Unbroken: REVIEW

The true story of Louis Zamperini is one of the most incredible and inspirational stories of modern history. It deserves so much better than it has received in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.

Zamperini was an Olympic runner who became a WWII war hero, got shot down over the ocean and survived in a raft for 47 days, was taken hostage by the Japanese once making way to land and tortured as a prisoner until the end of the war, came home to find himself a bitter drunk but turned a corner when befriending Billy Graham and joining him in crusades as an inspirational speaker, and eventually decided to show forgiveness by traveling to Japan to find the men that tortured him and forgive them in person.

Quite a life.

Yet, Unbroken seems content to merely show a series of events in Zamperini’s life with no real overarching theme or character development. Never discussed is the faith that made Zamperini so “unbreakable.” Not even the climactic moments when he forgives the Japanese, which seemed to be what tied all of his experiences together and was the evidences of his being “unbroken” in the book, are shown.

The film feels more like a string of unfortunate events that happened to one man rather than an actual story with plot and character. The character of Louis is never really fleshed out; never once do we truly get inside his head.

Though Unbroken has good intentions, this large-scale World War II film feels formulaic and clichéd rather than one of the most incredible true-life stories that could be told. It shrinks the life of Zamperini, instead making sure to hit all the right notes to be considered for prestigious awards. What many readers of the book will agree are the best parts of Zamperini’s story are simply left out, as Unbroken attempts to pull at the heartstrings with a number of “motivational catchphrases” rather than actual characters wrestling with real struggles.

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Unbroken is rated PG-13 for war violence and brutality, and brief language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb: REVIEW

What began as a fresh and creative idea in 2006 has been stretched thin over a couple of forced sequels in the Night at the Museum franchise. There’s a bunch of dumb fun to be had, and the kids will enjoy it, but the newest Museum is hardly inspired, and had the potential to be a lot more heartfelt and hilarious than it is.

Watching this third Night at the Museum will bring a few good chuckles, but also a sense of disappointment – it’s always a bit frustrating to watch a number of A-level comic actors get together to do C-level comedy.

But despite its recycled gags, Night at the Museum’s final outing is still noteworthy for serving as a fitting tribute to comic legend Robin Williams in his final performance.

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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Annie: REVIEW

Having lots of money and gadgets and stuff is what we should all look for to be happy!
Right?… Right? Oh well, that’s what Annie seems to think at least.

1982’s Annie is considered a musical classic, so it was only a matter of time before it got the Hollywood reboot treatment. But this Annie is a predictable mess of lazily re-created songs and hokey moments that only grows more insufferable as it goes on. If you want to see talented actors like Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis shoehorned into awkwardly forced sing-along moments, then Annie has everything you might want.

Despite its well-intentioned charm, Annie plays out as a sluggish, lazy, clichéd and oddly materialistic re-imagining of the popular musical classic. Its heart is in the right place, but not even all of Wallis’ joyful personality can save this Annie.

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Annie is rated PG for rude humor.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Exodus: Gods and Kings: REVIEW

Ridley Scott’s (Gladiator, Alien, Prometheus) epic retelling of the Moses story is an ambitious spectacle.

In terms of an entertaining, emotional, faithful adaptation of the Exodus story, The Prince of Egypt has already given our generation a much better telling of this tale. But the spectacle of Exodus is a delight to behold, and Christian Bale compelling in his performance of the man who ushered the nation of Israel into the Promised Land.

As for its faithfulness to the Biblical story, Exodus: Gods and Kings has a few inaccuracies – God himself is represented by a whiny British child, the theological reasoning behind each particular plague are absent, and the overall context of the exodus story is missing.

Though it’s refreshing to see such talented artists tackling biblical story lines with massive ambition, perhaps the biggest problem with Exodus: Gods and Kings is the same major problem with most biblical adaptations: a lack of context.

Sure, the story of an ancient people fighting for their freedom from their oppressors is a compelling one – but the whole context of what the Exodus story is really about (Israel’s ongoing relationship with God and God’s promises to them throughout the generations) is missing. And with it, the resonance of what the Exodus story truly means and represents in the grand scheme of the biblical story line and within the history of the nation of Israel.

