This Is Where I Leave You: REVIEW

When their father dies, the Altman family is forced to spend a week together in the same house to honor their late father’s dying wish for them to hold a Jewish Shiva as they mourn his passing.

An incredible cast has been corralled for This is Where I Leave You, which – despite it being moderately entertaining – can’t help but feel like a sort of letdown.  Jason Bateman and Adam Driver are the film’s highlights, but Tina Fey and others’ comedic talents are completely wasted.

But the story has so many moving pieces and storylines that it’s juggling that it’s a miracle it works at all. It does, but barely. TIWILY has plenty of joyful small moments even if they don’t add up to an impressive whole.

Aside from a completely out-of-left-field plot twist towards the end that adds nothing to the story and seems forcibly added in to appeal to a certain demographic, This Is Where I Leave You is pretty entertaining throughout, and its dark comedy adequately tackles this story about how life will never be “perfect,” and how that’s okay.

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This Is Where I Leave You is rated R for language, sexual content, and drug use.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Calvary: REVIEW

Father James must continue to comfort his daughter and his own parishioners in the midst of a troubling threat on his own life.

Intense and dark at times, and slow and compassionate at others, Calvary is a soulful, humorous, and slow-burning drama that proves a great showcase for Brendan Gleeson. Calvary trudges along, but it’s a compelling study of broken people, of faith, and of what exactly we’re willing to die for.

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Calvary is rated R for language and brief violence. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Guardians of the Galaxy: REVIEW

If it seems like everyone around you wants to take Guardians of the Galaxy to Vegas, marry it, and have its children, you’re not alone.

Forced to work alongside a group of misfits to save a mysterious orb from the hands of a powerful villain, amateur thief Peter Quill believes fate has brought them together to save the world.

What to make of Marvel’s insanely successful Guardians of the Galaxy? Is it the best thing since sliced bread?

No.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.
In fact, many may be surprised to learn that Guardians is the first Marvel film I’ve given a positive review.  Its irreverent and zany humor mixed with its fun retro soundtrack brings a fresh feeling to the superhero genre, and the film’s full of a number of intimate and intense moments.

The prison escape scene, in particular, makes Guardians shine out above the rest. And let’s not forget Chris Pratt — Hollywood’s most unlikely leading man. The chubby idiot from Parks and Rec sure does clean up good, and his charm and wit single-handedly make Guardians what it is.

But it still can’t shake off its stereotypical Marvel superhero trappings. Yes, it’s predictable. And yes, it’s about a super bad guy trying to destroy the world. Again. Which is becoming such an unbelievably tired plot point that I couldn’t help but mentally check out whenever Ronan was onscreen.

Guardians of the Galaxy features a great ensemble cast that play to each other’s strengths, and a surprisingly emotional plot. The movie doesn’t have much substance, but it’s a fun time with memorable characters. Long after the credits roll, you’ll remember Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora and Star Lord — but probably not what they were trying to guard in the first place.

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Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13 for “intense sci fi action and violence, and brief language.”

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

When the Game Stands Tall: REVIEW

The De La Salle High School Spartans had the longest winning streak in sports history — 151 games.

Then they lost.

When the legacy of an entire city/school/generation is resting on your shoulders, it’s more than just a football game. When The Game Stands Tall is the true story of how this group of high school students — and their fearless coach — learned to cope with the loss and grow through the trials to become a better football team and better men.

It’s easy to understand the pressures and difficulties the characters must have gone through, but their story deserved a better telling than When the Game Stands Tall. Jim Caviezel — in all his easy-going confidence — is compelling as Coach Ladoucer, but the story is just predictable and boring. 

WTGST should have tried to be its own thing instead of simply copy every other sports movie that came before it — and did it much better. All the tropes are there — the over-confident star who learns to play as part of a team, the inspirational speeches in the locker room, the nerdy kid who finally gets to play in the big game, the overbearing dad who expects too much from his child athlete — but for no real reason.

It may be an entertaining diversion for some, but When the Game Stands Tall remains a hackneyed lesser version of every other inspirational sports movie that came before it.

