Mud is the latest film from writer/director Jeff Nichols, who previously made Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter. It is a nice change of pace, as Mud is the Nichols’ film with the most humor so far. With Mud, Nichols continues to make wildly different films, despite setting them in the same type of locations with the same types of people. He has a knack for this sort of representation of Americana on film, with these stories set in rural and swampy areas, mainly because he gets great work from the people cast in his films. Matthew McConaughey is indeed fantastic in Mud, just as the rest of the cast is, given that no one feels out of place. The title may literally sound dirty, but it is a film that is a big success, given it feels both familiar and unique in the way it presents its story.
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I have honestly not tried to make a big deal out of this more publicly, but my interest in Star Trek as a franchise is almost non-existent. Do I respect what it has brought to the world? Sure. Do I enjoy the work of many involved in the making of this newest entry? Of course. Do I begrudge anyone for liking this series? Of course not. My relationship to Star Trek is similar to food I don’t like, because of the taste. It may not be bad for me and others may enjoy it, but it just isn’t my thing. Do I need to be as clichéd as possible to state that I’m a Star Wars guy? I would not think so, but it is true, and even my father informed me that ever since I was very young that was the case, after I rejected a Starship Enterprise toy, because it wasn’t something Star Wars. So with this ridiculous disclaimer out of the way, my assessment of Star Trek Into Darkness is pretty simple – it’s fine. If you like what J.J. Abrams did with the 2009 reboot, than I would say that ‘Into Darkness’ offers a lot more of the same, except bigger.
Being a huge Star Wars fan all my life who frequently has called Star Trek boring, dull and lifeless with the exception of The Next Generation episodes Ashley Judd appeared in, I was astonished by how much fun I had with J.J. Abrams fresh take on the franchise back in 2009. In my opinion, he resuscitated the franchise, made it enjoyable and brought much needed life and energy back into it, not to mention some really humorous moments too. And for that, I appreciated J.J. Abrams even more as a filmmaker and didn’t even bat an eye when this sequel was announced back in 2011. I have actually been anxiously awaiting its arrival in theaters. I was so thrilled and taken aback by the first one, 2009’s Star Trek, that I have actually been genuinely pumped, geeked and excited for this next chapter in what I would presume to be a trilogy, Star Trek Into Darkness. And quite honestly, I never thought I would ever utter those words that I am excited for something Star Trek. It feels like a betrayal to everything Star Wars and that goes against all my rooted values, but sometimes you need to spice life up and stop being a hater, right? Different is good! Sometimes. Continue reading ‘Take The Journey With ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ (Movie Review)’
Following the special screenings and Q&As for The Mist and the double-dose of Guillermo del Toro features, I was then able to catch a screening of the horror remake Maniac at the Hero Complex Film Festival in LA. Maniac is a remake of an 80s horror feature of the same name and features the same basic story of depravity, as we follow a serial killer around and watch him scalp his female victims. The separating factor for this version is how stylish it is. Along with the 80s synth-infused soundtrack, Maniac is almost completely shot from the perspective of the killer, bringing a lot of credence to the challenging filmmaking techniques used to accomplish this. However, deciphering between which is great, the style or the overall effectiveness of the film, is where the challenge in accepting Maniac really lies.
A Baz Luhrmann-directed adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel “The Great Gatsby” is either the summer blockbuster for everyone else or the obscure one that joins the fold of all the others. Everyone that has gotten their fill of superheroes, disaster films, alien invasions, and other high concept ideas, now has the option of seeing the big budget drama that is filled with lavish production values and emotions that sit right on the surface of the characters. Instead of actions sequences, there are extravagant party scenes, with an aggressively modern soundtrack. Instead of tough one-liners, there are flippant asides. Instead of the destruction of city blocks, there are explosions of champagne bottles amidst the CG rendered New York of the 1920s. All of this can be exciting to the right viewer. Luhrmann has attempted to make the ultimate film version of ‘Gatsby’, but for all the style and excess, it still has the core romantic drama that takes hold in the second half and ends the more frenzied excitement that propels the first half. It is fortunate, however, that this is perhaps the most entertaining adaptation of the story overall, given the less successful attempts from the past.
