Tag Archives: Summer Movie Slam

Summer Movie Slam: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Can this really be the best and most exotic?

“I have a dream to create a home for the elderly so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die”

What if we lived in a world where every man had a British accent? How absolutely wonderful would that be…..if only it were true. I mean come on. The female population would be more inclined to settle down with a dreamy man who could woo them with that bloody brilliant speech. Besides being incredibly attractive speakers, the World of Brits seems more at large as of late. Maybe it’s due to the Olympics taking place in London. Not only are they hits with their cunning speech and location, but they’ve also found a place in the spotlight on television screens. It seems like the Brits are coming out on top in captivating series. Specifically on the BBC channel we encounter hit shows like Sherlock (4 nominations beating out AMC’s The Walking Dead) and Downton Abbey (16 Emmy nominations). Since I have yet to watch Sherlock, I can only speak for Downton Abbey. It is a remarkable series built with a solid cast which, in my opinion, is the reason for its popularity. I ask again, what’s not to love about these British characters? With this in mind, a movie has come along that contains some of the brilliant actors found in these series. It probably won’t stand the test of time like most, but it deserves praise none the less. If you classify yourself as having a passing fancy for some enchanting British television, I encourage you to read on.

The movie is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and the location is India. The plot concerns the lives of seven elderly chaps and dames coming together to a place that is supposedly built for them from the ploy to “Come and spend your olden years in an Indian palace.” To some folks from different walks of life whilst in the same age group, this slogan seems overly enticing. The elderly are viewed as a bunch of old farts about to croak. Retirement is the life, children see them as a burden, their agility has significantly lessened, and luxury is a dream that doesn’t fit into their present conditions. They don’t see a purpose in life anymore. Or perhaps they’ve lost something or someone so significant in life that moving forward or starting over seems utterly impossible. What if they can find a new purpose, a new perspective? What if they can change and affect others in ways they never dreamed possible, especially at this point in their lives. The possibility of fulfilling dreams by a refusal to accept the norm for people their age is what drives them to uproot and move to place foreign and completely opposite of what they’ve always known.

What do they have to lose? Not much, according to society’s standards. Hence, all of them end up at said hotel. The “what if” is more than tantalizing in place of a dull existence. “It’s a luxury development where all the residents are in their golden years” says one of our adventurous friends. And an adventure it certainly becomes. Things are definitely not what they seem upon arrival. The culture is nothing less than an absolute shock, and the state of the luxurious motel is the complete opposite of “luxury.” Luckily, at the end of it all, they discover that “The light, colors, smiles, it teaches [them] something.” Let’s take a look at our lead characters and the qualities that make them unforgettable.

First, we have our leading lady, Evelyn Greenslade played by the talented Judi Dench (M in the latest Bond films, and also seen in Ladies in Lavender and the BBC series Cranford). Evelyn is the one who has lost her partner in life. The death of her husband has left her with a complete void in her little life that seems ever looming and encompassing. In addition to the void, he’s left her in a similar fashion with debt, causing Evelyn to sell her house. For her, a new start is all she can hope for. Naturally, she jumps on board to take off to start afresh. Despite the twist on what she expected, she indeed finds purpose in a job with a voice she can project for the first time in her life. All around her are glimpses of a simplistic life she never dreamed possible, and more importantly, people that can fill her life with depth and meaning. She finds that “India, like life itself I suppose, is about what you bring to it.”

Our next fellow is the leading man, Graham Dashwood, played by brilliant actor Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone in the new Batman trio, also seen as Arthur Edens in Michael Clayton). This is a man whose success has been grounded in the high courts as a prestigious judge. He is finally done after a split second decision, and the move to India is all he cares about. We come to learn that this is not his first time to see the sights of India, for he lived there for a time as a boy. Every day he sets out to find someone whom he loved as a youth, but parted with disgrace and in prejudiced times. This man is the only love Graham has ever known, and to simply know he is alive and well is what drives him each and every day. Discovering that the guilt he carried his entire life was of his own creation frees him to accept redemption and complete happiness. To laugh and learn about the man before him with a family of his own connects Graham to the life he wished he would have been allowed to have, and the perspective makes his glass no longer half empty, but finally half full.

The couple in this film is Douglas (Bill Nighy also known as Davy Jones in the Pirates movies) and Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton as seen as Isobel Crawley from Downton). Doug and Jean seek a new life after losing most of the money they’d acquired for retirement after investing in their daughter’s frugal business. Jean is evidently repulsed by the opposite of what they expected, so she refuses to conform or accept the fact that she can start afresh. Doug has suffered years of abundant negativity and lack of respect from Jean, and he luckily discovers contentment and peace alongside a newly discovered connection with Evelyn. We find out whether or not this couple can put aside built up grudges and start a new chapter in their lives in this foreign place.

