The Counselor

the-counselor-brad-pitt-michael-fassbenderJudd: Michael Fassbender plays the titular character in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor. Fassbender plays a lawyer, namelessly called Counselor throughout, who is recently married and suffering from financial troubles. Greed and desperation drive him to get involved with one of his drug smuggling clients and he soon finds that he is in over his head. Written by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) and featuring cast also including Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo and Brad Pitt, The Counselor has the star power to get people in the seats, but does it deliver?
 
The answer is a resounding, “No.” The movie has multiple faults which reduce what might be an edgy, noir thriller into an adolescent, misogynist bore. The script is crowded with meaningless characters and feels like it was penned by a 14 year old boy trying his hardest to recreate the pulpy feel of a 1940s crime drama. Instead of relying on the audience to understand the characters, Scott and McCarthy constantly bludgeon us with reminders of what trope each character represents. Bardem is an over-the-top playboy and king pin; Pitt is the existential drifter only in it for “the moment”; Cruz is the hapless victim suffering at the hands of someone she trusted. The worst offence comes from Diaz as the Femme Fatale. Anyone with a modicum of perception can tell the Femme Fatale is motivated by sex and money. We do not need to be reminded of that every time the character appears on screen and announces that some random act turns her on. Sex plays a huge role in The Counselor and, like a 14 year old boy, McCarthy seems to be both obsessed with it and scared shitless by it. The movie opens with Fassbender performing cunnilingus on Cruz, the purpose of which seems only to shock and titillate. The carnal gratuity escalates from there, climaxing in a scene between Diaz and a Ferrari.
 
Performances are fine, but nothing to rave about. Fassbender does his best with the material; while Bardem was directed to channel all his energy into his hair. Cruz and Pitt are wasted talent. The real standout is Diaz. She’s terrible. She’s the most sexless sexpot ever to be filmed. Whether this can be attributed to the script or her lack of talent compared to her fellow cast is debatable, but she’s painful to watch.
 
Production is very slick and glossy. The movie was recorded digitally and the picture is very sharp with absolutely no grain. It also appears that the movie is being projected at video 29.97 frames per second, rather than film’s traditional 24 fps, lending The Counselor a smooth feel. I actually liked the look very much. I felt it was a nice balance between the stuttery look of traditional film and the hyper-slick look of The Hobbit’s 48 fps.
 
It’s hard to tell exactly what Scott and McCarthy were aiming for, but the end result is a mess. It’s crowded and needlessly convoluted, but the worst offense is that it’s boring. The gratuitous sex is boring. Following the drugs from points A, B and C is boring. The characters’ suffering is boring.  It’s a movie that wants desperately to be tawdry and salacious, and it comes across a pretentious bore.
 
Judd:  1½ Stars
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Fifth Estate

The_Fifth_Estate_35322Judd: Treason and espionage. Toppling governments, banks and world leaders. One man’s mission to bring truth and transparency to the citizens of the world. Bill Condon directs and honey-voiced Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl star in Fifth Estate, the story of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. A movie about a man and his website that, in his mind, are one and the same inseparable entity.  Oh my god, I totally want to see this.
Swanner: Like a website, this has a lot of interesting elements but what it doesn’t have is an emotional tie to its audience. Both Cumberbatch and Bruhl are excellent in their roles but you never like them enough to feel anything for them. After that they never really focus on any one else so there is no emotional investment to the film what so ever. What’s going to happen to these two men? Who cares. Josh Singer’s screenplay likes to talk too much and all it really does is show what a douchebag Julian Assange must be.
Judd: You forget to mention the movie is painfully boring. Clocking in at two hours and four minutes, the script felt padded. Bruhl’s Daniel Berg is given a girlfriend, who may or may not have really existed, for the sole reason of giving him something to do. Without her, the movie could have been 15 minutes shorter and nothing would have been lost. Outside of that, Condon has Assange flying around the world, each location indicated by a stereotypical techno-anarchist font flashing on the screen, while Berg battles for the truth of Wikileaks in a muddled, confusing visual metaphor representing the Wikileaks virtual office. Oh, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci are there in the mix too, but it doesn’t matter.
Swanner: You know that Linney and Tucci were added so American audiences would have recognizable faces. You’re right they don’t matter but then what does? The film tries hard to be smart but it’s so smart that half way through they were talking over my head and I just lost interest. I found myself looking at the art direction and the textures of Bruhl’s moustache. I’m pretty sure it was a real moustache but if not great work from the make-up people.
Judd: I don’t think that the movie became too smart for you; I think you lost interest because it was so damn boring. Every information release was plagued by the same issues. Was it going too far? Does the leak put the informants’ lives at stake? How would the affected entity retaliate? It was the same scenario, over and over again. That’s not interesting. As far as telling the story of Assange’s personal life, Assange tells a couple stories about a cult and his tumultuous childhood – which could have been lies as we can tell that Assange is not the most upstanding person – he has a son and may dye his hair. Not exactly stuff that’s going to knock one back on one’s heels. The movie is inexcusably boring.
Swanner: 1½
Judd: 1½

