American Ultra Review

American Ultra is not a masterpiece in any sense of the word. The plot is ridiculous, the fight scenes are over-the-top, and there seems to be confusion within itself as to whether it’s meant to be viewed as a genuine thriller or a stoner parody of action movies. With all that being said, I must admit that I was oddly charmed and captivated by the whole experience.

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), live a typical pot-induced life. After a botched trip to Hawaii (Mike is too busy puking to board the flight in time), we learn that Mike has never been able to leave the small town in which he and Phoebe live. From there on their slow moving, but love-filled, life takes a turn from the extreme. Mike quickly learns he has a multitude of hidden abilities and memories while he and Phoebe run away from secret agents who want him dead. Yes, it’s just as crazy as it sounds.

And yes, there are other characters and other agendas and subplots, but they’re all very forgettable.

All of the entertainment and appeal lies with Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. There’s just a certain adorable factor with seeing them on screen together. Eisenberg plays a perfect puppy-love stoner. And Kristen Stewart does a great job letting herself shine at all the right moment. She is never just his sidekick. In fact, they both seem to balance each other’s times to shine perfectly. And while almost every other character’s depth is comparable to cardboard, Eisenberg and Stewart paint the movie with enough personality and realistic love to make the whole adventure fun to watch.

So maybe the fact that the other characters aren’t as memorable isn’t such a bad thing. It’s like watching a superhero cartoon. Sure, there are other things going on, and the villains are cool and the action is cool, but you’re really watching it for the superheroes. You’re watching it for what they’ll say and what they’ll do next. And in American Ultra, those superheroes are Eisenberg and Stewart.

Overall, I liked watching American Ultra. The big screen, however, is not a good place for it. It’s a movie that I really hope comes to Netflix because I can’t wait to curl up at night in my bed and watch the lovable craziness ensue, or to watch with a group of friends in a basement somewhere. It’s got a certain kind of Superbad, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist type of thing going for it and I think that’s a good thing. Don’t steer clear of this one, but know where you’re headed before you make the trip.

Sinister 2 Review

Though the previews may deceive you, this is not a Slender Man movie – if you’re not familiar with Slender then please look him up, it’s well worth the laugh. This is the sequel to 2012’s sleeper hit Sinister. The original was suspenseful and tastefully eerie, an indulgence to those who love creepy cinema. Sinister 2, however, doesn’t take its time like its predecessor and feels very thin and superficial.

The movie relies on darkness and fast camera angle switches for most of its scares. These are expected, but become stale very quickly when it’s the only tactic being used to “horrify” me. It’s sad, too, because the story has something there: A boy being haunted by children spirits (Robert Daniel Sloan), his brother (Dartanian Sloan) who’s jealous that he wasn’t chosen, an abusive father (Lea Coco), a nurturing but tired mother (Shannyn Sossamon), a spooky spirit that possesses children to murder, and a hero private investigator (James Ransone). But instead of putting all these elements to clever use to create the creepiness and tension, the writers opted for clichés and predictable developments.

The story is also plagued with plot holes towards the end, and it seemed to me that there were discrepancies between this movie and the original. After leaving the theater, I found myself questioning key scenes, trying to figure out how one scene turned into the next, and ultimately just gave the movie the benefit of the doubt – something I don’t like to do.

However, I did like watching James Ransone. He’s very charming on screen. It’s like watching a really nice, really cool dad. His character had the most versatility: he’s protective and vulnerable, he makes jokes and gets scared. He’s one of the only characters who had a range of emotions which may be why he shined a bit brighter than the other actors. The two brothers along with Sossamon do a decent enough job, too. The only problem is that the characters are so static and forgettable.

And that’s the biggest problem with the movie in general. It’s forgettable. I saw it two days ago and when I sat down to write this review, I could barely remember most of it. This is not to say there aren’t satisfying parts, because there are. There are also parts that will make you jump. But that’s about all there is, a couple satisfying lines and a scare or two.

Overall, Sinister 2 seems like a rushed cop-out, banking on you loving the original or being intrigued enough by its jumpy preview. There’s just not a lot of substance. I found myself waiting through the dialogue to get to the jump-scares which were unfulfilling anyway. Sinister 2 is mediocre at best.

Paper Towns Review (with Comparisons to the Book)

Like 90% of teenaged Tumblr users, I saw John Green’s newest book adaption movie, Paper Towns. And like 80% of that same community, I read the book – which I thought was alright – prior to watching it and hoped that doing so would amplify my enjoyment of the film. Unfortunately, the movie left me very disappointed.