Feisty Muriel played by the wondrous Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley in Downton and Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter) finds herself in need of a hip replacement in a place where she’s promised a quick and inexpensive procedure. She holds her own with racist tendencies after a life of devotion to an adopted family who replace her with someone younger. Along the way, she fights to apply the idea that “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat [or have anything to do with] it.” Muriel unknowingly bestows acceptance on a young girl accustomed to having no status or recognition in life. She finds new ways to implement her acquired skills including a head for figures in a new life which she thought was unattainable with her background. Ironically, it is Maggie who changes the course of the hotel.

Our final duo are the well endowed Madge (Celia Imrie) who is hunting for her next husband alongside Norman (Ronald Pickup), a man who is trying to remain youthful and vigorous by pursuing reckless short term encounters with younger women as a matured Lothario. Both go to great lengths of fitting in with the high society by pretending to be a sort of royalty from England. The acceptance of how old they really are is difficult to accept while desiring to feel needed and loved by someone truly worthy. Their efforts are highly entertaining and happily resolved.

The glue that holds all these characters together is the fisher who lured them in, Sonny Kapoor played by the up and coming Dev Patel (Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire and Prince Zuko in The Last Airbender). Sonny is the dreamer and part owner of the hotel, and his optimism despite the somewhat false advertising is evident in the idea that “In India we have a saying. Everything will be alright in the end. So if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.” He deals with an overbearing mother trying to douse his dreams by orchestrating an arranged marriage, and keeping the woman he loves (Sunaina played by Tena Desae) despite his mother’s evident objection. Sonny sees things as they can be, and he refuses to conform to the standards of his family. He too receives perspective from the occupants who inspire him to fight for all he envisions.

India is a world of poverty, but simplicity. To have the ability to adjust to a foreign world at such a ripened age is understandable far out. But our friends thrive in a new place that is surprisingly fitting for what they need. Seeing past the face value of an alien land is what marks them as trail blazers. One of them admits that “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected” to which Muriel replies “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.” Innovative beginnings and friendships are the key to overcoming age, and they all have the chance to embrace or reject this once in a lifetime opportunity. For The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel offers “a new and different world. The challenge is to cope with it. And not just cope, but thrive.”

My Note: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is brimming with revolutionary cures, vices, and opportunities for the overlooked elderly.

My Grade: B



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Summer Movie Slam: ‘Ted’

There are some things in life that are only there to make you laugh. Nothing more than a chuckle to make you feel better for a moment. These things aren’t bad, but they don’t last very long, and eventually lose their charm.

When was the last time that you watched or listened to Dane Cook’s stand up comedy? The answer, for most of us, would be the 8th grade, some time before you discovered ‘The Office’ and Demetri Martin. But when you were thirteen, Dane Cook was the funniest man on the planet. I remember listening to those bits with my friends, laughing so hard that we were crying on the floor. We would listen ‘Harmful if Swallowed’ again and again, quoting it so much that our parents considered donating us to an animal shelter.

But then Mr. Cook’s next album came out, and it was more of the same. Then he starred in a few terrible movies that someone convinced us to see. Then another album of the same old stuff. Eventually, Dane wasn’t that funny anymore.

Seth MacFarlane; you are slowly becoming the new Dane Cook. You are funny, yes, very funny indeed. But until you try something new instead of the same old schtick’s over and over again, you will laugh yourself right out of relevancy.

Partially, I believe that this isn’t all MacFarlane’s fault. He didn’t demand three animated shows every week; Fox gave it to him based on the success of ‘Family Guy’. I’m sure there have been times where he’s wanted to step out of the box, but stepping out of the box doesn’t move the needle on Fox’s ratings. You know what moves the ratings? Another Stewie and Brian traveling musical, the creepy old man that loves the paper boy, and thirty minutes of “Surfin’ Bird.” How many people have sat this guy in the room and demand “Give the people what they want, Seth!”

Well, someone, must have told him to stick to what you know, because ‘Ted’ is just more of the same. It’s not a bad thing in the short term, but at the end of the day, it makes for an unfulfilling movie-going experience.

