Review: ‘Warm Bodies’

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Zombies meet Twilight? Here’s my review for one of the most original zombie stories of our time and whether or not it’s actually worth watching.

Go on…Review: ‘Warm Bodies’

Review: ‘Catfish: The TV Show’

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A few years ago, I saw the trailer for Catfish (the movie) and was always amused by the concept, though I never did get around to seeing the actual film. Lucky for me, the makers of the documentary developed Catfish: The TV Show on MTV, and I want to let you know if it’s worth looking into.

For starters, this review is based on the first three episodes of the series, which you can watch on Hulu Plus if you have it.

The premise is pretty basic. In the movie, Nev fell for a girl he met online, but when he met her, he had been “catfished.”

Catfishing is when you make a fake persona online and forge a relationship with someone under these false pretenses. The girl Nev fell for wasn’t the young, beautiful girl she claimed to be. Instead she was an older mother with kids.

Remarkably, Nev and this girl, Angela, actually became friends. It’s this positive unveiling of reality that prompted Nev and filmmaker Max Joseph to create Catfish: The TV Show, which focuses on the online relationship stories of other people who went through what Nev experienced.

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So, for each episode, Nev responds to a request from someone who went through what he did. In every scenario thus far, the person has been in an online relationship with someone they haven’t met for a prolonged amount of time (one scenario is a 10 year relationship). They want Nev to help them meet the person they’ve been talking to online in order to see if they are who they say they are.

The runtime for each episode is about 45 minutes, which probably sounds like a lot of time for such little content. Well, the show manages to stay entertaining, despite each episode only focusing on one couple, thanks to the natural chemistry Nev has with Max and the other people in the show.

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The formula is pretty much the same for each episode. Nev meets the person who requested their help, he does some quick research into who the person is, points out holes or issues with what he finds, brings the couple together, helps each person deal with the backlash (there’s always a big reason why they haven’t met of course), and sees where the two are at some time later.

My favorite part of the show is how they research the elusive person. Because of Skype and Facetime, it’s basically inexcusable (at least to the audience) that these couples haven’t used webcams to meet. That means the other person is always hiding something.

The fun of the show is discovering what that something is and seeing how it plays out for the couple. Sometimes the “secret” is outrageous and totally takes you by surprise. Other times it is more somber and based in more subtle examples of human nature. The variation in each situation is definitely entertaining.

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Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a fan of reality TV aside from anything with Gordon Ramsey in it, so take my stamp of approval for what it is. One of the reasons it sets itself apart is because the main premise is creating reality for people who have been hiding behind their phones and Facebook.

The show isn’t looking to break any new ground, but it is instead highlighting the peculiarities and craziness that online relationships bring out in everyday people. You’ll most likely find a lot of these characters extremely gullible, but you’ll actually feel for them.

I do like this show and think it’s worth watching, especially if you’re into reality programming and great characters. Nev is the real standout, proving to be one of the most genuine, interesting guys you’ll find on TV, especially MTV.

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You believe that he is sincerely trying to help these people find happiness, and though he claims the show is about the stories of other people, you learn more about him in each episode. Give this show a shot.

 

Review: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

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Does this retelling of the now famous execution of one of the world’s most elusive criminals worth watching? Here’s my take on the film that is now in the running for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar’s.

You’ve probably heard a lot of hype leading up to this film, so I can only assume that those of you still on the fence about going to see this are looking around for opinions on the other side of the coin.

The most buzzing news right now is that the film portrays a very candid display of torture tactics that were used by the CIA to capture the men who would eventually lead us to Osama Bin Laden (UBL). This film does not pull punches with showing us just how brutal these tactics were, and some are arguing that this is an endorsement for Bush’s foreign policy (definitely an unpopular foreign policy.)

