Aneesh Chaganty

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The Place Beyond the Pines | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2013 at 8:40 PM


The Place Beyond the Pines

(2013, US, d. Derek Cianfrance)

A cross-generational epic far different from its trailers yet far better than any expectations I had, The Place Beyond the Pines is a moving, thrilling, and thought-provoking film from Blue Valentine writer/director Derek Cianfrance.

To give much of the plot away woud be a disservice to what Cianfrance tries to accomplish. Told through three separate, but intertwining stories, The Place Beyond the Pines chronicles the complex, violence-ridden personalities in the small town of Schenectady, New York as well as the consequences of those characters.

Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt rider who visits Schenectady on a carnival tour. To his surprise, he receives a visit from Romina (Eva Mendes) – a woman we’re led to assume Glanton had a fling with the last time he was in town. It’s unclear what Romina’s intentions are with the visit – especially considering that she has a new husband and a son – but Glanton can’t get her out of his mind.

The next day, Glanton quits the carnival business, his mind set on creating a stable life for Romina. Jealous of her husband’s ability to provide for her, and torn by Romina’s conflicting emotions, Glanton is swayed into a get-rich-quick scheme proposed by Robin (Barry Mendelsohn), a shady and highly amusing local: rob a bank. What follows are some of the most high-octane and heart-stopping action sequences even Hollywood pros would swoon over.

To get into more of Glanton’s story would be giving away too much; be wary of any reviews that do. From there on in the film, we’re introduced to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious police officer forced to face the consequences of a police incident at the beginning of his story arc. As he tries to move on past the event, a series of obstacles – both internal and external – block his path to moving on.

There are a few other surprises here as well, but I don’t want to get into them as much. The most you’ll get out of this movie will only come from knowing the least about it, which sort of puts me into an uncomfortable position. But enough about the plot.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a touching, sobering, hypnotic and beautifully photographed experience, more lyrical than formulaic. Don’t let the marketing campaign fool you: this is a quiet picture, but it’s a picture with a lot to say. About guilt. About absence. About fatherhood. About love.

Derek Cianfrance seizes full control of the camera’s motion, taking overused tricks and employing them slowly and effectively to increase tension and illuminate character. His wide, repetitive sweeping shots capture immense arrays of emotion, underscore the mirror-relationships of the three stories, all the while still staying true to the heart of the constantly evolving picture. In fact, for as poetic as this film is, there are enough plot-twists to keep a popcorn audience coming back for more.

Powerfully acted, intimately told, and painfully moving, The Place Beyond the Pines marks a significant milestone for Derek Cianfrance’s career. Transitioning from the scale of Blue Valentine to this isn’t easy, but he makes it look that way. I guess that’s what happens when you spend 30 drafts and 5 years on a script. In any case: keep a keen eye out for this film. 

As early as it is, I have a strong feeling this may end up at on the higher side of my Top 10 of the year list. It’s just that good.


Spring Breakers | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2013 at 2:17 AM


Spring Breakers

(2013, US, d. Harmony Korine)

Welcome to the overwhelming and hypnotic world of neon-lights, Florida beaches, unnerving techno soundtracks, booze, drugs, vandalism, sex, teens, parties, and violence. For many of us, that’s just too much to handle. But for the four young women at the center of this film, that’s just a week of Spring Break.

Spring Breakers is the new film from director Harmony Korine (Gummo, Mister Lonely) and producer Megan Ellison (Zero Dark Thirty, The Master). Part social satire dipped in a lot of Natural Born Killers, Spring Breakers is the kind of film you’d expect Sofia Coppola to make had she been raised on nothing but Girls Gone Wild and Cops. Covered head to tail in top-40 tunes and uniquely edited to never actually let you sit back and just observe what’s going on, the film is quite a challenge to the average viewer. Yet despite the compliments the movie’s been receiving, don’t expect that to be a sign of whether you’re gonna like this movie. In fact, most of the people in the theater I saw the film with hated it. 

