Established May 2010.

Gordie: Do you think I'm weird?
Chris: Definitely.
Gordie: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

Member of THE LAMB: The Large Association of Movie Blogs LAMB #1588

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Movie Review: PRISONERS

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo

This twisty ethical child abduction mystery thriller will have people pretty divided. I can tell you that I was engrossed from the very first frame and did not check the watch in the entire two and a half hour run-time. No, this is not even my Jake Gyllenhaal bias showing through. Thanksgiving should be this joyful day spent with family and friends stuffing your face and having a peaceful time. For the Dover and Birch families, it will go down as the Thanksgiving they will never forget.

After their joint celebration Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Bello) and Nancy and Franklin Birch (Davis and Howard) settle down for a little wine and music only to realize their daughters are missing. The girls’ older teenage siblings have not seen them since dinner when they went to play outside. Earlier in the day, the girls came across a mysterious van parked on the street that they wanted to play on. Keller’s son informs them about the van and the search begins for the owner and the girls. Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) quickly discovers the van outside a gas station and arrests the disturbed driver, Alex Jones (Dano). Alex is a quiet, almost mute, man who seems to have severe mental issues. Detective Loki rules him out as a suspect after discovering he has the IQ of a ten year old and his van is completely clear of prints, blood, and other evidence.

Loki continues on with the case by following various leads and theories. He is not about to let this go away as the girls’ parents grow more and more concerned. Keller is adamant that Alex is guilty and that the police have let the wrong guy go free. He decides to take matters into his own hands. His drastic measures could have severe consequences for his family and for the Birchs. If you have seen the trailers or think I may be giving away too much, just you wait! This all happens within the first thirty minutes or so and the mystery twists and turns as the days pass by and the girls remain missing.

I knew by the opening shots and the distinct care put into capturing the weather, nature, and atmosphere that a master cinematographer was behind the camera. Ten time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption) works his magic by framing so many of the shots into stunning visuals that tell their own stories as well as shape the story we are watching before us. Can we get this genius an Oscar already? What does it take? It is a shame that these artists are typically left unnoticed and very under appreciated.

The film centers around mazes which play a big part into the investigation and the journey Loki takes to solving the crime and the one Keller takes in dealing with the disappearance of his little girl. When you start adding in twists and turns into any mystery, you will inevitably leave the audience divided. I know some people are giving the film flack for having said twists and debate the logistics and reality of them, but I think they work. They are the roadblocks and walls in this maze Loki and Keller are dealing with throughout the story. The Detective Loki character remains a bit of a mystery as well. He is seen with a fully buttoned shirt, slicked back hair, neck and knuckle tattoos, and remains fairly stoic throughout. He never shows a deep empathy or emotion toward the parents, but you know he is determined to find the girls. Much of his inner thoughts and discoveries are kept bottled up inside. Gyllenhaal excels at keeping much of this character unknown.

Gyllenhaal is just one part of the strong ensemble that make the core of the film work so well. Viola Davis is always touching and strong. I’ll watch her cry her eyes out any day of the week. Maria Bello redeems herself from the lackluster “Prime Suspect” remake that aired two seasons ago. Howard and Jackman are very hit or miss for me. Often times, they are a bit over-the-top and showy, but here they show such restraint and control knowing when to unleash their inner anger. I seem to be in a minority with Jackman in Les Miserables. I thought he just screamed and shouted far too much for the character of Jean Valjean. He does quite a bit of that here, but it is far more appropriate and comes when needed for the character. This is by far the best performance of his career. Then we have Paul Dano. We have seen him in numerous indie hits, but he is absolutely stunning here. His physicality speaks volumes and adds so many complex layers to this mysterious character. He does this all with the very minor dialogue he is given. I would LOVE to see him acknowledged by the Academy or other critics, but will most likely go unnoticed with Jackman and Gyllenhaal doing captivating work in the starring roles.

