Tag Archive: movie reviews


Enemy – Movie Review

Living in a small town can make it difficult to see all of the movies that I want. I had been looking forward to Enemy for quite a while, but the film only had a modest release and never opened at any theaters near me. When it was finally released on Blu-ray, I knew that I would be picking it up on day one because I was unable to see it in theaters. But, surprisingly, I couldn’t find a single Blu-Ray copy of Enemy at any of the stores that I checked. I ultimately had to buy the Blu-Ray online and have it shipped to my house. I’m bringing this up because I wanted to explain how difficult it was for me to finally see this movie. Granted, a film as provocative and surreal as this will probably never receive a widespread theatrical release, but the fact that I couldn’t find it at any stores near me is ridiculous. I probably wouldn’t have cared about this quite so much if the film ended up disappointing me, but not only were my expectations met, they were beyond exceeded. Enemy is a fascinating mindbender of a movie, one that manages to be suspenseful and engaging throughout its entire runtime and extremely thought provoking once the credits begin to roll. Viewers accustomed to having every plot detail spoon fed to them should look elsewhere; this is a film that will lead to questions, interpretations and conversations. Sometimes, that’s the best kind of cinema.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a college history professor who is leading a dull life. His relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) seems to be lacking any excitement and the majority of his free time is spent in his standard looking apartment. Adam rents a movie based off of the recommendation of a coworker and spots an actor who looks exactly like him in a small role. Adam does some digging and discovers that this doppelganger is named Anthony Claire. Adam begins following Anthony and even calling his home, much to the dismay of Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). But once Anthony learns of the striking similarity that these two share, the two men agree to meet face to face and discover exactly what is happening.

From the opening shot to the final frame, Enemy held me in a near constant state of suspense. I spent the entire movie with the feeling that I was holding my breath, just waiting for what the filmmakers had in store for me. Director Denis Villeneuve’s previous film Prisoners was one of my favorite films of 2013. Enemy was actually filmed prior to Prisoners, but the short amount of time between their release dates provides a solid one-two punch for fans of intelligent adult cinema while also  proving that Villeneuve is a master at holding viewers on the edge. In fact, the constant feeling that something bad could happen at any moment actually makes this scarier than most modern horror movies. The final scene is a real shocker, one that caused me to actually scream out in fear when an absolutely unforgettable image is revealed. Tone and atmosphere are a major component to the film and the music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is suitably unsettling enough to make the audience feel like insects are crawling on their skin. The grim cinematography by Nicolas Bolduc is unique because of its yellowish tint, but also effective at providing the feeling that something just isn’t quite right in this world.

It’s so refreshing to see a movie that isn’t just a straightforward tale, but one that requires thought and analysis from its audience. Some people think that when a film leaves its audience with unanswered questions, it’s simply being lazy; I would argue that these types of films are actually some of the most difficult to make. There will always be some outcry when a film refuses to neatly wrap up and explain every loose end, but the key is to give viewers just enough information so that they can ascribe their own meaning to the clues that have been provided. Movies like this one don’t come around often and it’s even rarer for them to be executed so well. Thanks to Javier Gullón’s intriguing script, this is one of the best open ended psychological thrillers since 2012’s Kill List. Gullón’s screenplay is adapted from the novel The Double by Portuguese author José Saramago.  One of the most memorable aspects of the film is actually new to the story and completely absent from the original novel. These new scenes turn a dark psychological mystery into a much more surreal experience. I’m not going to pretend to understand all of the mysteries that the film has to offer, but I do think that I have a basic understanding of the symbolism and metaphors that are present and they only help to add another layer of depth to this already riveting film. Some viewers will be outraged with the ending, but I loved how it was able to flip the entire film on its head in the final few seconds. I can’t wait to go back and further unravel this puzzle.

It must have been tempting for Gyllenhaal to oversell both of the characters that he portrays. To turn them into caricatures would have been an easy way to differentiate between the two, but Gyllenhaal never overdoes things. The differences between Adam and Anthony are subtle: they look and sound exactly alike, so it’s up to Gyllenhaal to help the audience understand who is who at all times. Adam is meek, shy and socially awkward, while Anthony is strong, confident and sexually indulgent. It’s always apparent which character Gyllenhaal is playing and both characters feel real enough to exist on their own. In these two quietly compelling performances, Gyllenhaal never screams for attention, but he deserves it just the same.