Exodus drags through its uneven pacing and adds in a number of confusing elements, but it’s just so spectacularly ambitious that it’s a pleasure to watch unfold – even if this story has been told plenty of times before, and better.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings is rated PG-13 for battle violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Foxcatcher: REVIEW

A slow-burning crime drama, Foxcatcher follows the true story of Olympic gold medal-winner Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who was invited to train for the upcoming Olympics at the estate of an eccentric millionaire by the name of John du Pont (Steve Carell).

Steve Carell, known internationally for his hilarious turns in The Office, Anchorman, and Despicable Me, is almost unrecognizable here as the wealthy and erratic wannabe-wrestling-coach. It is a chilling role which will surely allow Carell to be considered for even more heavy parts in the future.

The film is slow, yet compelling throughout – it plays more like a stage play than a film, full of dramatic speeches, long unmoving scenes, and weighty dialogue. It is fully engaging, despite a whiff of pretentious storytelling.

It’s a wonder to see such talented actors disappear into their roles, weaving together a tale of jealousy, delusion, addiction, and psychotic self-destruction. But though it may be a well-told drama, Foxcatcher will probably be remembered more for Channing Tatum and Steve Carell’s willingness to take on dramatic performances than for it actually being a solid film.

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Foxcatcher is rated R for drug use and brief violence. 

Buy your tickets now!

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Hector and the Search for Happiness: REVIEW

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist who no longer knows how to help his patients find happiness. He himself finds “happiness” as elusive and mysterious as ever.

What follows is a high-spirited and spontaneous adventure across the globe as Hector searches for what truly makes others “happy.” Simon Pegg is great as always and the film has its share of inspiring moments, but Hector is too sentimental for its own good.

Hector and the Search for Happiness has a lot of heart, but whatever heartfelt parts the film has are bogged down by predictable scenes and unearned schmaltz.

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Hector and the Search for Happiness is rated R for language and brief sexuality.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Penguins of Madagascar: REVIEW

A spin-off from the popular Madagscar films, The Penguins of Madagascar is a frenzied fury of gags, puns, and high-energy hi-jinks. The lovable penguins from one of Dreamworks’ best series of films get the spotlight this time, as they are forced into saving all penguin-kind from an evil octopus… Yes, it’s ridiculously silly. But what did you expect?

The surreal humor doesn’t always come across – though I must say that one recurring gag had me laughing out loud numerous times throughout. Penguins isn’t as funny as the original Madagascar films, and it features some surprisingly rudimentary animation, but  its silly frantic story is a decent diversion and will certainly entertain young kids.

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The Penguins of Madagascar is rated PG for mild action and some rude humor.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Big Hero 6: REVIEW

Disney’s been on a winning streak as of late, with verified hits like Frozen, Tangled, and Wreck-it Ralph. With Big Hero 6, they deliver an action-packed comedy about tech-geek teen Hiro and his lovable companion – his robot, Baymax – on the streets of San Fransokyo. The movie is fun, endearing, humorous, and full of heart.

As one who’s simply exhausted with cinematic super hero stories, Disney’s choice to adapt a Marvel comic book was the last thing I would have liked to see the studio pursue.  But Big Hero 6 redeems itself with a clever and delightful little story about friendship and loyalty. Baymax is impossible not to love, and I’m sure my kids will someday be playing with their large cuddly white Baymax action figures in their room.

It’s nothing really that original, and it’s pretty predictable, but Big Hero 6 is a decent animated film worthy of sitting within the Disney Animated canon.

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Big Hero 6 is rated PG for mild action and peril.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Dumb and Dumber To: REVIEW

Dumb and Dumber To is the epitome of brainless humor – so dumb it’s funny; full of far-out gags and stupid situations (and a brilliant blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Bill Murray). Though it may be inane and ludicrous throughout, there’s a number of moments where you just can’t help but laugh.

It could never top the original, but for Dumb and Dumber’s fans, it’s great to see these two (Jim Carrey & Jeff Daniels) back together again – and especially great to see Carrey being his old silly self that we haven’t gotten to see in years.

It’s not Shakespeare.

It’s just dumb characters doing dumb things and making dumb jokes.
That’s kind of the whole point.

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Dumb and Dumber To is rated PG-13 for crude humor and language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Whiplash: REVIEW

A simple, yet haunting story about an ambitious young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) obsessed with becoming one of the greats, and his terrifying instructor (J.K. Simmons) who ruthlessly pushes him to the brink – Whiplash is a riveting, intense exploration of artistry and obsession.