In the story of ‘Ted’ is simple, and by simple I mean there’s not much of a story… at all. When John Bennett (played by Mark Wahlberg) is a lonely little boy, he makes a wish for his Teddy Bear to come to life. Sure enough, the next day Ted is a walking, talking stuffed animal with a personality all his own. John and Ted soon become best friends and “Thunder Buddies”. But as time goes on, and John begins to grow up, so does Ted, and Ted grows up to be an immature, disgusting, freeloading roommate that is holding John back.

John’s girlfriend, Lori (played by Mila Kunis), does a very “Meg Griffin” thing and gives John an ultimatum: Ted needs to move out of the apartment or else John and Lori are through. Ted agrees, and what follows are the just growing pains of John and Ted learning to live apart from each other. That’s the movie. There are no real plot changes, nor is there real character development, but there is a bunch of funny stuff that happens along the way.

Ted gets a job at a grocery store, where he meets a cashier that soon becomes his girlfriend. He can’t get fired at the grocery store not matter what he does, leading to some pretty hilarious dialogue between Ted and his boss.

John and Ted spend a night partying with their childhood hero, Flash Gordon, in a drunken montage that is nothing but hysterical.

Joel McHale creeps on Mila Kunis at work. Joel McHale is funny, right?

John sings a song for Lori in front of thousands of people at a Norah Jones concert. Too bad he can’t sing. It’s funny though.

Ted is eventually kidnapped by obsessive fans; obsessive and psychotic fans! Giovanni Ribisi plays a great role as a disturbingly bad father. This is probably the funniest part of the movie.

There are also a bunch of offensive one-liners that are funny based on shock value alone. There is one joke about Parkinson’s disease that I would say is over the line, and caused uncomfortable laughter in the theater.

These are the really funny moments that I can remember right now. Everything above is what I recall about going to ‘Ted’. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? That’s because it isn’t. Listen, I don’t mean to seem rude, and I don’t want to say that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s the funniest movie I’ve seen all year, and it honestly seemed to please the crowd that I saw it with. There were a few parts that I had laughed so much my abs were sore. But then it ended, and I realized that the ending of the movie was very reminiscent of the beginning. Everything was back to the way it was, and no real conflict was really solved. It was just a funny hour and a half.

The biggest problem that I have with the story of ‘Ted’ is the main character, John. Not for one moment do I believe that he loves his girlfriend enough to grow up and change, because he never does. He just screws up a lot, apologizes later, and everything is honky-dory. What happens the next day? Do John and Ted do something stupid again and Lori angry? The conflict is still there. It’s like an episode of ‘Family Guy’; you know that every week Peter is going to do something stupid that makes Lois angry, he apologizes, next episode. In real life, I would question whether or not Peter loves Lois at all. He doesn’t show it to me through growth and change.

If you think about it, the best loves stories are about sacrifice, compromise, and risk. Something has got to give inside these two people or else it’s just not worth it. ‘Casablanca’- Rick makes Ilsa get on the plane. ‘Up’- Ellie leaves Carl a message to stop mourning and live his own adventure. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’- George Bailey gives up his dreams to travel and see the world, because he loves Mary more than his ambitions.

Those make the best love stories.

In comparison, anything else seems trite and inauthentic. It’s a good laugh, but no real heart. A funny quote, but makes no real affect on the way you think. Movies like this are incomplete by design, so I’ll simply wait for the sequel and see if these idiots really learned their lesson. Until then, I’ll watch some ‘Family Guy’ for a few laughs.

My Note: This raunchy comedy about your childhood Teddy Bear is really, really funny, but it isn’t anything better than that.

My Grade: D+

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’

‘Somebody, Somebody, Can anybody find me somebody to love?’ -Queen

The “End of the World” movie has become such an overplayed scenario over the last decade. Maybe it’s the fact that the Mayan calendar predicted that the apocalypse will greet us in just a few short months, or perhaps it’s just the scare of global warming slowly melting the Arctic circle. It could be that LeBron James finally won a NBA Championship, so a global catastrophe really doesn’t seem out of the question.

For whatever the reason, between ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ ‘2012,’ ‘The Core,’ ’28 Days Later,’ ‘Sunshine,’ not to mention ‘Deep Impact’ and ‘Armageddon’ (which are, by the way, the same exact movie), I’ve just grown tired of all the doom and gloom that we’re seeing on the silver-screen these days. Can you blame me?

Does anyone remember the Los Angeles Super Tornadoes in ‘The Day After Tomorrow’? What was that all about?

Despite my jet lag from watching our planet become ruin time and time again, I decided to take a chance and go see ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.’ I love Steve Carrell. I love Keira Knightley. I love dark comedy, and I was hoping that this movie would be a different perspective on Earth’s swan song.

