Monday, July 27, 2015

Paper Towns

When people find out that I'm a freelance writer, the first question they always ask me is if I am currently working on a novel, and my response to this point has always been that I am nowhere near talented enough to write a book. But after seeing my umpteenth Young Adult movie in the theater last night, I am 100% certain that I could be successful writing novels for teenagers, simply because some of the crap these guys spit out these days sounds like it's written by a teenage girl who gets B pluses in her English III class (keep in mind that this take is coming from a blogger).

Some of the "best" lines from this movie include "Margo was always into mysteries, so maybe that's why she decided to become one herself" or "I realized that I was a paper girl in a paper town"; lines that will have anyone who has ever read anything more challenging than a J.K. Rowling book instantly rolling their eyes. Now I don't mean to be too hard on this movie because I know that's its target audience is teenagers and that sadly most of them can't comprehend the fact that Malcolm X was indeed NOT one of the original pioneers of hip hop, but come on; when a movie written by Kevin Smith has better dialogue than yours, that's a problem.

Paper Towns is a fairly enjoyable film as it's about teenagers being a bit rebellious and challenging the norms of society. It all starts one night when Quentin's quirky neighbor Margo sneaks into his bedroom and invites him to go on the adventure of a lifetime with her. It's a revenge mission to get back at her boyfriend who has been cheating on her the entire time and all of her friends who also played a role in it. And during this adventure, she challenges the uptight Quentin to get out his comfort zone and to finally view the world differently than he has to this point in his life.

Quentin feels like he has finally made a connection with the girl he has had a life long crush on and is ready to reveal these feelings to Margo the next day at school. The problem is that she never shows up to school and apparently has completely disappears from the face of the earth. But luckily for Quentin, Margo has left behind a trail of clues for him to find, letting him know exactly where she is.

He then decides to throw caution to the wind and goes on an adventure of his own to find her, and invites his two best friends along to be a part of it.

This movie tries its best to be the coming of age comedy/drama that everyone will be able to connect to, much like The Breakfast Club did back in the 80's, but the problem is, it's not nearly written well enough to do that. All of the kids come from this affluent neighborhood in Orlando and apparently they all have endless amounts of money, parents who are only there only to make sure they don't die, and they are all smart enough to go to Ivy League schools when they graduate.

This would be great if everyone lived in Manhattan Beach but we don't. At least have one token kid who's on welfare to be the getaway driver in a few scenes. The one scene they did have that took place in the hood involved an abandoned souvenir store where there wasn't even one crack head performing oral sex for drugs! I mean, what kind of city is this???

Anyway, more jokes bombed than not but if you're a teen, you do get to live out the fantasy of going to cool parties, having sex with hot girls in their basements, and going on impromptu road trips with your friends. So based off of that, you might find yourself liking this film and using it as inspiration to take one last random and reckless trip before the new school year starts.

And for the record,  I found Margo's best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) to be hotter and more interesting than Margo was. I rate this movie as pretty WEAK and suggest that you wait for Showtime to pick it up.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Southpaw

Poor Jake Gyllenhaal, the guy is actually a fairly decent actor, but the problem is that he stars in way too many movies that are either too dark, too indie, or too gay to get the kind of recognition that he deserves. And it’s because of this that he will probably never win an Oscar or even a Golden Globe while he’s still in the prime of his career.

I thought he should have at least been nominated for his chilling portrayal of the ambitious Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler but apparently letting people die so your story will lead the ten o’clock news was too dark for the Academy (even though they killed Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career by letting him dance on stage for 10 minutes after he won). Also he was great in Donnie Darko but you can’t talk about having sex with Smurfs and expect to get an Oscar nod; yet another clear indication of what’s wrong with that award. And lastly you can’t allow some guy to spit in his hand right before he enters you (Brokeback Mountain) and expect an old rich white man in Hollywood to watch that in the privacy of his home unless there’s coke and Halloween masks involved.

So I went into Southpaw hoping that this would finally be his chance to firmly break his way into the A-lister group of male actors in Hollywood, and depending upon whether or not the public chooses to ignore the opinions of snooty critics and decides to go see the movie anyway, this could actually be his chance. See, most critics get hung up with their belief that every achievement in cinema has to be groundbreaking, when in reality all people are really looking for is something that will move them; and Southpaw does exactly that!

