The Judge- Movie Review

the judge
the judge downey style

The Judge- Downey and Duvall

The Judge review

By Rob Jefchak

 In my experience with court room dramas, audiences tend to get the wrong impression about what a real court room case is actually like; since movies tend to over dramatize the experience to the point that the outcome becomes a crystal clear (almost cartoonish) cliché. So when I come across a compelling, emotionally turbulent court room film like “The Judge”; imagine my welcomed surprise when I find a movie that cuts right to the heart of the REAL emotional center piece and it’s actually NOT the case itself. People make stories real, correction; REAL people make stories real and everything about this estranged father/son court room conflict is about as real as it gets.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a smart assed lawyer who is in top of his field but at rock bottom when it comes to having decent relationship with his family. Things get further complicated when Palmer’s brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) calls him and says their mother just died. Hank arrives and is forced to deal with his unfeeling father; Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who is dealing with a murder 1 charge after a late night drive left a man dead. Now Hank must defend his disconnected father and try to save both their careers and futures as father and son.

Normally these kinds of films don’t grab my interest but a good cast can pull you into any story no matter how much reluctance you have built up. The idea of Downey and Duvall stuck as this cold-as-ice; frosty faced son and father relationship is what really sucked me into seeing this movie in the first place. To have a film focus on the dynamics of this estranged relationship requires two great actors who can not only hold their own against each other, but also to devolve into losing their minds and their cools to the point they want to kill each other convincingly on screen. This relationship is the heart and soul of this film and their destructive dysfunctions are the making of true cinematic chemistry.

Once these two were on screen together; you didn’t even need to have them say anything, you could already feel the tension and conflict that brewed between these two men. I admired the film for not pulling back any punches and continuously throwing more gauntlets down for Downey and Duvall to tackle; each one more intense and painful than the last. I genuinely felt the suffering that was being experienced, like you really didn’t know how hard things were going to get or if there was ever going to be any kind of silver lining for the case, for the relationship or either characters individually.

I always admired Downey for being such an unfathomably likeable wise ass and after seeing him remain merged with “Iron Man’s” Tony Stark for so long, I forgot how powerfully deep he can be when he wants to. Downey remains sharp as a tack but reveals a deeper side to him in this film that I found truly enjoyable as the film progressed. I also truly enjoyed the supporting cast; D’Onofrio and Billy Bob Thornton pull much more impactful weight than I expected. One problem that keeps popping up now and then is the lack of closure with Downey’s character. The main story is resolved but there are still numerous personal qualms and quarrels that still remain unsettled with Downey’s character; like they are left hanging and remain hanging as the credits roll.

I dislike the lingering uncertainties because there was really no reason to leave them like that; a few more lines of dialog or subtle hints could have done wonders. Overall, “The Judge” is a strikingly powerful film that utilizes Duvall and Downey’s talents to their utmost potential. The relationship and conflicts feel real and thoroughly well developed; you can truly invest in these characters and their problems without anything feeling too cheesy or too Hollywood. A few problems left unchecked don’t severely diminish this drama’s depths, it’s still a very good film with an even greater cast that never once fail to capture your attention.

I give “The Judge” 3 stars out of 4.

Tusk Movie Review

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Tusk Movie Review

By Rob Jefchak

             Kevin Smith is a comedy genius, even those who find his dirty sense of humor tasteless can admit to that fact. However lately he has been dabbling in darker movie materials by making horror films: his first outing in horror was “Red State” and now we have his second outing (and strangest film far) with “Tusk.” With a film as strange and unfamiliar as this one, compared to Smith’s previous work; I couldn’t begin to imagine what I was in store for. The film follows Wallace Brighton (Justin Long), an obnoxious podcaster who makes a living out of making laughs off other people’s misery and flies off to Canada in order to get a new story for his podcast audience. Unfortunately the story literally dies and Wallace is left with nothing.

Until Wallace comes across a flyer for a seasoned ocean traveler named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who wants to share his long life of adventures with anyone interested to hear them. Wallace meets up with Howard only to be drugged and found captured by the strange old man who wishes to surgically alter Wallace into becoming a walrus and now Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and best friend (Haley Joel Osment) are desperately trying to find Wallace before he loses his life and his humanity. Believe it or not, the concept from this film spins off from a weird true life story about a man offering room and board for free provided the tenant wears a walrus costume while he/she stays there.