While the movie is nothing like what you’d expect from the teasers, this is a both a good thing and a bad thing. For those coming in to enjoy a glorified version of Girls Gone Wild: Spring Break Edition, enjoy the first 7 minutes; exit signs are located around you. For those coming in thinking they’re actually about to watch something really artistic and out there…try and enjoy the rest.

The biggest problem with Spring Breakers is that, despite what it achieves artistically (I’m not being sarcastic with that statement), it’s never actually enjoyable. It gets off to the right start, though. After a 5 minute montage of what everyone expects a wild college kid’s spring break to consist of on a Florida beach, we’re introduced to four childhood friends stuck on a lonely college campus in the middle of nowhere at the start of break. Meet Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) – the strangest girl-group we’ll probably meet on screen this year.

The group desperately wants to make it to the beaches of South Florida for break and join the throngs of wild kids their age. And let me be clear: these are not the kind of girls who act innocent and then end up having a wild time. Their dirty and extreme intentions, from the first few minutes, are excruciatingly clear. But the problem is: the girls don’t have enough money to get there. So what’s a few broads to do in that situation? Of course: just rob the patrons in a local restaurant! That should do the trick.

If almost feels like the end of the movie here, because once they’re in Florida, they’re having the time of their lives. You almost wish you could join them on the beaches, by the apartments, and in the ocean as they drink, laugh, snort, hook up, and accomplish every secret item on any spring breaker’s bucket list. But that’s when things start getting weird.

Meet Alien (James Franco), the “wangsta” stranger who bails out the four girls after they’re arrested for an afternoon of cocaine and debauchery. After getting over the initial hump of fear and suspicion when you first hang out with a cornrowed, silver-toothed gangster with a penchant for anything materialistic – no matter how violent the tool (we’ve all been there, right?), the girls soon discover that Alien embodies everything they’ve been taught to love. Soon, the girls (of the ones that remain) take one step after another, furthering themselves into the underbelly of South Florida crime- providing new meaning to what constitutes as “vacation”.

Spring Breakers is a unique character study – unafraid of not answering questions, but also of asking them in the first place. Rather, it simply depicts – with as much wide-eyed energy and color it can – the behaviors and desires of the modern young adult. In an interview at the ArcLight Hollywood Theater, director Harmony Korine dismissed any claims that he was trying to bring out any truth or “reality” with the film. Rather, his goal was to, in fact, make the film as “unreal” as possible.

Yet despite his own intentions, its difficult to not walk away from Korine’s film without garnering some meaning – especially when most of your leading cast has made a career out of being “good, Disney girls”. I have to admit: it is a a bit surreal watching Gomez and Hudgens commit every sin under the South Florida sun, make out with other women, and have a ball while they’re at it.

But here’s the honest truth: apart from the first 30 minutes (which includes an incredible one take shot involving a car circling a restaurant), I didn’t actually enjoy the movie. It was alienating, jarring, and tonally uncomfortable. At the end of the day, I happened to be just another one of those people who expected something far different than what actually came out.

But different doesn’t mean bad. In this case, it actually is worth a ton of worthwhile thought. And though commendable on its own right, I can’t imagine recommending Spring Breakers to anyone looking for a fun time at the movies.


Redbox Giveaway 2 | MAD Promotion

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2013 at 8:39 PM


Hey folks! 

I’m back with another Redbox giveaway. This time, however, it involves more than just emailing me!

Redbox has created – in the spirit of March Madness – a movie competition bracket. Click on the following link to participate:


It’s pretty simple: just vote on your favorite movies and see how your picks do. If you complete your bracket, you get a code for a free rental. It’s a Facebook game, so you’ll have to log in.

For terms and conditions of the challenge, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the game!



