Film Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead (dir by Taylor Sheridan)


In Those Who Wish Me Dead, Angelina Jolie plays Hannah, a smokejumper who is haunted by a mistake that led to a family dying in a forest fire. All of her recent psych evals seem to indicate that Hannah is self-destructive and a danger to herself and potentially others. Of course, it doesn’t help that Hannah keeps doing things that are self-destructive and that put her and potentially others in danger. She’s watched over by her fellow smokejumpers and her ex-boyfriend, Ethan (Jon Bernthal). Even Ethan’s pregnant wife, Allison (Medina Senghorse) is looking out for Hannah.

Hannah, meanwhile, finds herself looking out for Connor (Finn Carter), a young boy whose father has been murdered by two ruthless assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult). Because the boy has evidence that could lead to the downfall of an evil mob boss (played by Tyler Perry because, hey, why not?), the assassins search for Connor and they even set a forest fire to cover their tracks.

Trapped in the wilderness, Hannah, Connor, Ethan, and Allison have to somehow survive until the fire burns itself out and the smokejumpers can reach them. Meanwhile, the two assassins are closing in….

I was initially pretty enthusiastic about the prospect of watching Those Who Wish Me Dead on HBOMax but, ten minutes into the movie, I found myself wondering if maybe I was watching something that was made in 1998 and somehow not released until 2021. Everything about the film — from Hannah’s tortured backstory to the verbosely evil assassin played by Gillen — felt like it belonged in a direct-to-video thriller or maybe in a pilot for an old USA Network show starring Cynthia Rothrock and Lorenzo Lamas. It was very easy to watch this movie and to imagine Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze showing up as brothers fighting “the wildfire of the century!”

Oddly enough, Angelina Jolie probably could have starred in the 1998 version of this film. That’s how long we’ve been taking it for granted that Angelina Jolie can confront any crisis or any villain and basically kick its ass. That’s a huge reason why I was so looking forward to seeing Those Who Wish Me Dead. It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to watch Angelina Jolie play an action hero and the fact that she was doing it in a film directed by Taylor Sheridan just made it all the more exciting. Unfortunately, though, Jolie doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in Those Who Wish Me Dead. There’s not much of the unpredictable spontaneity or the sense of danger that, in the past, made Angelina Jolie one of the most exciting actresses around. It’s easy to imagine that, just a few years ago, Jolie could have worked wonders playing someone as openly self-destructive as Hannah but, in Those Who Wish Me Dead, she instead often seems to just be going through the motions. If anything, Aidan Gillen makes a bigger impression, despite the fact that he’s just playing a standard bad guy.

(Speaking of bad guys, why is Tyler Perry playing a crime lord? There’s nothing menacing about Tyler Perry. The fact that Perry only appears in one scene makes his miscasting all the more obvious. As soon as you’ve said, “Wait — why is Tyler Perry in this movie?,” he’s gone. Perry needed at least two extra scenes where he could have killed someone or at least maybe cursed a little or anything else that could have established him as someone other than Tyler Perry making a strange cameo appearance.)

Taylor Sheridan both directed and had a hand in the script. Sheridan previously wrote Hell and High Water and Sicario and both directed and wrote Wind River. These are three of the best films of the past decade and, yet, in the early scenes especially, Those Who Wish Me Dead almost feels almost like a parody of those previous films. The early scenes, where Hannah hangs out with the other smokejumpers, especially ring false, with the blue collar dialogue feeling forced and artificial. Sheridan does better when directing the action scenes but there’s still an overwhelming blandness to the whole film. There’s too much talent involved for Those Who Wish Me Dead to be terrible but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel that there’s also too much talent for it to be this forgettable.

Angelina Jolie and Taylor Sheridan team up in the Those Who Wish Me Dead trailer


When it comes to writing, anyone who’s watched either Sicario, Hell or High Water or Yellowstone know that Taylor Sheridan’s a force to be reckoned with. The Sons of Anarchy alum has a pretty good track record. With his latest, Those Who Wish Me Dead, he’s also working in the Director’s chair, his first film since 2017’s Wind River.