This is a heavy hitter that will not sit well with many moviegoers. It asks those ethical and moral questions of what you would do if you were in the same situation. Would you stop at nothing like Jackman's character when it comes to the safety of your child? The twists and turns will divide the audience and so will the ending. I am obviously not going to spoil that here, but I do not see what the fuss is all about. I think it fits in perfectly with the style and tone of the rest of the film. Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski try to cover quite a bit ground by taking the story on numerous routes much like an investigator would. I was left with some minor questions afterwards, but none that outweighed the emotional punch I was given throughout by this strong ensemble of actors many of which give some of their best performances.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell shocked horror fans with 2011's Insidious, one of the best films of the genre in the last ten years. It was inevitable that a sequel would be green lit. Whannell and Wan got the whole cast back together for a deeper look into the Lambert family. Josh (Wilson) and Renai (Byrne) are relieved to have their son Dalton (Simpkins) back to normal after a mysterious spirit haunted him. The events of that evening have left their medium Elise (Laye) dead with Josh being investigated for her death.

The Lamberts have moved back into Josh’s childhood home with his mother Lorraine (Hershey) even though they should know that it was not their previous house that haunted them. The spirits that possess both Josh and Dalton will never leave them no matter what home they are in. Renai starts hearing things go bump in the night, the piano start playing, and sees the woman in the white dress in her house. Josh is acting out of character and is adamant that she ignore these warning signs, but she knows all too well that their nightmare is not over. Josh’s body has been taken over by a spirit while he is still stuck in the other realm known as “The Further”. Elise’s colleagues and partners-in-crime Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) are called in with the help of retired psychic Carl (Coulter) to bring Josh back and put an end to this nightmare.

There are two routes you can take when making a horror sequel. You can either continue on with the same story and same characters by fleshing it out with a back story, unveiling some hidden truths, and finding new ways to scare the audience. This must all be done while staying within that world you've already created. The other approach is to take the same theme/serial killer/demon and have him/it attack a new crop of victims. Approach number one is definitely the harder path to take, but ultimately, the path I typically enjoy with my horror sequels. It was smart for Wan and Whannell to continue on with the Lambert's story. Like I previously mentioned, Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up directly where the first film left off and delves a bit deeper into the mythology and ideas behind astral projection. These characters get so deep into these alternate worlds and realms that it can feel a bit muddled at times. "The Further" does not seem to have any time continuum either which makes things a bit more challenging if you are trying to figure out the chronology of it all. Maybe I was trying to think too hard during a horror movie. You really need to have a good understanding of the first film and know it fairly well in order to sink into this one. I do not think you could watch this one without seeing the first one and not feel completely lost. Yes, many of the characters do plenty of explaining and recaps for us but that does not do any justice to what is unleashed in the first chapter.

If you allow yourself to go there and dive into these alternate realms and go into "The Further", you will find this movie scary. You will inevitably jump and make some sort of vocalization each time you are startled. I had a harder time going all the way there, so I did not find this as scary as the first film or even The Conjuring, which also was directed by James Wan and starred Patrick Wilson. I find the story of The Conjuring a bit more realistic and believable which in turn makes it scarier to me. That is the beauty of the horror genre. It is all so subjective to each viewer.

Another element that sets this series apart from others is the talented cast. Wilson, Bryne, Hershey, and Shaye give very realistic and grounded performances that make the story all the more credible. Even if you find astral projection and demons to be a bit hokey, you can still feel something for these characters. They are not the dumb teenagers that get trapped in a cabin or are seen running through the woods hiding from the killer while screaming their faces off.

James Wan is not new to the horror genre as he arrived on the scene with 2004's Saw. Each one of his films is a bit different and caters to a different type of lover of the horror genre. I love horror, but The Conjuring is more my style than the torture porn of Saw. It is obvious when watching his films that Wan has an appreciation for the genre and knows it well. Some may roll their eyes at the very obvious references to The Shining in this film, but I see them more as a nod and homage to a classic than Wan ripping off Kubrick. He is a gifted filmmaker that even though Insidious: Chapter 2 may not be as on par with the first, it is still entertaining, frightening, and leagues better than many other supposed "scary" movies that are released each year.

RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Movie Rewind: BEST WORST MOVIE (2009)

Director: Michael Paul Stephenson
Starring: George Hardy, Claudio Fragasso, Michael Stephenson, Margo Prey

At first I thought I was watching the wrong documentary. I thought I had my first Netflix mishap. The documentary starts out by following a day in the life of a local dentist who seems to love his job and everyone in town loves him. Low and behold, George Hardy starred in a small budget horror flick called, Troll 2 before he was a dentist. It has become known as one of the worst movies ever. Word slowly gets out that George was one of the stars of the film. Director Michael Paul Stephenson appeared in Troll 2 when he was a child actor and now traces the origins of the movie and checks in with numerous actors that appeared in it.

The movie never had a theatrical release so the stars finally started seeing the film as it aired on HBO and when it was released on VHS. Many of the actors started to distance themselves from the film and acting after it was released. Apparently, it was not something you would want on your resume as it may kill your potential at another acting gig. Whenever movies are this terrible, they gain cult status. There are midnight screenings and the VHS and DVD get put in the “Holy Fucking Shit” category at the local video store. The film may get 0% on the Rotten Tomatoes meter and rank ultra low on IMDB, but people really love it. After the fan base started growing and growing, some of the actors came to have a new appreciation for the film. George Hardy seems to have the most fun with his new found fan base. He attends numerous screenings across the country, gives autographs, takes pictures with the groupies, and completely embraces his past. One of the best interviews comes with the director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso. You get the idea that he is very appreciative of the love people have of the movie, but does not appreciate that it is known as one of the worst movies ever. He still believes it to be a good picture.

This is a pretty well-rounded documentary. It not only traces the ecstatic fan base but also goes into the filming of the movie and some of the troubles they encountered. Stephenson and Hardy go on a mission to find all of the principal actors to catch up on what they are up to and what memories they have of the filming process. Some of them do not have the same appreciation that they do and have a hard time dealing with the new spotlight on their lives. I find it a bit strange that they often reenact parts of the film for each other. I am even more surprised they still remember all of their lines. I tend to forget a script about a month after we close a show. Hardy and Stephenson take Troll 2 to a few horror and sci-fi conventions to receive a surprising reaction that they did not expect.

When you think about terrible movies, you think about movies that are just stupid and awful and then you think about movies that are sooooo bad that they end up being so much fun to watch making you actually enjoy them. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the worst movies ever. You can find that piece “here”. What would midnight movies be without some of these cult films? Some of these films have had a huge impact on the film industry just as much as the cinematic classics. I would love to see more documentaries about terrible movies to dive deep into these gems. As an actor, I want to see how other actors respond to their early work and their performances. Some truly embrace it and others, like Faye Dunaway, refuse to discuss them. Apparently, she has clauses and strict rules that she will NEVER discuss Mommie Dearest.

There is no need for you to see Troll 2 before watching this documentary. It is solely an homage to a cult classic and knows the quality of Troll 2. It does not try to find any hidden meaning to it, like say Room 237, nor does it try to claim it is good quality cinema. I think actress Margo Prey and director Claudio Fragasso are the only ones who think that way. This film is made for the fans and to reach out to a new audience that has never seen it. I am embarrassed to say that I have not seen this cinematic gem yet. There are enough clips shown throughout to get an understanding of just how terrible the movie turned out. If you have seen Troll 2 or have an appreciation for bad cinema, you will get a kick out of Best Worst Movie.

“Wow. This is great. It was a simple elegant down to earth, real, natural, actor actor movie…You compare our movie to a Katherine Hepburn/Humphrey Bogart movie, it fits in because our movie is all about people and the experiences those people were experiencing.”—Troll 2 actress Margo Prey after watching the film.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, September 12, 2013


Director: John Krokidas
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Jack Huston, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Elizabeth Olsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Daniel Radcliffe goes from one literary world to another as he dons some nifty glasses and curls to play beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The directorial debut by John Krokidas brings forth the story of some of the best poets of the beat generation: Ginsberg, Lucien Carr (DeHaan), William Burroughs (Foster), and Jack Kerouac (Huston) and the murder that forever changed their lives.

