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Review of “Focus”

Focus is essentially what would’ve happened if David O. Russell made American Hustle follow through with its promotional material. In other words, if it were actually entirely about cons. And while American Hustle had far more charm, if you only liked the first and last ten minutes of that movie (the two cons), then Focus isn’t the worst way to spend your time at the cinemas. MV5BMTUwODg2OTA4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE5MTE4MzE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

Will Smith and Margot Robbie team up to show us how professional conning is done, along with how to have an extremely unconvincing relationship over the course of four years. Here’s the issue with this movie: the cast is mad small, so when the relationship between the core two players is mediocre, it sours the whole experience. It’s not a horrible relationship, by any stretch, but it just feels so double-guessing and contrived for the sake of propelling the plot forward that I couldn’t really root for the overdone sex prelude scenes. And boy, is there a lot of lust with no reward in this movie. Half of Margot’s screen time is just her rubbing up against Will, yet we only see an exposed tit once, for maybe a fraction of a second. It’s an underwhelming silver lining.

Actually, that bit about underwhelming silver linings pretty much sums up my feelings towards Focus. There are amazing aspects to this movie, such as the fantastic set design. Remember that one scene from Skyfall where Bond is in that glass skyscraper at night with all the lights bouncing off the walls and stuff? Picture an entire movie of amazing aesthetics such as that. Buenos Aires looks especially colorful and inviting, even if everything is slightly too sterile looking to the point where it’s kind of off-putting. What I’m trying to say is, the visual design of the movie is stellar overall. And Margot Robbie was great in her role, definitely solid. Smith was great as well, playing the con artist perfectly, but he just didn’t seem to click believably with Robbie, part of that stemming from bad chemistry and part of it from the shoddy relationship dialogue.

Overall, if you want a more focused con movie than American Hustle, check out Focus. It’s a 6/10 in my book, nothing to run out and see this very second but a worthy watch if you have a con-artist itch to scratch like I did.

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Review of “Whiplash”

It’s good.Whiplash-poster

It just ticks off all the boxes in terms of what makes a movie “good”. Protagonist who you want to see succeed, intense antagonist that’s not completely one-dimensional, real life issues as backdrop for the movie’s conflict, and a cozy ending with a cherry on top.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s nowhere near as profound as some people are making it out to be. I went into it with sky-high expectations, but, honestly, I thought about the movie afterwards for about the same duration that I reminisced over Blackhat, to give you an image of how memorable it is. It’s not overrated, per-say, such as Birdman was; it’s just not the best movie of the decade that some people are claiming it to be.

J.K. Simmons is amazing, but he has the easy job. It’s his typecast role that he does in everything else (Spider-Man, Oz, etc.). Miles Teller isn’t as amazing but definitely does the much more impressive job tackling his complex and conceited drumming prodigy character.

In terms of music, if you like jazz or even just drumming, you have to see this.

In terms of highbrow, slightly “artsy” films (also known as Sony Picture Classics, in this case), I am just not feeling Whiplash nearly as much as I felt Foxcatcher. But still, it’s a boatload better than that shitfest Birdman. One minor gripe I have is the absurd dramatization this movie contains. Seriously, Oliver Stone’s Savages didn’t contain the sheer quantity of blood, sweat and tears Whiplash has. I’m not even kidding. Every time you see Miles Teller going hard in the movie, he looks like he just got the big Splash Lagoon bucket dumped on him, and he loses at least six pints of blood throughout the film. And he cries a lot.

Go see it if you are in need of a good film. Not a game changer, nothing spectacular, but definitely good. Although, there is a certain irony that a movie all about striving to be unanimously better than the rest never truly rises above “good”.

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Review of “The Gambler”

It’s two hours of Mark Wahlberg being an irresponsible person. No real character arc (*spoiler* other than how he kind of gets over his addiction), not a whole lot of action, not a whole lot of anything. It’s just a compilation of a lot of enjoyable, well-written scenes strung together in a decent plot. If that sounds like a good time to you like it was for me, then go out and see it.

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Mark Wahlberg is wonderful in the film, and if you’re going for him, prepare to be satisfied. John Goodman is solid for the collective ten minutes he has on-screen, make of that what you will. Brie Larson is cool as well, if you even know who she is. Michael K. Williams puts on a great show, even though I’ve only really seen him in three other things (Battlefield 4, the Purge sequel, Robocop and now this). Overall, good performances.

The scenes are snappy and well-written, giving Wahlberg a lot of fun dialogue to play with. Some of it might be melodramatic, some of it might be douche-y, and some of it might not make a whole lot of sense. But all of it is fun to hear. I mean, if you want dramatic build up with slow scenes setting up a colossal finale, look elsewhere. Events in this movie just sort of “happen”. It’s a tidy story that fits together perfectly well, but there’s no real “this time is different from the last” sort of feeling in any given scene, it’s just “Mark Wahlberg fucks up again but gets out of it with his cynicism intact”. And to be honest, it’s done well enough that to me personally it justifies the movie’s style.

The ending of the movie is pretty interesting, so just know that it ends on a solid note if that tends to be a deal breaker for you. And there’s this nice little allusion to how dealing with banks can be just as much of a gamble as actual gambling.

The soundtrack is good too, since no one else seems to be mentioning it in their reviews. I discovered this great band thanks to the movie, M83 (French electro-musicians… sort of like if the majority of Daft Punk’s work was their Tron: Legacy soundtrack).

Overall, it’s a great movie if you have some downtime and want a fun flick. Nothing too major justifying that you run out and see it immediately, but I had a very good time with it if that means anything to you.

Fun fact: this is the second time Mark Wahlberg has played an irresponsible character with the last name “Bennett”. First in Ted as John Bennett and now in this as Jim Bennett.