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When the Game Stands Tall is rated PG for thematic material and brief sports violence. It should be fine for most families!

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

What If: REVIEW

Burned by too many bad relationships, Wallace decides to put his love life on hold.
Then he meets her.

Chantry is his perfect girl. She’s cute, quirky, funny, and he can be himself around her. But she has a boyfriend. And the two are both in a stage of life where they just want a solid friend of the opposite sex they can just pal around with.
But can men and women really be just friends?

The movie’s greatest spark is the chemistry between it’s main two characters – played by Daniel Radcliffe (who knew… Harry Potter can act!) and Zoe Kazan (who impressed me immensely with the 2012 Ruby Sparks – which is a far a superior film, and, like, hey, why haven’t you seen it? Go Redbox Ruby Sparks, which she wrote and stars in, before going out of your way to see this one).

It’s a loveable little indie romcom with quirky dialogue and funny portrayals of young twenty-somethings trying their best to get by with a little help from their friends. At times it’s riotously funny, but at others the dialogue gets a little too cute and the movie’s potential is never fully reached.

What If is a funny, sweet indie comedy/drama that proves Daniel Radcliffe can act outside of the Harry Potter franchise, and entertains with some good laughs and lots of heart. But it’s far-fetched plot wears thin, and any love for the originality of the story dissipates once What If’s ending quickly travels down some awfully clichéd roads.

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What If is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Boyhood: REVIEW

Boyhood is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Or anything you’ll probably ever see again.

The film itself is a little miracle. Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is an intimate and reflective look at growing up (as told through the childhood of Mason – played by Ellar Coltrane – who grows up onscreen before our very eyes).

It’s impossible to watch Boyhood and not reflect on your own life – that is what makes it so moving and relatable.

Starting in 2002, Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Bernie, Dazed and Confused) and his cast set aside a few weeks every summer to film the separate sections that make up Boyhood. It is truly a sight to behold as Ellar Coltrane (and his parents) age onscreen, going through their lives, Mason slowly transforming from boy to man.

The part people might find most surprising about Boyhood is it’s “story.”
It doesn’t really have one
.
Or, at least, one that’s easily identifiable. If someone were to ask you what Boyhood was about, it’d be hard to pin it down into a sentence. The film is made up of a number of small vignettes, watching Mason grow up and go throughout life with his family and friends.

What’s shocking is that the film decides to skip all those “big” moments that often come to mind when we talk about growing up – his first kiss, the first day of high school, prom, his first job, getting his driver’s license – and instead invites us into the smaller, everyday moments of life that we take for granted.
Riding bikes with friends. Going bowling with dad and talking about girls. Taking a break from fishing to dip in a lake. Family dinners. Packing up to move. Roasting marshmallows and talking about ‘Star Wars.’

Life is the accumulation of small moments. And perhaps no movie has shown that more poignantly than Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

It’s incredible because it’s anticlimactic.
Think about that.
How many movies these days attempt to just show life for what it is? There’s a certain commonality to life that Boyhood captures, making us think about those moments in our own lives that everyone shares.

It could’ve easily gone for the big “Oscar” moments, but it keeps it small and intimate – it doesn’t even give us typical milestone markers like “1 year later” or “age 12.” It’s just life. Unfolding on the screen.

So, yes.
Boyhood doesn’t really have a “story.”
But that’s sort of the point.
Instead, it’s a poignant reflection on time itselfhow it passes, and will continue to pass, whether we like it or not. It is a nostalgic ode to both growing up and parenting, and a “period piece” of the very age in which it was filmed. Even 12 years ago, it’s surprising to realize how different our culture was; the clothes, the phones, even the camera Boyhood was filmed with itself.

I could complain about how long Boyhood is, but I’m not going to. The movie is just too special to trifle about how it may go past where I, at least, thought it should have ended.
Boyhood could have gone very bad very easily – who can tell whether or not a 7-year old boy is going to grow into an actor capable of holding a film on his shoulders? Boyhood is the ultimate mainstream experimental film, and will surely be remembered as Richard Linklater’s personal masterpiece (They might as well just mail him his Oscar for Best Director now).