Kill Your Darlings has an had some screenings at the Sundance, Venice, and Toronto Film Festivals and received mixed to positive reviews. The critics all seem to praise the film's performances including Radcliffe and DeHaan. Radcliffe is shedding that wholesome Harry Potter image with numerous roles in 2013 with Horns and The F Word also being released this fall. I have been paying a lot of attention to the work of Dane DeHaan lately after his roles in last year's Chronicle and this year's hit The Place Beyond the Pines. "Six Feet Under" vets Michael C. Hall and Ben Foster also appear, which excites me even more as "Six Feet Under" is one of the best shows to have ever graced the world of television. Whether or not the film receives a positive reaction from theater goers, hopefully it will open up a new generation to the works of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs.


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Friday, September 6, 2013

Movie Review: AUSTENLAND

Director: Jerusha Hess
Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King

Whenever I hear people talk about Jane Austen, there is always a die-hard fan among the group that knows everything Austen. They have their favorite Mr. Darcy, they can dissect each book, and they know the ins and outs of what makes a faithful film adaptation. Even during our honeymoon in Paris, we met an Austen-aholic on one of our tours. She was a little intense and did not stop talking about all things Austen. Writer/Director Jerusha Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) introduces us to someone obsessed with Ms. Jane Austen. Luckily for us, she is not as annoying as the gal we met in Paris. Jane Hayes (Russell) has had passages from “Pride and Prejudice” memorized since she was young. Her apartment is covered in all things Austen related. A life-size cardboard cut-out of Colin Firth stands at attention near her doorway. She has been unlucky in love and hears about a Jane Austen theme park. Could she meet her Mr. Darcy at this joyland?

She decides to blow her life savings for the trip and heads to London for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Upon arriving she meets the spunky and flighty Miss Elizabeth Charming (Coolidge) who is the opposite of her. Miss Charming knows nothing about Jane Austen or any of her works. Jane arrives in costume and after meeting Miss Charming is a little confused about what she got herself into. Miss Charming has already been given a new Austen-inspired name. Upon arrival at Austenland, more bad luck befalls Jane when she is informed by head mistress Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Seymour) that she gets a frumpy name, small room, and no accompanying suitor. You do not receive any of those luxuries when you buy the basic package. Miss Charming, on the other hand, bought the platinum package that comes with all of the bells and whistles. Austenland is full of actors posing as suitors, maids, and butlers to give off the authentic Austen feel to put you right inside of one her stories.

Jane remains positive and makes the most out of her time there regardless of what the basic package has to offer. Even though she is not assigned a “Mr. Darcy”, the sparks start to ignite between her and Martin (McKenzie), the stable boy who is in charge of the horses and other animals. Martin is not the only one who seems to have an eye on our fair Jane. Mr. Henry Nobley (Feild) keeps one eye on Jane despite having been assigned to the energetic Lady Amelia Heartwright (King). These hidden glances are all done while brooding in the corner, of course.

I feel like every year there is some new movie devoted to Austen's work. Whether they are movies inspired by her work, faithful adaptations of her books, or movies devoted to book clubs reading her books, there is something new Austen fans can latch onto to get their fix. Within the next couple of years we will even see the adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" make its way to the big screen. You can add Austenland to that ever growing list. The movie should really be called Pride and Prejudice Land as the movie and Jane seem very focused on that novel. If I remember correctly, there was no mention of "Emma", "Sense and Sensibility", or "Northanger Abbey". One would think that a film about a die-hard Jane Austen fan would at least reference more of her literary cannon. Even if you are an Austen novice you will be able to follow along and understand everything that happens in the movie. I am by no means an expert and I had no trouble comprehending the period, language, and Austen references. I guess there is something commendable about how the film can appeal to a greater audience base than the Janes of the world. However, the simplicity of the script and story left me wanting far more when there is so much material there to work from. The film seems a bit choppy at times. Either there are editing and transition problems, jokes that don't deliver well, or a little of both. The script has another logistical problem. If you've noticed, there seems to be only three customers that are visiting Austenland. I found it strange that there were numerous workers at this theme park yet only three customers.