Frances Ha is the latest feature from Noah Baumbach, who is a filmmaker that I sometimes really enjoy and other times find to be hard to not be frustrated by. His films always tend to have very strong and natural performances, but as strong as the writing may be, the tone always tends to be more on the sorrowful side, with a lot of meanness seeped in for good measure. Frances Ha is a nice change in pace. Along with his co-writer and star Greta Gerwig, Baumbach has made a film that has a lot of old-fashioned screwball energy, with a healthy dose of sensibilities akin to the films of a 70s Woody Allen (shooting in black & white is the most obvious nod in that regard). As a result, while the characters can still be frustrating to watch, the film has a bouncy energy that seems to effectively reflect the lives of bewildered twentysomethings living in New York.
Before entering Tuesday evening’s press screening of The Great Gatsby, I strongly held the opinion that this was either going to be one of those films you’d love or you’d hate with uncompromising passion, no middle ground in the equation. I know I found myself seriously conflicted in how I felt about it these past several months. The first trailer did nothing to persuade me that this was a film I must-see. Other than my infinite love for Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge masterpiece, I had not one ounce of desire to partake in a viewing. And then came the second theatrical trailer and it totally erased all the negativity I had surrounding the picture. Despite not being the biggest fan of Carey Mulligan, I found myself longing to see this spectacular unfold on screen. And then boom! A third trailer was released and I felt a little uneasy again until I saw a preview for the film on the Cloud Atlas Blu-ray I was reviewing…talk about indecisiveness. Haha. All I knew was that Tuesday night was going to be an interesting night to say the least. Which way did I teeter? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out, won’t you?
Following the fever dream of comic geekery meets worldwide appeal that was 2012’s The Avengers, Marvel Studios is now back to producing a standalone feature for the star that kicked it all off – Iron Man. Taking a step away from his super friends, Iron Man 3 is refreshing in how it does not need to try and work in a grander plot in order to set up films down the line, in the way that made Iron Man 2 suffer. Instead, this is a story that tests all of Tony Stark’s abilities, beyond just having a protective suit of armor. It certainly works as a grand summer spectacle and the re-teaming of Robert Downey Jr. and writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) certainly makes for a highly entertaining experience. The real question is whether or not this third entry is really able to balance all that it tries to throw at the audience. For now, I would say that it at least does it better than many other third entries in superhero film franchises, but this time around does feel a lot like having a new and improved model of the Iron Man suit on the same sort of material.
I have already reviewed the Closing Night film of the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival (the very entertaining The Way Way Back), but this is my final article in regards to the films I saw on Thursday night, closing out my time covering the festival. It has been an exciting and exhausting experience, but I have been very pleased with the amount of coverage I have been able to provide this year and look forward to continuing to cover the festival next year. The final round of films I will be reviewing here are very different from each other, but have their merits. The Iceman is a crime drama based on true events that recounts the story of one of America’s most notorious contract killers. Ghost Team One is a pseudo-documentary made in the vein of Paranormal Activity, but handled with a very comedic touch. I was looking forward to both of these features and can now delve into what I thought about them.
The closing night film for the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival is a real audience pleaser. The Way Way Back is a fairly standard coming-of-age story about an introverted boy opening up to others thanks to good-natured people he befriends, away from his family. The film is not breaking any new ground nor is it taking a familiar story to the next level in the way a film like Adventureland did, but it is incredibly likable, thanks to some key performances and a winning level of energy. Not every film needs to be something new and in the case of The Way Way Back, it succeeds by going back to the basics and letting us enjoy a traditional tale.
Compared to my Tuesday night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival, Wednesday was a much lighter affair. While The Hunt is still my favorite film that I have seen at the festival this year, both Geography Club and Paris Manhattan were much cheerier films that I can imagine would win over many audiences. While neither is necessarily great, I would say that there is much to enjoy in each and they served as a nice turnaround from some of the darker films that I have been watching at the festival. Geography Club is a light high school comedy-drama about a student facing a truth that will affect his social standing. Paris Manhattan is a French romantic comedy that would make a certain New York filmmaker proud. Considering the breeziness of both features, it was easy enough for me to let the charm of them have an effect.