Boyhood is proof that filmmakers are still taking risks and trying new things. That’s reassuring in an age where movies like Transformers: Age of Extinction are breaking box office records.

The best movies are the ones that speak to us in our own experiences, make us look at things in a new way, and tell us something about our own lives – Boyhood, in all its beautifully ambitious simplicity, does exactly that.

Even if you don’t think it’s necessarily the best, or the most exciting, movie you’ve seen, I cannot recommend this film enough.

Just the sheer fact that it was made is amazing. The fact that it’s also a beautifully-told little story puts it over the top. And it’s only grown on me since seeing it. Boyhood is totally worth experiencing — not only because it masterfully captures the simplicity of life itself, but also because it will spur even the most cynical of moviegoers to look back on their own lives — where did all the time go?

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Unfortunately, Boyhood is not for children. Ironic, huh? It’s rated R mainly because of language, but there’s also scenes of teen drug and alcohol use, and some sexual references. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Wish I Was Here: REVIEW

When he’s forced to take his kids out of Jewish private school, thirtysomething Aidan comes to an existential crossroads as he’s faced with becoming their home school teacher.

In his first film since making the poster child for indie films of the 2000s, Garden State, Zach Braff doles out a reflective and heartfelt drama about dealing with adulthood, responsibility, love, and loss.

Much was made about how the film was funded by Kickstarter backers, and what it could mean for the future of the film industry. Many argued that established artists such as Braff shouldn’t be using crowdfunding as a source of financing, while others argued that it was a progressive step towards more artists getting their sole vision onscreen. But after all that, is Wish I Was Here even a good film? By most measures, the answer is yes.

What Zach Braff has crafted here, despite all its flaws, is a sincere and ambitious tale about being lost in life, misguided, not knowing what to do next, balancing responsibility with following our passions, and making the most of the short time we’re given.

Wish I Was Here is moving and it feels honest — and that’s more than you can ask from most movies. WIWH resonated with me because it felt deeply honest — not like it was trying to push a certain agenda, or paint of picture of life that didn’t ring true. But it simply tried to convey the confusion, mystery, and truths about life in times of transition and mourning.

Wish I Was Here is an entertaining, uplifting, and joyful attempt at telling an honest story about part of what it means to be human, and “rising to the occasion” of the life we’re given.

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Wish I Was Here is rated R for “language and some sexual content.” One scene depicts Aidan “enjoying” himself in front of his computer, and the language is frequent. Not for kids. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Begin Again: REVIEW

Recently dumped by her songwriting-partner/boyfriend, Gretta (Kiera Knightley) gets a fresh start when she befriends a recently fired music studio exec (Mark Ruffalo), and the two begin to make music on their own terms.

This light comedy about fresh starts and fresh music is a fun, enjoyably sappy ode to do-it-yourself creativity. Begin Again has a solid collection of original songs, most sung by Kiera Knightley herself (who knew she could sing?), and the chemistry between her and Ruffalo make the film pop.

The movie’s overly sappy and it wanders a bit, but Begin Again is a delightful and refreshing story for anyone who loves music, or a tale of entrepreneurial creativity.

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Begin Again is rated R for language. Unfortunately, the film is full of it. So even though the story might scream “family-friendly,” the movie’s just too full of R-rated language for younger viewers to join in. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: REVIEW

The Planet of the Apes has found its Empire Strikes Back.

Caesar and his band of intelligent apes return in a powerfully emotional and thrilling sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Dawn is proof that Hollywood Blockbusters can be both action-packed entertainment as well as intelligently heartfelt.

I know he only played Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but you’d think Andy Serkis was a Wizard. The way he brings the computer-generated Caesar to life and breathes so much emotional complexity into the character is unreal. He is a real hero, with real flaws. And the same goes for the rest — these apes are probably some of the more well-rounded characters you’ll spend time with all summer.

