Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Writing & Directorial Debut in DON JON

Don Jon was a Sundance hit, and it makes sense that Relativity Media picked up the distribution rights.  Marking Joseph Gordon Levitt’s first screenplay and film sitting in the director’s chair, I can say we definitely have something to look forward to.  I’m hoping there’s a lot more depth and analysis here rather than a straight up comedy, but knowing what kind of artistic value Gordon-Levitt emphasizes, I think my worries will be nonexistent.

Don Jon’s Addiction arrives in theaters October 18th, 2013.

Easily the Best Film of the Year: STORIES WE TELL Review

Stories are timeless.  Regardless of when they take place, the stories we decide to share with our friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers, live on, even longer than our own lives, as they are what keeps our legacy in existence.  In Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, we see one story, told in several different perspectives, and how it changed many lives in heartbreaking but also fulfilling ways.

Stories We Tell is centralized on the Polley family, specifically Sarah’s mother, who’s bright, innovative, and beautifully expressive.  She’s an individual who lives life in her own terms, moving on from darkness and doing the best she can to make her journey exciting and enjoyable, regardless of her current situation.  The drama surrounding all of this is that Sarah’s father is at question.  The dad she has grown up with and played the father figure has always been Michael, who was married to her mother until her unfortunate death.

As continues to play detective on her own true lineage, she discovers that her real father is someone she completely unexpected, complicating this already complicated story even further.  Sarah’s world is thrown into a whirlwind, making this entire situation life changing.  The realizations that she continues to discover on this path towards the truth affects everyone; her brothers, sisters, her supposed father, her real father, and even friends of the family.

The film in general is heartbreaking, putting the tragedy of the typical American family on full display.  In today’s world, nothing is abnormal with families, and Sarah’s is uncomfortable and unfortunate, but not unfamiliar.  It’s a true reflection of the dramatic turn in regards to the people we love, especially the difficulties and complexities of how life is lived and how that can positively or negatively affect our partners, children, etc.  Polley doesn’t shy away from the conversation, as she presents it with a bright spotlight on a shiny platter.

The struggles for all individuals living in this world is to never disappoint, and love, no matter how powerful it can be, is also the most dangerous feeling we experience.  If you’ve ever witnessed any of Polley’s films, they all surround themselves on the realities of relationships, and how love, no matter how beautiful and graceful it may be, can destroy and demolish your livelihood.  Love doesn’t exuberate peace, but inconsistency and confusion.  Our love for people is shallow 8ucurrent position.  Her films reflect her life experiences, and Stories We Tell is obvious evidence on her personal reflection on the subject matter.

As I try to recommit myself to a review rather than a lecture on family dynamics, I can’t help but express why I love this film.  Similar to Sarah’s situation, my family comes from a difficult background.  Just like the Polley household, the one I grew up in was torn down by pain, suffering, and very unfortunate events.  There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your family disappear as a child.  It’s everything you hold dear, and when there’s nothing to hold on to, you find something else to replace it.

I found comfort through film and movies, sports, food (too much maybe), and friends and good company.  That’s all I’ve ever really needed.  But the effects are endless, and what we see in Stories We Tell is the epitome of a family looking for calm through the storm.  In all honesty, it’s almost a miracle how close and open all of them are considering how much they’ve gone through, and most individuals cannot survive the way the Polley family has.  It’s a nod to them and their relationships with each other.

The documentary plays out like a gorgeous play, slowly revealing more about people, their circumstances, and how it can dictate their future.  The set up is so perfect, as Polley grabs our hand and gently leads us without ever overextending her direction or playing it too safe.  It’s a romantic poem about a tragic and somewhat depressing message, and it all works beautifully.  There were moments where I had to fight back tears, as it strung a very emotional and insecure spot in my life, regardless of all the progress I’ve made.  And that’s when a film reaches ultimate success: by stringing memories and feelings within an individual that makes the experience personal and relevant.

