Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Bearded Bullet's Top Ten Films of 2016

2016 has come and gone.  In fact, 2015 and 2014 came and went without much of a peep from yours truly.  I got re-promoted at my job.  I got a new nickname (Pawpaw).  I saw lots of movies.  Played lots of games.  Did stuff.  Exciting, no?  But alas, I decided to get off the bench and into the game (figuratively, of course..) and do some work on the good ol' blog-o-sphere.  I figured it would apropos to rekindle my online work with my top ten films of 2016.  Since I didn't review any of them on here in an official capacity, I'll just include a little write up as to my reasoning for each film's inclusion in the list.  Then, my plan is to review every new film of 2017 as they come out.  We'll see how long I last (that's what she said!)!!

10.  Patriot's Day - Peter Berg has been 3-for-3 with me in his last directorial efforts (I also am a Battleship apologist, but that's a discussion for another day); he's been putting out great films, with great performances, that draw real and raw emotions out of me.  I'm not afraid to talk about crying at movies, games, and shows, and Berg knows how to pull the tears out of me.  Patriot's Day is a retelling of the real-life Boston marathon bombings of 2013.  I'm no expert on the topic, but I know that at least the characters are based upon real-life people who lived through the events; before the credits rolled he inserted images and interviews with the real people and the real events (that's when the waterworks always start).  Unlike his last two reality-based films, Patriot's Day weaves together four different narratives, following different characters, and blends them together masterfully, and gives you a glimpse into the lives and motivations of the various players in the story.  Most films wouldn't take the time to set up a side character who really only gets involved in the story in the third act, but Berg makes you care about those who seem small compared to the overall narrative.  Patriot's Day is gripping, thrilling, and will have you on the edge of your seat and then in tears by the time the credits roll.

9.  Allied – World War Two is kind of my jam.  And this year we got two great additions to the long list of great WW2 films.  The first on my list is the stellar Allied, Robert Zemeckis’ latest drama, in which we follow two spies (played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard) who fall in love in Casablanca and decide to start a family in England.  But questions are raised when Cotillard’s Marianne is believed to be a double-agent for the Nazis.  Allied is a spy thriller with little action, but when there’s action it’s out of this world.  Zemeckis builds tension masterfully and has you on the edge of your seat with just a simple conversation between two people.  The cast is stacked, what action there is is well-staged and intense, and the tension is ramped up to a fever pitch in such a skillful manner.  You truly don’t know what’s true and what isn’t up until the final few moments of this well-crafter thriller.

8. Deepwater Horizon – Peter Berg’s second entry in my list just beats out Patriot’s Day as my favorite work of his this year.  What is truly astounding about Horizon is the sheer scale of the film and the hyper-realistic effects, with amazing performances that draw out real, raw emotion.  Following the real-life events of the incident on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, Horizon grounds the events by making you care about the key players; Berg takes time to introduce you to these based-on-real-life characters and give you reasons to empathize with them.  This all really adds to the tension of what we all know will come to pass and the feeling of dread that permeates the film.  This is a classic example of surprise vs. suspense.  We all know what will happen in the end (even if you don’t know all the players and facts most viewers will probably have a general sense of the event), but Berg masterfully controls and builds tension until it hits a fever pitch and all hell breaks loose.  The effects, whether practical or digital are truly astounding; I never thought for one second that Wahlberg and co. weren’t actually on a real oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and on a set with green screen.  If you weren’t reacting emotionally to the events of the film, you definitely will be by the time the credits begin to roll and you see all of the real individuals who lived and died during the film’s real-life counterpart.  Berg knows how to bring out the emotion in his audiences.