Carrie

1373640639_carrie2013620Swanner: You might ask yourself why would anyone remake a classic film, especially one as iconic as Carrie. Director Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry) along with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Glee) and original screen writer Lawrence D. Cohen (Carrie 1976) did exactly that. Of course how wrong can you go when you add Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz and you have a pretty good movie…for a remake.
Judd: I disagree that it’s good “for a remake”. Carrie 2013 is good. Had Carrie ’76 never been released I believe this Carrie would become the icon that the original is. While Carrie ’13 pays homage in parts to Carrie ’76, it’s a totally different movie.  Carrie, Margaret and Sue are more fully developed characters, however, that development comes as a cost. Memorable characters from ’76 such as Norma, Helen even that bitch Chris and her boyfriend Billy are glossed over and become flat in this new iteration.  However, if it weren’t for ’76, I wouldn’t expect these characters to be more than the simple high school bullies they are.
Swanner: I agree that if there never was a Carrie ’76 this would be a fine standalone piece…but there was a Carrie ’76 and this is good for a remake. I’m sure there is a generation that has never seen the original that will definitely enjoy this film. Totally different? No, but they did modernize this nicely. They changed the shower scene to become cyber bullying, and the general the bullying that went on feels different in this No Bullying world. I also liked how Moore underplayed Carrie’s mother. She was scary because you understood what she was thinking watching her daughter become something unnatural.
Judd: I love Carrie ’76 in all its 70s De Palma cheesy glory, but I understand why resonates with you more. You lived it. There you were, Prom Night, 1976.  The theme was Stairway to Heaven.  You were home, alone in your room, which was done up in Harvest Gold and Burnt Umber, barely contained by your Angels Flights, listening to Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”, trying in vain to move your papasan chair with your mind.  Later in the shower, you dumped all your pink strawberry Earth Born shampoo over your head, and pretended to set the house on fire. I understand.
Swanner: Sure, I saw the original and, yes, I listen to “At Seventeen” ad nauseum, but I did go to the prom which was Stairway to Heaven with my girlfriend. By the way, we were an avocado green home and I only shampooed with Herbal Essence. I do love the original Carrie a lot and I think a lot of our readers do as well. When I say it’s good for a remake that’s telling them its okay to go. You were exactly right about the supporting cast being flat but the tradeoff is worth it. I did want to mention that Judy Greer does a nice job as Carrie’s gym teacher.
Judd: I liked Judy Greer and I thought Julian Moore was excellent as Margaret White. I was worried that I would be comparing her to Piper Laurie, but Moore made the character all her own. It also helped that the director and screenwriter were smart enough to take Laurie’s key monologues –my particular favorite, “I should have killed myself when he put it in me…” — and change them just enough to make them recognizable but not comparable. This really sums up the movie as a whole. Recognizable, but not comparable. And that’s a very good thing.
Swanner:  3 Stars
Judd:  3 ½ Stars

Captain Phillips

rs_560x415-130508145130-1024.TomHanks.CaptainPhillips.mh.050813Swanner: On April 8, 2009, four armed Somali pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama cargo ship in the Indian Ocean and attempted to hold it and its crew hostage…things didn’t work out too good. This is the plot of the new film called Captain Phillips which tells this true story. The film stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Paul Greengrass (Bourne Ultimatum) who seems to know how to make these kinds of films better than anyone. Screenplay by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) is good but a bit too long.

