Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Don Jon" Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has sure come far from being "the kid on 3rd Rock From The Sun" and he now adds "writer/director" to his CV with the impressive, but ultimately not-totally-satisfying Don Jon.

He also stars as the titular Jon, a stereotypical Jersey Shore-esque Italian-American Guido who likes to work out, hang with his bros, score with the hot ladies at the club and watch and jerk off to lots and lots and LOTS of online porn. You know, typical male guy stuff or something. His crank-yanking habit hits a snag when he starts dating Scarlett Johansson, who doesn't let him bed her immediately and who seems to be The One though she has some MAJOR problems with his looking at porn. (This isn't as crazy as it sounds. I once dated a girl who was appalled that 19-year-old me was a Playboy subscriber because she thought she should be enough for me.)At her urging (read: badgering), he starts to take a night class and cuts back on the porn (his real extramarital sex vs. porn wanking ratios are tracked via his confessions), but there's something wrong with how this is happening, so problems ensue.

There's a lot to like about Don Jon. JGL has a snappy eye and ear and the cinematography and editing are ace. However, there are some tonal issues which really threaten things late with the character played by Julianne Moore. She's set up sketchily and there is a detail about her that is too heavy (no, she's not fat) for the overall light tone of the rest of the film and frankly, what she teaches Jon seems rushed and too pat. I just didn't quite buy what she was supposed to represent; it's as if JGL wanted to end with a Deep Thought About Love when the previous 85% of the movie was of a different stripe.

That said, there are some astute observations, particularly about how rom-coms are the woman's version of pornography, presenting unrealistic images of what relationships are about. (I'm not going to spoil who the cast of Special Someone is but to say that the guy is sure getting around for wacky cameos.) ScarJo is also very good as a gum-cracking ball-breaker and it's interesting to see her play what is ultimately a beyatch. It's too bad that JGL totally passes on the appropriate comeback for their final scene; both my girlfriend and I agreed on what the line should've been.

Score: 7.5/10. Rent it.

"Runner Runner" Review

Runner Runner is one of those movies that isn't bad as much as inconsequentially not very good. Justin Timberlake stars as a Princeton business student who attempts to make his tuition bill - which apparently is $60,000 in one lump due - by playing online poker, only to lose despite the odds. He discovers he was cheated by the site and decides to go to Costa Rica to confront the elusive operator (Ben Affleck) whom he meets rather easily and is immediately ushered into the inner circle of money and more money. Unfortunately, there's an FBI agent (a snappy Anthony Mackie) leaning on him to help bust Affleck, problems with his gambling addict father, the hot woman (Gemma Arterton) he works with who may be Affleck's squeeze, too, and corrupt local officials demanding a bigger cut of the action.

And that's pretty much it and you can probably guess how the major story beats play out. It's a short 90-minutes long and that brevity comes at the expense of anything like deep characterizations, understandable motivations, or logical schemes and counter-schemes. Everything just sort of happens without much impact. Timberlake is OK but I was looking at Affleck with an eye as to how he's going to play Batman in the Man of Steel sequel. (He's definitely got the chin.) There's just not enough there there to get involved with or offended by.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Elysium" Review

Neill Blomkamp's 2009 feature debut, District 9, would've garnered my vote for Best Picture out the Academy Awards nominees that year. It was a sharp sci-fi tale whose political undertones were the antithesis of Avatar's heavy-handed clobbering of the audience with a placard; if you got the allegories or not, the story worked. However, as word started seeping out that his big-budget follow-up Elysium was a class-warfare story tapping into the envy madness of the Occupy Wall Street morons, I became concerned and when reviews confirmed it was pretty much as I feared - even some liberal critics were complaining about how heavy-handed it was - I decided to give it a miss in the theaters. Why should I shell out cash to be lectured by a multi-millionaire celebrity like star Matt Damon about how greedy I am when he himself is part of the rich elites who are supposedly the villains ruining everything?

While watching Elysium from my couch, I rapidly realized that its biggest problem wasn't the simple-minded "Poor people GOOD! Rich people BAD!" politics as much as it was a stupid story filled with unsympathetic and poorly-motivated characters. Matt Damon's dying poor man driven to desperate measures is an ex-con who brings a lot of his misfortune upon himself and if Blomkamp was trying to make him a complicated and conflicted reluctant hero, he fails, partially on the page and in Damon's meathead performance. (Note: While Damon is a douche offscreen, I generally like his work. Unlike some, I can cope with the toxic hypocritical politics of most celebutards and enjoy their work, but he's just weak here.)

Then there are the myriad dumb things we're supposed to just accept like Jodie Foster's evil defense director of Elysium ordering renegade shuttles bringing dirty poor people to the station shot down by her sleeper agent Kruger (an off-the-chain Sharlto Copely who appears to have decided to be in his own movie) with a shoulder mounted rocket launcher and we're supposed to believe the rockets were able to catch up to speedy ships with a couple hundred mile head start. (Aren't there defense guns on the station if this is a problem?) That badass exoskeleton bolted to Damon is put on over his clothing raising the question of how he ever showers or changes clothes. The top of Elysium's ring world is open to space, but the air doesn't leak out. Huh?

Where the world-building really fails is explaining how this system works. Yeah, yeah, the rich suck and built a space station (think: gated community) to get away from the po' folks (think: Detroit) and they hog magic medical beds in every house that can cure cancer or reconstruct broken bones and blasted faces in seconds, but if the filmmakers were trying to make a statement about the need for universal health care, they don't really explain why this magic devices aren't ubiquitous. We're just to accept that it's Mean Rich People being mean and rich, but at the movie's end we see shuttles filled with beds heading to Earth to cure the peasants. Why do these ships exist? Heck, why do people have med beds in their homes to eradicate their skin cancer cells; can't they have a community bed at the clubhouse like a tanning bed?