7.  Hacksaw Ridge – The beauty of Ridge isn’t that it tells a real-life story of an amazing individual who did some truly astounding and incredible things during his tour in the Pacific theater during WW2, but is that Mel Gibson has the audacity to make a stellar war film that really isn’t about war.  Ridge is about one man’s courage to stand up for what he believes in and won’t bend or break in the face of adversity.  On paper, that sounds like a relatively boring film, but Ridge most certainly is not.  The first two acts of the film are spent dealing with the adversity of Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss; Doss is a pacifist but wants to serve his country by enlisting in the army.  Doss refuses to touch a weapon; he wants to serve as a medic to save lives rather than take them.  If the film had ended before we got to any action, I would’ve been fully satisfied – that’s the mark of a great narrative with compelling characters.  But when we do get to the action it’s out-of-this-world and utterly thrilling, compelling, and gut-wrenching.  I’ve rarely seen such intense gore and violence on display in any war film, let alone one that was juxtaposed with such calm and pacifism in the first two-thirds.  Doss’ actions are so astounding that this film really needs to be seen to be believed.

6.  La La Land – What hasn’t already been said about La La Land  that needs to be?  It’s already the winningest film in Golden Globes history and deservedly so.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone put in career-best performances, and Damien Chazelle puts on a masterclass of filmmaking.  The opening scene, presented in one continuous take, sets the tone for what’s to come – a film that will dazzle and thrill you with incredible musical numbers that’ll leave you thinking “how’d they do that?”  Land pretty much works on every level – from that beginning musical number we’re introduced to our main players and their first meeting…which isn’t exactly a meet-cute.  Their paths cross again and their relationship is allowed to build organically and charmingly till it’s inevitable powder-keg of a break up.  Peppered throughout the film are the aforementioned musical numbers that are really a sight to behold.  You can’t help but want to run out of the theater and purchase the soundtrack/score immediately.  Musicals aren’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to set aside any predispositions, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the joy and real emotion that is La La Land.

5.  The Witch – This film is a masterclass is building tension and suspense and has kept my thoughts and attention for almost a full year.  Few films have that distinction, especially from this past year.  The less you know about this film going in, the better, but what I’ll say is that The Witch gives us a glimpse into a world rarely seen on film; 17th century New England and its Quaker settlers.  The language is period-accurate but easy enough to understand and the attention to detail overall is astounding.  I truly felt like I was transported to that world and the dirt, grime, and hardship that accompanied it.  The Witch is a pseudo horror film at its heart, and doesn’t shy away from going all the way in the insane climax of the film.

4.  Star Trek Beyond – I could talk for many, many pages about my love for Star Trek as a franchise.  I’m quite the fan of Abrams’ 2009 Trek but not so much Into Darkness.  Justin Lin stepped up to the helm (pun intended) for Beyond and his Fast and the Furious energy is felt throughout the film, and not just in the exciting motorbike sequence near the end.  The vast cast and crew of the Enterprise are given more to do in Beyond than ever before; every crew member makes a difference in the story and is given their time to shine.  New partnerships are forged (McCoy with Spock, Sulu with Uhura, Kirk with Chekov, etc.) that make for some great laughs and thrilling moments of action.  Without giving much away, how the movie ties in to the Enterprise series had me geeking out like crazy.  One of my favorite moments of any film of the year comes near the finale and involves a certain song from the 2009 film.  I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it!  Idris Elba was an incredible edition to the cast, but the breakout for me was Sofia Boutella as Jaylah.  She brought a playful energy to the role and I reallllly hope that she’s brought back for the fourth film.  The passing of Leonard Nimoy before filming was a huge blow to the franchise and pop culture as a whole, and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung turned his passing into a major narrative thread for Zachary Quinto’s younger Spock and gave way to a tear-jerking scene that gets me every time.  Beyond is just so much fun and really feels like a big-screen version of an episode of any of the myriad television series.

3.  Arrival – Denis Villeneuve is slowly but surely proving that he’s one of the most exciting filmmakers in Hollywood today.  Arrival adds to his recent trend of outstanding thrillers, but this one comes with a sci-fi bend.  Who would’ve thought that linguistics and watching smart people decipher a foreign language would be compelling, gripping, thrilling, and enthralling but Arrival accomplishes all of these and does so with confidence and panache.  The fact that massive alien structures randomly appeared all over the planet helps…adding in this sci-fi twist helps to keep the tension up.  Why are these ships here?  What’s inside?  How can we communicate with what’s inside?  What do they want?  One of the more chilling issues raised is the subtle difference between the words “tool” and “weapon.”  To us, the difference is quite stark, but when dealing with another language, one that we haven’t fully translated or deciphered, the difference could mean global catastrophe.  The narrative builds to a terrifying level of Game Theory played between nuclear nations.  Without spoiling anything, the way the narrative unfolds is unconventional, to say the least, and hits you in the gut with a MASSIVE twist that leads you breathless and wondering if you’d do the same things in the situations the characters find themselves.

