2014 Movie reviews: Calvary, 22 Jump Street, Million Dollar Arm, Cold in July and Lucy

Calvary

Filmmaker John Michael McDonough is the younger brother of Martin McDonough, who wrote and directed the amazing In Bruges in 2008. John Michael teamed up with Brendan Gleeson for the crime comedy The Guard in 2011, and this year, the two are back at it with Calvary, a very different piece of work from that of three years earlier.

CalvaryIt’s a pure drama, about an honest, good-natured priest, who, in the beginning of the film, receives a death threat. He’s told during a confessional that he will be shot and killed at the end of the week. But the priest, Father James, played by Gleeson, doesn’t fret. In fact, he goes about his life as normal, interacting with the various people in his hometown in Ireland. The characters he interacts with are all unscrupulous, and each have their own vices, which they have no problem pouring onto their resident priest. But they’re not seeking redemption.

The exception being James’s daughter, a lovely redhead named Fiona, played by Kelly Reilly, who, besides her father, seems be the only one with a moral compass.

I found the movie to be very cynical. It’s as if it was created simply to point out that humans are extremely flawed people. Which … we probably are, but I didn’t need it expounded on me for the better part of two hours.

But Gleeson is terrific in the film. He is in practically every scene, injecting stability and calmness into the film amid the revolving door that is the surrounding cast. And of course, hanging over the film is the looming anticipation as to whether the death threat will come to fruition.

I’d recommend this film if you are looking for a solid lead performance with some appealing cinematography of the Irish countryside, but not so much if you are seeking a thrilling story.

22 Jump Street

21 Jump Street taught us that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are an unbelievable comic duo. The new Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn. Or Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. So we just had to see them again.
22 Jump Street
That’s pretty much what 22 Jump Street is all about: the comedic exchanges between the two. As long as the funny dialogue continued, along with the running joke of them returning to an educational institution they’re obviously way too old for, then the story itself really doesn’t matter.

In that regard, it delivers. It’s funny. There’s great lines and a humorous supporting cast as well, aided by Jillian Bell, of Workaholics fame. The story is definitely a bit dumber than its predecessor, which may matter to some, but in the grand theme of things, it’s superfluous.

In 21 Jump Street, it was Jonah Hill’s character that found himself highly enjoying the high school life, losing focus of their task at hand. This time, its Tatum’s character that becomes immersed in the college life, even joining the school’s football team.

Otherwise, the plot basically follows the same formula — they’re trying to catch the supplier of a new, dangerous drug that has hit campus, called WHYPHY — Work Hard Yes Play Hard Yes. While they do it, humor ensues.

There probably won’t be a funnier movie that comes out this year.

Million Dollar Arm

As a huge baseball fan, I’m surprised I hadn’t previously known about this story that Disney transferred to the big screen, about a sports agent who created a competition in India to recruit cricket players to play professional baseball.

Million Dollar ArmThe result was the first two India natives to sign with a professional baseball team. It’s a great premise for a movie, and Disney jumped on it.

Jon Hamm plays the agent, J.B. Bernstein, who pretty much plays a character that we all envision Jon Hamm to be like in real life: a wealthy, womanizing career-driven bachelor with impeccably sleek hair, who, out of desperation, conceives the competition to resurrect his floundering sports agency.

He finds a wealthy backer to fund the contest, called “Million Dollar Arm,” and then he’s off to India, where Disney surely takes liberties with the story to add cliché elements of overcoming adversity, heroism, yada yada yada. But Disney does that better than any one else, so it’s no big deal.

Half of the film is Bernstein in India running his competition, and the second half is the two winners adapting to life in America, while trying to convince Major League Baseball scouts they can pitch in the Major Leagues. There’s also a love interest for Hamm (Lake Bell), because … it’s a movie.

But it’s a nice, heartwarming story that stems from actual events, and should resonate to both baseball and non-sports fans alike. You can look up on Wikipedia to discover whether the Indian players succeeded, or you can just remember that it’s a Disney movie and assume what happened.

Cold in July

Original stories are becoming harder to come by in mainstream Hollywood, and that is what makes Cold in July so refreshing.

Yes, it’s adapted from a book, but not a book that is widely known, at all.

The dark tone of the film reminded me of Blue Ruin, a suspense thriller that used creative cinematic techniques and mystery to build its story.Cold in July

The beginning plays out like Cape Fear. Michael C. Hall plays a father, Richard Dane, who shoots and kills an intruder in his home in the middle of the night. It’s labeled as self-defense by local police, and the case is closed. But … Dane’s family soon becomes terrorized by the intruder’s father, played by Sam Shepard, who was just recently released from jail himself.

