Film Review : Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

IMDB SCORE – 7.9
Rotten Tomato Score – 82%
Metacritic Score – 74/100

Directed By – Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring – Thomas Mann, Olivia Cook, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, and Katherine Hughes

High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

Haven’t we seen this movie like ten times in the last couple years? Coming of age film about a couple high school kids and, *gasp*, one of them has cancer and is dying. Honestly, I didn’t care that the film was about this kind of subject matter. What I care about is can the film take such a common theme and do something different. I wanted an emotional punch but I wanted the hit to come from a different angle instead of dangling it in front of me and then predictably going right for the gut. I first heard about the film when it won the Jury Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve pretty much loved every single jury prize winner so that alone was enough to get me to watch this. I’ve been busy as hell since the beginning of the summer, so I finally got a chance to sit down and give this a view and I’ll be damned if the movie didn’t deliver a blowout blind shot that I didn’t see coming.

The film started out pretty standard. High school kids with more wit than a Monty Python sketch going to a high school that would never exist in this country…ever. If I had any problems with the film it was the few details such as this that irked me a bit. The high school was too surreal and played up. It really seemed like a high school out of a novel instead of a realistic depiction of what those years are like for kids. The overall tone of the film however did not come off fake and forced. This is mostly due to the stellar acting from the three leads, especially Mann and Cook. Olivia Cook played a dying girl better than anybody who has tried in Hollywood over the last decade and the emotional punches came from scenes that she was in. That isn’t to say that Mann didn’t deliver either. The scene where he talks about his regrets was especially moving and wonderfully well acted. RJ Cyler is a natural and the cameo parents and teachers were an added bonus. You really can’t go wrong making Nick Offerman your weird dad.

The direction and cinematography was top notch as well. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon isn’t really a well known name but I can see him being an indie favorite for a long time after this. He had help. The biggest surprise on the credits went to seeing Chung-hoon Chung as the films DP. Best known for filming pretty much everything Park Chan Wook has done, his presence was felt throughout the film with these unique filming angles that call back to films such as Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

The score of the film was also fantastic. The film took a rollercoaster right to the heart in the last 20 minutes of the movie and two pivotal scenes were punctuated by excellent song choices in “Remember Me as the Time of Day” by Explosions in the Sky and “The Big Ship” by Brian Eno. Both songs are filled with emotion and they just drove the power and emotion of the two scenes right home. It’s honestly a big reason why the film is sticking with me so much. It kind of reminds me of the end of I, Origins where music and cinematography can just send a film over the top for me. That, and the cast has to hit it out of the park, which they certainly did in this film.

There you have it. Sundance has spoken again. As mentioned before, the only real negatives of the film was some of the unrealistic and over inflated depictions of high school and some definite “I only wrote this to be unique” style dialogue. It didn’t distract though. I loved the film.

4.5/5




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Film Review : Spring (2015)

IMDB Score – 6.6
Rotten Tomato Score – 89%
Metacritic Score – 69/100

Directed By – Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead
Starring – Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti, Augie Duke, and Jeremy Gardner

A young man in a personal tailspin flees the US to Italy, where he sparks up a romance with a woman harboring a dark, primordial secret.

I’ve bitched on this site before about how Horror movies need to start getting more creative. I’ve said that even if the acting or visuals are lacking in places, an original script can triumph over anything. This is case and point when it comes to Spring, directed by the guys who gave us the original film about addiction and the supernatural, “Resolution”. The trailer posted above doesn’t give TOO much away. It certainly is better to go into this, like every movie, knowing as little as possible. Seeing it won’t ruin much though. The film centers around a guy named Evan who goes to Italy to get away from his depressing life full of heartbreak and failure. He meets a girl named Louise and over the course of the next week, things happen.