What makes the movie enjoyable is the cast. We have another example where the movie would have been another dumb romantic comedy, but the cast infuses enough charm and comedic timing to keep you engaged without too many eye rolls along the way. It is such a relief to see Jennifer Coolidge back on the big screen. She has been sticking to TV lately, but I will always remember her as Stifler's mom in the American Pie movies, as Paulette in Legally Blonde, and from her hilarious roles in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries. The role of Miss Charming seems tailor made for her style and sense of comedic timing. Georgia King (TV's gone-too-soon "The New Normal") is just as funny as Ms. Coolidge in her role as the other customer at Austenland. Feild definitely has the charming, debonair, Darcy qualities about him. Cheers for that casting decision! Russell, Feild, and McKenzie are all cute and endearing but Coolidge and King really steal the movie away from them. Maybe I am just drawn to the funny supporting players over the romantic leads. Austenland is silly and over-the-top and knows it. It does not try to be anything but that. Jerusha Hess plays to the strengths of her cast which keeps it light and fun. Yes, it could have been way better but it also could have been way worse. There are enough laughs along the way to keep the audience entertained whether they are Austen enthusiasts or not.

RATING: *** (3 out of 5 stars)

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Movie Review: THE WORLD'S END

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

The thought of doing a pub crawl through twelve different bars having twelve pints of beer just sounds exhausting and a recipe for disaster. Yes, it sounds epic and riotous, but I am not in college anymore. I know I would be in trouble after bar number five. Maybe I am already giving myself too much credit there. For Gary King (Pegg) the thought of finishing off the Golden Mile pub crawl is exactly what he needs in life. Some twenty years ago, Gary and his friends attempted to complete the Golden Mile but never made it to the final pub known as "The World's End".

He is bound and determined to get the gang back together and finish what they once started. Gary could not be more thrilled about this adventure, but the other guys are less than enthused. He seeks each one of them out to convince them to return to their old stomping grounds of Newton Haven to do the Golden Mile one more time. Unlike Gary, they all seem to have moved on in life. They are married, some have kids, and they have successful jobs. Gary has none of that. As Gary says to the guys, he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. He does not have to report to anyone. He still seems to be living in the past and has not really gotten anywhere in life. He still drives the same beater car with the same mix tape in it from twenty years ago. The four friends, even sober Andy (Frost), decide to join him and they quickly realize he has not changed or grown up in the slightest. The first few pubs are not quite as Gary remembers them. They are quiet, slow, and nobody seems to remember the infamous Gary King. After a bathroom brawl with a young punk kid, Gary is shocked to find out the kid is actually a robot that spews blue ink. Like the zombies in Shaun of the Dead, these robots have taken over the town.

Your average moviegoer may only know Simon Pegg as Scotty from the Star Trek reboot or as one of Ethan Hunt's partners in the last two Mission: Impossible movies. There is no doubt that he is fantastic in those roles, but I would urge people to seek out The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy consisting of 2004's Shaun of the Dead, 2007's Hot Fuzz and now The World's End. These films have received a cult following for a very good reason. The script by Edgar Wright and Pegg is so chock full of witty lines, banter, and physical comedy, it is downright hysterical. Do you need to see the other two movies first? Not necessarily as there is not a continual storyline in each one. Each film stands on its own with different characters and a different plot. There are similar themes, concepts, jokes, cinematography, and casting choices that run among all three of them, hence the “trilogy”. One of those references is the subtle use of Cornetto Ice Cream found in each movie. I love that each film is a blend of genres as they add their comedic style to a zombie horror film or in this case tackling the sci-fi genre and the apocalypse. If you are a die-hard, you may even pick up the subtle references to other films of the genre as well. I would go into each of these motifs more specifically, but I would hate to get into spoiler territory.

