Year 2, Day 108

Movie #185~901: Free Samples (2013)

One life is enough for anyone. But there are so many lives within that life.

Plot: A law school dropout finds herself manning an ice cream truck for a day, where she meets a variety of people, both new and familiar.

Review: I love a good ‘mid-twenties woman fed up with life’ movie and Free Samples is one of the best examples. It is funny and witty and sad and real and reminded me a lot of an old favorite, Clerks. Both films take place in a central location - the place of employment of people who don’t want to be there - and both employ a unique brand of sarcastic humor that is either brash or hilarious, depending on your tastes.

Jess Weixler is perfect as Jillian, especially in the beginning scenes when she is battling a hangover while answering stupid questions from the ice cream buying public. (One man repeatedly asks if she sells stamps, while another wants to know if the ice cream is lactose free.) She has a sharp, sardonic wit that carries the film effortlessly and I loved seeing her interact with the wide range of characters she comes in contact with. From Jesse Eisnberg, as the guy she met at the bar the night before, to Jason Ritter, an old friend, to Tippi Hedren, an aging actress who stops by for her daily ice cream and chat session, we see different sides of Jillian as different characters bring out the different facets of her personality.

Eventually, Jillian is forced to confront problems and people she had been avoiding and there is the patented ‘aha’ moment where everything in her life falls into place. Free Samples may not be entirely realistic (a woman goes from hungover emotional mess to an enlightened, better person within the course of several hours) but it is enjoyable. There is the perfect blend of quick witted humor and meaningful life lessons that make it an easy, fun watch. Free Samples isn’t going to be a movie that changes a generation but it is a charming and entertaining movie that doesn’t try too hard.

Rating: A-

Posted 1 hour ago

Year 2, Day 107

Movie #184~900: Shotgun Wedding (2013)

I’m sorry my face got in front of your bullets.

Plot: After Robert accidentally shoots his fiance’s maid of honor in the face during a drunken skeet-shooting session, his meddling mother does whatever it takes to ensure the wedding takes place.

Review: Despite its obvious low budget, cast of mostly unknowns, and use of the overdone ‘found footage’, Shotgun Wedding is surprisingly enjoyable. One of the biggest issues I have with these ‘found footage’ movies, whether it be a comedy or horror, is the plausibility of it all. But director Danny Roew did a wonderful job making sure that all the camera angles made sense and I found it believable that everything that was caught on camera could actually have been caught on camera if this were to (god forbid) happen in real life. 

Shotgun Wedding is also a breath of fresh air; I can honestly say I’ve never seen a movie like it. After a pre-wedding drunken night of partying, a groom accidentally shoots his fiancee’s maid of honor in the face. After consulting his mom (who desperately wants her son to marry his wealthy and connected fiancee), a complicated cover-up takes place. At first only the groom, his mom, and the best man are involved but soon more and more of the wedding party gets implicated and its fun seeing what completely ridiculous thing is going to happen next.

There is a lot of gore but it is all handled in a very tongue-in-cheek kind of way. The characters’ reactions to the various acts of violence and murder are what makes the film as funny as it is. From the bridesmaid who is eager to be promoted to the maid of honor to the best man who wants nothing to do with any of the coverup to the bride who is adorably clueless, each actor plays their role to perfection and they all have great chemistry with each other, making their interactions believable and the dialogue more enjoyable.

Shotgun Wedding is a funny, entertaining comedy, a dark look at a wedding gone bad. It manages not to get repetitive, adding more characters and problems to the mix to keep what could have been a one note story moving forward. It is well paced and funny with the right amount of cringeworthy violence. Another indie comedy gem that people should take the time to seek out.

Rating: B+

Posted 4 hours ago

Year 2, Day 107

Movie #183~899: Rapture Palooza (2013)

Are you trying to do good or something to get raptured? Because I’m telling you kids, that was a one time deal-y.

Plot: Two teens battle their way through a religious apocalypse on a mission to defeat the Antichrist.

Review: I love both Anna Kendrick and Craig Robinson so I had pretty high hopes for this dark comedy. And for the most part, it met those high expectations. It had a pretty impressive cast - besides Kendrick and Robinson, we have John Francis Daley, Rob Corddry, Ana Gasteyer, and Thomas Lennon - so I’m surprised that it stayed as under the radar as it did. I guess the overt religious mocking got in the way of a wide release but I never got the feeling that the tone was anti-religion (it doesn’t make a statement regarding religion one way or the other), although I’m sure that wouldn’t stop certain groups of people taking massive offense to it.