The Incredible Burt Wonderstone | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2013 at 8:08 PM


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

(2013, US, d. Don Scardino)

As geeky as it is to admit, magic tricks have always been a low-key passion of mine. With the right trick, the audience is left with the unique feeling of having just witnessed something paranormal while their minds struggle to find a rational explanation for those events. It’s a feeling of awe and wonder – both for the spectator and the magician.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone gets off on the right foot. For a second there, it actually convinces you that, at its core, the story is about capturing that magic. In the opening frame, we’re introduced to the elementary-school version of the title character (Mason Cook) as he runs away from bullies. It’s Burt’s birthday, and just like everyone at school, even his mother can’t make time for him. But in her place, Ms. Wonderstone leaves a present that will change Burt’s life forever: a magic kit created by the world-famous magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).

Soon after, Wonderstone is enveloped in the world of magic. At school, he is finally able to make his first friend: Anton Marvelton (played by Luke Vanek, one of the strangest-looking but amusing child actors to grace the screen in awhile). As Anton and Burt become best friends and more and more obsessed with magic, the film transitions to years later – where an adult Wonderstone and Marvelton (Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, respectively) awe an audience at their Las Vegas show.

Soon, we discover that the magic, however, has long worn off. Wonderstone and Marvelton are barely on speaking terms and Burt seems to have traded any fascination he had with magic for a masochistic, and agressive personality. Meanwhile, their age-old act is threatened when “street magician” and self-proclaimed “brain rapist” Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) enters the scene of Vegas magic shows. Sounds funny, right? Keep reading.

Wonderstone is eventually cast out of his gig, and begins the inevitable, formulaic journey of reconnecting with what made him love magic in the first place and appreciating those around him to finally stage his comeback.

It’s a role that screams “Carell”. Carell’s wonderful chemistry of aggression and egocentrism, knack for comedic timing, and intuition for character seems like the perfect ingredients for Wonderstone. But for some reason, Carell is the first one to misstep. Here, he feels stilted. His eyes wildly motion to the audience, trying to let the us know how much he doesn’t want to be in this movie and how much he knows it’s gonna suck. Unfortunately for the example, whether Carell had fully committed or not doesn’t change how mediocre this film was bound to turn out.

Sloppy editing, a formulaic script devoid of any heart, and uninspired direction work closely together to defeat the talents of its incredible cast. Even Olivia Wilde, who does nothing for the story but serve as eye candy and an easy screenwriting tool, couldn’t get my attention off how much better this film could have been. But boy, does she serve as eye candy!

Apart from the refreshing soundtrack (most of which was just taken from Spotify’s Top 100), Jim Carrey provides the only honest moments of comic relief. Though his scenes are few and sparse, Carrey steals the show with every line he’s given. Steve Gray, like Wonderstone, seems written for Carrey. But unlike Carell, Carrey is able to make it work – even whilst winking to the audience, acknowledging his own preposterousness.

At the end of the day, what disappoints me the most is that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is built on promising and unique foundations, but consciously tries to sabotage itself by rearranging its pieces into something that would fit the structure of a Hollywood film.

Unfortunately, unless you’re looking for some sparse laughs, the trick to this film is looking elsewhere.

Stoker | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2013 at 6:11 AM



(2013, US, d. Park Chan-wook)

I’ve been crazy about this movie ever since it was first announced Chan-wook would be making his first foray into Hollywood storytelling. Chan-wook, in my opinion, is one of the premier storytellers in the film industry, no matter the language of origin. His ability to tell B-stories and provide them shots of originality, adrenaline, and emotion is unparalleled  My only fear was that pretty soon, everyone would be on the Park Chan-wook bandwagon that I had been for so long.

Well, at least I know that won’t happen for awhile.

The biggest problem with Stoker is that it feels pointless. With such a rich, Hitchcockian premise, there were so many directions this movie could have effectively traveled, but this is not one of them. It almost feels as if Chan-wook is collapsing under the pressure of having to create an incredible, English-language debut film. Instead of focusing on his storytelling talents, Chan-wook seems more intent on creating endless tones of melancholy and characters that never feel like they’re doing anything but putting on a sour face and hiding a deep, dark secret.