One thing that kept sticking with me throughout was the more serious and mature tone in this one. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are a bit more slap sticky and are goofy romps while The World's End got a bit more serious in tone. Maybe that comes with the territory of it being the end of a trilogy. There is the continual discussion between the guys about their friendships, where they are at in life, what has changed, and how Gary has not changed. I kept thinking about the friends in my life, especially the college group. There are many I do not see anymore. We have moved to different states, taken on new interests, and our focus in life has changed. We have families, jobs, and other priorities that don't necessarily involve Thirsty Thursday. For four years, I lived in a college town where the streets were lined bar after bar after bar. You could do any sort of crawl you could imagine. I remember some of those more adventurous nights. Some nights, I do not remember.

As I think back on the films I have seen this summer, and frankly all year, Edgar Wright has crafted a fine movie that gets it right in so many ways. He is sharp and detailed at crossing genres and executing each of those elements precisely. I expected the script to be one of the funniest movies of the year, and it succeeded. I cannot wait to see it again to pick up little gems and references I may have missed the first time around. Along with the comedy comes the action and sci-fi moments. The bar brawls have some of the best and most realistic fight choreography I have seen all year. These characters fight like real people not like action stars. Each of his films have these epic bar fights and I always get a kick out of them. The friendship between Wright, Pegg, and Frost is very evident throughout this trilogy and makes these films, especially this one, a bit more special and meaningful. I am sure they drew from their own lives for many of the jokes and gags. There was a continual grin on my face from ear to ear from start to finish. This was the last film I saw of the summer movie season and it ended on a high note!

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson

I am a sucker for these types of "coming of age" or "growing into adulthood" type movies especially when they actually feature smart characters going through realistic situations. It is that time in your life when you are a senior in high school and you need to come to terms with what your next path in the life will be after you graduate. Sutter Keely (Teller) faces that exact problem as he starts to fill out those infamous college applications. I think we have all had to think about some experience that had a profound affect on our lives and talk about how we overcame such trouble. He starts writing about his recent break-up with the love of his life, Cassidy (Larson). A profanity laced response about a break-up is probably not the best response to a college entrance essay.

Sutter lives in the "now". He is always the life of the party with a big cocktail in his hand. Unfortunately, he typically has one too many cocktais on a reoccuring basis. On one occasion he decides to drive home but plows into the mailbox when he reaches home. After another all-nighter, he is awoken by Aimee Finecky (Woodley) after passing out in the middle of someone's yard. She has more of an innocent nature about her than Sutter does. She has never had a boyfriend, has ambitions for her future, and delivers the daily newspaper to her neighbors even though that is her mom's job. An ease and comfortable report naturally occurs between them in their first enoounter. A romantic adventure follows as these two opposites attract. Sutter is quick to point out that Aimee is "not a rebound."

One of the many reasons why this movie works so well and sets it apart from others in this genre is the very realistic approach and feel it has to telling this story. You will hear about this in almost all of the reviews you read. Director James Ponsoldt executes this natural feeling across the board. You will see very little make-up on Shailene Woodley or Miles Teller. Teller has minor scars on his face and a burn mark on his body. How often do ever see those in a movie unless they are intentional? Normally a decent make-up job would cover them up. He even filmed the movie in his hometown of Athens, Georgia. He wanted it to have that suburban, smaller town feel. Even the sex scene has the awkward feel to it like it would it real life.

I pretty sure that anytime Kyle Chandler pops up in a movie it elevates the movie even more. Even if the movie is already great or he has a bit part, the movie is even better after he graces the screen. Chandler grows some scruff and shaggy hair to play the deadbeat dad to Miles Teller's character. He does not have a lot of screen time, but it is a far different character for him than say Coach Taylor on "Friday Night Lights". I cannot forget to mention that the fantastic Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Sutter's mom. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller shine with every moment they are on-screen. You will recognize her from The Descendants and him from the Footloose remake and Rabbit Hole. There is such an easy flow and natural chemistry between the two of them. The dialogue and sparks seemed to flow so effortlessly I often wonder how much of it was improvised between them or if they stuck pretty closely to the script. I look forward to their future projects. Woodley has quite a bit on her plate right now, and both of them will be appearing in this spring's Divergent.