Not all romantic comedies begin by telling you that a giant asteroid is going to destroy the world in just a few short weeks. Then again, ‘Seeking a Friend…’ is unlike any romance that you have ever seen before. Half-sarcastic comedy, half-touching love story, this movie is one-hundred percent original, and thank the Lord for that.

The film, like most love stories, centers around our two lead characters. Our hero, played wonderfully by Steve Carrell, is Dodge. Dodge’s wife abandons him in the very first scene of the movie. After hearing the news that the planet is a ticking time-bomb, she simply gets out of the car and runs away. Unlike his closest friends and family, who are determined to ring in the apocalypse with partying and anarchy, Dodge wants something more out of his last living days. He ends up going through old photo albums and letters, reminiscing about his old high school sweetheart; his first love. Dodge decides to forgo the fireworks and self-deprecating festivities in order to find his long lost love and declare his undying devotion to her, and of course, do this before the clock strikes midnight.

Dodge’s next-door neighbor is a young woman named Penny (played by Knightley). Penny is a quirky, neurotic, pot-smoking head case who became even more unglued once she heard about the giant meteor… asteroid… whatever. She loves old records, hates her failing relationship, and can sleep through anything. Filled with regret about the time she has spent away from her family in the UK, Penny is heart-broken that she couldn’t get home before all of the airports were shut down.

One night, a riot breaks out near Dodge and Penny’s apartment building. Dodge rushes to make sure that Penny gets out of the building, and while on the run, they strike an agreement. If Penny will help Dodge find his first love, then Dodge will make sure that Penny can get on a plane to see her family one last time. They set on the road, and the audience watches as their adventure unfolds.

I love it when I walk into a theater expecting an average movie, and end up walking out with something twenty-times better than what I expected. ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ is a film that I wanted to see again right when the credits rolled (and also couldn’t wait to write about), because the film itself did something similar to a magic trick. It opens in dark, nihilistic fashion, leaving the audience to believe that it’s all down hill from the start. But on the contrary, from the first five minutes until the last shot, ‘Seeking a Friend…’ gradually uplifts the audience to an emotional conclusion, while also wrestling with themes of contentment and true happiness.

This next part may seem like a stretch, but just stick with me on this one.

In my mind, the movie itself is really a microcosm of how humanity deals with mortality and death, and the remaining life that Dodge and Penny have is simply an allegory of life as we know it. The story is pointing out that in reality, our time on this planet is short, and it is what we choose to do with that short amount of time that really defines us. By making a movie about what happens when we realize that our world is collapsing, writer/director Lorene Scafaria was able to show us what is most important. Love, friendship, and at the end of the day, having someone by your side.

Like in life, at the beginning our characters have goals that they want to achieve. They spend their time fighting and searching for the right path to get them where they want to be. But, there comes a point where Dodge and Penny realize that what they were searching for was right in front of them all along (cue romantic music).

I don’t want to ruin the ride for anyone, so I will simply close with a quick observation about how ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ was received by the critical masses.

Film critics will choose any number of reasons to give a movie a bad review. It could be that it didn’t end the way they felt would be appropriate, or it could be the way it was shot or written. It can honestly be something as simple as the characters not being ‘likable’. And this is why you can’t hold out too much on what the critics think: in the end, it’s really just a collaboration of slightly-snarky and cynical opinions. I honestly believe that this movie received mixed reviews because it made critics feel something they didn’t want to feel, and made more importantly, showed man as something that they didn’t believe to be true.

It painted man as having the potential for goodness in a world that was all going down the tubes. It showed two people that could fall in love in just a few short days. It boldly stated that love conquers even death, and that is something incredibly counter cultural. And what can I say; I’m a lover, not a hater. So, when it comes to feel-good movies, it’s my practice to not listen to the critics. They’re all sad and lonely anyway.

Just kidding, Roger Ebert. I’m still interested in writing that book with you. Your move, Ebert.

My Note: The most surprising movie of the summer. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll enjoy.

My Grade: A-

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

Our hero is Peter Parker, a young teenager that lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in Queens, just outside of New York City. Peter is just like any other high school kid; he loves science, has a crush on a girl in his class, and is occasionally picked on by the local bully. But Peter’s normal life is turned upside-down when he is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and he begins to transform into a super-powered, masked-vigilante: Spider-Man.

Wait. This all sounds familiar. Haven’t we seen this one before?

We have. It was about ten years ago that the original ‘Spider-Man’ was released. It starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, was directed by Sam Raimi, and, at the time, had the largest opening weekend box-office gross in movie history (slightly over $114 million). Everyone thought it to be a pretty good movie; no doubt a cookie-cutter summer blockbuster, but entertaining in every way.

