Film Review: American Ultra (2015)

Release Date: August 18th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh
Written by: Max Landis
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale, Lavell Crawford

The Bridge Finance Company, Circle of Confusion, Likely Story, Merced Media Partners, PalmStar Media Capital, PalmStar Entertainment, Tadmor Entertainment, Lionsgate Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“If I die, I’m going to do it stoned and smiling in my bed.” – Mike Howell

*Written in 2015.

I went into American Ultra with no expectations. Although I did like the chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Adventureland and thought that it was Stewart’s best performance that I had seen.

So maybe their having worked together so well before is why they felt very comfortable in this movie and with each other. Their relationship felt natural and nothing seemed forced or out of place. As the two leads, Eisenberg and Stewart shined.

As far as the plot goes, this film doesn’t really tread new territory but it doesn’t need to. It is about a “fish out of water” sleeper agent for the C.I.A. who has woken up in an effort to save himself from the agency director who thinks he’s a dangerous dog that needs to be put down. In this film, the agent is a stoner with a lot of phobias. Of course, the phobias are all stuff that the agency put in his head in an effort to control him.

Eisenberg and Stewart are backed up by a great cast. Topher Grace plays the C.I.A. asshole that wants Eisenberg’s character dead. Then there is John Leguizamo who plays a friend and drug dealer. The great Walton Goggins shows up as a psychotic agent named Laugher. Bill Pullman plays a high ranking C.I.A. official that mixes things up in the end. Tony Hale a.k.a. Buster from Arrested Development plays another C.I.A. agent that is caught between doing good or doing evil. And then Connie Britton rounds out the cast as the C.I.A. agent who is trying to save the main characters.

The film was well shot, well edited, perfectly paced and came off as a lot of fun. It wasn’t a flawless film but it wasn’t littered with issues and even the unbelievable elements felt believable, in the moment, and that is what a director should strive for.

American Ultra was entertaining. It ends the summer movie season and it was at least a refreshing end to a summer full of a lot of crap. This wasn’t a big budget CGI fest yet it achieved much more than most of the other summer movies I had to sit through this year.

I guess it is left open for a sequel but one isn’t necessary. This isn’t a forgettable film but it doesn’t warrant any more installments. I liked it for what it was and the filmmakers should let it stand on its own. Besides, I don’t anticipate this being a sleeper hit.

At this point, I think a lot of summer moviegoers are suffering from tent pole fatigue. While this is a good contrast to the tent pole feature, it will probably suffer for the date it was released. If this were a late September or early October film, it may have had more of a chance for success. Instead, it shares the docket with Sinister 2 and Hitman: Agent 47 – all three of these will probably underwhelm at the box office between coming out on the same day and following a slew of mediocre summer movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Adventureland for having the same leads, as well as the Kingsman movies for some similarities.

TV Review: American Horror Story (2011- )

Original Run: October 5th, 2011 – current
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Cesar Davila-Irizarry, Charlie Clouser, James S. Levine, Mac Quayle
Cast: Evan Peters, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., André Holland, Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Alexandra Daddario, Grace Gummer, Lance Reddick, Alexandra Breckenridge

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 78 Episodes (so far), 37-73 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I just binge watched the first three seasons of American Horror Story, as I was running out of things to watch on Netflix and this was in my queue for a few years. I have yet to see season 4, as it isn’t available yet.

I have a few friends who obsess over this show, which is probably why I put it off for so long. Usually, when a bunch of people build something up really high, I am left disappointed. I think the only time I wasn’t was when I finally sat down to watch Breaking Bad.

I wouldn’t call American Horror Story a disappointment though. It was pretty enjoyable and I’ll watch future seasons, albeit at my own leisure. But I wouldn’t call the show special or hype it up to everyone I know.

The premise of the show is horror, which is obvious by the title, but other than tapping into supernatural elements and showing something scary every now and then, it plays more like a teen drama. But that is the way of Hollywood these days. Sure, most of the characters are older than teens but this is definitely a show written for them.

The show just isn’t scary and that is why I have reservations about horror being used in a television format. Sure, you can churn up a few frights and provide creepy visuals and a dark tone but over the course of a 13 episode season, the monsters you are selling get less and less scary. When the reveals have to happen early because modern audiences can’t tolerate suspense, there is nowhere else to go other than adding in more teen drama and stretching out a resolution.

I guess the one thing that irks me about the show, is how the payoffs seem rushed, the resolution happens almost too early and the final few episodes of each season play like an epilogue that is too fleshed out. The grand evil each season is conquered around episode 11. So what you get is two more episodes that really aren’t necessary. I don’t care about any of these characters that much. It’s like the ending to the extended edition of The Return of the King – you just want it to be over.

Highlights of the show include the acting talents of Jessica Lange and Evan Peters (who was Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The rest of the cast, at least the actors who appear over multiple seasons are all pretty good. Although, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau was horrible. I don’t blame her, as the character of Laveau was horribly written. The writers really tarnished the well respected legacy of the New Orleans Voodoo Queen and turned her into an evil vengeful idiot. Kathy Bates was fantastic though, I do want to point that out.

I like the show more than I dislike it but it hasn’t solidified me as a fan and it is a moderately enjoyable way to waste a weekend.

Update:

After the third season, I watched two more. Each year gets worse and worse, to the point that I’ve completely stopped caring about the show. The last season I watched was Hotel and I have no more interest in the future of this anthology franchise. I think there are two more seasons after Hotel with the possibility of this going on forever… but I’m done.

Rating: 5/10