Welcome to NICKPICKSFLICKS. I am your host for the evening, America's sweetheart, Nick Spake.
5 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Total Crap
Just Reviewed Boyhood-July 18th
Nick's Best Movies of 2014 So Far-July 12th
Just Reviewed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-July 11th
15 Thoughts on the 2014 Primetime Emmy Nominees-July 10th
Just Reviewed Tammy-July 2nd
12 years a boy ****1/2
If there’s one movie that every new adult should see this year it’s “Boyhood.” While we’ve gotten a lot of great coming of age stories in the past couple years like “The Spectacular Now” and “The Way Way Back,” Richard Linklater’s extraordinary film takes the genre to unfeasible new levels. In 2002, young Ellar Coltrane was cast to play the film’s protagonist, a little boy named Mason. “Boyhood” was then filmed and written over a twelve-year period, following Mason from age five to age eighteen. Throughout this entire process, Coltrane continued to reprise his role as Mason. Not only is “Boyhood” one of the boldest coming of age stories ever put on film, it’s one of the absolute boldest experimental films ever made. The fact that a picture like this got off the ground at all is an achievement in itself.
Anyone who grew up this previous era will connect with “Boyhood” in some way, shape, or form. The film perfectly captures a generation consumed by Ipods, Facebook, “Dragon Ball Z,” Britney Spears, “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “High School Musical,” “The Dark Knight,” “Halo,” and “Wii Sports.” “Boyhood” does so much more than merely reference popular culture highlights from the past decade, however. It’s a picture perfect slice of life that feels all too real to be fiction. Had it only cast unknown actors, it probably could have been mistaken for a documentary. Of course then we would have been deprived of a couple career-best performances.
Patricia Arquette never hits a wrong note as Mason’s mother, who’s constantly stressed and on the brink of losing it. For someone raising two kids on her own and trying to get her college degree, though, she’s doing the best that any human being possibly could. Ethan Hawke is just as great as Mason’s father, an energized Obama backer who is constantly smoking cigarettes and probably something else too. Still trying to grow up himself, he makes for a solid weekend dad although he might not make for the most reliable full-time dad. Mason also has a stepfather played by Marco Perella, who seems nice enough at first, but turns out to be an abusive alcoholic. We’ve all known a parental figure like the adults here and the filmmakers never turn any of them into stereotypical caricatures.
In addition to the adult characters, “Boyhood” also contains some of the most authentic representations of children you’ll ever see. Linklater cast his daughter Lorelei Linklater as Mason’s sister, Samantha. Like Coltrane, she also grew up working on this film. Most movies tend to depict siblings as complete strangers that either never talk or are constantly at each other’s throats. The relationship between Mason and Samantha is a far more believable, though. Sure, they argue and tease each other, but there’s also a strong friendship that lasts throughout the years. It also helps that neither Mason nor Samantha are depicted as child stars that always spout witty one-liners that were obviously written by adults. They’re written as real kids that sometimes don’t know what to say or are likely imitating a character they saw on TV.
Mason himself is an extremely unique protagonist. He’s quiet and sometimes has trouble in school, but is a generally nice person. One might argue that Mason isn’t the most interesting character and to an extent that’s understandable. He’s essentially just a normal kid who acts as a blank slate for the audience to wear. This actually works wonderfully, though, as the film isn’t really about Mason so much as it is about witnessing a life play out through an adolescent’s eyes. Linklater does just that and what an enchanting life journey he takes us on.
So many movies feel like they need to retrain themselves to basic three act structures. “Boyhood” defies this unwritten rule, showing a person live their life rather than trying to turn it into a structured narrative. And you know what? That’s pretty fascinating, just as life itself is much more fascinating than we give it credit. Not every movie needs to follow the same formula we’ve seen a million times before. Not every movie needs to be about a hitman, bank heist, or giant robot. Not every movie needs a forced love triangle, action climax, or last minute misunderstanding. Sometimes just showing life play out is all you need.
Linklater has never been one to shy away from ambitious filmmaking. In “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Before Midnight,” he told the love story between two people over the course of twenty years. In “Boyhood,” he beautifully condenses a person’s entire youth into 166 minutes. Some might shy away from “Boyhood” based on its running time of almost three hours. It goes by much quicker than you’d think, however, just like childhood.
Okay, real quick here are my fifteen favorite movies of the year so far. A half-assed half year list if you will. Looking the list over, it’s actually been a better half year than I thought. If you think otherwise then you must not be seeing the right movies or maybe you’re just not seeing them the right way. In any case, let’s hope the second half of 2014 brings us plenty of movies to add to this list.
1. Boyhood: One of the boldest coming of age stories ever put on film and one of the absolute boldest experimental films ever made.