I don’t want to get into that. See the film for yourself and draw your own conclusions. It’s actually very subjective, and I would argue there are more reasons to see this as a film that is indifferent to whether or not torture works. It’s more about how a small group of people worked tirelessly and did whatever it took to bring UBL to justice. That’s what warrants this film a lot of praise.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Zero Dark Thirty spans the decade long manhunt for UBL, but it actually pays a lot closer attention to the rise of his real nemesis, Maya played by Jessica Chastain. Her gradual rise to prominence as a CIA operative, as well as her obsession in finding UBL is the standout of the film.  There is a scene at the end of the second act that is probably the most intense, emotional, and beautifully written performances I have ever seen an actress pull off.

Yes, much better than Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. 

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Chastain deserves an Oscar in my opinion, but it is the intense third act that really exudes the power of the film. The Navy Seal Team 6 raid on UBL’s compound is probably the best military tactics operation I have ever seen presented in film. The realism and significance behind the direction of this act is so well done, it allows me to forgive every minor issue I had with the movie.

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Speaking of which, the only hurdles you’ll have to go through when watching this is the sluggish first act. It’s important, yes, but I was honestly bored for the first 45 minutes and craved for the plot to start moving forward. Luckily, the post 2008 scenes are exactly what I was looking for, and I found myself enjoying the film tremendously throughout.

This film is definitely worth watching and paying hard-earned money for. Politically, both sides can conclude what they want from the film, and opponents of America will obviously have nothing to hold on to here. I didn’t like The Hurt Locker very much, though I really wanted to. Zero Dark Thirty actually ended up being everything I wanted The Hurt Locker to be and more.

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I will be honest. If this movie had been based in fiction, I would probably only count it as an above-average (good not great) film about military and political espionage in the middle-east. It’s the way they handled the emotional impact of this true story that really makes the movie a classic, and one of the best films of the year.

 

Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’

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I saw Cloud Atlas at a second-run theater over the weekend and hesitated to write such a late review. My justification is that many people either skipped this one at first run, are waiting to rent it because of the long runtime, or have just not heard enough about it. Well, here’s my take.

THE CONCEPT

Take six short stories (essentially) that span six completely different time periods, highlighting the connections that bind people together across the span of humanity. You’ll see a composer struggling to find success as a bisexual in in the 1930s, a journalist attempting to take on Big Oil in the 70s, all the way to a group of revolutionaries exposing the corruption of cloning in 2144. That barely covers what you are about to see with this film. Put simply, it is a mosaic tied together by string.

WHAT WORKS

Many of the visual effects are just stunning, especially for an independent film (this is the most expensive indie film to date, costing over $100 million). The most impressive scenes come during the action-packed future timeline in 2144 New Seoul. Really, the rest of the movie doesn’t even compete with the visual flair of this time period, not even the period set further than this.

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Many elements of this film are fantastic. The acting is well-done, as this film boasts a huge A-list cast, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Sturgess dominating most of the standout roles. You’ll recognize Ben Whishaw, who played the new quartermaster from Skyfall, and my favorite character turned out to be Doona Bae’s Sonmi.

The pacing is very impressive as well. The stories begin chronologically, introducing us to the characters in a slow, gradual pattern. The film then shifts stories at random, giving only minutes to each story. In theory, I should have hated this, as there was no cohesion behind the transitions. It worked for me, however, and will probably work for people who are inattentive, as this will force them to constantly pay close attention.

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Finally, the soundtrack is easily the best of the year, which turns out to be the film’s biggest downfall.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

Unfortunately, the stories just aren’t that interesting. In a novel, they definitely would be. With more details and context, I probably would have been rooting for the sympathetic abolitionist played by Jim Sturgess in 1849. I would have cared that Timothy Cavendish broke out of the nursing home with his band of carefree elders in 2012.

The problem is that a movie that brags about how epic and grand it is with its moving, powerful soundtrack just doesn’t match up with the simplicity and (ultimately) irrelevant stories we’re being told.

I just couldn’t figure out if the movie was trying to be a mosaic or not. At one point, you’re seeing how all of these stories are connected, but then that anxiety is rewarded by conclusions that really make no difference or impact. It’s a mosaic tied together by string, which is great for some, I suppose, but frustrating for me.

When it comes down to it, I had no idea what the film was trying to say.

IS IT WORTH WATCHING?