I’ve never gotten on the whole Miles-Teller-train,  but Whiplash gives the young actor a role perfectly crafted for him; and J.K. Simmons, once known primarily for his memorable cameos as J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man films, is unstoppable here.

Whiplash is focused on one thing and one thing alone – the relationship between a musician and his instructor. Little else gets in the way. It is a slow-burning thriller about obsession, artistic perfection, and the lengths artists are willing to sacrifice for their craft.

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Whiplash is rated R for strong language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

A Review of ‘INTERSTELLAR;’ or, ‘Why it’s Alright to Fall in Love with an Imperfect Film’

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Our time on Earth is coming to an end.

The planet’s resources have gone scarce, and what’s left of humanity are forced to struggle to survive — with the knowledge that this world is fast approaching a time when it will no longer be able to sustain life.
A team led by former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) embarks  on one of the most important missions in human history – an exploration into the unknown, beyond our galaxy in search of a planet where humanity can start over.

It’s complex and it’s mind-numbing. But Interstellar is an incredible emotional journey through space and time.

Much has been made about the so-called “plot holes” and “scientific inaccuracies” throughout the film… I don’t really see the problems.
Sure, Interstellar is not a perfect film.
But if you’re too busy focusing on the physics of black holes rather than the emotional bond between this father and his daughter, then you missed the entire point of the movie.

Interstellar is a riveting, ambitious, tense, thrilling and heart-wrenching adventure that tackles a number of storytelling elements never really explored on film before.

It’s encouraging that Hollywood hasn’t degenerated so much that we can still witness bold, audacious storytellers like Christopher Nolan willing to stretch themselves creatively and go for broke, trying new things on a big scale. Art only has the potential to be great when it is taking risks.
And even though risks don’t always pan out, I’d much rather watch failed ambitious, creative risks than some caped superhero trying to rescue a space orb from a stock baddie for the 38th time.

And even though a number of Interstellar‘s risks don’t pan out, the majority of them do.

I’ve noticed a trend among so-called “film aficionados” and “film buffs” to scoff and sneer in Interstellar’s direction…
Really?
Get off your high horses.
Stop feeding into the cynicism that plagues our generation. I dare you to tell a story more powerful, more inventive, and more moving than Interstellar.

Yes, it’s obvious that we are not a people who live within five dimensions. And love most surely doesn’t make it possible for us to physically transcend time and space.  Yet, within the world of Interstellar, these things are true.

What’s the big deal?
I’m also fairly sure “the force” doesn’t really exist, and that some of us aren’t born with midi-chlorians in our blood streams. Yet, within the world of Star Wars, we accept that reality.
What’s the difference?
Interstellar throws characters into its fictionalized world and forces them to deal with very human problems, like fatherhood, duty, and abandonment. Much like we still relate to the characters of Star Wars, through all the lightsaber battles and space races, because they are dealing with universal struggles of temptation, fate, and belonging.

Who would’a thought?… Fiction in a science-“fiction” movie!
Criminal!

The Fault in its Stars

The obvious comparison to Interstellar is last year’s successful and widely-adored Gravity.
Well, Interstellar isn’t as great as Gravity.
(And Warren Buffet isn’t as rich as Bill Gates, either.)

Interstellar has its problems. The film’s logic is stretched a number of times, and a few confusing storytelling decisions are made.

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The inter-cuts between Cooper in space and his family back on earth can be jarring and slow down the momentum, and the entire sequence on the ice planet with Dr. Mann is overlong and borderline unnecessary — even though it provides good drama and a jolt of tension.

Even more confusing is the fact that Michael Caine’s character doesn’t appear to age at all over three decades, as well as the question of why “they” (i.e. “us”) put the black hole so far away from earth in the first place?

And even though I still believe the film was an incredible ride, that finale still seemed out of place and slightly unsatisfying. The whole emotional crux of the film has been Cooper’s attempt to get back to his daughter Murph on earth… and the film decides to end on a shortened reunion where she’s a century old and basically rushes him out of the room…?

Of course, I’m not the storyteller of Interstellar. But how much more emotional and powerful would it have been — and just as easy — to structure the story in such a way that Cooper’s journey had only lasted 20-30 earth-years instead of 100, allowing him to reconnect with his daughter once she had reached the same age as him?
Imagine how beautiful and dramatic that reunion would have been — Cooper’s been gone for what’s only felt like a few days, but now his little girl’s grown up and experienced just as much life as he has. And they both would still have the rest of their lives ahead of them.