It’s a very unusual and funny anecdote that certainly makes for good conversation fodder. However, “Tusk”; despite its best efforts to BE funny never truly succeeds and instead just turns into a dark, twisted, mangled mess of nausea and nightmares that even the strongest of stomachs cannot properly digest. Everything about this film screams pet project: this is a personal dream project that only can be accomplished once the director is at a point where he/she is famous enough that they can do whatever they want and still not lose their careers. Much like Zack Snyder’s bizarrely trippy flop “Sucker Punch”, “Tusk” is a movie that only Kevin Smith understands…and after seeing the film I’d also wager he’s the only one would WANT to see it too.

The film’s use of comedy is embarrassingly awkward and feels completely out of place and out of sync with the rest of the film’s narrative; or maybe it’s just out of sync because the gruesome horror elements of Wallace’s “transformation” is so revolting that no amount of chuckles can laugh off the intensity of the “big reveal.” The film isn’t even so much as gory (like say the “Saw” movies) as it is just disturbing and it only gets weirder and worse as the film progresses. It’s a shame because everyone in this movie are GREAT actors to watch, Justin Long pulls off the jerk motif amazingly well and his beginning scenes with the stunning performance of Parks were some of the best parts of the movie. There were great uses of deep music, intense camera close ups and brilliant dialog that all could have been used for a less puke inducing film.

I get the creativity Smith wants to express here and I totally admire his dedication to a truly original idea and bringing it to life for all to see. But every step leading up to the “change” is about all the good you are going to get. This is a film not meant for people, Smith seems to be the only one who wanted this idea to exist on camera and after seeing it; I really wish it hadn’t existed or at the very least I regret actually paying to see it. You don’t want to see this movie, any curiosity or morbid mood craving you might have will trick and trap you into seeing the film and immediately regretting it afterwards. Nothing about this ends well and it’s a shame because every actor, writer and director involved has done AMAZING things in the past…this isn’t one of them. I hate to tell people what to do so I will say this instead: Please Kevin Smith…go back to comedies, I don’t think we can survive another “Tusk” or “Red State” even if you can.

I give “Tusk” 1 star and a half out of 4.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

teenage mutant ninja turtles

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Review By Rob Jefchak

             The Ninja Turtles are a staple of comic book and cartoon fandom that have been around since the 1980’s. Their first live movie premiered in 1990 and there hasn’t been a live action Turtles film since 1993 (and if you’ve seen Turtles 3 then you’ll understand why). Now the Turtles are back again in a reboot, helmed by “Wrath of the Titans” director and produced by “Transformers” director; Michael Bay (who for some bizarre reason more people blame than the ACTUAL director of the film). With a fresh new start, new computer looking Turtles designs and a slew of online controversy and concerns that have boiling since the movie was first announced, can the heroes in a half shell reclaim their fame from fans and film goers alike? Let’s find out.

April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a daring reporter and with her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), she is desperate to learn more about the ruthless Foot clan terrorizing New York; run by the mysterious Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). During her sleuthing, April comes across 4 vigilantes fighting against the Foot; only they happen to be super-sized, mutant ninja turtles. Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher); along with their rat master Splinter (Tony Shalhoub) are tied to April’s investigation. Now April and the 4 turtles must work together to uncover and unravel Shredder’s diabolical plan with Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) and save the city from this evil.

For a reboot on an old classic fandom, this new movie surprisingly does very little to “reinvent the wheel so to speak.” The basic plot for this film feels like it was ripped right out of the 80’s Turtles cartoon show and the Turtles themselves have the exact same personalities one would expect from past incarnations. In some ways, the Turtles are simplified and have the most basic of clichéd personality traits, on the other hand; the film presents the Turtles as if the audience already knows about what makes the Turtles tick. Showing the Turtles in this manner keeps them fresh yet old and familiar but also different. This new film plays it safe and acts like it’s trying to make a good enough reinvention to validate people are in fact interested in this new take.