It seems likes it’s heading to be your typical stalker-thriller from there, but then the plot starts taking twists and turns. So much so, that it almost becomes a bit schizophrenic. Plot points that were important early become lost, and characters’ specific motivations become unclear.

A private investigator shows up midway through the film, played by Don Johnson, whose existence is extremely crucial to the plot.

But the film’s excitement and creative storytelling makes up for it, and in the end, you have a solid movie with fine camerawork and splendid acting by its three leads.

I was particularly impressed with Michael C. Hall, who I thought would never be able to shake the Dexter stigma. But he plays a very different character than Dexter in this one. He’s a blue-collared, mullet wearing, timid family man whose life is devoid of adventure, unlike the serial-killing detached lone her played on TV.

It won’t get much love from the masses, mostly because very few will see it, but this film was a good one.

Lucy

Like 2012’s Limitless, this Luc Besson film plays with the idea of exploring the amazing potential of the human brain. Except Lucy takes that idea to the next level. There’s a common myth that humans only 10 percent of their brain. Scientists have dispelled that theory, but Lucy runs with it anyway.

Scarlett Johansson plays a blonde American bimbo named Lucy who’s studying abroad in Taiwan. By a stroke of bad luck, she gets pulled into a plot Lucywhere she’s taken hostage and unwillingly becomes a mule for an experimental drug. That drug is placed in a bag inside her stomach, and then, when she’s physically abused by her captors, it breaks, spilling the bag’s entire contents into her blood stream,  and exposing her to the drug’s full capabilities.

Its effects allow her to utilize the depths of her brain that no human could. Numbers flash across the screen every few minutes to indicate to the viewer just how much her brain she is using — 15 percent, then 25, then  40, and so forth.

Lucy goes from gaining superhuman strength, to being able to absorb a textbook of information in a matter of moments, to being able to control time and space.

It’s a pretty ambitious film, and quite entertaining, but is a lot less intelligent than it sounds. I don’t think enough is conveyed in the movie to indicate exactly what Lucy is experiencing from a mental standpoint. And since that’s the film’s basis, I think more time should have spent on it. Instead, too much time is spent on action sequences, and it basically just becomes a subpar superhero film.

The more “aware” Lucy becomes, the more detached she also becomes as an actual person. Therefore, Scarlett Johansson intentionally plays the role very blank and emotionless, which is kind of a waste of her acting abilities.

I never thought I’d say this, but Lucy should have devoted less time to action scenes, and amped up the science. *Cue Jesse Pinkman, “Yea science!” Breaking Bad. gif*

 

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Great. We’re as stupid in real life as we are in movies.

When watching movies that depict a nationwide epidemic of a contagious and deadly disease, like 1995’s Outbreak, or 2011’s Contagion, one can’t help but laugh.

Not because we enjoy seeing millions of people die in a number of days, but because it’s pure fiction. We think, “we’re not stupid enough to do these things in real life, right?”

We’d like to think that our healthcare professionals, government, and just people in general are intelligent enough to understand the ramifications and danger of spreading a deadly virus. You don’t have to be brilliant. You just have to not be an idiot.

For example, if you know that you were somewhere where you are liable to be exposed to a virus, then you should be closely monitoring yourselfEbola for symptoms, avoiding crowded public places, and absolutely avoid airplanes.

I mean, airplanes are the cardinal sin. That’s like the #1 rule of not spreading disease. If you want to go to work, be my guest. Infect your coworkers. If you want to go to your nearest Walmart, then you’re really stupid, but still, at least an outbreak could still be prevented at that point.

If you get on an airplane, you’re pretty much just sending a giant “Fuck you” to the human race. Because now you’re making the disease airborne, and threatening our extinction.

And, if you were previously in a situation where you are at high risk to catch a disease, and start showing symptoms, and still don’t take proper precautions, then you’d like to think that a doctor or a nurse will do it for you. They’ll quarantine you and prevent whatever you have from spreading.

I’m talking about people who either just traveled to a country afflicted with disease, or a healthcare professional who was treating a patient with an infectious disease. Those are the people who should be high alert.

In the movies, there’s always an idiot who doesn’t take those necessary precautions, and starts the outbreak.