2.  Rogue One - Everything has already been said about R1 that needs to be said.  It's the best prequel story by a country mile, and stands tall amongst its older siblings.  I'm a massive fan of war films, and Rogue One is the closest we'll get to an actual Star WARs film.  It's gritty, messy, and at times morally ambiguous.  For the first time, we're shown a side of the Rebel Alliance we didn't know existed - the side that's willing to do bad things for a greater purpose.  There are very few missteps along the way that don't really detract from the film, for me, but definitely put a dent in it (essentially everything to do with Saw Gerrera).  Director Krennick may be my favorite Star Wars villain, while the motley crew that comes together to help Jyn complete her mission is populated with likable new characters who I wish we could spend more time with.  Gareth Edwards was given the unenviable task of giving us the mission to steal the Death Star plans and bridge the gap to A New Hope and he pulled it off with aplomb.  The film has what may be my favorite third act of ANY of the Wars films, and certainly has my favorite last five minutes...."prepare a boarding party" had me losing it.

1.  Silence – Every year there’s one film that grabs me and doesn’t let go.  Cloud Atlas in 2012.  Drive in 2011.  This year’s film may not be my absolute favorite, or technically the “best” but it’s quite special and deserves to be categorized as such.  Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priets (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield), who take on a journey to 17th century Japan.  Their former mentor (Liam Neeson) has gone missing, with rumors that he has renounced his faith in Catholicism and God in public and has taken a Japanese name and wife.  Their journey is fraught with peril, as the Japanese government and governor have been rounding up Christians and missionaries alike and torturing and killing them in droves.  What Christians remain do so in hiding, for fear of their lives.  But at least one village’s faith is restored upon finding the padres on their shores.  Silence is long, but deliberate.  It took decades for this adaption to arrive on our screens, and the care, love, and craft that went into its creation can be seen on screen tenfold.  Silence isn’t exciting.  It isn’t thrilling.  But it’s captivating and will hold your attention despite your urges to divert it elsewhere.  You just can’t look away.  You need to know what’s going to happen next, even if what happens next isn’t a thrilling action beat.  The two padres’ faith is tested time and time again, as is the faith of the Japanese townsfolk who are harboring them at the risk of their own lives.  Silence raises some serious religious questions, many of which are beyond my level of cinematic interpretation, but the one that sticks out above all others is that of blind devotion.  These villagers live in squalor and filth, with little to their names.  The promise of “paradiso” or paradise is a driving factor; they’ll endure the hardships in this material world for promise of a greater afterlife.  This is all called into question by the governor, Inoue (Issei Ogata).  He calls into question the translation of the English word “god” and the interpretation of that word into Japanese.  Are the converted Japanese Christians really worshipping the same God that the missionaries do?  This is just the tip of the iceberg for what questions Silence raises.  My favorite moment of the year didn’t come from a bombastic action scene or a rousing speech, or a heart-stopping musical cue, but from a moment of complete and utter silence.  I can’t stop thinking about this film and that’s usually a good sign.  Oddly enough, it’s the type of film that I may never actually watch again because there’s a lot to endure emotionally and mentally, but I feel like it’ll stick with me for years to come.

And there you have it, folks!!  My top ten films of 2016.  Before we ride off into the proverbial sunset, just some quick facts I noticed while writing and compiling this list:

-Two films take place in the 17th century
-Andrew Garfield puts on career-best performances in two films
-Two films are directed by Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg
-Two films are set during World War Two
-Only one film is a sequel