The opening fighting scene will temporarily take most boxing enthusiasts out of the movie because of a few inaccuracies but these same goofs will fly over the heads of most casual fans. And the good thing is, you will see why that scene was so over the top later on in the movie and it will wind up making perfect sense. As a matter of fact, it really couldn’t have been filmed any other way given the context of Billy Hope’s (Gyllenhaal) character and his personality.

In the movie’s outset, Hope is the lightweight champion of the world and he has everything going for him as he has a beautiful wife who he met in an orphanage when they were younger and he has a smart and energetic (thankfully not annoying) little girl who loves him to death. But he is getting older and the end of his career is right around the corner, which is something that he is not even close to being prepared for. Well one day something tragic happens to his wife and his life begins to unravel, and as a result, he winds up getting suspended from boxing and is forced to start from the ground up all over again.

Now the first half of the movie felt like an alternate take on Rocky V to me but without all of the "cool" street fighting scenes with Sly Stallone, but as the movie went on it took on more of the feel of a Karate Kid movie as they even threw in a pseudo Miyagi move for Billy to break out later on if needed.

Sure this movie wasn’t all that original but director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) made it work. He is a master of showing people at the lowest point in their lives but he also has the ability to show them rise to the challenge and overcome it in dramatic and entertaining fashion. There are plenty of moments that pull at your heartstrings in this movie, so much so that people were openly and audibly crying in the theater!

But by the end, people were cheering and rooting for Billy like he was a family member of theirs; I haven’t experienced anything like that since I saw Rocky 4 (really the best Rocky movie of them all) in the theater. It also helps that real life play by play announcer Jim Lampley takes the boxing scenes up another notch with his commentary; you experience for yourself why he’s been doing this for decades.

Both Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker are amazing in this film but even if they had cast Jim Carrey as Billy, Whitaker could have honestly carried this movie by himself. That however shouldn’t take away from what Gyllenhaal did as he superb as the troubled and down on his luck boxer.

Every good Kung fu film follows the same formula: a man’s life is turned upside down by some tragic event caused by another man, man puts his life back together to seek revenge, and man gets revenge with some awesome Kung fu thrown in for entertainment. We all know what’s going to happen but we don’t care because we are all cathartically living through that character, and Southpaw is no different.

I rate this movie as FRESH!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chipper Jones and Mas Ysa

So as I was reminiscing about my recent escape to the beautiful city of Paris and how I missed the fact that everyone took bottles of wine to the local parks to get drunk with friends and significant others while taking in the sights of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower; I found myself illegally walking down the streets on East Austin with a red Solo cup full of some random microbrew I bought at Central Market. It was at this moment that I realized that I might become the latest subject of police brutality on CNN as this is clearly an offense that warrants lethal force by the local authorities. Why can’t they make Solo cups black so that you can hide them from the police? And was the fact that the cup was so brightly colored red the real reason I kept calling the tremendous new band Chipper Jones, Crimson Tide instead?

Maybe I just had Denzel Washington and his unique ability to question white authority without being executed on the brain. Whatever the case was, I eventually got in the right state of mind to finally see the band I discovered on line a few months ago. Chipper Jones is a two piece instrumental indie rock band from the now budding music epicenter that is Austin, Texas. Gone are the days of old hippies stumbling on stage and giving audiences their best Stevie Ray Vaughn imitation; this city is now full of youthful and creative artists who have migrated here thanks to festivals like SXSW and ACL.

And it appears that Chipper Jones is trying to cement their place among the city’s elite as they thankfully avoid falling into the same trap that most instrumental bands do today, and that’s to have 20 minute long songs that consist of very little movement. Jones’ songs are for the most part short and build to climaxes that would have Ron Jeremy questioning his stroke. They have great stage presence and are somehow able to command an entire room of drunken hipsters on a Tuesday night (on a Tuesday…) without the use of lyrics or a light show.