I’m conflicted here. The film got everything right except for the problem that its source material just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve never read the novel, but I’m guessing that the book has the same mosaic format to it. I’m someone who has been raised on Assassin’s Creed, a franchise that is all about connections between ancestors and how that makes a significant impact on the story being told.

Cloud Atlas was disappointing to me. I loved elements of it, such as the pacing, some characters, and the score, but the content just didn’t live up to how great these elements are. It is an ambitious film, for sure, in that it tells 6 different stories in 6 completely different settings and actually nails the presentation. Unfortunately, I feel like I gained nothing from watching it.

I don’t think this is worth watching if you are a casual moviegoer looking for something interesting to take up your time. It is a long 3 hours, and many are bound to lose interest after the first hour. If you are a lover of film, however, and want to see some great set pieces, beautiful effects, and listen to an amazing score, you’ll like this film.

 

Review: ‘Les Miserables’

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People have been waiting a long time for Les Miserables to hit the big screen. Constantly regarded as one of the greatest musicals to ever hit broadway, this piece of work has, until now, been an undertaking some would call “unfilmable.” Well, I’m here to let you know that, yes, this movie works, and it just might be the best movie you’ll see this year. Maybe.

BIAS

I have no bias with this work. I had never seen the play, read the book, or known any crucial plot points before seeing this film (not for lack of wanting. I had tickets to the broadway play in 2008 but the show was canceled due to the writers’ strike. I’ve been charred ever since.)

So this review is coming from the words of someone completely unfamiliar with the source material, so take my opinion for what it is. I won’t be in the business of trying to compare the movie to the book or play, since I simply can’t.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Image Courtesy of projectqatlanta.comIf you don’t know much about the story or backdrop, know that you will be entering a biopic of sorts centering around the character of Jean Valjean played by Hugh Jackman, with his story taking place over a period of about 20 years (40 if you count the unseen prologue) in 17th century France.

Yes, the movie has plenty of supporting characters, but the story really revolves a long chase scene between Jean Von Jean, a convict who broke parole but is seeking spiritual redemption, and Javert, the ruthless policeman who hunts him played by Russel Crowe.

The movie carries many themes, with one of the most prominent being freedom. Halfway in, the story coincides with the second French Revolution that took shape in the 1830s. The story coincides beautifully with these events, making it a fitting period piece.

This movie is truly a musical, with characters constantly singing and very, very rarely speaking out of song. I don’t have to have seen the broadway play to know that the music is one of the world’s most celebrated scores, constantly pulling at your heartstrings throughout the movie’s long 2.5 hours.

Oh yeah, the movie is long. If you don’t have the RunPee app (an app that shows you when the best times are to take a bathroom break) GET IT. I did and benefitted greatly, since the movie is constantly introducing new characters and jumping forward in time, though there are plenty of long song sequences you can cut short.

Back to the music, you may have already heard that the movie has pioneered a new method of recording the music. Rather than produce all of the singing in a studio months before production, most of the singing recorded is actually being sung on camera, and it shows. The raw emotion in the sound this creates is extremely noticeable and provoked many in the audience to tears, literally.

WHAT WORKS

Pretty much every scene with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine, is pure gold. Their performances overshadow most everything else about the film, and awards will most likely be handed out. The music is phenonemnal, though the only songs that really did it for me were “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Red and Black,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” Everything else was fine, but there was just so much singing that many of the others songs were cluttered and forgettable. Something I’m sure purchasing the soundtrack would cure.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK
I’m not going to say that Russell Crowe did a poor job. He really didn’t. I’m just burdened with having to compare him to Hugh Jackman. The performances were far apart in my opinion, mainly because of Crowe’s lack of emotion, though perhaps that’s what the character of Javert calls for.

The sets are hit or miss. They ranged from epic in scale, especially towards the beginning, but then meander to looking like something out of a Lemony Snicket novel. It was too noticeable for me to forgive.

I know British accents are all the range, but do we really lack the capacity for pulling off French accents in America? It’s annoying to watch a French Revolution movie where the 8 year old is leading one of the most epic battle songs sounding like Kelly from Misfits. 