Bullet out.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Neighbors Review

Oh my it’s been quite a hiatus for the Bearded Bullet.  My last review was the forgettable Kick Ass 2 last September.  Since then quite a few great, good, and awful films have come and gone.  Work, classes, and life in general just got in the way.  Fortunately, while the tedious “work” part hasn’t vacated itself from my life, the “classes” part did.  Now there’s much more room for fun stuff.  Like writing reviews!
I thought it would be fitting to ring in my return with my thoughts on the utterly hilarious Neighbors.  Director Nicholas Stoller’s (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement) latest effort stars the charming Rose Byrne and hilarious Seth Rogen as new parents to a little baby girl.  All seems well and good in the opening moments of the film, with the two having quite an interest in who their new neighbors, moving into the house adjacent to theirs, will be.  Turns out that it’s a fraternity!  This set-up sounds a little by-the-books and in some ways this is indeed a fairly uninspired plot device, but what could’ve been a paint-by-numbers wacky college movie turns out to be an hysterical comedy with some fantastic performances and interesting characters.

**Mild spoilers follow**

For me, the standout of the film is Zac Efron.  Yeah, you heard that right.  The High School Musical craze was a little past my time for the demographic it was targeting, so my only real exposure to him in general, let alone as an actor, was his work in the The Paperboy.  I loved the film and his performance even more.  He’s sort of in the same category as Channing Tatum to me.  I hate that he’s so attractive and insanely buff (and he’s shirtless for much of this film), but he’s just so charming and likeable with amazing comedic timing to boot.  In Neighbors Efron’s Teddy is the president of the fraternity moving in beside the Radnors.  The rest of the frat is comprised of some great comedic young actors including Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  Teddy is your typical beefy frat jock – he’s determined to make a name for his frat and get their end-of-the-semester party on the “board.”  This is obviously a way for Teddy to make up for his academic inadequacies and is a sub-plot that is handled beautifully.  Teddy goes from being likeable, to borderline villainous, to sympathetic as we see his relationship with his best friend and vice president, Pete (Franco) waver and deteriorate over the film.
Surrounding this interesting character-work is a downright hilarious film.  A war breaks out between the Radnors and the frat.  The frat is stereotypically noisy and messy and the new parents need their sleep.  At the first the relationship between the two seems like it’s working out; the first party that the couple attend ends with an hilarious scene that cross-cuts between Byrne’s Kelly having an awkward discussion with a group of young women to Rogen/Efron debating which Batman is the best, with Efron doing his best Christian Bale impersonation.  Eventually Rogen calls the police (after promising not to and not being able to reach Teddy) and an escalating prank war ensues.  I won’t spoil any of the shenanigans that either group partakes in, as that’s part of what makes this movie so funny, but I will say that Neighbors toes the line of “mean” territory, a la The Hangover trilogy or even to a lesser degree Due Date.  Those R-comedies aren’t very nice, or happy – they’re just mean.  Efron’s Teddy takes things a bit too far, to the point where I actually, legitimately feared for the safety of the happy couple’s baby.  Thankfully the writers knew what they were doing and kept the antics in check just enough to make us worry but never go too far.
The entire cast just works so well together; Rogen and Byrne as a happy couple going through some issues, Rogen and Efron as frenemies, Efron and Franco as frat brothers, and Rogen and Ike Barinholtz as best friends.  Lisa Kudrow has a small but memorable role as does Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  You’ll love or hate Neighbors based upon the chemistry of the cast and if you end up caring about the characters.  Efron’s Teddy was written and portrayed with just enough aplomb to make us genuinely care about him in the end and what he’s going through as his time in college comes to an end (something that I too, at the time of writing, am experiencing myself).  Rogen is loveable and relatable as always, as is Byrne.  The two share some genuinely heartwarming and downright hilarious scenes that almost left me in tears.  Two words: breast milk.
Neighbors is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in the last few years, but it doesn’t just lie on its comedic laurels; buried within the cookie-cutter plot is a film with heart and real emotion about a young man dealing with what his life will entail after leaving college.  The film works on just about every level, to the point where I don’t really have many criticisms.  The film seemingly jumps through time with not a single care; at least one entire college semester (maybe entire year?) passes as the film goes from the frat moving in (with their house fully furnished in the next scene..) to the “end of the year party” that Teddy was looking forward to the whole film.  Tiptoeing dangerously into “mean” territory, Neighbors hits all the right notes on its way to being one of my favorite films of the year (so far anyway.)
Favorite quote: “Now he looks like J.J. Abrams!!” (almost no one in my audience got the joke L)
Neighbors is an hilarious, raucous comedy with real emotion and great character work.