My favorite aspect of the film is how it treated the ‘rapture’ experience. Instead of making it out to be a huge, life changing event, it is portrayed as more of an inconvenience. Most people just continue on with their lives despite the blood rain and locusts and giant rocks dropping from the sky and the Anti-Christ (played hilariously by Robinson) taking control of everything.

There is a heavy reliance on jokes regarding both marijuana and sex so if you’re not a fan of vulgar comedy, I would skip this one. But even though some of the jokes were over the top, I found most of them to be well paced, witty and fun. Rapture-Palooza is not a life changing (or even genre changing) movie but it is entertaining and a great example of a low budget comedy that uses its talented cast to the best of their abilities.

Rating: B+

Posted 5 hours ago

Year 2, Day 106

Movie #182~898: I Am a Girl (2013)

I am a girl. And today, a woman.

Plot: Six young women, from a variety of backgrounds, share their stories of hardships and triumphs.

Review: This documentary had a much different feel than Girl Rising, even though the subjects were pretty similar. Instead of making some overall statement, I Am a Girl simply showcases the lives of six different women, each struggling with their own issues and societal woes. Hailing from New York City, Australia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Cameroon, and Papua New Guinea, each girl is faced with their own life changing experiences. Some are more relateable than others and some appear to be more serious (Kimsey’s story is especially heart-wrenching and the one that will stay with me the longest) but each are treated with a respect and dignity that most are lacking in their day to day lives.

I loved the unique transitions between the girls’ stories, with the camera shooting the sky and then coming down in a completely different part of the world. It was seamless and really emphasized the fact that we are all connected and intertwined, despite our geographical and cultural differences. We are introduced to each girl by themselves but we also get interviews with their family members to get a full look at who these girls are. And while their differences are numerous, each girl displays their own brand of strength, determination, and power that can’t be taken away from them, despite what position society puts them in.

I read a review that stated “The girls are presented not as victims of society, but members of an unfair one” and I love that sentiment. None of these girls could have prevented the situation in which they live and none of them suffer because of bad decisions on their part. Whether they live in the projects of New York, the mountains of Afghanistan, or the suburbs of Australia, these girls each face (and for the most part, confront) their own challenges and difficulties, all without a ‘woe is me’ victim-like mentality. 

Like Girl Rising, I Am a Girl does a fantastic job at putting a face to all the hard hitting statistics regarding the lack of education or the dangers of prostitution that affects a large percentage of the female population. People interested in women’s studies or the treatment of women in society in different countries will be well served to check this film out. I am grateful that documentaries like these are being made, not only are they raising awareness for societal problems that may not impact the typical Westerner, but they are giving a platform and a voice to young women that are far too often overlooked and ignored.

Rating: A

Posted 16 hours ago

Year 2, Day 106

Movie #181~897: Girl Rising (2013)

It’s a simple fact. There is no one more vulnerable than a girl.

Plot: The film tells the stories of nine girls, written by a renowned author from their native country, from different parts of the world who face arranged marriages, child slavery, and other heartbreaking injustices. Despite these obstacles, the brave girls offer hope and inspiration; by getting an education, they’re able to break barriers and create change.

Review: This is a beautifully crafted documentary, with an imaginative blend of animation, live action, narration, reenactments, and exaggerations. Interspersed between the nine original stories are sobering facts about the treatment of girls around the world regarding high pregnancy and early marriage rates and few education opportunities, which make the individual stories of the girls that much more powerful.

From an earthquake survivor in Haiti to a young Ethiopian girl whose older brother steps in to protect her from an arranged marriage to a child bride in Afghanistan to an Indian girl whose parents have to choose between paying for a home and paying for school for their three daughters, we see several stories of bravery and strength. Of course there are the more heartbreaking aspects (more often than not at the hands of men) but there is equal emphasis on the power each girl holds and their abilities to overcome obstacles and triumph in their own ways.

Although there are famous voices narrating the tales (including Meryl Streep, Salma Hayek, Anne Hathaway and Liam Neeson), they do not draw your attention away from the most important aspects of the film - the young women who have suffered and survived through so much hardship. There is a constant fight for what most of us take for granted - from the freedom of choosing our own romantic partners to getting a decent education.

I especially liked the emphasis on how important education is, not only to the individual girls who are suffering without it, but to their families, immediate communities, and even their countries as a whole. According to Girl Rising, if India allowed only 1% more of their female population to attend and finish secondary school, $5.5 billion would be added to their GDP. It is amazing to think of how much improved the world’s economy would be if only everyone was given fair treatment in regards to education.