So the film is labeled as a horror movie I mean, I opened up this review by talking about horror movies so what else would it be? This is a special kind of film though. The horror elements will satisfy people looking to get creeped out and scared, but this film has much deeper meaning and effect. The heart of Spring is the romance between these two lovers. The fact that the romantic aspect is coupled with a sci-fi/monster/horror film makes it that more special. This isn’t Jennifer’s Body, which was horrible apparently, but it also isn’t Let The Right One In. The story begins to unfold more towards the end of the film and here is where the real beauty lies. The mythology, while a bit confusing at times, still presents something I haven’t seen before in film. Telling what that is would spoil the story, but trust me, it’s interesting. The film also utilizes some straight forward romantic writing, almost as if Benson watched the Before trilogy a bunch of times before writing this script. I’m a sucker for those kind of films, so I ate this right up.

It’s not perfect though. For one, I wasn’t fond of the acting that much. Nadia Hilker was very good and this film should serve as a stepping stone to bigger things, but the acting from the rest of the cast was average at best. I just couldn’t see Evan, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, as a real person. I felt I was watching an actor. That’s never good. I don’t feel he’s a bad actor by any means. Hell, we’ve all seen a thousand worse performances from indie film actors. A story like this just needed a strong male performance to go along with Hilker and the nature of the script. The plot was also muddy at times. I got the gist of the film and the impact was felt, but it could have been a lot more polished and clean. I had to do a bit of reading afterward to get most of the story arcs.

The film is also gorgeously shot on location in Italy. I’ve always read that Italy can be a bit of a drag with all the tourists and scam artists buzzing around major cities and villages. The main town that this film takes place in however is a fucking beautiful place that I feel I could visit and never come back from. The lush landscape was captured very well by what I’m assuming was a drone camera. Lots of great shots of waves crashing onto rocks and some great color grading that gave the film a warmth about it. It was pretty.

My movie watching habits are changing. I’m finding less time to watch films and less things in the theater interest me. As long as I have films like this come in the mail however, film will still fascinate me. I love original ideas and I love when these ideas come in hybrid packages. Romantic horror films like this could end up becoming one of my favorite things to watch if their done correctly. This is definitely worth the watch and I’ll be anxiously waiting to see what Benson and Moorehead come up with next.

4/5



Review : Jurassic World (2015) *Minor Spoilers*

IMDB Score – 7.6
Rotten Tomato Score – 70%
Metacritic Score – 59/100

Directed By – Colin Trevorrow
Starring – Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Judy Greer, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Andy Buckley, Lauren Lapkus, and Katie McGrath

Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond. After 10 years of operation and visitor rates declining, in order to fulfill a corporate mandate, a new attraction is created to re-spark visitor’s interest, which backfires horribly.

As I write this, over 200 million dollars has been spent over the weekend by people going to see Jurassic World. I’m curious as to what those people thought as they left the theater. Honestly, I have no idea what to think. Part of me thinks it was fun as shit and completely validates the enormous haul it took in over the weekend. Part of me thinks that it was atrocious and makes Jurassic Park 3 look like The Empire Strikes Back. Let’s try to figure this one out together.

There is a big difference between this film and the previous three. The park is open. The park is developed. The park has a shit ton of dinosaurs. The park is so big in fact that the 20,000 people that are currently on the island serve as a main motivation for figuring out how to fix the colossal mess that our smart and sophisticated characters have cooked up. Director Colin Trevorrow and the writing team had to figure out ways to include character development into a setting that also housed thousands of people. Honestly, they didn’t do a bad job…with the main characters. The secondary characters however were misused so bad that I didn’t care at all what happened to them. Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is introduced as a stuck up, out of touch with humanity workaholic that cares more about her job than her two nephews who are visiting the park. Her character, throughout the film, goes through a transformation that I feel was actually earned. Chris Pratt, who by the way was in the Navy if you didn’t know after the 15th time they mentioned it, is a total badass. These two characters are perhaps the only characters in the entire film that I gave a sh*t about. The kids were poorly constructed cliches of boys of their age. The youngest is about 11 and if you didn’t know…eleven year olds are REALLY into dinosaurs. The older one was about 16 and was so stereotypical teenager that the writer might have actually googled “what do teenagers do” when creating him. We’ll get to the rest in a minute.