The Bearded Bullet

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 Review

Much like Sherlock Holmes’ depravity, my love for Kick-Ass knows no bounds.  It’s one of my all-time favorite comic-book movies for good reasons.  It has a main character who isn't a super hero.  He’s a normal kid who can’t really feel pain who decides to don a costume and try to clean up New York.  The real stars were Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and Big Daddy (the always-incredible Nicholas Cage) and their eye-popping action sequences.  The night-vision, “switch to kryptonite” scene leaves my jaw on the floor to this day.  And the hairs on my arms standing at attention.

Unfortunately, this year’s follow up, Kick-Ass 2, doesn't even come close to any of those spine-tingling moments of the original.

Set a bit after the events of the original, Kick-Ass 2 picks up with Mindy (Moretz) trying to lead a “normal” life by hanging up her Hit-Girl costume.  Her story line is essentially (and ironically) a prequel to her character’s fate in the upcoming Carrie remake.  Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) wants to take up the Kick-Ass mantle and begin again but can’t convince Mindy to don the cape and cowl to help him.  Long story short, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plass) is still pretty upset about Kick-Ass blowing up his dad in the finale of the first film, so he becomes “The Mother-Fucker,” recruits an army of insanely evil people as super-villains, and sets out to murder Kick-Ass in revenge.  Kick-Ass, in an unrelated turn of events, joins a newly-formed team of heroes, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (the incredible Jim Carrey).

The new additions to the cast, for the most part, work pretty well.  Carrey just chews the scenery as Colonel Stars and Stripes.  I just wish he had a much larger to role to play.  Taylor-Johnson, Grace-Moretz, and Mintz-Plasse re-inhabit the characters that we came to love (or hate).  Plasse’s performance is a bit over-the-top and melodramatic at times, but considering Chris’ father was blown up it’s a little believable that he’d be acting the way he does.  Moretz still plays that foul-mouthed Mindy well, but now that she’s a bit older the vulgarity that spews from her mouth isn't shocking or amusing any more – it’s just obnoxious.

The same goes for almost all of the vulgarity in the film in general.  There’s just no reason for The Mother-Fucker to call his super-villain team “The Ungrateful C**ts.”  No reason beyond shock-value.  I’m not a prude by any means, but there’s just so much strange and almost out-of-place immaturity and foul language that I was squirming in my seat from uncomfortableness.  There’s something about this sequel that makes this crude language and behavior just fall flat with me.

Narrative-wise, Kick-Ass 2 is an inevitable and logical extension of the story-line from the previous film.  TMF wants revenge on Kick-Ass and that’s essentially it.  That said, there were some choices made that I just didn't enjoy whatsoever.  I understand why there were done (for the sake of the plot and to add weight and tension to an already-tense situation), but they just don’t sit well with me.  Some of Dave’s choices and actions (with regards to his father) just didn't ring all that true to me in terms of what the character feels and thinks.  Two characters are killed during the course of the film that made me genuinely angry.  I get that that was the point, but the same effect could’ve been accomplished by other means.

In terms of action, there isn't really anything in this film that can touch the “kryptonite” or kusuri-gama scene from the original.  Two set-pieces come close: one involving Mother Russia (one of TMF’s villains) wreaking havoc on the local police department (a bit disturbing, actually), and a showdown between Mother Russia and Hit-Girl.  The biggest problem with all of this is that much like The Dark Knight Rises and this year’s Iron Man 3, our favorite hero, in this case Hit-Girl, isn’t Hit-Girl for 95% of the movie.  She was the main attraction of the original, and even if her skills are less impressive now that she’s older, watching her fight is still just an utter delight.  I would've rather seen a movie in which she’s seeking revenge against the remainder of the D’Amico crime family for the murder of her father…

If it isn't apparent by this point, I wasn't that big of a fan of Kick-Ass 2.  I was so incredibly excited for it and it just left me a bit cold.  When you’re coming off of something as incredible as the original film, it’s very hard to top it, and it just fell short of the mark in just about every way.  Probably my biggest disappointment of the year so far.