Stoker begins during the funeral of a man we’re told is the father of high-schooler India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska). The last name is obviously derived from that of Bram Stoker, the novelist of Dracula. However, Stoker isn’t about vampires. Though there probably would be more exciting things to watch on the screen had there been a few of those in the movie. But back to the story.

After the funeral, India is introduced to someone she’s never met. She’s told this is her father’s brother: Charlie (played subtly by a very creepy Matthew Goode). As Uncle Charlie shows no plans of leaving the Stoker house anytime soon, India begins to discover more and more about Charlie’s past and current intentions, none of which bode well for the future of the family…and the safety of the townsfolk. 

Stoker spends a lot of time showering in the mood of its images. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung masterfully crafts images of emotion, tone, and symbolism, but as any good film can show, it takes masterful editing – both by the editor and every storyteller along the way – to piece those images into something greater than the sum of its parts. Stoker really never flies above that sum. It’s perfectly content to be what it is – refusing to ask the deeper questions about character and motivation.

Debut-writer Wentworth Miller (TV folk will remember him as the lead star of Fox’s Prison Break) crafts a tale very similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. And while there are many signs that point to Miller’s potential as a writer, this film will ever only be a minor debut of his.

Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver, and Dermot Mulroney (in the smallest of roles) all try their best, but again, because of the film’s poor direction, everyone (including the usually better Wasikowska and Goode) come off as caricatures. 

Finally, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that I’ve seen this film before. Somewhere. And then I realized: these are the films I used to make when I was in early high school, before I knew what I was doing and when I thought gruesome deaths and slow introductions to characters who had sadistic pleasure with intense violence were the most interesting things to make a movie about.

Trust me. It’s not easy being this honest, especially since Chan-wook has always been the filmmaker I’ve aspired to become like. I can’t fault the guy for making a mistake. I just hope he learns from it and moves on. The world can only handle a movie like this once in a blue moon.

Wait…that’s a werewolf reference. Whatever. 


Snitch | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2013 at 5:14 PM



(2013, US, d. Ric Roman Waugh)

Sometimes, even January-release action movies have a way of surprising you. Take Snitch. From every poster, teaser, spot, or interview, Snitch comes off like a poor man’s version of last year’s Contraband. The ads feature a ripped Dwayne Johnson kicking ass, explosions, one-liners, and a “father save son” plot line that’s been recycled by Hollywood studios for years.

But then you actually see the movie, and all the trouble you went through of having to convince your friends to go to it because it was the only halfway-decent flick playing in theaters (sorry, Identity Thief) goes away. To be honest, I was a huge fan of this film, mostly because it was nothing like what I expected to be, and partly because it was actually kinda good.

Snitch tells the story of John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a divorced construction company owner, who learns in the beginning of the film that his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been arrested. A brief opening scene has already introduced us to Jason and has given the details of his arrest: Jason nervously agrees to a favor – hold some drugs for a friend for a day until that friend can pick it up. When Jason receives the package, it turns out to have a DEA tracker placed on it, and pretty soon law enforcement has surrounded his house. Though Jason has never dealt drugs, his friend – who it turns out was already arrested at the time he made the request – was the one who set him up, in order to reduce his own sentence.

Jason, however, doesn’t want to turn anyone else in for a shorter sentence. So it’s pretty much praying at this point that Jason receives the minimum sentence he can, which is 10 years. When Matthews comes into the picture, we can see the guilt he carries with him on his face. He was never there for Jason growing up and hasn’t ever been, either. Matthews decides to do something about it.