Whether it’s onscreen or through activism, Academy Award Winner Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted , Maleficent) always maintains a powerful presence. Jolie’s performance mixed with Sheridan’s script should prove to be really interesting. Based on Michael Koryta’s book, Jolie plays a forest firefighter who finds herself protecting a small child on the run. The film also stars Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite), Jon Bernthal (The Accountant), Tyler Perry (Gone Girl), Aiden Gillen (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) and Finn Little (Angel of Mine).

Those Who Wish Me Dead is part of the WB’s Same Day Premieres, meaning that HBO Max subscribers can watch the film when it’s released on May 14, or in theatres.

Ford v Ferrari (dir. by James Mangold)


fordvferrari posterIt’s rare for me to say that I enjoyed a film so much that I didn’t want it to end, but James Mangold’s Ford v. Ferrari hits all the right notes. A fantastic cast, impressive visuals on the races, scenes that flow without any time wasted and sound that begs to be heard on a surround system. It’s no surprise that the film earned Four Oscar Nominations – Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing and Best Picture, all of which are well deserved. If the lineup this year wasn’t so stacked, I’d say that Ford v Ferrari would score quite a bit. It can go any way, but It may end up like The Shawshank Redemption – A great film that could be eclipsed by giants.

Based on a true story, Ford v. Ferrari focuses on the Ford Motor Company in the mid 60’s, down on its luck and looking for a way to stay ahead of the game. Henry Ford II, played by a scene stealing Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), asks his workers to come up with an idea. A young Lee Iacoccoa  (Jon Bernthal, The Punisher) feels the best way to do so is to attempt to win the famed 24 hour race at Le Mans in France. The LeMans is dominated by Ferrari, who hand manufactures their machines to be legends in the racing circuit. If Ford could win, it would put them in a better light to consumers, but winning requires more than just a fast car.

Ford enlists the help of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon, The Martian), along with his brash and skillful driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale, 3:10 to Yuma), Ken has a few issues getting along with others, but his knowledge of cars is brilliant. Shelby continuously goes to bat for Miles, who isn’t exactly poster boy material in the eyes of Ford.  Together, they work on building a competitive vehicle. The poster may suggest the story is about the cars, but at its heart, I felt that Ford v. Ferrari was more about the friendship between Shelby and Miles than anything else. Their mutual love of cars and racing is what ties it all together.

When it comes to the technical points of racing, Ford v Ferrari’s script doesn’t ask you to know much about cars going in. Just about everything you need to about the LeMans and the abilities of the cars is explained through the characters over time. Car gurus may find areas where liberties are taken, but casual watchers should find themselves entertained.

Kudos goes out to the casting for Ford v. Ferrari. Josh Lucas (Poseidon) plays the heavy in the film as a Ford businessman who would love to see Miles out of the spotlight. Caitriona Balfe (Starz’ Outlander) has some good moments with Bale as Miles’ wife, Mollie, though she happens to be the only woman in the film with many lines. Given that the story takes place in the 1960s and its guys building cars, it made sense. Playing Miles son, Peter, Noah Jupe (Honey Boy, A Quiet Place) is that character that helps the audience understand the nuances of racing. I kind of wish Bernthal had more to do here, but he’s cool when he’s on screen and carries his weight easily.

The film belongs to Damon and Bale, though. Damon’s Shelby is full of attitude. He knows what he wants to get done, what needs to happen and just does it. Damon carries this with ease, and it’s easy to forget that the actor is there at times (for me, anyway). Bale does the same, but is on a different level, with his Ken Miles being both focused and a little wild, perhaps even cynical. There’s a great mix of comedy and drama between the two actors.

The sound quality of Ford v. Ferrari is amazing. If you had the chance to see it in the cinema, consider yourself lucky. The rev of the engines are crisp, the shifting the of gears sublime. I’d be somewhat shocked if the film doesn’t walk away with the Sound Mixing / Sound Editing Oscars. From a visual standpoint, the races themselves offer some nice tracking shots, though there may be one or two scenes that particularly stand out.

Mangold and Phedon Papamichael (his Director of Photography for Walk the Line) perform some interesting tricks with the camera. With the races themselves, the cuts are smooth. You have dynamic tracking shots of cars  in some cases while others are lit enough to be comfortable. One of my favorite scenes involves a play on shadows that makes it appear like you’re watching a race, complete with the sound of the cars in the background. It’s subtle touches like that make me wonder why it wasn’t nominated for Best Cinematography. I should also note that for a 2:30 minute film, it flies by. I found very few (if any) moments where I felt a scene wasn’t particularly needed to push the narrative along. You can thank Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow) for that screenplay.