Are Adam and Anthony both real? Is one of these characters a figment of the other’s imagination? What was going on in that final scene? Enemy never provides any direct answers to these questions, but instead it asks viewers to piece together their own interpretations. The clues are there, hidden in a web of mystery and intrigue and whether the viewer feels the need to think about things enough to put everything together is entirely up to them. These kinds of movies have always fascinated me; I love how they force you to think once the credits begin to roll. Future viewings will surely be helpful in understanding some of the more abstract elements of the film and I’ve been wanting to revisit it again as soon as my initial viewing ended. Enemy certainly isn’t for everyone, but that’s not going to stop me from showing it to as many people as I possibly can.

Enemy receives 4/4

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The eighth entry into the Planet of the Apes franchise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligently crafted summer blockbuster with a strong emotional core. Its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was well received by critics and audiences, but I found it largely underwhelming. Its human characters were uninteresting and its emotional moments felt hollow. Dawn improves on these faults with increased characterization that allows us to care for both the apes and the humans. The finale of the film may not be able to live up to the standard set by the film’s excellent first hour, but director Matt Reeves does such a great job with the material that even some of the more disappointing aspects of the script feel tolerable.

Ten years after the apes gained intelligence from the ALZ-113 virus, the human population has been almost entirely eradicated. While the virus was beneficial to the apes, it was extremely harmful to humans, killing off billions of people in less than a decade. Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads a tribe of hundreds of apes in the woods outside of San Francisco. A faction of humans living in San Francisco sends a small group into the woods, to find a large dam and restore power. The small group, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his wife Ellie (Keri Russell), encounter the apes and fearfully return home to the rest of the survivors. Caesar follows them into the city and informs them that there will be no violence if they agree to stay away. But the humans are running low on fuel and desperately need the dam to start working. The faction’s leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), is determined to go to war with the apes. However, Malcolm convinces Dreyfus to send a small group into the woods and gain the apes permission to start working on the dam. But if the dam isn’t up and running in three days, the humans and the apes could start an all-out war.

I’ve been singing the praises of director Matt Reeves for years now; maybe Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will finally bring him the major recognition that he deserves. The director of Cloverfield and Let Me In, Reeveshas a firm grasp on practically every aspect of the material. Nearly all of the major characters are well crafted, allowing us to form an emotional connection to them and fear for their safety when things get messy. Because the characters and story are strong enough, Reeves doesn’t feel the need to constantly force action scenes into the film. In fact, the best part of the movie is its first half where it favors dialogue, character development and tone over bombastic action. When the action does hit, it’s about as satisfying as you would expect. Not only are the action sequences well shot and choreographed, they’re also suspenseful and frightening. Reeves uses his past skills directing horror movies to make the apes seem incredibly intimidating. The first thing that Caesar says to the humans is a declaration to stay away and it’s enough to make your hair stand on end.

Because screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback establish characters that we care for on both sides of the war, it seems like the film is heading towards a truly tragic finale, one where we don’t want to see either side lose. But around the halfway point, an ape is established as a major villain and it becomes much easier to root for the humans. This ape isn’t a particularly bad villain, but he feels shoehorned into a film that didn’t need a primary antagonist. Every film needs conflict, but not every film needs a villain. It would have been much more interesting, and emotional, to watch the apes and humans go to war without a villain to set things off. If both sides were simply doing what they believed to be right, then the final battle scenes could have carried more weight and, therefore, been more intense. The fact that the impending war was mostly the cause of a single ape left me feeling disappointed.

Taking a much darker route than its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a consistently engaging sci-fi blockbuster and a great entry into the Apes franchise. The grim looking cinematography by Michael Seresin does a great job at showcasing the lush forest landscapes and the desolate cities and Andy Serkis’ motion captured performance demands to be seen and recognized as nothing short of fantastic acting. Every single emotion that Caesar displays comes across as genuine and Serkis is able to do this without ever appearing on screen. It’s fascinating to watch and completely believable. With the aid of some dynamite visual effects, Serkis and Reeves are able to create characters that are lifelike and harrowing. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the filmmakers showed us that this franchise could still have potential; with Dawn, they actually proved it.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes receives 3/4

Scott Derrickson’s Sinister still remains one of the best horror films of this decade. It was an endlessly creepy film, filled with truly disturbing images and a knockout performance from Ethan Hawke. While the script had its fair share of clichés, Derrickson did an excellent job of milking even the most familiar scare tactics for maximum effect. His follow up, Deliver Us from Evil, takes a very different approach. It’s less a horror film and more a crime thriller mixed with some of the familiar tropes of an exorcism flick. Think Se7en meets The Exorcist. Unlike in his previous film, Derrickson relies too heavily on false jump scares to keep the audience on their toes, but he still has a knack for producing frightening visual imagery and this film has more than enough of that to satisfy horror fans. Deliver Us from Evil is a dirty, pulpy and sloppy mess, just like it should be.

Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is a New York cop who spends too much time on the job and not enough time with his family. He and his partner Butler (Joel McHale) patrol the streets and stumble upon several cases that may be connected with each other. They encounter a woman at the zoo who threw her son into the lion enclosure after a mysterious man gave her a signal to do so. A priest named Father Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) believes that this woman is suffering from demonic possession, but Sarchie is a skeptic who no longer believes in religion. He continues investigating these bizarre crimes and discovers that they are all connected to three war veterans who may have encountered something evil in Iraq. As Sarchie begins further probing the depths of evil, his wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter may end up being put into the crosshairs.

It’s refreshing to see a film mix genres the way that Deliver Us from Evil does. We’ve had so many exorcism films in the last several years, but setting it inside a police/detective story somehow helps it avoid a feeling of repetition. There are a few scares that feel like they could belong in any basic horror film, but a good majority of them arise naturally out of the characters and unique setting of the story. The story, which is actually pretty interesting to begin with, benefits greatly from the disturbing images and great sound design that permeate throughout the film. The frequent use of music by The Doors is also a nice addition; classic rock songs that I’ve heard dozens of times before suddenly took on a much darker, sinister tone.

Derrickson, who has seemed like such a confident, assured horror director in the past, slips into too many amateurish ways in this outing. There are too many false jump scares, intended to scare the audience simply by creating a loud noise during a quiet, suspenseful moment. The loud growl of a bear, the hissing meow of a cat and the ferocious barking of a dog all come out of nowhere in an attempt to scare viewers. While these moments did make me jump, they felt incredibly lazy and below the rest of the film. Jump scares can be fantastic when used effectively, but throwing as many as possible onto the screen when they don’t need to be there is a classic horror movie mistake. One jump scare in the film that actually works occurs when Sarchie is watching security camera footage. A truly disturbing image flashes onto the screen and it’s frightening, not only because of the loud noise that accompanies it, but because the image that we see is actually scary.

Even with some cheap scare tactics, I found myself invested in this story, wanting to discover what was going to happen next. The characters may have been developed pretty bluntly, but I actually cared about them and wanted to see them reach a happy ending. It’s a little too long and Bana’s accent comes off rather strong at times, but Deliver Us from Evil succeeds because of its unique perspective and interesting story. Exorcism films may be growing stale, but they’re not quite dead yet.

Deliver Us from Evil receives 2.5/4

The Transformers franchise has never aspired to be high art. At their best, these films should be nothing more than fun popcorn entertainment. But every single entry into the series thus far has failed miserably at that. Their stories are so weakly cobbled together and their action is so poorly directed that it’s practically impossible not to mentally zone out in the films’ third acts. Because I had become so bored with these movies in the past, I went into Transformers: Age of Extinction telling myself that I was going to try to follow this story as much as I possibly could, not matter how awful the writing might become. Even if I wanted to shut my brain off and quit attempting to follow a story that has very little logic to it, I told myself that I was going to persevere and watch this thing to the best of my ability. But try as I might, I still couldn’t bring myself to enjoy and understand what was happening in this film. The story is so weakly structured that it eventually falls apart and most of the action sequences are boring and way too similar to battle sequences from the previous films in the franchise. The only entertaining aspect of the film is simply watching a summer blockbuster with a $210 million budget fall flat on its face.

It’s been several years since the Autobots and Decepticons fought each other in the heart of Chicago. Now, the Autobots are in hiding and humans who find any suspicious alien activity are urged to report it to the government. Leading the charge to round up the remaining Autobots is CIA Agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar). Attinger discovers that Optimus Prime is hiding out somewhere in Texas and he sends a tactical unit down to retrieve him. The unit arrives at the home of Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) an inventor and single father to his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). Yeager bought Optimus thinking that he was nothing more than a large truck, but once he found out that he was a Transformer, Yeager attempted to repair him. He tries to hide Optimus from the tactical unit for as long as he can, but eventually Optimus is discovered and Yeager, his daughter and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) are forced to go on the run.

One thing that needs to be said about Age of Extinction is that it’s an improvement over the previous two Transformers films. This isn’t saying much, but this sequel actually has a few things going for it that its predecessors did not. For one thing, the story is actually somewhat tolerable for the majority of the film’s runtime. That’s not saying it’s good, but it’s slightly better than one would expect for a Transformers movie. The plot is tight and competent enough to follow, until the film’s third act when it becomes a jumbled mess of action. Also working in the film’s favor is that this may be a case of so bad it’s good. I found myself consistently entertained, but not in the way that the filmmakers intended. The script by Ehren Kruger is filled with such awful dialogue that it’s amazing that these lines made it into the final product. It feels like Kruger wrote these lines in a first draft with the intention of going back and revising them, but then he just forgot. Perhaps this shouldn’t be considered a positive aspect, but I found myself chuckling at practically everything these characters said to one another.