Stories We Tell isn’t necessarily about a family drama, but more so about the importance of truth, and the evolution of the relativity and its impact on our souls.  Stories were once a real-life harrowing experience, and though however personal and difficult it may be, memories are everlasting.  Some may refuse to look back into the past, but a documentary like Stories We Tell exempts any excuses, and we are forced to face with our own mystifying past.  What a beautiful accomplishment.

Stories We Tell receives 4 stars (out of 5).

Dumb, Stupid, & Way Too Much Fun: FAST & FURIOUS 6 Review

What Justin Lin has done to the Fast & Furious franchise is a modern day miracle. He created a brand new universe of vehicular action films, setting up seed after seed since Tokyo Drift. His final piece of work, Fast & Furious 6, is unfortunately the end of his involvement, but what a way to go out.

Fast & Furious 6 starts off where Fast 5 ended. But the ante quickly rises, as Brian has a son, and Dom receives very important information about the resurrection of Letty. Things move even faster as the whole team resembles, and gets thrown into the world of Owen Shaw, a ex-Military export with a whole lot of skills and violence. And unfortunately, Letty is now part of his crew, helping him retrieve intelligence and technology that does something. Honestly, the movie does a very poor job of explaining the purpose of these villains, but honestly, who cares.

Dom, Brian, and Hobbs are not all together working for the same team, and in exchange for the capturing of Shaw, will not only get Letty back but also receive pardons to go back home (I guess Brazil wasn’t good enough…). Through all of this, we get the chase scenes, the fights, and everything we ever wanted from this franchise: pure exhilaration.

Now look, this is no grand epic film that pushes the depths or themes reflecting society, but it does do is entertain the hell out of the audience, and really, that’s all we would ever ask for. What Justin Lin does well more than any other director working with car chase scenes is that he understands the importance of spatial awareness. You can’t just have mass chaos and not give a hoot about the viewer’s perception and understanding of what’s happening. This major flaw happens in almost every mediocre action film, thinking quick cuts and vicious editing will solve any dull set piece. Unfortunately, the audience isn’t that stupid, and when we lose all placement of what the hell is going on, then that’s the quickest way to kill your film in the action-adventure genre.

And with Fast & Furious 6, though crazy and obnoxious is happening all around, it moves at a linear pace. The film overall works well, placing plenty of humor and character development throughout this two hour plus film. There are times where the film is overflowing of exposition, and sometimes focuses too much on allowing these characters to expose themselves. Though I appreciate the approach, sometimes I just want to see stuff blow up, and I must admit I got a little impatient and anxious. But the last hour of the film eased my frustration and ran past my expectations.

The entire film is completely unnecessary. I mean, that’s kind of the entire franchise. Over enthusiasm, improbable scenarios and ludicrous (you see what I did there?) action sequences, but it’s all part of what makes this franchise, and Fast & Furious 6 specifically work so well. Once you know your identity, completely dive into it, and take it for an extremely enjoyable ride. What I loved most is how Justin Lin fits this film into the world of the Fast & Furious, placing it correctly with the chronological order of all films. It’s a stroke of genius, and you’ll see how important each moment is throughout the entirety of the franchise. And the teaser at the end of the film is absolutely incredible. One of the best eggs I’ve ever seen (even when I knew about it beforehand).

What works in this film is drenched to its maximum, taking us on an experience that matches any action film of the summer. It’s laughable at times, absurd, and complete stupidity, but at the end of the day, it works. It all works. And that’s all you can really ask for out Fast & Furious 6.

Fast & Furious 6 receives 3 ½ stars (out of 5).

Simple and Singular Fun: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Review

There’s nothing more to expect out of Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams’ second at bat on the Captain Kirk voyage.  Fortunately for me, I am not a die hard Trekkie, which in turn allows me to enjoy what’s transpiring on screen without slowly dying away from its misinterpretations and misunderstandings of prior material from the television shows to The Wrath of Khan. The film itself is enjoyable, which is worth the price ticket alone, but if you come to seek anything more than popcorn summer blockbuster, than you’re hanging your head on the line of disappointment because this is all that it offers.

