to me, but there are so many places that could've been better. The con, while fun, wasn't really that great in the end. The writing felt rushed, even though the movie was pretty long. Honestly, the best writing parts of this for me were the scenes involving Louis CK and his ice fishing story. The acting, while great from Bale, was lacking everywhere else. Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradly Cooper are all fine actors and I like their work. But in this film, they do not deserve Academy Award Nominations they've received. The final scene Jennifer Lawrence is in, she is great, and I wish that character had been the one portrayed the whole time. Bradley Cooper plays a bumbling FBI agent. Amy Adams plays a woman with a bad British accent 90% of the time. Oh yeah, Robert DiNero is in this too, his one scene was fine I suppose. Overall the roles were fine, but not Oscar worthy. The movie felt long as well. You can compare this to other movies nominated that never felt long that were half an hour and an hour longer.

"American Hustle" is still a good film, despite my harshness and criticisms towards it. Christian Bale leads a capable cast in a fun, rushed, but still kind of long, con film. David O. Russell is looking to clean house again this year at The Oscars with his film and ensemble cast. But, like last year, he's made a movie that will most likely get awards to his cast, for doing mediocre jobs. This is worth your time simply for the fun you'll have watching it. "American Hustle" is a movie that's getting a lot of praise, for simply being good, when it could've been great.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Quick Golden Globes 2014 Predictions/Wants Thingie

-Golden Globe Wants/Predictions-

Now I'm not an insider, nor do I pretend to be. But, I do know what I like and the Golden Globes is the first "big" awards show of the year. I've seen a ton of movies this year and most of these nominees. Here's a few thoughts on what I like. Also who I want, and think, will win later tonight. Like last year, expect a full and sweeping write-up when The Oscars roll around in the coming months.

*= Want to Win

Best Picture (Drama)
12 Years A Slave/Rush
12 Years A Slave is a huge draw in addition to being a well received film. Rush was a fantastic flick to me, even though it won't win.

Best Actress (Drama)
Sandra Bullock- Gravity
Best of the bunch here, carried Gravity on her own and did a great job.

Best Actor (Drama)
Chiwetel Ejofor- 12 Years A Slave*/Tom Hanks- Captain Phillips
If I had a choice here it'd be Michael B. Jordan for Fruitvale Station.

Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)
Her*/The Wolf of Wall Street 
Toss up for me here, tiebreaker goes to  "Her" as it's my favorite film of the year.

Best Actress (Comedy/Musical)
Amy Adams- American Hustle*/Greta Gerwig- Frances Ha
I didn't particularly love Adams in this, but I didn't like Frances Ha, despite liking Gerwig's character.

Best Actor (Comedy/Musical)
Joaquin Phoenix- Her*/Leonardo DiCaprio- The Wolf of Wall Street
See that "Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)" little blurb above.

Best Animated Pic
The Croods was wholly mediocre and Despicable Me 2, while good, wasn't Frozen good.

Best Foreign Language Pic
Blue Is The Warmest Color
This is the only one I've seen of the bunch, but oh my was it pretty good.

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence- American Hustle*/Lupita Nyong'o- 12 Years A Slave
I only liked J-Law in one scene of American Hustle (she was fantastic in said scene), but I've heard nothing but praise for her role.

Best Supporting Actor
Daniel Bruhl- Rush*/Bradley Cooper- American Hustle
Everyone adores American Hustle, but you should all go give Rush a watch, Daniel Bruhl is fantastic in it.

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron- Gravity*
Story, acting and visuals, Gravity had it all, and all of it was good. Did I mention those visuals?

Best Screenplay
Spike Jonze- Her
I can easily see American Hustle or 12 Years A Slave getting this as well. All great scripts, AH less than the other two.

Best Original Song
"Let It Go" from Frozen
You've heard this right? It wins.