But that would never happen in real life, right? We’re smart enough to —

Wait, what’s that? You said a second Dallas nurse was infected with Ebola on Thursday? And she … did what? SHE GOT ON A GOD DAMN AIRPLANE?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME. WHAT THE HELL.

In the words of a teenage girl, — I can’t even.

Amber Joy Vinson, 29, a nurse who treated the first Ebola victim in the U.S., Eric Thomas Duncan, at the Texas Health Prsbyterian Hospital, was also exposed to the disease.

Days later, she got on commercial flight to Cleveland. 

No, she was not showing specific symptoms of Ebola at the time, but she did reportedly have a high temperature of 99.5 degrees at the time of her flight.

So let’s get this straight. She treated an Ebola victim. She was a threat to contract the virus herself. She was experiencing a high temperature. So she got on an airplane. Makes perfect sense. The worst part? She allegedly called federal officials before boarding the flight, and was given the OK.

This isn’t even worth a face palm. This is worth smashing your head into a desk.

At this point, we deserve whatever happens next. We all deserve Ebola. Government officials say the passengers on the plane with Vinson are at “low risk” because she wasn’t showing symptoms just yet, but, at this juncture, I don’t really trust what anybody says.

I’m just in awe that the idiotic things that happen in a movie also happen in real life.

What other movie cliches are true? Do people really run upstairs when they’re being chased in their home by a masked serial killer?

Does making a toast with your friends about losing your virginity guarantee that you will lose your virginity?

Is Hogwarts real?

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

 

People love to let other people know about the book they are reading

Not everybody reads. But when they do read, they love to let other people know that they are reading.

Totally unprovoked, people will begin a sentence with, “So I’m reading this book …”

It’s the mental equivalent of working out. When people are really going through a good stretch of exercising, they’ll find a way to work it readinginto the conversation. “Oh man, my arms are so sore from working out yesterday…”

It’s the same philosophy with reading.

The book doesn’t even have to be impressive. You don’t need to be reading Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy to flaunt the fact that you are reading a book. You could be reading the latest young adult dystopian novel and still show off. When you read, there’s no such thing as a wrong book. You’re automatically smarter than anybody else who isn’t reading.

But when did we get to the point where simply opening a book is an accomplishment? Was it the onset of the digital and social media age?

When do you ever hear somebody talk about the book that they finished? When someone says they are “reading a book,” for all I know, they could be on page 2.

This primarily applies to people who do not read a lot. Those who are constantly reading, and who immediately finish a book only to open another, don’t usually bring up their novels of choice without being asked about it first.

Again, I’ll bring up the gym comparison. Those who work out regularly don’t really talk about their specific workouts. Because it’s just something that’s a normal part of their life.

Reading is as stimulating to the mind as working out is to the muscles. Both are equally beneficial. One makes you strong physically, and the other makes you strong mentally.

It’s especially important to read once you’ve finished your formal schooling. Because, where else are you learning? If you’re not going to have a professor tell you things anymore, and you’re going to do the same thing at your job every day, then it’s up to us to challenge ourselves. Reading accomplishes that. And yes, even YA novels can stir the imagination.

That all being said … I am reading book.

I like to think of myself as an avid reader. However, I have been in a bit of a rut lately. As in, I haven’t actually completed a book in about five months. However, I’m more than halfway through “In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette” by Hampton Sides, a nonfiction book that recreates the ill-fated American voyage of a group of explorers in the late 1800s attempting to become the first to reach the North Pole. It’s quite riveting.

You see what I did here? I created an entire post just to talk about the book I am currently reading.

Tomorrow, I may even bring the book with me to the gym.

People are really going to love talking to me this week.

I don’t know what’s scarier: the threat of Ebola or Amanda Bynes

Welp. Those terrified of a potential Ebola outbreak now have even more reason to panic, as a second United States victim has now fallen ill to the contagious disease.

A Dallas nurse who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who brought the virus to the United States and died last week, tested positive for the virus yesterday, despite reports that she wore protective equipment the entire time.Dallas Ebola

Well, that’s not good.

The U.S. government has already declared the 2014 West Africa Ebola Outbreak as the worst in world history. More than 8,000 people have contracted the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and 4,000 are dead. Those numbers are increasing by the day.

Most Americans prefer to remain ignorant on a disease that’s another world away. I mean, why spend any more time thinking about a virus that causes high fever, diarrhea and hemorrhaging any more than you have to? But now that it’s come to America, shit is getting real.