These nine girls provide only a small glimpse of the hardships and unfairness the majority of females face in this world. It is one thing to hear the facts and statistics but it is another to hear the personalized stories and reenactments of young girls that we can connect and empathize with. This documentary had a point to make and it made it very well. It is a strong, well made movie that will touch your heart and inspire you to make a difference.

Rating: A-

Posted 16 hours ago

Year 2, Day 106

Movie #180~896: Gimme Shelter (2013)

Being young and pregnant is like a pinwheel.  You go where the wind blows.

Plot: A pregnant teenager flees her abusive mother in search of her father, only to be rejected by him. She is forced to survive on the streets until a compassionate stranger offers a hopeful alternative.

Review: On one hand, Gimme Shelter provides Vanessa Hudgens another opportunity to show she is more than her squeaky clean High School Musical persona and she really kills it as Apple, a teenage runaway who has suffered more heartache and pain than most of us can imagine. On the other hand, the movie comes off a little preachy, with characters that aren’t as fully developed as they could have been.

It is obvious that director Ron Krauss took a lot of time and care to get the details of runaways and shelters right. He even based the main character off of real girls he met while researching and he shot the shelter scenes in the actual shelter that Kathy (portrayed in the film by Ann Dowd) opened and operates. But I think if you’re going to go through that much trouble to make a movie seem realistic, you should just make a documentary. A non-fiction film about the lives of pregnant teen runaways and the kind hearted, former runaway who takes them in is guaranteed to be a tear jerker, not to mention educational and inspiring.

As it is, there seemed to be a lot jam-packed in in order to accommodate all of the characters and as a result, some of their backstories suffered. I would have loved to see more of Cassie, one of the girls Apple meets at the shelter who is hellbent on making it on her own without any help, and June, Apple’s mom (played creepily well by Rosario Dawson), who was clearly dealing with her own demons.

All in all, Gimme Shelter has some spectacular acting performances (specifically Hudgens and Dawson, but the supporting cast of Dowd, Brendan Fraser, and James Earl Jones all hold their own quite well) and an ultimately uplifting story, if not told in the best way. The subject matter is serious and it is all handled with a great deal of respect and dignity - Apple isn’t portrayed as someone who is too far gone to help or someone who is damaged goods. She is someone the audience can empathize with and care for and that is a testament to Hudgens’s impressive performance and Krauss’s care and interest in the characters.

Rating: B

Posted 16 hours ago

Year 2, Day 105

Movie #179~895: Hell Baby (2013)

People think the devil is made up, like Santa Claus. But I assure you, the devil is real. And he’s a dick.

Plot: An expectant couple who moves into the most haunted house in New Orleans call upon the services of the Vatican’s elite exorcism team to save them from a demonic baby.

Review: I was expecting this movie to be in the same vein as other parody type movies but I was pleasantly surprised with how genuinely funny it was. Now, it’s not perfect and it relies a little too much on gross-out humor and the writers seemed to try too hard to make every scene hilarious, but there are some really humorous moments that made it worth the watch for me. I wouldn’t rush to add it to my collection or even watch it again anytime soon but I didn’t feel like watching it was a waste of time.

The plot is fairly simple - Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) and Jack (Rob Corddry) are expecting twins but after they move to a creepy old house in New Orleans, Vanessa starts acting strangely (drinking paint thinner, eating raw meat, communicating with the local stray dog). Jack enlists the help of his neighbor F’resnel (Keegen Michael Key), Vanessa’s sister (Riki Lindholm), and a couple of priests (Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant) to rid the house of a demonic presence, unaware that it is his wife that is possessed. 

There are a number of running gags (Key showing up randomly scaring Corddry, a senior citizen the couple mistakes for a corpse, montages of the characters eating at a local po’boys restaurant) that are funny enough but the writers seemed too focused on jamming in as many jokes as possible, giving little time for the audience to recover from the previous joke. Every line was either a joke or a setup and while the movie started off strong, the humor soon became repetitive and if you’re not a fan of the over-the-top vulgarity, I can see Hell Baby being a chore to get through.

However, I had no trouble watching it and I laughed out loud more than a few times. I just wish the vignettes had less of a random, thrown together feel. The actors are all talented and had great timing and chemistry with each other and the situations the plot presented were rife with humorous possibilities but the movie never takes off in a way that would make it successful. It is playful and I don’t think anyone took it too seriously, which makes the bizarre antics easier to swallow, but it could have been a more polished, tighter comedy.