Check out their EP Two Rooms and go see one of their cheap shows as I give these guys a rating of FRESH!
https://chipperjones.bandcamp.com/

Next up is Mas Ysa, he’s a guy from Brooklyn who sounds like M83 is he ever decided to sing. The jury is still out on this guy but I do find myself nodding my head to quite a few of his songs, so right now he gets a rating of barely FRESH! Check out his song Margarita.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjgZIVvggdQ

Monday, July 20, 2015

Trainwreck

I almost titled this review Amy, partly because I just saw a wonderful documentary on Amy Winehouse, and also because the movie Trainwreck is all about the engaging and loveable Amy Schumer. I saw her stand-up Mostly Sex Stuff randomly one night and absolutely fell in love with her. Ok the word love may be stretching it a bit but if I don't say that I will never get laid again!

People, women especially, tend to go nuts over certain celebrities for brief periods of time and if you don't share their same feelings about this particular person then you immediately get the "well you just lost any chance of having sex with me" look. And trust me when I say that I've seen that look far too many times in my lifetime! There is no recovering from that; you may as well just take your drink and go sit in the corner with your dunce hat on while you suck your thumb and reevaluate your life! I will never forget the person who threatened to kill my parents after I made a slightly offensive remark in regards to Shirley Manson (the lead singer of Garbage). My parents?!?! Really???

Anyway, Hollywood tried everything within its power to keep me from seeing this movie. They proudly led every preview with the atrocious tagline "From the guy that brought you Bridesmaids" (something else that's kept me from getting laid from time to time), they pegged Judd Apatow to direct it, and they put the lame and ineffectual LeBron James in it; as if I was a 13 year old sports nerd who'd run out to see this movie simply because a guy who plays basketball with a spray tan on his forehead had one or two awful one liners in it.

I will say this about James, if you are a guy who happens to get tricked into seeing this movie, the scene where he plays Bill Hader one on one in basketball is clearly one of the highlights. But maybe I shouldn't use the word tricked as this was actually a fairly enjoyable film.

The first hour or so is straight from the mind of Amy; it's like you're watching one of her stand-ups being acted out right in front of you. From the awful speech her dad gives her and her little sister about monogamy to her pretending to be asleep after a guy goes down on her and she "gets hers", you feel as though you are watching the birth of the next Gilda Radner. And for those of you who are too young to know who that is, go download some old SNL episodes or rent the movie The Woman in Red (mmm Kelly LeBrock).

But sadly, after a while Apatow starts to put his hand prints all over this film. Every one of his movies are at least 30 minutes too long and they all involve far too much crying and/or yelling. He's never satisfied with just making you laugh, he feels as though comedies should be reflective of real life. And I get that but please save that nonsense for the Lifetime channel; we came to see Amy get drunk and cheat on guys.

Well she does do plenty of that, almost to the point of being unlikeable, but after meeting the nice and down to earth sports doctor Aaron, she finally begins to face her fear of commitment. Does she actually put herself out there or should she just retreat back to the beds of her nameless and faceless victims?

As I mentioned earlier, the first 60-90 minutes of this film are exactly what Schumer fans came to see but the last 30 dissolves into your typical run of the mill romantic comedy; complete with dance numbers and unrealistic scenarios.

Overall this movie is not a bad intro into Hollywood for Schumer and I truly believe that she will take off after this. Just do yourself a favor and start making out around the hour and a half mark and you will leave feeling good about yourself! I rate this movie as FRESH!

(Editor's note: Kelly really does think that Amy Schumer is pretty darn funny. I feel as though he lost a few of you with his earlier comment)


Friday, July 17, 2015

Ant-Man

As my 75 year high school reunion approaches this weekend, I find myself wondering if I can actually still pull young, hot tail like Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd obviously can. Now that it appears as though Douglas has at least physically recovered from his battle with cancer, he once again looks like the four digit suit wearing player that somehow roped in Catherine Zeta-Jones while she was still in her prime; although I think she just has a thing for older white men as Sean Connery clearly tagged that while they were filming Entrapment.

And while I have no doubt I can still probably trick one or two 21 year olds into hooking up with me, I lack the Scottish accent or the HPV I contracted from going down on too many girls (i.e. Douglas) to actually keep them around! I'm not quite sure that last one is a great opening line but after you've been with a girl, maybe the fact that she now clearly has it too and you've had the opportunity to display your skills will make her think twice about leaving you.