Another thing that had me laughing when I wasn’t supposed to be is the blatantly obvious product placement. It’s ok to have product placement in your movie, but there is a very clear difference between putting a product in your movie and shoving it in your audience’s face. For instance, there’s a scene in the movie where an element called Transformium morphs into a flashy looking pillbox speaker from Beats by Dre. Even more glaring is when Yeager crashes an alien ship into a Bud Light truck. It’s bad enough that they so clearly featured the logo on the truck, but the real kicker is when the camera goes in for a close up on one of the bottles and Yeager proceeds to pop the top off one and take a swig. It was so ridiculous that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; it still remains the most memorable scene in the entire film. But the products continue to show up in the film’s finale where virtually every other shot features Transformers fighting each other next to a billboard that is placed near the center of the frame and in focus. It’s extremely distracting; instead of watching the climactic fighting, I couldn’t help but pay more attention to the ads that were on display. Why a summer blockbuster that is practically guaranteed to make close to $1 billion worldwide needs to force in so many brand names is beyond me.

Maybe this has something to do with director Michael Bay’s past history directing commercials. Love him or hate him, you can’t argue that Bay doesn’t have a distinct style; his excessive use of low angle shots, high key lighting and slow motion effects can be fun when used correctly, but in Age of Extinction Bay uses these trademarks so often that he begins to become a parody of himself. One of his biggest weaknesses is his inability to direct action and most of the sequences here ring hollow. A scene where the characters climb along wires that are suspended hundreds of feet above a city should have been exciting, but it’s so poorly edited that nothing about it feels as exciting as it should. Maybe a bigger problem is that the characters are never fully developed beyond their one note personalities. It’s difficult to care about these characters, so the action sequences lack the suspense that they need. A scene in which we discover that Tessa and Shane are three years apart in age and can only become intimate under a Romeo and Juliet law seems to be an attempt to develop these characters, but it’s a weirdly forced scene that feels out of context with the rest of the film.

One thing that can’t be put down is the visual effects, which still manage to stay incredible, even when everything surrounding them is a mess. One would think that the addition of the Dinobots could improve the film significantly, but, alas, those are handled poorly also. Perhaps it’s time for Michael Bay to move on and hand the reins of this franchise over to someone else. He’s had four opportunities to make a decent Transformers film and he’s pretty much failed every single time. This attempt is such an empty cash grab that you can practically hear the echoes of Bay counting his money. It’s a summer blockbuster that’s only tolerable if you view it for its unintentional comedy. I had a lot of fun with Age of Extinction, but for all the wrong reasons.

Transformers: Age of Extinction receives 1/4

cheap-thrills

How far would you be willing to go for money? This is a question that frequently arises in films (perhaps too often) and it’s at the center of Cheap Thrills. Would you get punched in the face for $500? Or would you cut off one of your pinky fingers for $25,000? What would you be willing to do for a $250,000 jackpot? Like its title suggests, this is a film has some thrills up its sleeve, but you’ll have to muddle through quite a bit of mediocrity to get there. This isn’t a good film and it’s certainly not a well-made one, but it manages to coast through most of its flaws because it’s always amusing to discover how low these characters will sink for a reward. It’s uneven and messy, but, if you’ve got the stomach for it, fiendishly entertaining.

Craig (Pat Healy) and his wife Audrey (Amanda Fuller) are struggling to stay afloat. They’re having a hard time raising enough money to support their young baby and they’ve just received an eviction notice on their front door. If they are unable to raise $4500, they’ll be living on the street in a week. Craig also gets fired from his job as a mechanic, which sends him into a state of depression. He decides to spend some time at a bar to drown his sorrows, where he runs into his old high school buddy Vince (Ethan Embry). Eventually, these two guys begin having a drink with Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), a married couple with too much money on their hands. It’s Violet’s birthday and Colin wants tonight to be special, so he begins offering dares to Craig and Vince and paying them handsomely for whatever dares they’re willing to complete. The dares start off easy enough, but as the amount of money that is up for grabs increases, Craig and Vince will be pushed into doing things that they wouldn’t have believed they were capable of.