Tuesday night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival was a bit of a dark one, as both films settled into dramatic territory, with one pulling this off way more effectively than the other. To put it bluntly, on this night I saw both my worst film of the festival so far and my best film of the festival so far. Rushlights was a silly crime thriller that amounted to nothing special, while The Hunt was a compelling drama that needed no more than characters and dialogue to keep it effective throughout. The night could be deemed bittersweet, in a way, as I only saw one good film, but the fact that The Hunt was the film I ended my night of screenings on is bittersweet in and of itself, as the movie was very good, but deals with intense subject matter that really had me riled up at points. Regardless, I at least have the chance to share my thoughts on these films and why one of them should be sought out.
Space – the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Star Trek universe. As its on-going mission approaches its 50th anniversary, we do a special retrospective and a preview of Star Trek – Into Darkness.
WATCH US ON PBS SOCAL Saturdays at 6PM or pbssocal.org/justseenit
Monday night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival put me right back on schedule for viewing two films a night for the remainder of the week, possibly seeking a bit of solace (and food) at the wonderful after parties, and then stationing myself back at home, where I can deliver my thoughts on the various films I had a chance to view amongst audiences. On this night, I was able to see two movies and a short film. The films were Wasteland, which was preceded by the short film Fruit of Labor, and Gus. Each film was decidedly different from the other, but I would say I ended up having a good time overall, with Wasteland serving as the standout of the night.
Saturday at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival was a busy day. I specifically planned it that way, as I wanted my Sunday to be more relaxed. So I ended up seeing 4 different films, none of which were similar in any way. It was a full schedule and I have thoughts on three of them. I say three, because the first film of the day was a retrospective screening of the John Wayne western, The Searchers. This classic film was preceded by an interview with author Glenn Frankel who recently released “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend”, essentially making it unnecessary for me to write anything about the film. Unfortunately (and this really upset me), the recording of this conversation has been lost on my part. Still, while many have written about The Searchers already (and it is a great film), I would rather spend my time sharing my thoughts on three new films that have been largely unseen by general audiences: Greetings from Tim Buckley, Isolated, and Welcome to the Jungle.
Friday night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival allowed me the chance to see two films. One was a romance drama with a twist called Blood Type: Unknown. The other was a dramatic thriller called A Single Shot. I was very pleased with one of these films, but still enjoyed my time at the festival, as per usual. For my regular festival coverage this year, starting with this post, I am going to try something a bit different and write a little about all the films I see during one day at the festival, rather than exhaust myself and try to write full reviews for every film, as I have been doing in years past. Hopefully I will provide the same level of insight, albeit in a more abridged version.
Arthur Newman is the story of a man with a past that is slowly revealed and the quirky girl that follows along with him on a road trip. It has all the elements of a feel good drama that could be interesting to watch for its story and more engaging due to the actors involved. Unfortunately, that is not true in this case. Arthur Newman has its moments and features a few strong performances, but ultimately does not go anywhere, despite being a film that is mainly depicting characters driving around the country. What appears to be confidence in the filmmakers’ eyes, regarding what transpires in the film, felt more like a film that was literally and figuratively spinning its wheels, as it hit the required beats to fill out its story.
Henry wants his son Dean to take over the family’s farming business. But Dean prefers the thrill of being a race car driver. As Henry comes under investigation, the two unite to save the farm.
Pain & Gain is what it looks like when Michael Bay decides he wants to make a little movie, as opposed to another action epic. The director known for making bombastic action blockbusters has taken a step back to make a smaller film based on a true story, but it does not mean he put his signature style in check. Pain & Gain is very glossy film, gorgeous at times, and certainly not subtle. It is also an incredibly dark comedy, with a story so ridiculous that it has to be true, and it is. Based on a true crime story, this film does its best to depict what happens when seemingly good-natured crooks get in way over their heads and resort to drastic measures to achieve their American dream. While Bay’s style can be grating for some, the mix of a strong cast and a messy, but compelling story makes this a film with a lot more going on than the standard Bay blockbuster.