Kick-Ass 2 is offensive just because it can be, and just can’t live up to the high bar set by its predecessor.


The Bearded Bullet.

Elysium Review

Neill Blompkamp’s directorial debut, District 9, was just so astounding that my expectations for his follow-up, Elysium, were through the roof.  District 9 was just such a special little film; the visual effects were some of the best ever seen, earning the film an Academy Award nomination, the characters were unique and felt real, and the way the narrative unfolded, transitioning from pseudo-found-footage to a more traditionally shot film was superb.  Unfortunately, while still a great time at the theater, Elysium just isn't up to par with this previous effort.

Set in 2154, Elysium introduces us to an Earth that has been ravaged to the point where it’s a veritable wasteland.  The rich and powerful members of society built a massive habitat ring in orbit, known as Elysium (which also happens to look almost identically to a Halo ring from that videogame series..), where everyone like, hangs out by pools and is just being rich and awesome.  We get a small glimpse into an ordinary citizens’ life through Max DaCosta (Matt Damon).  He lives in a massive shanty-town version of Los Angeles (think of the shanty town in District 9 but just on top of skyscrapers), working in a massive factory that produces robots that are used as the police force (and other purposes).  One day he’s dosed with a lethal burst of radiation and given just a few days to live.  He makes it his final goal in life to make it up to Elysium to fix himself, in one of the magical medical beds that can cure any disease.

Confused yet?  There is, of course, more to the plot but that’s the general idea.  There’s a lot going on in Elysium after you add in all of the periphery characters that make up the ensemble cast.  Jodie Foster’s Delacourt (seriously, what is up with her accent?!?) is the Secretary of Defense of Elysium, and of course she has her own agenda with the place.  Sharlto Copley plays one of the most sinister, down-and-out evil villains I've ever seen, Kruger.  He’s Delacourt’s on-call assassin/hit-man/ex-military-hired-thug that is certifiably insane.  There is absolutely no redemptive qualities to his character whatsoever.  You won’t sympathize with him for even a second.  And I loved it.  He is just so gloriously evil (and has some insane tech/weaponry) that Copley revels in the role and is clearly having a blast.

Damon’s Max is incredibly sympathetic and somewhat relatable; he’s just trying to make his way through this awful world after leading a life of crime.  Blompkamp tries to give us a window into his childhood through some kinda-bad flashbacks to his time in an orphanage.  It’s here where he learns about Elysium and vows to take himself and his friend, Frey (Alice Braga), up there someday.  It’s some pretty heavy-handed set-up for events that follow.

One thing that Elysium lacks over its predecessor is any sense of subtlety.  Granted, District 9 was very much an obvious analogy for apartheid in South Africa, and to a degree Elysium is as well, but it isn't hidden within an alien story line.  Here, the rich are literally above the poor and have the most awesome lifestyle ever.  There isn't much beyond that. 

As I previously mentioned, up on Elysium the rich have access to medical beds that will cure literally any ailment or disease a human can have.  We aren't told exactly why the rich won’t let poor people use their med-bays.  If you have this amazing technology, is there no way to develop other tech to help revitalize the Earth?  What exactly do people do on Elysium every day?  Do they have jobs?  Do they earn an income?  If over-population caused the destruction of the planet, wouldn't magical med-bays that cure anything do the same thing on Elysium?

As I just pointed out, the world-building Blompkamp does is good but not great.  This is just the most basic of story lines; poor good guy has to throw off the shackles of social oppression to fight against the bad rich guys.  By the end, the story pretty much just becomes Robin Hood.  But on a space station.

It may sound like I didn't really like Elysium, when in fact I did.  It may lack the subtlety or originality of District 9, but there is still quite a bit to enjoy about the film.  I do like Matt Damon quite a bit and enjoyed seeing him in this action-y role.  As I said before, Max is incredibly sympathetic and relatable.  Again, Kruger is just an awesomely-evil villain to his core.  As expected, the future tech on display is pretty amazing and somewhat grounded in our reality.  At one point, Max uses a modified AK-47 (we’re still using them 200+ years after they were created?) that has air-burst bullets with target-lock.  The effects (both visually and story-wise) are devastating and glorious.  There’s also a “chem-rail” rifle that can apparently shoot right through like, incredibly thick metal walls.  Kruger uses an energy shield several times (again, incredibly reminiscent of those in Halo) that is just awesome to view.