Q (Nat Wolff) falls in love with a girl named Margo (Cara Delevingne) the moment she moves in across the street when the two are very young. He remembers a bike ride when the two came across a dead man in the park. Flash forward and Q is a bit of a loser and a little sad, both in the mental and pathetic senses of the word (which is how you can describe almost every protagonist of Green’s), while Margo is hot and popular. They now rarely communicate. But have no fear, she randomly shows up at his window one night and the two go on an adventure of revenge, a revenge-ture. Afterwards, she disappears. Q feels it’s his destiny to find her and brings along his two friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), to do so.

Elements of the plot and theme are skewed between the movie and book. In the book, Q’s search for Margo and his relationship with both her and the idea of her is under the spotlight. In the movie, the focus is shared between the three friends and each of their desires, dimming the spotlight on Q’s story. Gone are the scenes of him frantically searching different “Paper Towns” and coming up empty or scouring through the Wordsworth poem for a clue. I’m not saying that watching someone read or seeing someone drive alone to an empty place would’ve been exciting, but I am saying that these events in the book helped increase the tension and importance of the whole situation. While watching Radar and his girlfriend subtly struggle and then eventually have sex in the woods is cute, it takes away from the story. Rather than there being a main plot with two other subplots, each character got their own rushed storyline.

This rushed feeling isn’t helped by the fact that none of the actors gave a captivating performance, particularly Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne.

My biggest grief was with the theme I took away from the movie. Margo runs away from home for no real reason except that she thinks everyone is “paper.” Basically, she’s saying what most teenagers complain about all the time: Everyone is fake except me. When she is finally found by Q, they exchange a couple words and she is the same, somewhat overdramatic person she has always been and then Q leaves her there. As the movie ends, he shares some fond words about her. This makes it seem as if Margo really is the living legend she longs to be, the legend that everyone thinks she is.

One of the best parts of the book was that when Q finds her, he realizes she’s just a normal, attention seeking person and that anyone can be a legend when they’re mysterious. That’s the whole point of even mentioning the dead guy in the beginning – he’s such a big part of both Margo’s and Q’s lives because they didn’t know anything about him; He becomes a legend to them, but not rightfully so. The dead man is a normal person, just like Margo, only he is dead and Margo is not. That was completely lost in the movie.

Overall, I would not recommend seeing Paper Towns. The theme is all wrong and some of the scenes are cringe-worthy due to awkwardness. Paper Towns didn’t have a good chance of being a stellar movie to begin with, a lot of the excitement in the book centers around Q’s inner monologue during events that are just a notch above mundane. It is not a good movie, not even for fans of the book.

Personally, I’m still waiting for a movie of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – my favorite book from either author.

The Gift Review

Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a horror movie stint. My girlfriend and I take regular trips to the movies and when we saw previews for The Gift, we were excited. It promised a creepy plot drenched in grudge and anger and did not disappoint.

The Gift is a well-thought out movie that was given lots of care. Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), move from Chicago to a new, very modern home in California where Simon is originally from. Out shopping one day, they encounter an old high school “friend” of Simon’s, Gordon (Joel Edgerton). After doing the normal, awkward chitchat, Gordon begins stopping by the house unannounced and does so much too often. Eventually, Simon is confronted with the fact he bullied Gordon in their younger years. Long story short, all hell breaks loose and the film ends with a twist ending that would leave the devil hoping for the lesser of the two evils.

If it’s one thing that truly blew me away, it was the wonderfully constructed dialogue. Definitely not something I expect to impress me when I watch a scary movie. Jason Bateman absolutely kills it with his lines and Rebecca Hall gives a great performance as well. Their arguments heat and erupt with natural pace. It felt so real. My girlfriend and I left analyzing the exchanges like we would after watching a couple fight on Dr. Phil.

The Gift relies heavily on this sort of tension building rather than on cheap pop-out scares to keep the audience interested. In fact, there might only be one jump-scare in the whole movie. As someone who’s been watching more scary movies lately, I appreciated this; it made it feel fresher. With that being said, I would advise potential viewers to know that The Gift isn’t going to have you covering your eyes. Except at the end, just out of sheer disgust and disbelief.

The ending left my girlfriend and me staring at each other in the darkness of the credits with our mouths wide open. It’s a twist ending that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Overall, The Gift pits two different types of crazy against each other: the psychopathy of Gordon and the unprovoked savagery of Simon. Though the plot makes sense, it seems convenient at times, but I never thought this until after watching the movie. The film’s dialogue really shines and the tension builds seamlessly and quickly. The Gift is an intelligent and creepy movie that is well worth seeing.