There is a theme going on right now in Hollywood. Let’s take a director that made a well regarded yet small indie sci-fi film and give them the reigns to a half a billion dollar mammoth of a budget. Josh Trank got Fantastic Four. Gareth Edwards got Godzilla. Rian Johnson got Star Wars. To me, this can either go two ways. You either get a film that has the aesthetics and characteristics of a new era or you get an over zealous attempt to try to join the ranks of superior films. I can’t blame the directors really. It’s like giving the best young go-kart driver the keys to an indy car. I feel that Colin Trevorrow, whole talented, was given the reigns to a franchise that he just wasn’t ready for. I felt the film was trying WAY too hard to do too many things. Because he’s a good director, he succeeded in some places. Other places he failed miserably. Let’s see what he did right.

The effects

I’ll admit. The effects in this were pretty awesome. Sure the sight of CGI dinosaurs was a bit distracting at first, but you got used to it and started to get a feel for why they had to be CGI. There were scenes in this film where you just couldn’t use anything else but CGI. The action in this film was all over the place instead of precisely timed bursts. There were only a few scenes that slowed down enough for the SFX tea to use animatronics instead of computer generated dinosaurs. That being said, the action scenes were well done. The last battle was one of the best of the entire series and had me actually on the edge of my seat. All the dinosaurs were rendered beautifully and the film was actually pretty violent. One death scene in particular was especially gruesome. It involved basically being repeatedly dragged around and eaten by two dinosaurs. I’m shocked that got through the censors considering this film is rated PG-13. The SFX team did a great job.

The acting

This is a case where the efforts of few trumped the many. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard knocked it out of the park. Chris Pratt should basically be in everything as far as I’m concerned. He’s the Harrison Ford of this generation. He’s funny, endearing, physically built, and just melts into every scene his is in so naturally that it draws you into the movie better. Bryce Dallas Howard’s transformation towards the end won me over. I was reminiscent of Noomi Rapace in Prometheus where, once the shit starts to hit the fan, a true horror actress blossoms out of nothing. The dirtier Howard got in the film, the better and more believable she got. The rest of the cast was very meh, but I enjoyed the two leads so much that it didn’t matter. Now let’s get to my biggest gripe with the film, and ultimately the reason I didn’t love the movie…

The Script

The movie went from boring to “WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING?” so fast that my head spun. There were so many peppered in jokes that weren’t funny that I started to get embarrassed and covered my face. There were cliche kiss scenes, predictable dialogue, and the near cock tease of character development before an untimely death. I won’t name the characters, but there are at least two that have completely unnecessary character development that leads straight to a death. You can’t do that. That is Game of Thrones type shit that I get so frustrated with. I’m not saying you can’t kill a character. I’m not saying that every character that dies has to have no back story. They way they did it in the film though, was just so silly. Let’s just say that the same reason I hated Bane’s death in The Dark Night Rises is the same gripe I have with the two main characters who die in this film. At least give them something special to go out on except a death scene cut right to another action piece.

I also had a huge problem with how they used the raptors.

*this might get spoiler-y*

Raptors are feared dinosaurs in every single film about dinosaurs that has ever existed. This film treats them like dogs. It LITERALLY treats them like dogs, complete with obedience, loyalty, and feelings. I’m sorry, but Raptors don’t have fucking feelings. They don’t get sentimental about a character who feeds them. Hell, if the film showed us that Chris Pratt raised these fuckers from birth it’d be one thing. The film made it a mission to point out that every single dinosaur on the island was genetically created and modified by scientists. These things should have only two functions, which actually gets pointed out in the film…eating, hunting, and fucking. That’s all. No fucking memories of when Chris Pratt threw rats at us and used his clicker thingie to get us to chase goats. Fuck that. That’s stupid. The fact that they actually have full on conversations with each other…and another specific dinosaur…is just stupid. I’m not talking about dinosaur language. I’m talking about literally at one point one dinosaur looks at another and says “thanks for fighting with me. It has been a pleasure” while the other dinosaur responds “the pleasure was all mine.”. That’s how it was shot. That’s how it was conveyed. I literally threw my hands up and said aloud “what the fuck is going on?”