Rating: B-

Posted 17 hours ago

Year 2, Day 105

Movie #178~894: Haunter (2013)

Don’t you know a ghost can never leave its house?
Plot: The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate.

Review: This was an interesting (if at times confusing) movie that really isn’t your typical mainstream horror flick. There are horror elements of course, but the overall plot is deeper and more convoluted than the run of the mill scary movie. I don’t even think I would classify Haunter as a horror movie - it’s more of a mystery suspense thriller. This is the kind of movie that I wish got made more, instead of the stereotypical, easy home invasion/teenage slasher films that are more easily churned out.

You have to pay attention to this movie and you will probably still get confused. There are time jumps and flashbacks and it took me a while to even realize the main storyline wasn’t taking place in the present. But everything eventually falls into place and there is a satisfying resolution. Haunter is a different kind of story and while it’s not perfect, the impressive acting and spooky setting both make it worth the watch. It reminded me a bit of an old Twilight Zone episode - the purpose of the film wasn’t necessarily to scare the audience but to engage and enthrall them.

The story flows nicely and it’s the kind of movie that you can watch again and again, even though you know all the twists, because it is interesting to see all the hidden clues you may have missed the first time around. It’s a shame that movies like this aren’t given the same wide releases as more generic, overly-simplified horror movies because this film really does the genre more justice than a random killer going on a gory murderous rampage. Haunter is a quality, well done movie and I would recommend it to anyone for their next scary movie marathon.

Rating: B+

Posted 18 hours ago

Year 2, Day 105

Movie #177~893: Mischief Night (2013)

What the hell is Mischief Night?

Plot: A teenager, blind from a car accident that claimed her mother’s life, has to protect herself from a masked intruder on the night before Halloween.

Review: If you like the typical home invasion/slasher horror movie, Mischief Night won’t disappoint you. It really is amazing how many cliches this movie manages to fit into its relatively short running time - from the main characters splitting up, to the killer teasing the victims instead of just killing them when there was the chance, to the inevitable moment that all phones stop working. It is a well shot and fairly well acted movie but it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

I guess it was a smart choice making the lead character blind because her stupid decisions could easily be excused because of her disability and her brave heroics mean a little bit more. And I enjoyed the scene where she was watching (or I guess listening to) a horror movie on TV and the actions in the movie mirrored what was happening in her own house. That was one of the few bright spots in the film (aside from the opening scene with Charlie O’Connell, who I thought was Jerry for the majority of his screen time).

All in all, Mischief Night suffers mostly from its mediocrity. The killer’s creepy looks, sort of interesting premise, and above average acting could have made for a much better movie if the writers took some chances and aimed higher than a typical teenage slasher movie. There’s not much gore and the suspense level, while not the best, is pretty decent so I would recommend this one for people who are in the mood for a scary movie but don’t want to get too scared.

Rating: C

Posted 2 days ago

Year 2, Day 105

Movie #176~892: Lucky in Love (2014)

Why do you think they never show Cinderella after she rides off with the prince? Because that’s when real life begins.

Plot: When Mira’s April Fool’s Day tricks materialize, she finds herself promoted to the perfect job, dating the perfect man and living in the perfect home. But she soon realizes the perfect life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Review: Leave it to Hallmark to make an April Fool’s Day themed movie. This channel rightfully has a monopoly when it comes to holiday movies - from the biggies, like Christmas and Halloween to the less cinematically popular St. Patrick’s Day and Fourth of July. And now we can add April Fool’s Day to the list. 

Jessica Szohr is Mira, a young career woman whose lame April Fool’s jokes consist of tricking her friends into thinking she got a promotion, met a cute guy, and moved into a nice apartment. And because this is a Hallmark movie, her lame little jokes start coming true until she is living the life of her dreams. And if you think this is a good thing, you have to start watching more Hallmark movies.

It doesn’t take long for Mira to realize she is woefully unprepared for her new job position, her new boyfriend is kind of a douche, and she would rather live in a cramped apartment with two roommates than in a spacious executive penthouse. It’s the classic tale of ‘the grass is always greener’ with a dash of ‘you don’t know what you got till it’s gone’ and while the film is charming enough, it’s not the kind of movie that I would rewatch again and again. It’s perfect to play in the background when doing some housework or laundry but it’s not one of Hallmark’s best and not a ringing endorsement for the April Fool’s Day movie genre.

Rating: C-

Posted 2 days ago