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with the movie Ant-Man? Not much outside of the fact that STD's can come in the size of an ant and sting just as badly as one of their bites can... I am never getting or giving head again after this article!

Well if you liked the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, you will love Ant-Man as the same guy that brought you that movie wrote the majority of this one. Edgar Wright was originally slated to write and direct Ant-Man but pulled out due to creative differences; but his handprints are still all over this film. You can tell when he stopped and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) took over but Cornish was talented enough to keep up with the spirit and the tone that Wright had already set in place.

And just like last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, this is an action-comedy at the highest level. It never gets too bogged down with a serious storyline like the first Captain America does but it instead finds a healthy balance between having an actual storyline and not taking itself too seriously.

And while I questioned his casting initially, Rudd wound up being the perfect fit for this movie. His charm and almost casual ability to make you laugh at any situation made this film about an ant sized superhero actually work. And what I particularly loved about this film was that it involved a heist; something relatively new for Marvel movies.

Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) is a talented cat burglar who gets recruited by Dr. Hank Pym to break into his old facility to destroy all of the research and technology the insane Dr. Cross/Yellowjacket has developed, as he plans to use his miniaturization discovery for evil. But they are on a clock as Cross is getting closer and closer to overcoming his final obstacle in achieving this feat, so Lang must learn the ins and outs of how to properly use the technology himself so that he can save all of humanity.

Director Peyton Reed (Yes Man) does an excellent job of using all sorts of gags to keep you laughing throughout the movie and you find yourself walking out of the theater with a new appreciation for insects and The Cure (you have to see the movie to get this joke). Ant-Man wound up being my second favorite Marvel film after Winter Soldier, so based off of that, I gets a rating of very FRESH!
 




Sunday, July 12, 2015

Amy

So I was lucky enough to discover Amy Winehouse and see her perform live well before she blew up in America and became the megastar that the media loved to hate. I saw her years ago at SXSW in  what is normally a booty shaking "black" club on 6th street and the place was packed to the gills; it was unbearably hot in there but everyone in attendance could tell that they were witnessing the birth of a star.

I was never a big fan of her or her music, and to be honest with you, I was really just there to see if she was going to show up drunk on stage or not, but even I was impressed with her beautiful voice and her heartfelt lyrics. As time went on though I simply lost interest in her as there just wasn't enough distortion in her music and R. Kelly's Ignition was still lighting up the airwaves and the clubs at night, so I already had my need for black soulful entertainment taken care of. 

So needless to say, I was a bit unsympathetic to her much publicized struggles and I really just blew off her death as an insignificant tragedy in the grand scheme of things at the time. And when I saw that they made a documentary on her life, I wasn't really all that interested in seeing it at first but I am a fan of music and I have been watching a lot of Tyrone Biggums on the Chappelle Show lately, so I decided to pop in.

Director Asif Kapadia starts the movie off with a clip of a teenage Amy singing Happy Birthday to a relative of hers. Her voice hadn't fully developed at that point but you could tell that she wasn't just some scrub who only sounds good in the shower. Through the use of home videos and a few recordings of her early shows and sessions in the studio, the first half of the film is dedicated to showing you her music making process. You see how everything she wrote was directly drawn from the experiences in her life; using everything from the unhealthy promiscuous nature of her relationships to her yearning for a real connection with her oddball father.

And sadly it was these very same things that ultimately led to her downfall. The second half of the film shows you what led to her abusing alcohol and drugs, and it also let's you know about her struggle with bulimia. You see how she was healthy both mentally and physically early on in her career and how she was absolutely blown away by the fact that she could make a living off of doing something she loved. But she also always claimed that fame was something that frightened her and that there would be no way that she could handle it. And as time went on and she became more and more famous, you saw her deteriorate before your very eyes.

Kapadia doesn't openly play the blame game when it comes to showing you who was responsible for Amy's struggles but you certainly do walk away hating her douchebag ex husband and her seemingly opportunistic father. Her attachment to her father I can understand but how could she not see that Blake Fielder was a complete loser? I mean the stupid hats alone should've have been a dead giveaway!