Look, I don’t expect Scorsese or Kubrick when I go see a film about a dinosaur amusement park. The film was fun and was filled with action and Chris Pratt. That alone is worth your 13 dollars. I could not however get over the stupid jokes at inopportune times, the cliche “every Michael Bay has these” moments of dialogue and kiss scenes, and the complete misuse of terror inducing velocoraptors like they were dogs. Trevorrow seemed to change his mind constantly throughout the film about what kind of movie this was going to be. The plot was all over the place, trying to be funny one moment, while switching gears on a dime and expecting the audience to be terrified. It’s a mess.

Yet, the film is making a shit ton of money. There will be more. I hope they find good writers but as long as Chris Pratt is involved, I’ll go see it.

Also, Bryce Dallas Howard ran away from gigantic killing machines in heals. Enough said.

2.5/5





Film Review : I Origins (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.3
Rotten Tomato Score – 52%
Metacritic Score – 57/100

Directed By – Mike Cahill
Starring – Michael Pitt, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Brit Marling, Steven Yeun, and Archie Panjabi

A molecular biologist and his laboratory partner uncover evidence that may fundamentally change society as we know it.

The fan made trailer above was include instead of the official trailer because it doesn’t give away the entire film like the official one did. I just wanted to point that out.

Wow. Emotions guys…lots of emotions right now.

You can just sign me up now to watch anything that involves Zal Batmanglij, Mike Cahill, or Brit Marling. Anything. I don’t care what it is. They make films with such an emotional punch to them that it doesn’t matter if there are some glaring scientific plot holes/inconsistencies. I’m not watching a Ted talk. I’m watching a movie. I can be a little hypocritical of this ideal sometimes however, especially when discussing zombie films. I guess what it comes down to is if there is a powerful story going on, I could give two shits if the science adds up. Cahill’s previous film Another Earth falls into this category. The likelihood of an identical Earth appearing in our solar system seems improbable but the story of Brit Marling’s character makes that film special.

This is why I loved I Origins.

Michael Pitt plays a scientist trying to create a human eye from scratch to prove that intelligent design is false. Brit Marling plays his lab partner. Honestly, this really doesn’t matter until the second half of the film, and I’m not going to spoil anything by describing why. The first half of this film is where the money is at. It’s what sets up the emotional gut punch that is delivered at the end. Pitt falls in love with Sofia, heartbreakingly played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey. Their relationship and where it takes them was masterfully written by Cahill. I cared for these characters. I cared for them a lot. Sofia is this free spirit who may not fall into one religion, but believes in the spirit and soul of human beings. She is the perfect contrast to the scientific ideals of Pitt’s character Ian. Cahill tells their story with passion and great attention to little details in relationships. It also helps that both Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey had wonderful chemistry and impressed me with their acting.

The second half of the film is more of a mystery that needs to be solved. The premise of the film, that our eyes can be scanned and used almost as fingerprints, doesn’t really get explained too much which is where it probably threw a lot of people off. I didn’t need explanation. It was just enough to get me on board emotionally.

This is why I love films like this. They take a science fiction idea, which more often than not creates a unique environment, and then on comes the feels. Upstream Colour hit me the same way. There will always be room on my film collection for films like this. Like most films I love, I can’t really explain much more than I already have. I Origins is a science fiction film that goes light on the science fiction and really heavy on the ol’ heartstrings. The exploration of humanity and the mysteries that go along with that are what really made me love the film. I highly recommend it.

4.5/5



Film Review : Ex Machina (2015)

IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 90%
Metacritic Score – 78/100

Directed By – Alex Garland
Starring – Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, and Alicia Vikander

A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

Let me start off by saying that I’m extremely happy for Alex Garland. I’ve been a fan of his since 28 Days Later. His stories, while flawed at times, always strike me as interesting and unique. His novels and short stories such as The Coma have inspired some of my short story writing that I do independent of this website. I’m a fan. I was excited to hear he had directed a film and even more excited that his film is doing so well. It only means we’ll be seeing more of his mind on screen soon enough.