So, why re-boot the saga? Why should we again tell a story that has already been told? Well, it’s pretty simple.

1) The last film wasn’t well received by critics and audiences alike.

2) This movie tells a different side of Peter Parker’s story, an origin story that the filmmakers must have felt was vital to the character of Spider-Man.

3) This is the most important reason, the real reason: Spider-Man is not only a human web-slinger, he is also a costumed cash-cow that made ridiculous amounts of money for everyone who was smart enough to get in on it. Sony was looking to get every ounce of money out of this character that they could. In the end, though, it’s a win/win situation. Sony gets our money; we get another Spider-Man movie. It’s that simple.

So enough of me whining about how it’s too soon to start making new Spider-Man movies (and it was way, way too soon). Let’s talk about this movie, trying our best to block out the ones that came before it.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ tells us the story of Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield) from another perspective. The film opens with Peter as a young boy, revealing to the audience the mysterious disappearance of Peter’s parents. It is this event that is the driving force behind our protagonist’s actions in the first half of the film. He wants to know what happened to his family, and more importantly, wants to find answers to who he really is.

It is while on this search that Peter has his encounter with a tiny, mutated spider that bites him in a laboratory. We know what happens after this; Peter gets fantastic spider powers; strength, agility, incredible reflexes, and hyper-sensitive awareness (“spider-sense”). Oh, and he can also climb walls and do other amazing spider-things, like dunk a basketball and catch flies with his bare hands.

Nerd-Out Time: But this movie does bring one new change to the powers of Spider-Man; his web-slinging ability is not a part of his biological makeup, but is developed with technology from Parker’s mind of science-fair tricks. The wrist mounted web-shooters, to me, is a good change. The webbing coming out of Parker’s skin in the previous films never made a whole lot of sense (how did he release the webbing from his body? Does anyone know how that even worked?). Plus, it makes him more human, more vulnerable, and therefore more relatable to the audience.

Peter, while discovering his new found abilities, forms a relationship with Dr. Curt Connors, a former colleague of Peter’s father. Connors is working on a project involving cross-species genetics, which is the study of other species for the purpose of using their genetic markings to cure human weakness. Connors, being an amputee, also hopes to cure his own ailment. When Peter meets Connors, he gives the doctor the missing piece of the equation, and allows him to finish his work. But, like in all Spider-Man stories, the science goes horribly wrong, and Connors is transformed into a fearsome, killer monster. A worthy adversary for the Amazing Spider-Man and possibly the best villain in the Spider-Man story to date (though I did like Dafoe’s Green Goblin.)

Another thing that ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ has going for it is the ever so lovely Emma Stone in the role of Gwen Stacy. Stone gives another solid performance as the girl next door who falls in love with the quirky Peter Parker. She is also my current Hollywood crush, so for me, the girl can do no wrong.

In general, the cast of this film is solid, and in general, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is better cast than its predecessors (especially Spider-Man 3… Topher Grace as Venom? Yikes.) I believe that I’m not alone in thinking that Andrew Garfield is a much more believable and likable Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire’s take on the character. Garfield’s Parker isn’t a wimp; he never was a wimp. He was just somewhat of an outcast that didn’t have the muscles to back his passion. But, more than anything, he’s a good kid trying to be a better man. Within Garfield, you see much more internal struggle and growth, whereas with Maguire the character remains relatively stagnent throughout three whole movies. I mean with Maguire, you like Peter, but there’s still part of you that’s thinking “Goodness, you wuss, would you just kiss her already!”

Now that I’ve told you the basics of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, we are now at the point of my internal dilemma involving what to really think of this film. The real problem is this: I will concede and admit that this is actually the best Spider-Man movie to date. It is better than the original, and really that was the only one it really had to compete with. The performances are better, the story is better, the action is better, as well as the direction by Marc Webb (who also directed ‘(500) Days of Summer’). It’s a much cleaner, much smarter movie.

BUT, I can’t simply abandon the first movies. When I was 11 years old, the first ‘Spider-Man’ came out, and when you are 11 years old, ‘Spider-Man’ was the best movie on the planet. I must have watched it 30 times, and that still wasn’t enough. So, I still shout at the top of my lungs “Too soon!” Regardless, here is the verdict.

My Note: The best Spider-Man movie to date, but it was still about 5 years too soon for a re-boot of the saga.

My Grade: B+

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Remember when you were young and in love? I know it’s tough, but think really hard.