Judd: Running at two hours and 15 minutes and already knowing how it ends, the first half of the movie is slow. It opens with Phillips and his wife, pointlessly played by a Katherine Keener, driving to the airport and discussing their concerns for their children. Jump then to Capt. Phillips telling his crew to finish their coffee and get to work. Twenty minutes in, the pirates show up. None of these establishing moments come back to haunt the crew, so why have them? To establish that Phillips is a family man and a boss who gets respect and efficiency? Who cares? It’s not until Hanks is interacting with the pirates that the films really gets moving and we’re reminded just how phenomenally amazing Tom Hanks is.

Swanner: I’ll agree on what you say about Hanks performance. It’s flawless and moving…I cried. You’re right about the beginning being pointless but they can’t start the movie with the pirates pulling up next to the ship. How to make that beginning better, I don’t know. I walked in wondering how they were going to make this exciting considering I knew the outcome but they did. Edge of my seat exciting and that all about the acting, script and direction. The actors who played the pirates were all excellent as well.

Judd: Open the movie with Phillips going over his course and commenting to his first mate, “Uh oh, we’ll be in pirate territory.” There, I just saved you 30 minutes. I don’t want to discount the movie, or Tom Hanks, but this is a clear cut case of Hollywood thinking, “This is an Oscar movie, so it needs to be more than 120 minutes. Let’s pad it.” As much as I disliked Gravity, I’m hoping it turns the tide on this “Epic” trend. In fact, the real meat and potatoes of the movie are the last 30 minutes, when Navy is closing in and Philips is trapped on a lifeboat with the pirates, who have finally started acting like real human characters instead of deranged crackheads.

Swanner: Brian meant to say “Spoiler Alert!” The amazing Gravity did prove you can make an Oscar bound movie under 2 hours. Last year’s nine Best Picture nominees all came in over 2 hours long but the awful Beast of the Southern Wild. Five of them over two and a half hours long. You’re right that Captain Phillips was too long but by the last 30 minutes “most” people won’t care. The film is great and Tom Hanks is greater.

Judd: It’s not a spoiler when it’s a true story. That’s like saying the Confederacy losing the Civil War is a spoiler to Gone with the Wind. Captain Phillips is an excellent character piece that’s a showcase for Hank’s remarkable skills as an actor. Its taut and well-directed even if the runtime is a little bloated; it never wallows. Oh, and before anyone thinks I’m racist for calling the pirates crackheads, they were chewing khat, a plant that’s an amphetamine-like stimulant. Which actually makes them more like tweekers than crackheads. My apologies.

Swanner: 3½ Stars
Judd: 3½ Stars

Runner Runner

rs_560x415-130606134655-1024.Ben.JT.mh.060613Swanner: Richie, a Princeton college student (Justin Timberlake) who pays for school with on-line gambling, bottoms out and travels to Costa Rica to confront the on-line mastermind, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), whom he believes has swindled him. Directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) from a screenplay by writing partners Brian Koppelman and David Levien (The Illusionist) Runner Runner is a lukewarm thriller that is definitely missing edge.

Judd: With the pedigreed stars involved with the movie, you definitely go in expecting more than you’re given with Runner Runner. It feels like everyone from actors to the director phoned this one in. The movie has no heart, no emotion. It moves from scene to scene without making the least bit of impact. While it’s not outright terrible, at least a terrible movie will illicit some sort of feeling, Runner Runner is made for mindless consumption. Background noise for when you’re playing Candy Crush on your tablet.

Swanner: You are reading my mind. Besides being edgeless I just kept thinking this looks so familiar and then I realized it was because this is the same storyline from like 100 other movies. Guy gets pissed after losing all his money to a crook, ends up becoming the same guy he hates but changes giving the bad guy the sting at the end. It’s been done before and better.

