Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Most Violent Year

You know that saying "There are eight million stories in the naked city and this is just one"? Well J.C. Chandor, director of Robert Redford's All Is Lost, focuses on one of the stories from the most violent year on record for New York City and in the process gives you a very real look into how the city basically turned into the Wild West in 1981.

When I saw the title and the trailer for this movie, I was expecting Mean Streets Part 2 but in the end all I got was a mean look from my idiot friend when the final credits started rolling. He turned to me with a frown and said "Jessica Chastain should have taken a gun to that script and put it out of its misery before they started filming". And with that one statement he almost changed my entire view of the film; he was of course referencing one of the few tense moments in the movie.

Chandor focuses on the ambitious immigrant Abel Morales(Oscar Isaac) and his fight to keep his business in tact and his family safe. He started out as a driver himself but in a matter of a few years became the owner of his own oil and gas distribution company. The problem is he's so good at what he does and even better at selling his product that he's slowly putting his competitors out of business. So someone starts attacking his drivers and stealing his oil while at the same time threatening his family by sending goons to his house in an attempt to push him out.

Abel tries his best to deal with it in a civil manner and not resort to gangster tactics but as the violence increases and the pressure mounts from his wife to do something, he finds it harder and harder to not do whatever it takes to preserve the life he's made for himself.

Isaac gives an awe-inspiring performance playing the burdened Abel as it feel as though you are literally watching a young Al Pacino at work. He at times seems to mimic the overall demeanor of a young Michael Corleone as he is struggling with staying on the straight and narrow while adjusting the rough culture he is now a part of. I just wish they had given him more confrontations to deal with besides the back and forth you see with him and the district attorney Lawrence who is played by the now omnipresent David Oyelowo.

Abel's wife Anna is played wonderfully by the talented Jessica Chastain. a jewel in Hollywood who never seems to disappoint. She adds life to the story whenever it seems to trail off into the abyss of the mundane and trust me when I say there are plenty of these moments.

With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I loved how deep into this particular story you are taken and how Chandor was able to give you a feel for all of the desperate violence that was taking place in the city without glorifying it or going over the top with an orgy of violent scenes. Actually, I love an orgy of violent scenes, what am I talking about???

This movie moves really slow at times, so it's definitely not for everyone but I rate it as FRESH!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Top Ten Movies of 2014 (5-1)

I had to break the news to my idiot friend last night that I couldn't put I, Frankenstein in my top ten movies of the year and it was as if I had just told him that he was adopted or something. The look of disappointment on his face combined with the fact that I had just made him watch what he considered to be one of the most boring movies of all time made me fear for my life as I walked back to my car. So to cheer him up, I will refer to him as Chance (cuz his momma took one) in this article and this article alone, as he has this weird man crush on Van Damme (Hard Target).

When Frankenstein first came out, I thought that it would be a no brainer entry into my top ten but I had no idea that Hollywood would surprise me by coming up with something fresher than a CGI farm full of Frankenstein eggs? So with that said, here are the five best movies of 2014.

5. Under the Skin
How can a movie that has ScarJo getting naked on screen for the first time not be considered the best movie of all time? It should be rated #1 but I realize that not everyone loves her as I do, so I pushed it down a few spots as a result of that. But besides the fact that she shows off her wonderful body, this avant-garde take on alien abduction is one of the best movies I've seen from a visual perspective in a while. The creepy score is the perfect compliment to the odd subject matter.
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/04/under-skin.html

4. The Raid 2: Berandal
This is easily the best martial arts movie that has been made in the past decade. Every fighting scene somehow tops the one that came before it and by the time the baseball man and hammer girl came on screen, I was completely floored.
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-raid-2-berandal.html

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Budapest is the culmination of all of Wes Anderson's past weirdness packed into one movie. He took the best of everything you loved from each of his previous films and made his best work to date. Ralph Fiennes seems like a natural in his role and this film is visually stunning if nothing else.
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-grand-budapest-hotel.html

2. Boyhood
Everyone that has ever lived can connect with this movie in some way. Whether it's empathizing with the single mother trying her best to raise two kids on her own or having a flashback to your teenage years when you were so psyched about scoring a six pack that throwing knives at a wall seemed like the best night of your life, this film reaches every element of growing up in the 90's and it doesn't leave anyone out regardless of your race, gender, or social class.
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/07/boyhood.html