I suppose my biggest complaint with the film, if you look past the bland story and one-note characters, is the action.  Or more specifically, how the action was filmed.  District 9 has some face-melting action scenes and we could see exactly what was happening.  For some reason, the action sequences in Elysium are shot with some pretty heavy-handed shaky-cam (think Paul Greengrass on steroids).  I mean, I could tell what was happening but the visual effects are just so damn amazing that their beauty is hidden within this insane shakiness.  The final (this isn't a spoiler, folks.  There’s always one of these) showdown between Max and Kruger would've been pretty damn incredible had Blompkamp just locked down his camera for more than two quick shots.  I mean, there’s a gorgeous shot of Kruger jumping like, twenty feet in the air, in slow motion.  Then the camera goes right back to Parkinson’s mode.  It’s just such a shame.

While Elysium may not be the best or even my favorite sci-fi film this year (that honor goes to Oblivion), it’s still a very, very fun time at the theater and is still better than most run-of-the-mill summer action films.  While it doesn't quite live up to the heights achieved by District 9, I am still very much in Blompkamp’s corner and will continue to wish for great things from him.  Can Microsoft please just let him go back to Halo? (assuming, of course, that he’d still want to...which I don’t think he does)

Elysium is a fun, entertaining action blockbuster that doesn't quite live up to its predecessor.


The Bearded Bullet.

Pacific Rim Review

What does almost every young boy (or girl) do with his (or her) action figures?  Make them fight.  Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie, Pacific Rim, is pretty much the big-screen version of this; gigantic robots going up against huge monsters from another dimension.  At its core this is what Pac Rim is all about…but it ends up being more than just that.

In 2013 a portal to another dimension opens deep under the Pacific Ocean.  Hulking monsters, known as kaiju, begin invading our planet, causing thousands of deaths and wreaking havoc across the globe.  Conventional weapons were able to stop them at first, but eventually a new weapon was needed to defend against these monstrosities.  The Jaeger program was born.  Jaegers are hulking robots as big as the kaiju and are controlled by two pilots whose minds are linked via a neural bridge.  One pilot controls the right side of the Jaeger while the other controls the left side.  The pilots become celebrities and their Jaegers turned into toys.  Enter our hero, Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam).  He and his brother pilot Gypsie Danger, a Mark 2 Jaeger.  They’re some of the best in the world until a kaiju gets the better of them and Raleigh disappears into anonymity.

Still with me?

Pacific Rim is a fairly straight-forward action film where you kind of know what people are going to do and generally how things will play out.  But that doesn't matter in the least.  Each fight between Jaegers and kaiju is thrilling, intense, and incredibly entertaining.  Each kaiju looks unique and has different powers or abilities.  The same goes for the Jaegers.  Each nation around the globe built their own and as such, each is easily distinguishable and has their own visual flairs and weapons.  For the most part, the action is distinguishable; there are only a few moments where the geography of the players in a fight got a little muddled and confusing.

What makes this film more than just another robots-fight-stuff movie is the human element.  Transformers tried to make you care about the humans in each film (ultimately we only really care for Sam Witwicky and even then not that much) but we really didn't.  Something like Real Steel pulled that aspect off incredibly well and so does Pacific Rim.  The relationships established from the first frames of the film are believable and feel incredibly real.  The bond that forms between Raleigh and his new co-pilot, Riyuki, feels real and earned.  I just cared about everyone in this film: from Idris Elba's stern Stacker (seriously, guys, his "end of our times" speech was in-credible) and Charlie Day’s kaiju-obsessed Newt.  Granted, they might not be very deep characters, with back-stories we don't know and understand, but on a surface, human level I cared about each and every one of them and their plight against the kaiju.

I just absolutely loved every aspect of Pacific Rim.  At first glance it looks like just another rock ‘em, sock’em robot vs. monsters film but it’s got a bit more depth to it than that.  The most important aspect is the human element – the cast is just populated with great actors putting in believable performances that raise the film just that much higher than other movies of its type.  I loved it and you probably will too!