We’re still multiple steps away from it becoming even a threat of a mass outbreak. But, that being said, all it takes is one person to keep it going. As long as one American has it, there’s the possibility of every American having it.

Ensue panic.

But somehow, some way, even with the looming threat of Ebola bringing about the end of human existence, it still wasn’t the most frightening thing to happen this weekend.

And those who follow Amanda Bynes on Twitter know what I’m talking about. The child actor-turned-adult-schizophrenic’s troubles have already been well documented over the past couple of years. Her erratic behavior, both in public and social media, has already resulted in a stay in a mental institution, as well as losing the right to manage her own money.

But, for about a year, we didn’t hear much from the former All That star. Which is a good thing. It meant she wasn’t having any psychotic episodes. More importantly, she was avoiding Twitter.

That is, until last Friday, when she returned with a vengeance.

First, Bynes released a slew of Tweets threatening lawsuits against gossip magazines that she said called her insane. Then, completely out of nowhere, she alleged that her father sexually abused her as a child.

She ended the Tweet onslaught with one more absurd statement, which is not going to do her many favors when convincing people that she is mentally stable.

https://twitter.com/amandabynes/status/520629457904996352

If you’re frightened, it’s because you should be.

The girl obviously needs help, so let’s just hope she gets that. It’s a real shame, because She’s the Man is by far one of the most underrated comedies of the last decade. It’s brilliant, and Amanda is delightful in it.

As of right this second, I’d probably say the scare level of Ebola and Amanda Bynes is about even. But, give it a day or two. If more people in America contract the virus, then that could be subject to change.

But we’re just one more Amanda Bynes Twitter outburst away from tilting the scales back in her favor.

Someone needs to invent an anti-Tinder, personality dating app

Today I had a stroke of brilliance. Or maybe it was just a stroke. I’m not entirely sure.

Nonetheless, I had an idea.

If Tinder is so superficial and shallow, as its opponents like to point out, then why hasn’t a dating app been invented that is the exact opposite of Tinder?

As in, a personality dating app.

*Light bulb emoji*Puzzle

Tinder gives you a small “About Me” space that allows you to say something to represent yourself. Some post a quote, or a quip, and some try to inject a small dose of their own personality in there.

But let’s face it. While people may read it, they’re not making judgments on it. When a new person gets put before you on Tinder, you make the immediate judgment in your head if you like them or not. Within nanoseconds, the decision has been. If — and only if — you find them attractive, then (after looking through their entire array of photos) you may take a glance at their About Me, and, unless it says something extremely distasteful — or racist — it’s not going to affect your initial judgment.

Ergo, that About Me box is worthless.

So why not make an entire dating app where the entire presentation solely focuses, for all intents and purposes, on the About Me?

Here’s what I’m thinking: It’s the same format as Tinder, where you’d get a new person across your screen, and could swipe left or right, but instead of a photo, there is text that lists key personality traits about the person.

Nothing elaborate; no one wants to read an entire block of text. Perhaps it’s a short questionnaire, where you simply learn about somebody’s primary interests (favorite bands, books, movies, etc.) After reading it, and if you feel a kindred bond with the person, then you swipe right. If they also swiped right on you based on your personality traits, then you match, and then you see each other’s picture.

This way, you circumvent the exhausting small talk. You also have perfect ice breakers, and you already know what you have in common.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not proposing this with completely pure intentions. Having matching personalities is just step one of the process. If you match with some one, then you still have the option to judge them on their photos to decide if you want to speak to them.

But, at least this way, you’re matching with others based on a more spiritual level, and then you can decide if you want to be a shallow sonofabitch.

Or you could just meet people in real life.

That still happens, right?

The Weinblog’s one-step guide to cheering yourself up.

Life is a roller coaster. It’s full of ups and downs.

But everyone knows that. Barring some unforeseen tragedy *knock on wood*, we are all going to live for a pretty long time. Most of that time our lives will be ordinary. But some days will be great. And some will be flat-out terrible.

It’s really, really easy to feel sorry for yourself. I can think of about 10 things right now about my life that could potentially bum me out, if I wanted to. Every one can. Find me someone who is happy with every facet of their life, and I’ll show you how to enter Platform 9 and 3/4 and Happinessboard the Hogwarts Express.

It’s the good days in life when we appreciate all that we have, and when we’re ecstatic to be alive. Ecstatic.

The bad days? We forget all that good stuff.