2. Life Itself: A passionate tribute to Roger Ebert’s life, forever reminding us that he was the greatest film critic who ever lived and so much more.
3. How to Train Your Dragon 2: While the first “How to Train Your Dragon” was wonderful, it’s kind of shocking just how fantastic this sequel is, expanding on a grand world with a fittingly darker tone.
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: A Shakespearean tragedy meets a science fiction war epic that improves upon its predecessor in every way. It just might even improve upon the Charlton Heston version.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Another quirky, charming entertainment that could only be brought to the screen by the endlessly inventive Wes Anderson.
6. The Lego Movie: Everything is awesome…need I say more?
7. Captain America: The Winter Solider: Just when it seemed like Marvel was wearing out their welcome at the movies, they delivered this rousing superhero sequel with the essence of a conspiracy thriller.
8. Obvious Child: A true acting showcase for Jenny Slate, who proves she’s a star in the marking capable of tremendous feats.
9. X-Men: Days of Future Past: Everything that’s made “X-Men” a great franchise is displayed here, with jaw dropping, well-choreographed action, a witty sense of humor, and intelligent themes regarding prejudice.
10. Edge of Tomorrow: While it might look like “Transformers” meets “Groundhog Day” on the surface, this science fiction action romp is so much smarter, funnier, and more original than you’d ever expect.
11. The Fault in Our Stars: Shailene Woodley is faultless once again in this heartbreakingly authentic depiction of young people dealing with cancer.
12. The Normal Heart: An equally heartbreaking account of the AIDS epidemic that’s sure to win multiple Emmy’s next month.
13. Only Lovers Left Alive: A smart romance that always feels honest, despite the fact that the romance is between two vampires.
14. Belle: A charming period picture about overcoming ignorance to reach unthinkable feats.
15. Under the Skin: Although it might prove too vague and art housey for some, Scarlett Johansson’s performance, not to mention her naked body, make this surreal identity crisis well worth checking out.
Hail to the Chimp! ****1/2
While “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a surprisingly enjoyable reboot/sort-of prequel to the 1968 classic, the film at times came off as a trial run. It seemed like the filmmakers had a grander, richer story they wanted to tell but had to lay the groundwork first. Now that the exposition is out of the way, they’re free to tell that grander story in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Like “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the latest “Apes” film is a perfect example of how to make a sequel. It couldn’t have come at a better time considering how “Transformers: Age of Extinction” brought the summer season down a whole letter grade a couple weeks ago.
Taking place sometime after the previous film, a tribe of genetically evolved apes has overrun the Muir Woods in California. Their fearless leader is Caesar, played once again by Andy Serkis in a stunning performance made possible by motion capture technology. Life is mostly peaceful for Caesar and his clan, which includes his mate and two sons. It also appears that the ALZ-113 virus has wiped out all human life. Sorry, AIDS, another deadly virus linked to monkey’s beat you to the punch line.
It turns out, however, that there’s still a band of immune humans living in a section of San Francisco. They wish to access a dam in the woods to turn the lights back on and reach out to other survivors. To get to the dam, though, they’ll need some assistance from Caesar. Many of the apes are reluctant to help humans in any way, particularly one named Koba (Toby Kebbell). Although Caesar wishes to co-exist with the humans in peace, war between the two cultures seems inevitable. Of course anybody who’s seen the ending to the Charlton Heston version knows that.
Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Gary Oldman all do solid work as the humans. Once again, though, this “Planet of the Apes” belongs to the apes themselves. Screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback wisely keep their dialog limited, almost entirely conveying emotion through facial expressions and sign language. It’s actually rather astonishing how emotionally involving “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is, taking time for quiet, subtle moments of awe that are foreign to the likes of Michael Bay.
At its heart, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a Shakespearean tragedy meets a science fiction war epic. It’s all about humanity and takes the time to develop everyone as a three-dimensional character, human and ape alike. Even the villains aren’t just war-hungry villains. You can understand their point of view just as you can understands Caesar’s point of view. This provides a multilayer commentary on the barrier between cultures, which some complained was too one-sided in “Avatar.”
You might be asking yourself, “how can a movie called ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ earn comparison to the works of Shakespeare, let alone be taken seriously?” But lets not forget, the original “Planet of the Apes” wasn’t just another lame B-movie. Michael Wilson, who also wrote “Lawrence of Arabia,” and Rod Serling, who created “The Twilight Zone,” saw potential for a thought-provoking story about prejudice, slavery, ignorance, and government. The people behind “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” saw that potential too. Both the original and this film manage to take a silly idea and turn it into something meaningful. That’s more than can be said about the Tim Burton version, which only made the idea sillier.