On a more serious note, I hesitate to judge the story, which I frankly found rushed. Yes, this is a different medium. Movies can’t do what books do. I just wish that more explanations between time skips could have occurred. You absolutely have to pay close attention, or you will be yearning for more.

I also wish they could have done more with Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried, though I’m appreciative that they took full advantage of Sacha Baron Cohen, who played Thenardier the Innkeeper.

IS IT WORTH WATCHING?

For most people, definitely yes. It’s pure drama with some action, so don’t expect much humor. If you want to get truly involved in a long, gripping, and performance-rich musical, you will get what you paid for with Les Miserables. Almost everyone can appreciate the beauty behind the music, but the movie is definitely not for everyone. If you couldn’t even handle the music breaks in Phantom of the Opera, for example, then this is definitely not the movie for you.

For fans of the source material, I can say with confidence that every person I know that has seen both the play and the movie have greatly enjoyed this. I’ve yet to hear of disappointment from the fans. There was a standing ovation at the very end, which turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever witnessed. Not a dry eye in the house.

I highly recommend that you see this in theaters! I can’t imagine the sound being better in your living room. On a final note, here is my favorite quote from the movie that gave me chills: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

 

Review: ‘Arrow’

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I HATE the CW. It doesn’t even try to make shows for my demographic, and hey that is alright. But with Arrow, the superhero biopic based on the quasi-well-known D.C. superhero Green Arrow, could just might show a more balanced network on channel 5.

Having premiered back in September, I’ve given the show 6 episodes to prove itself, so this review is based on my impression of those 6 episodes alone.

The first thing you need to know about this new show is that it has absolutely no connection with the Green Arrow of Smallville fame, which is great news for probably most people. That version of Green Arrow differs tremendously from this new envisioned hero. It’s like comparing pop music to rock n roll, or at least that’s how I make sense of it.

Arrow relies on the kind of gritty storytelling that borrows somewhat from Chris Nolan’s Batman and, surprisingly, Lost. I never really got into Lost having only watched 10 or so episodes, but if there’s one thing I took away from their storytelling, it’s the use of ongoing flashbacks to bolster the story. So, imagine a superhero television show that paces itself like Lost.

In a nutshell, Arrow is about a 20 something billionaire named Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) who was shipwrecked at sea for 5 years. He returns from his isolation with an agenda: to use his superhuman  skills acquired mysteriously from his time on the island to the right the wrongs of his father, who acquired his wealth by taking advantage of the poor.

Yes it’s Robin Hood mixed with Batman with the show Revenge for good measure. One of the show’s strong points is that we are introduced slowly to the character of Oliver Queen. We begin with his return to his home of Starling City, as he juggles reconnecting with his estranged family/friends and taking down the crony capitalists that are choking the city to death. arrow-stephen-amell-cw

That’s Arrow’s biggest strength: character development. Oliver is interesting and constantly changing. One minute he is a brooding anti-hero unafraid to kill someone who stands in his way. The next minute he is a detective, figuring out the best way to subdue his well-protected enemies. Then we have the minutes where Oliver is an actual person, struggling to fit back into the lives of his beloved family who thought he was dead for years. Oh, and let’s not forget that we are treated to excellent flashbacks to his 5 years of desperate survival that turned him into the character we already know. The show goes out of its way to make Oliver Queen a great character.

I wish I could say the same for some of the other characters. With the exception of Oliver’s mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) and Oliver’s bodyguard Dig (David Ramsey), the rest of Arrow’s cast are either one-note or should be one-note. This is more apparent early-on with Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Oliver’s girlfriend before the shipwreck, of which he cheated on her with her sister, who did not survive the shipwreck. Yikes. Although this character is ripe with great plot opportunities for drama, I did not find Cassidy’s portrayal of the character very compelling or fun to watch. Watching her be a lawyer is especially frustrating and full of one-liners like, “I’m the only one who cares about this city!” and “I will always fight for the little guy!” Sorry Laurel, Rachel Dawes did it better.