Using his own connections, Matthews tracks down US Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), a Congressional candidate running on a platform of strict anti-drug enforcement. Keeghan confides in him that, while there is nothing Jason can do now to reduce his sentence, if Matthews were to give information leading to the arrest of a higher drug dealer on the food chain, she could reduce Jason’s sentence to only a year. With the ghost backing of the DEA, Matthews begins to get into the world of drug trafficking.

By now, I’m hooked into the film. But it really wasn’t because of the content of it, but rather they way Waugh was executing it. Quiet, tense, and subtle, Snitch never allows its characters to drown underneath the heavy-handed plot or action. Rather, Waugh feels perfectly comfortable in letting performances evolve, breathe, and just marinate for 30 minutes before even introducing an element of action.

Minor spoiler: there’s one action scene in this entire film and it’s probably the most realistic vehicular derby scene I’ve witnessed in a very long time. The entire movie builds to it, and in any other movie, the scale of that kind of scene would be diminished so much, it would probably be placed in the opening 15 minutes of the movie. But in a movie like Snitch (believe me: I can’t believe I’m praising this movie, considering how bad I thought it was gonna be), it’d done right.

But it’s because Waugh pays close attention to his actors, to the tone, and to the material he clearly cares about (Waugh co-wrote the screenplay with Revolutionary Road scribe Justin Haythe), that he is able to transform this mainstream January release into an issue driven picture. 

This is the first time I’ve been able to call Dwayne Johnson an actor. He was subtle, carried the emotional weight of every scene on his shoulders, and listened to the actors and dialogue around him. But it’s not just Johnson that proved to be an exception. Film newcomer Jon Bernthal (from AMC’s The Walking Dead) turns in a power-house performance as a construction worked forced back into the drug business. What begins as a minor sub-plot and screenplay convenience to get Johnson a connection into the drug world turns into a complex and emotionally developed sub-plot, and it was probably the best surprise of the entire film. Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, and Michael Kenneth Williams all turn in fine supporting performances as well.

But at the end of the day, Snitch goes to Waugh’s credit. It’s hard to take something even studios see as a mindless, January release and turn it into a film of interest, real-life issue, genuine emotion, tension, and complex thematic content. And that’s exactly what he does here.

A Good Day to Die Hard | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2013 at 12:46 AM


A Good Day to Die Hard

(2013, US, d. John Moore)

Brisk, action-packed and more enjoyable than its predecessor, A Good Day to Die Hard marks a surprisingly forward step for the franchise, even though it continues to milk the audience’s love for the original. 

Sure, it removes a lot of the self-conscious humor regarding it’s often over-the-top and flamboyant action scenes that its predecessor possessed. But what it loses in that department, it makes up for in the story of John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his son Jack (newcomer Jai Courtney). 

A Good Day to Die Hard begins as McClane’s son is arrested in Moscow for an assassination of a high power figure. Back in America, John McClane hears about his son’s whereabouts and sets off to Mother Russia to help him out. Little does he know how much crap he’s about to get involved in. Just as he’s about to get dropped off by his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Live Free or Die Hard fame), at the airport, Lucy looks to John. “Try not to make an even bigger mess of things”, she says. John looks over at her, smiles, and gets out the car. Here we go again. 

A lot of people have a lot of problems with this film, and maybe it was because I was so conscious of them that they didn’t bother me as much. The previous Die Hard film almost knew it was a movie and never missed a moment to poke fun at itself. Most people expected the same thing out of this movie and were disappointed by the result. I, however, enjoyed the fact that it took itself a little more seriously, even considering the fact that its plot was no less outrageous or overly complicated. 

You have to hand it over to the filmmakers. If they see any sign of the franchise coming to a close, it’s not visible on the screen. Rather, this looks and feels like a series they plan on keeping alive, even if it involves injecting high amounts of generic adrenaline into the set pieces and into its aging star. But speaking of Bruce Willis, this is the role he’s meant to play. Even if every other action hero he portrays in other films seems similar, John McClane is where those characters draw their inspiration from. Straight from the original film.