I can’t say I have any real problems with Ford v Ferrari. Overall, it’s an entertaining film right from the start that gets you into the story and behind the wheel.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Wolf of Wall Street (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Suck it, The Big Short The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film to be made about Wall Street this century.

Martin Scorsese’s 2013 financial epic tells the true story of a group of rather sleazy people who got rich and who basically, to quote Robert De Niro from an earlier Scorsese film, “fucked it all up.”  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving what I still consider to be the best performance of his career) is the son of an accountant named Max (Rob Reiner).  Fresh out of college, Jordan gets a job on Wall Street.  Under the mentorship of the eccentric (but rich) Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan discovers that the job of a stock broker is to dupe people into buying stock that they might not need while, at the same time, making a ton of money for himself.  With the money comes the cocaine and the prostitutes and everything else that fuels the absurdly aggressive and hyper-masculine world of Wall Street.  Jordan is intrigued but, after the stock market crashes in 1987, he’s also out of a job.

Fortunately, Jordan is never one to give up.  He may no longer be employed on Wall Street but that doesn’t mean that he can’t sell stocks.  He gets a job pushing “penny stocks,” which are low-priced stocks for very small companies.  Because the price of the stock is so low, the brokers get a 50% commission on everything they sell.  Because Jordan is such an aggressive salesman, he manages to make a fortune by convincing people to buy stock in otherwise worthless companies.  As Jordan’s boss (played, in an amusing cameo, by Spike Jonze) explains it, what they’re doing isn’t exactly regulated by the government, which just means more money for everyone!  Yay!

Working with his neighbor, Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill, at his most eccentric), Jordan starts his own brokerage company.  Recruiting all of his friends (the majority of whom are weed dealers who never graduated from high school), Jordan starts Stratton Oakmont.  Using high-pressure sales tactics and a whole lot of other unethical and occasionally illegal techniques, Jordan soon makes a fortune.  When Forbes Magazine publishes an expose that portrays Jordan as being little more than a greedy con man, Stratton Oakmont is flooded by aspiring stock brokers who all want to work for “the wolf of Wall Street.”

And, for a while, Jordan has everything that he wants.  While the Stratton Oakmont offices become a den of nonstop drugs and sex, Jordan buys a huge mansion, a nice car, and marries a model named Naomi (Margot Robbie).  His employees literally worship Jordan as he begins and ends every working day with inspirational (and often hilariously profane) sermons, encouraging his people to get out there and sell no matter what.  Of course, making that much money, Jordan has to find a way to hide it from the IRS.  Soon, with the help of Naomi’s aunt (Joanna Lumley), he is smuggling millions of dollars into Switzerland where a banker (Jean Dujardin, who is both hilariously suave and hilariously sleazy a the time) helps him hide it all.

When Jordan learns that the FBI and SEC are looking into his dealings, Jordan invites Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) to come visit him on his yacht and, in a scene that launched a thousand memes, the two of them have a friendly conversation that’s largely made up of passive aggressive insults.  Jordan taunts Denham over the fact that Denham washed out when he tried to get a job on Wall Street.  Denham laughingly asks Jordan to repeat something that sounded like it may have been a bribe.  When Denham leaves the boat, Jordan taunts him by tossing a wad of hundred dollars bills into the wind….

And here’s the thing.  Yes, the media and our political class tells us that we’re supposed to hate that Jordan Belforts of the world.  One can imagine Bernie Sanders having a fit while watching Jordan brag about how he cheated the IRS.  If Adam McKay or Jay Roach had directed this film, one can imagine that they would have used the yacht scene to portray Jordan Belfort as pure evil.  (McKay probably would have tossed in Alfred Molina as a waiter, asking Belfort if he wants to feast on the lost future of the children of America.)  But the truth of the matter is that most viewers, even if they aren’t willing to admit it, will secretly be cheering for Jordan when he throws away that money.  DiCaprio is so flamboyantly charismatic and Scorsese, as director, so perfectly captures the adrenaline high of Jordan’s lifestyle that you can’t help but be sucked in.  He may be greedy and unethical but he just seems to be having so much fun!  Just as how Goodfellas and Casino portrayed life in the mafia as being an intoxicating high (as well as being more than a little bit dangerous), The Wolf of Wall Street refrains from passing easy judgment and it steadfastly refuses to climb onto a moral high horse.  Jordan narrates his own story, often talking directly to the camera and almost always defending his actions.  As a director, Scorsese is smart enough to let us make up own minds about how we feel about Jordan and his story.