Pacific Rim is an incredibly fun, entertaining summer blockbuster with a lot of heart.


The Bearded Bullet.

We're the Millers Trimmed Review

We’re the Millers is a fairly run-of-the-mill…ers raunchy comedy that, while ultimately fairly forgettable, does do some very funny things with the interesting cast that was assembled for the film.

David (Jason Sudekis), a low-level drug dealer gets in bad with his “boss,” Brad (Ed Helms) and has to smuggle some marijuana into the country from Mexico.  In order to pass the border checkpoint, David enlists three acquaintances, Casey (Emma Roberts), Kenny (Will Poulter) and Rose (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as his family; apparently families’ cars aren't thoroughly checked when coming into the country.  Good to know if I ever wanted to smuggle bad stuff into the country…

While this set-up and the ensuing overall film is pretty ordinary and predictable (spoiler alert: things don’t go according to plan), the interactions and chemistry between our four lead characters feel real and are incredibly entertaining.  Several comedic set-pieces almost left me in tears from laughing to hard: a bit with a venomous tarantula, an awkward three-way make-out scene, and another incredibly awkward almost-four-way left me in stitches (featuring the hilarious Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn - both Parks and Rec alums!).

That said, there were just some things that left me shaking my head.  Putting aside all of the average plot twists, contrivances, and tropes, the single most ridiculous scene of any film this year is proudly housed by We’re the Millers: after being captured and on the verge of being executed by a drug kingpin, the “Millers” frantically explain that they’re not a family…because the bad guy said something like, “now it’s time you died together like a family.”  Jennifer Aniston’s Rose explains that she’s a stripper and…proceeds to strip for everyone.  While she’s dancing around, grinding on things, there’s for some reason a giant shower in this garage (so now she’s all wet and even sexier…) and she somehow knew that when she pressed a big red button that sparks would come flying out of nowhere (so now she’s wet, sexy, and looking like she’s in a Nine Inch Nails video).  I get it – the whole point was to distract the bad guys so they could all get away, but the entire scene is ridiculous and a cheap way to draw in hormonal teens by slapping it in every trailer.  Which they did.

We’re the Millers isn't terrible.  Or great.  It’s okay.  With other fantastic comedies this year (The World’s End, This is the End, The Heat), Millers just feels average.  And there’s nothing really wrong with that.

We’re the Millers is an average, raunchy comedy with some truly brilliant moments.


The Bearded Bullet.

The Heat Trimmed Review

I’m not the world’s biggest Sandra Bullock fan.  I don’t really like her at all.  The only reason I wanted to see Paul Feig’s The Heat was because of Melissa McCarthy.  She stole the show in the hilarious Bridesmaids and was most certainly one of the highlights in The Hangover: Part III.  The entire film would succeed or fail solely upon the chemistry between these two leading ladies.

Thankfully, after a rocky start with Bullock’s Ashburn, McCarthy’s Mullins comes on screen and the whole movie just exudes a new energy.  Much like Zach Galifianakis’ Allan from the aforementioned Hangover films, just her presence on-screen is enough to get me laughing.  The story that unfolds with these two unlikely friends is one we've all seen ad naseum: Ashburn is the stick-in-the-mud FBI agent who has to work with the rough-around-the-edges Mullins on a case that could make-or-break her career.  Hilarity ensues.

What makes The Heat so funny and endearing is this awkward pairing that we've seen so many times before.  The two play off each other so well that it’s hard to believe it’s their first film together.  The usually-serious Bullock isn't afraid to loosen up and get a bit vulgar near the end of the film – her character’s transformation isn't surprising but it feels natural and is incredibly funny.

There isn't a whole lot new and unique about The Heat, narrative-wise, but it’s the two leading ladies that really make this film work as much as it does.  I really hope we see more of these two together on screen, whether in a sequel (which they set up quite nicely) or in another project.  If you’re looking for a good laugh I’d say check it out.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The Heat is a paint-by-numbers comedy that’ll still leave you in stitches.


The Bearded Bullet.