Even Foster's scheme begs the question: How is Elysium's government set up that a chunk of computer code can reboot the station, replace the President and allow someone to change the status of the billions of people on Earth to citizens. I get that there isn't time to explain everything, but Elysium explains absolutely nothing about how the world came to be that way. It's just, "Things sucked, so the evil rich people moved out, leaving us noble poor folks behind to suffer." Just as Avatar refused to explain what was so important about Unobtainium so as to not cloud the Manichean preaching, Elysium begs the question and hopes we'll just accept it and get on with the bone-crunching bone-head story.

Speaking of Foster, she's simply awful here; even more cartoonish than the rest of the cartoons. Sporting a severe coif and an accent even more indeterminate than Idris Elba's mess in Pacific Rim. I don't think I've ever seen a performance from her that could be described as bad, but I guess there's a first time for everything. Granted, lousy characters begin on the page, but she's nearly twirling her metaphoric mustache here. (If you want to see a better version of Jodie being sexy bad, check out Spike Lee's Inside Man.)

With all the dumb, noisy stuff going on, the excellent production design and visual effects work gets lost in the shuffle. District 9 had a very natural look in the way its prawns were integrated into the environments (though I've got to imagine the poor VFX artists trying to keep the aliens feet on the ground within the handheld camera work weren't too thrilled with the task) and that carries over here as well with few exceptions. Whether its the way the Mexico City and Vancouver locations are altered and extended to be the slums of LA and the space station or the robot cops oppressing the people, it looks and feels real which only makes the dunderheaded script feel worse.

As "income inequality" is being hyped up by a liberal media desperate to distract from their President's failed ObamaCare disaster, we'll probably see another attempt to have Elysium propped up as an Important Parable after it disappointed at the box office. While that's BS, the fundamental problem with Elysium isn't its trite politics but it's flaccid and thin story.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Snitch" Review

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays somewhat against type in Snitch, a drama that wants to crusade against mandatory minimum drug sentences, but can't quite make the supposedly fact-based story gel effectively despite a solid cast.

The Rock is a small businessman, running a trucking and construction business when his teenaged son from a previous marriage is busted after receiving a box full of Ecstasy pills from his best friend. It turns out the Feds had caught the friend while shipping the pills and in order to reduce his sentence, he set up Sonny Boy. Unfortunately, Sonny can't try the same gambit because the only person he knew with drugs was the one who screwed him over. His son facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and getting beaten in jail frightens The Rock into taking desperate measures and he offers the prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) a deal: If he can go out and find drug dealers, she'll have his sentence reduced. (This is also a plot problem, if judges hands are tied, but prosecutors have so much leeway in charging, why send first-time offender dumb kids away for a dime when they clearly aren't kingpins?)

With no knowledge of the underworld, he combs through his employee's applications until he discovers one (Jon Bernthal, Shane from The Walking Dead) with two convictions for drug trafficking. Shane's trying to avoid getting his third strike and failing his wife and young son, but gets sucked into introducing Rock to a former drug dealing pal who tests him by having him run a small shipment from Missouri to El Paso, which then attracts the attention of a Major Drug Kingpin who has Big Plans for The Rock.

Snitch is a mixed bag because while the script is subtle in some spots, it's ham-handed and soapboxy in others, as when the son's lawyer walks up and immediately rattles off a bunch of factoids about mandatory minimum laws. Also, the leap from a small-time dealer to a kingpin is instantaneous and not credible. A better aspect is how they initially reveal Sarandon's prosecutor is running for higher office by having a campaign poster unobtrusively in the background of a scene. The climax feels tacked on to throw a bone to people who were wondering when The Rock was going to get into some action and reminded me of Jason Statham in The Bank Job at the end when he's suddenly beating the crap out of some guys. The ending is also unsatisfying because the good guys have to live in fear forever for what they did. Huh?

The Rock does OK with a primarily dramatic role, but his physicality wars against the story of a desperate father trying to help his son. When he's getting beaten up by some street toughs, my girlfriend exclaimed, "They're beating up The Rock?!" While not as jacked as he is in say the Fast & Furious movies, it's still hard to believe he doesn't just go in and tear bad guys in half.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Trance" Review

I've never been too impressed with Danny Boyle, primarily because he rarely makes movies that don't sh*t the bed in the third act. From 28 Days Later to (especially) Sunshine, Boyle just doesn't seem capable of not botching his stories when they should be paying off. Trance only breaks the usual "2/3rds decent until it falls apart" formula by disintegrating halfway through the proceedings.

James McAvoy stars as a high-end art auction house employee who was acting as an inside man for a heist of a Goya worth tens of millions of pounds (because it's England) by a gang led by Vincent Cassel. However, he has double-crossed his partners and stolen the painting for himself. The problem is that during the heist, Cassel cracked his skull with a shotgun butt and McAvoy can't remember where he hid the painting. In order to recover his memories and the painting he goes to hypnotherapist Rosario Dawson under the close watch of the gang. Stupidity ensues.

While the early portrayals of the hypnosis are interestingly surreal, about halfway through Dawson starts shagging the ringleaders which slows the momentum to a crawl and tips us off that there's going to be a bunch of what Boyle thinks are clever twists ahead, but we can figure them out easily. With the "truth" constantly being messed with, it's hard to stay engaged because it's no longer a story about identifiable characters but just a series of rugs being pulled out despite our having seen the threat and sidestepped them entirely.

Well-shot with enough metaphoric glass walls and reflective surfaces to make even me able to get the joke, Trance is a good-looking flick, but with little under its shiny, cold exterior. While Dawson gives up very brief full-frontal nudity (hardwood floors!) and is good in the role, it's underwritten along with everything else. Trance is a doze.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

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