Film Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Also known as: Wall Street 2 (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2010
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff
Based on: characters by Stanley Weiser, Oliver Stone
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Austin Pendleton, Sylvia Miles, Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Ferlito, Jason Clarke, Natalie Morales, Oliver Stone (cameo), Jim Cramer (cameo), Donald Trump (scene deleted)

Dune Entertainment, Edward R. Pressman Film, Twentieth Century Fox, 133 Minutes

Review:

“Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs? They get slaughtered.” – Gordon Gekko

Like Godfather, Part III, I feel like this movie gets unnecessarily shitted on.

I get it, though, it’s hard not to compare it to its predecessor and it’s certainly not as good but remove that from the equation and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is still a pretty good finance industry thriller with a lot of good twists and turns that keep your attention and leave you wondering where the story is going to end up.

Sure, there are some things I would’ve done differently but the movie’s main plot focuses on a new character and completely different situations. It just so happens that this character is engaged to Gordon Gekko’s estranged daughter and with him getting out of prison, he comes into their lives and that has a big effect on their relationship and their future.

The film is well shot and it has pretty alluring cinematography. But when you’ve got Oliver Stone behind the camera, you should expect competent and majestic visuals. Needless to say, he doesn’t disappoint.

I like that this film wasn’t just a rehash of the original and that the main character wasn’t just another Bud Fox. Shia LaBeouf’s Jacob was a better person and even if he was on the verge of doing some shady shit, his morale and goodness prevailed. Sure, he got burned a few times along the way, playing with fire, but he won out in the end because he was better than the schemers around him.

Additionally, this movie had so much talent that it’s hard not to enjoy the performances by Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, Frank Langella and so many others.

Hell, we even get Charlie Sheen back for a single scene cameo. Although, it would’ve been much more interesting to see him involved in the story somewhat, even if just minutely. His appearance is cool to see, as he runs into Gordon all these years later, but it also felt forced and a bit out of place.

really liked Brolin in this, though. He was essentially this movie’s version of what Gekko was to the first but something about him was even more dastardly. Where I kind of see Gekko as a sometimes misguided anti-hero in the series, Brolin was certainly a villain.

Also, I liked that this picture focuses a lot on the collapse of Wall Street and involves the Federal Reserve. As someone who followed and wrote about this stuff circa 2008, it felt like the film represented that era well.

In the end, this isn’t as great as its predecessor but it’s still a fine follow-up and frankly, I’d welcome a Wall Street 3 in another decade or so.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as Boiler RoomThe Wolf of Wall Street and Rogue Trader.

Film Review: Serenity (2019)

Also known as: Obsesión (Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay)
Release Date: January 24th, 2019 (Greece, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia)
Directed by: Steven Knight
Written by: Steven Knight
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou

Blue Budgie Films Limited, Global Road Entertainment, IM Global, Starlings Entertainment, Nebulastar, Shoebox Films, Aviron Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Okay, Dill. Say fate gave you the choice: you can get the lady, or you could catch that tuna that’s in your head. Which one would you choose?” – Constance

What in the Pat Sajak fuck did I just watch?!

Okay, I can’t talk about this movie and its weirdness without spoiling the plot, sorry. So, turn away now if you want to watch this shipwreck of biblical proportions.

You still here? Well, that’s on you.

Anyway, I seriously don’t know what I just watched. I wanted to check this out because the cast seemed decent and this was marketed as a modern noir thriller that takes place in a beautiful tropical setting. It kind of gave me Key Largo, To Have and Have Not and His Kind of Woman vibes.

But then, from the opening scene, I knew something was weird and off about this movie.

It starts with Matthew McConaughey trying to catch an unrealistically large CGI tuna. This whole sequence was bizarrely shot and presented. But as the film goes on and the big twist happens, this all makes sense. But that doesn’t mean that it had to be utterly fucking strange and the type of moldy cheese that makes one cringe just from the thought of the diarrhea it most assuredly will bring.

The next big red flag happened when Anne Hathaway shows up. Her entrance was done in an overly dramatic and goofy way that wrecked whatever solid acting might have been happening. To be clear, I don’t blame any of the actors for the failure of this film, I blame the script, the direction, the editing and the bad stylistic choices made to try and plant seeds for the eventual twist.

To top it off, the dialogue sounded like the screenwriter listened to a book about writing for noir fiction that he downloaded for free on Audible.