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

For whatever problems it may have, it cannot be denied how incredible of a trip Interstellar is. The pace is gripping, the performances are stellar, the musical score is pulse-pounding, and the action sequences are riveting. It reawakens a spirit of exploration and attempts to wrestle with a number of weighty ideas.

And yet, for how big and expansive its scope, it’s really just a simple story about a father and his daughter, told with its heart on its sleeve.

Are we that spoiled that we now complain about such cinematic gifts as Interstellar because they dare to try something new, take risks, and perhaps fail to stick the landing in a few minor respects?
It may not be perfect, but Nolan’s newest film is exactly the type of fun, bold entertainment I’ll passionately cheer on in an age of unwanted sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes. Interstellar is a thought-provoking, visually dazzling, grandiose, challenging, and creative film from one of the world’s most ambitious storytellers.

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Interstellar is rated PG-13 for action-violence and brief language. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Laggies: REVIEW

While her friends are all off getting married, having kids, and getting promotions, Megan (Keira Knightley) is struggling just to get by on her job as a sidewalk sign-waver.

She’s unmotivated, unsuccessful, and unsure of what she even wants in life. After deciding to get away with her thoughts for a week, Megan ends up sharing a roof with her new high-school age friend Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her dad (Sam Rockwell).

Laggies is a winsome and lively coming-of-age/romantic comedy full of funny moments and interesting characters. And whenever Sam Rockwell’s in it, I’m there (by the way, go watch The Way, Way Back right now because he’s hilarious in it and I know you haven’t seen it yet).

It must be noted, however, how the film’s ending felt ridiculously out of place. Laggies’ finale just made me, personally, completely dislike Knightley’s character and wonder why I even cared about her all the way up until then. The character’s whole journey was about learning to grow up – yet in the end she is celebrated for succumbing to her childish whims.

Nevertheless, Laggies rises above its quirky indie vibe, becoming a fresh and lighthearted comedy about the struggles of growing up.

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Laggies is rated R for language.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Nightcrawler: REVIEW

Car crashes and crime scenes are what he lives for.

When Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a group of camera crews who film news-worthy mayhem during Los Angeles’ late nights, he jumps into the crazy world of “nightcrawling” – a profession where the bloodier or grislier the footage, the higher the payout by news outlets.

His job soon becomes an obsession for anything bigger and better. Nightcrawler chronicles’ Lou’s – an already creepy character played with no emotion by Gyllenhaal – journeys down an even darker path, putting the “shot” above the risk of danger – and even others’ lives.

Nightcrawler is an eerie film, and supremely weird – but not always a good “weird.” It brings up a lot of compelling themes and powers through an excellently-crafted final act, but it’s never quite sure what kind of movie it wants to be. What’s left is a messy mismatch of themes and styles, never willing to fully commit to anything it sets out to do.

Nightcrawler is a sleek, intriguing, thriller that wants desperately to make us think about how we get our news. But it ends up a bizarre, jumbled mess of a movie led by a character who’s, quite frankly, uninteresting because he never changes. He never grows more creepy or less creepy. He’s just there – creepy. And while Jake Gyllenhaal gets to have a lot of fun with the role, that doesn’t really make for compelling storytelling.

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Nightcrawler is rated R for language and violent images. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Men, Women, and Children: REVIEW

The internet has changed us.

Men, Women, and Children wants us to wrestle with that. And it’s an important conversation worth having – if anyone in our society cares, that is.

From Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), Men, Women and Children follows a number of high school teenagers, as well as their parents, as they navigate the internet and social media when it comes to the way they interact with others, view themselves, and create relationships.

Though there’s a plethora of characters that tend to get lost within the tapestry of the film, the talented cast elevate what could have been a predictable, sluggish drama into an engaging and timely tale. Adam Sandler, in particular, gives his best, most simplistic performance in years, making me wonder why he doesn’t take a crack at drama more often.

Let me just say, straight upa large portion of this movie is about sex. And about how people use technology to go about getting it. It’s about affairs, immature relationships, pornography, and failed marriages. It’s definitely only for mature audiences, but it’s still an important discussion to have. MW&C reflects a mirror back on our society – what have we become?

