Since I’ve been on vacation the past few weeks, I’ve had no opportunity to turn to the theater for new screenings. I did however have a chance to finally catch up with Neighbors, which Chris Bunker reviewed upon release but I kept missing. Though I found more to like than he did – I was quite fond of Seth Rogen and Rose Bryne and their considerable comic chemistry – the supporting cast leaves much to be desired and I’m just very much over Zac Efron being a thing. The guy has never proven an ability to act so can we just collectively get over putting him in movies? Thanks.
Additionally, I caught a showing of Deliver Us From Evil – which was a thoroughly moody and appropriately tense horror film – and a second watch of 22 Jump Street, this time with some friends.
At home, I caught up with a few releases from 2014, an old classic and a movie on Netflix that I sounded agreeable to my mom. So join me as we plow through this latest installment of the internet’s most inconsistent weekly segment: Weekly Review.
Tim Burton‘s Batman is likely the movie that you could trace all this superhero mania back to, and for good reason. Michael Keaton‘s Caped Crusader might not growl like Bale but he’s got the aloof playboy of Bruce Wayne down pat and makes for a charmed if not entirely complex iteration of the best comic book hero out there. And no matter how brightly Heath Ledger’s star shined as the Joker, it will always be Jack Nicholson who did it first and a re-watch of Burton’s Bat proves why so many thought ol’ Jack couldn’t be topped. His maniacal strange may not reach the heights of Jack Torrence but he’s tapped into something equally primal and outlandishly, devilishly haywire. Burton’s scenery and set design look as gothic and ruthless as a Hollywood set could be (even though they stand out as props more than ever) regardless of whether they appear a bit silly in the eyes of 2014. Nonetheless, this original take on the Dark Knight is still the best outside Nolan’s oeuvre. (B-)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Jack Ryan is perhaps Tom Clancy’s most lasting icon; his pencil-pushing Jason Bourne, his analytical Indiana, his American James Bond. He’s been played by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, making Chris Pine‘s portrayal Ryan’s fifth outing on the silver screen. But instead of reigniting a franchise that’s always had a knack for fits and starts, Shadow Recruit puts the kabbash on our desire to see further iterations like a pail of sea water over already dying coals. Pine is fine as Ryan but does little to add depth or layers to a character that we already have a strong sense of. Instead of deepening our involvement with Clancy’s superhero, Kenneth Branagh (who inexplicably doubles as the film’s Russian villain) has merely presented another one-and-done action hero ready to be whisked under the mat and forgotten about. There’s nothing new here, nothing exciting and worse yet, Shadow Recruit features one of the worst performances of the year courtesy of Keira Knightley, who has just as much trouble keeping an accent straight as she does keeping a straight face. For shame. (D+)
Overwrought, sentimental and told in voice over, Spanglish is a perfect example of a strong concept undone by a sappy hand. Nevertheless, a strong trickle of feminist ideals populate this mostly family-friendly outing that sees a Spanish nanny adapt to upper-class Americana with all their private schools and Xanax whilst trying to maintain an identity as a Hispanic woman. With a second round of editing and some thoughtful script touch ups, Spanglish could have been a lot stronger but it tends towards melodrama in all the wrong places, overshadowing the strong message at the film’s core. Adam Sandler does ditch his usual shtick to try to act, but if you’re really looking for proof of his thespian ability, you ought to look elsewhere – Punch Drunk Love being your best bet. (C)
Life Itself (2014)
Steve James‘ Life Itself is a stirring documentary about the man behind the most famous film critic in the world: Roger Ebert. Documenting Ebert’s final months, we see a man who was challenged by his own ambition, who saw road blocks as doorways and would never back down from a fight – especially if it was about a movie he was passionate about. Old friends and colleagues come out to pass along stories of Ebert as do consummate directors – most notable a starry eyed Martin Scorsese – and the result paints a picture of a man fully passionate and fully human. If there is one film to reaffirm the meaning of film criticism, that seeks to define the inimitable bliss of true cinema, that holds a mirror at the world and asks us to seek out foreign – even dissenting – opinions, this is it. (B)