Some of the biggest pros include the Turtles hilarious interactions with each other, the stellar action sequences (there’s a snowy mountain chase sequence that truly is a show stopper) and then we have April/Fox. Many fans kicked and screamed at their keyboards over her casting but after seeing the film, I feel Fox was not only justified in her performance but also intrigued with her character’s direction in the film. Fox plays April truthfully to her story sniffing roots but also makes her more involved, bolder in her decision to fight and help the Turtles rather than sit on the sidelines waiting for another rescue. The use of the Shredder was very interesting; there’s a lot of mystery about him though you see plenty of his CGI armor kicking the crap out of the Turtles.

Unfortunately, Shredder’s action scenes are the only things worth remembering; the film’s main villain he hardly gets any development or recognition considering his previous appearances in films. The Turtles personalities also seem a tad rushed, relying too much on fans familiarity with their personalities rather than developing them more intimately like the original live film did. Admittedly, the Turtles new designs take some getting used to and are far from kid friendly. Overall, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a decent reboot that proves all the horrible hype surrounding it didn’t prove accurate. The humor is fun and plentiful, the action is stunning and impressive and Fox turned out to be a rather commendable choice for April O’Neil. The villains and story may feel flat and way too familiar to be fresh, but there’s definitely enough pizza power and Turtle action to entertain people and breathe new life into an old franchise.

I give “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” 2 ½ stars out of 4 stars.

“Lucy” Movie Review

Lucy movie

Lucy wide for website

 

Review by Saumya Chandra

Science fiction movies are a rapidly trending genre in Hollywood made even more fascinating when paired with some action and adventure. This time it comes in the form of a new thriller by Luc Besson, a veteran French filmmaker, who is known for his unconventional and rather adventurous creative efforts. Although well-intentioned, his movies are known to range from daring to disappointing with the movie Lucy falling somewhere midway in the spectrum.

An action movie predicated on a scientific fallacy, Lucy revolves around the concept that human beings use a mere ten percent of their total brain capacity. Besson wonders that if humans were to unlock the entire hundred percent of their brain capacity, what would the result be? This forms the plot of the action thriller Lucy which stars prominent actors like Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi and Amr Waked.

The film starts off by presenting Lucy, played by Scarlett Johansson, as an average and innocent schoolgirl who is manipulated by her nasty boyfriend into taking a locked case to a high-end hotel asking for a Mr. Jang. Mr. Jang turns out to be an evil drug dealer who literally washes his opponent’s blood off his hands after dispensing some rough justice. Unfortunately for Lucy, the locked case is full of several bags containing a newly created drug of unbelievable power. Lucy is forced into being a drug mule and has to submit to a bag of the drugs being sewn into her stomach.

Meanwhile, a Paris based professor, Samuel Norman, who appears to be one of the leading experts on human brain, is shown to be giving lectures about how humans use so little of their brain capacity. On the other side, the bag of drugs breaks open in Lucy’s stomach and the overdose stimulates her brain into an evolutionary process that enhances all her senses as well as her cognition and memory to superhuman levels. However this comes at a price and Lucy quickly becomes aware that the drug overdose will kill her in 24 hours. Amidst the various action sequences and revenge confrontations that follow, Lucy turns to Professor Norman to find some meaning of her rapidly dwindling life.

While the psychedelic action thriller, Lucy, may not have the best plot, Scarlett Johansson’s charismatic presence as well as effortless acting carries the film well and goes so far as to bridge Beson’s narrative and logical lapses. Fully embracing the character, Scarlett very realistically depicts the psychological transformation of Lucy from an average schoolgirl to a girl with superhuman abilities and acquiring audience’s empathy in the process.

Besson, as a director, has a core of sincerity that drives his films. That coupled with his appreciation for strong female characters has led to the creation of Lucy. In spite of his best efforts though, Lucy falls short of its goal as science fiction and remains firmly in the realm of science fantasy. It may not win any prizes, but for those willing to accept the idea that humans use only 10% of their mental capacity, Lucy is certainly fun and engaging. It is certainly recommendable for a one-time watch!