Of course, when Jordan falls, it’s a dramatic fall.  That said, it’s not quite as dramatic of a fall as what happened to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Robert De Niro in Casino.  No one gets blown up, for instance.  But Jordan does lose everything that gave his life meaning.  By the end of the film, he’s been reduced to giving seminars and challenging attendees to sell him a pen.  (“Well,” one hapless gentleman begins, “it’s a very nice pen…..”)  During the film’s final scenes, it’s not so much a question of whether Jordan has learned anything from his fall.  Instead, the movie leaves you wondering if he’s even capable of learning.  At heart, he’s the wolf of Wall Street.  That’s his nature and it’s really the only thing that he knows how to do.  He’s a bit like Ray Liotta living in the suburbs at the end of Goodfellas.  He’s alive.  He has his freedom and a future.  But he’s still doesn’t quite fit in.  Much like Moses being denied the opportunity to physically enter the Promised Land, Jordan’s punishment for his hubris is to spend his life in exile from where he truly belongs.  And yet, you know that Jordan — much like Henry Hill — probably wouldn’t change a thing if he had the chance to live it all over again.  He’d just hope that he could somehow get a better ending while making the same decisions.

Unlike something like The Big Short, which got bogged down in Adam McKay’s vapid Marxism, The Wolf of Wall Street works precisely because it refuses to pass judgment.  It refuses to tell us what to think.  I imagine that a lot of people watched The Wolf of Wall Street and were outraged by the way Jordan Belfort made his money.  I imagine that an equal number of people watched the film and started thinking about how much they would love to be Jordan Belfort.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, long, and sometimes excessive film that dares the audience to think of themselves.  That’s one reason why it’ll be remembered after so many other Wall Street films are forgotten.

The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for best picture of the year.  It lost to 12 Years A Slave.

Trailer: The Punisher – Season 2


the punisher

The first season of The Punisher on Netflix ended up being better than what had been advertised. The series and it’s ultraviolent tone became a divisive factor in how the show was scene.

Some saw it as the true adaptation of the titular character and his anti-hero status within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Others saw it as poor taste considering the rash of mass shootings and gun violence that’s plagued the country the last couple of years.

There was no disagreement in that Jon Bernthal owned and seemed born to play the role of vengeance-fueled and grief-stricken Marine veteran Frank Castle. His portrayal not just of Frank Castle but his vigilante alter-ego, The Punisher, was like watching a force of nature on screen.

It was a no-brainer that a second season of the series would be set into production and Netflix didn’t hesitate. It’s a bit bittersweet knowing that no matter how good season 2 turns out there’s a high probability that this will be the final season of The Punisher on Netflix as every Netflix-produced Marvel show has been cancelled the past year with only the upcoming seasons of The Punisher and Jessica Jones left.

Season 2 is set of a January 18, 2019 release date on Netflix worldwide.

Film Review: Baby Driver (dir by Edgar Wright)


Baby Driver, the new film from director Edgar Wright, is awesome!

That’s the succinct way of putting it and, if you really want to fully enjoy this film, I suggest that you stop reading this review now. There’s no way that a review cannot, to a certain extent, spoil a movie.  Baby Driver is a kinetic blend of action, comedy, romance, and music and it is a movie that you should see without any preconceived notions and expectations.  It’s a movie that earns the right to surprise you with just how good and entertaining it is.  It’s a movie that you should experience fresh.

So, go see the movie.  Seriously, go right now.  GET OUT OF HERE AND SEE THE MOVIE!  This review will still be waiting for you when you get back.  Who knows?  Maybe, while you’re watching the movie, I’ll actually correct some of the typos.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, go away.  I’ll wait for you to return.

la dee da la dee da…

Okay, did you see the movie?  It’s really great, isn’t it?