When I was a teen, I had movies like American Pie, 10 Things I Hate About You, She's All That, and Varsity Blues as the teen movies of my generation. I really enjoyed three of those movies, but they were never like the high school kids and experiences I knew. The Spectacular Now reminds me of last year's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I absolutely loved and adored. Maybe we are reaching a new era of the teen/coming of age/growing into adulthood type movies. Movies with characters that resemble people from your own life. These stories are not centered around the dopey football players, bimbo prom queens, or mean girls nor is it set in some rich California high school. This is one of this little gems of the summer than can easily get overlooked by far too many stupid blockbusters that can clutter up the theaters. Lucky for us, it has fought it's way through and has had a lasting impression on its audience.

RATING: ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Movie Rewind: CHRONICLE (2012)

Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Michael Kelly, Bo Petersen

If you are getting sick of found footage movies, Chronicle may not be your cup of tea. I will say that this filming technique is used far better here than in most movies. Andrew (DeHaan) has recently bought a video camera and decides to start filming everything going on his in life. From shots of his ill mother to his life at school, anyone and anything will be caught on camera. He is already considered a bit odd at school and the constant filming is not helping his cause. Apparently, no one wants to be filmed, especially during cheerleading practice.

The only ones that seems to take an interest in Andrew and his camera are his cousin Matt (Russell) and Steve (Jordan) who is running for school president. Matt and Steve found a mysterious hole in the ground and want Andrew to film their jump into the hole. What lies beneath the ground is an unexplainable force that ends up giving the boys special telekinetic powers.

The guys start testing out their powers to see what kind of objects they can move and how far they can go with their abilities. Like many teenagers they are a bit too cocky for their own good and must learn from their consequences. We have seen characters in comic book movies suffer the same dilemmas. The central characters must decide to somehow find control and know when they are using their powers for good or for evil.

The idea of found footage and shooting the movie from the point of view of a video cameras is fully executed down to each scene. Sometimes movies of this type use this technique in a few scenes or the photography is too shaky or the filmmakers try to scare you into thinking it is real and "untouched" footage. You will not find any of that here. Director Josh Trank places the camera and actors at the proper levels to carry it off successfully without it seeming hokey or unrealistic. Whether one of the boys is holding the camera or it is stationary, the cinematography works well. You will notice mirrors used throughout and other side characters holding the camera in order to capture some of the other actors and different points of view other than Andrew's.

For a first time director, Trank has executed a pretty sharp film that is smart, sleek, and to the point. The film is only 85 minutes as Trank keeps the tension escalating at a pretty quick pace. Much of this is also due to the creative script by Max Landis. Landis is the son of director John Landis who brought us such classics as National Lampoon’s Animal House, An American Werewolf in London, and The Blues Brothers. This is also the first full length feature for Landis. He blends the worlds of the hand held camera/found footage movies and super hero movies together without ever feeling too pretentious or serious about it. Many super hero movies lately are being set in a more realistic society, but Gotham is still Gotham and Metropolis is still Metropolis. Chronicle has that approach of setting the story in a very realistic society by giving these everyday teenagers powers, but it has a different feel to it. I like how he uses teenagers as the protagonists to delve into the consequences of what happens to them after they realize the full potential of their newly found powers. Teenagers do not seem smart enough or mature enough to understand all of the risks involved. There were some surprising twists and shocking moments that left me aghast as I was surprised they would “go there” with the story.

I missed this when it first arrived in theaters, but I was drawn back to it due to stars Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan. They both have had exceptional performances in 2013. DeHaan played the son to Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines. He was absolutely riveting and reminded me of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Jordan knocked me over with his heartbreaking performance as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station. These two are definitely actors we need to keep an eye on.

RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

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