At times, viewers will feel disgusted. And I think that’s the point. Whether it be a grown man using his son’s computer for “intimate” websites, or a mother taking risqué photos of her high school-age daughter for financial gain.  Though, the film fails in that it goes too far over the edge of “showing” rather than “discussing.” It could have easily exposed us to the problems of using media for sexual gratification without teetering on the edge of being what it’s warning us about.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about Men, Women, and Children is that its real message seems not to be one about technology at all… By the end, we remember that it’s just as possible to make meaningless connections in real life. Humanity is the same it’s always been – these evils existed before the internet and social media. But perhaps new avenues have made these impulses easier to act on.

So how will we treat our relationships? How will we interact with technology? Will we commit to real, genuine relationships based not simply on our own selfish desires, but on the connecting with another and looking after their best interests? Will we pursue authentic connection and relationship, or will we continue to use the advances of our society to take advantage of others for our own gratification?

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Men, Women, and Children is rated R for sexual content and language. Please be warned that the main focus of this film is on sexuality — and in that, deals with a number of sexual scenarios, including teenagers. While the “sexual” scenes are never intended to titillate, I would caution viewers to be prepared for what they are going to experience. The film is full of characters seeking out ways to be “sexually fulfilled,” whether it be through pornography, affairs, ‘escorts,’ or meaningless sex. Men, Women, and Children is only for mature audiences ready to wrestle with a heavy topic, though my recommendation of the film is limited due to the times when the content shown goes a bit too far. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Birdman: REVIEW

Washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is most famous for playing iconic superhero “Birdman” in a trilogy of films two decades ago.
Tired of being defined by his role in a billion-dollar franchise so long ago, Riggan sets out to direct, produce, and act in a massive stage play – all while enduring a number of pitfalls leading up to opening night, and suffering from delusions (?) that he may actually possess super powers.

What follows from the first moment of Birdman is a massive creative undertaking, with the film edited in such a way that it appears to be one single continuous take. The camera flows through hallways, rooms, stages, and streets, never blinking. It is a sight to behold.

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The film itself is a fresh and original commentary on the modern “blockbuster” (read: superhero movies), and this superhero-parody ends up being the best superhero movie to hit theaters in years.
Perhaps the most poignant (and important) thing Birdman brings us is a discussion of the purpose and pain of creativity – and why we pursue creative endeavors at all.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton both give stellar performances, and even funnyman Zach Galifianakis gets to show off his grown-up acting skills here.

Birdman is a bit of a head-scratcher, full of surreal and highly-imaginative elements that don’t always work. But this absurd, funny, and tragic black comedy is unlike anything you’re likely to see anytime soon. If Birdman isn’t ambitious, creative, and bold, then no film is.

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Birdman is rated R for language and sexual content, and brief violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

St. Vincent: REVIEW

Forced to work long hours, Oliver’s mother (Melissa McCarthy) has no choice but to leave him in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Bill Murray) – a grouchy old man with a fondness for gambling, alcohol, and cynicism. But the two soon form an odd friendship that helps them both begin to look at the world in a new way.

St. Vincent is pretty derivative of other indie dramedies that have come before it. But it’s great to see Bill Murray bringing the laughs again, and playing a more serious, complex character than he has in quite a while. The relationship Vincent forms with Oliver is genuinely interesting and funny.

St. Vincent may veer too much towards the sentimental, but Bill Murray is back in fine form in this heartfelt, funny film that reminds us not to rush too quickly to judge others based on their resumes – or their criminal records.

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St. Vincent is rated PG-13 for language and mature themes, such as alcohol use and sexual situations.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Fury: REVIEW

David Ayer’s Fury is a brutal, vicious look at a tank crew (including Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, and Logan Lerman) behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. As masterful as it is at recreating the hellishness of war, Fury adds nothing whatsoever to the canon of WWII films.

Fury is a pretentious wartime drama whose reach far exceeds its grasp. Each character is flat, dull, and one-note. Brad Pitt in particular seems to have phoned-in in this performance – his expression doesn’t appear to change even once in the whole film. And as much as Fury wants to be a “character study,” the characters aren’t really worth caring about.

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The film plods along, full of redundant battle scenes and a mostly uninteresting series of events. And when Fury finally kicks it into high gear, in the far superior final sequence of the film, it’s already too late. The last act of the film is riveting, intense, and masterfully directed – but it’s impossible to not wonder by the time it’s over how much more incredible the sequence could have been had it been occupied by characters we actually cared about.