The plot is pretty simple, or at least it is until the awful twist.

Hathaway shows up, asks her ex-hubby McConaughey to kill her current hubby, Jason Clarke playing an absolute scumfuck, by taking him out on a fishing charter and then feeding him to the sharks. Cool, sounds like a solid film-noir setup.

Of course, ex-hubby is apprehensive about committing murder for the femme fatale bitch that left him but then she throws in the part about how Scumfuck abuses their son. One awkward sex scene later reveals the Femme Fatale’s scars and McConaughey decides to maybe kill Scumfuck.

So they go out on the boat where Scumfuck lives up to his namesake but nothing really happens.

But then a weird dude that has been oddly following McConaughey around, conveniently just missing him, gives him a special fish finder to catch the giant CGI tuna and he guarantees he will catch the fish with the aid of this MacGuffin device. And this is where shit gets really, really goddamned weird.

DrunkConaughey demands to know what this weasely weirdo knows, as shit seems off. We then discover that DrunkConaughey is a character in a video game created by his son to escape into. As long as he catches the fish as his digital dad, he won’t kill his stepdad Scumfuck in the real world.

Yes, this is the big twist and where the real plot comes in, more than halfway into what I thought was a typical neo-noir thriller.

Everything goes completely off the rails; the movie becomes batshit insane. DrunkConaughey kills Scumfuck by letting giant CGI tuna drag him to the bottom of the ocean and then in the real world, the abused kid gets up from his video game, grabs a butcher knife and goes to stab Scumfuck to death.

The end is then a news report about a super genius kid killing his abusive stepdad while we see DrunkConaughey’s video game world evaporate into CGI shards, presumably killing him too because he wasn’t real in the first place. The real DrunkConaughey died in a war over a decade ago according to the voice-over of the newscaster.

Despite its f’n oddness, I was at least pulled into the story up until the shocking and baffling twist. It wasn’t great noir but it was an interesting setup. The acting was competent, as was the cinematography and overall look of the film despite the CGI weirdness with the fish.

But this is a shipwreck, totally and utterly.

Now I get that the filmmakers wanted to do something different and thought that they had an interesting idea but this felt like an idea for a Black Mirror episode that was left on the cutting room floor while planning out the next season.

The idea didn’t feel like it was fully realized and that this kernel of a cool thought wasn’t developed and refined, it was just rushed into production and actually found funding, is insane.

I kind of feel like they were in such a rush they gave McConaughey half the script, omitting the twist, and told him they didn’t have the kinks worked out. He was intrigued by the setup and then later came to realize that he was trapped in a total dud that his agent couldn’t get him out of.

The filmmakers lied to their audience in how this movie was marketed. Had I paid to see this in the theater, I would’ve been pretty pissed. Now, in their defense, I realize that alluding to anything regarding the twist would’ve wrecked the surprise but let’s be honest here and point out that the surprise wrecked the whole movie.

Sometimes a mindfuck is just a clusterfuck. This usually happens when filmmakers sniff too many of their own farts.

Serenity thought of itself as a smart film. In reality, it’s one of the dumbest new pictures I’ve seen in quite awhile.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: cheap rum, really bad cocaine and Sega Bass Fishing.

Film Review: Pet Sematary (2019)

Release Date: March 16th, 2019 (SXSW)
Directed by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmayer
Written by: Jeff Buhler, Matt Greenberg
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo & Lucas Lavoie

Di Bonaventura Pictures, Room 101 Inc., Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hug your daughter.” – Louis Creed

I should preface this by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the original Pet Sematary movie. It’s mostly okay and I do enjoy it but I don’t consider it a classic, as many people do.

This film made me appreciate the original and its sequel more, however. But that doesn’t mean I disliked this. It just felt mostly hollow and the things it changed didn’t feel necessary and actually made it less shocking and emotional than the original adaptation.

Now this could actually be closer to the book but I never read it. If that’s the case, I’ll give it a pass on its alterations. But that still doesn’t make it a better film than the two that preceded it.

The thing that is better in this movie is the acting. Top to bottom, the cast here is damn talented. And yes, John Lithgow is a more talented actor than the late, great Fred Gwynne but I still prefer Gwynne’s Jud. Still, Lithgow was solid.