1. Birdman
Inarritu once again is able to make an icon of the underrated Michael Keaton. He uses Keaton's real life experiences to tell the story of a struggling actor who is trying his best to gain respect in the industry by writing and directing his own Broadway play. His uses a single shot format and a killer score to keep your eyes glued to the screen and every actor gives the performance of a lifetime in what is easily the year's best film.
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/10/birdman-or-unexpected-virtue-of.html


Friday, January 23, 2015

The Top Ten Movies in 2014 (10-6)

I am not like the boring Academy where I think a movie has to be a dramatic biopic that doesn't really challenge anyone to be considered one of the year's best. I actually include action movies and comedies in my top ten because they can have just as much of a lasting effect on a person as sappy dramas can. While this year was universally considered to be an overall down year for movies, I had a hard time narrowing down my list to ten. So I will start with the ten that made honorable mention:
The Congress
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-congress.html
X-Men
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/05/x-men-days-of-future-past.html
Equalizer
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-equalizer.html
Snowpiercer
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/07/snowpiercer.html
Gone Girl
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/10/gone-girl.html
Obvious Child
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/06/obvious-child.html
Cheap Thrills
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/03/cheap-thrills.html
Nightcrawler
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/11/nightcrawler.html
Selma
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2015/01/selma.html
American Sniper
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2015/01/american-sniper.html

It was tough leaving some of these out but I take into account rewatchability too; I loved Sniper and Selma but man, I never want to go through those experiences again. So here are the first five of my top ten of the year.

10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
There's no denying the entertainment value of this movie; the action was top notch as it has some of the more memorable chase scenes in recent memory and it let everyone know that Robert Redford is still alive.
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/04/captain-america-winter-soldier.html

9. The Guest
This is the best 80's horror movie that has come out since the 80's and it nails everything that was so great about that decade and it's over the top movies, including the wonderful music. I just wish they could have included a naked CGI Kelly Lebrock; I never got to see those wonderful perkies but Steven Segal and Gene Wilder did. Bastards!
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-guest.html

8. Interstellar
Although this movie has been ruined a bit for me because my buddy pointed out that literally every scene has someone crying in it, I love sci-fi and this movie brings to life a few things I thought I'd only see in my head; including a black astronaut. "If you going to the moon, then dammit we're going to the moon' Cedric the Entertainer
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/11/interstellar.html

7. Mood Indigo
A funny and depressing French love story that looks like someone's bad angel dust trip. It also reminded me why I'm still single. "Slow down essay, it's angel dust holmes" Hector to Smokey
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/09/mood-indigo.html

6. Fury
The power of the mustache and conversation can work wonders. David Ayer (future director of Suicide Squad) delivers again as he is able to give you yet another interesting angle of war and what it does to humanity. It somehow overcomes the douchieness of Shia LaDouche which earns it a top ten spot all by its self.
http://onlyfreshness.blogspot.com/2014/10/fury.html

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Whiplash

I totally dismissed this movie when it first came out a few months ago because I grew up in Texas and played sports, so I was already used to coaches being jerks and yelling at you for no reason at all. You simply learned to put up with these things because you wanted to go to the wild parties and get laid after the games. Well I only weighed about 97 lbs in high school so I still couldn't get laid even with sports and my Kid n' Play hair style, so I had no interest in seeing a kid attend some prestigious university in New York only to see him cry when his professor said he wasn't on time with the drums.

Give me a break dude; you play an instrument in New York City, all you have to do is walk around in Bushwick with your drumsticks and panties will be dropping on the sidewalk like dollar bills in the strip club. I guess I could have said dropping like panties in a strip club but it all depends on how dirty you're looking to get that night.

In either case, I eventually caved in and saw Whiplash because I kept hearing so many wonderful things about J.K. Simmons and his performance as the emotionally abusive sociopath Fletcher. Fletcher is the music director at the best music school in the nation and  he has a reputation that's well respected in the community and with the top symphonies in the country. So if you make under him, your career is basically set for life.

The thing is Flethcer doesn't just require greatness from his pupils, he requires absolute perfection, and if he gets anything less than that he verbally berates them until they are on the brink of public suicide. And believe me when I say that Simmons is terrifying in this role. The second he walks into the room, everyone stands at attention as if he's Miranda from The Devil Wears Prada. Their lives depends on what he thinks of them and they will stop at nothing to please him.