I’m talking about when you were just a kid and you fell in love for the very first time. It was three parts romance, two parts awkward, all mixed together to make a magical cocktail that made you feel like you were flying. As simple as life is for a child, first love was the thing that made it seem whimsical, like the stories that you read in a book.

“We’re in love. We just want to be together.”

Did anyone else get married for the first time when they were about 8 years old? We had the ceremony in the backyard of her house. My sister acted as the ordained minister and the aisle we walked down was a Slip-‘N’-Slide. After we said ‘I do’ we ran and slid down the hill into a pool of muddy water. We figured out the service would be much more exciting if we included the things we both loved about water parks.

What brought back this flood of memories, you ask? It was this line spoken by Cousin Ben in ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’

“I can’t offer you a legally binding union. It won’t hold in the state, the county or frankly any courtroom in the world due to your age, lack of license, and failure to get parental consent. But the ritual does carry a very important moral weight within yourselves.”

‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is the story of two children that fall in love in the summer of ’65. 11 year old Sam Shakusky and 11 year old Suzy Bishop meet backstage at a church play. Sam is in town for scout camp, and Suzy is one of the many girls in the local production. Sam asks ‘What kind of bird are you?’ ‘I’m a raven.’ Immediately, Sam is smitten. As he leaves, Suzy’s friend whispers ‘He likes you.’

Suzy and Sam spend the entire year writing to one another, and over time they realize that the only thing that they have in the entire world is each other. When Sam returns to Suzy’s hometown for another summer of scout camp, he decides to be daring, and flees his campsite to run away with the girl of his dreams.

The film centers around the relationship between Sam and Suzy and their desire to be with one another, but it would be incomplete without the adults that surround these two characters. There is  Scout Master Ward (played by Edward Norton), who is doing is best to find his lost scout while also maintaining control over his remaining troop, Captain Sharp (played by Bruce Willis), who begins to admire the spirit of the escapees, and Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) who do nothing but worry about their “troubled” daughter. None of the “grown-ups” can understand why these two young people are acting so insane. That’s because they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a 12 year old and to be head-over-heels crazy about that someone.

Really, that is what Writer and Director Wes Anderson is trying to do through ‘Moonrise Kingdom’: remind us what it was like when we were young and foolishly devoted to one another, and that is really what makes it such a brilliant film. We are again placed into a world where the childhood fantasy seems alive within us.

In a world where we would normally be standing beside the authoritarian guardians, we find ourselves rooting for these two crazy kids to end up with one another. Why is that? Could it be that there is still something inside us that admires a child’s innocence and passion? I think Mr. Anderson is on to something here.

In reality, it’s one of the reasons we still go to the movies. We look to be amazed, to reminisce, to feel something we haven’t in a long time. We want to be a kid again, and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ let’s us do that.

There are some people that have to be given credit for making ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ such a great film. The first of these is Wes Anderson. In my mind, this director who has been known for a strong cult following from Indie-film fans, has truly made a masterpiece, and his best film to date. Anderson’s vision for every aspect of a film, the writer, the art direction, the cinematography, and the performances, unite harmoniously in a creative movie with one common purpose. We see aspects of his previous films (such as “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “Rushmore”, and even “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”) throughout the film, but he has taken all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses, putting all the nuggets of Indie magic into a delightful hour-and-a-half.

What I’m trying to say is, I hope Anderson gets some serious recognition this time around. I’m looking at you, Academy.

The next group of people that deserves to take a bow are all of the seasoned veteran actors that play the supporting characters within ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’ Norton, Willis, Murray, McDormand, Swinton, Schwartzman, and Keitel are all pitch perfect in this movie, walking the tight-rope between absurdity and authentic emotion. I have no problem in saying that this is the best ensemble performance of 2012 so far. I mean what’s going to compete with it? Magic Mike? Please.

Finally, and this cannot go without saying (and many have written reviews on this film without saying it) but the young actors in this movie are fantastic. Suzy, Sam, and the members of the Khaki Scouts of North America take this movie from good to great, and they are the catalyst that makes the film both authentic and special. I don’t know where they found Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, but I’m sure glad that they did, because these two actors are truly gifted (especially Hayward. Gosh, she was good.) But the scouts of Troop 55 are so funny and so sweet that you can’t help but love them.

“Can we loan them the nickels? I’m concerned about their future.”

My Note: This is the best movie from the first half of the year. Go and see it before they pull it out of  your local theater, because it is truly a hidden gem.

My Grade: A+ (the second film on The Sorkin Notes to receive this honor.)

