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Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Mike Finkelstein wants someone to go back in time with him. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after you get back. You will be going back to 1985 to do three very important things: attend the premiere of BACK TO THE FUTURE, invest in Apple, and tell Ke$ha to become a lawyer. But before Mike leaves, he needs to go see a movie to get some advice on time traveling. Here is his review of “Safety Not Guaranteed”.

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Mike Finkelstein wants someone to go back in time with him.  This is not a joke.  You’ll get paid after you get back.  You will be going back to 1985 to do three very important things: attend the premiere of BACK TO THE FUTURE, invest in Apple, and tell Ke$ha to become a lawyer.  But before Mike leaves, he needs to go see a movie to get some advice on time traveling.  Here is his review of “Safety Not Guaranteed”.

PLOT: Darius (Aubrey Plaza), is a lonely, sarcastic intern at a Seattle magazine trying to make her way through life.  When a veteran writer (Jake M. Johnson) decides to track down and write a story about the man behind a classified ad asking for a time traveling partner, she jumps at the chance for some excitement.  Soon, the two, along with fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) find themselves in the prescience of Kenneth (Mark Duplass)—a slightly eccentric supermarket clerk with some really big ideas.  The only question is…could he actually build a time machine…?

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: We are in the middle of a summer defined by big budgets, sequels, and tent-pole superhero movies.  Every weekend, another epic hits the screen that we have to see, and we rush out overload our senses as we add on to the $100 Million+ box office return.  But sometimes, we want a break from all that.  We want a movie that hits us in our hearts, lights a fire, and is just a nice, warm blanket of reassurance for whatever struggle we’re going through that day.  SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is that movie.

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED follows Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a lonely, sarcastic intern at a Seattle magazine trying to figure out her life.  When a veteran writer (Jake M. Johnson) decides to track down and write a story about a classified ad that asks for a time traveling partner, Darius and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) jump at the chance to tag along.  Soon, however, it turns out that Darius is the only one who can get anywhere close to the author—a slightly eccentric supermarket clerk named Kenneth (Mark Duplass)—and it’s up to her to try and figure out…is he telling the truth, or is he just crazy?

The thing that makes SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED so beautiful to watch is that it deals with all those issues we all have, but never talk about.  We all deal with regret.  We all wonder what could or should have happened if we had done something differently.  We all want to escape our lives sometimes for something sweeter or simpler.  While the film starts off on more of a quirky comedy level with our three musketeers trying to find out who the hell this author is, it soon turns to the more honest, heartfelt side as we delve a little deeper into all our characters’ wants and desires as they try to keep them from everyone else, including themselves.

Aubrey Plaza is absolutely charming as Darius.  Known for her dry-wit and deadpan sarcasm (“Parks and Recreation”, FUNNY PEOPLE), Plaza actually eases up a bit here and gives more of an emotional performance than we’ve seen before.  The role was written for her, and it’s beautiful to watch, especially in one particular scene, when Darius finally opens up about her mother’s death.  We could almost see the wounds that Darius has hidden for so long, and at the same time, we see the emergence of an actress as Plaza shows that she could do a bit more than just the same one-note shtick.

Next to her for about 90% of the movie is Mark Duplass as the eccentric, Kenneth.  Known more as a writer than an actor (he was the man behind the indie hits CYRUS and JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME), Duplass brings a life and important balance to the character that many may have overlooked.  Kenneth’s moments range from creepy and intimidating to charming and genuine, but all the while, you know he believes 150% that he’s going back in time…a factor that makes us like him even more, especially since we start questioning if he really could or not as well…

Rounding out the support system is Jake M. Johnson as Jeff, the snarky, blunt, and jaded boss to Darius, and Karan Soni as Arnau, the studious, terrified-of-everything introvert who is only at the magazine to diversify his resume.  Both are fine actors, with Johnson making sure we know what Jeff’s priorities—focusing more on a former fling than the story at hand—while still showing off a sentimental side, and Soni making Arnau surf the spectrum between subtle moments of comfort and extreme moments of self doubt.

My only issue with SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED has to do with the final scene.  The film brings us on a beautiful journey of self-discovery for all the characters involved (with a hell of a cast). We get to know these characters so well, and then suddenly, within the last few minutes, we shift to a scenario and finale that seems almost forced rather than honest.  This isn’t too horrible a situation, however, because while it’s completely out of left field and I would have wished for something truer to what we’ve been watching, I will admit that it definitely doesn’t take away from the fun and overall message of pushing forward.  In the end, as long as that message still comes across, that’s what really counts.

Life is a hard thing to deal with.  We all have worries.  We all have fears.  We all have regrets.  But sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we can come across a piece of art that’ll light that fire inside us and reaffirm that we’re not alone.  SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is that piece of art.  And while it may not be perfect, in a world this tough, sometimes you need something to help you keep going.

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is that something…

GRADE: B+

Mike’s LIKES:

1) DEALING WITH PAST REGRETS: A beautiful movie that allows us, as the audience, to reflect on our past regrets as the characters reflect on theirs.  By the end, we feel stronger, more competent, and ready to face the world.