Anyway you are shown that she had quite a few people in her life that loved and supported her, including her longtime manager Nick Shymansky and her producer Salaam Remi, but even they ultimately couldn't keep her from what seemed to be her destiny.

This movie helps you gain an appreciation for just what kind of artist Amy Winehouse truly was; her perfect blend of soulful jazz and transparent lyrics is something that everyone can find a connection with. And I have to admit that it even converted this slightly jaded skeptic; so much so that I found myself sending my friend this text afterwards, " So I hate to admit it but Amy was hood! Oh wait, I meant good! It was both hood and good!" And that's really the perfect description of Amy's life!

I rate this movie as FRESH and strongly suggest that you pop in.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Gallows

This review is dedicated to the crazy Asian man I saw walking around the Louvre with a GoPro mounted on his head while I was in France last week. Who knew that looking at art could be so extreme? Sadly he wasn't taking action photos and wasn't quite hopping around as he snapped each picture but he was fairly intense and bumped into me on more than one occasion. I never got upset with him nor did I giggle in his face when he got way too excited to see the one thousandth different Greek structure from the late B.C. era but I did wonder to myself if he prefers the Vin Diesel XXX or if he prefers Ice Cube's terrible performance? "The things I won't do for my country!" Yeah right Cube, I'm sure you banged hot white girls for breakfast while filming Torque "Ooooh Oooooooooh!!!" (that's the Westside Connection yell for those who are not in the know btw).

Anyway, The Gallows is yet another found footage horror movie that seems to be overtaking Hollywood these days. I mean I get it, their unbelievably cheap to make and you're almost guaranteed to make a profit; but just a little bit of creativity would be appreciated every now and then. Damn you Blair Witch Project!

Well the first hour of Gallows starts off just like your average run of the mill found footage horror film normally would. For whatever random reason this jock decides to carry a camera around with him everywhere he goes just so he can film every second of his and his friend's mundane lives. He presumably does this to help out his best friend Reese, who recently decided to quit the football team and join the drama club.

The problem with that is, he is awful at acting! The play is about to be open to the public the next day and Reese barely knows any of his lines. Well as it turns out, the real reason he decided to be a part of this play was to get closer to the main drama nerd Pfeifer. Pfeifer is the overzealous lead actress in he school's latest attempt to put on the play The Gallows.

The school attempted to perform this play back in 1993 but a horrific accident on stage to one of the play's main actors Charlie put an abrupt end to that; and it wasn't until this latest attempt that anyone even dared mentioning the play or Charlie's name.

Well Reese's best friend Ryan and his girlfriend Cassidy decide to help Reese out by attempting to tear down the stage the night before so that the school has no choice but to cancel the show. But wouldn't you know it, the second they attempt to do so, all sorts of weird things start happening and they wonder if breaking into the school was such a good idea after all. The rest I will leave for you to experience on your own.

But as I mentioned earlier, the first hour is full of your typical long still shots with the camera until something pops out and scares you nonsense; and most of the characters in the movie are these completely unlikeable jerks who you just can't wait to see get killed. But it's the last 20 minutes of the movie that actually redeems this film. For once they actually do something a little original and they decide to care about writing an actual story.

There are a few creepy scenes that will stick with me for quite some time and it's not just due to the fact that when I came home from seeing this film, I heard some of the same weird and disturbing sounds coming from my neighbor's apartment that were in the movie.

And while I did bash the first hour of the film, I will give them some credit for using the limitations of technology to aid in the overall eerie mood of the film. You had scenes where the camera inconveniently went into power saving mode and shut off their only available light while they were stumbling around the school, and they also had the all too believable scenario of their cell phones dying due to overuse throughout the day.

I am not sure why critics completely panned this movie when they give a snoozefest like It Follows a decent rating. Maybe they're just old and out of touch, or it could be that the actors in this film are so bad that they couldn't even remember their character's names. Every main character in this film has the same first name as the actor portraying them. I think that's the first time I've ever heard of such a thing.

Anyway, in the end, I ended up really enjoying this film and I give it a rating of FRESH!