The best part of Cheap Thrills is that it places the viewer into every situation. With each task that Craig and Vince are presented with, I found myself asking, “Would I be willing to go that far?” Most of the time the answer is no, but it’s still intriguing to consider how far you would be willing to push yourself for money. Director E.L. Katz keeps the film moving along at a healthy pace, so too much time is never spent on one single dare. It also helps that the film has a short runtime; too much time spent watching these men degrade themselves could have been more disgusting than it needed to be. This is the directorial debut of Katz and it shows in his visuals. The lighting in practically every scene feels cheap and ineffective, while the cinematography by Andrew Wheeler and Sebastian Winterø feels diluted and dull.

While this may have been intended as a dark comedy, the humor never comes across as well as it should have. This is more a fault of Katz than screenwriters David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga, whose script left plenty of opportunities for laughs. And while the script does rely on some stupid plot reveals, such as the sudden revelation that a major character is a black belt in karate, it’s always amusing even when it shouldn’t be. Perhaps some increased characterization and an explanation as to why Violet and Colin have so much money would have helped flesh the story out a bit, but the increasingly gruesome events kept me interested all the way to the off putting final shot. Despite my enjoyment, I may never want to revisit Cheap Thrills; like most things that are horrible and disgusting, one experience was enough.

Cheap Thrills receives 2.5/4

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“After I killed them, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off my hands in the bathroom of a Burger King and walked home to await further instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through – ‘Get the f*ck out of London, you dumb f*cks. Get to Bruges.’ I didn’t even know where Bruges f*cking was…It’s in Belgium.” – Ray

An uproarious pitch-black comedy. An intimate character study. An enthralling hitman tale. A picturesque tour of a beautiful European city. A meditation on life, death, love, loss and the uncertainty of the afterlife. In Bruges is all these things and so much more. In his staggering debut film, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh crafted a wholly original story that effortlessly bridges multiple tones, feelings and genres. Even with the amazing script, the film could not have been successful without McDonagh’s mature and sophisticated directorial skills. McDonagh created a film that is both captivatingly entertaining and intensely philosophical without missing a single beat. Not only does this film deserve to be seen by everyone who appreciates thoughtful, original filmmaking, but it also deserves to be applauded as one of the greatest films of the 21st century.

Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are two hitmen who have been ordered by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in the Belgian city of Bruges and await further instructions. It’s hinted at that their last job may not have been entirely successful, but the details regarding this are not instantly revealed. Ken enjoys sightseeing and spending time in the medieval city, but Ray finds it far too boring. He complains about having to follow Ken around and look at the old buildings; he would much rather spend time sneaking onto a film set and watching them film a dwarf (Jordan Prentice) or going on a date with the beautiful Chloe (Clémence Poésy). But there seems to be another reason for Ray’s lack of excitement in Bruges. Something seems to be eating away at Ray’s emotions and it may have something to do with why they were sent to Bruges in the first place.

Viewers may not be familiar with the city of Bruges before seeing this film (I certainly wasn’t), but it will be nearly impossible to forget about it after seeing this triumph of a film. From the opening shots that are hauntingly photographed by Eigil Bryld, Bruges seems to take on a life of its own. McDonagh has stated that he was inspired to write the film after visiting Bruges and experiencing two very different emotions. The part of him that was fascinated with the cobblestone streets and medieval buildings eventually led to the creation of Ken. The part of him that became bored in spite of the city’s picturesque beauty led to the creation of Ray. These are two characters that, in some ways, could not be more different from one another. Despite the film’s dark tones, Ray and Ken are a classic comedy duo. They’re always butting heads and their heated exchanges lead to some of the film’s funniest moments. While visiting the Basilica of the Holy Blood, Ken explains that the church contains a vial that is said to hold some of Jesus Christ’s blood. When Ken asks Ray if he would like to touch it, Ray, like a child, responds, “Do I have to?”

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Balancing out the humor is the film’s thematic content, which McDonagh expertly weaves into the plot. While an immensely entertaining film if taken at face value, it becomes even richer when one begins to interpret the subtle themes that are bubbling below the surface of the plot. In a brief but incredibly important scene, Ray and Ken visit the Groeninge Museum. Among other paintings, the two men observe The Last Judgment by Hieronymus Bosch. The painting showcases Judgment Day and the punishment that will be inflicted upon the sinners of the world. This prompts Ray and Ken to begin discussing Judgment Day and the afterlife, specifically Purgatory. “Purgatory’s kind of like the inbetweeny one. You weren’t really shit, but you weren’t all that great either,” describes Ray. Bruges acts as a kind of Purgatory for the characters in the film. Ken loves it, but Ray hates it and both of them are stuck there, awaiting orders (or judgment) from their boss Harry. Both Ray and Ken openly admit to having done bad things in their life, but they basically seem to be good people. So what ultimately awaits them in the afterlife? Do they deserve to go to hell for the sins they committed? Were they good enough to get into heaven? Or will they be forever stuck in a Bruges-like state of Purgatory?