That being said, I loved the film.

There’s something about tiny films that appeal to me. Alien is a much better horror film than it’s sequel Aliens to me. Why? There’s less space to move around. It all takes place on the ship and deals with one alien. It’s more personal…intimate. Aliens is a fine film, but it’s more of a Terminator 2 type of film where they took what was great about the first film and then turned it up to eleven. Ex Machina is an intimate film. It takes place mainly in one location, the multi million dollar estate of Nathan, the CEO of Bluebook. Bluebook is basically the combination of Facebook and Google so right off the bat you know how rich and smart the man is. Caleb is a programmer working for Bluebook and wins a contest sending him to his boss’s home. There we find out that Nathan has built an AI and that Caleb was brought there to test it.

The first scene of the film is brilliant. It doesn’t meander around who Caleb is or what exactly this company does. We learn that later as the film progresses. We’re given a 30 second dialogue free set up and away we go into the world of this house and it’s inhabitants. I just love how that was done. Garland and his DP really took their time with the aesthetics of this house. It’s obviously a very modernized home with the latest and sometimes one of a kind technology. Garland makes sure to hold the camera at precise points to vaguely foreshadow certain plot twists later in the film. I love films that I can watch a second time and catch new things. I haven’t seen it a 2nd time yet, but I’m going to. There are so many points in the beginning of the film that can be recalled later in the film as being significant. I think that may be the best highlight of the entire film for me. It’s just so tight and clean, just like every inch of Nathan’s house. The dialogue between all three inhabitants is sharp, often funny, and always engrossing. Once Caleb finds out why he is there, the real show begins.

Alicia Vikander.

Yeah, I wasn’t aware she was a thing either. That’s changed. She was fantastic in this. It should be taken with a grain of salt however because her performance isn’t something flashy or grandiose. This is a small and quite performance. Most of the time we see her as Ava, we see her bare robotic body with just the front half of her face. Vikander was tasked with portraying the emotion and thought processes of a robot using only her facial expressions. This is why I find her performance so good. She was able to draw me in so well and actually believe that she was an AI with her own conscious and intelligence. Her sessions with Gleason were engrossing to watch.

Has Oscar Isaac just become my favorite actor? That’s hard to say, but he’s certainly in the discussion now. I think I can safely say that both he and Michael Fassbender are the future of male actors. They have not been in a bad film, not delivered a bad performance, and have pretty much been getting better with each role. He’s able to portray Nathan as somebody who you seem to like judging by the way he talks to Caleb, but somebody who you just don’t seem to trust. He reminds me of Jack Torrance before he went crazy in The Shining. Even in the beginning of the film you can tell something is off. Something just isn’t right about him. His drunk scenes were the best and may have been in the greatest dance scene I’ve seen in a long time. His co-star Domhnall Gleeson is solid but really takes a back seat to Vikander and Isaac here. I feel her started to skip towards the end of the film. It may have to do with the circumstances his character got into, but I just wasn’t with him towards the end.

That’s the gist of the film. What I haven’t talked about, and will dance lightly around, is the way the story progresses. There are scenes in with I was on the edge of my seat, not from excitement, but from pure envelopment of the story. It lured me in. It had my full focus. I didn’t check my phone to see what time it was. I didn’t wonder what I was going to do after the show. I was just fully enveloped in this tightly written sci-fi. There is a lot to discuss at the end of the film. Who was the villain here? Did so an so deserve what happened to them? I’m still not entirely sure who’s side I’m on. That’s what a great screenplay does for me. Makes me question myself.

It’s my film of the year so far. It provoked a lot of interesting theories as far as creation goes. It made me more afraid of the future than I already am. It provides two incredible performances from Vikander and Isaac and needs to be seen for the dance scene alone. I’m glad it came out when it did because it’s going to be buried by Avengers, but if you’re trying to see a film and want to duck around the Marvel crowds, this is your film. It’s one of the better sci-fi films to come out in some time and is a wonderful sign that Alex Garland will be making thought provoking films for a long time.

4.5/5