This of course includes his newest student Andrew (Miles Turner) who starts off as the quiet and shy alternate drummer in the band but the more Fletcher pushes him, the more confidence he gains. The issue is, he begins to alienate everyone in his life and he becomes so obsessed with achieving perfection that it's beginning to affect his life in a negative way; and in some instances even puts his life at risk.

Simmons should win the Oscar for this performance as this role could make Fletcher an icon in movie world just as Miranda has become one because of Devil. Miles is adequate as Andrew but I will give him props for learning to play the drums at such a high level. Some of the things he does behind the kit are unimaginable.

The music is great in this movie and the intensity is high. What I liked in particular is that you have to decide for yourself whether or not Fletcher is simply trying his best to create the next Charlie Parker or if he is indeed just an abusive bully who has a complex. The movie gives you plenty of support for both.

I don't know if it should be up for Best Picture of the Year but it certainly was enjoyable. I rate it as very FRESH!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Blackhat

Before you read my review of Blackhat you should know that Michael Mann is by far my favorite director in all of Hollywood. He can make a city's skyline, the ghettos of Hong Kong, and even a melted nuclear power plant look like the most beautiful thing on Earth simply by the way he films it. Clearly his director of photography plays a big role in this too but he hand picks the guys he knows will produce his vision on screen and as a result you get visually stunning theater that's mixed perfectly with a sonically, airy, yet rocking score.

The only thing that could keep me from watching a Mann film is if he filmed himself sitting on a toilet for two hours. While he's never quite done that, he did come close when he filmed Johnny Depp taking a two hour crap on his career when they made Public Enemies together, and because of that massive failure, he's fallen off the map a bit and is now treated like a director whose barely above McG status.

This has to be reason why Blackhat was so universally panned by critics. I will say that early on it's full of cheesy one liners that are supposed to be badass but in reality fall well short of that. And there are some exchanges between a few of the main actors that are difficult to understand because of their thick Chinese accents or Chris Hemworth's ridiculous mumbling, which of course causes major issues as Mann's films are dependent upon snappy dialogue that leaves you floored and quoting it for decades. See Robert Deniro staring Al Pacino down in the movie Heat as he says "Let's say you do got me boxed in and I have to take you down. We've met face to face, yeah but I will not hesitate, not for one second." That was easily one of the best scenes in cinematic history.

But once you get past the first 20 minutes or so of all the technical hacking speak and the action actually starts up, you see Mann began to shine. Hemsworth is a coding and hacking genius whose serving a 15 year jail sentence because of his computer crimes. Well one day a nuclear power plant in China has a meltdown because an online hacker tapped into their system and caused a few of it's pumps to fail. A few days later, a different hacker who appears to use the same or similar code taps into Wall Street's system, causes the price of soy to skyrocket and profits $74 million from it. Both the US and Chinese government are concerned about what their next target will be so they grant Hemsworth a pardon if he's able to help them track down the hackers and bring an end to their terror.

Their journey takes them from the US, to China, and eventually Jakarta, and as you go along the ride with them,  Mann is able to give you a lasting shot or two of each location; in particular Hemsworth's escape via a private plane over a Chinese bay with his beautiful girlfriend. There isn't a shoot out scene that's as good as the one in Heat (possibly the best there ever will be) but he does have one or two in the streets of Hong Kong and in the tunnels of an underground hideout that will have you begging for more!

The final fight scene between Hemsworth and the head bad guy, who my idiot friend said looked like the evil biker from Raising Arizona, was a memorable one and the perfect ending to this intelligent thriller. I rate this movie as very FRESH as it's been a while since I've had this much fun in a theater.
 

Friday, January 16, 2015

American Sniper

I find it ironic that in the same month Bradley Cooper was famously seen rooting on the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the Dallas Cowboys, a movie in which he plays a Texas country boy turned deadly sniper is released in the theaters and earns him an Oscar nomination. With that said, I do think that since he does such an excellent job in the role and in particular with mimicking the thick Texas accent, that will grant him a pardon from public execution the next time he happens to set foot on Texas soil; that is until the next football season starts up anyway. Texans never forget; Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis still hasn't been seen in public ever since he screwed up the National Anthem at a Houston Rockets game and that was 22 years ago! Now in the interest of keeping my site from being shut down permanently I will let you insert your own racist quote from a tobacco spitting hick here.