As a result of the childhood car accident that killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been left with a permanent case of tinnitus.  He uses music to drown out the constant ringing in his ears.  There’s almost never a time that Baby isn’t listening to his ipod.  When we first see Baby, he’s sitting behind the wheel of a car, singing along with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion.  The second time that we see him, he’s getting coffee while listening to Harlem Shuffle.  In a delirious homage to Singin’ In The Rain (and in a scene that puts the opening traffic jam of La La Land to shame), Baby literally dances across the streets of Los Angeles.  For Baby, every day is a musical.

Of course, Baby doesn’t just use music to block out the ringing.  He also uses the music (and an ever-present pair of sunglasses) to keep the world out.  He rarely speaks or even makes eye contact and, as long as he’s listening to his ipod, he has an excuse not to interact.  He doesn’t have to explain the small scars around his eyes or how he makes his money.  The few times that he does speak to people, it’s to record their voices, which he then turns into music.  Music and the driving are the only two ways this orphan can express his feelings.

When the movie begins, Baby appears to be close to only two men.  One is his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones).  Baby lives with Joseph, in an apartment where Baby regularly stashes thousands of dollars.  Joseph always watches in disapproval as Baby hides the money under the floorboards.  Joseph signs at Baby that he deserves better than the life he’s leading.  Baby always signs back that he’s only a few jobs away from being done.

Baby’s other father figure is Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Doc is a rich and connected man.  At times, he seems to sincerely care about Baby but there are other times when Doc is just as quick to threaten to kill him and everyone that he loves.  Doc plans bank robberies for a living.  Doc may change associates from robbery to robbery but one thing always remains consistent.  Baby is always his driver because Baby is the best.  As Doc explains it, the first time he saw Baby, he was stealing Doc’s Mercedes.  Baby drives for Doc as a way of paying off his debt to the older man but you still believe Baby’s sincerity when he tells Doc, “We’re a team.”  (One the film’s best throw-away jokes is the line where Doc reveals that he knows where Baby got the idea to say that.)

Things start to change for Baby when he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress who appears to love music just as much he does.  For Baby and Debora, it’s love at first sight but Doc has one more job that he needs Baby for.  It’s their most dangerous job yet and, making thing even more complicated, are the three people who Doc has recruited to work with Baby.  Buddy (Jon Hamm) is a former wall street banker who is eager to prove what a badass he is.  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is his wife, who enjoys talking about how many of their former partners have died.  And finally, there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), a complete and total psycho who brags about never telling a single story that doesn’t end with someone getting killed.

Baby Driver is a propulsive blast of pure adrenaline, perhaps the closest that we will ever get to a genuine pulp musical.  The action scenes left me literally breathless.  I saw the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and, before the film started, there was a clip of Edgar Wright listing his favorite car chases.  He listed all of the usual suspects, Bullitt, The French Connection, Mad Max: Thunder Road.  The chases scenes in Baby Driver can proudly be listed next to all of those scenes.  This is genuinely exciting crime film, featuring wonderfully over-the-top turns from Foxx, Hamm, and especially Spacey.

But you know what?  Baby Driver may be a great action film but what makes it special is that it’s also a film with a heart.  Rather bravely, Edgar Wright has not only made an action musical but he’s also mixed in a very sincere and unabashedly sentimental love story.  You never doubt for a second that Baby would give up everything — music, driving, even his life — for Debora.  The scenes between Baby and Debora are almost deliriously romantic.  Ansel Elgort and Lily James both share a very likable and very real chemistry.  You want things to work out for Debora and Baby.  You feel like they belong together and, when it looks like either Baby or Debora might be in danger, you worry for both of them.  As exciting as the film’s action sequences were, it was the ending that brought tears to my eyes and that was almost totally due to the performances of Elgort and James.

Baby Driver is one of the best films that I’ve seen so far this year.  See it this weekend!  If you’ve already seen it, see it again!  This film deserves to be rewarded.

 

 

Playing Catch-Up: The Accountant, Carnage Park, The Choice, The Legend of Tarzan


Continuing my look back at the films of 2016, here are four mini-reviews of some films that really didn’t make enough of an impression to demand a full review.