The real scene stealer though was Jeté Laurence, the young daughter who dies and comes back from the dead. She was absolutely dynamite! And frankly, she carries scenes even when sharing them with actors that have been at this for decades longer.

On a side note, I liked the casting of twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, as the young Gage. Mainly, because the kids looked a lot like a toddler aged Miko Hughes, who played Gage in the original.

The film has pretty good atmosphere and it does a decent job of building towards actual feelings of despair and dread. I think that also has a lot to do with a very capable cast pulling you into the proceedings.

But in the end, this doesn’t feel special, it doesn’t feel necessary and it doesn’t really stand on its own two feet. I feel like it was rushed out to capitalize off of the recent success of the It remake. While that’s okay, I would’ve rather seen a new Stephen King adaptation than another remake for the sake of cashing in on an already established property.

Even with all its moody, dark tones throughout nearly every scene, this couldn’t generate enough real darkness to really stand next to its visually lighter predecessor. The acting saves the film from being a disaster but it still isn’t enough to carry it on its own.

Maybe it lacks heart or maybe it just tried too hard. Either way, it’s a carbon copy with the contrast boosted too high and a much weaker resolution when looking at the details.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Pet Sematary films and other modern Stephen King adaptations.

Film Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)

Also known as: Terminator 5 (informal title)
Release Date: June 21st, 2015 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier
Based on: characters by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Lee Byung-hun

Skydance Productions, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes

Review:

“God damn time traveling robots! Covering up their god damn tracks! I knew it.” – Detective O’Brien

*Written in 2015.

What a shitty movie. But it was, at certain moments, a fun movie.

To start, Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are classics and close to perfect blockbuster films. They are a measuring stick. However, just like every other film in the Terminator franchise after T2, this one doesn’t measure up.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was horrendous, Terminator Salvation was dog shit and this one fits right alongside those two films. I would say that Terminator Genisys is the better of the bad films in the series and it at least attempts to be more inventive and original than the other bad sequels.

The saving grace of this film is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is great as always in this role, he seems comfortable as this character and his wit and humor are perfect. Granted, the one liners and quips aren’t as great as they were in T2 but maybe that is because T2 is the first time anyone experienced a humorous T-800 and it has been a staple in pop culture now for 24 years. I loved every time that the T-800 was on screen in this film but he was underutilized and overshadowed by the other iconic characters, who were generally portrayed poorly.

Another positive is Jai Courtney, who I enjoyed in something for the first time. Playing Kyle Reese isn’t an easy task and he did fall short of living up to the iconic status Michael Biehn gave to that role. That’s not Courtney’s fault, however, and no one else that has taken on that role has succeeded. I didn’t hate him in this, so I guess that’s a plus.

Jason Clarke was okay as John Connor but I don’t even know who John Connor is anymore and I have watched all the films and portions of the television show featuring the character. The problem is that John Connor isn’t a character people can relate to, as every time you see him, he is played by a different actor – seven, in fact, and that isn’t even counting video games or infant actors. And every actor plays him completely different. Clarke plays it safe and gives us a generic sort of future hero turned suped-up robo-villain. Yes, John Connor is the villain. That plot point was ruined in the trailer and would have been a much bigger and better reveal had the studio not spoiled their own film with desperate marketing.

Emilia Clarke, who I don’t think is related to the aforementioned Jason Clarke, plays Sarah Connor. Clarke, who is most famous for sad eyes, great boobs and playing with dragons, walked into a role that set her up to fail. I wouldn’t say that she is a great actress by any means, at least she hasn’t wowed me yet, and her portrayal of Sarah Connor didn’t help her case. I can’t blame her though, as she had immense shoes to fill with what Linda Hamilton did with the role. Clarke just couldn’t pull off that badass bitch shtick anywhere near as close as Hamilton did.

Now J.K. Simmons, let’s talk about him. The guy is great in everything he does, whether as J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man films or as the guy in the Farmers Insurance commercials. He was awesome in this film but like Schwarzenegger, was a bright spot that was underutilized.

I was glad to see Matt Smith find work in a big film now that his Doctor Who run has ended. He was barely in the film but he was in a pretty pivotal role, even if that role evolved into being the face and shape of Skynet’s evil yet lame A.I. – now renamed Genisys, which was just some Trojan horse in the guise of a smartphone app everyone in the film was obsessing over.