2) MARK DUPLASS: Known more for his writing, Duplass plays Kenneth perfectly.  Building a mix of love, hate, anger and happiness, you never really know where he’s coming from or what his intentions are, and are always trying to figure out what’s behind the eyes.

3) AUBREY PLAZA: I only really know Plaza from “Parks and Recreation” and FUNNY PEOPLE, and to see her in a role made her for (literally) and showing some major depth is a thing of beauty.

4) JAKE M. JOHNSON: Snarky, sarcastic, and a complete asshole at times, and yet, by the end, we get the feeling that Jeff is not a bad guy at all, but a jaded one.  It’s all thanks to Jake M. Johnson.

5) KARAN SONI: I’m not sure how Soni is in real life, but judging by publicity pictures and photo shoots, something tells me he is nothing like Arnau.  Take into account his performance, and that’s impressive.

6) STORMTROOPERS ARE BLUE COLLAR WORKERS: A great little observation that I never really thought about…

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) WHERE IS MY MIND?: While the film as a whole is excellent, there is something about the final scene that takes us out of the reality we were given.  After everything we’ve been led to believe, it’s almost like Hollywood got a hold of the script for the last five minutes, and for an otherwise stunning movie, let us down.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow found the ad’s author living in the mountains of Oregon.  It took a few  years of gaining his trust, but he finally allowed them the rights to use his ad.

2) The real life author of the original classified ad has a cameo as the first man that walks into the post office as Darius and Arnau are on their stakeout.

Entertainment

REVIEW: “Sing Street” Will Put a Song in Your Heart… and Your iPod

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“I have just seen an instant classic.”

That’s what I said to myself as I left the theater, with the music and adrenaline of “Sing Street” still coursing through my veins.

It’s the kind of movie you want to turn around and see again, immediately. Right after you download the soundtrack. Yes, it’s that good.

Haven’t heard anything about it? I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have known about this film either, except that my Regal Crown Club card finally paid off in the form of free tickets to an advanced screening. (Never mind the $25 popcorn.) Anyway, let’s watch!

Hooked yet? You will be.

Irish writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) has conjured a nearly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Dublin. Think “The Commitments meets “Sixteen Candles meets “Footloose,” but all in one glorious package that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Drawing from his own teenage years at the real Synge Street school, Carney avoids the trap of creating a pure fluff piece by infusing the story with real heart.

A large part of that is due to the breakout talent and hero of Sing Street,” 16-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. As “Connor Lalor” navigates the tricky currents of a new school, family drama, and first love, Walsh-Peelo is heartbreakingly earnest, predictably awkward, and unexpectedly optimistic. Everything about his performance rings true. No small feat, considering that this is his acting debut.

Thanks to Carney’s non-actor, open casting approach, Walsh-Peelo is also joined by some equally promising new faces. Lucy Boynton is luminous as his love interest, “Raphina,” and Mark McKenna is quietly compelling as Conor’s songwriting partner, “Eamon.”

One of the most satisfying pairings, though, is anchored by the more experienced Jack Reynor (“Transformers:Age of Extinction”).  He shines as Conor’s older brother, “Brendan.”  Dealing with the angst of his own stalled dreams, Brendan tackles his brotherly mentoring role with gusto. Conor soaks up the advice like a ruddy-cheeked sponge, then begins to find his own way as his confidence grows.  Rarely do we see the underlying affection between two brothers played so simply and honestly,  so the relationship between Conor and Brendan is a lovely surprise.

The other undeniable star of “Sing Street” is the music.  While the story could have easily been told with the band only performing covers of ’80s hits,  Carney had a bigger vision for the film.  He collaborated with Scottish songwriter Gary Clark to craft 8 original tunes that not only add layers of light and shade to the storyline, but could be stand-alone chart toppers today.  From the gleefully retro “The Riddle of the Model,” to the Cure-tastic “Beautiful Sea,”  to the EMO ballad “To Find You,”  there’s something for everyone. Welcome to your summer soundtrack, people.

There are few darker notes to the plot, and the ending feels slightly of place, but in general “Sing Street” will leave you feeling as light and fizzy as a packet of Pop Rocks.

The movie poster reads: “Boy Meets Girl. Girl Unimpressed. Boy Starts Band.”  That’s it in a nutshell, of course, but happily, this film is so much more.

SING STREET opens in New York April 15th, and is in theaters nationwide on April 29th.

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrate The Fourth With Our Picks For Great American Movies!

What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

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What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

It’s impossible to list them all… this is just a handfull! Scroll down and tell us what your favorites are!!!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you have what it takes to watch a black and white classic? (Don’t break my heart by replying if the answer is no.) Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 classic starring James Cagney – telling the story of the great entertainer George M Cohan. He’s the man behind the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”  A true classic with distinctly American music and showmanship. Watch the trailer!

There’s something about the fifties and sixties that still plucks at the nostalgic heartstrings of America. And yet, two of the most iconic movies about that period were actually shot decades later, with a heartfelt look back at those times.