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘Men in Black III’

Well, if you had told me 3 months ago that ‘Men in Black III’ would end up being a better movie than ‘Prometheus’, I would laugh and just assume that you have no clue what you’re talking about. But, here we are.

Thinking in retrospect, I really do love the first’ Men in Black’ movie. Wildly entertaining, original in every way, full of satire and dark comedy, and it took the “Buddy Cop” relationship to the realms of Sci-Fi with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones at the helm. ‘Men in Black’, along with ‘Independence Day’, really made Will Smith a star and eventually allowed him to become one of the most successful actors of the 2000’s. It killed at the Box-Office, making over $250 million (and in a pre-‘Titanic’ world, this number was ridiculous), it also garnered respect from both the critical audience and the public at large. It had all of this, not to mention the “Noisy Cricket”, an “Edgar-suit”, and Frank the talking dog.

Then ‘Men in Black II’ happened… Goodness. I feel that there’s no need to go into further detail, because it would just be several sentences of mean, and no one would want to read that.

‘Men in Black II’ was so bad, that I, like many others, just assumed that the franchise was as a dead as disco. Not only was the sequel bad, but franchise director Barry Sonnenfeld went on a long streak of making really awful movies, including (but not limited to) ‘Wild Wild West’, ‘Big Trouble’, and ‘RV’. Yikes.

However, the powers that be decided to make a third installment, bringing back both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (which I assume were paid incredible amounts of money in order to be convinced that it would truly be better than the second) to reprise their roles as Agent J and Agent K. They even signed on Sonnenfeld for another crack at it. Talk about believing in a guy that no one else would.

Surprisingly- scratch that- Shockingly, ‘Men in Black III’ was not only better than the awful sequel the preceded it, but it is also one of the best movies that I’ve seen this year. As funny and entertaining as the first, with a new twist on the story, ‘Men in Black III’ takes all the good from first film, heats it up in the microwave, and served it all over again. Some people don’t like leftovers, but it tastes delicious when you’re expecting garbage.

‘Men in Black III’ opens with the lunar prison break of Boris the Animal (played by Jermaine Clement), a savage alien killer that was put away by Agent K back in the 60’s. He travels back to earth to exact his revenge K, and decides to do this in a more roundabout way: by going back in time to kill his nemesis.

At the MIB headquarters, we find a frustrated J and an ever so disgruntled K. We learn that since the second film, Agent Zed has died and has been replaced by Agent O (played by Emma Thompson). But then, just as our fellow agents find out about the escape of Boris the Animal, K mysteriously disappears, not only from his home and his work, but he also disappears from the memories of the people that once knew him well.

Agent J realizes what has happened; Boris the Animal went back in time to kill Agent K. What is Will Smith to do but go back in time himself to stop the psychopathic extraterrestrial? Pretty cool, right?

Believe it or not, the best thing about this movie are not the performances by Tommy Lee Jones or Will Smith, but the performance of Josh Brolin playing the young Agent K. Some would say that Brolin is simply doing an impersonation of Jones himself, but what he really does is show a different side to a once very flat character, giving the audience a deeper look into who Agent K really is. Not only does this element of time travel allow J and K to connect like never before, but also allows us to connect with them more as well. Brolin does this with a masterful precision and control, making sure that the viewer never loses sight of the character at hand.

Side-note: Josh Brolin is not quite at “man-crush” in my books, but he’s definitely getting there. Still growing as an actor, I see this guy really taking off in these next few years.

When you really get down to it, the reason ‘Men in Black III’ was able to return this franchise to providence was it decided to focus its energy on what made the original one so good in the first place: original story telling, and a real relationship between our two lead characters. The second movie was no good because it had no story that grabbed us, no real goal that the audience was trying to reach with the characters. Heck, half of the movie was just everyone trying to figure out what’s going on, and in the end, we still didn’t get a clear answer. The latest film remedies this problem by giving us a story we can get into and characters that we can stick with from beginning to end.

Does anyone even remember an authentic moment between J and K from ‘Men in Black II’? Did they even speak to one another!?

Woah… ease up. Remember, we’re talking about ‘Men in Black III’, not it’s ugly step brother.

Brolin and Smith really do have a great contrasting chemistry that works, and it brings us back to the original formula that made this franchise work. Although it isn’t fresh this time around, it remains refreshing, and makes ‘Men in Black III’ a movie that is worth watching.

My Note: ‘Men in Black III’ is really just the microwaved leftovers from the original movie, but at least it’s edible.