Yes, these two men are trained killers, but they’re also people with emotions, motives and backstories. McDonagh’s script never allows these characters to succumb to the clichés that can be so inherent in films involving hitmen. The profession that these characters have chosen is a part of them, but it’s far from a solely defining characteristic. Ray is a naïve young man who is quickly realizing that this profession may not be the best choice for him. After their last job went belly up, Ray is an emotional train wreck and Collin Farrell brings a vulnerability to a character that is teetering on the edge. He’s broken inside and his efforts to numb the pain are becoming increasingly more futile. Ken has a much more positive outlook on life and Brendan Gleeson brings an incredible amount of warmth and lovability to the role. Ken is the kind of guy that you would want to spend time with because he seems to see the best in people. He sees that Ray has his whole life in front of him and he still has the capacity to change it for the better. But that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t faced hardships: it’s revealed in the film’s second act that Ken lost someone close to him and this event may have led to his profession as a hitman. Finally, Harry doesn’t appear on camera until the film’s third act, but this doesn’t affect Ralph Fiennes’ commitment to his character or his performance. Like the other characters in the film, Harry has a code of honor, but that doesn’t prevent him from being erratic and terrifying. Harry is the kind of guy that you don’t want to cross; an employee at the Belfry of Bruges insults him and pays for it in an awful manner. Still, every action that Harry takes feels understandable and that’s a testament to the writing as much as it is to Fiennes’ performance.

McDonagh scatters plenty of foreshadowing throughout his film, but you aren’t likely to notice it on an initial viewing. As the film strides towards its conclusion, it’s almost impossible to predict what will occur from scene to scene. The climactic chase through the streets of Bruges is some of the best cinema you’re likely to see and it still manages to get my heart racing after so many repeat viewings. In the film’s final moments, the characters stumble onto a film set and appear to be walking through a fairy tale turned hellish nightmare. The actions, dialogue, choices and motivations of these characters all converge into a finale that feels utterly unpredictable, while still feeling like the only possible outcome based on everything that has happened previously. It’s an ending that feels perfect, not only for the film’s plot, but also for the themes that McDonagh is trying to convey.

Shot on location in the Belgian city of Bruges, the film manages to feel like a showcase for the beauty of the city, while also serving as a warning to stay away. Images manage to feel calm and unsettling, often within the same shot. The score from Carter Burwell begins as a melancholy personification of Ray’s remorse and depression, before evolving into a much louder, more rock heavy theme in the film’s climactic moments. Even though the film excels in practically every area, the most impressive aspect of In Bruges has to be its story. This is a story that flows naturally and succeeds because of its timeless quality. The lack of cars, computers, cell phones and other technologies make it a refreshing change of pace. Endlessly rewatchable and immensely quotable McDonagh’s debut feature only continues to improve with age. I try to avoid hyperbole as much as I can when writing reviews, but for In Bruges there’s one word that keeps coming to mind: masterpiece.

In Bruges receives 4/4

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Not only was the original How to Train Your Dragon a huge financial success back in 2010, it was also one of the best films of that year. There was an incredible feeling of adventure and discovery to it and the flying sequences were particularly enthralling. Arriving four years after its predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon 2 isn’t quite the breath of fresh air that made the original a rousing success. There’s much more of a been-there done-that feeling to the proceedings this time around. But that’s not to say that this is a bad sequel; rather, it’s just a moderately successful one. It never does anything overtly wrong, but it also doesn’t bring much new or interesting material to the table like a sequel should.

It’s been five years since Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) convinced his village to live peacefully with dragons. Now, everybody has their own pet dragon. Instead of building weapons to fight the dragons, the villagers build saddles to ride on them. Any problems with the dragons seem to have withered away, until Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) discover a group of dragon trappers led by Eret (Kit Harrington). These trappers attempt to take their dragons, in order to give them to their leader, Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). Bludvist wants to build a dragon army and take over the surrounding lands.

This is a beautifully animated film; even when certain aspects of the plot feel fairly uninteresting, it’s always nice to look at, thanks in large part to the great cinematographer Roger Deakins who serves as a visual consultant on the film. Just like in the original, there are some great sequences of action throughout. Things may feel less exciting than the first time around, but that’s simply because we’ve already experienced what it’s like to fly on the backs of these dragons.

Children will definitely enjoy watching all of the different dragons frolic around the screen in their adorable ways. Hiccup’s dragon, Toothless, is still the cutest and most entertaining to watch. The filmmakers also attempt to add in more humor than was present in the first film, but most of it feels forced and a little bit awkward. Younger children may enjoy the occasional jokes that the script has to offer, but adults won’t find much cause to laugh. Instead, adults will appreciate the characters much more this time around. Hiccup, his father and even a new character who I won’t spoil here, are given a surprising amount of depth and sincerity.