I could go on and on about the lackluster characters, but instead I’ll focus on how the show ultimately redeems itself via the excellent pacing, memorable villains, above-average action scenes, and the show’s fantastic commitment to comic-book tie-ins. Even the people who don’t recognize the nuance references to the D.C. comic universe benefit from the rich universe this show borrows from. It works.

The show is on a good path, and it’s only main flaw (again the characters) is improving weekly. If there is one thing that can really make this show a must-watch, it would be the implementation of more moral “real world” dilemmas that we all know and love from D.C. stories such as Batman (at what point do you become the villain you’re fighting against?) and Superman (security versus freedom). Arrow has teased us with these deep questions, such as how Oliver Queen has readily murdered dozens of bodyguards and security personnel to accomplish his missions. At first we rolled our eyes at the inconsistency of this, but then a major villain early on actually points this out to Green Arrow and it sunk in. Oliver then begins to show how his torture on the island made him callous and depraved. These are great themes more than suitable for a D.C. character.

So yes, Arrow is definitely worth watching for most people. It has the beautiful actors and supernatural-ish world and characters CW watchers crave and it has the fantastic storytelling and action that is usually witnessed on ABC and Fox. It’s a fun show that can sometimes throw drama-infused curveballs, and I can’t wait to see how the first season turns out.

-On a side note, I am very much against D.C. copying Marvel for a superhero team up movie in the form of The Justice League to rival The Avengers. Shows like this prove that D.C. belongs on the small screen, and a team up using this version of Green Arrow would be 10 times better than using, say Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern. We’ll see if I eat my words once Man of Steel comes out.

 

Review: ‘Revolution’ Pilot

If you haven’t watched the pilot yet, I strongly suggest you do before reading on. You can watch for free here: http://www.nbc.com/revolution/video/pilot/1415378

The basic premise of Revolution follows one key theme: what would happen if all of our man-made electrical devices just stopped working? Cars, airplanes, lighting, even batteries are now completely useless, as something has disrupted electrical currents.

Revolution follows this idea opening with the “blackout” which takes place during the present, and we see how this sudden change immediately affects the world. The show fast-forwards 15 years to our main characters, who are embarking on a mission to save a family member from a ruthless militia. Along the way, we are shown hints to why the blackout happened and who knows about it, and the show teases us with flashbacks to the day the blackout happened a la “Lost.”

It’s an interesting mystery for sure, but what has people really rooting for the show is how it lends itself to spirited adventure with the reasonable implementation of muskets, swords, and crossbows. The action scenes are actually dynamic and fun to watch, making it a lot like Pirates of The Caribbean meets Fallout if that makes any sense.

That said, the pilot has its issues. Mainly the characters. I don’t really like Charlie, the female lead, as she seems like a pretty boring narrative device. Her main function is to bring the other characters together, but it’s not very exciting yet. I’ll give her more episodes, but I don’t like what I see yet. The other characters standing alone are much more well-conceived, especially Maggie and Miles. Maggie is a botanist that uses trickery to win her fights, although she doesn’t seem to fit in the cast ensemble just yet and doesn’t get much screen time.

Miles could be the show’s saving grace as the reluctant hero who bests an entire platoon of militia soldiers single-handed. Easily the best action scene you’ll see on TV these days.

Other characters don’t make much sense yet, such as Nate, the show’s villain yet hero who works for the militia and has a thing for Charlie. Aaron is a former Google employee who is nothing more than a comic relief who we’ll hopefully see come to his own as this group’s “Sokka.”

Oh and how could I leave out Giancarlo Esposito, who can only be described as Revolution’s own  Gus Fring. His performance was great, of course, but we really need to see him evolve beyond his usual sharp-tongued villainy.

Overall, the show has plenty of promise. Enough, at least, for you to get plugged in now and see where this goes. As long as the characters begin to find their rhythm amongst each other and the writing continues to catch us off guard (the second-to-last plot twist was very well-done), we could have an addicting (for a good reason) show on our hands.

Also, people are crying foul over supposed plot-holes surrounding how this world has been shaped after 15 years. All I can say is wait. I’m sure we’ll see valid reasons for why society has developed into what we see in the pilot, and I’m confident they can pull it off.

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