The Accountant (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

2016 was a mixed year for Ben Affleck.  Batman v. Superman may have been a box office success but it was also such a critical disaster that it may have done more harm to Affleck’s legacy than good.  If nothing else, Affleck will spend the rest of his life being subjected to jokes about Martha.  While Ben’s younger brother has become an Oscar front runner as a result of his performance in Manchester By The Sea, Ben’s latest Oscar effort, Live By Night, has been released to critical scorn and audience indifference.

At the same time, Ben Affleck also gave perhaps his best performance ever in The Accountant.  Affleck plays an autistic accountant who exclusively works for criminals and who has been raised to be an expert in all forms of self-defense.  The film’s plot is overly complicated and director Gavin O’Connor struggles to maintain a consistent tone but Affleck gives a really great performance and Anna Kendrick reminds audiences that she’s capable of more than just starring in the Pitch Perfect franchise.

Carnage Park (dir by Mickey Keating)

I really wanted to like Carnage Park, because it was specifically advertised as being an homage to the grindhouse films of the 1970s and y’all know how much I love those!  Ashley Bell plays a woman who gets kidnapped twice, once by two bank robbers and then by a psycho named Wyatt (Pat Healy).  Healy chases Bell through the desert, hunting her Most Dangerous Game-style.  There are some intense scenes and both Bell and Healy are well-cast but, ultimately, it’s just kind of blah.

The Choice (dir by Ross Katz)

The Choice was last year’s Nicholas Sparks adaptation.  It came out, as all Nichols Sparks adaptations do, just in time for Valentine’s Day and it got reviews that were so negative that a lot of people will never admit that they actually saw it.  Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer play two people who meet, fall in love, and marry in North Carolina.  But then Palmer is in a car accident, ends up in a coma, and Walker has to decide whether or not to turn off the life support.

As I said, The Choice got terrible reviews and it’s certainly not subtle movie but it’s actually better than a lot of films adapted from the work of Nicholas Sparks.  Walker and Palmer are a likable couple and, at the very least, The Choice deserves some credit for having the courage not to embrace the currently trendy cause of euthanasia.  That alone makes The Choice better than Me Before You.

The Legend of Tarzan (dir by David Yates)

Alexander Skarsgard looks good without his shirt on and Samuel L. Jackson is always a fun to watch and that’s really all that matters as far as The Legend of Tarzan is concerned.  It’s an enjoyable enough adventure film but you won’t remember much about it afterward.  Christoph Waltz is a good actor but he’s played so many villains that it’s hard to get excited over it anymore.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: We Are Your Friends (dir by Max Joseph)


We_Are_Your_Friends

So, this morning, I read some of the harsh reviews that mainstream critics have given the new film We Are Your Friends and I have to admit that I’m starting to get a little ticked off.

That’s not to say that We Are Your Friends is a very good movie.  I saw it last night with my BFF Evelyn and we enjoyed it but mostly, that was because we talked through almost the entire movie.  And yes, I know that it’s rude to talk through a movie but seriously, the theater was nearly deserted.  When we bought our tickets, there was a huge crowd of people gathered outside the theater but it turns out that they were all buying tickets for War Room.

Anyway, We Are Your Friends tells the story of Cole (Zac Efron), a DJ who lives with three idiot friends (who are so identical to the group from Entourage that one of them is even named Squirrel).  He spends his days working at a mortgage company and his nights DJing.  Then he meets James (Wes Bentley), a formerly great DJ who is on his way down.  James takes Cole under his wing and mentors him and teaches him how to get a room dancing.  But, Cole ends up falling in love with James’s abused girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), which leads to… well, it leads to exactly what you think it’s going to lead to.  Storywise, We Are Your Friends is not going to win any points for originality.

While we were watching the movie, Evelyn and I agreed that Zac Efron is a strange actor.  I mean, yes, he’s hot and yes, he’s talented enough that he can walk while delivering his lines but, at the same time, his dramatic performances always feel oddly empty.  You watch him and you get the feeling that he’s still trying way too hard to prove that there’s more to him than just High School Musical.  He’s like the guy who you have crush on until you actually get to know him and discover that, beyond his looks, he’s really not that interesting.  Efron always seems to be putting in a lot of effort but, whenever you watch one of his performances, you get the feeling that there’s not much going on underneath the beautiful surface.  For all intents and purposes, Zac Efron is the anti-Gosling.