Well in Sniper, Clint Eastwood shows you all the events that contributed to Chris Kyle becoming of the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history; they included Sunday mornings in church with his family, breaking up bully fights in the school yard, and participating in horse bucking competitions with scrubs from Victoria, Texas. It was at this point that I almost walked out of the theater! My terrible hometown and the people in it should never be allowed on film or even on display in a public forum of any kind.

But back to the movie, as you can see Navy SEAL Kyle was raised in a decent home and had a set of good core values, so when he saw the awful events that were taking place in Afghanistan he couldn't help but enlist in the armed forces because he felt as though he needed to help defend this great country of ours. Now that's about as down home American as you can get!

You are taken through his training, the awkward and funny meeting of his wife, and the brutal situations and decisions that went into the killing of his enemy fighters or citizens; some of whose scenes are difficult to watch.  And that's what was so surprising about this Eastwood film, all of his movies are good to decent but they are never as good as the hype machine behind them. Well I thought this would fall into that same category with the thousands of ads they played online and on commercial breaks during football games; all you see are ridiculous lines like "Bradley Cooper gives the best performance of all time" While he is good in it, he wasn't that good; this wasn't Taxi Driver or anything.

But Cooper does more than just physically morph into Kyle by gaining 55 pounds, you actually forget that you're watching a frat boy whose just reciting lines some intern is reading off to him. He totally captures the physical and emotional demeanor of a Texas bred soldier and Eastwood does an excellent job of filming the fighting scenes around him. That was always a complaint of mine when it came to Eastwood films, his movies were always 90% drama and only 10% action. Well that's not the case in Sniper, you get all action you can ask for in a war movie featuring snipers.

It speaks volumes when the entire theater walks out after the credits in complete silence and it's because of this that I give it a rating of very FRESH!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Inherent Vice

So I just recently learned what a crygasm is; apparently it's when you're having break up sex with your ex and they start crying the second they climax because they're so distraught. Um...what are you supposed to do at that point, stop to console them or just keep going until you get yours as well? For whatever reason I thought this was the funniest thing in the world last night and I clearly fit into the latter category but all this is, is further proof that I am an awful, awful person.

What does this have to with Inherent Vice? Well the first act of the movie is full of nothing but jokes that feel as though they were written by a 13 year old. That doesn't necessarily mean they weren't funny, because I did laugh, it's just that if you're going to make your own version of the brilliant Big Lebowski, then you better step your game up. Even today people are still quoting that movie and having Lebowski watch parties as that was one of the best comedies ever written!

Well Paul Thomas Anderson decided that it had been far too long since he made Boogie Nights and he wanted to take a break from dissecting the evil that is humanity. So he adapted the Thomas Pynchon book of the same name and wound up dissecting evil humans in a more humorous way.

Vice takes place in 1970's Los Angeles, a place where there was strong hatred for the hippie generation and drugs were being passed around like they were Spearmint gum. So as you can see, not much has changed since then. It follows Doc(Joaquin Phoenix) around as he tries solve the curious case of his missing ex girlfriend Shasta who was the mistress of a big shot real estate tycoon named Michael Wolfmann.Wolfmann's wife and her boyfriend came up with a scheme to steal all of his money while at the same time having him committed to a loony bin; all they needed was the help of Shasta.

Well as the movie goes on, you meet more or more interesting characters, all of whom wind up missing, dead, or more involved in the plot themselves as PTA does an excellent job handling all of these interweaving story lines. Even someone as dumb as me was able to keep up. The problem is, PTA spends so much time creating this weird and seemingly alternate universe that by the time the third act starts up, you're so fatigued you could care less how it's going to end. I found myself barely caring when this beautiful starlet shows up at Doc's house naked and ready to go. I eventually came to my senses though and uh perked up a bit.

Phoenix is solid as usual and he works well in a comedy format but the real star of the movie is his rival Lt. Bigfoot, played masterfully by Josh Brolin. He is your typical crew cut hard ass copper and every scene with him is comic gold.

I really liked this movie, it's just that its 20 minutes too long and needed Sam Elliott narrating it versus that of the random stupid hippie he casted; see this hatred thing is catching on!  I give it a rating of pretty FRESH!