Dawn‘s not perfect — it’s a little long, and some characters (such as Gary Oldman’s) seem unnecessary. But the film features some beautiful cinematography, a sweeping soundtrack from Michael Giacchino, awe-inspiring digital animation, and rich storytelling with deep thoughts on loyalty, conflict, and morality.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn’t concerned as much with blowing up everything in its sight. It’s concerned with telling a rich story and offering a heartbreaking look at a leader continually forced to choose the lesser of two evils.
The moment when Caesar embraces his friend Malcolm — one ape, one human, both knowing there’s nothing either can do to stop a coming war between their species — is easily one of the most beautifully poignant scenes in recent memory.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of scifi violence and action.” There’s a brief amount of language, and the majority of the plot focuses around violence between two groups. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Snowpiercer: REVIEW

After a failed global warming experiment kills off most of the world’s population, the planet’s survivors find themselves in a life-sustaining train traveling across the globe called the “Snowpiercer.”

Snowpiercer is a mind-trip. It’s an ambitous, smart scifi film that sticks out like a sore thumb in a summer full of reboots and CGI-filled blockbusters. It’s full of plenty of compelling twists and turns, and its phenomenal cast help bring the visually-stunning story to life. As the hero who rebels against the train’s class system, Chris Evans in particular shows off an impressive new side unlike anything we’ve seen from Captain America prior.

Snowpiercer is a bold, dark, and original story full of drama, tension, and heartbreak. It’s unlike anything else you’ll see in the theaters this year — and that’s a compliment.

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Snowpiercer is rated R for “violence and language.”

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Transformers: Age of Extinction: REVIEW

Transformers 4: Back for More Money made more than $120 million worldwide on just its opening day… Proof that we live in a fallen world.

Michael Bay bloats a story about huge robot aliens attacking other huge robot aliens to almost criminal lengths – nearly three hours, full of noisy mindless action with absolutely no tension.

The best character is killed off after thirty minutes, and the opening titles are way too far away from the end credits – a solid hour and half of useless nuts and bolts could be cut from the middle of this Transformers with absolutely no impact on the story. It just gives Michael Bay more time to throw in loads of needless product placement.

Nobody wanted a Transformers sequel in the first place. If you like loud, overlong, incoherent films with 99% of things onscreen being computer-generated, then you might like this one. But my guess is that most people won’t be turned onto the franchise because of Age of Extinction.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief innuendo.”

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

22 Jump Street: REVIEW

Jenko and Schmidt are undercover again – and this time they’re in college. Cue the bean bags, shower caddies, and spring breaks. 

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s brilliant chemistry blossoms as the two undercover agents find themselves in even more silly hijinks two years later.

22 Jump is a sharp, clever, energetic comedy sequel that’s more than eager to poke fun at itself. It’s not perfect, but 22 Jump Street is a hilarious buddy comedy with plenty of laughs and lots of heart.
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22 Jump Street is rated R for “language throughout, sexual content, and some violence.” The language is constant, and the movie has its fair share of crude gags. 22 Jump Street is not for younger audiences or anyone who cannot tolerate crude humor. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

How to Train Your Dragon 2: REVIEW

Hiccup and Toothless return in an exciting but overrated sequel that borrows all its best parts from other animated classics before it.

Dragon 2 has plenty of soaring and emotional moments, but they’re just not enough to overcome the clichéd plotline with extraneous characters and clichéd dialogue.

It might be loads of fun for the young ones (and its still better than most Dreamworks outings), but How to Train Your Dragon 2 ends up a fun yet forgettable trip to the movies.reviewscalenew2

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 is rated PG for “adventure action and some mild rude humor.”

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Edge of Tomorrow: REVIEW

Tom Cruise is Major William Cage – a soldier forced to live the same day over and over again when he finds himself in a time loop on the day of an alien invasion.

Edge of Tomorrow tries to do something new with the sci-fi genre, but ends up a run-of-the-mill action blockbuster with little in terms of imaginative storytelling or any character depth. Most of the jokes don’t land, numerous unnecessary characters are thrown in for no purpose, and it’s just straight-up boring.

What Edge of Tomorrow amounts to is a two hour video game.
And this one’s not worth repeating over and over again.

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Edge of Tomorrow is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, as well as language.”

© Matt Tory, 2014.