What makes A Good Day to Die Hard so appealing was that it felt like the reboot that Live Free or Die Hard should’ve been (I’m getting tired of these sentence titles, too). It pays homage to the original film in many, many ways and has fun subverting itself as well.

Like the original film, this new installment sees New York City cop McClane on the journey to a foreign land to enjoy what should be an interesting vacation. Like the original film, McClane finds himself on a mission to reconnect with a member of his family. And like the original film, our “antagonist” (though it really is hard to identify a single antagonist with this film) is quirky and sympathetic. Granted, it is impossible to reach the levels of genius Alan Rickman easily did with Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard.

Maybe it was the presence of a long-missed sentimentality that got me. After all, no Die Hard since the original really felt like the family-affirming affair that they should’ve been. Maybe it was the breath of fresh air with the inventive, explosive, and engaging action sequences that so contrasted the cliched and formulaic ones of recent (SEE: Parker). But that’s another disagreement I have with critics.

But mostly, I think the film just surprised me. Surprised me with its legitimacy. Surprised me with the fact that I got over how much of a “bad guy” Courtney looks like and accepted him as the “hero” of the story and potential successor to the franchise. Surprised me with its envelope-pushing and interesting action extravagances.

Even if it was forced, there was an emotional core to this film. Regardless of its theatrics, A Good Day to Die Hard is exactly what it aims to be: fun at the movie theaters. And if you look at the palette of “fun” movies of late, you’ll realize it’s actually a harder feat to pull off than you’d think.


Parker | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2013 at 7:54 PM



(2013, US, d. Taylor Hackford)

There’s not much to say about this film. Rather, there’s not much thought I would like to put into the writing of the review, simply because there really wasn’t much thought put into the writing of the script for Parker, the new film from director Taylor Hackford.

Hackford is a talented director. Three of his films of recent have garnered much critical attention, including Ray, Proof of Life, and The Devil’s Advocate. And as an Academy Award winner and President of the DGA, you’d think he would’ve been a little more selective in his next project. But alas, perhaps it was the money that proved to be the tipping point.

Parker had me laughing from the opening frames. And this is coming from someone who likes Hollywood action films. The movie opens to a “heist-gone-wrong” sequence that is very reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s heist in The Killing (in my opinion, the best caper film of all time)We’re at a busy carnival, people are everywhere, and betting is rampant. Of course, this would be the perfect time for a conman to dress up like a priest to gain access to the money room.

Meet Parker. As the title of the film flashes in big, bold, red lettering across the screen as we are introduced to Jason Statham’s titular character, it’s clear to see where this film is going. That was Laugh #1.

As Parker continues a successful stick-up, Hackford introduces us to the other members of the crew. We have the look-out: a hefty, black guy disguised as a cop (Wendell Pierce from The Wire). I only mention his skin color because it’s clear writer John J. McLaughlin (Laugh #2, I guess) never had any intention with the guy apart from crafting him into the stereotypical black guy. It’s almost painful to watch. Next, we have Melander (Michael Chiklis, of The Shield fame), the tough guy being set up to play the antagonist for the rest of the film. There’s a few other people I can’t really remember, but that’s only because they’re not worth remembering. 

McLaughlin almost forces us to sympathize with Parker in the opening 2 minutes. Rather than letting his actions explain his character, McLaughlin goes a different route: as Parker is transferring butt-loads of cash into his bags, he tells everyone on the ground that he would never steal from a poor person or an innocent person. Furthermore, just to stamp his “good guy” image, Parker is backstabbed, shot, and left to die by the rest of his own crew members after he refuses to invest his earnings into the next heist, which would pay out in millions. 

Seriously, what happened to really good guys who just steal cash from folks at carnivals? 

Of course, when you’re in a movie in which Jason Statham plays Jason Statham, we can expect him to act like Jason Statham. Pretty soon, we’re caught up in a tale of revenge and high-octane action, as Parker tries to track down Melander and his nameless crew (plus the black guy) on their next heist in Palm Beach, Florida. 