The writing is bogged down by stilted dialogue, the special effects strangely feel better-fitted to a scifi movie, and whoever edited the film seemed to have gone a little crazy with Instagram filters.

Fury is well-made, features a great cast, and is wonderful at showing – whether intentional or not – how war slowly strips soldiers of their humanity, one dead body at a time. But it’s too slow, too redundant, too dull, and too insignificant to matter.

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Fury is rated R for wartime violence and language. This is a brutal film full of grisly images and realistic wartime sequences, and is appropriate only for mature audiences. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Good Lie: REVIEW

Three of the “Lost Boys” orphaned by Sudan’s vicious Civil War are among the thousands of young victims forced to travel thousands of miles on foot towards safety. And when a humanitarian effort allows a large number of them to relocate to America 15 years later, they are given the chance to start a new life.

Reese Witherspoon may be the most famous star in The Good Lie, but the movie really belongs to three actors you’ve never heard of.

Actors Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, and Emmanuel Jal all were real-life “lost boys” who lost their homes and families in the midst of Civil War, watched their friends die from disease and animal attacks, and faced starvation as they traversed the African desert in search of refuge; Emmanuel Jal was even forced into slavery as a child soldier for a number of years. Now they’ve been given the chance onscreen to bring life to the struggles thousands faced.

The Good Lie is a moving, emotional, humorous, and hopeful film about a real human crisis that is still ongoing in our world. And contrary to most Hollywood clichés, the film doesn’t approach this story about the Third World from the eyes of a Westerner, but rather from the perspective of those in the situation themselves, which is refreshing and important.

And as good as she is, the worst thing about this Reese Witherspoon movie may be Reese Witherspoon. Her character is responsible for getting the boys jobs and settling into American life, but this is not her story.

This is a story about humanity.  It’s a feel-good Hollywood tearjerker, but The Good Lie honestly earns those tears, as well as its laughs.

If the real tragedy and struggles of these innocent Sudanese children does not move viewers, and their small victories make them cheer, nothing will. It’s a poignant story about our common humanity – the triviality of so much we consider important, of redemption, forgiveness, loyalty, and family.

The Good Lie powerfully tells the story of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” with three actors who experienced it firsthand. Both entertaining and important, it’s definitely a film worth your attention. But if they needed to add Reese Witherspoon into the mix to plaster a famous pretty girl all over the posters and get people to actually go see the movie, then who am I to argue? I guess that’s a good lie.

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The Good Lie is rated PG-13 for language and brief violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day : REVIEW

When luckless 11-year old Alexander experiences one of the most terrible, horrible days of his young life, he finds little sympathy from his family who all seem to have everything going their way. But he soon learns that he’s not alone in his bad luck when his parents (Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell) and siblings find themselves living a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of their own.

To enjoy the silly antics of Alexander, one must turn off that part of their brain that questions the absurdity and simply sit back to appreciate the wacky shenanigans and surprising amount of innocent fun.

The story is obviously simple, but the cast is fully committed to selling the snowballing troubles this family find themselves in  — giving us a movie that viewers of all ages can enjoy.
It may be corny and simplistic, but Alexander’s significantly better than the average family-comedy fare pushed out by the studios today. A number of gags just don’t work, but a few of them are laugh-out-loud funny as well.

And on a side note – it might almost be worth seeing just to say you saw a Disney movie that says “penis” a number of times and has a scene with male strippers in it (believe me, it’s still family-friendly, but it was just surprisingly jarring for a Disney movie… in a good way).

Alexander is a throwback to the movies that aimed to be nothing more than simply an enjoyable time for families and viewers of all ages to spend together at the movies. It’s charming, fun, cute, and pleasant,  and not much more. But it doesn’t need to be.

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Alexander is rated PG for rude humor. Should be fine for older kids. 

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Kill the Messenger: REVIEW

Journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) stumbles onto classified documents that implicate the CIA in illegal drug trafficking, and against all warnings vows to uncover the conspiracy and bring those responsible to justice in this suspenseful political thriller about the power of journalism.