Things begin to get much more exciting as the film enters its third act. Director Dean DeBlois stages the battle sequences so well that you’re likely to forget that what you’re watching is an animated film. There’s a welcome sense of danger present and it makes the finale far more exciting than everything that came prior. How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a few surprises up its sleeves, but it’s a mostly unremarkable film, albeit one that is still well put together. For an animated sequel, it gets the job done.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 receives 2.5/4 

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I tend to enjoy films that primarily take place in one location, especially if that location is an airplane. When something bad begins to happen on a plane, there’s a sense of claustrophobia and urgency that can make for a great film. I also enjoy watching Liam Neeson turn himself into an action star. The 62 year old actor has been picking films that allow him to beat up on some bad guys and you can tell that he is having a great time. His latest film, Non-Stop, is a combination of both of these pleasures. It’s quite a thrill to watch Neeson on an airplane, trying to solve a mystery and kicking some serious butt along the way. It’s as ridiculous as you might expect, but even when the plot becomes contrived and silly, the film never loses its sense of fun.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a US air marshal and former New York police officer. He’s also an emotionally unstable alcoholic, drinking as much as he can before he gets on the plane and even requesting a gin and tonic upon takeoff. Once the plane is in the air, Marks receives a text message from an anonymous source. The messages inform Marks that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a specific bank account. Marks realizes that whoever is sending these messages is located on the plane and he will need to race against the clock to discover the stranger and prevent any lives from being lost.

Along with Liam Neeson, the cast is full of familiar faces including Julianne Moore, Corey Stoll, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy and even recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Every single one of them is a potential suspect and the cast does whatever they can with their one dimensional characters. Neeson’s character is the only one that is remotely developed, but the troubled, alcoholic air marshal feels like a cliché. His backstory is pretty obvious and uninspired, particularly in the details involving his daughter. But Neeson somehow manages to bring the character to life. Starting with Taken, Neeson has essentially been playing the character over and over again, but he pulls it off every time. Neeson is the perfect actor to play the grizzled, aging action hero and he commands the screen this time around.

He’s the rare actor that can carry a film from beginning to end, even as the script grows more and more outlandish. Screenwriters John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle set things up fairly believably, but by the time the third act rolls around, there have been so many outlandish developments that some viewers may scoff at the absurdity of it all. But even as the film began to grow sillier and sillier, I still found myself enjoying every minute of the film. A large part of this has to do with Neeson, who gives us a character to connect with, even as the plot grows preposterous. But it’s director Jaume Collet-Serra who makes sure that there isn’t a dull moment throughout. Perhaps the film could have been more atmospheric, but it looks good and it’s got a steady pace that builds to an exciting finale.

But perhaps the most commendable aspect of Non-Stop is that it’s got a great mystery that kept me on my toes all the way to the end. I spent the entire film trying to figure out who was texting Marks and I’m happy to say that I was unable to solve it before the reveal. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the filmmakers reveal that they’re a step ahead of the audience. It may not be as good as last year’s Prisoners, but the twists and red herrings will prevent most audience members from solving the mystery before they should. The ultimate reveal of the killer is a little underwhelming and the explanation of the motive doesn’t quite fit the rest of the film, but since the killer’s identity is kept a secret for so long, this is practically inevitable.

I had a lot of fun with Non-Stop and this seems to be what Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra intended. Its plot may be ridiculous enough to laugh at, but its over the top sensibilities hold things together. This is nothing more than silly, popcorn entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with that. The film may get its title from the non-stop flight that the majority of the film takes place on, but it could also get its title from the non-stop thrills that permeate throughout this thing.

Non-Stop receives 3/4

ImageHollywood may be running out of ideas, but they’re certainly not running out of creativity. Just look at 2012’s 21 Jump Street. A reboot of a long forgotten 80s TV show may have sounded like a terrible idea on paper, but a smart script, solid direction and some irresistible chemistry between its two leads made it one of the best comedies of that year. Now the entire creative team is back for a sequel, with the aptly titled 22 Jump Street. It’s rare for a sequel to outshine its predecessor, but directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller somehow manage to pull it off. The budget is bigger, the cast shines brighter and the humor is even more Meta. If the original film was simply a great comedy, then this is a great film, period.