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Review of Sonic Lost World for Wii U

This isn’t a Sonic game for everyone. In fact, even with Sonic’s polarizing history, this will probably be even more of a mixed bag than Unleashed when gamers reflect on it in years to come. So with that, I’m here to cast my vote and say that it’s a good game, as long as you play it how it wants to be played.maxresdefault

Sonic Lost World does not play like any other Sonic game in the series. Its got its own thing going on, mixing some classic elements like the spin-dash (Sonic Adventure style), Wisp power-ups (Sonic Colors) and new elements like the parkour system. And to be honest, until you get a firm grasp on all of them, Lost World probably won’t be fun for you, which can be seen when you look at all of the grumpy IGN and Gamespot reviewers, complaining that the game is “hard” and blah blah blah. I’m not going to lie, I was planning to be among that sorry group of reviewers up until halfway through the game, when everything finally clicked into place and the adventure finally started feeling natural, and subsequently fun.

First off, Sonic’s speed is all but gone. You will not be boosting, you will be leisurely jogging, albeit with Sonic’s feet turning into a misleading figure-eight symbol (a la Sonic CD). Do not be fooled, however, as without a boost pad, Sonic is doing no more than sauntering through levels. Even the spin-dash is pretty slow. Most of Sonic’s real speed in Lost World is found in the parkour system, which is extremely hard to use, but easy to master. Once you learn its spotty mechanics and touchy frame-connection points, using the new feature becomes a cinch. This is where Sonic’s real speed comes into play, with him zipping across walls, ricocheting across springs and briefly returning to his speedy self. But because of the parkour mechanic’s insane touchiness, most reviewers avoided it, thus robbing themselves of the only real (non-scripted) speed to be had in Lost World.

The Wisp power-ups return from Sonic Colors, and are all really pointless inclusions that do almost nothing for the level design, with the exceptions of the returning Orange Rocket Wisp which is used to discover interesting new locations, and the new Red Eagle Wisp which can be used to bypass some of the game’s more irksome sections at a moderate pace (looking at you, Silent Forest Zone 1).

As far as difficulty curve, the thing that almost every review has been hammering Lost World for, I’m here to say that if you are truly competent at video games then Lost World should be a breeze of a platformer. Sure, some of the deaths are cheap, but aside from a few late-game bottomless pit scenarios Lost World is extremely fair, in my humble opinion. The game’s tight controls leave you at fault for any deaths you may suffer, and the curve itself is pretty good, starting out at piss-easy and revving up to the point where collecting red rings can become downright brutal, which means an actual challenge for a change.

In terms of plot, it’s simple, full of holes and nothing special. However, the script is absolutely fantastic and actually got me to chuckle a few times. Eggman actually says some pretty dark stuff (genocide and whatnot), one of the Zetis makes an anorexia comment, and the humor is surprisingly black for a Sonic title. It’s a breath of fresh air from the overly-cute Colors and Generations scripts. There’s even some really fun corny stuff that’s chuckle-worthy instead of the usual cringe-worthy.

Should you get a Wii U for it?  I did, but only because Smash Bros. is on the horizon (and Bayonetta 2); so if you haven’t already I recommend picking this game up with a Wii U to, at bare minimum, serve as a fun appetizer for the system’s ever-expanding library. Not to mention it’s a solid enough game in and of itself.

 

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Review of “A Million Ways to Die in the West” — A Million Ways to Have a Good Time

Seth MacFarlane is known for being behind the Oz curtain, so to speak. Voicing multiple characters on Family Guy and voicing the titular teddy bear from Ted has cemented his reputation as a talented voice actor, but in this western parody he experiments by making his smug mug the prime attraction for two hours of your time. Is he going to win an Oscar for his acting chops? No. Does he do a better-than-serviceable job at starring in a pretty fun movie that he directed and produced? Yes.A_Million_Ways_to_Die_in_the_West_poster

A Million Ways to Die in the West (“Seth MacFarlane’s “Western”” would’ve been a much better title, in my opinion. At least it doesn’t require eight syllables) stars Seth MacFarlane as Albert Stark, sheep farmer extraordinaire on his quest to regain his gold-digging ex-girlfriend, and worry about Clinch (Liam Neeson), the bandit that’s in town because *spoiler*. I won’t ruin any of the plot, but there actually is a lot of substance in the two hour narrative, albeit with a slightly padded last twenty minutes. Seth manages to integrate a lot of clever one-off sketches along the way, but none that obstruct the overall plot. It’s a well done story, is the point I’m trying to hammer home.

A bevy of Hollywood heavy-hitters are present, including Sara Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried and Charlize Theron. Everyone’s great, including lead man MacFarlane. Liam Neeson seemed to be having an especially good time with his role, since I assume he rarely dabbles in comedies.

But the important question remains: is it humorous? Chuckle-worthy? A guffaw and a half? In short, yes. The laugh-out-loud moments are few and far in between, but there are a lot of chuckles to be had throughout the two hour run time. Some jokes are very clever and subtle (particularly one referring to the accusations of video games harming children), others are cheap laughs based around someone tactically deploying an F-bomb, some are fun references to Seth’s other works (namely a few Ted references), and almost all of them are well done. I say almost, because there are a handful of gross-out jokes that just don’t feel right, namely a nasty sloppy-shit joke and the inclusion of sheep penises. Barring those two moments, the humor is solid. An added bonus is all of the wonderful cameos that are sprinkled throughout the movie (one of which is in an after-the-credits sequence, so don’t leave right away).

While A Million Ways to Die in the West isn’t for everyone, and quite a few art-house snobs have already deemed it cinematic garbage, I feel as though it’s a solid comedy that justifies a matinee movie ticket’s admission price. It’s no Ted, but for an unexpected MacFarlane experiment, it’s far better than the big reviews would leave you to believe.