Well I urge you to remember. Even on the bad days.

Bear in mind, if you’re going through some type of tragedy, like a death in the family, or you just got fired, or arrested, then you have every right to be miserable. But on the days when something not all that significant is plaguing you, then these are the times when you, and only you, have the ability to cheer yourself up.

So if you’re feeling sad, upset, unhappy, bitter, melancholy, jealous, lovesick, somber, despondent, sorrowful, grief-stricken, woebegone, dejected, blue, heartbroken, agitated, confused, distressed, tormented or troubled, then remember this: you’re feeling these things because you are human.

Feeling. Passion. Emotion.

These are human beings’ greatest triumph … and tragedy.

It’s what separates us from primates. It what makes us the unique beings that we are. The ability to feel. 

To be able to care about some one, or something so much, that when you lose it, it hurts to no end … that’s what life is worth living for. Once you realize that, it’s very easy to get yourself back on track and focus on what to do next.

Without feeling, we are nothing. We’re subhuman. An empty shell.

If you’re wondering, I am not on any type of hallucinogen right now. This is something that I’ve told myself over the years, and it never fails to make me feel better.

Sad things only exist because you react to them sadly. And how we react to things is what defines our mood. And I don’t expect you never be sad. That’s unrealistic. But when it overcomes you, that’s when you really need to start thinking more positively. So I challenge you, for the time being, to react positively to everything. The best that you can, at least. I know it’s not easy.

And if you do slip, and find yourself feeling upset, then remember this:

I’d rather feel upset, then not feel at all.

…Or you could just listen to the Pharrell song.

Not quite my Summer of ’69, but the Summer of ’14 was pretty damn good

So today in current events news, the Ebola virus continues to cause a scare in many…

Actually, who gives a crap. This is my blog, so I am going to use today to reflect on this past summer.

There are a few perks that come with remaining at the same company for an extended period of time. One of the obvious, tangible perks is the occasional pay raise and more paid time off. But the other perks are more abstract — less supervision, greater trust and increased flexibility.

Also with experience comes a certain attainment level of what I like to call “professional autopilot.”

It means that you’ve mastered your craft so efficiently that you basically can do your job without putting too much thought into it. And don’t get me wrong — that does not mean a lack of effort. It just means that you’ve learned exactly how much time to allot to each task, and therefore it gives your more flexibility.

Me, at far left, with two friends at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware in June.

Me, at far left, with two friends at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware.

One can say that’s not necessarily a good thing. It means that you’ve become extra comfortable, and that you are no longer challenging yourself. It’s a valid argument, but it’s counteracted by the fact that you could also take advantage of that flexibility to devote more time to things outside of work.

And not year-round. You can’t distract yourself for that long. But somewhere around March or April, I made the decision that I am going to have an awesome summer. I just woke up one day and decided it. Because it dawned on me that I had the ability to make it an awesome summer.

And I did.

The year started out the right way, when, in February I traveled to Israel for ten days. This was before all of the violence there began happening, and I had an amazing, life-changing experience with a group of 40 random Jews.

Two months later, I went to Los Angeles for the first time, and pretty much decided that it’s one of the most enjoyable places in the country. Bear in mind I say that even though I’ve yet to visit about 95 percent of the country.

And then, shit got real. From early June to early August, I went to four music festivals in four different states — New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware. Over Labor Day weekend, I went to Buffalo. Two weeks ago, I returned to Los Angeles for another visit. I know the last two were actually in the fall, but … I … shut up.

Bumped into Jenny Lewis at the Govenors Ball Music Festival on Randall's Island. #NBD

Bumped into Jenny Lewis at the Govenors Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island. #NBD

I’m not posting this to show off. Or to encourage people to slack off at their job so that they could get drunk at music festivals. (Actually, I am doing the second one.)

What this summer has taught me is that having fun is something that you really need to make the effort to fit in your schedule. I understand there’s things in life that are worth committing to, like work and extracurricular activities, but I am tired of hearing people talk about how they don’t have the time to have fun. To go to events and concerts. To travel. Or simply just get away for the weekend.

The worst is when people actually lament about it, and complain that they don’t have the time for fun activities.

My response? Make the time.

For once, arrange your schedule around a fun activity. Worry about everything else later.

Is there such a thing as too much fun? Maybe. There could be a point when you need to slow down, rethink your priorities and focus more on your career.

But you know what’s even worse?

Never having fun at all.

Make the time, my friends. Make the time.