My Grade: B

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

‘There’s something in the cellar…’

How many filmmakers out there can take a classic genre and totally flip it on its head? Off the top of my head, I can think of very few who were able to accomplish the task. Spielberg was able to take an entirely new view on science fiction when he made E.T.; showing us what how a child’s heart can connect us with the unknown. Hitchcock was also another master that changed the way certain movies were made, especially when you consider how ‘Rear Window’ and ‘North by Northwest’ changed the scope of mystery movies. With Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane,’ the character study was born with intensity, not only giving protagonists tragic flaws, but also a new level of emotional depth that allowed epic films to take a life of their own.

Do we have to add Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon to the list? Well, after seeing ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ I’m afraid we have to.

Okay, that’s a stretch. Let me pull the reins back.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re no Hitchcock, but they are defining what the horror movie can be. Not only are Goddard and Whedon redefining it, but they also deconstruct it to a level that makes it not only slasher flick, but also the funniest movie that I’ve seen in a long time.

Before anything else, I want to say how incredible it is that I actually went and saw this movie. I usually don’t see horror movies. I’ve been disappointed too much in the past, my heart has been broken too many times, me and scary films just have “trust issues.” But, I had so many friends tell me I need to see it, and I heard so much positive response from critics, that I ended up dragging my feet to the local theater, prepared for disappointment. Just when I thought I was walking into another mundane slasher flick, this thing surprises me by being totally different from any movie I’ve seen this year. The scariest thing about walking out of that theater was realizing how much I ended up liking ‘Cabin in the Woods.’

‘Cabin in the Woods’ is essentially about the predictability and uniformity of all slasher flicks. The movie opens with two seemingly normal working-stiffs going through another day at the office. Hadley (played by Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (played by Richard Jenkins) small talk about home life, sports, and the reports they’ve heard about the Stockholm project. When they get to their work stations, we realize that this is no ordinary white-collar company. The project on today’s agenda for Hadley and Sitterson is to coerce 5 college kids to go on a weekend getaway; they take all the wrong turns, make all the usual dumb decisions, and end up at the cabin in the woods, where any handful of horror movie monstrosities could end up ripping them apart.

The college gang are made up of the usual horror movie stereotypes: The jock, the hot blonde, the scholar, the idiot pot-head, and the good girl (who eventually becomes the heroine). And in perfect horror movie fashion, they all play their roles beautifully; over-exaggerated and totally lacking in authenticity. The weekened getaway ends up becoming a fully-fledged nightmare, and not only for the victims, but for those that put them there as well… (cue ominous music).

I hate to say this, but that really is all I can reveal about the plot without spoiling anything. ‘Cabin in the Woods’ really depends on the element of surprise, and I don’t want to be that guy who takes that away from the reader that hasn’t seen it yet, but I feel like there are a few comments that I can make without giving anything away.

First of all, as creative and entertaining as the set up of this movie is, the last 15 minutes of it is the biggest spectacle of ridiculous violence and total absurdity that I think I’ve ever seen. It becomes out of control really fast, to a point where it’s chaotic and the audience ends up asking “What just happened?” While the film never slows down, it also doesn’t have any brakes, and in the end, it crashes and burns. But I don’t see this as a criticism as much as what the filmmakers were going for. They wanted to make the ending as outrageous as possible, refusing to tie it together in a neat-and-tidy ribbon, to fully massacre the horror genre until there is nothing left.

And the ending does leave something to be desired, like a good ending…

Sitterson and Hadley

Regardless of the ending, it was really great to see Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) back on screen. Sure it might be a step down from being the Deputy Chief of Staff of the White House, you know, going from that to orchestrating the murders of college students by ghouls and ghosts, but he still has that Josh Lyman wit that we’ve all grown to love.

One final thing before I give the Note and the Grade, and that final thing is Chris Hemsworth. I’m going to say this as polite as possible; the guy cannot act. Not a lick. He’s batting 1 for 4 with me, and the only time he could get on base was when he appeared in ‘Star Trek’ for about 5 minutes (I love that movie, by the way.) He was unbearable in ‘Thor’, annoying in ‘The Avengers’, and in ‘Cabin in the Woods’ he strikes out again. As much as I enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. and Natalie Portman dance circles around this guy with their talent, I’m afraid I got to put Chris Hemsworth in ‘The Sam Worthington Club for Actors that are Cast for being Ripped and Beautiful.’

My Note: Although it ends up being an imperfect mess, ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ is still twenty-times better than any other horror movie out there.

My Grade: B

Stay tuned for more reviews in the ‘Summer Movie Slam’ series!

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