Naturally, the film does build up to an action climax. But even then Director Matt Reeves of “Let Me In” and “Cloverfield” never settles for mere explosion porn. He keeps us emotionally invested, not to mention excited, every step of the way. Walking away from the film, you can’t help but be pumped for the following chapter. As for what’s to come next, it seems like a showdown at the Statue of Liberty is in order.
5 Pleasant Surprises
1. Lizzy Caplan getting an Outstanding Drama Actress nomination for Masters of Sex
2. Archer finally getting into Outstanding Animated Program along with South Park and Futurama
3. And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is officially an Emmy nominee for the surprisingly exceptional CGI series!
4. They almost got the Outstanding Guest Drama Actor category just right, although I don't know what Paul Giamatti is doing in there for Downton Abbey over Pedro Pascal for Game of Thrones
5. No snubs for Breaking Bad, Fargo, True Detective, The Big Bang Theory, The Normal Heart, or Orange is the New Black I'm particularly furious about
1. Tatiana Maslany snubbed again for Outstanding Drama Actress for Orphan Black
2. No Good Wife for Outstanding Drama Series
3. No Legend of Korra for Outstanding Animated Program or Gravity Falls for that matter
4. Way too much love for Downton Abbey's very subpar forth season
5. Not nearly enough love for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, although Andre Braugher at least got in
5 Things I Can't Be That Mad About Because I Knew They'd Never Happen Anyway
1. No Ilana or Abbi in Outstanding Comedy Actress for Broad City
2. No Andrew Daly in Outstanding Comedy Actor for Review
3. No Cristin Miloti in Outstanding Comedy Supporting Actress for How I Met Your Mother
4. No love for Arrow
5. None of the actresses on Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Tammy and Louise ***1/2
What if Louise of “Thelma & Louise” survived driving into the Grand Canyon and had a bratty granddaughter played by Melissa McCarthy somewhere down the line? You’d probably get something along the lines of “Tammy.” In the film, Susan Sarandon finds herself going along for another offbeat road trip full of crazy shenanigans, none of which take an especially dark turn like in “Thelma & Louise.” Sarandon is only the co-pilot on this particular road trip, however, playing second banana to McCarthy as the title character.
Tammy is a bit like the woman we saw McCarthy portray in “Identity Thief,” but with a much more lovable side to her. She’s tacky, selfish, whiny, and refuses to take responsibility for all the problems in her life. Despite all of Tammy’s blatant flaws, you can’t help but adore her from the opening scene all the way through. Tammy has hit rock bottom, running over a deer with her crummy car, finding out that her husband is having an affair, and getting fired by her discourteous boss all in one day. She rushes down the street to her mother (Allison Janney), saying that she’s had it. Like a bitter child threatening to run away, Tammy decides to pack up and leave town. Sarandon’s Grandma Pearl insists on coming along, providing Tammy with a car and travel funds.
From there, Tammy and Pearl set out to see Niagara Falls. Down the road, they have a series of misadventures involving jet skis, a lesbian barbeque, hookups with strangers, and armed robbery at a fast food restaurant where Sarah Baker has a very funny cameo. Of course a road trip movie isn’t really about the destination or even the stops along the way. It all relies on the dynamic between the main characters. McCarthy and Sarandon don’t quite hit the same mark as Steve Martin and John Candy in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in “Midnight Run,” or Sarandon and Geena Davis in “Thelma & Louise” for that matter. But the relationship between the two never hits a wrong note, ranging from quite hilarious to quite meaningful.
“Tammy” also works in some solid supporting work from Mark Duplass, Kathy Bates, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, and Dan Aykroyd just to name a few. But the film mainly belongs to McCarthy, who has been on a role as of late. Even when she’s given mediocre material, McCarthy always throws herself into any role that comes her way. While McCarthy is willing to do whatever it takes to get a laugh, she never settles for just looking foolish or trying to shock the audience. She respects her characters and makes us laugh with them, not at them. The opposite can ironically be said about McCarthy’s cousin, Jenny McCarthy, who is willing to put herself out there, but has rarely been able to create a human being anyone could care about.
The film was directed by McCarthy’s real life husband, Ben Falone, who also co-stars and co-wrote the script with McCarthy. Falone has had a number of great bit parts in McCarthy’s other movies, most notably the air marshal in “Bridesmaids” and the guy at the bar in “The Heat.” He clearly knows how to bring out the best in McCarthy, whether it’s in front of the camera or behind the camera. It’s actually high time that Falone got a leading role in one of his wife’s movies. Until we see that star-crossed romantic comedy, “Tammy” offers more than enough of McCarthy’s comedic genius to hold us over.