Judd: We had a string of movies made last year that felt like treatments that were never developed into something unique. Runner Runner must have been a carryover from that batch. Even the filming location of Puerto Rico, substituting for Costa Rica, was completely wasted. When you compare Runner Runner with movies like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Rum Diary, films that use the location for all its worth – you wonder why they even bothered using more than a soundstage.

Swanner: That’s very true. They kept talking about paradise and all we got were inside shots but then the film had no style to it. For a thirty million dollar budget I didn’t see it up on the screen. The one plus is that it’s a mere 91 minutes long…felt longer but its 91 minutes. This is a movie that I’d tell people to stay home and wait to see it on cable. No visit to the theatre is necessary. The film should be called Runaway Runaway

Judd: Oh, it wasn’t that bad, it just wasn’t that good. I agree viewers should wait for cable, and I mean basic cable. Runner Runner is going to feel most comfortable playing repeatedly on TBS or WGN, when you can watch 15 minutes while folding laundry one day, and then another 15 minutes while making dinner some other day.

Swanner: 1½ Stars
Judd: 2 Stars

Gravity

gravity112920129Swanner: Every year there seems to be that one movie that just wows you from start to finish. It sets a pace and you just have to hold on and enjoy the ride. The new Alfonzo Cuaron film Gravity is that movie. Two astronaut survive and accident in space that leaves them stranded, adrift without a ship. Academy Award winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star. Director Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and his son Jonas Cuaron have written a beautiful script of survival and redemption.

Judd: Dear readers, Tom is not to be trusted; his last couple solo reviews demonstrated that. Without my voice of reason, movies like Battle of the Year get three and a half stars, while movies like Rush get one. Between his weight-related dementia and his sick and obsessive infatuation with Sandra Bullock I implore you, Dear Reader, to skip what Tom writes and read the truth. Gravity, aka 127 Hours in SPACE (Space, space, space, space), is a bore that can only be measured in units of Sophia Coppolas. It’s like Marie Antoinette without the soundtrack to keep you awake.

Swanner: While this film stands with a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes one must question Brian’s hatred for the Oscar winning actress. Is it Bullock he hates or is it just women in general? I fear it may be the latter. Oscar winner Bullock really shines here with her performance…127 Hours is actually a great comparison. Her performance is emotional as well as physical. Knowing that Bullock does most of her acting with a green screen, much like the brilliant work of Suraj Sharma in Life of PI, shows you why the Oscar buzz is all about Bullock.

Judd: Bullock is one of the most talentless and overrated actresses to come along since Sally Kirkland. Don’t blame my seeing her as she is on my misogyny; they are not related in this instance. Bullock merely takes up area on the screen in this snoozer. While I really liked the 3D and special effects used to create the weightlessness of space, weightless is the same word I would use to describe the whole film. There was a complete lack of emotional heft behind a character that was supposedly isolated in infinite space with no contact to the earth below and slim chance for survival.

Swanner: Once again Brian goes into a movie looking to hate it and he does hate it. Gravity is an awe inspiring roller coaster ride set on the back drop of outer space. The cinematography and the effects are insane. You actually dodge the debris as it comes flying by with this terrific 3D. I can actually say the 3D is important for the film and the affect it’s trying to recreate. Gravity is not only spectacular film but one that needs to be seen in the theatres. Do not make the mistake of waiting for DVD.

Judd: I readily admit the movie is a marvel to see on screen, I agree it has to been seen in 3D – though, I would recommend skipping it altogether. Gravity is Avatar starring Louise Fletcher. A visually stunning, but ultimately mediocre movie starring a mediocre actress. What Bullock cannot provide emotionally, Cuaron and composer Steve Price try to inspire with an over the top, graceless score. By the end, trumpets are blaring, strings are soaring and if I’m not mistaken, it was all topped off with a rolling cymbal crash. John Philip Sousa wrote with more subtlety.

Swanner: 4 Stars
Judd: 1½ Stars