As a throwback to the original TV show, 22 Jump Street opens with a “Previously on 21 Jump Street” segment, recapping the major events from the previous film. An Annie Hall reference that is thrown into this montage gets the film started on a hilariously clever foot. We next see Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) working an undercover operation that goes horribly wrong. They’re informed by Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) that their mission was a failure because it wasn’t exactly the same as the original. Now, despite no one really caring about the Jump Street reboot, the department has given them twice the budget to recreate the same case that they did before. Schmidt and Jenko meet up with Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), who informs the two officers that this time they’re going to college to infiltrate and investigate a drug ring.

From the talk of an increased budget to the hints at an inevitable sequel, it’s clear that the script by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman is wonderfully self-aware. Its plot is extremely similar to the original, but the film constantly acknowledges this fact throughout the entire movie. Not only are these moments quite funny, but they also work as a critique of the state of modern cinema. Even the ending credits poke fun at the desperate cash grab that this franchise may have started as originally.

While the self-aware humor borders on genius, the rest of the film isn’t afraid to become raunchy and over the top. Thankfully, even when the humor becomes a bit broader, the jokes always seem to have a clever earnestness surrounding them. Perhaps this is due to the excellent chemistry surrounding Hill and Tatum. They were great in the original and they’re just as good the second time around. These two actors have such great comedic timing with one another that it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they appeared alongside each other in more comedies outside the Jump Street franchise. While he may have been underused in the original, Ice Cube is also fantastic this time around. The funniest scene in the entire film is shared between him and Hill. It’s so funny that it still had me chuckling, long after the scene had ended.

From its opening moments, it’s clear that this is a film with a lot of energy. Lord and Miller blend the humor with the slick action sequences to create a comedy that hardly has a dull moment in its entire runtime. It’s consistently funny and I had a huge grin on my face throughout. Regrettably, there are a couple characters and subplots that aren’t given enough screen time to fully develop, but these problems are practically inconsequential. As the film began to approach its climax, I realized that I desperately didn’t want it to end, which is a sure sign of a great film. The original film felt like Lord and Miller were just getting their feet wet. With the sequel, they’re diving in head first.

22 Jump Street receives 3.5/4

ImageTom Cruise is a bona fide movie star. Any detractors that he may have should see that he’s got the looks, the charisma and the filmography to convince them otherwise. Just look at his latest film, Edge of Tomorrow, a smart and entertaining sci-fi gem that showcases Cruise at his action hero best. Think of it as Groundhog’s Day meets Saving Private Ryan with some heavy sci-fi added in for good measure. Even when the film’s script gets sloppy, Crusie and director Doug Liman keep things intriguing, engaging and surprisingly humorous.

Humanity is at war. Several years ago, an alien species invaded Earth and began to attack. These species, nicknamed Mimics, were extremely powerful, forcing humans to create weaponized equipment that soldiers wear to increase their chances of victory. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a spokesperson for the United Defense Force and has never seen combat. When he is informed by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson, making the most of his too few scenes) that he needs to battle on the frontlines with the rest of the soldiers, Cage attempts to flee. He’s caught and eventually deployed with a group of soldiers in a last effort attempt to defeat the Mimics. When Cage is killed on the battlefield, he awakens to discover the previous day. Caught in a seemingly never-ending loop of death, Cage realizes that he may be the key to defeating the Mimics and fellow soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) may just have the experience to help him succeed.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All you Need is Kill (which is a much better title), Edge of Tomorrow is bound to be some of the best science fiction you’ll see all summer. In a film that is practically nothing but action from start to finish, Doug Liman is somehow able to balance everything and prevent the audience from becoming numb to the effects. Even though the audience will be living the same day over and over again, it manages to feel fresh and exciting nearly every time. The most intense moment in the film comes early on, with the soldiers dropping out of a plane, ready for battle in their weaponized suits. Just like Major Cage, we’re experiencing this battle for the first time. Reminiscent of the Battle of Normandy, it’s exciting to witness and also a little scary.

The script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth leaves plenty of room for humor in the midst of the guns and aliens. Watching Tom Cruise get run over by vehicles only to awaken again on the previous day is darkly humorous. The smart script does begin to get lazy around the third act, placing characters into difficult situations and rescuing them in increasingly convenient ways. The third act is also where the action begins to verge on generic. The nighttime battle that serves as the films finale isn’t nearly as exciting as the storming of the beach that we watch again and again.

At a time when Hollywood seems to be obsessed with sequels, remakes and reboots, it’s great to see a sci-fi film that actually manages to live up to its original premise. Even with a script that contains some glaring problems, Edge of Tomorrow manages to be an entertaining treat that never grows redundant. Strong performances, a wicked sense of humor and energetic action sequences make this one day worth living over and over again.

Edge of Tomorrow receives 3/4