Of course, what would a film like this be without a woman written in for no other reason apart from looking really good? Meet Leslie Rogers (Jennifer Lopez), a divorced real estate agent without much going for her (apart from the beauty light that reinvigorates her face on every shot of her, even if it doesn’t match the preceding shot). Leslie soon meets Parker, this time disguised as a Texas oil-man. Of course, the audience doesn’t question the plausibility of this new disguise. After all, Statham did just dress up like a priest. Faking account histories, personal histories, and bank statements would just be a simple next step. 

From there, it’s Statham and Lopez versus the World. For the rest of the film (which seems far longer than 118 minute running time), we have running, chasing, hiding, shooting, searching, stealing, and everything in between. Of course, we even have the contractually-obligated “Jennifer Lopez has to strip down to nothing so audiences can see how fit, hot, and relevant she still is” scene. That was one of my favorites. 

Oh, I lost count of my Laugh Track. That was #507. 

My only regret in the film was that it wasted Statham, who I really believe to be an actor who commits to every line he’s given, regardless of its idiocies. As much crap as he gets, he merits a lot of respect for his ethic, dedication, and commitment to telling the stories he tells. But hey, everyone makes mistakes. 

Parker is a waste of time. Stupid, easy, and not even much fun, it’s the kind of film you should only consider watching it’s it’s free on Netflix, you’re not paying for Netflix, and you’re in the possession of some sort of time machine that allows you to go back 118 minutes after the film is over.

In that sense at least, there is some hope for the film, for Parker‘s market may expand eventually. Way, way, way in the future. 


Side Effects | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2013 at 11:34 PM


Side Effects

(2013, US, d. Steven Soderbergh)

The best film I’ve seen in 2013 so far, Side Effects is a confident and unsettling thriller fueled by complex and unhinged performances from its lead actors.

Side Effects is one of those films that works best the less you know about it. And as much as I enjoy people reading my reviews, this will be a rare instance where knowing even a little bit about the plot may actually lessen the experience you get out of it. I’m certainly glad I stayed away from others’ reviews of the film. But there’s my warning. Continue with your own discretion.

Side Effects tells the story of Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara), whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is recently released from prison on charges of insider trading. It’s difficult to pin point what exactly is tearing at Emily, but it’s clear to see that something is. And it’s doing so quite heavily.

When Martin returns to the real world and embraces his wife outside the prison gates, we are introduced to Emily at the happiest we will ever see her. Even if it’s just for a few minutes in the film, it’s a touching moment. From then on, things start to get a little weird.

Emily suffers from – what I presume to be – an extreme case of depression. We’re never told where exactly this depression comes from – whether it’s something that’s always been inside her – but the audience assumes it’s catalyzed by the years she’s been alone and without her husband. And though a few of my friends questioned whether that depression would realistically live on after her husband returned, I had no trouble believing her behaviors. This is due partly to my own intense experiences regarding the illness and partly to Mara’s earth-shatteringly impressive performance.

Mara, singlehandedly, anchors the film whilst portraying an unstable character we love to hate and hate to love. In its 105 minute running time, she’s able to take the audience on a carousel of emotions that include, but are not limited to: hate, love, pity, shock, fear, more fear, empathy, sympathy, bewilderment, sadness, and a chronic questioning of the truth. Whatever that may be.

Side Effects is an effective film that borrows a lot from Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanksi (particularly from the paranoia instilled in every frame of Rosemary’s Baby). However, it’s really the assured direction from Steven Soderbergh that gets the movie soaring. A fearless independent filmmaker, Soderbergh is never afraid to experiment with his shots, sound designs, narrative structures, editing styles, and even musical accompaniments to create the pervasive sense of unease, fear, and mystery that surrounds this film. In a way, it’s the perfect story to end his career with.