The Enterprise crew rounds up again as we see all the familiar and lovable faces we come to adore.  Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are back at it with the rest of the group, mixing humor and intelligence through their interactions.  The strength of this film lies within the cast, and their ability to showcase their chemistry is by far the best attribute Star Trek has going.

We start off with an insanely dumb mission where Spock is trying to diffuse an active volcano which would destroy an inhabitant planet that barely has taken the first step of development.  Though it is a spectacle, it’s a ridiculous start, trying to base itself off of the importance of friendship and saving one’s life for the other.  Foreshadow indeed.

As always, Kirk finds himself into trouble for endangering his crew and the mission entirely, and is forced to drop his rank and off the Enterprise.  But we all know that’s not really going to happen.  But for now, we’ll go along with it.  While this is all happening, we are introduced to James Harrison, played by the ever impressive Benedict Cumberbatch, who attacks base command murdering innocent men and women.

This begins the intense cat and mouse game between Kirk and Harrison, or as we now will find out, Khan.  Now this is where the film starts to lose me.  Though I’m not a huge fan of Khan, I know a little background information regarding one of the best villains from Star Trek, and unfortunately, this Khan does not resemble the Khan of old.  He doesn’t embody Khan at all, from his motivations or his reasonings, making this villain seem like a copy, or more fitting, a hoax.

The villainous role is only interesting because of Cumberbatch’s talent as an actor, but not much else.  There’s a lot to question here with the choices made surrounding Khan, especially when the film will state one aspect of Khan, but completely ignore the  realities of it when a situation arises.  The whole Khan issue is somewhat of a mess, and it felt cheap and exploited, mainly putting the blame on the team of writers who had years to develop a crisp and structured antagonist.

The film itself lies on a similar journey, following a set path of excitement, but not looking to explore anything new other than what we’ve already experienced before in the first Star Trek.  I wasn’t exactly sure what the goal was for this film, whether it be a fill in for the third film (which is set up quite nicely) or for it to improve continuously, and if it was the latter, then the film as a whole fails.

But looking at Star Trek Into Darkness without a dense connection nor a passionate voice, I found myself entertained and amused throughout.  There are flaws, many flaws to be exact, with CinemaSins slobbering away for a chance to go after this film, but it’s exactly what you come to expect from a May release.  I wish we saw more from Sulu, Bones, and Scotty, who seemed to be pushed to the side to give Kirk and Spock even more screen time.

This is a film that you bring kids, families, and friends to and just enjoy the days of summer.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If I was a intense Star Trek fan, I might be pissing in my pants, but for now, Star Trek Into Darkness compelled enough to warrant a decent reaction (but Abrams won’t receive such a pass for Star Wars).

Star Trek Into Darkness receives 3 stars (out of 5).

Major Oscar Contender FRUITVALE STATION Trailer!

Any film that comes out Sundance with hot pipping momentum like Fruitvale Station should never be ignored.  And it winning both the Grand Jury and Audience award is no small feat.  First time director Ryan Coogler presents a film based on a true story about a tragic New Year’s Day event involving Oscar Grant.  Films like Little Miss Sunshine and Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station is primed for some awards recognition.  Keep this film in the back of your mind when fall rolls around.

Fruitvale Station arrives in theaters in limited release on July 12th, 2013.

Brand New GRAVITY Trailer from Alfonso Cuaron!

I love Alfonso Cuaron, and this new trailer of his next featured film entitled, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney looks amazing and beautiful.  If you haven’t heard, this film supposedly opens with a 17 minute continuous shot, and even for Cuaron, that’s pretty ambitious.  He’s always wanting to push the envelope, and how thankful we should be to have someone like him working in the industry.

Gravity arrives in theaters October 4th, 2013.