And some movies have made good use of Efron’s limits.  He was perfectly cast in Me and Orson Welles, for instance.  And he’s good in comedies, where he can play against his good looks.  But in a film like We Are Your Friends, where you’re actually supposed to have some sort of emotional stake in his hopes and dreams, Efron just feels miscast.

That said, I still enjoyed We Are Your Friends and I think that a lot of the reviews have been a bit too harsh.  Why did I enjoy the movie?  It all comes down to the music and the dancing.  If you love EDM, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in We Are Your Friends.  And if you’re not into EDM — well, then fuck off.  I could sit here and write another 500 words about how clichéd the storyline is but, ultimately, that’s not what the film is about.  The film is about the music.  The film is about the ecstasy of dancing all night and then waking up with the beats still playing in your head.  At its best, that’s what this film captures.  It’s not a great film.  A month from now, I have a feeling that it’ll be a struggle to remember much about We Are Your Friends.  But I’ll probably still be listening to the soundtrack.

That’s what a lot of the harsh reviews are missing but then again, most mainstream film reviews are written by people who are too old to appreciate EDM in the first place.  EDM is music for people who are young and who are still capable of enjoying the present and dreaming about the future.  Boring old mainstream critics will never get it and that’s why the reviews of We Are Your Friends feel so condescending.  The critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads: “We Are Your Friends boasts magnetic stars and glimmers of insight, but they’re lost in a clichéd coming-of-age story as programmed as the soundtrack’s beats.”  Now I know how those Christians who went to see War Room feel whenever a reviewer thinks he’s being clever when he says that one of their films “doesn’t have a prayer.”  It’s all so condescending and cutesy.

Listen, We Are Your Friends is not a particularly good film.  But it’s not as bad as you might think.  The plot is bad but the music is good and really, isn’t that the point?

4 Shots From 4 Films: Sabotage, The Raid 2, John Wick, Fury


2014 had it’s share of very good action films and here are four that I was particularly drawn to. While the film themselves were of varying degrees of quality in terms of storytelling. These 4 films all had one thing that I enjoyed despite their films’ flaws. They all had action scenes that I thought were quite excellent.

You have gritty present-day action thriller, an operatic gangster epic, a revenge thriller and a war film. One stars an aging action star back from playing politician. Another a foreign film whose filmmaker and star have set the bar for all action films for years to come. Then there’s the stunt coordinators and 2nd unit directors finally making their mark with their first feature-length film. Lastly, a war film that brings the brutality of World War II tank warfare to the forefront.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Sabotage (dir. by David Ayer)

Sabotage (dir. by David Ayer)

John Wick (dir. by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch)

John Wick (dir. by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch)

Scenes I Love: Punisher: War Zone


PunisherWarZone

In honor of Jon Bernthal being cast as the latest in a line of Frank Castles aka the Punisher for Marvel’s Daredevil series on Netflix, I thought I’d share with all my favorite scene from the only Punisher film worth the name. The film this scene is from was Punisher: War Zone by Lexi Alexander.

While the casting of Jon Bernthal looks to be a near perfect stunt-casting by Marvel for Daredevil‘s upcoming second season on Netflix, I thought Ray Stevenson’s portrayal as the psychotic antihero in Punisher: War Zone was the best one comic book fans have gotten. Dolph Lundgren was the first Punisher and the less said about him the better. Then Thomas Jane took a stab on portraying the character to some success though still not doling out enough punishing in my book.

With Ray Stevenson we got a Frank Castle who was well into his vigilante killing-spree of the criminal underworld. This was a man possessed to kill in as brutal and efficient manner every violent criminal he comes across. The film itself was so over-the-top that too many thought it was too campy in a violent sense when Lexi Alexander actually tapped into what made the Punisher tick and put it up on the screen. It also helped that Ray Stevenson owned the role he was given.

Jon Bernthal has some big shoes to fill, but with the success of Daredevil the series I do believe he has a chance to make the character his own.