Both American Graffiti and Grease come to mind. While American Graffiti can take bragging rights for bringing us more breakout stars, (and being written and directed by George Lucas), Grease seems to enjoy more clout as a family friendly favorite.

1986 was a  good year for Tom Cruise, and a good year for movies. Top Gun starred Tom Cruise stars as a student at Top Gun Naval Academy. It sparked a sense of patriotism, and the continued ascent of Cruise’s career. (If you’re watching with your kids, you might wanna skip ahead once you start hearing the song “Take My Breath Away.” Love scene ahead! Still, some might argue it’s pretty tame by today’s standards.)

Forrest Gump (1994) proved not only to be an excellent movie, but also an impromptu history lesson.
The story follows an unlikely hero (played by Tom Hanks) as he journeys through life, finding himself witnessing (and sometimes even influencing) a series of historic events, but is largely unaware of their significance. A true classic.

Before the luster of Mel Gibson had worn off, he portrayed Benjamin Martin, a man who becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War. The late Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army.

The most recent of patriotic classics is 2012’s Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a flawless performance as our 16th President under the directorial brilliance of Steven Spielberg. A new classic for the ages.

SHARE YOU PICKS BELOW! AND TWEET YOUR FAVORITES TOO!

For more movies updates, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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Movie Reviews

MOVIE REVIEW- WORLD WAR Z Is a Messy, Relentless Zombie Horror Flick That Really Works

Check Out Steven’s review for one of the biggest surprises of 2013, the epic zombie flick WORLD WAR Z.

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world-war-z-posterWORLD WAR Z

Paramount Pictures

Director- Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale. Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, David Morse, David Andrews.

Steven’s Quick Review- Yes its production was messy, but WORLD WAR Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer movies in 2013. Thanks to relentless action, a number of good scares, and an on-target performance from Brad Pitt, WORLD WAR Z is an excellent zombie film. Even though it is barely based on its source material, Damon Lindelof’s rewritten third act will keep audiences guessing and add some scares to your summer movie slate.

Steven’s Review- Brad Pitt has become the kind of actor who now only does movies he truly wants to do, and only takes roles that challenge him. So when Pitt and his Plan B studios initially won the rights to Max Brooks bestselling novel WORLD WAR Z the options were endless. Yet from the start of production the movie had issues, between the initial script lacking invention, a director in Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who was found it difficult to make important decisions and the very public spat between Pitt and Forster that nearly sidelined the film indefinitely.  There were also the on-set issues, besides the arguments between the actor and director, there were problems on set in Hungary when government officials stormed the set and removed live weapons. Also, forced re-shoots that moved WWZ from a winter release to a summer tentpole. It’s easy to assume WORLD WAR Z was doomed from the start. But something happened along the way, something that shocked plenty during our screening of the film in May. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Pitt, Forster, and crew actually made a darn good zombie flick. With help from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) who came to the rescue and reworked an ending  after the studio deemed the initial conclusion was not good enough for release.  Following Lindelof’s changes and a massive marketing campaign Brad Pitt’s newest pet project was ready to show the world.

WORLD WAR Z the book takes place in a post zombie war setting, when a journalist and U.N investigator goes all over the globe talking to survivors and getting their stories.  The film adaptation written by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), Matthew Michael Carnahan (STATE OF PLAY), J. Michael Straczynski (THOR) and Damon Lindelof  has little to nothing to do with Brooks acclaimed novel. We begin meeting Gerry Lane(Pitt) , a former UN investigator who lives with his family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  Within 5 minutes of the opening credits, we are thrown into a full on zombie invasion, with riots in super markets and speedy zombies chasing people down. WWZ Starts off with a bang. Gerry’s wife Karin(“The Killings” Mireille Enos), and his daughters Constance(Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) desperately leave the city and head towards New York, finding themselves in the streets of  Newark, New Jersey where they pick up supplies and await a helicopter pick-up thanks to Gerry’s old friends at the United Nations.

WORLD WAR Z is in no way a perfect movie; every now and then it finds itself deep into horror cliché, only to drag itself out with one big sequence after another. Pitt carries the film as he finds himself in worse situations every moment, but without being totally indestructible (meaning as an audience you never quite know whether Gerry Lane will make it out alive). Pitt’s performance feels dressed in reality, while he searches the globe for reasons why this zombie apocalypse is happening, worries for his safety and hopes to return to his family.

WORLD WAR Z is a suspenseful zombie flick that contains a few scares, but has the advantage of almost never slowing down.  The filmmakers found a way to protray a lot of violence and still receive a PG-13 rating – they show you enough death and destruction without maimed bodies and severed limbs. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of WWZ and the fact it never drags, it allows characters to develop and story to move forward without forsaking the zombie action fan in all of us.

As far as adaptations go, WORLD WAR Z could be considered one of the worst, it barely contains any connection to Max Brooks brilliant novel, other than a few characters names and one or two plot points. As far as summer surprises, WORLD WAR Z is a welcome break from comedies and super hero flicks that take up most of our time. But the pressure is on: it needs to bring in $500 million dollars to turn a profit for everyone involved. I enjoyed WORLD WAR Z and hope they can find a way to make some cash, so we can get more zombie action just like it.

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