Jeremy Renner kills it in his best performance since The Hurt Locker, but this “true story” is plagued by historical inaccuracies, and embellishes numerous facts to service its own plot. It succeeds at being a dramatic character piece, and deftly takes on a number of big subjects, but the story is occasionally slow and it just isn’t as intriguing as it could be.

Despite its factual inaccuracies, Kill the Messenger is admirable, though, for its dedication to showing us a hero committed to sharing the truth, no matter the cost. Ironic?

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Kill the Messenger is rated R for language and drug content.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Skeleton Twins: REVIEW

An unexpected reunion forces estranged twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) to come together in the midst of dark times in both of their lives. Both are confused about why their lives turned out so wrong, and their reconnection begins to show them what’s really important.

For a movie full of so much dark and depressing topics, it’s a wonder this movie is successful at being “funny” at all. But it is. And it’s great to see the SNL power team of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader together again, taking on much more dramatic roles than we’re used to seeing these two loveable goofballs portray.

The Skeleton Twins is a bit slow, and a bit one-note, but it’s an effective story about broken, hurt people just trying to make their ways in the world, living on their own – but learning that sometimes, regardless of how much confusion and frustration it can bring, we need others to join us along the way. The Skeleton Twins is a funny, touching dramedy about troubled siblings that could have been completely depressing, but is infused with a good amount humor and heart.

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The Skeleton Twins is rated R for language and some sexual themes.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

Gone Girl: REVIEW

Director David Fincher is a master of suspense, tension, and twisted storytelling. The man behind Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Zodiac loves to draw us into dark, bleak, and visually-stunning stories about the lives of messed up people.
He makes the mundane into art – and Gone Girl is no exception.

On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick’s (Ben Affleck) beautiful wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing – and the crime scene in their home looks eerily staged. Law enforcement and an ever-growing media attention quickly cause the whole world to begin to ask the same question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Gone Girl is insane. Twisted. Messed up. It’s a brilliantly-made film, but it is not for the faint of heart. It thrills, disgusts, and subtly terrifies.

Gone Girl is a look at a marriage in shambles. Some may confuse the film for a profound piece of art that speaks volumes about modern marriage, but it’s ultimately just a slick, well-polished thriller about two married people who have used their marriage — and each other —  for the absolute worst reasons. It’s haunting, and it’s incredibly tense. But it’s pulpy well-crafted entertainment.

Its dark comedy brings an odd quality of humor to the chilling story, and Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are at their absolute best in Gone Girl, both giving performances that are subtly layered and ever-changing.

And as for David Fincher, he’s simply a master of tension.  Gone Girl is not his best film, but it is still an impressive achievement in tone, character, and world-building.

Many do not respond well to Fincher’s sense of cynical storytelling, and that’s perfectly understandable. In a Fincher film, the world is a dark, sick, and hopeless place. I don’t necessarily relate to this aspect of Fincher’s films, but he is such an artist that it’s hard not to fall for the mysterious little worlds he creates.

In Gone Girl, morality is a grayscale, and the audience is left to make their own judgments in determining between good and evil. Both Nick and Amy’s selfishness led them to opposite extremes, and crumbled their marriage. And in some respects, there is no clear-cut resolution to this haunting tale.
Did they ever really “love” each other in the first place?
Is the film’s conclusion actually a worse punishment for Nick than what he originally feared?
Did anyone really “win?” Or did these two miserable people get what they deserved in the end?

The world of Gone Girl is surprisingly complex, and its twisted thrills come at a lightning-fast speed. It’s not perfect, but it is an exceptionally-made film (for those able to handle it) that must be discussed and wrestled with.
Gone Girl will stay with you.

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Gone Girl is rated R for language, sexual content, and violence. This film can be highly disturbing, and is not appropriate for any children, or anyone unable to handle this level of disturbing storytelling. It is brilliantly-made, but stay away if you are easily unsettled, frightened, or upset.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

The Drop: REVIEW

Tom Hardy stars as a bartender who finds himself entangled in a robbery investigation that digs deeper into his history than he’d like, in this bleak, tense noir. James Gandolfini’s final film is an entertaining, smart drama about the underground crime world of Brooklyn bars, and the script is smart.

It’s a slow-burning story of greed, control, and moral ambiguity, and is compelling throughout. But by the end, The Drop brings nothing particularly original to the crime thriller genre, despite another outstanding performance from Tom Hardy.

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The Drop is rated R for language and brief violence.

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

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. 

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.