I’ll glaze over the plot that gets us there, but once we are introduced to psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (a nice return to form by Jude Law) and Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the movie puts the pedal to the metal and never lets go. Based on a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, Side Effects takes more turns than any film I’ve seen in the past year. Seriously, I couldn’t count the number of times this film employed paradigm shifts and switched protagonists if I tried. We’d be here a lot longer if I even attempted to tell you how many plot twists there were.

But best of all, Side Effects makes you think. An adult thriller that doesn’t let the audience off the hook until it’s closing moments, Steven Soderbergh’s directorial “swan song” (as sad as it may be for the moment, I have a feeling he’ll be back at it in a few years) is one movie that’s worth the price of admission. Right now.

The Last Stand | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2013 at 6:46 PM


The Last Stand 

(2013, US, d. Kim Ji-Woon)

Kim Ji-Woon’s first foray into Hollywood storytelling is The Last Stand, a shoot-em-up story about ex-LAPD-narcotics-officer-turned-small-town-sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Owens, after discovering that a fugitive is on the run from LA to the Mexican border in a high-speed vehicle, decides to stop him in a stand-off in the small town of Sommerton, Arizona.

Director Kim Ji-Woon has a very impressive resume, featuring one of my favorite films of the last decade (The Good, The Bad, and the Weird) and a variety of other acclaimed ones (I Saw the Devil, A Tale of Two Sisters). But the problem with foreigners making American films that are so innately American is that there’s very little to culturally ground the story. I’m not saying there aren’t positives to the endeavor. In fact, Ji-Woon, like many of his South Korean filmmaker peers, is able to tell stories from unique perspectives and deftly carry unique tones throughout a movie.

The problem is that The Last Stand is a modern-day western. And there is nothing about this film that suggests any sort of basis in American culture, whatsoever. Despite its protagonist (who’s walked straight out of a John Wayne film), it’s setting (a small desert town in Arizona), it’s antagonists (Mexicans), its conflict (escaped prisoners), and its method to overcome its obstacles (a plethora of weapons), this film couldn’t feel more foreign than it does.

First off, we have Peter Stormare playing Burrell, a Southern construction owner/gangster. Stormare is Swedish and for the duration of his speaking lines in the entire film, I was wondering what the hell is accent was supposed to be.

Secondly, there was no honesty in its portrayal of Somerset. It almost felt like we were watching a town through a museum glass. It had all the right parts, it looked the right way, and it was set in the right place, but there was something foreign and inanimate that swept over it all.

Oh yeah, and then there’s Schwarzenegger as the Sheriff. His first leading role since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Schwarzenegger is at his best or worst here (depending on how you look at it). In a sure to be Razzie-nominated (if not Razzie-winning) performance of 2014, the ex-California governor botches every line, every piece of action, and every briefly emotional moment and turns it into something of an amusing spectacle. A train-wreck of sorts, that the audience watches over and over and over again with every new line.

Granted, it’s not like the script itself deserves much credit either. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine that writer Andrew Knauer (writer of the Slamdance indie hit “Ghost Team One”) took any longer than 2 hours to think of the entire plot of The Last Stand. Even if you take its heroes out of the equation, every other character was so poorly written, audience members in the theater were looking at me and asking me to lower my laughter during the dramatic scenes. That’s how bad it wasI won’t even get into the recycled set-pieces (But seriously: the entire premise of the film is based off the existence of a Corvette that can not only travel above 190 miles/hour but also, miraculously, never needs gas??!?).

Forest Whitaker has never been worse. Neither has Luiz Guzman. Even Johnny Knoxville, who I can’t stand, deserves better material than what he’s given here: a sort of fictional version of the idiot he plays in the Jackass series.

The most uninspired, unoriginal, bland, repetitive, and mindless piece of “entertainment” of 2013, The Last Stand is a sad blotch on an incredible director’s filmography.