And that brings me to the plot. While the film took a different route, it was pretty weak. There were multiple timelines, shifting timelines, lots of time traveling and the T-800 giving clunky explanations of the science in the film. It is just one of those movies where you need to embrace suspension of disbelief and just not think too hard about it. Just roll with it or you’ll go mad. Although, I wouldn’t mind seeing Schwarzenegger giving physics talks or having a science show where he explains complex concepts poorly.

Also in the realm of bad science was the physics of the film. Just watch the big helicopter battle, which is the major action sequence before the big climax. Actually, just watch the whole film, there are several times you’ll see things happen that are physically impossible. And why did they have to flip the school bus? And it would never flip like that. Ever since the infamous semi-flipping scene in 2008’s The Dark Knight, blockbusters have been trying to recreate that magic moment.

The special effects in this film are a combination of spectacular and atrocious. The scene with the MRI machine ripping apart John Connor was beautiful and just looked amazing. Then there was the helicopter chase scene that looked like a bad cartoon, completely ignoring physics, plausibility and came off as rushed and unrefined.

I thought the score was pretty good but the iconic Terminator theme never blasted through the theater speakers in its full glory. Well, not until the credits rolled. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

The problem with this film and all the films and television shows in this franchise after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is that there isn’t a real continuity from film to film. The plots completely shift things around, the actors are never the same and you just don’t care about these characters or events because everything that happens in these movies is easily wiped away and rewritten with each new installment. It makes all the previous work sort of moot. It also disrespects what the previous filmmakers have done before it.

At face value, this is mediocre film with some good effects that is a fun ride. But it is a “one and done” fun ride. I’ll never have the urge to watch this again, as I have never watched any film in this franchise more than once since T2. For the record, I watch T2 almost annually, if not more so.

I had higher hopes for Terminator Genisys, especially since James Cameron, the director of the first two films and the creator of the franchise, gave this one the thumbs up. But maybe, like John Connor, he’s no longer the hero.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Terminator movies but is better paired to the films after Terminator 2 a.k.a. the shitty ones.

Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Release Date: June 26th, 2014 (Palace of Fine Arts premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Pierre Boulle
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Judy Greer, Kirk Acevedo, James Franco (cameo)

Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 130 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“I always think… ape better than human. I see now… how much like them we are.” – Caesar

I was a little late going to see this one in the theater but I’ve had a lot going on. Regardless, here I am a week late with my two cents on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

To start, I know that this is a pretty profound statement, but this may be the best Planet of the Apes film to date. There have been seven films before this one and a television series but this film really captures the essence and the whole point of the franchise better than anything else before it. Sure, Charlton Heston fighting apes is a bad ass scenario and the focal point of the original film, unarguably a classic, but this movie trumps it in character, in story, in action and in soul.

The first film in this reboot series was a breath of fresh air after the mediocre Tim Burton attempt at a reboot a decade earlier. Dawn takes that story even further and with the origin already established, is able to throw it all on the line and just get down to business. From the opening scene all the way to the epic end, this film is action filled and drama filled. Both are perfectly balanced and very well executed. The drama gives you more than enough to truly care and the action gives you more than enough to pump your fist to.

The acting is superb but the greatest performance comes from Andy Serkis who plays the lead ape, Caesar. Serkis deserves an Oscar for this and really most of his performances, most notably Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t yet recognize the performances of actors who play digital characters. However, they aren’t just digital characters, they are created by using motion capture technology – digitizing the actors’ movements and facial expressions. When you see Caesar’s body language and facial expressions, you know that you are looking at a great performance that brings a level of realism and humanity to what would otherwise be a flat digital creation. Hopefully films like this get the Academy to introduce an award for these performances.

Back to the topic of the film itself, director Matt Reeves made his best film to date. That makes me incredibly excited for the upcoming sequel, which he is also directing. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman did a phenomenal job as the three main humans in the film. Toby Kebbell, who played the ape Koba, performed on a level very close to Andy Serkis. Koba and Caesar’s interactions were very real and compelling.

As far as special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes relies heavily on CGI over more practical effects but it doesn’t overemphasize it more than it needs to. The effects are also fluid and fine tuned to the point that you get lost in the story and the action, as nothing feels out of place or so artificial that it is really noticeable.

As good as X-men: Days of Future Past was, this may be the best film of the summer and possibly the year.

Rating: 8/10